James Madison Papers

Note on Suffrage, [7 August?] 1787

Note on Suffrage

[7 August 1787?]

note to speech of J. M. in convention
of 1787, Augus[t] 7th.

As appointments for the General Government here contemplated will, in part, be made by the State Govts: all the Citizens in States where the right of suffrage is not limited to the holders of property, will have an indirect share of representation in the General Government. But this does not satisfy the fundamental principle that men can not be justly bound by laws in making which they have no part. Persons & property being both essential objects of Government, the most that either can claim, is such a structure of it, as will leave a reasonable security for the other. And the most obvious provision, of this double character, seems to be that of confining to the holders of property the object deemed least secure in popular Govts., the right of suffrage for one of the two Legislative branches. This is not without example among us, as well as other constitutional modifications, favoring the influence of property in the Government. But the U.S. have not reached the Stage of Society in which conflicting feelings of the Class with, and the Class without property, have the operation natural to them in Countries fully peopled. The most difficult of all political arrangements is that of so adjusting the claims of the two Classes as to give security to each and to promote the welfare of all. The federal principle, which enlarges the sphere of Power without departing from the elective basis of [it] and controuls in various ways the propensity in small republics to rash measures & the facility of forming & executing them, will be found the best expedient yet tried for solving the problem.

Ms (DLC); Tr (DLC) in an unidentified hand. The Ms is one of a series of memorandums and notes JM appended to his Notes on Debates. Although the precise date of the Ms cannot be determined, it is placed here because of its relation to JM’s speech on suffrage of 7 Aug. 1787 at the Federal Convention. It is possible that JM wrote the note shortly after that speech, for he speaks of “appointments for the General Government here contemplated,” as if the Constitution had not yet become a reality. The note is one of three notes on suffrage that are placed together in JM’s appendix to his Debates. From internal evidence (an allusion to the New York Constitution of 1821) the second note, which is by far the longest of the three, could not have been written before 1821. The third note was written during the Virginia Convention of 1829–1830. All three notes were printed in the appendix to the first edition of JM’s writings (Madison, Papers [Gilpin ed.] description begins Henry D. Gilpin, ed., The Papers of James Madison (3 vols.; Washington, 1840). description ends , III, viii–xvi). Rives included them in a section entitled, “Notes on Suffrage, written at different periods after [JM’s] retirement from public life” (Madison, Letters [Cong. ed.] description begins [William C. Rives and Philip R. Fendall, eds.], Letters and Other Writings of James Madison (published by order of Congress; 4 vols.; Philadelphia, 1865). description ends , IV, 21–30). Hunt printed the first two as a footnote to JM’s speech of 7 Aug. 1787 and the third as a footnote to a speech by JM at the convention of 1829–1830 (Madison, Writings [Hunt ed.] description begins Gaillard Hunt, ed., The Writings of James Madison (9 vols.; New York, 1900–1910). description ends , IV, 121–27 n.; IX, 358–60 n.). Farrand printed the first as a footnote to JM’s speech of 7 Aug. 1787 and the second as one of the documents in his appendix volume (Records, II, 204 n. 17; III, 450–55).

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