John Williams; New York Ratification Debates

Whatever they judge necessary for the proper administration of the powers lodged in them, they may execute without any check or impediment. Now, if the Congress should judge it a proper provision, for the common defence and general welfare, that the state governments should be essentially destroyed, what, in the name of common sense, will prevent them? Are they not constitutionally authorized to pass such laws? Are not the terms,common defence and general welfare, indefinite, undefinable terms? What checks have the state governments against such encroachments? Why, they appoint the senators once in six years. So do the electors of Germany appoint their emperor. And what restraint have they against tyranny in their head? Do they rely on any thing but arms, the ultima ratio? And to this most undesirable point must the states recur, in order to secure their rights. But have they the means necessary for the purpose? Are they not deprived of the command of the purse and the sword of their citizens? Is not the power, both over taxation and the militia, wrested from their hands by this Constitution, and bestowed upon the general government? Yes, sir, it is. But it may be said (I expect to be answered) that the states have concurrent jurisdiction with Congress, as to taxation I answer, that the Constitution does not say so: it is a mere opinion, a mere construction, a thing of too much uncertainty to risk the rights of the states upon, which I have heard, with peculiar pleasure, an honorable gentleman from New York acknowledge to he of great utility to the people. The Constitution grants the power of taxation to Congress, but is silent with regard to the power in the states. If it is inferred from this that it is not taken away from the states, we may, sir, with equal justice, deduce, from the positive establishment of the trial by jury in criminal cases, that it is annihilated in civil. Ingenious men may assign ingenious reasons for opposite constructions of the same clause. They may heap refinement upon refinement, and subtilty upon subtilty, until they construe away every republican principle, every right sacred and dear to man. I am, sir, for certainty in the establishment of a constitution which is not only to operate upon us, but upon millions yet unborn. I would wish that little or no latitude might be left to the sophistical constructions of men who may be interested in betraying the rights of the people, and elevating themselves upon the ruins of liberty. Sir, it is an object of infinitely too much importance to be committed to the sport of caprice, and the construction of interested men. If we adopt this Constitution, it is impossible, absolutely impossible, to know what we give up, and what we retain. I wish that this may, as far forth as possible, be ascertained; and, for this purpose. it is absolutely necessary that this clause should be amended.

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