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government. The necessity of this inconvenience may appear a sufficient reason not to argue against it; but, sir, it clearly shows that we ought to give power with a sparing hand to a government thus imperfectly constructed. To a government which, in the nature of things, cannot but be defective, no powers ought to be given but such as are absolutely necessary. There is one thing in it which I conceive to be extremely dangerous. Gentlemen may talk of public virtue and confidence; we shall be told that the House of Representatives will consist of the most virtuous men on the continent, and that in their hands we may trust our dearest rights. This, like all other assemblies, will be composed of some bad and some good men ; and considering the natural lust of power so inherent in man, I fear the thirst of power will prevail to oppress the people. What I conceive to be so dangerous, is the provision with respect to the number of representatives; it does not expressly provide that we shall have one for every thirty thousand, but that the number shall not exceed that proportion. The ut. most that we can expect (and perhaps that is too much) is, that the present number shall be continued to us ;—“the number of representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty thousand.” Now will not this be complied with, although the present number should never be increased—nay, although it should be decreased ? Suppose Congress should say that we should have one for every 200 thousand ; will not the Constitution be complied with for one for every 200 thousand does not exceed one for every thirty thousand.
There is a want of proportion that ought to be strictly guarded against. The worthy gentleman tells us that we have no reason to fear; but I always fear for the rights of the people. I do not pretend to inspiration ; but I think it is apparent as the day, that the members will attend to local, partial interests, to prevent an augmentation of their number. I know not how they will be chosen ; but, whatever be the mode of choosing, our present numbers will be ten; and suppose our State is laid off in ten districts,—those gentlemen who shall be sent from those districts will lessen their own power and influence in their respective districts if they increase their number; for the greater the number of men among whom any given quantum of power is divided, the less the power of each individual. Thus they will have a local interest to prevent the increase of, and perhaps they will lessen their own number. This is evident on the face of the Constitution : so loose an expression ought to be guarded against, for Congress will be clearly within the requisition of the Constitution although the number of representatives should always continue what it is now, and the population of the country should increase to an immense number. Nay, they may reduce the number from sixty-five to one from each State, without violating the Constitution; and thus the number, which is now too small, would then be infinitely too much so. But my principal objection is, that the Confederation is converted to one general consolidated government, which, from my best judgement of it, (and which perhaps will be shown, in the course of this discussion, to be really well founded,) is one of the worst curses that can possibly befall a nation. Does any man suppose that one general national government can exist in so extensive a country as this. I hope that a government may be framed which may suit us, by drawing a line between the general and State governments, and prevent that dangerous clashing of interest and power, which must, as it now stands, terminate in the destruction of one or the other. When we come to the judiciary, we shall be more convinced that this government will terminate in the annihilation of the State governments : the question then will be, whether a consolidated government can preserve the freedom and secure the rights of the people.
If such amendments be introduced as shall exclude danger, I shall most gladly put my hand to it. When such amendments as shall, from the best information, secure the great essential rights of the people, shall be agreed to by gentlemen, I shall most heartily make the greatest concessions, and concur in any reasonable measure to obtain the desirable end of conciliation and unanimity. An indispensable amendment in this case is, that Congress shall not exercise the power of raising direct taxes till the States shall have refused to comply with the requisitions of Congress. On this condition it may be granted; but I see no reason to grant it unconditionally, as the States can raise the taxes with more ease, and lay them on the inhabitants with more propriety, than it is possible for the general government to do. If Congress hath this power, without control, the taxes will be laid by those
who have no fellow-feeling or acquaintance with the people. This is my objection to the article now under consideration. It is a very great and important one. I therefore beg gentlemen to consider it. Should this power be restrained, I shall withdraw my objections to this part of the Constitution ; but as it stands, it is an objection so strong in my mind, that its amendment is with me a sine qua non of its adoption. I wish for such amendments, and such only, as are necessary to secure the dearest rights of the people.
Wednesday, June 11.—Madison made the opening speech. Some conversation then followed on the mode of discussion- (1st and 2nd Henry advocating as the best plan, to discuss it at large- Sections,
Art. I.) Madison approving of a regular, progressive discussion.
Mr. George Mason. Mr. Chairman, gentlemen will be pleased to consider that, on so important a subject as this, it is impossible in the nature of things, to avoid arguing more at large than is usual. You will allow that I have not taken up a great part of your time. But as gentlemen have indulged themselves in entering at large into the subject, I hope to be permitted to follow them, and answer their observations.
The worthy member, (Mr. Nicholas,) at a very early day, gave us an accurate detail of the representation of the people in Britain, and of the rights of the King of Britain ; and illustrated his observations by a quotation from Dr. Price. Gentlemen will please to take notice that those arguments relate to a single government, and that they are not applicable to this case. However applicable they may be to such a government as that of Great Britain, it will be entirely inapplicable to such a government as ours. The gentleman in drawing a comparison between the representation of the people in the House of Commons, in England, and the representation in the government now proposed to us, has been pleased to express his approbation in favor of the American government. Let us examine. I think that there are about 550 members in the English House of Commons. The people of Britain have a representation in Parliament of five hundred and fifty members, who intimately mingle with all classes of the people, feeling and knowing their circumstances. In the proposed American governmentin a country perhaps ten times more extensive-we are to have a representation of sixty-five, who from the nature of the government, cannot possibly be mingled with the different classes of the people, nor have a fellow-feeling for them.
They must form an aristocracy, and will not regard the interest of the people. Experience tells us that men pay most regard to those whose rank and situation are similar to their own. In the course of the investigation, the gentleman mentioned the bribery and corruption of Parliament, and drew a conclusion the very reverse of what I should have formed on the subject. He said, if I recollect rightly, that the American representation is more secured against bribery and corruption, than the English Parliament. Are sixty-five better than five hundred and fifty ? Bribery and corruption, in my opinion, will be practised in America more than in England, in proportion as five hundred and fifty exceed sixty-five ; and there will be less integrity and probity in proportion as sixty-five is less than five hundred and fifty. From what source is the bribery practised in the British Parliament derived ? I think the principal source is the distribution of places, offices, and posts. Will any gentleman deny this ? Give me leave, on this occasion, to recur to that clause of the Constitution which speaks of restraint, and has the appearance of restraining from corruption, &c., but which, when examined, will be found to be no restraint at all. The clause runs thus: “No senator or representative shall, during the time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil office, under the authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the emoluments whereof shall have been increased, during such time; and no person holding any office under the United States shall be a member of either house during his continuance in office.” This appears to me to be no restraint at all. It is to be observed that this restraint only extends to civil officers.
But I will not examine whether it be a proper distinction or not. What is the restraint as to civil officers ? Only that they shall not be appointed to offices which shall have been created, or the emoluments whereof shall have been increased, during the time for which they shall have been elected. They may be appointed to existing offices, if the emoluments be not increased during the time for which they were elected.
[Here Mr. Mason spoke too low to he heard.]
Thus, after the government is set in motion, the restraint will be gone. They may appoint what number of officers they please.
They may send ambassadors to every part of Europe. Here is, sir, I think, as wide a door for corruption as in any government in Europe. There is the same inducement for corruption, there is the same room for it, in this government, which they have in the British government; and in proportion as the number is smaller, corruption will be greater.
That unconditional power of taxation which is given to that government cannot but oppress the people. If, instead of this, a conditional power of taxation be given, in case of refusal to comply with requisitions, the same end will be answered with convenience to the people. This will not lessen the power of Congress; we do not want to lessen the power of Congress unnecessarily. This will produce moderation in the demand, and will prevent the ruinous exercise of that power by those who know not our situation. We shall then have that mode of taxation which is the most easy, and least oppressive to the people, because it will be exercised by those who are acquainted with their condition and circumstances. This, sir, is the great object we wish to securethat our people should be taxed by those who have a fellowfeeling for them. I think I can venture to assert that the general government will lay such taxes as are the easiest and the most productive in the collection. This is natural and probable.
For example, they may lay a poll tax. This is simply and easily collected, but is of all taxes the most grievous. Why the most grievous ? Because it falls light on the rich, and heavy on the poor. It is most oppressive : for if the rich man is taxed, he can only retrench his superfluities; but the consequence to the poor man is, that it increases his miseries. That they will lay the most simple taxes, and such as are easiest to collect, is highly probable, nay, almost absolutely certain. I shall take the liberty, on this occasion, to read you a letter, which will show, at least as far as opinion goes, what sort of taxes will be most probably laid on us, if we adopt this Constitution. It was the opinion of a gentleman of information. It will in some degree establish the fallacy of those reports which have been circulated through the country, and which induced a great many poor, ignorant people to believe that the taxes were to be lessened by the adoption of the proposed government.
[Here Mr. Mason read a letter from Mr. Robert Morris, finan