Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787
by James Madison
Monday, June 25
Resolution 4.1 being taken up.
Mr. PINKNEY2 spoke as follows- The efficacy of the System will depend on this article. In order to form a right judgmt. in the case, it will be proper to examine the situation of this Country more accurately than it has yet been done. The people of the U. States are perhaps the most singular of any we are acquainted with. Among them there are fewer distinctions of fortune & less of rank, than among the inhabitants of any other nation. Every freeman has a right to the same protection & security; and a very moderate share of property entitles them to the possession of all the honors and privileges the public can bestow: hence arises a greater equality, than is to be found among the people of any other country, and an equality which is more likely to continue-I say this equality is likely to continue, because in a new Country, possessing immense tracts of uncultivated lands, where every temptation is offered to emigration & where industry must be rewarded with competency, there will be few poor, and few dependent-Every member of the Society almost, will enjoy an equal power of arriving at the supreme offices & consequently of directing the strength & sentiments of the whole Community. None will be excluded by birth, & few by fortune, from voting for proper persons to fill the offices of Government-the whole community will enjoy in the fullest sense that kind of political liberty which consists in the power the members of the State reserve to themselves, of arriving at the public offices, or at least, of having votes in the nomination of those who fill them.
If this State of things is true & the prospect of its continuing3 probable, it is perhaps not politic to endeavour too close an imitation of a Government calculated for a people whose situation is, & whose views ought to be extremely different Much has been said of the Constitution of G. Britain. I will confess that I believe it to be the best Constitution in existence; but at the same time I am confident it is one that will not or can not be introduced into this Country, for many centuries. -If it were proper to go here into a historical dissertation on the British Constitution, it might easily be shewn that the peculiar excellence, the distinguishing feature of that Governmt. can not possibly be introduced into our System-that its balance between the Crown & the people can not be made a part of our Constitution. -that we neither have or can have the members to compose it, nor the rights, privileges & properties of so distinct a class of Citizens to guard. -that the materials for forming this balance or check do not exist, nor is there a necessity for having so permanent a part of our Legislative, until the Executive power is so constituted as to have something fixed & dangerous in its principle-By this I mean a sole, hereditary, though limited Executive.
That we cannot have a proper body for forming a Legislative balance between the inordinate power of the Executive and the people, is evident from a review of the accidents & circumstances which gave rise to the peerage of Great Britain-I believe it is well ascertained that the parts which compose the British Constitution arose immediately from the forests of Germany; but the antiquity of the establishment of nobility is by no means clearly defined. Some authors are of opinion that the dignity denoted by the titles of dux et4 comes, was derived from the old Roman to the German Empire; while others are of opinion that they existed among the Germans long before the Romans were acquainted with them. The institution however of nobility is immemorial among the nations who may probably be termed the ancestors of5 Britain. -At the time they were summoned in England to become a part of the National Council, and6 the circumstances which have 6 contributed to make them a constituent part of that constitution, must be well known to all gentlemen who have had industry & curiosity enough to investigate the subject-The nobles with their possessions & and dependents composed a body permanent in their nature and formidable in point of power. They had a distinct interest both from the King and the people; an interest which could only be represented by themselves, and the guardianship7 could not be safely intrusted to others. -At the time they were originally called to form a part of the National Council, necessity perhaps as much as other cause, induced the Monarch to look up to them. It was necessary to demand the aid of his subjects in personal & pecuniary services. The power and possessions of the Nobility would not permit taxation from any assembly of which they were not a part: & the blending8 the deputies of the Commons with them, & thus forming what they called their parler-ment9 was perhaps as much the effect of chance as of any thing else. The Commons were at that time compleatly subordinate to the nobles, whose consequence & influence seem to have been the only reasons for their superiority; a superiority so degrading to the Commons that in the first Summons we find the peers are called upon to consult,10 the commons to consent.10 From this time the peers have composed a part of the British Legislature, and notwithstanding their power and influence have diminished & those of the Commons have increased, yet still they have always formed an excellent balance agst. either the encroachments of the Crown or the people.
I have said that such a body cannot exist in this Country for ages, and that untill the situation of our people is exceedingly changed no necessity will exist for so permanent a part of the Legislature. To illustrate this I have remarked that the people of the United States are more equal in their circumstances than the people of any other Country-that they have very few rich men among them,-by rich men I mean those whose riches may have a dangerous influence, or such as are esteemed rich in Europe-perhaps there are not one hundred such on the Continent; that it is not probable this number will be greatly increased: that the genius of the people, their mediocrity of situation & the prospects which are afforded their industry in a Country which must be a new one for centuries are unfavorable to the rapid distinction of ranks. The destruction of the right of primogeniture & the equal division of the property of Intestates will also have an effect to preserve this mediocrity; for laws invariably affect the manners of a people. On the other hand that vast extent of unpeopled territory which opens to the frugal & industrious a sure road to competency & independence will effectually prevent for a considerable time the increase of the poor or discontented, and be the means of preserving that equality of condition which so eminently distinguishes us.
If equality is as I contend the leading feature of the U. States, where then are the riches & wealth whose representation & protection is the peculiar province of this permanent body. Are they in the hands of the few who may be called rich; in the possession of less than a hundred citizens? certainly not. They are in the great body of the people, among whom there are no men of wealth, and very few of real poverty. -Is it probable that a change will be created, and that a new order of men will arise? If under the British Government, for a century no such change was probable,11 I think it may be fairly concluded it will not take place while even the semblance of Republicanism remains. -How is this change to be effected? Where are the sources from whence it is to flow? From the landed interest? No. That is too unproductive & too much divided in most of the States. From the Monied interest? If such exists at present, little is to be apprehended from that source. Is it to spring from commerce? I believe it would be the first instance in which a nobility sprang from merchants. Besides, Sir, I apprehend that on this point the policy of the U. States has been much mistaken. We have unwisely considered ourselves as the inhabitants of an old instead of a new country. We have adopted the maxims of a State full of people & manufactures & established in credit. We have deserted our true interest, and instead of applying closely to those improvements in domestic policy which would have ensured the future importance of our commerce, we have rashly & prematurely engaged in schemes as extensive as they are imprudent. This however is an error which daily corrects itself & I have no doubt that a few more severe trials will convince us, that very different commercial principles ought to govern the conduct of these States.
The people of this country are not only very different from the inhabitants of any State we are acquainted with in the modern world; but I assert that their situation is distinct from either the people of Greece or Rome, or of any State we are acquainted with among the antients. -Can the orders introduced by the institution of Solon, can they be found in the United States? Can the military habits & manners of Sparta be resembled to our habits & manners? Are the distinctions of Patrician & Plebeian known among us? Can the Helvetic or Belgic confederacies, or can the unwieldy, unmeaning body called the Germanic Empire, can they be said to possess either the same or a situation like ours? I apprehend not. -They are perfectly different, in their distinctions of rank, their Constitutions, their manners & their policy.
Our true situation appears to me to be this. -a new extensive Country containing within itself the materials for forming a Government capable of extending to its citizens all the blessings of civil & religious liberty- capable of making them happy at home. This is the great end of Republican Establishments. We mistake the object of our Government, if we hope or wish that it is to make us respectable abroad. Conquest or superiority among other powers is not or ought not ever to be the object of republican systems. If they are sufficiently active & energetic to rescue us from contempt & preserve our domestic happiness & security, it is all we can expect from them,-it is more than almost any other Government ensures to its citizens.
I believe this observation will be found generally true: -that no two people are so exactly alike in their situation or circumstances as to admit the exercise of the same Government with equal benefit: that a system must be suited to the habits & genius of the people it is to govern, and must grow out of them.
The people of the U. S. may be divided into three classes-Professional men who must from their particular pursuits always have a considerable weight in the Government while it remains popular-Commercial men, who may or may not have weight as a wise or injudicious commercial policy is pursued. -If that commercial policy is pursued which I conceive to be the true one, the merchants of this Country will not or ought not for a considerable time to have much weight in the political scale. -The third is the landed interest, the owners and cultivators of the soil, who are and ought ever to be the governing spring in the system. -These three classes, however distinct in their pursuits are individually equal in the political scale, and may be easily proved to have but one interest. The dependence of each on the other is mutual. The merchant depends on the planter. Both must in private as well as public affairs be connected with the professional men; who in their turn must in some measure depend upon12 them. Hence it is clear from this manifest connection, & the equality which I before stated exists, & must for the reasons then assigned, continue, that after all there is one, but one great & equal body of citizens composing the inhabitants of this Country among whom there are no distinctions of rank, and very few or none of fortune.
For a people thus circumstanced are we then to form a government & the question is what kind13 of Government is best suited to them.
Will it be the British Govt.? No. Why? Because G. Britain contains three orders of people distinct in their situation, their possessions & their principles. -These orders combined form the great body of the Nation, and as in national expences the wealth of the whole community must contribute, so ought each component part to be properly & duly 14 represented-No other combination of power could form this due representation, but the one that exists. -Neither the peers or the people could represent the royalty, nor could the Royalty & the people form a proper representation for the Peers. – Each therefore must of necessity be represented by itself, or the sign of itself; and this accidental mixture has certainly formed a Government admirably well balanced.
But the U. States contain but one order that can be assimilated to the British Nation,-this is the order of Commons. They will not surely then attempt to form a Government consisting of three branches, two of which shall have nothing to represent. They will not have an Executive & Senate [hereditary] because the King & Lords of England are so. The same reasons do not exist and therefore the same provisions are not necessary.
We must as has been observed suit our Governmt. to the people it is to direct. These are I believe as active, intelligent & susceptible of good Governmt. as any people in the world. The Confusion which has produced the present relaxed State is not owing to them. It is owing to the weakness & [defects] of a Govt. incapable of combining the various interests it is intended to unite, and destitute of energy. -All that we have to do then is to distribute the powers of Govt. in such a manner, and for such limited periods, as while it gives a proper degree of permanency to the Magistrate, will reserve to the people, the right of election they will not or ought not frequently to part with. -I am of opinion that this may be easily15 done; and that with some amendments the propositions before the Committee will fully answer this end.
No position appears to me more true than this; that the General Govt. can not effectually exist without reserving to the States the possession of their local rights. They are the instruments upon which the Union must frequently depend for the support & execution of their powers, however immediately operating upon the people, and not upon the States.
Much has been said about the propriety of abolishing the distinction of State Governments, & having but one general System. Suffer me for a moment to examine this question.16
The mode of constituting the 2d. branch being under consideration.
The word “national” was struck out and “United States” inserted.
Mr. GHORUM, inclined to a compromise as to the rule of proportion. He thought there was some weight in the objections of the small States. If Va. should have 16. votes & Delre. with several other States together 16. those from Virga. would be more likely to unite than the others, and would therefore have an undue influence. This remark was applicable not only to States, but to Counties or other districts of the same State. Accordingly the Constitution of Massts. had provided that the representatives of the larger districts should not be in an exact ratio to their numbers. And experience he thought had shewn the provision to be expedient.
Mr. READ. The States have heretofore been in a sort of partnership. They ought to adjust their old affairs before they open18 a new account. He brought into view the appropriation of the common interest in the Western lands, to the use of particular States. Let justice be done on this head; let the fund be applied fairly & equally to the discharge of the general debt, and the smaller States who had been injured; would listen then perhaps to those ideas of just representation which had been held out.
Mr. GHORUM. did19 not see how the Convention could interpose in the case. Errors he allowed had been committed on the subject. But Congs. were now using their endeavors to rectify them. The best remedy would be such a Government as would have vigor enough to do justice throughout. This was certainly the best chance that could be afforded to the smaller States.
Mr. WILSON. the question is shall the members of the 2d. branch be chosen by the Legislatures of the States? When he considered the amazing extent of Country-the immense population which is to fill it, the influence which20 the Govt. we are to form will have, not only on the present generation of our people & their multiplied posterity, but on the whole Globe, he was lost in the magnitude of the object. The project of Henry the 4th. & his Statesmen was but the picture in miniature of the great portrait to be exhibited. He was opposed to an election by the State Legislatures. In explaining his reasons it was necessary to observe the twofold relation in which the people would stand. 1.21 as Citizens of the Genl. Govt. 2.21 as Citizens of their particular State. The Genl. Govt. was meant for them in the first capacity: the State Govts. in the second. Both Govts. were derived from the people-both meant for the people-both therefore ought to be regulated on the same principles. The same train of ideas which belonged to the relation of the Citizens to their State Govts. were applicable to their relation to the Genl. Govt. and in forming the latter, we ought to proceed, by abstracting as much as possible from the idea of22 State Govts. With respect to the province & objects23 of the Genl. Govt. they should be considered as having no existence. The election of the 2d. branch by the Legislatures, will introduce & cherish local interests & local prejudices. The Genl. Govt. is not an assemblage of States, but of individuals for certain political purposes-it is not meant for the States, but for the individuals composing them; the individuals therefore not the States, ought to be represented in it: A proportion in this representation can be preserved in the 2d. as well as in the 1st. branch; and the election can be made by electors chosen by the people for that purpose. He moved an amendment to that effect which was not seconded.
Mr. ELSEWORTH saw no reason for departing from the mode contained in the Report. Whoever chooses the member, he will be a Citizen of the State he is to represent & will feel the same spirit & act the same part whether he be appointed by the people or the Legislature. Every State has its particular views & prejudices, which will find their way into the general councils, through whatever channel they may flow. Wisdom was one of the characteristics which it was in contemplation to give the second branch. Would not more of it issue from the Legislatures; than from an immediate election by the people. He urged the necessity of maintaining the existence & agency of the States. Without their co-operation it would be impossible to support a Republican Govt. over so great an extent of Country. An army could scarcely render it practicable. The largest States are the worst Governed. Virga. is obliged to acknowledge her incapacity to extend her Govt. to Kentucky. Masts. can not keep the peace one hundred miles from her capitol and is now forming an army for its support. How long Pena. may be free from a like situation can not be foreseen. If the principles & materials of our Govt. are not adequate to the extent of these single States; how can it be imagined that they can support a single Govt. throughout the U. States. The only chance of supporting a Genl. Govt. lies in engrafting24 it on that25 of the individual States.
Docr. JOHNSON urged the necessity of preserving the State Govts. which would be at the mercy of the Genl. Govt. on Mr. Wilson’s plan.
Mr. MADISON thought it wd. obviate difficulty if the present resol: were postponed. & the 8th. taken up, which is to fix the right of suffrage in the 2d. branch.
Docr.WILLIAMSON 26 professed himself a friend to such a system as would secure the existence of the State Govts. The happiness of the people depended on it. He was at a loss to give his vote as to the Senate untill he knew the number of its members. In order to ascertain this, he moved to insert these words27 after “2d. branch of the Natl. Legislature”-28 “who shall bear such proportion to the no. of the 1st. branch as 1 to —.” He was not seconded.
Mr. MASON. It has been agreed on all hands that an efficient Govt. is necessary that to render it such it ought to have the faculty of self-defence, that to render its different branches effectual each of them ought to have the same power of self defence. He did not wonder that such an agreement should have prevailed in29 these points. He only wondered that there should be any disagreement about the necessity of allowing the State Govts. the same self-defence. If they are to be preserved as he conceived to be essential, they certainly ought to have this power, and the only mode left of giving it to them, was by allowing them to appoint the 2d. branch of the Natl. Legislature.
Mr. BUTLER observing that we were put to difficulties at every step by the uncertainty whether an equality or a ratio of representation wd. prevail finally in the 2d. branch, moved to postpone the 4th. Resol: & to proceed to the30 Resol: on that point. Mr. MADISON seconded him.
On the question Massts. no. Cont. no. N. Y. ay. N. J. no. Pa.. no. Del. no. Md. no. Va. ay. N. C. no. S. C. ay. Geo. ay.31
On the question to agree “that the members of the 2d. branch be chosen by the indivl. Legislatures” Masts. ay. Cont. ay. N. Y. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. no. Del. ay. Md. ay. Va. no. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. ay.34 35
On a question on the clause requiring the age of 30 years at least-” it was agreed to unanimously:36
On a question to strike out-the words “sufficient to ensure their independency37” after the word “term” it was agreed to.38That the 2d. branch hold their offices for39 term of seven years,40 considered
Mr. GHORUM suggests a term of “4 years,” 1/4 to be elected every year.
Mr. RANDOLPH. supported the idea of rotation, as favorable to the wisdom & stability of the Corps, which might possibly be always sitting, and aiding the Executive. And moves after “7 years” to add, “to go out in fixt proportion” which was agreed to.
Mr. WILLIAMSON. suggest “6 years,” as more convenient for Rotation than 7 years.
Mr. SHERMAN seconds him.
Genl. PINKNEY proposed “4 years.” A longer term41 wd. fix them at the seat of Govt. They wd. acquire an interest there, perhaps transfer their property & lose sight of the States they represent. Under these circumstances the distant States wd. labour under great disadvantages.
Mr. SHERMAN moved to strike out “7 years” in order to take questions on the several propositions.
On the question to strike out “seven”
Masts. ay. Cont. ay. N. Y. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. no. Del no. Md. divd. Va. no. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. ay.42
On the question to insert “6 years, which failed 5 Sts. being ay. 5 no. & 1 divided
Masts. no. Cont. ay. N. Y. no. N. J. no. Pa. ay. Del ay. Md. divd. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. no. Geo. no.43
On the question for “5 years” it was lost.
Masts. no. Cont. ay. N. Y. no. N. J. no. Pa. ay. Del. ay. Md. divd. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. no. Geo no.45
1 The words “The fourth Resolution” are substituted in the transcript for “Resolution 4.” Return to text 2 Pinckney furnished Madison with a copy of this speech which he transcribed, but apparently not with the whole of it, as Madison’s note at the end indicates. The original Pinckney draft is among the Madison papers, and shows Madison’s copying to have been accurate. Return to text 3 The word “continuance” is substituted in the transcript for “continuing.” Return to text 4 The word “and” is substituted in the transcript for “et.” Return to text 5 The word “Great” is here inserted in the transcript. Return to text 6 The words “and” and “have” are crossed out in the transcript. Return to text 7 The words “of which” are here inserted in the transcript Return to text 8 The word “of” is here inserted in the transcript. Return to text 9 The transcript italicizes the word “parler-ment.” Return to text 10 The transcript italicizes the words “consult” and “consent.” Return to text 11 The word “produced” is substituted for the word “probable” in the transcript. Return to text 12 The word “on” is substituted in the transcript for “upon.” Return to text 13 The word “sort” is substituted in the transcript for “kind.” Return to text 14 The words “properly & duly” are transposed in the transcript to read “duly and properly.” Return to text 15 The words “be easily” are transposed in the transcript to “easily be.” Return to text 16 The residue of this speech was not furnished like the above by Mr. Pinckney. 17 Return to text 17 “The residue” of Pinckney’s speech, according to Robert Yates was as follows: “The United States include a territory of about 1500 miles in length, and in breadth about 400; the whole of which is divided into states and districts. While we were dependent on the crown of Great Britain, it was in contemplation to have formed the whole into one-but it was found impracticable. No legislature could make good laws for the whole, nor can it now be done. It would necessarily place the power in the hands of the few, nearest the seat of government. State governments must therefore remain, if you mean to prevent confusion. The general negative powers will support the general government. Upon these considerations I am led to form the second branch differently from the report. Their powers are important and the number not too large, upon the principle of proportion. I have considered the subject with great attention; and I propose this plan (reads it) and if no better plan is proposed, I will then move its adoption.” Secret Proceedings and Debates of the Convention Assembled at Philadelphia, in the year 1787, for the purpose of forming the Constitution of the United States of America, by Robert Yates (1821), p. 163. Return to text 18 The word “opened” is substituted in the transcript for “open.” Return to text 19 The word “could” is substituted in the transcript for “did.” Return to text 20 The word “of” is substituted in the transcript for “which.” Return to text 21 The figure “1″ is changed in the transcript to “first,” and the figure “2″ to “and secondly.” Return to text 22 The word “the” is here inserted in the transcript. Return to text 23 The word “objects” is used in the singular in the transcript. Return to text 24 The word “grafting” is substituted in the transcript for “engrafting.” Return to text 25 The word “those” is substituted in the transcript for “that.” Return to text 26 The word “Mr.” is substituted in the transcript for “Docr.” Return to text 27 The words “these words” are omitted in the transcript. Return to text 28 The words “the words” are here inserted in the transcript. Return to text 29 The word “on” is substituted in the transcript for “in.” Return to text 30 The word “eighth” is here inserted in the transcript. Return to text 31 In the transcript the vote reads: “New York, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, aye-4; Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, no-7.” Return to text 32 The word “ays” is omitted in the transcript. Return to text 33 The word “noes” is omitted in the transcript; “aye-5″ being inserted after “Georgia” and “no-6″ after “Delaware.” Return to text 34 It must be kept in view that the largest States particularly Pennsylvania & Virginia always considered the choice of the 2d. Branch by the State Legislatures as opposed to a proportional Representation to which they were attached as a fundamental principle of just Government. The smaller States who had opposite views, were reinforced by the members from the large States most anxious to secure the importance of the State Governments. Return to text 35 In the transcript this vote reads: “Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye- 9; Pennsylvania, Virginia, no-2.” Return to text 36 The words “agreed to unanimously” are transposed in the transcript to read “unanimously agreed to.” Return to text 37 The word “independency” is changed to “independence” in the transcript. Return to text 38 The words “The clause” are here inserted in the transcript. Return to text 39 The word “a” is here inserted in the transcript. Return to text 40 The word “being” is here inserted in the transcript. Return to text 41 The word “time” is substituted in the transcript for “term.” 42 In the transcript the vote reads: “Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye-7; Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, no-3; Maryland, divided.” Return to text 42 “In the transcript the vote reads: Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye-7; Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, no-3; Maryland, divided.” Return to text 43 In the transcript the vote reads: “Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, aye-5; Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, South Carolina, Georgia, no-5; Maryland, divided.” Return to text 44 The figure “5″ is here inserted in the transcript. Return to text 45 In the transcript the vote reads: “Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, aye-5; Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, South Carolina, Georgia, no-5; Maryland, divided.” Return to text