Genuine Information III

Luther Martin

January 04, 1788

Mr. MARTIN’S Information to the House of Assembly, continued. It was urged, that upon this system, the Pennsylvanian or inhabitant of a large State, was of as much consequence as the inhabitant of Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, or any other State—That his consequence was to be decided by his situation in his own State; that if he was there as free, if, he had as great share in the forming of his own government, and in the making and executing its laws, as the inhabitants of those other States, then was he equally important and of equal consequence—Suppose a confederation of States had never been adopted, but every State had remained absolutely in its independent situation, no person could, with propriety, say that the citizen of the large State was not as important as the citizen of the smaller, the confederation of the States cannot alter the case. It was said that in all transactions between State and State, the freedom, independence, importance and consequence, even the individuality of each citizen of the different States, might with propriety be said to be swallowed up, or concentrated in the independence, the freedom and the individuality of the State of which they are citizens—That the Thirteen States are thirteen distinct political individual existences as to each other; that the federal government is or ought to be a government over these thirteen political individual existences, which form the members of that government—and that as the largest State is only a single individual of this government, it ought to have only one vote—the smallest State also being one individual member of this government, ought also to have one vote—To those who urged that the States having equal suffrage, was contrary to the feelings of the human heart, it was answered, that it was admitted to be contrary to the feelings of pride and ambition; but those were feelings which ought not to be gratified at the expence of freedom.

It was urged, that the position that great States would have great objects in view, in which they would not suffer the less States to thwart them, was one of the strongest reasons why inequality of representation ought not to be admitted—If those great objects were not inconsistent with the interest of the less States, they would readily concur in them, but if they were inconsistent with the interest of a majority of the States composing the government, in that case two or three States ought not to have it in their power to aggrandize themselves at the expence of all the rest—To those who alledged that equality of suffrage in our federal government, was the poisonous source from which all our misfortunes flowed, it was answered, that the allegation was not founded in fact—That equality of suffrage had never been complained of by the States as a defect in our federal system—That among the eminent writers, foreigners and others, who had treated of the defects of our confederation, and proposed alterations, none had proposed an alteration in this part of the system: And members of the convention both in and out of Congress, who advocated the equality of suffrage, called upon their opponents both in and out of Congress, and challenged them to produce one single instance where a bad measure had been adopted, or a good measure had failed of adoption in consequence of the States having an equal vote; on the contrary, they urged, that all our evils flowed from the want of power in the federal head, and that let the right of suffrage in the States be altered in any manner whatever, if no greater powers were given to the government, the same inconveniences would continue.

It was denied that the equality of suffrage was originally agreed to on principles of necessity or expediency, on the contrary, that it was adopted on the principles of the rights of men and the rights of States which were then well known, and which then influenced our conduct although now they seem to be forgotten—For this the journals of Congress were appealed to; it was from them shewn, that when the committee of Congress reported to that body the articles of confederation, the very first article which became the subject of discussion, was that respecting the equality of suffrage—That Virginia proposed divers modes of suffrage, all on the principle of inequality, which were almost unanimously rejected—That on the question for adopting the article, it passed, Virginia being the only State which voted in the negative—That after the articles of confederation were submitted to the States by them to be ratified, almost every State proposed certain amendments, which they instructed their delegates to endeavour to obtain before ratification, and that among all the amendments proposed, not one State, not even Virginia, proposed an amendment of that article, securing the equality of suffrage—the most convincing proof it was agreed to and adopted, not from necessity, but upon a full conviction, that according to the principles of free governments, the States had a right to that equality of suffrage.

But, Sir, it was to no purpose that the futility of their objections were shewn—when driven from the pretence that the equality of suffrage had been originally agreed to on principles of expediency and necessity, the representatives of the large States persisted in a declaration, that they would never agree to admit the smaller States to an equality of suffrage—In answer to this, they were informed, and informed in terms the most strong and energetic that could possibly be used, that we never would agree to a system giving them the undue influence and superiority they proposed—That we would risque every possible consequence—That from anarchy and confusion order might arise—That slavery was the worst that could ensue, and we considered the system proposed to be the most complete, most abject system of slavery that the wit of man ever devised, under the pretence of forming a government for free States—That we never would submit tamely and servilely to a present certain evil in dread of a future, which might be imaginary—That we were sensible the eyes of our country and of the world were upon us—That we would not labour under the imputation of being unwilling to form a strong and energetic federal government; but we would publish the system which we approved, and also that which we opposed, and leave it to our country and the world at large to judge between us, who best understood the rights of free men and free States, and who best advocated them—and to the same tribunal we would submit who ought to be answerable for all the consequences which might arise to the union from the convention breaking up without proposing any system to their constituents.—During this debate we were threatened that if we did not agree to the system proposed, we never should have an opportunity of meeting in convention to deliberate on another, and this was frequently urged—In answer, we called upon them to shew what was to prevent it, and from what quarter was our danger to proceed—was it from a foreign enemy? Our distance from Europe, and the political situation of that country, left us but little to fear—Was there any ambitious State or States, who in violation of every sacred obligation was preparing to inslave the other States, and raise itself to consequence on the ruin of the others? Or was there any such ambitious individual? We did not apprehend it to be the case—But suppose it to be true, it rendered it the more necessary that we should sacredly guard against a system which might enable all those ambitious views to be carried into effect, even under the sanction of the constitution and government—in fine, Sir, all these threats were treated with contempt, and they were told that we apprehended but one reason to prevent the States meeting again in convention—that when they discovered the part this convention had acted, and how much its members were abusing the trust reposed in them, the States would never trust another convention.—At length, Sir, after every argument had been exhausted by the advocates of equality of representation, the question was called, when a majority decided in favour of the inequality—Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North—Carolina, South—Carolina and Georgia voting for it—Connecticut, New—York, Jersey, Delaware against it—Maryland divided.— It may be thought surprising, Sir, that Georgia, a State now small and comparatively trifling in the union, should advocate this system of unequal representation, giving up her present equality in the federal government, and sinking herself almost to total insignificance in the scale; but, Sir, it must be considered that Georgia has the most extensive territory in the union, being larger than the whole island of Great—Britain, and thirty times as large as Connecticut. This system being designed to preserve to the States their whole territory unbroken, and to prevent the erection of new States within the territory of any of them—Georgia looked forward when her population, being increased in some measure proportioned to her territory, she should rise in the scale and give law to the other States, and hence we found the delegation of Georgia warmly advocating the proposition of giving the States unequal representation. Next day the question came on with respect to the inequality of representation in the second branch, but little debate took place; the subject had been exhausted on the former question. On the votes being taken, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North—Carolina and South—Carolina voted for the inequality. Connecticut, New—York, Jersey, Delaware and Maryland(a) were in the negative. Georgia had only two representatives on the floor, one of whom (not I believe because he was against the measure, but from a conviction that we would go home, and thereby dissolve the convention before we would give up the question) voted also in the negative, by which that State was divided.’ Thus, Sir, on this great and important part of the system, the convention being equally divided, five States for the measure, five against, and one divided, there was a total stand, and we did not seem very likely to proceed any further. At length it was proposed, that a select committee should be ballotted for, composed of a member from each State, which committee should endeavour to devise some mode of conciliation or compromise; I had the honor to be on that committee; we met and discussed the subject of difference; the one side insisted on the inequality of suffrage in both branches, the other insisted on the equality in both; each party was tenacious of their sentiments, when it was found that nothing could induce us to yield the inequality in both branches; they at length proposed by way of compromise, if we would accede to their wishes as to the first branch, they would agree to the equal representation in the second branch. To this it was answered, that there was no merit in the proposal; it was only consenting, after they had struggled, to put both their feet on our necks, to take one of them off, provided we would consent to let them keep the other on, when they knew at the same time, that they could not put one foot on our necks, unless we would consent to it, and that by being permitted to keep on that one foot, they should afterwards be able to place the other foot on whenever they pleased.

They were also called on to inform us what security they could give us should we agree to this compromise, that they would abide by the plan of government formed upon it, any longer than it suited their interest, or they found it expedient.—”The States have a right to an equality of representation. This is secured to us by our present articles of confederation, we are in possession of this privilege—It is now to be torn from us.—What security can you give us, that, when you get the power the proposed system will give you, when you have men and money, that you will not force from the States that equality of suffrage in the second branch, which you now deny to be their right, and only give up from absolute necessity? Will you tell us we ought to trust you because you now enter into a solemn compact with us? This you have done before, and now treat it with the utmost contempt. —Will you now make an appeal to the Supreme Being, and call on him to guarantee your observance of the compact? The same you have formerly done for your observance of the articles of confederation, which you are now violating in the most wanton manner!

“The same reasons which you now urge for destroying our present federal government, may be urged for abolishing the system which you now propose to adopt; and as the method prescribed by the articles of confederation is now totally disregarded by you, as little regard may be shewn by you to the rules prescribed for the amendment of the new system, whenever having obtained power by the government, you shall hereafter be pleased either to discard it entirely, or so to alter it as to give yourselves all that superiority which you have now contended for, and to obtain which you have shewn yourselves disposed to hazard the union.”—Such, Sir, was the language used on that occasion, and they were told that as we could not possibly have a greater tie on them for their observance of the new system than we had for their observance of the articles of confederation, which had proved totally insufficient, it would be wrong and imprudent to confide in them. —It was further observed, that the inequality of the representation would be daily increasing—That many of the States whose territory was confined and whose population was at this time large in proportion to their territory would probably twenty, thirty, or forty years hence, have no more representatives than at the introduction of the government, whereas the States having extensive territory, where lands are to be procured cheap, would be daily encreasing in the number of their inhabitants not only from propagation but from the emigration of the inhabitants of the other States, and would have soon double, or perhaps treble the number of representatives that they are to have at first, and thereby enormously encrease their influence in the national councils. However, the majority of the select committee at length agreed to a series of propositions by way of compromise, part of which related to the representation in the first branch nearly as the system is now published: And part of them to the second branch securing in that equal representation, and reported them as a compromise upon the express terms that they were wholly to be adopted or wholly to be rejected; upon this compromise, a great number of the members so far engaged themselves, that if the system was progressed upon agreeable to the terms of the compromise, they would lend it their names, by signing it, and would not actively oppose it, if their States should appear inclined to adopt it—Some, however, in which number was myself, who joined in the report and agreed to proceed upon those principles and see what kind of a system would ultimately be formed upon it, yet reserved to themselves in the most explicit manner the right of finally giving a solemn dissent to the system, if it was thought by them inconsistent with the freedom and happiness of their country—This, Sir, will account why the members of the convention so generally signed their names to the system; not because they thought it a proper one—not because they thoroughly approved, or were unanimous for it; but because they thought it better than the system attempted to be forced upon them—This, report of the select committee was after long dissension adopted by a majority of the convention, and the system was proceeded in accordingly—I believe near a fortnight, perhaps more, was spent in the discussion of this business, during which, we were on the verge of dissolution, scarce held together by the strength of an hair, though the public papers were announcing our extreme unanimity.

Mr. Speaker, I think it my duty to observe, that during this struggle to prevent the large States from having all power in their hands, which had nearly terminated in a dissolution of the convention, it did not appear to me that either of those illustrious characters the Honorable Mr. Washington, or the President of the State of Pennsylvania, were disposed to favour the claims of the smaller States against the undue superiority attempted by the large States; on the contrary, the Honourable President of Pennsylvania was a member of the committee of compromise, and there advocated the right of the large States to an inequality in both branches and only ultimately conceded it in the second branch on the principle of conciliation, when it was found that no other terms would be accepted—This, Sir, I think it my duty to mention, for the consideration of those who endeavour to prop up a dangerous and defective system by great names; soon after this period, the Honourable Mr. Yates and Mr. Lansing of New—York left us—They had uniformly opposed the system, and I believe, despairing of getting a proper one brought forward, or of rendering any real service, they returned no more —The propositions reported by the committee of the whole house, having been fully discussed by the convention, and with many alterations having been agreed to by a majority, a committee of five, were appointed to detail the system according to the principles contained in what had been agreed to by that majority—This was likely to require some time, and the convention adjourned for eight or ten days.—Before the adjournment, I moved for liberty to be given to the different members to take correct copies of the propositions, to which the convention had then agreed, in order that during the recess of the convention, we might have an opportunity of considering them, and if it should be thought that any alterations or amendments were necessary, that we might be prepaired against the convention met to bring them forward for discussion. But, Sir, the same spirit which caused our doors to be shut—our proceedings to be kept secret—our journals to be locked up—and every avenue, as far as possible, to be shut to public information, prevailed also in this case, and the proposal so reasonable and necessary was rejected by a majority of the convention, thereby precluding even the members themselves, from the necessary means of information and deliberation on the important business in which they were engaged.’

(To be continued. )(a) On this question, Mr. Martin was the only delegate for Maryland present, which circumstance secured the State a negative. Immediately after the question had been taken, and the president had declared the votes, Mr. Jenifer came into the Convention, when Mr. King, from Massachusetts, valuing himself on Mr. Jenifer to divide the State of Maryland on this question, as he had on the former, requested of the president that the question might be put again—however the motion was too extraordinary in its nature
to meet with success!

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