The Debates in the
Federal Convention of 1787
Art VII sect 4. 1, 2
resumed. Mr. SHERMAN was for leaving the
clause as it stands. He disapproved of the slave trade; yet as the States were
now possessed of the right to import slaves, as the public good did not require
it to be taken from them, & as it was expedient to have as few objections as
possible to the proposed scheme of Government, he thought it best to leave the
matter as we find it. He observed that the abolition of Slavery seemed to be
going on in the U. S. & that the good sense of the several States would
probably by degrees compleat it. He urged on the Convention the necessity of
despatching its business.
Col. MASON. This infernal trafic originated in the
avarice of British Merchants. The British Govt. constantly checked the attempts
of Virginia to put a stop to it. The present question concerns not the importing
States alone but the whole Union. The evil of having slaves was experienced
during the late war. Had slaves been treated as they might have been by the
Enemy, they would have proved dangerous instruments in their hands. But their
folly dealt by the slaves, as it did by the Tories. He mentioned the dangerous
insurrections of the slaves in Greece and Sicily; and the instructions given by
Cromwell to the Commissioners sent to Virginia, to arm the servants &
slaves, in case other means of obtaining its submission should fail. Maryland &
Virginia he said had already prohibited the importation of slaves expressly. N.
Carolina had done the same in substance. All this would be in vain if S.
Carolina & Georgia be at liberty to import. The Western people are already
calling out for slaves for their new lands, and will fill that Country with
slaves if they can be got thro' S. Carolina & Georgia. Slavery discourages
arts & manufactures. The poor despise labor when performed by slaves. They
prevent the immigration of Whites, who really enrich & strengthen a Country.
They produce the most pernicious effect on manners. Every master of slaves is
born a petty tyrant. They bring the judgment of heaven on a Country. As nations
can not be rewarded or punished in the next world they must be in this. By an
inevitable chain of causes & effects providence punishes national sins, by
national calamities. He lamented that some of our Eastern brethren had from a
lust of gain embarked in this nefarious traffic. As to the States being in
possession of the Right to import, this was the case with many other rights, now
to be properly given up. He held it essential in every point of view that the
Genl. Govt. should have power to prevent the increase of slavery.
Mr. ELSWORTH. As he had never owned a
slave could not judge of the effects of slavery on character: He said however
that if it was to be considered in a moral light we ought to go farther and free
those already in the Country. — As slaves also multiply so fast in Virginia
& & Maryland that it is cheaper to raise than import them, whilst in the
sickly rice swamps foreign supplies are necessary, if we go no farther than is
urged, we shall be unjust towards S. Carolina & Georgia. Let us not
intermeddle. As population increases poor laborers will be so plenty as to
render slaves useless. Slavery in time will not be a speck in our Country.
Provision is already made in Connecticut for abolishing it. And the abolition
has already taken place in Massachusetts. As to the danger of insurrections from
foreign influence, that will become a motive to kind treatment of the slaves.
Mr. PINKNEY. If slavery be wrong, it is
justified by the example of all the world. He cited the case of Greece Rome &
other antient States; the sanction given by France England, Holland & other
modern States. In all ages one half of mankind have been slaves. If the S.
States were let alone they will probably of themselves stop importations. He wd.
himself as a Citizen of S. Carolina vote for it. An attempt to take away the
right as proposed will produce serious objections to the Constitution which he
wished to see adopted.
General PINKNEY declared it to be his firm opinion
that if himself & all his colleagues were to sign the Constitution & use
their personal influence, it would be of no avail towards obtaining the assent
of their Constituents. S. Carolina & Georgia cannot do without slaves. As to
Virginia she will gain by stopping the importations. Her slaves will rise in
value, & she has more than she wants. It would be unequal to require S. C. &
Georgia to confederate on such unequal terms. He said the Royal assent before
the Revolution had never been refused to S. Carolina as to Virginia. He
contended that the importation of slaves would be for the interest of the whole
Union. The more slaves, the more produce to employ the carrying trade; The more
consumption also, and the more of this, the more of revenue for the common
treasury. He admitted it to be reasonable that slaves should be dutied like
other imports, but should consider a rejection of the clause as an exclusion of
S. Carola. from the Union.
Mr. BALDWIN had conceived national
objects alone to be before the Convention, not such as like the present were of
a local nature. Georgia was decided on this point. That State has always
hitherto supposed a Genl. Governmt. to be the pursuit of the central States who
wished to have a vortex for every thing — that her distance would preclude
her from equal advantage — & that she could not prudently purchase it
by yielding national powers. From this it might be understood in what light she
would view an attempt to abridge one of her favorite prerogatives. If left to
herself, she may probably put a stop to the evil. As one ground for this
conjecture, he took notice of the sect of ______ which he said was a respectable
class of people, who carried their ethics beyond the mere equality of men,
extending their humanity to the claims of the whole animal creation.
Mr. WILSON observed that if S. C. &
Georgia were themselves disposed to get rid of the importation of slaves in a
short time as had been suggested, they would never refuse to Unite because the
importation might be prohibited. As the Section now stands all articles imported
are to be taxed. Slaves alone are exempt. This is in fact a bounty on that
Mr. GERRY thought we had nothing to do
with the conduct of the States as to Slaves, but ought to be careful not to give
any sanction to it.
Mr. DICKENSON considered it as
inadmissible on every principle of honor & safety that the importation of
slaves should be authorised to the States by the Constitution. The true question
was whether the national happiness would be promoted or impeded by the
importation, and this question ought to be left to the National Govt. not to the
States particularly interested. If Engd. & France permit slavery, slaves are
at the same time excluded from both those Kingdoms. Greece and Rome were made
unhappy by their slaves. He could not believe that the Southn. States would
refuse to confederate on the account apprehended; especially as the power was
not likely to be immediately exercised by the Genl. Government.
Mr. WILLIAMSON stated the law of N.
Carolina on the subject, to wit that it did not directly prohibit the
importation of slaves. It imposed a duty of £5. on each slave imported from
Africa. £10 on each from elsewhere, & £50 on each from a State
licensing manumission. He thought the S. States could not be members of the
Union if the clause shd. be rejected, and that it was wrong to force any thing
down, not absolutely necessary, and which any State must disagree to.
Mr. KING thought the subject should be
considered in a political light only. If two States will not agree to the
Constitution as stated on one side, he could affirm with equal belief on the
other, that great & equal opposition would be experienced from the other
States. He remarked on the exemption of slaves from duty whilst every other
import was subjected to it, as an inequality that could not fail to strike the
commercial sagacity of the Northn. & middle States.
Mr. LANGDON was strenuous for giving the
power to the Genl. Govt. He cd. not with a good conscience leave it with the
States who could then go on with the traffic, without being restrained by the
opinions here given that they will themselves cease to import slaves.
Genl. PINKNEY thought himself bound to
declare candidly that he did not think S. Carolina would stop her importations
of slaves in any short time, but only stop them occasionally as she now does. He
moved to commit the clause that slaves might be made liable to an equal tax with
other imports which he he thought right & wch. wd. remove one difficulty
that had been started.
Mr. RUTLIDGE. If the Convention thinks
that N. C. S. C. & Georgia will ever agree to the plan, unless their right
to import slaves be untouched, the expectation is vain. The people of those
States will never be such fools as to give up so important an interest. He was
strenuous agst. striking out the Section, and seconded the motion of Genl.
Pinkney for a commitment.
Mr. GOVr. MORRIS
wished the whole subject to be committed including the clauses relating to taxes
on exports & to a navigation act. These things may form a bargain among the
Northern & Southern States.
Mr. BUTLER declared that he never would
agree to the power of taxing exports.
Mr. SHERMAN said it was better to let
the S. States import slaves than to part with them, if they made that a sine qua
non. He was opposed to a tax on slaves imported as making the matter worse,
because it implied they were property. He acknowledged that if the power
of prohibiting the importation should be given to the Genl. Government that it
would be exercised. He thought it would be its duty to exercise the power.
Mr. READ was for the commitment provided
the clause concerning taxes on exports should also be committed.
Mr. SHERMAN observed that that clause
had been agreed to & therefore could not 3
Mr. RANDOLPH was for committing in order
that some middle ground might, if possible, be found. He could never agree to
the clause as it stands. He wd. sooner risk the constitution. He dwelt on the
dilemma to which the Convention was exposed. By agreeing to the clause, it would
revolt the Quakers, the Methodists, and many others in the States having no
slaves. On the other hand, two States might be lost to the Union. Let us then,
he said, try the chance of a commitment.
On the question for committing the remaining part of Sect. 4 & 5.
4 of art: 7. N. H. no. Mas. abst. Cont. ay
N. J. ay Pa. no. Del. no Maryd. ay. Va. ay. N. C. ay S. C. ay. Geo. ay.
Mr. PINKNEY & Mr. LANGDON moved to commit Sect. 6.
4 as to 6
navigation act by two thirds of each House
Mr. GORHAM did not see the propriety of
it. Is it meant to require a greater proportion of votes? He desired it to be
remembered that the Eastern States had no motive to Union but a commercial one.
They were able to protect themselves. They were not afraid of external danger,
and did not need the aid of the Southn. States.
Mr. WILSON wished for a commitment in
order to reduce the proportion of votes required.
Mr. ELSWORTH was for taking the plan as
it is. This widening of opinions has 7 a
threatening aspect. If we do not agree on this middle & moderate ground he
was afraid we should lose two States, with such others as may be disposed to
stand aloof, should fly into a variety of shapes & directions, and most
probably into several confederations and not without bloodshed.
On 8 Question for committing 6 Sect.
6 navigation act to a member from each
State — N. H. ay. Mas. ay. Ct. no. N. J. no. Pa. ay. Del. ay. Md. ay. Va.
ay. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. ay. 9
The Committee appointed were Mr. Langdon, King, Johnson, Livingston, Clymer,
Dickenson, L. Martin, Madison, Williamson, C. C. Pinkney, & Baldwin.
To this committee were referred also the two clauses abovementioned, of the
4 & 5. Sect: of Art. 7.
Mr. RUTLIDGE, fron the Committee to whom
were referred on the 18 & 20th. instant the propositions of Mr. Madison &
Mr. Pinkney, made the Report following. —
[Here insert the Report from the Journal of the Convention of this date.]
["The committee report, that in their opinion the following additions
should be made to the report now before the convention namely,
"At the end of the first clause of the first section of the seventh
article add, 'for payment of the debts and necessary expenses of the United
States; provided that no law for raising any branch of revenue, except what may
be specially appropriated for the payment of interest on debts or loans, shall
continue in force for more than _____ years.'
"At the end of the second clause, second section, seventh article, add,
'and with Indians, within the limits of any state, not subject to the laws
"At the end of the sixteenth clause of the second section, seventh
article, add, 'and to provide, as may become necessary, from time to time, for
the well managing and securing the common property and general interests and
welfare of the United States in such manner as shall not interfere with the
governments of individual states, in matters which respect only their internal
police, or for which their individual authorities 11
may be competent.'
"At the end of the first section, tenth article, add, 'he shall be of
the age of thirty five years, and a citizen of the United States, and shall have
been an inhabitant thereof for twenty one years.'
"After the second section of the tenth article, insert the following as
a third section:
'The President of the United States shall have a privy council, which shall
consist of the president of the senate, the speaker of the house of
representatives, the chief justice of the supreme court, and the principal
officer in the respective departments of foreign affairs, domestic affairs, war,
marine, and finance, as such departments of office shall from time to time be
established, whose duty it shall be to advise him in matters respecting the
execution of his office, which he shall think proper to lay before them: but
their advice shall not conclude him, nor affect his responsibility for the
measures which he shall adopt.'
"At the end of the second section of the eleventh article, add, 'the
judges of the supreme court shall be triable by the senate, on impeachment by
the house of representatives.'
"Between the fourth and fifth lines of the third section of the
eleventh article, after the word 'controversies,' insert 'between the United
States and an individual state, or the United States and an individual person."']
A motion to rescind the order of the House respecting the hours of meeting &
adjourning, was negatived:
Mass: Pa. Del. Mard. ................
|N. H. Con: N. J. Va. N. C. S. C. Geo.
Mr. GERRY & Mr. Mc.HENRY moved to insert after the 2d. sect.
15 Art: 7, the Clause following, to wit, "The
Legislature shall pass no bill of attainder nor any ex post facto law."
Mr. GERRY urged the necessity of this
prohibition, which he said was greater in the National than the State
Legislature, because the number of members in the former being fewer
17 were on that account the more to be
Mr. GOVr. MORRIS
thought the precaution as to ex post facto laws unnecessary; but essential as to
bills of attainder
Mr. ELSEWORTH contended that there was
no lawyer, no civilian who would not say that ex post facto laws were void of
themselves. It can not then be necessary to prohibit them.
Mr. WILSON was against inserting any
thing in the Constitution as to ex post facto laws. It will bring reflexions on
theConstitution — and proclaim that we are ignorant of the first principles
of Legislation, or are constituting a Government which 18
will be so.
The question being divided, The first part of the motion relating to bills
of attainder was agreed to nem. contradicente.
On the second part relating to ex post facto laws —
Mr. CARROL remarked that experience
overruled all other calculations. It had proved that in whatever light they
might be viewed by civilians or others, the State Legislatures had passed them,
and they had taken effect.
Mr. WILSON. If these prohibitions in the
State Constitutions have no effect, it will be useless to insert them in this
Constitution. Besides, both sides will agree to the principle, &
19 will differ as to its application.
Mr. WILLIAMSON. Such a prohibitory
clause is in the Constitution of N. Carolina, and tho it has been violated, it
has done good there & may do good here, because the Judges can take hold of
thought the clause unnecessary, and implying an improper suspicion of the
Mr. RUTLIDGE was in favor of the clause.
On the question for inserting the prohibition of ex post facto laws.
N. H. ay. Mas. ay. Cont. no. N. J. no. Pa. no. Del. ay. Md. ay. Virga. ay N.
C. divd. S. C. ay. Geo. ay. 20
The report of the committee of 5. made by Mr. Rutlidge, was taken up &
then postponed that each member might furnish himself with a copy.
The Report of the Committee of Eleven delivered in & entered on the
Journal of the 21st. inst. was then taken up. and the first clause containing
the words "The Legislature of the U. S. shall have power to fulfil
the engagements which have been entered into by Congress" being under
Mr. ELSWORTH argued that they were
unnecessary. The U. S. heretofore entered into Engagements by Congs. who were
their agents. They will hereafter be bound to fulfil them by their new agents.
Mr. RANDOLPH thought such a provision
necessary: for though the U. States will be bound, the new Govt. will have no
authority in the case unless it be given to them.
Mr. MADISON thought it necessary to give
the authority in order to prevent misconstruction. He mentioned the attempts
made by the Debtors to British subjects to shew that contracts under the old
Government, were dissolved by the Revolution which destroyed the political
identity of the Society.
Mr. GERRY thought it essential that some
explicit provision should be made on this subject, so that no pretext might
remain for getting rid of the public engagements.
Mr. GOVr. MORRIS
moved by way of amendment to substitute — "The Legislature shall
discharge the debts & fulfil the engagements, of the U. States."
It was moved to vary the amendment by striking out "discharge the debts"
& to insert "liquidate the claims," which being negatived,
The amendment moved by Mr. Govr. Morris was agreed to all the States being
in the affirmative.
It was moved & 2ded. to strike the following words out of the 2d. clause
of the report "and the authority of training the Militia according to the
discipline prescribed by the U. S." Before a question was taken
The House adjourned
1. See ante.
2. The word "was" is here
inserted in the transcript.
3. The word "be" is here
inserted in the transcript.
4. See ante.
5. In the transcript the vote reads: "Connecticut,
New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye —
7; New Hampshire, Pennyslvania, Delaware, no — 3; Massachusetts, absent."
6. The word "a" is here inserted
in the transcript.
7. The word "had" is substituted
in the transcript for "has."
8. The word "the" is here
inserted in the transcript.
9. In the transcript the vote reads: "New
Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North
Carolina, aye — 9; Connecticut, New Jersey, no — 2.'
10. Madison's direction is omitted in the
11. The transcript uses the word "authorities"
in the singular.
12. Journal, Acts and Proceedings of
the Convention ... which formed the Constitution of the United States
(1819), p. 277.
13. The figure "4" is here
inserted in the transcript.
14. The figure "7" is here
inserted in the transcript.
15. The word "of" is here
inserted in the transcript.
16. The proceedings on this motion
involving the two questions on "attainders & ex post facto laws,"
are not so fully stated in the Printed Journal.
17. The word "they" is here
inserted in the transcript.
18. The word "that" is
substituted in the transcript for "which."
19. The word "but" is
substituted in the transcript for "&."
20. In the transcript the vote reads: "New
Hampshire, Massachusetts, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia,
aye — 7; Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, no — 3; North