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

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last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:33 a.m. UTC
retrieved:Dec. 12, 2019, 4:40 p.m. UTC

Smith, Melancton. "Melancton Smith'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. 1759-62. Print.
Melancton Smith, Notes for Speech, New York State Library, Albany, New York

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

SMITH. It is needless to dispute concerning points on which we do not disagree— It is admitted that it will be proper to extend the powers of the gen. governt. to individuals in cert. cases—how far their powers should extend and in what cases to individuals is the question—I shall make no remarks upon the Argts. offered to prove the justness of the mode of apportionment, for though I am convinced they are easily refuted yet as I am convinced we must yield to it I shall say no more abt. it—It is said that the clause by obvious construction fixes the representation—I should be sorry to be suspected, of torturing words or sentences—If the construction is obvious I cannot perceive it—I see no limitation in the power but 30,000 on the one hand and one for a State on the other—If there is any other limitation it is implied—matters of such moment should not be left doubtful— It is contended, the Rep. will be increased to one for 30,000—but it is admitted it is at the discretion of the Leg.—It may not—a matter of this importance too important to be left at discretion—
1st. because it will be the Interest of the larger States, to increase them—But will it be the Interests of the Represents—have the States controul in the matter—besides it is not the Interests of the States—65 Repres. apportioned according to numbers, gives a state precisely the same relative weight as if they were ever so much larger— The Interest of the Senate will be against it. If we rely upon the power of the house to withhold supplies—it will be vain, for they lose their own Salaries if they do—
2d. œconomy—This of all Argts. is the least w[eigh]t The difference will be trifling perhaps abt. 20,000 Dolls. a Year in the US—Can such a trifling expence be seriously thought of by any one who seriously regards liberty—It may be saved by reducing the State Legislats besides ultimy it may be a sav[in]g by prom[otin]g œconomy—But it [is] asked what is the proper number—This is said to be a problem wch. cannt be solved—I admit this question is so far prob. as not to admit of a solution with matheml. certainty—yet may with certainty declare that certain numbers are either too large or too small—every one will allow ten too little—or 1000 too great—The first could not possess the sentiments or be influenced by the feelings of the people—whether 2 or 300 is the proper no. to set out with or a less number whether the increase should be limited to 4 or 500 or a greater or less number must in some measure be matter of Opinion—But still it must be admitted, that 20. wd. be a number so small as to be neither a just nor safe repres—I think it equally clear tht 65 is not— 1st. they cannot be acq[uainte]d sufficiently wt.—
Commercial knowledge requires very extensive information, of the general commerce of the world, and the relation it bears between diff. nations & Countries— It requires also a minute knowledge of the productions, and value of our own Country—what it is capable of producing—the nature of your manufactures, and the Capacity of the country to increase both— The first kind of knowledge is with men of education, rank leisure & fortune— the 2d. resides in a greater degree in the midd[lin]g class— Taxation, excise & duties require a still more minute knowledge the ability of the common people—the easiest mode of raising money The same observations will equally apply to almost every power in this govt. that reaches to internal matters— It follows the representation shd. be so large, as that while it admits men of the first class, it embraces a number of the middg class—
This govt. will be exercised only by men of the first class & the natural aristocracy of the Cou[ntr]y—and if so will be destitute both of the information and sympathy necessary— It may be asked, what is meant by the natural aristocracy of the Country & said there is no distinct[io]n. It is true it is our singular felicity that we have no hered[itar]y distinctions— But still there is real distinctions— Every comm[unit]y naturally divides itself into classes— The author of Nature has given to some greater capacities than to others— Some have better oppurtunities than others or made better use A great difference in property— In some all unite— Men of middling class who are qualified will be averse to be chosen— not agreeable to be placed, where none of our own rank to associate wt. Men of middling fortunes cannot afford living in the high Stile of arist[ocrat]s 30, or 40,000, cannot unite, frame your election Laws as you please—If they do, it must be in some one of conspic[u]ous, military civil, popular or legal talents— If the Election is by plurality as it is in most of the States and probably will be in this—It is almost certain none but the great will be chosen their influence will unite—the common people will divide—and their divisions promoted— No chance for any other unless some popular demagogue—who are generally dest[itute] of prin[cip]l[e] —A substantial yeoman, of sense & discernmt. never can be e[lecte]d— The same motives & ruino[u]s principles would operate as in the choice of a gov. From these remarks it appears th[a]t the governt. will fall in the hands of the great—& will be that of the few— This will tend to oppress— I shall not declaim against the Characters of the great—and charge them indiscriminately with want of principle honesty or a disposition to oppress—The same passions and prejudices govern in all— The circumstances in wch. men are placed in great measure give a cast to the human character— A man in middling circumstance has le[a]st temptat[io]n—The wise man prays for neither riches nor poverty— He is inclined by habit and the company he keeps to set bounds to his appetites— If this is insufficient, the want of means to restrain them, will do it— hence substantial yeomen, are more temper[ate] of better moral Characters & have less ambition, than the great— Great men do not generally feel for the mid[dlin]g & poor—to call upon me to prove this wd be like calling upon me to prove, that they had any feeling—common observation & experience proves it—The reasons of it are obvious—They know not the pains and labour this class must be at to procure property— The disstresses they may suffer, by being called upon to pay a small sum— They consider the common people as a species of people below them—and hence are apt to There [i.e., They] will always form a distinct class & associate together— They have feelings diff. from the com people —consider themselves above them —be more ambitious —command more respect— They are under the influence of the same motives as those who are placed in high Stations by her[e]d[itar]y right The Idea of such an order rid[icu]l[ed] by some—Said not to exist here and cannot—
that property is equally distribd & always will be— because our Laws of descent equally distribute it— I am not the less apprehensive, at hearing it denied—for it is evidently founded in the nature of things— unreasonable jealousies may be entertd—but suffic[ien]t caution shd. be observed— Common observ. proves such a distinct—human Laws & forms of govermt. create dis[tinctions] —So does birth, nature, education, fortune & talents— The same are by Stars & Garters & other visible tokens— The latter by the more indelible marks of talents abilities affluence & great public respect I appeal to experience— The reality of such distinct. stated in the strongest manner by all writers on govt— The address to the Inhs. of Quebec—"In every human Society says the celebrated Marquis Beccaria, there is an essay [i.e., effort] continually tending to confer on one part the height of power and happiness and to reduce the other to the extreme of weakness & misery—The intent of good Laws is to oppose this effort and to diffuse their influence universally and equally— ["] Men of the first class will be the first to fill places—for the same reason that they become so— they command more respect— have more influence & this is more easily & firmly united In any district containg 30,000 Inh. the choice will almost always fall on one of that class— upon some eminent character highly elevated above the midg. class— The extensive powers in few hands will render the office highly honorable—the object of great ambition—will be sought by the great with avidity
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SMITH. In most pol. opinions there will be variant opinions amongst men of understg. –Each will support their sentiments in the best manner their abilities will enable them — It frequently happens that superior talents are engaged on the one side against plain common sense on the other — But no abilities can change the nature of things — or make truth falshood or the contrary — Every man who will think for himself, will weigh the arguments offered on both sides, and judge for himself — He will strip them of the verbage with which they are clothed, and seperate them from the artful specious forms they may assume & from the agreeable manner in which they are presented — and careful examine whether they point to the object, or to something else — It will have no weight wt him, for a person to charge those who differ from him, with having wrong Ideas that it is high time we shd. reason right – That his opinions are contrary to that of all writers & reasoners on the subject – that talking of danger to Liberty is mere verbage – that to a mind no[t] predisposed, his Arguts. are conclusive — that his apprehensions of danger to Liberty is fanciful – These and every thing of that Kind will pass wt. a man who reasons for himself as mere verbage – There is no reason to use this method on the part of those who advocate the Const — because if truth is on their side, they have ability & skill to support it, by fair reasoning — many of them have been in the habit of public speaking – and are [ – – – ] for their talents – It gives room to suspect, their cause not very good, when the ablest men in advocy. abound in such assertn instd. of Argt. –
An hon. Gent. yesterdy. fm. NY. Mr. H. offered a variety of com. to justify the clause—
1. He asserted, that there is no danger to trust rulers in Repubs. with unlimitd. power— The Idea that it was peculiar to the present times— This govt. a Republic wt. the proper checks—and therefore, might be safely trusted wt. unl[imite]d powers of taxation— It is a new Idea to me, that the power of Republics need not be restricted— But the question is, are there reasonable checks proper for Republics
2. Is the power in question necessary—
With respect to the first, I have already stated my reasons for bel[ievin]g that the Representn. was inadequate for security. — I need not repeat them The honl. Gen. has himself sd. he will not be positive it will be at present — but supposes in 28 years it will – He is not positive then that we shall have an adequate and conseq[uentl]y a secure repres. for 28 years — It will be time enough then to grant the powers – he says we cannot fix wht. is an adequate repre — this has been and — it is little better than trifling — That in a free Republic — it is governed by its own will — that the design of Representn. is to collect the will of the people — that the Rep. should be so apportioned and fixed as will be the most likely to collect & express their will – are principles equaly plain to common sense and universally advanced by all writers on go[vernmen]t — It is unclear that the more the Repres. resemble the people, the more likely they will be to declare their will — and the smaller the proport. of Rep. the less will be the resemb[lan]ce — the more numerous the more interested — by connect[ion]s — by feeling what the[y] cannot fix as certain the exact point repeated— The Idea of authors sd. to be misrepresented respectg. the extent of Republics — It is not — they say large countries can only be govd. by Despotic —This the sentiment of gentn. in the Convention Wilson's speech & stated as a reason that operated there The Idea of the more extensive a Republic the better, a new one — not justifd by example— The gent. supposes 60 or 80 — suff. to guard agt. corruption &combination — If the voice of 24 Men, are likely to express the will of the people of America — If there is reasonable ground for security, that they will pursue the public Interest —That they will not be biassed by selfish & seperate Int[er]est — That they will not be in danger of forming combinations, to share among them the emol[ument]s of govt. then is the Repres. adequ[a]t[e] – at present— If it be probable that one Rep. for 30,000 – will suffy. understand the Interests. Be sufficiently inclined to pursue it — And suff. guarded agt. cont[rar]y motives – If it be certain or very prob. that the people can combine to send a man of their choice, who has their Inter[e]st at heart — out of such a numb. then is the rep. adeq[ua]t[e] every refl[ectin]g man must judge for himself—3 He Said, if the ratio of Repres. ascertd. according to that of New York it wd. be a mob — I admit it in process of
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SMITH. Answer to the Argument, that so small a number are not safely to be trusted, considerd— The number of Representatives will be increased in 3 Years to 100—in 25 to 200—in 50 to 400 this will be secure—The true question therefore is whether it will be dangerous to public Liberty, whether they will be a safe depositary to a limited & well guarded power of Legislating for the US. The people of the US. will not chuse improper Men—The State Legislatures will watch them, and have many means of counteracting them—There is no danger of foreign gold—because it has not been used with success on Congress, a less body of Men—they consulted in secret—they had the fate of the Country in their hands—No danger of corruption from other branches. the president a Senate or both, because they have not the means—The only means then is the making appointments—this is improbable, because they are accountable to the people—and are not eligible to offices, that may be created or the emoluments increased during the term of their election— The objection seems to admit, that the Representation as it is now fixed is inadequate—and to rely upon the discretion of the legislature and the natural increase of the Inhabitants of the Country to cure the defect—The article as it now stands leaves it at the discretion of the Legislature to increase the number of Representatives, from the 65 the number now directed, to any number beyond this not to exceed one for every thirty thousand Inhabitants, so that the proportion among the States shall be according to their numbers, except that each State shall have one—This same power will always be in the Legislature—they may increase or diminish the number of Representation at their pleasure with these restrictions only, the[y] shall never exceed in number one for 30,000—they shall be apportd. according to numbers—and each State shall have one—Such a power is certainly improper in the highest degree to be lodged in any govt.—4 Are we to set out with a government defective & bad in its fundamental and radical principles that of a Representation of the people, under the Idea that Spirit of the people of this Country is so high, as to prevent any abuse of power? Such reasoning as this would prove that we should take any thing that is offered to us. —I have no doubt but that a despotic government, was such an one erected in this Country, would for a time be under the necessity of consulting the temper and genius of the people, and therefore that our condition would for a season be tolerable under—but still it is certain that such a government would in process of time subdue the spirit of the people, unless the people destroyed it—Our people are well informed, have an attachment to their Liberties and are watchful of them—We ought then to frame a government congenial to this spirit, calculated to encourage it, but still to check its impetuosity and regulate it by bringing it into subjection to good Laws framed by common consent—And it is of great importance that this government sets out upon the broad principles of equal Liberty—A mode of government operates upon the minds of the people and effects changes in them, as much as the public sentiment operates to mitigate the rigour of a government—50 or even 25 Years may be too late to apply a remedy—The government will before that time acquire an influence by habit, & take a direction not to be resisted— As to the observation that the people will chuse good Men, I have sufficiently answered it already by shewing that from the nature of things the choice will commonly fall on the [first?] class— But it is said that the state Legislatures will watch and restrain them—How will they do this? They have no constitul controul— They can only remonstrate so can individuals—The government can operate compleatly without them— It is said there is no danger of their being corrupted—because Congress have not been corrupted—We are not to expect such times as we have seen—Men in the late revolution were influenced by an ardent love of Liberty—were unpracticed in the ways of Courts and the deceitful arts of modern european politics—The present were dependant on the breath of the State Legislatures and they upon the annual elections of the people at large—
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SMITH. The Arguments to prove the sufficiency of the Representation considered— It is a political problem not easily solved what number is the most convenient – The States are at variance on the subject – The ratio ought not to be the same where the people are numerous as where they are few – The powers of Congress are limited, and the State Legislatures have control and therefore requires less – It is admitted that the proper ratio of representatives, as it relates to the people cannot be determined with mathematical certainty – But it certainly does not from thence follow, that we may not [be?] certain that some certain numbers are not either too few or too many – It may be difficult to determine whether sixty or seventy members be the most proper number to represent this State [in?] our assembly – but no man would [ – – – ] [– – – ] pronounce that ten was too small [a number or?] that 1000 was too large5 – It is true that the different States in the Union, differ very considerably on this subject, but it is equally true that the Reprn. proposed, bears no kind of proportion in point of numbers to that of the least numerous of the respective States — If we compare the proportion of represts. in the State Legislatures, even of those the least numerous with that of the general government, we shall find that the proportion between them is not more than as one to ten, and if we compare it to the whole aggregate number of the States, it is as about one to 20 – Yet [the?] general government on the plan of this system [ – – – ] requires, a strong representation as much [ – – – ] the States, and more so – The [ – – – ] [possess?] an uncontroulable power, to command the property of the Citizens, and they will have the power without restriction almost exclusively to direct all the force of the Country whether militia or regular Troops – It is in the exercise of these power[s] the people have most to apprehend oppression – The motives of ambition under this government will [be greatly?] more powerful than under that of the States [ – – – ] offices under it will be more honl. & more [lucrative?] And infinitely more will be gained by mens [ – – – ] themselves in power – Not only [is the?] representation beyond all comparison small, compared with that of the respective States – but it bears no proportion to the Representation in Great Britain – The number of Representatives in the British house of Commons is 558, and the number of Inhabs. are computed at 8 M[illion]s. this gives one representative for a little more than 14,000 and this number of Represens. was fixed in that Kingdom when their numbers were probably not more than half what they now are – according to the original principles of the policy
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HAMILTON. Agrees with me in the first principle of a broad basis— It resulted from compromise— secure at present— 3 years— fallacy—the body havg. a perm[anen]t Int[erest] The Int. not for it— public opinion governs the people— in France— the Argument from public opinion concludes to any thing— The numbers of the State will be diminished It may be the case accordg. to the States— The State governments will be a Check— The substantial difference between 20 and 30,000 when it comes to 90000—it stops—if it then will be safe, it will now in his [i.e., its] infancy— both houses electg—is not 91 members safe— The State the same in number— annually elected— of the common people few objects of power— The State can give system— Our jealousies may be carried to any length-may be applied to any State without any Check Cannot suppose men be mad— The Senate & President will be under the influ[en]ce of the people— The Idea of a Democracy meeting—I did not advocate— To attain the Confid—true to a certain extent depends on two things 1. They are their Servants 2. The wisdom of the administrn. Illustrated by Sparta— The Ephori—supplanted the a small City— Rome—the Tribunes the people contended against a heridy.—The people themselves— Mass. 300—N. Y. 65—Del. 24—The proportion, not very much diff-in all suff. for the people to know—yeomanry— Cannot be solid objection, because it comes near to the proposal— Interest—to a certain degree— why cant a man understand 20 as well as 30— In order to understand the productions of a Country he need not understand how wheat is grown-The capacity of a country to produce is necessary— It is not necy. because in some Countries some few men -The Represents. divided into Districts— Our Senators are chosen by the people at large-in four Districts —one Man to be found—one to 4 A great deal of imagination} As the country increases it will be more— -Aristocracy—Two senses— 1st. the best men— 2d. the [— ] independent class of men not elected by the people— Men in all classes difft.— both of us are taken in— does not propose, making wealth a qualification— It will depend on the State Society— at present people of moderate fortune— in proportion as men have confidence— Among ourselves-it has not had an effect—it will make large Districts —will be carried by a major voice of a respectable number— Can the rich bribe a large district as a small— No reason to think it will be disagreable - if it is it operates against the amends— The true point, is the connection of Interest —ought not to be supposed—great & rich not more vicious-than the poor— Circumstances—expose to vice The governt founded on the true principals-while the people—chuse— The security of the State Govt.-on the one side if a State should encroach-if the US. encroach the States— It has been said that the confedn. has failed because the principal men of the Country has opposed—an ill complement impossible— because a govt. cannot be disaffected with a govt.— If it had not had a radical defect it could not have suffered Cont[empt] — If it said the spirit of patriotism is decried— Republic govt. decried— [ — ] represented as chimerical— fears our extreme jealousies, will not give it an experiment—

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