Saturday, August 11 | Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787

by James Madison

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This Day in the Four Act Drama

In Convention, — Mr. MADISON and Mr. RUTLEDGE moved, “that each House shall keep a Journal of its proceedings, and shall publish the same from time to time; except such part of the proceedings of the Senate, when acting not in its legislative capacity, as may be judged by that House to require secrecy.”

Mr. MERCER. This implies that other powers than legislative will be given to the Senate, which he hoped would not be given.

Mr. MADISON and Mr. RUTLEDGE’S motion was disagreed to by all the States except Virginia.

Mr. GERRY and Mr. SHERMAN, moved to insert, after the words, “publish them,” the following, “except such as relate to treaties and military operations.” Their object was to give each House a discretion in such cases. On this question, — Massachusetts, Connecticut, aye, — 2; New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no, — 8.

Mr. ELLSWORTH. As the clause is objectionable in so many shapes, it may as well be struck out altogether. The Legislature will not fail to publish their proceedings from time to time. The people will call for it, if it should be improperly omitted.

Mr. WILSON thought the expunging of the clause would be very improper. The people have a right to know what their agents are doing or have done, and it should not be in the option of the Legislature to conceal their proceedings. Besides, as this is a clause in the existing Confederation, the not retaining it would furnish the adversaries of the reform with a pretext by which weak and suspicious minds may be easily misled.

Mr. MASON thought it would give a just alarm to the people, to make a conclave of their Legislature.

Mr. SHERMAN thought the Legislature might be trusted in this case, if in any.

On the question on the first part of the section, down to “publish them,” inclusive, — it was agreed to, nem. con.

On the question on the words to follow, to wit, “except such parts thereof as may in their judgment require secrecy,” — Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, aye, — 6; Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, South Carolina, no, — 4; New Hampshire divided.

The remaining part, as to yeas and nays, was agreed to, nem. con.

Article 6, Sect. 8, was then taken up.

Mr. KING remarked, that the section authorized the two Houses to adjourn to a new place. He thought this inconvenient. The mutability of place had dishonored the Federal Government, and would require as strong a cure as we could devise. He thought a law at least should be made necessary to a removal of the seat of government.

Mr. MADISON viewed the subject in the same light, and joined with Mr. KING in a motion requiring a law.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS proposed the additional alteration by inserting the words, “during the session” &c.

Mr. SPAIGHT. This will fix the seat of government at New York. The present Congress will convene them there in the first instance, and they will never be able to remove; especially if the President should be a Northern man.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS. Such a distrust is inconsistent with all government.

Mr. MADISON supposed that a central place for the seat of government was so just, and would be so much insisted on by the House of Representatives, that though a law should be made requisite for the purpose, it could and would be obtained. The necessity of a central residence of the Government would be much greater under the new than old Government. The members of the new Government would be more numerous. They would be taken more from the interior parts of the States; they would not, like members of the present Congress, come so often from the distant States by water. As the powers and objects of the new Government would be far greater than heretofore, more private individuals would have business calling them to the seat of it; and it was more necessary that the Government should be in that position from which it could contemplate with the most equal eye, and sympathize most equally with every part of the nation. These considerations, he supposed, would extort a removal, even if a law were made necessary. But in order to quiet suspicions, both within and without doors, it might not be amiss to authorize the two Houses, by a concurrent vote, to adjourn at their first meeting to the most proper place, and to require thereafter the sanction of a law to their removal.

The motion was accordingly moulded into the following form: “the Legislature shall at their first assembling determine on a place at which their future sessions shall be held; neither House shall afterwards, during the session of the House of Representatives, without the consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days; nor shall they adjourn to any other place than such as shall have been fixed by law.”

Mr. GERRY thought it would be wrong to let the President check the will of the two Houses on this subject at all.

Mr. WILLIAMSON supported the ideas of Mr. SPAIGHT.

Mr. CARROLL was actuated by the same apprehensions.

Mr. MERCER. It will serve no purpose to require the two Houses at their first meeting to fix on a place. They will never agree.

After some further expressions from others denoting an apprehension that the seat of government might be continued at an improper place, if a law should be made necessary to a removal, and after the motion above stated, with another for recommitting the section, had been negatived, the section was left in the shape in which it was reported, as to this point. The words, “during the session of the Legislature,” were prefixed to the eighth section; and the last sentence, “but this regulation shall not extend to the Senate when it shall exercise the powers mentioned in the — Article,” struck out. The eighth section, as amended, was then agreed to.

Mr. RANDOLPH moved, according to notice, to reconsider Article 4, Sect. 5, concerning money bills, which had been struck out. He argued, — first, that he had not wished for this privilege, whilst a proportional representation in the Senate was in contemplation: but since an equality had been fixed in that House, the large States would require this compensation at least. Secondly, that it would make the plan more acceptable to the people, because they will consider the Senate as the more aristocratic body, and will expect that the usual guards against its influence will be provided, according to the example of Great Britain. Thirdly, the privilege will give some advantage to the House of Representatives, if it extends to the originating only; but still more, if it restrains the Senate from amending. Fourthly he called on the smaller States to concur in the measure, as the condition by which alone the compromise had entitled them to an equality in the Senate. He signified that he should propose, instead of the original section, a clause specifying that the bills in question should be for the purpose of revenue, in order to repel the objection against the extent of the words, “raising money,” which might happen incidentally; and that the Senate should not so amend or alter as to increase or diminish the sum; in order to obviate the inconveniences urged against a restriction of the Senate to a simple affirmation or negative.

Mr. WILLIAMSON seconded the motion.

Mr. PINCKNEY was sorry to oppose the opportunity gentlemen asked to have the question again opened for discussion, but as he considered it a mere waste of time he could not bring himself to consent to it. He said that, notwithstanding what had been said as to the compromise, he always considered this section as making no part of it. The rule of representation in the first branch was the true condition of that in the second branch. Several others spoke for and against the reconsideration, but without going into the merits.

On the question, to reconsider, —

New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey,1 Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, aye, — 9; Maryland, no, — 1; South Carolina, divided.

Monday was then assigned for the reconsideration.


1In the printed Journal, New Jersey, no.

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