Notes of Alexander Hamilton in the Federal Convention of 1787
Documents Illustrative of the Formation of the Union of the American States
Selected, Arranged, and Indexed by Charles C. Tansill
Notes of Alexander Hamilton in the Federal Convention of 1787. 1
I. NOTES FOR JUNE 1, 1787.
1The way to prevent a majority from having an interest to oppress the minority is to enlarge the sphere.
2Elective Monarchies turbulent and unhappy
I Situation of this Country peculiar
VI Why cannot three execute?Great exertions only requisite on particular occasions.
View [or Voice] of America
Legislature may appoint a dictator when necessary
Safety to liberty the great object
Seeds of destructionSlaves[former Continental army struck out] might be safely enlisted
peculiar talents requisite for executive, therefore ought to be opportunity of ascertaining his talents-therefore frequent change
II. NOTES FOR JUNE 6, 7, AND 8, 1787.
A free government to be preferred to an absolute monarchy not because of the occasional violations of liberty or Property but because of the tendency of the Free Government to interest the passions of the community in its favour beget public spirit and public confidence
Re: When public mind is prepared to adopt the present plan they will outgo our propositionThey will never part with Sovereignty of the state till they are tired [?] of the state governments
Mr. Pinkney. If Legislatures do not partake in the appointment of they will be more jealous
PinckneyElections by the state legislatures will be better than those by the people
PrincipleDanger that the Executive by too frequent communication with the judicial may corrupt itThey may learn to enter into his passions
NoteAt the period which terminates the duration of the Executive there will be always an awful crisisin the National situation.
Note. The arguments to prove that a negative would not be used would go so far as to prove that the revisionary power would not be exercised.
Mr. MasonThe purse and sword will be in the hands of the [executive struck out]legislature.
I One great defect of our Governments are that they do not present objects sufficiently interesting to the human mind.
IA reason for leaving little or nothing to the state legislatures will be that as their objects are diminished they will be worse composedProper men will be less inclined to participate in them
[June 7, 1787.]
|IIHe would have the state legislatures elect senators, because he would bring into the general government the sense of the state Governments etc.
IIbecause the most respectable choices would be made
NoteSeparate states may give stronger organs to their governments and engage more the good will of Ind:while Gen1. govt.
|General government could not know how to make laws for every partsuch as respect agriculture etc. = particular governments would have no defensive power unless let into the constitution as a Constituent part ||Mason|
[June 8, 1787.]
PinckneyFor general Negative
GerryIs for a negative on paper emissions
New States will arise which cannot be controuledand may outweigh and controul
WilsonForeign influence may infect certain corners of confederacy what ought to be restrained
Union basis of our oppos and Ind[ependence]:
III. NOTES FOR JUNE 6 AND. 8, 1787.
IHuman mind fond of CompromiseMaddisons Theory
Two principles upon which republics ought to be constructed
I that they have such extent as to render combinations on the ground of Interest difficult
II By a process of election calculated to refine the representation of the People
AnswerThere is truth in both these principles but they do not conclude so strongly as he supposes
The Assembly when chosen will meet in one room if they are drawn from half the globeand will be liable to all the passions of popular assemblies.
If more minute links are wanting others will supply themDistinctions of Eastern middle and Southern states will come into view; between commercial and non commercial statesImaginary lines will influence etc. Human mind prone to limit its view by near and local objects
Paper money is capable of giving a general impulseIt is easy to conceive a popular sentiment pervading the E. states
Observ: large districts less liable to be influenced by factious demmagogues than small
NoteThis is in some degree true but not so generally as may be supposedFrequently small portions of the large districts carry electionsAn influential demagogue will give an impulse to the wholeDemagogues are not always inconsiderable personsPatricians were frequently demagoguesCharacters are less known and a less active interest taken in them
[June 8, 1787.]
Arithmetical calculation of proportional influence in General Government
ButlerWill a man throw afloat his property and confide it to a government a thousand miles distant?
IV. NOTES FOR JUNE 16 AND 19, 1787.
Mr. LansingN[ew] S[ystem]proposes to draw representation from the whole body of people, without regard to S[tate] sovereignties
Subs: proposes to preserve the State Sovereignties
PowersDifferent Legislatures had a different object
Revise the Confederation
Ind. States cannot be supposed to be willing to annihilate the States
State of New York would not have agreed to send members on this ground
In vain to devise systems however good which will not be adopted
If convulsions happen nothing we can do will give them a direction
Legislatures cannot be expected to make such a sacrifice
The wisest men in forming a system from theory apt to be mistaken
The present national government has no precedent or experience to support it
General opinion that certain additional powers ought to be given to Congress
Mr. Patterson1plan accords with powers
2accords with sentiments of the People
If Confederation radically defective we ought to return to our states and tell them so
Comes not here to sport sentiments of his own but to speak the sense of his Constituents
States treat[ed] as equal
Present Compact gives one Vote to each state.
alterations are to be made by Congress and all the Legislatures
All parties to a Contract must assent to its dissolution
States collectively have advantages in which the smaller states do not participatetherefore individual rules do not apply
Force of government will not depend on proportion of representationbut on
Quantity of power
Check not necessary in a ge[ne]ral government of communitiesbut
in an individual state spirit of faction is to be checked
How have Congress hitherto conducted themselves?
The People approve of Congress but they have not powers enough
body constituted like Congress from the fewness of their numbers more wisdom and energy
than the complicated system of Virginia
WilsonPoints of Disagreement
2 or three branches
Derives authority from People
Proportion of suffrage
Majority to govern
Minority to govern
Legislate in all matters of general Concern
Removeable by impeachment
on application of majority of Executives.
Qualified Negative by Executive
Orig[inal]: Jurisdiction in all cases of a Nat: Rev
National Government to be ratified by People
to be ratified by Legislatures
Empowered to propose everything to conclude nothing
Does not think state governments the idols of the people
Thinks a competent national government will be a favourite of the people
Complaints from every part of United States that the purposes of government cannot be answered
In constituting a governmentnot merely necessary to give proper powersbut to give them to proper hands
Two reasons against giving additional powers to Congress
First it does not stand on the authority of the people
SecondIt is a single branch
Inequalitythe poison of all governments
Lord Chesterfield speaks of a Commission to be obtained for a member of a small province
Mr. Randolp[h]Spirit of the People in favour of the Virginian scheme
We have powers; but if we had not we ought not to scruple
[June 19, 1787.]
MaddisonBreach of compact in one article releases the whole
Treaties may still be violated by the states under the Jersey plan
appellate jurisdiction not sufficient because second trial cannot be had under it
Attempt made by one of the greatest monarchs of Europe to equalize the local peculiarities of their separate provincesin which the Agent fell a victim
Mr. Pinckney is of opinion that the first branch ought to be appointed in such manner as the legislatures shall direct
Impracticable for general legislature to decide contested elections
V. NOTES FOR JUNE 20, 1787.
Mr. LansingResolved that the powers of legislation ought to be vested in the United States in Congress
If our plan be not adopted it will produce those mischiefs which we are sent to obviate
Principles of system
Equality of Representation
Dependence of members of Congress on State
So long as state distinctions exist state prejudices will operate whether election be by states or people
If no interest to oppress no need of apportionment
Virginia 16Delaware 1
Will General Government have leisure to examine state laws?
Will G Government have the necessary information?
Will states agree to surrender?
Let us meet public opinion and hope the progress of sentiment will make future arrangements
Would like my [ Hamilton's] system if it could be established
System without example
Mr. MasonObjection to granting power to Congress arose from their constitution.
Sword and purse in one body
Two principles in which America are unanimous
1 attachment to Republican government
2to two branches of legislature
Military force and liberty incompatible
Will people maintain a standing army?
Will endeavour to preserve state governments and draw linestrusting to posterity to amend
Mr. MartinGeneral Government originally formed for the preservation of state governments
Objection to giving power to Congress has originated with the legislature
10 of the states interested in an equal voice
Real motive was an opinion that there ought to be distinct governments and not a general government
If we should form a general government twould break to. pieces
For common safety instituted a General gover[n]ment
Jealousy of power the motive
People have delegated all their authority to state governments
Caution necessary to both systems
Requisitions necessary upon one system as upon another
In their system made requisitions necessary in the first instance but left Congress in the second instance to assess themselves
Judicial tribunals in the different states would become odious
If we always to make a change shall be always in a state of infancy
→States will not be disposed hereafter to strengthenthe general government.
Mr. ShermanConfederacy earned us through the war
Non compliances of States owing to various embarrassments.
Why should state legislatures be unfriendly?
State governments will always have the confidence and government of the people; if they cannot be conciliated no efficacious government can be established.
Sense of all states that one branch is sufficient
If consolidated all treaties will be void.
State governments more fit for local legislation customs habits etc.
VI. NOTES, PROBABLY FOR DEBATE OF JUNE 26, 1787
I Every government ought to have the means of self preservation
IICombinations of a few large states might subvert
IICould not be abused without a revolt
II Different genius of the states and different composition of the body
NOTE. Senate could not desire [?] to promote such a class
III Uniformity in the time of elections
Objects of a Senate
To afford a double security against Faction in the house of representatives
Duration of the Senate necessary to its Firmness
sense of national character
- Text reprinted from the American Historical Review, Vol. X, (Washington, 1905-6) pp. 98-109. Return to text