Article 1, Section 4, Clause 1

Document 7

Timothy Pickering to Charles Tillinghast

24 Dec. 1787Life 2:356--57

The capital error of all these objectors, and which reduces all their reasoning to mere sophistry, is their assuming for granted that our Federal rulers will necessarily have interests separate from those of the people, and exercise the powers of government not only arbitrarily but wantonly. But, Sir, on what do they ground such wild surmises? Why, they tell you that Congress will have power to regulate the elections of Senators and Representatives, and that, possessing this power, they will exercise it to deprive the people of the freedom of election. The "Federal Farmer" says, "The general legislature may so regulate elections, as to secure the choice of any particular description of men; it may make the whole State one district; make the capital, or any places in the State, the place or places of election," and so forth, in the same chimerical strain. But does he, does any man of common sense, really believe that the Congress will ever be guilty of so wanton an exercise of power? Will the immediate Representatives of the people, in Congress, ever consent to so oppressive a regulation? For whose benefit would they do it? Would not the first attempt certainly exclude themselves? And would not the State legislatures, at their next election of Senators, as certainly reject every one who should give his assent to such a law? and if the President did not firmly give his qualified negative to it, would he ever again be placed in the chair of government? What other oppressive regulation can they make, which will not immediately, or in a short time, affect them in common with their fellow-citizens? What, then, have we to fear on this head? But will no advantage arise from the controlling power of Congress? Yes, certainly. I say a controlling, because a candid interpretation of that section in the Constitution will show that it is intended and expected, that the times, places, and modes of electing Senators and Representatives should be regulated by the State legislatures; but that, if any particular State government should be refractory, and, in the pride of sovereignty, or influenced by any other motive, should either make no such regulations or improper ones, then the Congress will have power to make such regulations as will ensure to the people their rights of election and establish a uniformity in the mode of constituting the members of the Senate and House of Representatives. If we give a loose to our imaginations, we may suppose that the State governments may abuse their power, and regulate these elections in such manner as would be highly inconvenient to the people, and injurious to the common interests of the States. And, if such abuses should be attempted, will not the people rejoice that Congress have a constitutional power of correcting them?

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 2, Article 1, Section 4, Clause 1, Document 7
The University of Chicago Press

Upham, Charles W. The Life of Timothy Pickering. 2 vols. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1873.

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