Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787
by James Madison
Saturday, June 30
Mr. BREARLY moved that the Presidt. write to the Executive of N. Hamshire, informing it that the business depending before the Convention was of such a nature as to require the immediate attendance of the deputies of that State. In support of his motion he observed that the difficulties of the subject and the diversity of opinions called for all the assistance we could possibly obtain. [it was well understood that the object was to add N. Hamshire to the no. of States opposed to the doctrine of proportional representation, which it was presumed from her relative size she must be adverse to].
Mr. PATTERSON seconded the motion
Mr. RUTLIDGE could see neither the necessity nor propriety of such a measure. They are not unapprized of the meeting, and can attend if they choose. Rho. Island might as well be urged to appoint & send deputies. Are we to suspend the business until the deputies arrive? if we proceed he hoped all the great points would be adjusted before the letter could produce its effect.
Mr. KING. said he had written more than once as a private correspondent, & the answers2 gave him every reason to expect that State would be represented very shortly, if it shd. be so at all. Circumstances of a personal nature had hitherto prevented it. A letter cd. have no effect.
Mr. WILSON wished to know whether it would be consistent with the rule or reason of secresy, to communicate to N. Hamshire that the business was of such a nature as the motion described. It wd. spread a great alarm. Besides he doubted the propriety of soliciting any State on the subject; the meeting being merely voluntary-on the3 motion of Mr. Brearly Masts. no. Cont. no. N. Y. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. not on ye. floor. Del. not on floor. Md. divd. Va. no. N. C. no. S. C. no. Geo. not on floor.4
Mr. WILSON did not expect such a motion after the establishment of ye. contrary principle in the 1st. branch; and considering the reasons which would oppose it, even if an equal vote had been allowed in the 1st. branch. The Gentleman from Connecticut Mr. Elseworth had pronounced that if the motion should not be acceded to, of all the States North of Pena. one only would agree to any Genl. Government. He entertained more favorable hopes of Connt. and of the other Northern States. He hoped the alarms exceeded their cause, and that they would not abandon a Country to which they were bound by so many strong and endearing ties. But should the deplored event happen, it would neither stagger his sentiments nor his duty. If the minority of the people of America refuse to coalesce with the majority on just and proper principles, if a separation must take place, it could never happen on better grounds. The votes of yesterday agst. the just principle of representation, were as 22 to 90 of the people of America. Taking the opinions to be the same on this point, and he was sure if there was any room for change, it could not be on the side of the majority, the question will be shall less than 1/4 of the U. States withdraw themselves from the Union; or shall more than 3/4 . renounce the inherent, indisputable, and unalienable rights of men, in favor of the artificial systems of States. If issue must be joined, it was on this point he would chuse to join it. The gentlemen from Connecticut in supposing that the prepondenancy6 secured to the majority in the 1st. branch had removed the objections to an equality of votes in the 2d. branch for the security of the minority, narrowed the case extremely. Such an equality will enable the minority to controul in all cases whatsoever, the sentiments and interests of the majority. Seven States will controul six: Seven States, according to the estimates that had been used, composed 24/90 . of the whole people. It would be in the power then of less than 1/3 to overrule 2/3 whenever a question should happen to divide the States in that manner. Can we forget for whom we are forming a Government? Is it for men, or for the imaginary beings called States? Will our honest Constituents be satisfied with metaphysical distinctions? Will they, ought they to be satisfied with being told that the one third compose the greater number of States? The rule of suffrage ought on every principle to be the same in the 2d. as in the 1st. branch. If the Government be not laid on this foundation, it can be neither solid nor lasting. Any other principle will be local, confined & temporary. This will expand with the expansion, and grow with the growth of the U. States. -Much has been said of an imaginary combination of three States. Sometimes a danger of monarchy, sometimes of aristocracy, has been charged on it. No explanation however of the danger has been vouchsafed. It would be easy to prove both from reason & history that rivalships would be more probable than coalitions; and that there are no coinciding interests that could produce the latter. No answer has yet been given to the observations of Mr. Madison on this subject. Should the Executive Magistrate be taken from one of the large States would not the other two be thereby thrown into the scale with the other States? Whence then the danger of monarchy? Are the people of the three large States more aristocratic than those of the small ones? Whence then the danger of aristocracy from their influence? It is all a mere illusion of names. We talk of States, till we forget what they are composed of. Is a real & fair majority, the natural hot-bed of aristocracy? It is a part of the definition of this species of Govt. or rather of tyranny, that the smaller number governs the greater. It is true that a majority of States in the 2d. branch can not carry a law agst. a majority of the people in the 1st. But this removes half only of the objection. Bad Governts. are of two sorts. 1. 7 that which does too little. 2.7that which does too much: that which fails thro’ weakness; and that which destroys thro’ oppression. Under which of these evils do the U. States at present groan? under the weakness and inefficiency of its Governt. To remedy this weakness we have been sent to this Convention. If the motion should be agreed to, we shall leave the U. S. fettered precisely as heretofore; with the additional mortification of seeing the good purposes of ye. fair represention of the people in the 1st. branch, defeated in8 2d. Twenty four will still controul sixty six. He lamented that such a disagreement should prevail on the point of representation, as he did not foresee that it would happen on the other point most contested, the boundary between the Genl. & the local authorities. He thought the States necessary & valuable parts of a good system.
Mr. ELSEWORTH. The capital objection of Mr. Wilson “that the minority will rule the majority” is not true. The power is given to the few to save them from being destroyed by the many. If an equality of votes had been given to them in both branches, the objection might have had weight. Is it a novel thing that the few should have a check on the many? Is it not the case in the British Constitution the wisdom of which so many gentlemen have united in applauding? Have not the House of Lords, who form so small a proportion of the nation a negative on the laws, as a necessary defence of their peculiar rights agst. the encroachmts. of the Commons. No instance of a Confederacy has existed in which an equality of voices has not been exercised by the members of it. We are running from one extreme to another. We are razing the foundations of the building, when we need only repair the roof. No salutary measure has been lost for want of a majority of the States, to favor it. If security be all that the great States wish for the 1st. branch secures them. The danger of combinations among them is not imaginary. Altho’ no particular abuses could be foreseen by him, the possibility of them would be sufficient to alarm him. But he could easily conceive cases in which they might result from such combinations. Suppose that in pursuance of some commercial treaty or arrangement, three or four free ports & no more were to be established would not combinations be formed in favor of Boston-Philada. & & some port in9 Chesapeak? A like concert might be formed in the appointment of the great officers. He appealed again to the obligations of the federal pact which was still in force, and which had been entered into with so much solemnity; persuading himself that some regard would still be paid to the plighed faith under which each State small as well as great, held an equal right of suffrage in the general Councils. His remarks were not the result of partial or local views. The State he represented [Connecticut] held a middle rank.
Mr. MADISON did justice to the able & close reasoning of Mr. E. but must observe that it did not always accord with itself. On another occasion, the large States were described by him as the Aristocratic States, ready to oppress the small. Now the small are the House of Lords requiring a negative to defend them agst. the more numerous commons. Mr. E. had also erred in saying that no instance had existed in which confederated States had not retained to themselves a perfect equality of suffrage. Passing over the German system in which the K. of Prussia has nine voices, he reminded Mr. E. of the Lycian confederacy, in which the component members had votes proportioned to their importance, and which Montesquieu recommends as the fittest model for that form of Government. Had the fact been as stated by Mr. E. it would have been of little avail to him, or rather would have strengthened the arguments agst. him; the History & fate of the several confederacies modern as well as Antient, demonstrating some radical vice in their structure. In reply to the appeal of Mr. E. to the faith plighted in the existing federal compact, he remarked that the party claiming from others an adherence to a common engagement ought at least to be guiltless itself of a violation. Of all the States however Connecticut was perhaps least able to urge this plea. Besides the various omissions to perform the stipulated acts from which no State was free, the Legislature of that State had by a pretty recent vote, positively, refused to pass a law for complying with the Requisitions of Congs. and had transmitted a copy of the vote to Congs. It was urged, he said, continually that an equality of votes in the 2d. branch was not only necessary to secure the small, but would be perfectly safe to the large ones whose majority in the 1st. branch was an effectual bulwark. But notwithstanding this apparent defence, the majority of States might still injure the majority of10 people. 1.11 they could obstruct the wishes and interests of the majority. 2.11 they could extort measures repugnant to the wishes & interest of the Majority. 3.11they could impose measures adverse thereto; as the 2d. branch will probably exercise some great powers, in which the 1st. will not participate. He admitted that every peculiar interest whether in any class of citizens, or any description of States, ought to be secured as far as possible. Wherever there is danger of attack there ought12 be given a constitutional power of defence. But he contended that the States were divided into different interests not by their difference of size, but by other circumstances; the most material of which resulted partly from climate, but principally from the effects of their having or not having slaves. These two causes concurred in forming the great division of interests in the U. States. It did not lie between the large & small States: It lay between the Northern & Southern, and if any defensive power were necessary, it ought to be mutually given to these two interests. He was so strongly impressed with this important truth that he had been casting about in his mind for some expedient that would answer the purpose. The one which had occurred was that instead of proportioning the votes of the States in both branches, to their respective numbers of inhabitants computing the slaves in the ratio of 5 to 3, they should be represented in one branch according to the number of free inhabitants only; and in the other according to the whole no. counting the slaves as if13 free. By this arrangement the Southern Scale would have the advantage in one House, and the Northern in the other. He had been restrained from proposing this expedient by two considerations: one was his unwillingness to urge any diversity of interests on an occasion where it is but too apt to arise of itself-the other was, the inequality of powers that must be vested in the two branches, and which wd. destroy the equilibrium of interests.
Mr. ELSEWORTH assured the House that whatever might be thought of the Representatives of Connecticut the State was entirely federal in her disposition. He appealed to her great exertions during the war, in supplying both men & money. The muster rolls would show she had more troops in the field than Virga. If she had been Delinquent, it had been from inability, and not more so than other States.
Mr. SHERMAN. Mr. Madison has14 animadverted on the delinquency of the States, when his object required him to prove that the Constitution of Congs. was faulty. Congs. is not to blame for the faults of the States. Their measures have been right, and the only thing wanting has been, a further power in Congs. to render them effectual.
Mr. DAVY was much embarrassed and wished for explanations. The Report of the Committee allowing the Legislatures to choose the Senate, and establishing a proportional representation in it, seemed to be impracticable. There will according to this rule be ninety members in the outset, and the number will increase as new States are added. It was impossible that so numerous a body could possess the activity and other qualities required in it. Were he to vote on the comparative merits of the report as it stood, and the amendment, he should be constrained to prefer the latter. The appointment of the Senate by electors chosen by the people for that purpose was he conceived liable to an insuperable difficulty. The larger Counties or districts thrown into a general district, would certainly prevail over the smaller Counties or districts, and merit in the latter would be excluded altogether. The report therefore seemed to be right in referring the appointment to the Legislatures, whose agency in the general System did not appear to him objectionable as it did to some others. The fact was that the local prejudices & interests which could not be denied to exist, would find their way into the national councils whether the Representatives should be chosen by the Legislatures or by the people themselves. On the other hand, if a proportional representation was attended with insuperable difficulties, the making the Senate the Representative of the States, looked like bringing us back to Congs. again, and shutting out all the advantages expected from it. Under this view of the subject he could not vote for any plan for the Senate yet proposed. He though that in general there were extremes on both sides. We were partly federal, partly national in our Union, and he did not see why the Govt. might not in some respects operate on the States, in others on the people.
Mr. WILSON admitted the question concerning the number of Senators, to be embarrassing. If the smallest States be allowed one, and the others in proportion, the Senate will certainly be too numerous. He looked forward to the time when the smallest States will contain 100,000 souls at least. Let there be then one Senator in each for every 100,000 souls and let the States not having that no. of inhabitants be allowed one. He was willing himself to submit to this temporary concession to the small States; and threw out the idea as a ground of compromise.
Docr. FRANKLIN. The diversity of opinions turns on two points. If a proportional representation takes place, the small States contend that their liberties will be in danger. If an equality of votes is to be put in its place, the large States say their money will be in danger. When a broad table is to be made, and the edges of planks do not fit, the artist takes a little from both, and makes a good joint. In like manner here both sides must part with some of their demands, in order that they may join in some accomodating proposition. He had prepared one which he would read, that it might lie on the table for consideration.
The proposition was in the words following”
“That the Legislatures of the several States shall choose & send an equal number of Delegates, namely —– who are to compose the 2d. branch of the General Legislature-
“That in all cases or questions wherein the Sovereignty of individual States may be affected, or whereby their authority over their own Citizens may be diminished, or the authority of the General Government within the several States augmented, each State shall have equal suffrage.
“That in the appointment of all Civil officers of ye. Genl. Govt. in the election of whom the 2d. branch may by the Constitution have part, each State shall have equal suffrage.
“That in fixing the Salaries of such officers, and in all allowances for public services, and generally in all appropriations & dispositions of money to be drawn out of the General Treasury; and in all laws for supplying that Treasury, the Delegates of the several States shall have suffrage in proportion to the Sums which their respective States do actually contribute to the Treasury.” Where a Ship had many owners this was the rule of deciding on her expedition. He had been one of the Ministers from this Country to France during the joint war and wd. have been very glad if allowed a vote in distributing the money to carry it on.
Mr. KING observed that the simple question was whether each State should have an equal vote in the 2d. branch; that it must be apparent to those gentlemen who liked neither the motion for this equality, nor the report as it stood, that the report was as susceptible of melioration as the motion; that a reform would be nugatory & nominal only if we should make another Congress of the proposed Senate: that if the adherence to an equality of votes was fixed & unalterable, there could not be less obstinacy on the other side, & that we were in fact cut insunder15 already, and it was in vain to shut our eyes against it: that he was however filled with astonishment that if we were convinced that every man in America was secured in all his rights, we should be ready to sacrifice this substantial good to the phantom of State sovereignty: that his feelings were more harrowed & his fears more agitated for his Country than he could express, that he conceived this to be the last opportunity of providing for its liberty & happiness: that he could not therefore but repeat his amazement that when a just Governt. founded on a fair representation of the people of America was within our reach, we should renounce the blessing, from an attachment to the ideal freedom & importance of States: that should this wonderful illusion continue to prevail, his mind was prepared for every event, rather than to16 sit down under a Govt. founded in17 a vicious principle of representation, and which must be as short lived as it would be unjust. He might prevail on himself to accede to some such expedient as had been hinted by Mr. Wilson: but he never could listen to an equality of votes as proposed in the motion.
Mr. DAYTON. When assertion is given for proof, and terror substituted for argument, he presumed they would have no effect however eloquently spoken. It should have been shewn that the evils we have experienced have proceeded from the equality now objected to: and that the seeds of dissolution for the State Governments are not sown in the Genl. Government. He considered the system on the table as a novelty, an amphibious monster; and was persuaded that it never would be recd. by the people.
Mr. MARTIN, wd. never confederate if it could not be done on just principles
Mr. MADISON would acquiesce in the concession hinted by Mr. Wilson, on condition that a due independence should be given to the Senate. The plan in its present shape makes the Senate absolutely dependent on the States. The Senate therefore is only another edition of Congs. He knew the faults of that Body & had used a bold language agst. it. Still he wd. preserve the State rights, as carefully as the trials by jury.
Mr. BEDFORD, contended that there was no middle way between a perfect consolidation and a mere confederacy of the States. The first is out of the question, and in the latter they must continue if not perfectly, yet equally sovereign. If political Societies possess ambition avarice, and all the other passions which render them formidable to each other, ought we not to view them in this light here? Will not the same motives operate in America as elsewhere? If any gentleman doubts it let him look at the votes. Have they not been dictated by interest, by ambition? Are not the large States evidently seeking to aggrandize themselves at the expense of the small? They think no doubt that they have right on their side, but interest had blinded their eyes. Look at Georgia. Though a small State at present, she is actuated by the prospect of soon being a great one. S. Carolina is actuated both by present interest & future prospects. She hopes too to see the other States cut down to her own dimensions. N. Carolina has the same motives of present & future interest. Virga. follows. Maryd. is not on that side of the Question. Pena. has a direct and future interest. Massts. has a decided and palpable interest in the part she takes. Can it be expected that the small States will act from pure disinterestedness. Look at G. Britain. Is the Representation there less unequal? But we shall be told again that that is the rotten part of the Constitution. Have not the boroughs however held fast their constitutional rights? and are we to act with greater purity than the rest of mankind. An exact proportion in the Representation is not preserved in any one of the States. Will it be said that an inequality of power will not result from an inequality of votes. Give the opportunity, and ambition will not fail to abuse it. The whole History of mankind proves it. The three large States have a common interest to bind them together in commerce. But whether a combination as we suppose, or a competition as others suppose, shall take place among them, in either case, the smaller18 States must be ruined. We must like Solon make such a Governt. as the people will approve. Will the smaller States ever agree to the proposed degradation of them. It is not true that the people will not agree to enlarge the powers of the present Congs. The Language of the people has been that Congs. ought to have the power of collecting an impost, and of coercing the States when19 it may be necessary. On the first point they have been explicit &, in a manner, unanimous in their declarations. And must they not agree to this & similar measures if they ever mean to discharge their engagements. The little States are willing to observe their engagements, but will meet the large ones on no ground but that of the Confederation. We have been told with a dictatorial air that this is the last moment for a fair trial in favor of a good Governmt. It will be the last indeed if the propositions reported from the Committee go forth to the people. He was under no apprehensions. The Large States dare not dissolve the Confederation. If they do the small ones will find some foreign ally of more honor and good faith, who will take them by the hand and do them justice. He did not mean by this to intimidate or alarm. It was a natural consequence; which ought to be avoided by enlarging the federal powers not annihilating the federal system. This is what the people expect. All agree in the necessity of a more efficient Govt. and why not make such an one; as they desire.
Mr. ELSEWORTH,. Under a National Govt. he should participate in the National Security, as remarked by Mr. King but that was all. What he wanted was domestic happiness. The Natl. Govt. could not descend to the local objects on which this depended. It could only embrace objects of a general nature. He turned his eyes therefore for the preservation of his rights to the State Govts. From these alone he could derive the greatest happiness he expects in this life. His happiness depends on their existence, as much as a new born infant on its mother for nourishment. If this reasoning was not satisfactory, he had nothing to add that could be so.
Mr. KING was for preserving the States in a subordinate degree, and as far as they could be necessary for the purposes stated by Mr. Elsewth. He did not think a full answer had been given to those who apprehended a dangerous encroachment on their jurisdictions. Expedients might be devised as he conceived that would give them all the security the nature of things would admit of. In the establishmt. of Societies the Constitution was to the Legislature what the laws were to individuals. As the fundamental rights of individuals are secured by express provisions in the State Constitutions; why may not a like security be provided for the Rights of States in the National Constitution. The articles of Union between Engld. & Scotland furnish an example of such a provision in favor of sundry rights of Scotland. When that Union was in agitation, the same language of apprehension which has been heard from the smaller States, was in the mouths of the Scotch patriots. The articles however have not been violated and the Scotch have found an increase of prosperity & happiness. He was aware that this will be called a mere paper security. He thought it a sufficient answer to say that if fundamental articles of compact, are no sufficient defence against physical power, neither will there be any safety agst. it if there be no compact. He could not sit down, without taking some notice of the language of the honorable gentleman from Delaware Mr. Bedford. It was not he that had uttered a dictatorial language. This intemperance had marked the honorabl gentleman himself. It was not he who with a vehemence unprecedented in that House, had declared himself ready to turn his hopes from our common Country, and court the protection of some foreign hand. This too was the language of the Honbl member himself. He was grieved that such a thought had entered into20 his heart. He was more grieved that such an expression had dropped from his lips. The gentleman cd. only excuse it to himself on the score of passion. For himself whatever might be his distress, he wd. never court relief from a foreign power.
1 The year “1787″ is here inserted in the transcript. Return to text 2 The transcript uses the word “answers” in the singular. Return to text 3 The word “the” is omitted in the transcript. Return to text 4 In the transcript the vote reads: “New York, New Jersey, aye-2; Massachusetts Connecticut, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, no-5; Maryland, divided: Pennsylvania, Delaware, Georgia, not on the floor.” Return to text 5 The word “being” is here inserted in the transcript. Return to text 6 The word “prepondenancy” is changed to “preponderance” in the transcript. Return to text 7 The figures “1″ and “2″ are changed to “first” and “secondly” in the transcript. Return to text 8 The word “the” is here inserted in the transcript. Return to text 9 The words “of the” are substituted in the transcript for “in.” Return to text 10 The word “the’ is here inserted in the transcript. Return to text 11 The figures “1,” “2″ and “3″ are changed to “In the first place,” “Secondly” and “Thirdly.” Return to text 12 The word “to” is here inserted in the transcript. Return to text 13 The word “if” is omitted in the transcript. Return to text 14 The word “has” is omitted in the transcript. Return to text 15 The word “asunder” is substituted in the transcript for “insunder..” Return to text 16 The word “to” is omitted in the transcript. Return to text 17 The word “on” is substituted in the transcript for “in.” Return to text 18 The word “small” is substituted in the transcript for “smaller.” Return to text 19 The word “where” is substituted in the transcript for “when.” Return to text 20 The word “into” is omitted in the transcript. Return to text