Thomas Jefferson Papers

II. Report of Committee of House of Delegates on Right of Senate to Alter Money Bills, [4 December 1777]

II. Report of Committee of House of Delegates on Right of Senate to Alter Money Bills

[4 December 1777]

The Committee appointed have according to order prepared what they think may be proper to be offered at the conference which is to be desired with the Senate on the subject matter of their amendments to a resolution of the house of delegates for paying to Thomas Johnson the sum of £15-5-6.

The house of delegates has desired this conference in order to preserve that harmony and friendly correspondence with the Senate which is so necessary for the discharge of their joint duties of legislation, and to1 prevent both now and in future the delay of publick business and injury which may accrue to individuals should the two houses differ in opinion as to the distinct office of each.

Tho’ during the course of the last two and also of the present sessions of assembly they have acquiesced under some amendments made by the Senate to votes for allowing public claims and demands,2 yet they are of opinion that an adherence to fundamental principles is the most likely way to save both time and disagreement, that a departure from them may at some time or other be drawn into precedent for dangerous innovations, and that therefore it is better for both houses and for those by whom they are entrusted to correct the error while new and before it becomes inveterate by habit and custom.

The constitution having declared that ‘money bills shall in no instance be altered by the Senate but wholly approved or rejected’ the delegates3 are of opinion the Senate has no authority to amend their late vote for allowing to Thomas Johnson the sum of £15-5-6.

Should the term ‘money bills’ in the Constitution not immediately convey the precise idea which the framers of that act intended to express, it is supposed that it’s explanation should be sought for in the institutions of that people among whom alone a distinction between money bills and other acts of legislation is supposed to have been made and from whom we and others emigrating from them have indisputably copied it.

By the law and usages of their parliament then all those are understood to be money bills which raise money in any way or which dispose of it, and which regulate those circumstances of matter, method, and time which attend as of consequence on the right of giving and disposing.

Again, the law and customs of their parliament which include the usage as to money bills are a part of the law of their land: our ancestors adopted their system of law in the general, making from time to time such alterations as local diversities required; but that part of their law which relates to the matter now in question was never altered by our legislature in any period of it’s history; but on the contrary the two houses of assembly both under our regal and republican governments have ever done business on the constant admission that the law of parliament was their law.

When the delegates therefore vote that £15-5-6 of money whether raised or to be raised on the people shall be disposed of in paiment to Thomas Johnson for losses sustained by him on the public behalf, this is a vote for the disposal of money which the Senate are at liberty to approve or reject in the whole but cannot amend by altering the sum.

The delegates therefore hope that the Senate will concur with them in a strict and mutual observance of those laws by which both houses are bound,4 and they are well assured that this subject being properly stated to the senate, they will forbear in future to exercise a practice which seems not authorized: but if there should be found any difference of opinion on this point the delegates will be ready to join in any regular proposition for defining with precision5 the subject of their difference so as to prevent all doubts and delays in future.

Dft (DLC). Verso carries the following in TJ’s hand: (1) outline of Senate’s reply entitled “Heads of answer from Senate” (see Document iii in this series) and (2) endorsement reading: “Pend[leton] T. Nelson Bullitt Banister Meriwether.”

TJ’s draft of the Report was adopted, without modification, on 4 Dec. 1777; it is printed in JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia (cited by session and date of publication) description ends , Oct. 1777, 1827 edn., p. 54–5, and also in Journal of the Senate, Williamsburg, 1777, p. 16. Also in DLC: TJ Papers, 232: 42051, there is a MS in the hand of Edmund Pendleton which he evidently prepared for the Committee to consider, reading as follows: “Reasons to be offered at a Conference with the Senate on the Subject matter of their Amendment to a Resolution of the House of Delegates for Paying to Captain Thomas Johnson the sum of for . Without entering into the merits of the Question whether the Amendment proposed in this Instance be a reasonable and proper one, the House of Delegates found it necessary previously to determine whether this was not such a Case wherein the Senate is restrained by the Constitution of Government from proposing any Amendment as being a Money Bill; and as Instances of a Similar nature will frequently Occur much time may be spent, various and contradictory determinations prevail, and Altercations may sometimes arise between the two Houses on such Occasions to the great delay of Public Business: To prevent which, and to preserve Harmony as well as uniformity of determination, the House propose to the Senate that a joint Committee to consist of members to be appointed by each House shall endeavour to define what is meant by the general words ‘Money Bills’ in the Act for forming the Constitution of Government, with such precision that no future doubts may arise thereon, and that such definition may be confirmed by Act of Assembly and remain a fixed Rule for the future conduct of both houses: which being done, the House of Delegates, if such Rule shall permit them, will proceed to consider the Amendment proposed in the Case above, and determine thereupon as to them shall appear proper.” This compromise proposal was evidently rejected by the Committee as appearing to concede too much to the Senate at the beginning of negotiations.

1Deleted in draft: “[increase?] the length of that time in future which should be devoted to the service of the commonwealth and of the United States of America in general, and which is now most.”

2Deleted in draft: “sometimes from a desire to avoid any difference even tho small and sometimes when hurried by public business and want of time.”

3Deleted in draft: “think it their duty to disagree to an amendment of the Senate.”

4Deleted in draft: “and that they will therefore pass the resolution in question without any amendments and that they will forebear in future.”

5Deleted in draft: “the rights of the two houses on this matter.”

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