Elliot’s Debates: Volume 2

Convention of New York

Monday, June 23, 1788.

—Mr. HARRISON. The subject under consideration, Mr. Chairman, is of the highest importance. It is a subject with which the liberties, the prosperity, and the glory of our country are most intimately connected. It has very properly employed the time and attention of the greatest and wisest men. Impressed with the most earnest desire to discover truth, and to acquit myself well in defence of its cause, I have listened with attention to the gentlemen who have spoken before me. It may, at first view, appear unnecessary to enlarge on a point which has undergone so thorough a discussion; but I trust the committee will consider no time lost which is spent on this interesting subject.

The gentlemen who have preceded me in the debate, however they may have differed with respect to certain points, they have agreed in others of capital importance, and which I shall beg leave in a concise manner to review. It is conceded that the old Confederation is inadequate to the purposes of good government; that, for its support, it has no other resources but feeble requisitions, which may be complied with or rejected by the states, as whim, caprice, or local interest, may influence them: in this point, gentlemen have agreed that remedy is necessary. The second point agreed on, and which is of equal consequence, is, that a close union is essential to the prosperity of the states; that, therefore, some measures should be pursued to strengthen that union, and prevent a dissolution. But, sir, interesting as these points are, there is another, which, on all sides, has been conceded, and which shall ever govern my conduct. It is, that, although the union ought to be secured, we are by no means to sacrifice to it the liberties of the people. It is our duty, sir, to abandon prejudices, and examine the Constitution closely and candidly; and if we find that it leads to the sacrifice I have mentioned, we shall undoubtedly reject it. But if, on the contrary, we discover that its principles tend to unite the perfect security of liberty with the stability of union, we shall adopt it with a unanimity which will recommend it to the confidence of the people.

I come now, sir, to offer a few ideas on the article under debate. Among the objections, that which has been made to the mode of apportionment of representatives has been relinquished. I think this concession does honor to the gentleman who had stated the objection. He has candidly acknowledged that this apportionment was the result of accommodation, without which no union could have been formed. But, sir, there are other objections, which are certainly plausible, and which, were they made to the paragraph in its genuine sense, I would acknowledge to be forcible. The gentlemen first consider the House of Representatives as too small, and not capable of representing the interests of their constituents. I cannot, by any means, agree with them, that there probably will be a time when six men cannot, in this state, be found sufficiently honest and well informed to represent the feelings, as well as interests, of the body of the people. The gentlemen should, in the debate, have adverted to this circumstance, that the number, as well as the apportionment, of representatives was a matter of conciliation; that some states, impressed with a sense of the public burdens, were willing to oppress the people as little as possible: they were disinclined to have that body more numerous than was requisite to insure and protect their liberties and their true interests. We might suppose the number proposed in the Constitution to be inadequate: they were of a different opinion. But, sir, though the number specified in this article were barely sufficient, or even too small, yet I contend that it is a thing merely temporary, and that the article itself clearly provides a remedy. An honorable gentleman, who preceded me, has proved that the article contemplates and secures a regular increase of the representation. I confess that my mind is entirely satisfied with his reasoning.

I beg leave, however, sir, to state the subject to the committee in one more point of light. It appears to me that the gentlemen who have supposed that Congress have it in their power to reduce the number, have not attended, with sufficient care, to the language of the paragraph. It is declared that the representation shall be in proportion to the number of inhabitants, and that every state shall have at least one. The state of Delaware may contain about thirty-three thousand inhabitants. Every gentleman acquainted with that state knows that it has been long settled, and probably has been for some time stationary in point of population. While the large tracts of vacant territory in the states which surround it hold out so many allurements to emigration, I am convinced there is no prospect of its increasing, at least for a very long period of years. When I make this observation, I think I argue from established principles. From this I infer that there is the utmost probability that the number of Delaware will be taken as the standard. If this be done, the number composing the House of Representatives, after the first census, will be more than sixty-five, which is the present number; because this specified number is calculated on the ratio of about one for forty thousand. Upon the same principles, while Delaware is stationary, and the population of the other states advances rapidly, the number of Delaware will continue to be the standard. Thus, if Delaware, at the first census, contains thirty-five thousand inhabitants, New York may then contain about two hundred and sixty-five thousand, and will be entitled to eight representatives. To pursue the argument a little further: It will ever be the interest of the larger states to keep the ratio uniform, by assuming the number of the smallest state as the standard; because, by this, as the smallest state will be confined to one, the relative influence of the larger states will be augmented. For example: if Delaware possesses thirty thousand, and Maryland a hundred thousand, it will be the interest of Maryland to fix the ratio at one for thirty, and not one for forty thousand, because, in the first case, she will have three representatives, or two more than Delaware; in the latter, she will have only two representatives, or one more than Delaware. This reasoning appears to me to lead to mathematical certainty.

According to the ratio established in the Constitution, as the number of the inhabitants in the United States increases, the number of representatives would also increase ton great degree, and in a century would become an unwieldy mob. It is therefore expedient and necessary that the Constitution should be so framed as to leave to the general legislature a discretionary power to limit the representation by forming a new ratio. These considerations have left no doubt in my mind of the propriety of the article under debate. I am clear that it contemplates an increase, till the extensive population of the country shall render a limitation indispensable. What, then, is the object of our fears? I am convinced that a legislature composed of ninety-one members is amply sufficient for the present state of our country. I have too high an opinion of the integrity of my fellow-citizens to believe they will or can be corrupted in three years, and at the expiration of this term, the increase I mention will most assuredly take place. Let us, therefore, dispel all visionary apprehensions on this subject, and, disregarding possible dangers, let us reason from the probable operation of things, and rely on this for our safety.

The Hon. Mr. LANSING. I do not rise, Mr. Chairman, to answer any of the arguments of the gentlemen, but to mention a few facts. In this debate, much reliance has been placed on an accommodation which took place in the general Convention. I will state the progress of that business. When the subject of the apportionment of representatives came forward, the large states insisted that the equality of suffrage should be abolished. This the small states opposed, contending that it would reduce them to a state of subordination. There was such a division that a dissolution of the Convention appeared unavoidable, unless some conciliatory measure was adopted. A committee of the states was then appointed, to agree upon some plan for removing the embarrassment. They recommended, in their report, the inequality of representation, which is the groundwork of the section under debate. With respect to the ratio of representation, it was at first determined that it should be one for forty thousand. In this situation the subject stood when I left the Convention. The objection to a numerous representation, on account of the expense, was not considered as a matter of importance: other objections to it, however, were fully discussed; but no question was taken.

Sir, I rose only to state this subject in the point of view in which it appeared to me: I shall, however, since I am up, pay some attention to the arguments which have been advanced. It is acknowledged that this clause may be so construed, as that, if the people of the smallest state shall amount to fifty thousand, this number may be taken as the ratio. What, then, is to control the general government? If I understand the gentlemen right, they grant that, by the plain Construction of the clause, Congress may fix the ratio as high as they please: if so, they will have no other control than the precarious operation of interest. Now, the Very argument of the gentlemen on the point of interest seems to imply that it will be the interest of the small states to limit the representation; for these states, like Delaware, not increasing, will be interested in allowing the growing states as small a number of representatives as possible, in proportion to their own. If, then, it be the interest of the larger states to augment the representation, it will be equally the interest of the smaller states to diminish it; and their equal suffrage in the Senate will enable them to oppose the policy of the large states with success.

In the discussion of this subject, it has been found necessary to bring several objections into view, which will not be very strongly insisted on. The gentleman who suggested them declared that he did not intend they should embarrass or prolong the debates. He only mentioned them to show that it would be our disposition to conciliate in certain points of inferior magnitude, provided we could secure such essential rights of the people as we supposed this Constitution would have a tendency to infringe. The question has been fully discussed; and I believe few new lights can be thrown on it. Much time will be spent, if we pursue the investigation in so slow and minute a manner. However, if the subject can receive any further elucidation, I shall not think the time lost.

Hon. Mr. HAMILTON. It is not my design, Mr. Chairman, to extend this debate by any new arguments on the general subject. I have delivered my sentiments so fully on what has been advanced by the gentlemen this morning, that any further reasoning from me will be easily dispensed with. I only rise to state a fact with respect to the motives which operated in the general Convention. I had the honor to state to the committee the diversity of interests which prevailed between the navigating and non-navigating, the large and the small states, and the influence which those states had upon the conduct of each. It is true, a difference did take place between the large and the small states, the latter insisting on equal advantages in the House of Representatives. Some private business calling me to New York, I left the Convention for a few days: on my return, I found a plan, reported by the committee of details; and soon after, a motion was made to increase the number of representatives. On this occasion, the members rose from one side and the other, and declared that the plan reported was entirely a work of accommodation, and that to make any alterations in it would destroy the Constitution. I discovered that several of the states, particularly New Hampshire, Connecticut, and New Jersey, thought it would be difficult to send a great number of delegates from the extremes of the continent to the national government: they apprehended their constituents would be displeased with a very expensive government; and they considered it as a formidable objection. After some debate on this motion, it was withdrawn. Many of the facts stated by the gentleman and myself are not substantially different. The truth is, the plan, in all its parts, was a plan of accommodation.

Mr. LANSING. I will enter no further into a discussion of the motives of the Convention; but there is one point in which the gentleman and myself do not agree. The committee of details recommend an equality in the Senate. In addition to this, it was proposed that every forty thousand should send one representative to the general legislature. Sir, if it was a system of accommodation, and to remain untouched, how came that number afterwards to be reduced to thirty thousand?

Mr. HAMILTON. I recollect well the alteration which the gentleman alludes to; but it by no means militates against my idea of the principles on which the Convention acted, at the time the report of the committee was under deliberation. This alteration did not take place till the Convention was near rising, and the business completed; when his excellency, the president, expressing a wish that the number should be reduced to thirty thousand, it was agreed to without opposition.

Mr. Chancellor LIVINGSTON. The gentleman from Duchess appears to have misapprehended some of the ideas which dropped from me. My argument was, that a republic might very properly be formed by a league of states, but that the laws of the general legislature must act, and be enforced upon individuals. I am contending for this species of government. The gentlemen who have spoken in opposition to me have either misunderstood or perverted my meaning; but, sir, I flatter myself it has not been misunderstood by the Convention at large.

If we examine the history of federal republics, whose legislative powers were exercised only in states, in their collective capacity, we shall find in their fundamental principles the seeds of domestic violence and consequent annihilation. This was the principal reason why I thought the old Confederation would be forever impracticable.

Much has been said, sir, about the number which ought to compose the House of Representatives; and the question has been debated with great address by the gentlemen on both sides of the house. It is agreed that the representative body should be so small as to prevent the disorder inseparable from the deliberations of a mob, and yet sufficiently numerous to represent the interests of the people, and to be a safe depository of power. There is, unfortunately, no standard by Which we can determine this matter. Gentlemen who think that a hundred may be the medium, in which the advantages of regular deliberation and the safety of the people are united, will probably be disposed to support the plan as it stands; others, who imagine that no numberless than three or four hundred can insure the preservation of liberty, will contend for an alteration. Indeed, these effects depend so much upon contingency, and upon circumstances totally unconnected with the idea of numbers, that we ought not to be surprised at the want of a standing criterion. On so vague a subject, it is very possible that the opinions of no two gentlemen in this Assembly, if they were governed by their own original reflections, would entirely coincide. I acknowledge myself one of those who suppose the number expressed in the Constitution to be about the proper medium; and yet future experience may induce me to think it too small or too large. When I consider the objects and powers of the general government, I am of opinion that one hundred men may at all times be collected of sufficient information and integrity to manage well the affairs of the Union. Some gentlemen suppose that, to understand and provide for the general interests of commerce and manufactures, our legislators ought to know how all commodities are produced, from the first principle of vegetation to the last polish of mechanical labor; that they ought to be minutely acquainted with all the process of all the arts. If this were true, it would be necessary that a great part of the British House of Commons should be woollen-drapers; yet we seldom find such characters in that celebrated assembly.

As to the idea of representing the feelings of the people, I do not entirely understand it, unless by their feelings are meant their interests. They appear to me to be the same thing. But if they have feelings which do not rise out of their interests, I think they ought not to be represented. What! shall the unjust, the selfish, the unsocial feelings, be represented? Shall the vices, the infirmities, the passions, of the people, be represented? Government, sir, would be a monster; laws made to encourage virtue and maintain peace would have a preposterous tendency to subvert the authority and outrage the principles on which they were founded; besides, the feelings of the people are so variable and inconstant, that our rulers should be chosen every day: people have one sort of feeling to-day, another to-morrow, and the voice of the representative must be incessantly changing in correspondence with these feelings. This would be making him a political weathercock.

The honorable gentleman from Duchess, [Mr. Smith,] who has so copiously declaimed against all declamation, has pointed his artillery against the rich and the great. I am not interested in defending rich men: but what does he mean by telling us that the rich are vicious and intemperate? Will he presume to point out to us the class of men in which intemperance is not to be found? Is there less intemperance in feeding on beef than on turtle? or in drinking rum than wine? I think the gentleman does not reason from facts. If he will took round among the rich men of his acquaintance, I fancy he will find them as honest and virtuous as any class in the community. He says the rich are unfeeling; I believe they are less so than the poor; for it seems to me probable that those who are most occupied by their own cares and distresses have the least sympathy with the distresses of others. The sympathy of the poor is generally selfish, that of the rich a more disinterested emotion.

The gentleman further observes, that ambition is peculiarly the vice of the wealthy. But have not all classes of men their objects of ambition? Will not a poor man contend for a constable’s staff with as much assiduity and eagerness as a man of rank will aspire to the chief magistracy? The great offices in the state are beyond the new of the poor and ignorant man: he will therefore contemplate an humbler office as the highest alluring object of ambition; he will look with equal envy on a successful competitor, and will equally sacrifice to the attainment of his wishes the duty he owes to his friends or to the public. But, says the gentleman, the rich will be always brought forward; they will exclusively enjoy the suffrages of the people. For my own part, I believe that, if two men of equal abilities set out together in life, one rich, the other of small fortune, the latter will generally take the lead in your government. The rich are ever objects of envy; and this, more or less, operates as a bar to their advancement. What is the fact? Let us look around us: I might mention gentlemen in office who have not been advanced for their wealth; I might instance, in particular, the honorable gentleman who presides over this state, who was not promoted to the chief magistracy for his riches, but his virtue.

The gentleman, sensible of the weakness of this reasoning, is obliged to fortify it by having recourse to the phantom aristocracy. I have heard much of this. I always considered it as the bugbear of the party. We are told that, in every country, there is a natural aristocracy, and that this aristocracy consists of the rich and the great: nay, the gentleman goes further, and ranks in this class of men the wise, the learned, and those eminent for their talents or great virtues. Does a man possess the confidence of his fellow-citizens for having done them important services? He is an aristocrat. Has he great integrity? Such a man will be greatly trusted: he is an aristocrat. Indeed, to determine that one is an aristocrat, we need only be assured he is a man of merit. But I hope we have many such. I hope, sir, we are all aristocrats. So sensible am I of that gentleman’s talents, integrity, and virtue, that we might at once hail him the first of the nobles, the very prince of the Senate. But whom, in the name of common sense, will we have to represent us? Not the rich, for they are sheer aristocrats. Not the learned, the wise, the virtuous, for they are all aristocrats. Whom then? Why, those who are not virtuous; those who are not wise; those who are not learned: these are the men to whom alone we can trust our liberties. He says further, we ought not to choose these aristocrats, because the people will not have confidence in them; that is, the people will not have confidence in those who best deserve and most possess their confidence. He would have his government composed of other classes of men: where will we find them? Why, he must go out into the highways, and pick up the rogue and the robber; he must go to the hedges and ditches, and bring in the poor, the blind, and the lame. As the gentleman has thus settled the definition of aristocracy, I trust that no man will think it a term of reproach; for who among us would not be wise? Who would not be virtuous? Who would not be above want? How, again, would he have us to guard against aristocracy? Clearly by doubling the representation, and sending twelve aristocrats instead of six. The truth is, in these republican governments, we know no such ideal distinctions. We are all equally aristocrats. Offices, emoluments, honors, are open to all.

Much has been said by the gentleman about corruption: he calculates that twenty-four may give the voice of Congress; that is, they will compose a bare majority of a bare quorum of both houses. He supposes here the most singular, and I might add, the most improbable combination of events. First, there is to be a power in the government who has the means, and whose interest it is to be corrupt. Next, twenty-four men are to compose the legislature; and these twenty-four, selected by their fellow-citizens as the most virtuous, are all, in violation of their oath and their real interests, to be corrupted. Then he supposes the virtuous minority inattentive, regardless of their own honor, and the good of their country; making no alarm, no struggle; a whole people suffering the injury of a ruinous law, yet ignorant, inactive, and taking no measures to redress the grievance.

Let us take a view of the present Congress. The gentleman is satisfied with our present federal government, on the score of corruption. Here he has confidence. Though each state may delegate seven, they generally send no more than three; consequently thirty-nine men may transact any business under the old government; while the new legislature, which will be, in all probability, constantly full, will consist of ninety-one. But, say the gentlemen, our present Congress have not the same powers. I answer, They have the very same. Congress have the power of making war and peace, of levying money and raising men; they may involve us in a war at their pleasure; they may negotiate loans to any extent, and make unlimited demands upon the states. Here the gentleman comes forward, and says that the states are to carry these powers into execution; and they have the power of non-compliance. But is not every state bound to comply? What power have they to control Congress in the exercise of those rights which they have pledged themselves to support? It is true they have broken, in numerous instances, the compact by which they were obligated; and they may do it again; but will the gentleman draw an argument of security from the facility of violating their faith? Suppose there should be a majority of creditor states, under the present government; might they not combine, and compel us to observe the covenant by which we had bound ourselves?

We are told that this Constitution gives Congress the power over the purse and the sword. Sir, have not all good governments this power? Nay, does any one doubt that, under the old Confederation, Congress holds the purse and the sword? How many loans did they procure, which we are bound to pay! How many men did they raise, whom we are bound to maintain! How will gentlemen say, that that body, which is indeed extremely small, can be more safely trusted than a much larger body, possessed of the same authority? What is the ground of such entire confidence in the one—what the cause of so much jealousy of the other?

An honorable member from New York has viewed the subject of representation in a point of light which had escaped me, and which I think clear and conclusive. He says, that the state of Delaware must have one; and, as that state will not probably increase for a long time, it will be the interest of the larger states to determine the ratio by what Delaware contains. The gentlemen in opposition say, suppose Delaware contains fifty thousand, why not fix the ratio at sixty thousand? Clearly, because by this the other states will give up a sixth part of their interests. The members of Congress, also, from a more private motive, will be induced to augment the representation. The chance of their own reëlection will increase with the number of their colleagues.

It has been further observed that the sense of the people is for a larger representation, and that this ought to govern us—that the people generally are of opinion, that even our House of Assembly is too small. I very much doubt this fact. As far as my observation has extended, I have found a very different sentiment prevail. It seems to be the predominant opinion of our state government; and I presume that the people have as much confidence in their Senate of twenty-four as in their Assembly of sixty-five. All these considerations have united to give my mind the most perfect conviction, that the number specified in the Constitution is fully adequate to the present wants of the country, and that this number will be increased to the satisfaction of the most timid and jealous.

Hon. Mr. SMITH. I did not intend to make any more observations on this article. Indeed, I have heard nothing to-day which has not been suggested before, except the polite reprimand I have received for my declamation. I should not have risen again, but to examine who has proved himself the greatest declaimer. The gentleman wishes me to describe what I meant by representing the feelings of the people. If I recollect right, I said the representative ought to understand and govern his conduct by the true interest of the people. I believe I stated this idea precisely. When he attempts to explain my ideas, he explains them away to nothing; and, instead of answering, he distorts, and then sports with them. But he may rest assured that, in the present spirit of the Convention, to irritate is not the way to conciliate. The gentleman, by the false gloss he has given to my argument, makes me an enemy to the rich: this is not true. All I said was, that mankind were influenced, in a great degree, by interests and prejudices; that men, in different ranks of life, were exposed to different temptations, and that ambition was more peculiarly the passion of the rich and great. The gentleman supposes the poor have less sympathy with the sufferings of their fellow-creatures, for that those who feel most distress themselves, have the least regard to the misfortunes of others. Whether this be reasoning or declamation, let all who hear us determine. I observed, that the rich were more exposed to those temptations which rank and power hold out to view; that they were more luxurious and intemperate, because they had more fully the means of enjoyment; that they were more ambitious, because more in the hope of success. The gentleman says my principle is not true, for that a poor man will be as ambitious to be a constable as a rich man to be a governor; but he will not injure his country so much by the party he creates to support his ambition.

The next object of the gentleman’s ridicule is my idea of an aristocracy; and, indeed, he has done me the honor to rank me in the order. If, then, I am an aristocrat, and yet publicly caution my countrymen against the encroachments of the aristocrats, they will surely consider me as one of the most disinterested friends. My idea of aristocracy is not new; it is embraced by many writers on government. I would refer the gentleman for a definition of it to the Hon. John Adams, one of our natural aristocrats. This writer will give him a description the most ample and satisfactory. But I by no means intended to carry my idea of it to such a ridiculous length as the gentleman would have me; nor will any of my expressions warrant the construction he imposes on them. My argument was, that, in order to have a true and genuine representation, you must receive the middling class of people into your government, such as compose the body of this assembly. I observed that a representation from the United States could not be so constituted as to represent completely the feelings and interests of the people; but that we ought to come as near this object as possible. The gentlemen say, that the exactly proper number of representatives is so indeterminate and vague, that it is impossible for them to ascertain it with any precision. But surely they are able to see the distinction between twenty and thirty. I acknowledge that a complete representation would make the legislature too numerous; and therefore it is our duty to limit the powers, and form the checks on the government, in proportion to the smallness of the number.

The honorable gentleman next animadverts on my apprehensions of corruption, and instances the present Congress, to prove an absurdity in my argument. But is this fair reasoning? There are many material checks to the operations of that body, which the future Congress will not have. In the first place, they are chosen annually. What more powerful check? They are subject to recall. Nine states must agree to any important resolution, which will not be carried into execution till it meets the approbation of the people in the state legislatures. Admitting what he says, that they have pledged their faith to support the acts of Congress, yet, if these be contrary to the essential interests of the people, they ought not to be acceded to; for they are not bound to obey any law which tends to destroy them.

It appears to me that, had economy been a motive for making the representation small, it might have operated more properly in leaving out some of the offices which this Constitution requires. I am sensible that a great many of the common people, who do not reflect, imagine that a numerous representation involves a great expense; but they are not aware of the real security it gives to an economical management in all the departments of government.

The gentleman further declared that, as far as his acquaintance extended, the people thought sixty-five a number fully large enough for our state Assembly; and hence inferred that sixty-five is to two hundred and forty thousand as sixty-five is to three millions. This is curious reasoning.

I feel that I have troubled the committee too long. I should not have risen again upon this subject, had not my ideas been grossly misrepresented.

The Hon. Mr. JAY. I will make a few observations on this article, Mr. Chairman, though I am sensible it may not appear very useful to travel over the field which has been already so fully explored.

Sir, it seems to be, on all sides, agreed that a strong, energetic federal government is necessary for the United States.

It has given me pleasure to hear such declarations come from all parts of the house. If gentlemen are of this opinion, they give us to understand that such a government is the favorite of their desire; and also that it can be instituted; that, indeed, it is both necessary and practicable; or why do they advocate it?

The gentleman last on the floor has informed us that, according to his idea of a complete representation, the extent of our country is too great for it. [Here he called on Mr. Smith, to know if he had mistaken him; who replied, My idea is not that a proper representation for a strong federal government is unattainable; but that such a representation, under the proposed Constitution, is impracticable.] Sir, continued Mr. Jay, I now understand the gentleman in a different sense: however, what I shall say will reach equally his explanation. I take it that no federal government is worth having, unless it can provide for the general interests of the United States. If this Constitution be so formed as to answer these purposes, our object is obtained. The providing for the general interests of the Union requires certain powers in government, which the gentleman seems to be willing it should possess; that is, the important powers of war and peace. These powers are peculiarly interesting; their operation reaches objects the most dear to the people; and every man is concerned in them; yet, for the exercise of these powers the gentleman does not think a very large representation necessary. But, sir, if the proposed Constitution provides for a representation adequate to the purposes I have described, why not adequate to all other purposes of a federal government? The adversaries of the plan seem to consider the general government as possessing all the minute and local powers of the state governments. The direct inference from this, according to their principle, would be, that the federal representation should be proportionably large. In this state, as the gentleman says, we have sixty-five. If the national representation is to be extended in proportion, what an unwieldy body shall we have! If the United States contain three millions of inhabitants, in this ratio, the Congress must consist of more than eight hundred. But, sir, let us examine whether such a number is necessary or reasonable. What are the objects of our state legislatures? Innumerable things of small moment occupy their attention; matters of a private nature, which require much minute and local information. The objects of the general government are not of this nature. They comprehend the interests of the states in relation to each other, and in relation to foreign powers. Surely there are men in this state fully informed of the general interests of its trade, its agriculture, its manufactures. Is any thing more than this necessary? Is it requisite that our representatives in Congress should possess any particular knowledge of the local interests of the county of Suffolk, distinguished from those of Orange and Ulster? The Senate is to be composed of men appointed by the state legislatures: they will certainly choose those who are most distinguished for their general knowledge. I presume they will also instruct them, that there will be a constant correspondence supported between the senators and the state executives, who will be able, from time to time, to afford them all that particular information which particular circumstances may require. I am in favor of large representations: yet, as the minds of the people are so various on this subject, I think it best to let things stand as they are. The people in Massachusetts are satisfied with two hundred: many others suppose either number unnecessarily large. There is no point on which men’s opinions vary more materially. If the matter be doubtful,—and much may be rationally said on both sides,—gentlemen ought not to be very strenuous on such points. The Convention who decided this question took all these different opinions into consideration, and were directed by a kind of necessity of mutual accommodation, and by reasons of expediency; it would therefore be unfair to censure them. Were I asked if the number corresponds exactly with my own private judgment, I should answer, No. But I think it is best, under our present circumstances, to acquiesce. Yet, sir, if I could be convinced that danger would probably result from so small a number, I should certainly withhold my acquiescence. But whence will this danger arise? Sir, I am not fearful of my countrymen: we have yet known very little of corruption: we have already experienced great distresses and difficulties; we have seen perilous times, when it was the interest of Great Britain to hold out the most seducing temptations to every man worth gaining. I mention this as a circumstance to show that, in case of a war with any foreign power, there can be little fear of corruption; and I mention it to the honor of the American character. At the time I allude to, how many men had you in Congress? Generally fewer than sixty-five.

Sir, all the arguments offered on the other side serve to show that it will be easier to corrupt under the old than under the new government: such arguments, therefore, do not seem to answer the gentleman’s purpose. In the federal government, as it now stands, there are but thirteen votes, though there may be sixty or seventy voices. Now, what is the object of corruption? To gain votes. In the new government there are to be ninety-one votes. Is it easier to buy many than a few? In the present Congress, you cannot declare war, make peace, or do any other important act, without the concurrence of nine states. There are rarely more than nine present. A full Congress is an extraordinary thing. Is it necessary to declare war, or pass a requisition of money to support it? A foreign prince says, this will be against my interest; I must prevent it. How? By having recourse to corruption. If there are eleven states on the floor, it will be necessary to corrupt three. What measure shall I take? Why, it is common for each state to have no more than two members in Congress. I will take off one, and the vote of that state is lost. I will takeoff three, and their most important plan is defeated. Thus, in the old government, it is only necessary to bribe the few; in the new government, it is necessary to corrupt the many. Where lies the greater security? The gentleman says, the election is annual, and you may recall your delegate when you please. But how are you to form your opinion of his conduct? He may excuse himself from acting without giving any reason. Nay, on a particular emergency, he has only to go home, for which he may have a thousand plausible reasons to offer, and you have no mode of compelling his attendance. To detect corruption is at all times difficult, but, under these circumstances, it appears almost impossible. I give out these hints to show that, on the score of corruption, we have much the best chance under the new Constitution; and that, if we do not reach perfection, we certainly change for the better. But, sir, suppose corruption should infect one branch of the government,—for instance, the House of Representatives; what a powerful check you have in the Senate! You have a double security; you have two chances in your favor to one against you. The two houses will naturally be in a state of rivalship: this will make them always vigilant, quick to discern a bad measure, and ready to oppose it. Thus the chance of corruption is not only lessened by an increase of the number, but vastly diminished by the necessity of concurrence. This is the peculiar excellence of a division of the legislature.

Sir, I argue from plain facts. Here is no sophistry, no construction, no false glosses, but simple inferences from the obvious operation of things. We did not come here to carry points. If the gentleman will convince me I am wrong, I will submit. I mean to give my ideas frankly upon the subject. If my reasoning is not good, let them show me the folly of it. It is from this reciprocal interchange of ideas that the truth must come out. My earnest wish is, that We may go home attended with the pleasing consciousness that we have industriously and candidly sought the truth, and have done our duty. I cannot conclude without repeating, that, though I prefer a large representation, yet, considering our present situation, I see abundant reason to acquiesce in the wisdom of the general Convention, and to rest satisfied that the representation will increase in a sufficient degree to answer the wishes of the most zealous advocate for liberty.

The Hon. Mr. SMITH rose, and said, it appeared to him probable that it would be the interest of the state having the least number of inhabitants to make its whole number the measure of the representation; that it would be the interest of Delaware, supposing she has forty thousand, and consequently only one vote, to make this whole number the ratio; so if she had fifty thousand, or any number under sixty thousand. The interest also of some other of the small states would correspond with hers; and thus the representation would be reduced in proportion to the increase of Delaware. He still insisted that the number of representatives might be diminished.

He would make one observation more upon the gentleman’s idea of corruption. His reasoning, he said, went only to prove that the present Congress might be restrained from doing good by the wilful absence of two or three members. It was rare, he said, that the people were oppressed by a government’s not doing; and little danger to liberty could flow from that source.

After some further desultory conversation on this point, the committee rose, and the Convention adjourned.

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Contents

General Overview

In 1787 and 1788, following the Constitutional Convention, a great debate took place throughout America over the Constitution that had been proposed.

In-Doors Debate

View in-depth studies of the Massachusetts, Virginia, and New York state ratifying conventions.

The Federal Pillars

View drawings of the federal pillars rising published by the Massachusetts Centinel during the ratification debate.

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The Stages of Ratification: An Interactive Timeline

View the six stages of the ratification of the Constitution with links to many other features on this site.

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Interactive Ratification Map

View interactive maps showing the breakdown of Federalist-Antifederalist strength at the state level during the Ratification debate.

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