Article 1, Section 3, Clauses 1 and 2

Document 18

St. George Tucker, Blackstone's Commentaries 1:App. 195--97, 215--25


The election of representatives we have seen, is by a mode strictly popular. Had the distinction of states been entirely done away, there could have been no good reason assigned, perhaps, why the elections of senators should not have been assimilated thereto, at least in respect to numbers, since in a government where all parts are equal, no preference under any pretext whatsoever ought to be allowed to any one part, over the rest. Why then should Rhode Island and Delaware have as many representatives in the senate as Virginia and Massachusetts, which contain ten times their respective numbers? It has been answered, the senate are chosen to represent the states in their sovereign capacity, as moral bodies, who as such, are all equal; the smallest republic, as a sovereign state, being equal to the most powerful monarchy upon earth. As states, then, Rhode Island and Delaware are entitled to an equal weight in council on all occasions, where that weight does not impose a burthen upon the other states in the union. Now as the relation between taxation and representation, in one branch of the legislature, was fixed by an invariable standard, and as that branch of the legislature possesses the exclusive right of originating bills on the subject of revenue, the undue weight of the smaller states is guarded against, effectually, in the imposition of burdens. In all other cases their interests, as states, are equal, and deserve equal attention from the confederate government. This could no way be so effectually provided for, as in giving them equal weight in the second branch of the legislature, and in the executive whose province it is to make treaties, &c. . . . Without this equality, somewhere, the union could not, under any possible view, have been considered as an equal alliance between equal states. The disparity which must have prevailed, had the apportionment of representation been the same in the senate as in the other house, would have been such as to have submitted the smaller states to the most debasing dependence. I cannot, therefore, but regard this particular in the constitution, as one of the happiest traits in it, and calculated to cement the union equally with any other provision that it contains.

This body is not, like the former, dissolved at the end of the period for which it's members were elected; it is a permanent, perpetual body; the members, indeed, are liable to a partial change every two years, the senate being divided into three classes, one of which is vacated every second year, so that a total change in the members may be made in six years, but cannot possibly be effected, without the intervention of death, in less time. . . . According to the arrangements of the classes actually made, both the senators from the same state shall never vacate their seats at the same time; a provision which certainly has it's advantages, as no state is thereby in danger of being not represented at any time.

This mode of constituting the senate, seems liable to some important objections. The perpetuity of the body is favorable to every stride it may be disposed to make towards extending it's own power and influence in the government: a tendency to be discovered in all bodies, however constituted, and to which no effectual check can be opposed, but frequent dissolutions and elections. It is no satisfactory answer to this objection, that the members are removable, though the body itself be perpetual. The change, even were the members ineligible a second time, would be too gradual, to effect any counterpoise to this prevailing principle.

It has been insisted that the perpetuity of this body, is the only security to be found in the constitution against that instability of councils and of measures which has marked the proceedings of those states, where no such check is provided by the constitution. To which it may be answered, that every newly established government must be a government of experiment. . . . The design of a machine may appear correct, the model perfect, and adapted to all the purposes which the original inventor proposed: yet a thousand defects may be discovered when the actual application of it's powers is made, and, many useful improvements, in time, become obvious, to the eyes of a far less skilful mechanic. Their success and perfection must, however, still depend upon actual experiment, and that experiment may suggest still further improvement. Are we to reject these because they did not occur to the first projector, though evidently growing out of his original design? Or, if on the other hand we have unwarily adopted that as an improvement, which experiment shall evince to be a defect, shall we be so wedded to error as to persist in the practice of it, for no better reason than that we have once fallen into it.

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II. We are now to draw a parallel between the house of lords, and the senate of the United States, as a second constituent part of the national legislature; and could the parallel between them end there, it might have been said, that all the branches of our political legislature, were, like a well chosen jury, omni exceptione maiores.

The house of lords are to be considered in two distinct points of view. . . . First, as representing a distinct order of men, with exclusive privileges annexed to their individual capacity, and secondly, as representing the nation.

1. As to the necessity of a distinct order of men in a state, with exclusive privileges annexed to the individual capacity, the author of the commentaries observes, "That the distinction of rank and honours is necessary in every well governed state, in order to reward such as are eminent for their public services, in a manner the most desirable to individuals, and yet without burthen to the community; exciting thereby an ambitious, yet laudable ardor, and generous emulation, in others. A spring of action, which however dangerous or invidious in a mere republic, will certainly be attended with good effects under a monarchy. And since titles of nobility are thus expedient in the state, it is also expedient that their owners should form an independent and separate branch of the legislature. If they were confounded with the mass of the people, and like them only had a vote in electing representatives their privileges would soon be borne down and overwhelmed by the popular torrent, which would effectually level all distinctions."

The conclusion which evidently arises from the former part of this quotation, "that no mere republic can ever be a well governed state," inasmuch as honours and titles, the necessity of which, is here so pointedly urged, are dangerous and invidious in such a government, may be proved to be false, both from reasoning and example. But it will be time enough to controvert our author's conclusion, when the truth of the principle upon which it is founded is established. The British constitution, with him, is somewhat like the bed of Procrustes; principles must be limited, extended, narrowed, or enlarged, to fit it. If they are not susceptible of so convenient a modification, they are to be wholly rejected. . . . But to return:

The vital principle of mixt governments is the distinction of orders, possessing, both collectively and individually, different rights, privileges or prerogatives. In an absolute monarchy, a confirmed aristocracy, or a pure democracy, this distinction cannot be found. There being no distinction of orders, there can be no contention about rights, in either of these forms of government, so long as the government remains in the full vigour of its constitution. When either of these three forms of government departs from its intrinsic nature, unless it assumes one of the other instead thereof, it becomes a mixt government. . . . And this mixture may consist in the combination of monarchy with aristocracy, as in Poland; or with democracy, as in France, under it's late constitution, as modelled by the national assembly, and ratified by the king; or, in the blending of the aristocratic and democratic forms, as was the case with the Roman republic after the establishment of the tribunes; or of all three, as in the British constitution. The existence of either of these combinations are said to form the constitution of the state, in all the governments of the world, except those of America, and France under it's late constitution; in these the constitution creates the powers that exist: In all others, the existing powers determine the nature of the constitution. To preserve those existing powers in their full tone and vigour, respectively, it may be necessary that each should possess an independent share in the supreme legislature, for the reasons assigned by the author of the commentaries; but this no more proves the necessity of the order, in a well governed state, than the necessity of wings to the human body would be proved, by a critical dissertation, on the structure, size, and position, of those of the fabulous deities of antiquity.

Our author considers those rewards which constitute a separate order of men, as attended with no burthen to the community; nothing can be more false than such a supposition. If the distinction be personal, only, it must be created at the expence of the personal degradation of the rest of the community, during the life of the distinguished person. If hereditary, this degradation is entailed upon the people: personal distinctions cannot be supported without power, or without wealth; these are the true supporters of the arms of nobility; take them away, the shield falls to the ground, and the pageantry of heraldry is trodden under foot. What character is less respected in England, than a poor Scotch lord, who is not one of the sixteen peers of that kingdom? That lord in his own clan, possesses comparative wealth and power sufficient among his humble dependents, to be looked up to as a Cr[o]esus in wealth, and a Caesar in authority.

"A titled nobility," says a late distinguished English writer, "is the most undisputed progeny of feudal barbarism. Titles had in all nations denoted offices; it was reserved for Gothic Europe, to attach them to ranks. Yet this conduct admits explanation, for with them offices were hereditary, and hence the titles denoting them became hereditary too. These distinctions only serve to unfit the nobility for obedience, and the people for freedom; to keep alive the discontent of the one and to perpetuate the servility of the other; to deprive the one of the moderation that sinks them into citizens, and to rob the other of the spirit that exalts them into freemen. The possession of honours by the multitude, who have inherited, but not acquired them, engrosses and depreciates these incentives and rewards of virtue." If these are the genuine fruits of that laudable ardour, and generous emulation, which give life and vigour to the community, and sets all the wheels of government in motion, heaven protect those whom it encounters in it's progress.

But is there no stimulous to that laudable ardour and generous emulation which the commentator speaks of, to be found in a pure democracy, which may compensate for the absence of ranks and honors? Yes. Virtue; that principle which actuated the Bruti, a Camillus, and a Cato in the Roman republic, a Timoleon, an Aristides, and an Epaminondas among the Greeks, with thousands of their fellow citizens whose names are scarcely yet lost in the wreck of time. That principle whose operation we have seen in our own days and in our own country, and of which, examples will be quoted by posterity so long as the remembrance of American liberty shall continue among men. . . . "Virtue," says Montesquieu, "in a republic is a most simple thing; it is a love of the republic. Love of the republic in a democracy is a love of the democracy: love of the democracy is that of equality. The love of equality in a democracy limits ambition to the sole desire, to the sole happiness, of doing greater services to our own country than the rest of our fellow citizens. . . . But all cannot render equal services: hence distinctions arise here from the principle of equality, even when it seems to be removed, by signal services, or superior abilities."

This distinction, the only one which is reconcileable to the genius and principle of a pure republic, is, if we may reason from effect to cause, the most powerful incentive to good government that can animate the human heart, with this advantage over those hereditary honors for which the commentator is so zealous an advocate, that the ambition excited by the former must of necessity be directed to the public good, whilst the latter springing from self love, alone, may exist in the breast of a Caesar or a Cataline. A Franklin, or a Washington, need not the pageantry of honours, the glare of titles, nor the pre-eminence of station to distinguish them. Their heads like the mountain pine are seen above the surrounding trees of the forest, but their roots engross not a larger portion of the soil.

Equality of rights, in like manner, precludes not that distinction which superiority in virtue introduces among the citizens of a republic. Washington in retirement was equal, and only equal, in rights, to the poorest citizen of the state. Yet in the midst of that retirement the elevation of his character was superior to that of any prince in the universe, and the lustre of it far transcended the brightest diadem.

But even were it conceded that distinctions of rank and honours were necessary to good government, it would by no means follow that they should be hereditary; the same laudable ardour which leads to the acquisition of honor, is not necessary to the preservation of its badges; and these are all which it's hereditary possessors, in general, regard. Had nature in her operations shewn that the same vigour of mind and activity of virtue which manifests itself in a father, descends unimpaired to his son, and from him to latest posterity, in the same order of succession, that his estate may be limited to, some appearance of reason in favour of hereditary rank and honors might have been offered. But nature in every place, and in every age, has contradicted, and still contradicts this theory. The sons of Junius Brutus were traitors to the republic; the emperor Commodus was the son of Antoninus the philosopher; and Domitian was at once the son of Vespasian, and the brother of Titus.

If what has been said be a sufficient answer to the necessity of the distinction of ranks and honours to the well government of a state, the commentator himself hath afforded an unanswerable argument against their expedience in a republic, by acknowledging them to be both dangerous and invidious in such a government. And herewith agrees the author of the Spirit of Laws, who informs us, that the principle of a democracy is corrupted, when the spirit of equality is extinct. The same admirable writer gives us a further reason why so heterogeneous a mixture ought not to have a place in any government where the freedom and happiness of the people is thought an object worthy the attention of the government. "A nobility," says he, "think it an honour to obey a king, but consider it as the lowest infamy to share the power with the people."

We are indebted to the same author, for the following distinguished features of aristocracy: "If the reigning families observe the laws, aristocracy is a monarchy with several monarchs: but when they do not observe them, it is a despotic state governed by a great many despotic princes. In this case the republic consists only in respect to the nobles, and among them only. It is in the governing body; and the despotic state is in the body governed. The extremity of corruption is when the power of the nobles becomes hereditary; they can hardly then have any moderation." Such is the picture of that order of men who are elevated above the people by the distinctions of rank and honours. When the subjects of a monarchy, they are the pillars of the throne, as the commentator stiles them; or, according to Montesquieu, the tools of the monarch. . . . When rulers, as in an aristocracy, they are the despots of the people. . . . In a mixed government, they are the political Janizaries of the state, supporting and insulting the throne by turns, but still threatening and enslaving the people.

In America the senate are not a distinct order of individuals, but, the second branch of the national legislature, taken collectively. They have no privileges, but such as are common to the members of the house of representatives, and of the several state legislatures: we have seen that these privileges extend only to an exemption from personal arrests, in certain cases, and that it is utterly lost, in cases of treason, felony, or breach of the peace. They are more properly the privileges of the constituents, than of the members, since it is possible that a state might have no representative, and the United States no legislature, if the members might be restrained from attending their duty, by process issued at the suit of a creditor, or other person who might suppose he had cause of action against them. In England the privileges of the peerage are in some instances an insult to the morals of the people, the honour of a peer, on several occasions, being equipollent with the oath of a commoner. The exemption from personal arrests in civil cases is extended as well to his servant, as to the lord of parliament; to the injury of creditors, and the no small encouragement of fraud and knavery. And the statutes of scandalum magnatum hang in terrorem over the heads of those who dare to scrutinize, or to question the reality of those superior endowments which the law ascribes, to the immaculate character of a peer or peeress of the realm. Happy for America that her constitution and the genius of her people, equally secure her against the introduction of such a pernicious and destructive class of men.

Secondly. We shall now consider the British house of lords, as representing the nation.

The superior degree of wisdom which is to be found in aristocracies, forms the principal argument in favour of this branch of the British legislature. Let us examine how far this requisite to national councils, is to be attained by the constitution of that house.

1. The house of lords is composed either of new made peers, or of such to whom that honor has been transmitted by hereditary right; we may admit, though the fact will hardly justify it, that the new made peers have a chance of being selected for their superior wisdom; nay that this is universally the case; the portion of wisdom thus acquired, even in the creative reign of George the third, could never be sufficient to counterbalance the large majority of hereditary peers, who affect to hold in great contempt the talents and learning of their new created brethren. The wisdom of this body rests then upon the chance of natural talents, with the advantages of education to improve and mature them. As to the latter, should we admit that a child, who, from the moment he is capable of making any observation, sees himself treated as a superior being, would have the same stimulus to improve, as one who is taught to consider the road to science as the only one which leads to distinction, no advantage could be claimed in favour of the hereditary legislator, unless it should be proved that the benefits of education are necessarily confined to that class of men. . . . The question rests then solely upon the mode by which the nobility become legislators, and here every argument against the transmission of talents and virtue in hereditary succession, recurs with accumulated force, the chance of this inheritance being confined by the laws to the eldest son.

The senate of the United States, as we have seen, is composed of individuals selected for their probity, attachment to their country, and talents, by the legislatures of the respective states. They must be citizens of the states for which they are chosen. . . . their merits must be known, must have been distinguished, and respected. Age must have matured the talents, and confirmed the virtues which dawned with childhood, or shine forth with youth. Principles must have been manifested, and conduct have evinced their rectitude, energy, and stability. . . . Equivocation of character can scarcely obtain admittance where the trust is important, elections rare, and limited to an individual, or, at most, to two. The whole number of senators are at present limited to thirty-two. . . . it is not probable that they will ever exceed fifty. . . . A late writer has observed, that an assembly of Newtons, if they exceeded a hundred, would be a mob. The British house of peers consists of twice that number at the least, and may be encreased, at the will of the prince, to any number. . . . The senators of America have the interest of a state to promote, or to defend. A British house of peers has the privileges of the order, the interests of the corporation of aristocracy, to advance. Their wisdom, their exertions, are directed to their own personal aggrandizement. . . . Those of an American senator can scarcely find an object, except the good of the nation, or of the individual state which he represents. A peer holds himself responsible to no one for his conduct; a senator is responsible to his constituents, and if he abuses their confidence, will be sure to be displaced, whilst the former hugs himself in the security and stability of his station. I say nothing of the bench of bishops. The independence of that body has been too frequently questioned to render them respectable, even in the eyes of their own nation, as a part of the legislature.

A member of the house of lords, may make another lord his proxy, to vote for him in his absence; a privilege which he is supposed to derive from sitting there in his own right; and not as one of the representatives of the nation. He may likewise, by leave of parliament enter his protest against any measure, analogous to which we have seen that the yeas and nays of either house of congress shall be called, if one fifth part of the members present concur therein.

The lord chancellor, or any other person appointed by the king's commission is speaker of the house of lords; and if none be so appointed, the house of lords may elect; and if the speaker be a lord of parliament he may also give his opinion upon any question which the speaker of the commons cannot. . . . The vice president of the United States is in like manner speaker of the senate, but he is prohibited from voting unless the senate be equally divided. The necessity of providing for the case of a vacancy in the office of president doubtless gave rise to the creation of this officer: and for want of something else for him to do, whilst there is a president in office, he seems to have been placed, with no very great propriety, in the chair of the senate. An idea probably originating from the tendency which we have sometimes discovered, to imitate the model of the British constitution. The casting vote, which this officer is entrusted with, (as was before observed,) is a very important trust, and ought to have been so modified as to leave the exercise of it, to as few cases as possible. . . . If a measure originates in the senate, indeed, it would seem to be less dangerous, to permit the exercise of this casting vote, than where it was made use of, to negative a measure, perhaps unanimously adopted by the other house, and upon which the senate have been divided merely from the absence of some of it's members. This has actually happened once, on a very important occasion, as we have seen, and may happen again, on others equally interesting to the rights of the citizen.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 2, Article 1, Section 3, Clauses 1 and 2, Document 18
The University of Chicago Press

Tucker, St. George. Blackstone's Commentaries: With Notes of Reference to the Constitution and Laws of the Federal Government of the United States and of the Commonwealth of Virginia. 5 vols. Philadelphia, 1803. Reprint. South Hackensack, N.J.: Rothman Reprints, 1969.

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