Article 6, Clause 2
Records of the Federal Convention
[1:21; Madison, 29 May]
6. Resolved . . . that the National Legislature ought to be empowered . . . to negative all laws passed by the several States, contravening in the opinion of the National Legislature the articles of Union; . . .
[1:54; Madison, 31 May]
The other clauses giving powers necessary to preserve harmony among the States to negative all State laws contravening in the opinion of the Nat Leg the articles of Union down to the last clause, (the words "or any treaties subsisting under the authority of the Union", being added after the words "contravening &c. the articles of the Union"; on motion of Dr. Franklin) were agreed to witht. debate or dissent.
[1:164; Madison, 8 June]
On a reconsideration of the clause giving the Natl. Legislature a negative on such laws of the States as might be contrary to the articles of Union, or Treaties with foreign nations,
Mr. Pinkney moved "that the National Legislature shd. have authority to negative all Laws which they shd. judge to be improper". He urged that such a universality of the power was indispensably necessary to render it effectual; that the States must be kept in due subordination to the nation; that if the States were left to act of themselves in any case, it wd. be impossible to defend the national prerogatives, however extensive they might be on paper; that the acts of Congress had been defeated by this means; nor had foreign treaties escaped repeated violations; that this universal negative was in fact the corner stone of an efficient national Govt.; that under the British Govt. the negative of the Crown had been found beneficial, and the States are more one nation now, than the Colonies were then.
Mr. Madison seconded the motion. He could not but regard an indefinite power to negative legislative acts of the States as absolutely necessary to a perfect system. Experience had evinced a constant tendency in the States to encroach on the federal authority; to violate national Treaties, to infringe the rights & interests of each other; to oppress the weaker party within their respective jurisdictions. A negative was the mildest expedient that could be devised for preventing these mischiefs. The existence of such a check would prevent attempts to commit them. Should no such precaution be engrafted, the only remedy wd. lie in an appeal to coercion. Was such a remedy elegible? was it practicable? Could the national resources, if exerted to the utmost enforce a national decree agst. Massts. abetted perhaps by several of her neighbours? It wd. not be possible. A small proportion of the Community in a compact situation, acting on the defensive, and at one of its extremities might at any time bid defiance to the National authority. Any Govt. for the U. States formed on the supposed practicability of using force agst. the unconstitutional proceedings of the States, wd. prove as visionary & fallacious as the Govt. of Congs. The negative wd. render the use of force unnecessary. The States cd. of themselves then pass no operative act, any more than one branch of a Legislature where there are two branches, can proceed without the other. But in order to give the negative this efficacy, it must extend to all cases. A discrimination wd. only be a fresh source of contention between the two authorities. In a word, to recur to the illustrations borrowed from the planetary System, This prerogative of the General Govt. is the great pervading principle that must controul the centrifugal tendency of the States; which, without it, will continually fly out of their proper orbits and destroy the order & harmony of the political system.
Mr. Williamson was agst. giving a power that might restrain the States from regulating their internal police.
Mr. Gerry cd. not see the extent of such a power, and was agst. every power that was not necessary. He thought a remonstrance agst. unreasonable acts of the States wd. reclaim them. If it shd. not force might be resorted to. He had no objection to authorize a negative to paper money and similar measures. When the confederation was depending before Congress, Massachusetts was then for inserting the power of emitting paper money amg. the exclusive powers of Congress. He observed that the proposed negative wd. extend to the regulations of the militia, a matter on which the existence of a State might depend. The Natl. Legislature with such a power may enslave the States. Such an idea as this will never be acceded to. It has never been suggested or conceived among the people. No speculative projector, and there are eno' of that character among us, in politics as well as in other things, has in any pamphlet or newspaper thrown out the idea. The States too have different interests and are ignorant of each other's interests. The negative therefore will be abused, New States too having separate views from the old States will never come into the Union, They may even be under some foreign influence; are they in such case to participate in the negative on the will of the other States?
Mr. Sherman thought the cases in which the negative ought to be exercised, might be defined. He wished the point might not be decided till a trial at least shd. be made for that purpose
Mr. Wilson would not say what modifications of the proposed power might be practicable or expedient. But however novel it might appear the principal of it when viewed with a close & steady eye, is right. There is no instance in which the laws say that the individuals shd. be bound in one case, & at liberty to judge whether he will obey or disobey in another. The cases are parallel, Abuses of the power over the individual person may happen as well as over the individual States. Federal liberty is to States, what civil liberty, is to private individuals. And States are not more unwilling to purchase it, by the necessary concession of their political sovereignty, tha[n] the savage is to purchase Civil liberty by the surrender of the personal sovereignty. which he enjoys in a State of nature. A definition of the cases in which the Negative should be exercised, is impracticable. A discretion must be left on one side or the other? Will it not be most safely lodged on the side of the Natl. Govt.?--Among the first sentiments expressed in the first Congs. one was that Virga. is no more. That Massts. is no [more], that Pa. is no more &c. We are now one nation of brethren. We must bury all local interests & distinctions. This language continued for some time. The tables at length began to turn. No sooner were the State Govts. formed than their jealousy & ambition began to display themselves. Each endeavoured to cut a slice from the common loaf, to add to its own morsel, till at length the confederation became frittered down to the impotent condition in which it now stands. Review the progress of the articles of Confederation thro' Congress & compare the first & last draught of it. To correct its vices is the business of this convention. One of its vices is the want of an effectual controul in the whole over its parts. What danger is there that the whole will unnecessarily sacrifice a part? But reverse the case, and leave the whole at the mercy of each part, and will not the general interest be continually sacrificed to local interests?
Mr. Dickenson deemed it impossible to draw a line between the cases proper & improper for the exercise of the negative. We must take our choice of two things. We must either subject the States to the danger of being injured by the power of the Natl. Govt. or the latter to the danger of being injured by that of the States. He thought the danger greater from the States. To leave the power doubtful, would be opening another spring of discord, and he was for shutting as many of them as possible.
Mr. Bedford. In answer to his colleagues question, where wd. be the danger to the States from this power, would refer him to the smallness of his own State which may be injured at pleasure without redress. It was meant he found to strip the small States of their equal right of suffrage. In this case Delaware would have about 1/90 for its share in the General Councils, whilst Pa. & Va. would possess 1/3 of the whole. Is there no difference of interests, no rivalship of commerce, of manufactures? Will not these large States crush the small ones whenever they stand in the way of their ambitions or interested views. This shows the impossibility of adopting such a system as that on the table, or any other founded on a change in the prinple of representation. And after all, if a State does not obey the law of the new System, must not force be resorted to as the only ultimate remedy, in this as in any other system. It seems as if Pa. & Va. by the conduct of their deputies wished to provide a system in which they would have an enormous & monstrous influence. Besides, How can it be thought that the proposed negative can be exercised? are the laws of the States to be suspended in the most urgent cases until they can be sent seven or eight hundred miles, and undergo the deliberations of a body who may be incapable of Judging of them? Is the National Legislature too to sit continually in order to revise the laws of the States?
Mr. Madison observed that the difficulties which had been started were worthy of attention and ought to be answered before the question was put. The case of laws of urgent necessity must be provided for by some emanation of the power from the Natl. Govt. into each State so far as to give a temporary assent at least. This was the practice in Royal Colonies before the Revolution and would not have been inconvenient; if the supreme power of negativing had been faithful to the American interest, and had possessed the necessary information. He supposed that the negative might be very properly lodged in the senate alone, and that the more numerous & expensive branch therefore might not be obliged to sit constantly.--He asked Mr. B. what would be the consequence to the small States of a dissolution of the Union wch. seemed likely to happen if no effectual substitute was made for the defective System existing, and he did not conceive any effectual system could be substituted on any other basis than that of a proportional suffrage? If the large States possessed the Avarice & ambition with which they were charged, would the small ones in their neighbourhood, be more secure when all controul of a Genl. Govt. was withdrawn.
Mr. Butler was vehement agst. the Negative in the proposed extent, as cutting off all hope of equal justice to the distant States. The people there would not he was sure give it a hearing.
On the question for extending the negative power to all cases as proposd. by (Mr. P. & Mr- M------) Mas. ay. Cont. no. N. Y. no. N. J. no. Pa. ay. Del. divd. Mr. Reed & Mr. Dickenson ay. Mr. Bedford & Mr. Basset no. Maryd. no. Va. ay. Mr. R. Mr. Mason no. Mr. Blair, Docr. Mc. Cg. Mr. M. ay. Genl. W. not consulted. N. C. no. S. C. no Geo. no. [Ayes--3; noes--7; divided--1.]
[1:169; Yates, 8 June]
Mr. Pinkney moved, That the national legislature shall have the power of negativing all laws to be passed by the state legislatures which they may judge improper, in the room of the clause as it stood reported.
He grounds his motion on the necessity of one supreme controlling power, and he considers this as the corner-stone of the present system; and hence the necessity of retrenching the state authorities in order to preserve the good government of the national council.
Mr. Williamson against the motion. The national legislature ought to possess the power of negativing such laws only as will encroach on the national government.
Mr. Madison wished that the line of jurisprudence could be drawn--he would be for it--but upon reflection he finds it impossible, and therefore he is for the amendment. If the clause remains without the amendment it is inefficient--The judges of the state must give the state laws their operation, although the law abridges the rights of the national government--how is it to be repealed? By the power who made it? How shall you compel them? By force? To prevent this disagreeable expedient, the power of negativing is absolutely necessary--this is the only attractive principle which will retain its centrifugal force, and without this the planets will fly from their orbits.
Mr. Gerry supposes that this power ought to extend to all laws already made; but the preferable mode would be to designate the powers of the national legislature, to which the negative ought to apply--he has no objection to restrain the laws which may be made for issuing paper money. Upon the whole he does not choose on this important trust, to take a leap in the dark.
Mr. Pinkney supposes that the proposed amendment had no retrospect to the state laws already made. The adoption of the new government must operate as a complete repeal of all the constitutions and state laws, as far as they are inconsistent with the new government.
Mr. Wilson supposes the surrender of the rights of a federal government to be a surrender of sovereignty. True, we may define some of the rights, but when we come near the line it cannot be found. One general excepting clause must therefore apply to the whole. In the beginning of our troubles, congress themselves were as one state--dissentions or state interests were not known--they gradually crept in after the formation of the constitution, and each took to himself a slice. The original draft of confederation was drawn on the first ideas, and the draft concluded on how different!
Mr. Bedford was against the motion, and states the proportion of the intended representation of the number 90: Delaware 1--Pennsylvania and Virginia one third. On this computation where is the weight of the small states when the interest of the one is in competition with the other on trade, manufactures and agriculture? When he sees this mode of government so strongly advocated by the members of the great states, he must suppose it a question of interest.
Mr. Madison confesses it is not without its difficulties on many accounts--some may be removed, others modified, and some are unavoidable. May not this power be vested in the senatorial branch? they will probably be always sitting. Take the question on the other ground, who is to determine the line when drawn in doubtful cases? The state legislatures cannot, for they will be partial in support of their own powers--no tribunal can be found. It is impossible that the articles of confederation can be amended--they are too tottering to be invigorated--nothing but the present system, or something like it, can restore the peace and harmony of the country.
The question put on Mr. Pinkney's motion--7 states against it--Delaware divided--Virginia, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts for it.
[1:245; Madison, 15 June]
6. Resd. that all Acts of the U. States in Congs. made by virtue & in pursuance of the powers hereby & by the articles of confederation vested in them, and all Treaties made & ratified under the authority of the U. States shall be the supreme law of the respective States so far forth as those Acts or Treaties shall relate to the said States or their Citizens, and that the Judiciary of the several States shall be bound thereby in their decisions, any thing in the respective laws of the Individual States to the contrary notwithstanding; and that if any State, or any body of men in any State shall oppose or prevent ye. carrying into execution such acts or treaties, the federal Executive shall be authorized to call forth ye power of the Confederated States, or so much thereof as may be necessary to enforce and compel an obedience to such Acts, or an Observance of such Treaties.
[1:250, 256; Madison, 16 June]
[Mr. Lansing] The States will never feel a sufficient confidence in a general Government to give it a negative on their laws. The Scheme is itself totally novel. There is no parallel to it to be found. The authority of Congress is familiar to the people, and an augmentation of the powers of Congress will be readily approved by them.
. . . . .
[Mr. Randolph] There are but two modes, by which the end of a Genl. Govt. can be attained: the 1st. is by coercion as proposed by Mr. Ps. plan. 2. by real legislation as propd. by the other plan. Coercion he pronounced to be impracticable, expensive, cruel to individuals. It tended also to habituate the instruments of it to shed the blood & riot in the spoils of their fellow Citizens, and consequently trained them up for the service of Ambition. We must resort therefore to a national Legislation over individuals, for which Congs. are unfit. To vest such power in them, would be blending the Legislative with the Executive, contrary to the recd. maxim on this subject: If the Union of these powers heretofore in Congs. has been safe, it has been owing to the general impotency of that body. Congs. are moreover not elected by the people, but by the Legislatures who retain even a power of recall. They have therefore no will of their own, they are a mere diplomatic body, and are always obsequious to the views of the States, who are always encroaching on the authority of the U. States. A provision for harmony among the States, as in trade, naturalization &c.--for crushing rebellion whenever it may rear its crest--and for certain other general benefits, must be made. The powers for these purposes, can never be given to a body, inadequate as Congress are in point of representation, elected in the mode in which they are, and possessing no more confidence than they do: for notwithstanding what has been said to the contrary, his own experience satisfied him that a rooted distrust of Congress pretty generally prevailed. A Natl. Govt. alone, properly constituted, will answer the purpose; and he begged it to be considered that the present is the last moment for establishing one. After this select experiment, the people will yield to despair.
[1:293; Madison, 18 June]
X All laws of the particular States contrary to the Constitution or laws of the United States to be utterly void; and the better to prevent such laws being passed, the Governour or president of each state shall be appointed by the General Government and shall have a negative upon the laws about to be passed in the State of which he is Governour or President
[1:318; Madison, 19 June]
[Mr. Madison] The plan of Mr. Paterson, not giving even a negative on the Acts of the States, left them as much at liberty as ever to execute their unrighteous projects agst. each other.
. . . . .
5. Will it secure a good internal legislation & administration to the particular States? In developing the evils which vitiate the political system of the U. S. it is proper to take into view those which prevail within the States individually as well as those which affect them collectively: Since the former indirectly affect the whole; and there is great reason to believe that the pressure of them had a full share in the motives which produced the present Convention. Under this head he enumerated and animadverted on 1. the multiplicity of the laws passed by the several States. 2. the mutability of their laws. 3. the injustice of them. 4. the impotence of them: observing that Mr. Patterson's plan contained no remedy for this dreadful class of evils, and could not therefore be received as an adequate provision for the exigencies of the Community.
[1:438; Madison, 27 June]
[Mr. L. Martin] . . . , that the States, particularly the smaller, would never allow a negative to be exercised over their laws: that no State in ratifying the Confederation had objected to the equality of votes; that the complaints at present run not agst. this equality but the want of power; . . .
[1:447; Madison, 28 June]
[Mr. Madison]. The negative on the State laws proposed, will make it an essential branch of the State Legislatures & of course will require that it should be exercised by a body established on like principles with the other branches of those Legislatures.-
[2:27; Madison, 17 July]
The next.--"To negative all laws passed by the several States contravening in the opinion of the Nat: Legislature the articles of Union, or any treaties subsisting under the authority of ye Union"
Mr. Govr. Morris opposed this power as likely to be terrible to the States, and not necessary, if sufficient Legislative authority should be given to the Genl. Government.
Mr. Sherman thought it unnecessary, as the Courts of the States would not consider as valid any law contravening the Authority of the Union, and which the legislature would wish to be negatived.
Mr. L. Martin considered the power as improper & inadmissable. Shall all the laws of the States be sent up to the Genl. Legislature before they shall be permitted to operate?
Mr. Madison, considered the negative on the laws of the States as essential to the efficacy & security of the Genl. Govt. The necessity of a general Govt. proceeds from the propensity of the States to pursue their particular interests in opposition to the general interest. This propensity will continue to disturb the system, unless effectually controuled. Nothing short of a negative on their laws will controul it. They can pass laws which will accomplish their injurious objects before they can be repealed by the Genl Legislre. or be set aside by the National Tribunals. Confidence can not be put in the State Tribunals as guardians of the National authority and interests. In all the States these are more or less dependt. on the Legislatures. In Georgia they are appointed annually by the Legislature. In R. Island the Judges who refused to execute an unconstitutional law were displaced, and others substituted, by the Legislature who would be willing instruments of the wicked & arbitrary plans of their masters. A power of negativing the improper laws of the States is at once the most mild & certain means of preserving the harmony of the system. Its utility is sufficiently displayed in the British System. Nothing could maintain the harmony & subordination of the various parts of the empire, but the prerogative by which the Crown, stifles in the birth every Act of every part tending to discord or encroachment. It is true the prerogative is sometimes misapplied thro' ignorance or a partiality to one particular part of ye. empire: but we have not the same reason to fear such misapplications in our System. As to the sending all laws up to the Natl. Legisl: that might be rendered unnecessary by some emanation of the power into the States, so far at least, as to give a temporary effect to laws of immediate necessity.
Mr. Govr. Morris was more & more opposed to the negative. The proposal of it would disgust all the States. A law that ought to be negatived will be set aside in the Judiciary departmt. and if that security should fail; may be repealed by a Nationl. law.
Mr. Sherman. Such a power involves a wrong principle, to wit, that a law of a State contrary to the articles of the Union, would if not negatived, be valid & operative.
Mr. Pinkney urged the necessity of the Negative.
On the question for agreeing to the power of negativing laws of States &c." it passed in the negative.
Mas. ay. Ct. no. N. J. no. Pa. no. Del. no. Md. no. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. no. Geo. no. [Ayes--3; noes--7.]
Mr. Luther Martin moved the following resolution "that the Legislative acts of the U. S. made by virtue & in pursuance of the articles of Union, and all treaties made & ratified under the authority of the U. S. shall be the supreme law of the respective States, as far as those acts or treaties shall relate to the said States, or their Citizens and inhabitants--& that the Judiciaries of the several States shall be bound thereby in their decisions, any thing in the respective laws of the individual States to the contrary notwithstanding" which was agreed to nem: con:.
[2:389; Madison, 23 Aug.]
Mr. Rutlidge moved to amend Art: VIII to read as follows,
"This Constitution & the laws of the U. S. made in pursuance thereof, and all Treaties made under the authority of the U. S. shall be the supreme law of the several States and of their citizens and inhabitants; and the Judges in the several States shall be bound thereby in their decisions, any thing in the Constitutions or laws of the several States, to the contrary nothwithstanding"--
which was agreed to, nem: contrad:
. . . . .
Mr C--Pinkney moved to add as an additional power to be vested in the Legislature of the U. S. "To negative all laws passed by the several States interfering in the opinion of the Legislature with the General interests and harmony of the Union;" provided that two thirds of the members of each House assent to the same" This principle he observed had formerly been agreed to. He considered the precaution as essentially necessary: The objection drawn from the predominance of the large States had been removed by the equality established in the Senate--Mr. Broome 2ded. the proposition.
Mr. Sherman thought it unnecessary; the laws of the General Government being Supreme & paramount to the State laws according to the plan, as it now stands.
Mr. Madison proposed that it should be committed--He had been from the beginning a friend to the principle; but thought the modification might be made better.
Mr. Mason wished to know how the power was to be exercised. Are all laws whatever to be brought up? Is no road nor bridge to be established without the Sanction of the General Legislature? Is this to sit constantly in order to receive & revise the State Laws? He did not mean by these remarks to condemn the expedient, but he was apprehensive that great objections would lie agst. it.
Mr. Williamson thought it unnecessary, & having been already decided, a revival of the question was a waste of time.
Mr. Wilson considered this as the key-stone wanted to compleat the wide arch of Government we are raising. The power of self-defence had been urged as necessary for the State Governments--It was equally necessary for the General Government. The firmness of Judges is not of itself sufficient Something further is requisite--It will be better to prevent the passage of an improper law, than to declare it void when passed.
Mr. Rutlidge. If nothing else, this alone would damn and ought to damn the Constitution. Will any State ever agree to be bound hand & foot in this manner. It is worse than making mere corporations of them whose bye laws would not be subject to this shackle.
Mr Elseworth observed that the power contended for wd. require either that all laws of the State Legislatures should previously to their taking effect be transmitted to the Genl Legislature, or be repealable by the Latter; or that the State Executives should be appointed by the Genl Government, and have a controul over the State laws. If the last was meditated let it be declared.
Mr. Pinkney declared that he thought the State Executives ought to be so appointed with such a controul. & that it would be so provided if another Convention should take place.
Mr Governr. Morris did not see the utility or practicability of the proposition of Mr. Pinkney, but wished it to be referred to the consideration of a Committee.
Mr Langdon was in favor of the proposition. He considered it as resolvable into the question whether the extent of the National Constitution was to be judged of by the Genl or the State Governments.
On the question for commitment, it passed in the negative.
N--H. ay. Masts: no. Cont. no N. J. no. Pa. ay. Del: ay. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C. no. S. C. no. Geo. no. [Ayes--5; noes--6.]
The Founders' Constitution
Volume 4, Article 6, Clause 2, Document 5
The University of Chicago Press
Farrand, Max, ed. The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787. Rev. ed. 4 vols. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1937.
Easy to print version.