Article 1, Section 5, Clauses 1--4

Document 10

Debate in Virginia Ratifying Convention

14--15 June 1788Elliot 3:367--68, 460

[14 June]

Mr. Monroe wished to hear an explanation of the clause which prohibits either house, during the session of Congress, from adjourning for more than three days without the consent of the other. He asked if it was proper or right, that the members of the lower house should be dependent on the Senate. He considered that it rendered them in some respect dependent on the senators, as it prevented them from returning home, or adjourning, without their consent; and, as this might increase their influence unduly, he thought it improper.

Mr. Madison wondered that this clause should meet with a shadow of objection. It was possible, he observed, that the two branches might not agree concerning the time of adjournment, and this possibility suggested the power given the President of adjourning both houses to such time as he should think proper, in case of their disagreement. That it would be very exceptionable to allow the senators, or even the representatives, to adjourn, without the consent of the other house, at any season whatsoever, without any regard to the situation of public exigencies. That it was possible, in the nature of things, that some inconvenience might result from it; but that it was as well secured as possible.

Gov. Randolph observed, that the Constitution of Massachusetts was produced as an example, in the grand Convention, in favor of this power given to the President If, said his excellency, he be honest, he will do what is right. if dishonest, the representatives of the people will have the power of impeaching him.

Mr. George Mason apprehended the loose expression of "publication from time to time" was applicable to any time. It was equally applicable to monthly and septennial periods. It might be extended ever so much. The reason urged in favor of this ambiguous expression was, that there might be some matters which require secrecy. In matters relative to military operations and foreign negotiations, secrecy was necessary sometimes; but he did not conceive that the receipts and expenditures of the public money ought ever to be concealed. The people, he affirmed, had a right to know the expenditures of their money; but that this expression was so loose, it might be concealed forever from them, and might afford opportunities of misapplying the public money, and sheltering those who did it. He concluded it to be as exceptionable as any clause, in so few words, could be.

Mr. Lee (of Westmoreland) thought such trivial argument as that just used by the honorable gentleman would have no weight with the committee. He conceived the expression to be sufficiently explicit and satisfactory. It must be supposed to mean, in the common acceptation of language, short, convenient periods. It was as well as if it had said one year, or a shorter term. Those who would neglect this provision would disobey the most pointed directions. As the Assembly was to meet next week, he hoped gentlemen would confine themselves to the investigation of the principal parts of the Constitution.

[15 June]

Mr. George Nicholas said it was a better direction and security than was in the state government. No appropriation shall be made of the public money but by law. There could not be any misapplication of it. Therefore, he thought, instead of censure it merited applause; being a cautious provision, which few constitutions, or none, had ever adopted.

Mr. Corbin concurred in the sentiments of Mr. Nicholas on this subject.

Mr. Madison thought it much better than if it had mentioned any specified period; because, if the accounts of the public receipts and expenditures were to be published at short, stated periods, they would not be so full and connected as would be necessary for a thorough comprehension of them, and detection of any errors. But by giving them an opportunity of publishing them from time to time, as might be found easy and convenient, they would be more full and satisfactory to the public, and would be sufficiently frequent. He thought, after all, that this provision went farther than the constitution of any state in the Union, or perhaps in the world.

Mr. Mason replied, that, in the Confederation, the public proceedings were to be published monthly, which was infinitely better than depending on men's virtue to publish them or not, as they might please. If there was no such provision in the Constitution of Virginia, gentlemen ought to consider the difference between such a full representation, dispersed and mingled with every part of the community, as the state representation was, and such an inadequate representation as this was. One might be safely trusted, but not the other.

Mr. Madison replied, that the inconveniences which had been experienced from the Confederation, in that respect, had their weight with him in recommending this in preference to it; for that it was impossible, in such short intervals, to adjust the public accounts in any satisfactory manner.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 2, Article 1, Section 5, Clauses 1--4, Document 10
The University of Chicago Press

Elliot, Jonathan, ed. The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution as Recommended by the General Convention at Philadelphia in 1787. . . . 5 vols. 2d ed. 1888. Reprint. New York: Burt Franklin, n.d.

Easy to print version.