Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787

by James Madison


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Tuesday, June 12

IN COMMITTEE OF1 WHOLE

The Question2 taken on Resolution 15,3 to wit, referring the new system to the people of the4 States for ratification it passed in the affirmative:

Massts. ay. Cont. no. N. Y. no. N. J. no. Pa.5 ay. Del. divd. Md. divd. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. ay.6

Mr. SHARMAN & Mr. ELSEWORTH moved to fill the blank left in the 4th. Resolution for the periods of electing the members of the first branch with the words, “every year.” Mr. SHARMAN observing that he did it in order to bring on some question.

Mr. RUTLIDGE proposed “every two years.”

Mr. JENNIFER propd. “every three years,” observing that the too great frequency of elections rendered the people indifferent to them, and made the best men unwilling to engage in so precarious a service.

Mr. MADISON seconded the motion for three years. Instability is one of the great vices of our republics, to be remedied. Three years will be necessary, in a Government so extensive, for members to form any knowledge of the various interests of the States to which they do not belong, and of which they can know but little from the situation and affairs of their own. One year will be almost consumed in preparing for and travelling to & from the seat of national business.

Mr. GERRY. The people of New England will never give up the point of annual elections, they know of the transition made in England from triennial to septennial elections, and will consider such an innovation here as the prelude to a like usurpation. He considered annual elections as the only defence of the people agst. tyranny. He was as much agst. a triennial House as agst. a hereditary Executive.

Mr. MADISON, observed that if the opinions of the people were to be our guide, it wd. be difficult to say what course we ought to take. No member of the Convention could say what the opinions of his Constituents were at this time; much less could he say what they would think if possessed of the information & lights possessed by the members here; & still less what would be their way of thinking 6 or 12 months hence. We ought to consider what was right & necessary in itself for the attainment of a proper Governmt. A plan adjusted to this idea will recommend itself-The respectability of this convention will give weight to their recommendation of it. Experience will be constantly urging the adoption of it, and all the most enlightened & respectable citizens will be its advocates. Should we fall short of the necessary & proper point, this influential class of Citizens will be turned against the plan, and little support in opposition to them can be gained to it from the unreflecting multitude.

Mr. GERRY repeated his opinion that it was necessary to consider what the people would approve. This had been the policy of all Legislators. If the reasoning of Mr. Madison were just, and we supposed a limited Monarchy the best form in itself, we ought to recommend it, tho’ the genius of the people was decidedly adverse to it, and having no hereditary distinctions among us, we were destitute of the essential materials for such an innovation.

On the question for7 triennial election of the 1st. branch

Mass. no. [ Mr. King ay.] Mr. Ghorum wavering. Cont. no. N. Y. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. ay. Del. ay. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C. no. S. C. no. Geo. ay.8

The words requiring members of ye. 1st. branch to be of the age of years were struck out Maryland alone, no. The words “liberal compensation for members” being considd. Mr. MADISON moves to insert the words, “& fixt.” He observed that it would be improper to leave the members of the Natl. legislature to be provided for by the State Legisls. because it would create an improper dependence; and to leave them to regulate their own wages, was an indecent thing, and might in time prove a dangerous one. He thought wheat or some other article of which the average price throughout a reasonable period preceding might be settled in some convenient mode, would form a proper standard.

Col. MASON seconded the motion; adding that it would be improper for other reasons to leave the wages to be regulated by the States. 1.9 the different States would make different provision for their representatives, and an inequality would be felt among them, whereas he thought they ought to be in all respects equal. 2.9 the parsimony of the States might reduce the provision so low that as had already happened in choosing delegates to Congress, the question would be not who were most fit to be chosen, but who were most willing to serve.

On the question for inserting the words “and fixt.”

Massts. no. Cont. no. N. Y. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. ay. Del. ay. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. no. Geo. ay.10

Doctr. FRANKLYN said he approved of the amendment just made for rendering the salaries as fixed as possible; but disliked the word “liberal.” he would prefer the word moderate if it was necessary to substitute any other. He remarked the tendency of abuses in every case, to grow of themselves when once begun, and related very pleasantly the progression in ecclesiastical benefices, from the first departure from the gratuitous provision for the Apostles, to the establishment of the papal system. The word “liberal” was struck out nem. con.

On the motion of Mr. PIERCE, that the wages should be paid out of the National Treasury,

Massts. ay. Ct. no. N. Y. no. N. J. ay. Pa. ay. Del. ay. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. no. G. ay.11

Question on the clause relating to term of service & compensation of12 1st. branch

Massts. ay. Ct. no. N. Y. no. N. J. ay. Pa. ay. Del. ay. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. no. Geo. ay.13

On a question for striking out the “ineligibility of members of 12 Natl. Legis: to State offices.”

Massts. divd. Cont. ay. N. Y. ay. N. J. no. Pa. no. Del. no. Md. divd. Va. no. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. no14

On the question for agreeing to the clause as amended Massts. ay. Cont. no. N. Y. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. ay. Del. ay. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. ay.15

On a question for making Members of16 Natl. legislature ineligible to any office under the Natl. Govt. for the term of 3 years after ceasing to be members.

Massts. no. Cont. no. N. Y. no. N. J. no. Pa. no. Del. no. Md. ay. Va. no. N. C. no. S. C. no. Geo. no.17

On the question for such ineligibility for one year

Massts. ay. Ct. ay. N. Y. no. N. J. ay. Pa. ay. Del. ay. Md. divd. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. no. 18

On16 question moved by Mr. PINCKNEY for striking out “incapable of re- election into16 1st. branch of16 Natl. Legisl. for years, and subject to recall” agd. to nem. con.

On16 question for striking out from Resol: 519 the words requiring members of the senatorial branch to be of the age of years at least

Massts. no. Cont. ay. N. Y. no. N. J. ay. Pa. ay. Del. no. Md. no. Va. no. N. C. divd. S. C. no. Geo. divd.20

On the question for filling the blank with 30 years as the qualification; it was agreed to.

Massts. ay. Cont. no. N. Y. ay. N. J. no. Pa. ay. Del. no. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. no21

Mr. SPAIGHT moved to fill the blank for the duration of the appointmts. to the 2d. branch of the National Legislature with the words “7 years.

Mr. SHERMAN, thought 7 years too long. He grounded his opposition he said on the principle that if they did their duty well, they would be reelected. And if they acted amiss, an earlier opportunity should be allowed for getting rid of them. He preferred 5 years which wd. be between the terms of22 1st. branch & of the executive

Mr. PIERCE proposed 3 years. 7 years would raise an alarm. Great mischiefs had23 arisen in England from their septennial act which was reprobated by most of their patriotic Statesmen.

Mr. RANDOLPH was for the term of 7 years. The democratic licentiousness of the State Legislatures proved the necessity of a firm Senate. The object of this 2d. branch is to controul the democratic branch of the Natl. Legislature. If it be not a firm body, the other branch being more numerous, and coming immediately from the people, will overwhelm it. The Senate of Maryland constituted on like principles had been scarcely able to stem the popular torrent. No mischief can be apprehended, as the concurrence of the other branch, and in some measure, of the Executive, will in all cases be necessary. A firmness & independence may be the more necessary also in this branch, as it ought to guard the Constitution agst. encroachments of the Executive who will be apt to form combinations with the demagogues of the popular branch.

Mr. MADISON, considered 7 years as a term by no means too long. What we wished was to give to the Govt. that stability which was every where called for, and which the Enemies of the Republican form alledged to be inconsistent with its nature. He was not afraid of giving too much stability by the term of Seven years. His fear was that the popular branch would still be too great an overmatch for it. It was to be much lamented that we had so little direct experience to guide us. The Constitution of Maryland was the only one that bore any analogy to this part of the plan. In no instance had the Senate of Maryd. created just suspicions of danger from it. In some instances perhaps it may have erred by yielding to the H. of Delegates. In every instance of their opposition to the measures of the H. of D. they had had with them the suffrages of the most enlightened and impartial people of the other States as well as of their own. In the States where the Senates were chosen in the same manner as the other branches, of the Legislature, and held their seats for 4 years, the institution was found to be no check whatever agst. the instabilities of the other branches. He conceived it to be of great importance that a stable & firm Govt. organized in the republican form should be held out to the people. If this be not done, and the people be left to judge of this species of Govt. by ye. operations of the defective systems under which they now live, it is much to be feared the time is not distant when, in universal disgust, they will renounce the blessing which they have purchased at so dear a rate, and be ready for any change that may be proposed to them.

On the question for “seven years” as the term for the 2d. branch

Massts. divided ( Mr. King, Mr. Ghorum ay- Mr. Gerry, Mr. Strong, no) Cont. no. N. Y. divd. N. J. ay. Pa. ay. Del. ay. Md. ay. Vt. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. ay.24

Mr. BUTLER & Mr. RUTLIDGE proposed that the members of the 2d. branch should be entitled to no salary or compensation for their services

On the question,25 Massts. divd. Cont. ay. N. Y. no. N. J. no. P. no. Del. ay. Md. no. Va. no. N. C. no. S. C. ay. Geo. no.27

It was then moved & agreed that the clauses respecting the stipends & ineligibility of the 2d. branch be the same as, of the 1st branch: Con: disagreeing to the ineligibility.

It was moved & 2ded. to alter Resol: 9.28 so as to read “that the jurisdiction of the supreme tribunal shall be to hear & determine in the dernier resort, all piracies, felonies &c.”

It was moved & 2ded. to strike out “all piracies & felonies on the high seas,” which was agreed to.

It was moved & agreed to strike out “all captures from an enemy.”

It was moved & agreed to strike out “other States” and insert “two distinct States of the Union”

It was moved & agreed to postpone the consideration of Resolution 9,28 relating to the Judiciary:

The Come. then rose & the House adjourned


1 The word “the” is here inserted in the transcript. Return to text

2 The word “was” is here inserted in the transcript. Return to text

3 The words “the fifteenth Resolution” are substituted in the transcript for “Resolution 15.” Return to text

4 The word “United” is here inserted in the transcript. Return to text

5 Pennsylvania omitted in the printed Journal. The vote is there entered as of June 11th. Return to text

6 In the transcript the vote reads: “Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, 5 Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye-6; Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, no-3; Delaware, Maryland, divided.” Return to text

7 The word “the” is here inserted in the transcript. Return to text

8 In the transcript the vote reads: “New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, aye-7; Massachusetts [ Mr. King, aye, Mr. Gorham, wavering] Connecticut, North Carolina, South Carolina, no-4.” Return to text

9 The figures “1″ and “2″ are changed to “First” and “Secondly” in the transcript. Return to text

10 In the transcript the vote reads: “New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, aye-8; Massachusetts, Connecticut, South Carolina, no-3.” Return to text

11 In the transcript the vote reads: “Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, aye-8; Connecticut, New York, South Carolina, no-3.” Return to text

12 The word “the” is here inserted in the transcript. Return to text

13 In the transcript the vote reads: “Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, aye-8; Connecticut, New York, South Carolina, no-3.” Return to text

14 In the transcript the vote reads: “Connecticut, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, aye-4; New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, Georgia, no-5; Massachusetts, Maryland, divided.” Return to text

15 In the transcript the vote reads: “Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye-10; Connecticut, no-1.” Return to text

16 The word “the” is here inserted in the transcript. Return to text

17 In the transcript the vote reads: “Maryland, aye-1; Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no-10.” Return to text

18 In the transcript the vote reads: “Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, aye- 8; New York, Georgia, no-2; Maryland, divided.” Return to text

19 The words “the fifth Resolution” are substituted in the transcript for “Resol: 5.” Return to text

20 In the transcript the vote reads: “Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, aye-3; Massachusetts, New York, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, no-6; North Carolina, Georgia, divided.” Return to text

21 In the transcript the vote reads: “Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia North Carolina, South Carolina, aye-7; Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Georgia, no-4.” Return to text

22 The word “the” is here inserted in the transcript. Return to text

23 The word “have” is substituted in the transcript for “had.” Return to text

24 In the transcript the vote reads: “New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye-8; Connecticut, no-I; Massachusetts [ Mr. Gorham and Mr. King, aye; Mr. Gerry and Mr. Strong, no] New York, Divided.” Return to text

25 [It is probable ye. votes here turned chiefly on the idea that if the salaries were not here provided for the members would be paid by their respective States] This note for the bottom margin.26 Return to text

26 Madison’s direction is omitted in the transcript. Return to text

27 In the transcript the vote reads: “Connecticut, Delaware, South Carolina, aye-3; New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, no-7; Massachusetts, divided.” Return to text

28 The words “the ninth Resolution” are substituted in the transcript for “Resol: 9.” 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.

View Interactive

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