Front Page Titles (by Subject) LETTER IV.: Concerning the Dangers to which the American Confederation stands exposed; the Circumstances which will give rise to Troubles and Divisions; and the Necessity of augmenting the Power of the Continental Congress. - Remarks concerning the Government and Laws of the United States of America: in Four Letters addressed to Mr. Adams
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LETTER IV.: Concerning the Dangers to which the American Confederation stands exposed; the Circumstances which will give rise to Troubles and Divisions; and the Necessity of augmenting the Power of the Continental Congress. - 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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Concerning the Dangers to which the American Confederation stands exposed; the Circumstances which will give rise to Troubles and Divisions; and the Necessity of augmenting the Power of the Continental Congress.
All Europe, after having dreaded lest you should have proved unable effectually to resist the hostile power of Great Britain, is, now, enchanted with the constancy and courage which never have deserted you, and with the fortunate success that crowns your struggles. The preliminaries of peace, confirming the independence of America, are already signed; and, in the moment whilst I have the honor of writing to you, we find ourselves at the eve of their ratification by a solemn treaty. The different nations, perceiving that a new branch of commerce is thrown open to their industry, attend only to the prospect of enriching themselves with the spoils and treasures of the English. Daily do I meet those monied politicians who envy not your liberty, but the affluence which is preparing to stream down upon you, from the four quarters of the globe. Already do they observe the ocean covered with your vessels; and, considering gold not only as the sinew of war and peace, but as the great object of the deepest politics, they do not fail to prophecy that you will reach the summit of felicity.
For my own part, I confess that this prodigious instance of good fortune makes me tremble for the fate which, probably, attends you. Nor can you be surprised at the acknowledgment, after the three letters which I have had the honor of writing to you. I cannot avoid coinciding with the opinion of Plato, who, in order to secure the welfare of a republic, recommended that it should not establish itself either near the sea, or upon the borders of any large river. Such a situation (he observes) would expose it to the dangers of commerce. Foreigners, not failing to bring thither their superfluities, would accustom it to experience new wants and inclinations. Soon, the citizens, allured by novelties with which they can dispense no longer, and driven by force and by passions to which, at all preceding periods, they were entirely strangers, will conceive that they bestow great favors upon their country, when not waiting for the arrival of foreign vessels with their varieties of merchandize. In their turn, will they endeavour to cover, with their own barks and ships, the rivers and the seas: they will encourage all the arts and manufactures: but, rest assured that each of these bales of goods, whether imported or exported, will prove, to the republic, the actual box of Pandora.
To slight this doctrine, which we may stile uncivilized and, probably, ridiculous, in order to conceal even from ourselves our own folly, were to bring the United States of America into a predicament which might expose them to a train of fatal consequences. Doubtless, Plato would have concluded that your republics could not expect prosperity of any long duration, even if, at this period, they were to make amends for every neglect of which your legislators have been guilty, and concerning which I took the liberty of introducing some remarks in my preceding letters.
“By firmly fixing the government upon a more regular basis; and, by preparing and disposing the laws with so fortunate an address that they may mutually support each other, and prove endeared to all the citizens, you will stop” (would this philosopher observe) “you will suspend your misfortunes; but, you cannot prevent them; and must, at length, become the victims and the dupes of the temptations which surround you.”
This Plato was remarkable for the intractability of his disposition. He had calculated the force of human reason, and the power of the passions; he understood the generation of our vices, and knew the fatal chain which links them to each other. Perhaps, he would have had the audacity to tell you that the savages who rove around your frontiers are less removed from the principles of wholesome civilization than the people who cultivate commerce and cherish riches. “The savages” (he would add) “do not reason, by rule and method, concerning the rights of humanity; yet, all the principles of it are deeply graven upon their vigorously-perceptive minds* ; and, far from startling at any virtue, the explanation of the utility of which they shall have been taught intirely to understand, they will become attached to it from sentiment, whilst nations, pluming themselves much more upon the powers of their intellectual faculties, give way to instinct, which draws them on to evil; and, at length they find reasons wherewith to justify, or, rather, to applaud their conduct.
With your permission, we will, now, enter upon a philosophy much less austere and more proportioned to the present manners. Let me place before you the sentiments of Dr. Brown, concerning commerce.
This writer observes that “from a candid view of its nature and effects, we shall, probably, find that, in its first and middle stages, it is beneficent; in its last, dangerous and fatal.”
“If we view commerce in its first stages, we shall see that it supplies mutual necessities; prevents mutual wants; extends mutual knowledge; eradicates mutual prejudice; and spreads mutual humanity.”
“If we view it in its middle and more advanced period, we shall see, it provides conveniences; increaseth numbers; coins money; gives birth to arts and science; creates equal laws; diffuses general plenty and general happiness.”
“If we view it in its third and highest stage, we shall see it change its nature and effects. It brings in superfluity and vast wealth; begets avarice; gross luxury: or effeminate refinement among the higher ranks, together with general loss of principle.”
“Industry, in its first stages, is frugal; not ungenerous: its end being that of self-preservation and moderate enjoyment, its little superfluities are often employed in acts of generosity and beneficence. But, the daily increase of wealth, by industry, naturally increases the love of wealth. The passion for money being founded, not in sense, but, in imagination, admits of no satiety, like thosewhich are called the natural passions. Thus, the habit of saving money, beyond every other habit, gathers strength by continued gratification. The attention of the whole man is immediately turned upon it; and every other pursuit held light when compared with the increase of wealth. Hence the natural character of the trader, when his final prospect is the acquisition of wealth, is that of industry and avarice.”
“What is true, in this respect of trading men is true of trading nations. If their commerce be that of æconomy in the extreme; if the last object of their pursuit be wealth for its own sake; if the leaders of such a people be commercial, the character of that people, and its leaders, will be found in industry and avarice. Commerce searches every shore and climate for its supplies* .”†
To an authority of such a weight, I could add the sanction of Cantillon, whose abilities were at once discerning and extensive. He had himself deeply engaged in commerce; exploring and turning to his advantage the several springs which give it life and action; springs, the motions of which, traders, bankers, brokers and speculators, all, watch and follow up with unremitted assiduity. Thus, it becomes evident that money is the soul of all their operations; that, though inhabiting a land, they are not of any country; and that their covetousness infects the whole number of their fellow-citizens, who, perpetually experiencing fresh wants, can never raise sufficient sums to gratify them all. Next, considering commerce, as a statesman, he clearly proves that it neither does nor can impart to any people more than a momentary and transient power* . This opulence, on which it plumes itself so much, is soon dispersed and vanishes; because the expence of a rich commerce being increased, the traders abandon their own merchandizes to hunt after the manufactures of an impoverished people, amongst whom the price of workmanship is cheap. Then, do they accuse administration either of folly or of negligence, because commerce is destroyed, and money becomes scarce; as if it were in their power to change the nature and the face of things.
Yet (Cantillon remarks that) amidst the enjoyment of opulence, they grow intoxicated with prosperity; they entertain chimerical ideas of its power; they despise their neighbors because they are less rich than themselves; and they think that they enjoy a right to exercise over them a kind of dominion, or, at least, to treat them cavalierly. Whether it proceed from ambition, or ignorance, or vanity (qualities which wonderfully associate) they concert, even imperceptibly to themselves, enterprises beyond their powers. Hence arise loans, and all those admirable kinds of dexterity and address, in consequence of which they obtain for themselves a very great credit. But, as mankind are never sufficiently wife to correct themselves by experience, banks are introduced, in order that paper may supply the place of that money which they do not actually possess; and this circumstance will shortly lead them to maintain that credit is the source of the power of the state. Vain expedient! The imaginary riches of the bank disappear; and, at length, endeavors are used to re-animate commerce by the assistance of the sword, without perceiving that war will swallow up more riches than the most flourishing trade can possibly procure. Here, I stop; not doubting but that the work of Cantillon has passed over to America.
If what I have written, when giving extracts from Doctor Brown, and stating the opinion of Cantillon, can be admitted as unquestionable truths; truths demonstrated a thousand times by facts, how is it possible that I should avoid being alarmed on account of that fate which, probably, will attend the United States of America? Must I not feel uneasiness whilst I perceive that their topographical situation invites, solicits and earnestly presses them to give a loose to commerce. Your cities are filled with individuals who, previous to your revolution, had adopted all the ideas of the English concerning the trade, the riches and the prosperity of states, and who remain still undeceived, although they find, at length, that England is poor, even in the midst of all her so-much-envied opulence; opulence which (as your war indubitably proves) has only filled her with the temerity of confidence and the delusion of hope.
What measures have your legislators taken to set limits to commerce, and establish that fortunate mediocrity which, according to the opinion of Dr. Brown, may still associate itself with some virtues? I am aware that all their laws would have opposed too weak a barrier against the progress of the passions, had these last discovered the slightest prospect of succeeding; but, at least, I should have observed, with pleasure, a recurrence to the fundamental principles of a sound polity; and these regulations would have retarded the career of those vices of which (with Plato) I dread the influence.
But, far from this, the republic of Massachusets (a pattern for the imitation of other states) directs that “it shall be the duty of legislatures and magistrates to encourage private societies and public institutions; rewards and immunities for the promotion of agriculture, arts, sciences, commerce, trades and manufactures* .” Doubtless, it was imagined, upon the principle of Doctor Brown, that a moderate commerce produces some advantages to society; and, therefore, without attending to the rest of his doctrine, the conclusions drawn from hence were, that a greater commerce would produce still greater benefits: but, on the contrary, it ought to have been foreseen (as Plato tells us) that this moderate commerce, awakening unconquerable passions, engendered a multitude of vices more powerful than polity and the laws.
Whilst I pursue the method recommended by Doctor Brown, for whom I have conceived the highest veneration, you must allow me to follow, step by step, the progress, or, rather, the development of those misfortunes which will, I greatly fear, descend, hereafter, on the United States of America. So long as your principal cities confine their pursuits within the extension and the multiplication of their connexions and of their industry, the republic will appear flourishing and quiet, because the citizens, beginning to experience, as the result of their commercial labors, a kind of avocation from their preceding and almost exclusive vigilant attention to the public welfare, will not possess that zeal, that love, those anxious wishes for the advancement of the happiness of the community which, together, constitute a great virtue: a virtue which, notwithstanding, generally, excites a strong spirit of disunion; and, sometimes, gives birth to jealousies, and that species of party-rage which minds too pusillanimous almost continually mistake for the commencement of troubles and of seditions; and which, in fact, is but the fermentation proper to inspire the human breast with elevated feelings; which powers equal to great exertions; with constancy and courage. The farmers, on their parts, will, for a time, feel no consequences accruing from commerce, except its benefits; and the productions of the earth will sell for an advanced price. Encouraged by the fruits of their labors, the husbandmen will cultivate the waste lands. Population must increase, because the younger branches of the family, providing for themselves, will ease their parents of expence; whilst, at the same time, manufactures will start up, on every side, and prove equally beneficial to the progress of commerce and to the advancement of agriculture.
This picture as yet presents not any images to alarm those persons who are intirely unaccustomed to the formation of conjectures respecting the occurrences of the future. Hitherto, we only discover a people in the enjoyment of greater portions of plenty, and cultivating, with ardor, the most useful arts. But, let us examine, I beseech you, the vices just gathering; vices as yet feeble, and lurking underneath the cover of these fallacious appearances. In my opinion, the spirit of commerce must become, within a little space of time, the general and predominant spirit of the inhabitants of your cities. Not absolutely to devote themselves to its influence, were to betray a passion for self-impoverishment; an inclination to become humiliated below the traders, whose fortune will increase from day to day. I can, without difficulty, conceive that these new men of opulence will, at the outset, feel only that bloated and absurd vanity with which their riches may have swelled them. Not considering with disdain those citizens who may have proved more unfortunate than themselves, they will only feel less proud upon the fancied superiority of their commercial talents. Even a most ridiculous presumption will not hinder them from continuing, for a length of time, to deserve the character of a tolerably-well-behaved kind of people. But, in the second, or, at the latest, in the third generation, can you suppose that their descendants, born in the very midst of affluence, will not yield to the dominion of those passions which are its natural and inevitable offsprings. With what eyes, therefore, will they look upon that equality which your laws have endeavoured to establish amongst the citizens? They will not design to comprehend those unalienable privileges and rights of sovereignty which you attribute to the people. By what means can riches, which have proved, amongst all nations, whether ancient or modern, the source and principle of that nobility which renders them so vain, become prevented from introducing, amongst the Americans, a division of families, under different classes? How is it possible that these riches, which establish the most actual and sensible distinctions amongst mankind, should suffer, in your United States, the poor to enjoy the same advantages which enter into the participations of the opulent? Your government must, therefore, of necessity, be driven from its form. Thus is it, that, foreseeing the revolution which appears to threaten you
I have preferred the legislation of Massachusets to all the rest, as fixing stricter limits to democracy, and preparing the inevitable passage of the republic to aristocracy, without exposing it to those violent and convulsive motions which Pennsylvania will, probably, experience, and which (if we can depend upon appearances) will dash her down beneath the yoke either of oligarchy, or of one single master.
I now return to the inhabitants of the country; and shall conclude that occupied, at first, with their crops, their harvests, and the cultivation of their waste lands, they will rest tolerably satisfied with their situation; and, should they sell the produce of their farms at high rates, think little concerning the occurrences which may arise within the cities. But, in human affairs, all circumstances have their termination; and when these individuals, subsequently to their slight neglect of the public business and welfare, shall begin to reap, from their possessions, the best incomes which they are capable of producing, can you flatter yourself that, vain of their leisure, their numbers and their ease, they will not turn their thoughts to liberty? Can we suppose them capable of regarding with indifference the ostentation of the cities, and the pretensions of their chief inhabitants? They did not harbour an idea of making sacrifices to ambition; nor even call to mind that they were free; because, they relied upon the nature of that equality which was established by the laws. But, is it possible that these men, from the moment that they shall have discovered the pride and arrogance of the rich, or found a cause to fear their inclinations to wrest into their own possession all the public power, will not avail themselves of their force (a force of which the circumstance of having been so long habituated to the use and exercise of arms must render them extremely sensible) and refuse to pass patiently beneath the yoke, and sink into the subjects of an aristocracy? The Roman republic was lost from the moment that the laws began to clash, and strike in opposition to each other. Thus, also, to yourselves, in such a case, a Gracchus only will be wanting, or (to speak in plainer terms) either some artful, able and ambitious character, or some animated and inflaming orator, who will intice the citizens to rise the one against the other, and throw them into anarchy; from which, too frequently, it happens that they are not emancipated but to experience the rigors of a state of despotism.
This is the catastrophe of which I stand in dread. In vain will you have framed laws unless they should receive support from pure and salutary morals. To no purpose will you recommend the practice of some virtues, should you remain destitute of the successful art of giving them protection, by coming forward, even previous to the attack, in order boldly to resist the wiles, the force, and sudden, unexpected impulse of the passions. This truth assails the mind with horror: it is by so much the more terrible, because, perhaps, the vices, the prejudices and the opinions of Europe have, already, made so great a progress throughout America, as to deprive her citizens of the hopes of riveting their liberties upon immovable and deep foundations. Wherefore do we not perceive, amidst your several republics, a number of citizens, resembling that exalted hero, to whom you are so much indebted? Wise as Fabius, when it became necessary to temporise, and enterprising as Marius, when the circumstances of the moment demanded action, he might have thrust himself into the situation of a Cromwell; but, animated alone by that glory which constitutes the truly great man, he divested himself of his authority in the very moment that you ceased to have occasion of his sword for your defence, and retired, a private character, to his estate, still exhibiting, for your admiration, in his own conduct, all the ancient virtues of the republic of Rome.
Though various circumstances may not permit you effectually to guard against the evils and misfortunes of which I am in fear, you are not less obliged to seize upon the fittest measures to retard their course, and to prepare, at least, a tranquil, and, in fact, insensible revolution. Probity points out this as a law to every well-disposed and patriotic citizen. Should obstacles, insurmountable in their nature, defeat all efforts to obtain the end to which a wise political arrangement had proposed to lead, still it is a duty to attempt an entrance within the road which could have guided to the accomplishment of this important point. Is it no considerable advantage to slacken the career of our passions, the too rapid progress of our vices; to protect the virtues; to encourage and to embolden them through all their operations; and to prolong, for some time, the tranquility of the republic? Sir! I conjure you; and, for their honor, for their glory, I beseech all the citizens who, in consequence of their genius and their talents, are destined, amidst the views of Providence, to impart the benefits of their reason and their highly-cultivated experience to that multitude who desire good, but are liable, perpetually, to search after it in situations where it is not possible to find it: I implore them to reflect that, at this moment, they hold, within their hands, the fate of all their posterity. Should they suffer the favorable crisis to escape, in which the minds of individuals still glow with that force, that intrepidity, that joy arising from the possession of recently-acquired freedom; of freedom purchased at the price of many toils, perhaps, the times for an attempt to introduce reforms may prove all irrecoverably lost. Consider it as an indubitable truth, that the spirited ardor of the human breast, becoming cold and languid amidst the calms of peace, will lose its powers of engaging in a great and generous effort. If, at this æra, the prejudices of the English are obstacles to the establishment of your government upon the best principles, the habitudes which you are on the point of contracting will render these prejudices more dear to you, from day to day; and (as I, before, observed) the time for drawing back; for recurring to your first principles, will have elapsed.
I know that persons of enlightened understandings, meeting, on every side, with insurmountable impediments against the acquisition of that public welfare, which is the great object of their desires, become too much discouraged to prosecute their enterprizes; and often sink under the wretched predicament which tempts them to yield, without resistance, to the torrent of those occurrences that must decide upon the fate of laws and morals. In fact, no consideration is more melancholy and alarming to citizens of superior intellects than that which fills them with an idea that they cannot extend their operations beyond the first outlines: the mere sketches of the design. What they are permitted to execute appears unworthy of their talents and their virtues; they keep aloof from the administration of public affairs; and, because they are under apprehensions of being accused as the causes of those public evils which they were not suffered to prevent, they betray their duty, and the interests of their country. In the annals of antiquity, we read of several exalted characters who, from principles of sagacity, submitting to the power of those conjunctures which human wisdom cannot change, have had only their choice of faults; but, equitable history has done justice to their intentions, and, amidst the measures (apparently imprudent) which they have taken, has traced out the whole of that discernment and those abilities which they, certainly, would have displayed with more brilliancy, could they have acted under circumstances of less discouragement and misfortune. You have, amongst you, several citizens, equally distinguished by their integrity and their talents. I have enjoyed the honor of being acquainted with many individuals of this description; and, in the number I place those colleagues who were allotted to you by the Congress, and, with whom you have so happily completed the attainment of your independence. Whatever destiny shall attend America, you, Sir! may rest assured that posterity will do justice to your labors and to theirs, when perceiving that you embraced all possible means to check the passions; to resist them at their first dawnings; or, at least, to raise a barrier against the progress of abuses. The descendants of the Americans will not reproach you as the occasion of those misfortunes which may induce them to complain. They will apply to you what Horace has observed concerning Regulus:
“Hoc caverat mens provida Reguli,”
“and we should have esteemed ourselves happy, had your successors in the administration of affairs, manifesting the same forethought, the same provident disposition, and the same inflexible resolution, continued to direct and lead us by the same principles.”
Should you adopt measures in order to prevent commerce from multiplying your wants; should you endeavour to resist and stop the progress of luxury; should your laws maintain a prudent distrust of women, by whom corruption is introduced through all republics whatsoever; should you cast setters upon the ambition of the opulent, who, naturally, are inclined to think that every article of enjoyment belongs to them, because they possess riches which can secure to them a general obedience; in a word, should you attempt to establish, amongst all the citizens, and amongst all the branches of the government, an equilibrium of that nature which must afford an ample reason to conclude that you have made all efforts within your power to fix, in permanent solidity, your freedom upon the basis of the laws, then, fear not lest posterity ascribe to you the evils and the calamities with which America may one day prove afflicted. Your descendants will accuse only those unfortunate occurrences within the very midst of which you introduced your constitutions. “Our earliest legislators” (enlightened citizens would observe) “prevented from acting like Lycurgus, have imitated Solon: they have not given to us the most perfect laws, but, such of which we were susceptible; and our vices alone (vices which they had not the power to correct) at this moment, drive us headlong to destruction.”
Be this as it may; from the moment that your republics shall have become opulent, in consequence of a flourishing and far-extended commerce, not even one single doubt, that your citizens will grow naturalised to the genius, pursuits and characters of trading bodies, can possibly remain. It is the most sordid self-interest which must predominate in banks and compting houses where the custom prevails of estimating the value of every article solely according to its weight in gold. Of ancient date, but, still generally acknowledged, is the remark that the strict followers of commerce have no country, and that they would sell it, together with their liberty, to the first bidder. Observe the degraded, sinking situation of the United Provinces of the Low-Countries. Their constitution is now no more than the empty shadow of a republic: a republic which, although formed under the succors of a war lasting throughout the course of forty-eight years, and taking a part, until the peace of Utretcht, in all the great affairs of Europe, has proved incapable of maintaining, totally unsullied and secure, its love of freedom and its intrepidity, during the calm continuance of a peace of thirty years, which had extended the relations of its commerce, and increased its riches. At no subsequent period whatsoever, has it reassumed a single spark of that genius which originated from John De Witt; and a revolution, of all others the most astonishing amidst a free, people, was effected in a manner the most simple; and proved the work but of a single moment.
I cannot conceal my apprehensions left a fate more melancholy and alarming should alight upon the Americans; nor am I able to dispel my fears that they, hereafter, may be driven into a revolution more pitiable and severe than that experienced by the Hollanders; nor arrive at it but by a road more difficult and laborious. From the moment that the burgesses of your towns, corrupted by the acquisition of their riches shall begin to regard only with contempt the inhabitants of the country, and the artisans, must it not follow, as an indubitable truth, that the endeavors of your laws to introduce and to establish the most perfect equality, in the republics, were all in vain? These favorites of fortune will aspire to the formation of families of a superior order. Should they prove sufficiently temporising and sufficiently masters of themselves to humour the passions; to avoid treating prejudices in too cavalier a stile, and proceeding with a rapid carelessness, let me then ask you what must be the result of a revolution, effected without an effort, without a shock, without commotion, and because only the weak became the dupes of knaves? After having founded the temper, and tried the patience of the people, will the ambition of the rich remain contented with the enjoyment of a secret and clandestine power? Ambition will suppose itself inefficacious, when under the compulsion of either lurking in concealment, or disguising the lengths to which it has the ability of proceeding. In a word, ambition is not like avarice, which, sometimes, buries its treasures, and takes a pleasure in assuming a face and air of poverty. Ambition, at the outset, will not commit an evil; but, aims at the acquisition of the power to engage in it; and, soon afterwards, the perpetration follows. Remorseless, in the extreme, as being insatiable, is the empire of avarice: and, all the fortune of the state will shortly belong to men corrupted by their own.
But, should the revolution not operate by slow and deceitful means; and, on the contrary, should the rich affect openly, or, with but little management and address, to reach at the ascendancy, it must follow, as a certainty, that the citizens, whom they might endeavour to treat as subjects, would recoil from such injurious usage; would gather intrepidity from indignation; and, by force defend the invaded laws, and the unalienable authority of the people. Accustomed to regard the magistrates as their agents, they will treat them in their anger as if they were no better than their insolent and faithless lacqueys. If, during these kinds of contest, democracy should become triumphant, we may, without difficulty, discover what anarchy must follow, as a natural and inevitable consequence. What laws will then continue in respect? What form will then become imparted to the government? As at Florence, will some Medicis arise and seize upon the sovereignty of his country? It is impossible to prevent this, because, whilst only one method of doing good exists, a thousand means are open for the perpetration of what is wrong. On the contrary, should aristocracy erect itself upon the ruins of liberty, it will, of necessity, prevent its authority to unbecoming uses. The more the people discover courage, the more it will become suspicious and unrelenting from timidity. Perhaps, it may degenerate into an oligarchy; and triumvirs will soon contend for the glory of reducing it to submission, under the pretext of taking vengeance for the people.
My friends, in raillery, have, sometimes, called me the prophet of misfortune; and it is true that I am much too well acquainted with mankind to entertain a sanguine hope that their pursuits will lead to good. But, in the present case, I cannot think that my remarks have bordered on exaggeration. Perceiving an irregular legislation, is it possible to prove too violently alarmed, when the records of history must have convinced us that even the slightest negligence of a legislator has often been sufficient to produce the height of tumult and disorder? It is not enough to have predicted the revolutions of the United States of America: the worst consideration arises from the certainty that they will not take place without troubles, without violence, and without convulsions, as in the United Provinces of the Low Countries, concerning which I have already had the honor to give you my opinion.
I beg the favor of you to remark that this republic, by throwing off the yoke of Spain, as you have emancipated yourselves from that of England, accustomed itself without difficulty, to pay obedience to a Stadtholder, or rather to a magistrate, of whom the almost regal authority preserved and linked within themselves all parts, however awkwardly united, of the confederation. The virtues and the talents of the first princes of Orange administered, during a length of time, a supply to whatsoever might have been wanting for the springs of government; and exclusive of this consideration, a dread of the house of Austria (as Grotius remarks) engaged the new republicans in cares of such extreme importance that the ill effects of their commercial spirit were much suspended. The peace of Westphalia and great opulence wrought a change in the disposition of the Hollanders, and introduced a species of disquietude. They set the Stadtholdership at nought; they concluded that they should stand no more in need of it; they proscribed it, because they ceased to look with apprehension upon Spain; and the republic would have been sacrificed, from that moment, to the most cruel divisions, if Louis the fourteenth had not filled it with the greatest terror. The different parties began to coalesce; the De Wits perished; the young William the third was proclaimed the Stadtholder; and Holland, full of resentment against France, and governed by the ablest politician in Europe, found herself too much a party concerned in all the greatest wars not to reassume, in some degree, that spirit which had marked the dawn of her existence.
In fact, after the death of William, the United Provinces, who had again put down the Stadtholdership, acted the most important part, during the war of the Spanish succession. The troops, before too negligent, had summoned up their ancient discipline and courage. But, the peace of Utrecht proved not less fatal than the peace of Westphalia. Magistrates, commercial, ambitious, yet thirsting after pecuniary gain, forgot their glory, and totally resigned themselves to all the cares of trade. Europe, in every quarter, grew tired of a war by which its vigor was exhausted, and, amidst the calm of peace, the United Provinces sunk into that character of which it was their destiny to receive the full impression. They degenerated; yet, were insensible of the fall. The nobles imagined that their dignity was interwoven with the Stadtholdership, and saw, with deep vexation, that some families of citizens, more rich, and more dexterously-designing than the rest, had gained possession, within their provinces, of the public power. The other citizens, perceiving themselves degraded, could no longer aspire to the magistracy, and, therefore, sought for revenge, and wished ardently for a revolution. The people, deprived of their suffrages, were considered as insignificant, and waited only for a signal from the malcontents to break forth into the violence of insurrection. Complaints, murmurs, and even hatred became augmented, from day to day; and the Austrian war of the succession arrived, at length, to the assistance of the United Provinces. Magistrates, who had prostituted, to abandoned purposes, their power, during a state of peace, were unable to avail themselves of its advantages, amidst the violent crisis in which they found themselves unfortunately situated. All were clamorously impatient for a Statdtholder; and in a moment, he was proclaimed. The dignity was made hereditary, from an idea that the republic could not dispense with it. This power, superior to that of all the parties which had been drawn together, extinguished animosities, brought in new principles and springs of interests, and obliged the Hollanders to turn their thoughts exclusively to commerce.
Let me intreat the United States of America to recollect that, being menaced by the same divisions and the same disorders, they will not have the power of applying to the same resource. Not that I mean to censure your republics for having failed to introduce, within their several constitutions, a magistracy similar to the Stadtholdership. Far distant from my ideas is such a circumstance; nor can I prove too warmly the encomrast of that wise precaution with which you have set such limits to the power of your magistrates, as must prevent them from harbouring, even in idea, a design of turning it to any baneful use. In this respect, you may conclude yourselves exceedingly secure: but, more is wanting: and, most effectually must you guard against the dangers to which a spirit of commerce, together with a false prosperity, will incessantly expose you; dangers concerning which I have already made sufficient observations. You have felt too much, during the course of war, the great benefits of your union, to suffer a sudden obliteration of this sentiment. But, can you hope that it will always last? Each confederated province of the Low Countries was perpetually warned, by its imbecility and the moderate extension of its territories, how much it stood indebted to its state of union with all the rest. On the contrary, how many of your republics, when they shall have brought into full value the lands which they possess, will not experience a variety of causes to flatter themselves that they may subsist, apart from all the other states, and even form themselves into a most considerable power? Then, will they regard the benefit of union as a kind of servitude. Exclusive of all this, it is unnecessary to remind you that, dissimilar from the United Provinces of the Low Countries, you are not surrounded by neighbors who disturb you; against whom it is a duty to stand upon your guard; who suspend the activity of your passions; and even force you, in despite of yourselves, to concert measures for your security. Would to Heaven that Canada might again fill you with the same alarms which you experienced whilst it remained under the dominion of the crown of France! But, it is likely that England, cured thoroughly, at length, of the vain hopes of reducing you to submission (hopes which she ought never to have entertained) will not sacrifice those advantages of which your trade presents her with a promise, to feelings (feelings which baffle all description) of vengeance and of vanity; but, which, perhaps, are, all, extinguished. On the other side, the Spaniards possess too large and too unserviceable a tract of American lands to think of giving them an extent by conquest. Your other neighbors are savages: savages contented with their deserts, and not looking with an eye of envy upon your rich domains. And, therefore, is it that of yourselves alone you are to stand in fear. Should the United States too confidently lean on the security that springs from this particular position, could I avoid dreading their exposure to those misfortunes, concerning which I have presented you with my remarks?
I may, perhaps, be told, that should any one of your provinces become troubled by dissentions, the neighboring states would interpose their mediation, and soon accomplish the re-establishment of calmness and of harmony. Vain hopes! Who does not know the power which the words liberty and tyranny can exercise over a people whose tempers are not moulded into a passive submission to a state of servitude? The people who may not, hitherto, have reflected upon their situation, who may not even have discovered any just causes for complaint, will, from this moment, entertain suspicions and feel inquietudes chimerical, if you chuse this epithet) but such as fear, hope, and a thousand other passions will render considerably too real. The fire of discord will extend its flames; and, unless you should discover within yourselves a remedy for this evil, it must follow, beyond a doubt, that all the bonds of your confederation will drop to pieces.
This remedy your compatriots have now within their hands. The question is not whether you shall create new magistrates, or introduce within your constitution a Stadtholdership; but, only, whether you shall invest the continental Congress with an authority which may enable it to become as useful to you, during the peace which you are now preparing to enjoy, as it has proved throughout the war, of which the career has terminated by your full triumph over all your enemies. This august assembly has been the ring; the chain indissolubly rivetting the thirteen United States, of which it proved the soul; imparting to all one and the same spirit: one and the same interest. We may receive it as a self-evident proposition that, if each of your republics had acted upon the mere strength of its own particular deliberations, no unity would have marked your enterprizes; your measures would have proved abortive; your divided powers would have betrayed your hopes, and, from a want of concert, in all likelihood, you must have fallen. To this council you stand indebted for your consequence, your glory and your freedom. You have perceived that all its resolutions were dictated by prudence, moderation, courage, justice and generosity. May this spirit constantly exist amongst you! But, it will not exist, unless you embrace the properest measures for securing to the Congress that consequence which it now enjoys, and for investing it, at the same time, with that authority of which it stands in need, in order, at once to cement your union, and to ward off the evils and calamities of which I have been treating: calamities and evils too natural to your constitutions. This is a truth of which no repetitions can prove too frequent.
In preparation, therefore, for this important work, I could wish that each republic would consider, as an indispensable law, the propriety of delegating their powers in the continental Congress only to such citizens as may have been employed in the council to whom it had confided the executive power; citizens who, during their enjoyment of this trust, were distinguished by their probity and their talents. I could wish to find it a generally-received opinion, amongst the Americans, that the greatest honor to which a citizen could possibly aspire must be the station of a delegate in the council of their Amphictions. You well know how much this mode of thinking is calculated to excite a spirit of emulation amongst the citizens, and to inspire them with respectful confidence in an assembly which is much more needful to them then, at an earlier age, it proved to the republics of Greece.
Your constitutions have decreed that these magistrates may be dismissed at any period of the year whatever: but, give me leave to ask you, what actually is the spirit of this law (too timid, too weak, and too distrustful) since, under the present circumstances, your magistracy is but annual, and, cannot, consequently, prove dangerous to the cause of freedom? Attend to this point with especial care; or you will throw open a door to the intrigues of those competitors who may not have been returned at your elections: you will expose yourselves to cabals which may disturb your peace. May I take the liberty to assure you, that no circumstance is more dangerous than this divestiture of the magistrate, which cuts up the reciprocity of confidence by the roots? But lately, the Swedes perceived themselves extremely ill situated; and that despotic manner of treating the senators has proved one of the principal causes which sank the credit of the senate, and enfeebled the springs of the Swedish cnnstitution* . I must add, that this law, of which I complain, almost occasions me to suspect, even against my inclination, that, perhaps, the intention of each of your republics is, at least, in some degree, ill suited to its real interests. Wherefore (may I beg leave to ask you) do your republics wish at all times to have it in their power to dismiss the minister whom they may have deputed to Congress? I cannot guess the motive for this extraordinary procedure. For, it must seem extremely foolish that a state of the American confederation should fear lest its minister might either betray his country or desert its interests. Is it possible that the least disinclination could arise against conforming to the views of an assembly of which the first, or, rather, the only duty is exclusively to attend to the general interest of the nation? Such a conduct would betray a gross ignorance of the nature of this august assembly; would tend to confound it with those congresses which sometimes assemble in Europe, in order to terminate the difference of several adverse powers, who do not aim at reonciliation but by deceiving each other as much as possible; and who only seek, by a patched-up peace, to husband for themselves some particular advantage against the breaking out of the next war. What, then, is the spirit of this law? Your enemies will remark that the United States of America have reserved to themselves only from ambitious views the right of arbitrarily recalling their ministers at the Congress. Should these deputies not prove sufficiently practised, subtle, fallacious and obstinately-persevering to secure a prevalence for their opinions, the republics chuse, at all periods, to enjoy the power of supplying their places by successes more experienced, more able to maintain an ascendancy over their colleagues, to give weight and full efficacy to their advice, and to establish a preponderating power in an association which can only prove useful, or even exist within a state of perfect equality. False, shameful and fatal politics! They would lead to the idea of tracing out in America the same ambition which, formerly, destroyed the Amphictionic council. From the moment that corruption had made it the centre of intrigues and of cabals, Greece lost the ability to reunite her powers. Philip of Macedon governed within it, and all the Greeks were stripped of freedom.
Let the United States derive instruction and advantage from this important lesson! Let the first article in their commands to their delegates be to labour only at the conciliation of varying dispositions, and at the task of drawing into one great point the whole of their respective interests! Let them even order them to make sacrifices for the benefit of peace and concord! It is by this beneficent and liberal line of politics, which all nations ought to adopt, that the allied people may, from time to time, render their alliance more binding and more serviceable. In a word, it is of importance to the particular welfare of each republic, that no inclination to govern in the Congress should ever struggle for the prevalence; but, on the contrary, that every point should manifest a zealous determination to submit to the views and resolutions of a body which embraces the general interests of the confederation. If my remarks are just, far from endeavoring to diminish the credit of the Congress, you ought to labour at the augmentation of its authority. Menaced with those troubles, divisions and disorders (to which I have before alluded) you cannot dispense with a supreme magistracy, the power and aid of which must either totally prevent or check their progress; nor is it possible for you to repose this supreme magistracy with more security than in a body consisting of the most respectable and praise-worthy citizens from every state.
This object is too important not to justify the continuance of my remarks. I must intreat the favor of you particularly to attend to the observation, that the Americans, having their professions, their rights, their fortunes and their manners, and, of course, their different modes of studying and following up their various interests, it is impossible but that the divers passions resulting from this mass of circumstances, must raise and introduce complaints and murmurs. The parties growing acrimonious, much altercation may arise; and hence will follow fatal troubles, if, instead of being stopped, at the outset of their career, they should become permitted secretly to ferment, amidst the violence of cabals and of intrigues. What outlets, what drains (if I may venture on the expression) have you prepared for these humors, in order that their fermentation may not occasion a mortal malady in the body of society? Should the citizens, who may imagine that they have just reason to complain, prove destitute of any legal means to gain a proper hearing, most certainly, they will not fail to set restrictions at defiance; and, with unbridled heat, rush forward to the last extremities. On this account, the most discerning politicians have much applauded the establishment of the tribunes under the Roman republic. The people, sure of meeting with protectors, confided to them the care of all their interests; and these popular magistrates were themselves under the necessity of keeping within a guarded line of conduct throughout the execution of their trust. For this purpose, did they adhere to rules and measures, which hindered them from proceeding with that ungovernable rashness from which the multitude are seldom free. The treatise of the laws, by Cicero, at once discovers the salutary nature of the establishment of these magistrates. But, would it not prove dangerous to attempt to introduce an order of this kind amongst yourselves? Yours are not the manners of the earlier Romans; and I should dread lest your tribunes might resemble those who formed a part of government, during the last stages of the Roman power; and whose seditious tempers occasioned them to sacrifice the republic to the interests of their passions. With you, the authority of the Congress must supply the place of tribunes, provided that you give to this assembly the form and credit which it ought to hold. The rich, when they perceived a body impowered to sit in judgment upon their actions, would prove guarded in their enterprises; and the people would, certainly, feel less disquiet and suspicion. The hope of re-establishing the Stadtholdership prevented the malcontents of the Low Countries from giving loose to all the violence of party. In like manner, either the hope or fear of a juridical decision would calm the ragings of sedition in America. Should your malcontents observe themselves precluded from all opportunities of presenting any remonstrances, except such as they might address either to the legislative body, or to the magistrates invested with the executive power, they must experience the fate of the complainants at Geneva* , and despair will drive them into the adoption of the most violent resolutions. I perceive but one actual resource in favor of the Americans; and this must flow from the erection of the continental Congress into the official dignity of a supreme court of judgment, for the purpose of investigating and positively settling all the differences which may arise between the several orders of citizens belonging to the United States. Why should your legislators object to such arrangements, when they have already granted to this tribunal that most important prerogative of examining and adjusting the disputes which may arise between your republics, with respect to their territories, or any other object whatsoever* ? They did not regard it as a derogation from either their sovereignty or their independence, when they yielded up to Congress the sole right of treating with all foreign powers; and even submitted to an exclusion from the privilege of entering, without its approbation, upon particular conventions. Were the rich to refuse obedience to the law which I beg leave to recommend, their conduct must be considered as a certain sign of their already having formed some project for the gratification of either their vanity or their ambition. I cannot avoid believing (and, indeed, my hopes carry me to this point) that should they feel a firm persuasion that my fears are not chimerical, they will perceive with pleasure a power arising, under your confederation, to favour systems of equality; to preserve the chief class of citizens from an ambition which, otherwise, must end in their destruction; and to shield the lower orders from that miserably-abject situation, the counterblow of which must shortly strike, in spite of all their efforts, against the opulent.
As it is impossible that your Amphictionic council should pervert power to unbecoming uses, it follows that it cannot be invested with too large a share. It is not in the nature of the human heart that individuals, possessing but a transient kind of magistracy, and under the obligation of shortly returning to their usual abodes, and mingling, without distinction, amongst their fellow-citizens, should concert projects for usurpation and for tyranny. How is it possible that the delegates of several provinces, far distant from each other; delegates but little acquainted, and, often, unconnected with their fellow-members, could so far feel themselves emboldened by the supposition of the existence of a mutual reliance, as to dare to conspire together in concert, and meditate the project of enslaving the confederation? I know that liberty should have its doubts and its inquietudes. But, it should, also, remain firm, collected and free from all chimerical apprehensions. By what singular caprice of fortune could the thirteen United States elect a whole set of miscreants to represent them? . . . . . A second miracle! How could they understand each other? How could they preserve alive one undivided interest? How could they prevent their views and measures from rising in opposition to each other?
Upon this subject, I have, perhaps, expatiated too much. I ask your pardon. But, all the Americans (and, for these, I write) have not your elevated understanding. May I, therefore, beg leave again to examine the law by which your republics have resolved annually to send new delegates to Congress? Almost as much should I approve of ordinances enjoining them not to act rationally, on any occasion whatsoever. Previous to the period at which these fresh magistrates might have begun to know something of each other, to discover their respective pursuits, and to understand their object, their useless magistracy will expire. If you, indeed, dread the introduction, amidst your states, of fixed and constant principles of administration, you cannot, possibly, establish a better rule. Who shall answer for it that the Congress of the succeeding year will not annul and rescind all the decrees and resolutions of the present? One able, experienced, violently-persevering, and eloquent individual will overset the whole fabric of your systems. You expose yourselves to all the inconveniences experienced by the English, who change their manners, their proceedings, and their politics with every reign, and even with every new administration; so that, in time, they know not either what they do, or what they want to execute, or what they can perform. Amidst this fluctuation, they dare not confide in government; and thus, the spirit of intrigue prevails with a redoubled force and efficacy.
I could with that the magistrates, invested, amidst your republics, with the executive power, might remain longer in their places than the present laws in being will permit them* ; and that, in this respect, the regulations of the Pennsylvanians might be carried into a full accomplishment. Upon the same ground, I should actually rejoice to find that the delegates of the continental Congress were to possess, at least, during the space of three years* , their magistracies; and that this august assembly, by the aid of that succession which Pennsylvania has established in the executive power, may never cease to renew itself, and yet retain the same maxims. Every year, the new magistrates, instead of carrying thither their own crude notions and visionary schemes, will become impregnated with the spirit of their predecessors. Soon, the administration of affairs will move forward upon a set of constant principles; and the government will acquire a decided character. You will not then experience that fatal uncertainty which agitates and disturbs the citizens who, at a loss on whom or what to place their confidence, are incapable of attaching themselves to their country; and, even in despite of their own nature, give loose to a variety of pernicious projects. Assure yourself that the model of wisdom which the assembly of the Congress will afford can never prove unserviceable to the particular magistrates of your republics. Then, should the American confederation (as I have too much reason to fear) become drawn down, or pushed forward, by their commerce, into a state of aristocracy, the alteration will take place insensibly, without violence and without convulsion. Humouring by degrees the pretensions of the rich, they will not cease to protect the rights of the poor. Custom will establish that species of accommodation which it is not possible for the laws irrevocably to fix, but which habitude will render tolerable; and, at length, consecrate. The poor, no longer vexed and harrassed, will become naturalised to their fate; subordination will no more hurt the feelings of the mind; and the people, continuing in a state of ease, will imagine that the distinctions which the rich enjoy are legally their right.
I could wish, also, that, at the expiration of every tenth or twelfth year, you should celebrate, as your most solemn festival, the anniversary of your independence; the day when you declared yourselves emancipated from the yoke of England. Having returned thanks to the SOVEREIGN MASTER OF THE UNIVERSE for those favors which he has vouchsafed to heap upon you, let the liveliest transports prevail through every quarter of the confederated states! Let illuminations, rejoicings, public sports, games and dances call every citizen to pleasure! Let the magistrates, let the opulent mix indiscriminately with the multitude! At these kinds of Saturnalia, let the great exhibit, by their conduct, the image of equality! Let the people there learn to love their country and their superiors! On this very day, let the ambassadors of each republic celebrate, in full pomp, your confederation and perpetual union in Congress! May GOD sanctify their protestations and their oaths! and may this solemn act become enrolled, amidst the ceremonies of religion, in all the churches of your different communions! May the members of Congress, at length, yielding up their places to the ambassadors who represent the sovereigns, do homage to that power of which they only are the ministers; and, in the presence of the people, appealing to the ALMIGHTY, swear inviolably to respect and to administer the laws; to defend the union, and never, in all their resolutions and decrees, to wander in the least from justice! We have senses on which it will be requisite to strike most forcibly, in order to impart additional respect and brilliancy to those truths of which we stand in need, and which the multitude are incapable of comprehending.
I feel the utmost reason to conclude that your United States, examining, amidst the calm of peace, your laws and your situation, will, by the introduction of the happiest measures, repair, and make amends for, every inadvertency into which your earliest legislators may, unavoidably, have fallen. During the moment in which a revolution, as important and as extraordinary as your own, breaks forth, it is impossible that, in the midst of fears, alarms, long-rooted prejudices, and a thousand fresh passions, the human mind should seize on abstract truths, throughout their whole extent, and acquire the art of so managing their arrangement, that they may render laws more truly beneficial. You are proceeding upon reforms, wheresoever they may appear wanting; and these are points of which you cannot, possibly, too much accelerate the accomplishment. Errors, through the lapse of time, acquire a sanction. Avail yourselves, therefore, of the present moment, in which commerce has not infected the rich with ideas of ambition and of vanity; and, in which, also, the cultivators of your lands, relying upon the perpetual stability of your laws, do not even suspect that any project can take place, to render them the victims of oppression. Should those quarrels, which have so greatly raised my fears, break out previous to the completion of all your legislatives views, the opportunities of applying remedies to the evil will, probably, escape, beyond redemption. Then, will it prove necessary to rest contented with some palliatives, which will appear, gradually, to calm the mind, but, which, not offering a certainty of ease, must expose the state to a variety of relapses, progressively increasing in misfortune; the last more wretched and alarming than the former.
Should domestic dissentions arise, in either of the United States, before the citizens may have found, amidst their constitutions, a manner, a mean of terminating them, either upon principles of cordiality, or by the rules of justice, you cannot avoid discovering that the opposing parties will have nothing to offer to each other, except words and promises; and that it is not possible to build, on the fragility of such foundations, a lasting peace. A general distrust must predominate amidst all parties. The one will hope to mix, hereafter, more artful caution with their conduct; and the others will regard the former with that suspicious attention which quickly grows terrified, and construes all into misfortune. Then will the peace become broken. But, who can promise that, at such a period, the worthy and the well-inclined can gain a patient hearing? Amongst the people the spirit of sedition is contagious. Perhaps, even some of the rich, seduced by particular considerations, will betray the cause of aristocracy, whilst the most violent disputes may prevail amidst the meetings of the multitude. Reciprocal injuries will take place; and hatred, perpetually unjust and perpetually blind, at length, decide upon the state of the republic.
It would but ill avail to entertain a flattering hope that some neighboring state, desirous of adjusting these disputes, should step forward, and, by an amicable interference, bring back tranquility and peace. Such mediators will not themselves escape suspicion; and the democratical party, far from regarding them with an eye of confidence, will consider them but as men jealous of the rights and privileges of aristocracy. If, under such circumstances, the Congress, not vested with an authority superior to that of which they are, already, in possession, were to send deputies, to effect a re-conciliation, and re-establish harmony and friendship, is it natural to imagine that the dissenting parties would listen even to these with more reliance and respect? On the contrary, will they not perceive that this body is composed of the most leading and opulent men in the confederation, and take from this circumstance their motives for distrusting them, and even for accusing them of being more inclined to favor the pretensions of the rich than the rights and immunities of the people? Not being established judges, under the forms and sanctions of the laws; not appearing with all the majesty and ceremonials of an ancient and revered tribunal (a tribunal of which the decrees are equally beloved and feared) they can only offer to the suffering complainants the interposition of their good offices. Feeble resource! Fresh troubles will arise: and from the moment that the parties become once duped, they will withdraw their considence for ever.
But, I expatiate too much upon the subject; and shall rest satisfied with observing that our European manners which, probably, are, at this period, too common in America, will enable money (or, in other words, the rich) to usurp and to maintain an absolute dominion throughout the several states. To prevent it from striking root, some weak and feeble efforts will arise; and, perhaps, it may not prove impossible, by a multitude of precautions, to prevent this empire from becoming actually tyrannical. If feeble laws have not the power to hinder the commercial bodies from seizing upon all authority; if the public morals present no succors to the people; but, strive, in vain, to set some limits to the rage of avarice, I must tremble at the prospect of the final rupture of all the bonds of your confederation. Trading magistrates will fix the impression of their own characters upon the republic: all the United States will follow commerce; and these occurrences will sow the seeds of your divisions and of the ruin of the continental Congress. Tainted by our vices, you, shortly, will receive a similar infection from our politics. Each of your states will imagine that every wound given to the commerce of the rest must prove the augmentation of the prosperity of its own. Thus domineering and ridiculously foolish is the passion of avarice! It will persuade you to wage hostilities in order to increase your opulence. You will become a kind of Carthage, at once warlike and commercial; and your ambition, grafted upon covetousness, will strive to play the tyrant over all the neighboring states; to treat them as subjects; perhaps, even as slaves. A rival power will start up in order to resist it. You will adopt our delusive political balance. Your treaties will sink beneath infringements; your alliances become precarious and wavering; and all your states forget their interests, to mingle in the chace of wild chimeras.
This is too much: and I should tire you by heaping proofs on proofs in favor of the justice of my fears. You know (too well for me to make the observation) that all history would come to my support. I might describe in what manner our vices are inseparably connected with each other; yet I should not submit the slightest novelty to your attention. To truths like these are you familiarised: the consequence of a profound investigation of the human heart! No person can interest himself more than I do in the prosperity of your infant freedom, and the glory of your legislators; who may defy the language of reproach, should they convince the world that they have discovered all the rocks on which republics might be dashed away, and struggled to oppose a full resistance to that fatality which seems to have drawn out the limits which the affairs of human life can never pass. I offer up to Heaven my most ardent prayers for your prosperity! And, Sir! let me intreat you never to forget the protestations which I make you of my zeal for your interests, of my respect and my attachment?
Passy, August 20th, 1783.
[* ] At the mention of savages, upon whose vigorously-perceptive minds the principles of humanity are deeply engraven, I should be led to plead in favor of the abolition of the slave-trade; a trade in which these savages (a name too often more merited by Europeans, and civilized countries!) are the objects, or, rather, the miserable victims, of sale and purchase: but, Mr. Day, whose highly-cultivated understanding is accompanied, in its brilliant progress, by the best feelings of the heart, has spared me the attempt, and gone extremely far beyond my feeble powers of argument, when asking the colonist (once our fellow-subject) “with what face can be who has never respected therights of nature in another, pretend to claim them in his own favor? How dare the inhabitants of the southern colonies speak of privileges and justice? Is money of so much more importance than life? Or, have the Americans shared the dispensing power of St. Peter’s successors, to excuse their own observance of those rules which they impose on others? If there be an object truly ridiculous in nature, it is an American patriot, signing resolutions of independency with the one hand, and with the other brandishing a whip over his affrighted slaves.”
If the reader has not properly made up his mind, after the perusal of this argumentative and glowing passage, let him read Mr. Ramsay’s truly liberal, pious and conclusive “Essay on the Treatment and Conversion of African Slaves in the British Sugar Colonies.”
[* ] Estimates of the Manners and Principles of the Times. . . Third edition, page 157, &c.
[† ] Thus far, the extracts from Doctor Brown: nor shall we quit them without adding (for, even at this period, the passage much concerns ourselves; and, perhaps, ought not to prove a matter of indifference to the Americans) that the same author having asked “whether the lessening this exorbitant trade and wealth would bring back manners and principles, and restore the nation’s strength?” first answers that he very much questions the event:” and then subjoins:
“But, whatever the consequences might be at home, those abroad would certainly be fatal. The French are every day gaining ground upon us in commerce; and, if our’s should lessen, their’s would INCREASE TO OUR DESTRUCTION!”
“Thus are we fallen into a kind of dilemma: if our commerce be maintained or increased, its effects bid fair to destroy us: if commerce be discouraged and lessened, the growing power of our enemy threatens the same consequence.”
“There seems, then, no other expedient than this: that commerce and wealth be not discouraged in their growth; but checked and controuled in their effects.
“And even in attempting this, care must be had, left in controuling the effects of commerce, we should destroy commerce itself.”
[* ] Although it may, in some degree, prove foreign to the subject, it does not seem absolutely improper to introduce an observation, intitled to the notice of the reader, and which appears to have escaped the attention of most writers, Professor Smith† (a politician of equal depth and judgment, to whom society owes many obligations) and Mr. Hume excepted: Mr. Hume, who, mingling poisons with his wholesome works, has execrably dared to cancel all the favors which he might, otherwise, have conferred upon his fellow-creatures. . . . . . . “Commerce and manufactures gradually introduce order and good government; and, with them, the liberty and security of individuals, among the inhabitants of the country, who had before lived almost in a continual state of war with their neighbors, and of servile dependency upon their superiors. This (though it has been the least observed) is by far the most important of all their effects.” K.
[† ] See “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.”
[* ] The reader, who feels a proper veneration for public and for private virtue, will not disdain to look again with pleasure upon the whole of this enlightened clause, however frequently it may have proved the man of his attention. K.
“Wisdom and knowledge, as well as virtue, dissused generally among the body of the people, being necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties; and as these depend on spreading the opportunities and advantages of education, in the various parts of the country, and among the different orders of the people, it shall be the duty of the legislatures and magistrates, in all future periods of this commonwealth, to cherish the interest of literature and the sciences and all seminaries of them; especially the university (at Cambridge) public schools and grammar schools in the towns; to encourage private societies and public institutions, rewards and immunities for the promotion of agriculture, arts, sciences, commerce, trades, manufactures and a natural history of the country; to countenance and inculcate the principles of humanity and general benevolence, public and private charity, industry and frugality, honesty and punctuality in their dealings; sincerity, good humour, and all social affections and generous sentiments among the people”.Constitution of Massachusets: chap. 5. sect. 2.
[* ] Sweden was, in one of the noblest senses of the word, a republic, being, at a former period (to borrow the language of a celebrated writer) a country where even a king proved but a senator in the council; and but a conful when with the army. The tyrants whom Gustavus drove away were a debauched (and, consequently, unfeeling) prince, together with a proud and barbarous priest. Christian, the second, of Denmark, and Troll, caused the whole senate to be massacred at an entertainment, and drenched all Sweden in blood. Gustavus, expelling the despot and the inquisitor, established civil and religious liberty; and, thus, founded the prosperity of a people in whose fate all other nations ought to have interested themselves, because they were brave without cruelty, and warlike without ambition. Such was Sweden, until (as in another place I have observed) a young and criminally-aspiring monarch effected a revolution in his kingdom, by measures as secretly and artfully concerted as they were rapidly executed. In one moment, to renounce, with all the public solemnity of oaths, every claim to arbitrary power, and, nearly in the very next moment, to acquire the most absolute authority, is a master-stroke in politics (or, rather, an audacious refinement in the abandoned art of regal dissimulation) for which it would be difficult to name a precedent. To what future glorious excesses must the patriotism of this man be carried before he can atone for such an act of perfidy! It does not yet appear that he has made much progress towards an expiation. Sweden, however, is in a state of quiet. What quiet? That on which it is scarcely possible to reflect without breaking out into admiration at the fine excuse of the illustrions Polander* to the troubles which he had brought upon his country: “Infinitely do I prefer a dangerous state of freedom to calm and passive slavery!” And, at least equal, in sterling brilliancy, to this spirited idea, when taken in its proper seuse, is the glowing exclamation of Rousseau: “Let tyrants act as they will, the man who knows how to die is always free”! K.
[* ] See Histoire de Sobiesky:” or “La voix libre du citoyen.”
[* ] Geneva seems hastening to her last plunge: a rivetted dependance upon (her protector!) France. Too generally, when sovereign states become protectors, the strict meaning of the phrase is: sharers of the spoil! Perhaps, Mr. D’lvernois (the author of “An historical and political View of the Constitution and Revolutions of Geneva, in the eighteenth Century”) has truth upon his side, when, in his dedication to the French king, he observes that, had his fellow-citizens been once left to themselves; and had ambition remained destitute of any hope, from the intervention of foreign succor, a variety of mutual sacrifices must ultimately have contributed to the restoration of peace. . . . . But, the great causes of the misfortunes, which pressed so bitterly upon the Genevese, appear to have been painted with a decisive pencil, by Rousseau, whose transgressions against an aristocracy (and not his singularities) exposed him to such a virulence of persecution that, in the heat and terrors of the passions, he dreaded it from those who cherished, loved and honoured him. This zealous champion of political equality describes the citizens of Geneva, as having perpetually sacrificed too much to appearances and too little to essentials; as having suffered their over-anxious solicitude, in favor of a general council, to damp and to diminish a necessary zeal in their attachment to its members; and as having looked rather to the maintenance of authority than the immovable establishment of freedom! K.
[* ] “The United States, in Congress assembled, shall also be the last resort on appeal in all disputes and differences now subsisting, or that hereafter may arise, between two or more states, concerning the boundary, jurisdiction, or any other cause whatever.
“All controversies concerning the private right of soil, claimed under different grants of two or more states, whose jurisdictions as they may respect such lands, and the states which passed such grants are adjusted, the said grants, or either of them, being at the same time claimed to have originated antecedent to such settlement of jurisdiction, shall, on the petition of either party to the Congress of the United States, be finally determined.”Confederation and perpetual Union between the States of America; art. 9. sect. 2, 3.
[* ] “For the more convenient management of the general interests of the United States, delegates shall be annually appointed, in such manner as the legislature of each state shall direct, to meet in Congress, on the first Monday in November of every year, with a power reserved to each state to recal its delegates, or any of them, at any time within the year, and to send others in their stead for the remainder of the year.”Confederation and perpetual Union between the States of America; art. 5.
[* ]Perhaps, as a reformer in England, Abbé de Mably would fight only half of our political battles. We should perceive him spiritedly contending for an equality of representation, but, dropping the point of his argument, were the necessity for the introduction of annual parliaments the case in question. Yet, his own words, at the commencement of the book†might be wrested into a different implication: “Representatives . . . . . . will stand in awe of the public opinion; and, perpetually, recollect that they must become accountable for their proceedings to their constituents. Even their mistakes will prove, at worst, a transient evil, because their election is but annual.” Again: “Your magistracy is but annual, and cannot, consequently, prove dargerous to the cause of freedom.” K.
[† ] See pages 19, 20.