James Madison Papers

Popular Election of the First Branch of the Legislature, [6 June] 1787

Popular Election of
the First Branch of the Legislature

[6 June 1787]

Charles Pinckney moved that the first branch of the legislature be elected by the state legislatures, not by the people.

Mr. Madison considered an election of one branch at least of the Legislature by the people immediately, as a clear principle of free Govt. and that this mode under proper regulations had the additional advantage of securing better representatives, as well as of avoiding too great an agency of the State Governments in the General one. He differed from the member from Connecticut (Mr. Sharman) in thinking the objects mentioned to be all the principal ones that required a National Govt. Those were certainly important and necessary objects; but he combined with them the necessity, of providing more effectually for the security of private rights, and the steady dispensation of Justice. Interferences with these were evils which had more perhaps than any thing else produced this convention. Was it to be supposed that republican liberty could long exist under the abuses of it practiced in some of the States. The gentleman (Mr. Sharman) had admitted that in a very small State, faction & oppression wd. prevail. It was to be inferred then that wherever these prevailed the State was too small. Had they not prevailed in the largest as well as the smallest tho’ less than in the smallest; and were we not thence admonished to enlarge the sphere as far as the nature of the Govt. would admit. This was the only defence agst. the inconveniencies of democracy consistent with the democratic form of Govt. All civilized Societies would be divided into different Sects, Factions, & interests, as they happened to consist of rich & poor, debtors & creditors, the landed the manufacturing the commercial interests, the inhabitants of this district or that district, the followers of this political leader or that political leader, the disciples of this religious Sect or that religious Sect. In all cases where a majority are united by a common interest or passion, the rights of the minority are in danger. What motives are to restrain them? A prudent regard to the maxim that honesty is the best policy is found by experience to be as little regarded by bodies of men as by individuals. Respect for character is always diminished in proportion to the number among whom the blame or praise is to be divided. Conscience, the only remaining tie, is known to be inadequate in individuals: In large numbers little is to be expected from it. Besides, Religion itself may become a motive to persecution & oppression. These observations are verified by the Histories of every Country antient & modern. In Greece & Rome the rich & poor, the creditors & debtors, as well as the patricians & plebians alternately oppressed each other with equal unmercifulness. What a source of oppression was the relation between the parent Cities of Rome, Athens & Carthage, & their respective provinces: the former possessing the power, & the latter being sufficiently distinguished to be separate objects of it? Why was America so justly apprehensive of Parliamentary injustice? Because G. Britain had a separate interest real or supposed, & if her authority had been admitted, could have pursued that interest at our expence. We have seen the mere distinction of colour made in the most enlightened period of time, a ground of the most oppressive dominion ever exercised by man over man. What has been the source of those unjust laws complained of among ourselves? Has it not been the real or supposed interest of the major number? Debtors have defrauded their creditors. The landed interest has borne hard on the mercantile interest. The Holders of one species of property have thrown a disproportion of taxes on the holders of another species. The lesson we are to draw from the whole is that where a majority are united by a common sentiment and have an opportunity, the rights of the minor party become insecure. In a Republican Govt. the Majority if united have always an opportunity. The only remedy is to enlarge the sphere, & thereby divide the community into so great a number of interests & parties, that in the 1st. place a majority will not be likely at the same moment to have a common interest separate from that of the whole or of the minority; and in the 2d place, that in case they shd have such an interest, they may not be apt to unite in the pursuit of it.1 It was incumbent on us then to try this remedy, and with that view to frame a republican system on such a scale & in such a form as will controul all the evils wch. have been experienced.2

Ms (DLC).

1Portions of this speech were taken from the concluding section of Vices of the Political System of the United States, April–June 1787 (PJM description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (10 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IX, 355–57). JM returned to this subject in his letter to Jefferson of 24 Oct. 1787 and in The Federalist, Nos. 10 and 51.

2Hamilton’s version and commentary:

“Maddisons Theory—
“Two principles upon which republics ought to be constructed—
“I that they have such extent as to render combinations on the ground of Interest difficult—
“II By a process of election calculated to refine the representation of the People—
“Answer—There is truth in both these principles but they do not conclude so strongly as he supposes.
“The Assembly when chosen will meet in one room if they are drawn from half the globe—& will be liable to all the passions of popular assemblies.
“If more minute links are wanting others will supply them. Distinctions of Eastern middle and Southern states will come into view; between commercial and non commercial states. Imaginary lines will influence &c. Human mind prone to limit its view by near & local objects. Paper money is capable of giving a general impulse. It is easy to conceive a popular sentiment pervading the E states.
“Observ: large districts less liable to be influenced by factions demagogues than small.
“Note— This is in some degree true but not so generally as may be supposed. Frequently small portions of the large districts carry elections. An influential demagogue will give an impulse to the whole. Demagogues are not always inconsiderable persons. Patricians were frequently demagogues. Characters are less known & a less active interest taken in them.
“I   One great defect of our Governments are that they do not present objects sufficiently interesting to the human mind.
“I— A reason for leaving little or nothing to the state legislatures will be that as their objects are diminished they will be worse composed. Proper men will be less inclined to participate in them” (Syrett and Cooke, Papers of Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and Jacob E. Cooke, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton (21 vols. to date; New York, 1961——). description ends , IV, 165–66).

Yates’s version:

“Mr. Madison is of opinion, that when we agreed to the first resolve of having a national government, consisting of a supreme executive, judicial and legislative power, it was then intended to operate to the exclusion of a federal government, and the more extensive we made the basis, the greater probability of duration, happiness and good order” (Farrand, Records description begins Max Farrand, ed., The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787 (4 vols.; New Haven, 1911–37). description ends , I, 141).

King’s version:

“Madison—The election may safely be made by the People if you enlarge the Sphere of Election—Experience proves it—if bad elections have taken place from the people, it will generally be found to have happened in small Distracts” (ibid., I, 143–44).

Pierce’s version:

“Mr. Maddison observed that Gentlemen reasoned very clear on most points under discussion, but they drew different conclusions. What is the reason? Because they reason from different principles. The primary objects of civil society are the security of property and public safety” (ibid., I, 147).

It is not clear whether these remarks of JM’s recorded by Pierce belong to the above speech or to another made by JM on the same day.

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