Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787

by James Madison


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Saturday, June 2

 William Samuel Johnson, from Connecticut,  Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer, from Maryland, and John Lansing, Jun., from New York, took their seats.

In Committee of the Whole, — It was moved and seconded to postpone the Resolutions of  Mr. Randolph respecting the Executive, in order to take up the second branch of the Legislature; which being negatived, — by Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia — 7; against New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland — 3; the mode of appointing the Executive was resumed.

Mr. Wilson made the following motion, to be substituted for the mode proposed by Mr. Randolph’s Resolution, “that the executive magistracy shall be elected in the following manner: That the States be divided into — districts and that the persons qualified to vote in each district for members of the first branch of the National Legislature elect — members for their respective districts to be electors of the executive magistracy; that the said electors of the executive magistracy meet at —, and they, or any — of them, so met, shall proceed to elect by ballot, but not out of their own body, — person — in whom the executive authority of the National Government shall be vested.”

Mr. Wilson repeated his arguments in favor of an election without the intervention of the States. He supposed, too, that this mode would produce more confidence among the people in the first magistrate, than an election by the National Legislature.

Mr. Gerry opposed the election by the National Legislature. There would be a constant intrigue kept up for the appointment. The Legislature and the candidates would bargain and play into one another’s hands. Votes would be given by the former under promises or expectations from the latter, of recompensing them by services to members of the legislature or their friends. He liked the principle of Mr. Wilson’s motion, but fears it would alarm and give a handle to the State partizans, as tending to supersede altogether the State authorities. He thought the community not yet ripe for stripping the States of their powers, even such as might not be requisite for local purposes. He was for waiting till the people should feel more the necessity of it. He seemed to prefer the taking the suffrages of the States, instead of electors; or letting the Legislatures nominate, and the electors appoint. He was not clear that the people ought to act directly even in the choice of electors, being too little informed of personal characters in large districts, and liable to deceptions.

Mr. Williamson could see no advantage in the introduction of electors chosen by the people, who would stand in the same relation to them as the State Legislatures; whilst the expedient would be attended with great trouble and expense.On the question for agreeing to Mr. Wilson’s substitute, it was negatived, — Pennsylvania, Maryland, aye — 2; Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York1, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no — 8.

On the question, for electing the Executive, by the National Legislature, for the term of seven years, it was agreed to, — Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye — 8; Pennsylvania, Maryland, no — 2.

Doctor Franklin moved, that what related to the compensation for the services of the Executive be postponed, in order to substitute, “whose necessary expenses shall be defrayed, but who shall receive no salary, stipend, fee, or reward whatsoever for their services.” He said, that, being very sensible of the effect of age on his memory, he had been unwilling to trust to that for the observations which seemed to support his motion, and had reduced them to writing, that he might, with the permission of the committee, read, instead of speaking, them. Mr. Wilson made an offer to read the paper, which was accepted. The following is a literal copy of the paper:

“Sir, It is with reluctance that I rise to express a disapprobation of any one article of the plan for which we are so much obliged to the honorable gentleman who laid it before us. From its first reading I have borne a good will to it, and in general wished it success. In this particular of salaries to the Executive branch, I happen to differ; and as my opinion may appear new and chimerical, it is only from a persuasion that it is right, and from a sense of duty, that I hazard it. The Committee will judge of my reasons when they have heard them, and their judgment may possibly change mine. I think I see inconveniences in the appointment of salaries; I see none in refusing them, but, on the contrary, great advantages.

“Sir, there are two passions which have a powerful influence on the affairs of men. These are ambition and avarice; the love of power, and the love of money. Separately, each of these has great force in prompting men to action; but when united in view of the same object, they have in many minds the most violent effects. Place before the eyes of such men a post of honor, that shall be at the same time a place of profit, and they will move heaven and earth to obtain it. The vast number of such places it is that renders the British government so tempestuous. The struggles for them are the true sources of all those factions, which are perpetually dividing the nation, distracting its councils, hurrying sometimes into fruitless and mischievous wars, and often compelling a submission to dishonorable terms of peace.

“And of what kind are the men that will strive for this profitable pre-eminence, through all the bustle of cabal, the heat of contention, the infinite mutual abuse of parties, tearing to pieces the best of characters? It will not be the wise and moderate, the lovers of peace and good order, the men fittest for the trust. It will be the bold and the violent, the men of strong passions and indefatigable activity in their selfish pursuits. These will thrust themselves into your government, and be your rulers. And these, too, will be mistaken in the expected happiness of their situation: for their vanquished competitors, of the same spirit, and from the same motives, will perpetually be endeavoring to distress their administration, thwart their measures, and render them odious to the people.

“Besides these evils, Sir, though we may set out in the beginning with moderate salaries, we shall find that such will not be of long continuance. Reasons will never be wanting for proposed augmentations. And there will always be a party for giving more to the rulers, that the rulers may be able in return to give more to them. Hence, as all history informs us, there has been in every state and kingdom a constant kind of warfare between the governing and governed, the one striving to obtain more for its support, and the other to pay less. And this has alone occasioned great convulsions, actual civil wars, ending either in dethroning of the princes, or enslaving of the people. Generally, indeed, the ruling power carries its point, the revenues of princes constantly increasing; and we see that they are never satisfied, but always in want of more. The more the people are discontented with the oppression of taxes, the greater need the prince has of money to distribute among his partizans, and pay the troops that are to suppress all resistance, and enable him to plunder at pleasure. There is scarce a king in an hundred, who would not, if he could, follow the example of Pharaoh, get first all the people’s money, then all their lands, and then make them and their children servants for ever. It will be said, that we don’t propose to establish kings. I know it: but there is a natural inclination in mankind to kingly government. It sometimes relieves them from aristocratic domination. They had rather have one tyrant than five hundred. It gives more of the appearance of equality among citizens, and that they like. I am apprehensive, therefore, perhaps too apprehensive, that the government of these States may in future times end in a monarchy. But this catastrophe I think may be long delayed, if in our proposed system we do not sow the seeds of contention, faction, and tumult, by making our posts of honor, places of profit. If we do, I fear that, though we do employ at first a number, and not a single person, the number will in time be set aside; it will only nourish the fœtus of a king, as the honorable gentleman from Virginia very aptly expressed it, and a king will the sooner be set over us.

“It may be imagined by some that this is an Utopian idea, and that we can never find men to serve us in the Executive department without paying them well for their services. I conceive this to be a mistake. Some existing facts present themselves to me, which incline me to a contrary opinion. The high-sheriff of a county in England is an honorable office, but it is not a profitable one. It is rather expensive and therefore not sought for. But yet, it is executed and well executed, and usually by some of the principal gentlemen of the county. In France, the office of Counsellor, or member of their judiciary parliament, is more honorable. It is therefore purchased at a high price: there are indeed fees on the law proceedings, which are divided among them, but these fees do not amount to more than three per cent on the sum paid for the place. Therefore, as legal interest is there at five per cent, they in fact pay two per cent for being allowed to do the judiciary business of the nation, which is at the same time entirely exempt from the burden of paying them any salaries for their services. I do not, however, mean to recommend this as an eligible mode for our Judiciary department. I only bring the instance to show, that the pleasure of doing good and serving their country, and the respect such conduct entitles them to, are sufficient motives with some minds to give up a great portion of their time to the public, without the mean inducement of pecuniary satisfaction.

“Another instance is that of a respectable society who have made the experiment, and practised it with success more than one hundred years. I mean the Quakers. It is an established rule with them, that they are not to go to law; but in their controversies they must apply to their monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings. Committees of these sit with patience to hear the parties, and spend much time in composing their differences. In doing this, they are supported by a sense of duty, and the respect paid to usefulness. It is honorable to be so employed, but it is never made profitable by salaries, fees or perquisites. And, indeed, in all cases of public service, the less the profit the greater the honor.

“To bring the matter nearer home, have we not seen the greatest and most important of our offices, that of General of our armies, executed for eight years together without the smallest salary, by a patriot whom I will not now offend by any other praise; and this, through fatigues and distresses, in common with the other brave men, his military friends and companions, and the constant anxieties peculiar to his station? And shall we doubt finding three or four men in all the United States, with public spirit enough to bear sitting in peaceful council for perhaps an equal term, merely to preside over our civil concerns, and see that our laws are duly executed? Sir, I have a better opinion of our country. I think we shall never be without a sufficient number of wise and good men to undertake and execute well and faithfully the office in question.

“Sir, the saving of the salaries that may at first be proposed is not an object with me. The subsequent mischiefs of proposing them are what I apprehend. And therefore it is, that I move the amendment. If it is not seconded or accepted, I must be contented with the satisfaction of having delivered my opinion frankly and done my duty.”

The motion was seconded by Col. Hamilton, with the view, he said, merely of bringing so respectable a proposition before the Committee, and which was besides enforced by arguments that had a certain degree of weight. No debate ensued, and the proposition was postponed for the consideration of the members. It was treated with great respect, but rather for the author of it than from any apparent conviction of its expediency or practicability.

Mr. Dickinson moved, “that the Executive be made removable by the National Legislature, on the request of a majority of the Legislatures of individual States.” It was necessary, he said, to place the power of removing somewhere. He did not like the plan of impeaching the great officers of state. He did not know how provision could be made for removal of them in a better mode than that which he had proposed. He had no idea of abolishing the State governments, as some gentlemen seemed inclined to do. The happiness of this country, in his opinion, required considerable powers to be left in the hands of the States.

Mr. Bedford seconded the motion.

Mr. Sherman contended, that the National Legislature should have power to remove the Executive at pleasure.

Mr. Mason. Some mode of displacing an unfit magistrate is rendered indispensable by the fallibility of those who choose, as well as by the corruptibility of the man chosen. He opposed decidedly the making the Executive the mere creature of the Legislature, as a violation of the fundamental principle of good government.

Mr. Madison and Mr. Wilson observed, that it would leave an equality of agency in the small with the great States; that it would enable a minority of the people to prevent the removal of an officer who had rendered himself justly criminal in the eyes of a majority; that it would open a door for intrigues against him in States where his administration, though just, might be unpopular; and might tempt him to pay court to particular States whose leading partizans he might fear, or wish to engage as his partizans. They both thought it bad policy to introduce such a mixture of the State authorities, where their agency could be otherwise supplied.

Mr. Dickinson considered the business as so important that no man ought to be silent or reserved. He went into a discourse of some length, the sum of which was, that the Legislative, Executive and Judiciary departments ought to be made as independent as possible; but that such an Executive as some seemed to have in contemplation was not consistent with a republic; that a firm Executive could only exist in a limited monarchy. In the British government itself the weight of the Executive arises from the attachments which the Crown draws to itself, and not merely from the force of its prerogatives. In place of these attachments we must look out for something else. One source of stability is the double branch of the Legislature. The division of the country into distinct States formed the other principal source of stability. This division ought therefore to be maintained, and considerable powers to be left with the States. This was the ground of his consolation for the future fate of his country. Without this, and in case of a consolidation of the States into one great republic, we might read its fate in the history of smaller ones. A limited monarchy he considered as one of the best governments in the world. It was not certain that the same blessings were derivable from any other form. It was certain that equal blessings had never yet been derived from any of the republican forms. A limited monarchy, however, was out of the question. The spirit of the times, the state of our affairs forbade the experiment, if it were desirable. Was it possible, moreover, in the nature of things, to introduce it even if these obstacles were less insuperable? A house of nobles was essential to such a government, — could these be created by a breath, or by a stroke of the pen? No. They were the growth of ages, and could only arise under a complication of circumstances none of which existed in this country. But though a form the most perfect, perhaps, in itself, be unattainable, we must not despair. If ancient republics have been found to flourish for a moment only, and then vanish forever, it only proves that they were badly constituted; and that we ought to seek for every remedy for their diseases. One of these remedies he conceived to be the accidental lucky division of this country into distinct States; a division which some seemed desirous to abolish altogether.

As to the point of representation in the National Legislature, as it might affect States of different sizes, he said it must probably end in mutual concession. He hoped that each State would retain an equal voice at least in one branch of the National Legislature, and supposed the sums paid within each State would form a better ratio for the other branch than either the number of inhabitants or the quantum of property.

A motion being made to strike out, “on request by a majority of the Legislatures of the individual States,” and rejected — (Connecticut, South Carolina and Georgia, being aye; the rest, no,) the question was taken on Mr. Dickinson’s motion, “for making the Executive removable by the National Legislature at the request of a majority of State Legislatures,” which was also rejected, — all the States being in the negative, except Delaware, which gave an affirmative vote.

The question for making the Executive ineligible after seven years, was next taken and agreed to, — Massachusetts, New York, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, aye — 7; Connecticut, Georgia2, no — 2; Pennsylvania, divided.

Mr. Williamson, seconded by Mr. DAVIE, moved to add to the last clause the words, “and to be removable on impeachment and conviction of malpractice or neglect of duty;” which was agreed to.

Mr. Rutledge and Mr. C. Pinckney moved, that the blank for the number of persons in the Executive be filled with the words, “one person.” He supposed the reasons to be so obvious and conclusive in favor of one, that no member would oppose the motion.

Mr. Randolph opposed it with great earnestness, declaring that he should not do justice to the country which sent him, if he were silently to suffer the establishment of a unity in the Executive department. He felt an opposition to it which he believed he should continue to feel as long as he lived. He urged — first, that the permanent temper of the people was adverse to the very semblance of monarchy; secondly, that a unity was unnecessary, a plurality being equally competent to all the objects of the department; thirdly, that the necessary confidence would never be reposed in a single magistrate; fourthly, that the appointments would generally be in favor of some inhabitant near the centre of the community, and consequently the remote parts would not be on an equal footing. He was in favor of three members of the Executive, to be drawn from different portions of the country.

 Mr. Butler contended strongly for a single magistrate, as most likely to answer the purpose of the remote parts. If one man should be appointed, he would be responsible to the whole, and would be impartial to its interests. If three or more should be taken from as many districts, there would be a constant struggle for local advantages. In military matters this would be particularly mischievous. He said, his opinion on this point had been formed under the opportunity he had had of seeing the manner in which a plurality of military heads distracted Holland, when threatened with invasion by the imperial troops. One man was for directing the force to the defence of this part, another to that part of the country, just as he happened to be swayed by prejudice or interest.

The motion was then postponed; the Committee rose; and the House adjourned.


1 New York, in the printed Journal, divided. Return to text

2 In the printed Journal, Georgia, aye. Return to text


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Contents

Introduction

The year was 1787. The place: the State House in Philadelphia. This is the story of the framing of the federal Constitution.

The Convention

Read the four-act drama and day-by-day summary by Gordon Lloyd, as well as Madison’s Notes on the Convention.

Interactive Map of Historic Philadelphia in the Late 18th Century

Learn about historic Philadelphia and where the founders stayed, ate, and met.

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