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SPEECH OF JAMES MADISON,
ON THE EXPEDIENCY OF ADOPTING
DELIVERED IN THE CONVENTION OF VIRGINIA, JUNE, 1788.
MR. CHAIRMAN, In what I am about to offer to this assembly, I shall not attempt to make impressions by any ardent professions of zeal for the public welfare: we know that the principles of every man will be, and ought to be judged, not by his professions and declarations, but by his conduct. By that criterion, I wish, in common with every other member, to be judged; and even though it should prove unfavorable to my reputation, yet it is a criterion from which I by no means would depart, nor could if I would. Comparisons have been made between the friends of this constitution, and those who oppose it. Although I disapprove of such comparisons, I trust, that in every thing that regards truth, honor, candor and rectitude of motives, the friends of this system, here, and in other states, are not inferior to its opponents. But professions of attachment to the public good, and comparisons of parties, at all times invidious, ought not to govern or influence us now. We ought, sir, to examine the constitution exclusively on its own merits. We ought to inquire whether it will promote the public happiness ; and its aptitude to produce that desirable object, ought to be the exclusive subject of our researches.
In this pursuit, we ought to address our arguments not to the feelings and passions, but to those understandings and judgments which have been selected, by the people of this country, to decide that great question, by a calm and rational investigation. I hope that gentlemen, in displaying their abilities on this occasion, will, instead of giving opinions and making assertions, condescend to prove and demonstrate, by fair and regular discussion. It gives me pain to hear gentlemen continually distorting the natural construction of language. Assuredly, it is sufficient if any human production can stand a fair discussion. Before I proceed to make some additions to the reasons which have been adduced by my honorable friend over the way, I must take the liberty to make some observations on what was said by another gentleman, (Mr. Henry.) He told us, that this constitution ought to be rejected, because, in his opinion, it endangered the public liberty, in many instances. Give me leave to make one answer to that observation- let the dangers with which this system is supposed to be replete, be clearly pointed out. If any dangerous and unnecessary powers be given to the general legislature, let them be plainly demonstrated, and let us not rest satisfied with general assertions of dangers, without proofwithout examination. If powers be necessary, apparent danger is not a sufficient reason against conceding them. He has suggested, that licentiousness has seldom produced the loss of liberty; but that the tyranny of rulers has almost always effected it. Since the general civilization of mankind, I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people, by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpations: but on a candid examination of history, we shall find that turbulence, violence and abuse of power, by the majority trampling on the rights of the minority, have produced factions and commotions, which, in republics, have more frequently than any other cause,
produced despotism. If we go over the whole history of ancient and modern republics, we shall find their destruction to have generally resulted from those causes. If we consider the peculiar situation of the United States, and go to the sources of that diversity of sentiment which pervades its inhabitants, we shall find great danger to fear, that the same causes may terminate here, in the same fatal effects, which they produced in those republics. This danger ought to be wisely guarded against. In the progress of this discussion, it will perhaps appear, that the only possible remedy for those evils, and the only certain means of preserving and protecting the principles of republicanism, will be found in that very system which is now exclaimed against as the parent of oppression. I must confess, that I have not been able to find his usual consistency, in the gentleman's arguments on this occasion. He informs us that the people of this country are at perfect repose; that every man enjoys the fruits of his labor, peaceably and securely, and that every thing is in perfect tranquillity and safety. I wish sincerely, sir, this were true. But if this be really their situation, why has every state acknowledged the contrary? Why were deputies from all the states sent to the general convention? Why have complaints of national and individual distresses been echoed and re-echoed throughout the continent ? Why has our general government been so shamefully disgraced, and our constitution violated ? Wherefore have laws been made to authorize a change, and wherefore are we now assembled here? A federal government is formed for the protection of its individual members. Ours was itself attacked with impunity. Its authority has been boldly disobeyed and openly despised. I think I perceive a glaring inconsistency in another of his arguments. He complains of this constitution, because it requires the consent of at least three fourths of the states to introduce amendments, which shall be necessary for the
happiness of the people. The assent of so manv, he considers as too great an obstacle to the admission of salutary amendments, which he strongly insists, ought to be at the will of a bare majority, and we hear this argument, at the very moment we are called upon to assign reasons for proposing a constitution, which puts it in the power of nine states to abolish the present inadequate, unsafe and pernicious confederation! In the first case, he asserts, that a majority ought to have the power of altering the government, when found to be inadequate to the security of public happiness. In the last case, he affirms, that even three fourths of the community have not a right to alter a government, which experience has proved to be subversive of national felicity; nay, that the most necessary and urgent alterations cannot be made without the absolute unanimity of all the states. Does not the thirteenth article of the confederation expressly require, that no alteration shall be made without the unanimous consent of all the states? Can any thing in theory be more perniciously improvident and injudicious than this submission of the will of the majority to the most trifling minority? Have not experience and practice actually manifested this theoretical inconvenience to be extremely impolitic? Let me mention one fact, which I conceive must carry conviction to the mind of any one—the smallest state in the union has obstructed every attempt to reform the government; that little member has repeatedly disobeyed and counteracted the general authority; nay, has even supplied the enemies of its country with provisions. Twelve states had agreed to certain improvements which were proposed, being thought absolutely necessary to preserve the existence of the general government; but as these improvements, though really indispensable, could not, by the confederation, be introduced into it without the consent of every state, the refractory dissent of that little state prevented their adoption. The inconveniences resulting from this requisition, of unanimous concur
rence in alterations of the confederation, must be known to every member in this: convention; it is therefore needless to remind them of them. Is it not self-evident, that a trifling minority ought not to bind the majority? Would not foreign influence be exerted with facility over a small minority ? Would the honorable gentleman agree to continue the most radical defects in the old system, because the petty state of Rhode Island would not agree to remove them?
He next objects to the exclusive legislation over the district where the seat of the governinent may be fixed. Would he submit that the representatives of this state should carry on their deliberations under the control of any one member of the union? If any state had the power of legislation over the place where Congress should fix the general government, it would impair the dignity, and hazard the safety of Congress. If the safety of the union were under the control of any particular state, would not foreign corruption probably prevail in such a state, to induce it to exert its controlling influence over the members of the general government ? Gentlemen cannot have forgotten
the disgraceful insult which Congress received some years ago. And, sir, when we also reflect, that the previous cession of particular states is necessary, before Congress can legislate exclusively any where, we must, instead of being alarmed at this part, heartily approve of it. .
But the honorable member sees great danger in the provision concerning the militia. Now, sir, this I conceive to be an additional security to our liberties, without diminishing the power of the states, in any considerable degree; it appears to me so highly expedient, that I should imagine it would have found advocates even in the warmest friends of the present system. The authority of training the militia, and appointing the officers, is reserved to the states. But Congress ought to have the power of establishing a uniform system of discipline throughout the states; and to provide for the execution of the laws, suppress