most shamefully robbed: our state sheriffs, those unfeeling blood-suckers, have, under the watchful eye of our legislature, committed the most horrid and barbarous ravages on our people. It has required the most constant vigilance of the legislature to keep them from totally ruining the people; a repeated succession of laws has been made to suppress their iniquitous speculations and cruel extortions; and as often has their nefarious ingenuity devised methods of evading the force of those laws: in the struggle they have generally triumphed over the legislature.
It is a fact that lands have been sold for five shillings, which were worth one hundred pounds: if sheriffs, thus immediately under the eye of our state legislature and judiciary, have dared to commit these outrages, what would they not have done if their masters had been at Philadelphia or New York? If they perpetrate the most unwarrantable outrage on your person or property, you cannot get redress on this side of Philadelphia or New York; and how can you get it there? If your domestic avocations could permit you to go thither, there you must appeal to judges sworn to support this Constitution, in opposition to that of any state, and who may also be inclined to favor their own officers. When these harpies are aided by excisemen, who may search, at any time, your houses, and most secret recesses, will the people bear it? If you think so, you differ from me. Where I thought there was a possibility of such mischiefs, I would grant power with a niggardly hand; and here there is a strong probability that these oppressions shall actually happen. I may be told that it is safe to err on that side, because such regulations may be made by Congress as shall restrain these officers, and because laws are made by our representatives, and judged by righteous judges: but, sir, as these regulations may be made, so they may not; and many reasons there are to induce a belief that they will not. I shall therefore be an infidel on that point till the day of my death.
FEDERAL TAXING POWER MUST BE RESTRAINED
George Mason, author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, and major architect of the Virginia Constitution of 1776, epitomized and "in some sense anticipated" the philosophy of Jeffersonian liberalism. He opposed the Constitution because "it lacked the sort of guarantees of individual freedom which he had set forth in his Declaration of Rights; and also that it went further than was necessary toward centralization, thus endangering local rights and liberties." (From the Foreward by Dumas Malone in Robert Rutland , George Mason, Reluctant Statesman, Williamsburg, 1961, pp. x-xi.)
The following essay is excerpted from a speech by Mason before the Virginia ratifying convention, June 4, 1788, reprinted in Elliot, 111, 29-31, 34. The constitutional provisions regarding direct taxation by the federal government, Mason argued, were of the "utmost consequence" to all Americans. For being unrestrained, the taxing power "must carry every thing before it."