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Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787

by James Madison


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Thursday, July 12

In Convention,Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS moved to add to the clause empowering the Legislature to vary the representation according to the principles of wealth and numbers of inhabitants, a proviso, “that taxation shall be in proportion to representation.”

Mr. BUTLER contended again, that representation should be according to the full number of inhabitants including all the blacks; admitting the justice of Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS’S motion.

Mr. MASON also admitted the justice of the principle, but was afraid embarrassments might be occasioned to the Legislature by it. It might drive the Legislature to the plan of requisitions.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS admitted that some objections lay against his motion, but supposed they would be removed by restraining the rule to direct taxation. With regard to indirect taxes on exports and imports, and on consumption, the rule would be inapplicable. Notwithstanding what had been said to the contrary, he was persuaded that the imports and consumption were pretty nearly equal throughout the Union.

General PINCKNEY liked the idea. He thought it so just that it could not be objected to; but foresaw that, if the revision of the census was left to the discretion of the Legislature, it would never be carried into execution. The rule must be fixed, and the execution of it enforced, by the Constitution. He was alarmed at what was said1 yesterday, concerning the negroes. He was now again alarmed at what had been thrown out concerning the taxing of exports. South Carolina has in one year exported to the amount of £600,000 sterling, all which was the fruit of the labor of her blacks. Will she be represented in proportion to this amount? She will not. Neither ought she then to be subject to a tax on it. He hoped a clause would be inserted in the system, restraining the Legislature from taxing exports.

Mr. WILSON approved the principle, but could not see how it could be carried into execution; unless restrained to direct taxation.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS having so varied his motion by inserting the word “direct,” it passed, nem. con., as follows: “provided always that direct taxation ought to be proportioned to representation.”

Mr. DAVIE said it was high time now to speak out. He saw that it was meant by some gentlemen to deprive the Southern States of any share of representation for their blacks. He was sure that North Carolina would never confederate on any terms that did not rate them at least as three-fifths. If the Eastern States meant, therefore, to exclude them altogether, the business was at an end.

Doctor JOHNSON thought that wealth and population were the true, equitable rules of representation; but he conceived that these two principles resolved themselves into one, population being the best measure of wealth. He concluded, therefore, that the number of people ought to be established as the rule, and that all descriptions, including blacks equally with the whites, ought to fall within the computation. As various opinions had been expressed on the subject, he would move that a committee might be appointed to take them into consideration, and report them.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS. It had been said that it is high time to speak out. As one member, he would candidly do so. He came here to form a compact for the good of America. He was ready to do so with all the States. He hoped and believed that all would enter into such a compact. If they would not, he was ready to join with any States that would. But as the compact was to be voluntary, it is in vain for the Eastern States to insist on what the Southern States will never agree to. It is equally vain for the latter to require what the other States can never admit; and he verily believed the people of Pennsylvania will never agree to a representation of negroes. What can be desired by these States more than has been already proposed — that the Legislature shall from time to time regulate representation according to population and wealth?

General PINCKNEY desired that the rule of wealth should be ascertained, and not left to the pleasure of the Legislature; and that property in slaves should not be exposed to danger, under a government instituted for the protection of property.

The first clause in the Report of the first Grand Committee was postponed.

Mr. ELLSWORTH, in order to carry into effect the principle established, moved to add to the last clause adopted by the House the words following, “and that the rule of contribution by direct taxation, for the support of the Government of the United States, shall be the number of white inhabitants and three-fifths of every other description in the several States, until some other rule that shall more accurately ascertain the wealth of the several States, can be devised and adopted by the Legislature.”

Mr. BUTLER seconded the motion, in order that it might be committed.

Mr. RANDOLPH was not satisfied with the motion. The danger will be revived, that the ingenuity of the Legislature may evade or pervert the rule, so as to perpetuate the power where it shall be lodged in the first instance. He proposed, in lieu of Mr. ELLSWORTH’S motion, “that in order to ascertain the alterations in representation that may be required, from time to time, by changes in the relative circumstances of the States, a census shall be taken within two years from the first meeting of the General Legislature of the United States, and once within the term of every — years afterwards, of all the inhabitants, in the manner and according to the ratio recommended by Congress in their Resolution of the eighteenth day of April, 1783, (rating the blacks at three-fifths of their number); and that the Legislature of the United States shall arrange the representation accordingly.” He urged strenuously that express security ought to be provided for including slaves in the ratio of representation. He lamented that such a species of property existed. But as it did exist, the holders of it would require this security. It was perceived that the design was entertained by some of excluding slaves altogether; the Legislature therefore ought not to be left at liberty.

Mr. ELLSWORTH withdraws his motion, and seconds that of Mr. RANDOLPH.

Mr. WILSON observed that less umbrage would perhaps be taken against an admission of the slaves into the rule of representation, if it should be so expressed as to make them indirectly only an ingredient in the rule, by saying that they should enter into the rule of taxation; and as representation was to be according to taxation, the end would be equally attained. He accordingly moved, and was seconded, so to alter the last clause adopted by the House, that, together with the amendment proposed, the whole should read as follows: “provided always that the representation ought to be proportioned according to direct taxation; and in order to ascertain the alterations in the direct taxation which may be required from time to time by the changes in the relative circumstances of the States, Resolved, that a census be taken within two years from the first meeting of the legislature of the United States, and once within the term of every — years afterwards, of all the inhabitants of the United States, in the manner and according to the ratio recommended by Congress in their Resolution of the eighteenth day of April, 1783; and that the Legislature of the United States shall proportion the direct taxation accordingly.”

Mr. KING. Although this amendment varies the aspect somewhat, he had still two powerful objections against tying down the Legislature to the rule of numbers, — first, they were at this time an uncertain index of the relative wealth of the States; secondly, if they were a just index at this time, it cannot be supposed always to continue so. He was far from wishing to retain any unjust advantage whatever in one part of the Republic. If justice was not the basis of the connection, it could not be of long duration. He must be short-sighted indeed who does not foresee, that, whenever the Southern States shall be more numerous than the Northern, they can and will hold a language that will awe them into justice. If they threaten to separate now in case injury shall be done them, will their threats be less urgent or effectual when force shall back their demands? Even in the intervening period there will be no point of time at which they will not be able to say, do us justice or we will separate. He urged the necessity of placing confidence, to a certain degree in every government, and did not conceive that the proposed confidence, as to a periodical re-adjustment of the representation, exceeded that degree.

Mr. PINCKNEY moved to amend Mr. RANDOLPH’S motion, so as to make “blacks equal to the whites in the ratio of representation.” This he urged, was nothing more than justice. The blacks are the laborers, the peasants, of the Southern States. They are as productive of pecuniary resources as those of the Northern States. They add equally to the wealth, and, considering money as the sinew of war, to the strength, of the nation. It will also be politic with regard to the Northern States, as taxation is to keep pace with representation.

General PINCKNEY moves to insert six years, instead of two, as the period, computing from the first meeting of the Legislature, within which the first census should be taken. On this question for inserting six years, instead of “two,” in the proposition of Mr. WILSON, it passed in the affirmative, — Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, South Carolina, aye — 5; Massachusetts, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, no — 4; Delaware, divided.

On the question for filling the blank for the periodical census with twenty years, it passed in the negative — Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, aye — 3; Massachusetts, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no — 7.

On the question for ten years, it passed in the affirmative, — Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye — 8; Connecticut, New Jersey, no — 2.

On Mr. PINCKNEY’S motion, for rating blacks as equal to whites, instead of as three-fifths, — South Carolina, Georgia, aye — 2; Massachusetts, Connecticut, (Doctor JOHNSON, aye), New Jersey, Pennsylvania, (three against two), Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, no — 8.

Mr. RANDOLPH’S proposition, as varied by Mr. WILSON, being read for taking the question on the whole, —

Mr. GERRY urged that the principle of it could not be carried into execution, as the States were not to be taxed as States. With regard to taxes on imposts, he conceived they would be more productive where there were no slaves, than where there were; the consumption being greater.

Mr. ELLSWORTH. In case of a poll-tax there would be no difficulty. But there would probably be none. The sum allotted to a State may be levied without difficulty, according to the plan used by the State in raising its own supplies.

On the question on the whole proposition, as proportioning representation to direct taxation, and both to the white and three-fifths of the black inhabitants, and requiring a census within six years, and within every ten years afterwards, — Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, aye — 6; New Jersey, Delaware, no — 2; Massachusetts, South Carolina, divided.

Adjourned.


1 By Mr. Gouverneur MorrisReturn 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.

View Interactive

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