Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787

by James Madison


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Monday, July 2

In Convention,

On the question for allowing each State one vote in the second branch, as moved by Mr. Ellsworth, it was lost, by an equal division of votes, — Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland,1 aye — 5; Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, no — 5; Georgia, divided (Mr. Baldwin aye, Mr. Houston, no),

Mr. Pinckney thought an equality of votes in the second branch inadmissible. At the same time, candor obliged him to admit, that the large States would feel a partiality for their own citizens, and give them a preference in appointments: that they might also find some common points in their commercial interests, and promote treaties favorable to them. There is a real distinction between the Northern and Southern interests. North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, in their rice and indigo, had a peculiar interest which might be sacrificed. How, then, shall the larger States be prevented from administering the General Government as they please, without being themselves unduly subjected to the will of the smaller? By allowing them some, but not a full, proportion. He was extremely anxious that something should be done, considering this as the last appeal to a regular experiment. Congress have failed in almost every effort for an amendment of the Federal system. Nothing has prevented a dissolution of it, but the appointment of this Convention; and he could not express his alarms for the consequence of such an event. He read his motion to form the States into classes, with an apportionment of Senators among them.

General Pinckney was willing the motion might be considered. He did not entirely approve it. He liked better the motion of Doctor Franklin. Some compromise seemed to be necessary, the States being exactly divided on the question for an equality of votes in the second branch. He proposed that a Committee consisting of a member from each State should be appointed to devise and report some compromise.

Mr. L. Martin had no objection to a commitment, but no modifications whatever could reconcile the smaller States to the least diminution of their equal sovereignty.

Mr. Sherman. We are now at a full stop; and nobody, he supposed, meant that we should break up without doing something. A committee he thought most likely to hit on some expedient.

4Mr. Gouverneur Morris2 thought a Committee advisable, as the Convention had been equally divided. He had a stronger reason also. The mode of appointing the second branch tended, he was sure, to defeat the object of it. What is this object? To check the precipitation, changeableness, and excesses, of the first branch. Every man of observation had seen in the democratic branches of the State Legislatures, precipitation — in Congress, changeableness — in every department, excesses against personal liberty, private property, and personal safety. What qualities are necessary to constitute a check in this case? Abilities and virtueare equally necessary in both branches. Something more, then, is now wanted. In the first place, the checking branch must have a personal interest in checking the other branch. One interest must be opposed to another interest. Vices, as they exist, must be turned against each other. In the second place, it must have great personal property; it must have the aristocratic spirit; it must love to lord it through pride. Pride is, indeed, the great principle that actuates both the poor and the rich. It is this principle which in the former resists, in the latter abuses, authority. In the third place, it should be independent. In religion, the creature is apt to forget its Creator. That it is otherwise in political affairs, the late debates here are an unhappy proof. The aristocratic body should be as independent, and as firm, as the democratic. If the members of it are to revert to a dependence on the democratic choice, the democratic scale will preponderate. All the guards contrived by America have not restrained the Senatorial branches of the Legislatures from a servile complaisance to the democratic. If the second branch is to be dependent, we are better without it. To make it independent, it should be for life. It will then do wrong, it will be said. He believed so; he hoped so. The rich will strive to establish their dominion, and enslave the rest. They always did. They always will. The proper security against them is to form them into a separate interest. The two forces will then control each other. Let the rich mix with the poor, and in a commercial country they will establish an obligarchy. Take away commerce, and the democracy will triumph. Thus it has been all the world over. So it will be among us. Reason tells us we are but men; and we are not to expect any particular interference of Heaven in our favor. By thus combining, and setting apart, the aristocratic interest, the popular interest will be combined against it. There will be a mutual check and mutual security. In the fourth place, an independence for life involves the necessary permanency. If we change our measures nobody will trust us, — and how avoid a change of measures, but by avoiding a change of men? Ask any man if he confides in Congress — if he confides in the State of Pennsylvania — if he will lend his money, or enter into contract? He will tell you, no. He sees no stability. He can repose no confidence. If Great Britain were to explain her refusal to treat with us, the same reasoning would be employed. He disliked the exclusion of the second branch from holding offices. It is dangerous. It is like the imprudent exclusion of the military officers, during the war, from civil appointments. It deprives the Executive of the principal source of influence. If danger be apprehended from the Executive, what a left-handed way is this of obviating it! If the son, the brother, or the friend can be appointed, the danger may be even increased, as the disqualified father, &c. can then boast of a disinterestedness which he does not possess. Besides, shall the best, the most able, the most virtuous citizens not be permitted to hold offices? Who then are to hold them? He was also against paying the Senators. They will pay themselves, if they can. If they cannot, they will be rich, and can do without it. Of such the second branch ought to consist; and none but such can compose it, if they are not to be paid. He contended, that the Executive should appoint the Senate, and fill up vacancies. This gets rid of the difficulty in the present question. You may begin with any ratio you please, it will come to the same thing. The members being independent, and for life, may be taken as well from one place as from another. It should be considered, too, how the scheme could be carried through the States. He hoped there was strength of mind enough in this House to look truth in the face. He did not hesitate, therefore, to say that loaves and fishes must bribe the demagogues. They must be made to expect higher offices under the General than the State Governments. A Senate for life will be a noble bait. Without such captivating prospects, the popular leaders will oppose and defeat the plan. He perceived that the first branch was to be chosen by the people of the States, the second by those chosen by the people. Is not here a government by the States — a government by compact between Virginia in the first and second branch, Massachusetts in the first and second branch, &c.? This is going back to mere treaty. It is no government at all. It is altogether dependent on the States, and will act over again the part which Congress has acted. A firm government alone can protect our liberties. He fears the influence of the rich. They will have the same effect here as elsewhere, if we do not, by such a government, keep them within their proper spheres. We should remember that the people never act from reason alone. The rich will take the advantage of their passions, and make these the instruments for oppressing them. The result of the contest will be a violent aristocracy, or a more violent despotism. The schemes of the rich will be favored by the extent of the country. The people in such distant parts cannot communicate and act in concert. They will be the dupes of those who have more knowledge and intercourse. The only security against encroachments, will be a select and sagacious body of men, instituted to watch against them on all sides. He meant only to hint these observations, without grounding any motion on them.

Mr. Randolph favored the commitment, though he did not expect much benefit from the expedient. He animadverted on the warm and rash language of Mr. Bedford on Saturday; reminded the small States that if the large States should combine, some danger of which he did not deny, there would be a check in the revisionary power of the Executive; and intimated, that, in order to render this still more effectual, he would agree that in the choice of an Executive each State should have an equal vote. He was persuaded that two such opposite bodies as Mr. Morris had planned could never long co-exist. Dissensions would arise, as has been seen even between the Senate and House of Delegates in Maryland; appeals would be made to the people; and in a little time commotions would be the result. He was far from thinking the large States could subsist of themselves, any more than the small; an avulsion would involve the whole in ruin; and he was determined to pursue such a scheme of government as would secure us against such a calamity.

Mr. Strong was for the commitment; and hoped the mode of constituting both branches would be referred. If they should be established on different principles, contentions would prevail, and there would never be a concurrence in necessary measures.

Doctor Williamson. If we do not concede on both sides, our business must soon be at an end. He approved of the commitment, supposing that, as the Committee would be a smaller body, a compromise would be pursued with more coolness.

Mr. Wilson objected to the Committee, because it would decide according to that very rule of voting which was opposed on one side. Experience in Congress had also proved the inutility of Committees consisting of members from each State.

Mr. Lansing would not oppose the commitment, though expecting little advantage from it.

Mr. Madison opposed the commitment. He had rarely seen any other effect than delay from such committees in Congress. Any scheme of compromise that could be proposed in the Committee might as easily be proposed in the House; and the report of the Committee, where it contained merely the opinion of the Committee, would neither shorten the discussion, nor influence the decision of the House.

Mr. Gerry was for the commitment. Something must be done, or we shall disappoint not only America, but the whole world. He suggested a consideration of the state we should be thrown into by the failure of the Union. We should be without an umpire to decide controversies, and must be at the mercy of events. What, too, is to become of our treaties — what of our foreign debts — what of our domestic? We must make concessions on both sides. Without these, the Constitutions of the several States would never have been formed.

On the question for committing, generally, — Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye — 9; New Jersey, Delaware, no — 2.

On the question for committing it “to a member from each state,” — Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye — 10; Pennsylvania, no — 1.

The Committee, elected by ballot, were, Mr. Gerry, Mr. Ellsworth, Mr. Yates, Mr. Patterson, Dr. Franklin, Mr. Bedford, Mr. Martin, Mr. Mason, Mr. Davie, Mr. Rutledge, Mr. Baldwin.

That time might be given to the Committee, and to such as choose to attend to the celebrations on the anniversary of Independence the Convention adjourned till Thursday.


1 Mr. Jenifer not being present Mr. Martin alone voted.Return to text

2 He had just returned from New York, having left the Convention a few days after it commenced business.Return to text


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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.

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