The Potowmack Institute

The Potowmack Institute did not study Noah Webster's pamphlet which was very influentional in the period leading up to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 until after its amicus brief was filed in US v. Emerson. Similar arguments are made here as in the amicus brief. Webster describes the unacceptable circumstance that a legislature becomes a "council of advice" rather than a law making body if the laws have no powers of enforcement. This concept resembles the libertarian fantasy's "code of ethics" where positive law becomes simply a matter of advice. We hang the Ten Commandments on wall: Thou shall; Thou shall not. The Ten Commandments is not a frame of government with powers of enforcement.

Webster also describes a nation at the mercy of an individual who can defeat any legislation. His individual is a monarch who can veto any bill coming out of a parliament for any reason at all and without accountability. This then is tyranny. Is it any less a tyranny if the nation is at the mercy of an obstructionist minority like the NRA which, to preserve its own agenda to maintain a balance of power between a privately armed populace and any and all government, is able to prevail over cowardly and incompetent politicians to defeat legislation which would serve the public good.

Webster characterizes the NRA's people at large without any frame of government as anarchy. The "armed populace at large" would be armed anarchy. The NRA want's the "armed populace at large" which is even more anarchy. All of Webster's reasoning on the relationship between the states and the national government can be transfered to a description of the relationship between individuals and any and all government. Complete sovereignty of individuals was not part of the original consciousness any more than was the complete sovereignty of the states under a central government. The militia in this text is an instrument of government under the command of state government not the NRA's "armed populace at large." See the NRA's amicus brief in Perpich

See also Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution, Noah Webster, 1787

Bold is added. Italic is in original.



American Policy.

Under the following Heads:

I. Theory of Government
II. Government of the Eastern Continent.
III. American States; on the principles of the American Constitutions contrasted with those of European States.
IV. Plan of Policy for improving the Advantages and perpetuating the Union of the American States.

By NOAH WEBSTER, Jun'r, Esq.

Printed by HUDSON and GOODWIN

Sketches of American Policy

I. Theory of Government

MEN, in every stage of society, have found it necessary to establish some form of government to protect their persons and property from invasion.

Mankind may be considered in a threefold view— with respect to themselves as individuals— with respect to the whole community or supreme power— and with respect to the magistrate or executive authority.

Every individual in society has certain powers, rights and privileges, which no other individual can justly abridge or destroy; and of which consequently the whole body of individuals has no right to deprive him without his consent. But in a state of nature, where every individual has rights, and has no power but his own strength to defend them, his person is constantly exposed to the abuses, and his property, to the encroachments of his more powerful neighbor. Hence the origin of a social compact which either expressed or implied, is the basis of all civil government. This compact is nothing more than an association of all the members of a community, by which each individual, for his own security, consents to obey the general voice. This association of all the individuals of the community is called the body politic or


state. This body, when active, is called a sovereignty when compared with other states, it is called simply a power. The members, spoken of collectively, are called people; spoken of severally, they may be called citizens; and each member, being under the control of the whole body, is, in this respect, a subject.

In this act of association there is a reciprocal engagement between the public body and its particular members. The public body engages to protect the person and property of each member, and each member engages to be obedient to the public body. In other words, each individual engages to assist his fellow citizens in protecting the rights of the whole, merely from a regard to his own safety; and each engages to yield obedience to the public voice from the same motive. Hence we may observe that what is called patriotism or public spirit; is nothing but self-interest, acting in conjunction with other interests for its own sake; and that public good is but the aggregate sum of the individual interests, in a state. Thus a state, composed of ten thousand individual interests, becomes, with respect to other states, one single interest and is considered as an individual.

A state thus formed by compact is a sovereign power and has a right to command the services and obedience of each member. Should a question arise, Whether such a state can exercise acts of tyranny? I answer, that it is impossible. The sovereign power is the whole body of the people collectively, and the people will never make laws oppressive to themselves. The whole body may be wrong in a political measure; but whenever this happens, it is always through mistake and never through design. Instances of error in a state are very rare and wrong measures always produce inconveniences which, if very obvious, soon find a remedy. When therefore the sovereign power resides in the whole body of the people, it cannot be tyrannical, not because it is barred by a political necessity, but because the same power which frames a law, suffers all its consequences, and no individual or collection of individuals will knowingly frame a law


injurious to itself. In the social compact every individual enters into an engagement with himself— in the laws of the public body, each member lays an obligation upon himself— and in obeying those laws, each yields obedience to himself. In such a state, every member is as much bound by the laws, as he is by a bond subscribed to by his own hand. These principles apply, with equal force, to representative governments. When, agreeably to the constitution, a hundred men choose one person to represent them in enacting laws, they give him all their own power; he is their agent and substitute; his voice is the voice of his constituents; his consent to a measure is as binding upon the hundred as their own.

Let us see how these principles affect the rights of property. Every individual has some property, which, while it remains in him, is sacred and cannot be touched by the public. But every individual, when he becomes a part of the body politic, voluntarily relinquishes so much of his property as is necessary to defray the expense of securing the remainder. The public therefore has a right to call upon every individual for this proposition. But the public has no right to the property of a partial number of individuals, any more than a robber has a right to my purse because he has most strength; yet the public has a right to the property of the whole, whenever the general safety demands it. In order to understand this clearly, it is necessary to define the term, law. Law is a rule or decree of the supreme power of a state, which respects all its members. Its object must be general, or it cannot be termed, Law. The decrees of a supreme power must be general, and are therefore laws; for which reason, any acts which regard a part of the community, are unjust, unless where such power acts as a magistrate in subordination to law. Thus the supreme power cannot order a single person to do a tower of militia duty; yet it can call forth every effective man in the state. The supreme power cannot oblige an individual to fill a certain office; yet it can pass a law, creating such an office, and exact a penalty


of hundreds that refuse to accept it, when legally chosen. And when the supreme power chooses a person for any office, it acts wholly in subordination to law. The sovereign power has no right to tax an individual; but it has a right to tax all the individuals of the state, with any sums that the public safety requires.

The essence of sovereignty consists in the general voice of the people. But each individual pursues his own interest; and consults the good of others no farther than his own interest requires. Hence the necessity of laws which respect the whole body collectively, and restrains the pursuits of individuals when they infringe the public rights. But laws in the hands of people at large can have no energy. A law in the hands of a whole people; would have no more effect, than the principles of natural justice have among wild savages. Every individual would still be at liberty to obey or disobey that law at pleasure. Hence arises a third relation among a people, viz. that of the magistracy, the business of which is to execute those laws which the people enact in capacity of sovereign.

A people cannot divest themselves of the sovereignty, and when they choose a magistrate or governor, they appoint only a servant to execute their orders. Whenever an executive, officer exceeds the limits of his duty or ventures to administer justice upon any rules or principles of his own, he encroaches on the sovereign power— i.e., becomes a tyrant— and forfeits his life. But while he is invested with the power of executing the laws, he is a public servant; not, as some people foolishly imagine, a servant of any individual, but a servant of the state and responsible for his conduct to the sovereign power.

From the preceding considerations, it so follows, that there are three distinct relations subsisting in a well organized society; the relation of citizens to each other as individuals; the relation of each citizen to the whole collectively or sovereign power; and the relation of each to the magistracy or executive authority. Every individual has a share of the sovereign power— every individual


is a subject of that power— and a few only; who are public servants, are vested with the right of administering the laws.

The people in their collective capacity, enact laws; the magistrates receive the laws from them with the power of the whole body to enforce them; and the people, in their individual capacities, yield obedience to the laws. On a due observance of these respective rights and duties depend the peace and happiness of government. If the supreme power would execute laws; if the magistrates would enact them and the subjects refuse to obey them, disorder would succeed and despotism or anarchy be the fatal consequence. The only instance in which the supreme power ought to interpose in enforcing its own decrees, is when the magistracy is insufficient for the purpose; and such want of power in the magistracy may ever be considered as a defect in the constitution.

In order to determine whether it is best to vest the administration of the laws in one man or more, it is necessary to examine the subject with more attention.

Let us suppose we live in a society consisting of a thousand members. These, in their collective capacity form the supreme power, of which each member possesses a thousandth part. If the executive power is vested in all the members equally, each possesses a thousandth part; which is so small a proportion, that no individual can execute a law, and the probability is that the whole will never unite. Such a division of power would destroy its effect. Supposing ten men of the thousandth part chosen as magistrates to execute the laws of the state, in this case the power of the whole thousand is vested in ten men and the laws may be executed; but as there is still a division of power, the administration will be slow and feeble. Let the power of the whole be brought to a point and vested in a single person, and the execution of laws will be vigorous and decisive.

If the society is increased to the number of ten thousand subjects; each member that possesses but a ten thousandth part of the sovereignty, to which he is as much


subject as that individual in the society of a thousand members. Hence it so follows that in proportion as the number of citizens is increased, the liberty of each is diminished. In a small parish an individual has a great proportion of influence; but in a large state, a single voice is almost lost among the multitude. If these proposition are true it so follows that the less proportion each will bears to the will of the whole, the less influence will manners have in preserving the peace of society; and of course the force of laws must be augmented in proportion. But as the opportunities for magistrates to abuse their power are multiplied in proportion to the magnitude of the state, the power of the legislature to restrain and punish the magistrates ought to be increased in the same proportion.

If the influence of manners in regulating society, is diminished in proportion to the magnitude of a state, and the force of laws ought to be increased in the same ratio, it so follows that the larger a state is, the less ought to be the number of magistrates.

To understand this maxim, we must consider that three different interests center in the person of the magistrate; his own private interest, tending solely to his own advantage; the interests of the magistracy, tending to the advantage of that body; and the interest of the whole people collectively or the supreme power. In a perfect system of government, the interest of the individual should have influence in administration; that of the magistracy should be very inconsiderable, and that of the people should govern all others. But such is the nature of man, that the public interest has the least influence; the interest of the magistracy is more powerful; and the interest of the individual bears the principal sway. This order is totally repugnant to the happiness of civil government. If a society is composed of a thousand individuals and the magistrates are ten, the interest of the individual in any one magistrate, is in fact but a thousandth part of the whole and that of the magistracy but a tenth, and yet his own interest will have the principal sway.


While these interests are divided, government must of course be feeble. Unite them and government becomes active and energetic. Suppose the executive power all vested in an individual; the whole interest of the magistracy is blended with that of the individual; and this union of the two most active principles, renders government as energetic as possible. Hence we deduce the foregoing maxim that the number of magistrates ought to be in an inverse proportion to the magnitude of the state, the consequence of which is that a monarchical form of government is best for large states.

From the foregoing principles may learn what forms of government are most favorable for the liberty of the subject. No person can be said to enjoy civil liberty, who has no share in legislation, and no person is secure in society, unless the laws are known and respected.

In despotic governments, where the sceptre is swayed by an individual, the ruler, whether denominated an Emperor, a King or a Bushaw, having the sole right of making and executing laws, is the only person who enjoys any liberty. Every individual within his dominions is a slave. In this case, the interest of the individual, of the magistrate, and of the supreme power, are all united, and government is of course as active as possible. Hence the vigor and decision of military operations, when the power of the general is without limitation.

Despotic power is not always tyrannical; in the hands of a mild prince, it may be favorable to the rights of the subject. But such is the depravity of human nature, that it is madness in a people to vest such power in an individual. Denmark furnishes the only instance of absolute power conferred on an individual by the solemn act of the people; and it furnishes perhaps the only instance of absolute power that has not been abused.

A limited monarchy, where the power of the sovereign is restrained by certain laws, is far preferable to despotism. But the monarch has the power of making any laws, the people are so far slaves. However such


power may be sanctified by time, custom or hereditary succession, the exercise of it, in a single instance, is an act of tyranny. The king of Great-Britain cannot make a single law binding upon his subjects, but he can defeat every bill that is proposed by parliament. Is such a nation free? The English boast of their privileges, and with some reason, when they draw a comparison between themselves and the vassals of a Polish nobleman. But when compared with the eternal immutable rights of man, their privileges shrink into insignificance. With what face can a nation boast of their liberties, when an individual of that nation can, with a single expression, the king will consider it, defeat any measure that the parliament may adopt? Neither the title nor the dignities of royalty can make a king more honest or less fallible than another man; and upon the principles of natural right, any member of parliament might as well negative an act of that body, as the king. A nation which is subject to the will of an individual is a nation of slaves; whether that nation receives its laws from the arbitrary will of its sovereign, or whether the people reserve to themselves the right of making their own laws and give their sovereign full power to annihilate them at pleasure. In either case a nation is at the mercy of an individual.*

An aristocracy is a form of government of all others the most to be dreaded; I mean, where the right of legislation is vested in a hereditary nobility. The idea of being born a legislator, is shocking to common sense, and the fact is a reproach to human nature. In such a government, the interest of the people is out of question. The interest of the supreme power, of the magistracy, and of the individual are here blended, and they are distinct and independent of the interest of the people. The consequence is, that when these interests coincide in

*the sole exclusive right of levying taxes is vested in the house of commons; and is the only constitutional privilege of legislation in the English nation; unless we rank the right of dethroning and electing their king for mal-administration, among their constitutional privileges.


all the members of the legislature, they are combined to oppress their subjects, and when they clash, as often happens the state is torn with dissensions and civil war.

From the preceding consideration, I deduce this definition of the most perfect practicable system of government; a government, where the right of making laws, is vested in the greatest number of individuals, and the power of executing them, in the smallest number. In large communities, the individuals are too numerous to assemble for the purpose of legislation for which reason, the people appear by substitutes or agents; persons of their own choice. A representative democracy seems therefore to be the most perfect system of government; that is practicable on earth.

Governments on the Eastern Continent.

It will be laid that I have described a system of government, excellent in theory, but impracticable. It will be alleged that all kinds of government have been attempted by mankind, and that all the efforts of knowledge and virtue have proved ineffectual to preserve the rights of men, from the grasp of ambition or from the gradual approaches of corruption.

I will not undertake to assert that a perfect system of civil polity can be established on earth. All human institutions must be imperfect. Nor will I venture to predict, that a form of government, so founded on the true principles of natural right; on the broad basis of civil and religious liberty, can be permanent in the fluctuation of human events. But I dare assert that no nation, of which history gives us any account, was ever in a situation to make the experiment; and that there is nothing in the nature of things to render such an event impossible.


To prove this it will be necessary to take a general view of the constitutions of government that have been most famous, either for their principles, their continuance, or their effects upon the happiness of society.

The three original principles which have operated generally to preserve union and subordination in society, are, the power of a standing army, the fear of an external force, and the influence of religion. In despotic governments, under which nine tenths of the human race are included, a standing army at the command of the sovereign, has been generally established, for the purpose of enforcing obedience to his arbitrary edicts. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a monarch to support his authority and maintain tranquility in his dominions, for any long period, without a military force. There is something in the idea of such a government repugnant to the feelings of mankind; and a people must be totally depressed by servitude and stupified by ignorance not to feel a perpetual disposition to rebel. Besides, there is such an unconquerable inclination in human nature, unchecked by fear, to be supercilious and tyrannical, that few monarchs have swayed the sceptre for a long time, without giving their subjects the most justifiable grounds for insurrection.

In order therefore to secure the obedience of subjects, the terrors of religion have always been called in to aid the civil power, and in most countries, have been incorporated with the political institutions. It has been the policy of the sovereign to keep his subjects in ignorance, to teach them a blind obedience to the oracles of some deity, commonly fabricated or feigned by human contrivance, to impress their minds with the belief that their rulers and priests were beings of a superior order, who had some intercourse with their gods and had power to punish disobedience with the severest judgments. All the events of the natural world, earthquakes, thunder and lightning, eclipse, storms and famine, with the whole catalogue of imaginary prodigies, miracles, dreams, tricks of magic, and fabulous stories of demons,


have been converted, by power and artifice; into instruments of tyranny. Thus mankind have been deluded from age to age and rendered subservient to the caprice, the pleasure and the ambition of their sovereigns.

These two instruments of despotism, superstition and a military force, command peace and subordination in all the kingdoms and empires on the eastern continent. Some states, both in ancient and modern times, have been united by the fear of an external force. The states of Greece were obliged to combine for their mutual safety against the Persians; but when delivered from a foreign invasion, they were distracted with civil wars. Rome was never free from faction and tumult, for a long period, unless she was invaded or her armies were employed in foreign conquests. The Helvetic body was formed and is still preserved by the danger of conquest. Composed of several states, differing in religion and principles of government, and inhabited by a hardy race of men, there is no reason to suppose that their union could be of long duration, without a dread of falling victims to the house of Bourbon or Austria.

The same principle united the American States and answered, during the period of danger, all the purposes of a vigorous government.

It will be observed that I have not mentioned the influence of a wise system of laws and a regular administration, among the causes of peace and subordination. An established code of laws and tribunals of justice may prevent the crimes of individuals and small disturbances; but seldom or never prevent civil dissensions and we know of very few instances where the civil magistrate has been able, without the aid of a military force, to suppress a popular insurrection. On the contrary, history informs us, that those nations which have enjoyed the wisest system of laws, and have been most distinguished by liberty and knowledge, have been the most frequently involved in civil wars. This effect, however, is not the natural consequence of laws, science or freedom, but the inevitable consequence of defective constitutions. We ought


always to keep in mind the material distinctions between the constitution, the laws and the administration of a government. Several nations, ancient and modern, furnish us with most excellent systems of law; all nations of any consequence furnish us with the most illustrious examples of upright, judicious magistrates; but history has not recorded a single instance of a wise constitution of civil government. Singular as this assertion may appear, I, believe it may be clearly demonstrated.

To prove this fact, it is not necessary to mention despotic governments; these being so evidently an inversion of the order of society and an infraction of the sacred rights of men, that they can have few advocates in America. I will make a few remarks on those forms of government that have been most celebrated for freedom.

Much has been said of the republics of Greece, Athens and Sparta. Their freedom, their valour, their disinterested patriotism, their literature, their arts, have been the subjects of endless panegyrick. But what were their governments? Before the days Solon and Lycurgus, their laws were extremely rude and barbarous. The supreme power was the people at large; who, being under no restraint, having no settled form of deliberation, and being at the same time illiterate and credulous, were generally at the command of some noisy demagogue. In such a popular assembly, it could not be expected that justice or policy would always direct the suffrages of the people. On the contrary, their public acts of legislation were capricious and irregular; guided by no rules and changed by every artful harangue. They would unanimously adopt a measure one day and as unanimously, rescind it the next, without any change of circumstances. They would execrate and banish an illustrious personage, at the instigation of his artful enemy, and within a month, recall and receive him, with demonstrations of joy, without any change in his character. In the early ages of Greece, her citizens were indeed free, but their freedom was licentiousness. Solon and Lycurgus are celebrated as lawgivers; but they ought also to be condemned


as tyrants. They framed many wise regulations but they enacted cruel laws too, and imposed them upon their countrymen with a rigor known only to arbitrary governments.

The same remarks will apply to the Roman state. A banditti of robbers, who lived by plunder, so ended the greatest empire on earth. The first form of government which they established, was the monarchical. On the abolition of monarchy, there among a heterogeneous form of government, in which the intersecting of opposite interests introduced every species of disorder. The patricians or nobility, who were defendants of the ancient senators, who formed a respectable council under the regal state, claimed privileges distinct and superior to the body of the people, who were denominated plebeian; these two orders, constantly struggling for prerogative and right, kept the Roman state in a perpetual ferment. The plebeians were certainly right in maintaining their privileges; but as it ever happens in popular transaction, their frenzy transported them at times beyond all bounds. The principles of the Gracchi were undoubtedly right, but they urged them too far and their noble attempts to save the rights of the people ended in bloodshed. The agrarian law was so ended on true principles of natural right; but it should have been a part of the constitution; a different system had prevailed and had become too firmly established to be overthrown by any means but the sword.

A state where there are two district orders of men, one claiming hereditary honours and offices, can not with propriety be called a republic, or free government. Such a state, when the rights of each order are precisely defined and ascertained in the constitution and while the privileges of a hereditary nobility, which are always encroachments on the natural rights of men, have been sanctified by long possession, may enjoy tolerable tranquility under a prudent administration. But was the misfortune of the Romans to have no established constitution. There was no fixed line of discrimination between the

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ancient privileges of the Patricians and the rights of the Plebeians. Hence the insolence of the former and the jealousy of the latter incessantly embroiled the state. Treaties and temporary concessions, with some attempts to compromise differences by a code of laws and the establishment of new officers among the Plebeians, had some effect in suspending the dissensions which from time to time disturbed the peace of the state. But no application of partial remedies can elect a radical cure in a disordered constitution. Excellent laws and wise magistracy may palliate, but can never remove the disorders that proceed from defects in the original frame of government. The discord which rent the Roman state, was the inevitable, the necessary consequence of a constitutional separation of interests; and could not cease, till these interests were blended together, or the interest of one party was annihilated or silenced by superior force. This last event took place in Rome. An ambitious general, at the head of a veteran army, which had been accustomed to conquer, destroyed the liberties of the people, in a single day, on the plains of Pharsalia. The privileges of the senate were apparently respected for several hundred years; but a standing army at the command of the emperor, in effect annihilated their power, and they gradually lost both their name and existence.

A similar progress is observable in all those states which have been called free, and which have been composed of different orders of men. In Rome the conceit was long and attended with alternate advantages. In Spain, the power and artifice of Cardinal Ximenes, prime minister to Charles V put an end to the liberties of the people, in the short period of a single reign. In France absolute power made more gradual advances, but was established. In Sweden there have been several revolutions, and the last, which happened but a few years past, was in favor of monarchy. Denmark has been mentioned as a singular instance of a despotic government established by the solemn resolution of the people. In England there have been the most


vigors exertions in opposition to the encroachments of tyranny, and those exertions have been attended with the best success. But in defiance of all the efforts of a brave and enlightened nation, the body of the people is reduced to a situation, little or nothing superior to the vassalage of the neighboring nations. The United Provinces, taught by fatal experience, the evils of a despotic government, framed on their emancipation from Spain, a constitution, distinguished by the most extraordinary jealousy. The supreme power, not deliberation brought to a point, but remaining in several separate assemblies, is destitute of all energy. Their measures are always now and commonly ineffectual. In cases of extreme danger, the states general have been obliged to infringe the constitution to save the provinces from ruin. And after all their jealousy, they have lost the rights of a free people, by their own folly; and their present form of government is a kind of divided commercial aristocracy, without the benefits of a popular representation or the security of an energetic administration.

The republics of Italy, if they ever enjoyed freedom, are now aristocracies, of the worst kind. Several cities of Germany have obtained and still preserve very extensive civil privileges, but their religious establishments have depressed the human mind. The present emperor the most amiable and illustrious prince in Europe, not even excepting the generous Louis XVIth, is unfettering his subjects, and many material changes are already introduced into his dominions. But the subjects of the princes of the empire are the most abject slaves.

The form of government in some of the Swiss Cantons is aristocratical; in others, it is said to be republican. I am not sufficiently informed to determine in my own mind, whether the constitutions of any of these small states or of their allies, are founded on principles of equal liberty. From the most accurate accounts we have of their internal police, I believe we may venture to say, that some of these cantons and the city of Geneva, enjoy greater share of civil and religious liberty, than any other state or kingdom on the eastern continent.


If these remarks on the several constitutions of civil government, ancient and modern, are allowed to be just, we are prepared to enumerate their general defects and the causes that have contributed to change their form to the monarchical or aristocratical, or to a mixture of both.

The great fundamental principle on which alone a free government can be founded and by which alone the freedom of a nation can be rendered permanent, is an equal distribution of property. The reverse of this, an unequal distribution of lands, has been the cause of almost all the civil wars that have torn society in pieces, from the infancy of the Roman republic down to the revolution in England. I here speak of that unequal division of property which is perpetual and to which are annexed certain hereditary offices and dignities. Commerce creates very great inequality of property; but as this inequality is revolving from person to person and entitles the possessor to no pre-eminence in legislation, it is not dangerous to the liberties of the rest of the state.

The first remarkable instance of the evils which follow from hereditary distinctions, we have exhibited in the history of Rome. This state, had we no other instance, would be a sufficient proof that no freedom can be of long duration, and that no society can enjoy long tranquility, where hereditary honours and superiority of birth are claimed by one part of the members to the exclusion of the rest. But the whole history of modern Europe is but a continued confirmation of this truth.

By the establishment of feuds in all the territories conquered by the warlike nations of the north; that curious military system, which discovers the spirit of those barbarous tribes, and was well calculated to preserve their conquests; by the establishment of this system throughout Europe, the wretched inhabitants were chained in perpetual vassalage, from which neither power nor policy has been able to deliver a single state. The governments that were erected upon this system, were of the mixed kind, the monarchical and the aristocratical. The Barons,


who were lords of the soil, and could command the service of their tenants when they pleased, were originally the possessors of all the civil power. But it was the policy and the ambition of their kings to abridge their power and humble their pride. This could not be effected but by enlarging the privileges of the people and thus attaching them to the crown. In this manner and by the edge of the sword, the enormous power of the nobility was much circumscribed in every European kingdom, except Poland; and in most of them the people obtained a share in legislation. In England, the people, sword in hand, obtained from king Stephen [sic] and the Barons, magna charta the great basis of all the freedom that was ever enjoyed in that kingdom. Their subsequent struggles were attended with much violence, but generally terminated in the acquisition of new privileges.

We have seen in what manner the people in all the kingdoms of Europe, have been divested of their legislative privileges, in England alone the people still possess a shadow of legislative importance. But how is the nation represented in parliament? Englishmen themselves answer this question. A few thousands of the dregs of the people, whose votes are sold to the highest bidder, elect the members of that supreme council of the nation. In some boroughs, seven or eight electors choose two members, and in London seven thousand electors choose but four representatives. With such unequal representation, no nation can enjoy real liberty, whatever may be their pretentions. But this is not the greatest evil. One part of the legislature consists of lords spiritual and temporal, who sit in the house of peers by birth, by title, or by office. This branch of the legislature can negative any bill proposed by the commons. Where then is the supreme power of the people? Not to mention the absurdity of blending the civil and the ecclesiastical powers; two distinct orders that ought never to be combined. To complete this glorious free constitution, a single person,


cloathed with royalty indeed, but neither wiser nor better for his dignity, has full power to negative every act of parliament and disappoint all the measures of national wisdom.

Whenever a man or body of men establish to themselves a share in government, independent of the people, and when they are no longer responsible for their conduct, a state may bid adieu to its freedom. This was the case with almost all the states of Europe. The Cortes of Spain, the parliaments of England and France, the states of Denmark and Sweden, were all composed of different orders of men who claimed distinct privileges. The king, the nobility, the clergy, the burghers and the peasants formed a motley legislature. The principles, the manners, the interests and the feelings of these orders were so discordant, that it was utterly impossible for them to act in concert, without frequent concessions on one side and the other, which must injure their rights or wound their pride. The prerogatives of a king, the insolence of a baron or the bigotry of an ecclesiastic, have let whole nations butchering each other. Let a man read the history of the civil wars in France, the contest between the houses of York and Lancaster, and the usurpation of Cromwell in England, and these alone will make him execrate the people who execrated or tolerated distinction but that of merit, or that which is created or annihilated by their own voluntary choice.

Another most capital defect in all the pretended free governments of Europe, is the establishment or preference, given to some religious persuasion. Next to the feudal system, the establishment of religions has done the most mischief of any event or institution on earth. Both these systems were united in the dark ages of Europe, amid the terrors of superstition were added to the sword of the civil magistrate, to depress the mind and bind the human race in extreme servitude.

I shall not mention the particular defects that are to be found in various constitutions of civil government. An unequal distribution of property, the perpetuity of estates,

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hereditary distinctions and offices, with religious establishments, are alone sufficient to destroy the liberties of a state and support any system of domination however absurd or oppressive. One or all of these evils are interwoven into every government in Europe, unless some of the cantons of Switzerland, or some small cities should be exceptions.

The reason why such absurd systems should ever have prevailed is doubtless this: The basis of every constitution of civil government on the eastern continent, was laid by barbarians, in whom the military spirit was predominant. The feudal system, a most excellent institution among savages who have neither money nor standing forces, but subversive of all the rights of civil society, was introduced into the southern provinces of Europe, by those martial tribes who overwhelmed the Roman empire. This distribution of property and the papal system of ecclesiastical tyranny, held Europe for several centuries in slavery and barbarism. Upon the revival of literature and the arts, the most violent efforts were made in every part of Europe to shake off the yoke. These efforts were productive of every species of calamity to mankind— civil wars, treachery and assassination but they generally terminated in some acquisitions favorable to civil and ecclesiastical liberty. The power of a haughty nobility was abridged; the prerogatives of kings were ascertained; oppressive military tenures were abolished, and in their place were substituted rents that were certain and fixed by contract; while in some kingdoms the peasants obtained a share in legislation.

But however the rigors of the military services have been mitigated and some valuable religious rights have been acquired; still the effects of the feudal and papal systems are visible in all the European countries. It was impossible that such absurd and abusive systems could remain unattacked in the ages of intellectual improvement; but it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to overthrow constitutions, generally established and grown venerable by time. All that Europeans can do is to introduce


gradual alterations, and from time to time make such amendments as circumstances will permit, and the rights of mankind require. But the rights of primogeniture, hereditary rights of legislation, and systems of religion established by law, those institutions and customs that infringe all the sacred rights of mankind, and reproach human nature, are perhaps become too closely connected with the peace of society, to be abolished, either by a single stroke of power, or the gradual improvements of policy.

From the foregoing considerations, we may deduce with certainty this conclusion, that no society of men has ever been in a situation to form a perfect or even an excellent system of civil polity. All the governments of Europe, Asia and Africa have been planned by rude uncivilized nations. Edifices built by such unskilled hands must be imperfect and uncouth. Modern architects may supply a pillar, cover a defect or add ornaments to such an edifice; but they can neither render it convenient nor elegant, without rasing the whole structure to the foundation.

From the foregoing remarks, we may likewise learn the propriety of distinguishing between the laws and the constitution of a state. Englishmen seem to overlook this distinction and lavish those praises on their glorious free constitution, which are due to an excellent code of laws that the English constitution is preferrable to that of Poland or of Spain, will not be disputed; but the subjects of several monarchies on the continent, are happier, under a wise prince, than Englishmen have generally been with all their freedom. But those defects which I have repeatedly mentioned in the course of these observations, which were introduced into England by its conquerors, are so interwoven into government, that they are gradually undermining and will eventually destroy all the liberty that remains in that kingdom. Commerce, which is the support of liberty, will protract the period of despotism; but corruption and the power of some ambitious prince will some time or other put an end even to


their pretended privileges. Wise laws and upright administration may correct temporary and accidental evils; but can never reform a fundamental error, as an anodyne will alleviate the pains of a disease; but will not effect a radical cure.

Thus the inhabitants of the eastern continent are mostly chained in vassalage— without knowledge, without freedom and without hope of relief.

American States.

THE theory of civil government and the general description of the kingdoms and states in Europe and Asia, which have been exhibited in the preceding pages, are designed as introductory to some remarks on the American states.

A tolerable acquaintance with history and a small knowledge of the English settlements on this continent, teach us that the situation of these states, in every point of view, the reverse of what has been the infant situation of all other nations.

In the first place, our constitutions of civil government have been framed in the most enlightened period of the world. All other systems of civil polity have been begun in the rude times of ignorance and savage ferocity; fabricated at the voice of necessity, without science and without experience. America, just beginning to exist in an advanced period of human improvement, has the science and the experience of all nations to direct her in forming plans of government. By this advantage she is enabled to supply the defect and avoid the errors incident to the policy of uncivilized nations and today a broad basis for the perfection of human society. The legislators of the American states are neither swayed by a blind veneration for an independent clergy, nor


nor awed by the frowns of a tyrant. Their civil policy is or ought to be the result of, the collected wisdom of all nations, and their religion, that of the Savior of mankind. If they do not establish and perpetuate the best systems of government on earth, it will be their own fault, for nature has given them every advantage they could desire.

In the next place, an equal distribution of landed property, is a singular advantage, as deliberation the foundation of republican governments and the security of freedom.* The New-England states are peculiarly happy in this respect. Lands descend equally to all the heirs of the deceased possessor and perpetuities are entirely barred. In Connecticut the eldest male heir inherits two shares; this is a relique of ancient prejudice in favor

*Several writers on government and particularly the great Montesquieu, maintain that virtue is the foundation of republics. If, by virtue, is meant patriotism, or disinterested public spirit, and love of one's country, as is probably the case; with the utmost respect for such authorities, I must deny that such a general principle ever did or ever can exist in human society. Local attachments exist under every species of government. They are as strong in monarchies as in republics. Honor, which is said to be the principle of monarchical governments, is often as powerful a motive in republics. The real principle that is predominat in every individual and directs all his actions is self-interest. This operates differently and takes different names in different forms of government. In a democracy, where offices and preferment are at the disposal of the people, an ambitious man must court the people, by his condescension, by public acts of beneficence, and by pretentions to public good. In order to retain any emoluments, which he holds by the choice of the people, his conduct must be agreeable to them, and apparently, if not really for their interests. This conduct springs from self-love, but takes the name of virtue or public spirit. In a monarchy, where the sovereign disposes of posts of honor and profit, and where distinction of rank takes place, a candidate takes a different method to procure favor. He professes the most unshaken loyalty, and a firm attachment to the person of his sovereign; he assumes an air of dignity and shapes his conduct to the humour of the court. This is the same selfish principle, aiming at the same object; but operating in a different manner, it is denominated honor. But the existence of any form of government does not depend on any principle of action, however modified, or by whatever name distinguished.


of the rights of primogeniture, which the wisdom of succeeding legislatures will undoubtedly abolish. An act passed the legislature of NewYork, a few years past, destroying and barring entailments and ordering that all intestate estates should descend to all the heirs in equal portions. No act was ever better timed or calculated to produce more salutary effects. The states of Pennsylvania and North Carolina have made it an article in their Constitutions, that no estates shall be perpetual. I am not sufficiently acquainted with the constitutions of the other states, to inform whether perpetuities are barred or not; but they may be avoided by a common recovery, a fiction often practiced in the English courts of law.

But although the southern states possess too much of the aristocratic genius of European governments, yet it is probable that their future tendency will he towards republicanism. For if the African slave trade is prohibited, it must gradually diminish the large estates which are entirely cultivated by slaves; as these will probably decrease without recruits from Africa. And it is not probable that their place can be supplied by white people, so long as vast tracts of valuable land are uncultivated; and poor people can purchase the fee of the soil.

But should the present possessors of lands continue to hold and cultivate them, still there is a new set of men springing up in the back parts of those states; more hardy and independent than the peasants of the low countries; and more averse to aristocracy. The unhealthiness of the climate in the flat lands, is a circumstance that will contribute to the rapid population of the mountains where the air is more salubrious.

The idea therefore that the genius of the southern states is verging towards republicanism, appears to the supported by substantial reasons. It is much to be wished that such an idea might be well grounded, for nature knows no distinctions, and government ought to know none, but such as are merited by personal vertues.

The confiscation of many large estates in every part of the union, is another circumstance favorable to an


equal distribution of property. The local situation of all the states and the genius of the inhabitants in most of them, tend to destroy all the aristocratic which ideas were introduced from our parent country.

Necessarily connected with an equal distribution of landed property, is the annihilation of all hereditary distinctions of rank. Such distinctions are inconsistent with the nature of popular governments. Whatever pretensions some states have made to the name of republics; yet those that have permitted perpetual distinctions of property, and hereditary titles of honor with a right of legislation annexed, certainly never deserved the name of popular governments; and they have never been able to preserve their freedom. Wherever two or more orders of men have been established with hereditary privileges of rank, they have always quarrelled till the power or intrigues of the superior orders, have divested the people of all their civil liberties. In some countries they retain a show of freedom, sufficient to amuse them into obedience; but in most states, they have lost even the appearance of civil rights.

Congress, aware of the tendency of an unequal division of property and the evils of an aristocracy or a mixed form of government, have inserted a clause in the articles of confederation, forever barring all titles of nobility in the American states; a precaution evincive equally of the foresight, the integrity and the republican principles of that august body*.

*The jealousy even of the southern states in regard to the establishment of rank and hereditary titles, was remarkable in the opposition which appeared against the Cincinnati. The original design of that society, was not only harmless, but extremely laudable. It was a monument raised to the memory of an army which desended the noblest cause ever undertaken by man. But perhaps the plan involved in it consequences which were not apprehended by the gentlemen who formed it. There is however some difficulty in conceiving how a mere title, without property and legislative rights, could endanger our liberties. Evil consequences might result from such a society; but they must be extremely remote. It must require the continued efforts of several generations to accumulate a dangerous degree of power in a society, consisting of few members, who would be scattered throughout the continent.


Another circumstance, favorable to liberty and peculiar to America, is a most liberal plan of ecclesiastical policy. Dr. Price has anticipated most of my observations on this head. If sound sense is to be found on earth, it is in his reasoning on this subject. The American constitutions are the most liberal in this particular of any on earth; and yet some of them have retained some badges of bigotry. A profession of the Christian religion is necessary in the states, to entitle a man to office. In some states, it is requisite to subscribe certain articles of faith. These requisitions are the effect of the same abominable prejudices, that have enslaved the human mind in all countries; which alone have supported error and all absurdities in religion. If there are any human means of promoting a millenial state of society, the only means are a general diffusion of knowledge and a free unlimited indulgence given to religious persuasions, without distinction and without preference. When this event takes place, and I believe it certainly will, the best religion will have the most advocates. Nothing checks the progress of truth like human establishments. Christianity spread with rapidity, before the temporal powers interferred; but when the civil magistrate undertook to guard the truth from error, its progress was obstructed, the simplicity of the gospel was corrupted with human inventions, and the efforts of Christendom have not yet been able to bring it back to its primitive purity.

The American states have gone far in assisting the progress of truth; but they have stopped short of perfection. They ought to have given every honest citizen an equal right to enjoy his religion and an equal title to all civil emoluments, without obliging him to tell his religion. Every interference of the civil power in regulating opinion, is an impious attempt to take the business of the Deity out of his own hands; and every preference given to any religious denomination, is so far slavery and bigotry. This is a blemish in our constitutions, reproachful in proportion to the light and knowledge at our legislators.

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The general education of youth is an article in which the American states are superior to all nations. In Great Britain the arts and sciences are cultivated to perfection but the instruction of the lower classes of people is by no means equal to the American yeomanry. The institution of schools, particularly in the New England states, where the poorest children are instructed in reading, writing and arithmetic, at the public expense, is a noble regulation, calculated to dignify the human species.

This institution is the necessary consequence of the genius of our governments; at the same time, it forms the firmest security of our liberties. It is scarcely possible to reduce an enlightened people to civil or ecclesiastical tyranny. Deprive them of knowledge, and they sink almost insensibly in vassalage. Ignorance cramps the powers of the mind, at the same time that it blinds men to all their natural rights. Knowledge enlarges the understanding, and at the same time, it gives a spring to all the intellectual faculties, which direct the deliberations of the cabinet and the enterprizes of the field. A general diffusion of science is our best guard against the approaches of corruption, the prevalence of religious error, the intrigues of ambition and against the open assaults of external foes.

In the southern states education is not so general.* Gentlemen of fortune give their children a most liberal education and no part of America produces, greater lawyers, statesmen and divines; but the body of the people are indifferently educated. In New England it is

*An officer of the New York line, in the late war, who had an opportunity to be particularly acquainted with the New England troops has told me repeatedly, that he found the non-commissoned officer in the Connecticut line, better educated than the commissioned officiers of the New York troops. An officer in Pennsylvania regiment, informed me that he found many officers of the line on their establishment who could not make out the regimental returns. The flourishing state of South Carolina never had an academy till within a few months past. I cannot learn that North Carolina has yet my kind of college or academy. A few gentlemen send their sons to Europe for an education.


rare to find a person who cannot read and write; but if I am rightly informed, the case is different in the southern states. The education, however, of the common people in every part of America, is equal to that of any nation; and the southern states, where schools have been much neglected, are giving more encouragement to literature.

It is not my design to enumerate all the political and commercial advantages of this country; but only to mention some of the characteristic circumstances which distinguish America from all the kingdoms and states of which we have any knowledge.

One further remark however, which I cannot omit, is that the people in America are necessitated, by their local situation, to be more sensible and discerning, than nations which are limited in territory and confined to the arts of manufacture. In a populous country, where arts are carried to great perfection, the mechanics are, obliged to labour constantly upon a single article. Every art has its several branches, one of which employs a man all his life. A man who makes heads of pins or springs of watches, spends his days in that manufacture and never looks beyond it. This manner of fabricating things for the use and convenience of life is the means of perfecting the arts; but it cramps the human mind, by confining all its faculties to a point. In countries thinly inhabited, or where people live principally by agriculture, as in America, every man is in some measure an artist— he makes a variety of utensiles, rough indeed, but such as will answer his purposes— he is a husbandman in summer and a mechanic in winter— he travels about the country— he convenes with a variety of professions— he reads public papers— he has access to a parish library and thus becomes acquainted with history and politics, and every man in New England is a theologian. This will always be the case in America, so long as their is a vast tract of fertile land to be cultivated, which will occasion emigration from the states already settled. Knowledge is diffused and genius routed by the very situation of America.


Plan of Policy for improving the Advantages and perpetuating the Union of the American States.

I HAVE already mentioned three principles which have generally operated in combining the members of society under some supreme power; a standing army, religion and fear of an external force. A standing army is necessary in all despotic governments. Religion, by which I mean superstition, or human systems of absurdity, is an engine used in almost all governments, and has a powerful effect where people are kept in ignorance. The fear of conquest is an infallible bond of union where states are surrounded by martial enemies. After people have been long accustomed to obey, whatever be the first motive of their obedience, there is formed a habit of subordination, which has an almost irresistible influence, and which will preserve the tranquillity of government, even when coercion or the first principle of obedience has ceased to operate.

None of the foregoing principles can be the bond of union among the American states. A standing army will probably never exist in America. It is the instrument of tyranny and ought to be forever banished from free governments. Religion will have little or no influence in preserving the union of the states. The Christian religion is calculated to cherish a spirit of peace and harmony in society; but will not balance the influence of jarring interests in different governments. As to neighboring foes, we have none to fear; and European nations are too wise or have too much business at home, to think of conquering these states.

We must therefore search for new principles in modeling our political system. The American constitutions are founded on principles different from those of all nations, and we must find new bonds of union to perpetuate the consideration.


In the first place, there must be a supreme power at the head of the union, tested with authority to make laws that respect the states in general and to compel obedience to those laws. Such a power must exist in every society or no man is safe.

In order to understand the nature of such a power, we must recur to the principles explained under the first head of these observations.

All power is vested in the people. That this is their natural and inalienable right, is a position that will not be disputed. The only question is, how this power shall be exerted to effect the ends of government. If the people retain the power of executing laws, we have seen how this division will destroy all its effect. Let us apply the definition of a perfect system of government to the American states. The right of making laws for the United Sates, should be vested in all their inhabitants by legal and equal representation, and the right of executing those laws, committed to the smalless possible number of magistrates, chosen annually by Congress and responsible to them for their administration. Such a system of continental government is perfect— it is practicablect— and may be rendered permanent. I will even venture to assert that such a system may have, in legislation, all the security of republican circumspection; and in administration, all the energy and decision of a monarchy.

But must the powers of Congress be increased? This question implies gross ignorance of the nature of government. The question ought to be, must the American states be united? And if this question is decided in the affirmative, the next question is, whether the states can be said to be united, without a legislative head? or in other words, whether thirteen states can be said to be united in government, when each state reserves to itself the sole powers of legislation? The answer to all such questions is extremely easy. If the states propose to form and preserve a confederacy, there must he a supreme head, in which the power of all the states is united.


There must be a supreme head, clothed with the same power to make and enforce laws, respecting the general policy of all the states, as the legislatures of the respective states have to make laws binding on those states, respecting their own internal police. The truth of this is taught by the principles of government, and confirmed by the experience of America. Without such a head, the states cannot be united; and all attempts to conduct the measures of the continent, will prove but governmental farces. So long as any individual state has power to defeat the measures of the other twelve, our pretended union is but a name, and our confederation, a cobweb.

What, it will be asked, must the states relinquish their sovereignty and independence, and give Congress their rights of legislation? I beg to know what we mean by United States. If after Congress have passed a resolution of a general tenor, the States are still at liberty to comply or refuse, I must insist that they are not united; they are as separate, as they ever were; and Congress is merely an advisory body. If people imagine that Congress ought to be merely a council of advice, they will some time or other discover their most egregious mistake. If three millions of people, united under thirteen different heads are to be governed or brought to act in concert by a Resolve, That it be recommended, I confess myself a stranger to history and to human nature. The very idea of Uniting discordant interests and retraining the selfish and the wicked principles of men, by advisory resolutions, is too absurd to have advocated among illiterate peasants. The resolves of Congress are always treated with respect, and during the late war, they were efficacious. But their efficacy proceded from a principle of common safety which united, the interests of all the states; but peace has removed that principle, and the states comply with or refuse the requisitions of Congress, just as they please.

*if the states cannot be brought to act in concert now, how can it be done when the number of the states is augmented and the inhabitants multiplied to many millions?


The idea of each state preserving its sovereignty and independence in their full latitude, and yet holding up the appearance of a confederacy and a concert of measures, is a solecism in politics that will sooner or later dissolve the pretended Union, or work other mischiefs sufficient to bear conviction to every mind.

But what shall be done? what system of government shall be framed, to guard our rights, to cement our union and give energy to public measures? The answers to these questions are obvious and a plan of confederacy, extremely easy. Let the government of the United States be formed upon the general plan of government in each of the several states. Let us examine the constitution of Connecticut.

The inhabitants of Connecticut form one body politic, under the name of the Governor and Company of the State of Connecticut. The whole body of freemen, in their collective capacity, is the supreme power of the state. By consent and firm compact or constitution, this supreme power is delegated to representatives, chosen in a legal manner and duly qualified. These representatives properly assembled, make laws, binding on the whole state; that is, the supreme power or state makes laws binding on itself. The supreme power and the subjects of that supreme power are the same body of men. As a collective body, the citizens are all an individual; as separate individuals they are subjects as numerous as the citizens.

When laws are enacted they are of a general tenor; they respect the whole state and cannot be abrogated but by the whole state. But the whole state does not attempt to execute the laws. The state elects a governor or supreme magistrate and cloaths him with the power of the whole state to enforce the laws. Under him a number of subordinate magistrates such as judges of courts, justices of the peace, sheriffs, etc. are appointed to administer the laws in their respective departments. These are commissioned by the governor or supreme magistrate. Thus the whole power of the state is brought to a single point— it is united in one person.


If representation of the freemen is equal, and the elections frequent; if the magistrates are constitutionally chosen and responsible for their administration, such a government is of all others the most free and safe*. The form is the most perfect on earth. While bills are depending before the supreme power, every citizen has a right to oppose them. A perfect freedom of debate is essential to a free government. But when a bill has been formally debated and is enacted into a law, it is the act of the whole state, and no individual has a right to resist**.

But, as it has been before observed, the acts of the supreme power must be general, it has therefore by a general law delegated full authority to certain inferior corporations to make by-laws for the convenience of small districts and not repugnant to the laws of the state. Thus every town in Connecticut is a supreme power for certain purposes and the cities are invested with extensive privileges. These corporations, for certain purposes, are independent of the legislature; they make laws, appoint officers and exercise jurisdiction within their own limits. As bodies politic, they are sovereign and independent— as members of a large community, they are mere subjects. In the same manner, the head of a family, is so sovereign in his domestic economy, but as a part of the state, he is a subject.

*People, in the choice of rulers, are too apt to he deceived by an ******* address and a specious show of popular virtues. I pretend not to lay down rules for other people; but for my own part, I will never give my vote to a man who courts my favor. I always suspect that such a man will be the first to betray me. Nor, will I give my vote to men, merely because they have been in office and it will hurt their feelings to be neglected. Such motives appear to me to discover weakness and a disregard to the true principles of government. I endeavour to give my votes to men, in whose integrity and abilities I can repose considence— men, who will not dispense with law and rigid justice, to favor a friend or secure their own popularity. When I hear people talk of elevating a man to an office, because be comes next in course, and he will do well enough, I suspect they have forgot that they are freemen, and have lost their oaths or their consciences.

**To be the act of the whole state, an act should, strictly speaking, be assented to by every member; but this is often impossible; the act of the majority is therefore the most perfect and only practicable method of legislation.


Let a similar system of government be extended to the United States. As towns and cities are, as to their small matters, sovereign and independent, and as to their general concerns, mere subjects of the state; so let the several states, as to their own police, be sovereign and independent, but as to the common concerns of all, let them be mere subjects of the federal head. If the necessity of a union is admitted, such a system is the only means effecting it. However independent each state may be and ought to be in things that relate to itself merely, yet as a part of a greater body, it must be a subject of that body, in matters that relate to the whole.

A system of continental government, thus organized, may establish and perpetuate the confederation, without infringing the rights of any particular state*. But the power of all the states must be reduced to a narrow compass— it must center in a single body of men— and it must not be liable to be controlled or defeated by an individual state. The states assembled in Congress, must have the same compulsory power in matters that concern the whole, as a man has in his own family, as a city has within the limits of the corporation, and as the legislature of a state has in the limits of that state, respecting matters that fall within their several jurisdictions.

I beg to know how otherwise the states will be governed as a collective body? Every man knows by his own experience that even families are not to he kept in subordination by recommendations and advice. How much less then will such flimsy things command the obedience of a whole continent? They will not— they do not. A single state, by non-compliance with resolves of Congress, has repeatedly defeated the most

*such a form of Government resembles the harmony nature in the planetary system. The moon is an inferior planet subject to the earth. The earth and other planets govern their secondary planets and at the same time, are governed by the sun, the common center of our system: And it is highly probable that the sun may be a planet, governed by some other great central body or power. A gradation, similar to this, is obvious in the animal world.


salutary measures of the states, proposed by Congress and acceded to by twelve out of thirteen.*

I will suppose for the present that a measure, recommended by Congress and adopted by a majority of the legislatures should be really repugnant to the interest of a single state, considered in its separate capacity. Would it be right for that state to oppose it? While the measure is in agitation it is the undoubted privilege of every state to oppose it by every argument. But when it is passed by the concurrence of a legal majority, it is the duty of every state to acquiesce.— So far from resisting the measure, those very individuals, who opposed it in debate, ought to support it in execution.** The reason is vary plain— society and government can be supported on no other principles. The interest of individuals must always give place to the interest of the whole community. This principle of government is not perfect, but it is as perfect as any principle that can be carried into effect on this side [of] heaven.

It is for the interest of the American states, either to be united or not. If their union is unnecessary, let Congress annihilate, or let them be denominated a council of advice and considered as such. They must then be stripped of their power of making peace and war, and of a

* The manner in which the impost of five percent has been prevented by the state of Rhode Island is well known. It is a disgrace to any government on earth. That state has a local interest in no complying with the measure. A state impost brings more than it consumes, the duty on goods not consumed there, is clear gain. This a state by its local situation is enabled to pay its debts and support government with money collected in the neighboring states. If such a selfish system is suffered to prevail, let us dissolve the confederation, and let every state make the most of its strength and advantages by filching from its neighbors. In such a game Rhode Island will lose.
**A delegate from Connecticut, who was in Congress when the half-pay resolution was debated, resolutely opposed the measure. But when it had legally passed by a majority of voices, he acquiesced, and has ever defended the measure; even at the hazard of his reputation. If there is any characteristic of an honest man and a good subject, it is such a line of conduct.


variety of prerogatives given them by the articles of confederation. In this case we ourselves and the state of Europe, should know what kind of a being Congress is— what dependence can be placed on their resolves— what is the nature of the treaties which they have made and the debts they have contracted.

But if the states are all serious in a design to establish a permanent union, let their sincerity, be evinced by their public conduct.

Suppose the legislature of Rhode Island had no power to compel obedience to its laws, but any town in that state has power to defeat every public measure. Could any laws be rendered effectual? Could it with propriety be called a state? Could it be said that there was any supreme power, or any government certainly not. Suppose the smallest town in Connecticut had power to defeat the most salutary measures of the state; would not every other town rise in arms against any attempt to exert such a power. They certainly would. The truth of the case is, where the power of a people is not united in some individual, or small body of individuals, but continues divided among the members of a society, that power is nothing at all. This fact is clearly proved under the first head of these observations, and more clearly felt by our fatal experience.

The American states, as to their general internal police, are not united; there is no supreme power at their head; they are in a perfect state of nature and independence as to each other; each is at liberty to fight its neighbor, and there is no sovereign to call forth the power of the continent to quell the dispute or punish the aggressor*. It is not in the power of the Congress— they have no command over the militia of the states— each state commands its own, and should any one be disposed

*Congress ordered a number of troops to be raised for taking possession of the frontier posts and defending them from the savages. A year has elapsed since this order and the troops are now mostly at home. The enemy still hold our forts, possess the fur trade and ravage our new settlements. Such weakness in government is infamy.


for civil war, the sword must settle the contest and the weakest be sacrificed to the strongest.

It is now in the power of the states to form a continental government, as efficacious as the interior government of any particular state.

The general concerns of the continent may be reduced to a few heads; but in all the affairs that respect the whole, Congress must have the same power to enact laws and compel obedience throughout the continent, as the legislatures of the several states have in their respective jurisdictions. If Congress have any power, they must have the whole power of the continent. Such a power would not abridge the sovereignty of each state in any article relating to its own government. The internal police of each state would be still under the sole superintendance of its legislature. But in a matter that equally respects all the states, no individual state has more than a thirteenth part of the legislative authority, and consequently has no right to decide what measure shall or shall not take place on the continent. A majority of the states must decide*; our confederation cannot be permanent, unless found on that principle; nay more, the states cannot be said to be united, till such a principle is adopted in its utmost latitude. If a single town or precinct could counteract the will of a whole state, would there be any government in that state? It is an established principle in government, that the will of the minority must submit to that of the majority; and a single state or a minority of states, ought to be disabled to resist the will of the majority, as much as a town or county in any state is disabled to prevent the execution of a statute law of the legislature.

It is on this principle and this alone, that a free state can be governed; it is on this principle alone that the American states can exist as a confederacy of republic. Either the several states must continue separate, totally

*Congress have been more careful of our liberties; for the articles of confederation ordain, that, in matters of great national concern, the concurrence, not of seven states, a mere majority, but of nine should be requisite to pass a resolution.


independent, of each other, and liable to all the evils of jealousy, dispute and civil dissension— nay, liable to a civil war upon any clashing of interests; or they must contribute a general head, composed of representatives from all the states, and vested with the power of the whole continent to enforce their decisions. There is no other alternative. One of these events must inevitably take place, and the revolution of a few years will verify the prediction.

I know the objections that have been urged by the supporters of faction and perhaps by some honest men, against such a power at the head of the states. But the objections all arise from false notions of government or from a wilful design to embroil the states. Many people, I doubt not, really suppose that such power in Congress, would be dangerous to the liberties of the states. Such ought to be enlightened.

There are two fundamental errors, very common in the reasonings which I have heard on the powers of Congress. The first arises from the idea that our American constitutions are founded on principles similar to those of the European governments which have been called free. Hence people are led into a second error; which is, that Congress are a body independent of their constituents and under the influence of a distinct interest.

But we have seen before that our systems of civil government are different from all others; founded on different principles, more favorable to freedom and more secure against corruption.

We have no perpetual distinctions of property, which might raise one class of men above another, and create powerful family connections and combination against our liberties. We suffer no hereditary offices or titles, which might breed insolence and pride, and give their possessors an opportunity to oppress their fellow men. We are not under the direction of a bigoted clergy, who might rob us of the means of knowledge and then inculcate on credulous minds what sentiments they pleased not a single office or emolument in America is held by


prescription or hereditary right; but all at the disposal of the people, and not a man on the continent, but drones and villains, who has not the privilege of frequently choosing his legislators and impeaching his magistrates for mal-administration. Such principles form the basis of our American governments; the first and only governments on earth that are founded on the true principles of equal liberty and properly guarded from corruption.

The legislatures of the American states are the only legislatures on earth, which are wholly dependent on the people at large; and Congress is as dependent on the several states, as the legislatures are on their constituents. The members of Congress are chosen by the legislatures*, removable by them at pleasure, dependant on them for subsistence and responsible to their constituents for their conduct. But this is not all. After having been delegated three years, the confederation renders them ineligible for the term of three years more; when they must return, mingle with the people and become private citizens. At the same time their interest is the same with that of the people; for enjoying no exclusive privileges but what are temporary, they cannot knowingly enact oppressive laws, because they involve themselves, their families and estates in all the mischief that result from such laws.

People therefore who attempt to terrify us with apprehensions of losing our liberties, because other states have lost theirs, betray an ignorance of history and of the principles of our confederation. I will not undertake to say that the government of the American states will not be interrupted or degenerate into tyranny. But I venture to assert, that if it should, it will be the fault of the people. If the people continue to choose their representatives annually and the choice of delegates to Congress should remain upon its present footing, that body can never

*In eleven states. In the other two, they are elected by the people. This is a defect, however, in the constitutions of those states, as the delegates, when chosen by the people, are immediately removable by the assembly and their place may be supplied without a reason given. The privilege of the people therefore nothing.


become tyrants. A measure partially oppressive may be resolved upon, but while the principles of representation, which are always in the power of the people, remain uncorrupted, such a measure can be of no long continuance. The best constitution of government may degenerate from its purity, through a variety of causes; but the confederation of these states is better secured than any government on earth, and less liable to corruption from any quarter.

There is the same danger that the constitutions of the several states will become tyrannical, as that the principles of federal government will be corrupted. The States in their collective capacity have no more reason to dread an uncontrollable power in Congress, than they have in their individual capacity, to dread the uncontrollable power of their own legislatures. Their security in both instances is, an equal representation, the dependence, the responsibility and the rotation of their representatives. These articles constitute the basis of our liberties, and will be an effectual security, so long as the people are wise enough to maintain the principles of the confederation.

I beg leave here to observe that a state was never yet destroyed by a corrupt or a wicked administration. Weakness and wickedness, in the executive department, may produce innumerable evils; but so long as the principles of a constitution remain uncorrupted, their vigor will always restore good order. Every stride of tyranny in the best governments in Europe, has been effected by breaking over some constitutional barriers. But where a constitution is formed by the people and unchangable but by their authority, the progress of corruption must be extremely slow, and perhaps tyranny can never be established in such government, except upon a general habit of indolence and vice.

What do the states obtain by reserving to themselves the right of deciding on the propriety of the resolutions of Congress? The great advantage of having every measure defeated, our frontiers exposed to savages, the


debts of the states unpaid and accumulating, national faith violated, commerce restricted and insulted, one state filching some interest from another, and the whole body, linked together by cobwebs and shadows, the jest and the ridicule of the world. This is not a chimerical description; it is a literal representation of facts as they now exist. One State found it could make some advantages by refusing the impost. Congress have reasoned with their legislature, and by incontrovertible proofs have pointed out the impropriety of the refusal, but all to no purpose. Thus one fiftieth part of the states counteracts a measure that the other states suppose not only beneficial, but necessary; a measure, on which the discharge of our public debt and our national faith, most obviously depend. Can a government, thus feeble and disjointed answer any valuable purpose? Can commutative justice between the States ever be obtained? Can public debts be discharged and credit supported? Can America ever be respected by her enemies, when one of her own states can, year after year, abuse her weakness with impunity? No, the American States, so celebrated for their wisdom and valour in the late struggle for freedom and empire, will be the contempt of nations, unless they can unite their force and carry into effect all the constitutional measures of Congress, whether those measures respect themselves or foreign nations.

The articles of confederation ordain, that the public expense shall be defrayed out of a common treasury. But where is this treasury? Congress prescribe a measure for supplying this treasury; but the States do not approve of the measure; each State will take its own way and its own time, and perhaps not supply its contingent of money at all. Is this an adherence to the articles of our union? It certainly is not; and the States that refuse a compliance with the general measures of the continent, would, under a good government be considered as rebels. Such a conduct amounts to treason, for it strikes at the foundation of government.

Permit me to ask every candid American, how society


could exist, if every man assumed the right of sacrificing his neighbors property to his own interest? Are there no rights to be relinquished, no sacrifices to be made for the sake of enjoying the benefits of civil government? If every town in Rhode Island, even the smallest could annihilate every act of the legislature, could that State exist? Were such a selfish system to prevail generally, there would be an end of government and civil society would become a curse. A social state would be less eligible than a savage state, in proportion as knowledge would be increased and knaves multiplied. Local inconveniences and local interests never ought to disappoint a measure of general utility. If there is not power enough in government to remedy these evils, by obliging private interests to give way to public, discord will pervade the State, and terminate in a revolution. Such a power must exist somewhere, and if people will quarrel with good government, there are innumerable opportunities for some daring ambitious genius to erect monarchy on civil dissensions. In America, there is no danger of an aristocracy; but the transition from popular anarchy to monarchy, is very natural and often very easy. If these States have any change of government to fear, it is a monarchy. Nothing but the creation of a sovereign power over the whole, with authority to compel obedience to legal measures, can ever prevent a revolution in favor of one monarchy or more. This event may be distant, but is not the less certain. America, has it now in her power to create a supreme power over the whole continent, sufficient to answer all the ends of government, without abridging the rights or destroying the sovereignty of a single state. But should the extreme jealousy of the States, prevent the lodgment of such a power in a body of men chosen by themselves and removable at pleasure, such a power will inevitably create itself in the course of events.

The confederation has sketched out a most excellent form of continental government. The ninth article recites the powers of Congress, which are perhaps nearly sufficient to answer the ends of our union, were there any method of enforcing


their resolutions. It is there laid what powers shall be exercised by Congress; but no penalty is annexed to disobedience. What purpose would the laws of a State answer, if they might be evaded with impunity? and is there were no penalty annexed to a breach of them? A law without a penalty is mere advice, a magistrate, without the power of punishing, is a cypher. Here is the great defect in the articles of our federal government. Unless Congress can be vested with the same authority to compel obedience to their resolutions, that a legislature in any State has to enforce obedience to the laws of that State, the existence of such a body is entirely needless and will not be of long duration. I repeat what I have before said. The idea of governing thirteen States and uniting their interests by mere resolves and recommendation, without any penalty annexed to a noncompliance, is a ridiculous farce, a burlesque on government, and a reproach to America.

Let Congress be empowered to call forth the force of the continent, if necessary, to carry into effect those measures which they have a right to frame. Let the president, be, ex officio, supreme magistrate, cloathed with authority to execute the laws of Congress, in the same manner as the governors of the states, are to execute the laws of the states. Let the superintendent of finance have the power of receiving the public monies and issuing warrants for collection, in the manner the treasurer has, in Connecticut. Let every executive officer have power to enforce the laws, which fall within his province. At the same time, let them be accountable for their administration. Let penalties be annexed to every species of mal-administration and exalted with such rigor as is due to justice and the public safety. In short, let the whole system of legislation, be the peculiar right of the delegates in Congress, who are always under the control of the people; and let the whole administration be veiled in magistrates as few as possible in number, and subject to the control of Congress only. Let every precaution be used in framing laws, but let no part of the subjects be able to resist the execution. Let the people keep, and forever keep, the sovereignty of legislation in their own representatives; but direct themselves wholly of any right to the administration. Let every State reserve its sovereign right directing its own internal affairs; but give to Congress the sole right of conducting the general affairs of the continent. Such a plan of government is practicable and I believe, the only plan that will preserve the faith, the dignity and the union of these American states.

I shall just hint several other matters, that may serve, in a more remote manner, to confirm the union of these States.

Education or a general diffusion of knowledge among all classes of men, is an article that deserves peculiar attention. Science liberalizes men and removes the most inveterate prejudices. Every prejudice, every dissocial passion is an enemy to a friendly intercourse and the fuel of discord. Nothing can be more illiberal


than the prejudices of the southern states against New England manners. They deride our manners and by that derision betray the want of manners themselves. However different may be the customs and fashions of different states, yet those of the southern are as ridiculous as those of the northern. The fact is, neither one nor the other are the subjects of ridicule and contempt. Particular districts have local peculiarities; but custom gives all an equal degree of propriety. It is remarked of the Greeks as a great indelicacy of manners, that they held all the world, except themselves, to be barbarians. The people of Congo think the world to be the work of angels; except their own country, which they hold to be the work of the supreme architect. The Greenlanders make a mock of Europeans or Kablunets, as they call them. They despise arts and sciences and value themselves on their skill in catching fish, which they conceive to be the only useful art.* Just as absurd as these, are the prejudices between the states. Education will gradually eradicate them, and a growing intercourse will harmonize the feelings and the views of all the citizens.

Next to the removal of local prejudices, the annihilation of local interests between the States deserves their consideration. Each State wishes to enrich itself as much as possible; but it never ought to be done at the expense of a neighbor. All imposts and duties upon goods purchased of one State by another or carried in sport of another State either by necessity or accident, are the effect of narrow views, and of selfish, unsociable, ungenerous principles, that degrade any state where they operate. The States may lay what duties they please upon foreigners— this is no more than honest— but they ought to consider their several interests as one— they ought to encourage the commerce of each other— they ought to promote such an intercourse as will conciliate rather than alienate each others affections. Every injury done by any particular state to the union, will ultimately recoil upon itself with accumulated weight. It is the act of a madman to sacrifice the happiness of his life to a moment pleasure; and none but a fool would pull the house about his ears to find a shilling. So long as the states are making every advantage out of each other, racking invention to enlarge their own bounds, and augment their wealth and respectability at each others expense, jealousy, illwill and reproaches will disturb the harmony of public measures and contribute to the dissolution of the continental connections. Not only should the states avoid wringing property from each other by duties on articles of commerce; but also an extension of territory in such a manner as to create reciprocal jealousies. All the superior respectability that a single state gains above

*A fashionable buck in Carolina despises literature. A man of science without address of the beau monde, is ridiculed and placed almost among the servants. In the southern states, gaming, fox hunting and horse racing are the height of ambition; industry is reserved for slaves. In the northern states, industry and the cultivation of the arts and science, distinguishe the people. Which discover the best taste?


others by its extent and wealth, detracts so much from the strength and harmony of the union. In order to have our union complete and permanent, all the states should have an equal influence in public deliberations. The want of such equality is a capital misfortune— it had well nigh prevented our confederation— and has produced other sensible inconveniences.

The abolition of slavery is a matter intimately connected with the policy of these states. The northern states would hardly feel such an event— the southern would at present suffer by it more sensibly. But slavery ought to be viewed as to its present tendency and remote consequences. At present it is the bane of industry and virtue. The slaves in the southern states support luxury, vice and indolence more than all other causes. They may enrich their owners; but render them too often useless members of society. Nor are slaves so profitable as white people; for one man, who lives by his industry, and eats hearty food, will do as much labour as five negroes. Were the plantations leased for small rents or the fee of the soil vested in men who have the prospect of gain by their labour, they would be cultivated and yield more produce to the owners. But aside of the detestable principle of subjecting one man to the service of another, which dishonors a free government, and the evil of supporting luxury the bane of society, slavery inspires other principles repugnant to the genius of our American constitutions. It cherishes a spirit of supercilious contempt— a haughty, unsocial, aristocratic temper, inconsistent with that equality which is the basis of our governments and the happiness of human society.

An uniformity in the general principles of each constitution, deserves attention. Some defects may be found in all: I will mention but one, which is not common to all; the exclusion of clergymen from all civil offices. Considering the evils that mankind have suffered from ecclesiastics in Europe, it is no wonder that Americans should dread their power. But men, in avoiding one error, run into another. We are not apt to attend to the difference of circumstances. The clergy in America do not and ought not, as a body, to form a part of government. But why, as individuals, they should be excluded from all the emoluments of government, and all share of making the laws to which they are subject, is to me inconceivable. Merchants, mechanics and farmers as distinct bodies, have no power, but as individuals, they are eligible to offices of trust and profit, and so ought to be ecclesiastics. Here is the distinction and the reasoning applies with equal force, to every prosession.

Must clergymen, because they are employed about spiritual concerns, be deprived of the privileges of society? But aside of the flagrant injustice of such exclusion, the measure counteracts its own end. When ecclesiastics, as a body, are admitted to a share of legislation, they may form combinations dangerous to states. To prevent this danger some states exclude them totally


from civil offices and thus make them foes to the government by a most tyrannical distinction. Such an exclusion therefore produces the very effect, which it was intended to prevent. The state of New York is a witness of this truth. Add to this the inevitable tendency of such an exclusion to discourage men of knowledge and liberality from entering into a most useful and necessary profession. Surely no State ought to interweave, into its constitution, a general discouragement of a profession, calculated at least to promote the peace and happiness of society. Should I be asked what privileges clergymen ought to enjoy? I would answer, the same as other citizens. This would annihilate their power as a body, by scattering its force, by leveling a distinction of orders, and blending the civil and ecclesiastical interests in one indivisible interest.

The same principle, which excludes clergymen from civil offices, and which has introduced test laws and subscription of creeds, into some of the American constitutions, would have justified the religious wars in France and Germany; nay, the same principle would have justified Nero and Dioclesian in extirpating Christianity and committing the bible to the flames. The principle would only be extended further in one case than in the other. If there is in the system of things, such a thing as true religion, and a spirit of pure benevolence; religious establishments, sacramental tests, articles of faith, partial exclusions from emoluments, and that illiberal pride which sanctifies our own opinions and damns all others, will forever banish them from human society. Had it not been for these barriers, invented to guard human absurdities, millions of lives would leave been saved, and the members of every enlightened community would have been of one religion.

America is an independent empire, and ought to assume a national character. Nothing can be more ridiculous, than a servile imitation of the manners, the language, and the vices of foreigners. For setting aside the infancy of our government and our inability to support the fashionable amusements of Europe, nothing can betray a more despicable disposition in American, than to be the apes of Europeans. An American ought not to ask what is the custom of London and Paris, but what is proper for us in our circumstance and what is becoming our dignity? Instead of this, what is the fact? Why every fashionable folly is brought from Europe and adopted without scruple in our dress, our manners and our conversation. All our ladies, even those of the most scanty fortune, must dress like a duchess in London; every shopkeeper must be as great a rake as an English lord; while the belles and the beaux, with tastes too refined for a vulgar language must, in all their discourse, mingle a spice of sans souci and je ne sais quoi.

But then is no reasoning with custom nor with fashion. We shall probably learn the arts and virtues of Europeans; but certainly,


their vices and follies. In politics, our weakness will render us the dupes of their power and artifice; in manners, we shall be the slaves of their barbers and their coxcombs.

But however important may be the remote consequences of a corruption of manners; yet such nearer concerns now demand our attention. Our union is so feeble, that no provision is made for discharging our debts. France calls for interest and that seriously. Our credit, our faith solemnly pledged, is at stake. Unless we constitute a power at the head of the states, sufficient to compel them to act in concert, I now predict not only a dissolution of our federal connection, but a rupture with our national creditors. A war in Europe may possibly suspend this event; but it most certainly take place, unless we sacrifice our jealousy so our true interest.

Three things demand our early and careful attention; a general diffusion of knowledge; the encouragement of industry, frugality and virtue; and a sovereign power at the head of the states. All are essential to our peace and prosperity; but on an energetic continental government principally depend our tranquility at home and our respectability among foreign nations.

We ought to generalize our ideas and our measures. We ought not to consider ourselves as inhabitants of a particular state only; but as American; as the common subjects of a great empire. We cannot and ought not wholly to divest ourselves of provincial views and attachments; but we should subordinate them to the general interests of the continent. As a member of a family, every individual has some domestic interests; as a member of a corporation, he has other interests; as an inhabitant of a state, he has a more extensive interest; as a citizen and subject of the American empire, he has a national interest far superior to all others. Every relation in society constitutes some obligations, which are proportional to the magnitude of the society. A good prince does not ask what will be for the interest of a county or small district in his dominions; but that will promote the prosperity of his kingdom? In the same manner, the citizens of this new world, should inquire, not what will aggrandize this town or this state; but what will augment the power, secure the tranquility, multiply the subjects, and advance the opulence, the dignity and the virtues of the United States. Self-interest, both in morals and politics, is and ought to be the ruling principle of mankind; but this principle must operate in perfect conformity to social and political obligations. Narrow views and illiberal prejudices may for a time produce a selfish system of politics in each state; but a few years experience will correct our ideas of self-interest, and convince us that a selfishness which excludes others from a participation of benefits, is, in all cases, self-ruin, and that provincial interest is inseparable from national interest.

The END.

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