On Constitutional Conventions—Part I

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The following essay is in two parts: the first is by "MASSACHUSETTENSIS," and is reprinted from The Massachusetts Gazette of January 29, 1788;

That the new constitution cannot make a union of states, but only of individuals, and purposes the beginning of one new society, one new government in all matters, is evident from these considerations, viz: It marks no line of distinction between separate state matters, and what would of right come under the control of the powers ordained in a union of states. To say that no line could be drawn, is giving me the argument. For what can be more absurd than to say, that states are united where a general power is established that extends to all objects of government, i.e., all that exist among the people who make the compact? And is it not clear that Congress have the right (by the constitution), to make general laws for proving all acts, records, proceedings, and the effect thereof, in what are now called the states? Is it possible after this that any state act can exist, or any public business be done, without the direction and sanction of Congress, or by virtue of some subordinate authority? If not, how in the nature of things can there be a union of states? Does not the uniting of states, as states, necessarily imply the existence of separate state powers?

Again, the constitution makes no consistent, adequate provision for amendments to be made to it by states, as states. Not they who drew up the amendments (should any be made), but they who ratify them, must be considered as making them. Three fourths of the legislatures of the several states, as they are now called, may ratify amendments—that is, if Congress see fit, but not without. Where is then any independent state authority recognized in the plan? And if there is no independent state authority, how can there be a union of states? But is it not a question of importance why the states in their present capacity, cannot ratify the original? I mean, why the legislatures of the several states cannot do this business? I wish to be informed where to find the regular exercise and legal sanction of state power, if the legislative authority of the state is set aside. Have the people some other constitutional means by which they can give their united voice in state affairs? This leads me to observe, that should the new constitution be received as it stands, it can never be proved that it originated from any proper state authority; because there is no such authority recognized either in the form of it, or in the mode fixed upon for its ratification. It says, "We the people of the United States," etc., make this constitution; but does this phrase, "We the people of the United States," prove that the people are acting in state character, or that the several states must of necessity exist with separate governments? Who that understands the subject will believe either? …

The plan does not acknowledge any constitutional state authority as necessary in the ratification of it. This work is to be done by a mere convention, only in consequence of mere recommendation; which does by no means amount to a proper state act. As no state act can exist independent of the supreme authority of the state, and this authority is out of the question in the ratification of the new constitution, it clearly follows that the ratifying of it, by a mere convention, is no proper state business. To conclude, the people may make the original, but the people have no right to alter it. Congress may order this matter just as they please, and consequently have whom they please elected for governors or representatives, not of the states but of the people; and not of the people as men but as property.…

MASSACHUSETTENSIS