Front Page Titles (by Subject) Section the Seventh: AUTHORITY - An Inquiry into the Principles and Policy of the Government of the United States
Return to Title Page for An Inquiry into the Principles and Policy of the Government of the United States
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
Section the Seventh: AUTHORITY - 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Section the Seventh
Confidence is a substitution of the understanding and honesty of others for our own; authority, the understanding and honesty so substituted. Whether this substitution belongs to the good or to the evil class of moral principles, is the same question in another shape, with the controversy for preference between the policy of the United States, and that of every other country. Monarchy, aristocracy, hierarchy, privileged orders, and all parties and factions, political or religious, being founded upon the substitution of the understanding and honesty of others for our own; and the policy of the United States, upon the use of one’s own understanding and honesty.
From the fact, that the inducements of nations to defraud or enslave individuals, are infinitely fewer than those of individuals to defraud or enslave nations, our policy has inferred, that the judgement and honesty of a nation, is more likely to produce its own liberty and happiness, than any other judgement or honesty which can be substituted for it, either of a king, an order, a patriot, a party, a demagogue or a faction. Authority asserts the contrary.
Authority is subject to fraud and errour; national judgement, to errour only. Nations have no motive for deceiving or injuring themselves; authority, so many for deceiving or injuring nations, that it seldom or never fails to do both. A nation never knowingly adopts or adheres to an oppressive measure; authority is so entirely addicted to this vice, that it is constantly its original design, or final effort; and the first pretension to the dictatorship it usurps, is an advertisement that it is already a knave, or will finally become a tyrant.
If authority should miraculously possess integrity, it is more liable to capricious errours and absurd prejudices, than national judgement. The wisest man is never free from these humiliations of human vanity, but he can never convince the majority of a nation, that his humours are wise. National opinion shields mankind against the afflictions arising from individual caprice and prejudice, to which authority exposes them; and therefore it is a wiser, besides being an honester standard of truth.
We may without much difficulty discover our own opinion, but not one in a thousand can possibly know the opinion of the authority in which he confides. Like a river, it commences in a diminutive rill, which is swelled in its course by innumerable turbid and nauseous additions, until not a drop of the original fountain, can be obtained; whilst confidence must still swallow the contaminating compound, and allow its impurities to be transubstantiated into holy water. The supposed fountain is even often quite dry; and a river wholly deceptious is formed, without containing a single drop from the source it claims, to raise an artificial current, for conveying, not the nation, but demagogues or knaves, into a good harbour. It is not therefore matter of any astonishment, that most publick measures derived from authority, end in repentance.
Wherever authority guides a nation or a political party, there cannot be a national or party principle, opinion or measure. It converts nations into the engines of an aspiring individual or a faction, for enslaving themselves; and parties into beasts, to be ridden by a few artful men into office. To this surrender of national and party principles and opinions to authority, is to be superadded, the stupidity of corrupting the object of confidence itself, by assuring it of indiscriminate support. Propelled by this preposterous admonition towards its natural bent, authority very soon abolishes the distinction between principles, parties are converted into mere ladders to power, and election is restricted to the barren right of saying which ladder shall be mounted; so as to produce, not a check, but an excitement of the authority to make the most of present power. Authority moulds men into the same kind of moral beings, whether it is bestowed by a free or an oppressed nation, by a patriotick or a slavish party, because the same moral effects proceed from the same moral causes; and hence, however derived, its apprehensions of the alternation to which it is exposed by election, produce to confiding nations the same misfortunes.
All the truth in the opinion ‘that knowledge is the best security for liberty,’ lies within its capacity to detect the fraud of authority, and to retain the contrary principle, self government. Our policy draws the liberty we enjoy from one principle; authority is the source of the present state of other countries. The comparison would at once awaken the credulity, by which nations are induced quietly to put on the yoke of authority, were they not perplexed by its false and constant claims to national gratitude. Would to God some standard could be established to detect the fraud of magnifying publick services, up to the value of national liberty. When were those rendered by George Washington exceeded by any individual? Yet if the publick services of all other citizens during the same period, were poised against his, the disparity would satisfy every future patriot, that he ought to submit to an example, which graduates the highest publick services, by a scale, far short of justifying bad precedents and sacrifices injurious to nations.
Authority is similar to monarchy or aristocracy, in preferring the abilities and interest of one or a few, to the abilities and interest of all, as the ground work of government. It is similar to an elective monarchy or aristocracy, in being the creature of national or party confidence. But it is more pernicious to good government than elective monarchy or aristocracy, in being more mortal; it cannot outlive the man to whom it is attached, and may die before him. The struggle to depose and transfer it is so perpetual, that an interval of repose can seldom occur; and the permanent state of a nation guided by it, resembles the temporary state of an elective monarchy at the epoch of election. Successions of authority, like the waves of a troubled ocean, perpetually roll along over each other, and the instant one is buried, another rushes into its place, and speedily follows on to the grave. The excessive mortality of authority demonstrates its incompetency for the government of a being, which seldom or never dies. The longevity of a principle, ought to be equal to whatever is entrusted to its care. Can a living nation secure its liberty and prosperity by confiding it to a perishing authority? The vital defect of hereditary monarchy, is the mortality which exposes nations to the fluctuations in the characters of men, and deprives them of the benefit of unchangeable principles; and the vital remedy for this defect, is still more adverse to the greater degree of fluctuation in the principle of successional authority. It lies in fixed good moral principles, and genuine self government, capable of living as long as the nation, and wisely confiding for happiness in that which can live as long as itself.
The whole moral world cannot afford so perfect a coincidence of phenomena, for ascertaining the true value of any moral principle, as in the case of authority. Cæsar, Cromwell and Bonaparte obtained degrees of democratick authority, never reached by others. The parties which bestowed them, by substituting confidence for judgement and conscience, were of the highest democratick orders, and proved to be the completest instruments for tyranny. The whig and tory parties of England in possession of authority, uniformly pursue the same measures; and unpossessed of it, uniformly avow patriotick opinions, for the sake of obtaining an opportunity to violate them. The republican and federal parties of the United States, are evidently clambering towards the system for consigning a nation to the constant spoliation of a successive authority, more aggravating to vicious passions, because more unsettled than monarchy itself.
Far from correcting the abuses with which they charge each other, their leaders, trusting to the pernicious doctrine of confidence and authority, will convert their mutual abuses into mutual precedents. Neither parties nor individuals will voluntarily diminish power in their own hands, however pernicious they have declared it to be in the hands of others, because if they are vicious, they are willing to abuse it, if virtuous, they presumptuously confide in their own moderation; therefore abuses can never be corrected, where confidence and authority have subverted national principles.
As authority generates the same effects upon all men, the men are not blameable, because it is obvious from the constancy of the effects, that the force of authority is irresistible by human nature. If a physician mingles poison with wholesome food, not he who is poisoned, but the physician who poisons him, deserves punishment. If a nation poisons parties or individuals, or its own government, with confidence and authority, the nation which applies the poison, and not those who cannot avoid its effects, is blameable; and therefore the moral law is strictly just, which recompenses with arbitrary sway, those poisoned by confidence, and punishes the poisoners themselves with slavery. The same inexorable moral law brings similar private guilt or folly to the expiation. Individuals, like nations, who substitute in the management of their servants, confidence and authority for an inquisitive scrutiny and a strict responsibility, are exposed to pillages, which justly transfer their estates to those whom they have thus corrupted.
As the guilt of nations in betraying posterity to oppression by yielding to authority, is inevitably punished by their own subjugation, the severity of this punishment constitutes a proof of the badness of the principle, satisfactory to all who believe in a superintending providence. Parties who corrupt their leaders and subject themselves by the same evil principle, are punished with still greater severity. Like herds of swine, they are fed with grain or garbage, until they are fit for slaughter; this is never deferred a moment after the conjuncture is ripe, lest they should escape; and without remorse, they are always put to death by the tyrants of their own creation. Thus the great demoncratick leaders, Cæsar, Cromwell and Bonaparte, dispensed justice to their stupid parties. Cæsar, a courtier, originally raised them for their end. Cromwell, a fanatick, was stubbornly honest, but authority melted that honesty, because human nature cannot resist the moral law which imposes new opinions with new circumstances; and he served the party he adored, as Cæsar served the party he despised. Bonaparte, originally neither a statesman nor a fanatick, happening to float upon accident up to a momentary authority, demonstrated by the use he made of an unpromising conjuncture, how fatal a heedless though trivial confidence may be, to the nations and parties by whom it is bestowed.
It is wonderful that the human mind should have been able to detect the impostures founded in the authority of Gods, and remain blind to those founded in the authority of men; that it should despise oracles pretending to inspiration, and surrender its judgement and conscience to authority pretending to none; and that it should worship dying men, after having ceased to worship living spirits. An hundred volumes might be filled with the fatal effects to nations and parties, in ancient and modern times, from sacrificing their own principles, consciences, judgements and interests, to authority; but leaving them to the recollection of the reader, we will proceed to quote a few cases to shew the influence of circumstances upon the soundest heads and the purest hearts; those best grounds for any pretensions which authority can advance.
Almost every eminent man who has appeared in governments tinctured with liberty, might be quoted as an authority against the opinions by which he was raised; but the habit of setting out with free and proceeding to slavish principles, is so common, that a contrary case, rare, if not singular, is first exhibited to the reader. Dean Swift, in his prime, was a tory, a statesman, a priest of the high church party, and a violent opponent of the whig principles. In his retirement, uninfluenced by ambition, this profound politician sent to his friend an abstract of his political opinions, to be found in Pope’s works, vol. 6, p. 120, which is transcribed as an evidence, both of the force of passions and circumstances upon our current opinions, and of a concurrence between this able man when uninfluenced by these passions and circumstances, and several important doctrines of these essays.
‘I had,’ says Swift, ‘a mortal antipathy against standing armies in times of peace; because I always took standing armies to be only servants hired by the master of the family for keeping his own children in slaver; and because I conceived that a prince who would not think himself secure without mercenary troops, must needs have a separate interest from that of his subjects. Although I am not ignorant of those arbitrary necessities which a corrupted ministry can create, for keeping forces to support a faction against the publick interest.
‘As to parliaments, I adored the wisdom of that Gothick institution, which made them annual; and I was confident our liberty could never be placed upon a firm foundation until that ancient law was restored among us. For who sees not, that when such assemblies are permitted to have a longer duration, there grows up a commerce of corruption between the ministry and the deputies, wherein they both find their accounts, or to the manifest danger of liberty? Which traffick would neither answer the design nor expense, if parliaments met once a year.
‘I ever abominated that scheme of politicks (now about thirty years old) of setting up a monied interest in opposition to the landed. For I conceived, there could not be a truer maxim in our government than this, that the possessors of the soil are the best judges of what is for the advantage of the kingdom. If others had thought the same way, funds of credit and South Sea projects would neither have been felt nor heard of.’
Further to illustrate the force of passions and circumstances upon current opinions, and to recommend the work of an author of no fame, by exhibiting its concurrence with one other of high reputation, the following dissertation, the original of which is now before me, written by Mr. John Adams during the revolutionary war, is exhibited to the reader. As correct extracts not taken from this copy have occasionally appeared in the newspapers, its diffusion as a model for government, is a proof both of care in the composition, and of its great credit with the author and the patriots of those times.
‘If I was possessed of abilities equal to the great task you have imposed upon me, which is to sketch out the outlines of a constitution for a colony, I should think myself the happiest of men, in complying with your desire: because, as politicks is the art of securing human happiness, and the prosperity of societies depends upon the constitution of government under which they live; there cannot be a more agreeable employment to a benevolent mind than the study of the best kinds of government.
‘It has been the will of heaven, that we should be thrown into existence at a period, when the greatest philosophers and law-givers of antiquity would have wished to have lived; a period, when a coincidence of circumstances, without example, has afforded to thirteen colonies at once an opportunity of beginning government anew from the foundation, and building as they choose. How few of the human race have ever had any opportunity of choosing a system of government for themselves and their children! How few have ever had any thing more of choice in government than in climate! These colonies have now their election, and it is much to be wished that it may not prove to be like a prize in the hands of a man who has no heart to improve it.
‘In order to determine which is the best form of government, it is necessary to determine what is the end of government. And I suppose that in this enlightened age, there will be no dispute, in speculation, that the happiness of the people, the great end of man, is the end of government, and therefore that form of government which will produce the greatest quantity of happiness is best.
‘All sober inquirers after truth, ancient and modern, divines, moralists and philosophers, have agreed that the happiness of mankind, as well as the real dignity of human nature, consists in virtue; if there is a form of government whose principle and foundation is virtue, will not every wise man acknowledge it more likely to promote the general happiness than any other?
‘Fear, which is said by Montesquieu and other political writers, to be the foundation of some governments, is so sordid and brutal a passion, that it cannot properly be called a principle, and will hardly be thought in America a proper basis of government.
‘Honour, is a principle which ought to be sacred: But the Grecians and Romans, pagan as well as christian, will inform us, that honour at most is but a part of virtue, and therefore a feeble basis of government.
‘A man must be indifferent to sneer and ridicule, in some companies, to mention the names of Sidney, Harrington, Locke, Milton, Nedham, Neville, Burnet, Hoadly; for the lines of John Milton, in one of his sonnets, will bear an application, even in this country, upon some occasions.
‘These great writers, however, will convince any man who has the fortitude to read them, that all good government is republican; that the only valuable part of the British constitution is so; for the true idea of a republick is, an empire of laws, and not of men; and therefore as a republick is the best of governments, so that particular combination of power, which is best contrived for a faithful execution of the laws, is the best of republicks.
‘There is a great variety of republicks, because the arrangements of the powers of society are capable of many variations.
‘As a good government is an empire of laws, the first question is, how shall the laws be made?
‘In a community consisting of large numbers, inhabiting an extensive country, it is not possible that the whole should assemble, to make laws. The most natural substitute for an assembly of the whole, is a delegation of power, from the many, to a few of the most wise and virtuous. In the first place then establish rules for the choice of representatives: agree upon the number of persons who shall have the privilege of choosing one. As the representative assembly should be an exact portrait, in miniature, of the people at large, as it should think, feel, reason and act like them, great care should be taken in the formation of it, to prevent unfair, partial and corrupt elections. That it may be the interest of this assembly to do equal right and strict justice, upon all occasions, it should be an equal representation of their constituents, or in other words equal interests among the people, should have equal interests in the representative body.
‘That the representatives may often mix with their constituents, and frequently render them an account of their stewardship, elections ought to be frequent.
‘These elections may be septennial or triennial, but for my own part I think they ought to be annual, for there is not in all science a maxim more infallible than this, where annual elections end, there slavery begins.
‘But all necessary regulations for the method of constituting this assembly, may be better made in times of more quiet than the present, and they will suggest themselves naturally, when the powers of government shall be in the hands of the people’s friends. For the present it will be safest to go on in the usual way.
‘But we have as yet advanced only one step in the formation of a government. Having obtained a representative assembly, what is to be done next? Shall we leave all the powers of government to this assembly? Shall they make and execute, and interpret laws too? I answer no; a people cannot be long free, and never can be happy whose laws are made, executed and interpreted by one assembly. My reasons for this opinion are these.
‘A single assembly is liable to all the vices, follies and frailties of an individual. Subject to fits of humour, transports of passion, partialities of prejudice; and from these and other causes, apt to make hasty results and absurd judgements: all which errours ought to be corrected, and inconveniences guarded against by some controlling power.
‘A single assembly is apt to grow avaricious, and in time would not scruple to exempt itself from burdens which it would lay upon its constituents, without sympathy.
‘A single assembly will become ambitious, and after some time will vote itself perpetual. This was found in the case of the long parliament: but more remarkably in the case of Holland, whose assembly first voted that they should hold their seats for seven years, then for life, and after some time, that they would fill up vacancies as they should happen, without applying to their constituents at all.
‘The executive power cannot be well managed by a representative assembly, for want of two essential qualities, secrecy and dispatch.
’such an assembly is still less qualified to exercise the judicial power, because it is too numerous, too slow, and generally too little skilled in the laws.
‘But shall the whole legislative power be left in the hands of such an assembly? The three first at least of the foregoing reasons, will shew that the legislative power ought not to be wholly intrusted to one assembly.
‘Let the representative body then elect, from among themselves or their constituents, or both, a distinct assembly, which we will call a council. It may consist of any number you please, say twenty or thirty. To this assembly should be given a free and independent exercise of its judgement, upon all acts of legislation, that it may be able to check and correct the errours of the other.
‘But there ought to be a third branch of the legislature; and wherever the executive power of the state is placed, there the third branch of the legislature ought to be found.
‘Let the two houses then by joint ballot choose a governour. Let him be chosen annually. Divest him of most of those badges of slavery called prerogatives. And give him a negative upon the legislature. This I know is liable to some objections, to obviate which, you may make him in a legislative capacity only president of the council. But if he is annually elective, you need not scruple to give him a free and independent exercise of his judgement, for he will have so great an affection for the people, the representatives and council, that he would seldom exercise this right, except in cases, the publick utility of which would soon be manifest, and some such cases would happen.
‘In the present exigency of American affairs, when by an act of parliament we are put out of the royal protection, and consequently discharged from all obligations of allegiance; and when it has become necessary to assume governments for immediate security, the governour, lieutenant-governour, secretary, treasurer and attorney general should be chosen by joint ballot of both houses.
‘The governour, by and with and not without the advice and consent of council, should appoint all judges, justices and all other officers, civil and military, who should have commissions signed by the governour and under the seal of the colony.
’sheriffs should be chosen by the freeholders of the counties. If you choose to have a government more popular, all officers may be chosen by one house of assembly subject to the negative of the other.
‘The stability of government, in all its branches, the morals of the people, and every other blessing of society, and social institutions, depend so much upon an able and impartial administration of justice, that the judicial power should be separated from the legislative and executive, and independent upon both; the judges should be men of experience in the laws, of exemplary morals, invincible patience, unruffled calmness, and indefatigable application; their minds should not be distracted with complicated jarring interests; they should not be dependent on any man or body of men; they should lean to none, be subservient to none, nor more complaisant to one than another. To this end they should hold estates for life in their offices, or in other words their commissions should be during good behaviour, and their salaries ascertained and established by law.
‘If accused of misbehaviour by the representative body, before the governour and council, and if found guilty after having an opportunity to make their defence, they should be removed from their offices and subjected to such other punishment as their offences deserve.
‘A rotation of offices in the legislative and executive departments has many advocates, and, if practicable, might have many good effects. A law may be made that no man shall be governour, lieutenant-governour, secretary, treasurer, counsellor, or representative, more than three years at a time, nor be again eligible until after an interval of three years.
‘A constitution like this, of which the foregoing is a very imperfect plan, naturally introduces general knowledge into the community, and inspires the people with a conscious dignity becoming freemen. A general desire of reputation and importance among their neighbours, which cannot be obtained without some government of their passions, some good humour, good manners and good morals, takes place in the minds of men, and naturally causes general virtue and civility. That pride which is introduced by such a government among the people, makes them brave and enterprizing. That ambition which is introduced into every rank, makes them sober, industrious and frugal. You will find among them some elegance, but more solidity, a little politeness, but a great deal of civility, some pleasure, but much business.
‘Let commissions run thus, “Colony of North Carolina, to A. B. greeting, &c.” and be tested by the governour.
‘Let writs run “The Colony of &c. to the sheriff &c.”
‘Let indictments conclude “against the peace of the Colony of North Carolina, and the dignity of the same” or if you please “against the peace of the thirteen united colonies.”
‘We have heard much of a continental constitution. I see no occasion for any but a Congress. Let that be made an equal and fair representative of the colonies, and let its authority be confined to three cases, war, trade and controversies between colony and colony. If a confederation was formed, agreed on in Congress, and ratified by the assemblies; these colonies, under such forms of government and such a confederation, would be unconquerable by all the monarchies of Europe.
‘This plan of a government for a colony, you see is intended as a temporary expedient under the present pressure of affairs. The government once formed, and having settled its authority, will have leisure enough to make any alterations that time and experience, and more mature deliberation, may dictate. Particularly, a plan may be devised, perhaps, and be thought expedient, for giving the choice of the governour to the people at large, and of the counsellors to the freeholders of the counties. But be these things as they may, two things are indispensably to be adhered to; one, is some regulation for securing forever an equitable choice of representatives; another, is the education of youth both in literature and morals.
‘I wish, my dear sir, that I had time to think of these things more at leisure, and to write more correctly. But you must take these hints rough as they run. Your own reflections, assisted by the patriots of North Carolina, will improve upon every part of them.
‘As you brought upon yourself the trouble of reading these crude thoughts, you can’t blame your friend.’
Principles and convictions are expressed in this dissertation, in ideas and language, as strong, as plain, and undoubtedly as honest, as in the book of the same author upon the same subject; his mind must have attained to its maturity at the time of the first composition; and the force of the difference between a struggle for liberty, and an enjoyment of a rich executive office, only remains to account for the different appearance of the same principles and the same words to the same mind, at different times. A few remarks will sufficiently display this difference.
In the dissertation, the sovereignty of the people is unequivocally asserted, as the basis of society and civil power. Representation is made its substitute, from the impossibility of holding national assemblies. And being drawn from this origin, its perfection is made to consist in thinking, feeling, reasoning and acting like, and being an exact portrait in miniature, of the people at large.
Mr. Adams’s later system is bottomed upon orders, two of them hereditary, incapable of thinking, feeling, reasoning or acting like the people at large; and yet exercising a complete sovereignty, as in England.
The dissertation contends for the frequency of election, its application even to executive power, for securing its responsibility; and the infallible truth of the maxim, that ‘where annual elections end, there slavery begins.’
The system renounces two thirds of the principle of election for hereditary orders, and advocates the idea of unelected virtual representatives, never to mix with the people, account for their stewardship, or be,
And asserts that elections ought to be rare; that they produce every vice; and that they bring the worst men into power.
Both in the dissertation and the system, the impolicy of accumulating all civil power in one assembly is justly insisted on. In the first, election is considered as sufficient to produce a division of power; and the people, as being able to split their agencies, and not compelled to consolidate them into one mass. In the second, hereditary orders are eulogized as the only remedy for such a political evil. The argument used against a single assembly is, that ‘it is liable to all the vices, follies and frailties of an individual.’ Or, in other words, like a king. Then a king or an individual must be liable to all the ‘vices, follies and frailties’ of a single assembly. Mr. Adams was forced to use one of these political beings, as a mirror to reflect the deformity of the other. But forgetting their similitude, he becomes in his system the admirer of that, selected in his dissertation to exhibit a single assembly in an execrable light.
The dissertation urges an annual election of an executive or governour, as the means of securing his ‘affection for the people, the representatives and the council.’ The system recommends an hereditary executive or a king, as the means for securing his affection for the people. One recommends a rotation in offices; the other that they should be for life and inheritable.
The dissertation asserts, that the constitution it proposes, would introduce knowledge, inspire the people with dignity, good humour, good morals, good manners, virtue and civility; that it would make them brave and enterprising, sober, industrious and frugal; and that if a confederation was formed only for the cases of war, trade and controversies between the colonies, they would, under such forms of government, be unconquerable by all the monarchies of Europe.
The system transfers these eulogies to the English form of government; and recommends that monarchy, as particularly well contrived for war, although it was one of the European group of monarchies, defied by the dissertation, with an unarmed American democracy, not containing one-twentieth of their number.
In advocating the doctrine of compounding a government with orders, Mr. Adams has omitted to consider the moral principles of such forms. Except that he insists upon the evil principle, jealousy, as an effect of these forms, likely to produce harmony and peace. The moral principles, fear and corruption, are not more sordid, base and brutal, than jealousy between political orders. Fear, corruption and jealousy, are essential principles of every hereditary system, past and present. In his dissertation, Mr. Adams indignantly rejects the idea of founding a government in a principle, sordid, base and brutal, and considers virtue as the ‘principle and foundation of government most likely to promote general happiness.’
Two ideas are suggested by his considering virtue as a principle of government. One, as requiring a virtuous nation; the other, as only requiring a virtuous government, or one founded in good moral principles. The former idea is most common; the latter, most correct. The principles of a society may be virtuous, though the individuals composing it are vicious. Vicious beings may severally wish for security against vicious beings, and this can only be obtained by good moral principles. The moral being called government, is instituted to restrain the vices of man, as a moral being also. Its morals must be more perfect than the morals of man, or it can never make him better. And although man is its author, yet an author can compose a better system of morality, than his own example exhibits.
At this era of the world, avarice is man’s predominant vice. It can only be gratified at the cost of man, and of the major number of men. These majorities have an interest and a power to defend themselves against it, by virtuous, just or equal principles of government; and societies composed of avaricious members must be founded in these principles, to afford the utmost gratification to the avarice of the majority, because it cannot gain so much by unjust laws for pillaging a minority, as by just laws for suppressing pillage. In all partnerships for gain, banking or commercial, care is taken to prevent one or a few of the members, from gratifying their avarice at the expense of the rest. Avarice propels the partners towards this precaution. The same principle, the same interest, and the same motive, propels nations to save their liberty and property from ambition and avarice. By the cases quoted, we see that an avaricious society can form a government able to defend itself against the avarice of its members. It requires such a government more than a benevolent society. Thus men can form a government, able to restrain the vices of man. The more vicious he is, the more he needs a virtuous government. Cities being more vicious than the country, require a more virtuous form of government. Accordingly, they are generally obliged to ask, and monarchy to grant, charters for civil government, founded in republican principles; because the necessity for a good government, becomes more urgent as the people become more vicious; just as the worse the partners, the better must be the articles.
It is a consolation to observe, as a vicious majority can only defend itself against vicious minorities, by founding society or government in good, just and equal moral principles, that the interest of vice is enlisted on the side of virtue; and suggests the establishment of such forms of government, as will produce a benign influence on private morals. It would be as foolish in a national majority, to enable one or a few of the members to defraud or oppress the others, as in a banking or commercial majority.
Mr. Adams, in the dissertation we have copied, by contrasting virtue and fear, as principles of the moral being called government, discloses a correspondence with the doctrine of this essay; which is, that a government and its laws, ought to be founded in good moral principles, to advance the interest of a vast majority of mankind, however vicious they may be.
If virtue, as a basis of government, be understood to mean, not that the principles of the government, but that the individuals composing the nation must be virtuous, then republicks would be founded in the self same principle with monarchies, namely, the evanescent qualities of individuals. But interest is a better and more permanent basis. Its wonderful capacity for concretion bestows on noble orders, hierarchies and stockjobbers, power for oppression, and loyalty to each other in defrauding; and why may it not also secure the fidelity of nations to themselves, though composed of people equally as vicious? Mankind being now too wise to suffer governments, founded in superstition or fraud, to go on undetected, must either submit to an armed force able to defy knowledge and protect guilt, and become less free as they grow more wise; or use their knowledge, to discover and secure their interest. Because the speculations of errour, and the tongue of flattery, have assigned to republicks, the virtue of the people, and to monarchies, honour, as necessary principles; are we to believe that tyranny causes the human mind to sparkle with more brilliant honour than freedom; and that freedom teaches the catalogue of humble and meek virtues resulting from oppression, better than tyranny? Or surmounting an authority, overturned by every day’s experience, conclude, that bad men take care of their interest as well as good men, make as good special bargains, and as successfully apply virtuous principles to forms of government?
Mr. Adams’s expression is, ‘that virtue must be the principle of a republican government.’ Of the government, not of those who live under the government. He means that the government must be constituted upon virtuous or just principles, and not upon fraudulent or unjust. In conformity with this idea, in his dissertation, he calls executive prerogatives ‘badges of slavery;’ and yet by his system he considers them as bulwarks to defend the people.
In his dissertation, Mr. Adams utters a panegyrick upon several authors, who had written against the English monarchy. He pronounces with asperity the full competency of those writers to convince any man, ‘that all good government is republican;’ and he removes every doubt, as to the sense in which he uses the term, by observing, ‘that the only good part of the British constitution is republican.’ And yet a great portion of one volume of Mr. Adams’s work, is dedicated to the refutation of Nedham, one of the eulogized authors, in language nearly as rough, as that applied in the dissertation, to those who would not be made republicans by Nedham’s arguments. In defence of his dissertation, Mr. Adams relies upon Nedham; in defence of his later system, he endeavours to confute him. In his dissertation, he deduces a form of government from Nedham’s position ‘that the people were the best guardians of their own liberties;’ in his book, from the position, ‘that the people are their own worst enemies.’
Mr. Adams’s idea of judicial power, as expressed in the dissertation, accords with the principles of this essay. The judges, says he, ’should not be dependent on any man or body of men; they should lean to none, be subservient to none.’ For this end, he proposes to give them commissions during good behaviour, and to subject them to the judgement of one branch of the legislature, on the accusation of another.
We agree in the utility of judicial independence and impartiality. The independence meant by Mr. Adams, and by all other politicians, in speaking of judicial departments, never refers to a sovereign power, but to a man or body of men, clothed with some political function. The end of judicial independence, is to shield the judges against the influence of the creatures of the sovereignty, and the sovereignty against the evils of this influence, and not to supersede the sovereignty itself by one of its creatures. Not partiality to a nation, but to a faction or an individual, is the evil to be prevented by judicial independence.
As partiality to a nation, on the part of judges, is not the evil; independence of the nation, is not the remedy. The evil, partiality, and the remedy, independence, both refer to delegated power, and not to national sovereignty; and are converted, by transferring their allusion to wrong objects, into a political caricature. Judges, independent of nations, lest they should be partial to delegated power; and subject to the appointment, patronage and removal of delegated power, lest they should betray nations!
Upon this ground, it has been urged, that judicial independence of a nation, will not shield judges against partiality for a man or body of men in power, or against becoming instruments of usurpation in the hands of governments; and that trial by impeachment, was not calculated to suppress the passions of men, to ensure an impartial judgement, or to allay in the minds of judges every apprehension of a man or body of men.
On the contrary, it was contended that a judicial responsibility to the nation, could only obtain for judges, independence of a man or body of men clothed with power. And that the want of publick confidence, naturally attending an absence of responsibility, with executive appointment, promotion and patronage, and legislative accusation and trial, would produce the dependence and partiality, deprecated by Mr. Adams, and too often displayed by experience. It is in the mode only of obtaining the same end, that the dissertation differs from this essay.
After all it is admitted, that Mr. Adams’s change of opinion, can have no influence upon the argument, except to remove the obstacle of his authority, against an impartial consideration of the question. It was a weight too heavy for a subordinate rate of talents to bear, and therefore recourse was had to a powerful auxiliary.
But facts are not altered by a change of political opinion. They continue immutable. Those asserted in his dissertation by Mr. Adams, are as true now as they were then; and they were then true, or he would not have asserted them. As they cannot be retracted, one, subversive of the ground work of his reasoning in favour of orders, is a fair and powerful argument.
‘How few (says he) of the human race, have ever had any thing more of choice in government than in climate!’
If this forcible exclamation is true, as it undoubtedly is, it follows, that few governments, if any, except those of the United States, have been the result of national will and intellect; and that his mountain of quotation cannot be applicable to our governments, which were produced by national will or intellect.
A transition by the United States, from force, fraud or accident, to human will and intellect, as the source of government, was the event which justified Mr. Adams in applying the terms ‘enlightened age’ to the era of our revolution; and in felicitating himself upon existing, at the period ‘when the greatest philosophers and lawgivers of antiquity would have wished to have lived.’ Had they risen from their graves at that time, they would have joined their labours to his, in drawing government from this new source; at least it was this unprecedented event which caused Mr. Adams to think, that the sages of antiquity would, if they could, have lived altogether in the United States, at the era of the revolution.
But if they could now rise from their graves, how sorely would they feel the mortification of finding, that Mr. Adams himself had given up national opinion as a source of government; and had gone back in search of political improvement to forms, with which it had as little to do, as with climate!
The discovery, that the moral effects of accident, fraud and force, were better than the moral effects of man’s free intellectual powers, would either have exceedingly humiliated these sages, or they would have denied the fact, and have placed before the United States a picture of all the governments, not the result of free intellect, to compare with the only government which is so.
Orders would be the most prominent feature in the whole of these arbitrary or accidental governments; and no instance would appear of their having ever been created by free national intellect. Mankind have been scourged for ages by these self created beings; the United States have preferred free will and intellect to this scourge; and the question is, whether they will revolt from their own understandings, for the sake of having as little choice in their government as in their climate.
If the circle of ages has exhibited all polished nations, except one, without choice as to their forms of government; and if most or all of these disinherited nations, contained noble or separate orders; can time make stronger the evidence, to prove, that these orders were in reality the usurpers of the birthright belonging to nations, and that the solitary nation, so fortunate as to preserve it, owes its prosperity to their absence?
It thence follows with a degree of certainty, seldom attainable in argument, that the United States, once seduced into the establishment of a limited monarchy, or a monarchical republick; or suffering a paper order or interest to acquire an influence over their governments; would, thereafter, like other nations, find government as imperious as climate, and never more exercise a right of choice.
Although Mr. Adams’s dissertation is replete with sentiments adverse to his system of orders, and concurring with the principles of this essay, one more only will be particularly quoted.
America, says he, has been favoured by heaven with the power of choosing, changing and building government from the foundation; and in this enlightened age the happiness of the people is allowed to be the end of government.
If this power is really a favour from heaven, it would be no proof of the wisdom or piety of the present age to return it to the state of abeyance, in which it resided, until the United States obtained the possession and benefit of it. A successful vindication of the right to draw government from the sources of intellect and will, is the proof adduced by Mr. Adams of the light of the present age; remnants of feudal darkness will obscure this light; because it is impossible for a nation divided and distracted by orders, peaceably and deliberately to make, mend, destroy and renew forms of government, as intellect and will may dictate. And if Mr. Adams’s rapture and adoration were proper, in contemplating the blessing of self government, so new and wonderful that he ascribes it to the immediate interposition of heaven, ought the present generation to conclude their thanksgiving, by requesting the deity to resume his benefaction?
The next instance of the force of circumstances on the human mind, to which we will advert, for the sake of ascertaining the value of authority and the folly of confidence, results from a short comparison between an address to the people, gratuitously proposed by Mr. Jay whilst president of Congress, on the 13th of September, 1779, and unanimously adopted by that body, with a passage in the Federalist or Publius, a book partly ascribed to this gentleman.
The indignation against the British form of government, and the ardent affection for ours, which the first breathes, are not considered as of much weight, except to prove that their principles were different; because, although Mr. Jay’s conviction at the time is evinced by his resorting to the deity as a witness of it, yet conviction may be certainly raised and lowered by zeal, as well as by circumstances.
Without availing ourselves therefore of Mr. Jay’s eloquence, we shall only draw out of it a few cool opinions and simple facts. He considers ‘equal liberty as our principle of government, our rulers as the servants and not the masters of the people, and our governments as founded in freedom; the British monarchy as crumbling into pieces, the parliament as venal, the country as oppressed, the people as destitute of publick virtue, and the government as violating the rights of mankind.’ And after contrasting the English and American forms of government, in his forcible style, he emphatically concludes, that one is the tyrant, the other, the servant of the people. It was the object of the address, to inspire the United States, by this fact, with perseverance in the prosecution of the war. Therefore, both Mr. Jay and the Congress must have disagreed with Mr. Adams, in the similarity between the two forms, for which he so laboriously contends; or in his opinion, that the people addressed were enlightened.
The Federalist contains an eulogy of the English form of government, infinitely transcending the compliment paid to it by Mr. Adams and incapable of augmentation. Mr. Adams’s similitude between ship-building or navigation, and this complicated moral machine, allowed to it only a comparative degree of excellence, which might have been extended by substituting a watch, or at least a spinning machine moved by fire, as the object of comparison. But the Federalist, by an ingenious use of Montesquieu, exalts it to the station among governments which Homer occupies among poets.
If the invective in Mr. Jay’s address, and the eulogy in the Federalist, flowed from the same pen, the subjection of the human mind, in its highest perfection, and utmost maturity, to circumstances, is here again demonstrated; and in this demonstration, is exhibited the folly of expecting to find a steady patriot in a slave to uncontrollable events.
The same book has furnished us with the finest definition of that species of patriotism, imbibed or bestowed by confidence and authority. The allegiance of its supposed authors to its tenets was destroyed by circumstances, upon the very heels of promulgation; and they arranged themselves in political opposition, whilst their tenets, through the blind submission of confidence, and the despotick power of authority, acquired the singular felicity of maintaining an orthodoxy with hostile parties; each of which assailed their antagonists from the same quiver, and as ardently believed in their own patriotism, as inimical fanaticks who are the dupes of leaders, do in their own sanctity.
Though integrity, talents and elegance of style, were unable for a moment to retain, against the force of new circumstances, the adherence of only three political doctors to their own prescription; yet fidelity to our constitution was mutually allowed by opposite parties to this fortunate composition; each only claiming for itself an adherence to the constitution and its paraphrase, and charging its antagonist with a violation of both. Either this fidelity or one of these accusations is necessarily unfounded; yet confidence has hitherto been unable to discern its errour.
To me, this authority for opposite principles, appears to be planted in the ancient analysis of governments, to be neatly cultivated with the English doctrine of checks and balances, and to be highly adorned with all the comely theories of limited monarchy, invented between the accession of Charles I. and the death of William of Orange; but never actually practised; theories, indebted to the corruption by which they are defeated, for the false evidence of their supposed operation. Like a foreign silk, embroidered with flowers of gold and silver, its splendour on one side conceals the defects of its workmanship; and its insufficiency for use and comfort, as well as its hidden deformities, can only be discovered by adverting to the other. The English writers during the specified period, contain whatever is to be found in the Federalist; but all their theories sunk, as soon as they were promulgated, in a vortex of corruption; and the nation has drawn from them an overwhelming addition to its burdens. What is to keep the same doctrines from the same fate, or shield the United States under their guidance, from the same effects? Our genuine native policy, being woven with strong homespun threads of plain principles, undarned by a fragile foreign glossy manufacture, more likely to ruin than to improve its texture, exposes us to none of those calamities drawn by England from a system, resorted to by the Federalist for the explanation of this policy. By its capacity of operating without the help of bribery and corruption, it discloses its radical difference from a system, so universally allowed to require such assistance, as to have inspired its votaries with a notion, that this bribery and corruption constituted its chief excellence; in truth, there lies no medium between this opinion and a surrender of the system itself. To avoid a dilemma so unpromising, the wide difference between a derivation from fixed moral principles, or from fluctuating mixtures of manarchical, aristocratical and democratical orders or powers, is contended for throughout this essay.
The truths, with which the book we are speaking of abounds, have probably so far covered the errour of deriving the general constitution, from the idea of the old analysis, commingled in imitation of the English system, as to have infused some drops of this foreign poison into the laws of the United States. It considers a constitution as defective, where the whole power is lodged in the hands of the people or their representatives.∗ It represents the British standing army as harmless.† It calls a distinction between a confederacy and a consolidation of the states ‘more subtle than accurate.’‡ It asserts that English liberty by the revolution of 1688 was ‘completely triumphant.’§ It ingeniously defends mercenary armies,∗ and it declares ‘that in the usual progress of things, the necessities of a nation in every stage of its existence, will be found at least equal to its resources.’†† These, and a multitude of similar doctrines, swallowed by both the parties which have divided the nation between them, in the sweet but poisonous pill of confidence, must necessarily have bestowed upon legislation, a tone not perfectly in unison with the genuine policy of the United States. What, for instance, could a nation suffer, or tyranny extort, between an eternal payment and dispensation of resources equal to its ability?
It was unfortunate that so great a mass of zeal, integrity and talents, should have been expended at the juncture of a controversy, calculated rather to inspire the ingenuity necessary to win a victory, than the cool inquiries necessary to discover truth; and that party collisions should subsequently have deprived it of the liberty of applying to this controversial composition, the test of a candid revision. I believe that one of the supposed authors at least does not approve of all its doctrines; and the occasion which produced them having passed, neither the feelings of its authors, nor the gratitude and applause of the publick, ought to undergo any change, from an effort to preserve the policy of the United States, which this book so eminently contributed to introduce; suggested by a conviction, that however it may abound, like Mr. Adams’s, with republican principles, these, mingled up with the principles of the British form of government, constitute such a picture of our policy, as Christian precepts mingled with the fictions of Mahomet, do of Christianity.
The safest repository of the authority created by political confidence, would be a philosopher, abstracted from the influence of station, of party, of avarice, and of ambition. But even this rare character, seduced by genius, excited by a love of literary fame, or inebriated by hypothesis, is often the author of splendid errours, destined, however they may be admired by a taste for elegant composition, to be detected by common sense. If the scrutiny and wisdom of publick opinion is necessary to restrain the honest flights of imagination, can its application to the corrupt artifices of self interest, and the stubborn prejudices of station and power, be safely dispensed with? If the general good sense, is necessary to correct disinterested individual capriciousness, can this unhappy quality be sanctified by an union with irresistible temptations?
Godwin and Malthus, philosophers of talents, accomplishments and integrity, unsurpassed by any of their contemporaries, supply us with illustrations of this best title to political confidence and authority.
Godwin, by equalising both knowledge and property, proposes to remove every obstruction to population; and Malthus demonstrates that this effect would destroy the design of Godwin’s system. And from this demonstration he draws the conclusion, that population can only be kept within the capacity of the earth to feed it, by positive laws or by misery. These are probably among the best written books which have ever appeared, and both authors retain the fairest reputations; yet one is a text book for mobs, and the other for tyrants. Both the systems of these adversaries, are built upon fragments of human nature. Godwin’s, on its good moral qualities, exclusive of its evil; Malthus’s, on a single animal quality, exclusive both of its other animal qualities, and of all its moral qualities.
The arguments used by Malthus to destroy Godwin often recoil upon himself. Your moral system, as we both confess, says Malthus, will place human nature in a state extremely favourable to population. Wherefore? Because population is regulated, as Godwin contends, by moral causes. If this unqualified admission destroys Godwin, it must also destroy a system built upon the contrary idea, that human population is regulated by food. By your division of property and knowledge, says Malthus, you will remove want and misery, the checks upon population, which must of course become redundant, because these checks are removed. But I propose to remove want and misery by a law to prevent procreation. Well, does not the redundant population as certainly follow, whether want and misery are removed in the mode of Godwin or of Malthus?
It is true that Malthus, aware of the objection, whilst he allows to man’s moral nature a great influence upon population to destroy Godwin, so blends this admission with the entire dependence of population on food, as to support the latter idea throughout his book. And as one system considers mind as the despot of matter, the other considers matter as the despot of mind. Whereas the fact is, that with or without civil government, population has never been able to overtake the capacity of the earth to yield subsistence; and therefore it is probable, that all the operations of food and population, or of mind and matter, upon each other, are regulated by some unalterable natural law. At both extremities of man’s moral state, the urban and the savage, we find its traces. Rather an excess than a want of food, is generally met with in cities; and where a want of food is produced by a savage state, it is never owing to an incapacity of the country to produce it. The checks upon population in both states are therefore moral. Countries, in which a few savages starve for want of food, afford abundance for an hundred fold population, of a different moral character, as has been demonstrated in North America.
The cases of a rapid population after plagues, are weaker than those of a rapid population, after the expulsion of savages, by all the difference between gaining the possession of an improved and an unimproved country. Both cases are regulated by the different moral impressions of wealth and poverty upon human nature. A colony from London, settling in America on its first discovery, and the remnant of a plague, would both lose and acquire many moral qualities deeply affecting population; and in both cases the moral character which excites the population, flows from a multitude of causes independent of food. If there are human situations which suspend the moral qualities calculated to impede population, and others which awaken them; and if a certain degree of populousness never fails to awaken them; then population being graduated by a natural moral law, there is no need of the artificial laws proposed by Malthus to check it; nor any grounds for an apprehension that Godwin’s system could have overturned this natural law. It could only come at it by effecting several impossibilities; but Malthus, alarmed, brings into the field a new impossibility to arrest a foe who can never appear. Godwin proposes to equalise wealth and knowledge among all men; Malthus to equalise food and procreation almost as extensively; and Mr. Adams to equalise wealth and power between three political orders. Thus we see at one view three great authorities, agreeing in principle, at war in fact, and each proposing to effect similar impossibilities. One offers to root out self love and all evil human qualities, and to plant equal and universal knowledge and benevolence where they grow. Another offers to control the least governable human passion at the most inauspicious epoch; and the third offers to maintain an equality of wealth and power between jealous rival parties. It is as practicable for mankind to change, as to suspend their nature for twenty years. The human qualities proposed by Malthus to be subdued, are undoubtedly as unconquerable, as those proposed by Godwin to be subdued. Indeed, these authors seem to agree that they are more so. Godwin, by relying on reason for suppressing selfishness; Malthus, by resorting to law for suppressing love.
It is more likely that man’s errours should overlook nature’s powers, than that his wisdom should outstrip her foresight. All her resources are not explored, and it assails a sound maxim, to expect the invention before the necessity. The recent use of cotton, improves upon wool in economy, far beyond the improvement of wool upon skins. And until we see the improvements of agriculture exhausted by population, a system of inexorable oppression to prevent men from starving, will by its elegance, only more forcibly display the insecurity of resting upon authority.
This authority bursts upon the poor of England with a new oppression. To the system for distributing wealth and poverty by law, an exclusion of those to whom the latter is assigned, from the pleasures of relationship, friendship and love, lest they should be starved by this artificial poverty, is an admonition, both of the end to which that system leads, and of the coldness with which even philosophy can look upon such an end. The more eminent a political authority becomes, the more awfully it operates as an admonition. Malthus teaches us, that the English system of distributing wealth and property, in modes which the United States have begun to imitate, instead of leaving that distribution to industry, will devote one part of a community to death by famine, or to the necessity of living above half their lives, without affections and without mind.
The creation of a poor class by law, and a refusal of alms from law, to prevent a redundant population, would very forcibly illustrate the difference in point of benevolence, between indirect slavery to a separate interest, and direct slavery to an absolute master.
The terror of a plethora of population, and the hope of obtaining wealth by a plethora of paper stock, concur in defrauding man of his liberty and property. By the first, he is represented as sailing in an ocean of atmosphere, with a limited stock of food on board, and he is told that nothing can save him from famine, but a power in a few of the crew, to regulate the births and deaths. The second asserts, that the same minority, by modifications of rage and ink, can multiply wealth or the means of supplying his wants, without limitation. It happens, not unfrequently, that the same individual believes, both that the earth is inadequate to the production of bread sufficient to meet population, and that paper can produce endless wealth. As if nature had forgotten to provide subsistence for her creature, man; and remembered to provide it for his creature paper stock. Nature! who like the fates, is ever spinning and cutting, whose business is production and destruction, and who has worked equally hitherto, with both her hands.
The first of these chimerical systems, by infusing a feverish zeal for educating a whole nation, has rather checked than encouraged the progress of knowledge. Projects for turning all men into philosophers, advance knowledge, as those for turning all metals into gold, advance wealth. Godwin’s system is an enchantress; Malthus’s a gorgon. But it is equal to mankind, whether they are enticed into ignorance and slavery by the captivating imagination of equalising knowledge and property, or terrified into it, by the dread of a redundant population.
A theory built upon the whole, and not upon a part only, of man’s moral character, can constitute a real foundation for a government; just as earth, not vapour, must be a foundation for a house. Mr. Godwin deserts the practicable remedies of division of power and responsibility, by which the evil portion of man’s nature may be controlled, for the impracticable idea of rendering this control unnecessary, by changing that portion of his nature. Mr. Adams insists, that this portion of the human character will forever adhere to man; but rejecting, with Mr. Godwin, the use of a division of power and responsibility for its control, he proposes a balance of wealth and power, among inflamed orders. And Mr. Malthus founds his moral theory upon a single physical quality, to regulate which, a stronger government would be necessary, than any which has yet appeared. He proposes to introduce the papistical system of celibacy, without the wealth or the concubinage, by which it was made practicable.
Mr. Godwin’s and Mr. Adams’s systems have yet a further resemblance to each other. The first author proposes to render responsibility for restraining the evil portion of human nature unnecessary, by curing selfishness with a balance of knowledge and property among men. The second, to render it unnecessary, by curing selfishness with a balance of wealth and power among orders. One nostrum, is a cure for all mankind; the other, for the few composing governments. The only difference between them is, that one balance has never succeeded, and the other has never been tried. Our policy, differing from the projects of curing all men of the evil qualities of human nature, by a balance of property and knowledge, according to one philosopher; or of curing only governing men of these evil qualities, by a balance of wealth and power among orders, according to the other, proposes to subject this bad portion of human nature to a strict discipline, by civil and political law; or a code of laws, able to reach the delinquencies of those imperfect beings who govern, as well as the delinquencies of those who are governed. Godwin’s system proposes to render accountableness unnecessary. Mr. Adams’s applies it partially, ours universally. They resemble religious systems, declaring that all men, a few, or none, ought to be exempted from the sanctions of religion. Our policy is bottomed upon the old idea that men had two souls, one good the other bad; Mr. Adams’s, upon the idea of forming a government of three souls, all bad, as being inspired with jealousy and hatred against each other. If one good and one bad soul make a being, requiring all the varieties of legal and political responsibility, what is to be expected of a being compounded of three bad souls, without any responsibility? Or how can the favourers of the system of balances justly ridicule Godwin, on account of his project for casting out man’s bad soul by reason, when they propose to neutralize or destroy the good one by hereditary power and jealous orders?
Mr. Adams, in availing himself of the authority of Aristotle, as being ‘full of the balances,’ furnishes us with another illustration of the subject we are discussing.
That ancient philosopher assigned the legislative power to the people at large; the executive, to the magistrates; and the judicative, to the tribunals of justice. These magistrates and judges were to be appointed by the people. This species of mixt government, he supposes to be adapted for one city; and he adds, that the government of an agricultural people, ought on the other hand to be popular.
The inconclusiveness of these ideas is obvious. They propose that magistrates should be magistrates; and judges, judges. They suppose a more popular government, than one wherein the whole people legislate and appoint all publick officers; and they are destitute of any artificial arrangement of power, either by balancing co-ordinate bodies of men, subjecting all publick officers to national control and sovereignty, or dividing it into manageable sections.
The idea of a political trinity, coequal, could never have entered into the head of Aristotle, because his magistrates, being elective, were not co-eternal with the people; and being artificial, the architect might demolish as well as build. He would as soon have imagined, when a statuary had finished three statues, that these statues naturally swallowed up the statuary, as when a nation had created three orders of power, that these orders naturally swallowed up the nation.
Aristotle, being ignorant of Mr. Adams’s idea of making a government out of three repellant principles, or compressing three such principles into an unity (a doctrine infinitely more miraculous than an unity among three homogeneous principles,) literally states the sovereignty of the people, as the source, creator and master of every species of check and balance, capable of being extracted from his garbled sentences by amplifying construction.
The gravity with which this authority is urged by a gentleman of Mr. Adams’s erudition, shews the rashness of confidence, and the following quotation will fix its value. Aristotle’s Rhetorick contains this passage. ‘Minerva preferred Ulysses; Theseus, Helena; Alexander was preferred by the Goddesses, and Achilles by Homer. If Theseus did no injury, neither Alexander. And if the Tyndaridæ, neither Alexander. And if Hector equaled Patroclus, Alexander equalled Achilles. There are persons against whom no judgement is to be given, as princes.’ The Goddesses were the virtues, supposed by the mythology of the times, to be the makers of Gods.
Authority is frequently corrupted by a subjection to authority, and the influence of Alexander must have operated as strongly upon Aristotle in favour of monarchy, as that of a wealthy and powerful banking aristocracy all around him, undoubtedly did upon Adam Smith. These ingenious men, in labouring both to satisfy the mandates of authority, and to save their own opinions, have spread obscurity and indecision over the latter, as the plainest declaration of war, upon which a philosopher could adventure, against the military conqueror of ignorant nations, or the paper conqueror of an enlightened people. Could influence re-absorb what it has infused into the writings of these great men, one would probably appear to be an enemy to monarchy and the other to aristocratical establishments, in all their forms. Aristotle himself says, ‘those who are constrained, speak far more untruths than truths.’ And he countenances our conjecture, by a definition of law, in which, distinguishing between common law and prescribed law; meaning by the first natural justice, and by the other human institution; he defines the latter to be ‘the common consent of a city,’ instead of referring to monarchy, or a sovereignty of balanced orders, as its source. And (agreeing with Mr. Adams in the dissertation we have transcribed) he says, ‘For thus the people being able to confer honour on whom they please, will not envy those who receive it; and eminent men will exercise probity and sincerity, to gain the esteem of the people.’ The people, not privileged orders, are to draw eminent qualities from eminent men. How? By election and responsibility, or by rejecting the government of authority, and exercising self government. A monarchy made out of Aristotle, as girls make a peacock by patching together shreds of silk, in the face of his unequivocal preference of a popular government for an agricultural people, would be a perfect emblem of authority.
Religion or patriotism by deputy, is the cause of the errours and mischiefs of both; and parties or individuals, pretending to be pious or patriotick, because they believe another to be so, are universally knaves or fools. The most ignorant, unenslaved by authority, discerns goodness by the light of his conscience, and distinguishes between an easy and a hard government, by the light of his senses. But authority, by depriving us of conscience and sensation in religion and government, causes such calamities as are encountered by a blind man who is a lunatick. It assures us that human reason can neither select a religion nor a government, for the sake of making a tyrant of this very reason. It confines us to revelation and to nature, as the authors of its dogmas, but refuses to our human reason a capacity to construe either, that it may construe both by its human reason, to enslave and defraud ours. And being in its own essence a tyrant, its followers, whether prompted by knavish zeal or pious folly, are as really the slaves and instruments of tyranny, and will as certainly degenerate into the vices and baseness of slavery, as the followers of Peter the hermit, or of Bonaparte the conqueror. Parties are unwarily admitted to be natural and wholesome to republicks, though republicks are constantly destroyed by parties. Without the debasements of confidence, and the frauds of authority, their existence would be seldom felt, and the slavery they draw upon nations, would be never suffered.
If men will plant liberty in individual imperfection and mutability, instead of planting it in the permanency and perfection of principles, it must perish. The tools of patriots frequently become the authors of more evils, than the slaves of tyrants. A republican government cannot live upon monarchical diet. Free governments are destroyed by confidence and authority. Can a more dangerous habit befal the people or parties of the United States, than one which is the constant prelude of slavery?
We have suffered authority to call forth in self defence her stoutest champions. She has summoned to her assistance, an orator, a saint and a hero; the English and American parties of whig and tory, federalist and republican; and six philosophers of unsurpassed integrity and talents. Yet these formidable auxiliaries only serve to rivet the conclusion, that the common sense and common honesty of a nation, is both a wiser and honester source of government than the authority of saints, kings, philosophers, heroes, orators, parties, factions or separate interests in any form. Nor do I know a maxim, the belief of which would be a better security for liberty, than that no nation can long preserve a free government, if it is guided by the caprices or frauds of authority in the enumerated shapes or in any others; nor can it be enslaved, except by commuting national understanding and honesty for a dependence upon this humoursome, fickle, selfish, ambitious, and dishonest moral being.
[∗]No. 8, p. 43.
[†]No. 9, p. 51.
[‡]No. 11, p. 65, 67.—No. 24, p. 154.
[§]No. 29, p. 187.
[∗]No. 47, p. 93.
[††]Vol. 2, No. 41, p. 40. Tiebout’s edition, 1799.