Page images

ber as the time of their commencement, unless a different day shall be appointed by law, was adopted as a compromise of different views.1

1 Mr. Justice Story has stated in his Commentaries (§ 829), that this clause came into the Constitution in the revised draft, near the close of the Convention, and was silently adopted, without opposition. This

is a mistake. The clause was contained in the draft of the committee of detail, and was modified as stated in the text, on the 7th of August, after a full debate. Elliot, V. 377, 383 38



IN the examination which has thus far been made of the process of forming the Constitution, the reader will have noticed the absence of any express provisions concerning the regulation of commerce, and the obtaining of revenues. A system of government had been framed, embracing a national legislature, in which the mode of representation alone had been determined with precision. The powers of this legislature had been described only in very general terms. It was to have "the legislative rights vested in Congress by the Confederation," and the power "to legislate in all cases for the general interests of the Union, and also in those to which the States were separately incompetent, or in which the harmony of the United States may be interrupted by the exercise of individual legislation."

It might undoubtedly have been considered that, as the want of a power in the Confederation to make uniform commercial regulations affecting the foreign

and domestic relations of the States was one of the principal causes of the assembling of this Convention, such a power was implied in the terms of the resolution, which had declared the general principles on which the authority of the national legislature ought to be regulated. Still, it remained to be determined what kind of regulation of commerce was required by "the general interests of the Union," or how far the States were incompetent, by their separate legislation, to deal with the interests of commerce so as to promote "the harmony of the United States." In the same way, a power to obtain revenues might be implied on the same general principles. But whether the commercial power foreshadowed in these broad declarations was to be limited or unlimited; whether there were any special objects or interests to which it was not to extend; and whether the revenues of the government were to be derived from imposts laid at pleasure upon imports or exports, or both; whether they might be derived from excises on the manufactures or produce of the country; whether its power of direct taxation was to be exercised under further limitations than those already agreed upon for the apportionment of direct taxes among the States; all these details were as yet entirely unsettled.

Two subjects, one of which might fall within a general commercial power, and the other within a general power to raise revenues, had already been incidentally alluded to, and both were likely to create great embarrassment. General Pinckney had

twice given notice that South Carolina could not accede to the new Union proposed, if it possessed a power to tax exports.' It had also become apparent, in the discussions and arrangements respecting the apportionment of representatives, that the possible encouragement of the slave-trade, which might follow an admission of the blacks into the rule of representation, was one great obstacle, in the view of the Northern States, to such an admission; and at the same time, that it was very doubtful whether all the Southern States would surrender to the general government the power to prohibit that trade.2 The compromise which had already taken place on the subject of representation had settled the principles on which that difficult matter was to be arranged. But the power to increase the slave populations by continued importation had not been agreed to be surrendered; and unless some satisfactory and reasonable adjustment could be made on this subject, there could be no probability that the Constitution would be finally ratified by the people of the Northern States. It is necessary, therefore, to look carefully at these two subjects,

1 See Madison, Elliot, V. 302, 357.

2 See the remarks of Gouverneur Morris in the debate on the apportionment of representatives, in which he stated the dilemma precisely in this way. Elliot, V. 301.

3 No candid man, said Rufus King, could undertake to justify



to them a system under which slaves were to continue to be imported, and to be represented, while the exports produced by their labor were not to pay any part of the expenses of the government which would be obliged to defend their masters against domestic insurrections or foreign attacks. Elliot, V. 391.

namely, the taxation of exports and the prohibition of the slave-trade.

That a power to lay taxes or duties on exported products belongs to every government possessing a general authority to select the objects from which its revenues are to be derived, is a proposition which admits of little doubt. It is not to be doubted, either, that it is a power which may be attended with great benefit, not only for purposes of revenue, but for the encouragement of manufactures; and it is clear that it may often be used as a means of controlling the commercial policy of other countries, when applied to articles which they cannot produce, but which they must consume. A government that is destitute of this power is not armed with the most complete and effectual means for counteracting the regulations of foreign countries that bear heavily upon the industrial pursuits of its people, although it may have other and sufficient sources of revenue; and therefore, until an unrestricted commercial intercourse and a free exchange of commodities become the general policy of the world, to deny to any government a power over the exported products of its own country, is to place it at some disadvantage with all commercial nations that possess the power to enhance the price of commodities which they themselves produce.

But, on the other hand, the practice of taxing the products of a country, as they pass out of its limits to enter into the consumption of other nations, can be beneficially exercised only by a government that

« EelmineJätka »