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composed of several branches. It will consequently be more difficult, in these cases, to get the plan through the Legislatures, than through a Convention. 3. In the States, many of the ablest men are excluded from the Legislatures, but may be elected into a Convention. Among these may be ranked many of the clergy, who are generally friends to good government. Their services were found to be valuable in the formation and establishment of the Constitution of Massachusetts. 4. The Legislatures will be interrupted with a variety of little business; by artfully pressing which, designing men will find means to delay from year to year, if not to frustrate altogether, the national system. 5. If the last Article of the confederation is to be pursued, the unanimous concurrence of the States will be necessary. But will any one say that all the States are to suffer themselves to be ruined, if Rhode Island should persist in her opposition to general measures? Some other States might also tread in her steps. The present advantage, which New York seems to be so much attached to, of taxing her neighbours by the regulation of her trade, makes it very probable that she will be of the number. It would, therefore, deserve serious consideration, whether provision ought not to be made for giving effect to the system, without waiting for the unanimous concurrence of the States.
Mr. ELLSWORTH. If there be any Legislatures who should find themselves incompetent to the ratification, he should be content to let them advise with their constituents and pursue such a mode as would be competent. He thought more was to be expected
from the Legislatures, than from the people. The prevailing wish of the people in the Eastern States is, to get rid of the public debt; and the idea of strengthening the National Government carries with it that of strengthening the public debt. It was said by Colonel MASON,-in the first place, that the Legislatures have no authority in this case; and in the second, that their successors, having equal authority, could rescind their acts. As to the second point he could not admit it to be well founded. An act to which the States, by their Legislatures, make themselves parties, becomes a compact from which no one of the parties can recede of itself. As to the first point, he observed that a new set of ideas seemed to have crept in since the Articles of Confederation were established. Conventions of the people, or with power derived expressly from the people, were not then thought of. The Legislatures were considered as competent. Their ratification has been acquiesced in without complaint. To whom have Congress applied on subsequent occasions for further powers? To the Legislatures, not to the people. The fact is, that we exist at present, and we need not inquire how, as a federal society, united by a charter, one article of which is, that alterations therein may be made by the Legislative authority of the States. It has been said, that if the Confederation is to be observed, the States must unanimously concur in the proposed innovations. He would answer, that if such were the urgency and necessity of our situation as to warrant a new compact among a part of the States, founded on the consent of the people; the same pleas would be
equally valid, in favor of a partial compact, founded on the consent of the Legislatures.
Mr. WILLIAMSON thought the Resolution(the nineteenth) so expressed, as that it might be submitted either to the Legislatures or to Conventions recommended by the Legislatures. He observed that some Legislatures were evidently unauthorized to ratify the system. He thought, too, that Conventions were to be preferred, as more likely to be composed of the ablest men in the States.
Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS considered the inference of Mr. ELLSWORTH from the plea of necessity, as applied to the establishment of a new system, on the consent of the people of a part of the States, in favor of a like establishment, on the consent of a part of the Legislatures, as a non-sequitur. If the Confederation is to be pursued, no alteration can be made without the unanimous consent of the Legislatures. Legislative alterations not conformable to the Federal compact would clearly not be valid. The Judges would consider them as null and void. Whereas, in case of an appeal to the people of the United States, the supreme authority, the Federal compact may be altered by a majority of them, in like manner as the Constitution of a particular State may be altered by a majority of the people of the State. The amendment moved by Mr. ELLSWORTH erroneously supposes, that we are proceeding on the basis of the Confederation. This Convention is unknown to the Confederation.
Mr. KING thought with Mr. ELLSWORTH that the Legislatures had a competent authority, the acquiescence of the people of America in the Confedera
tion being equivalent to a formal ratification by the people. He thought with Mr. ELLSWORTH, also, that the plea of necessity was as valid in the one case, as the other. At the same time, he preferred a reference to the authority of the people expressly delegated to Conventions, as the most certain means of obviating all disputes and doubts concerning the legitimacy of the new Constitution, as well as the most likely means of drawing forth the best men in the States to decide on it. He remarked that among other objections, made in the State of New York to granting powers to Congress, one had been, that such powers as would operate within the States could not be reconciled to the Constitution, and therefore were not grantable by the Legislative authority. He considered it as of some consequence, also, to get rid of the scruples which some members of the State Legislatures might derive from their oaths to support and maintain the existing Constitutions.
Mr. MADISON thought it clear that the Legislatures were incompetent to the proposed changes. These changes would make essential inroads on the State Constitutions; and it would be a novel and dangerous doctrine, that a Legislature could change the Constitution under which it held its existence. There might indeed be some Constitutions within the Union, which had given a power to the Legislature to concur in alterations of the Federal compact. But there were certainly some which had not; and in the case of these, a ratification must of necessity be obtained from the people. He considered the difference between a system founded on the Legisla
tures only, and one founded on the people, to be the true difference between a league or treaty, and a Constitution. The former, in point of moral obligation, might be as inviolable as the latter. In point of political operation, there were two important distinctions in favor of the latter. First, a law violating a treaty ratified by a pre-existing law might be respected by the Judges as a law, though an unwise or perfidious one. A law violating a Constitution established by the people themselves, would be considered by the Judges as null and void. Secondly, the doctrine laid down by the law of nations in the case of treaties is, that a breach of any one article by any of the parties frees the other parties from their engagements. In the case of a union of people under one constitution, the nature of the pact has always been understood to exclude such an interpretation. Comparing the two modes, in point of expediency, he thought all the considerations which recommended this Convention, in preference to Congress, for proposing the reform, were in favor of State Conventions, in preference to the Legislatures for examining and adopting it.
On the question on Mr. ELLSWORTH'S motion to refer the plan to the Legislatures of the States,Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, aye-3; New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no-7.
Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS moved, that the reference of the plan be made to one General Convention, chosen and authorized by the people, to consider, amend, and establish the same. Not seconded. On the question for agreeing to the nineteenth