The Anti-Federalist Papers | The Dissent of the Minority of the Convention of Pennsylvania
Articles,  Blog

The Anti-Federalist Papers | The Dissent of the Minority of the Convention of Pennsylvania


The Address and Reasons of Dissent of the
Minority of the Convention of the State of Pennsylvania
to their Constituents. It was not until after the termination of
the late glorious contest, which made the people of the United States an independent
nation, that any defect was discovered in the present confederation. It was formed by some of the ablest patriots
in America. It carried us successfully through the war;
and the virtue and patriotism of the people, with their disposition to promote the common
cause, supplied the want of power in Congress. The requisition of Congress for the five percent
impost was made before the peace, so early as the first of February 1781, but was prevented
taking effect by the refusal of one state; yet it is probable every state in the union
would have agreed to this measure at that period had it not been for the extravagant
terms in which it was demanded. The requisition was new molded in the year
1783, and accompanied with an additional demand of certain supplementary funds for 25 years. Peace had now taken place, and the United
States found themselves laboring under a considerable foreign and domestic debt, incurred during
the war. The requisition of 1783 was commensurate with
the interest of the debt, as it was then calculated; but it has been more accurately ascertained
since that time. The domestic debt has been found to fall several
millions of dollars short of the calculation, and it has lately been considerably diminished
by large sales of the western lands. The states have been called on by Congress
annually for supplies until the general system of finance proposed in 1783 should take place. It was at this time that the want of an efficient
federal government was first complained of, and that the powers vested in Congress were
found to be inadequate to the procuring of the benefits that should result from the union. The impost was granted by most of the states,
but many refused the supplementary funds; the annual requisitions were set at naught
by some of the states, while others complied with them by legislative acts, but were tardy
in their payments, and Congress found themselves incapable of complying with their engagements,
and supporting the federal government. It was found that our national character was
sinking in the opinion of foreign nations. The Congress could make treaties of commerce,
but could not enforce the observance of them. We were suffering from the restrictions of
foreign nations, who had shackled our commerce, while we were unable to retaliate; and all
now agreed that it would be advantageous to the union to enlarge the powers of Congress;
that they should be enabled in the amplest manner to regulate commerce, and to lay and
collect duties on the imports throughout the United States. With this view a convention was first proposed
by Virginia, and finally recommended by Congress for the different states to appoint deputies
to meet in convention, “for the purposes of revising and amending the present articles
of confederation, so as to make them adequate to the exigencies of the union.” This recommendation the legislatures of twelve
states complied with so hastily as not to consult their constituents on the subject;
and though the different legislatures had no authority from their constituents for the
purpose, they probably apprehended the necessity would justify the measure; and none of them
extended their ideas at that time further than “revising and amending the present
articles of confederation.” Pennsylvania by the act appointing deputies
expressly confined their powers to this object; and though it is probable that some of the
members of the assembly of this state had at that time in contemplation to annihilate
the present confederation, as well as the constitution of Pennsylvania, yet the plan
was not sufficiently matured to communicate it to the public. The majority of the legislature of this commonwealth
were at that time under the influence of the members from the city of Philadelphia. They agreed that the deputies sent by them
to convention should have no compensation for their services, which determination was
calculated to prevent the election of any member who resided at a distance from the
city. It was in vain for the minority to attempt
electing delegates to the convention, who understood the circumstances, and the feelings
of the people, and had a common interest with them. They found a disposition in the leaders of
the majority of the house to choose themselves and some of their dependents. The minority attempted to prevent this by
agreeing to vote for some of the leading members, who they knew had influence enough to be appointed
at any rate, in hopes of carrying with them some respectable citizens of Philadelphia,
in whose principles and integrity they could have more confidence; but even in this they
were disappointed, except in one member [ Jared Ingersoll] : the eighth member [Benjamin Franklin]
was added at a subsequent session of the assembly. The Continental convention met in the city
of Philadelphia at the time appointed. It was composed of some men of excellent characters;
of others who were more remarkable for their ambition and cunning, than their patriotism;
and of some who had been opponents to the independence of the United States. The delegates from Pennsylvania were, six
of them, uniform and decided opponents to the constitution of this commonwealth. The convention sat upwards of four months. The doors were kept shut, and the members
brought under the most solemn engagements of secrecy. Some of those who opposed their going so far
beyond their powers retired, hopeless, from the convention, others had the firmness to
refuse signing the plan altogether; and many who did sign it, did it not as a system they
wholly approved, but as the best that could be then obtained, and notwithstanding the
time spent on this subject, it is agreed on all hands to be a work of haste and accommodation. Whilst the gilded chains were forging in the
secret conclave, the meaner instruments of despotism without were busily employed in
alarming the fears of the people with dangers which did not exist, and exciting their hopes
of greater advantages from the expected plan than even the best government on earth could
produce. The proposed plan had not many hours issued
forth from the womb of suspicious secrecy, until such as were prepared for the purpose
were carrying about petitions for people to sign, signifying their approbation of the
system, and requesting the legislature to call a convention. While every measure was taken to intimidate
the people against opposing it, the public papers teemed with the most violent threats
against those who should dare to think for themselves, and tar and feathers were liberally
promised to all those who would not immediately join in supporting the proposed government
be it what it would. Under such circumstances petitions in favor
of calling a convention were signed by great numbers in and about the city, before they
had leisure to read and examine the system, many of whom, now they are better acquainted
with it, and have had time to investigate its principles, are heartily opposed to it. The petitions were speedily handed into the
legislature. Affairs were in this situation when on the
28th of September last, a resolution was proposed to the assembly by a member [George Clymer]
of the house who had been also a member of the federal convention, for calling a state
convention, to be elected within ten days for the purpose of examining and adopting
the proposed constitution of the United States, though at this time the house had not received
it from Congress. This attempt was opposed by a minority, who
after offering every argument in their power to prevent the precipitate measure, without
effect, absented themselves from the house as the only alternative left them, to prevent
the measure taking place previous to their constituents being acquainted with the business. That violence and outrage which had been so
often threatened was now practiced; some of the members were seized the next day by a
mob collected for the purpose, and forcibly dragged to the house, and there detained by
force whilst the quorum of the legislature, so formed, completed their resolution. We shall dwell no longer on this subject,
the people of Pennsylvania have been already acquainted therewith. We would only further observe that every member
of the legislature, previously to taking his seat, by solemn oath or affirmation, declares,
“that he will not do or consent to any act or thing whatever that shall have a tendency
to lessen or abridge their rights and privileges, as declared in the constitution of this state.” And that constitution which they are so solemnly
sworn to support cannot legally be altered but by a recommendation of the council of
censors, who alone are authorized to propose alterations and amendments, and even these
must be published at least six months, for the consideration of the people. The proposed system of government for the
United States, if adopted, will alter and may annihilate the constitution of Pennsylvania;
and therefore the legislature had no authority whatever to recommend the calling a convention
for that purpose. This proceeding could not be considered as
binding on the people of this commonwealth. The house was formed by violence, some of
the members composing it were de-tained there by force, which alone would have vitiated
any proceedings, to which they were otherwise competent; but had the legislature been legally
formed, this business was absolutely without their power. In this situation of affairs were the subscribers
elected members of the convention of Pennsylvania. A convention called by a legislature in direct
violation of their duty, and composed in part of members, who were compelled to attend for
that purpose, to consider of a constitution proposed by a convention of the United States,
who were not appointed for the purpose of framing a new form of government, but whose
powers were expressly confined to altering and amending the present articles of confederation. Therefore the members of the continental convention
in proposing the plan acted as individuals, and not as deputies from Pennsylvania. The assembly who called the state convention
acted as individuals, and not as the legislature of Pennsylvania; nor could they or the convention
chosen on their recommendation have authority to do any act or thing, that can alter or
annihilate the constitution of Pennsylvania (both of which will be done by the new constitution)
nor are their proceedings in our opinion, at all binding on the people. The election for members of the convention
was held at so early a period and the want of information was so great, that some of
us did not know of it until after it was over, and we have reason to believe that great numbers
of the people of Pennsylvania have not yet had an opportunity of sufficiently examining
the proposed constitution. We apprehend that no change can take place
that will affect the internal government or constitution of this commonwealth, unless
a majority of the people should evidence a wish for such a change; but on examining the
number of votes given for members of the present state convention, we find that of upwards
of seventy thousand free-men who are entitled to vote in Pennsylvania, the whole convention
has been elected by about thirteen thousand voters, and though two-thirds of the members
of the convention have thought proper to ratify the proposed constitution, yet those two-thirds
were elected by the votes of only six thousand and eight hundred freemen. In the city of Philadelphia and some of the
eastern counties, the junto that took the lead in the business agreed to vote for none
but such as would solemnly promise to adopt the system in toto, without exercising their
judgment. In many of the counties the people did not
attend the elections as they had not an opportunity of judging of the plan. Others did not consider themselves bound by
the call of a set of men who assembled at the state house in Philadelphia, and assumed
the name of the legislature of Pennsylvania; and some were prevented from voting by the
violence of the party who were determined at all events to force down the measure. To such lengths did the tools of despotism
carry their outrage, that in the night of the election for members of convention, in
the city of Philadelphia, several of the subscribers (being then in the city to transact your business)
were grossly abused, ill-treated and insulted while they were quiet in their lodgings, though
they did not interfere, nor had anything to do with the said election, but, as they apprehend,
because they were supposed to be adverse to the proposed constitution, and would not tamely
surrender those sacred rights, which you had committed to their charge. The convention met, and the same disposition
was soon manifested in considering the proposed constitution, that had been exhibited in every
other stage of the business. We were prohibited by an express vote of the
convention, from taking any question on the separate articles of the plan, and reduced
to the necessity of adopting or rejecting in toto. Tis true the majority permitted us to debate
on each article, but restrained us from proposing amendments. They also determined not to permit us to enter
on the minutes our reasons, of dissent against any of the articles, nor even on the final
question our reasons of dissent against the whole. Thus situated we entered on the examination
of the proposed system of government, and found it to be such as we could not adopt,
without, as we conceived, surrendering up your dearest rights. We offered our objections to the convention,
and opposed those parts of the plan, which, in our opinion, would be injurious to you,
in the best manner we were able; and closed our arguments by offering the following propositions
to the convention. 1. The right of conscience shall be held inviolable;
and neither the legislative, executive, nor judicial powers of the United States shall
have authority to alter, abrogate, or infringe any part of the constitution of the several
states, which provide for the preservation of liberty in matters of religion. 2. That in controversies respecting property,
and in suits between man and man, trial by jury shall remain as heretofore, as well in
the federal courts, as in those of the several states. 3. That in all capital and criminal prosecutions,
a man has a right to demand the cause and nature of his accusation, as well in the federal
courts, as in those of the several states; to be heard by himself and his counsel; to
be confronted with the accusers and witnesses; to call for evidence in his favor, and a speedy
trial by an impartial jury of his vicinage, without whose unanimous consent, he cannot
be found guilty, nor can he be compelled to give evidence against himself; and that no
man be deprived of his liberty, except by the law of the land or the judgment of his
peers. 4. That excessive bail ought not to be required,
nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel nor unusual punishments inflicted. 5. That warrants unsupported by evidence, whereby
any officer or messenger may be commanded or required to search suspected places, or
to seize any person or persons, his or their property, not particularly described, are
grievous and oppressive, and shall not be granted either by the magistrates of the federal
government or others. 6. That the people have a right to the freedom
of speech, of writing and publishing their sentiments, therefore, the freedom of the
press shall not be restrained by any law of the United States. 7. That the people have a right to bear arms
for the defense of themselves and their own state, or the United States, or for the purpose
of killing game; and no law shall be passed for disarming the people or any of them, unless
for crimes committed, or real danger of public injury from individuals; and as standing armies
in the time of peace are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be kept up; and that the
military shall be kept under strict subordination to and be governed by the civil powers. 8. The inhabitants of the several states shall
have liberty to fowl and hunt in seasonable times, on the lands they hold, and on all
other lands in the United States not enclosed, and in like manner to fish in all navigable
waters, and others not private property, without being restrained therein by any laws to be
passed by the legislature of the United States. 9. That no law shall be passed to restrain the
legislatures of the several states from enacting laws for imposing taxes, except imposts and
duties on goods imported or exported, and that no taxes, except imposts and duties upon
goods imported and exported, and postage on letters shall be levied by the authority of
Congress. 10. That the house of representatives be properly
increased in number; that elections shall remain free; that the several states shall
have power to regulate the elections for senators and representatives, without being controlled
either directly or indirectly by an interference on the part of the Congress; and that elections
of representatives be annual. 11. That the power of organizing, arming, and
disciplining the militia (the manner of disciplining the militia to be prescribed by Congress)
remain with the individual states, and that Congress shall not have authority to call
or march any of the militia out of their own state, without the consent of such state,
and for such length of time only as such state shall agree. That the sovereignty, freedom, and independency
of the several states shall be retained, and every power, jurisdiction, and right which
is not by this constitution expressly delegated to the United States in Congress assembled. That the legislative, executive, and judicial
powers be kept separate; and to this end that a constitutional council be appointed, to
advise and assist the president, who shall be responsible for the advice they give, hereby
the senators would be relieved from almost constant attendance; and also that the judges
be made completely independent. 13. That no treaty which shall be directly opposed
to the existing laws of the United States in Congress assembled shall be valid until
such laws shall be repealed, or made conformable to such treaty; neither shall any treaties
be valid which are in contradiction to the constitution of the United States, or the
constitutions of the several states. 14. That the judiciary power of the United States
shall be confined to cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls; to cases
of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction; to controversies to which the United States shall
be a party; to controversies between two or more states—between a state and citizens
of different states—between citizens claiming lands under grants of different states; and
between a state or the citizens thereof and foreign states, and in criminal cases, to
such only as are expressly enumerated in the constitution, and that the United States in
Congress assembled shall not have power to enact laws, which shall alter the laws of
descents and distribution of the effects of deceased persons, the titles of lands or goods,
or the regulation of contracts in the individual states. After reading these propositions, we declared
our willingness to agree to the plan, provided it was so amended as to meet those propositions,
or something similar to them; and finally moved the convention to adjourn, to give the
people of Pennsylvania time to consider the subject, and determine for themselves; but
these were all rejected, and the final vote was taken, when our duty to you induced us
to vote against the proposed plan, and to decline signing the ratification of the same. During the discussion we met with many insults,
and some personal abuse; we were not even treated with decency, during the sitting of
the convention, by the persons in the gallery of the house; however, we flatter ourselves
that in contending for the preservation of those invaluable rights you have thought proper
to commit to our charge, we acted with a spirit becoming freemen, and being desirous that
you might know the principles which actuated our conduct, and being prohibited from inserting
our reasons of dissent on the minutes of the convention, we have subjoined them for your
consideration, as to you alone we are accountable. It remains with you whether you will think
those inestimable privileges, which you have so ably contended for, should be sacrificed
at the shrine of despotism, or whether you mean to contend for them with the same spirit
that has so often baffled the attempts of an aristocratic faction, to rivet the shackles
of slavery on you and your unborn posterity. Our objections are comprised under three general
heads of dissent, viz.: We dissent, first, because it is the opinion
of the most celebrated writers on government, and confirmed by uniform experience, that
a very extensive territory cannot be governed on the principles of freedom, otherwise than
by a confederation of republics, possessing all the powers of internal government; but
united in the management of their general, and foreign concerns. If any doubt could have been entertained of
the truth of the foregoing principle, it has been fully removed by the concession of Mr.
[James] Wilson, one of majority on this question; and who was one of the deputies in the late
general convention. In justice to him, we will give his own words;
they are as follows, viz.: “The extent of country for which the new constitution was
required produced another difficulty in the business of the federal convention. It is the opinion of some celebrated writers
that to a small territory, the democratical; to a middling territory (as Montesquieu has
termed it) the monarchical; and to an extensive territory, the despotic form of government
is best adapted. Regarding then the wide and almost unbounded
jurisdiction of the United States, at first view, the hand of despotism seemed necessary
to control, connect, and protect it; and hence the chief embarrassment rose. For, we know that, altho our constituents
would cheerfully submit to the legislative restraints of a free government, they would
spurn at every attempt to shackle them with despotic power.” And again in another part of his speech he
continues. “Is it probable that the dissolution of
the state governments and the establishment of one consolidated empire would be eligible
in its nature and satisfactory to the people in its administration? I think not, as I have given reasons to show
that so extensive a territory could not be governed, connected, and preserved, but by
the supremacy of despotic power. All the exertions of the most potent emperors
of Rome were not capable to keeping that empire together, which in extent was far inferior
to the dominion of America.” We dissent, secondly, because the powers vested
in Congress by this constitution must necessarily annihilate and absorb the legislative, executive,
and judicial powers of the several states, and produce from their ruins one consolidated
government, which from the nature of things will be an iron-handed despotism, as nothing
short of the supremacy of despotic sway could connect and govern these United States under
one government. As the truth of this position is of such decisive
importance, it ought to be fully investigated, and if it is founded to be clearly ascertained;
for, should it be demonstrated, that the powers vested by this constitution in Congress will
have such an effect as necessarily to produce one consolidated government, the question
then will be reduced to this short issue, viz.: whether satiated with the blessings
of liberty; whether repenting of the folly of so recently asserting their unalienable
rights, against foreign despots at the expense of so much blood and treasure, and such painful
and arduous struggles, the people of America are now willing to resign every privilege
of freemen, and submit to the dominion of an absolute government, that will embrace
all America in one chain of despotism; or whether they will with virtuous indignation
spurn at the shackles prepared for them, and confirm their liberties by a conduct becoming
freemen. That the new government will not be a confederacy
of states, as it ought, but one consolidated government founded upon the destruction of
the several governments of the states, we shall now show. The powers of Congress under the new constitution
are complete and unlimited over the purse and the sword, and are perfectly independent
of, and supreme over, the state governments; whose intervention in these great points is
entirely destroyed. By virtue of their power of taxation, Congress
may command the whole, or any part of the property of the people. They may impose what imposts upon commerce;
they may impose what land taxes, poll taxes, excises, duties on all written instruments,
and duties on every other article that they may judge proper; in short, every species
of taxation, whether of an external or internal nature is comprised in section the 8th, of
Article the 1st, viz.: “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties,
imposts, and excises, to pay the debts, and provide for the common defence and general
welfare of the United States.” As there is no one article of taxation reserved
to the state governments, the Congress may monopolize every source of revenue, and thus
indirectly demolish the state governments, for without funds they could not exist. The taxes, duties, and excises imposed by
Congress may be so high as to render it impracticable to levy further sums on the same articles;
but whether this should be the case or not, if the state governments should presume to
impose taxes, duties, or excises, on the same articles with Congress, the latter may abrogate
and repeal the laws whereby they are imposed, upon the allegation that they interfere with
the due collection of their taxes, duties, or excises, by virtue of the following clause,
part of section 8th, Article 1st, viz.: “To make all laws which shall be necessary and
proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this
constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.” The Congress might gloss over this conduct
by construing every purpose for which the state legislatures now lay taxes, to be for
the “general welfare,”; and therefore as of their jurisdiction. And the supremacy of the laws of the United
States is established by Article 6th, viz.: “That this constitution and the laws of
the United States, which shall be made in pursuance thereof, and all treaties made,
or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme
law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby; any thing in the constitution
or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.”; It has been alleged that the words “pursuant
to the constitution” are a restriction upon the authority of Congress; but when it is
considered that by other sections they are invested with every efficient power of government,
and which may be exercised to the absolute destruction of the state governments, without
any violation of even the forms of the constitution, this seeming restriction, as well as every
other restriction in it, appears to us to be nugatory and delusive; and only introduced
as a blind upon the real nature of the government. In our opinion, “pursuant to the constitution”
will be coextensive with the will and pleasure of Congress, which, indeed, will be the only
limitation of their powers. We apprehend that two coordinate sovereignties
would be a solecism in politics. That therefore as there is no line of distinction
drawn between the general and state governments; as the sphere of their jurisdiction is undefined,
it would be contrary to the nature of things, that both should exist together, one or the
other would necessarily triumph in the fullness of dominion. However the contest could not be of long continuance,
as the state governments are divested of every means of defense, and will be obliged by “the
supreme law of the land” to yield at discretion. It has been objected to this total destruction
of the state governments, that the existence of their legislatures is made essential to
the organization of Congress; that they must assemble for the appointment of the senators
and president general of the United States. True, the state legislatures may be continued
for some years, as boards of appointment, merely, after they are divested of every other
function, but the framers of the constitution foreseeing that the people will soon be disgusted
with this solemn mockery of a government without power and usefulness have made a provision
for relieving them from the imposition, in section 4th, of Article 1st, viz.: “The
times, places, and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives shall be
prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time,
by law make or alter such regulations; except as to the place of chusing senators.” As Congress have the control over the time
of the appointment of the president general, of the senators and of the representatives
of the United States, they may prolong their existence in office, for life, by postponing
the time of their election and appointment, from period to period, under various pretenses,
such as an apprehension of invasion, the factious disposition of the people, or any other plausible
pretense that the occasion may suggest; and having thus obtained life estates in the government,
they may fill up the vacancies themselves, by their control over the mode of appointment;
with this exception in regard to the senators, that as the place of appointment for them
must, by the constitution, be in the particular state, they may depute somebody in the respective
states, to fill up the vacancies in the senate occasioned by death, until they can venture
to assume it themselves. In this manner may the only restriction in
this clause be evaded. By virtue of the foregoing section, when the
spirit of the people shall be gradually broken; when the general government shall be firmly
established, and when a numerous standing army shall render opposition vain, the Congress
may complete the system of despotism, in renouncing all dependence on the people, by continuing
themselves, and [their] children in the government. The celebrated Montesquieu, in his Spirit
of Laws, vol. 1, page 12th, says, “That in a democracy there can be no exercise of
sovereignty, but by the suffrages of the people, which are their will; now the sovereign’s
will is the sovereign himself; the laws therefore, which establish the right of suffrage, are
fundamental to this government. In fact, it is as important to regulate in
a republic in what manner, by whom, and concerning what suffrages are to be given, as it is in
a monarchy to know who is the prince, and after what manner he ought to govern.” The time, mode, and place of the election
of representatives, senators and president general of the United States ought not to
be under the control of Congress, but fundamentally ascertained and established. The new constitution, consistently with the
plan of consolidation, contains no reservation of the rights and privileges of the state
governments, which was made in the confederation of the year 1778, by Article the 2d, viz.:
“That each state retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence, and every power,
jurisdiction and right, which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United
States in Congress assembled.” The legislative power vested in Congress by
the foregoing recited sections is so unlimited in its nature; may be so comprehensive, and
boundless its exercise, that this alone would be amply sufficient to annihilate the state
governments, and swallow them up in the grand vortex of general empire. The judicial powers vested in Congress are
also so various and extensive, that by legal ingenuity they may be extended to every case,
and thus absorb the state judiciaries, and when we consider the decisive influence that
a general judiciary would have over the civil polity of the several states, we do not hesitate
to pronounce that this power, unaided by the legislative, would effect a consolidation
of the states under one government. The powers of a court of equity, vested by
this constitution in the tribunals of Congress; powers which do not exist in Pennsylvania
unless so far as they can be incorporated with jury trial, would, in this state, greatly
contribute to this event. The rich and wealthy suitors would eagerly
lay hold of the infinite mazes, perplexities, and delays, which a court of chancery, with
the appellate powers of the supreme court in fact as well as law would furnish him with,
and thus the poor man being plunged in the bottomless pit of legal discussion would drop
his demand in despair. In short, consolidation pervades the whole
constitution. It begins with an annunciation that such was
the intention. The main pillars of the fabric correspond
with it, and the concluding paragraph is a confirmation of it. The preamble begins with the words, “We
the people of the United States,” which is the style of a compact between individuals
entering into a state of society, and not that of a confederation of states. The other features of consolidation, we have
before noticed. Thus we have fully established the position,
that the powers vested by this constitution in Congress will effect a consolidation of
the states under one government, which even the advocates of this constitution admit could
not be done without the sacrifice of all liberty. 3. We dissent, thirdly, because if it were practicable
to govern so extensive a territory as these United States includes, on the plan of a consolidated
government, consistent with the principles of liberty and the happiness of the people,
yet the construction of this constitution is not calculated to attain the object, for
independent of the nature of the case, it would of itself, necessarily produce a despotism,
and that not by the usual gradations, but with the celerity that has hitherto only attended
revolutions effected by the sword. To establish the truth of this position, a
cursory investigation of the principles and form of this constitution will suffice. The first consideration that this review suggests
is the emission of a BILL OF RIGHTS ascertaining and fundamentally establishing those unalienable
and personal rights of men, without the full, free, and secure enjoyment of which there
can be no liberty, and over which it is not necessary for a good government to have the
control. The principal of which are the rights of conscience,
personal liberty by the clear and unequivocal establishment of the writ of habeas corpus,
jury trial in criminal and civil cases, by an impartial jury of the vicinage or county;
with the common law proceedings, for the safety of the accused in criminal prosecutions; and
the liberty of the press, that scourge of tyrants, and the grand bulwark of every other
liberty and privilege; the stipulation heretofore made in favor of them in the state constitutions
are entirely superseded by this constitution. The legislature of a free country should be
so formed as to have a competent knowledge of its constituents, and enjoy their confidence. To produce these essential requisites, the
representation ought to be fair, equal, and sufficiently numerous, to possess the same
interests, feelings, opinions, and views, which the people themselves would possess
were they all assembled; and so numerous as to prevent bribery and undue influence, and
so responsible to the people, by frequent and fair elections, as to prevent their neglecting
or sacrificing the views and interests of their constituents, to their own pursuits. We will now bring the legislature under this
constitution to the test of the foregoing principles, which will demonstrate, that it
is deficient in every essential quality of a just and safe representation. The house of representatives is to consist
of 65 members; that is one for about every 50,000 inhabitants, to be chosen every two
years. Thirty-three members will form a quorum for
doing business, and 17 of these, being the majority, determine the sense of the house. The senate, the other constituent branch of
the legislature, consists of 26 members, being two from each state, appointed by their legislatures
every six years—fourteen senators make a quorum; the majority of whom, eight, determines
the sense of that body; except in judging on impeachments, or in making treaties, or
in expelling a member, when two-thirds of the senators present must concur. The president is to have the control over
the enacting of laws, so far as to make the concurrence of two-thirds of the representatives
and senators present necessary, if he should object to the laws. Thus it appears that the liberties, happiness,
interests, and great concerns of the whole United States may be dependent upon the integrity,
virtue, wisdom, and knowledge of 25 or 26 men. How inadequate and unsafe a representation! Inadequate, because the sense and views of
3 or 4 millions of people diffused over so extensive a territory comprising such various
climates, products, habits, interests, and opinions cannot be collected in so small a
body; and besides, it is not a fair and equal representation of the people even in proportion
to its number, for the smallest state has as much weight in the senate as the largest,
and from the smallness of the number to be chosen for both branches of the legislature;
and from the mode of election and appointment, which is under the control of Congress; and
from the nature of the thing, men of the most elevated rank in life will alone be chosen. The other orders in the society, such as farmers,
traders, and mechanics, who all ought to have a competent number of their best-informed
men in the legislature, will be totally unrepresented. The representation is unsafe because in the
exercise of such great powers and trusts, it is so exposed to corruption and undue influence,
by the gift of the numerous places of honor and emolument, at the disposal of the executive;
by the arts and address of the great and designing; and by direct bribery. The representation is moreover inadequate
and unsafe, because of the long terms for which it is appointed, and the mode of its
appointment, by which Congress may not only control the choice of the people, but may
so manage as to divest the people of this fundamental right, and become self-elected. The number of members in the house of representatives
may be increased to one for every 30,000 inhabitants. But when we consider, that this cannot be
done without the consent of the senate, who from their, share in the legislative, in the
executive, and judicial departments, and permanency of appointment, will be the great efficient
body in this government, and whose weight and predominancy would be abridged by an increase
of the representatives, we are persuaded that this is a circumstance that cannot be expected. On the contrary, the number of representatives
will probably be continued at 65, although the population of the country may swell to
treble what it now is; unless a revolution should effect a change. We have before noticed the judicial power
as it would effect a consolidation of the states into one government; we will now examine
it, as it would affect the liberties and welfare of the people, supposing such a government
were practicable and proper. The judicial power, under the proposed constitution,
is founded on the well-known principles of the civil law, by which the judge de-termines
both on law and fact, and appeals are allowed from the inferior tribunals to the superior,
upon the whole question; so that facts as well as law, would be reexamined, and even
new facts brought forward in the court of appeals; and to use the words of a very eminent
civilian, “The cause is many times another thing before the court of appeals, than what
it was at the time of the first sentence.” That this mode of proceeding is the one which
must be adopted under this constitution is evident from the following circumstances:
1st. That the trial by jury, which is the grand
characteristic of the common law, is secured by the constitution, only in criminal cases. 2d. That the appeal from both law and fact is
expressly established, which is utterly inconsistent with the principles of the common law, and
trials by jury. The only mode in which an appeal from law
and fact can be established is by adopting the principles and practice of the civil law;
unless the United States should be drawn into the absurdity of calling and swearing juries,
merely for the purpose of contradicting their verdicts, which would render juries contemptible
and worse than useless. 3d. That the courts to be established would decide
on all cases of law and equity, which is a well-known characteristic of the civil law,
and these courts would have conusance [cognizance] not only of the laws of the United States
and of treaties, and of cases affecting ambassadors, but of all cases of admiralty and maritime
jurisdiction, which last are matters belonging exclusively to the civil law, in every nation
in Christendom. Not to enlarge upon the loss of the invaluable
right of trial by an unbiased jury, so dear to every friend of liberty, the monstrous
expense and inconveniences of the mode of proceeding to be adopted are such as will
prove intolerable to the people of this country. The lengthy proceedings of the civil law courts
in the chancery of England, and in the courts of Scotland and France, are such that few
men of moderate fortune can endure the expense of; the poor man must therefore submit to
the wealthy. Length of purse will too often prevail against
right and justice. For instance, we are told by the learned Judge
Blackstone, that a question only on the property of an ox, of the value of three guineas, originating
under the civil law proceedings in Scotland, after many interlocutory orders and sentences
below, was carried at length from the court of sessions, the highest court in that part
of Great Britain, by way of appeal to the House of Lords, where the question of law
and fact was finally determined. He adds, that no pique of spirit could in
the court of king’s bench or common pleas at Westminster have given continuance to such
a cause for a tenth-part of the time, nor have cost a twentieth-part of the expense. Yet the costs in the courts of king’s bench
and common pleas in England are infinitely greater than those which the people of this
country have ever experienced. We abhor the idea of losing the transcendent
privilege of trial by jury, with the loss of which, it is remarked by the same learned
author, that in Sweden, the liberties of the commons were extinguished by an aristocratic
senate; and trial by jury and the liberty of the people went out together. At the same time we regret the intolerable
delay, the enormous expenses and infinite vexation to which the people of this country
will be exposed from the voluminous proceedings of the courts of civil law, and especially
from the appellate jurisdiction, by means of which a man may be drawn from the utmost
boundaries of this extensive country to the seat of the supreme court of the nation to
contend, perhaps with a wealthy and powerful adversary. The consequence of this establishment will
be an absolute confirmation of the power of aristocratical influence in the courts of
justice; for the common people will not be able to contend or struggle against it. Trial by jury in criminal cases may also be
excluded by declaring that the libeler, for instance, shall be liable to an action of
debt for a specified sum, thus evading the common law prosecution by indictment and trial
by jury. And the common course of proceeding against
a ship for breach of revenue laws by information (which will be classed among civil causes)
will at the civil law be within the resort of a court, where no jury intervenes. Besides, the benefit of jury trial, in cases
of a criminal nature, which cannot be evaded, will be rendered of little value, by calling
the accused to answer far from home; there being no provision that the trial be by a
jury of the neighborhood or country. Thus an inhabitant of Pittsburgh, on a charge
of crime committed on the banks of the Ohio, may be obliged to defend himself at the side
of the Delaware, and so vice versa. To conclude this head, we observe that the
judges of the courts of Congress would not be independent, as they are not debarred from
holding other offices during the pleasure of the president and senate, and as they may
derive their support in part from fees alterable by the legislature. The next consideration that the constitution
presents is the undue and dangerous mixture of the powers of government: the same body
possessing legislative, executive, and judicial powers. The senate is a constituent branch of the
legislature, it has judicial power in judging on impeachments, and in this case unites in
some measure the characters of judge and party, as all of the principal officers are appointed
by the president general, with the concurrence of the senate and therefore they derive their
offices in part from the senate. This may bias the judgments of the senators,
and tend to screen great delinquents from punishment. And the senate has, moreover, various and
great executive powers, viz.; in concurrence with the president general, they form treaties
with foreign nations, that may control and abrogate the constitutions and laws of the
several states. Indeed, there is no power, privilege, or liberty
of the state governments, or of the people, but what may be affected by virtue of this
power. For all treaties, made by them, are to be
the “supreme law of the land; any thing in the constitution or laws of any state,
to the contrary notwithstanding.” And this great power may be exercised by the
president and 10 senators (being two-thirds of 14 which is a quorum of that body). What an inducement would this offer to the
ministers of foreign powers to compass by bribery such concessions as could not otherwise
be obtained. It is the unvaried usage of all free states,
whenever treaties interfere with the positive laws of the land, to make the intervention
of the legislature necessary to give them operation. This became necessary, and was afforded by
the parliament of Great Britain in consequence of the late commercial treaty between that
kingdom and France. As the senate judges on impeachments, who
is to try the members of the senate for the abuse of this power! And none of the great appointments of office
can be made without the consent of the senate. Such various, extensive, and important powers
combined in one body of men are inconsistent with all freedom; the celebrated Montesquieu
tells us, that “when the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person,
or in the same body of magistrates, there can be no liberty, because apprehensions may
arise, lest the same monarch or senate should enact tyrannical laws, to execute them in
a tyrannical manner.” “Again, there is no liberty, if the power
of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive powers. Were it joined with the legislative, the life
and liberty of the subject would be exposed to arbitrary control: for the judge would
then be legislator. Were it joined to the executive power, the
judge might behave with all the violence of an oppressor. There would be an end of everything, were
the same man, or the same body of the nobles, or of the people, to exercise those three
powers; that of enacting laws; that of executing the public resolutions; and that of judging
the crimes or differences of individuals.” The president general is dangerously connected
with the senate; his coincidence with the views of the ruling junto in that body is
made essential to his weight and importance in the government, which will destroy all
independency and purity in the executive department, and having the power of pardoning without
the concurrence of a council, he may screen from punishment the most treasonable attempts
that may be made on the liberties of the people, when instigated by his coadjutors in the senate. Instead of this dangerous and improper mixture
of the executive with the legislative and judicial, the supreme executive powers ought
to have been placed in the president, with a small independent council made personally
responsible for every appointment to office or other act, by having their opinions recorded;
and that without the concurrence of the majority of the quorum of this council, the president
should not be capable of taking any step. We have before considered internal taxation,
as it would effect the destruction of the state governments, and produce one consolidated
government. We will now consider that subject as it affects
the personal concerns of the people. The power of direct taxation applies to every
individual, as Congress, under this government, is expressly vested with the authority of
laying a capitation or poll tax upon every person to any amount. This is a tax that, however oppressive in
its nature, and unequal in its operation, is certain as to its produce and simple in
its collection; it cannot be evaded like the objects of imposts or excise, and will be
paid, because all that a man hath will he give for his head. This tax is so congenial to the nature of
despotism, that it has ever been a favorite under such governments. Some of those who were in the late general
convention from this state have long labored to introduce a poll tax among us. The power of direct taxation will further
apply to every individual, as Congress may tax land, cattle, trades, occupations, etc.
to any amount, and every object of internal taxation is of that nature, that however oppressive,
the people will have but this alternative, either to pay the tax, or let their property
be taken, for all resistance will be vain. The standing army and select militia would
enforce the collection. For the moderate exercise of this power, there
is no control left in the state governments, whose intervention is destroyed. No relief, or redress of grievances can be
extended, as heretofore, by them. There is not even a declaration of RIGHTS
to which the people may appeal for the vindication of their wrongs in the court of justice. They must therefore, implicitly, obey the
most arbitrary laws, as the worst of them will be pursuant to the principles and form
of the constitution, and that strongest of all checks upon the conduct of administration,
responsibility to the people, will not exist in this government. The permanency of the appointments of senators
and representatives, and the control the Congress have over their election, will place them
independent of the sentiments and resentment of the people, and the administration having
a greater interest in the government than in the community, there will be no consideration
to restrain them from oppression and tyranny. In the government of this state, under the
old confederation, the members of the legislature are taken from among the people, and their
interests and welfare are so inseparably connected with those of their constituents, that they
can derive no advantage from oppressive laws and taxes, for they would suffer in common
with their fellow citizens; would participate in the burthens they impose on the community,
as they must return to the common level, after a short period; and notwithstanding every
exertion of influence, every means of corruption, a necessary rotation excludes them from permanency
in the legislature. This large state is to have but ten members
in that Congress which is to have the liberty, property, and dearest concerns of every individual
in this vast country at absolute command, and even these ten persons, who are to be
our only guardians, who are to supersede the legislature of Pennsylvania, will not be of
the choice of the people, nor amenable to them. From the mode of their election and appointment
they will consist of the lordly and high-minded; of men who will have no congenial feelings
with the people, but a perfect indifference for, and contempt of them; they will consist
of those harpies of power, that prey upon the very vitals; that riot on the miseries
of the community. But we will suppose, although in all probability
it may never be realized in fact, that our deputies in Congress have the welfare of their
constituents at heart, and will exert themselves in their behalf. What security could even this afford; what
relief could they extend to their oppressed constituents? To attain this, the majority of the deputies
of the twelve other states in Congress must be alike well disposed; must alike forego
the sweets of power, and relinquish the pursuits of ambition, which from the nature of things
is not to be expected. If the people part with a responsible representation
in the legislature, founded upon fair, certain, and frequent elections, they have nothing
left they can call their own. Miserable is the lot of that people whose
every concern depends on the WILL and PLEASURE of their rulers. Our soldiers will become Janissaries, and
our officers of government bashaws; in short, the system of despotism will soon be completed. From the foregoing investigation, it appears
that the Congress under this constitution will not possess the confidence of the people,
which is an essential requisite in a good government; for unless the laws command the
confidence and respect of the great body of the people, so as to induce them to support
them, when called on by the civil magistrate, they must be executed by the aid of a numerous
standing army, which would be inconsistent with every idea of liberty; for the same force
that may be employed to compel obedience to good laws, might and probably would be used
to wrest from the people their constitutional liberties. The framers of this constitution appear to
have been aware of this great deficiency; to have been sensible that no dependence could
be placed on the people for their support; but on the contrary, that the government must
be executed by force. They have therefore made a provision for this
purpose in a permanent STANDING ARMY, and a MILITIA that may be subjected to as strict
discipline and government. A standing army in the hands of a government
placed so independent of the people may be made a fatal instrument to overturn the public
liberties; it may be employed to enforce the collection of the most oppressive taxes, and
to carry into execution the most arbitrary measures. An ambitious man who may have the army at
his devotion may step up into the throne, and seize upon absolute power. The absolute unqualified command that Congress
have over the militia may be made instrumental to the destruction of all liberty, both public
and private; whether of a personal, civil, or religious nature. First, the personal liberty of every man probably
from sixteen to sixty years of age may be destroyed by the power Congress have in organizing
and governing of the militia. As militia they may be subjected to fines
to any amount, levied in a military manner; they may be subjected to corporal punishments
of the most disgraceful and humiliating kind, and to death itself, by the sentence of a
court martial. To this our young men will be more immediately
subjected, as a select militia, composed of them, will best answer the purposes of government. Secondly, the rights of conscience may be
violated, as there is no exemption of those persons who are conscientiously scrupulous
of bearing arms. These compose a respectable proportion of
the community in the state. This is the more remarkable, because even
when the distresses of the late war, and the evident disaffection of many citizens of that
description, inflamed our passions, and when every person, who was obliged to risk his
own life, must have been exasperated against such as on any account kept back from the
common danger, yet even then, when outrage and violence might have been expected, the
rights of conscience were held sacred. At this momentous crisis, the framers of our
state constitution made the most express and decided declaration and stipulations in favor
of the rights of conscience; but now when no necessity exists, those dearest rights
of men are left insecure. Thirdly, the absolute command of Congress
over the militia may be destructive of public liberty; for under the guidance of an arbitrary
government, they may be made the unwilling instruments of tyranny. The militia of Pennsylvania may be marched
to New England or Virginia to quell an insurrection occasioned by the most galling oppression,
and aided by the standing army, they will no doubt be successful in subduing their liberty
and independency; but in so doing, although the magnanimity of their minds will be extinguished,
yet the meaner passions of resentment and revenge will be increased, and these in turn
will be the ready and obedient instruments of despotism to enslave the others; and that
with an irritated vengeance. Thus may the militia be made the instruments
of crushing the last efforts of expiring liberty, of riveting the chains of despotism on their
fellow citizens, and on one another. This power can be exercised not only without
violating the constitution, but in strict conformity with it; it is calculated for this
express purpose, and will doubtless be executed accordingly. As this government will not enjoy the confidence
of the people, but be executed by force, it will be a very expensive and burthensome government. The standing army must be numerous, and as
a further support, it will be the policy of this government to multiply officers in every
department: judges, collectors, tax gatherers, excisemen, and the whole host of revenue officers
will swarm over the land, devouring the hard earnings of the industrious, like the locusts
of old, impoverishing and desolating all before them. We have not noticed the smaller, nor many
of the considerable blemishes, but have confined our objections to the great and essential
defects; the main pillars of the constitution, which we have shown to be inconsistent with
the liberty and happiness of the people, as its establishment will annihilate the state
governments, and produce one consolidated government, that will eventually and speedily
issue in the supremacy of despotism. In this investigation, we have not confined
our views to the interests or welfare of this state, in preference to the others. We have over-looked all local circumstances;
we have considered this subject on the broad scale of the general good; we have asserted
the cause of the present and future ages, the cause of liberty and mankind. Nathaniel Breading
John Smilie Richard Baird
Adam Orth John A. Hanna
John Whitehill John Harris
Robert Whitehill John Reynolds
Jonathan Hoge Nicholas Lutz John Ludwig
Abraham Lincoln John Bishop
Joseph Heister Joseph Powel
James Martin William Findley
John Baird James Edgar
William Todd

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *