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Agrippa 6 - December 14, 1787 - The Power to Incorporate and Regulation of Commerce

Written by James Winthrop

14 December 1787

To the People.

To prevent any mistakes, or misapprehensions of the argument, stated in my last paper, to prove that the proposed constitution is an actual consolidation of the separate states into one extensive commonwealth, the reader is desired to observe, that in the course of the argument, the new plan is considered as an intire system. It is not dependent on any other book for an explanation, and contains no references to any other book. All the defences of it, therefore, so far as they are drawn from the state constitutions, or from maxims of the common law, are foreign to the purpose. It is only by comparing the different parts of it together, that the meaning of the whole is to be understood. For instance—

We find in it, that there is to be a legislative assembly, with authority to constitute courts for the trial of all kinds of civil causes, between citizens of different states. The right to appoint such courts necessarily involves in it the right of defining their powers, and determining the rules by which their judgment shall be regulated; and the grant of the former of those rights is nugatory without the latter. It is vain to tell us, that a maxim of common law requires contracts to be determined by the law existing where the contract was made: for it is also a maxim, that the legislature has a right to alter the common law. Such a power forms an essential part of legislation. Here, then a declaration of rights is of inestimable value. It contains those principles which the government never can invade without an open violation of the compact between them and the citizens. Such a declaration ought to have come to the new constitution in favour of the legislative rights of the several states, by which their sovereignty over their own citizens within the state should be secured. Without such an express declaration the states are annihilated in reality upon receiving this constitution—the forms will be preserved only during the pleasure of Congress.

The idea of consolidation is further kept up in the right given to regulate trade. Though this power under certain limitations would be a proper one for the department of Congress; it is in this system carried much too far, and much farther than is necessary. This is, without exception, the most commercial state upon the continent. Our extensive coasts, cold climate, small estates, and equality of rights, with a variety of subordinate and concurring circumstances, place us in this respect at the head of the union. We must, therefore, be indulged if a point which so nearly relates to our welfare be rigidly examined. The new constitution not only prohibits vessels, bound from one state to another, from paying any duties, but even from entering and clearing. The only use of such a regulation is, to keep each state in complete ignorance of its own resources. It certainly is no hardship to enter and clear at the custom house, and the expense is too small to be an object.

The unlimitted right to regulate trade includes the right of granting exclusive charters. This, in all old countries, is considered as one principal branch of prerogative. We find hardly a country in Europe which has not felt the ill effects of such a power. Holland has carried the exercise of it farther than any other state; and the reason why that country has felt less evil from it is, that the territory is very small, and they have drawn large revenues from their colonies in the East and West Indies. In this respect, the whole country is to be considered as a trading company, having exclusive privileges. The colonies are large in proportion to the parent state; so that, upon the whole, the latter may gain by such a system. We are also to take into consideration the industry which the genius of a free government inspires. But in the British islands all these circumstances together have not prevented them from being injured by the monopolies created there. Individuals have been enriched, but the country at large has been hurt. Some valuable branches of trade being granted to companies, who transact their business in London, that city is, perhaps, the place of the greatest trade in the world. But Ireland, under such influence, suffers exceedingly, and is impoverished; and Scotland is a mere bye-word. Bristol, the second city in England, ranks not much above this town in population. These things must be accounted for by the incorporation of trading companies; and if they are felt so severely in countries of small extent, they will operate with tenfold severity upon us, who inhabit an immense tract; and living towards one extreme of an extensive empire, shall feel the evil, without retaining that influence in government, which may enable us to procure redress. There ought, then, to have been inserted a restraining clause which might prevent the Congress from making any such grant, because they consequentially defeat the trade of the out-ports, and are also injurious to the general commerce, by enhancing prices and destroying that rivalship which is the great stimulus to industry.