Notes on the Debates in the Federal Convention
By James Madison
June 21, 1787
Thursday, June 21,1787  

IN CONVENTION

Mr.Jonathan Dayton from New Jersey took his seat.

Dr. JOHNSON. On a comparison of the two plans which had been proposed from Virginia and New Jersey, it appeared that
the peculiarity which characterized the latter was its being calculated to preserve the individuality of the States. The plan from
Virginia did not profess to destroy this individuality altogether, but was charged with such a tendency. One Gentleman alone
(Col. Hamilton) in his animadversions on the plan of New Jersey, boldly and decisively contended for an abolition of the State
Governments. Mr. Wilson and the gentlemen from Virginia who also were adversaries of the plan of New Jersey held a
different language. They wished to leave the States in possession of a considerable, though a subordinate jurisdiction. They
had not yet however shown how this could consist with, or be secured against the general sovereignty and jurisdiction,
which they proposed to give to the national Government.

If this could be shown in such a manner as to satisfy the patrons of the New Jersey propositions, that the individuality of the
States would not be endangered, many of their objections would no doubt be removed. If this could not be shown their
objections would have their full force. He wished it therefore to be well considered whether in case the States, as was
proposed, should retain some portion of sovereignty at least, this portion could be preserved without allowing them to
participate effectually in the General Government and without giving them each a distinct and equal vote for the purpose of
defending themselves in the general Councils.

Mr. WILSON's respect for Dr. Johnson, added to the importance of the subject led him to attempt, unprepared as he was,
to solve the difficulty which had been started. It was asked how the General Government and individuality of the particular
States could be reconciled to each other; and how the latter could be secured against the former? Might it not, on the other
side be asked how the former was to be secured against the latter? It was generally admitted that a jealousy and rivalry would
be felt between the General and particular Governments. As the plan now stood, though indeed contrary to his opinion, one
branch of the General Government (the Senate or second branch) was to be appointed by the State Legislatures.

The State Legislatures, therefore, by this participation in the General Government would have an opportunity of defending
their rights. Ought not a reciprocal opportunity to be given to the General Government of defending itself by having an
appointment of some one constituent branch of the State Governments. If a security be necessary on one side, it would seem
reasonable to demand it on the other. But taking the matter in a more general view, he saw no danger to the States from the
General Government. In case a combination should be made by the large ones it would produce a general alarm among the
rest, and the project would be frustrated. But there was no temptation to such a project.

The States having in general a similar interest, in case of any proposition in the National Legislature to encroach on the State
Legislatures, he conceived a general alarm would take place in the National Legislature itself, that it would communicate itself
to the State Legislatures, and would finally spread among the people at large. The General Government will be as ready to
preserve the rights of the States as the latter are to preserve the rights of individuals; all the members of the former, having a
common interest, as representatives of all the people of the latter, to leave the State Governments in possession of what the
people wish them to retain. He could not discover, therefore any danger whatever on the side from which it had been
apprehended. On the contrary, he conceived that in spite of every precaution the general Government would be in perpetual
danger of encroachments from the State Governments.

Mr. MADISON was of the opinion that there was (1) less danger of encroachment from the General Government than from
the State Governments; (2) that the mischief from encroachments would be less fatal if made by the former, than if made by
the latter.

1. All the examples of other confederacies prove the greater tendency in such systems to anarchy than to tyranny; to a
disobedience of the members than to usurpations of the federal head. Our own experience had fully illustrated this tendency.
— But it will be said that the proposed change in the principles and form of the Union will vary the tendency; that the General
Government will have real and greater powers, and will be derived in one branch at least from the people, not from the
Governments of the States.

To give full force to this objection, let it be supposed for a moment that indefinite power should be given to the General
Legislature, and the States reduced to corporations dependent on the General Legislature; Why should it follow that the
General Government would take from the States any branch of their power as far as its operation was beneficial, and its
continuance desirable to the people? In some of the States, particularly in Connecticut, all the Townships are incorporated,
and have a certain limited jurisdiction. Have the Representatives of the people of the Townships in the Legislature of the State
ever endeavored to despoil the Townships of any part of their local authority? As far as this local authority is convenient to
the people they are attached to it; and their representatives chosen by and amenable to them naturally respect their attachment
to this, as much as their attachment to any other right or interest.

The relation of a General Government to State Governments is parallel.

2. Guards were more necessary against encroachments of the State Governments on the General Government than of the
latter on the former. The great objection made against an abolition of the State Governments was that the General
Government could not extend its care to all the minute objects which fall under the cognizance of the local jurisdictions. The
objection as stated lay not against the probable abuse of the general power, but against the imperfect use that could be made
of it throughout so great an extent of country, and over so great a variety of objects. As far as its operation would be
practicable it could not in this view be improper; as far as it would be impracticable, the conveniency of the General
Government itself would concur with that of the people in the maintenance of subordinate Governments.

Were it practicable for the General Government to extend its care to every requisite object without the cooperation of the
State Governments the people would not be less free as members of one great Republic than as members of thirteen small
ones. A Citizen of Delaware was not more free than a Citizen of Virginia: nor would either be more free than a Citizen of
America. Supposing therefore a tendency in the General Government to absorb the State Governments, no fatal consequence
could result. Taking the reverse of the supposition, that a tendency should be left in the State Governments towards an
independence on the General Government and the gloomy consequences need not be pointed out. The imagination of them,
must have suggested to the States the experiment we are now making to prevent the calamity, and must have formed the
chief motive with those present to undertake the arduous task. On the question for resolving "that the Legislature ought to
consist of two Branches".

Massachusetts, aye. Connecticut, aye. New York, no. New Jersey, no. Pennsylvania, aye. Delaware, no. Maryland, divided,
Virginia, aye. North Carolina, aye. South Carolina, aye. Georgia, aye.

The third resolution of the Report taken into consideration.

Gen. PINKNEY moved "that the first branch, instead of being elected by the people, should be elected in such manner as the
Legislature of each State should direct." He urged; (1) That this liberty would give more satisfaction, as the Legislatures could
then accommodate the mode to the conveniency and opinions of the people. (2) That it would avoid the undue influence of
large Counties which would prevail if the elections were to be made in districts as must be the mode intended by the Report
of the Committee. (3) That otherwise disputed elections must be referred to the General Legislature which would be attended
with intolerable expense and trouble to the distant parts of the republic.

Mr. L. MARTIN seconded the Motion.

Col. HAMILTON considered the motion as intended manifestly to transfer the election from the people to the State
Legislatures, which would essentially vitiate the plan. It would increase that State influence which could not be too watchfully
guarded against. All too must admit the possibility, in case the General Government should maintain itself, that the State
Governments might gradually dwindle into nothing. The system therefore should not be engrafted on what might possibly fail.

Mr. MASON urged the necessity of retaining the election by the people. Whatever inconveniency may attend the democratic
principle, it must actuate one part of the Government. It is the only security for the rights of the people.

Mr. SHERMAN, would like an election by the Legislatures best, but is content with plan as it stands.

Mr. RUTLIDGE could not admit the solidity of the distinction between a mediate and immediate election by the people. It
was the same thing to act by oneself, and to act by another. An election by the Legislature would be more refined than an
election immediately by the people: and would be more likely to correspond with the sense of the whole community. If this
Convention had been chosen by the people in districts it is not to be supposed that such proper characters would have been
preferred. The Delegates to Congress he thought had also been fitter men than would have been appointed by the people at
large.

Mr. WILSON considered the election of the first branch by the people not only as the corner Stone, but as the foundation of
the fabric, and that the difference between a mediate and immediate election was immense. The difference was particularly
worthy of notice in this respect: that the Legislatures are actuated not merely by the sentiment of the people; but have an
official sentiment opposed to that of the General Government and perhaps to that of the people themselves.

Mr. KING enlarged on the same distinction. He supposed the Legislatures would constantly choose men subservient to their
own views as contrasted to the general interest; and that they might even devise modes of election that would be subversive
of the end in view. He remarked several instances in which the views of a State might be at variance with those of the
General Government, and mentioned particularly a competition between the National and State debts, for the most certain and
productive funds.

Gen. PINKNEY was for making the State Governments a part of the General System. If they were to be abolished, or lose
their agency, South Carolina and other States would have but a small share of the benefits of Government.

On the question for Gen. Pinkney’s motion to substitute election of first branch in such mode as the Legislatures should
appoint, instead of its being elected by the people."

Massachusetts, no. Connecticut, aye. New York, no. New Jersey, aye. Pennsylvania, no. Delaware, aye. Maryland, divided.
Virginia, no. North Carolina, no. South Carolina, aye. Georgia, no.

Gen. PINKNEY then moved that the first branch be elected by the people in such mode as the Legislatures should direct; but
waved it on its being hinted that such a provision might be more properly tried in the detail of the plan.

On the question for the election of the first branch by the people."
Massachusetts, aye. Connecticut, aye. New York, aye. New Jersey, no. Pennsylvania, aye. Delaware, aye. Maryland, divided.
Virginia, aye. North Carolina, aye. South Carolina, aye. Georgia, aye.

Election of the 1st. branch "for the term of three years," considered.

Mr. RANDOLPH moved to strike out, "three years" and insert "two years" — he was sensible that annual elections were a
source of great mischief in the States, yet it was the want of such checks against the popular intemperance as were now
proposed, that rendered them so mischievous. He would have preferred annual to biennial, but for the extent of the United
States and the inconveniency which would result from them to the representatives of the extreme parts of the Empire. The
people were attached to frequency of elections. All the Constitutions of the States except that of South Carolina, had
established annual elections.

Mr. DICKENSON. The idea of annual elections was borrowed from the ancient usage of England, a country much less
extensive than ours. He supposed biennial would be inconvenient. He preferred triennial: and in order to prevent the
inconveniency  of an entire change of the whole number at the same moment, suggested a rotation, by an annual election of
one third.

Mr. ELSEWORTH was opposed to three years, supposing that even one year was preferable to two years. The people were
fond of frequent elections and might be safely indulged in one branch of the Legislature. He moved for 1 year.

Mr. STRONG seconded and supported the motion.

Mr. WILSON being for making the 1st. branch an effectual representation of the people at large, preferred an annual election
of it. This frequency was most familiar and pleasing to the people. It would be not more inconvenient to them, than triennial
elections, as the people in all the States have annual meetings with which the election of the National representatives might be
made to coincide. He did not conceive that it would be necessary for the National Legislatire to sit constantly; perhaps not
half — perhaps not one fourth of the year.

Mr. MADISON was persuaded that annual elections would be extremely inconvenient and apprehensive that biennial would
be too much so; he did not mean inconvenient to the electors; but to the representatives. They would have to travel seven or
eight hundred miles from the distant parts of the Union; and would probably not be allowed even a reimbursement of their
expenses. Besides, none of those who wished to be re-elected would remain at the seat of Government, confiding that their
absence would not affect them. The members of Congress had done this with few instances of disappointment. But as the
choice was here to be made by the people themselves who would be much less complaisant to individuals, and much more
susceptible of impressions from the presence of a rival candidate, it must be supposed that the members from the most
distant States would travel backwards and forwards at least as often as the elections should be repeated. Much was to be said
also on the time requisite for new members who would always form a large proportion, to acquire that knowledge of the
affairs of the States in general without which their trust could not be usefully discharged.

Mr. SHERMAN preferred annual elections, but would be content with biennial. He thought the Representatives ought to
return home and mix with the people. By remaining at the seat of Government they would acquire the habits of the place
which might differ from those of their Constituents.

Col. MASON observed that the States being differently situated such a rule ought to be formed as would put them as nearly
as possible on a level. If elections were annual the middle States would have a great advantage over the extreme ones. He
wished them to be biennial; and the rather as in that case they would coincide with the periodical elections of South Carolina
as well of the other States.

Col. HAMILTON urged the necessity of 3 years. There ought to be neither too much nor too little dependence, on the
popular sentiments. The checks in the other branches of Government would be but feeble, and would need every auxiliary
principle that could be interwoven. The British House of Commons were elected septennially, yet the democratic spirit of the
Constitution had not ceased. Frequency of elections tended to make the people listless to them; and to facilitate the success of
little cabals. This evil was complained of in all the States. In Virginia it had been lately found necessary to force the
attendance and voting of the people by severe regulations.

On the question for striking out "three years"
Massachusetts, aye. Connecticut, aye. New York, no. New Jersey, divided. Pennsylvania, aye. Delaware, no. Maryland, no.
Virginia, aye. North Carolina, aye. South Carolina, aye. Georgia, aye.

Adjourned.
The Illinois Conservative