The Debates in the
Federal Convention of 1787
Mr. L. MARTIN called for the question on
the whole report, including the parts relating to the origination of money
bills, and the equality of votes in the 2d. branch.
Mr. GERRY. wished before the question
should be put, that the attention of the House might be turned to the dangers
apprehended from Western States. He was for admitting them on liberal terms, but
not for putting ourselves into their hands. They will if they acquire power like
all men, abuse it. They will oppress commerce, and drain our wealth into the
Western Country. To guard agst. these consequences, he thought it necessary to
limit the number of new States to be admitted into the Union, in such a manner,
that they should never be able to outnumber the Atlantic States. He accordingly
moved "that in order to secure the liberties of the States already
confederated, the number of Representatives in the 1st. branch, of the States
which shall hereafter be established, shall never exceed in number, the
Representatives from such of the States as shall accede to this confederation.
Mr. KING. seconded the motion.
Mr. SHERMAN, thought there was no
probability that the number of future States would exceed that of the Existing
States. If the event should ever happen, it was too remote to be taken into
consideration at this time. Besides We are providing for our posterity, for our
children & our grand Children, who would be as likely to be citizens of new
Western States, as of the old States. On this consideration alone, we ought to
make no such discrimination as was proposed by the motion.
Mr. GERRY. If some of our children
should remove, others will stay behind, and he thought it incumbent on us to
provide for their interests. There was a rage for emigration from the Eastern
States to the Western Country, and he did not wish those remaining behind to be
at the mercy of the Emigrants. Besides foreigners are resorting to that country,
and it is uncertain what turn things may take there. — On the question for
agreeing to the Motion of Mr. Gerry, it passed in the negative.
Mas. ay. Cont. ay. N.J. no. Pa. divd. Del: ay. Md. ay. Va. no. N.C. no. S.C.
no. Geo. no. 1
Mr. RUTLIDGE proposed to reconsider the
two propositions touching the originating of money bills in the first & the
equality of votes in the second branch.
Mr. SHERMAN was for the question on the
whole at once. It was he said a conciliatory plan, it had been considered in all
its parts, a great deal of time had been spent on 2
it, and if any part should now be altered, it would be necessary to go over the
whole ground again.
Mr. L. MARTIN urged the question on the
whole. He did not like many parts of it. He did not like having two branches,
nor the inequality of votes in the 1st. branch. He was willing however to make
trial of the plan, rather than do nothing.
Mr. WILSON traced the progress of the
report through its several stages, remarking yt. when on the question concerning
an equality of votes, the House was divided, our Constituents had they voted as
their representatives did, would have stood as 2/3 agst. the equality, and 1/3
only in favor of it. This fact would ere long be known, and it will
3 appear that this fundamental point has
been carried by 1/3 agst. 2/3 . What hopes will our Constituents entertain when
they find that the essential principles of justice have been violated in the
outset of the Governmt. As to the privilege of originating money bills, it was
not considered by any as of much moment, and by many as improper in itself. He
hoped both clauses wd. be reconsidered. The equality of votes was a point of
such critical importance, that every opportunity ought to be allowed, for
discussing and collecting the mind of the Convention on 4
Mr. L. MARTIN denies that there were 2/3
agst. the equality of votes. The States that please to call themselves large,
are the weekest in the Union. Look at Masts. Look at Virga. Are they efficient
States? He was for letting a separation take place if they desired it. He had
rather there should be two Confederacies, than one founded on any other
principle than an equality of votes in the 2d. branch at least.
Mr. WILSON was not surprised that those
who say that a minority is
5 more than the 6
majority should say that 7 the minority is
stronger than the majority. He supposed the next assertion will be that they are
richer also; though he hardly expected it would be persisted in when the States
shall be called on for taxes & troops —
Mr. GERRY. also animadverted on Mr. L.
Martins remarks on the weakness of Masts. He favored the reconsideration with a
view not of destroying the equality of votes; but of providing that the States
should vote per capita, which he said would prevent the delays &
inconveniences that had been experienced in Congs. and would give a national
aspect & Spirit to the management of business. He did not approve of a
reconsideration of the clause relating to money bills. It was of great
consequence. It was the corner stone of the accomodation. If any member of the
Convention had the exclusive privilege of making propositions, would any one say
that it would give him no advantage over other members. The Report was not
altogether to his mind. But he would agree to it as it stood rather than throw
it out altogether.
The reconsideration being tacitly agreed to.
Mr. PINKNEY moved that instead of an
equality of votes, the States should be represented in the 2d. branch as
follows: N. H. by. 2. members. Mas. 4. R. I. 1. Cont. 3. N.Y. 3. N.J. 2. Pa. 4.
Del I. Md. 3. Virga.5. N.C.3. S.C.3. Geo. 2.making in the whole 36.
Mr. WILSON seconds the motion
Mr. DAYTON. The smaller States can never
give up their equality. For himself he would in no event yield that security for
Mr. SHERMAN urged the equality of votes
not so much as a security for the small States; as for the State Govts. which
could not be preserved unless they were represented & had a negative in the
Genl. Government. He had no objection to the members in the 2d. b. voting per
capita, as had been suggested by [Mr. Gerry]
Mr. MADISON concurred in this motion of
Mr. Pinkney as a reasonable compromise.
Mr. GERRY said he should like the
motion, but could see no hope of success. An accomodation must take place, and
it was apparent from what had been seen that it could not do so on the ground of
the motion. He was utterly against a partial confederacy, leaving other States
to accede or not accede; as had been intimated.
Mr. KING said it was always with regret
that he differed from his colleagues, but it was his duty to differ from [Mr.
Gerry] on this occasion. He considered the proposed Government as substantially
and formally, a General and National Government over the people of America.
There never will be a case in which it will act as a federal Government on the
States and not on the individual Citizens. And is it not a clear principle that
in a free Govt. those who are to be the objects of a Govt. ought to influence
the operations of it? What reason can be assigned why the same rule of
representation sd. not prevail in the 2d. branch 8
as in the 1st.? He could conceive none. On the contrary, every view of the
subject that presented itself, seemed to require it. Two objections had been
raised agst. it: drawn 1. 9 from the terms
of the existing compact 2. 9 from a
supposed danger to the smaller States. — As to the first objection he
thought it inapplicable. According to the existing confederation, the rule by
which the public burdens is to be apportioned is fixed, and must be
pursued. In the proposed Govermt. it can not be fixed, because indirect taxation
is to be substituted. The Legislature therefore will have full discretion to
impose taxes in such modes & proportions as they may judge expedient. As to
the 2d. objection, he thought it of as little weight. The Genl. Governt. can
never wish to intrude on the State Governts. There could be no temptation. None
had been pointed out. In order to prevent the interference of measures which
seemed most likely to happen, he would have no objection to throwing all the
State debts into the federal debt, making one aggregate debt of about 70,000,000
of dollars, and leaving it to be discharged by the Genl. Govt. — According
to the idea of securing the State Govts. there ought to be three distinct
legislative branches. The 2d. was admitted to be necessary, and was actually
meant, to check the 1st. branch, to give more wisdom, system, & stability to
the Govt. and ought clearly as it was to operate on the people to be
proportioned to them. For the third purpose of securing the States, there ought
then to be a 3d. branch, representing the States as such, and guarding by equal
votes their rights & dignities. He would not pretend to be as thoroughly
acquainted with his immediate Constituents as his colleagues, but it was his
firm belief that Masts. would never be prevailed on to yield to an equality of
votes. In N. York (he was sorry to be obliged to say any thing relative to that
State in the absence of its representatives, but the occasion required, it), in
N. York he had seen that the most powerful argument used by the considerate
opponents to the grant of the Impost to Congress, was pointed agst. the viccious
constitution of Congs. with regard to representation & suffrage. He was sure
that no Govt. could
10 last that was not founded on just
principles. He prefer'd the doing of nothing, to an allowance of an equal vote
to all the States. It would be better he thought to submit to a little more
confusion & convulsion, than to submit to such an evil. It was difficult to
say what the views of different Gentlemen might be. Perhaps there might be some
who thought no Governmt. co-extensive with the U. States could be established
with a hope of its answering the purpose. Perhaps there might be other fixed
opinions incompatible with the object we were 11
pursuing. If there were, he thought it but candid that Gentlemen would
12 speak out that we might understand one
Mr. STRONG. The Convention had been much
divided in opinion. In order to avoid the consequences of it, an accomodation
had been proposed. A committee had been appointed: and though some of the
members of it were averse to an equality of votes, a Report has 13
been made in favor of it. It is agreed on all hands that Congress are nearly at
an end. If no Accomodation takes place, the Union itself must soon be dissolved.
It has been suggested that if we can not come to any general agreement, the
principal States may form & recommend a scheme of Government. But will the
small States in that case ever accede 14
it. Is it probable that the large States themselves will under such
circumstances embrace and ratify it. He thought the small States had made a
considerable concession in the article of money bills; and that they might
naturally expect some concessions on the other side. From this view of the
matter he was compelled to give his vote for the Report taken all together.
Mr. MADISON expressed his apprehensions
that if the proper foundation of Govenmt — was destroyed, by substituting
an equality in place of a proportional Representation, no proper superstructure
would be raised. If the small States really wish for a Government armed with the
powers necessary to secure their liberties, and to enforce obedience on the
larger members as well as on 15
themselves he could not help thinking them extremely mistaken in their
16 means. He reminded them of the
consequences of laying the existing confederation
17 on improper principles. All the
principal parties to its compilation, joined immediately in mutilating &
fettering the Governmt. in such a manner that it has disappointed every hope
placed on it. He appealed to the doctrine & arguments used by themselves on
a former occasion. It had been very properly observed by [Mr. Patterson] that
Representation was an expedient by which the meeting of the people themselves
was rendered unnecessary; and that the representatives ought therefore to bear a
proportion to the votes which their constituents if convened, would respectively
have. Was not this remark as applicable to one branch of the Representation as
to the other? But it had been said that the Governt. would in its operation be
partly federal, partly national; that altho' in the latter respect the
Representatives of the people ought to be in proportion to the people: yet in
the former it ought to be according to the number of States. If there was any
solidity in this distinction he was ready to abide by it, if there was none it
ought to be abandoned. In all cases where the Genl. Government. is to act on the
people, let the people be represented and the votes be proportional. In all
cases where the Governt. is to act on the States as such, in like manner as
Congs. now act on them, let the States be represented & the votes be equal.
This was the true ground of compromise if there was any ground at all. But he
denied that there was any ground. He called for a single instance in which the
Genl. Govt. was not to operate on the people individually. The practicability of
making laws, with coercive sanctions, for the States as Political bodies, had
been exploded on all hands. He observed that the people of the large States
would in some way or other secure to themselves a weight proportioned to the
importance accruing from their superior numbers. If they could not effect it by
a proportional representation in the Govt. they would probably accede to no
Govt. which did not in 18 great measure
depend for its efficacy on their voluntary cooperation; in which case they would
indirectly secure their object. The existing confederacy proved that where the
Acts of the Genl. Govt. were to be executed by the particular Govts. the latter
had a weight in proportion to their importance. No one would say that either in
Congs. or out of Congs. Delaware had equal weight with Pensylva. If the latter
was to supply ten times as much money as the former, and no compulsion could be
used, it was of ten times more importance, that she should voluntarily furnish
the supply. In the Dutch confederacy the votes of the Provinces were equal. But
Holland which supplies about half the money, governs 19
the whole republic. He enumerated the objections agst. an equality of votes in
the 2d. branch, notwithstanding the proportional representation in the first. 1.
the minority could negative the will of the majority of the people. 2. they
could extort measures by making them a condition of their assent to other
necessary measures. 3. they could obtrude measures on the majority by virtue of
the peculiar powers which would be vested in the Senate. 4. the evil instead of
being cured by time, would increase with every new State that should be
admitted, as they must all be admitted on the principle of equality. 5. the
perpetuity it would give to the preponderance of the Northn. agst. the Southn.
Scale was a serious consideration. It seemed now to be pretty well understood
that the real difference of interests lay, not between the large & small but
between the N. & Southn States. The institution of slavery & its
consequences formed the line of discrimination. There were 5 States on the
South, 20 8 on the Northn. side of this
line. Should a proportl. representation take place it was true, the N. side
21 would still outnumber the other; but
not in the same degree, at this time; and every day would tend towards an
Mr. WILSON would add a few words only.
If equality in the 2d. branch was an error that time would correct, he should be
less anxious to exclude it being sensible that perfection was unattainable in
any plan; but being a fundamental and a perpetual error, it ought by all means
to be avoided. A vice in the Representation, like an error in the first
concoction, must be followed by disease, convulsions, and finally death itself.
The justice of the general principle of proportional representation has not in
argument at least been yet contradicted. But it is said that a departure from it
so far as to give the States an equal vote in one branch of the Legislature is
essential to their preservation. He had considered this position maturely, but
could not see its application. That the States ought to be preserved he
admitted. But does it follow that an equality of votes is necessary for the
purpose? Is there any reason to suppose that if their preservation should depend
more on the large than on the small States the security of the States agst. the
Genl. Government would be diminished? Are the large States less attached to
their existence, more likely to commit suicide, than the small? An equal vote
then is not necessary as far as he can conceive: and is liable among other
objections to this insuperable one: The great fault of the existing confederacy
is its inactivity. It has never been a complaint agst. Congs. that they governed
overmuch. The complaint has been that they have governed too little. To remedy
this defect we were sent here. Shall we effect the cure by establishing an
equality of votes as is proposed? no: this very equality carries us directly to
Congress: to the system which it is our duty to rectify. The small States cannot
indeed act, by virtue of this equality, but they may controul the Govt. as they
have done in Congs. This very measure is here prosecuted by a minority of the
people of America. Is then the object of the Convention likely to be
accomplished in this way? Will not our Constituents say? we sent you to form an
efficient Govt. and you have given us one more complex indeed, but having all
the weakness of the former Governt. He was anxious for uniting all the States
under one Governt. He knew there were some respectable men who preferred three
confederacies, united by offensive & defensive alliances. Many things may be
plausibly said, some things may be justly said, in favor of such a project. He
could not however concur in it himself; but he thought nothing so pernicious as
bad first principles.
Mr. ELSEWORTH asked two questions one of
Mr. Wilson, whether he had ever seen a good measure fail in Congs. for want of a
majority of States in its favor? He had himself never known such an instance:
the other of Mr. Madison whether a negative lodged with the majority of the
States even the smallest, could be more dangerous than the qualified negative
proposed to be lodged in a single Executive Magistrate, who must be taken from
some one State?
Mr. SHERMAN, signified that his
expectation was that the Genl. Legislature would in some cases act on the
federal principle, of requiring quotas. But he thought it ought to be
empowered to carry their own plans into execution, if the States should fail to
supply their respective quotas.
On the question for agreeing to Mr. Pinkney's motion for allowing N. H. 2.
Mas. 4. &c — it passed in the negative Mas. no. Mr. King ay. Mr. Ghorum
absent. cont. no. N.J. no. Pa. ay. Del. no. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C. no. S. C. ay
Geo. no. 22
1. In the transcript the vote reads: "Massachusetts,
Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, aye — 4; New Jersey, Virginia, North
Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no — 5; Pennsylvania, divided."
2. The word "upon" is
substituted in the transcript for "on."
3. The word "would" is
substituted in the transcript for "will."
4. The word "upon" is
substituted in the transcript for "on."
5. The word "does" is
substituted in the transcript for "is."
6. The word "a" is substituted
in the transcript for "the."
7. The word "that" is omitted in
8. In the transcript the word "branch"
is transposed, making the phrase read: "second, as in the first, branch."
9. The figures "1" and "2"
are changed to "first" and "Secondly" in the transcript.
10. The word "would" is
substituted in the transcript for "could."
11. The word "are" is
substituted in the transcript for "were."
12. The word "should" is
substituted in the transcript for "would."
13. The word "had" is
substituted in the transcript for "has."
14. The word "to" is here
inserted in the transcript.
15. The word "on" is omitted in
16. The word "the" is
substituted in the transcript for "their."
17. The transcript italicizes the words "existing
18. The word "a" is here
inserted in the transcript.
19. The word "governed" is
substituted in the transcript for "governs."
20. The word "Southern" is
substituted in the transcript for "South."
21. The word "side" is omitted
in the transcript.
22. In the transcript the vote reads: "Pennsylvania,
Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, aye — 4; Massachusetts, [Mr. King, aye,
Mr. Gorham, absent], Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, North Carolina, Georgia,
no — 6."