|Notes on the Debates in the Federal Convention
By James Madison
June 26, 1787
Tuesday June 26, 1787
The duration of the 2nd branch under consideration.
Mr. GHORUM moved to fill the blank with "six years," one third of the members to go out every second year.
Mr. WILSON 2nd the motion.
Gen. PINKNEY opposed six years in favor of four years. The States he said had different interests. Those of the Southern,
and of South Carolina in particular were different from the Northern. If the Senators should be appointed for a long term, they
would settle in the State where they exercised their functions and would in a little time, be rather the representatives of that
than of the State appointing them.
Mr. READ moved that the term be nine years. This would admit of a very convenient rotation, one third going out triennially.
He would still prefer "during good behavior," but being little supported in that idea, he was willing to take the longest term that
could be obtained.
Mr. BROOME 2nd the motion.
Mr. MADISON. In order to judge of the form to be given to this institution, it will be proper to take a view of the ends to be
served by it. These were first to protect the people against their rulers, secondly, to protect the people against the transient
impressions into which they themselves might be led. A people deliberating in a temperate moment, and with the experience of
other nations before them, on the plan of Government most likely to secure their happiness, would first be aware that those
charged with the public happiness might betray their trust. An obvious precaution against this danger would be to divide the
trust between different bodies of men, who might watch and check each other. In this they would be governed by the same
prudence which has prevailed in organizing the subordinate departments of Government, where all business liable to abuses is
made to pass through separate hands, the one being a check on the other.
It would next occur to such a people that they themselves were liable to temporary errors through want of information as to
their true interest, and that men chosen for a short term, and employed but a small portion of that in public affairs, might err
from the same cause. This reflection would naturally suggest that the Government be so constituted, as that one of its
branches might have an opportunity of acquiring a competent knowledge of the public interests. Another reflection equally
becoming a people on such an occasion, would be that they themselves, as well as a numerous body of Representatives, were
liable to err also, from fickleness and passion. A necessary fence against this danger would be to select a portion of
enlightened citizens, whose limited number, and firmness might seasonably interpose against impetuous councils.
It ought finally to occur to a people deliberating on a Government for themselves, that as different interests necessarily result
from the liberty meant to be secured, the major interest might under sudden impulses be tempted to commit injustice on the
minority. In all civilized Countries the people fall into different classes, having a real or supposed difference of interests. There
will be creditors and debtors, farmers, merchants and manufacturers. There will be particularly the distinction of rich and
poor. It was true as had been observed [by Mr. Pinkney] we had not among us those hereditary distinctions, of rank which
were a great source of the contests in the ancient Governments as well as the modern States of Europe, nor those extremes
of wealth or poverty which characterize the latter.
We cannot however be regarded even at this time, as one homogeneous mass, in which every thing that affects a part will
affect in the same manner the whole. In framing a system which we wish to last for ages, we should not lose sight of the
changes which ages will produce. An increase of population will of necessity increase the proportion of those who will labor
under all the hardships of life, and secretly sigh for a more equal distribution of its blessings. These may in time outnumber
those who are placed above the feelings of indigence. According to the equal laws of suffrage, the power will slide into the
hands of the former.
No agrarian attempts have yet been made in this Country, but symptoms, of a leveling spirit, as we have understood, have
sufficiently appeared in a certain quarters to give notice of the future danger. How is this danger to be guarded against on
republican principles? How is the danger in all cases of interested coalitions to oppress the minority to be guarded against?
Among other means by the establishment of a body in the Government sufficiently respectable for its wisdom and virtue, to
aid on such emergences, the preponderance of justice by throwing its weight into that scale. Such being the objects of the
second branch in the proposed Government, he thought a considerable duration ought to be given to it.
He did not conceive that the term of nine years could threaten any real danger; but in pursuing his particular ideas on the
subject, he should require that the long term allowed to the 2nd branch should not commence till such a period of life, as
would render a perpetual disqualification to be re-elected little inconvenient either in a public or private view. He observed that
as it was more than probable we were now digesting a plan which in its operation would decide for ever the fate of
Republican Government we ought not only to provide every guard to liberty that its preservation could require, but be equally
careful to supply the defects which our own experience had particularly pointed out.
Mr. SHERMAN. Government is instituted for those who live under it. It ought therefore to be so constituted as not to be
dangerous to their liberties. The more permanency it has the worse if it be a bad Government. Frequent elections are
necessary to preserve the good behavior of rulers. They also tend to give permanency to the Government by preserving that
good behavior, because it ensures their re-election. In Connecticut elections have been very frequent, yet great stability and
uniformity both as to persons and measures have been experienced from its original establishment to the present time, a period
of more than 130 years. He wished to have provision made for steadiness and wisdom in the system to be adopted, but he
thought six or four years would be sufficient. He should be content with either.
Mr. READ wished it to be considered by the small States that it was their interest that we should become one people as much
as possible, that State attachments should be extinguished as much as possible, that the Senate should be so constituted as to
have the feelings of Citizens of the whole.
Mr. HAMILTON. He did not mean to enter particularly into the subject. He concurred with Mr. Madison in thinking we were
now to decide for ever the fate of Republican Government, and that if we did not give to that form due stability and wisdom,
it would be disgraced and lost among ourselves, disgraced and lost to mankind for ever. He acknowledged himself not to
think favorably of Republican Government, but addressed his remarks to those who did think favorably of it, in order to
prevail on them to tone their Government as high as possible.
He professed himself to be as zealous an advocate for liberty as any man whatever, and trusted he should be as willing a
martyr to it though he differed as to the form in which it was most eligible. He concurred also in the general observations of
[Mr. Madison] on the subject, which might be supported by others if it were necessary. It was certainly true, that nothing like
an equality of property existed, that an inequality would exist as long as liberty existed, and that it would unavoidably result
from that very liberty itself.
This inequality of property constituted the great and fundamental distinction in Society. When the Tribunal power had leveled
the boundary between the patricians and plebeians, what followed? The distinction between rich and poor was substituted. He
meant not however to enlarge on the subject. He rose principally to remark that [Mr. Sherman] seemed not to recollect that
one branch of the proposed Government was so formed as to render it particularly the guardians of the poorer orders of
Citizens; nor to have adverted to the true causes of the stability which had been exemplified in Connecticut.
Under the British system as well as the federal, many of the great powers appertaining to Government particularly all those
relating to foreign Nations were not in the hands of the Government there. Their internal affairs also were extremely simple,
owing to sundry causes many of which were peculiar to that Country. Of late, the Government had entirely given way to the
people, and had in fact suspended many of its ordinary functions in order to prevent those turbulent scenes which had
appeared elsewhere. He asks Mr. Sherman whether the State at this time, dare impose and collect a tax on the people? To
these causes and not to the frequency of elections, the effect, as far as it existed ought to be chiefly ascribed.
Mr. GERRY wished we could be united in our ideas concerning a permanent Government. All aim at the same end, but there
are great differences as to the means. One circumstance he thought should be carefully attended to. There were not 1/1000
part of our fellow citizens who were not against every approach towards Monarchy. Will they ever agree to a plan which
seems to make such an approach. The Convention ought to be extremely cautious in what they hold out to the people.
Whatever plan may be proposed will be espoused with warmth by many out of respect to the quarter it proceeds from as well
as from an approbation of the plan itself. And if the plan should be of such a nature as to rouse a violent opposition, it is easy
to foresee that discord and confusion will ensue, and it is even possible that we may become a prey to foreign powers.
He did not deny the position of Mr. Madison, that the majority will generally violate justice when they have an interest in so
doing, but did not think there was any such temptation in this Country. Our situation was different from that of Great Britain,
and the great body of lands yet to be parceled out and settled would very much prolong the difference. Notwithstanding the
symptoms of injustice which had marked many of our public Councils, they had not proceeded so far as not to leave hopes,
that there would be a sufficient sense of justice and virtue for the purpose of Government. He admitted the evils arising from
a frequency of elections and would agree to give the Senate a duration of four or five years. A longer term would defeat itself.
It never would be adopted by the people.
Mr. WILSON did not mean to repeat what had fallen from others, but would add an observation or two which he believed
had not yet been suggested. Every nation may be regarded in two relations: 1. To its own citizens. 2. To foreign nations. It is
therefore not only liable to anarchy and tyranny within, but has wars to avoid and treaties to obtain from abroad. The Senate
will probably be the depositary of the powers concerning the latter objects. It ought therefore to be made respectable in the
eyes of foreign Nations.
The true reason why Great Britain has not yet listened to a commercial treaty with us has been, because she had no
confidence in the stability or efficacy of our Government. Nine years with a rotation, will provide these desirable qualities, and
give our Government an advantage in this respect over Monarchy itself. In a monarchy, much must always depend on the
temper of the man. In such a body, the personal character will be lost in the political. He would add another observation. The
popular objection against appointing any public body for a long term was that it might by gradual encroachments prolong itself
first into a body for life, and finally become a hereditary one. It would be a satisfactory answer to this objection that as 1/3
would go out triennially, there would be always three divisions holding their places for unequal terms, and consequently acting
under the influence of different views, and different impulses on the question for nine years, 1/3 to go out triennially.
Massachusetts, no. Connecticut, no. New York, no. New Jersey, no. Pennsylvania, aye. Delaware, aye. Maryland, no.
Virginia, aye. North Carolina, no. South Carolina, no. Georgia, no.
On the question for six years 1/3 to go out biennially.
Massachusetts, aye. Connecticut, aye. New York, no. New Jersey, no. Pennsylvania, aye. Delaware, aye. Maryland, aye.
Virginia, aye. North Carolina, aye. South Carolina, no. Georgia, no.
"To receive fixed stipends by which they may be compensated for their services." considered
Gen. PINKNEY proposed "that no Salary should be allowed." As this [the Senatorial] branch was meant to represent the
wealth of the Country, it ought to be composed of persons of wealth; and if no allowance was to be made the wealthy along
would undertake the service. He moved to strike out the clause.
Dr. FRANKLIN seconded the motion. He wished the Convention to stand fair with the people. There were in it a number of
young men who would probably be of the Senate. If lucrative appointments should be recommended we might be chargeable
with having carved out places for ourselves. On the question, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, South
Carolina, aye. New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, no.
Mr. WILLIAMSON moved to change the expression into these words to wit; "to receive a compensation for the devotion of
their time to the public Service." The motion was seconded by Mr. Elseworth. And was agreed to by all the States except
South Carolina. It seemed to be meant only to get rid of the word "fixed" and leave greater room for modifying the provision
on this point.
Mr. ELSEWORTH moved to strike out "to be paid out of the National Treasury" and insert "to be paid by their respective
States." If the Senate was meant to strengthen the Government it ought to have the confidence of the States. The States will
have an interest in keeping up a representation, and will make such provision for supporting the members as will ensure their
Mr. MADISON considered this a departure from a fundamental principle, and subverting the end intended by allowing the
Senate a duration of 6 years. They would, if this motion should be agreed to, hold their places during pleasure; during the
pleasure of the State Legislatures. One great end of the institution was that being a firm, wise and impartial body, it might not
only give stability to the General Government in its operations on individuals, but hold an even balance among different States.
The motion would make the Senate like Congress, the mere agents and advocates of State interests and views, instead of
being the impartial umpires and Guardians of justice and general Good. Congress had lately by the establishment of a board
with full powers to decide on the mutual claims between the United States and the individual States, fairly acknowledged
themselves to be unfit for discharging this part of the business referred to them by the Confederation.
Mr. DAYTON considered the payment of the Senate by the States as fatal to their independence. he was decided for paying
them out of the National Treasury.
On the question for payment of the Senate to be left to the States as moved by Mr. Elseworth.
Massachusetts, no. Connecticut, aye. New York, aye. New Jersey, aye. Pennsylvania, no. Delaware, no. Maryland, no.
Virginia, no. North Carolina, no. South Carolina, aye. Georgia, aye.
Col. MASON. He did not rise to make any motion, but to hint an idea which seemed to be proper for consideration. One
important object in constituting the Senate was to secure the rights of property. To give them weight and firmness for this
purpose, a considerable duration in office was thought necessary. But a longer term than 6 years, would be of no avail in this
respect, if needy persons should be appointed. He suggested therefore the propriety of annexing to the office a qualification of
property. He thought this would be very practicable, as the rules of taxation would supply a scale for measuring the degree of
wealth possessed by every man.
A question was then taken whether the words "to be paid out of the public treasury," should stand."
Massachusetts, aye. Connecticut, no. New York, no. New Jersey, no. Pennsylvania, aye. Delaware, aye. Maryland, aye.
Virginia, aye. North Carolina, no. South Carolina, no. Georgia, no.
Mr. BUTLER moved to strike out the ineligibility of Senators to State offices.
Mr. WILLIAMSON seconded the motion.
Mr. WILSON remarked the additional dependence this would create in the Senators on the States. The longer the time he
observed allotted to the officer, the more complete will be the dependence, if it exists at all.
Gen. PINKNEY was for making the States as much as could be conveniently done, a part of the General Government. If the
Senate was to be appointed by the States it ought, in pursuance of the same idea, to be paid by the States, and the States
ought not to be barred from the opportunity of calling members of it into offices at home. Such a restriction would also
discourage the ablest men from going into the Senate.
Mr. WILLIAMSON moved a resolution so penned as to admit of the two following questions. 1. Whether the members of
the Senate should be ineligible to and incapable of holding offices under the United States. 2. Whether, etc., under the
On the Question to postpone in order to consider Williamson's Resolution. Massachusetts, no. Connecticut, aye. New York,
no. New Jersey, no. Pennsylvania, aye. Delaware, aye. Maryland, aye. Virginia, aye. North Carolina, aye. South Carolina, aye.
Mr. GERRY and Mr. MADISON move to add to Mr. Williamson’s first question: "and for one year thereafter." On this
Massachusetts, no. Connecticut, ay. New York, aye. New Jersey, no. Pennsylvania, no. Delaware, aye. Maryland, aye.
Virginia, aye. North Carolina, aye. South Carolina, aye. Georgia, no.
On Mr. Wilson's first Question as amended. vz. ineligible: and incapable, etc., etc, for one year, etc., agreed unanimously.
On the second question as to ineligibility etc., to State offices.
Massachusetts, aye. Connecticut, no. New York, no. New Jersey, no. Pennsylvania, aye. Delaware, no. Maryland, no.
Virginia, aye. North Carolina, no. South Carolina, no. Georgia, no.
The fifth Resolution: "that each branch have the right of originating acts" was agreed to nem con.
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