The 1787 Constitutional Convention – Congress Will Be Two Houses with the First House Elected by Citizens

June 21, 1787


The delegates decided to make the legislature two houses with the first house elected by the people for a two year term.

Influences on the Delegates

Appeal to other nations is implied in this oration by Madison.

Mr. MADISON was of opinion, — in the first place, that there was less danger of encroachment from the General Government than from the State Governments; and in the second place, that the mischiefs from encroachments would be less fatal if made by the former, than if made by the latter.
1. All the examples of other confederacies prove the greater tendency, in such systems, to anarchy than to tyranny; to a disobedience of the members than usurpations of the Federal head. Our own experience had fully illustrated this tendency.

Why did they consider annual elections?

Mr. DICKINSON. The idea of annual elections was borrowed from the ancient usage of England, a country much less extensive than ours. He supposed biennial would be inconvenient. He preferred triennial; and in order to prevent the inconvenience of an entire change of the whole number at the same moment, suggested a rotation, by an annual election of one-third.

Delegate Wilson felt the people preferred annual elections.

Mr. WILSON, being for making the first branch an effectual representation of the people at large, preferred an annual election of it. This frequency was most familiar and pleasing to the people. It would not be more inconvenient to them than triennial elections, as the people in all the States have annual meetings with which the election of the national Representatives might be made to coincide. He did not conceive that it would be necessary for the National Legislature to sit constantly, perhaps not half, perhaps not one-fourth of the year.

Hamilton preferred three years and noted that the British had longer terms:

Colonel HAMILTON urged the necessity of three years. There ought to be neither too much nor too little dependence on the popular sentiments. The checks in the other branches of the Government would be but feeble, and would need every auxiliary principle that could be interwoven. The British House of Commons were elected septennially, yet the democratic spirit of the Constitution had not ceased. Frequency of elections tended to make the people listless to them; and to facilitate the success of little cabals. This evil was complained of in all the States. In Virginia it had been lately found necessary to force the attendance and voting of the people by severe regulations.

Eventually, the delegates decided on a two year term and a two house legislature.