The Original Compromise: What the Constitution's Framers Were Really Thinking

By David Brian Robertson | Go to book overview

9
Congressional Independence

Once the delegates agreed to the Connecticut Compromise, Congress’s potential threats became more tangible. Supporters of proportional representation fought to strengthen the powers of the House of Representatives, while their opponents fought to strengthen the Senate’s powers. This conflict surfaced during the prolonged and frustrating battle over House control of taxing and spending, and appeared in a different form when the Convention debated whether to prohibit national legislators from holding Cabinet or other posts. The delegates also disagreed about who could vote for members of Congress, who could serve in it, how long they would serve, and who would pay them. The delegates decided these separate issues in a way that increased the isolation, defensive powers, and complexity of Congress.


The Power of the Purse

No government power is more fundamental than the power to tax and spend. Taxes are necessary to fund any government action. But taxes also can hurt individuals, groups, states, or entire regions. Some delegates believed government tax and spending powers were so important that only the popularly elected House of Representatives should control them. But in mid-June, when Elbridge Gerry moved to prohibit the Senate from originating money bills because the new House of Representatives “was more immediately the representatives of the people, and … the people ought to hold the purse-strings,” other delegates attacked the idea as ineffective and undesirable.1 Pierce Butler “saw no reason” to limit Senate power. He expected the House to exploit this power by adding other substantive laws to money bills, thus negating the Senate’s check.2 James Madison said that the mere power of originating money bills would make no difference, and even if it did, it would be wrong to disable the “more capable set of men” in the Senate from any part in revenue and spending. Roger Sherman agreed, arguing, “We establish two branches in order to get more wisdom, which is particularly

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