|Notes on the Debates in the Federal Convention
By James Madison
June 25, 1787
Monday June 25, 1787
Resolution 4, being taken up.
Mr. PINKNEY spoke as follows- The efficacy of the System will depend on this article. In order to form a right judgment in
the case, it will be proper to examine the situation of this Country more accurately than it has yet been done. The people of
the United States are perhaps the most singular of any we are acquainted with. Among them there are fewer distinctions of
fortune and less of rank, than among the inhabitants of any other nation. Every freeman has a right to the same protection and
security, and a very moderate share of property entitles them to the possession of all the honors and privileges the public can
bestow, hence arises a greater equality than is to be found among the people of any other country, and an equality which is
more likely to continue. I say this equality is likely to continue, because in a new Country, possessing immense tracts of
uncultivated lands, where every temptation is offered to emigration and where industry must be rewarded with competency,
there will be few poor, and few dependent.
Every member of the Society almost, will enjoy an equal power of arriving at the supreme offices and consequently of
directing the strength and sentiments of the whole Community. None will be excluded by birth, and few by fortune, from
voting for proper persons to fill the offices of Government. The whole community will enjoy in the fullest sense that kind of
political liberty which consists in the power the members of the State reserve to themselves, of arriving at the public offices,
or at least, of having votes in the nomination of those who fill them.
If this State of things is true and the prospect of its continuing probable, it is perhaps not politic to Endeavour too close an
imitation of a Government calculated for a people whose situation is, and whose views ought to be extremely different. Much
has been said of the Constitution of Great Britain. I will confess that I believe it to be the best Constitution in existence; but at
the same time I am confident it is one that will not or can not be introduced into this Country, for many centuries. If it were
proper to go here into a historical dissertation on the British Constitution, it might easily be shown that the peculiar excellence,
the distinguishing feature of that Government can not possibly be introduced into our System; that its balance between the
Crown and the people can not be made a part of our Constitution; that we neither have or can have the members to compose
it, nor the rights, privileges and properties of so distinct a class of Citizens to guard; that the materials for forming this balance
or check do not exist, nor is there a necessity for having so permanent a part of our Legislative, until the Executive power is
so constituted as to have something fixed and dangerous in its principle. By this I mean a sole, hereditary, though limited
That we cannot have a proper body for forming a Legislative balance between the inordinate power of the Executive and the
people, is evident from a review of the accidents and circumstances which gave rise to the peerage of Great Britain. I believe
it is well ascertained that the parts which compose the British Constitution arose immediately from the forests of Germany;
but the antiquity of the establishment of nobility is by no means clearly defined.
Some authors are of opinion that the dignity denoted by the titles of dux et comes, was derived from the old Roman to the
German Empire; while others are of opinion that they existed among the Germans long before the Romans were acquainted
with them. The institution however of nobility is immemorial among the nations who may probably be termed the ancestors of
Britain. At the time they were summoned in England to become a part of the National Council, and the circumstances which
have contributed to make them a constituent part of that constitution, must be well known to all gentlemen who have had
industry and curiosity enough to investigate the subject.
The nobles with their possessions and dependents composed a body permanent in their nature and formidable in point of
power. They had a distinct interest both from the King and the people; an interest which could only be represented by
themselves, and the guardianship could not be safely entrusted to others. At the time, they were originally called to form a part
of the National Council, necessity perhaps as much as other cause, induced the Monarch to look up to them. It was necessary
to demand the aid of his subjects in personal and pecuniary services. The power and possessions of the Nobility would not
permit taxation from any assembly of which they were not a part, and the blending the deputies of the Commons with them,
and thus forming what they called their Parliament was perhaps as much the effect of chance as of any thing else.
The Commons were at that time completely subordinate to the nobles, whose consequence and influence seem to have been
the only reasons for their superiority; a superiority so degrading to the Commons that in the first Summons we find the peers
are called upon to consult, the commons to consent. From this time the peers have composed a part of the British Legislature,
and notwithstanding their power and influence have diminished and those of the Commons have increased, yet still they have
always formed an excellent balance against either the encroachments of the Crown or the people.
I have said that such a body cannot exist in this Country for ages, and that until the situation of our people is exceedingly
changed, no necessity will exist for so permanent a part of the Legislature. To illustrate this I have remarked that the people of
the United States are more equal in their circumstances than the people of any other Country; that they have very few rich
men among them. By rich men, I mean those whose riches may have a dangerous influence, or such as are esteemed rich in
Europe. Perhaps there are not one hundred such on the Continent and that it is not probable this number will be greatly
increased: that the genius of the people; their mediocrity of situation and the prospects which are afforded their industry in a
Country which must be a new one for centuries are unfavorable to the rapid distinction of ranks.
The destruction of the right of primogeniture and the equal division of the property of intestates will also have an effect to
preserve this mediocrity, for laws invariably affect the manners of a people. On the other hand that vast extent of unpeopled
territory which opens to the frugal and industrious a sure road to competency and independence will effectually prevent, for a
considerable time the increase of the poor or discontented, and be the means of preserving that equality of condition which so
eminently distinguishes us.
If equality is as I contend the leading feature of the United States, where then are the riches and wealth whose representation
and protection is the peculiar province of this permanent body. Are they in the hands of the few who may be called rich; in
the possession of less than a hundred citizens? certainly not. They are in the great body of the people, among whom there are
no men of wealth, and very few of real poverty. Is it probable that a change will be created, and that a new order of men will
If under the British Government, for a century no such change was probable, I think it may be fairly concluded it will not take
place while even the semblance of Republicanism remains. How is this change to be effected? Where are the sources from
whence it is to flow? From the landed interest? No. That is too unproductive and too much divided in most of the States.
From the Moneyed interest? If such exists at present, little is to be apprehended from that source. Is it to spring from
commerce? I believe it would be the first instance in which a nobility sprang from merchants. Besides, Sir, I apprehend that
on this point the policy of the United States has been much mistaken.
We have unwisely considered ourselves as the inhabitants of an old instead of a new country. We have adopted the maxims of
a State full of people and manufactures and established in credit. We have deserted our true interest, and instead of applying
closely to those improvements in domestic policy which would have ensured the future importance of our commerce, we
have rashly and prematurely engaged in schemes as extensive as they are imprudent. This however is an error which daily
corrects itself and I have no doubt that a few more severe trials will convince us, that very different commercial principles
ought to govern the conduct of these States.
The people of this country are not only very different from the inhabitants of any State we are acquainted with in the modern
world, but I assert that their situation is distinct from either the people of Greece or Rome, or of any State we are acquainted
with among the ancients. Can the orders introduced by the institution of Solon, can they be found in the United States? Can
the military habits and manners of Sparta be resembled to our habits and manners? Are the distinctions of Patrician and
Plebeian known among us? Can the Helvetic or Belgic confederacies, or can the unwieldy, unmeaning body called the
Germanic Empire, can they be said to possess either the same or a situation like ours? I apprehend not. They are perfectly
different, in their distinctions of rank, their Constitutions, their manners and their policy.
Our true situation appears to me to be this, a new extensive Country containing within itself the materials for forming a
Government capable of extending to its citizens all the blessings of civil and religious liberty, capable of making them happy at
home. This is the great end of Republican Establishments. We mistake the object of our Government, if we hope or wish that
it is to make us respectable abroad. Conquest or superiority among other powers is not or ought not ever to be the object of
republican systems. If they are sufficiently active and energetic to rescue us from contempt and preserve our domestic
happiness and security, it is all we can expect from them. It is more than almost any other Government ensures to its citizens.
I believe this observation will be found generally true, that no two people are so exactly alike in their situation or
circumstances as to admit the exercise of the same Government with equal benefit; that a system must be suited to the habits
and genius of the people it is to govern, and must grow out of them.
The people of the U. S. may be divided into three classes, professional men who must from their particular pursuits always
have a considerable weight in the Government while it remains popular, commercial men, who may or may not have weight
as a wise or injudicious commercial policy is pursued. If that commercial policy is pursued which I conceive to be the true
one, the merchants of this Country will not or ought not for a considerable time to have much weight in the political scale.
The third is the landed interest, the owners and cultivators of the soil, who are and ought ever to be the governing spring in
These three classes, however distinct in their pursuits are individually equal in the political scale, and may be easily proved to
have but one interest. The dependence of each on the other is mutual. The merchant depends on the planter. Both must in
private as well as public affairs be connected with the professional men, who in their turn must in some measure depend upon
them. Hence it is clear from this manifest connection, and the equality which I before stated exists, and must for the reasons
then assigned, continue, that after all there is one, but one great and equal body of citizens composing the inhabitants of this
Country among whom there are no distinctions of rank, and very few or none of fortune.
For a people thus circumstanced are we then to form a government and the question is, what kind of Government is best
suited to them? Will it be the British Government? No. Why? Because Great Britain contains three orders of people distinct in
their situation, their possessions and their principles. These orders combined form the great body of the Nation, and as in
national expenses the wealth of the whole community must contribute, so ought each component part to be properly and duly
represented. No other combination of power could form this due representation, but the one that exists. Neither the peers or
the people could represent the royalty, nor could the Royalty and the people form a proper representation for the Peers. Each
therefore must of necessity be represented by itself, or the sign of itself; and this accidental mixture has certainly formed a
Government admirably well balanced.
But the United States contain but one order that can be assimilated to the British Nation, this is the order of Commons. They
will not surely then attempt to form a Government consisting of three branches, two of which shall have nothing to represent.
They will not have an Executive and Senate [hereditary] because the King and Lords of England are so. The same reasons do
not exist and therefore the same provisions are not necessary.
We must as has been observed suit our Government to the people it is to direct. These are I believe as active, intelligent and
susceptible of good Government as any people in the world.
The Confusion which has produced the present relaxed State is not owing to them. It is owing to the weakness and [defects]
of a Government incapable of combining the various interests it is intended to unite, and destitute of energy. All that we have
to do then is to distribute the powers of Government in such a manner, and for such limited periods, as while it gives a proper
degree of permanency to the Magistrate, will reserve to the people, the right of election they will not or ought not frequently
to part with. I am of opinion that this may be easily done; and that with some amendments the propositions before the
Committee will fully answer this end.
No position appears to me more true than this, that the General Government can not effectually exist without reserving to the
States the possession of their local rights. They are the instruments upon which the Union must frequently depend for the
support and execution of their powers, however immediately operating upon the people, and not upon the States.
Much has been said about the propriety of abolishing the distinction of State Governments, and having but one general
System. Suffer me for a moment to examine this question. The mode of constituting the 2d. branch being under consideration.
The word "national" was struck out and "United States" inserted.
Mr. GHORUM, inclined to a compromise as to the rule of proportion. He thought there was some weight in the objections of
the small States. If Virginia should have 16 votes and Delaware with several other States together 16, those from Virginia
would be more likely to unite than the others, and would therefore have an undue influence. This remark was applicable not
only to States, but to Counties or other districts of the same State. Accordingly the Constitution of Massachusetts had
provided that the representatives of the larger districts should not be in an exact ratio to their numbers. And experience he
thought had shown the provision to be expedient.
Mr. READ. The States have heretofore been in a sort of partnership. They ought to adjust their old affairs before they open a
new account. He brought into view the appropriation of the common interest in the Western lands, to the use of particular
States. Let justice be done on this head; let the fund be applied fairly and equally to the discharge of the general debt, and the
smaller States who had been injured, would listen then perhaps to those ideas of just representation which had been held out.
Mr. GHORUM did not see how the Convention could interpose in the case. Errors he allowed had been committed on the
subject. But Congress were now using their endeavors to rectify them. The best remedy would be such a Government as
would have vigor enough to do justice throughout. This was certainly the best chance that could be afforded to the smaller
Mr. WILSON. The question is shall the members of the 2nd branch be chosen by the Legislatures of the States? When he
considered the amazing extent of Country, the immense population which is to fill it, the influence which the Government we
are to form will have, not only on the present generation of our people and their multiplied posterity, but on the whole Globe,
he was lost in the magnitude of the object. The project of Henry the 4th and his Statesmen was but the picture in miniature of
the great portrait to be exhibited. He was opposed to an election by the State Legislatures. In explaining his reasons it was
necessary to observe the twofold relation in which the people would stand.
1. As Citizens of the General Government.
2. As Citizens of their particular State. The General Government was meant for them in the first capacity: the State
Governments in the second. Both Governments were derived from the people, both meant for the people, both therefore
ought to be regulated on the same principles. The same train of ideas which belonged to the relation of the Citizens to their
State Governments were applicable to their relation to the General Government and in forming the latter, we ought to proceed,
by abstracting as much as possible from the idea of State Governments.
With respect to the province and objects of the General Government, they should be considered as having no existence. The
election of the 2d. branch by the Legislatures, will introduce and cherish local interests and local prejudices. The General
Government is not an assemblage of States, but of individuals for certain political purposes. It is not meant for the States, but
for the individuals composing them. The individuals therefore not the States, ought to be represented in it. A proportion in this
representation can be preserved in the 2nd as well as in the 1st branch, and the election can be made by electors chosen by
the people for that purpose. He moved an amendment to that effect which was not seconded.
Mr. ELSEWORTH saw no reason for departing from the mode contained in the Report. Whoever chooses the member, he
will be a Citizen of the State he is to represent and will feel the same spirit and act the same part whether he be appointed by
the people or the Legislature. Every State has its particular views and prejudices, which will find their way into the general
councils, through whatever channel they may flow. Wisdom was one of the characteristics which it was in contemplation to
give the second branch. Would not more of it issue from the Legislatures, than from an immediate election by the people?
He urged the necessity of maintaining the existence and agency of the States. Without their co-operation it would be
impossible to support a Republican Government over so great an extent of Country. An army could scarcely render it
practicable. The largest States are the worst Governed. Virginia is obliged to acknowledge her incapacity to extend her
Government to Kentucky. Massachusetts can not keep the peace one hundred miles from her capitol and is now forming an
army for its support. How long Pennsylvania may be free from a like situation can not be foreseen. If the principles and
materials of our Government are not adequate to the extent of these single States, how can it be imagined that they can
support a single Government throughout the United States. The only chance of supporting a General Government lies in
engrafting it on that of the individual States.
Dr. JOHNSON urged the necessity of preserving the State Governments which would be at the mercy of the General
Government on Mr. Wilson's plan.
Mr. MADISON thought it would obviate difficulty if the present resolution were postponed. and the 8th taken up, which is to
fix the right of suffrage in the 2nd branch.
Dr. WILLIAMSON professed himself a friend to such a system as would secure the existence of the State Governments.
The happiness of the people depended on it. He was at a loss to give his vote as to the Senate until he knew the number of its
members. In order to ascertain this, he moved to insert these words after "2nd branch of the National Legislature, "who shall
bear such proportion to the number of the 1st branch as 1 to____." He was not seconded.
Mr. MASON. It has been agreed on all hands that an efficient Government is necessary; that to render it such it ought to have
the faculty of self-defense; that to render its different branches effectual each of them ought to have the same power of
self-defense. He did not wonder that such an agreement should have prevailed in these points. He only wondered that there
should be any disagreement about the necessity of allowing the State Governments the same self-defense. If they are to be
preserved as he conceived to be essential, they certainly ought to have this power, and the only mode left of giving it to them,
was by allowing them to appoint the 2nd branch of the National Legislature.
Mr. BUTLER observing that we were put to difficulties at every step by the uncertainty whether an equality or a ratio of
representation would prevail finally in the 2d. branch, moved to postpone the 4th Resolution and to proceed to the Resolution
on that point.
Mr. MADISON seconded him.
On the question Massachusetts, no. Connecticut, no. New York, aye. New Jersey, no. Pennsylvania, no. Delaware, no.
Maryland, no. Virginia, aye. North Carolina, no. South Carolina, aye. Georgia, aye.
On a question to postpone the 4th and take up the 7th Resolution, ayes: Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina,
and Georgia. Noes: Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware.
On the question to agree "that the members of the 2nd branch be chosen by the individual Legislatures" Massachusetts, aye.
Connecticut, aye. New York, aye. New Jersey, aye. Pennsylvania, no. Delaware, aye. Maryland, aye. Virginia, no. North
Carolina, aye. South Carolina, aye. Georgia, aye.
On a question on the clause requiring the age of 30 years at least-" it was agreed to unanimously.
On a question to strike out the words "sufficient to ensure their independency" after the word "term" it was agreed to.
That the 2nd branch hold their offices for term of seven years, considered.
Mr. GHORUM suggests a term of "4 years," 1/4 to be elected every year.
Mr. RANDOLPH supported the idea of rotation, as favorable to the wisdom and stability of the Corps, which might possibly
be always sitting, and aiding the Executive. And moves after "7 years" to add, "to go out in fixed proportion" which was
Mr. WILLIAMSON suggest "6 years," as more convenient for Rotation than 7 years.
Mr. SHERMAN seconds him.
Mr. REED proposed that they should hold their offices "during good" behavior. Mr. R. MORRIS seconds him.
Gen PINKNEY proposed "4 years." A longer term would fix them at the seat of Government. They would acquire an interest
there, perhaps transfer their property and lose sight of the States they represent. Under these circumstances the distant States
would labor under great disadvantages.
Mr. SHERMAN moved to strike out "7 years" in order to take questions on the several propositions.
On the question to strike out "seven".
Massachusetts, aye. Connecticut, aye. New York, aye. New Jersey, aye. Pennsylvania, no.
Delaware, no. Maryland, divided. Virginia, no. North Carolina, aye. South Carolina, aye. Georgia, aye.
On the question to insert "6 years, which failed 5 States being aye. 5 no. and 1 divided
Massachusetts, no. Connecticut, aye. New York, no. New Jersey, no. Pennsylvania, aye. Delaware, aye. Maryland, divided.
Virginia, aye. North Carolina, aye. South Carolina, no. Georgia. no.
On a motion to adjourn, the votes were 5 for 5 against it and 1 divided, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware,
Virginia, aye. Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no. Maryland divided.
On the question for "5 years". It was lost.
Massachusetts, no. Connecticut, aye. New York, no. New Jersey, no. Pennsylvania, aye. Delaware, aye. Maryland, divided.
Virginia, aye. North Carolina, aye. South Carolina, no. Georgia, no.
|The Illinois Conservative