Monday, August 13 | Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787

by James Madison

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This Day in the Four Act Drama 

In Convention, — Article 4, Sect. 2, being reconsidered, —

Mr. WILSON and Mr. RANDOLPH moved to strike out “seven years,” and insert, “four years,” as the requisite term of citizenship to qualify for the House of Representatives. Mr. WILSON said it was very proper the electors should govern themselves by this consideration; but unnecessary and improper that the Constitution should chain them down to it.

Mr. GERRY wished that in future the elegibility might be confined to natives. Foreign powers will intermeddle in our affairs, and spare no expense to influence them. Persons having foreign attachments will be sent among us and insinuated into our councils, in order to be made instruments for their purposes. Every one knows the vast sums laid out in Europe for secret services. He was not singular in these ideas. A great many of the most influential men in Massachusetts reasoned in the same manner.

Mr. WILLIAMSON moved to insert nine years instead of seven. He wished this country to acquire as fast as possible national habits. Wealthy emigrants do more harm by their luxurious examples, than good by the money they bring with them.

Colonel HAMILTON was in general against embarrassing the Government with minute restrictions. There was, on one side, the possible danger that had been suggested. On the other side, the advantage of encouraging foreigners was obvious and admitted. Persons in Europe of moderate fortunes will be fond of coming here, where they will be on a level with the first citizens. He moved that the section be so altered as to require merely “citizenship and inhabitancy.” The right of determining the rule of naturalization will then leave a discretion to the Legislature on this subject, which will answer every purpose.

Mr. MADISON seconded the motion. He wished to maintain the character of liberality which had been professed in all the Constitutions and publications of America. He wished to invite foreigners of merit and republican principles among us. America was indebted to emigration for her settlement and prosperity. That part of America which had encouraged them most, had advanced most rapidly in population, agriculture, and the arts. There was a possible danger, he admitted, that men with foreign predilections might obtain appointments; but it was by no means probable that it would happen in any dangerous degree. For the same reason that they would be attached to their native country, our own people would prefer natives of this country to them. Experience proved this to be the case. Instances were rare of a foreigner being elected by the people within any short space after his coming among us. If bribery was to be practised by foreign powers, it would not be attempted among the electors, but among the elected, and among natives having full confidence of the people, not among strangers who would be regarded with a jealous eye.

Mr. WILSON cited Pennsylvania as a proof of the advantage of encouraging emigrations. It was perhaps the youngest settlement (except Georgia) on the Atlantic; yet it was at least among the foremost in population and prosperity. He remarked, that almost all the general officers of the Pennsylvania line of the late army were foreigners; and no complaint had ever been made against their fidelity or merit. Three of her Deputies to the Convention (Mr. R. MORRIS, Mr. FITZSIMONS, and himself) were also not natives. He had no objection to Colonel HAMILTON’S motion, and would withdraw the one made by himself.

Mr. BUTLER was strenuous against admitting foreigners into our public councils.

On the question on Colonel HAMILTON’S motion, —

Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, aye, — 4; New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Delaware, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no, — 7.

On the question on Mr. WILLIAMSON’S motion, to insert “nine years,” instead of “seven,” —

New Hampshire, South Carolina, Georgia, aye, — 3; Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, no, — 8.

Mr. WILSON renewed the motion for four years instead of seven; and on the question, —

Connecticut, Maryland, Virginia, aye, — 3; New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no, — 8.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS moved to add to the end of the section (Article 4, Sect. 2,) a proviso that the limitation of seven years should not affect the rights of any person now a citizen.

Mr. MERCER seconded the motion. It was necessary, he said, to prevent a disfranchisement of persons who had become citizens, under the faith and according to the laws and Constitution, from their actual level in all respects with natives.

Mr. RUTLEDGE. It might as well be said that all qualifications are disfranchisements, and that to require the age of twenty-five years was a disfranchisement. The policy of the precaution was as great with regard to foreigners now citizens, as to those who are to be naturalized in future.

Mr. SHERMAN. The United States have not invited foreigners, nor pledged their faith that they should enjoy equal privileges with native citizens. The individual States alone have done this. The former, therefore, are at liberty to make any discriminations they may judge requisite.

Mr. GORHAM. When foreigners are naturalized, it would seem as if they stand on an equal footing with natives. He doubted, then, the propriety of giving a retrospective force to the restriction.

Mr. MADISON animadverted on the peculiarity of the doctrine of Mr. SHERMAN. It was a subtlety by which every national engagement might be evaded. By parity of reason, whenever our public debts or foreign treaties become inconvenient, nothing more would be necessary to relieve us from them than, to remodel the Constitution. It was said that the United States, as such, have not pledged their faith to the naturalized foreigners, and therefore are not bound. Be it so, and that the States alone are bound. Who are to form the new Constitution by which the condition of that class of citizens is to be made worse than the other class? Are not the States the agents? Will they not be the members of it? Did they not appoint this Convention? Are not they to ratify its proceedings? Will not the new Constitution be their act? If the new Constitution, then, violates the faith pledged to any description of people, will not the makers of it, will not the States, be the violators? To justify the doctrine, it must be said that the States can get rid of the obligation by revising the Constitution, though they could not do it by repealing the law under which foreigners held their privileges. He considered this a matter of real importance. It would expose us to the reproaches of all those who should be affected by it; reproaches which would soon be echoed from the other side of the Atlantic; and would unnecessarily enlist among the adversaries of the reform a very considerable body of citizens. We should, moreover, reduce every State to the dilemma of rejecting it, or of violating the faith pledged to a part of its citizens.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS considered the case of persons under twenty-five years of age as very different from that of foreigners. No faith could be pleaded by the former in bar of the regulation. No assurance had ever been given that persons under that age should be in all cases on a level with those above it. But with regard to foreigners among us, the faith had been pledged that they should enjoy the privileges of citizens. If the restriction as to age had been confined to natives, and had left foreigners under twenty-five years of age eligible in this case, the discrimination would have been an equal injustice on the other side.

Mr. PINCKNEY remarked, that the laws of the States had varied much the terms of naturalization in different parts of America; and contended that the United States could not be bound to respect them on such an occasion as the present. It was a sort of recurrence to first principles.

Colonel MASON was struck, not, like Mr. MADISON, with the peculiarity, but the propriety, of the doctrine of Mr. SHERMAN. The States have formed different qualifications themselves for enjoying different rights of citizenship. Greater caution would be necessary in the outset of the Government than afterwards. All the great objects would then be provided for. Every thing would be then set in motion. If persons among us attached to Great Britain should work themselves into our councils, a turn might be given to our affairs, and particularly to our commercial regulations, which might have pernicious consequences. The great houses of British merchants would spare no pains to insinuate the instruments of their views into the Government.

Mr. WILSON read the clause in the Constitution of Pennsylvania giving to foreigners, after two years’ residence, all the rights whatsoever of citizens; combined it with the Article of Confederation making the citizens of one State citizens of all, inferred the obligation Pennsylvania was under to maintain the faith thus pledged to her citizens of foreign birth, and the just complaint which her failure would authorize. He observed, likewise, that the princes and states of Europe would avail themselves of such breach of faith, to deter their subjects from emigrating to the United States.

Mr. MERCER enforced the same idea of a breach of faith.

Mr. BALDWIN could not enter into the force of the arguments against extending the disqualification to foreigners now citizens. The discrimination of the place of birth was not more objectionable than that of age, which all had concurred in the propriety of.

On the question on the proviso of Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS in favor of foreigners now citizens, — Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, aye, — 5; New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Delaware, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no, — 6.

Mr. CARROLL moved to insert “five” years instead of “seven” in Article 4, Sect. 2, — Connecticut, Maryland, Virginia, aye, — 3; New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Delaware, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no, — 7; Pennsylvania, divided.

The Section (Article 4, Section 2,) as formerly amended, was then agreed to, nem. con.

Mr. WILSON moved, that in Article 5, Sect. 3, nine years be reduced to seven; which was disagreed to, and the Article 5, Sect. 3, confirmed by the following vote, — New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye, — 8; Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, no, — 3.

Article 4, Sect. 5, being reconsidered, —

Mr. RANDOLPH moved that the clause be altered so as to read: “Bills for raising money for the purpose of revenue, or for appropriating the same, shall originate in the House of Representatives; and shall not be so amended or altered by the Senate as to increase or diminish the sum to be raised, or change the mode of levying it, or the object of its appropriation.” He would not repeat his reasons, but barely remind the members from the smaller States of the compromise by which the larger States were entitled to this privilege.

Colonel MASON. This amendment removes all the objections urged against the section as it stood at first. By specifying purposes of revenue, it obviated the objection that the section extended to all bills under which money might incidentally arise. By authorizing amendments in the Senate, it got rid of the objections that the Senate could not correct errors of any sort, and that it would introduce into the House of Representatives the practice of tacking foreign matter to money bills. These objections being removed, the arguments in favor of the proposed restraint on the Senate ought to have their full force. First, the Senate did not represent the people, but the States, in their political character. It was improper therefore that it should tax the people. The reason was the same against their doing it, as it had been against Congress doing it. Secondly, nor was it in any respect necessary, in order to cure the evils of our republican system. He admitted that, notwithstanding the superiority of the republican form over every other, it had its evils. The chief ones were, the danger of the majority oppressing the minority, and the mischievous influence of demagogues. The General Government of itself will cure them. As the States will not concur at the same time in their unjust and oppressive plans, the General Government will be able to check and defeat them, whether they result from the wickedness of the majority, or from the misguidance of demagogues. Again,, the Senate is not, like the House of Representatives, chosen frequently, and obliged to return frequently among the people. They are to be chosen by the States for six years, — will probably settle themselves at the seat of government, — will pursue schemes for their own aggrandizement, — will be able, by wearying out the House of Representatives, and taking advantage of their impatience at the close of a long session, to extort measures for that purpose. If they should be paid, as he expected would be yet determined and wished to be so, out of the national treasury, they will, particularly, extort an increase of their wages. A bare negative was a very different thing from that of originating bills. The practice in England was in point. The House of Lords does not represent nor tax the people, because not elected by the people. If the Senate can originate, they will in the recess of the Legislative sessions, hatch their mischievous projects, for their own purposes, and have their money bills cut and dried (to use a common phrase) for the meeting of the House of Representatives. He compared the case to Poyning’s law, and signified that the House of Representatives might be rendered by degrees, like the Parliament of Paris, the mere depository of the decrees of the Senate. As to the compromise, so much had passed on that subject that he would say nothing about it. He did not mean, by what he had said, to oppose the permanency of the Senate. On the contrary he had no repugnance to an increase of it, nor to allowing it a negative, though the Senate was not, by its present constitution, entitled to it. But in all events, he would contend that the purse-strings should be in the hands of the representatives of the people.

Mr. WILSON was himself directly opposed to the equality of votes granted to the Senate, by its present constitution. At the same time he wished not to multiply the vices of the system. He did not mean to enlarge on a subject which had been so much canvassed, but would remark, as an insuperable objection against the proposed restriction of money bills to the House of Representatives, that it would be a source of perpetual contentions, where there was no mediator to decide them. The President here could not, like the Executive Magistrate in England, interpose by a prorogation, or dissolution. This restriction had been found pregnant with altercation in every State where the constitution had established it. The House of Representatives will insert other things in money bills, and by making them conditions of each other destroy the deliberate liberty of the Senate. He stated the case of a preamble to a money bill sent up by the House of Commons in the reign of Queen Anne, to the House of Lords, in which the conduct of the misplaced Ministry, who were to be impeached before the Lords, was condemned; the commons thus extorting a premature judgment without any hearing of the parties to be tried, and the House of Lords being thus reduced to the poor and disgraceful expedient of opposing, to the authority of a law, a protest on their Journals against its being drawn into precedent. If there was any thing like Poyning’s law in the present case, it was in the attempt to vest the exclusive right of originating in the House of Representatives, and so far he was against it. He should be equally so if the right were to be exclusively vested in the Senate. With regard to the purse-strings, it was to be observed that the purse was to have two strings, one of which was in the hands of the House of Representatives, the other in those of the Senate. Both Houses must concur in untying, and of what importance could it be which untied first, which last. He could not conceive it to be any objection to the Senate’s preparing the bills, that they would have leisure for that purpose, and would be in the habits of business. War, commerce, and revenue were the great objects of the General Government. All of them are connected with money. The restriction in favor of the House of Representatives would exclude the Senate from originating any important bills whatever.

Mr. GERRY considered this as a part of the plan that would be much scrutinized. Taxation and representation are strongly associated in the minds of the people; and they will not agree that any but their immediate representatives shall meddle with their purses. In short, the acceptance of the plan will inevitably fail, if the Senate be not restrained from originating money bills.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS. All the arguments suppose the right to originate and to tax, to be exclusively vested in the Senate. The effects commented on, may be produced by a negative only in the Senate. They can tire out the other House, and extort their concurrence in favorite measures, as well by withholding their negative, as by adhering to a bill introduced by themselves.

Mr. MADISON thought, if the substitute offered by Mr. RANDOLPH for the original section is to be adopted, it would be proper to allow the Senate at least so to amend as to diminish the sums to be raised. Why should they be restrained from checking the extravagance of the other House? One of the greatest evils incident to republican government was the spirit of contention and faction. The proposed substitute, which in some respects lessened the objections against the section, had a contrary effect with respect to this particular. It laid a foundation for new difficulties and disputes between the two Houses. The word revenue was ambiguous. In many acts, particularly in the regulation of trade, the object would be two-fold. The raising of revenue would be one of them. How could it be determined which was the primary or predominant one; or whether it was necessary that revenue should be the sole object, in exclusion even of other incidental effects? When the contest was first opened with Great Britain, their power to regulate trade was admitted, — their power to raise revenue rejected. An accurate investigation of the subject afterwards proved that no line could be drawn between the two cases. The words amend or alter form an equal source of doubt and altercation. When an obnoxious paragraph shall be sent down from the Senate to the House of Representatives, it will be called an origination under the name of an amendment. The Senate may actually couch extraneous matter under that name. In these cases, the question will turn on the degree of connexion between the matter and object of the bill, and the alteration or amendment offered to it. Can there be a more fruitful source of dispute, or a kind of dispute more difficult to be settled? His apprehensions on this point were not conjectural. Disputes had actually flowed from this source in Virginia, where the Senate can originate no bill. The words, “so as to increase or diminish the sum to be raised,” were liable to the same objections. In levying indirect taxes, which it seemed to be understood were to form the principal revenue of the new Government, the sum to be raised, would be increased or diminished by a variety of collateral circumstances influencing the consumption, in general, — the consumption of foreign or of domestic articles, — of this or that particular species of articles, — and even by the mode of collection which may be closely connected with the productiveness of a tax. The friends of the section had argued its necessity from the permanency of the Senate. He could not see how this argument applied. The Senate was not more permanent now than in the form it bore in the original propositions of Mr. RANDOLPH, and at the time when no objection whatever was hinted against its originating money bills. Or if in consequence of a loss of the present question, a proportional vote in the Senate should be reinstated, as has been urged as the indemnification, the permanency of the Senate will remain the same. If the right to originate be vested exclusively in the House of Representatives, either the Senate must yield, against its judgment, to that House, — in which case the utility of the check will be lost, — or the Senate will be inflexible, and the House of Representatives must adapt its money bill to the views of the Senate; in which case the exclusive right will be of no avail. As to the compromise of which so much had been said, he would make a single observation. There were five States which had opposed the equality of votes in the Senate, viz.: Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. As a compensation for the sacrifice extorted from them on this head, the exclusive origination of money bills in the other House had been tendered. Of the five States a majority, viz., Pennsylvania, Virginia, and South Carolina, have uniformly voted against the proposed compensation, on its own merits, as rendering the plan of government still more objectionable. Massachusetts has been divided. North Carolina alone has set a value on the compensation, and voted on that principle. What obligation, then, can the small states be under to concur, against their judgments, in reinstating the section?

Mr. DICKINSON. Experience must be our only guide. Reason may mislead us. It was not reason that discovered the singular and admirable mechanism of the English constitution. It was not reason that discovered, or ever could have discovered, the odd, and, in the eyes of those who are governed by reason, the absurd mode of trial by jury. Accidents probably produced these discoveries, and experience has given a sanction to them. This is, then, our guide. And has not experience verified the utility of restraining money bills to the immediate representatives of the people? Whence the effect may have proceeded, he could not say; whether from the respect with which this privilege inspired the other branches of government, to the House of Commons, or from the turn of thinking it gave to the people at large with regard to their rights; but the effect was visible and could not be doubted. Shall we oppose, to this long experience, the short experience of eleven years which we had ourselves on this subject? As to disputes, they could not be avoided any way. If both Houses should originate, each would have a different bill to which it would be attached, and for which it would contend. He observed that all the prejudices of the people would be offended by refusing this exclusive privilege to the House of Representatives, and these prejudices should never be disregarded by us when no essential purpose was to be served. When this plan goes forth, it will be attacked by the popular leaders. Aristocracy will be the watchword, the Shibboleth among its adversaries. Eight States have inserted in their Constitutions the exclusive right of originating money bills in favor of the popular branch of the Legislature. Most of them, however, allowed the other branch to amend. This, he thought, would be proper for us to do.

Mr. RANDOLPH regarded this point as of such consequence, that, as he valued the peace of this country, he would press the adoption of it. We had numerous and monstrous difficulties to combat. Surely we ought not to increase them. When the people behold in the Senate the countenance of an aristocracy, and in the President the form at least of a little monarch, will not their alarms be sufficiently raised without taking from their immediate representatives a right which has been so long appropriated to them? The Executive will have more influence over the Senate, than over the House of Representatives. Allow the Senate to originate in this case, and that influence will be sure to mix itself in their deliberations and plans. The declaration of war, he conceived, ought not to be in the Senate, composed of twenty-six men only, but rather in the other House. In the other House ought to be placed the origination of the means of war. As to commercial regulations which may involve revenue, the difficulty may be avoided by restraining the definition to bills for the mere or sole purpose of raising revenue. The Senate will be more likely to be corrupt than the House of Representatives, and should therefore have less to do with money matters. His principal object, however, was to prevent popular objections against the plan, and to secure its adoption.

Mr. RUTLEDGE. The friends of this motion are not consistent in their reasoning. They tell us, that we ought to be guided by the long experience of Great Britain, and not our own experience of eleven years; and yet they themselves propose to depart from it. The House of Commons not only have the exclusive right of originating, but the Lords are not allowed to alter or amend a money bill. Will not the people say that this restriction is but a mere tub to the whale? They cannot but see that it is of no real consequence; and will be more likely to be displeased with it as an attempt to bubble them than to impute it to a watchfulness over their rights. For his part, he would prefer giving the exclusive right to the Senate, if it was to be given exclusively at all. The Senate being more conversant in business, and having more leisure, will digest the bills much better, and, as they are to have no effect till examined and approved by the House of Representatives, there can be no possible danger. These clauses in the Constitutions of the States had been put in through a blind adherence to the British model. If the work was to be done over now, they would be omitted. The experiment in South Carolina, where the Senate cannot originate or amend money bills, has shown that it answers no good purpose; and produces the very bad one of continually dividing and heating the two Houses. Sometimes, indeed, if the matter of the amendment of the Senate is pleasing to the other House, they wink at the encroachment; if it be displeasing, then the Constitution is appealed to. Every session is distracted by altercations on this subject. The practice now becoming frequent is for the Senate not to make formal amendments, but to send down a schedule of the alterations which will procure the bill their assent.

Mr. CARROLL. The most ingenious men in Maryland are puzzled to define the case of money bills, or explain the Constitution on that point; though it seemed to be worded with all possible plainness and precision. It is a source of continual difficulty and squabble between the two Houses.

Mr. McHENRY mentioned an instance of extraordinary subterfuge, to get rid of the apparent force of the Constitution.

On the question on the first part of the motion, as to the exclusive originating of money bills in the House of Representatives, —

New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Virginia, (Mr. BLAIR and Mr. MADISON, no; Mr. RANDOLPH, Colonel MASON, and General WASHINGTON,1  aye;) North Carolina, aye, — 4; Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, South Carolina, Georgia, no, — 7.

On the question on originating by the House of Representatives, and amending by the Senate, as reported, Article 4, Sect. 5, —

New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Virginia,2  North Carolina, aye, — 4; Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, South Carolina, Georgia, no, — 7.

On the question on the last clause of Article 4, Sect. 5, viz: “No money shall be drawn from the public treasury, but in pursuance of appropriations that shall originate in the House of Representatives,” it passed in the negative, —

Massachusetts, aye, — 1; New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no, — 10.


1He disapproved, and till now voted against the exclusive privilege. He gave up his judgment, he said, because it was not of very material weight with him, and was made an essential point with others, who, if disappointed, might be less cordial in other points of real weight. 

2In the printed Journal, Virginia, no. 

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