Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787

by James Madison


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Wednesday, August 8

In Convention, – Article 4, sect. 1, being under consideration, –

 Mr. MERCER expressed his dislike of the whole plan, and his opinion that it never could succeed.

 Mr. GORHAM. He had never seen any inconvenience from allowing such as were not freeholders to vote, though it had long been tried. The elections in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, where the merchants and mechanics vote, are at least as good as those made by freeholders only. The case in England was not accurately stated yesterday (by Mr. MADISON). The cities and large towns are not the seat of Crown influence and corruption. These prevail in the boroughs, and not on account of the right which those who are not freeholders have to vote, but of the smallness of the number who vote. The people have been long accustomed to this right in various parts of America, and will never allow it to be abridged. We must consult their rooted prejudices if we expect their concurrence in our propositions.

 Mr. MERCER did not object so much to an election by the people at large, including such as were not freeholders, as to their being left to make their choice without any guidance. He hinted that candidates ought to be nominated by the State Legislatures.

On the question for agreeing to Article 4, Sect. 1, it passed, nem. con.

Article 4, sect. 2, was then taken up.

 Colonel MASON was for opening a wide door for emigrants; but did not choose to let foreigners and adventurers make laws for us and govern us. Citizenship for three years was not enough for ensuring that local knowledge which ought to be possessed by the representative. This was the principal ground of his objection to so short a term. It might also happen, that a rich foreign nation, for example Great Britain, might send over her tools, who might bribe their way into the Legislature for insidious purposes. He moved that “seven” years, instead of “three,” be inserted.

 Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS seconded the motion; and on the question, all the states agreed to it, except Connecticut.

 Mr. SHERMAN moved to strike out the word “resident,” and insert “inhabitant,” as less liable to misconstruction.

 Mr. MADISON seconded the motion. Both were vague, but the latter least so in common acceptation, and would not exclude persons absent occasionally for a considerable time on public or private business. Great disputes had been raised in Virginia concerning the meaning of residence as a qualification of representatives, which were determined more according to the affection or dislike to the man in question than to any fixed interpretation of the word.

 Mr. WILSON preferred “inhabitant.”

 Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS was opposed to both, and for requiring nothing more than a freehold. He quoted great disputes in New York occasioned by these terms, which were decided by the arbitrary will of the majority. Such a regulation is not necessary. People rarely choose a non-resident. It is improper, as in the first branch, the people at large, not the States, are represented.

 Mr. RUTLEDGE urged and moved, that a residence of seven years should be required in the State wherein the member should be elected. An emigrant from New England to South Carolina or Georgia would know little of its affairs, and could not be supposed to acquire a thorough knowledge in less time.

 Mr. READ reminded him that we were now forming a national government, and such a regulation would correspond little with the idea that we were one people.

 Mr. WILSON enforced the same consideration.

 Mr. MADISON suggested the case of new States in the West, which could have, perhaps, no representation on that plan.

 Mr. MERCER. Such a regulation would present a greater alienship than existed under the old federal system. It would interweave local prejudices and State distinctions in the very Constitution which is meant to cure them. He mentioned instances of violent disputes raised in Maryland concerning the term “residence.”

 Mr. ELLSWORTH thought seven years of residence was by far too long a term; but that some fixed term of previous residence would be proper. He thought one year would be sufficient, but seemed to have no objection to three years.

 Mr. DICKENSON proposed that it should read “inhabitant actually resident for — years.” This would render the meaning less indeterminate.

 Mr. WILSON. If a short term should be inserted in the blank, so strict an expression might be construed to exclude the members of the Legislature, who could not be said to be actual residents in their States, whilst at the seat of the General Government.

 Mr. MERCER. It would certainly exclude men, who had once been inhabitants, and returning from residence elsewhere to resettle in their original State, although a want of the necessary knowledge could not in such cases be presumed.

 Mr. MASON thought seven years too long, but would never agree to part with the principle. It is a valuable principle. He thought it a defect in the plan, that the Representatives would be too few to bring with them all the local knowledge necessary. If residence be not required, rich men of neighbouring States may employ with success the means of corruption in some particular district, and thereby get into the public councils after having failed in their own States. This is the practice in the boroughs of England.

On the question for postponing in order to consider  Mr. DICKINSON’S motion, —

Maryland, South Carolina, Georgia, aye, — 3; New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, no, — 8.

On the question for inserting “inhabitant,” in place of “resident,” — agreed to, nem. con.

 Mr. ELLSWORTH and  Colonel MASON moved to insert “one year” for previous inhabitancy.

 Mr. WILLIAMSON liked the Report as it stood. He thought resident a good enough term. He was against requiring any period of previous residence. New residents, if elected, will be most zealous to conform to the will of their constituents, as their conduct will be watched with a more jealous eye.

 Mr. BUTLER and  Mr. RUTLEDGE moved “three years,” instead of “one year,” for previous inhabitancy.

On the question for “three years,” —

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

On the question for “one year,” —

New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye, — 4; New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, no, — 6; Maryland, divided.

Article 4, Sect. 2, as amended in manner preceding, was agreed to, nem. con.

Article 4, Sect. 3, was then taken up.

 General PINCKNEY and  Mr. PINCKNEY moved that the number of Representatives allotted to South Carolina be “six.”

On the question, —

Delaware, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye, — 4; New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, no, — 7.

The third section of Article 4, was then agreed to.

Article 4, Sect. 4, was then taken up.

 Mr. WILLIAMSON moved to strike out, “according to the provisions hereinafter made,” and to insert the words “according to the rule hereafter to be provided for direct taxation.” — See Art. 7, Sect. 3.

On the question for agreeing to  Mr. WILLIAMSON’S amendment, —

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

 Mr. KING wished to know what influence the vote just passed was meant to have on the succeeding part of the Report, concerning the admission of slaves into the rule of representation. He could not reconcile his mind to the Article, if it was to prevent objections to the latter part. The admission of slaves was a most grating circumstance to his mind, and he believed would be so to a great part of the people of America. He had not made a strenuous opposition to it heretofore, because he had hoped that this concession would have produced a readiness, which had not been manifested, to strengthen the General Government, and to mark a full confidence in it. The Report under consideration had, by the tenor of it, put an end to all those hopes. In two great points the hands of the Legislature were absolutely tied. The importation of slaves could not be prohibited. Exports could not be taxed. Is this reasonable? What are the great objects of the general system? First, defence against foreign invasion; secondly, against internal sedition. Shall all the States, then, be bound to defend each, and shall each be at liberty to introduce a weakness which will render defence more difficult? Shall one part of the United States be bound to defend another part, and that other part be at liberty, not only to increase its own danger, but to withhold the compensation for the burden? If slaves are to be imported, shall not the exports produced by their labor supply a revenue the better to enable the General Government to defend their masters? There was so much inequality and unreasonableness in all this, that the people of the Northern States could never be reconciled to it. No candid man could undertake to justify it to them. He had hoped that some accommodation would have taken place on this subject; that at least a time would have been limited for the importation of slaves. He never could agree to let them be imported without limitation, and then be represented in the National Legislature. Indeed, he could so little persuade himself of the rectitude of such a practice, that he was not sure he could assent to it under any circumstances. At all events, either slaves should not be represented, or exports should be taxable.

 Mr. SHERMAN regarded the slave-trade as iniquitous; but the point of representation having been settled, after much difficulty and deliberation, he did not think himself bound to make opposition; especially as the present article, as amended, did not preclude any arrangement whatever on that point, in another place of the Report.

 Mr. MADISON objected to one for every forty thousand inhabitants as a perpetual rule. The future increase of population, if the Union should be permanent, will render the number of Representatives excessive.

 Mr. GORHAM. It is not to be supposed that the Government will last so long as to produce this effect. Can it be supposed that this vast country, including the western territory, will, one hundred and fifty years hence, remain one nation?

 Mr. ELLSWORTH. If the Government should continue so long, alterations may be made in the Constitution in the manner proposed in a subsequent article.

 Mr. SHERMAN and Mr. MADISON moved to insert the words, “not exceeding,” before the words, “one for every forty thousand;” which was agreed to, nem. con.

 Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS moved to insert “free” before the word “inhabitants.” Much, he said, would depend on this point. He never would concur in upholding domestic slavery. It was a nefarious institution. It was the curse of Heaven on the States where it prevailed. Compare the free regions of the Middle States, where a rich and noble cultivation marks the prosperity and happiness of the people, with the misery and poverty which overspread the barren wastes of Virginia, Maryland, and the other States having slaves. Travel through the whole continent, and you behold the prospect continually varying with the appearance and disappearance of slavery. The moment you leave the Eastern States, and enter New York, the effects of the institution become visible. Passing through the Jerseys and entering Pennsylvania, every criterion of superior improvement witnesses the change. Proceed southwardly, and every step you take, through the great regions of slaves, presents a desert increasing with the increasing proportion of these wretched beings. Upon what principle is it that the slaves shall be computed in the representation? Are they men? Then make them citizens, and let them vote. Are they property? Why, then, is no other property included? The houses in this city (Philadelphia) are worth more than all the wretched slaves who cover the rice swamps of South Carolina. The admission of slaves into the representation, when fairly explained, comes to this, — that the inhabitant of Georgia and South Carolina who goes to the coast of Africa, and, in defiance of the most sacred laws of humanity, tears away his fellow creatures from their dearest connexions, and damns them to the most cruel bondage, shall have more votes in a government instituted for protection of the rights of mankind, than the citizen of Pennsylvania or New Jersey, who views with a laudable horror so nefarious a practice. He would add, that domestic slavery is the most prominent feature in the aristocratic countenance of the proposed Constitution. The vassalage of the poor has ever been the favorite offspring of aristocracy. And what is the proposed compensation to the Northern States, for a sacrifice of every principle of right, of every impulse of humanity? They are to bind themselves to march their militia for the defence of the Southern States, for their defence against those very slaves of whom they complain. They must supply vessels and seamen, in case of foreign attack. The Legislature will have indefinite power to tax them by excises, and duties on imports; both of which will fall heavier on them than on the Southern inhabitants; for the Bohea tea used by a Northern freeman will pay more tax than the whole consumption of the miserable slave, which consists of nothing more than his physical subsistence and the rag that covers his nakedness. On the other side, the Southern States are not to be restrained from importing fresh supplies of wretched Africans, at once to increase the danger of attack, and the difficulty of defence; nay, they are to be encouraged to it, by an assurance of having their votes in the National Government increased in proportion: and are, at the same time, to have their exports and their slaves exempt from all contributions for the public service. Let it not be said, that direct taxation is to be proportioned to representation. It is idle to suppose that the General Government can stretch its hand directly into the pockets of the people, scattered over so vast a country. They can only do it through the medium of exports, imports, and excises. For what, then, are all the sacrifices to be made? He would sooner submit himself to a tax for paying for all the negroes in the United States, than saddle posterity with such a Constitution.

 Mr. DAYTON seconded the motion. He did it, he said, that his sentiments on the subject might appear, whatever might be the fate of the amendment.

 Mr. SHERMAN did not regard the admission of the negroes into the ratio of representation as liable to such insuperable objections. It was the freemen of the Southern States who were, in fact, to be represented according to the taxes paid by them, and the negroes are only included in the estimate of the taxes. This was his idea of the matter.

 Mr. PINCKNEY considered the fisheries, and the western frontier, as more burdensome to the United States than the slaves. He thought this could be demonstrated, if the occasion were a proper one.

 Mr. WILSON thought the motion premature. An agreement to the clause would be no bar to the object of it.

On the question, on the motion to insert “free” before “inhabitants,” — New Jersey, aye, — 1; New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no, — 10.

On the suggestion of  Mr. DICKENSON, the words, “provided that each State shall have one representative, at least,” were added, nem. con.

Article 4, Sect. 4, as amended, was agreed to, nem. con.

Article 4, Sect. 5, was then taken up.

 Mr. PINCKNEY moved to strike out Sect. 5, as giving no peculiar advantage to the House of Representatives, and as clogging the Government. If the Senate can be trusted with the many great powers proposed, it surely may be trusted with that of originating money bills.

 Mr. GORHAM was against allowing the Senate to originate, but was for allowing it only to amend.

 Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS. It is particularly proper that the Senate should have the right of originating money bills. They will sit constantly, will consist of a smaller number, and will be able to prepare such bills with due correctness; and so as to prevent delay of business in the other House.

 Colonel MASON was unwilling to travel over this ground again. To strike out the section was to unhinge the compromise of which it made a part. The duration of the Senate made it improper. He does not object to that duration. On the contrary, he approved of it. But joined with the smallness of the number, it was an argument against adding this to the other great powers vested in that body. His idea of an aristocracy was, that it was the government of the few over the many. An aristocratic body, like the screw in mechanics, working its way by slow degrees, and holding fast whatever it gains, should ever be suspected of an encroaching tendency. The purse-strings should never be put into its hands.

 Mr. MERCER considered the exclusive power of originating money bills as so great an advantage, that it rendered the equality of votes in the Senate ideal and of no consequence.

 Mr. BUTLER was for adhering to the principle which had been settled.

 Mr. WILSON was opposed to it on its merits, without regard to the compromise.

 Mr. ELLSWORTH did not think the clause of any consequence; but as it was thought of consequence by some members from the larger States, he was willing it should stand.

 Mr. MADISON was for striking it out; considering it as of no advantage to the large States, as fettering the government, and as a source of injurious altercations between the two Houses.

On the question for striking out “Article 4, Sect. 5,” — New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, aye, — 7; New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, North Carolina, no, — 4.

Adjourned.


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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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