The 1787 Constitutional Convention – Division Over Representation Continued

July 5, 1787


Elbridge Gerry’s committee reported recommendations for representation. Although the committee wasn’t unanimous, the report recommended that the first branch (House of Representatives) have a member for every 40,000 citizens, with the Senate made up of one member per state. Finally, all finance bills should originate in the House without possibility of amendment in the Senate.

Influences on the Delegates

The disputation continued in this session. Even after Ben Franklin’s call for prayer and the July 4th festivities, the delegates were still not in a compromising mood. Madison appealed again to experience in Great Britain and the states as reason for his concern about aspects of the report.

Mr. MADISON could not regard the privilege of originating money bills as any concession on the side of the small States. Experience proved that it had no effect. If seven States in the upper branch wished a bill to be originated, they might surely find some member from some of the same States in the lower branch, who would originate it. The restriction as to amendments was of as little consequence. Amendments could be handed privately by the Senate to members in the other House. Bills could be negatived, that they might be sent up in the desired shape. If the Senate should yield to the obstinacy of the first branch, the use of that body, as a check, would be lost. If the first branch should yield to that of the Senate, the privilege would be nugatory. Experience had also shown, both in Great Britain, and the States having a similar regulation, that it was a source of frequent and obstinate altercations. These considerations had produced a rejection of a like motion on a former occasion, when judged by its own merits. It could not, therefore, be deemed any concession on the present, and left in force all the objections which had prevailed against allowing each State an equal voice.

Some delegates were worried that “the people” would reject the plan.

Mr. BUTLER said, he could not let down his idea of the people of America so far as to believe they would, from mere respect to the Convention, adopt a plan evidently unjust.

Gouverneur Morris appealed to the whole world and wanted the delegates to craft a good plan without regard to critics.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS thought the form as well as the matter of the Report objectionable. It seemed, in the first place, to render amendment impracticable. In the next place, it seemed to involve a pledge to agree to the second part, if the first should be agreed to. He conceived the whole aspect of it to be wrong. He came here as a Representative of America; he flattered himself he came here in some degree as a Representative of the whole human race; for the whole human race will be affected by the proceedings of this Convention. He wished gentlemen to extend their views beyond the present moment of time; beyond the narrow limits of place from which they derive their political origin. If he were to believe some things which he had heard, he should suppose that we were assembled to truck and bargain for our particular States. He cannot descend to think that any gentlemen are really actuated by these views. We must look forward to the effects of what we do. These alone ought to guide us. Much has been said of the sentiments of the people. They were unknown. They could not be known. All that we can infer is, that, if the plan we recommend be reasonable and right, all who have reasonable minds and sound intentions will embrace it, notwithstanding what had been said by some gentlemen.

Morris also appealed to the negative example of Germany:

This country must be united. If persuasion does not unite it, the sword will. He begged this consideration might have its due weight. The scenes of horror attending civil commotion cannot be described; and the conclusion of them will be worse than the term of their continuance. The stronger party will then make traitors of the weaker; and the gallows and halter will finish the work of the sword. How far foreign powers would be ready to take part in the confusions, he would not say. Threats that they will be invited have, it seems, been thrown out. He drew the melancholy picture of foreign intrusions, as exhibited in the history of Germany, and urged it as a standing lesson to other nations.

Morris then offered a suggestion that property ownership be considered as a part of how representatives were apportioned. He also thought the original states should have a fixed number of representatives with any new states placed at a disadvantage (if the population of the original states dipped to reduce representation). He wanted the original states to have a fixed advantage. Although Morris said a lot, there was a lot that never saw the light of day in the Constitution.