George Mason argues against the constitution (1787)


George Mason was a Virginian politician and, until the mid-1780s, a close friend and associate of George Washington. He attended the Philadelphia convention in 1787 but refused to sign the draft constitution, and later offered this series of objections to ratification:


“There is no Declaration of Rights, and the laws of the general government being paramount to the laws and constitution of the several States, the Declarations of Rights in the separate States are no security. Nor are the people secured even in the enjoyment of the benefit of the common law.

In the House of Representatives there is not the substance but the shadow only of representation, which can never produce proper information in the legislature or inspire confidence in the people; the laws will therefore be generally made by men little concerned [with] their effects and consequences.

The Senate has the power of altering all money bills and of originating appropriations of money, and the salaries of the officers of their own appointment, in conjunction with the president of the United States, although they are not the representatives of the people or amenable to them…

The judiciary of the United States is so constructed and extended as to absorb and destroy the judiciaries of the several States…and enabling the rich to oppress and ruin the poor.

The President of the United States has no constitutional council [cabinet], a thing unknown in any safe and regular government. He will therefore be unsupported by proper information and advice, and will generally be directed by minions and favourites… 

The President… has the unrestrained power of granting pardons for treason, which may be sometimes exercised to screen from punishment those whom he had secretly instigated to commit the crime, and thereby prevent a discovery of his own guilt…

The Congress may grant monopolies in trade and commerce, constitute new crimes, inflict unusual and severe punishments, and extend their powers as far as they shall think proper; so that the State legislatures have no security for the powers now presumed to remain to them, or the people for their rights.

There is no declaration of any kind for preserving the liberty of the press, or the trial by jury in civil causes; nor against the danger of standing armies in time of peace.

The State legislatures are restrained from laying export duties on their own produce…

The general legislature is restrained from prohibiting the further importation of slaves for twenty odd years; though such importations render the United States weaker, more vulnerable and less capable of defence.

This government will set out [establish] a moderate aristocracy: it is at present impossible to foresee whether it will, in its operation, produce a monarchy or a corrupt, tyrannical aristocracy; it will most probably vibrate some years between the two and then terminate in the one or the other.”

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