Electing the Lower House

George-Read
George Read

Thomas Sully, after Robert Edge Pine, c. 1860
Independence National Historical Park

Electing the Lower House

"The Confederation was founded on temporary principles. It cannot last; it cannot be amended; if we do not establish a good Government on new principles, we must either go to ruin, or have the work to do over again…"

-George Read, as recorded in James Madison's Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention



The Convention, meeting in the Committeee of the Whole, debated having the state legislature elect the lower house, instead of the people. Roger Sherman (CT) wanted the states to retain most of their authority and saw this motion as helping them do so. John Dickinson (DE) felt one house had to be elected by the people but that the other could be elected by the state legislature. James Madison (VA) noted that George Read (DE) went further, saying "Too much attachment is betrayed to the state governments…A national government must soon of necessity swallow all of them up." The motion lost with eight states opposed and three states (CT, NJ, SC) in favor. George Read's nationalist position illustrates the point that the large state/small state conflict over representation should not be confused with the later nationalist/states rights conflict. Read was adamant for an equal vote for small states, but would agree to meld all the states into one consolidated government.

 
John Adams
John Adams

Charles Willson Peale, from life, c. 1791-1794
Independence National Historical Park

Today's Pennsylvania Gazette advertised the sale of A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America by John Adams. Serving as the first United States ambassador to Great Britain, Adams was not present at the Constitutional Convention but this work would prove to be of significant influence on the Convention.The American edition was published in New York and Philadelphia as the Convention met.

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Thursday, June 7, 1787 Electing the Senate

HOME The 225th Anniversary of the Constitution Convention

Last updated: February 26, 2015

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