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title:“Elbridge Gerry to the Vice President of the Convention of Massachusetts”
authors:Elbridge Gerry
date written:1788-1-21

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last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:44 a.m. UTC
retrieved:Nov. 30, 2023, 8:52 p.m. UTC

Gerry, Elbridge. "Letter to the Vice President of the Convention of Massachusetts." The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787. Vol. 3. Ed. Max Farrand. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1911. Print.

Elbridge Gerry to the Vice President of the Convention of Massachusetts (January 21, 1788)

Cambridge, 21st January, 1788.
After having, on Saturday morning, stated an answer to the question proposed the preceding evening, I perceived that your honourable body were considering a paragraph which respected an equal representation of the States in the Senate, and one of my honorable colleagues observed, that this was agreed to by a committee consisting of a member from each State, and that I was one of the number. This was a partial narrative of facts, which I conceived placed my conduct in an unfavorable point of light, probably without any such intention on the part of my colleague. . . .
I shall only add, Sir, that I have subjoined a state of facts, founded on documents relative to my consent that the lesser States should have an equal representation in the Senate. . . .
The business of the Federal Convention having been opened by Governor Randolph, of Virginia, and the outlines of a plan of government having been proposed by him, they were referred to a Committee of the whole house, and after several weeks' debate, the committee reported general principles for forming a Constitution, amongst which were the following: —
'7th. That the right of suffrage in the first branch of the National Legislature' (by which was intended the House of Representatives) 'ought not to be according to the rule established in the Articles of Confederation, but according to some equitable ratio of representation, viz.: in proportion to the whole number of white and other free citizens and inhabitants, of every age, sex and condition, including those bound to servitude for a term of years, and three-fifths of all other persons not comprehended in the foregoing description, except Indians, not paying taxes, in each State.1
'8th. That the right of suffrage in the second branch of the National Legislature' (meaning the senate) 'ought to be according to the rule established for the first.'
In the Committee of the Whole, the eighth article above recited, for which I voted, was carried, if my memory serves me, by six States against five; and when under consideration of the Convention, it produced a ferment, and a separate meeting, as I was informed, of most of the delegates of those five States, the result of which was, a firm determination on their part not to relinquish the right of equal representation in the Senate, confirmed as it was, to those States, by the Articles of Confederation. The matter at length became so serious as to threaten a dissolution of the Convention, and a Committee, consisting of a member from each State, was appointed, to meet (if possible) on the ground of accommodation. The members from the three large States of Virginia, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, were Mr. Mason, Doctor Franklin and myself, and after debating the subject several days, during which time the Convention adjourned, the Committee agreed to the following Report: —
'That the subsequent propositions be recommended to the Convention, on condition that both shall be generally adopted: —
'First. That in the first branch of the Legislature, each of the States now in the Union be allowed one member for every forty thousand inhabitants, of the description reported in the seventh resolution of the Committee of the whole House — that each State not containing that number shall be allowed one member — that all writs for raising or appropriating money, and for fixing the salaries of the officers of government of the United States, shall originate in the first branch of the Legislature,2 and shall not be altered or amended by the second branch — and that no money shall be drawn from the treasury of the United States, but in pursuance of appropriations to be originated by the first branch.
'Secondly. That in the second branch of the Legislature each State shall have an equal vote.'
The number of forty thousand inhabitants to every member in the House of Representatives, was not a subject of much debate, or an object insisted on, as some of the Committee were opposed to it. Accordingly, on the 10th of July, a motion was made 'to double the number of representatives, being sixty-five,' and it passed in the negative.
The admission, however, of the smaller States to an equal representation in the Senate, never would have been agreed to by the Committee, or by myself, as a member of it, without the provision 'that all bills for raising or appropriating money, and for fixing the salaries of the officers of government,' should originate in the House of Representatives, and 'not be altered or amended' by the Senate, 'and that no money should be drawn from the treasury' 'but in pursuance of such appropriations.'3
This provision was agreed to by the Convention, at the same time and by the same vote, as that which allows to each State an equal voice in the Senate, and was afterwards referred to the Committee of Detail, and reported by them as part of the Constitution, as will appear by documents in my possession. Nevertheless, the smaller States having attained their object of an equal voice in the Senate, a new provision, now in the Constitution, was substituted, whereby the Senate have a right to propose amendments to revenue bills, and the provision reported by the Committee was effectually destroyed.
It was conceived by the Committee to be highly unreasonable and unjust that a small State, which would contribute but one sixty-fifth part of any tax, should, nevertheless, have an equal right with a large State which would contribute eight or ten sixty-fifths of the same tax, to take money from the pockets of the latter, more especially as it was intended that the powers of the new legislature should extend to internal taxation. It was likewise conceived, that the right of expending should be in proportion to the ability of raising money — that the larger States would not have the least security for their property if they had not the due command of their own purses — that they would not have such command, if the lesser States in either branch had an equal right with the larger to originate, or even to alter, money bills — that if the Senate should have the power of proposing amendments, they may propose that a bill, originated by the House, to raise one thousand, should be increased to one hundred thousand pounds — that although the House may negative amendments proposed by the Senate, yet the giving them power to propose amendments, would enable them to increase the grants of the House, because the Senate (as well as the House) would have a right to adhere to their votes, and would oblige the House to consent to such an increase, on the principle of accommodation — that the lesser States would thus have nearly as much command of the property of the greater, as they themselves — that even if the representation in the Senate had been according to numbers, in each State, money bills should not be originated or altered by that branch, because, by their appointments, the members would be farther removed from the people, would have a greater and more independent property in their offices, would be more extravagant, and not being so easily removed, would be ever in favor of higher salaries than members of the House — that it was not reasonable to suppose the aristocratical branch would be as saving of the public money as the democratical branch: — but that, on the other hand, should the Senate have only the power of concurrence or non-concurrence of such bills, they would pass them, although the grants should not equal their wishes, whilst, with the power of amendment, they would never be satisfied with the grants of the House — that the Commons of Great Britain had ever strenuously and successfully contended for this important right, which the Lords had often, but in vain, endeavored to exercise — that the preservation of this right, the right of holding the purse-strings, was essential to the preservation of liberty — and that to this right, perhaps, was principally owing the liberty that still remains in Great Britain.
These are the facts and reasons whereon was grounded the admission of the smaller States to an equal representation in the Senate, and it must appear that there is an essential difference between an unqualified admission of them to an equal representation in the Senate, and admitting them from necessity, on the express condition provided in the recited report of the Committee; and it must also appear, that had that provision been preserved in the Constitution, and the Senate precluded from a right to alter or amend money or revenue bills, agreeably to the said report, the lesser States would not have that undue command of the property of the larger States which they are now to have by the Constitution, and that I never consented to an equal representation of the States in the Senate, as it now stands, in the new system.

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