Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787

by James Madison


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Thursday, August 30

In Convention. — Article 17 being resumed, for a question on it, as amended by Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS’S substitute, –

Mr. CARROLL moved to strike out so much of the article as requires the consent of the State to its being divided. He was aware that the object of this pre-requisite might be to prevent domestic disturbances; but such was our situation with regard to the Crown lands, and the sentiments of Maryland on that subject, that he perceived we should again be at sea, if no guard was provided for the right of the United States to the back lands. He suggested, that it might be proper to provide, that nothing in the Constitution should affect the right of the United States to lands ceded by Great Britain in the treaty of peace; and proposed a commitment to a member from each State. He assured the House, that this was a point of a most serious nature. It was desirable, above all things, that the act of the Convention might be agreed to unanimously. But should this point be disregarded, he believed that all risks would be run by a considerable minority, sooner than give their concurrence.

Mr. L. MARTIN seconded the motion for a commitment.

Mr. RUTLEDGE. Is it to be supposed that the States are to be cut up without their own consent? The case of Vermont will probably be particularly provided for. There could be no room to fear that Virginia or North Carolina would call on the United States to maintain their government over the mountains.

Mr. WILLIAMSON said that North Carolina was well disposed to give up her western lands; but attempts at compulsion were not the policy of the United States. He was for doing nothing in the Constitution, in the present case; and for leaving the whole matter in statu quo.

Mr. WILSON was against the commitment. Unanimity was of great importance, but not to be purchased by the majority’s yielding to the minority. He should have no objection to leaving the case of the new States as heretofore. He knew nothing that would give greater or juster alarm than the doctrine, that a political society is to be torn asunder without its own consent.

On Mr. CARROLL’S motion for commitment, —

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

Mr. SHERMAN moved to postpone the substitute for Article 17, agreed to yesterday, in order to take up the following amendment:

“The Legislature shall have power to admit other States into the Union; and new States to be formed by the division or junction of States now in the Union, with the consent of the Legislature of such States.” [The first part was meant for the case of Vermont, to secure its admission.]

On the question, it passed in the negative, –

New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, aye, — 5; New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, no, — 6.

Doctor JOHNSON moved to insert the words, “hereafter formed, or,” after the words, “shall be,” in the substitute for Article 17, (the more clearly to save Vermont, as being already formed into a State, from a dependence on the consent of New York for her admission.) The motion was agreed to, — Delaware and Maryland only dissenting.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS moved to strike out the word “limits,” in the substitute, and insert the word “jurisdiction.” (This also was meant to guard the case of Vermont; the jurisdiction of New York not extending over Vermont, which was in the exercise of sovereignty, though Vermont was within the asserted limits of New York.)

On this question, —

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

Mr. L. MARTIN urged the unreasonableness of forcing and guaranteeing the people of Virginia beyond the mountains, the western people of North Carolina and Georgia, and the people of Maine, to continue under the States now governing them, without the consent of those States to their separation. Even if they should become the majority, the majority of counties, as in Virginia, may still hold fast the dominion over them. Again, the majority may place the seat of government entirely among themselves, and for their own convenience; and still keep the injured parts of the States in subjection, under the guaranty of the General government against domestic violence. He wished Mr. WILSON had thought a little sooner of the value of political bodies. In the beginning, when the rights of the small States were in question, they were phantoms — ideal beings. Now, when the great States were to be affected, political societies were of a sacred nature. He repeated and enlarged on the unreasonableness of requiring the small States to guaranty the Western claims of the large ones. It was said yesterday, by Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS, that if the large States were to be split to pieces without their consent, their Representatives here would take their leave. If the small States are to be required to guaranty them in this manner, it will be found that the representatives of other States will, with equal firmness, take their leave of the Constitution on the table.

It was moved by Mr. L. MARTIN to postpone the substituted article, in order to take up the following: “The Legislature of the United States shall have power to erect new States within as well as without the territory claimed by the several States, or either of them; and admit the same into the Union: provided that nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to affect the claim of the United States to vacant lands ceded to them by the late treaty of peace;” which passed in the negative, — New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland, only, aye.

On the question to agree to Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS’S substituted article, as amended, in the words following: “New States may be admitted by the Legislature into the Union; but no new State shall be hereafter formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any of the present States, without the consent of the Legislature of such State, as well as of the general Legislature, — New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye, — 8; New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, no, — 3.

Mr. DICKINSON, moved to add the following clause to the last:

“Nor shall any State be formed by the junction of two or more States, or parts thereof, without the consent of the Legislature of such States, as well as of the legislature of the United States;” which was agreed to without a count of the votes.

Mr. CARROLL moved to add: “Provided, nevertheless, that nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to affect the claim of the United States to vacant lands ceded to them by the treaty of peace.” This, he said, might be understood as relating to lands not claimed by any particular States, but he had in view also some of the claims of particular States.

Mr. WILSON was against the motion. There was nothing in the Constitution affecting, one way or the other, the claims of the United States; and it was best to insert nothing, leaving every thing on that litigated subject in statu quo.

Mr. MADISON considered the claim of the United States as in fact favored by the jurisdiction of the Judicial power of the United States over controversies to which they should be parties. He thought it best, on the whole, to be silent on the subject. He did not view the proviso of Mr. CARROLL as dangerous; but to make it neutral and fair, it ought to go farther, and declare that the claims of particular states also should not be affected.

Mr. SHERMAN thought the proviso harmless, especially with the addition suggested by Mr. MADISON in favor of the claims of particular States.

Mr. BALDWIN did not wish any undue advantage to be given to Georgia. He thought the proviso proper with the addition proposed. It should be remembered that, if Georgia has gained much by the cession in the treaty of peace, she was in danger during the war of a Uti possedetis.

Mr. RUTLEDGE thought it wrong to insert a proviso, where there was nothing which it could restrain, or on which it could operate.

Mr. CARROLL withdrew his motion and moved the following:

“Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to alter the claims of the United States, or of the individual States, to the Western territory; but all such claims shall be examined into, and decided upon, by the Supreme Court of the United States.”

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS moved to postpone this, in order to take up the following:

“The Legislature shall have power to dispose of, and make all needful rules and regulations respecting, the territory or other property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution contained, shall be so construed as to prejudice any claims, either of the United States or of any particular State.” The postponement agreed to, nem. con.

Mr. L. MARTIN moved to amend the proposition of Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS, by adding, “But all such claims may be examined into, and decided upon, by the Supreme Court of the United States.”

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS. This is unnecessary, as all suits to which the United States are parties are already to be decided by the Supreme Court.

Mr. L. MARTIN. It is proper, in order to remove all doubts on this point.

On the question on Mr. L. MARTIN’S amendatory motion,—

New Jersey, Maryland, aye, — 2; New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, no, — 6. States not further called, the negatives being sufficient, and the point being given up.

The motion of Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS was then agreed to, Maryland alone dissenting.

Article 18 being taken up, the word “foreign” was struck out, nem. con., as superfluous, being implied in the term “invasion.”

Mr. DICKINSON moved to strike out, “on the application of its Legislature, against.” He thought it of essential importance to the tranquillity of the United States, that they should in all cases suppress domestic violence, which may proceed from the State Legislature itself, or from disputes between the two branches where such exist.

Mr. DAYTON mentioned the conduct of Rhode Island, as showing the necessity of giving latitude to the power of the United States on this subject.

On the question, —

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

On a question for striking out “domestic violence,” and inserting “insurrections,” it passed in the negative, —

New Jersey, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye, — 5; New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, no, — 6.

Mr. DICKINSON moved to insert the words, “or Executive,” after the words, “application of its Legislature.” The occasion itself, he remarked, might hinder the Legislature from meeting.

On this question, —

New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye, — 8; Massachusetts, Virginia, no, — 2; Maryland, divided.

Mr. L. MARTIN moved to subjoin to the last amendment the words, “in the recess of the Legislature.” On which question, Maryland only, aye.

On the question on the last clause, as amended, —

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

Article 19 was then taken up.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS suggested, that the Legislature should be left at liberty to call a Convention whenever they pleased.

The Article was agreed to, nem. con.

Article 20 was then taken up. The words “or affirmation,” were added, after “oath.”

Mr. PINCKNEY moved to add to the Article: “but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the authority of the United States.”

Mr. SHERMAN thought it unnecessary, the prevailing liberality being a sufficient security against such tests.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS and General PINCKNEY approved the motion.

The motion was agreed to, nem. con., and then the whole article, — North Carolina only, no; and Maryland, divided.

Article 21 being then taken up: “The ratifications of the Conventions of — States shall be sufficient for organizing this Constitution.”

Mr. WILSON proposed to fill the blank with “seven,” that being a majority of the whole number, and sufficient for the commencement of the plan.

Mr. CARROLL moved to postpone the Article, in order to take up the Report of the Committee of eleven (see the twenty-eigth of August); and on the question, —

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

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS thought the blank ought to be filled in a two-fold way, so as to provide for the event of the ratifying States being contiguous, which would render a smaller number sufficient; and the event of their being dispersed, which would require a greater number for the introduction of the Government.

Mr. SHERMAN observed, that the States being now confederated by articles which require unanimity in changes, he thought the ratification, in this case, of ten States at least, ought to be made necessary.

Mr. RANDOLPH was for filling the blank with “nine,” that being a respectable majority of the whole, and being a number made familiar by the constitution of the existing Congress.

Mr. WILSON mentioned “eight,” as preferable.

Mr. DICKINSON asked, whether the concurrence of Congress is to be essential to the establishment of the system, — whether the refusing States in the Confederacy could be deserted, — and whether Congress could concur in contravening the system under which they acted.

Mr. MADISON remarked, that if the blank should be filled with “seven,” “eight,” or “nine,” the Constitution as it stands, might be put in force over the whole body of the people, though less than a majority of them should ratify it.

Mr. WILSON. As the Constitution stands, the States only which ratify can be bound. We must, he said, in this case, go to the original powers of society. The house on fire must be extinguished, without a scrupulous regard to ordinary rights.

Mr. BUTLER was in favor of “nine.” He revolted at the idea that one or two States should restrain the rest from consulting their safety.

Mr. CARROLL moved to fill the blank with, “the thirteen;” unanimity being necessary to dissolve the existing Confederacy, which had been unanimously established.

Mr. KING thought this amendment necessary; otherwise, as the Constitution now stands, it will operate on the whole, though ratified by a part only.

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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