Elliot’s Debates: Volume 2

Convention of New York

Wednesday, June 25, 1788.

—Section the third was again read, when

Mr. SMITH resumed his argument, as follows: The amendment embraces two objects—first, that the senators shall be eligible for only six years in any term of twelve years; second, that they shall be subject to the recall of the legislatures of their several states. It is proper that we take up these points separately. I concur with the honorable gentleman that there is a necessity for giving this branch a greater stability than the House of Representatives. I think his reasons are conclusive on this point. But, sir, it does not follow, from this position, that the senators ought to hold their places during life. Declaring them ineligible during a certain term after six years, is far from rendering them less stable than necessary. We think the amendments will place the Senate in a proper medium between a fluctuating and a perpetual body. As the clause now stands, there is no doubt that senators will hold their office perpetually; and in this situation they must of necessity lose their dependence, and attachments to the people. It is certainly inconsistent with the established principles of republicanism that the Senate should be a fixed and unchangeable body of mere There should be, then, some constitutional provision against this evil. A rotation I consider as the best possible mode of effecting a remedy. The amendment will not only have a tendency to defeat any plots which may be formed against the liberty and authority of the state governments, but will be the best means to extinguish the factions which often prevail, and which are sometimes so fatal to legislative bodies. This appears to me an important consideration. We have generally found that perpetual bodies have either combined in some scheme of usurpation, or have been torn and distracted with cabals. Both have been the source of misfortunes to the state. Most people acquainted with history will acknowledge these facts. Our Congress would have been a fine field for party spirit to act in. That body would undoubtedly have suffered all the evils of faction, had it not been secured by the rotation established by the Articles of Confederation. I think a rotation in the government is a very important and truly republican institution. All good republicans, I presume to say, will treat it with respect.

It is a circumstance strongly in favor of rotation, that it will have a tendency to diffuse a more general spirit of emulation, and to bring forward into office the genius and abilities of the continent: the ambition of gaining the qualifications necessary to govern will be in some proportion to the chance of success. If the office is to be perpetually confined to a few, other men, of equal talents and virtue, but not possessed of so extensive an influence, may be discouraged from aspiring to it. The more perfectly we are versed in the political science, the more firmly will the happy principles of republicanism be supported. The true policy of constitutions will be to increase the information of the country, and disseminate the knowledge of government as universally as possible. If this be done, we shall have, in any dangerous emergency, a numerous body of enlightened citizens, ready for the call of their country. As the Constitution now is, you only give an opportunity to two men to be acquainted with the public affairs. It is a maxim with me that every man employed in a high office by the people, should, from time to time, return to them, that he may be in a situation to satisfy them with respect to his conduct and the measures of administration. If I recollect right, it was observed by an honorable member from New York, that this amendment would be an infringement on the natural rights of the people. I humbly conceive, if the gentleman reflects maturely on the nature of his argument, he will acknowledge its weakness. What is government itself but a restraint upon the natural rights of the people? What constitution was ever devised that did not operate as a restraint on their original liberties? What is the whole system of qualifications, which take place in all free governments, but a restraint? Why is a certain age made necessary? why a certain term of citizenship? This Constitution itself, sir, has restraints innumerable. The amendment, it is true, may exclude two of the best men; but it can rarely happen that the state will sustain any material loss by this. I hope and believe that we shall always have more than two men who are capable of discharging the duty of a senator. But, if it should so happen that the state possessed only two capable men, it would be necessary they should return home, from time to time, to inspect and regulate our domestic affairs. I do not conceive the state can suffer any inconvenience. The argument, indeed, might have some weight, were the representation very large; but, as the power is to be exercised upon only two men, the apprehensions of the gentleman are entirely without foundation.

With respect to the second part of the amendment, I would observe, that, as the senators are the representatives of the state legislatures, it is reasonable and proper that they should be under their control. When a state sends an agent commissioned to transact any business, or perform any service, it certainly ought to have a power to recall. These are plain principles, and so far as they apply to the case under examination, they ought to be adopted by us. Form this government as you please, you must, at all events, lodge in it very important powers. These powers must be in the hands of a few men, so situated as to procure a small degree of responsibility. These circumstances ought to put us upon our guard, and the inconvenience of this necessary delegation of power should be corrected, by providing some suitable checks.

Against this part of the amendment a great deal of argument has been used, and with considerable plausibility. It is said, if the amendment takes place, the senators will hold their office only during the pleasure of the state, legislatures, and consequently will not possess the necessary firmness and stability. I conceive, sir, there is a fallacy in this argument, founded upon the suspicion that the legislature of a state will possess the qualities of a mob, and be incapable of any regular conduct. I know that the impulses of the multitude are inconsistent with systematic government. The people are frequently incompetent to deliberate discussion, and subject to errors and imprudences. Is this the complexion of the state legislatures? I presume it is not. I presume that they are never actuated by blind impulses; that they rarely do things hastily and without consideration. My apprehension is, that the power of recall would not be exercised as often as it ought. It is highly improbable that a man in whom the state has confided, and who has an established influence, will be recalled, unless his conduct has been notoriously wicked. The arguments of the gentleman, therefore, do not apply in this case. It is further observed, that it would be improper to give the legislatures this power, because the local interests and prejudices ought not tube admitted into the general government; and that, if the senator is rendered too dependent on his constituents, he will sacrifice the interests of the Union to the policy of his state. Sir, the Senate has been generally held up, by all parties, as a safeguard to the rights of the several states. In this view, the closest connection between them has been considered as necessary. But now, it seems, we speak in a different language; we now look upon the least attachment to their states as dangerous; we are now for separating them, and rendering them entirely independent, that we may root out the last vestige of state sovereignty.

An honorable gentleman from New York observed yesterday, that the states would always maintain their importance and authority, on account of their superior influence over the people. To prove this influence, he mentioned the aggregate number of the state representatives throughout the continent. But I ask him how long the people will retain their confidence for two thousand representatives who shall meet once in a year to make laws for regulating the height of your fences and the repairing of your roads. Will they not, by and by, be saying, Here, we are paying a great number of men for doing nothing: we had better give up all the civil business of our state, with its powers, to Congress, who are sitting all the year round: we had better get rid of the useless burden. That matters will come to this at last, I have no more doubt than I have of my existence. The state governments, without object or authority, will Soon dwindle into insignificance, and be despised by the people themselves. I am, sir, at a loss to know how the state legislatures will spend their time. Will they make laws to regulate agriculture? I imagine this will be best regulated by the sagacity and industry of those who practise it. Another reason offered by the gentleman is, that the states will have a greater number of officers than the general government. I doubt this. Let us make a comparison. the first place, the federal government must have a complete set of judicial officers of different ranks throughout the continent; then, a numerous train of executive officers, in all the branches of the revenue, both internal and external; and all the civil and military departments. Add to this, their salaries will probably be larger and better secured than those of any state officers. If these numerous offices are not at once established, they are in the power of Congress, and will all in time be created. Very few offices will be objects of ambition in the states. They will have no establishment at all to correspond with some of those I have mentioned; in other branches, they will have the same as Congress. But I ask, What will be their comparative influence and importance? I will leave it, sir, to any man of Candor to determine whether there will not probably be more lucrative and honorable places in the gift of Congress than in the disposal of the states altogether. But the whole reasoning of the gentlemen rests upon the principle that the states will be able to check the general government, by exciting the people to opposition: it only goes to prove that the state officers will have such influence over the people as to impel them to hostility and rebellion. This kind of check, I contend, would be a pernicious one, and certainly ought to be prevented. Checks in government ought to act silently, and without public commotion. I think that the harmony of the two powers should by all means be maintained: if it be not, the operation of government will be baneful; one or the other of the parties must finally be destroyed in the conflict. The constitutional line between the authority of each should be so obvious, as to leave no room for jealous apprehensions or violent contests.

It is further said, that the operation of local interests should be counteracted; for which purpose the Senate should be rendered permanent. I conceive that the true interest of every state is the interest of the whole; and that, if we should have a well-regulated government, this idea will prevail. We shall, indeed, have few local interests to pursue, under the new Constitution, because it limits the claims of the states by so close a line, that on their part there can be but little dispute, and little worth disputing about. But, sir, I conceive that partial interests will grow continually weaker, because there are not those fundamental differences between the real interests of the several states, which will long prevent their coming together, and becoming uniform. Another argument advanced by the gentlemen is, that our amendment would be the means of producing factions among the electors; that aspiring men would misrepresent the conduct of a faithful senator, and by intrigue procure a recall upon false grounds, in order to make room for themselves. But, sir, men who are ambitious for places will rarely be disposed to render those places unstable. A truly ambitious man will never do this, unless he is mad. It is not to be supposed that a state will recall a man once in twenty years, to make way for another. Dangers of this kind arc very remote: I think they ought not to be brought seriously into view.

More than one of the gentlemen have ridiculed my apprehensions of corruption. How, say they, are the people to be corrupted? By their own money? Sir, in many countries, the people pay money to corrupt themselves: why should k not happen in this? Certainly, the Congress will be as liable to corruption as other bodies of men. Have they not the same frailties, and the same temptations? With respect to the corruption arising from the disposal of offices, the gentlemen have treated the argument as insignificant. But let anyone make a calculation, and see whether there will not be good offices enough to dispose of to every man who goes there, who will then freely resign his seat; for can any one suppose that a member of Congress will not go out and relinquish his four dollars a day, for two or three thousand pounds a year? It is here objected that no man can hold an office created during the time he is in Congress. But it will be easy for a man of influence, who has in his eye a favorite office previously created, and already filled, to say to his friend who holds it, Here, I wilt procure you another place of more emolument, provided you will relinquish yours in favor of me. The Constitution appears to be a restraint, when, in fact, it is none at all. I presume, sir, there is not a government in the world in which there is a greater scope for influence and corruption in the disposal of offices. Sir, I will not declaim, and say all men are dishonest; but I think, in forming a constitution, if We presume this, we shall be on the safest side. This extreme is certainly less dangerous than the other. It is wise to multiply cheeks to a greater degree than the present state of things requires. It is said that corruption has never taken place under the old government: I believe gentlemen hazard this assertion without proofs. That it has taken place in some degree is very probable. Many millions of money have been put into the hands of government, which have never yet been accounted for: the accounts are not yet settled, and Heaven only knows when they will be.

I have frequently observed a restraint upon the state governments, which Congress never can be under, construct that body as you please. It is a truth capable of demonstration, that the nearer the representative is to his constituents, the more attached and dependent he will be. In the states, the elections are frequent, and the representatives numerous: they transact business in the midst of their constituents, and every man must be called Upon to account for his conduct. In this state, the council of appointment are elected for one year. The proposed Constitution establishes a council of appointment who will be perpetual. Is there any comparison between the two governments in point of security? It is said that the governor of this state is always eligible; but this is not in point. The governor of this state is limited in his powers; indeed, his authority is small and insignificant, compared to that of the Senate of the United States.

The Hon. Mr. HAMILTON. Mr. Chairman, in the debates of this kind, it is extremely easy, on either side, to say a great number of plausible things. It is to be acknowledged that there is even a certain degree of truth in the reasonings on both sides. In this situation, it is the province of judgment and good sense to determine their force and application, and how far the arguments advanced on one Side are balanced by those on the other. The ingenious dress in which both may appear renders it a difficult task to make this decision, and the mind is frequently unable to come to a safe and solid conclusion. On the present question, some of the principles on each side are admitted, and the conclusions from them denied, while other principles, with their inferences, are rejected altogether. It is the business of the committee to seek the truth in this labyrinth of argument.

There are two objects in forming systems of government—safety for the people, and energy in the administration. When these objects are united, the certain tendency of the system will be to the public welfare. If the latter object be neglected, the people’s security will be as certainly sacrificed as by disregarding the former. Good constitutions are formed upon a comparison of the liberty of the individual with the strength of government: if the tone of either be too high, the other will be weakened too much. It is the happiest possible mode of conciliating these objects, to institute one branch peculiarly endowed with sensibility, another with knowledge and firmness. Through the opposition and mutual control of these bodies, the government will reach, in its operations, the perfect balance between liberty and power. The arguments of the gentlemen chiefly apply to the former branch—the House of Representatives. If they will calmly consider the different nature of the two branches, they will see that the reasoning which justly applies to the representative house, will go to destroy the essential qualities of the Senate. If the former is calculated perfectly upon the principles of caution, why should you impose the same principles upon the latter, which is designed for a different operation? Gentlemen, while they discover a laudable anxiety for the safety of the people, do not attend to the important distinction I have drawn. We have it constantly held up to us, that, as it is our chief duty to guard against tyranny, it is our policy to form all the branches of government for this purpose.

Sir, it is a truth sufficiently illustrated by experience, that when the people act by their representatives, they are commonly irresistible. The gentleman admits the position, that stability is essential to the government, and yet enforces principles which, if true, ought to banish stability from the system. The gentleman observes, that there is a fallacy in my reasoning, and informs us that the legislatures of the states, not the people, are to appoint the senators. Does he reflect that they are the immediate agents of the people, that they are so constituted as to feel all their prejudices and passions, and to be governed, in a great degree, by their misapprehensions? Experience must have taught him the truth of this. Look through their history: what factions have arisen kern the most trifling causes! What intrigues have been practised for the most illiberal purposes! Is not the state of Rhode Island, at this moment, struggling under difficulties and distresses, for having been led blindly by the spirit of the multitude? What is her legislature but the picture of a mob? In this state, we have a senate, possessed of the proper qualities of a permanent body. Virginia, Maryland, and a few other states, are in the same situation. The rest are either governed by a single democratic assembly, or have a senate constituted entirely upon democratic principles. These have been more or less embroiled in factions, and have generally been the image and echo of the multitude. It is difficult to reason on this point, without touching on certain delicate chords. I could refer you to periods and conjunctures when the people have been governed by improper passions, and led by factious and designing men. I could show that the same passions have infected their representatives. Let us beware that we do not make the state legislatures a vehicle in which the evil humors may be conveyed into the national system. To prevent this, it is necessary that the Senate should be so formed, as in some measure to check the state governments, and preclude the communication of the false impressions which they receive from the people. It has been often repeated, that the legislatures of the states can have only a partial and confined view of national affairs; that they can form no proper estimate of great objects which are not in the Sphere of their interests. The observation of the gentleman, therefore, cannot take off the force of argument.

Sir, the senators will constantly be attended with a reflection, that their future existence is absolutely in the power of the states. Will not this form a powerful check? It is a reflection which applies closely to their feelings and interests; and no candid man, who thinks deliberately, will deny that it would be alone a sufficient check. The legislatures are to provide the mode of electing the Presidents and must have a great influence over the electors. Indeed, they convey their influence, through a thousand channels, into the general government. Gentlemen have endeavored to show that there will be no clashing of local and general interests: they do not seem to have sufficiently considered the subject. We have, in this state, a duty of sixpence per pound on salt, and it operates lightly and with advantage; but such a duty would be very burdensome to some of the states. If Congress should, at any time, find it convenient to impose a salt tax, would it not be opposed by the Eastern States? Being themselves incapable of feeling the necessity of the measure, they could only feel its apparent injustice. Would it be wise to give the New England States a power to defeat this measure, by recalling their senators who may be engaged for it? I beg the gentlemen once more to attend to the distinction between the real and the apparent interests of the states. I admit that the aggregate of individuals constitute the government; yet every state is not the government; every petty district is not the government. Sir, in our state legislatures, a compromise is frequently necessary between the interests of counties: the same must happen, in the general government, between states. In this, the few must yield to the many; or, in other words, the particular must be sacrificed to the general interest. If the members of Congress are too dependent on the state legislatures, they will be eternally forming secret combinations, from local views. This is reasoning from the plainest principles. Their interest is interwoven with their dependence, and they will necessarily yield to the impression of their situation. Those who have been in Congress have seen these operations. The first question has been, How will such a measure affect my constituents, and, consequently, how will the part I take affect my reelection? This consideration may be in some degree proper; but to be dependent from day to day, and to have the idea perpetually present, would be the source of numerous evils. Six years, sir, is a period short enough for a proper degree of dependence. Let us consider the peculiar state of this body, and see under what impressions they will act. One third of them are to go out at the end of two years, two thirds at four years, and the whole at six years. When one year is elapsed, there is a number who are to hold their places for one year, others for three, and others for five years. Thus there will not only be a constant and frequent change of members, but there will be some whose office is near the point of expiration, and who, from this circumstance, will have a lively sense of their dependence. The biennial change of members is an excellent invention for increasing the difficulty of combination. Any scheme of usurpation will lose, every two years, a number of its oldest advocates, and their places will be supplied by an equal number of new, unaccommodating, and virtuous men. When two principles are equally important, we ought, if possible, to reconcile them, and sacrifice neither. We think that safety and permanency in this government are completely reconcilable. The state governments will have, from the causes I have described, a sufficient influence over the Senate, without the check for which the gentlemen contend.

It has been remarked, that there is an inconsistency in our admitting that the equal vote in the Senate was given to secure the rights of the states, and at the same time holding up the idea that their interests should be sacrificed to those of the Union. But the committee certainly, perceive the distinction between the rights of a state and its interests. The rights of a state are defined by the Constitution, and cannot be invaded without a violation of it; but the interests of a state have no connection with the Constitution, and may be, in a thousand instances, constitutionally sacrificed. A uniform tax is perfectly constitutional; and yet it may operate oppressively upon certain members of the Union. The gentlemen are afraid that the state governments will be abolished. But, sir, their existence does not depend upon the laws of the United States. Congress can no more abolish the state governments, than they can dissolve the Union. The whole Constitution is repugnant to it, and yet the gentlemen would introduce an additional useless provision against it. It is proper that the influence of the states should prevail to a certain extent. But shall the individual states be the judges how far? Shall an unlimited power be left them to determine in their own favor? The gentlemen go into the extreme: instead of a wise government, they would form a fantastical Utopia. But, sir, while they give it a plausible, popular shape, they would render it impracticable. Much has been said about factions. As far as my observation has extended, factions in Congress have arisen from attachment to state prejudices. We are attempting, by this Constitution, to abolish factions, and to unite all parties for the general welfare. That a man should have the power, in private life, of recalling his agent, is proper; because, in the business in which he is engaged, he has no other object but to gain the approbation of his principal. Is this the case with the senator? Is he simply the agent of the state? No. He is an agent for the Union, and he is bound to perform services necessary to the good of the whole, though his state should condemn them.

Sir, in contending for a rotation, the gentlemen carry their zeal beyond all reasonable bounds. I am convinced that no government, founded on this feeble principle, can operate well: I believe also that we shall be singular in this proposal. We have not felt the embarrassments resulting from rotation that other states have; and we hardly know the strength of their objection to it. There is no probability that we shall ever persuade a majority of the states to agree to this amendment. The gentlemen deceive themselves; the amendment would defeat their own design. When a man knows he must quit his station, let his merit be what it mays he will turn his attention chiefly to his own emolument: nay, he will feel temptations, which few other situations furnish, to perpetuate his power by unconstitutional usurpations. Men will pursue their interests. It is as easy to change human nature as to oppose the strong current of the selfish passions. A wise legislator will gently divert the channel, and direct it, if possible, to the public good.

It has been observed, that it is not possible there should be in a state only two men qualified for senators. But, sir, the question is not, whether there may be no more than two men; but whether, in certain emergencies, you could find two equal to those whom the amendment would discard. Important negotiations, or other business to which they shall be most competent, may employ them at the moment of their removal. These things often happen. The difficulty of obtaining men capable of conducting the affairs of a nation in dangerous times, is much more serious than the gentlemen imagine.

As to corruption, sir, admitting, in the President, a disposition to corrupt, what are the instruments of bribery? It is said he will have in his disposal a great number of offices. But how many offices are there, for which a man would relinquish the senatorial dignity? There maybe some in the judicial, and some in other principal departments. But there are few whose respectability can, in any measure, balance that of the office of senator. Men who have been in the Senate once, and who have a reasonable hope of a reelection, will not be easily bought by offices. This reasoning shows that a rotation would be productive of many disadvantages: under particular circumstances, it might be extremely inconvenient, if not fatal to the prosperity of our country.

The Hon. Mr. SMITH. Few observations have fallen from the gentleman which appear to be new. He supposes factions cannot exist in the Senate without the knowledge of the state legislatures, who may, at the expiration of their office, elect other men. I believe, sir, that factions may prevail to a considerable degree without being known. Violent factions have sometimes taken place in Congress, respecting foreign matters, of which the public are ignorant. Some things have happened which are not proper to be divulged. So it by no means appears probable that the clashing of state interests will be the only cause of parties in the government. It has also been observed that the Senate has the check of the House of Representatives. The gentlemen are not accurate in stating this matter. The Senate is vested with certain great exclusive powers; and in the exercise of these powers, factions may as probably take place as in any transactions whatever. The honorable member further remarks that, from the intimate connection between the state legislatures and the people, the former will be the image of the latter, and subject to the same passions and prejudices. Now, I will ask every candid man if this is a true position. Certainly, it cannot be supposed that a small body of men, selected from the people for the purpose of making laws, will be incapable of a calm and deliberate view of political subjects. Experience has not proved that our legislatures are commonly guilty of errors arising from this source. There always has been, and ever will be, a considerable proportion of moderate and well-informed men among them. Though factions have prevailed, there are no instances of tumultuous proceedings; no instances to prove that they are not capable of wise deliberations. It is perhaps useless for me to continue this discussion, in order to answer arguments which have been answered before. I shall not, therefore, trouble the committee any more at present.

Mr. Chancellor LIVINGSTON observed, that it would not, perhaps, be altogether impertinent to remind the committee, that, since the intelligence of yesterday*, it had become evident that the circumstances of the country were greatly altered, and the ground of the present debate changed. The Confederation, he said, was now dissolved. The question before the committee was now a question of policy and expediency. He presumed the Convention would consider the situation of their country. He supposed, however, that some might contemplate disunion without pain. They might flatter themselves that some of the Southern States would form a league with us; but he could not look without horror at the dangers to which any such confederacy would expose the state of New York. He said, it might be political cowardice in him, but he had felt since yesterday an alteration of circumstances, which had made a most solemn impression on his mind. The amendment he considered as derogatory to the principles of the Constitution, and contrary to the design of the institution of the Senate. It was as clear as any position proved by experience, that the people, in many instances, could not know Their own good; that, as a body, they were not capable of pursuing the true road to happiness; and that they were rarely competent to judge of the politics of a great nation, or the wisdom of public measures. This principle, he said, seemed to be admitted. But the gentlemen had remarked that, though the argument was a good one with respect to the people at large, it did not apply to the state legislatures. The chancellor acknowledged that the application in the last case was not so forcible; yet he contended that the people at large were little less capable of judging of the civil interests of their state, than the state legislatures were of comprehending the great political interests of the Union. He said that no single member of a body could judge properly of the affairs of that body. The sphere in which the states moved was of a different nature; the transaction in which they were engaged were of a different complexion; the objects which came under their view wore an aspect totally dissimilar. The legislatures of the states, he said, were not elected with a political view, nor for the same purposes as the members of Congress. Their business was to regulate the civil affairs of their several states, and therefore they ought not to possess powers, to a proper exercise of which they were not competent. The Senate was to transact all foreign business: of this the states, from the nature of things, must be entirely ignorant. The Constitution of New York (continued the chancellor) had contemplated a deficiency of wisdom in the legislature, even in their domestic regulations: it had provided a council of revision, to correct their errors. Would the gentlemen, then, acknowledge that the legislatures are liable to frequent mistakes in civil affairs, and yet maintain that they arc infallible with respect to the general politics of the Union?

[Note: * Alluding to the adoption of the Constitution by New Hampshire.]

One gentleman had enumerated the formidable powers of the Senate, and closed the detail by a piteous description of the flowing, adamantine wall. He had mentioned the power to try impeachments. But the power of impeaching was in the House of Representatives, and that was the important power. It could hardly be Supposed that the representatives would exercise this power for the purposes of tyranny; but if they should, it certainly could be of no disadvantage to enable the Senate to check them. In the next place, he said, the power of appointing officers was mentioned. This was unfairly stated; the Senate had but a negative upon the President; they had only an advisory power. In making laws they had only a partial agency; they were checked by the representatives and President. To any unprejudiced examiner, he said, it would appear that the Constitution had provided every reasonable check, and that the authority of the Senate was sufficiently circumscribed. But the gentlemen would multiply checks till the new government was as relaxed and nerveless as the old one.

The Hon. Mr. SMITH took notice of the remark of one of the gentlemen, that a majority of the states would not agree to the amendment. He wondered whence the gentleman derived his knowledge. It was true no state had yet proposed it; but it was equally true that we had not yet fully obtained the sentiments of any Convention respecting amendments. The Constitution had been carried in most of the states, in such a manner that no opportunity was afforded of bringing forward and discussing them.

With respect to the change of circumstances which had such a solemn effect upon the honorable gentleman, he confessed it had not altered his feelings or wishes on the subject. He had long been convinced that nine states would receive the Constitution. The gentleman had taken great pains to prove that the state legislatures would be influenced by the same passions and erroneous views which actuated the people at large. For his own part, he did not understand such reasoning; he had always been taught that the state legislatures were select bodies of men, chosen for their superior wisdom, and so organized as to be capable of calm and regular conduct. It had been observed, that the Senate was only a check; if this was true, he begged to be informed where the positive power was lodged. The House of Representatives had been held up as a check; the Senate had been held up as a cheek. At this rate, it was a government of negative powers. It had also been remarked that no man could be qualified for the office of senator till he had had a long experience, because there was a certain kind of knowledge necessary, which could only be acquired in the Senate. But, if the policy of the government was such, said he, as to keep in the senators till they died, or were displaced, we should always have but a few men who were acquainted with the duties of their office. The best way was to limit them to six years; and then let them come home. We should then always have a large number of men capable of serving their country in any dangerous conjuncture.

Hon. Mr. LANSING. Mr. Chairman, I do not rise to speak to the paragraph under consideration, but to make some remarks on the sentiments of the honorable gentleman from New York, respecting the change in our situation. That our particular circumstances are in fact altered since yesterday, I cannot agree. It is true, we have received information that the ninth state has ratified the Constitution; but I contend that no such event ought to influence our deliberation. I presume I shall not be charged with rashness, I continue to insist that it is still our duty to maintain our rights. We acknowledge that our dissent cannot prevent the operation of the government: since nine states have acceded to it, let them make the experiment. It has been said that some might contemplate disunion without terror. I have heard no sentiment from any gentleman that can warrant such an insinuation. We ought not, however to Suffer our fears to force us to adopt a system which is dangerous to liberty. The idea of the importance of this state has not been entertained by any in sentiment with me. The suggestion first came from the other side of the house. It was nothing more than a false construction of our argument that if, unfortunately, a disunion should take place, we were not in so bad a situation that we could not provide for our safety independently of the other states, Sir, I know not any gentleman who wishes for a dissolution of the Union. I make this remark because an idea has been circulated, that there are certain persons in this body who are disposed to dissolve the Union, which I am persuaded is utterly false.

Several paragraphs of section 3d being passed over without debate, the 4th section of article 1 was read; when

Mr. JONES rose, and observed, that it was a fact universally known, that the present Confederation had not proved adequate to the purposes of good government. Whether this arose from the want of powers in the federal head, or from other causes, he would not pretend to determine. Some parts of the proposed plan appeared to him imperfect, or at least not satisfactory. He did not think it right that Congress should have the power of prescribing or altering the time, place, and manner of holding elections. He apprehended that the clause might be so construed as to deprive the states of an essential right, which, in the true design of the Constitution, was to be reserved to them. He therefore wished the clause might be explained, and proposed, for the purpose, the following amendment:—

Resolved, as the opinion of this committee, that nothing in the Constitution, now under consideration, shall be construed to authorize the Congress to make or alter any regulations, in any state, respecting the times, places, or manner of holding elections for senators or representatives, unless the legislature of such state shall neglect or refuse to make laws or regulations for the purpose, or, from any circumstance, be incapable of making the same, and then only until the legislature of such state shall make provision in the premises.”

The Hon. Mr. JAY said that, as far as he understood the ideas of the gentleman, he seemed to have doubts with respect to this paragraph, and feared it might be misconstrued and abused. He said that every government was imperfect, unless it had a power of preserving itself. Suppose that, by design or accident, the states should neglect to appoint representatives; certainly there should be some constitutional remedy for this evil. The obvious meaning of the paragraph was, that, if this neglect should take place, Congress should have power, by law, to support the government, and prevent the dissolution of the Union. He believed this was the design of the federal Convention.

The Hon. R. MORRIS suggested, that, so far as the people, distinct from their legislatures, were concerned in the operation of the Constitution, it was absolutely necessary that the existence of the general government should not depend, for a moment, on the will of the state legislatures. The power of perpetuating the government ought to belong to their federal representatives; otherwise, the fight of the people would be essentially abridged.

His excellency, Governor CLINTON, rose, just to notice the attempts that had been made to influence the committee by fear, and to introduce gloomy reflections upon the situation of the state. This had been done in heightened colors, and, he thought, in an indelicate manner. He said, he had observed also, in the course of the debates, that a distinction had been kept up between the state legislatures and the representatives of the people, and also between the legislatures and the senators. He did not think these distinctions Warrantable, They were distinctions which would never appear in operation, while the government was well administered. It was true, he said, the representatives of the people, and the senators, might deviate from their duty, and express a will distinct from that of the people, or that of the legislatures; but any body might see that this must arise from corruption. Congress, in all its branches, was to speak the will of the people, and that will was law, and must be uniform. The distinction, therefore, of the honorable gentleman could have no proper weight in the discussion of this question.

Mr. JAY did not think the gentleman had taken up the matter right. The will of the people certainly ought to be the law, but the only question was, How was this will to be expressed:—whether the will of the people, with respect to the time, place, and manner of holding elections, ought to be expressed by the general governments or by the state legislatures.

Mr. M. SMITH proposed the following addition to Mr. Jones’s motion:—

“And that each state shall be divided into as many districts as the representatives it is entitled to, and that each representative shall be chosen by a majority of votes.”

But on suggestion that this motion was ill timed, it was withdrawn for the present.

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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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