Article 1, Section 2, Clause 2

[Volume 2, Page 69]

Document 2

Records of the Federal Convention

[1:375; Madison, 22 June]

Col. Mason moved to insert "twenty five years of age as a qualification for the members of the 1st. branch". He thought it absurd that a man to day should not be permitted by the law to make a bargain for himself, and tomorrow should be authorized to manage the affairs of a great nation. It was the more extraordinary as every man carried with him in his own experience a scale for measuring the deficiency of young politicians; since he would if interrogated be obliged to declare that his political opinions at the age of 21. were too crude & erroneous to merit an influence on public measures. It had been said that Congs. had proved a good school for our young men. It might be so for any thing he knew but if it were, he chose that they should bear the expence of their own education.

Mr. Wilson was agst. abridging the rights of election in any shape. It was the same thing whether this were done by disqualifying the objects of choice, or the persons chusing. The motion tended to damp the efforts of genius, and of laudable ambition. There was no more reason for incapacitating youth than age, when the requisite qualifications were found. Many instances might be mentioned of signal services rendered in high stations to the public before the age of 25: The present Mr. Pitt and Lord Bolingbroke were striking instances.

On the question for inserting "25 years of age" Massts. no. Cont. ay. N. Y. divd. N. J. ay. Pa. no. Del. ay. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. no. [Ayes--7; noes--3; divided--1.]

[2:121; Madison, 26 July]

Mr Mason moved "that the Committee of detail be instructed to receive a clause requiring certain qualifications of landed property & citizenship of the U. States in members of the Legislature, and disqualifying persons having unsettled Accts. with or being indebted to the U. S. from being members of the Natl. Legislature"--He observed that persons of the latter descriptions had frequently got into the State Legislatures, in order to promote laws that might shelter their delinquencies; and that this evil had crept into Congs. if Report was to be regarded.

Mr Pinckney seconded the motion

Mr Govr. Morris. If qualifications are proper, he wd. prefer them in the electors rather than the elected. As to debtors of the U. S. they are but few. As to persons having unsettled accounts he believed them to be pretty many. He thought however that such a discrimination would be both odious & useless. and in many instances unjust & cruel. The delay of settlemt. had been more the fault of the public than of the individuals. What will be done with those patriotic Citizens who have lent money, or services or property to their Country, without having been yet able to obtain a liquidation of their claims? Are they to be excluded?

Mr. Ghorum was for leaving to the Legislature, the providing agst such abuses as had been mentioned.

Col. Mason mentioned the parliamentary qualifications adopted in the Reign of Queen Anne, which he said had met with universal approbation

Mr. Madison had witnessed the zeal of men having accts. with the public, to get into the Legislatures for sinister purposes. He thought however that if any precaution were to be taken for excluding them, the one proposed by Col. Mason ought to be new modelled. It might be well to limit the exclusion to persons who had recd money from the public, and had not accounted for it.

Mr Govr. Morris--It was a precept of great antiquity as well as of high authority that we should not be righteous overmuch. He thought we ought to be equally on our guard agst. being wise over much. The proposed regulation would enable the Govent. to exclude particular persons [Volume 2, Page 70] from office as long as they pleased He mentioned the case of the Commander in chief's presenting his account for secret services, which he said was so moderate that every one was astonished at it; and so simple that no doubt could arise on it. Yet had the Auditor been disposed to delay the settlement, how easily might he have affected it, and how cruel wd. it be in such a case to keep a distinguished & meritorious Citizen under a temporary disability & disfranchisement. He mentioned this case merely to illustrate the objectionable nature of the proposition. He was opposed to such minutious regulations in a Constitution. The parliamentary qualifications quoted by Col. Mason, had been disregarded in practice; and was but a scheme of the landed agst the monied interest.

Mr Pinckney & Genl. Pinckney moved to insert by way of amendmt. the words Judiciary & Executive so as to extend the qualifications to those departments which was agreed to nem con

Mr. Gerry thought the inconveniency of excluding a few worthy individuals who might be public debtors or have unsettled accts ought not to be put in the Scale agst the public advantages of the regulation, and that the motion did not go far enough.

Mr. King observed that there might be great danger in requiring landed property as a qualification since it would exclude the monied interest, whose aids may be essential in particular emergencies to the public safety.

Mr. Dickenson. was agst. any recital of qualifications in the Constitution. It was impossible to make a compleat one, and a partial one would by implication tie up the hands of the Legislature from supplying the omissions, The best defence lay in the freeholders who were to elect the Legislature. Whilst this Source should remain pure, the public interest would be safe. If it ever should be corrupt, no little expedients would repel the danger. He doubted the policy of interweaving into a Republican constitution a veneration for wealth. He had always understood that a veneration for poverty & virtue, were the objects of republican encouragement. It seemed improper that any man of merit should be subjected to disabilities in a Republic where merit was understood to form the great title to public trust, honors & rewards.

Mr Gerry if property be one object of Government, provisions for securing it can not be improper.

Mr. Madison moved to strike out the word landed, before the word, "qualifications". If the proposition sd. be agreed to he wished the Committee to be at liberty to report the best criterion they could devise. Landed possessions were no certain evidence of real wealth. Many enjoyed them to a great extent who were more in debt than they were worth. The unjust laws of the States had proceeded more from this class of men, than any others. It had often happened that men who had acquired landed property on credit, got into the Legislatures with a view of promoting an unjust protection agst. their Creditors. In the next place, if a small quantity of land should be made the standard. it would be no security.--if a large one, it would exclude the proper representatives of these classes of Citizens who were not landholders. It was politic as well as just that the interests & rights of every class should be duly represented & understood in the public Councils. It was a provision every where established that the Country should be divided into districts & representatives taken from each, in order that the Legislative Assembly might equally understand & sympathise, with the rights of the people in every part of the Community. It was not less proper that every class of Citizens should have an opportunity of making their rights be felt & understood in the public Councils. The three principle classes into which our citizens were divisible, were the landed the commercial, & the manufacturing. The 2d. & 3rd. class, bear as yet a small proportion to the first. The proportion however will daily increase. We see in the populous Countries in Europe now, what we shall be hereafter. These classes understand much less of each others interests & affairs, than men of the same class inhabiting different districts. It is particularly requisite therefore that the interests of one or two of them should not be left entirely to the care, or the impartiality of the third. This must be the case if landed qualifications should be required; few of the mercantile, and scarcely any of the manufacturing class, chusing whilst they continue in business to turn any part of their Stock into landed property. For these reasons he wished if it were possible that some other criterion than the mere possession of land should be devised. He concurred with Mr. Govr. Morris in thinking that qualifications in the Electors would be much more effectual than in the elected. The former would discriminate between real & ostensible property in the latter; But he was aware of the difficulty of forming any uniform standard that would suit the different circumstances & opinions prevailing in the different States.

Mr. Govr Morris 2ded. the motion.

On the Question for striking out "landed"

N. H. ay. Mas. ay. Ct. ay N. J. ay. Pa. ay. Del. ay. Md. no Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. ay. [Ayes--10; noes--1.]

On Question on 1st. part of Col. Masons proposition as to qualification of property & citizenship" as so amended N. H. ay. Masts. ay. Ct. no. N. J. ay. Pa. no. Del. no. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. ay. [Ayes--8; noes--3.]

"The 2d. part, for disqualifying debtors, and persons having unsettled accounts", being under consideration

Mr. Carrol moved to strike out "having unsettled accounts"

Mr. Ghorum seconded the motion; observing that it would put the commercial & manufacturing part of the people on a worse footing than others as they would be most likely to have dealings with the public.

Mr. L-- Martin. if these words should be struck out, and the remaining words concerning debtors retained, it will be the interest of the latter class to keep their accounts unsettled as long as possible.

Mr. Wilson was for striking them out. They put too much power in the hands of the Auditors, who might combine with rivals in delaying settlements in order to prolong the disqualifications of particular men. We should consider that we are providing a Constitution for future generations, and not merely for the peculiar circumstances of the moment. The time has been, and will again be when [Volume 2, Page 71] the public safety may depend on the voluntary aids of individuals which will necessarily open accts. with the public, and when such accts. will be a characteristic of patriotism. Besides a partial enumeration of cases will disable the Legislature from disqualifying odious & dangerous characters.

Mr. Langdon was for striking out the whole clause for the reasons given by Mr Wilson. So many Exclusions he thought too would render the system unacceptable to the people.

Mr. Gerry. If the argumts. used to day were to prevail, we might have a Legislature composed of public debtors, pensioners, placemen & contractors. He thought the proposed qualifications would be pleasing to the people. They will be considered as a security agst unnecessary or undue burdens being imposed on them He moved to add "pensioners" to the disqualified characters which was negatived.

N. H. no Mas. ay. Con. no. N. J. no Pa. no. Del no Maryd. ay. Va. no. N. C. divided. S. C. no. Geo. ay. [Ayes--3; noes--7; divided--1.]

Mr. Govr. Morris The last clause, relating to public debtors will exclude every importing merchant. Revenue will be drawn it is foreseen as much as possible, from trade. Duties of course will be bonded. and the Merchts. will remain debtors to the public. He repeated that it had not been so much the fault of individuals as of the public that transactions between them had not been more generally liquidated & adjusted. At all events to draw from our short & scanty experience rules that are to operate through succeeding ages, does not savour much of real wisdom.

On question for striking out "persons having unsettled accounts with the U. States."

N. H. ay. Mas. ay. Ct. ay. N. J. no. Pa. ay. Del. ay. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. no. [Ayes--9; noes--2.]

Mr. Elseworth was for disagreeing to the remainder of the clause disqualifying public debtors; and for leaving to the wisdom of the Legislature and the virtue of the Citizens, the task of providing agst. such evils. Is the smallest as well largest debtor to be excluded? Then every arrear of taxes will disqualify. Besides how is it to be known to the people when they elect who are or are not public debtors. The exclusion of pensioners & placemen in Engd is founded on a consideration not existing here. As persons of that sort are dependent on the Crown, they tend to increase its influence.

Mr. Pinkney sd. he was at first a friend to the proposition, for the sake of the clause relating to qualifications of property; but he disliked the exclusion of public debtors; it went too far. It wd. exclude persons who had purchased confiscated property or should purchase Western territory of the public, and might be some obstacle to the sale of the latter.

On the question for agreeing to the clause disqualifying public debtors

N. H. no. Mas-- no. Ct. no. N. J. no. Pa. no. Del. no. Md. no. Va. no. N. C. ay. S. C. no. Geo. ay. [Ayes--2; noes--9.]

[2:216; Madison, 8 Aug.]

Art. IV. Sect. 2. taken up.

Col. Mason was for opening a wide door for emigrants; but did not chuse to let foreigners and adventurers make laws for us & govern us. Citizenship for three years was not enough for ensuring that local knowledge which ought to be possessed by the Representative. This was the principal ground of his objection to so short a term. It might also happen that a rich foreign Nation, for example Great Britain, might send over her tools who might bribe their way into the Legislature for insidious purposes. He moved that "seven" years instead of "three," be inserted.

Mr. Govr. Morris 2ded. the motion, & on the question, All the States agreed to it except Connecticut.

Mr. Sherman moved to strike out the word "resident" and insert "inhabitant," as less liable to misconstruction.

Mr. Madison 2ded. the motion. both were vague, but the latter least so in common acceptation, and would not exclude persons absent occasionally for a considerable time on public or private business. Great disputes had been raised in Virga. concerning the meaning of residence as a qualification of Representatives which were determined more according to the affection or dislike to the man in question, than to any fixt interpretation of the word.

Mr. Wilson preferred "inhabitant."

Mr. Govr. Morris was opposed to both and for requiring nothing more than a freehold. He quoted great disputes in N. York occasioned by these terms, which were decided by the arbitrary will of the majority. Such a regulation is not necessary. People rarely chuse a nonresident--It is improper as in the 1st. branch, the people at large, not the States are represented.

Mr. Rutlidge urged & moved that a residence of 7 years shd. be required in the State Wherein the Member shd. be elected. An emigrant from N. England to S. C. or Georgia would know little of its affairs and could not be supposed to acquire a thorough knowledge in less time.

Mr. Read reminded him that we were now forming a Natil Govt and such a regulation would correspond little with the idea that we were one people.

Mr. Wilson--enforced the same consideration.

Mr. Madison suggested the case of new States in the West, which could have perhaps no representation on that plan.

Mr. Mercer. Such a regulation would present a greater alienship among the States than existed under the old federal system. It would interweave local prejudices & State distinctions in the very Constitution which is meant to cure them. He mentioned instances of violent disputes raised in Maryland concerning the term "residence"

Mr Elseworth thought seven years of residence was by far too long a term: but that some fixt term of previous residence would be proper. He thought one year would be sufficient, but seemed to have no objection to three years.

Mr. Dickenson proposed that it should read "inhabitant actually resident for ------ year." This would render the meaning less indeterminate.

Mr. Wilson. If a short term should be inserted in the blank, so strict an expression might be construed to exclude the members of the Legislature, who could not be said to be actual residents in their States whilst at the Seat of the Genl. Government.

[Volume 2, Page 72]

Mr. Mercer. It would certainly exclude men, who had once been inhabitants, and returning from residence elswhere to resettle in their original State; although a want of the necessary knowledge could not in such case be presumed.

Mr. Mason thought 7 years too long, but would never agree to part with the principle. It is a valuable principle. He thought it a defect in the plan that the Representatives would be too few to bring with them all the local knowledge necessary. If residence be not required, Rich men of neighbouring States, may employ with success the means of corruption in some particular district and thereby get into the public Councils after having failed in their own State. This is the practice in the boroughs of England.

On the question for postponing in order to consider Mr Dickinsons motion

N. H. no. Mas. no. Ct. no. N. J. no. Pa. no. Del. no. Md. ay. Va. no. N. C. no. S. C. ay. Geo. ay. [Ayes--3; noes--8.]

On the question for inserting "inhabitant" in place of "resident"--Agd. to nem. con.

Mr. Elseworth & Col. Mason move to insert "one year" for previous inhabitancy

Mr. Williamson liked the Report as it stood. He thought "resident" a good eno' term. He was agst requiring any period of previous residence. New residents if elected will be most zealous to Conform to the will of their constituents, as their conduct will be watched with a more jealous eye.

Mr. Butler & Mr. Rutlidge moved "three years" instead of "one year" for previous inhabitancy

On the question for 3 years.

N. H. no. Mas. no. Ct. no. N. J. no. Pa. no. Del. no. Md. no. Va. no. N. C. no. S. C. ay. Geo. ay [Ayes--2; noes--9.]

On the question for "1 year"

N. H. no--Mas--no. Ct. no. N. J. ay. Pa. no. Del. no. Md. divd. Va. no-- N-- C. ay-- S. C. ay. Geo--ay [Ayes--4; noes--6; divided--1.]

Art. IV-- Sect. 2. As amended in manner preceding, was agreed to nem. con.

[2:268; Madison, 13 Aug.]

Mr. Wilson & Mr. Randolph moved to strike out "7 years" and insert "4 years," as the requisite terms of Citizenship to qualify for the House of Reps. Mr. Wilson said it was very proper the electors should govern themselves by this consideration; but unnecessary & improper that the Constitution should chain them down to it.

Mr. Gerry wished that in future the eligibility might be confined to Natives. Foreign powers will intermeddle in our affairs, and spare no expence to influence them. Persons having foreign attachments will be sent among us & insinuated into our councils, in order to be made instruments for their purposes. Every one knows the vast sums laid out in Europe for secret services--He was not singular in these ideas. A great many of the most influential men in Massts. reasoned in the same manner.

Mr. Williamson moved to insert 9 years instead of seven. He wished this Country to acquire as fast as possible national habits. Wealthy emigrants do more harm by their luxurious examples, than good, by the money, they bring with them.

Col. Hamilton was in general agst. embarrassing the Govt. with minute restrictions. There was on one side the possible danger that had been suggested--on the other side, the advantage of encouraging foreigners was obvious & admitted. Persons in Europe of moderate fortunes will be fond of coming here where they will be on a level with the first Citizens. He moved that the section be so altered as to require merely Citizenship & inhabitancy. The right of determining the rule of naturalization will then leave a discretion to the Legislature on this subject which will answer every purpose.

Mr Madison seconded the motion. He wished to maintain the character of liberality which had been professed in all the Constitutions & publications of America. He wished to invite foreigners of merit & republican principles among us. America was indebted to emigration for her settlement & Prosperity. That part of America which had encouraged them most had advanced most rapidly in population, agriculture & the arts. There was a possible danger he admitted that men with foreign predilections might obtain appointments but it was by no means probable that it would happen in any dangerous degree. For the same reason that they would be attached to their native Country, our own people wd. prefer natives of this Country to them. Experience proved this to be the case. Instances were rare of a foreigner being elected by the people within any short space after his coming among us--If bribery was to be practised by foreign powers, it would not be attempted among the electors, but among the elected; and among natives having full Confidence of the people not among strangers who would be regarded with a jealous eye.

Mr. Wilson. Cited Pennsylva. as a proof of the advantage of encouraging emigrations. It was perhaps the youngest (except Georgia) settlemt. on the Atlantic; yet it was at least among the foremost in population & prosperity. He remarked that almost all the Genl. officers of the Pena. line of the late army were foreigners. And no complaint had ever been made against their fidelity or merit. Three of her deputies to the Convention (Mr. R. Morris, Mr. Fitzsimmons & himself) were also not natives. He had no objection to Col. Hamiltons motion & would withdraw the one made by himself.

Mr. Butler was strenuous agst. admitting foreigners into our public Councils.

Question on Col. Hamilton's Motion

N. H. no. Mas. no. Ct. ay. N. J. no. Pa. ay. Del. no Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C. no. S. C. no. Geo. no. [Ayes--4; noes--7.]

Question on Mr. Williamson's moution, to insert 9 years instead of seven.

N. H. ay. Masts. no. Ct. no. N. J. no. Pa. no. Del. no. Md. no. Va no. N-- C. no. S. C. ay. Geo. ay. [Ayes--3; noes--8.]

Mr. Wilson's renewed the motion for 4 years instead of 7. & on question

N. H. no Mas. no. Ct. ay. N. J. no. Pa. no. Del. no. Md. [Volume 2, Page 73] ay. Va. ay. N. C. no. S. C. no Geo. no. [Ayes--3; noes--8.]

Mr. Govr. Morris moved to add to the end of the section (art IV. s. 2) a proviso that the limitation of seven years should not affect the rights of any person now a Citizen.

Mr. Mercer 2ded. the motion. It was necessary he said to prevent a disfranchisement of persons who had become Citizens under the faith & according to--the laws & Constitution from being on a level in all respects with natives.

Mr. Rutlidge. It might as well be said that all qualifications are disfranchisemts. and that to require the age of 25 years was a disfranchisement. The policy of the precaution was as great with regard to foreigners now Citizens; as to those who are to be naturalized in future.

Mr. Sherman. The U. States have not invited foreigners nor pledged their faith that they should enjoy equal privileges with native Citizens. The Individual States alone have done this. The former therefore are at liberty to make any discriminations they may judge requisite.

Mr. Ghorum. When foreigners are naturalized it wd. seem as if they stand on an equal footing with natives. He doubted then the propriety of giving a retrospective force to the restriction.

Mr. Madison animadverted on the peculiarity of the doctrine of Mr. Sharman. It was a subtilty by which every national engagement might be evaded. By parity of reason, Whenever our public debts, or foreign treaties become inconvenient nothing more would be necessary to relieve us from them, than to new model the Constitution. It was said that the U.S. as such have not pledged their faith to the naturalized foreigners, & therefore are not bound. Be it so, & that the States alone are bound. Who are to form the New Constitution by which the condition of that class of citizens is to be made worse than the other class? Are not the States ye agents? will they not be the members of it? Did they not appoint this Convention? Are not they to ratify its proceedings? Will not the new Constitution be their Act? If the new Constitution then violates the faith pledged to any description of people will not the makers of it, will not the States, be the violators. To justify the doctrine it must be said that the States can get rid of their obligation by revising the Constitution, though they could not do it by repealing the law under which foreigners held their privileges. He considered this a matter of real importance. It woud expose us to the reproaches of all those who should be affected by it, reproaches which wd. soon be echoed from the other side of the Atlantic; and would unnecessarily enlist among the Adversaries of the reform a very considerable body of Citizens: We should moreover reduce every State to the dilemma of rejecting it or of violating the faith pledged to a part of its citizens.

Mr. Govr. Morris considered the case of persons under 25 years, as very different from that of foreigners. No faith could be pleaded by the former in bar of the regulation. No assurance had ever been given that persons under that age should be in all cases on a level with those above it. But with regard to foreigners among us, the faith had been pledged that they should enjoy the privileges of Citizens. If the restriction as to age had been confined to natives, & had left foreigners under 25 years, eligible in this case, the discrimination wd. have been an equal injustice on the other side.

Mr. Pinkney remarked that the laws of the States had varied much the terms of naturalization in different parts of America; and contended that the U.S. could not be bound to respect them on such an occasion as the present. It was a sort of recurrence to first principles.

Col-- Mason was struck not like (Mr. Madison), with the peculiarity, but the propriety of the doctrine of Mr. Sharman. The States have formed different qualifications themselves, for enjoying different rights of citizenship. Greater caution wd. be necessary in the outset of the Govt. than afterwards. All the great objects wd. be then provided for. Every thing would be then set in Motion. If persons among us attached to G-- B. should work themselves into our Councils, a turn might be given to our affairs & particularly to our Commercial regulations which might have pernicious consequences. The great Houses of British Merchants would spare no pains to insinuate the instruments of their views into the Govt--

Mr. Wilson read the clause in the Constitution of Pena. giving to foreigners after two years residence all the rights whatsoever of Citizens, combined it with the Article of Confederation making the Citizens of one State Citizens of all, inferred the obligation Pena. was under to maintain the faith thus pledged to her citizens of foreign birth, and the just complaints which her failure would authorize: He observed likewise that the Princes & States of Europe would avail themselves of such breach of faith to deter their subjects from emigrating to the U.S.

Mr. Mercer enforced the same idea of a breach of faith.

Mr. Baldwin could not enter into the force of the arguments agst. extending the disqualification to foreigners now Citizens. The discrimination of the place of birth, was not more objectionable than that of age which all had concurred in the propriety of.

Question on the proviso of Mr Govr. Morris in favor of foreigners now Citizens

N. H. no. Mas. no. Ct. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. ay. Del. no. Maryd. ay. Va. ay. N-- C. no. S. C. no. Geo. no. [Ayes--5; noes--6.]

Mr. Carrol moved to insert "5 years" instead "of seven," in section 2d. Art: IV

N-- H. no. Mas. no. Ct. ay. N. J. no. Pa. divd. Del. no. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C. no. S. C. no. Geo. no. [Ayes--3; noes--7; divided--1.]

The Section (Art IV. Sec. 2) as formerly amended was then agreed to nem. con.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 2, Article 1, Section 2, Clause 2, Document 2
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.

© 1987 by The University of Chicago
All rights reserved. Published 2000