Tuesday, July 10 | Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787

by James Madison

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This Day in the Four Act Drama 

In Convention, — Mr. KING reported, from the Committee yesterday appointed, “that the States at the first meeting of the General Legislature, should be represented by sixty-five members, in the following proportions, to wit: — New Hampshire, by 3; Massachusetts, 8; Rhode Island, 1; Connecticut, 5; New York, 6; New Jersey, 4; Pennsylvania, 8; Delaware, 1; Maryland, 6; Virginia, 10; North Carolina, 5; South Carolina, 5; Georgia, 3.”

Mr. RUTLEDGE moved that New Hampshire be reduced from three to two members. Her numbers did not entitle her to three, and it was a poor State.

General PINCKNEY seconds the motion.

Mr. KING. New Hampshire has probably more than 120,000 inhabitants, and has an extensive country of tolerable fertility. Its inhabitants may therefore be expected to increase fast. He remarked that the four Eastern States, having 800,000 souls, have one-third fewer representatives than the four Southern States, having not more than 700,000 souls, rating the blacks as five for three. The Eastern people will advert to these circumstances, and be dissatisfied. He believed them to be very desirous of uniting with their Southern brethren, but did not think it prudent to rely so far on that disposition, as to subject them to any gross inequality. He was fully convinced that the question concerning a difference of interests did not lie where it had hitherto been discussed, between the great and small States; but between the Southern and Eastern. For this reason he had been ready to yield something, in the proportion of representatives, for the security of the Southern. No principle would justify the giving them a majority. They were brought as near an equality as was possible. He was not averse to giving them a still greater security, but did not see how it could be done.

General PINCKNEY. The Report before it was committed was more favorable to the Southern States than as it now stands. If they are to form so considerable a minority, and the regulation of trade is to be given to the General Government, they will be nothing more than overseers for the Northern States. He did not expect the Southern States to be raised to a majority of representatives; but wished them to have something like an equality. At present, by the alterations of the Committee in favor of the Northern States, they are removed farther from it than they were before. One member indeed had been added to Virginia, which he was glad of, as he considered her as a Southern State. He was glad also that the members of Georgia were increased.

Mr. WILLIAMSON was not for reducing New Hampshire from three to two, but for reducing some others. The Southern interest must be extremely endangered by the present arrangement. The Northern States are to have a majority in the first instance, and the means of perpetuating it.

Mr. DAYTON observed, that the line between Northern and Southern interest had been improperly drawn; that Pennsylvania was the dividing State, there being six on each side of her.

General PINCKNEY urged the reduction; dwelt on the superior wealth of the Southern States, and insisted on its having its due weight in the Government.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS regretted the turn of the debate. The States, he found, had many representatives on the floor. Few, he feared, were to be deemed the Representatives of America. He thought the Southern States have, by the report, more than their share of representation. Property ought to have its weight, but not all the weight. If the Southern States are to supply money, the Northern States are to spill their blood. Besides, the probable revenue to be expected from the Southern States has been greatly overrated. He was against reducing New Hampshire.

Mr. RANDOLPH was opposed to a reduction of New Hampshire, not because she had a full title to three members; but because it was in his contemplation, first, to make it the duty, instead of leaving it to the discretion, of the Legislature to regulate the representation by a periodical census; secondly, to require more than a bare majority of votes in the Legislature, in certain cases, and particularly in commercial cases.

On the question for reducing New Hampshire from three to two representatives, it passed in the negative, — North Carolina,1 South Carolina, aye — 2; Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, no — 8.

General PINCKNEY and Mr. ALEXANDER MARTIN moved that six Representatives, instead of five, be allowed to North Carolina.

On the question it passed in the negative, — North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye — 3; Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, no — 7.

General PINCKNEY and Mr. BUTLER made the same motion in favor of South Carolina.

On the question, it passed in the negative, — Delaware, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye — 4; Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, no — 7.

General PINCKNEY and Mr. HOUSTON moved that Georgia be allowed four instead of three Representatives; urging the unexampled celerity of its population.

On the question, it passed in the negative, — Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye — 4; Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, no — 7.

Mr. MADISON moved that the number allowed to each State be doubled. A majority of a Quorum of sixty-five members was too small a number to represent the whole inhabitants of the United States. They would not possess enough of the confidence of the people, and would be too sparsely taken from the people, to bring with them all the local information which would be frequently wanted. Double the number will not be too great, even with the future additions from the new States. The additional expense was too inconsiderable to be regarded in so important a case. And as far as the augmentation might be unpopular on that score, the objection was overbalanced by its effect on the hopes of a greater number of the popular candidates.

Mr. ELLSWORTH urged the objection of expense; and that the greater the number, the more slowly would the business proceed; and the less probably be decided as it ought, at last. He thought the number of representatives too great in most of the State Legislatures; and that a large number was less necessary in the General Legislature than in those of the States; as its business would relate to a few great national objects only.

Mr. SHERMAN would have preferred fifty to sixty-five. The great distance they will have to travel will render their attendance precarious, and will make it difficult to prevail on a sufficient number of fit men to undertake the service. He observed that the expected increase from new States also deserved consideration.

Mr. GERRY was for increasing the number beyond sixty-five. The larger the number, the less the danger of their being corrupted. The people are accustomed to, and fond of, a numerous representation; and will consider their rights as better secured by it. The danger of excess in the number may be guarded against by fixing a point within which the numbers shall always be kept.

Colonel MASON admitted, that the objection drawn from the consideration of expense had weight both in itself, and as the people might be affected by it. But he thought it outweighed by the objections against the smallness of the number. Thirty-eight will, he supposes, as being a majority of sixty-five, form a quorum. Twenty will be a majority of thirty-eight. This was certainly too small a number to make laws for America. They would neither bring with them all the necessary information relative to various local interests, nor possess the necessary confidence of the people. After doubling the number, the laws might still be made by so few as almost to be objectionable on that account.

Mr. READ was in favor of the motion. Two of the States (Delaware and Rhode Island) would have but a single member if the aggregate number should remain at sixty-five; and in case of accident to either of these, one State would have no Representative present to give explanations or informations of its interests or wishes. The people would not place their confidence in so small a number. He hoped the objects of the General Government would be much more numerous than seemed to be expected by some gentlemen, and that they would become more and more so. As to the new States, the highest number of Representatives for the whole might be limited, and all danger of excess thereby prevented. Mr. RUTLEDGE opposed the motion. The Representatives were too numerous in all the States. The full number allotted to the States may be expected to attend, and the lowest possible quorum should not therefore be considered. The interests of their constituents will urge their attendance too strongly for it to be omitted: and he supposed the General Legislature would not sit more than six or eight weeks in the year.

On the question for doubling the number, it passed in the negative, — Delaware, Virginia, aye — 2; Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no — 9.

On the question for agreeing to the apportionment of Representatives, as amended by the last Committee, it passed in the affirmative, — Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, aye — 9; South Carolina, Georgia, no — 2.

Mr. BROOM gave notice to the House, that he had concurred, with a reserve to himself of an intention to claim for his State an equal voice in the second branch; which he thought could not be denied after this concession of the small States as to the first branch.

Mr. RANDOLPH moved, as an amendment to the Report of the Committee of five, “that in order to ascertain the alterations in the population and wealth of the several States, the Legislature should be required to cause a census and estimate to be taken within one year after its first meeting; and every — years thereafter; and that the Legislature arrange the representation accordingly.”

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS opposed it, as fettering the Legislature too much. Advantage may be taken of it in time of war or the apprehension of it, by new States to extort particular favors. If the mode was to be fixed for taking a census, it might certainly be extremely inconvenient: if unfixed, the Legislature may use such a mode as will defeat the object; and perpetuate the inequality. He was always against such shackles on the Legislature. They had been found very pernicious in most of the State Constitutions. He dwelt much on the danger of throwing such a preponderance into the western scale; suggesting that in time the western people would outnumber the Atlantic States. He wished therefore to put it in the power of the latter to keep a majority of votes in their own hands. It was objected, he said, that, if the Legislature are left at liberty, they will never re-adjust the representation. He admitted that this was possible, but he did not think it probable, unless the reasons against a revision of it were very urgent; and in this case, it ought not to be done.

It was moved to postpone the proposition of Mr. RANDOLPH, in order to take up the following, viz.: “that the Committee of eleven, to whom was referred the Report of the Committee of five on the subject of Representation, be requested to furnish the Convention with the principles on which they grounded the Report;” which was disagreed to, — South Carolina alone voting in the affirmative.


1 In the printed Journal, North Carolina, no; Georgia, aye. 

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