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people of the States were to be represented in each branch of the national legislature, some ratio of representation must be adopted, or the idea of connecting them as a nation with the government that was to be instituted must be abandoned. It was obviously for the interest of the larger States, such as Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts, — then the three leading States in point of population, -to have a proportionate representation of their whole inhabitants, without reference to age, sex, or condition. On the other hand, it was for the interest of the smaller States to insist on an equality of votes in the national legislature, or at least on the adoption of a ratio that would exclude some portions of the population of the great States. Some of the lesser States were exceedingly strenuous in their efforts to accomplish these objects, and more than once, in the course of the proceedings, declared their purpose to form a union on no other basis.
In this posture of things the alternatives were, either to form no union at all, or only to form one between the large States willing to unite on the basis of proportionate representation; or to abolish the State governments, and throw the whole into one mass; or to leave the distinctions and boundaries between the different States, and adopt some equitable ratio of suffrage, as between the people of the several States, in the national legislature. The latter course was adopted in the committee, as to the first branch, by a vote of seven States in the
affirmative, against three in the negative, one being divided.1
The question was then to be determined, by what ratio the representation of the different States should be regulated; and here again any one of several expedients might be adopted. The basis of representation might be made to consist of the whole number of voters, or those on whom the States had conferred the elective franchise; or it might be confined to the white inhabitants, excluding all other races; or it might include all the free inhabitants of every race, excluding only the slaves; or it might embrace the whole population of each State. Some examination of each of these plans will illustrate the difficulties which had to be encountered.
To have adopted the number of legal voters of the States as the ratio of representation in the national legislature would have been to adopt a system in which there were great existing inequalities. The elective franchise had been conferred in the different States upon very different principles; it was very broad in some of the States, and much narrower in others, according to their peculiar policy and manners. These inequalities could scarcely have been removed; for the right of suffrage in some of the States was more or less connected with their systems of descent and distribution of property, and those systems could not readily be changed, so
1 Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia,
ay, 7; New York, New Jersey, Delaware, no, 3; Maryland, divided.
as to adapt the condition of society to the new interest of representation and influence in the general government. This plan was, therefore, out of the question.
It was nearly as impracticable, also, to confine the basis of representation to the white inhabitants of the States. Some of the States-such as Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, and Pennsylvania, in which slavery was already, or was ultimately to become, extinct, and Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia, where slavery was likely to remain - had large numbers of free blacks. These inhabitants, who were regarded as citizens in some of the States, but not in others, were in all a part of their populations, contributing to swell the aggregate of the numbers and wealth of the State, and thus to raise it in the scale of relative rank. Their personal consequence, or social rank, was a thing too remote for special inquiry. A State that contained five or ten thousand of these inhabitants might well say, that, although of a distinct race, they formed an aggregate portion of its free population, too large to be omitted without opening the door to inquiries into the condition and importance of other classes of its free inhabitants. This was the situation of all the Northern States except New Hampshire, as well as of all the Middle and Southern States; and it was especially true of Virginia, which had nearly twice as many free colored persons as any other State in the Union.
It was equally impracticable to form a national
government in which the basis of representation should be confined to the free inhabitants of the States. The five States of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, including their slaves, were found by the first census, taken three years after the formation of the Constitution, to contain a fraction less than one half of the whole population of the Union. In three of those States the slaves were a little less than half, and in two of them they were more than half, as numerous as the whites.2 There was no good reason, therefore, -except the theoretical one that a slave can have no actual voice in government, and consequently does not need to be represented, why a class of States containing nearly half of the whole population of the confederacy should consent to exclude such large masses of their populations from the basis of representation, and thereby give to the free inhabitants of each of the other eight States a relatively larger share of legislative power than would fall to the free inhabitants of the States thus situated. The objection arising from the political and social condition of the slaves would have had great weight, and indeed ought to have been decisive of the question, if the object had been to efface the boundaries of the States, and to form a purely consolidated republic. But this purpose, if ever entertained at all,
1 They contained 1,793,407 inhabitants; the other eight States had 1,845,595 when the federal census of 1790 was taken.
2 See the census of 1790, post,
could not be followed by the framers of the Constitution. They found it indispensable to leave the States still in possession of their distinct political organizations, and of all the sovereignty not necessary to be conferred on the central power, which they were endeavoring to create by bringing the free people of these several communities into some national relations with each other. It became necessary, therefore, to regard the peculiar social condition of each of the States, and to construct a system of representation that would place the free inhabitants of each distinct State upon as near a footing of political equality with the free inhabitants of the other States as might, under such circumstances, be practicable. This could only be done by treating the slaves as an integral part of the population of the States in which they were found, and by assuming the population of the States as the true basis of their relative representation.
It was upon this idea of treating the slaves as inhabitants, and not as chattels, or property, that the original decision was made in the committee of the whole, by which it was at first determined to include them.' Having decided that there ought to be an equitable ratio of representation, the commit
1 The population of the States was adopted in the committee of the whole, instead of their quotas of contribution, which, in one or another form, was the alternative proposition. The slaves were included, in a proportion accounted
for in the text, as a part of the aggregate population; and it was not until a subsequent stage of the proceedings that this result was defended on the ground of their forming part of the aggregate wealth of the State.