Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787
by James Madison
Monday, June 18
In Committee of the Whole, on the propositions of Mr. PATTERSON and Mr. RANDOLPH, — On motion of Mr. DICKINSON, to postpone the first Resolution in Mr. PATTERSON’s plan, in order to take up the following, viz.: “that the Articles of Confederation ought to be revised and amended, so as to render the Government of the United States adequate to the exigencies, the preservation, and the prosperity of the Union,” — the postponement was agreed to by ten States; Pennsylvania, divided.
Mr. HAMILTON had been hitherto silent on the business before the Convention, partly from respect to others whose superior abilities, age and experience, rendered him unwilling to bring forward ideas dissimilar to theirs; and partly from his delicate situation with respect to his own State, to whose sentiments, as expressed by his colleagues, he could by no means accede. The crisis, however, which now marked our affairs, was too serious to permit any scruples whatever to prevail over the duty imposed on every man to contribute his efforts for the public safety and happiness. He was obliged, therefore, to declare himself unfriendly to both plans. He was particularly opposed to that from New Jersey, being fully convinced, that no amendment of the Confederation, leaving the States in possession of their sovereignty, could possibly answer the purpose. On the other hand, he confessed he was much discouraged by the amazing extent of country, in expecting the desired blessings from any general sovereignty that could be substituted. As to the powers of the Convention, he thought the doubts started on that subject had arisen from distinctions and reasonings too subtle. A federal government he conceived to mean an association of independent communities into one. Different confederacies have different powers, and exercise them in different ways. In some instances, the powers are exercised over collective bodies, in others, over individuals, as in the German Diet; and among ourselves, in cases of piracy. Great latitude, therefore, must be given to the signification of the term. The plan last proposed departs, itself, from the federal idea, as understood by some, since it is to operate eventually on individuals. He agreed, moreover, with the Honorable gentleman from Virginia, (Mr. RANDOLPH), that he owed it to our country, to do, on this emergency, whatever we should deem essential to its happiness. The States sent us here to provide for the exigencies of the Union. To rely on and propose any plan not adequate to these exigencies, merely because it was not clearly within our powers, would be to sacrifice the means to the end. It may be said, that the States cannot ratify a plan not within the purview of the Article of the Confederation providing for alterations and amendments. But may not the States themselves, in which no constitutional authority equal to this purpose exists in the Legislatures, have had in view a reference to the people at large? In the Senate of New York, a proviso was moved, that no act of the Convention should be binding until it should be referred to the people and ratified; and the motion was lost by a single voice only, the reason assigned against it being, that it might possibly be found an inconvenient shackle.
The great question is, what provision shall we make for the happiness of our country? He would first make a comparative examination of the two plans — prove that there were essential defects in both — and point out such changes as might render a national one efficacious. The great and essential principles necessary for the support of government are 1. An active and constant interest in supporting it. This principle does not exist in the States, in favor of the Federal Government. They have evidently in a high degree, the esprit de corps. They constantly pursue internal interests adverse to those of the whole. They have their particular debts, their particular plans of finance, &c. All these, when opposed to, invariably prevail over, the requisitions and plans of Congress. 2. The love of power. Men love power. The same remarks are applicable to this principle. The States have constantly shown a disposition rather to regain the powers delegated by them, than to part with more, or to give effect to what they had parted with. The ambition of their demagogues is known to hate the control of the General Government. It may be remarked, too, that the citizens have not that anxiety to prevent a dissolution of the General Government as of the particular governments. A dissolution of the latter would be fatal; of the former, would still leave the purposes of government attainable to a considerable degree. Consider what such a State as Virginia will be in a few years, a few compared with the life of nations. How strongly will it feel its importance and self-sufficiency! 3. An habitual attachment of the people. The whole force of this tie is on the side of the State Government. Its sovereignty is immediately before the eyes of the people; its protection is immediately enjoyed by them. From its hand distributive justice, and all those acts which familiarize and endear a government to a people, are dispensed to them. 4. Force, by which may be understood a coercion of laws, or coercion of arms. Congress have not the former, except in few cases. In particular States, this coercion is nearly sufficient; though he held it, in most cases, not entirely so. A certain portion of military force is absolutely necessary in large communities. Massachusetts is now feeling this necessity, and making provision for it. But how can this force be exerted on the States collectively? It is impossible. It amounts to a war between the parties. Foreign powers also will not be idle spectators. They will interpose; the confusion will increase; and a dissolution of the Union will ensue. 5. Influence, — he did not mean corruption, but a dispensation of those regular honors and emoluments which produce an attachment to the government. Almost all the weight of these is on the side of the States; and must continue so as long as the States continue to exist. All the passions, then, we see, of avarice, ambition, interest, which govern most individuals, and all public bodies, fall into the current of the States, and do not flow into the stream of the General Government. The former, therefore, will generally be an overmatch for the General Government, and render any confederacy in its very nature precarious. Theory is in this case fully confirmed by experience. The Amphictyonic Council had, it would seem, ample powers for general purposes. It had, in particular, the power of fining and using force against, delinquent members. What was the consequence? Their decrees were mere signals of war. The Phocian war is a striking example of it. Philip at length, taking advantage of their disunion, and insinuating himself into their councils, made himself master of their fortunes. The German confederacy affords another lesson. The authority of Charlemagne seemed to be as great as could be necessary. The great feudal chiefs, however, exercising their local sovereignties, soon felt the spirit, and found the means, of encroachments, which reduced the Imperial authority to a nominal sovereignty. The Diet has succeeded, which, though aided by a Prince at its head, of great authority independently of his imperial attributes, is a striking illustration of the weakness of confederated governments. Other examples instruct us in the same truth. The Swiss Cantons have scarce any union at all, and have been more than once at war with one another. How then are all these evils to be avoided? Only by such a complete sovereignty in the General Government as will turn all the strong principles and passions above-mentioned on its side. Does the scheme of New Jersey produce this effect? Does it afford any substantial remedy whatever? On the contrary, it labors under great defects, and the defect of some of its provisions will destroy the efficacy of others. It gives a direct revenue to Congress, but this will not be sufficient. The balance can only be supplied by requisitions; which experience proves cannot be relied on. If States are to deliberate on the mode, they will also deliberate on the object, of the supplies; and will grant or not grant, as they approve or disapprove of it. The delinquency of one will invite and countenance it in others. Quotas too, must, in the nature of things, be so unequal, as to produce the same evil. To what standard will you resort? Land is a fallacious one. Compare Holland with Russia; France, or England, with other countries of Europe; Pennsylvania with North Carolina, — will the relative pecuniary abilities, in those instances, correspond with the relative value of land? Take numbers of inhabitants for the rule, and make like comparison of different countries, and you will find it to be equally unjust. The different degrees of industry and improvement in different countries render the first object a precarious measure of wealth. Much depends, too, on situation. Connecticut, New Jersey, and North Carolina, not being commercial States, and contributing to the wealth of the commercial ones, can never bear quotas assessed by the ordinary rules of proportion. They will, and must, fail in their duty. Their example will be followed, — and the union itself be dissolved. Whence, then, is the national revenue to be drawn? From commerce; even from exports, which, notwithstanding the common opinion, are fit objects of moderate taxation; from excise, &c., &c. — These, though not equal, are less unequal than quotas. Another destructive ingredient in the plan is that equality of suffrage which is so much desired by the small States. It is not in human nature that Virginia and the large States should consent to it; or, if they did, that they should long abide by it. It shocks too much all ideas of justice, and every human feeling. Bad principles in a government, though slow, are sure in their operation, and will gradually destroy it. A doubt has been raised whether Congress at present have a right to keep ships or troops in time of peace. He leans to the negative. Mr. PATTERSON’s plan provides no remedy. If the powers proposed were adequate, the organization of Congress is such, that they could never be properly and effectually exercised. The members of Congress, being chosen by the States and subject to recall, represent all the local prejudices. Should the powers be found effectual, they will from time to time be heaped on them, till a tyrannic sway shall be established. The General power, whatever be its form, if it preserves itself, must swallow up the state powers. Otherwise, it will be swallowed up by them. It is against all the principles of a good government, to vest the requisite powers in such a body as Congress. Two sovereignties cannot co-exist within the same limits. Giving powers to Congress must eventuate in a bad government, or in no government. The plan of New Jersey, therefore, will not do. What, then, is to be done? Here he was embarrassed. The extent of the country to be governed discouraged him. The expense of a General Government was also formidable; unless there were such a diminution of expense on the side of the State Governments, as the case would admit. If they were extinguished, he was persuaded that great economy might be obtained by substituting a General Government. He did not mean, however, to shock the public opinion by proposing such a measure. On the other hand, he saw no other necessity for declining it. They are not necessary for any of the great purposes of commerce, revenue, or agriculture. Subordinate authorities, he was aware, would be necessary. There must be district tribunals; corporations for local purposes. But cui bono the vast and expensive apparatus now appertaining to the States? The only difficulty of a serious nature which occurred to him, was that of drawing representatives from the extremes to the centre of the community. What inducements can be offered that will suffice? The moderate wages for the first branch could only be a bait to little demagogues. Three dollars, or thereabouts, he supposed, would be the utmost. The Senate, he feared, from a similar cause, would be filled by certain undertakers, who wish for particular offices under the government. This view of the subject almost led him to despair that a republican government could be established over so great an extent. He was sensible, at the same time, that it would be unwise to propose one of any other form. In his private opinion, he had no scruple in declaring, supported as he was by the opinion of so many of the wise and good, that the British Government was the best in the world: and that he doubted much whether any thing short of it would do in America. He hoped gentlemen of different opinions would bear with him in this, and begged them to recollect the change of opinion on this subject which had taken place, and was still going on. It was once thought, that the power of Congress was amply sufficient to secure the end of their institution. The error was now seen by every one. The members most tenacious of republicanism, he observed, were as loud as any in declaiming against the vices of democracy. This progress of the public mind led him to anticipate the time, when others as well as himself, would join in the praise bestowed by Mr. NECKAR on the British Constitution, namely, that it is the only government in the world “which unites public strength with individual security.” In every community where industry is encouraged, there will be a division of it into the few and the many. Hence, separate interests will arise. There will be debtors and creditors, &c. Give all power to the many, they will oppress the few. Give all power to the few, they will oppress the many. Both, therefore, ought to have the power, that each may defend itself against the other. To the want of this check we owe our paper-money, instalment laws, &c. To the proper adjustment of it the British owe the excellence of their constitution. Their House of Lords is a most noble institution. Having nothing to hope for by a change, and a sufficient interest, by means of their property, in being faithful to the national interest, they form a permanent barrier against every pernicious innovation, whether attempted on the part of the Crown or of the Commons. No temporary Senate will have firmness enough to answer the purpose. The Senate of Maryland which seems to be so much appealed to, has not yet been sufficiently tried. Had the people been unanimous and eager in the late appeal to them on the subject of a paper emission, they would have yielded to the torrent. Their acquiescing in such an appeal is a proof of it. Gentlemen differ in their opinions concerning the necessary checks, from the different estimates they form of the human passions. They suppose seven years a sufficient period to give the Senate an adequate firmness, from not duly considering the amazing violence and turbulence of the democratic spirit. When a great object of government is pursued, which seizes the popular passions, they spread like wild-fire and become irresistible. He appealed to the gentlemen from the New England States, whether experience had not there verified the remark. As to the Executive, it seemed to be admitted that no good one could be established on republican principles. Was not this giving up the merits of the question; for can there be a good government without a good Executive? The English model was the only good one on this subject. The hereditary interest of the King was so interwoven with that of the nation, and his personal emolument so great, that he was placed above the danger of being corrupted from abroad; and at the same time was both sufficiently independent and sufficiently controlled, to answer the purpose of the institution at home. One of the weak sides of republics was their being liable to foreign influence and corruption. Men of little character, acquiring great power, become easily the tools of intermeddling neighbors. Sweden was a striking instance. The French and English had each their parties during the late revolution, which was effected by the predominant influence of the former. What is the inference from all these observations? That we ought to go as far, in order to attain stability and permanency, as republican principles will admit. Let one branch of the Legislature hold their places for life, or at least during good behavior. Let the Executive also, be for life. He appealed to the feelings of the members present, whether a term of seven years would induce the sacrifices of private affairs which an acceptance of public trust would require, so as to insure the services of the best citizens. On this plan, we should have in the Senate a permanent will, a weighty interest, which would answer essential purposes. But is this a republican government, it will be asked. Yes, if all the magistrates are appointed and vacancies are filled by the people, or a process of election originating with the people. He was sensible that an Executive, constituted as he proposed, would have in fact but little of the power and independence that might be necessary. On the other plan, of appointing him for seven years, he thought the Executive ought to have but little power. He would be ambitious, with the means of making creatures; and as the object of his ambition would be to prolong his power, it is probable that, in case of war he would avail himself of the emergency, to evade or refuse a degradation from his place. An Executive for life has not this motive for forgetting his fidelity, and will therefore be a safer depository of power. It will be objected, probably, that such an Executive will be an elective monarch, and will give birth to the tumults which characterize that form of government. He would reply, that monarch is an indefinite term. It marks not either the degree or duration of power. If this Executive magistrate would be a monarch for life, the other proposed by the Report from the Committee of the Whole would be a monarch for seven years. The circumstance of being elective was also applicable to both. It had been observed, by judicious writers, that elective monarchies would be the best if they could be guarded against the tumults excited by the ambition and intrigues of competitors. He was not sure that tumults were an inseparable evil. He thought this character of elective monarchies had been taken rather from particular cases, than from general principles. The election of Roman Emperors was made by the army. In Poland the election is made by great rival princes, with independent power, and ample means of raising commotions. In the German Empire, the appointment is made by the Electors and Princes, who have equal motives and means for exciting cabals and parties. Might not such a mode of election be devised among ourselves, as will defend the community against these effects in any dangerous degree? Having made these observations, he would read to the Committee a sketch of a plan which he should prefer to either of those under consideration. He was aware that it went beyond the ideas of most members. But will such a plan be adopted out of doors? In return he would ask, will the people adopt the other plan? At present they will adopt neither. But he sees the Union dissolving, or already dissolved — he sees evils operating in the States which must soon cure the people of their fondness for democracies — he sees that a great progress has been already made, and is still going on, in the public mind. He thinks, therefore, that the people will in time be unshackled from their prejudices; and whenever that happens, they will themselves not be satisfied at stopping where the plan of Mr. RANDOLPH would place them, but be ready to go as far at least as he proposes. He did not mean to offer the paper he had sketched as a proposition to that Committee. It was meant only to give a more correct view of his ideas, and to suggest the amendments which he should probably propose to the plan of Mr. RANDOLPH, in the proper stages of its future discussion. He reads his sketch in the words following: to wit.
“I. The supreme Legislative power of the United States of America to be vested in two different bodies of men; the one to be called the Assembly, the other the Senate; who together shall form the Legislature of the United States, with power to pass all laws whatsoever, subject to the negative hereafter mentioned.
“II. The Assembly to consist of persons elected by the people to serve for three years.
“III. The Senate to consist of persons elected to serve during good behaviour; their election to be made by electors chosen for that purpose by the people. In order to this, the States to be divided into election districts. On the death, removal or resignation of any Senator, his place to be filled out of the district from which he came.
“IV. The supreme Executive authority of the United States to be vested in a Governor, to be elected to serve during good behaviour; the election to be made by Electors chosen by the people in the Election Districts aforesaid. The authorities and functions of the Executive to be as follows: to have a negative on all laws about to be passed, and the execution of all laws passed; to have the direction of war when authorized or begun; to have, with the advice and approbation of the Senate, the power of making all treaties; to have the sole appointment of the heads or chief officers of the Departments of Finance, War, and Foreign Affairs; to have the nomination of all other officers, (ambassadors to foreign nations included,) subject to the approbation or rejection of the Senate; to have the power of pardoning all offences except treason, which he shall not pardon without the approbation of the Senate.
“V. On the death, resignation, or removal of the Governor, his authorities to be exercised by the President of the Senate till a successor be appointed.
“VI. The Senate to have the sole power of declaring war; the power of advising and approving all treaties; the power of approving or rejecting all appointments of officers, except the heads or chiefs of the Departments of Finance, War, and Foreign Affairs.
“VII. The supreme Judicial authority to be vested in Judges, to hold their offices during good behaviour, with adequate and permanent salaries. This court to have original jurisdiction in all causes of capture, and an appellative jurisdiction in all causes in which the revenues of the General Government, or the citizens of foreign nations, are concerned.
“VIII. The Legislature of the United States to have power to institute courts in each State for the determination of all matters of general concern.
“IX. The Governor, Senators, and all officers of the United States, to be liable to impeachment for mal- and corrupt conduct; and upon conviction to be removed from office, and disqualified for holding any place of trust or profit: all impeachments to be tried by a Court to consist of the Chief —, or Judge of the Superior Court of Law of each State, provided such Judge shall hold his place during good behavior and have a permanent salary.
“X. All laws of the particular States contrary to the Constitution or laws of the United States to be utterly void; and the better to prevent such laws being passed, the Governor or President of each State shall be appointed by the General Government, and shall have a negative upon the laws about to be passed in the State of which he is the Governor or President.
“XI. No State to have any forces land or naval; and the militia of all the States to be under the sole and exclusive direction of the United States, the officers of which to be appointed and commissioned by them.”
On these several articles he entered into explanatory observations1 corresponding with the principles of his introductory reasoning.The Committee rose, and the House adjourned.
1 The speech introducing the plan, as above taken down and written out, was seen by Mr. Hamilton, who approved its correctness, with one or two verbal changes, which were made as he suggested. The explanatory observations which did not immediately follow, were to have been furnished by Mr. H. who did not find leisure at the time to write them out, and they were not obtained. Judge Yates, in his notes, appears to have consolidated the explanatory with the introductory observations of Mr. Hamilton (under date of June 19th, a typographical error). It was in the former, Mr. Madison observed, that Mr. Hamilton, in speaking of popular governments, however modified, made the remark attributed to him by Judge Yates, that they were “but pork still, with a little change of sauce.” Return to text