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WHAT can a history of the Constitution do toward interpreting its provisions? This must be done by comparing the plain import of the words with the general tenor and object of the instrument. The instrument was written by the fingers which write this letter. Having rejected redundant and equivocal terms, I believed it to be as clear as our language would permit; excepting, nevertheless, a part of what relates to the judiciary. On that subject conflicting opinions had been maintained with so much professional acuteness, that it became necessary to select phrases which, expressing my own notions, would not alarm others nor shock their self-love; and, to the best of my recollection, this was the only part which passed without cavil. But, after all, what does it signify that men should have a written Constitution containing unequivocal provisions and limitations? The legislative lion will not be entangled in the meshes of a logical net.
The Legistature will always make the power which it wishes to exercise, unless it be so organized as to contain within itself the sufficient check. Attempts to restrain it from outrage will only render it more outrageous. The idea of binding legislators by oaths is puerile. Having sworn to exercise the powers granted according to their true intent and meaning, they will, when they desire to go further, avoid the shame if not the guilt of perjury, by swearing the true intent and meaning to be, according to their comprehension, that which suits their purpose.— Gouverneur Morris to Timothy Pickering.
NoTE.—On the 6th of August, 1787, the committee of five submitted the draft of a Constitution. The preamble read, “We the people of the States of New Hampshire, Massachusetts,” etc., seriatim. That was accepted unanimously, and the Convention passed to and upon each other article. The number of States needed to ratify and make the Constitution a government between them was then fixed at nine. The draft when amended was sent to a committee of revision and style. As only nine States were needed to establish the Constitution, and as which nine could not be guessed, the enumeration of States was no longer possible; therefore, the “We,” signifying several, and “people,” being either plural or singular, the signification of the preamble first accepted and that subsequently accepted was to the minds of men at that period identical. Therefore the objection of Henry was treated as too trivial for argument. His political sagacity was awake to the possibility of the preamble being misrepresented, and dreaded the result.