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title:“Theophilus Parson's Notes of the Massachusetts Ratification Convention”
authors:Theophilus Parsons
date written:1788-1-16

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last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 7:58 a.m. UTC
retrieved:April 20, 2024, 11:26 a.m. UTC

Parsons, Theophilus. "Theophilus Parson's Notes of the Massachusetts Ratification Convention." The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution. Vol. 6. Ed. Gaspare J. Saladino and John P. Kaminski. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2000. 1209-13. Print.
Massachusetts Archives

Theophilus Parson's Notes of the Massachusetts Ratification Convention (January 16, 1788)

Voted to pass to the next paragraph.
Moved to reconsider the vote, and debate thereon, but it did not prevail. The next paragraph was read, viz.: "No person shall be a representative, &c., in which he shall be chosen." Mr. DENCH observed that he wished to add something on the paragraph last debated, and asked leave, and it was granted. His difficulty was, that no provision was made to qualify the election but by the intervention of the State legislatures, and still under the control of the Congress, and so the rights of election are insecure.
Mr. GORHAM cannot see how Mr Dench's objection applies to biennial elections, for if biennial elections are insecure, so would annual elections, or elections for any shorter time, be.
That the practice of the several States, in conducting elections, is various, and the legislature of each State will devise the best possible way for itself.
That the age of twenty-five was necessary that the man might be old enough to understand public business, and a citizenship of seven years is necessary to give his electors evidence of his knowledge and attachment to their interests.
Hon. Mr. WHITE. Though the legislature may devise and ordain the manner of election, and Congress can and will control it, and so we shall be slaves to the southern States.
Mr. GORHAM said, he did not mean to consider the effect of the revising power of Congress; it was time enough to consider that when we come to it.
Mr. PIERCE, of Partridgefield, said he had no objection to the qualifications in the article under debate, but he wanted to be satisfied why there was no qualification in point of property.
Mr. KING said it was necessary to show the certainty of the people's exercising the right of election. It is clearly certain and positive in the paragraph last under debate, and the question is, whether it is rendered insecure by the fourth section.
Now that does not render it insecure; for 1. Time of election does not mean the term for which the representatives are chosen; 2. Nor the place where elections are held; nor 3. The manner of holding elections. Therefore the controlling power of Congress does not extend to altering biennial elections. The legislatures of the several States shall prescribe in these cases; it is their duty But the difficulty is, why should Congress have those powers? For the same reasons that the General Court have power to compel every town to send representatives otherwise the electors may be negligent, and the liberties of the people may be utterly destroyed, without the vigilance and coercion of government.
Dr. TAYLOR. My difficulty is, Congress may make such regulations as to deprive the people of the right of electing. I make no difficulty as to the time, but as to the place; Congress may fix the place in Berkshire or Lincoln, where the people cannot attend.
Hon. Mr. SEDGWICK. We are to consider in what terms the clauses are expressed. The first clause is in the affirmative and positive, and the second clause extends only to the when, where and how and not to the term of election. Dr. Taylor's objection supposes the power will be used to the worst possible purposes; if we are to suppose that, we had better dissolve all governments, and live as the savages. But in forming a government, we must grant the necessary powers, and not contemplate only the possible abuse of power; otherwise there is the same objection to our own government—they call every man into the field, take away all our money erect courts in every street, give judges £10,000 a year unite all the counties into one: and make Penobscot a shire town. But to suppose this, is to suppose the legislature devils, or worse. A sufficient check against the wanton abuse of power is the spirit of the people, as in the encroachments of Great Britain; but where there is a common interest we are not to presume an abuse of power.
But this controlling power is necessary to preserve the general government. Those who wish this power alone existed in the several legislatures, are influenced because it would be safe from the common interest. The same reason applies to the general legislature. Attend to the conduct of Rhode Island last winter; without any reason, they recalled their delegate and refused to send any. The same may happen under the general government.
If it should be said that the place may be fixed in Boston, that the mercantile interest may choose their representatives; but if that was the case the country party within twelve miles could come in and out-vote it.
Dr. TAYLOR rises, and asks whether he remembered the time when a corrupt administration kept the General Court moving, to inflame members.
Mr. SEDGWICK replies: Yes; and that the effect was a greater firmness in opposition to the administration.
Gov. BOWDOIN observes that there is a positive injunction upon the several legislatures to determine the time, place and manner and it is fit; otherwise, as in the case of Rhode Island, the Union may be dissolved. The controlling power in Congress is necessary from the different manner in which the elections are made in the different States, and to prevent partiality and indirect and improper conduct in the several States. Gen. THOMPSON. We have now got forward to the fourth paragraph, and we had as good thump it about and see what is in it. I do not know the hearts of men, but I believe men are as wicked now as ever. I should make no difficulty to give Congress this power in case a State should refuse; but now Congress may order us to go to South Carolina, to choose where they choose, over head and heels; in which case we shall not be safe. But as I shall have a further opportunity to thump it, I will now sit down.
N. B. He observed that there was no danger from the legislature, but great danger from Congress.
Hon. Mr. ADAMS. We have gone from the point in debate. We are now on the fourth section, which is a very different subject, and spoke to order.
Hon. Mr. SEDGWICK spoke to order and exculpated himself.

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