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sider it than myself. But I am still by no means confident that I am right. I have scarcely ever conversed on the subject with any man of understanding, who has not thrown some new light upon the subject which escaped me before. Those gentlemen who are so self-sufficient that they believe that they are never in the wrong, may arrogate infallibility to themselves, and conclude deliberation to be useless. For my part, I have often known myself to be in the wrong, and have ever wished to be corrected. There is nothing dishonorable in changing an opinion. Nothing is more fallible than human judgment. No gentleman will say that his is not fallible. Mine, I am sure, has often proved so. The serious importance of the subject merits the utmost attention ; an erroneous decision may involve truly awful and calamitous consequences. It is incumbent on us, therefore, to decide it with the greatest deliberation. The Constitution is at least entitled to a regular discussion. It has had the sanction of many of the best and greatest men upon the continent — of those very men to whom, perhaps, we owe the privilege of debating now. It has also been adopted by ten states since. Is it probable that we are less fallible than they are? Do we suppose our knowledge and wisdom to be superior to their aggregate wisdom and information ? I agree that this question ought to be determined on the footing of reason, and not on that of authority; and if it be found defective and unwise, I shall be for rejecting it; but it is neither decent nor right to refuse it a fair trial. A system supported by such characters merits at least a serious consideration. I hope, therefore, that the Constitution will be taken up paragraph by paragraph. It will then be in the power
of any gentlemen to offer his opinion on every part, and by comparing it with other opinions, he may obtain useful information. If the Constitution be so defective as it is represented, then the inquiry will terminate in favor of those who oppose it. But if, as I believe and hope, it be discovered to be so formed as to be likely to promote the happiness of our country, then I hope the decision will be, accordingly, in its favor. Is there any gentleman so indifferent to a union with our sister states, as to hazard disunion rashly, without considering the consequences? Had my opinion been different from what it is, I am sure I should have hesitated and reflected a long time before I had offered it against such respectable authorities. I am sorry
for the expense which may be incurred, when the community is so distressed; but this is a trivial consideration compared to the consequences of a rash proceeding upon this important question. Were any member to determine against it without proper consideration, and afterwards, upon his return home, on an impartial consideration, to be convinced it was a good system, his reflections on the temerity and precipitation of his conduct might destroy his peace of mind forever. I doubt not the members in general who condemn it, do so from a sincere belief that the system is a bad one; but at the same time, I believe there are many who are ready to relinquish that opinion, if they can be convinced it is erroneous, and that they sincerely wish for a fair and full discussion of the subject. For these reasons I am of opinion that the motion made by the honorable member is proper to be adopted.
Mr. RUTHERFORD was surprised at the arguments used by gentlemen, and wished to know how they should vote, whether on the paragraphs, and how the report should be made when the committee rose.
His excellency, Gov. JOHNSTON. If we reject any one part, we reject the whole. We are not to form a constitution, but to say whether we shall adopt a Constitution to which ten states have already acceded. If we think it a bad government, it is not binding to us; we can reject it. If it be proper for our adoption, we may adopt it. But a rejection of a single article will amount to a rejection of the whole.
Mr. RUTHERFORD. The honorable gentleman has mistaken me. Sorry I am that it is so late taken up by North Carolina, if we are to be influenced and persuaded in this manner. I am unhappy to hear gentlemen of learning and integrity preach up the doctrine of adoption by ten states. Sir, it is my opinion that we ought to decide it as if no state had adopted it. Are we to be thus intimidated into a measure of which we may disapprove ?
The question was then put, and carried by a great majority, to discuss the Constitution clause by clause. The preamble of the Constitution was then read.
Mr. CALDWELL. Mr. Chairman, if they mean, We, the people, — the people at large, -1 conceive the expression is improper. Were not they who framed this Constitu
tion the representatives of the legislatures of the different states? In my opinion, they had no power, from the people at large, to use their name, or to act for them. They were not delegated for that purpose.
Mr. MACLAINE. "The reverend gentleman has told us, that the expression, We, the people, is wrong, because the gentlemen who framed it were not the representatives of the people. I readily grant that they were delegated by states. But they did not think that they were the people, but intended it for the people, at a future day. The sanction of the state legislatures was in some degree necessary. It was to be submitted by the legislatures to the people; so that, when it is adopted, it is the act of the people. When it is the act of the people, their name is certainly proper. This is very obvious and plain to any capacity.
Mr. DAVIE. Mr. Chairman, the observation of the reverend gentleman is grounded, I suppose, on a supposition that the Federal Convention exceeded their powers. This objection has been industriously circulated; but I believe, on a candid examination, the prejudice on which this error is founded will be done away. As I had the honor, sir, to be a member of the Convention, it may be expected I would answer an objection personal in its nature, and which contains rather a reflection on our conduct, than an objection to the merits of the Constitution. After repeated and decisive proofs of the total inefficiency of our general government, the states deputed the members of the Convention to revise and strengthen it. And permit me to call to your consideration that, whatever form of confederate government they might devise, or whatever powers they might propose to give this new government, no part of it was binding until the whole Constitution had received the solemn assent of the people. What was the object of our mission ? “To decide upon the most effectual means of removing the defects of our federal union.” This is a general, discretional authority to propose any alteration they thought proper or necessary. Were not the state legislatures afterwards to review our proceedings? Is it not immediately through their recommendation that the plan of the Convention is submitted to the people? And this plan must still remain a dead letter, or receive its operation from the fiat of this Convention. Although the Federal Convention might recommend the con
cession of the most extensive powers, yet they could not put one of them into execution. What have the Convention done that can merit this species of censure? They have only recommended a plan of government containing some additional powers to those enjoyed under the present feeble system; amendments not only necessary, but which were the express object of the deputation. When we investigate this system candidly and accurately, and compare all its parts with one another, we shall find it absolutely necessary to confirm these powers, in order to secure the tranquillity of the states and the liberty of the people. Perhaps it would be necessary, to form a true judgment of this important question, to state some events, and develop some of those defects, which gave birth to the late Convention, and which have produced this revolution in our federal government. With the indulgence of the committee, I will attempt this detail with as much precision as I am capable of. The general objects of the union are, 1st, to protect us against foreign invasion ; 2d, to defend us against internal commotions and insurrections; 3d, to promote the commerce, agriculture, and manufactures, of America. These objects are requisite to make us a safe and happy people, and they cannot be attained without a firm and efficient system of union.
As to the first, we cannot obtain any effectual protection from the present Confederation. It is indeed universally acknowledged, that its inadequacy in this case is one of its greatest defects. Examine its ability to repel invasion. In the late glorious war, its weakness was unequivocally experienced. It is well known that Congress had a discretionary right to raise men and money; but they had no power to do either. In order to preclude the necessity of examining the whole progress of its imbecility, permit me to call to your recollection one single instance. When the last great stroke was made which humbled the pride of Britain, and put us in possession of peace and independence, so low were the finances and credit of the United States, that our army could not move from Philadelphia, until the minister of his most Christian majesty was prevailed upon to draw bills to defray the expense of the expedition. These were not obtained on the credit or interest of Congress, but by the personal influence of the commander-in-chief. Had this great project miscarried, what fatal events might
have ensued! It is a very moderate presumption, that what has once happened may happen again. The next important consideration, which is involved in the external powers of the Union, are treaties. Without a power in the federal government to compel the performance of our engagements with foreign nations, we shall be perpetually involved in destructive wars. The Confederation is extremely defective in this point also. I shall only mention the British treaty as a satisfactory proof of this melancholy fact. It is well known that, although this treaty was ratified in 1784, it required the sanction of a law of North Carolina in 1787; and that our enemies, presuming on the weakness of our federal government, have refused to deliver up several important posts within the territories of the United States, and still hold them, to our shame and disgrace. It is unnecessary to reason on facts, the perilous consequences of which must in a moment strike every mind capable of reflection.
The next head under which the general government may be considered, is the regulation of commerce. The United States should be empowered to compel foreign nations into commercial regulations that were either founded on the principles of justice or reciprocal advantages. Has the present Confederation effected any of these things? Is not our commerce equally unprotected abroad by arms and negotiation ? Nations have refused to enter into treaties with us. What was the language of the British court on a proposition of this kind ? Such as would insult the pride of any man of feeling and independence. — “You can make engagements, but you cannot compel your citizens to comply with them. We derive greater profits from the present situation of your commerce than we could expect under a treaty; and you have no kind of power that can compel us to surrender any advantage to you.” This was the language of our enemies ; and while our government remains as feeble as it has been, no nation will form any connection with us that will involve the relinquishment of the least advantage. What has been the consequence ? A general decay of trade, the rise of imported merchandise, the fall of produce, and an uncommon decrease of the value of lands. Foreigners have been reaping the benefits and emoluments which our citizens ought to enjoy An unjustifiable perversion of justice has pervaded almost all the states, and every thing presented to