Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787

by James Madison


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Saturday, June 23

In Convention, — The third Resolution being resumed, —

On the question, yesterday postponed by South Carolina, for agreeing to the whole sentence, “for allowing an adequate compensation, to be paid out of the Treasury of the United States,” — Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, aye — 5; Connecticut, New York, Delaware, North Carolina, South Carolina, no — 5; Georgia, divided. So the question was lost, and the sentence not inserted.

General PINCKNEY moves to strike out the ineligibility of members of the first branch to offices established “by a particular State.” He argued from the inconvenience to which such a restriction would expose both the members of the first branch, and the States wishing for their services; and from the smallness of the object to be attained by the restriction. It would seem from the ideas of some, that we are erecting a kingdom to be divided against itself: he disapproved such a fetter on the Legislature.

Mr. SHERMAN seconds the motion. It would seem that we are erecting a kingdom at war with itself. The Legislature ought not to be fettered in such a case.

On the question, — Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye — 8; Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Delaware, no — 3.

Mr. MADISON renewed his motion, yesterday made and waived, to render the members of the first branch “ineligible during their term of service, and for one year after, to such offices only, as should be established, or the emolument augmented, by the Legislature of the United 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, and that if the door was shut against them, it might properly be left open for the appointment of members to other offices as an encouragement to the legislative service.

Mr. ALEXANDER MARTIN seconded the motion.

Mr. BUTLER. The amendment does not go far enough, and would be easily evaded.

Mr. RUTLEDGE was for preserving the Legislature as pure as possible, by shutting the door against appointments of its own members to office, 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 and corruption in the British Parliament connected with the appointment of its members. He could 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 and 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 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 honourable offices of the Government, — an ambition most likely to be felt in the early and most incorrupt period of life, and which all wise and free governments had deemed it sound policy to cherish not to check. The members of the Legislature have, perhaps, the hardest and 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, and an ambassador taken from another, in order to create a vacancy for a favorite member. He admitted that inconveniences lay on both sides. He hoped there would be sufficient inducements to the public service without resorting to the prospect of desirable offices; and on the whole was rather against the motion of Mr. MADISON.

Mr. GERRY thought there was great weight in the objection of Mr. SHERMAN. He added, as another objection against 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 and cabal for their sons, brothers, &c., yet as their own interests would be dearer to them than those of their nearest connexions, it might be expected they would go greater lengths to promote them.

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, (Colonel 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 and disadvantages on both ought to be fairly compared. The objects to be aimed at were to fill all offices with the fittest characters, and to draw the wisest and 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 would the partialities of such bodies be obviated by disqualifying their own members. Candidates for office would hover round the seat of government, 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 Government, the evil must be still greater, the characters of distant States being much less known throughout the United 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 Federal Government, or in its neighborhood. 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 inconvenience would also be more felt in the National Government than in the State Governments, as the sacrifices required from the distant members would be much greater, and the pecuniary provisions, probably, more disproportionate. It would 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 Virginia would probably have been without many of its best members, if in that situation they had been ineligible to Congress, to the Government, and other honourable offices of the State.

Mr. BUTLER thought characters fit for office would never be unknown.

Colonel 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 and improve their talents, and lay the train for their subsequent advancement.

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

On the question for agreeing to the motion of Mr. MADISON, — Connecticut, New Jersey, aye — 2; New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no — 8; Massachusetts, divided.

Mr. SHERMAN moved to insert the words, “and incapable of holding” after the words “ineligible to,” which was agreed to without opposition.

The word “established,” and the words “under the national government,” were struck out of the third Resolution.

Mr. SPAIGHT called for a division of the question, in consequence of which it was so put as that it turned on the first member of it, on the ineligibility of members during the term for which they were elected — whereon the States were, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, aye — 8, Pennsylvania, Georgia, no — 2; Massachusetts, divided.

On the second member of the sentence, extending ineligibility of members to one year after the term for which they were elected, —

Colonel MASON thought this esential to guard against 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 could not be prevented, — as by proxies — by friends holding for a year, and then opening the way, &c.

Mr. RUTLEDGE admitted the possibility of evasions, but was for contracting them as far as possible. On the question, — New York, Delaware, Maryland, South Carolina, aye — 4; Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, no — 6; Pennsylvania, divided.

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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