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title:“Debate in the Virginia Convention”
date written:1788-6-14

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last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:00 a.m. UTC
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"Debate in the Virginia Convention." The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787. Vol. 3. Ed. Max Farrand. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1911. Print.

Debate in the Virginia Convention (June 14, 1788)

June 14, 1788.
(The 4th and 5th sections read.)
Mr. Monroe wished that the honorable gentleman, who had been in the federal convention, would give information respecting the clause concerning elections. He wished to know why congress had an ultimate controul over the time, place, and manner of elections of representatives, and the time and manner of that of senators; and also why there was an exception as to the place of electing senators.
Mr. Madison. — Mr. Chairman, — The reason of the exception was, that if congress could fix the place of choosing the senators, it might compel the state legislatures to elect them in a different place from that of their usual sessions, which would produce some inconvenience, and was not necessary for the object of regulating elections. But it was necessary to give the general government a controul over the time and manner of choosing the senators, to prevent its own dissolution.
With respect to the other point, it was thought that the regulation of time, place, and manner of electing the representatives, should be uniform throughout the continent. Some states might regulate the elections on the principles of equality, and others might regulate them otherwise. This diversity would be obviously unjust. Elections are regulated now unequally in some states, particularly South Carolina, with respect to Charleston, which is represented by 30 members. — Should the people of any state, by any means be deprived of the right of suffrage, it was judged proper that it should be remedied by the general government. It was found impossible to fix the time, place, and manner, of the election of representatives in the constitution. It was found necessary to leave the regulation of these, in the first place, to the state governments, as being best acquainted with the situation of the people, subject to the controul of the general government, in order to enable it to produce uniformity, and prevent its own dissolution. And considerng the state governments and general government as distinct bodies, acting in different and independent capacities for the people, it was thought the particular regulations should be submitted to the former, and the general regulations to the latter. Were they exclusively under the controul of the state governments, the general government might easily be dissolved. But if they be regulated properly by the state legislatures, the congressional controul will very probably never be exercised. The power appears to me satisfactory, and as unlikely to be abused as any part of the constitution.
Mr. Monroe wished to hear an explanation of the clause which prohibits either house, during the session of congress, from adjourning for more than three days without the consent of the other. He asked if it was proper or right, that the members of the lower house should be dependent on the senate? He considered that it rendered them in some respect dependent on the senators, as it prevented them from returning home, or adjourning, without their consent, and as this might encrease their influence unduly, he thought it improper.
Mr. Madison wondered that this clause should meet with a shadow of objection. It was possible, he observed, that the two branches might not agree concerning the time of adjourning, and that this possibility suggested the power given the president of adjourning both houses to such time as he should think proper, in case of their disagreement. — That it would be very exceptionable to allow the senators, or even the representatives, to adjourn without the consent of the other house, at any season whatsoever, without any regard to the situation of public exigencies. That it was possible, in the nature of things, that some inconvenience might result from it; but that it was as well secured as possible.
Governor Randolph observed, that the constitution of Massachusetts was produced as an example, in the grand convention, in favor of this power given to the president. If, said his excellency, he be honest, he will do what is right. — If dishonest, the representatives of the people will have power of impeaching him.
(The 6th section read.)
Mr. Henry. — Mr. Chairman — Our burden should, if possible, be rendered more light. I was in hopes some other gentleman would have objected to this part. The pay of the members is, by the constitution, to be fixed by themselves, without limitation or restraint. They may therefore indulge themselves in the fullest extent. They may make their compensations as high as they please. I suppose, if they be good men, their own delicacy will lead them to be satisfied with moderate salaries. But there is no security for this, should they be otherwise inclined.3 I really believe that if the state legislatures were to fix their pay, no inconvenience would result from it, and the public mind would be better satisfied. But in the same section there is a defect of much greater consequence. There is no restraint on corruption. They may be appointed to offices without any material restriction, and the principal source of corruption in representatives, is the hopes and expectations of offices and emoluments. After the first organization of offices, and the government is put in motion, they may be appointed to any existing offices which become vacant, and they may create a multiplicity of offices, in order thereafter to be appointed to them. What says the clause? "No senator or representative, shall, during the time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil office under the authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the emoluments whereof shall have been increased, during such time." This is an idea strangely expressed. He shall not accept of any office created during the time he is elected for, or to any office whereof the emoluments have been increased in that time! Does not this plainly say, that if an office be not created during the time for which he is elected, or if its emoluments be not increased during such time, that he may accept of it? I can see it in no other light. If we wish to preclude the inticement to getting offices, there is a clear way of expressing it. If it be better that congress should go out of their representative offices, by accepting other offices, then it ought to be so. If not, we require an amendment in the clause, that it shall not be so. I may be wrong. Perhaps the honorable member may be able to give a satisfactory answer on this subject.
Mr. Madison. — Mr. Chairman. — I most sincerely wish to give a proper explanation on this subject, in such a manner as may be to the satisfaction of every one. I shall suggest such considerations as led the convention to approve of this clause. With respect to the right of ascertaining their own pay, I will acknowledge, that their compensations, if practicable, should be fixed in the constitution itself, so as not to be dependent on congress itself, or on the state legislatures. The various vicissitudes, or rather the gradual diminution of the value of all coins and circulating medium, is one reason against ascertaining them immutably; as what may be now an adequate compensation, might, by the progressive reduction of the value of our circulating medium, be extremely inadequate at a period not far distant.
It was thought improper to leave it to the state legislatures, because it is improper that one government should be dependent on another: and the great inconveniences experienced under the old confederation, shew, that the states would be operated upon by local considerations, as contradistinguished from general and national interests. — Experience shews us, that they have been governed by such heretofore, and reason instructs us, that they would be influenced by them again. This theoretic inconvenience of leaving to congress the fixing their compensations, is more than counterbalanced by this in the confederation; that the state legislatures had a right to determine the pay of the members of congress, which enabled the states to destroy the general government. There is no instance where this power has been abused. In America, legislative bodies have reduced their own wages lower rather than augmented them. This is a power which cannot be abused without rousing universal attention and indignation. What would be the consequence of the Virginia legislature raising their pay to four or five pounds each per day? The universal indignation of the people. Should the general congress annex wages disproportionate to their service, or repugnant to the sense of the community, they would be universally execrated. The certainty of incurring the general detestation of the people will prevent abuse. It was conceived that the great danger was in creating new offices, which would increase the burdens of the people: and not in an uniform admission of all meritorious characters to serve their country in the old offices. There is no instance of any state constitution which goes as far as this. It was thought to be a mean between two extremes. It guards against abuse by taking away the inducement to create new offices, or increase the emoluments of old offices. And it gives them an opportunity of enjoying, in common with other citizens, any of the existing offices which they may be capable of executing. To have precluded them from this, would have been to exclude them from a common privilege to which every citizen is entitled, and to prevent those who had served their country with the greatest fidelity and ability from being on a par with their fellow-citizens. I think it as well guarded as reason requires: More so than the constitution of any other nation. . . .
Mr. Madison. — Mr. Chairman — Let me ask those who oppose this part of the system, whether any alteration would not make it equally, or more liable to objections? Would it be better to fix their compensations? Would not this produce inconveniencies? What authorises us to conclude, that the value of coins will continue always the same? Would it be prudent to make them dependent on the state governments for their salaries — on those who watch them with jealous eyes, and who consider them as encroaching, not on the people, but on themselves? But the worthy member supposes, that congress will fix their wages so low, that only the rich can fill the offices of senators and representatives. Who are to appoint them? The rich? No, sir, the people are to choose them. If the members of the general government were to reduce their compensations to a trifle, before the evil suggested could happen, the people could elect other members in their stead, who would alter that regulation. The people do not choose them for their wealth. If the state legislatures choose such men as senators, it does not influence the people at large in their election of representatives. They can choose those who have the most merit and least wealth. If congress reduce their wages to a trifle, what shall prevent the states from giving a man of merit, so much as will be an adequate compensation? I think the evil very remote, and if it were now to happen, the remedy is in our own hands, and may by ourselves be applied.
Another gentleman seems to apprehend infinite mischief from a possibility that any member of congress may be appointed to an office, although he ceases to be a member the moment he accepts it! What will be the consequence of precluding them from being so appointed? If you have in your country one man whom you could in time of danger trust above all others, with an office of high importance, he cannot undertake it till the two years expire if he be a representative; or till the six years elapse, if a senator. Suppose America was engaged in war; and the man of the greatest military talents and approved fidelity, was a member of either house — would it be right that this man who could lead us to conquer, and who could save his country from destruction, could not be made general till the term of his election expired? Before that time we might be conquered by our enemies. This will apply to civil as well as military offices. It is impolitic to exclude from the service of his country, in any office, the man who may be most capable of discharging its duties, when they are most wanting.
The honorable gentleman said, that those who go to congress will look forward to offices as a compensation for their services, rather than salaries. Does he recollect that they shall not fill offices created by themselves? When they go to congress the old offices will be filled. They cannot make any probable calculation that the men in office will die, or forfeit their offices. As they cannot get any new offices, one of these contingencies must happen before they can get any office at all. The chance of getting an office is therefore so remote, and so very distant, that it cannot be considered as a sufficient reason to operate on their minds to deviate from their duty.
Let any man calculate in his own mind, the improbability of a member of the general government getting into an office, when he cannot fill any office newly created, and when he finds all the old offices filled at the time he enters into congress. Let him view the danger and impolicy of precluding a member of congress from holding existing offices, and the danger of making one government dependent on another, and he will find that both clauses deserve applause.
The observations made by several honorable members illustrate my opinion, that it is impossible to devise any system agreeable to all. — When objections so contradictory are brought against it, how shall we decide? Some gentlemen object to it, because they may make their wages too high — Others object to it, because they may make them too low! If it is to be perpetually attacked by principles so repugnant, we may cease to discuss. For what is the object of our discussion? — Truth, sir. To draw a true and just conclusion. Can this be done without rational premises and syllogistic reasoning.
As to the British parliament, it is nearly as he says. But how does it apply to this case? Suppose their compensations had been appointed by the state governments, or fixed in the constitution — Would it be a safe government for the union, if its members depended on receiving their salaries from other political bodies at a distance, and fully competent to withhold them? Its existence would at best be but precarious. If they were fixed in the constitution, they might become extremely inadequate, and produce the very evil which gentlemen seem to fear. For then a man of the highest merit could not act unless he were wealthy. This is the most delicate part in the organization of a republican government. It is the most difficult to establish on unexceptionable grounds. It appears to me most eligible as it is. The constitution has taken a medium between the two extremes, and perhaps with more wisdom than either the British or the state governments, with respect to their eligibility to offices. They can fill no new offices created by themselves, nor old ones of which they encreased the salaries. If they were excluded altogether, it is possible that other disadvantages might accrue from it, besides the impolicy and injustice of depriving them of a common privilege. They will not relinquish their legislative in order to accept other offices. They will more probably confer them on their friends and connections. If this be an inconvenience, it is incident to all governments. After having heard a variety of principles developed, I thought that on which it is established the least exceptionable, and it appears to me sufficiently well guarded. . . .
(The 7th section read.)
Mr. Grayson objected to the power of the senate to propose or concur with amendments to money bills. He looked upon the power of proposing amendments to be equal in principle to that of originating, and that they were in fact the same. As this was, in his opinion, a departure from that great principle which required that the immediate representatives of the people only should interfere with money bills; he wished to know the reasons on which it was founded. The lords in England had never been allowed to intermeddle with money bills. He knew not why the senate should. In the lower house, said he, the people are represented according to their numbers. In the upper house, the states are represented in their political capacities. Delaware or Rhode-Island has as many representatives here as Massachusetts. Why should the senate have a right to intermeddle with money, when the representation is neither equal or just?
Mr. Madison. — Mr. Chairman — The criticism made by the honorable member, is, that there is an ambiguity in the words, and that it is not clearly ascertained where the origination of money bills may take place. I suppose the first part of the clause is sufficiently expressed to exclude all doubts.4 The gentlemen who composed the convention divided in opinion, concerning the utility of confining this to any particular branch. Whatever it be in Great-Britain, there is a sufficient difference between us and them to render it inapplicable to this country. It always appeared to me to be a matter of no great consequence, whether the senate had a right of originating, or proposing amendments to money bills or not. To withhold it from them would create disagreeable disputes. Some American constitutions make no difference. Virginia and South-Carolina, are, I think, the only states where this power is restrained. In Massachusetts, and other states, the power of proposing amendments is vested unquestionably in their senates. No inconvenience has resulted from it. On the contrary, with respect to South-Carolina, this clause is continually a source of disputes. When a bill comes from the other house, the senate entirely rejects it, and this causes contentions. When you send a bill to the senate, without the power of making any alteration you force them to reject the bill altogether, when it would be necessary and advantageous that it should pass. The power of proposing alterations removes this inconvenience, and does not appear to me at all objectionable. I should have no objection to their having a right of originating such bills. People would see what was done, and it would add the intelligence of one house to that of the other. It would be still in the power of the other house to obstruct any injudicious measure proposed by them. There is no land-mark or constitutional provision in Great-Britain, which prohibits the house of lords from intermeddling with money bills; but the house of commons have established this rule. Yet the lords insist on their having a right to originate them, as they possess great property, as well as the commons, and are taxed like them. The house of commons object to their claim, least they should too lavishly make grants to the crown, and increase the taxes. The honorable member says, that there is no difference between the right of originating bills, and proposing amendments. There is some difference, though not considerable. If any grievances should happen in consequence of unwise regulations in revenue matters, the odium would be divided, which will now be thrown on the house of representatives. But you may safely lodge this power of amending with the senate. When a bill is sent with proposed amendments to the house of representatives, if they find the alterations defective, they are not conclusive. The house of representatives are the judges of their propriety, and the recommendation of the senate is nothing. The experience of this state justifies this clause. — The house of delegates has employed weeks in forming a money bill; and because the senate had no power of proposing amendments, the bill was lost altogether; and a new bill obliged to be again introduced, when the insertion of one line by the senate would have done. Those gentlemen who oppose this clause will not object to it, when they recollect that the senators are appointed by the states, as the present members of congress are appointed. For, as they will guard the political interests of the states in other respects, they will attend to them very probably in their amendments to money bills. I think this power, for these considerations, is useful and necessary. . . .
(The 8th section read.)
Mr. Clay wished to be informed, why the congress were to have power to provide for calling forth the militia, to put the laws of the union in execution.
Mr. Madison supposed the reasons of this power to be so obvious that they would occur to most gentlemen. If resistance should be made to the execution of the laws, he said, it ought to be overcome. This could be done only two ways; either by regular forces, or by the people. By one or the other it must unquestionably be done. If insurrections should arise, or invasions should take place, the people ought unquestionably to be employed to suppress and repel them, rather than a standing army. The best way to do these things, was to put the militia on a good and sure footing, and enable the government to make use of their services when necessary. . . .
Governor Randolph. . . . With respect to a standing army, I believe there was not a member in the federal convention who did not feel indignation at such an institution. What remedy then could be provided? — Leave the country defenceless? In order to provide for our defence, and exclude the dangers of a standing army, the general defence is left to those who are the objects of defence. It is left to the militia who will suffer if they become the instruments of tyranny. The general government must have power to call them forth when the general defence requires it. In order to produce greater security, the state governments are to appoint the officers. The president, who commands them when in the actual service of the union, is appointed secondarily by the people. — This is a further security.6 It is not incredible that men who are interested in the happiness of their country, whose friends, relations, and connections, must be involved in the fate of their country, should turn against their country? I appeal to every man, whether, if any of our own officers were called upon to destroy the liberty of their country, he believes they would assent to such an act of suicide? The state governments having the power of appointing them, may elect men who are the most remarkable for their virtue & attachment to their country. . . .
Mr. Madison. . . . The power of regulating the time, place, and manner of elections, must be vested some where. It could not be fixed in the constitution without involving great inconveniences. — They could then have no authority to adjust the regulations to the changes of circumstances. The question then is, whether it ought to be fixed unalterably in the state governments, or subject to the controul of the general government. Is it not obvious that the general government would be destroyed without this controul? It has already been demonstrated that it will produce many inconveniences.

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