Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787
by James Madison
Thursday, July 26
Col. MASON1. 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. 1.2 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, & qualifications, should be performed by those who know least. 2.2 that the election should be made by the Legislatures of the States. 3.2 by the Executives of the States. Agst. these modes also strong objections have been urged. 4.2 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. 5.2 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 Govt. 6.3 Another expedient was proposed by Mr. Dickenson, which is liable to so palpable & 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; tho’ the causes of his local unpopularity might be of such a nature as to recommend him to the States at large. 7.3 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 Natl. 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 pole4 -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 & respect those rights & interests, which are again to be personally valuable to them. He concluded with moving that the constitution of the Executive as reported by the Come. of the whole be re-instated, viz. “that the Executive be appointed for seven years, & be ineligible a 2d. time”
Mr. DAVIE seconded the motion
Docr. 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 & 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.
N. H. ay. Masts. not on floor. Ct. no. N. J. ay. Pa. no. Del. no. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. ay.7
Mr. Govr. MORRIS was now agst. 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 wd. 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 Docr. 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 Natl. legislature-for the term of seven years-to be ineligible a 2d. time-with power to carry into execution the natl. laws-to appoint to offices in cases not otherwise provided for-to be removable on impeachment & conviction of malpractice or neglect of duty-to receive a fixt compensation for the devotion of his time to the public service, to be paid out of the Natl. treasury” -it passed in the affirmative
N. H. ay. Mas. not on floor. Ct. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. no. Del. no. Md. no. Va. divd. Mr. Blair & Col. Mason ay. Genl. Washington & Mr. Madison no. Mr. Randolph happened to be out of the House. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. ay.8
Mr. MASON moved “that the Committee of detail be instructed to receive a clause requiring certain qualifications of landed property & citizenship of the U. States in members of the9 Legislature, and disqualifying persons having unsettled Accts. with or being indebted to the U. S. from being members of the Natl. 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 Congs. if Report was to be regarded.
Mr. PINCKNEY seconded the motion
Mr. Govr. MORRIS. If qualifications are proper, he wd. prefer them in the electors rather than the elected. As to debtors of the U. S. they are but few. As to persons having unsettled accounts he believed them to pretty many. He thought however that such a discrimination would be both odious & useless, and in many instances unjust & cruel. The delay of settlemt. 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. GHORUM was for leaving to the Legislature, the providing agst. 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 accts. with the public, to get into the Legislatures for sinister purposes. He thought however that if any precaution were to be10 taken for excluding them, the one proposed, by Col. Mason ought to be new11 modelled. It might be well to limit the exclusion to persons who had recd. money from the public, and had not accounted for it.
Mr. Govr. MORRIS. It was a precept of great antiquity as well as12 high authority that we should not be righteous overmuch. He thought we ought to be equally on our guard agst. being wise over much. The proposed regulation would enable the Govent. 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 might he13 have effected it, & how cruel wd. it be in such a case to keep a distinguished & meritorious Citizen under a temporary disability & 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 was but a scheme of the landed agst. the monied interest.
Mr. GERRY thought the inconveniency14 of excluding a few worthy individuals who might be public debtors or have unsettled accts. ought not to be put in the scale agst. 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 would15 exclude the monied interest, whose aids may be essential in particular emergencies to the public safety.
Mr. DICKENSON, was agst. any recital of qualifications in the Constitution. It was impossible to make a compleat one, and a partial one wd. 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 Source 16 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 & 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 & rewards.
Mr. MADISON moved to strike out the word landed, before the word “qualifications.” If the proposition sd. 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 agst. their Creditors. In the next place, if a small quantity of land 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 & rights of every class should be duly represented & understood in the public Councils. It was a provision every where established that the Country should be divided into districts & representatives taken from each, in order that the Legislative Assembly might equally understand & sympathise, 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 & understood in the public Councils. The three principal classes into which our citizens were divisible, were the landed the commercial, & the manufacturing. The 2d. & 3d. class, bear as yet a small proportion to the first. The proportion however will daily increase. We see in the populous Countries in18 Europe now, what we shall be hereafter. These classes understand much less of each others interests & 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 the19 impartiality of the third. This must be the case if landed qualifications should be required; few of the mercantile, & scarcely any of the manufacturing class, chusing 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. Govr. MORRIS in thinking that qualifications in the Electors would be much more effectual than in the elected. The former would discriminate between real & ostensible property in the latter; But he was aware of the difficulty of forming any uniform standard that would suit the different circumstances & opinions prevailing in the different States.
Mr. Govr. MORRIS 2ded. the motion.
On the Question for striking out “landed”
N. H. ay. Mas. ay. Ct. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. ay. Del. ay. Md. no. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. ay.20
N. H. ay. Masts. ay. Ct. no. N. J. ay. Pa. no. Del. no. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. ay.22
“The 2d. part, for disqualifying debtors, and persons having unsettled accounts,” being under consideration
Mr. CARROL moved to strike out “having unsettled accounts”
Mr. GHORUM seconded the motion; observing that it would put the commercial & 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 accts. with the public, and when such accts. will be a characteristic of patriotism. Besides a partial enumeration of cases will disable the Legislature from disqualifying odious & 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 argumts. used to day were to prevail, we might have a Legislature composed of public debtors, pensioners, placemen & contractors. He thought the proposed qualifications would be pleasing to the people. They will be considered as a security agst. unnecessary or undue burdens being imposed on them. He moved to add “pensioners” to the disqualified characters which was negatived.
N. H. no Mas. ay. Con. no. N. J. no. Pa. no. Del. no. Maryd. ay. Va. no. N. C. divided. S. C. no. Geo. ay.23
Mr. Govr. 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 Merchts. 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 & adjusted. At all events to draw from our short & scanty experience rules that are to operate through succeeding ages, does not savour much of real wisdom.
On24 question for striking out, “persons having unsettled accounts with the U. States.”
N. H. ay. Mas. ay. Ct. ay. N. J. no. Pa. ay. Del. ay. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. no.25
Mr. ELSEWORTH 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 agst. such evils. Is the smallest as well26 largest debtor to be excluded? Then every arrear of taxes will disqualify. Besides how is it to be known to the people when they elect who are or are not public debtors. The exclusion of pensioners & placemen in Engld. 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. PINKNEY sd. 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 wd. 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
N. H. no. Mas. no. Ct. no. N. J. no. Pa. no. Del. no. Md. no. Va. no. N. C. ay. S. C. no. Geo. ay.27
Col. MASON. observed that it would be proper, as he thought, that some provision should be made in the Constitution agst. choosing for the seat of the Genl. Govt. the City or place at which the seat of any State Govt. might be fixt. There were 2 objections agst. having them at the same place, which without mentioning others, required some precaution on the subject. The 1st. was that it tended to produce disputes concerning jurisdiction. The 2d. & principal one was that the intermixture of the two Legislatures tended to give a provincial tincture to ye. Natl. deliberations. He moved that the Come. be instructed to receive a clause to prevent the seat of the Natl. Govt. being in the same City or town with the Seat of the Govt. of any State longer than until the necessary public buildings could be erected.
Mr. ALEX. MARTIN 2ded. the motion.
Mr. Govr. MORRIS did not dislike the idea, but was apprehensive that such a clause might make enemies of Philda. & N. York which had expectations of becoming the Seat of the Genl. Govt.
Mr. LANGDON approved the idea also: but suggisted the case of a State moving its seat of Govt. to the natl. seat after the erection of the public buildings.
Mr. GHORUM. The precaution may be evaded by the Natl. Legislre. by delaying to erect the public buildings.
Mr. GERRY conceived it to be the genel. sense of America, that neither the Seat of a State Govt. nor any large commercial City should be the seat of the Genl. Govt..
Mr. WILLIAMSON liked the idea, but knowing how much the passions of men were agitated by this matter, was apprehensive of turning them agst. the System. He apprehended also that an evasion might be practiced in the way hinted by Mr. Ghorum.
Mr. PINKNEY thought the seat of a State Govt. ought to be avoided; but that a large town or its vicinity would be proper for the Seat of the Genl. Govt.
Col. MASON did not mean to press the motion at this time, nor to excite any hostile passions agst. the system. He was content to withdraw the motion for the present.
Mr. BUTLER was for fixing by the Constitution the place, & a central one, for the seat of the Natl. Govt.
The proceedings since Monday last were referred unanimously28 to the Come. of detail, and the Convention then unanimously Adjourned till Monday, Augst. 6. that the Come. of detail might have time to prepare & report the Constitution. The whole proceedings29 as referred are as follow: “[here copy them from the Journal p. 20730
[June 20.31 I. RESOLVED, That the Government of the United States ought to consist of a supreme legislative, judiciary, and executive.
II. RESOLVED, That the legislature consist of two branches.
III. 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 publick treasury; to receive an adequate compensation for their services; to be of the age of twenty-five years at least; to be ineligible32 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.
IV. 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 biennally; to receive a compensation for the devotion of their time to the publick 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.
V. RESOLVED, That each branch ought to possess the right of originating acts.
VI. 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.
VII. 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.
VIII. 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,
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 according33 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-
IX. 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 April 18, 1783; and that the legislature of the United States shall proportion the direct taxation accordingly.
X. 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 publick treasury, but in pursuance of appropriations to be originated by the first branch.
XI. RESOLVED, That in the second branch of the legislature of the United States, each state shall have an equal vote.
XII. 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 34 publick service; to be paid out of the publick treasury.
XIII. 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.
XIV. 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.
XV. RESOLVED, That the national legislature be empowered to appoint inferior tribunals.
XVI. 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.
XVII. 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.
XVIII. RESOLVED, That a republican form of government shall be guarantied to each state; and that each state shall be protected against foreign and domestick violence.
XIX. RESOLVED, That provision ought to be made for the amendment of the articles of union, whensoever it shall seem necessary.
XX. 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.
XXI. 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.
XXII. RESOLVED, That the representation in the second branch of the legislature of the United States35 consist of two members from each state, who shall vote per capita.
XXIII. 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.]
7 In the transcript the vote reads: “New Hampshire, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina. South Carolina, Georgia, aye-7; Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, no-3; Massachusetts not on the floor.” Return to text
8 In the transcript the vote reads: “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.]” Return to text
20 In the transcript the vote reads: “New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye-10; Maryland, no.” Return to text
22 In the transcript the vote reads: “New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye-8: Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, no-3.” Return to text
23 In the transcript the vote reads: “Massachusetts, Maryland, Georgia, aye- 3; New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, South Carolina, no-7; North Carolina, divided.” Return to text
25 In the transcript the vote reads: “New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, aye-9; New Jersey, Georgia, no-2.” Return to text
27 In the transcript the vote reads: “North Carolina, Georgia, aye-2; New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, no-9.” Return to text
31 The printed Journal says, page 11, that these 23 Resolutions are “collected from the proceedings of the convention, as they are spread over the journal from June 16th to July 26th.” The dates in the margin show when the respective Resolutious were adopted. They are omitted in the transcript. Return to text