Energetic Government

[Volume 1, Page 310]

CHAPTER 9 | Document 12

John Tyler, Virginia Ratifying Convention

25 June 1788Elliot 3:640--41

But much is said of the propriety of our becoming a great and powerful nation. There is a great difference between offensive and defensive war. If we can defend ourselves, it is sufficient. Shall we sacrifice the peace and happiness of this country, to enable us to make wanton war?

My conduct throughout the revolution will justify me. I have invariably wished to oppose oppressions. It is true that I have now a paltry office. I am willing to give it up--away with it! It has no influence on my present conduct. I wish Congress to have the regulation of trade. I was of opinion that a partial regulation alone would not suffice. I was among those members who, a few years ago, proposed that regulation. I have lamented that I have put my hand to it, since this measure may have grown out of it. It was the hopes of our people to have their trade on a respectable footing. But it never entered into my head that we should quit liberty, and throw ourselves into the hands of an energetic government. Do you want men to be more free, or less free, than they are? Gentlemen have been called upon to show the causes of this measure. None have been shown. Gentlemen say we shall be ruined unless we adopt it. We must give up our opinions. We cannot judge for ourselves. I hope gentlemen, before this, have been satisfied that such language is improper. All states which have heretofore been lavish in the concession of power and relinquishment of privileges have lost their liberty. It has been often observed (and it cannot be too often observed) that liberty ought not to be given up without knowing the terms. The gentlemen themselves cannot agree in the construction of various clauses of it; and so long as this is the case, so long shall liberty be in danger.

Gentlemen say we are jealous. I am not jealous of this house. I could trust my life with them. If this Constitution were safer, I should not be afraid. But its defects warrant my suspicions and fears. We are not passing laws now, but laying the foundation on which laws are to be made. We ought, therefore, to be cautious how we decide. When I consider the Constitution in all its parts, I cannot but dread its operation. It contains a variety of powers too dangerous to be vested in any set of men whatsoever.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 1, Chapter 9, Document 12
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.