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The Debates In The Convention
Of The State Of New York,
On The Adoption Of The Federal Constitution
In Convention, Poughkeepsie, June 17, 1788
Discussion Regarding the Size of the
House of Representatives
Article I, Section 2, Paragraph 3
June 20 to June 23, 1788
Excerpted From Elliot’s Debates [Volume 2],
which is available from the Library of Congress’s
American Memory Historical Collections for the National Digital Library
The excerpt below that portion of the N.Y debates
the subject of the size of the House of Representatives.
Formatting for emphasis has been added.
|June 20, 1788
He [Melancton Smith] would now proceed to state his objections to the clause just read, (section 2, of article 1, clause 3.) His objections were comprised under three heads: 1st, the rule of apportionment is unjust; 2d, there is no precise number fixed on, below which the house shall not be reduced; 3d, it is inadequate. In the first place, the rule of apportionment of the representatives is to be according to the whole number of the white inhabitants, with three fifths of all others; that is, in plain English, each state is to send representatives in proportion to the number of freemen, and three fifths of the slaves it contains. He could not see any rule by which slaves were to be included in the ratio of representation. The principle of a representation being that
every free agent should be concerned in governing himself, it was absurd in giving that power to a man who could not exercise it. Slaves have no will of their own. The very operation of it was to give certain privileges to those people who were so wicked as to keep slaves. He knew it would be admitted that this rule of apportionment was founded on unjust principles, but that it was the result of accommodation; which, he supposed, we should be under the necessity of admitting, if we meant to be in union with the Southern States, though utterly repugnant to his feelings. In the second place, the number was not fixed by the Constitution, but left at the discretion of the legislature; perhaps he was mistaken; it was his wish to be informed. He understood, from the Constitution, that sixty-five members were to compose the House of Representatives for three, years; that, after that time, the census was to be taken, and the numbers to be ascertained by the legislature, on the following principles: 1st, they shall be apportioned to the respective states according to numbers; 2d, each state shall have one, at least; 3d, they shall never exceed one to every thirty thousand. If this was the case, the first Congress that met might reduce the number below what it now is—a power inconsistent with every principle of a free government, to leave it to the discretion of the rulers to determine the number of representatives of the people. There was no kind of security except in the integrity of the men who were intrusted; and if you have no other security, it is idle to contend about constitutions. In the third place, supposing Congress should declare that there should be one representative for every thirty thousand of the people, in his opinion, it would be incompetent to the great purposes of representation. It was, he said, the fundamental principle of a free government, that the people should make the laws by which they were to be governed. He who is controlled by another is a slave; and that government which is directed by the will of any one, or a few, or any number less than is the will of the community, is a government for slaves.
The new point was, How was the will of the community to be expressed? It was not possible for them to come together; the multitude would be too great: in order, therefore, to provide against this inconvenience, the scheme of representation hurl been adopted, by which, the people deputed
others to represent them. Individuals entering into society became one body, find that body ought to be animated by one mind; and he conceived that every form of government should have that complexion. It was true, notwithstanding all the experience we had from others, it had appeared that the experiment of representation had been fairly tried; there was something like it in the ancient republics, in which, being of small extent, the people could easily meet together, though, instead of deliberating, they only considered of those things which were submitted to them by their magistrates. In Great Britain, representation had been carried much further than in any government we knew of, except our own; but in that country it now had only a name. America was the only country in which the first fair opportunity had been offered. When we were colonies, our representation was better than any that was then known: since the revolution, we had advanced still nearer to perfection. He considered it as an object, of all others the most important, to have it fixed on its true principle; yet he was convinced that it was impracticable to have such a representation in a consolidated government. However, said he, we may approach a great way towards perfection by increasing the representation and limiting the powers of Congress. He considered that the great interests and liberties of the people could only be secured by the state governments. He admitted that, if the new government was only confined to great national objects, it would be less exceptionable; but it extended to every thing dear to human nature. That this was the case, would be proved without any long chain of reasoning; for that power which had both the purse and the sword had the government of the whole country, and might extend its powers to any and to every object. He had already observed that, by the true doctrine of representation, this principle was established—that the representative must be chosen by the free will of the majority of his constituents. It therefore followed that the representative should be chosen from small districts. This being admitted, he would ask, Could 65 men for 3,000,000, or 1 for 30,000, be chosen in this manner? Would they be possessed of the requisite information to make happy the great number of souls that were spread over this extensive country? There was another objection to the clause: if great affairs of government were trusted to
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few men, they would be more liable to corruption. Corruption, he knew, was unfashionable amongst us, but he supposed that Americans were like other men; and though they had hitherto displayed great virtues, still they were men; and therefore such steps should be taken as to prevent the possibility of corruption. We were now in that stage of society in which we could deliberate with freedom; how long it might continue, God only knew! Twenty years hence, perhaps, these maxims might become unfashionable. We already hear, said he, in all parts of the country, gentlemen ridiculing that spirit of patriotism, and love of liberty, which carried us through all our difficulties in times of danger. When patriotism was already nearly hooted out of society, ought we not to take some precautions against the progress of corruption?
He had one more observation to make, to show that the representation was insufficient. Government, the said, must rest, for its execution, on the good opinion of the people; for, if it was made heaven, and had not the confidence of the people, it could not be executed; that this was proved by the example given by the gentleman of the Jewish theocracy. It must have a good setting out, or the instant it takes place, there is an end of liberty. He believed that the inefficacy of the old Confederation had arisen from that want of confidence; and this caused, in a great degree, by the continual declamation of gentlemen of importance against it from one end of the continent to the other, who had frequently compared it to a rope of sand. It had pervaded every class of citizens; and their misfortunes, the consequences of idleness and extravagance, were attributed to the defects of that system. At the close of the war, our country had been left in distress; and it was impossible that any government on earth could immediately retrieve it; it must be time and industry alone that could effect it. He said, he would pursue these observations no further at present,—and concluded with making the following motion:—
“Resolved, That it is proper that the number of representatives be fixed at the rate of one for every twenty thousand inhabitants, to be ascertained on the principles mentioned in the 2d section of the 1st article of the Constitution, until they amount to three hundred; after which they shall be apportioned among the states, in proportion to the number
of inhabitants of the states respectively; and that, before the first enumeration shall be made, the several states shall be entitled to choose double the number of representatives, for that purpose mentioned in the Constitution.”
The Hon. Mr. HAMILTON then rose. Mr. Chairman, the honorable member who spoke yesterday went into an explanation of a variety of circumstances, to prove the expediency of a change in our national government, and the necessity of a firm union. At the same time, he described the great advantages which this state, in particular, receives from the confederacy, and its peculiar weaknesses when abstracted from the Union. In doing this, he advanced a variety of arguments, which deserve serious consideration. Gentlemen have this day come forward to answer him. He has been treated as having wandered in the flowery fields of fancy; and attempts have been made to take off from the minds of the committee that sober impression which might be expected from his arguments. I trust, sir, that observations of this kind are not thrown out to cast a light air on this important subject, or to give any personal bias on the great question before us. I will not agree with gentlemen who trifle with the weaknesses of our country, and suppose that they are enumerated to answer a party purpose, and to terrify with ideal dangers. No. I believe these weaknesses to be real, and pregnant with destruction. Yet, however weak our country may be, I hope we never shall sacrifice our liberties. If, therefore, on a full and candid discussion, the proposed system shall appear to have that tendency, for God's sake, let us reject it! But let us not mistake words for things, nor accept doubtful surmises as the evidence of truth. Let us consider the Constitution calmly and dispassionately, and attend to those things only which merit consideration.
No arguments drawn from embarrassment or inconvenience ought to prevail upon us to adopt a system of government radically bad; yet it is proper that these arguments, among others, should be brought into view. In doing this, yesterday, it was necessary to reflect upon our situation; to dwell upon the imbecility of our union; and to consider whether we, as a state, could stand alone. Although I am persuaded this Convention will be resolved to adopt nothing that had, yet I think every prudent man will consider the merits of the
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plan in connection with the circumstances of our country, and that a rejection of the Constitution may involve most fatal consequences. I make these remarks to show that though we ought not to be actuated by unreasonable fear, yet we ought to be prudent.
This day, sir, one gentleman has attempted to answer the arguments advanced by my honorable friend; another has treated him as having wandered from the subject. This being the case, I trust I shall be indulged in reviewing the remarks that have been made
Sir, it appears to me extraordinary, that, while gentlemen in one breath acknowledge that the old Confederation requires many material amendments, they should in the next deny that its defects have been the cause of our political weakness, and the consequent calamities of our country. I cannot but infer from this, that there is still some lurking favorite imagination, that this system, with correctness, might become a safe and permanent one. It is proper that we should examine this matter. We contend that the radical vice in the old Confederation is, that the laws of the Union apply only to states in their corporate capacity. Has not every man who has been in our legislature experienced the truth of this position? It is inseparable from the disposition of bodies, who have a constitutional power of resistance, to examine the merits of a law. This has ever been the case with the federal requisitions. In this examination, not being furnished with those lights which directed the deliberations of the general government, and incapable of embracing the general interests of the Union, the states have almost uniformly weighed the requisitions by their own local interests, and have only executed them so far as answered their particular convenience or advantage. Hence there have ever been thirteen different bodies to judge of the measures of Congress, and the operations of government have been distracted by their taking different courses. Those which were to be benefited have complied with the requisitions; others have totally disregarded them. Have not all of us been witnesses to the unhappy embarrassments which resulted from these proceedings? Even during the late war, while the pressure of common danger connected strongly the bond of our union, and incited to vigorous exertion, we have felt many distressing effects of the important system. How have
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we seen this state, though most exposed to the calamities of the war, complying, in an unexampled manner, with the federal requisitions, and compelled by the delinquency of others to bear most unusual burdens! Of this truth we have the most solemn proof on our records. In 1779 and '80, when the state, from the ravages of war, and from her great exertions to resist them, became weak, distressed, and forlorn, every man avowed the principle which we now contend for—that our misfortunes, in a great degree, proceeded from the want of vigor in the Continental government. These were our sentiments when we did not speculate, but feel. We saw our weakness, and found ourselves its victims. Let us reflect that this may again, in all probability, be our situation. This is a weak state, and its relative state is dangerous. Your capital is accessible by land, and by sea is exposed to every daring invader; and on the north-west you are open to the inroads of a powerful foreign nation. Indeed, this state, from its situation, will, in time of war, probably be the theater of its operations.
Gentlemen have said that the non-compliance of the states had been occasioned by their sufferings. This may in part be true. But has this state been delinquent? Amidst all our distresses, we have fully complied. If New York could comply wholly with the requisitions, is it not to be supposed that the other states could in part comply? Certainly every state in the Union might have executed them in some degree. But New Hampshire, which has not suffered at all, is totally delinquent. North Carolina is totally delinquent. Many others have contributed in a very small proportion. And Pennsylvania and New York are the only states which have perfectly discharged their federal duty.
From the delinquency of those states which have suffered little by the war, we naturally conclude, that they have made no efforts; and a knowledge of human nature will teach us that their ease and security have been a principal cause of their want of exertion. While danger is distant its impression is weak; and while it affects only our neighbors, we have few motives to provide against it. Sir, if we have national objects to pursue, we must have national revenues. If you make requisitions, and they are not complied with, what is to be done? It has been observed, to coerce the States is one of the maddest projects that was ever devised. A
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failure of compliance will never be confined to a single state; This being the case, can we suppose it wise to hazard a civil war? Suppose Massachusetts, or any large state, should refuse, and Congress should attempt to compel them, would they not have influence to procure assistance, especially from those states which are in the same situation as themselves? What picture does this idea present to our view? A complying state at war with a non-complying state; Congress marching the troops of one state into the bosom of another; this state collecting auxiliaries, and forming, perhaps, a majority against its federal head. Here is a nation at war with itself. Can any reasonable man be well disposed towards a government which makes war and carnage the only means of supporting itself—a government that can exist only by the sword? Every such war must involve the innocent with the guilty. This single consideration should be sufficient to dispose every peaceable citizen against such a government.
But can we believe that one state will ever suffer itself to be used as an instrument of coercion? The thing is a dream; it is impossible. Then we are brought to this dilemma—either a federal standing army is to enforce the requisitions, or the federal treasury is left without supplies, and the government without support. What, sir, is the cure for this great evil? Nothing, but to enable the national laws to operate on individuals, in the same manner as those of the states do. This is the true reasoning upon the subject, sir. The gentlemen appear to acknowledge its force; and yet, while they yield to the principle, they seem to fear its application to the government.
What, then, shall we do? Shall we take the old Confederation, as the basis of a new system? Can this be the object of the gentlemen? Certainly not. Will any man, who entertains a wish for the safety of his country, trust the sword and the purse with a single assembly organized on principles so defective—so rotten? Though we might give to such a government certain powers with safety, yet to give them the full and unlimited powers of taxation and the national forces, would be to establish a despotism; the definition of which is, a government in which all power is concentrated a single body. To take the old Confederation, and fashion it upon these principles, would be establishing a power which
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would destroy the liberties of the people. These considerations show clearly that a government totally different must be instituted. They had weight in the Convention who formed the new system. It was seen that the necessary powers were too great to be trusted to a single body; they therefore formed two branches, and divided the powers, that each might be a check upon the other. This was the result of their wisdom; and I presume that every reasonable man will agree to it. The more this subject is explained, the more clear and convincing it will appear to every member of this body. The fundamental principle of the old Confederation is defective; we must totally eradicate and discard this principle before we can expect an efficient government. The gentlemen who have spoken to-day have taken up the subject of the ancient confederacies; but their view of them has been extremely partial and erroneous. The fact is, the same false and impracticable principle ran through the ancient governments. The first of these governments that we read of, was the Amphictyonic confederacy. The council which managed the affairs of this league possessed powers of a similar complexion to those of our present Congress. The same feeble mode of legislation in the head, and the same power of resistance in the members, prevailed. When a requisition was made, it rarely met a compliance; and a civil war was the consequence. Those that were attacked called in foreign aid to protect them; and the ambitious Philip, under the mask of an ally to one, invaded the liberties of each, and finally subverted the whole.
The operation of this principle appears in the same light in the Dutch republics. They have been obliged to levy taxes by an armed force. In this confederacy, one large province, by its superior wealth and influence, is commonly a match for all the rest; and when they do not comply, the province of Holland is obliged to compel them. It is observed, that the United Provinces have existed a long time; but they have been constantly the sport of their neighbors, and have been supported only by the external pressure of the surrounding powers. The policy of Europe, not the policy of their government, has saved them from dissolution. Besides, the powers of the stadtholder have given energy to the operations of this government, which is not to be found in ours. This prince has a vast personal influence; he has
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independent revenues; he commands an army of forty thousand men.
The German confederacy has also been a perpetual source of wars. They have a diet, like our Congress, who have authority to call for supplies. These calls are never obeyed and in time of war, the imperial army never takes the field till the enemy are returning from it. The emperor's Austrian dominions, in which he is an absolute prince, alone enable him to make head against the common foe. The members of this confederacy are ever divided and opposed to each other. The king of Prussia is a member; yet he has been constantly in opposition to the emperor. Is this a desirable government?
I might go more particularly into the discussion of examples, and show that, wherever this fatal principle has prevailed, even as far back as the Lycian and Achæan leagues, as well as the Amphictyonic confederacy, it has proved the destruction of the government. But I think observations of this kind might have been spared. Had they not been entered into by others, I should nor have taken up so much of the time of the committee. No inference can be drawn kern these examples, that republics cannot exist: we only contend that they have hitherto been founded on false principles. We have shown how they have been conducted, and how they have been destroyed. Weakness in the head has produced resistance in the members; this has been the immediate parent of civil war: auxiliary force has been invited; and foreign power has annihilated their liberties and name. Thus Philip subverted the Amphictyonic, and Rome the Achæan republic.
We shall do well, sir, not to deceive ourselves with the favorable events of the late war. Common danger prevented the operation of the ruinous principle, in its full extent; but, since the peace, we have experienced the evils; we have felt the poison of the system in its unmingled purity.
Without dwelling any longer on this subject, I shall proceed to the question immediately before the committee.
In order that the committee may understand clearly the principles on which the general Convention acted, I think it necessary to explain some preliminary circumstances. Sir, the natural situation of this country seems to divide its interests into different classes. There are navigating and
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non-navigating states. The Northern are properly navigating states: the Southern appear to possess neither the means nor the spirit of navigation. This difference of situation naturally produces a dissimilarity of interests and views respecting foreign commerce. It was the interest of the Northern States that there should be no restraints on their navigation, and they should have full power, by a majority in Congress, to make commercial regulations in favor of their own, and in restraint of the navigation of foreigners. The Southern States wish to impose a restraint on the Northern, by requiring that two thirds in Congress should be requisite to pass an act in regulation of commerce. They were apprehensive that the restraints of a navigation law would discourage foreigners, and, by obliging them to employ the shipping of the Northern States, would probably enhance their freight. This being the case, they insisted strenuously on having this provision ingrafted in the Constitution; and the Northern States were as anxious in opposing it. On the other hand, the small states, seeing themselves embraced by the Confederation upon equal terms, wished to retain the advantages which they already possessed. The large states, on the contrary, thought it improper that Rhode Island and Delaware should enjoy an equal suffrage with themselves. From these sources a delicate and difficult contest arose. It became necessary, there, fore, to compromise, or the Convention must have dissolved without effecting any thing. Would it have been wise and prudent in that body, in this critical situation, to have deserted their country? No. Every man who hears me, every wise man in the United States, would have condemned them. The Convention were obliged to appoint, a committee for accommodation. In this committee, the arrangement was formed as it now stands, and their report was accepted. It was a delicate point, and it was necessary that all parties should be indulged. Gentlemen will see that, if there had not been a unanimity, nothing could have been done; for the Convention had no power to establish, but only to recommend, a government. Any other system would have been impracticable. Let a convention be called to-morrow; let them meet twenty times,—nay, twenty thousand times; they will have the same difficulties to encounter, the same clashing interests to reconcile.
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But, dismissing these reflections, let us consider how far the arrangement is in itself entitled to the approbation of this body. We will examine it upon its own merits.
The first thing objected to is that clause which allows a representation for three fifths of the negroes. Much has been said of the impropriety of representing men who have no will of their own. Whether this be reasoning or declamation, I will not presume to say. It is the unfortunate situation of the Southern States to have a great part of their population, as well as property, in blacks. The regulation complained of was one result of the spirit of accommodation which governed the Convention; and without this indulgence no union could possibly have been formed. But, sir, considering some peculiar advantages which we derive from them, it is entirely just that they should be gratified. The Southern States possess certain staples,—tobacco, rice, indigo, &c.,—which must be capital objects in treaties of commerce with foreign nations; and the advantages which they necessarily procure in those treaties will be felt throughout all the states. But the justice of this plan will appear in another view. The best writers on government have held that representation should be compounded of persons and property. This rule has been adopted, as far as it could be, in the constitution of New York. It will, however, by no means be admitted that the slaves are considered altogether as property. They are men, though degraded to the condition of slavery. They are persons known to the municipal laws of the states which they inhabit, as well as to the laws of nature. But representation and taxation go together, and one uniform rule ought to apply to both. Would it be just to compute these slaves in the assessment of taxes, and discard them from the estimate in the apportionment of representatives? Would it be just to impose a singular burden, without conferring some adequate advantage?
Another circumstance ought to be considered. The rule we have been speaking of is a general rule, and applies to all the states. Now, you have a great number of people in your state, which are not represented at all, and have no voice in your government. These will be included in the enumeration—not two fifths, nor three fifths, but the whole. This proves that the advantages of the plan are not confined
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to the Southern States, but extend to other parts of the Union.
I now proceed to consider the objection with regard to the number of representatives, as it now stands. I am persuaded the system, in this respect, stands on a better footing than the gentlemen imagine.
It has been asserted that it will be in the power of Congress to reduce the number. I acknowledge that there are no direct words of prohibition, but contend that the true and genuine construction of the clause gives Congress no power whatever to reduce the representation below the number as it now stands. Although they may limit, they can never diminish the number. One representative for every thirty thousand inhabitants is fixed as the standard of increase; till, by the natural course of population, it shall become necessary to limit the ratio. Probably, at present, were this standard to be immediately applied, the representation would considerably exceed sixty-five. In three years, it would exceed one hundred. If I understand the gentlemen, they contend that the number may be enlarged, or may not. I admit that this is in the discretion of Congress; and I submit to the committee whether it be not necessary and proper. Still, I insist that an immediate limitation is not probable, nor was it in the contemplation of the Convention. But, sir, who will presume to say to what precise point the representation ought to be increased? This is a matter of opinion, and opinions are vastly different upon the subject. A proof of this is drawn from the representations in the state legislatures. In Massachusetts, the Assembly consists of about three hundred; in South Carolina, of nearly one hundred; in New York, there are sixty-five. It is observed generally that the number ought to be large; let the gentlemen produce their criterion. I confess it is difficult for me to say what number may be said to be sufficiently large. On one hand, it ought to be considered that a small number will act with more facility, system, and decision; on the other, that a large one may enhance the difficulty of corruption. The Congress is to consist, at first, of ninety-one members. This, to a reasonable man, may appear as near the proper medium as any number whatever, at least for the present. There is one source of increase, also, which does not depend upon any constructions of the Constitution; it is the creation of
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new states. Vermont, Kentucky, and Franklin ["Franklin" is now Tennessee], will probably become independent. New members of the Union will also be formed from the unsettled tracts of western territory.
These must be represented, and will all contribute to swell the federal legislature. If the whole number in the United States be, at present, three millions, as is commonly supposed, according to the ratio of one for thirty thousand, we shall have, on the first census, a hundred representatives. In ten years, thirty more will be added; and in twenty-five years, the number will be double. Then, sir, we shall have two hundred, if the increase goes on in the same proportion. The Convention of Massachusetts, who made the same objections, have fixed upon this number as the point to which they chose to limit the representation. But can we pronounce, with certainty, that it will not be expedient to go beyond this number? We cannot. Experience alone must determine. This matter may, with more safety, be left to the discretion of the legislature, as it will be the interest of the large and increasing states of Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, &c., to augment the representation. Only Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, and Maryland, can be interested in limiting it. We may, therefore, safely calculate upon a growing representation, according to the advance of population, and the circumstances of the country.
The state governments possess inherent advantages, which will ever give them an influence and ascendency over the national government, and will forever preclude the possibility of federal encroachments. That their liberties indeed can be subverted by the federal head, is repugnant to every rule of political calculation. Is not this arrangement, then, sir, a most wise and prudent one? Is not the present representation fully adequate to our present exigencies, and sufficient to answer all the purposes of the Union? I am persuaded that an examination of the objects of the federal government will afford a conclusive answer.
Many other observations might be made on this subject, but I cannot now pursue them; for I feel myself not a little exhausted. I beg leave, therefore, to waive, for the present the further discussion of the question.
|June 21, 1788
Saturday, June 21, 1788.—Convention met pursuant to adjournment.
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The Hon. Mr. WILLIAMS rose, and addressed the chair. We are now, sir, said he, to investigate and decide upon a Constitution, in which not only the present members of the community are deeply interested, but upon which the happiness or misery of generations yet unborn is, in a great measure, suspended. I therefore hope for a wise and prudent determination. I believe that this country has never before seen such a critical period in political affairs. We have felt the feebleness of those ties by which the states are held together, and the want of that energy which is necessary to manage our general concerns. Various are the expedients which have been proposed to remedy these evils; but they have been proposed without effect; though I am persuaded that, if the Confederation had been attended to as its value justly merited, and proper attention paid to a few necessary amendments, it might have carried us on for a series of years, and probably have been in as great estimation with succeeding ages as it was in our long and painful war, notwithstanding the frightful picture that has been drawn of our situation, and the imputation of all our difficulties to the want of an energetic government. Indeed, sir, it appears to me that many of our present distresses flow from a source very different from the defects in the Confederation. Unhappily for us, immediately after our extrication from a cruel and unnatural war, luxury and dissipation overran the country, banishing all that economy, frugality, and industry, which had been exhibited during the war.
Sir, if we were to reassume all our old habits, we might expect to prosper. Let us, then, abandon all those foreign commodities which have hitherto deluged our country, which have loaded us with debt, and which, if continued, will forever involve us in difficulties. How many thousands are daily wearing the manufactures of Europe, when, by a little industry and frugality, they might wear those of their own country! One may venture to say, sir, that the greatest part of the goods are manufactured in Europe by persons who support themselves by our extravagance. And can we believe a government ever so well formed can relieve us from these evils? What dissipation is there from the immoderate use of spirits! Is it not notorious that men cannot be hired, in time of harvest, without giving them, on an average, a pint of rum per day? so that, on the lowest calculation,
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every twentieth part of the grain is expended on that article; and so, in proportion, all the farmer's produce. And what is worse, the disposition of eight tenths of the commonalty is such, that, if they can get credit, they will purchase unnecessary articles, even to the amount of their crop, before it becomes merchantable. And therefore it is evident that the best government ever devised, without economy and frugality, will leave us in a situation no better than the present.
Sir, the enormous expense of the article of tea will amount, in two years, to our whole foreign debt. Much more might be said on the subject; but I fear I have trespassed on your patience already. The time of the committee would not have been so long taken up, had there not appeared a propriety in showing that all our present difficulties are not to be attributed to the defects in the Confederation; and, were the real truth known, part of its defects have been used as an instrument to make way for the proposed system; and whether or not it is calculated for greater emoluments and more placemen the committee will determine. However, from what has been said, and the mode agreed on for our proceedings, it appears probable that the system of government under consideration is preferred before the Confederation. This being the case, let us examine whether it be calculated to preserve the invaluable blessings of liberty, and secure the inestimable rights of mankind. If it be so, let us adopt it. But if it be found to contain principles that will lead to the subversion of liberty,—if it tends to establish a despotism, or, what is worse, a tyrannical aristocracy,—let us insist upon the necessary alterations and amendments.
Momentous is the question, and we are called upon by every motive to examine it well, and make up a wise and candid judgment.
In forming a constitution for a free country like this, the greatest care should be taken to define its powers, and guard against an abuse of authority. The constitution should be so formed as not to swallow up the state governments: the general government ought to be confined to certain national objects; and the states should retain such powers as concern their own internal police. We should
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consider whether or not this system is so formed, as, directly or indirectly, to annihilate the state governments. If so, care should be taken to check it in such a manner as to prevent this effect. Now, sir, with respect to the clause before us, I agree with the gentlemen from Albany and Duchess, who spoke yesterday. The number of representatives is, in my opinion, too small to resist corruption. Sir, how guarded is our state Constitution on this head! The number of the Senate and House of Representatives proposed in the Constitution does not surpass those of our state. How great the disparity, when compared with the aggregate number of the United States! The history of representation in England, from which we have taken our model, is briefly this: Before the institution of legislating by deputies, the whole free part of the community usually met for that purpose: when this became impracticable by increase of numbers, the people were divided into districts, from each of which was sent a number of deputies, for a complete representation of the various orders of the citizens within them. Can it be supposed that six men can be a complete representation of the various orders of the people of this state?
I conceive, too, that biennial elections are a departure from the true principles of democracy. A well-digested democracy has advantages over all other forms of government. It affords to many the opportunity of being advanced, and creates that desire of public promotion, and ardent affection for the public weal, which are so beneficial to our country. It was the opinion of the great Sidney and Montesquieu that annual elections are productive of this effect. But as there are more important defects in the proposed Constitution, I shall desist making any further observations at this time.
In order to convince gentlemen it is my sincere intention to accede to this system, when properly amended, I give it as my opinion that it will be best for gentlemen to confine themselves to certain points which are defective.
Before I conclude, I would only mention, that while, on one hand, I wish those endowed with a spirit of moderation through the whole debate, to give way to small matters, yet, on the other hand, not to be intimidated by imaginary dangers;
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for to say that a bad government must be established for fear of anarchy, is, in reality, saying that we must kill ourselves for fear of dying.
Mr. M. SMITH. I had the honor, yesterday, of submitting an amendment to the clause under consideration, with some observations in support of it. I hope I shall be indulged in making some additional remarks in reply to what has been offered by the honorable gentleman from New York.
He has taken up much time in endeavoring to prove that the great defect in the old Confederation was, that it operated upon states instead of individuals. It is needless to dispute concerning points on which we do not disagree. It is admitted that the powers of the general government ought to operate upon individuals to a certain degree. How far the powers should extend, and in what cases to individuals, is the question.
As the different parts of the system will come into view in the course of our investigation, an opportunity will be afforded to consider this question. I wish, at present, to confine myself to the subject immediately under the consideration of the committee. I shall make no reply to the arguments offered by the honorable gentleman to justify the rule of apportionment fixed by this clause; for, though I am confident they might be easily refuted, yet I am persuaded we must yield this point, in accommodation to the Southern States. The amendment therefore proposes no alteration to the clause in this respect.
The honorable gentleman says, that the clause, by obvious construction, fixes the representation. I wish not to torture words or sentences. I perceive no such obvious construction.
I see clearly that, on one hand, the representatives cannot exceed one for thirty thousand inhabitants; and, on the other, that whatever larger number of inhabitants may be taken for the rule of apportionment, each state shall be entitled to send one representative. Every thing else appears to me in the discretion of the legislature. If there be any other limitation, it is certainly implied. Matters of moment should not be left to doubtful construction. It is urged that the number of representatives will be fixed at one for thirty thousand, because it will be the interest of the larger states to do it. I cannot discern the force of this argument.
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To me it appears clear, that the relative weight of influence of the different states will be the same, with the number of representatives at sixty-five as at six hundred, and that of the individual members greater; for each member's share of power will decrease as the number of the House of Representatives increases. If, therefore, this maxim be true, that men are unwilling to relinquish powers which they once possess, we are not to expect the House of Representatives will be inclined to enlarge the numbers. The same motive will operate to influence the President and Senate to oppose the increase of the number of representatives; for, in proportion as the House of Representatives is augmented, they will feel their own power diminished. It is, therefore, of the highest importance that a suitable number of representatives should be established by the Constitution.
It has been observed, by an honorable member, that the Eastern States insisted upon a small representation, on the principles of economy. This argument must have no weight in the mind of a considerate person. The difference of expense, between supporting a House of Representatives sufficiently numerous, and the present proposed one, would be twenty or thirty thousand dollars per annum. The man who would seriously object to this expense, to secure his liberties, does not deserve to enjoy them. Besides, by increasing the number of representatives, we open a door for the admission of the substantial yeomanry of our country, who, being possessed of the habits of economy, will be cautious of imprudent expenditures, by which means a greater saving will be made of public money than is sufficient to support them. A reduction of the numbers of the state legislatures might also be made, by which means there might be a saving of expense much more than sufficient for the purpose of supporting the general legislature; for as, under this system, all the powers of legislation, relating to our general concerns, are vested in the general government, the powers of the state legislatures will be so curtailed as to render it less necessary to have them so numerous as they now are.
But an honorable gentleman has observed, that it is a problem that cannot be solved, what the proper number is which ought to compose the House of Representatives, and calls upon me to fix the number. I admit that this is a question that will not admit of a solution with mathematical
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certainty; few political questions will; yet we may determine with certainty that certain numbers are too small or too large. We may be sure that ten is too small, and a thousand too large a number. Every one will allow that the first number is too small to possess the sentiments, be influenced by the interests of the people, or secure against corruption; a thousand would be too numerous to be capable of deliberating.
To determine whether the number of representatives proposed by this Constitution is sufficient, it is proper to examine the qualifications which this house ought to possess, in order to exercise their power discreetly for the happiness of the people. The idea that naturally suggests itself to our minds, when we speak of representatives, is, that they resemble those they represent. They should be a true picture of the people, possess a knowledge of their circumstances and their wants, sympathize in all their distresses, and be disposed to seek their true interests. The knowledge necessary for the representative of a free people not only comprehends extensive political and commercial information, such as is acquired by men of refined education, who have leisure to attain to high degrees of improvement, but it should also comprehend that kind of acquaintance with the common concerns and occupations of the people, which men of the middling class of life are, in general, more competent to than those of a superior class. To understand the true commercial interests of a country, not only requires just ideas of the general commerce of the world, but also, and principally, a knowledge of the productions of your own country, and their value, what your soil is capable of producing; the nature of your manufactures, and the capacity of the country to increase both. To exercise the power of laying taxes, duties, and excises, with discretion, requires something more than an acquaintance with the abstruse parts of the system of finance. It calls for a knowledge of the circumstances and ability of the people in general—a discernment how the burdens imposed will bear upon the different classes.
From these observations results this conclusion—that the number of representatives should be so large, as that, while it embraces the men of the first class, it should admit those of the middling class of life. I am convinced that this government
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is so constituted that the representatives will generally be composed of the first class in the community, which I shall distinguish by the name of the natural aristocracy of the country. I do not mean to give offence by using this term. I am sensible this idea is treated by many gentlemen as chimerical. I shall be asked what is meant by the natural aristocracy, and told that no such distinction of classes of men exists among us. It is true, it is our singular felicity that we have no legal or hereditary distinctions of this kind; but still there are real differences. Every society naturally divides itself into classes. The Author of nature has bestowed on some greater capacities than others; birth, education, talents, and wealth, create distinctions among men as visible, and of as much influence, as titles, stars, and garters. In every society, men of this class will command a superior degree of respect; and if the government is so constituted as to admit but few to exercise the powers of it, it will, according to the natural course of things, be in their hands. Men in the middling class, who are qualified as representatives, will not be so anxious to be chosen as those of the first. When the number is so small, the office will be highly elevated and distinguished; the style in which the members live will probably be high; circumstances of this kind will render the place of a representative not a desirable one to sensible, substantial men, who have been used to walk in the plain and frugal paths of life.
Besides, the influence of the great will generally enable them to succeed in elections. It will be difficult to combine a district of country containing thirty or forty thousand inhabitants,—frame your election laws as you please,—in any other character, unless it be in one of conspicuous military, popular, civil, or legal talents. The great easily form associations; the poor and middling class form them with difficulty. If the elections be by plurality,—as probably will be the case in this state,—it is almost certain none but the great will be chosen, for they easily unite their interests: the common people will divide, and their divisions will be promoted by the others. There will be scarcely a chance of their uniting in any other but some great man, unless in some popular demagogue, who will probably be destitute of principle. A substantial yeoman, of sense and discernment, will hardly ever be chosen. From these remarks, it appears
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that the government will fall into the hands of the few and the great. This will be a government of oppression. I do not mean to declaim against the great, and charge them indiscriminately with want of principle and honesty. The same passions and prejudices govern all men. The circumstances in which men are placed in a great measure give a cast to the human character. Those in middling circumstances have less temptation; they are inclined by habit, and the company with whom they associate, to set bounds to their passions and appetites. If this is not sufficient, the want of means to gratify them will be a restraint: they are obliged to employ their time in their respective callings; hence the substantial yeomanry of the country are more temperate, of better morals, and less ambition, than the great. The latter do not feel for the poor and middling class; the reasons are obvious—they are not obliged to use the same pains and labor to procure property as the other. They feel not the inconveniences arising from the payment of small sums. The great consider themselves above the common people, entitled to more respect, do not associate with them; they fancy themselves to have a right of preëminence in every thing. In short, they possess the same feelings, and are under the influence of the same motives, as an hereditary nobility. I know the idea that such a distinction exists in this country is ridiculed by some; but I am not the less apprehensive of danger from their influence on this account. Such distinctions exist all the world over, have been taken notice of by all writers on free government, and are founded in the nature of things. It has been the principal care of free governments to guard against the encroachments of the great. Common observation and experience prove the existence of such distinctions. Will any one say that there does not exist in this country the pride of family, of wealth, of talents, and that they do not command influence and respect among the common people? Congress, in their address to the inhabitants of the province of Quebec, in 1775, state this distinction in the following forcible words, quoted from the Marquis Beccaria: “In every human society there is an essay continually tending to confer on one part the height of power and happiness, and to reduce the other to the extreme of weakness and misery. The intent of good laws is to oppose this effort, and to diffuse their influence
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universally and equally.” We ought to guard against the government being placed in the hands of this class. They cannot have that sympathy with their constituents which is necessary to connect them closely to their interests. Being in the habit of profuse living, they will be profuse in the public expenses. They find no difficulty in paying their taxes, and therefore do not feel public burdens. Besides, if they govern, they will enjoy the emoluments of the government. The middling class, from their frugal habits, and feeling themselves the public burdens, will be careful how they increase them.
But I may be asked, Would you exclude the first class in the community from any share in legislation? I answer, By no means. They would be factious, discontented, and constantly disturbing the government. It would also be unjust. They have their liberties to protect, as well as others, and the largest share of property. But my idea is, that the Constitution should be so framed as to admit this class, together with a sufficient number of the middling class to control them. You will then combine the abilities and honesty of the community, a proper degree of information, and a disposition to pursue the public good. A representative body, composed principally of respectable yeomanry, is the best possible security to liberty. When the interest of this part of the community is pursued, the public good is pursued, because the body of every nation consists of this class, and because the interest of both the rich and the poor are involved in that of the middling class. No burden can be laid on the poor but what will sensibly affect the middling class. Any law rendering property insecure would be injurious to them. When, therefore, this class in society pursue their own interest, they promote that of the public, for it is involved in it.
In so small a number of representatives, there is great danger from corruption and combination. A great politician has said that every man has his price. I hope this is not true in all its extent; but I ask the gentleman to inform me what government there is in which it has not been practised. Notwithstanding all that has been said of the defects in the constitution of the ancient confederacies in the Grecian republics, their destruction is to be imputed more to this cause than to any imperfection in their forms of government.
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This was the deadly poison that effected their dissolution. This is an extensive country, increasing in population and growing in consequence. Very many lucrative offices will be in the grant of the government, which will be objects of avarice and ambition. How easy will it be to gain over a sufficient number, in the bestowment of offices, to promote the views and the purposes of those who grant them! Foreign corruption is also to be guarded against. A system of corruption is known to be the system of government in Europe. It is practised without blushing; and we may lay it to our account, it will be attempted amongst us. The most effectual as well as natural security against this is a strong democratic branch in the legislature, frequently chosen, including in it a number of the substantial, sensible yeomanry of the country. Does the House of Representatives answer this description? I confess, to me they hardly wear the complexion of a democratic branch; they appear the mere shadow of representation. The whole number, in both houses, amounts to ninety-one; of these forty-six make a quorum; and twenty-four of those, being secured, may carry any point. Can the liberties of three millions of people be securely trusted in the hands of twenty-four men? Is it prudent to commit to so small a number the decision of the great questions which will come before them? Reason revolts at the idea.
The honorable gentleman from New York has said, that sixty-five members in the House of Representatives are sufficient for the resent situation of the country; and, taking it for granted that they will increase as one for thirty thousand, in twenty-five years they will amount to two hundred. It is admitted, by this observation, that the number fixed in the Constitution is not sufficient without it is augmented. It is not declared that an increase shall be made, but is left at the discretion of the legislature, by the gentleman's own concession; therefore the Constitution is imperfect. We certainly ought to fix, in the Constitution, those things which are essential to liberty. If any thing falls under this description, it is the number of the legislature. To say, as this gentleman does, that our security is to depend upon the spirit of the people, who will be watchful of their liberties, and not suffer them to be infringed, is absurd. It would equally prove that we might adopt any
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form of government. I believe, were we to create a despot, he would not immediately dare to act the tyrant; but it would not be long before he would destroy the spirit of the people, or the people would destroy him. If our people have a high sense of liberty, the government should be congenial to this spirit, calculated to cherish the love of liberty, while yet it had sufficient force to restrain licentiousness. Government operates upon the spirit of the people, as well as the spirit of the people operates upon it; and if they are not conformable to each other, the one or the other will prevail. In a less time than twenty-five years, the government will receive its tone. What the spirit of the country may be at the end of that period, it is impossible to foretell. Our duty is to frame a government friendly to liberty and the rights of mankind, which will tend to cherish and cultivate a love of liberty among our citizens. If this government becomes oppressive, it will be by degrees: it will aim at its end by disseminating sentiments of government opposite to republicanism, and proceed from step to step in depriving the people of a share in the government. A recollection of the change that has taken place in the minds of many in this country in the course of a few years, ought to put us on our guard. Many, who are ardent advocates for the new system, reprobate republican principles as chimerical, and such as ought to he expelled from society. Who would have thought, ten years ago, that the very men, who risked their lives and fortunes in support of republican principles, would now treat them as the fictions of fancy? A few years ago, we fought for liberty; we framed a general government on free principles; we placed the state legislatures, in whom the people have a full and a fair representation, between Congress and the people. We were then, it is true, too cautious, and too much restricted the powers of the general government. But now it is proposed to go into the contrary, and a more dangerous extreme—to remove all barriers, to give the new government free access to our pockets, and ample command of our persons, and that without providing for a genuine and fair representation of the people, No one can say what the progress of the change of sentiment may be in twenty-five years. The same men who now cry up the necessity of an energetic government, to induce a compliance with this system, may, in much less time, reprobate
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this in as severe terms as they now do the Confederation, and may as strongly urge the necessity of going as far beyond this as this is beyond the Confederation. Men of this class are increasing: they have influence, talents, and industry. It is time to form a barrier against them. And while we are willing to establish a government adequate to the purposes of the Union, let us be careful to establish it on the broad basis of equal liberty.
Mr. HAMILTON then resumed his argument. When, said he, I had the honor to address the committee yesterday, I gave a history of the circumstances which attended the Convention, when forming the plan before you. I endeavored to point out to you the principles of accommodation on which This arrangement was made, and to show that the contending interests of the states led them to establish the representation as it now stands. In the second place, I attempted to prove that, in point of number, the representation would be perfectly secure. Sir, no man agrees more perfectly than myself to the main principle for which the gentlemen contend. I agree that there should be a broad democratic branch in the national legislature. But this matter, sir, depends on circumstances. It is impossible, in the first instance, to be precise and exact with regard to the number; and it is equally impossible to determine to what point it may be proper in future to increase it. On this ground I am disposed to acquiesce. In my reasonings on this subject of government, I rely more one the interests and opinions of men, than on any speculative parchment provisions whatever. I have found that constitutions are more or less excellent as they are more or less agreeable to the natural operation of things. I am, therefore, disposed not to dwell long on curious speculations, or pay much attention to modes and forms; but to adopt a system whose principles have been sanctioned by experience, adapt it to the real state of our country, and depend on probable reasonings for its operation and result. I contend that sixty-five and twenty-six, in two bodies, afford perfect security, in the present state of things; and that the regular progressive enlargement, which was an the contemplation of the general Convention, will leave not an apprehension of danger in the most timid and suspicious mind. It will be the interest of the large states to increase the representation. This will be the standing instruction to
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their delegates. But, say the gentlemen, the members of Congress will be interested not to increase the number, as it will diminish their relative influence. In all their reasoning upon this subject, there seems to be this fallacy: They suppose that the representative will have no motive of action, on the one side, but a sense of duty; or on the other, but corruption. They do not reflect that he is to return to the community; that he is dependent on the will of the people, and that it cannot be his interest to oppose their wishes. Sir, the general sense of the people will regulate the conduct of their representatives. I admit that there are exceptions this rule: there are certain conjunctures, when it may be necessary and proper to disregard the opinions which the majority of the people have formed. But, in the general course of things, the popular views, and even prejudices, will direct the actions of the rulers.
All governments, even the most despotic, depend, in a great degree, on opinion. In free republics, it is most peculiarly the case. In these, the will of the people makes the essential principle of the government; and the laws which control the community receive their tone and spirit from the public wishes. It is the fortunate situation of our country, that the minds of the people are exceedingly enlightened and refined. Here, then, we may expect the laws to be proportionably agreeable to the standard of perfect policy, and the wisdom of public measures to consist with the most intimate conformity between the views of the representative and his constituent. If the general voice of the people be for an increase, it undoubtedly must take place, They have it in their power to instruct their representatives; and the state legislatures, which appoint the senators, may enjoin it also upon them. Sir, if I believed that the number would remain at sixty-five, I confess I should give my vote for an amendment, though in a different form from the one proposed.
The amendment proposes a ratio of one for twenty thousand. I would ask by what rule or reasoning it is determined that one man is a better representative for twenty than thirty thousand. At present we have three millions of people; in twenty-five years, we shall have six millions; and in forty years, nine millions. And this is a short period, as it relates to the existence of states. Here, then, according
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to the ratio of one for thirty thousand, we shall have, in forty years, three hundred representatives. If this be true, and if this be a safe representation, why be dissatisfied? Why embarrass the Constitution with amendments that are merely speculative and useless? I agree with the gentleman, that a very small number might give some color for suspicion. I acknowledge that ten would be unsafe; on the other hand, a thousand would be too numerous. But I ask him, Why will not ninety-one be an adequate and safe representation? This, at present, appears to be the proper medium. Besides, the President of the United States will be himself the representative of the people. From the competition that ever subsists between the branches of government, the President will be induced to protect their rights, whenever they are invaded by either branch. On whatever side we view this subject, we discover various and powerful checks to the encroachments of Congress. The true and permanent interests of the members are opposed to corruption. Their number is vastly too large for easy combination. The rivalship between the houses will forever prove an insuperable obstacle. The people have an obvious and powerful protection in their state governments. Should any thing dangerous be attempted, these bodies of perpetual observation will be capable of forming and conducting plans of regular opposition. Can we suppose the people's love of liberty will not, under the incitement of their legislative leaders, be roused into resistance, and the madness of tyranny be extinguished at a blow? Sir, the danger is too distant; it is beyond all rational calculations.
It has been observed, by an honorable gentleman, that a pure democracy, if it were practicable, would be the most perfect government. Experience has proved that no position in politics is more false than this. The ancient democracies, in which the people themselves deliberated, never possessed one feature of good government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure, deformity. When they assembled, the field of debate presented an ungovernable mob, not only incapable of deliberation, but prepared for every enormity. In these assemblies, the enemies of the people brought forward their plans of ambition systematically. They were opposed their enemies of another party; and it became a matter of contingency, whether the people subjected
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themselves to be led blindly by one tyrant or by another.
It was remarked yesterday, that a numerous representation was necessary to obtain the confidence of the people. This is not generally true. The confidence of the people will easily be gained by a good administration. This is the true touchstone. I could illustrate the position by a variety of historical examples, both ancient and modern. In Sparta, the ephori were a body of magistrates, instituted as a check upon the senate, and representing the people. They consisted of only five men; but they were able to protect their rights, and therefore enjoyed their confidence and attachment. In Rome, the people were represented by three tribunes, who were afterwards increased to ten. Every one acquainted with the history of that republic will recollect how powerful a check to the senatorial encroachments this small body proved; how unlimited a confidence was placed in them by the people, whose guardians they were; and to what a conspicuous station in the government their influence at length elevated the plebeians. Massachusetts has three hundred representatives; New York has sixty-five. Have the people in this state less confidence in their representation than the people of that? Delaware has twenty-one. Do the inhabitants of New York feel a higher confidence than those of Delaware? I have stated these examples to prove that the gentleman's principle is not just. The popular confidence depends on circumstances very distinct from considerations of number. Probably the public attachment is more strongly secured by a train of prosperous events, which are the result of wise deliberation and vigorous execution, and to which large bodies are much less competent than small ones. If the representative conducts with propriety, he will necessarily enjoy the good-will of the constituent. It appears, then, if my reasoning be just, that the clause is perfectly proper, upon the principles of the gentleman who contends for the amendment; as there is in it the greatest degree of present security, and a moral certainty of an increase equal to our utmost wishes.
It has been further, by the gentlemen in the opposition, observed, that a large representation is necessary to understand the interests of the people. This principle is by no means true in the extent to which the gentlemen seem to
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carry it. I would ask, Why may not a man understands the interests of thirty as well as of twenty? The position appears to be made upon the unfounded presumption that all the interests of all parts of the community must be represented. No idea is more erroneous than this. Only such interests are proper to be represented as are involved in the powers of the general government. These interests come completely under the observation of one or a few men; and the requisite information is by no means augmented in proportion to the increase of number. What are the objects of the government? Commerce, taxation, &c. In order to comprehend the interests of commerce, is it necessary to know how wheat is raised, and in what proportion it is produced in one district and in another? By no means. Neither is this species of knowledge necessary in general calculations upon the subject of taxation. The information necessary for these purposes is that which is open to every intelligent inquirer, and of which five men may be as perfectly possessed as fifty. In royal governments, there are usually particular men to whom the business of taxation is committed. These men have the forming of systems of finance, and the regulation of the revenue. I do not mean to commend this practice. It proves, however, this point—that a few individuals may be competent to these objects, and that large numbers are not necessary to perfection in the science of taxation. But grant, for a moment, that this minute and local knowledge the gentlemen contend for is necessary; let us see if, under the new Constitution, it will not probably be, found in the representation. The natural and proper mode of holding elections will be, to divide the state into districts, in proportion to the number to be elected. This state will consequently be divided, at first, into six. One man from each district will probably possess all the knowledge gentlemen can desire. Are the senators of this state more ignorant of the interests of the people than the Assembly? Have they not ever enjoyed their confidence as much? Yet, instead of six districts, they are elected in four; and the chance of their being collected from the smaller divisions of the state consequently diminishes. Their number is but twenty-four; and their powers are coextensive with those of the Assembly, and reach objects which are most dear to the people—life, liberty, and property.
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Sir, we hear constantly a great deal which is rather calculated to awake our passions, and create prejudices, than to conduct us to the truth, and teach us our real interests. I do not suppose this to be the design of the gentlemen. Why, then, are we told so often of an aristocracy? For my part, I hardly know the meaning of this word, as it is applied. If all we hear be true, this government is really a very bad one. But who are the aristocracy among us? Where do we find men elevated to a perpetual rank above their fellow-citizens, and possessing powers entirely independent of them? The arguments of the gentlemen only go to prove that there are men who are rich, men who are poor, some who are wise and others who are not; that, indeed, every distinguished man is an aristocrat. This reminds me of a description of the aristocrats I have seen in a late publication styled the Federal Farmer. The author reckons in the aristocracy all governors of states, members of Congress, chief magistrates and all officers of the militia. This description, I presume to say, is ridiculous. The image is a phantom. Does the new government render a rich man more eligible than a poor one? No. It requires no such qualification. It is bottomed on the broad and equal principle of your state constitution.
Sir, if the people have it in their option to elect their most meritorious men, is this to be considered as an objection? Shall the Constitution oppose their wishes, and abridge their most invaluable privilege? While property continues to be pretty equally divided, and a considerable share of in formation pervades the community, the tendency of the people's suffrages will be to elevate merit even from obscurity. As riches increase and accumulate in few hands as luxury prevails in society, virtue will be in a greater degree considered as only a graceful appendage of wealth, and the tendency of things will be to depart from the republican standard, This is the real disposition of human nature: it is what neither the honorable member nor myself can correct it is a common misfortune, that awaits our state constitution as well as all others.
There is an advantage incident to large districts of election which perhaps the gentlemen, amidst all their apprehensions of influence and bribery, have not adverted to. In large districts, the corruption of the electors is much more difficult combinations for the purposes of intrigue are less easily
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formed; factions and cabals are little known. In a small district, wealth will have a more complete influence, because the people in the vicinity of a great man are more immediately his dependants, and because this influence has fewer objects to act upon. It has been remarked, that it would be disagreeable to the middle class of men to go to the seat of the new government. If this be so, the difficulty will be enhanced by the gentleman's proposal. If his argument be true, it proves that the larger the representation is, the less will be your chance of having it filled. But it appears to me frivolous to bring forward such arguments as these. It has answered no other purpose than to induce me, by way of reply, to enter into discussion, which I consider as useless, and not applicable to our subject.
It is a harsh doctrine that men grow wicked in proportion as they improve and enlighten their minds. Experience has by no means justified us in the supposition that there is more virtue in one class of men than in another. Look through the rich and the poor of the community, the learned and the ignorant. Where does virtue predominate? The difference indeed consists, not in the quantity, but kind, of vices which are incident to various classes; and here the advantage of character belongs to the wealthy. Their vices are probably more favorable to the prosperity of the state than those of the indigent, and partake less of moral depravity.
After all, sir, we must submit to this idea, that the true principle of a republic is, that the people should choose whom they please to govern them. Representation is imperfect proportion as the current of popular favor is checked. This great source of free government, popular election, should be perfectly pure, and the most unbounded liberty allowed. Where this principle is adhered to; where, in the organization of the government, the legislative, executive, and judicial branches are rendered distinct; where, again, the legislature is divided into separate houses, and the operations of each are controlled by various checks and balances, and, above all, by the vigilance and weight of the state governments, — to talk of tyranny, and the subversion of our liberties, is to speak the language of enthusiasm. This balance between the national and state governments ought to be dwelt on with peculiar attention, as it is of the utmost importance. It forms a double security to the people. If one encroaches on
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their rights, they will find a powerful protection in the other. Indeed, they will both be prevented from overpassing their constitutional limits, by a certain rivalship, which will ever subsist between them. I am persuaded that a firm union is as necessary to perpetuate our liberties as it is to make us respectable; and experience will probably prove that the national government will be as natural a guardian of our freedom as the state legislature themselves.
Suggestions, sir, of an extraordinary nature, have been frequently thrown out in the course of the present political controversy. It gives me pain to dwell on topics of this kind, and I wish they might be dismissed. We have been told that the old Confederation has proved inefficacious, only because intriguing and powerful men, aiming at a revolution, have been forever instigating the people, and rendering them disaffected with it. This, sir, is a false insinuation. The thing is impossible. I will venture to assert, that no combination of designing men under heaven will be capable of making a government unpopular which is in its principles a wise and good one, and vigorous in its operations.
The Confederation was framed amidst the agitation and tumults of society. It was composed of unsound materials, put together in haste. Men of intelligence discovered the feebleness of the structure, in the first stages of its existence; but the great body of the people, too much engrossed with their distresses to contemplate any but the immediate causes of them, were ignorant of the defects of their constitution. But when the dangers of war were removed, they saw clearly what they had suffered, and what they had yet to suffer, from a feeble form of government. There was no need of discerning men to convince the people of their unhappy situation; the complaint was coëxtensive with the evil and both were common to all classes of the community. We have been told that the spirit of patriotism and love of liberty are almost extinguished among the people, and that it has become a prevailing doctrine that republican principles ought to be hooted out of the world. Sir, I am confident that such remarks as these are rather occasioned by the heat of argument than by a cool conviction of their truth and justice. As far as my experience has extended, I have heard no such doctrine; nor have I discovered any diminution of regard for those rights and liberties, in defence of which the people
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have fought and suffered. There have been, undoubtedly, some men who have had speculative doubts on the subject of government; but the principles of republicanism are founded on too firm a basis to be shaken by a few speculative and skeptical reasoners. Our error has been of a very different kind. We have erred through excess of caution, and a zeal false and impracticable. Our counsels have been destitute of consistency and stability. I am flattered with the hope, sir, that we have now found a cure for the evils under which we have so long labored. I trust that the proposed Constitution affords a genuine specimen of representative and republican government, and that it will answer, in an eminent degree, all the beneficial purposes of society.
The Hon. MELANCTON SMITH rose, and observed, that the gentleman might have spared many of his remarks in answer to the ideas he had advanced. The only way to remedy and correct the faults in the proposed Constitution was, he imagined, to increase the representation and limit the powers. He admitted that no precise number could be fixed upon. His object only was to augment the number in such a degree as to render the government more favorable to liberty. The gentleman had charged his argument, that it would be the interest of Congress to diminish the number of representatives, as being puerile. It was only made in answer to another of the gentleman's, which he thought equally weak—to that it would be their interest to increase it. It appeared to him, he said, evident that the relative interests of the states would not be in the least degree increased by augmenting the numbers. The honorable member had assured the committee that the states would be checks upon the general government, and had pledged himself to point out and demonstrate the operation of these checks. For his own part, he could see no possibility of checking a government of independent powers, which extended to all objects and resources without limitation. What he lamented was, that no constitutional cheeks were provided—such checks as would not leave the exercise of government to the operation of causes which, in their nature, are variable and uncertain.
The honorable member had observed, that the confidence of the people was not necessarily connected with the number of their rulers, and had cited the ephori of Sparta, and the tribunes in Rome, as examples. But it ought to be considered,
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that, in those places, the people were to contend with a body of hereditary nobles; they would, therefore, naturally have confidence in a few men who were their leaders in the constant struggle for liberty. The comparison between the representations of several states did not better apply. New York had but sixty-five representatives in Assembly. But because sixty-five was a proper representation of two hundred and forty thousand, did it follow that it was also sufficient for three millions? The state legislatures had not the powers of the general government, and were not competent to those important regulations which might endanger liberty.
The gentleman, continued Mr. Smith, had ridiculed his idea of an aristocracy, and had entered into a definition of the word. He himself agreed to this definition, but the dispute was not of words, but things. He was convinced that in every society there were certain men exalted above the rest. These men he did not consider as destitute of morality or virtue. He only insisted that they could not feel sympathetically the wants of the people.
The Hon. Mr. LANSING said that, in the course of the observations made on the paragraph under consideration, it had been shown that the democratic branch ought to possess the feelings of the people, and be above corruption. It was, therefore, with propriety contended that the House of Representatives ought to be large. This had been objected to, he said, because it was difficult to ascertain the precise number proper for this end. But though we could not always hit the exact medium, yet we could generally avoid the extremes. Allowing that it was the interest of the larger states to increase the representation, yet it would be imprudent to trust a matter of such infinite importance to possibilities, or the uncertain operations of interest. He said, we had it now in our power to fix and provide for the operations of this government; and we ought to embrace the opportunity. An honorable gentleman had said, that the state of New York had trusted her liberties to a few men. But was this a reason why the rights of the United States should be submitted to an equal number? The representatives of New York, in Assembly, were chosen from all parts of the state; they were intimately connected with and dependent on the people. In the general government, they
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were to be selected from the superior class of citizens, subject to little or no control. Would it be prudent said he, to trust the affairs of this extensive continent to a body of men, forty-six of whom would be competent to pass laws, and twenty-four of these a majority? The House of Commons of Great Britain consisted of more than eight times the number, and yet that house had been frequently corrupted. How much more easily might so small a body the Congress be infected!
His Excellency, Gov. CLINTON. I rise, Mr. Chairman, to make a few observations, with a view to obtain information, and to discover on which side of this important question the truth rests. I have attended, with pleasure, to the gentlemen who have spoken before me. They appear, however, to have omitted some considerations, which have tended to convince my mind, that the representation in Congress ought to be more comprehensive and full than is proposed by this Constitution. It is said, that the representation of this state in the legislature is smaller than the representation of the United States will be in the general government. Hence it is inferred that the federal government, which, it is said, does not embrace more interesting powers than that of the states, will be more favorable to the liberties of the people, on the principle that safety consists in numbers. This appears plausible at first view; but if we examine it, we shall discover it to be only plausible. The cases, indeed, are so different, as to admit of little comparison; and this dissimilarity depends on the difference of extent of territory. Each state is but a narrow district, compared with the United States. The situation of its commerce, its agriculture, and the system of its resources, will be proportionably more uniform and simple. To a knowledge of these circumstances, therefore, every member of the state legislature will be in some degree competent. He will have a considerable share of information necessary for enacting laws which are to operate in every part of the state. The easy communication with a large number of representatives, from the minute districts of the state, will increase his acquaintance with the public wants. All the representatives, having the same advantages, will furnish a mass of information, which will be the securest defence from error. How different will be the situation of the general
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government! The body of the legislature will be totally unacquainted with all those local circumstances of any particular state, which mark the proper objects of laws, and especially of taxation. A few men, possessed of but a very general knowledge of these objects, must alone furnish Congress with that information on which they are to act; and on these few men, in the most interesting transactions, must they rely. Do not these considerations afford reasons for an enlargement of the representation?
Another argument may be suggested to show, that there will be more safety in the state than in the federal government. In the states the legislators, being generally known, and under the perpetual observation of their fellow-citizens, feel strongly the check resulting from the facility of communication and discovery. In a small territory, maladministration is easily corrected, and designs unfavorable to liberty frustrated and punished. But in large confederacies, the alarm excited by small and gradual encroachments rarely extends to the distant members, or inspires a general spirit of resistance. When we take a view of the United States, we find them embracing interests as various as their territory is extensive. Their habits, their productions, their resources, and their political and commercial regulations, are as different as those of any nation upon earth. A general law, therefore, which might be well calculated for Georgia, might operate most disadvantageously and cruelly upon New York. However, I only suggest these observations, for the purpose of hearing them satisfactorily answered. I am open to conviction, and if my objections can be removed, I shall be ready frankly to acknowledge their weakness.
The Hon. Mr. HAMILTON. Mr. Chairman, I rise to take notice of the observation of the honorable member from Ulster. I imagine the objections he has stated are susceptible of a complete and satisfactory refutation. But, before I proceed to this, I shall attend to the arguments advanced by the gentleman from Albany and Duchess. These arguments have been frequently urged, and much confidence has been placed in their strength. The danger of corruption has been dwelt upon with peculiar emphasis, and presented to our view in the most heightened and unnatural coloring. Events merely possible have been magnified, by distempered imagination, into inevitable realities; and the
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most distant and doubtful conjectures have been formed into a serious and infallible prediction. In the same spirit, the most fallacious calculations have been made. The lowest possible quorum has been contemplated, as the number to transact important business; and a majority of these to decide in all cases on questions of infinite moment. Allowing, for the present, the propriety and truth of these apprehensions, it would be easy, in comparing the two Constitutions, to prove that the chances of corruption under the new are much fewer than those to which the old is exposed. Under the old Confederation, the important powers of declaring war, making peace, &c., can be exercised by nine states. On the presumption that the smallest constitutional number will deliberate and decide, those interesting powers will be committed to fewer men under the ancient than under the new government. In the former, eighteen members, in the latter, not less than twenty-four, may determine all great questions. Thus, on the principles of the gentlemen, the fairer prospect of safety is clearly visible in the new government. That we may have the fullest conviction of the truth of this position, it ought to be suggested, as a decisive argument, that it will ever be the interest of the several states to maintain, under the new government, an ample representation; for, as every member has a vote, the relative influence and authority of each state will be in proportion to the number of representatives she has in Congress. There is not, therefore, a shadow of probability that the number of acting members, in the general legislature, will be ever reduced to a bare quorum; especially as the expense of their support is to be defrayed from a federal treasury. But, under the existing Confederation, each state has but one vote. It will be a matter of indifference, on the score of influence, whether she delegates two or six representatives; and the maintenance of them, forming a striking article in the state expenditures, will forever prove a capital inducement to retain or withdraw from the federal legislatures those delegates which her selfishness may too often consider as superfluous.
There is another source of corruption, in the old government, which the proposed plan is happily calculated to remedy. The concurrence of nine states, as has been observed, is necessary to pass resolves the most important, and on which the safety of the pubic may depend. If these nine
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states are at any time assembled, a foreign enemy, by dividing a state, and gaining over and silencing a single member, may frustrate the most indispensable plan of national policy, and totally prevent a measure essential to the welfare or existence of the empire. Here, then, we find a radical, dangerous defect, which will forever embarrass and obstruct the machine of government, and suspend our fate on the uncertain virtue of an individual. What a difference between the old and new Constitution strikes our view! In the one, corruption must embrace a majority; in the other, her poison, administered to a single man, may render the efforts of a majority totally vain. This mode of corruption is still more dangerous, as its operations are more secret and imperceptible. The exertions of active villany are commonly accompanied with circumstances which tend to its own exposure; but this negative kind of guilt has so many plausible apologies as almost to elude suspicion.
In all reasonings on the subject of corruption, much use has been made of the examples furnished by the British House of Commons. Many mistakes have arisen from fallacious comparisons between our government and theirs. It is time that the real state of this matter should be explained. By far the greatest part of the House of Commons is composed of representatives of towns or boroughs. These towns had anciently no voice in Parliament; but on the extension of commercial wealth and influence, they were admitted to a seat. Many of them are in the possession and gift of the king; and, from their dependence on him, and the destruction of the right of free election, they are stigmatized with the appellation of rotten boroughs.* This is the true source of the corruption which has so long excited the severe animadversion of zealous politicians and patriots. But the knights of the shire, who form another branch of the House of Commons, and who are chosen from the body of the counties they represent, have been generally esteemed a virtuous and incorruptible set of men. I appeal, sir, to the history of that house: this will show us that the fights of the people have ever been safely trusted to their protection;
[*Note: By the British Parliamentary Reform Act, 9th June, 1833, 56 rotten boroughs have been disfranchised; 30 others cut down to a single member; 19 new boroughs of one member each, and 62 new county members, added. Total number of members, 655.]
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that they have been the ablest bulwarks of the British commons; and that, in the conflict of parties, by throwing their weight into one scale or the other, they have uniformly supported and strengthened the constitutional claims of the people. Notwithstanding the cry of corruption that has been perpetually raised against the House of Commons, it has been found that that house, sitting at first without any constitutional authority, became, at length, an essential member of the legislature, and have since, by regular gradations, acquired new and important accessions of privilege; that they have, on numerous occasions, impaired the prerogative, and limited the monarchy.
An honorable member from Duchess (Mr. Smith) has observed, that the delegates from New York (for example) can have very little information of the local circumstances of Georgia or South Carolina, except from the representatives of those states; and on this ground insists upon the expediency of an enlargement of the representation; since, otherwise, the majority must rely too much on the information of a few. In order to determine whether there is any weight in this reasoning, let us consider the powers of the national government, and compare them with the objects of state legislation. The powers of the new government are general, and calculated to embrace the aggregate interests of the Union, and the general interest of each state, so far as it stands in relation to the whole. The object of the state governments is to provide for their internal interests, as unconnected with the United States, and as composed of minute parts or districts. A particular knowledge, therefore, of the local circumstances of any state, as they may vary in different districts, is unnecessary for the federal representative. As he is not to represent the interests or local wants of the county of Duchess or Montgomery, neither is it necessary that he should be acquainted with their particular resources. But in the state governments, as the laws regard the interest of the people, in all their various minute divisions, it is necessary that the smallest interests should be represented. Taking these distinctions into view, I think it must appear evident, that one discerning and intelligent man will be as capable of understanding and representing the general interests of a state as twenty; because one man can be as fully acquainted with the general state of the commerce,
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manufactures, population, production, and common resources of a state, which are the proper objects of federal legislation. It is presumed that few men originally possess a complete knowledge of the circumstances of other States. They must rely, therefore, on the information to be collected from the representatives of those states. And if the above reasoning be just, it appears evident, I imagine, that this reliance will be as secure as can be desired.
Sir, in my experience of public affairs, I have constantly remarked, in the conduct of members of Congress, a strong and uniform attachment to the interests of their own state. These interests have, on many occasions, been adhered to with an undue and illiberal pertinacity, and have too often been preferred to the welfare of the Union. This attachment has given birth to an unaccommodating spirit of party, which has frequently embarrassed the best measures. It is by no means, however, an object of surprise. The early connections we have formed, the habits and prejudices in which we have been bred, fix our affections so strongly, that no future objects of association can easily eradicate them. This, together with the entire and immediate dependence the representative feels on his constituent, will generally incline him to prefer the particular before the public good.
The subject on which this argument of a small representation has been most plausibly used, is taxation. As to internal taxation, in which the difficulty principally rests, it is not probable that any general regulation will originate in the national legislature. If Congress, in times of great danger and distress, should be driven to this resource, they will undoubtedly adopt such measures as are most conformable to the laws and customs of each state. They will take up your own codes, and consult your own systems. This is a source of information which cannot mislead, and which will be equally accessible to every member. It will teach them the most certain, safe, and expeditious mode of laying and collecting taxes in each state. They will appoint the officers of revenue agreeably to the spirit of your particular establishments, or they will make use of your own.
Sir, the most powerful obstacle to the members of Congress betraying the interest of their constituents, is the state legislatures themselves, who will be standing bodies of observation, possessing the confidence of the people, jealous of
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federal encroachments, and armed with every power to check the first essays of treachery. They will institute regular modes of inquiry. The complicated domestic attachments, which subsist between the state legislators and their electors, will ever make them vigilant guardians of the people's rights. Possessed of the means and the disposition of resistance, the spirit of opposition will be easily communicated to the people, and, under the conduct of an organized body of leaders, will act with weight and system. Thus it appears that the very structure of the confederacy affords the surest preventives from error, and the most powerful checks to misconduct.
Sir, there is something in an argument that has been urged, which, if it proves any tiling, concludes against all union and all governments; it goes to prove that no powers should be intrusted to any body of men, because they may be abused. This is an argument of possibility and chance—one that would render useless all reasonings upon the probable operation of things, and defeat the established principles of natural and moral causes. It is a species of reasoning sometimes used to excite popular jealousies, but is generally discarded by wise and discerning men. I do not suppose that the honorable member who advanced the idea had any such design. He undoubtedly would not wish to extend his arguments to the destruction of union or government; but this, sir, is its real tendency.
It has been asserted that the interests, habits, and manners of the thirteen states are different; and hence it is inferred that no general free government can suit them. This diversity of habits, &c., has been a favorite theme with those who are disposed for a division of our empire, and, like many other popular objections, seems to be founded on fallacy. I acknowledge that the local interests of the states are in some degree various, and that there is some difference in the manners and habits. But this I will presume to affirm, that, from New Hampshire to Georgia, the people of America are as uniform in their interests and manners as those of any established in Europe. This diversity, to the eye of a speculatist, may afford some marks of characteristic discrimination, but cannot form an impediment to the regular operation of those general powers which the constitution gives to the united government. Were the laws of the
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Union to new-model the internal police of any state; were they to alter, or abrogate at a blow, the whole of its civil and criminal institutions; were they to penetrate the recesses of domestic life, and control, in all respects, the private conduct of individuals,—there might be more force in the objection; and the same Constitution, which was happily calculated for one state, might sacrifice the welfare of another. Though the difference of interests may create some difficulty, and apparent partiality, in the first operations of government, yet the same spirit of accommodation, which produced the plan under discussion, would be exercised in lessening the weight of unequal burdens. Add to this, that, under the regular and gentle influence of general laws, these varying interests will be constantly assimilating, till they embrace each other, and assume the same complexion.
Gov. CLINTON. The gentleman has attempted to give an unjust and unnatural coloring to my observations. I am really at a loss to determine whence he draws his inference. I declare that the dissolution of the Union is, of all events, the remotest from my wishes. That gentleman may wish for a consolidated, I wish for a federal republic. The object of both of us is a firm, energetic government; and we may both have the good of our country in view, though we disagree as to the means of procuring it. It is not fair reasoning to infer that a man wants no government at all, because he attempts to qualify it so as to make it safe and easy.
| ALEXANDER HAMILTON
Mr. HAMILTON. I only rise to observe that the gentleman has misunderstood me. What I meant to express was this—that if we argued from possibilities only,—if we reasoned from chances, or an ungovernable propensity to evil, instead of taking into view the control Which the nature of things, or the form of the Constitution, provided,—the argument would lead us to withdraw all confidence from our fellow-citizens, and discard the chimerical idea of government. This is a true deduction from such reasoning.
|Mr. SMITH then made a few observations; after which the committee rose, and the Convention adjourned to Monday morning at ten o'clock.
|June 23, 1788
| RICHARD HARRISON
Monday, June 23, 1788.—Mr. HARRISON. The subject under consideration, Mr. Chairman, is of the highest importance. It is a subject with which the liberties, the prosperity, and the glory of our country are most intimately
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connected. It has very properly employed the time and attention of the greatest and wisest men. Impressed with the most earnest desire to discover truth, and to acquit myself well in defence of its cause, I have listened with attention to the gentlemen who have spoken before me. It may, at first view, appear unnecessary to enlarge on a point which has undergone so thorough a discussion; but I trust the committee will consider no time lost which is spent on this interesting subject.
The gentlemen who have preceded me in the debate, however they may have differed with respect to certain points, they have agreed in others of capital importance, and which I shall beg leave in a concise manner to review. It is conceded that the old Confederation is inadequate to the purposes of good government; that, for its support, it has no other resources but feeble requisitions, which may be complied with or rejected by the states, as whim, caprice, or local interest, may influence them: in this point, gentlemen have agreed that remedy is necessary. The second point agreed on, and which is of equal consequence, is, that a close union is essential to the prosperity of the states; that, therefore, some measures should be pursued to strengthen that union, and prevent a dissolution. But, sir, interesting as these points are, there is another, which, on all sides, has been conceded, and which shall ever govern my conduct. It is, that, although the union ought to be secured, we are by no means to sacrifice to it the liberties of the people. It is our duty, sir, to abandon prejudices, and examine the Constitution closely and candidly; and if we find that it leads to the sacrifice I have mentioned, we shall undoubtedly reject it. But if, on the contrary, we discover that its principles tend to unite the perfect security of liberty with the stability of union, we shall adopt it with a unanimity which will recommend it to the confidence of the people.
I come now, sir, to offer a few ideas on the article under debate. Among the objections, that which has been made to the mode of apportionment of representatives has been relinquished. I think this concession does honor to the gentleman who had stated the objection. He has candidly acknowledged that this apportionment was the result of accommodation, without which no union could have been formed. But, sir, there are other objections, which are certainly
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plausible, and which, were they made to the paragraph in its genuine sense, I would acknowledge to be forcible. The gentlemen first consider the House of Representatives as too small, and not capable of representing the interests of their constituents. I cannot, by any means, agree with them, that there probably will be a time when six men cannot, in this state, be found sufficiently honest and well informed to represent the feelings, as well as interests, of the body of the people. The gentlemen should, in the debate, have adverted to this circumstance, that the number, as well as the apportionment, of representatives was a matter of conciliation; that some states, impressed with a sense of the public burdens, were willing to oppress the people as little as possible: they were disinclined to have that body more numerous than was requisite to insure and protect their liberties and their true interests. We might suppose the number proposed in the Constitution to be inadequate: they were of a different opinion. But, sir, though the number specified in this article were barely sufficient, or even too small, yet I contend that it is a thing merely temporary, and that the article itself clearly provides a remedy. An honorable gentleman, who preceded me, has proved that the article contemplates and secures a regular increase of the representation. I confess that my mind is entirely satisfied with his reasoning.
I beg leave, however, sir, to state the subject to the committee in one more point of light. It appears to me that the gentlemen who have supposed that Congress have it in their power to reduce the number, have not attended, with sufficient care, to the language of the paragraph. It is declared that the representation shall be in proportion to the number of inhabitants, and that every state shall have at least one. The state of Delaware may contain about thirty-three thousand inhabitants. Every gentleman acquainted with that state knows that it has been long settled, and probably has been for some time stationary in point of population. While the large tracts of vacant territory in the states which surround it hold out so many allurements to emigration, I am convinced there is no prospect of its increasing, at least for a very long period of years. When I make this observation, I think I argue from established principles. From this I infer that there is the utmost probability that
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the number of Delaware will be taken as the standard. If this be done, the number composing the House of Representatives, after the first census, will be more than sixty-five, which is the present number; because this specified number is calculated on the ratio of about one for forty thousand. Upon the same principles, while Delaware is stationary, and the population of the other states advances rapidly, the number of Delaware will continue to be the standard. Thus, if Delaware, at the first census, contains thirty-five thousand inhabitants, New York may then contain about two hundred and sixty-five thousand, and will be entitled to eight representatives. To pursue the argument a little further: It will ever be the interest of the larger states to keep the ratio uniform, by assuming the number of the smallest state as the standard; because, by this, as the smallest state will be confined to one, the relative influence of the larger states will be augmented. For example: if Delaware possesses thirty thousand, and Maryland a hundred thousand, it will be the interest of Maryland to fix the ratio at one for thirty, and not one for forty thousand, because, in the first case, she will have three representatives, or two more than Delaware; in the latter, she will have only two representatives, or one more than Delaware. This reasoning appears to me to lead to mathematical certainty.
According to the ratio established in the Constitution, as the number of the inhabitants in the United States increases, the number of representatives would also increase ton great degree, and in a century would become an unwieldy mob. It is therefore expedient and necessary that the Constitution should be so framed as to leave to the general legislature a discretionary power to limit the representation by forming a new ratio. These considerations have left no doubt in my mind of the propriety of the article under debate. I am clear that it contemplates an increase, till the extensive population of the country shall render a limitation indispensable. What, then, is the object of our fears? I am convinced that a legislature composed of ninety-one members is amply sufficient for the present state of our country. I have too high an opinion of the integrity of my fellow-citizens to believe they will or can be corrupted in three years, and at the expiration of this term, the increase I mention will most assuredly take place. Let us, therefore, dispel all visionary
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apprehensions on this subject, and, disregarding possible dangers, let us reason from the probable operation of things, and rely on this for our safety.
| JOHN LANSING
The Hon. Mr. LANSING. I do not rise, Mr. Chairman, to answer any of the arguments of the gentlemen, but to mention a few facts. In this debate, much reliance has been placed on an accommodation which took place in the general Convention. I will state the progress of that business. When the subject of the apportionment of representatives came forward, the large states insisted that the equality of suffrage should be abolished. This the small states opposed, contending that it would reduce them to a state of subordination. There was such a division that a dissolution of the Convention appeared unavoidable, unless some conciliatory measure was adopted. A committee of the states was then appointed, to agree upon some plan for removing the embarrassment. They recommended, in their report, the inequality of representation, which is the groundwork of the section under debate. With respect to the ratio of representation, it was at first determined that it should be one for forty thousand. In this situation the subject stood when I left the Convention. The objection to a numerous representation, on account of the expense, was not considered as a matter of importance: other objections to it, however, were fully discussed; but no question was taken.
Sir, I rose only to state this subject in the point of view in which it appeared to me: I shall, however, since I am up, pay some attention to the arguments which have been advanced. It is acknowledged that this clause may be so construed, as that, if the people of the smallest state shall amount to fifty thousand, this number may be taken as the ratio. What, then, is to control the general government? If I understand the gentlemen right, they grant that, by the plain Construction of the clause, Congress may fix the ratio as high as they please: if so, they will have no other control than the precarious operation of interest. Now, the Very argument of the gentlemen on the point of interest seems to imply that it will be the interest of the small states to limit the representation; for these states, like Delaware, not increasing, will be interested in allowing the growing states as small a number of representatives as possible, in proportion to their own. If, then, it be the interest of the
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larger states to augment the representation, it will be equally the interest of the smaller states to diminish it; and their equal suffrage in the Senate will enable them to oppose the policy of the large states with success.
In the discussion of this subject, it has been found necessary to bring several objections into view, which will not be very strongly insisted on. The gentleman who suggested them declared that he did not intend they should embarrass or prolong the debates. He only mentioned them to show that it would be our disposition to conciliate in certain points of inferior magnitude, provided we could secure such essential rights of the people as we supposed this Constitution would have a tendency to infringe. The question has been fully discussed; and I believe few new lights can be thrown on it. Much time will be spent, if we pursue the investigation in so slow and minute a manner. However, if the subject can receive any further elucidation, I shall not think the time lost.
| ALEXANDER HAMILTON
Hon. Mr. HAMILTON. It is not my design, Mr. Chairman, to extend this debate by any new arguments on the general subject. I have delivered my sentiments so fully on what has been advanced by the gentlemen this morning, that any further reasoning from me will be easily dispensed with. I only rise to state a fact with respect to the motives which operated in the general Convention. I had the honor to state to the committee the diversity of interests which prevailed between the navigating and non-navigating, the large and the small states, and the influence which those states had upon the conduct of each. It is true, a difference did take place between the large and the small states, the latter insisting on equal advantages in the House of Representatives. Some private business calling me to New York, I left the Convention for a few days: on my return, I found a plan, reported by the committee of details; and soon after, a motion was made to increase the number of representatives. On this occasion, the members rose from one side and the other, and declared that the plan reported was entirely a work of accommodation, and that to make any alterations in it would destroy the Constitution. I discovered that several of the states, particularly New Hampshire, Connecticut, and New Jersey, thought it would be difficult to send a great number of delegates from the extremes of
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the continent to the national government: they apprehended their constituents would be displeased with a very expensive government; and they considered it as a formidable objection. After some debate on this motion, it was withdrawn. Many of the facts stated by the gentleman and myself are not substantially different. The truth is, the plan, in all its parts, was a plan of accommodation.
Mr. LANSING. I will enter no further into a discussion of the motives of the Convention; but there is one point in which the gentleman and myself do not agree. The committee of details recommend an equality in the Senate. In addition to this, it was proposed that every forty thousand should send one representative to the general legislature. Sir, if it was a system of accommodation, and to remain untouched, how came that number afterwards to be reduced to thirty thousand?
| ALEXANDER HAMILTON
Mr. HAMILTON. I recollect well the alteration which the gentleman alludes to; but it by no means militates against my idea of the principles on which the Convention acted, at the time the report of the committee was under deliberation. This alteration did not take place till the Convention was near rising, and the business completed; when his excellency, the president, expressing a wish that the number should be reduced to thirty thousand, it was agreed to without opposition.
| ROBERT R. LIVINGSTON
Mr. Chancellor LIVINGSTON. The gentleman from Duchess appears to have misapprehended some of the ideas which dropped from me. My argument was, that a republic might very properly be formed by a league of states, but that the laws of the general legislature must act, and be enforced upon individuals. I am contending for this species of government. The gentlemen who have spoken in opposition to me have either misunderstood or perverted my meaning; but, sir, I flatter myself it has not been misunderstood by the Convention at large.
If we examine the history of federal republics, whose legislative powers were exercised only in states, in their collective capacity, we shall find in their fundamental principles the seeds of domestic violence and consequent annihilation. This was the principal reason why I thought the old Confederation would be forever impracticable.
Much has been said, sir, about the number which ought
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to compose the House of Representatives; and the question has been debated with great address by the gentlemen on both sides of the house. It is agreed that the representative body should be so small as to prevent the disorder inseparable from the deliberations of a mob, and yet sufficiently numerous to represent the interests of the people, and to be a safe depository of power. There is, unfortunately, no standard by Which we can determine this matter. Gentlemen who think that a hundred may be the medium, in which the advantages of regular deliberation and the safety of the people are united, will probably be disposed to support the plan as it stands; others, who imagine that no numberless than three or four hundred can insure the preservation of liberty, will contend for an alteration. Indeed, these effects depend so much upon contingency, and upon circumstances totally unconnected with the idea of numbers, that we ought not to be surprised at the want of a standing criterion. On so vague a subject, it is very possible that the opinions of no two gentlemen in this Assembly, if they were governed by their own original reflections, would entirely coincide. I acknowledge myself one of those who suppose the number expressed in the Constitution to be about the proper medium; and yet future experience may induce me to think it too small or too large. When I consider the objects and powers of the general government, I am of opinion that one hundred men may at all times be collected of sufficient information and integrity to manage well the affairs of the Union. Some gentlemen suppose that, to understand and provide for the general interests of commerce and manufactures, our legislators ought to know how all commodities are produced, from the first principle of vegetation to the last polish of mechanical labor; that they ought to be minutely acquainted with all the process of all the arts. If this were true, it would be necessary that a great part of the British House of Commons should be woollen-drapers; yet we seldom find such characters in that celebrated assembly.
As to the idea of representing the feelings of the people, I do not entirely understand it, unless by their feelings are meant their interests. They appear to me to be the same thing. But if they have feelings which do not rise out of their interests, I think they ought not to be represented. What! shall the unjust, the selfish, the unsocial feelings, be
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represented? Shall the vices, the infirmities, the passions, of the people, be represented? Government, sir, would be a monster; laws made to encourage virtue and maintain peace would have a preposterous tendency to subvert the authority and outrage the principles on which they were founded; besides, the feelings of the people are so variable and inconstant, that our rulers should be chosen every day: people have one sort of feeling to-day, another to-morrow, and the voice of the representative must be incessantly changing in correspondence with these feelings. This would be making him a political weathercock.
The honorable gentleman from Duchess, [Mr. Smith,] who has so copiously declaimed against all declamation, has pointed his artillery against the rich and the great. I am not interested in defending rich men: but what does he mean by telling us that the rich are vicious and intemperate? Will he presume to point out to us the class of men in which intemperance is not to be found? Is there less intemperance in feeding on beef than on turtle? or in drinking rum than wine? I think the gentleman does not reason from facts. If he will took round among the rich men of his acquaintance, I fancy he will find them as honest and virtuous as any class in the community. He says the rich are unfeeling; I believe they are less so than the poor; for it seems to me probable that those who are most occupied by their own cares and distresses have the least sympathy with the distresses of others. The sympathy of the poor is generally selfish, that of the rich a more disinterested emotion.
The gentleman further observes, that ambition is peculiarly the vice of the wealthy. But have not all classes of men their objects of ambition? Will not a poor man contend for a constable's staff with as much assiduity and eagerness as a man of rank will aspire to the chief magistracy? The great offices in the state are beyond the new of the poor and ignorant man: he will therefore contemplate an humbler office as the highest alluring object of ambition; he will look with equal envy on a successful competitor, and will equally sacrifice to the attainment of his wishes the duty he owes to his friends or to the public. But, says the gentleman, the rich will be always brought forward; they will exclusively enjoy the suffrages of the people. For my
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own part, I believe that, if two men of equal abilities set out together in life, one rich, the other of small fortune, the latter will generally take the lead in your government. The rich are ever objects of envy; and this, more or less, operates as a bar to their advancement. What is the fact? Let us look around us: I might mention gentlemen in office who have not been advanced for their wealth; I might instance, in particular, the honorable gentleman who presides over this state, who was not promoted to the chief magistracy for his riches, but his virtue.
The gentleman, sensible of the weakness of this reasoning, is obliged to fortify it by having recourse to the phantom aristocracy. I have heard much of this. I always considered it as the bugbear of the party. We are told that, in every country, there is a natural aristocracy, and that this aristocracy consists of the rich and the great: nay, the gentleman goes further, and ranks in this class of men the wise, the learned, and those eminent for their talents or great virtues. Does a man possess the confidence of his fellow-citizens for having done them important services? He is an aristocrat. Has he great integrity? Such a man will be greatly trusted: he is an aristocrat. Indeed, to determine that one is an aristocrat, we need only be assured he is a man of merit. But I hope we have many such. I hope, sir, we are all aristocrats. So sensible am I of that gentleman's talents, integrity, and virtue, that we might at once hail him the first of the nobles, the very prince of the Senate. But whom, in the name of common sense, will we have to represent us? Not the rich, for they are sheer aristocrats. Not the learned, the wise, the virtuous, for they are all aristocrats. Whom then? Why, those who are not virtuous; those who are not wise; those who are not learned: these are the men to whom alone we can trust our liberties. He says further, we ought not to choose these aristocrats, because the people will not have confidence in them; that is, the people will not have confidence in those who best deserve and most possess their confidence. He would have his government composed of other classes of men: where will we find them? Why, he must go out into the highways, and pick up the rogue and the robber; he must go to the hedges and ditches, and bring in the poor, the blind, and the lame. As the gentleman has thus settled the definition of aristocracy,
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I trust that no man will think it a term of reproach; for who among us would not be wise? Who would not be virtuous? Who would not be above want? How, again, would he have us to guard against aristocracy? Clearly by doubling the representation, and sending twelve aristocrats instead of six. The truth is, in these republican governments, we know no such ideal distinctions. We are all equally aristocrats. Offices, emoluments, honors, are open to all.
Much has been said by the gentleman about corruption: he calculates that twenty-four may give the voice of Congress; that is, they will compose a bare majority of a bare quorum of both houses. He supposes here the most singular, and I might add, the most improbable combination of events. First, there is to be a power in the government who has the means, and whose interest it is to be corrupt. Next, twenty-four men are to compose the legislature; and these twenty-four, selected by their fellow-citizens as the most virtuous, are all, in violation of their oath and their real interests, to be corrupted. Then he supposes the virtuous minority inattentive, regardless of their own honor, and the good of their country; making no alarm, no struggle; a whole people suffering the injury of a ruinous law, yet ignorant, inactive, and taking no measures to redress the grievance.
Let us take a view of the present Congress. The gentleman is satisfied with our present federal government, on the score of corruption. Here he has confidence. Though each state may delegate seven, they generally send no more than three; consequently thirty-nine men may transact any business under the old government; while the new legislature, which will be, in all probability, constantly full, will consist of ninety-one. But, say the gentlemen, our present Congress have not the same powers. I answer, They have the very same. Congress have the power of making war and peace, of levying money and raising men; they may involve us in a war at their pleasure; they may negotiate loans to any extent, and make unlimited demands upon the states. Here the gentleman comes forward, and says that the states are to carry these powers into execution; and they have the power of non-compliance. But is not every state bound to comply? What power have they to control Congress in the exercise of those rights which they have
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pledged themselves to support? It is true they have broken, in numerous instances, the compact by which they were obligated; and they may do it again; but will the gentleman draw an argument of security from the facility of violating their faith? Suppose there should be a majority of creditor states, under the present government; might they not combine, and compel us to observe the covenant by which we had bound ourselves?
We are told that this Constitution gives Congress the power over the purse and the sword. Sir, have not all good governments this power? Nay, does any one doubt that, under the old Confederation, Congress holds the purse and the sword? How many loans did they procure, which we are bound to pay! How many men did they raise, whom we are bound to maintain! How will gentlemen say, that that body, which is indeed extremely small, can be more safely trusted than a much larger body, possessed of the same authority? What is the ground of such entire confidence in the one—what the cause of so much jealousy of the other?
An honorable member from New York has viewed the subject of representation in a point of light which had escaped me, and which I think clear and conclusive. He says, that the state of Delaware must have one; and, as that state will not probably increase for a long time, it will be the interest of the larger states to determine the ratio by what Delaware contains. The gentlemen in opposition say, suppose Delaware contains fifty thousand, why not fix the ratio at sixty thousand? Clearly, because by this the other states will give up a sixth part of their interests. The members of Congress, also, from a more private motive, will be induced to augment the representation. The chance of their own reëlection will increase with the number of their colleagues.
It has been further observed that the sense of the people is for a larger representation, and that this ought to govern us—that the people generally are of opinion, that even our House of Assembly is too small. I very much doubt this fact. As far as my observation has extended, I have found a very different sentiment prevail. It seems to be the predominant opinion of our state government; and I presume that the people have as much confidence in their Senate of
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twenty-four as in their Assembly of sixty-five. All these considerations have united to give my mind the most perfect conviction, that the number specified in the Constitution is fully adequate to the present wants of the country, and that this number will be increased to the satisfaction of the most timid and jealous.
Hon. Mr. SMITH. I did not intend to make any more observations on this article. Indeed, I have heard nothing to-day which has not been suggested before, except the polite reprimand I have received for my declamation. I should not have risen again, but to examine who has proved himself the greatest declaimer. The gentleman wishes me to describe what I meant by representing the feelings of the people. If I recollect right, I said the representative ought to understand and govern his conduct by the true interest of the people. I believe I stated this idea precisely. When he attempts to explain my ideas, he explains them away to nothing; and, instead of answering, he distorts, and then sports with them. But he may rest assured that, in the present spirit of the Convention, to irritate is not the way to conciliate. The gentleman, by the false gloss he has given to my argument, makes me an enemy to the rich: this is not true. All I said was, that mankind were influenced, in a great degree, by interests and prejudices; that men, in different ranks of life, were exposed to different temptations, and that ambition was more peculiarly the passion of the rich and great. The gentleman supposes the poor have less sympathy with the sufferings of their fellow-creatures, for that those who feel most distress themselves, have the least regard to the misfortunes of others. Whether this be reasoning or declamation, let all who hear us determine. I observed, that the rich were more exposed to those temptations which rank and power hold out to view; that they were more luxurious and intemperate, because they had more fully the means of enjoyment; that they were more ambitious, because more in the hope of success. The gentleman says my principle is not true, for that a poor man will be as ambitious to be a constable as a rich man to be a governor; but he will not injure his country so much by the party he creates to support his ambition.
The next object of the gentleman's ridicule is my idea of an aristocracy; and, indeed, he has done me the honor to
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rank me in the order. If, then, I am an aristocrat, and yet publicly caution my countrymen against the encroachments of the aristocrats, they will surely consider me as one of the most disinterested friends. My idea of aristocracy is not new; it is embraced by many writers on government. I would refer the gentleman for a definition of it to the Hon. John Adams, one of our natural aristocrats. This writer will give him a description the most ample and satisfactory. But I by no means intended to carry my idea of it to such a ridiculous length as the gentleman would have me; nor will any of my expressions warrant the construction he imposes on them. My argument was, that, in order to have a true and genuine representation, you must receive the middling class of people into your government, such as compose the body of this assembly. I observed that a representation from the United States could not be so constituted as to represent completely the feelings and interests of the people; but that we ought to come as near this object as possible. The gentlemen say, that the exactly proper number of representatives is so indeterminate and vague, that it is impossible for them to ascertain it with any precision. But surely they are able to see the distinction between twenty and thirty. I acknowledge that a complete representation would make the legislature too numerous; and therefore it is our duty to limit the powers, and form the checks on the government, in proportion to the smallness of the number.
The honorable gentleman next animadverts on my apprehensions of corruption, and instances the present Congress, to prove an absurdity in my argument. But is this fair reasoning? There are many material checks to the operations of that body, which the future Congress will not have. In the first place, they are chosen annually. What more powerful check? They are subject to recall. Nine states must agree to any important resolution, which will not be carried into execution till it meets the approbation of the people in the state legislatures. Admitting what he says, that they have pledged their faith to support the acts of Congress, yet, if these be contrary to the essential interests of the people, they ought not to be acceded to; for they are not bound to obey any law which tends to destroy them.
It appears to me that, had economy been a motive for making the representation small, it might have operated
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more properly in leaving out some of the offices which this Constitution requires. I am sensible that a great many of the common people, who do not reflect, imagine that a numerous representation involves a great expense; but they are not aware of the real security it gives to an economical management in all the departments of government.
The gentleman further declared that, as far as his acquaintance extended, the people thought sixty-five a number fully large enough for our state Assembly; and hence inferred that sixty-five is to two hundred and forty thousand as sixty-five is to three millions. This is curious reasoning.
I feel that I have troubled the committee too long. I should not have risen again upon this subject, had not my ideas been grossly misrepresented.
| JOHN JAY
The Hon. Mr. JAY. I will make a few observations on this article, Mr. Chairman, though I am sensible it may not appear very useful to travel over the field which has been already so fully explored.
Sir, it seems to be, on all sides, agreed that a strong, energetic federal government is necessary for the United States.
It has given me pleasure to hear such declarations come from all parts of the house. If gentlemen are of this opinion, they give us to understand that such a government is the favorite of their desire; and also that it can be instituted; that, indeed, it is both necessary and practicable; or why do they advocate it?
The gentleman last on the floor has informed us that, according to his idea of a complete representation, the extent of our country is too great for it. [Here he called on Mr. Smith, to know if he had mistaken him; who replied, My idea is not that a proper representation for a strong federal government is unattainable; but that such a representation, under the proposed Constitution, is impracticable.] Sir, continued Mr. Jay, I now understand the gentleman in a different sense: however, what I shall say will reach equally his explanation. I take it that no federal government is worth having, unless it can provide for the general interests of the United States. If this Constitution be so formed as to answer these purposes, our object is obtained. The providing for the general interests of the Union requires certain powers in government, which the gentleman seems to be willing it should possess; that is, the important powers
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of war and peace. These powers are peculiarly interesting; their operation reaches objects the most dear to the people; and every man is concerned in them; yet, for the exercise of these powers the gentleman does not think a very large representation necessary. But, sir, if the proposed Constitution provides for a representation adequate to the purposes I have described, why not adequate to all other purposes of a federal government? The adversaries of the plan seem to consider the general government as possessing all the minute and local powers of the state governments. The direct inference from this, according to their principle, would be, that the federal representation should be proportionably large. In this state, as the gentleman says, we have sixty-five. If the national representation is to be extended in proportion, what an unwieldy body shall we have! If the United States contain three millions of inhabitants, in this ratio, the Congress must consist of more than eight hundred. But, sir, let us examine whether such a number is necessary or reasonable. What are the objects of our state legislatures? Innumerable things of small moment occupy their attention; matters of a private nature, which require much minute and local information. The objects of the general government are not of this nature. They comprehend the interests of the states in relation to each other, and in relation to foreign powers. Surely there are men in this state fully informed of the general interests of its trade, its agriculture, its manufactures. Is any thing more than this necessary? Is it requisite that our representatives in Congress should possess any particular knowledge of the local interests of the county of Suffolk, distinguished from those of Orange and Ulster? The Senate is to be composed of men appointed by the state legislatures: they will certainly choose those who are most distinguished for their general knowledge. I presume they will also instruct them, that there will be a constant correspondence supported between the senators and the state executives, who will be able, from time to time, to afford them all that particular information which particular circumstances may require. I am in favor of large representations: yet, as the minds of the people are so various on this subject, I think it best to let things stand as they are. The people in Massachusetts are satisfied with two hundred: many
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others suppose either number unnecessarily large. There is no point on which men's opinions vary more materially. If the matter be doubtful,—and much may be rationally said on both sides,—gentlemen ought not to be very strenuous on such points. The Convention who decided this question took all these different opinions into consideration, and were directed by a kind of necessity of mutual accommodation, and by reasons of expediency; it would therefore be unfair to censure them. Were I asked if the number corresponds exactly with my own private judgment, I should answer, No. But I think it is best, under our present circumstances, to acquiesce. Yet, sir, if I could be convinced that danger would probably result from so small a number, I should certainly withhold my acquiescence. But whence will this danger arise? Sir, I am not fearful of my countrymen: we have yet known very little of corruption: we have already experienced great distresses and difficulties; we have seen perilous times, when it was the interest of Great Britain to hold out the most seducing temptations to every man worth gaining. I mention this as a circumstance to show that, in case of a war with any foreign power, there can be little fear of corruption; and I mention it to the honor of the American character. At the time I allude to, how many men had you in Congress? Generally fewer than sixty-five.
Sir, all the arguments offered on the other side serve to show that it will be easier to corrupt under the old than under the new government: such arguments, therefore, do not seem to answer the gentleman's purpose. In the federal government, as it now stands, there are but thirteen votes, though there may be sixty or seventy voices. Now, what is the object of corruption? To gain votes. In the new government there are to be ninety-one votes. Is it easier to buy many than a few? In the present Congress, you cannot declare war, make peace, or do any other important act, without the concurrence of nine states. There are rarely more than nine present. A full Congress is an extraordinary thing. Is it necessary to declare war, or pass a requisition of money to support it? A foreign prince says, this will be against my interest; I must prevent it. How? By having recourse to corruption. If there are eleven states on the floor, it will be necessary to corrupt three. What
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measure shall I take? Why, it is common for each state to have no more than two members in Congress. I will take off one, and the vote of that state is lost. I will takeoff three, and their most important plan is defeated. Thus, in the old government, it is only necessary to bribe the few; in the new government, it is necessary to corrupt the many. Where lies the greater security? The gentleman says, the election is annual, and you may recall your delegate when you please. But how are you to form your opinion of his conduct? He may excuse himself from acting without giving any reason. Nay, on a particular emergency, he has only to go home, for which he may have a thousand plausible reasons to offer, and you have no mode of compelling his attendance. To detect corruption is at all times difficult, but, under these circumstances, it appears almost impossible. I give out these hints to show that, on the score of corruption, we have much the best chance under the new Constitution; and that, if we do not reach perfection, we certainly change for the better. But, sir, suppose corruption should infect one branch of the government,—for instance, the House of Representatives; what a powerful check you have in the Senate! You have a double security; you have two chances in your favor to one against you. The two houses will naturally be in a state of rivalship: this will make them always vigilant, quick to discern a bad measure, and ready to oppose it. Thus the chance of corruption is not only lessened by an increase of the number, but vastly diminished by the necessity of concurrence. This is the peculiar excellence of a division of the legislature.
Sir, I argue from plain facts. Here is no sophistry, no construction, no false glosses, but simple inferences from the obvious operation of things. We did not come here to carry points. If the gentleman will convince me I am wrong, I will submit. I mean to give my ideas frankly upon the subject. If my reasoning is not good, let them show me the folly of it. It is from this reciprocal interchange of ideas that the truth must come out. My earnest wish is, that We may go home attended with the pleasing consciousness that we have industriously and candidly sought the truth, and have done our duty. I cannot conclude without repeating, that, though I prefer a large representation, yet, considering our present situation, I see abundant reason to acquiesce in
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the wisdom of the general Convention, and to rest satisfied that the representation will increase in a sufficient degree to answer the wishes of the most zealous advocate for liberty.
The Hon. Mr. SMITH rose, and said, it appeared to him probable that it would be the interest of the state having the least number of inhabitants to make its whole number the measure of the representation; that it would be the interest of Delaware, supposing she has forty thousand, and consequently only one vote, to make this whole number the ratio; so if she had fifty thousand, or any number under sixty thousand. The interest also of some other of the small states would correspond with hers; and thus the representation would be reduced in proportion to the increase of Delaware. He still insisted that the number of representatives might be diminished.
He would make one observation more upon the gentleman's idea of corruption. His reasoning, he said, went only to prove that the present Congress might be restrained from doing good by the wilful absence of two or three members. It was rare, he said, that the people were oppressed by a government's not doing; and little danger to liberty could flow from that source.
After some further desultory conversation on this point, the committee rose, and the Convention adjourned.
“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free ...
it expects what never was and never will be.”
– Thomas Jefferson
Last updated: 18Wpetember2004