Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787

by James Madison

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Thursday, July 26

In Convention, — Mr. MASON. In every stage of the question relative to the Executive, the difficulty of the subject and the diversity of the opinions concerning it, have appeared. Nor have any of the modes of constituting that Department been satisfactory. First, it has been proposed that the election should be made by the people at large; that is, that an act which ought to be performed by those who know most of eminent characters and qualifications should be performed by those who know least; secondly, that the election should be made by the Legislatures of the States; thirdly, by the Executives of the States. Against these modes, also, strong objections have been urged. Fourthly, it has been proposed that the election should be made by Electors chosen by the people for that purpose. This was at first agreed to; but on further consideration has been rejected. Fifthly, since which, the mode of Mr. WILLIAMSON, requiring each freeholder to vote for several candidates, has been proposed. This seemed, like many other propositions, to carry a plausible face, but on closer inspection is liable to fatal objections. A popular election in any form, as Mr. GERRY has observed, would throw the appointment into the hands of the Cincinnati, a society for the members of which he had a great respect, but which he never wished to have a preponderating influence in the government. Sixthly, another expedient was proposed by Mr. DICKINSON, which is liable to so palpable and material an inconvenience, that he had little doubt of its being by this time rejected by himself. It would exclude every man who happened not to be popular within his own State; though the causes of his local unpopularity might be of such a nature, as to recommend him to the States at large. Seventhly, among other expedients, a lottery has been introduced. But as the tickets do not appear to be in much demand, it will probably not be carried on, and nothing therefore need be said on that subject. After reviewing all these various modes, he was led to conclude, that an election by the National Legislature, as originally proposed, was the best. If it was liable to objections, it was liable to fewer than any other. He conceived, at the same time, that a second election ought to be absolutely prohibited. Having for his primary object — for the polar star of his political conduct — the preservation of the rights of the people, he held it as an essential point, as the very palladium of civil liberty, that the great officers of state, and particularly the Executive, should at fixed periods return to that mass from which they were at first taken, in order that they may feel and respect those rights and interests which are again to be personally valuable to them. He concluded with moving, that the constitution of the Executive, as reported by the Committee of the Whole, be reinstated, viz., “that the Executive be appointed for seven years, and be ineligible a second time.”

Mr. DAVIE seconded the motion.

Doctor FRANKLIN. It seems to have been imagined by some, that the returning to the mass of the people was degrading the magistrate. This he thought was contrary to republican principles. In free governments the rulers are the servants, and the people their superiors and sovereigns. For the former, therefore, to return among the latter, was not to degrade, but to promote, them. And it would be imposing an unreasonable burden on them, to keep them always in a state of servitude, and not allow them to become again one of the masters.

On the question on Col. MASON’S motion, as above, it passed in the affirmative, —

New Hampshire, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye — 7; Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, no — 3; Massachusetts, not on the floor.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS was now against the whole paragraph. In answer to Col. MASON’S position, that a periodical return of the great officers of the state into the mass of the people was the palladium of civil liberty, he would observe, that on the same principle the Judiciary ought to be periodically degraded; certain it was, that the Legislature ought, on every principle, yet no one had proposed, or conceived that the members of it should not be re-eligible. In answer to Doctor FRANKLIN, that a return into the mass of the people would be a promotion, instead of a degradation, he had no doubt that our Executive, like most others, would have too much patriotism to shrink from the burden of his office, and too much modesty not to be willing to decline the promotion.

On the question on the whole Resolution, as amended, in the words following: “that a National Executive be instituted, to consist of a single person, to be chosen by the National Legislature for the term of seven years, to be ineligible a second time, with power to carry into execution the national laws, to appoint to offices in cases not otherwise provided for, to be removable on impeachment and conviction of mal-practice or neglect of duty, to receive a fixed compensation for the devotion of his time to the public service, to be paid out of the national Treasury,” — it passed in the affirmative, —

New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye — 6; Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, no — 3; Massachusetts, not on the floor; Virginia, divided — Mr. BLAIR and Col. MASON, aye; General WASHINGTON and Mr. MADISON, no. Mr. RANDOLPH happened to be out of the House.

Mr. MASON moved, “that the Committee of Detail be instructed to receive a clause requiring certain qualifications of landed property, and citizenship of the United States, in members of the National Legislature; and disqualifying persons having unsettled accounts with, or being indebted to, the United States, from being members of the National Legislature.” He observed, that persons of the latter descriptions had frequently got into the State Legislatures, in order to promote laws that might shelter their delinquencies; and that this evil had crept into Congress, if report was to be regarded.

Mr. PINCKNEY seconded the motion.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS. If qualifications are proper, he would prefer them in the electors, rather than the elected. As to debtors of the United States, they are but few. As to persons having unsettled accounts, he believed them to be pretty many. He thought, however, that such a discrimination would be both odious and useless, and in many instances, unjust and cruel. The delay of settlement had been more the fault of the public, than of the individuals. What will be done with those patriotic citizens who have lent money, or services, or property, to their country, without having been yet able to obtain a liquidation of their claims? Are they to be excluded?

Mr. GORHAM was for leaving to the Legislature the providing against such abuses as had been mentioned.

Col. MASON mentioned the parliamentary qualifications adopted in the reign of Queen Anne, which he said had met with universal approbation.

Mr. MADISON had witnessed the zeal of men having accounts with the public, to get into the Legislatures for sinister purposes. He thought, however, that if any precaution were taken for excluding them, the one proposed by Col. MASON ought to be re-modelled. It might be well to limit the exclusion to persons who had received money from the public, and had not accounted for it.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS. It was a precept of great antiquity, as well as of high authority, that we should not be righteous overmuch. He thought we ought to be equally on our guard against being wise overmuch. The proposed regulation would enable the Government to exclude particular persons from office as long as they pleased. He mentioned the case of the Commander-in-Chief’s presenting his account for secret services, which, he said, was so moderate that every one was astonished at it; and so simple that no doubt could arise on it. Yet, had the Auditor been disposed to delay the settlement, how easily he might have effected it, and how cruel would it be in such a case to keep a distinguished and meritorious citizen under a temporary disability and disfranchisement. He mentioned this case, merely to illustrate the objectionable nature of the proposition. He was opposed to such minutious regulations in a Constitution. The parliamentary qualifications quoted by Col. Mason had been disregarded in practice; and were but a scheme of the landed against the moneyed interest.

Mr. PINCKNEY and General PINCKNEY moved to insert, by way of amendment, the words, “Judiciary and Executive,” so as to extend the qualifications to those Departments; which was agreed to, nem. con.

Mr. GERRY thought the inconvenience of excluding a few worthy individuals, who might be public debtors, or have unsettled accounts, ought not to be put in the scale against the public advantages of the regulation, and that the motion did not go far enough.

Mr. KING observed, that there might be great danger in requiring landed property as a qualification: since it might exclude the moneyed interest, whose aids may be essential in particular emergencies to the public safety.

Mr. DICKINSON was against any recital of qualifications in the Constitution. It was impossible to make a complete one; and a partial one would by implication, tie up the hands of the Legislature from supplying the omissions. The best defence lay in the freeholders who were to elect the Legislature. Whilst this resource should remain pure, the public interest would be safe. If it ever should be corrupt, no little expedients would repel the danger. He doubted the policy of interweaving into a republican Constitution a veneration for wealth. He had always understood that a veneration for poverty and virtue were the objects of republican encouragement. It seemed improper that any man of merit should be subjected to disabilities in a republic, where merit was understood to form the great title to public trust, honors, and rewards.

Mr. GERRY. If property be one object of government, provisions to secure it cannot be improper.

Mr. MADISON moved to strike out the word “landed,” before the word “qualifications.” If the proposition should be agreed to, he wished the Committee to be at liberty to report the best criterion they could devise. Landed possessions were no certain evidence of real wealth. Many enjoyed them to a great extent who were more in debt than they were worth. The unjust laws of the States had proceeded more from this class of men, than any others. It had often happened that men who had acquired landed property on credit got into the Legislatures with a view of promoting an unjust protection against their creditors. In the next place, if a small quantity of and should be made the standard, it would be no security; if a large one, it would exclude the proper representatives of those classes of citizens, who were not landholders. It was politic as well as just, that the interests and rights of every class should be duly represented and understood in the public councils. It was a provision every where established, that the country should be divided into districts, and representatives taken from each, in order that the Legislative assembly might equally understand and sympathize with the rights of the people in every part of the community. It was not less proper, that every class of citizens should have an opportunity of making their rights be felt and understood in the public councils. The three principal classes into which our citizens were divisible, were the landed, the commercial, and the manufacturing. The second and third class bear, as yet, a small proportion to the first. The proportion, however, will daily increase. We see in the populous countries of Europe now, what we shall be hereafter. These classes understand much less of each other’s interests and affairs, than men of the same class inhabiting different districts. It is particularly requisite, therefore, that the interests of one or two of them, should not be left entirely to the care or impartiality of the third. This must be the case if landed qualifications should be required; few of the mercantile, and scarcely any of the manufacturing, class, choosing, whilst they continue in business, to turn any part of their stock into landed property. For these reasons he wished, if it were possible, that some other criterion than the mere possession of land should be devised. He concurred with Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS in thinking that qualifications in the electors would be much more effectual than in the elected. The former would discriminate between real and ostensible property in the latter; but he was aware of the difficulty of forming any uniform standard that would suit the different circumstances and opinions prevailing in the different States.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS seconded the motion.

On the question for striking out “landed,” — New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye — 10; Maryland, no — 1.

On the question on the first part of Colonel MASON’S proposition, as to “qualification of property and citizenship,” as so amended, — New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye — 8; Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, no — 3.

The second part, for disqualifying debtors, and persons having unsettled accounts, being under consideration, —

Mr. CARROLL moved to strike out “having unsettled accounts.”

Mr. GORHAM seconded the motion; observing, that it would put the commercial and manufacturing part of the people on a worse footing than others, as they would be most likely to have dealings with the public.

Mr. L. MARTIN. If these words should be struck out, and the remaining words concerning debtors retained, it will be the interest of the latter class to keep their accounts unsettled as long as possible.

Mr. WILSON was for striking them out. They put too much power in the hands of the auditors, who might combine with rivals in delaying settlements, in order to prolong the disqualifications of particular men. We should consider that we are providing a Constitution for future generations, and not merely for the peculiar circumstances of the moment. The time has been, and will again be, when the public safety may depend on the voluntary aids of individuals, which will necessarily open accounts with the public; and when such accounts will be a characteristic of patriotism. Besides, a partial enumeration of cases will disable the Legislature from disqualifying odious and dangerous characters.

Mr. LANGDON was for striking out the whole clause, for the reasons given by Mr. WILSON. So many exclusions, he thought, too, would render the system unacceptable to the people.

Mr. GERRY. If the arguments used to-day were to prevail, we might have a Legislature composed of public debtors, pensioners, placemen and contractors. He thought the proposed disqualifications would be pleasing to the people. They will be considered as a security against unnecessary or undue burdens being imposed on them. He moved to add, “pensioners” to the disqualified characters; which was negative, — Massachusetts, Maryland, Georgia, aye — 3; New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, South Carolina, no — 7; North Carolina, divided.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS. The last clause, relating to public debtors, will exclude every importing merchant. Revenue will be drawn, it is foreseen, as much as possible from trade. Duties, of course, will be bonded; and the merchants will remain debtors to the public. He repeated that it had not been so much the fault of individuals, as of the public, that transactions between them, had not been more generally liquidated and adjusted. At all events, to draw from our short and scanty experience rules that are to operate through succeeding ages, does not savor much of real wisdom.

On the question for striking out, “persons having unsettled accounts with the United States,” — New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, aye — 9; New Jersey, Georgia, no — 2.

Mr. ELLSWORTH was for disagreeing to the remainder of the clause disqualifying public debtors; and for leaving to the wisdom of the Legislature, and the virtue of the citizens, the task of providing against such evils. Is the smallest as well as the largest debtor to be excluded? Then every arrear of taxes will disqualify. Besides, now is it to be known to the people, when they elect, who are, or are not, public debtors. The exclusion of pensioners and placemen in England is founded on a consideration not existing here. As persons of that sort are dependent on the crown, they tend to increase its influence.

Mr. PINCKNEY said he was at first a friend to the proposition, for the sake of the clause relating to qualifications of property; but he disliked the exclusion of public debtors; it went too far. It would exclude persons who had purchased confiscated property, or should purchase western territory of the public; and might be some obstacle to the sale of the latter.

On the question for agreeing to the clause disqualifying public debtors,—

North Carolina, Georgia, aye — 2; New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, no — 9.

Colonel MASON observed that it would be proper, as he thought, that some provision should be made in the Constitution against choosing for the seat of the General Government the city or place at which the seat of any State Government might be fixed. There were two objections against having them at the same place, which, without mentioning others, required some precaution on the subject. The first was, that it tended to produce disputes concerning jurisdiction. The second and principal one was, that the intermixture of the two Legislatures tended to give a provincial tincture to the national deliberations. He moved that the Committee be instructed to receive a clause to prevent the seat of the National Government being in the same city or town with the seat of the Government of any State, longer than until the necessary public buildings could be erected.

Mr. ALEXANDER MARTIN seconded the motion.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS did not dislike the idea, but was apprehensive that such a clause might make enemies of Philadelphia and New York, which had expectations of becoming the seat of the General Government.

Mr. LANGDON approved the idea also; but suggested the case of a State moving its seat of government to the national seat after the erection of the public buildings.

Mr. GORHAM. The precaution may be evaded by the National Legislature, by delaying to erect the public buildings.

Mr. GERRY conceived it to be the general sense of America, that neither the seat of a State Government, nor any large commercial city should be the seat of the General Government.

Mr. WILLIAMSON liked the idea; but knowing how much the passions of men were agitated by this matter, was apprehensive of turning them against the system. He apprehended, also, that an evasion might be practised in the way hinted by Mr. GORHAM.

Mr. PINCKNEY thought the seat of a State Government ought to be avoided; but that a large town, or its vicinity, would be proper for the seat of the General Government.

Col. MASON did not mean to press the motion at this time, not to excite any hostile passions against the system. He was content to withdraw the motion for the present.

Mr. BUTLER was for fixing, by the Constitution, the place, and a central one, for the seat of the National Government.

The proceedings since Monday last were unanimously referred to the Committee of Detail; and the Convention then unanimously adjourned till Monday, August 6th, that the Committee of Detail might have time to prepare and report the Constitution. The whole Resolutions, as referred, are as follows:

1. Resolved, That the Government of the United States ought to consist of a supreme Legislative, Judiciary, and Executive.

2. Resolved, That the Legislature consist of two branches.

3. Resolved, That the members of the first branch of the Legislature ought to be elected by the people of the several States for the term of two years; to be paid out of the public treasury; to receive an adequate compensation for their services; to be of the age of twenty-five years at least; to be ineligible to, and incapable of holding, any office under the authority of the United States (except those peculiarly belonging to the functions of the first branch) during the term of service of the first branch.

4. Resolved, That the members of the second branch of the Legislature of the United States ought to be chosen by the individual legislatures; to be of the age of thirty years at least; to hold their offices for six years, one-third to go out biennially; to receive a compensation for the devotion of their time to the public service; to be ineligible to, and incapable of holding, any office under the authority of the United States (except those peculiarly belonging to the functions of the second branch) during the term for which they are elected, and for one year thereafter.

5. Resolved, That each branch ought to possess the right of originating acts.

6. Resolved, That the National Legislature ought to possess the legislative rights vested in Congress by the Confederation; and, moreover, to legislate in all cases for the general interests of the Union, and also in those to which the States are separately incompetent, or in which the harmony of the United States may be interrupted by the exercise of individual legislation.

7. Resolved, That the legislative acts of the United States, made by virtue and in pursuance of the Articles of Union, and all treaties made and ratified under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the respective States, as far as those acts or treaties shall relate to the said States, or their citizens and inhabitants; and that the Judiciaries of the several States shall be bound thereby in their decisions, any thing in the respective laws of the individual States to the contrary notwithstanding.

8. 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 three,
Massachusetts                         eight,
Rhode Island                            one,
Connecticut                              five,
New York                                  six,
New Jersey                              four,
Pennsylvania                          eight,
Delaware                                   one,
Maryland                                 six,
Virginia                                    ten,
North Carolina                      five,
South Carolina                      five,
Georgia                                    three.

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, namely — Provided always, that representation ought to be proportioned 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, —

9. 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 of April, 1783; and that the Legislature of the United States shall proportion the direct taxation accordingly.

10. Resolved, That all bills for raising or appropriating money, and for fixing the salaries of the 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 by the second branch; and that no money shall be drawn from the public treasury, but in pursuance of appropriations to be originated by the first branch.

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

12. Resolved, That a National Executive be instituted, to consist of a single person; to be chosen by the National Legislature, for the term of seven years; to be ineligible a second time; with power to carry into execution the national laws; to appoint to offices in cases not otherwise provided for; to be removable on impeachment, and conviction of malpractice or neglect of duty; to receive a fixed compensation for the devotion of his time to the public service, to be paid out of the public treasury.

13. Resolved, That the National Executive shall have a right to negative any legislative act; which shall not be afterwards passed, unless by two third parts of each branch of the National Legislature.

14. Resolved, That a National Judiciary be established, to consist of one supreme tribunal, the Judges of which shall be appointed by the second branch of the national Legislature; to hold their offices during good behaviour; to receive punctually at stated times, a fixed compensation for their services, in which no diminution shall be made so as to affect the persons actually in office at the time of such diminution.

15. Resolved, That the National Legislature be empowered to appoint inferior tribunals.

16. Resolved, That the jurisdiction of the National Judiciary shall extend to cases arising under laws passed by the General Legislature; and to such other questions as involve the national peace and harmony.

17. Resolved, That provision ought to be made for the admission of States lawfully arising within the limits of the United States, whether from a voluntary junction of government and territory, or otherwise, with the consent of a number of voices in the National Legislature less than the whole.

18. Resolved, That a republican form of government shall be guarantied to each State; and that each State shall be protected against foreign and domestic violence.

19. Resolved, That provision ought to be made for the amendment of the Articles of Union, whensoever it shall seem necessary.

20. Resolved, That the Legislative, Executive and Judiciary powers, within the several States, and of the National Government, ought to be bound, by oath, to support the Articles of Union.

21. Resolved, That the amendments which shall be offered to the Confederation by the Convention ought, at a proper time or times, after the approbation of Congress, to be submitted to an assembly, or assemblies, of representatives, recommended by the several Legislatures, to be expressly chosen by the people to consider and decide thereon.

22. Resolved, That the representation in the second branch of the Legislature of the United States shall consist of two members from each State, who shall vote per capita.

23. Resolved, That it be an instruction to the Committee to whom were referred the proceedings of the Convention for the establishment of a National Government, to receive a clause, or clauses, requiring certain qualifications of property and citizenship in the United States, for the Executive, the Judiciary, and the members of both branches of the Legislature of the United States.

With the above Resolutions were referred the propositions offered by Mr. C. PINCKNEY on the twenty-ninth of May, and by Mr. PATTERSON on the fifteenth of June.



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