The Debates in the
Federal Convention of 1787
Mr. GERRY, according to previous notice
given by him, moved "that the National Executive should be elected by the
Executives of the States whose proportion of votes should be the same with that
allowed to the States in the election of the Senate." If the appointmt.
should be made by the Natl. Legislature, it would lessen that independence of
the Executive which ought to prevail, would give birth to intrigue and
corruption between the Executive & Legislature previous to the election, and
to partiality in the Executive afterwards to the friends who promoted him. Some
other mode therefore appeared to him necessary. He proposed that of appointing
by the State Executives as most analogous to the principle observed in electing
the other branches of the Natl. Govt.; the first branch being chosen by the
people of the States, & the 2d. by the Legislatures of the States;
he did not see any objection agst. letting the Executive be appointed by the
Executives of the States. He supposed the Executives would be most likely to
select the fittest men, and that it would be their interest to support the man
of their own choice.
Mr. RANDOLPH, urged strongly the
inexpediency of Mr. Gerry's mode of appointing the Natl. Executive. The
confidence of the people would not be secured by it to the Natl. magistrate. The
small States would lose all chance of an appointmt. from within themselves. Bad
appointments would be made; the Executives of the States being little conversant
with characters not within their own small spheres. The State Executives too
notwithstanding their constitutional independence, being in fact dependent on
the State Legislatures will generally be guided by the views of the latter, and
prefer either favorites within the States, or such as it may be expected will be
most partial to the interests of the State. A Natl. Executive thus chosen will
not be likely to defend with becoming vigilance & firmness the National
rights agst. State encroachments. Vacancies also must happen. How can these be
filled? He could not suppose either that the Executives would feel the interest
in supporting the Natl. Executive which had been imagined. They will not cherish
the great Oak which is to reduce them to paltry shrubs.
On the question for referring the appointment of the Natl. Executive to the
State Executives as propd. by Mr. Gerry Massts. no. Cont. no. N. Y. no. N. J.
no. Pa. no. Del. divd. Md. no. Va. no. S. C. no. Geo. no. 1
Mr. PATTERSON moves that the Committee
resume the clause relating to the rule of suffrage in the Natl. Legislature.
Mr. BREARLY seconds him. He was sorry he
said that any question on this point was brought into view. It had been much
agitated in Congs. at the time of forming the Confederation, and was then
rightly settled by allowing to each sovereign State an equal vote. Otherwise the
smaller States must have been destroyed instead of being saved. The substitution
of a ratio, he admitted carried fairness on the face of it; but on a deeper
examination was unfair and unjust. Judging of the disparity of the States by the
quota of Congs. Virga. would have 16 votes, and Georgia but one. A like
proportion to the others will make the whole number ninity. There will be 3.
large states, and 10 small ones. The large States by which he meant Massts.
Pena. & Virga. will carry every thing before them. It had been admitted, and
was known to him from facts within N. Jersey that where large & small
counties were united into a district for electing representatives for the
district, the large counties always carried their point, and Consequently that
2 the large States would do so. Virga.
with her sixteen votes will be a solid column indeed, a formidable phalanx.
While Georgie with her Solitary vote, and the other little States will be
obliged to throw themselves constantly into the scale of some large one, in
order to have any weight at all. He had come to the convention with a view of
being as useful as he could in giving energy and stability to the federal
Government. When the proposition for destroying the equality of votes came
forward, he was astonished, he was alarmed. Is it fair then it will be asked
that Georgia should have an equal vote with Virga.? He would not say it was.
What remedy then? One only, that a map of the U. S. be spread out, that all the
existing boundaries be erased, and that a new partition of the whole be made
into 13 equal parts.
Mr. PATTERSON considered the proposition
for a proportional representation as striking at the existence of the lesser
States. He wd. premise however to an investigation of this question some remarks
on the nature structure and powers of the Convention. The Convention he said was
formed in pursuance of an Act of Congs. that this act was recited in several of
the Commissions, particularly that of Massts. which he required to be read: that
the amendment of the confederacy was the object of all the laws and commissions
on the subject; that the articles of the Confederation were therefore the proper
basis of all the proceedings of the Convention. 3
We ought to keep within its limits, or we should be charged by our Constituents
with usurpation, that the people of America were sharpsighted and not to be
deceived. But the Commissions under which we acted were not only the measure of
our power, they denoted also the sentiments of the States on the subject of our
deliberation. The idea of a national Govt. as contradistinguished from a federal
one, never entered into the mind of any of them, and to the public mind we must
accomodate ourselves. We have no power to go beyond the federal scheme, and if
we had the people are not ripe for any other. We must follow the people; the
people will not follow us. — The proposition could not be
maintained whether considered in reference to us as a nation, or as a
confederacy. A confederacy supposes sovereignty in the members composing it &
sovereignty supposes equality. If we are to be considered as a nation, all State
distinctions must be abolished, the whole must be thrown into hotchpot, and when
an equal division is made, then there may be fairly an equality of
representation. He held up Virga. Massts. & Pa. as the three large States,
and the other ten as small ones; repeating the calculations of Mr. Brearly as to
the disparity of votes which wd. take place, and affirming that the small States
would never agree to it. He said there was no more reason that a great
individual State contributing much, should have more votes than a small one
contributing little, than that a rich individual citizen should have more votes
than an indigent one. If the rateable property of A was to that of B as 40 to 1,
ought A for that reason to have 40 times as many votes as B. Such a principle
would never be admitted, and if it were admitted would put B entirely at the
mercy of A. As A. has more to be protected than B so he ought to contribute more
for the common protection. The same may be said of a large State wch. has more
to be protected than a small one. Give the large States an influence in
proportion to their magnitude, and what will be the consequence? Their ambition
will be proportionally increased, and the small States will have every thing to
fear. It was once proposed by Galloway & some others that America should be
represented in the British Parlt. and then be bound by its laws. America could
not have been entitled to more than 1/3 of the no. of
4 Representatives which would fall to the
share of G. B. Would American rights & interests have been safe under an
authority thus constituted? It has been said that if a Natl. Govt. is to be
formed so as to operate on the people and not on the States, the representatives
ought to be drawn from the people. But why so? May not a Legislature filled by
the State Legislatures operate on the people who chuse the State Legislatures?
or may not a practicable coercion be found. He admitted that there was none such
in the existing System. — He was attached strongly to the plan of the
existing confederacy, in which the people chuse their Legislative
representatives; and the Legislatures their federal representatives. No other
amendments were wanting than to mark the orbits of the States with due
precision, and provide for the use of coercion, which was the great point. He
alluded to the hint thrown out heretofore by Mr. Wilson of the necessity to
which the large States might be reduced of confederating among themselves, by a
refusal of the others to concur. Let them unite if they please, but let them
remember that they have no authority to compel the others to unite. N. Jersey
will never confederate on the plan before the Committee. She would be swallowed
up. He had rather submit to a monarch, to a despot, than to such a fate. He
would not only oppose the plan here but on his return home do every thing in his
power to defeat it there.
Mr. WILSON hoped if the Confederacy
should be dissolved, that a majority, that a minority of the
States would unite for their safety. He entered elaborately into the defence of
a proportional representation, stating for his first position that as all
authority was derived from the people, equal numbers of people ought to have an
equal no. of representatives, and different numbers of people different numbers
of representatives. This principle had been improperly violated in the
Confederation, owing to the urgent circumstances of the time. As to the case of
A. & B, stated by Mr. Patterson, he observed that in districts as large as
the States, the number of people was the best measure of their comparative
wealth. Whether therefore wealth or numbers were
5 to form the ratio it would be the same.
Mr. P. admitted persons, not property to be the measure of suffrage. Are not the
Citizens of Pena. equal to those of N. Jersey? does it require 150 of the former
to balance 50 of the latter? Representatives of different districts ought
clearly to hold the same proportion to each other, as their respective
Constituents hold to each other. If the small States will not confederate on
this plan, Pena. & he presumed some other States, would not confederate on
any other. We have been told that each State being sovereign, all are equal. So
each man is naturally a sovereign over himself, and all men are therefore
naturally equal. Can he retain this equality when he becomes a member of Civil
Government? He can not. As little can a Sovereign State, when it becomes a
member of a federal Governt. If N. J. will not part with her Sovereignty it is
in vain to talk of Govt. A new partition of the States is desireable, but
evidently & totally impracticable.
Mr. WILLIAMSON, illustrated the cases by
a comparison of the different States, to Counties of different sizes within the
same State; observing that proportional representation was admitted to be just
in the latter case, and could not therefore be fairly contested in the former.
The Question being about to be put Mr. PATTERSON
hoped that as so much depended on it, it might be thought best to postpone the
decision till tomorrow, which was done nem. con.
The Come. rose & the House adjourned.
1. In the transcript the vote reads: "Massachusetts,
Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, South
Carolina, Georgia, no; Delaware divided."
2. The word "that" is omitted in
3. The word "that" is here
inserted in the transcript.
4. The words "no. of" are
omitted in the transcript.
5. The word "was" is substituted
in the transcript for "were."