Article 1, Section 9, Clause 1
Walter Lowrie, Senate20 Jan. 1820Annals 35:202--3
In the Constitution it is provided that "the migration or importation of such persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the year 1808, but a tax," etc. In this debate it seems generally to be admitted, by gentlemen on the opposite side, that these two words are not synonomous; but what their meaning is, they are not so well agreed. One gentleman tells us, it was intended to prevent slaves from being brought in by land; another gentleman says, it was intended to restrain Congress from interfering with emigration from Europe.
These constructions cannot both be right. The gentlemen who have preceded me on the same side, have advanced a number of pertinent arguments to settle the proper meaning of these words. I, sir, shall not repeat them. Indeed, to me, there is nothing more dry and uninteresting, than discussions to explain the meaning of single words. In the present case, I will only refer to the authority of Mr. Madison and Judge Wilson, who were both members of the Convention, and who gave their construction to these words, long before this question was agitated. Mr. Madison observes, that, to say this clause was intended to prevent emigration does not deserve an answer. And Judge Wilson says, expressly, it was intended to place the new States under the control of Congress, as to the introduction of slaves. The opinion of this latter gentleman is entitled to peculiar weight. After the Convention had labored for weeks on the subject of representation and direct taxes--when those great men were like to separate without obtaining their object, Judge Wilson submitted the provision on this subject, which now stands as a part of your Constitution. Sir, there is no man, from any part of the nation, who understood the system of our Government better than him; not even excepting Virginia, from whence the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Walker) tells us we have all our great men.
The Founders' Constitution
Volume 3, Article 1, Section 9, Clause 1, Document 21
The University of Chicago Press
Annals of Congress. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States. "History of Congress." 42 vols. Washington, D.C.: Gales & Seaton, 1834--56.