At the Pennsylvania Convention, Robert Whitehill rose to speak about the proposed Constitution including—and perhaps especially—its biggest flaw. To Whitehill, despite the fact that the country’s learned people devised the Constitution, “the defect is in the system itself,—there lies the evil which. no argument can palliate, no sophistry can disguise.” The Constitution, as it was written, “must eventually annihilate the independent sovereignty of the several states” given the power that the Constitution allotted to the federal government.
Answers to Mason’s “Objections”: “Marcus” [James Iredell] IV
Norfolk and Portsmouth Journal (Virginia), March 12, 1788
Following are excerpts from James Iredell’s responses to George Mason’s “Objections” to the Constitution:
“VIIIth. Objection. ‘Under their own construction of the general clause at the end of the enumerated powers, the Congress may grant monopolies in trade and commerce, constitute new crimes, inflict unusual and severe punishments, and extend their power as far as they shall think proper Read more
Following the Panics of 1837 and 1839, the American government and Americans generally had developed a skepticism about corporations. Some states even “rewrote their constitutions in the 1840s” to forbid their state government from stock ownership. See Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 557.
“Your first attempt is to apologize for so very obvious a defect as—the omission of a declaration of rights. This apology consists in a very ingenious discovery; that in the state constitutions, whatever is not reserved is given; but in the congressional constitution, whatever is not given, is reserved. Read more
By 1787, the strength and stability of the states was under scrutiny. Shays’ Rebellion had erupted, citizens had become more licentious, and state legislatures appeared to be running rampant, doing significant damage to the health of the country as a whole. See Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 465.
In Pennsylvania, extraordinary events were transpiring that would shape how people expressed their will. William Smith (“Cato”) and a group of individuals, led by James Cannon (“Cassandra”) in 1776, debated the issue of how institutions should reflect the people’s will, given the Radical Political Experiment unfolding in Pennsylvania.
Prior to the American Revolution, the colonists had become familiar with the concept of charters. Charters, whether royal, corporate, or proprietary, operated “as the evidence of a compact between an English King and the American subjects.” Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 268; see also Leonard Krieger, The Politics of Discretion: Pufendorf and the Acceptance of Natural Law (Chicago, 1965), 121.
While an upper house of state legislatures was desirable to some, as explained in The Birth of the Senate, it also had its detractors. Those detractors argued that it was a mere redundancy, wholly irrelevant to the founding of a stable government. In taking that position, the detractors ignored many of the benefits of having a second house in the legislature.