State Documents on Federal Relations/2
|←Rhode Island seeks a Commercial Union.||State Documents on Federal Relations by
Virginia on Assumption of State Debts.
|Georgia and the Federal Judiciary.→|
2. Virginia on the Assumption of State Debts.December 23, 1790.
Virginia especially was opposed to the act for the assumption of State debts, as she had already paid off the greater portion of her revolutionary debt. Jefferson, nearly a month prior to the adoption of this memorial, wrote Morris: "The States of Virginia and North Carolina are peculiarly dissatisfied with this measure. I believe, however, that it is harped on by many to mask their disaffection to the government on other grounds. Its great foe in Virginia is an implacable one." (Patrick Henry.) Jefferson's Works, (ed. 1854), III, 198; Writings (Ford's ed.), V, 250.
In addition to this memorial, the Legislature of Virginia also passed resolutions, Dec. 21, 1790, one of which pronounced the law in question "repugnant to the Constitution of the United States, as it goes to the exercise of a power not expressly granted to the general government." Hening's Statutes. XIII, 234. As soon as this resolution had passed the House of Delegates, Hamilton wrote to Chief Justice Jay: "This is the first symptom of a spirit which must either be killed or will kill the Constitution of the United States. I send the resolution to you that it may be considered what ought to be done. Ought not the collective weight of the different parts of the Government to be employed in exploding the principles they contain?" Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, III, 405. (N. Y., 1891.) Jay replied: "To treat them as very important might render them more so than I think they are. * * * The assumption will do its own work; it will justify itself, and not want advocates. Every indecent interference of State assemblies will diminish their influence; the national government has only to do what is right and, if possible, be silent. If compelled to speak, it should be in a few words strongly evinced of temper, dignity, and self-respect." Ibid., 410.
In Maryland resolutions pronouncing assumption as dangerous to the independent existence of the State government were defeated by the casting vote of the Speaker of the House. North Carolina likewise condemned the measure in vigorous language.References: Text in Hening's Statutes, XIII, 237–239 (Phila., 1823); also in Amer. State Papers, Finance, I, 90, 91 . For comments, see Jefferson's Works, III, 152, 166, 167, 198; Jay's Correspondence and Public Papers, III, 405, 410; Hamilton's History of the Republic, IV, 479, 480; McMaster's United States, I, 593. For references on the previous opposition to funding in Congress, see MacDonald's Documents, 47; Channing and Hart's Guide, § 158.
In the House of Delegates,
Thursday, the 16th of December, 1790.
The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia to the United States in Congress assembled.
That it is with great concern they find themselves compelled, from a sense of duty, to call the attention of Congress to an act of their last session, intitled "An act making provision for the debt of the United States," which the General Assembly conceive neither policy, justice nor the constitution warrants. Republican policy in the opinion of your memorialists could scarcely have suggested those clauses in the aforesaid act, which limit the right of the United States, in their redemption of the public debt. On the contrary they discern a striking resemblance between this system and that which was introduced into England, at the revolution; a system which has perpetuated upon that nation an enormous debt, and has moreover insinuated into the hands of the executive, an unbounded influence, which pervading every branch of the government, bears down all opposition, and daily threatens the destruction of everything that appertains to English liberty. The same causes produce the same effects! In an agricultural country like this, therefore to erect, and concentrate, and perpetuate a large monied interest, is a measure which your memorialists apprehend must in the course of human events produce one or other of two evils, the prostration of agriculture at the feet of commerce, or a change in the present form of foederal government, fatal to the existence of American liberty.
The General Assembly pass by various other parts of the said act which they apprehend will have a dangerous and impolitic tendency, and proceed to show the injustice of it as it applies to this Commonwealth. * * * Your memorialists turn away from the impolicy and injustice of the said act, and view it in another light, in which to them it appears still more odious and deformed.
During the whole discussion of the foederal constitution by the convention of Virginia, your memorialists were taught to believe "That every power not granted was retained," under this impression and upon this positive condition, declared in the instrument of ratification, the said government was adopted by the people of this Commonwealth; but your memoralists can find no clause in the constitution authorizing Congress to assume the debts of the states! As the guardians then of the rights and interests of their constituents, as sentinels placed by them over the ministers of the foederal government, to shield it from their encroachments, or at least to sound the alarm when it is threatened with invasion, they can never reconcile it to their consciences, silently to acquiesce in a measure, which violates that hallowed maxim: a maxim on the truth and sacredness of which the foederal government depended for its adoption in this Commonwealth. But this injudicious act not only deserves the censure of the General Assembly, because it is not warranted by the constitution of the United States, but because it is repugnant to an express provision of that constitution; this provision is "That all debts contracted and engagements entered into, before the adoption of this constitution, shall be as valid against the United States under this constitution as under the confederation," which amounts to a constitutional ratification of the contracts respecting the state debts in the situation in which they existed under the confederation, and resorting to that standard there can be no doubt that in the present question the rights of states as contracting with the United States must be considered as sacred.
The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia confide so fully in the justice and wisdom of Congress upon the present occasion, as to hope that they will revise and amend the aforesaid act generally, and repeal in particular, so much of it as relates to the assumption of the state debts.
December the 23d, 1790. Agreed to by the Senate.