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Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787

by James Madison


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Saturday, June 9

Mr. LUTHER MARTIN, from Maryland, took his seat.

In Committee of the Whole, — Mr. GERRY, according to previous notice given by him, moved “that the national Executive should be elected by the Executives of the States, whose proportion of votes should be the same with that allowed to the States, in the election of the Senate.” If the appointment should be made by the National Legislature, it would lessen that independence of the Executive, which ought to prevail; would give birth to intrigue and corruption between the Executive and Legislature previous to the election, and to partiality in the Executive afterwards to the friends who promoted him. Some other mode, therefore, appeared to him necessary. He proposed that of appointing by the State Executives, as most analogous to the principle observed in electing the other branches of the National Government; the first branch being chosen by the people of the States and the second by the Legislatures of the States, he did not see any objection against letting the Executive be appointed by the Executives of the States. He supposed the Executives would be most likely to select the fittest men, and that it would be their interest to support the man of their own choice.

Mr. RANDOLPH urged strongly the inexpediency of Mr. GERRY’S mode of appointing the National Executive. The confidence of the people would not be secured by it to the National magistrate. The small States would lose all chance of an appointment from within themselves. Bad appointments would be made, the Executives of the States being little conversant with characters not within their own small spheres. The State Executives, too, notwithstanding their constitutional independence, being in fact dependent on the State Legislatures, will generally be guided by the views of the latter, and prefer either favorites within the States, or such as it may be expected will be most partial to the interests of the State. A national Executive thus chosen will not be likely to defend with becoming vigilance and firmness the national rights against State encorachments. Vacancies also must happen. How can these be filled? He could not suppose, either, that the Executives would feel the interest in supporting the national Executive which had been imagined. They will not cherish the great oak which is to reduce them to paltry shrubs.

On the question for referring the appointment of the national Executive to the State Executives, as proposed by  Mr. GERRY, — Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, no; Delaware, divided.

Mr. PATTERSON moved, that the Committee resume the clause relating to the rule of suffrage in the National Legislature.

Mr. BREARLY seconds him. He was sorry, he said, that any question on this point was brought into view. It had been much agitated in Congress at the time of forming the Confederation, and was then rightly settled by allowing to each sovereign State an equal vote. Otherwise, the smaller States must have been destroyed instead of being saved. The substitution of a ratio, he admitted, carried fairness on the face of it; but on a deeper examination was unfair and unjust. Judging of the disparity of the States by the quota of Congress, Virginia would have sixteen votes, and Georgia but one. A like proportion to the others will make the whole number ninety. There will be three large States, and ten small ones. The large States, by which he meant Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia, will carry every thing before them. It had been admitted, and was known to him from facts within New Jersey, that where large and small counties were united into a district for electing representatives for the district, the large counties always carried their point, and consequently the large States would do so. Virginia with her sixteen votes will be a solid column indeed, a formidable phalanx. While Georgia with her solitary vote, and the other little States, will be obliged to throw themselves constantly into the scale of some large one, in order to have any weight at all. He had come to the Convention with a view of being as useful as he could, in giving energy and stability to the Federal Government. When the proposition for destroying the equality of votes came forward, he was astonished, he was alarmed. Is it fair, then, it will be asked, that Georgia should have an equal vote with Virginia? He would not say it was. What remedy then? One only, that a map of the United States be spread out, that all the existing boundaries be erased, and that a new partition of the whole be made into thirteen equal parts.

Mr. PATTERSON considered the proposition for a proportional representation as striking at the existence of the lesser States. He would premise, however, to an investigation of this question, some remarks on the nature, structure, and powers of the Convention. The Convention, he said, was formed in pursuance of an act of Congress; that this act was recited in several of the commissions, particularly that of Massachusetts, which he required to be read; that the amendment of the Confederacy was the object of all the laws and commissions on the subject; that the Articles of the Confederation were therefore the proper basis of all the proceedings of the Convention; that we ought to keep within its limits, or we should be charged by our constituents with usurpation; that the people of America were sharp-sighted, and not to be deceived. But the commissions under which we acted were not only the measure of our power, they denoted also the sentiments of the States on the subject of our deliberation. The idea of a National Government, as contradistinguished from a federal one, never entered into the mind of any of them; and to the public mind we must accommodate ourselves. We have no power to go beyond the Federal scheme; and if we had, the people are not ripe for any other. We must follow the people; the people will not follow us. The proposition could not be maintained, whether considered in reference to us as a nation, or as a confederacy. A confederacy supposes sovereignty in the members composing it, and sovereignty supposes equality. If we are to be considered as a nation, all State distinctions must be abolished, the whole must be thrown into hotchpot, and when an equal division is made, then there may be fairly an equality of representation. He held up Virginia, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, as the three large States, and the other ten as small ones; repeating the calculations of Mr. BREARLY, as to the disparity of votes which would take place, and affirming that the small States would never agree to it. He said there was no more reason that a great individual State, contributing much, should have more votes than a small one, contributing little, than that a rich individual citizen should have more votes than an indigent one. If the rateable property of A was to that of B as forty to one, ought A for that reason, to have forty times as many votes as B? Such a principle would never be admitted; and if it were admitted would put B entirely at the mercy of A. As A has more to be protected with B, so he ought to contribute more for the common protection. The same may be said of a large State, which has more to be protected than a small one. Give the large States an influence in proportion to their magnitude, and what will be the consequence? Their ambition will be proportionally increased, and the small States will have every thing to fear. It was once proposed by Galloway, and some others, that America should be represented in the British Parliament, and then be bound by its laws. America could not have been entitled to more than one-third of the representatives which would fall to the share of Great Britain, — would American rights and interests have been safe under an authority thus constituted? It has been said, that if a national Government is to be formed, so as to operate on the people and not on the States, the Representatives ought to be drawn from the people. But why so? May not a Legislature, filled by the State Legislatures, operate on the people who choose the State Legislatures? Or may not a practicable coercion be found? He admitted that there was none such in the existing system. He was attached strongly to the plan of the existing Confederacy, in which the people choose their legislative representatives; and the Legislatures their federal representatives. No other amendments were wanting than to mark the orbits of the States with due precision, and provide for the use of coercion, which was the great point. He alluded to the hint thrown out by Mr. WILSON, of the necessity to which the large States might be reduced, of confederating among themselves, by a refusal of the others to concur. Let them unite if they please, but let them remember that they have no authority to compel the others to unite. New Jersey will never confederate on the plan before the Committee. She would be swallowed up. He had rather submit to a monarch, to a despot, than to such a fate. He would not only oppose the plan here, but on his return home do every thing in his power to defeat it there.

Mr. WILSON hoped, if the Confederacy should be dissolved, that a majority, — nay, a minority of the States would unite for their safety. He entered elaborately into the defence of a proportional representation, stating for his first position, that, as all authority was derived from the people, equal numbers of people ought to have an equal number of representatives, and different numbers of people, different numbers of representatives. This principle had been improperly violated in the Confederation, owing to the urgent circumstances of the time. As to the case of A and B stated by Mr. PATTERSON, he observed, that, in districts as large as the States, the number of people was the best measure of their comparative wealth. Whether, therefore, wealth or numbers was to form the ratio it would be the same.  Mr. PATTERSON admitted persons, not property, to be the measure of suffrage. Are not the citizens of Pennsylvania equal to those of New Jersey? Does it require one hundred and fifty of the former to balance fifty of the latter? Representatives of different districts ought clearly to hold the same proportion to each other, as their respective constituents hold to each other. If the small States will not confederate on this plan, Pennsylvania, and he presumed some other States, would not confederate on any other. We have been told that each State being sovereign, all are equal. So each man is naturally a sovereign over himself, and all men are therefore naturally equal. Can he retain this equality when he becomes a member of civil government? He cannot. As little can a sovereign State, when it becomes a member of a federal government. If New Jersey will not part with her sovereignty, it is vain to talk of government. A new partition of the States is desirable, but evidently and totally impracticable.

Mr. WILLIAMSON illustrated the cases by a comparison of the different States to counties of different sizes within the same State; observing that proportional representation was admitted to be just in the latter case, and could not, therefore, be fairly contested in the former.

The question being about to be put, Mr. PATTERSON hoped that as so much depended on it, it might be thought best to postpone the decision till to-morrow; which was done, nem. con.

The Committee rose, and the House adjourned.


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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 account of the Convention Debates.

Interactive Map of Historic Philadelphia in the Late 18th Century

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

View Interactive

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