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REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE OF DETAIL, CONTINUED.
REMAINING POWERS OF CONGRESS.-RESTRAINTS UPON CONGRESS AND UPON THE STATES.
In the last preceding chapter, the reader has traced the origin of the revenue and commercial powers, and of certain restrictions applied to them in the progress of those great compacts, by means of which they be came incorporated into the Constitution. We have now to examine some other qualifications which were annexed to those powers after the first draft of the instrument had been prepared and reported by the committee of detail.
That committee had presented a naked power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises,' with a certain restriction as to the taxation of exports, the final disposition of which has been already described; but they had designated no particular objects to which the revenues thus derived were to be applied. The general clause embracing the revenue power was affirmed unanimously by the Convention, on the 16th of August, leaving the exception of exports for future action. At a subsequent period we find the words, " to pay the debts and provide for
1 Art. VII. § 1 of the first draft of the Constitution. Elliot, V. 378.
the common defence and general welfare of the United States," added to the clause which empowers Congress to levy taxes and duties; and it is a somewhat important inquiry, how and with what purpose they were placed there.
While the powers proposed by the committee of detail were under consideration, Mr. Charles Pinckney introduced several topics designed to supply omissions in their report, which were thereupon referred to that committee. The purpose of one of his suggestions was to provide, on the one hand, that funds appropriated for the payment of public creditors should not, during the time of such appropriation, be diverted to any other purpose; and, on the other hand, that Congress should be restrained from establishing perpetual revenues. Another of his suggestions contemplated a power to secure the payment of the public debt, and still another to prevent a violation of the public faith when once pledged to any public creditor. Immediately after this reference, Mr. Rutledge moved for what was called a grand committee, to consider the expediency of an assumption by the United States of the State debts; and after some discussion of the subject, such a committee was raised, and Mr. Rutledge's motion was referred to them, together with a proposition introduced by Mr. Mason for restraining grants of perpetual revenue. Thus it appears that the principal subject
1 August 18. Elliot, V. 440.
grand committee was afterwards referred the subject of the militia. See infra.
involved in the latter reference was the propriety of inserting in the Constitution a specific power to make special appropriations for the payment of debts of the United States and of the several States, incurred during the late war for the common defence and general welfare; and not to make a declaration of the general purposes for which revenues were to be raised. Both committees, however, seemed to have been charged with the consideration of some restraint on the revenue power, with a view to prevent perpetual taxes of any kind. The grand committee reported first, presenting the following special provision:-"The legislature of the United States shall have power to fulfil the engagements which have been entered into by Congress, and to discharge, as well the debts of the United States, as the debts incurred by the several States during the late war for the common defence and general welfare." On the following day, the committee of detail presented a report, recommending that at the end of the clause already adopted, which contained the grant of the revenue power, the following words should be added: "for payment of the debts and necessary expenses of the United States; provided that no law for raising any branch of revenue, except what may be specially appropriated for the payment of interest on debts or loans, shall continue in force for more than years." 2
Two distinct propositions were thus before the Convention. One of them contemplated a qualifica1 August 21. Elliot, V. 451.. 2 August 22. Ibid. 462.
tion of the revenue power, the other did not. One was to give authority to Congress to pay the revolutionary debt, both of the United States and of the States, and to fulfil all the engagements of the Confederation; the other was to declare that revenues were to be raised and taxes levied for the purpose of paying the debts and necessary expenses of the United States, limiting all revenue laws, excepting those which were to appropriate specific funds to the payment of interest on debts or loans, to a term of years. When these propositions came to be acted upon, that reported by the grand committee was modified into the declaration that "all debts contracted and engagements entered into, by or under the authority of Congress, shall be as valid against the United States, under this Constitution, as under the Confederation." The State debts were thus left out; the declaration was prefixed, as an amendment, to the clause which granted the revenue power, and was thus obviously no qualification of that power.
But it was thought by Mr. Sherman, that the clause for laying taxes and duties ought to have connected with it an express provision for the payment of the old debts; and he accordingly moved to add to that clause the words, "for the payment of said debts, and for the defraying the expenses that shall be incurred for the common defence and general welfare." This was regarded by the Convention as
1 See the proceedings which took place, August 22, 24, and 25.
Elliot, V. 462, 463, 464, 471, 475477.
unnecessary, and was therefore not adopted.' But the provision reported by the committee of detail, which was intended as a qualification of the revenue power, by declaring the objects for which taxes and duties were to be levied, had not yet been acted upon, and on the 31st of August, this, with all other matters not disposed of, was referred to a new grand committee, who, on the 4th of September, introduced an amendment to the revenue clause, which made it read as follows: -"The legislature shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay the debts, and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States." This amendment was unanimously adopted; and when the Constitution was revised, at the close of the proceedings, the declaration which made the debts and engagements of the Confederation obligatory upon the new Congress, was separated from the context of the revenue clause, and placed by itself in the sixth article.
There is one other restraint upon the revenue, as well as upon the commercial power, the history of which now demands our inquiries. But in order to understand it correctly, it will be necessary for the reader to recur to the position in which the revenue and commercial powers were left by the sectional compromises described in the last chapter.
1 Elliot, V. 476, 477. Mr. Madison says, "This proposition, as being unnecessary, was disagreed to"; that is, unnecessary as a secu
rity of the old debts of the United States.
2 Ibid. 506, 507.