Tuesday, June 12 | Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787

by James Madison

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This Day in the Four Act Drama

In Committee of the Whole, — The question was taken on the fifteenth Resolution, to wit, referring the new system to the people of the United States for ratification. It passed in the affirmative, — Massachusetts, Pennsylvania,1 Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye — 6; Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, no — 3; Delaware, Maryland, divided.

Mr. SHERMAN and Mr. ELLSWORTH moved to fill the blank left in the fourth Resolution, for the periods of electing the members of the first branch, with the words, “every year;” Mr. SHERMAN observing that he did it in order to bring on some question.

Mr. RUTLEDGE proposed “every two years.”

Mr. JENIFER proposed, “every three years;” observing that the too great frequency of elections rendered the people indifferent to them, and made the best men unwilling to engage in so precarious a service.

Mr. MADISON seconded the motion for three years. Instability is one of the great vices of our republics to be remedied. Three years will be necessary, in a government so extensive, for members to form any knowledge of the various interests of the States to which they do not belong, and of which they can know but little from the situation and affairs of their own. One year will be almost consumed in preparing for, and travelling to and from the seat of national business.

Mr. GERRY. The people of New England will never give up the point of annual elections. They know of the transition made in England from triennial to septennial elections, and will consider such an innovation here as the prelude to a like usurpation. He considered annual elections as the only defence of the people against tyranny. He was as much against a triennial House, as against an hereditary Executive.

Mr. MADISON observed, that, if the opinions of the people were to be our guide, it would be difficult to say what course we ought to take. No member of the Convention could say what the opinions of his constituents were at this time; much less could he say what they would think, if possessed of the information and lights possessed by the members here; and still less, what would be their way of thinking six or twelve months hence. We ought to consider what was right and necessary in itself for the attainment of a proper government. A plan adjusted to this idea will recommend itself. The respectability of this Convention will give weight to their recommendation of it. Experience will be constantly urging the adoption of it; and all the most enlightened and respectable citizens will be its advocates. Should we fall short of the necessary and proper point, this influential class of citizens will be turned against the plan, and little support in opposition to them can be gained to it from the unreflecting multitude.

Mr. GERRY repeated his opinion, that it was necessary to consider what the people would approve. This had been the policy of all legislators. If the reasoning (of Mr. MADISON) were just, and we supposed a limited monarchy the best form in itself, we ought to recommend it, though the genius of the people was decidedly adverse to it, and, having no hereditary distinctions among us, we were destitute of the essential materials for such an innovation.

On the question for the triennial election of the first branch, — New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, aye — 7; Massachusetts, Mr. KING, aye, Mr. GORHAM, wavering) Connecticut, North Carolina, South Carolina, no — 4.

The words requiring members of the first branch to be of the age of — years were struck out, — Maryland alone, no.

The words “liberal compensation for members,” being considered,  Mr. MADISON moved to insert the words, “and fixed.” He observed that it would be improper to leave the members of the National Legislature to be provided for by the State Legislatures, because it would create an improper dependence; and to leave them to regulate their own wages was an indecent thing, and might in time prove a dangerous one. He thought wheat, or some other article of which the average price, throughout a reasonable period preceding, might be settled in some convenient mode, would form a proper standard.

Colonel MASON seconded the motion; adding, that it would be improper, for other reasons, to leave the wages to be regulated by the States, — first, the different States would make different provision for their representatives, and an inequality would be felt among them, whereas he thought they ought to be in all respects equal; secondly, the parsimony of the States might reduce the provision so low, that, as had already happened in choosing delegates to Congress, the question would be, not who were most fit to be chosen, but who were most willing to serve.

On the question for inserting the words, “and fixed,” — New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, aye — 8; Massachusetts, Connecticut, South Carolina, no — 3.

Doctor FRANKLIN said, he approved of the amendment just made for rendering the salaries as fixed as possible but disliked the word “liberal.” He would prefer the word “moderate,” if it was necessary to substitute any other. He remarked the tendency of abuses, in every case, to grow of themselves when once begun; and related very pleasantly the progression in ecclesiastical benefices, from the first departure from the gratuitous provision for the apostles, to the establishment of the papal system. The word “liberal” was struck out, nem. con.

On the motion of Mr. PIERCE, that the wages should be paid out of the National Treasury, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, aye — 8; Connecticut, New York, South Carolina, no — 3.

Question on the clause relating to term of service and compensation of the first branch, — Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, aye — 8; Connecticut, New York, South Carolina, no — 3.

On a question for striking out the “ineligibility of members of the National Legislature to State offices,” — Connecticut, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, aye — 4; New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, Georgia, no — 5; Massachusetts, Maryland, divided.

On the question for agreeing to the clause as amended, — Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye — 10; Connecticut, no — 1.

On the question for making members of the National Legislature ineligible to any office under the National Government for the term of three years after ceasing to be members, — Maryland, aye — 1; Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no — 10.

On the question for such ineligibility for one year, — Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, aye — 8; New York, Georgia, no — 2; Maryland divided.

On the question moved by Mr. PINCKNEY, for striking out “incapable of re-election into the first branch of the National Legislature for — years, and subject to recall,” agreed to, nem. con.

On the question for striking out from the fifth Resolution the words requiring members of the Senatorial branch to be of the age of — years at least, — Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, aye — 3; Massachusetts, New York, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, no — 6; North Carolina, Georgia, divided.

On the question for filling the blank with “thirty years,” as the qualification, it was agreed to, — Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, aye — 7; Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Georgia, no — 4.

Mr. SPAIGHT moved to fill the blank for the duration of the appointments to the second branch of the national Legislature with the words “seven years.”

Mr. SHERMAN thought seven years too long. He grounded his opposition, he said, on the principle that, if they did their duty well, they would be re-elected; and if they acted amiss, an earlier opportunity should be allowed for getting rid of them. He preferred five years, which would be between the terms of the first branch and of the Executive.

Mr. PIERCE proposed three years. Seven years would raise an alarm. Great mischiefs have arisen in England from their Septennial Act, which was reprobated by most of their patriotic statesmen.

Mr. RANDOLPH was for the term of seven years. The democratic licentiousness of the State Legislatures proved the necessity of a firm Senate. The object of this second branch is, to control the democratic branch of the National Legislature. If it be not a firm body, the other branch, being more numerous, and coming immediately from the people, will overwhelm it. The Senate of Maryland, constituted on like principles, had been scarcely able to stem the popular torrent. No mischief can be apprehended, as the concurrence of the other branch, and in some measure of the Executive, will in all cases be necessary. A firmness and independence may be the more necessary, also, in this branch, as it ought to guard the Constitution against encroachments of the Executive, who will be apt to form combinations with the demagogues of the popular branch.

Mr. MADISON considered seven years as a term by no means too long. What we wished was, to give to the government that stability which was every where called for, and which the enemies of the republican form alleged to be inconsistent with its nature. He was not afraid of giving too much stability, by the term of seven years. His fear was, that the popular branch would still be too great an overmatch for it. It was to be much lamented that we had so little direct experience to guide us. The Constitution of Maryland was the only one that bore any analogy to this part of the plan. In no instance had the Senate of Maryland created just suspicions of danger from it. In some instances, perhaps, it may have erred by yielding to the House of Delegates. In every instance of their opposition to the measures of the House of Delegates, they had had with them the suffrages of the most enlightened and impartial people of the other States, as well as of their own. In the States, where the Senates were chosen in the same manner as the other branches of the Legislature, and held their seats for four years, the institution was found to be no check whatever against the instabilities of the other branches. He conceived it to be of great importance that a stable and firm government, organized in the republican form, should be held out to the people. If this be not done, and the people be left to judge of this species of government by the operations of the defective systems under which they now live, it is much to be feared, the time is not distant, when, in universal disgust, they will renounce the blessing which they have purchased at so dear a rate, and be ready for any change that may be proposed to them.[tah-anchor name=”2r”][/tah-anchor]

On the question for “seven years,” as the term for the second branch, — New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye, — 8; Connecticut, no — 1; Massachusetts, (Mr. GORHAM and Mr. KING, aye; Mr. GERRY and Mr. STRONG, no) New York, divided.

Mr. BUTLER and  Mr. RUTLEDGE proposed that the members of the second branch should be entitled to no salary or compensation for their services. On the question,2 — Connecticut, Delaware, South Carolina, aye — 3; New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, no — 7; Massachusetts, divided.

It was then moved, and agreed, that the clauses respecting the stipends and inelegibility of the second branch be the same as of the first branch, — Connecticut disagreeing to the ineligibility. It was moved and seconded, to alter the ninth Resolution, so as to read, “that the jurisdiction of the supreme tribunal shall be, to hear and determine, in the dernier resort, all piracies, felonies, &c.”

It was moved and seconded, to strike out, “all piracies and felonies on the high seas,” which was agreed to.

It was moved, and agreed, to strike out, “all captures from an enemy.”

It was moved, and agreed, to strike out, “other States,” and insert “two distinct States of the Union.”

It was moved, and agreed, to postpone the consideration of the ninth Resolution, relating to the Judiciary.

The Committee then rose, and the House adjourned.

1Pennsylvania omitted in the printed Journal. The vote is there entered as of June 11th. 

2It is probable the votes here turned chiefly on the idea that if the salaries were not here provided for, the members would be paid by their respective States.

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