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ROGER SHERMAN TO JOHN ADAMS. - John Adams, The Works of John Adams, vol. 6 (Defence of the Constitutions Vol. III cont’d, Davila, Essays on the Constitution) 
The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, by his Grandson Charles Francis Adams (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856). 10 volumes. Vol. 6.
Part of: The Works of John Adams, 10 vols.
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ROGER SHERMAN TO JOHN ADAMS.
The first letter of Roger Sherman, which occasioned this correspondence, has not been found. But his replies, giving the views entertained on his side, of the disputed provisions of the constitution, are sufficiently interesting to merit insertion.
New York, 20 July, 1789.
I was honored with your letters of the seventeenth and eighteenth instant, and am much obliged to you for the observations they contain.
The subject of government is an important one, and necessary to be well understood by the citizens, and especially by the legislators of these states. I shall be happy to receive further light on the subject, and to have any errors that I may have entertained corrected.
I find that writers on government differ in their definition of a republic. Entick’s Dictionary defines it,—“A commonwealth without a king.” I find you do not agree to the negative part of his definition. What I meant by it was, a government under the authority of the people, consisting of legislative, executive, and judiciary powers; the legislative powers vested in an assembly, consisting of one or more branches, who, together with the executive, are appointed by the people, and dependent on them for continuance, by periodical elections, agreeably to an established constitution; and that what especially denominates it a republic is its dependence on the public or people at large, without any hereditary powers. But it is not of so much importance by what appellation the government is distinguished, as to have it well constituted to secure the rights, and advance the happiness of the community.
I fully agree with you, sir, that it is optional with the people of a state to establish any form of government they please; to vest the powers in one, a few, or many, and for a limited or unlimited time; and the individuals of the state will be bound to yield obedience to such government while it continues; but I am also of opinion, that they may alter their frame of government when they please, any former act of theirs, however explicit, to the contrary notwithstanding.
But what I principally have in view, is to submit to your consideration the reasons that have inclined me to think that the qualified negative given to the executive by our constitution is better than an absolute negative. In Great Britain, where there are the rights of the nobility as well as the rights of the common people to support, it may be necessary that the crown should have a complete negative to preserve the balance; but in a republic like ours, wherein is no higher rank than that of common citizens, unless distinguished by appointments to office, what occasion can there be for such a balance? It is true that some men in every society have natural and acquired abilities superior to others, and greater wealth. Yet these give them no legal claim to offices in preference to others, but will doubtless give them some degree of influence, and justly, when they are men of integrity; and may procure them appointments to places of trust in the government. Yet, they having only the same common rights with the other citizens, what competition of interests can there be to require a balance? Besides, while the real estates are divisible among all the children, or other kindred in equal degree, and entails are not admitted, it will operate as an agrarian law, and the influence arising from great estates in a few hands or families will not exist to such a degree of extent or duration as to form a system, or have any great effect.
In order to trace moral effects to their causes, and vice versa, it is necessary to attend to principles as they operate on men’s minds. Can it be expected that a chief magistrate of a free and enlightened people, on whom he depends for his election and continuance in office, would give his negative to a law passed by the other two branches of the legislature, if he had power? But the qualified negative given to the executive by our constitution, which is only to produce a revision, will probably be exercised on proper occasions; and the legislature have the benefit of the president’s reasons in their further deliberations on the subject, and if a sufficient number of the members of either house should be convinced by them to put a negative upon the bill, it would add weight to the president’s opinion, and render it more satisfactory to the people. But if two thirds of the members of each house, after considering the reasons offered by the President, should adhere to their former opinion, will not that be the most safe foundation to rest the decision upon? On the whole, it appears to me that the power of a complete negative, if given, would be a dormant and useless one, and that the provision in the constitution is calculated to operate with proper weight, and will produce beneficial effects.
The negative vested in the crown of Great Britain has never been exercised since the Revolution, and the great influence of the crown in the legislature of that nation is derived from another source, that of appointment to all offices of honor and profit, which has rendered the power of the crown nearly absolute; so that the nation is in fact governed by the cabinet council, who are the creatures of the crown.1 The consent of parliament is necessary to give sanction to their measures, and this they easily obtain by the influence aforesaid. If they should carry their points so far as directly to affect personal liberty or private property, the people would be alarmed and oppose their progress; but this forms no part of their system, the principal object of which is revenue, which they have carried to an enormous height. Wherever the chief magistrate may appoint to offices without control, his government may become absolute, or at least aggressive; therefore the concurrence of the senate is made requisite by our constitution.
I have not time or room to add or apologize.
I received your letter of the twentieth instant. I had in mine, of the same date, communicated to you my ideas on that part of the constitution, limiting the president’s power of negativing the acts of the legislature; and just hinted some thoughts on the propriety of the provision made for the appointment to offices, which I esteem to be a power nearly as important as legislation.
If that was vested in the president alone, he might, were it not for his periodical election by the people, render himself despotic. It was a saying of one of the kings of England, that while the king could appoint the bishops and judges, he might have what religion and law he pleased.
It appears to me the senate is the most important branch in the government, for aiding and supporting the executive, securing the rights of the individual states, the government of the United States, and the liberties of the people. The executive magistrate is to execute the laws. The senate, being a branch of the legislature, will naturally incline to have them duly executed, and, therefore, will advise to such appointments as will best attain that end. From the knowledge of the people in the several states, they can give the best information as to who are qualified for office; and though they will, as you justly observe, in some degree lessen his responsibility, yet their advice may enable him to make such judicious appointments, as to render responsibility less necessary. The senators being eligible by the legislatures of the several states, and dependent on them for reëlection, will be vigilant in supporting their rights against infringement by the legislature or executive of the United States; and the government of the Union being federal, and instituted by the several states for the advancement of their interests, they may be considered as so many pillars to support it, and, by the exercise of the state governments, peace and good order may be preserved in places most remote from the seat of the federal government, as well as at the centre. And the municipal and federal rights of the people at large will be regarded by the senate, they being elected by the immediate representatives of the people, and their rights will be best secured by a due execution of the laws. What temptation can the senate be under to partiality in the trial of officers of whom they had a voice in the appointment? Can they be disposed to favor a person who has violated his trust and their confidence?
The other evils you mention, that may result from this power, appear to me but barely possible. The senators will doubtless be in general some of the most respectable citizens in the states for wisdom and probity, superior to mean and unworthy conduct, and instead of undue influence, to procure appointments for themselves or their friends, they will consider that a fair and upright conduct will have the best tendency to preserve the confidence of the people and of the states. They will be disposed to be diffident in recommending their friends and kindred, lest they should be suspected of partiality; and the other members will feel the same kind of reluctance, lest they should be thought unduly to favor a person, because related to a member of their body; so that their friends and relations would not stand so good a chance for appointment to offices, according to their merit, as others.
The senate is a convenient body to advise the president, from the smallness of its numbers. And I think the laws would be better framed and more duly administered, if the executive and judiciary officers were in general members of the legislature, in case there should be no interference as to the time of attending to their several duties. This I have learned by experience in the government in which I live, and by observation of others differently constituted. I see no principles in our constitution that have any tendency to aristocracy, which, if I understand the term, is a government by nobles, independent of the people, which cannot take place, in either respect, without a total subversion of the constitution. As both branches of Congress are eligible from the citizens at large, and wealth is not a requisite qualification, both will commonly be composed of members of similar circumstances in life. And I see no reason why the several branches of the government should not maintain the most perfect harmony, their powers being all directed to one end, the advancement of the public good.
If the president alone was vested with the power of appointing all officers, and was left to select a council for himself, he would be liable to be deceived by flatterers and pretenders to patriotism, who would have no motive but their own emolument. They would wish to extend the powers of the executive to increase their own importance; and, however upright he might be in his intentions, there would be great danger of his being misled, even to the subversion of the constitution, or, at least, to introduce such evils as to interrupt the harmony of the government, and deprive him of the confidence of the people.
But I have said enough upon these speculative points, which nothing but experience can reduce to a certainty.
I am, with great respect,