Front Page Titles (by Subject) WHO ARE THE BEST KEEPERS OF THE PEOPLE'S LIBERTIES? 1 - The Writings, vol. 6 (1790-1802)
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WHO ARE THE BEST KEEPERS OF THE PEOPLE’S LIBERTIES? 1 - James Madison, The Writings, vol. 6 (1790-1802) 
The Writings of James Madison, comprising his Public Papers and his Private Correspondence, including his numerous letters and documents now for the first time printed, ed. Gaillard Hunt (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1900). Vol. 6.
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WHO ARE THE BEST KEEPERS OF THE PEOPLE’S LIBERTIES?1
Republican.—The people themselves.—The sacred trust can be no where so safe as in the hands most interested in preserving it.
Anti-republican.—The people are stupid, suspicious, licentious. They cannot safely trust themselves. When they have established government they should think of nothing but obedience, leaving the care of their liberties to their wiser rulers.
Republican.—Although all men are born free, and all nations might be so, yet too true it is, that slavery has been the general lot of the human race. Ignorant—they have been cheated; asleep—they have been surprized; divided—the yoke has been forced upon them. But what is the lesson? that because the people may betray themselves, they ought to give themselves up, blindfold, to those who have an interest in betraying them? Rather conclude that the people ought to be enlightened, to be awakened, to be united, that after establishing a government they should watch over it, as well as obey it.
Anti-republican.—You look at the surface only, where errors float, instead of fathoming the depths where truth lies hid. It is not the government that is disposed to fly off from the people; but the people that are ever ready to fly off from the government. Rather say then, enlighten the government, warn it to be vigilant, enrich it with influence, arm it with force, and to the people never pronounce but two words—Submission and Confidence.
Republican.—The centrifugal tendency then is in the people, not in the government, and the secret art lies in restraining the tendency, by augmenting the attractive principle of the government with all the weight that can be added to it. What a perversion of the natural order of things! to make power the primary and central object of the social system, and Liberty but its satellite.
Anti-republican.—The science of the stars can never instruct you in the mysteries of government. Wonderful as it may seem, the more you increase the attractive force of power, the more you enlarge the sphere of liberty; the more you make government independent and hostile towards the people, the better security you provide for their rights and interests. Hence the wisdom of the theory, which, after limiting the share of the people to a third of the government, and lessening the influence of that share by the mode and term of delegating it, establishes two grand hereditary orders, with feelings, habits, interests, and prerogatives all inveterately hostile to the rights and interests of the people, yet by a mysterious operation all combining to fortify the people in both.
Republican.—Mysterious indeed!—But mysteries belong to religion, not to government; to the ways of the Almighty, not to the works of man. And in religion itself there is nothing mysterious to its author; the mystery lies in the dimness of the human sight. So in the institutions of man let there be no mystery, unless for those inferior beings endowed with a ray perhaps of the twilight vouchsafed to the first order of terrestrial creation.
Anti-republican.—You are destitute, I perceive, of every quality of a good citizen, or rather of a good subject. You have neither the light of faith nor the spirit of obedience. I denounce you to the government as an accomplice of atheism and anarchy.
Republican.—And I forbear to denounce you to the people, though a blasphemer of their rights and an idolater of tyranny.—Liberty disdains to persecute.
TO EDMUND PENDLETON.mad. mss.
Philada, Feby 23, 1793.
Since we had the pleasure of Col. Taylor’s arrival I have left in his better hands the trust of keeping you supplied with whatever communications might interest or amuse you. As the political scene here, is however soon to be suspended, I cannot refuse myself the last opportunity I shall have before a dispersion of the dramatis personæ takes place, of enjoying the pleasure I always feel in tendering my respects & affection, as well as testifying the high value I set on your correspondence.
I seize the opportunity in this case with the more avidity, as it permits me at the same time, to tell you how much we have been charmed with the successor to Col. R. H. L.1 & to entreat your co-operation with a number of his other friends in overcoming his repugnance to his present station. His talents during the fraction of time he has been on the federal theatre have been of such infinite service to the republican cause, and such a terror to its adversaries, that his sudden retirement, on which he is strongly bent, ought to be regarded as a public calamity, and counterworked by all the means his friends can use. We think it essential that he should be prevailed on to prolong his stay in the Govt at least through the next session, which will form a critical epoch in our political History. Much will depend on the turn our affairs will then take; and that will depend not a little on the character which Virginia in particular will exhibit in the National Councils. In this view it is to be desired that her weight of talents in one branch shd correspond with her force of numbers in the other. The figure she is to make in the latter with respect to talents will depend on the issue of the approaching elections. We understand in general that there will be no scarcity of competitors; but our information is too defective for an accurate conjecture of the result. Your district has been said to abound more than any other in candidates. Mr. C.1 I presume is most distinguished for parliamentary talents and activity, and on that score claims a favorable wish, if the course he would be likely to take should furnish no objection, of which those most in the knowledge of his politics are the best judges.
You will have discovered from the Newspapers that a pretty interesting scrutiny has been started into the administration of the Treasy Department.2 The documents furnished shew that there has been at least a very blameable irregularity & secrecy in some particulars of it, and many appearances which at least require explanation. With some, suspicions are carried very far; others resolve the whole that is wrong into favoritism to the Bank, &c. whilst the partizans of the Fisc. either see nothing amiss, or are willing to ascribe everything that is so to venial, if not laudable motives.
The Jany Packet has just arrived at N. Y. Her budget is not yet fully opened to the public. The Govt of Engd it is said remains firm in the saddle notwithstanding the spurs which Mr. Payne has so vigorously applied to the people. Whether a war is to be forced with France is still uncertain; tho’ the affirmative is most countenanced by individual opinions. The arms of France continue to maintain their reputation. She is threatened with a further trial of them by all the efforts that Austria & Prussia at least can make. Spain is disposed to be neutral; but would fain make the preservation of Louis a condition. You will find by the inclosed paper that his fate must ere this have been decided by an appeal to the judgment of the Nation.
With every sentiment of esteem & attachment I am Dr sir Yrs
[1 ]From The National Gazette, December 20, 1792. This was the last of Madison’s contributions to the Gazette. He left a volume of the paper, marking with his initials those which he wrote. Mr. Rives, in his Life and Times of Madison, iii., 250, n., gives a list of the articles which is slightly inaccurate.
TO EDMUND PENDLETON.
Philada, Decr 6, 1792.
I am just favored with yours of the 28th Ult. I wish I could remove your anxiety for the French. The last accounts are so imperfect & contradictory that it is difficult to make anything of them. They come also thro’ the Brussels & English channels, which increases the uncertainty. It appears on the whole that the combination agst the revolution, and particularly agst their new Republic, is extremely formidable, and that there is still greater danger within from the follies and barbarities which prevail in Paris. On the other hand it seems tolerably clear that the nation is united against Royalty, and well disposed to second the Government in the means of defence. At this distance it is impossible to appreciate particular measures, or foresee the turn which things may finally take.
The Newspaper tax noticed by the P has been referred to a Come but no report has yet been made. It is of great importance that some change should take place that will remove the obstruction which has been thrown in the way of information to the people. In all Govts the public censorship is necessary in order to prevent abuses. In such an one as ours, where the members are so far removed from the eye of their Constituents, an easy & prompt circulation of public proceedings is peculiarly essential.
The election of a vice P has excited in this quarter considerable animation and called forth comparative portraits of the political characters of Mr Adams & Govr Clinton the only candidates brought into the field. The former has been exhibited in all its monarchical features; and the latter in the anti federal colors it wore in 1788. There are not sufficient data here to calculate with certainty the event of the contest. The probability is rather favorable to Mr. A., but not in such a degree as to prevent pretty keen apprehensions among his friends. As the opposition to him is levelled entirely agst his political principles, and is made under very great disadvantages, the extent of it, whether successful or not, will satisfy him that the people at large are not yet ripe for his system.
We are informed by the last advices from Europe that the harvest has generally been scanty, & that in England, particularly it has suffered prodigiously from the wetness of the season. From this cause, and the general state of things abroad, a great demand on our stock is anticipated. Wheat is already up at 9s, & flour at 45s of this currency. The rise must soon communicate itself to Virginia & it is to be hoped the farmers will not lose the benefit of it by premature sales. We all regret the detention of Col. Taylor. I hope the cause of it has ceased & that we shall soon have his arrival in proof of it. It is probable that Mr. Jefferson will not remain very long in his public station; but it is certain that his retirement is not to be ascribed to the Newspaper calumnies which may have had that in view. With the greatest affection I remain, Dr sir, Yrs—Mad. MSS.
[1 ]John Taylor of Caroline, an uncompromising state rights man, who succeeded Lee in the Senate.
[1 ]Samuel Jordan Cabell, who was elected to the fourth Congress.
[2 ]Proposed by Giles of Virginia, but instigated by Madison, and supported by him in a speech, March 1. The hatred between Hamilton and Madison was of a year’s standing. Its cause is fully explained in Hamilton’s letter to Edward Carrington, March 26, 1792. Hamilton’s Works (Lodge), viii., 205.