Madison’s Notes — Federal Convention of 1787 — July 13

Liberty Letters, 13 July 1787, James Madison

(Editor’s summary: Debate renewed regarding the proposed equality of states within the Senate (the second branch). Discussion continued as to whether numbers or wealth are best for determining representation and taxation. Spelling has been updated and almost all shorthand removed except where Madison recorded votes. Steve Farrell)

It being moved to postponed the clause in the Report of the Committee of Eleven as to the originating of money bills in the first branch, in order to take up the following “that in the 2d. branch each State shall have an equal voice.”

Mr. GERRY, moved to add as an amendment to the last clause agreed to by the House, “that from the first meeting of the Legislature of the United States till a census shall be taken all monies to be raised for supplying the public Treasury by direct taxation, shall be assessed on the inhabitants of the several States according to the number of their Representatives respectively in the first branch.” He said this would be as just before as after the Census: according to the general principle that taxation and Representation ought to go together.

Mr. WILLIAMSON feared that New Hampshire will have reason to complain. Three members were allotted to her as a liberal allowance, for this reason among others, that she might not suppose any advantage to have been taken of her absence. As she was still absent, and had no opportunity of deciding whether she would choose to retain the number on the condition, of her being taxed in proportion to it, he thought the number ought to be reduced from three to two, before the question on Mr. Gerry’s motion.

Mr. READ could not approve of the proposition. He had observed he said in the Committee a backwardness in some of the members from the large States, to take their full proportion of Representatives. He did not then see the motive. He now suspects it was to avoid their due share of taxation. He had no objection to a just and accurate adjustment of Representation and taxation to each other.

Mr. GOVr. MORRIS & Mr. MADISON answered that the charge itself involved an acquittal, since notwithstanding the augmentation of the number of members allotted to Massachusetts and Virginia the motion for proportioning the burdens thereto was made by a member from the former State and was approved by Mr. Madison from the latter who was on the Come. Mr. Govr. Morris said that he thought Pennsylvania had her due share in members; and he could not in candor ask for more. Mr. Madison said that having always conceived that the difference of interest in the United States lay not between the large and small, but the Northern and Southern States, and finding that the number of members allotted to the Northern States was greatly superior, he should have preferred, an addition of two members to the Southern States, to wit one to North and South Carolina rather than of one member to Virginia. He liked the present motion, because it tended to moderate the views both of the opponents and advocates for rating very high, the negroes.

Mr. ELLSWORTH hoped the proposition would be withdrawn. It entered too much into detail. The general principle was already sufficiently settled. As fractions can not be regarded in apportioning the number of representatives, the rule will be unjust, until an actual census shall be made. After that taxation may be precisely proportioned according to the principle established, to the number of inhabitants.

Mr. WILSON hoped the motion would not be withdrawn. If it should it will be made from another quarter. The rule will be as reasonable and just before, as after a Census. As to fractional numbers, the Census will not destroy, but ascertain them. And they will have the same effect after as before the Census: for as he understands the rule, it is to be adjusted not to the number of inhabitants, but of Representatives.

Mr. SHERMAN opposed the motion. He thought the Legislature ought to be left at liberty: in which case they would probably conform to the principles observed by Congress.

Mr. MASON did not know that Virginia would be a loser by the proposed regulation, but had some scruple as to the justice of it. He doubted much whether the conjectural rule which was to precede the Census, would be as just, as it would be rendered by an actual census.

Mr. ELLSWORTH & Mr. SHERMAN moved to postpone the motion of Mr. Gerry, on ye. question, it passed in the negative. Mas. no. Cont. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. no. Del. ay. Md. ay. Va. no. N.C. no. S.C.no. Geo. no. 3

Question on Mr. Gerry’s motion; it passed in the negative, the States being equally divided.

Mas.ay. Cont.no. N. J. no. Pa. ay. Del.no. Md. no. Va. no. N.C. ay. S.C. ay. Geo. ay. 5

Mr. GERRY finding that the loss of the question had proceeded from an objection with some, to the proposed assessment of direct taxes on the inhabitants of the States, which might restrain the Legislature to a poll tax, moved his proposition again, but so varied as to authorize the assessment on the States, which would leave the mode to the Legislature, at this caret insert the words interlined viz “that from the first meeting of the Legislature of the U. S. until a census shall be taken, all monies for supplying the public Treasury by direct taxation shall be raised from the said several States according to the number of their representatives respectively in the first branch.”

On this varied question, it passed in the affirmative

Mas.ay. Cont.no. N.J.no. Pa.divd. Del.no. Md.no. va.ay. N.C.ay. S.C.ay. Geo.ay.

On the motion of Mr. Randolph, the vote of Saturday 9 last authorizing the Legislature to adjust from time to time, the representation upon the principles of wealth and numbers of inhabitants was reconsidered by common consent in order to strike out “Wealth” and adjust the resolution to that requiring periodical revisions according to the number of whites and three fifths of the blacks: the motion was in the words following — “But as the present situation of the States may probably alter in the number of their inhabitants, that the Legislature of the U. S. be authorized from time to time to apportion the number of representatives: and in case any of the States shall hereafter be divided or any two or more States united or new States created within the limits of the U. S. the Legislature of U. S. shall possess authority to regulate the number of Representatives in any of the foregoing cases, upon the principle of their number of inhabitants; according to the provisions hereafter mentioned.”

Mr. GOVr. MORRIS opposed the alteration as leaving still an incoherence. If Negroes were to be viewed as inhabitants, and the revision was to proceed on the principle of numbers of inhabitants. they ought to be added in their entire number, and not in the proportion of 3/5 . If as property, the word wealth was right, and striking it out, would produce the very inconsistency which it was meant to get rid of. — The train of business and the late turn which it had taken, had led him he said, into deep meditation on it, and He would candidly state the result. A distinction had been set up and urged, between the Northern and Southern States. He had hitherto considered this doctrine as heretical. He still thought the distinction groundless. He sees however that it is persisted in, and that the Southern Gentlemen will not be satisfied unless they see the way open to their gaining a majority in the public Councils. The consequence of such a transfer of power from the maritime to the interior and landed interest will he foresees be such an oppression of commerce, that he shall be obliged to vote for the vicious principle of equality in the second branch in order to provide some defense for the Northern States against it. But to come more to the point; either this distinction is fictitious or real; if fictitious let it be dismissed and let us proceed with due confidence. If it be real, instead of attempting to blend incompatible things, let us at once take a friendly leave of each other. There can be no end of demands for security if every particular interest is to be entitled to it. The Eastern States may claim it for their fishery, and for other objects, as the Southern States claim it for their peculiar objects. In this struggle between the two ends of the Union, what part ought the middle States in point of policy to take: to join their Eastern brethren according to his ideas. If the Southern States get the power into their hands, and be joined as they will be with the interior Country, they will inevitably bring on a war with Spain for the Mississippi. This language is already held. the interior Country having no property nor interest exposed on the sea, will be little affected by such a war. He wished to know what security the Northern and Middle States will have against this danger. It has been said that North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia only will in a little time have a majority of the people of America. They must in that case include the great interior Country, and every thing was to be apprehended from their getting the power into their hands.

Mr. BUTLER. The security the Southern States want is that their negroes may not be taken from them, which some gentlemen within or without doors, have a very good mind to do. It was not supposed that North Carolina and South Carolina and Georgia would have more people than all the other States, but many more relatively to the other States than they now have. The people and strength of America are evidently bearing Southwardly and South-westwardly.

Mr. WILSON. If a general declaration would satisfy any gentleman he had no indisposition to declare his sentiments. Conceiving that all men wherever placed have equal rights and are equally entitled to confidence, he viewed without apprehension the period when a few States should contain the superior number of people. The majority of people wherever found ought in all questions to govern the minority. If the interior Country should acquire this majority, it will not only have the right, but will avail themselves of it whether we will or no. This jealousy misled the policy of Great Britain with regard to America. The fatal maxims espoused by her were that the Colonies were growing too fast, and that their growth must be stinted in time. What were the consequences? first enmity on our part, then actual separation. Like consequences will result on the part of the interior settlements, if like jealousy and policy be pursued on ours. Further, if numbers be not a proper rule, why is not some better rule pointed out. No one has yet ventured to attempt it. Congress have never been able to discover a better. No State as far as he had heard, has suggested any other. In 1783, after elaborate discussion of a measure of wealth all were satisfied then as they are now that the rule of numbers, does not differ much from the combined rule of numbers and wealth. Again he could not agree that property was the sole or the primary object of Government and society. The cultivation and improvement of the human mind was the most noble object. With respect to this object, as well as to other personal rights, numbers were surely the natural and precise measure of Representation. And with respect to property, they could not vary much from the precise measure. In no point of view however could the establishment of numbers as the rule of representation in the first branch vary his opinion as to the impropriety of letting a vicious principle into the second branch. — On the Question to strike out wealth, and to make the change as moved by Mr. Randolph, it passed in the affirmative —

Mas. ay. Cont. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. ay. Del. divd. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. ay. 15

Mr. REED moved to insert after the word — “divided,” “or enlarged by addition of territory” which was agreed to nem. con. [his object probably was to provide for such cases as an enlargement of Delaware by annexing to it the Peninsula on the East side of 16 Chesapeake]

Adjourned
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