Front Page Titles (by Subject) : The Tribune: No. xvii - American Political Writing During the Founding Era: 1760-1805, vol. 1
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: The Tribune: No. xvii - Charles S. Hyneman, American Political Writing During the Founding Era: 1760-1805, vol. 1 
American Political Writing During the Founding Era: 1760-1805, ed. Charles S. Hyneman and Donald Lutz (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1983). 2 vols. Volume 1.
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Few Americans today realize that the revolutionary war was fought as much to preserve American virtue as it was to secure economic independence. Americans, as well as Europeans, tended to view Americans as embodying the sturdy traits of the traditional English yeomen—frugality, industriousness, temperance, simplicity, openness, and virility. They viewed England, on the other hand, as the prototype of a corrupt society characterized by luxury, venality, effete cowardice, and a love of refinement and distinction. Excessive wealth and inequality were the cause of English corruption, and a moderate wealth more or less equally distributed in America was the source of virtue. Breaking with English control thus preserved the basis of American liberty, its pristine virtues, and provided immediate political liberty. This piece appeared in the October 6, 1766 issue of the South Carolina Gazette (Charleston). Its theme runs throughout the literature of the founding era, although in the late 1780s and 1790s a counter argument in favor of economic growth becomes more prominent.
As the stability and prosperity of this kingdom must primarily depend on freedom, and the security of freedom can only be in public virtue, it must of course follow to be pronounced, that whatever tends to undermine public virtue should be most carefully guarded against. This hydra mischief is pictured with great life, by a late Poet in the following lines.
That luxury naturally creates want, and that want, whether artificial or real, has a tendency to make men venal, are truths that are too evident to be disputed. Luxury therefore leads to Corruption; and whoever encourages great luxury in a free state must be a bad citizen; so, of course, whatever government does the same must be a bad government, because it therein acts against the interest of the community.
That we had ministers [NA] enough to avow and glory in such a system, there can be no intelligent man who will be so hardy as to deny; and their motives to such practice have been these, an unworthy compliance with the will of the sovereign, in un-national engagements, and unconstitutional gratifications to themselves and their adherents. The fatal effects of this wicked system are what we are now groaning under, an insupportable load of debts, taxes, pensions, sine-cures, and employments, with an universal spirit of Rapine and Combination, to supply the cravings of avarice, luxury, and prostitution; while the waste of the drones of the hive exceeds all the means of industry to furnish, with but a reserve of what is needful for its own support. And the wicked plea having long been, we must make necessity impel the utmost exercions of labour to the utmost, for public good, so it seems at least to have become the mad aim of partiallity, even to add starving to toil, upon a similar wise plan to that of the [NA] who undertook to make his horse live without eating; which he had no sooner brought him to do than the horse unfortunately died.
But surely a large body of men of eminence, who should have thought themselves free, and to have had an honour to support, must have abandoned all principles, or been made of an odd kind of stuff, to ever suffer themselves to be told openly, that every man had his price, and that a minister would be a pitiful fellow, who did not turn out every one that would not implicitly obey his orders, even in their discharge of a most sacred trust from others; and by way of countenancing the profligacy he encouraged, dared boldly to alledge; that the man was a fool, who pretended to be a whit honester than the times in which he lived. Surely, while such were open doctrines, we ought not to wonder at the wicknedness of any practice, or at what we have been made since to suffer by them. All that we should wonder at is, that any man could be so daringly wicked with impunity, and yet that there should remain even a phantom of liberty.
But when ministers dare not only to talk but also to act arbitrarily in a free state, and, no matter in what mode, so as even to invert the very nature of constitutional institutions, in defiance of an inherent right in the people to call him to a strict account for so doing, and to procure punishment being inflicted on him adequate to his offense, then must public virtue have lost all its elastic powers, and not only liberty, but also right, and even justice, be alike considered to be no better than phantoms; for when men, from the prevalence of corruption can be flagitious with impunity, the most constitutional remedies against the worst of evils to a people may truly be said to have got out of their reach; and what then do they become, but slaves to the will of a prince, or a minister, though in a mode that perhaps may be peculiar? But surely, the mere varying of forms cannot be said to alter the essences of things.
Machiavel [Machiavelli] places all the constitutional strength of a people in a free state, in their facility of means for bringing great offenders to condign punishment; and indeed, without such sure and facile means in their hands, there may be expected a ceaseless invasion of their most sacred rights and privileges. But this right, like all others that are substantial, will be tendered of no effect, whenever their greatest right of all, their legislative right, which comprehends the former, becomes exercised, not for the good and advantage of those who are represented, but of those who represent; and how far such was the real case in the times of which I am writing, is left to the reader’s determination. But this may be said, that if it ever hereafter should become the case, that sacred right will be then found so effectually inverted, that agents will become principals; and instead of acting for the service of the people, the popular rights will only be considered as their merchandize; so that the people will be made the mere instruments for aggrandizing their agents, at their own great expence and injury both in property and security; or, in other words, they will be made to invest their representatives with a power to dispose of their rights and properties to a purchaser who will pay them for so doing with their own money.
Whenever such becomes the case, the abuses will be made glaring by their mischievous effects. The system of governing policy will then be apparently corruption. Ministers will make it their chief study and care to seduce the representatives of the people and guardians of their rights into a combination or conspiracy to betray and plunder them, for their own benefit. The very necessity will be urges of executive government’s being secure of a majority of tractable representatives of the people, and therefrom not only the public purse will be at their command, but ministers will also, in effect, have an uncontroulable power to do whatever they list without hazard to themselves; as they will by such wicked means, be sure of protectors in those who, in cases of iniquity, should be their accusers and prosecutors; so that the people will be left without the means of obtaining remedy or redress for any kind of injury, or the power to procure justice to be done on those by whom they are made to suffer the greatest violences and oppressions.
Without great public virtue, such a system of corruption must naturally take place, and whenever it does take place, the constitution will then become unhinged, and all liberty and right in the people indeed but a mere phantom. Nor can public virtue exist but by a refusance of luxury, for that is sure to create artificial wants that will be boundless, and at [NA] time be productive of more miseries than enjoyments to those who indulge it. To men who are superior to the baits of luxury there can be no temptations to become corrupt, either as electors or representatives; and therefore it must be on the virtues of such men only that public freedom, justice and security can ever rest; so that whenever there ceases to be a sufficient number of such men, then all those blessings must become in danger of being forever lost.
By these criterions, therefore, we can only frame right judgments of either administrations or individuals, and of course they may be considered as the barometers of times, for pointing to the degrees in which public virtue and security at any time exist; for if administrations are seen to encourage luxury and profusion, it may certainly be concluded, that they do it on the view of creating a necessity in men to become servile and corrupt; and if individuals by their own profusion, do reduce themselves to want and perplexity, we may be assured that their necessities will make them become corrupt; so that such ministers, or men, cannot with safety be relied on; and, of course, as undeserving of public confidence, they should ever be opposed.
Let individuals then be but true to their common interests, and it will always be secure. But if they have not virtue or sense enough to do so, they will suffer themselves first to be made fools, and then deservedly slaves and wretches; for where power, on one side, has no bounds, their misery on the other, will be sure soon to have no limits, as we may be convinced by a candid survey of the conditions of many nations, and at no great distance from our own country.