Log In Register

Source & Citation Info

title:“James Wilson in the Pennsylvania Convention”
authors:James Wilson
date written:1787-12-7

permanent link
to this version:
last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 7:56 a.m. UTC
retrieved:July 17, 2018, 3:51 a.m. UTC

Wilson, James. "James Wilson in the Pennsylvania Convention." The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787. Vol. 3. Ed. Max Farrand. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1911. Print.

James Wilson in the Pennsylvania Convention (December 7, 1787)

December 7, 1787
. . . I shall beg leave to premise one remark, that the convention, when they formed this system, did not expect they were to deliver themselves, their relations and their posterity, into the hands of such men as are described by the honorable gentlemen in opposition. They did not suppose that the legislature, under this constitution, would be an association of demons. They thought that a proper attention would be given by the citizens of the United States, at the general election, for members to the House of Representatives; they also believed that the particular states would nominate as good men as they have heretofore done, to represent them in the Senate. . . .
The Convention thought further (for on this very subject, there will appear caution, instead of imprudence, in their transactions) they considered, that if suspicions are to be entertained, they are to be entertained with regard to the objects in which government have separate interests and separate views from the interests and views of the people. To say that officers of government will oppress, when nothing can be got by oppression, is making an inference, bad as human nature is, that cannot be allowed. . . .
Whenever the general government can be a party against a citizen, the trial is guarded and secured in the constitution itself, and therefore it is not in its power to oppress the citizen. In the case of treason, for example, though the prosecution is on the part of the United States, yet the Congress can neither define nor try the crime. If we have recourse to the history of the different governments that have hitherto subsisted, we shall find that a very great part of their tyranny over the people has arisen from the extension of the definition of treason. . . .
. . . Sensible of this, the Convention has guarded the people against it, by a particular and accurate definition of treason.
It is very true that trial by jury is not mentioned in civil cases; but I take it, that it is very improper to infer from hence, that it was not meant to exist under this government. Where the people are represented — where the interest of government cannot be separate from that of the people, (and this is the case in trial between citizen and citizen) the power of making regulations with respect to the mode of trial, may certainly be placed in the legislature; for I apprehend that the legislature will not do wrong in an instance from which they can derive no advantage. These were not all the reasons that influenced the convention to leave it to the future Congress to make regulations on this head.
By the constitution of the different States, it will be found that no particular mode of trial by jury could be discovered that would suit them all. The manner of summoning jurors, their qualifications, of whom they should consist, and the course of their proceedings, are all different, in the different States; and I presume it will be allowed a good general principle, that in carrying into effect the laws of the general government by the judicial department, it will be proper to make the regulations as agreeable to the habits and wishes of the particular States as possible; and it is easily discovered that it would have been impracticable, by any general regulation, to have given satisfaction to all. We must have thwarted the custom of eleven or twelve to have accommodated any one. Why do this, when there was no danger to be apprehended from the omission? We could not go into a particular detail of the manner that would have suited each State.
Time, reflection, and experience, will be necessary to suggest and mature the proper regulations on this subject; time and experience were not possessed by the convention; they left it therefore to be particularly organized by the legislature — the representatives of the United States — from time to time, as should be most eligible and proper.

Resource Metadata






Annotations (0)