[Volume 1, Page 202]
CHAPTER 6|Document 18
James Wilson, Pennsylvania Ratifying Convention4 Dec. 1787McMaster 331--32
I come now to consider the last set of objections that are offered against this constitution. It is urged, that this is not such a system as was within the powers of the convention; they assumed the power of proposing. I believe they might have made proposals without going beyond their powers. I never heard before, that to make a proposal was an exercise of power. But if it is an exercise of power, they certainly did assume it; yet they did not act as that body who framed the present constitution of Pennsylvania acted; they did not by an ordinance attempt to rivet the constitution on the people, before they could vote for members of assembly under it. Yet such was the effect of the ordinance that attended the constitution of this commonwealth. I think the late convention have done nothing beyond their powers. The fact is, they have exercised no power at all. And in point of validity, this constitution proposed by them for the government of the United States, claims no more than a production of the same nature would claim, flowing from a private pen. It is laid before the citizens of the United States, unfettered by restraint; it is laid before them, to be judged by the natural, civil and political rights of men. By their FIAT, it will become of value and authority; without it, it will never receive the character of authenticity and power. The business, we are told, which was entrusted to the late convention, was merely to amend the present articles of confederation. This observation has been frequently made, and has often brought to my mind a story that is related of Mr. Pope, who it is well known, was not a little deformed. It was customary with him, to use this phrase, "God mend me," when any little incident happened. One evening a link boy was lighting him along, and coming to a gutter, the boy jumped nimbly over it--Mr. Pope called to him to turn, adding, "God mend me:" The arch rogue turned to light him--looked at him, and repeated, "God mend you! he would sooner make a half-a-dozen new ones." This would apply to the present confederation; for it would be easier to make another than to mend this. The gentlemen urge, that this is such a government as was not expected by the people, the legislatures, nor by the honorable gentlemen who mentioned it. Perhaps it was not such as was expected, but it may be BETTER; and is that a reason why it should not be adopted? It is not worse, I trust, than the former. So that the argument of its being a system not expected, is an argument more strong in its favor than against it. The letter which accompanies this constitution, must strike every person with the utmost force. "The friends of our country have long seen and desired the power of war, peace and treaties, that of levying money and regulating commerce, and the corresponding executive and judicial authorities, should be fully and effectually vested in the general government of the union; but the impropriety of delegating such extensive trust to one body of men, is evident. Hence results the necessity of a different organization." I therefore do not think it can be urged as an objection against this system, that it was not expected by the people.
McMaster, John Bach, and Stone, Frederick D., eds. Pennsylvania and the Federal Constitution, 1787--1788. Lancaster: Published for the Subscribers by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1888.
© 1987 by The University of Chicago