tv James Madison George Mason Constitutional Debate CSPAN April 30, 2021 3:05pm-4:06pm EDT
the constitutional convention began in 1787, in philadelphia. virginians james madison and george mason found themselves on opposing sides regarding key components of the document. next, a re-enactment of a debate between the two men, as they argue about issues from the bill of rights, to slavery. hosted by the colonial williamsburg foundation, this is an hour. well, hello. and welcome to the great constitutional debate, right here at colonial williamsburg. my name is stuart harris and i teach constitutional law at lincoln memorial university in knoxville, tennessee. today we have a real treat for you. we are going back to the time when the constitution was ratified and we're going to talk about some of the great debates
that occurred during that rat fiction process. but first, let me set some historical context. in 1776, you will recall, we had our declaration of independence, but don't mix that document up with the constitution. they are two very different things. and both important, but today, we're focused on the constitution. indeed, these two documents were separated by 11 years. from 1776, to 1787, we had no real constitution, we had a treaty between 13 independent nations that we called the articles of confederation. now, the articles of confederation didn't work too well, and therefore, people like madison and washington and george mason decided to come together in the summer of 1787, in philadelphia, and debate what form of government our new nation should have. this is a big question, alexander hamilton suggested that it was perhaps the first time in history that such a decision had been entrusted to
people rather than to monarchs or other strong men. the constitutional convention was completely secret. indeed, the windows were nailed shut to prevent people from hearing the proceedings. but once those 55 men got together and signed the document, or at least 39 of them did, and sent it out to the states, there was no more room for secrecy. and thus began perhaps the greatest debate over government, over democracy, in the history of humanity. we're going to go back to that time, to the summer of 1788, when people got together in all the states, including here in virginia. and we're going to have two of the leading proponents and opponents of the constitution here with us to present their arguments. on the pro side, mr. james madison of orange county. >> mr. harris, a privilege to see you as always. >> sir, the privilege is mine. and on the opposite side, the so-called anti-federalist party debate. we have george mason.
of fairfax county. welcome, mr. mason. >> thank you very much, a pleasure to meet you, mr. harris. >> a pleasure, mr. mason. >> mr. madison, the pleasure as always. >> today, we are going to begin with a brief opening statement, as we lawyers like to call them, where i'll give each of these gentlemen a chance to state his case, and an overview. later on, we'll go back and ask more specific questions, both for me and from other people who are interested in this debate. mr. madison, can we begin with you? >> i should be honored, sir. good day. ladies, gentlemen, i shall for the purposes of exhorting an introduction, endeavor to be succinct. first, i will open by saying that from the first moments i was capable of contemplating political principles, i have never ceased wishing success to a well-regulated republic and experiment of government. the success of such in america has been my utmost wish.
12 years ago, we embarked on a sing regular experiment. one which philosophy has waited for, something which humanity has sided for. from the most remote ages of our common experience a war was won to secure that independence, and yet our experiment, ladies and gentlemen, has never been in more danger. in sum, we have failed. our articles of confederation have proved entirely deficient and while mr. harris, colonel mason, i have no doubt we will uncover what took place in philadelphia city in 1787, i will encourage this most wise audience to contemplate these two questions over the course of our debate. first, and for most, how have the articles of confederation failed in guaranteeing those principles of life, lib, and the pursuit of happiness, and second, how shall this proposed constitution perfect this system
of government? i encourage you through these debates to harken not to the unnatural voice which tells you the people of america knit together as they are by so many cords of affection cannot be the same members of the family, and cannot be the mutual guardians of their own mutual happiness, cannot be the children of one flaushing empire this. system is a novelty in the political world. it has no place in the wildest of projectors, the rashest of intent. no, instead, ladies and gentlemen, i invite you over the course of this discourse to bring your mind, bring your curiosity, and together, as a sing regular people, i would may yet find a proper course for america. thank you, mr. harris. >> mr. madison, i must say that they taught me in law school, that you were a soft-spoken and ineffectual and i see now that you give the lie to that characterization. >> well, sir, you should see my
writing. >> mr. mason, please. >> gentlemen, mr. harris, mr. madison, people in virginia, people of america, i do not disagree with mr. madison. the endeavor of this last year and a half has been to find our way forward. a constitution, a written constitution that the people might debate is the natural and best course for our future. however, this is where i counter the gentleman, in that this document is in its way the one that must be ratified. i say nay. there are too many problems still apparent. this is uncharted territory to be certain. for that reason, we must endeserver, the revolt against great britain some years ago is nothing compared to what lies before us now. we have an opportunity to create a government not in the time of war but in a time of peace, and
those articles of confederation were woefully, woefully insufficient for our causes. however, we must recognize now, though we have a system before us, that is better than what was before, that does not make it close enough to what the people of america deserve. inherent in it, there are insufficiencies. shortcomings. there are dangerous, the seeds for monarchy, or at least a corrupt aristocracy, are rife in this document. it is for that reason that i oppose this, not to what entirely was created, there are elements of this that are fantastic, to be certain. mr. madison's work upon the establishment is one that i supported there in the constitutional convention, very early on. but ultimately, at the end of that summer, i saw too many changes, back room dealings, by
which men sought to put money in their own pocket. not the freedom and liberty of its people. we did not address these large issues that plague our country at present. and instead allow a silent moratorium of 20 years, on some of the greatest shadows over our country, and perhaps most importantly, a declaration of rights, a bill of rights, which we have now decided that a modern person deserves, more than anything else, mankind demands it, and yet, within this document, it was entirely ignored. though not ignored in the debate. for those reasons, gentlemen, i urge you caution with this constitution, debate and amendments are necessary. otherwise, we lose ourselves to a new type of monarchy, an
elected one, perhaps even more dangerous than the last. >> thank you, mr. mason for your eloquent and learned remarks. as we noted previously, the public debate has now begun. so we will be taking questions from a variety of people who didn't attend the constitutional convention. the very first of them is from one p. henry. and he asks, mr. henry asks, is it wise for virginia to surrender her preeminence and sovereignty to a body of men, congress, who have little in common with the people of virginia? what would happen if congress enacted a law which was unfavorable to the people of virginia? could virginia nullify that law? mr. madison, why don't we begin with you. >> first and foremost, i should think the worthy p. henry for his most obstreperous question. in every instance, curious he
should ask it, he being invited to that convention. funny that he should have so much to say now that was held in that moment, he not wishing to attend that convention because he quote smelled a rat. now, as to the nature of this question, equally to public opinion, we see across this theater of the globe, a diversity of faction. faction being a great evil of society, yet equally inevitability. we see factions between followers of different ecclesiastical sects, we see a faction in identifying within our various state governments. i find great curiosity in the gentleman's question, was it not p. henry in 1774 who said boldly, i am not a virginian, i am an american. so at this present moment, what is at stake mr. harris is, a plural ty of identity. shall we be a treaty amongst 13 separate provinces, or shall we be all at once the citizens of
one state, as equally bee held to the title of american. now once more, let us turn to what took place during the artof confederation. particularly upon the notions of preeminence and sovereignty. under the articles of confederation, each state had an equitable number of me members of delegates and equally an equitable number of votes, virginia's vote counting the same as rhode island. what was the solution? well, what in every instance was the sum of these various practices? that inevitably the smallest states so jealous of their sovereignty should hold back the progress of all. all for the purposes of that self same identity and sovereignty. now let us then examine this new federal constitution where under the house of representatives in accordance with the proposed article one, inevitably, virginia's vote should count in accordance with its population, just as as connecticut, just as rhode island, something which if we are masters of arithmetic, we
know shall not cede any sovereignty other than that which is owed. virginia being the largest, the wealthiest of the provinces, and we three gentlemen, likely constituting the whole population of rhode island upon this stage. it comes down to that self same idea, mr. harris, woman shall we be? citizens of virginia, or citizens of these united states? >> thank you, mr. madison. mr. mason, do you agree with mr. patrick henry, or with mr. madison on this issue? >> to say i count mr. henry as a good friend, he, having been born in a time of cuneiforms would have undoubtedly been the head of that most glorious commonwealth, a man whose oration is praised and is yet one of the least of his great qualities, no, i should say though, that i attended that convention in philadelphia, quite for the same reason mr. henry did not. the concern that those there
present would see the faults with that system, those articles of confederation, being insufficient for our purposes, far too weak, that men would instead run too far in the other direction, and instead, create a federal power that was oppressive, that dissolved our identity entirely, at stake thus is what we see and fare from this document. there are ways in which that judiciary might entirely nullify our state judicial system. if we see oured a adjudicative power entirely dissolved, ultimately owing to instead some foreign, and i do say foreign, or if it is a matter that concerns virginia but is appealed to so many levels and say even a matter that puts virginians and say a neighbor such as maryland or the like appeal to such a supreme level by which it entirely dissolves
the virginia judiciary, we see instead a trial by a jury of your peers, instead, to be a trial, if by a jury, not of your peers, but those of a different place entirely. it is rightful and fearful that we see this new power potentially dissolving our identities, and mr. madison, i do not disagree, we must both balance our identity as american and virginians but i heard you say as well we must embrace both and it is that entire we illuminate and we see problems within this plan, as it stands now, without proper amendments to dissolve our identity that we no longer may have the power, and instead, see federal laws and legislation passed that shall resolve the identity, the power, of the states entirely. >> might i say against mr. mason's place here? >> briefly, sir. briefly. >> i would endeavor to be as
brief as possible. put forward several times that within this document lies the seeds of monarchy, despotism, aristocracy, et cetera. i'm a student of history, mr. harris, as i'm certain we all are. show me in a system of government, being in the confederations of ancient greece, be it all old english system, be it the various state government ors the articles of confederation, what system of government lacks the seeds for that same quality? a system of government begins to die almost as soon as it is constituted, much like the mortal body. colonel mason will well recall that the way the systems of government survive is a frequent recurrence of fundamental principles. you wrote that sir. and you flatter you for that. upon that, we must ask the question, how shall states resolve various disputes with one another under the articles of confederation? through the coercion of the blood and the sword. article three of our constitution, the supreme court ensures a method where by law, various states can settle their
dispute, with peace. and some sir, revolutions of words and law, and not of blood. in brief. >> mr. mason, would you like to briefly respond? >> only in that mr. madison is quite right, fundamental reoccurrence to these principles is necessary, but we have an opportunity to do that now prior to ratification, that we see these seeds dealt with. there may always be some, but we see too many here at present and we have the opportunity merely with a second convention by which the people have now been informed of its intentions that we may see greater amendments even to the document as it now stands, that being my greatest argument, very similar to mr. madison, only that it is done prior to ratification, as opposed to after. >> thank you, sir. >> i thank you for allowing this moment of debate, and with that, we might move to the next question before p. henry allows the chance to submit another question.
>> i see, sir, both of you, that we have witnessed yet another eternal truth here today, and that is that statesmen always have more to say. but now, we must move on to our questions. harkening back, sir, mr. mason, to your opening statement about the bill of rights, and its importance to you, we have a question from emma, and emma asks, can you discuss the similarities and differences between the constitution and the virginia declaration of rights, and why or how any changes were made from the first document to the second? >> thank you for the opportunity to answer this first. as primary author of that virginia declaration of rights i have a great many thoughts, however i think it should be illuminated that ultimately it was passed by a committee, a committee was, as is our custom, overcharged with useless members. and yet we see a document coming out of such a flawed collection of men to be great in its
manner, not perfect, mind you, but great. 16 articles, ultimately ratified in june of 1776, prior even to our declaration of independence, here in virginia, we declared that all men are born equally free and independent and have certain inherent natural rights of which they cannot deprive of their posterity, namely the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety. pursuing happiness and safety, sir. a wonderful consideration. and yet, it is the necessity of such a document, a modern bill of rights, the likes of which created in virginia in 1776 that we ought see attached to this document. it's important, it's undeniable, we may look to the history, to study that consideration of all of the english bill of rights, how one might warrant necessity of a similar one. and yet, here, we see a new constitution that is totally
devoid of declaring our rights. it is entirely devoid of those basic insistences of our right not just the ephemeral ideas, those amorphous declarations of what a government is or ought to be, but so too real reins placed upon a government, for the first time ever, a division of power that no position shall ever again be hereditary, or passed down. the idea that a man is born a judge, a legislator, a magistrate, is unnatural and absurd. but this virginia declaration of rights went further. it declared the rights of you the people. the rights to a free press. the rights to free exercise of religion. how else was a man to be free. mind, heart, body and soul. and yet, this constitution
nearly is an instruction how a government ought work. though there are some faults, it has great strength. but it lacks the greatest strength, which is an insistence upon the rights of the individual. that is the great difference between our virginia declaration of rights, and the current government as it stands before us. we knew in virginia, in 1776, that a bill of rights must be created prior to a constitution, to ensure that it might guarantee the rights promised beforehand. that is the greatest weakness of this document at present. >> mr. madison, it seems to me that mr. mason makes some very powerful points there. how do you respond, sir? >> the worthy gentleman speaks with great austerity. very friendly poong that declaration of rights of 1776, and as on my earliest political actions, serving as a young man of 25 years old and assisting
and writing that document in committee, i will say it is singularly one of the greatest enumerations of the new public rights and private privileges of a people. and yet upon that, i will say what have we experienced in the course of the declaration of rights existence? we have seen in every instance, that these declarations of rights, rather than having and holding the sanction of law, are instead parchment barriers. i have often written, mr. harris, that if it were angels no system of government would be necessary. over the course of that what should stop in every instance, a majority of people by their general will, setting up an interest that is contrary to the rights of the minority. and no declaration of rights should be fruitful in putting that forward. now, when we speak to our supreme system of government, it does nothing to nullify the various enumerations of rights, the declaration of rights, that exist upon the state government. that in every instance is not the end of this general system of government.
but rather, instead, to do explicitly what is said within that constitution. colonel mason speaks very wondrously regarding that convention in 1776. and yet within the actions of that convention, comes the great fallacy, and his argument, to amend the constitution before it is ratified. colonel mason well recalls, three opportunities within that committee to amend that declaration of rights and within one of those amendments we found the various clause and various phrase that sparked the opportunity to withhold those rights from society. an interested party within that convention was fretful that the enumeration of these various rights should justify some who are qualified as property in virginia to demand their freedom. i speak of course of the enslaved. and so upon that, colonel mason's article i, the declaration which would promise those self same liberties to all placed in the phrase, when they enter into a state of society.
meaning to wit that these various rights and privileges which colonel mason proffers ought belong to all mankind, shall by a masterpiece of circ couple low cution belong to the few. can you imagine, ladies and gentlemen, under this proposed constitution, if it were to be amended by the self same interested parties, how soon the various progress forward with it, with the various rights of human nature and powers could be dissolved. >> could in every instance find those strengths that colonel mason speak of, entirely undone, and from that, this bold experiment rendered entirely moot. now, i'm not opposed to an american bill of rights. yet our constitution can be amended. after it is ratified. so upon that, i should pray, ladies and gentlemen, to stand with my argument, to ratify this constitution, ensure that its strengths might be forwarded, and from that thereafter, to establish whatever bill of rights, with deliberate care. shall the american people be a
people of ten liberties? 16 liberties? or unlimited rights of human nature that might be decided now, yesterday, and indeed in tomorrow? >> thank you, mr. madison. >> mr. harris, if i might, just a moment, the idea that a bill of rights is a parchment barrier, a paper check is ridiculous to. proffer such an idea, it is paramount to saying why don't we write laws knowing they will be brecken. no, mr. madison. i understand these rights may be infringed upon but without stating them explicitly prior to the creation of the government is the very first step to attorney tyranny in that matter that i whisper forward, though i respect this document may be amended it is my fear that once ratified, once called into creation, it will ultimately disallow such things.
i have little trust in the future of the integrity of politicians. >> mr. madison, you mentioned a moment ago, that you're not opposed to the idea of a bill of rights. and certainly, you're familiar with the concept of, you've seen the english bill of rights, you've seen the virginia declaration of rights. let's go from the general to the specific. of all of the liberties that have been identified in these various documents, and that might be included in a future bill of rights for the entire united states, which liberty do you think is the most fundamental, the most important? >> well, thank you for the question. if we were to examine the natural rights, those which cannot be infringed upon, those rights that come from nature and not from government, that we derive in every instance, those liberties of life, liberty, and property. simultaneously. and yet when we speak of property, it is not solely the tangible. rather the property of one's own mind. the freedom of conscience. the ability to think freely and have the mind unshackled.
perhaps growing up in the western counties of virginia, so often, seeing man's mind punished because of a difference of opinion, the rights that is narest and dearest to my heart, the one i have not deviated from, the one i have championed from the earliest moments of my political career has been men's freedom of cons shence appears. it is my -- the right that is so often violated at this present moment. >> mr. mason? >> i stand with the worthy gentleman at my opposition. it is that first declaration, that first right, enumerated, life, liberty, property, pursuing happiness and safety, in that manner, i absolutely agree, with the worthy gentleman, though i wish to extend just one further. if i may take a moment, with that of safety. property, first and foremost. a man has nothing greater than what must he guarantee, it is
his own safety, less that property be taken from him. so it is in that manner, whether it be a danger, and safety from standing army, or danger and safety therefore, from a government, danger and safety from one's property being taken from them, that we must also protect. >> i am curious about this, mr. harris, and somewhat confounded, my worthy opponent speaks consistently of systems of govern resulting in tyranny and guarantee safety in society, and safety and tranquility, it limits, but it doesn't make them nice pieces of love. we must encourage the opinion of safety. in enforcing safety, we find a system of government that through its laws might justify anything in the name of safety. so from that, i should say, in every instance, we must look towards not only what is right for man, but what we might equip
mankind to be. and from that, to encourage them to make the proper choice. >> mr. madison, hence the purpose for protecting the safety of the individual. not of the government itself. >> let's talk a little bit about safety. let's talk a little bit about what mr. mason expressed earlier, this concern that we are creating a government that will be oppressive. i believe it's probably generally agreed that the most dangerous part of the new national government is the executive. >> hear, hear. >> discuss your feeling about the executive power set out in article two of this constitution, and more specifically, if you could also address a question that we've received as to whether what you've written there, perhaps else where, is designed to change with the times, as we grow and become a, one hopes, more powerful nation. mr. mason, would you like to discuss this first? >> i should be happy to discuss the executive.
the executive at present does not contain a constitutional council. any means by which it had a council or a cabinet or a support, without this the president, i can say now and have before, will be unsupported by proper information and advice, he may surround himself with favorites, and minions or become a tool of the senate far too easily. we have given a power here to a single individual, without a certain term, how long they may be re-elected, and therefore, we see easy roads to an elected monarchy before us. now the man may be elected for only but four years, is insufficient, if he may be elected again and again throughout his lifetime, and thus, we see here, far more dangerous than that british system of an inherited monarchy but instead, an elected one. think of how, forcefully man
might protect that which he elected even if he wishes it at a lifetime, even if he wishes it at the detriment of the rest of society, and perhaps the greatest danger i see with the executive is that its second most powerful position, the vice president, for want of doing anything else, has been chosen as the president of the senate. the higher house of our legislature, being led by the second most powerful position of the executive is a dangerous commingling of power. and runs an affront to that separation, as insisted upon here in virginia, within our own bill of rights to disallow such a thing, we have instead at a higher power allowed such a commingling of executive and legislative power. it is only the beginning that i see the danger of this position, and instead should have some spread of power from one man,
instead even if it is still held by a single man, some elected council that may advise him. >> thank you, sir. mr. madison, how do you respond? >> i'm not in complete disagreement with the worthy gentleman of fairfax. under the virginia plan, initially drafted by me, the various 19 provisions, i would say initial thought was not given a great deal to the executive. what would become article two of our constitution. initially, the executive of the federal system of government would be functioning as a revision nare council, working in accordance with article iii, a judiciary of some type, appointed by congress, in some fashion. in 1776, you well recall, the governor of virginia was elected by joint ballot of both house of delegates and senate, kept entirely separate from it. i will not need to remind the worthy gentleman of the problems by that. now, from that, under article ii of our constitution, we do see a chief magistrate who has no
function adviser. this can be solved with policy, once the constitution is ratified. a cabinet, as colonel mason so wisely said. and yet we turn once more to article i, particularly the upper house, the senate, under the worthy gentleman's notion, it is problematic to find any inter mingling to which the vice presidency, article ii and the senate article i. from that, there is a great dilemma in government that power is necessary, it is equally detrimental that power corrupts. but the absence of power is equally corrupt. because from that, we find a robbery of energy. now the greater fear mr. harris, is not the supreme and total corrupt power of an executive, but rather of a congress. indeed, it was this measure which ensured that the executive would not be elected by congress, but rather instead a separate body, an electoral college. fixed between the various states. now, i would remind colonel mason that under article ii the vice president, in every
instance, should be the man who receives the second number of votes, setting an interest perhaps adverse to the executive. ambition counter-acts ambition. now from that what do we see the fruits of? a body of men who consistently find their interest separate from one another, but simultaneously incorporated. in sum, sir, a system of government which checks itself but equally through its function, is coerced to move together. it is shameful to say that coercion is sometimes necessary in government, but upon that, we have met a great many of statesmen who upon many instances fueled by their own ambition must be coerced to work together. thank you. >> if i may only counter this, mr. madison, it is that idea of coercion that i do not find opposition to, but it is my fear that that electoral nature, being not that individuals, president or vice president, are directly elected by the people,
though i understand how difficult such an endeavor might be, means that it is not actual representation but only the shadow of representation. in that manner, i find it to be a dangerous system, this electoral college. >> why should it be? in every instance, colonel mason you know as well as i do we do not establish a pure democracy but rather instead a republic that utilizes the power of democracy. how shall we across this corner of the globe with each state having different laws of suffrage, constitute an equitable vote, with these different laws? moreover, how should we find one gentleman, well known enough in his vir virtue to be a prime candidate for everyone to elect. and there is only one, and as much as we wish it george washington will not live forever, so from that it must be aed abouty of people who are equipped well enough in the notions of state craft to not be swayed by the various novelties or promises any statesman
seeking ambition might put forward. a vote that might be found in equity. moreover i would say we have the engines of democracy within the most important article of our constitution, the closest to the people. that of course being the house of representatives. >> thank you, mr. madison. let's hope that the electoral college functions as well as you believe it will and that it's not a source of controversy. >> i don't see it ever going wrong, mr. harris. >> down the road. >> all right, let's move on to another area, please. something that has been part of this debate for a long time is the question as to whether or not we can have a republic over such a great geographical expanse as we have in this country and especially enfranchisement, how will representation work over such an expanse? and we have a question again from a member of the public, who asks with regard to enfranchisement, should proof of citizenship be required before a person shall vote? >> mr. mason? >> you ask two wonderful
questions in there. one being a very specific to the individual, is proof of citizenship should be required. in this first though, i wish to address, as to whether or not we can truly be represented over such a vast area, over such a large population, as we sit at present. may we be, i believe, it is possible, but does the current system allow for it? that is what i question. it will only in the last days of a debate that we altered it from some 40,000 individuals to be represented by one, to 30,000 individuals to be represented by one. i still think 30,000 individuals being represented by a single individual is insufficient to say the least. here in virginia at present, we have some, 13 men, deciding whether or not to ratify this sku, and if ratified should have less than 100 to represent all
13? that very close connection to the people that mr. madison just praised a moment ago, and yet still, how, how may he represent by one individual, who is unfamiliar, some ten individuals, for all of virginia? we know how expansive our home is, and yet we hope that some 10 individuals, 12, including the, to be represented in that way, i fear frankly that it is insufficient in its current system. may we be represented? i think it's possible. with our current constitution, of one, whether or not we should ratify, impossible. as to some proof of citizenship, it is already that a man votes there in public. i don't know what more proof one may need. i am unfamiliar with such proof, being established at present unless the worthy gentleman opposite me wish to speak upon
it some more, i'm somewhat baffled by the question. >> no, colonel mason. yes to mr. harris. >> well, that was very succinct. thank you, mr. madison. i appreciate that. >> continuing on, the subject of the franchise and voting, one last question we have, is should voting be mail be allowed? should one be able to fill out a ballot? >> i thought should voting be mailed? >> that's another question. should one be able to vote via the postal system? >> you confound me, mr. harris. first, i should amend in every instance, it was, and has been allowed for some time in the province of new jersey, for the female to vote. and so upon that, should the vote be male, mailed that becomes a question for another
time. voting by mail confounds me further. as colonel mason spoke, the election of virginia, and a great many other provinces, at other functions the same, upon the apportion, election date of the free holders of the various voters should go to a polling place and from that say by voice whom specifically they are voting for. this ensures that a man's vote is equitable to his house and as well as to his own honor, it prevents various measures by which a vote may be tampered with providing a great number witnesses. you insinuate mr. harris that there should come a day that someone should cast their vote in secret? >> that's implicit in the question, isn't it, sir? >> i don't know how i feel upon it i have not given great consideration but i should say the constitution upon many instances allow for the establishment of postal roads, post office, a postal service, upon that, we have witnessed in many instances the dangers of mail upon the roads, mail being
tampered with, utilizing our own, to ensure that letters that can be apprehended cannot be read or coded. but from that, sir, i should say it must remain a question for tomorrow. for whatever innovations or patents america might ask it, at this present moment, outside, with the drinking and carousing that often comes from election day, the present system of voting functions very well. >> indeed, aren't people penalized if they don't vote in one of these open -- >> oh, yes, as i think they should be. should any free holder not appear, when his name is called upon the roll, from that he should be fined a third of his annual tax levy because if people do not vote in a system of government, a republican system of government, the various sources of democracy, we find such pride in, shall become impostors, and the system will become what colonel mason has claimed it will.
aristocracy. monarchy. tyranny. the vote in many instances is sometimes confounded as rights. and perhaps it is. but most importantly, it is the greatest civic duty a citizen might have. >> good point, mr. madison. how do you feel, mr. mason? >> i find myself in agreement with the worthy gentleman. mr. madison and i have been friends for a great many years, and though we find ourselves on opposite ends of this particular debate, as to the constitution, there are a great many things that we agree upon, this being one of them. i think the only fear that i see for our future voting is the degen ratacy and i call it as though if people don't see the insistence upon it, it is difficult to see oneself on the courthouse steps on voting steps and as mentioned it is a day of celebration where you might not have seen individuals for quite some time, and it is the greatest celebration of the freedom of what this american experiment is, and was even
prior. it was our vote that we had, that allowed to take pride, that allowed to ultimately revolt against great britain, because we knew the importance of voting, and so, so long as it is never altered, or taken, from the people, it is that fear that worries me far greater, that there are those who will not vote or not be punished for not voting for our future, than the means by which they go about it. >> thank you. >> the concern of not voting, she choose to vote in the affirmative for the constitution. >> i should say negative vote is still a vote, mr. madison. >> thank you, thank you both, je. one last thing about voting, you mentioned mail. and m-a-l-e. which brings up another question. should women be allowed to vote? >> under this proposed constitution, what should exist? let us examine the various state
governments. many of whom still have carve ats pertaining to religion. many of woman discriminate through various aims of society. now, by the grace of god, this constitution forbids any religious test to exist in regards to citizenship. thus ensuring that the various religious wars that have pervaded society need not happen in america. now, when we examine the first three words of our constitution, the first three words of our preamble, written primarily by governor morris, we find the words, we the people, not we the men, not we the states, although some find great opposition to that sentiment, this means that the people of america might grow. this means the people of america might change. this means the people of america might choose to incorporate themselves if they step away from those various prejudices which pervade. and that is not a system or opinion, or a change, that i, kernel mason, perhaps even you, mr. harris might proffer but rather the people of america to
decide. . there are people who call me the father of the constitution. this is a fallacy. there were 55 gentleman in attendance. colonel mason, myself, a great many others. government is the work of many heads. many hands. citizenship in the united states requires that self same participation. that self same openness. no greater trust has ever belonged to a political society. so, shall we establish any notion as to whom should have the right to vote? i'm certain a great many gentlemen would have the sentiment that it should belong only to the white male, that it should always be apportioned by property. inevitably sir i ned not speak of my personal sentiment. this is a public debate. so to that i say such a question belongs to the people of america. >> thank you. mr. mason? >> i should only wish to say that 12 years ago here in virginia when creating a new constitution, we attempted to expand merely the property
include but one reduction within that legislation that we should not touch that importation of slavery, a practice, a debolical trade which only weakens and perverts this country. this is one of the other great reasons though it would perhaps prove valuable to the people of virginia. i think instead the one power that ought be at the highest level to deal with this -- this subject was instead robbed of the american people for the next 20 years. >> sir, i thank you for those noble sentiments, but at the risk of rudeness i must point out your posterity may consider you a hypocrite. as you yourself pointed out if we restrict the slave trade then virginia who already has a surplus of slaves would benefit.
in fact you yourself would benefit because each of your slaves would become more valuable in the absence of importation. are you concerned future generations will look back on you and say this man was a hypocrite? >> all men are hypocrites at some point in their life. as i earlier stated every gentleman here is born a petty tyrant. no, i think the greatest danger of this document is the fact it also does not guarantee our property at time. for us to thoroughly consider this question of this most diabolical trade i believe two things must be done. we must first end the increase of end the trade to stave off the growth of this institution. but so too we must be guaranteed our property. how difficult is it that we may move forward and have a subjective opinion on this when we have the consideration of
fiscal self-interest tied to it. so in that manner this -- this constitution done everything it ought not to have done and left undone everything it ought to have done. may it be hypocritical i have little doubt and yet is it necessary in this time i can see no other path out. >> mr. madison, in fairness i have to pose the same difficult question to you. to the extent that you're not willing to defend slavery on a moral basis won't you be considered by your descendants and by your posterity to be a hypocrite? >> yeah. most assuredly. make mow mistake, mr. harris, we've seen the mere distinction of color as justification for the most oppressive dominion of man over man. colonel mason will recall at that convention the various
southern interests putting forward they would not put their hand to a document unless there was some guarantee of their right to hold property in men. it is my sentiment, mr. harris, that you cannot find property. and you're correct, sir. from the age before i could consent to own them i've had people prescribed to my name, a baptism gift from my grandmother, some seven individuals. as a babe i was initiated into an institution that my grandfather and my father have participated in. we are raised with it. now from that we've seen various public innovations whereby we might allow man to choose. i have endeavored over the course of my life to distance myself from the institution and take what measures i can to ensure the most humane measures by which i can participate in ending the abolition of such a painful institution. colonel mason is correct upon this regard that the
constitution for the first time provides a method over the course of time where we can gradually take steps forward to abolish the institution. this is the argument so many gentlemen and statesmen make, that it must be done through careful measure. and yet when a careful measure is put forward they say it is not enough. i can guarantee you, sir, under the articles of confederation there's no such caveat. this leads me finally to the final point i will make. we find a dichotomy on this issue, one which is often taken for granted. there is of course the institution of slavery which a great many gentlemen with pretty words may speak out against and then there's the painful racial prejudice. upon which these same gentlemen upon one side of their mouth will speak pretty words regarding the various injuries of humanity and yet upon the side of prejudice will speak a great many things to further disenfranchise and dehumanize a
people. this is my sentiment, mr. harris, if we end the institution of slavery what shall we do to fight that prejudice? >> another very important question, mr. madison, but sadly our time is drawing to a close. so at this juncture i'd like to give each of you the opportunity of what we in the law call a summation. so mr. mason, if you would would you please sum up your arguments or what you feel are the most important arguments in this debate? >> thank you, sir. the influence of the establishment now proposed of this constitution, the influence it may have upon the happiness or the misery of millions yet unborn is of such a magnitude as to absorb and suspend the principles of human
understanding we now hold in our hands to sign this document or to not sign, we have that happiness or misery upon the tip of our pens. it is my fear that too afraid are we of that former system that we may run too readily into a flawed or incomplete system. there are a great many points which mr. madison has made today while i agree with they do not go far enough. insisting upon its necessity is a work but is not done. it lacks to mean great aspects and contains too many dangerous seeds that the executive might grow to be overpowerful,
corrupt, that our congress has the seeds of a tyrannical aristocracy, that the judiciary may overshadow the individual states. and finally and most importantly, that it lacks a bill of rights means that the rights of the people are frankly not guaranteed. until they are i can never see myself putting my hand to such a document as i said in the convention i would sooner chop it off. than put it to this document as it now stands. >> thank you, sir. mr. madison, would you care to sum up? >> my worthy opponent is desirous of a complete system of government. and yet america finds itself an experiment, one which we must endeavor to perfect today to continue to perfect. should never be incomplete.
for indeed as soon as it should be, it should begin to die as generations progress beyond that. this constitution lows a people to perfect themselves, never to be perfect but to be more perfect. the final day of the convention dr. benjamin franklin, a man well regarded for his virtues and vices spoke, addressed to the whole of the body. he said in examining this constitution it has its faults. it is not perfect. but never to his eyes had he seen a system of government so little imperfect. he said all systems of government end in despotism. they end in such people become so unruly despotism is the sole form of government that can rule of them. he gestured to the chair president washington occupied. he gestured to me. he said he'd often looked at that chair to see if it was a
rising sun or a setting sun. he confided upon examining that constitution it is a rising sun. and that is where we find ourselves, ladies and gentlemen. fixed upon a new dawn of a day, well, that can go for good or for ill. yet a government will only ever be as good as its people. how dwoutly is it to be wished the public opinion of the united states should be enlightened. we might declare that all men are created equal. we might say all nations are be so and yet still we've seen slavery the common law of the human race. asleep they are surprised, ignorant they are deceived. divided they have had the yoke put upon them. here now we see the opportunity in this wondrous experimental time for a people to choose the former of those ideas to be together, to unify and every
instance to awaken. the happy union of these states is a wonder. this constitution a miracle. its example the hope of freedom and liberty throughout the world. >> thank you, mr. madison. and gentlemen, we must now draw to a close. but if i may observe i think there's one thing we're all agreed on that, that these are fundamental questions and that many of them will not be answered in 1788. in fact, i will predict that many of these same issues will be debated for many years to come. thank you very much for your legacy, for your efforts and for being with us here today. >> weeknights this month we're featuring american history tv programs as a preview of what's available every weekend on
c-span 3. former vice president and u.s. senator walter mondale died april 19th at the age of 93. tonight we start a night of programs featuring mr. mondale with a conversation from 2015 with former president jimmy carter. this was part of a tribute to mr. mondale. watch tonight beginning at 8:00 p.m. eastern and enjoy american history tv every weekend on c-span 3.
next on american history tv jeffrey rosen talks about james madison and democratic ideals. mr. rosen is president and ceo of the national constitution center in philadelphia. he argues in part that social media platforms work against the founding fathers core values, an intended cooling mechanisms on popular opinion. the james madison memorial fellowship foundation and the national constitution center co-hosted this event. it's an hour and 45 minutes. >> we welcome you to the james madison lecture, which our foundation sponsors ever year as seated in our seats today are 49 james plaidson fellows over here at georgetown jufrt studying the foundation of american constitutionalism. they're all high schoolea