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has been treated as having wandered in the flowery fields of fancy; and attempts have been made, to take off from the minds of the committee, that sober impression, which might be expected from his arguments. I trust, sir, that observations of this kind are not thrown out to cast a light air on this important subject; or to give any personal bias, on the great question before
I will not agree with gentlemen, who trifle with the weaknesses of our country; and suppose, that they are enumerated to answer a party purpose, and to terrify with ideal dangers. No; I believe these weaknesses to be real, and pregnant with destruction. Yet, however weak our country may be, I hope we shall never sacrifice our liberties. If, therefore, on a full and candid discussion, the proposed system shall appear to have that tendency, for God's sake, let us reject it. But, let us not mistake words for things, nor accept doubtful surmises as the evidence of truth. Let us consider the constitution calmly and dispassionately, and attend to those things only which merit consideration.
No arguments drawn from embarrassment or inconvenience ought to prevail upon us to adopt a system of government radically bad; yet it is proper that these arguments, among others, should be brought into view. In doing this, yesterday, it was necessary to reflect upon our situation; to dwell upon the imbecility of our union; and to consider whether we, as a state, could stand alone. Although I am persuaded this convention will be resolved to adopt nothing that is bad; yet I think every prudent man will consider the merits of the plan in connexion with the circumstances of our country; and that a rejection of the constitution may involve most fatal consequences. I make these remarks to show, that though we ought not to be actuated by unreasonable fear, yet we ought to be prudent.
This day, sir, one gentleman has attempted to answer the arguments advanced by my honorable friend;
It is proper
another has treated him as having wandered from the subject: this being the case, I trust I shall be equally indulged in reviewing the remarks which have been made. Sir, it appears to me extraordinary, that while
gentlemen in one breath acknowledge, that the old confederation requires many material amendments, they should in the next deny, that its defects have been the cause of our political weakness, and the consequent calamities of our country. I cannot but infer from this, that there is still some lurking, favorite imagination, that this system, with corrections, might become a safe and permanent one.
that we should examine this matter. We contend that the radical vice in the old confederation is, that the laws of the union apply only to states in their corporate capacity. Has not every man, who has been in our legislature, experienced the truth of this position? It is inseparable from the disposition of bodies, who have a constitutional power of resistance, to examine the merits of a law. This has ever been the case with the federal requisitions. In this examination, not being furnished with those lights, which directed the deliberations of the general government, and incapable of embracing the general interests of the union, the states have almost uniformly weighed the requisitions by their own local interests, and have only executed them so far as answered their particular convenience or advantage. Hence there have ever been thirteen different bodies to judge of the measures of Congress and the operations of government have been distracted by their taking different courses: those, which were to be benefitted, have complied with the requisitions; others have totally disregarded them. Have not all of us been witnesses to the unhappy embarrassments which resulted from these proceedings? Even during the late war, while the pressure of common danger connected strongly the bond of our union, and incited to vigorous exertions, we have felt many distressing ef
fects of the impotent system. How have we seen this state, though most exposed to the calamities of the war, complying, in an unexampled manner, with the federal requisitions, and compelled by the delinquency of others, to bear most unusual burdens. Of this truth, we have the most solemn proof on our records. In 1779 and 1780, when the state, from the ravages of war, and from her great exertions to resist them, became weak, distressed, and forlorn, every man avowed the principle which we now contend for; that our misfortunes, in a great degree, proceeded from the want of vigor in the continental government. These were our sentiments when we did not speculate, but feel. We saw our weakness, and found ourselves its victims. Let us reflect that this may again, in all probability, be our situation. This is a weak state; and its relative station is dangerous. Your capital is accessible by land, and by sea is exposed to every daring invader; and on the north-west, you are open to the inroads of a powerful foreign nation. Indeed, this state, from its situation, will, in time of war, probably be the theatre of its operations.
Gentlemen have said that the non-compliance of the states has been occasioned by their sufferings. This may in part be true. But has this state been delinquent? Amidst all our distresses, we have fully complied. If New York could comply wholly with the requisitions, is it not to be supposed, that the other states could in part comply? Certainly every state in the union might have executed them in some degree. But New Hampshire, who has not suffered at all, is totally delinquent: North Carolina is totally delinquent: many others have contributed in a very small proportion; and Pennsylvania and New York are the only states, which have perfectly discharged their federal duty.
From the delinquency of those states who have suffered little by the war, we naturally conclude, that they have made no efforts; and a knowledge of human
nature will teach us, that their ease and security have been a principal cause of their want of exertion. While danger is distant, its impression is weak, and while it affects only our neighbors, we have few motives to provide against it. Sir, if we have national objects to pursue, we must have national revenues. If you make requisitions and they are not complied with, what is to be done? It has been well observed, that to coerce the states is one of the maddest projects that was ever devised. A failure of compliance will never be confined to a single state: this being the case, can we suppose it wise to hazard a civil war? Suppose Massachusetts, or any large state, should refuse, and Congress should attempt to compel them; would they not have influence to procure assistance, especially from those states who are in the same situation as themselves? What picture does this idea present to our view? A complying state at war with a non-complying state: Congress marching the troops of one state into the bosom of another : this state collecting auxiliaries and forming perhaps a majority against its federal head. Here is a nation at war with itself. Can any reasonable man be well disposed towards a government which makes war and carnage the only means of supporting itself—a government that can exist only by the sword ? Every such war must involve the innocent with the guilty. This single consideration should be sufficient to dispose every peaceable citizen against such a government.
But can we believe that one state will ever suffer itself to be used as an instrument of coercion? The thing is a dream—it is impossible—then we are brought to this dilemma: either a federal standing army is to enforce the requisitions, or the federal treasury is left without supplies, and the government without support. What, sir, is the cure for this great evil ? Nothing, but to enable the national laws to operate on individuals, in the same manner as those of the states do. This is the true reasoning upon the subject, sir.
The gentlemen appear to acknowledge its force; and yet while they yield to the principle, they seem to fear its application to the government.
What then shall we do? Shall we take the old confederation, as the basis of a new system? Can this be the object of the gentlemen ?. Certainly not. Will any man who entertains a wish for the safety of his country, trust the sword and the purse with a single assembly organized on principles so defective-s0 rotten? Though we might give to such a government certain powers, with safety, yet to give them the full and unlimited powers of taxation and the national forces, would be to establish a despotism; the definition of which is, a government in which all power is concentred in a single body. To take the old confederation, and fashion it upon these principles, would be establishing a power which would destroy the liberties of the people. These considerations show clearly, that a government totally different must be instituted. They had weight in the convention which formed the new system. It was seen, that the necessary powers were too great to be trusted to a single body: they therefore formed two branches, and divided the powers, that each might be a check upon the other. This was the result of their wisdom; and I presume that every reasonable man will agree to it. The more this subject is explained, the more clear and convincing it will appear to every member of this body. The fundamental principle of the old confederation is defective-we must totally eradicate and discard this principle before we can expect an efficient government. The gentlemen who have spoken to-day, have taken up the subject of the ancient confederacies: but their view of them has been extremely partial and erroneous. The fact is, the same false and impracticable principle ran through most of the ancient governments. The first of these governments that we read of, was the Amphictyonic confederacy. The council which managed the affairs of this league, possessed powers