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exercised this authority? An interesting question it must at all times be, and at the present time it has a peculiar interest from circumstances to which I shall perhaps have occasion to advert hereafter.
My purpose in the first place, is to state very briefly, why the bill is and ought to be confined in its operation to the persons described in the first section, that is to those engaged in trade. And in this I have in view to meet an objection that I find has had a considerable influence upon the minds of members. Why, it is said, why not extend the provisions to all classes of the community? why confine them to a single class? The answer is a very plain one. The design of the Constitution, was to vest in the government of the United States such powers as were necessary for national purposes, and to leave to the States all other : powers. Trade, commercial credit, and public or national credit, which is intimately allied to it, were deemed, and rightly deemed, to be national concerns of the highest importance. In the adjustment of our government, at once national and federal, they were intended to be confided, and were confided, to the care of the public authority of the nation. It is too much the fashion everywhere to indulge in general censure of classes or professions. When merchants are the subject of discussion, we hear of speculators, and even worse; when protection is asked for manufactures, we are told that manufacturers are extortioners, and there is often danger that the great interests which are connected with their occupations, may be lost sight of in the prejudice raised against the individuals engaged in them. But, whatever may be said of the merchants, it is nevertheless certain, that trade, trade carried on by merchants, and commercial credit, are favourite objects of the Constitution. It is, in fact, to, a regard for trade, to the obvious necessity of a system that should be adequate to its protection, its regulation and support, that we are indebted for the Constitution itself, and all the blessings we, enjoy or promise
ourselves from that instrument. The commissioners who met at Annapolis in September 1786, delegated by the States of New York, New-Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia, assembled in consequence of a resolution of the State of Virginia, “to take into consideration the trade of the United States; to examine the relative situation and trade of the said states, &c.” Their report, grounded upon the suggestion, “that the power of regulating trade is of such comprehensive extent, and will enter so far into the general system of the federal government, that to give it efficacy, and to obviate questions and doubts concerning its precise nature and limits, may require a correspondent adjustment of other parts of the federal system,” recommend
ed the plan of a convention, with enlarged powers, to prepare such a system. The recommendation was adopted. The convention that formed the Constitution was assembled. This Constitution was the result and “commerce with foreign nations and among the several states” was one of its chief concerns.
The power to "regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the several states," would have been inadequate to its purpose without the concession to Congress of certain auxiliary powers. They were granted.--Among them, and I advert to it as having the nearest affinity to the power now more immediately under consideration, was the authority to establish a national judiciary, with jurisdiction over controversies between foreigners and citizens, and over those between citizens of different states. What was the view of the convention in giving to the foreigner, and to the citizens of other states in relation to the debtor, a forum such as this? To secure to him, as far as practicable, a fair and impartial administration of justice, to place him above the reach of local feeling and local prejudice, beyond the sphere of those influences that may, by possibility, affect the state tribunals, in contests between their citizens and others. This was the immediate, but what was the ultimate
object? To protect and encourage trade, to support and invigorate commercial credit, by the security offered.
The power “to establish uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies," is of the same character. For the construction of this power, I do not think it necessary to resort to verbal criticism. It does not appear to me that we need inquire, whether the term "bankruptcy” had a definite meaning, to which we are limited, nor whether we are bound to follow the model of the statutes in England, or any state bankrupt laws that may have existed here before the Constitution was framed. For the present purpose, the general spirit and scope of the Constitution furnish a sufficient guide. The design of that instrument was to occupy national ground, and leave the rest to the states. Who are the persons then, that, in the relation of debtor, stand connected with foreigners and with the citizens of other states ? Who are the persons that in the same relation stand connected with domestic and foreign trade, and with the commercial and public credit of the country? The answer will be at once, they are the merchants, the traders, the dealers, by whatever name you may be pleased to call them, whose business it is to buy, and sell, and circulate what is produced at home or imported from abroad. Other persons may contract the same relation, but it is occasionally and by accident only. These (merchants or traders I mean) do so habitually, constantly, and in the regular course of their business. Again, in what other class of citizens has the na-. tion the same sort of interest? I wish not to be misunderstood. The nation has an interest in the prosperity of all her citizens, and of every branch of industry. Agriculture, the essential basis of national strength and wealth, deserves to be cherished and supported.--For manufactures, every day becoming more and more interesting to this country, I trust that much will be done to afford protection and support. I declare myself willing to go as far in measures to support and protect them, as may be necessary-a declara ,
tion which I am willing should be understood either literally or liberally, to give it the most positive meaning. But let it be considered for a moment what is the sort of interest the nation has in the trading part of the community, and it will immediately be seen how important is the power to control them. Take the whole amount of your imports, add to it the whole amount of your exports, and (if any one can estimate the value of it,) of your internal trade for consumption. The great aggregate circulates by means of the trader, and is in his hands. When the farmer or the planter carries his crop to market, he does not become the shipper, and enter into the mystery of invoices, and bills of lading, and policies of insurance: he sells it to the merchant. By the hands of the merchant, too, the government receives its revenue. With such a mass of public and national interest concentrated in the concerns of this class of society; with such a power, in the nature of their occupations, to influence trade, and credit, and revenue, I am satisfied that the controlling power of Congress was intended to reach them. We are on national ground, then, intended by the Constitution to be occupied, in making a bankrupt law for merchants and traders, and others immediately connected with trade. Can we go further? Without undertaking to say we cannot, under any circumstances, I am free to confess that I see no necessity for it, and there are objections of no inconsiderable magnitude. Beyond this limit, none occurs to me as assignable short of an entire comprehension of all descriptions of persons. To say nothing of the impolicy of exerting the summary and sweeping authority of a commission of bankruptcy over farmers, and manufacturers, and mechanics, it would be a plain encroachment upon the rights of the states. Was it intended that Congress should regulate their internal concerns? This is left to the states themselves. Why then should we undertake unnecessarily to interfere ? And we should interfere to a most enormous extent, if we should attempt, by any means, to
regulate or to affect the relation of debtor and creditor within the states, upon the comprehensive plan suggested. The argument is, to my mind, decisive, and it brings us back to the ground originally taken, where we may safely stand, assured that we are within the limits of constitutional duty-from which we cannot depart, without the risk of doing what is at once unnecessary and inexpedient, perhaps unconstitutional. The discrimination which is thus indicated by the spirit of the Constitution, and by the theory of our government, is conformable also to the terms used by the Constitution. Bankrupt laws, as distinguished from insolvent laws, have a sufficiently appropriate signification, determined by experience and practice. Their most uniform feature, whatever other differences may have existed, has been, that, in their principal operation, they were usually confined to the commercial class ; to that class which is most extensively intrusted with the property of others which is most engaged in hazardous adventure, and whose good or ill fortune, and, if you please, good or ill conduct, have the most extensive influence. I would not, however, be understood as meaning to give any positive limitation, in this respect, to the power. It is possible that circumstances may arise, which would render a more comprehensive description necessary; and then we should be called upon to say whether the Constitution permitted such a construction. At present this is not the case; the broad line is sufficiently marked between the national ground which the national legislature ought to occupy, and those subjects of internal regulation which may be sufficiently provided for by the state legislatures.
It is certainly true, that the merchant or trader may be, and commonly is, indebted to persons residing in the same state with himself; and it is equally true, that the bankrupt law will operate upon debts of this description, as well as upon debts due in other states, and beyond the limits of the United States. The objection, however, has very little