Page:Dissent of the Minority at the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention.djvu/1

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Of the State of Pennſylvania, to their Conſtituents.

IT was not until after the termination of the late glorious conteſt, which made the people of the United States an Independent nation, that any defect was diſcovered in the preſent confederation. It was formed by ſome of the ableſt patriots in America. It carried us ſucceſsfully through the war; and in the virtue and patriotiſm of the people, with their diſpoſition to promote the common cauſe, ſupplied the want of power in Congreſs.

The requiſition of congreſs for the five per cent. impoſt was made before the peace, ſo early as the firſt of February 1781, but was prevented taking effect by the refuſal of one ſtate; yet it is probable every ſtate in the union would have agreed to this meaſure at that period, had it not been for the extravagant terms in which it was demanded. The requiſition was new moulded in the year 1783, and accompanied with additional demand of certain ſupplementary funds for 25 years. Peace had now taken place, and the United States found themſelves laboring under a conſiderable foreign and domeſtic debt, incurred during the war. The requiſition of 1783, was commenſurate with the intereſt of the debt as it was then calculated; but it has been more accurately aſcertained ſince that time. The domeſtic debt has been found to fall ſeveral millions of dollars ſhort of the calculation, and it has lately been conſiderably diminiſhed by large ſales of the weſtern lands. The ſtates have been called on by congreſs annually for ſupplies until the general ſyſtem of finance propoſed in 1783 ſhould take place.

It was at this time that the want of an efficient federal government was firſt complained of, and that the powers veſted in congreſs were found to be inadequate to the procuring of the benefits that ſhould reſult from the union. The impoſt was granted by moſt of the ſtates, but many refuſed the ſupplementary funds; the annual requiſitions were ſet at nought by ſome of the ſtates, while others complied with them by legiſlative acts, but were tardy in their payments, and congreſs found themſelves incapable of complying with their engagements, and ſupporting the federal government. It was found that our national character was ſinking to the opinion of foreign nations. The congreſs could make treaties of commerce, but could not enforce the obſervance of them. We were ſuffering from the reſtrictions of foreign nations, who had ſhackled our commerce, while we were unable to retaliate: and all now agreed that it would be advantageous to the union to enlarge the powers of congreſs; that they ſhould be enabled in the ampleſt manner to regulate commerce, and to lay and collect duties on the imports throughout the United States. With this view a convention was firſt propoſed by Virginia, and finally recommended by congreſs for the different ſtates to appoint deputies to meet in convention, "for the purpoſes of reviſing and amending the preſent articles of confederation ſo as to make them adequate to the exigencies of the union." This recommendation the legiſlatures of twelve ſtates complied with ſo haſtily as not to conſult their conſtituents on the ſubject; and though the different legiſlatures had no authority from their conſtituents for the purpoſe, they probably apprehended the neceſſity would juſtify the meaſure; and none of them extended their ideas at that time further than "reviſing and amending the preſent articles of confederation." Pennſylvania by the act appointing deputies expreſsly confined their powers to this object; and through it is probable that ſome of the members of the aſſembly of this ſtate, had at that time in contemplation to annihilate the preſent confederation, as well as the conſtitution of Pennſylvania, yet the plan was not ſufficiently matured to communicate it to the public.

The majority of the legiſlature of this commonwealth, were at that time under the influence of the members from the city of Philadelphia. They agreed that the deputies ſent by them to convention ſhould have no compenſation for their ſervices, which determination was calculated to prevent the election of any member who reſided at a diſtance from the city. It was in vain for the minority to attempt electing delegates to the convention, who underſtood the circumſtances, and the feelings of the people, and had a common intereſt with them. They found a diſpoſition in the leaders of the majority of the houſe to chuſe themſelves and ſome of their dependantſ—The minority attempted to prevent this by agreeing to vote for ſome of the leading members, who they knew had influence to be appointed at any rate, in hopes of carrying with them ſome reſpectable citizens of Philadelphia, in whoſe principles and integrity they could have more confidence; but even in this they were diſappointed, except in one member:—the eighth member was added at a ſubſequent ſeſſion of the aſſembly.

The Continental convention met in the city of Philadelphia at the time appointed. It was compoſed of ſome men of excellent characters; of others who were more remarkable for their ambition and cunning, than their patriotiſm; and of ſome who had been opponents to the independence of the United States.—The delegates from Pennſylvania were, ſix of them, uniform and decided opponents to the conſtitution of this commonwealth. The convention ſat upwards of four months. The doors were kept ſhut, and the members brought under the moſt ſolemn engagements of ſecrecy.[1] Some of thoſe who oppoſed their going ſo far beyond their powers, retired, hopeleſs, from the convention, others had the firmneſs to refuſe ſigning the plan altogether: and many who did ſign it, did it not as a ſyſtem they wholly approved, but as the beſt that could be then obtained, and notwithſtanding the time ſpent on this ſubject, it is agreed on all hands to be a work of haſte and accommodation.

Whilſt the gilded chains were forging in the ſecret conclave, the meaner inſtruments of deſpotiſm, without, were buſily employed in alarming the fears of the people, with dangers which did not exiſt, and exciting their hopes of greater advantages from the expected plan than even the beſt government on earth could produce.

The propoſed plan had not many hours iſſued forth from the womb of ſuſpicious ſecrecy, until ſuch as were prepared for the purpoſe, were carrying about petitions for people to ſign, ſignifying their approbation of the ſyſtem, and requeſting the legiſlature to call a convention. While every meaſure was taken to intimidate the people againſt oppoſing it, the public papers teemed with the moſt violent threats againſt thoſe who ſhould dare to think for themſelves, and tar and feathers were liberally promiſed to all thoſe who would not immediately join in ſupporting the propoſed government be it what it would.—Under ſuch circumſtances petitions in favor of calling a convention were ſigned by great numbers in and about the city, before they had leiſure to read and examine the ſyſtem, many of whom, now they are better acquainted with it, and have had time to inveſtigate its principles, are heartily oppoſed to it. The petitions were ſpeedily handed in to the legiſlature. Affairs were in this ſituation when on the 28th of September laſt, a reſolution was propoſed to the aſſembly by a member of the houſe who had been alſo a member of the federal convention, for calling a ſtate convention, to be elected within ten days for the purpoſe of examining and adopting the propoſed conſtitution of the United States, though at this time the houſe had not received it from Congreſs. This attempt was oppoſed by a minority, who after offering every argument in their power to prevent the precipitate meaſure, without effect, abſented themſelves from the houſe as the only alternative left them, to prevent the meaſure taking place previous to their conſtituents being acquainted with the buſineſs—That violence and outrage which had been ſo often threatened was now practiſed; ſome of the members were ſeized the next day by a mob collected for the purpoſe, and forcibly dragged to the houſe, and there detained by force whilſt the quorum of the legiſlature, ſo formed, compleated their reſolution. We ſhall dwell no longer on this ſubject, the people of Pennſylvania have been already acquainted therewith. We would only further obſerve that every member of the legiſlature, previouſly to taking his ſeat, by ſolemn oath or affirmation, declares, "that he will not do or conſent to any act or thing whatever that ſhall have a tendency to leſſen or abridge their rights and privileges, as declared in the conſtitution of this ſtate." And that conſtitution which they are ſo ſolemnly ſworn to ſupport cannot legally be altered but by a recommendation of the council of cenſors, who alone are authoriſed to propoſe alterations and amendments, and even theſe muſt be publiſhed at leaſt ſix months, for the conſideration of the people.—The propoſed ſyſtem of government for the United States, if adopted, will alter and may annihilate the conſtitution of Pennſylvania; and therefore the legiſlature had no authority whatever to recommend the calling a convention for that purpoſe. The proceeding could not be conſidered as binding on the people of this commonwealth. The houſe was formed by violence, ſome of the members compoſing it were detained there by force, which alone would have vitiated any proceedings, to which they were otherwiſe competent; but had the legiſlature been legally formed, this buſineſs was abſolutely without their power.

In this ſituation of affairs were the ſubſcribers elected members of the convention of Pennſylvania.—A convention called by a legiſlature in direct violation of their duty, and compoſed in part of members, who were compelled to attend for that purpoſe, to conſider a conſtitution propoſed by a convention of the United States, who were not appointed for the purpoſe of framing a new form of government, but whoſe powers were expreſſly confined to altering and amending the preſent articles of confederation.—Therefore the members of the continental convention in propoſing the plan acted as individuals, and not as deputies from Pennſylvania.[2]—The aſſembly who called the ſtate convention acted as individuals, and not as the legiſlature of Pennſylvania; nor could they or the convention choſen on their recommendation have authority to do any act or thing, that can alter or annihilate the conſtitution of Pennſylvania (both of which will be done by the new conſtitution) nor are their proceedings in our opinion, at all binding on the people.

The election for members of the convention was held at ſo early a period and the want of information was ſo great, that ſome of us did not know of it until after it was over, and we have reaſon to believe that great numbers of the people of Pennſylvania have not yet had an opportunity of ſufficiently examining the propoſed conſtitution.—We apprehend that no change can take place that will affect the internal government or conſtitution of this commonwealth, unleſs a majority of the people ſhould evidence a wiſh for ſuch a change; but on examining the number of votes given for members of the preſent ſtate convention, we find that of upwards of ſeventy thouſand freemen who are entitled to vote in Pennſylvania, the whole convention has been elected by about thirteen thouſand voters, and though two thirds of the members of the convention have thought proper to ratify the propoſed conſtitution, yet thoſe two thirds were elected by the votes on only ſix thouſand and eight hundred freemen.

In the city of Philadelphia and ſome of the eaſtern counties, the junto that took the lead in the buſineſs agreed to vote for none but ſuch as would ſolemnly promiſe to adopt the ſyſtem in toto, without exerciſing their judgement. In many of the counties the people did not attend the elections as they had not an opportunity of judging of the plan. Others did not conſider themſelves bound by the call of a ſet of men who aſſembled at the State-Houſe in Philadelphia, and aſſumed the name of the legiſlature of Pennſylvania; and ſome were prevented from voting by the violence of the party who were determined at all events to force down the meaſure. To ſuch lengths did the tools of deſpotiſm carry their outrage, that in the night of the election for members of convention, in the city of Philadelphia, ſeveral of the ſubſcribers (being then in the city to tranſact your buſineſſ) were groſsly abuſed, ill-treated and inſulted while they were quiet in their lodgings, though they did not interfere, nor had any thing to do with the ſaid election, but as they apprehend, becauſe they were ſuppoſe to be adverſe to the propoſed conſtitution, and would not namely ſurrender thoſe ſacred rights, which you had committed to their charge.

The convention met, and the ſame diſpoſition was ſoon manifeſted in conſidering the propoſed conſtitution, that had been exhibited in every other ſtage of the buſineſs. We were prohibited by an expreſs vote of the convention, from taking any queſtion on the ſeparate articles of the plan, and reduced to the neceſſity of adopting or rejecting in toto.—-'Tis true the majority permitted us to debate on each article, but reſtrained us from propoſing amendments.—They alſo determined not to permit us to enter on the minutes our reaſons of diſſent againſt any of the articles nor even on the final queſtion our reaſons of diſſent againſt the whole. Thus ſituated we entered on the examination of the propoſed ſyſtem of government, and found it to be ſuch as we could not adopt, without, as we conceived, ſurrendering up your deareſt rights. We offered our objections to the convention, and oppoſed thoſe parts of the plan, which, in our opinion, would be injurious to you, in the beſt manner we were able; and cloſed our arguments, by offering the following propoſitions to the convention.

Firſt. The right of conſcience ſhall be held inviolable; and neither the legiſlative, executive nor judicial powers of the United States, ſhall have authority to alter, abrogate, or infringe any part of the conſtitution of the ſeveral ſtates, which provide for the preſervation of liberty in matters of religion.

Second. That in controverſies reſpecting property, and in ſuits between man and man, trial by jury ſhall remain as heretofore, as well in the federal courts, as in theſe of the ſeveral ſtates.

Third. That in all capital and criminal proſecutions, a man has a right to demand that cauſe and nature of this accuſation, as well in the federal courts, as in thoſe of the ſeveral ſtates; to be heard by himſelf and his counsel; to be confronted with the accuſers and witneſſes; to all for evidence in his favor, and a ſpeedy trial by an impartial jury of his vicinage, without whoſe unanimous conſent, he cannot be found guilty, nor can he be compelled to give evidence againſt himſelf; and that no man be deprived of his liberty, except by the law of the land or the judgment of his peers.

Fourth. That exceſſive bail ought not to be required, nor exceſſive fines impoſed, nor cruel nor unuſual puniſhments inflicted.

Fifth. That warrants unſupported by evidence, whereby any officer or meſſenger may be commanded or required to ſearch ſuſpected places, or to ſeize any perſon or perſons, his or their property, not particularly deſcribed, are grievous and oppreſſive, and ſhall not be granted either by the magiſtrates of the federal government or others.

Sixth. That the people have a right to the freedom of ſpeech, of writing and publiſhing their ſentiments, therefore, the freedom of the preſs ſhall not be reſtrained by any law of the United States.

Seventh. That the people have a right to bear arms for the defence of themſelves and their own ſtate, or the United States, or for the purpoſe of killing game, and no law ſhall be paſſed for diſarming the people or any of them, unleſs for crimes committed, or real danger of public injury from individuals; and as ſtanding armies in the time of peace are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be kept up; and that the military ſhall be kept under ſtrict ſubordination to and be governed by the civil powers.

Eighth. The inhabitants of the ſeveral ſtates ſhall have liberty to fowl and hunt in ſeaſonable times, on the landſ they hold, and on all other lands in the United States not incloſed, and in like manner to fiſh in all navigable waters, and others not private property, without being reſtrained therein by any laws to be paſſed by the legiſlature of the United States.

Ninth. That no law ſhall be paſſed to reſtrain the legiſlatures of the ſeveral ſtates, from enacting laws for impoſing taxes, except impoſts and duties on goods imported or exported, and that no taxes except impoſts and duties on goods imported and exported, and poſtage on letters, ſhall be levied by the authority of Congreſs.

Tenth. That the houſe of repreſentatives be properly increaſed in number; that elections ſhall remain free; that the ſeveral ſtates ſhall have power to regulate the elections for ſenators and repreſentatives, without being controuled either directly or indirectly by any interference on the part of the Congreſs; and that elections of repreſentatives be annual.

Eleventh. That the power of organizing, arming and diſciplining the militia (the manner of diſciplining the militia to be preſcribed by Congreſſ) remain with the individual ſtates, and that Congreſs ſhall not have authority to call or march any of the militia out of their own ſtate, without the conſent of ſuch ſtate, and for ſuch length of time only as ſuch ſtate ſhall agree.

That the ſovereignty, freedom and independency of the ſeveral ſtates ſhall be retained, and every power, juriſdiction and right, which is not by this conſtitution expreſſly delegated to the United States in Congreſs aſſembled.

Twelfth. That the legiſlative, executive, and judicial powers be kept ſeparate; and to this end, that a conſtitutional council be appointed, to adviſe and aſſiſt the preſident, who ſhall be reſponſible for the advice they give, hereby the ſenators would be relieved from almoſt conſtant attend-

  1. The Journals of the conclave are ſtill concealed.
  2. The continental convention in direct violation of the 13th article of confederation, have declared "that the ratification of nine ſtates ſhall be ſufficient for the eſtabliſhment of this conſtitution, between the ſtates ſo ratifying the ſame."—-Thus has the plighted faith of the ſtates been ſported with! They had ſolemnly engaged that the confederation now ſubſiſting ſhould be inviolably preſerved by each of them, and the union thereby formed, ſhould be perpetual, unleſs the ſame ſhould be altered by mutual conſent.