Friday, July 6 | Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787

by James Madison

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This Day in the Four Act Drama 

In Convention. — Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS moved to commit so much of the Report as relates to “one member for every forty thousand inhabitants.” His view was, that they might absolutely fix the number for each State in the first instance; leaving the Legislature at liberty to provide for changes in the relative importance of the States, and for the case of new States.

Mr. WILSON seconded the motion; but with a view of leaving the Committee under no implied shackles.

Mr. GORHAM apprehended great inconvenience from fixing directly the number of Representatives to be allowed to each State. He thought the number of inhabitants the true guide; though perhaps some departure might be expedient from the full proportion. The States, also, would vary in their relative extent by separations of parts of the largest states. A part of Virginia is now on the point of a separation. In the province of Maine, a Convention is at this time deliberating on a separation from Massachusetts. In such events, the number of Representatives ought certainly to be reduced. He hoped to see all the States made small by proper divisions, instead of their becoming formidable, as was apprehended, to the small States. He conceived, that, let the government be modified as it might, there would be a constant tendency in the State Governments to encroach upon it; it was of importance, therefore, that the extent of the States should be reduced as much, and as fast, as possible. The stronger the government shall be made in the first instance, the more easily will these divisions be effected; as it will be of less consequence, in the opinion of the States, whether they be of great or small extent.

Mr. GERRY did not think with his colleague, that the larger States ought to be cut up. This policy has been inculcated by the middling and small States, ungenerously and contrary to the spirit of the Confederation. Ambitious men will be apt to solicit needless divisions, till the States be reduced to the size of counties. If this policy should still actuate the small States, the large ones could not confederate safely with them; but would be obliged to consult their safety by confederating only with one another. He favored the commitment, and thought that representation ought to be in the combined ratio of numbers of inhabitants and of wealth, and not of either singly.

Mr. KING wished the clause to be committed, chiefly in order to detach it from the Report, with which it had no connection. He thought, also, that the ratio of representation proposed could not be safely fixed, since in a century and a half our computed increase of population would carry the number of Representatives to an enormous excess; that the number of inhabitants was not the proper index of ability and wealth; that property was the primary object of society; and that, in fixing a ratio, this ought not to be excluded from the estimate. With regard to new States, he observed that there was something peculiar in the business, which had not been noticed. The United States were now admitted to be proprietors of the country North West of the Ohio. Congress, by one of their ordinances, have impoliticly laid it out into ten States, and have made it a fundamental article of compact with those who may become settlers that, as soon as the number in any one State shall equal that of the smallest of the thirteen original States, it may claim admission into the Union. Delaware does not contain, it is computed, more than thirty-five thousand souls; and for obvious reasons will not increase much for a considerable time. It is possible, then, that if this plan be persisted in by Congress, ten new votes may be added, without a greater addition of inhabitants than are represented by the single vote of Pennsylvania. The plan, as it respects one of the new States, is already irrevocable; the sale of the lands having commenced, and the purchasers and settlers will immediately become entitled to all the privileges of the compact.

Mr. BUTLER agreed to the commitment, if the Committee were to be left at liberty. He was persuaded, that, the more the subject was examined, the less it would appear that the number of inhabitants would be a proper rule of proportion. If there were no other objection, the changeableness of the standard would be sufficient. He concurred with those who thought some balance was necessary between the old and the new States. He contended strenuously, that property was the only just measure of representation. This was the great object of government; the great cause of war; the great means of carrying it on.

Mr. PINCKNEY saw no good reason for committing. The value of land had been found, on full investigation, to be an impracticable rule. The contributions of revenue, including imports and exports, must be too changeable in their amount; too difficult to be adjusted; and too injurious to the non-commercial States. The number of inhabitants appeared to him the only just and practicable rule. He thought the blacks ought to stand on an equality with the whites; but would agree to the ratio settled by Congress. He contended that Congress had no right, under the Articles of Confederation, to authorize the admission of new States, no such case having been provided for.

Mr. DAVIE was for committing the clause, in order to get at the merits of the question arising on the Report. He seemed to think that wealth or property ought to be represented in the second branch; and numbers in the first branch.

On the motion for committing, as made by Mr.  GOUVERNEUR MORRIS, — Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye — 7; New York, New Jersey, Delaware, no — 3; Maryland, divided.

The members appointed by ballot were Mr.  GOUVERNEUR MORRIS, Mr. GORHAM, Mr. RANDOLPH, Mr. RUTLEDGE, Mr. KING.

Mr. WILSON signified, that his view in agreeing to the commitment was, that the Committee might consider the propriety of adopting a scale similar to that established by the Constitution of Massachusetts, which would give an advantage to the small States without substantially departing from the rule of proportion.

Mr. WILSON and Mr. MASON moved to postpone the clause relating to money bills, in order to take up the clause relating to an equality of votes in the second branch.

On the question of postponement, — New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, aye — 8; Massachusetts, Connecticut, North Carolina, no — 3.

The clause relating to equality of votes being under consideration, —

Doctor FRANKLIN observed, that this question could not be properly put by itself, the Committee having reported several propositions as mutual conditions of each other. He could not vote for it if separately taken; but should vote for the whole together.

Colonel MASON perceived the difficulty, and suggested a reference of the rest of the Report to the Committee just appointed, that the whole might be brought into one view.

Mr. RANDOLPH disliked the reference to that Committee, as it consisted of members from States opposed to the wishes of the small States, and could not, therefore, be acceptable to the latter.

Mr. MARTIN and Mr. JENIFER moved to postpone the clause till the Committee last appointed should report.

Mr. MADISON observed, that if the uncommitted part of the Report was connected with the part just committed, it ought also to be committed; if not connected, it need not be postponed till report should be made.

On the question for postponing, moved by Mr. MARTIN and Mr. JENIFER, — Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, aye — 6; Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina, no — 3; Massachusetts, New York, divided.

The first clause, relating to the originating of money bills, was then resumed.

Mr.  GOUVERNEUR MORRIS was opposed to a restriction of this right in either branch, considered merely in itself, and as unconnected with the point of representation in the second branch. It will disable the second branch from proposing its own money plans, and giving the people an opportunity of judging, by comparison, of the merits of those proposed by the first branch.

Mr. WILSON could see nothing like a concession here on the part of the smaller States. If both branches were to say yes or no, it was of little consequence which should say yes or no first, which last. If either was, indiscriminately, to have the right of originating, the reverse of the Report would, he thought, be most proper; since it was a maxim, that the least numerous body was the fittest for deliberation — the most numerous, for decision. He observed that this discrimination had been transcribed from the British into several American Constitutions. But he was persuaded that, on examination of the American experiments, it would be found to be a ‘trifle light as air.’ Nor could he ever discover the advantage of it in the parliamentary history of Great Britain. He hoped, if there was any advantage in the privilege, that it would be pointed out.

Mr. WILLIAMSON thought that if the privilege were not common to both branches, it ought rather to be confined to the second, as the bills in that case would be more narrowly watched than if they originated with the branch having most of the popular confidence.

Mr. MASON. The consideration which weighed with the Committee was, that the first branch would be the immediate representatives of the people; the second would not. Should the latter have the power of giving away the people’s money, they might soon forget the source from whence they received it. We might soon have an aristocracy. He had been much concerned at the principles which had been advanced by some gentlemen, but had the satisfaction to find they did not generally prevail. He was a friend to proportional representation in both branches; but supposed that some points must be yielded for the sake of accommodation.

Mr. WILSON. If he had proposed that the second branch should have an independent disposal of public money, the observations of (Colonel Mason) would have been a satisfactory answer. But nothing could be farther from what he had said. His question was, how is the power of the first branch increased, or that of the second diminished, by giving the proposed privilege to the former? Where is the difference, in which branch it begins, if both must concur in the end?

Mr. GERRY would not say that the concession was a sufficient one on the part of the small States. But he could not but regard it in the light of a concession. It would make it a constitutional principle, that the second branch were not possessed of the confidence of the people in money matters, which would lessen their weight and influence. In the next place, if the second branch were dispossessed of the privilege, they would be deprived of the opportunity which their continuance in office three times as long as the first branch would give them, of making three successive essays in favor of a particular point.

Mr. PINCKNEY thought it evident that the concession was wholly on one side, that of the large States; the privilege of originating money bills being of no account.

Mr.  GOUVERNEUR MORRIS had waited to hear the good effects of the restriction. As to the alarm sounded, of an aristocracy, his creed was that there never was, nor ever will be, a civilized society without an aristocracy. His endeavor was, to keep it as much as possible from doing mischief. The restriction, if it has any real operation, will deprive us of the services of the second branch in digesting and proposing money bills, of which it will be more capable than the first branch. It will take away the responsibility of the second branch, the great security for good behaviour. It will always leave a plea, as to an obnoxious money bill, that it was disliked, but could not be constitutionally amended, nor safely rejected. It will be a dangerous source of disputes between the two Houses. We should either take the British Constitution altogether, or make one for ourselves. The Executive there has dissolved two Houses, as the only cure for such disputes. Will our Executive be able to apply such a remedy? Every law, directly or indirectly, takes money out of the pockets of the people. Again, what use may be made of such a privilege in case of great emergency? Suppose an enemy at the door, and money instantly and absolutely necessary for repelling him, — may not the popular branch avail itself of this duress, to extort concessions from the Senate, destructive of the Constitution itself? He illustrated this danger by the example of the Long Parliament’s expedients for subverting the House of Lords; concluding, on the whole, that the restriction would be either useless or pernicious.

Doctor FRANKLIN did not mean to go into a justification of the Report; but as it had been asked what would be the use of restraining the second branch from meddling with money bills, he could not but remark, that it was always of importance that the people should know who had disposed of their money, and how it had been disposed of. It was a maxim, that those who feel, can best judge. This end would, he thought, be best attained, if money affairs were to be confined to the immediate representatives of the people. This was his inducement to concur in the Report. As to the danger or difficulty that might arise from a negative in the second branch, where the people would not be proportionally represented, it might easily be got over by declaring that there should be no such negative; or, if that will not do, by declaring that there shall be no such branch at all.

Mr. MARTIN said, that it was understood, in the Committee, that the difficulties and disputes which had been apprehended should be guarded against in the detailing of the plan.

Mr. WILSON. The difficulties and disputes will increase with the attempts to define and obviate them. Queen Anne was obliged to dissolve her Parliament in order to terminate one of these obstinate disputes between the two Houses. Had it not been for the mediation of the Crown, no one can say what the result would have been. The point is still sub judice in England. He approved of the principles laid down by the honourable President1 (Doctor FRANKLIN) his colleague, as to the expediency of keeping the people informed of their money affairs. But thought they would know as much, and be as well satisfied, in one way as in the other.

General PINCKNEY was astonished that this point should have been considered as a concession. He remarked, that the restriction as to money bills had been rejected on the merits singly considered, by eight States against three; and that the very States which now called it a concession were then against it, as nugatory or improper in itself.

On the question whether the clause relating to money bills, in the Report of the Committee consisting of a member from each State should stand as part of the Report, — Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, aye — 5; Pennsylvania, Virginia, South Carolina, no — 3; Massachusetts, New York, Georgia, divided.

A question was then raised, whether the question was carried in the affirmative; there being but five ayes, out of eleven States present. For the words of the Rule, see May 28th.

On this question, — Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye — 9; New York, Virginia, no — 2.

(In several preceding instances like votes had sub silentio been entered as decided in the affirmative.)


1 He was at that time President of the State of Pennsylvania.

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