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of the legislature, unless, upon petitions signed by citizens of the commonwealth, in number not less than one-twentieth of the number of votes which shall have been polled for governor at the then next preceding election."
Mr. MERRILL said it did not appear to him to be desirable that the amendment should be proposed and acted on in the legislature in the first instance. If there was any thing wrong in the making of the new constitution, the people would find it out. He was not willing that the time of the legislature should be spent on the subject. Yesterday he had thought that one-tenth of the number of votes was not too many to induce the action of the legislature on the subject of amendments, but as that might amount to twenty thousand persons, he believed it might be too numerous : and as this was the opinion of other gentlemen, he had modified his aumendment so as to make about ten thousand petitioners a sfficient Qumber.
It had been alleged that this number was too small, and that it might be obtained from some corner of the state on a subject, in which all the other parts of the state felt no interest. But this was only a preliminary measure. If any provision of the constitution operated with peculiar hardship on any portion of the state, although it might be local, it ought to be taken into consideration. A single member of the legislature, as the report now stands, may bring forward measures to consume the time of that body, and although he may be voted down, he can renew them! A great portion of time may thus be consumed anprofitably ; while the petitions of the people would be properly attended to. He was of opina ion that amendments should not be too easily adopted. His object was to prevent the adoption of such as are not proper.
Mr. Read, of Susquehanna, moved to amend the amendment, by inser ting the words “ three thousand" before the word “ citizens” in the third line, and by striking out all the words, after the word “ commonwealth,” so that the amendment may read as follows, viz :
“ Provided that no much amendment shall be considered in either branch of the legislature, unless upon petitions signed by three thousand citizens of this commonwealth.”
Mr. Earle, of Philadelphia county, expressed a hope that nothing of the kind would be adopted. He should vote in favor of the amendment of the gentleman from Susquehanna, and then he should vote against the whole proposition. This new article, the gentleman from Union, thought would lead to the useless consumption of the time of the legislature, because any one member could bring forward measures. If that gentleman knew the rules of the legislature, he must know that a majority would not permit time to be wasted upon a subject which was of no importance. Let the gentleman look at the history of England. A single act of parliament may alter the course taken there, yet the government remain stable. New Jersey allows her legislature to alter the constitution of that state. It has been altered twice by the act of the legislature, and that body can make any further changes at pleasure. In Maryland, every danger is obviated by the sanction which is required of the people to any act of the legislature, by which a change in the constitution is proposed.
The great difficulty was, in getting the legislature to make any reform,
when it was desired. In the state of Georgia, he thought, the two houses may alter the constitution, without a vote of the people. And, no evils had arisen, in any of the instances he had mentioned. What, he asked, was our own experience ? Had not the people been urging, for the last twenty years, an alteration of the constitution of Pennsylvania ? But, while they had done this, it was in a cool and temperate manner, and not from a disposition for change. On the contrary, they had shown great forbearance under the evils they were suffering, in consequence of the defects in the constitution.
There had been but one legislature in thirty years that had afforded the people an opportunity of obtaining an alteration of their constitution. The circumstances and manner under which the work of revising and reforming the fundamental law of the state had been commenced, were entirely different from those of former times. We had been infinitely more cautious and particular in carrying on this great and important work than any of our predecessors had been. In 1776, the constitution was made voluntarily, and it went into operation without ever being submitted to the people. And the last constitution was made by a single house. Here we were met in convention-sitting as one body, and acting with an esprit
But this would not be the case in reference to the proposition of the gentleman from Union, (Mr. Merrill.) In order that any amend. ment may be made to the constitution, according to the mode proposed by the gentleman, it would be necessary that it must pass four legislative bodies—wo senates and two houses of representatives, it will run two chances of disagreement between the houses and senate, and must then pass a vote of the people. There is no danger in the mode proposed by ihe committee, which leaves seven chances of defeat for every amendment.
He thought the amendment of the gentleman from Union, would be productive of very great inconvenience. It was exceedingly troublesome io carry petitions round for signatures; people attend to their own interest before the public interest.
He was sure the gentleman from Union, would not go about his connty and collect signatures. What is every body's business, is no body's business. Every man would put off other business until he had done his
He (Mr. E.) was of opinion that young and inexperienced members could not-as was thought by the delegate from Union-make the legislature consider their propositions, unless they were deemed worthy of consideration. Hence they could not waste ihe time of that body against its will.
Mr. SHELLITO, of Crawford, thought the convention should be cautious in regard to giving power to the legislature on this subject. If the people wanted any thing, they would find out ways and means to obtain it. He wanted a law to be general, and not made to apply to the eily or county.
Mr. HAYAURST, of Columbia, said that the gentleman from the county, of Philadelphia, had remarked that the amendment which was offered yesterday, was something new, but the one proposed to-day by the genileman from Union, was something newer still. He (Mr. H.) look the contrary position. He preferred the amendment of the delegate (Mr. Merrill) to the other, because it would render the doors of the legislature
less accessible to those men whom it was desirable to keep out of the legislature. He very much doubted the propriety of holding out an opportunity to every disappointed politician to unsettle and disturb the good people of this commonwealth with propositions to amend their fundamenial law.
He held the very elements of democracy to consist in that which keeps the government among the people, and frequent and extravagant alterations in its laws tend only to remove it further from their view. If the father of his country ever made a true remark, it was when he said that perpetual innovation would work the destruction of the republic. He (Mr. H.) was for dividing the government among the people according to the true democratic principle. Had we not, he asked, the fact recorded in history of republics being overthrown in consequence of the constant introduction of innovations and changes in the government? The experience of all ages had shown most conclusively that this constant desire of change makes the destruction of a government.
Now, the gentleman from the county of Philadelphia, objected to introducing the pre-requisite of petition, on the ground that it was calculated to defeat a project to change the constitution. He, however, was mistaken in this : it would do no such thing. If the people desire to change their fundamental law-finding that there are defects in it—that it is vibrating from side to side—thore would be no difficulty in getting one-twentieth of the people to petition. He wished the basis of our government to be settled and firm, and not to be continually disturbed by the breath of faction flowing from the parted lips of demagogues and disappointed politicians.
And, he was in favor of leaving the constitution within the reach of the people—that they niay make amendments to it--without the form of calling another convention. But, as he had already intimated, he was not willing to leave the political pendulum to be set in motion by the breath of every political leader. He wanted the government to be that of the people--that they should have it in their own hands--and that they should not be deprived of the management and control of it by the leaders of a political faction.
Was there, he asked, any danger in this ? Could any possible inconvenience arise from it? Now, is those who complain that There are evils in the constitution, and from which they say they are suffering, cannot bring one-twentieth of the ople to support their complaint, is it rational to believe that it is well founded ? Every one knew that nothing was more easy than to obtain signatures to petitions, so that if the people really did desire amendments they could get them with great facility.
Was not the chance too great of unsettling the government, even where one in twenty petition for an alteration of the constitution ! The pre-requisite number of pesitioners being obtained, the proposed amendments would be considered by the legislature, and then submitted to the people for their decision. If one man out of twenty could not be found to sign a petition for amendments, was it at all likely that two out of twenty could be found to vote for amendments, suggested by the legislature ? He thought not. He was in favor of the amendment proposed by the gentle. man from Susquehanna, (Mr. Read) if nothing better could be obtained, though he was decidedly of the opinion that there would be much
more stability in our institutions by requiring a greater number of petitioners to authorize the submitting of amendments to the people.
As the gentleman from the county of Philadelphia was an advocate for voting for things that were new, he (Mr. H.) would advise him to give his support to the amendment offered by the gentleman from Union. He regarded it as infinitely preferable to the report of the committee, because it was much further removed from the rock of danger. He thought there was more safety in acting on the expressed will of the people, by their petitions, than in vesting two successive legislatures with power to propose and submit amendments to the people. He desired to prevent the perpetual agitation of propositions, in the legislature, to alter the constition of the state.
He wished to give no opportunity to unprincipled politicians and demagogues to unsettle and shake the stability of the republic. It was not only im politic but dangerous to the prosperity and welfare of the state to be eternally mooting and proposing changes in its fundamental law. As in material, so in the corporeal capacity, every thing tends to decompo. sition, hence, therefore, the necessity of laying such a restriction on the disposition to change, as would prevent the indulgence of it. Let us interpose a barrier between the instability of demagogues and the stability of our institutions.
Let us then adopt the amendment of the delegate from Vnion, which fixes a ratio, not a specific number, to authorize the legislature to make and submit amendments to the people. This amendment would, in his opinion, provide an easy and accessible mode to the people, to amend their constitution when they should find that it did not work well. If this amendment had been a law of the state at the time this convention was called, it would have been much easier to have got ten thousand signers to petitions than to have obtained two votes for the call of a convention. Mr. H. concluded by expressing his hope that the amendment would be adopted.
Mr. MERRILL, of Union, said that for the first time since he became a member of this convention, he should now offer an argument ad hominem. The gentleman from the county of Philapelphin, (Mr. Earle) was entirely mistaken in the views he had taken of the operatian of the amendment he (Mr. M.) had offered, and he thought that every gentleman must see how fallacions was the argument he had held in respect to it. With regard to the aniendment of the delegate from Susquehanna, to his (Mr. M's.) proposition, he would remark that it was immaterial to him, (Mr. M.) what the number of signers fixed upon should be.
But he would put it to the gentleman whether a ratio of three thousand - admitting it to be large enough for the present-would not be too small in a few years when our population would have become much greater. If the gentleman thought the number he (Mr. M.) had stated in his amendment too large, he would thank him to state wliat number would be better.
Mr. Fuller, of Fayette, said that he had suggested, yesterday, a proposition that it would be better that the legislature should submit to the people but one amendment at a time. He believed that a provision of this character would be a check on the too frequent disposition to offer amend
ments, and would operate to the convenience and satisfaction of the people. Having reflected on the subject since, the thought had struck him that the adoption of one amendment would render it necessary to add one also to another section. No doubt, however, could be entertained that some check was necessary. He was decidedly of the opinion that frequent changes in the fundamental law of a people had a strong tendency to destroy it.
The proposition now before the convention, appeared to him to be too loose and unguarded to effect the object in view. And, the amendment proposed to it by the gentleman from Susquehanna, (Mr. Read) he thought amounted to nothing. What signified three thousand signatures! Why they could be had in any one county of the state. We all knew, as had already been remarked, how easy it was to obtain signatures to petitions. He, theresere, could not regard such a ratio as that, as any restraint upon the making of unnecessary amendments. The amendment offered by the gentleman from Union, (Mr. Merrill) was much more plausible. Now, the object in view, was not to prevent the people from adopting or rejecting the amendments that might be submitted to them ; but it was to prevent the legislature from being harrassed, session after session, with unnecessary propositions. For there could be no doubt that a portion of the people, perhaps a very sma!l minority, would be continu: ally making applications to the legislature for amendments, and thus take up their time very unprofitably. He wished to exempt the majority of the people from any annoyance which must necessarily result from the adopof any such proposition as this. His opinion was, that the number of taxables, as proposed by the gentleman from Union, was not sufficient to authorizc the legislature to propose and submit amendments to the people.
Now, the question which presented itself was, whether ten thousand taxables, or voters, should be privileged to memorialize the legislature, and keep them session after session acting on the subject, while nineteen twentieths are opposed to any change whatever in the constitution. If it was said that the people of this commonwealth had lived fifty years under the existing constitution, without any amendment having been made to it, the fact should not be forgotten, that there was no mode pro. vided by it for amending it, and that the legislature, before passing an act 10 call this convention iogether, had taken upon themselves the responsibility of recommending to the people the propriety of amending their constitution.
The case, however, would be different under the new constitution. As he had already said, if either of the amendments now before the convention should be adopted, the result would be that a large portion of the time of the legislature would be uselessly taken up. It appeared to him that if the delegate from Union, would modify his amendment so as to read twenty thousand, the number would not be too many. He thought it only fair and reasonable that nine-tenths of the people should be pro tected from this harasing process.
[Here Mr. MERRILL observed that if the amendment of the gentleman from Susquehanna, should not prevail, he would modify his ataendment.]