James Madison Papers

Proportional Representation, [22 March] 1792

Proportional Representation

[22 March 1792]

During debate on the apportionment bill in Committee of the Whole on 16 February, JM opposed Vining’s proposition to grant New Hampshire five representatives. “Fractions will exist, said he, on every possible plan; this is to be a permanent law, and in its operation will probably increase those fractions. The Constitution refers to the respective numbers of the States, and not to any aggregate number. The proposition breaks down the barriers between the State and General Governments, and involves a consolidation” (Gazette of the U.S., 24 Feb. 1792). Vining withdrew his proposition. On 20 February JM voted with the majority when the House defeated Dayton’s motion to strike out the provision for a second census in 1797, defeated Seney’s motion to strike out the provision for a ratio of representation on the second census, and approved a 1:30,000 ratio. The amended bill passed the next day, and on 17 March JM’s negative vote was crucial as the House rejected (by a 30–31 vote) a Senate amendment which would have fixed the number of representatives at 120. The House then rejected all other Senate amendments and appointed JM chairman of the five-member House delegation to a conference committee on the bill.

Mr. Madison, from the committee of conference on the representation bill, reported, that the Managers, on the part of the House, had proposed terms of accommodation to those appointed by the Senate, viz. to give up the provision for taking a new Census at the end of four years; and to consent to the ratio of thirty three thousand to be applied to the members in each state, without regard to fractions; but that the Senate’s conferees had refused their assent, and no prospect of accommodation remained.1

Dunlap’s Am. Daily Advertiser, 24 Mar. 1792 (reprinted in General Advertiser, 24 Mar. 1792, and National Gazette, 26 Mar. 1792).

1On 23 Mar. JM voted with the minority when the House accepted all Senate amendments. The apportionment bill was presented to Washington on 26 Mar. On 5 Apr. he exercised the presidential veto for the first time, employing objections provided in a memorandum from Jefferson, that “there is no one proportion or division which, applied to the respective numbers of the states will yield the number and allotment of representatives proposed by the bill,” and that “the bill has allotted to eight of the states more than one [representative] for every thirty thousand [persons],” contrary to the Constitution (Ford, Writings of Jefferson description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (10 vols.; New York, 1892–99). description ends , V, 501). When the bill was brought up again on 6 Apr., JM voted with the majority when the House defeated it but was with the opposition when the House on 9 Apr. approved an amendment that lowered the ratio of representation from 1:30,000 to 1:33,000. The House and Senate passed the amended bill the following day, and the president signed it on 14 Apr. (Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States, 1789–1824 (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends , 2d Cong., 1st sess., 120, 541, 548–50; U.S. Statutes at Large description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America … (17 vols.; Boston, 1848–73). description ends , I, 253).

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