Documents Illustrative of the Formation of the Union of the American States
Notes of the Secret Debates of the Federal Convention of 1787, Taken by the Late Hon. Robert Yates, Chief Justice of the State of New York, and One of the Delegates from that State to the Said Convention.
Selected, Arranged, and Indexed by Charles C. Tansill
FRIDAY, MAY 25, 1787
Attended the convention of the States at the state house in Philadelphia, when the following States were represented:
|NEW YORK,||Alexander Hamilton,|
|NEW JERSEY,||David Brearly,|
|William Churchill Houston,|
|NORTH CAROLINA,||Alexander Martin,|
|Richard Dobbs Spaight,|
|SOUTH CAROLINA||John Rutledge,|
|Charles Cotesworth Pinkney,|
A motion by R. Morris, and seconded, that General Washington take the chairunanimously agreed to.
When seated, he ( General Washington) declared, that as he never had been in such a situation, he felt himself embarrassed; that he hoped his errors, as they would be unintentional, would be excused.
Mr. Hamilton, in behalf of the State of New York, moved that Major Jackson be appointed secretary; the delegates for Pennsylvania, moved for Temple Franklin: by a majority Mr. Jackson carried itcalled in and took his seat,
After which, the respective credentials of the seven States were read. N. B. That of Delaware restrained its delegates from assenting to an abolition of the fifth article of the confederation, by which it is declared that each State shall have one vote.
Door keeper and messengers being appointed, the house adjourned to Monday, the 28th day of May, at ten o’clock.
MONDAY, MAY 28, 1787.
Met pursuant to adjournment.
A committee of three members, (whose appointment I omitted in the entry of the proceedings of Friday last,) reported a set of rules for the order of the convention; which being considered by articles, were agreed to, and additional ones proposed and referred to the same committee. The representation was this day increased to nine StatesMassachusetts and Connecticut becoming represented. Adjourned to next day.
TUESDAY, MAY 29TH, 1787.
The additional rules agreed to.
His excellency Governor Randolph, a member from Virginia, got up, and in a long and elaborate speech, showed the defects in the system of the present federal government as totally inadequate to the peace, safety, and security of the confederation, and the absolute necessity of a more energetic government.
He closed these remarks with a set of resolutions, fifteen number, which he proposed to the convention for their adoption, and as leading principles whereon to form a new government. He candidly confessed that they were not intended for a federal governmenthe meant a strong consolidated union, in which the idea of states should be nearly annihilated. [I have taken a copy of these resolutions, which are hereunto annexed.]He then moved that they should be taken up in committee of the whole house. Mr. C. Pinkney, a member from South Carolina, then added, that he had reduced his ideas of a new government to a system, which he read, and confessed it was grounded on the same principle as of the above resolutions. The house then resolved, that they would the next day form themselves into a committee of the whole, to take into consideration the state of the union.Adjourned to next day.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 30TH, 1787.
Convention met pursuant to adjournment.The convention, pursuant to order, resolved itself into a committee of the wholeMr. Gorham (a member from Massachusetts) appointed chairman.Mr. Randolph then moved his first resolve, to wit: “Resolved that the articles of the confederation ought to be so corrected and enlarged as to accomplish the objects proposed by their institution, namely, common defence, security of liberty, and general welfare.”Mr. G. Morris observed, that it was an unnecessary resolution, as the subsequent resolutions would not agree with it. It was then withdrawn by the proposer, and in lieu thereof the following were proposed, to wit:
- Resolved, That a union of the States merely federal, will not accomplish the objects proposed by the articles of the confederation, namely, common defence, security of liberty, and general welfare.
- Resolved, That no treaty or treaties among any of the States as sovereign, will accomplish or secure their common defence, liberty, or welfare.
- Resolved, That a national government ought to be established, consisting of a supreme judicial, legislative, and executive.
In considering the question on the first resolve, various modifications were proposed, when Mr. Pinkney observed, at last, that if the convention agreed to it, it appeared to that their business was at an end; for as the powers of the house in general were to revise the present confederation, and to alter or amend it as the case might require; to determine its insufficiency or incapability of amendment or improvement, must end in the dissolution of the powers.
This remark had its weight, and in consequence of it, the third and 2d resolve was dropt, and the question agitated on the third.
This last resolve had also its difficulties; the term supreme required explanation. It was asked whether it was intended to annihilate State governments? It was answered, only so far as the powers intended to be granted to the new government should clash with the States, when the latter was to yield.
For the resolutionMassachusetts, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina.
Against itConnecticut, New York divided, Jersey, and the other States unrepresented.
The next question was on the following resolve:
In substance that the mode of the present representation was unjustthe suffrage ought to be in proportion to number or property.
To this Delaware objected, in consequence of the restrictions in their credentials, and moved to have the consideration thereof postponed, to which the house agreed.
Adjourned to to-morrow.
THURSDAY, MAY 31ST, 1787.
Met pursuant to adjournment.
This day the State of Jersey was represented, so that there were now ten States in convention.
The house went again into committee of the whole, Mr. Gorham in the chair.
the 3d resolve, to wit, “That the national legislature ought to consist of two branches,” was taken into consideration, and without any debate agreed to. [N. B. As a previous resolution had already been agreed to, to have a supreme legislature, I could not see any objection to its being in, two branches.]
The 4th resolve, “That the members of the first branch of the national legislature ought to be elected by the people of the several States,” was opposed; and strange to tell, by Massachusetts and Connecticut, who supposed they ought to be chosen by the legislatures; and Virginia supported the resolve, alleging that this ought to be the democratic branch of government, and as such, immediately vested in the people.
This question was carried, but the remaining part of the resolve detailing the powers, was postponed.
The 5th resolve, That the members of the second branch of the national legislature ought to be elected by those of the first out of a proper number of persons nominated by the individual legislatures, and the detail of the mode of election and duration of office, was postponed.
The 6th resolve is taken in detail: “That each branch ought to possess the right of originating acts.” Agreed to.
“That the national legislature ought to be empowered to enjoy the legislative rights vested in congress by the confederation.”-Agreed to.
“And, moreover, to legislate in all cases to which the separate States are incompetent.”Agreed to.
FRIDAY, JUNE 1ST, 1787.
Met pursuant to adjournment.
The 7th resolve, that a national executive be instituted. Agreed to.
To continue in office for seven years. Agreed to.
A general authority to execute the laws. Agreed to.
To appoint all officers not otherwise provided for. Agreed to.
Adjourned to the next day.
SATURDAY, JUNE 2D, 1787.
Met pursuant to adjournment. Present 11 States.
Mr. Pinkney called for the order of the day.
The convention went into committee of the whole.
Mr. Wilson moved that the States should be divided into districts, consisting of one or more States, and each district to elect a number of senators to form the second branch of the national legislatureThe senators to be elected, and a certain proportion to be annually dismissedavowedly on the plan of the New York senate. Question putrejected.
In the 7th resolve, the words to be chosen by the national legislature, were agreed to.
President Franklin moved, that the consideration of that part of the 7th resolve, which had in object the making provision for a compensation for the service of the executive, be postponed for the purpose of considering a motion, that the executive should receive no salary, stipend, or emolument for the devotion of his time to the Public services, but that his expenses should be paid.
Mr. Dickinson moved that in the seventh resolution, the words, and removable on impeachment and conviction for mal conduct or neglect in the execution of his office, should be inserted after the words ineligible a second time. Agreed to. The remainder postponed.
Mr, Butler moved to fill the number of which the executive should consist.
Mr. RANDOLPH.The sentiments of the people ought to be consultedthey will not hear of the semblance of monarchy-He preferred three divisions of the States, and an executive to be taken from each. If a single executive, those remote from him would be neglectedlocal views would be attributed to him, frequently well founded, often without reason. This would excite disaffection. He was therefore for an executive of three.
Mr. BUTLER.Delays, divisions, and dissensions arise from an executive consisting of many. Instanced Holland’s distracted state, occasioned by her many counsellor’s. Further consideration postponed.
Mr. C. Pinkney gave notice for the re-consideration of the mode of election of the first branch.
Adjourned till Monday next.
MONDAY, JUNE 4TH, 1787.
Met pursuant to adjournment.
Mr. Pinkney moved that the blank in the 7th resolve consisting of be filled up with an individual.
Mr. Wilson, in support of the motion, asserted, that it would not be obnoxious to the minds of the people, as they in their State governments were accustomed and reconciled to a single executive. Three executives might divide, so that two could not agree in one propositionthe consequence would be anarchy and confusion.
Mr. Sherman thought there ought to be one executive, but that he ought to have a council. Even the king of Great Britain has his privy council.
Mr. Gerry was for one executiveif otherwise, it would be absurd to have it consist of three. Numbers equally in rank would oddly apply to a general or admiral.
Question put7 States for, and 3 against. New York against it.
The 8th resolve, That the executive and a number of the judicial officers ought to compose a council of revision.
Mr. Gerry objects to the clausemoves its postponement in order to let in a motionthat the right of revision should be in the executive only.
Mr. Wilson contends that the executive and judicial ought to have a joint and full negativethey cannot otherwise preserve their importance against the legislature.
Mr. King was against the interference of the judicialthey may be biased in the interpretationHe is therefore to give the executive a complete negative.
Carried to be postponed, 6 States against 4 New York for it.
The next question, that the executive have a complete negative; and it was therefore moved to expunge the re part of the clause.
Dr. Franklin against the motionThe power dangerous, and would be abused so as to get money for passing bills.
Mr. Madison against itbecause of the difficulty of an executive venturing on the exercise of this negative, and is therefore of opinion that the revisional authority is better.
Mr. Bedford is against the whole, either negative or revisionalthe two branches are sufficient checks on each otherno danger of subverting the executive, because his powers may by the convention be so well defined that the legislature cannot overleap the bounds.
Mr. Mason against the negative power in the executive, because it will not accord with the genius of the people.
On this the question was put and carried, nem. con. against expunging part of the clause so as to establish a complete negative.
Mr. Butler then moved that all acts passed by the legislature be suspended for the space of days by the executive. Unanimously in the negative.
It was resolved and agreed, that the blank be filled up with the words two thirds of the legislature. Agreed to.
The question was then put on the whole of the resolve as amended and filled up. Carried, 8 states for2 against. New York for it.
Mr. Wilson then moved for the addition of a convenient number of the national judicial to the executive as a council of revision. Ordered to be taken into consideration to-morrow.
Adjourned until to-morrow.
TUESDAY, JUNE 5TH, 1787.
Met pursuant to adjournment.
The 9th resolve, That a national judicial be established, to consist of one supreme tribunal, and of inferior tribunals, to hold their offices during good behavior, and no augmentation or diminution in the stipends during the time of holding their offices. Agreed to.
Mr. Wilson moved that the judicial be appointed by the executive, instead of the national legislature.
Mr. Madison opposed the motion, and inclined to think that the executive ought by no means to make the appointments, but rather that branch of the legislature called the senatorial; and moves that the words, of the appointment of the legislature, be expunged.
Carried by 8 statesagainst it 2.
The remaining part of the resolve postponed.
The 10th resolve read and agreed to
The 11th resolve agreed to be postponed.
The 12th resolve agreed to without debate.
The 13th and 14th resolves postponed.
The 15th or last resolve, That the amendment which shall be offered to the confederation, ought at a proper time or times, after the approbation of Congress, to be submitted to an assembly or assemblies of representatives, recommended by the several legislatures, to be expressly chosen by the people, to consider and decide thereon, was taken into consideration.
Mr. Madison endeavored to enforce the necessity of this resolve-because the new national constitution ought to have the highest source of authority, at least paramount to the powers of the respective constitutions of the Statespoints out the mischiefs that have arisen in the old confederation, which depends upon no higher authority than the confirmation of an ordinary act of a legislatureinstances the law operation of treaties, when contravened by any antecedent acts of a particular State.
Mr. King supposes, that as the people have tacitly agreed to a federal government, that therefore the legislature in every State have a right to confirm any alterations or amendments in ita convention in each State to approve of a new government he supposes however the most eligible.
Mr. Wilson is of opinion that the people by a conventions are the only power that can ratify the proposed system of the new government.
It is possible that not all the States, nay, that not even a majority, will immediately come into the measure; but such as do ratify it will be immediately bound by it, and others as they may from time to time accede to it.
Question put for postponement of this resolve. 7 States for postponement3 against it.
Question on the 9th resolve to strike out the words, and of inferior tribunals.
Carried by 5 States against 42 States divided, of which last number New York was one.
Mr. Wilson then moved, that the national legislature shall have the authority to appoint inferior tribunals, be added to the resolve.
Carried by 7 States against 3. New York divided. [N. B Mr. Lansing from New York was prevented by sickness from attending this day.]
Adjourned to to-morrow morning.
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 6TH, 1787.
Met pursuant to adjournment.
Mr. Pinkney moved (pursuant to a standing order for re-consideration) that in the 4th resolve, the words by the people, be expunged, and the words by the legislature, be inserted.
Mr. GERRY.If the national legislature are appointed by the state legislatures, demagogues and corrupt members will creep in.
Mr. Wilson is of opinion that the national legislative powers ought to flow immediately from the people, so as to contain all their understanding, and to be an exact transcript of their minds. He observed that the people had already parted with as much of their power as was necessary, to form on its basis a perfect government; and the particular states must part with such a portion of it as to make the present national government, adequate to their peace and the security of their liberties. He admitted that the State governments would probably be rivals and opposers of the national government.
Mr. Mason observed that the national legislature, as to one branch, ought to be elected by the people; because the objects of their legislation will not be on States, but on individual persons. Mr. Dickinson is for combining the State and national legislatures in the same views and measures, and that this object can only be effected by the national legislature flowing from the State legislatures.
Mr. Read is of opinion, that the State governments must sooner or later be at an end, and that therefore we must make the present national government as perfect as possible.
Mr. Madison is of opinion, that when we agreed to the first resolve of having a national government, consisting of a supreme executive, judicial, and legislative power, it was then intended to operate to the exclusion of a federal government, and the more extensive we made the basis, the greater probability of duration, happiness, and good order.
The question for the amendment was negatived, by 8 States against 3. New York in the majority.
On the 8th resolve, Mr. Wilson moved (in consequence of a vote to re-concider the question on the revisional powers vested in the executive) that there be added these words, with a convenient number of the national judicial.
Upon debate, carried in the negative3 states for and 8 against it. New York for the addition.
THURSDAY, JUNE 7TH, 1787.
Met pursuant to adjournment.
Mr. Rutledge moved to take into consideration the mode of electing the second branch of the national legislature.
Mr. Dickinson thereupon moved, that the second branch of the national legislature be chosen by the legislatures of the individual states. He observed, that this mode will more intimately connect the State governments with the national legislatureit will also draw forth the first characters either as to family or talent, and that it ought to consist of a considerable number.
Mr. Wilson against the motion, because the two branches thus constituted, cannot agree, they having different views and different sentiments.
Mr. Dickinson is of opinion that the mode by him proposed, like the British house of lords and commons, whose powers flow from different sources, are mutual checks on each other, and will thus promote the real happiness and security of the countrya government thus established would harmonize the whole, and like the planetary system, the national council like the sun, would illumine the wholethe planets revolving round it in perfect order; or like the union of several small streams, would at last form a respectable river, gently flowing to the sea.
Mr. WILSON. The State governments ought to be preservedthe freedom of the people and their internal good police depends on their existence in full vigorbut such a government can only answer local purposesThat it is not possible a general government, as despotic as even that of the Roman emperors, could be adequate to the government of the whole without this distinction. He hoped that the national government would be independent of State governments, in order to make it vigorous, and therefore moved that the above resolution be postponed, and that the convention in its room adopt the following resolve: That the second branch of the national legislature be chosen by districts, to be formed for that purpose.
Mr. Sherman supposes the election of the national legislature will be better vested in the State legislatures, than by the people, for by pursuing different objects, persons may be returned who have not one tenth of the votes.
Mr. Gerry observed, that the great mercantile interest and of stockholders, is not provided for in any mode of electionthey will however be better represented if the State legislatures choose the second branch.
Question carried against the postponement10 states against 1. Mr. Mason then spoke to the general questionobserving on the propriety, that the second branch of the national legislature should flow from the legislature of each State, to prevent the encroachments on each other and to harmonize the whole.
The question put on the first motion, and carried unanimously. Adjourned to to-morrow morning.
FRIDAY, JUNE 8, 1787.
Met pursuant to adjournment11 states.
Mr. Pinkney moved, That the national legislature shall have the Power of negativing all laws to be passed by the State legislatures which they may judge improper, in the room of the clause as it stood reported.
He grounds his motion on the necessity of one supreme controlling power, and he considers this as the corner-stone of the present system; and hence the necessity of retrenching the State authorities in order to preserve the good government of the national council.
Mr. Williamson against the motion. The national legislature ought to possess the power of negativing such laws only as will encroach on the national government.
Mr. Madison wished that the line of jurisprudence could be drawnhe would be for itbut upon reflection he finds it impossible, and therefore lie is for the amendment. If the clause remains without the amendment it is inefficientThe judges of the State must give the State laws their operation, although the law abridges the rights of the national governmenthow is it to be repealed? By the power who made it? How shall you compel them? By force? To prevent this disagreeable expedient, the power of negativing is absolutely necessarythis is the only attractive principle which will retain its centrifugal force, and without this the planets will fly from their orbits.
Mr. Gerry supposes that this power ought to extend to an laws already made; but the preferable mode would be to designate the powers of the national legislature, to which the negative ought to applyhe has no objection to restrain the laws which may be made for issuing paper money. Upon the whole he does not choose on this important trust, to take a leap in the dark.
Mr. Pinkney supposes that the proposed amendment had no retrospect to the State laws already made. The adoption of the new government must operate as a complete repeal of all the constitutions and State laws, as far as they are inconsistent with the new government.
Mr. Wilson supposes the surrender of the rights of a federal government to be a surrender of sovereignty. True, we may define some of the rights, but when we come near the line it cannot be found. One general excepting clause must therefore apply to the whole. In the beginning of our troubles, congress themselves were as one Statedissentions or State interests were not known-they gradually crept in after the formation of the constitution, and each took to himself a slice. The original draft of confederation was drawn on the first ideas, and the draft concluded on how different!
Mr. Bedford was against the motion, and states the proportion of the intended representation of the number go: Delaware 1-Pennsylvania and Virginia one third. On this computation where is the weight of the small States when the interest of the one is in competition with the other on trade, manufactures, and agriculture? When he sees this mode of government so strongly advocated by the members of the great States, he must suppose it a question of interest.
Mr. Madison confesses it is not without its difficulties on many accountssome may be removed, others modified, and some are unavoidable. May not this power be vested in the senatorial branch? they will probably be always sitting. Take the question on the other ground, who is to determine the line when drawn in doubtful cases? The State legislatures cannot, for they will be partial in support of their own powersno tribunal can be found. it is impossible that the articles of confederation can be amended-they are too tottering to be invigoratednothing but the present system, or something like it, can restore the peace and harmony of the country.
The question put on Mr. Pinkney’s motion7 States against itDelaware dividedVirginia, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts for it.
Adjourned to to-morrow morning.
SATURDAY, JUNE 9TH, 1787.
Met pursuant to adjournment.
Motion by Mr. Gerry to reconsider the appointment of the national executive.
That the national executive be appointed by the State executives.
He supposed that in the national legislature there will be a great number of bad men of various descriptionsthese will make a wrong appointment. Besides, an executive thus appointed, will have his partiality in favor of those who appointed him-that this will not be the case by the effect of his motion, and the executive will by this means be independent of the national legislature, but the appointment by the State executives ought to be made by votes in proportion to, their weight in the scale of the representation.
Mr. Randolph opposes the motion. The power vested by it is dangerousconfidence will be wantingthe large States will be masters of the electionan executive ought to have great experience, integrity, and activity. The executives of the States cannot know the persons properly qualified as possessing these. An executive thus appointed will court the officers of his appointment, and will relax in the duties of commander of the militia-Your single executive is already invested with negativing laws of the State. Will he duly exercise the power? Is there no danger in the combinations of States to appoint such an executive as may be too favorable to local State governments? Add to this the expense and difficulty of bringing the executives to one place to exercise their powers. Can you suppose they will ever cordially raise the great oak, when they must sit as shrubs under its shade?
Carried against the motion, 10 noes, and Delaware divided.
On motion of Mr. Patterson, the consideration of the 2d resolve was taken up, which is as follows: Resolved, therefore, that the rights of suffrage in the national legislature ought to be apportioned to the quotas of contribution, or to the number of inhabitants, as the one or other rule may seem best in different cases.
Judge BREARLY.The present question is an important One. On the principle that each State in the Union was sovereign, congress, in the articles of confederation, determined that each State in the public councils had one vote. If the States still remain sovereign, the form of the present resolve is founded on principles of injustice. He then stated the comparative weight of each Statethe number of votes go. Georgia would be 1, Virginia 16, and so of the rest. This vote must defeat itself, or end in despotism. If we must have a national government, what is the remedy? Lay the map of the confederation on the table, and extinguish the present boundary lines of the respective State jurisdictions, and make a new division so that each State is equalthen a government on the present system will be just.
Mr. Patterson opposed the resolve. Let us consider with what powers are we sent here? (moved to have the credentials of Massachusetts read, which was done.) By this and the other credentials we see, that the basis of our present authority is founded on a revision of the articles of the present confederation, and to alter or amend them in such parts where they may appear defective. Can we on this ground form a national government? I fancy not.Our commissions give a complexion to the business; and can we suppose that when we exceed the bounds of our duty, the people will approve our proceedings?
We are met here as the deputies of 13 independent, sovereign States, for federal purposes. Can we consolidate their sovereignty and form one nation, and annihilate the sovereignties of our States who have sent us here for other purposes?
What, pray, is intended by a proportional representation? Is property to be considered as part of it? Is a man, for example, possessing a property of