Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Vol. 5


Thursday, March 27

General revenue taken up—Amendments.

Revenues taken up as reported March 7.

The fifth paragraph in the report on revenue having been judged not sufficiently explicit, and recommitted to be made more so, the following paragraph was received in its place, viz.: "That it be further recommended to the several states, to establish, for a term limited to twenty-five years, and to appropriate," &c., (to the word 2,000,000 of dollars annually,) which proportions shall be fixed and equalized, from time to time, according to such rule as is, or may be, prescribed by the Articles of Confederation; and in case the revenues so established and appropriated by any state shall at any time yield a sum exceeding its proportion, the excess shall be refunded to it and in case the same shall be found to be defective, the immediate deficiency shall be made good as soon as possible, and a future deficiency guarded against by an enlargement of the revenues established; provided that, until the rule of the confederation can be applied, the proportions of the 2,000,000 of dollars aforesaid shall be as follows, viz.:

This amendment was accepted; a motion of Mr. Clark to restrain this apportionment, in the first instance, to the term of two years, being first negatived. He contended that a valuation of land would probably never take place, and that it was uncertain whether the rule of numbers would be substituted, and, therefore, that the first apportionment might be continued throughout the twenty-five years, although it must be founded on the present relative wealth of the states, which would vary every year in favor of those which are the least populous.

This reasoning was not denied; but it was thought that such a limitation might leave an interval in which no apportionment would exist, whence confusion would proceed, and that an apprehension of it would destroy public credit.

A motion was made by Mr. BLAND, seconded by Mr. LEE, to go back to the first part of the report, and instead of the word "levy" an impost of five per cent., to substitute the word "collect" an impost, &c. It was urged, in favor of this motion, that the first word imported a legislative idea, and the latter an executive only, and consequently the latter might be less obnoxious to the states. On the other side, it was said that the states would be governed more by things than by terms; that if the meaning of both was the same, an alteration was unnecessary; that if not, as seemed to be the case, an alteration would be improper. It was particularly apprehended that if the term "collect" were to be used, the states might themselves fix the mode of collection; whereas it was indispensable that Congress should have that power, as well that it might be varied from time to time, as circumstances or experience should dictate, as that a uniformity might be observed throughout the states, On the motion of Mr. Clark, the negative was voted by a large majority, there being four ayes only.

On the eighth paragraph, there was no argument or opposition.

The ninth paragraph being considered by several as inaccurate in point of phraseology, a motion was made by Mr. MADISON to postpone it, to take into consideration the following, to wit:—

"That, in order to remove all objections against a retrospective application of the constitutional rule to the final apportionment on the several states of the moneys and supplies actually contributed in pursuance of requisitions of Congress, it be recommended to the states to enable the United States in Congress assembled to make such equitable abatements and alterations as the particular circumstances of the states, from time to time during the war, may require, and as will divide the burden among them in proportion to their respective abilities at the periods at which they were made."

On a question of striking out, the original paragraph was agreed to without opposition. On the question to insert the amendment of Mr. Madison, the votes of the [p.78] states were, five ayes, six noes, viz.: New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, no; the rest, ay.Compare Public Journal of Congress, 29th March, 1783, vol. 4, p. 175, and 18th April, 1763, vol. 4, p. 190.20

On the tenth paragraph, relative to expenses recurred by the states without the sanction of Congress, Mr. CLARK exclaimed against the unreasonableness of burdening the Union with all the extravagant expenditures of particular states, and moved that it might be struck out of the report. Mr. HELMSLEY seconded the motion.

Mr. MADISON said, that the effects of rejecting this paragraph would be so extensive, that a full consideration of it ought at least to precede such a step; that the expenses referred to in the paragraph were, in part, such as would have been previously sanctioned by Congress, if application had been made, since similar ones had been so with respect to states within the vicinity of Congress, and, therefore, complaints of injustice would follow a refusal; that another part of the expenses had been incurred in support of claims to the territory of which cessions were asked by Congress, and, therefore, these could not be expected, if the expenses incident to them should be rejected; that it was probable, if no previous assurance were given on this point, it would be made a condition by the states ceding, as the cessions of territory would be made a condition by the states most anxious to obtain them; that by these means the whole plan would be either defeated, or the part thereof in question be ultimately forced on Congress, whilst they might with a good grace yield it in the first instance; not to mention that these unliquidated end unallowed claims would produce, hereafter, such contests and heats among the states as would probably destroy the plan, even if it should be acceded to by the states without this paragraph.

Mr. DYER was in favor of the paragraph.

Mr. RUTLEDGE opposed it as letting in a flood of claims which were founded on extravagant projects of the states.

Mr. HIGGINSON and Mr. GORHAM were earnest in favor of it, remarking that the distance of Massachusetts from Congress had denied a previous sanction to the militia operations against General Burgoyne, &c. The Penobscot expedition, also, had great weight with them.

Mr. WILLIAMSON was in favor of it.

Mr. WILSON said, he had always considered this country, with respect to the war, as forming one community; and that the states which, by their remoteness from Congress, had been obliged to incur expenses for their defence without previous sanction, ought to be placed on the same footing with those which had obtained this security; but he could not agree to put them on a better, which would be the case if their expenses should be sanctioned in the lump: he proposed, therefore, that these expenses should be limited to such as had been incurred in a necessary defence, and of which the object in each case should be approved by Congress.

Mr. MADISON agreed that the expressions m the paragraph were very loose, and that it would be proper to make them as definite as the case would admit: he supposed, however, that all operations against the enemy, within the limits assigned to the United States, might be considered as defensive, and in that view, the expedition against Penobscot might be so called. He observed that the term necessary left a discretion in the judge, as well as the term reasonable; and that it would be best, perhaps, for Congress to determine and declare that they would constitute a tribunal of impartial persons to decide, on oath, as to the propriety of claims of states not authorized heretofore by Congress. He said, this would be a better security to the states, and would be more satisfactory, than the decisions of Congress, the members of which did not act on oath, and brought with them the spirit of advocates for their respective states, rather than of impartial judges between them. He moved that the clause, with Mr. Wilson’s proposition, be recommitted, which was agreed to without opposition.

(Eleventh and twelfth paragraphs.) Mr. BLAND, in opposition, said, that the value of land was the best rule, and that, at any rate, no change should be attempted until its practicability should be tried.

Mr. MADISON thought the value of land could never be justly or satisfactorily obtained; that it would ever be a source of contentions among the states; and that, as a repetition of the valuation would be within the course of the twenty-five years it would, unless exchanged for a more simple rule, mar the whole plan.

Mr. GORHAM was in favor of the paragraphs. He represented, in strong terms, [p.79] the inequality and clamors produced by valuations of land in the state of Massachusetts, and the probability of the evils being increased among the states themselves, which were less tied together, and more likely to be jealous of each other.

Mr. WILLIAMSON was in favor of the paragraphs.

Mr. WILSON was strenuous in their favor; said he was in Congress when the Articles of Confederation directing a valuation of land were agreed to; first it was the effect of the impossibility of compromising the different ideas of the Eastern and Southern States, as to the value of slaves compared with the whites, the alternative in question.

Mr. CLARK was in favor of them. He said, that he was also in Congress when this article was decided; that the Southern States would have agreed to numbers in preference to the value of land, if half their slaves only should be included; but that the Eastern States would not concur in that proposition.

It was agreed, on all sides, that, instead of fixing the proportion by ages, as the report proposed, it would be best to fix the proportion in absolute numbers. With this view, and that the blank might be filled up, the clause was recommitted.


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Chicago: Elliot, Jonathan, ed., "Thursday, March 27," Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Vol. 5 in The Debates in the Several State Conventions, on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, as Recommended by the General Convention at Philadelphia, in 1787, ed. Jonathan Elliot (Philadelphia: J. B. Lipincott Company, 1901), Original Sources, accessed April 19, 2018,

MLA: . "Thursday, March 27." Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Vol. 5, edited by Elliot, Jonathan, in The Debates in the Several State Conventions, on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, as Recommended by the General Convention at Philadelphia, in 1787, edited by Jonathan Elliot, Vol. 5, Philadelphia, J. B. Lipincott Company, 1901, Original Sources. 19 Apr. 2018.

Harvard: (ed.), 'Thursday, March 27' in Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Vol. 5. cited in 1901, The Debates in the Several State Conventions, on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, as Recommended by the General Convention at Philadelphia, in 1787, ed. , J. B. Lipincott Company, Philadelphia. Original Sources, retrieved 19 April 2018, from