Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787

by James Madison

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Monday, June 11

Mr. ABRAHAM BALDWIN, from Georgia, took his seat.

In Committee of the Whole, — The clause concerning the rule of suffrage in the National Legislature, postponed on Saturday, was resumed.

Mr. SHERMAN proposed, that the proportion of suffrage in the first branch should be according to the respective numbers of free inhabitants; and that in the second branch, or Senate, each State should have one vote and no more. He said, as the States would remain possessed of certain individual rights, each State ought to be able to protect itself; otherwise, a few large States will rule the rest. The House of Lords in England, he observed, had certain particular rights under the Constitution, and hence they have an equal vote with the House of Commons, that they may be able to defend their rights.

Mr. RUTLEDGE proposed, that the proportion of suffrage in the first branch should be according to the quotas of contribution. The justice of this rule, he said, could not be contested. Mr. BUTLER urged the same idea; adding, that money was power; and that the States ought to have weight in the government in proportion to their wealth.

Mr. KING and Mr. WILSON,1 in order to bring the question to a point, moved, “that the right of suffrage in the first branch of the National Legislature ought not to be according to the rule established in the Articles of Confederation, but according to some equitable ratio of representation.” The clause, so far as it related to suffrage in the first branch, was postponed, in order to consider this motion.

Mr. DICKINSON contended for the actual contributions of the States, as the rule of their representation and suffrage in the first branch. By thus connecting the interests of the States with their duty, the latter would be sure to be performed.

Mr. KING remarked, that it was uncertain what mode might be used in levying a national revenue; but that it was probable, imposts would be one source of it. If the actual contributions were to be the rule, the non-importing States, as Connecticut and New Jersey, would be in a bad situation, indeed. It might so happen that they would have no representation. This situation of particular States had been always one powerful argument in favor of the five per cent. impost.

The question being about to be put, Doctor FRANKLIN said, he had thrown his ideas of the matter on a paper, which Mr. WILSON read to the Committee in the words following:

“Mr. CHAIRMAN, — It has given me great pleasure to observe, that, till this point, the proportion of representation, came before us, our debates were carried on with great coolness and temper. If any thing of a contrary kind has on this occasion appeared, I hope it will not be repeated; for we are sent here to consult, not to contend, with each other; and declarations of a fixed opinion, and of determined resolution never to change it, neither enlighten nor convince us. Positiveness and warmth on one side naturally beget their like on the other, and tend to create and augment discord and division, in a great concern wherein harmony and union are extremely necessary to give weight to our councils, and render them effectual in promoting and securing the common good.

“I must own, that I was originally of opinion it would be better if every member of Congress, or our national Council, were to consider himself rather as a representative of the whole, than as an agent for the interests of a particular State; in which case the proportion of members for each State would be of less consequence, and it would not be very material whether they voted by States or individually. But as I find this is not to be expected, I now think the number of representatives should bear some proportion to the number of the represented; and that the decisions should be by the majority of members, not by the majority of the States. This is objected to from an apprehension that the greater States would then swallow up the smaller. I do not at present clearly see what advantage the greater States could propose to themselves by swallowing up the smaller, and therefore do not apprehend they would attempt it. I recollect that, in the beginning of this century, when the union was proposed of the two kingdoms, England and Scotland, the Scotch patriots were full of fears, that unless they had an equal number of representatives in Parliament, they should be ruined by the superiority of the English. They finally agreed, however, that the different proportions of importance in the union of the two nations should be attended to, whereby they were to have only forty members in the House of Commons, and only sixteen in the House of Lords. A very great inferiority of numbers! And yet to this day I do not recollect that any thing has been done in the Parliament of Great Britain to the prejudice of Scotland; and whoever looks over the lists of public officers, civil and military, of that nation, will find, I believe, that the North Britons enjoy at least their full proportion of emolument.

“But, sir, in the present mode of voting by States, it is equally in the power of the lesser States to swallow up the greater; and this is mathematically demonstrable. Suppose, for example, that seven smaller States had each three members in the House, and the six larger to have, one with another six members; and that, upon a question, two members of each smaller State should be in the affirmative, and one in the negative, they would make: — affirmatives, 14; negatives, 7; and that all the larger States should be unanimously in the negative, they would make, negatives, 36; in all, affirmatives, 14, negatives, 43.

“It is, then, apparent, that the fourteen carry the question against the forty-three, and the minority overpowers the majority, contrary to the common practice of assemblies in all countries and ages.

“The greater States, sir, are naturally as unwilling to have their property left in the disposition of the smaller, as the smaller are to have theirs in the disposition of the greater. An honorable gentleman has, to avoid this difficulty, hinted a proposition of equalizing the States. It appears to me an equitable one, and I should, for my own part, not be against such a measure, if it might be found practicable. Formerly, indeed, when almost every province had a different constitution, some with greater, others with fewer, privileges, it was of importance to the borderers, when their boundaries were contested, whether, by running the division lines, they were placed on one side or the other. At present, when such differences are done away, it is less material. The interest of a State is made up of the interests of its individual members. If they are not injured, the State is not injured. Small States are, more easily well and happily governed than large ones. If, therefore, in such an equal division, it should be found necessary to diminish Pennsylvania, I should not be averse to the giving a part of it to New Jersey, and another to Delaware. But as there would probably be considerable difficulties in adjusting such a division; and, however equally made at first, it would be continually varying by the augmentation of inhabitants in some States, and their fixed proportion in others, and thence frequently occasion new divisions I beg leave to propose, for the consideration of the Committee, another mode, which appears to me to be as equitable, more easily carried into practice, and more permanent in its nature.

“Let the weakest State say what proportion of money or force it is able and willing to furnish for the general purposes of the Union:

“Let all the others oblige themselves to furnish each an equal proportion:

“The whole of these joint supplies to be absolutely in the disposition of Congress:

“The Congress in this case to be composed of an equal number of delegates from each State:

“And their decisions to be by the majority of individual members voting.

“If these joint and equal supplies should, on particular occasions, not be sufficient, let Congress make requisitions on the richer and more powerful States for further aids, to be voluntarily afforded, leaving to each State the right of considering the necessity and utility of the aid desired, and of giving more or less as it should be found proper.

“This mode is not new. It was formerly practised with success by the British government with respect to Ireland and the Colonies. We sometimes gave even more than they expected, or thought just to accept; and in the last war carried on while we were united, they gave us back in five years a million sterling. We should probably have continued such voluntary contributions, whenever the occasions appeared to require them for the common good of the Empire. It was not till they chose to force us, and to deprive us of the merit and pleasure of voluntary contributions, that we refused and resisted. These contributions, however, were to be disposed of at the pleasure of a government in which we had no representative. I am, therefore, persuaded, that they will not be refused to one in which the representation shall be equal.

“My learned colleague (Mr. WILSON) has already mentioned, that the present method of voting by States was submitted to originally by Congress under a conviction of its impropriety, inequality, and injustice. This appears in the words of their resolution. It is of the sixth of September, 1774. The words are:

“Resolved, that in determining questions in this Congress each Colony or Province shall have one vote; the Congress not being possessed of, or at present able to procure, materials for ascertaining the importance of each Colony.”

On the question for agreeing to

Mr. KING’S and Mr. WILSON’S motion, it passed in the affirmative, — Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye — 7; New York, New Jersey, Delaware, no — 3; Maryland, divided.

It was then moved by Mr. RUTLEDGE, seconded by Mr. BUTLER, to add to the words, “equitable ratio of representation,” at the end of the motion just agreed to, the words “according to the quotas of contribution.” On motion of Mr. WILSON, seconded by Mr. PINCKNEY, this was postponed; in order to add, after the words, “equitable ratio of representation,” the words following: “in proportion to the whole number of white and other free citizens and inhabitants of every age, sex and condition, including those bound to servitude for a term of years, and three-fifths of all other persons not comprehended in the foregoing description, except Indians not paying taxes, in each State” — this being the rule in the act of Congress, agreed to by eleven States, for apportioning quotas of revenue on the States, and requiring a census only every five, seven, or ten years.

Mr. GERRY thought property not the rule of representation. Why, then, should the blacks, who were property in the South, be in the rule of representation more than the cattle and horses of the North?

On the question, — Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye — 9; New Jersey, Delaware, no — 2.

Mr. SHERMAN moved, that a question be taken, whether each State shall have one vote in the second branch. Every thing, he said, depended on this. The smaller States would never agree to the plan on any other principle than an equality of suffrage in this branch. Mr. ELLSWORTH seconded the motion. On the question for allowing each State one vote in the second branch, — Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, aye — 5; Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no — 6.

Mr. WILSON and Mr. HAMILTON moved, that the right of suffrage in the second branch ought to be according to the same rule as in the first branch.

On this question for making the ratio of representation, the same in the second as in the first branch, it passed in the affirmative, — Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye — 6; Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, no — 5.

The eleventh Resolution, for guaranteeing republican government and territory to each State, being considered, the words “or partition” were, on motion of Mr. MADISON, added after the words “voluntary junction,” — Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye — 7; Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, no — 4.

Mr. READ disliked the idea of guaranteeing territory. It abetted the idea of distinct States, which would be a perpetual source of discord. There can be no cure for this evil but in doing away States altogether, and uniting them all into one great society.

Alterations having been made in the Resolution, making it read, “that a Republican constitution, and its existing laws, ought to be guaranteed to each State by the United States,” the whole was agreed to, nem. con.

The thirteenth Resolution, for amending the national Constitution, hereafter, without consent of the national Legislature, being considered, several members did not see the necessity of the Resolution at all, nor the propriety of making the consent of the National Legislature unnecessary.

Col. MASON urged the necessity of such a provision. The plan now to be formed will certainly be defective, as the Confederation has been found on trial to be. Amendments, therefore, will be necessary; and it will be better to provide for them in an easy, regular and constitutional way, than to trust to chance and violence. It would be improper to require the consent of the National Legislature, because they may abuse their power, and refuse their assent on that very account. The opportunity for such an abuse may be the fault of the Constitution calling for amendment.

Mr. RANDOLPH enforced these arguments.

The words, “without requiring the consent of the National Legislature,” were postponed. The other provision in the clause passed, nem. con.

The fourteenth Resolution, requiring oaths from the members of the State Governments to observe the national Constitution and laws, being considered, –

Mr. SHERMAN opposed it, as unnecessarily intruding into the State jurisdictions.

Mr. RANDOLPH considered it necessary to prevent that competition between the national Constitution and laws, and those of the particular States, which had already been felt. The officers of the States are already under oath to the States. To preserve a due impartiality they ought to be equally bound to the National Government. The national authority needs every support we can give it. The Executive and Judiciary of the States, notwithstanding their nominal independence on the State Legislatures, are in fact so dependent on them, that unless they be brought under some tie to the National System, they will always lean too much to the State systems, whenever a contest arises between the two.

Mr. GERRY did not like the clause. He thought there was as much reason for requiring an oath of fidelity to the States from national officers, as vice versa.

Mr. LUTHER MARTIN moved to strike out the words requiring such an oath from the State officers, viz., “within the several States,” observing, that if the new oath should be contrary to that already taken by them, it would be improper; if coincident, the oaths already taken will be sufficient.

On the question for striking out as proposed by Mr. L. MARTIN, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, aye — 4; Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no — 7.

Question on the whole Resolution as proposed by Mr. RANDOLPH, — Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye — 6; Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, no — 5.

The Committee rose, and the House adjourned.

1 In the printed Journal Mr. Rutledge is named as the seconder of the motion. Return to text


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

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