A Letter to the Electors of President and Vice-President of the United States. By a Citizen of New York [E. C. E. Genet] Accompanied with an extract of the secret debates of the Federal Convention, held in Philadelphia, in the year 1787, taken by Chief Justice Yates. New York Printed by Henry C. Southwick, No. 2 Wall Street, 1808.
These same extracts were reprinted in Hall's American Law Journal, 1813, IV, 563-570, from which the copy in the text is taken.
The interest attaching to this document is due to the garbling of the extracts in such a way as to make Madison responsible for an attempt to annihilate the state governments.
"The representatives from the different states having met on the 25th of May, 1787, at the state-house in Philadelphia, General Washington having been unanimously placed in the chair, and Major Jackson, by the votes of all the states, except Pennsylvania, appointed secretary; the convention proceeded to read the powers given by the different states to their delegates, among which were particularly noticed the power of Delaware, which restrained its delegates from assenting to an abolition of the fifth article of the confederation, by which it is declared 'that each state shall have one vote.'
"The 28th, his excellency Governour Randolph, a member from Virginia, got up, and in a long and elaborate speech, showed the defects existing in the federal government then in existence, as totally inadequate to the peace, safety, and security of the confederacy, and the absolute necessity of a more energetick government.
"He closed these remarks with a set of resolutions, fifteen in number, which he proposed to the convention for their adoption, and as leading principles whereon to form a new government. He candidly confessed, they were not calculated for a federal government. He meant a strong consolidated union, in which the idea of states should be nearly annihilated.
"Mr. C. Pinckney, a member from South Carolina, added, that he had reduced his ideas of a new government to a system which he read, and confessed that it was grounded on the same principle as those resolutions.
"The 2d of June, 1787, Mr. Randolph displayed the views of the plan of Virginia, with respect to the executive branch of the union. He proposed the establishment of a directory of three — dividing the states in three divisions, and taking an executive from each, chosen by the people and invested with extensive power. The idea was rejected by almost all the other delegates, and the principle of a single executive adopted.
"Mr. Madison, from Virginia, endeavoured to support the plan of that state in all its branches, and after a speech pronounced by Mr. Reed, to prove that the state-governments must sooner or later be at an end, and that therefore it was the duty of the convention to make the new national government as perfect as possible; he gave it as his opinion that when the convention agreed to the first resolve of having a national government it was then intended to operate to the exclusion of federal government, and that the more extensive the basis was made the greater would be the probability of duration, happiness and good order.
"Mr. James Wilson, from Pennsylvania, opposed the annihilation of the state-governments, and he represented that the freedom of the people and their local and internal good police depended on their existence in full vigour, and that it was not possible that a general government as despotick even as that of the Roman emperours, could be adequate to the government of North America.
"Mr. King, in the course of these debates, did not show himself averse to the state governments, but on the contrary, in opposition to Mr. Madison, who wanted the new constitution to be accepted by the people at large, he observed that as the people in every state, had tacitly agreed to a federal government, the legislature in every state had a right to confirm any alteration or amendment in it, and he supposed that the most eligible mode of approving the constitution would be a convention in every state.
"The 8th of June, Mr. C. Pinckney having moved that the National Legislature should have the power of negativing all the laws passed by the state legislatures, which they may deem improper, he was warmly supported by Mr. Madison, who insisted that the unlimited power in the general government of negativing the laws passed by the state-governments was absolutely necessary — that it was the only attractive principle which would retain the centrifugal force, and that without it planets will fly from their orbits.
"Mr. Gerry observed ironically, that he was not willing to take such a leap in the dark, and recommended to designate the power of the National Legislature, to which the negative ought to apply. Mr. Madison insisted, that nothing but the proposed system could restore the peace and harmony of the country. — Mr. Pinckney's motion was lost, seven states against, and Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts for it.
"The 9th of June, the convention being engaged in the discussion of the right of suffrage by the number of inhabitants and not by states, Mr. Wilson having moved that the mode of representation of each of the states, ought to be from the number of its free inhabitants, and of every other description three-fifths to one free inhabitant, Mr. Madison agreed to fix accordingly, the standard of representation.
"On the question to fill up the blank of the duration of the first branch of the National Legislature, Mr. Madison was for three years, though Mr. Gerry was afraid that the people would be alarmed at that clause savouring of despotism.
"On the motion to fill up the blank of the duration of the second branch of the National Legislature, Mr. Madison was for seven years — and declared, that considering this branch as a check on democracy, it could not be too strong.
"A plan opposed to the Virginia plan supported by Mr. Madison, having been presented by Mr. Patterson, the purpose of which was merely to amend the old confederacy, Mr. Madison attempted to have it rejected in toto; but Mr. Hamilton prevented it, and said, that he was not in sentiment with either plan — that he supposed both might again be considered as federal plans, and being both fairly in committee be contracted so as to make a comparative estimate of the two.
"The 16th of June, Messrs. Lansing and Patterson, exposed all the inconveniences of the Virginia plan, and its dangerous tendency, after which Mr. Wilson stated as follows the two plans:
Proposes two branches in the Legislature.
The Legislative power derived from the people.
A directory first, and by amendment a single executive.
The legislature to legislate on all national concerns.
The legislature to have the power of negativing all the state-laws.
A single legislative body.
Legislative power derived from the state.
No provision for the executive.
The legislature to legislate only on limited objects.
The executive to have the power to compel obedience.
Mr. Hamilton's ideas were materially dissimilar to those two plans, and in an eloquent speech stigmatized them both. He did not approve the total abolition of the state-governments, but he wanted to reduce them to simple corporations, with very limited powers. He did not think that a federal government could suit this country; but still he pretended that he was at a loss to know what could be substituted for it; a republican form of government could not be perfect. But he would hold it, however, unwise to change it, though he considered the British form of government as the best model that the world ever produced. He wished that the convention could go the utmost length of republican principles, and thought that they would not deviate from it if they made the chief magistrate of the republick elective for life, and gave him the power of negativing all laws, of making war and peace with the advice of the Senate,2
and the sole direction of all military operations, &c. &c. He proposed also to appoint in each state an officer, to have a negative on all state-laws. He confessed that his plan and that from Virginia were very remote from the ideas of the people, and he admitted explicitly, that the Jersey plan was nearest to their expectations. He described the Virginia plan as being nothing but democracy, checked by democracy, or pork still, with a little change of the sauce
"Mr. Madison did not relish at all the criticism of Mr. Hamilton, and in a long speech vindicated the Virginia system, and attempted to demonstrate its superiority over the Jersey plan.
"On a motion of Mr. King, the Jersey plan was rejected as inadmissible, seven states against it and four for it, including New York.
"The Committee then rose and reported again the Virginia plan.
"Mr. Wilson, on the first clause, represented, that it was not a desirable object to annihilate the state-governments.
"Mr. Hamilton corrected what he had said against those governments; but intimated that they ought to be reduced to a smaller scale.
"Mr. King observed, that none of the states could properly be called sovereign, being deprived of several sovereign rights, such as making peace and war; and that in reality the consolidation had already taken place by the articles of confederation.
"To compromise matters between the Virginia and the Jersey plan, Dr. Johnson, proposed, that the state-governments should be preserved, with some modification; and that the states, in their legislative capacity, should have the right to appoint the second branch of the National Legislature, in order to unite them with the general government.
"Messrs. Ellsworth and Johnson, spoke in favour of that modification, and observed that the state-legislature were more competent to make a judicious choice than the people at large for the second branch, where wisdom and firmness were wanted.
"Mr. Madison opposed that idea, and for his part, he persisted to apprehend the greatest danger from the state-governments; and he declared, that he was always inclined for a general government emanating from the people at large, and independent of any local authority. Finding, however, that the majority was against him, he proposed a postponement; but it was negatived, and the clause proposed by Dr. Johnson adopted.
"Mr. Madison, on the sub-question relative to the organization of the Senate, and the rotation in that branch, said, we are acting in the same manner as the confederation; and by the vote already taken, the temper of the state-legislatures will transfuse into the Senate.
The 26th of June, on the question of the continuance of the senators in office, the same Mr. Madison gave it as his opinion that the longer the senators remain in office, the better it will be for the stability and permanency of the government. Several members thought differently on that question, and proved that the longer the senators resided at the seat of government, the more they would become naturalized to its climate and habits; that they might even settle there, and forget their own state and its interest.
"The 26th, on a motion to strike out the clause declaring, that the senators of the union should be ineligible to any state office; Mr. Madison opposed it, and observed, that Congress had heretofore depended on state-interest, and that the convention was now pursuing the same plan. He was contradicted by Messrs. Pinckney and Butler, who observed, that the state and general governments must act together; that the Senate, or second branch, was the aristocratick part of our government, and that they must be controled by the states — The motion for striking out was carried.
"The following motion was made by Mr. Lansing, of New York: — That the representation of the second branch be according to the articles of confederation, that is to say, on federal principles of equality. A debate took place, in which Mr. Madison, supporting the Virginia plan, declared that the representation must not be on federal principles, but relative to the number of inhabitants. He was answered by several members, but particularly by Dr. Johnson, who observed, that the idea of destroying the state-governments having been over-ruled, the convention was to frame a government, not for the people of America, but for the political societies called states, which compose the union; and that they must, therefore, have a voice in the second branch, if it was meant to preserve their existence, the people composing already the first branch.
"Mr. Madison rose up against Dr. Johnson in defence of the Virginia plan, and supported the following dogmas; "that there is a gradation of power in all societies, from the lowest corporation to the highest sovereign; that the states never possessed the right of sovereignty; that they were only corporations having the power of making by-laws; that they ought to be still more under the control of the general government, at least as much as they were under the King and British government.
"Mr. Hamilton, without adopting the ideas of Mr. Madison, spoke against the motion of Mr. Lansing, which was lost, four states for and six against it.
"Judge Ellsworth then moved, as an amendment to the plan of Virginia, that in the second branch each state should have an equal vote: equality of votes being the principle on which all confederacies are formed.
"Mr. Madison refused to compromise, and exclaimed that the greatest danger for the general government would arise from the opposition of the northern interest of the continent to the southern interest: alluding to certain expressions of several members leaning towards a division of the union, if Mr. Madison's plan was not modified.
"Dr. Franklin recommended a compromise on that subject, and made, in his usual way, the following comparison: "when a joiner wants to fit two boards, he takes off with his plane the uneven parts from each side, and thus they fit: let us do the same, said he, and as an expedient he proposed, that the Senate be elected by the states equally." But Mr. Madison, considering, that by his plan the Senate was to be the greatest engine by which all the state-laws could be reversed and annulled, would consent to no arrangement that would deprive the large states of having in both branches a weight proportioned to their population.
"Mr. King recommended moderation, and was in sentiment with those who wished the preservation of the state-governments. The general government, in his opinion, could be constructed so as to effect that object. The new constitution must be considered as a commission under which the general government is to act, and as such be the guardian of the state-rights. Five states voted for the amendment, and five against it, and one state was divided, and the amendment proposed by Mr. Elsworth was lost.
"The 2d of July, General Pinckney moved for a select committee, to take into consideration both branches of the legislature. Divers opinions were presented, among which Gouverneur Morris suggested the propriety of rendering the Senate an absolute aristocracy, representing large property combined with distinguished talents.
"Mr. Madison opposed the appointment of a committee — he thought it would delay the business; and if appointed from each state, would contain the whole strength of state-prejudices. A committee notwithstanding was appointed from each state.
"The 3d of July the committee met; and agreed on the following report, on condition that both propositions should generally be adopted:
That in the first branch of the legislature, each of the states be allowed one member for every 40,000 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 bills for raising or apportioning money and for fixing salaries of the officers of government of the United States, shall originate in the first branch, and shall not be altered or amended by the second branch — and that no money shall be drawn from the publick treasury but in pursuance of appropriation to be originated by the first branch.3
That in the second branch of the legislature of states, each state shall have an equal vote.4
"Mr. Madison said he restrained himself from animadverting on the report from the respect alone which he bore to the members of the committee."
Here end the notes of Mr. Yates. He left at that period, with Mr. Lansing, the convention. They had both uniformly opposed the Virginia system, and despairing of rendering any real service to their country, and to the state who had sent them, they left the convention and returned no more.