Article 1, Section 4, Clause 2
Records of the Federal Convention
[2:163; Committee of Detail, IX]
To meet on the 1st Monday every December--
[2:177; Madison, 6 Aug.]
The Legislature shall meet on the first Monday in December in every year.
[2:193; Journal, 7 Aug.]
It was moved and seconded to add the following words to the last clause of the third article
"unless a different day shall be appointed by law"
which passed in the affirmative [Ayes--8; noes--2.]
It was moved and seconded to strike out the word "December" and to insert the word "May" in the third article
which passed in the negative. [Ayes--2; noes--8.]
. . . . .
It was moved and seconded to amend the last clause of the third article to read as follows namely
"The Legislature shall meet at least once in every year; and such meeting shall be on the first monday in December unless a different day shall be appointed by law"
which passed in the affirmative
[2:197; Madison, 7 Aug.]
Mr Madison wished to know the reasons of the Come for fixing by ye. Constitution the time of Meeting for the Legislature; and suggested, that it be required only that one meeting at least should be held every year leaving the time to be fixed or varied by law.
Mr. Govr. Mor[ris] moved to strike out the sentence. It was improper to tie down the Legislature to a particular time, or even to require a meeting every year. The public business might not require it.
Mr. Pinckney concurred with Mr Madison
Mr. Ghorum. If the time be not fixed by the Constitution, disputes will arise in the Legislature; and the States will be at a loss to adjust thereto, the times of their elections. In the N. England States, the annual time of meeting had been long fixed by their Charters and Constitutions, and no inconveniency had resulted. He thought it necessary that there should be one meeting at least every year as a check on the Executive department.
Mr. Elseworth was agst. striking out the words. The Legislature will not know till they are met whether the public interest required their meeting or not. He could see no impropriety in fixing the day, as the Convention could judge of it as well as the Legislature.
Mr. Wilson thought on the whole it would be best to fix the day.
Mr. King could not think there would be a necessity for a meeting every year. A great vice in our system was that of legislating too much. The most numerous objects of legislation belong to the States. Those of the Natl. Legislature were but few. The chief of them were commerce & revenue. When these should be once settled, alterations would be rarely necessary & easily made.
Mr Madison thought if the time of meeting should be fixed by a law it wd. be sufficiently fixed & there would be no difficulty then as had been suggested, on the part of the States in adjusting their elections to it. One consideration appeared to him to militate strongly agst. fixing a time by the Constitution. It might happen that the Legislature might be called together by the public exigencies & finish their Session but a short time before the annual period. In this case it would be extremely inconvenient to reassemble so quickly & without the least necessity. He thought one annual meeting ought to be required; but did not wish to make two unavoidable.
Col. Mason thought the objections against fixing the time insuperable; but that an annual meeting ought to be required as essential to the preservation of the Constitution. The extent of the Country will supply business. And if it should not, the Legislature, besides legislative, is to have inquisitorial powers, which can not safely be long kept in a State of suspension.
Mr. Sherman was decided for fixing the time, as well as for frequent meetings of the Legislative body. Disputes and difficulties will arise between the two Houses, & between both & the States, if the time be changeable--frequent meetings of Parliament were required at the Revolution in England as an essential safeguard of liberty. So also are annual meetings in most of the American charters and constitutions. There will be business eno' to require it. The Western Country, and the great extent and varying state of our affairs in general will supply objects.
Mr. Randolph was agst. fixing any day irrevocably; but as there was no provision made any where in the Constitution for regulating the periods of meeting, and some precise time must be fixed, untill the Legislature shall make provision, he could not agree to strike out the words altogether. Instead of which he moved to add the words following--"unless a different day shall be appointed by law."
Mr. Madison 2ded. the motion, & on the question
N. H. no. Mas. ay. Ct. no. Pa. ay. Del. ay. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. ay. [Ayes--8; noes--2.]
Mr. Govr. Morris moved to strike out Decr. & insert May. It might frequently happen that our measures ought to be influenced by those in Europe, which were generally planned during the Winter and of which intelligence would arrive in the Spring.
Mr. Madison 2ded. the motion. he preferred May to Decr. because the latter would require the travelling to & from the Seat of Govt. in the most inconvenient seasons of the year.
Mr. Wilson. The Winter is the most convenient season for business.
Mr. Elseworth. The summer will interfere too much with private business, that of almost all the probable members of the Legislature being more or less connected with agriculture.
Mr Randolph. The time is of no great moment now, as the Legislature can vary it. On looking into the Constitutions of the States, he found that the times of their elections with which the elections of the Natl. Representatives would no doubt be made to co-incide, would suit better with Decr than May. And it was advisable to render our innovations as little incommodious as possible.
On question for "May" instead of "Decr."
N- H. no. Mas. no. Ct. no. Pa. no. Del. no. Md. no. Va. no. N. C. no. S. C. ay. Geo. ay. [Ayes--2; noes--8.]
The Founders' Constitution
Volume 2, Article 1, Section 4, Clause 2, Document 3
The University of Chicago Press
Farrand, Max, ed. The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787. Rev. ed. 4 vols. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1937.
Easy to print version.