Saturday, July 14 | Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787

by James Madison

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This Day in the Four Act Drama

In Convention, — Mr. L. MARTIN called for the question on the whole Report, including the parts relating to the origination of money bills, and the equality of votes in the second branch.

Mr. GERRY wished, before the question should be put, that the attention of the House might be turned to the dangers apprehended from Western States. He was for admitting them on liberal terms, but not for putting ourselves into their hands. They will, if they acquire power, like all men, abuse it. They will oppress commerce, and drain our wealth into the Western country. To guard against these consequences, he thought it necessary to limit the number of new States to be admitted into the Union, in such a manner that they should never be able to outnumber the Atlantic States. He accordingly moved, “that in order to secure the liberties of the States already confederated, the number of Representatives in the first branch, of the States which shall hereafter be established, shall never exceed in number the Representatives from such of the States as shall accede to this Confederation.”

Mr. KING seconded the motion.

Mr. SHERMAN thought there was no probability that the number of future States would exceed that of the existing States. If the event should ever happen, it was too remote to be taken into consideration at this time. Besides, we are providing for our posterity, for our children and our grandchildren, who would be as likely to be citizens of new western States as of the old States. On this consideration alone, we ought to make no such discrimination as was proposed by the motion.

Mr. GERRY. If some of our children should remove, others will stay behind, and he thought incumbent on us to provide for their interests. There was a rage for emigration from the Eastern States to the western country, and he did not wish those remaining behind to be at the mercy of the emigrants. Besides, foreigners are resorting to that country, and it is uncertain what turn things may take there.

On the question for agreeing to the motion of Mr. GERRY, it passed in the negative, — Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, aye — 4; New Jersey, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no — 5; Pennsylvania, divided.

Mr. RUTLEDGE proposed to reconsider the two propositions touching the originating of money bills, in the first, and the equality of votes in the second, branch.

Mr. SHERMAN was for the question on the whole at once. It was, he said, a conciliatory plan; it had been considered in all its parts; a great deal of time had been spent upon it; and if any part should now be altered, it would be necessary to go over the whole ground again.

Mr. L. MARTIN urged the question on the whole. He did not like many parts of it. He did not like having two branches, nor the inequality of votes in the first branch. He was willing, however, to make trial of the plan, rather than do nothing.

Mr. WILSON traced the progress of the report through its several stages; remarking, that when, on the question concerning an equality of votes the House was divided, our constituents, had they voted as their Representatives did, would have stood as two-thirds against the equality, and one-third only in favor of it. This fact would ere long be known, and it would appear that this fundamental point has been carried by one-third against two-thirds. What hopes will our constituents entertain, when they find that the essential principles of justice have been violated in the outset of the Government? As to the privilege of originating money bills, it was not considered by any as of much moment, and by many as improper in itself. He hoped both clauses would be reconsidered. The equality of votes was a point of such critical importance, that every opportunity ought to be allowed for discussing and collecting the mind of the Convention upon it.

Mr. L. MARTIN denies that there were two-thirds against the equality of votes. The States that please to call themselves large are the weakest in the Union. Look at Massachusetts — look at Virginia — are they efficient States? He was for letting a separation take place, if they desired it. He had rather there should be two confederacies, than one founded on any other principle than an equality of votes in the second branch at least.

Mr. WILSON was not surprised that those who say that a minority does more than a majority, should say the minority is stronger than the majority. He supposed the next assertion will be, that they are richer also; though he hardly expected it would be persisted in, when the States shall be called on for taxes and troops.

Mr. GERRY also animadverted on Mr. L. MARTIN’S remarks on the weakness of Massachusetts. He favored the reconsideration, with a view, not of destroying the equality of votes, but of providing that the States should vote per capita, which, he said, would prevent the delays and inconveniences that had been experienced in Congress, and would give a national aspect and spirit to the management of business. He did not approve of a reconsideration of the clause relating to money bills. It was of great consequence. It was the corner stone of the accommodation. If any member of the Convention had the exclusive privilege of making propositions, would any one say that it would give him no advantage over other members? The Report was not altogether to his mind; but he would agree to it as it stood, rather than throw it out altogether.

The reconsideration being tacitly agreed to, —

Mr. PINCKNEY moved, that, instead of an equality of votes, the States should be represented in the second branch as follows: New Hampshire by two members; Massachusetts, four; Rhode Island, one; Connecticut, three; New York, three; New Jersey, two; Pennsylvania, four; Delaware, one; Maryland, three; Virginia, five; North Carolina, three; South Carolina, three; Georgia, two; making in the whole, thirty-six.

Mr. WILSON seconds the motion.

Mr. DAYTON. The smaller States can never give up their equality. For himself, he would in no event yield that security for their rights.

Mr. SHERMAN urged the equality of votes, not so much as a security for the small States, as for the State Governments, which could not be preserved unless they were represented, and had a negative in the General Government. He had no objection to the members in the second branch voting per capita, as had been suggested by (Mr. GERRY).

Mr. MADISON concurred in this motion of Mr. PINCKNEY, as a reasonable compromise.

Mr. GERRY said, he should like the motion, but could see no hope of success. An accommodation must take place, and it was apparent from what had been seen, that it could not do so on the ground of the motion. He was utterly against a partial confederacy, leaving other States to accede or not accede, as had been intimated.

Mr. KING said, it was always with regret that he differed from his colleagues, but it was his duty to differ from (Mr. GERRY) on this occasion. He considered the proposed Government as substantially and formally a General and National Government over the people of America. There never will be a case in which it will act as a Federal Government, on the States and not on the individual citizens. And is it not a clear principle, that in a free government, those who are to be the objects of a government, ought to influence the operations of it? What reason can be assigned, why the same rule of representation should not prevail in the second, as in the first, branch? He could conceive none. On the contrary, every view of the subject that presented itself seemed to require it. Two objections had been raised against it, drawn, first, from the terms of the existing compact; secondly, from a supposed danger to the smaller States. As to the first objection, he thought it inapplicable. According to the existing Confederation, the rule by which the public burdens is to be apportioned is fixed, and must be pursued. In the proposed Government, it cannot be fixed, because indirect taxation is to be substituted. The Legislature, therefore, will have full discretion to impose taxes in such modes and proportions as they may judge expedient. As to the second objection, he thought it of as little weight. The General Government can never wish to intrude on the State Governments. There could be no temptation. None had been pointed out. In order to prevent the interference of measures which seemed most likely to happen, he would have no objection to throwing all the State debts into the Federal debt, making one aggregate debt of about $70,000,000, and leaving it to be discharged by the General Government. According to the idea of securing the State Governments, there ought to be three distinct legislative branches. The second was admitted to be necessary, and was actually meant, to check the first branch, to give more wisdom, system and stability to the Government; and ought clearly, as it was to operate on the people, to be proportioned to them. For the third purpose of securing the States, there ought then to be a third branch, representing the States as such, and guarding, by equal votes, their rights and dignities. He would not pretend to be as thoroughly acquainted with his immediate constituents as his colleagues, but it was his firm belief that Massachusetts would never be prevailed on to yield to an equality of votes. In New York, (he was sorry to be obliged to say any thing relative to that State in the absence of its representatives, but the occasion required it), in New York he had seen that the most powerful argument used by the considerate opponents to the grant of the Impost to Congress was pointed against the vicious constitution of Congress with regard to representation and suffrage. He was sure that no government would last that was not founded on just principles. He preferred the doing of nothing, to an allowance of an equal vote to all the States. It would be better, he thought, to submit to a little more confusion and convulsion, than to submit to such an evil. It was difficult to say what the views of different gentlemen might be. Perhaps there might be some who thought no Government co-extensive with the United States could be established with a hope of its answering the purpose. Perhaps there might be other fixed opinions incompatible with the object we are pursuing. If there were, he thought it but candid, that gentlemen should speak out, that we might understand one another.

Mr. STRONG. The Convention had been much divided in opinion. In order to avoid the consequences of it, an accommodation had been proposed. A committee had been appointed; and though some of the members of it were averse to an equality of votes, a report had been made in favor of it. It is agreed, on all hands, that Congress are nearly at an end. If no accommodation takes place, the Union itself must soon be dissolved. It has been suggested that if we cannot come to any general agreement, the principal States may form and recommend a scheme of government. But will the small States, in that case, ever accede to it? Is it probable that the large States themselves will, under such circumstances, embrace and ratify it? He thought the Small states had made a considerable concession, in the article of money bills, and that they might naturally expect some concessions on the other side. From this view of the matter, he was compelled to give his vote for the Report taken altogether.

Mr. MADISON expressed his apprehensions that if the proper foundation of government was destroyed, by substituting an equality in place of a proportional representation, no proper superstructure would be raised. If the small States really wish for a government armed with the powers necessary to secure their liberties, and to enforce obedience on the larger members as well as themselves, he could not help thinking them extremely mistaken in the means. He reminded them of the consequences of laying the existing Confederation on improper principles. All the principal parties to its compilation joined immediately in mutilating and fettering the Government, in such a manner that it has disappointed every hope placed on it. He appealed to the doctrine and arguments used by themselves, on a former occasion. It had been very properly observed (by Mr. PATTERSON), that representation was an expedient by which the meeting of the people themselves was rendered unnecessary; and that the representatives ought therefore to bear a proportion to the votes which their constituents, if convened, would respectively have. Was not this remark as applicable to one branch of the representation as to the other? But it had been said that the Government would, in its operation, be partly federal, partly national; that although in the latter respect the representatives of the people ought to be in proportion to the people, yet in the former, it ought to be according to the number of States. If there was any solidity in this distinction, he was ready to abide by it; if there was none, it ought to be abandoned. In all cases where the General Government is to act on the people, let the people be represented, and the votes be proportional. In all cases where the Government is to act on the States as such, in like manner as Congress now acts on them, let the States be represented and the votes be equal. This was the true ground of compromise, if there was any ground at all. But he denied that there was any ground. He called for a single instance in which the General Government was not to operate on the people individually. The practicability of making laws, with coercive sanctions, for the States as political bodies, had been exploded on all hands. He observed, that the people of the large States would, in some way or other, secure to themselves a weight proportioned to the importance accuring from their superior numbers. If they could not effect it by a proportional representation in the Government, they would probably accede to no government which did not, in a great measure, depend for its efficacy on their voluntary co-operation; in which case they would indirectly secure their object. The existing Confederacy proved that where the acts of the General Government were to be executed by the particular Governments, the latter had a weight in proportion to their importance. No one would say, that, either in Congress or out of Congress, Delaware had equal weight with Pennsylvania. If the latter was to supply ten times as much money as the former, and no compulsion could be used, it was of ten times more importance that she should voluntarily furnish the supply. In the Dutch Confederacy the votes of the provinces were equal; but Holland, which supplies about half the money, governed the whole Republic. He enumerated the objections against an equality of votes in the second branch, notwithstanding the proportional representation in the first. 1. The minority could negative the will of the majority of the people. 2. They could extort measures, by making them a condition of their assent to other necessary measures. 3. They could obtrude measures on the majority, by virtue of the peculiar powers which would be vested in the Senate. 4. The evil, instead of being cured by time, would increase with every new State that should be admitted, as they must all be admitted on the principle of equality. 5. The perpetuity it would give to the preponderance of the Northern against the Southern scale was a serious consideration. It seemed now to be pretty well undertood, that the real difference of interest lay, not between the large and small, but between the Northern and Southern, States. The institution of slavery, and its consequences, formed the line of discrimination. There were five States on the Southern, eight on the Northern side of this line. Should a proportional representation take place, it was true, the Northern would still outnumber the other; but not in the same degree, at this time; and every day would tend towards an equilibrium.

Mr. WILSON would add a few words only. If equality in the second branch was an error that time would correct, he should be less anxious to exclude it, being sensible that perfection was unattainable in any plan; but being a fundamental and a perpetual error, it ought by all means to be avoided. A vice in the representation, like an error in the first concoction, must be followed by disease, convulsions, and finally death itself. The justice of the general principle of proportional representation has not, in argument at least, been yet contradicted. But it is said that a departure from it, so far as to give the States an equal vote in one branch of the Legislature, is essential to their preservation. He had considered this position maturely, but could not see its application. That the States ought to be preserved, he admitted. But does it follow, that an equality of votes is necessary for the purpose? Is there any reason to suppose that, if their preservation should depend more on the large than on the small States, the security of the States, against the general government, would be diminished? Are the large States less attached to their existence more likely to commit suicide, than the small? An equal vote, then, is not necessary, as far as he can conceive, and is liable, among other objections, to this insuperable one, — the great fault of the existing Confederacy is its inactivity. It has never been a complaint against Congress, that they governed overmuch. The complaint has been, that they have governed too little. To remedy this defect we were sent here. Shall we effect the cure by establishing an equality of votes, as is proposed? No: this very equality carries us directly to Congress, — to the system which it is our duty to rectify. The small States cannot indeed act, by virtue of this equality, but they may control the government, as they have done in Congress. This very measure is here prosecuted by a minority of the people of America. Is then, the object of the Convention likely to be accomplished in this way? Will not our constituents say, we sent you to form an efficient government, and you have given us one, more complex, indeed, but having all the weakness of the former government. He was anxious for uniting all the States under one government. He knew there were some respectable men who preferred three Confederacies, united by offensive and defensive alliances. Many things may be plausibly said, some things may be justly said, in favor of such a project. He could not, however, concur in it himself; but he thought nothing so pernicious as bad first principles.

Mr. ELLSWORTH asked two questions, — one of Mr. WILSON, whether he had ever seen a good measure fail in Congress for want of a majority of States in its favor? He had himself never known such an instance. The other of Mr. MADISON, whether a negative lodged with the majority of the States, even the smallest, could be more dangerous than the qualified negative proposed to be lodged in a single Executive Magistrate, who must be taken from some one State?

Mr. SHERMAN signified that his expectation was that the General Legislature would in some cases act on the federal principle of requiring quotas. But he thought it ought to be empowered to carry their own plans into execution, if the States should fail to supply their respective quotas.

On the question for agreeing to Mr. PINCKNEY’S motion, for allowing New Hampshire two; Massachusetts, four, &c. it passed in the negative, — Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, aye — 4; Massachusetts, (Mr. KING, aye, Mr. GORHAM absent), Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, North Carolina, Georgia, no — 6.


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