Page images

exports should be taxable; - perhaps he could not finally consent to it, under any circumstances.1

Gouverneur Morris, with his accustomed ardor, went further still, and insisted on re-opening the subject of representation, now that the other features of the system were to be made to favor the increase of slaves, and to throw the burdens of maintaining the government chiefly upon the Northern States. It was idle, he declared, to say that direct taxation might be levied upon the slaveholding States in proportion to their representative population: for the general government could never stretch out its hand, and put it directly into the pockets of the people, over so vast a country. Its revenues must be derived from exports, imports, and excises. He therefore would not consent to the sacrifices demanded, and moved the insertion of the word "free" before the word "inhabitants," in the article regulating the basis of representation.2

But there were few men in the Convention bold enough to hazard the consequences of unsettling an arrangement, which had cost so much labor and anxiety; which had been made as nearly correct in theory as the circumstances of the case would allow; and which was, in truth, the best practical solution of a great difficulty. Mr. Morris's motion received the vote of a single State only. The great majority of the delegations considered it wiser to go on to the discussion of the proposed

3 New Jersey.

1 Madison, Elliot, V. 391, 392.

2 Ibid. 392, 393.

restrictions upon the revenue and commercial powers, in the hope that each of them might be considered and acted upon with reference to the true principles applicable to the subject, or that the whole might be adjusted by some agreement that would not disturb what had been settled with so much difficulty.

The great embarrassment attending the proposed restriction upon the taxation of exports was, that, however the question might be decided, it would probably lose for the new government the support of some important members of the Convention. Those who regarded it as right that the government should have a complete revenue power, contended for the convenience with which a large staple production, in which America was not rivalled in foreign markets, could be made the subject of an export tax, that would in reality be paid by the foreign consumer. On the other side, the very facility with which such objects could be selected for taxation alarmed the States whose products presented the best opportunity for exercising this power. They did not deny the obvious truth, that the tax must ultimately fall on the consumer; but they considered it enough to surrender the power of levying duties upon imports, without giving up the control which each State now had over its own productions.1

1 The opposition to a power to tax exports was not confined to the members from North and South

Carolina and Georgia. Ellsworth and Sherman of Connecticut, Mason of Virginia, and Gerry of Mas


But there was also another question involved in the form in which the proposed restriction had been presented. It prohibited the national government from taxing exports, but imposed no restraint in this respect upon the power of the States. If they were to retain the power over their own exports, they would have the same right to tax the products of other States exported through their maritime towns. This power had been used to a great extent, and always oppressively. Virginia had taxed the tobacco of North Carolina; Pennsylvania had taxed the products of Maryland, of New Jersey, and of Delaware; and it was apparent, that every State, not possessed of convenient and accessible seaports, must hereafter submit to the same exactions, if this power were left unrestrained. Give it to the general government, said the advocates for a full revenue power, and the inconveniences attending its exercise by the separate States will be avoided. But those who were opposed to the possession of such a power by the general government, apprehended greater oppression by a majority of the States acting through the national legislature, than they could suffer at the. hands of individual States. The eight Northern States, they said, had an interest different from the five Southern States, and in one branch of the legislature the former were to have thirty-six votes, and the latter twenty-nine.

From considerations like these, united with others

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

which would render it nearly impracticable to select the objects of such taxation so as to make it operate equally, the restriction prevailed. The revenue power was thus shorn of one great branch of taxation, which, however difficult it might be to practise it throughout such a country as this, is part of the prerogatives of every complete government, which was believed by many to be essential to the success of the proposed Constitution, but which was resisted successfully by others, as oppressive to their local and peculiar interests.

Was the commercial power to experience a like diminution from the full proportions of a just authority over the external trade of the States? Were the States, whose great homogeneous products, derived from the labor of slaves, would supply no revenue to the national treasury, to be left at liberty to import all the slaves that Africa could furnish? Were the commercial States to see the carrying trade of the country-embracing the very exports thus exempted from burdens of every kind, and thus stimulated by new accessions of slaves-pass

I The vote was taken (August 21) upon so much of the fourth section of the seventh article of the reported draft, as affirmed that "no tax or duty shall be laid by the legislature on articles exported from any State." Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, Virginia (General Washington and Mr. Madison no), North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, ay, 7; New Hamp

shire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, no, 4.—If the subject had been left in this position, exports would have been taxable by the States. The plan of restraining the power of the States over exports was subsequently adopted, after the compromise involving the revenue and commercial powers of the general government had been settled.

into foreign bottoms, and be unable to protect their interests by a majority of votes in the national legislature? Was there to be no advantageous commercial treaty obtained from any foreign power, unless the measures needful to compel it could gain the assent of two thirds of Congress? Was the North to be shut out for ever from the West India trade, and was it at the same time to see the traffic in slaves prosecuted without restraint, and without the prospect or the hope of a final termination?

These were grave and searching questions. The vote exempting exports from the revenue power could not be recalled. It had passed by a decided majority of the States; and many suffrages had been given for the exemption, not from motives of a sectional nature, but on account of the difficulty that must attend the exercise of the power, and from the conviction that such taxation is incorrect in principle. So far, therefore, the Southern States had gained all that they desired in respect to the revenue power, and now three of them, with great firmness, declared that the question in relation to the commercial power was, whether they should or should not be parties to the Union. If required to surrender their right to import slaves, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia would not accept the Constitution, although they were willing to make slaves liable to an equal tax with other imports.' It was also manifest, that the clause which required a navigation act to be passed by two thirds of each

[blocks in formation]
« EelmineJätka »