Front Page Titles (by Subject) Popular Instruction of Representatives 15 August 1789 - Liberty and Order: The First American Party Struggle
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Popular Instruction of Representatives 15 August 1789 - Lance Banning, Liberty and Order: The First American Party Struggle 
Liberty and Order: The First American Party Struggle, ed. and with a Preface by Lance Banning (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2004).
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Popular Instruction of Representatives 15 August 1789
During the House discussion of the first amendments, Thomas Tudor Tucker, a South Carolina anti-Federalist, moved to insert a declaration of the people’s right “to instruct their representatives.” This led to a longer discussion than the House devoted to freedom of the press or freedom of religious conscience. Only snippets are presented here, but they include a sharp exchange between Madison and Aedanus Burke over whether Madison’s amendments would allay the public’s fears.
Thomas Hartley (Pa.)
… Representation is the principle of our government; the people ought to have confidence in the honor and integrity of those they send forward to transact their business; their right to instruct them is a problematical subject. We have seen it attended with bad consequences both in England and America. When the passions of the people were excited, instructions have been resorted to and obtained to answer party purposes; and although the public opinion is generally respectable, yet at such moments it has been known to be often wrong; and happy is that government composed of men of firmness and wisdom to discover and resist the popular error… .
John Page (Va.)
… The people have a right to consult for the common good; but to what end will this be done if they have not the power of instructing their representatives? Instruction and representation in a republic appear to me to be inseparably connected. … Every friend of mankind, every well-wisher of his country will be desirous of obtaining the sense of the people on every occasion of magnitude; but how can this be so well expressed as in instructions to their representatives?…
George Clymer (Pa.)
… If they have a constitutional right to instruct us, it infers that we are bound by those instructions… ; this is a most dangerous principle, utterly destructive of all ideas of an independent and deliberative body… .
… When the people have chosen a representative, it is his duty to meet others from the different parts of the union, and consult, and agree with them to such acts as are for the general benefit of the whole community; if they were to be guided by instructions, there would be no use in deliberation. … From hence I think it may be fairly inferred that the right of the people to consult for the common good can go no further than to petition to legislature or apply for a redress of grievances.
… Let the people consult and give their opinion, let the representative judge of it, and if it is just, let him govern himself by it as a good member ought to do; but if it is otherwise, let him have it in his power to reject their advice.
… I think the representative, notwithstanding the insertion of these words, would be at liberty to act as he pleased; … yet I think the people have a right both to instruct and bind them. … The sovereignty resides in the people, and … they do not part with it on any occasion. … But much good may result from a declaration in the Constitution that they possess this privilege; the people will be encouraged to come forward with their instructions, which will form a fund of useful information for the legislature. … I hope we shall never shut our ears against that information which is to be derived from the petitions and instructions of our constituents… .
… If we confine ourselves to an enumeration of simple acknowledged principles, the ratification will meet with but little difficulty. Amendments of a doubtful nature will have a tendency to prejudice the whole system; the proposition now suggested partakes highly of this nature. … In one sense this declaration is true, in many others it is certainly not true; … if we mean nothing more than this, that the people have a right to express and communicate their sentiments and wishes, we have provided for it already. … If gentlemen mean to go further and to say that the people have a right to instruct their representatives in such a sense as that the delegates were obliged to conform to those instructions, the declaration is not true. Suppose they instruct a representative by his vote to violate the Constitution, is he at liberty to obey such instructions? Suppose he is instructed to patronize certain measures, and from circumstances known to him but not to his constituents, he is convinced that they will endanger the public good, is he obliged to sacrifice his own judgment to them? Suppose he refuses, will his vote be the less valid. … What sort of a right is this in the Constitution to instruct a representative who has a right to disregard the order if he pleases? …
Michael Jenifer Stone (Md.)
I think the clause would change the government entirely; instead of being a government founded upon representation, it would be a democracy of singular properties.
I differ from the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Madison) if he thinks this clause would not bind the representative; in my opinion it would bind him effectually, and I venture to assert without diffidence that any law passed by the legislature would be of no force if a majority of the members of this house were instructed to the contrary, provided the amendment become part of the Constitution …
Aedanus Burke (S.C.)
I am not positive with respect to the particular expression in the declaration of rights of the people of Maryland, but the constitutions of Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina all of them recognize, in express terms, the right of the people to give instructions to their representatives. I do not mean to insist particularly upon this amendment, but I am very well satisfied that those that are reported and likely to be adopted by this house are very far from giving satisfaction to our constituents; they are not those solid and substantial amendments which the people expect; they are little better than whip-syllabub, frothy and full of wind, formed only to please the palate, or they are like a tub thrown out to a whale to secure the freight of the ship and its peaceable voyage. … I think it will be found that we have done nothing but lose our time, and that it will be better to drop the subject now and proceed to the organization of the government.
was unwilling to take up any more of the time of the committee, but on the other hand, he was not willing to be silent after the charges that had been brought against the committee and the gentleman who introduced the amendments by the honorable members on each side of him (Mr. Sumter and Mr. Burke). Those gentlemen say that we are precipitating the business and insinuate that we are not acting with candor; I appeal to the gentlemen who have heard the voice of their country, to those who have attended the debates of the state conventions, whether the amendments now proposed are not those most strenuously required by the opponents to the constitution? It was wished that some security should be given for those great and essential rights which they had been taught to believe were in danger. I concurred, in the convention of Virginia, with those gentlemen, so far as to agree to a declaration of those rights which corresponded with my own judgment, and [to] the other alterations which I had the honor to bring forward before the present Congress. I appeal to the gentlemen on this floor who are desirous of amending the Constitution whether these proposed are not compatible with what are required by our constituents. Have not the people been told that the rights of conscience, the freedom of speech, the liberty of the press, and trial by jury were in jeopardy; that they ought not to adopt the Constitution until those important rights were secured to them?
But while I approve of these amendments, I should oppose the consideration at this time of such as are likely to change the principles of the government, or that are of a doubtful nature; because I apprehend there is little prospect of obtaining the consent of two-thirds of both houses of Congress, and three-fourths of the state legislatures, to ratify propositions of this kind; therefore, as a friend to what is attainable, I would limit it to the plain, simple, and important security that has been required. If I was inclined to make no alteration in the constitution I would bring forward such amendments as were of a dubious cast, in order to have the whole rejected.
never entertained an idea of charging gentlemen with the want of candor, but he would appeal to any man of sense and candor whether the amendments contained in the report were anything like the amendments required by the states of New York, Virginia, New Hampshire and Carolina, and having these amendments in his hand, he turned to them to show the difference, concluding that all the important amendments were omitted in the report… .
The question was now called for from several parts of the house, but a desultory conversation took place before the question was put; at length the call becoming very general, it was stated from the chair and determined in the negative, 10 rising in favor of it and 41 against it.