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title:“John McKesson's Notes of the New York Ratification Convention Debates”
authors:John McKesson
date written:1788-6-21

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last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:22 a.m. UTC
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McKesson, John. "John McKesson's Notes of the New York Ratification Convention Debates." The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution. Vol. 22. Ed. John P. Kaminski. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2008. 1747-48. Print.
McKesson's Notes, New-York Historical Society

John McKesson's Notes of the New York Ratification Convention Debates (June 21, 1788)

WILLIAMS. I had not finished I said but a few words will now add The Confederation tho' not perfect might have carried us on many years more as it did thro' a painful War— Our Evils do not arise from the Confederation but from Luxury— Instances enormous Credits— Diffuse use of spirits Tea &ca All our difficulties do not arise from the defects of the Confederation The New Govt. will be expensive and make room for placemen— If it will create an Aristocracy or make room for Tirany let us amend it— The Genl. Govt. should not absorbe the State Govts.
Let us take Care that in its operation it will not annihilate the State Goverments— The No. of Representatives too few to guard agt. Corruption or usurpation The History of Representation in England— Can Six Men be an adequate Representation of the people of this State— We should not depart from annual Election—1 It inspires a desire to be worthy of Office and a Love to Country— I wish to confine the Amendmts. to certain Points which cannot with Propriety be given up—
* * * * *
SMITH. I yesterday offered an amendmt. as to Representatives— Cursory observations on the observations on a Gent from N York (Mr Hamilton)
The Question is How far this Govt. shall operate on Individuals and how it can be properly restrained— I had no Intention to torture the Clause—I think my Construction of the Clause a fair & proper one—It should therefore be amended to bear the Construction only which he contends for— There is nothing to assure us that the Representation shall exceed 1 to 65
The larger States cannot be under any Influence to encrease the Representation because whatever is the Ratio their relative proportion of power will be the same and the less Power or Influence will every Member individually— The fondness of Power in hum[an] Nature will prevent it— It cannot be done without the Consent of Senate The[y] will not consent to lessen the Power of their own Body— The like as to the President—He can more easily influence 65 Men than a greater No.
It may the Assembly originate Money Bills The Argumt.
Œconomy— He does not deserve Liberty who would refuse to support a Representation to preserve it— The Yeomanry of a Country the most frugal of Money One Extravagant useless grant Congress have expended in grants to Officers who did little Service— What is a proper Representation This cannot be ascertained with Mathematical Certainty It can be ascertained as well as other Matters of policy— The Representat. of this State will be Eight— There cannot be a Representation equal to the Knowledge & Care of this Continent— The Govt. is extended to objects which they cannot exercise Can we have Representatives who can tax Georgia & the new Western Country Admitted we must give them the Power to regulate Trade— This will require Men of great abilities and Reading— Taxation requires men acquainted with the midling Ranks & paths of Life.
This Govt. will always be filled by the natural Aristocracy of the Country Our Eyes and Senses show us there is such a Distinction among Men— Property Learning Abilities will produce this Distinction Fortune & Property will have weight with the Com[mon] People whether the Laws & Constitut sanction it or not— Happiness that the Laws of this Country do not make Distinctions of Men—but Distinction still subsists— Does not this Constitution tend to Encrease this Distinction— The Man the most eminent will have the Voice of the People— Power in so few Hands will render their Offices Honorable Men bred in the middling walks of Life will decline the Offices as irksom to them and disagreeable The House of Representatives will have no features of a Democratic Body— I will not offend Men of the first Rank— Men of the middling walks of Life are of better morrals—Their Circumstances tend to keep them so— Men of Wealth have the Means & are under greater Temptations— Men of Wealth cannot feel the Burthens of the Poor— They are more liable to profusion and do not feel the w[e]ight of Taxes— If they give with one Hand, they take back 10 times as much with the other— A Representation must embrace a Solid Phala[n]x of Representatives taken from the yeomanry of the Country— Take in Without a democratic Branch possesses the Shaddow w[i]t[h]out the Substance— It was said the Representation will encrease—This admits it is now too Small— This ought [not] to be left to men who if they encrease the Representatn they diminish their own Power— Gent Supposes no danger can arise in 25 years— A Govt. will tend to form the Spirit of the People or change it— The Spirit of many of the People are already Changed— Some Men say Republican Principles are Ideal & Chimerical— Are we to suppose that any Set of Men having power will not extend and retain it— A few years ago with over Caution we formed a Govt. which would not suffer them to take a Shilling but thro the State Govts.
Now we are going to leave them without Controul— They may Slowly change retain the form of a free Govt. when the Substance is gone— If your Represent[atives] are of the yeomanry of the Country they must save themselves & therefore the Poor— If you depart from that Representation is only a Name— Exposedness of so Small a Body to Corruption Not altogether True Every Man has his Price— To[o] offten So.
Corruption has done more to destroy Republic's than all other Things This Country will have many lucrative offices A majority of one half 24 men—Corrupt these and you destroy the Liberties of 3,000[,]000 of People If in 3 years 126—you trus[t] 32 or 33 men— In 20 years add 10 or 12 more— Gent. says there is a great dissimilarty in the Number of Representatives of the States— The Represent. amt. about 1500—here 90 or 91 Men— Keep 1500 Men to make Road Laws and trust 91 with every thing sacred— Encrease the Representation and limit their Powers— After all it will be but an Experimt.
If all govt. defective—Experimts. should be made with Cautions— Liberty given away to Rule[r]s has seldom been recov[er]ed—
* * * * *
HAMILTON. I endeavoured to shew that the Contending Interests of the States produced that Compromise— That it would finally produce Safety— That all Attempts to vary that Clause will be useless— That it will finally from Circumstances & Cause produce a Sufficient Represantation— I Contend that 65 & 24 will [be] sufficient for the Safety of the Coun try—The [number] will encrease in 20 or 25 years be 200—sufficient— The Gent. [Melancton Smith] Contends that the encrease being by Ratio will not encrease the Power—The Members interested in not encreasing the Number— This falacy—the Gentleman considers this as a permanent Body— but it is only for 2 years— In General The Voice of the People governs the Representatives—2 This becomes more in every Governmt. Example France— Our People are more enlightened than any other and will become more and more so— If [it] shall be the Wish of the People of America to encrease the Representation it must be done-— The Senate will also have their Effect Confident That the Augmentation of the Representation will be progressive— The Man in place where his Governmt. does not grow must Consent to encrease the number to save his own States Nos The State Governmts. must have great Influence on the Genl. Govt. It was necessary to leave Discretion [to] the Genl Govt. And it is impossible they should not encrease— On Gent [Melancton Smith] plan it will encrease in the Ratio of 20,000 instead of 30,000— At present 3 mill. 25 years 6 mill 40 years 9 mill— 30,000 for 1 a Safe Representation at that time it will be more so now— I admit 10 too Small—he admits 1000 would be a Mob Is not 91 a Sufficient Safe Number & the Presidt. himself a Repre sent—we have but 65 & 24 Why is not the Same Number Safer for the united States Than for this State— 91 Members in the first Instance for the Genl Govt. Suppose that Govt. could be corrupted— Would there be equal Danger as Corruption in the State Govt. Would not the State Govermts interfere— How Soon would their Despotism or Combinations be defeated— It would be disagreable to trace it but all that can be all[e]dged agt.the National Govt. may be alledged agt. the Governmt. of this State— We may Suppose men Love power—but not Suppose them mad— When a Representation is encreased One Step it thence remains permanent— The Senate will have the same Sentiments as the assembly— A large Body of Men more easily distracted and Managed than a Smaller or Selected Body [of] Men— Where people met in Bodies they never Acted with System— The Magistrates managed them & brot thro their plans— A Collective Body less Safe than a Select Body— The Wish of the larger States to encrease their Represent in propotion to their Population will encrease the Represent— Said The Confidence of the People necessary and therefore numbers necessary— Negative Few or many if they have Confidence In Sparta 2 In Rome at first 2 afterwards 10—From their power extended the power of the Democracy over the Aristocracy— Is the Confidence of Mass. in 30[0]. more than in 21 in Delaware We have 65. is Confidence less here— Therefore the Confidence of the people not in proportion to the number of Representatives— Ergo—The Number here is sufficient for Confidence and to answer all our Purposes— Consider now Things This Numerous Representat necessary to know and understand the interests of the People If a Man can Understand the Interest of 20,000 why can he not un derstand the Interest of 30,000— What are they to know—Commerce—Taxes—Treaties—and Some minuter Things— Commerce he must know the produce of the Country and to what Extent exported— Select men will know enough of this without all the minutiæ of the Matter— There will be sufficient Security—Suppose this State in 6 Districts, take one Man out of each District will he not know the wants of the people— In our State Senate we chuse only in 4 Districts—find no Inconvenience in it— Six would necessaryly possess all that local Knowledge of their Constituents contended— Much Imagination than attention to facts in the reasoning on this Subject— We hear more which tends to encrease Prejudices— Aristrocracy— 1st. The best men who have most Virtue & Goodness of Heart 2d. an Independt. Body of Men not depending on the Choice of the People—We have none such— There will always be Men more Rich and more wise or Sensible than others— 2d Vol. of federal Farmer—Natural Aristocracy— 1st. Govrs. of States. 2d. Members of Congress 3 Judges of Sup. Court 4 Officers of Militia Does this fix any other Qualifications to Electors or elected than your own Constitution— If men chuse Rich or wise men they will have their Choice This Country will change— As wealth encreases Men of greater Fortunes will be elected This is according to the State of Society— A Moderate Representation will occasion larger Districts of Election—This will operate Well—The best men and of probity will [be] elected—This will therefore be the best Govt. It will not be Rich or Poor but the men who have deserved Confidence— Wealth might operate in Small Districts-Merit in large ones— It was observed It would be disagreable to men of Middling Class to be sent to mix with such a Body— There will always be there different Classes The point of Connection between Representative and the Represented are duty and Gratitude— There is not more Virtue or Vice in one class of Citizens than Another— It is harsh to suppose a Monopoly This System founded on Republican Principles—The People are to be represented by whom they think proper to chuse— The Judic[i]al Separated—One Body Checks another and therefore the People must be free— The People will have the greatest Security by a State Govt and a National Govt. This is essential to the Liberty of the Country—It sets Power agt. Power—Let usurpation arise the People will have an Arm of Support— As to power when we come to that I shall Shew that the State Govts. are safe—Safer than the Genl Governmt. Things to be dismissed That the Confederat. has failed of Effect because it has been traduced by many Gentlemen— 1st. This is an Ill complimt. to the People—2d. If a Constitution or Governmt. has operated well and had a good Effect the People will not believe any thing said agt. it—Therefore traduction Vain— It weakness in a Govt. will make it an Object of Criticism & Contempt—to its radical defectiveness must be attributed its Contempt— I find the Spirit of Patriotism as high as ever— I believe No fact to Support Republican Principles hooted out of the World— There are men of Different Ideas—but all men agree that Republican Principles & Govt. are the most Noble —We been too diffident of the Noblest princ{ip}les which should be cherished—and restrained a Sufficient Power —This Constitution tempered in that Moderate Mean we shall here find the true Support of Liberty and republican Governmt.
* * * * *
SMITH. I observed—It was impossible to have a proper Representation in this Country— That therefore we must [be] Content with some Amendment
2d. A falacy in my argument— His [Alexander Hamilton's] Argumt. that their Interest to encrease So far as their is any Interest—their Interest agt. it as the Relative Interest the Same— State Governments a powerful Check If so it much [i.e., must] be by direct opposition—as a Body of Super[vi]sors opposing the Legislature—This the worst Check in the world— The Deference between 20,000 & 30,000—is as 20 to 30— It will encrease the Number of Representatives, which will give Safety3
In order to shew that the Confidence of the People not con[nected]
The Ephori of Sparta—only two—Supplanted the Nobles—Ans. Sparta a Single City and Contending agt. Hereditary Nobles— The like in Rome—The People numerous the Tribunes had their Confidence and prevailed agt. the Patricians— does it follow because 65 & 24 are a Suffic[i]ent Number to represent 240,000 that 91 is a Sufficent No. to represent 3 mil— We cannot make war have limitted Power—This Govt. has all Power— I wish the Constitution had provided to chuse men out of different Districts and that they should have a Majority of the Votes of the District—4
The Gent Observes The Safety of Representat in this Districts will [be] Safe or Safer than our [state] Senators— But we have a Democratic Branch chosen in small Districts—Our Law wrong—Men Sent by a Vast Minority of the People who Vote— I gave a plain Definition of the word Aristocracy— I did not say Rich men had worse hearts than poor Men— All Men have their Vices—If the Liberties of the People are to [be] destroyed—the Poor cannot gain the Rich will— What is the difference whether the Constitution says that Rich men be elected—or is so contrived that only Rich men will be elected— When the People do chuse their Rulers—must not those rulers in a Republic be a compleat Representation of the Electors— I said the Confederation would [be] operated better if it had not been traduced—
* * * * *
ALEXANDER HAMILTON. I do contend that this Constitution is a federal Republic MELANCTON SMITH. I observed that the Representation should be numerous to be acquainted with the Community and should have men of the midling Class—5 It is necessary that they should descend to a knowledge of such things as men in the midling Class of Life do know—
* * * * *
It is admitted "that the Representation should be so large as to possess the Sentimts. of their Constituents" One Gentleman [Melancton Smith] supposes the Representation may be lessend or retained where it is—the other [Alexander Hamilton] Supposes it must be necessarily Encreased— It is of great Importance—Why not now fix the Representation It now not Certain—Why not render it Certain— It is asked why is not this Representation as adequate as the Representat of N York— Is it proper so Small a Body of Men dispose of the finances of the united State[s], declare War, direct Military Force—Should 24 Men make Laws of such Importance— Even if 2/3ds. attend the Consequence will be that 26 Members in the lower House will give the Sense of the Democracy in the Country—
The House of Commons how numerous—The Crown by Money and Office can obtain a Majority— It will be difficult [to] induce persons properly qualified to go from home to attend the General Interest— On this Ground the R [i.e., Representation?]
* * * * *
CLINTON. My Object is Information— It is admitted the State Representation is Smallest therefore the other Govt. Safe The State Governmt. is confined to a Small narrow District—Every member has some knowledge of every part of the State—We Send Six members—The Members of other States know not our State, they must depend on those Six Members what—knowledge can Georgia have of our State or Taxation— If in State Govt. if Mal Administration you have it in your Power to correct—If mal Administration every man feels it—Our productions & Climate alike The General Govt. embraces different Climates productions and manners—A good Tax Law in Georgia might distress us greatly— The People of New York cannot confer with Georgia or New Hampshire on these Occasions— You may recal your Members but the Measures will be the Same—
* * * * *
HAMILTON. Under the present Confederation 26 Men may do every thing that the proposed Governmt. may do-and 18 of these may form a Majority-
Under the new Governmt. the proportionate Streng[t]h in the Legislature is gain[e]d because the Vote per Capite—members will attend as their State Constituents will require it— As to the Albany member [i.e., John Lansing, Jr.] The Representation ought to be small because you will more easily obtain men to attend and who will engage to attend— A Quorum of the House of Commons 40, but every great Question a Numerous Body attends— Corruption in the House of Com 1st. the Rotton Burroughs— 2d. The Scotch Members— The County Members obliges the Crown to change his Men and Measures, and preserved the Liberties of the People— The[y] Began with Small powers— The Represent of the People always encrease their Powers As to his Excy. Govr. [i.e., George Clinton] The Members from other States must take Information from the State Members— Is not that the Case in our own State— New York must take Information from Ulster or Dutchess as to Agriculture or Manufactures— Information is not encreased in proportion to the encrease of Numbers— A few Intelligent Men can give all the Information from any State that is necessary— Internal Taxes cannot be regulated by the General Governmt. unless in Times of War or great Distress—If that must be done your own Laws or Sistem must be by them adopted— It appears to me the State Governmts. can better watch their General Representatives than their State Representatives— The People at a Distance in the State must depend on partial Information The State Govt. can establish regular methods of Enquiry Act with more System and acquire more certain Informat. of their National Representatives than the people of the State of their Rulers. Something in this Argumt. proves there should not be any Union— If it is improper to entrust them to make War, peace, raise Taxes, there cannot be a union— After a Representation gets to a certain Number it will be sufficient— When the Number is Sufficient for all the Business and a Sufficient Guard agt. Corruption, there the number should Cease— More would be injurious— and if intended to raise a usurpation more Dangerous-7
Manners and Habits of the different States not so great as the Counties in the large States or in Great Britain— Position As the Clause no[w] Stands it will operate to establish a large Representation—
* * * * *
CLINTON. It is fair to say "that because a man would wish to encrease the Representation or to limit their Powers —that he did not wish to have any Government at all ["] — I wish for a nervous Vigourous Govermt. And to preserve Freedom—
MELANCTON SMITH. The present Confederation may exercise (and by a Smaller Number) every Power of the other— But under what Checks—where is the Money—they must call on the State Legislatures to raise the money (if they please) — How are the State Governmts. to contrive to give the People better Informations of the Transactions of the State Government—than of their Own—

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