Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787
by James Madison
Tuesday, May 291 John Dickinson, and Elbridge Gerry, the former from Delaware, the latter from Massts. took their seats. The following rules were added, on the report of Mr. Wythe from the Committee [see the Journal]- 2
Additional rules. [see preceding page]2 That no member be absent from the House, so as to interrupt the representation of the State, without leave.
That Committees do not sit whilst the House shall be or ought to be, sitting.
That no copy be taken of any entry on the journal during the sitting of the House without leave of the House.
That members only be permitted to inspect the journal.
That nothing spoken in the House be printed, or otherwise published or communicated without leave.
That a motion to reconsider a matter which had3 been determined by a majority, may be made, with leave unanimously given, on the same day on which the vote passed; but otherwise not without one day’s previous notice: in which last case, if the House agree to the reconsideration, some future day shall be assigned for the4 purpose.
Mr. C. PINKNEY moved that a Committee be appointed to superintend the Minutes.
Mr. Govr. MORRIS objected to it. The entry of the proceedings of the Convention belonged to the Secretary as their impartial officer. A committee might have an interest & bias in moulding the entry according to their opinions and wishes.
The motion was negatived, 5 noes, 4 ays.
Mr. RANDOLPH then opened the main business. [Here insert his speech5 including his resolutions.]6 (Mr. R. Speech A. to be inserted Tuesday May 29) 6He expressed his regret, that it should fall to him, rather than those, who were of longer standing in life and political experience, to open the great subject of their mission. But, as the convention had originated from Virginia, and his colleagues supposed that some proposition was expected from them, they had imposed this task on him. He then commented on the difficulty of the crisis, and the necessity of preventing the fulfilment of the prophecies of the American downfal. He observed that in revising the foederal system we ought to inquire 1. 7 into the properties, which such a government ought to possess, 2.7 the defects of the confederation, 3. 7 the danger of our situation & 4. 7 the remedy.
1. The Character of such a government ought to secure 1. 7 against foreign invasion: 2.7 against dissentions between members of the Union, or seditions in particular states: 3. 7 to procure to the several States, various blessings, of which an isolated situation was incapable: 4.7, 8 to be able to defend itself against incroachment: & 5.7 to be paramount to the state constitutions.
2. In speaking of the defects of the confederation he professed a high respect for its authors, and considered them, as having done all that patriots could do, in the then infancy of the science, of constitutions, & of confederacies,- when the inefficiency of requisitions was unknown-no commercial discord had arisen among any states-no rebellion had appeared as in Massts.-foreign debts had not become urgent-the havoc of paper money had not been foreseen-treaties had not been violated-and perhaps nothing better could be obtained from the jealousy of the states with regard to their sovereignty.
He then proceeded to enumerate the defects:
1. 9that the confederation produced no security against foreign invasion; congress not being permitted to prevent a war nor to support it by their own authority-Of this he cited many examples; most of which tended to shew, that they could not cause infractions of treaties or of the law of nations, to be punished: that particular states might by their conduct provoke war without controul; and that neither militia nor draughts being fit for defence on such occasions, inlistments only could be successful, and these could not be executed without money.
2. 9that the foederal government could not check the quarrels between states, nor a rebellion in any, not having constitutional power nor means to interpose according to the exigency: 3.9 that there were many advantages, which the U. S. might acquire, which were not attainable under the confederation-such as a productive impost- counteraction of the commercial regulations of other nations-pushing of commerce ad libitum-&c &c.
5. 9that it was not even paramount to the state constitutions, ratified, as it was in may of the states.
3. He next reviewed the danger of our situation,11 appealed to the sense of the best friends of the U. S.-the prospect of anarchy from the laxity of government every where; and to other considerations. He proposed as conformable to his ideas the following resolutions, which he explained one by one [Here insert ye Resolutions annexed.]12
1. Resolved that the Articles of Confederation ought to be so corrected & enlarged as to accomplish the objects proposed by their institution; namely, “common defence, security of liberty and general welfare.”
2. Resd. therefore that the rights of suffrage in the National Legislature ought to be proportioned to the Quotas of contribution, or to the number of free inhabitants, as the one or the other rule may seem best in different cases.
3. Resd. that the National Legislature ought to consist of two branches.
4. Resd. that the members of the first branch of the National Legislature ought to be elected by the people of the several States every —– for the term of —–; to be of the age of —– years at least, to receive liberal stipends by with they may be compensated for the devotion of their time to13 public service; to be ineligible to any office established by a particular State, or under the authority of the United States, except those peculiarly belonging to the functions of the first branch, during the term of service, and for the space of —– after its expiration; to be incapable of reelection for the space of —– after the expiration of their term of service, and to be subject to recall.
5. Resold. that the members of the second branch of the National Legislature ought to be elected by those of the first, out of a proper number of persons nominated by the individual Legislatures, to be of the age of —– years at least; to hold their offices for a term sufficient to ensure their independency;14 to receive liberal stipends, by which they may be compensated for the devotion of their time to15 public service; and to be ineligible to any office established by a particular State, or under the authority of the United States, except those peculiarly belonging to the functions of the second branch, during the term of service, and for the space of —– after the expiration thereof.
6. Resolved that each branch ought to possess the right of originating Acts; that the National Legislature ought to be impowered to enjoy the Legislative Rights vested in Congress by the Confederation & moreover to legislate in all cases to which the separate States are incompetent, or in which the harmony of the United States may be interrupted by the exercise of individual Legislation; to negative all laws passed by the several States, contravening in the opinion of the National Legislature the articles of Union;16 and to call forth the force of the Union agst. any member of the Union failing to fulfill its duty under the articles thereof.
7. Resd. that a National Executive be instituted; to be chosen by the National Legislature for the term of —– years,17 to receive punctually at stated times, a fixed compensation for the services rendered, in which no increase or18 diminution shall be made so as to affect the Magistracy, existing at the time of increase or diminution, and to be ineligible a second time; and that besides a general authority to execute the National laws, it ought to enjoy the Executive rights vested in Congress by the Confederation.
8. Resd. that the Executive and a convenient number of the National Judiciary, ought to compose a Council of revision with authority to examine every act of the National Legislature before it shall operate, & every act of a particular Legislature before a Negative thereon shall be final; and that the dissent of the said Council shall amount to a rejection, unless the Act of the National Legislature be again passed, or that of a particular Legislature be again negatived by —– of the members of each branch.
9. Resd. that a National Judiciary be established to consist of one or more supreme tribunals, and of inferior tribunals to be chosen by the National Legislature, to hold their offices during good behaviour; and to receive punctually at stated times fixed compensation for their services, in which no increase or diminution shall be made so as to affect the persons actually in office at the time of such increase or diminution. that the jurisdiction of the inferior tribunals shall be to hear & determine in the first instance, and of the supreme tribunal to hear and determine in the dernier resort, all piracies & felonies on the high seas, captures from an enemy; cases in which foreigners or citizens of other States applying to such jurisdictions may be interested, or which respect the collection of the National revenue; impeachments of any National officers, and questions which may involve the national peace and harmony.
10. Resolvd. that provision ought to be made for the admission of States lawfully arising within the limits of the United States, whether from a voluntary junction of Government & Territory or otherwise, with the consent of a number of voices in the National legislature less than the whole.
11. Resd. that a Republican Government & the territory of each State, except in the instance of a voluntary junction of Government & territory, ought to be guarantied by the United States to each State
12. Resd. that provision ought to be made for the continuance of Congress and their authorities and privileges, until a given day after the reform of the articles of Union shall be adopted, and for the completion of all their engagements.
13. Resd. that provision ought to be made for the amendment of the Articles of Union whensoever it shall seem necessary, and that the assent of the National Legislature ought not to be required thereto.
14. Resd. that the Legislative Executive & Judiciary powers within the several States ought to be bound by oath to support the articles of Union
15. Resd. that the amendments which shall be offered to the Confederation, by the Convention ought at a proper time, or times, after the approbation of Congress to be submitted to an assembly or assemblies of Representatives, recommended by the several Legislatures to be expressly chosen by the people, to consider & decide thereon.19
He concluded with an exhortation, not to suffer the present opportunity of establishing general peace, harmony, happiness and liberty in the U. S. to pass away unimproved.20 It was then Resolved – That the House will tomorrow resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole House to consider of the state of the American Union. – and that the propositions moved by Mr. Randolph be referred to the said Committee. It was then Resolved-That the House will tomorrow resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole House to consider of the state of the American Union. – and that the propositions moved by Mr. Randolph be referred to the said Committee.
Mr. CHARLES PINKNEY laid before the house the draught of a federal Government which he had prepared, to be agreed upon between the free and independent States of America.22 - Mr. P. plan23 ordered that the same be referred to the Committee of the Whole appointed to consider the state of the American Union.
1 The words “In convention” are here inserted in the transcript. Return to text 2 Madison’s directions “[see the Journal]-” and “[see preceding page]” are omitted in the transcript as are also the words “Additional rules.” Return to text 3 The word “has” is substituted in the transcript for “had.” Return to text 4 The word “that” is substituted in the transcript for “the.” Return to text 5 The speech is in Randolph’s handwriting. Return to text 6 Madison’s direction is omitted in the transcript. Return to text 7 The figures indicated by the reference mark 7 are changed in the transcript to “First,” “Secondly,” “Thirdly,” etc. Return to text 8 the words “it should” are here inserted in the transcript. Return to text 9 The figures indicated by the reference mark 9 are changed in the transcript to “First,” “Secondly,” etc. Return to text 10 The word “the” is crossed out in the transcript. Return to text 11 The word “and” is here inserted in the transcript. Return to text 12 This direction and the heading are omitted in the transcript. Return to text 13 The word “the” is here inserted in the transcript. Return to text 14 The word “independency” is changed to “independence” in the transcript. Return to text 15 The word “the” is here inserted in the transcript. Return to text 16 The phrase “of any treaty subsisting under the authority of the Union” is here added in the transcript. Return to text 17 The word “years” is omitted in the transcript. Return to text 18 The word “or” is changed to “nor” in the transcript. Return to text 19 The fifteen resolutions, constituting the “Virginia Plan,” are in Madison’s handwriting. Return to text 20 This Abstract of the speech was furnished to J. M. by Mr. Randolph and is in his handwriting.21 As a report of it from him had been relied on, it was omitted by J. M. Return to text 21 this sentence is omitted on the transcript. Return to text 22 Robert Yates, a delegate from New York, gives the following account of Pinckney’s motion: “Mr. C. Pinkney, a member from South-Carolina, then added, that he had reduced his ideas of a new government of to a system, which he read, and confessed that it was grounded on the same principle as of the above resolutions.” (Secret Proceedings of the Federal Convention (1821), p. 97.) Return to text 23 The words, “Mr. P. plan,” are omitted in the transcript, and what purports to be the plan itself is here inserted. Madison himself did not take a copy of the draft nor did Pinckney furnish him one, as he did a copy of his speech which he later delivered in the Convention and which is printed as a part of the debates (session of Monday, June 25). Many years later, in 1818, when John Quincy Adams, then Secretary of State, was preparing the Journal of the Convention for publication, he wrote to Pinckney, requesting a copy of his plan, and, in compliance with this request, Pinckey sent him what purported to be the draft, but which appears to have been a copy of the report of the Committee of Detail of August 6, 1787, with certain alterations and additions. The alleged draft and Pinckney’s letter transmitting it were written upon paper bearing the water-mark, “Russell & Co. 1797.” The Pinckney draft was not debated; it was neither used in the Committee of the Whole nor in the Convention. It was however referred to the Committee of Detail, which appears to have made some use of it, as extracts from it have been identified by J. Franklin Jameson and an outline of it discovered by Andrew C. McLaughlin, among the papers and in the handwriting of James Wilson, a delegate from Pennsylvania, deposited with the Pennsylvania Historial Society. Return to text