Front Page Titles (by Subject) Section the Sixth: THE GOOD MORAL PRINCIPLES OF THE GOVERNMENT OF THE UNITED STATES - An Inquiry into the Principles and Policy of the Government of the United States
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Section the Sixth: THE GOOD MORAL PRINCIPLES OF THE GOVERNMENT OF THE UNITED STATES - John Taylor, An Inquiry into the Principles and Policy of the Government of the United States 
An Inquiry into the Principles and Policy of the Government of the United States (Fredericksburg, VA.: Green and Cady, 1814).
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Section the Sixth
THE GOOD MORAL PRINCIPLES OF THE GOVERNMENT OF THE UNITED STATES
By understanding the defects of our policy, we are enabled to correct them; by understanding its beauties, we shall scorn the delusive attractions of its ostentatious rivals. Its actual dispensation of more happiness than any existing competitor, demonstrates its superiority to the existing world; and testimony gathered from tombs, by title, orders and exclusive interest, or fashioned for the purpose which induced priests to fashion oracles, is not equally credible. The Augustan age itself, invoked by monarchy to confront with republican government, is like the golden one, a fiction. It was moulded by those who received, not by those who supplied the exactions of monarchy. A despotick and artful man, did not corrupt the talents of one age, to buy truth for the use of another. Truth is never disclosed, except by talents which are independent, and inquiries which are freer. Augustus was the monarch of the whole learned world; Lewis XIV was the monarch of France. Had France contained the learning of the world, the age of Lewis, would have furnished the same evidence in favour of monarchy, as is furnished by the age of Augustus. We only know that the reign of Lewis exhausted the adulation, the purses and the liberty of his subjects, because it is described by persons, neither his sycophants nor slaves. Of the Augustan age we now judge from such materials, as posterity would have done of the reign of Lewis, upon the exclusive evidence of his venal panegyrists or dismayed dependants.
It is by traveling from the court to the cottage, that the effects of political principles upon human happiness, can be computed. Hence, existing nations, can only confide in existing cases. The cottager has no historian to commemorate his misery, and the historian of the prince is bribed to hide it.
Soldiers and statesmen think the French and English forms of government the most perfect, because they are the most partial to their own professions; and strive to bend all freer forms towards these models best contrived for their own gratification, because that effect is the logician which defines their patriotism. The policy of the United States was contrived for advancing the prosperity of an entire society; but it cannot be preserved against the power and arts of soldiers, statesmen, or separate interests of any kind, except by discovering the principles of government calculated to dispense general good, with the same acuteness by which the creatures of legislative partiality, discern whatever will transfer wealth and power from nations to themselves.
The moral, like the physical world, is subject to system and regularity. It is not left by Omnipotence in a state so chaotick, as that the same moral cause, should now produce good, and then evil. Men do not entrust their sheep to wolves, because it is fabled that once wolves were not carnivorous. The description of monarchical governments, by the minions of its frauds, or the candidates for its treasures, is entitled to the same credit as the description of the wolf in the fictions of poetry.
The fact we have assumed, lies before the senses of the reader. Let him look at the monarchies of the present age, and then at the United States. Let him listen to the groans of other regions, and the exaltations of America. Let all his senses go in quest of comfort and wretchedness. Each on its return will testify ‘that the effects of our policy are infinitely better, than those of any other.’ The comparison at this time spreads over a vast variety of governments, founded in force or fraud, but exhibited in sundry modifications of factitious orders; it therefore brings the whole group to the test of one, founded in a selection of good, and an exclusion of bad moral principles. The success of our experiment, confronted with an host of miscarriages, bestows upon its title to pre-eminence, the utmost degree of demonstration, of which the case is capable.
The grateful task of ascertaining the principles, which have produced effects incomparably beneficial to the United States, is left by Mr. Adams to be discharged. Instead of their vindication, promised by the title of three volumes, he casts a glance towards the contour of our governments in one volume, leaves them in repose throughout two, and defends contrary principles in all. Compelled directly or indirectly to assail the principles of our policy, because they lay in the way of his system, a caricature or travesty appeared, when we expected a defence.
Mr. Adams considers our division of power, as the same principle with his balance of orders. We consider these principles as opposite and inimical. Power is divided by our policy, that the people may maintain their sovereignty; by the system of orders, to destroy the sovereignty of the people. Our principle of division is used, to reduce power to that degree of temperature, which may make it a blessing and not a curse; its nature resembling fire; which uncontrolled, consumes; in moderation, warms. The principle of its division among orders, is to erect an omnipotent power, able, like an irresistible conflagration, to consume every thing in its way.
This radical errour forced Mr. Adams to overlook the prime division of power, between the people and the government; the federal division of power between the general and state governments; and that beautiful division of election, by which an ochlocracy or mob government is prevented; and to convert the subordinate divisions of power, which are only details of these superior principles, into sovereign orders and virtual representation.
Without either stating or discussing the principles of our policy, Mr. Adams concludes, that they ought to be changed, because commotions and revolutions perpetually attend factitious orders or ranks. To ascertain this fact, he cites all the memorable forms of government, comprising the principle of factitious orders, furnished by the history of mankind; and having indubitably proved it, he infers that our policy is bad, because it has rejected that principle.
The surprise which such an inference would naturally excite, is assuaged by the address of substituting a theory of the British system of government, for its real operation. The sophistry of reasoning from a comparison between theory and practice, is obvious. The most perfect operating government, may be made to look defective, compared with a fabrick, reared by the imagination. And by calling this imaginary fabrick, the British government, all the old prejudices in its favour are ingeniously ensnared, by the Aristotelian artifice of hypothetical systematizing. The mind can only be freed from these fetters by comparing realities.
The history of ancient times is hardly more weighty, opposed to living evidence, than the wanderings of fancy; it is invariably treacherous in some degree, and comes, like oracle, from a place into which light cannot penetrate. We are to determine, whether we will be intimidated by apparitions of departed time, frightfully accoutred for that purpose, to shut our eyes, lest we should see the superiority of our policy displayed, not in theory, but in practice; not in history, but in sight.
Mr. Adams reasons from hypothesis and theory, in his defence of factitious orders. He establishes by complete testimony, the fact, that political evil has been universally their associate; but instead of suffering this effect, to lead him to such orders as its cause, he attributes it to their inartificial adjustment. Such reasoning is the errour of ancient philosophy, exploded by Bacon. Rejecting hypothesis and theory, he travels by effects to causes, and from causes to effects. To the use of this correct mode of reasoning it is owing, that other sciences have advanced so rapidly since the time of Lord Bacon; whilst political philosophy remained unimproved until the American revolution, because it assumed ancient theories for settled facts.
The basis of our policy, like the basis of modern philosophy, is the constancy of nature, in her moral, as well as in her physical operations. A frequent or long concomitancy between cause and effect, establishes a particular fact, from which we are enabled to infer a general law. A concomitancy between hereditary orders or exclusive factitious interests, and political misery, has constantly appeared throughout the annals of human nature; and a concomitancy between political equality and political happiness, has endured in America, for the space of thirty-five years in above thirteen separate governments, making an experience equal to four hundred years, to which ought to be added near two centuries previous to the revolution, not in theory, but in fact. Hence necessarily results a general law, unless nature, in her moral operations, pursues principles the reverse of those, to which she strictly adheres in her physical; and is capricious, arbitrary and inconsistent. If the fact we contend for is ascertained, and if from this fact a general law is discovered, it then becomes as certain and inevitable, that political misery, will be an effect of hereditary orders or factitious interests, as that light will be the effect of the rising of the sun. Let the intellectual, like the material philosopher, reason from facts, and the phenomena of mind will become as well understood for temporal purposes, as those of body.
A law of nature constitutes truth. This would suffice for human use, if we were unable to discover how it became a law, as is frequently the case. If these orders or interests tend to excite, not the good, but the evil qualities of man; the moral power which enacts the law, and the impossibility of its abrogation, both become manifest. It is as unnatural to expect, by artificial means, to cause such orders or interests to produce peace, justice and happiness, as that any artificial arrangement of a society composed of lions, wolves and bears, would prevent the effects of their natural qualities; because the natural qualities of moral beings (if the expression is allowable)such as hereditary orders and separate factitious interests, are not less certain and unchangeable, than those of these beasts.
The inability of mere form or artificial arrangement, to defeat a natural law, even of the moral kind, is demonstrated in the experience of the United States. These forms or arrangements have been frequently changed, and are different among the states. But the irresistible power of the moral principles common to all, compels every modification to be subservient to its will. And the good effects under different forms, produced by the good moral principles of all, are an evidence, that evil moral principles cannot be made to produce good moral effects by the force of form or artificial arrangement; it would be as possible, that a less mechanical power should control a greater.
A theory or hypothesis, cannot pretend even to plausibility, unless it is deduced from some general law of nature. One which sets out upon the foundation of hereditary orders or alienable exclusive privileges, violates the law, which has determined that talents shall not be inheritable, nor merit transferable. Let us endeavour further to apply this observation to Mr. Adams’s system, by comparing it with the agrarian theory.
The idea of Lord Shaftesbury, adopted by Mr. Adams, is, ‘that the political balance of orders cannot be adjusted or maintained, without a balance of property.’ The perpetual changes among the holders of land, the most permanent and unchangeable species of property, render this ingredient unattainable. And yet its attainment is obstructed by fewer difficulties, than a permanent and equal distribution of power and mental capacity, necessary to perfect the system of orders. As the system proposes to produce good effects, upon no other condition than that of violating and controlling several irresistible laws of nature, it is invariably unsuccessful.
A political equality of rights among men, on the other hand, is founded in a general law of nature; and yet even this simple and natural system is declared to be unattainable, by those who contend for the possibility of a political equality of rights among orders. That which they assert cannot be effected between two individuals, though it naturally exists, is proposed to be accomplished between orders, composed of multitudes.
The ingredients of Mr. Adams’s theory, consist of an equality or balance of property, power and understanding, between orders comprising a nation. And yet all the disciples of the theory, will exclaim against the mischief, folly and impossibility, of levelling or balancing property among individuals.
I agree with them in a disapprobation of levelling property by law; but the difference between us is, that I object to the levelling principle itself, whilst they approve of its application to effect their theory. I contend that the folly and mischief of enriching orders, such as the feudal and the paper, at the expense of a nation, is at least equal to that of levelling property among individuals; and that the impossibility of maintaining the equality they approve, is as great as that of maintaining the equality they condemn.
Now if Mr. Adams’s theory of a balance or equality among orders, consists of three ingredients, neither of which is attainable, according to the laws of nature, it is itself a phantom of the imagination; and yet the imagination which fosters it, asserts that the system of an equality of rights, naturally existing, and actually operating, is impracticable. The hypothesis of orders, to exist itself, resorts to one fiction, ‘a king cannot die;’ and to destroy a successful rival, to another, ‘an equality of civil rights cannot live.’ But several complete experiments, as effectually overturn the latter fiction, as a multitude have the former.
The excellencies of our civil policy, and the defects of all others, cannot be estimated, unless the language used to explain them is well understood. To the efforts already made for impressing a correct perception of the principles on which the reasoning of this essay is founded, we will therefore add another. To understand, we have analyzed the intellectual world into two classes, good and evil; and to discover the members of each class, we fix their qualities, not by the hypothetick, but the practical mode of reasoning. If the fact appears by a satisfactory experiment, that the political moral being, called hereditary order, or that called exclusive privilege, begets the evil effects of avarice, ambition, faction, commotion, tyranny, or any others, we assign them to the evil class. And if by the experience of America, the fact appears, that an equality of civil rights, produces moderate government, or any other national benefit, we assign this moral being to the good class. Having discovered by their phenomena the classes to which these beings belong, we conclude, that no human ingenuity can change the class or the nature of any individual, any more than it could change the nature of a physical being. And that it is as obviously erroneous to assert, that hereditary order, or exclusive privilege, will bless mankind, as that water will burn them.
The possibility of effecting a classification of the beings or individuals of the moral world, and of assigning each to his proper class, by an impartial and careful investigation of phenomena, with a degree of accuracy, exceeding even the classification of the vegetable kingdom, is not incomprehensible. And its importance seems to have been suggested by divine intelligence, in having implanted in every breast, an auxiliary for the head in the prosecution of this science, of acute discernment, and instinctive integrity.
Such a work, however, was neither within my powers nor design. To arrange a few of those moral beings, called political, by the test of facts; and particularly those of which the American policy and Mr. Adams’s system are compounded; to ascertain the difference and the preference; and to detect any fugitives from one class to the other, is the utmost I propose.
Besides hereditary order, and exclusive privilege, placed at the head of one class, we have swelled it by the moral beings, called legal religion, legal freedom of inquiry, accumulation of power, patronage or corruption, ignorance, virtual representation, judicial uncontrol, funding, and political families, or an oligarchy of banks.
In the opposite class of moral beings, we have placed an equality of civil rights, freedom of religion, and of inquiry, division of power, national influence or sovereignty, knowledge, uncorrupted representation, and actual responsibility. This enumeration of a few individuals is used to explain our reasoning, and not as including entire classes.
We have attempted to prove, that the evil class, cannot be made to produce good effects, nor the good class, evil; and the superiority we contend for, on behalf of the policy of the United States, consists in this, that it is compounded chiefly of the good, whilst all other governments have been compounded chiefly of the evil class; so as to account for the blessings of the one, and the mischiefs of the other; and to produce both a shining pattern and a shining beacon.
The same mode of reasoning appeared calculated also to awaken publick vigilance, against the most dangerous means of changing the nature of a government. It may have been compounded of moral beings, selected with integrity and wisdom, from the good class; but by transplanting into it by law, individuals from the evil class, these exoticks must change its nature. For instance; let us look at our own policy, as it stood immediately after the adoption of the present general government, and contemplate the features or moral beings, to be seen in the faces of the several constitutions, of which it was compounded. Transplant into it a sufficient portion of executive patronage to influence Congress; a banking oligarchy without a distinguishing badge, influencing election; judicial irresponsibility; religion, printing and speaking, regulated by law; an unarmed militia and a standing army; or any system of legislation congenial with monarchy or aristocracy; and say if our policy would be unaltered. The change would be owing to an interpolation of political moral beings into it, taken from a class opposite to that which furnished its original materials.
It is necessary to keep in sight our policy, Mr. Adams’s system, and the actual English government, to illustrate or explain the principles contended for. In all Mr. Adams’s authorities, we find orders, titles or exclusive privileges in some shape; but in none, the exact and permanent balance, without which Mr. Adams’s admits them to be a curse. Vicissitude, and not permanency, is their essence, as determined by experience, and a constant succession of revolutions is the dispensation they yield. The alternation was rapid among the Italian republicks. The aristocratick scale, whilst loaded with wealth, talents, perpetuities, and superstition, preponderated against the democratick, lightened with ignorance. In England the first being unladen by alienations, and the second rendered more weighty by wealth and knowledge, an approach towards a balance begat evils, which drove that country for refuge into the aristocracy of the third age, composed of paper, patronage and armies. Experience declares, and Mr. Adams acknowledges, that the theory of balancing orders, has never generated the effects which Mr. Adams thinks it capable of generating; whilst the theory of a division of power, for the express purpose of subjecting governments to nations, has unexceptionably succeeded in the practice of each of the states, and of the United States. This double experience defines the nature of the moral elements, both of the American and Mr. Adams’s policy. Ours, by suppressing the evil principle of privileged orders, begets none of those calamities, swarming about every experiment founded in his. His, taking the balancing principle for its basis, has laboured in vain to draw good out of it, by the artifice of measuring out power, or the excitement to tyranny, equally between orders. Ours does not trust to evil for good; his admits each order, separately existing, to be a political devil; but asserts, that three devils, may by the menstruum of mutual jealousy, be turned into one God. Ours conceives that a political deity ought to be made of eternal moral virtues, and not of fluctuating human vices.
The only use which the theory of ranks or orders has been pleased to make of the laws of nature, is drawn from the existing inequality among the talents and qualities of men. Enough has been heretofore said upon this subject; and it is only mentioned to suggest, that the degrees of this inequality, are compressed by this theory into three, not by the suggestion of nature, which with the intervention of education, displays them at this day, as numberless, but by the arbitrary will of hypothesis. The magick contained in the number three is the magick of habit, not of nature. Human qualities are infinitely more divisible. In England, a triple natural division is said to exist. There they have a king, lords, commons, judiciary, army, paper system and hierarchy. In India, titles and tribes are endless. In Rome, the first theory consisted of a king, patricians, knights and plebeians. In America, we see power, legislative, executive and judicial; but these are so far from comprising the mass of political power, created by our system, as to be themselves subordinate to a division of power, between the people and the government; to a division of power between the general and state governments; and to the sovereignty of the people. Hence this number is no less arbitrary and unconnected with any principle in nature, when applied to power, than when applied to orders.
The more power is condensed, the more pernicious it becomes. Divided only into three departments, such as king, lords and commons, it can easily coalesce, plunder and oppress. The more it is divided, the farther it recedes from the class of evil moral beings. By a vast number of divisions, applied to that portion of power, bestowed on their governments by the people of the United States; and by retaining in their own hands a great portion unbestowed, with a power of controlling the portion given; the coalescence of political power, always fatal to civil liberty, is obstructed. Small dividends are not as liable to ambition and avarice, as great dividends. Self interest can only be controlled by keeping out of its hands the arms with which it has universally enslaved the general interest. But it universally gets these arms by persuading mankind, that the danger is imaginary, and the remedy useless; and hierarchy, feudality, hereditary orders, mercenary armies, funding and banking, have successively inflicted upon them, the expiations of an opinion so absurd.
Nature, says Mr. Adams, suggests, nay dictates, the system of three orders. As to the United States, he satisfies this natural law, by legislative, executive and judicial orders; as to England, by king, lords and commons; making judicial power a natural order here, but not in England. The natural right of self government and natural orders, cannot associate. Our policy is erected upon one principle; Mr. Adams’s upon the other; and a defence of his, cannot be a defence of the policy of the United States.
By contrasting the division of power resorted to by our policy, with Mr. Adams’s idea of a triple division by nature, a wide difference will appear. By our policy, power is first divided between the government and the people, reserving to the people, the control of the dividend allotted to the government. The dividend allotted to the government, is subdivided between its two branches, federal and state. The portion of this subdivision, assigned to the federal government, is again subdivided between two legislative branches, two executive branches, and two judicial branches; judges and juries; all enjoying specified powers independent of each other. The portion assigned to the state governments, is distributed in quotas still more minute, many of which will be omitted, because of the various modes pursued towards this end, by different states. We find two legislative branches, two executive, and two judicial. A power of such magnitude, as to be relied on for national defence, immediately dependent on the people, and generally removed far from a subserviency to any other division; this is the militia, officered by the people, or by the county courts; trying offenders by its own courts, or holding commissions during good behaviour. Patronage, a formidable power, is divided in a multitude of ways, the chief of which consists of portions exercised by the people, by legislative bodies, and by a variety of inferior courts. Ineligibility is a species of division of power often resorted to. And throughout the whole distribution, our policy, as if on purpose to subvert the hypothesis of a triple natural division of power, has in a multitude of instances, invested the same organs with different powers; such as legislative branches, with judicial and executive powers.
As the government is divested by a multitude of divisions, of the ability and inclination to tyrannize; so by the multitude and variety of its elections, our policy cleanses the sovereignty of the people of those defects incident to its aggregate exercise; concluding that power, untempered by division, exercised by nations or their governments, is invariably the scourge of human happiness.
What do we discern in this system of division to justify the hypothesis of three natural orders, or three natural classes of powers? To which of these classes can the division of election be assigned? But if a doubt should remain, let the reader reflect upon the inconsistency between natural powers or orders, and their responsibility. In providing for the responsibility of political power of every complexion, our policy denies the truth of the position, which asserts, that political power is created by nature.
It establishes, with unexampled ingenuity, a double responsibility; of the people to the government, and of the government to the people; the division of election, is the basis of the one, and the division of the powers of government, of the other; by the first, the danger of a physical accumulation of power, and by the second, the danger of its moral accumulation, is obstructed; to prevent the people from acting in mass against the government, under the impulse of passion; and the government from acting in mass against the people, under the impulse of avarice and ambition. The division of election renders it difficult to turn the people into an ochlocracy; and the division of the powers of government, renders it difficult to turn the publick officers into an aristocracy.
Political errour contains two extremes, both of which are happily guarded against by the principle of division; and it would make but little difference to the nation whether it was plunged into one, by abolishing the responsibility of the people to government; or into the other, by abolishing the responsibility of the government to the people. Just as the devastation of a furious torrent, and the exsiccation of a vertical sun, are both destructive, and both prevented by the divisions of a stream, according to the ingenious system of irrigation.
It is important to inquire, whether the right of instruction is attached to the right of election. Neither the moral right of any species of principal to employ agents, nor the moral duty of agents to conform to the instructions of principals in discharging agencies, is denied. Obedience to monarchical, aristocratical, military, legislative, judicial, and all individual instructions, from principals to agents, is universally enforced by dismission, sentence, fine, imprisonment and death; and disobedience is considered as illegal, immoral and void. It is also agreed, that the duties of agency, implied or expressed, allowed to kings, to conquerors and to beggars, and enforced by the axe, the musket and the forum, belong also to the species of sovereignty existing in the United States.
A constitutional declaration, that duty was an adjunct of agency, would have been as absurd, as that heat was an adjunct of fire. The qualities by which a thing is defined, must be included in that thing; and an assertion, that an insurance against fire, did not include an insurance against heat, would be equivalent to an assertion, that an agency did not imply an obligation to fulfil its duties; or a right to raise armies, a right to arm them. Political law could not have deprived agency of its attributes, without extinguishing it; because, stript of its duty to its principal, its nature is as completely changed, as the nature of despotism, stript of its power.
The sovereignty of the people arises, and representation flows, out of each man’s right to govern himself. With this individual right, political structures are built. Individuals, in forming a society, may arrange their rights in such forms as they please. They may, like the Greeks, lodge legislation in the society collectively; and they may, in that case, allow a representative to an absent individual. Would this representative be the agent of the individual who deputed him, or of the rest of the society? Would those personally present enjoy their shares of the legislative power, and absorb as a majority the shares of those represented; or would each legislator be the agent of the majority of the society? Neither of these intentions could, consistently with the supposed policy, exist, because the majority could not be ascertained, except by counting the individuals of the society. The English house of lords, with the right to vote by proxy, is such a nation. The proxy is subject to the instructions of his principal, and owes no duty to the majority.
Or suppose a society constituted in imitation of the Roman model, with legislation condensed into centuries, each entitled to vote personally, or by its representative. Would the representative of a century, be the agent of the majority of centuries, by which he was not deputed, or of the century by which he was; and how could this majority be known, except by ascertaining the opinion of each century? If no century could vote by representation, each century in voting would be exercising not a trust but a right; nor could it be the agent of a majority, because in every question the majority could only be ascertained by the votes of the centuries; and an agent cannot exist before a principal. If all the centuries legislate, not in person, but by representatives, the representative could not owe the duties of agency to the majority of centuries, both because his principal did not, and also because it is as impossible to ascertain this majority, as in the last case; this can only be effected by counting the votes of the centuries, personally, or by representation. Thus a duty to obey the instruction of an ideal majority, would divest the representative of the character of agent, and transform him into a despot, at liberty to pursue his own ambition, interest, caprice or vanity, without regard to any principal; and under pretence of loyalty to a nonentity, convert representatives into a succession of despots over real majorities.
Societies may give legislation whatever form they prefer. They may legislate by the majority of individuals. They may allot themselves into centuries or districts, and legislate by a majority of sections. Or they may legislate by representatives deputed aggregately or by sections. If they legislate in person, aggregately or in sections, this real nation cannot be considered as the minister of an ideal nation. If they legislate by representatives, chosen aggregately or in sections, the members of the society, are as much principals, whilst acting as electors, as they would have been acting as legislators, had they not resorted to representation. The idea that the whole society, acting aggregately or in sections, exercises only a ministerial authority, and not an inherent right, is not sustainable; because self government cannot be the donation of the society which it creates; and if election is a resource for exercising a natural right, and not the author of that right, this resource for preserving, could never have been intended to destroy the right, whether it was exercised individually or in sections. Voting in sections is as compleat an exercise of the natural right, as voting individually. Election by sections, is equivalent to aggregate election. And by dividing election into sections, the rights and duties of principals and agents are also divided, because there is no other social principal to depute or to instruct. Laws made by centuries or districts, each having a vote, or by the agents of each, are binding, because the society has adopted such modes of ascertaining the social majority; and the adoption of one mode, proves that no other exists. A division of the mode of exercising the natural right of self government, is extremely different from a division of the right itself. The first is indispensable in a large territory, from the impossibility of assembling the nation at one place, for the preservation of the right. But to cut the right itself asunder, and to lodge only half, or less than half, with the divisional mode for exercising and saving it, would certainly kill the whole. It is compounded of the powers of naming and instructing its agents. The instructing moiety is better than the naming moiety, as the right of naming an agent is no security if we cannot influence him; nor is it of much consequence who names him, if we can. If the divisional mode of exercising the right of self government, can only contain its form, but not its substance; and the aggregate mode has been determined by experience, to be unsuccessful in small, and impracticable in large countries, the conclusion is, that the right itself must die. It can be held but not exercised aggregately, and it can be exercised but not held divisionally.
The objection to the district right of instruction, is founded upon the idea, that a nation, though it divides election, retains aggregately the right of instruction. But all natural rights are individual, and this individuality is the substratum of our policy. It has not moulded this individuality into an aggregate right of instruction but it has moulded it into a right of district election, without committing the errour of withholding the natural appurtenance of election, and breaking up the relation between principal and agent, to bestow on itself the following hideous aspect. If the electing, punishing and rewarding district, and this national majority, under which rebellious agency pretends to take sanctuary, should give contrary instructions, the chastening provision of our policy, according to the idea of an aggregate right of instruction, would have been an alternative between committing a crime with impunity, or suffering a punishment for patriotism. The aggregate majority would hold a right without the remedy, and the district the remedy without a right. But it is overlooked the majorities and their rights are creatures of social compact, and not endowed by nature with political power. They are compounded of men, excluding women; of adults, excluding minors; of landholders, excluding those who have no land; and in a multitude of ways. However compounded, they are a social being, and no social duty can accrue to any majority, but to one established by social compact, because no other majority exists possessed of any political right. Admitting then the right of the majority to instruct, the right accrues to the social majority, and wherever that exists in the form of sections or districts, the mode by which it can exercise its power, must be through the form in which it exists. Thus only can it elect, and thus only instruct. Any other species of instruction, instead of a social, would be revolutionary or rebellious. An appeal by the representative from the organized majority, to an ideal disorganized majority, is therefore a violation of the duties of agency. And instruction from such a source, would be contrary to the social compact; inconsistent with the moral relation between agency and duty, and between crime and punishment; and as impracticable as aggregate election. It is, however, necessary to consider, whether a right in the social majority to instruct its agents through its moral, covenanted and practicable channels, is necessary to preserve the sovereignty of the people, or of a republican form of government.
Out of the natural right of self preservation, sovereignties of all forms have collected the same right, as inherent without the formality of a positive stipulation. There never has occurred the least occasion to convince an aristocratical or monarchical sovereignty, that periodical agents, above their immediate control, would speedily subvert their sovereignties. Who ever thought of preserving life, by a perpetual obligation to swallow all the drugs administered by a periodical succession of doctors? Would not free nations soon die of their doctors, when the highest fees are gained by the most poisonous prescriptions? And to what purpose would the epoch of election return, after freedom was dead? It is a question of fact precluding argument. History abounds with the treasons of agents towards nations. Denmark recently, and France before our eyes, were betrayed to tyranny by elected legislative agents.
Without denying to our species of sovereignty the right of self preservation, we are perplexed as to the modes of exercising this right by blending sovereignty with agency; and the demonstration of the integral sovereignty of districts, as to legislation, is somewhat obscured by the idea of degrading them into agents, without discerning that it would exalt lower agents into sovereigns. Like the electors of the president and Maryland senators, once accoutred in the garb of agency, districts become subordinate, and evanescent; and our sovereignty is dissolved, or embalmed by verbal syrup into a mummy, retaining only a periodical nomination of sovereigns. No species of sovereignty can subsist, without subsisting attributes equal to its preservation. I am speaking of social sovereignty, and not of the natural right to resist oppression; of organical, not of irregular remedies. The natural right appears throughout history, to be the least successful guardian of liberty, and as frequently the author as the destroyer of tyranny.
An independency of district instruction, is assumed upon Mr. Adams’s doctrine of virtual representation. That doctrine recognises hereditary usurpers, as national representatives; the British parliament as representatives of America, and each district agent as the representative of an entire nation. Virtual representation and a balance of orders or powers, are twin labourers for transforming our division of election and of power, into instruments for working ends contrary to those they were intended to produce. In search of power, it destroys subordination and social order. Every civil functionary, starts up into a representative of the entire nation, none owes obedience to any other superior, and the general and constable, have an equal right with the district member, to assume the independence it bestows.
An incapacity of political law for producing the subordination of its agents to the sovereign power, would produce the same effects, as an incapacity of civil law, for producing the subordination of individuals to the government. Murder, rapine or theft, would be but badly restrained, by an advertisement to culprits, that they might wallow in wickedness for four or five years with impunity, after which the power of committing further crimes should be taken from them. Kings, though not among the wisest of sovereigns, never thought of this species of civility to deputies as a security for sovereignty. A chain of subordination from sovereign power downwards, is necessary for its preservation; and instead of snapping asunder the link between sovereignty and its highest agency, it ought to be the strongest, because that agency is uniformly its destroyer, whenever a new sovereignty is erected upon the ruins of the old. Otherwise the sovereignty in its interval of torpidness, must submit to behold its agents, like Persian satraps, go to war with each other for itself. What, for instance, can preserve the rights and duties attached to the presidential agency, against Congress, but the sovereign of both? If the sovereign is unable to protect some agents against the usurpations of others, the powers of all will gradually fall under the regulation of force and corruption, and ambition or casualty will supplant compact. Even mutual corruption might cement legislative and executive power, in a league to destroy the popular sovereignty of our system, if it cannot act constitutionally at all times for its own preservation.
Publick opinion is felt even by despotism. The best eulogy of printing, is its facility for applying it. Election by districts is selected by our policy as the cleanest channel for conveying it. If party gazettes were more chaste vehicles of public opinion, why were they not entrusted with the selection of legislative agents? If they are less so, why is election to be stript of the appurtenant right of instruction, except to contaminate and discredit publick opinion, and to convert representation into a despot? The best channel for electing publick opinion, must also be the best for instructing publick opinion. And if popular sovereignty is even limited to that definition, the best mode of destroying it, would be to destroy, one after the other, the best channels by which it can be conveyed.
If state legislatures are to be considered as holding each a dividend of an aggregate sovereignty, their right to instruct their senators in Congress, would be equal to the right of a district to instruct its representative. But if each state constitutes a distinct sovereignty, its right of instruction is equal to that of an entire society. It being admitted, as its form demonstrates, that this senate was created for the purpose of preserving state sovereignty.
Oaths of agents are prescribed to enforce, not to destroy the duties of agency. If a popular sovereignty, and its appurtenance, instruction, exists in our policy; and if no such sovereignty can be found in it except in the district form, the fidelity required by oaths must be due to that form of sovereignty, and not to one which only exists in the imagination of the swearer. Because, if the swearer could fashion the oath to his own conscience or judgement, under the pretext of its binding him to pursue the publick good, as indicated by these guides, instead of conforming his conscience and judgement to the established policy, the oath would not perfect, but dissolve the obligations of agency, and leave him at liberty, if he supposes it will benefit the nation, either to disregard instructions, or to legislate for the introduction of monarchy. If the oath is only a pledge of loyalty to pre-existing duties, these duties thus confessed by the oath are evidence of principal and agent, insisted upon by the imposer, and admitted by the taker, which suffices to refute the idea borrowed from monarchy, that our government is our sovereignty; and also to demonstrate that our sovereignty resides elsewhere. The punishment of rejection on a new election, is an additional proof that our policy by the oaths of fealty, so far from contemplating the idea of a loyalty of the swearer to himself, recognises a superior invested with power to apply a remedy for the insufficiency of the oath. And though the insufficiency of this remedy itself to compel obedience to instructions, is urged as an argument against their force, yet it is of the same weight with the assertion, that these oaths also are without obligation, because the mode of compelling obedience to them, is as imperfect as the mode of compelling obedience to instructions. The imperfection of a remedy, is no argument against the right. The Saxon weregild, of fifty shillings, was a better security for the right of living, than an empty periodical election would be for the right of living free; yet the ability to pay the fine, so far from justifying the right to murder, suggested the necessity of a better remedy. A moral code, can only be perfected, by providing new remedies against crimes, when old ones become insufficient. The right to life is not destroyed, by an imperfect remedy for its preservation; and if the oath of loyalty to our sovereignty, with the punishment of rejection on a new election, are imperfect remedies for preserving the sovereign right of instruction, new remedies, and not an abandonment of the right, can only preserve our moral code, called political law.
As representation was intended to express, not to subvert publick opinion, our policy resorts to sundry expedients for making representatives the genuine organs of certain districts, and for preventing them from degenerating into representatives of themselves, or of their own consciences, vices or follies. This degeneracy is a subversion of the republican maxim, that the right of national self government rests in the majority; and transfers that right to a very small number of individuals, by using the maxim itself as the instrument for its own destruction. Representation by districts, being the only social mode of ascertaining the will of the majority, and each district exclusively possessing the means of infusing its will into its own representative; an end which our policy every where labours to attain; the will of a majority can never be constitutionally ascertained, except through the regular organized channel for that very purpose; for if instruction by districts, is not a pure indication of the publick will, neither can election by districts be so; and no genuine mode of ascertaining it exists.
Let us now compare our beautiful system of dividing election, agency and power, with the multitude of forms of government quoted by Mr. Adams. Where do we see in it the aristocratick and plebeian castes of Rome or Florence, arrayed against each other by trivial accidents, by the vile arts of factitious demagogues, or by the viler dishonesty of separate interests of exclusive privileges? It is in vain that Mr. Adams is forever quoting the mischiefs produced by any system of government, having factitious orders, armed with the motives and passions which murder and burn; or separate privileges, armed with statutes to plunder and tax; or national mobs, under the lightning of an orator’s eye, within the melody of his voice, and drawn into ruin by all the chords of sympathy; unless he can make us discern these orders, privileges or mobs, in our policy. These must be created, before his cases or his inferences will apply. Shall we create orders and exclusive privileges, to discover the accuracy with which Mr. Adams has described their effects?
It is the absence of these political causes, and an ignorance of their effects, which has constituted a degree of political happiness, throughout seventeen nations, unexampled in history, and unequalled in duration; adding together the space of each experiment. So that Mr. Admas’s very language is new and strange to us. He talks perpetually of the aristocratick and democratick interest. An use for this computation will be the era of those calamities, which have constantly attended it; and of the application of Mr. Admas’s precedents.
To the regularity of the phenomena, reducing these conclusions to moral certainties, for the sake of those who love authority, we will subjoin one of an eminent English author. Russell, in his Modern Europe, observes, ‘But an equal counterpoise of power, which among foreign nations is the source of tranquillity, proves always the cause of quarrel among domestick factions.’∗ This counterpoise of power, among three domestick factions, is the only basis of Mr. Admas’s hopes; if he should succeed, it is, says Russell, a constant prelude to a warfare between these counterpoised factions; if he fails, Mr. Adams acknowledges, that the predominant faction becomes a tyrant. Was it the accomplishment of the counterpoise in Mr. Admas’s numerous cases, which regularly produced Russell’s consequence?
Had a balance of power, among orders or factions, caused tranquillity, its absence would have caused broils and tumult. Tranquillity is one of the phenomena, arising from the unbalanced sovereignty of a single order; and broil and tumult are phenomena, which have ever attended a division of power among orders. Democracy was quiet under the feudal aristocracy, the church estates under the popes, the plebeians under the late government of Venice, and the peers of England are quiet under patronage, paper and armies. But whenever an equipoise of power, or an approach towards it has excited, as among the Grecian states, at Rome, among the Italian republicks, and formerly in England between the king and the nobility, civil war and bloodshed ensued.
It is impossible, that a balance of power among orders, should produce the same effects, as the preponderance of one. As the causes are widely different, so will be their consequences. And it is unphilosophical to conclude, that the moral beings, ambition, avarice, rivalry and hatred, breathed into orders, by an equipoise, will, like the fear breathed into the people by despotism, beget political tranquillity.
Between the noxious alternatives, a warfare of orders and the quietism of tyranny, antiquity could discover no resource. The oscillations, both of political philosophy and vulgar prejudice, have been perpetual from one to the other, because miseries which have passed away, are gradually forgotten by miseries which are endured. And science, in this case, has been welded to ignorance, by the anguish of a common feeling, without searching for a remedy in the resources of intellect.
The new idea of rejecting both alternatives, was reserved for the new world. Instead of being a pendulum swinging between two curses, and capable of no enjoyment, except that which a change of pain may afford, the United States have rejected both the calm despotism of one order, and the turbulent counterpoise of several. Oppression, rivalry, civil war, ambition, and the whole tribe of moral effects, incident to these alternatives, will either disappear with their causes, or tinctures of such effects will be so many intellectual beacons, notifying to the nation of good moral beings, that their natural enemies are about to invade them.
It was reserved for the United States to discover, that by balancing man with man, and by avoiding the artificial combinations of exclusive privileges, no individual of these equipoised millions, would be incited by a probability of success, to assail the rest; and that thus the concussions of powerful combinations, and the subversion of liberty and happiness, following a victory on the part of one, would be avoided.
How fortunate it is, that the two systems are so visibly marked by distinct principles, that wilfulness only will be able to view encomiums on one, in any other light than as censures of the other.
It must however be admitted, that in our constitutions and political disquisitions, a struggle between the light of our revolution, and the clouds of previous habits, is also discernible. The numerical analysis, a balance of orders or of powers, and a social compact between nations and their governments, often bewilder us, so as to exhibit reason and prejudice, striving for a reconciliation. Our policy, says one, abhors and rejects orders of men; but, replies the other, it loves and creates orders of power; as if power could exist abstractedly of men. The didactick, dependent, subservient judicial power, is blown up to occupy a niche, in imitation of the English balance, as children imitate cannon, by the help of bladders; and Lepidus is associated with Augustus and Anthony, for the sake of a triumvirate of orders of power, though he never can become a candidate for empire. Thus judicial power may be debauched without tasting the pleasure of sin; and the nation is seduced into a reliance upon one balance against oppression, as heavy as the thunder of the Vatican and the terrors of excommunication, opposed to the power of Bonaparte. And for the imaginary social compact between the king and the people, one as imaginary, is also conjured up, to shoot other old errours into our new system of policy, by the shuttles of old phrases.
The balancing system arose out of the ancient opinion, that the power of a government was unlimited. The American revolution, in exploding that opinion, subverted its consequences. The discovery of limitations upon the power of government then made, was improved to great extent in the establishment of the general government, and demonstrates, that the two modes for preserving a free government, are distinct and incompatible. Unlimited power could never be estimated or balanced, because the human mind cannot embrace that which has no limits; but specified and limited power, can easily be divided, and its effects foreseen. A nation, possessed of a mountain of gold, which should bestow the whole upon three ministers, trusting to their broils for its liberty, would pursue the old policy; by keeping the mass of its mountain, and entrusting agents with occasional sums, to be employed for its use, the new. The property in power, claimed by orders, causes their efforts for its increase; and these efforts constantly produce the incurable defect of that system, by proving the point upon which it rests its value to be unattainable. Agents, pretending to no such property, are not exposed to the same temptation; nor can their frauds and usurpations avail themselves of specious but spurious pretensions. The abuses of the old policy will therefore often find refuge in honest opinion; the inexorable and patriotick adversary of those committed under the new. Every deduction of power from a compact between a nation and its government, is incompatible with the right of self government; nor can a policy which admits the first, be founded in the same principles with that which asserts the second. No contractor, with the right of self government, can exist. A social compact, which is only an union of individuals, for the end of creating a government, ceases on the accomplishment of this end. The political society created by a constitution, is the only existing society, and the government is its agent; but under the natural individual right of self government, this political society itself may be dissolved. Until dissolved, it is the master of the government, or the real political sovereignty; but the natural right of self government, is superior to any political sovereignty. The ancient notion of a social compact between nations and their governments or monarchs, alone sufficed to corrupt them. A right of construction being involved in the character of a party to this imaginary social compact, it might easily be modelled into an inexhaustible treasury of power, by the party always active and able to mould it into any form; whilst the party always sluggish, could never find it a powerful champion for liberty. For this ancient species of compact, our policy has substituted a chain of subordination, suspended from its principle of the right of self government. Our political sovereignty is the first link, and our government the second. The original right exercised its superiority over the social sovereignty previously existing, and over the whole herd of fictitious compacts between the people and the government, or between the states, or the states and the Union, at the last establishment of a general government; none of these governments had any agency in their own creation, or in that work. The state governments did not surrender, but the people transferred a portion of power, without their consent, from them to the general government, from the plenitude of the right of self government. Had any social compact existed, to which government was a party, it would by this transfer; have been violated. If these governments should frame compacts between themselves even for self preservation, it would violate our policy, because it would impugn the sovereignty of the existing political society, and also detract from the national right of self government. Our political legislation depends upon the same plain sanction with civil legislation; superiority and subordination. Uncorrupted by imaginary compacts, the right of the general or state governments to break the Union, though by mutual consent, disappears; nor can the interpolations of these imaginary compacts or balances into our policy, whilst the national supervision of its governments and armies, by election and a ‘well regulated militia’ remains, have any effect but to countenance the errour, that the government of the United States is a monarchy in disguise.
Religion, like politicks, has been inclosed within certain dogmas, out of which the human mind was long unable to push its operations. The contest between the grossest errours and the plainest truths, was long and doubtful, after its first glances. Guile and treachery, which constitute the philosophy of errour, caused an English archbishop to resort to mimickry, relicks and ostentation, under pretence of perfecting a religious reformation, just as the political reformation of the United States will be perfected, by the doctrines we have been contesting. Doctrines, which would conduct our civil reformation almost back to the errour it destroyed, as happened in the case of the English hierarchy. A comparison between these revolutions would furnish to our subject many illustrations, but we must content ourselves with that between our policy and Mr. Admas’s theory.
One commences its justification in the language of paradox, by asserting ‘that separate interests beget an union of interest.’ The other uses that of common sense, ‘a common interest is union.’ One boasts of an ingenuity, capable of equalising political weapons among orders, with such dexterity, as to tempt them into hostilities, without end and without object. The other thinks it better to exclude the combatants themselves, because their battles add nothing to human happiness; and because the boasted skill in measuring the weapons, has in no instance produced the miracle (like the suspension of Mahomet’s coffin) of a perpetual battle and never a victory.
Contrast and superiority, were so visible in a comparison between these ultimate principles, as not to escape Mr. Admas’s penetration. Foreseeing that an opinion might prevail, unfavourable to the idea of producing a common interest by dividing a nation into sects, or a good sailing ship, by cutting her into three pieces; and to the project of perpetual hostilities between factions without mischief or victory; he assails our policy at its root, for the purpose of proving it defective, at the same place where he sees an incurable defect in his own.
Nedham’s doctrine ‘that the people were the best guardians of their own liberty,’ presented Mr. Adams with an opportunity to try this experiment. He therefore replies, ‘that the people are the worst enemies to themselves.’ Hence, though warring or conquering orders, should appear to have been enemies to the people in all ages, still they might be an alleviation of the superlative enmity.
This idea of justifying a system upon the argument of a natural self enmity in man, is as strange as that of producing unity of interest by division. The surprise it excites, is not diminished, by supposing that the enmity meant by Mr. Adams, was the result of errour or ignorance. In the present state of mankind, no arrangement of orders, could produce a freedom from errour, or an exclusiveness of knowledge. The aristocratick order, therefore, whether this enmity is deduced from a supposed self hatred in human nature, from errour or from ignorance, would as probably constitute ‘the worst enemies to themselves,’ as the popular; and hence this argument against one order, applies with equal force against another. The application theoretically is equal, but practically unequal. If the calamities aristocracy has drawn upon itself in all ages, by crimes and vices, have been more voluntary than the sufferings of the people, this order is more justly chargeable with self enmity.
The mode by which Mr. Adams provides against this self enmity in the people, is no less pleasant and paradoxical than the enmity itself, or the idea of uniting a nation by dividing it into orders. Having contended for a natural aristocracy, as strenuously as old Filmer (whose notions Mr. Adams calls superstitious and absurd) did for natural or divine kings, but being unable to say ‘lo! it is here, or lo! it is there,’ he is at length obliged to have recourse to a convention, to come, artificially, at a natural aristocracy. He draws a veil over the self hatred, folly or ignorance of the people, (whichever he means) and allows them self love and wisdom for one occasion only, provided that occasion be an establishment of his system of orders. After which, self love, wisdom and capacity to take care of themselves, are, like the bones of Lycurgus, to be considered as lost for ever; and as nature has decreed that they cannot be recovered, the system of orders is ingeniously furnished with a sanction for its perpetuity, infinitely stronger than the spartan oath. Does reason or zeal dictate this project?
Our policy does not conceive that nature will sometimes create an aristocracy, and at others, by refusing to do so, leave its creation to the people. It does not believe that she deprives mankind of the qualities necessary for self preservation, and yet enables them to judge correctly of Mr. Adams’s intricate theory. Nor that she qualifies nations to erect governments for the purpose of establishing their liberty and then disqualifies them for keeping these governments to their duty. The idea, that the people may be once friends, but ever after enemies to themselves, is as remote from our policy, as from nature.
The reader is warned not to misunderstand the application of the principle of division, as used by our policy and Mr. Adams’s theory. Our policy divides power, and unites the nation in one interest; Mr. Adams’s divides a nation into several interests, and unites power. By our policy, power having been first sparingly bestowed on the government, is next minutely divided, and then bound in the chains of responsibility. This discloses its opinion, that each part of political power is dangerous to liberty; and because the whole is of the nature of its parts, the entire government is subjected to the right, asserted by our policy, and admitted by Mr. Adams to be capable of once doing good; the right of the nation to influence or change its government.
Our policy does not confide the powers withheld by the constitution, to the protection of any theory of balances. The government is not made amenable to itself. If it usurps a power withheld, by whom is it to be restrained? ‘Not by the people, (says Mr. Adams) they are no keepers at all of their own liberties.’ And upon the credit of such an assertion, he contends for a government of orders, as if power would be a safe centinel over power, or the devil over Lucifer. But our policy considers the physical force of an armed nation, and the moral force of election and division, as better centinels. Both arms, and the right of suffrage, ought however to be taken from the people, if they are their own worst enemies. The hypothesis which rejects the idea of a moral gravitation, and asserts that parts of the same entity naturally repel each other, is thought by our policy to be unphilosophical. Hence it infers, that it would be as wise and prudent to entrust national liberty to the exclusive care of three guardians, all composed of political power, as a bag of money to three thieves. According to Mr. Adams’s system, three thieves can never carry off the bag of money, because they can never agree about its division. Parts of power and of knavery, attract each other and coalesce like drops of water: drops, however, may be kept asunder, but rivers will soon form a sea.
To excuse this striking defect in the system of orders, Mr. Adams produces their virtual responsibility. This acknowledges the defect. The question therefore is, whether the remedy is sufficient. Virtual responsibility (as it was termed by the British parliament) can only be enforced by civil war; whilst actual responsibility may be enforced without it. Their difference is demonstrated in the cases of Lewis XVI, and the second President of the United States; and the preference, in relation both to the nation and the magistrate, is obvious.
Against the oppressions of Mr. Adams’s hereditary representatives, nations have no remedy but physical strength; against those of temporary representatives, the moral force of opinion suffices. The first remedy can never be legally exerted, because no government will make laws to punish itself; to avoid which, these hereditary representatives invariably disarm the people, and so make the remedy for the coercion of this virtual representation quite nominal. Its use is moreover prohibited by the dreadful avenger of rebellion. Restrained by the dangers which beset it, the physical strength of a nation moves only in the paroxysm inspired by long suffering or extreme peril; and it is to the overthrow of reason, by this paroxysm, that the frequent disappointments of national exertion, to enforce virtual responsibility, are to be ascribed.
By our policy, actual responsibility is preferred to virtual, or to speak correctly, nominal. Conscious of the danger arising from the physical force of mercenary troops, it insists upon the necessity of securing to the nation the only safe protector of moral or political power, in an armed militia; to prevent responsibility from rebelling against nations, by the same means used by monarchs and orders, to prevent nations from rebelling against them. Under the protection of the physical power of a militia, the moral or political power reserved by our policy to the people, acts legally and peaceably, by opinion and election; and the reason of the nation can have recourse to a degree of reflection and deliberation, unattainable during the confusion, the dangers, and the crimes of civil war. Without a sound militia, all popular rights, including election itself, must become tenants at will, of monarchical or aristocratical landlords.
Of the nature both of virtual and actual responsibility, no nation ever experienced evidence equally complete with ours. The multitude of cases, in which the states have enforced the latter, has given them infinitely less trouble, than any single enforcement of the former. When it shall require as much blood, treasure and misery, to remove a bad president or a bad governour, as to remove a bad king, we shall have exchanged our actual, for Mr. Adams’s virtual or hereditary responsibility.
The doctrines of Mr. Adams, which have suggested several of the preceding remarks, are exhibited in the following quotations, that the reader may determine whether their construction is correct.
‘It is agreed,’ says he, ‘that the people are the best keepers of their own liberties, and the only keepers who can be always trusted; and therefore the people’s fair, full and honest consent to every law, by their representatives, must be made an essential part of the constitution: but it is denied that they are the best keepers, or any keepers at all of their own liberties, when they hold collectively or by representation, the executive and judicial power, or the whole uncontrolled legislature.’∗
‘An hereditary monarch is the representative of the whole nation, for the management of the executive power, as much as a house of representatives is, as one branch of the legislature, and as guardian of the publick purse; and a house of lords too, or a standing senate, represents the nation for other purposes.’†
It is impossible to utter a more positive censure of the policy of the United States than the first quotation. It assails the doctrine of conventions, which invests the people, by representation, with unlimited power. It assails all our constitutions, under which the people, by representation, possess an uncontrolled legislative and executive power. And instead of the sovereignty fully, fairly and honestly allowed to the people by our policy, it limits their rights to the subordinate privilege of consenting to law. A law is irrepealable by consent, and one, obtained by surprise, manacles a nation forever. This forlorn privilege of consent, accords with the English system, and beyond it all ought to be passiveness on the part of the people, according to Mr. Adams; if the polite concession of a nominal responsibility to them, does not in reality soften the assault upon the sovereignty of the people, as being only a naked compliment of a right without a remedy.
That Mr. Adams meant no more, results from a slight comparison of the two quotations. By one, it is said, ‘the people are no keepers at all of their own liberties when they hold by representation the executive and judicial power, or the whole uncontrolled legislative.’ By the other, that hereditary monarchs and a house of lords, are in their functions, representatives of the nation.’ It is extremely difficult to discern a valuable representative quality in a king and house of lords, which the people cannot hold, without losing themselves the quality of being ‘keepers of their own liberties.’ And yet the whole drift of Mr. Adams’s reasoning goes to prove, that this aerial responsibility, which is so thin as not to be discernible between the assertions of the two quotations, is preferable to solid and real responsibility.
But the theory of orders neither promises nor owes any species of responsibility to the nation. It literally claims an uncontrolled executive power. This is a manifest difference between that theory, and our policy. Ours proposes an union of interests among equal citizens, and subjects the government to the will of such an union; that, a disunion of interests among equal orders, and subjects the nation to the will of this disunion. One looks for freedom and happiness, by making it the interest of the controlling power to be free and happy; the other expects freedom and happiness, from a controlling power, compounded of ambition, jealousy and hatred, the gratification of which is the interest and aim of each part of the composition.
This moral being, jealousy, is magnified by the theory of orders, into an excellent and safe political principle, for its own use; and reprobated with equal zeal, whenever it is used by a nation. Nothing more strongly marks the character of the system than such language. Conscious that it owes no responsibility, it forbids the nation to be jealous of the government, and requires it to confide in the jealousy of the government of itself.
The jealousies of nations and factions are however different passions. The first is inspired by a love of liberty; the other by ambition and avarice. The first is extinguished by the virtues of justice and moderation, and returns love and respect; the other can only be gratified by power and pillage, never can be extinguished, and returns hatred and contempt. The first is demonstrated in the existing relation, between the united nations of these states, and their governments; the other, by the eternal discord among orders. That discord breeds malignant, treacherous, and violent tempers to fill the magistracy. Are men, rendered miserable, by such evil moral qualities, the best agents for rendering a nation virtuous and happy? Is the school of dissimulation, the school of liberty?
The history of England itself, is as fruitful in the effects of a jealousy among orders, as any other example quoted by Mr. Adams. It exhibits a series of efforts on the part of the nobles, to become independent of the crown; on the part of the crown, to become despotick; and on the part of the commons, to subdue the king and nobility. And we see that gallant nation, after toiling for centuries in the cause of liberty, take refuge from a system, founded in a jealousy of orders, to one, founded in the corruption of its representatives. The most perfect experiment, hitherto made, (as Mr. Adams believes) of balanced orders, is deserted for a system of force and fraud, as an amelioration of its malignity. And the issue of the system of orders in this celebrated experiment, simply is, that whilst these orders are guided by jealousy, the nation is distracted, and when united by paper and patronage, it is plundered.
The constant termination of the system of orders elsewhere, and its catastrophe in England, proves that a balance of power among them, is an unnatural speculation; it is invariably disordered by a tendency towards some one simple principle of government. The question with the United States, was, whether they would try the mixed system of orders, and be conducted by this medium to one of these simple forms; or whether, instead of committing their fate to accident, they should plant it in good moral principles.
They saw that the mixtures of orders, without any exception, after suffering the most agonizing throes, had brought forth monarchy, the ancient aristocracy, ochlocracy, or the modern aristocracy of paper and patronage; and that it had in no instance produced national self government. They preferred that simple principle, which the system of orders has never produced. And our computation lies between the preservation of this principle, and a painful travail, through the organ of orders, to one of the principles it generates.
Because certain publick functionaries, convene in different chambers, or are invested with different powers, for the purpose of preserving the principle of national self government, Mr. Adams concludes that we originally adopted a very different one. An errour, which forcibly displays the power of opinion over maxim and precept. Self government, a maxim of nature, and a precept of our constitutions, has seen opinion, under her banner, bringing up the troops of contrary principles, to effect her destruction; whilst she was told to her face, that she did not exist, and could only be created by a balance of power among three orders. When she sees an ambitious and mercenary army, possessing the exclusive military power of a nation, converted into patriots by metaphysical lines, for dividing it into three detachments; then let her believe, that three orders, exclusively possessing civil power, may also become subordinate to national will.
Unity, harmony and proportion, are as necessary in politicks, as in the drama, musick or architecture. A tragi-comical government, a Corinthian capital over a Dorick column, jarring dissonances, mingled with soft notes, an aristocratick democracy or a monarchick aristocracy, destroy sympathies, proportions and melody. It is consistency which produces perfection in arts and sciences. Let us proceed to inquire, whether it is to be found in either of the two rival systems we have frequently compared. And first, we will look into that composed of orders.
It charges human nature with an insubordinate mass of evil propensities; thence it infers a necessity for vast power to curb them; and it bestows this vast power upon human nature. Great power often corrupts virtue; it invariably renders vice more malignant. Is human nature made worse, a good corrector of human nature? Is vice cured by the strongest temptations? History every where contributes evidence, distinctly replying to these questions. In proportion as the powers of governments increase, both its own character and that of the people becomes worse.
Our system does not attempt to restrain vice by provocatives to vice. In destroying the evil principle, inordinate power, it has destroyed a cause of more vice, than human nature has ever perpetrated from any other cause. Having cut off the most copious source of vice, by disabling a government from committing more iniquity than it can prevent, it finds no difficulty in curbing the petty class of municipal offences. It has not been induced by the fact, that one individual will sometimes injure another, to establish the cause of all those dreadful atrocities, which sweep away the liberty, the property, the virtue and the existence of nations.
The project of hereditary systems, is to destroy the morals of one part of a community by power, in order to preserve the morals of the rest, by despotism. Hence it is compelled to multiply punishments for crimes which it causes; and to defend itself against punishment, for having caused the crimes which it punishes. It corrupts the morals of the few, under pretence of restraining the vices of the many; and this corruption is a source of more vice than it restrains.
Our policy takes a wider range. It is not so miserably defective, as to make one part of a nation worse, for the sake of making another better. It considers government as intended to improve the manners and happiness of the whole nation; and instead of leaving half its work undone, proposes to finish it, by providing for the manners and happiness of those who govern, as well as of those who are governed. It applies the reason for civil government, not partially, but generally; not to particular orders, but to nations; not to individuals, but to totals. This reason simply is, that the restraint of accountableness, improves the manners and happiness of mankind. Unable to see a distinction in nature, between man and man, our system has made that happy discovery, by which the salutary restraint of accountableness, may be extended to every individual of a nation. Instead of leaving some men to the guidance of an uncontrolled will or in a state of nature, it subjects all to law; and instead of sublimating the evil qualities of human nature, to their highest degree of acrimony, by power unrestrained, it subjects it in as well as out of office to government. It does not attempt to prevent a viper from biting by irritation.
Whether man is naturally virtuous or vicious, is a question, furnishing, however determined, no just argument in favour of hereditary systems. If the most transcendent virtue is hardly proof against the seduction of exorbitant power, these systems, in their own defence, ought to prove, that mankind are by nature virtuous. If he is vicious, his restraints ought to be multiplied in proportion to his power to do mischief; if virtuous, it strengthens the reasons derived from self love, for leaving moral power, where nature has placed physical.
Estimated by its sympathies, human nature discloses a vast preponderance of virtuous sensations. It spontaneously shrinks from an expression of rage, and is drawn towards one of joy; whilst ignorant of the cause of either; because one is an emblem of vice, and the other of virtue.
Horrible or impious, as the atomical philosophy may be, it cannot be more so, than the idea of a natural depravity in man, rendering him unfit for self government. One doctrine assails the existence of a God; the other, his power or goodness. If man, the noblest creature of this world; if mind, the noblest attribute of this creature; are both incorrigibly imperfect; the inference that the world itself is a bad work, is unavoidable. Man’s case is hopeless. If he is the creature of malignity or imbecility, and doomed to be governed by fiends, naturally as bad, and artificially made worse than himself, where is his refuge? Shall he fly to the hereditary system, which teaches him to despair; or adhere to one, which inspires him with hope? The hereditary system! which having almost exclusively exercised the office of forming the human character since the creation of the world, very gravely urges as a reason in favor of its regimen, that its work is detestable.
Upon this wretch, man, however wicked he may be, nature has unequivocally bestowed one boon. This blessing, the hereditary system proposes to deprive him of; our policy uses it as the principle of civil government; it is the right of self preservation. No other government, ancient or modern, has fairly provided for the safety of this right. In all others, it is fettered by compounds of orders or separate interests; by force or by fraud. Between governments which leave to nations the right of self preservation, and those which destroy it, we must take our stand, to determine on which side the preference lies. A coincident view of happiness and misery, will presently transform this line, into a wide gulf, on the farther side of which, we shall behold the governed of all other nations, expressing their agonies. Shall we go to them, because they cannot come to us?
The restraint of governours, or the laws impressed on them by the nation, termed political, in this essay, constitutes the essential distinction between the policy of the United States, and of other countries. Machiavel, in deciding that a ‘free government cannot be maintained, when the people have grown corrupt;’ and in admitting monarchy, ‘to be the proper corrective of a corrupt people,’ has reasoned from false principles to false conclusions, because he had not discerned this distinction. He supposes orders proper to maintain liberty, whilst the people are virtuous; and that they are hurtful, when the people become corrupt; and taking it for granted, that liberty cannot exist without virtue, nor without orders, he dooms all nations to orders or to monarchy. If virtuous, he saddles them with political orders; if vicious, with an avenger instead of a reformer. History has neither related, nor fable feigned, that monarchs or demons reform the wicked committed to their durance. His errour lay in an utter ignorance of restraining governments. He never considered whether a corrupt nation might not establish a free political system, as avaricious mercantile partners establish just articles of partnership; and that it would be the interest of the majority to do so, because slavish political systems, inevitably prey upon majorities; nor whether this interest, united with common sense, would not induce majorities, since they cannot be lasting tyrants themselves, to absolve themselves from tyranny. Orders and national virtue united, says Machiavel, produce liberty; but if virtue disappears, liberty ceases. Others, split up this dogma. Virtue, say they, will produce liberty; and without it, liberty cannot exist. Orders, says Mr. Adams, will produce liberty. If in the case of the compound dogma of Machiavel, virtue and liberty disappear, whilst orders remain, the orders were not the cause of the liberty. If the virtue and liberty remain, after orders disappear, as in America, the orders caused neither the virtue nor the liberty. And if orders will produce liberty, according to Mr. Adams, the necessity for virtue to preserve liberty does not exist.
This confusion arises from the substitution of moral artifice, which may be good or bad, for good moral principles. Virtue, or moral goodness, may overpower an evil moral artifice, and for a short space preserve national liberty, against the assaults of a bad form of government. National virtue, pervading both the governours and people, like individual virtue, is a sponsor for happiness; and whilst political writers tell us that an assembly of good moral principles, embraced by the term virtue, will produce their natural effects, they say nothing in favour of evil moral artifices. The general acknowledgement of the capacity of good moral principles to correct a bad form of government, is a vast encouragement to expect from them a capacity to correct bad governours; and hence our policy has resorted to the good and virtuous moral principle of responsibility, or a strong code of political law, which can exist and operate upon governours, if the nation understands its interest, at whatever degree of virtue or corruption it may be stationed, in fact or in theory.
If orders (a moral artifice) should become corrupt, they are then, says Machiavel, hurtful to liberty; and he recommends one of these corrupt orders, a king, as a cure for the hurt. Bolingbroke observes, ‘Instead of wondering that so many kings, unfit and unworthy to be trusted with the government of mankind, appear in the world, I have been tempted to wonder that there are any tolerable;’∗ and ‘a patriot king is a kind of miracle.’† If the moral artifice, ‘orders,’ should become corrupt, Machiavel’s remedy is Bolingbroke’s miracle. These are ranked among the first class of political writers. ‘Nothing can restrain the propensity of orders to hurt liberty, but virtue,’ says Machiavel. ‘Good kings are not to be expected by the laws of nature,’ says Bolingbroke. Yet they concur in favour of orders. Each decides against his own reasoning, because both being enslaved to the old tenet of the one, the few and the many, neither contemplated the abolition of orders or monarchy, nor the invention of a sound restraint upon the vices of governments, now practically illustrated in every state of the Union. In fact, neither of them saw the difference between a moral artifice, and a moral principle. Bolingbroke’s alternative, of an elective or hereditary monarch, is unnecessary, because both are evil moral artifices, which may be superseded by a political system, founded in good moral principles. If inconveniences appear in the United States on the election of presidents, it will only demonstrate that we have approached too near to the moral artifice, called an elective monarchy, and that we ought to recede from this bad moral artifice, nearer to the good moral principle of a division of power. Neither of these writers entertained the least idea of a policy founded in fixed and good moral principles, and have only laboured like Bayes, in his dance of the sun, the moon and the earth, to invent new postures for the triumvirate of the old political analysis.
Bolingbroke says, ‘that absolute stability, is not to be expected in any thing human; all that can be done, therefore, to prolong the duration of a good government, is to draw it back, on every favorable occasion, to the first good principles on which it was founded.’ Does he mean by carrying a government back to good principles, to carry it back to monarchy, aristocracy, democracy, or to some mixture of them? Such was not his meaning, because these human contrivances are not principles themselves, but founded in, or deduced from principles. And whether either, or any mixture of two or all, is founded in good or bad moral principles, is the immemorial subject of political controversy. If he did not mean that a decaying government should seek for regeneration in some one of these human contrivances, the moral nature of which remained to be tried by the test of principles; or that the test was its own subject; he has explicitly admitted the existence of a political analysis, both the ancestor and judge of the ancient analysis of governments, and also of every conceivable form which can be invented. Upon this anterior analysis, the policy of the United States is founded. We resort to it as the test by which to discover whether either member of the old forms of government, or any mixture of them, is good or bad. It is not a fluctuating, but permanent tribunal. Its authority is divine, and its distinctions perspicuous. And if it shall supersede the erroneous idea, that mankind are manacled down to monarchy, aristocracy or democracy, as the only principles of government, the effect of diminishing the instability of human affairs, by a resort to unchangeable principles, may be fairly anticipated.
Without considering ‘good principles,’ as distinct from forms of government, a return to them, for political regeneration, could not convey a single idea. A government may commence in monarchy, aristocracy or democracy, and degenerate from either to another. Recessions to and from all forms of government may take place, and therefore these forms could not be intended by ‘good principles,’ because these fluctuating recessions would, under that idea, make all forms good, and all bad.
The inability of the old analysis to define a good form of government, and its destitution of some beacon by which to steer back to the harbour of safety, from an ocean of corruption, is thus apparent. It only tells mankind, when unhappy under monarchy, aristocracy or democracy, to go back from one to another, or to some mixture of them. Whereas the analysis of this essay, by arranging governments according to the principles in which they are founded, discloses the mode of their preservation in a state of purity, and also the way to restore that purity whenever it is impaired.
Although the idea of going back to first good principles has been repeated into a maxim, it is seldom honestly explained or applied; nor has it ever been confessed, that the phrase explodes the old, and suggests a more correct analysis of governments. Its correctness and power is illustrated, by supposing that sedition laws, or a chartered stock aristocracy, are deviations from our first good principles. How is the deviation to be discovered? By launching into the ocean of the old analysis and its mixtures? No. By bringing it to the test of the new analysis, founded in moral principles. If it is thus discovered, how are nations to return to their first good principles? By taking refuge in monarchy, aristocracy, democracy, or a mixture of them? No. By repealing laws deviating from its first good principles. One of these illustrations will also serve to display the errour and fraud of the artifice, by which mankind have been persuaded to subscribe to the following syllogism—‘Man cannot possess free government, unless he is virtuous; but he is vicious; therefore he cannot possess free government’—so ingeniously invented, and so comfortably recommended in all ages, by patriotick kings, ministers and nobles. Now if the banking system is a mode, however ingenious, of oppressing a majority, that majority, however corrupt, may remove the oppression. And if the corruption itself, shall have been chiefly produced by the oppressing system, as is generally the case, then the removal of the oppression, is the true remedy for the corruption. Not so, say Machiavel and Montesquieu; virtue being gone, freedom has fled beyond the reach of a nation, and oppression or monarchy is the remedy.
The interest of a vicious majority to remove oppression from itself, is as strong as if it was virtuous; and the coincidence between its interest and reformation, is a foundation for an honest politician to build on. If avarice and fraud are propagated by laws for amassing wealth at the expense of a majority, the pecuniary interest of this majority to destroy these laws, is the strongest ground for effecting a reformation of the corrupt manners they have produced. And the just laws of a vicious majority, in self defence, will have a wide influence in the re-establishment of virtue; whereas no corrupt minority whatever, composed either of orders or separate interests, can be actuated by self interest to enact just laws, the best restorers of good manners.
There are two considerations which sustain this reasoning. First, that man is more prone to reason than to errour. Secondly, that he is more prone to self love than to self enmity. Notwithstanding the first propensity, every man, however wise, is liable to err; and an occasional errour of a wise man may ruin a nation. The general propensity of the whole species, will usually impress its own character, upon a general opinion, and is undoubtedly less liable to errour, than the conclusions of an individual. It is safer to confide in this propensity, than in individual infallibility. One exists, the other does not. One is ever honest, the other often knavish. The force of self love, is as strong in majorities, as in an individual, but its effect is precisely contrary. It excites one man to do wrong, because he is surrounded with objects of oppression; and majorities to do right, because they can find none. Their errours of judgement are abandoned, so soon as they are seen, whilst the despotism of one man is more strongly fortified for being discovered. The old analysis intrusts great power to individuals and minorities; and provides no mode of controlling their natural vicious propensities. Our policy deals out to them power more sparingly, and superadds a sovereign, whose propensity is towards reason, and whose self interest is an excitement to justice. Such is the competitor of the sovereign of the old analysis, of which even its advocate, Bolingbroke, admits, that a good one would be a miracle. To avoid reasons, so strong in favour of our species of sovereignty, kings, nobles, and even mobs, have claimed a divine right to govern, because there existed no ground between the right of self government and authority from God. It was obvious, that a nation, like an individual, could never become a tyrant over itself, and therefore all abuses of good moral principles, whether in the form of the ancient analysis, or of the modern aristocracy of paper and patronage, find means to control and defeat national self government, either by the impiety of fathering tyranny upon God, or by the fraud of admitting but evading its pretensions. And though it is at length confessed, that nations have a right to destroy tyrants, the difficulty of finding a tyrant willing to be destroyed, remains. Monarchy, aristocracy, hierarchy, patronage, and ambition, still urge every plea, however false, which transient circumstances may render plausible; even the paper aristocracy of the United States, though constructed of republicans, would surrender the sanctity of tyrannical kings, to secure a sanctity for tyrannical charters; and whilst it strives to find refuge for the latter, under some good word, joins in dragging the former from under the throne of God himself.
Although there is no middle ground between national and divine civil government, Montesquieu’s position, ‘that virtue is necessary for the preservation of liberty,’ has long deluded the world into a state of indecision. If it means that the members of a society cannot form equal and just laws for self government, unless these members are virtuous, it is false; but if it means that liberty cannot be preserved without virtuous laws, it is true. That vicious men can constitute themselves into a society by laws, free, just and virtuous respecting themselves, is proved by the associations of nobles, priests, merchants, stockjobbers and robbers, which are contrived, whether the members are virtuous or not, to preserve individual social rights. And that virtuous men cannot constitute themselves into a free society, by oppressive, unjust and vicious laws, is obviously true. As fraudulent laws enslave a virtuous nation, just laws will preserve the liberty of a vicious one. It is in the governing principles, and not in the subject to be governed, that the virtue or vice resides, which causes the freedom or oppression. But kings, nobles, priests and stockjobbers, have transposed this idea, and insisted upon the necessity of virtue in the subject to be governed, to create pretences for vicious laws to feed their own appetites.
A nation cut up into orders or separate interests, cannot exert national self government, because the national self no more exists, than a polypus, after being cut into four or five pieces, which forage in different directions or upon each other. Suppose it dissected into four, the ennobled, military, hierarchical and stock; which of these could pronounce any other opinion than its own? Each would constitute a distinct moral self, and could only entertain opinions, naturally flowing from its own moral nature; the ennobled, military, hierarchical and stock selves, must as necessarily have opinions, distinct from each other, as the English, French, Spanish and German nations. And these opinions would be more frequently contradictory, than the opinions of those nations, because the interests of domestick factions would more frequently clash.
The experiments for balancing power among the nations of Europe, produce effects analogous to those for balancing power among orders. Europe cannot be formed into one quiet government, because the different nations, having different interests, cannot form one political being. The supposed project of Henry IV. of France, for moulding Europe into such a being, was therefore chimerical. Political orders, are as distinct and as inimical nations, as those of Europe. Of course they have never been compressed into one nation, having one interest, one will, and one self, all indispensable to self government; but like the scheme of balancing power among the European nations, that of balancing it among privileged orders, produces plots or wars without end, until they end in a conquest and tyranny by one.
A nation cut up into separate factitious moral beings, is compelled to use the means for enforcing municipal law, used by France and England to enforce European law. The contest for predominance among privileged orders, can only be restrained by standing armies, and these at length determine it, by declaring for one. Constitutions are only treaties between orders, where they exist; and these treaties, like those between nations, are broken or evaded, whenever it is the interest of any party to break or evade them. Accordingly, the history given by Mr. Adams, and by all others, of these orders or artificial nations, proves, that they are constantly making and breaking treaties, and that they have universally been more treacherous, cruel and malicious towards each other, than natural nations.
Mechanical or habitual applause, cannot preserve the policy of the United States. It can only be saved by thoroughly understanding wherein its excellency consists. If it does not consist of a common interest, let any other eulogist point out its distinction from the policy under which men have hitherto groaned. If it does, and if its capacity for preserving free and national self government, is thence derived, it follows, that laws for cutting up the nation into distinct interests, will essentially destroy, without changing a letter of our constitutions, or a shadow of our forms of government.
But having discovered, that the superiority of our policy consists of an exclusion of separate interests, able to create factions; that the good or the detriment of the community, may be the subject of inquiry in the several departments of governments; it will be easy to detect laws, appearing in the questionable shape of deserters from the region of evil moral principles, and fraught with separate interests, or contrivances for distributing wealth.
Of this nature, we have considered banking laws. They create an order, having above fifty millions capital, most of it consisting of nominal stock, called credit; a privilege of emitting national money; and the power of banishing national coin, of governing commerce, and of deciding the fate of mercantile individuals; it draws five millions annually from national labour; and is able to influence elections, and to corrupt legislatures. Is it for the good or the detriment of bankers, borrowers, creditors or debtors? are questions, which pilfer nations, and stain the statute book; whereas it is our policy to keep it clean, because upon its purity depends the national freedom and happiness.
The history of Lacedemon exhibits a correct idea of a distinct order; that of England, of a distinct interest. The order of nobles, was the master of the order of Helots; not individually, but as an order. From one order, the other drew its subsistence directly, because it was ignorant of the ingenious paper mode of taxation. The paper interest of England, is also the master of property and labour, not individually, but as an order; from these it draws its subsistence, not directly, like their Spartan prototype, but indirectly. Both end in the same results; each bestows leisure and plenty on one order or interest, and labour and penury on another. But the latter operates the most powerful effects. It outstrips its compeer. In a former part of this essay, a calculation was made of the hold it had gotten upon the people of England, which is left behind whilst I am writing. The growing taxes, sinecures and dividends, will probably make each free born Englishman, worth three or four times as much to the stock order, as each base born Helot was to the Spartan, by the time this essay shall be read, if it ever is read.
Let us return from this digression, if it be one, to the comparison we have undertaken. Mr. Adams’s system is incapable of a division of rights between a nation and a government. This idea is incompatible with hereditary, but conformable to responsible power. It is incompatible with natural orders, but conformable to natural rights. And it is incompatible with the opinion, that the people are no guardians, but conformable to the opinion, that they are the best guardians of their own liberty. Therefore his system annihilates that sacred effort of our policy, to withhold powers useless or pernicious; and to secure rights necessary for the preservation of liberty, or without the office of governments. Among these, the rights of bearing arms, of religion, and of discussion, constitute of themselves a measureless superiority in our policy, over any other, unable, by reason of different principles, to place them beyond the reach of government; as we shall presently endeavour to prove.
If a nation surrenders all its rights to a government, it cannot be free. Freedom consists in having rights, beyond the reach and independent of the will of another; slavery, in having none. The form of the master, or his having three heads or one head, does not create the slave. It is on account of the opinions; that nations might be made free by the form of the master, and that the powers of a government are incapable of limitation; that they have been so universally enslaved. From this point, a glance discerns the wide difference between our political system, and the British or Mr. Adams’s. The parliament, or orders, are theoretically and practically omnipotent. Such is the doctrine of the British government and of the British lawyers. The government possesses unlimited power, and the nation has no rights independent of the government. The reverse is the principle adopted by our policy. It contends, that the power of a government may be limited, and that the people may have rights independent of the government.
To assert, without enforcing this doctrine, would be equivalent to its relinquishment. Even Mr. Adams is willing nominally to admit it, in his virtual representative quality of hereditary orders. This idea is an admission of national rights independent of government; but it confides them to the custody of the idea only. How far they have been actually secured by hereditary power, in discharge of its supposed representative duties, depends upon a fact, to which all history testifies.
Our policy, dissatisfied with an unfruitful intellectual acknowledgment of the theoretical truth of this doctrine, has sought for the means of making it practically useful. It does not rely upon the most positive verbal renunciations of absolute power, or acknowledgments of national rights, without means in the hands of the nation, adequate to their enforcement.
Here the attention of the reader is requested. We believe that one mode only of limiting the power of governments, and securing the rights of nations, within the reach of human nature, exists. To this, our policy, and no other, has resorted. Its abandonment, would be a surrender of the doctrine, and the erection of a despotism, however the government is formed; if a nation without rights, and a government without restriction, constitute a despotism. Therefore, the only existing mode of preventing it, deserves a more attentive consideration than any other human invention.
It consists simply in uniting the sovereign, physical and political power in one national interest. If any uncontrollable political power is held by a government, it will instantly seize upon an equal physical power by means of mercenary armies. But by combining the supreme political power with the natural physical power of a nation, seasonable exertions of the first, will peaceably prevent the ruin of the other. This union is effected, by a sound militia and elective systems. The sovereign, physical and political power, being thereby inseparably united, national self government is perfectly secured. If one half of this sovereignty is transferred to mercenary armies, and the other half to balanced orders or separate interests of any kind, they unite for mutual safety against the nation, from which both moieties are taken. Election, without her ally, a national militia, and united with standing armies, hereditary orders, or separate interests, such as banking, becomes an instrument to inflict their will. Equally unavailing to preserve liberty, is a militia, made subject to a political power beyond its influence, because such a power can disarm, neglect, and subject it to an army of its own.
A nation is both a natural and a moral being. Its natural powers we call physical, its moral, metaphysical or political. If it is deprived of its physical power, it is like a man possessed of reason, bound; if of its intellectual only, it is like a maniac, unbound. If a nation is allowed the uninterrupted possession of either, it will get the other. Yet if it loses one, it will lose both; because usurpation is never safe with one only. Therefore an attempt to deprive it of either, confesses an intention to deprive it of both. If the attempt begins with an army, it ends with destroying the political power of a nation; if it begins by assailing its political power, with orders, separate interests or corruption of any kind, it ends with an army. A man who surrenders his reason or his body to another, is soon forced to make both conformable to that other’s will. To prevent mental slavery, our policy reserves to the nation intellectual rights, or the use of its reason; and to prevent physical slavery, it reserves to the nation, the military power, in an armed and organized militia; knowing that it must retain both or neither. By retaining both, a nation is a physical and intellectual being. By losing one, it becomes a being quite anomalous to human nature; physical, and not intellectual, like a corpse; or intellectual, and not physical, like a ghost. By losing both, it is annihilated, as having neither a physical nor intellectual power.
We cannot condescend to enter the lists with the wicked artifice of destroying nations, by a fraudulent use of words and phrases; such as licentiousness, sedition, privilege, charter and conventicle; because a nation, capable of being subdued by these feeble instruments, is incapable of liberty, as a man is of long life, who can be persuaded to hold out his throat to the knife of an assassin, lest he should cut it himself.
It would swell this essay beyond the contemplated size, to enumerate and explain all the rights held by the people of the United States independently of their government. Such a work would however be extremely useful, for instructing us in the principles of our policy, and for demonstrating that these rights are so linked together, that not a single link can be removed, without materially impairing the strength of the chain.
But the dexterity of the artifice, which inculcates an opinion, already contested, that if the link of election remains, it will alone constitute a security for liberty, as strong as the entire chain of these rights, induces me to select the rights of a real national militia, and of a freedom of religion, of speech and of the press, both to display the vast superiority of our policy over any other, in their recognition; and also to prove that the strength and efficacy of the right of election, is itself dependent on the real operation of other rights.
It is a principle of our policy, that the military should be subordinate to the civil power. Why was this subordination required, and how is it to be enforced? It was required on account of the universal insubordination of mercenary armies, to every species of civil power, not their accomplice in oppression. Not that soldiers are more cruel, avaricious or tyrannical than priests, stockjobbers or nobles, for the contrary is the fact; but because a military is a separate interest, subsisting on the nation. The militia being nearly the nation itself, is the solitary appendage of civil power by which this principle of our policy can be enforced. If it is rendered incompetent to this end, election, a mere moral power, has no remaining ally able to save it, and hence almost every composition, constituting the code of our policy, has asserted the indispensable necessity of a well regulated militia.
The supremacy of civil power over military, is a stipulation in vindication of national self government, or a sovereignty of the people. We know that from the beginning of the world to this day, the military sovereign has universally been the civil sovereign, and therefore our policy never intended to sever civil and military power, so as to invest the people with the first, and to divest them of the second moiety of sovereignty.
Let us suppose a nation to have held both a civil and military sovereignty, one by election, and the other by an armed and trained militia; and that the latter was at length transplanted into the hands of its government, by disarming and disorganizing the militia, and raising a standing army, under any pretence whatsoever. The people retain the civil, and the government has gotten the military sovereignty. Is election without its ally, what it was with it? A nation voting under the protection of an army raised by its own government, is not a new spectacle. We see it in France. A protector is unexceptionably a master. A naked permission to keep and bear arms, is an insufficient ally of election or civil sovereignty. Doctor Franklin indeed used it as a resource for evading the religious scruples of a Pennsylvania assembly, but found it an inadequate defence against the feeble incursions of ignorant savages; and it would be infinitely less adequate to restrain the daring usurpations of an artful government. Without a ‘well regulated militia,’ the military sovereignty of a nation, exactly resembles its civil sovereignty under a government of hereditary orders. Hereditary kings and nobles, says Mr. Adams, are civil representatives of nations; well, let standing armies become their military representatives, and both their military and civil sovereignty will stand on the same ground, and reap the fruits of the same species of representation.
Neither the British nor Mr. Adams’s system provides for any species of military sovereignty in the people. The English orders disarm the people. Mr. Adams acknowledges their sovereignty, is silent as to a militia, and gives them hereditary representatives. Our policy endeavours to combine a real militia with an elected temporary representation. It is whimsical to hear the British system talk of the sovereignty of the people. A lunatick only, can be persuaded that he is a king, by a crown of straw.
It is remarkable, that almost all governments, having a power to raise and pay standing armies, have neglected a militia. A power of resorting to the first mode of self defence, has created insurmountable objections to the second. Congress has power ‘to raise and support armies,’ and ‘to organize, arm and discipline the militia.’ Like other governments possessing the first, it has been unable to discover any mode of executing the second. The profound wisdom and admirable foresight of our policy, in providing a remedy for this indisposition to create a sound militia, merits an encomium, in which none other, ancient or modern, can pretend to any share. Other systems of government, in bestowing a power to raise mercenary armies, have bestowed an indisposition to cultivate a militia; ours has left with the state governments a power to cultivate a militia, and withheld from them that of raising mercenary armies. As no governments can exist without military protection, and as a militia constitutes that, to which alone the state governments can resort, they must make it adequate to the end or perish. Viewed as rivals, the general government seems to have possessed a distinct, and the states an obscure idea on this subject. By protecting them with a mercenary army, and neglecting the establishment of a sound militia, the general government would inevitably become the judge and jury of the state governments; because they have no mode of effecting a subordination of the military to their civil power, except by a well regulated militia. The history of the world exhibits but a single nation which has maintained its independence against conquerors. It was inferior to its enemies in number, possessed a worse country, and is imprisoned by the ocean. But being unable to maintain mercenary armies, and forced to resort to national self defence, the twin brother of national self government, its militia won the crown of bravery by a long course of splendid actions, and the nation, the exclusive honour of never having been subdued.
The ability of our policy, to leave to men a perfect right to conscience, is an advantage which the system of orders has never been able to reach; and when we see that system unable to secure this right, so extremely foreign to the office of governments, and so extremely valuable to the happiness of men; the conclusion, that the theory itself is unable in its nature and principles, to secure to nations or individuals any rights whatsoever, which the government cannot invade and destroy, is unavoidable.
By our policy, mankind possess the right of worshipping the Creator of the universe; by the English, they are compellable to worship the God by law established. By one, revelation is assigned to the paraphrase of the head and the heart; by the other, to that of pains and penalties. By one, an expectation of individual retribution, is considered as a good reason for leaving each man to work out his own salvation; the project of the other, is to take a chance for national salvation, by compressing a whole people within the pale of one faith. It is unaccountable, that the same system, should with equal zeal exert itself against the division of national interest, as to eternal concerns, and against its union as to temporal. If a common interest in the next world is so desirable, why is a nation to be cut up in this, into orders and exclusive privileges?
An idol of metal or stone, differs from an idol of the imagination, in being more permanent and comprehensible; and its worshipper possesses an inestimable advantage over the worshipper of an idol of the imagination, in being able to convert it into an emblem of any object of adoration he pleases. Dogma, more cunning than wooden gods, deprives the conscience of this resource. The Pagan mythology was ingeniously rendered a complete liberty of conscience, by considering each idol as emblematical of some divine attribute; and he who worshipped all, only paid his adorations to all these attributes. Neptune was an emblem of the Deity’s power over the ocean; Minerva, of his justice; Ceres, of his bounty.
Hence arose the difference in temporal consequences, produced by solid and imaginary images; namely, festivity and mildness; bloodshed and persecution. The fancy is unable to adorn hideous tenets, with the agreeable illusions inspired by the Venus of Praxiteles, nor can the mind evade their recognitions by mental substitutions. We can substitute a supernatural being for a solid image, but we cannot substitute an abstract proposition, for a different abstract proposition; therefore the moderns have endured death in every form, rather than render homage to the idols of the imagination; whilst the ancients yielded to the illusions of art; or exercised the resource of converting the idols of the hand, into types of whatever supernatural beings they chose. Hence the ancient solid images or idols, were easily admitted and adopted, without embroiling nations or exciting malevolence among individuals; whilst metaphysical images or idols, engender remorseless hatreds, incessant persecutions, and sprinkle the earth with human blood.
Ancient atheism, or God as by law established, required only an external or ceremonious worship of a visible idol; modern atheism, or God as by law established, requires an internal or conscientious worship of an invisible idol. ‘Bend your body,’ said one tyrant; ‘Bend your mind,’ says the other. ‘I will punish you,’ said one, ‘if you do not perform certain gestures which you can perform.’ ‘I will punish you,’ says the other, ‘if you do not believe certain dogmas, which you cannot believe.’ One said, ‘I have with my hands made a God, you shall see him, and externally worship him.’ The other, ‘I have with my fancy made a God, whom you cannot see, or a tenet which you cannot believe, which you shall worship internally.’ Modern atheism is incomparably most resistance. It requires of man to mould his mind and annul his convictions.
It can also manufacture instruments for effecting its ends, infinitely more destructive than the ancient. Zeal is whetted by the imagination into the utmost keenness. Praxiteles would more easily be persuaded, that his statue of Venus was not a goddess; than Origen, that his dogmas of the pre-existence of souls, and that Christ was to be again crucified to save the devils, were errours. The stuff of which physical idols are made, may be analysed and comprehended; but that which is the basis of metaphysical idols, is always beyond human understanding, whilst it is still liable to greater agitation by the idea of a ghost, than from a real stump.
The art of governing the deity is cultivated for the sake of governing men. If a government or a church should by its mandates directly regulate the temporal and spiritual dispensations of the Almighty, the burst of derision would be universal; but laws establishing tenets, tones, gesticulations and ceremonies, for the purpose of indirectly regulating these temporal and spiritual dispensations, are slyly resorted to, because they gratify man’s lust of power, and flatter his aversion to a reliance on a life of moral rectitude for salvation. Laws, dictating the mode of influencing the deity, are declarations, that the deity shall be influenced by law. And the conspiracy between the priest and the proselyte, is founded in the compact, that the priest will learn the proselyte to govern the deity, if the proselyte will suffer the priest to govern him. Besides, true religion will not do the work of tyranny, like an heated and beguiled imagination. Tyranny wants persecutors, not advocates of truth and virtue; to gain these, it makes gods and religions. Is tyranny able by its laws to bring the King of Heaven down to earth, and convert him into its instrument? If tyranny cannot coerce the true God, into an instrument of its vices, then the gods it uses must be false.
The same governments and hierarchies, which eulogize Daniel in their prayers, imitate Nebuchadnezzar in their actions; they set up dogma for his image; and pains, penalties or tythes for his furnace. The Spaniard who reads of this furnace with horrour, dances at an auto de fe with transport. And the governments which erect the modern furnace, contrived to consume without fire, believe the dogma, for the sake of which they harass and torture mankind, as faithfully as the Babylonian did the divinity of his image.
Although the atheism of images, has been less mischievous than the atheism of dogma, the additional malignity of the latter, is only an exacerbation of the same principle. It is as presumptuous in you, to require me to worship the manufacture of your head as of your hands; your imaginary or solid idol; and it would be wicked in me to do either. But there is less tyranny and impiety in worshipping the solid image, because the mind has a refuge in its emblematical nature. Had Henry, Mary and Elizabeth, set up solid images, by a Babylonical proclamation, containing a disclosure of the power of mental substitution, many martyrs to polemical dogma, would have escaped the flames.
When a government usurps a power of legislating between God and man, it proves itself to be an atheist. If it believed there was any God, it would be conscious of the vice and folly of making one; if it believed there was any revelation, it would see the vice and folly of construing it by laws, which are not revelation; if it is believed that God made man, it would acknowledge that man could not make God.
Religion is God’s legislation. He alone dispenses its sanctions, and these sanctions are mostly of another world. Were the governments of this earth, to legislate for the inhabitants of the moon, the absurdity and inefficacy of such laws would be less, than laws for taking care of human souls, by setting the rights of God, and the religious duties of man. If man, by his laws, can regulate his duties to God, he can increase, diminish or expunge them; and has more power over the deity, than Canute had over the ocean.
This aggravated species of sacrilege is perpetrated by governments to gratify ambition or avarice; but they endeavour to hide their true design, under the pretence that it is good policy to make a vulgar, that is, a false religion by law. It is but a vulgar kind of veneration for the deity, which supposes, that the bulk of mankind can be better governed by man’s frauds, than by his truths. The idea, that God made a true religion only for a few learned men, and gave them a commission to make false religions for the vulgar, from time to time, supposes that the deity was unable to legislate for the great mass of his creatures. By reserving truth for the learned, and cheating the ignorant into virtue, religion is considered as necessary for the first class, and superstition as sufficient for the second, without any divine authority for the discrimination. But governments do not perceive the high encomium they thus pass upon the people, by admitting, that the light of religion is necessary to check the propensity of the wise for vice, and that the blindness of superstition is unable to corrupt the propensity of the vulgar for virtue. And thus discover that they foster a delusion incapable of making men better in this world, or happier in the next, from their own secret avarice, ambition and atheism.
Governments and hierarchies have annexed a sanctity to the utensils of religion, which they will not allow to religion itself. To protect these utensils, artfully blended with their usurpations, they have invented the term, ’sacrilege.’ They are too holy and sacred to be altered, taken away or applied to any temporal purpose. Less delicate with religion, they form and transform it, for wicked temporal ends; and the only good one they pretend to expect from the trade of religion-making, is, that the veil of a treacherous or deluded concurrence, drawn by law over a nation, will produce good order and morality. Are deceit, purchased by office, or imposed by fear, and ignorance produced by fraud, good nourishers of moral virtues? Will habitual insincerity to God, habituate us to sincerity in our commerce with men?
A new species of political atheism or polytheism is making its appearance, and gradually gaining ground among mankind, more specious, insidious and dangerous than the old. It is that of making government the patron of the whole tribe of tenets or metaphysical idols, existing, or capable of being invented. We will suppose only an hundred of these in a nation, each pronouncing the rest to be damnable errours. You shall adventure your soul, says a government, upon a lottery, wherein the chances are an hundred to one against you. Why are men driven by law into this injudicious species of gambling? Because governments believe in neither of these metaphysical idols, and gain power by patronising all. Had they believed any one to be the herald of salvation, they would have exhibited some preference for truth, or at least have forborne to coerce men by penalty into an election, deterringly fortuitous.
A polytheism of tenets would probably have appeared as ridiculous to the ancients, as their polytheism of wooden idols does to us. Without settling the point of plurality, between physical and metaphysical polytheism, they might have considered it as more likely that all their gods existed, than that all our contradictory tenets were true; and they might have urged the emblematical nature of their system, to shew that it was less polytheistical, than a political patronage of a pantheon of tenets. A government which assumes this patronage, is less theocratical, and more atheistical, than one which assumes the patronage of a polytheism, composed of solid images of various divine attributes. Its object must therefore be power and not truth.
This new species of atheism or polytheism (for the patron of many contradictory tenets or religions, must either believe that there are many gods or no god) under the garb of toleration or liberality, conceals a political instrument of tenfold malignity to human happiness, beyond the ancient. Ancient governments, by the aid of one superstition and one priesthood, were able to destroy civil liberty; what then will not modern governments effect, by the aid of many contrary tenets, and many priesthoods? By the ancient polytheism, the people were united, by the modern, they are divided. Under the ancient, governments destroyed civil liberty, by corrupting one priesthood; under the modern, a patronage of many priesthoods will produce the same effect. The power of governments, arising from the corruption and influence of many priesthoods, produced by its patronage of a polytheism of metaphysical deities, will infinitely surpass any power, arising from a polytheism of physical deities; because of the rivalry among these tenets and their priests. This will render each separate priesthood more influential over its sect, and more subservient to the pleasure of the government. Whereas Jupiter, Mercury, Diana, and the rest of the heathen deities, in the shape of images, to the learned were emblems, and to the vulgar appeared as friends; exalted by the imagination into intellectual beings, united in convocation, and arranged in subordination, whose little disputes or amorous adventures never destroyed the peace or good humour of mankind.
The union of the priesthood under ancient superstitions, formed a powerful, and occasionally, an useful check upon the government; and although like any other order, it was prone to coalesce itself with it, to deceive and oppress the people; yet an ancient priesthood constituted a balance conformable in principle to Mr. Adams’s system, and productive of similar effects.
All the controversies between hierarchies and governments and their several fluctuations of power, are witnesses to the truth of this observation. A balance of power between a government and a hierarchy, produced with critical exactness, the same effects as its balance between other orders. The two orders were constantly in a state of war, for the purpose of subjecting each other; or united, for the purpose of oppressing the people; and their warfare produced occasional ameliorations of the hard and regular tyranny arising from their union.
No such amelioration can occur, from a priesthood and a nation, cut up into jealous and inveterate religious orders or castes, by a multitude of tenets; when patronised and managed by a government. These divisions would in time constitute so may castes of China or Indostan, over which, western, like eastern governments, would preside with absolute power; because they will be made to deprive a nation of its unity or self, and destroy the idea of a common or publick good, as effectually, as its division into civil orders or castes. Such a divided priesthood, instead of a check upon tyranny, would become its instrument. And under pretence of impartiality between God and Baal, the government would draw inexhaustible recruits form both.
The oppression resulting from a mass of legal pecuniary religious rights, orders or privileges, will ultimately become the same as that which would result from a mass of legal pecuniary civil rights, orders or privileges. Mercenary armies, and most corporate bodies, belong to the latter species of moral being; and a patronage of government over the whole priesthood of a nation, composing one church or many churches, to the former; but both are of the same moral nature, and will operate the same moral effects.
The denunciation of exclusive privileges, titles, and an interposition with religion, by the policy of the United States, was suggested by the consideration, that such rights or powers, commence or terminate in despotism. One of the reprobated powers is exercised by charters, and another is advocated by the doctrine, that government ought to patronise all metaphysical idols. But neither the perpetrated nor intended violation is chargeable to our constitutional policy; that labours to leave wealth to be distributed by industry, and salvation by God; and abstains throughout from the idea of a power in government to regulate either by law. By leaving to every one a fair chance to work out his temporal and eternal welfare, it excites merits called forth by no motive, when governments assume the dispensation of both.
The constitutions of the United States, have renounced the practice of creating by law, moral duties, temporal or eternal, in the shape of exclusive privileges or religious tenets, because they deemed it equally oppressive to enrich the priesthood of fraud as the priesthood of superstition. Had they been formed by atheism, they would have seen no objection to one species of manufacture; nor to the other, had they been formed by paper systems, patronage or orders.
From an opinion, that there is really a God, our policy has inferred, that he has established some mode of inculcating virtue, preferable to human frauds; that there is no occasion to kill or persecute one another on the score of religion, because God needs no champion to assert his honour or to avenge his quarrels; that at this time of day, martyrdom would be lunacy, and saintship, under the banner of a dogma, intolerance; and that it is a profanation of religion, to make it an instrument, to gratify avarice or ambition.
Governments have almost universally inculcated opinions contrary to these, and irreligion and insincerity have been the fruits of their policy. If we see governments making gods of wood or of dogma, or settling revelation by law; if the people see them coining religion into power and money, under pretence of coining it into good morals; it will teach them also atheism and deceit. As a cunning government uses religion to cheat a nation, a cunning man will use it to cheat his neighbour; and in place of its being a bond of love, a preceptor of virtue, and the refuge of hope, religion would be thus made an engine of publick oppression and private fraud.
Atheism forbids men to look into the book of nature for God, and asserts its fluctuating fables to be better evidence of his existence, than his own permanent creation. And it forces men to see God, not in the sun’s light, but in some dark tenet, adapted to a temporary market.
It is to this hour unknown, whether established or legal religions have ever carried a single soul into heaven; but there is no doubt of their having carried millions out of this world. Yet it is under pretence of making men extremely happy, after they are dead, that these religions make them extremely miserable, whilst they are alive; and the compensation for the promised happiness, is always estimated upon the supposition of its being as certain, as the suffered misery. Can honesty or virtue have contrived a lottery, from which men draw oppression in this world, and blanks in the next; or can impiety exceed the presumption of selling or bestowing heaven? The polytheism of tenets, or a political patronage of the whole tribe of fanatical follies, entangles men more inextricably in this lottery, than the establishment of a single religion; one may be true; many, contrary to each other, must all be false except one. To be oppressed by the whole tribe, to pay the whole tribe, and to strengthen a government against a nation, by recruiting its power with the patronage of the whole tribe, merely to take the chance of being jostled into that, which really bestows what they all promise, is the speculation proposed by a polytheism of tenets.
Warburton is the only bishop who has disclosed a religious candour, equal to Mr. Adams’s political honesty. In the first volume of his Divine Legation, he defines an established religion to be ‘a league between a civil and religious society for mutual defence and support; to secure the obedience of the people to the government, in which it is so efficacious as to gain reverence and respect for tyrants; for giving to a church a coactive power to punish intentions by spiritual courts, and thus supply a defect in civil society, which can only punish acts; as an engine bound to render its utmost services to the government for its wages; as a means to prevent the rivalry of sects, by admitting one only to a share of power and emoluments; as a compact founded in reason and nature, equally with the original compact between the government and the people; as one to be made between the government and the largest religious sect in society; as entitled to a test law for its security against the tolerated sects, now inflamed by the advantages of the established sect; as giving no cause of umbrage to other sects by its exclusive privileges and emoluments, because rewards are not sanctions of civil law, wherefore a member of society has a right only to protection, and magistrates an arbitrary power to dispose of all places of honour or profit; as preventing the persecutions, rebellions, revolutions and loss of liberty, caused by the intestine struggles of religious sects.’ And he concludes, ‘in a word, an established religion, with a test law, is the universal voice of nature.’
Nature, according to the bishop, dictates an establishment of one religious sect; according to Mr. Adams, of three civil sects; and according to both, for the purpose of preventing persecutions, rebellions, revolutions and loss of liberty. She dictates, according to one author, that no regard is to be paid to truth in the selection of the established religion; according to the other, that no regard is to be paid to talents, in selecting kings or nobles; preferring the size of the sect to the one, and lineage to the other. Warburton utters the religious policy of the system of orders, and that system adheres to the religious policy of Warburton. A complete parallel would disclose an indissoluble affinity, but as the reader knows, that though God has made a diversity of opinion a quality of human nature, the bishop says, that nature dictates the establishment of one religion, or a repeal by man of this diversity; and that though nature appears to take very great care, not to signalize particular families with royal or noble marks, Mr. Adams says she dictates an establishment of orders; he will need no assistance in discovering the indissoluble union between a political system, comprising orders, and a religious system, comprising an established sect; nor in estimating the value of the policy of the United States, from its not requiring any association with political atheism.
The world is indebted to Mr. Jefferson for an argument, condensed into a law, and recorded for the use of posterity in the statute book of Virginia, which political atheism has never yet adventured to face. Like the serpent, uncovered in its lurking place, it indeed hisses at the hand which removed the concealment. But the long acquiescence in the principles of this law, may be fairly considered as having ripened them into maxims, asserted by our policy, and established by experience.
The religious policy of orders considers man as a perishing physical being; and treats him with errours and idols, as a savage is amused with beads and trinkets; that of the United States, considers him as a moral being; and inspired with a hope that his attainments are not concluded in this world, encourages him to look towards truth and God. The old theory believing there is no God, usurps the regulation of the intercourse between its phantoms, soul and deity, by laws operating upon body; because it discerns no danger in using religion to bribe, deceive and oppress; the new, believing that there is a God, shrinks from the impiety of thrusting laws between God and spirit, which neither can be made to obey; because it expects retribution in another world, for its doings in this. Such laws, by the old system, are called pious, by the new, impious frauds. The old system pretends to govern God and spirit; the new humbly subordinates itself to God; the old, because it believes in neither; the new, because it believes in both. In short, the deity of the old political theories is admitted by themselves to be ‘a pious idol;’ whereas the deity of the policy of the United States is the eternal God.
And yet this old atheist, the universal advocate of an opinion that a pious fraud is a deputy for God, capable of managing men better than God himself, exclaims, that a new atheist has risen up in the new political theory; just as exclusive privileges accuse equal rights of an enmity to private property. The priests of the idol and the privilege are equally clamorous to transfer their own guilt to innocent avengers, for the same reason; atheists and invaders of private property themselves, they endeavour to repel truth by odium. Savages deify the author of evil; but they do not demonize the author of good. If neither of the combatants should be furnished with an army of mercenary troops, we may certainly foresee on which side victory will fall; but if we seduce from their principles, the honest proselytes of our policy, by offering them bribes to enlist under the banner of the old atheist, one other demonstration will be added to the fate of Socrates, of the insecurity of virtue and innocence exposed to fraud or folly.
A belief in a deity and in the existence of the soul, is consistent with the religious policy of the United States; and a disbelief in both, with the religious policy of almost all other governments. The reader will recollect, that we arranged governments into two classes; as being universally founded in, or drawn from good or evil moral principles. Theocracy must be the creed of one class, and atheism of the second. The advocates of good moral principles such as truth, freedom of religion, knowledge, limitation of power and equal rights, cannot be atheists; and the advocates of evil moral principles, such as fraud, force, ignorance, despotism and exclusive privileges, cannot be believers. By their fruits ye shall know them.
The infidelity, in which the old political theories are all founded, is visible both in their formation and practice. They commence with forming religion, in a mould constructed by politicians. And they practise fraud and force, because politicians never believe religions constructed by themselves. Freed from responsibility by atheism, oppression and blood are ordinary items of their operations; and they use religion as a cold tyrant to inflict the one, or a fanatical butcher to shed the other.
Not less visible is the faith of the political theory of the United States. It was that faith which placed religion above the reach of the politician, that it might not by his arts be transformed from a consolation into a scourge. By the same faith, was our theory guided to associate itself with a catalogue of moral principles, precisely contrary to those used as accomplices by the old theories. It would be doubly inconsistent to allow faith to political theories, which make religion a pander for avarice, ambition and tyranny; and to deny it to one, which rescues it from this shameful servility. False religion, like false honour, is easily detected by discovering its source in prejudice, passion or fraud, and not in moral rectitude. Both, goaded on by an ignorant infatuation, or a wicked pride, expect heaven and fame for inflicting evils on mankind or on themselves. Both profess, boast, destroy and dissemble. The fanatick and the duellist are the same characters; devotees of vice or errour, and contemners of morality and truth; who pervert honour and religion into cabalistical terms, to bewitch, deceive, and torment themselves and others. How wonderfully astonished must these characters be, after a life of mutual contempt and execration, to discover their exact identity?
Mr. Adams has omitted to contrast the American and English systems, in relation to religion; and to acknowledge, that the freedom it enjoyed under the one, was incompatible with the principles of the other. The English, is one of those old theories, which makes gods or religions by law; and it is essential to this, as well as to all governments composed of orders, to coerce the mind into one opinion, religious and political; these orders being equivalent to a set of anatomists, for carving the faces of all mankind into one shape; except that the instruments which cut the mind, inflict more pain than those which cut the flesh; and that it is easier to mould matter than spirit. The necessity of a system of orders for the mind-carving policy, is as demonstrable from their nature as from experience. Such systems can only operate according to the minds of their component orders. The operation of these three artificial minds, must control the minds of individuals, or these orders would cease to govern, and the system terminate. Its essence consists in substituting three artificial minds or interests, for a natural mind or interest. If a government is founded in the first, it destroys the latter; if in the latter, it destroys the first. The natural mind and interest must of course be carved into a shape, suitable to the artificial mind and interest. The necessity of this substitution to the system of orders, for the sake of existence, is the true parent of its double-faced idols, called church and state. And hence religion in England is contrived for the temporal salvation of three artificial minds, neither of them existing after death, instead of the eternal salvation of the souls of men.
Orders seldom admit that their powers are deduced from the people; they deduce them from inheritance, unwritten compact, or time immemorial. The rights of man being thus lost in the rights of orders, it is obvious that an individual cannot retain any species of right, not even the right of conscience, because it is the principle of orders, that nature gives man no rights at all; and that all his rights are conventional or legal. Such being the case, if it is the will of a government of orders, that the conscience of an individual should be cut into any shape whatsoever, it would be preposterous for him to assert that it ought not to be done, and that he ought not to be punished for having a conscience which he was obliged to take from an almighty power. He would be silenced by learning, that under the theory of orders, there are no natural rights.
Religious freedom, or the right of keeping our consciences, is compatible with the policy of the United States, because the natural mind or will of man is not controlled by the artificial mind or will of orders; and because it admits man to have derived rights from nature, as well as from law. Having rights, men, when forming governments, may relinquish or retain such as they please; and by so forming a government that the natural mind of man, shall not be controlled by the artificial mind of orders, this natural mind will be able to preserve the natural rights connected with it; whereas if this natural mind is controlled by the artificial mind or will of orders, no natural right whatsoever can remain, because there cannot exist together, a natural and an artificial sovereign.
It is important to discover the reason, why the system of orders, in every form, has invariably moulded religion into an engine for its own purposes, lest it should be imagined that this feature of that policy, might be obliterated by Mr. Adams’s new idea of the responsibility of orders, as hereditary representatives.
A nation is no more a nation, after it has lost its unity, than a man would be a man, cut up into pieces. Divided into orders and interests, it is turned into several nations, separated, not by geographical boundaries, but by legal lines drawn between different privileges, or between privilege and degradation. The nations residing on each side of these legal boundaries, will hate each other far beyond any degree of animosity, which can exist between nations geographically divided; because the legal boundaries must benefit and injure; whereas the geographical may do neither. The former create in some proportion the relation between master and slave, and excite correspondent passions; the latter are perfectly consistent with the relation between equal friends. Accordingly, nations or individuals living on different sides of geographical lines, may sometimes love each other; whilst orders on different sides of legal lines, always hate each other.
How then can Mr. Adams’s idea of the responsibility of orders, save for a nation the freedom of conscience? There is no moral being, after it is divided into several moral beings of distinct interests, to enforce this responsibility. The natural mind, acting by election, is superseded by a legal mind, guided by the interest of orders.
Suppose he intends that the rights and privileges of these orders shall be settled by a constitution. This is no more than a treaty between these artificial and legal nations. And if such nations hate each other more sincerely and constantly than natural nations, treaties between them will be more frequently violated. In fact, orders never make such treaties, without instantly commencing their violation; and it is owing to the impossibility of forming a treaty which they will observe, that Mr. Adams throughout his erudite researches into their history, has found them constantly at war. It is not unnatural that he should be inflamed by the ill success of all others, to evince his diplomatick skill in forming a new treaty; but a nation is under no such emulative impulse to become the subject of the experiment.
If orders cannot be kept from hostilities, secret or open, by didactick stipulations, can it be expected that they will forbear to use the most powerful political weapons? They are political beings themselves, and no political being, having a power to use religion as an instrument, has ever failed to exert it. The only security consists in withholding this power from political beings; but this cannot be resorted to in the case of orders, because they are sovereign themselves, and disclaim the idea of allegiance to any superior.
There being several nations intermingled together, under a treaty for securing to, and excluding privileges from each, the defence and enlargement of these privileges will be their first interest; every means will be resorted to for these ends; and the more absurd and oppressive the privileges are, the more violent and wicked will these means become. A noble nation and a plebeian nation, or a banking nation and an unprivileged nation, will necessarily terminate in an oppressing and an oppressed nation. These legal nations hate each other as mortally as white and black nations mingled together. One of them will constantly endeavour to plunder another. Robbery is the invariable design of a confederacy of legal privileges, and the retaliation it finally provokes is still more heinous. The wars between the whites and blacks of St. Domingo, being transitory, were inconsiderable in point of mischief or horrour, compared with those between legal nations, called orders, detailed by Mr. Adams. To make inimical interests friendly to each other, by the theory of balances, is more difficult than to establish harmony between different colours, because men will contend more malignantly for substance than for shadow.
Under the policy of the United States, the moral individuality of the nation being preserved by the elective mode of giving effect to its will, by an unity of rights, by its sovereignty over the government, and by the militia system, such a moral being may retain for the members which constitute itself, the liberty of conscience; but this becomes impossible after separate interests are substituted for united; after the government becomes the sovereign of the people; or after a mercenary army becomes the sovereign of the militia.
Freedom of religious opinion, is another link of the chain of rights, necessary to preserve election. If a government is invested with a power to inflict on the mind religious coercion, it will add political. And if it can mould opinion by force to suit its interests or designs in one case, it will do it in the other. The freedom of opinion is an indivisible right. If a government can split it at all, it may by frequent divisions destroy its strength. And as this freedom is the essence of election, whenever it is impaired in the case of religion, election itself receives a wound; which again illustrates its dependence for efficacy, on the preservation of other rights. Good and evil principles attract or gravitate towards each other, and are as incapable of exchanging places as matter and spirit. Political orders are therefore naturally unable to associate with religious liberty, because this instils brotherly love; those, brotherly hatred. Indians imagine that a Deity and a devil unite in the government of the universe. And a union between the good principle of religious liberty, and the evil principle of sovereign orders, in the government of a nation, would exemplify this savage philosophy.
Upon none of this important ground has Mr. Adams ventured to tread. As to the freedom of conscience, the dearest right of human nature, he is silent. Silence was less injurious to his theory, than a confession, that religious liberty could only exist with the principle of national self government; because a sovereignty of orders annihilates a real national mind, and substitutes for it three artificial minds.
Before this subject is concluded, it is suggested to the reader, that rights retained by nations, as unnecessary for governments, constitute our most useful division of power. The rights of conscience and of the press, deprive governments of much power, to be otherwise drawn from superstition and ignorance. Besides these, the people of America have endeavoured to keep in their hands a great extent of political ground, forbidden to government. All this territory is lost at once by introducing the sovereignty of orders. It will also be lost by laws gradually encroaching upon it; such as laws for cutting off the provinces of free inquiry and militia defence; by regulating the press, and by standing armies. The first mode of getting rid of the whole catalogue of human rights, is not less certain than the second; it drives men gradually towards slavery, by law, as the Indians are driven towards the ocean, by encroachment.
From among the rights retained by our policy, we have selected those of self defence or bearing arms, of conscience, and of free inquiry, for two purposes; one, to shew the vast superiority of our policy, in being able to keep natural rights necessary for liberty and happiness, out of the hands of governments; the other, to shew that this ability is the effect of its principles, and beyond the reach of Mr. Adams’s system, or of any other, unable to reserve to the people, and to withhold from governments, a variety of rights. Of the three selected as illustrations, the right of free inquiry remains to be considered.
Caligula’s appointment of his horse to the consulship, is both an illustration and a mockery of the idea of national sovereignty, without the freedom of utterance; and a nation, the members of which can only speak, and write as government pleases, is exactly this consular sovereign.
But although the rights of the horse and the nation may be equal, their happiness will be unequal. The thoughts of the horse being under no legal control, he retains this natural source of pleasure. Man’s thoughts, suffered to flow, furnish the purest streams of human happiness. Dam’d up by law, they stagnate, putrify and poison. To his characteristick qualities of speaking and writing, all man’s social discoveries and improvements are owing. Qualities which distinguish him from the brute creation, must be natural rights; and those which are the parents of social order, must be useful and beneficial. Why should governments declare war against them?
Expression is the respiration of mind. Deprived of respiration, the mind sickens, languishes and dies, like the body. It flourished in the climates of Greece and Italy, whilst it could breathe freely; it has decayed in the same climates, according to the degrees of suppression it has suffered. Wherever it can breathe freely, mind seems to begin to live; swells, as if by enchantment, to a sublime magnitude; and suddenly acquires wonderful powers.
The objection against a free respiration of mind, is, that it may occasionally emit from its lungs (according to our metaphorical license) noxious vapours. The same reason is infinitely stronger for smothering body; its lungs constantly emit noxious vapours. If we deprive mind of health or life, because its breath is sometimes noxious, let us adhere to the principle and finish the work, by smothering body also. Had they so existed, as to be capable of separate destruction, which species of murder would have been entitled to the first degree of guilt? Estimate mind without body, and body without mind. Behold an idiot! Let not those pretend to religion, who would poison or murder mind, but not poison or murder the body of an idiot. Do they perpetrate the first crime, to prove that they will abstain from the second?
The long stationary state of political science, previous to the American revolution, must have been owing to some peculiar cause, which enabled other sciences to outstrip it. And there is no cause so peculiar to political science, as a legal prohibition of discussion. Mind, as to this science, was fettered; as to others, free. The commencement of the American revolution, knocked off these fetters, political science bounded forward, and a government was formed, which is at this moment the solitary political object of universal commendation. Few prefer even the government under which they live, to ours; none, any other.
The opinions in several state constitutions, in favour of mental emancipation, being so construed as to expose mind to legislative fetters, the good sense of mankind had in this as in many other instances, preceded precept in exploding errour. Political prosecutions for opinion had become as obsolete as those for witchcraft, before the general constitution obeyed publick opinion, by declaring their inconsistency with free government; and before the sedition law endeavoured to drive political science into a retrocession of centuries, for the sake of reviving them.
The third section of the third article of the general constitution, had been deeply rooted in the natural right of free utterance, before the public solicitude required its farther security, by the third amendment. The utterance of any opinions could not constitute treason. Irreverence expressed for our constitution and government; falsehood or reasoning to bring into contempt and overturn hem; were not thought politically criminal. Instead of being condemned to punishment, they are shielded against prosecution. What could the constitution do more, for the vindication of an unlimited freedom of utterance, than expose itself to this license? Could it have intended to defend one officer of the government by criminal prosecutions, against the freedom of opinion, after having subjected the whole government to its inspection? We should, under an ignorance of its source, have attributed the constitution to beings more inconsistent and romantick, than those whose errours were limited by human folly, had it exposed its own life to preserve an indispensable principle, and relinquished the same principle, to preserve the reputation of an individual. If such is the text of the constitution, three volumes written by a president, for the purpose of destroying our policy by hereditary orders, and laws for prosecuting sarcasms against the same president, may both be justified by its construction.
The criminality of bringing a president into contempt, consists of its indirect tendency to destroy the government; a direct attempt to destroy the same government cannot be less criminal. If an indirect attempt by writing or speaking was punishable, a direct attempt of the same kind would not have been shielded against punishment. He who reads Mr. Adams’s sarcasms upon election, and eulogies upon hereditary orders, will confess, that they are as well calculated to bring a government, founded in one principle and reprobating the other, into contempt, as those uttered against one of its temporary officers.
Reverence for a magistrate, is frequently contempt for a constitution. The contempt of the English nation for James II. arose from a reverence for their form of government. A contempt for principles, and a reverence for men, conducted the French nation to the issue of that revolution. It is the policy of all despotick governments, enforced by sedition laws. In Turkey this policy is perfect. In England, where this policy is less pure than in Turkey, to assert that the king, by corrupting two branches of the legislature, was destroying the principles of the government, would be morally true and legally false; and to assert that each order maintained a constitutional independence of the others, would be morally false and legally true. Legal truth, by the sedition law policy, is moral falsehood; the alternative lies between betraying the principles of a good government, or submitting to be considered as libellous, seditious and traitorous. It proposes to us to wound our consciences, by becoming traitors to our constitutions; or to be rewarded with bodily punishment for constitutional loyalty. Truth and falsehood under such laws, unexceptionably mean praise and censure of men in power.
These murderers of discussion, knowledge and patriotism, engrave upon their tomb, ‘that private citizens have neither the right nor capacity to canvass the measures of government.’ Men are advised to institute governments to secure their rights, not to destroy them; for this purpose, they are allowed to possess all the rights and talents of human nature; and the ministry who preach this doctrine, no sooner climb by it into power, but they very gravely tell the same men, that they have neither talents nor rights; that they cannot distinguish between pleasure and pain; and therefore that there is no occasion for them to write or speak either truth or falsehood, upon a subject which embraces all their rights, and regulates most of their pleasures.
Such is the language of orders and privilege in every form. Into such politicians, orders and privileges transform patriots. They assail truth and knowledge, because truth and knowledge assail them. They stigmatize discussion, because it leads to discovery. They foster ignorance, because it is blind.
Every attempt by a government to control free discussion, indicates fear and jealousy. Jealousy by a government of a nation, is always criminal, because a nation cannot usurp its own rights; but jealousy by a nation of a government, is always laudable, because a government may usurp the rights of the nation.
Criticks, to good writers, are friends; to bad, foes. Bad writers call them malicious demons; good, court their examination, because they consider the praise of ignorance as ridicule. Good and bad governments, regard free discussion, as good and bad writers do criticks; being the only impartial judge of governments which can exist, one kind preserves, the other destroys it, for the same quality.
Some governments which do not avow despotism, are not so hardy as to deny the right of free discussion; they only defeat it. They allow or punish criticisms upon themselves by their own will and pleasure. A criminal who makes the law, selects the jury, settles the evidence, and pronounces the judgement, may safely come to trial. A subordinate member of a government, cannot be made an impartial judge of his superior’s merits. A king of England boasted, that he could have what law or gospel he pleased, because he could appoint, promote and translate judges and bishops. Would these judges and bishops impartially try such kings?
A judge of the United States, possessed of an embassage, or capable of receiving one, would be an English bishop holding in commendam, or expecting translation. An instance of such a bishop, uninfluenced by the government, is regarded with admiration. Sedition laws subject publick discussion to this species of holiness; are its decisions infallible, because they may be always foretold?
It is obvious that nations are the only juries qualified to try governments. Can they decide justly without discussion, and without facts, except those admitted by the culprit? Will the ambition and avarice of factions be recited in their own laws? or will these factions enact their frauds into justice, as they do idols into gods? When laws pretend to make gods or truth, we may certainly expect idols and falsehood. Factions will never make truth by law, for the sake of detecting or punishing themselves. The instant a government is guided by avarice or ambition, it degenerates into a faction, which makes laws to punish the opinions of others, and to hide its own crimes. Vice is even less likely than errour, to subject itself to punishment.
The chains which bind nations to the block of slavery, have been forged of such strength, that it is a prodigy to break them without calamities almost as terrible. Between these chains and such calamities will continue to lie the election of mankind, unless a force sufficing to break the former is discovered, capable of effect without begetting the evil of civil war. No such force has occurred to the mind of man, except the freedom of discussion. If power shall seize on the press also, what will men gain by the art of printing? This noble art itself, will rivet and not break the bonds of despotism. Under the direction of a government, it will operate upon civil liberty, as oracles did upon religious. The press will lie like the oracle, when a government directs its responses; and the success of falsehood, protected against investigation, is illustrated by the influence of oracles for centuries.
The preservation and use of language, are the benefits gained by mankind from the art of printing. Refined and fixed, religion and science need no longer be stored under locks, liable to rust, and keys perpetually changing their shape. Hieroglyphick, sanscrit and corrupted latin, the only previous depositaries of both, have been superseded by printing; and rivers of truth and reason began instantly to clear away the dust and cobwebs in which they were involved. Religion, as most important, preceded the sciences in extracting truth and reformation from the art of printing; and when we see her no longer like a blood stained fury, we almost lament that this soul and body saving discovery, had not been revealed with the gospel. Why should the science of government be retained in the bondage, which for ages could demonize religion, and obstruct knowledge? and are not the fetters of sedition laws, as strong as those of latin, sanscrit or hieroglyphick?
An argument used against free discussion by governments, was first used by the Pope of Rome. It would excite sedition and civil war. A world of experiments have ascertained, that the propensity of mankind is infinitely stronger to bear bad governments than to subvert good. This propensity for political obedience, is strengthened by free discussion, on behalf of good governments, by the influence of the merit it discloses; and weakened under bad, by disclosing their vices. On behalf of which will its suppression operate?
Suppose, both that the people are inclined to turbulence, and governments to tyranny. Yet, for one evil inflicted by turbulence upon governments, one thousand have been inflicted by tyranny upon nations. To suppress free discussion from an apprehension of an evil, rare and temporary; for the sake of fostering one, frequent and durable; would be obviously unwise. But when we find religion cured of its fury by free discussion, may we not confidently consider it as a cure also for political rage; and the true panacea both for the tyranny of governments and the turbulence of the people; and that to surrender its benefits for fear of its evils, would be like surrendering the benefits of the sun, because of its noxious exhalations?
Such a surrender would be a substitution of the correlative vice for the opposite virtue. Resistance and submission to tyranny are relatively contraries. Resistance is a generous and active principle, inspired by a love of mankind, which makes all the efforts designed to advance the publick good; it is the sole defender of human liberty, and reasoning is its best and safest weapon. Ought the patriot, resistance, to be disarmed, and metamorphosed into the slave, submission? This patriot never draws a sword, unless he is robbed by law of free discussion. Compare the erect, open and manly countenance of one principle, with the downcast, gloomy and fearful visage of the other; and use the limner, free discussion or sedition law, to paint your own face, according to your own ideas of beauty.
Free discussion will instruct the publick mind, in what is just or excellent in government, as it refines the taste and judgement of mankind in relation to other sciences. And publick officers will be compelled to conform their characters, as authors do books, to this refinement. The license of the press, like the license of the stage, will be corrected; and even the frauds and tyranny of newspapers, will at length be resisted by this correct, trusty and inexorable tribunitial power; which will learn to pronounce its veto against deviations from the principles of free government, with the same skill it discloses in detecting deviations from the principles of other sciences. Without it, the best principles may slide into the worst; the liberty of the press itself might be perverted; and printers might become tyrants under the cap of liberty. This might be effected by extracting from the liberty of the press, the right of producing condemnation, by withholding the means of defence, or of killing unheard. But this species of tyranny too enormous for governments to claim, would be soon detected by free discussion, as a fraud upon principle, to which it would at length bring back culprits, by opening to defence the channel of accusation.
God has not by sedition laws, prohibited to man the free examination of his works; but man ‘cloathed in a brief authority,’ arrogantly extorts a species of reverence, which the deity disclaims. ‘Consider my works; I have given you reason and left it free.’ Such is the law of the creator. ‘Reverence my qualities; presume not to consider my works; use your reason according to my will.’ Such is the law of a creature. It is a law which idols in every shape enact, because free inquiry would never mistake them for gods. Governments resort to sedition laws, for the same reasons which induce many dealers in newspapers to obstruct free inquiry; to hide their frauds, and make themselves idols.
When a fraud commences its operations, it is annoyed by truth and knowledge. To meet these enemies in the open field of fair discussion, would be its ruin. It therefore avoids this species of combat, by calling it sedition. This misnomer parries detection, by persuading mankind that the only mode of making it, is a greater evil than the fraud itself. And by ingeniously drawing the alternative between the fury of sedition and the good temper of knavery, the latter is placed in the most favourable light. Whereas, had fraud confessed, that knowledge could never abound without free inquiry, and that ignorance invited imposition and tyranny with inevitable success; it would have been obvious, supposing that free inquiry tended to beget both knowledge and sedition, that a good and an evil were preferable to two evils, ignorance and tyranny, the fruits of its suppression. Fraud strives to hide the long chain of moral effects attached to each of the principles; knowledge and ignorance; because it would find sedition an appendage of the latter. During above thirty years, since their independence, less mischief has been done in the United States by sedition, than frequently in Turkey, during the same period, in one day.
Free inquiry, national interest, and national power, united, can seldom produce sedition, because it can have no object. Power, united with these associates, never thinks of entrenching itself behind sedition laws, whilst united with orders or exclusive privileges, it flees to them for refuge. Therefore the policy of the United States both permits and requires free inquiry, by which knowledge is advanced, whilst the system of orders permits and requires sedition laws, by which knowledge is suppressed.
If free inquiry or discussion may be abused, so may religion and the power of speech. Ought religion and speaking to be suppressed, because an abuse of one, produces idolatry, and of the other, lying? Every good has an alloy of evil. It is the case with life itself. Shall we destroy social freedom, for the sake of destroying its alloy, calumny? We can destroy this and all other temporal evils by death; and we can increase them by an enslaved press. What is the wisdom of that policy, which brings upon men an host of foes, in order to destroy one?
The only abuse pretended to be checked by sedition laws, is the promulgation of falsehood. Their efficacy for attaining this solitary end, is questionable. An exclusive privilege of lying in a predominant party, is a premium for its encouragement; and an equality in the right between rival parties, may produce a reciprocal check.
Detraction and flattery also afford some correction to each other, and diminish the mischiefs produced by the exclusive agency of either. The zeal of governments against detraction has caused them to overlook the malignity of flattery without its check. The falsehood of one, deducts from the falsehood of the other. Leave flattery without the subtractor, detraction, and the quantity of falsehood is increased, both by the natural disposition of flattery, and also by an artificial excitement of that disposition. Thus also sedition laws create more falsehood than they destroy, and of a more pernicious nature. If they destroy the species of falsehood, which calumniates individuals, they create that called adulation to governments; and to destroy a small evil, foster a great one. The delirium provoked by the sweet poison, flattery, is often assuaged and even cured by the bitter antidote, detraction. The medicine, however acrimonious, may not be invariably useless to individuals; and it invariably, as to governments, produces the wholesome effect of causing them to turn their eyes upon themselves; a spectacle which the mirror of flattery never justly reflects.
Sedition laws are as often suggested by a love of truth, as religious laws, by a love of God. The former enlighten men politically, as the latter do religiously. Civil liberty flows from one policy, in streams as copious, as religious does from the other. A restraint of religious discussion by law, is exploded in the United States, because idolatry, fraud and oppression, are the fruits of this restraint. Will a restraint of political discussion, produce knowledge, truth and liberty? Have we torn this mantle of imposture from false gods, wherewith to enrobe false patriots?
Having submitted to the consideration of the reader a few general arguments to prove, that for the preservation of civil liberty, sound policy dictates an unlimited freedom of discussion, concerning magistrates and their measures; and that if the magistracy can restrain discussion, human reason, instead of being a check, will be made an accomplice of usurpation; it behoves us now to view the question under the particular policy of the United States.
Without stopping to explain the consequences of a common power in the general and state governments to make and modify sedition: to declare the same words to be false and penal there, and true and meritorious here; and without anticipating the mutual reprisals to be expected, from these pretended cruisers after truth, detached by aggression or defence into their respective territories; let us come at once to the fundamental principle of our policy and constitutions, and consider whether it can be sustained, under a government regulating publick opinion, by law, judges and juries.
A nation, to retain rights, or exercise self government, must be an intellectual and political being. Thinking is as necessary to a body politick, to enable it to shun evil and obtain good, as to any other reasonable being. If a monarch, an aristocracy, or a parliament, possess the sovereignty of a country, a doctrine that these sovereignties should not think, speak or discuss, except according to such rules as should be prescribed to them by the people, would be equivalent to the doctrine, that a nation possessing the sovereignty, should not think, speak or discuss, except according to such rules as should be prescribed to them by a monarch, an aristocracy or a parliament. In both cases the sovereignty would be transferred from the automatical to the prescribing power.
Suppose an aristocracy to hold the sovereignty, and the rest of a nation to assemble and prescribe to it rules for thinking, speaking or discussing, enforced by punishments to be inflicted by judges of national appointment; if such a regimen would transfer the sovereignty from an aristocracy to the people, it follows that the same, only reversing the case, will transfer it from the people to any political power, however composed, which can thus prescribe and enforce, as to them.
This demonstration is ingeniously evaded, by resorting to the representative quality of our policy, and thence inferring, that such rules or laws are to be considered as the act of the people, or of the sovereignty itself, by its representatives; or as restraints imposed by one’s own will, upon one’s self.
Under this decoy, every measure of the government, intended directly or indirectly to transfer the sovereignty from the nation to itself, might be hidden. There can hardly exist a degree of sagacity, unequal to its detection.
Election and representation may be united with a sovereignty of orders; it cannot therefore of itself constitute a sovereignty of the people. Election and orders act together under the English policy; there, election disavows the existence of a sovereignty of the people; here, to cover assaults upon this sovereignty, it is said to be constituted by election, and exercised by representation. In England, say the disciples of the same political system, representation helps to take sovereignty from the people, and bestows it upon the government; but in America, representation takes it from the government, and bestows it upon the people. In England, suffrage and sovereignty are considered as distinct, and suffrage is allowed no portion of sovereignty; here they are considered as one and the same, by those who are for giving the sovereign power to the government, merely to amuse the people with its shadow,
By allowing to the people that species of sovereignty, which can be found in suffrage and representation, and no other, it results, that the people may be deprived of free discussion without injuring their sovereignty; according to the facetious corollary: that if I choose a sovereign, I am myself a sovereign. But, rejecting this mode of reasoning, and allowing to nations a right of self government or a national sovereignty, anterior to suffrage; the primitive of suffrage itself and the antecedent of law; it realizes a national free right of discussion, as radical as the right of self government itself, because the one cannot exist without the other.
Illustrations of this reasoning may be drawn from the English parliament. Though the house of commons is the creature of suffrage, this very house denies to its elector, any portion of sovereignty, and constitutes, with the other orders, the sovereign power. In its character of sovereignty, it exercises the right of free discussion, because this right is essential to sovereignty. Deprived of it, the house of commons would constitute no portion of a sovereignty. Deprived of the same right, the people can constitute no portion of a sovereignty. The people have suffrage and representation in England, but not free discussion; and the parliament without the two first, and with the last, possesses the sovereignty. It is thence evident, that the sovereignty of the parliament arises from the right of free discussion, and the want of sovereignty in the people, from the loss of that right. Parliamentary will, opinion and sovereignty, is of course substituted for national. The parliament restrains individuals by sedition laws, upon the same principle that the people of the United States restrain governments, political departments and publick officers, by constitutions. The English nation suffer, what the American people inflict; namely, political restraints; because that nation is the subject of parliamentary sovereignty, and our government is the subject of national sovereignty. Sovereignty only is competent to inflict, and subjection to suffer, political regulations and restraints. Monarchs never think of imposing these regulations and restraints upon themselves, by constitutions or sedition laws, because sovereignty is unable to restrain sovereignty. My will to-day, cannot bind my will to-morrow. If the prior will should resolve to punish the posterior, the resolution would be abrogated by the posterior will, whenever the period of punishment should arrive. If an absolute monarch should by election constitute a power, and invest it with a right of inflicting upon his intellects, whatever political restraints and regulations this elective power pleased, the destruction of his sovereignty would follow. The fallacious idea, that election will secure sovereignty, has cheated many nations of liberty, but not a single monarch of despotism.
We must stop for a moment to explain to the reader what is meant by ‘political rules and regulations.’ If he should recollect a distinction formerly stated, between political and municipal law, he would presently discern the force of our reasoning. By one, it was said, governments are regulated; by the other, individuals. The latter species of law, comprises the whole scope of legislation, which a free nation can part with; the former, it must forever retain and pronounce, or cease to be free. The treacherous art of blending these objects is exercised by sedition laws. They profess to regulate individuals, but design to regulate the form of government. They are nominally municipal, and operatively political law. The dictator over discussion, is a dictator over decision. Volumes of cases might be cited, in which nations have gradually lost their liberty, by an insidious introduction of a political regimen, under a municipal title; and these cases forcibly recommend to the United States a wakeful memory of the solemn truth, that every government which can innovate by civil upon political law, is despotick.
The opinions under discussion, are, that the elective policy transfers sovereignty from the electors to the elected; that every act of a representative government is an act of the nation; and that the nation possesses only that imperfect and evanescent species of sovereignty, the right of suffrage.
If representation destroys that which it implies, namely, subordination, then it can annul or alter constitutions; and if the act of their representatives is the act of the people, representation constitutes a sovereignty incapable of limitation. Necessity compels us to consider our policy or constitutions upon a supposition, that these opinions are true or false. If they are true, these constitutions are subject to the sovereign representation. If they are false, then the existence of a sovereignty over representation, is demonstrated.
The imperative style of our political decalogues called constitutions, implies the existence of some superior power, whose organs they are; whilst the doctrine, that this power, by having thought and spoken once, had lost the right of thinking and speaking forever, is equivalent to an assertion, that the Deity, by prescribing the Mosaick dispensation, had forfeited the right of prescribing the Christian.
If a sovereign power, by one declaration of its will, does not lose its sovereignty, it must retain also an unlimited freedom, in whatsoever is necessary towards any future declaration of its will; otherwise its first will, must be its last will.
An intellectual political being, differs essentially from an intellectual physical being. The first can only think by speaking and writing, as it is compounded of many individuals. If it is not allowed to think freely, it can never decide or act according to its own will, since its will can only be discovered by freedom of expression. This position is demonstrated by considering the process, necessary to form the opinions of a body politick and of an individual. A comparison of idea is necessary in both cases. The body politick being composed of many distinct minds, cannot compare its ideas, except by collecting them through the external mediums of speaking and writing, or by free discussion; whereas an individual can compare his ideas, by the internal operation of thought. An individual may therefore decide, or discover his opinion, because no human law can prevent him from thinking or comparing his ideas; but a body politick may be prevented form knowing or exercising its opinions, because human laws can prevent it from thinking, by free discussion, either to fix or to discover them.
Sovereignty is an intellectual political being. In Britain, it is parliamentary; in America, national. Publick opinion, ought to rule, according to our policy; parliamentary, according to hers. Had the English king possessed a power, to regulate by penalties, the discussions in the house of commons, its freedom of opinion would have been equivalent to the freedom of national opinion here, under such a power in the government. If each individual of the parliament, was confined separately in a dungeon, and brought out once a year to give a silent vote, parliamentary opinion and sovereignty would be, what national opinion and sovereignty becomes, under an inhibition of free discussion. Conferences by stealth, would be modes for discovering publick opinion in a wide territory, even less effectual, than the echo of those groans, which would resound among the cells of these incarcerated parliamentary sovereigns.
The argument for depriving nations of the right of thinking, by speaking and writing, is, that a nation may have bad thoughts. An individual may also have bad thoughts, and the same argument would, if it could, put an end to his thinking. Members of the British sovereignty, may also have bad thoughts, but they are supposed to be overbalanced by the good. Imperfect man’s best prospects, must be confided to a preponderance of good thoughts, in respect to sovereignties, governments and individuals; and to deprive either of thinking, lest the thoughts should be bad, would cut off the prospect of deriving any good from the subject of this deprivation. It is moreover an ineffectual remedy for the evil, because no prescribing power can be found, which may not itself have bad thoughts. Governments must have infinitely more bad thoughts than nations, because they can acquire wealth and power by their bad thoughts; whereas nations, by theirs, can only gain misfortune or despotism. Nations err undesignedly. Governments are liable to the same source of errour, and it also pours in upon them through the sluices opened by ambition, avarice, and a great variety of human vices, which sleep least under the strongest incitements to awake. To cure the propensity of human nature for vicious projects, by constituting a dictatorial power over the right of thinking and discussing, in which the same propensity exists, in its most aggravated state, is plunging into the ocean, for fear of being drowned in a bucket of water.
We have been endeavouring to illustrate the defect of Mr. Adams’s system, and of all others constituted of orders, by shewing the inefficacy and ambiguity of the sense annexed by them, to the expressions, ‘national rights and national opinion;’ rights, supposed to be secured by an incapacity of acting from intellectual conviction; and opinion to be formed without thinking by a free comparison of ideas.
National rights and opinions, held or moulded at the pleasure of governments, are the creatures of a species of political transubstantiation, which declares it to be heresy, not to believe, that the opinion and will of a government, is the opinion and will of a nation. That bread and wine, are indeed flesh and blood.
National rights and national opinion, cannot really exist, without powers for defending the one, and organs for expressing the other. The system of orders must shew these or confess that they have provided for neither, and that it uses the terms as decoy phantoms to delude nations within its grasp. The policy of the United States, exhibits its militia, its right of bearing arms, its rights retained, its right of instruction, and its inclusive right of abolishing the entire government.
Our policy, considering a nation as possessing rights it cannot alienate, secures its will and ability to protect them, by moral and physical means. It provides election, attempered by free discussion, as a moral mode of subjecting governments to the sovereignty of the nation, and not to subject the nation to a sovereignty of the government. And it provides a militia, as the physical mode for securing obedience to the moral means by which the will of the nation is disclosed. Like twins growing to each other, either of these guardians of national sovereignty perishes, if the other ceases to exist. Sedition laws destroy one, and standing armies the other. Either, therefore, terminate in despotism; a militia deprived of its intellectual associate, presently becomes a maniack, who must be disarmed and guarded by a mercenary army, which confines him to a bed of straw, and feeds him upon bread and water. And intellectual freedom, severed from its physical friend, is John the Baptist preaching to a wilderness. United, they are the body and soul of popular government, just as free will and a standing army, are the body and soul of monarchy. Destroy the body or soul of either, and the whole being dies.
If these reasonings are correct, the inconsistency between a sovereignty of the people, and a power in government to regulate the thoughts or discussions of this sovereignty, is such, as to render it impossible that both qualities can subsist in one government.
One of them must be unequivocally surrendered by a candid politician, unless he can devise a species of dual sovereignty, upon the principle of the Athanasian creed. Even then his political creed would fall short of the perspicuity of its model, if he allowed the sovereignty of government, to regulate by sedition laws the sovereignty of the people. He would have to prove that a political almighty, could beget a more potent almighty.
The existence of national sovereignty is asserted every where by the policy of the United States, and under its auspice the general constitution sought for a sanction by the terms, ‘We the people.’ Rob it of this sanction, and what is its obligation? Or suppose the people had as unequivocally relinquished, as they have exercised their sovereignty by that instrument, still the question would have turned upon the power of one generation, to surrender a natural right of another.
Admitting this power to exist, and admitting also that the establishment of a government is a virtual surrender on the part of the people of their sovereignty, according to the ideas of Mr. Adams, and of all those who assert, that on this event, sovereignty deserts its old habitation, and transfuses itself into a new one; just as some conjurers can shoot their souls out of one body into another. Allowing these concessions to be true, a new dilemma arises from an idea heretofore suggested. The people had established governments previously to the erection of the general government; and if this act causes a transmigration of the soul of sovereignty from a nation, the people had no remaining sovereignty to transfuse into the general government. This doctrine would make the state governments sovereigns, over which the people could not more rightfully place a sovereign, than they now can over the general government. Thus the only sanction of the federal government, consists in the doctrine of popular sovereignty; or that governments are agents and not masters. Deprive it of this, and it becomes a rebel against the sovereignty of state governments. Mr. Adams both laboured to plant state policy in British principles, which deny any species of sovereignty to the people; and testified in favour of the sovereignty of the people, by allowing the federal to be a legitimate government.
As the federal government cannot legitimately exist, except by admitting that the people are the sovereigns of governments; so the system of orders, or checks and balances, cannot exist, except by admitting it to be the sovereign of the people. National sovereignty would throw into confusion all the weights, and unhinge the whole architecture of the checks and balances. Accordingly, no instance has occurred of orders, admitting themselves to be bound by popular conventions, as did the state governments in the case of the federal constitution. Thus we discern, that sedition laws are consistent with the system of orders, for the same reason which makes them inconsistent with the policy of the United States. The sovereignty of orders being maintainable, only by reserving to itself free discussion, and imposing restraints upon the people, it follows, that national sovereignty is only maintainable, by reserving free discussion to the people, and imposing restraints upon the government. The rapture with which we contemplate the exclusive ability of our policy to subject government to limitations, would excite ridicule, united with the doctrine, ‘that the power upon which the enforcement of these limitations depended, could be bound in legal chains, by the power upon which they were to operate.’ These beacons, erected in our political territory, to warn us of an enemy’s approach would be dead lights, if law should prohibit the only mode by which they can be kindled.
If our constitutions admit the sovereignty of the people; if the federal government is erected on that foundation; and if no species of sovereignty can exist without freedom of will and of discussion; it follows, that laws for restraining or regulating discussion, are axes which cut up our policy at its root.
Had national sovereignty been a splendid phantasm, as its enemies contend, it could neither have been seen, assailed or defended. Without adverting to its works in the United States, it is sufficient to inquire, why its grave and learned enemies, have engaged so earnestly in a warfare with an unsubstantial spectre. The renowned knight of La Mancha himself, was unable to make giants out of nothing. A dream of infatuation, does not possess the power of creation, nor can a shadow overturn a tree.
Many political writers, including Mr. Adams, assail the principle of national sovereignty, by paying it obeisance, not for the purpose of yielding to that, but to induce that to yield to their systems. As a phantasm, a dream or a shadow, they do it homage; they only object to it, as a being of substance, efficacy and activity. It is said, that publick opinion will have its weight even in despotick governments, merely to prevail on it to submit to them.
The slow and whispered admonitions of publick opinion, to tyranny, are struggles of nature for her rights, excited by acquisitions of knowledge; like the efforts and uneasiness of a strong man, long confined in darkness, excited by a ray of light. Upon every appearance of these struggles, orders and exclusive privileges cry out, that kings, aristocrats, priests and privileges ought to unite, and confine her in stronger bonds. What is thus feared, flattered and fettered, cannot be a shadow. Had it been a shadow, it would not have been regarded and treated like a strong man in pursuit of his rights, by those who withhold them.
If national sovereignty may be assailed, it may be defended. Said an American general to his men, ‘you see those fellows yonder, if you don’t kill them, they will kill you.’ By the same terms, the attention of national sovereignty or publick opinion, would be correctly and emphatically directed to orders and exclusive privileges. This would be incorrect, says Mr. Adams’s system; orders and exclusive privileges do not kill publick opinion, they only gag her with law, and point at her breast the bayonets of a standing army, lest she should use force to free her intellects. Still this system asserts, that publick opinion will have an influence over despotism itself. Stephano gags Trinculo, lest he should speak; cuts off his fingers, lest he should write; and imprisons him for groaning; yet Trinculo retains an influence over Stephano, arising from an apprehension of his escape. But an image, sometimes worshipped and sometimes whipt, by its savage subjects, is a less miserable sovereign than Trinculo.
The effects of a sovereignty of law over discussion and opinion are multifarious; all of them are sappers of the principle of national self government. A few more will be adduced.
It begins, by making it criminal to calumniate a form of government; it proceeds, to make it criminal to calumniate those individuals invested with most power, and most subject to the crime of usurpation; and it ends by making every species of writing and speaking criminal, tending to obstruct the avarice or ambition of the power which legislates, or which can influence legislation. Thus governments make of calumny a sponge, to expunge their own crimes. They affect to take the side of truth to hide falsehood, as they do the side of religion, to hide the frauds of hierarchy. An attempt to aid by penalties the cause of religion and truth, is a proclamation of imposture. These champions have ever found them their enemies. The penalties which extorted Galileo’s renunciation of his discoveries, attempted to fix and flatten this earth for truth’s sake. Laws for regulating truth and religion, like Samson’s hair, strengthen as they grow; and governments not being blind, are at length enabled by them to pull down the fabricks, election and militia; and instead of being buried in their ruins, to convert them into castles for oppression.
Suppose such laws should make it criminal to calumniate some officers and not others; will not those unprotected by the law, be more responsible to publick opinion, than those it covers? Will not election operate more forcibly as to those whose qualities it can sift by free discussion, than as to those whose qualities cannot be canvassed with equal safety? It might be made as dangerous to speak irreverently of a president’s posteriors, as it was of old to look upon the Ægis of Minerva.∗ Every one can correctly estimate the value of a right of discussion, free in relation to a constable, but restricted in relation to a president.
The pleasure of the government may leave those officers exposed to free discussion, or amenable to the sovereignty of the people, who can do no mischief; and cover those against it, who can overturn our policy. This pleasure may allow this sovereignty, more freedom of discussion as to the same officers in one year than in another, in imitation of the suspensions of the habeas corpus act in England. In short, this pleasure may diminish or increase the information and power of this sovereignty, according to its own views; and if there should be factions, it may easily allow more freedom to one faction or portion of this sovereignty, than to another.
Such a subject sovereignty or counterfeit republicanism, is precisely that held by the people of England, France and Turkey; and that conceded to all nations by the theory of orders. Wherever such a theory becomes a government, the sovereignty of the people becomes a theory. Whether national sovereignty or self government is converted into theory by parliaments, judges, juries, prisons and Botany bay; or by national assemblies, soldiers and Cayenne; or by the koran and the sabre; all are equally the instruments of usurpation and tyranny used to repel the lashes of publick opinion in proportion as they are merited. The English government can inflict perpetual imprisonment, in defiance of their boasted habeas corpus, without trial, upon any member of Mr. Adams’s theoretical national sovereignty it pleases, should he endeavour to exercise his sovereign function, by proving, that the government was oppressive and ought to be changed; whilst his species of the sovereignty of the people, and their species of habeas corpus provision, would lie in his book, and among their statutes, as pictures of lifeless and forgotten rights.
Usurpation, perpetrated or designed, invariably resorts to sedition laws, because by suppressing discussion, it defends itself against suppression. What! Are these laws also defenders of national sovereignty or self government? Will they, like Swiss soldiers, fight equally well for spurious or for legitimate sovereignty? Will a suppression of discussion, be equally serviceable to a sovereignty which lives upon free discussion, and to one which cannot live, until free discussion is dead? Can an usurper and a nation secure sovereignty by the same code?
The friends of sedition laws will not be able to answer these questions, without first proving that freedom of writing and speaking is unfriendly to every species of sovereignty, whether of the people or of orders, whether spurious or legitimate; and its suppression co-extensively favourable to all, however dissimilar in principle. It will be impossible to do this, so long as the relation between cause and effect shall subsist in the moral world.
Sedition laws have been used in all ages to defend governments, because the idea of the sovereignty of the people, or of national self government, was never well understood, unequivocally asserted, or successfully practised, except in the United States of America. This old way of maintaining forms of government, would be more likely to renovate them, than to invigorate our new policy. By transfusing it into their body politick, the United States will practise the Medean method of changing their age, ingeniously reversed; they may suddenly transform their political youth, health and vigour, into the old age, infirmity and decrepitude of some ancient policy.
The idea of a sovereign subject to law; the idea of a responsibility, which can impose penalties on an investigation of its acts; and the idea of a publick opinion, whilst every member of the publick is liable to be committed to prison for expressing an opinion; a publick opinion buried in the grave of silence; these ideas must be found in our constitutions, to empower our governments to govern the right of free discussion, by armies or laws; by generals or judges. That the people never entertained them, is demonstrated by dissolving and creating constitutions, with a deliberation enlightened by discussion, for the purpose of discovering publick opinion.
These conspicuous proofs of national capacity to express an opinion, and the supreme authority of that opinion, undeniably demonstrate that our policy is founded in the idea, that national sovereignty is either a natural or social principle, and our constitutions unequivocally assert allegiance to be due to it, both from their creatures, governments; and even from themselves, the creators of governments. It follows, that the amendment to the general constitution, respecting the freedom of religion, speaking and writing, or any other part of it, cannot be so construed, as to bestow upon government a power inconsistent with its elementary principle. Such a mode of reasoning, would only be a repetition of the idea of cutting off a king’s head, by virtue of his authority; and if a stagnation of free discussion will as effectually kill the moral being, national sovereignty, as a stagnation of blood would the physical being called a king, then sedition laws are as favourable to national sovereignty, as the decapitation of kings to monarchy. The circulation of rational ideas by free discussion, is as much a vital principle of the one, as the circulation of the blood of kings is of the other.
There is a strong resemblance in some measures taken against each other, by contrary political principles. The head of Charles was assailed by the axe, under his authority, under protestations of loyalty to monarchy, and under the pretext of reforming abuses. National sovereignty, the head of our policy, has also been assailed even by opposite parties, acting under its authority, under protestations of loyalty to this sovereignty, and under the pretext of preventing sedition. It is wiser to strike at the head than at an inferior member, when a revolution is contemplated. A proposition to put out one of Charles’s eyes, or to change the ratio of representation here, would probably have excited greater opposition than more deadly measures. By striking at a vital part, success ends the war. As republicanism aimed at the vital part of monarchy when she struck Charles’s head, monarchy aims at the vital part of republicanism, by striking at free discussion. Deadly enemies strike at moral parts.
If the third amendment to the federal constitution, was not intended to destroy the elementary principle of our policy, an effort to place that policy beyond the reach of the imperfection of language, and the sophisms of construction, is the only remaining intention, which can with any colour be ascribed to it. Religion, speaking and writing, were placed beyond the power of law, because the first appertained to the sovereignty of the deity, and the two last to the sovereignty of the people. Why does not the constitution reserve a right to think? Because that faculty could not be taken away, and it was reserving a national and political faculty, which could be taken away; being that, by which alone nations can supervise governments, retain sovereignty, or perform political functions.
A political national mind, required a protection against the usurpation of governments. The mind of an individual was beyond its reach; but a congeries of expressions constituting national mind, was within it. If the latter species of mind does not exist, how inconsistent are those, who talk of national opinion. Where does it reside? It is not the opinion of an individual. It is not the opinions of any number of separate and solitary individuals. If it can exist without discussion, it cannot without disclosure; and the freedom of speech and of the press, is as necessary for the latter purpose, as for the former.
An objection is urged against the idea of national sovereignty, with a degree of plausibility, unable to avoid the detection of a degree of consideration. Are not the people, it is said, subject to law; and is not their sovereignty inconsistent with this subjection?
The repetition necessary to answer this objection, is not painful, because it will impress a principle of the last importance to the policy of the United States.
The people, by our policy, are considered as possessing two capacities, political and civil. Under one, they are susceptible of the rights which nations can exercise; such as those of forming, reforming and supervising governments. Under the other, they are susceptible, individually, of such rights and duties, as an individual may hold or owe. As an individual cannot hold or exercise the first class of rights, a nation must be considered in the light of an associated, political and moral being, or these rights can neither exist, be held, or exercised.
The first species of capacity we assign to the people, operates between them and governments; the second, between governments and individuals, and between citizens. It is our policy to subject the whole field of this second capacity to legislation, and to exclude it from the whole field of the first. Law is allowed to regulate right and wrong in the latter cases, but not between the nation and its government. It cannot form a new government. The right to do this being held by nations, and not by governments or individuals, is evidence that nations hold rights in a moral and social capacity, not subject to law. A form of government being anterior to law, cannot be created by it; and the social rights of nations, cannot be destroyed by political laws, concealed under municipal titles, if law cannot create a form of government.
An unsubjected sovereignty, composed of subjected individuals, is the supposed inconsistency upon which the objection rests.
And yet the same inconsistency, if it be one, exists in the system of government, chiefly admired by the objectors themselves. The British sovereignty is unsubjected, and is composed of subjected individuals. Every member of the parliament of which this sovereignty is composed, including the king himself, is subject to municipal law. Where then is the absurdity, inconsistency or impolicy, of composing a sovereignty of subjects? It is, in fact, the common and plain case, of an individual, holding corporate rights, and owing corporate duties; or of a corporation, which governs its members, and yet is governed by them.
The idea, that a nation must necessarily be divided between sovereignty and subjection, to form a government, allotting one or a few to the first principle, and the mass of the people to the second, is precisely the barbarous opinion, which has always made tyrants and slaves. The whole merit of the British system, consists in a partial refutation of this opinion. That this refutation did not go as far, whilst it acknowledged the principle of ours, arose merely from the orders and separate interests in which the nation was split, some of whom used it to gain the substance of liberty for themselves, and to amuse the people with its shadow.
The English system captivated the nation, is disclosing the borders of republican principles, by lodging sovereignty in orders; ours has only passed these borders, and gotten into the country itself, by lodging it in the nation, instead of orders. Both orders and nations are composed of subjects.
The repetition with which we threatened the reader, consists of the illustration furnished by this reasoning, to the distinction formerly taken between political and municipal law. The power possessed by its members over a corporation, represents one; that possessed by a corporation over its members, the other. If a minority of this corporation, invested with limited powers to transact certain special affairs for the whole, should restrict or destroy the right of the majority to discuss and censure their conduct, it would be exactly a sedition law under our policy, and from that moment the nature of the corporation would be changed.
The chief beauty of the English system, is said to consist in the restraints of orders upon each other, by mutual jealousy; but the animosity inspired by it, has disfigured the national good by many a scar. The chief beauty of our policy, consists of a mutual power in the people and government, to restrain each other, by political law on one hand, and municipal on the other; these powers do not clash; the first is influenced by national good, and the second by private justice; and neither by the ambition, jealousy or hatred of orders. These two systems are clear mirrors reflecting their effects; it is only necessary to look into them, to decide the preference.
The affinity between the freedom of religion and of discussion, or between the right of an individual, to provide for his eternal, and of a nation, to provide for its temporal welfare, has coupled them in one sentence, and confided both to one security; so that the government possesses an equal right to regulate religious and political discussion, by fine and imprisonment. Glance your eye, reader, at courts and juries, composed of opinion, religious or political, to try opinion. Do you not see hierarchy or faction, ambition or avarice, superstition or tyranny, invariably pronouncing sentence? A trial of opinion can never be fair or just. Whoever is of my opinion, acquits, of an adverse, condemns me. Where nature disables us from judging impartially, it forbids us to judge at all. The right of A to condemn B, is no better than the right of B to condemn A; and a clashing right cannot be a right in either. Monarchy, aristocracy, democracy, and sects, religious and political, judge of each other’s opinions, as the Pope judged Calvin; Calvin, Servetus; the independents, Charles; and Cromwell, the independents; the precise species of judging at which the sacred prohibition discloses itself to be levelled, by its reference to the probability of retaliation—’Judge not, lest ye be judged.’
Whether any consanguinity originally exists or not, between the freedom of religion and of discussion, the similarity between the moral effects of such freedom in relation to both, is evident.
Wherever churches regulate religious opinion, and governments, political, persecution rages, pecuniary burdens multiply, blood flows and wretches burn. An abandonment of the regulation of religious opinion, discloses the effects of a similar policy with regard to political. Both species of regulation are exterminated by our policy, and we happily know only from books, that both prefer flattery to truth, persecution to liberty, and the money of the people to their happiness.
In the execution of religious sedition laws, each sect, when in power, appeals to its own party to determine, whether the complaints of their opponents are not excessively unreasonable. ‘They are allowed,’ says the law-maker, ‘to preach freely, provided they will preach truth, and they ought not to preach falsehood.’ ‘Nothing can be more reasonable,’ is the response of the law-maker’s party to the law-maker’s appeal.
If the abolition of religious sedition laws has abolished religious wars, why may not the abolition of civil sedition laws, abolish civil wars? Admitting a similarity in their nature and consequences, a discovery by which the tongue and the pen are made to fight all the battles of religion, will probably be able to confine political combatants to the same weapons.
The experience of the United States furnishes a multitude of precedents in favour of this opinion. Constitutions and governments have been frequently made and destroyed, without war, commotion or inconvenience. But it was done in the absence of sedition laws, standing armies and rich monopolies.
These moral beings are generally contemporaries; either is soon followed by the others. The climax of their appearance in the United States has preserved its uniformity. A funding system, a sedition law, an army. So unfounded is the idea, that authors of sedition laws design them to preserve publck tranquillity, that they never fail to provide armies to quell the commotions, which they foresee that these laws will excite.
If it is true, as we have hitherto contended, that free discussion is the creator, the preceptor and the organ of publick opinion; the guardian of national sovereignty and of religious freedom; the seedsman of political knowledge, and the guarantee of moderate government; this precious jewel in our policy is rendered inestimable, as another link in our chain of national rights, necessary to bestow efficacy upon election. Our policy and experience, must either overturn Mr. Adams’s system, or be overturned by it. To his system, armies, patronage, paper and sedition laws are congenial, because sovereignty is lodged in orders. These, consisting of a minority, and possessing only a factitious and fraudulent sovereignty, need such auxiliaries. They must of necessity resort to armies, patronage, privileges, corruption and sedition laws, or surrender the sovereignty. These are suitable to a sovereignty of orders, because they impair or destroy the sovereignty of the people. But our system renders armies, patronage, privileges, corruption and sedition laws unnecessary, by placing sovereignty in a majority, which needs no auxiliary, can find none, is able to defend itself, and attracts no enmity from a better title. A transition from the sovereignty of the people to the sovereignty of a government, is a revolution only to be effected by artificial accumulations of power or wealth, by armies, patronage, privileges, paper or sedition laws; of course these instruments are mortal enemies to our policy.
We will take leave of this subject with the following observation. The design of substituting political for religious heresy, is visible in the visage of sedition laws. A civil priesthood or government, hunting after political heresy, is an humble imitator of the inquisition, which fines, imprisons, tortures and murders, sometimes mind, at others, body. It affects the same piety, feigned by priestcraft at the burning of an heretick; and its party supplies such exultations, as those exhibited at an auto da fe, by a populace; and the same passions and interest which furnish cruelty to fraud and superstition, banish commiseration from avarice and ambition, towards those guilty of the unpardonable heresy of opposing their designs.
It is remarkable that the individual, so instrumental in disclosing the wickedness and folly of the notion, that the reputation of the deity needed the protection of heretical laws, became also an example to prove, that the reputation of governments and publick officers, did not need the protection of sedition laws. Whilst we see the shafts of calumny falling harmless around human integrity, we conclude, both that they can never reach celestial perfection, and also, that human virtue ought to recoil from an ally, whose resemblance to the ugliest foe of religion and piety, is so exact.
We now proceed to the consideration of two features of the federal constitution, which have been claimed by the theory of orders, and even renounced by that of self government. If either of these opinions are correct, then this essay incorrectly maintains, that the will of a majority is our elementary principle. It is said, that the form of the senate, and the rule, that three-fourths of the states should concur in amending the constitution, are violations of that principle; and that aristocracy is interwoven with our policy, in the power of a minority through the states or the senate, to arrest amendments and to pass laws. Had this assertion been true, our system of reasoning would have required the arrangement of these features among the defects of the general constitution; on the contrary, we shall arrange them among its beauties, and endeavour to prove their strict conformity with the policy of the United States.
Let us first consider, whether the senate is in fact deformed, as some think, or embellished, according to others, with aristocratical qualities.
The federal government is the creature of two kinds of beings, which I will call physical and moral. Meaning by physical beings, the individuals of the United States; and by moral, the state governments. Our elementary principle in forming a government compounded of both, was equivalently used as the best resource for preserving the rights of both. Accordingly, both popular majority and state majority are resorted to by the constitution of the United States, upon similar principles and for similar ends.
The principle of equality was applied to strong and weak states, as it was to strong and weak men, because each was free; and that freedom brought all to a level in treating or confederating, just as freedom levels individuals of unequal size, in associating. But its beneficial effects outstrip those produced by its application to individuals, because of the wider range of social happiness arising from a society of nations, than from a society of individuals. And this principle has effected the supposed project of a French king to unite or associate Europe, as to more nations, and over a wider space, without war, expense or force; although a love of the union and a hatred of political equality often meet in the same breast, because it is not perceived that the object of our affection was begotten and subsists by the object of our abhorrence.
Without a federal will, to be ascertained by a majority, peace could not be preserved among the confederates, no separate existence of states could have been retained, and our new and efficacious division of power, between the general and state governments, must have been abandoned. And without a popular will, to be ascertained in the same mode, the natural right of self government would have been lost.
The senate being formed for the first end, its democratick complexion is equivalent to that of the house of representatives, constituted for the second. Both the wills provided by the constitution to operate upon the general government, are intended to produce the government of a majority, to be determined by the principle of equality; and the state governments being of unequal strength, democratical and popular, it could not have been intended, because it was not possible, that they should infuse aristocratical opinions into the senate. Just as an assent of the people to constitutions by conventions, cannot be considered as flowing from an aristocratical source, although given by a few persons. A nation has been considered as a moral or political being, capable of opinion, will and sovereignty. States, are nations. When several of these are associated for some ends, and unassociated for others, distinct orders of political beings exist, created by distinct associations. Our policy provides organs to bestow efficacy on the opinions of both, because their existence itself can only be known or preserved by their opinions; and the senate was made the organ of those moral beings called states, to prevent the separate social existence of each, from being swallowed up by a society of all. The people have constituted themselves into two associations; of states and of their union. As these moral or political beings, infuse into our government its spirit, one for some purposes, the rest for others; and as all of them are composed of the same intellectual beings; a construction which supposes, that our policy expected both democratical and aristocratical influence to proceed from the same intellectual source, is as unphilosophical, as to expect hot and cold breath at the same time, from the same nostril. Separate interests only, and not national opinion, can furnish a government with opposite and contending impulses. If the states are not aristocratical beings, how can they produce an aristocratical being?
It is as foreign to the intention of our policy, to create a monarch as an aristocracy. The president is the compound creature of the equality of states and the equality of man, both of which are infused into the mode of his election, for the purpose of preserving both; and in his legislative capacity, he is equally exposed to the control of the popular and state representatives. Thus doubly subjected to the principle of equality, by which both these bodies are constituted, it would be doubly inconsistent with our policy, should he imagine himself to be a king.
This idea is in some degree violated, by the practices of district or legislative electors; the latter of which makes state will, and the former, general will, the electors of a president; and it is observed with great accuracy, by that of choosing electors by the people of a state, in the mode of a general ticket. This mode compounds and blends both the will of the people and the will of the states, and confers an influence in the election of an officer, who has most power to assail or defend both, upon the principle of equality as applying both to the states and to the people. Whereas this union of influence between state equality and human equality is defeated, by state electors which exclude the one, and by district electors which exclude the other, from a share in the election of the president; and the exclusion of either from an influence over the officer, by whom it is most endangered, will weaken its means for self preservation, and create means for severing the union between friends, neither of whom can probably exist without the other.
But the district mode of election, is far more inconsistent with the principles of our Union, than that by state legislatures; because, in that mode, state will, though one of the parties to the union, loses its whole influence; whereas, in an election by state legislatures, popular will retains an influence upon the election of a president, equivalent to its influence over these legislatures. And as a state influence in this election, is a great security to the division of power between the states and the general government, the loss of it would endanger all the securities for a free government, arising from that division.
The importance of this subject will justify an effort to explain our meaning by different language. It has been invariably contended, that the people are the source of all the sections of our government. They have formed themselves into two societies, state and general. In establishing a general government, they have defended both these associations of their own, by constituting that government of three organs; one appointed by themselves in their popular capacity; another appointed by themselves, by representation, in their state capacity; and the third, appointed by themselves, partly in their popular and partly in their state capacity. If the responsibility of the third organ to the nation, in each of its social characters, is equal, the end of our policy is perfectly attained; if unequal, it is in a degree defeated. By legislative elections of electors, the state association, by district, the general popular association, acquires an unequal share of influence over a president. Either is a tendency adverse to our policy; the first, towards disunion, the second, towards consolidation. An election by a general ticket, blends, unites and reconciles these two capacities or associations, more completely than either of the other modes.
If it is proved, by the division of the legislature between general and state will, and by imparting to each species of will an influence over executive power, that the intention of our policy was to preserve and defend both the state and general associations; how can the opinion, that the senate was modelled upon aristocratical principles, be maintained, except by shewing, that an aristocracy is calculated to preserve the democratical state associations?
The ingenuity with which state and general will is blended in the construction of the general government, displays an intention of preventing the evil of a rivalry between the two orders of governments; would the introduction of an aristocratical order into one, have been consistent with that object?
A short comparison between the aristocracies of the first, the second and the third ages, and the senate of the United States, will convince us, that as the senate possesses no quality common to these aristocracies, so a common epithet cannot be applied to both. Superstition, title and paper; consecration, inheritance and fraud; sacrilege, irresponsibility and stockjobbing; and a corporate or party interest feeding upon the people; constitute the characters of these successive aristocracies. It cannot be imagined that the constitution discloses an intention of copying some one of those originals by neglecting to preserve a single feature of either in the formation of the senate. With less foundation still, has Mr. Adams maintained the existence of the aristocratical principle, in state senators.
If it is proved that the senate of the United States, neither is nor was intended to be, an aristocratical body, but the representative of the political beings called states, as parties to the general government, upon democratical, equal or self governing principles; it follows, that it is organized upon the selfsame principles of equality, democracy, representation or self government, which pervade our whole policy. It is the representative of the moral or political beings called stated, as the other branch of the legislature is, of the people; and it votes by the rule of majority. It is the band of the union by preserving equal rights to great and small states, as a fair government does to rich and poor men; and it so far receives our eulogy.
But so far from intending to weaken the objection against the long period for which its members are chosen, the considerations which entitle the senate to our approbation, shed new force upon it.
If the senate is the representative of the beings called states, why should it not be at least as amenable to the will of its constituents, as the representatives of the people? The publick good is as deeply involved in the rights of states, as in the rights of individuals. The states have been made parties to the Union by the people; and power necessary to preserve the rights with which they are intrusted for the publick good, could not have been designedly withheld.
Those most strenuous for the aristocratical complexion of the senate, are most deeply impressed with the fear of frequent elections; and yet they are willing to allow to the people a frequency of election, which they deny to the state governments. What! do they confess that governments are worse electors than the people? Or if they deduce the supposed aristocratical spirit of the senate, from a supposed aristocratical spirit in its electors, is the danger three times greater from aristocratical, than from popular electors? If to the simple computation of time, we add the difference of responsibility, between a gradual and an entire change of a representative body, the rates of confidence in the people, and diffidence in the state governments, as electors, are still farther increased. It will be also seen from such a computation, that it is infinitely easier for the representatives of the states, than for those of the people, to betray their constituents to a consolidating principle; and that the responsibility of the senate to the states, though the chord by which the union itself is intended to be secured, is too feeble to inflict any considerable degree of stricture upon human conduct.
A still stronger view of this subject exists. The popular and the federal, are the principles of the general government. The federal principle is not allowed the intellectual or moral means for self preservation, of frequent election, or of recalling its deputies, or of an entire change of them at one period. By weakening the means of confederation to defend itself, this chief principle in the structure of the general government, is particularly exposed to the frauds of its natural enemy, consolidation; because its means of defence are merely moral, and ought of course to have been at least equal to the moral means of its co-principle, supported by the physical force of the people.
As the responsibility of their agents, is the only means whereby the federal parties to the government can enforce their will, or defend their rights, there is no danger in making it effectual. An intellectual control over federal deputies, may be safely entrusted to state governments, unarmed and influenced by the people, as the best mode of counteracting designs to destroy the union; designs, which these governments will most effectually detect and defeat.
We may take stronger ground yet. Hitherto we have chiefly exhibited the states and the people in a kind of contrast, in order to make our reasoning understood; but by forbearing the distinction, the argument becomes more forcible. The general government is the creature of the people only, established to preserve their rights in their double capacity, as the state and federal sovereign. Responsibility is therefore equally due to them in both these capacities. If it is less in one case than the other, one class of rights are safer than the other. And if one is left to depend on the qualities of individuals, whilst the other is secured by placing these qualities under the discipline of the sovereign power, then one is hazarded upon the old principles of government, and the other secured by the new. Is it the interest of the people to lose either the state or the general government; or do opposite principles produce an equal degree of security?
The more a nation depends for its liberty on the qualities of individuals, the less likely it is to retain it. By expecting publick good from private virtue, we expose ourselves to publick evil from private vices. This miserable tenure which has scourged the world, has been exchanged by the United States for the restraints of political law, among which an effectual responsibility is the strongest. Is not this as necessary for men in power, called senators, as for men called representatives? The world has been enslaved by depending for liberty on the uncontrolled passions of individuals; we have enjoyed freedom, by controlling these passions. Every body makes good state governours where executive power is most restricted. Will the state rights of the people be best secured, by committing them to the custody of the passions of such individuals, as may form the senate, or to an effectual responsibility to the guardians of the rights themselves? To the ancient system of confiding in human vices, or to the modern, of confiding in strong political law to control these vices?
If the moral principle of equality, was intended to exist among the states, an effectual mode of securing it, accords with this intention. Whether a seven years’ independency of electors, secures the faithfulness of representatives to good, or exposes them to evil moral principles, is demonstrated in a branch of the British government. Are the people of that country made free and happy by representatives, as responsible as those the states elect here? The effects to be engendered here by a moral cause, such as exists there are there demonstrated. If the degrees of responsibility are the same, the effects must also be the same; and supposing a septennial power to change an entire chamber of representatives at one period, to be one year more valuable in point of responsibleness, than a sexennial power of changing it at three equidistant periods, these degrees are the same.
The opinion, ‘that the mode prescribed for amending the constitution of the United States, does not pursue the principles of democracy, self government or majority,’ is met and contested by the arguments used to explode a similar objection to the structure of the senate. States being considered as entitled to equal rights, and the people of the United States having rights also independent of state governments, it was necessary to obtain the consent of all these rights to amendments; in pursuance of the principles said to be violated by the mode adopted. Amendments, inflicted by a majority of the people and a minority of states, or by a majority of states and a minority of people, would have violated the natural or political equality, either of individuals as members of the general national society, or of the same individuals, as members of the state national societies. To violate neither was the object of the constitution, and therefore a mode of amendment, sanctified by the consent of a majority of both of these free, equal and independent parties to the union, was adopted.
The people of the states, treated and united as independent of each other, surrendered a portion of their independent rights, into a common treasury, and retained another portion. The contract derives its force, not from the consent of a majority of states, but from the separate consent of each. If the moment the contract was signed by these independent parties, it had been subject to modification by a majority of states, the common treasury of rights, might have been plundered; if by a majority of people, the state rights retained, might have been invaded. The first would have erected an aristocracy, by making a majority of states and a minority of people, masters of the majority of the people of the United States. The second would be the case of a minority of the strongest men joining together after forming a society, to compel a majority of weaker men, to submit to such alterations as they chose to make. The destruction of popular government, was not the motive for the confederation. The federal and popular expressions abounding in the constitution, prove it to be a compact, both federal and popular, requiring the happy expedient of securing a concurrence both of the federal and popular will, to amendments for self preservation; had popular will dictated these amendments, state self government, the federal ingredient of the constitution, would have been destroyed; and had federal will dictated them, national self government, the popular ingredient of the constitution, would have been also destroyed.
But if the senate are not responsible to the publick will through the medium of the states, they may defeat by less than a majority, the united will of three-fourths of the states, and a majority of the people, to amend the constitution; and drive them to the resource of calling a convention; the result of which any one state may refuse to concur in, because then each state will resume its original right to refuse or consent, as being independent of each other in negociating the terms of a new union. The concession by each state of this independency to three-fourths, suffices to shew, that a majority of states had no claim over the rights of each state, except from concession; and that each state might annex such terms to its concession, as it pleased. A power over the independence of each, is by each conceded to three-fourths. A quadruple alliance might, upon the same principles, be made amendable by three of the parties.
To the exclusive power of the senate over the president, to its being a sublimated medium of popular will, and to its being the guarantee of state rights, is to be added its power over the concession of each state’s independency to three-fourths of the states, as a new and weighty reason for its being more responsible than a British house of commons. If an abbreviation of representative tenure, would be a wholesome emendation under a monarchical policy, a republican policy, seconded by considerations arising from the peculiar structure and powers of our senate, must loudly demand it. By frequent election or a power of recal, publick opinion will be breathed into the senate, through the lungs of state societies; and then publick opinion, and not the private opinion of thirty or forty individuals, will constitute as it ought and alone can, the restraint of executive power, the protector of state rights, and the judge of amendments to the constitution. These are functions belonging to nations, and to the discharge of which, individuals are incompetent, having a capacity only to covey the publick opinion, which is itself the real power. A body of men, upon which publick opinion cannot effectually stamp its impress, never fail to pass off the false political coin of private opinion, under the forged name of publick. The forgery is discovered, and the counterfeiters are compelled to use armies, superstition, penal laws, and paper corruption, to make the base coin pass. The publick can only become the tutelary guardian of the senate, and the senate the genuine organ of the publick, by means of the power and confidence which an effectual responsibility to the nation, through its state sections, will create.
[∗]Modern Europe, v. 2, 410.
[∗]Adams’s Defence, v. 3, 293.
[†]Ibid., v. 3, 367.
[∗]Patriot King, p. 88.
[†]Ibid., p. 117.
[∗]The case of Baldwin in New Jersey, here alluded to, ought to be preserved as a monument, to remind the United States, of the short work of sedition laws, in destroying the freedom of speech.