|Notes on the Debates in the Federal Convention
By James Madison
August 10, 1787
Friday, August 10, 1787
Art. VI. Sect. 2, taken up.
Mr. PINKNEY. The Committee as he had conceived were instructed to report the proper qualifications of property for the
members of the Natliona Legislature; instead of which, they have referred the task to the National Legislature itself. Should it
be left on this footing, the first Legislature will meet without any particular qualifications of property: and if it should happen
to consist of rich men they might fix such qualifications as may be too favorable to the rich; if of poor men, an opposite
extreme might be run into.
He was opposed to the establishment of an undue aristocratic influence in the Constitution but he thought it essential that the
members of the Legislature, the Executive, and the Judges, should be possessed of competent property to make them
independent and respectable. It was prudent when such great powers were to be trusted, to connect the tie of property with
that of reputation in securing a faithful administration.
The Legislature would have the fate of the Nation put into their hands. The President would also have a very great influence
on it. The Judges would have not only important causes between Citizen and Citizen but also, where foreigners are
concerned. They will even be the Umpires between the United States and individual States as well as between one State and
another. Were he to fix the quantum of property which should be required, he should not think of less than one hundred
thousand dollars for the President, half of that sum for each of the Judges, and in like proportion for the members of the
National Legislature. He would however leave the sums blank. His motion was that the President of the United States, the
Judges, and members of the Legislature should be required to swear that they were respectively possessed of a cleared
unencumbered Estate to the amount of ____ in the case of the President, etc., etc.
Mr. RUTLIDGE seconded the motion; observing that the Committee had reported no qualifications because they could not
agree on any among themselves, being embarrassed by the danger on one side of displeasing the people by making them high,
and on the other of rendering them nugatory by making them low.
Mr. ELSEWORTH. The different circumstances of different parts of the United States and the probable difference between
the present and future circumstances of the whole, render it improper to have either uniform or fixed qualifications. Make
them so high as to be useful in the Southern States, and they will be inapplicable to the Eastern States. Suit them to the latter,
and they will serve no purpose in the former. In like manner what may be accommodated to the existing State of things
among us, may be very inconvenient in some future state of them. He thought for these reasons that it was better to leave this
matter to the Legislative discretion than to attempt a provision for it in the Constitution.
Dr. FRANKLIN expressed his dislike of every thing that tended to debase the spirit of the common people. If honesty was
often the companion of wealth, and if poverty was exposed to peculiar temptation, it was not less true that the possession of
property increased the desire of more property. Some of the greatest rogues he was ever acquainted with, were the richest
rogues. We should remember the character which the Scripture requires in Rulers, that they should be men hating
covetousness. This Constitution will be much read and attended to in Europe, and if it should betray a great partiality to the
rich, will not only hurt us in the esteem of the most liberal and enlightened men there, but discourage the common people
from removing into this Country.
The Motion of Mr. Pinkney was rejected by so general a no, that the States were not called.
Mr. MADISON was opposed to the Section as vesting an improper and dangerous power in the Legislature. The
qualifications of electors and elected were fundamental articles in a Republican Government and ought to be fixed by the
Constitution. If the Legislature could regulate those of either, it can by degrees subvert the Constitution.
A Republic may be converted into an aristocracy or oligarchy as well by limiting the number capable of being elected, as the
number authorized to elect. In all cases where the representatives of the people will have a personal interest distinct from that
of their Constituents, there was the same reason for being jealous of them, as there was for relying on them with full
confidence, when they had a common interest.
This was one of the former cases. It was as improper as to allow them to fix their own wages, or their own privileges. It was
a power also which might be made subservient to the views of one faction against another. Qualifications founded on artificial
distinctions may be devised, by the stronger in order to keep out partisans of a weaker faction.
Mr. ELSEWORTH, admitted that the power was not unexceptionable; but he could not view it as dangerous. Such a power
with regard to the electors would be dangerous because it would be much more liable to abuse.
Mr. Govr. MORRIS moved to strike out "with regard to property" in order to leave the Legislature entirely at large.
Mr. WILLIAMSON. This could surely never be admitted. Should a majority of the Legislature be composed of any particular
description of men, of lawyers for example, which is no improbable supposition, the future elections might be secured to their
Mr. MADISON observed that the British Parliament possessed the power of regulating the qualifications both of the electors,
and the elected; and the abuse they had made of it was a lesson worthy of our attention. They had made the changes in both
cases subservient to their own views, or to the views of political or Religious parties.
Question on the motion to strike out with regard to property.
New Hampshire, no; Massachucetts, no; Connecticut, aye; New Jersey, aye; Pennsylvania, aye; Delawarae, no; Maryland,
no; Virginia, no; North Carolina, no; South Carolina, no; Georgia, aye;
Mr. RUTLIDGE was opposed to leaving the power to the Legislature. He proposed that the qualifications should be the same
as for members of the State Legislatures.
Mr. WILSON thought it would be best on the whole to let the Section go out. A uniform rule would probably be never fixed
by the Legislature, and this particular power would constructively exclude every other power of regulating qualifications.
On the question for agreeing to Article VI, Section 2.
New Hampshire, aye; Massachusetts, aye; Connecticut, no; New Jersey, no; Pennsylvania, no; Maryland, no. Virginia, no;
North Carolina, no; South Carolina, no; Georgia, aye.
On Motion of Mr. Wilson to reconsider Article IV, Section 2; so as to restore three in place of seven years of citizenship as a
qualification for being elected into the House of Representatives.
New Hampshire, no; Massachusetts, no; Connecticut, aye; New Jersey, no; Pennsylvania, aye; Delaware, aye; Maryland, aye;
Virginia, aye; North Carolina, aye; South Carolina, no; Georgia, no.
Monday next was then assigned for the reconsideration; all the States being aye, except Massachusetts and Georgia.
Article VI, Section 3, taken up.
Mr. GHORUM contended that less than a Majority in each House should be made of Quorum, otherwise great delay might
happen in business, and great inconvenience from the future increase of numbers.
Mr. MERCER was also for less than a majority. So great a number will put it in the power of a few by seceding at a critical
moment to introduce convulsions, and endanger the Government. Examples of secession have already happened in some of
the States. He was for leaving it to the Legislature to fix the Quorum, as in Great Britain, where the requisite number is small
and no inconveniency has been experienced.
Col. MASON. This is a valuable and necessary part of the plan. In this extended Country, embracing so great a diversity of
interests, it would be dangerous to the distant parts to allow a small number of members of the two Houses to make laws.
The Central States could always take care to be on the Spot and by meeting earlier than the distant ones, or wearying their
patience, and outstaying them, could carry such measures as they pleased.
He admitted that inconveniences might spring from the secession of a small number; But he had also known good produced
by an apprehension of it. He had known a paper emission prevented by that cause in Virginia. He thought the Constitution as
now molded was founded on sound principles, and was disposed to put into it extensive powers. At the same time he wished
to guard against abuses as much as possible. If the Legislature should be able to reduce the number at all, it might reduce it as
low as it pleased and the United States might be governed by a Juncto. A majority of the number which had been agreed on,
was so few that he feared it would be made an objection against the plan.
Mr. KING admitted there might be some danger of giving an advantage to the Central States; but was of opinion that the
public inconveniency on the other side was more to be dreaded.
Mr. Govr. MORRIS moved to fix the quorum at 33 members in the House of Representatives and 14 in the Senate. This is a
majority of the present number, and will be a bar to the Legislature; fix the number low and they will generally attend knowing
that advantage may be taken of their absence. the Secession of a small number ought not to be suffered to break a quorum.
Such events in the States may have been of little consequence. In the national Councils, they may be fatal. Besides other
mischief, if a few can break up a quorum, they may seize a moment when a particular part of the Continent may be in need of
immediate aid, to extort, by threatening a secession, some unjust and selfish measure.
Mr. MERCER 2ded the motion.
Mr. KING said he had just prepared a motion which instead of fixing the numbers proposed by Mr. Govr. Morris as
Quorums, made those the lowest numbers, leaving the Legislature at liberty to increase them or not. He thought the future
increase of members would render a majority of the whole extremely cumbersome.
Mr. MERCER agreed to substitute Mr. Kings motion in place of Mr. Morris's.
Mr. ELSEWORTH was opposed to it. It would be a pleasing ground of confidence to the people that no law or burden could
be imposed on them, by a few men. He reminded the movers that the Constitution proposed to give such a discretion with
regard to the number of Representatives that a very inconvenient number was not to be apprehended. The inconveniency of
secessions may be guarded against by giving to each House an authority to require the attendance of absent members.
Mr. WILSON concurred in the sentiments of Mr. Elseworth.
Mr. GERRY seemed to think that some further precautions than merely fixing the quorum might be necessary. He observed
that as 17 would be a majority of a quorum of 33, and 8 of 14, questions might by possibility be carried in the House of
Representatives, by 2 large States, and in the Senate by the same States with the aid of two small ones. He proposed that the
number for a quorum in the House of Representatives should not exceed 50 nor be less than 33, leaving the intermediate
discretion to the Legislature.
Mr. KING, as the quorum could not be altered without the concurrence of the President by less than 2/3 of each House, he
thought there could be no danger in trusting the Legislature.
Mr. CARROL this will be no security against a continuance of the quorums at 33 and 14, when they ought to be increased.
On question on Mr. Kings motion "that not less than 33 in the House of Representatives nor less than 14 in the Senate should
constitute a Quorum, which may be increased by a law, on additions to members in either House.
New Hampshire, no; Massachusetts, aye; Connecticut, no; New Jersey, no; Pennslyvania, no; Delaware, aye; Maryland, no;
Virginia, no; North Carolina, no. South Carolina, no; Georgia, no.
Mr. RANDOLPH & Mr. MADISON moved to add to the end of Article VI, Section 3, "and may be authorized to compel the
attendance of absent members in such manner and under such penalties as each House may provide." Agreed to by all except
Pennsylvania, which was divided.
Article VI, Section 3, agreed to as amended nem con. Agreed to nem con.
Mr. MADISON observed that the right of expulsion (Article VI, Section 6) was too important to be exercised by a bare
majority of a quorum, and in emergencies of faction might be dangerously abused. He moved that "with the concurrence of
2/3 " might be inserted between may and expel.
Mr. RANDOLPH & Mr. MASON approved the idea.
Mr. Govr. MORRIS. This power may be safely trusted to a majority. To require more may produce abuses on the side of
the minority. A few men from factious motives may keep in a member who ought to be expelled.
Mr. CARROL thought that the concurrence of 2/3 at least ought to be required.
On the question for requiring 2/3 in cases of expelling a member.
New Hampshire, aye; Massachusetts, aye; Connecticut, aye; New Jersey, aye; Pennsylvania, divided; Delaware, aye;
Maryland, aye; Virginia, aye; North Carolina, aye; South Carolina, aye; Georgia, ay.
Article VI, Section 6, as thus amended agreed to nem. con. Article VI, Sect 7, taken up.
Mr. Govr. MORRIS urged that if the yeas and nays were proper at all any individual ought to be authorized to call for them,
and moved an amendment to that effect. The small States may otherwise be under a disadvantage, and find it difficult, to get a
concurrence of 1/5.
Mr. RANDOLPH 2ded the motion.
Mr. SHERMAN had rather strike out the yeas and nays altogether. They never have done any good, and have done much
mischief. They are not proper as the reasons governing the voter never appear along with them.
Mr. ELSEWORTH was of the same opinion.
Col. MASON liked the Section as it stood. It was a middle way between the two extremes.
Mr. GHORUM was opposed to the motion for allowing a single member to call the yeas and nays, and recited the abuses of
it, in Massachusetts. (1) In stuffing the journals with them on frivolous occasions. (2) In misleading the people who never
know the reasons determining the votes.
The motion for allowing a single member to call the yeas and nays was disagreed to nem con.
Mr. CARROL. and Mr. RANDOLPH moved Here insert the motion at the bottom of page to strike out the words "each
House" and to insert the words "the House of Representatives" in Section 7, Article 6, and to add to the Section the words
"and any member of the Senate shall be at liberty to enter his dissent."
Mr. Govr. MORRIS and Mr. WILSON observed that if the minority were to have a right to enter their votes and reasons,
the other side would have a right to complain, if it were not extended to them; and to allow it to both, would fill the Journals,
like the records of a Court, with replications, rejoinders, etc.
Question on Mr. Carrols motion to allow a member to enter his dissent.
New Hampshire, no; Massachusetts, no; Connecticut, no; New Jersey, no; Pennsylvania; no; Delaware, no; Maryland, aye;
Virginia, aye; North Carolina, no; South Carolina, aye; Georgia, no.
Mr. GERRY moved to strike out the words "when it shall be acting in its legislative capacity" in order to extend the provision
to the Senate when exercising its peculiar authorities and to insert "except such parts thereof as in their judgment require
secrecy" after the words "publish them." [It was thought by others that provision should be made with respect to these when
that part came under consideration which proposed to vest those additional authorities in the Senate.]
On this question for striking out the words "when acting in its Legislative capacity".
New Hampshire, divided; Massachusetts, aye; Connecticut, no; New Jersey, no; Pennsylvania, no; Delaware, aye; Maryland,
aye; Virginia, aye; North Carolina, aye; South Carolina, aye; Georgia, aye.
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