« AnteriorContinuar »
powers given to Congress, are accompanied by a judiciary which will correct all. On examination, you will find this very judiciary oppressively constructed, your jury-trial destroyed, and the judges dependent on Congress. In this scheme of energetic government, the people will find two sets of tax gatherers—the state and the federal sheriffs. This, it seems to me, will produce such dreadful oppression, as the people cannot possibly bear. The federal sheriff may commit what oppression, make what distresses, he pleases, and ruin you with impunity: for how are you to tie his hands? Have you any sufficient, decided means of preventing him from sucking your blood by speculations, commissions and fees? Thus thousands of your people will be most shamefully robbed. Our state sheriffs, those unfeeling blood-suckers, have, under the watchful eye of our legislature, committed the most horrid and barbarous ravages on our people. It has required the most constant vigilance of the legislature to keep them from totally ruining the people. A repeated succession of laws has been made, to suppress their iniquitous speculations and cruel extortions; and as often has their nefarious ingenuity devised methods of evading the force of those laws: in the struggle, they have generally triumphed over the legislature. It is a fact, that lands have sold for five shillings, which were worth one hundred pounds. If sheriffs, thus immediately under the eye of our state legislature and judiciary, have dared to commit these outrages, what would they not have done if their masters had been at Philadelphia or New York? If they perpetrate the most unwarrantable outrage, on your persons or property, you cannot get redress on this side of Philadelphia or New York: and how can you get it there? If
domestic avocations could permit you to go thither, there you must appeal to judges sworn to support this constitution in opposition to that of any state, and who may also be inclined to favor their own officers. When these harpies are aid
ed by excisemen, who may search, at any time, your houses and most secret recesses, will the people bear it? If
you think so, you differ from me. Where I thought there was a possibility of such mischiefs, I would grant power with a niggardly hand; and here . there is a strong probability that these oppressions shall actually happen. I may be told, that it is safe to err on that side; because such regulations may be made by Congress, as shall restrain these officers, and because laws are made by our representatives, and judged by righteous judges: but, sir, as these regulations may be made, so they may not; and many reasons there are to induce a belief, that they will not: I shall therefore be an infidel on that point till the day of my death.
This constitution is said to have beautiful features; but when I come to examine these features, sir, they appear to me horribly frightful. Among other deformities, it has an awful squinting; it squints towards monarchy: and does not this raise indignation in the breast of every true American ? Your president may easily become king. Your senate is so imperfectly constructed, that your dearest rights may be sacrificed by what may be a small minority: and a very small minority may continue forever unchangeably this government, although horridly defective.
Where are your checks in this government? Your strong holds will be in the hands of your enemies. It is on a supposition that your American governors shall be honest, that all the good qualities of this government are founded; but its defective and imperfect construction, puts it in their power to perpetrate the worst of mischiefs, should they be bad men. And, sir, would not all the world, from the eastern to the western hemisphere, blame our distracted folly in resting our rights upon the contingency of our rulers being good or bad? Show me that age and country where the rights and liberties of the people were placed on the sole chance of their rulers being good men, without a consequent
loss of liberty. I say that the loss of that dearest privilege has ever followed, with absolute certainty, every such mad attempt. If your American chief be a man of ambition and abilities, how easy will it be for him to render himself absolute! The army is in his hands, and, if he be a man of address, it will be attached to him; and it will be the subject of long meditation with him to seize the first auspicious moment to accomplish his design. And, sir, will the American spirit solely relieve you when this happens ? I would rather infinitely, and I am sure most of this convention are of the same opinion, have a king, lords and commons, than a government, so replete with such insupportable evils. If we make a king, we may prescribe the rules by which he shall rule his people, and interpose such checks as shall prevent him from infringing them: but the president in the field, at the head of his army, can prescribe the terms on which he shall reign master, so far that it will puzzle any American ever to get his neck from under the galling yoke. I cannot, with patience, think of this idea. If ever he violates the laws, one of two things will happen : he will come at the head of his army to carry every thing before him; or, he will give bail, or do what Mr. Chief Justice will order him. If he be guilty, will not the recollection of his crimes teach him to make one bold push for the American throne? Will not the immense difference between being master of every thing, and being ignominiously tried and punished, powerfully excite him to make this bold push? But, sir, where is the existing force to punish him? Can he not, at the head of his army, beat down every opposition? Away with your president, we shall have a king: the army will salute him monarch; your militia will leave you, and assist in making him king, and fight against you: and what have you to oppose this force? What will then become of you and your rights? Will not absolute despotism ensue? [Here Mr. Henry strongly and pathetically expatiated on the
probability of the president's enslaving America, and the horrid consequences that must result.) ]
What can be more defective than the clause concerning the elections ? The control given to Congress, over the time, place and manner of holding elections, will totally destroy the end of suffrage. The elections may be held at one place, and the most inconvenient in the state; or they may be at remote distances from those who have a right of suffrage: hence, nine out of ten must either not vote at all, or vote for strangers : for the most influential characters will be applied to, to know who are the most proper to be chosen. I repeat, that the control of Congress over the manner, &c. of electing, well warrants this idea. The natural consequence
will be, that this democratic branch will possess none of the public confidence: the people will be prejudiced against representatives chosen in such an injudicious manner. The proceedings in the northern conclave, will be hidden from the yeomanry of this country. We are told, that the yeas and nays shall be taken and entered on the journals: this, sir, will avail nothing: it may be locked up in their chests, and concealed forever from the people; for they are not to publish what parts they think require secrecy; they may think, and will think, the whole requires it.
Another beautiful feature of this constitution, is the publication, from time to time, of the receipts and expenditures of the public money. This expression, from time to time, is very indefinite and indeterminate: it may extend to a century. Grant that any of them are wicked, they may squander the public money so as to ruin you, and yet this expression will give you no redress. I say, they may ruin you; for where, sir, is the responsibility ? The yeas and nays will show you nothing, unless they be fools as well as knaves : for, after having wickedly trampled on the rights of the people, they would act like fools indeed, were they to publish and divulge their iniquity, when they have it
equally in their power to suppress and conceal it. Where is the responsibility—that leading principle in the British government? In that government, a punishment, certain and inevitable, is provided: but in this, there is no real, actual punishment for the grossest mal-administration. They may go without punishment, though they commit the most outrageous violation on our immunities. That paper may tell me they will be punished. I ask, by what law? They must make the law, for there is no existing law to do it. What—will they make a law to punish themselves? This, sir, is my great objection to the constitution, that there is no true responsibility, and that the preservation of our liberty depends on the single chance of men being virtuous enough to make laws to punish themselves. In the country from which we are descended, they have real, and not imaginary responsibility; for there, mal-administration has cost their heads to some of the most saucy geniuses that ever were. The senate, by making treaties, may destroy your liberty and laws, for want of responsibility. Two thirds of those that shall happen to be present, can, with the president, make treaties, that shall be the supreme law of the land: they may make the most ruinous treaties, and yet there is no punishment for them. Whoever shows me a punishment provided for them, will oblige me. So, sir, notwithstanding there are eight pillars, they want another. Where will they make another? I trust, sir, the exclusion of the evils wherewith this system is replete, in its present form, will be made a condition precedent to its adoption, by this or any other state. The transition from a general, unqualified admission to offices, to a consolidation of government, seems easy; for, though the American states are dissimilar in their structure, this will assimilate them: this, sir, is itself a strong consolidating feature, and is not one of the least dangerous in that system. Nine states are sufficient to establish this government over those nine. Imagine that nine have