The Senate
For the Independent Journal.
Wednesday, February 27, 1788


To the People of the State of New York:

HAVING examined the constitution of the House of Representatives, and
answered such of the objections against it as seemed to merit notice, I
enter next on the examination of the Senate. The heads into which this
member of the government may be considered are: I. The qualification of
senators; II. The appointment of them by the State legislatures; III.
The equality of representation in the Senate; IV. The number of
senators, and the term for which they are to be elected; V. The powers
vested in the Senate.

I. The qualifications proposed for senators, as distinguished from those
of representatives, consist in a more advanced age and a longer period
of citizenship. A senator must be thirty years of age at least; as a
representative must be twenty-five. And the former must have been a
citizen nine years; as seven years are required for the latter. The
propriety of these distinctions is explained by the nature of the
senatorial trust, which, requiring greater extent of information and
tability of character, requires at the same time that the senator should
have reached a period of life most likely to supply these advantages;
and which, participating immediately in transactions with foreign
nations, ought to be exercised by none who are not thoroughly weaned
from the prepossessions and habits incident to foreign birth and
education. The term of nine years appears to be a prudent mediocrity
between a total exclusion of adopted citizens, whose merits and talents
may claim a share in the public confidence, and an indiscriminate and
hasty admission of them, which might create a channel for foreign
influence on the national councils.

II. It is equally unnecessary to dilate on the appointment of senators
by the State legislatures. Among the various modes which might have been
devised for constituting this branch of the government, that which has
been proposed by the convention is probably the most congenial with the
public opinion. It is recommended by the double advantage of favoring a
select appointment, and of giving to the State governments such an
agency in the formation of the federal government as must secure the
authority of the former, and may form a convenient link between the two

III. The equality of representation in the Senate is another point,
which, being evidently the result of compromise between the opposite
pretensions of the large and the small States, does not call for much
discussion. If indeed it be right, that among a people thoroughly
incorporated into one nation, every district ought to have a
PROPORTIONAL share in the government, and that among independent and
sovereign States, bound together by a simple league, the parties,
however unequal in size, ought to have an EQUAL share in the common
councils, it does not appear to be without some reason that in a
compound republic, partaking both of the national and federal character,
the government ought to be founded on a mixture of the principles of
proportional and equal representation. But it is superfluous to try, by
the standard of theory, a part of the Constitution which is allowed on
all hands to be the result, not of theory, but "of a spirit of amity,
and that mutual deference and concession which the peculiarity of our
political situation rendered indispensable." A common government, with
powers equal to its objects, is called for by the voice, and still more
loudly by the political situation, of America. A government founded on
principles more consonant to the wishes of the larger States, is not
likely to be obtained from the smaller States. The only option, then,
for the former, lies between the proposed government and a government
still more objectionable. Under this alternative, the advice of prudence
must be to embrace the lesser evil; and, instead of indulging a
fruitless anticipation of the possible mischiefs which may ensue, to
contemplate rather the advantageous consequences which may qualify the

In this spirit it may be remarked, that the equal vote allowed to each
State is at once a constitutional recognition of the portion of
sovereignty remaining in the individual States, and an instrument for
preserving that residuary sovereignty. So far the equality ought to be
no less acceptable to the large than to the small States; since they are
not less solicitous to guard, by every possible expedient, against an
improper consolidation of the States into one simple republic.

Another advantage accruing from this ingredient in the constitution of
the Senate is, the additional impediment it must prove against improper
acts of legislation. No law or resolution can now be passed without the
concurrence, first, of a majority of the people, and then, of a majority
of the States. It must be acknowledged that this complicated check on
legislation may in some instances be injurious as well as beneficial;
and that the peculiar defense which it involves in favor of the smaller
States, would be more rational, if any interests common to them, and
distinct from those of the other States, would otherwise be exposed to
peculiar danger. But as the larger States will always be able, by their
power over the supplies, to defeat unreasonable exertions of this
prerogative of the lesser States, and as the faculty and excess of
law-making seem to be the diseases to which our governments are most
liable, it is not impossible that this part of the Constitution may be
more convenient in practice than it appears to many in contemplation.

IV. The number of senators, and the duration of their appointment, come
next to be considered. In order to form an accurate judgment on both of
these points, it will be proper to inquire into the purposes which are
to be answered by a senate; and in order to ascertain these, it will be
necessary to review the inconveniences which a republic must suffer from
the want of such an institution.

First. It is a misfortune incident to republican government, though in a
less degree than to other governments, that those who administer it may
forget their obligations to their constituents, and prove unfaithful to
their important trust. In this point of view, a senate, as a second
branch of the legislative assembly, distinct from, and dividing the
power with, a first, must be in all cases a salutary check on the
government. It doubles the security to the people, by requiring the
concurrence of two distinct bodies in schemes of usurpation or perfidy,
where the ambition or corruption of one would otherwise be sufficient.
This is a precaution founded on such clear principles, and now so well
understood in the United States, that it would be more than superfluous
to enlarge on it. I will barely remark, that as the improbability of
sinister combinations will be in proportion to the dissimilarity in the
genius of the two bodies, it must be politic to distinguish them from
each other by every circumstance which will consist with a due harmony
in all proper measures, and with the genuine principles of republican

Second. The necessity of a senate is not less indicated by the
propensity of all single and numerous assemblies to yield to the impulse
of sudden and violent passions, and to be seduced by factious leaders
into intemperate and pernicious resolutions. Examples on this subject
might be cited without number; and from proceedings within the United
States, as well as from the history of other nations. But a position
that will not be contradicted, need not be proved. All that need be
remarked is, that a body which is to correct this infirmity ought itself
to be free from it, and consequently ought to be less numerous. It
ought, moreover, to possess great firmness, and consequently ought to
hold its authority by a tenure of considerable duration.

Third. Another defect to be supplied by a senate lies in a want of due
acquaintance with the objects and principles of legislation. It is not
possible that an assembly of men called for the most part from pursuits
of a private nature, continued in appointment for a short time, and led
by no permanent motive to devote the intervals of public occupation to a
study of the laws, the affairs, and the comprehensive interests of their
country, should, if left wholly to themselves, escape a variety of
important errors in the exercise of their legislative trust. It may be
affirmed, on the best grounds, that no small share of the present
embarrassments of America is to be charged on the blunders of our
governments; and that these have proceeded from the heads rather than
the hearts of most of the authors of them. What indeed are all the
repealing, explaining, and amending laws, which fill and disgrace our
voluminous codes, but so many monuments of deficient wisdom; so many
impeachments exhibited by each succeeding against each preceding
session; so many admonitions to the people, of the value of those aids
which may be expected from a well-constituted senate?

A good government implies two things: first, fidelity to the object of
government, which is the happiness of the people; secondly, a knowledge
of the means by which that object can be best attained. Some governments
are deficient in both these qualities; most governments are deficient in
the first. I scruple not to assert, that in American governments too
little attention has been paid to the last. The federal Constitution
avoids this error; and what merits particular notice, it provides for
the last in a mode which increases the security for the first.

Fourth. The mutability in the public councils arising from a rapid
succession of new members, however qualified they may be, points out, in
the strongest manner, the necessity of some stable institution in the
government. Every new election in the States is found to change one half
of the representatives. From this change of men must proceed a change of
opinions; and from a change of opinions, a change of measures. But a
continual change even of good measures is inconsistent with every rule
of prudence and every prospect of success. The remark is verified in
private life, and becomes more just, as well as more important, in
national transactions.

To trace the mischievous effects of a mutable government would fill a
volume. I will hint a few only, each of which will be perceived to be a
source of innumerable others.

In the first place, it forfeits the respect and confidence of other
nations, and all the advantages connected with national character. An
individual who is observed to be inconstant to his plans, or perhaps to
carry on his affairs without any plan at all, is marked at once, by all
prudent people, as a speedy victim to his own unsteadiness and folly.
His more friendly neighbors may pity him, but all will decline to
connect their fortunes with his; and not a few will seize the
opportunity of making their fortunes out of his. One nation is to
another what one individual is to another; with this melancholy
distinction perhaps, that the former, with fewer of the benevolent
emotions than the latter, are under fewer restraints also from taking
undue advantage from the indiscretions of each other. Every nation,
consequently, whose affairs betray a want of wisdom and stability, may
calculate on every loss which can be sustained from the more systematic
policy of their wiser neighbors. But the best instruction on this
subject is unhappily conveyed to America by the example of her own
situation. She finds that she is held in no respect by her friends; that
she is the derision of her enemies; and that she is a prey to every
nation which has an interest in speculating on her fluctuating councils
and embarrassed affairs.

The internal effects of a mutable policy are still more calamitous. It
poisons the blessing of liberty itself. It will be of little avail to
the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the
laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that
they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they
are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who
knows what the law is to-day, can guess what it will be to-morrow. Law
is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is
little known, and less fixed?

Another effect of public instability is the unreasonable advantage it
gives to the sagacious, the enterprising, and the moneyed few over the
industrious and uniformed mass of the people. Every new regulation
concerning commerce or revenue, or in any way affecting the value of the
different species of property, presents a new harvest to those who watch
the change, and can trace its consequences; a harvest, reared not by
themselves, but by the toils and cares of the great body of their
fellow-citizens. This is a state of things in which it may be said with
some truth that laws are made for the FEW, not for the MANY.

In another point of view, great injury results from an unstable
government. The want of confidence in the public councils damps every
useful undertaking, the success and profit of which may depend on a
continuance of existing arrangements. What prudent merchant will hazard
his fortunes in any new branch of commerce when he knows not but that
his plans may be rendered unlawful before they can be executed? What
farmer or manufacturer will lay himself out for the encouragement given
to any particular cultivation or establishment, when he can have no
assurance that his preparatory labors and advances will not render him a
victim to an inconstant government? In a word, no great improvement or
laudable enterprise can go forward which requires the auspices of a
steady system of national policy.

But the most deplorable effect of all is that diminution of attachment
and reverence which steals into the hearts of the people, towards a
political system which betrays so many marks of infirmity, and
disappoints so many of their flattering hopes. No government, any more
than an individual, will long be respected without being truly
respectable; nor be truly respectable, without possessing a certain
portion of order and stability.