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title:“Newspaper Report of Massachusetts Ratification Convention Debates”
date written:1788-1-17

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last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:35 a.m. UTC
retrieved:March 3, 2024, 5:17 p.m. UTC

"Newspaper Report of Massachusetts Ratification Convention Debates." The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution. Vol. 6. Ed. Gaspare J. Saladino and John P. Kaminski. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2000. 1236-40. Print.

Newspaper Report of Massachusetts Ratification Convention Debates (January 17, 1788)

The 2d paragraph of the 2d sect. of the 1st art. was reverted to- and some debate had thereon- Gen. THOMPSON thought there should have been some qualification of property in a representative, for, says he, when men have nothing to lose they have nothing to fear.
Hon. Mr. SEDGWICK said, that this objection was founded on an anti-democratical principle- and was surprized that gentlemen who appeared so strenuously to advocate the rights of the people, should wish (to exclude from the federal government a good man, because he was not a rich one.)
Mr. KING, said, that gentlemen had made it a question- why a qualification of property in a representative is omitted- and that they thought the provision of such a qualification necessary- he thought otherwise, he never knew that property was an index to abilities:- We often see men, said he, who though destitute of property are superiour in knowledge and rectitude. The men who have most injured the country have most commonly been rich men. Such a qualification was proposed in convention: but by the delegates of Massachusetts, it was contested that it should not obtain. He observed that no such qualification is required by the confederation. In reply to Gen. Thompson's question, why disqualification of age was not added, the Hon. Gentleman said, that it would not extend to all parts of the continent alike. Life, says he, in a great measure depends on climate. What in the southern states would be accounted long life, would be but the meridian in the northern- what here is the time of ripened judgement, is old age there. Therefore the want of such a disqualification, cannot be made an objection to the constitution.
The third paragraph of the 2d sect. being read, Mr KING rose to explain it. There has, says he, been much misconception of this sect. It is a principle of this constitution, that representation and taxation should go hand in hand. This paragraph states, that the numbers of free persons shall be determined, by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other persons. These persons are the slaves. By this rule is representation and taxation to be apportioned. And it was adopted, because it was the language of all America.
According to the confederation, ratified in 1781, the sums for the general welfare and defence, should be apportioned according to the surveyed lands, and improvements thereon, in the several states. But that it hath never been in the power of Congress to follow that rule; the returns from the several states being so very imperfect.
Dr. TAYLOR thought that the number of members to be chosen for the house of representatives, was too small. The whole union was intitled to send but 65; whereas by the old confederation, they send 91; a reduction of 30 per cent. He had heard it objected, that if a larger number was sent the house would be unwieldy. He thought our house of representatives, which sometimes consists of 150, was not unwieldy; and if the number of the federal representatives was enlarged to twice 65, he thought it would not be too large.
He then proceeded to answer another objection, "that an increase of numbers would be an increase of expense," and by calculation demonstrated that the salaries of the full number he wished, would in a year amount only to £.2980, about one penny on a poll; and by this increase, he thought every part of the commonwealth would be represented. The distresses of the people would thereby be more fully known and relieved.
Mr. WIDGERY asked, if a boy of six years of age, was to be considered as a free person?
Mr. KING, in answer, said, all persons born free, were to be considered as freemen; and to make the idea of taxation by numbers more intelligible, said, that five Negro children of South-Carolina, are to pay as much tax as the three governours of New-Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.
Mr. GORHAM, thought the proposed sect. much in favour of Massachusetts; and if it operated against any state, it was Pennsylvania, because they have more white persons bound than any other.5 Mr. G. corrected an observation of Dr. Taylor's, that the states now send 91 delegates to Congress- which was not the case. The states do not, he said, send near that number- and instanced Massachusetts, which sends but 4. He concluded by saying, that the constitution provides for an increase of members, as numbers increase- and that in fifty yea6rs there will be 360-in 100 years 14 or 1500- if the constitution last so long.
(Judge DANA, remarking on the assertions of Dr. Taylor that the number of Representatives were too small; that the whole Union was now entitled to send but 65, whereas by the Confederation they might send 91, a reduction of 30 per cent, said, if the Constitution under consideration, was in fact what its opposers had often called it, a consolidation of the States, he should readily agree with that gentleman that the representation of the people was much too small; but this wasa charge brought against without any foundation in truth.)7
So far from it, that it must be apparent to every one, that the federal government springs out of, and can alone be brought into existence, by the State Governments. Demolish the latter and there is an end of the former.- Had the Continental Convention then have doubled the representation, agreeably to that gentleman's ideas, would not the people of this commonwealth have been the first to complain of it as an unnecessary burden laid upon them: that in addition to their own domestick government they had been charged with the support of so numerous a national government. Would they not have contended for the demolition of the one or the other as being unable to support both. Would they have been satisfied by being told that doubling the representation would yearly amount o8nly "to about one penny upon a poll." Does not the gentleman know that the expense of our own numerous representation has excited much ill will against the government? Has he never heard it said among the people that our publick affairs would be as well conducted by half the number representatives? If he has not, I have sir, and believe it to be true. But the gentleman says there is a reduction of 30 per cent. in the Federal Representation, as the whole Union can send but 65 members, when under the confederation they may send 91. The gentleman has not made a fair calculation. For, if to the 65 Representatives under the proposed Constitution we add two Senators from each State amounting to 26 in all, we shall have the same number 91, so that in this respect there is no difference. Besides, this representation will increase with the population of the States and soon become sufficiently large to meet that gentleman's ideas.9 I would just observe that by the confederation this State has a right to send seven members to Congress, yet although the legislature hath sometimes chosen the whole number, I believe at no time have they had or wished to have more than four of them actually in Congress. Have any ill consequences arisen from this small Representation in the National Council? Have our liberties been endangered by it? No one will say they have. The honourable gentlemen drew a parallel between the eastern and southern states, and shewed the injustice done the former, by the present mode apportioning taxes, according to surveyed land and improvements; and the consequent advantage therefrom to the latter; their property not lying in improvements, in buildings, &c. In reply to the remark of some gentlemen, that the southern states were favoured in this mode of apportionment, by having 5 of their negroes set against 3 persons in the eastern, the honourable judge observed, that the negroes of the southern states, work no longer than when the eye of the driver is on them. Can, asked he, that land flourish like this, which is cultivated by the hands of freemen? And are not three of these independent freemen of more real advantage to a state, than five of those poor slaves? As a friend to equal taxation, he rejoiced that an opportunity was presented in this Constitution, to change this unjust mode of apportionment: Indeed, concluded he, from a survey of every part of the Constitution, I think it the best that the wisdom of men could suggest.
Mr. NASSON remarked on the statement of the honourable Mr. King, by saying that the honourable gentleman should have gone further, and shewn us the other side of the question. It is a good rule that works both ways- and the gentleman should also have told us, that three of our infants in the cradle, are to be rated as high as five of the working negroes of Virginia. Mr. N. adverted to a statement of Mr. King, who had said, that five Negro children of S. Carolina were equally rateable as three governours of New-England, and wished, he said, the Hon. Gentleman had considered this question upon the other side- as it would then appear that this State will pay as great a tax for three children in the cradle, as any of the southern States will for five hearty working Negro men.10
He hoped, he said, while we were making a new government, we should make it better than the old one: for if we had made a bad bargain before, as had been hinted, it was a reason why we should make a better one now.
Mr. RANDAL begged leave to answer a remark of the Hon. Mr DANA, which he thought reflected on the barrenness of the southern states. He spoke from his own personal knowledge, he said, and he could say, that the land in general in those states was preferable to any he ever saw.
Judge DANA rose to set the gentleman right, he said it was not the quality of the lands, but the manner of tilling it, that he alluded to.

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