Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

apply this remedy to another case. Suppose a state should, by law, violate the Constitution. Would there be no other remedy, but for the people to petition that state, or for the judges of that state to decide upon the constitionality of the law? Why would there be another remedy? Because the Constitution, having bestowed rights upon the general government, a violation of the Constitution which should infringe those rights, would justify that government to take measures for its own preservation; because the Constitution does not leave the remedy to depend upon a petition of the people to the aggressor. Reverse the case, said he. If Congress should unconstitutionally infringe rights reserved to the state governments, should they depend upon a petition of the people to the aggressor for their defence? They were then conducted, he said, to this clear position, that as Congress holds the rights bestowed by the Constitution under that, and independent of the states; so the states hold the rights reserved by the Constitution under that, and independent of Congress; and of course that each power possesses the further right of defending those constitutional rights against the aggressions of the other; for otherwise it would follow, that the power having constitutional rights, to maintain which was how. ever unconstitutional, must presently disappear.

He said, that the last argument in favour of the sedition-act had been drawn from the law of Virginia respecting treason, which had been read.

With respect to this law, he replied, that the same arguments applied, which he had before used, to show the impropriety of quoting state laws, to justify congressional. It would be as just to say, that a state could pass laws for raising fleets and armies, because Congress had done so, as that Congress could infringe the liberty of speech, because the states had done so.

The states are expressly forbid to do the one, and Congress the other. But this reference to the treason law of Virginia furnished a strong argument to prove the unconstitutionality of the sedition-act. The law evidently considers sedition as being one species constituting that genus called treason, which was made up of many parts. It therefore accurately expresses the idea of Virginia of the word "treason," and shows how she understood it, as used in the Constitution. By that, treason is limited to two items, with the punishment of which only, the general government is entrusted. Hence it was evident, that Virginia could not have conceived that Congress could proceed constitutionally to that species of treason called sedition, and if this was not the true construction, what security was derived from the restriction in the Constitution relative to treason? Congress might designate the acts there specified by that term, and they might apply other terms to all other acts, from correcting which, that clause of the Constitution intended to prohibit them; by doing which, as in the case of sedition, they might go on to érect a code of laws to punish acts heretofore called treasonable, under other names, by fine, confiscation, banishment or imprisonment, until social intercourse shall be hunted by informers out of our country; and yet all might be said to be constitu. tionally done, if principles could be evaded by words.

Mr. Taylor concluded with observing that the will of the people was better expressed through organized bodies dependent on that will, than by tumultuous meetings; that thus the preservation of peace and good order

would be more secure ; that the states, however, were clearly parties to the Constitution, as political bodies; that rights were reserved to them, which reservation included a power of preservation ; that the legislature of the state was under a double obligation to oppose infractions of the Constitution, as servants of the people, and also as the guardian of those rights of sovereignty, and that qualified independence reserved to the state governments by the Constitution; and to act up to this duty was the only possible mode of sustaining the fabric of American policy, according to the principles prescribed by the American Constitution.

Mr. BAYLEY arose next to reply, he said, to the very extraordinary arguinents which had fallen from the gentleman from Caroline, and was proceeding to do so; but finding that such a noise prevailed, from the impatience of the committee to rise, that he could not be distinctly heard, he declined, and sat down.

On motion, the committee then rose, the chairman reported progress, asked, and had leave for the committee to sit again.

IN THE HOUSE OF DELEGATES,

Friday, December 21, 1798.

The House resolved itself into a committee of the whole House, on the state of the commonwealth, Mr. Breckenridge in the chair, when Mr. John Taylor's resolutions being still under consideration,

Mr. GEORGE K. Taylor arose, and said that when these resolutions were first submitted to the committee, they had been disapproved by him; and that the time which had since elapsed, with the most mature reflection, had quickened his disapprobation into complete aversion and entire disgust. The resolutions contained doctrines and principles the most extravagant and pernicious; declarations unsubstantiated by fact; and an invitation to other states to concur in a breach of that Constitution which they professed to support. To substantiate this charge, he would beg the pardon and patience of the committee, while he examined and criticised certain parts of the resolutions, and while, agreeably to a promise given on a former occasion, he should offer some few remarks on the constitutionality of what is called the sedition-law,

The third clause of the resolutions begins in the following terms: “ That this Assembly doth explicitly and peremptorily declare that it views the powers of the Federal Government as resulting from the compact to which the states alone are parties.” This declaration, however explicitly and peremptorily made, was unfounded and false : the states are not the only parties to the federal compact. Considered as particular sovereignties of detached parts of the Union, they did not give it birth or organization : the state legislatures were not consulted respecting its

adoption. It was the creature of the people of United America ; 'their voice spoke it into birth; their will upholds and supports it. To demon. strate this it would be necessary to recur to the history of the present Constitution, and to examine some of its features.

When the British colonies in America, now the United States, dissolved their connexion with the parent country and declared themselves independent, they entered into certain articles of confederation and union. This was an act of the states. It was begun by the state representatives in Congress. The articles of confederation, when digested, were sent to the legislatures of every state for consideration. They were ratified by the legislature of each state in the Union. They profess themselves to be articles of confederation and perpetual union between the states : they relate, in every article, not to the people, but to the states : they were submitted to, and adopted by, not the people, but the states; and of them it may truly be said that they were “a compact to which the states alone were parties.”

As these articles of confederation acted exclusively on the states, and as they prescribed no method of compelling delinquent states to obey the requisitions of Congress, their weakness and inefficacy became shortly visible. The most pressing demands were disregarded, or partially obeyed; and the evils and expenses of war were thus protracted and increased. Still, however, the American spirit and love of freedom rose superior to every difficulty, and obtained, after an arduous struggle, peace and independence. No sooner was the danger removed which had hitherto compelled some respect to the recommendations of Congress, than the impotence of that body became conspicuous, and the futility of that plan of government which possesses no sanction to enforce obedience to its laws was demonstrated. In defence of our liberties a considerable debt had been incurred. Justice and policy called on the United States to pay the interest of this debt, if they could not discharge the principal ; but they called in vain. Congress indeed recommended that a duty of five per cent. ad valorem, should for this purpose be laid on all goods imported into the United States ; but their recommendation was disregarded. The certificate given to the soldier for his toil and blood in the day of battle, depreciated and became worthless ; every public contract was uncomplied with; a total disregard prevailed as to national sentiment and honour; symptoms of distrust, jealousy, and rivalship among the several states appeared. The Union seemed fast crumbling into annihilation, and the national character at home and abroad was sunk and degraded. The people of America began to be sensible of their situation. Delegates were at first sent from a few of the states to Annapolis, for the purpose of devising and re. commending commercial arrangements. These delegates recommended that a convention from the several states should be appointed for the purpose of revising and amending the articles of confederation. Their idea was adopted. Each state appointed delegates to this convention, and it assembled at Philadelphia, for the purpose of proposing amendments to the articles of confederation.

The deliberation of a few days convinced the convention that an amend. ment of that instrument was impracticable, and that no government could

be efficient or permanent which operated not on the individuals of the community, but altogether on the state sovereignties, and which could not compel obedience to its laws by the punishment of the disobedient and refractory. They adopted, therefore, a plan at once bold and judicious. It was to recommend a new form of government for general purposes, by taking from the states the control of all matters relating to the general welfare, and vesting these in the government of the Union: by dividing this government into legislative, executive, and judiciary departments, which should at once prescribe and enforce the rules of general conduct, without the aid or intervention of the state legislatures, and which should have power to punish the disobedient and refractory.

Here it was to be observ he aid, that the convention acted without the express authority of the state legislatures. They were deputed to amend the old articles of confederation : they were not authorized to propose new forms of government. Their love of country, indeed, induced them to attempt a scheme or project of government to be submitted to their fellow-citizens, and their wisdom enabled them to accomplish its structure. But the state governments were no parties to this project, since they deputed the authors of it for different purposes, and were ignorant of the change about to be recommended.

That the convention itself did not consider that the states were, or would be the only parties to this compact, was evident from the language used in the commencement of the new Constitution : “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, &c.;" not “ we the states of New Hampshire, &c.;" yet they had the old articles of confederation before them, where the states were constantly mentioned, and the people not once named. Why was the word "states" purposely discarded, and the word “people" purposely introduced, if, as these resolutions de clare, the states alone are parties to the compact ?

The convention, after having finished the Constitution, came to the following resolutions :

Resolved, That the preceding Constitution be laid before the United States in Congress assembled, and that it is the opinion of this convention that it should afterwards be submitted to a convention of delegates chosen in each state by the people thereof, under the recommendation of its legis. lature, for their assent and ratification ; and that each convention assenting to and ratifying the same, should give notice thereof to the United States in Congress assembled.

Resolved, That it is the opinion of this convention, that as soon as the conventions of nine states shall have ratified this Constitution, the Uni. ted States in Congress assembled, should fix a day on which electors should be appointed," &c.

The former articles of confederation being in truth a compact of the states, were submitted to the state legislatures. The Constitution of the United States was “submitted to a convention of delegates chosen in each state by the people thereof." The articles of confederation were assented to and ratified by the state legislatures. The Constitution of the United States was assented to and ratified by conventions chosen in each state by the people thereof. If the states in their political corporate capacity, be as

the resolutions declare, the only parties to the latter compact, why was its consideration submitted not to the state legislatures, but to the people of the United States, in their several conventions ?

Again : so soon as the conventions of nine states should have ratified the Constitution, the convention recommended that a day should be fixed for the appointment of electors, &c., in order that the government should be put into operation. Why should the commencement of the operations of the government be postponed until the conventions of nine states should have ratified the Constitution ? Because the states were extremely unequal in size and population, and consequently a majority of conventions might have ratified the Constitution, when in truth a majority of the whole people had rejected it: but this could not be the case when the conventions of nine states had ratified it; because any nine stales formed a majority of the people contained in the thirteen. Did not this circumstance then prove, that the present is a government proceeding from the people, and that they are material, if not the exclusive original parties to it? If so, how could it be said that the states alone are parties to the compact ?

Further: the fifth article to the Constitution declares that “the Congress, whenever two-thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall

propose amendments to this Constitution, or on the applications of the legislatures of two-thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments.” In each of these modes of obtaining amendments, the people are evidently recognised as parties to the compact :-“Congress, whenever two-thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments:" but one House of Congress, the House of Representatives, is the immediate representative of the people, the other House, the Senate, is the immediate representative of the states; whenever then, two-thirds of the representatives of the people and two-thirds of the representatives of the states shall concur in deeming it necessary, they may propose amendments. Was not this a recognition that the people generally, as well as the particular state sovereignties, are interested in the operations of the government? How then could the states alone be said to be the parties to it? “Or, on the applications of the legislatures of two-thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments.” Here the idea was still supported, that the representatives of a majority of the whole people must combine in the application, which majority it is supposable, will be two-thirds of the states. The article proceeds “ which (amendments) in either case shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three-fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress.” Thus Congress might if they should think proper, divest the states in their po. litical corporate character, of all agency in ratifying amendments by submitting them not to the legislatures of the states, but to conventions of the people. Did this prove that the states alone are parties to this compact ?

At the time of our separation from the government of Great Britain, the people of each state in the Union, represented in convention, established for that state, a constitution or form of government. This having been established by the immediate representatives of the people, deputed

« PoprzedniaDalej »