Henry Livingston, Jr.

Gilbert Livingston's Speech
NY's Constitutional Convention
July 2, 1788

Wednesday, July 2, 1788.--Mr. G. LIVINGSTON. Sir, I perfectly agree, with every gentleman that has spoken on this clause, that it is most important; and I like wise agree with those of the honorable members who think that, if this section is not amended, there will not the shadow of liberty be left to the states, as states. The honorable member from New York, (Mr. Hamilton,) on Saturday, went largely into the jurisdiction of the section as it stands; asserted that the government was truly republican--good and safe; that it would never be the interest of the general government to dissolve the states; that there was a concurrent jurisdiction, independent as to every thing but imports; that the states had a supreme, uncontrolled, and uncontrollable power, in common with the general government, to every branch of revenue, except as to imposts, post-office, and the restraint with respect to exports; that, with respect to any productive source of revenue left, whichever (the general government or particular state) applied first would obtain it. As to the safety in the general government, considered as a complete republican government, several honorable members, as well as my worthy colleague, have fully considered, and in my humble opinion clearly shown, that it cannot be fully depended on as safe, on the score of representation. Therefore I conceive the state governments are necessary as the barrier between the people's liberties and any invasion which may be attempted on them by the general government. The honorable gentleman from New York has given us a new kind of power, or rather endeavored to show that power can be equally exercised in a way I believe never before thought of; that is, two bodies, which have, or at least may have, separate and indeed contrary interests, to have at the same time uncontrollable power to derive support from, and have complete direction of, the same branch of revenue.

It seems, sir, to be agreed that state governments are necessary. The state governments will undoubtedly endeavor to support themselves. It also seems to be agreed that the general government will want all the money they can raise: it is in my mind as true (if they possibly can) that they will raise all they want. Now, sir, what will be the consequence, the probable consequence, in this taxing, collecting squabble? I think, sir, we may conclude, with great certainty, that the people will, between them, be pretty well taxed. An honorable member from New York, (chancellor,) on Friday last, endeavored to prove, and yesterday again tauntingly mentioned it, that, because taxes are annually collected in our counties, for state and county purposes, by the same collector, authorized by the same legislature, appointed by the same assessors, and to support the Same government,--that, therefore, the same sources of revenue may safely be applied to, without any danger of clashing interference, for different purposes and by different powers--nay, by powers between whom, it seems to be agreed, there will be a struggle for supremacy; and one of the gentlemen (Mr. Hamilton) declares his apprehensions to be that, in the issue, the state governments will get the victory, and totally supplant the general government. Others, I believe with great probability of truth, think the states will cut but a scurvy figure in the unequal contest. This, sir, however, seems certain, that a contention there must be between them. Is this wise, Mr. Chairman,--now, when we are deliberating on a form of government which we suppose will affect our posterity to many ages,--to adopt a system in which we see, clearly see, the seeds of feud, contest, jealousy, and confusion? Further, sir, it is agreed that the support of the general government is of the utmost importance on the great scale; it is contended by some, as before mentioned, that, if both powers--the supreme, coŽxisting, coŽual powers--should tax the same objects, the state taxes would be best paid. What, sir, would be the consequence? Why, the others Would be badly paid, or not paid at all. What, then, is to become of your government? In this case, it must be annihilated indeed Will this do? This bantling, sir, ought to be better provided for. For my part, I like it too well--if a little amended--to agree to a provision which is manifestly not sufficient for its support; for, if the gentleman's arguments have weight in them, (and that I would not wish to contest,) this government must fail; the states will be too many for it My opinion is, sir, that a line be drawn. Certain and sufficient resources ought to be left solely to the states, as states, which the amendment does. And as the general government has some particular ones altogether at its command, so also ought there to be a right of requisition for what the specific funds may be deficient in. Sir, this requisition will have, in my opinion, directly a contrary effect to what some gentlemen suppose. It will serve to impress both the general government, as well as the particular state governments, with this important idea--that they conjointly are the guardians of the rights of the whole American family, different parts of the administration of the concerns of which being intrusted to them respectively. In the one case, Congress, as the head, will take care of the general concerns of the whole: in the other, the particular legislatures, as the stewards of the people, will attend to the more minute affairs. Thus, sir, I wish to see the whole transacted in amity and peace, and no other contest than what may arise in the strife which may best answer the general end proposed,--to wit, peace, happiness, and safety.

Further, sir. It has been frequently remarked, from one side of the house, that most of the amendments proposed go on the supposition that corruption may possibly creep into the general government, and seem to discard the idea, as totally improbable. Of what kind of beings, sir, is the general government to be composed? If of men, I think it probable, at least, they may be corrupt. Indeed, if it were not for the depravity of human nature, we should stand in no need of human government at all.

Sir, I should not have added, but I am led to do it,--thus publicly to hold up my testimony to the world against the illiberal treatment we met with yesterday, and that from a quarter I little expected. Had I not been present, I should hardly have believed it possible that the honorable member from New York, who harangued the committee yesterday with such a torrent of illiberality, was the same man who, at the opening of the debates of this Convention, could wish that we should investigate with candor.

Will men, sir, by being called children, be convinced there is no reason in their arguments, or that there is strength in those of their opponents? I confess, sir, in the case before us, they will see strength in the gentleman's argument, (if what was said might be called an argument;) it was strong; and (to use one of the member's own similes) it consisted wholly of brass, without any mixture of clay; and by a luxuriancy of fancy which that member is famous for, and I suppose for the sake of variety, he has taken it from the feet and toes, where, on another occasion, he had emphatically placed it, and now has displayed it wholly in front.

The honorable member, sir, wrought himself up into such a strain of ridicule, that, after exhausting his admirable talents in this sublime and gentlemanlike science on his opponents, he finds another subject to display them on, in the emblem of liberty, the pillar and cap, which the friend and assertor of the rights of his fellow-citizens, John Holt, late printer of the New York Journal, in perilous times dared to use, as expressive of his own whiggish sentiments; who must be hauled from his grave for the purpose--but whose memory, maugre all the invectives which disdain may wish to throw upon it, will be dear to this country as long as the friends of liberty will dare to show their heads in it. Indeed, sir, this is not the first time that this emblem of liberty has been endeavored to be held up in a ridiculous point of light. And let me tell you, Mr. Chairman, it has the same effect on me now it had the first time. It roused every spark of whiggish resentment about my heart. In or about the year 1775, this cap of liberty was the subject of the tory wit of Vardel, or some of his associates about King's College, (as was supposed.) The member, who now exactly follows their track, (if they were the authors of it,) at that time found it not to his purpose openly to avow the sentiment.

But, sir, from the light in which he appears to hold the wavering conduct of up, up, up--and down, down, down--and round, round, round,--we are led to suppose, that his real sentiments are not subject to vary, but have been uniform throughout. I will leave the gentleman himself to reflect, what are the consequences which will naturally follow from these premises. If he does not like them, I cannot help it; he must be more careful, in future, in laying down propositions from which such consequences will follow.

I repeat, sir, that the member, in the first place, endeavors to ridicule the gentlemen opposed to him in sentiment. That was not enough; he must next attack the memory of the distinguished emblem of that good old whig, Mr. Holt. But, sir, as he laughed at a worthy member for making what he termed an anti-climax, he appears to be determined to make his own complete; and, for want of a third part more to his purpose, he finishes by an indirect though fashionable attempt to ridicule the sacred gospel itself, and the faith necessary for a sinner to partake of the benefits contained in it.

Before I sit down, sir, I must lament the occasion of the remarks I have last made. When gentlemen will, for the sake of displaying their own parts, or perhaps for worse purposes, depart from the line of propriety, then they are fair game. I cannot suppose, however, that it is disagreeable to the member himself, as he appears to delight to dabble in dirty water.

Major Henry
Major Henry

family tree

Home Favorites Map

IME logo Copyright © 2001, Mary S. Van Deusen