Log In Register

Source & Citation Info

title:“Theophilus Parson's Notes of the Massachusetts Ratification Convention”
authors:Theophilus Parsons
date written:1788-1-17

permanent link
to this version:
last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:20 a.m. UTC
retrieved:July 24, 2019, 12:49 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. 1230-33. Print.
Massachusetts Archives

Theophilus Parson's Notes of the Massachusetts Ratification Convention (January 17, 1788)

Mr. WEDGERY is willing that the general government should have power to support itself but shall they have a general power? The discretionary power is more safely trusted in the State legislature than in Congress. Mr King said the same discretionary power is trusted in by the government over towns. It is not true; they can only fine. Dr. Jarvis has raised an argument because every thirty thousand shall have a member. It is not true. This power in the fourth section is therefore unlimited, and to trust this power in Congress is more dangerous than to trust the State; is contented with this power in Congress, when States refuse or neglect, but no further
Rev. Mr. WEST. To argue against the grant of powers because they may be abused, is an argument against all governments—against our own; and an argument which proves too much, proves nothing. Those who object ought to show that it is probable Congress will abuse the power. It has been said that Congress may appoint a place out of the State, but the words of the article are against it, for the place is to be appointed in this place. It is not presumable Congress would appoint an improper place. Also sorry to see obstinacy party spirit and prejudice. We are not to reject the Constitution merely because we have some objections; we ought to determine, upon comparing the advantages of adopting or rejecting.
Gen. THOMPSON is sensible all powers may be abused, but this power can only be abused, and not used to any good; the place may be appointed out of the State; then tells the story of David and Absalom; objects, because after a certain age, when people grow old, they are not disqualified.
Col. SMITH. Observes on the guarantee of a republican form of government.
Dr. HOLTON. Observes on the supposition that the present delegates are not as much the representatives of the people as they were formerly. All agree the present Confederation is defective. I will confine myself to state facts. When this Convention has laid open to them every defect in the old government, they will determine better He is in distress about our present situation, but we should take care not to make bad worse. If we agree to have this consolidated form, he thinks the power in the fourth section proper and necessary to give energy2 We are to consider whether the government can be carried into effect without war; it is imperium in imperio. Questions between the general government and each State will soon arise, and then force will settle it.
Dr. SNOW. The question is, if Congress have this power whether it will not be more dangerous than beneficial. Most of the objections have been considered. There will be some good men and some bad men in the government. The bad men will take off their heads if they are traitors. I think Congress must have great powers, or we are ruined; and we must be careful whom we choose. Our character abroad is infamous, like a negro in a rich family. He is for the powers in the fourth section to be trusted in Congress, and there is no danger of abuse, because it must be exerted by both branches, who will be opposed to each other.3
Gen. LINCOLN thinks the danger of trusting Congress not proved by Mr. Turner; for admitting the Federal representatives may appoint a place, to continue themselves in place, yet ambitious men in General Court may by this influence appoint an improper place to obtain an election. Dr. Holton observed that he had no objection to this power if this form of government is to be adopted. That is a general question, and cannot now be considered.
GILBERT DENCH. The difficulty he had yesterday is not altogether removed. The argument of Mr. Cabot was so sweet, that on any other occasion he should be convinced, but in this case he had not such a relish as to satisfy him, because Congress may make these regulations, whether the States neglect it or not. Was it my own personal right alone concerned, I should make no difficulty; but it concerns the unborn. What will be the law providing these regulations? The first Congress will probably please their constituents, as far as they can; popular commotions will probably occasion these regulations. Had any Federal government ever such powers?
Rev. Mr. NILES. As to Congress fixing on an inconvenient place, let us suppose the worst. Suppose they fix on the most inconvenient places for election,—it will then be considered as an abuse, and the people will call a Convention and amend the Constitution. What greater security can we wish for?
Hon. Mr. DANA proposes not to go into the debate, but to suggest one idea. It seems agreed there would be no objection if Congress only had this power when the State neglected or refused; and it has been asked, what necessity there can be for this power in any other case. I will state a case. A State may make provision, but it may not be agreeable to the spirit of the Federal Constitution. It is not enough that a State sends its complement of representatives, but all the people ought to have equal influence, and the State regulation is unequal and unjust. Suppose a State should proportion the representatives according to corporations, unequal among themselves. Though our Constitution will restrain our legislature, yet our legislature is not bound to incorporate new places, and give the people the right of election; or when our Constitution is revised, the present restraint may be removed. There may therefore, be a case put, when Congress ought to have this power when a State may not neglect. Power may be abused, but the spirit of the people is the surest and a certain defence.
Dr. TAYLOR. Arguments drawn from the amendment of the proposed Constitution, have no foundation. It will be almost impossible to amend it; and reasons from the manner in which amendments are to be made, have also no foundation. We have not in our Constitution an equal representation.
Adjourned to 3 o'clock, P. M.

Resource Metadata