The excitement now became intense, and the convention seemed to be on the point of dissolution.
Continuing The Constitutional Convention of the United States,
with a selection from The American Statesman by Andrew W. Young published in 1860. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. This selection is presented in 6.5 easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in The Constitutional Convention of the United States
The Virginia and New Jersey plans were now (June 19th) referred to a new committee of the whole. Another debate arose, in which the powers of the convention was the principal subject of discussion. It was again urged that their power had been, by express instruction, limited to an amendment of the existing confederation, and that the new system would not be adopted by the States. The vote was taken on the 19th, and the propositions of William Paterson were rejected; only New York, New Jersey, and Delaware voting in the affirmative; seven States in the negative, and the members from Maryland equally divided.
Randolph’s propositions, as modified and reported by the committee of the whole, were now taken up and considered separately. The division of the Legislature into two branches, a House of Representatives and a Senate, was agreed to almost unanimously, one State only, Pennsylvania, dissenting; but the proposition to apportion the members to the States according to population was violently opposed. The small States insisted strenuously on retaining an equal vote in the Legislature, but at length consented to a proportional representation in the House on condition that they should have an equal vote in the Senate.
Accordingly, on June 29th, Oliver Ellsworth, of Connecticut, offered a motion, “that in the second branch, each State shall have an equal vote.” This motion gave rise to a protracted and vehement debate. It was supported by Messrs. Ellsworth; Baldwin, of Georgia; Bradford, of Delaware, and others. It was urged on the ground of the necessity of a compromise between the friends of the confederation and those of a national government, and as a measure which would secure tranquillity and meet the objections of the larger States. Equal representation in one branch would make the government partly federal, and a proportional representation in the other would make it partly national. Equality in the second branch would enable the small States to protect themselves against the combined power of the large States. Fears were expressed that without this advantage to the small States, it would be in the power of a few large States to control the rest. The small States, it was said, must possess this power of self-defence, or be ruined.
The motion was opposed by Messrs. Madison, Wilson, of Pennsylvania; King, of Massachusetts, and Dr. Franklin. Mr. Madison thought there was no danger from the quarter from which it was apprehended. The great source of danger to the General Government was the opposing interests of the North and the South, as would appear from the votes of Congress, which had been divided by geographical lines, not according to the size of the States. James Wilson objected to State equality; that it would enable one-fourth of the Union to control three-fourths. Respecting the danger of the three larger States combining together to give rise to a monarchy or an aristocracy, he thought it more probable that a rivalship would exist between them than that they would unite in a confederacy. Rufus King said the rights of Scotland were secure from all danger, though in the Parliament she had a small representation. Dr. Franklin, now in his eighty-second year, said, as it was not easy to see what the greater States could gain by swallowing up the smaller, he did not apprehend they would attempt it. In voting by States — the mode then existing — it was equally in the power of the smaller States to swallow up the greater. He thought the number of representatives ought to bear some proportion to the number of the represented.
On July 2d the question was taken on Mr. Ellsworth’s motion, and lost: Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland voting in the affirmative; Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina in the negative; Georgia divided. It will be remembered that the delegates from New Hampshire were not yet present, and that Rhode Island had appointed none. This has been regarded by some as a fortunate circumstance, as the votes of these two small States would probably have given an equal vote to the States in both Houses, if not have defeated the plan of national government.
The excitement now became intense, and the convention seemed to be on the point of dissolution. Luther Martin, of Maryland, who had taken a leading part in advocating the views of the State rights party, said each State must have an equal vote, or the business of the convention was at an end. It having become apparent that this unhappy result could be avoided only by a compromise, Roger Sherman, of Connecticut, moved the appointment of a committee of conference, to consist of one member from each State, and the motion prevailed. The convention then adjourned for three days, thus giving time for consultation, and an opportunity to celebrate the anniversary of independence.
The report of this committee, which was made on July 5th, proposed: (1) That in the first branch of the Legislature each State should have one representative for every forty thousand inhabitants (three-fifths of the slaves being counted); that each State not containing that number should be allowed one representative; and that money bills should originate in this branch; (2) that in the second branch each State should have one vote. These propositions were reported, it is said, at the suggestion of Dr. Franklin, one of the committee of conference.
The report, of course, met with greater favor from the State rights party than from their opponents. The equal vote in the Senate continued to receive the most determined opposition from the National party. In relation to the rule of representation in the first branch of the Legislature, also, a great diversity of opinion prevailed. The conflicting interests to be reconciled in the settlement of this question, however, were those of the Northern and Southern, commercial and planting, rather than the imaginary interests of small and large States.
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