After a treaty manifestly repugnant to the interests of the country was made, he asked, how they were to be punished? Suppose it had been made by the means of bribery and corruption-Suppose they had received 100,000 guineas, or louis d’ors, from a foreign nation, for consenting to a treaty; how was the truth to be come at? Corruption and bribery of that kind had happened in other Governments, and might in this.
Mr. MADISON reminded Congress that the commutation proposed was introduced as a compromise with those to whom the idea of pensions was obnoxious, and observed, that those whose scruples had been relieved by it had rendered it no less obnoxious than before, by stigmatizing it with the name of a perpetuity. He said, the public situation was truly deplorable. If the payment of the capital of the public debts was suggested, it was said, and truly said, to be impossible; if funding them and paying the interest was proposed, it was exclaimed against as establishing a dangerous moneyed interest, as corrupting the public manners, as administering poison to our republican constitutions. He said, he wished the revenue to be established to be such as would extinguish the capital, as well as pay the interest, within the shortest possible period, and was as much opposed to perpetuating the public burdens as any one; but that the discharge of them in some form or other was essential, and that the consequences predicted therefrom could not be more heterogeneous to our republican character and constitutions than a violation of the maxims of good faith and common honesty. It was agreed that the report for commuting half-pay should lie on the table till to-morrow, in order to give an opportunity to the delegates of Connecticut to make any proposition relative thereto which they should judge proper.
Mr. CARROLL, seconded by Mr. WILLIAMSON, moved that no public minister should be employed by the United States, except on extraordinary occasions. In support of the proposition, it was observed, that it would not only be economical, but would withhold our distinguished citizens from the corrupting scenes at foreign courts, and, what was of more consequence, would prevent the residence of foreign ministers in the United States, whose intrigues and examples might be injurious both to the government and the people.
The precedent, with respect to the union between England and Scotland, does not hold. The union of Scotland speaks in plain and direct terms. Their privileges were particularly secured. It was expressly provided that they should retain their own particular laws. Their nobles have a right to choose representatives to the number of sixteen. I might thus go on and specify particulars: but it will suffice to observe, generally, that their rights and privileges were expressly and unequivocally reserved. The power of direct taxation was not given up by the Scotch people. There is no trait in that union which will maintain their arguments. In order to do this, they ought to have proved that Scotland united without securing their rights, and afterwards got that security by subsequent amendments. Did the people of Scotland do this? No, sir: like a sensible people, they trusted nothing to hazard. If they have but forty-five members, and those be often corrupted, these defects will be greater here. The number will be smaller, and they will be consequently the more easily corrupted.
The general, then, in answer to Mr. Lowndes’s objections, that the powers vested in the general government were too extensive, enumerated all the powers granted, and remarked particularly on each, showing that the general good of the Union required that all the powers specified ought necessarily to be vested where the Constitution had placed them; and that, as all the powers granted sprang from the people, and were to be exercised by persons frequently chosen, mediately or immediately, by the people; and that, as we had as great a share in the government, in proportion to our importance, as any other state had,—the assertion that our representation would he merely virtual, similar to what we possessed under the British government, was altogether unfounded; that there was no danger of the powers granted being abused while the people remained uncorrupt; and that corruption was more effectually guarded against, in the manner this government was constituted, than in any other that had ever been formed. From the number of electors who have a right to vote for a member of the House of Representatives, little danger can be apprehended of corruption or undue influence. If a small district sent a member, there would be frequent opportunities for cabal and intrigue: but if the sphere of election is enlarged, then opportunities must necessarily diminish. The little demagogue of a petty parish or county will find his importance annihilated, and his intrigues useless, When several counties join in an election; he probably would not be known, certainly not regarded, out of his own circle; while the man whose abilities and virtues had extended a fair reputation beyond the limits of his county, would, nine times out of ten, be the person who would be the choice of the people.
To argue against the use of a thing from the abuse of it, had long since been exploded by all sensible people. It was true that the President, with the concurrence of two thirds of the Senate, might make treaties; and it was possible that ten senators might constitute the two thirds, but it was just within the reach of possibility, and a possibility from whence no danger could be apprehended. If the President or the senators abused their trust, they were liable to impeachment and punishment; and the fewer that were concerned in the abuse of the trust, the more certain would be the punishment. In the formation of this article, the delegates had done their duty fully; they had provided that two thirds of the Senate should concur in the making of treaties. If the states should be negligent in sending their senators, it would be their own fault, and the injury would be theirs, not the framers of the Constitution; but it they were not negligent, they would have more than their share. Is it not astonishing that the gentleman who is so strenuous an advocate for the powers of the people, should distrust the people the moment that power is given to them, and should found his objections to this article in the corruption of the representatives of the people, and in the negligence of the people themselves? If such objections as these have any weight, they tend to the destruction of all confidence—the withholding of all power—the annihilation of all government. Mr. Rutledge insisted that we had our full share in the House of Representatives, and that the gentleman’s fears of the northern interest prevailing at all times were ill-founded. The Constitution had provided for a census of the people, and the number of representatives was to be directed by the number of the people in the several states; this clause was highly favorable to the southern interest. Several of the Northern States were already full of people; it was otherwise with us; the migrations to the south were immense, and we should, in the course of a few years, rise high in our representation, whilst other states would keep their present position.
The honorable member has said, we shall be properly represented. Remember, sir, that the number of our representatives is but ten, whereof six is a majority. Will those men be possessed of sufficient information? A particular knowledge of particular districts will not suffice. They must be well acquainted with agriculture, commerce, and a great variety of other matters throughout the continent; they must know not only the actual state of nations in Europe and America, the situations of their farmers, cottagers, and mechanics, but also the relative situations and intercourse of those nations. Virginia is as large as England. Our proportion of representatives is but ten men. In England they have five hundred and fifty-eight. The House of Commons, in England, numerous as they are, we are told, are bribed, and have bartered away the rights of their constituents: what, then, shall become of us? Will these few protect our rights? Will they be incorruptible? You say they will be better men than the English commoners. I say they will be infinitely worse men, because they are to be chosen blindfolded: their election (the term, as applied to their appointment, is inaccurate) will be an involuntary nomination, and not a choice.
Who are the most corrupt members in Parliament? Are they not the inhabitants of small towns and districts? The supporters of liberty are from the great counties. Have we not seen that the representatives of the city of London, who are chosen by such thousands of voters, have continually studied and supported the liberties of the people, and opposed the corruption of the crown? We have seen continually that most of the members in the ministerial majority are drawn from small, circumscribed districts. We may therefore conclude, that our representatives, being chosen by such extensive districts, will be upright and independent. In proportion as we have security against corruption in representatives, we have security against corruption from every other quarter whatsoever.
I was amazed when gentlemen forgot the friends of America. I hope that this dangerous change will not be effected. It is safe for the French and Spaniards that we should continue to be thirteen states; but it is not so that we should be consolidated into one government. They have settlements in America: will they like schemes of popular ambition? Will they not have some serious reflections? You may tell them you have not changed your situation; but they will not believe you. If there be a real check intended to be left on Congress, it must be left in the state governments. There will be some check, as long as the judges are incorrupt. As long as they are upright, you may preserve your liberty. But what will the judges determine when the state and federal authority come to be contrasted? Will your liberty then be secure, when the congressional laws are declared paramount to the laws of your state, and the judges are sworn to support them?
In all elections of a chief magistrate, foreign influence is to be guarded against. Here it is very carefully so; and it is almost impossible for any foreign power to influence thirteen different sets of electors, distributed throughout the states, from New Hampshire to Georgia. By this mode, also, and for the same reason, the dangers of intrigue and corruption are avoided, and a variety of other inconveniences, which must have arisen if the electors from the different states had been directed to assemble at one place, or if either branch of the legislature (in case the majority of electors did not fix upon the same person) might have chosen a President who had not been previously put in nomination by the people.
Let us now consider the reponsibility of the President. He is elected for four years, and not excluded from reelection. Suppose he violates the laws and Constitution, or commits high crimes. By whom is he to be tried?—By his own council—by those who advise him to commit such violations and crimes? This subverts the principles of justice, as it secures him from punishment. He commands the army of the United States till he is condemned. Will not this be an inducement to foreign nations to use their arts and intrigues to corrupt his counsellors? If he and his counsellors can escape punishment with so much facility, what a delightful prospect must it be for a foreign nation, which may be desirous of gaining territorial or commercial advantages over us, to practise on them! The certainty of success would be equal to the impunity. How is he elected? By electors appointed according to the directions of the state legislatures. Does the plan of government contemplate any other mode? A combination between the electors might easily happen, which would fix on a man in every respect improper. Contemplate this in all its consequences. Is it not the object of foreign courts to have such a man possessed of this power as would be inclined to promote their interests? What an advantageous prospect for France and Great Britain to secure the favor and attachment of the President, by exerting their power and influence to continue him in the office! Foreign nations may, by their intrigues, have great influence, in each state, in the election of the President; and I have no doubt but their efforts will be tried to the utmost.
The Swiss cantons have been instanced, also, as a proof of the natural imbecility of federal governments. Their league has sustained a variety of changes; and, notwithstanding the many causes that tend to disunite them, they still stand firm. We have not the same causes of disunion or internal variance that they have. The individual cantons composing the league are chiefly aristocratic. What an opportunity does this offer to foreign powers to disturb them by bribing and corrupting their aristocrats! It is well known that their services have been frequently purchased by foreign nations. Their difference of religion has been a source of divisions and animosity between them, and tended to disunite them. This tendency has been considerably increased by the interference of foreign nations, the contiguity of their position to those nations rendering such interference easy. They have been kept together by the fear of those nations, and the nature of their association; the leading features of which are a principle of equality between the cantons, and the retention of individual sovereignty. The same reasoning applies nearly to the United Netherlands. The other confederacy which has been mentioned has no kind of analogy to our situation.
If there, be no impropriety in the mode of electing the representatives, can any danger be apprehended? They are elected by those who can elect representatives in the state legislature. How can the votes of the electors be influenced? By nothing but the character and conduct of the man they vote for. What object can influence them when about choosing him? They have nothing to direct them in the choice but their own good. Have you not as pointed and strong a security as you can possibly have? It is a mode that secures an impossibility of being corrupted. If they are to be chosen for their wisdom, virtue, and integrity, what inducement have they to infringe on our freedom? We are told that they may abuse their power. Are there strong motives to prompt them to abuse it? Will not such abuse militate against their own interest? Will not they and their friends feel the effects of iniquitous measures? Does the representative remain in office for life? Does he transmit his title of representative to his son? Is he secured from the burden imposed on the community? To procure their reëlection, it will be necessary for them to confer with the people at large, and convince them that the taxes laid are for their good.
The judiciary is drawn up in terror. Here I have an objection of a different nature. I object to the appellate jurisdiction as the greatest evil in it. But I look at the Union—the object which guides me. When I look at the Union, objects of less consideration vanish, and I hope that the inconvenience will be redressed, and that Congress will prohibit the appeal with respect to matters of fact. When it respects only matters of law, no danger can possibly arise from it. Can Congress have any interest in continuing appeals of fact? If Pennsylvania has an interest in continuing it, will not Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, New York, and the Eastern States, have an interest in discontinuing it? What advantage will its continuance be to Maryland, New Jersey, or Delaware? Is there not unanimity against it in Congress almost? Kentucky will be equally opposed to it. Thus, sir, all these will be opposed to one state. If Congress wish to aggrandize themselves by oppressing the people, the judiciary must first be corrupted! No man says any thing against them; they are more independent than in England.
If the House of Commons, in England, possessing less power, are now able to withstand the power of the crown,—if that House of Commons, which has been undermined by corruption in every age, and contaminated by bribery even in this enlightened age, with far less powers than our representatives possess, is still able to contend with the executive of that country,—what danger have we to fear that our representatives cannot successfully oppose the encroachments of the other branches of the government? Let it be remembered that, in the year 1782, the East India Bill was brought into the House of Commons. Although the members of that house are only elected in part by the landed interest, yet, in spite of ministerial influence, that bill was carried in that house by a majority of one hundred and thirty, and the king was obliged to dissolve the Parliament to prevent its effect. If, then, the House of Commons was so powerful, no danger can be apprehended that our House of Representatives is not amply able to protect our liberties.