The Debates in the
Federal Convention of 1787
Mr. RANDOLPH's motion requiring the
Legislre. to take a periodical census for the purpose of redressing inequalities
in the Representation, was resumed.
Mr. SHERMAN was agst. shackling the
Legislature too much. We ought to choose wise & good men, and then confide
Mr. MASON. The greater the difficulty we
find in fixing a proper rule of Representation, the more unwilling ought we to
be, to throw the task from ourselves, on the Genl. Legislre. He did not object
to the conjectural ratio which was to prevail in the outset; but considered a
Revision from time to time according to some permanent & precise standard as
essential to ye. fair representation required in the 1st. branch. According to
the present population of America, the Northn. part of it had a right to
preponderate, and he could not deny it. But he wished it not to preponderate
hereafter when the reason no longer continued. From the nature of man we may be
sure, that those who have power in their hands will not give it up while they
can retain it. On the contrary we know they will always when they can rather
increase it. If the S. States therefore should have 3/4 of the people of America
within their limits, the Northern will hold fast the majority of
Representatives. 1/4 will govern the 3/4 . The S. States will complain: but they
may complain from generation to generation without redress. Unless some
principle therefore which will do justice to them hereafter shall be inserted in
the Constitution, disagreeable as the declaration was to him, he must declare he
could neither vote for the system here, nor support it, in his State. Strong
objections had been drawn from the danger to the Atlantic interests from new
Western States. Ought we to sacrifice what we know to be right in itself, lest
it should prove favorable to States which are not yet in existence. If the
Western States are to be admitted into the Union, as they arise, they must, he
wd. repeat, be treated as equals, and subjected to no degrading discriminations.
They will have the same pride & other passions which we have, and will
either not unite with or will speedily revolt from the Union, if they are not in
all respects placed on an equal footing with their brethren. It has been said
they will be poor, and unable to make equal contributions to the general
Treasury. He did not know but that in time they would be both more numerous &
more wealthy than their Atlantic brethren. The extent & fertility of their
soil, made this probable; and though Spain might for a time deprive them of the
natural outlet for their productions, yet she will, because she must, finally
yield to their demands. He urged that numbers of inhabitants; though not always
a precise standard of wealth was sufficiently so for every substantial purpose.
Mr. WILLIAMSON was for making it the
duty of the Legislature to do what was right & not leaving it at liberty to
do or not
1 do it. He moved that Mr. Randolph's
proposition be postpond. in order to consider the following "that in order
to ascertain the alterations that may happen in the population & wealth of
the several States, a census shall be taken of the free white inhabitants and
3/5 ths. of those of other descriptions on the 1st. year after this Government
shall have been adopted and every year thereafter; and that the Representation
be regulated accordingly."
Mr. RANDOLPH agreed that Mr.
Williamson's proposition should stand in the place of his. He observed that the
ratio fixt for the 1st. meeting was a mere conjecture, that it placed the power
in the hands of that part of America, which could not always be entitled to it,
that this power would not be voluntarily renounced; and that it was consequently
the duty of the Convention to secure its renunciation when justice might so
require; by some constitutional provisions. If equality between great &
small States be inadmissible, because in that case unequal numbers of
Constituents wd. be represented by equal number 2
of votes; was it not equally inadmissible that a larger & more populous
district of America should hereafter have less representation, than a smaller &
less populous district. If a fair representation of the people be not secured,
the injustice of the Govt. will shake it to its foundations. What relates to
suffrage is justly stated by the celebrated Montesquieu, as a fundamental
article in Republican Govts. If the danger suggested by Mr. Govr. Morris be
real, of advantage being taken of the Legislature in pressing moments, it was an
additional reason, for tying their hands in such a manner that they could not
sacrifice their trust to momentary considerations. Congs. have pledged the
public faith to New States, that they shall be admitted on equal terms. They
never would nor ought to accede on any other. The census must be taken under the
direction of the General Legislature. The States will be too much interested to
take an impartial one for themselves.
Mr. BUTLER & Genl. PINKNEY insisted that blacks be included in the rule of
Representation, equally with the Whites: and for that purpose moved that
the words "three fifths" be struck out.
Mr. GERRY thought that 3/5 of them was
to say the least the full proportion that could be admitted.
Mr. GHORUM. This ratio was fixed by
Congs. as a rule of taxation. Then it was urged by the Delegates representing
the States having slaves that the blacks were still more inferior to freemen. At
present when the ratio of representation is to be established, we are assured
that they are equal to freemen. The arguments on ye. former occasion had
convinced him that 3/5 was pretty near the just proportion and he should vote
according to the same opinion now.
Mr. BUTLER insisted that the labour of
a slave in S. Carola. was as productive & valuable as that of a freeman in
Massts., that as wealth was the great means of defence and utility to the Nation
they were equally valuable to it with freemen; and that consequently an equal
representation ought to be allowed for them in a Government which was instituted
principally for the protection of property, and was itself to be supported by
Mr. MASON, could not agree to the
motion, notwithstand it was favorable to Virga. because he thought it unjust. It
was certain that the slaves were valuable, as they raised the value of land,
increased the exports & imports, and of course the revenue, would supply the
means of feeding & supporting an army, and might in cases of emergency
become themselves soldiers. As in these important respects they were useful to
the community at large, they ought not to be excluded from the estimate of
Representation. He could not however regard them as equal to freemen and could
not vote for them as such. He added as worthy of remark, that the Southern
States have this peculiar species of property, over & above the other
species of property common to all the States.
Mr. WILLIAMSON reminded Mr. Ghorum that
if the Southn. States contended for the inferiority of blacks to whites when
taxation was in view, the Eastern States on the same occasion contended for
their equality. He did not however either then or now, concur in either extreme,
but approved of the ratio of 3/5.
On Mr. Butlers motion for considering blacks as equal to Whites in the
apportionmt. of Representation.
Massts. no. Cont. no. [N. Y. not on floor.] N. J. no. Pa. no. Del. ay. Md.
no. Va. no N. C. no. S. C. ay. Geo. ay. 3
Mr. GOVr. MORRIS
said he had several objections to the proposition of Mr. Williamson. 1.
4 It fettered the Legislature too much. 2.
5 it would exclude some States altogether
who would not have a sufficient number to entitle them to a single
Representative. 3. 6 it will not consist
with the Resolution passed on Saturday last authorising the Legislature to
adjust the Representation from time to time on the principles or population &
wealth or 7 with the principles of equity.
If slaves were to be considered as inhabitants, not as wealth, then the sd..
Resolution would not be pursued. If as wealth, then why is no other wealth but
slaves included? These objections may perhaps be removed by amendments. His
great objection was that the number of inhabitants was not a proper standard of
wealth. The amazing difference between the comparative numbers & wealth of
different Countries, rendered all reasoning superfluous on the subject. Numbers
might with greater propriety be deemed a measure of stregth, than of wealth, yet
the late defence made by G. Britain, agst. her numerous enemies proved in the
clearest manner, that it is entirely fallacious even in this respect.
Mr. KING thought there was great force
in the objections of Mr. Govr. Morris: he would however accede to the
proposition for the sake of doing something.
Mr. RUTLIDGE contended for the admission
of wealth in the estimate by which Representation should be regulated. The
Western States will not be able to contribute in proportion to their numbers;
they shd. not therefore be represented in that proportion. The Atlantic States
will not concur in such a plan. He moved that "at the end of years after
the 1st. meeting of the Legislature, and of every years thereafter, the
Legislature shall proportion the Representation according to the principles of
wealth & population"
Mr. SHERMAN thought the number of people
alone the best rule for measuring wealth as well as representation; and that if
the Legislature were to be governed by wealth, they would be obliged to estimate
it by numbers. He was at first for leaving the matter wholly to the discretion
of the Legislature; but he had been convinced by the observations of [Mr.
Randolph & Mr. Mason,] that the periods & the rule, of
revising the Representation ought to be fixt by the Constitution.
Mr. REID thought the Legislature ought
not to be too much shackled. It would make the Constitution like Religious
Creeds, embarrassing to those bound to conform to them & more likely to
produce dissatisfaction and scism, than harmony and union.
Mr. MASON objected to Mr. Rutlidge
motion, as requiring of the Legislature something too indefinite &
impracticable, and leaving them a pretext for doing nothing.
Mr. WILSON had himself no objection to
leaving the Legislature entirely at liberty. But considered wealth as an
Mr. GHORUM. If the Convention who are
comparatively so little biassed by local views are so much perplexed, How can it
be expected that the Legislature hereafter under the full biass of those views,
will be able to settle a standard. He was convinced by the arguments of others &
his own reflections, that the Convention ought to fix some standard or other.
Mr. GOVr. MORRIS.
The argts. of others & his own reflections had led him to a very different
conclusion. If we can't agree on a rule that will be just at this time, how can
we expect to find one that will be just in all times to come. Surely those who
come after us will judge better of things present, than we can of things future.
He could not persuade himself that numbers would be a just rule at any time. The
remarks of [Mr. Mason] relative to the Western Country had not changed his
opinion on that head. Among other objections it must be apparent they would not
be able to furnish men equally enlightened, to share in the administration of
our common interests. The Busy haunts of men not the remote wilderness, was the
proper school of political Talents. If the Western people get the power into
their hands they will ruin the Atlantic interests. The Back members are always
most averse to the best measures. He mentioned the case of Pena. formerly. The
lower part of the State had ye. power in the first instance. They kept it in yr.
own hands & the Country was ye. better for it. Another objection with him
agst. admitting the blacks into the census, was that the people of Pena would
revolt at the idea of being put on a footing with slaves. They would reject any
plan that was to have such an effect. Two objections had been raised agst.
leaving the adjustment of the Representation from time, to time, to the
discretion of the Legislature. The 1. 8
was they would be unwilling to revise it at all. The 2. 8
that by referring to wealth they would be bound by a rule which if willing, they
would be unable to execute. The 1st. objn. distrusts their fidelity. But if
their duty, their honor & their oaths will not bind them, let us not put
into their hands our liberty, and all our other great interests: let us have no
Govt. at all. 2
9 If these ties will bind them, we need
not distrust the practicability of the rule. It was followed in part by the
Come. in the apportionment of Representatives yesterday reported to the House.
The best course that could be taken would be to leave the interests of the
people to the Representatives of the people.
Mr. MADISON, was not a little surprised
to hear this implicit confidence urged by a member who on all occasions, had
inculcated so strongly, the political depravity of men, and the necessity of
checking one vice and interest by opposing to them another vice & interest.
If the Representatives of the people would be bound by the ties he had
mentioned, what need was there of a Senate? What of a Revisionary power? But his
reasoning was not only inconsistent with his former reasoning, but with itself.
At the same time that he recommended this implicit confidence to the Southern
States in the Northern Majority, he was still more zealous in exhorting all to a
10 Western Majority. To reconcile the
gentln. with himself, it it must be imagined that he determined the human
character by the points of the compass. The truth was that all men having power
ought to be distrusted to a certain degree. The case of Pena. had been mentioned
where it was admitted that those who were possessed of the power in the original
settlement, never admitted the new settlemts. to a due share of it. England was
a still more striking example. The power there had long been in the hands of the
boroughs, of the minority; who had opposed & defeated every reform which had
been attempted. Virga. was in a lesser 11
degree another example. With regard to the Western States, he was clear &
firm in opinion, that no unfavorable distinctions were admissible either in
point of justice or policy. He thought also that the hope of contributions to
the Treasy. from them had been much underrated. Future contributions it seemed
to be understood on all hands would be principally levied on imports &
exports. The extent and and fertility of the Western Soil would for a long time
give to agriculture a preference over manufactures. Trials would be repeated
till some articles could be raised from it that would bear a transportation to
places where they could be exchanged for imported manufactures. Whenever the
Mississpi should be opened to them, which would of necessity be ye. case, as
soon as their population would subject them to any considerable share of the
public burdin, imposts on their trade could be collected with less expence &
greater certainty, than on that of the Atlantic States. In the mean
time, as their supplies must pass thro' the Atlantic States, their contributions
would be levied in the same manner with those of the Atlantic States. — He
could not agree that any substantial objection lay agst. fixig numbers for the
perpetual standard of Representation. It was said that Representation &
taxation were to go together; that taxation and wealth ought to go together,
that population & wealth were not measures of each other. He admitted that
in different climates, under different forms of Govt. and in different stages of
civilization the inference was perfectly just. He would admit that in no
situation, numbers of inhabitants were an accurate measure of wealth. He
contended however that in the U. States it was sufficiently so for the object in
contemplation. Altho' their climate varied considerably, yet as the Govts. the
laws, and the manners of all were nearly the same, and the intercourse between
different parts perfectly free, population, industry, arts, and the value of
labour, would constantly tend to equalize themselves. The value of labour, might
be considered as the principal criterion of wealth and ability to support taxes;
and this would find its level in different places where the intercourse should
be easy & free, with as much certainty as the value of money or any other
thing. Wherever labour would yield most, people would resort, till the
competition should destroy the inequality. Hence it is that the people are
constantly swarming from the more to the less populous places — from Europe
to Ama. from the Northn. & Middle parts of the U. S. to the Southern &
Western. They go where land is cheaper, because there labour is dearer. If it be
true that the same quantity of produce raised on the banks of the Ohio is of
less value, than on the Delaware, it is also true that the same labor will raise
twice or thrice, the quantity in the former, that it will raise in the latter
Col. MASON. Agreed with Mr. Govr. Morris that we
ought to leave the interests of the people to the Representatives of the people:
but the objection was that the Legislature would cease to be the Representatives
of the people. It would continue so no longer than the States now containing a
majority of the people should retain that majority. As soon as the Southern &
Western population should predominate, which must happen in a few years, the
power wd. be in the hands of the minority, and would never be yielded to the
majority, unless provided for by the Constitution
On the Question for postponing Mr. Williamson's motion, in order to consider
that of Mr. Rutlidge it passed in the negative.
Massts. ay. Cont. no. N. J. no. Pa. ay. Del. ay. Md. no. Va. no. N. C. no.
S. C. ay. Geo. ay. 12
On the question on the first clause of Mr. Williamson's motion as to taking
a census of the free inhabitants; it passed in the affirmative Masts.
ay. Cont. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. ay. Del. no. Md. no. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. no.
13 the next clause as to 3/5 of the
Mr. KING. being much opposed to fixing
numbers as the rule of representation, was particularly so on account of the
blacks. He thought the admission of them along with Whites at all, would excite
great discontents among the States having no slaves. He had never said as to any
particular point that he would in no event acquiesce in & support it; but he
wd. say that if in any case such a declaration was to be made by him, it would
be in this. He remarked that in the temporary allotment of Representatives made
by the Committee, the Southern States had received more than the number of their
white & three fifths of their black inhabitants entitled them to.
Mr. SHERMAN. S. Carola. had not more
beyond her proportion than N. York & N. Hampshire, nor either of them more
than was necessary in order to avoid fractions or reducing them below their
proportion. Georgia had more; but the rapid growth of that State seemed to
justify it. In general the allotment might not be just, but considering all
circumstances, he was satisfied with it.
Mr. GHORUM. supported the propriety of
establishing numbers as the rule. He said that in Massts. estimates had been
taken in the different towns, and that persons had been curious enough to
compare these estimates with the respective numbers of people; and it had been
found even including Boston, that the most exact proportion prevailed between
numbers & property. He was aware that there might be some weight in what had
fallen from his colleague, as to the umbrage which might be taken by the people
of the Eastern States. But he recollected that when the proposition of Congs.
for changing the 8th. art: of Confedn. was before the Legislature of Massts. the
only difficulty then was to satisfy them that the negroes ought not to have been
counted equally with
15 whites instead of being counted in the
ratio of three fifths only. *16
Mr. WILSON did not well see on what
principle the admission of blacks in the proportion of three fifths could be
explained. Are they admitted as Citizens? then why are they not admitted on an
equality with White Citizens? are they admitted as property? then why is not
other property admitted into the computation? These were difficulties however
which he thought must be overruled by the necessity of compromise. He had some
apprehensions also from the tendency of the blending of the blacks with the
whites, to give disgust to the people of Pena. as had been intimated by his
Colleague [Mr. Govr. Morris]. But he differed from him in thinking numbers of
inhabts. so incorrect a measure of wealth. He had seen the Western settlemts. of
Pa. and on a comparison of them with the City of Philada. could discover little
other difference, than that property was more unequally divided among
individuals 17 here than there. Taking
the same number in the aggregate in the two situations he believed there would
be little difference in their wealth and ability to contribute to the public
Mr. GOVr. MORRIS
was compelled to declare himself reduced to the dilemma of doing injustice to
the Southern States or to human nature, and he must therefore do it to the
former. For he could never agree to give such encouragement to the slave trade
as would be given by allowing them a representation for their negroes, and he
did not believe those States would ever confederate on terms that would deprive
them of that trade.
On 18 Question for agreeing to
include 3/5 of the blacks Massts. no. Cont. ay. N. J. no. Pa. no. Del. no. Mard.
*19 no. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. no. Geo.
On the question as to taking 18
census "the first year after 18
meeting of the Legislature"
Masts. ay. Cont. no. N. J. ay. Pa. ay. Del. ay. Md. no. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S.
ay. Geo. no 22
On filling the blank for the periodical census, with 15 years," Agreed
to nem. con.
Mr. MADISON moved to add after "15
years," the words "at least" that the Legislature might
anticipate when circumstances were likely to render a particular year
On this motion for adding "at least," it passed in the negative
the States being equally divided.
Mas. ay. Cont. no. N. J. no. Pa. no. Del. no. Md. no. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S.
C. ay. Geo. ay. 23
A Change of 24 the phraseology of the
other clause so as to read; "and the Legislature shall alter or augment the
representation accordingly" was agreed to nem. con.
On the question on the whole resolution of Mr. Williamson as amended.
Mas. no. Cont. no. N. J. no. Del. no. Md. no. Va. no. N. C. no. S. C. no.
Geo. no. 25, 26
1. The word "to" is here
inserted in the transcript.
2. The transcript uses the word "number"
in the plural.
3. In the transcript the vote reads: "Delaware,
South Carolina, Georgia, aye — 3; Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey,
Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, no — 7; New York not on
4. The figure "1" is changed to "In
the first place" in the transcript.
5. The figure "2" is changed to "In
the second place" in the transcript.
6. The figure "3" is changed to "In
the third place" in the transcript.
7. The word "or" is changed to "nor"
in the transcript.
8. The figures "1" and "2"
are changed to "first" and "second" in the transcript.
9. The figure "2" is changed to "In
the second place" in the transcript.
10. The word "a" is here
inserted in the transcript.
11. The word "lesser" is
changed to "less" in the transcript.
12. In the transcript the vote reads: "Massachusetts,
Pennsylvania, Delaware, South Carolina, Georgia, aye — 5; Connecticut, New
Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, no — 5."
13. In the transcript the vote reads: "Massachusetts,
Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, aye — 6;
Delaware, Maryland, South Carolina, Georgia, no — 4."
14. The word "being" is here
inserted in the transcript.
15. The word "the" is here
inserted in the transcript.
*16. They were then to have been a rule
of taxation only.
17. The words "among individuals"
are omitted in the transcript.
18. The word "the" is here
inserted in the transcript.
*19. [Mr Carrol Sd.. in explanation of
the vote of Md. that he wished the phraseology 20
to be so altered as to obviate if possible the danger which had been expressed
of giving umbrage to the Eastern & Middle States.]
20. The transcript italicizes the word "phraseology."
21. In the transcript the vote reads: "Connecticut,
Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, aye — 4; Massachusetts, New Jersey,
Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, 19
South Carolina, no — 6."
22. In the transcript the note reads: "Massachusetts,
New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina,
aye — 7; Connecticut, Maryland, Georgia, no — 3."
23. In the transcript the vote reads: "Massachusetts,
Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye — 5; Connecticut,
New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, no — 5."
24. The word "in" is
substituted in the transcript for "of."
25. In the transcript the vote reads: "Massachusetts,
Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South
Carolina, Georgia, no — 9; so it was rejected unanimously."
26. The word "Adjourned" is
here inserted in the transcript.