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REVIEW OF THE PROPOSITIONS FOR AMENDING THE CONSTITUTION SUBMITTED BY MR. HILLHOUSE TO THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES, IN 1808. - 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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REVIEW OF THE PROPOSITIONS FOR AMENDING THE CONSTITUTION SUBMITTED BY MR. HILLHOUSE TO THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES, IN 1808.
Among the manuscripts of Mr. Adams was found the following review of a pamphlet published in 1808, entitled “Propositions for Amending the Constitution of the United States, submitted by Mr. Hillhouse to the Senate, on the twelfth day of April, 1808, with his Explanatory Remarks.” It seems to have been prepared for publication, though no trace of it has been found in print. For the better understanding of the strictures, it is necessary to give, in the first place, the amendments as they were proposed by Mr. Hillhouse.
ARTICLE THE FIRST.
After the third day of March, one thousand eight hundred and thirteen, the house of representatives shall be composed of members chosen every year by the people of the several states; their electors in each state shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the state legislature; and their term of service shall expire on the first Tuesday of April in each year.
ARTICLE THE SECOND.
After the third day of March, 1813, the senators of the United States shall be chosen for three years; and their term of service shall expire on the first Tuesday of April.
Immediately after they shall be assembled in consequence of the first election, they shall be divided as equally as may be, into three classes. The seats of the first class shall be vacated at the expiration of the first year; of the second class, at the expiration of the second year; and of the third class, at the expiration of the third year; so that one third may be chosen every year. Vacancies to be filled as already provided.
ARTICLE THE THIRD.
On the third day of March, 1813, the president of the United States shall be appointed, and shall hold his office until the expiration of the first Tuesday of April, 1814. And on the first Tuesday of April, 1814, and on the first Tuesday of April in each succeeding year, the president shall be appointed to hold his office during the term of one year. The mode of appointment shall be as follows:—
In presence of the senate and house of representatives, each senator belonging to the class whose term of service will first expire, and constitutionally eligible to the office of president, of which the house of representatives shall be the sole judges, and shall decide without debate, shall, beginning with the first on the alphabet, and in their alphabetical order, draw a ball out of a box containing the same number of uniform balls as there shall be senators present and eligible, one of which balls shall be colored, the others white. The senator who shall draw the colored ball shall be president. A committee of the house of representatives, to consist of a member from each state, to be appointed in such manner as the house shall direct, shall place the balls in the box, shall shake the same so as to intermix them, and shall superintend the drawing thereof.
In case of the removal of the president from office, or of his death, resignation, or inability to discharge the powers and duties thereof, if congress be then in session, or if not, as soon as they shall be in session, the president shall, in the manner beforementioned, be appointed for the residue of the term. And, until the disability be removed, or a president be appointed, the speaker of the senate shall act as president. And congress may, by law, provide for the case of removal by death, resignation, or inability of the president, and vacancy in the office, or inability of the speaker of the senate; and such officer shall act accordingly, until the disability of the president be removed, or another be appointed.
The seat of a senator who shall be appointed as president, shall thereby be vacated.
ARTICLE THE FOURTH.
After the third day of March, 1813, the compensation of the president shall not exceed fifteen thousand dollars a year.
ARTICLE THE FIFTH.
After the third day of March, 1813, the office of vice-president shall cease. And the senate, on the same day in each year, when the president shall be annually appointed, shall choose a speaker; and, in the absence of the speaker, or when he shall exercise the office of president, the senate shall choose a speaker pro tempore.
ARTICLE THE SIXTH.
After the third day of March, 1813, the president shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the senate and of the house of representatives, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the supreme court, and all other officers of the United States, whose appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by law. But congress may, by law, vest the appointment of such officers as they think proper, in the president, by and with the advice and consent of the senate; and of the inferior officers in the president alone, in the courts of law, or in the heads of departments. But no law, vesting the power of appointment, shall be for a longer term than two years. All proceedings on nominations shall be with closed doors and without debate; but information of the character and qualifications of the person nominated, shall be received.
ARTICLE THE SEVENTH.
After the third day of March, 1813, the president shall have power to fill all vacancies that may happen during the recess of congress, by granting commissions which shall expire at the end of their next session. No removal from office shall take place without the consent of the senate and of the house of representatives. But congress may, by law, authorize the removal by the same power, as may by law be authorized to make the appointment. But in every case of misconduct in office, where the consent of the senate, or of the senate and house of representatives, shall be necessary to a removal, the president, during the recess of congress, may suspend the officer, and make a temporary appointment of a person to exercise the office, until the next meeting of congress, and until a decision can be had by the senate, or by the senate and house of representatives, as the case may be, on a question for the removal of the officer suspended. All proceedings respecting removal from office shall be had, without debate, upon the information and reasons which shall be communicated by the president, and with closed doors.
These radical propositions, coming as they did from a leading member of the party originally formed for the purpose of sustaining the federal constitution, and supported by him in an elaborate speech, were well calculated to fix the attention of Mr. Adams. It is not unlikely that he gave to the plan more importance, as a political movement, than it merited; for it does not appear to have been followed up, either by the originator or any one else. This may be the reason why the review was never published. The general argument is, however, of a permanent nature, and deserves to be placed among the memorials of the author.
When a speech or a pamphlet appears in public from the press, the most rational course would be to read it and judge of its merits, without prejudice. But republican jealousy is so much the spirit of the times, that the first question is, who is the author? of what party is he? what are his motives? and whose election is he aiming to promote? This inquisitive temper has been sufficiently alive concerning the publication of Mr. Hillhouse. Some have conjectured that his design was, to throw the nation into confusion, in hopes that a better order than prevails at present, might arise out of it. Others have suggested that this work is a burlesque on the crude projects of amendment which appear in such numbers. One set of men have suspected that this gentleman has been so long in public business, and has been so much disappointed, becoming yearly of less and less influence, and, at present, finding himself in a minority, consisting at most of three or four in the senate, that he is grown impatient, and determined, at any rate, to make himself a name, and increase his importance. I shall leave these uncandid insinuations to those who delight in them; and take it for granted, that Mr. Hillhouse is sincere, that he honestly believes what he says, and proposes his amendments for the public good. It shall be my endeavor to be as concise as possible, in a few observations which, I hope, may show in a clear light, the merit of his work.
In pages five and six, Mr. Hillhouse defines his terms,—monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, federalists and republicans. I shall make no objection to any thing here, but his idea of aristocracy. But before I come to that, I must take notice of what he says at the bottom of page six.
“Some of the important features of our constitution were borrowed from a model which did not very well suit our condition. I mean the constitution and government of England,—a mixed monarchy,—in which monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy are so combined, as to form a check on each other. One important and indispensable requisite of such a government is, that the first two branches should be hereditary.”
Would it not have been more conformable to the fact to have said, that those important features of our constitution were borrowed from our colonial constitutions? Every colony on the continent, except Pennsylvania, had a governor, a council or senate, and a house of representatives. The governors were not hereditary; the counsellors were not hereditary. Some of the governors were chosen by the people, and so were some of the councils. Some were appointed by the king, but commonly changed upon an average of less than seven years. There is little difference between our present governments and those under which our ancestors emigrated, lived, and, after having founded a respectable and flourishing nation, died; excepting that their governors were appointed from abroad, and our presidents and governors are chosen by ourselves. I am sorry to add, that we show the executives of our own choice and own blood infinitely less respect than our ancestors did those who were foreigners and appointed by a king. Governments, therefore, may be mixed and compounded of monarchical, aristocratical, and democratical ingredients, without one particle of hereditary power or privilege in them, except the common privileges of the people, such as their hereditary lands, goods, and liberties. Say, if you will, that in such an empire as the British, it is necessary that the executive and senate should be hereditary, because elections to these powers would totally corrupt the nation, produce a civil war, and raise a military despotism at the first trial. But, in an experiment of twenty years, we have not yet found such dangers among us.
Mr. Hillhouse further observes, that “to form an aristocracy, hereditary succession is indispensable.” But Mr. Hillhouse is mistaken. Holland was an aristocracy; but the burgomasters, pensionaries, counsellors, and schepens, in whom the sovereignty resided, were not hereditary. There is a small number of nobles in the legislature of each state, but this body has but one vote. Every city has an equal vote with the whole body of nobles, and, in critical times, they have no influence. Bern was an aristocracy; but the members of the grand council were not hereditary, but elective. There were six noble families; but they had no prerogatives, but mere precedency; and these were not counsellors, unless elected into a legislature of two hundred and ninety-nine members,—counsellors and assessors.
In short, hereditary powers and peculiar privileges enter in no degree into the definition of aristocracy. There may be an aristocracy for life, or for years, or for half a year, or a month, or a day. Infinite art and chicanery have been employed in this country to deceive the people in their understanding of this term aristocracy, as well as of that of well-born, as if aristocracy could not exist without hereditary power and exclusive privileges; and as if a man could not be well-born, without being a hereditary nobleman and a peer of the realm.
Chancellor Livingston inherited a name, numerous and wealthy family connections, and a fine manor. These are all hereditary privileges, and have given him more influence in this country than all the titles and immense landed estates of the Duke of Norfolk, with all the hereditary rank and seat in the house of lords, have given him in England. Mr. John Randolph inherited his name, family connections, his fine plantations and thousand negroes, which have given him more power in this country than the Duke of Bedford has in England, and more than he would have, if he possessed all the brilliant wit, fine imagination, and flowing eloquence of that celebrated Virginian. Were not, then, Mr. Livingston and Mr. Randolph well-born? The state of Connecticut has always been governed by an aristocracy, more decisively than the empire of Great Britain is. Half a dozen, or, at most, a dozen families, have controlled that country when a colony, as well as since it has been a state. An aristocracy can govern the elections of the people without hereditary legal dignities, privileges, and powers, better than with them. In the Massachusetts, many of our prime quality were banished in the Revolution. Most of our present rulers are new men. But these have been promoted by an aristocracy.
Mr. Hillhouse says, “the United States do not possess the materials for forming an aristocracy.” But we do possess one material which actually constitutes an aristocracy that governs the nation. That material is wealth. Talents, birth, virtues, services, sacrifices, are of little consideration with us. The greatest talents, the highest virtues, the most important services are thrown aside as useless, unless they are supported by riches or parties, and the object of both parties is chiefly wealth. When the rich observe a young man, and see he has talents to serve their party, they court and employ him; but if he deviates from their line, let him have a care. He will soon be discarded. In the Roman history we see a constant struggle between the rich and the poor, from Romulus to Cæsar. The great division was not so much between patricians and plebeians, as between debtor and creditor. Speculation and usury kept the state in perpetual broils. The patricians usurped the lands, and the plebeians demanded agrarian laws. The patricians lent money at exorbitant interest, and the plebeians were sometimes unable and always unwilling to pay it. These were the causes of dividing the people into two parties, as distinct and jealous, and almost as hostile to each other, as two nations. Let Mr. Hillhouse say, whether we have not two parties in this country springing from the same sources? Whether a spirit for speculation in land has not always existed in this country, from the days of William Penn, and even long before? Whether this spirit has not become a rage, from Georgia to New Hampshire, within the last thirty years? Whether foundations have not been laid for immense fortunes in a few families, for their posterity? Whether the variations of a fluctuating medium and an unsteady public faith have not raised vast fortunes in personal property, in banks, in commerce, in roads, bridges, &c.? Whether there are not distinctions arising from corporations and societies of all kinds, even those of religion, science, and literature, and whether the professions of law, physic, and divinity are not distinctions? Whether all these are not materials for forming an aristocracy? Whether they do not in fact constitute an aristocracy that governs the country?
On the other side, the common people, by which appellation I designate the farmers, tradesmen, and laborers, many of the smaller merchants and shopkeepers, and even the unfortunate and necessitous who are obliged to fly into the wilderness for a subsistence, and all the debtors, cannot see these inequalities without grief and jealousy and resentment. A farmer or a tradesman, who cannot, by his utmost industry and frugality, in a life of seventy years, do more than support a moderate family, and lay up four or five thousand dollars, must think it very hard when he sees these vast fortunes made per saltum, these mushrooms growing up in a night; and they throw themselves naturally into the arms of a party whose professed object is to oppose the other party.
Two such parties, therefore, always will exist, as they always have existed, in all nations, especially in such as have property, and, most of all, in commercial countries. Each of these parties must be represented in the legislature, and the two must be checks on each other. But, without a mediator between them, they will oppose each other in all things, and go to war till one subjugates the other. The executive authority is the only mediator that can maintain peace between them.
Mr. Hillhouse thinks, “we have not the means of making an aristocratical branch to our government.” I think we have the means, and that we have in fact, an aristocratical branch to our government, and that is, the senate; and a very useful, honorable, and necessary branch it is; but it would be more useful and more safe, if every particle of executive power was taken away from it. There are materials in great plenty, out of which to form this aristocratical branch. Mercuries ought not, indeed, to be sculptured out of every kind of wood; but there are gentlemen of fortune, talents, experience, and integrity, in every state, out of whom the legislatures may select the most eminent, and so they might, if the number of senators were doubled, as I wish it was, and hope it will be. These would compose an aristocratical branch, as respectable as any in the world. Our senate for twenty years has been very well chosen, and has abounded with able and excellent men. How Mr. Hillhouse can be at a loss for means of making an aristocratical branch, I know not. Our senators are not hereditary, nor have they any exclusive privileges, nor are these necessary, so long as we have not a hereditary executive; nor is a hereditary executive necessary, so long as we have not a hereditary senate. When one is so, the other must be, or it will be no check.
It is to no purpose to declaim against “demagogues.” There are as many and as dangerous aristocratical demagogues as there are democratical. Neither party will get any thing by such invectives. Sylla and Pompey were as arrant, aristocratical demagogues as Marius and Cæsar, or even Catiline, were democratical ones. Sylla was more cruel than Marius, and Pompey had less humanity than Cæsar. Even Cicero and Brutus, the honestest men in Rome, were but aristocratical demagogues; and Milo was as much an agitator for the patricians as Clodius for the plebeians; and Hamilton was as much a demagogue as Burr. An independent executive, to mediate between the two parties, was wanting, and this defect was the ruin of the Roman republic, and will be ours, if Mr. Hillhouse’s motion prevails. When Mr. Hillhouse declares that, “when a citizen claims to be an exclusive patriot, and is very officious in proclaiming his own merit, it is time for the people to be alarmed,” I agree with him. But, I must add, when a senator declaims against executive influence under our constitution, it is time for the people to be upon their guard against an aristocratical spirit and preponderance.
Further, Mr. Hillhouse says, “there is always such a spirit of jealousy existing between aristocracy and democracy, and between monarchy and democracy, they cannot long exist together without a third balancing power.” Mr. Hillhouse should have added, an equal jealousy between aristocracy and monarchy, and then I should have agreed with him. But this last jealousy it was not convenient for Mr. H. to acknowledge. He says, “as well might a man take up his abode in a tiger’s den, as aristocracy with democracy, unless protected by the strong arm of monarchy.” And I say, as well might a man take up his abode with Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego, in the fiery furnace, as democracy with aristocracy, without the strong arm of monarchy to protect it. Witness the thirty tyrants of Athens and the decemvirs at Rome, and every other instance since the creation, in which democracy has been in the power of aristocracy. I say further, that as well might a man take up his abode with Daniel in the lion’s den as monarchy with aristocracy, without the million arms of democracy to defend it. All these jealousies exist in some degree; but the greatest jealousy of all, is that of aristocracy against monarchy. Aristocracy is the natural enemy of monarchy; and monarchy and democracy are the natural allies against it, and they have always felt the necessity of uniting against it, sooner or later. Hence the ultimate destruction of all republics. The aristocracy would not suffer the executive to have power to defend the constitution, to defend itself, or to defend the people. The aristocracy has oppressed the people and the executive, till the people, out of all patience, have given the aristocracy, and themselves, too, a master. As to “surrounding the throne by a powerful aristocracy,” they have always proved to be prætorian guards, and cut off the head of their general, when the discipline of the laws has, by any calamity, been weakened. It is true, when the people have been seditious and rebellious against them, their property, privileges, and distinctions, they have united with the executive to defend themselves. Like fire, they are good servants, but all-consuming masters.
Little need be said on shortening the period of the elections of the two houses. This, instead of diminishing the spirit of party, will only increase and inflame it. There will be no time for it to cool. The causes of the two parties I have already shown to be permanent and unchangeable. Both must be represented in the legislature, and there must be a mediator between them in the executive. This mediator must have power for the purpose. He must calm and restrain the ardor of both, and be more impartial between them than any president ever yet has been.1 And the senators themselves must not constrain him to be partial, as they so often have done. Their power to do so, instead of being increased, as Mr. Hillhouse proposes, ought to be wholly taken from them. They ought to have nothing to do with executive power. If Mr. Hillhouse, however, should carry this point, and the people, instead of being glutted and satiated with elections, should wish to double the number, I hope he will introduce that admirable aristocratical invention of Connecticut,—a nomination list,—that every thing may not depend upon the election fever,—the ictus febrilis of one election day.
The sixth article of Mr. Hillhouse’s amendments reduces the president’s office to that of a mere Doge of Venice, a mere head of wood, a mere tool of the aristocracy of the country. He is to be appointed by chance from the most aristocratic branch,—the senate. Although the senators in general have been respectable men, and some of them illustrious for virtues, talents, experience, and services, yet it must be confessed, that there have been very weak men in that body. These will have as good a chance as the best. A Blount, or a Burr, as good a chance as an Ellsworth, or a Strong, or a Richard Henry Lee. But this is of less importance than the proposal to submit all nominations and removals to the senate and house of representatives. There never was, and never can be, a project more perfectly aristocratical than this.
Mr. Hillhouse informs us, that “man is fond of power.” True. But is not man, in the shape of a senator or a representative, as fond of power as a president? Mr. H. also admonishes us, that “ambition and favoritism,” (and he should have added, avarice, jealousy, envy, hatred, love, and lust,) “are evils to be guarded against in a republican government.” True, again; but are not ambition and favoritism, and all other vicious passions and sinister interests, as strong and active in a senator or a representative as in a president? Cannot, indeed, the members of the legislature conceal their private views and improper motives more easily than a president? Every senator and every representative has in his own district friends and favorites, to whose esteem, affection, activity, and influence, he has been indebted for his election. Is it not natural, that his mutual esteem, affection, and gratitude to these friends, should excite him to exert himself in obtaining favors, offices, and employments for them? Mr. Hillhouse probably knows, that great pains have sometimes been taken by senators, and representatives, too, to obtain nominations to offices, sometimes for themselves, and sometimes for their favorites; sometimes with success, and sometimes without.
Again, has Mr. Hillhouse never known combinations and consultations between general officers, heads of department, leading members of the senate and house of representatives, I will not say to overawe, but to influence the president in favor of some appointments, and against others? Has he never known such combinations resisted, and nominations made in opposition to them all? I say, such instances have been; and such nominations have proved the most fortunate, important, and successful of any that were ever made under the constitution. Has Mr. Hillhouse never known combinations and committees of senators sent to the president, to remonstrate privately against nominations? and when they could not prevail, have they not obtained majorities in senate to negative such nominations? Mr. Hillhouse has known favoritisms and anti-favoritisms enough in both houses, I should think, to be convinced that favoritism would be increased by his project, at least one hundred and fiftyfold.
Let us now consider how Mr. Hillhouse’s project would operate. The president sends a nomination to the senate. Probably the person named has been selected by the president out of twenty candidates, who have been previously recommended to him by some senator and some representative. Nineteen senators are of course disappointed, because their favorites have been set aside. These nineteen will then combine together to negative the present nomination, in hopes that their favorites will have a better chance at the next time. There is to be no debate. How is this possible? Members are to give information, and information may be sent in from abroad, by petition or remonstrance. Vices, follies, crimes, incapacity, may be alleged and contradicted. How can these questions be determined but by witnesses, and how can false witnesses be counteracted but by confrontation? And, after all, the favorite member of the senate, by intrigue, artifice, or eloquence out of doors, will carry his candidate. After this, it must go down to the house of representatives; and what will happen there? The member who has previously recommended him to the president will rise and give him a character. Twenty other members, perhaps a hundred, who have recommended another man, or other men, will be disappointed. Sins and crimes and disqualifications may be alleged against the nomination. The subject will be postponed for days or weeks. In the mean time, caucuses will be held of evenings, combinations will be formed, and the favorite members of the house will carry their favorites.
But removals from office, too, must be laid before both houses. The mischiefs and inconveniences of this would be greater, if possible, than of the other. The officers of the army, navy, and revenue are necessarily numerous. Complaints and accusations often occur; these must be laid before congress. Witnesses must be summoned, examined, and cross-examined. Counsel would be humbly requested; it would be inhumanity to refuse it. Parties, cabals, and caucuses would be formed, and corruption introduced in a thousand shapes. Those who had favorites gaping for the place, would be tempted too slightly to vote for removal; and those who had no such favorites to gratify, would be too tender. The year would be too short for both houses to go through with all these appointments and removals. Again, how is military discipline to be maintained in your army and navy? How is the subordination of the military to the civil power to be supported? Give your general an estate for life in his office, defeasible only on the vote of the two houses, and he will soon be master of your president; he will soon have ten times as much influence in the nation.
To illustrate this subject still further, recollect the instances already recorded. In the case of Blount, a conspiracy was fully proved,—to dismember the empire, and carry off an immense portion of it to a foreign dominion; yet how much time was consumed, and how much debate excited, before that important subject could be decided! and the accused person, with all his guilt upon his head, was finally suffered to escape with impunity. In the case of Judge Pickering,—although his incapacity to discharge the functions of his office was indisputable, and although incapacity and non-user are a legal forfeiture of a judicial office; yet, it is well remembered how much time was necessarily employed in the investigation of the law and the evidence, and how much the house and the senate were divided in opinions on the final decision. In the case of Judge Chase,—the time, the expense, and the public anxiety of his impeachment and trial are well known, and how much exertion of the ablest and best men in the legislature, as well as of the counsel, were requisite to save a great and upright judge from unmerited ignominy, disgrace, and ruin. In the more recent case of Mr. John Smith, of Ohio,—what a vast expense of time and money and travel, what numbers of witnesses, what intricate questions of law, as well as collisions of testimony, occurred, and how critical was the final determination upon his innocence! In the case of General Wilkinson,—the complication of law and facts, the length of time through the whole of which his conduct is to be examined, the number of witnesses, the various parts of the Union from whence they must be collected, the conflicts of parties, the great legal and political questions which arise, and the vast importance to the public as well as the individual, are all to be taken into consideration. The time already passed in this inquiry is very great; and how much longer it will continue to irritate and inflame the public and divide the nation, no man can conjecture. The case of Colonel Burr is the most remarkable of all. If this was to be tried, first in the senate, and then in the house of representatives, when would it have an end? and who can pretend to divine what would be the decision?
Now every custom-house officer, every judge, and every marshal, every attorney-general and district-attorney, every secretary of state, treasury, war, or navy, and every officer of the army or navy, every postmaster, general or particular, would have as fair a right to a public and impartial trial, as a judge of the supreme court, upon an impeachment. In trials at law the jurors cannot be solicited; but the solicitations of members of congress, from culprits and their friends, would be infinite; and, where guilt or innocence is to be determined by a single vote in one hundred and fifty, as would often happen, if a corrupt member could be found, a bribe would not seldom be offered. Especially in cases where foreign interests and intrigues could intervene.
This is the system Mr. Hillhouse would introduce. It may without scruple be pronounced, though Mr. Hillhouse certainly did not see it in that light, the most corrupt project that ever was conceived by a man of sense and virtue. The endless confusion and distraction that would arise from it, would be as certain as its injustice, inhumanity, and corruption.
The appointment and removal of ambassadors and foreign ministers and consuls, as well as judges and general officers and admirals, would take the whole year, and convulse the continent. Take away from the president the nominations to those offices, and give it to every member of the senate and house, and how many nominations would there be to every vacancy? The disputes would be endless between the North and the South, the East and the West. One state would have more than its proportion, and others less. The question would be more concerning the abode of the candidate, and less concerning the talents, qualifications, and merits, than ever it has been yet; and it has already, and always been, more so than it ought to have been for the public good. The members of the house of representatives are so numerous, and often so young and inexperienced, that they must vote for men, nine times in ten, of whom they know nothing, not even by common fame; and as often will be incompetent to judge of the appropriate qualifications for the office.
The old congress was a small body of men, in comparison of the present two branches, and their deliberations were always in secret; yet, if there is anybody living who was present, and knew the contests on the appointments of general officers and foreign ministers, let him recollect the disputes about Dr. Franklin, Silas Deane, and Arthur and William Lee; Mr. Izard, Mr. Williams, Mr. Morris, Commodore Jones, Captain Landais, and Lieutenant Simpson; General Lincoln, General Arnold, General Wooster, Commodore Hopkins, and many others; nay, even concerning General Washington, General Ward, General Lee, General Schuyler, and General Gates, &c.; and he must remember that congress was torn to pieces by these disputes, and that days and months and years were wasted in such controversies, to the inexpressible injury of the service. To these causes are to be attributed the wants of the army, the distresses of General Washington, the loss of Canada, after we had conquered all but Quebec, the loss of the Penobscot enterprise, and almost all the disasters of the war. The complaints against general officers, the financier and his agents, and especially against foreign ministers, were as perpetual and endless as the debates in congress, not to say intrigues, to the delay and neglect of the most essential measures for the support and supply of the army and navy.
No! the real fault is, that the president has not influence enough, and is not independent enough. Parties will not allow him to act himself. For twelve years one party prevailed, and that party would not allow their presidents to be impartial. The other party has now prevailed eight years, and they have not permitted their president, in many instances, to act his own judgment. The power of removal was never abused in the first twelve years, except, perhaps, in two instances, and those removals were made at the earnest and repeated solicitations of all the members of the house, and one of the members of the senate, from New Hampshire, much against the inclination of the president. Representations of misconduct in office were made to the president, and probably credited by those members of congress; but there is now reason to suspect, that they were dictated by too much of a party spirit.
In short, presidents must break asunder their leading strings, and the people must support them in it. They must unite the two parties, instead of inflaming their divisions. They must look out for merit, wherever they can find it; and talent and integrity must be a recommendation to office, wherever they are seen, though differing in sentiments from the president, and in an opposite party to that whose little predominance brought him into power.
People of the United States!—you know not half the solicitude of your presidents for your happiness and welfare, nor a hundredth part of the obstructions and embarrassments they endure from intrigues of individuals of both parties. You must support them in their independence, and turn a deaf ear to all the false charges against them. But, if you suffer them to be overawed and shackled in the exercise of their constitutional powers, either by aristocratical or democratical manœuvres, you will soon repent of it in bitter anguish. Anarchy and civil war cannot be far off. Whereas, by a steady support of the independence of the president’s office, your liberties and happiness will be safe, in defiance of all foreign influence, French or English, and of all popular commotion and aristocratical intrigue.
The proposal of diminishing the president’s salary to fifteen thousand dollars, is so mean a thought that it scarcely deserves to be mentioned. If the present compensation is too high for seven or eight millions of industrious people, possessing a very fertile and productive agricultural country, and the second commerce in the universe, to support a president who represents their majesty, and must support their dignity in the eyes of all nations and people, let it be diminished by an amendment of the constitution, as it is, without making the president a mere painted head of a ship, made of wood, and incapable of being helmsman or pilot.
In several passages, Mr. Hillhouse is very anxious, and with great reason, about party spirit. He calls it a demon and a fiend, by a figure which is natural enough, for indeed it is
But how shall this monster be chained? How shall this foul fiend be exorcised? Sermons, orations, speeches, pamphlets, odes, hymns, and heroic poems, have been long enough tried, to no purpose. Homer, Milton, and Spenser, whose immortal poems were all written expressly to show the dreadful effects of party spirit and discord among aristocratic chiefs, and the passions of envy, jealousy, ambition, and revenge, from whence they sprung, have been as little heeded as Mr. Hillhouse and his humble reviewer will be. It is a devil, I believe, that will not be cast out even by fasting and prayer. It was turned out of paradise with the first pair, immediately made a division in their family, and produced a duel or an assassination between their first two sons. From that family it has descended through all successive generations to the present most enlightened and virtuous age, and still produces assassinations and duels as frequently as ever. It inhabits all climes, and is found under all forms of government. It prevails in Turkey and Persia, Morocco and Tripoli, as well as in France and England; and in every tribe of savages in Africa and America, as well as among the most enlightened people on earth. There never existed three men together, two of whom did not love one another better than either of them loved the third, and better than the third loved either of the other two. If this fact be indubitable, as I believe it is, it will necessarily follow, that three men never lived together without a party spirit among them.
In despotisms and simple monarchies it is well known by what means the monster is quelled; but in limited monarchies and free republics the conquest is attended with more difficulty. If Mr. Hillhouse will run over in his thoughts all his researches into history and the science of government, he will oblige the public by pointing out one instance, in which party spirit has been confined within any bounds compatible with public good and national happiness, but by a counterpoise of interests, passions, and parties. Party spirit confounds the distinctions between truth and falsehood, right and wrong, and it corrupts the moral sense. There can be, therefore, no ultimate remedy in any moral principle or political maxim, against its final and fatal excesses. Nothing but power lodged somewhere in impartial hands can ever moderate, soften, or control it.
When Mr. Hillhouse says, that “state or local parties will have but a feeble influence on the general government,” I cannot comprehend him. Will not a state party avail itself of the influence of the general government, to increase its own influence at home, and to diminish that of its rival? Will not a local party request Mr. Pickering, Mr. Hillhouse, and Mr. Ely, to write public and private letters to stimulate their own friends and disgrace their antagonists? And will not the opposite party avail themselves of even a letter from a man of no party, whose conscience is not yet seared with the red hot iron of faction, to support itself if it can? Will not both parties cut off at a blow at present, and after some time, perhaps by a proscription or a guillotine, or a banishment to Cayenne or to Botany Bay, every man who dares to vote or speak or write from his conscience and his honor? “Curse ye Meroz, curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof, because they came not up to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty,” is the language of all parties; and when it is infallibly known to be the cause of the Lord, it is just; but when it is the cause of mere faction, the language should be changed to “cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel.” The time is well remembered when Mr. Madison, Mr. Giles, and several other members of congress, finding themselves unable to elevate their party in the great council of the nation, resigned their seats, and became members of their state legislatures, in order to revolutionize the primary assemblies, influence the elections to the general government, and overawe the national measures. Mr. Hillhouse, no doubt, remembered the great efforts, and, among many others, the representations and legislative pamphlets against the alien law and sedition law. He must clearly see, and readily acknowledge, that his amendments will be no remedy against such party spirit and party contrivances. Senators and representatives of the national government, and ministers of state, too, will continue to resign, in order to increase their fame, to be made governors at home, and promote the views of their party; and, on the other hand, governors, &c., of states will resign to be made senators, vice-presidents, secretaries of state, judges, and presidents. As long as the state governments retain their sovereignty, that is, their legislatures, or, in other words, as long as the national government is, in any sense, a federative republic, mutual sympathies or mutual antipathies will subsist between them and the national government; and there can never exist the smallest spirit of party in one, without producing a similar spirit of party in the other.
That there are “regular, organized parties, extending from the northern to the southern extremity, and from the Atlantic to the western limits of the United States,” is very true. And it is equally certain, that there ever have been such, and that there ever will be such, unless you lay an embargo on all printing presses, private letters, private clubs, and on all travelling from one state to another. A standing army of a hundred thousand infantry and another hundred thousand cavalry, and twenty thousand gun-boats, will not effect it. Caucuses of patricians and caucuses of plebeians always prevailed in Rome and in all other free countries. Our revolution was effected by caucuses. The federal constitution was formed by caucuses, and the federal administrations, for twenty years, have been supported or subverted by caucuses. There is little more of the kind now, than there was twenty years ago. Alexander Hamilton was the greatest organist that ever played upon this instrument. He made all the use he could of these bodies of Cincinnati and others, to prevent Mr. Adams from being chosen vice-president. The reason of his antipathy, I know not; for he had never seen him. He caused it to be propagated in the Northern States, that Virginia would not vote for Washington, and in the Southern States, that New England would not vote for Washington, or, at least, that their votes would not be unanimous; at the same time, that there was a great probability there would be a unanimous vote for Adams; that, therefore, the electors must throw away so many of their votes that Adams could not have a majority, and, consequently, could not be president. If he believed one word of the apprehensions he propagated, it is very unaccountable; for there was a very great certainty in the public opinion, that Washington would have a unanimous vote.1
At the second election, he was pleased to permit Mr. Adams to have a considerable majority as vice-president.2
At the third election, he intrigued with all his might to get Major Thomas Pinckney chosen president. He dared not attempt to exclude Mr. Adams, because he knew that such a project would defeat his plan; but his scheme was to get a vote or two more for Pinckney than for Adams, or, at least, an equal number for each, in hopes that his intrigues in the house might prevail to have Pinckney preferred to Adams.3
At the fourth election, his caucuses were more bold, open, and decided. Not only a caucus of members of Congress was assembled at Philadelphia, to exclude Mr. Jefferson, and turn him out, but to bring in General Pinckney with an equal vote with Mr. Adams. This was given out as a point determined, and the whole continent pledged to it upon their sacred honor. In the mean time, Hamilton prepared his famous pamphlet, intending to keep it secret till the election was passed, and then put it into the hands of the members of the house, to decide the election there in favor of Pinckney. Besides all this, a caucus of the Cincinnati was called at New York, in which he was chosen president of that society; but it was determined to sacrifice Adams; and even the two clergymen, President Dwight and Dr. Hitchcock, were found explicit in the pious opinion of sacrificing Adams. Not satisfied with all this, he made a journey through New England to Boston and to Providence, in prosecution of this patriotic design. In Boston, I doubt not, he found some as patriotic as himself. In Rhode Island he was less successful. He labored with Governor Fenner to no purpose. Fenner would not sacrifice Adams.1
The opposite party had their caucuses, too, and Burr made as many journeys, and reasoned to greater effect than Hamilton. The republican party had a caucus in Boston, in 1793, and wrote to Mr. Jefferson, upon his resignation of the office of secretary of state, that if he would place himself at their head, they would choose him at the next election; and they organized their party by their correspondences through the states.
This detail sufficiently shows, that caucuses have been from the beginning. There is, no doubt, some regard to public good, in the prosecution of these measures. They are considered as necessary. There is, also, ambition, avarice, envy, jealousy, and revenge. As these causes, good and bad, have hitherto produced such combinations, and as these causes will continue to the end of the world, we may presume the combinations will continue too. They have been, perhaps, too openly avowed, and published in too dictatorial a style; but they will continue with more or less reserve. You cannot prevent them any more than you can prevent gentlemen from conversing at their lodgings.
The question now is, whether Mr. Hillhouse’s amendments of the constitution will remedy or qualify the evil. I think not. On the contrary, they will aggravate the distemper, and make it mortal. As the government vibrates at present between parties about once in twelve years, if you make the elections annual, there will be a chance of its vibrating every year, and you will have no stability in government at all. If that “prince of the power of the air,” that “fiend, party spirit,” can now “invade every sphere;” if that demon can “pass the bounds of every state,” will he be
when elections become annual? Will Hamilton be prohibited from visiting Boston and Rhode Island, and Burr from travelling in New Jersey and Pennsylvania? The communication by letters in the post offices, and by private hands, will be as easy as ever, and mercenary emissaries from the British and French courts may write, speak, and hold caucuses, as well as federalists and republicans, when elections are annual, as well as at this time, when they are for two years, for six years, and for four years. The monster who now fremit ore cruento, but cannot gorge himself more than once in six years, will then have his appetite increased by being annually feasted. He will then be monthly and daily employed all the year round, in “sowing discord and divisions, destroying social harmony, overturning the most valuable institutions, and endangering the liberties of our country.”
It is true, that parties have commenced in this country; but that they are progressing with more gigantic strides than usual, I know not. At every election of representatives, senators, and presidents, they have appeared; and the nation was as much divided in 1787, 1788, and 1789, as it is now. It was united in nothing but in the choice of Washington. When Mr. Benson moved that the blank in the bill, directing what officer should hold the office of president, in case of the death of the president and vice-president, should be filled with the chief justice, meaning Mr. Jay, Mr. Madison instantly moved that it should be filled with the secretary of state, meaning Mr. Jefferson. So fierce a spirit of party between the friends of the two rivals appeared all at once, that neither side had the courage to engage in the debate; the blank was never filled, and the bill was dropped. And both parties have ever had a successor in view from that time to this. Notwithstanding all the ardor of popular affection for Washington, and the great, I will not say unlimited confidence in him, congress and the nation were more divided, during the eight years of his administration, than they ever have been since. The senate, in constitutional questions and subjects of foreign relations, were, in most instances, divided half and half. The federal majority in the house of representatives was very small. During the administration of his immediate successor, the federalists had a majority of two thirds in the senate, and a larger majority in the house than at any period of the first eight years. This appearance of strength made them, or, at least, their great leader, Hamilton, presumptuous, and proved their ruin.
During the whole administration of Mr. Jefferson, the nation has been more united, and the majorities in both houses have been uniformly much greater, than under either of his predecessors. How, then, can it be said, that parties are progressing with gigantic strides? It should rather seem that the nation is advancing towards greater unanimity. The next election, however, of president, will show whether party spirit or unanimity is increasing. The belligerent powers have, indeed, driven us, by their intemperate measures, into circumstances of danger and distress, which have increased the anxiety of all men of all parties; but it does not yet appear, that the parties are more dangerous or alarming than they have been. A little time may decide. But, however this may be, the question still remains, whether Mr. Hillhouse’s amendment will quell one monster, or propagate more and fiercer? Mr. H. is for “cutting off the head of the demon.” I think he will find it the head of a hydra, and that a hundred heads will sprout from the blood of the one exscinded. “Without a head, no dangerous party can be formed; no such party can exist,” says Mr. H. Indeed! Is it so? Perhaps it is. But parties will find heads enough; an oligarchy of heads, an aristocracy of heads, a democracy of heads; for the deepest democracies always have heads. One would think that the ancient experiment of cutting off the heads of the tallest poppies, had been tried often enough. Go into your field, and strike off the heads of all the tallest, and when you have gone over the whole, turn round and survey the whole ground. You will find as many taller than others as ever; and you must cut off every plant but one, before you can say there is no poppy taller than another. One would think that the recent example of France could not be so soon forgotten. Mirabeau, Marat, Brissot, Danton, Robespierre, were all heads cut off in succession, and all succeeding heads were saved only by having recourse to one head and one arm, in the Emperor Napoleon. The common sense and common feeling of mankind operated in France, after beholding the horrible massacres of aristocracy and democracy, as they have done in all other nations where these frantic parties have not been balanced. If you cut off one head, three other heads, at least, will spring up in its stead. The aristocratical party will have one head; the democratic party another; and the quids a third; but the last will always be a small, feeble, and insignificant party. They will be men of candor, impartiality, and equity, who will have no view but the public good; and this party has, unhappily, in all times, been very small and feeble, in comparison with the other two parties. That I may be more clearly understood,—the federal party will have their head, their leader, their aristocracy and democracy; the republican party will have their head and leader, their aristocracy and democracy; the quids will probably be too feeble and timid, finding themselves unsupported by either of the other great parties, and discountenanced by both, to fix upon any head. But if they should ever become a numerous party, as has seldom, if ever, happened, they must have a head, an aristocracy, and democracy, too; for no party ever can exist without these three divisions.
We will suppose, then, Mr. Hillhouse’s amendment adopted. The divisions of rich and poor, debtor and creditor, will still continue, and produce a federal and a republican party in every state. All appointments to office, and removals from it, will be in the senate and house of the United States. These two parties, then, in every state, will live in a constant struggle, which shall send the representatives to the senate and house of the United States; and each will strive to send its head, that he may have the greatest influence in determining national measures, and especially in appointing officers and bestowing favors to favorites. The senate and house of the United States will thus be divided into federal and republican parties as much as they are now; and, as all offices will be in their gift, their whole time will be consumed in eternal intrigues and furious conflicts for the loaves and fishes. Each party will have its head in each house; and even the quids, once in an age, may have their leader too. Mr. Hillhouse will find two or three heads in the senate, as many in the house, and thus have six heads to cut off after he has cut off one; and then, he will instantly find six more shoot up in their stead, in the persons next esteemed in their respective parties. The caucuses in each state, and correspondences between different states, will not be lessened. There will still be central committees and committees of correspondence, from the north to the south, and from the east to the west. So long as education, talents, property, or even beauty, stature, or color, shall make inequalities among mankind, there will be an aristocratical and a democratical party in every country, especially in opulent commercial countries. Mr. Hillhouse’s amendment, instead of diminishing, will increase them; instead of moderating, will inflame them; instead of reducing them to order, will throw them into greater confusion, exasperate their passions, and multiply their intrigues without end.
For example,—an eminent judge or a learned lawyer, in Connecticut or Massachusetts, or any other state, may wish to be a judge or a chief justice of the United States, or his friends and admirers may desire to promote him. If he is of the federal party, the leading members of the senate and house of the United States will be solicited by letters, throughout the Union, to exert their influence to obtain his election. If he is of the republican party, the heads of that party in congress will be instigated, in the same manner, to obtain his election; and there will be always a federal judge and a republican judge, and perhaps such a pair, in every state, contending, intriguing, and lying, perhaps, in the newspapers; and how shall congress judge? If federalism has a majority in the senate and house, a federalist will be chosen. If republicanism predominates, a republican will undoubtedly be elected. But what if republicanism should prevail in the house, and federalism in the senate? a case that may often happen. What is to be done then? Why, no appointment can be made.
Again,—a gentleman of talents, education, fortune, family, aspires to visit foreign countries, in the capacity of an ambassador. He will certainly have one name or another. He must be either federalist, republican, or quid. If the first, he will have all the federalists in his state for him; if the second, all the republicans; if the third, he must stay at home at his farm, merchandise, or books. Central committees and organized correspondences will be at work in recommending him to their respective parties through the Union. When the choice comes before congress, perhaps, a candidate or two of each party in each state will be nominated, and after weeks of debate in public, and intrigues and caucuses in private, an ambassador may be chosen; unless either house should be equally divided, as they were between Jefferson and Burr, and then no ambassador can be sent, though peace or war may depend upon the mission. But, in every case, the ambassador will be of the party that outnumbers the other in congress.
But, of all party contentions, the choice of a commander-in-chief of the army will be the sharpest; because a commander-in-chief of the army, in time of war, will be a more popular and powerful man than a president is now. What will become of your come-by-chance president, if he presumes to dispute any point with your general, who has ten thousand officers and twenty thousand soldiers under him, drawn from all parts, attached to his person, and trumpeting his fame through the Union, and all espousing his opinions and reputation against the president?
When such an office is to be filled, all the militia officers, all the old soldiers, all the societies of the Cincinnati will be set in motion; and, for what I know, all the religious sects,—the Catholics, the Protestant Episcopalians, the Anabaptists, the Presbyterian assemblies and conventions, and even the Quaker meetings,—may interest themselves in the choice; and, after all it must be a federalist or a republican who will carry the day. As one party will always rather lean to France, and the other to England, foreign emissaries will certainly not be idle; and if a hand can be found to receive a bribe, we certainly know that both courts are in the habit of employing money in other countries.
We might go through the list of all offices under the general government, and all elections would be made upon the same general principle.
Anarchy, confusion, and every evil work, besides a total depravation of moral and honest public principles, would be the undeniable effect.
end of volume vi.
[1 ]It is difficult to suppose any president will be impartial between two parties, to one of which he must owe his own elevation, and see in the other all his enemies.
[1 ]“You know the constitution has not provided the means of distinguishing in certain cases, and it would be disagreeable even to have a man treading close upon the person we wish as president. May not the malignity of the opposition be, in some instances, exhibited even against him? Of all this we shall best judge, when we know who are our electors; and we must, in our different circles, take our measures accordingly.” Hamilton to Madison. Works of A. Hamilton, edited by J. C. Hamilton, vol. i. p. 489.
[2 ]In a letter to C. C. Pinckney of 10 October, 1792, upon this subject, Mr. Hamilton says,—“Mr. Adams, whatever objections may lie against some of his theoretic opinions, is a firm, honest, and independent politician.” Works of A. Hamilton, vol. v. p. 533.
[3 ]See the letter of Stephen Higginson to Mr. Hamilton of 9 December, 1796, in the Works of A. Hamilton, vol. vi. pp. 185-187. Mr. Hamilton’s own letter of the 28 November, to which it is in answer, is not given, but the tenor of it may be clearly gathered from the reply.
[1 ]See the letter of Mr. Hamilton to C. Carroll, dated 1 July, 1800, which gives the result of his efforts on this journey. Works of A. Hamilton, vol. vi. pp. 445, 446.