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[MVB] Notes on Senate speech regarding election of president and vice president, [c29 December 1823]

I. Wish to have the matter pass by, delicacy of my situation, sense of the respect due to that opinion, reason why at liberty to follow my own opinion, but consequent necessity for explanation

2d. The state of the question as it appears to be & its conse[quent] favour every where. Such cannot be the object because the States can now do that & if they do not choose, a neighboring State would not interfere in behalf of a minority in a sister state

3d The true State of the question viz an attempt on the part of the small state to detract from the influence of a larger State, to impart this adjustmt of ^the^ relative influence of Numbers established by the constitution, it is not only so avowedly but in fact for whilst it attempts to deprive the large States of the means secured to them by the constitution to bring to bear upon the question the whole number derived from the population it retains the addition of two electors for the Senators, which was a concession at the time by the large to the small states, which was confessedly unequal then & which has every day become more so, which illustrate by a comparison between Pennsylvania & Delaware. It is therefore in aspect & effect intended as a belligerent act on the part of the small states.

4th As such ungracious on account of the quarter it comes from for it is strange that if und by the present distribution of powers the small states are loosers it should be first discovd &c. in the Senate.

5. But waving the justice of the measure let it us consider its probable efficacy.

6. I aver that the expectations of the small States from this source are not only illusory but that by its adoption they would yield a right which is of inestimable importance to them & which they will hereafter deplore in sackcloth & ashes.

7th. Will it have the effect contemplatd? No. The reasons, will operate to the same extent on the small states. Their relative influence will still be the same, repel the idea that distribution has been is or is likely to be punitive to the large states.

8. The alteration therefore is made on notion of advantage contingnt speculation & of worse than doubtfull success

Now what are they giving up

I. Under the confederation the governmt was purely federal, that is a league between independent soverngties with a considering each State as equal as if they were individuals and with a perfect equality of representation each state having in the general congress one vote.

2d. The articles of confederation being found in many respects insufficient to answer the purposes of the union the convntion which framed the present constitution was called to remedy its defects.

3d. That convention when convened instead of amending the old articles of confederation determined agt. the violent opposition of the minority determd to ^transcend their instruction^ form a new system of governmt, & trust to the people for its adoption

4th. A Question of vital interest to the States immediately arose viz whether the governmnt to be formed should be national or federal. If the former it should of course be wholly independent of the State govmts made with an eye to all the states as one nation & its representation of course based on property & population without regard to the lines of demarcation which divide the states from each other. If federal then on the principles of equality, making the federal governmt dependant on the State governmt as it was under the articles of confederation, giving to the different states an equality of representation without regard to their population or contribution.

5. The controversy is well known to have been as bitter as the great interests of the states involved were calculated to make & at various times to have threatnd a dissolution of the convention without doing any thing.

6th. The obvious interests of the different States render it almost unnecessary to say that the small states with the exception of Georgia who being the greatest in territories looked to her future greatness in population were all ranked on the federal side. If the general govrmt was wholly independent of the State governmnts they national their former influence in the scale of the union on the ground of their prex^is^ting sovereignty was merged in the superior population of the large States. If it was independent of the state govmnts the small states could only oppose the tyranny which the large states might practice upon them under all circumstances by subjecting themselves to the penalties of treason.

7: Thus fully understanding their true interests & faithfull to them, they ^with newjersy at their head^ resisted manfully, they again & again informed the convention that unless that doctrine was abandoned they would go home & then hinted at foreign protection.

8th. The delegates from the large states however anxious they all were to secure to their States the influence in the new governmt to which they supposed their numbers &c entitled them were however divided in the sentiment as to the propriety of preserving unimpaired or to a great degree the sovereignty of the States.

9th. To this circumstance & to the liberality of the three great States Virginia Pennsylvania & Massachusetts was the country indebted for the compromise which took place, & which was that the new governmt should be neither the one thing or the other but a compound of both.

10th. That in its Legislative departnt it should be the representation should be in the one branch national that is drawn from the people at large without controul of ^reference to the^ states authorities & ^fact^ land or population & few of its. That the second should be put purely federal & that the executive department should be partly national & partly federal & that the judicial should be wholly national & to secure the preservtn of the State sovereintees as far as it was not yielded it was agreed that the State governmts should form component parts of the federal governmt & by making that governmt dep wholly dependent for two of its indispensible departments viz the Executive & one branch of the legislative on the will of the State governts so that if at any time a majority of the states should for any cause desire a revolution they could effect it by peaceable & lawfull means.

^ The discontent of the small states, the opposition to the constitution & that assurances by the authors of the federalist that the states were safe because of here reslution No^

11th. Whether the importance of these two principles to the small states, that the federal principle was in their favour & the national in favour of the large States, that of necessity every departure from that principle must operate to the prejudice of the Small States, illustrate this by the prest number of large & small states


123th. Since the adoption of the constitution to the present moment no att sucessfull attempt has as yet been made to disturb those great barriers which the foresight of the delegates of the small States erected for the defence. The proposition under consideratn does not indeed ha disturb it so far as it regards the numerical strength of the small states in their suffrages for the Executive but it does in what was regarded then & is as important to the small states their controul over the fact of the choice or not, that is the dependance fof the federal govermt upon them as states for its continuance.

123th. Illustrate the larger estimation which this dependence of was regarded by the States by their conduct in relation to the house of representatives, as expressed by the proceedings of

South Carolina



North Carolina

Rhode Island &

Massachusetts &

Virginia, & Newjersey

page 140 where NewJersy with Conn. Del. & S.Carolina voted for making the election of Representatives subject to the controul of the State Legislature & on that failing voted alone agt. that part of the constitution as it stands & at 240 she attempted alone to prevent that ^Congress^ from having any thing to say to the mode of choosing Senators, & 191 she voted voted to have the electors chosen by the State Legislators  ☞ The State has

134th: Shew that the small states then understood their true interests by that the federal principle was in their favour by the national principle in favour of the large States, & that of course every departure from the federal system was agt. the small & in favour of the large States, illustrate this farther by shewing the controul which the small states now have over the very existence of the fGenl. governmt by decring its pdissolution. If the two checks viz Electors & Senators are taken away they would loose this. Shew the present number of Small states that they have the majority. Shew the difference between their opposition to the federal govmt under the constitution & agt. its authority. In the one case traitors in the other not. Shew the difference between the opposition to the federal govrmt and the constitution & agt. its authority. In the one case traitors in the other not. State the proposition made by Maryland to prevent acts done under the State authority from being regardd as treason & its rejection.

14th. On the other sheet.

15 The same principle on which this amendmt. proceeds would lead to to the districting of the States for the choice of Senators & then the governmt would be purely national

16th. And then you will have done away the two great pillars which were erected for the preservation of State Sovereignty to which the authors of the federalist so eloquently alluded to lull the fears of the States friends of the State governmts.

17th. State the proposition of Genl. Hamilton that this very proposition was contained in it, that it was his object to destroy the importance of the State govermts & that to this end to make the electors & Senators elective & above the controul of the States was not the least offensive parts of a project which rendered him so odious & the strange eccentricites thatof fortune that these very propositions should be brought fowd & supported by such orthodox politicians as my friends from D Newjersy & Maine.

18th. The propriety danger of increasing the Strength of the federal governt.

I. At the adoption of the constitution the relative forces of the two governts was matter of speculation

2d. The materials to govern their opinions were scanty, there was no system like it & such as resembled it were in old countries & it was by no means certain that the effect would be the same here as there

3d. Hence the great diversity of opinion as to the probable effect of the system differences which could only be settled by the unerring test of experience.

4th. We have had that experience it has ^at least^ demonstrated that the apprehension of those who thought the general govrmt too weak were without foundation if it has not shewn that the fears of those who supposed that the danger was for the state governts were well founded

4th. To shew this run to facts

I. Under the confederation ^The legislature had^ the States again & again with impunity & sometimes with success resisted the acts of the legislature by the strongest branch of the federal governt.

2d. Since the new constitution all attempts to impede the legislative departmnt arehave not been short of & with the general words in the constitution their rights to legislate is made chiefly to depend on their power to inform & the labor is without limit either peaceably through their courts or forcibly by the sword. 2d Every attempt to resist the Executive department has coverd the recreant State with discomfiture & disgrace. 3 But even the weaker department of the general governt has successfully triumphed over the State authorities. Illustrate this.

1 By the constitn the States have no authority to pass laws embracing the obligation of contracts. State the circumstances under which this law was passed, its probable design, the little opposition that was made to it, its consequences. State after state has been brought at the foot stool of the Supreme judicial authority of the nation & its highest acts of just authority nullified.

I. Vermont.

2d. Newhampshire

3d. Newyork

34th. New Jersy

45th Newyork &c. State the general principle & its extensive power, & the fact that NYork & Ohio are now on the callender in matters of deep moment

2d. By the constitution the Supreme Court may have in the place of congress appellate jurisdiction in certain cases state illegible illegible off construction which has been put upon that by the courts and how completely it puts all the penal laws & criminal justice of the states under the revision of the federal court. So that both the Legislative & judicial powers of the State governts are made amenable to a single branch of the federal govt. & that the branch which is purely national & with which alone the States nave nothing to do.

18th. If there is to be gain or loss by this ^because of the national govt^ whose must it be the large or the small States, any step that you approach to consolidate you make the governt more national & in a national governt Number & congressional power take the place of ^the^ artificial rights conceeded to the States in regard to their preexisting sovereignty. The large States of course gain & the small ones loose.

19th. Is it then wise in either States & more particularly in the larger small ones to do a single act by which they loose their hold upon the general governt. I put the question emphatically to the small States & ask them to answer it to their constituents & to those who come after this.

20. Why should you do it, do you suppose that you are justified in making hazardous experimnts by any change to be apprehended for the large States. Have the large States given you cause for apprehension. I put the question to what you know to your opinion. I know the proneness of small states ^& me^ to suspicion but I appeal to facts & in the face of your history sure that the conduct of the large states has ^not^ been such & in this I need not speak of Newyorks humane &c.

21st. That the inequality of representation in this body is great is indisputable, that it was not so great at the adoption of the constitution shewn, that it has become


Amendment of the

Fedl. Constitution

New Jersey proposition,

to district the states

for the election of Presidt


[Marginalia on the first page.] 

N H 3.
R I 1.
N Jy 4.
De 1.
Geo 2.



Source: DLC Library of Congress
Collection: MVB Papers (DLC)
Series: Series 4 (3 December 1821-31 December 1824)