Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

them. We should not confine our attention to the present moment. The time is not distant when this country will abound with mechanics and manufacturers, who will receive their bread from their employers. Will such men be the secure and faithful guardians of liberty ? Will they be the impregnable barrier against aristocracy? He was as little duped by the association of the words, “taxation and representation.” The man who does not give his vote freely, is not represented. It is the man who dictates the vote. Children do not vote. Why? Because they want prudence; because they have no will of their own. The ignorant and the dependent can be as little trusted with the public interest. He did not conceive the difficulty of defining “freeholders” to be insuperable. Still less that the restriction could be unpopular. Nine-tenths of the people are at present freeholders, and these will certainly be pleased with it. As to merchants &c., if they have wealth, and value the right, they can acquire it. If not, they don't deserve it.

Col. Mason. We all feel too strongly the remains of ancient prejudices, and view things too much through a British medium. A freehold is the qualification in England, and hence it is imagined to be the only proper one.

The true idea, in his opinion, was, that every man having evidence of attachment to, and permanent common interest with, the society, ought to share in all its rights and privileges. Was this qualification restrained to freeholders ? Does no other kind of property but land evidence a common interest in the proprietor? Does nothing besides property mark a permanent attachment ?

Ought the merchant, the monied man, the parent of a number of children whose fortunes are to be pursued in his own country, to be viewed as suspicious characters, and unworthy to be trusted with the common rights of their fellow citizens ?

Mr. Madison. The right of suffrage is certainly one of the fundamental articles of republican government, and ought not to be left to be regulated by the Legislature. A gradual abridgment of this right has been the mode in which aristocracies have been built on the ruins of popular forms. Whether the constitutional qualification ought to be a freehold, would with bim depend much on the probable reception such a change would meet with in the States, where the right was now exercised by every description of people. In several of the States a freehold was now the qualification. Viewing the subject in its merits alone, the freeholders of the country would be the safest depositories of republican liberty. In future times, a great majority of the people will not only be without landed, but any other sort of property. These will either combine, under the influence of their common situation-in which case the rights of property and the public liberty will not be secure in their hands-or, what is more probable, they will become the tools of

opulence and ambition; in which case, there will be equal danger on another side. The example of England has been misconceived (by Col. Mason.) A very small proportion of the Representatives are there chosen by freeholders. The greatest part are chosen by the cities and boroughs, in many of which the qualification of suffrage is as low as it is in any one

of the United States; and it was in the boroughs and cities, rather than the counties, that bribery most prevailed, and the influence of the Crown on elections was most dangerously exerted.*

Doctor FRANKLIN. It is of great consequence that we should not depress the virtue and public spirit of our common people; of which they displayed a great deal during the war, and which contributed principally to the favorable issue of it. He related the honorable refusal of the American seamen, who were carried in great numbers into the British prisons during the war, to redeem themselves from misery, or to seek their fortunes, by entering on board the ships of the enemies to their country; contrasting their patriotism with a contemporary instance, in which the British seamen made prisoners by the Americans readily entered on the ships of the latter, on being promised a share of the prizes that might be made out of their own country. This proceeded, he said, from the different manner in which the common people were treated in America and Great Britain. He did not think that the elected had any right, in any case, to narrow the privileges of the electors. He quoted, as arbitrary, the British statute setting forth the danger of tumultuous meetings, and, under that pretext, narrowing the right of suffrage to persons having freeholds of a certain value; observing that this statute was soon followed by another, under the succeeding parliament, subjecting the people who had no votes to peculiar labors and hardships. He was persuaded,

See Appendix, No. 4, page viu. for notes.

also, that such a restriction as was proposed would give great uneasiness in the populous States. The sons of a substantial farmer, not being themselves freeholders, would not be pleased at being disfranchised, and there are a great many persons of that description.

Mr. MERCER. The Constitution is objectionable in many points, but in none more than the present. He objected to the footing on which the qualification was put, but particularly to the mode of election by the people. The people cannot know and judge of the characters of candidates. The worst possible choice will be made. He quoted the case of the Senate in Virginia, as an example in point. The people in towns can unite their votes in favor of one favorite; and by that means always prevail over the people of the country; who being dispersed will scatter their votes among a variety of candidates.

Mr. RUTLEDGE thought the idea of restraining the right of suffrage to the freeholders a very unadvised one. It would create division among the people; and make enemies of all those who should be excluded.

On the question for striking out, as moved by Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS, from the word “ qualifications" to the end of the third article, Delaware, aye-1; New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, no—7; Maryland, divided; Georgia, not present.

Adjourned.

WEDNESDAY, August 8th.

In Convention, -Article 4, sect. 1, being under consideration,

Mr. MERCER expressed his dislike of the whole plan, and his opinion that it never could succeed.

Mr. GORHAM. He had never seen any inconvenience from allowing such as were not freeholders to vote, though it had long been tried. The elections in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, where the merchants and mechanics vote, are at least as good as those made by freeholders only. The case in England was not accurately stated yesterday (by Mr. Madison). The cities and large towns are not the seat of Crown influence and corruption. These prevail in the boroughs, and not on account of the right which those who are not freeholders have to vote, but of the smallness of the number who vote. The people have been long accustomed to this right in various parts of America, and will never allow it to be abridged. We must consult their rooted prejudices if we expect their concurrence in our propositions.

Mr. MERCER did not object so much to an election by the people at large, including such as were not freeholders, as to their being left to make their choice without any guidance. He hinted that candidates ought to be nominated by the State Legislatures.

On the question for agreeing to Article 4, Sect. 1, it passed, nem. con.

Article 4, Sect. 2, was then taken up
Colonel Mason was for opening a wide door for

294

« ZurückWeiter »