New York Ratifying Convention

John Lansing

June 24, 1788

Hon. Mr. Lansing. I beg the indulgence of the committee, while I offer some reasons in support of the motion just made; in doing which, I shall confine myself to the point, and shall hear with attention, and examine with candor, the objections which may be opposed to it.

The representation of the United States, by the proposed system, is vested in two bodies. On the subject of one of these, we have debated several days, and now come to the organization and powers of the other. I believe it was undoubtedly the intention of the framers of this Constitution to make the lower house the proper, peculiar representative of the interests of the people; the Senate, of the sovereignty of the states.

Some very important powers are given to the latter, to be executed without the concurrence of the representative house. Now, if it was the design of the plan to make the Senate a kind of bulwark to the independence of the states, and a check to the encroachments of the general government, certainly the members of this body ought to be peculiarly under the control, and in strict subordination to the state who delegated them. In proportion to their want of dependence, they will lose their respect for the power from whom they receive their existence, and, consequently, will disregard the great object for which they are instituted. The idea of rotation has been taken from the articles of the old Confederation. It has thus far, in my opinion, operated with great advantage. The power of recall, too, has been an excellent check, though it has, in fact, never been exercised. The thing is of so delicate a nature, that few men will step forward to move a recall, unless there is some strong ground for it.

Sir, I am informed by gentlemen who have been conversant in public affairs, and who have had seats in Congress, that there have been, at different times, violent parties in that body——an evil that a change of members has contributed, more than any other thing, to remedy. If, therefore, the power of recall should be never exercised, if it should have no other force than that of a check to the designs of the bad, and to destroy party spirit, certainly no harm, but much good, may result from adopting the amendment. If my information be true, there have been parties in Congress which would have continued to this day, if the members had not been removed. No inconvenience can follow from placing the powers of the Senate on such a foundation as to make them feel their dependence. It is only a check calculated to make them more attentive to the objects for which they were appointed. Sir, I would ask, Is there no danger that the members of the Senate will sacrifice the interest of their state to their own private views? Every man in the United States ought to look with anxious concern to that body. Their number is so exceedingly small, that they may easily feel their interests distinct from those of the community. This smallness of number also renders them subject to a variety of accidents, that may be of the highest disadvantage. If one of the members is sick, or if one or both are prevented occasionally from attending, who are to take care of the interests of their state?

Sir, we have frequently observed that deputies have been appointed for certain purposes, who have not punctually attended to them, when it was necessary. Their private concerns may often require their presence at home. In what manner is this evil to be corrected? The amendment provides a remedy. It is the only thing which can give the states a control over the Senate. It will be said, there is a power in Congress to compel the attendance of absent members; but will the members from the other states be solicitous to compel such attendance, except to answer some particular view, or promote some interest of their own? If it be the object of the senators to protect the sovereignty of their several states, and if, at any time, it be the design of the other states to make encroachments on the sovereignty of any one state, will it be for their interest to compel the members from this state to attend, in order to oppose and check them? This would be strange policy indeed.

A number of other reasons might be adduced on this point; but those which have been advanced are sufficient, I imagine, to convince the committee that such a provision is necessary and proper. If it be not adopted, the interests of any one state may be easily sacrificed to the ambition of the others, or to the private advantage of individuals.

The objects of this amendment are, first, to place the senators in such a situation of dependence on their several state legislatures, as will induce them to pay a constant regard to the good of their constituents; secondly, to oblige them to return, at certain periods, to their fellow—citizens, that, by mingling with the people, they may recover that knowledge of their interests, and revive that sympathy with their feelings, which power and an exalted station are too apt to efface from the minds of rulers.

It has been urged that the senators should be acquainted with the interests of the states in relation to each other, and to foreign powers, and that they should remain in office, in order to acquire extensive political information. If these were the only objects, the argument would extend to the rendering their dignity perpetual——an idea which probably none of the gentlemen will consent to; but, if one third of the senators go out every two years, cannot those who succeed them acquire information from the remaining members, with respect to the relative interests of the states? It is to be presumed that the Senate will be composed of the best—informed men, and that no such men will be incapable of comprehending the interests of the states either singly or collectively. If it be the design of representation that the sense and spirit of the people’s interests and feelings should be carried into the government, it is obvious that this design can be accomplished in no way so perfectly as by obliging our rulers, at certain periods, to relinquish their offices and rank. The people cannot be represented by men who are perpetually separated from them.

It is asked, Why not place the senators in the same situation as the representatives? or, Why not give the people a power of recall? Because, sir, this is impracticable, and contrary to the first principles of representative government. There is no regular way of collecting the people’s sentiments. But a power in the state legislatures to recall their senators, is simple and easy, and will be attended with the highest advantages.

An honorable gentleman, who has spoken largely on the preceding question, has acknowledged that a variety of views, and great diversity of sentiment, prevailed in the federal Convention; that particularly there was a difference of interest between the navigating and non—navigating states. The same opposition of interests will probably ever remain; and the members of Congress will retain the same disposition to regard as their principal object the genuine good of their respective states. If they do not, if they presume to sacrifice the fundamental advantages of their state, they betray the confidence reposed in them, and violate their duty. I wish gentlemen would uniformly adhere to the distinction between the grand design of the House of Representatives and that of the Senate. Does not one represent the individuals, the people of a state, and the other its collective sovereignty? This distinction is properly noticed, when it is convenient and useful to the gentlemen’s argument; but when it stands in their way, it is easily passed by and disregarded.

Sir, it is true there have been no instances of the success of corruption under the old Confederation; and may not this be attributed to the power of recall, which has existed from its first formation? It has operated effectually, though silently. It has never been exercised, because no great occasion has offered. The power has by no means proved a discouragement to individuals, in serving their country. A seat in Congress has always been considered a distinguished honor, and a favorite object of ambition: I believe no public station has been sought with more avidity. If this power has existed for so many years, and through so many scenes of difficulty and danger, without being exerted, may it not be rationally presumed that it never will be put in execution, unless the indispensable interest of a state shall require it? I am perfectly convinced that, in many emergencies, mutual concessions are necessary and proper; and that, in some instances, the smaller interests of the states should be sacrificed to great national objects. But when a delegate makes such sacrifices as tend to political destruction, or to reduce sovereignty to subordination, his state ought to have the power of defeating his design, and reverting to the people. It is observed, that the appropriation of money is not in the power of the Senate alone; but, sir, the exercise of certain powers, which constitutionally and necessarily involve the disposal of money, belongs to the Senate: they have, therefore, a right of disposing of the property of the United States. If the Senate declare war, the lower house must furnish the supplies.

It is further objected to this amendment, that it will restrain the people from choosing those who are most deserving of their suffrages, and will thus be an abridgment of their rights. I cannot suppose this last inference naturally follows. The rights of the people will be best supported by checking, at a certain point, the current of popular favor, and preventing the establishment of an influence which may leave to elections little more than the form of freedom. The Constitution of this state says, that no man shall hold the office of sheriff or coroner beyond a certain period. Does any one imagine that the rights of the people are infringed by this provision? The gentlemen, in their reasoning on the subject of corruption, seem to set aside experience, and to consider the Americans as exempt from the common vices and frailties of human nature. It is unnecessary to particularize the numerous ways in which public bodies are accessible to corruption. The poison always finds a channel, and never wants an object. Scruples would be impertinent, arguments would be in vain, checks would be useless, if we were certain our rulers would be good men; but for the virtuous government is not instituted: its object is to restrain and punish vice; and all free constitutions are formed with two views——to deter the governed from crime, and the governors from tyranny.

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