Wednesday, June 27 | Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787

by James Madison

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This Day in the Four Act Drama 

In Convention, — Mr. RUTLEDGE moved to postpone the sixth Resolution, defining the powers of Congress, in order to take up the seventh and eighth, which involved the most fundamental points, the rules of suffrage in the two branches; which was agreed to, nem. con.

A question being proposed on the seventh Resolution, declaring that the suffrage in the first branch should be according to an equitable ratio,—

Mr. L. MARTIN contended, at great length, and with great eagerness, that the General Government was meant merely to preserve the State Governments, not to govern individuals. That its powers ought to be kept within narrow limits. That if too little power was given to it, more might be added; but that if too much, it could never be resumed. That individuals, as such, have little to do, but with their own States; that the General Government has no more to apprehend from the States composing the Union, while it pursues proper measures, than a government over individuals has to apprehend from its subjects. That to resort to the citizens at large for their sanction to a new government, will be throwing them back into a state of nature; that the dissolution of the State Governments is involved in the nature of the process; that the people have no right to do this, without the consent of those to whom they have delegated their power for State purposes. Through their tongues only they can speak, through their ears only can hear. That the States have shewn a good disposition to comply with the acts of Congress, weak, contemptibly weak, as that body has been; and have failed through inability alone to comply. That the heaviness of the private debts, and the waste of property during the war, were the chief causes of this inability, — that he did not conceive the instances mentioned, by Mr. MADISON, of compacts between Virginia and Maryland, between Pennsylvania and New Jersey, or of troops raised by Massachusetts for defence against the rebels, to be violations of the Articles of Confederation. That an equal vote in each State was essential to the Federal idea, and was founded in justice and freedom, not merely in policy. That though the States may give up this right of sovereignty, yet they had not, and ought not. That the States, like individuals, were, in a state of nature equally sovereign and free. In order to prove that individuals in a state of nature are equally free and independent, he read passages from Locke, Vattel, Lord Somers, Priestly. To prove that the case is the same with states, till they surrender their equal sovereignty, he read other passages in Locke and Vattel, and also Rutherford. That the States, being equal, cannot treat or confederate so as to give up an equality of votes, without giving up their liberty. That the propositions on the table were a system of slavery for ten States. That as Virginia, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, have forty-two ninetieths of the votes, they can do as they please, without a miraculous union of the other ten. That they will have nothing to do but to gain over one of the ten, to make them complete masters of the rest; that they can then appoint an Executive, and Judiciary, and Legislature for them, as they please. That there was, and would continue, a natural predilection and partiality in men for their own States; that the states, particularly the smaller, would never allow a negative to be exercised over their laws: that no State, in ratifying the Confederation, had objected to the equality of votes: that the complaints at present ran not against this equality, but the want of power. That sixteen members from Virginia would be more likely to act in concert, than a like number formed of members from different States. That, instead of a junction of the small States as a remedy, he thought a division of the large States would be more eligible. This was the substance of a speech which was continued more than three hours. He was too much exhausted, he said, to finish his remarks, and reminded the House that he should to-morrow resume them.


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