« EelmineJätka »
pediency, and indeed of clear necessity. In the Ordinance, Congress had provided a system of fundamental law, intended to be of perpetual obligation, for new communities, whose legislative power was to be moulded by certain original maxims of assumed justice and right. The opportunity thus afforded for shaping the limits of political sovereignty according to the requirements of a preconceived policy, enabled the framers of the Ordinance to introduce a limitation, which is not only peculiar to American constitutional law, but which, like many features of our institutions, grew out of previous abuses.
In the old States of the Confederacy, from the time when they became self-governing communities, the power of a mere majority had been repeatedly exercised in legislation, without any regard to its effect on the civil rights and remedies of parties to existing contracts. The law of debtor and creditor was not only subjected to constant changes, but the nature of the change depended in many of the States upon the will of the debtor class, who formed the governing majority. So pressing were the evils thus engendered, that, when the framers of the Ordinance came to provide for the political existence of communities whose institutions they were to dictate, they determined to impose an effectual restraint on legislative power; and they accordingly provided, in terms much more stringent than were afterwards employed in the Constitution, that no law should have effect in the Territory which should
in any manner whatever interfere with or affect private contracts or engagements previously made.1
The framers of the Constitution were not engaged in the same work of creating new political societies, but they were to provide for such surrenders by existing States of their present unquestioned legislative authority, as the dictates of sound policy and the evils of past experience seemed to require. When this subject was first brought forward in the Convention, the restriction was made to embrace all retrospective laws bearing upon contracts, which were supposed to be included in the term "ex post facto laws." It being ascertained, however, that the latter phrase would not, in its usual acceptation, extend to civil cases, it became necessary to consider how such cases were to be provided for, and how far the prohibition should extend. The provision of the Ordinance was regarded as too sweeping; no legisla ture, it was said, ever did or can altogether avoid some retrospective action upon the civil relations of parties to existing contracts, and to require it would be extremely inconvenient. At length, a description was found, which embodied the extent to which the prohibition could with propriety be carried. The legislatures of the States were restrained from passing any "law impairing the obligation of contracts"; -a provision that has been found amply sufficient, and attended with the most salutary consequences, under the interpretation that has been given to it.2
1 See the clause of the Ordi- 2 Elliot, V. 485, 488, 545, nance, cited ante, Vol. I. p. 452,
Bills of attainder and ex post facto laws, which had not been included in the prohibitions on the States by the committee of detail, were added by the Convention to the list of positive restrictions, which was thus completed.
In the class of conditional prohibitions, or those acts which might be done by the States with the consent of Congress, the committee of detail had placed the laying of "imposts or duties on imports." To this the Convention added "exports," in order to make the restriction applicable both to commodities carried out of and those brought into a State. But this provision, as thus arranged, would obviously make the commercial system extremely complex and inconvenient. On the one hand, the power to lay duties on imports had been conferred upon the general government, for the purposes of revenue, and to leave the States at liberty, with the consent of Congress, to lay additional duties, would subject the same merchandise to separate taxation by two distinct governments. On the other hand, if the States should be deprived of all power to lay duties on exports, they would have no means of defraying the charges of inspecting their own productions. At the same time, it was apparent that, under the guise of inspection laws, if such laws were not to be subject to the revision of Congress, a State situated on the Atlantic, with convenient seaports, could lay heavy burdens upon the productions of other States that might be obliged to pass through those ports to foreign markets. Again, if the States should be de
prived of all power to lay duties on imports, they could not encourage their own manufactures; and if allowed to encourage their own manufactures by such State legislation, it must operate not only upon imports from foreign countries, but upon imports from other States of the Union, which would revive all the evils that had flowed from the want of general commercial regulations. To prevent these various mischiefs, the Convention adopted three distinct safeguards. They provided, first, by an exception, that the States might, without the consent of Congress, lay such duties and imposts as "may be absolutely necessary, for executing their inspection laws"; second, that the net produce of all duties and imposts laid by any State, whether with or without the consent of Congress, shall be for the use of the Treasury of the United States; third, that all such State laws, whether passed with or without the previous consent of Congress, shall be subject to the revision and control of Congress. There is, therefore, a twofold remedy against any oppressive exercise of the State power to lay duties for purposes of inspection. The question whether the particular duties exceed what is absolutely necessary for the execution of an inspection law, may be made a judicial question; and in addition to this, the law imposing the inspection duty is at all times subject to the revision and control of Congress. Any tendency to lay duties or imposts for purposes of revenue or protection, is checked by the requirement that the net produce
1 Elliot, V. 479, 484, 486, 502, 538, 539, 540, 545, 548.
of all duties or imposts laid by any State on imports or exports shall be paid over to the United States, and such tendency may moreover be suppressed by Congress at any time, by the exercise of its power of revision and control.
In order to vest the supervision and control of the whole subject of navigation in Congress, it was further provided that no State, without the consent of Congress, shall lay any duty of tonnage. An exception, proposed by some of the Maryland and Virginia members, with a view to the situation of the Chesapeake Bay, illustrates the object of this provision. They desired that the States might not be restrained from laying duties of tonnage "for the purpose of clearing harbors and erecting light-houses." It was perhaps capable of being contended, that, as the regulation of commerce was already agreed to be vested in the general government, the States were restrained by that general provision from laying tonnage duties. The object of the special restriction was, to make this point entirely certain; and the object of the proposed exception was to divide the commercial power, and to give the States a concurrent authority to regulate tonnage for a particular purpose. But a majority of the States considered the regulation of tonnage an essential part of the regulation of trade. They adopted the suggestion of Mr. Madison, that the regulation of commerce was, in its nature, indivisible, and ought to be wholly under one authority. The exception was accordingly rejected.'
1 By a vote of six States against four. Elliot, V. 548.