The Debates in the
Federal Convention of 1787
The Report of the Committee of detail being taken up,
Mr. PINKNEY moved that it be referred to
a Committee of the whole. This was strongly opposed by Mr. GHORUM & several others, as likely to produce unnecessary
delay; and was negatived. Delaware Maryd & Virga only being in the
The preamble of the Report was agreed to nem. con. So were Art: I & II.
Art: III. 2, 3
considered. Col. MASON doubted the propriety of giving
each branch a negative on the other "in all cases." There were some
cases in which it was he supposed not intended to be given as in the case of
balloting for appointments.
Mr. GOVr. MORRIS
moved to insert "legislative acts" instead of "all cases"
Mr. WILLIAMSON 2ds. him.
Mr. SHERMAN. This will restrain the
operation of the clause too much. It will particularly exclude a mutual negative
in the case of ballots, which he hoped would take place.
Mr. GHORUM contended that elections
ought to be made by joint ballot. If separate ballots should be made for
the President, and the two branches should be each attached to a favorite, great
delay contention & confusion may ensue. These inconveniences have been felt
in Masts. in the election of officers of little importance compared with the
Executive of the U. States. The only objection agst. a joint ballot is that it
may deprive the Senate of their due weight; but this ought not to prevail over
the respect due to the public tranquility & welfare.
Mr. WILSON was for a joint ballot in
several cases at least; particularly in the choice of the President, and was
therefore for the amendment. Disputes between the two Houses during &
concerng. the vacancy of the Executive might have dangerous consequences.
Col. MASON thought the amendment of Mr. Govr. Morris
extended too far. Treaties are in a subsequent part declared to be laws, they
will be therefore 4 subjected to a
negative; altho' they are to be made as proposed by the Senate alone. He
proposed that the mutual negative should be restrained to "cases requiring
the distinct assent" of the two Houses.
Mr. GOVr. MORRIS
thought this but a repetition of the same thing; the mutual negative and
distinct assent, being equavalent expressions. Treaties he thought were not
Mr. MADISON moved to strike out the
words "each of which shall in all cases, have a negative on the other; the
idea being sufficiently expressed in the preceding member of the article;
vesting the "legislative power" in "distinct bodies,"
especially as the respective powers and mode of exercising them were fully
delineated in a subsequent article.
Genl. PINKNEY 2ded. the motion
On 5 question for inserting
legislative Acts as moved by Mr. Govr. Morris. 6
N. H. ay. Mas. ay. Ct. ay. Pa. ay. Del. no. Md. no. Va. no. N. C. ay. S. C.
no. Geo. no. 7
On 5 question for agreeing to Mr. M's
motion to strike out &c. — N. H. ay. Mas. ay. Ct. no. Pa. ay. Del. ay.
Md. no. Va. ay. N. C. no. S. C. ay. Geo. ay. 8
Mr. MADISON wished to know the reasons
of the Come. for fixing by ye. Constitution the time of Meeting for the
Legislature; and suggested, that it be required only that one meeting at least
should be held every year leaving the time to be fixed or varied by law.
Mr. GOVr. MORRIS
moved to strike out the sentence. It was improper to tie down the Legislature to
a particular time, or even to require a meeting every year. The public business
might not require it.
Mr. PINKNEY concurred with Mr. Madison.
Mr. GHORUM. If the time be not fixed by
the Constitution, disputes will arise in the Legislature; and the States will be
at a loss to adjust thereto, the times of their elections. In the N. England
States the annual time of meeting had been long fixed by their Charters &
Constitutions, and no inconveniency 9 had
resulted. He thought it necessary that there should be one meeting at least
every year as a check on the Executive department.
Mr. ELSEWORTH was agst. striking out the
words. The Legislature will not know till they are met whether the public
interest required their meeting or not. He could see no impropriety in fixing
the day, as the Convention could judge of it as well as the Legislature.
Mr. WILSON thought on the whole it would
be best to fix the day.
Mr. KING could not think there would be a necessity
for a meeting every year. A great vice in our system was that of legislating too
much. The most numerous objects of legislation belong to the States. Those of
the Natl. Legislature were but few. The chief of them were commerce &
revenue. When these should be once settled, alterations would be rarely
necessary & easily made.
Mr. MADISON thought if the time of
meeting should be fixed by a law it wd. be sufficiently fixed & there would
be no difficulty then as had been suggested, on the part of the States in
adjusting their elections to it. One consideration appeared to him to militate
strongly agst. fixing a time by the Constitution. It might happen that the
Legislature might be called together by the public exigencies & finish their
Session but a short time before the annual period. In this case it would be
extremely inconvenient to reassemble so quickly & without the least
necessity. He thought one annual meeting ought to be required; but did not wish
to make two unavoidable.
Col. MASON thought the objections against fixing the
time insuperable: but that an annual meeting ought to be required as essential
to the preservation of the Constitution. The extent of the Country will supply
business. And if it should not, the Legislature, besides legislative, is
inquisitorial powers, which can not safely be long kept in a state of
Mr. SHERMAN was decided for fixing the
time, as well as for frequent meetings of the Legislative body. Disputes and
difficulties will arise between the two Houses, & between both & the
States, if the time be changeable — frequent meetings of Parliament were
required at the Revolution in England as an essential safeguard of liberty. So
also are annual meetings in most of the American charters & constitutions.
There will be business eno' to require it. The Western Country, and the great
extent and varying state of our affairs in general will supply objects.
Mr. RANDOLPH was agst. fixing any day
irrevocably; but as there was no provision made any where in the Constitution
for regulating the periods of meeting, and some precise time must be fixed,
untill the Legislature shall make provision, he could not agree to strike out
the words altogether. Instead of which he moved to add the words following —
" unless a different day shall be appointed by law."
Mr. MADISON 2ded. the motion, & on
the question N. H. no. Mas. ay. Ct. no. Pa. ay. Del. ay. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C.
ay. S. C. ay. Geo. ay.
Mr. GOVr. MORRIS
moved to strike out Decr. & insert May. It might frequently happen that our
measures ought to be influenced by those in Europe, which were generally planned
during the Winter and of which intelligence would arrive in the Spring.
Mr. MADISON 2ded. the motion, he
preferred May to Decr. because the latter would require the travelling to &
from the seat of Govt. in the most inconvenient seasons of the year.
Mr. WILSON. The Winter is the most
convenient season for business.
Mr. ELSEWORTH. The summer will interfere
too much with private business, that of almost all the probable members of the
Legislature being more or less connected with agriculture.
Mr. RANDOLPH. The time is of no great
moment now, as the Legislature can vary it. On looking into the Constitutions of
the States, he found that the times of their elections with which the election
11 of the Natl. Representatives would no
doubt be made to co-incide, would suit better with Decr. than May. And it was
adviseable to render our innovations as little incommodious as possible.
On 12 question for "May"
instead of "Decr."
N. H. no. Mas. no. Ct. no. Pa. no. Del. no. Md. no. Va. no. N. C no. S. C.
ay. Geo. ay. 13
Mr. READ moved to insert after the word "Senate"
the words, "subject to the Negative to be hereafter provided." His
object was to give an absolute negative to the Executive — He considered
this as so essential to the Constitution, to the preservation of liberty, &
to the public welfare, that his duty compelled him to make the motion.
Mr. GOVr. MORRIS
2ded. him. And on the question
N. H. no. Mas. no. Ct. no. Pa. no. Del. ay. Md. no. Va. no. N. C. no. S. C.
no. Geo. no. 14
Mr. RUTLIDGE. Altho' it is agreed on all
hands that an annual meeting of the Legislature should be made necessary, yet
that point seems not to be freed from doubt as the clause stands. On this
suggestion, "Once at least in every year," were inserted, nem. con.
Art. III with the foregoing alterations was agd. to nem. con. and is as
follows "The Legislative power shall be vested in a Congress to consist of
2 separate & distinct bodies of men; a House of Reps. & a Senate The
Legislature shall meet at least once in every year, and such meeting shall be on
the 1st. monday in Decr. unless a different day shall be appointed by law."
"Art IV. Sect. 1. 15,
16 taken up."
Mr. GOVr. MORRIS
moved to strike out the last member of the section beginning with the words "qualifications"
of Electors," in order that some other provision might be substituted which
wd. restrain the right of suffrage to freeholders.
Mr. FITZIMMONS 2ded. the motion
Mr. WILLIAMSON was opposed to it.
Mr. WILSON. This part of the Report was
well considered by the Committee, and he did not think it could be changed for
the better. It was difficult to form any uniform rule of qualifications for all
the States. Unnecessary innovations he thought too should be avoided. It would
be very hard & disagreeable for the same persons at the same time, to vote
for representatives in the State Legislature and to be excluded from a vote for
those in the Natl. Legislature.
Mr. GOVr. MORRIS.
Such a hardship would be neither great nor novel. The people are accustomed to
it and not dissatisfied with it, in several of the States. In some the
qualifications are different for the choice of the Govr. &
17 Representatives; In others for
different Houses of the Legislature. Another objection agst. the clause as it
stands is that it makes the qualifications of the Natl. Legislature depend on
the will of the States, which he thought not proper.
Mr. ELSEWORTH. thought the
qualifications of the electors stood on the most proper footing. The right of
suffrage was a tender point, and strongly guarded by most of the State
Constitutions. The people will not readily subscribe to the Natl. Constitution
if it should subject them to be disfranchised. The States are the best Judges of
the circumstances & temper of their own people.
Col. MASON. The force of habit is certainly not
attended to by those gentlemen who wish for innovations on this point. Eight or
nine States have extended the right of suffrage beyond the freeholders, what
will the people there say, if they should be disfranchised. A power to alter the
qualifications would be a dangerous power in the hands of the Legislature.
Mr. BUTLER. There is no right of which
the people are more jealous than that of suffrage. Abridgments of it tend to the
same revolution as in Holland where they have at length thrown all power into
the hands of the Senates, who fill up vacancies themselves, and form a rank
Mr. DICKINSON. had a very different idea
of the tendency of vesting the right of suffrage in the freeholders of the
Country. He considered them as the best guardians of liberty; And the
restriction of the right to them as a necessary defence agst. the dangerous
influence of those multitudes without property & without principle with
which our Country like all others, will in time abound. As to the unpopularity
of the innovation it was in his opinion chemirical. The great mass of our
Citizens is composed at this time of freeholders, and will be pleased with it.
Mr. ELSEWORTH. How shall the freehold be
defined? Ought not every man who pays a tax, to vote for the representative who
is to levy & dispose of his money? Shall the wealthy merchants &
manufacturers, who will bear a full share of the public burdens be not allowed a
voice in the imposition of them — taxation & representation ought to go
Mr. GOVr. MORRIS.
He had long learned not to be the dupe of words. The sound of Aristocracy
therefore had no effect on 18 him. It was
the thing, not the name, to which he was opposed, and one of his principal
objections to the Constitution as it is now before us, is that it threatens this
19 Country with an Aristocracy. The
aristocracy will grow out of the House of Representatives. Give the votes to
people who have no property, and they will sell them to the rich who will be
able to buy them. We should not confine our attention to the present moment. The
time is not distant when this Country will abound with mechanics &
manufacturers 20 who will receive their
bread from their employers. Will such men be the secure & faithful Guardians
of liberty? Will they be the impregnable barrier agst. aristocracy? — He
was as little duped by the association of the words "taxation &
Representation." The man who does not give his vote freely is not
represented. It is the man who dictates the vote. Children do not vote. Why?
because they want prudence, because they have no will of their own. The ignorant
& the dependent can be as little trusted with the public interest. He did
not conceive the difficulty of defining "freeholders" to be
insuperable. Still less that the restriction could be unpopular. 9/10 of the
people are at present freeholders and these will certainly be pleased with it.
As to Merchts. &c. if they have wealth & value the right they can
acquire it. If not they don't deserve it.
Col. MASON. We all feel too strongly the remains of
antient prejudices, and view things too much through a British medium. A
Freehold is the qualification in England, & hence it is imagined to be the
only proper one. The true idea in his opinion was that every man having evidence
of attachment to & permanent common interest with the Society ought to share
in all its rights & privileges. Was this qualification restrained to
freeholders? Does no other kind of property but land evidence a common interest
in the proprietor? does nothing besides property mark a permanent attachment.
Ought the merchant, the monied man, the parent of a number of children whose
fortunes are to be pursued in his own Country, to be viewed as suspicious
characters, and unworthy to be trusted with the common rights of their fellow
Mr. MADISON. the right of suffrage is
certainly one of the fundamental articles of republican Government, and ought
not to be left to be regulated by the Legislature. A gradual abridgment of this
right has been the mode in which Aristocracies have been built on the ruins of
popular forms. Whether the Constitutional qualification ought to be a freehold,
would with him depend much on the probable reception such a change would meet
21 States where the right was now
exercised by every description of people. In several of the States a freehold
was now the qualification. Viewing the subject in its merits alone, the
freeholders of the Country would be the safest depositories of Republican
liberty. In future times a great majority of the people will not only be without
landed, but any other sort of, property. These will either combine under the
influence of their common situation; in which case, the rights of property &
the public liberty, will not be secure in their hands: or which 22
is more probable, they will become the tools of opulence & ambition, in
which case there will be equal danger on another side. The example of England
had been misconceived [by Col Mason]. A very small proportion of the
Representatives are there chosen by freeholders. The greatest part are chosen by
the Cities & boroughs, in many of which the qualification of suffrage is as
low as it in any of the U. S. and it was in the boroughs & Cities rather
than the Counties, that bribery most prevailed, & the influence of the Crown
on elections was most dangerously exerted. 23
It is of great consequence that we shd. not depress the virtue & public
spirit of our common people; of which they displayed a great deal during the
war, and which contributed principally to the favorable issue of it. He related
the honorable refusal of the American seamen who were carried in great numbers
into the British Prisons during the war, to redeem themselves from misery or to
seek their fortunes, by entering on board the Ships of the Enemies to their
Country; contrasting their patriotism with a contemporary instance in which the
British seamen made prisoners by the Americans, readily entered on the ships of
the latter on being promised a share of the prizes that might be made out of
their own Country. This proceeded he said from the different manner in which the
common people were treated in America & G. Britain. He did not think that
the elected had any right in any case to narrow the privileges of the electors.
He quoted as arbitrary the British Statute setting forth the danger of
tumultuous meetings, and under that pretext narrowing the right of suffrage to
persons having freeholds of a certain value; observing that this Statute was
soon followed by another under the succeeding Parliamt. subjecting the people
who had no votes to peculiar labors & hardships. He was persuaded also that
such a restriction as was proposed would give great uneasiness in the populous
States. The sons of a substantial farmer, not being themselves freeholders,
would not be pleased at being disfranchised, and there are a great many persons
of the description.
Mr. MERCER. The Constitution is
objectionable in many points, but in none more than the present. He objected to
the footing on which the qualification was put, but particularly to the mode
of election by the people. The people can not know & judge of the
characters of Candidates. The worse possible choice will be made. He quoted the
case of the Senate in Virga. as an example in point. The people in Towns can
unite their votes in favor of one favorite; & by that means always prevail
over the people of the Country, who being dispersed will scatter their votes
among a variety of candidates.
Mr. RUTLIDGE thought the idea of
restraining the right of suffrage to the freeholders a very unadvised one. It
would create division among the people & make enemies of all those who
should be excluded.
On the question for striking out as moved by Mr. Govr. Morris, from the word
"qualifications" to the end of the III article. N. H. no. Mas. no. Ct.
no. Pa. no. Del. ay. Md. divd. Va. no. N. C. no. S. C. no. Geo. not prest.
1. See ante.
2. See ante.
3. The word "being" is here
inserted in the transcript.
4. The words "be therefore" are
changed in the transcript to "therefore be."
5. The word "the" is here
inserted in the transcript.
6. The phrase "it passed in the
negative, the votes being equally divided," is here inserted in the
7. In the transcript the vote reads: "New
Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, aye —
5; Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, no — 5"
8. In the transcript the vote reads: "New
Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, South Carolina,
Georgia, aye — 7; Connecticut, Maryland, North Carolina, no — 3."
9. The word "inconveniency" is
changed in the transcript to "inconvenience."
10. In the transcript the vote reads: "Massachusetts,
Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina,
Georgia, aye — 8; New Hampshire, Connecticut, no — 2."
11. The word "election" is used
in the plural in the transcript.
12. The word "the" is here
inserted in the transcript.
13. In the transcript the vote reads: "South
Carolina, Georgia, aye — 2; New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut,
Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, no — 8."
14. In the transcript the vote reads: aye
— 1; New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland,
Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no — 9."
15. See ante.
16. The words "was then" are
here inserted in the transcript.
17. The words "of the" are here
inserted in the transcript.
18. The word "upon" is
substituted in the transcript for "on."
19. The word "the" is
substituted in the transcript for "this."
20. The word "manufacturers" is
substituted in the transcript for "manufactures."
21. The word "the" is here
inserted in the transcript.
22. The word "which" is crossed
out in the transcript and "what" is written above it.
23. In the transcript the following
footnote is here added: "See Appendix No. — for a note of Mr. Madison
to this speech."
24. In the transcript the vote reads: "Delaware,
aye — 1; New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Virginia,
North Carolina, South Carolina, no — 7; Maryland, divided; Georgia, not