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Impartial Examiner II

27 February 1788


(Continued from our last)

Section 8th of the first article gives the Congress a power "to lay and collect, taxes, duties, imposts and excises." If it be a true maxim that those, who are entrusted with the exercise of the higher powers of government, ought to observe two essential rules: first in having no other view than the general good of all without any regard to private interest; and secondly, to take equal care of the whole body of the community, so as not to favor one part more than another: it is apparent that under the proposed constitution, this general confederated society, made up of thirteen different states, will have very little security for obtaining an observance, either of the one, or of the other, rule. For being different societies, though blended together in legislation, and having as different interests; no uniform rule for the whole seems to be practicable; and hence, it is to be feared, that the general good may be lost in a mutual attention to private views. From the same causes we may lament the probability of losing the advantage of the second rule; for it may be expected, in like manner, that the general care of the whole will be lost by the separate endeavors of different legislators to favor their own states. So long as mankind continues to be influenced by interest, the surest means of effecting an union of counsels in any assembly is by an union of interests. Now, if it be considered that it is this concert, that it is this union in promoting the general good, which alone can preserve concord in this great republic, and secure it success and glory,—unhappy will be the situation of America, if she once precludes the beneficial effects of such a good understanding. Yet, I apprehend that these evils may result in a great measure from an exercise of that branch of legislative authority, which respects internal direct taxation. For in this, it is scarcely probable that the interest, ease or convenience of the several states can be so well consulted in the foederal assembly, as in their own respective legislatures. So different are many species of property, so various the productions, so unequal the profits arising, even from the same species of property, in different states, that no general mode of contribution can well be adopted in such a manner as at once to affect all in an equitable degree. Hence may arise disagreeable objects of contention. A diversity of interests will produce a diversity of schemes. Thus each state, as it is natural, will endeavor to raise a revenue by such means, as may appear least injurious to its own interest: a source of dissention manifestly detrimental to that harmony, which is necessary to support the confederation. I cannot conceive it impracticable to reform the foederal system in such a manner as to ensure a compliance with the necessary requisitions of Congress from the different state legislatures. Then all the several states being left to raise their own share of the revenue, and being the only proper judges of the mode most convenient to themselves, it is highly probable that this important branch of government would be carried on more generally to the satisfaction of each state; and would tend to promote a spirit of concord between all the parts of this great community. Because each being thus accomodated, and participating the advantages of the union,— none subjected to any inconvenience thereby,—all would consequently concur in nourishing an affection for the government, which so cemented them.

I believe, it is acknowledged that the establishment of excises has been one of the greatest grievances, under which the English nation has labored for almost a century and an half. Although this may seem an (economical tax, as arising out of manufactures, from which the industrious may derive advantages; and whereof the wealthy by consuming the greatest share, will of course contribute the largest proportion of the tax: yet the nature of it being such, as requires severe laws for its execution, it has justly become an object of general detestation. This has induced Judge Blackstone to declare that "the rigour and arbitrary proceedings of excise laws seem hardly compatible with the temper of a free nation." While, therefore, you are freemen—while you are unused to feel any other power, but such as can be exercised within the bounds of moderation and decency, it, doubtless, behoves you to consider whether it is an eligible step to subject yourselves to a new species of authority, which may warrant the most flagrant violations of the sacred rights of habitation. If this branch of revenue takes place, all the consequent rigour of excise laws will necessarily be introduced in order to enforce a due collection. On any charges or offence in this instance you wip see yourselves deprived of your boasted trial by jury. The much admired common law process will give way to some quick and summary mode, by which the unhappy defendant will find himself reduced, perhaps to ruin, in less time than a charge could be exhibited against him in the usual course.

It has ever been held that standing armies in times of peace are dangerous to a free country; and no observation seems to contain more reason in it. Besides being useless, as having no object of employment, they are inconvenient and expensive. The soldiery, who are generally composed of the dregs of the people, when disbanded, or unfit for military service, being equally unfit for any other employment, become extremely burthensome. As they are a body of men exempt from the common occupations of social life, having an interest different from the rest of the community, they wanton in the lap of ease and indolence, without feeling the duties, which arise from the political connection, though drawing their subsistence from the bosom of the state. The severity of discipline necessary to be observed reduces them to a degree of slavery; the unconditional submission to the commands of their superiors, to which they are bound, renders them the fit instruments of tyranny and oppression.—Hence they have in all ages afforded striking examples of contributing, more or less, to enslave mankind;—and whoever will take the trouble to examine, will find that by far the greater part of the different nations, who have fallen from the glorious state of liberty, owe their ruin to standing armies. It has been urged that they are necessary to provide against sudden attacks. Would not a well regulated militia, duly trained to discipline, afford ample security? Such, I conceive, to be the best, the surest means of protection, which a free people can have when not actually engaged in war. This kind of defence is attended with two advantages superior to any others; first, when it is necessary to embody an army, they at once form a band of soldiers, whose interests are uniformly the same with those of the whole community, and in whose safety they see involved every thing that is dear to themselves: secondly, if one army is cut off, another may be immediately raised already trained for military service. By a policy, somewhat similar to this, the Roman empire rose to the highest pitch of grandeur and magnificence.

The supreme court is another branch of foederal authority, which wears the aspect of imperial jurisdiction, clad in a dread array, and spreading its wide domain into all parts of the continent. This is to be co-extensive with the legislature, and, like that, is to swallow up all other courts of judicature. —For what is that judicial power which "shall extend to all cases in law and equity" in some having "original," in all others "appellate jurisdiction," but an establishment universal in its operation? And what is that "appellate jurisdiction both as to law and fact," but an establishment, which may in effect operate as original jurisdiction?—Or what is an appeal to enquire into facts after a solemn adjudication in any court below, but a trial de novo? And do not such trials clearly imply an incompetency in the inferior courts to exercise any kind of judicial authority with rectitude? Hence, will not this eventually annihilate their whole jurisdiction? Here is a system of jurisprudence to be erected, no less surprising than it is new and unusual. Here is an innovation, which bears no kind of analogy to any thing, that Englishmen, or Americans, the descendants of Englishmen, have ever yet experienced. Add to all, that this high prerogative court establishes no fundamental rule of proceeding, except that the trial by jury is allowed in some criminal cases. All other cases are left open—and subject "to such regulations as the Congress shall make."—Under these circumstances I beseech you all, as citizens of Virginia, to consider seriously whether you will not endanger the solemn trial by jury, which you have long revered, as a sacred barrier against injustice —which has been established by your ancestors many centuries ago, and transmitted to you, as one of the greatest bulwarks of civil liberty— which you have to this day maintained inviolate:—I beseech you, I say, as members of this commonwealth, to consider whether you will not be in danger of losing this inestimable mode of trial in all those cases, wherein the constitution does not provide for its security. Nay, does not that very provision, which is made, by being confined to a few particular cases, almost imply a total exclusion of the rest? Let it, then, be a reflection deeply impressed on your minds—that if this noble privilege, which by long experience has been found the most exquisite method of determining controversies according to the scale of equal liberty, should once be taken away, it is unknown what new species of trial may be substituted in its room. Perhaps you may be surprised with some strange piece of judicial polity,— some arbitrary method, perhaps confining all trials to the entire decision of the magistracy, and totally excluding the great body of the people from any share in the administration of public justice.

(To be continued)

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