CHAPTER 12 | Document 5

Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Debates in Congress

30 July -- 1 Aug. 1776Papers 1:323--27

The other article was in these words. "Art. XVII. In determining questions each colony shall have one vote."

July 30. 31. Aug. 1. present 41. members. Mr. Chase observed that this article was the most likely to divide us of any one proposed in the draught then under consideration. that the larger colonies had threatened they would not confederate at all if their weight in congress should not be equal to the numbers of people they added to the confederacy; while the smaller ones declared against an union if they did not retain an equal vote for the protection of their rights. that it was of the utmost consequence to bring the parties together, as should we sever from each other, either no foreign power will ally with us at all, or the different states will form different alliances, and thus increase the horrors of those scenes of civil war and bloodshed which in such a state of separation & independance would render us a miserable people. that our importance, our interests, our peace required that we should confederate, and that mutual sacrifices should be made to effect a compromise of this difficult question. he was of opinion the smaller colonies would lose their rights, if they were not in some instances allowed an equal vote; and therefore that a discrimination should take place among the questions which would come before Congress. that the smaller states should be secured in all questions concerning life or liberty & the greater ones in all respecting property. he therefore proposed that in votes relating to money, the voice of each colony should be proportioned to the number of it's inhabitants.

Dr. Franklin thought that the votes should be so proportioned in all cases. he took notice that the Delaware counties had bound up their Delegates to disagree to this article. he thought it a very extraordinary language to be held by any state, that they would not confederate with us unless we would let them dispose of our money. certainly if we vote equally we ought to pay equally: but the smaller states will hardly purchase the privilege at this price. that had he lived in a state where the representation, originally equal, had become unequal by time & accident he might have submitted rather than disturb government: but that we should be very wrong to set out in this practice when it is in our power to establish what is right. that at the time of the Union between England and Scotland the latter had made the objection which the smaller states now do. but experience had proved that no unfairness had ever been shewn them. that their advocates had prognosticated that it would again happen as in times of old that the whale would swallow Jonas, but he thought the prediction reversed in event and that Jonas had swallowed the whale, for the Scotch had in fact got possession of the government and gave laws to the English. he reprobated the original agreement of Congress to vote by colonies, and therefore was for their voting in all cases according to the number of taxables.

Dr. Witherspoon opposed every alteration of the article. all men admit that a confederacy is necessary. should the idea get abroad that there is likely to be no union among us, it will damp the minds of the people, diminish the glory of our struggle, & lessen it's importance, because it will open to our view future prospects of war & dissension among ourselves. if an equal vote be refused, the smaller states will become vassals to the larger; & all experience has shewn that the vassals & subjects of free states are the most enslaved. he instanced the Helots of Sparta & the provinces of Rome. he observed that foreign powers discovering this blemish would make it a handle for disengaging the smaller states from so unequal a confederacy. that the colonies should in fact be considered as individuals; and that as such in all disputes they should have an equal vote. that they are now collected as individuals making a bargain with each other, & of course had a right to vote as individuals. that in the East India company they voted by persons, & not by their proportion of stock. that the Belgic confederacy voted by provinces. that in questions of war the smaller states were as much interested as the larger, & therefore should vote equally; and indeed that the larger states were more likely to bring war on the confederacy, in proportion as their frontier was more extensive. he admitted that equality of representation was an excellent principle, but then it must be of things which are co-ordinate; that is, of things similar & of the same nature: that nothing relating to individuals could ever come before Congress; nothing but what would respect colonies. he distinguished between an incorporating & a federal union. the union of England was an incorporating one; yet Scotland had suffered by that union: for that it's inhabitants were drawn from it by the hopes of places & employments. nor was it an instance of equality of representation; because while Scotland was allowed nearly a thirteenth of representation, they were to pay only one fortieth of the land tax. he expressed his hopes that in the present enlightened state of men's minds we might expect a lasting confederacy, if it was founded on fair principles.

John Adams advocated the voting in proportion to numbers. he said that we stand here as the representatives of the people. that in some states the people are many, in others they are few; that therefore their vote here should be proportioned to the numbers from whom it comes. reason, justice, & equity never had weight enough on the face of the earth to govern the councils of men. it is interest alone which does it, and it is interest alone which can be trusted. that therefore the interests within doors should be the mathematical representatives of the interests without doors. that the individuality of the colonies is a mere sound. does the individuality of a colony increase it's wealth or numbers? if it does; pay equally. if it does not add weight in the scale of the confederacy, it cannot add to their rights, nor weight in argument. A. has £50. B. £500. C. £1000 in partnership. is it just they should equally dispose of the monies of the partnership? it has been said we are independant individuals making a bargain together. the question is not what we are now, but what we ought to be when our bargain shall be made. the confederacy is to make us one individual only; it is to form us, like separate parcels of metal, into one common mass. we shall no longer retain our separate individuality, but become a single individual as to all questions submitted to the Confederacy. therefore all those reasons which prove the justice & expediency of equal representation in other assemblies, hold good here. it has been objected that a proportional vote will endanger the smaller states. we answer that an equal vote will endanger the larger. Virginia, Pennsylvania, & Massachusets are the three greater colonies. consider their distance, their difference of produce, of interests, & of manners, & it is apparent they can never have an interest or inclination to combine for the oppression of the smaller. that the smaller will naturally divide on all questions with the larger. Rhodeisld. from it's relation, similarity & intercourse will generally pursue the same objects with Massachusets; Jersey, Delaware & Maryland with Pennsylvania.

Dr. Rush took notice that the decay of the liberties of the Dutch republic proceeded from three causes. 1. the perfect unanimity requisite on all occasions. 2. their obligation to consult their constituents. 3. their voting by provinces. this last destroyed the equality of representation, and the liberties of Great Britain also are sinking from the same defect. that a part of our rights is deposited in the hands of Congress: why is it not equally necessary there should be an equal representation there? were it possible to collect the whole body of the people together, they would determine the questions submitted to them by their majority. why should not the same majority decide when voting here by their representatives? the larger colonies are so providentially divided in situation as to render every fear of their combining visionary. their interests are different, & their circumstances dissimilar. it is more probable they will become rivals & leave it in the power of the smaller states to give preponderance to any scale they please. the voting by the number of free inhabitants will have one excellent effect, that of inducing the colonies to discourage slavery & to encourage the increase of their free inhabitants.

Mr. Hopkins observed there were 4 larger, 4 smaller & 4 middlesized colonies. that the 4. largest would contain more than half the inhabitants of the Confederating states, & therefore would govern the others as they should please. that history affords no instance of such a thing as equal representation. the Germanic body votes by states. the Helvetic body does the same; & so does the Belgic confederacy. that too little is known of the antient confederations to say what was their practice.

Mr. Wilson thought that taxation should be in proportion to wealth, but that representation should accord with the number of freemen. that government is a collection or result of the wills of all. that if any government could speak the will of all it would be perfect; and that so far as it departs from this it becomes imperfect. it has been said that Congress is a representation of states; not of individuals. I say that the objects of it's care are all the individuals of the states. it is strange that annexing the name of 'State' to ten thousand men, should give them an equal right with forty thousand. this must be the effect of magic, not of reason. as to those matters which are referred to Congress, we are not so many states; we are one large state. we lay aside our individuality whenever we come here. the Germanic body is a burlesque on government: and their practice on any point is a sufficient authority & proof that it is wrong. the greatest imperfection in the constitution of the Belgic confederacy is their voting by provinces. the interest of the whole is constantly sacrificed to that of the small states. the history of the war in the reign of Q. Anne sufficiently proves this. it is asked Shall nine colonies put it into the power of four to govern them as they please? I invert the question and ask Shall two millions of people put it in the power of one million to govern them as they please? it is pretended too that the smaller colonies will be in danger from the greater. speak in honest language & say the minority will be in danger from the majority. and is there an assembly on earth where this danger may not be equally pretended? the truth is that our proceedings will then be consentaneous with the interests of the majority, and so they ought to be. the probability is much greater that the larger states will disagree than that they will combine. I defy the wit of man to invent a possible case or to suggest any one thing on earth which shall be for the interests of Virginia, Pennsylvania & Massachusets, and which will not also be for the interest of the other states.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 1, Chapter 12, Document 5
The University of Chicago Press

The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Edited by Julian P. Boyd et al. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950--.

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