James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Rufus King, 20 January 1788

From Rufus King

Boston 20 Jan 1788.

Dear Sir

Our convention proceeds slowly. An apprehension that the liberties of the people are in danger, and a distrust of men of property or Education have a more powerful Effect upon the minds of our Opponents than any specific Objections against the constitution. If the Opposition was grounded on any precise Points, I am persuaded that it might be weakened if not entirely overcome. But every Attempt to remove their fixed and violent Jealousy seems hitherto to operate as a confirmation of that baneful passion. The Opponents affirm to each other that they have an unalterable majority on their side; the Friends doubt the strength of their Adversaries but are not entirely confident of their own.

An Event has taken place relative to Mr. Gerry, which without great Caution may throw us into Confusion; I informed you by the last post on what Terms Mr. G. took a seat in the Convention. Yesterday in the Course of debate on the construction of the Senate, Mr. G. unasked informed the Convention that he had some Information to give the Convention on the Subject then in discussion.1 Mr. Dana and a number of the most respectable Members, remarked upon the Impropriety of Mr. G——’s conduct. Mr. G. rose with a view to justify himself; he was immediately prevented by a number of Objectors; this brought on an irregular Conversation whether Mr. G. shd. be heard. The Hour of Adjournment arrived and the President adjourned the House. Mr. Gerry immediately charged Mr. Dana with a design of injuring his Reputation by partial Information, & preventing his having an Opportunity to communicate important Truths to the Convention; this charge drew a warm reply from Mr. Dana, the Members collected about them, took sides as they were for or against the Constitution, and we were in Danger of the utmost Confusion. However the Gentlemen separated—and I suppose Tomorrow Morning will renew the discussion before the Convention.2

I shall be better able to conjecture the final Issue by next Post. With real Esteem & Regard I am &c

R. King

RC (DLC); Tr (NHi). RC docketed by JM.

1On 18 Jan. Gerry had been requested to answer the following question in writing: “Why, in the last requisition of Congress, the portion required of this State was thirteen times as much as of Georgia, and yet we have but eight representatives in the general government, and Georgia has three?” After Gerry submitted his answer the following morning, the convention proceeded to debate the section of the Constitution providing for equal representation in the Senate. It was during this debate that Gerry attempted to address the convention (enclosure, Benjamin Lincoln to Washington, 20 Jan. 1788, Documentary History of the Constitution, IV, 451–53).

2Gerry did not return to the convention, but his letter of 21 Jan. 1788, accompanied by a statement of the proceedings of the Federal Convention concerning representation in the Senate, was laid before the Massachusetts delegates on 22 Jan. (Massachusetts Debates description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Convention of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Held in the Year 1788 (Boston, 1856). description ends , pp. 65–66, 175–76). The letter and statement, together with an account of this episode from the Boston Mass. Centinel of 2 Feb. 1788, are printed in Massachusetts Debates description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Convention of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Held in the Year 1788 (Boston, 1856). description ends , pp. 65–75 n. 18.

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