Log In Register

Source & Citation Info

title:“Newspaper Report of the House of Representatives Debates on August 19, 1789”
date written:1789-8-19

permanent link
to this version:
last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:04 a.m. UTC
retrieved:March 18, 2019, 6:04 p.m. UTC

"Newspaper Report of the House of Representatives Debates on August 19, 1789." Gazette of the United States 1789-08-19 : . Rpt. in Creating the Bill of Rights. Ed. Kenneth R. Bowling and Helen E. Veit. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991. 132-36. Print.
Manuscripts Division, Library of Congress

Newspaper Report of the House of Representatives Debates on August 19, 1789 (August 19, 1789)

In COMMITTEE of the whole. The first article of the report being read, Mr. GERRY rose and objected to the sentence, "Government being intended for the benefit of the people."
THIS, said he, holds up an idea, that all, government is intended for the benefit of the people: This is not true—for if we examine, we shall find that not one government in fifty is constituted upon this principle. Most of the governments, ancient or modern, owed their existence to either fraud, force or accident, and are designed for the purposes of oppression and personal ambition. I wish to have nothing go out from this body as a maxim, which is not true in fact. He moved to amend the clause by inserting the words "of right." This motion was negatived.
Mr. TUCKER observed, that the preamble is no part of the Constitution: The object is to amend the Constitution; The preamble is no more a part of it, than the letter of the President which is annexed to the Instrument—and I cannot see that the committee has any thing to do with it.
Mr. SUMTER moved that the consideration of the preamble should be postponed till the whole amendments are gone through, and then we shall know what introduction may be proper.
Mr. SMITH, (S. C.) observed, that the amendments proposed to the preamble, had been recommended by three States, which renders it proper.
Mr. PAGE said, that in his opinion the original preamble will not be altered for the better, by this amendment, and therefore I hope it will remain as it is.
Mr. SHERMAN said he was satisfied with the original clause: If the Constitution was a grant from another power it would be proper; but as the right is a natural and unalienable right, and inherent in the people, it is quite unnecessary to give any reasons for forming the Constitution. It is the act of their own sovereign will. The words "WE THE PEOPLE" contain in themselves the principle fully and the alteration proposed will injure the preamble.
Mr. MADISON observed, that the proposed amendment is a truth, and I conceive there is a propriety in inserting it; besides several of the States have thought proper to mention the preamble in their ratifications, which renders it proper to be attended to. I can see no difficulty in associating the amendment with the preamble, without injuring the beauty or sense of the paragraph: The principle it is acknowledged on all hands is self evident, and can derive no force from this expression, still for the reason before suggested it may be prudent to insert it. The question on this amendment was carried in the affirmative.
Second amendment: From art. I, sec. II, par 3, strike out all between the word "direct" and "until such," and instead thereof insert "after the first enumeration there shall be one representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred; after which, the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that the number of representatives shall never be less than one hundred nor more than one hundred and seventy five; but each state shall always have at least one representative."
Mr. VINING: The duty which I owe to my constituents—my anxiety on the subject of amendments, and the justice, propriety, and policy of the measure, lead me to propose, after the words, "one hundred and seventy-five," to insert these words, "that where the number of inhabitants of any particular State, amounts to 45,000, they shall be entitled to two representatives." This was negatived without a division.
Mr. AMES moved, that the word "thirty" should be struck out, and forty inserted-so that the ratio of representation should be one for forty thousand. I am induced, said he, to make this motion, because I think the present number sufficiently large for the purpose of legislation-that number which is found adequate to the object is to be prefered: The people it is presumed are universally satisfied with the present number, which falls short of what would, on this proposition, actually constitute the house, upon an exact apportionment upon the present supposed number of inhabitants: Experience has taught, that all the information necessary both of a general and local nature, may be found in a body not more numerous than the present legislature: The expence of a numerous representation would soon become dissatisfactory to the people, and be considered as an intolerable burden: The ratio of one to every 30,000 will swell the representation to an enormous mass, whose support will be insufferable, and whose deliberations will be impracticable: The present population will on the first census produce upwards of 100-the augmentation will be very rapid: It therefore appears proper to fix the proportion immediately, to prevent these evils. By enlarging the representation, we lessen the chance of selecting the most competent characters, and of concentering the wisdom and abilities of the United States, which alone can support the importance and dignity of that branch in which the people are more peculiarly interested: The responsibility any assembly is in proportion to the number: In larger representations the weight, the consequence, and responsibility of individuals is diminished. Numerous representations engender parties, are subject to peculiar fermentations, delay the public business, and by encreasing the expence, lead the people to consider government rather a curse than a blessing. Tho parties may promote the public good, they often give rise to very alarming evils. Whether it is possible so to constitute a popular assembly as to banish or restrain to any considerable degree, a spirit of faction, is an important enquiry. This however is certain, that in proportion as the assembly is encreased, the opportunity for intrigue and cabal, to influence weak and unsuspicious characters, and to attach them to the views of ambitious men, is encreased. It may also be observed, that responsibility is in some proportion to the numbers represented. A representative of a large body of people will feel in a higher degree the weight of the charge he undertakes, and will thereby be more interested to support a virtuous fame, and redouble his exertions for the public good.
The people are not anxious to have a representation for every 30,000: This was not the object originally in view by those who proposed this amendment; their intention was to fix a limitation, so that the representation should not be diminished by Congress in any future time, below the point security-their object was certainly not augmentation, for in proportion as the people multiply the representation will encrease, and their influence will be diminished; this will lessen the controul of the people over them; increasing the number therefore beyond certain limits will expose the government to factions, will lessen the agency of the understanding, and augment that of the passions. Improper characters will more easily get elected. The number of suitable persons is not great in any country of those, many will be indisposed to serve. The United States has as great a proportion of competent abilities perhaps as any country whatever. If however the representative body is unduly enlarged, the probability of inferior candidates being elected will rise. It has been asserted that so large a territory as the United States contain cannot remain united under one government, even if the administration was entrusted to men of consummate abilities, and incorruptible virtue; but this idea will receive additional force, if the chance of different characters being called to the administration is encreased.
Mr. AMES added many other observations, and concluded by saying, that from the foregoing reflections upon the subject, he was led to make the motion, conceiving it to be consonant to the ideas of the people, and that it would conduce to the dignity and security of the government, and the preservation of the rights, and privileges of the people.
Mr. MADISON said, he thought differently from the gentleman last speaking: The design of the amendments is to conciliate the minds of the people to the government-prudence requires that the opinion of those States who have proposed this important amendment should be attended to. It is a fact that some States have proposed an encrease of the number- several have mentioned 200-this renders it probable that they would not be satisfied with a less number. I do not think it necessary at this time to go into an accurate investigation of the advantages or disadvantages of a numerous representation; beyond a certain rule, the number might be inconvenient; that point is a matter of uncertainty. It is true that numerous bodies are liable to some abuses, but large assemblies are not so subject to corruption as smaller ones: If we fix the ratio at one for forty thousand, it will not prevent the abuses the gentleman apprehends, for before the second census shall be taken, it is probable that the population will be so encreased, as to make the representative body very large; there 1f it is therefore, with respect to futurity but little choice between one ratio, or the other. I think it will be best to retain the 30,000, as attended with the least difficulty-it is the proportion contemplated by the States, and I hope therefore that this part of the report will be adopted.
Mr. SEDGWICK stated some particulars respecting instructions from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and said he hoped the article in the report of the committee would be adopted.
Mr. GERRY also replied to Mr. Ames: He controverted his calculations, and enforced the necessity of an ample and adequate representation. He observed, that the gentleman had said, "encreasing the number lessens the importance of the members;" but Sir, said Mr Gerry are we, in order to preserve our own dignity and importance, to sacrifice the liberties of the people? He asserted that small assemblies are more liable to fermentation than large; large representative assemblies will commonly be composed of a considerable proportion of the yeomanry of the country, who are found to be more dispassionate than persons elected from elevated walks of life.
Mr. LIVERMORE was opposed to the motion for 40,000.
Mr. AMES rose to justify the motives which induced him to make the motion: He made a copious reply and among other observations said, that he had no idea of attempting any alterations of the Constitution which would injure or weaken the system: The amendments it is to be expected will improve and make it better; this he conceived would be the case by the alteration he proposed.
Mr. JACKSON said, that what he had expected, had taken place. It is now proposed, by way of amendment to the Constitution, to restrict the number of the representative body to one for every 40,000 inhabitants. In support of the argument, the gentleman says, that in a small assembly the abilities of the best men may be brought as it were to a focus: If this argument has any weight in it, why not trust one person? One representative to 30,000 has been complained of one to 40,000 would certainly be less competent to doing justice to his constituents. The motion for striking out 30,000, in order to insert 40,000, was negatived.
Mr. SEDGWICK moved, that the words "one hundred and seventy-five" should be struck out, and two hundred inserted.
Mr. SHERMAN objected to this motion: He said that was the constitution now to be formed, he should be for one representative to every 40,000 inhabitants, instead of 30,000, and upon that principle I was going to move, said he, that 175 be struck out, in order to insert a less number.
The representations of several of the states are too large, and have been justly complained of the rights of the people are less secure in a large, than in a small assembly: The great object is information; and this may be acquired by a small number, and to better purpose than by a large.
It has been said that a future legislature will not encrease the number, should it be found necessary: If that supposition is true, the present house will not agree to this motion, unless we suppose that a future house will be less patriotic than the present: as to the largeness of the number being a security against corruption, I do not think it is; the British house of commons consists of upwards of 500 members, and yet money enough has always been found to corrupt a sufficient number for the minister's purpose.
Mr. MADISON observed that as the number 200 had been mentioned in the ratifications of several of the states and no substantial reason has been assigned why their expectation should not be complied with, it is reasonable to adopt this motion: Not, said he, that would have the house give up their own judgement, when any substantial reason to the contrary is offered.
Mr. LAURANCE, Mr. GERRY, Mr. LIVERMORE, Mr. SEDGWICK, Mr. PAGE, Mr. TUCKER, and Mr. STONE, severally spoke upon this motion—which was finally carried in the affirmative—The paragraph as amended was agreed to by the committee.
The third amendment is "Art. I, Sec. 2. Par. 3—Strike out all between the words "direct" and "until such," and instead thereof insert "but no law varying the compensation, shall take effect, until an election representatives shall have intervened. The members."
This clause was debated for a short time, and then the question being taken, it was carried.

Resource Metadata





  • Unknown