[Volume 1, Page 547]

CHAPTER 15 | Document 37

Luther Martin, Genuine Information

1788Storing 2.4.28--29, 63--71

The Jersey propositions being thus rejected, the convention took up those reported by the committee, and proceeded to debate them by paragraphs: it was now that they who disapproved the report found it necessary to make a warm and decided opposition, which took place upon the discussion of the seventh resolution, which related to the inequality of representation in the first branch. Those who advocated this inequality, urged, that when the articles of confederation were formed, it was only from necessity and expediency that the States were admitted each to have an equal vote; but that our situation was now altered, and therefore those States who considered it contrary to their interest, would no longer abide by it. They said no State ought to wish to have influence in government, except in proportion to what it contributes to it; that if it contributes but little, it ought to have but a small vote; that taxation and representation ought always to go together; that if one State had sixteen times as many inhabitants as another, or was sixteen times as wealthy, it ought to have sixteen times as many votes; that an inhabitant of Pennsylvania ought to have as much weight and consequence as an inhabitant of Jersey or Delaware; that it was contrary to the feelings of the human mind; what the large States would never submit to; that the large States would have great objects in view, in which they would never permit the smaller States to thwart them; that equality of suffrage was the rotten part of the constitution, and that this was a happy time to get clear of it. In fine, that it was the poison which contaminated our whole system, and the source of all the evils we experienced.

This, Sir, is the substance of the arguments, if arguments they may be called, which were used in favour of inequality of suffrage.--Those who advocated the equality of suffrage, took the matter up on the original principles of government; they urged, that all men considered in a state of nature, before any government formed, are equally free and independent, no one having any right or authority to exercise power over another, and this without any regard to difference in personal strength, understanding, or wealth--That when such individuals enter into government, they have each a right to an equal voice in its first formation, and afterwards have each a right to an equal vote in every matter which relates to their government--That if it could be done conveniently, they have a right to exercise it in person--Where it cannot be done in person but for convenience, representatives are appointed to act for them, every person has a right to an equal vote, in choosing that representative who is entrusted to do for the whole, that which the whole, if they could assemble, might do in person, and in the transacting of which each would have an equal voice--That if we were to admit, because a man was more wise, more strong, or more wealthy, he should be entitled to more votes than another, it would be inconsistent with the freedom and liberty of that other, and would reduce him to slavery--Suppose, for instance, ten individuals in a state of nature, about to enter into government, nine of whom are equally wise, equally strong, and equally wealthy, the tenth is ten times as wise, ten times as strong, or ten times as rich: if for this reason he is to have ten votes for each vote of either of the others, the nine might as well have no vote at all, since though the whole nine might assent to a measure, yet the vote of the tenth would countervail, and set aside all their votes--If this tenth approved of what they wished to adopt, it would be well, but if he disapproved, he could prevent it, and in the same manner he could carry into execution any measure he wished, contrary to the opinion of all the others, he having ten votes, and the other altogether but nine--It is evident that on these principles, the nine would have no will nor discretion of their own, but must be totally dependent on the will and discretion of the tenth, to him they would be as absolutely slaves as any negro is to his master--If he did not attempt to carry into execution any measures injurious to the other nine, it could only be said that they had a good master, they would not be the less slaves, because they would be totally dependent on the will of another, and not on their own will--They might not feel their chains, but they would notwithstanding wear them, and whenever their master pleased he might draw them so tight as to gall them to the bone. Hence it was urged the inequality of representation, or giving to one man more votes than another on account of his wealth, etc. was altogether inconsistent with the principles of liberty, and in the same proportion as it should be adopted, in favour of one or more, in that proportion are the others inslaved--It was urged, that though every individual should have an equal voice in the government, yet, even the superior wealth, strength, or understanding, would give great and undue advantages to those who possessed them. That wealth attracts respect and attention; superior strength would cause the weaker and more feeble to be cautious how they offended, and to put up with small injuries rather than to engage in an unequal contest--In like manner superior understanding would give its possessor many opportunities of profiting at the expence of the more ignorant. Having thus established these principles with respect to the rights of individuals in a state of nature, [Volume 1, Page 548] and what is due to each on entering into government, principles established by every writer on liberty, they proceeded to shew that States, when once formed, are considered with respect to each other as individuals in a state of nature; that, like individuals each State is considered equally free and equally independent, the one having no right to exercise authority over the other, though more strong, more wealthy, or abounding with more inhabitants--That when a number of States unite themselves under a federal government, the same principles apply to them as when a number of individual men unite themselves under a State government--That every argument which shews one man ought not to have more votes than another, because he is wiser, stronger or wealthier, proves that one State ought not to have more votes than another, because it is stronger, richer, or more populous--And that by giving one State, or one or two States more votes than the others, the others thereby are enslaved to such State or States, having the greater number of votes, in the same manner as in the case before put of individuals where one has more votes than the others--That the reason why each individual man in forming a State government should have an equal vote is, because each individual before he enters into government is equally free and independent--So each State, when States enter into a federal government, are entitled to an equal vote, because before they entered into such federal government, each State was equally free and equally independent--That adequate representation of men formed into a State government, consists in each man having an equal voice, either personally, or if by representatives, that he should have an equal voice in choosing the representative--So adequate representation of States in a federal government, consists in each State having an equal voice either in person or by its representative in every thing which relates to the federal government--That this adequacy of representation is more important in a federal, than in a State government, because the members of a State government, the district of which is not very large, have generally such a common interest, that laws can scarcely be made by one part oppressive to the others, without their suffering in common: but the different States composing an extensive federal empire, widely distant one from the other, may have interests so totally distinct, that the one part might be be greatly benefited by what would be destructive to the other.

. . . . .

By the ninth section of this article, the importation of such persons as any of the States now existing, shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a duty may be imposed on such importation not exceeding ten dollars for each person.

The design of this clause is to prevent the general government from prohibiting the importation of slaves, but the same reasons which caused them to strike out the word "national," and not admit the word "stamps," influenced them here to guard against the word "slaves," they anxiously sought to avoid the admission of expressions which might be odious in the ears of Americans, although they were willing to admit into their system those things which the expressions signified: And hence it is, that the clause is so worded, as really to authorise the general government to impose a duty of ten dollars on every foreigner who comes into a State to become a citizen, whether he comes absolutely free, or qualifiedly so as a servant; although this is contrary to the design of the framers, and the duty was only meant to extend to the importation of slaves.

This clause was the subject of a great diversity of sentiment in the convention:--as the system was reported by the committee of detail, the provision was general, that such importation should not be prohibited, without confining it to any particular period. This was rejected by eight States--Georgia, South-Carolina, and I think North-Carolina voting for it.

We were then told by the delegates of the two first of those States, that their States would never agree to a system which put it in the power of the general government to prevent the importation of slaves, and that they, as delegates from those States, must withhold their assent from such a system.

A committee of one member from each State was chosen by ballot, to take this part of the system under their consideration, and to endeavour to agree upon some report, which should reconcile those States; to this committee also was referred the following proposition, which had been reported by the committee of detail, to wit, "No navigation act shall be passed without the assent of two thirds of the members present in each house;" a proposition which the staple and commercial States were solicitous to retain, lest their commerce should be placed too much under the power of the eastern States, but which these last States were as anxious to reject.--This committee, of which also I had the honour to be a member, met and took under their consideration the subjects committed to them; I found the eastern States, notwithstanding their aversion to slavery, were very willing to indulge the southern States, at least with a temporary liberty to prosecute the slave trade, provided the southern States would in their turn gratify them, by laying no restriction on navigation acts; and after a very little time, the committee by a great majority, agreed on a report, by which the general government was to be prohibited from preventing the importation of slaves for a limited time, and the restrictive clause relative to navigation acts was to be omitted.

This report was adopted by a majority of the convention, but not without considerable opposition.--It was said, that we had but just assumed a place among independent nations, in consequence of our opposition to the attempts of Great-Britain to enslave us; that this opposition was grounded upon the preservation of those rights, to which God and Nature had entitled us, not in particular, but in common with all the rest of mankind--That we had appealed to the Supreme being for his assistance, as the God of freedom, who could not but approve our efforts to preserve the rights which he had thus imparted to his creatures; that now, when we scarcely had risen from our knees, from supplicating his aid and protection--in forming our government over a free people, a government formed pretendedly on the principles of liberty and for its preservation,--in that government to have a provision, not only putting it out of its power to restrain and prevent the slave trade, but even encouraging that most [Volume 1, Page 549] infamous traffic, by giving the States power and influence in the union, in proportion as they cruelly and wantonly sport with the rights of their fellow creatures, ought to be considered as a solemn mockery of, and insult to, that God whose protection we had then implored, and could not fail to hold us up in detestation, and render us contemptible to every true friend of liberty in the world. It was said, it ought to be considered that national crimes can only be, and frequently are, punished in this world by national punishments, and that the continuance of the slave trade, and thus giving it a national sanction and encouragement, ought to be considered as justly exposing us to the displeasure and vengeance of Him, who is equal Lord of all, and who views with equal eye, the poor African slave and his American master!

It was urged, that by this system, we were giving the general government full and absolute power to regulate commerce, under which general power it would have a right to restrain, or totally prohibit the slave trade: it must therefore, appear to the world absurd and disgraceful to the last degree, that we should except from the exercise of that power, the only branch of commerce which is unjustifiable in its nature, and contrary to the rights of mankind--That on the contrary, we ought rather to prohibit expressly in our constitution, the further importation of slaves; and to authorise the general government from time to time, to make such regulations as should be thought most advantageous for the gradual abolition of slavery, and the emancipation of the slaves which are already in the States.

That slavery is inconsistent with the genius of republicanism, and has a tendency to destroy those principles on which it is supported, as it lessens the sense of the equal rights of mankind, and habituates us to tyranny and oppression. It was further urged, that by this system of government, every State is to be protected both from foreign invasion and from domestic insurrections; that from this consideration, it was of the utmost importance it should have a power to restrain the importation of slaves, since in proportion as the number of slaves were increased in any State, in the same proportion the State is weakened and exposed to foreign invasion, or domestic insurrection, and by so much the less will it be able to protect itself against either; and therefore will by so much the more, want aid from, and be a burthen to, the union. It was further said, that as in this system we were giving the general government a power under the idea of national character, or national interest, to regulate even our weights and measures, and have prohibited all possibility of emitting paper money, and passing instalment laws, &c. It must appear still more extraordinary, that we should prohibit the government from interfering with the slave trade, than which nothing could so materially affect both our national honour and interest.--These reasons influenced me both on the committee and in convention, most decidedly to oppose and vote against the clause, as it now makes a part of the system.

You will perceive, Sir, not only that the general government is prohibited from interfering in the slave trade before the year eighteen hundred and eight, but that there is no provision in the constitution that it shall afterwards be prohibited, nor any security that such prohibition will ever take place; and I think there is great reason to believe, that if the importation of slaves is permitted until the year eighteen hundred and eight, it will not be prohibited afterwards: At this time we do not generally hold this commerce in so great abhorrence as we have done--When our liberties were at stake, we warmly felt for the common rights of men--The danger being thought to be past, which threatened ourselves, we are daily growing more insensible to those rights--In those States who have restrained or prohibited the importation of slaves, it is only done by legislative acts which may be repealed--When those States find that they must in their national character and connexion suffer in the disgrace, and share in the inconveniencies attendant upon that detestable and iniquitous traffic, they may be desirous also to share in the benefits arising from it, and the odium attending it will be greatly effaced by the sanction which is given to it in the general government.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 1, Chapter 15, Document 37
The University of Chicago Press

Storing, Herbert J., ed. The Complete Anti-Federalist. 7 vols. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981.