James Madison Papers

Power to Establish Property Qualifications for Members of the Legislature, [10 August] 1787

Power to Establish Property Qualifications
for Members of the Legislature

[10 August 1787]

The report of 6 August gave the legislature power to establish property qualifications for members of that body.

Mr Madison was opposed to the Section as vesting an improper & dangerous power in the Legislature. The qualifications of electors and elected were fundamental articles in a Republican Govt. and ought to be fixed by the Constitution. If the Legislature could regulate those of either, it can by degrees subvert the Constitution. A Republic may be converted into an aristocracy or oligarchy as well by limiting the number capable of being elected, as the number authorised to elect. In all cases where the representatives of the people will have a personal interest distinct from that of their Constituents, there was the same reason for being jealous of them, as there was for relying on them with full confidence, where they had a common interest. This was one of the former cases. It was as improper as to allow them to fix their own wages, or their own privileges. It was a power also which might be made subservient to the views of one faction agst. another. Qualifications founded on artificial distinctions may be devised,1 by the stronger in order to keep out partizans of a weaker faction.2

Ms (DLC).

1JM originally completed the sentence with this clause: “which may exclude obnoxious partizans of the opposite faction.”

2After Ellsworth and Gouverneur Morris defended this power, JM observed “that the British Parliamt. possessed the power of regulating the qualifications both of the electors, and the elected; and the abuse they had made of it was a lesson worthy of our attention. They had made the changes in both cases subservient to their own views, or to the views of political or Religious parties” (ibid.).

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