-Tuesday, June 26, 1787
Yesterday Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut opposed a motion by James Wilson of Pennsylvania to elect the Senate by national vote.
CONCERN over political conflicts between the wealthy and the poor surfaced for the first time today, raising the question of whether disagreements about the proposed national government are more social than political.
A majority of State delegates today approved a six-year term for members of the proposed national Senate, a third of them subject to rotation every two years. Earlier, the Convention set 30 as a minimum age requirement for serving in the Senate and 25 for the House of Representatives, with a two-year term for the House.
James Madison of Virginia argued unsuccessfully for a nine-year Senate term in today's debate. A longer term in the Senate, composed of the higher classes appointed by the State legislatures, Mr. Madison insisted, would act as a check against power sliding into the hands of the poor represented in the House and subjected to popular passions of the moment.
The danger of a future conflict between economic classes was clearly possible, he warned. ``In framing a system which we wish to last for ages, we shd [should] not lose sight of the changes which ages will produce,'' he added.
The scholarly son of a wealthy Virginia planter was answered by a former poor shoemaker. The self-educated Roger Sherman of Connecticut said he favored four- or six-year terms, in order to preserve good behavior.
``A bad government is worse for being long,'' said Mr. Sherman.
Col. Alexander Hamilton of New York suggested that the disorders of democracy made real the dangers of political conflicts between the rich and the poor. He went on:
``If we incline too much to democracy, we shall soon shoot into a monarchy. The difference of property is already great amongst us. Commerce and industry will still increase the disparity. Your government must meet this state of things, or combinations will in process of time, undermine your system....''
One observer of this Convention believes that the arguments of Mr. Sherman and of Elbridge Gerry, both from New England, defeated the nine-year Senate term favored by Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Madison. ``Demagogues are the great pests of our government, and have occasioned most of our distresses,'' observed Mr. Gerry, the successful Massachusetts merchant.
Today's debate brought into the open a largely concealed dimension of the struggle this correspondent has noted at the Convention. The fear that Mr. Madison, Mr. Hamilton, and a few others have of the poor gaining a political upper hand is apparently behind their original demand that the separate States be subordinated to a national government erected in their place. Almost all delegates fear an excess of popular democracy and favor an enlightened elected elite.
Mr. Sherman and Mr. Gerry, both self-made men, disagree with elitist rule, however benign. They see it not only as contrary to the American Revolution that overthrew British elitist rule but as a repudiation of the principles of the Declaration of Independence that led to the creation of the individual 13 States.
These day-by-day reports on the Constitutional Convention will continue tomorrow.