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REPORT OF THE CONVENTION
The convention is deeply impressed with the arduous nature of its commission, which is to devise relief from the oppressions of the Government without violating constitutional principles. Yet when abuses are so gross as those complained of, and are clothed with the forms of law, and enforced by an Executive whose will is their source, direct and open resistance is the only recourse. Necessity alone can sanction this, and the resistance must not be extended beyond the exigency, it being left to the people, in calmer moments and after full deliberation, to reform the abuses by a change of the Constitution.
The convention believes that some new form of confederacy should be substituted among those States which shall intend to maintain a federal relation to each other. Events may prove that the causes of our calamities are deep and permanent. They may be found to proceed, not merely from the blindness of prejudice, pride of opinion, violence of party spirit, or the confusion of the times; but they may be traced to implacable combinations of individuals, or of States, to monopolize power and office, and to trample without remorse upon the rights and interests of commercial sections of the Union. Whenever it shall appear that these causes are radical and permanent, a separation, by equitable arrangement, will be preferable to an alliance by constraint, among nominal friends, but real enemies, inflamed by mutual hatred and jealousy, and inviting, by intestine divisions, contempt and aggression from abroad. But a severance of the Union by one or more States, against the will of the rest, and especially in a time of war, can be justified only by absolute necessity. These are among the principal objections against precipitate measures tending to disunite the States, and, when examined in connection with the farewell address of the Father of his Country, they must, it is believed, be deemed conclusive.
The power of dividing the militia of the States into classes, and obliging such classes to furnish, by contract or draft, ablebodied men, to serve for one or more years for the defence of the frontier, is not delegated to Congress. With a power in Congress to authorize such a draft or conscription, and in the Executive to decide conclusively upon the existence and continuance of the emergency, the whole militia may be converted into a standing army disposable at the will of the President of the United States.
Had the troops already raised, and in great numbers sacrificed upon the frontier of Canada, been employed for the defence of the country, and had the millions which have been squandered with shameless profusion been appropriated to their payment, to the protection of the coast, and to the naval service, there would have been no occasion for unconstitutional expedients.
That acts of Congress in violation of the Constitution are absolutely void is an undeniable position. It does not, however, consist with respect and forbearance due from a Confederate State toward the general Government to fly to open resistance upon every infraction of the Constitution. The mode and the energy of the opposition should always conform to the nature of the violation, the intention of its authors, the extent of the injury inflicted, the determination manifested to persist in it, and the danger of delay. But in cases of deliberate, dangerous, and palpable infractions of the Constitution, affecting the sovereignty of a State, and liberties of the people; it is not only the right but the duty of such a State to interpose its authority for their protection, in the manner best calculated to secure that end. When emergencies occur which are either beyond the reach of the judicial tribunals, or too pressing to admit of the delay incident to their forms, States which have no common umpire must be their own judges, and execute their own decisions.
Without pausing at present to comment upon the causes of the war, it may be assumed as a truth, officially announced, that to achieve the conquest of Canadian territory, and to hold it as a pledge for peace, is the deliberate purpose of the Administration.
The seaboard States have been left to adopt measures for their own defence. The President of the United States has refused to consider the expense of the militia detached by State authority, for the indispensable defence of the State, as chargeable to the Union, on the ground of a refusal by the executive of the State to place them under the command of officers of the regular army. Detachments of militia placed at the disposal of the general Government have been dismissed either without pay, or with depreciated paper.
If the war be continued, there appears no room for reliance upon the National Government for the supply of those means of defence which must become indispensable to secure these States from desolation and ruin. Nor is it possible that the States can discharge this sacred duty from their own resources,
and continue to sustain the burden of the national taxes. The Administration, after a long perseverance in plans to baffle every effort of commercial enterprise, had fatally succeeded in their attempts at the epoch of the war. Commerce, the vital spring of New England's prosperity, was annihilated.
Taxes, of a description and amount unprecedented in this country, are in a train of imposition, the burden of which must fall with the heaviest pressure upon the States east of the Potomac. The amount of these taxes for the ensuing year cannot be estimated at less than five millions of dollars upon the New England States, and the expenses of the last year for defence, in Massachusetts alone, approach to one million of dollars.
This convention will not trust themselves to express their conviction of the catastrophe to which such a state of things inevitably tends. Conscious of their high responsibility to God and their country, solicitous for the continuance of the Union, as well as the sovereignty of the States, unwilling to furnish obstacles to peace-resolute never to submit to a foreign enemy, and confiding in the Divine care and protection, they will, until the last hope shall be extinguished, endeavor to avert such consequences.
With this view they suggest an arrangement, which may at once be consistent with the honor and interest of the National Government, and the security of these States. This it will not be difficult to conclude, if that Government should be so disposed. By the terms of it these States might be allowed to assume their own defence, by the militia or other troops. A reasonable portion, also, of the taxes raised in each State might be paid into its treasury, and credited to the United States, but to be appropriated to the defence of such State, to be accounted for with the United States.
The convention feels it its duty to enumerate the abuses of the Federal Government which have contributed to its downfall from the high estate it held under George Washington and John Adams.
First.-A deliberate and extensive system for effecting a combination among certain States, by exciting local jealousies and ambition, so as to secure to popular leaders in one section of the Union the control of public affairs in perpetual succession. To which primary object most other characteristics of the system may be reconciled.
Secondly.--The political intolerance displayed and avowed in excluding from office men of unexceptionable merit, for want of adherence to the executive creed.
Thirdly. The infraction of the judiciary authority and rights, by depriving judges of their offices in violation of the Constitution.
Fourthly. The abolition of existing taxes, requisite to prepare the country for those changes to which nations are always exposed, with a view to the acquisition of popular favor.
Fifthly. The influence of patronage in the distribution of offices, which in these States has been almost invariably made among men the least entitled to such distinction, and who have sold themselves as ready instruments for distracting public opinion, and encouraging administration to hold in contempt the wishes and remonstrances of a people thus apparently divided. Sixthly. The admission of new States into the Union, formed at pleasure in the Western region, has destroyed the balance of power which existed among the original States, and deeply affected their interest.
Seventhly. The easy admission of naturalized foreigners, to places of trust, honor, or profit, operating as an inducement to the malcontent subjects of the old world to come to these States, in quest of executive patronage, and to repay it by an abject devotion to executive measures.
Eighthly.-Hostility to Great Britain, and partiality to the late Government of France, adopted as coincident with popular prejudice, and subservient to the main object, party power. Connected with these must be ranked erroneous and distorted estimates of the power and resources of those nations, of the probable results of their controversies, and of our political relations to them respectively.
Lastly and principally.-A visionary and superficial theory in regard to commerce, accompanied by a real hatred but a feigned regard to its interests, and a ruinous perseverance in efforts to render it an instrument of coercion and war.
But it is not conceivable that the obliquity of any administration could, in so short a period, have so nearly consummated the work of national ruin, unless favored by defects in the Constitution.
To enumerate all the improvements of which that instrument is susceptible, and to propose such amendments as might render it in all respects perfect, would be a task which this convention has not thought proper to assume. They have confined their attention to such as experience has demonstrated to be essential, and, even among these, some are considered entitled to a more serious attention than others. They are suggested without any intentional disrespect to other States, and are meant
to be such as all shall find an interest in promoting. Their object is to strengthen, and if possible to perpetuate, the union of the States, by removing the grounds of existing jealousies, and providing for a fair and equal representation, and a limitation of powers which have been misused.
The first amendment proposed relates to the apportionment of representatives among the slaveholding States. This cannot be claimed as a right. Those States are entitled to the slave representation by a constitutional compact. It is therefore · merely a subject of agreement, which should be conducted upon principles of mutual interest and acommodation, and upon which no sensibility on either side should be permitted to exist. It has proved unjust and unequal in its operation. Had this effect been foreseen, the privilege would probably not have been demanded; certainly not conceded. Its tendency in future will be adverse to that harmony and mutual confidence which are more conducive to the happiness and prosperity of every confederated State than a mere preponderance of power, the prolific source of jealousies and controversy, can be to any one of them. The time may therefore arrive when a sense of magnanimity and justice will reconcile those States to asquiesce in a revision of this article, especially as a fair equivalent would result to them in the apportionment of taxes.
The next amendment relates to the admission of new States into the Union.
At the adoption of the Constitution, a certain balance of power among the original parties was considered to exist, and there was at that time, and yet is, among those parties a strong affinity between their great and general interests. By the admission of these States that balance has been materially affected, and unless the practice be modified must ultimately be destroyed.
The next amendments proposed by the convention relate to the powers of Congress, in relation to the embargo and the interdiction of commerce.
No union can be durably cemented, in which every great interest does not find itself reasonably secured against the encroachment and combinations of other interests. When, therefore, the past system of embargoes and commercial restrictions shall have been reviewed-when the fluctuation and inconsistency of public measures, betraying a want of information as well as feeling in the majority, shall have been considered, the reasonableness of some restrictions upon the power of a bare majority to repeat these oppressions will appear to be obvious.