Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787
by James Madison
Thursday, June 7
IN COMMITTEE OF WHOLE
The Clause providing for ye. appointment of the 2d. branch of the national Legislature, having lain blank since the last vote on the mode of electing it, to wit, by the 1st. branch, Mr. DICKENSON now moved “that the members of the 2d. branch ought to be chosen by the individual Legislatures.”
Mr. SHARMAN seconded the motion; observing that the particular States would thus become interested in supporting the national Governmt. and that a due harmony between the two Governments would be maintained. He admitted that the two ought to have separate and distinct jurisdictions, but that they ought to have a mutual interest in supporting each other.
Mr. PINKNEY. If the small States should be allowed one Senator only, the number will be too great, there will be 80 at least.
Mr. DICKENSON had two reasons for his motion. 1.3 because the sense of the States would be better collected through their Governments; than immediately from the people at large; 2.3 because he wished the Senate to consist of the most distinguished characters, distinguished for their rank in life and their weight of property, and bearing as strong a likeness to the British House of Lords as possible; and he thought such characters more likely to be selected by the State Legislatures, than in any other mode. The greatness of the number was no objection with him. He hoped there would be 80 and twice 80. of them. If their number should be small, the popular branch could not be balanced by them. The legislature of a numerous people ought to be a numerous body.
Mr. WILLIAMSON, preferred a small number of Senators, but wished that each State should have at least one. He suggested 25 as a convenient number. The different modes of representation in the different branches, will serve as a mutual check.
Mr. BUTLER was anxious to know the ratio of representation before he gave any opinion.
Mr. WILSON. If we are to establish a national Government, that Government ought to flow from the people at large. If one branch of it should be chosen by the Legislatures, and the other by the people, the two branches will rest on different foundations, and dissensions will naturally arise between them. He wished the Senate to be elected by the people as well as the other branch, and the people might be divided into proper districts for the purpose &4 moved to postpone the motion of Mr. Dickenson, in order to take up one of that import.
Mr. MORRIS 2ded. him.
Mr. READ proposed “that the Senate should be appointed by the Executive Magistrate out of a proper number of persons to be nominated by the individual legislatures.” He said he thought it his duty, to speak his mind frankly. Gentlemen he hoped would not be alarmed at the idea. Nothing short of this approach towards a proper model of Government would answer the purpose, and he thought it best to come directly to the point at once. -His proposition was not seconded nor supported.
Mr. MADISON, if the motion [of Mr. Dickenson] should be agreed to, we must either depart from the doctrine of proportional representation; or admit into the Senate a very large number of members. The first is inadmissible, being evidently unjust. The second is inexpedient. The use of the Senate is to consist in its proceeding with more coolness, with more system, & with more wisdom, than the popular branch. Enlarge their number and you communicate to them the vices which they are meant to correct. He differed from Mr. D. who thought that the additional number would give additional weight to the body. On the contrary it appeared to him that their weight would be in an inverse ratio to their number.5 The example of the Roman Tribunes was applicable. They lost their influence and power, in proportion as their number was augmented. The reason seemed to be obvious: They were appointed to take care of the popular interests & pretensions at Rome, because the people by reason of their numbers could not act in concert;6 were liable to fall into factions among themselves, and to become a prey to their aristocratic adversaries. The more the representatives of the people therefore were multiplied, the more they partook of the infirmities of their constituents, the more liable they became to be divided among themselves either from their own indiscretions or the artifices of the opposite faction, and of course the less capable of fulfilling their trust. When the weight of a set of men depends merely on their personal characters; the greater the number the greater the weight. When it depends on the degree of political authority lodged in them the smaller the number the greater the weight. These considerations might perhaps be combined in the intended Senate; but the latter was the material one.
Mr. GERRY. 4 modes of appointing the Senate have been mentioned. 1.7 by the 1st. branch of the National Legislature. This would create a dependence contrary to the end proposed. 2.7 by the National Executive. This is a stride towards monarchy that few will think of. 3.7 by the people. The people have two great interests, the landed interest, and the commercial including the stockholders. To draw both branches from the people will leave no security to the latter interest; the people being chiefly composed of the landed interest, and erroneously supposing, that the other interests are adverse to it. 47 by the Individual Legislatures. The elections being carried thro’ this refinement, will be most likely to provide some check in favor of the commercial interest agst. the landed; without which oppression will take place, and no free Govt. can last long where that is the case. He was therefore in favor of this last.
Mr. DICKENSON.8 The preservation of the States in a certain degree of agency is indispensable. It will produce that collision between the different authorities which should be wished for in order to check each other. To attempt to abolish the States altogether, would degrade the Councils of our Country, would be impracticable, would be ruinous. He compared the proposed National System to the Solar System, in which the States were the planets, and ought to be left to move freely in their proper orbits. The Gentleman from Pa. Mr. Wilson wished he said to extinguish these planets. If the State Governments were excluded from all agency in the national one, and all power drawn from the people at large, the consequence would be that the national Govt. would move in the same direction as the State Govts. now do, and would run into all the same mischiefs. The reform would only unite the 13 small streams into one great current pursuing the same course without any opposition whatever. He adhered to the opinion that the Senate ought to be composed of a large number, and that their influence from family weight & other causes would be increased thereby. He did not admit that the Tribunes lost their weight in proportion as their no. was augmented and gave a historical sketch of this institution. If the reasoning of Mr. Madison was good it would prove that the number of the Senate ought to be reduced below ten, the highest no. of the Tribunitial corps.
Mr. WILSON. The subject it must be owned is surrounded with doubts and difficulties. But we must surmount them. The British Governmt. cannot be our model. We have no materials for a similar one. Our manners, our laws, the abolition of entails and of primogeniture, the whole genius of the people, are opposed to it. He did not see the danger of the States being devoured by the Nationl. Govt. On the contrary, he wished to keep them from devouring the national Govt. He was not however for extinguishing these planets as was supposed by Mr. D.-neither did he on the other hand, believe that they would warm or enlighten the Sun. Within their proper orbits they must still be suffered to act for subordinate purposes for which their existence is made essential by the great extent of our Country. He could not comprehend in what manner the landed interest wd. be rendered less predominant in the Senate, by an election through the medium of the Legislatures then by the people themselves. If the Legislatures, as was now complained, sacrificed the commercial to the landed interest, what reason was there to expect such a choice from them as would defeat their own views. He was for an election by the people in large districts which wd. be most likely to obtain men of intelligence & uprightness; subdividing the districts only for the accomodation of voters.
Mr. MADISON could as little comprehend in what manner family weight, as desired by Mr. D. would be more certainly conveyed into the Senate through elections by the State Legislatures, than in some other modes. The true question was in what mode the best choice wd. be made? If an election by the people, or thro’ any other channel than the State Legislatures promised as uncorrupt & impartial a preference of merit, there could surely be no necessity for an appointment by those Legislatures. Nor was it apparent that a more useful check would be derived thro’ that channel than from the people thro’ some other. The great evils complained of were that the State Legislatures run into schemes of paper money &c. whenever solicited by the people, & sometimes without even the sanction of the people. Their influence then, instead of checking a like propensity in the National Legislature, may be expected to promote it. Nothing can be more contradictory than to say that the Natl. Legislature witht. a proper check, will follow the example of the State Legislatures, & in the same breath, that the State Legislatures are the only proper check.
Mr SHARMAN opposed elections by the people in districts, as not likely to produce such fit men as elections by the State Legislatures.
Mr. GERRY insisted that the commercial & monied interest wd. be more secure in the hands of the State Legislatures, than of the people at large. The former have more sense of character, and will be restrained by that from injustice. The people are for paper money when the Legislatures are agst. it. In Massts. the County Conventions had declared a wish for a depreciating paper that wd. sink itself. Besides, in some States there are two Branches in the Legislature, one of which is somewhat aristocratic. There wd. therefore be so far a better chance of refinement in the choice. There seemed, he thought to be three powerful objections agst. elections by districts. 1.9 it is impracticable; the people cannot be brought to one place for the purpose; and whether brought to the same place or not, numberless frauds wd. be unavoidable. 2.9 small States forming part of the same district with a large one, or10 large part of a large one, wd. have no chance of gaining an appointment for its citizens of merit. 3 9 a new source of discord wd. be opened between different parts of the same district.
Mr. PINKNEY thought the 2d. branch ought to be permanent & independent, & that the members of it wd. be rendered more so by receiving their appointment11 from the State Legislatures. This mode wd. avoid the rivalships & discontents incident to the election by districts. He was for dividing the States into three classes according to their respective sizes, & for allowing to the 1st. class three members-to the 2d. two, & to the 3d. one. On the question for postponing Mr. Dickinson’s motion referring the appointment of the Senate to the State Legislatures, in order to consider Mr. Wilson’s for referring it to the people
Mass. no. Cont no. N. Y. no. N. J. no. Pa. ay Del. no. Md. no. Va. no. N. C. no. S. C. no. Geo. no.12
Col. MASON. whatever power may be necessary for the Natl. Govt. a certain portion must necessarily be left in13 the States. It is impossible for one power to pervade the extreme parts of the U.S. so as to carry equal justice to them. The State Legislatures also ought to have some means of defending themselves agst. encroachments of the Natl. Govt. In every other department we have studiously endeavored to provide for its self-defence. Shall we leave the States alone unprovided with the means for this purpose? And what better means can we provide than the giving them some share in, or rather to make them a constituent part of, the Natl. Establishment. There is danger on both sides no doubt; but we have only seen the evils arising on the side of the State Govts. Those on the other side remain to be displayed. The example of Congs. does not apply. Congs. had no power to carry their acts into execution as the Natl. Govt. will have.
On Mr. DICKINSON’s motion for an appointment of the Senate by the State- Legislatures.
Mass. ay. Ct. ay. N. Y. ay. Pa. ay Del. ay. Md. ay. Va. ay N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. ay.14
Mr. GERRY gave notice that he wd. tomorrow move for a reconsideration of the mode of appointing the Natl. Executive in order to substitute an appointmt. by the State Executives
The Committee rose & The House adjd.
1 The year “1787″ is omitted in the transcript. Return to text 2 The words “for fixed” are corrected in the transcript to “fixed for.” Return to text 3 The figures “1″ and “2″ are changed to “First” and “secondly” in the transcript. Return to text 4 The word “he” is here inserted in the transcript. Return to text 5 The transcript uses the word “number” is the plural. Return to text 6 The word “and” is here inserted in the transcript. Return to text 7 The figures “1,” “2,” “3″ and “4″ are changed to “First,” “Secondly,” etc., in the transcript. Return to text 8 It will throw light on this discussion to remark that an election by the State Legislatures involved a surrender of the principle insisted on by the large State & dreaded by the small ones, namely that of a proportional representation is the Senate. Such a rule Wd. make the body too numerous, as the smallest State must elect one member at least. Return to text 9 The figures “1,” “2″ and “3″ are changed to “First,” “Secondly,” and “Thirdly” in the transcript. Return to text 10 The word “a” is here inserted in the transcript. Return to text 11 The word “appointment” is used in the plural in the transcript. Return to text 12 In the transcript the vote reads: “Pennsylvania, aye-1; Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no-10.” Return to text 13 The word “with” is substituted in the transcript for “in.” Return to text 14 In the transcript the vote reads: “Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye-10.” Return to text