Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787
by James Madison
Wednesday, May 30
Roger Sherman (from Connecticut) took his seat.
The House went into Committee of the Whole on the State of the Union. Mr. Gorham was elected to the Chair by Ballot.
The propositions of Mr. RANDOLPH which had been referred to the Committee being taken up. He moved on the suggestion of Mr. G. Morris, that the first of his propositions to wit “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 & general welfare:1 -should be postponed, in order to consider the 3 following:
1. that a Union of the States merely federal will not accomplish the objects proposed by the articles of Confederation, namely common defence, security of liberty, & genl. welfare.
2. that no treaty or treaties among the whole or part of the States, as individual Sovereignties, would be sufficient.
3. that a national Government ought to be established consisting of a supreme Legislative, Executive & Judiciary. The motion for postponing was seconded by Mr. Govr. MORRIS and unanimously agreed to.
Some verbal criticisms were raised agst. the first proposition, and it was agreed on motion of Mr. BUTLER seconded by Mr. RANDOLPH, to pass on to the third, which underwent a discussion, less however on its general merits than on the force and extent of the particular terms national & supreme.
Mr. CHARLES PINKNEY wished to know of Mr. Randolph whether he meant to abolish the State Governts. altogether. Mr. R. replied that he meant by these general propositions merely to introduce the particular ones which explained the outlines of the system he had in view.
Mr. BUTLER said he had not made up his mind on the subject, and was open to the light which discussion might throw on it. After some general observations he concluded with saying that he had opposed the grant of powers to Congs. heretofore, because the whole power was vested in one body. The proposed distribution of the powers into2 different bodies changed the case, and would induce him to go great lengths.
Genl. PINKNEY expressed a doubt whether the act of Congs. recommending the Convention, or the Commissions of the Deputies to it, could3 authorise a discussion of a System founded on different principles from the federal Constitution.
Mr. GERRY seemed to entertain the same doubt.
Mr. Govr. MORRIS explained the distinction between a federal and national, supreme, Govt.; the former being a mere compact resting on the good faith of the parties; the latter having a compleat and compulsive operation. He contended that in all Communities there must be one supreme power, and one only.
Mr. MASON observed that the present confederation was not only4 deficient in not providing for coercion & punishment agst. delinquent States; but argued very cogently that punishment could not in the nature of things be executed on the States collectively, and therefore that such a Govt. was necessary as could directly operate on individuals, and would punish those only whose guilt required it.
Mr. SHERMAN who took his seat today,5 admitted that the Confederation had not given sufficient power to Congs. and that additional powers were necessary; particularly that of raising money which he said would involve many other powers. He admitted also that the General & particular jurisdictions ought in no case to be concurrent. He seemed however not6 be disposed to make too great inroads on the existing system; intimating as one reason that it would be wrong to lose every amendment, by inserting such as would not be agreed to by the States.
It was moved by Mr. READ 7 2ded. by Mr. Chs. COTESWORTH PINKNEY, to postpone the 3d. proposition last offered by Mr. Randolph viz that a national Government ought to be established consisting of a supreme Legislative Executive and Judiciary,” in order to take up the following-viz. “Resolved that in order to carry into execution the Design of the States in forming this Convention, and to accomplish the objects proposed by the Confederation a more effective Government consisting of a Legislative, Executive and Judiciary ought to be established.”
The motion to postpone for this purpose was lost:
On the question as moved by Mr. Butler, on the third proposition it was resolved in Committee of the whole that a national governt. ought to be established consisting of a supreme Legislative Executive & Judiciary.” Massts. being ay-Connect.-no. N. York divided [ Col. Hamilton ay Mr. Yates no] Pena. ay. Delaware ay. Virga. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. ay.10
Resol: 2. of Mr. R’s proposition towit-see May 29.11 The following Resolution being the 2d. of those proposed by Mr. Randolph was taken up, viz-”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.”12
Mr. MADISON observing that the words “or to the number of free inhabitants,” might occasion debates which would divert the Committee from the general question whether the principle of representation should be changed, moved that they might be struck out.
Mr. KING observed that the quotas of contribution which would alone remain as the measure of representation, would not answer, because waving every other view of the matter, the revenue might hereafter be so collected by the general Govt. that the sums respectively drawn from the States would not appear; and would besides be continually varying.
Mr. MADISON admitted the propriety of the observation, and that some better rule ought to be found.
Col. HAMILTON moved to alter the resolution so as to read “that the rights of suffrage in the national Legislature ought to be proportioned to the number of free inhabitants. Mr. SPAIGHT 2ded. the motion. It was then moved that the Resolution be postponed, which was agreed to.
Mr. RANDOLPH and Mr. MADISON then moved the following resolution-”that the rights of suffrage in the national Legislature ought to be proportioned.” It was moved and 2ded. to amend it by adding “and not according to the present system”-which was agreed to. It was then moved and 2ded. to alter the resolution so as to read “that the rights of suffrage in the national Legislature ought not to be according to the present system.” It was then moved & 2ded. to postpone the Resolution moved by Mr. Randolph & Mr. Madison, which being agreed to:
Mr. MADISON, moved, in order to get over the difficulties, the following resolution-”that the equality of suffrage established by the Articles of Confederation ought not to prevail in the national Legislature, and that an equitable ratio of representation ought to be substituted.” This was 2ded. by Mr. Govr. MORRIS, and being generally relished, would have been agreed to; when,
Mr. REED moved that the whole clause relating to the point of Representation be postponed; reminding the Come. that the deputies from Delaware were restrained by their commission from assenting to any change of the rule of suffrage, and in case such a change should be fixed on, it might become their duty to retire from the Convention.
Mr. Govr. MORRIS observed that the valuable assistance of those members could not be lost without real concern, and that so early a proof of discord in the Convention as a secession of a State, would add much to the regret; that the change proposed was however so fundamental an article in a national Govt. that it could not be dispensed with.
Mr. MADISON observed that whatever reason might have existed for the equality of suffrage when the Union was a federal one among sovereign States, it must cease when a national Govermt. should be put into the place. In the former case, the acts of Congs. depended so much for their efficacy on the cooperation of the States, that these had a weight both within & without Congress, nearly in proportion to their extent and importance. In the latter case, as the acts of the Genl. Govt. would take effect without the intervention of the State legislatures, a vote from a small State wd. have the same efficacy & importance as a vote from a large one, and there was the same reason for different numbers of representatives from different States, as from Counties of different extents within particular States. He suggested as an expedient for at once taking the sense of the members on this point and saving the Delaware deputies from embarrassment, that the question should be taken in Committee, and the clause on report to the House be postponed without a question there. This however did not appear to satisfy Mr. Read. By several it was observed that no just construction of the Act of Delaware, could require or justify a secession of her deputies, even if the resolution were to be carried thro’ the House as well as the Committee. It was finally agreed however that the clause should be postponed: it being understood that in the event the proposed change of representation would certainly be agreed to, no objection or difficulty being started from any other quarter than from Delaware.
The motion of Mr. Read to postpone being agreed to, The Committee then rose. The Chairman reported progress, and the House having resolved to resume the subject in Committee tomorrow,
Adjourned to 10 OClock.
1 The resolution is italicized in the transcript. Return to text 2 The word “with” is substituted in the transcript for “into.” Return to text 3 The word “would” is substituted in the transcript for “could.” Return to text 4 The words “not only” are transposed in the transcript, which reads as follows: “Mr. Mason observed, not only that the present Confederation was deficient,” . . . Return to text 5 The phrase “who took his seat today” is omitted in the transcript. Return to text 6 The word “to” is here inserted in the transcript. Return to text 7 The word “and” is here inscrted in the transcript. Return to text 8 The word “Yeas” is omitted in the transcript and the word “aye” inserted before the figure “4.” Return to text 9 The word “Nays” is omitted in the transcript and word “no” inserted before the figure “4.” Return to text 10 In the transcript the vote reads: Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina aye-6; Connecticut, no-I; New York, divided (Colonel Hamilton, aye, Mr. Yates, No).” [Note E]11 Return to text 11 Madison’s direction is omitted in the transcript. Return to text 12 The resolution is italicized in the transcript. Return to text