Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787

by James Madison


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Saturday, July 7

In Convention,

The question, shall the clause “allowing each State one vote in the second branch, stand as part of the Report,” being taken up, —

Mr. Gerry. This is the critical question. He had rather agree to it than have no accommodation. A Government short of a proper national plan, if generally acceptable, would be preferable to a proper one which, if it could be carried at all, would operate on discontented States. He thought it would be best to suspend this question till the Committee appointed yesterday should make report.

Mr. Sherman supposed that it was the wish of every one that some General Government should be established. An equal vote in the second branch would, he thought, be most likely to give it the necessary vigor. The small States have more vigor in their Governments than the large ones; the more influence therefore the large ones have, the weaker will be the Government. In the large States it will be most difficult to collect the real and fair sense of the people. Fallacy and undue influence will be practised with the most success; and improper men will most easily get into office. If they vote by States in the second branch, and each State has an equal vote, there must be always a majority of States, as well as a majority of the people, on the side of public measures, and the Government will have decision and efficacy. If this be not the case in the second branch, there may be a majority of States against public measures; and the difficulty of compelling them to abide by the public determination will render the Government feebler than it has ever yet been.

Mr. Wilson was not deficient in a conciliating temper, but firmness was sometimes a duty of higher obligation. Conciliation was also misapplied in this instance. It was pursued here rather among the representatives, than among the constituents; and it would be of little consequence if not established among the latter; and there could be little hope of its being established among them, if the foundation should not be laid in justice and right.

On the question, Shall the words stand as part of the Report? — Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, aye — 6; Pennsylvania, Virginia, South Carolina, no — 3; Massachusetts, Georgia, divided.1

Mr. Gerry thought it would be proper to proceed to enumerate and define the powers to be vested in the General Government, before a question on the Report should be taken as to the rule of representation in the second branch.

Mr. Madison observed, that it would be impossible to say what powers could be safely and properly vested in the Government, before it was known in what manner the States were to be represented in it. He was apprehensive that if a just representation were not the basis of the Government it would happen, as it did when the Articles of Confederation were depending, that every effectual prerogative would be withdrawn or withheld, and the new Government would be rendered as impotent and as short-lived as the old.

Mr. Patterson would not decide whether the privilege concerning money bills were a valuable consideration or not; but he considered the mode and rule of representation in the first branch as fully so; and that after the establishment of that point, the small States would never be able to defend themselves without an equality of votes in the second branch. There was no other ground of accommodation. His resolution was fixed. He would meet the large States on that ground, and no other. For himself, he should vote against the Report, because it yielded too much.

Mr. Gouverneur Morris. He had no resolution unalterably fixed except to do what should finally appear to him right. He was against the Report because it maintained the improper constitution of the second branch. It made it another Congress, a mere whisp of straw. It had been said (by Mr. Gerry), that the new Government would be partly national, partly federal; that it ought in the first quality to protect individuals; in the second, the States. But in what quality was it to protect the aggregate interest of the whole? Among the many provisions which had been urged, he had seen none for supporting the dignity and splendor of the American Empire. It had been one of our greatest misfortunes that the great objects of the nation had been sacrificed constantly to local views; in like manner as the general interest of States had been sacrificed to those of the counties. What is to be the check in the Senate? None; unless it be to keep the majority of the people from injuring particular States. But particular States ought to be injured for the sake of a majority of the people, in case their conduct should deserve it. Suppose they should insist on claims evidently unjust, and pursue them in a manner detrimental to the whole body: suppose they should give themselves up to foreign influence: Ought they to be protected in such cases? They were originally nothing more than colonial corporations. On the Declaration of Independence, a Government was to be formed. The small States aware of the necessity of preventing anarchy, and taking advantage of the moment, extorted from the large ones an equality of votes. Standing now on that ground, they demand, under the new system, greater rights, as men, than their fellow-citizens of the large States. The proper answer to them is, that the same necessity of which they formerly took advantage does not now exist; and that the large States are at liberty now to consider what is right, rather than what may be expedient. We must have an efficient Government, and if there be an efficiency in the local Governments, the former is impossible. Germany alone proves it. Notwithstanding their common Diet, notwithstanding the great prerogatives of the Emperor, as head of the Empire, and his vast resources, as sovereign of his particular dominions, no union is maintained; foreign influence disturbs every internal operation, and there is no energy whatever in the general government. Whence does this proceed? From the energy of the local authorities; from its being considered of more consequence to support the Prince of Hesse, than the happiness of the people of Germany. Do gentlemen wish this to be the case here? Good God, Sir, is it possible they can so delude themselves? What — if all the Charters and Constitutions of the States were thrown into the fire, and all their demagogues into the ocean — what would it be to the happiness of America? And will not this be the case here, if we pursue the train in which the business lies? We shall establish an Aulic Council without an Emperor to execute its decrees. The same circumstances which unite the people here, unite them in Germany. They have there a common language, a common law, common usages and manners, and a common interest in being united; yet their local jurisdictions destroy every tie. The case was the same in the Grecian states. The United Netherlands are at this time torn in factions. With these examples before our eyes, shall we form establishments which must necessarily produce the same effects? It is of no consequence from what districts the second branch shall be drawn, if it be so constituted as to yield an asylum against these evils. As it is now constituted, he must be against its being drawn from the States in equal portions; but shall be ready to join in devising such an amendment of the plan, as will be most likely to secure our liberty and happiness.

Mr. Sherman and Mr. Ellsworth moved to postpone the question on the Report from the Committee of a member from each State, in order to wait for the Report from the Committee of five last appointed, — Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, aye — 6; New York, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no — 5.

Adjourned.


1 Several votes were given here in the affirmative, or were divided, because another final question was to be taken on the whole Report. 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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