The Debates in the
Federal Convention of 1787
JUNE 30, 1787. 1
Mr. BREARLY moved that the Presidt.
write to the Executive of N. Hamshire, informing it that the business depending
before the Convention was of such a nature as to require the immediate
attendance of the deputies of that State. In support of his motion he observed
that the difficulties of the subject and the diversity of opinions called for
all the assistance we could possibly obtain. [it was well understood that the
object was to add N. Hamshire to the no. of States opposed to the doctrine of
proportional representation, which it was presumed from her relative size she
must be adverse to].
Mr. PATTERSON seconded the motion
Mr. RUTLIDGE could see neither the
necessity nor propriety of such a measure. They are not unapprized of the
meeting, and can attend if they choose. Rho. Island might as well be urged to
appoint & send deputies. Are we to suspend the business until the deputies
arrive? if we proceed he hoped all the great points would be adjusted before the
letter could produce its effect.
Mr. KING. said he had written more than
once as a private correspondent, & the answers 2
gave him every reason to expect that State would be represented very shortly, if
it shd. be so at all. Circumstances of a personal nature had hitherto prevented
it. A letter cd. have no effect.
Mr. WILSON wished to know whether it
would be consistent with the rule or reason of secresy, to communicate to N.
Hamshire that the business was of such a nature as the motion described. It wd.
spread a great alarm. Besides he doubted the propriety of soliciting any State
on the subject; the meeting being merely voluntary — on the 3
motion of Mr. Brearly Masts. no. Cont. no. N. Y. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. not on ye.
floor. Del. not on floor. Md. divd. Va. no. N. C. no. S. C. no. Geo. not on
The motion of Mr. Elseworth 5 resumed
for allowing each State an equal vote in ye 2d. branch.
Mr. WILSON did not expect such a motion
after the establishment of ye. contrary principle in the 1st. branch; and
considering the reasons which would oppose it, even if an equal vote had been
allowed in the 1st. branch. The Gentleman from Connecticut [Mr. Elseworth] had
pronounced that if the motion should not be acceded to, of all the States North
of Pena. one only would agree to any Genl. Government. He entertained more
favorable hopes of Connt. and of the other Northern States. He hoped the alarms
exceeded their cause, and that they would not abandon a Country to which they
were bound by so many strong and endearing ties. But should the deplored event
happen, it would neither stagger his sentiments nor his duty. If the minority of
the people of America refuse to coalesce with the majority on just and proper
principles, if a separation must take place, it could never happen on better
grounds. The votes of yesterday agst. the just principle of representation, were
as 22 to 90 of the people of America. Taking the opinions to be the same on this
point, and he was sure if there was any room for change, it could not be on the
side of the majority, the question will be shall less than 1/4 of the U. States
withdraw themselves from the Union; or shall more than 3/4 . renounce the
inherent, indisputable, and unalienable rights of men, in favor of the
artificial systems of States. If issue must be joined, it was on this point he
would chuse to join it. The gentlemen from Connecticut in supposing that the
6 secured to the majority in the 1st.
branch had removed the objections to an equality of votes in the 2d. branch for
the security of the minority, narrowed the case extremely. Such an equality will
enable the minority to controul in all cases whatsoever, the sentiments and
interests of the majority. Seven States will controul six: Seven States,
according to the estimates that had been used, composed 24/90 . of the whole
people. It would be in the power then of less than 1/3 to overrule 2/3 whenever
a question should happen to divide the States in that manner. Can we forget for
whom we are forming a Government? Is it for men, or for the imaginary
beings called States? Will our honest Constituents be satisfied with
metaphysical distinctions? Will they, ought they to be satisfied with being told
that the one third compose the greater number of States? The rule of suffrage
ought on every principle to be the same in the 2d. as in the 1st. branch. If the
Government be not laid on this foundation, it can be neither solid nor lasting.
Any other principle will be local, confined & temporary. This will expand
with the expansion, and grow with the growth of the U. States. — Much has
been said of an imaginary combination of three States. Sometimes a danger of
monarchy, sometimes of aristocracy, has been charged on it. No explanation
however of the danger has been vouchsafed. It would be easy to prove both from
reason & history that rivalships would be more probable than coalitions; and
that there are no coinciding interests that could produce the latter. No answer
has yet been given to the observations of [Mr. Madison] on this subject. Should
the Executive Magistrate be taken from one of the large States would not the
other two be thereby thrown into the scale with the other States? Whence then
the danger of monarchy? Are the people of the three large States more
aristocratic than those of the small ones? Whence then the danger of aristocracy
from their influence? It is all a mere illusion of names. We talk of States,
till we forget what they are composed of. Is a real & fair majority, the
natural hot-bed of aristocracy? It is a part of the definition of this species
of Govt. or rather of tyranny, that the smaller number governs the greater. It
is true that a majority of States in the 2d. branch can not carry a law agst. a
majority of the people in the 1st. But this removes half only of the objection.
Bad Governts. are of two sorts. 1. 7 that
which does too little. 2. 7 that which
does too much: that which fails thro' weakness; and that which destroys thro'
oppression. Under which of these evils do the U. States at present groan? under
the weakness and inefficiency of its Governt. To remedy this weakness we have
been sent to this Convention. If the motion should be agreed to, we shall leave
the U. S. fettered precisely as heretofore; with the additional mortification of
seeing the good purposes of ye. fair represention of the people in the 1st.
branch, defeated in
8 2d. Twenty four will still controul
sixty six. He lamented that such a disagreement should prevail on the point of
representation, as he did not foresee that it would happen on the other point
most contested, the boundary between the Genl. & the local authorities. He
thought the States necessary & valuable parts of a good system.
Mr. ELSEWORTH. The capital objection of
Mr. Wilson "that the minority will rule the majority" is not true. The
power is given to the few to save them from being destroyed by the many. If an
equality of votes had been given to them in both branches, the objection might
have had weight. Is it a novel thing that the few should have a check on the
many? Is it not the case in the British Constitution the wisdom of which so many
gentlemen have united in applauding? Have not the House of Lords, who form so
small a proportion of the nation a negative on the laws, as a necessary defence
of their peculiar rights agst. the encroachmts. of the Commons. No instance of a
Confederacy has existed in which an equality of voices has not been exercised by
the members of it. We are running from one extreme to another. We are razing the
foundations of the building, when we need only repair the roof. No salutary
measure has been lost for want of a majority of the States, to favor it.
If security be all that the great States wish for the 1st. branch secures them.
The danger of combinations among them is not imaginary. Altho' no particular
abuses could be foreseen by him, the possibility of them would be sufficient to
alarm him. But he could easily conceive cases in which they might result from
such combinations. Suppose that in pursuance of some commercial treaty or
arrangement, three or four free ports & no more were to be established would
not combinations be formed in favor of Boston — Philada. & & some
port in 9 Chesapeak? A like concert might
be formed in the appointment of the great officers. He appealed again to the
obligations of the federal pact which was still in force, and which had been
entered into with so much solemnity; persuading himself that some regard would
still be paid to the plighed faith under which each State small as well as
great, held an equal right of suffrage in the general Councils. His remarks were
not the result of partial or local views. The State he represented [Connecticut]
held a middle rank.
Mr. MADISON did justice to the able &
close reasoning of Mr. E. but must observe that it did not always accord with
itself. On another occasion, the large States were described by him as the
Aristocratic States, ready to oppress the small. Now the small are the House of
Lords requiring a negative to defend them agst. the more numerous commons. Mr.
E. had also erred in saying that no instance had existed in which confederated
States had not retained to themselves a perfect equality of suffrage. Passing
over the German system in which the K. of Prussia has nine voices, he reminded
Mr. E. of the Lycian confederacy, in which the component members had votes
proportioned to their importance, and which Montesquieu recommends as the
fittest model for that form of Government. Had the fact been as stated by Mr. E.
it would have been of little avail to him, or rather would have strengthened the
arguments agst. him; the History & fate of the several confederacies modern
as well as Antient, demonstrating some radical vice in their structure. In reply
to the appeal of Mr. E. to the faith plighted in the existing federal compact,
he remarked that the party claiming from others an adherence to a common
engagement ought at least to be guiltless itself of a violation. Of all the
States however Connecticut was perhaps least able to urge this plea. Besides the
various omissions to perform the stipulated acts from which no State was free,
the Legislature of that State had by a pretty recent vote, positively,
refused to pass a law for complying with the Requisitions of Congs. and had
transmitted a copy of the vote to Congs. It was urged, he said, continually that
an equality of votes in the 2d. branch was not only necessary to secure the
small, but would be perfectly safe to the large ones whose majority in the 1st.
branch was an effectual bulwark. But notwithstanding this apparent defence, the
majority of States might still injure the majority of 10
11 they could obstruct the wishes
and interests of the majority. 2. 11 they
could extort measures repugnant to the wishes & interest of the
11 they could impose measures
adverse thereto; as the 2d. branch will probably exercise some great powers, in
which the 1st. will not participate. He admitted that every peculiar interest
whether in any class of citizens, or any description of States, ought to be
secured as far as possible. Wherever there is danger of attack there ought
12 be given a constitutional power of
defence. But he contended that the States were divided into different interests
not by their difference of size, but by other circumstances; the most material
of which resulted partly from climate, but principally from the effects of their
having or not having slaves. These two causes concurred in forming the great
division of interests in the U. States. It did not lie between the large &
small States: It lay between the Northern & Southern, and if any defensive
power were necessary, it ought to be mutually given to these two interests. He
was so strongly impressed with this important truth that he had been casting
about in his mind for some expedient that would answer the purpose. The one
which had occurred was that instead of proportioning the votes of the States in
both branches, to their respective numbers of inhabitants computing the slaves
in the ratio of 5 to 3, they should be represented in one branch according to
the number of free inhabitants only; and in the other according to the whole no.
counting the slaves as if 13 free. By
this arrangement the Southern Scale would have the advantage in one House, and
the Northern in the other. He had been restrained from proposing this expedient
by two considerations: one was his unwillingness to urge any diversity of
interests on an occasion where it is but too apt to arise of itself — the
other was, the inequality of powers that must be vested in the two branches, and
which wd. destroy the equilibrium of interests.
Mr. ELSEWORTH assured the House that
whatever might be thought of the Representatives of Connecticut the State was
entirely federal in her disposition. He appealed to her great exertions during
the war, in supplying both men & money. The muster rolls would show she had
more troops in the field than Virga. If she had been Delinquent, it had been
from inability, and not more so than other States.
Mr. SHERMAN. Mr. Madison has
14 animadverted on the delinquency of the
States, when his object required him to prove that the Constitution of Congs.
was faulty. Congs. is not to blame for the faults of the States. Their measures
have been right, and the only thing wanting has been, a further power in Congs.
to render them effectual.
Mr. DAVY was much embarrassed and wished
for explanations. The Report of the Committee allowing the Legislatures to
choose the Senate, and establishing a proportional representation in it, seemed
to be impracticable. There will according to this rule be ninety members in the
outset, and the number will increase as new States are added. It was impossible
that so numerous a body could possess the activity and other qualities required
in it. Were he to vote on the comparative merits of the report as it stood, and
the amendment, he should be constrained to prefer the latter. The appointment of
the Senate by electors chosen by the people for that purpose was he conceived
liable to an insuperable difficulty. The larger Counties or districts thrown
into a general district, would certainly prevail over the smaller Counties or
districts, and merit in the latter would be excluded altogether. The report
therefore seemed to be right in referring the appointment to the Legislatures,
whose agency in the general System did not appear to him objectionable as it did
to some others. The fact was that the local prejudices & interests which
could not be denied to exist, would find their way into the national councils
whether the Representatives should be chosen by the Legislatures or by the
people themselves. On the other hand, if a proportional representation was
attended with insuperable difficulties, the making the Senate the Representative
of the States, looked like bringing us back to Congs. again, and shutting out
all the advantages expected from it. Under this view of the subject he could not
vote for any plan for the Senate yet proposed. He though that in general there
were extremes on both sides. We were partly federal, partly national in our
Union, and he did not see why the Govt. might not in some respects operate on
the States, in others on the people.
Mr. WILSON admitted the question
concerning the number of Senators, to be embarrassing. If the smallest States be
allowed one, and the others in proportion, the Senate will certainly be too
numerous. He looked forward to the time when the smallest States will contain
100,000 souls at least. Let there be then one Senator in each for every 100,000
souls and let the States not having that no. of inhabitants be allowed one. He
was willing himself to submit to this temporary concession to the small States;
and threw out the idea as a ground of compromise.
The diversity of opinions turns on two points. If a proportional representation
takes place, the small States contend that their liberties will be in danger. If
an equality of votes is to be put in its place, the large States say their money
will be in danger. When a broad table is to be made, and the edges of planks do
not fit, the artist takes a little from both, and makes a good joint. In like
manner here both sides must part with some of their demands, in order that they
may join in some accomodating proposition. He had prepared one which he would
read, that it might lie on the table for consideration.
The proposition was in the words following"
"That the Legislatures of the several States shall choose & send an
equal number of Delegates, namely _____ who are to compose the 2d. branch of the
General Legislature —
"That in all cases or questions wherein the Sovereignty of individual
States may be affected, or whereby their authority over their own Citizens may
be diminished, or the authority of the General Government within the several
States augmented, each State shall have equal suffrage.
"That in the appointment of all Civil officers of ye. Genl. Govt. in
the election of whom the 2d. branch may by the Constitution have part, each
State shall have equal suffrage.
"That in fixing the Salaries of such officers, and in all allowances
for public services, and generally in all appropriations & dispositions of
money to be drawn out of the General Treasury; and in all laws for supplying
that Treasury, the Delegates of the several States shall have suffrage in
proportion to the Sums which their respective States do actually contribute to
the Treasury." Where a Ship had many owners this was the rule of deciding
on her expedition. He had been one of the Ministers from this Country to France
during the joint war and wd. have been very glad if allowed a vote in
distributing the money to carry it on.
Mr. KING observed that the simple
question was whether each State should have an equal vote in the 2d. branch;
that it must be apparent to those gentlemen who liked neither the motion for
this equality, nor the report as it stood, that the report was as susceptible of
melioration as the motion; that a reform would be nugatory & nominal only if
we should make another Congress of the proposed Senate: that if the adherence to
an equality of votes was fixed & unalterable, there could not be less
obstinacy on the other side, & that we were in fact cut insunder
15 already, and it was in vain to shut
our eyes against it: that he was however filled with astonishment that if we
were convinced that every man in America was secured in all his rights,
we should be ready to sacrifice this substantial good to the phantom of State
sovereignty: that his feelings were more harrowed & his fears more agitated
for his Country than he could express, that he conceived this to be the last
opportunity of providing for its liberty & happiness: that he could not
therefore but repeat his amazement that when a just Governt. founded on a fair
representation of the people of America was within our reach, we should
renounce the blessing, from an attachment to the ideal freedom & importance
States: that should this wonderful illusion continue to prevail, his
mind was prepared for every event, rather than to 16
sit down under a Govt. founded in 17 a
vicious principle of representation, and which must be as short lived as it
would be unjust. He might prevail on himself to accede to some such expedient as
had been hinted by Mr. Wilson: but he never could listen to an equality of votes
as proposed in the motion.
Mr. DAYTON. When assertion is given for
proof, and terror substituted for argument, he presumed they would have no
effect however eloquently spoken. It should have been shewn that the evils we
have experienced have proceeded from the equality now objected to: and that the
seeds of dissolution for the State Governments are not sown in the Genl.
Government. He considered the system on the table as a novelty, an amphibious
monster; and was persuaded that it never would be recd. by the people.
Mr. MARTIN, wd. never confederate if it
could not be done on just principles.
Mr. MADISON would acquiesce in the
concession hinted by Mr. Wilson, on condition that a due independence should be
given to the Senate. The plan in its present shape makes the Senate absolutely
dependent on the States. The Senate therefore is only another edition of Congs.
He knew the faults of that Body & had used a bold language agst. it. Still
he wd. preserve the State rights, as carefully as the trials by jury.
Mr. BEDFORD, contended that there was no
middle way between a perfect consolidation and a mere confederacy of the States.
The first is out of the question, and in the latter they must continue if not
perfectly, yet equally sovereign. If political Societies possess ambition
avarice, and all the other passions which render them formidable to each other,
ought we not to view them in this light here? Will not the same motives operate
in America as elsewhere? If any gentleman doubts it let him look at the votes.
Have they not been dictated by interest, by ambition? Are not the large States
evidently seeking to aggrandize themselves at the expense of the small? They
think no doubt that they have right on their side, but interest had blinded
their eyes. Look at Georgia. Though a small State at present, she is actuated by
the prospect of soon being a great one. S. Carolina is actuated both by present
interest & future prospects. She hopes too to see the other States cut down
to her own dimensions. N. Carolina has the same motives of present & future
interest. Virga. follows. Maryd. is not on that side of the Question. Pena. has
a direct and future interest. Massts. has a decided and palpable interest in the
part she takes. Can it be expected that the small States will act from pure
disinterestedness. Look at G. Britain. Is the Representation there less unequal?
But we shall be told again that that is the rotten part of the Constitution.
Have not the boroughs however held fast their constitutional rights? and are we
to act with greater purity than the rest of mankind. An exact proportion in the
Representation is not preserved in any one of the States. Will it be said that
an inequality of power will not result from an inequality of votes. Give the
opportunity, and ambition will not fail to abuse it. The whole History of
mankind proves it. The three large States have a common interest to bind them
together in commerce. But whether a combination as we suppose, or a competition
as others suppose, shall take place among them, in either case, the smaller
18 States must be ruined. We must like
Solon make such a Governt. as the people will approve. Will the smaller States
ever agree to the proposed degradation of them. It is not true that the people
will not agree to enlarge the powers of the present Congs. The Language of the
people has been that Congs. ought to have the power of collecting an impost, and
of coercing the States when 19 it may be
necessary. On the first point they have been explicit &, in a manner,
unanimous in their declarations. And must they not agree to this & similar
measures if they ever mean to discharge their engagements. The little States are
willing to observe their engagements, but will meet the large ones on no ground
but that of the Confederation. We have been told with a dictatorial air that
this is the last moment for a fair trial in favor of a good Governmt. It will be
the last indeed if the propositions reported from the Committee go forth to the
people. He was under no apprehensions. The Large States dare not dissolve the
Confederation. If they do the small ones willfind some foreign ally of more
honor and good faith, who will take them by the hand and do them justice. He did
not mean by this to intimidate or alarm. It was a natural consequence; which
ought to be avoided by enlarging the federal powers not annihilating the federal
system. This is what the people expect. All agree in the necessity of a more
efficient Govt. and why not make such an one; as they desire.
Mr. ELSEWORTH. Under a National Govt. he
should participate in the National Security, as remarked by [Mr. King] but that
was all. What he wanted was domestic happiness. The Natl. Govt. could not
descend to the local objects on which this depended. It could only embrace
objects of a general nature. He turned his eyes therefore for the preservation
of his rights to the State Govts. From these alone he could derive the greatest
happiness he expects in this life. His happiness depends on their existence, as
much as a new born infant on its mother for nourishment. If this reasoning was
not satisfactory, he had nothing to add that could be so.
Mr. KING was for preserving the States
in a subordinate degree, and as far as they could be necessary for the purposes
stated by Mr. Elsewth. He did not think a full answer had been given to those
who apprehended a dangerous encroachment on their jurisdictions. Expedients
might be devised as he conceived that would give them all the security the
nature of things would admit of. In the establishmt. of Societies the
Constitution was to the Legislature what the laws were to individuals. As the
fundamental rights of individuals are secured by express provisions in the State
Constitutions; why may not a like security be provided for the Rights of States
in the National Constitution. The articles of Union between Engld. &
Scotland furnish an example of such a provision in favor of sundry rights of
Scotland. When that Union was in agitation, the same language of apprehension
which has been heard from the smaller States, was in the mouths of the Scotch
patriots. The articles however have not been violated and the Scotch have found
an increase of prosperity & happiness. He was aware that this will be called
a mere paper security. He thought it a sufficient answer to say that if
fundamental articles of compact, are no sufficient defence against physical
power, neither will there be any safety agst. it if there be no compact. He
could not sit down, without taking some notice of the language of the honorable
gentleman from Delaware [Mr. Bedford]. It was not he that had uttered a
dictatorial language. This intemperance had marked the honorabl gentleman
himself. It was not he who with a vehemence unprecedented in that House, had
declared himself ready to turn his hopes from our common Country, and court the
protection of some foreign hand. This too was the language of the Honbl member
himself. He was grieved that such a thought had entered into
20 his heart. He was more grieved that
such an expression had dropped from his lips. The gentleman cd. only excuse it
to himself on the score of passion. For himself whatever might be his distress,
he wd. never court relief from a foreign power.
1. The year "1787" is here
inserted in the transcript.
2. The transcript uses the word "answers"
in the singular.
3. The word "the" is omitted in
4. In the transcript the vote reads: "New
York, New Jersey, aye — 2; Massachusetts, Connecticut, Virginia, North
Carolina, South Carolina, no — 5; Maryland, divided: Pennsylvania,
Delaware, Georgia, not on the floor."
5. The word "being" is here
inserted in the transcript.
6. The word "prepondenancy" is
changed to "preponderance" in the transcript.
7. The figures "1" and "2"
are changed to "first" and "secondly" in the transcript.
8. The word "the" is here
inserted in the transcript.
9. The words "of the" are
substituted in the transcript for "in."
10. The word "the" is here
inserted in the transcript.
11. The figures "1," "2"
and "3" are changed to "In the first place," "Secondly"
12. The word "to" is here
inserted in the transcript.
13. The word "if" is omitted in
14. The word "has" is omitted
in the transcript.
15. The word "asunder" is
substituted in the transcript for "insunder.."
16. The word "to" is omitted in
17. The word "on" is
substituted in the transcript for "in."
18. The word "small" is
substituted in the transcript for "smaller."
19. The word "where" is
substituted in the transcript for "when."
20. The word "into" is omitted
in the transcript.