Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787
by James Madison
Saturday, August 18
Mr. MADISON submitted in order to be referred to the Committee of detail the following powers as proper to be added to those of the General Legislature
“To dispose of the unappropriated lands of the U. States”
“To institute temporary Governments for New States arising therein”
“To regulate affairs with the Indians as well within as without the limits of the U. States
“To exercise exclusively Legislative authority at the Seat of the General Government, and over a district around the same, not exceeding —— square miles; the Consent of the Legislature of the State or States comprizing the same, being first obtained”
“To grant charters of incorporation in cases where the public good may require them, and the authority of a single State may be incompetent”
“To secure to literary authors their copy rights for a limited time”
“To establish an University”
“To encourage by premiums & provisions, the advancement of useful knowledge and discoveries”
“To authorize the Executive to procure and hold for the use of the U. S. landed property for the erection of Forts, Magazines, and other necessary buildings”
These propositions were referred to the Committee of detail which had prepared the Report and at the same time the following which were moved by Mr. Pinkney: in both cases unanimously.
“To fix and permanently establish the seat of Government of the U. S. in which they shall possess the exclusive right of soil & jurisdiction”
“To establish seminaries for the promotion of literature and the arts & sciences”
“To grant charters of incorporation”
“To grant patents for useful inventions”
“To secure to Authors exclusive rights for a certain time”
“To establish public institutions, rewards and immunities for the promotion of agriculture, commerce, trades and manufactures”
“That funds which shall be appropriated for1 payment of public Creditors, shall not during the time of such appropriation, be diverted or applied to any other purpose and that the Committee prepare a clause or clauses for restraining the Legislature of the U. S. from establishing a perpetual revenue”
“To secure the payment of the public debt”
“To secure all creditors under the New Constitution from a violation of the public faith when pledged by the authority of the Legislature”
“To grant letters of mark and reprisal”
“To regulate Stages on the post roads”
Mr. MASON introduced the subject of regulating the militia. He thought such a power necessary to be given to the Genl. Government. He hoped there would be no standing army in time of peace, unless it might be for a few garrisons. The Militia ought therefore to be the more effectually prepared for the public defence. Thirteen States will never concur in any one system, if the displining of the Militia be left in their hands. If they will not give up the power over the whole, they probably will over a part as a select militia. He moved as an addition to the propositions just referred to the Committee of detail, & to be referred in like manner, “a power to regulate the militia.”
Mr. GERRY remarked that some provision ought to be made in favor of public Securities, and something inserted concerning letters of marque, which he thought not included in the power of war. He proposed that these subjects should also go to a Committee.
Mr. RUTLIDGE moved to refer a clause “that funds appropriated to public creditors should not be diverted to other purposes.”
Mr. MASON was much attached to the principle, but was afraid such a fetter might be dangerous in time of war. He suggested the necessity of preventing the danger of perpetual revenue which must of necessity subvert the liberty of any Country. If it be objected to on the principle of Mr. Rutlidge’s motion that public credit may require perpetual provisions, that case might be excepted: it being declared that in other cases, no taxes should be laid for a longer term than —— years. He considered the caution observed in Great Britain on this point as the paladium of the public liberty.
Mr. RUTLIDGE’S motion was referred-He then moved that a Grand Committee be appointed to consider the necessity and expediency of the U. States assuming all the State debts-A regular settlement between the Union & the several States would never take place. The assumption would be just as the State debts were contracted in the common defence. It was necessary, as the taxes on imports the only sure source of revenue were to be given up to the Union. It was politic, as by disburdening the people of the State debts it would conciliate them to the plan.
Col. MASON interposed a motion that the Committee prepare a clause for restraining perpetual revenue, which was agreed to nem. con.
Mr. SHERMAN thought it would be better to authorise the Legislature to assume the State debts, than to say positively it should be done. He considered the measure as just and that it would have a good effect to say something about the Matter.
Mr. PINKNEY observed that a great part of the State debts were of such a nature that although in point of policy and true equity they ought,2yet would they not be viewed in the light of foederal expenditures.
Mr. KING thought the matter of more consequence than Mr. Elseworth seemed to do; and that it was well worthy of commitment. Besides the considerations of justice and policy which had been mentioned, it might be remarked that the State Creditors an active and formidable party would otherwise be opposed to a plan which transferred to the Union the best resources of the States without transferring the State debts at the same time. The State Creditors had generally been the strongest foes to the impost-plan. The State debts probably were of greater amount than the foederal. He would not say that it was practicable to consolidate the debts, but he thought it would be prudent to have the subject considered by a Committee.
N. H. no. Mas. ay. Ct. ay. N. J. no. Pa. divd. Del. no. Md. no. Va. ay. N. C. ay. .S C. ay. Geo. ay.5
A Grand Committee was appointed consisting of7 transfer hither the appointment & names of the Committee.8 [The Come. appointed by ballot were9 Mr. Langdon, Mr. King, Mr. Sherman, Mr. Livingston, Mr. Clymer, Mr. Dickenson, Mr. Mc.Henry, Mr. Mason, Mr. Williamson, Mr. C. C. Pinkney,10 Mr. Baldwin.]
Mr. RUTLIDGE remarked on the length of the Session, the probable impatience of the public and the extreme anxiety of many members of the Convention to bring the business to an end; concluding with a motion that the Convention meet henceforward precisely at 10 OC. A. M. and that precisely at 4 OC. P. M. the President adjourn the House without motion for the purpose. and that no motion to adjourn sooner be allowed
On this question
N. H. ay. Mas. ay. Ct. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. no. Del. ay. Md. no. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. ay.11
Mr. ELSEWORTH observed that a Council had not yet been provided for the President. He conceived there ought to be one. His proposition was that it should be composed of the President of the Senate-the Chief-Justice, and the ministers as they might be estabd. for the departments of foreign & domestic affairs, war finance and marine, who should advise but not conclude the President.
Mr. PINKNEY wished the proposition to lie over, as notice had been given for a like purpose by Mr. Govr. Morris who was not then on the floor. His own idea was that the President shd. be authorised to call for advice or not as he might chuse. Give him an able Council and it will thwart him; a weak one and he will shelter himself under their sanction.
Mr. GERRY was agst. letting the heads of the departments, particularly of finance have any thing to do in business connected with legislation. He mentioned the Chief Justice also as particularly exceptionable. These men will also be so taken up with other matters as to neglect their own proper duties.
Mr. DICKENSON urged that the great appointments should be made by the Legislature, in which case they might properly be consulted by the Executive, but not if made by the Executive himself-This subject by general consent lay over; & the House proceeded to the clause “To raise armies.”
Mr. GERRY took notice that there was no check here agst. standing armies in time of peace. The existing Congs. is so constructed that it cannot of itself maintain an army. This wd. not be the case under the new system. The people were jealous on this head, and great opposition to the plan would spring from such an omission. He suspected that preparations of force were now making agst. it. [he seemed to allude to the activity of the Govr. of N. York at this crisis in disciplining the militia of that State.] He thought an army dangerous in time of peace & could never consent to a power to keep up an indefinite number. He proposed that there shall13 not be kept up in time of peace more than thousand troops. His idea was that the blank should be filled with two or three thousand.
Instead of “to build and equip fleets”-”to provide & maintain a navy” 14 agreed to nem. con. as a more convenient definition of the power.
“To make rules for the Government and regulation of the land & naval forces,” 14 added from the existing Articles of Confederation.
Genl. PINKNEY asked whether no troops were ever to be raised untill an attack should be made on us?
Mr. GERRY. if there be no restriction, a few States may establish a military Govt.
Mr. WILLIAMSON, reminded him of Mr. Mason’s motion for limiting the appropriation of revenue as the best guard in this case. Mr. LANGDON saw no room for Mr. Gerry’s distrust of the Representatives of the people.
Mr. DAYTON. preparations for war are generally made in16 peace; and a standing force of some sort may, for ought we know, become unavoidable. He should object to no restrictions consistent with these ideas.
Mr. MASON moved as an additional power “to make laws for the regulation and discipline of the militia of the several States reserving to the States the appointment of the officers.” He considered uniformity as necessary in the regulation of the Militia throughout the Union.
Genl. PINKNEY mentioned a case during the war in which a dissimilarity in the militia of different States had produced the most serious mischiefs. Uniformity was essential. The States would never keep up a proper discipline of their militia.
Mr. ELSEWORTH was for going as far in submitting the militia to the Genl. Government as might be necessary, but thought the motion of Mr. Mason went too far. He moved that the militia should have the same arms & exercise and be under rules established by the Genl. Govt. when in actual service of the U. States and when States neglect to provide regulations for militia, it shd. be regulated & established by the Legislature of17 U. S. The whole authority over the Militia ought by no means to be taken away from the States whose consequence would pine away to nothing after such a sacrifice of power. He thought the Genl. Authority could not sufficiently pervade the Union for such a purpose, nor could it accomodate itself to the local genius of the people. It must be vain to ask the States to give the Militia out of their hands.
Mr. SHERMAN 2ds. the motion.
Mr. DICKENSON. We are come now to a most important matter, that of the sword. His opinion was that the States never would nor ought to give up all authority over the Militia. He proposed to restrain the general power to one fourth part at a time, which by rotation would discipline the whole Militia.
Mr. BUTLER urged the necessity of submitting the whole Militia to the general Authority, which had the care of the general defence.
Mr. MASON. had suggested the idea of a select militia. He was led to think that would be in fact as much as the Genl. Govt. could advantageously be charged with. He was afraid of creating insuperable objections to the plan. He withdrew his original motion, and moved a power “to make laws for regulating and disciplining the militia, not exceeding one tenth part in any one year, and reserving the appointment of officers to the States.”
Mr. LANGDON 2ds. Genl. Pinkney’s renewal. He saw no more reason to be afraid of the Genl. Govt. than of the State Govts. He was more apprehensive of the confusion of the different authorities on this subject, than of either.
Mr. MADISON thought the regulation of the Militia naturally appertaining to the authority charged with the public defence. It did not seem in its nature to be divisible between two distinct authorities. If the States would trust the Genl. Govt. with a power over the public treasure, they would from the same consideration of necessity grant it the direction of the public force. Those who had a full view of the public situation wd. from a sense of the danger, guard agst. it: the States would not be separately impressed with the general situation, nor have the due confidence in the concurrent exertions of each other.
Mr. ELSEWORTH. considered the idea of a select militia as impracticable; & if it were not it would be followed by a ruinous declension of the great body of the Militia. The States will19 never submit to the same militia laws. Three or four shilling’s as a penalty will enforce obedience better in New England, than forty lashes in some other places.
Mr. PINKNEY thought the power such an one as could not be abused, and that the States would see the necessity of surrendering it. He had however but a scanty faith in Militia. There must be also a real military force. This alone can effectually answer the purpose. The United States had been making an experiment without it, and we see the consequence in their rapid approaches towards anarchy.7
Mr. SHERMAN, took notice that the States might want their Militia for defence agst. invasions and insurrections, and for enforcing obedience to their laws. They will not give up this point. In giving up that of taxation, they retain a concurrent power of raising money for their own use.
Mr. GERRY thought this the last point remaining to be surrendered. If it be agreed to by the Convention, the plan will have as black a mark as was set on Cain. He had no such confidence in the Genl. Govt. as some gentlemen professed, and believed it would be found that the States have not.
Mr. READ doubted the propriety of leaving the appointment of the Militia officers in 20 the States. In some States they are elected by the legislatures; in others by the people themselves. He thought at least an appointment by the State Executives ought to be insisted on.
N. H. ay. Mas. ay. Ct. no. N. J. no. Pa. ay. Del. ay. Md. divd. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. ay.22
1 The word “the” is here inserted in the transcript. Return to text 2 The words “to be” are here inserted in the transcript. Return to text 3 The word “a” is here inserted in the transcript. Return to text 4 The transcript here adds the following: “it was agreed to.” Return to text 5 In the transcript the vote reads: “Massachusetts, Connecticut, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye-6; New Hampshire, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, no-4; Pennsylvania, divided.” Return to text 6 In the transcript he word “were” is crossed out and “was” is written above it. Return to text 7 This had reference to the disorders particularly which had occurred in Massachts. which had called for the interposition of the federal troops. Return to text 8 Madison’s direction is omitted in the transcript. Return to text 9 The phrase “The Come. appointed by ballot were” is omitted in the transcript. Return to text 10 The word “and” is here inserted in the transcript. Return to text 11 In the transcript the vote reads: “New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye-9; Pennsylvania, Maryland, no-2.” Return to text 12 The word “was” is here inserted in the transcript. Return to text 13 The word “should” is substituted in the transcript for “shall.” Return to text 14 The word “was” is here inserted in the transcript. Return to text 15 The words “A clause” are here inserted in the transcript. Return to text 16 The words “time of” are here inserted in the transcript. Return to text 17 The word “the” is here inserted in the transcript. Return to text 18 The word “a” is here inserted in the transcript. Return to text 19 The word “would” is substituted in the transcript for “will.” Return to text 20 The word “in” is crossed out in the transcript and “to” is written above it. Return to text 21 The words “the question for” are here inserted in transcript. Return to text 22 In the transcript the vote reads: “New Hampshire, Massachusetts, PEnnsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye- 8; Connecticut, New Jersey, no-2; Maryland, divided.” Return to text