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Article 4, Section 4

Document 9

Debate in Virginia Ratifying Convention

14 June 1788Elliot 3:417--28

Mr. Corbin, after a short address to the chair, in which he expressed extreme reluctance to get up, said, that all contentions on this subject might be ended, by adverting to the 4th section of the 4th article, which provides, "that the United States shall guaranty to every state in the Union a republican form of government, and shall protect each of them against invasion, and, on application of the legislature, or of the executive, (when the legislature cannot be convened,) against domestic violence." He thought this section gave the states power to use their own militia, and call on Congress for the militia of other states. He observed that our representatives were to return every second year to mingle with their fellow-citizens. He asked, then, how, in the name of God, they would make laws to destroy themselves. The gentleman had told us that nothing could be more humiliating than that the state governments could not control the general government. He thought the gentleman might as well have complained that one county could not control the state at large. Mr. Corbin then said that all confederate governments had the care of the national defence, and that Congress ought to have it. Animadverting on Mr. Henry's observations, that the French had been the instruments of their own slavery, that the Germans had enslaved the Germans, and the Spaniards the Spaniards, &c., he asked if those nations knew any thing of representation. The want of this knowledge was the principal cause of their bondage. He concluded by observing that the general government had no power but such as the state government had, and that arguments against the one held against the other.

Mr. Grayson, in reply to Mr. Corbin, said he was mistaken when he produced the 4th section of the 4th article, to prove that the state governments had a right to intermeddle with the militia. He was of opinion that a previous application must be made to the federal head, by the legislature when in session, or otherwise by the executive of any state, before they could interfere with the militia. In his opinion, no instance could be adduced where the states could employ the militia; for, in all the cases wherein they could be employed, Congress had the exclusive direction and control of them. Disputes, he observed, had happened in many countries, where this power should be lodged. In England, there was a dispute between the Parliament and King Charles who should have power over the militia. Were this government well organized, he would not object to giving it power over the militia. But as it appeared to him to be without checks, and to tend to the formation of an aristocratic body, he could not agree to it. Thus organized, his imagination did not reach so far as to know where this power should be lodged. He conceived the state governments to be at the mercy of the generality. He wished to be open to conviction, but he could see no case where the states could command the militia. He did not believe that it corresponded with the intentions of those who formed it, and it was altogether without an equilibrium. He humbly apprehended that the power of providing for organizing and disciplining the militia, enabled the government to make laws for regulating them, and inflicting punishments for disobedience, neglect, &c. Whether it would be the spirit of the generality to lay unusual punishments, he knew not; but he thought they had the power, if they thought proper to exercise it. He thought that, if there was a constructive implied power left in the states, yet, as the line was not clearly marked between the two governments, it would create differences. He complained of the uncertainty of the expression, and wished it to be so clearly expressed that the people might see where the states could interfere.

As the exclusive power of arming, organizing, &c., was given to Congress, they might entirely neglect them; or they might be armed in one part of the Union, and totally neglected in another. This he apprehended to be a probable circumstance. In this he might be thought suspicious; but he was justified by what had happened in other countries. He wished to know what attention had been paid to the militia of Scotland and Ireland since the union, and what laws had been made to regulate them. There is, says Mr. Grayson, an excellent militia law in England, and such as I wish to be established by the general government. They have thirty thousand select militia in England. But the militia of Scotland and Ireland are neglected. I see the necessity of the concentration of the forces of the Union. I acknowledge that militia are the best means of quelling insurrections, and that we have an advantage over the English government, for their regular forces answer the purpose. But I object to the want of checks, and a line of discrimination between the state governments and the generality.

Mr. John Marshall asked if gentlemen were serious when they asserted that, if the state governments had power to interfere with the militia, it was by implication. If they were, he asked the committee whether the least attention would not show that they were mistaken. The state governments did not derive their powers from the general government; but each government derived its powers from the people, and each was to act according to the powers given it. Would any gentleman deny this? He demanded if powers not given were retained by implication. Could any man say so? Could any man say that this power was not retained by the states, as they had not given it away? For, says he, does not a power remain till it is given away? The state legislatures had power to command and govern their militia before, and have it still, undeniably, unless there be something in this Constitution that takes it away.

For Continental purposes Congress may call forth the militia,--as to suppress insurrections and repel invasions. But the power given to the states by the people is not taken away; for the Constitution does not say so. In the Confederation Congress had this power; but the state legislatures had it also. The power of legislating given them within the ten miles square is exclusive of the states, because it is expressed to be exclusive. The truth is, that when power is given to the general legislature, if it was in the state legislature before, both shall exercise it; unless there be an incompatibility in the exercise by one to that by the other, or negative words precluding the state governments from it. But there are no negative words here. It rests, therefore, with the states. To me it appears, then, unquestionable that the state governments can call forth the militia, in case the Constitution should be adopted, in the same manner as they could have done before its adoption. Gentlemen have said that the states cannot defend themselves without an application to Congress, because Congress can interpose! Does not every man feel a refutation of the argument in his own breast? I will show that there could not be a combination, between those who formed the Constitution, to take away this power. All the restraints intended to be laid on the state governments (besides where an exclusive power is expressly given to Congress) are contained in the 10th section of the 1st article. This power is not included in the restrictions in that section. But what excludes every possibility of doubt, is the last part of it--that "no state shall engage in war, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent danger as will not admit of delay." When invaded, they can engage in war, as also when in imminent danger. This clearly proves that the states can use the militia when they find it necessary. The worthy member last up objects to the Continental government's possessing the power of disciplining the militia, because, though all its branches be derived from the people, he says they will form an aristocratic government, unsafe and unfit to be trusted.

Mr. Grayson answered, that he only said it was so constructed as to form a great aristocratic body.

Mr. Marshall replied, that he was not certain whether he understood him; but he thought he had said so. He conceived that, as the government was drawn from the people, the feelings and interests of the people would be attended to, and that we should be safe in granting them power to regulate the militia. When the government is drawn from the people, continued Mr. Marshall, and depending on the people for its continuance, oppressive measures will not be attempted, as they will certainly draw on their authors the resentment of those on whom they depend. On this government, thus depending on ourselves for its existence, I will rest my safety, notwithstanding the danger depicted by the honorable gentleman. I cannot help being surprised that the worthy member thought this power so dangerous. What government is able to protect you in time of war? Will any state depend on its own exertions? The consequence of such dependence, and withholding this power from Congress, will be, that state will fall after state, and be a sacrifice to the want of power in the general government. United we are strong, divided we fall. Will you prevent the general government from drawing the militia of one state to another, when the consequence would be, that every state must depend on itself? The enemy, possessing the water, can quickly go from one state to another. No state will spare to another its militia, which it conceives necessary for itself. It requires a superintending power, in order to call forth the resources of all to protect all. If this be not done, each state will fall a sacrifice. This system merits the highest applause in this respect. The honorable gentleman said that a general regulation may be made to inflict punishments. Does he imagine that a militia law is to be ingrafted on the scheme of government, so as to render it incapable of being changed? The idea of the worthy member supposes that men renounce their own interests. This would produce general inconveniences throughout the Union, and would be equally opposed by all the states. But the worthy member fears, that in one part of the Union they will be regulated and disciplined, and in another neglected. This danger is enhanced by leaving this power to each state; for some states may attend to their militia, and others may neglect them. If Congress neglect our militia, we can arm them ourselves. Cannot Virginia import arms? Cannot she put them into the hands of her militia-men?

He then concluded by observing, that the power of governing the militia was not vested in the states by implication, because, being possessed of it antecedent to the adoption of the government, and not being divested of it by any grant or restriction in the Constitution, they must necessarily be as fully possessed of it as ever they had been. And it could not be said that the states derived any powers from that system, but retained them, though not acknowledged in any part of it.

Mr. Grayson acknowledged that all power was drawn from the people. But he could see none of those checks which ought to characterize a free government. It had not such checks as even the British government had. He thought it so organized as to form an aristocratic body. If we looked at the democratic branch, and the great extent of country, he said, it must be considered, in a great degree, to be an aristocratic representation. As they were elected with craving appetites, and wishing for emoluments, they might unite with the other two branches. They might give reciprocally good offices to one another, and mutually protect each other; for he considered them all as united in interest, and as but one branch. There was no check to prevent such a combination; nor, in cases of concurrent powers, was there a line drawn to prevent interference between the state governments and the generality.

Mr. Henry still retained his opinion, that the states had no right to call forth the militia to suppress insurrections, &c. But the right interpretation (and such as the nations of the earth had put upon the concession of power) was that, when power was given, it was given exclusively. He appealed to the committee, if power was not confined in the hands of a few in almost all countries of the world. He referred to their candor, if the construction of conceded power was not an exclusive concession, in nineteen twentieth parts of the world. The nations which retained their liberty were comparatively few. America would add to the number of the oppressed nations, if she depended on constructive rights and argumentative implication. That the powers given to Congress were exclusively given, was very obvious to him. The rights which the states had must be founded on the restrictions on Congress. He asked, if the doctrine which had been so often circulated, that rights not given were retained, was true, why there were negative clauses to restrain Congress. He told gentlemen that these clauses were sufficient to shake all their implication; for, says he, if Congress had no power but that given to them, why restrict them by negative words? Is not the clear implication this--that, if these restrictions were not inserted, they could have performed what they prohibit?

The worthy member had said that Congress ought to have power to protect all, and had given this system the highest encomium. But he insisted that the power over the militia was concurrent. To obviate the futility of this doctrine, Mr. Henry alleged that it was not reducible to practice. Examine it, says he; reduce it to practice. Suppose an insurrection in Virginia, and suppose there be danger apprehended of an insurrection in another state, from the exercise of the government; or suppose a national war; and there be discontents among the people of this state, that produce, or threaten, an insurrection; suppose Congress, in either case, demands a number of militia,--will they not be obliged to go? Where are your reserved rights, when your militia go to a neighboring state? Which call is to be obeyed, the congressional call, or the call of the state legislature? The call of Congress must be obeyed. I need not remind this committee that the sweeping clause will cause their demands to be submitted to. This clause enables them "to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper to carry into execution all the powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof." Mr. Chairman, I will turn to another clause, which relates to the same subject, and tends to show the fallacy of their argument.

The 10th section of the 1st article, to which reference was made by the worthy member, militates against himself. It says, that "no state shall engage in war, unless actually invaded." If you give this clause a fair construction, what is the true meaning of it? What does this relate to? Not domestic insurrections, but war. If the country be invaded, a state may go to war, but cannot suppress insurrections. If there should happen an insurrection of slaves, the country cannot be said to be invaded. They cannot, therefore, suppress it without the interposition of Congress. The 4th section of the 4th article expressly directs that, in case of domestic violence, Congress shall protect the states on application of the legislature or executive; and the 8th section of the 1st article gives Congress power to call forth the militia to quell insurrections: there cannot, therefore, be a concurrent power. The state legislatures ought to have power to call forth the efforts of the militia, when necessary. Occasions for calling them out may be urgent, pressing, and instantaneous. The states cannot now call them, let an insurrection be ever so perilous, without an application to Congress. So long a delay may be fatal.

There are three clauses which prove, beyond the possibility of doubt, that Congress, and Congress only, can call forth the militia. The clause giving Congress power to call them out to suppress insurrections, &c.; that which restrains a state from engaging in war except when actually invaded; and that which requires Congress to protect the states against domestic violence,--render it impossible that a state can have power to intermeddle with them. Will not Congress find refuge for their actions in these clauses? With respect to the concurrent jurisdiction, it is a political monster of absurdity. We have passed that clause which gives Congress an unlimited authority over the national wealth; and here is an unbounded control over the national strength. Notwithstanding this clear, unequivocal relinquishment of the power of controlling the militia, you say the states retain it, for the very purposes given to Congress. Is it fair to say that you give the power of arming the militia, and at the same time to say you reserve it? This great national government ought not to be left in this condition. If it be, it will terminate in the destruction of our liberties.

Mr. Madison. Mr. Chairman, let me ask this committee, and the honorable member last up, what we are to understand from this reasoning. The power must be vested in Congress, or in the state governments; or there must be a division or concurrence. He is against division. It is a political monster. He will not give it to Congress for fear of oppression. Is it to be vested in the state governments? If so, where is the provision for general defence? If ever America should be attacked, the states would fall successively. It will prevent them from giving aid to their sister states; for, as each state will expect to be attacked, and wish to guard against it, each will retain its own militia for its own defence. Where is this power to be deposited, then, unless in the general government, if it be dangerous to the public safety to give it exclusively to the states? If it must be divided, let him show a better manner of doing it than that which is in the Constitution. I cannot agree with the other honorable gentleman, that there is no check. There is a powerful check in that paper. The state governments are to govern the militia when not called forth for general national purposes; and Congress is to govern such part only as may be in the actual service of the Union. Nothing can be more certain and positive than this. It expressly empowers Congress to govern them when in the service of the United States. It is, then, clear that the states govern them when they are not. With respect to suppressing insurrections, I say that those clauses which were mentioned by the honorable gentleman are compatible with a concurrence of the power. By the first, Congress is to call them forth to suppress insurrections, and repel invasions of foreign powers. A concurrence in the former case is necessary, because a whole state may be in insurrection against the Union. What has passed may perhaps justify this apprehension. The safety of the Union and particular states requires that the general govenment should have power to repel foreign invasions. The 4th section of the 4th article is perfectly consistent with the exercise of the power by the states. The words are, "The United States shall guaranty to every state in this Union a republican form of government, and shall protect each of them against invasion, and, on application of the legislature, or of the executive, (when the legislature cannot be convened,) against domestic violence." The word invasion here, after power had been given in the former clause to repel invasions, may be thought tautologous, but it has a different meaning from the other. This clause speaks of a particular state. It means that it shall be protected from invasion by other states. A republican government is to be guarantied to each state, and they are to be protected from invasion from other states, as well as from foreign powers; and, on application by the legislature or executive, as the case may be, the militia of the other states are to be called to suppress domestic insurrections. Does this bar the states from calling forth their own militia? No; but it gives them a supplementary security to suppress insurrections and domestic violence.

The other clause runs in these words: "No state shall, without the consent of Congress, lay any duty on tonnage, keep troops or ships of war in time of peace, enter into any agreement or compact with another state, or with a foreign power, or engage in war, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent danger as will not admit of delay." They are restrained from making war, unless invaded, or in imminent danger. When in such danger, they are not restrained. I can perceive no competition in these clauses. They cannot be said to be repugnant to a concurrence of the power. If we object to the Constitution in this manner, and consume our time in verbal criticism, we shall never put an end to the business.

Mr. George Mason. Mr. Chairman, a worthy member has asked who are the militia, if they be not the people of this country, and if we are not to be protected from the fate of the Germans, Prussians, &c., by our representation? I ask, Who are the militia? They consist now of the whole people, except a few public officers. But I cannot say who will be the militia of the future day. If that paper on the table gets no alteration, the militia of the future day may not consist of all classes, high and low, and rich and poor; but they may be confined to the lower and middle classes of the people, granting exclusion to the higher classes of the people. If we should ever see that day, the most ignominious punishments and heavy fines may be expected. Under the present government, all ranks of people are subject to militia duty. Under such a full and equal representation as ours, there can be no ignominious punishment inflicted. But under this national, or rather consolidated government, the case will be different. The representation being so small and inadequate, they will have no fellow-feeling for the people. They may discriminate people in their own predicament, and exempt from duty all the officers and lowest creatures of the national government. If there were a more particular definition of their powers, and a clause exempting the militia from martial law except when in actual service, and from fines and punishments of an unusual nature, then we might expect that the militia would be what they are. But, if this be not the case, we cannot say how long all classes of people will be included in the militia. There will not be the same reason to expect it, because the government will be administered by different people. We know what they are now, but know not how soon they may be altered.

Mr. George Nicholas. Mr. Chairman, I feel apprehensions lest the subject of our debates should be misunderstood. Every one wishes to know the true meaning of the system; but I fear those who hear us will think we are captiously quibbling on words. We have been told, in the course of this business, that the government will operate like a screw. Give me leave to say that the exertions of the opposition are like that instrument. They catch at every thing, and take it into their vortex. The worthy member says that this government is defective, because it comes from the people. Its greatest recommendation, with me, is putting the power in the hands of the people. He disapproves of it because it does not say in what particular instances the militia shall be called out to execute the laws. This is a power of the Constitution, and particular instances must be defined by the legislature. But, says the worthy member, those laws which have been read are arguments against the Constitution, because they show that the states are now in possession of the power, and competent to its execution. Would you leave this power in the states, and by that means deprive the general government of a power which will be necessary for its existence? If the state governments find this power necessary; ought not the general government to have a similar power? But, sir, there is no state check in this business. The gentleman near me has shown that there is a very important check.

Another worthy member says there is no power in the states to quell an insurrection of slaves. Have they it now? If they have, does the Constitution take it away? If it does, it must be in one of the three clauses which have been mentioned by the worthy member. The first clause gives the general government power to call them out when necessary. Does this take it away from the states? No. But it gives an additional security; for, besides the power in the state governments to use their own militia, it will be the duty of the general government to aid them with the strength of the Union when called for. No part of this Constitution can show that this power is taken away.

But an argument is drawn from that clause which says "that no state shall engage in war unless actually invaded, or in such imminent danger as will not admit of delay." What does this prohibition amount to? It must be a war with a foreign enemy that the states are prohibited from making; for the exception to the restriction proves it. The restriction includes only offensive hostility, as they are at liberty to engage in war when invaded, or in imminent danger. They are, therefore, not restrained from quelling domestic insurrections, which are totally different from making war with a foreign power. But the great thing to be dreaded is that, during an insurrection, the militia will be called out from the state. This is his kind of argument. Is it possible that, at such a time, the general government would order the militia to be called? It is a groundless objection, to work on gentlemen's apprehensions within these walls. As to the 4th article, it was introduced wholly for the particular aid of the states. A republican form of government is guarantied, and protection is secured against invasion and domestic violence on application. Is not this a guard as strong as possible? Does it not exclude the unnecessary interference of Congress in business of this sort?

The gentleman over the way cannot tell who will be the militia at a future day, and enumerates dangers of select militia. Let me attend to the nature of gentlemen's objections. One objects because there will be select militia; another objects because there will be no select militia; and yet both oppose it on these contradictory principles. If you deny the general government the power of calling out the militia, there must be a recurrence to a standing army. If you are really jealous of your liberties, confide in Congress.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 4, Article 4, Section 4, Document 9
The University of Chicago Press

Elliot, Jonathan, ed. The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution as Recommended by the General Convention at Philadelphia in 1787. . . . 5 vols. 2d ed. 1888. Reprint. New York: Burt Franklin, n.d.

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