Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787

by James Madison

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Friday, July 13

In Convention, — It being moved to postpone the clause in the Report of the Committee of Eleven as to the originating of money bills in the first branch, in order to take up the following, “that in the second branch each State shall have an equal voice,” –

Mr. GERRY moved to add, as an amendment to the last clause agreed to by the House, “that, from the first meeting of the Legislature of the United States till a census shall be taken, all moneys to be raised for supplying the public Treasury by direct taxation shall be assessed on the inhabitants of the several States according to the number of their Representatives respectively in the first branch.” He said this would be as just before as after the census, according to the general principle that taxation and representation ought to go together.

Mr. WILLIAMSON feared that New Hampshire will have reason to complain. Three members were allotted to her as a liberal allowance, for this reason among others, that she might not suppose any advantage to have been taken of her absence. As she was still absent, and had no opportunity of deciding whether she would choose to retain the number on the condition of her being taxed in proportion to it, he thought the number ought to be reduced from three to two, before the question was taken on Mr. GERRY’S motion.

Mr. READ could not approve of the proposition. He had observed, he said, in the Committee a backwardness in some of the members from the large States, to take their full proportion of Representatives. He did not then see the motive. He now suspects it was to avoid their due share of taxation. He had no objection to a just and accurate adjustment of representation and taxation to each other.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS and Mr. MADISON answered, that the charge itself involved an acquittal; since, notwithstanding the augmentation of the number of members allotted to Massachusetts and Virginia, the motion for proportioning the burdens thereto was made by a member from the former state, and was approved by Mr. MADISON, from the latter, who was on the Committee. Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS said, that he thought Pennsylvania had her due share in eight members; and he could not in candor ask for more. Mr. MADISON said, that having always conceived that the difference of interest in the United States lay not between the large and small, but the Northern and Southern States, and finding that the number of members allotted to the Northern States was greatly superior, he should have preferred an addition of two members to the Southern States, to wit, one to North and one to South Carolina, rather than of one member to Virginia. He liked the present motion, because it tended to moderate the views both of the opponents and advocates for rating very high the negroes.

Mr. ELLSWORTH hoped the proposition would be withdrawn. It entered too much into detail. The general principle was already sufficiently settled. As fractions cannot be regarded in apportioning the number of Representatives, the rule will be unjust, until an actual census shall be made. After that, taxation may be precisely proportioned, according to the principle established, to the number of inhabitants.

Mr. WILSON hoped the motion would not be withdrawn. If it should, it will be made from another quarter. The rule will be as reasonable and just before, as after, a census. As to fractional numbers, the census will not destroy, but ascertain them. And they will have the same effect after, as before, the census; for, as he understands the rule, it is to be adjusted not to the number of inhabitants, but of Representatives.

Mr. SHERMAN opposed the motion. He thought the Legislature ought to be left at liberty; in which case they would probably conform to the principles observed by Congress.

Mr. MASON did not know that Virginia would be a loser by the proposed regulation, but had some scruple as to the justice of it. He doubted much whether the conjectural rule which was to precede the census would be as just as it would be rendered by an actual census.

Mr. ELLSWORTH and Mr. SHERMAN moved to postpone the motion of Mr. GERRY.

On the question, it passed in the negative, — Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, aye — 4; Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no — 6.

On the question on Mr. GERRY’S motion, it passed in the negative, the States being equally divided, — Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye — 5; Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, no — 5.

Mr. GERRY finding that the loss of the question had proceeded from an objection, with some, to the proposed assessment of direct taxes on the inhabitants of the States, which might restrain the Legislature to a poll-tax, moved his proposition again, but so varied as to authorize the assessment on the States, which leaves the mode to the Legislature, viz: “that from the first meeting of the Legislature of the United States, until a census shall be taken, all moneys for supplying the public Treasury by direct taxation shall be raised from the said several States, according to the number of their Representatives respectively in the first branch.”

On this varied question, it passed in the affirmative, — Massachusetts, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye — 5; Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, no — 4; Pennsylvania, divided.

On the motion of Mr. RANDOLPH, the vote of Monday last, authorizing the Legislature to adjust, from time to time, the representation upon the principles of wealth and numbers of inhabitants, was reconsidered by common consent, in order to strike out wealth and adjust the resolution to that requiring periodical revisions according to the number of whites and three-fifths of the blacks. The motion was in the words following: — “But as the present situation of the States may probably alter in the number of their inhabitants, that the Legislature of the United States be authorized, from time to time, to apportion the number of Representatives; and in case any of the States shall hereafter be divided, or any two or more States united, or new States created within the limits of the United States, the Legislature of the United States shall possess authority to regulate the number of Representatives in any of the foregoing cases, upon the principle of their number of inhabitants, according to the provisions hereafter mentioned.”

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS opposed the alteration, as leaving still an incoherence. If negroes were to be viewed as inhabitants, and the revision was to proceed on the principle of numbers of inhabitants, they ought to be added in their entire number, and not in the proportion of three-fifths. If as property, the word wealth was right; and striking it out would produce the very inconsistency which it was meant to get rid of. The train of business, and the late turn which it had taken, had led him, he said, into deep meditation on it, and he would candidly state the result. A distinction had been set up, and urged, between the Northern and Southern States. He had hitherto considered this doctrine as heretical. He still thought the distinction groundless. He sees, however, that it is persisted in; and the Southern gentlemen will not be satisfied unless they see the way open to their gaining a majority in the public councils. The consequence of such a transfer of power from the maritime to the interior and landed interest, will, he foresees, be such an oppression to commerce, that he shall be obliged to vote for the vicious principle of equality in the second branch, in order to provide some defence for the Northern States against it. But, to come more to the point, either this distinction is fictitious or real; if fictitious, let it be dismissed, and let us proceed with due confidence. If it be real, instead of attempting to blend incompatible things, let us at once take a friendly leave of each other. There can be no end of demands for security, if every particular interest is to be entitled to it. The Eastern States may claim it for their fishery, and for other objects, as the Southern States claim it for their peculiar objects. In this struggle between the two ends of the Union, what part ought the Middle States, in point of policy, to take? To join their Eastern brethren, according to his ideas. If the Southern States get the power into their hands, and be joined, as they will be, with the interior country, they will inevitably bring on a war with Spain for the Mississippi. This language is already held. The interior country, having no property nor interest exposed on the sea, will be little affected by such a war. He wished to know what security the Northern and Middle States will have against this danger. It has been said that North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia only, will in a little time have a majority of the people of America. They must in that case include the great interior country, and every thing was to be apprehended from their getting the power into their hands.

Mr. BUTLER. The security the Southern States want is, that their negroes may not be taken from them, which some gentlemen within or without doors have a very good mind to do. It was not supposed that North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia would have more people than all the other States, but many more relatively to the other States, than they now have. The people and strength of America are evidently bearing southwardly, and south westwardly.

Mr. WILSON. If a general declaration would satisfy any gentleman, he had no indisposition to declare his sentiments. Conceiving that all men, wherever placed, have equal rights, and are equally entitled to confidence, he viewed without apprehension the period when a few States should contain the superior number of people. The majority of people, wherever found, ought in all questions to govern the minority. If the interior country should acquire this majority, it will not only have the right, but will avail itself of it, whether we will or no. This jealousy misled the policy of Great Britain with regard to America. The fatal maxims espoused by her were, that the Colonies were growing too fast, and that their growth must be stinted in time. What were the consequences? First enmity on our part, then actual separation. Like consequences will result on the part of the interior settlements, if like jealousy and policy be pursued on ours. Further, if numbers be not a proper rule, why is not some better rule pointed out? No one has yet ventured to attempt it. Congress have never been able to discover a better. No State, as far as he had heard, had suggested any other. In 1783, after elaborate discussion of a measure of wealth, all were satisfied then, as they now are, that the rule of numbers does not differ much from the combined rule of numbers and wealth. Again, he could not agree that property was the sole or primary object of government and society. The cultivation and improvement of the human mind was the most noble object. With respect to this object, as well as to other personal rights, numbers were surely the natural and precise measure of representation. And with respect to property, they could not vary much from the precise measure. In no point of view, however, could the establishment of numbers, as the rule of representation in the first branch, vary his opinion as to the impropriety of letting a vicious principle into the second branch.

On the question to strike out wealth, and to make the change as moved by Mr. RANDOLPH, it passed in the affirmative, — Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye — 9; Delaware, divided.

Mr. READ moved to insert, after the word “divided,” “or enlarged by addition of territory;” which was agreed to, nem. con.1


1 His object probably was to provide for such cases as an enlargement of Delaware by annexing to it the peninsula on the East side of the Chesapeake. Return to text

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The year was 1787. The place: the State House in Philadelphia. This is the story of the framing of the federal Constitution.

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