Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787

by James Madison

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Wednesday, September 5

In Convention, — Mr. BREARLY, from the Committee of Eleven, made a further Report, as follows:

“1. To add to the clause, ‘to declare war,’ the words, ‘and grant letters of marque and reprisal.’

“2. To add to the clause, ‘to raise and support armies,’ the words, ‘but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years.’

“3. Instead of Sect. 12, Article 6, say: ‘All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives, and shall be subject to alterations and amendments by the Senate: no money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law.’

“4. Immediately before the last clause of Section 1, Article 7, insert, ‘To exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever over such district (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular States and the acceptance of the Legislature, become the seat of the government of the United States; and to exercise like authority over all places purchased for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dock-yards, and other needful buildings.’

“5. ‘To promote the progress of science and the useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors, the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.’”

This report being taken up, the first clause was agreed to, nem. con.

To the second clause Mr. GERRY objected, that it admitted of appropriations to an army for two years, instead of one, for which he could not conceive a reason; that it implied there was to be a standing army, which he inveighed against, as dangerous to liberty, — as unnecessary even for so great an extent of country as this, — and if necessary, some restriction on the number and duration ought to be provided. Nor was this a proper time for such an innovation. The people would not bear it.

Mr. SHERMAN remarked, that the appropriations were permitted only, not required to be for two years. As the Legislature is to be biennally elected, it would be inconvenient to require appropriations to be for one year, as there might be no session within the time necessary to renew them. He should himself, he said, like a reasonable restriction on the number and continuance of an army in time of peace.

The second clause was then agreed to, nem. con.

The third clause Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS moved to postpone. It had been agreed to in the Committee on the ground of compromise; and he should feel himself at liberty to dissent from it, if on the whole he should not be satisfied with certain other parts to be settled.

Mr. PINCKNEY seconded the motion.

Mr. SHERMAN was for giving immediate ease to those who looked on this clause as of great moment, and for trusting to their concurrence in other proper measures.

On the question for postponing, —

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

So much of the fourth clause as related to the seat of government was agreed to, nem. con.

On the residue, to wit, “to exercise like authority over all places purchased for forts,” &c.

Mr. GERRY contended, that this power might be made use of to enslave any particular State by buying up its territory, and that the strong-holds proposed would be a means of awing the State into an undue obedience to the General Government.

Mr. KING thought, himself, the provision unnecessary, the power being already involved; but would move to insert, after the word “purchased,” the words, “by the consent of the Legislature of the State.” This would certainly make the power safe.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS seconded the motion, which was agreed to, nem. con.; as was then the residue of the clause, as amended.

The fifth clause was agreed to, nem. con.

The following Resolution and order being reported from the Committee of Eleven, to wit:

“Resolved, That the United States in Congress be requested to allow, and cause to be paid, to the Secretary and other officers of this Convention, such sums, in proportion to their respective times of service, as are allowed to the secretary and similar officers of Congress.”

“Ordered, that the Secretary make out and transmit to the Treasury office of the United States, an account for the said services and for the incidental expenses of this Convention.”

The resolution and order were separately agreed to, nem. con.

Mr. GERRY gave notice that he should move to reconsider Articles 19, 20, 21, 22.

Mr. WILLIAMSON gave like notice as to the Article fixing the number of Representatives, which he thought too small. He wished, also, to allow Rhode Island more than one, as due to her probable number of people, and as proper to stifle any pretext arising from her absence on the occasion.

The report made yesterday as to the appointment of the Executive being then taken up, —

Mr. PINCKNEY renewed his opposition to the mode; arguing, first, that the electors will not have sufficient knowledge of the fittest men and will be swayed by an attachment to the eminent men of their respective States. Hence, secondly, the dispersion of the votes would leave the appointment with the Senate, and as the President’s reappointment will thus depend on the Senate, he will be the mere creature of that body. Thirdly, he will combine with the Senate against the House of Representatives. Fourthly, this change in the mode of election was meant to get rid of the ineligibility of the President a second time, whereby he will become fixed for life under the auspices of the Senate.

Mr. GERRY did not object to this plan of constituting the Executive in itself, but should be governed in his final vote by the powers that may be given to the President.

Mr. RUTLEDGE was much opposed to the plan reported by the Committee. It would throw the whole power into the Senate. He was also against a reëligibility. He moved to postpone the Report under consideration, and take up the original plan of appointment by the Legislature, to wit: “He shall be elected by joint ballot by the Legislature, to which election a majority of the votes of the members present shall be required. He shall hold his office during the term of seven years; but shall not be elected a second-time.”

On this motion to postpone, —

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

Colonel MASON admitted that there were objections to an appointment by the Legislature, as originally planned. He had not yet made up his mind, but would state his objections to the mode proposed by the Committee. First, it puts the appointment, in fact, into the hands of the Senate; as it will rarely happen that a majority of the whole vote will fall on any one candidate: and as the existing President will always be one of the five highest, his reappointment will of course depend on the Senate. Secondly, considering the powers of the President and those of the Senate, if a coalition should be established between these two branches, they will be able to subvert the Constitution. The great objection with him would be removed by depriving the Senate of the eventual election. He accordingly moved to strike out the words, “if such number be a majority of that of the Electors.”

Mr. WILLIAMSON seconded the motion. He could not agree to the clause without some such modification. He preferred making the highest, though not having a majority of the votes, President, to a reference of the matter to the Senate. Referring the appointment to the Senate lays a certain foundation for corruption and aristocracy.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS thought the point of less consequence than it was supposed on both sides. It is probable that a majority of the votes will fall on the same man; as each Elector is to give two votes, more than one fourth will give a majority. Besides, as one vote is to be given to a man out of the State, and as this vote will not be thrown away, half the votes will fall on characters eminent and generally known. Again, if the President shall have given satisfaction, the votes will turn on him of course; and a majority of them will reappoint him, without resort to the Senate. If he should be disliked, all disliking him would take care to unite their votes, so as to ensure his being supplanted.

Colonel MASON. Those who think there is no danger of there not being a majority for the same person in the first instance, ought to give up the point to those who think otherwise.

Mr. SHERMAN reminded the opponents of the new mode proposed, that if the small States had the advantage in the Senate’s deciding among the five highest candidates, the large States would have in fact the nomination of these candidates.

On the motion of Colonel MASON, —

Maryland,1 North Carolina, aye; the other nine States, no.

Mr. WILSON moved to strike out “Senate,” and insert the word “Legislature.”

Mr. MADISON considered it a primary object, to render an eventual resort to any part of the Legislature improbable. He was apprehensive that the proposed alteration would turn the attention of the large States too much to the appointment of candidates, instead of aiming at an effectual appointment of the officer, as the large States would predominate in the Legislature, which would have the final choice out of the candidates. Whereas, if the Senate, in which the small States predominate, should have the final choice, the concerted effort of the large States would be to make the appointment in the first instance conclusive.

Mr. RANDOLPH. We have, in some revolutions of this plan, made a bold stroke for monarchy. We are now doing the same for an aristocracy. He dwelt on the tendency of such an influence in the Senate over the election of the President, in addition to its other powers, to convert that body into a real and dangerous aristocracy.

Mr. DICKINSON was in favor of giving the eventual election to the Legislature, instead of the Senate. It was too much influence to be superadded to that body.

On the question moved by Mr. WILSON, —

Pennsylvania, Virginia, South Carolina, aye, — 3; Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, Georgia, no, — 7; New Hampshire, divided.

Mr. MADISON and Mr. WILLIAMSON moved to strike out the word “majority,” and insert “one third”; so that the eventual power might not be exercised if less than a majority, but not less than one third, of the Electors should vote for the same person.

Mr. GERRY objected, that this would put it in the power of three or four States to put in whom they pleased.

Mr. WILLIAMSON. There are seven States which do not contain one third of the people. If the Senate are to appoint, less than one sixth of the people will have the power.

On the question, —

Virginia, North Carolina, aye: the other nine states, no.

Mr. GERRY suggested that the eventual election should be made by six Senators and seven Representatives, chosen by joint ballot of both Houses.

Mr. KING observed, that the influence of the small States in the Senate was somewhat balanced by the influence of the large States in bringing forward the candidates, 2 and also by the concurrence of the small States in the Committee in the clause vesting the exclusive origination of money bills in the House of Representatives.

Colonel MASON moved to strike out the word “five,” and insert the word “three,” as the highest candidates for the Senate to choose out of.

Mr. GERRY seconded the motion.

Mr. SHERMAN would sooner give up the plan. He would prefer seven or thirteen.

On the question moved by Colonel MASON and Mr. GERRY, — Virginia, North Carolina, aye; nine States, no.

Mr. SPAIGHT and Mr. RUTLEDGE moved to strike out “five,” and insert “thirteen;” to which all the States disagreed, except North Carolina and South Carolina.

Mr. MADISON and Mr. WILLIAMSON moved to insert, after “Electors,” the words, “who shall have balloted”; so that the non-voting Electors, not being counted, might not increase the number necessary as a majority of the whole to decide the choice without the agency of the Senate.

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

Mr. DICKINSON moved, in order to remove ambiguity from the intention of the clause, as explained by the vote, to add, after the words, “if such number be a majority of the whole number of the Electors,” the word “appointed.”

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

Col. MASON. As the mode of appointment is now regulated, he could not forbear expressing his opinion that it is utterly inadmissible. He would prefer the Government of Prussia to one which will put all power into the hands of seven or eight men, and fix an aristocracy worse than absolute monarchy.

The words, “and of their giving their votes,” being inserted, on motion for that purpose, after the words, “the Legislature may determine the time of choosing and assembling the Electors,” —

The House adjourned.

1 In the printed Journal, Maryland, no. Return to text

This explains the compromise alluded to by Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS. Colonel MASON, Mr. GERRY, and other members from large States set great value on this privilege of originating money bills. Of this the members from the small States, with some from the large States who wished a high-mounted government, endeavoured to avail themselves, by making that privilege the price of arrangements in the Constitution favorable to the small States, and to the elevation of the Government. Return to text

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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.

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