Article 3, Section 2, Clause 1

Document 60

Gouverneur Morris to Timothy Pickering

22 Dec. 1814Life 3:322--23

I have received yours of the fifteenth. While I sat in the Convention, my mind was too much occupied by the interests of our country to keep notes of what we had done. Some gentlemen, I was told, passed their evenings in transcribing speeches from shorthand minutes of the day. They can speak positively on matters, of which I have little recollection. My faculties were on the stretch to further our business, remove impediments, obviate objections, and conciliate jarring opinions. All which I can now do is to ask myself what I should do were questions stated anew; for, in all probability, what I should now do would be what I then did, my sentiments and opinions having undergone no essential change in forty years.

Propositions to countenance the issue of paper money, and the consequent violation of contracts, must have met with all the opposition I could make. But, my dear Sir, what can a history of the Constitution avail towards interpreting its provisions. This must be done by comparing the plain import of the words, with the general tenor and object of the instrument. That instrument was written by the fingers, which write this letter. Having rejected redundant and equivocal terms, I believed it to be as clear as our language would permit; excepting, nevertheless, a part of what relates to the judiciary. On that subject, conflicting opinions had been maintained with so much professional astuteness, that it became necessary to select phrases, which expressing my own notions would not alarm others, nor shock their selflove, and to the best of my recollection, this was the only part which passed without cavil.

But, after all, what does it signify, that men should have a written Constitution, containing unequivocal provisions and limitations? The legislative lion will not be entangled in the meshes of a logical net. The legislature will always make the power, which it wishes to exercise, unless it be so organized, as to contain within itself the sufficient check. Attempts to restrain it from outrage, by other means, will only render it more outrageous. The idea of binding legislators by oaths is puerile. Having sworn to exercise the powers granted, according to their true intent and meaning, they will, when they feel a desire to go farther, avoid the shame if not the guilt of perjury, by swearing the true intent and meaning to be, according to their comprehension, that which suits their purpose.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 4, Article 3, Section 2, Clause 1, Document 60
The University of Chicago Press

The Life of Gouverneur Morris, with Selections from His Correspondence and Miscellaneous Papers. Edited by Jared Sparks. 3 vols. Boston, 1832.

Easy to print version.