Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787
by James Madison
Friday, August 10
Mr. PINKNEY. The Committee as he had conceived were instructed to report the proper qualifications of property for the members of the Natl. Legislature; instead of which they have referred the task to the Natl. Legislature itself. Should it be left on this footing, the first Legislature will meet without any particular qualifications of property: and if it should happen to consist of rich men they might fix such such qualifications as may be too favorable to the rich; if of poor men, an opposite extreme might be run into. He was opposed to the establishment of an undue aristocratic influence in the Constitution but he thought it essential that the members of the Legislature, the Executive, and the Judges, should be possessed of competent property to make them independent & respectable. It was prudent when such great powers were to be trusted to connect the tie of property with that of reputation in securing a faithful administration. The Legislature would have the fate of the Nation put into their hands. The President would also have a very great influence on it. The Judges would have not only3 important causes between Citizen & Citizen but also, where foreigners are concerned. They will even be the Umpires between the U. States and individual States as well as between one State & another. Were he to fix the quantum of property which should be required, he should not think of less than one hundred thousand dollars for the President, half of that sum for each of the Judges, and in like proportion for the members of the Natl. Legislature. He would however leave the sums blank. His motion was that the President of the U. S. the Judges, and members of the Legislature should be required to swear that they were respectively possessed of a cleared4 unincumbered Estate to the amount of —– in the case of the President &c &c.
Mr. RUTLIDGE seconded the motion; observing that the Committee had reported no qualifications because they could not agree on any among themselves, being embarrassed by the danger on one side of displeasing the people by making them high, and on the other of rendering them nugatory by making them low.
Mr. ELSEWORTH. The different circumstances of different parts of the U. S. and the probable difference between the present and future circumstances of the whole, render it improper to have either uniform or fixed qualifications. Make them so high as to be useful in the S. States, and they will be inapplicable to the E. States. Suit them to the latter, and they will serve no purpose in the former. In like manner what may be accomodated to the existing State of things among us, may be very inconvenient in some future state of them. He thought for these reasons that it was better to leave this matter to the Legislative discretion than to attempt a provision for it in the Constitution.
Doctr. FRANKLIN expressed his dislike of5 every thing that tended to debase the spirit of the common people. If honesty was often the companion of wealth, and if poverty was exposed to peculiar temptation, it was not less true that the possession of property increased the desire of more property. Some of the greatest rogues he was ever acquainted with, were the richest rogues. We should remember the character which the Scripture requires in Rulers, that they should be men hating covetousness. This Constitution will be much read and attended to in Europe, and if it should betray a great partiality to the rich, will not only hurt us in the esteem of the most liberal and enlightened men there, but discourage the common people from removing into6 this Country.
The Motion of Mr. Pinkney was rejected by so general a no, that the States were not called.
Mr. MADISON was opposed to the Section as vesting an improper & dangerous power in the Legislature. The qualifications of electors and elected were fundamental articles in a Republican Govt. and ought to be fixed by the Constitution. If the Legislature could regulate those of either, it can by degrees subvert the Constitution. A Republic may be converted into an aristocracy or oligarchy as well by limiting the number capable of being elected, as the number authorised to elect. In all cases where the representatives of the people will have a personal interest distinct from that of their Constituents, there was the same reason for being jealous of them, as there was for relying on them with full confidence, when they had a common interest. This was one of the former cases. It was as improper as to allow them to fix their own wages, or their own privileges. It was a power also which might be made subservient to the views of one faction agst. another. Qualifications founded on artificial distinctions may be devised, by the stronger in order to keep out partizans of a weaker faction.
Mr. ELSEWORTH, admitted that the power was not unexceptionable; but he could not view it as dangerous. Such a power with regard to the electors would be dangerous because it would be much more liable to abuse.
Mr. Govr. MORRIS moved to strike out “with regard to property” in order to leave the Legislature entirely at large.
Mr. WILLIAMSON. This could7 surely never be admitted. Should a majority of the Legislature be composed of any particular description of men, of lawyers for example, which is no improbable supposition, the future elections might be secured to their own body.
Mr. MADISON observed that the British Parliamt. possessed the power of regulating the qualifications both of the electors, and the elected; and the abuse they had made of it was a lesson worthy of our attention. They had made the changes in both cases subservient to their own views, or to the views of political or Religious parties.
8Question on the motion to strike out with regard to property
Mr. RUTLIDGE was opposed to leaving the power to the Legislature. He proposed that the qualifications should be the same as for members of the State Legislatures.
Mr. WILSON thought it would be best on the whole to let the Section go out. A uniform rule would probably be never11 fixed by the Legislature, and this particular power would constructively exclude every other power of regulating qualifications.
On the question for agreeing to Art. VI. Sect. 2d.- N. H. ay. Mas. ay. Ct. no. N. J. no. Pa. no. Md. no. Va. no. N. C. no. S. C. no. Geo. ay.12
On Motion of Mr. Wilson to reconsider Art: IV. Sect. 2; so as to restore 3 in place of seven years of citizenship as a qualification for being elected into the House of Represents.
N. H. no. Mas. no. Ct. ay. N. J. no. Pa. ay. Del. ay. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. no. Geo. no.13
Monday next was then assigned for the reconsideration: all the States being ay. except Massts. & Georgia
Mr. MERCER was also for less than a majority. So great a number will put it in the power of a few by seceding at a critical moment to introduce convulsions, and endanger the Governmt. Examples of secession have already happened in some of the States. He was for leaving it to the Legislature to fix the Quorum, as in Great Britain, where the requisite number is small & no inconveniency17 has been experienced.
Col. MASON. This is a valuable & necessary part of the plan. In this extended Country, embracing so great a diversity of interests, it would be dangerous to the distant parts to allow a small number of members of the two Houses to make laws. The Central States could always take care to be on the Spot and by meeting earlier than the distant ones, or wearying their patience, and outstaying them, could carry such measures as they pleased. He admitted that inconveniences might spring from the secession of a small number: But he had also known good produced by an apprehension, of it. He had known a paper emission prevented by that cause in Virginia. He thought the Constitution as now moulded was founded on sound principles, and was disposed to put into it extensive powers. At the same time he wished to guard agst. abuses as much as possible. If the Legislature should be able to reduce the number at all, it might reduce it as low as it pleased & the U. States might be governed by a Juncto- A majority of the number which had been agreed on, was so few that he feared it would be made an objection agst. the plan.
Mr. Govr. MORRIS moved to fix the quorum at 33 members in the H. of Reps. & 14 in the Senate. This is a majority of the present number, and will be a bar to the Legislature: fix the number low and they will generally attend knowing that advantage may be taken of their absence. the Secession of a small number ought not to be suffered to break a quorum. Such events in the States may have been of little consequence. In the national Councils, they may be fatal. Besides other mischiefs, if a few can break up a quorum, they may seize a moment when a particular part of the Continent may be in need of immediate aid, to extort, by threatening a secession, some unjust & selfish measure.
Mr. MERCER 2ded. the motion
Mr. KING said he had just prepared a motion which instead of fixing the numbers proposed by Mr. Govr. Morris as Quorums, made those the lowest numbers, leaving the Legislature at liberty to increase them or not. He thought the future increase of members would render a majority of the whole extremely cumbersome.
Mr. ELSEWORTH was opposed to it. It would be a pleasing ground of confidence to the people that no law or burden could be imposed on them, by a few men. He reminded the movers that the Constitution proposed to give such a discretion with regard to the number of Representatives that a very incovenient number was not to be apprehended. The inconveniency18 of secessions may be guarded agst. by giving to each House an authority to require the attendance of absent members.
Mr. WILSON concurred in the sentiments of Mr. Elseworth.
Mr. GERRY seemed to think that some further precautions than merely fixing the quorum might be necessary. He observed that as 17 wd. be a majority of a quorum of 33, and 8 of 14, questions might by possibility be carried in the H. of Reps. by 2 large States, and in the Senate by the same States with the aid of two small ones. -He proposed that the number for a quorum in the H. of Reps. should not exceed 50 nor be less than 33, leaving the intermediate discretion to the Legislature.
Mr. KING, as the quorum could not be altered witht. the concurrence of the President by less than 2/3 of each House, he thought there could be no danger in trusting the Legislature.
Mr. CARROL this will be no security agst. a continuance of the quorums at 33 & 14. when they ought to be increased.
On19 question on Mr. Kings motion “that not less than 33 in the H. of Reps. nor less than 14 in the Senate shd. constitute a Quorum, which may be increased by a law, on additions to19 members in either House.
N. H. no. Mas. ay. Ct. no. N. J. no. Pa. no. Del. ay. Md. no. Va. no. N. C. no. S. C. no. Geo. no.20
Mr. RANDOLPH & Mr. MADISON moved to add to the end of Art. VI. Sect 3. “and may be authorised to compel the attendance of absent members in such manner & under such penalties as each House may provide.” Agreed to by all except Pena. which was divided.
Sect. 4. 22
Sect. 5. 22
Mr. MADISON observed that the right of expulsion (Art. VI. Sect. 6.) 22 was too important to be exercised by a bare majority of a quorum: and in emergencies of faction might be dangerously abused. He moved that “with the concurrence of 2/3 ” might be inserted between may & expel.
Mr. Govr. MORRIS. This power may be safely trusted to a majority. To require more may produce abuses on the side of the minority. A few men from factious motives may keep in a member who ought to be expelled.
Mr. CARROL thought that the concurrence of 2/3 at least ought to be required.
N. H. ay. Mas. ay. Ct. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. divd. Del. ay. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. ay.25
Mr. Govr. MORRIS urged that if the yeas & nays were proper at all any individual ought to be authorised to call for them: and moved an amendment to that effect.- The small States may otherwise be under a disadvantage, and find it difficult, to get a concurrence of 1/5
Mr. RANDOLPH 2ded. ye. motion.
Mr. SHERMAN had rather strike out the yeas & nays altogether. They never have done any good, and have done much mischief. They are not proper as the reasons governing the voter never appear along with them.
Mr. ELSEWORTH was of the same opinion.
Col. MASON liked the Section as it stood. it was a middle way between the two extremes.
Mr. GHORUM was opposed to the motion for allowing a single member to call the yeas & nays, and recited the abuses of it, in Massts. 1 27 in stuffing the journals with them on frivolous occasions. 2 27in misleading the people who never know the reasons determining the votes.
The motion for allowing a single member to call the yeas & nays was disagd. to nem. con.
Mr. CARROL. & Mr. RANDOLPH moved Here insert the motion at the bottom of page 9 28 9 to strike out the words “each House” and to insert the words “the House of Representatives” in Sect. 7. Art. 6. and to add to the Section the words “and any member of the Senate shall be at liberty to enter his dissent.”
Mr. Govr. MORRIS & Mr. WILSON observed that if the minority were to have a right to enter their votes & reasons, the other side would have a right to complain, if it were not extended to them: & to allow it to both, would fill the Journals, like the records of a Court, with replications, rejoinders &c.
N. H. no. Mas. no. Cont. no. N. J. no. Pa. no. Del. no. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C. no. S. C. ay. Geo. no.30
Mr. GERRY moved to strike out the words “when it shall be acting in its legislative capacity” in order to extend the provision to the Senate when exercising its peculiar authorities and to insert “except such parts thereof as in their judgment require secrecy” after the words “publish them.” -[It was thought by others that provision should be made with respect to these when that part came under consideration which proposed to vest those additional authorities in the Senate.]
On this question for striking out the words “when acting in its Legislative capacity”
N. H. divd. Mas. ay. Ct. no. N. J. no. Pa. no. Del. ay. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. ay.31
10 In the transcript the vote reads: “Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Georgia, aye-4; New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Delaware, Delaware, [FN*] Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, no-7.” Return to text
13 In the transcript the vote reads: “Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, aye-6; New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey, South Carolina, Georgia, no-5.” Return to text
20 In the transcript the vote reads: “Massachusetts, Delaware, aye-2; New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no.-9.” Return to text
30 In the transcript the vote reads: “Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, aye-3; New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylania, Delaware, North Carolina, Georgia, no-8.” Return to text
31 In the transcript the vote reads: “Massachusetts, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye-7; Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, no-3; New Hampshire, divided.” Return to text