By ConSource Staff
By mid-July the Convention had been meeting six days per week for over six weeks, and still had not come to an agreement concerning representation in the two houses of the national legislature. This issue had proven to be divisive, pitting small-states against large-states in the debate over proportional representation versus equal representation, and northern states against southern states regarding how to count slaves for the purposes of representation and direct taxes.[i] In late June, several delegates, including Benjamin Franklin feared that these divisions could lead to the disbandment of the Convention and the dissolution of the Union altogether.[ii] Some compromises were eventually agreed to including the vote to have monetary bills originate in the first branch, and the vote to “allow each State one vote in the 2nd branch [of the legislature].”
The Convention, however, could not reach an agreement on the ratio for the proportion of inhabitants to representatives in the first branch of the legislature, and committed this issue to the Committee of Five.[iii] On July 9, Gouverneur Morris delivered the Report of the Committee of Five, which suggested approval of the Gerry Committee ratio of representation in the first branch, as to one representative for every 40,000 inhabitants, and 56 representatives overall. This could not be agreed upon by the delegations, and the issue was committed to another committee, made up of one delegate from each state.[iv]
On July 10, Rufus King reported from the Committee that 65 members should represent the States in the first meeting of the legislature. Delegates from the Southern States had qualms with this plan, as the majority of those nine additional representatives would go to northern states, and they felt the wealth of the South was not being adequately represented. Madison suggested doubling the number of delegates from each state, but this motion failed, largely due to the increased expense this would entail. The Convention voted 9-2, to approve the amended apportionment of representatives made by the committee.
On Wednesday July 11, Edmund Randolph moved for “requiring the Legislature to take a periodical census for the purpose of redressing inequalities in the Representation.” Hugh Williamson[v] proposed that a comprehensive census be taken once every year to determine the population in each state. The frequency of the census could not be agreed upon, but the delegates voted on the first clause of Mr. Williamson’s motion, to have a census of free inhabitants taken when the government was formed.
Mr. Butler and General Pinckney insisted that slaves be included in the rule of representation, and that they be counted equally along with free inhabitants, thus removing the three-fifths clause. Mr. Butler explained this, saying,
the labour of a slave in South Carolina was as productive and valuable as that of a freeman in Massachusetts, that as wealth was the great means of defence and utility to the Nation they are equally valuable to it with freemen; and that consequently an equal representation ought to be allowed for them in a Government which was instituted principally for the protection of property, and was itself to be supported by property.
Mr. Mason refused to accede to the motion, despite representing the slave state of Virginia, because he believed it to be unjust. Mr. Butler’s motion was voted down by a vote of 3-7, with only Delaware, South Carolina, and Georgia supporting it.
Mr. Wilson did not believe that slaves should be counted at all towards the rule of representation. He argued that they were not citizens, and if they were being counted as property, “why is … other property [not] admitted into the computation?” Mr. Morris expressed that he was forced to face the dilemma of doing injustice to either the Southern States or to his human nature, and he had to choose the former. He went on to say,
he could never agree to give such encouragement to the slave trade as would be given by allowing them a representation for their negroes, and he did not believe those States would ever confederate on terms that would deprive them of that trade.
The next day, William Davie[vi] suggested that if the Southern States were deprived of any share of representation for their slaves they, “would never confederate on any terms.” Mr. Ellsworth moved,
that the ruled of contribution by direct taxation for the support of the Government of the United States shall be the number of white inhabitants, and three fifths of every other description in the several States, until some other rule that shall more accurately ascertain the wealth of the several States can be devised and adopted by the Legislature.
At the end of the day’s proceedings, the Convention voted 6-2-2, to include the three-fifths clause for determining direct taxation and representation in the first branch of the legislature. The delegations also voted 8-2, to conduct a census for determining representation every 10 years.
On July 14, Luther Martin called for the question of the whole report of the Gerry Committee to be debated and voted on as amended. Before this vote, Elbridge Gerry called attention to the idea that the future Western states could present dangers to the original 13 states. Mr. Gerry “thought it necessary to limit the number of new states to be admitted into the Union, in such a manner, that they should never outnumber the Atlantic States.”
This motion, if approved, would have capped the potential number of states at 26. Roger Sherman thought the possibility of future states ever exceeding this number was so remote that the Convention need not even consider it. The delegates voted down Mr. Gerry’s motion, by a close vote of 4-5-1, thus refusing to limit the future expansion on the Union.
On July 16, the Convention began the proceedings by voting on the whole report as amended, including equality of votes in the second branch of the legislature. The vote was 5-4-1 in favor of what would become known as the Connecticut (or Great) Compromise, with Pennsylvania, Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia voting against. This compromise resolved several issues that were long discussed by the Convention including, mandating that a census would be taken within six years of the first meeting of the legislature and every ten years after that, that all bills for appropriating money would originate in the first branch, and finalizing the representation systems in each branch of the legislature.
The next morning, before the proceedings began, the large-state delegates met to discuss whether they would challenge the Connecticut Compromise. They ultimately decided,
to yield to the smaller States, and to concur in such an Act however imperfect and exceptionable, as might be agreed on by the body, though decided by a bare majority of States and by a minority of the people of the United States.
The Connecticut Compromise solidified the structure of our legislature. With these hard fought issues resolved, the Convention moved on to discuss the independent Executive and Judicial branches of government. Be sure to check out the ConSource blog next week for a discussion of the Convention debates on the structure of the Presidency.
[i] Dana Lansky, Proceeding to A Constitution: A Multi-Party Negotiation Analysis of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, 5 Harv. Negot. L. Rev. 279, 3115-16 (2000)
[iii] The members appointed to the committee were Mr. Morris, Mr. Gorham, Mr. Randolph, Mr. Rutledge, and Mr. King.
[iv] The committee was made up of Mr. King, Mr. Sherman, Mr. Yates, Mr. Brearley, Mr. Morris, Mr. Reed, Mr. Carroll, Mr. Madison, Mr. Williamson, Mr. Rutledge, and Mr. Houston.
[v] Delegate representing North Carolina, Williamson served on five committees and was known for his keen debating skills. He signed the Constitution, and fought for ratification.
[vi] Delegate representing North Carolina, Davie was in favor of a strong central government and his vote swung the North Carolina delegation to vote in favor of the Connecticut Compromise. He left the Convention on August 13, 1787, and never signed the Constitution, but he fought for the ratification of the Constitution in North Carolina.