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than any other.” He reprobated the clause allowing the importation of slaves for twenty years. Yet at the same time that the slave-trade was continued, there was no protection for the slaves already in the country. A tax might be laid which would amount to manumission. “So that 'they have done what they ought not to have done, and have left undone what they ought to have done.'” This clause was discussed by Madison, Tyler, Henry, and Nicholas, when the next three clauses were read and George Mason said of the fourth, on the subject of a capitation or other direct tax, that it was no restriction. “It only meant that the quantum to be raised of each State, should be in proportion to their numbers.
But the general government was not precluded from laying the proportion of any particular State on any one species of property they might think proper." And by laying heavy taxes on slaves they might destroy this property. Madison replied to Mason, and after the reading of the fifth and sixth clauses, the latter spoke again. He objected to the publication of the Treasury accounts “from time to time ” only. The expression was a loose one and might mean any time, monthly or once in seven years. It was urged that there might be matters which would require secrecy. “But he did not conceive that the receipts and expenditures of the public money ought ever to be concealed.” And now occurred a second little encounter between George Mason and “Light-Horse Harry." The latter “thought such trivial arguments, as that just used by the honorable gentleman, would have no weight with the committee. He conceived the expression to be sufficiently explicit and satisfactory,” etc., etc. Colonel Mason “begged to be permitted to use that mode of arguing to which he had been accustomed. However desirous he was of pleasing that worthy gentleman, his duty would not give way to that pleasure.” After a justification of the clause by Nicholas, Corbin, and Madison, George Mason answered, " that in the Confederation, the public proceedings were to to be published monthly, which was infinitely better than
depending on men's virtue to publish them or not, as they might please." After the reading of the seventh clause Patrick Henry made the first speech, passing in review the whole section, which he characterized as the bill of rights of the Constitution, or its substitute. And he pointed out how far its restrictions fell short of the requirements needed. Edmund Randolph replied at considerable length, and Henry rejoined that he lamented “ that he could not see with that perspicuity which other gentlemen were blessed with.”
After the reading of the first clause of the tenth section Patrick Henry spoke again. Madison made a rejoinder, and then George Mason took the floor. Henry had deprecated the restrictions on the States—that they could not emit bills of credit, make anything but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts, pass ex post facto laws, etc.; and he feared one effect would be that Virginia would have to pay for her share of Continental money, shilling for shilling, and he asked if there had not been State speculations in this matter. George Mason said that both States and individuals had speculated enormously. Madison had referred to the first clause in the sixth article as protecting the States. Mason considered this satisfactory as far as it went; "that is, that the Continental money ought to stand on the same ground as it did previously, or that the claim should not be impaired. ... Neither the State legislatures nor Congress can make an ex post facto law. The nominal value must therefore be paid.
The clause under consideration does away with the pretended security in the clause which was adduced by the honorable gentleman." After speeches by Madison, Henry, Nicholas, and Randolph, George Mason again addressed the chair, maintaining that though the debt was transferred to Congress, they had no means of paying it, because they could not pass ex post facto laws. “ And it would be ex post facto to all intents and purposes to pay off creditors with less than the nominal sum, which they were originally promised.” He disputed the technical definition of such a law, which Edmund Randolph declared related only to criminal cases, whereas it was, according to the ordinary use of words, simply a retrospective law. The federal court would have to decide, and it would be their duty to pronounce such laws unconstitutional. He proceeded to mention a remarkable effect this Constitution would have.
“ How stood our taxes before this Constitution was introduced ? Requisitions were made on the State legislatures, and if they were unjust they could be refused. .. But now this could not be done ; for direct taxation is brought home to us. The federal officer collects immediately of the planters. When it with holds the only possible means of discharging these debts, and by direct taxation prevents any opposition to the most enormous and unjust demand, where are you? Is there a ray of hope ?”
What was here feared from direct taxation has come to pass through another form of the power given Congress in the eighth section. Experience has proved that indirect taxation was the more dangerous prerogative. George Mason continued. It was said “the United States can be plaintiffs, but never defendants. If so it stands on very unjust grounds. The United States cannot be come at for anything they may owe, but may get what is due to them. There is therefore no reciprocity." After Madison had spoken in reply to Mason, asserting that the clause was merely declaratory, and things existed just as they were before, Mason declared himself still convinced of the rectitude of his former opinion. He thought it might be put on a safer footing by three words. By continuing the restriction of ex post facto laws to crimes, it would then stand under the new government as it did under the old." Colonel Mason was the first to speak after the reading of the next clause. He objected to its restrictions upon the States, as preventing Virginia from making “any inspection law but what is subject to the control and revision of Congress. Hence gentle
PRINCIPLE OF RESPONSIBILITY NEGLECTED.
men, who know nothing of the business, will make rules concerning it which may be detrimental to our interests.
. Under this clause that incidental revenue which is calculated to pay for the inspection, and to defray contingent charges, is to be put into the federal treasury. But if any tobacco house is burnt, we cannot make up the loss. I conceive this to be unjust and unreasonable. When any profit arises from it, it goes into the federal treasury. But when there is any loss or deficiency from damage, it cannot be made up. Congress are to make regulations for our tobacco. Are men in the States where no tobacco is made proper judges of this business ? . . This is one of the most wanton powers of the general government." George Nicholas defended the clause, and said a tax could be laid to make up for the loss of warehouses destroyed by fire. Colonel Mason replied “that the State legislatures could make no law but what would come within the general control given to Congress; and that the regulation of the inspection, and the imposition of duties, must be inseparably blended together.” George Mason rose after the reading of the first section of the second article and expressed his unqualified disapprobation of some of its provisions. “The great fundamental principle of responsibility in republicanism is here sapped." This referred to the election of the President without rotation.
“ It may be said that a new election may remove him, and place another in his stead. If we judge from the experience of all other countries, and even our own, we may conclude that, as the President of the United States may be re-elected, so he will.
This President will be elected time after time; he will be continued in office for life.”
Turning to Edmund Randolph, Colonel Mason continued :
“The honorable gentleman, my colleague in the late Federal Convention, mentions with applause those parts of which he had expressed his disapprobation. He says not a word. If I am
mistaken let me be put right.' I shall not make use of his name; but in the course of this investigation I shall use the arguments of that gentleman against it.”
The “honorable gentleman " must have writhed under these words, and the promise they held out of turning his own weapons against him was not reassuring to the time-serving governor.
The danger of European influence was then dwelt upon. George Mason thought some stated time ought to be fixed when the President ought to be reduced to a private station,” and he advocated eight years of office out of twelve or sixteen years. As it was, he might remain in office for life. The danger here dreaded may now seem chimerical. And public opinion has decided against a third term, so that eight years is practically the limit. But none the less there remains no constitutional restriction against the possible perils inherent in the article under consideration. Edmund Randolph now proceeded to confute his former opinions, but George Mason made no further reply to him. The latter spoke next on the subject of the VicePresident, whom he considered an unnecessary officer. He had addressed the Convention twelve times during this day's session.'
After speeches, on Wednesday, from Monroe and Grayson, George Mason discussed the mode of electing the Executive, as open to objection :
“A majority of the whole number of electors is necessary to elect the President. It is not the greatest number of votes that is required, but a majority of the whole number of electors. If there be more than one having such majority, and an equal number, one of them is to be chosen by ballot of the House of Representatives. But if no one have a majority of the actual number of electors appointed, how is he to be chosen ? From the five highest on the list, by ballot of the lower house, and the votes to be taken by
· The punctuation of this sentence in Robertson is evidently incorrect, and has been altered here.
Appendix iii. Debates of the Virginia Convention," Robertson.