|Notes on the Debates in the Federal Convention
By James Madison
June 7, 1787
Thursday, June 7, 1787
IN COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Mr. PINKNEY according to notice moved to reconsider the clause respecting the negative on State laws, which was agreed
to and tomorrow for fixed the purpose.
The Clause providing for the appointment of the 2d branch of the national Legislature, having lain blank since the last vote on
the mode of electing it, to wit, by the 1st. branch, Mr. DICKENSON now moved "that the members of the 2d. branch ought
to be chosen by the individual Legislatures."
Mr. SHARMAN seconded the motion; observing that the particular States would thus become interested in supporting the
national Government and that a due harmony between the two Governments would be maintained. He admitted that the two
ought to have separate and distinct jurisdictions, but that they ought to have a mutual interest in supporting each other.
Mr. PINKNEY. If the small States should be allowed one Senator only, the number will be too great, there will be 80 at least.
Mr. DICKENSON had two reasons for his motion. 1. Because the sense of the States would be better collected through their
Governments; than immediately from the people at large; 2. Because he wished the Senate to consist of the most distinguished
characters, distinguished for their rank in life and their weight of property, and bearing as strong a likeness to the British
House of Lords as possible; and he thought such characters more likely to be selected by the State Legislatures, than in any
other mode. The greatness of the number was no objection with him. He hoped there would be 80 and twice 80. of them. If
their number should be small, the popular branch could not be balanced by them. The legislature of a numerous people ought
to be a numerous body.
Mr. WILLIAMSON, preferred a small number of Senators, but wished that each State should have at least one. He
suggested 25 as a convenient number. The different modes of representation in the different branches, will serve as a mutual
Mr. BUTLER was anxious to know the ratio of representation before he gave any opinion.
Mr. WILSON. If we are to establish a national Government, that Government ought to flow from the people at large. If one
branch of it should be chosen by the Legislatures, and the other by the people, the two branches will rest on different
foundations, and dissensions will naturally arise between them. He wished the Senate to be elected by the people as well as the
other branch, and the people might be divided into proper districts for the purpose and moved to postpone the motion of Mr.
Dickenson, in order to take up one of that import.
Mr. MORRIS 2ded. him.
Mr. READ proposed "that the Senate should be appointed by the Executive Magistrate out of a proper number of persons to
be nominated by the individual legislatures." He said he thought it his duty, to speak his mind frankly. Gentlemen he hoped
would not be alarmed at the idea. Nothing short of this approach towards a proper model of Government would answer the
purpose, and he thought it best to come directly to the point at once. -His proposition was not seconded nor supported.
Mr. MADISON, if the motion [of Mr. Dickenson] should be agreed to, we must either depart from the doctrine of
proportional representation; or admit into the Senate a very large number of members. The first is inadmissible, being
evidently unjust. The second is inexpedient. The use of the Senate is to consist in its proceeding with more coolness, with
more system, and with more wisdom, than the popular branch. Enlarge their number and you communicate to them the vices
which they are meant to correct. He differed from Mr. Dickenson who thought that the additional number would give
additional weight to the body. On the contrary it appeared to him that their weight would be in an inverse ratio to their
number. The example of the Roman Tribunes was applicable. They lost their influence and power, in proportion as their
number was augmented. The reason seemed to be obvious:
They were appointed to take care of the popular interests and pretensions at Rome, because the people by reason of their
numbers could not act in concert; were liable to fall into factions among themselves, and to become a prey to their
aristocratic adversaries. The more the representatives of the people therefore were multiplied, the more they partook of the
infirmities of their constituents, the more liable they became to be divided among themselves either from their own
indiscretions or the artifices of the opposite faction, and of course the less capable of fulfilling their trust. When the weight of
a set of men depends merely on their personal characters; the greater the number the greater the weight. When it depends on
the degree of political authority lodged in them the smaller the number the greater the weight. These considerations might
perhaps be combined in the intended Senate; but the latter was the material one.
Mr. GERRY. Four modes of appointing the Senate have been mentioned. 1. by the 1st. branch of the National Legislature.
This would create a dependence contrary to the end proposed. 2. by the National Executive. This is a stride towards
monarchy that few will think of. 3. by the people. The people have two great interests, the landed interest, and the
commercial including the stockholders. To draw both branches from the people will leave no security to the latter interest; the
people being chiefly composed of the landed interest, and erroneously supposing, that the other interests are adverse to it. 4
by the Individual Legislatures. The elections being carried through this refinement, will be most likely to provide some check
in favor of the commercial interest against the landed; without which oppression will take place, and no free Govt. can last
long where that is the case. He was therefore in favor of this last.
Mr. DICKENSON. The preservation of the States in a certain degree of agency is indispensable. It will produce that collision
between the different authorities which should be wished for in order to check each other. To attempt to abolish the States
altogether, would degrade the Councils of our Country, would be impracticable, would be ruinous. He compared the proposed
National System to the Solar System, in which the States were the planets, and ought to be left to move freely in their proper
orbits. The Gentleman from Pennsylvania [Mr. Wilson] wished he said to extinguish these planets. If the State Governments
were excluded from all agency in the national one, and all power drawn from the people at large, the consequence would be
that the national Government would move in the same direction as the State Governments now do, and would run into all the
same mischiefs. The reform would only unite the 13 small streams into one great current pursuing the same course without
any opposition whatever. He adhered to the opinion that the Senate ought to be composed of a large number, and that their
influence from family weight & other causes would be increased thereby. He did not admit that the Tribunes lost their weight
in proportion as their no. was augmented and gave a historical sketch of this institution. If the reasoning of [Mr. Madison]
was good it would prove that the number of the Senate ought to be reduced below ten, the highest number of the Tribunal
Mr. WILSON. The subject it must be owned is surrounded with doubts and difficulties. But we must surmount them. The
British Government cannot be our model. We have no materials for a similar one. Our manners, our laws, the abolition of
entails and of primogeniture, the whole genius of the people, are opposed to it. He did not see the danger of the States being
devoured by the National Government. On the contrary, he wished to keep them from devouring the national Government.
He was not however, for extinguishing these planets as was supposed by Mr. Dickinson, neither did he on the other hand,
believe that they would warm or enlighten the Sun. Within their proper orbits they must still be suffered to act for subordinate
purposes for which their existence is made essential by the great extent of our Country. He could not comprehend in what
manner the landed interest wd. be rendered less predominant in the Senate, by an election through the medium of the
Legislatures then by the people themselves. If the Legislatures, as was now complained, sacrificed the commercial to the
landed interest, what reason was there to expect such a choice from them as would defeat their own views. He was for an
election by the people in large districts which wd. be most likely to obtain men of intelligence and uprightness; subdividing the
districts only for the accommodation of voters.
Mr. MADISON could as little comprehend in what manner family weight, as desired by Mr. Dickenson would be more
certainly conveyed into the Senate through elections by the State Legislatures, than in some other modes. The true question
was in what mode the best choice would be made? If an election by the people, or through any other channel than the State
Legislatures promised as uncorrupt and impartial a preference of merit, there could surely be no necessity for an appointment
by those Legislatures. Nor was it apparent that a more useful check would be derived through that channel than from the
people through some other. The great evils complained of were that the State Legislatures run into schemes of paper money,
etc., whenever solicited by the people, and sometimes without even the sanction of the people. Their influence then, instead
of checking a like propensity in the National Legislature, may be expected to promote it. Nothing can be more contradictory
than to say that the National Legislature with a proper check, will follow the example of the State Legislatures, and in the
same breath, that the State Legislatures are the only proper check.
Mr. SHARMAN opposed elections by the people in districts, as not likely to produce such fit men as elections by the State
Mr. GERRY insisted that the commercial and moneyed interest would be more secure in the hands of the State Legislatures,
than of the people at large. The former have more sense of character, and will be restrained by that from injustice. The people
are for paper money when the Legislatures are against. it. In Massachusetts the County Conventions had declared a wish for
a depreciating paper that would sink itself. Besides, in some States there are two Branches in the Legislature, one of which is
somewhat aristocratic. There would therefore be so far a better chance of refinement in the choice. There seemed, he
thought to be three powerful objections against elections by districts. 1. it is impracticable; the people cannot be brought to
one place for the purpose; and whether brought to the same place or not, numberless frauds would be unavoidable. 2. small
States forming part of the same district with a large one, or large part of a large one, would have no chance of gaining an
appointment for its citizens of merit. 3. a new source of discord would be opened between different parts of the same district.
Mr. PINKNEY thought the 2d. branch ought to be permanent and independent, and that the members of it would be rendered
more so by receiving their appointment from the State Legislatures. This mode would avoid the rivalships and discontents
incident to the election by districts. He was for dividing the States into three classes according to their respective sizes, and
for allowing to the 1st. class three members -to the 2d. two, and to the 3d. one. On the question for postponing Mr.
Dickinson's motion referring the appointment of the Senate to the State Legislatures, in order to consider Mr. Wilson's for
referring it to the people
Massachusetts, no. Connecticut, no. New York, no. New Jersey, no. Pennsylvania, aye. Delaware, no. Maryland, no.
Virginia, no. North Carolina, no. South Carolina, no. Georgia, no.
Col. MASON. Whatever power may be necessary for the National Government a certain portion must necessarily be left in
the States. It is impossible for one power to pervade the extreme parts of the U.S. so as to carry equal justice to them. The
State Legislatures also ought to have some means of defending themselves against encroachments of the National
Government In every other department we have studiously endeavored to provide for its self-defense. Shall we leave the
States alone un-provided with the means for this purpose? And what better means can we provide than the giving them some
share in, or rather to make them a constituent part of, the National Establishment. There is danger on both sides no doubt; but
we have only seen the evils arising on the side of the State Governments. Those on the other side remain to be displayed. The
example of Congress does not apply. Congress had no power to carry their acts into execution as the National Government
On Mr. DICKINSON’S motion for an appointment of the Senate by the State- Legislatures.
Massachusetts, aye. Connecticut, aye. New York, aye. Pennsylvania, aye. Delaware, aye. Maryland, aye. Virginia, aye. North
Carolina, aye. South Carolina, aye. Georgia, aye.
Mr. GERRY gave notice that he would tomorrow move for a reconsideration of the mode of appointing the National
Executive in order to substitute an appointment by the State Executives.
The Committee rose and The House adjourned.
|The Illinois Conservative