Article 1, Section 4, Clause 1
Debate in Massachusetts Ratifying Convention16--17, 21 Jan. 1788Elliot 2:22--35
Mr. Pierce, (from Partridgefield,) after reading the 4th section, wished to know the opinion of gentlemen on it, as Congress appeared thereby to have a power to regulate the time, place, and manner of holding elections. In respect to the manner, said Mr. P., suppose the legislature of this state should prescribe that the choice of the federal representatives should be in the same manner as that of governor,--a majority of all the votes in the state being necessary to make it such,--and Congress should deem it an improper manner, and should order that it be as practised in several of the Southern States, where the highest number of votes make a choice;--have they not power by this section to do so? Again, as to the place, continues Mr. P., may not Congress direct that the election for Massachusetts shall be held in Boston? and if so, it is possible that, previous to the election, a number of the electors may meet, agree upon the eight delegates, and propose the same to a few towns in the vicinity, who, agreeing in sentiment, may meet on the day of election, and carry their list by a major vote. He did not, he said, say that this would be the case; but he wished to know if it was not a possible one. As the federal representatives, who are to form the democratical part of the general government, are to be a check on the representatives of the sovereignty, the senate, he thought the utmost caution ought to be used to have their elections as free as possible. He observed that, as men have ever been fond of power, we must suppose they ever will continue so; and concluded by observing, that our caution ought in the present case to be greater, as, by the proposed Constitution, no qualification of property was required in a representative; and it might be in the power of some people thereby to choose a bankrupt for a representative, in order to give such representatives employment, or that he might make laws favorable to such a description of the people.
Gen. Porter (from Hadley) endeavored to obviate the objections of Mr. Pierce, by showing the almost impossibility of Congress making a law whereby eight men could be elected, as Mr. Pierce had supposed; and he thought it equally impossible for the people to choose a person to take care of their property, who had none himself.
Mr. Bishop rose, and observed that, by the 4th section, Congress would be enabled to control the elections of representatives. It has been said, says he, that this power was given in order that refractory states may be made to do their duty. But if so, sir, why was it not so mentioned? If that was the intention, he asked why the clause did not run thus: "The times, places, and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof; but," if any state shall refuse or neglect so to do, "Congress may," &c. This, he said, would admit of no prevarication. I am, says Mr. B., for giving Congress as much power to do good as possible. It has been said, Mr. President, that the conduct of Rhode Island, in recalling its delegates from Congress, has demonstrated the necessity of such a power being lodged in Congress. I have been informed by people belonging to Rhode Island, sir, that that state never has recalled her delegates from Congress. I do not believe it has. And I call upon the gentleman who mentioned it to authenticate the fact.
The Hon. Mr. King rose, and assured the Convention that the state of Rhode Island did, by a solemn resolution, some time since, recall its delegates from Congress.
The Hon. Mr. Gorham confirmed what Mr. K. had said, and added, that, during the session of the federal [Volume 2, Page 255] Convention, when seven states only were represented in Congress, application was made by two companies for the purchase of lands, the sale of which would have sunk seven or eight millions of dollars of the Continental debt, and the most pressing letters were sent on to Rhode Island to send on its delegates; but that state refused: the consequence was, the contract could not then be made.
Mr. Bishop confessed himself convinced of the fact. He proceeded to observe, that, if the states shall refuse to do their duty, then let the power be given to Congress to oblige them to do it. But if they do their duty, Congress ought not to have the power to control elections. In an uncontrolled representation, says Mr. B., lies the security of freedom; and he thought by these clauses, that that freedom was sported with. In fact, says he, the moment we give Congress this power, the liberties of the yeomanry of this country are at an end. But he trusted they would never give it; and he felt a consolation from the reflection.
The 4th section, which provides that the state legislatures shall prescribe the time, place, and manner of holding elections, and that Congress may at any time make or alter them, except in those of senators, [though not in regular order,] under deliberation.
The Hon. Mr. Strong followed Mr. Bishop, and pointed out the necessity there is for the 4th section. The power, says he, to regulate the elections of our federal representatives must be lodged somewhere. I know of but two bodies wherein it can be lodged--the legislatures of the several states, and the general Congress. If the legislative bodies of the states, who must be supposed to know at what time, and in what place and manner, the elections can best be held, should so appoint them, it cannot be supposed that Congress, by the power granted by this section, will alter them; but if the legislature of a state should refuse to make such regulations, the consequence will be, that the representatives will not be chosen, and the general government will be dissolved. In such case, can gentlemen say that a power to remedy the evil is not necessary to be lodged somewhere? And where can it be lodged but in Congress? I will consider its advantage in another respect. We know, sir, that a negligence in the appointment of rulers is the characteristic of all nations. In this state, and since the establishment of our present constitution, the first officers of government have been elected by less than one tenth part of the electors of the state. We also know that our town meetings, for the choice of officers, are generally attended by an inconsiderable part of the qualified voters. People attend so much to their private interest, that they are apt to neglect this right. Nations have lost their liberties by neglecting their privileges; consequently Congress ought to have an interposing power to awaken the people when thus negligent. Even supposing, sir, the provisional clause suggested by the worthy gentleman from Norton should be added, would not Congress then be the judges whether the elections in the several states were constitutional and proper? If so, it will then stand on the same ground it now does. It appears evident that there must be a general power to regulate general elections. Gentlemen have said, the proposed Constitution was in some places ambiguous. I wish they would point out the particular instances of ambiguity; for my part, I think the whole of it is expressed in the plain, common language of mankind. If any parts are not so explicit as they could be, it cannot be attributed to any design; for I believe a great majority of the men who formed it were sincere and honest men.
Mr. Bishop said the great difficulty with him was, that the power given by the 4th section was unlimited; and he did not yet see that any advantage would arise from its being so.
Mr. Cabot, (of Beverly,) not having spoken upon the question of biennial elections of representatives, begged leave to revert to that subject, so far as to add to what had been said by others, that we should consider the particular business which that body will be frequently called upon to transact, especially in the way of revenue. We should consider that, on a question of supplies of money to support a war, or procure a treaty, it will be impossible for those representatives to judge of the expediency or inexpediency of such supplies, until they shall have had time to become acquainted with the general system of federal politics, in its connection or relation to foreign powers; because upon the situation of those must depend the propriety or impropriety of granting supplies. If to this be added a due attention to the easiest way of raising such supplies, it must appear that biennial elections are as frequent as is consistent with using the power of the representatives for the benefit of their constituents.
Mr. C. then turned to the 4th section, now under debate, and said, It gives me pain to see the anxiety of different gentlemen concerning this paragraph under consideration, as it evinces a conviction in their minds of what I believe to be true--that a free and equal representation is the best, if not the only foundation upon which a free government can be built; and, consequently, that the greatest care should be taken in laying it. I am, sir, one of the people; such I shall continue; and, with their feelings, I hold "that the right of electing persons to represent the people in the federal government, is an important and sacred right." The opinions that have been offered upon the manner in which the exercise of this right is provided for by the 4th section, satisfies me that we are all solicitous for the same end, and that we only differ as to the means of attaining it; and for my own part, I confess that I prize the 4th section as highly as any in the Constitution; because I consider the democratic branch of the national government, the branch chosen immediately for the people, as intended to be a check on the federal branch, which latter is not an immediate representation of the people of America, and is not chosen by them, but is a representation of the sovereignty of the individual states, and its members delegated by the several state legislatures; and if the state legislatures are suffered to regulate conclusively the elections of the democratic branch, they may, by such an interference, first weaken, and at last destroy, that check; they may at first diminish, and finally annihilate, that control of the general government, which the people ought always to have through their immediate representatives. As one of the people, therefore, I repeat, that, in my mind, the 4th section is to be as highly prized as any in the Constitution.
Mr. Parsons contended for vesting in Congress the [Volume 2, Page 256] powers contained in the 4th section, not only as those powers were necessary for preserving the union, but also for securing to the people their equal rights of election. He considered the subject very fully; but we are able to give our readers very imperfectly the heads of his speech. In the Congress, not only the sovereignty of the states is represented in the Senate, but, to balance their power, and to give the people a suitable and efficient check upon them, the federal representatives are introduced into Congress. The legislatures of the several states are the constituents of the Senate, and the people are the constituents of the Representatives. These two branches, therefore, have different constituents, and as they are designed as mutual checks upon each other, and to balance the legislative powers, there will be frequent struggles and contentions between them. The Senate will wish to control, depress, and render inefficient the Representatives; the same disposition in the Representatives towards the Senate, will produce the like exertions on their part. The Senate will call upon their constituents, the legislatures, for aid; the Representatives will look up to the people for support. If, therefore, the power of making and altering the regulations defined in this section, is vested absolutely in the legislature, the Representatives will very soon be reduced to an undue dependence upon the Senate, because the power of influencing and controlling the election of the representatives of the people, will be exerted without control by the constituents of the senators. He further observed, that there was much less danger in trusting these powers in Congress, than in the state legislatures. For if the federal representatives wished to introduce such regulations as would secure to them their places, and a continuance in office, the federal Senate would never consent, because it would increase the influence and check of the Representatives; and, on the other hand, if the Senate were aiming at regulations to increase their own influence by depressing the Representatives, the consent of the latter would never be obtained; and no other regulations would ever obtain the consent of both branches of the legislature, but such as did not affect their neutral rights and the balance of government; and those regulations would be for the benefit of the people. But a state legislature, under the influence of their senators, who would have their fullest confidence, or under the influence of ambitious or popular characters, or in times of popular commotion, and when faction and party spirit run high, would introduce such regulations as would render the rights of the people insecure and of little value. They might make an unequal and partial division of the states into districts for the election of representatives, or they might even disqualify one third of the electors. Without these powers in Congress, the people can have no remedy; but the 4th section provides a remedy, a controlling power in a legislature, composed of senators and representatives of twelve states, without the influence of our commotions and factions, who will hear impartially, and preserve and restore to the people their equal and sacred rights of election. Perhaps it then will be objected, that from the supposed opposition of interests in the federal legislature, they may never agree upon any regulations; but regulations necessary for the interests of the people can never be opposed to the interests of either of the branches of the federal legislature; because that the interests of the people require that the mutual powers of that legislature should be preserved unimpaired, in order to balance the government. Indeed, if the Congress could never agree on any regulations, then certainly no objection to the 4th section can remain; for the regulations introduced by the state legislatures will be the governing rule of elections, until Congress can agree upon alterations.
Mr. Widgery insisted that we had a right to be jealous of our rulers, who ought never to have a power which they could abuse. The 4th section ought to have gone further; it ought to have had the provision in it mentioned by Mr. Bishop; there would then be a mutual check. And he still wished it to be further explained. The worthy gentleman contested the similitude made by the honorable gentleman from Newburyport, between the power to be given to Congress by the 4th section, to compel the states to send representatives, and the power given to the legislatures by our own constitution, to oblige towns to send representatives to the General Court, by observing that the case was materially different; as, in the latter, if any town refuses to send representatives, a power of fining such towns only is given. It is in vain, said Mr. Widgery, to say that rulers are not subject to passions and prejudices. In the late General Court, of which I was a member, I would willingly have deprived the three western counties from sending delegates to this house, as I then thought it necessary. But, sir, what would have been the consequence? A large part of the state would have been deprived of their dearest privileges. I mention this, sir, to show the force of passion and prejudice.
The Hon. Mr. White said, we ought to be jealous of rulers. All the godly men we read of have failed; nay, he would not trust a "flock of Moseses." If we give up this section, says he, there is nothing left. Suppose the Congress should say that none should be electors but those worth 50 or a £100 sterling, cannot they do it? Yes, said he, they can; and if any lawyer (alluding to Mr. Parsons) can beat me out of it, I will give him ten guineas.
Col. Jones (of Bristol) thought, by this power to regulate elections, Congress might keep themselves in to all duration.
The Rev. Mr. Perley wished Mr. Gerry might be asked some questions on this section. [But Mr. Gerry was not in the house.]
Mr. J. C. Jones said, it was not right to argue the possibility of the abuse of any measure against its adoption. The power granted to Congress by the 4th section, says he, is a necessary power; it will provide against negligence and dangerous designs. The senators and representatives of this state, Mr. President, are now chosen by a small number of electors; and it is likely we shall grow equally negligent of our federal elections; or, sir, a state may refuse to send to Congress its representatives, as Rhode Island has done. Thus we see its necessity.
To say that the power may be abused, is saying what will apply to all power. The federal representatives will represent the people; they will be the people; and it is not probable [Volume 2, Page 257] they will abuse themselves. Mr. J. concluded with repeating, that the arguments against this power could be urged against any power whatever.
Dr. Jarvis. Many gentlemen have inferred from the right of regulating elections, by the 4th section, being invested in the federal head, that the powers of wresting this essential privilege from the people would be equally delegated. But it appeared to him, he said, that there is a very material distinction in the two cases; for, however possible it may be that this controlling authority may be abused, it by no means followed that Congress, in any situation, could strip the people of their right to a direct representation. If he could believe in this, he should readily join in sentiment with gentlemen on the other side of the house, that this section alone would be a sufficient objection to the Constitution itself. The right of election, founded on the principle of equality, was, he said, the basis on which the whole superstructure was erected; this right was inherent in the people; it was unalienable in its nature, and it could not be destroyed without presuming a power to subvert the Constitution, of which this was the principal; and by recurring to the 2d section, it would appear that "representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers;" it equally appeared that 30,000 inhabitants were entitled to send a representative, and that wherever this number was found, they would have a right to be represented in the federal legislature. If it was argued that Congress might abuse their power, and, by varying the places of election, distress the people, it could only be observed, that such a wanton abuse could not be supposed; but, if it could go to the annihilation of the right, he contended the people would not submit. He considered the Constitution as an elective democracy, in which the sovereignty still rested in the people, and he by no means could believe that this article was so alarming in its nature, or dangerous in its tendency, as many gentlemen had supposed.
Mr. Holmes, in reply to Dr. Jarvis, said, the worthy gentleman's superstructure must fall to the ground; for the Constitution does not provide that every 30,000 shall send a representative, but that it shall not exceed one for every 30,000.
Hon. Mr. Turner. Mr. President, I am pleased with the ingenuity of some gentlemen in defence of this section. I am so impressed with the love of our liberty, so dearly bought, that I heartily acquiesce to compulsory laws, for the people ought to be obliged to attend to their interest. But I do not wish to give Congress a power which they can abuse; and I wish to know whether such a power is not contained in this section? I think it is. I now proceed, sir, to the consideration of an idea, that Congress may alter the place for choosing representatives in the general Congress: they may order that it may be at the extremity of a state, and, by their influence, may there prevail that persons may be chosen, who otherwise would not; by reason that a part of the qualified voters, in part of the state, would be so incommoded thereby, as to be debarred from their right as much as if they were bound at home. If so, such a circumstance would militate against the Constitution, which allows every man to vote. Altering the place will put it so far in the power of Congress, as that the representatives chosen will not be the true and genuine representatives of the people, but creatures of the Congress; and so far as they are so, so far are the people deprived of their rights, and the choice will be made in an irregular and unconstitutional manner. When this alteration is made by Congress, may we not suppose whose reëlection will be provided for? Would it not be for those who were chosen before? The great law of self-preservation will prevail. It is true, they might, one time in a hundred, provide for a friend; but most commonly for themselves. But, however honorable the Convention may be who proposed this article, I think it is a genuine power for Congress to perpetuate themselves--a power that cannot be unexceptionably exercised in any case whatever. Knowing the numerous arts that designing men are prone to, to secure their election and perpetuate themselves, it is my hearty wish that a rotation may be provided for. I respect and revere the Convention who proposed this Constitution. In order that the power given to Congress may be more palatable, some gentlemen are pleased to hold up the idea, that we may be blessed with sober, solid, upright men in Congress. I wish that we may be favored with such rulers; but I fear they will not all, if most, be the best moral or political characters. It gives me pain, and I believe it gives pain to others, thus to characterize the country in which I was born. I will endeavor to guard against any injurious reflections against my fellow-citizens. But they must have their true characters; and if I represent them wrong, I am willing to make concessions. I think that the operation of paper money, and the practice of privateering, have produced a gradual decay of morals; introduced pride, ambition, envy, lust of power; produced a decay of patriotism, and the love of commutative justice; and I am apprehensive these are the invariable concomitants of the luxury in which we are unblessedly involved, almost to our total destruction. In the lower ranks of people, luxury and avarice operate to the want of public duty and the payment of debts. These demonstrate the necessity of an energetic government. As people become more luxurious, they become more incapacitated for governing themselves. And are we not so? Alike people, alike prince. But suppose it should so happen, that the administrators of this Constitution should be preferable to the corrupt mass of the people, in point of manners, morals, and rectitude; power will give a keen edge to the principles I have mentioned. Ought we not, then, to put all checks and controls on governors for the public safety? Therefore, instead of giving Congress powers they may not abuse, we ought to withhold our hands from granting such as must be abused if exercised. This is a general observation. But to the point; at the time of the restoration, the people of England were so vexed and worn down by the anarchical and confused state of the nation, owing to the commonwealth not being well digested, that they took an opposite career; they run mad with loyalty, and would have given Charles any thing he could have asked. Pardon me, sir, if I say I feel the want of an energetic government, and the dangers to which this dear [Volume 2, Page 258] country is reduced, as much as any citizen of the United States; but I cannot prevail on myself to adopt a government which wears the face of power, without examining it. Relinquishing a hair's breadth in a constitution, is a great deal; for by small degrees has liberty, in all nations, been wrested from the hands of the people. I know great powers are necessary to be given to Congress, but I wish they may be well guarded.
Judge Sumner, remarking on Gen. Thompson's frequent exclamation of "O my country!" expressed from an apprehension that the Constitution would be adopted, said, that expression might be used with great propriety, should this Convention reject it. The honorable gentleman then proceeded to demonstrate the necessity of the 4th section; the absurdity of the supposition that Congress would remove the places of election to remote parts of the states; combated the idea that Congress would, when chosen, act as bad as possible; and concluded by asking, if a war should take place, (and it was supposable,) if France and Holland should send an army to collect the millions of livres they have lent us in the time of our distresses, and that army should be in possession of the seat of government of any particular state, (as was the case when Lord Cornwallis ravaged Carolina,) and that the state legislature could not appoint electors,--is not a power to provide for such elections necessary to be lodged in the general Congress?
Mr. Widgery denied the statement of Dr. Jarvis (that every 30,000 persons can elect one representative) to be just, as the Constitution provides that the number shall not exceed one to every 30,000; it did not follow, he thought, that the 30,000 shall elect one. But, admitting that they have a right to choose one,--we will suppose Congress should order an election to be in Boston in January, and from the scarcity of money, &c., not a fourth part could attend; would not three quarters of the people be deprived of their right?
Rev. Mr. West. I rise to express my astonishment at the arguments of some gentlemen against this section. They have only started possible objections. I wish the gentlemen would show us that what they so much deprecate is probable. Is it probable that we shall choose men to ruin us? Are we to object to all governments? and because power may be abused, shall we be reduced to anarchy and a state of nature? What hinders our state legislatures from abusing their powers? They may violate the Constitution; they may levy taxes oppressive and intolerable, to the amount of all our property. An argument which proves too much, it is said, proves nothing. Some say Congress may remove the place of elections to the state of South Carolina. This is inconsistent with the words of the Constitution, which says, "that the elections, in each state, shall be prescribed by the legislature thereof," &c., and that representation be apportioned according to numbers; it will frustrate the end of the Constitution, and is a reflection on the gentlemen who formed it. Can we, sir, suppose them so wicked, so vile, as to recommend an article so dangerous? Surely, gentlemen who argue these possibilities, show they have a very weak cause. That we may all be free from passions, prepossessions, and party spirit, I sincerely hope; otherwise, reason will have no effect. I hope there are none here but who are open to conviction, as it is the surest method to gain the suffrage of our consciences. The honorable gentleman from Scituate has told us that the people of England, at the restoration, on account of the inconveniences of the confused state of the commonwealth, run mad with loyalty. If the gentleman means to apply this to us, we ought to adopt this Constitution; for if the people are running mad after an energetic government, it is best to stop now, as by this rule they may run farther, and get a worse one; therefore the gentleman's arguments turn right against himself. Is it possible that imperfect men can make a perfect constitution? Is it possible that a frame of government can be devised by such weak and frail creatures, but what must savor of that weakness? Though there are some things that I do not like in this Constitution, yet I think it necessary it should be adopted. For may we not rationally conclude, that the persons we shall choose to administer it will be, in general, good men?
Gen. Thompson. Mr. President, I have frequently heard of the abilities of the learned and reverend gentleman last speaking, and now I am witness to them; but, sir, one thing surprises me: it is, to hear the worthy gentleman insinuate that our federal rulers would undoubtedly be good men, and that, therefore, we have little to fear from their being intrusted with all power. This, sir, is quite contrary to the common language of the clergy, who are continually representing mankind as reprobate and deceitful, and that we really grow worse and worse day after day. I really believe we do, sir, and I make no doubt to prove it before I sit down, and from the Old Testament. When I consider the man that slew the lion and the bear, and that he was a man after God's own heart,--when I consider his son, blessed with all wisdom, and the errors they fell into,--I extremely doubt the infallibility of human nature. Sir, I suspect my own heart, and I shall suspect our rulers.
Dr. Holton thought this paragraph necessary to a complete system of government. [But the honorable gentleman spoke so low that he could not be heard distinctly throughout.]
Capt. Snow. It has been said, Mr. President, that there is too much power delegated to Congress by the section under consideration. I doubt it; I think power the hinge on which the whole Constitution turns. Gentlemen have talked about Congress moving the place of election from Georgia to the Mohawk River; but I never can believe it. I will venture to conjecture we shall have some honest men in our Congress. We read that there were two who brought a good report--Caleb and Joshua. Now, if there are but two in Congress who are honest men, and Congress should attempt to do what the gentlemen say they will, (which will be high treason,) they will bring a report of it; and I stand ready to leave my wife and family, sling my knapsack, travel westward, to cut their heads off. I, sir, since the war, have had commerce with six different nations of the globe: I have inquired in what estimation America is held; and if I may believe good, honest, credible men, I find this country held in the same light, by foreign nations, as a well-behaved negro is in a gentleman's family. Suppose, Mr. President, I had a chance to make a good voyage, but I tie my captain up to such strict orders, [Volume 2, Page 259] that he can go to no other island to sell my cargo, although there is a certainty of his doing well; the consequence is, he returns, but makes a bad voyage, because he had not power enough to act his judgment; (for honest men do right.) Thus, sir, Congress cannot save us from destruction, because we tie their hands, and give them no power; (I think people have lost their privileges by not improving them;) and I like this power being vested in Congress as well as any paragraph in the Constitution; for, as the man is accountable for his conduct, I think there is no danger. Now, Mr. President, to take all things into consideration, something more must be said to convince me to the contrary.
[Several other gentlemen went largely into the debate on the 4th section, which those in favor of it demonstrated to be necessary; first, as it may be used to correct a negligence in elections; secondly, as it will prevent the dissolution of the government by designing and refractory states; thirdly, as it will operate as a check, in favor of the people, against any designs of the federal Senate, and their constituents, the state legislatures, to deprive the people of their right of election; and fourthly, as it provides a remedy for the evil, should any state, by invasion, or other cause, not have it in its power to appoint a place, where the citizens thereof may meet to choose their federal representatives. Those against it urged that the power is unlimited and unnecessary.]
Mr. Ames rose to answer several objections. He would forbear, if possible, to go over the ground which had been already well trodden. The fourth section had been, he said, well discussed, and he did not mean to offer any formal argument or new observations upon it. It had been said, the power of regulating elections was given to Congress. He asked, if a motion was brought forward in Congress, on that particular, subjecting the states to any inconvenience, whether it was probable such a motion could obtain. It had been also said, that our federal legislature would endeavor to perpetuate themselves in office; and that the love of power was predominant. Mr. Ames asked how the gentlemen prevailed on themselves to trust the state legislature. He thought it was from a degree of confidence that was placed in them. At present we trust Congress with power; nay, we trust the representatives of Rhode Island and Georgia. He thought it was better to trust the general government than a foreign state. Mr. A. acknowledged he came with doubts of the fourth section. Had his objections remained, he would have been obliged to vote against the Constitution; but now he thought, if all the Constitution was as clear as this section, it would meet with little opposition.
Judge Dana. This section, Mr. President, has been subject to much dispute and difficulty. I did not come here approving of every paragraph of this Constitution. I supposed this clause dangerous; it has been amply discussed; and I am now convinced that this paragraph is much better as it stands, than with the amendment, which is, that Congress be restricted in the appointing of "time, place, &c.," unless when the state legislatures refuse to make them. I have altered my opinion on this point; these are my reasons:--It is apparent, the intention of the Convention was to set Congress on a different ground; that a part should proceed directly from the people, and not from their substitutes, the legislatures; therefore the legislature ought not to control the elections. The legislature of Rhode Island has lately formed a plan to alter their representation to corporations, which ought to be by numbers. Look at Great Britain, where the injustice of this mode is apparent. Eight tenths of the people there have no voice in the elections. A borough of but two or three cottages has a right to send two representatives to Parliament, while Birmingham, a large and populous manufacturing town, lately sprung up, cannot send one. The legislature of Rhode Island are about adopting this plan, in order to deprive the towns of Newport and Providence of their weight, and that thereby the legislature may have a power to counteract the will of a majority of the people.
Mr. Cooley (of Amherst) thought Congress, in the present instance, would, from the powers granted by the Constitution, have authority to control elections, and thereby endanger liberty.
Dr. Taylor wished to ask the gentleman from Newburyport, whether the two branches of Congress could not agree to play into each other's hands; and, by making the qualifications of electors £100 by their power of regulating elections, fix the matters of elections so as to keep themselves in.
Hon. Mr. King rose to pursue the inquiry why the "place and manner" of holding elections were omitted in the section under debate. It was to be observed, he said, that, in the Constitution of Massachusetts and other states, the manner and place of elections were provided for; the manner was by ballot, and the places, towns; for, said he, we happened to settle originally in townships. But it was different in the Southern States: he would mention an instance. In Virginia, there are but fifteen or twenty towns, and seventy or eighty counties; therefore no rule could be adopted to apply to the whole. If it was practicable, he said, it would be necessary to have a district the fixed place; but this is liable to exceptions; as a district that may now be fully settled, may in time be scarcely inhabited; and the back country, now scarcely inhabited, may be fully settled. Suppose this state thrown into eight districts, and a member apportioned to each; if the numbers increase, the representatives and districts will be increased. The matter, therefore, must be left subject to the regulation of the state legislature, or the general government. Suppose the state legislature, the circumstances will be the same. It is truly said, that our representatives are but a part of the Union; that they may be subject to the control of the rest; but our representatives make a ninth part of the whole; and if any authority is vested in Congress, it must be in our favor. But to the subject. In Connecticut they do not choose by numbers, but by corporations. Hartford, one of their largest towns, sends no more delegates than one of their smallest corporations, each town sending two, except latterly, when a town was divided. The same rule is about to be adopted in Rhode Island. The inequality of such representation, where every corporation would have an equal right [Volume 2, Page 260] to send an equal number of representatives, was apparent. In the Southern States, the inequality is greater. By the constitution of South Carolina, the city of Charleston has a right to send thirty representatives to the General Assembly; the whole number of which amounts to two hundred. The back parts of Carolina have increased greatly since the adoption of their constitution, and have frequently attempted an alteration of this unequal mode of representation; but the members from Charleston, having the balance so much in their favor, will not consent to an alteration; and we see that the delegates from Carolina in Congress have always been chosen by the delegates of the city. The representatives, therefore, from that state, will not be chosen by the people, but will be the representatives of a faction of that state. If the general government cannot control in this case, how are the people secure? The idea of the honorable gentleman from Douglass, said he, transcends my understanding; for the power of control given by this section extends to the manner of election, not the qualifications of the electors. The qualifications are age and residence, and none can be preferable.
The Founders' Constitution
Volume 2, Article 1, Section 4, Clause 1, 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.