The Debates in the
Federal Convention of 1787
Roger Sherman (from Connecticut) took his seat.
The House went into Committee of the Whole on the State of the Union. Mr.
Gorham was elected to the Chair by Ballot.
The propositions of Mr. RANDOLPH which
had been referred to the Committee being taken up. He moved on the suggestion of
Mr. G. Morris, that the first of his propositions to wit "Resolved that the
articles of Confederation ought to be so corrected & enlarged, as to
accomplish the objects proposed by their institution; namely, common defence,
security of liberty & general welfare: 1
— should be postponed, in order to consider the 3 following:
1. that a Union of the States merely federal will not accomplish the objects
proposed by the articles of Confederation, namely common defence, security of
liberty, & genl. welfare.
2. that no treaty or treaties among the whole or part of the States, as
individual Sovereignties, would be sufficient.
3. that a national Government ought to be established consisting of
supreme Legislative, Executive & Judiciary. The motion for
postponing was seconded by Mr. GOVr. MORRIS and unanimously agreed to.
Some verbal criticisms were raised agst. the first proposition, and it was
agreed on motion of Mr. BUTLER seconded by Mr.
RANDOLPH, to pass on to the third, which underwent a
discussion, less however on its general merits than on the force and extent of
the particular terms national & supreme.
Mr. CHARLES PINKNEY
wished to know of Mr. Randolph whether he meant to abolish the State Governts.
altogether. Mr. R. replied that he meant by these general propositions merely to
introduce the particular ones which explained the outlines of the system he had
Mr. BUTLER said he had not made up his
mind on the subject, and was open to the light which discussion might throw on
it. After some general observations he concluded with saying that he had opposed
the grant of powers to Congs. heretofore, because the whole power was vested in
one body. The proposed distribution of the powers into 2
different bodies changed the case, and would induce him to go great lengths.
Genl. PINKNEY expressed a doubt whether
the act of Congs. recommending the Convention, or the Commissions of the
Deputies to it, could
3 authorise a discussion of a System
founded on different principles from the federal Constitution.
Mr. GERRY seemed to entertain the same
Mr. GOVr. MORRIS
explained the distinction between a
federal and national, supreme, Govt.; the former being a
mere compact resting on the good faith of the parties; the latter having a
compleat and compulsive operation. He contended that in all Communities
there must be one supreme power, and one only.
Mr. MASON observed that the present
confederation was not only
4 deficient in not providing for coercion &
punishment agst. delinquent States; but argued very cogently that punishment
could not in the nature of things be executed on the States collectively, and
therefore that such a Govt. was necessary as could directly operate on
individuals, and would punish those only whose guilt required it.
Mr. SHERMAN who took his seat today,
5 admitted that the Confederation had not
given sufficient power to Congs. and that additional powers were necessary;
particularly that of raising money which he said would involve many other
powers. He admitted also that the General & particular jurisdictions ought
in no case to be concurrent. He seemed however not 6
be disposed to make too great inroads on the existing system; intimating as one
reason that it would be wrong to lose every amendment, by inserting such as
would not be agreed to by the States.
It was moved by Mr. READ 7
2ded. by Mr. Chs. COTESWORTH PINKNEY, to postpone the 3d. proposition last offered by Mr.
Randolph viz that a national Government ought to be established consisting of a
supreme Legislative Executive and Judiciary," in order to take up the
following — viz. "Resolved that in order to carry into execution the
Design of the States in forming this Convention, and to accomplish the objects
proposed by the Confederation a more effective Government consisting of a
Legislative, Executive and Judiciary ought to be established."
The motion to postpone for this purpose was lost:
Yeas 8 Massachusetts, Connecticut,
Delaware, S. Carolina — 8 4 Nays.
9 N. Y. Pennsylvania, Virginia, North
Carolina — 9 4.
On the question as moved by Mr. Butler, on the third proposition it was
resolved in Committee of the whole that a national governt. ought to be
established consisting of a supreme Legislative Executive & Judiciary."
Massts. being ay — Connect. — no. N. York divided [Col. Hamilton ay
Mr. Yates no] Pena. ay. Delaware ay. Virga. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. ay.
Resol: 2. of Mr. R's proposition to wit — see May 29. 11
The following Resolution being the 2d. of those proposed by Mr. Randolph was
taken up, viz — "that the rights of suffrage in the National
Legislature ought to be proportioned to the quotas of contribution, or to the
number of free inhabitants, as the one or the other rule may seem best in
Mr. MADISON observing that the words "or
to the number of free inhabitants," might occasion debates which would
divert the Committee from the general question whether the principle of
representation should be changed, moved that they might be struck out.
Mr. KING observed that the quotas of
contribution which would alone remain as the measure of representation, would
not answer, because waving every other view of the matter, the revenue might
hereafter be so collected by the general Govt. that the sums respectively drawn
from the States would not appear; and would besides be continually varying.
Mr. MADISON admitted the propriety of
the observation, and that some better rule ought to be found.
Col. HAMILTON moved to alter the resolution so as to
read "that the rights of suffrage in the national Legislature ought to be
proportioned to the number of free inhabitants. Mr. SPAIGHT
2ded. the motion. It was then moved that the Resolution be postponed, which was
Mr. RANDOLPH and Mr. MADISON then moved the following resolution — "that
the rights of suffrage in the national Legislature ought to be proportioned."
It was moved and 2ded. to amend it by adding "and not according to the
present system" — which was agreed to. It was then moved and 2ded. to
alter the resolution so as to read "that the rights of suffrage in the
national Legislature ought not to be according to the present system."
It was then moved & 2ded. to postpone the Resolution moved by Mr.
Randolph & Mr. Madison, which being agreed to:
Mr. MADISON, moved, in order to get over
the difficulties, the following resolution — "that the equality of
suffrage established by the articles of Confederation ought not to prevail in
the national Legislature, and that an equitable ratio of representation ought to
be substituted." This was 2ded. by Mr. GOVr.
MORRIS, and being generally relished, would have been
agreed to; when,
Mr. REED moved that the whole clause
relating to the point of Representation be postponed; reminding the Come. that
the deputies from Delaware were restrained by their commission from assenting to
any change of the rule of suffrage, and in case such a change should be fixed
on, it might become their duty to retire from the Convention.
Mr. GOVr. MORRIS
observed that the valuable assistance of those members could not be lost without
real concern, and that so early a proof of discord in the Convention as a
secession of a State, would add much to the regret; that the change proposed was
however so fundamental an article in a national Govt. that it could not be
Mr. MADISON observed that whatever
reason might have existed for the equality of suffrage when the Union was a
federal one among sovereign States, it must cease when a national Govermt.
should be put into the place. In the former case, the acts of Congs. depended so
much for their efficacy on the cooperation of the States, that these had a
weight both within & without Congress, nearly in proportion to their extent
and importance. In the latter case, as the acts of the Genl. Govt. would take
effect without the intervention of the State legislatures, a vote from a small
State wd. have the same efficacy & importance as a vote from a large one,
and there was the same reason for different numbers of representatives from
different States, as from Counties of different extents within particular
States. He suggested as an expedient for at once taking the sense of the members
on this point and saving the Delaware deputies from embarrassment, that the
question should be taken in Committee, and the clause on report to the House be
postponed without a question there. This however did not appear to satisfy Mr.
Read. By several it was observed that no just construction of the Act of
Delaware, could require or justify a secession of her deputies, even if the
resolution were to be carried thro' the House as well as the Committee. It was
finally agreed however that the clause should be postponed: it being understood
that in the event the proposed change of representation would certainly be
agreed to, no objection or difficulty being started from any other quarter than
The motion of Mr. Read to postpone being agreed to,
The Committee then rose. The Chairman reported progress, and the House
having resolved to resume the subject in Committee tomorrow,
Adjourned to 10 OClock.
1. The resolution is italicized in the
2. The word "with" is
substituted in the transcript for "into."
3. The word "would" is
substituted in the transcript for "could."
4. The words "not only" are
transposed in the transcript, which reads as follows: "Mr. Mason observed,
not only that the present Confederation was deficient," ...
5. The phrase "who took his seat
today" is omitted in the transcript.
6. The word "to" is here
inserted in the transcript.
7. The word "and" is here
inserted in the transcript.
8. The word "Yeas" is omitted in
the transcript and the word "aye" inserted before the figure "4."
9. The word "Nays" is omitted in
the transcript and word "no" inserted before the figure "4."
10. In the transcript the vote reads:
Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina
aye — 6; Connecticut, no — 1; New York, divided (Colonel Hamilton,
aye, Mr. Yates, No)." [Note E] 11
11. Madison's direction is omitted in the
12. The resolution is italicized in the