The Debates in the
Federal Convention of 1787 by
JUNE 7th, 1787
1 — IN COMMITTEE
OF THE WHOLE
Mr. PINKNEY according to notice moved to
reconsider the clause respecting the negative on State laws, which was agreed to
and tomorrow for fixed 2 the purpose.
The Clause providing for ye. appointment of the 2d. branch of the national
Legislature, having lain blank since the last vote on the mode of electing it,
to wit, by the 1st. branch, Mr. DICKENSON
now moved "that the members of the 2d. branch ought to be chosen by the
Mr. SHARMAN seconded the motion;
observing that the particular States would thus become interested in supporting
the national Governmt. and that a due harmony between the two Governments would
be maintained. He admitted that the two ought to have separate and distinct
jurisdictions, but that they ought to have a mutual interest in supporting each
Mr. PINKNEY. If the small States should
be allowed one Senator only, the number will be too great, there will be 80 at
Mr. DICKENSON had two reasons for his
3 because the sense of the States would be
better collected through their Governments; than immediately from the people at
large; 2. 3 because he wished the Senate
to consist of the most distinguished characters, distinguished for their rank in
life and their weight of property, and bearing as strong a likeness to the
British House of Lords as possible; and he thought such characters more likely
to be selected by the State Legislatures, than in any other mode. The greatness
of the number was no objection with him. He hoped there would be 80 and twice
80. of them. If their number should be small, the popular branch could not be
balanced by them. The legislature of a numerous people ought to be a numerous
Mr. WILLIAMSON, preferred a small number
of Senators, but wished that each State should have at least one. He suggested
25 as a convenient number. The different modes of representation in the
different branches, will serve as a mutual check.
Mr. BUTLER was anxious to know the ratio
of representation before he gave any opinion.
Mr. WILSON. If we are to establish a
national Government, that Government ought to flow from the people at large. If
one branch of it should be chosen by the Legislatures, and the other by the
people, the two branches will rest on different foundations, and dissensions
will naturally arise between them. He wished the Senate to be elected by the
people as well as the other branch, and the people might be divided into proper
districts for the purpose &
4 moved to postpone the motion of Mr.
Dickenson, in order to take up one of that import.
Mr. MORRIS 2ded. him.
Mr. READ proposed "that the Senate
should be appointed by the Executive Magistrate out of a proper number of
persons to be nominated by the individual legislatures." He said he thought
it his duty, to speak his mind frankly. Gentlemen he hoped would not be alarmed
at the idea. Nothing short of this approach towards a proper model of Government
would answer the purpose, and he thought it best to come directly to the point
at once. — His proposition was not seconded nor supported.
Mr. MADISON, if the motion [of Mr.
Dickenson] should be agreed to, we must either depart from the doctrine of
proportional representation; or admit into the Senate a very large number of
members. The first is inadmissible, being evidently unjust. The second is
inexpedient. The use of the Senate is to consist in its proceeding with more
coolness, with more system, & with more wisdom, than the popular branch.
Enlarge their number and you communicate to them the vices which they are meant
to correct. He differed from Mr. D. who thought that the additional number would
give additional weight to the body. On the contrary it appeared to him that
their weight would be in an inverse ratio to their number. 5
The example of the Roman Tribunes was applicable. They lost their influence and
power, in proportion as their number was augmented. The reason seemed to be
obvious: They were appointed to take care of the popular interests &
pretensions at Rome, because the people by reason of their numbers could not act
in concert; 6 were liable to fall into
factions among themselves, and to become a prey to their aristocratic
adversaries. The more the representatives of the people therefore were
multiplied, the more they partook of the infirmities of their constituents, the
more liable they became to be divided among themselves either from their own
indiscretions or the artifices of the opposite faction, and of course the less
capable of fulfilling their trust. When the weight of a set of men depends
merely on their personal characters; the greater the number the greater the
weight. When it depends on the degree of political authority lodged in them the
smaller the number the greater the weight. These considerations might perhaps be
combined in the intended Senate; but the latter was the material one.
Mr. GERRY. 4 modes of appointing the
Senate have been mentioned. 1.
7 by the 1st. branch of the National
Legislature. This would create a dependence contrary to the end proposed. 2.
7 by the National Executive. This is a
stride towards monarchy that few will think of. 3. 7
by the people. The people have two great interests, the landed interest, and the
commercial including the stockholders. To draw both branches from the people
will leave no security to the latter interest; the people being chiefly composed
of the landed interest, and erroneously supposing, that the other interests are
adverse to it. 4
7 by the Individual Legislatures. The
elections being carried thro' this refinement, will be most likely to provide
some check in favor of the commercial interest agst. the landed; without which
oppression will take place, and no free Govt. can last long where that is the
case. He was therefore in favor of this last.
Mr. DICKENSON. *8
The preservation of the States in a certain degree of agency is indispensable.
It will produce that collision between the different authorities which should be
wished for in order to check each other. To attempt to abolish the States
altogether, would degrade the Councils of our Country, would be impracticable,
would be ruinous. He compared the proposed National System to the Solar System,
in which the States were the planets, and ought to be left to move freely in
their proper orbits. The Gentleman from Pa. [Mr. Wilson] wished he said to
extinguish these planets. If the State Governments were excluded from all agency
in the national one, and all power drawn from the people at large, the
consequence would be that the national Govt. would move in the same direction as
the State Govts. now do, and would run into all the same mischiefs. The reform
would only unite the 13 small streams into one great current pursuing the same
course without any opposition whatever. He adhered to the opinion that the
Senate ought to be composed of a large number, and that their influence from
family weight & other causes would be increased thereby. He did not admit
that the Tribunes lost their weight in proportion as their no. was augmented and
gave a historical sketch of this institution. If the reasoning of [Mr. Madison]
was good it would prove that the number of the Senate ought to be reduced below
ten, the highest no. of the Tribunitial corps.
Mr. WILSON. The subject it must be owned
is surrounded with doubts and difficulties. But we must surmount them. The
British Governmt. cannot be our model. We have no materials for a similar one.
Our manners, our laws, the abolition of entails and of primogeniture, the whole
genius of the people, are opposed to it. He did not see the danger of the States
being devoured by the Nationl. Govt. On the contrary, he wished to keep them
from devouring the national Govt. He was not however for extinguishing these
planets as was supposed by Mr. D. — neither did he on the other hand,
believe that they would warm or enlighten the Sun. Within their proper orbits
they must still be suffered to act for subordinate purposes for which their
existence is made essential by the great extent of our Country. He could not
comprehend in what manner the landed interest wd. be rendered less predominant
in the Senate, by an election through the medium of the Legislatures then by the
people themselves. If the Legislatures, as was now complained, sacrificed the
commercial to the landed interest, what reason was there to expect such a choice
from them as would defeat their own views. He was for an election by the people
in large districts which wd. be most likely to obtain men of intelligence &
uprightness; subdividing the districts only for the accomodation of voters.
Mr. MADISON could as little comprehend
in what manner family weight, as desired by Mr. D. would be more certainly
conveyed into the Senate through elections by the State Legislatures, than in
some other modes. The true question was in what mode the best choice wd. be
made? If an election by the people, or thro' any other channel than the State
Legislatures promised as uncorrupt & impartial a preference of merit, there
could surely be no necessity for an appointment by those Legislatures. Nor was
it apparent that a more useful check would be derived thro' that channel than
from the people thro' some other. The great evils complained of were that the
State Legislatures run into schemes of paper money &c. whenever solicited by
the people, & sometimes without even the sanction of the people. Their
influence then, instead of checking a like propensity in the National
Legislature, may be expected to promote it. Nothing can be more contradictory
than to say that the Natl. Legislature witht. a proper check, will follow the
example of the State Legislatures, & in the same breath, that the State
Legislatures are the only proper check.
Mr. SHARMAN opposed elections by the
people in districts, as not likely to produce such fit men as elections by the
Mr. GERRY insisted that the commercial &
monied interest wd. be more secure in the hands of the State Legislatures, than
of the people at large. The former have more sense of character, and will be
restrained by that from injustice. The people are for paper money when the
Legislatures are agst. it. In Massts. the County Conventions had declared a wish
for a depreciating paper that wd. sink itself. Besides, in some States
there are two Branches in the Legislature, one of which is somewhat
aristocratic. There wd. therefore be so far a better chance of refinement in the
choice. There seemed, he thought to be three powerful objections agst. elections
by districts. 1.
9 it is impracticable; the people cannot
be brought to one place for the purpose; and whether brought to the same place
or not, numberless frauds wd. be unavoidable. 2. 9
small States forming part of the same district with a large one, or
10 large part of a large one, wd. have no
chance of gaining an appointment for its citizens of merit. 3
9 a new source of discord wd. be opened
between different parts of the same district.
Mr. PINKNEY thought the 2d. branch ought
to be permanent & independent, & that the members of it wd. be rendered
more so by receiving their appointment 11
from the State Legislatures. This mode wd. avoid the rivalships &
discontents incident to the election by districts. He was for dividing the
States into three classes according to their respective sizes, & for
allowing to the 1st. class three members — to the 2d. two, & to the 3d.
one. On the question for postponing Mr. Dickinson's motion referring the
appointment of the Senate to the State Legislatures, in order to consider Mr.
Wilson's for referring it to the people.
Mass. no. Cont no. N. Y. no. N. J. no. Pa. ay Del. no. Md. no. Va. no. N. C.
no. S. C. no. Geo. no. 12
Col. MASON. whatever power may be necessary for the
Natl. Govt. a certain portion must necessarily be left in 13
the States. It is impossible for one power to pervade the extreme parts of the
U.S. so as to carry equal justice to them. The State Legislatures also ought to
have some means of defending themselves agst. encroachments of the Natl. Govt.
In every other department we have studiously endeavored to provide for its
self-defence. Shall we leave the States alone unprovided with the means for this
purpose? And what better means can we provide than the giving them some share
in, or rather to make them a constituent part of, the Natl. Establishment. There
is danger on both sides no doubt; but we have only seen the evils arising on the
side of the State Govts. Those on the other side remain to be displayed. The
example of Congs. does not apply. Congs. had no power to carry their acts into
execution as the Natl. Govt. will have.
On Mr. DICKINSON's motion for an
appointment of the Senate by the State — Legislatures.
Mass. ay. Ct. ay. N. Y. ay. Pa. ay Del. ay. Md. ay. Va. ay N. C. ay. S. C.
ay. Geo. ay. 14
Mr. GERRY gave notice that he wd.
tomorrow move for a reconsideration of the mode of appointing the Natl.
Executive in order to substitute an appointmt. by the State Executives.
2. The words "for fixed" are
corrected in the transcript to "fixed for."
3. The figures "1" and "2"
are changed to "First" and "secondly" in the transcript.
4. The word "he" is here
inserted in the transcript.
5. The transcript uses the word "number"
is the plural.
6. The word "and" is here
inserted in the transcript.
7. The figures "1," "2,"
"3" and "4" are changed to "First," "Secondly,"
etc., in the transcript.
*8. It will throw light on this discussion
to remark that an election by the State Legislatures involved a surrender of the
principle insisted on by the large State & dreaded by the small ones, namely
that of a proportional representation is the Senate. Such a rule Wd. make the
body too numerous, as the smallest State must elect one member at least.
9. The figures "1," "2"
and "3" are changed to "First," "Secondly," and "Thirdly"
in the transcript.
10. The word "a" is here
inserted in the transcript.
11. The word "appointment" is
used in the plural in the transcript.
12. In the transcript the vote reads: "Pennsylvania,
aye — 1; Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York New Jersey, Delaware,
Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no — 10."
13. The word "with" is
substituted in the transcript for "in."
14. In the transcript the vote reads: "Massachusetts,
Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North
Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye — 10."