Opposition to the Constitution (Sept. 7, 10, 15)
- COLONEL MASON,
thought the office of vice president an encroachment on the rights of the Senate; and that it mixed too much
the Legislative and Executive, which as well as the Judiciarydepartments, ought to be kept as separate as possible.
He took occasion to express his dislike of any reference whatever of the power to make appointments to either
branch of the Legislature. On the other hand he was averse to vest so dangerous a power in the President alone.
As a method for avoiding both, he suggested that a privy Council of six members to the president should be
established; to be chosen for six years by the Senate, two out of the Eastern two out of the middle, and two out of
the Southern quarters of the Union, and to go out in rotation two every second year; the concurrence of the Senate
to be required only in the appointment of Ambassadors, and in making treaties, which are more of a legislative
nature. This would prevent the constant sitting of the Senate which he thought dangerous, as well as keep the
departments separate and distinct. It would also save the expence of constant sessions of the Senate. He had he
said always considered the Senate as too unwieldy and expensive for appointing officers, especially the smallest,
such as tide waiters etc. He had not reduced his idea to writing, but it could be easily done if it should be
- Mr. RANDOLPH
took this opportunity to state his objections to the System. They turned on the Senate's being made the Court of
Impeachment for trying the Executive-on the necessity of three quarters instead of two thirds of each house to
overrule the negative of the President-on the smallness of the number of the Representative branch,-on the want of
limitation to a standing army-on the general clause concerning necessary and proper laws-on the want of some
particular restraint on navigation acts-on the power to lay duties on exports-on the Authority of the General
Legislature to interpose on the application of the Executives of the States-on the want of a more definite
boundary between the General and State Legislatures-and between the General and State Judiciaries-on the the
unqualified power of the President to pardon treasons-on the want of some limit to the power of the Legislature
in regulating their own compensations. With these difficulties in his mind, what course he asked was he to pursue?
Was he to promote the establishment of a plan which he verily believed would end in Tyranny? He was unwilling he
said to impede the wishes and Judgment of the Convention, but he must keep himself free, in case he should be
honored with a seat in the Convention of his State, to act according to the dictates of his judgment.
The only mode in which his embarrassments could be removed, was that of submitting the plan to Congress to go
from them to the State Legislatures, and from these to State Conventions having power to adopt reject or amend;
the process to close with another General Convention with full power to adopt or reject the alterations proposed
by the State Conventions, and to establish finally the Government...
- Mr. RANDOLPH
[commenting] on the indefinite and dangerous power given by the Constitution to Congress, expressing the pain he
felt at differing from the body of the Convention, on the close of the great and awful subject of their labours,
and anxiously wishing for some accomodating expedient which would relieve him from his embarrassments, made a
motion importing "that amendments to the plan might be offered by the State Conventions, which should be
submitted to and finally decided on by another general Convention" Should this proposition be disregarded,
it would he said be impossible for him to put his name to the instrument. Whether he should oppose it afterwards
he would not then decide but he would not deprive himself of the freedom to do so in his own State, if that course
should be prescribed by his final judgment.
- COLONEL MASON
seconded and followed Mr. Randolph in animadversions on the dangerous power and structure of the Government,
concluding that it would end either in monarchy, or a tyrannical aristocracy; which, he was in doubt, but one or
other, he was sure. This Constitution had been formed without the knowledge or idea of the people. A second
Convention will know more of the sense of the people, and be able to provide a system more consonant to it.
It was improper to say to the people, take this or nothing. As the Constitution now stands, he could neither
give it his support or vote in Virginia; and he could not sign here what he could not support there.
With the expedient of another Convention as proposed, he could sign...
- Mr. GERRY,
stated the objections which determined him to withhold his name from the Constitution.
- the duration and reeligibility of the Senate.
- the power of the House of Representatives to conceal their journals.
- the power of Congress over the places of election.
- the unlimited power of Congress over their own compensation.
- Massachusetts has not a due share of Representatives allotted to her.
- Three fifths of the Blacks are to be represented as if they were freemen.
- Under the power over commerce, monopolies may be established.
- The vice president being made head of the Senate.
- by the general power of the Legislature to make what laws they may please to call necessary and proper.
- Raise armies and money without limit.
- To establish a tribunal without juries, which will be a Star-chamber as to Civil cases.
[Mason's] Objections to This Constitution of Government
There is no Declaration of Rights, and the laws of the general Government being paramount to the laws and constitution of the several States, the Declarations of Rights in the separate States are no Security. Nor are the People secured even in the enjoyment of the benefits of the common law. In the House of Representatives, there is not the substance, but the shadow only of representation; which can never produce proper Information in the legislature, or inspire confidence in the people; the laws will therefore be generally made by men little concerned in, and unacquainted with their effects and consequences. The Senate have the power of altering all money bills, and of originating appropriations of money, and the salaries of the officers of their own appointment, in conjunction with the president of the United States; although they are not the representatives of the people, or amenable to them. These, with their other great powers, viz.: their power in the appointment of ambassadors and all public officers, in making treaties, and in trying all impeachments, their influence upon and connection with the supreme Executive from these causes, their duration of office, and their being a constant existing body, almost continually sitting, joined with their being one complete branch of the legislature will destroy any ballance in the government, and enable them to accomplish what usurpations they please upon the rights and liberties of the people. The Judiciary of the United States is so constructed and extended, as to absorb and destroy the judiciarys of the several States; thereby rendering law as tedious, intricate and expensive, and justice as unattainable, by a great part of the community, as in England, and enabling the rich to oppress and ruin the poor. The President of the United States has no Constitutional Council, a thing unknown in any safe and regular government. He will therefore be unsupported by proper information and advice; and will generally be directed by minions and favourites; or he will become a tool to the Senate --- or a Council of State will grow out of the principal officers of the great departments; the worst and most dangerous of all ingredients for such a council in a free country; From this fatal defect has arisen the improper power of the Senate in the appointment of public officers, and the alarming dependence and connection between that branch of the legislature and the supreme Executive. Hence also sprung that unnecessary officer the vice president; who for want of other employment, is made president of the Senate; thereby dangerously blending the executive and legislative powers; besides always giving to some one of the States an unnecessary and unjust pre-eminence over the others. The President of the United States has the unrestrained power of granting pardons for treason; which may be sometimes exercised to screen from punishment those whom he had secretly instigated to commit the crime, and thereby prevent a discovery of his own guilt. By declaring all treaties supreme laws of the land, the Executive and the senate have, in many cases, an exclusive power of legislation; which might have been avoided by proper distinctions with respect to treaties, and requiring the assent of the House of Representatives, where it could be done with safety. By requiring only a majority to make all commercial and navigation laws, the five Southern States, whose produce and circumstances are totally different from that of the eight Northern and Eastern States, may be ruined, for such rigid and premature regulations may be made, as will enable the merchants of the Northern and Eastern States not only to demand an exorbitant freight, but to monopolize the purchase of the commodities at their own price, for many years, to the great injury of the landed interest, and impoverishment of the people; and the danger is the greater, as the gain on one side will be in proportion to the loss on the other. Whereas requiring two-thirds of the members present in both Houses would have produced mutual moderation, promoted the general interest, and removed an insuperable objection to the adoption of this government. Under their own construction of the general clause, at the end of the enumerated powers, the Congress may grant monopolies in trade and commerce, constitute new crimes, inflict unusual and severe punishments, and extend their powers as far as they shall think proper; so that the state legislatures have no security for their powers now presumed to remain to them, or the people for their rights. There is no declaration of any kind, for preserving the liberty of the press, or the trial by jury in civil causes; nor against the danger of standing armies in time of peace. The State legislatures are restrained from laying export duties on their own produce. Both the general legislature and the State legislatures are expressly prohibited making ex post facto laws: though there never was nor can be a legislature but must and will make such laws, when necessity and the public safety require them; which will hereafter be a breach of all the constitutions in the Union, and afford precedents for other innovations. This government will set out a moderate aristocracy: it is at present impossible to foresee whether it will, in its operation, produce a monarchy, or a corrupt tyrannical aristocracy; it will most probably vibrate some years between the two, and then terminate in the one or the other. The general legislature is restrained from prohibiting the further importation of slaves for twenty odd years; though such importations render the United States weaker, more vulnerable, and less capable of defence.