Madison’s Notes: Federal Convention of 1787: August 11

Liberty Letters, 11 August 1787, James Madison

Editor’s summary: Brief debate regarding motion by Madison and Rutlidge “that each House shall keep a journal of its proceeding; except such part of the proceedings of the Senate, when acting not in its Legislative capacity as may be judged by that House to require secrecy.” This secrecy item was objected to on two points: 1. that this would imply that the Senate would have powers beyond legislation and would be on the way to aristocracy, and 2. that the people had a right to and would be suspicious of such a power. It is obvious, however, to this reviewer that Madison and Rutlidge were referring to the power of the Senate in regards to advice and consent in regards to foreign treaties, which negotiations did require secrecy until a Treaty was ready to be voted on. Next debated was where the seat of govt. would be – still unresolved. Steve Farrell


Mr. MADISON & Mr. RUTLIDGE moved “that each House shall keep a journal of its proceeding, 1 & shall publish the same from time to time; except such part of the proceedings of the Senate, when acting not in its Legislative capacity as may be judged by that House to require secrecy.”

Mr. MERCER. This implies that other powers than legislative will be given to the Senate which he hoped would not be given. Mr. Madison & Mr. R’s motion. was disagreed to by all the States except Virginia.

Mr. GERRY & Mr. SHARMAN moved to insert after the words “publish them” the following “except such as relate to treaties & military operations.” Their object was to give each House a discretion in such cases. — On this question

N. H. no. Mas. ay. Ct. ay. N. J. no. Pa. no. Del. no. Va. no. N. C. no. S. C. no. Geo. no. 2

Mr. ELSEWORTH. As the clause is objectionable in so many shapes, it may as well be struck out altogether. The Legislature will not fail to publish their proceedings from time to time. The people will call for it if it should be improperly omitted.

Mr. WILSON thought the expunging of the clause would be very improper. The people have a right to know what their Agents are doing or have done, and it should not be in the option of the Legislature to conceal their proceedings. Besides as this is a clause in the existing confederation, the not retaining it would furnish the adversaries of the reform with a pretext by which week & suspicious minds may be easily misled.

Mr. MASON thought it would give a just alarm to the people, to make a conclave of their Legislature.

Mr. SHERMAN thought the Legislature might be trusted in this case if in any.

3 Question on 4 1st. part of the section down to “publish them” inclusive: 5 Agreed to nem. con.

3 Question on the words to follow, to wit except such parts thereof as may in their Judgment require secrecy.” N. H. divd. Mas. ay. Ct. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. no. Del. no. Md. no. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. no. Geo. ay. 6

The remaining part as to yeas & nays, — 7 agreed to nem. con.

Art VI. Sect. 8. 8, 9 taken up.

Mr. KING remarked that the section authorized the 2 Houses to adjourn to a new place. He thought this inconvenient. The mutability of place had dishonored the federal Govt. and would require as strong a cure as we could devise. He thought a law at least should be made necessary to a removal of the Seat of Govt. Mr. MADISON, viewed the subject in the same light, and joined with Mr. King in a motion requiring a law.

Mr. GOVERNr. MORRIS proposed the additional alteration by inserting the words “during the Session” &c.”

Mr. SPAIGHT. this will fix the seat of Govt. at N. Y. The present Congress will convene them there in the first instance, and they will never be able to remove; especially if the Presidt. should be 10 Northern Man.

Mr. GOVr. MORRIS such a distrust is inconsistent with all Govt.

Mr. MADISON supposed that a central place for the seat of Govt. was so just and wd. be so must insisted on by the H. of Representatives, that though a law should be made requisite for the purpose, it could & would be obtained. The necessity of a central residence of the Govt. wd. be much greater under the new than old Govt. The members of the new Govt. wd. be more numerous. They would be taken more from the interior parts of the States; they wd. not like members of ye. present Congs. come so often from the distant States by water. As the powers & objects of the new Govt. would be far greater yn. heretofore, more private individuals wd. have business calling them to the seat of it, and it was more necessary that the Govt. should be in that position from which it could contemplate with the most equal eye, and sympathize most equally with, every part of the nation. These considerations he supposed would extort a removal even if a law were made necessary. But in order to quiet suspicions both within & without doors, it might not be amiss to authorize the 2 Houses by a concurrent vote to adjourn at their first meeting to the most proper place, and to require thereafter, the sanction of a law to their removal.

The motion was accordingly moulded into the following form — “the Legislature shall at their first assembling determine on a place at which their future sessions shall be held; neither House shall afterwards, during the session of the House of Reps. without the consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor shall they adjourn to any other place than such as shall have been fixt by law”

Mr. GERRY thought it would be wrong to let the Presidt. check the will of the 2 Houses on this subject at all

Mr. WILLIAMSON supported the ideas of Mr. Spaight

Mr. CARROL was actuated by the same apprehensions

Mr. MERCER, it will serve no purpose to require the two Houses at their first meeting to fix on a place. They will never agree. After some further expressions from others denoting an apprehension that the seat of Govt. might be continued at an improper place if a law should be made necessary to a removal, and 11 the motion above stated with another for recommitting the section had been negatived, the section was left in the shape it which it was reported as to this point. The words “during the session of the Legislature were prefixed to the 8th section — and the last sentence “But this regulation shall not extend to the Senate when it shall exercise the powers mention 12 in the _____ article” struck struck out. The 8th. section as amended was then agreed to.

Mr. RANDOLPH moved according to notice to reconsider Art: IV. Sect. 5. 13 concerning money-bills which had been struck out. He argued 1. 14 that he had not wished for this privilege whilst a proportional Representation in the Senate was in contemplation, but since an equality had been fixed in that house, the large States would require this compensation at least. 2. 14 that it would make the plan more acceptable to the people, because they will consider the Senate as the more aristocratic body, and will expect that the usual guards agst. its influence 15 be provided according to the example in 16 G. Britain. 3. 14 the privilege will give some advantage to the House of Reps. if it extends to the originating only — but still more, if it restrains the Senate from amendg. 4. 14 he called on the smaller States to concur in the measure, as the condition by which alone the compromise had entitled them to an equality in the Senate. He signified that he should propose instead of the original Section, a clause specifying that the bills in question should be for the purpose of Revenue, in order to repel ye. objection agst. the extent of the words “raising money,” which might happen incidentally, and that the Senate should not so amend or alter as to increase or diminish the sum; in order to obviate the inconveniences urged agst. a restriction of the Senate to a simple affirmative or negative.

Mr. WILLIAMSON 2ded. the motion

Mr. PINKNEY was sorry to oppose the opportunity gentlemen asked to have the question again opened for discussion, but as he considered it a mere waste of time he could not bring himself to consent to it. He said that notwithstanding what had been said as to the compromise, he always considered this section as making no part of it. The rule of Representation in the 1st. branch was the true condition of that in the 2d. branch. — Several others spoke for & agst. the reconsideration, but without going into the merits — On the Question to reconsider

N. H. ay. Mas. ay. Ct. ay. N. J. 17 ay. Pa. ay. Del. ay. Md. no. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. divd. Geo. ay. — 18 Monday was then assigned — 19


1. The transcript uses the word “proceeding” in the plural.

2. In the transcript the vote reads: “Massachusetts, Connecticut, aye — 2; New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no — 8.”

3. The words “On the” are here inserted in the transcript.

4. The word “the” is here inserted in the transcript.

5. The words “it was” are here inserted in the transcript.

6. In the transcript the vote reads: “Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, aye — 6; Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, South Carolina, no — 4; New Hampshire, divided.”

7. The word “was” is here inserted in the transcript.

8. See ante.

9. The words “was then” are here inserted in the transcript.

10. The word “a” is here inserted in the transcript.

11. The word “after” is here inserted in the transcript.

12. The word “mentioned” is substituted in the transcript for “mention.”

13. See ante.

14. The figures “1,” “2,” “3” and “4” are changed in the transcript to “first,” “Secondly” etc.

15. The word “will’ is here inserted in the transcript.

16. The word “of” is substituted in the transcript for “in”.

17. In the printed Journal N. Jersey — No.

18. In the transcript the vote reads: “New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, 17 Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, aye — 9; Maryland, no — 1; South Carolina, divided.”

19. The words “for the reconsideration” are here inserted in the transcript.