Chapter 2: The Constitutional Convention

Speech in a Committee of the Convention on the Proportion of Representation and Votes
11 June 1787


It has given me great Pleasure to observe, that, till this Point, the Proportion of Representation, came before us, our Debates were carry'd on with great Coolness and Temper. If any thing of a contrary kind has, on this Occasion, appeared, I hope it will not be repeated; for we are sent hither to consult, not to contend, with each other; and Declaration of a fix'd Opinion, and of determined Resolutions never to change it, neither enlighten nor convince us. Positiveness and Warmth on one side naturally beget their like on the other; and tend to create and augment Discord and Division in a great Concern, wherein Harmony and Union are extremely necessary, to give Weight to our Counsels, and render them effectual in promoting and securing the common Good. 

I must own, that I was originally of Opinion it would be better if every Member of Congress, or our national Council, were to consider himself rather as a Representative of the whole, than as an Agent for the Interests of a particular State; in which Case the Proportion of Members for each State would be of less Consequence, and it would not be very material whether they voted by States or individually. But as I find this is not to be expected, I now think the Number of Representatives should bear some Proportion to the Number of the Represented, and that the Decisions should be by the Majority of Members, not by the Majority of States. This is objected to, from an Apprehension that the greater States would then swallow up the Smaller. I do not at present clearly see what Advantage the greater States could propose to themselves by swallowing the smaller, and therefore do not apprehend they would attempt it. I recollect, that in the Beginning of this Century, when the Union was propos'd of the two Kingdoms, England and Scotland, the Scotch patriots were full of Fears, that, unless they had an equal Number of Representatives in Parliament, they should be ruined by the Superiority of the English. They finally agreed, however, that the different Proportions of Importance in the Union of the two Nations should be attended to; whereby they were to have only Forty Members in the House of Commons, and only Sixteen of their Peers were to sit in the House of Lords; a very great Inferiority of Numbers! And yet, to this Day, I do not recollect that any thing has been done in the Parliament of Great Britain to the Prejudice of Scotland; and whoever looks over the Lists of publick Officers, Civil and Military, of that Nation, will find, I believe, that the North Britons enjoy at least their full proportion of Emolument. 

But, Sir, in the present Mode of Voting by States, it is equally in the Power of the lesser States to swallow up the greater; and this is mathematically demonstrable. Suppose, for example, that 7 smaller States had each 3 members in the House, and the Six larger to have, one with another, 6 Members; and that, upon a Question, two Members of each smaller State should be in the Affirmative, and one in the Negative; they will make Affirmatives, 14 Negatives 7 And that all the large States should be unanimously in the negative; they would make Negatives 36 -- In all 43 

It is then apparent, that the 14 carry the question against the 43, and the Minority overpowers the Majority, contrary to the common Practice of Assemblies in all Countries and Ages. 

The greater States, Sir, are naturally as unwilling to have their Property left in the Disposition of the smaller, as the smaller are to leave theirs in the Disposition of the greater. An honourable Gentleman has, to avoid this difficulty, hinted a Proposition of equalizing the States. It appears to me an equitable one; and I should, for my own Part, not be against such a Measure, if it might be found practicable. Formerly, indeed, when almost every Province had a different Constitution, some with greater, others with fewer Privileges, it was of Importance to the Borderers, when their Boundaries were contested, whether, by running the Division Lines, they were placed on one Side or the other. At present, when such Differences are done away, it is less material. The Interest of a State is made up of the Interests of its individual Members. If they are not injured, the State is not injured. Small States are more easily, well, and happily governed, than large ones. If, therefore, in such an equal Division, it should be found necessary to diminish Pennsylvania, I should not be averse to the giving a part of it to N. Jersey, and another to Delaware: But as there would probably be considerable Difficulties in adjusting such a Division; and, however equally made at first, it would be continually varying by the Augmentation of Inhabitants in some States, and their more fixed proportion in others, and thence frequent Occasion for new Divisions; I beg leave to propose for the Consideration of the Committee another Mode, which appears to me to be as equitable, more easily carry'd into Practice, and more permanent in its Nature. 

Let the weakest State say what Proportion of Money or Force it is able and willing to furnish for the general Purposes of the Union. 

Let all the others oblige themselves to furnish each an equal Proportion. 

The whole of these joint Supplies to be absolutely in the Disposition of Congress. 

The Congress in this Case to be compos'd of an equal Number of Delegates from each State; 

And their Decisions to be by the Majority of individual Members voting. 

If these joint and equal Supplies should, on particular Occasions, not be sufficient, let Congress make Requisitions on the richer and more powerful States for further Aids, to be voluntarily afforded; so leaving each State the Right of considering the Necessity and Utility of the Aid desired, and of giving more or less, as it should be found proper. 

This Mode is not new; it was formerly practic'd with Success by the British Government, with respect to Ireland and the Colonies. We sometimes gave even more than they expected, or thought just to accept; and in the last War, carried on while we were united, they gave us back in 5 Years a Million Sterling. We should probably have continu'd such voluntary Contributions, whenever the Occasions appear'd to require them for the common Good of the Empire. It was not till they chose to force us, and to deprive us of the Merit and Pleasure of voluntary Contributions, that we refus'd and resisted. Those Contributions, however, were to be dispos'd of at the Pleasure of a Government in which we had no Representative. I am therefore persuaded, that they will not be refus'd to one in which the Representation shall be equal. 

My learned Colleague has already mentioned that the present method of voting by States, was submitted to originally by Congress, under a Conviction of its Impropriety, Inequality, and Injustice. This appears in the Words of their Resolution. It is of Sept. 6, 1774. The words are, 

"Resolved, That, in determining Questions in this Congress, each Colony or Province shall have one vote; the Congress not being possessed of, or at present able to procure, Materials for ascertaining the Importance of each Colony."