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PROCEEDINGS RELATIVE TO CALLING THE CONVEN
TION OF 1789-90.
STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA.
IN GENERAL ASSEMBLY, March 24, 1789.
The motion made by Mr. Wynkoop, seconded by Mr. Schmyser, March 20tn, containing an address on the subject of calling a convention for the purposes therein mentioned, was read the second tiine.
It was moved by Mr. Lewis, seconded by Mr. Clymer, To postpone the same, in order to introduce the following resolu. tions in lieu thereof, viz.
Resolved, That in the opinion of this house, alterations and amendments of the constitution of this state are immediately necessary.
And whereas, by the declaration of independence, it is declared as a self evident truth, “ That all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed ; that whenever any form of government becomes de. structive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organising its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness :" And whereas it is also declared by our own bill of rights, “ That government is or ought to be instituted for the common benefit, protection and security of the people, nation or community, and not for the particular emolument or advantage of any single man, family or set of men, who are a part only of that community, and that the community hath an indubitable, unalienable and indefeasible right to reform, alter or abolish government, in such manner as shall be by that community judged most conducive to the public weal :". From all which, as well as from the nature of society and the principles of government, it manifestly appears, that the people have at all times an inherent right to alter and amend the form of government, in such manner as they shall think proper; and also that they are not and cannot be limited to any certain rule or mode of accomplishing the same, but may make choice of such method as to them may appear best adapted to the end proposed.
And whereas the burdens and expenses of the present form of gove ernment are with difficulty borne, and various instances occur wherein this form is contradictory to the constitution of the United States, which every member of the legislature and all executive and judicial officers must be bound by oath or affirmation to support-circumstances which will not admit of the delay of the mode prescribed in the oonstitution. It is, therefore, further
Resolved, That it be and it is hereby proposed and earnestly recommended by this house, in execution of their trust as faithful, honest
representatives and guardians of the people, to the citizens of this commonwealth, that they take this important subject into their serious consideration. And should they concur in opinion with this house, (it being the right of the people alone to determine on this interesting question) that a convention, for the purposes of revising, altering and amending the constitution of the state, is necessary, it is hereby submitted to their decision, whether it will not be most convenient and proper for them to elect members of convention, of the same numbers and in the like proportions for the city of Philadelphia and the several counties with those of their representatives in assembly, on the day of the next general election, at the places and in the manner prescribed in cases of elections of members of assembly by the laws of the state.
That this house, on the pleasure of the people in the premises being signified to them at their next sitting, will provide by law for the ex. penses which will necessarily be incurred by the proposed convention, and will, if requested, appoint the time and place for the meeting thereof. And that the supreme executive council be, and they are hereby requested to promulgate this recommendation to the good people of this state, in such way and manner as to them shall seem most expedient for the purposes herein intended.
Which was carried in the affirmative. And the said resolutions being by special order read the second time,
On the question,—Will the house adopt the said resolutions ?”— the yeas
and nays were called by Mr. M'Lene and Mr. Kennedy, and were as follow, viz.
So it was carried in the affirmative, and the resolutions adopted
Reasons for dissenting from the resolutions of the 24th March, res
pecting the calling a convention. We dissent for the following reasons: 1. For that the constitution of this state has wisely provided for a peaceable and orderly reformation of our government, if it shall be ihought to require it, by a council of censors, who are to be elected once in every seven years, and whose stated time of election and meeting will be in the next year: and although we admit that in our government, as well as in all others, the community hath a right to reform, alter or abolish the government, in such manner as a majority of the people shall think right; yet the people themselves are suffi. ciently able to judge when the necessity of a revolution shall arrive; and we think it highly improper, to say no more, that the servants of the people, appointed under the constitution, for the purpose of maintaining, supporting and executing the constitution, who are bound by the solemnity of an oath to maintain the rights of the people, as de clared in the constitution, should undertake a measure like the present, which is evidently calculated, as far as the power and influence of this house can extend, to subvert and destroy the constitution.
2. For that every government acquires respect and force from age, and the people are more disposed to obedience, more pleased and more happy, when, added to the authority of laws, their government has acquired the sanction of ancient examples, and the veneration which all men are disposed to pay to the opinions and practice of antiquity; and it is therefore of infinite consequence to form a good constitution in the beginning, and to adhere to it when formed. Fre. quent changes in government naturally destroy that respect which is s0 essential to its weight and energy; one change leads to another, and frequent changes are too apt to end in the contempt of laws, confusion and anarchy, even where they are effected in the most peaceable manner: but this is not all the precedent established on this occasion will be introductory of a ruinous fluctuation in the principles of government; its consequences may be feuds and factions. As few revolutions are brought about without bitter and lasting animosities, contentions and violence, we cannot apprehend that anticipating one single year, or even two years, in the attempt to change the forin of governinent, is worth the endangering the peace of the community, and the risk of bringing all government into irreparable contempt.
3. For that we cannot apprehend the present constitution of this state to be in any wise inconsistent with the new federal constitution. The government of the United States we know to be paramount to our own, and that our laws cannot be suffered to interfere with theirs: But we cannot conceive that our constitution is calculated to clash with that of the United States, any more than those of the other states in the Union ; and we do not find that the other states have yet deemed it necessary to change their constitutions. Ours, as well as theirs, will be confined perhaps to fewer objects, and our laws will be more subject to controul than heretofore, but the constitution of the United States neither needs nor demands the alteration of the state constitutions. The constitutions of the individual states and that of the United States may move each in its own sphere, without clashing, for any thing we can discover to the contrary. The judges of Pennsylvania will not be empowered to contradict the laws of the United States, but judges of the separate states will be bound by the laws of the United States, and the judges of the United States will be sufficiently authorised by the express terms of their constitution, to prevent the interference of our laws with theirs : For by the sixth article of the federal constitution, that constitution and is the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof, and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land, and the judges in every state shall be a bound thereby, any thing in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.” This reason therefore appears to us to be a mere pretence;— the fact is, that we are not authorised to judge of the extent of the powers and jurisdiction of the federal government; these are to be determined elsewhere, and nothing that one state alone can do, will either extend or abridge them; nor can we pretend to frame a government which shall quadrate with theirs. They will be bounded by no limits that we can prescribe, but will exercise their powers in their own way, and in whatever extent may appear necessary to them. Nothing less than the combined au. thority of all the states can set bounds to the powers of the federal government; and if a convention of this state were to attempt it, they might be found to vary from the opinion of the United States. Besides, it is by no means improbable that the federal government may yet receive very material amendments, and that speedily; so that if alterations were at all proper to be made in our government, in order to comply with the federal constitution, it would, even in that case, be our duty to wait the meeting of the new congress, and the result of the applications from different states for amendments.
4. For that we apprehend one part of the preamble to the second resolution, and that part which will probably excite the most attention, which declares “the burthen and expenses of the present form of government are with difficulty borne,' is unfounded in fact. By the statement of the comptroller general, the expenses of government, including incidental expenses, is estimated at twenty-eight thousand pounds per annum; and this in future will be considerably lessened. The expenses of government in Virginia are annually upwards of forty thousand pounds, and in that of Massachusetts Bay upwards of thirty thousand pounds; in each of them considerably greater than that of Pennsylvania. And the true way of judging whether or not the present form of government is unfriendly to economy is, by comparing it with that of other states, of the same, or nearly the same extent and number of inhabitants : Nor can we conceive that creating another branch of the legislature (which is the avowed object of those who wish for an alteration of the constitution) by which two sets of men are to be maintained in the legislature instead of one, can lessen the expense of government. The defect in the former systern of conti. nental government consisted in the want of power in the United States, and not merely in the form of government. The states under the old confederation had denied to congress the power to fulfil its engagements either with foreigners or its own citizens; of collecting money, or regulating trade; in short, it was destitute of authority And it that authority, which was deficient in itself, had been divided into two or three branches, or into two or three and twenty, it never could have mended the matter. A body without strength would be weak with an hundred hands. If the expenses of government are too great, it is in the power of the legislature to lessen them, and there is no neces
sity for calling a convention for this purpose; nor can we conceive it to be a sufficient reason for tearing the government in pieces, and risking more important evils.
5. For that we are firmly persuaded the government and constitution of Pennsylvania has discovered as few faults upon trial as any on the continent. A number of people have watched from the beginning for every opportunity to decry it, and every mischief which they could possibly discover or occasion has been too often ascribed to the sys. tem. Under the present constitution, Pennsylvania has preserved her credit, and paid the interest of her debts, with more punctuality, and to a greater amount than any other state in the union; and has since the peace been able to sink a very considerable part of the aggregate debt accumulated by her in the course af the late war; besides all this, Pennsylvania is one of the foremost states in complying with the demands of the United States; she has paid her quotas of the requisitions of Congress fully to the year 1786, and hath advanced to the United States to the value of several millions of dollars in specie duringthe late war. A defect has undoubtedly existed in the federal plan of union; the constitutions of the states have been much less defective. Ours we believe to be one of the best. It may have defects, and those defects may be remedied in a constitutional way. But if we begin to tear up foundations, we are persuaded a much more dangerous system will be established in its stead.
Thomas Kennedy, William Todd,
IN GENERAL ASSEMBLY, September 15, 1789.
THE committee of the whole, on the business referred to them res. pecting a convention to alter and amend the constitution of this state, report
That having taken effectual measures for satisfying theniselves of the sense of the good people of this commonwealth thereon, they are well assured, from the petitions referred to them, from enquiries made, and from information given by the several members, that a large majority of the citizens of this state are not only satisfied with the measures submitted to them by the house at their last session, but are desirous that the same should be carried into effect, in preference to the mode by the council of censors, which is not only uneqal and unnecessarily expensive, but too dilatory to produce the speedy and necessary alterations, which the late change in the political union and the exigencies of the state require: And as the bill of rights declares it to be “An indubitable, unalienable and indefeasible right of the community, to reform, alter or abolish government, in such man. ner as shall be by that community judged most conducive to the public weal,” so on this occasion your committee are perfectly satisfied, that a very great inajority of them are desirous to exercise that right in the mode proposed.