The house then resolved itself into a committee of the whole on the amendments to the constitution. Mr. Trumbull in the chair.
Mr. Smith wished to transpose the words of the first amendment, as they did not satisfy his mind in the manner they stood.
Said they were not well expressed, we have it here "government being intended for the benefit of the people," this holds up an idea that all the governments of the earth are intended for the benefit of the people: Now I am so far from being of this opinion, that I don't believe that one out of fifty is intended for any such purpose. I believe the establishment of most governments was to gratify the ambition of an individual, who by fraud, force, or accident, had made himself master of the people. If we contemplate the history of nations, ancient or modern, we shall find they originated either in fraud or force, or both; if this is demonstrable, how can we pretend to say that governments are intended for the benefit of those who are most oppressed by them. This maxim does not appear to me to be strictly true in fact, therefore I think we ought not to insert it in the constitution. I shall therefore propose to amend the clause by inserting "of right," then it will stand as it ought. I do not object to the principle, sir, it is a good one, but it does not generally hold in practice. The question on inserting the words "of right" was put, and determined in the negative.
I presume these propositions are brought forward under the idea of being amendments to the constitution; but can this be esteemed an amendment of the constitution? If understand what is meant by the introductory paragraph, it is the preamble to the constitution; but a preamble is no part of the constitution; it is, to say the best, an useless amendment: For my part should as soon think of amending the concluding part, consisting of general Washington's letter to the president of congress, as the preamble; but if the principle is of importance, it may be introduced into a bill of rights.
Read the amendments on this head, proposed by the conventions of New-York, Virginia, and North-Carolina, from which it appeared that these states had expressed desire to have an amendment of this kind.
Replied that the words "We the people do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America," was a declaration of their action; this being performed, congress have nothing to do with it: But if it was necessary to retain the principle, it might come in at some other place.
Thought this was not a proper place to introduce any general principle; perhaps in going through with the amendments something might be proposed subversive of what was there declared; wherefore he wished the committee would pass over the preamble until they had gone through all the amendments, and then, if alterations were necessary they could be accommodated to what had taken place in the body of the constitution.
Was not concerned about the preamble; he did not care what kind it was agreed to form in the committee; because, when it got before the house it would be undone if one member more than one third of the whole opposed it.
Thought the preamble no part of the constitution, but if it was, it stood in no need of amendment; the words "We the people," had a neatness and simplicity while its expression was the most forcible of any he had ever seen prefixed to any constitution. He did not doubt the truth of the proposition brought forward by the committee, but he doubted its necessity in this place.
If it be a truth, and so self evident that it cannot be denied; if it be recognized, as is the fact in many of the state constitutions; and if it be desired by three important states, to be added to this, I think they must collectively offer a strong inducement to the mind desirous of promoting harmony to acquiesce with the report; at least some strong arguments should be brought forward to shew the reason why it is improper.
My worthy colleague says the original expression is neat and simple; that loading it with more words may destroy the beauty of the sentence, and others say it is unnecessary as the paragraph is complete without it, be it so in their opinion; yet, still it appears important in the estimation of three states, that this solemn truth should be inserted in the constitution. For my part, sir, I do not think the association of ideas any ways unnatural; it reads very well in this place, so much so that I think gentlemen who admit it should come in somewhere, will be puzzled to find a better place.
Thought they ought not to come in in this place. The people of the United States have given their reasons for doing a certain act; here we propose to come in and give them a right to do what they did on motives which appeared to them sufficient to warrant their determination-to let them know that they had a right to exercise a natural and inherent privilege which they have asserted in a solemn ordination and establishment of the constitution. Now if this right is indefeasible, and the people have recognized it in practice, the truth is better asserted than it can be by any words whatever-the words "We the people" in the original constitution are copious and expressive as possible; any addition will only drag out the sentence without illuminating it; for these reasons it may be hoped the committee will reject the proposed amendment.
The question on the first paragraph of the report was put and carried in the affirmative, 27 to 23.
Second paragraph in the report was read as follows;
Art. I Sect. 2. Par 3. Strike out all between the words "direct" and "and until such" and instead thereof insert "after the first enumeration, there shall be one representative for every 30,000, until the number shall amount to 100. 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."
The duty sir, which I owe to my constituents, and my desire to establish the constitution on a policy dictated by justice and liberality which will ever secure domestic tranquillity and promote the general welfare, induces me to come forward with a motion, which I rest upon its own merits. Gentlemen who have a magnanimous policy in view I trust will give it their support; and concede to what is proper in itself and likely to procure a greater degree of harmony. I therefore move you, sir, to insert after the words "one hundred and seventy-five," these words, "That where the number of inhabitants of any particular state amounts to 45,000, they shall be entitled to two representatives." This motion was negatived without a division.
Moved to strike out thirty thousand, and insert forty thousand. I am induced to this, said he, because I think my fellow citizens will be dissatisfied with too numerous a representation. The present I believe is in proportion to 1 for 40,000 the number I move to insert.6
I believe we have hitherto experienced no difficulty on account of the smallness of our number; if we are embarrassed, apprehend the embarrassment will arise from our want of knowing the general interest of the nation at large; or for want of local information. If the present number is found sufficient for the purpose of legislation without any such embarrassment, it ought to be preferred, inasmuch as it is most adequate to its object.
But before we proceed in the discussion, let us consider the effect, which a representation, founded on 1 member for 30,000 citizens will produce. In the first place it will give 4 members for every 3 now intitled to seat in this house, which will be an additional burthen to the union, in point of expence in the same ratio: add to this another consideration, that probably before the first census is taken, the number of inhabitants will be considerably encreased, from what it was when the convention which formed this constitution obtained their information. This will probably encrease the expences of government to 450,000 dollars annually7
- Now those who have attended particularly to economy; who upon the most careful calculation find that our revenue is like to fall infinitely short of our expences, will consider this saving as a considerable object, and deserving their most serious regard.
It may become dissatisfactory to the people as an intolerable burthen. Again it must be abundantly clear to every gentleman, that in proportion as you encrease the number of representatives the body degenerates, you diminish the individual usefulness, gentlemen will not make equal exertions to dispatch public business when they can lean upon others for the arrangement.
By enlarging the representation, we lessen the chance of selecting men of the greatest wisdom and abilities; because small district elections may be conducted by intrigue; but in large districts nothing but real dignity of character can secure an election.8
Gentlemen ought to consider how essential it is to the security and welfare of their constituents, that this branch of the government should support its independence and consequence.
Another effect of it will be an excitation, or fermentation in the representative body
Numerous assemblies are supposed to be less under the guidance of reason than smaller ones; their deliberations are confused; they will fall the prey of party spirit; they will cabal to carry measures which they would be unable to get through by fair and open argument.9
All these circumstances tend to retard the public business, and increase the expence; making government in the eyes of some so odious as to induce them to think it rather a curse than a blessing.
It lessens that responsibility which is annexed to the representative of a more numerous body of people.
For I believe it will be found true that the representative of 40,000 citizens, will have more at risque than the man who represents a part of them; he has more dignity of character to support; and must use the most unremitting industry in their service to preserve it unsullied; he will be more sensible of the importance of his charge, and more indefatigable in his duty10
It is said that these amendments are introduced with a view to conciliate the affections of the people to the government;
I am persuaded the people are not anxious to have a large representation, or a representation of one for every 30,000; they are satisfied with the representation they now enjoy11
The great object which the convention of Massachusetts had in view by proposing this amendment, was to obtain a security that congress should never reduce the representation below what they conceived to be a point of security. Their object was not an augmentation, it was certainty alone they wished for; at the next census the number of representatives will be 70 or 80, and in 20 years it will be equal to the desires of any gentleman, we shall have to guard against its growth in less than half a century. The number of proper characters to serve in the legislature of any country is small; and of those many are inclined to pursue other objects. If the representation is greatly enlarged, men of inferior abilities will undoubtedly creep in, for altho' America has as great a proportion of men of sense and judgment as any nation on earth; yet she may not have sufficient to fill a legislative body unduly enlarged. Now if it has been questioned whether this country can remain united under a government administered by men of the most consummate abilities; the sons of wisdom, and the friends of virtue. How much more doubtful will it be if the administration is thrown into different hands; and different hands must inevitably be employed if the representation is too large.
I cannot concur in sentiment with the gentleman last up, that representative for 40,000 inhabitants will conciliate the minds of those to the government, who are desirous of amendments; because they have rather wished for an encrease, than confined themselves to a limitation.
I believe, by this motion, we shall avoid no inconvenience that can be considered of much consequence, for one member for either 30,000 or 40,000 inhabitants, will, in a few years, give the number beyond which it is proposed congress shall not go.
Now if good policy requires that we accommodate the constitution to the wishes of that part of the community who are anxious for amendments, we shall agree to something like what is proposed in the report, for the states of New-Hampshire, Massachusetts, New-York, Virginia and North-Carolina, have desired an alteration on this head; some have required an encrease as far as 200 at least: this does not look as if certainty was their sole object.
I do not consider it necessary on this occasion, to go into a lengthy discussion of the advantages of a less or greater representation. I agree that after going beyond a certain point, the number may become inconvenient; that is proposed to be guarded against; but it is necessary to go to a certain number in order to secure the great objects representation. Numerous bodies are undoubtedly liable to some objections, but they have their advantages also; if they are more exposed to passion and fermentation they are less subject to venality and corruption; and in a government like this, where the house of representatives is connected with a smaller body it might be good policy to guard them in a particular manner against such abuse.
But for what shall we sacrifice the wishes of the people? Not for a momentary advantage: Yet the amendment proposed by the gentleman from Massachusetts will lose its efficacy after the second census; I think, with respect to futurity it makes little or no difference; and as it regards the present time, 30,000 is the most proper, because it is the number agreed upon in the original constitution, and what is required by several states.
Observed, that the amendment proposed by the convention of Massachusetts was carried there, after a full discussion; since then, the whole of the amendments proposed by the convention had been recommended by the legislature of that state, to the attention of their delegates in congress. From these two circumstances he was led to believe, that his, and his colleagues' constituents, were generally in favor of the amendment as stated in the report.
He did not expect any advantage would arise from enlarging the number of representatives beyond a certain point; but he thought 175 rather too few.
My colleague (mr. Ames) has said that we experience no inconvenience for want of either general or local knowledge. Sir, I may dispute the fact from the difficulties we encountered in carrying through the collection bill, and on some other occasions, where we seemed much at a loss to know what were the dispositions of our constituents. But admitting this to be the fact; is information the only principle upon which we are to stand? Will that gentleman pretend to say we have as much security in a few representatives as in many? Certainly he will not. Not that I would insist upon a burthensome representation, but upon an adequate one. He supposes the expences of the government will be encreased in a very great proportion; but if he calculates with accuracy he will find the difference of the pay of the additional members not to exceed a fourth: The civil list was stated to cost 300,000 dollars, but the house representatives does not cost more than a ninth of that sum; consequently the additional members, at the ratio of 4 for 3, could not amount to more than a thirtieth part, which would fall far short of what he seemed to apprehend. Is this such an object as to induce the people to risk every security which they ought to have in a more numerous representation?
One observation which understood fell from him, was, that multiplying the number of representatives, diminished the dignity and importance of the individuals who compose the house. Now I wish to know whether he means that we should establish our own importance at the risk of the liberties of America, if so, it has been of little avail that we successfully opposed the lordly importance of a British parliament. We shall now I presume, be advised to keep the representation where it is, in order to secure our dignity; but I hope it will be ineffectual, and that gentlemen will be inclined to give up some part of their consequence to secure the rights of their constituents.
My honorable colleague has said that large bodies are subject to fermentations true, sir, but so are small ones also, when they are composed of aspiring and ambitious individuals. Large bodies in this country are likely to be composed in a great measure of gentlemen who represent the landed interest of the country; these are generally more temperate in debate - than others, consequently by encreasing the representation we shall have less of this fermentation than on the present establishment. As to the other objections, they are not of sufficient weight to induce the house to refuse adopting an amendment recommended by so large a body of our constituents.
Was against the alteration, because he was certain his constituents were opposed to it: He never heard a single person but supposed that one member was little enough to represent the interest of 30,000 inhabitants; many had thought the proportion ought to be 1 for 20 or 25,000. It would be useless to propose amendments which there was no probability of getting ratified; and he feared this would be the fate of the one under consideration, if the honorable gentleman's alteration took place.
Begged to know the reasons upon which amendments were founded: He hoped it was not purely to gratify an indigested opinion; but in every part where they retouched the edifice, it was with an intention of improving the structure; they certainly could not think of making alterations for the worse. Now that his motion would be an improvement, was clearly demonstrable from the advantage in favor of deliberating by a less numerous body and various other reasons already mentioned; but to those, the honorable gentleman from Virginia, (mr. Madison) replied, by saying we ought to pay attention to the amendments recommended by the states; if this position is true, we have nothing more to do than read over their amendments, and propose them without exercising our judgment upon them. But he would undertake to say that the object of the people was rather to procure certainty, than encrease; if so, it was the duty of congress rather to carry the spirit of the amendment into operation than the letter of it.
The house of representatives will furnish a better check upon the senate, if filled with men of independent principles, integrity and eminent abilities, than if consisting of a numerous body of inferior characters; in this opinion, said he, my colleague cannot but agree with me: Now if you diminish the consequence of the whole, you diminish the consequence of each individual, it was in this view that I contended for the importance of the members.
He said it could not be the wish of Massachusetts to have the representation numerous, because they were convinced of its impropriety in their own legislature, which might justly be supposed to require a greater number, as the objects of their deliberation extended to minute and local regulations.17
But that kind of information was not so much required in congress, whose power embraced national objects alone. He contended that all the local information necessary in this house, was to be found as fully among the ten members from Massachusetts, as if there had been one from every town in the state.
It is not necessary to encrease the representation, in order to guard against corruption, because no one will presume to think that a body composed like this, and encreased in a ratio of 4 to 3, will be much less exposed to sale than we are. Nor is a greater number necessary to secure the rights and liberties of the people, for the representative of a great body of people, is likely to be more watchful of its interests than the representative of a lesser body.
I have always been afraid of letting this subject come before the house, for I was apprehensive that something would be offered striking at the very foundation of the constitution, by lessening it in the good opinion of the people. I conceive that the proposition for encreasing the ratio of representation will have this tendency; but I am not opposed to the motion only on the principle of expediency, but because I think it grounded on wrong principles. The honorable gentleman's arguments were as much in favor of entrusting the business of legislation to one, two, or three men as to a body of sixty or a hundred, they would dispatch business with greater facility and be an immense saving to the public; but will the people of America be gratified with giving the power of managing their concerns into the hands of one man? Can this take place upon the democratic principle of the constitution, I mean the doctrine of representation? Can one man, however consummate his abilities, however unimpeachable his integrity and however superior his wisdom, be supposed capable of understanding, combining and managing interests so diversified as those of the people of America. It has been complained of that the representation is too small at one for 30,000, we ought not therefore attempt to reduce it.
In a republic, the laws should be founded upon the sense of the community; if every man's opinion could be obtained it would be the better; it is only in aristocracies, where the few are supposed to understand the general interests of the community more than the many: I hope I shall never live to see that doctrine established in this country.
Supposed the United States to contain 3,000,000 of people; these, at one representative for every 30,000 would give a hundred members, of which fifty-one were a quorum to do business; twenty-six men would be the majority and give law to the United States, together with seven in the senate: If this was not a number sufficiently small to administer the government, he did not know what was; he was satisfied that gentlemen, upon mature reflection, would deem it inexpedient to reduce that number one-fourth.
Said it had been observed by the gentleman from Massachusetts, that it would tend to diminish the expence, but he considered this object as very inconsiderable when compared with that of having a fair and full representation of the people of the United States.
Mr. Ames's motion was now put, and lost by a large majority Mr. SEDGWICK.
When he reflected on the country and the increase of population which was likely to take place, he was led to believe that one hundred and seventy-five members would be a body rather too small to represent such extensive concerns-for this reason he would move to strike out a hundred and seventy-five and insert two hundred.
Said if they were now forming a constitution, he should be in favor of one representative for 40,000 rather than 30,000; the proportion by which the several states are now represented in this house, was founded on the former calculation; in the convention that framed the constitution, there was a majority in favor of 40,000, and though there were some in favour of 30,000 yet that proposition did not obtain until after the constitution was agreed to, when the president had expressed a wish that 30,000 should be inserted, as more favorable to the public interest during the contest between 30 and 40,000, he believed there were not more than nine states who voted in favour of the former.
The objects of the federal government were fewer than those of the state governments; they did not require an equal degree of local knowledge; the only case, perhaps, where local knowledge would be advantageous, was in laying direct taxes; but here they were freed from an embarrassment, because the arrangements of the several states might serve as a pretty good rule on which to found their measures.
So far was he from thinking a hundred and seventy-five insufficient, that he was about to move for a reduction, because he always considered that a small body deliberated to better purpose than a greater one.
Hoped gentlemen would not be influenced by what had been related to have passed in the convention; he expected the committee would determine upon their own sense of propriety; though as several states had proposed the number of two hundred, he thought some substantial reason should be offered to induce the house to reject it.
Said that he did not like the amendment as it was reported; he approved of the ratio being one for 30,000, but he wished the number of representatives might be increased in proportion as the population of the country increased, until the number representatives amounted to two hundred.
Said the honorable gentleman who spoke last had anticipated what he was going to remark. It appeared to him that the committee had looked but a very little way forward when they agreed to fix the representation at one hundred members, on a ratio of one to every 30,000 upon the first enumeration; he apprehended the United States would be found to comprehend near 3,000,000 of people, consequently they would give a hundred members, now by the amendment, it will lay in the power of congress to prevent any addition to that number; if it should be a prevalent opinion among the members of this house that a small body was better calculated to perform the public business than a larger one, they will never suffer their members to increase to a hundred and seventy-five, the number to which the amendment extended.
Expressed himself in favour of extending the number to two hundred, and wished that the amendment might be so modified as to insure an increase in proportion to the increase of population.
Was against any increase; he thought that if a future house should be convinced of the impropriety of increasing this number to above one hundred, they ought to have it at their discretion to prevent it, and if that was likely to be the case, it was an argument why the present house should not decide. He did not consider that all that had been said with respect to the advantages of a large representation was founded upon experience; it had been intimated that a large body was more incorruptible than a smaller one; this doctrine was not authenticated by any proof, he could invalidate it by an example notorious to every gentleman in this house; he alluded to the British house of commons, which altho' it consisted of upwards of 500 members, the minister always contrived to procure votes enough to answer his purpose.
Said that it was a matter of opinion upon which gentlemen held different sentiments whether a greater or less number than a certain point, was best for a deliberative body; but he apprehended that whatever number was now fixed, would be continued by a future congress, if it was left to their discretion; he formed this opinion from the influence of the senate, in which the small states were represented in an equal proportion with the larger ones:
He supposed that the senators from New-Hampshire, Rhode-Island, Connecticut, Jersey and Delaware would ever oppose an augmentation of the number of representatives; because their influence in the house would be proportionably abated. These states were incapable of extending their population beyond certain point, inasmuch as they were confined with respect to territory; if therefore they could never have more than one representative, they would hardly consent to double that of others, by which their own importance would be diminished. If such a measure was carried by the large states through this house, it might be successfully opposed in the senate; he would therefore be in favor of encreasing the number to 200, and making its increase gradual till it arrived at that height.25
The presumption is, that if provision is not made for the increase of the house of representatives, by the present congress, the increase never will be made. Gentlemen ought to consider the difference between the government in its infancy and when well established. The people suppose their liberties somewhat endangered; they have expressed their wishes to have them secured, and instructed their representatives to endeavour to obtain for them certain amendments, which they imagine will be adequate to the object they have in view; besides this, there are two states not in the union, but which we hope to annex to it by the amendments now under deliberation; these are inducements for us to proceed and adopt this amendment, independent of the propriety of the amendment itself and such inducements as no future congress will have, the principle of self interest and self importance will always operate on them to prevent any addition to the number of representatives. Cannot gentlemen contemplate a difference in situation between this and a future congress on other accounts. We have neither money nor force to administer the constitution, but this will not be the case hereafter. In the progress of this government its revenues will increase, and an army will be established; a future legislature will find other means to influence the people than now exists.
This circumstance proves that we ought to leave as little as possible to the discretion of the future government; but it by no means proves that the present congress ought not to adopt the amendment moved by my colleague, Mr. Sedgwick.
It has been observed that there will be an indisposition in future legislatures to increase the number representatives. I am by no means satisfied that this observation is true: I think there are motives which will influence legislatures of the best kind to increase the number of its members; there is a constant tendency in a republican government to multiply what it thought to be the popular branch: If we consider that men are often more attached to their places than they are to their principles, we shall not be surprised to see men of the most refined judgment advocating a measure which will increase their chance of continuing in office.
My honorable colleague has intimated that a future legislature will be against extending the number of this branch, and that if the people are displeased, they will have it in their power, by force, to compel their acquiescence. I do not see, sir, how the legislature is strengthened by an increase of an army: I have generally understood that it gave power to the executive arm, but not to the deliberative head; the example of every nation is against him: Nor can I conceive upon what foundation he rests his reasoning; If there is a natural inclination in the government to increase the number administrators, it will be prudent in us to endeavour to counteract its baneful influence.
Mr. LIVERMORE now proposed to strike out the words "one hundred" and insert "two hundred."
Mr. SEDGWICK suspended his motion until this question was determined, whereupon it was put and lost, there being 22 in favor of and 27against it.
Mr. SEDGWICK'S motion was then put and carried in the affirmative Mr. LIVERMORE
Wished to amend the clause of the report in such a manner as to prevent the power of congress from deciding the rate of increase; he thought the constitution had better fix it, and let it be gradual until it arrived at 200; after which, if that was the sense of the committee, it might be stationary and liable to no other variation but that of being apportioned among the members of the union.
Suggested to the consideration of gentlemen, whether it would not be better to arrange the subject in such a way as to let the representation be proportioned to a ratio of I for 30,000 at the first census, and I for 40,000 at the second, so as to prevent a too rapid increase of the number of members;26
he did not make a motion of this nature, because he conceived it to be out of order, after the late decision of the committee, but it might be brought forward in the house, and he hoped would accommodate both sides.
Wished that the gentleman last up, would pen down the idea he had just thrown out, he thought it very proper for the consideration of the house.
The question on the second proposition of the report as amended, was now put and carried, being 27 for, and 22 against it.
The next proposition in the report was as follows;
Art. I. Sect. 6. Between the words "United States" and "shall in all cases" strike out "they" and insert "but no law varying the compensation shall take effect, until an election representatives shall have intervened. The members."
Thought much inconvenience, and but very little good would result from this amendment, it might serve as a tool for designing men, they might reduce the wages very low, much lower than it was possible for any gentleman to serve without injury to his private affairs, in order to procure popularity at home, provided diminution of pay was looked upon as a desirable thing; it might also be done in order to prevent men of shining and disinterested abilities, but of indigent circumstances, from rendering their fellow citizens those services they are well able to perform, and render a seat in this house less eligible than it ought to be. Mr. VINING
Thought every future legislature would feel a degree of gratitude to the preceeding one, which had performed so disagreeable a task for them. The committee who had made this a part of their report, had been guided by a single reason, but which appeared to them a sufficient one, there was, to say the least of it, a disagreeable sensation, occasioned by leaving it in the breast of any man to set a value upon his own work; it is true it was unavoidable in the present house, but it might, and ought to be avoided in future; he therefore hoped it would obtain without any difficulty.
Would be in favor of this clause, if they could find means to secure an adequate representation, but he apprehended that would be considerably endangered, he should therefore be against it.
Mr. MADISON Thought the representation would be as well secured under this clause as it would be if it was omitted; and as it was desired by a great number of the people of America, he should consent to it, though he was not convinced it was absolutely necessary.
Remarked once more, that the proposition had two aspects which made it disagreeable to him, the one was to render a man popular to his constituents, the other to render the place ineligible to his competitor. He thought there was very little danger of an abuse of the power of laying their own wages, gentlemen were generally more inclined to make them moderate than excessive.
The question being put on the proposition, it was carried in the affirmative, 27 for, and 20 against it.