James Madison, Speech at the Virginia Convention to ratify the Federal Constitution

James Madison; Federalist Papers; Virginia Ratifying ConventionMr. MADISON then arose — [but he spoke so low that his exordium could not be heard distinctly.] I shall not attempt to make impressions by any ardent professions of zeal for the public welfare. We know the principles of every man will, and ought to be, judged, not by his professions and declarations, but by his conduct; by that criterion I mean, in common with every other member, to be judged; and should it prove unfavorable to my reputation, yet it is a criterion from which I will by no means depart.

Comparisons have been made between the friends of this Constitution and those who oppose it: although I disapprove of such comparisons, I trust that, in point of truth, honor, candor, and rectitude of motives, the friends of this system, here and in other states, are not inferior to its opponents. But professions of attachment to the public good, and comparisons of parties, ought not to govern or influence us now. We ought, sir, to examine the Constitution on its own merits solely: we are to inquire whether it will promote the public happiness: its aptitude to produce this desirable object ought to be the exclusive subject of our present researches.

In this pursuit, we ought not to address our arguments to the feelings and passions, but to those understandings and judgments which were selected by the people of this country, to {87} decide this great question by a calm and rational investigation. I hope that gentlemen, in displaying their abilities on this occasion, instead of giving opinions and making assertions, will condescend to prove and demonstrate, by a fair and regular discussion. It gives me pain to hear gentlemen continually distorting the natural construction of language; for it is sufficient if any human production can stand a fair discussion.

Before I proceed to make some additions to the reasons which have been adduced by my honorable friend over the way, I must take the liberty to make some observations on what was said by another gentleman, (Mr. Henry.) He told us that this Constitution ought to be rejected because it endangered the public liberty, in his opinion, in many instances.

Give me leave to make one answer to that observation: Let the dangers which this system is supposed to be replete with be clearly pointed out: if any dangerous and unnecessary powers be given to the general legislature, let them be plainly demonstrated; and let us not rest satisfied with general assertions of danger, without examination. If powers be necessary, apparent danger is not a sufficient reason against conceding them.

He has suggested that licentiousness has seldom produced the loss of liberty; but that the tyranny of rulers has almost always effected it. Since the general civilization of mankind, I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpations; but, on a candid examination of history, we shall find that turbulence, violence, and abuse of power, by the majority trampling on the rights of the minority, have produced factions and commotions, which, in republics, have, more frequently than any other cause, produced despotism. If we go over the whole history of ancient and modern republics, we shall find their destruction to have generally resulted from those causes.

If we consider the peculiar situation of the United States, and what are the sources of that diversity of sentiment which pervades its inhabitants, we shall find great danger to fear that the same causes may terminate here in the same fatal effects which they produced in those republics. This danger ought to be wisely guarded against. Perhaps, in the progress of this discussion, it will appear that the only possible remedy for those evils, and {88} means of preserving and protecting the principles of republicanism, will be found in that very system which is now exclaimed against as the parent of oppression.

I must confess I have not been able to find his usual consistency in the gentleman’s argument on this occasion. He informs us that the people of the country are at perfect repose, — that is, every man enjoys the fruits of his labor peaceably and securely, and that every thing is in perfect tranquillity and safety. I wish sincerely, sir, this were true. If this be their happy situation, why has every state acknowledged the contrary? Why were deputies from all the states sent to the general Convention?

Why have complaints of national and individual distresses been echoed and reechoed throughout the continent? Why has our general government been so shamefully disgraced, and our Constitution violated? Wherefore have laws been made to authorize a change, and wherefore are we now assembled here? A federal government is formed for the protection of its individual members. Ours has attacked itself with impunity. Its authority has been disobeyed and despised.

I think I perceive a glaring inconsistency in another of his arguments. He complains of this Constitution, because it requires the consent of at least three fourths of the states to introduce amendments which shall be necessary for the happiness of the people. The assent of so many he urges as too great an obstacle to the admission of salutary amendments, which, he strongly insists, ought to be at the will of a bare majority. We hear this argument, at the very moment we are called upon to assign reasons for proposing a constitution which puts it in the power of nine states to abolish the present madequate, unsafe, and pernicious Confederation! In the first case, he asserts that a majority ought to have the power of altering the government, when found to be inadequate to the security of public happiness. In the last case, he affirms that even three fourths of the community have not a right to alter a government which experience has proved to be subversive of national felicity! nay, that the most necessary and urgent alterations cannot be made without the absolute unanimity of all the states!

Does not the thirteenth article of the Confederation expressly require that no alteration shall be made without the unanimous consent of all the states? Could any thing in theory be more perniciously improvident and injudicious than this submission of {89} the will of the majority to the most trifling minority?

Have not experience and practice actually manifested this theoretical inconvenience to be extremely impolitic? Let me mention one fact, which I conceive must carry conviction to the mind of any one: the smallest state in the Union has obstructed every attempt to reform the government; that little member has repeatedly disobeyed and counteracted the general authority; nay, has even supplied the enemies of its country with provisions.

Twelve states had agreed to certain improvements which were proposed, being thought absolutely necessary to preserve the existence of the general government; but as these improvements, though really indispensable, could not, by the Confederation, be introduced into it without the consent of every state, the refractory dissent of that little state prevented their adoption. The inconveniences resulting from this requisition, of unanimous concurrence in alterations in the Confederation, must be known to every member in this Convention; it is therefore needless to remind them of them.

Is it not self-evident that a trifling minority ought not to bind the majority? Would not foreign influence be exerted with facility over a small minority? Would the honorable gentleman agree to continue the most radical defects in the old system, because the petty state of Rhode Island would not agree to remove them?

He next objects to the exclusive legislation over the district where the seat of government may be fixed. Would be submit that the representatives of this state should carry on their deliberations under the control of any other member of the Union? If any state had the power of legislation over the place where Congress should fix the general government, this would impair the dignity, and hazard the safety, of Congress.

If the safety of the Union were under the control of any particular state, would not foreign corruption probably prevail, in such a state, to induce it to exert its controlling influence over the members of the general government? Gentlemen cannot have forgotten the disgraceful insult which Congress received some years ago. When we also reflect that the previous cession of particular states is necessary before Congress can legislate exclusively any where, we must, instead of being alarmed at this part, heartily approve of it.

{90} But the honorable member sees great danger in the provision concerning the militia. This I conceive to be an additional security to our liberty, without diminishing the power of the states in any considerable degree. It appears to me so highly expedient that I should imagine it would have found advocates even in the warmest friends of the present system. The authority of training the militia, and appointing the officers, is reserved to the states.

Congress ought to have the power to establish a uniform discipline throughout the states, and to provide for the execution of the laws, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions: these are the only cases wherein they can interfere with the militia; and the obvious necessity of their having power over them in these cases must convince any reflecting mind. Without uniformity of discipline, military bodies would be incapable of action: without a general controlling power to call forth the strength of the Union to repel invasions, the country might be overrun and conquered by foreign enemies: without such a power to suppress insurrections, our liberties might be destroyed by domestic faction, and domestic tyranny be established.

The honorable member then told us that there was no instance of power once transferred being voluntarily renounced. Not to produce European examples, which may probably be done before the rising of this Convention, have we not seen already, in seven states, (and probably in an eighth state,) legislatures surrendering some of the most important powers they possessed? But, sir, by this government, powers are not given to any particular set of men; they are in the hands of the people; delegated to their representatives chosen for short terms; to representatives responsible to the people, and whose situation is perfectly similar to their own. As long as this is the case we have no danger to apprehend.

When the gentleman called our recollection to the usual effects of the concession of powers, and imputed the loss of liberty generally to open tyranny, I wish he had gone on farther. Upon his review of history, he would have found that the loss of liberty very often resulted from factions and divisions; from local considerations, which eternally lead to quarrels; he would have found internal dissensions to have more frequently demolished civil liberty, than a tenacious disposition in rulers to retain any stipulated powers.

{91} [Here Mr. Madison enumerated the various means whereby nations had lost their liberties.]

The power of raising and supporting armies is exclaimed against as dangerous and unnecessary. I wish there were no necessity of vesting this power in the general government. But suppose a foreign nation to declare war against the United States; must not the general legislature have the power of defending the United States? Ought it to be known to foreign nations that the general government of the United States of America has no power to raise and support an army, even in the utmost danger, when attacked by external enemies? Would not their knowledge of such a circumstance stimulate them to fall upon us?

If, sir, Congress be not invested with this power, any powerful nation, prompted by ambition or avarice, will be invited, by our weakness, to attack us; and such an attack, by disciplined veterans, would certainly be attended with success, when only opposed by irregular, undisciplined militia. Whoever considers the peculiar situation of this country, the multiplicity of its excellent inlets and harbors, and the uncommon facility of attacking it, — however much he may regret the necessity of such a power, cannot hesitate a moment in granting it.

One fact may elucidate this argument. In the course of the late war, when the weak parts of the Union were exposed, and many states were in the most deplorable situation by the enemy’s ravages, the assistance of foreign nations was thought so urgently necessary for our protection, that the relinquishment of territorial advantages was not deemed too great a sacrifice for the acquisition of one ally. This expedient was admitted with great reluctance, even by those states who expected advantages from it.

The crisis, however, at length arrived, when it was judged necessary for the salvation of this country to make certain cessions to Spain; whether wisely or otherwise is not for me to say; but the fact was, that instructions were sent to our representative at the court of Spain, to empower him to enter into negotiations for that purpose. How it terminated is well known. This fact shows the extremities to which nations will go in cases of imminent danger, and demonstrates the necessity of making ourselves more respectable. The necessity of making dangerous cessions, and of applying to foreign aid, ought to be excluded.

{92} The honorable member then told us that there are heart-burning in the adopting states, and that Virginia may, if she does not come into the measure, continue in amicable confederacy with the adopting states. I wish as seldom as possible to contradict the assertions of gentlemen; but I can venture to affirm, without danger of being in an error, that there is the most satisfactory evidence that the satisfaction of those states is increasing every day, and that, in that state where it was adopted only by a majority of nineteen, there is not one-fifth of the people dissatisfied.

There are some reasons which induce us to conclude that the grounds of proselytism extend every where; its principles begin to be better understood; and the inflammatory violence wherewith it was opposed by designing, illiberal, and unthinking minds, begins to subside. I will not enumerate the causes from which, in my conception, the heart-burnings of a majority of its opposers have originated. Suffice it to say, that in all they were founded on a misconception of its nature and tendency.

Had it been candidly examined and fairly discussed, I believe, sir, that but a very inconsiderable minority of the people of the United States would have opposed it. With respect to the Swiss, whom the honorable gentleman has proposed for our example, as far as historical authority may be relied on, we shall find their government quite unworthy of our imitation.

I am sure, if the honorable gentleman had adverted to their history and government, he never would have quoted their example here; he would have found that, instead of respecting the rights of mankind, their government (at least of several of their cantons) is one of the vilest aristocracies that ever was instituted: the peasants of some of their cantons are more oppressed and degraded than the subjects of any monarch in Europe; may, almost as much so as those of any Eastern despot. It is a novelty in politics, that from the worst of systems the happiest consequences should ensue.

Their aristocratical rigor, and the peculiarity of their situation, have so long supported their union: without the closest alliance and amity, dismemberment might follow; their powerful and ambitious neighbors would immediately avail themselves of their least jarrings. As we are not circumstanced like circumstanced like them, no conclusive precedent can be drawn from their situation. I trust the gentleman does not carry his idea so far as to recommend a separation from the {93} adopting states.

This government may secure our happiness; this is at least as probable as that it shall be oppressive. If eight states have, from a persuasion of its policy and utility, adopted it, shall Virginia shrink from it, without a full conviction of its danger and inutility? I hope she will never shrink from any duty: I trust she will not determine without the most serious reflection and deliberation.

I confess to you, sir, were uniformity of religion to be introduced by this system, it would, in my opinion, be ineligible; but I have no reason to conclude that uniformity of government will produce that of religion. This subject is, for the honor of America, perfectly free and unshackled. The government has no jurisdiction over it: the least reflection will convince us there is no danger to be feared on this ground.

But we are flattered with the probability of obtaining previous amendments. This calls for the most serious attention of this house. If amendments are to be proposed by one state, other states have the same right, and will also propose alterations. These cannot but be dissimilar, and opposite in their nature.

I beg leave to remark, that the governments of the different states are in many respects dissimilar in their structure; their legislative bodies are not similar; their executive are more different. In several of the states, the first magistrate is elected by the people at large; in others, by joint ballot of the members of both branches of the legislature; and in others, in other different manners.

This dissimilarity has occasioned a diversity of opinion on the theory of government, which will, without many reciprocal concessions, render a concurrence impossible. Although the appointment of an executive magistrate has not been thought destructive to the principles of democracy in many of the states, yet, in the course of the debate, we find objections made to the federal executive: it is urged that the President will degenerate into a tyrant. I intended, in compliance with the call of the honorable member, to explain the reasons of proposing this Constitution, and develop its principles; but I shall postpone my remarks till we hear the supplement which, he has informed us, he intends to add to what he has already said.

Give me leave to say something of the nature of the government, and to show that it is safe and just to vest it with the power of taxation. There are a number of opinions; but the {94} principal question is, whether it be a federal or consolidated government. In order to judge properly of the question before us, we must consider it minutely in its principal parts. I conceive myself that it is of a mixed nature; it is in a manner unprecedented; we cannot find one express example in the experience of the world. It stands by itself. In some respects it is a government of a federal nature; in others, it is of a consolidated nature.

Even if we attend to the manner in which the Constitution is investigated, ratified, and made the act of the people of America, I can say, notwithstanding what the honorable gentleman has alleged, that this government is not completely consolidated, nor is it entirely federal. Who are parties to it? The people — but not the people as composing one great body; but the people as composing thirteen sovereignties. Were it, as the gentleman asserts, a consolidated government, the assent of a majority of the people would be sufficient for its establishment; and, as a majority have adopted it already, the remaining states would be bound by the act of the majority, even if they unanimously reprobated it.

Were it such a government as is suggested, it would be now binding on the people of this state, without having had the privilege of deliberating upon it. But, sir, no state is bound by it, as it is, without its own consent. Should all the states adopt it, it will be then a government established by the thirteen states of America, not through the intervention of the legislatures, but by the people at large. In this particular respect, the distinction between the existing and proposed governments is very material.

The existing system has been derived from the dependent derivative authority of the legislatures of the states; whereas this is derived from the superior power of the people. If we look at the manner in which alterations are to be made in it, the same idea is, in some degree, attended to. By the new system, a majority of the states cannot introduce amendments; nor are all the states required for that purpose; three fourths of them must concur in alterations; in this there is a departure from the federal idea.

The members to the national House of Representatives are to be chosen by the people at large, in proportion to the numbers in the respective districts. When we come to the Senate, its members are elected by the states in their equal and political capacity. But had the government been completely consolidated, {95} the Senate would have been chosen by the people in their individual capacity, in the same manner as the members of the other house.

Thus it is of a complicated nature; and this complication, I trust, will be found to exclude the evils of absolute consolidation, as well as of a mere confederacy. If Virginia was separated from all the states, her power and authority would extend to all cases: in like manner, were all powers vested in the general government, it would be a consolidated government; but the powers of the federal government are enumerated; it can only operate in certain cases; it has legislative powers on defined and limited objects, beyond which it cannot extend its jurisdiction.

But the honorable member has satirized, with peculiar acrimony, the powers given to the general government by this Constitution. I conceive that the first question on this subject is, whether these powers be necessary; if they be, we are reduced to the dilemma of either submitting to the inconvenience or losing the Union. Let us consider the most important of these reprobated powers; that of direct taxation is most generally objected to. With respect to the exigencies of government, there is no question but the most easy mode of providing for them will be adopted. When, therefore, direct taxes are not necessary, they will not be recurred to. It can be of little advantage to those in power to raise money in a manner oppressive to the people. To consult the conveniences of the people will cost them nothing, and in many respects will be advantageous to them.

Direct taxes will only be recurred to for great purposes. What has brought on other nations those immense debts, under the pressure of which many of them labor? Not the expenses of their governments, but war. If this country should be engaged in war, — and I conceive we ought to provide for the possibility of such a case, — how would it be carried on? By the usual means provided from year to year? As our imports will be necessary for the expenses of government and other common exigencies, how are we to carry on the means of defence? How is it possible a war could be supported without money or credit? And would it be possible for a government to have credit without having the power of raising money?

No; it would be impossible for any government, in such a case, to defend itself. Then, I say, sir, that it is necessary to establish funds for extraordinary {96} exigencies, and to give this power to the general government; for the utter inutility of previous requisitions on the states is too well known. Would it be possible for those countries, whose finances and revenues are carried to the highest perfection, to carry on the operations of government on great emergencies, such as the maintenance of a war, without an uncontrolled power of raising money?

Has it not been necessary for Great Britain, notwithstanding the facility of the collection of her taxes, to have recourse very often to this and other extraordinary methods of procuring money? Would not her public credit have been ruined, if it was known that her power to raise money was limited? Has not France been obliged, on great occasions, to use unusual means to raise funds? It has been the case in many countries, and no government can exist unless its powers extend to make provisions for every contingency. If we were actually attacked by a powerful nation, and our general government had not the power of raising money, but depended solely on requisitions, our condition would be truly deplorable: if the revenue of this commonwealth were to depend on twenty distinct authorities, it would be impossible for it to carry on its operations. This must be obvious to every member here; I think, therefore, that it is necessary, for the preservation of the Union, that this power shall be given to the general government.

But it is urged that its consolidated nature, joined to the power of direct taxation, will give it a tendency to destroy all subordinate authority; that its increasing influence will speedily enable it to absorb the state governments. I cannot think this will be the case. If the general government were wholly independent of the governments of the particular states, then, indeed, usurpation might be expected to the fullest extent. But, sir, on whom does this general government depend? It derives its authority from these governments, and from the same sources from which their authority is derived.

The members of the federal government are taken from the same men from whom those of the state legislatures are taken. If we consider the mode in which the federal representatives will be chosen, we shall be convinced that the general will never destroy the individual governments; and this conviction must be strengthened by an attention to the construction of the Senate. The representatives {97} will be chosen probably under the influence of the members of the state legislatures; but there is not the least probability that the election of the latter will be influenced by the former. One hundred and sixty members represent this commonwealth in one branch of the legislature, are drawn from the people at large, and must ever possess more influence than the few men who will be elected to the general legislature.

The reasons offered on this subject, by a gentleman on the same side, (Mr. Nicholas,) were unanswerable, and have been so full that I shall add but little more on the subject. Those who wish to become federal representatives must depend on their credit with that class of men who will be the most popular in their counties; who generally represent the people in the state governments; they can, therefore, never succeed in any measure contrary to the wishes of those on whom they depend.

It is almost certain, therefore, that the deliberations of the members of the federal House of Representatives will be directed to the interest of the people of America. As to the other branch, the senators will be appointed by the legislatures; and, though elected for six years, I do not conceive they will so soon forget the source from whence they derive their political existence. This election of one branch of the federal by the state legislatures, secures an absolute dependence of the former on the latter. The biennial exclusion of one third will lessen the facility of a combination, and may put a stop to intrigues.

I appeal to our past experience, whether they will attend to the interests of their constituent states. Have not those gentlemen, who have been honored with seats in Congress, often signalized themselves by their attachment to their seats? I wish this government may answer the expectation of its friends, and foil the apprehension of its enemies. I hope the patriotism of the people will continue, and be a sufficient guard to their liberties. I believe its tendency will be, that the state governments will counteract the general interest, and ultimately prevail. The number of the representatives is yet sufficient for our safety, and will gradually increase; and, if we consider their different sources of information, the number will not appear too small.

Mr. NICHOLAS. Mr. Chairman, if the resolution taken by the house of going regularly through the system, clause {98} by clause, had been followed, I should confine myself to one particular paragraph; but as, to my surprise, the debates have taken a different turn, I shall endeavor to go through the principal parts of the argument made use of by the gentlemen in opposition to the proposed plan of government. The worthy gentleman entertained us very largely on the impropriety and dangers of the powers given by this plan to the general government; but his argument appears to me inconclusive and inaccurate; it amounts to this — that the powers given to any government ought to be small.

I believe this, sir, is a new idea in politics: — powers, being given for some certain purpose, ought to be proportionate to that purpose, or else the end for which they are delegated will not be answered. It is necessary to give powers, to a certain extent, to any government. If a due medium be not observed in the delegation of such powers, one of two things must happen: if they be too small, the government must moulder and decay away; if too extensive, the people must be oppressed. As there can be no liberty without government, it must be as dangerous to make powers too limited as too great.

He tells us that the Constitution annihilates the Confederation. Did he not prove that every people had a right to change their government when it should be deemed inadequate to their happiness? The Confederation being found utterly defective, will he deny our right to alter or abolish it? But he objects to the expression, “We, the people,” and demands the reason why they had not said, “We, the United States of America.”

In my opinion, the expression is highly proper: it is submitted to the people, because on them it is to operate: till adopted, it is but a dead letter, and not binding on any one; when adopted, it becomes binding on the people who adopt it. It is proper on another account. We are under great obligations to the federal Convention, for recurring to the people, the source of all power. The gentleman’s argument militates against himself: he says that persons in power never relinquish their powers willingly. If, then, the state legislatures would not relinquish part of the powers they now possess, to enable a general government to support the Union, reference to the people is necessary.

We are, in the next place, frightened by two sets of collectors, who, he tells us, will oppress us with impunity. {99} The amount of the sums to be raised of the people is the same, whether the state legislatures lay the taxes for themselves, or for the general government; whether each of them lays and collects taxes for its own exclusive purposes; the manner of raising it only is different. So far as the amount of the imposts may exceed that of the present collections, so much will the burdens of the people be less. Money cannot be raised in a more judicious manner than by imposts; it is not felt by the people; it is a mode which is practised by many nations: nine tenths of the revenues of Great Britain and France are raised by indirect taxes; and were they raised by direct taxes, they would be exceedingly oppressive. At present, the reverse of this proposition holds in this country; for very little is raised by indirect taxes.

The public treasuries are supplied by means of direct taxes, which are not so easy for the people. But the people will be benefited by this change. Suppose the imposts will only operate a reduction of one fifth of the public burdens; then, sir, out of every ten shillings we have now to pay, we shall only have to pay eight shillings: and suppose this to be apportioned so that we pay four shillings to the federal and four shillings to the state collector, — what inconvenience or oppression can arise from it? Would this be as oppressive as the payment of ten shillings to the state collector? Our constituents do not suspect our delegates to the state legislature, but we suspect the members of the future Congress.

But, sir, they tell us this power of direct taxation ought not to be intrusted to the general government, because its members cannot be acquainted with the local situation of the people. Where do the members of the state legislatures get their information? It is by their own experience, and intercourse with the people. Cannot those of the general government derive information from every source from which the state representatives get theirs, so as to enable them to impose taxes judiciously?

We have the best security we can wish for: if they impose taxes on the people which are oppressive, they subject themselves and their friends to the same inconvenience, and to the certainty of never being confided in again. And what will be the consequence of laying taxes on improper objects? Will the funds be increased by it? By no means. I may venture to say, the amount of the taxes will diminish in proportion of the difficulty {100} and impropriety of the mode of levying them. What advantage, then, would it be to the members of Congress to render the collection of taxes oppressive to the people? They would be certainly out of their senses to oppress the people without any prospect of emolument to themselves.

But another objection is made, which I never heard of before. The gentleman has told us that the number of representatives may be reduced to one for every state. Is this a just surmise, even supposing it to be only said, that the number should not exceed one for every thirty thousand? Had it stopped there, any state, by his doctrine, might have no representative at all. Is it possible that this interpretation could ever be thought of? for the worthy gentleman allowed it was not a natural construction. But the Constitution says that representation and taxation shall be in proportion to the number of the people, and that each state shall have at least one representative. What will be the consequence of this? Each state must pay its proportion of taxes; and its representation is to be equal to its taxes. I ask gentlemen if this be not a safe mode of representation.

The gentleman then told us the representatives would never wish their number to be increased. But, sir, the increase of their number will increase their importance. How will it affect their interest in elections? The greater their number, the greater their chance of reëlection. It is a natural supposition that every one of them will have the greatest interest with the people in that part of his district where he resides; the more their number, the more districts will there be, and the greater certainty of their being reëlected, as it will be easier for them to have influence in small than in large districts. But this power of direct taxes is not to be got over; the gentleman will try every thing in alternative. What will be the consequence of these alternatives? It will lead Congress to have a contest with particular states. After refusal and opposition, what is to be done? Must force be used for the purpose? How is it to be procured?

It would, in a little time, expend more money than the sum which it was intended to procure; and the fatal consequences of such a scheme, provided it were practicable, are self-evident. I am astonished that gentlemen should wish to put it on this footing; for the consequences would assuredly be, in the first place, a disappointment to Congress. Would this previous {101} alternative diminish or retrench the powers of Congress, if ultimately they are to have recourse to this power? One thing will be the certain consequence: Congress, in making requisitions, must reckon on a disappointment, and will therefore increase them according to the expected disappointment: by these means, the burdens of the people must be enlarged.

He then wonders that gentlemen could come to so sudden a resolution of adopting it. As to the time, it will require as much to reject as to adopt it; and if a deliberate discussion be the most rational mode of proceeding, a precipitate rejection will, at least, be as imprudent as a sudden adoption. He declares that he would, in despite of an erring world, reject it, and wishes this state to continue in opposition. Were our country separated by nature from the other states, we might be safe without the Union; but as we are bordered on the adopting states, security can be found in union only. Consider the consequences of disunion: attend to the situation of those citizens who are contiguous to Maryland; look at the country called the Northern Neck; if we reject the Constitution, will not its inhabitants shake off their dependence on us? But, sir, the worthy member has declared, as a reason for not changing our government, that no terrors had been experienced, that no insurrections had happened, among us.

It was indeed a wonder that this was the case, considering the relaxation of the laws. Tumults have happened in other states. Had they been attempted here by an enterprising adventurer, I believe he could hardly have been prevented by the laws; for I believe every citizen in this country has complained of their want of energy. The worthy member has exclaimed, with uncommon vehemence, against the mode provided for securing amendments.

He thinks amendments can never be obtained, because so great a number is required to concur. Had it rested solely with Congress, there might have been danger. The committee will see that there is another mode provided, besides that which originated with Congress. On the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, a convention is to be called to propose amendments, which shall be a part of the Constitution when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof. It is natural to conclude that those states who will apply for calling the convention {102} will concur in the ratification of the proposed amendments.

There are strong and cogent reasons operating on my mind, that the amendments, which shall be agreed to by those states, will be sooner ratified by the rest than any other that can be proposed. The conventions which shall be so called will have their deliberations confined to a few points; no local interest to divert their attention; nothing but the necessary alterations. They will have many advantages over the last Convention. No experiments to devise; the general and fundamental regulations being already laid down.

He makes another objection — that, contrary to the articles of our bill of rights, we may be taxed without our own consent; that taxes may be imposed, although every member from Virginia should oppose the measure. The argument is not accurate. A tax imposed on the people of this state, by our legislature, may be opposed by the members from the county of Albemarle, without being repugnant to our bill of rights; because Albemarle is represented, and the act of the majority is binding on the minority. In like manner, our privilege of representation in the federal government will prevent any of the general laws from being unconstitutional although contrary to the individual opinions of our representatives.

But it is complained that they may suspend our laws. The suspension of the writ of habeas corpus is only to take place in cases of rebellion or invasion. This is necessary in those cases; in every other case, Congress is restrained from suspending it. In no other case can they suspend our laws: and this is a most estimable security. But the influence of New England and the other Northern States is dreaded; there are apprehensions of their combining against us.

Not to advert to the improbability and illiberality of this idea, it must be supposed that our population will, in a short period, exceed theirs, as their country is well settled, and we have very extensive uncultivated tracts. We shall soon outnumber them in as great a degree as they do us at this time: therefore this government, which, I trust, will last to the remotest ages, will be very shortly in our favor.

Treason consists in levying war against the United States, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. {103} The punishment of this well-defined crime is to be declared by Congress; no oppression, therefore, can arise on this ground. This security does away the objection that the most grievous oppressions might happen under color of punishing crimes against the general government. The limitation of the forfeiture to the life of the criminal is also an additional privilege.

We are next told that there is wanting in this government that responsibility which has been the salvation of Great Britain, although one half of the House of Commons purchase their seats. It has been already shown that we have much greater security from our federal representatives than the people in England can boast.

But the worthy member has found out a way of solving our difficulties. He tells us that we have nothing to fear, if separated from the adopting states; but to send on our money and men to Congress. In that case, can we receive the benefits of the union? If we furnish money at all, it will be our proportionate share. The consequence will be, that we shall pay our share, without the privilege of being represented. So that, to avoid the inconvenience of not having a sufficient number of representatives, he would advise us to relinquish the number we are entitled to, and have none at all.

I believe, sir, there is a great and decided majority of the people in favor of the system; it is so in that part of the country wherein I reside. It is true, sir, that many of the people have declared against a government, which, they were told, destroyed the trial by jury; against a government, sir, which established a standing army; against a government which abridged the liberty of the press; against a government which would tax all their property from them; against a government which infringed the right of conscience; and against a government, sir, which should banish them to France, to be common soldiers, and which would eventually destroy all their rights and privileges.

This, sir, is the government of which they have given their disapprobation. Still, sir, a majority have considered this government in a different light, and have given their approbation of it. I believe, sir, that, on a fair and candid investigation, very few would oppose it. Those who think that the evils I have enumerated will result from it, exceed me in point of credulity.

James Madison, Speech at the Virginia Convention to ratify the Federal Constitution