Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787

by James Madison


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Monday, July 16

In Convention, — On the question for agreeing to the whole Report, as amended, and including the equality of votes in the second branch, it passed in the affirmative, — Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, (Mr. SPAIGHT no) aye — 5; Pennsylvania, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, no — 4; Massachusetts, divided (Mr. GERRY, Mr. STRONG, aye; Mr. KING, Mr. GORHAM, no).

The whole thus passed is in the words following, viz.

Resolved, that in the original formation of the Legislature of the United States, the first branch thereof shall consist of sixty-five members, of which number New Hampshire shall send, 3; Massachusetts, 8; Rhode Island, 1; Connecticut 5; New York, 6; New Jersey, 4; Pennsylvania, 8; Delaware, 1; Maryland, 6; Virginia, 10; North Carolina, 5; South Carolina, 5; Georgia, 3. But as the present situation of the States may probably alter in the number of their inhabitants, the Legislature of the United States shall be authorized, from time to time, to apportion the number of Representatives, and in case any of the States shall hereafter be divided, or enlarged by addition of territory, or any two or more States united, or any 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: provided always, that representation ought to be proportioned according to direct taxation. And in order to ascertain the alteration 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 six years from the first meeting of the Legislature of the United States, and once within the term of every ten 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.

Resolved, that all bills for raising or appropriating money, and for fixing the salaries of officers of the Government of the United States, shall originate in the first branch of the Legislature of the United States; and shall not be altered or amended in 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.

Resolved, that in the second branch of the Legislature of the United States, each State shall have an equal vote.”

The sixth Resolution in the Report from the Committee of the Whole House, which had been postponed, in order to consider the seventh and eighth Resolutions, was now resumed, (see the Resolution.)

“That the National Legislature ought to possess the legislative rights vested in Congress by the Confederation,” was agreed to, nem. con.

“And moreover to legislate in all cases to which the separate States are incompetent; or in which the harmony of the United States may be interrupted by the exercise of individual legislation,” being read for a question, —

Mr. BUTLER calls for some explanation of the extent of this power; particularly of the word incompetent. The vagueness of the terms rendered it impossible for any precise judgment to be formed.

Mr. GORHAM. The vagueness of the terms constitutes the propriety of them. We are now establishing general principles, to be extended hereafter into details, which will be precise and explicit.

Mr. RUTLEDGE urged the objection started by Mr. BUTLER; and moved that the clause should be committed, to the end that a specification of the powers comprised in the general terms might be reported.

On the question for commitment, the votes were equally divided, — Connecticut, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, aye — 5; Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, North Carolina, no — 5. So it was lost.

Mr. RANDOLPH. The vote of this morning (involving an equality of suffrage in the second branch) had embarrassed the business extremely. All the powers given in the Report from the Committee of the Whole were founded on the supposition that a proportional representation was to prevail in both branches of the Legislature. When he came here this morning, his purpose was to have offered some propositions that might, if possible, have united a great majority of votes, and particularly might provide against the danger suspected on the part of the smaller States, by enumerating the cases in which it might lie, and allowing an equality of votes in such cases. But finding from the preceding vote, that they persist in demanding an equal vote in all cases; that they have succeeded in obtaining it; and that New York, if present, would probably be on the same side; he could not but think we were unprepared to discuss the subject further. It will probably be in vain to come to any final decision, with a bare majority on either side. For these reasons he wished the Convention to adjourn, that the large States might consider the steps proper to be taken, in the present solemn crisis of the business; and that the small States might also deliberate on the means of conciliation.

Mr. PATTERSON thought with Mr. RANDOLPH, that it was high time for the Convention to adjourn; that the rule of secrecy ought to be rescinded; and that our constituents should be consulted. No conciliation could be admissible on the part of the smaller States, on any other ground than that of an equality of votes in the second branch. If Mr. RANDOLPH would reduce to form his motion for an adjournment sine die, he would second it with all his heart.

General PINCKNEY wished to know of Mr. RANDOLPH, whether he meant an adjournment sine die, or only an adjournment for the day. If the former was meant, it differed much from his idea. He could not think of going to South Carolina and returning again to this place. Besides it was chimerical, to suppose that the States, if consulted, would ever accord separately and beforehand.

Mr. RANDOLPH had never entertained an idea of an adjournment sine die; and was sorry that his meaning had been so readily and strangely misinterpreted. He had in view merely an adjournment till to-morrow, in order that some conciliatory experiment might, if possible, be devised; and that in case the smaller States should continue to hold back, the larger might then take such measures — he would not say what — as might be necessary.

Mr. PATTERSON seconded the adjournment till to-morrow, as an opportunity seemed to be wished by the larger States to deliberate further on conciliatory expedients.

On the question for adjourning till to-morrow, the States were equally divided, — New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, aye — 5; Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, South Carolina, Georgia, no — 5; so it was lost.

Mr. BROOM thought it his duty to declare his opinion against an adjournment sine die, as had been urged by Mr. PATTERSON. Such a measure, he thought, would be fatal. Something must be done by the Convention, though it should be by a bare majority.

Mr. GERRY observed, that Massachusetts was opposed to an adjournment, because they saw no new ground of compromise. But as it seemed to be the opinion of so many States that a trial should be made, the State would now concur in the adjournment.

Mr. RUTLEDGE could see no need of an adjournment, because he could see no chance of a compromise. The little States were fixed. They had repeatedly and solemnly declared themselves to be so. All that the large States, then, had to do was, to decide whether they would yield or not. For his part, he conceived, that, although we could not do what we thought best in itself, we ought to do something. Had we not better keep the Government up a little longer, hoping that another convention will supply our omissions, than abandon every thing to hazard? Our constituents will be very little satisfied with us, if we take the latter course.

Mr. RANDOLPH and Mr. KING renewed the motion to adjourn till to-morrow.

On the question, — Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, aye — 7; Connecticut, Delaware, no — 2; Georgia, divided.

Adjourned.


[On the morning following, before the hour of the Convention, a number of the members from the larger States, by common agreement, met for the purpose of consulting on the proper steps to be taken in consequence of the vote in favor of an equal representation in the second branch, and the apparent inflexibility of the smaller States on that point. Several members from the latter States also attended. The time was wasted in vague conversation on the subject, without any specific proposition or agreement. It appeared, indeed, that the opinions of the members who disliked the equality of votes differed much as to the importance of that point; and as to the policy of risking a failure of any general act of the Convention by inflexibly opposing it. Several of them — supposing that no good government could or would be built on that foundation; and that, as a division of the Convention into two opinions was unavoidable, it would be better that the side comprising the principal States, and a majority of the people of America, should propose a scheme of government to the States, than that a scheme should be proposed on the other side — would have concurred in a firm opposition to the smaller States, and in a separate recommendation, if eventually necessary. Others seemed inclined to yield to the smaller States, and to concur in such an act, however imperfect and exceptionable, as might be agreed on by the Convention as a body, though decided by a bare majority of States and by a minority of the people of the United States. It is probable that the result of this consultation satisfied the smaller States, that they had nothing to apprehend from a union of the larger in any plan whatever against the equality of votes in the second branch.]


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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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