The 1787 Constitutional Convention – Small Progress, Big Disagreements

a570af34_optJuly 6, 1787 (click to read Madison’s notes)


The delegates retained as an option the provision that the House would be responsible for finance bills but referred the question of representation to a committee led by Gouverneur Morris.

Influences on the Delegates

Britain again was a touchstone for debate, this time regarding which legislative body should originate money bills.

Mr. WILSON could see nothing like a concession here on the part of the smaller States. If both branches were to say yes or no, it was of little consequence which should say yes or no first, which last. If either was, indiscriminately, to have the right of originating, the reverse of the Report would, he thought, be most proper; since it was a maxim, that the least numerous body was the fittest for deliberation — the most numerous, for decision. He observed that this discrimination had been transcribed from the British into several American Constitutions. But he was persuaded that, on examination of the American experiments, it would be found to be a ‘trifle light as air.’ Nor could he ever discover the advantage of it in the parliamentary history of Great Britain. He hoped, if there was any advantage in the privilege, that it would be pointed out.

Morris viewed the British system as a problem to be avoided in the U.S.

Mr.  GOUVERNEUR MORRIS had waited to hear the good effects of the restriction. As to the alarm sounded, of an aristocracy, his creed was that there never was, nor ever will be, a civilized society without an aristocracy. His endeavor was, to keep it as much as possible from doing mischief. The restriction, if it has any real operation, will deprive us of the services of the second branch in digesting and proposing money bills, of which it will be more capable than the first branch. It will take away the responsibility of the second branch, the great security for good behaviour. It will always leave a plea, as to an obnoxious money bill, that it was disliked, but could not be constitutionally amended, nor safely rejected. It will be a dangerous source of disputes between the two Houses. We should either take the British Constitution altogether, or make one for ourselves. The Executive there has dissolved two Houses, as the only cure for such disputes. Will our Executive be able to apply such a remedy? Every law, directly or indirectly, takes money out of the pockets of the people. Again, what use may be made of such a privilege in case of great emergency? Suppose an enemy at the door, and money instantly and absolutely necessary for repelling him, — may not the popular branch avail itself of this duress, to extort concessions from the Senate, destructive of the Constitution itself? He illustrated this danger by the example of the Long Parliament’s expedients for subverting the House of Lords; concluding, on the whole, that the restriction would be either useless or pernicious.

James Wilson of Pennsylvania thought one branch having the power to originate money bills would be divisive as had been the case in Britain.

Mr. WILSON. The difficulties and disputes will increase with the attempts to define and obviate them. Queen Anne was obliged to dissolve her Parliament in order to terminate one of these obstinate disputes between the two Houses. Had it not been for the mediation of the Crown, no one can say what the result would have been. The point is still sub judice in England. He approved of the principles laid down by the honourable President1(Doctor FRANKLIN) his colleague, as to the expediency of keeping the people informed of their money affairs. But thought they would know as much, and be as well satisfied, in one way as in the other.

1787 Constitutional Convention Series

To read my series examining the proceedings of the Constitution Convention, click here.  In this series, I am writing about any obvious influences on the development of the Constitution which were mentioned by the delegates to the Convention. Specifically, I am testing David Barton’s claim that “every clause” of the Constitution is based on biblical principles. Thus far, I have found nothing supporting the claim. However, stay tuned, the series will run until mid-September.
Constitutional Convention Series (click the link)
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