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LETTER II.: Remarks touching the Laws of Pennsylvania, Massachusets and Georgia. - Gabriel Bonnet Abbé de Mably, Remarks concerning the Government and Laws of the United States of America: in Four Letters addressed to Mr. Adams 
Remarks concerning the Government and Laws of the United States of America: in Four Letters addressed to Mr. Adams, with Notes by the Translator (Dublin: Moncrieffe, 1785).
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Remarks touching the Laws of Pennsylvania, Massachusets and Georgia.
I SHOULD conceive, Sir, that in order to proceed with surer steps, it would be most advisable at once to enter upon the examination of the fundamental laws; and, under this description, the form which each of your republics has imparted to its particular government appears to fall. It is, in fact, from hence that each people draws out its character, and, at length, acquires the power to fix it. Should this government provide for all its wants; should every part become so constituted as mutually to operate in favor of each other; should they point out the same serviceable end, and, instead of occasioning embarrassments and giving rise to detrimental circumstances, come forward with reciprocal assistance, I, then, shall rest assured that the prosperity of the republic will more and more grow riveted, from day to day. Wherefore? Because the passions, after having made an unavailing effort to extricate themselves from the authority of the laws, and to violate their injunctions with impunity, will, by slow and gentle gradations, determine to submit, in order to render themselves still more at ease. The citizen will then enjoy the manners of his government, and society will become as perfect as it can be made.
But, if the legislative power, which is the soul of the state, or rather the pivot whereon turns the whole political machine, be not established according to the most just proportions, what disorders will not result from this extreme defect! Pennsylvania has intrusted the privilege of enacting laws to an assembly composed of a part of the freemen of the republic, and chosen as the representatives of the inhabitants of their city or county; as delegates, privileged, in their name, to institute laws and establish such regulations as they shall deem most salutary to the state. It is ordained that these members shall be chosen from amongst men the most praise-worthy on account of either their talents or their virtues* . So far the proceedings are excellent. But, let me confess to you that I should depend upon this standing law only in proportion to the necessary measures which the legislator may have taken in order to secure for it a strict obedience.
Should the manners and the morals of the Pennsylvanians render them inclined to conform themselves to this regulation; should probity be dear in their opinion; and should they feel themselves disposed to recompense it, I must then ask why the legislator enacts that the election of representatives should be carried on by ballot? This form of election which is considered as so necessary induces me to conjecture that the Pennsylvanians are far from being endued with that spirit and temper which ought to animate a democracy. I think that, on the one part, individuals are already settled in their towns and counties, who are so powerful that it requires some address to keep them within proper bounds; and that, on the other part, it would prove difficult to find amongst them electors who could summon up the resolution openly to speak their sentiments. In all well-regulated governments we may discover an intention that the citizens should be induced, without reserve, to deliver their opinions; and thus might they attain to the advantage of being accustomed to have amongst them only such persons as would deserve the name of honest men. The most able and experienced politicians have censured the use of balloting; and the learned reader may recollect what Cicero has remarked concerning this mode, during an æra when the Roman republic was divided into parties whom it was dangerous to offend. When Truth is obliged to move forward in secret, and concealed under a mask, Falsehood prepares herself to introduce her shameless, open front, against the earliest opportunity that offers. If the practice of balloting be the evidence of the decline of a free state, it should not take place at the first moment of its infancy. And were it to become necessary, the obvious conclusion is that such a government ought intirely to set aside the privileges of democracy.
It is stipulated that no person can be elected the representative of a city, town or province, unless he shall have resided in it, for the space of two years previous to the election* . This law is, certainly, much wiser than that in England which admits of the election of a representative in Parliament although such a representative may not inhabit either the county, city or borough for which he takes his seat. But, a trial of two years would not prove sufficient to secure my confidence: because, during so short a space of time, a depraved character may, without much difficulty, conceal his morals and his disposition, and affect sentiments from which the feelings of his heart are totally averse. I should rather make it a condition that a candidate must have filled some public office in his town or county which may have afforded him an opportunity to exhibit proofs of virtue and ability. Mankind, in general, set little value upon that which they have not been forced to purchase rather dearly; and it is of material consequence that the legislative power be composed of citizens accustomed to respect each other, and entertaining an elevated idea of the august employment with which they are invested.
All the United States of America have exacted a certain qualification in property either to intitle a representative to a seat, or an elector to a vote. Pennsylvania alone indiscriminately admits to these prerogatives all the inhabitants who, during the space of a year, shall have contributed to the expences of the state* . It seems from this arrangement that the legislator has attended more to merit than to fortune; and no circumstance, at the first blush, can carry with it a stronger mark of equity and justice: but, may not some instances arise where the idea of attaining to the happiest advantages proving, at the best, chimerical, it must become a duty wisely to remain contented with an establishment less perfect in its respective parts? Could we find a republic so fortunate as not either to possess riches or to experience poverty, we might; nay, we ought there to establish the law of Pennsylvania, because, not striking against the public manners and morals, it will prove favorable to democracy. But, should fortune already have introduced those differences and distinctions which will not suffer conditions any longer to remain blended in one mass, would it not, in such a case, become proper, instead of aspiring to a pure democracy, to grant to this republic only those privileges and those rights which are necessary to render the aristocracy more circumspect, and to prevent it from giving any loose to the ambition that is so closely interwoven with its nature. Perhaps, it might become most prudent, under these circumstances, to imitate the policy of Solon who, to avoid giving umbrage to the rich, ordained that no person should fill the office of a magistrate, unless his annual income amounted to a stated sum.
One of the most dangerous rocks which hangs over the system of politics is an inclination to blend together and unite establishments, good in themselves, and when separately considered, but which cannot possibly assimilate. The law of Pennsylvania favours, without restriction, a democracy; but even this partiality can only serve to alarm the rich, who will never consent to remain limited within the mere enjoyment of those rights and prerogatives of which the multitude, or the poor, are equally possessed.
May I beg leave to ask you whether you actually think that the manners and the prejudices which you have contracted, whilst under the dominion of the English, will suffer you to aspire to a pure democracy; a government excellent where the morals and habits of the people are uncorrupted, but odious where they resemble those by which we are ourselves dishonoured? For my part, I should conceive that America is driven towards an aristocracy by a superior force which will destroy the laws attempting to oppose it. That system of politics which ought, amidst its present arrangements, to secure provisions for the future, will run into the violence of error, by endeavouring to establish, amongst the citizens, an equality of rights and privileges; an equality opposed directly to their prejudices, and, of course, incapable of duration. The more assiduously the legislator shall have concerted measures for succeeding, the less will he have cause to flatter himself upon the prospect of realizing his wishes; and all his efforts will only serve to irritate those ungovernable passions which must precipitate the republic either into anarchy or into oligarchy.
I am not apprehensive of wandering from the mark when I assert that democracy calls for the existence of morals in a considerable extent; and I dare venture to add that howsoever wise and truly regulated the constitutive laws may be considered, as forming one collective code, they can only subsist under such a republic as that of ancient Greece, where all the citizens knew each other; mutually had recourse to censors; and were continually under the eye and hand of the magistrates. This doctrine, which I take the liberty to expound to you, have I drawn from Plato, from Aristotle, and from all the ancient writers upon the subject of politics; and, in my opinion, this learned theory is but too well supported by various examples in the annals of historians. Even at this moment, have I before me a map of your possessions; nor can I reflect, without a kind of consternation, upon that vast extent of territory which includes the province of Pennsylvania. What more is wanting than the active appearance of some enterprizing genius who, having nothing to lose, and much to hope from the intervention of intestine tumults, will either cause, or, at least, prepare the way for the accomplishment of a revolution. But, to say nothing of these adventurers who, soaring out of their private authority, may exalt themselves into the stations of tribunes of the people, who can answer for it that no rich trader, no merchant of great opulence will, by affecting to pursue a popular line of politics, avail himself of the disquiet, the hatred and the jealousy which constantly spring up in a democracy where fortunes are so disproportionate, to add fuel to the fire of civil discord, to make a trial of his own power, and to establish his own tyranny.
You will, perhaps, tell me that I introduce chimeras, in order to enjoy the pleasure of making war against them. But, let me intreat you again to read the History of Florence, and you will then fear (unless I much mistake) the introduction of a second house of Medicis, in Pennsylvania, who will step, from their bank, or their compter, into the throne. To what point may not individuals be conducted under the impulse and guidance of ambition, of genius, of money, and of popular applause and favor! Such an instance as this might prove sufficient to break asunder all the bonds of your confederation. It has given me pain to dwell so long on these melancholy subjects; but, unless that political knowledge which distinguishes and appreciates the force of the passions, and which attends to the capricious turns of fortune, has no gratification in being deceived, it must experience a great facility in fearing and a still greater difficulty in hoping.
The law of Pennsylvania declares that “the people have a right to assemble together, to consult for their common good, to instruct their representatives, and to apply to the legislature, for redress of grievances, by address, petition or remonstrance* .”
I must confess that I feel it difficult to comprehend the meaning of this law. Nothing can be more just and reasonable than that the people should enjoy the right of consulting together respecting their mutual interests, and of instructing their representatives when they assemble to elect them. Thus far, no proceedings are in the least seditious. But, let me ask whether the people are privileged to meet together as often as they shall think proper, unfettered by any regulation, at loose from any standing law, and not even in the presence and under the authority of the magistrate? If this be the spirit of the law, you must allow that, running to the extremes of popularity, it enters upon total anarchy. It is impossible that the laws can render the legislative power too respectable; but, in the case before us, I perceive it exposed to the caprices of a tumultuous assembly; such an assembly as an artful intermeddler, a discontented factious man, endued with a sufficient stock of eloquence to work upon the passions of the croud, may easily collect together. These addresses, these petitions, these remonstrances may prove serviceable and even necessary in England, where the parliaments are septennial and sometimes betray the interests of the nation whilst the king and his ministers assume too overbearing an authority, which it is right to distrust and wise to intimidate. But, in Pennsylvania, they are not of the least service; because the legislative assembly is renewed yearly, in like manner as the magistrates are invested with the executive power. Unless I mistake the point, the laws in England ought to keep the people attentive to their interests, because liberty is there surrounded by formidable enemies; whilst, on the contrary, the laws of Pennsylvania should teach the citizens patience, and, at all times, particularly to avoid the entrance upon any public act, when unassisted by the interference and direction of the magistrate, because they cannot reap from anarchy the least benefit whatsoever.
Less freely should I reveal my sentiments, if you were less ardently attached to truth? or if my errors were capable of leading you into the most trivial mistake. I doubt whether you can approve of the constitution of Pennsylvania, when, instead of rendering the legislative power as respectable, as great, and as complete as, certainly, it ought to be, it debars it from the privilege of making the least addition or alteration in its primitive establishment. This, I must acknowledge, is a strange law. Is it possible that the legislators, assembled, at Philadelphia, for the purpose of laying the foundations of a newly-rising republic, should be ignorant that no circumstance can set limits to the legislative power? Does this assembly conceive itself infallible? Will not fresh occurrences, affairs, manners and wants call either for new laws, or for the modification of such as are of ancient date? What superior power, or what power even equal to the authority of the legislative assembly have the primitive legislators thought of providing for the purpose of constraining this assembly punctually to observe the laws which they shall have enacted? It is not right, at any time, to institute a law which may be violated with impunity. And, surely, it is an acknowledged axiom, over the whole world, that the legislative power must not be bounded by any point whatever, unless there should have arisen a determination either to destroy its action, or to render it insignificant. Of what use, therefore, is this clause which I have censured? It can only serve to diminish that profound respect with which every citizen should be inspired for the legislative body; to introduce disputes and quarrels concerning the nature of new regulations; and to authorise the gentlemen of the long robe, who are, all, naturally, sophists, to fix their own meaning upon the laws; and to maintain that new laws become null and void, as an obvious result of their nonconformity to the ancient laws.
Give me leave to mention an additional scruple (I will not call my observations by any other name) and this is that, in a republic where the fathers would offer to their children an example of the simple manners of a democracy, I could wish that every youth, born within the state, having reached the age of twenty-one, and lived, almost constantly, in the midst of his relations, were intitled to vote at the election of members for either his town or province. It is at this period of life that we love what is good and praise worthy with the greatest ardor; nor does it require much understanding to discover which citizens within a district are of the most unblemished reputation. Yet, in my opinion, the concession would prove too liberal should you invest with this privilege every adventurer who might continue resident upon the spot, during the space of a single year, and pay his portion of the taxes to the state. As one necessary consequence of this regulation, a multitude of young persons, not enjoying, in the other United States, the privileges of citizens, would fly for shelter to Pennsylvania; and thither they, certainly, would not carry those simple manners which must enter into the constitution of a democracy. The adventurers would sell themselves to the different parties dividing the towns and provinces; nor, indeed, from such birds of passage could any benefit whatsoever be expected.
The frame of government for the constitution of Pennsylvania, after having enacted* that “every freeman, of the full age of twenty-one years, having resided in that state, for the space of one whole year next before the day of election for representatives, and paid public taxes, during that time, shall enjoy the right of an elector:” adds: “provided always, that sons of freeholders, of the age of twenty-one years, shall be intitled to vote, although they have not paid taxes.” Granted: yet, it may be asked: where is the possibility that this aristocratical distinction can (if you will allow me the expression) become capable of amalgamation with the totally-democratic principles of the Pennsylvanians?
That vanity which predominates within the hearts of all is, of every other passion, the most active and the most subtle. I could venture to affirm that these freeholders would consider their privilege as a kind of dignity which separates (and which ought to separate) them from those citizens who are not in possession of any landed property. Having first treated them with disdain, they will not ultimately condescend to mix amongst them. And from these circumstances will originate two orders of a family. In the moment that the one shall have entered upon the enjoyment of a particular prerogative, they will regard themselves as bound to disunite from the other, and constitute an order intirely apart. Here, do I perceive an hereditary nobility which the laws of America have positively proscribed. I discover perpetual contests between that aristocracy which the passions will establish, and that democracy which the laws will protect. And, in order that the republic may become extricated without detriment, or, rather, without ruin, from this alarming situation, they must have successfully aspired to the virtues which blazed forth during the purest æra of the Romans; that is, they must have believed in the existence of something more valuable than money.
“If any city or cities, county or counties, shall neglect or refuse to elect and send representatives to the general assembly, two thirds of the members from the cities or counties that do elect and send representatives, provided they may be a majority of the cities and counties of the whole state, when met, shall have all the powers of the general assembly as fully and as amply as if the whole were present* .”
Sir! I must confess that I cannot avoid regarding this as one of the most extraordinary laws which possibly could have entered into the code of a people assembled for the purpose of establishing their own particular constitution. I should naturally ask the legislators upon what ground they can have foreseen, or even suspected, that some city, or some county would prove capable of such negligence, or rather of so criminal a disinclination? If this law appeared, according to their opinion, necessary, it follows that the citizens must have already harboured in their minds a prejudice; an error; a vice which separates their interests from the interests of the republic, and paves the way for the most fatal rupture of connexions. In the very moment of adverting to the disease, should you apply the remedy. Instant measures are necessary to prevent a degradation of the public power. For, the cities or counties which may not have elected their representatives to a seat in the general legislative assembly will, doubtless, refuse an obedience to those laws which they were not concerned in framing. Enormous vice! It supposes the existence of a monstrous insensibility to the welfare of the country, and announces in a democracy the absolute dissolution of the republic. Well and good! Then, let the doors of the legislative assembly be thrown open to all the world. The citizens will find a school in which they may become instructed. It is of use to publish, every eighth day* , the journals of the session. Democracy is an enemy to mystery, and stands in need of being enlightened; yet, it might prove dangerous that “all bills of a public nature should be printed for the consideration of the people.” This, perhaps, is the sure mean of rendering every thing problematical. Who does not know how exceedingly the people is ignorant, weak and open to false prejudices, even although possessed of as much understanding and penetration as the people of ancient Athens? Ought not the legislator to have confined himself within his decree that “the reasons and motives for making laws shall be fully and clearly expressed in the preamble” of ordinances* . This precaution might not only have proved sufficient to hinder the representatives from adopting any rash measures, but effectually have armed the minds of the people against the sophisms of restless and ill-designing citizens.
Let us now come to the executive power, without which it were an useless task to frame a law. The Pennsylvanians have decreed that “the supreme executive council of the state shall consist of twelve persons, chosen in the following manner: the freemen of the city of Philadelphia, Chester and Bucks, respectively, shall choose, by ballot, one person for the city, and one for each county aforesaid, to serve for three years and no longer, at the time and place for electing representatives in general assembly. The freemen of the counties of Lancaster, York, Cumberland and Berks, shall, in like manner, elect one person for each county respectively, to serve as counsellors for one year and no longer. And at the expiration of the time for which each counsellor was chosen to serve, the freemen of the city of Philadelphia and of the several counties in this state, respectively, shall elect one person to serve as counsellor, for three years and no longer, and so on for ever* . The president and vice presidentshall be chosen, annually, by the joint ballot of the general assembly and council, of the members of the council.”
I should venture (and this, without any great apprehension of proving mistaken in my judgment) to consider it as a fault that the formation of the executive council is not the work of the general assembly. Permit me to ask why you confide to your electors of twenty-one years of age; to a multitude always inexperienced, and naturally inclined to feel prepossessions in favor of indulgent magistrates, the arduous task of choosing men destined to watch over the maintenance and direction of the laws; to preserve inviolate, and in their full activity, the most important interests, and with successful skill to manage those affairs of the republic which require to be treated with the greatest delicacy and caution? Whom can we suppose more capable of judiciously making this choice than representatives who must feel it, upon the score of self-advantage, their particular concern to take care that the laws, secure from all perversion, should be perpetually carried into their proper force? And I should, likewise, think that this is the most favorable mean of establishing between the legislative power and the executive power (naturally jealous of each other in all free governments, and usually enemies under a democracy) that accord and harmony which constitute the welfare of a state. I should conceive that the legislators of Pennsylvania might, without wounding their principles, invest the general assembly with the privilege of choosing the members of the executive council from amongst the representatives who compose it. Hence, would originate a multitude of advantages. The county of which the representative may have been elected will consider itself as flattered by this honor; for, mankind are never inattentive to any circumstance wherein their self-love becomes particularly interested. On such an occasion, a kind of emulation would arise amongst the counties; they would grow extremely cautious of failing to send to the general assembly citizens, in all respects, sufficiently worthy to enter into a competitorship for the places of the council. The body invested with the maintenance and direction of the laws would be formed out of the most valuable characters; and, as a natural consequence of this common interest in glory and in emulation, the too-inconsiderate and too-intriguing spirit of democracy would acquire a nature at least more gentle and attempered.
Nor shall I rest here. Let me take the liberty to observe that many difficulties must attend the effort to render this number of twelve counsellors equal to the full management of all the business of administration. Still give me leave to ask why, amidst those forms of government. (where, under the pretext of guarding liberty inviolate in the extreme, the citizens take no more pains to think, and to investigate the nature of the various points and circumstances before them, than if they were the subjects of the most despotic state) the legislators assembled at Philadelphia have prescribed no regulation, no system of polity, no plan for the treatment and conduct of affairs, whether in the general assembly, or in the executive council? Philosophers point out to their disciples the track which it behoves them to pursue, during the continuance of their researches for the discovery of truth. And is it not equally the duty of legislators strictly to attend to the establishment of such forms as lead to justice and the public welfare, since they, frequently, have to deal with inexperienced follow-citizens; and since even individuals the most enlightened may be driven from their proper mark by the strong torrent of the passions?
Submitting to you my doubts and scruples, it is but just to acknowledge that I have observed, with singular satisfaction that, in the constitution of the Pennsylvanians, the executive power is not intrusted (as amongst most of the United States) to a council intirely renewable after the expiration of every year. “At the expiration of the time for which each counsellor was chosen to serve, the freemen of the city of Philadelphia, and of the several counties in this state, respectively, shall elect one person to serve as counsellor, for three years and no longer; and so on, every third year, for ever.” The law adds that, “by this mode of election and continual rotation, more men will be trained to public business; there will, in every subsequent year, be found inthe council, a number of persons acquainted with the proceedings of the foregoing years, whereby the business will be more consistently conducted* .” I grant that Pennsylvania, starting, upon this account, much less aside, will, consequently, remain more steady in its principles than those republics which have established but one council, of which all the members are annually elected. But, even this is not sufficient to confirm me in my point. Have not the magistrates of a newly-rising republic, a republic labouring to build up its character, occasion for a more extended authority, in order to establish within it maxims and constant principles, and to give it (if I may venture on the expression) the most favourable allurement to the prosecution of its own welfare?
Is it possible to reflect without horror upon that mass of human beings who constitute societies; and of whom all are under the dominion of passions, at once extremely active and extremely different from each other? Of these (not the least powerful, and, certainly, the majority) some are incapable of thinking; others are fit only to combine amongst themselves the ideas which may have been imparted to them; and, in the midst of all, some men of genius will arise, whose opinions may, nevertheless, not always coincide. What, therefore, must become of that republic which has not within itself a perpetually-subsisting body that religiously preserves, as consecrated deposits; the laws, the system of polity and the national character, in imitation of the vestals who guarded the sacred fire in the temple of their divinity? Let us analyse, if you please, the histories of Lacedemon and of Rome. You will discover, beyond a doubt (unless I much mistake) that these two republics were indebted for their virtues, their wholesome polities, their wisdom, their constancy, their distinguishing character, and, in short, whatever we perceive about them that challenges our admiration, totally and exclusively to the establishment of that perpetual senate which was, in fact, their vital principle: their soul. Thus, were the aristocracy and the democracy preserved in proper equilibrium; and, hence, originated an intermingled form which, securing to itself the advantages derived from each government, remained totally uncontaminated by any of their vices. It is with much pleasure that I have read, in the account of the constitution of the state of New York, that this republic has instituted a council composed of twenty-four members, the four eldest of whom are annually to withdraw, in order that their places may be supplied, in consequence of a new election of four candidates, who, without efforts, will naturally participate of the spirit of the body into which they enter, and, when retiring from their seats, transmit this spirit to their successors* .
In spite of that friendly severity with which I have investigated the laws of Pennsylvania, I feel myself impressed with the deepest respect for those legislators by whom they were enacted. A thousand instances occur to prove that they profoundly understood the rights of nature and of the human heart. Yet, suffer me to repeat that, in the moment when you were ultimately compelled to shake off the authority of Great Brirain; and when a necessity pressed for expediting the formation of a constitution, in order to prevent anarchy, and to disconcert the criminal views of the English partizans, within your own country, time was wanting to enable you to complete, in the most perfect manner, the arrangement of all the various parts of government. The legislators may now walk over their political ground a second time; their country invites them to the task; nor do I doubt but that, at length, they will procure for Pennsylvania, a form of government more suitable to its present situation, and, at the fame time, make every provision, in their power, for the exigencies of the future.
The form of government established in the republic of Massachusets, although grounded, in some measure, upon the mode of government in England, is infinitely more replete with wisdom. What, in Great Britain, bears the name of parliament, with you is called a general assembly or convention. It is composed of a senate which resembles the house of peers, in England, and of a house of representatives which enjoys the same rights and privileges as the house of commons at London. Each of the two houses may separately bring in and carry through their bills; they become mutually referred by one party to the other; and, at length, such as pass in consequence of a majority of voices, are presented to the governor, who either approves of them by affixing to them his signature, or returns them with a statement of those reasons which prevent him from receiving them with his assent. Yet, should the two houses persist in their resolution, and should the bills, subsequently to a second investigation, become again approved, not simply by a plurality of votes, but by two thirds of the members present, they must, in consequence, pass into standing laws. In like manner, should the governor postpone beyond the space of five days, the declaration of his opinion concerning the bill, his silence will be deemed an assent. Nevertheless, were the two houses to persist in their resolution, and were the bills, after a second revisal, to receive the assent not simply of a majority of voices, but of two thirds of the members present, then the bills rejected by the governor would pass, with full force, into a law. In like manner, were the governor to defer, beyond the space of five days, the promulgation of his opinion, his silence would be considered as tantamount, in all respects, to unreserved and actual approbation.
I cannot avoid thinking that this mode of administration carries with it a stronger evidence of wisdom than the manner which prevails in England. The annual governor who, shortly, must return into that class of mere citizens over whom he had obtained a temporary exaltation, can have no interest in augmenting his prerogative; the governor whose plans and measures are enlightened by the advice and aid of council which is assigned to him; a council not of his choice, nor, consequently, to be disgraced by him at pleasure; in a word, the magistrate, without the advantages of fortune to secure him in the means of purchasing the suffrages of a general court, or of corrupting the members by throwing out allurements to their ambition, in the shape of titles and of dignities, is not the foe of public freedom, like a king of England, to whom his passions suggest a train of self-interested pursuits, all actually repugnant to the welfare of the nation; who, secretly and incessantly, preys upon the rights of peers and commoners; and who, advancing beneath the means and succors of corruption towards the attainment of arbitrary power, enervates the great feelings of the mind; weakens and relaxes the firm spirit of liberty; and, therefore, may, at length, strike upon the moment, when, acting with equal resolution and obduracy, he will at once astonish and dismay the English, and, like a second Henry the eighth, accustom them to crouch under the weight and power of his sceptre.
Nor can I help observing that a king of England, invested with the prerogative of coming forward, when he pleases, with his dissent (his veto) constrains, impedes and keeps even in captivity the legislative power which cannot, under this hindrance, carry into execution the laws necessary to its security* . The parliament, obliged to negociate, can act no longer with that simple and noble firmness which is so suitable to their nature. Reduced to the necessity of proceeding upon the defensive, which must, at length, bring on their own destruction, they cannot take a ground more hostile without exposing the state to the most violent commotions, and hazarding its future destiny on the precarious events of war. On the contrary, the governor of Massachusets is restrained within the mere prerogative of making his remonstrances to the legislative power; and this is a recourse which, far from impeding the action of such a power, renders it more salutary, by preventing all cemerity, all surprise, and all infatuation. The censure which the two houses of the general assembly, may exercise against each other, by mutually rejecting their respective bills, is (unless I much mistake) a point extremely favorable to the stability of the government. It represses a taste for novelty and innovation; it animates the citizens with a more warm attachment and a more inviolable regard for laws. The power of deliberating and remonstrating allowed to the governor of Massachusets is calculated for the sole end of confirming and securing these several advantages.
You may, perhaps, experience the uneasiness of discovering that Pennsylvania plunges deeply into all the caprices of a democracy, whilst the government of Massachusets takes root, and grows, and strengthens upon its principles. You had the wise precaution, when forming a new republic (which totally threw off the yoke of a relentless master, who strove to render you the victim of his unwarrantable projects and falsely-studied interests) to fix the notice of your fellow-citizens solely upon those laws which at once assimilate themselves with all the ideas to which the former have been accustomed; and which, extremely far from wounding long-established habits, serve only to make liberty agreeable and undisturbed. Your fellow-citizens have not experienced that sudden whirl which accompanied the revolution of the government of the Pennsylvanians. Upon a democratic base, which confirms the multitude in the enjoyment of their liberties, yet, does not fill them with too audacious hopes and expectations, you have established an aristocracy which, in consequence of its nature, is more settled, and more equal to itself; and which the manners of America, considerably too congenial with those of Europe, have rendered, at the present period, absolutely requisite. Whilst Pennsylvania, carried to a distance from her opinions, her laws and her familiar customs, may become intoxicated with that democratic liberty, of which she knows not all the springs, and which she may, perhaps, confound with actual licentiousness, the republic of Massachusets, more measured and guarded in its operations, because engaged only in the task of conciliating interests less repugnant to each other, will fix, upon the surest ground, its government and its character.
I dare say that those who do not carry their thoughts beyond the dignity and the common rights which men derive from nature, will prefer the government of Pennsylvania to that of Massachusets. Yet, I am equally persuaded that they would alter their opinions, if, relinquishing their metaphysical speculations, they were to study and investigate the human understanding, limited as are its emanations amongst the generality of their fellow-creatures. From the manner in which nature, with such unequal hands, dispenses to them her various favors, it absolutely seems as if she had herself prepared that subordination without which it is not possible for society to exist. It is, therefore, by a conformity to her laws that we must establish our own, and not give the power of managing and controling to those whom she has marked out for objects of submission to a superior government and direction. Let us descend into the human heart, in order to trace out the seeds of those passions which continually endeavour to shoot up and to expand themselves, let us probe into the force of our habits which, first obscuring the light of our reason, conclude, at length, by rendering us propossessed in favor of those abuses which we, before, should have regarded as intolerable; and it will follow, from irresistible conviction, that the wisest system of politics is that which can the most accommodate itself to the necessities of the times, and turn them to the best advantage. I cannot too often repeat that, in proportion to the relaxation of manners, the laws, together with the power of carrying them into execution, should operate with stricter force; and the affairs of government become entrusted to fewer hands. In fact, is it not clearly discoverable, amidst all the revolutions of states, that a corrupted democracy drives them, even against their will, into a confirmed aristocracy; and that this kind of government, in its turn, becomes oligarchical; and, ultimately, gives place to the introduction of monarchy? To this point are we conducted by the progress of the passions, when we allow them full and unmolested scope. To retain them within their proper course, and to direct them to some useful, and, consequently, some virtuous end, may, truly, be said to form the whole art of legislation.
You, Sir! who know the progress which European vices have made throughout your several states, can judge what form of government will suit them most. Uncertain are the lights which have accompanied my investigations of the subject. I hear that the Pennsylvanians are more engaged upon the cultivation of the soil than the pursuits of commerce; nor have amongst them any example of those large and disproportioned fortunes which we so often meet with in the republic of Massachusets. Granted. But, are these circumstances sufficient to plead in justification of their democracy? I confess that an exclusive attachment to agriculture will fill the mind with manners much more pure than those which are imbibed, as the result of a concern in commerce. Yet, I perceive that the port of Philadelphia is favorably open to industry and to trade. If those riches which the earth supplies are agreeable and precious to the Pennsylvanians, why should they neglect to increase them by following the example of the Bostonians? I ask what measures the laws have taken to stop them upon the verge of this precipice? And, I should, also, wish to know whether, in a government intirely popular, it is possible to take any measures whatsoever? It would prove a miracle of the first class and magnitude, should a people, who laboriously cultivate the earth in order to acquire riches, and who will soon have large workshops and artisans, to bring to perfection all which is previously necessary to assist agriculture and to accelerate its progress, possess the power of not suffering themselves to be drawn aside by those sentiments and ideas which much affect them. The law, the government must come forward in their support. Let me, next, enquire what, in such a case, will be the resources of democracy? I dwell the longer upon this article, in consequence of my heart-felt wishes that Pennsylvania may either institute for herself, or adopt political principles the most proportioned to her wants, to her present circumstances, and to the misfortunes which threaten to afflict her.
I now return to Massachusets, and perceive, with pleasure, that the government keeps intirely at a distance all those men who have no fortune but their arms, and who cannot avoid troubling a political administration, when once suffered to enjoy the least authority. It was, probably, for the same reason, that the ancient republics, by whom the duties of humanity amongst the citizens were so thoroughly understood, did violence to the rights of it, by admitting slaves, who were as nothing in the state, and under subjection to the will alone of their masters. In consequence of wiser plans, the poor remain, with you, under the protection of the laws; and they may indulge hopes of, one day, raising themselves, by dint of labor and œconomy, to the dignity of contributing, by their suffrages, to the election of senators, of representatives, and even of a governor. These hopes render their condition pleasing; they will love the state on account of the advantage which they expect to reap from it; nor need you fear such insurrections of the slaves as those which the historians of antiquity have related. By requiring a different fortune as a qualification for a seat in the senate from that which must be possessed by a member of the house of representatives* , you have, in corrsequence of a wise balance of power, prevented the richest citizens from engrossing all authority for themselves. This, in my opinion, is the properest arrangement which, possibly, could have been made, for the purpose of attempering aristocracy with a kind of mixture of democracy.
Equally wise is it that the general assembly, composed of senators and representatives, should be invested with the power of choosing, by joint ballot, nine counsellors, for the purpose of advising (together with the lieutenant governor) the governor in the executive part of the government* . After what I have remarked concerning the council of Pennsylvania, you must not be surprized if I should take the liberty to condemn the council of Massachusets, still less numerous, and of which the election is positively annual† . Let us not deceive ourselves. An aristocracy, without a council, in which the manners, the spirit, the character and the principles of the state preserve and perpetuate themselves, is, actually, a monster in politics. To what a fluctuation must it become exposed! The republic, successively adopting the opinions, the whims and the caprices of its magistrates, would not inspire either the citizens or strangers with the smallest confidence. This imperfection is of itself sufficient to derange all the harmony of your government.
I must confess that I feel a striking prepossession in favor of the republic of Georgia. This is an infant colony; it extends over a large territory, and (if my information be well founded) the number of its inhabitants does not amount to forty thousand. How prosperous were the circumstances which led to the establishment of a republic amongst a people as yet engaged only in searching for riches from the cultivation of the waste lands adjoining to their dwellings! All their ideas must naturally incline them to agriculture which, of itself, supplies mankind with abundance, preserves the simplicity of their manners, and disposes their mind for the execution of great actions. Thus, hath the world been witness that this colony, although enfeebled, and more exposed than any of the rest to the calamities of war, extremely far from lowering its character, stood forward as an example of courage and of prudence.
Had I experienced the good fortune of being a citizen of Georgia, I believe that, in the assembly convened to digest and settle the principles of the constitution, I should have exerted all my efforts to rivet with increased solidity that spirit of temperance and modesty, of which it appears that my fellow-citizens, in spite of the gentleness of their manners, know not, sufficiently, the value. I should have said: “My brethren! my friends! let us return thanks to Providence for having conducted America to that happy revolution by which she is secured in the possession of her independency, previous to the period when, her inhabitants having become too numerous and too rich, it might, perhaps, have proved impossible for us to fixour liberty upon immovable foundations. Our number is not so large as to prevent us from listening, without difficulty, to each other; and our manners, hitherto uncorrupted by fictitious wants, as yet permit us to establish within our infant republic the true principles of society, and to set up a barrier between ourselves and those vices which would either prevent us from taking the road that leads to happiness, or shortly force us to desert it. Mankind have no real riches except those which spring from the productions of the earth. Are we anxious for the attainment of genuine and durable felicity? Let us learn to rest contented with those fruits for which we are indebted to our labours. These will prove sufficient; nor can we ever want whilst we avail ourselves of their assistance. Let us take such precautions that no circumstance whatever may prove capable of changing in our ideas, the aspect of this invaluable truth, which we as yet feel and acknowledge, but, which the contagious exampleof our neighbours may soon occasion us to forget.”
“I perceive, with concern, that you have ordered the representation of a beautiful edifice to be engraven upon the seal of the republic* . I could rather wish to see a plain and modest dwelling, which might convey to our posterity an idea of those manners, all free from luxury and pomp; manners which contributed to the foundation of this state, and which they ought to look up to, as patterns for their conduct. I observe with pleasure, on the impression of this seal, fields of corn; meadows covered with sheep and cattle; and a river running through the same. To these images which paint your character, for what reason will you add a ship under full sail? Let us reflect that it may prove to us the box of Pandora; let us dread the consequence of familiarising ourselves with these notions of a delusive prosperity; notions which may with too much facility be imprinted upon the half-reasoning and scarcely-formed minds of our youthful offspring. Heaven forbid that, at any period whatsoever, some vessel, by bringing to us articles which might administer to the gratification of ideal wants and hitherto-unknown pleasures, should render us disgusted with that simplicity which is itself sufficient to secure our welfare! Heaven grant that we were rather tied down to these lands, and in apprehension only from the neighboring savages, much less dangerous than the sea which washes our coasts! Wherefore do we strive to favor Savannah and Sunbury, by permitting the first to send four members to the house of assembly, and the second toelect two for the purpose of encouraging and protecting their trade*? Let us take care to avoid following the example of wretched Europe; Europe endeavouring to establish its force, its power and its welfare upon those riches which must at length reduce it to weakness and to poverty. If we regard commerce as the object and end of a flourishing state, from that moment must we either renounce all principles of a sound policy, or expect to see their establishment soon followed by their annihilation† . If we desire to encouragethose virtues of which we stand materially in need, and thus render them the objects of love and veneration to our children, let us grant honors, rewards and distinctions to the most laborious, able and experienced cultivators who, for the purpose of learning to defend their possessions, will unbend and refresh themselves, after the fatigues of the plough, by the glorious exercises of the militia. Let us not even think of collecting together within our territories an immense number of men: they will not prove worth a single handful of good citizens, endued with spirit and with virtue.”
Here, I stop, though with regret; and shall only add some observations respecting the constitution of Georgia. In my opinion, this republic has taken a middle line between the political system of Pennsylvania and that of Massachusets. There, it is not sufficient to pay the taxes of the state in order to be raised to the dignity of a representative; but, the fortune required is too moderate not to become suitable to the nature of a democracy. On the other hand, the legislators keep at a distance from aristocracy, by not establishing, like those of Massachusets, two assemblies for the exercise of the legislative power. We may perceive that this equality is dear to them, because they will not regard as a citizen every inhabitant who shall not have renounced, authentically and in full form, those particular titles which are the offsprings of wretched vanity, and which, in England, seem to point out a species of nobility. Eagerly shall I attempt to acquire information concerning every point which may prove interesting to Georgia. Were I to learn that she sets her face against corruption, not by enacting vague laws, but by introducing establishments which countenance and bring to perfection sound morals, I should consider such a conduct as the forerunner of her felicity. Then, should I perceive that the defects imputed to the laws in being either intirely disappear, or do not operate with a pernicious influence against the welfare of the government.
The laws agreed to by the assembly of representatives shall be submitted to the revisal of the governor and his council, who are invested with the executive power of the state; and their remonstrances shall be carried to the legislative power by a committee, who shall explain the nature of the alterations which the governor may demand, and the motives by which they have been rendered necessary. During this conference between the two powers, the committee shall remain sitting and covered; but the whole assembly of representatives, except the speaker, shall keep themselves uncovered* . Here, therefore, do we perceive the world turned upside down! And it is astonishing that agents, clerks and men of business should appear before their sovereign master with the distinguishing marks of preeminence and superiority. I well know that a hat, either more or less, proves nothing amidst a people sufficiently virtuous to look with equal love and reverence upon liberty and the laws. From this empty ceremonial let us conclude that it was intended merely to impress upon the minds of the representative-body that profound respect with which it behoved them to treat the ministers of the law; since, when withdrawing from their office, they mingle, as before, amidst their simple fellow-citizens. But, in a corrupted country, where vanity and ambition are toiling to undermine the actual foundations of equality, not even more than this ostentation of precedence could be wanting to justify the people in giving up all for lost. The slightest pretexts may prove sufficient to seduce the passions of the human mind into the advancement of pretensions which will insensibly slide into the shape of rights; rights for the enjoyment of which the claimants, doubtless, would contend by all the means within their power* .
Passy, August 6th, 1783.
[* ] “The bouse of representatives of the freemen of this common wealth shall consist of persons most noted for wisdom and virtue.”Constitution of Pennsylvania; chap. 2. sect. 7.
[* ] “No person shall be elected until he has resided in the city or county for which he shall be chosen, two years immediately before the said election.”Constitution of Pennsylvania; chap. 2. sect. 7.
[* ] “Every freeman of the full age of twenty-one years, having resided in this state for the space of one whole year next before the day of election for representatives, and paid public taxes, during that time, shall enjoy the right of an elector.”Constitution of Pennsylvania; chap. 2. sect. 6.
[* ] See Constitution of Pennsylvania; chap. 1. sect. 16.
[* ] See chap. 2. sect. 6.
[* ] Constitution of Pennsylvania; chap. 2. sect. 12.
[* ]The votes and proceedings of the general assembly shall be “printed weekly during their sitting.”Constitution of Pennsylvania; chap. 2. sect. 14.
[* ] “To the end that laws, before they are enacted, may be more maturely considered, and the inconvenience of hasty determinations as much as possible prevented, all bills of a public nature shall be printed for the consideration of the people before they are read, in general assembly, the last time, for debate and amendment; and, except on occasions of sudden necessity, shall not be passed into laws until the next session of assembly; and for the more perfect satisfaction of the public, the reason and motives for making such laws shall be fully and clearly expressed in the preamble.”Constitution of Pennsylvania; chap. 2. sect. 15.
[* ] The whole of that passage of the section to which the remarks of Abbé de Mably particularly point is introduced in the body of the work; but (what ought to be an object, as much as possible, in all books) to save the curious reader the trouble of a reference, we have increased the quotation, so as to bring the section intirely, and as a test of either the strength or the futility of the argument in question, under one point of view.
“By this mode of election and continual rotation, more men will be trained to public business; there will, in every subsequent year, be found in the council, a number of persons acquainted with the proceedings of the foregoing years, whereby the business will be more consistently conducted, and, moreever, the danger of establishing an inconvenient aristocracy will be effectually prevented. All vacancies in the council that may happen by death, resignation or otherwise, shall be filled at the next general election for representatives in general assembly, unless a particular election for that purpose shall be sooner appointed by the president and council. No member of the general assembly, or delegate in congress, shall be chosen a member of the council. Any person, having served as a counsellor for three successive years, shall be incapable of holding that office for four years afterwards. Every member of the council shall be a justice of the peace for the whole commonwealth, by virtue of his office.”
“In case new additional counties shall hereafter be erected in this state, such county or counties shall elect a counseller, and such county or counties shall be annexed to the next neighbouring counties, and shall take rotation with such counties.
“The council shall meet annually, at the same time and place with the general assembly.”
“The treasurer of the state, trustees of the loan office, naval officers, collectors of customs or excise, judge of the admiralty, attornies general, sheriffs and prothonotaries shall not be capable of a seat in the general assembly, executive council, or continental congress.”Constitution of Pennsylvania; chap. 2. sect. 19.
[* ] See Constitution of Pennsylvania: chap. 2 sect: 19.
[* ] I have translated this passage literally from the original. The section to which (if I have not examined the American codes of laws too inattentively) it appears to refer, runs, as follows:
“And this convention doth further, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of this state, ordain, determine and declare that the senate of the state of New York shall consist of twenty-four freeholders to be chosenout of the body of freeholders; and that they be chosen by the freeholders of this state, possessed of freeholds of the value of one hundred pounds, over and above all debts charged thereon.”
“That the members of the senate be elected for four years, and, immediately after the first election, that they be divided by lot into four closses; six in each class, and numbered one, two, three, and four; that the seats of the members of the first class shall be vacated at the expiration of the first year, the second class the second year, and so on continually; to the end that the fourth part of the senate, as nearly as possible, may be annually chosen.”See Constitution of New York; sect. 10 and 11.
[* ] Are not these pictures rather overcharged? In England (not a republic) is not this prererogative indispensably requisite? And would not the annihilation of it tear up any monarchy by the roots? We know how seldom the royal power of refusing an assent to bills passed by both houses of parliament has been exercised. A melancholy experience has taught our princes (and the lesson will descend to posterity!) wisely and cautiously to consider it as a feather more likely, when extended, to impede than aid their flight; and, therefore, interwoven with the plumage of the wing, for constant ornament; but, not for general use. K.
[* ] “No person shall be capable of being elected as a senator, who is not seized, in his own right, of a freehold, within the commonwealth, of the value of three hundred pounds, at least, or possessed of personal estate to the value of fix hundred pounds, at least, or of both to the amount of the same sum.”Constitution of Massachusets; chap. 1. sect. 2. art. 5.
“Every member of the house of representatives shall have been seized in his own right, of the value of one hundred pounds within the town he shall have been chosen to represent, or any rateable estate to the value of four hundred pounds.”Chap. 1. sect. 3. art. 3.
[* ] Constitution of Massachusets; chap. 2. sect. 3. art.
[† ] Taking place on the laft Wednesday in May.
[* ] “The great seal of the state shall have the following device: on one side a scroll, whereon shall be engraved: “The Constitution of the State of Georgia,” and the motto, “Probono publico:” on the other side, an elegant house and other buildings, fields of corn, and meadows covered with sheep and cattle; a river running through the same, with a ship under full sail, and the motto, “Deus nobis bæc olia fecit.”Constitution of Georgia; art. 57.
[* ] “The port and town of Savannah shall be allowed four members to represent their trade.”
“The port and town of Sunbury shall be allowed two members to represent their trade.”Constitution of Georgia; art. 4.
[† ] A note will not admit of a digression, including arguments, supported by the sanction of the most discerning and unesceptionable writers, to prove that, in general, the evils of commerce (commerce, not, indeed, to be regarded as the chief object and end of a flourishing state!) are but as feathers in the balance against its blessings. Surely, still more from accompanying commerce than from mere agriculture and the confined domestic arts, may nations (as the poet beautifully observes)
“The wide felicities of labor learn!”
This captivating picture, from the glowing pencil of Abbé de Mably, is in the richest spirit of Areadian, or, rather, of Utopian simplicity. Yet, it appears most powerfully contrasted by his own remarks* : “It would prove a miracle of the first class and magnitude, should a people, who laboriously cultivate the earth in order to acquire riches, and who will soon have large workshops and artisans, to bring to perfection all which is previously necessary to assist agriculture and to accelerate its progress, possess the power of not suffering themselves to be drawn aside by those sentiments and ideas which must affect them.”
[* ] See the preceding page 89.
[* ] During the sitting of the assembly, the whole of the executive council shall attend, unless prevented by sickness, or some other urgent necessity; and, in that case, a majority of the council shall make a board to examine the laws and ordinances sent them by the house of assembly; and all the laws and ordinances sent to the council shall be returned in five days after, with their remarks thereupon.
A committee from the council sent with any proposed amendments to any law or ordinances shall deliver their reasons for such proposed amendment, sitting and covered; the whole house, at that time, except the speaker, uncovered.Constitution of Georgia; art. 27, 28.
[* ] These last excellent remarks from the Abbé de Mably preclude the necessity of a single comment upon the order of Cincinnati, in America! K.