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proposing to give this general government. They have an unlimited control over the purse and sword; yet no complaints are made. Why is he not as much afraid that our legislature will call out the militia to destroy our liberties ? Will the militia be called out by the general government to enslave the people — to enslave their friends, their families, themselves? The idea of the militia being made use of, as an instrument to destroy our liberties, is almost too absurd to merit a refutation. It cannot be supposed that the representatives of our general government will be worse men than the members of our state government. Will we be such fools as to send our greatest rascals to the general government? We must be both fools as well as villains to do so.
Gov. JOHNSTON. Mr. Chairman, I shall offer some observations on what the gentleman said. A parallel has been drawn between the British Parliament and Congress. The powers of Congress are all circumscribed, defined, and clearly laid down. So far they may go, but no farther. But, sir, what are the powers of the British Parliament? They have no written constitution in Britain. They have certain fundamental principles and legislative acts, securing the liberty of the people; but these may be altered by their representatives, without violating their constitution, in such manner as they may think proper. Their legislature existed long before the science of government was well understood. From very early periods, you find their Parliament in full force. What is their Magna Charta ? It is only an act of Parliament. Their Parliament can, at any time, alter the whole or any part of it. In short, it is no more binding on the people than any other act which has passed. The power of the Parliament is, therefore, unbounded. But, sir, can Congress alter the Constitution? They have no such power. They are bound to act by the Constitution. They dare not recede from it. At the moment that the time for which they are elected expires, they may be removed. If they make bad laws, they will be removed ; for they will be no longer worthy of confidence. The British Parliament can do every thing they please. Their bill of rights is only an act of Parliament, which may be, at any time, altered or modified, without a violation of the constitution. The people of Great Britain have no constitution to control their legislature. The king, lords, and commons, can do what they please.
Mr. CALDWELL observed, that whatever nominal powers the British Parliament might possess, yet they had infringed the liberty of the people in the most flagrant manner, by giving themselves power to continue four years in Parliament longer than they had been elected for — that though they were only chosen for three years by their constituents, yet they passed an act that representatives should, for the future, be chosen for seven years — that this Consti tution would have a dangerous tendency — that this clause would enable them to prolong their continuance in office as long as they pleased — and that, if a constitution was not agreeable to the people, its operation could not be happy.
Gov. JOHNSTON replied, that the act to which allusion was made by the gentleman was not unconstitutional ; but that, if Congress were to pass an act prolonging the terms of elections of senators or representatives, it would be clearly unconstitutional.
Mr. MACLAINE observed, that the act of Parliament referred to was passed on urgent necessity, when George I. ascended the throne, to prevent the Papists from getting into Parliament; for parties ran so high at that time, that Papists enough might have got in to destroy the act of settlement which excluded the Roman Catholics from the succession to the throne.
Mr. SPENCER. The gentleman from Halifax said, that the reason of this clause was, that some states might be refractory. I profess that, in my opinion, the circumstances of Rhode Island do not appear to apply. I cannot conceive the particular cause why Rhode Island should not send representatives to Congress. If they were united in one government, is it presumed that they would waive the right of representation ? I have not the least reason to doubt they would make use of the privilege. With respect to the construction that the worthy member put upon the clause, were that construction established, I would be satisfied ; but it is susceptible of a different explanation. They may alter the mode of election so as to deprive the people of the right of choosing. I wish to have it expressed in a more explicit manner.
Mr. DAVIE. Mr. Chairman, the gentleman has certainly misconceived the matter, when he says "that the circumstances of Rhode Island do not apply.” It is a fact well VOL. IV.
known, of which, pernaps, he may not be possessed, that the state of Rhode Island has not been regularly represented for several years, owing to the character and particular views of the prevailing party. By the influence of this faction, who are in possession of the state government, the people have been frequently deprived of the benefit of a representation in the Union, and Congress often embarrassed by their absence. The same evil may again result from the same cause ; and Congress ought, therefore, to possess constitutional power to give the people an opportunity of electing representatives, if the states neglect or refuse to do it. The gentleman from Anson has said, “ that this clause is susceptible of an explanation different from the construction I put upon it.” I have a high respect for his opinion, but that alone, on this important occasion, is not satisfactory: we must have some reasons from him to support and sanction this opinion. He is a professional man, and has held an office many years, the nature and duties of which would enable him to put a different construction on this clause, if it is capable of it.
This clause, sir, has been the occasion of much groundless alarm, and has been the favorite theme of declamation out of doors. I now call upon the gentlemen of the opposition to show that it contains the mischiefs with which they have alarmed and agitated the public mind, and I defy them to support the construction they have put upon it by one single plausible reason. The gentleman from New Hanover has said, in objection to this clause, “ that Congress may appoint the most inconvenient place in the most inconvenient district, and make the manner of election so oppressive as entirely to destroy representation.” If this is considered as possible, he should also reflect that the state legislatures may do the same thing. But this can never happen, sir, until the whole mass of the people become corrupt, when all parchment securities will be of little service. Does that gentleman, or any other gentleman who has the smallest acquaintance with human nature or the spirit of America, suppose that the people will passively relinquish privileges, or suffer the usurpation of powers unwarranted by the Constitution ? Does not the right of electing representatives revert to the people every second year? There is nothing iu this clause that can impede or destroy this reversion; and
although the particular time of year, the particular place in a county or a district, or the particular mode in which elections are to be held, as whether by vote or ballot, be left to Congress to direct, yet this can never deprive the people of the right or privilege of election. He has also added, “ that the democratical branch was in danger from this clayse ; and, with some other gentlemen, took it for granted that an aristocracy must arise out of the general government. This, I take it, from the very nature of the thing, can never happen. Aristocracies grow out of the combination of a few powerful families, where the country or people upon which they are to operate are immediately under their influence; whereas the interest and influence of this government are too weak, and too much diffused, ever to bring about such an event. The confidence of the people, acquired by a wise and virtuous conduct, is the only influence the members of the federal government can ever have. When aristocracies are formed, they will arise within the individual states. It is therefore absolutely necessary that Congress should have a constitutional power to give the people at large a representation in the government, in order to break and control such dangerous combinations. Let gentlemen show when and how this aristocracy they talk of is to arise out of this constitution. Are the first members to perpetuate themselves? Is the Constitution to be attacked by such absurd assertions as these, and charged with defects with which it has no possible connection?
Mr. BLOODWORTH. Mr. Chairman, the gentleman has mistaken me. When we examine the gentleman's arguments, they have no weight. He tells us that it is not probable " that an aristocracy can arise.” I did not say that it would. Various arguments are brought forward in support of this article. They are vague and trifling. There is nothing that can be offered to my mind which will reconcile me to it while this evil exists — while Congress have this control over elections. It was easy for them to mention that this control should only be exerted when the state would neglect, or refuse, or be unable in case of invasion, to regulate elections. If so, why did they not mention it expressly?
It appears to me that some of their general observations imply a contradiction. Do they not tell us that there is no
danger of a consolidation ? that Congress can exist no longer than the states — the massy pillars on which it is said to be raised? Do they not also tell us that the state governments are to secure us against Congress ? At another time, they tell us that it was unnecessary to secure our liberty by giving them power to prevent the state governments from oppressing us. We know that there is a corruption in human nature. Without circumspection and carefulness, we shall throw away our liberties. Why is this general expression used on this great occasion ? Why not use expressions that were clear and unequivocal? If I trust my property with a man and take security, shall I then barter away my rights ?
Mr. SPENCÉR. Mr. Chairman, this clause may operate in such a manner as will abridge the liberty of the people. It is well known that men in power are apt to abuse it, and extend it if possible. From the ambiguity of this expression, they may put such construction upon it as may suit them. I would not have it in such a manner as to endanger the rights of the people. But it has been said that this power is necessary to preserve their existence. There is not the least doubt but the people will keep them from losing their existence, if they shall behave themselves in such a manner as will merit it.
Mr. MACLAINE. Mr. Chairman, I thought it very extraordinary that the gentleman who was last on the floor should say that Congress could do what they please with respect to elections, and be warranted by this clause. The gentleman from Halifax (Mr. Davie) has put that construction upon it which reason and common sense will put upon it. Lawyers will often differ on a point of law, but people will seldom differ about so very plain a thing as this. The clause enables Congress to alter such regulations as the states shall have made with respect to elections. What would he infer from this? What is it to alter? It is to alter the time, place, and manner, established by the legislatures, if they do not answer the purpose. Congress ought 10 have power to perpetuate the government, and not the states, who might be otherwise inclined. I will ask the gentleman -and I wish he may give me a satisfactory answer—if the whole is not in the power of the people, as well when the elections are regulated by Congress, as when by the states. Are not both the agents of the people, ame