Front Page Titles (by Subject) 5: Governor Winthrop to Governor Bradford - Revolutionary Writings
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5: Governor Winthrop to Governor Bradford - John Adams, Revolutionary Writings 
The Revolutionary Writings of John Adams, Selected and with a Foreword by C. Bradley Thompson (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000).
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Governor Winthrop to Governor Bradford
In the winter of 1766–77, Adams’s old friend, Jonathan Sewell, published a series of articles under the pseudonym Philanthrop. Sewell wrote to defend Governor Bernard from recent attacks alleging, among other things, that Bernard had violated the rights of the Massachusetts House of Representatives to judge the qualifications of its members by refusing to administer the oath to two newly elected representatives from Newbury.
In his “Govenor Winthrop to Governor Bradford” essays, Adams once again returned to a favorite literary device: a fictional correspondence between two great statesmen of the seventeenth century. Invoking the memory of New England’s two founding fathers—John Winthrop of Massachusetts Bay and William Bradford of Plymouth—Adams devotes these letters to examining the authority of the Governor to interfere with the privileges of the House and to drawing a parallel between the tyrannical actions of James I and the political principles of Philanthrop.
More importantly, Adams wrote these letters to counteract what he saw as a political and moral lethargy descending upon the people of Massachusetts in the months after the repeal of the Stamp Act. In a diary entry at the time, Adams feared that the people of Massachusetts had fallen as “quiet and submissive to Government, as any People under the sun.” By calling to life these venerable statesmen, Adams hoped to remind his fellow citizens that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. In doing so, he hoped also to resurrect the ancient “spirit of liberty” that had inspired Winthrop and Bradford a century before and which had more recently animated the colonies in their fight against parliamentary taxation.
26 January, 1767
We have often congratulated each other, with high satisfaction, on the glory we secured in both worlds by our favorite enterprise of planting America. We were Englishmen; we were citizens of the world; we were Christians. The history of nations and of mankind was familiar to us; and we considered the species chiefly in relation to the system of great nature and her all-perfect Author. In consequence of such contemplations as these, it was the unwearied endeavor of our lives to establish a society on English, humane, and Christian principles. This, (although we are never unwilling to acknowledge that the age in which we lived, the education we received, and the scorn and persecution we endured, had tinctured our minds with prejudices unworthy of our general principles and real designs,) we are conscious, was our noble aim. We succeeded to the astonishment of all mankind; and our posterity, in spite of all the terrors and temptations which have from first to last surrounded them, and endangered their very being, have been supremely happy. But what shall we say to the principles, maxims, and schemes, which have been adopted, warmly defended, and zealously propagated in America, since our departure out of it,—adopted, I say, and propagated, more by the descendants of some of our worthiest friends than by any others? You and I have been happier, in this respect, than most of our contemporaries. If our posterity have not without interruption maintained the principal ascendency in public affairs, they have always been virtuous and worthy, and have never departed from the principles of the Englishman, the citizen of the world, and the Christian. You very well remember the grief we felt, for many years together, at the gradual growth and prevalence of principles opposite to ours; nor have you forgotten our mutual joy at the very unexpected resurrection of a spirit which contributed so much to the restoration of that temper and those maxims which we have all along wished and prayed might be established in America. Calamities are the caustics and cathartics of the body politic. They arouse the soul. They restore original virtues. They reduce a constitution back to its first principles. And, to all appearance, the iron sceptre of tyranny, which was so lately extended over all America, and which threatened to exterminate all for which it was worth while to exist upon earth, terrified the inhabitants into a resolution and an ardor for the noble foundations of their ancestors.
But how soon is this ardor extinguished! In the course of a few months they have cooled down into such a tame, torpid state of indolence and inattention, that the missionaries of slavery are suffered to preach their abominable doctrines, not only with impunity, but without indignation and without contempt. What will be the consequence if that (I will not say contemptible but abominable) writer, Philanthrop, is allowed to continue his wicked labors? I say allowed, though I would not have him restrained by any thing but the cool contempt and dispassionate abhorrence of his countrymen; because the country whose interior character is so depraved as to be endangered from within by such a writer, is abandoned and lost. We are fully persuaded, that New England is in no danger from him, unless his endeavors should excite her enemies abroad, of whom she has many, and extremely inveterate and malicious, and enable them, in concert with others within her own bosom, whose rancor is no less malignant and venomous, to do her a mischief. With pleasure I see that gentlemen are taking measures to administer the antidote with the poison.
As the sober principles of civil and ecclesiastical tyranny are so gravely inculcated by this writer, as his artifices are so insidious, and his mis-affirmations so numerous and egregious, you will excuse me if I should again trouble you with a letter upon these subjects from your assured and immutable friend,
9and16 February 1767
That the Hypocrite reign not, lest the People be ensnared.Job.
You have my promise of another letter, concerning the maxims, arts, and positions of Philanthrop; whose performances of the last week I shall proceed to consider, without any formal apology for departing from the plan I proposed at first.
The art employed by this writer, in the introduction to his account of the Concord anecdote, is worth observation, before we undertake an examination of the account itself, and his reasonings upon it. God forbid that I should trifle with religion, or blame any man for professing it publicly. But there is a decency to be observed in this. True religion is too modest and reserved to seek out the market-places and corners of the streets, party newspapers and political pamphlets, to exhibit her prayers and devotions. Besides, there is so much in the temper of times and manners of ages, that ostentation of this kind may be more excusable in one century than another. The age in which you and I lived was religious to enthusiasm. Yet we may safely say, that canting and hypocrisy were never carried to so shameless a pitch, even by a Sir Henry Vane, an Oliver St. John, an Oliver Cromwell or a Hugh Peters, as Philanthrop in his last Monday’s paper has carried them. True religion, my friend Bradford, was the grand motive, with you and me, to undertake our arduous and hazardous enterprise, and to plant a religion in the world, on the large and generous principles of the Bible, without teaching for doctrines the commandments of men, or any mixture of those pompous rituals, and theatrical ceremonies, which had been so successfully employed to delude and terrify men out of all their knowledge, virtue, liberty, piety, and happiness. A religion that should never be made subservient to the pride, ambition, avarice, or lust, of an assuming priesthood, or a cruel and usurping magistracy, was our incessant aim, and unwearied endeavor. And we have now the happiness to reflect on our success; for at least we have approached nearer to such an institution than any others have done since the primitive ages of Christianity. And although stiffness, formality, solemnity, grimace, and cant, very common in our times, have worn off, in a great measure, from New England; yet true religion, on the plan of freedom, popular power, and private judgment, remains and prospers. This, we are fully persuaded, is truth, though the deluded Philanthrop seems to be so far given up to blindness of mind, as to think that his quotations from Scripture, his affected meekness, charity, benevolence, and piety, his formal stiffness, and hypocritical grimace, will divest his countrymen of their senses, and screen him from their jealousy, while he is tearing up, by his principles and practices, conversation and writings, the foundations of their constitution, both in church and state.
But it is not only by attempting to throw around himself the rays of religion, that this writer has attempted to deceive his countrymen; he has labored to possess their minds with principles in government utterly subversive of all freedom, tending to lull them into an indolent security and inattention. In one of his late papers he has a paragraph to this purpose,—“A brave and free people, who are not through luxury enervated and sunk to that degree of effeminate indolence, which renders them insensible to the difference between freedom and slavery, can never fail to perceive the approaches of arbitrary power. The constitution of all free governments, especially that of the English, is of such a nature, the principles of it are so familiar, and so interwoven with the human mind, and the rulers are so circumscribed with positive laws, for the directing and controlling their power, that they can never impose chains and shackles on the people, nor even attempt it, without being discovered. In such a government, and among such a people, the very first act in pursuance of a design to enslave or distress the subjects in general, must be so obvious, as to render all false coloring totally unnecessary to arouse the public attention; a simple narration of facts, supported by evidence, which can never be wanting in such a case, will be sufficient, and will be the surest means to convince the people of their danger.”
What conclusion shall a candid reader draw by a fair interpretation from this wordy, cloudy passage? Would he not conclude that a free government, especially the English, was a kind of machine, calculated for perpetual motion and duration; that no dangers attended it; and that it may easily preserve and defend itself, without the anxiety or attention of the people?
The truth is precisely the reverse of this. Though a few individuals may perceive the approaches of arbitrary power, and may truly publish their perceptions to the people, yet it is well known, the people are not persuaded without the utmost difficulty to attend to facts and evidence. Those who covet such power, always have recourse to secrecy and the blackness of darkness to cover their wicked views, and have always their parties and instruments and minions at hand, to disguise their first approaches, and to vilify and abuse,—as turbulent destroyers of the public peace, as factious, envious, malicious pretenders to patriotism, as sowers and stirrers of sedition,—all those who perceive such approaches, and endeavor to inform and undeceive their neighbors. Liberty, instead of resting within the intrenchment of any free constitution of government ever yet invented and reduced to practice, has always been surrounded with dangers, exposed to perils by water and by fire. The world, the flesh, and the devil, have always maintained a confederacy against her, from the fall of Adam to this hour, and will, probably, continue so till the fall of Antichrist. Consider the commonwealths of Greece. Were not the wisest of them so sensible of it as to establish a security of liberty, I mean the ostracism, even against the virtues of their own citizens,—that no individual, even by his valor, public spirit, humanity, and munificence, might endear himself so much to his fellow citizens as to be able to deceive them and engross too much of their confidence and power? In Rome, how often were the people cheated out of their liberties, by kings, decemvirs, triumvirs, and conspirators of other denominations! In the times when Roman valor, simplicity, public spirit, and frugality, were at the highest, tyranny, in spite of all the endeavors of her enemies, was sometimes well-nigh established, and even a Tarquin could not be expelled but by civil war. In the history of the English nation, which Philanthrop is pleased to distinguish from all others, how many arbitrary reigns do we find since the conquest! Sometimes, for almost a whole century together, notwithstanding all the murmur, clamor, speeches in the senate, writings from the press, and discourses from the pulpit, of those whom Philanthrop calls turbulent destroyers of the public peace, but you and I think the guardian angels of their country’s liberties, the English nation has trembled and groaned under tyranny.
For reasons like these, the spirit of liberty is and ought to be a jealous, a watchful spirit. Obsta principiis is her motto and maxim, knowing that her enemies are secret and cunning, making the earliest advances slowly, silently, and softly, and that, according to her unerring oracle, Tacitus, “the first advances of tyranny are steep and perilous, but, when once you are entered, parties and instruments are ready to espouse you.” It is one of these early advances, these first approaches of arbitrary power, which are the most dangerous of all, and, if not prevented but suffered to steal into precedents, will leave no hope of a remedy without recourse to nature, violence, and war, that I now propose to consider.
And, in the first place, let us see how far the court writer and his opponents are agreed in the facts. They seem to agree that two gentlemen, chosen and returned as members of the house, were expressly excepted by the Governor in the dedimus, or power of administering the usual oaths to the members of the house; that the house, that is, the gentlemen returned from the other towns besides Newbury, would not receive the dedimus with this exception, that is, refused themselves to be sworn by virtue of it. I say, by the way, that Philanthrop agrees to this fact, though he seems to endeavor, by the obscurity of his expression, to disguise it; because the house itself must have considered the exception as an infraction of their right, though Philanthrop only says it was so considered by some among them; otherwise the house would not have chosen a committee to remonstrate against the exception. That the Governor erased the exception, or gave a new dedimus, upon the remonstrance of the committee; that the Governor, however, gave it up only for that time, expressly reserving the claim of right to except members out of the commission, and told the committee he should represent the case home for further instructions concerning it. This being the acknowledged state of facts, trifling with the instance in the reign of king James the First, is as good a proof of Philanthrop’s knowledge in history and the constitution as his shrewd suggestion, that Cassius and B. B. are the same person, is of his sagacity. It is with real sorrow that I now observe and propose hereafter to demonstrate, that both Philanthrop and his idol are too much enamored with the fine example of the Jemmys and Charleys, and too much addicted to an awkward imitation of their conduct. One example of such an imitation is this of the dedimus at Concord, this memorable attempt to garble the house of representatives, which bears so exact a resemblance to the conduct of that self-sufficient innovator, that pedantical tyrant, that I own it seems more probable to me to have been copied designedly from it than to have happened by accident. For the gentleman whose conduct and character Philanthrop defends, cannot be denied to be well read in the reigns of the Stuarts, and therefore cannot be supposed to have been ignorant of James’s conduct. That a solid judgment may be formed of the nature of the privilege for which I contend, and whether it has been invaded or not, I shall produce a short sketch of the history of that transaction, and will then produce the opinion of writers quite impartial, or to be sure not partial in my favor, concerning it.
If we go back so far as the reign of Elizabeth, we find her, on one occasion, infringing on this privilege of the commons, of judging solely of their own elections and returns. This attempt was, however, so warmly resented by the commons that they instantly voted,—“That it was a most perilous precedent, when two knights of a county were duly elected, if any new writ should issue out, for a second election, without order of the house itself. That the discussing and adjudging of this and such like differences belonged only to the house; and that there should be no message sent to the Lord Chancellor, not so much as to inquire what he had done in the matter; because it was conceived to be a matter derogatory to the power and privilege of the house.” After this vote, which had in it something of the spirit of liberty and independency, we hear of no more disputes upon that subject till we come to the reign of James the First, whose whole life was employed in endeavoring to demolish every popular power in the constitution, and to establish the awful and absolute sovereignty of kingship, that, as he expressed himself to the convocation, Jack and Tom and Dick and Will might not meet and censure him and his council. And in order to accomplish the important purpose of his reign, he thought that nothing could be more useful than to wrest from the commons into his own hands, or those of his creature, the chancellor, the adjudication of their elections and returns. Outlaws, whether for misdemeanors or debts, had been declared by the judges, in the reign of Henry the Sixth, incapable by law of a seat in the house, where they themselves must be lawgivers. Sir Francis Goodwin was now chosen for the county of Bucks; and his return was made as usual into chancery. The chancellor decreed him an outlaw, vacated his seat, and issued writs for a new election. Sir John Fortescue was chosen in his room. But the first act of the house was to reverse the decree of the chancellor, and restore Goodwin to his seat. At James’s instigation, the lords desired a conference on this subject, but were absolutely refused by the commons, as the question regarded entirely their own privileges. They agreed, however, to make a remonstrance to the king, by their speaker; where they maintained that though the returns were by form made into chancery, yet the sole right of judging with regard to elections belonged to the house itself. James was not satisfied, and ordered a conference between the house and the judges. The commons were in some perplexity. Their eyes were now opened; and they saw the consequences of that power which had been assumed, and to which their predecessors had in some instances blindly submitted. This produced many free speeches in the house. “By this course,” said one member, “the free election of the counties is taken away; and none shall be chosen but such as shall please the king and council. Let us therefore with fortitude, understanding, and sincerity, seek to maintain our privileges. This cannot be construed any contempt in us, but merely a maintenance of our common rights, which our ancestors have left us, and which is just and fit for us to transmit to our posterity.” Another said,—“This may be called a quo warranto, to seize all our liberties.” “A chancellor,” added a third, “by this course may call a parliament consisting of what persons he pleases. Any suggestion, by any person, may be the cause of sending a new writ. It is come to this plain question, whether the chancery or parliament ought to have authority.” The commons, however, notwithstanding this watchful spirit of liberty, appointed a committee to confer with the judges before the king and council. There the question began to appear a little more doubtful than the king had imagined; and, to bring himself off, he proposed that Goodwin and Fortescue should both be set aside, and a writ be issued by the house for a new election. Goodwin consented; and the commons embraced this expedient, but in such a manner that, while they showed their regard for the king, they secured for the future the free possession of their seats, and the right which they claimed of judging solely of their own elections and returns. Hume, who will not be suspected of prejudice against the Stuarts, and very nearly in whose words this story is related, remarks at the conclusion,—“A power like this, so essential to the exercise of all their other powers, themselves so essential to public liberty, cannot fairly be deemed an encroachment in the commons, but must be regarded as an inherent privilege, happily rescued from that ambiguity which the negligence of former parliaments had thrown upon it.” Smollett concludes his account of this affair with this reflection,—“Thus the commons secured to themselves the right of judging solely in their own elections and returns.” And my Lord Bolingbroke, whose knowledge of the constitution will not be disputed, whatever may be justly said of his religion and his morals, remarks upon this transaction of James thus,—“Whether the will of the prince becomes a law independently of parliament, or whether it is made so upon every occasion by the concurrence of parliament, arbitrary power is alike established. The only difference lies here. Every degree of this power which is obtained without parliament, is obtained against the forms, as well as against the spirit of the constitution, and must, therefore, be obtained with difficulty, and possessed with danger. Whereas, in the other method of obtaining and exercising this power, by and with parliament, if it can be obtained at all, the progress is easy and short, and the possession of it so far from being dangerous, that liberty is disarmed as well as oppressed by this method; that part of the constitution, (namely, the house of commons,) which was instituted to oppose the encroachments of the crown, the maladministration of men in power, and every other grievance, being influenced to abet these encroachments, to support this maladministration, and even to concur in imposing the grievances.”
Now, if we compare the attempt of King James with the attempt of the governor, who can discern a difference between them? James would have vacated the seat of Sir Francis Goodwin, because his election was against law; that is, because Sir Francis was an outlaw. The governor would have vacated the seats of Colonel Gerrish and Captain Little, because their election was against law, that is, because they were both chosen and returned by a town which by law was to choose and return but one. The king in one case, the governor in the other, made himself judge of the legality of an election, and usurped authority to vacate the seats of members. I consider the power of the chancellor here, which the king contended for, as the power of the king; because there is no great difference in such cases, as has been very well known from the time of James to this day, between the power of the creator and that of the creature. And I say, vacate the seats, because an exception from the dedimus is an absolute annihilation of a gentleman’s seat; because by charter no man can vote or act as a representative till he has taken the oaths. It is as entire an exclusion from the house as an expulsion would be.
We will now, if you please, throw together a few reflections upon the soothing, amazing, melting solution of this arduous difficulty with which Philanthrop has entertained the public.
He begins with an instruction to the governor from his majesty not to consent to the division of towns. There has often been conversation during the administration of several late governors, concerning such a royal instruction, which, for any thing I know, may be a good one; but let it be good or evil, or whether there is any such or not, it has been found in experience, that when the division of a town would make way for the election of a friend, this instruction has been no impediment; and I need not go further than Concord and Newbury for two examples of this. Though I must go as far as the celebrated Berkshire for an instance of another member and favorite chosen and returned as expressly against the instruction and law of the province, and knowingly suffered by the governor to be sworn, without any exception in the dedimus, and to vote for the council; and finally left to the house, without any exception, caveat, message, or hint, to judge of their privilege, and vacate his seat. But to return to the instruction, is it a command to the governor to take upon himself to judge of the legality or illegality of the choice, returns, or qualifications of the members of the house? No man will pretend this, or dare throw such an infamous affront upon his majesty or his ministers, who perfectly know that even his majesty himself has no right or authority whatever to judge in this matter; and that for the king himself to attempt to judge of the elections, returns, or qualifications of the members of the house of commons, or of the house of representatives, would be an invasion of their privilege as really, as for them to coin money, or issue commissions in the militia, would be an encroachment on the royal prerogative. If Newbury had sent ten, and Boston forty, members, has the common law, or any act of parliament, or any law of the province, or this, his majesty’s instruction, made the governor the judge, that those towns have not a right by law to send so many? The only question is, who shall judge? Is it the purport of that instruction, that the governor should except the forty and the ten out of the dedimus? Would it not be as much as the king would expect of the governor, if he should give the dedimus in the usual form, that is, to swear all the members, and leave it to the house to judge who the members were? And if the governor really supposed, as Philanthrop says he did, that the house would be jealous of the honor of their own laws, why should he have taken that jealousy away from them? Why did he not leave it to them to vindicate their own cause? If he had known any facts in this case, of which the house was not apprized, it would have been friendly and constitutional in him to have hinted it privately to some member of the house, that he might have moved it there. But there was no pretence of this, the case of Newbury being as well known to the house as to the governor. Or if he must have inserted himself in the business publicly, he might have sent the necessary information to the house in a message, recommending it to their consideration, not giving his own opinion, for this would have been an infraction of their privilege, because they are the sole judges in the matter, and ought not to be under the influence even of a message from his Excellency, expressing his opinion, in deciding so very delicate a point as elections and returns, a point on which all the people’s liberties depend. Five members chosen and returned by Boston would be an illegal election; but how should the governor come by his knowledge, that Boston had chosen and returned five? How should the precepts and returns come into his hands? It is no part of his excellency’s duty to examine the returns which are made to the sheriff, and lodged in the secretary’s office. There can be no objection to his looking over them to satisfy his curiosity; but to judge of them belongs wholly to another department. Suppose him to have inspected them, and found five returned for Boston; would not this be as manifestly against the spirit of the instruction, and the standing law of the province, as the case of Newbury? And what pretence would he have to judge of this illegal election, any more than of any other? Suppose, for instance, it was proved to his excellency, that twenty members returned were chosen by corruption, that is, had purchased the votes of the electors by bribery; or let it be proved that any members had taken Rhode Island or New Hampshire bills, were outlaws, or chosen by a few inhabitants of their towns without any legal meeting, these would be equally illegal elections, equally against the instructions and the law of the land; but shall the governor judge of these things, and vacate all such seats, by refusing them their oaths? Let it be suggested that a member is an infant, an idiot, a woman in man’s clothing, a leper, a petit-maître, an enemy to government, a friend to the governor’s enemies, a turbulent destroyer of the public peace, an envious, malicious pretender to patriotism, any one of these or a thousand other pretences, if the governor is once allowed to judge of the legality or illegality of elections and returns, or of the qualifications or disqualifications of members, may soon be made sufficient to exclude any or all whom the governor dislikes. The supposition that Boston should send forty, and all the other towns ten, is possible; but it is not less improbable than that the governor, and all others in authority, should be suddenly seized with a delirium, negative every counsellor chosen, dissolve the house, call another, dissolve that, command all the militia to muster and march to the frontiers, and a thousand other raving facts; and all that can be said is, that when such cases shall happen, the government will be dissolved, and individuals must scramble as well as they can for themselves, there being no resource in the positive constitution for such wild cases. But surely, a negative, a right of exception in the dedimus, would be of no service to him in such a case. So that no justification or excuse for the governor’s apprehensions or conduct, can be drawn from such supposed cases.
How the governor’s conduct in signing the bill for dividing Newbury came to be considered as so very friendly and highly obliging, is not easily comprehended, unless every act of the governor is to be considered in that light. If he signed the bill to oblige any particular friend, or in order that a friend’s friend might get into the house, it was friendly and obliging no doubt to such friends; but if he signed it because he thought it for the general good, as I suppose he did, it was a part of his general duty, as governor, and no more obliging than any other act of equal importance. I suppose here, that such conduct was not inconsistent with what he knew to be the intention of his instructions; for surely no man will call it friendly and obliging wilfully to break his instructions for so small a benefit to the province as dividing a town. So that he can’t be imagined to have run any risk in this case, any more than in any other instance of his duty.
It is asserted that the governor had been misinformed concerning the custom of the house. How far this is true, I know not. But had he been informed that they had a custom to let the governor judge of their elections and returns; a custom to let him pick out whom he would to be sworn, and whom he would to send home? Unless he had been informed of such a custom, I cannot see that any other misinformation can defend or even palliate his taking that part upon himself. But surely, he had opportunity enough to have had the truest information. There were gentlemen enough of both houses ready to acquaint him with the customs, nay, the journals of the house would have informed him that the returns were all read over the first day before they proceeded to the choice of counsellors. And he ought, one would think, to have been very sure he was right before he made so direct on onset on so fundamental a privilege. Besides, it has been, and is very credibly reported, and I believe it to be true, that he gave out, more than a week before that election, what he would do and did, and that some of his friends, fearing the consequences, waited on him, on purpose to dissuade him from such an attempt, but without success. So that it was no sudden thought, nor inadvertency, nor rashness of passion. I report this, as I have before some other things, from credible information and real belief, without calling on witnesses by name; as such evidence has lately come in fashion and is thought alone sufficient to support narratives and depositions, sent to the boards at home, charging the blackest crimes on the country and some of the most respectable characters in it. But admitting he was misinformed of the custom, I can’t see that this is of any weight at all in the dispute. Whether the house examined any returns at all the first day, or not, he could have no pretence to interpose. If he thought the custom was to examine no returns till the second day, and that such a custom was wrong, and ought to be altered, he might, for aught I know unexceptionably, have sent a message recommending this matter to the consideration of the house, not dictating to them how they should decide; much less should he have decided himself without consulting them; much less should he have taken from them the opportunity of judging at all, as, by excepting the gentlemen out of the dedimus, in fact he did.
Philanthrop makes it a problematical point, whether his excellency’s apprehensions or the custom of the house be most consonant to reason and our constitution. I confess myself at a loss to know, from his account, what his excellency’s apprehensions were. If he means, that his excellency apprehended that the house ought to change their custom, and decide upon all elections and returns before they proceed to the choice of counsellors, I agree with him that such a point is immaterial to the present dispute; but if he means, that his excellency apprehended he had a right to except such members out of the dedimus as he pleased, or any members at all, he begs the question, and assumes that it is problematical whether he is or is not the sole judge of elections, has or has not the same cathartic negative to administer, when he thinks proper, to the house, as he has to the board; which, according to all the authorities I have cited before, and according to common sense, is to make it problematical whether the governor has or has not plenary possession of arbitrary power.
It is asserted by our writer that the two gentlemen were sworn, and voted, or might have voted. As to their being sworn, there could not possibly any harm accrue from any gentleman’s taking the oaths of allegiance, subscribing the declaration, &c. and if the committee had been pleased to swear the whole country on that occasion, no damage would have been done; and from whence the governor’s dread of administering the oaths of allegiance to those gentlemen could arise, I can’t conceive. From scruples of conscience it could not be, because he has often taken those oaths himself. As to the gentlemen’s voting, I believe Philanthrop is mistaken; because I have been strongly assured they did not, but that they stood by till the elections were over, as it was expected by the other members that they should. However, I do not affirm this. The gentlemen themselves can easily determine this matter.
Philanthrop is often complaining of “skulking, dark insinuations,” &c.; but I know of no man who deals in them so much as he. Witness, among a thousand others, his base insinuations about the senate and Gazette, in his first piece, and what he says in his last about such a thing “being given out from a certain quarter, from what principle he will not say,” a very dark, unintelligible insinuation of nobody knows what, against nobody knows whom, which leaves everybody at liberty to fix what he will on whom he will, and tends only to amuse and mislead. And nearly of the same character is a curious expression somewhere in the piece, calling the exception of the two gentlemen out of the dedimus, a “caveat to the house;” which is about as sensible as it would be to cut off a man’s legs and chain him fast to a tree, and then give him a caution, a caveat, not to run away.
That the governor did not succeed in his attempt is no proof that he did not make it. Our thanks are not due to him, but to the house, that this dedimus was not received, all the members sworn by virtue of it, and itself lodged on file, as a precedent, to silence all envious and revengeful declaimers, both for himself and all his successors. It is equally true, that King James did not succeed in his attempt, but gave it up. Yet all historians have recorded that attempt, as a direct and formidable attack on the freedom of elections, and as one proof that he aimed at demolishing the constitution, at stretching prerogative beyond its just bounds, and at abridging the constitutional rights and liberties of the nation. What should hinder, but that a governor’s attempt should be recorded too? I doubt not a Bacon quibbling and canting his adulation to that monarch, in order to procure the place of attorney-general or lord chancellor, might celebrate his majesty’s friendly, modest, obliging behavior in that affair; yet even the mighty genius of Bacon could never rescue his sordid soul from contempt for that very adulation, with any succeeding age.