Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787

by James Madison

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Saturday, June 23


The 3. Resol: resumed.1

On2 Question yesterday postponed by S. Carol: for agreeing to the whole sentence “for allowing an adequate compensation to be paid out of the Treasury of the U. States”

Masts. ay. Cont. no. N. Y. no. N. J. ay. Pena. ay Del. no. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C. no. S. C. no. Geo divided.3 So the question was lost, & the sentence not inserted:

Genl. PINKNEY moves to strike out the ineligibility of members of the 1st. branch to offices established “by a particular State.” He argued from the inconveniency4 to which such a restriction would expose both the members of the 1st. branch, and the States wishing for their services;5 from the smallness of the object to be attained by the restriction.

It wd. seem from the ideas of some that we are erecting a Kingdom to be divided agst. itself, he disapproved such a fetter on the Legislature.

Mr. SHERMAN seconds the motion. It wd. seem that we are erecting a Kingdom at war with itself. The Legislature ought not to6 fettered in such a case. on the question

Masts. no. Cont. ay. N. Y. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. no. Del. no. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. ay.7

Mr. MADISON renewed his motion yesterday made & waved to render the members of the 1st. branch “ineligible during their term of service, & for one year after- to such offices only as should be established, or the emoluments thereof, augmented by the Legislature of the U. States during the time of their being members.” He supposed that the unnecessary creation of offices, and increase of salaries, were the evils most experienced, & that if the door was shut agst. them: it might properly be left open for the appointt. of members to other offices as an encouragemt. to the Legislative service.

Mr. Alex: MARTIN seconded the motion.

Mr. BUTLER. The amendt. does not go far eno’ & wd. be easily evaded

Mr. RUTLIDGE, was for preserving the Legislature as pure as possible, by shutting the door against appointments of its own members to offices,8 which was one source of its corruption.

Mr. MASON. The motion of my colleague is but a partial remedy for the evil. He appealed to him as a witness of the shameful partiality of the Legislature of Virginia to its own members. He enlarged on the abuses & corruption in the British Parliament, connected with the appointment of its members. He cd. not suppose that a sufficient number of Citizens could not be found who would be ready, without the inducement of eligibility to offices, to undertake the Legislative service. Genius & virtue it may be said, ought to be encouraged. Genius, for aught he knew, might, but that virtue should be encouraged by such a species of venality, was an idea, that at least had the merit of being new.

Mr. KING remarked that we were refining too much in this business; and that the idea of preventing intrigue and solicitation of offices was chimerical. You say that no member shall himself be eligible to any office. Will this restrain him from from availing himself of the same means which would gain appointments for himself, to gain them for his son, his brother, or any other object of his partiality. We were losing therefore the advantages on one side, without avoiding the evils on the other.

Mr. WILSON supported the motion. The proper cure he said for corruption in the Legislature was to take from it the power of appointing to offices. One branch of corruption would indeed remain, that of creating unnecessary offices, or granting unnecessary salaries, and for that the amendment would be a proper remedy. He animadverted on the impropriety of stigmatizing with the name of venality the laudable ambition of rising into the honorable offices of the Government; an ambition most likely to be felt in the early & most incorrupt period of life, & which all wise & free Govts. had deemed it sound policy, to cherish, not to check. The members of the Legislature have perhaps the hardest & least profitable task of any who engage in the service of the state. Ought this merit to be made a disqualification?

Mr. SHERMAN, observed that the motion did not go far enough. It might be evaded by the creation of a new office, the translation to it of a person from another office, and the appointment of a member of the Legislature to the latter. A new Embassy might be established to a new Court, & an ambassador taken from another, in order to create a vacancy for a favorite member. He admitted that inconveniencies lay on both sides. He hoped there wd. be sufficient inducements to the public service without resorting to the prospect of desireable offices, and on the whole was rather agst. the motion of Mr. Madison.

Mr. GERRY thought there was great weight in the objection of Mr. Sherman. He added as another objection agst. admitting the eligibility of members in any case that it would produce intrigues of ambitious men for displacing proper officers, in order to create vacancies for themselves. In answer to Mr. King he observed that although members, if disqualified themselves might still intrigue & cabal for their sons, brothers &c, yet as their own interest would be dearer to them, than those of their nearest connections, it might be expected they would go greater lengths to promote it.

Mr. MADISON had been led to this motion as a middle ground between an eligibility in all cases, and an absolute disqualification. He admitted the probable abuses of an eligibility of the members, to offices, particularly within the gift of the Legislature He had witnessed the partiality of such bodies to their own members, as had been remarked of the Virginia assembly by his colleague Col. Mason. He appealed however to him, in turn to vouch another fact not less notorious in Virginia, that the backwardness of the best citizens to engage in the Legislative service gave but too great success to unfit characters. The question was not to be viewed on one side only. The advantages & disadvantages on both ought to be fairly compared. The objects to be aimed at were to fill all offices with the fittest characters, & to draw the wisest & most worthy citizens into the Legislative service. If on one hand, public bodies were partial to their own members; on the other they were as apt to be misled by taking characters on report, or the authority of patrons and dependents. All who had been concerned in the appointment of strangers on those recommendations must be sensible of this truth. Nor wd. the partialities of such Bodies be obviated by disqualifying their own members. Candidates for office would hover round the seat of Govt. or be found among the residents there, and practise all the means of courting the favor of the members. A great proportion of the appointments made by the States were evidently brought about in this way. In the general Govt. the evil must be still greater, the characters of distant states, being much less known throughout the U. States than those of the distant parts of the same State. The elections by Congress had generally turned on men living at the seat of the fedl Govt. or in its neighbourhood.-As to the next object, the impulse to the Legislative service, was evinced by experience to be in general too feeble with those best qualified for it. This inconveniency9 wd. also be more felt in the Natl. Govt. than in the State Govts. as the sacrifices reqd. from the distant members, wd. be much greater, and the pecuniary provisions, probably, more disproportiate. It wd. therefore be impolitic to add fresh objections to the Legislative service by an absolute disqualification of its members. The point in question was whether this would be an objection with the most capable citizens. Arguing from experience he concluded that it would. The Legislature of Virga. would probably have been without many of its best members, if in that situation, they had been ineligible to Congs. to the Govt. & other honorable offices of the State.

Mr. BUTLER thought Characters fit for office wd. never be unknown.

Col. MASON. If the members of the Legislature are disqualified, still the honors of the State will induce those who aspire to them to enter that service, as the field in which they can best display & improve their talents, & lay the train for their subsequent advancement.

Mr. JENIFER remarked that in Maryland, the Senators chosen for five years, cd. hold no other office & that this circumstance gained them the greatest confidence of the people.

On the question for agreeing to the motion of Mr. Madison.

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

Mr. SHERMAN movd. to insert the words “and incapable of holding” after the words “eligible to offices”11 wch. was agreed to without opposition.

The word “established” & the words “12 Natl. Govt.” were struck out of Resolution 3d.:13

Mr. SPAIGHT called for a division of the question, in consequence of which it was so put, as that it turned in14 the first member of it, “on the ineligibility of the15 members during the term for which they were elected”-whereon the States were,

Massts. divd. Ct. ay. N. Y. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. no. Del. ay. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. no.16

On the 2d. member of the sentence extending ineligibility of members to one year after the term for which they were elected

Col MASON thought this essential to guard agst. evasions by resignations, and stipulations for office to be fulfilled at the expiration of the legislative term. Mr. GERRY, had known such a case. Mr. HAMILTON. Evasions cd. not be prevented-as by proxies- by friends holding for a year, & them17 opening the way &c. Mr. RUTLIDGE admitted the possibility of evasions but was for controuling them as possible.18 19Mass. no. Ct. no. N. Y. ay. N. J. no. Pa. divd. Del. ay. Mard. ay Va. no. N. C. no. S. C. ay. Geo. no.20


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

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

4 The word “inconveniency” is changed to “inconvenience” in the transcript.  Return to text

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

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

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

8 The transcript uses the word “offices” in the singular.  Return to text

9 The word “inconveniency” is changed to “inconvenience” in the transcript.  Return to text

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

11 The words “ineligible to any office” are substituted in the transcript for “eligible to offices.”  Return to text

12 The words “under the” are here inserted in the transcript.  Return to text

13 The words “the third Resolution” are substituted in the transcript for “Resolution 3d”  Return to text

14 The word “on” is substituted in the transcript for “in.”  Return to text

15 The word “the” is omitted in the transcript.  Return to text

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

17 The word “then” is substituted in the transcript for “them.”  Return to text

18 The phrase “contracting them as far as possible” is substituted in the transcript for “controuling them as possible.”  Return to text

19 The words “On the question” are here inserted in the transcript.  Return to text

20 In the transcript the vote reads: “New York, Delaware, Maryland, South Carolina, aye-4; Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, no-6; Pennsylvania, divided.”  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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