Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787

by James Madison

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Thursday, July 5

In Convention, – Mr. GERRY delivered in, from the Committee appointed on Monday last, the following Report:

“The Committee to whom was referred the eighth Resolution of the Report from the Committee of the Whole House, and so much of the seventh as has not been decided on, submit the following Report:

“That the subsequent propositions be recommended to the Convention on condition that both shall be generally adopted.

“1. That in the first branch of the Legislature each of the States now in the Union shall be allowed one member for every forty thousand inhabitants, of the description reported in the seventh Resolution of the Committee of the Whole House: that each State not containing that number shall be allowed one member: that all bills for raising or appropriating money, and for fixing the salaries of the officers of the Government of the United States, shall originate in the first branch of the Legislature, and shall not be altered or amended by the second branch; and that no money shall be drawn from the public Treasury but in pursuance of appropriations to be originated in the first branch.

“2. That in the second branch, each State shall have an equal vote.”1

Mr. GORHAM observed, that, as the report consisted of propositions mutually conditional, he wished to hear some explanations touching the grounds on which the conditions were estimated.

Mr. GERRY. The Committee were of different opinions, as well as the Deputations from which the Committee were taken; and agreed to the Report merely in order that some ground of accommodation might be proposed. Those opposed to the equality of votes have only assented conditionally; and if the other side do not generally agree, will not be under any obligation to support the Report.

Mr. WILSON thought the Committee had exceeded their powers.

Mr. MARTIN was for taking the question on the whole Report.

Mr. WILSON was for a division of the question; otherwise it would be a leap in the dark.

Mr. MADISON could not regard the privilege of originating money bills as any concession on the side of the small States. Experience proved that it had no effect. If seven States in the upper branch wished a bill to be originated, they might surely find some member from some of the same States in the lower branch, who would originate it. The restriction as to amendments was of as little consequence. Amendments could be handed privately by the Senate to members in the other House. Bills could be negatived, that they might be sent up in the desired shape. If the Senate should yield to the obstinacy of the first branch, the use of that body, as a check, would be lost. If the first branch should yield to that of the Senate, the privilege would be nugatory. Experience had also shown, both in Great Britain, and the States having a similar regulation, that it was a source of frequent and obstinate altercations. These considerations had produced a rejection of a like motion on a former occasion, when judged by its own merits. It could not, therefore, be deemed any concession on the present, and left in force all the objections which had prevailed against allowing each State an equal voice. He conceived that the Convention was reduced to the alternative of either departing from justice in order to conciliate the smaller States, and the minority of the people of the United States, or of displeasing these, by justly gratifying the larger States and the majority of the people. He could not himself hesitate as to the option he ought to make. The Convention, with justice and a majority of the people on their side, had nothing to fear. With injustice and the minority on their side, they had every thing to fear. It was in vain to purchase concord in the Convention on terms which would perpetuate discord among their constituents. The Convention ought to pursue a plan which would bear the test of examination, which would be espoused and supported by the enlightened and impartial part of America, and which they could themselves vindicate and urge. It should be considered, that, although at first many may judge of the system recommended by their opinion of the Convention, yet finally all will judge of the Convention by the system. The merits of the system alone can finally and effectually obtain the public suffrage. He was not apprehensive that the people of the small States would obstinately refuse to accede to a government founded on just principles, and promising them substantial protection. He could not suspect that Delaware would brave the consequences of seeking her fortunes apart from the other States, rather than submit to such a Government; much less could he suspect that she would pursue the rash policy, of courting foreign support, which the warmth of one of her Representatives (Mr. BEDFORD) had suggested; or if she should, that any foreign nation would be so rash as to hearken to the overture. As little could he suspect that the people of New Jersey, notwithstanding the decided tone of the gentleman from that State, would choose rather to stand on their own legs, and bid defiance to events, than to acquiesce under an establishment founded on principles the justice of which they could not dispute, and absolutely necessary to redeem them from the exactions levied on them by the commerce of the neighboring States. A review of other States would prove that there was as little reason to apprehend an inflexible opposition elsewhere. Harmony in the Convention was, no doubt, much to be desired. Satisfaction to all the States, in the first instance, still more so. But if the principal States comprehending a majority of the people of the United States, should concur in a just and judicious plan, he had the firmest hopes that all the other States would by degrees accede to it.

Mr. BUTLER said, he could not let down his idea of the people of America so far as to believe they would, from mere respect to the Convention, adopt a plan evidently unjust. He did not consider the privilege concerning money bills as of any consequence. He urged, that the second branch ought to represent the States according to their property.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS thought the form as well as the matter of the Report objectionable. It seemed, in the first place, to render amendment impracticable. In the next place, it seemed to involve a pledge to agree to the second part, if the first should be agreed to. He conceived the whole aspect of it to be wrong. He came here as a Representative of America; he flattered himself he came here in some degree as a Representative of the whole human race; for the whole human race will be affected by the proceedings of this Convention. He wished gentlemen to extend their views beyond the present moment of time; beyond the narrow limits of place from which they derive their political origin. If he were to believe some things which he had heard, he should suppose that we were assembled to truck and bargain for our particular States. He cannot descend to think that any gentlemen are really actuated by these views. We must look forward to the effects of what we do. These alone ought to guide us. Much has been said of the sentiments of the people. They were unknown. They could not be known. All that we can infer is, that, if the plan we recommend be reasonable and right, all who have reasonable minds and sound intentions will embrace it, notwithstanding what had been said by some gentlemen. Let us suppose that the larger States shall agree, and that the smaller refuse; and let us trace the consequences. The opponents of the system in the smaller States will no doubt make a party, and a noise, for a time, but the ties of interest, of kindred, and of common habits, which connect them with other States, will be too strong to be easily broken. In New Jersey, particularly, he was sure a great many would follow the sentiments of Pennsylvania and New York. This country must be united. If persuasion does not unite it, the sword will. He begged this consideration might have its due weight. The scenes of horror attending civil commotion cannot be described; and the conclusion of them will be worse than the term of their continuance. The stronger party will then make traitors of the weaker; and the gallows and halter will finish the work of the sword. How far foreign powers would be ready to take part in the confusions, he would not say. Threats that they will be invited have, it seems, been thrown out. He drew the melancholy picture of foreign intrusions, as exhibited in the history of Germany, and urged it as a standing lesson to other nations. He trusted that the gentlemen who may have hazarded such expressions did not entertain them till they reached their own lips. But returning to the Report, he could not think it in any respect calculated for the public good. As the second branch is now constituted, there will be constant disputes and appeals to the States, which will undermine the General Government, and control and annihilate the first branch. Suppose that the Delegates from Massachusetts and Rhode Island, in the upper house, disagree, and that the former are outvoted. What results? They will immediately declare that their State will not abide by the decision, and make such representations as will produce that effect. The same may happen as to Virginia and other States. Of what avail, then, will be what is on paper? State attachments, and State importance, have been the bane of this country. We cannot annihilate, but we may perhaps take out the teeth of, the serpents. He wished our ideas to be enlarged to the true interest of man, instead of being circumscribed within the narrow compass of a particular spot. And, after all, how little can be the motive yielded by selfishness for such a policy? Who can say, whether he himself, much less whether his children, will the next year be an inhabitant of this or that State?

Mr. BEDFORD. He found that what he had said, as to the small States being taken by the hand, had been misunderstood, — and he rose to explain. He did not mean that the small States would court the aid and interposition of foreign powers. He meant that they would not consider the federal compact as dissolved until it should be so by the acts of the large States. In this case, the consequence of the breach of faith on their part, and the readiness of the small States to fulfil their engagements, would be that foreign nations having demands on this Country would find it their interest to take the small States by the hand, in order to do themselves justice. This was what he meant. But no man can foresee to what extremities the small States may be driven by oppression. He observed, also, in apology, that some allowance ought to be made for the habits of his profession, in which warmth was natural and sometimes necessary. But is there not an apology in what was said by (Mr.  GOUVERNEUR MORRIS), that the sword is to unite — by Mr. GORHAM, that Delaware must be annexed to Pennsylvania, and New Jersey divided between Pennsylvania and New York? To hear such language without emotion, would be to renounce the feelings of a man and the duty of a citizen. As to the propositions of the Committee, the lesser States have thought it necessary to have a security somewhere. This has been thought necessary for the Executive magistrate of the proposed government, who has a sort of negative on the laws; and is it not of more importance that the States should be protected than that the Executive branch of the Government should be protected? In order to obtain this, the smaller States have conceded as to the constitution of the first branch, and as to money bills. If they be not gratified by correspondent concessions, as to the second branch, is it to be supposed they will ever accede to the plan? And what will be the consequence, if nothing should be done? The condition of the United States requires that something should be immediately done. It will be better that a defective plan should be adopted, than that none should be recommended. He saw no reason why defects might not be supplied by meetings ten, fifteen or twenty years hence.

Mr. ELLSWORTH said, he had not attended the proceedings of the Committee, but was ready to accede to the compromise they had reported. Some compromise was necessary; and he saw none more convenient or reasonable.

Mr. WILLIAMSON hoped that the expressions of individuals would not be taken for the sense of their colleagues, much less of their States, which was not and could not be known. He hoped, also, that the meaning of those expressions would not be misconstrued or exaggerated. He did not conceive that (Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS) meant that the sword ought to be drawn against the smaller States. He only pointed out the probable consequences of anarchy in the United States. A similar exposition ought to be given of the expressions of (Mr. GORHAM). He was ready to hear the Report discussed; but thought the propositions contained in it the most objectionable of any he had yet heard.

Mr. PATTERSON said that he had, when the report was agreed to in the Committee, reserved to himself the right of freely discussing it. He acknowledged that the warmth complained of was improper; but he thought the sword and the gallows little calculated to produce conviction. He complained of the manner in which Mr. MADISON and Mr. G. MORRIS had treated the small States.

Mr. GERRY. Though he had assented to the Report in the Committee, he had very material objections to it. We were, however, in a peculiar situation. We were neither the same nation, nor different nations. We ought not, therefore, to pursue the one or the other of these ideas too closely. If no compromise should take place, what will be the consequence. A secession he foresaw would take place; for some gentlemen seemed decided on it. Two different plans will be proposed, and the result no man could foresee. If we do not come to some agreement among ourselves, some foreign sword will probably do the work for us.

Mr. MASON. The Report was meant not as specific propositions to be adopted, but merely as a general ground of accommodation. There must be some accommodation on this point, or we shall make little further progress in the work. Accommodation was the object of the House in the appointment of the Committee, and of the Committee in the Report they had made. And, however liable the Report might be to objections, he thought it preferable to an appeal to the world by the different sides, as had been talked of by some gentlemen. It could not be more inconvenient to any gentleman to remain absent from his private affairs, than it was for him, but he would bury his bones in this city, rather than expose his country to the consequences of a dissolution of the Convention without any thing being done.

The first proposition in the Report for fixing the representation in the first branch, “one member for every forty thousand inhabitants,” being taken up, —

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS objected to that scale of apportionment. He thought property ought to be taken into the estimate as well as the number of inhabitants. Life and liberty were generally said to be of more value than property. An accurate view of the matter would, nevertheless, prove that property was the main object of society. The savage state was more favorable to liberty than the civilized; and sufficiently so to life. It was preferred by all men who had not acquired a taste for property; it was only renounced for the sake of property which could only be secured by the restraints of regular government. These ideas might appear to some new, but they were nevertheless just. If property, then, was the main object of government, certainly it ought to be one measure of the influence due to those who were to be affected by the government. He looked forward, also, to that range of new States which would soon be formed in the West. He thought the rule of representation ought to be so fixed, as to secure to the Atlantic States a prevalence in the national councils. The new States will know less of the public interest than these; will have an interest in many respects different; in particular will be little scrupulous of involving the community in wars the burdens and operations of which would fall chiefly on the maritime States. Provision ought, therefore, to be made to prevent the maritime States from being hereafter outvoted by them. He thought this might be easily done, by irrevocably fixing the number of representatives which the Atlantic States should respectively have, and the number which each new State will have. This would not be unjust, as the western settlers would previously know the conditions on which they were to possess their lands. It would be politic, as it would recommend the plan to the present, as well as future, interest of the States which must decide the fate of it.

Mr. RUTLEDGE. The gentleman last up had spoken some of his sentiments precisely. Property was certainly the principal object of society. If numbers should be made the rule of representation, the Atlantic States would be subjected to the Western. He moved that the first proposition in the Report be postponed, in order to take up the following, viz.: “That the suffrages of the several States be regulated and proportioned according to the sums to be paid towards the general revenue by the inhabitants of each State respectively: that an apportionment of suffrages, according to the ratio aforesaid shall be made and regulated at the end of — years from the first meeting of the Legislature of the United States, and at the end of every — years; but that for the present, and until the period above mentioned, the suffrages shall be for New Hampshire — , for Massachusetts — , &c.”

Col. MASON said, the case of new States was not unnoticed in the Committee: but it was thought, and he was himself decidedly of opinion, that if they made a part of the Union, they ought to be subject to no unfavorable discriminations. Obvious considerations required it.

Mr. RANDOLPH concurred with Mr. MASON.

On the question on Mr. RUTLEDGE’S motion, — South Carolina, aye — 1; Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, no — 9; Georgia, not on the floor.


1 This Report was founded on a motion in the Committee made by Doctor FRANKLIN. It was barely acquiesced in by the members from the States opposed to an equality of votes in the second branch, and was evidently considered by the members on the other side, as a gaining of their point. A motion was made by Mr. SHERMAN, (who acted in the place of Mr. ELLSWORTH, who was kept away by indisposition), in the Committee, to the following effect, “that each State should have an equal vote in the second branch; provided that no decision therein should prevail unless the majority of States concurring should also comprise a majority of the inhabitants of the United States.” This motion was not much deliberated on, nor approved, in the Committee. A similar proviso had been proposed, in the debates on the Articles of Confederation, in 1777, to the articles giving certain powers to “nine States.” Return to text

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