Constitutional Convention. Remarks in Support of a
Three-Year Term for Members of the
House of Representatives1
[Philadelphia, June 21, 1787]
Col. Hamilton urged the necessity of 3 years.2 There ought to be neither too much nor too little dependence, on the popular sentiments. The checks in the other branches of Governt. 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 ye. 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 Virga. it had been lately found necessary to force the attendance & voting of the people by severe regulations.
Hunt and Scott, Debates description begins Gaillard Hunt and James Brown Scott, eds., The Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 Which Framed the Constitution of the United States of America. Reported by James Madison (New York, 1920). description ends , 145–46.
1. These remarks were recorded by Robert Yates, John Lansing, Jr., and Rufus King.
Yates’s version reads:
“There is a medium in every thing. I confess three years is not too long. A representative ought to have full freedom of deliberation, and ought to exert an opinion of his own. I am convinced that the public mind will adopt a solid plan. The government of New-York, although higher toned than that of any other state, still we find great listlessness and indifference in the electors; nor do they in general bring forward the first characters to the legislature. The public mind is perhaps not now ready to receive the best plan of government, but certain circumstances are now progressing which will give a different complexion to it.” (Yates, Secret Proceedings and Debates description begins Robert Yates, Secret Proceedings and Debates of the Convention Assembled at Philadelphia, in the Year 1787, For the Purpose of Forming the Constitution of The United States of America (Albany, 1821). description ends , 151.)
Lansing’s version reads:
“The Opinion of the People is fluctuating—You must exercise your Judgment, convinced that the Pressure of unavoidable Circumstances will direct the public Mind.
“Listlessness prevails in New York on Acc(oun)t of annual Election—Consequence is that Factions are represented in that Government.” (Notes of John Lansing description begins Joseph R. Strayer, ed., The Delegate from New York or Proceedings of the Federal Convention of 1787 from the Notes of John Lansing, Jr. (Princeton, 1939). description ends , 78).
King’s version reads:
“I prefer three years to a longer or shorter Term. The Dependence on Constituents is sufficient, & the independence of the members as little as it ought to be.” (King, The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King description begins Charles R. King, The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King (New York, 1894). description ends , I, 606).
2. The Convention debated a motion that the lower branch of the proposed legislature be elected for three years.