Friday, June 22 | Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787

by James Madison

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This Day in the Four Act Drama 

In Convention, — The clause in the third Resolution, “to receive fixed stipends, to be paid out of the National Treasury,” being considered, —

Mr. ELLSWORTH moved to substitute payment by the States, out of their own treasuries: observing, that the manners of different States were very different in the style of living, and in the profits accruing from the exercise of like talents. What would be deemed, therefore, a reasonable compensation in some States, in others would be very unpopular, and might impede the system of which it made a part.

Mr. WILLIAMSON favored the idea. He reminded the House of the prospect of new States to the westward. They would be too poor — would pay little into the common treasury — and would have a different interest from the old States. He did not think, therefore, that the latter ought to pay the expense of men who would be employed in thwarting their measures and interests.

Mr. GORHAM wished not to refer the matter to the State Legislatures, who were always paring down salaries in such a manner as to keep out of office men most capable of executing the functions of them. He thought, also, it would be wrong to fix the compensation by the Constitution, because we could not venture to make it as liberal as it ought to be, without exciting an enmity against the whole plan. Let the National Legislature provide for their own wages from time to time, as the State Legislatures do. He had not seen this part of their power abused, nor did he apprehend an abuse of it.

Mr. RANDOLPH said he feared we were going too far in consulting popular prejudices. Whatever respect might be due to them in lesser matters, or in cases where they formed the permanent character of the people, he thought it neither incumbent on, nor honorable for, the Convention, to sacrifice right and justice to that consideration. If the States were to pay the members of the National Legislature, a dependence would be created that would vitiate the whole system. The whole nation has an interest in the attendance and services of the members. The National Treasury therefore is the proper fund for supporting them.

Mr. KING urged the danger of creating a dependence on the States by leaving to them the payment of the members of the National Legislature. He supposed it would be best to be explicit as to the compensation to be allowed. A reserve on that point, or a reference to the National Legislature of the quantum, would excite greater opposition than any sum that would be actually necessary or proper.

Mr. SHERMAN contended for referring both the quantum and the payment of it to the State Legislatures.

Mr. WILSON was against fixing the compensation, as circumstances would change and call for a change of the amount. He thought it of great moment that the members of the National Government should be left as independent as possible of the State Governments in all respects.

Mr. MADISON concurred in the necessity of preserving the compensations for the National Government independent on the State Governments; but at the same time approved of fixing them by the Constitution, which might be done by taking a standard which would not vary with circumstances. He disliked particularly the policy, suggested by Mr. WILLIAMSON, of leaving the members from the poor States beyond the mountains to the precarious and parsimonious support of their constituents. If the Western States hereafter arising should be admitted into the Union, they ought to be considered as equals and as brethren. If their representatives were to be associated in the common councils, it was of common concern that such provisions should be made as would invite the most capable and respectable characters into the service.

Mr. HAMILTON apprehended inconvenience from fixing the wages. He was strenuous against making the national council dependent on the legislative rewards of the States. Those who pay are the masters of those who are paid. Payment by the States would be unequal, as the distant States would have to pay for the same term of attendance and more days in travelling to and from the seat of government. He expatiated emphatically on the difference between the feelings and views of the people and the governments of the States, arising from the personal interest and official inducements which must render the latter unfriendly to the General Government.

Mr. WILSON moved that the salaries of the first branch “be ascertained by the National Legislature and be paid out of the National Treasury.”

Mr. MADISON thought the members of the Legislature too much interested, to ascertain their own compensation. It would be indecent to put their hands into the public purse for the sake of their own pockets.

On this question, “shall the salaries of the first branch be ascertained by the national Legislature?” — New Jersey, Pennsylvania, aye — 2; Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, no — 7; New York, Georgia, divided.

On the question for striking out “National Treasury,” as moved by Mr. ELLSWORTH, —

Mr. HAMILTON renewed his opposition to it. He pressed the distinction between the State Governments and the people. The former would be the rivals of the General Government. The State Legislatures ought not, therefore, to be the paymasters of the latter.

Mr. ELLSWORTH. If we are jealous of the State Governments, they will be so of us. If, on going home I tell them we gave the General Government such powers because we could not trust you, will they adopt it? And without their approbation it is a nullity.

On the question, — Massachusetts,1 Connecticut, North Carolina, South Carolina, aye — 4; New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, no — 5; New York, Georgia, divided; so it passed in the negative.

On a question for substituting “adequate compensation” in place of “fixed stipends,” it was agreed to, nem. con., the friends of the latter being willing that the practicability of fixing the compensation should be considered hereafter in forming the details.

It was then moved by Mr. BUTLER, that a question be taken on both points jointly, to wit, “adequate compensation to be paid out of the National Treasury.” It was objected to as out of order, the parts having been separately decided on. The President referred the question of order to the House, and it was determined to be in order, — Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, aye — 6; New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Georgia, no — 4; Massachusetts, divided. The question on the sentence was then postponed by South Carolina, in right of the State.

Col. MASON moved to insert “twenty-five years of age as a qualification for the members of the first branch.” He thought it absurd that a man to-day should not be permitted by the law to make a bargain for himself, and to-morrow should be authorized to manage the affairs of a great nation. It was the more extraordinary, as every man carried with him, in his own experience, a scale for measuring the deficiency of young politicians; since he would, if interrogated, be obliged to declare that his political opinions at the age of twenty-one were too crude and erroneous to merit an influence on public measures. It had been said, that Congress had proved a good school for our young men. It might be so, for any thing he knew; but if it were, he chose that they should bear the expense of their own education.

Mr. WILSON was against abridging the rights of election in any shape. It was the same thing whether this were done by disqualifying the objects of choice, or the persons choosing. The motion tended to damp the efforts of genius and of laudable ambition. There was no more reason for incapacitating youth than age, where the requisite qualifications were found. Many instances might be mentioned of signal services, rendered in high stations, to the public, before the age of twenty-five. The present Mr. Pitt and Lord Bolingbroke were striking instances.

On the question for inserting “twenty-five years of age,” — Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, aye — 7; Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Georgia, no — 3; New York, divided.

Mr. GORHAM moved to strike out the last member of the third Resolution, concerning ineligibility of members of the first branch to office during the term of their membership, and for one year after. He considered it unnecessary and injurious. It was true, abuses had been displayed in Great Britain; but no one could say how far they might have contributed to preserve the due influence of the Government, nor what might have ensued in case the contrary theory had been tried.

Mr. BUTLER opposed it. This precaution against intrigue was necessary. He appealed to the example of Great Britain; where men get into Parliament that they might get offices for themselves or their friends. This was the source of the corruption that ruined their government.

Mr. KING thought we were refining too much. Such a restriction on the members would discourage merit. It would also give a pretext to the Executive for bad appointments, as he might always plead this as a bar to the choice he wished to have made.

Mr. WILSON was against fettering elections, and discouraging merit. He suggested, also, the fatal consequence in time of war, of rendering, perhaps, the best commanders ineligible; appealed to our situation during the late war, and indirectly leading to a recollection of the appointment of the Commander-in-Chief out of Congress.

Colonel MASON was for shutting the door at all events against corruption. He enlarged on the venality and abuses, in this particular, in Great Britain; and alluded to the multiplicity of foreign embassies by Congress. The disqualification he regarded as a corner-stone in the fabric.

Colonel HAMILTON. There are inconveniences on both sides. We must take man as we find him; and if we expect him to serve the public, must interest his passions in doing so. A reliance on pure patriotism had been the source of many of our errors. He thought the remark of Mr. GORHAM a just one. It was impossible to say what would be the effect in Great Britain of such a reform as had been urged. It was known that one of the ablest politicians (Mr. Hume) had pronounced all that influence on the side of the Crown, which went under the name of corruption, an essential part of the weight which maintained the equilibrium of the Constitution.

On Mr. GORHAM’S motion for striking out “ineligibility,” it was lost by an equal division of the votes, — Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, Georgia, aye — 4; Connecticut, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, no — 4; New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, divided.


1 It appeared that Massachusetts concurred, not because they thought the State Treasury ought to be substituted; but because they thought nothing should be said on the subject, in which case it would silently devolve on the National Treasury to support the National Legislature. 

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