The Debates in the
Federal Convention of 1787
Mr. L. MARTIN resumed his discourse,
contending that the Genl. Govt. ought to be formed for the States, not for
individuals: that if the States were to have votes in proportion to their
numbers of people, it would be the same thing whether their representatives were
chosen by the Legislatures or the people; the smaller States would be equally
enslaved; that if the large States have the same interest with the smaller as
was urged, there could be no danger in giving them an equal vote; they would not
injure themselves, and they could not injure the large ones on that supposition
without injuring themselves and if the interests, were not the same, the
inequality of suffrage wd. be dangerous to the smaller States: that it will be
in vain to propose any plan offensive to the rulers of the States, whose
influence over the people will certainly prevent their adopting it: that the
large States were weak at present in proportion to their extent: & could
only be made formidable to the small ones, by the weight of their votes; that in
case a dissolution of the Union should take place, the small States would have
nothing to fear from their power; that if in such a case the three great States
should league themselves together, the other ten could do so too: & that he
had rather see partial confederacies take place, than the plan on the table.
This was the substance of the residue of his discourse which was delivered
with much diffuseness & considerable vehemence.
Mr. LANSING & Mr. DAYTON moved to strike out "not." so that the 7 art:
might read that the rights 1 of suffrage
in the 1st. branch ought to be according to the rule established by the
Mr. DAYTON expressed great anxiety that
the question might not be put till tomorrow; Governr. Livingston being kept away
by indisposition, and the representation of N. Jersey thereby suspended.
Mr. WILLIAMSON. thought that if any
political truth could be grounded on mathematical demonstration, it was that if
the States were equally sovereign now, and parted with equal proportions of
sovereignty, that they would remain equally sovereign. He could not comprehend
how the smaller States would be injured in the case, and wished some Gentleman
would vouchsafe a solution of it. He observed that the small States, if they had
a plurality of votes would have an interest in throwing the burdens off their
own shoulders on those of the large ones. He begged that the expected addition
of new States from the Westward might be kept in 2
view. They would be small States, they would be poor States, they would be
unable to pay in proportion to their numbers; their distance from market
rendering the produce of their labour less valuable; they would consequently be
tempted to combine for the purpose of laying burdens on commerce &
consumption which would fall with greatest
3 weight on the old States.
M r . M ADISON , Sd. he was much disposed to
concur in any expedient not inconsistent with fundamental principles, that could
remove the difficulty concerning the rule of representation. But he could
neither be convinced that the rule contended for was just, nor 4
necessary for the safety of the small States agst. the large States. That it was
not just, had been conceded by Mr. Breerly & Mr. Patterson themselves. The
expedient proposed by them was a new partition of the territory of the U.
States. The fallacy of the reasoning drawn from the equality of Sovereign States
in the formation of compacts, lay in confounding mere Treaties, in which were
specified certain duties to which the parties were to be bound, and certain
rules by which their subjects were to be reciprocally governed in their
intercourse, with a compact by which an authority was created paramount to the
parties, & making laws for the government of them. If France, England &
Spain were to enter into a Treaty for the regulation of commerce &c with the
Prince of Monacho & 4 or 5 other of the smallest sovereigns of Europe, they
would not hesitate to treat as equals, and to make the regulations perfectly
reciprocal. Wd. the case be the same, if a Council were to be formed of deputies
from each with authority and discretion, to raise money, levy troops, determine
the value of coin &c? Would 30 or 40. million 5
of people submit their fortunes into the hands, of a few thousands? If they did
it would only prove that they expected more from the terror of their superior
force, than they feared from the selfishness of their feeble associates. Why are
Counties of the same states represented in proportion to their numbers? Is it
because the representatives are chosen by the people themselves? So will be the
representatives in the Nationl. Legislature. Is it because, the larger have more
at stake than the smaller? The case will be the same with the larger &
smaller States. Is it because the laws are to operate immediately on their
persons & properties? The same is the case in some degree as the articles of
confederation stand; the same will be the case in a far greater degree under the
plan proposed to be substituted. In the cases of captures, of piracies, and of
offences in a federal army; the property & persons of individuals depend on
the laws of Congs. By the plan proposed a compleat power of taxation, the
highest prerogative of supremacy is proposed to be vested in the National Govt.
Many other powers are added which assimilate it to the Govt. of individual
States. The negative proposed on the State laws, will make it an essential
branch of the State Legislatures & of course will require that it should be
exercised by a body established on like principles with the other 6
branches of those Legislatures. -- That it is not necessary to secure the small
States agst. the large ones he conceived to be equally obvious: Was a
combination of the large ones dreaded? this must arise either from some interest
common to Va. Masts. & Pa. & distinguishing them from the other States
or from the mere circumstance of similarity of size. Did any such common
interest exist? In point of situation they could not have been more effectually
separated from each other by the most jealous citizen of the most jealous State.
In point of manners, Religion, and the other circumstances which sometimes beget
affection between different communities, they were not more assimilated than the
other States. — In point of the staple productions they were as dissimilar
as any three other States in the Union. The Staple of Masts. was fish ,
of Pa. flower , of Va. Tobo . Was a combination to be apprehended
from the mere circumstance of equality of size? Experience suggested no such
danger. The journals of Congs. did not present any peculiar association of these
States in the votes recorded. It had never been seen that different Counties in
the same State, conformable in extent, but disagreeing in other circumstances,
betrayed a propensity to such combinations. Experience rather taught a contrary
lesson. Among individuals of superior eminence & weight in Society,
rivalships were much more frequent than coalitions. Among independent nations,
pre-eminent over their neighbours, the same remark was verified. Carthage &
Rome tore one another to pieces instead of uniting their forces to devour the
weaker nations of the Earth. The Houses of Austria & France were hostile as
long as they remained the greatest powers of Europe. England & France have
succeeded to the pre-eminence & to the enmity. To this principle we owe
perhaps our liberty. A coalition between those powers would have been fatal to
us. Among the principal members of antient & Modern confederacies, we find
the same effect from the same cause. The contintions, not the Coalitions of
Sparta, Athens & Thebes, proved fatal to the smaller members of the
Amphyctionic Confederacy. The contentions, not the combinations of Prussia &
Austria, have distracted & oppressed the Germanic 7
empire. Were the large States formidable singly to their smaller neighbours? On
this supposition the latter ought to wish for such a general Govt. as will
operate with equal energy on the former as on themselves. The more lax the band,
the more liberty the larger will have to avail themselves of their superior
force. Here again Experience was an instructive monitor. What is ye situation of
the weak compared with the strong in those stages of civilization in which the
violence of individuals is least controuled by an efficient Government? The
Heroic period of Antient Greece the feudal licentiousness of the middle ages of
Europe, the existing condition of the American Savages, answer this question.
What is the situation of the minor sovereigns in the great society of
independent nations, in which the more powerful are under no controul but the
nominal authority of the law of Nations? Is not the danger to the former exactly
in proportion to their weakness. But there are cases still more in point. What
was the condition of the weaker members of the Amphyctionic Confederacy.
Plutarch [ 8 life of Themistocles] will
inform us that it happened but too often that the strongest cities corrupted &
awed the weaker, and that Judgment went in favor of the more powerful party.
What is the condition of the lesser states in the German Confederacy? We all
know that they are exceedingly trampled upon; and that they owe their safety as
far as they enjoy it, partly to their enlisting themselves, under the rival
banners of the pre-eminent members, partly to alliances with neighbouring
Princes which the Constitution of the Empire does not prohibit. What is the
state of things in the lax system of the Dutch Confederacy? Holland contains
about 1/2 the people, supplies about 1/2 of
9 the money, and by her influence,
silently & indirectly governs the whole republic. In a word; the two
extremes before us are a perfect separation & a perfect incorporation, of
the 13 States. In the first case they would be independent nations subject to no
law, but the law of nations. In the last, they would be mere counties of one
entire republic, subject to one common law. In the first case the smaller States
would have every thing to fear from the larger. In the last they would have
nothing to fear. The true policy of the small States therefore lies in promoting
those principles & that form of Govt. which will most approximate the States
to the condition of counties. Another consideration may be added. If the Genl.
Govt. be feeble, the large States distrusting its continuance, and foreseeing
that their importance & security may depend on their own size &
strength, will never submit to a partition. Give to the Genl. Govt. sufficient
energy & permanency, & you remove the objection. Gradual partitions of
the large, & junctions of the small States will be facilitated, and time may
effect that equalization, which is wished for by the small States now, but can
never be accomplished at once.
Mr. WILSON. The leading argument of
those who contend for equality of votes among the States is that the States as
such being equal, and being represented not as districts of individuals, but in
their political & corporate capacities, are entitled to an equality of
suffrage. According to this mode of reasoning the representation of the boroughs
in Engld which has been allowed on all hands to be the rotten part of the
Constitution, is perfectly right & proper. They are like the States
represented in their corporate capacity like the States therefore they are
entitled to equal voices, old Sarum to as many as London. And instead of the
injury supposed hitherto to be done to London, the true ground of complaint lies
with old Sarum: for London instead of two which is her proper share, sends four
representatives to Parliament.
Mr. SHERMAN. The question is not what
rights naturally belong to men 10; but
how they may be most equally & effectually guarded in Society. And if some
give up more than others in order to attain 11
this end, there can be no room for complaint. To do otherwise, to require an
equal concession from all, if it would create danger to the rights of some,
would be sacrificing the end to the means. The rich man who enters into Society
along with the poor man, gives up more than the poor man, yet with an equal vote
he is equally safe. Were he to have more votes than the poor man in proportion
to his superior stake, the rights of the poor man would immediately cease to be
secure. This consideration prevailed when the articles of Confederation were
The determination of the question from 12
striking out the word "not" was put off till tomorrow at the request
of the Deputies of N. York. See opposite page & insert the Speech of Doctr.
F in this place. 13
The small progress we have made after 4 or five weeks
close attendance & continual reasonings with each other — our different
sentiments on almost every question, several of the last producing as many noes
as ays, is methinks a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the Human
Understanding. We indeed seem to feel our own want of political wisdom, since we
have been running about in search of it. We have gone back to ancient history
for models of Government, and examined the different forms of those Republics
which having been formed with the seeds of their own dissolution now no longer
exist. And we have viewed Modern States all round Europe, but find none of their
Constitutions suitable to our circumstances.
In this situation of this Assembly, groping as it were in the dark to find
political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has
it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to
the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the
Contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in
this room for the divine protection. — Our prayers, Sir, were heard, &
they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must
have observed frequent instances of a superintending providence in our favor. To
that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the
means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten
that powerful friend? or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance? I
have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs
I see of this truth — that God Governs in the affairs of men. And
if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that
an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred
writings, that "except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that
build it." I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his
concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better, than the
Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests;
our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and
bye word down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this
unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human wisdom and
leave it to chance, war and conquest.
I therefore beg leave to move — that henceforth prayers imploring the
assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this
Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of
the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that Service —
Mr. SHERMAN seconded the motion.
Mr. HAMILTON & several others
expressed their apprehensions that however proper such a resolution might have
been at the beginning of the convention, it might at this late day, I.
14 bring on it some disagreeable
animadversions. & 2. 15 lead the
public to believe that the embarrassments and dissensions within the Convention,
had suggested this measure. It was answered by Docr. F. Mr. SHERMAN
& others, that the past omission of a duty could not justify a further
omission — that the rejection of such a proposition would expose the
Convention to more unpleasant animadversions than the adoption of it: and that
the alarm out of doors that might be excited for the state of things within,
would at least be as likely to do good as ill.
Mr. WILLIAMSON, observed that the true
cause of the omission could not be mistaken. The Convention had no funds.
Mr. RANDOLPH proposed in order to give a
favorable aspect to ye. measure, that a sermon be preached at the request of the
16 4th of July, the anniversary of
Independence; & thenceforward prayers be used 17
in ye. Convention every morning. Dr. FRANKn.
2ded. this motion After several unsuccessful attempts for silently postponing
18 matter by adjourng. the adjournment
was at length carried, without any vote on the motion.
1. The transcript uses the word "rights"
in the singular.
2. The words "taken into" are
substituted in the transcript for "kept in."
3. The word "greater" is
substituted in the transcript for "greatest."
4. The words "that it was" are
here inserted in the transcript.
5. The transcript uses the word "million"
in the plural.
6. The word "other" is omitted
in the transcript.
7. The word "German" is
substituted in the transcript for "Germanic."
8. The word "see" is here
inserted in the transcript.
9. The word "of" is omitted in
10. The word "men" is used in
the singular in the transcript.
11. The word "obtain" is
substituted in the transcript for "attain."
12. The word "from" is changed
to "for" in the transcript.
13. Madison's direction is omitted in the
transcript and the words "Doctor Franklin" are inserted.
14. The figure "1" is changed
to "in the first place" in the transcript.
15. The figure "2" is changed
to "in the second place" in the transcript.
16. The word "the" is here
inserted in the transcript.
17. The words "&c to be read"
are substituted in the transcript for "be used."
18. The word "this" is
substituted in the transcript for "the."