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Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787

by James Madison


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Monday, July 9

In Convention, — Mr. DANIEL CARROLL, from Maryland, took his seat.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS delivered a Report from the Committee of five members, to whom was committed the clause in the Report of the Committee consisting of a member from each State, stating the proper ratio of representatives in the first branch to be as one to every forty thousand inhabitants, as follows, viz:

“The Committee to whom was referred the first clause of the first proposition reported from the Grand Committee, beg leave to report:

“That in the first meeting of the Legislature the first branch thereof consist of fifty-six members, of which number New Hampshire shall have 2, Massachusetts 7, Rhode Island 1, Connecticut 4, New York 5, New Jersey 3, Pennsylvania 8, Delaware 1, Maryland 4, Virginia 9, North Carolina 5, South Carolina 5, Georgia 2.

“But as the present situation of the States may probably alter, as well in point of wealth as in the number of their inhabitants, that the Legislature be authorized from time to time to augment the number of Representatives. And in case any of the States shall hereafter be divided, or any two or more States united, or any new States created within the limits of the United States, the Legislature shall possess authority to regulate the number of Representatives in any of the foregoing cases, upon the principles of their wealth and number of inhabitants.”

Mr. SHERMAN wished to know on what principles or calculations the Report was founded. It did not appear to correspond with any rule of numbers, or of any requisition hitherto adopted by Congress.

Mr. GORHAM. Some provision of this sort was necessary in the outset. The number of blacks and whites, with some regard to supposed wealth, was the general guide. Fractions could not be observed. The Legislature is to make alterations from time to time, as justice and propriety may require. Two objections prevailed against the rule of one member for every forty thousand inhabitants. The first was, that the representation would soon be too numerous, the second that the Western States, who may have a different interest, might, if admitted on that principle, by degrees outvote the Atlantic. Both these objections are removed. The number will be small in the first instance, and may be continued so. And the Atlantic States, having the Government in their own hands, may take care of their own interest, by dealing out the right of representation in safe proportions to the Western States. These were the views of the Committee.

Mr. L. MARTIN wished to know whether the Committee were guided in the ratio by the wealth or number of inhabitants, of the States, or both; noting its variations from former apportionments by Congress.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS and Mr. RUTLEDGE moved to postpone the first paragraph relating to the number of members to be allowed each State in the first instance, and to take up the second paragraph, authorizing the Legislature to alter the number from time to time according to wealth and inhabitants. The motion was agreed to, nem. con.

On the question on the second paragraph, taken without any debate, — Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye — 9; New York, New Jersey, no — 2.

Mr. SHERMAN moved to refer the first part, apportioning the representatives, to a Committee of a member from each State.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS seconded the motion, observing that this was the only case in which such committees were useful.

Mr. WILLIAMSON thought it would be necessary to return to the rule of numbers, but that the Western States stood on different footing. If their property should be rated as high as that of the Atlantic States, then their representation ought to hold a like proportion. Otherwise, if their property was not to be equally rated.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS. The Report is little more than a guess. Wealth was not altogether disregarded by the Committee. Where it was apparently in favor of one State whose numbers were superior to the numbers of another, by a fraction only, a member extraordinary was allowed to the former; and so vice versa. The Committee meant little more than to bring the matter to a point for the consideration of the House.

Mr. READ asked why Georgia was allowed two members, when her number of inhabitants had stood below that of Delaware?

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS. Such is the rapidity of the population of that State, that before the plan takes effect, it will probably be entitled to two Representatives.

Mr. RANDOLPH disliked the Report of the Committee, but had been unwilling to object to it. He was apprehensive that, as the number was not to be changed, till the National Legislature should please, a pretext would never be wanting to postpone alterations, and keep the power in the hands of those possessed of it. He was in favor of the commitment to a member from each State.

Mr. PATTERSON considered the proposed estimate for the future according to the combined rules of numbers and wealth, as too vague. For this reason New Jersey was against it. He could regard negro slaves in no light but as property. They are no free agents, have no personal liberty, no faculty of acquiring property, but on the contrary are themselves property, and like other property entirely at the will of the master. Has a man in Virginia a number of votes in proportion to the number of his slaves? and if negroes are not represented in the States to which they belong, why should they be represented in the General Government. What is the true principle of representation? It is an expedient by which an assembly of certain individuals, chosen by the people, is substituted in place of the inconvenient meeting of the people themselves. If such a meeting of the people was actually to take place, would the slaves vote? They would not. Why then should they be represented? He was also against such an indirect encouragement of the slave trade; observing that Congress, in their Act relating to the change of the eighth Article of Confederation, had been ashamed to use the term “slaves,” and had substituted a description.

Mr. MADISON reminded Mr. PATTERSON that his doctrine of representation, which was in its principle the genuine one, must forever silence the pretensions of the small States to an equality of votes with the large ones. They ought to vote in the same proportion in which their citizens would do, if the people of all the States were collectively met. He suggested as a proper ground of compromise, that in the first branch the States should be represented according to their number of free inhabitants; and in the second, which had for one of its primary objects the guardianship of property, according to the whole number, including slaves.

Mr. BUTLER urged warmly the justice and necessity of regarding wealth in the apportionment of representation.

Mr. KING had always expected, that, as the Southern States are the richest, they would not league themselves with the Northern, unless some respect were paid to their superior wealth. If the latter expect those preferential distinctions in commerce, and other advantages which they will derive from the connexion, they must not expect to receive them without allowing some advantages in return. Eleven out of thirteen of the States had agreed to consider slaves in the apportionment of taxation; and taxation and representation ought to go together.

On the question for committing the first paragraph of the Report to a member from each State, — Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, aye — 9; New York, South Carolina, no — 2.

The Committee appointed were Messrs. KING, SHERMAN, YATES, BREARLY, GOUVERNEUR MORRIS, READ, CARROLL, MADISON, WILLIAMSON, RUTLEDGE, HOUSTON.

Adjourned.

 


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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.

View Interactive

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