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without the subordination of the States in great degree, then the States were to be subordinated; if it could be effected without such subordination of the States, then the States were to retain a considerable degree of power under the new system. At no time did the majority of the convention intend to vest the general government with unlimited powers. Always, I think, they intended to vest it only with delegated powers. But these were to be adequate to the needs of a strong national administration, and to the States were to be reserved only what was left after this great body of powers had been transferred to the central government. If we had no contemporary documents, the course of events preceding the meeting of the convention, and the character of the membership of that body, would assure us of this. But we are not left to such reasonable inference only. We have sufficient contemporary evidence to prove such intention. In August, I786, Washington was of the opinion that we could not exist long as a nation without having lodged somewhere a power, which would pervade the whole United States in as energetic a manner as the authority of the State governments extended over the several States." Madison wrote, early in 1787, suggesting a middle ground, which might at once support the supremacy of the national authority, and not exclude the local authorities wherever they could be subordinately useful; and he proposed that, “in addition to the present federal powers, the national government should be armed with positive and complete authority in all cases which require uniformity, such as the regulation of trade, including the right of taxing both exports and imports, the fixing the terms and forms of naturalization.” Over and above this positive power, a negative in all cases whatsoever on the legislative acts of the States, as heretofore exercised by the kingly prerogative, appeared to him absolutely necessary, and to be the least possible encroachment on the State jurisdiction. Without this defensive power he contended that every positive power which would be given on paper would be evaded, though a right to coerce the States should be expressly declared." Later, in the convention, he expressed the opinion, that the States ought to be placed under the control of the general government, at least as much so as they formerly were under the King and British Parliament.” Knox considered that all national objects should be designated and executed by the general government, without any reference to the local government. This, he thought, was a government of “the least possible powers, to preserve the confederated government. To attempt less will be to hazard the existence of republicanism, and to subject us either to a division of the European powers or to despotism arising from high handed commotions.”* Jay thought that the more power there was granted to the general government the better, the States retaining only so much as might be necessary for domestic purposes, and all their principal officers, civil and military, being commissioned and removable by the national government.” That the quoted opinions of Washington, Madison, Knox, and Jay fairly represent the general trend of thought among the members who dominated the Constitutional Convention, upon the relation of the powers of the Central Government to those of the States, is made evident by two letters of this period, one from Edward Carrington to Thomas Jefferson, the other from George Mason to his son. Carrington's letter is especially significant for its indication of a great change in public opinion upon the need of greater powers in the central government, since 1784, when Jefferson went abroad. He writes:
* Writings of Washington (Ford), vol. xi., 53, 54.
* North American Review for October, 1827. See also Madison to Randolph, April 8, 1787, in Gilpin, ii., 631 et seq., and Hunt's Writings of Madison, ii., 345 et seq.
2 Yates's Minutes, in Elliot's Debates (edition of 1866), vol. i., 462.
The prevailing impression, as well in as out of convention, is that a Federal Government, adapted to the permanent circumstances of the country, without respect to the habits of the day, will be formed, whose efficiency shall pervade the whole empire; it may, and probably will at first, be viewed with hesitation; but, derived and patronized as it will be, its influence must extend into a general adoption as the present fabric gives way. . . . I am certain that nothing less than what will give the Federal Sovereignty a complete control over the State governments will be thought worthy of discussion. f The ideas here suggested are far removed from those which prevailed when you was among us; and as they have arisen with the most able from an actual view of events, it is probable you may not be prepared to expect them; they are, however, the most moderate of any which obtain in any general form among reflective and intelligent men. :
* North American Review for October, 1827. * Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay (Johnston's edition), vol. iii., 228.
According to Mason,
the most prevalent idea in the principal states [seemed] to be a total alteration of the present federal system, and substituting a great national council or parliament consisting of two branches of the legislature, founded upon the principles of equal proportional representation, with full legislative powers upon all the objects of the Union, and an executive; and to make the several State legislatures subordinate to the national, by giving the latter the power of a negative upon all such laws as they “the national parliament” shall judge contrary to the interest of the Federal Union.” *Bancroft, Hist. Const., ii., 426 et seq.
• Life of George Mason, by Kate Mason Rowland (1892), vol. ii., IOI.
In a subsequent letter, dated June I, I787, Mason notes that the same principles are still prevalent, and expresses his confidence that the character and abilities of the members of the convention will prevent too great a departure from republican principles."
A strong government is one strong in fact, in the possession of great powers in respect to the various subjects of legislation; and it was inevitable that the nationalistic tendency which dominated the majority of the Constitutional Convention should draw into its current all particular powers deemed necessary to be vested in the general government. The conjecture is unreasonable, that men who entertained the opinions set forth in Carrington's and Mason's letters should not have contemplated vesting the general government with great powers over each subject which they determined to entrust to it. They had no conception of a government abstractly strong, but concretely weak; and this remark applies particularly to the power to regulate commerce; for the deficiency of the Confederation, in this respect, had for years aroused protests from many regions of the country. Since 1781, at least, in and out of Congress, proposals had been made to correct this defect in one respect or another, and the call for the convention proceeded from an effort to improve the regulation of trade. It seems to me, therefore, impossible
* Ibid., 129, 130.