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Charles S. Hyneman, American Political Writing During the Founding Era: 1760-1805, vol. 2 [1983]

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Charles S. Hyneman, American Political Writing During the Founding Era: 1760-1805, ed. Charles S. Hyneman and Donald Lutz (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1983). 2 vols. Volume 2.

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About this Title:

These volumes provide a selection of seventy-six essays, pamphlets, speeches, and letters to newspapers written between 1760 and 1805 by American political and religious leaders. Many are obscure pieces that were previously available only in larger research libraries. But all illuminate the founding of the American republic and are essential reading for students and teachers of American political thought. The second volume includes an annotated bibliography of five hundred additional items for future reference. The subjects covered in this rich assortment of primary material range from constitutionalism, representation, and republicanism to freedom of the press, religious liberty, and slavery. Among the more noteworthy items reprinted, all in their entirety, are Stephen Hopkins, “The Rights of the Colonies Examined” (1764); Richard Bland, “An Inquiry into the Rights of the British Colonies” (1766); John Adams, “Thoughts on Government” (1776); Theophilus Parsons, “The Essex Result” (1778); James Madison, “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments” (1785); James Kent, “An Introductory Lecture to a Course of Law Lectures” (1794); Noah Webster, “An Oration on the Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence” (1802); and James Wilson, “On Municipal Law” (1804).

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Table of Contents:

Edition: current; Page: [[i]]


Political Writing

during the

Founding Era


Edition: current; Page: [[ii]]



Works of Fisher Ames

W.B. Allen, ed.

Union and Liberty

John C. Calhoun

In Defense of the Constitution

George W. Carey

American Political Writing During the Founding Era: 1760-1805

Charles S. Hyneman and Donald S. Lutz, eds.

Political Sermons of the American Founding Era: 1730-1805

Ellis Sandoz, ed.

George Washington: A Collection

W.B. Allen, ed.

Edition: current; Page: [[iii]]
American Political Writing during the Founding Era 1760-1805
Volume II
Liberty Fund
Edition: current; Page: [[iv]]

This book is published by Liberty Fund, Inc., a foundation established to encourage study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.


The cuneiform inscription that serves as our logo and as the design motif for our endpapers is the earliest-known written appearance of the word “freedom” (amagi), or “liberty.” It is taken from a clay document written about 2300 bc in the Sumerian city-state of Lagash.

© 1983 by Charles S. Hyneman and Donald S. Lutz. All rights reserved. This book was manufactured in the United States of America.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Main entry under title:

American political writing during the founding era,


Includes bibliographies and index.

1. United States—Politics and government—Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775—Sources. 2. United States—

Politics and government—Revolution, 1775-1783—Sources. 3. United States—Politics and government—1783-1809—Sources. I. Hyneman, Charles S., 1900- .

II. Lutz, Donald S., 1943- .

JK113.A716 1983 973.3. 82-24884

ISBN 0-86597-038-6 (set)

ISBN 0-86597-039-4 (v. 1)

ISBN 0-86597-040-8 (v. 2)

ISBN 0-86597-041-6 (pbk.: set)

ISBN 0-86597-042-4 (pbk.: v. 1)

ISBN 0-86597-043-2 (pbk.: v. 2)

94 93 92 91 90 C 6 5 4 3 2

01 00 99 98 97 P 7 6 5 4 3a

Edition: current; Page: [[v]]

Table of Contents

  • Preface, xi
  • Acknowledgments, xvii
  • volume i
    • [1] Abraham Williams, An Election Sermon, boston, 1762 3

      General principles of government

    • [2] T.Q., and J., [Untitled], boston, 1763 19

      Separation of Powers

    • [3] U., [Untitled], boston, 1763 33

      State of nature, and violence in civil society

    • [4] [anonymous], [Untitled], boston, 1764 38

      Public virtue and self-government

    • [5] Philo Publicus, [Untitled], boston, 1764 42


    • [6] Stephen Hopkins, The Rights of Colonies Examined, providence, 1764 45

      Relationship of American colonies to Britain

    • [7] Aequus, From the Craftsman, boston, 1766 62

      Relationship of colonies to Britain

    • [8] Richard Bland, An Inquiry into the Rights of the British Colonies, williamsburg, 1766 67

      Legal relationship of colonies to Britain

    • [9] Britannus Americanus, [Untitled], boston, 1766 88

      Relationship of colonies to Britain.

    • [10] The Tribune, No. xvii, charleston, 1766 92

      Public virtue and freedom

    • [11] [silas downer] A Son of Liberty, A Discourse at the Dedication of the Tree of Liberty, providence, 1768 97

      Popular consent and the relationship of the colonies to Britain

    • [12] Daniel Shute, An Election Sermon, boston, 1768 109

      Why government needs a constitution and what should be in it

    • [13] [john perkins] A Well-Wisher to Mankind, Theory of Agency: Or, An Essay on the Nature, Source and Extent of Moral Freedom, boston, 1771 137

      The foundations of liberty in moral philosophy

      Edition: current; Page: [[vi]]
    • [14] John Tucker, An Election Sermon, boston, 1771 158

      The origin, nature, and end of civil government

    • [15] The Preceptor, Vol. II. Social Duties of the Political Kind, boston, 1772 172

      The benefits of civil society

    • [16] A Constant Customer, Extract of a Letter from a Gentleman in the Country to His Friend, boston, 1773 181


    • [17] Simeon Howard, A Sermon Preached to the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company in Boston, boston, 1773 195

      Justifies breaking with Britain

    • [18] [daniel leonard] Massachusettensis, To All Nations of Men, boston, 1773 209

      Uses state of nature argument to justify break with Britain

    • [19] [benjamin rush] A Pennsylvanian, An Address to the Inhabitants of the British Settlements in America Upon Slave-Keeping, philadelphia, 1773 217

      Opposition to it based on religion and practicality

    • [20] Continental Congress, Appeal to the Inhabitants of Quebec, philadelphia, 1774 231

      The foundations of a free people

    • [21] Thomas Bradbury, The Ass: or, the Serpent, A Comparison Between the Tribes of Issachar and Dan, in Their Regard for Civil Liberty, newburyport, massachusetts, 1774 240

      Contrasts the slavish spirit with the freedom-loving spirit

    • [22] Nathaniel Niles, Two Discourses on Liberty, newburyport, massachusetts, 1774 257

      The origin, nature, and consequences of liberty

    • [23] Monitor, To the New Appointed Councellors, of the Province of Massachusetts-Bay, boston, 1774 277

      Representation and the basis for forming a legislature

    • [24] Gad Hitchcock, An Election Sermon, boston, 1774 281

      On liberty—natural, civil, and religious

    • [25] Levi Hart, Liberty Described and Recommended: in a Sermon Preached to the Corporation of Freemen in Farmington, hartford, 1775 305

      Freedom from sin, from the British, and for the slaves

    • [26] [anonymous], An English Patriot’s Creed, Anno Domini, 1775, boston, 1776 318

      The true English patriot loves liberty

      Edition: current; Page: [[vii]]
    • [27] [anonymous], The Alarm: or, an Address to the People of Pennsylvania on the Late Resolve of Congress, philadelphia, 1776 321

      Constitutions should be written by special conventions

    • [28] [carter braxton], A Native of This Colony, An Address to the Convention of the Colony and Ancient Dominion of Virginia on the Subject of Government in General, and Recommending a Particular Form to Their Attention, virginia, 1776 328

      Summary of political principles

    • [29] Demophilus [george bryan?], The Genuine Principles of the Ancient Saxon, or English[,] Constitution, philadelphia, 1776 340

      The excellence of direct democracy

    • [30] [anonymous], Four Letters on Interesting Subjects, philadelphia, 1776 368

      The fundamental character of constitutions

    • [31] [anonymous], The People the Best Governors: Or a Plan of Government Founded on the Just Principles of Natural Freedom, new hampshire, 1776 390


    • [32] John Adams, Thoughts on Government, boston, 1776 401

      Succinct statement of republican principles

    • [33] Samuel West, On the Right to Rebel Against Governors, boston, 1776 410

      The religious basis for resisting tyranny

    • [34] Worcestriensis, Number IV, boston, 1776 449

      Separation of church and state, and religious freedom

    • [35] [anonymous] and William Whiting, Berkshire’s Grievances (Statement of Berkshire County Representatives, and Address to the Inhabitants of Berkshire), pittsfield, massachusetts, 1778 455

      How is it possible to have a government without a constitution?

    • [36] [theophilus parsons], The Essex Result, newburyport, massachusetts, 1778 480

      Comprehensive statement of American political principles

    • [37] Phillips Payson, A Sermon, boston, 1778 523

      On the virtues essential for popular self-government

    • [38] Zabdiel Adams, An Election Sermon, boston, 1782 539

      Comprehensive view of relationship between citizens and governors

      Edition: current; Page: [[viii]]
    • [39] [anonymous], Rudiments of Law and Government Deduced from the Law of Nature, charleston, 1783 565
    • [40] [thomas tudor tucker] Philodemus, Conciliatory Hints, Attempting, by a Fair State of Matters, to Remove Party Prejudice, charleston, 1784 606

      Coherent statement of strongly democratic principles

    • [41] [james madison et al.], Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, virginia, 1785 631

      Freedom of religion

    • [42] Amicus Republicae, Address to the Public, Containing Some Remarks on the Present Political State of the American Republicks, etc., exeter, new hampshire, 1786 638

      Strong defense of state constitutions and Whig principles

    • [43] Dean Swift, Causes of a Country’s Growing Rich and Flourishing, worcester, massachusetts, 1786 656
    • [44] Joseph Lathrop, A Miscellaneous Collection of Original Pieces (Selections), springfield, 1786 658

      Origin of government, virtue, frugality, industry, etc.

    • [45] Benjamin Rush, A Plan for the Establishment of Public Schools and the Diffusion of Knowledge in Pennsylvania; to Which Are Added, Thoughts upon the Mode of Education, Proper in a Republic, philadelphia, 1786 675
    • [46] Theophrastus, A Short History of the Trial by Jury, worcester, massachusetts, 1787 693

      Opposed to removing names of Tories from jury lists

    • [47] The Worcester Speculator, No. VI, worcester, massachusetts, 1787 699

      Public virtue, education, and republican government

    • [48] Bostonians, Serious Questions Proposed to All Friends to The Rights of Mankind, With Suitable Answers, boston, 1787 702

      How a constitution should be framed and adopted

  • volume ii
    • [49] An Elector, To the Free Electors of This Town, boston, 1788 705

      Electioneering as a corrupt practice

    • [50] Benjamin Franklin, An Account of the Supremest Court of Judicature in Pennsylvania, viz., The Court of the Press, philadelphia, 1789 707

      The limits of freedom of the press

      Edition: current; Page: [[ix]]
    • [51] [anonymous], Ambition, charleston, 1789 711

      The importance of ambition for excellence

    • [52] Benevolous, Poverty, charleston, 1789 714

      The effects of poverty

    • [53] David Ramsay, The History of the American Revolution (Selections), philadelphia, 1789 719
    • [54] Robert Coram, Political Inquiries, to which is Added A Plan for the Establishment of Schools Throughout the United States, wilmington, 1791 756
    • [55] Joel Barlow, A Letter to the National Convention of France on the Defects in the Constitution of 1791, new york, 1792 812

      Equality and effective popular control of government

    • [56] Timothy Stone, Election Sermon, hartford, 1792 839

      Liberty, leadership, and community

    • [57] David Rice, Slavery Inconsistent With Justice and Good Policy, augusta, kentucky, 1792 858
    • [58] Theodore Dwight, An Oration, Spoken Before the Connecticut Society, for the Promotion of Freedom and the Relief of Persons Unlawfully Holden in Bondage, hartford, 1794 884

      The effects of slavery on slaves, masters, and society

    • [59] [timothy ford] Americanus, The Constitutionalist: Or, An Inquiry How Far It Is Expedient and Proper to Alter the Constitution of South Carolina, charleston, 1794 900


    • [60] James Kent, An Introductory Lecture to a Course of Law Lectures, new york, 1794 936

      Justifies judicial review by Supreme Court

    • [61] Samuel Williams, The Natural and Civil History of Vermont (Chapters XIII, XIV, and XV), walpole, new hampshire, 1794 950

      How material circumstances affect culture and politics

    • [62] [john leland] Jack Nips, The Yankee Spy, boston, 1794 971

      Freedom of religion

    • [63] Peres [perez] Fobes, An Election Sermon, boston, 1795 990

      Freedom of speech, respect for public officials

    • [64] Justice [jacob] Rush, The Nature and Importance of an Oath—the Charge to a Jury, rutland, vermont, 1796 1014

      Oaths and political obligation

    • [65] Nathanael Emmons, A Discourse Delivered on the National Fast, wrentham, massachusetts, 1799 1023

      Civil disobedience and obedience to constituted authorities

      Edition: current; Page: [[x]]
    • [66] Jonathan Maxcy, An Oration, providence, 1799 1042

      Liberty and equality

    • [67] Alexander Addison, Analysis of the Report of the Committee of the Virginia Assembly, philadelphia, 1800 1055

      Limits to freedom of the press, compact theory of government

    • [68] Joel Barlow, To His Fellow Citizens of the United States. Letter II: On Certain Political Measures Proposed to Their Consideration, philadelphia, 1801 1099


    • [69] An Impartial Citizen, A Dissertation Upon the Constitutional Freedom of the Press, boston, 1801 1126
    • [70] Jeremiah Atwater, A Sermon, middlebury, vermont, 1801 1170

      Liberty, republican government, human nature, and virtue

    • [71] John Leland, The Connecticut Dissenters’ Strong Box: No. 1, new london, connecticut, 1802 1189

      Religious freedom

    • [72] Zephaniah Swift Moore, An Oration on the Anniversary of the Independence of the United States of America, worcester, massachusetts, 1802 1206

      Public opinion, virtue, education, and popular government

    • [73] Noah Webster, An Oration on the Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, new haven, 1802 1220

      The underlying principles and design of American government

    • [74] Samuel Kendal, Religion the Only Sure Basis of Free Government, boston, 1804 1241

      Dependence of government upon religious sentiment

    • [75] James Wilson, On Municipal Law, philadelphia, 1804 1264

      Law, consent, and political obligation

    • [76] Fisher Ames, The Dangers of American Liberty, boston, 1805 1299

      Equality, faction, bigness, corruption, community, virtue

  • A Selected List of Political Writings by Americans Between 1760 and 1805, 1349
  • A List of Newspapers Examined, 1388
  • Collections of Writing from the Founding Era, 1392
  • Index, 1395
Edition: current; Page: [[703]]

American Political Writing during the Founding Era 1760-1805
Volume II

Edition: current; Page: [[704]] Edition: current; Page: [[705]]

[49]: An Elector

To the Free Electors of This Town

The theory of republican government took for granted a number of institutions and practices rarely written about, yet logical and important consequences of that theory. One of these was the view that electioneering was a corrupt practice. The virtuous man was to run for office sitting quietly in his house after offering himself. This brief essay discusses the practice and its rationale. It appeared in the Boston Gazette on April 28, 1788. The fact that even James Madison, when he first ran for the Virginia legislature in 1777, refused to campaign or solicit votes shows the strength of the practice. That Madison lost to a tavern keeper also illustrates why the practice was in serious decay by 1788.

It is a criterion of republican principles that they never induce their possessor to seek for an office—and however fashionable it may be, to make professions of gratitude for the suffrages of the people, such professions are alien from true republicanism. The Public Good is, or ought to be, the only object of pursuit to every servant of the public: “Offices should therefore seek for men, not men for offices.” The character of a Seeker should be detestable in the view of every free and independent Elector; such persons constantly exhibit themselves at every return of the present season—and the arts of electioneering are openly and shamelessly practised. Our papers for several years past, have been crouded with essays and declamations, graced with this corrupt borough term, Electioneering:—Yea, it is supposed that persons, whose characters have been emblazened as Edition: current; Page: [[706]] models of political virtue, have modestly employed their own pens to depict themselves, or prevailed on some dependent friend to do this immaculate business for them:—such persons must have a superlative opinion of their own merits, or a very contemptible one of the public discernment. Such, ought never to be the objects of our suffrages. The public good is a secondary consideration with candidates of this sort, and is never attended to as a matter of importance, any further than their own Individual interest can be promoted at the same time.

At the present day, there are many Candidates or Seekers; in bestowing our suffrages, let us not lose sight of real republican principles, and the great interests of the Commonwealth, from too eager a desire to promote a Friend, a Relation, or Connection; who may, perhaps, need a public employment. This principle has a very dangerous tendency, and may, finally introduce an influence fatal to the liberties of the people.

That Aristocracy, of which we have heard so much, may creep upon us through this medium; for in proportion to the Dependent and Straitened circumstances of men in public life, in the same proportion (generally speaking) is the probability of their sacrificing their sentiments, to coincide with the view of ambitious men, who have (experience verifies) always established their Influence and Power by the assistance of needy expectants.

The important choice of Representatives is now approaching—from that solicitude and concern which the citizens of this metropolis have discovered on this occasion, from year to year, there can be no doubt of their being equally attentive to characters, the ensuing election.

You will doubtless have many exhortations upon the subject, and many excellent qualifications will be treated of, as Essential Requisites. All that I have to say at present is, that so far as any of those persons who were the objects of your choice the last year, have discovered an attachment to the great principles of Federalism—they will doubtless obtain your suffrages the ensuing year.

Edition: current; Page: [[707]]

[50]: Benjamin Franklin 1706-1790

An Account of the Supremest Court of Judicature in Pennsylvania, viz., The Court of the Press

Franklin had multiple careers as printer, sage of wide renown (through Poor Richard’s Almanac), civic leader, scientist and inventor, superb representative of America in Europe, and towering figure in conventions that produced written constitutions for the state of Pennsylvania and the United States of America. It is his first career that is germane here because, having spent most of his life printing and distributing the works of others as well as writing a great deal on his own for publication, Franklin was very familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of a free press. American pamphleteers loved to imitate the pamphleteers in England, where there was a long tradition of vicious satire, biting irony, parody, and inventive prose forms. While on the whole less sophisticated than their English counterparts, American pamphleteers did display the entire range of formats and literary styles found in England, and the fact that many published under pseudonyms did not always reflect fear of political reprisal so much as fear of a suit for libel. It is not possible to convey the literary richness of the era in a book focusing upon theoretical excellence, but this satire by Franklin is good enough to do double duty as a statement by an experienced professional on the limits of a free press and as an example of a more literary style of argument. It was published in the Philadelphia Federal Gazette on February 12, 1789, approximately a year before his death. One prominent author has dubbed the piece “On Freedom of the Press and Freedom of the Cudgel.”

Edition: current; Page: [[708]]

Power of This Court. It may receive and promulgate accusations of all kinds against all persons and characters among the citizens of the State, and even against all inferior courts; and may judge, sentence, and condemn to infamy, not only private individuals, but public bodies, & c., with or without inquiry or hearing, at the court’s direction.

In Whose Favor and for Whose Emolument This Court Is Established. In favor of about one citizen in five hundred who, by education or practice in scribbling, has acquired a tolerable style as to grammar and construction, so as to bear printing; or who is possessed by a press and a few types. This five hundredth part of the citizens have the privilege of accusing and abusing the other four hundred and ninety-nine parts at their pleasure; or they may hire out their pens and press to others for that purpose.

Practices of The Court. It is not governed by any of the rules of common courts of law. The accused is allowed no grand jury to judge of the truth of the accusation before it is publicly made, nor is the name of the accuser made known to him, nor has he an opportunity of confronting the witnesses against him, for they are kept in the dark as in the Spanish court of Inquisition. Nor is there any petty jury of his peers, sworn to try the truth of the charges. The proceedings are also sometimes so rapid that an honest, good citizen may find himself suddenly and unexpectedly accused, and in the same morning judged and condemned and sentence pronounced against him, that he is a rogue and a villain. Yet, if an officer of this court receives the slightest check for misconduct in this his office, he claims immediately the rights of a free citizen by the constitution and demands to know his accuser, to confront the witnesses, and to have a fair trial by a jury of his peers.

The Foundation of Its Authority. It is said to be founded on an article in the State Constitution, which established the liberty of the press; a liberty which every Pennsylvanian will fight and die for, though few of us, I believe, have distinct ideas of its nature and extent. It seems indeed somewhat like the liberty of the press that felons have by the common law of England before conviction, that is, to be pressed to death or hanged. If by the liberty of the press were understood merely the liberty of discussing the propriety of public measures and political opinions, let us have as much of it as you please; but if it means the liberty of affronting, calumniating, and defaming one another, I, for my part, own myself willing to part with my share of it whenever our Edition: current; Page: [[709]] legislators shall please so to alter the law, and shall cheerfully consent to exchange my liberty of abusing others for the privilege of not being abused myself.

By Whom This Court is Commissioned or Constituted. It is not by any commission from the Supreme Executive Council (who might previously judge of the abilities, integrity, knowledge, & c. of the persons to be appointed to this great trust of deciding upon the characters and good fame of the citizens) for this court is above that Council, and may accuse, judge, and condemn it, at pleasure. Nor is it hereditary, as in the court of dernier resort in the peerage of England. But any man who can procure pen, ink, and paper, with a press, a few types, and a huge pair of Blacking balls, may commissionate himself, and [thereby] his court is immediately established in the plenary possession and exercise of its rights. For if you make the least complaint of the judge’s conduct, he daubs his blacking balls in your face wherever he meets you; and, besides tearing your private character to flitters, marks you out for the odium of the public, as an enemy to the liberty of the press.

Of the Natural Support of These Courts. Their support is founded in the depravity of such minds as have not been mended by religion, nor improved by good education:

  • “There is a lust in man no charm can tame,
  • Of loudly publishing his neighbour’s shame.”
  • Hence
  • “On eagle’s wings immortal scandals fly,
  • While virtuous actions are but born and die.”
  • Dryden.

Whoever feels pain in hearing a good character of his neighbour, will feel a pleasure in the reverse. And of those who, desparing to rise into distinction by their virtues, are happy if others can be depressed to a level with themselves, there are a number sufficient in every great town to maintain one of these courts by their subscriptions. A shrewd observer once said that, in walking the streets in a slippery morning, one might see where the good-natured people lived by the ashes thrown on the ice before their doors; probably he would have formed a different conjecture of the temper of those whom he might find engaged in such a subscription.

Edition: current; Page: [[710]]

Of the Checks Proper to be Established Against the Abuse of Power in These Courts. Hitherto there are none. But since so much has been written and published on the federal Constitution, and the necessity of checks in all other parts of good government has been so clearly and learnedly explained, I find myself so far enlightened as to suspect some check may be proper in this part also; but I have been at a loss to imagine any that may not be construed an infringement of the sacred liberty of the press. At length, however, I think I have found one that, instead of diminishing general liberty, shall augment it; which is, by restoring to the people a species of liberty of which they have been deprived by our laws, I mean the liberty of the cudgel. In the rude state of society prior to the existence of laws, if one man gave another ill language the affronted person would return it by a box on the ear, and, if repeated, by a good drubbing; and this without offending against any law. But now the right of making such returns is denied and they are punished as breaches of the peace, while the right of abusing seems to remain in full force, the laws made against it being rendered ineffectual by the liberty of the press.

My proposal then is to leave the liberty of the press untouched, to be exercised in its full extent, force, and vigor; but to permit the liberty of the cudgel to go with it pari passu. Thus, my fellow-citizens, if an impudent writer attacks your reputation, dearer to you perhaps than your life, and puts his name to the charge, you may go to him as openly and break his head. If he conceals himself behind the printer and you can nevertheless discover who he is, you may in like manner way-lay him in the night, attack him behind, and give him a good drubbing. Thus far goes my project as to private resentment and retribution. But if the public should ever happen to be affronted, as it ought to be, with the conduct of such writers, I would not advise proceeding immediately to these extremities but that we should in moderation content ourselves with tarring and feathering and tossing them in a blanket.

If, however, it should be thought that this proposal of mine may disturb the public peace, I would then humbly recommend to our legislators to take up the consideration of both liberties, that of the press and that of the cudgel, and by an explicit law mark their extent and limits; and, at the same time that they secure the person of a citizen from assaults they would likewise provide for the security of his reputation.

Edition: current; Page: [[711]]



Americans during the founding era held many assumptions that greatly affected their political thinking but were rarely discussed in print. This essay on political economy illustrates the point. It appeared in the City Gazette and Daily Advertiser of Charleston, South Carolina, on June 6, 1789. Compare this with the article on poverty in the same paper printed on December 8, 1789.

To none, except those who are ignorant of its nature, can it be matter of surprize, that the minds of men are frequently occupied with thoughts on ambition; a passion that vies in [] with any that is connected with the human mind; and though so often under discussion, it is still unexhausted; though it has long been chosen for a daring theme, though veterans in knowledge, and in virtue, have been lavish in its praise, it has still material that calls for the exertions and [], of our ablest writers.

Ambition, by many writers, has been condemned as a source of evil; nothing that is human is perfect; for this censure therefore they have undoubtedly had some grounds: but might not the heavy charges imputed to her influence, be set with much more justice, to the account of malice and revenge? For who is so despicable, as to feel ambitious of being mean? Who so proud as to wish to be despised? No! The man who runs great lengths in vice, and delights to persecute his fellow creatures, is not only a stranger to every feeling that genuine ambition would inspire, but is actuated by the meaner passions of Edition: current; Page: [[712]] envy, jealousy or revenge. That we may be able to form a right judgement of this passion, and get the full measure of its merit, let us revert to those ages in which its influence was hardly known; to those times of simplicity, when man for his subsistence depended on the fruits of the chase; whose only discipline, was from the rod of necessity and in that school of adversity, taught to postpone his hunger, until time or chance, shall supply him with food. His only care, like the brutal herd, was to satisfy his present and most pressing wants. Like the beasts did he range the fields for prey; like them did he fly to the woods for shelter; like them did he live; and like them would have remained, had not ambition awakened a sense of the indignity, and taught him, by her secret force that man was made for nobler ends.

Ambition then, “is the wings on which we have soared above the brute creation,” by which we have been wafted from a barbarous, to an enlightened age; and without which, we should grovel through life, like the vile insect that crawls upon the ground. The human system is a machine; ambition the spring that puts it in motion. The whole world of mankind, either see and admire its operations; or feel themselves its quickening influence. The venturous horseman meets with proud assurance, the fiercest enemy; he handles the launce with active skill; makes regular, dextrous, and not unfrequently successful attacks; but if defeated, and beaten from the field, “leaves his arrows in the wind to meet his pursuers.”

The needy husbandman, from an emulation of the enjoyments and possessions of his neighbors, quits the prospect of present ease, for an industrious and laborious life, instead of submitting to the impulse of passion, which would easily triumph over the unaspiring mind; and instead of submitting to the many invitations to pleasure and the allurements of the world, which would lead him a giddy dance, and expose him alike to poverty and disgrace, he seeks a more rational and profitable exercise; and persuades himself to be constantly and usefully employed for an increase of property and the support of a family. Are there not thousands amongst us, who for a disdain of being dependent on others have denied themselves the pleasures and even the comforts of life; and retired to uncultivated regions, where, shut out from society, and the enjoyments of improved life, they have contented themselves for a while to endure the pains of abstinence, and combat the stubborn globe.

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A love of excellence spurs them on to industry, and by increasing their desires and uniting their efforts, leads them to improvement. The grateful earth yields to the hand of culture, and crowns their labor with success. When necessaries are found, convenience and ornament are fought for, until by their continued and united exertion, they make the “wilderness to blossom like a rose.” The plains they behold speckled with their flock; their meadows waving with stores for the barn; and their field nodding with treasures of corn. “The hills rejoice, the vallies smile,” and every thing looks glad! Thus by their industry, the offspring of ambition, they became the support of their families, and honor to themselves, and a blessing to their country.

What but the love of enterprise, and of applause, would induce the soldier to exchange the peaceful joys of a domestic life for the rougher scenes, the hardships and dangers of a camp? What but the grateful tribute of his country’s thanks, could persuade him to leave security, and jeopardy his life in the field of battle? The thought of sharing the honors of the brave, and of rising to glory, gives courage to the hero, and adds strength to the warrior’s arm. What is a man without ambition? Let us for a moment admit the painful thought that the men of interest and influence in this country, were lost to ambition! Those whom fortune has favoured and raised to wealth and dignity—Should we see them struggling for the liberty and happiness of the people? Should we find ourselves the happy objects of their care, patronage and protection? Should we not rather behold them regardless of their fellow creatures, carelessly basking in the sunshine of prosperity, and lolling on the bed of affluence? “Ignobly great, and impotently vain,” their only excellence would be to be wretched in state; and all they could boast of, supremacy of misery!

After having learned from experience the worth of this virtue, may we encourage its influence, that we may enjoy more extensive and lasting blessings; instead of being contented with these short lived exertions, which are made only upon the spur of occasion, may we be constant in pursuit of those virtues and excellencies to which our ambition prompts us to aspire.

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[52]: Benevolus


This selection appeared in the City Gazette and Daily Advertiser (Charleston, South Carolina) on December 8, 1789. It is couched in a flowery, labored style often used in newspaper pieces, but a careful reading shows that under the quasi-metaphors there is a serious discussion on the effects of poverty. It is easy to imagine a debate between this author and the author of the piece on ambition—from the same paper—set in the 1980’s. The style of expression would change, but the liberal and conservative viewpoints of 1789 would be the same today on these issues.

Poverty is so prevalent an evil among the human race, that it may be said, few or none at one period or other of their lives, escape to the grave without (either directly in their own proper persons, or indirectly through the collateral medium of their connexions) being made sensible of its direful effects. Yes, gentlemen, poverty is a never failing source of misery and woe! a perrenial spring of sorrow and wretchedness! a prolific mother whose ever-teeming womb is incessantly pregnant with hunger, nakedness, disease, and in a word, with every species of human misery! Woe then to him on whom she siezes with her baleful talons! for poverty is more dreadful in its ravages and effects than Smyrnia plague—since during its influence, the suffering patients may be said to be buried alive! I say buried alive; being deserted, abandoned, and forgot of all the world; and thus in a manner, become non entities on earth! Friendship and poverty are incompatible, and therefore poverty has no friend! Pity indeed, sometimes yields a momentary Edition: current; Page: [[715]] relief to distress; but this delicate lady, Pity, alas! is of so frail a texture and frame of constitution, that of all beings she is the most short lived and transitory! The good doctor Goldsmith of philanthropic memory, humourously defines pity thus—a species of satire by the bye, extremely apposite to my present purpose. “Pity, says that benevolent character, is at best but a short lived passion, and seldom affords distress more than a transitory assistance, with some (and I may add, the greater sum of mankind) it scarce lasts from the first impulse till the hand can be put into the pocket; with others (a very small number) it may continue for twice that space; and on some extraordinary sensibility I have seen it operate for half an hour together. But still, last as it may, it generally produces but beggarly effects; and where, from this motive we give five farthings, from others we give five pounds. Whatever be our first feelings, (continues this ingenious observer of the human passions and propensities) from the first impulse of distress, when the same distress solicits a second time, we then feel with diminished sensibility; and like the repetition of an echo, every stroke becomes more and more faint, till at last our sensations lose all mixture of sorrow, and degenerate into downright contempt.” I shall not apologize for the length of this quotation, which I consider thus pertinently interwoven with my coarser stuff, as a precious jewel set in an ordinary collar; and therefore must stamp merit on this my feeble essay to be serviceably to my fellow creature, which, without such an ornament, would have but little value of its own to recommend it to public attention. But to return—Contempt did I say? Yes, poverty outdoes even familarity in giving birth to this vile fruit; a bantling that upon all occasions sticks so close to its unhappy parent, that nothing less powerful than the omnipotent influence of gold can ever charm it from her side.

Whatever may have been his birth, his talents, his merits, his accomplishments in life, a man of broken fortune will necessarily find himself indiscriminately involved among the common class of wretch, without any other difference or exception [] what must aggravate his case and heighten the pungency of his sufferings, from the uncommon delicacy of his feelings. Poverty (which is an unpardonable kind of crime) strips such a man for ever of every pretence to favor, protection, and esteem, and makes him an object of obloquy and severe animadversion to the uncharitable and conscious part of mankind! Even in this region of more than common felicity—in this land of Edition: current; Page: [[716]] freedom and plenty; nay in this our rich and populous city may be found at this hour, (a circumstance sure, that must deeply affect and interest every feeling bosom of our fellow citizens, and pall the relish and enjoyment of those pleasures which the benignity of our more indulgent stars has put into our possession) numbers of such as I have been describing, (and whose various situations and conditions, though nevertheless uniformly miserable, all description) pining in the last stages of human woe! Let us for a moment turn our minds eye (it is our duty—it is our interest as men and christians to [do] it) towards the widow and the fatherless—let us take a survey of the state of many a poor, unprovided family, struggling with adversity, and trying to stem the tide of misfortune—let us contemplate (it is an attention worthy of our nature) the undescribably melancholy state of those, at this (to them) severe and inclement season of the year; among whom are many old, decrepid, and utterly helpless individuals. Let us consider how deplorable a case it is to be in a little cabin or hovel, open to the wind and weather on all sides, without fuel, without food, without raiment, without furniture, and in a word sans everything! Aye, without any thing, save their efforts, amidst their calamities, to support themselves by resignation and fortitude; and to conceal their hard lot from the public eyes! How many such are now, while we are perusing this paper, realizing my assertion, by bravely drying up their involuntary tears, and suppressing their bosum heaving sighs! Methinks I see this moment (alas it is no uncommon sight) methinks I see the obdurate constable, the minion of justice; but never the messenger of mercy, in the execution of his office; and committing utter ravage and devastation in many parts at once this opulent town—yes, this is no imaginary spectacle, or creature of the fancy, for the thing really and substantially exists! Already lies before my view the little all, the last resource of an unfortunate family, (who knew better days, and certainly deserve a better fate) tumbled out of doors upon the pavement, and going to be sold off, probably for a debt of fifty shillings, what cost as many pounds! What, the myrmidons have spared nothing, I see—nothing has been saved from unhallowed fangs! Let me see—two old chairs, a broken pot, an old matress, one door rug, the poor man’s mechanic tools, which brought his family a morsel of bread—the poor woman’s little holiday thing—all gone! Nothing saved! Now flow ye tears, my eyes open your briny juices, or my distended heart must burst!—Well, this won’t do, I’ll go and comfort them a little—where Edition: current; Page: [[717]] are they? alas! they are gone too! O, what will become of them? I must and I will find them out. I am interested in their welfare; for I too am a man. This day will I abstain from my wonted luxuries and delicacies, that these my fellow creatures, my brethren, may feed upon my self-denial; that they too may eat and bless our common God!

O, would to the almighty, our common benefactor and father, and who is no respector of persons, we were all like dutiful children and loving brethren, more sedulously attentive to the duties and command of charity than we are! However, good christian readers let us one and all, who can, always and at this season of the year more especially, step forward to the relief of the poor; a small matter from time to time will do, much is not necessary. For this truly pious and good purpose let subscriptions be set on foot, charity sermons preached—societies instituted, and private donations be dispensed, that so a fund may be accumulated; and in order that the proper objects may be known and discovered, the different wards of the city should make true returns of their respective poor; at the same time specifying particulars for the regulation of the Christian Charitable Board. This is undoubtedly the only plan adequate to the occasion and competent to the exigency in question. Partial and precarious eleemosynary donations, amounting to no more than a temporary trivial relief. We may very conveniently relieve the poor without any sensible injury to our own affairs, be our circumstances ever so moderate; for Charity does not require that we should go beyond what we can afford; but then she requires and even commands what we can afford; as being in fact, none of our property; but bona fide belongs to the poor. ’Tis therefore our indispensable duty (and for which before the throne of God we are accountable) not to withhold it from them, as in that case, such a derelection would be the most execrable, reprehensible of all frauds; and God forbid, that any who rejoices in being a christian, should be guilty of it! There is no man but may make room (if I may so express myself) for his charity and benevolence to operate, if he will, for that end, curtail his sumptuary expences; and this may be done a thousand different ways—among the most feasible, as well as laudable of these, are retrenching the idle and ostentatious luxury of our pampering tables; we may change our rich and costly wines sometimes for cheaper, as well as more wholesome beverage; we may on some particular days dine upon plain beef, rather than vension or mutton; and not unfrequently in order to accomplish Edition: current; Page: [[718]] this heavenly design, we may forbear the company of a half-friend; or ask a cruel acquaintance who drops in, to stay for dinner. Tho’ much more might have been urged upon this affecting subject, yet, considering the limits of your valuable paper, and the variety of important matters which uniformly crowd in upon the City Gazette, I shall conclude this address, which I think as applicable to every great town throughout the united states, as to our own capitals; and hope and wish accordingly, its influence and effects will pervade the union! For charity should know no bounds, but those of discretion and prudence; and no limits but the ends of the world.

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[53]: David Ramsay 1749-1815

The History of the American Revolution (Selections)

David Ramsay was born in eastern Pennsylvania, was educated at the New Jersey College, which became Princeton University, studied medicine in Philadelphia’s newly launched college of medicine, and shortly after took off to Charleston, South Carolina, to win fame and fortune. He enjoyed moderate success in the latter ambition, and his very considerable claims to fame stemmed less from the practice of medicine than from an extended period of service in legislative bodies and an avid interest in compiling histories of his times. Altogether he served nearly twenty years in two houses of the South Carolina legislature and some three years in the Congress organized under the Articles of Confederation and sitting in Philadelphia. Throughout his recording of contemporary history, Ramsay demonstrated a persistent concern to interrelate the aspirations and ideals, the beliefs and commitments, the events and the interplay of events with overriding and enveloping conditions that shaped the mold in which republican government was given its essential character. Americans had long been readers of history as witnessed by constant historical references in their political writings, whether it be the Federalist Papers or the writings reproduced in these volumes. It is not surprising, therefore, that they turned at an early date to writing their own history as a people. The best of these early American historians was David Ramsay. The two chapters excerpted here are from a two-volume work which, while efficiently laying out the events leading up to 1787, also proceeds to inject order and meaning into those events. Through the selection of what to include, and frequent explanations and generalizations, Ramsay produces a history of America’s founding experience which reinforces and teaches its readers the basics of American political thought as they were generally accepted in 1789.

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The first emigrants from England for colonising America, left the Mother Country at a time when the dread of arbitrary power was the predominant passion of the nation. Except the very modern charter of Georgia, in the year 1732, all the English Colonies obtained their charters and their greatest number of European settlers, between the years 1603 and 1688. In this period a remarkable struggle between prerogative and privilege commenced, and was carried on till it terminated in a revolution highly favourable to the liberties of the people. In the year 1621, when the English House of Commons claimed freedom of speech, “as their ancient and undoubted right, and an inheritance transmitted to them from their ancestors;” King James the First replied, “that he could not allow of their style, in mentioning their ancient and undoubted rights, but would rather have wished they had said, that their privileges were derived from the grace and permission of their sovereign.” This was the opening of a dispute which occupied the tongues, pens and swords, of the most active men in the nation, for a period of seventy years. It is remarkable that the same period is exactly co-incident with the settlement of the English Colonies. James, educated in the arbitrary sentiments of the divine right of Kings, conceived his subjects to be his property, and that their privileges were Edition: 1983; Page: [27] matters of grace and favour flowing, from his generosity. This high claim of prerogative excited opposition in support of the rights of the people. In the progress of the dispute, Charles the First, son of King James, in attempting to levy ship-money, and other revenues without consent of Parliament, involved himself in a war with his subjects, in which, after various conflicts, he was brought to the block and suffered death as an enemy to the constitution of his country. Though the monarchy was restored under Charles the Second, and transmitted to James the Second, yet the same arbitrary maxims being pursued, the nation, tenacious of its rights, invited the Prince of Orange to the sovereignty of the island, and expelled the reigning family from the throne. While these spirited exertions were made, in support of the liberties of the parent isle, the English Colonies were settled, and chiefly with inhabitants of that class of people, which was most hostile to the claims of prerogative. Every transaction in that period of English history, supported the position that the people have a right to resist their sovereign, when Edition: current; Page: [[721]] he invades their liberties, and to transfer the crown from one to another, when the good of the community requires it.

The English Colonists were from their first settlement in America, devoted to liberty, on English ideas, and English principles. They not only conceived themselves to inherit the privileges of Englishmen, but though in a colonial situation, actually possessed them.

After a long war between King and Parliament, and a Revolution—these were settled on the following fundamental principles. “That it was the undoubted right of English subjects, being freemen or freeholders, to give their property, only by their own consent. That the House of Commons exercised the sole right of granting the money of the people of England, because that house alone, represented them. That taxes were the free gifts of the people to their rulers. That the authority of sovereigns was to be exercised only for the good of their subjects. That it was the right of the people to meet together, and peaceably to consider of their grievances—Edition: 1983; Page: [28] to petition for a redress of them, and finally, when intolerable grievances were unredressed, to seek relief, on the failure of petitions and remonstrances, by forcible means.”

Opinions of this kind generally prevailing, produced, among the colonists, a more determined spirit of opposition to all encroachments on their rights, than would probably have taken place, had they emigrated from the Mother Country in the preceding century, when the doctrines of passive obedience, non resistance, and the divine right of kings, were generally received.

That attachment to their sovereign, which was diminished in the first emigrants to America, by being removed to a great distance from his influence was still farther diminished, in their descendants. When the American revolution commenced, the inhabitants of the colonies were for the most part, the third and fourth, and sometimes the fifth or sixth generation, from the original emigrants. In the same degree as they were removed from the parent stock, they were weaned from that partial attachment, which bound their forefathers to the place of their nativity. The affection for the Mother Country, as far as it was a natural passion, wore away in successive generations, till at last it had scarcely any existence.

That mercantile intercourse, which connects different countries, was in the early periods of the English Colonies, far short of that degree, which is necessary to perpetuate a friendly union. Had the Edition: current; Page: [[722]] first great colonial establishments been made in the Southern Provinces, where the suitableness of native commodities would have maintained a brisk and direct trade with England—the constant exchange of good offices between the two countries, would have been more likely to perpetuate their friendship. But as the Eastern Provinces were the first, which were thickly settled, and they did not for a long time cultivate an extensive trade with England, their descendants speedily lost the fond attachment, which their forefathers felt to their Parent State. The bulk of the people in New England knew little of the Mother Country, having only heard of her as a distant kingdom, the rulers Edition: 1983; Page: [29] of which, had in the preceding century, persecuted and banished their ancestors to the woods of America.

The distance of America from Great Britain generated ideas, in the minds of the colonists, favourable to liberty. Three thousand miles of ocean separated them from the Mother Country. Seas rolled, and months passed, between orders, and their execution. In large governments the circulation of power is enfeebled at the extremities. This results from the nature of things, and is the eternal law of extensive or detached empire. Colonists, growing up to maturity, at such an immense distance from the seat of government, perceived the obligation of dependence much more feebly, than the inhabitants of the parent isle, who not only saw, but daily felt, the fangs of power. The wide extent and nature of the country contributed to the same effect. The natural seat of freedom is among high mountains, and pathless deserts, such as abound in the wilds of America.

The religion of the colonists also nurtured a love for liberty. They were chiefly protestants, and all protestantism is founded on a strong claim to natural liberty, and the right of private judgement. A majority of them were of that class of men, who, in England, are called Dissenters. Their tenets, being the protestantism of the protestant religion, are hostile to all interference of authority, in matters of opinion, and predispose to a jealousy for civil liberty. They who belonged to the Church of England were for the most part independents, as far as church government and hierarchy, were concerned. They used the liturgy of that church, but were without Bishops, and were strangers to those systems, which make religion an engine of state. That policy, which unites the lowest curate with the greatest metropolitan, and connects both with the sovereign, was unknown among the colonists. Their religion was their own, and neither imposed by Edition: current; Page: [[723]] authority, nor made subservient to political purposes. Though there was a variety of sects, they all agreed in the communion of liberty, and all reprobated the courtly doctrines of passive obedience, and nonresistance. The same dispositions were fostered by the usual Edition: 1983; Page: [30] modes of education in the colonies. The study of law was common and fashionable. The infinity of disputes, in a new and free country, made it lucrative, and multiplied its followers. No order of men has, in all ages, been more favourable to liberty, than lawyers. Where they are not won over to the service of government, they are formidable adversaries to it. Professionally taught the rights of human nature, they keenly and quickly perceive every attack made on them. While others judge of bad principles by the actual grievances they occasion, lawyers discover them at a distance, and trace future mischiefs from gilded innovations.

The reading of those colonists who were inclined to books, generally favoured the cause of liberty. Large libraries were uncommon in the New World. Disquisitions on abstruse subjects, and curious researches into antiquity, did not accord with the genius of a people, settled in an uncultivated country, where every surrounding object impelled to action, and little leisure was left for speculation. Their books were generally small in size, and few in number: A great part of them consisted of those fashionable authors, who have defended the cause of liberty. Catos’ letters, the Independent Whig, and such productions, were common in one extreme of the colonies, while in the other, histories of the Puritans, kept alive the rememberance of the sufferings of their forefathers, and inspired a warm attachment, both to the civil and the religious rights of human nature.

In the Southern Colonies, slavery nurtured a spirit of liberty, among the free inhabitants. All masters of slaves who enjoy personal liberty will be both proud and jealous of their freedom. It is, in their opinion, not only an enjoyment, but a kind of rank and privilege. In them, the haughtiness of domination, combines with the spirit of liberty. Nothing could more effectually animate the opposition of a planter to the claims of Great-Britain, than a conviction that those claims in their extent, degraded him to a degree of dependence on his fellow subjects, equally humiliating with that which existed between his slaves and himself.

Edition: 1983; Page: [31] The state of society in the Colonies favoured a spirit of liberty and independence. Their inhabitants were all of one rank, Edition: current; Page: [[724]] Kings, Nobles and Bishops, were unknown among them. From their first settlement, the English Provinces received impressions favourable to democratic forms of government. Their dependent situation forbad any inordinate ambition among their native sons, and the humility of their society, abstracted as they were from the splendor and amusements of the Old World, held forth few allurements to invite the residence of such from the Mother Country as aspired to hereditary honors. In modern Europe, the remains of the feudal system have occasioned an order of men superior to that of the commonalty, but, as few of that class migrated to the Colonies, they were settled with the yeomanry. Their inhabitants, unaccustomed to that distinction of ranks, which the policy of Europe has established, were strongly impressed with an opinion, that all men are by nature equal. They could not easily be persuaded that their grants of land, or their civil rights, flowed from the munificence of Princes. Many of them had never heard of Magna Charta, and those who knew the circumstances of the remarkable period of English history, when that was obtained, did not rest their claims to liberty and property on the transactions of that important day. They looked up to Heaven as the source of their rights, and claimed, not from the promises of Kings but, from the parent of the universe. The political creed of an American Colonist was short but substantial. He believed that God made all mankind originally equal: That he endowed them with the rights of life, property, and as much liberty as was consistent with the rights of others. That he had bestowed on his vast family of the human race, the earth for their support, and that all government was a political institution between men naturally equal, not for the aggrandizement of one, or a few, but for the general happiness of the whole community. Impressed with sentiments of this kind, they grew up, from their earliest infancy, with that confidence which is well calculated to inspire a love for liberty, and a prepossession in favour of independence.

Edition: 1983; Page: [32] In consequence of the vast extent of vacant country, every colonist was, or easily might be, a freeholder. Settled on lands of his own, he was both farmer and landlord—producing all the necessaries of life from his own grounds, he felt himself both free and independent. Each individual might hunt, fish, or fowl, without injury to his neighbours. These immunities which, in old countries, are guarded by the sanction of penal laws, and monopolized by a few, are the common privileges of all, in America. Colonists, growing up in the Edition: current; Page: [[725]] enjoyment of such rights, felt the restraint of law more feebly than they, who are educated in countries, where long habits have made submission familiar. The mind of man naturally relishes liberty—Where from the extent of a new and unsettled country, some abridgements thereof are useless, and others impracticable, the natural desire of freedom is strengthened, and the independent mind revolts at the idea of subjection.

The Colonists were also preserved from the contagion of ministerial influence by their distance from the metropolis. Remote from the seat of power and corruption, they were not over-awed by the one, nor debauched by the other. Few were the means of detaching individuals from the interest of the public. High offices, were neither sufficiently numerous nor lucrative to purchase many adherents, and the most valuable of these were conferred on natives of Britain. Every man occupied that rank only, which his own industry, or that of his near ancestors, had procured him. Each individual being cut off from all means of rising to importance, but by his personal talents, was encouraged to make the most of those with which he was endowed. Prospects of this kind excited emulation, and produced an enterprising laborious set of men, not easily overcome by difficulties, and full of projects for bettering their condition.

The enervating opulence of Europe had not yet reached the colonists. They were destitute of gold and silver, but abounded in the riches of nature. A sameness of circumstances and occupations created a great sense of equality, and disposed them to union in any common cause, Edition: 1983; Page: [33] from the success of which, they might expect to partake of equal advantages.

The colonies were communities of separate independent individuals, under no general influence, but that of their personal feelings and opinions. They were not led by powerful families, nor by great officers, in church or state. Residing chiefly on lands of their own, and employed in the wholesome labours of the field, they were in a great measure strangers to luxury. Their wants were few, and among the great bulk of the people, for the most part, supplied from their own grounds. Their enjoyments were neither far-fetched, nor dearly purchased, and were so moderate in their kind, as to leave both mind and body unimpaired. Inured from their early years to the toils of a country life, they dwelled in the midst of rural plenty. Unacquainted with ideal wants, they delighted in personal independence. Removed Edition: current; Page: [[726]] from the pressures of indigence, and the indulgence of affluence, their bodies were strong, and their minds vigorous.

The great bulk of the British colonists were farmers, or planters, who were also proprietors of the soil. The merchants, mechanics and manufacturers, taken collectively, did not amount to one fifteenth of the whole number of inhabitants. While the cultivators of the soil depend on nothing but heaven and their own industry, other classes of men contract more or less of servility, from depending on the caprice of their customers. The excess of the farmers over the collective numbers of all the other inhabitants, gave a cast of independence to the manners of the people, and diffused the exalting sentiments, which have always predominated among those, who are cultivators of their own grounds. These were farther promoted by their moderate circumstances, which deprived them of all superfluity for idleness, or effeminate indulgence.

The provincial constitutions of the English colonies nurtured a spirit of liberty. The King and government of Great-Britain held no patronage in America, which could create a portion of attachment and influence, sufficient to counteract that spirit in popular assemblies, which, when left to itself, illy brooks any authority, that intereferes with its own.

Edition: 1983; Page: [34] The inhabitants of the colonies from the beginning, especially in New-England, enjoyed a government, which was but little short of being independent. They had not only the image, but the substance of the English constitution. They chose most of their magistrates, and paid them all. They had in effect the sole direction of their internal government. The chief mark of their subordination consisted in their making no laws repugnant to the laws of their Mother Country.—Their submitting such laws as they made to be repealed by the King, and their obeying such restrictions, as were laid on their trade, by parliament. The latter were often evaded, and with impunity. The other small checks were scarcely felt, and for a long time were in no respects injurious to their interests.

Under these favourable circumstances, colonies in the new world had advanced nearly to the magnitude of a nation, while the greatest part of Europe was almost wholly ignorant of their progress. Some arbitrary proceedings of governors, proprietary partialities, or democratical jealousies, now and then, interrupted the political calm, which generally prevailed among them, but these and other occasional Edition: current; Page: [[727]] impediments of their prosperity, for the most part, soon subsided. The circumstances of the country afforded but little scope for the intrigues of politicians, or the turbulence of demagogues. The colonists being but remotely affected by the bustlings of the old world, and having but few objects of ambition or contention among themselves, were absorbed in the ordinary cares of domestic life, and for a long time exempted from a great proportion of those evils, which the governed too often experience, from the passions and follies of statesmen. But all this time they were rising higher, and though not sensible of it, growing to a greater degree of political consequence. . . .

Edition: 1983; Page: [50] Immediately after the peace of Paris, 1763, a new scene was opened. The national debt of Great-Britain, then amounted to 148 millions, for which an interest of nearly 5 millions, was annually paid. While the British minister was digesting plans for diminishing this amazing load of debt, he conceived the idea of raising a substantial revenue in the British colonies, from taxes laid by the parliament of the parent state. On the one hand it was urged that the late war originated on account of the colonies—that it was reasonable, more especially as it had terminated in a manner so favourable to their interest, that they should contribute to the defraying of the expences it had occasioned. Thus far both parties were agreed, but Great-Britain contended, that her parliament as the supreme power, was constitutionally vested with an authority to lay them on every part of the empire. This doctrine, plausible in itself, and conformable to the letter of the British constitution, when the whole dominions were represented in one assembly, was reprobated in the colonies, as contrary to the spirit of the same government, when the empire became so far extended, as to have many distinct representative assemblies. The colonists believed that the chief excellence of the Edition: 1983; Page: [51] British constitution consisted in the right of the subjects to grant, or withhold taxes, and in their having a share in enacting the laws, by which they were to be bound.

They conceived, that the superiority of the British constitution, to other forms of government was, not because their supreme council was called Parliament, but because, the people had a share in it, by appointing members, who constituted one of its constituent branches, and without whose concurrence, no law, binding on them, could be enacted. In the Mother Country, it was asserted to be essential to the unity of the empire, that the British Parliament should have a right Edition: current; Page: [[728]] of taxation, over every part of the royal dominions. In the colonies, it was believed, that taxation and representation were inseparable, and that they could neither be free, nor happy, if their property could be taken from them, without their consent. The common people in America reasoned on this subject, in a summary way: “If a British Parliament,” said they, “in which we are unrepresented, and over which we have no controul, can take from us any part of our property, by direct taxation, they may take as much as they please, and we have no security for any thing, that remains, but a forbearance on their part, less likely to be exercised in our favour, as they lighten themselves of the burthens of government, in the same proportion, that they impose them on us.” They well knew, that communities of mankind, as well as individuals, have a strong propensity to impose on others, when they can do it with impunity, and, especially, when there is a prospect, that the imposition will be attended with advantage to themselves. The Americans, from that jealousy of their liberties, which their local situation nurtured, and which they inherited from their forefathers, viewed the exclusive right of laying taxes on themselves, free from extraneous influence, in the same light, as the British Parliament views its peculiar privilege of raising money, independent of the crown. The parent state appeared to the colonists to stand in the same relation to their local legislatures, as the monarch of Great-Britain, to the British Edition: 1983; Page: [52] Parliament. His prerogative is limited by that palladium of the people’s liberty, the exclusive privilege of granting their own money. While this right rests in the hands of the people, their liberties are secured. In the same manner reasoned the colonists “in order to be stiled freemen, our local assemblies, elected by ourselves, must enjoy the exclusive privilege of imposing taxes upon us.” They contended, that men settled in foreign parts to better their condition, and not to submit their liberties—to continue the equals, not to become the slave of their less adventurous fellow-citizens, and that by the novel doctrine of parliamentary power, they were degraded from being the subjects of a King, to the low condition of being subjects of subjects. They argued, that it was essentially involved in the idea of property, that the possessor had such a right therein, that it was a contradiction to suppose any other man, or body of men, possessed a right to take it from him without his consent. Precedents, in the history of England, justified this mode of reasoning. The love of property strengthened it, and it had a peculiar force on Edition: current; Page: [[729]] the minds of colonists, 3000 miles removed from the seat of government, and growing up to maturity, in a new world, where, from the extent of country, and the state of society, even the necessary restraints of civil government, were impatiently born. On the other hand, the people of Great-Britain revolted against the claims of the colonists. Educated in habits of submission to parliamentary taxation, they conceived it to be the height of contumacy for their colonists to refuse obedience to the power, which they had been taught to revere. Not adverting to the common interest, which existed between the people of Great-Britain, and their representatives, they believed, that the same right existed, although the same community of interests was wanting. The pride of an opulent, conquering nation, aided this mode of reasoning. “What,” said they, “shall we, who have so lately humbled France and Spain, be dictated to by our own colonists? Shall our subjects, educated by our care, and defended by our arms, presume to question the rights of Parliament, to which we are obliged to Edition: 1983; Page: [53] submit.” Reflections of this kind, congenial to the natural vanity of the human heart, operated so extensively, that the people of Great-Britain spoke of their colonies and of their colonists, as of a kind of possession, annexed to their persons. The love of power, and of property, on the one side of the Atlantic, were opposed by the same powerful passions on the other.

The disposition to tax the colonies, was also strengthened by exaggerated accounts of their wealth. It was said, “that the American planters lived in affluence, and with inconsiderable taxes, while the inhabitants of Great-Britain were born down, by such oppressive burdens, as to make a bare subsistence, a matter of extreme difficulty.” The officers who have served in America, during the late war, contributed to this delusion. Their observations were founded on what they had seen in cities, and at a time, when large sums were spent by government, in support of fleets and armies, and when American commodities were in great demand. To treat with attention those, who came to fight for them and also to gratify their own pride, the colonists had made a parade of their riches, by frequently and sumptuously entertaining the gentlemen of the British army. These, judging from what they saw, without considering the general state of the country, concurred in representing the colonists, as very able to contribute, largely, towards defraying the common expences of the empire.

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The charters, which were supposed to contain the principles on which the colonies were founded, became the subject of serious investigation on both sides. One clause was found to run through the whole of them, except that which had been granted to Mr. Penn. This was a declaration, “that the emigrants to America should enjoy the same privileges, as if they had remained, or had been born within the realm;” but such was the subtilty of disputants, that both parties construed this general principle, so as to favour their respective opinions. The American patriots contended, that as English freeholders could not be taxed, but by representatives, in chusing whom they had a vote, neither could the colonists: But Edition: 1983; Page: [54] it was replied, that if the colonists had remained in England, they must have been bound to pay the taxes, imposed by parliament. It was therefore inferred, that, though taxed by that authority, they lost none of the rights of native Englishmen, residing at home. The partizans of the Mother Country could see nothing in charters, but security against taxes, by royal authority. The Americans, adhering to the spirit more than to the letter, viewed their charters, as a shield, against all taxes, not imposed by representatives of their own choice. This construction they contended to be expressly recognized by the charter of Maryland. In that, King Charles bound, both himself and his successors, not to assent to any bill, subjecting the inhabitants to internal taxation, by external legislation.

The nature and extent of the connection between Great-Britain and America, was a great constitutional question, involving many interests, and the general principles of civil liberty. To decide this, recourse was in vain had to parchment authorities, made at a distant time, when neither the grantor, nor grantees, of American territory, had in contemplation, any thing like the present state of the two countries.

Great and flourishing colonies, daily increasing in numbers, and already grown to the magnitude of a nation, planted at an immense distance, and governed by constitutions, resembling that of the country, from which they sprung, were novelties in the history of the world. To combine colonies, so circumstanced, in one uniform system of government, with the parent state, required a great knowledge of mankind, and an extensive comprehension of things. It was an arduous business, far beyond the grasp of ordinary statesmen, whose minds were narrowed by the formalities of law, or the trammels of office. Edition: current; Page: [[731]] An original genius, unfettered with precedents, and exalted with just ideas of the rights of human nature, and the obligations of universal benevolence, might have struck out a middle line, which would have secured as much liberty to the colonies, and as great a degree of supremacy to the parent state, as their common good required: But Edition: 1983; Page: [55] the helm of Great-Britain was not in such hands. The spirit of the British constitution on the one hand, revolted at the idea, that the British parliament should exercise the same unlimited authority over the unrepresented colonies, which it exercised over the inhabitants of Great-Britain. The colonists on the other hand did not claim a total exemption from its authority. They in general allowed the Mother Country a certain undefined prerogative over them, and acquiesced in the right of Parliament, to make many acts, binding them in many subjects of internal policy, and regulating their trade. Where parliamentary supremacy ended, and at what point colonial independency began, was not ascertained. Happy would it have been, had the question never been agitated, but much more so, had it been compromised by an amicable compact, without the horrors of a civil war.

The English colonies were originally established, not for the sake of revenue, but on the principles of a commercial monopoly. While England pursued trade and forgot revenue, her commerce increased at least fourfold. The colonies took off the manufactures of Great-Britain, and paid for them with provisions, or raw materials. They united their arms in war, their commerce and their councils in peace, without nicely investigating the terms on which the connection of the two countries depended.

A perfect calm in the political world is not long to be expected. The reciprocal happiness, both of Great-Britain and of the colonies, was too great to be of long duration. The calamities of the war of 1755, had scarcely ended, when the germ of another war was planted, which soon grew up and produced deadly fruit.

At that time sundry resolutions passed the British parliament, 1764. relative to the imposition of a stamp duty in America, which gave a general alarm. By them the right, the equity, the policy, and even the necessity of taxing the colonies was formally avowed. These resolutions being considered as the preface of a system of American revenue, were deemed an introduction to evils of much greater magnitude. They opened a prospect of oppression, Edition: 1983; Page: [56] boundless in Edition: current; Page: [[732]] extent, and endless in duration. They were nevertheless not immediately followed by any legislative act. Time, and an invitation, were given to the Americans, to suggest any other mode of taxation, that might be equivalent in its produce to the stamp act: But they objected, not only to the mode, but the principle, and several of their assemblies, though in vain, petitioned against it. An American revenue was in England, a very popular measure. The cry in favour of it was so strong, as to confound and silence the voice of petitions to the contrary. The equity of compelling the Americans to contribute to the common expences of the empire, satisfied many, who, without enquiring into the policy or justice of taxing their unrepresented fellow subjects, readily assented to the measures adopted by the parliament, for this purpose. The prospect of easing their own burdens, at the expence of the colonists, dazzled the eyes of gentlemen of landed interest, so as to keep out of their view, the probable consequences of the innovation.

The omnipotence of parliament was so familiar a phrase on both sides of the Atlantic, that few in America, and still fewer in Great-Britain, were impressed in the first instance, with any idea of the illegality of taxing the colonists.

The illumination on that subject was gradual. The resolutions in favour of an American stamp act, which passed in March, 1764, met with no opposition. In the course of the year, which intervened between these resolutions, and the passing of a law grounded upon them, the subject was better understood and constitutional objections against the measure, were urged by several, both in Great-Britain and America. This astonished and chagrined the British ministry: But as the principle of taxing America, had been for some time determined upon, March, 1765. they were unwilling to give it up. Impelled by partiality for a long cherished idea, Mr. Grenville brought into the house of commons his long expected bill, for laying a stamp duty in America. By this after passing through the usual forms, it was enacted, that the Edition: 1983; Page: [57] instruments of writing which are in daily use among a commercial people, should be null and void, unless they were executed on stamped paper or parchment, charged with a duty imposed by the British parliament.

When the bill was brought in, Mr. Charles Townsend concluded a speech in its favour, with words to the following effect, “And now will these Americans, children planted by our care, nourished up by our indulgence, till they are grown to a degree of strength and Edition: current; Page: [[733]] opulence, and protected by our arms, will they grudge to contribute their mite to relieve us from the heavy weight of that burden which we lie under.” To which Colonel Barré replied, “They planted by your care? No, your oppressions planted them in America. They fled from tyranny to a then uncultivated and unhospitable country, where they exposed themselves to almost all the hardships to which human nature is liable; and among others to the cruelty of a savage foe the most subtle, and I will take upon me to say, the most formidable of any people upon the face of God’s earth; and yet, actuated by principles of true English liberty, they met all hardships with pleasure compared with those they suffered in their own country, from the hands of those that should have been their friends. They nourished up by your indulgence? They grew by your neglect of them. As soon as you began to care about them, that care was exercised in sending persons to rule them in one department and another, who were perhaps the deputies of deputies to some members of this house, sent to spy out their liberties, to misrepresent their actions and to prey upon them.—Men, whose behaviour on many occasions, has caused the blood of those sons of liberty to recoil within them.—Men promoted to the highest seats of justice, some who to my knowledge were glad by going to a foreign country, to escape being brought to the bar of a court of justice in their own.—They protected by your arms? They have nobly taken up arms in your defence, have exerted a valour amidst their constant and laborious industry, for the defence of a country whose frontier was drenched in blood, while its interior parts yielded all its little savings to your emolument. And believe Edition: 1983; Page: [58] me, remember I this day told you so, that same spirit of freedom which actuated that people at first will accompany them still: but prudence forbids me to explain myself farther. God knows, I do not at this time speak from any motives of party heat, what I deliver are the genuine sentiments of my heart. However superior to me in general knowledge and experience, the respectable body of this house may be, yet I claim to know more of America than most of you, having seen and been conversant in that country. The people I believe are as truly loyal as any subjects the King has, but a people jealous of their liberties, and who will vindicate them, if ever they should be violated: but the subject is too delicate—I will say no more.”

During the debate on the bill, the supporters of it insisted much on the colonies being virtually represented in the same manner as Edition: current; Page: [[734]] Leeds, Halifax, and some other towns were. A recurrence to this plea was a virtual acknowledgment, that there ought not to be taxation without representation. It was replied, that the connexion between the electors and non-electors of parliament in Great-Britain, was so interwoven, from both being equally liable to pay the same common tax, as to give some security of property to the latter: but with respect to taxes laid by the British parliament, and paid by the Americans, the situation of the parties was reversed. Instead of both parties bearing a proportionable share of the same common burden, what was laid on the one, was exactly so much taken off from the other.

The bill met with no opposition in the house of Lords, and on the 22d of March, it received the royal assent. The night after it passed,1765. Dr. Franklin wrote to Mr. Charles Thompson. “The sun of liberty is set, you must light up the candles of industry and oeconomy.” Mr. Thompson answered, “he was apprehensive that other lights would be the consequence,” and foretold the opposition that shortly took place. On its being suggested from authority, that the stamp officers would not be sent from Great-Britain: but selected from among the Americans, the colony agents were desired to point out proper persons Edition: 1983; Page: [59] for the purpose. They generally nominated their friends which affords a presumptive proof, that they supposed the act would have gone down. In this opinion they were far from being singular. That the colonists would be ultimately obliged to submit to the stamp act, was at first commonly believed, both in England and America. The framers of it, in particular, flattered themselves that the confusion which would arise upon the disuse of writings, and the insecurity of property, which would result from using any other than that required by law, would compel the colonies, however reluctant, to use the stamp paper, and consequently to pay the taxes imposed thereon. They therefore boasted that it was a law which would execute itself. By the terms of the stamp act, it was not to take effect till the first day of November,1765. a period of more than seven months after its passing. This gave the colonists an opportunity for leisurely canvassing the new subject, and examining it fully on every side. In the first part of this interval, struck with astonishment, they lay in silent consternation, and could not determine what course to pursue. By degrees they recovered their recollection. Virginia led the way in opposition to the stamp act.May 28, 1765. Mr. Patrick Henry brought into the house of burgesses of that colony, the following resolutions which were substantially adopted.

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Resolved, That the first adventurers, settlers of this his Majesty’s colony and dominion of Virginia, brought with them and transmitted to their posterity, and all other, his Majesty’s subjects, since inhabiting in this, his Majesty’s said colony, all the liberties, privileges and immunities, that have at any time been held, enjoyed and possessed by the people of Great-Britain.

Resolved, That by two royal charters, granted by King James the first, the colonies aforesaid are declared, and entitled to all liberties, privileges, and immunities of denizens, and natural subjects, to all intents and purposes, as if they had been abiding, and born within the realm of England,

Resolved, That his Majesty’s liege people, of this, his ancient colony, have enjoyed the rights of being thus governed Edition: 1983; Page: [60] by their own assembly, in the article of taxes, and internal police, and that the same have never been forfeited, or yielded up, but have been constantly recognized by the King and people of Britain.

Resolved, therefore, That the general assembly of this colony, together with his Majesty, or his substitutes, have, in their representative capacity, the only exclusive right and power, to lay taxes and imposts, upon the inhabitants of this colony, and that every attempt to vest such power in any other person or persons, whatsoever, than the general assembly aforesaid, is illegal, unconstitutional, and unjust, and hath a manifest tendency to destroy British, as well as American Liberty.

Resolved, That his Majesty’s liege people, the inhabitants of this colony, are not bound to yield obedience to any law, or ordinance whatever, designed to impose any taxation whatever upon them, other, than the laws or ordinances of the general assembly aforesaid.

Resolved, That any person, who shall, by speaking, or writing, assert, or maintain, that any person, or persons, other than the general assembly of this colony, have any right or power, to impose, or lay any taxation on the people here, shall be deemed an enemy to this, his Majesty’s colony.

Upon reading these resolutions, the boldness and novelty of them affected one of the members to such a degree, that he cried out, “Treason! Treason!” They were, nevertheless, well received by the people, and immediately forwarded to the other provinces. They circulated extensively, and gave a spring to all the discontented. Till they appeared, most were of opinion, that the act would be quietly Edition: current; Page: [[736]] adopted. Murmurs, indeed, were common, but they seemed to be such, as would soon die away. The countenance of so respectable a colony, as Virginia, confirmed the wavering, and emboldened the timid. Opposition to the stamp act, from that period, assumed a bolder face. The fire of liberty blazed forth from the press; some well judged publications set the rights of the colonists, in a plain, but strong point of view. The tongues and the pens of the well informed Edition: 1983; Page: [61] citizens laboured in kindling the latent sparks of patriotism. The flame spread from breast to breast, till the conflagration, became general. In this business, New-England had a principal share. The inhabitants of that part of America, in particular, considered their obligations to the Mother Country for past favours, to be very inconsiderable. They were fully informed, that their forefathers were driven, by persecution, to the woods of America, and had there, without any expence to the parent state, effected a settlement on bare creation. Their resentment, for the invasion of their accustomed right of taxation, was not so much mitigated, by the recollection of late favours, as it was heightened by the tradition of grievous sufferings, to which their ancestors, by the rulers of England, had been subjected. The descendants of the exiled, persecuted, Puritans, of the last century, opposed the stamp act with the same spirit, with which their forefathers were actuated, when they set themselves against the arbitrary impositions of the House of Stuart.

The heavy burdens, which the operation of the stamp-act would have imposed on the colonists, together with the precedent it would establish of future exactions, furnished the American patriots with arguments, calculated as well to move the passions, as to convince the judgments of their fellow colonists. In great warmth they exclaimed, “If the parliament has a right to levy the stamp duties, they may, by the same authority, lay on us imposts, excises, and other taxes, without end, till their rapacity is satisfied, or our abilities are exhausted. We cannot, at future elections, displace these men, who so lavishly grant away our property. Their seats and their power are independent of us, and it will rest with their generosity, where to stop, in transferring the expences of government, from their own, to our shoulders.”

It was fortunate for the liberties of America, that News-papers were the subject of a heavy stamp duty. Printers, when uninfluenced by government, have generally arranged themselves on the side of liberty, nor are they less remarkable for attention to the profits of Edition: current; Page: [[737]] their profession. A stamp duty, which openly invaded the first, Edition: 1983; Page: [62] and threatened a great diminution of the last, provoked their united zealous opposition. They daily presented to the public, original dissertations, tending to prove, that if the stamp-act was suffered to operate, the liberties of America, were at end, and their property virtually transferred, to their Trans-Atlantic fellow-subjects. The writers among the Americans, seriously alarmed for the fate of their country, came forward, with essays, to prove, that agreeably to the British constitution, taxation and representation were inseparable, that the only constitutional mode of raising money from the colonists, was by acts of their own legislatures, that the Crown possessed no farther power, than that of requisition, and that the parliamentary right of taxation was confined to the Mother Country, and there originated, from the natural right of man, to do what he pleased with his own, transferred by consent from the electors of Great-Britain, to those whom they chose to represent them in Parliament. They also insisted much on the mis-application of public money by the British ministry. Great pains were taken to inform the colonists, of the large sums, annually bestowed on pensioned favorites, and for the various purposes of bribery. Their passions were inflamed, by high coloured representations of the hardship of being obliged to pay the earnings of their industry, into a British treasury, well known to be a fund for corruption. . . .

Edition: 1983; Page: [68] The expediency of calling a continental Congress to be composed of deputies from each of the provinces, had early occurred to the people of Massachusetts. The assembly of that province passed a resolution in favour of that measure,1765. June 6. and fixed on New-York as the place, and the second Tuesday of October, as the time, for holding the same. Soon after, they sent circular letters to the speakers of the several assemblies, requesting their concurrence. This first advance towards continental union was seconded in South-Carolina, before it had been agreed to by any colony to the southward of New-England. The example of this province had a considerable influence in recommending the measure to others, who were divided in their opinions, on the propriety of it.

The assemblies of Virginia, North-Carolina, and Georgia, were prevented, by their governors, from sending a deputation to this Congress. Twenty eight Deputies from Massachusetts, Rhode-Island, Connecticut, New-York, New-Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Edition: current; Page: [[738]] and South-Carolina met at New-York; and after mature deliberation agreed on a declaration of their rights, and on a statement of their grievances. They asserted in strong terms, their exemption from all taxes, not imposed by their own representatives. They also concurred in a petition to the King, and memorial to the House of Lords, and a petition to the House of Commons. The colonies that were prevented from sending their representatives to this Congress, forwarded petitions, similar to those which were adopted by the deputies which attended. . . .

CHAP. XIII. Edition: 1983; Page: [334]

1777. In former ages it was common for a part of a community to migrate, and erect themselves into an independent society. Since the earth has been more fully peopled, and especially since the principles of Union have been better understood, a different policy has prevailed. A fondness for planting colonies has, for three preceding centuries, given full scope to a disposition for emigration, and at the same time the emigrants have been retained in a connextion with their Parent State. By these means Europeans have made the riches both of the east and west, subservient to their avarice and ambition. Though they occupy the smallest portion of the four quarters of the globe, they have contrived to subject the other three to their influence or command.

The circumstances under which New-England was planted, would a few centuries ago have entitled them from their first settlement, to the privileges of independence. They were virtually exiled from their native country, by being denied the rights of men—they set out on their own expence, and after purchasing the consent of the native proprietors, improved an uncultivated country, to which, in the eye of reason and philosophy, the king of England had no title.

If it is lawful for individuals to relinquish their native soil, and pursue their own happiness in other regions and under other political associations, the settlers of New-England were always so far independent, as to owe no obedience to their Parent State, but such as resulted from their voluntary assent. The slavish doctrine of the divine right of kings, and the corruptions of christianity, by undervaluing heathen titles, favoured an opposite system. What for several centuries after the christian era would have been called the institution of a new Edition: current; Page: [[739]] government, was by modern refinement denominated only an extension of the old, in the form of a dependent colony. Though the prevailing ecclesiastical and political creeds Edition: 1983; Page: [335] tended to degrade the condition of the settlers in New-England, yet there was always a party there which believed in their natural right to independence. They recurred to first principles, and argued, that as they received from government nothing more than a charter, founded on ideal claims of sovereignty, they owed it no other obedience than what was derived from express, or implied compact. It was not till the present century had more than half elapsed, that it occurred to any number of the colonists, that they had an interest in being detached from Great-Britain. Their attention was first turned to this subject, by the British claim of taxation. This opened a melancholy prospect, boundless in extent, and endless in duration. The Boston port act, and the other acts, passed in 1774 and 1775, which have been already the subject of comment, progressively weakened the attachment of the colonists to the birth place of their forefathers. The commencement of hostilities on the 19th of April, 1775, exhibited the Parent State in an odious point of view, and abated the original dread of separating from it. But nevertheless at that time, and for a twelve month after, a majority of the colonists wished for no more than to be re-established as subjects in their antient rights. Had independence been their object even at the commencement of hostilities, they would have rescinded these associations, which have been already mentioned and imported more largely than ever. Common sense revolts at the idea, that colonists unfurnished with military stores, and wanting manufactures of every kind, should at the time of their intending a serious struggle for independence, by a voluntary agreement, deprive themselves of the obvious means of procuring such foreign supplies as their circumstances might might make necessary. Instead of pursuing a line of conduct, which might have been dictated by a wish for independence, they continued their exports for nearly a year after they ceased to import. This not only lessened the debts they owed to Great-Britain, but furnished additional means for carrying on the war against themselves. To aim at independence, and at the same time to transfer their resources to their enemies, could not have been Edition: 1983; Page: [336] the policy of an enlightened people. It was not till some time in 1776, that the colonists began to take other ground, and contend that it was for their interest to be forever separated from Great-Britain. In favour of this opinion it was said, that in case of their continuing Edition: current; Page: [[740]] subjects, the Mother country, though she redressed their present grievances, might at pleasure repeat similar oppressions.—That she ought not to be trusted, having twice resumed the exercise of taxation, after it had been apparently relinquished. The favourers of separation also urged, that Great-Britain was jealous of their increasing numbers, and rising greatness—that she would not exercise government for their benefit, but for her own. That the only permanent security for American happiness, was to deny her the power of interfering with their government or commerce. To effect this purpose they were of opinion, that it was necessary to cut the knot, which connected the two countries, by a public renunciation of all political connections between them.

The Americans about this time began to be influenced by new views.—The military arrangements of the preceding year—their unexpected union, and prevailing enthusiasm, expanded the minds of their leaders, and elevated the sentiments of the great body of their people. Decisive measures which would have been lately reprobated, now met with approbation.

The favourers of subordination under the former constitution urged the advantages of a supreme head, to control the disputes of interfering colonies, and also the benefits which flowed from union. That independence was untried ground, and should not be entered upon, but in the last extremity.

They flattered themselves that Great-Britain was so fully convinced of the determined spirit of America, that if the present controversy was compromised, she would not at any future period, resume an injurious exercise of her supremacy. They were therefore for proceeding no farther than to defend themselves in the character of subjects, trusting that ere long the present hostile measures would be relinquished, and the harmony Edition: 1983; Page: [337] of the two countries re-established. The favourers of this system were embarrassed, and all their arguments weakened, by the perseverance of Great-Britain in her schemes of coercion. A probable hope of a speedy repeal of a few acts of parliament, would have greatly increased the number of those who were advocates for reconciliation. But the certainty of intelligence to the contrary gave additional force to the arguments of the opposite party. Though new weight was daily thrown into the scale, in which the advantages of independence were weighed, yet it did not preponderate till about that time in 1776, when intelligence reached the colonists of the act Edition: current; Page: [[741]] of parliament passed in December 1775, for throwing them out of British protection, and of hiring foreign troops to assist in effecting their conquest. Respecting the first it was said, “that protection and allegiance were reciprocal, and that the refusal of the first was a legal ground of justification for withholding the last.” They considered themselves to be thereby discharged from their allegiance, and that to declare themselves independent, was no more than to announce to the world the real political state, in which Great-Britain had placed them. This act proved that the colonists might constitutionally declare themselves independent, but the hiring of foreign troops to make war upon them, demonstrated the necessity of their doing it immediately. They reasoned that if Great Britain called in the aid of strangers to crush them, they must seek similar relief for their own preservation. But they well knew this could not be expected, while they were in arms against their acknowledged sovereign. They had therefore only a choice of difficulties, and must either seek foreign aid as independent states, or continue in the aukward and hazardous situation of subjects, carrying on war from their own resources both against their king, and such mercenaries as he chose to employ for their subjugation. Necessity not choice forced them on the decision. Submission without obtaining a redress of their grievances was advocated by none who possessed the public confidence. Some of the popular leaders may have Edition: 1983; Page: [338] secretly wished for independence from the beginning of the controversy, but their number was small and their sentiments were not generally known.

While the public mind was balancing on this eventful subject, several writers placed the advantages of independence in various points of view. Among these Thomas Paine in a pamphlet, under the signature of Common Sense, held the most distinguished rank. The stile, manner, and language of this performance were calculated to interest the passions, and to rouse all the active powers of human nature. With the view of operating on the sentiments of a religious people, scripture was pressed into his service, and the powers, and even the name of a king was rendered odious in the eyes of the numerous colonists who had read and studied the history of the Jews, as recorded in the Old Testament. The folly of that people in revolting from a government, instituted by Heaven itself, and the oppressions to which they were subjected in consequence of their lusting after kings to rule over them, afforded an excellent handle for prepossessing the colonists in favour of republican institutions, and prejudicing them against Edition: current; Page: [[742]] kingly government. Hereditary succession was turned into ridicule. The absurdity of subjecting a great continent to a small island on the other side of the globe, was represented in such striking language, as to interest the honor and pride of the colonists in renouncing the government of Great-Britain. The necessity, the advantages, and practicability of independence, were forcibly demonstrated. Nothing could be better timed than this performance. It was addressed to freemen, who had just received convincing proof, that Great-Britain had thrown them out of her protection, had engaged foreign mercenaries to make war upon them, and seriously designed to compel their unconditional submission to her unlimited power. It found the colonists most thoroughly alarmed for their liberties, and disposed to do and suffer any thing that promised their establishment. In union with the feelings and sentiments of the people, it produced surprising effects. Many thousands were convinced, and were led to approve Edition: 1983; Page: [339] and long for a separation from the Mother Country. Though that measure, a few months before, was not only foreign from their wishes, but the object of their abhorrence, the current suddenly became so strong in its favour, that it bore down all opposition. The multitude was hurried down the stream, but some worthy men could not easily reconcile themselves to the idea of an eternal separation from a country, to which they had been long bound by the most endearing ties. They saw the sword drawn, but could not tell when it would be sheathed. They feared that the dispersed individuals of the several colonies would not be brought to coalesce under an efficient government, and that after much anarchy some future Caesar would grasp their liberties, and confirm himself in a throne of despotism. They doubted the perseverance of their countrymen in effecting their independence, and were also apprehensive that in case of success, their future condition would be less happy than their past. Some respectable individuals whose principles were pure, but whose souls were not of that firm texture which revolutions require, shrunk back from the bold measures proposed by their more adventurous countrymen. To submit without an appeal to Heaven, though secretly wished for by some, was not the avowed sentiment of any. But to persevere in petitioning and resisting was the system of some misguided honest men. The favourers of this opinion were generally wanting in that decision which grasps at great objects, and influenced by that timid policy, which does its work by halves. Most of them dreaded the power of Britain. A few, on the Edition: current; Page: [[743]] score of interest or an expectancy of favours from royal government, refused to concur with the general voice. Some of the natives of the Parent State who, having lately settled in the colonies, had not yet exchanged European for American ideas, together with a few others, conscientiously opposed the measures of Congress: but the great bulk of the people, and especially of the spirited and independent part of the community, came with surprising unanimity into the project of independence.

1776. Edition: 1983; Page: [340] The eagerness for independence resulted more from feeling than reasoning. The advantages of an unfettered trade, the prospect of honours and emoluments in administering a new government, were of themselves insufficient motives for adopting this bold measure. But what was wanting from considerations of this kind, was made up by the perseverance of Great-Britain, in her schemes of coercion and conquest. The determined resolution of the Mother Country to subdue the colonists, together with the plans she adopted for accomplishing that purpose, and their equally determined resolution to appeal to Heaven rather than submit, made a declaration of independence as necessary in 1776, as was the non-importation agreement of 1774, or the assumption of arms in 1775. The last naturally resulted from the first. The revolution was not forced on the people by ambitious leaders grasping at supreme power, but every measure of it was forced on Congress, by the necessity of the case, and the voice of the people. The change of the public mind of America respecting connexion with Great-Britain, is without a parallel. In the short space of two years, nearly three millions of people passed over from the love and duty of loyal subjects, to the hatred and resentment of enemies.

June 7. The motion for declaring the colonies free and independent, was first made in Congress, by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia. He was warranted in making this motion by the particular instructions of his immediate constituents, and also by the general voice of the people of all the states. When the time for taking the subject under consideration arrived, much knowledge, ingenuity and eloquence were displayed on both sides of the question. The debates were continued for some time, and with great animation. In these John Adams, and John Dickinson, took leading and opposite parts. The former began one of his speeches, by an invocation of the god of eloquence, to assist him in defending the claims, and in enforcing the duty of his countrymen. He strongly urged the immediate dissolution of all Edition: current; Page: [[744]] political connexion of the colonies with Great-Britain, from the voice of the Edition: 1983; Page: [341] people, from the necessity of the measure in order to obtain foreign assistance, from a regard to consistency, and from the prospects of glory and happiness, which opened beyond the war, to a free and independent people. Mr. Dickinson replied to this speech. He began by observing that the member from Massachusetts (Mr. Adams) had introduced his defence of the declaration of independence by invoking an heathen god, but that he should begin his objections to it, by solemnly invoking the Governor of the Universe, so to influence the minds of the members of Congress, that if the proposed measure was for the benefit of America, nothing which he should say against it, might make the least impression. He then urged that the present time was improper for the declaration of independence, that the war might be conducted with equal vigor without it, that it would divide the Americans, and unite the people of Great-Britain against them. He then proposed that some assurance should be obtained of assistance from a foreign power, before they renounced their connexion with Great-Britain, and that the declaration of independence should be the condition to be offered for this assistance. He likewise stated the disputes that existed between several of the colonies, and proposed that some measures for the settlement of them should be determined upon, before they lost sight of that tribunal, which had hitherto been the umpire of all their differences.

After a full discussion, the measure of declaring the colonies free and independent was approved, by nearly an unanimous vote. The anniversary of the day on which this great event took place, has ever since been consecrated by the Americans to religious gratitude, and social pleasures. It is considered by them as the birth day of their freedom. . . .

Edition: 1983; Page: [346] From the promulgation of this declaration, every thing assumed a new form. The Americans no longer appeared in the character of subjects in arms against their sovereign, but as an independent people, repelling the attacks of an invading foe. The propositions and supplications for reconciliation were done away. The dispute was brought to a single point, whether the late British colonies should be conquered provinces, or free and independent states.

The declaration of independence was read publicly in all the states, and was welcomed with many demonstrations of joy. The people were encouraged by it to bear up under the calamities of war, Edition: current; Page: [[745]] and viewed the evils they suffered, only as the thorn that ever accompanies the rose. The army received it with particular satisfaction. As far as it had validity, so far it secured them from suffering as rebels, and held out to their view an object, the attainment of which would be an adequate recompense for the Edition: 1983; Page: [347] toils and dangers of war. They were animated by the consideration that they were no longer to risque their lives for the trifling purpose of procuring a repeal of a few oppressive acts of parliament, but for a new organization of government, that would forever put it out of the power of Great-Britain to oppress them. The flattering prospects of an extensive commerce, freed from British restrictions, and the honours and emoluments of office in independent states now began to glitter before the eyes of the colonists, and reconciled them to the difficulties of their situation. What was supposed in Great-Britain to be their primary object, had only a secondary influence. While they were charged with aiming at independence from the impulse of avarice and ambition, they were ardently wishing for a reconciliation. But, after they had been compelled to adopt that measure, these powerful principles of human actions opposed its retraction, and stimulated to its support. That separation which the colonists at first dreaded as an evil, they soon gloried in as a national blessing. While the rulers of Great-Britain urged their people to a vigorous prosecution of the American war, on the idea that the colonists were aiming at independence, they imposed on them a necessity of adopting that very measure, and actually effected its accomplishment. By repeatedly charging the Americans with aiming at the erection of a new government, and by proceeding on that idea to subdue them, predictions which were originally false, eventually became true. When the declaration of independence reached Great-Britain the partisans of ministry triumphed in their sagacity. “The measure, said they, we have long foreseen, is now come to pass.” They inverted the natural order of things. Without reflecting that their own policy had forced a revolution contrary to the original design of the colonists, the declaration of independence was held out to the people of Great-Britain as a justification of those previous violences, which were its efficient cause.

The act of Congress for dissevering the colonies from their Parent State, was the subject of many animadversions.

Edition: 1983; Page: [348] The colonists were said to have been precipitate in adopting a measure, from which there was no honourable ground of retreating. Edition: current; Page: [[746]] They replied that for eleven years they had been incessantly petitioning the throne for a redress of their grievances. Since the year 1765, a continental Congress had at three sundry times stated their claims, and prayed for their constitutional rights. That each assembly of the thirteen colonies had also, in its separate capacity, concurred in the same measure.—That from the perseverance of Great-Britain in her schemes for their coercion, they had no alternative, but a mean submission, or a vigorous resistance; and that as she was about to invade their coasts with a large body of mercenaries, they were compelled to declare themselves independent, that they might be put into an immediate capacity for soliciting foreign aid.

The virulence of those who had been in opposition to the claims of the colonists, was increased by their bold act in breaking off all subordination to the Parent State. “Great-Britain, said they, has founded colonies at great expence—has incurred a load of debt by wars on their account—has protected their commerce, and raised them to all the consequence they possess, and now in the insolence of adult years, rather than pay their proportion of the common expences of government, they ungratefully renounce all connexion with the nurse of their youth, and the protectress of their riper years.” The Americans acknowledged that much was due to Great-Britain, for the protection which her navy procured to the coasts, and the commerce of the colonies, but contended that much was paid by the latter, in consequence of the restrictions imposed on their commerce by the former. “The charge of ingratitude would have been just,” said they, “had allegiance been renounced while protection was given, but when the navy, which formerly secured the commerce and seaport towns of America, began to distress the former, and to burn the latter, the previous obligations to obey or be grateful, were no longer in force.”

That the colonists paid nothing, and would not pay to the support of government, was confidently asserted, and Edition: 1983; Page: [349] no credit was given for the sums indirectly levied upon them, in consequence of their being confined to the consumption of British manufactures. By such illfounded observations were the people of Great-Britain inflamed against their fellow subjects in America. The latter were represented as an ungrateful people, refusing to bear any part of the expences of a protecting government, or to pay their proportion of a heavy debt, said to be incurred on their account. Many of the inhabitants of Great-Britain deceived in matters of fact, considered their American brethren Edition: current; Page: [[747]] as deserving the severity of military coercion. So strongly were the two countries rivetted together, that if the whole truth had been known to the people of both, their separation would have been scarcely possible. Any feasible plan by which subjection to Great-Britain could have been reconciled with American safety, would at any time, previous to 1776, have met the approbation of the colonists. But while the lust of power and of gain, blinded the rulers of Great-Britain, mistated facts and uncandid representations brought over their people to second the infatuation. A few honest men properly authorized, might have devised measures of compromise, which under the influence of truth, humility and moderation, would have prevented a dismemberment of the empire; but these virtues ceased to influence, and falsehood, haughtiness and blind zeal usurped their places. Had Great-Britain, even after the declaration of independence, adopted the magnanimous resolution of declaring her colonies free and independent states, interest would have prompted them to form such a connexion as would have secured to the Mother Country the advantages of their commerce, without the expence or trouble of their governments. But misguided politics continued the fatal system of coercion and conquest. Several on both sides of the Atlantic, have called the declaration of independence, “a Bold, and accidentally, a lucky speculation,” but subsequent events proved, that it was a wise measure. It is acknowledged, that it detached some timid friends from supporting the Americans in their opposition to Great-Britain, but it increased the Edition: 1983; Page: [350] vigour and union of those, who possessed more fortitude and perseverance. Without it, the colonists would have had no object adequate to the dangers to which they exposed themselves, in continuing to contend with Great-Britain. If the interference of France was necessary to give success to the resistance of the Americans, the declaration of independence was also necessary, for the French expressly founded the propriety of their treaty with Congress on the circumstance, “that they found the United States in possession of independence.”

All political connexion between Great-Britain and her colonies being dissolved, the institution of new forms of government became unavoidable. The necessity of this was so urgent that Congress,May 15. before the declaration of independence, had recommended to the respective assemblies and conventions of the United States, to adopt such governments as should, in their opinion, best conduce to the happiness and safety of their constituents. During more than twelve months the Edition: current; Page: [[748]] colonists had been held together by the force of antient habits, and by laws under the simple stile of recommendations. The impropriety of proceeding in courts of justice by the authority of a sovereign, against whom the colonies were in arms, was self-evident. The impossibility of governing, for any length of time, three millions of people, by the ties of honour, without the authority of law, was equally apparent. The rejection of British sovereignty therefore drew after it the necessity of fixing on some other principle of government. The genius of the Americans, their republican habits and sentiments, naturally led them to substitute the majesty of the people, in lieu of discarded royalty. The kingly office was dropped, but in most of the subordinate departments of government, antient forms and names were retained. Such a portion of power had at all times been exercised by the people and their representatives, that the change of sovereignty was hardly perceptible, and the revolution took place without violence or convulsion. Popular elections elevated private citizens to the same offices, which formerly had been conferred by royal appointment. The people felt an uninterrupted continuation of the blessings Edition: 1983; Page: [351] of law and government under old names, though derived from a new sovereignty, and were scarcely sensible of any change in their political constitution. The checks and balances which restrained the popular assemblies under the royal government, were partly dropped, and partly retained, by substituting something of the same kind. The temper of the people would not permit that any one man, however exalted by office, or distinguished by abilities, should have a negative on the declared sense of a majority of their representatives, but the experience of all ages had taught them the danger of lodging all power in one body of men. A second branch of legislature, consisting of a few select persons, under the name of senate, or council, was therefore constituted in eleven of the thirteen states, and their concurrence made necessary to give the validity of law to the acts of a more numerous branch of popular representatives. New-York and Massachusettes went one step farther. The former constituted a council of revision, consisting of the governor and the heads of judicial departments, on whose objecting to any proposed law, a reconsideration became necessary, and unless it was confirmed by two thirds of both houses, it could have no operation. A similar power was given to the governor of Massachusetts. Georgia and Pennsylvania were the only states whose legislature consisted of only one branch. Though many in these states, Edition: current; Page: [[749]] and a majority in all the others, saw and acknowledged the propriety of a compounded legislature, yet the mode of creating two branches out of a homogeneous mass of people, was a matter of difficulty. No distinction of ranks existed in the colonies, and none were entitled to any rights, but such as were common to all. Some possessed more wealth than others, but riches and ability were not always associated. Ten of the eleven states, whose legislatures consisted of two branches, ordained that the members of both should be elected by the people. This rather made two co-ordinate houses of representatives than a check on a single one, by the moderation of a select few. Maryland adopted a singular plan for constituting an independent senate. By her constitution the members of that body Edition: 1983; Page: [352] were elected for five years, while the members of the house of delegates held their seats only for one. The number of senators was only fifteen, and they were all elected indiscriminately from the inhabitants of any part of the state, excepting that nine of them were to be residents on the west, and six on the east side of the Chesapeak Bay. They were elected not immediately by the people, but by electors, two from each county, appointed by the inhabitants for that sole purpose. By these regulations the senate of Maryland consisted of men of influence, integrity and abilities, and such as were a real and beneficial check on the hasty proceedings of a more numerous branch of popular representatives. The laws of that state were well digested, and its interest steadily pursued with a peculiar unity of system; while elsewhere it too often happened in the fluctuation of public assemblies; and where the legislative department was not sufficiently checked, that passion and party predominated over principle and public good.

Pennsylvania instead of a legislative council or senate, adopted the expedient of publishing bills after the second reading, for the information of the inhabitants. This had its advantages and disadvantages. It prevented the precipitate adoption of new regulations, and gave an opportunity of ascertaining the sense of the people on those laws by which they were to be bound; but it carried the spirit of discussion into every corner, and disturbed the peace and harmony of neighbourhoods. By making the business of government the duty of every man, it drew off the attention of many from the steady pursuit of their respective businesses.

The state of Pennsylvania also adopted another institution peculiar to itself, under the denomination of a council of censors. These were Edition: current; Page: [[750]] to be chosen once every seven years, and were authorised to enquire whether the constitution had been preserved—whether the legislative and executive branch of government, had performed their duty, or assumed to themselves, or exercised other or greater powers, than those to which they were constitutionally entitled. To enquire whether the public taxes had Edition: 1983; Page: [353] been justly laid and collected, and in what manner the public monies had been disposed of, and whether the laws had been duly executed. However excellent this institution may appear in theory, it is doubtful whether in practice it will answer any valuable end. It most certainly opens a door for discord, and furnishes abundant matter for periodical altercation. Either from the disposition of its inhabitants, its form of government, or some other cause, the people of Pennsylvania have constantly been in a state of fermentation. The end of one public controversy, has been the beginning of another. From the collision of parties, the minds of the citizens were sharpened, and their active powers improved, but internal harmony has been unknown. They who were out of place, so narrowly watched those who were in, that nothing injurious to the public could be easily effected, but from the fluctuation of power, and the total want of permanent system, nothing great or lasting could with safety be undertaken, or prosecuted to effect. Under all these disadvantages, the state flourished, and from the industry and ingenuity of its inhabitants acquired an unrivalled ascendency in arts and manufactures. This must in a great measure be ascribed to the influence of habits, of order and industry, that had long prevailed.

The Americans agreed in appointing a supreme executive head to each state, with the title either of governor or president. They also agreed in deriving the whole powers of government, either mediately or immediately from the people. In the eastern states, and in New-York, their governors were elected by the inhabitants, in their respective towns or counties, and in the other states by the legislatures: but in no case was the smallest tittle of power exercised from hereditary right. New-York was the only state which invested its governor with executive authority without a council. Such was the extreme jealousy of power which pervaded the American states, that they did not think proper to trust the man of their choice with the power of executing their own determinations, without obliging him in many cases to take the advice of such counsellors as they thought proper to nominate. Edition: 1983; Page: [354] The disadvantages of this institution far outweighed its advantages. Edition: current; Page: [[751]] Had the governors succeeded by hereditary right, a council would have been often necessary to supply the real want of abilities, but when an individual had been selected by the people as the fittest person for discharging the duties of this high department, to fetter him with a council was either to lessen his capacity of doing good, or to furnish him with a skreen for doing evil. It destroyed the secrecy, vigor and dispatch, which the executive power ought to possess, and by making governmental acts the acts of a body, diminished individual responsibility. In some states it greatly enhanced the expences of government, and in all retarded its operations, without any equivalent advantages.

New-York in another particular, displayed political sagacity superior to her neighbours. This was in her council of appointment, consisting of one senator from each of her four great election districts, authorised to designate proper persons for filling vacancies in the executive departments of government. Large bodies are far from being the most proper depositaries of the power of appointing to offices. The assiduous attention of candidates is too apt to biass the voice of individuals in popular assemblies. Besides in such appointments, the responsibility for the conduct of the officer, is in a great measure annihilated. The concurrence of a select few on the nomination of one, seems a more eligible mode for securing a proper choice, than appointments made either by one, or by a numerous body. In the former case there would be danger of favoritism, in the latter that modest unassuming merit would be overlooked, in favour of the forward and obsequious.

A rotation of public officers made a part of most of the American constitutions. Frequent elections were required by all, but several still farther, and deprived the electors of the power of continuing the same office in the same hands, after a specified length of time. Young politicians suddenly called from the ordinary walks of life, to make laws and institute forms of government, turned their attention to the histories of ancient republics Edition: 1983; Page: [355] and the writings of speculative men on the subject of government. This led them into many errors and occasioned them to adopt sundry opinions, unsuitable to the state of society in America, and contrary to the genius of real republicanism.

The principle of rotation was carried so far, that in some of the states, public offices in several departments scarcely knew their official duty, till they were obliged to retire and give place to others, as Edition: current; Page: [[752]] ignorant as they had been on their first appointment. If offices had been instituted for the benefit of the holders, the policy of diffusing these benefits would have been proper, but instituted as they were for the convenience of the public, the end was marred by such frequent changes. By confining the objects of choice, it diminished the privileges of electors, and frequently deprived them of the liberty of choosing the man who, from previous experience, was of all men the most suitable. The favourers of this system of rotation contended for it, as likely to prevent a perpetuity of office and power in the same individual or family, and as a security against hereditary honours. To this it was replied, that free, fair and frequent elections were the most natural and proper securities, for the liberties of the people. It produced a more general diffusion of political knowledge, but made more smatterers than adepts in the science of government.

As a farther security for the continuance of republican principles in the American constitutions, they agreed in prohibiting all hereditary honours and distinction of ranks.

It was one of the peculiarities of these new forms of government, that all religious establishments were abolished. Some retained a constitutional distinction between Christians and others, with respect to eligibility to office, but the idea of supporting one denomination at the expence of others, or of raising any one sect of protestants to a legal pre-eminence, was universally reprobated. The alliance between church and state was completely broken, and each was left to support itself, independent of the other.

The far famed social compact between the people and their rulers, did not apply to the United States. The Edition: 1983; Page: [356] sovereignty was in the people. In their sovereign capacity by their representatives, they agreed on forms of government for their own security, and deputed certain individuals as their agents to serve them in public stations agreeably to constitutions, which they prescribed for their conduct.

The world has not hitherto exhibited so fair an opportunity for promoting social happiness. It is hoped for the honor of human nature, that the result will prove the fallacy of those theories, which suppose that mankind are incapable of self government. The ancients, not knowing the doctrine of representation, were apt in their public meetings to run into confusion, but in America this mode of taking the sense of the people, is so well understood, and so completely reduced to system, that its most populous states are often peaceably Edition: current; Page: [[753]] convened in an assembly of deputies, not too large for orderly deliberation, and yet representing the whole in equal proportions. These popular branches of legislature are miniature pictures of the community, and from the mode of their election are likely to be influenced by the same interests and feelings with the people whom they represent. As a farther security for their fidelity, they are bound by every law they make for their constituents. The assemblage of these circumstances gives as great a security that laws will be made, and government administered for the good of the people, as can be expected from the imperfection of human institutions.

In this short view of the formation and establishment of the American constitutions, we behold our species in a new situation. In no age before, and in no other country, did man ever possess an election of the kind of government, under which he would choose to live. The constituent parts of the antient free governments were thrown together by accident. The freedom of modern European governments was, for the most part, obtained by the concessions, or liberality of monarchs, or military leaders. In America alone, reason and liberty concurred in the formation of constitutions. It is true, from the infancy of political knowledge in the United States, there were Edition: 1983; Page: [357] many defects in their forms of government. But in one thing they were all perfect. They left the people in the power of altering and amending them, whenever they pleased. In this happy peculiarity they placed the science of politics on a footing with the other sciences, by opening it to improvements from experience, and the discoveries of future ages. By means of this power of amending American constitutions, the friends of mankind have fondly hoped that oppression will one day be no more, and that political evil will at least be prevented or restrained with as much certainty, by a proper combination or separation of power, as natural evil is lessened or prevented by the application of the knowledge or ingenuity of man to domestic purposes. No part of the history of antient or modern Europe, can furnish a single fact that militates against this opinion, since in none of its governments have the principles of equal representation and checks been applied, for the preservation of freedom. On these two pivots are suspended the liberties of most of the states. Where they are wanting, there can be no security for liberty, where they exist they render any farther security unnecessary.

The rejection of British sovereignty not only involved a necessity Edition: current; Page: [[754]] of erecting independent constitutions, but of cementing the whole United States by some common bond of union. The act of independence did not hold out to the world thirteen sovereign states, but a common sovereignty of the whole in their united capacity. It therefore became necessary to run the line of distinction, between the local legislatures, and the assembly of the states in Congress. A committee was appointed for digesting articles of confederation between the states or united colonies, as they were then called, at the time the propriety of declaring independence was under debate, and some weeks previously to the adoption of that measure, but the plan was not for sixteen months after so far digested, as to be ready for communication to the states. Nor was it finally ratified by the accession of all the states, till nearly three years more had elapsed. In discussing its articles, many difficult questions occurred. One was to ascertain the ratio of Edition: 1983; Page: [358] contributions from each state. Two principles presented themselves, numbers of people, and the value of lands. The last was preferred as being the truest barometer of the wealth of nations, but from an apprehended impracticability of carrying it into effect, it was soon relinquished, and recurrence had to the former. That the states should be represented in proportion to their importance, was contended for by those who had extensive territory, but they who were confined to small dimensions, replied, that the states confederated as individuals, in a state of nature, and should therefore have equal votes. From fear of weakening their exertions against the common enemy, the large states for the present yielded the point, and consented that each state should have an equal suffrage.

It was not easy to define the power of the state legislatures, so as to prevent a clashing between their jurisdiction, and that of the general government. On mature deliberation it was thought proper, that the former should be abridged of the power of forming any other confederation or alliance—of laying on any imposts or duties that might interfere with treaties made by Congress—or keeping up any vessels of war, or granting letters of marque or reprisal. The powers of Congress were also defined. Of these the principle were as follows: To have the sole and exclusive right of determining on peace and war—of sending and receiving ambassadors—of entering into treaties and alliances,—of granting letters of marque and reprisal in terms of peace.—To be the last resort on appeal, in all disputes between two or more states—to have the sole and exclusive right of regulating the Edition: current; Page: [[755]] alloy and value of coin, of fixing the standard weights and measures—regulating the trade and managing all affairs with the Indians—establishing and regulating post offices—to borrow money or emit bills on the credit of the United States—to build and equip a navy—to agree upon the number of land forces, and to make requisitions from each state for its quota of men, in proportion to the number of its white inhabitants.

No coercive power was given to the general government, nor was it invested with any legislative power over Edition: 1983; Page: [359] individuals, but only over states in their corporate capacity. As at the time the articles of confederation were proposed for ratification, the Americans had little or no regular commercial intercourse with foreign nations, a power to regulate trade or to raise a revenue from it, though both were essential to the welfare of the union, made no part of the federal system. To remedy this and all other defects, a door was left open for introducing farther provisions, suited to future circumstances.

The articles of confederation were proposed at a time when the citizens of America were young in the science of politics, and when a commanding sense of duty, enforced by the pressure of a common danger, precluded the necessity of a power of compulsion. The enthusiasm of the day gave such credit and currency to paper emissions, as made the raising of supplies an easy matter. The system of federal government was therefore more calculated for what men then were, under these circumstances, than for the languid years of peace, when selfishness usurped the place of public spirit, and when credit no longer assisted, in providing for the exigencies of government.

The experience of a few years after the termination of the war, proved, as will appear in its proper place, that a radical change of the whole system was necessary, to the good government of the United States.

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[54]: Robert Coram 1761-1796

Political Inquiries, to which is Added A Plan for the Establishment of Schools Throughout the United States

A great deal was written about education for youth in the founding era. Making education available to a broad public was seen as critical to preparation for citizenship and the development of virtues necessary for continued support of republican government. There was no shortage of plans for national or statewide systems, some coming very close to what we have in fact developed. Robert Coram was born in England but migrated with his family to South Carolina while a boy. He fought in the revolutionary war, serving for a time under John Paul Jones aboard the Bonhomme Richard. After the war he moved to Wilmington, Delaware, where, among other things, he was the editor of the Delaware Gazette. Coram was a strong Anti-Federalist during the ratification period. Ironically, Robert Coram did not himself receive a formal education, but was self-taught in the political and literary classics well enough to run a night school in Wilmington providing instruction in Latin and French. His essay reproduced here is considered by many to be the most advanced and thoughtful piece on education written during the era. It is notable for carrying the discussion far beyond mere formal education to consider it in the context of what we would today recognize as socialization broadly conceived.

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Above all, watch carefully over the education of your children. It is from public schools, be assured, that come the wise magistrates—the well trained and courageous soldiers—the good fathers—the good husbands—the good brothers—the good friends—the good man.raynal.

This work is intended merely to introduce a better mode of education than that generally adopted in the country schools throughout the United States.


It is serious truth, whatever may have been advanced by European writers to the contrary, that the aborigines of the American continent have fewer vices, are less subject to diseases, and are a happier people than the subjects of any government in the Eastern world.

From the first of these facts may be drawn two important consequences—first, that the proneness to vice, with which mankind have always been charged and to check which is the ostensible purpose of government, is entirely chimerical; secondly, that vice in civilized nations is the effect of bad government. It is plain, if men are virtuous without laws, they may be virtuous with good [iv] laws, for no reason can be given why good laws should make men vicious. Government is, no doubt, a very complicated machine; but vice in the subject cannot be the mere consequence of complexity in the form of government: for if one good law would not necessarily produce vice, neither would one hundred. These truths are simple, but they are not the less useful.

Europeans have been taught to believe that mankind have something of the Devil ingrafted in their nature, that they are naturally ferocious, vicious, revengeful, and as void of reason as brutes, etc., etc. Hence their sanguinary laws, which string a man to a gibbet for the value of twenty pence. They first frame an hypothesis, by which they prove men to be wolves, and then treat them as if they really were such.

But notwithstanding the Europeans have proved men to be naturally wolves, yet they Edition: 1983; Page: [v] will assert that “men owe everything to Edition: current; Page: [[758]] education. The minds of children are like blank paper, upon which you may write any characters you please.” Thus will they every day refute the fundamental principles upon which their laws are built, and yet not grow a jot the wiser.

Whoever surveys the history of nations with a philosophic eye will find that the civilized man in every stage of his civilization and under almost every form of government has always been a very miserable being. When we consider the very splendid advantages which the citizen seems to possess, the grand scheme of Christianity, the knowledge of sciences and of arts, the experience of all ages and nations recorded in his libraries for a guide, how mortifying must it be to him to reflect that with all his boasted science and philosophy he had made but a retrograde advance to happiness and that the savage, by superior instinct or natural reason, has attained what [vi] he, the citizen, by all his powers of refined and artificial intellect could never reach.

There must be some fundamental error, therefore, common to all civilized nations, and this error appears to me to be in education. In savage state education is perfect. In the civilized state education is the most imperfect part of the whole scheme of government or civilization; or, rather, it is not immediately connected with either, for I know of no modern governments, except perhaps the New England states, in which education is incorporated with the government or regulated by it.

In the savage state, as I said before, the system of education is perfect. To explain this, it will be necessary to define the word education, or at least what I mean by it. Education, then, means the instruction of youth in certain rules of conduct by which they will be enabled to support themselves when they come to age and to know [vii] the obligations they are under to that society of which they constitute a part. Nature, then, in the savage state is the unerring instructor of their youth in the first or principal part of education, for, when their bodily powers are complete, that part of education which relates to their support is complete also. When they can subdue the wild animals, they can procure subsistence. The second, or less essential part, is taught by their parents: their laws, or rather customs, being few and simple, are easily remembered and understood.

But the unfortunate civilized man, to obtain a livelihood, must be acquainted with some art or science, in which he is neither instructed by nature, by government, by his parents, or oftentimes by any means Edition: current; Page: [[759]] at all. He is then absolutely unable to procure himself subsistence without violating some law, and as to the obligations he is under to society, he knows indeed but very little if anything about them. In this state of the case, the situation of the civilized man is infinitely worse than that of the savage, nay, [viii] worse than that of the brute creation, for the birds have nests, the foxes have holes, and all animals in their wild state have permanent means of subsistence, but the civilized man has nowhere to lay his head: he has neither habitation nor food, but forlorn and outcast, he perishes for want and starves in the midst of universal plenty.

To alleviate, therefore, in some measure the miseries of this unhappy being is the intent of the following sheets. And in pursuit of an object of such importance the author shall not be afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead him. As an American, he asserts his claim to this privilege, and he hopes it may be allowed him, upon the double score of his birthright and the task he has undertaken, to plead the cause of humanity.


Inquiry into the Origin of Government; and a Comparative View of the Subjects of European Governments with the Aborigines of America.

No question has puzzled philosophers of all ages more than the origin of government. The wants and vices of mankind have been generally held out to be the causes of all the good and bad governments with which mankind have alternately been blessed or cursed from the earliest ages to the present day. But there is no satisfactory reason to believe that government originated from either of those causes. We can never believe it originated from his wants, considering the very small proportion of Edition: 1983; Page: [10] cultivated land in proportion to the uncultivated at this day in every part of the globe, some small islands excepted; nor will his vices afford a better solution of the question, since the savages of North America are infinitely more virtuous than the inhabitants of the most polished nations of Europe.

How the first government originated we are entirely in the dark. Scripture is silent on this head, and all that we know is that Cain founded a city and called it after the name of his son Enoch. As to the origin of modern governments, they seem chiefly to have been Edition: current; Page: [[760]] founded by conquest: their origin is, however, involved in much obscurity.

Since, then, we are unable to discover the origin of government from the impenetrable obscurity in which it is involved, let us consider its end as equally applicable to our purpose. The end of government, we are told, is public good, by which is to be understood the happiness of the community. The great body of the people in Europe are unhappy, not to say miserable: there needs no other argument to prove that all the European governments have been founded upon wrong principles, since the means used have not produced the end intended.

Edition: 1983; Page: [11] The following description from the Abbé Raynal may perhaps be with truth applied to the body of the people throughout Europe: “In our provinces the vassal or free mercenary digs and ploughs the whole year round lands that are not his own and whose produce does not belong to him, and he is even happy, if his labor procures him a share of the crops he has sown and reaped. Observed and harassed by a hard and restless landlord who grudges him the very straw on which he rests his weary limbs, the wretch is daily exposed to diseases which, joined to his poverty, make him wish for death rather than for an expensive cure followed by infirmities and toil. Whether tenant or subject, he is doubly a slave; if he has a few acres, his lord comes and gathers them where he has not sown; if he has but a yoke of oxen or a pair of horses, he must employ them in the public service; if he has nothing but his person, the prince takes him for a soldier. Everywhere he meets with masters and always with oppression.” Let us now consider the state of the American Indians.

This inquiry is attended with more difficulty than at first sight would appear. Indeed, if the present race of American Indians should shortly Edition: 1983; Page: [12] become extinct, it would be impossible for posterity to form any judgment of them, whether they were a species of orangutan or rational beings. The European libraries have been stuffed with such monstrous caricatures of the American that they have influenced their ablest philosophers, and Raynal and Buffon have both endeavored to account for the supposed defects in the man of the Western world. Excepting Clavijero’s History of Mexico, the short account given by Mr. Jefferson, Carver’s Travels, The History of the Five Nations, and Bancroft’s History of Guiana, I do not recollect an account of the American which deserves the name of history. The translations from French and Spanish writers are generally full of the most glaring prejudice and absurdity. Edition: current; Page: [[761]] I once saw a history of Louisiana, translated from the French, in which some curious person had, in a fine hand in the margin, refuted almost the whole of the text.

And for a specimen of Spanish history, take the following from the History of California by Miguel Venegas: “The characteristics of the Californians as well as of all the other Indians are stupidity, an insensibility, want of knowledge and reflection, inconstancy, impetuosity, and blindness of appetite; an excessive sloth and abhorrence of all labor and fatigue, an incessant love of pleasure and amusement of every kind, however Edition: 1983; Page: [13] trifling or brutal; pusilanimity and relaxity; and, in fine, a most wretched want of everything which constitutes the real man and renders him rational, inventive, tractable, and useful to himself and society. It is not easy for Europeans who never were out of their own country to conceive an adequate idea of those people. For even in the least frequent corners of the globe there is not a nation so stupid, of such contracted ideas, and so wretched both in body and mind as the unhappy Californians.”

Some of the features of this miserable picture are of so heterogeneous a cast that one can hardly be induced to believe them copied from the same original. Stupidity, excessive sloth, and abhorrence of all labor and fatigue but ill agrees with impetuosity and incessant love of pleasure. I shall not be at the trouble of refuting this banter upon history, only to be equaled in absurdity by the philosophical researches of Mr. De Pauw, but will content myself with quoting a little more from Mr. Miguel Venegas and leave the reader to judge for himself:

“However, in the Californians are seen few of those bad dispositions for which the other Americans are infamous; no inebriating liquors Edition: 1983; Page: [14] are used among them, and the several members of a rancheria live in great harmony among themselves and peaceably with others. What little everyone has is safe from theft. Quarrels are rarely known among them. All their malice and rage they reserve for their enemies, and so far are they from obstinacy, harshness, and cruelty that nothing could exceed their docility and gentleness; consequently they are easily persuaded to good or evil . . . They make their boats of the bark of trees, and every part of the workmanship, the shaping, joining, and covering them, is admired even by Europeans. The men likewise make nets for fishing, for gathering fruits, and for carrying the children, and even those worn by the women. But in this particular they show Edition: current; Page: [[762]] such exquisite skill, making them of so many different colors, sizes, and variety of workmanship, that it is not easy to describe them.”

Father Taraval says, “I can affirm that of all the nets I ever saw in Europe and New Spain none are comparable to these, either in whiteness, the mixture of the other colors, or the strength and workmanship in which they represent a vast variety of figures.” I hope the contradiction and absurdity are manifest.

The citizens of the United States differ as widely in their opinions and in many instances seem Edition: 1983; Page: [15] as much prejudiced against the Indians as the Europeans. Mutual jealousies among those who reside near the frontier, the ferocity with which the Indians conduct their wars, but principally the numerous forged accounts published in our newspapers of horrid murders perpetrated by them have given the citizens of these states such an antipathy against the Indians as will not easily be removed. I traveled with one of Mr. McGillivray’s men from Philadelphia to New York last summer and had the mortification to see him insulted in almost every public house at which we stopped on our route. One of the landlords did not scruple to tell him that he, the landlord, would as leave shoot an Indian as a rattlesnake. And take the following account from the Delaware Gazette:

“Extract of a letter from Sunbury, Northumberland County, Pennsylvania, dated November 13, 1790.—

“One of the men who murdered the Indians at Pine Creek was tried on Saturday evening; and though a number of witnesses clearly proved the hand he had in perpetrating the horrible deed, and the confession of his counsel at the bar, which confirmed it; yet, notwithstanding Edition: 1983; Page: [16] an express charge from the judges to bring him in guilty, the jury, in a few minutes, returned with a verdict in his favor and a subscription to pay the costs of suit, that he might be set at liberty. And all this from a most absurd idea, which the Attorney General could not, with all his endeavors, beat out of them, that the crime was not the same to kill an Indian as a white man. For some minutes the Chief Justice was struck with astonishment. How the state can pacify the Indians now, Heaven knows; while at this moment the other murderers are at large in this country, and none will arrest them.”

It is said that the inhabitants of Canada and the other French Edition: current; Page: [[763]] settlements are very seldom troubled by the Indians. The French government has kept a watchful eye over the conduct of its subjects and never suffered any injury done to the Indians to pass unpunished. It is indeed in vain to expect peace with those people while the present rancor, too visible in the conduct of the citizens of those states, continues. But as this is rather foreign to my present purpose, I shall proceed with what I have to offer on the subject of the aborigines of America, from Carver’s Travels and Bancroft’s History of Guiana, as the least prejudiced testimony applicable to the present purpose which has fell under my observation.

Edition: 1983; Page: [17] “The Indians,” says Mr. Carver, “in their common state are strangers to all distinction of property, except in the articles of domestic use, which everyone considers as his own and increases as circumstances may admit. They are extremely liberal to each other and supply the deficiency of their friends with any superfluity of their own. In dangers they readily give assistance to those of their band who stand in need of it, without any expectation of return, except of those just rewards which are always conferred by the Indians on merit. Governed by the plain and equitable laws of nature, everyone is rewarded solely according to his deserts, and their equality of condition, manners, and privileges, with that constant and sociable familiarity which prevails throughout every Indian nation, animates them with a pure and truly patriotic spirit which tends to the general good of the society to whom they belong.

“If any of their neighbors are bereaved by death or by an enemy of their children, those who are possessed of the greatest number of slaves supply the deficiency; and those are adopted by them and treated in every respect as if they really were the children of the person to whom they are presented.

“The Indians, except those who live adjoining to the European colonies, can form to themselves no idea of the Edition: 1983; Page: [18] value of money; they consider it, when they are made acquainted with the uses to which it is applied by other nations, as the source of innumerable evils. To it they attribute all the mischiefs which are prevalent among Europeans, such as treachery, plunderings, devastation, and murder. They esteem it irrational that one man should be possessed of a greater quantity than another and are amazed that any honor should be annexed to the possession of it. But that the want of this useless metal should be the cause of depriving persons of their liberty and that on Edition: current; Page: [[764]] account of this partial distribution of it great numbers should be immured within the dreary walls of a prison, cut off from the society of which they constitute a part, exceeds their belief. Nor do they fail, on hearing this part of the European system of government related, to charge the institutors of it with a total want of humanity and to brand them with the names of savages and brutes.”

The following character of the Caribbee Indians is taken from Bancroft’s Guiana: “In reviewing the manners of these Indians, some few particulars excepted, I survey an amiable picture of primeval innocence and happiness, which arises chiefly, from the fewness of their wants, and Edition: 1983; Page: [19] their universal equality. The latter destroys all distinctions among them, except those of age and personal merit, and promotes the ease, harmony and freedom of their mutual conversation and intercourse [] The fewness and simplicity of their wants, with the abundance of means for their supply, and the ease with which they are acquired, renders all division of property useless. Each amicably participates [in] the ample blessings of an extensive country without rivaling his neighbor or interrupting his happiness. This renders all governments and all laws unnecessary, as in such a state there can be no temptations to dishonesty, fraud, injustice, or violence, or indeed any desires which may not be gratified with innocence; and that chimerical proneness to vice, which among civilized nations is thought to be a natural propensity, has no existence in a state of nature like this, where everyone perfectly enjoys the blessings of his native freedom and independence without any restraints or fears.

“To acquire the art of dispensing with all imaginary wants and contenting ourselves with the real conveniences of life is the noblest exertion of reason and a most useful acquisition, as it elevates the mind above the vicissitudes of fortune. Socrates justly observes ‘that those who want least approach nearest to the gods, who want nothing.’ The simplicity, however, which is Edition: 1983; Page: [20] so apparent in the manners of those Indians is not the effect of a philosophical self-denial but of their ignorance of more refined enjoyments, which, however, produces effects equally happy with those which result from the most austere philosophy; and their manners present an emblem of the fabled Elysian fields where individuals need not the assistance of each other but yet preserve a constant intercourse of love and friendship.

“ ‘o fortunatos nimium, sua si bona norint. viro.’ ”

“It is doubtless,” says the immortal Raynal, “of great importance Edition: current; Page: [[765]] to posterity to record the manners of savages. From this source, perhaps, we have derived all our improvements in moral philosophy. Former metaphysicians sought for the origin of society in those very societies which had been long established. Supposing men guilty of crimes, in order that they may have the merit of giving them saviours; blinding their eyes, in order that they may become their guides and masters, they call mysterious, supernatural, and divine what is only the operation of time, ignorance, weakness, and chicane. But after perceiving that social institutions neither originated from natural wants nor from religious opinions—since many nations live independent without any Edition: 1983; Page: [21] worship—they discovered that all corruptions, both in morals and legislation, arose from society itself and that vice originally proceeded from legislators, who generally instituted laws more for their own emolument than public good, or whose views towards equity and right were perverted by the ambition of their successors or by the alteration of times and manners.

“This discovery has already thrown great light upon the subject, though it is still to mankind but as the dawn of a fine day. Its opposition to established opinions prevents it from suddenly producing those immense benefits which it will confer on posterity, and this latter circumstance ought to give consolation to the present generation. But however this may be we may assert with confidence that the ignorance of savages has contributed greatly to enlighten polished nations.”

In the comparative view of the civilized man and the savage, the most striking contrast is the division of property. To the one, it is the source of all his happiness: to the other, the fountain of all his misery. By holy writ we are informed that God gave to man dominion over the earth, the living creatures, and the herbs; human laws have, however, limited this jurisdiction to certain orders or classes of men; the rest are to feed upon air if they can or fly to another world Edition: 1983; Page: [22] for subsistence. This parceling out to individuals what was intended for the general stock of society leads me to inquire farther into the nature and origin of property. I am not quite so visionary as to expect that the members of any civilized community will listen to an equal division of lands: had that been the object of this work, the author had infallibly lost his labor. But a substitute, and perhaps the only one, is highly practicable, as will hereafter appear.

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Inquiry into the Origin of Property; and a Refutation of Blackstone’s Doctrine on That Subject.

“There is nothing which so generally strikes the imagination,” says Dr. Blackstone, “and engages the affections of mankind as the right of property or that sole and despotic dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of this world, in total exclusion of the right of any other individual in the universe. And yet there are very few that will give themselves the trouble to consider the origin and foundation of this right. Pleased Edition: 1983; Page: [23] as we are with the possession, we seem afraid to look back to the means by which it was acquired, as if fearful of some defect in our title; or at best we rest satisfied with the decisions of the laws in our favor, without examining the reason or authority upon which those laws have been built.

“We think it enough that our title is derived by the grant of the former proprietor, by descent from our ancestors, or by the last will and testament of the dying owner not caring to reflect that (accurately and strictly speaking) there is no foundation in nature, or in natural law, why a set of words upon parchment should convey the dominion of land, why the son should have a right to exclude his fellow creatures from a determinate spot of ground because his father had done so before him, or why the occupier of a particular field or of a jewel, when lying on his death bed and no longer able to maintain possession, should be entitled to tell the rest of the world which of them should enjoy it after him.

“These inquiries, it must be confessed, would be useless, and even troublesome, in common life. It is well, if the mass of mankind will obey the laws, when made, without scrutinizing too nicely into the reasons of making them. But when law is to be considered, not only as matter of practice but also as a rational science, it cannot be improper or useless to examine Edition: 1983; Page: [24] more deeply the rudiments and grounds of those positive constitutions of society.”

Doctor Blackstone seems to have been extremely cautious how he ventured upon his inquiry into the origin of property, as if fearful of some defect in his title; and his caution has, notwithstanding his profound sagacity, evidently run him into contradiction and absurdity. He tells us, in his chapter on the study of the law, that “every subject Edition: current; Page: [[767]] is interested in the preservation of the laws; it is therefore,” says he, “incumbent upon every man to be acquainted with those at least with which he is immediately concerned, lest he incur the censure of living in society without knowing the obligations which it lays him under.”

And in the part we have just now quoted he obliquely censures the conduct of the generality of mankind, who, he says, will not give themselves the trouble to consider the origin and foundation of the right of property. But when he reflects upon the probable consequences of a rational investigation of this subject, he flies his ground. “These inquiries,” says he, “it must be owned would be useless, and even troublesome, in common life. It is well, if the mass of mankind will obey the laws, when made, without scrutinizing too nicely into the reasons of making them.”

But though the mass Edition: 1983; Page: [25] of mankind are prohibited to scrutinize too nicely into the reasons of making laws, it seems that it is not improper for those who consider law as a matter of practice, and a rational science, to examine more deeply into their rudiments and grounds. That is, in plain English, lawyers may know the obligations of society, but the people not. Thus it was when corrupt priests despised the ordinances of a just God, defiled his altars with unhallowed sacrifices, and stained them with innocent blood, they hid their creed beneath the impenetrable veil of a dead language, that their iniquity might not be detected.

Thus it is, that those who should direct the opinions of mankind descend to contemptible sophistry and contradiction, turn traitors to their own principles, apostates to the sacred cause of truth, and while they pretend that their system of law is founded upon principles of equity tell us in plain terms that it will not bear investigation. The right to exclusive property is a question of great importance, and, of all others, perhaps, deserves the most candid and equitable solution. Such a solution will afford a foundation for laws which will totally eradicate from the civilized man a very large portion of those vices which such legislators as Dr. Blackstone pretend to be natural to the human race. One deplorable Edition: 1983; Page: [26] iniquity, at least, which has filled the earth with tears and the hearts of all good men with deep regret—I mean the slave trade—could never have existed among any people who had distinct ideas of property, but this subject has been treated of in such an obscure, vague, and contradictory manner by the European Edition: current; Page: [[768]] lawyers that it is impossible to determine by them what is property and what is not.

“In the beginning of the world,” says Dr. Blackstone, “we are informed by holy writ the all bountiful Creator gave to man ‘dominion over all the earth, and over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.’ This is the only true and solid foundation of man’s dominion over external things, whatever airy metaphysical notions may have been started by fanciful writers upon that subject.”

The Doctor, not the least fanciful of metaphysical writers, quotes the text in Genesis as a demonstration of his creed, to tell us that he believes in the Bible, which is in some measure necessary, as many of his arguments militate against such belief. If then the text in Genesis is the only true and solid foundation of man’s dominion over external things, every son and daughter of Adam is co-heir to this paternal inheritance, for the gift Edition: 1983; Page: [27] was made in common to the whole race of Adam. How then have part of mankind forfeited their right to the bounties of Providence? Or from what source does the monopoly of lands originate, since it is plain it cannot be derived from the text in Genesis? The Doctor, indeed, tells us that “the earth, and all things thereon, are the general property of all mankind, exclusive of other beings from the immediate gift of the Creator. And while the earth continued bare of inhabitants, it is reasonable to suppose that all was in common among them and that everyone took from the public stock to his own use such things as his immediate necessities required.”

And why not take from the public stock, when men multiplied? The command from the Creator was, increase and multiply. And must men then forfeit their right to the bounties of Providence, by acting in obedience to this precept? Or does Dr. Blackstone suppose that the earth can support only a part of mankind, and that the rest live upon air, light, fire, or water, the only inheritance he has left them? It is plain, if the earth supports its inhabitants in the present unequal division of property, it will support them under an equal division. “These general notions of property,” continues the Doctor, “were then sufficient to answer all the purposes of human life.” That is, the solid foundation of man’s dominion over external Edition: 1983; Page: [28] things, is a notion: this notion was, however, sufficient to answer all the purposes of human life; “and might still have answered them,” continues the Doctor, “had it been possible for mankind to have remained in a state Edition: current; Page: [[769]] of primeval simplicity, as may be collected from the manners of many American nations when first discovered by the Europeans.”

It is upwards of 5,000 years since the creation of the world. At the creation men were in a state of primeval simplicity; the American Indians are at this day in a state of primeval simplicity; ergo, it is not possible for men to remain in a state of primeval simplicity. Here is logic elegantly displayed! Thus it is that the sophistry of this English doctor flies before the test of investigation. It is therefore possible for men to remain in a state of primeval simplicity, since some of them are so at this day; unless indeed the Doctor supposes the Indians to be the offspring of a creation subsequent to Adam. This primeval simplicity, the Doctor supposes, was the case with the ancient Europeans, according to the memorials of the golden age.

Sed omnia communia et indivisa omnibus fuerint, veluti unum cunctis patrimonium esset. Not,” says the Doctor, “that this communion of goods seems ever to have been applicable, even in the earliest ages, to aught but the substance of the thing; nor could it be extended to the use of it.” Why not? Let us Edition: 1983; Page: [29] translate the passage. All things were common and undivided to all, even as one inheritance might be to all. The sense of this passage is so obvious and plain that a person could hardly think it possible to be misunderstood, but Dr. Blackstone is determined to understand it not as common sense but as unintelligible jargon. By a peculiar application of the participle indivisa, the Doctor infers that the community of goods could not be extended to the use of such goods, which is making downright nonsense of the sentence: it is making the patrimony left in such manner that not a single heir can enjoy the least use or benefit of it at all. Why should so much stress be laid on the participle indivisa, in the first part of the sentence, when the second part of the sentence is explanatory of the first? The goods were left communia & indivisa; but in what manner? Veluti unum cunctis patrimonium esset: even as one inheritance might be to all. The Doctor appears designedly obscure in this very paragraph and seems rather desirous to perplex his reader than to throw any light upon the subject.

“For by the law of nature and reason,” continues the Doctor, “he who first began to use a thing acquired therein a kind of transient property that lasted so long as he was using it, and no longer: or to speak with greater precision, the right of possession continued for the same time only that Edition: 1983; Page: [30] the act of possession lasted. Thus the ground Edition: current; Page: [[770]] was in common, and no part of it was the permanent property of any man in particular; yet, whoever was in the occupation of any determinate spot of it for rest, for shade, or the like, acquired, for the time, a sort of ownership, from which it would have been unjust and contrary to the law of nature to have driven him by force, but the instant that he quitted the use or occupation of it another might seize it without injustice.”

According to this vague account of natural law, it appears that men had a right to that quantity of ground which happened to be in immediate contact with their feet, when standing up; with their backsides, when sitting; and with their body, when lying down; and no more. No provision is made for agriculture; indeed it would not have suited the Doctor to have allowed the existence of agriculture at that period of the world for reasons which will hereafter appear.

Any person possessed of common sense and some erudition who was not previously bent upon establishing a favorite system at the expense of truth might give us a rational account in what manner property should be regulated under the law of nature. Such a person would probably say all things subject to the dominion of man may be included in two classes, land and movables; Edition: 1983; Page: [31] the rational foundation of the tenure of each is labor. Thus fruit growing on a tree was common, but when collected it became the exclusive property of the collector; land uncultivated was common but when cultivated, it became the exclusive possession of the cultivator. Men, then, according to the laws of nature, had an exclusive property in movables and an exclusive possession in lands, both which were founded on labor and bounded by it. For as labor employed in the collection of fruit could give an exclusive right only to the fruit so collected, so labor in the soil could give exclusive possession only to the spot so labored. But this kind of reasoning would by no means suit Dr. Blackstone.

“But,” continues the Doctor, “when mankind increased in number, craft, and ambition, it became necessary to entertain conceptions of more permanent dominion and to appropriate to individuals, not the immediate use only, but the very substance of the thing to be used.” Query: could a man eat an apple without entertaining conceptions of permanent dominion over the substance? Those conceptions existed then anterior to the increase of men in number, craft, and ambition, and were not the consequence of it.

“Otherwise,” continues the Doctor, “innumerable tumults must Edition: current; Page: [[771]] have arisen, and the good order of the world been continually broken and disturbed, while a variety of persons Edition: 1983; Page: [32] were striving who should get the first occupation of the same thing or disputing which of them had actually gained it.” From a system so vague as the Doctor’s, and which he would pawn upon us for natural law, nothing but disputes could be expected, for nothing is determinate. His futile distinctions between the use of a thing and the substance of a thing and his notions of possession are truly ridiculous. But those contests for occupancy, this mighty bugbear so fatal to the good order of the world, we can easily prove to be a mere phantom of the Doctor’s brain; like the raw head and bloody bones with which ignorant nurses scare their children, it has no existence in nature.

As labor constitutes the right of property in movables and the right of possession in lands, it is evident no disputes could arise merely from the nature of the right, for before labor was employed there could be no right to squabble about, and after labor was employed the right was completely vested. In fact, the whole of Blackstone’s chapter on property was artfully contrived to countenance the monopoly of lands as held in Europe. “When men increased in number, craft, and ambition, it became necessary to entertain conceptions of more permanent dominion.” If the Doctor means anything he means that Edition: 1983; Page: [33] more permanent dominion was established as a check to craft and ambition; or, in other words, that the laws vested a permanent property in lands in some persons, to prevent their being dispossessed by unruly individuals. But this clearly demonstrates the Doctor to be as ignorant of the affections of the human heart as he is of natural law. For a community of lands is the most effectual check which human wisdom could devise against the ambition of individuals. What is the civilized man’s ambition? To procure a property in the soil. But there is no such ambition among savages, for no man, civilized or savage, is ambitious of what is common to every man: land is common among savages; therefore they set no value upon it. In most civilized nations land is held only by a few and also made essential to the qualification of candidates for public offices: hence, to possess property in lands is the ambition of civilized nations.

But, continues the Doctor, “As human life also grew more and more refined, abundance of conveniences were contrived to render it more easy and agreeable, as habitations for shelter and safety and raiment for warmth and decency. But no man would be at the trouble Edition: current; Page: [[772]] to provide either, so long as he had only a usufructuary property in them, which was to cease the instant that he Edition: 1983; Page: [34] quitted possession, if, as soon as he walked out of his tent or pulled off his garment, the next stranger who came by would have a right to inhabit the one and wear the other.”

If his wise head would have suffered him to reason and not sophisticate, Dr. Blackstone would have found that there never was nor could be a usufructuary property in a garment or a house; the property in this case was from its nature always absolute. For a house or a garment in statu quo is no production of the earth and was certainly never considered as a part of the general stock of society. The materials of which the house or the garment was formed might have been common stock, but when by manual labor or dexterity the materials became converted into a house or a garment, it became the exclusive property of the maker. And this is not merely a scholastic or speculative distinction, but a distinction founded in nature and well known to the American Indians.

“The Indians,” says Carver, “are strangers to all distinction of property, except in the articles of domestic use, which everyone considers as his own.” And this miserable sophist, Dr. Blackstone, knew better: he knew that a house or a garment could not be usufructuary property, for he establishes the position, which will hereafter appear, that “bodily labor bestowed upon any subject which before lay in Edition: 1983; Page: [35] common to all men gives the fairest and most reasonable title to exclusive property therein.”

It is a little surprising, if anything from Dr. Blackstone can surprise us, that he will not suffer men to have been so well provided for, under the law of nature, as the brute creation. “For,” says he, “the brute creation, to whom everything else was in common, maintained a kind of permanent property in their dwellings, especially for the protection of their young; the birds of the air had nests and the beasts of the fields had caverns, the invasion of which they esteemed a very flagrant injustice and would sacrifice their lives to preserve.” The argument, therefore, of the necessity of more permanent dominion than was exercised under the law of nature, to secure a man’s right to his house or garment, is totally false, seeing that not a usufructuary but an absolute and exclusive property was vested in him by the laws of nature.

“And there can be no doubt,” continues the Doctor, “that movables of every kind became sooner appropriated than the permanent Edition: current; Page: [[773]] substantial soil, partly because they were susceptible of a long occupancy, which might be continued for months together, without any sensible interruption, and at length by usage ripen into an established right, but principally because few of them Edition: 1983; Page: [36] could be fit for use till improved and meliorated by the bodily labor of the occupant, which bodily labor bestowed upon any subject, which before lay in common to all men, is universally allowed to give the fairest and most reasonable title to an exclusive property therein.” But movables never were common stock, for by the very act by which they become movables, they become absolute and exclusive property. Thus fruit growing on a tree was not movable until collected, but when collected it became absolute and exclusive property. A tree standing was not movable, but when cut down it became exclusive property. Again, the animal creation could not be esteemed movables until they were caught; but when caught they became exclusive property.

“As the world by degrees grew more populous, it daily became more difficult to find out new spots to inhabit without encroaching upon former occupations; and by constantly occupying the same individual spot, the fruits of the earth were consumed and its spontaneous produce destroyed, without any provision for a future supply or succession. It therefore became necessary to pursue some regular method of providing a constant subsistence and this necessity produced, or at least promoted and encouraged, the art of agriculture.”

The Doctor had well nigh forgot his Edition: 1983; Page: [37] Bible. He should have recollected that the first man born was a tiller of the ground, and agriculture therefore nearly coeval with the creation. And although it may be objected that the art was lost in the deluge, yet we are certain that it was revived in the person of Noah, who, we are informed in the 9th Genesis, “began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard.”

The President Goguet, in his Origin of Laws, Arts, and Sciences, teaches much the same doctrine with Dr. Blackstone; it may therefore be necessary to attend to him also. “There was a time,” says M. Goguet, ”when mankind derived their whole subsistence from the fruits which the earth produced spontaneously, from their hunting, fishing, and their flocks. Such was the ancient manner of living till agriculture was introduced; in this manner several nations still live, as the Scythians, Tartars, Arabians, savages, etc.”

By savages, M. Goguet means the aborigines of America, and here he is clearly mistaken, for agriculture is known and practiced by Edition: current; Page: [[774]] every Indian tribe throughout the continent of America. Maize or Indian corn is a grain peculiar to this continent, and we have never heard of its growing wild; it must therefore have been cultivated by the aborigines of the continent. From the multitude of authorities which M. Goguet cites, when he treats of the saveages, one would Edition: 1983; Page: [38] conclude that he had better information concerning them than of the Tartars, Arabians, and Scythians, and that if he is mistaken in regard to the savages, he may also be mistaken concerning the others.

But as the authors of false theories generally contradict themselves, so M. Goguet tells us that “Homer, in Odyss. L. vi. 10, says that in those remote ages it was one of the first cares of those who formed new establishments to divide the lands among the members of the colony . . . And the Chinese say that Gin Hoand, one of their first kings, who reigned 2,000 years before the vulgar era, divided the whole of his lands into nine parts, one of which was destined for dwelling, and the other eight for agriculture—” Martini hist. de la Chine. “And by the history of Peru, we find that their first Incas took great pains in distributing their lands among their subjects—” Accost hist. des Ind.

But further, M. Goguet tells us that agriculture introduced landmarks, the practice of which, he says, is very ancient: “We find it very plainly alluded to in Gen. xlix. 14.”*Edition: 1983; Page: [39] Now if landmarks be the consequence of agriculture (and landmarks existed in the days of the patriarch Jacob), it follows that agriculture existed then also. But M. Goguet, had he believed or read his Bible, might have found texts enough to convince him that agriculture was known and practiced in the earliest ages. The example of Cain was surely pretty early, and although, as has before been observed, it might be said the art was lost in the deluge, yet we find frequent mention of it shortly after: Genesis xxx, 14—“And Reuben went in the days of wheat harvest and found mandrakes in the field,” etc.

It seems difficult to account for the opinions of European authors, in denying agriculture to the first race of men, especially when the Edition: current; Page: [[775]] Bible which they all pretend to believe is so directly opposed to them. But as the Americans are always quoted to support this doctrine, it would seem that this opinion was founded upon the stupid productions, entitled Histories of America: inferences drawn from those relations, which bear every mark of prejudice and absurdity, are to be believed in preference to holy writ. Some of the Americans, say those authors, live on acorns: hence Edition: 1983; Page: [40] acorns were the original diet of mankind, for [that] men in early ages knew nothing of agriculture is plain from the practice of those savages. Here is first a false statement of fact and then a conclusion in opposition to holy writ.

M. Goguet, it is very plain, has fell into this error, for he says, “Travelers inform us that even at this day in some parts of the world they meet with men who are strangers to all social intercourse, of a character so cruel and ferocious that they live in perpetual war, destroying and devouring each other. Those wretched people, void of all the principles of humanity, without laws, polity, or government, live in dens and caverns, and differ but very little from the brute creation; their food consists of some roots and fruits, with which the woods supply them; for want of skill and industry, they can seldom procure more solid nourishment. In a word, not having the most common and obvious notions, they have nothing of humanity but the external figure.”

Here he quotes his authorities: Voyage 5 le Blanc. Hist. nat. de Island. Hist. des Isles Marianes. Lettres edifiantes. N. Relat. de la France equinox. Hist. gen. des Voyages. Voyages de Frezier. Rec. des Voyages au Nordt. Many of them, no doubt, of equal authority with Robinson Crusoe. But, M. Goguet says, those savage people exactly answer the description given us by historians of the ancient state of mankind. Edition: 1983; Page: [41] Does M. Goguet believe that we are in possession of any history of the ancient primitive state of mankind except the Bible? But M. Goguet has established his opinion and will not flinch from it. He says, “But all the rest of mankind, except a few families of Noah’s descendants who settled in Persia, Syria, and Egypt, I repeat it again, led the life of savages and barbarians.”

We will give up to M. Goguet’s repetitions and his obstinacy, but we will think as we please; we know of no such orangutan as he has just described from ignorant voyages. So much for M. Goguet; let us hear what is said on the other side of the question: The editors of the Encyclopedia say, “Nor is there any solid reason for concluding that all nations were originally unskilled in agriculture.” See article Edition: current; Page: [[776]] [on] “Agriculture,” Encyclopedia. Modern discoveries also prove that agriculture is everywhere known. For of all the rude and uncivilized inhabitants of our vast continent, of all the numerous islands in the Pacific Ocean, of those under the equator, Edition: 1983; Page: [42] where reigns an Edition: current; Page: [[777]] eternal spring—where a luxuriant soil and a vertical sun produce fruits in abundance and seem most to preclude the necessity of agriculture—it is notwithstanding universally known and practiced.

Dr. Blackstone’s remarks on the origin of property are in many instances so similar to those of President Goguet Edition: 1983; Page: [43] that one would be apt to think that the Doctor did not come honestly by them but that he pilfered them from the Origin of Laws, Arts, and Sciences. “When husbandry was unknown,” says the President, “all lands were common. There were no boundaries nor landmarks, everyone sought his subsistence where he thought fit. By turns they abandoned and repossessed the same districts, as they were more or less exhausted. Edition: 1983; Page: [44] But after agriculture, this was not practicable. It was necessary then to distinguish possessions and to take necessary measures that every member of society might enjoy the fruits of his labors.”

The President here supposes that vices which receive their existence with bad government are natural to the heart of man. The Indians pursue agriculture, but their land is in common; and they enjoy the fruits of their labor, without any boundaries, enclosures, or divisions of land. Theft is unknown among them; this is an incontrovertible fact, which totally overturns and demolishes the crazy theories of President Goguet and Doctor Blackstone.

“The art of agriculture,” says the Doctor, “by regular connection and consequence, introduced the idea of more permanent property in the soil than had been hitherto received and adopted. It was clear that the earth could not produce her fruits in sufficient quantities without the assistance of tillage. But who would be at the pains of tilling it, if another might watch an opportunity to seize upon and enjoy the product of his industry, art, and labor. Had not, therefore, a separate property in lands, as well as movables, been vested in some individual, the world must have continued a forest and men have been mere Edition: 1983; Page: [45] animals of prey, which according to some philosophers is the genuine state of nature.” But we deny that by any connection or consequence the art of agriculture necessarily introduced more permanent property in the soil than was known in the days of Cain or than is now known by the American Indians. We deny that by the laws of nature any man could seize upon the product of the art, industry, or labor of another, and surely the Doctor forgets not only the Bible but his own words, for he has already established the position that bodily labor Edition: current; Page: [[778]] bestowed upon any subject which before lay in common gives the fairest and most reasonable title to exclusive property therein.

We deny that by any necessary consequence a community of lands would have detained the world a forest. A right to exclusive possession in lands, founded on the equitable and rational principle of labor, would at all times have been sufficient for all the purposes of men. What does the Doctor mean by mere animals of prey? The savage, as we are pleased to call him, takes his bow and repairs to some forest, to obtain subsistence by the death of some animal: the polished citizen takes his pence and repairs to some butcher; the brute creation are equally victims, and men equally animals of prey.

Civilized or savage, bowels entombed in bowels is still his delight; but the savage slays to satisfy his natural Edition: 1983; Page: [46] wants, the citizen often murders for purposes of riot and ostentation; and before he should upbraid the savage on this score, he should have profited by the precepts which the poet puts into the mouth of Pythagoras: “Parcite mortales, dapibus temerare nefandis corpora! sunt fruges, sunt deducentia ramos pondere poma suo tumidæque in vitibus uvæ, sunt herbæ dulces sunt quæ mitescere flamma mollirique queant,” etc. Precepts which were never conveyed to the savage, but which the citizen has been in possession of for ages past.

The doctor’s premises being therefore false, his conclusions of the necessity of a separate property Edition: 1983; Page: [47] in lands being vested in some individuals falls to the ground of course. But, continues the Doctor, “Whereas now (so graciously has Providence interwoven our duty and our happiness together) the result of this very necessity has been the ennobling of the human species, by giving it opportunity of improving its rational faculties, as well as of exerting its natural [faculties], necessity begat property and order to insure that property, recourse Edition: current; Page: [[779]] was had to civil society, which brought with it a train of inseparable concomitants, states, governments, laws, punishments, and the public exercise of religious duties.”

That is to say, God created man imperfect and ignoble, a mere animal of prey, but when, with the sword of violence and the pen of sophistry, a few had plundered or cheated the bulk of their rights, the few became ennobled and the many were reduced from mere animals of prey to beasts of burden. But why not mention a few more concomitants of civil society, such as poverty, vices innumerable, and diseases unknown in the state of nature. Look around your cities, ye who boast of having established the civilization and happiness of man, see at every corner of your streets some wretched object with tattered garments, squalid look, and hopeless eye, publishing your lies, in folio to the world. Hedged in the narrow strait, between your sanguinary laws and Edition: 1983; Page: [48] the pressing calls of hunger, he has no retreat, but like an abortive being, created to no manner of purpose, his only wish is death. For of what use can life be but to augment his sufferings by a comparison of his desperate lot with yours?

But to continue, “The only question remaining,” says the Doctor, “is how this property became actually vested, or what is it that gave a man an exclusive right to retain in a permanent manner that specific land which before belonged generally to everybody but particularly to nobody. And as we before observed that occupancy gave a right to the temporary use of the soil, so it is agreed upon all hands that occupancy gave also the original right to the permanent property in the substance of the earth itself, which excludes everyone else but the owner from the use of it.

“There is indeed some difference among the writers of natural law concerning the reason why occupancy should convey this right and invest one with this absolute property, Grotius and Pufendorf insisting that this right of occupancy is founded upon a tacit and implied assent of all mankind, that the first occupant should become the owner; and Barbeyrac, Titius, Mr. Locke, and others holding that there is no such implied assent, neither is it necessary that there should be, for that the Edition: 1983; Page: [49] very act of occupancy alone being a degree of bodily labor is from a principle of natural justice without any consent or compact sufficient of itself to gain a title . . . A dispute that favors too much of nice and scholastic refinement! However, both sides agree in this, that occupancy is the thing by which the title was in fact originally Edition: current; Page: [[780]] gained, every man seizing to his own continued use such spots of ground as he found most agreeable to his own convenience, provided he found them unoccupied by any man.”

But why this snarl at Barbeyrac, Titius, Mr. Locke, and others? It is plain that Dr. Blackstone had predetermined when he wrote his Commentaries to exclude the great body of mankind from any right to the boundaries of Providence—light, air, and water excepted—or else why would he turn up his nose at a distinction absolutely necessary to set bounds to the quantum and prevent a monopoly of all the lands among a few? The position has been before established “that bodily labor bestowed on any subject before common gives the best title to exclusive property.”

But the act of occupancy is a degree of bodily labor; that is, the occupancy extends as far as the labor, or, in other words, a man has a right to as much land as he cultivates and no more, which is Mr. Locke’s doctrine. This distinction is therefore absolutely necessary to determine the quantum Edition: 1983; Page: [50] of lands any individual could possess under the laws of nature. For shall we say a man can possess only the ground in immediate contact with his feet, or if he climbs to the top of a mountain, and exclaims, “Behold, I possess as far as I can see!,” shall there be any magic in the words or the expression which shall convey the right of all that land, in fee simple, to him and his heirs forever? No: as labor constitutes the right, so it sensibly defines the boundaries of possession.§

How then shall we detect the empty sophist who in order to establish his system of monopoly would fain persuade us that the Almighty did not know what he was about when he made man. That he made him an animal of prey and intended him for a polished citizen; that he gave his bounties in common to all and yet suffered a necessity to exist by which they could be enjoyed only by a few. Had Dr. Blackstone been disposed to give his readers a true account of the origin of landed property in Europe he might have said exclusive property in lands originated with government; but most of the governments that we have any knowledge of were founded by conquest: property therefore in its origin seems to have been Edition: 1983; Page: [51] arbitrary. He might then have expiated upon the difficulty and inconvenience of Edition: current; Page: [[781]] attempting any innovations upon the established rules of property. This would have sufficiently answered his purpose and saved him much sophistry and absurdity and not a little impiety: for it is surely blasphemy to say that there is a necessity of abrogating the divine law contained in the text of Genesis to make room for human laws which starve and degrade one half of mankind to pamper and intoxicate the rest.

“But after all,” continues the Doctor, “there are some few things which must still unavoidably remain in common: such (among others) are the elements of light, air, and water.” Thank you for nothing, Doctor. It is very generous, indeed, to allow us the common right to the elements of light, air, and water, or even the blood which flows in our veins. Blackstone’s Commentaries have been much celebrated, and this very chapter, so replete with malignant sophistry and absurdity, has been inserted in all the magazines, museums, registers, and other periodical publications in England and cried up as the most ingenious performance ever published. Dr. Priestley and Mr. Furneaux both attacked Mr. Blackstone on the subject of some invectives against the dissenters and a mal-exposition of the Edition: 1983; Page: [52] toleration act, but no champion was to be found to take the part of poor forlorn Human Nature, and the Doctor was suffered, unmolested, to quibble away all the rights of the great brotherhood of mankind.

Reduced to light, air, and water for an inheritance, one would have thought their situation could not be easily made worse, but it is not difficult to be mistaken. The bulk of mankind were not only cheated out of their right to the soil but were held ineligible to offices in the government because they were not freeholders. First cruelly to wrest from them the paternal inheritance of their universal Father, and then to make this outrageous act an excuse for denying them the rights of citizenship. This is the history of civil society in which our duty and happiness are so admirably interwoven together. We will, however, never believe that men originally entered into a compact by which they excluded themselves from all right to the bounties of Providence; and if they did, the contract could not be binding on their posterity, for although a man may give away his own right, he cannot give away the right of another.

“The only true and natural foundations of society,” says Dr. Blackstone, “are the wants and fears of individuals.” The word society here is a vague term, by which we are at liberty to understand any Edition: current; Page: [[782]] government which has existed from the creation of the world Edition: 1983; Page: [53] to the present day. But if the European governments were erected to supply the wants and lessen the fears of individuals, we may venture to assert that the first projectors of them were errant blockheads. The wants of man, instead of having been lessened, have been multiplied, and that in proportion to his boasted civilization; and the fear of poverty alone is more than sufficient to counterbalance all the fears to which he was subject in the rudest stage of natural liberty.

From this source arise almost all the disorders in the body politic. The fear of poverty has given a double spring to avarice, the deadliest passion in the human breast; it has erected a golden image to which all mankind, with reverence, bend the knee regardless of their idolatry. Merit is but an abortive useless gift to the possessor, unless accompanied with wealth; he might choose which tree whereon to hang himself, did not his virtuous mind tell him to “dig, beg, rot, and perish well content, so he but wrap himself in honest rags at his last gasp and die in peace.”

It is a melancholy reflection that in almost all ages and countries men have been cruelly butchered for crimes occasioned by the laws and which they never would have committed, had they not been deprived of their natural means of subsistence. But the governors of mankind seem Edition: 1983; Page: [54] never to have made any allowance for poverty, but like the stupid physician who prescribed bleeding for every disorder, they seem ever to have been distinguished by an insatiable thirst for human blood. The altars of a merciful God have been washed to their foundation from the veins of miserable men; and the double-edged sword of Justice, with all its formality and parade, seems calculated to cut off equally the innocent and guilty. Between religion and law, man has had literally no rest for the sole of his foot.

In the dark ages of Gothic barbarity ignorance was some excuse for the framing of absurd systems, but in the age in which Dr. Blackstone lived, he should have known better, he should have known that the unequal distribution of property was the parent of almost all the disorders of government; nay, he did know it, for he had read Beccaria, who treating upon the crime of robbery, says, “But this crime, alas!, is commonly the effect of misery and despair, the crime of that unhappy part of mankind to whom the right of exclusive property (a terrible and perhaps unnecessary right) has left but a bare subsistence.” There is no necessity for concealing this important truth, Edition: current; Page: [[783]] but much benefit may be expected from its promulgation—It offers a foundation whereon to erect a system, which like the sun in the universe, will transmit light, life, and harmony to all under its influence—I mean—a system of equal education.

CHAP. III Edition: 1983; Page: [55]

Consequences Drawn from the Preceding Chapters by Which It Is Proved that All Governments Are Bound To Secure to Their Subjects the Means of Acquiring Knowledge in Sciences and in Arts.

In the first part of this work, we have shown that the most obvious difference between the situation of the savage and the civilized man is the division of property. We have shown also that this difference is the origin of all the miseries and vices of the one and of all the innocence and happiness of the other. We have also demonstrated that the civilized man has been unjustly deprived of his right to the bounties of Providence and that he has been rendered, as much as human laws could do it, an abortive creation.

We will now inquire the best mode of alleviating his miseries, without disturbing the established rules of property. In the savage state, as there is no learning, so there is no need of it. Meum & tuum, which principally receives existence with civil society, is but little known in the rude stages of natural liberty; and where Edition: 1983; Page: [56] all property is unknown, or rather, where all property is in common, there is no necessity of learning to acquire or defend it. If in adverting from a state of nature to a state of civil society, men gave up their natural liberty and their common right to property, it is but just that they should be protected in their civil liberty and furnished with means of gaining exclusive property, in lieu of that natural liberty and common right of property which they had given up in exchange for the supposed advantages of civil society; otherwise the change is for the worse, and the general happiness is sacrificed for the benefit of a few.

In all contracts, say civilians, there should be a quid pro quo. If civil society therefore deprives a man of his natural means of subsistence, it should find him other means; otherwise civil society is not a contract, but a self-robbery, a robbery of the basest kind: “It represents a Edition: current; Page: [[784]] madman, who tears his body with his arms, and Saturn, who cruelly devours his own children.” Society should then furnish the people with means of subsistence, and those means should be an inherent quality in the nature of the government, universal, permanent, and uniform, because their natural means were so. The means I allude to are the means of acquiring knowledge, as it is by the knowledge of some art or science that man is to provide for subsistence in civil society. These Edition: 1983; Page: [57] means of acquiring knowledge, as I said before, should be an inherent quality in the nature of the government: that is, the education of children should be provided for in the constitution of every state.

By education I mean instruction in arts as well as sciences. Education, then, ought to be secured by government to every class of citizens, to every child in the state. The citizens should be instructed in sciences by public schools, and in arts by laws enacted for that purpose, by which parents and others, having authority over children, should be compelled to bind them out to certain trades or professions, that they may be enabled to support themselves with becoming independency when they shall arrive to years of maturity.

Education should not be left to the caprice or negligence of parents, to chance, or confined to the children of wealthy citizens; it is a shame, a scandal to civilized society, that part only of the citizens should be sent to colleges and universities to learn to cheat the rest of their liberties. Are ye aware, legislators, that in making knowledge necessary to the subsistence of your subjects, ye are in duty bound to secure to them the means of acquiring it? Else what is the bond of society but a rope of sand, incapable of supporting its own weight? A heterogenous jumble of contradiction and absurdity, from which the subject knows not how to extricate himself, Edition: 1983; Page: [58] but often falls a victim to his natural wants or to cruel and inexorable laws—starves or is hanged.

In the single reign of Henry VIII, we are informed by Harrison that seventy-two thousand thieves and rogues were hanged in England. How shall we account for this number of executions? Shall we suppose that the English nation at this period were a pack of thieves and that everyone of this number richly deserved his fate? Or shall we say that the lives of so many citizens were sacrificed to a wretched and barbarous policy? The latter seems to be the fact.

The lands in England, at this time, were held under the feudal Edition: current; Page: [[785]] system, in large tracts, by lords; the people were called vassals; but the conditions of their servitude were so hard, their yoke so grievous to be borne, that numbers left the service of their lords. But where could they fly or how were they to provide for subsistence? The cultivation of the soil was denied them, except upon terms too vile and degrading to be accepted, and arts and commerce, which at this day maintain the bulk of the people, were then in their infancy and probably employed but a small proportion of the people.

We despise thieves, not caring to reflect that human nature is always the same: that when it is a man’s interest to be a thief he becomes one, but when it is his interest to support a good character he becomes an honest man; Edition: 1983; Page: [59] that even thieves are honest among each other, because it is their interest to be so. We seldom hear of a man in independent circumstances being indicted for petit felony: the man would be an idiot indeed who would stake a fair character for a few shillings which he did not need, but the greatest part of those indicted for petit felonies are men who have no characters to lose, that is—no substance, which the world always takes for good character.

If a man has no fortune and through poverty or neglect of his parents he has had no education and learned no trade, in such a forlorn situation, which demands our charity and our tears, the equitable and humane laws of England spurn him from their protection, under the harsh term of a vagrant or a vagabond, and he is cruelly ordered to be whipped out of the county.

From newspapers we often gather important and curious information. In the Baltimore Advertiser of the 16 Nov. 1790 is the following extract from an English newspaper: “The French exult in having been the first nation who made their King confess himself a citizen. With all due deference to the French, we manage those things as well in England. In the last reign there was a good deal of dispute between the parish of Edition: 1983; Page: [60] St. Martin and the Board of Green Cloth about the payment of poor rates for the houses in Scotland Yard. The Board would not pay, because they belonged to the King! ‘And if they do belong to the King, is not the King a parishioner?,’ was the reply; ‘but if the thing is at all doubtful, we will put it beyond dispute;’ and they accordingly elected his majesty to the office of church warden. The King served the office by deputy and was thankful they had not made him a constable. They might have made him an overseer of the poor, which every King is, or ought to be, in right of his office, but in that Edition: current; Page: [[786]] case, by the old constitution of St. Martin, he might have had the flogging of vagrants to perform with his own hands, for there is in the books of the parish a curious item of expense: ‘To furnishing the Overseer of the poore with one cloke, maske and cappe; to whippe the beggars out of the parish.’ ”

So much for English parish law, a remnant of which, says a writer in the Delaware Gazette, has more than once been put in execution in this state. Strangers suspected of being poor have been imprisoned because they could produce no pass from the place they last left. Unfortunate civilized man! Too much reason had Raynal to say, “Everywhere you meet with masters and always with oppression.” How often, says this venerable philosopher, have we heard the poor man expostulating Edition: 1983; Page: [61] with heaven and asking what he had done, that he should deserve to be born in an indigent and dependent station.

How can those English vagrant acts be reconciled to that law which pretends to protect every man in his just rights? Or have poor men no rights? How will they square with the doctrines of the Christian religion which preach poverty, charity, meekness, and disinterestedness, after the example of their humble founder. “Let us dwell no longer,” says a French writer, “upon those miseries, the detail of which will only grieve and tire you; believe that the ornaments of your churches would better cover the nakedness of Jesus Christ in the sacred and miserable persons of your poor: yes, you would have more merit to cover his terrestrial members than to entertain a pomp foreign to his laws and the charity of his heart. The Church, the spouse of a God, poor and humble, hath always had a terrible fear of poverty: she has preserved wisely, and in good time, resources against this terrifying sin. The immense wealth she has amassed by preaching poverty hath put her at her ease, until the consummation of ages.”

Is it any wonder that poverty should be such a formidable terror to civilized nations, when it never meets with quarter, Edition: 1983; Page: [62] but always with persecution, when both religion and law declare it to be the object of their most implacable hatred and disgust. English vagrant acts, although they are a manifest abuse of civilization, have been hitherto impregnable to the attacks of sound reason and elegant satire. Many English authors have honestly reprobated them; Mr. Fielding in several of his novels has highly ridiculed them; and Doctor Goldsmith Edition: current; Page: [[787]] has exposed them in a vein of inimitable satire, in his history of a poor soldier. Pity such philosophers were not magistrates!

“In vain,” says Raynal, “does custom, prejudice, ignorance, and hard labor stupify the lower class of mankind, so as to render them insensible of their degradation; neither religion nor morality can hinder them from seeing, and feeling, the injustice of the arrangements of policy in the distribution of good and evil.”

But how comes this injustice in the arrangements of policy? Is it not evident that it is all the work of men’s hands? Thus it is that the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children unto the third and fourth generation. A tyrant, a madman, or a fool forms a society; to aggrandize his own family and his dependants, he creates absurd and unnatural distinctions; to make one part of the people fools, he makes the other part slaves. His posterity Edition: 1983; Page: [63] in a few generations mix with the mass of the people, and they then suffer for the despotism, the folly, or the ignorance of their ancestor. The distinctions, however, which are the root of their misery, still exist, although their author is extinct; thus it is that the folly of man outlives himself and persecutes his posterity.

“To live and to propagate,” says the before-mentioned author, “being the destination of every living species, it should seem that society, if it be one of the first principles of man, should concur in assisting this double end of nature.” We should be cautious how we unite the words society and government, they being essentially different. Society promotes but bad governments check population. In bad governments, only, is celibacy known, and it is of little consequence what class of subjects practice it, whether the clergy, as in France, or the servants, as in England—it is always baneful. It estranges the affections of the human heart from its proper object and gives the passions an unnatural direction. Poverty, the great scourge of civilized nations, is the immediate cause of celibacy in the lower class of people.

Celibacy in the higher ranks proceed from the same cause, though not so immediately. The Edition: 1983; Page: [64] fear of poverty has made the love of gain the ruling passion: hence parents to secure an estate to their children marry them in their infancy: hence money is always title good enough to procure a husband or wife: hence those preposterous matches which unite beauty and deformity, youth and old age, mildness and ferocity, virtue and vice. In Europe the inclination of a girl is seldom consulted in regard to a husband: hence the infidelity Edition: current; Page: [[788]] to the marriage bed so common in those countries and the matrimonial strife so frequent, which deter many from entering into that state who have both ability and inclination.

It has been observed that the attraction of the sexes is in many circumstances similar to gravity, the spring of motion in the universe, that it always acts in the same degree in the same climate. If the design of Providence in the creation of man was that he should multiply and replenish the earth, why endeavour to destroy this natural propensity? Why encourage celibacy repugnant to nature and death to society? Men do not, in fact, practice celibacy through inclination but necessity: in short, nothing is wanting to induce men to marry, but [what is wanting is what is required] to enable every man to maintain a wife, and should the care of government extend to the proper education of the subject, every man would be enabled to do it.

Edition: 1983; Page: [65] We have already demonstrated that government should furnish the subject with some substitute in lieu of his natural means of subsistence, which he gave up to government when he submitted to exclusive property in lands. An education is also necessary in order that the subject may know the obligations he is under to government.

The following observations of a celebrated English historian are very applicable: “Every law,” says Mrs. Macaulay in her History of England, “relating to public or private property and in particular penal statutes ought to be rendered so clear and plain and promulgated in such a manner to the public as to give a full information of its nature and extent to every citizen. Ignorance of laws, if not wilful, is a just excuse for their transgression, and if the care of government does not extend to the proper education of the subject and to their proper information on the nature of moral turpitude and legal crimes and to the encouragement of virtue, with what face of justice can they punish delinquency? But if, on the contrary, the citizens, by the oppression of heavy taxes, are rendered incapable, by the utmost exertion of honest industry, of bringing up or providing for a numerous family, if every encouragement is given to licentiousness for Edition: 1983; Page: [66] the purpose of amusing and debasing the minds of the people or for raising a revenue on the vices of the subject, is punishment in this case better than legal murder? Or, to use a strong yet adequate expression, is it better than infernal tyranny?”

Time was when the laws were written in a language which the Edition: current; Page: [[789]] people did not understand, and it seemed the policy of government that the people should not understand them, contrary to every principle of sound policy in legislation. If the system of English law was simplified and reduced to the standard of the common sense of the people, or were the understanding of the people cultivated so as to comprehend the system, many absurdities which exist at this day would have been rejected.

We are told by Sir William Blackstone that it is a settled rule at common law that no counsel shall be allowed a prisoner upon his trial upon the general issue in any capital crime unless some point of law shall arise proper to be debated. This is without doubt a barbarous law, and it is a little surprising that while every other art and science is daily improving, such inconsistencies should have been suffered to continue to this time of day in a science on which our lives depend. Men are every day liable to suffer in their property by their ignorance Edition: 1983; Page: [67] of the forms of legal writings adopted by lawyers. But although a man should be under the necessity of suffering in his property by not knowing which form of writing would best secure his debts or preserve his estate, yet certainly he might be allowed to know some little of the statute law in which his life is concerned. Those governments, therefore, which think the instruction of youth worthy [of] their attention, would do well to cause an abridgement of their statute law to be read in their schools at stated times, as often as convenient.

Mankind, ever inclined to the marvelous, run astray in search of a phantom, an ignis fatuus, while they neglect those simple and palpable truths which could only conduct them to that happiness they are so eagerly in search of. How many volumes have been wrote upon predestination, free will, liberty, and necessity, topics which are not properly the objects of the human understanding and of which after we have wrote a thousand volumes we are not a whit wiser than when we began, while the economy of society is but little understood and the first and simplest principles of legislation entirely neglected.

Nothing is more obvious than that every person in a civilized society should contribute towards the support of government. How stupid, then, is the Edition: 1983; Page: [68] economy of that society conducted, which keeps one half of the citizens in a state of abject poverty, saddling the other half with the whole weight of government and the maintenance of all the poor beside? Every citizen ought to contribute to the support Edition: current; Page: [[790]] of government, but all obligations should bind within the limits of possibility; a man, at least, should be able to pay a tax before he is compelled to do it as a duty. But the pauper who cannot procure even the vilest food to spin out a miserable existence may indeed burden but can never support the government.

The English, whose absurdities we are at all times proud to imitate, in this respect seem justly to have deserved the keen satire of Dr. Swift, who says the sage professors of Laputa were employed in extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers, calcining ice into gunpowder, and making fire malleable. The policy of the English government appears to have been to make the mass of people poor and then to persecute them for their poverty, as their vagrant acts abundantly testify; those acts, as has been said before, are a manifest abuse of civilization—they are impolitic, barbarous, inhuman, and unjust, and would disgrace even a society of satyrs.

In an essay on trade, written in the reign of George II, are the following paragraphs:

Edition: 1983; Page: [69] “The Spectator calculates 7 parts in 8 of the people to be without property and get their bread by daily labor. If so, will trade pretend to employ all hands equally and constantly? If not, it will be worth considering how they live in the present situation of things. Mr. Gee, a very intelligent author, computes three millions unemployed in the three kingdoms: the truth of which appears by divers particulars. Prisons, workhouses, transports, and beggars are so many instances to confirm the truth of this observation. Some preposterously complain that in any labor or business that requires expedition a sufficiency of hands is wanting.

“But what numbers are there continually traveling from one country to another, from nation to nation, who would work day and night for a little more pay—which argues that the choice is to live by honest means, and if they are hurried into others less justifiable, it is for want of employment. And as such men must eat and drink whether they work or no, they are put to many shifts for a subsistence; no wonder, then, if the empty stomach fills the head with dangerous projects. It is unnatural to think that many of those poor wretches who are doomed to death or exile would have run the hazard of their lives, or liberty, in such trifles as it is frequently forfeited for (the 10d. or 12d. convicts) were they not compelled to it by griping necessity; Edition: 1983; Page: [70] for it is well known that many of those who are sent Edition: current; Page: [[791]] abroad alter their sentiments with their circumstances, and this is a principle argument to recommend the christianity of transportation.

“Rapin, in his history of Edward VI, thus speaks of the people’s complaints—for they were so early that they were not able to gain their livelihoods—1st, because business was fallen into more hands, meaning the vagabond monks; 2d., by inclosures; 3d., by breeding sheep, which took fewer hands and lessened the wages. Dean Swift gives much the same reasons for the miserable poverty of Ireland.

“Philips, Esq., argues thus—If, says he, there were full employment, labor would rise to its just value, as everything else does when the demand is equal to the quantity; and therefore [he] denies that there is work enough, or that property is reasonably and sufficiently diffused, till necessaries are rendered so plentiful and thereby so cheap that the wages of the laboring man will purchase a comfortable support.

“Vanderlint’s late pamphlet adjusts every article of expense and at the lowest computation supposes a laborer cannot support himself, a wife, and four children at less than £. 50 a year. Now if he works daily as a laborer, the top wages he can get exceeds not 18d. a day. Masons, carpenters, etc. have half a crown, but both fall Edition: 1983; Page: [71] short of the sum, though in full employ, so that beggary and thievery from this account seem their inevitable destiny; and while one part of the world condemns and punishes the delinquents, the other ought to rejoice, for the greater the numbers that go into idle and unwarrantable ways of living, the better and securer state it makes for those behind.

“Dr. Garth has ingeniously described the use of such contingencies in higher life:

  • For sickly seasons the physicians wait,
  • And politicians thrive in broils of state;
  • In sessions the poor lay all their stress,
  • And hope each month their crowds will be the less.

“Poverty makes mankind unnatural in their affections and behavior. The child secretly wishes the death of the parent, and the parent thinks his children an incumbrance and has sometimes robbed their bellies to fill his own. Many yield themselves up to the unnatural lusts of others for a trifling gratuity, and the most scandalous practices are often the effects of necessitous poverty. Is it not therefore of consequence to provide for the growing evil, and worthy a legislative inquiry how the poor people are brought up? Men also come to Edition: current; Page: [[792]] renounce their generative faculty or destroy that fruit whose misery they cannot Edition: 1983; Page: [72] prevent.

“The difficulty of getting money to purchase food is the same thing now which dearths were formerly, with this little difference, that as famine might vex them once in an age or two, this sticks close every year for the lifetime of laborers who are at low wages and at an uncertainty even in that, numbers of them being driven to great straits, sitting in the market place till the eleventh hour, and then called perhaps a servant to the plantations; some through a meekness of disposition starve quietly and in private; others associate in crimes and are hanged or in fear of that, hang themselves. It is in vain to argue against fact, no nation on earth, nor perhaps all the absolute kingdoms together, affording so many instances of suicides and executions as England, and plainly for a care in most of them about this mortal body how it shall subsist.”

But if such has been the situation of the poor, in the nation whose government has been so much boasted of, how have they fared in the rest of Europe? Take the following description of the galley slaves of Italy, from the Sieur Dupaty. “All sorts of wretches are fastened indiscriminately to the same chain; malefactors, smugglers, dealers, Turks taken by the corsairs, and volunteers, galley slaves. Voluntary galley slaves! Yes—These are poor men, whom government get Edition: 1983; Page: [73] hold of between hunger and death. It is in this narrow passage they wait and watch for them. Those wretched beings, dazzled with a little money, do not perceive the galleys and are enlisted. Poverty and guilt are bound in the same chain! The citizen who serves the republic suffers the same punishment with him who betrays it!

“The Genoese carry their barbarity still further; when the term of their enlisting is near expiring, they propose to lend a little money to those miserable creatures. Unhappy men are eager for enjoyment; the present moment alone exists for them; they accept—but at a week’s end nothing remains to them but slavery and regret, insomuch that at the expiration of that time they are compelled to enlist again, to discharge their debt, and sell eight years’ more of their existence. Thus do the greatest part of them consume, from enlistments to loans, and from loans to enlistments, their whole lives at the galleys in the last degree of wretchedness and infamy: there they expire . . . Let us add one more trait to this picture of the galleys. I saw the wretches selling from bench to bench, coveting, disputing, stealing even the Edition: current; Page: [[793]] fragments of aliment which the dogs of the street had refused—Genoa! thy palaces are not sufficiently lofty, spacious, numerous, nor brilliant, we still perceive thy galleys!”

Edition: 1983; Page: [74] We may apostrophize more generally. Civilization, thy benefits are not sufficiently solid, numerous, nor splendid; we everywhere perceive that degradation and distress which thy daughter poverty has entailed upon our race.

Finally, the security of all governments must in a great measure depend upon the people. Should a savage be introduced into a civilized society and denied all means of improving himself, could it be expected that he could form any accurate notions of the policy, economy, or obligations of that society? And yet among the great body of the people in polished Europe, among the laboring poor, how rare is it to find a man possessed of anything equal to the general knowledge of an ingenious savage?

The European artist is expert in the particular article of his trade or art. Thus a pin maker is dexterous at making pins, but in everything else he is as grossly stupid, his understanding is as benumbed and torpid, as it is possible for any intellectual faculty to be. The number of executions in England has been already observed to be occasioned more by the wretched policy of the government than by any innate depravity of the people, who, generally speaking, are ignorant to a proverb. They have, it is true, universities and Edition: 1983; Page: [75] colleges, with a few charity schools, but the former receive none but the sons of wealthy subjects and the latter are very circumscribed; few poor children have even the chance of balloting for admittance. Hence the body of the people are ignorant.

And in France, if one hundredth part of the money expended in the maintenance of legions [of] fat, lazy, lubberly ecclesiastics had been employed in instructing the people in public schools, the nation would be a nation of men instead of a rude and ignorant rabble, utterly incapable of profiting by the golden opportunity which now offers and which, were it not for the exertions of their leaders, would, instead of emancipating them, only serve more strongly to rivet their fetters. Humanity is wounded by the outrages of the mob in France, but what better can be expected from ignorance, the natural parent of all enormity?

The actions of mobs are always characteristic of the people who compose them, and we will find the most ignorant always guilty of Edition: current; Page: [[794]] the greatest outrages: hence the striking difference between American and European mobs. The mob that burnt the tea at Boston, and even that under Shays, was a regular and orderly body, when compared with that of Lord George Gordon or any of the late mobs in France. We know of Edition: 1983; Page: [76] no such outrages committed in America.

But as there will be sometimes disorders in the very best of governments, such as keep the mass of people in profound ignorance must abide by the consequences when the body politic is convulsed. Mr. Noah Webster is the only American author, indeed the only author of any nation, if we except perhaps Montesquieu, who has taken up the subject of education upon that liberal and equitable scale which it justly deserves. I had the present work in idea some time before Mr. Webster’s essays made their appearance and was not a little pleased to think he had anticipated my idea.

Although I am sensible that I have dealt pretty freely with quotations in this work already, yet I think it a debt due to Mr. Webster to introduce part of his sentiments on this subject—“A good system of education,” says this author, “should be the first article in the code of political regulations, for it is much easier to introduce and establish an effectual system for preserving morals than to correct by penal statutes the ill effects of a bad system. I am so fully persuaded of this that I shall almost adore that great man who shall change our practice and opinions and make it respectable for the first and best men to superintend the education of youth.

Edition: 1983; Page: [77] “It is observed by the great Montesquieu that ‘the laws of education ought to be relative to the principles of the government.’ In despotic governments the people should have little or no education, except what tends to inspire them with a servile fear. Information is fatal to despotism. In monarchies education should be partial and adapted to each class of citizens. But ‘in a republican government,’ says the same writer, ‘the whole power of education is required.’ Here every class of people should know and love the laws. This knowledge should be diffused by means of schools and newspapers, and an attachment to the laws may be formed by early impressions upon the mind.

“Two regulations are essential to the continuance of republican governments: 1. Such a distribution of lands and such principles of descent and alienation as shall give every citizen a power of acquiring what his industry merits. 2. Such a system of education as gives every Edition: current; Page: [[795]] citizen an opportunity of acquiring knowledge and fitting himself for places of trust. These are fundamental articles, the sine qua non of the existence of the American republics.”

“Hence the absurdity of our copying the manners and adopting the institutions of monarchies. In several states we find laws passed Edition: 1983; Page: [78] establishing provisions for colleges and academies where people of property may educate their sons, but no provision is made for instructing the poorer rank of people even in reading and writing. Yet in these same states every citizen who is worth a few shillings annually is entitled to vote for legislators. This appears to me a most glaring solecism in government. The constitutions are republican and the laws of education are monarchical. The former extend civil rights to every honest industrious man, the latter deprive a large proportion of the citizens of a most valuable privilege.

“In our American republics, where government is in the hands of the people, knowledge should be universally diffused by means of public schools. Of such consequence is it to society that the people who make laws should be well informed that I conceive no legislature can be justified in neglecting proper establishments for this purpose.

“Such a general system of education is neither impracticable nor difficult, and excepting the formation of a federal government that shall be efficient and permanent, it demands the first attention of American patriots. Until such a system shall be adopted and pursued, until the statesman and divine shall unite their efforts in forming the human mind, rather than in lopping its excrescences after it has been neglected, until legislators discover that the only Edition: 1983; Page: [79] way to make good citizens and subjects is to nourish them from infancy, and until parents shall be convinced that the worst of men are not the proper teachers to make the best, mankind cannot know to what degree of perfection society and government may be carried. America affords the fairest opportunities for making the experiment and opens the most encouraging prospect of success.”

Suffer me then, Americans, to arrest, to command your attention to this important subject. To make mankind better is a duty which every man owes to his posterity, to his country, and to his God; and remember, my friends, there is but one way to effect this important purpose—which is—by incorporating education with government.—This is the rock on which you must build your political salvation!

Edition: current; Page: [[796]]

CHAP. IV Edition: 1983; Page: [80]

The System of Education Should Be Equal. Equality of Men Considered. Raynal Mistaken in His Notions of Equality.

That the system of education should be equal is evident, since the rights given up in the state of nature and for which education is the substitute were equal. But as I know it will be objected by some that the natural inequality of the human intellect will obviate any attempt to diffuse knowledge equally, it seems necessary to make some inquiry concerning the natural equality of men.

That all men are by nature equal was once the fashionable phrase of the times, and men gloried in this equality and really believed it, or else they acted their parts to the life! Latterly, however, this notion is laughed out of countenance, and some very grave personages have not scrupled to assert that as we have copied the English in our form of federal government, we ought to imitate them in the establishment Edition: 1983; Page: [81] of a nobility also.

For my part, I do believe that if there was any necessity for two distinct hereditary orders of men in a society that men would have been created subordinate to such necessity and would at their birth be possessed of certain characteristic marks by which each class would be distinguished. However, as much has been said of late upon grades and gradations in the human species, I will endeavor to add my mite to the public stock.

In the dark ages of the world it was necessary that the people should believe their rulers to be a superior race of beings to themselves, in order that they should obey the absurd laws of their tryants without “scrutinizing too nicely into the reasons of making them.” As neither the governors nor governed understood any other principle of legislation than that of fear, it was necessary in order that the people should fear their rulers to believe them of a superior race to themselves.

Hence in the Jewish theocracy their rulers came in under a jure divino title, consecrated and anointed by the Deity himself. Hence the Mexican emperors were descended in a direct line from the sun, and in order to conduct the farce completely the descendants of the female line only inherited, in order that the blood line of the sun might never be lost. This was a master stroke of policy, perhaps never equalled in the eastern Edition: 1983; Page: [82] world, but it sufficiently shows that the Edition: current; Page: [[797]] emperors were apprehensive that if the people suspected an extinction of the blood line that they would conclude they were governed by men like themselves, which would be subversive of the principle of fear on which their government was erected.

But until the light of letters be again extinct, vain will be the attempt to erect a government on the single principle of fear or to introduce a nobility in America. If the Americans could be brought seriously to believe that by giving a few hereditary titles to some of their people, such people would immediately upon their being invested with such titles become metamorphosed into a superior race of beings, an attempt for a nobility might succeed.

But to return to our inquiry—If an elegant silver vase and some ore of the same metal were shown to a person ignorant of metals, it would not require much argument to convince him that the vase could never be produced from the ore. Such is the mode of reasoning upon the inequality of the human species. Effects purely artificial have been ascribed to nature, and the man of letters who from his cradle to his grave has trod the paths of art is compared with the untutored Indian and the wretched African in whom slavery has deadened all the springs of the soul.

Edition: 1983; Page: [83] And the result of this impartial and charitable investigation is that there is an evident gradation in the intellectual faculties of the human species. There are various grades in the human mind [—this] is the fashionable phrase of the times. Scarce a superficial blockhead is to be met with but stuns you with a string of trite commonplace observations upon gradation, and no doubt thinks himself in primo gradu or at the top of the ladder.

Nature is always various in different species, and except in cases of lusus naturæ, always uniform in the same species. In all animals, from the most trifling insect to the whale and elephant, there is an evident uniformity and equality through every species. Where this equality is not to be found in the human species it is to be attributed either to climate, habit, or education, or perhaps to all. It must be obvious to every intelligent person the effect which habit alone has upon men. Awkward boobies have been taken from the ploughtail into the Continental army in the late war and after a few campaigns have returned home, to the surprise and admiration of their acquaintances, elegant, ornamental, and dignified characters. Such astonishing metamorphoses Edition: current; Page: [[798]] have been produced by the army that to habit alone may be ascribed all the inequality to be found in the human species.

Edition: 1983; Page: [84] If then education alone (for in this sense, the army may be properly called a school) is capable of producing such astonishing effects, what may not be ascribed to it when united with climate? Indeed we have numberless commonplace observations which have been always read as true and which are entirely founded upon this idea of equality in the intellectual faculties of the human race. Take the following—The minds of children are like blank paper, upon which you may write any characters you please. But what tends most to establish this idea of natural equality [is that] we find it always uniform in the savage state.

Now if there was a natural inequality in the human mind, would it not be as conspicuous in the savage as in the civilized state? The contrary of which is evident to every observer acquainted with the American Indians. Among those people all the gifts of Providence are in common. We do not see, as in civilized nations, part of the citizens sent to colleges to learn to cheat the rest of their liberties who are condemned to be hewers of wood and drawers of water. The mode of acquiring information, which is common to one, is common to all; hence we find a striking equality in form, size, and intellectual faculties nowhere to be found in civilized nations.

It is only in civilized nations where extremes are to be found in the human species—it is here where wealthy and dignified mortals Edition: 1983; Page: [85] roll along the streets in all the parade and trappings of royalty, while the lower class are not half so well fed as the horses of the former. It is this cruel inequality which has given rise to the epithets of nobility, vulgar, mob, canaille, etc. and the degrading, but common observation—Man differs more from man, than man from beast—The difference is purely artificial. Thus do men create an artificial inequality among themselves and then cry out it is all natural.

If we would give ourselves time to consider, we would find an idea of natural intellectual equality everywhere predominant but more particularly in free countries. The trial by jury is a strong proof of this idea in that nation; otherwise would they have suffered the unlettered peasant to decide against lawyers and judges? Is it not here taken for granted that the generality of men, although they are ignorant of the phrases and technical terms of the law, have notwithstanding sufficient mother wit to distinguish between right and wrong, which Edition: current; Page: [[799]] is all the lawyer with his long string of cases and reports is able to do? From whence also arises our notion of common sense? Is it not from an idea that the bulk of mankind possess what is called common understanding?

This common understanding must be supposed equal, or why should we apply the term common which implies equality? But it will perhaps be Edition: 1983; Page: [86] objected that the minds of some men are capable of greater improvement than others, which daily experience testifies: to which I answer that there is perhaps as great a variety in the texture of the human mind as in the countenances of men. If this be admitted, the absurdity of judging of the genius of boys by the advances they make in any particular science will be evident. But a variety is by no means inconsistent with an equality in the human intellect. And although there are instances of men who by mere dint of unassisted genius have arose to excellence, while others have been so deficient in mental powers as not to be capable of improvement from the combined efforts of art, yet when we enumerate all the idiots and sublime geniuses in the world, they will be found too few in number when compared with the rest of mankind to invalidate the general rule that all men are by nature equal.

But why should a strict mathematical equality be thought necessary among men, when no such thing is to be found in nature? In the vegetable creation, the generality of plants arrive to perfection, some reach only half way, and some are blights, yet the vegetable creation is perfect. The soil is to plants what government is to man. Different soils will produce the same species of vegetables in different degrees of perfection, Edition: 1983; Page: [87] but there will be an equality in the perfection of vegetables produced by the same soil in the same degree of cultivation. Thus governments which afford equal rights to the subjects will produce men naturally equal; that is, there will be the same equality in such men as is to be found in all the productions of nature. As one soil, by manuring it in patches, will produce vegetables in different degrees of perfection, so governments, which afford different privileges to different classes of people will produce men as effectually unequal as if the original germ of stamina of production was essentially different.

The notion of a natural inequality among men has been so generally adopted that it has created numerous obstacles to the investigation of their rights and biased the most discerning of modern Edition: current; Page: [[800]] writers. The Abbé Raynal, whose philanthropy I revere and of whose works I am far from being a willing critic, seems to have adopted this erroneous opinion.

“It has been said,” says the Abbé, in his Revolution of America, “that we are all born equal; that is not so—that we had all the same rights; I am ignorant of what are rights, where there is an inequality of talents, of strength, and no security or sanction—that nature offered to us all the same dwelling, and the same resources; that is not so—that we were all endowed indiscriminately with the same means of defense; Edition: 1983; Page: [88] that is not so; and I know not in what sense it can be true that we all enjoy the same qualities of mind and body. There is amongst men an original inequality for which there is no remedy. It must last forever, and all that can be obtained by the best legislation is not to destroy it but to prevent the abuse of it.

“But in making distinctions among her children like a stepmother, in creating some children strong and others weak, has not nature herself formed the germ or principal of tyranny? I do not think it can be denied, especially if we look back to a time anterior to all legislation, a time in which man will be seen as passionate and as void of reason as a brute.”

But how is it that we are not all born equal? There may be a difference between the child of a nobleman and that of a peasant, but will there not also be an inequality between the produce of seeds collected from the same plant and sown in different soils? Yes, but the inequality is artificial, not natural. It has been already observed that there is a striking equality in form, size, and intellectual faculties among the American Indians nowhere to be found in what we call civilized nations. Men are equal where they enjoy equal rights. Even a mathematical equality in powers among men would not necessarily secure their Edition: 1983; Page: [89] rights.

It had escaped the Abbé’s reflection that nature, when she formed more men than two, formed the germ or principle of tyranny as effectually as when she created one man of double powers to another, for among three men of equal powers two could as effectually overpower the third as one man of six feet could overcome one of three. But although a mathematical equality among men neither exists nor is necessary, yet the generality of men educated under equal circumstances possess equal powers. This is the equality to be found in all the Edition: current; Page: [[801]] productions of nature, the equality and the only equality necessary to the happiness of man.

The inhabitants of the United States are more upon an equality in stature and powers of body and mind than the subjects of any government in Europe. And of the United States, the states of New England, whose governments by charter verged nearest to democracies, enjoy the most perfect equality. Those who live ashore are all legislators and politicians; and those who follow the sea are all captains and owners; yet their governments are orderly and their ships navigated with as much success as if they were commanded with all the etiquette and subordination of royal navies. But though the constitution of the New England states were democratical, yet their laws Edition: 1983; Page: [90] were chiefly borrowed from the British code, many of which were unequal, such as vagrant acts, acts which confer rights of residence and citizenship, and the like—hence the equality of the citizens of New England, though striking when compared with any of the European governments, is not strictly natural. But among the American Indians, where no vestige of European absurdity is found interwoven in their laws, where they are governed by the plain and equitable code of nature, here is perfect natural equality.

The Abbé Raynal seems to be mistaken in his opinion concerning the origin of government. Speaking of the miseries to which man is subject in his civilized state, he says, “In this point of view, man appears more miserable and more wicked than a beast. Different species of beasts subsist on different species, but societies of men have never ceased to attack each other. Even in the same society, there is no condition but devours and is devoured, whatever may have been or are the forms of government or artificial equality which have been opposed to the primitive and natural inequality.”

Men educated under bad governments, who see nothing but vice and infamy around them, who behold hardened wretches falling victims to the laws daily, are apt to conclude that man is naturally wicked—that in a state of Edition: 1983; Page: [91] nature, he is a stranger to morality, he is barbarous and savage, the weak always falling a prey to the strong—that government was instituted to protect the weak and to restrain the bold and to bring them more upon an equality.

But this is all a mistake—the man of America is a living proof Edition: current; Page: [[802]] to the contrary. He is innocent and spotless when compared with the inhabitants of civilized nations. He has not yet learned the art to cheat, although the traders have imposed upon him by every base and dirty fraud which civilized ingenuity could invent, selling him guns which are more likely to kill the person who fires them than the object at which they are presented; and hatchets without a particle of steel—incapable of bearing an edge or answering any use. I have seen whole invoices of goods, to a very considerable amount imported for the Indian trade, in which there was not an article which was not a palpable cheat.

Some excuse indeed seems necessaary to those who have brought men under the yoke of cruel and arbitrary governments, and nothing is more easy than to say, it is all their own faults; that is, the faults of the people. They had given themselves up to the full possession of their unruly passions, appetites, and desires, every man tyrannizing over his neighbor. Government, therefore, Edition: 1983; Page: [92] arose out of necessity. This they will assert with as much confidence and maintain with as much obstinacy as if, forsooth, they had been personally present at the first conventions of men in a state of nature—and although no vestige is to be found of the foundation of any of the governments now existing being laid in any such convention, and although the conduct of individuals in those societies which approach nearest to the state of nature are so very far from supporting this opinion that they rather teach us to believe that men excel in wickedness in proportion to their civilization.

Therefore, instead of supposing with Abbé Raynal a primitive inequality which was found necessary to be lessened by the artificial equality opposed to it in different forms of government, we will suppose a primitive equality, and this equality to be disturbed and broken by an external force, not by members of the same society opposed to each other, but the conquest of one society by another, when the conquering society became the governors and the conquered society the governed.

This is clearly the case in regard to the English government, which we know was founded by conquest, and which Mr. Blackstone, with much eloquence but more sophistry, would fain persuade us had a much more equitable origin. The English, indeed, seem in their theory of Edition: 1983; Page: [93] the gradation of the human species to have forgotten the state of their ancestors when conquered by the Romans—a rude Edition: current; Page: [[803]] and barbarous people, dwelling in caverns, feeding on roots, their only clothing the uncouth representation of the sun, moon, and stars, daubed in barbarous characters on their skins; yet the descendants of these wretched savages pretend that there is an evident gradation in the intellectual faculties of the human species. Since, therefore, men are naturally equal, it follows that the mode of education should be equal also.

It is generally observed that most of the American legislatures are composed of lawyers and merchants. What is the reason? Because the farmer has no opportunity of getting his son instructed without sending him to a college, the expense of which is more than the profits of his farm. An equal representation is absolutely necessary to the preservation of liberty. But there can never be an equal representation until there is an equal mode of education for all citizens. For although a rich farmer may, by the credit of his possessions, help himself into the legislature, yet if through a deficiency in his education he is unable to speak with propriety, he may see the dearest interest of his country basely bartered away and be unable to make any effort except his single vote against it. Education, therefore, to be generally useful should be brought home to every man’s door.

CHAP. V Edition: 1983; Page: [94]

Wretched State of the Country Schools throughout the United States, and the Absolute Necessity of a Reformation.

The country schools through most of the United States, whether we consider the buildings, the teachers, or the regulations, are in every respect completely despicable, wretched, and contemptible. The buildings are in general sorry hovels, neither windtight nor watertight, a few stools serving in the double capacity of bench and desk and the old leaves of copy books making a miserable substitute for glass windows.

The teachers are generally foreigners, shamefully deficient in every qualification necessary to convey instruction to youth and not seldom addicted to gross vices. Absolute in his own opinion and proud of introducing what he calls his European method, one calls the first letter of the alphabet aw. The school is modified upon this plan, and Edition: current; Page: [[804]] the children who are advanced are beat and cuffed to forget the former mode they have been taught, which irritates their minds and retards their progress. The quarter being finished, the children lie idle until another master offers, few remaining in one place more than a quarter. Edition: 1983; Page: [95] When the next schoolmaster is introduced, he calls the first letter a, as in mat—the school undergoes another reform and is equally vexed and retarded. At his removal, a third is introduced, who calls the first letter hay. All these blockheads are equally absolute in their own notions and will by no means suffer the children to pronounce the letter as they were first taught, but every three months the school goes through a reform—error succeeds error—and dunce the second reigns like dunce the first.

The general ignorance of schoolmasters has long been the subject of complaint in England as well as America. Dr. Goldsmith says, “It is hardly possible to conceive the ignorance of many of those who take upon them the important trust of education. Is a man unfit for any profession, he finds his last resource in commencing schoolmaster—Do any become bankrupts, they set up a boarding school and drive a trade this way when all others fail—nay, I have been told of butchers and barbers who have turned schoolmasters, and more surprising still, made fortunes in their new profession.” And I will venture to pronounce that however seaport towns, from local circumstances, may have good schools, the country schools will remain in their present state of despicable wretchedness unless incorporated with government.

  • Edition: 1983; Page: [96] Now, blame we most the nurslings or the nurse?
  • The children crook’d, and twisted, and deform’d
  • Through want of care, or her whose winking eye
  • And slumb’ring oscitancy mars the brood?
  • The nurse, no doubt. Regardless of her charge,
  • She needs herself correction. Needs to learn
  • That it is dang’rous sporting with the world,
  • With things so sacred as a nation’s trust,
  • The nurture of her youth, her dearest pledge.

If education is necessary for one man, my religion tells me it is equally necessary for another, and I know no reason why the country should not have as good schools as the seaport towns, unless indeed the policy of this country is always to be directed, as it has been, by Edition: current; Page: [[805]] merchants. I am no enemy to any class of men, but he that runs may read.

A blind adherence to British policy seems to have pervaded both the general and state governments, notwithstanding there is no analogy between the two countries; and this will be the case until we can raise men in the country who will think for themselves and be able to arrange and communicate their ideas. Towns have the advantages of libraries, the country of retirement—the youth of the former may become elegant imitators; those of the latter, bold originals; being out of the sphere of vice so attractive in cities, their productions will bear the stamp of virtuous energy.

Edition: 1983; Page: [97] When I say that the policy of this country, has been hitherto directed by merchants, etc., I mean that the inhabitants of seaport towns have a very considerable influence in all our public proceedings and that from education and local circumstances such inhabitants appear to me to have an improper bias in favor of commercial and mercantile habits and interests, habits and interests which do not appear to me to be congenial with the true interest of the United States.

The necessity of a reformation in the country schools is too obvious to be insisted on, and the first step to such reformation will be by turning private schools into public ones. The schools should be public, for several reasons—1st. Because, as has been before said, every citizen has an equal right to subsistence and ought to have an equal opportunity of acquiring knowledge. 2d. Because public schools are easiest maintained, as the burden falls upon all the citizens.

The man who is too squeamish or lazy to get married contributes to the support of public schools as well as the man who is burdened with a large family. But private schools are supported only by heads of families, and by those only while they are interested, for as soon as the children are grown up their support is withdrawn, which makes the employment so precarious that men of ability and merit will Edition: 1983; Page: [98] not submit to the trifling salaries allowed in most country schools and which, by their partial support, cannot afford a better.

Let public schools then be established in every county of the United States, at least as many as are necessary for the present population; and let those schools be supported by a general tax. Let the objects of those schools be to teach the rudiments of the English language, writing, bookkeeping, mathematics, natural history, mechanics, Edition: current; Page: [[806]] and husbandry—and let every scholar be admitted gratis and kept in a state of subordination without respect to persons.

The other branch of education, I mean, instruction in arts, ought also to be secured to every individual by laws enacted for that purpose, by which parents and others having authority over youth should be compelled to bind them out at certain ages and for a limited time to persons professing mechanical or other branches, and the treatment of apprentices during their apprenticeship should be regulated by laws expressly provided, without having recourse to the common or statute law of England. I mention this because, independent of the difference of circumstances between these United States and England, I think a more humane and liberal policy might be established than that now Edition: 1983; Page: [99] in usage in England and better adapted to the present circumstances of America; and indeed it is high time to check that blind adherence to transatlantic policy which has so generally prevailed.

It would be superfluous to insist on the necessity of trades—their use is obvious. I shall only remark that, considering the transitory nature of all human advantages, how soon a man may be dispossessed of a very considerable property—how many avenues there are to misfortunes; a good trade seems to be the only sheet anchor on which we may firmly rely for safety in the general storms of human adversity. How much then is it to be lamented that ever the tyranny of fashion or pride of birth gave an idea of disgrace to those virtuous and useful occupations.

To demonstrate the practicability of establishing public schools throughout the United States, let us suppose the states to be divided into districts according to the population, and let every district support one school by a tax on the acre on all lands within the district. Let us suppose for argument’s sake, six miles square, which will be 36 square miles—sufficient for a district for the mean population of the United States. The schoolhouse should be built of brick and in the center of the district; it would be then three miles from the schoolhouse door to the boundary Edition: 1983; Page: [100] of the district. The building might be two stories, with a large hall on the lower floor for the schoolroom; the rest of the house should be for the master’s family and might consist of two rooms on the lower floor and three or four in the second story, with perhaps an acre of ground adjoining.

We will suppose the ground to cost £10, the building £800, the master’s salary £150 per annum, and £50 for an assistant, with £50 Edition: current; Page: [[807]] for mathematical instruments; in all £1060, of which £800 is for building the schoolhouse; and as people enough will be willing to contract for building the house, to wait a year for half the money, we will suppose £400 to be paid the first year. Now in 36 square miles are 23,040 acres, which is little better than 4d. per acre; the next year’s payment will be £660, which will be about 7d.; then the succeeding years there will be the teacher’s salary, £150, the assistant £50, and £50 for contingent expenses, books, etc. will be £250. per annum, which will not amount to 3d. per acre.

Now when we consider that such a trifling tax, by being applied to this best of purposes, may be productive of consequences amazingly glorious, can any man make a serious objection against public schools? “It is unjust,” says one, “that I should pay for the schooling of other people’s children.” But, my good sir, it is more unjust that your posterity should go Edition: 1983; Page: [101] without any education at all. And public schools is the only method I know of to secure an education to your posterity forever. Besides, I will suppose you to be the father of four children—Now, sir, how can you educate these four children so cheap, even in your present paltry method? The common rate at present is 8s. 4d. per quarter, which is 33s. 4d. per year, which for 4 children is £6 13 4. Now if you hold 300 acres of land, you will pay towards the support of decent public schools, at 3d. per acre, 900d. or £3 15 per annum.

Perhaps no plan of private education can ever be so cheap as public. In the instances of public schools a considerable part of the master’s salary would be spent in the district. The farmer might supply him with provisions, and the receipts might be tendered as a part of his tax to the collector. Thus the farmer would scarcely feel the tax.

No modes of faith, systems of manners, or foreign or dead languages should be taught in those schools. As none of them are necessary to obtain a knowledge of the obligations of society, the government is not bound to instruct the citizens in any thing of the kind—No medals or premiums of any kind should be given under the Edition: 1983; Page: [102] mistaken notion of exciting emulation. Like titles of nobility, they are not productive of a single good effect but of many very bad ones: my objections are founded on reason and experience. In republican governments the praises of good men, and not medals, should be esteemed the proper reward of merit, but by substituting a bauble Edition: current; Page: [[808]] instead of such rational applause, do we not teach youth to make a false estimate of things and to value them for their glitter, parade, and finery? This single objection ought to banish medals from schools forever.

I once knew a schoolmaster who besides being an arithmetician was a man of observation: this person had a school of upwards of 90 scholars and at every quarterly examination a gold medal was given to the best writer and a silver one to the best cipherer. I requested him one day candidly to inform me of the effects produced by those medals; he ingenuously told me that they had produced but one good effect, which was [that] they had drawn a few more scholars to his school than he otherwise would have had, but that they had produced many bad effects.

When the first medal was offered, it produced rather a general contention than an emulation and diffused a spirit of envy, jealousy, and discord through the whole school; boys who were bosom friends before became fierce contentious rivals, and when the prize was Edition: 1983; Page: [103] adjudged became implacable enemies. Those who were advanced decried the weaker performances; each wished his opponent’s abilities less than his own, and they used all their little arts to misrepresent and abuse each other’s performances. And of the girls’ side, where perhaps a more modest and more amiable train never graced a school, harmony and love, which hitherto presided, were banished, and discord reigned triumphant—jealousy and envy, under the specious semblance of emulation, put to flight all the tender, modest, amiable virtues, and left none but malignant passions in their stead. But the second quarter, things changed their faces.

There must indeed be almost a mathematical equality in the human intellect, if in a school of nearly 100 scholars, one or two do not, by superior genius, take the lead of the rest. The children soon found that all of them could not obtain the medal, and the contention continued sometimes among three, but seldom with more than two. But although the contention was generally confined to two, yet the ill effects produced by the general contention of the first quarter still remained and discord as generally prevailed. But more, the medal never failed to ruin the one who gained it and who was never worth a farthing afterwards; having gained the object of his ambition, he conceived there Edition: 1983; Page: [104] was no need of further exertion or even of showing a decent respect either to his tutor or his schoolmates; and if Edition: current; Page: [[809]] the losing competitor happened to be a girl, she sometimes left the school in tears and could never be prevailed upon to enter it afterwards.

Those are the effects of medals as they operated on the school, but they extended their mischief still further. The flame of jealousy was kindled in the breasts of the mothers, who charged the master with partiality in the distribution of the medals, although they were adjudged by four of five indifferent persons of merit in the town, and although the tutor uniformly refused to give his opinion on the merit of any performance, and care was taken that the authors of none of the performances were known by the persons who adjudged the prize.

To conclude, to make men happy, the first step is to make them independent. For if they are dependent, they can neither manage their private concerns properly, retain their own dignity, or vote impartially for their country: they can be but tools at best. And to make them independent, to repeat Mr. Webster’s words, two regulations are essentially necessary. First, such a distribution of lands and principles of descent and Edition: 1983; Page: [105] alienation as shall give every citizen a power of acquiring what his industry merits. Secondly, such a system of education as gives every citizen an opportunity of acquiring knowledge and fitting himself for places of trust. It is said that men of property are the fittest persons to represent their country because they have least reason to betray it. If the observation is just, every man should have property, that none be left to betray their country.

“It has been observed that the inhabitants in mountains are strongly attached to their country, which probably arises from the division of lands, in which, generally speaking, all have an interest. In this, the Biscayners exceed all other states, looking with fondness on their hills as the most delightful scenes in the world and their people as the most respectable, descended from the aborigines of Spain. This prepossession excites them to the most extraordinary labor, and to execute things far beyond what could be expected in so small and rugged a country, where they have few branches of commerce. I cannot give a greater proof of their industry than those fine roads they have now made from Bilboa to Castile, as well as in Guypuscoa and Alaba. When one sees the passage over the tremendous mountains of Orduna, one cannot behold it without the utmost surprise and admirations.”

It is with infinite satisfaction that I have seen a similar sentiment Edition: current; Page: [[810]] adopted by the Court of Errors and Edition: 1983; Page: [106] Appeals, in the Delaware state, in the case of Benjamin Robinson and William Robinson appellants, against the lessee of John Adams, respondent. “Estates in fee tail,” say the court, “are not liable to division by will, or upon intestacy, as estates in fee simple are; & those distributions are very beneficial.* It is much to be wished that every citizen could possess a freehold, though some of them might happen to be small. Such a disposition of property cherishes domestic happiness, endears a country to its inhabitants, and promotes the general welfare. But what ever influence such reflections might have upon us, on other occasions they can have but little if any on the present for reasons that will hereafter appear.”

From the last sentence in the foregoing paragraph, and the note beneath, it would appear that this republican sentiment was introduced by the court, not from any immediate relation, reference, Edition: 1983; Page: [107] or application, which it had to the cause under consideration, but merely that it might be generally diffused.

And now, my fellow citizens, having thus, though in an indigested manner, shown you the great cause of all the evils attendant on an abuse of civilization, it remains with you to apply the remedy. Let it not be said, when we shall be no more, that the descendants of an Eastern nation, landed in this Western world, attacked the defenseless natives and “divorced them in anguish, from the bosom of their country,” only to establish narrow and unequitable policies, such as the governments of our forefathers were.

But let us, since so much evil has been done, endeavor that some good many come of it. Let us keep nature in view and form our policy rather by the fitness of things than by a blind adherence to contemptible precedents from arbitrary and corrupt governments. Let us begin by Edition: current; Page: [[811]] perfecting the system of education as the proper foundation whereon to erect a temple to liberty and to establish a wise, equitable, and durable policy, that our country may become indeed an asylum to the distressed of every clime—the abode of liberty, peace, virtue, and happiness—a land on which the Deity may deign to look down with approbation—and whose government may last till time shall be no more!

Edition: current; Page: [[812]]

[55]: Joel Barlow 1754-1812

A Letter to the National Convention of France on the Defects in the Constitution of 1791

Born in Redding, Connecticut, and educated at Yale, Barlow went on to a successful double career in letters and diplomacy. His literary efforts include one epic, The Columbiad, and a number of famous lighter pieces such as The Hasty Pudding. Barlow was also a perceptive theoretical analyst of politics. This piece, an analysis of the French Constitution from the view of American principles, won him an honorary citizenship awarded by the French General Assembly. He later served as United States consul to Algiers, where he negotiated the release of American prisoners, and negotiated treaties with Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. Sent to France to negotiate a commercial treaty with Napoleon, Barlow was caught in the confused retreat by French forces from Moscow and died of exposure. The present piece reflects the confidence the Americans had developed in their own institutions and the reasoning underlying them.



The time is at last arrived, when the people of France, by resorting to their own proper dignity, feel themselves at liberty to exercise their unembarrassed reason, in establishing an equal government. The Edition: current; Page: [[813]] present crisis in your affairs, marked by the assembling of a National Convention, bears nearly the same relation to the last four years of your history, as your whole revolution bears to the great accumulated mass of modern improvement. Compared therefore with all that is past, it is perhaps Edition: 1983; Page: [4] the most interesting portion of the most important period that Europe has hitherto seen.

Under this impression, and with the deepest sense of the magnitude of the subject which engages your attention, I take a liberty which no slight motives could warrant in a stranger, the liberty of offering a few observations on the business that lies before you. Could I suppose however that any apology were necessary for this intrusion, I should not rely upon the one here mentioned. But my intentions require no apology; I demand to be heard, as a right. Your cause is that of human nature at large; you are the representatives of mankind; and though I am not literally one of your constituents, yet I must be bound by your decrees. My happiness will be seriously affected by your deliberations; and in them I have an interest, which nothing can destroy. I not only consider all mankind as forming but one great family, and therefore bound by a natural sympathy to regard each other’s Edition: 1983; Page: [5] happiness as making part of their own; but I contemplate the French nation at this moment as standing on the place of the whole. You have stepped forward with a gigantic stride to an enterprize which involves the interests of every surrounding nation; and what you began as justice to yourselves, you are called upon to finish as a duty to the human race.

I believe no man cherishes a greater veneration, then I have uniformly done, for the National Assembly who framed that Constitution, which I now presume your constituents expect you to revise. Perhaps the merits of that body of men will never be properly appreciated. The greatest part of their exertions were necessarily spent on objects which cannot be described; and which from their nature can make no figure in history. The enormous weight of abuses they had to overturn, the quantity of prejudice with which their functions called them to contend, as well in their own minds as in those of all the European world, the open Edition: 1983; Page: [6] opposition of interests, the secret weapons of corruption, and the unbridled fury of despairing faction,—these are subjects which escape our common observation, when we contemplate the labours of that Assembly. But the legacy they have left to their country in their deliberative capacity will remain a lasting Edition: current; Page: [[814]] monument to their praise; and though while searching out the defective parts of their work, without losing sight of the difficulties under which it was formed, we may find more occasion to admire its wisdom, than to murmur at its faults; yet this consideration ought not to deter us from the attempt.

The great leading principle, on which their constitution was meant to be founded, is the equality of rights. This principle being laid down with such clearness, and asserted with so much dignity in the beginning of the code, it is strange that men of clear understandings should fail to be charmed with the beauty of the system which nature must have taught them to build Edition: 1983; Page: [7] on that foundation. It shows a disposition to counteract the analogy of nature, to see them at one moment, impressing this indelible principle on our minds, and with the next breath declaring, That France shall remain a monarchy,—that it shall have a king, hereditary, inviolable, clothed with all the executive, and much of the legislative power, commander in chief of all the national force by land and sea, having the initiative of war, and the power of concluding peace;—and above all, to hear them declare, that “The nation will provide for the splendour of the throne,” granting in their legislative capacity to that throne more than a million sterling a year, from the national purse, besides the rents of estates which are said to amount to half as much more.

We must be astonished at the paradoxical organization of the minds of men who could see no discordance in these ideas. They begin with the open simplicity of a rational republic, and immediately plunge into all the labyrinths of royalty; and a Edition: 1983; Page: [8] great part of the constitutional code is a practical attempt to reconcile these two discordant theories. It is a perpetual conflict between principle and precedent,—between the manly truths of nature, which we all must feel, and the learned subtilties of statesmen, about which we have been taught to reason.

In reviewing the history of human opinions, it is an unpleasant consideration to remark how slow the mind has always been in seizing the most interesting truths; although, when discovered, they appear to have been the most obvious. This remark is no where verified with more circumstances of regret, than in the progress of your ideas in France relative to the inutility of the kingly office. It was not enough that you took your first stand upon the high ground of natural right; where, enlightened by the sun of reason, you might have seen the Edition: current; Page: [[815]] clouds of prejudice roll far beneath your feet—it was not enough that you began by considering royalty, with its well-known scourges, as being the cause of Edition: 1983; Page: [9] all your evils,—that the kings of modern Europe are the authors of war and misery, that their mutual intercourse is a commerce of human slaughter,—that public debts and private oppressions, with all the degrading vices that tarnish the face of nature, had their origin in that species of government which offers a premium for wickedness, and teaches the few to trample on the many;—it was not enough that you saw the means of a regeneration of mankind in the system of equal rights, and that in a wealthy and powerful nation you possessed the advantage of reducing that system to immediate practice, as an example to the world and a consolation to human nature. All these arguments, with a variety of others which your republican orators placed in the strongest point of light, were insufficient to raise the public mind to a proper view of the subject.

It seems that some of your own philosophers had previously taught, that royalty was necessary to a great nation. Montesquieu, among his whimsical maxims about Edition: 1983; Page: [10] laws and government, had informed the world, that a limited monarchy was the best possible system, and that a democracy could never flourish, but in a small tract of country. How many of your legislators believed in this doctrine, how many acted from temporising motives, wishing to banish royalty by slow degrees, and how many were led, by principles less pardonable than either, it is impossible to determine. Certain it is, that republican ideas gained no ground upon the monarchical in your constituting assembly, during the last six months of their deliberations. It is likewise certain, that the majority of that assembly took much pains to prevent the people from discovering the cheat of royalty, and to continue their ancient veneration, at least for a while, in favour of certain principles in government which reason could not approve.

It is remarkable that all the perfidy of your king, at the time of his flight, should have had so little effect in opening the eyes of so enlightened a people as the French. Edition: 1983; Page: [11] His flight, and the insulting declaration which he left behind him, were sufficient not only to give the lie to the fiction, with which common sense has always been put to the blush, and to which your assembly had attempted to give a sanction, that kings can do no wrong, but they were sufficient to show, at least to all who would open their eyes, that the business of government required no such officer. There is no period during your Edition: current; Page: [[816]] revolution, if there is any to be found in the history of France, when business went on with more alacrity and good order, than during the suspension of the royal functions in the interval from the time that the king was brought back to the capital in June, until the completion of the constitution in September. Every thing went right in the kingdom, except within the walls of the assembly. A majority of that body was determined to make an experiment of a limited monarchy. The experiment has been made. Its duration has indeed been short, being less than eleven months; but, although in Edition: 1983; Page: [12] some respects it has been almost as fatal to the cause of liberty as any system could have been within the time, yet in other respects it has done more good than all the reasonings of all the philosophers of the age could have done in a much longer time: it has taught them a new doctrine, which no experience can shake, and which reason must confirm, that kings can do no good. So that, if the question were now to be agitated by the people of France, as it may be by you in their behalf, whether they will have a king or not, I should suppose the following would be the state of the calculation: A certain quantity of evils are to be expected from the regal office; and these evils are of two classes, certain and probable. The certain evils are, 1. The million and a half sterling a year drawn from the people to “support the splendour of the throne;” 2. A great variety of enormous salaries paid to ministers at home, to ambassadors abroad, and to bishops in the church; while the only business of these men and their salaries Edition: 1983; Page: [13] is, to support the fiction, that kings can do no wrong. It will always cost more to support this fiction, than it would to support the whole national government without it. 3. The worst of all the certain evils is, that the million and a half will be nearly all spent in bribery and corruption among the members of the legislature, to increase the power of the throne, and the means of oppression. If the money, after it is extorted from the people, could be thrown into the sea, instead of being paid to the king and his satellites, the evil would be trifling; in that case the wickedness would cease with the first act of injustice; while in this it multiplies the weapons of destruction against themselves. It creates a perpetual scrambling for power, rewards knavery in the higher ranks, encourages falsehood in others, and corrupts the morals of the whole. This it is that debases and vilifies the general mass of mankind, and brings upon them the insulting remarks of many men, who even wish them well, that the people are unfit for liberty.

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Edition: 1983; Page: [14] Among the probable evils resulting from the kingly office, the principal one, and indeed the only one that needs to be mentioned, is the chance of its being held by a weak or a wicked man. When the office is hereditary, it is scarcely to be expected but that this should always be the case. Considering the birth and education of princes, the chance of finding one with practical common sense is hardly to be reckoned among possible events; nor is the probability less strong against their having virtue. The temptations to wickedness arising from their situation are too powerful to be resisted. The persuasive art of all their flatterers, the companions of their youth, the ministers of their pleasures, and every person with whom they ever converse, are necessarily employed to induce them to increase their revenue, by oppressing the people, whom they are taught from their cradle to consider as beasts of burthen. And what must almost insure the triumph of wickedness in their tempers, is the idea that they act totally and for ever without restraint. This is an allurement Edition: 1983; Page: [15] to vice that even men of sense could scarcely resist. Impress it on the mind of any man that he can do no wrong, and he will soon convince you of your mistake.

Take this general summary of the evils arising from hereditary monarchy, under any restriction that can be proposed, and place it on one side of the account,—and state, on the other side, the truth which I believe no man of reflection will hereafter call in question, that kings can do no good, and the friends of liberty will no longer be in doubt which way you will decide the question relative to that part of your constitution.

I cannot feel easy in dismissing this part of my subject, without offering some remarks on that general vague idea which has long been floating about in the world, that a people under certain circumstances are unfit for liberty. You know in what insulting language this observation has been perpetually applied to the French during the course of the Edition: 1983; Page: [16] revolution. Some have said that, they were too ignorant to form a government of their own, others, that they were too poor, others that they were too numerous, and others, that they were too vitious. I will not descend to the examination of the particular parts of this charge, nor of the whole as applied to the French, or to any other particular people; I will only remark on the general observation, as aplicable to any possible nation existing in a state of nature. By a state of nature I mean a state of peace; where the intention Edition: current; Page: [[818]] is, as a nation, to live by industry at home, not by plunder from abroad.

I think Montesquieu has said, that virtue must be the foundation of a republican government. His book is not now by me, or I would try to discover what he means by virtue. If he means those moral habits by which men are disposed to mutual justice and benevolence, which is the common idea of virtue, it cannot be the foundation of a republican government, or of any government. These qualities require Edition: 1983; Page: [17] no restraints: the more general their influence should be among any people, the less force would be necessary in their government; and could we suppose a nation in which they should exist in a perfect degree, that nation would require no government at all. It is the vices, not the virtues of men which are the objects of restraint, and the foundation of government. The expression of the general will, operating on the mind of an individual, serves with him as a substitute for virtue. This general will may always be expressed by a nation in any possible circumstances; and, if the nation be in a state of nature, this expression will always be moral virtue, according to their ideas of the word; and it will always tend to moral virtue, in the most extensive sense in which we have yet been able to define it.

It has been said, that man differs from man, as much as man from beast; it is said also to be fit, that the wise and virtuous should make laws for the ignorant and vitious. It is not to my purpose: to call in Edition: 1983; Page: [18] question the first of these assertions: but the second, plausible as it is, I must totally deny; at least in the sense in which it is generally understood. That some men in the same society should be wiser and better than others, is very natural; and it is as natural, that the people should choose such to represent them in the formation of laws. But in this case the laws originate from the people at large, ignorant and vitious as they are; and the representatives are only the organs by which their will is declared. This is not the sense in which the assertion is intended. It is meant, that if kings were always wise and good, or if a band of nobles were always wise and good, it would be best that they should de [sic] the hereditary legislators. This is the sense in which I deny the assertion, because it is contrary to the analogy of nature. It being a subject on which we cannot look for experience, we must reason only from analogy; and it appears extremely evident to me, that, were a succession of the wisest and best men that ever have, or ever will be known, to be perpetuated in any country Edition: current; Page: [[819]] Edition: 1983; Page: [19] as independent legislators for the people, the happiness and good government of the nation would be greatly injured by it. I am confident that any people, whether virtuous or vitious, wise or ignorant, numerous or few, rich or poor, are the best judges of their own wants relative to the restraint of laws, and would always supply those wants better than they could be supplied by others.

In expressing these ideas on the peace and happiness to be expected from a free republic, I have been often accused of holding too favourable an opinion of human nature. But it appears to me, that the question, whether men, on any given portion of the earth, are able to make their own laws, does not depend in the least on their moral character. It has no relation to their state of improvement, or their state of morals. The only previous enquiry is, What is the object to be aimed at in the government? If it be the good of the whole community, the whole can best know the means of pursuing it; If it be to exalt a Edition: 1983; Page: [20] few men at the expense of all the rest, the decision, perhaps, may take a different turn.

A republic of beavers or of monkies, I believe, could not be benefited by receiving their laws from men, any more than men could be in being governed by them. If the Algerines or the Hindoos were to shake off the yoke of despotism, and adopt ideas of equal liberty, they would that moment be in a condition to frame a better government for themselves, than could be framed for them by the most learned statesman in the world. If the great Mr. Locke, with all his wisdom and goodness, were to attempt the task, he would probably succeed as ill as he did in his constitution for the colony of South Carolina.

Colonies have always been teazed and tormented more or less (and probably always will be as long as colonies shall exist) by the overweening wisdom of the mother-country, in making their laws and constitutions. This is often done without Edition: 1983; Page: [21] any wish to tyrannize, and sometimes with the best intentions to promote the good of the people. The misfortune more frequently lies in the legislator’s not knowing the wants and wishes of the people, than in any wanton desire to counteract them. The sure and only characteristic of a good law is, that it be the perfect expression of the will of the nation; its excellence is precisely in proportion to the universality and freedom of consent. And this definition remains the same, whatever be the character of the nation, or the object of the law. Every man, as an individual, has a will of his own, and a manner of expressing it. In forming these Edition: current; Page: [[820]] individuals into society, it is necessary to form their wills into a government; and in doing this, we have only to find the easiest and clearest mode of expressing their wills in a national manner. And no possible disadvantages relative to their state of morals or civilization can render this a difficult task.

I have gone into these arguments, not merely to prove that the French are fit for Edition: 1983; Page: [22] liberty, who are certainly at this moment the most enlightened nation in Europe; but to show that the calumny contained in the contrary assertion need not be repeated against any other nation, who should make the like exertions, and whose pretensions, in this respect, might appear more questionable in the eye of fashionable remark.

But it will be said, I am too late with all these observations on the necessity of proscribing royalty from your constitution. The cause is already judged in the minds of the whole people of France; and their wishes will surely be the rule of your conduct. I suppose that, without being reminded of your duty by a stranger, one of your first resolutions would be, to fix a national anathema on every vestige of regal power, and endeavour to wipe out from the human character the stain which it received, with its veneration for kings and hereditary claims. But it requires much reflection to be well aware to what extent this duty should carry you. There are many vices in your constitution, which, Edition: 1983; Page: [23] though not apparently connected with the king, had their origin in regal ideas. To purify the whole code from these vices, and to purge human nature from their effects, it will be necessary to resort to many principles which appear not to have struck the minds of the first assembly.

You will permit me to hint at some of the great outlines of what may be expected from you, under the peculiar advantages with which you meet to form a glorious republic. Although many of my ideas may be perfectly superfluous, being the same as will occur to every member of your body, yet it is possible that some of them may strike the mind in a new point of light, and lead to reflections which would not rise from any other quarter. Should this be the case in the smallest degree, it ought to be considered, both by you and me, as an ample reward for our pains, in writing and in reading this letter.

On considering the subject of government, when the mind is once set loose from Edition: 1983; Page: [24] the shackles of royalty, it finds itself in a new world. It rises to a more extensive view of every circumstance of Edition: current; Page: [[821]] the social state. Human nature assumes a new and more elevated shape, and displays many moral features, which, from having been always disguised, were not known to exist. In this case, it is a long time before we acquire a habit of tracing effects to their proper causes, and of applying the easy and simple remedy to those vices of our nature which society requires us to restrain. This, I apprehend, is the source of by far the greatest difficulties with which you have to contend. We are so much used, in government, to the most complicated systems, as being necessary to support those impositions, without which it has been supposed impossible for men to be governed, that it is an unusual task to conceive of the simplicity to which the business of government may be reduced, and to which it must be reduced, if we would have it answer the purpose of promoting happiness.

Edition: 1983; Page: [25] After proscribing royalty, with all its appendages, I suppose it will not be thought necessary in France to support any other errors and superstitions of a similar complexion; but that undisguised reason in all things will be preferred to the cloak of imposition. Should this be the case, you will conceive it no longer necessary to maintain a national church. This establishment is so manifestly an imposition upon the judgment of mankind, that the constituting assembly must have considered it in that light. It is one of those monarchical ideas, which pay us the wretched compliment of supposing that we are not capable of being governed by our own reason. To suppose that the people of France are to learn the mode of worshipping God from the decrees of the Council of Trent, is certainly as absurd as it would be to appeal to such a Council to learn how to breathe, or to open their eyes. Neither is it true, as is argued by the advocates of this part of your constitution, that the preference there given to one mode of worship Edition: 1983; Page: [26] by the payment of the Catholic priests, from the national purse, to the exclusion of others, was founded on the idea of the property supposed to have been possessed by that church, and which by the assembly was declared to be thenceforward the property of the nation.

The church, in this sense of the word, signifies nothing but a mode of worship; and to prove that a mode can be a proprietor of lands, requires a subtilty of logic that I shall not attempt to refute. The fact is, the church considered as an hierarchy, was always necessary to the support of royalty; and your assembly, with great consistency of design, wishing to preserve something of the old fabric, preserved something of this necessary prop, but as the fabric is now overturned, Edition: current; Page: [[822]] the prop may be safely taken away. I am confident that monarchy and hierarchy will be buried in the same grave; and that in France they will not survive the present year.

Edition: 1983; Page: [27] I know it is asserted and believed by some well-wishers to society, that religion would be lost among men, if they were to banish all legal establishments with regard to the manner of exercising it. I should not be so perfectly convinced as I am of the absurdity of this opinion, were it not easy to discover how it came to be introduced. It is an idea, as I believe, purely political; and it had its origin in the supposed necessity of governing men by fraud,—of erecting their credulity into an hierarchy, in order to sustain the despotism of the state. I hold religion to be a natural propensity of the mind, as respiration is of the lungs. If this be true, there can be no danger of its being lost: and I can see no more reason for making laws to regulate the impression of Deity upon the soul, than there would be, to regulate the action of light upon the eye, or of air upon the lungs. I should presume therefore, that, on stripping this subject of all the false covering which unequal governments have thrown upon it, you will make no national provision for the support of any class of men, Edition: 1983; Page: [28] under the mock pretence of maintaining the worship of God. But you will leave every part of the community to nominate and pay their own ministers in their own way. The mode of worship which they will thus maintain, will be the most conducive to good order, because it will be that in which the people will believe.

Much has been said, since the beginning of your revolution, on the difference between the business of framing constitutions, and that of ordinary legislation. Indeed I am afraid that either too much or too little has been inculcated on this subject; because it appears to me, that the doctrine now received is not that which the subject would naturally suggest. It teaches us to consider those laws that are called Constitutions, in a light so sacred, as to favour too much of the old leaven of veneration for precedent; and every degree of such veneration is so much taken from the chance of improvement. To suppose that our predecessors were wiser than ourselves is not an extraordinary thing, though Edition: 1983; Page: [29] the opinion may be ill-founded; but to suppose that they can have left us a better system of political regulations than we can make for ourselves, is to ascribe to them a degree of discernment to which our own bears no comparison; it supposes them to have Edition: current; Page: [[823]] known our condition by prophecy better than we can know it by experience.

There was not only a degree of arrogance in your first assembly, in supposing that they had framed a constitution, which for a number of years would require no amendment; but they betrayed a great degree of weakness in imagining that the ridiculous barriers with which they fenced it round would be sufficient to restrain the powerful weight of opinion, and prevent the people from exercising the irresistible right of innovation, whenever experience should discover the defects of the system. It is partly to these barriers, as well as to the inherent vices of the constitution, that we are to attribute the late insurrections in Paris. If we would trace the causes of Edition: 1983; Page: [30] popular commotions, we should always find them to have originated in a previous unjust restraint.

I would not however be understood to mean, that there should be no distinction between the constitutional code, and other occasional laws. There is room for a considerable difference, both as to the mode of expressing them, and as to the formalities proper to be observed in repealing or amending them. I will offer some remarks on a plan for amendments toward the close of my letter. With regard to the general complexion of the code, it ought to be as simply expressed and easy to be understood as possible; for it ought to serve not only as a guide to the legislative body, but as a political grammar to all the citizens. The greatest service to be expected from it is, that it should concentrate the maxims, and form the habits of thinking, for the whole community. For this purpose, it is not sufficient that it be purified from every vestige of monarchy, and hierarchy, with all the impositions and Edition: 1983; Page: [31] inequalities which have sprung insensibly from these ideas; but it should contemplate the whole circle of human propensities, and cut off the temptations and opportunities for degenerating into those evils which have so long afflicted mankind, and from which we are now but beginning to arise.

After laying down the great fundamental principle that all men are equal in their rights, it ought to be the invariable object of the social compact to insure the exercise of that equality, by rendering them as equal in all sorts of enjoyments, as can possibly be consistent with good order, industry, and the reward of merit. Every individual ought to be rendered as independent of every other individual as possible; and at the same time as dependent as possible on the whole community. Edition: current; Page: [[824]] On this undeniable maxim, I think the following positions ought to be founded and guaranteed in the constitutional code:

Edition: 1983; Page: [32] First, The only basis of representation in the government should be population; territory and property, though absurdly stated by your first assembly as making part of the basis of representation, have no interest in it. Property, in itself, conveys no right to the possessor, but the right of enjoying it. To say that it has the right of claiming for itself the protection of society, is absurd; because it is already protected, or it would not be property. It is the person, not the property, that exercises the will, and is capable of enjoying happiness; it is therefore the person, for whom government is instituted, and by whom its functions are performed. The reason why property has been considered as conveying additional rights to the possessor in matters of government, is the same as has blinded the understandings of men relative to the whole order of nature in society. It is one of those appendages of monarchy and oligarchy, which teaches that the object of government is to increase the splendour of the few, and the misfortunes of the Edition: 1983; Page: [33] many. And every step that such governments take has a tendency to counteract the equality of rights, by destroying the equality of enjoyments.

Second, If you take the population as the only basis of representation in the departments, the next step will be, to declare every independent man to be an active citizen. By an independent man, I mean every man whom the laws do not place under the control of another, by reason of nonage or domesticity. The laws of France, in my opinion, have always placed the period of majority by several years too late; that is, later than nature has placed it. This however, was of little consequence in a political view, as long as the government remained despotic; but now, when the rights of man are restored, and government is built on that foundation, it is of consequence to increase as far as possible the number of active citizens. And for this purpose I should suppose the period of majority ought to be placed at least as early as the age of twenty years. Edition: 1983; Page: [34] To make this change in France would be attended with many advantages. I[t] would increase the stock of knowledge, and of industry, by inspiring young men with early ideas of independence, and the necessity of providing for themselves by some useful employment: it would be a great inducement to early marriages; and, by that means, increase population, and encourage purity of morals.

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I am likewise fully convinced, that the assembly was wrong in supposing that a state of domesticity ought to deprive a man of the rights of a freeman. This is a relick of those ideas which the ancient government has inspired. Where a servant is absolutely dependent on the caprice of a master for his place, and consequently for his bread, there is indeed much force in the argument, that he can have no political will of his own; and will give his suffrage as directed by the master. But when every man shall be absolutely free to follow any profession, every kind of useful industry being equally encouraged and rewarded; Edition: 1983; Page: [35] and especially when every man shall be well instructed in his duties and his rights, which will certainly be the consequence of the system you have now begun,—such arguments will fall to the ground with the system which they support. The servant and his master, though not equal in property or in talents, may be perfectly so in freedom and in virtue. Wherever the servant is more dependent on the master, than the master on the servant, there is something wrong in the government. The same remarks I believe may be repeated, with little variation, in the case of insolvent debtors, another class of men disfranchised by the first assembly.

Third, The manner in which citizenship may be acquired or lost, is a subject which ought to be reconsidered by you; as your predecessors have left in it some room for improvement. Their regulation was indeed a liberal one, compared with what other governments have done; but not so, when compared with what the subject required. I am confident that when society Edition: 1983; Page: [36] shall be placed on the right footing, the citizens of any one state will consider those of any other state as their brothers and fellow citizens of the world; and in this case, when those who are called foreigners come to settle among them, a mere declaration of their intention of residence will be sufficient to entitle them to all the rights which the natives possess. I was anxious that the French should set the example in this species of liberality, as they have done in so many other good things, and I still believe, that on reviewing the subject, you will do it.

But according to your constitution there are many ways in which the rights of citizens may be lost, for one of which I can see no reason; it is naturalization in a foreign country. This is so manifestly illiberal and unjust, that I am almost sure it will be altered. It is an old feudal idea of allegiance; and goes upon the supposition that fidelity to one country is incompatible with our duty to another. When a citizen of Edition: current; Page: [[826]] one state is complimented with the Edition: 1983; Page: [37] freedom of another, it is generally an acknowledgment of his merit; but your constituting assembly considered it as an object of punishment. Many of your citizens have been naturalized in America; but the American governments certainly did not foresee that this act of theirs would disfranchise those gentlemen at home. You have lately conferred the rights of a French citizen on George Washington. If he should accept the honour you have thus done him, and the American constitution were in this respect the same as your own, he must immediately be turned out of office, and for ever disfranchised at home.

Fourth, You will doubtless consider the important subject of the frequency of popular elections, as claiming a farther deliberation. It is an article on which too much reflection cannot be bestowed. It influences the habits of the people and the spirit of the government in a variety of ways, that escape our common observation. I mentioned before, that one of the first objects of society is to render every Edition: 1983; Page: [38] individual perfectly dependent on the whole community. The more completely this object is attained, the more perfect will be the equality of enjoyments and the happiness of the state. But of all individuals, those who are selected to be the organs of the people, in making and in executing the laws, should feel this dependence in the strongest degree. The easiest and most natural method of effecting this purpose is, to oblige them to recur frequently to the authors of their official existence, to deposit their powers, mingle with their fellows, and wait the decision of the same sovereign will which created them at first, to know whether they are again to be trusted.

There are doubtless some limits to this frequency of election, beyond which it would be hurtful to pass; as every subject has a medium between two vitious extremes. But I know of no office, in any department of state, that need to be held for more than one year, without a new election. Most men, who give in to this Edition: 1983; Page: [39] idea with respect to the legislative, are accustomed to make an exception with regard to the executive, and particularly with regard to that part which is called the judiciary. I am aware of all the arguments that are usually brought in support of these exceptions; but they appear to me of little weight, in comparison to those in favour of universal annual elections. Power always was, and always must be, a dangerous thing. I mean, power collected from the great mass of society, and delegated to a few hands; for it is only in this sense that it can properly be Edition: current; Page: [[827]] called power. The physical forces of all the individuals of a great nation cannot be brought to act at once upon a single object; and the same may be said of their moral forces. It is necessary therefore that the exercise of these should always be performed by delegation; the moral in legislation, the physical in execution. This is the proper definition of national power; and in this sense it is necessarily dangerous; because, strictly speaking, it is not exercised by those whose property it is, and for whose Edition: 1983; Page: [40] good it is intended to operate. It is in the nature of this kind of trust to invert in some measure the order of things; it apparently sets the servant above the master, and disposes him to feel a kind of independence which ought never to be felt by any citizen, particularly one who is charged with a public function.

It has ever been the tendency of government to divide the society into two parties,—the governors and the governed. The mischiefs arising from this are almost infinite. It not only disposes each party to view the other with an eye of jealousy and distrust, which soon rise to acts of secret or open enmity, but it effectually corrupts the morals of both parties, and destroys the vital principles of society; it makes government the trade of the few, submission the drudgery of the many, and falsehood the common artifice of the whole. To prevent this, I would have no man placed in a position in which he can call himself governor, for a moment longer than while he performs the duties of his trust Edition: 1983; Page: [41] to the satisfaction of his fellow citizens, nor even then, but for a short period. He should feel at all times as though he were soon to change places with any one of his neighbours, whom he now sees submissive to his authority.

But to answer this purpose, the frequent return of elections is not of itself sufficient. I am fully of the opinion, that with regard to all discretionary officers, there ought to be an exclusion by rotation. Those functions that are purely ministerial, such as those of sheriffs, constables, clerks of courts, registers, &c. perhaps may form exceptions; but legislators, executive counsellors, judges and magistrates of every description, should not only feel their dependence on the people by an annual election, but should frequently mingle with them by an exclusion from office. The effect of this would be, not what is often asserted, that no one would understand government but the contrary, that every one would understand it. This would form a prodigious stimulus to the Edition: 1983; Page: [42] acquisition of knowledge among all descriptions of men, in all parts of the country. Every man of ordinary ability Edition: current; Page: [[828]] would be not only capable of watching over his own rights, but of exercising any of the functions by which the public safety is secured. For whatever there is in the art of government, whether legislative or executive, above the capacity of the ordinary class of what are called well informed men, is superfluous and destructive, and ought to be laid aside. The man who is called a politician, according to the practical sense of the word in modern Europe, exercises an office infinitely more destructive to society than that of a highwayman. The same may be said, in general, of the financier; whose art and mystery, on the funding system of the present century, consist in making calculations to enable governments to hire mankind to butcher each other, by drawing bills on posterity for the payment.

I would therefore suggest the propriety of your reviewing the article of biennial Edition: 1983; Page: [43] elections, as instituted by your first assembly, and of your making them annual; the same term, if not the same manner of election, ought to extend to all executive officers, whose functions are in any manner discretionary. I think it would likewise be essential, that no office of this description should be held by one man, more than two years in any term of four years. This would send into the departments, and into every part of the empire, at frequent periods, some thousands of men with practical knowledge of public business; it would at least be the means of doubling the number of such well-instructed men; and, by holding out the inducement to others, to qualify themselves to merit the confidence of their fellow citizens, it would multiply the number of men of theoretical knowledge, at least ten fold. All these men will be watchful guardians of the public safety. But these are not all the advantages of frequent elections. They habituate the people to the business of election, and enable them to carry it on with order and regularity, like their daily Edition: 1983; Page: [44] labour; they habituate the candidates to be gratified with the public confidence, or to be disappointed in the expectation of obtaining it; so that their success or disappointment ceases to make that deep impression on their minds, which it otherwise would do. It is thus that you would cut off an infinite source of that intrigue and corruption, which are foretold with so much horror by those who have not well-studied the effects of a well organized popular government. But another method, not less effectual, to prevent the arts of scrambling for power and places, will be hinted at in the following article.

Fifth, Among the fatal misconceptions of things which monarchy Edition: current; Page: [[829]] has entailed upon us, and which are extremely difficult to eradicate from the mind, must be reckoned that prevalent opinion, that all governments should gratify their agents with enormous salaries. This idea has usually been more particularly applied in favour of the executive officers of government and their dependants; and it had its origin in Edition: 1983; Page: [45] the antecedent principle, that government divides the people into two distinct classes, and that the same quantity of business, coming within the verge of one of these classes, must be paid for at a higher price than it would be, within that of the other; though it should be performed by the same man, and required the same exertion of talents. Your constitution is silent as to the quantity of salary that shall be paid to any particular officer; it only says, that “the nation will provide for the splendour of the throne” (which indeed is a declaration of war against the liberties of the people) but the authors of that constitution, in their legislative capacity, after providing for that splendour with a sum sufficient to purchase the majority of almost any corps of seven hundred legislators, went on to provide for the splendour of the ministers. They gave to one, if my memory does not deceive me, one hundred and fifty thousand livres, and one hundred thousand to each of the rest. This on an average is about three times more than ought to have been Edition: 1983; Page: [46] given, unless the object were to carry on the government by intriguing for places.

I mention this article, not on the score of œconomy. That consideration, however weighty it may appear, is one of the least that can strike the mind on the subject of public salaries. The evil of paying too much is pregnant with a thousand mischiefs. It is almost sufficient of itself to defeat all the advantages to be expected from the institution of an equal government. The general rule to be adopted in this case (which perhaps is all that can be said of it in the constitution) appears to me to be this, That so much, and no more, shall be given for the performance of any public function, as shall be sufficient to induce such men to undertake it whose abilities are equal to the task. If this rule were strictly observed, it is rational to conclude, that there would be no more contention or intrigue among candidates to obtain places in the government, than there is among manufacturers, to find a market Edition: 1983; Page: [47] for their goods. This conclusion becomes more probably just, when we consider that your intention is to cut off from the servants of the public all hopes of obtaining the public money by any indirect and fraudulent measures. When there shall be no more civil list, or livre Edition: current; Page: [[830]] rouge, no more ministerial patronage in church or state, no more sale of justice or purchase of oppression, or any kind of perquisite of office, but the candidate shall be assured, that all the money he shall receive, will be the simple sum promised by the legislature, that sum being no more than the work is honestly worth, he will accept or relinquish the most important trust, as he would an ordinary occupation.

This single circumstance of salaries, being wisely guarded on every side, would, in the course of its operation, almost change the moral face of government. It would silence all the clamours against the republican principle, and answer many of the fashionable calumnies against the character of the human heart.

Edition: 1983; Page: [48] There is another questionable opinion now extant, even in republican countries; which, as it has made some figure in France, and is connected with the subject of salaries, I will mention in this place. It is supposed to be necessary, for the energy of government, that its officers should assume a kind of external pomp and splendour, in order to dazzle the eye, and inspire the public mind with a veneration for their authority. As this pomp cannot be supported without some expence, the supposed necessity for assuming it is always offered as a reason for high salaries; and, allowing the first position to be true, the consequence is certainly reasonable and just. If we are to be governed only by deception, it is right that we should pay for this deception. But the whole argument is wrong; that is, if we allow monarchy and hierarchy to be wrong; it is a badge of that kind of government which is directly the reverse of republican principles, or the government of reason. I do not deny, that this official pomp has in a great measure the effect which is intended from Edition: 1983; Page: [49] it; it imposes on the unthinking part of mankind, and has a tendency to secure their obedience. This effect, however, is not so great as that of simplicity, and the native dignity of reason would be; but on the moral habits of society, its operation is more pernicious than at first view we are ready to imagine. So far as the people are caught by the imposition, it leads them to wrong ideas of themselves, of their officers, and of the real authority of laws. This is a fatal deviation from the true design of government; for its principal object certainly ought to be, to rectify our opinions, and improve our morals.

For my own part, when I see a man in private life assuming an external splendour, for the sake of gaining attention, I cannot but feel it an insult offered to my understanding; because it is saying to me, Edition: current; Page: [[831]] that I have not discernment enough to distinguish his merit, without this kind of ecce fignum. And when an officer of government exhibits himself in the foppery of a puppet, and is drawn by six or eight Edition: 1983; Page: [50] horses, where two would be really more convenient to himself, I am grieved at the insult offered to the nation, and at their stupidity in not perceiving it. For the language of the mummery is simply this, That the officer cannot rely upon his own personal dignity as a title to respect, nor the laws be trusted to their own justice, to insure their execution. It is a full acknowledgment on his part, that the government is bad, and that he is obliged to dazzle the eyes of the people, to prevent their discovering the cheat. When a set of judges on the bench take the pains to shroud their head and shoulders in a fleece of horse-hair, in order to resemble the bird of wisdom, it raises a strong suspicion, that they mean to palm upon us the emblem for the reality.

It is essential to the character of a free republic, that every thing should be reduced to the standard of reason; that men and laws should depend on their own intrinsic merit, and that no shadow of deception should ever be offered to the people; Edition: 1983; Page: [51] as it cannot fail to corrupt them; and pave the way to oppression. I make these remarks, not that they will form an article proper to enter into your constitution, but to remove every appearance of argument in favour of high salaries. And I think the constitution ought to contain a general declaration, that every public salary should be restricted to a sum not more than sufficient to reward the officer for his labour; which sum must, of course, be left to be fixed by the legislature.

Seventh, There appears to me to be an error of doctrine in France, with respect to the relation which ought to subsist between the representative, and his immediate constituents. It is said, that when a representative is once chosen, and sent to the Assembly, he is no longer to be considered as representing the people of the particular department which sent him, but of the nation at large; and therefore, during the term for which he is chosen, he is not accountable to the people who chose him, but is to be controuled, removed or Edition: 1983; Page: [52] suspended, only by the National Assembly. This appears to have been established, in order to get rid of a contrary doctrine, which was found to be inconvenient; which was, that a delegate should be bound at all times to follow the instructions of his constituents; as thereby all the advantages to be expected from discussion and deliberation would be lost. If the first of these be an error, as I believe it is, it may easily Edition: current; Page: [[832]] be avoided, without running into the last. When the delegate receives instructions, which prove to be contrary to the opinion which he afterwards forms, he ought to presume that his constituents, not having had the advantage of hearing the national discussion, are not well informed on the subject, and his duty is to vote according to his conscience. It is to be supposed that, for his own sake, he will explain to them his motives; but if for this, or any other circumstance, they should be dissatisfied with his conduct, they have an undoubted right at any time to recall him, and nominate another in his place. This will tend to maintain a proper relation between Edition: 1983; Page: [53] the representative and the people, and a due dependence of the former upon the latter. Besides, when a man has lost the confidence of his fellow-citizens of the department, he is no longer their representative; and when he ceases to be theirs, he cannot in any sense be the representative of the nation; since it is not pretended that he can derive any authority, but through his own constituents. This, however, cannot deprive the assembly of its right to expel or suspend a member for any refractory conduct, which may be deemed an offence against the state,

Eighth, The article of inviolability, as applied to the members of the assembly, or to any other officers of the state, is worthy of reconsideration. But before it be again decided in the affirmative, you ought to take a general view of that interesting subject of imprisonment for debt. It is a species of civil cruelty which all modern governments have borrowed from the Roman law, which considered a debtor as a criminal, and committed the care of his punishment Edition: 1983; Page: [54] into the hands of the creditor, lending the public prison as an instrument of private vengeance. It is a disgrace to the wisdom of a nation, and can never be allowed in a well regulated state. If no citizen could be arrested or deprived of his liberty, for debt, there would be no need of making an exception in favour of the officers of government; and thus you would remove a distinction which must always appear unjust.

Ninth, You will scarcely think that your duty is discharged, so as to satisfy your own minds on the establishment of a constitution, from which the friends of humanity will anticipate a total regeneration of society, until you shall have given a farther declaration on the subject of criminal law. All men of reflection are agreed, that punishments in modern times have lost all proportion to the crimes to which they are annexed, even on that scale of barbarous justice by which they were introduced. Few, however, have had the wisdom to Edition: current; Page: [[833]] discover, or the boldness to declare Edition: 1983; Page: [55] the true cause of the evil; and while we remain ignorant of the cause, it is no wonder that we fail in finding the remedy. In the glooms of meditation on the miseries of civilized life, I have been almost led to adopt this conclusion, That society itself is the cause of all crimes; and, as such, it has no right to punish them at all. But, without indulging the severity of this unqualified assertion, we may venture to say, that every punishment is a new crime; though it may not in all cases be so great as would follow from omitting to punish.

There is a manifest difference between punishment and correction; the latter, among rational beings, may always be performed by instruction; or at most by some gentle species of restraint. But punishment, on the part of the public, arises from no other source but a jealousy of power. It is a confession of the inability of society, to protect itself against an ignorant or refractory member. When there are factions in a state, contending for the supreme command, the pains inflicted by each party Edition: 1983; Page: [56] are summary; they often precede the crime; and the factions wreak their vengeance on each other, as a prevention of expected injuries. Something very similar to this is what perpetually takes place in every nation, in what is called a state of tranquillity and order. For government has usually been nothing more than a regulated faction. The party which governs, and the party which reluctantly submits to be governed, maintain a continual conflict; and out of that conflict proceed the crimes and the punishments, or, more properly speaking, the punishments and the crimes. When we see the power of the nation seizing an individual, dragging him to a tribunal, pronouncing him worthy of death, and then going through the solemn formalities of execution, it is natural to ask, what is the meaning of all this? It certainly means, that the nation is in a state of civil war; and even in that barbarous stage of war, when it is thought necessary to put all prisoners to death. In deciding the question, whether a particular criminal should be put to death, I never would ask what is the Edition: 1983; Page: [57] nature of his offence; it has nothing to do with the question; I would simply enquire, what is the condition of the society. If it be in a state of internal peace, I would say it was wicked and absurd to think of inflicting such punishment. To plead that there is a necessity for that desperate remedy, proves a want of energy on the government, or of wisdom in the nation.

When men are in a state of war, with the enemy’s bayonets Edition: current; Page: [[834]] pointed at their breasts, or when they are in the heat of a revolution, encompassed by treason, and tormented by corruption, there is an apology for human slaughter; but when you have established a wise and manly government, founded on the moral sense, and invigorated by the enlightened reason of the people, let it not be sullied by that timid vengeance, which belongs only to tyrants and usurpers. I could wish that your constitution might declare, not merely what it has already declared, that the penal code shall be reformed, but, that within a certain period after the return of peace, Edition: 1983; Page: [58] the punishment of death shall be abolished. It ought likewise to enjoin it on the legislative body to soften the rigour of punishments in general, until they shall amount to little more than a tender paternal correction. Whoever will look into the human heart, and examine the order of nature in society, must be convinced, that this is the most likely method of preventing the commission of crimes. But

Tenth, In order to be consistent with yourselves in removing those abuses which have laid the foundation of all offences against society, both in crimes and punishments, you ought to pay a farther attention to the necessity of public instruction. It is your duty, as a constituting assembly, to establish a system of government that shall improve the morals of mankind. In raising a people from slavery to freedom, you have called them to act on a new theatre; and it is a necessary part of your business, to teach them how to perform their parts. By discovering to a man his rights, you impose upon him a new Edition: 1983; Page: [59] system of duties. Every Frenchman, born to liberty, must now claim, among the first of his rights, the right of being instructed in the manner of preserving them. This the society has no authority to refuse; and to fail of enjoining it on the legislative body, as a part of its constant care, would be to counteract the principles of the revolution, and expose the whole system to be overturned.

From what the constitution has already declared on this head, and from the disposition of the two last assemblies, I have no doubt but considerable attention will be paid to it; but I wish in this place to recommend it to a more particular consideration, as a subject connected with criminal law. It is certain that no obedience can be rationally expected from any man to a law which he does not know. It is not only unjust, but absurd and even impossible, to enforce his obedience. It is therefore but half the business of legislators to make good laws; an indispensable part of their duty is to see that every Edition: current; Page: [[835]] person in Edition: 1983; Page: [60] the state shall perfectly understand them. The barbarous maxim of jurisprudence, That ignorance of the law is no excuse to the offender, is an insolent apology for tyranny, and ought never to disgrace the policy of a rational government. I think therefore it would do honor to your constitution, and serve as a stimulus to your legislature and to your magistrates, in the great duty of instruction, to declare, That knowledge is the foundation of obedience, and that laws shall have no authority but where they are understood.

Eleventh, Since I am treating of morals, the great object of all political institutions, I cannot avoid bestowing some remarks on the subject of public lotteries. It is a shocking disgrace to modern governments, that they are driven to this pitiful piece of knavery, to draw money from the people. But no circumstance of this kind is so extraordinary, as that this policy should be continued in France, since the revolution; and that a state lottery should still be reckoned among the permanent Edition: 1983; Page: [61] sources of revenue. It has its origin in deception; and depends for its support, on raising and disappointing the hopes of individuals, on perpetually agitating the mind with unreasonable desires of gain, on clouding the understanding with superstitious ideas of chance, destiny, and fate, on diverting the attention from regular industry, and promoting a universal spirit of gambling, which carries all sorts of vices into all classes of people. Whatever way we look into human affairs, we shall ever find, that the bad organization of society is the cause of more disorders than could possibly arise from the natural temper of the heart. And what shall we say of a government, that avowedly steps forward with the insolence of an open enemy, and creates a new vice, for the sake of loading it with a tax? What right has such a government to punish our follies? And who can look without disgust on the impious figure it makes, in holding the scourge in one hand, and the temptation in the other? You cannot hesitate to declare in your constitution, that all state lotteries shall be for ever abolished.

Edition: 1983; Page: [62] Twelfth, As yours is the first nation in the world, that has solemnly renounced the horrid business of conquest, you ought to proceed one step farther, and declare, that you will have no more to do with colonies. This is but a necessary consequence of your former renunciation. For colonies are an appendage of conquest; and to claim a right to the one would be claiming a perpetual, or reiterated right to the other. Supposing your colonies were to declare independence, and set up a government of their own (which your own principles and Edition: current; Page: [[836]] the first laws of nature declare they have a right to do) in that case, the same pretences which you now have to hold them under your controul, would certainly justify you in reconquering and subjecting them. But it would be a mere waste of argument, to prove that you have no right to retain a sovereignty over them; and if I could bring myself to pay so ill a compliment to your justice, as to suppose that you could wish to violate a right, for the sake of what is called policy, it would be easy to show, that to maintain foreign Edition: 1983; Page: [63] possessions, is in all cases as impolitic, as it is unjust and oppressive. Policy, in this respect, can have no other object, but the advantages of trade; and it may be laid down as a universal position, that whatever solid advantages can flow to the mother country from the trade of her colonies, would necessarily flow to her, if they were independent states. The experience of mankind has not yet enabled us even to suppose a case, in which it would be otherwise. Whatever is free and mutually advantageous in trade, would be natural, and would be carried on by each party for its own interest: whatever is unnatural and forced must be secured by means that will probably lessen the quantity of the whole; but at all events, the cost of maintaining it will for ever exceed the profits. This is not only found to be true, from the experience of every nation which has maintained colonies abroad; but the nature of the subject requires, that it should always be the case. It is a theory, for the proof of which no experience could have been Edition: 1983; Page: [64] necessary; and it is to the pride of kings, and the mistaken rapacity of governments, to the false glare of extended sovereignty, and the desire of providing predatory places for the sycophants of courts, that we are to attribute the train of calamities which has tormented the maritime nations of Europe, in maintaining colonies for the monopoly of trade. And where are we to look for reason and reformation, but to France? The English and other governments, to support a consistency of character, and fill up the measure of their sins, are faithful only to this one point, that the more they are convinced of the truth, the more obstinate is their perseverance in error.

I cannot but think it unnecessary, if not impertinent, to enter into farther arguments to prove, that justice, policy, and the true principles of commerce, require you to set the example of the world, of declaring your colonies absolutely free and independent states, and of inviting Edition: 1983; Page: [65] them to form a government of their own. The example Edition: current; Page: [[837]] would soon be followed by other nations; if not from reason and from choice, at least from the more imperious argument of necessity.

Thirteenth, I cannot close my letter, without some reflections on the policy of maintaining any thing like what is called a standing army in time of peace, which seems to have been the intention of your first Assembly. Such a force would have many fatal effects on the spirit of a republican government, without answering any good purpose that can be expected from it. According to your own principles, you will have no more to do with foreign wars, unless you are invaded; and it is probable, that the present is the last invasion that will ever be formed against France. But, be that as it may, a standing military force is the worst resource that can be found for the defense of a free republic. In this case, the strength of the army is the weakness of the nation. If Edition: 1983; Page: [66] the army be really strong enough to be relied on for defence, it not only imposes on the people a vast unnecessary expence, but it must be a dangerous instrument, in the hands of dangerous men; it may furnish the means of civil wars, and of the destruction of liberty. If, on the contrary, it be not sufficient for external defence, it will only serve to disappoint the people. Being taught to believe that they have an army, they will cease to trust in their own strength, and be deceived in their expectations of safety.

But the greatest objection against a standing army is, the effect it would have on the political sentiments of the people. Every citizen ought to feel himself to be a necessary part of the great community, for every purpose to which the public interest can call him to act; he should feel the habits of a citizen and the energies of a soldier, without being exclusively destined to the functions of either. His physical and moral powers should be kept in equal Edition: 1983; Page: [67] vigour; as the disuse of the former would be very soon followed by the decay of the latter. If it be wrong to trust the legislative power of the state for a number of years, or for life, to a small number of men; it is certainly more preposterous to do the same thing with regard to military power. Where the wisdom resides, there ought the strength to reside, in the great body of the people; and neither the one nor the other ought ever to be delegated, but for short periods of time, and under severe restrictions. This is the way to preserve a temperate and manly use of both; and thus, by trusting only to themselves, the people will be sure of a perpetual defence against the open force, and the secret intrigues of all possible enemies at home and abroad.

Edition: current; Page: [[838]]

Fourteenth, After tracing the outlines of your constitution, according to your present ideas, and proclaiming it in the most solemn manner, as the foundation of law and right, it will still be vain to think of restraining the people from making Edition: 1983; Page: [68] alterations and amendments, as often as experience shall induce them to change their opinions. The point you have to aim at in this, is to agree upon a method in which amendments can be made, without any of those extraordinary exertions, which would occasion unnecessary insurrections. The more easy and expeditious this method shall appear, the less likely it will be to provoke disorders, and the better it will answer the purpose, provided it always refers the subject to the real wishes of the people. I would propose, therefore (on the presumption that your legislative body shall be chosen only for one year at a time) that every annual National Assembly shall have power to propose, and the next succeeding one to adopt and ratify, any amendments that they shall think proper in the constitutional code. But it should always be done under this restriction, that the articles to be proposed by any one Assembly, should be agreed to, and published to the people in every department, within the first six months of the sessions of that Edition: 1983; Page: [69] Assembly. This would give time to the people to discuss the subject fully, and to form their opinions, previous to the time of electing their members to the next Assembly. The members of the new Assembly, when they should come together, would thus be competent to declare the wishes of the people on the amendments proposed, and would act upon them as they should think proper. The same power of proposing and adopting would be continued from year to year with perfect safety to the constitution, and with the probability of improvement.

Thus, gentlemen, I have given a hasty sketch of some leading ideas, that lay with weight upon my mind, on a subject of much importance to the interests of a considerable portion of the human race. If they should be thought of no value, they will of course occupy but little of your attention, and therefore can do no injury. If I have said any thing from which a useful reflection shall be drawn, I shall feel Edition: 1983; Page: [70] myself happy in having rendered some service to the most glorious cause that ever engaged the attention of mankind.

Joel Barlow.
Edition: current; Page: [[839]]

[56]: Timothy Stone 1742-1797

Election Sermon

In this sermon before the Connecticut governor and legislature, Timothy Stone, Congregationalist minister from Lebanon, Connecticut, appeals to the need for true community if liberty is to survive. The result is a good summary of what Americans during the founding era felt important for the continued success of their experiment in self-government, leadership and unity being prominent in the list.


Deuteronomy IV. 5, 6.

Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the Lord my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it.

Keep therefore, and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.

We are not left in doubt, concerning the wisdom and salutary nature of that constitution under which the Hebrews were placed, as it proceeded immediately from God; and, in reference to the particular circumstances of that people, was the result of unerring perfection. It Edition: current; Page: [[840]] was a free constitution, in which, Edition: 1983; Page: [6] all the valuable rights of the community were most happily secured. The public good, was the great object in view, and, the most effectual care was taken to preserve the rights of individuals. Proper rewards were promised to the obedient, and righteous punishments allotted for the disobedient. God designed, for special reasons, that the seed of Abraham, should be distinguished in a peculiar manner from all other nations; he therefore undertook the government of them himself, in all matters respecting religion, civil policy, and that military establishment, which he saw to be necessary for their happiness and defence. We find Moses, who received this constitution from God, and delivered it to his people, frequently exhorting them, to maintain a sacred regard for this divine institution, and to pay a conscientious obedience to all its laws: in doing of which, they might secure to themselves national prosperity, and enjoy, the unfailing protection of Almighty God.

To deter them from disobedience, he called up their attention to that solemn scene which opened to their view, when they stood before the Lord their God in Horeb: when there were thunders, and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled. And the Lord commanded, saying, gather me the people together, and I will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children. Edition: 1983; Page: [7] For the Lord thy God, is a consuming fire, even a jealous God.

The argument made use of in the text, to excite in that people, a spirit of obedience to their constitution and laws, was this, that it would raise their character in the sight of the nations: who from thence would be led, to entertain a veneration for them, as a great nation, a wise and understanding people. This sacred passage, in connection with the important occasion, which hath called us to the house of God, this morning, may direct our attention to the following enquiry.

In what, doth the true wisdom of a people, a civil community, consist?

The general answer to this question, may not be difficult; it will no doubt, be readily admitted, that the highest wisdom of a community of intelligent beings, must consist, in pursuing that line of conduct, which shall have the most direct and sure tendency to promote the Edition: current; Page: [[841]] best good of the whole, both in time, and eternity. What ever creatures, may conceive to be a good, either, through imperfection of understanding, or degeneracy of heart; yet, if that which they call good, is inseparably connected with more pain than pleasure, taking in the whole of their existence; then it cannot with propriety be styled good, certainly not the best good, consequently wisdom will not choose it. The province of wisdom, is, to discover and elect the most valuable objects; and, to adopt the best means to obtain them. These Edition: 1983; Page: [8] observations, apply with equal force, to individuals, and communities; to all classes of men, whether in the higher, or, lower walks of life. Communities, most certainly, as well as individuals, under the guidance of wisdom, will pursue that conduct which shall be productive of their highest happiness, in every period of their existence. But the question returns, what is that conduct, which shall have the desired tendency, and will effect the highest good? This question, as it respects mankind at large in their present state, might admit, a great variety of answers: some of which, may demand particular notice on the present occasion. As,

I. Wisdom will direct a community to establish a good system of government. It may be a question whether the allwise God ever designed, that any of his intelligent creatures, even in a state of perfection, should exist without some kind of government, and subordination amongst themselves. All creatures, have not the same capacities; neither are they placed under equal advantages; and, if those may be found, whose capacities are equally extensive, still they are different; and seem to be designed for different purposes, and stations, in the great system. We read, of thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers amongst the angelic hosts: Which titles, denote various stations among those sinless beings, that they are differently employed, in degrees of subordination to each other, in the government of that holy family of which, God, is the father. But, however this may be, as our acquaintance with that world of glory, is very imperfect—Edition: 1983; Page: [9] yet it is beyond a doubt, that government was designed, and is absolutely necessary for men on earth, in their present state of degeneracy.

Creatures, who have risen in rebellion, against the holy and perfect government of Jehovah; have partial connections, selfish interests, passions and lusts, which often interfere with each other, and which, will not always be controlled by reason, and the mild Edition: current; Page: [[842]] influence of moral motives, however great: but these in their external expressions, must be under the restraint of law, or there can be no peace, no safety among men. Some kind of government, is therefore indispensibly necessary for the happiness of mankind, that they may partake of the security, and other important blessings resulting from society; which cannot be enjoyed in a state of nature. Without any consideration, of the various forms of government which have been adopted, in different ages and countries; that, may be the best for a particular people, which in the view of all their circumstances, affords the fairest prospect of promoting righteousness, and of securing the most valuable privileges of the community, in its administration.

Civil liberty is one of the most important blessings which men possess of a temporal nature, the most valuable inheritance on this side heaven. That constitution may therefore be esteemed the best, which doth most effectually secure this treasure to a community. That liberty consists in freedom from restraint, Edition: 1983; Page: [10] leaving each one to act as seemeth right to himself, is a most unwise mistaken apprehension. Civil liberty, consists in the being and administration of such a system of laws, as doth bind all classes of men, rulers and subjects, to unite their exertions for the promotion of virtue and public happiness. That happy constitution enjoyed by the Hebrews, of which, the Supreme Lawgiver was the immediate author, was no other, than a system of good laws, and righteous statutes: which limited the powers and prerogatives of magistrates, designated the duties of subjects, and obliged each to that obedience to law, and exchange of services, which tended to mutual benefit. “And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous, as all this law which I set before you this day.” A state of society necessarily implies reciprocal dependence in all its members; and rational government, is designed to realize and strengthen this dependance, and to render it, in such sense equal in all ranks, from the supreme magistrate, to the meanest peasant, that each one may feel himself bound to seek the good of the whole: when individuals do this, whether rulers or subjects, they have a just right to expect the favor and protection of the whole body. The laws of a state, should equally bind every member, whether his station be the most conspicuous, or, the most obscure. Rulers in a righteous government, are as really under the control of laws, as the meanest Edition: current; Page: [[843]] subject: and the one equally with the other, should be subjected to punishment, when ever he becomes criminal, by a violation of the law. Edition: 1983; Page: [11] Rewards and punishments, should be equally distributed to all, agreeably to real merit or demerit, without respect of persons. A constitution, founded upon the general and immutable laws of righteousness and benevolence, and corresponding to their particular circumstances, will therefore become a primary object with a wise and understanding people.

2. The wisdom of a people will appear, in their united exertions to support such a system of government, in its regular administration.

Enacting salutary laws, discovers the wisdom and good design of legislators: but the liberty and happiness of the community, essentially depend upon their regular execution. The best code of laws can answer no good purposes, any further than it is executed. Every member in society is bound, in duty to the community, himself, and posterity, to use his endeavours that the laws of the state be carried into execution.

Laws, point out the existing offices, relations and dependancies of the community: they serve for the direction, support and defence of all characters; but considered as restraints, they more especially respect the unruly members. “Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers, and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for liars, for perjured persons, Edition: 1983; Page: [12] and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine.” It is unreasonable to expect, that the vices of man which are inimical to society, will be restrained by silent laws existing upon paper: they must be carried into execution, and be known to have an active existence, that such as contemn the law, may not only read, but feel the resentment of the community.

It is not within the reach of human understanding, to look with precision into futurity, to discover all the circumstances and contingencies which may take place among a people: neither is it certain, that every person who may possess a fair character for ability and integrity, and who may be called into public life, will be governed in all his actions, by public and disinterested motives. Through necessary imperfection, or corrupt design, statutes may be enacted, which may Edition: current; Page: [[844]] not prove salutary in their execution; but greatly prejudicial to the common good: Hence ariseth the necessity of alterations and amendments, in all human systems.

Changes however, should be few as possible; for the strength and reputation of government, doth not a little depend upon the uniformity and stability observed in its administration. Laws while they remain such, ought to be executed, when found to be useless or hurtful, they may be repealed: to have laws in force and not executed, or to obstruct the natural course of law in a free state, must be dangerous; will have many hurtful tendencies, will greatly weaken government, and render all the interests of the community insecure. Liberty, property and Edition: 1983; Page: [13] life, are all precarious, in a state where laws cease in their execution. When known breaches of law pass with impunity, and open transgressors go unpunished; when executive officers grow remiss in their duty, especially, when they connive at disobedience: all distinctions betwixt virtue and vice will vanish, authority will sink into disrepute, and government will be trampled in the dust—for which reasons, with others that might be named, it must be the wisdom, the indispensible duty of all characters in society, to unite their exertions, for the support of righteous laws, in their regular administration. As it would be exceedingly unreasonable to expect, that any people, can ever realize the benefits of good government, under a weak, or a wicked administration—in which, persons destitute of abilities, or, of stable principles of righteousness and goodness, fill the various departments of the state. Hence,

3. The wisdom of a people will appear in the election of good rulers.

The peace and happiness of communities, have a necessary dependence, under God, upon the character and conduct of those who are called to the administration of government. A bad constitution, under the direction of wise and pious rulers, who have capacity to discern, disposition and resolution to pursue the public good, may become a blessing; being made to subserve many valuable purposes. But the best constitution, committed to rulers of a contrary description, may be subverted; or so abused, as to become a curse; and be rendered Edition: 1983; Page: [14] productive of the most mischievous consequences. The understanding, or folly, of a people in reference to their temporal interests, is in nothing more conspicuous, than in the choice of civil rulers. In free states the body of electors have it in their power to be governed Edition: current; Page: [[845]] well; if faithful to themselves and the public, in raising those to offices of trust and importance, who are possessed of abilities and have merited their confidence by former good services.

Knowledge and fidelity, are qualifications indispensibly necessary to form the character of good magistrates. No man, ever possessed natural or acquired abilities, too great for the discharge of the duties constantly incumbent upon those, who act as the representatives of the Most High God, in the government of their fellow creatures: multitudes however well disposed, are totally incapable of such trust. The interests of society are always important, they are many times involved in extreme difficulty, through the weakness of some, and the wickedness of others; and there is need of the most extensive knowledge, wisdom and prudence, to direct the various opposing interests of individuals into one channel, and guide them all to a single object, the public good. Woe to that people, to whom God by his providence in judgment shall say; “I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them. And the people shall be oppressed, every one by another, and every one by his neighbour: the child shall behave himself proudly against the antient, and the base against the honourable. And judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off: for truth is fallen in Edition: 1983; Page: [15] the street and equity cannot enter; and he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey.”

But knowledge alone, will qualify no person to fill a public station with honor to himself, or advantage to others. The greatest abilities the most extensive knowledge are capable of abuse; and when misapplied to selfish ambitious purposes, may be improved to the destruction of every thing valuable in society.

Fidelity therefore, is another essential characteristic in a good ruler. This is a qualification so absolutely essential, that when known to be wanting, no conceivable abilities can atone for its absence. Fidelity hath no sure unshaken foundation, but in the love and fear of the one true God: that love, which extends its benign influence to all the creatures of God. This is a branch of that benevolent religion, which the Son of God came down from Heaven to establish, in the hearts of men on earth: this when seated on the soul of man, becomes a stable principle of action, and will have an habitual influence in all his conduct, whether in public or private life—this will enable rulers Edition: current; Page: [[846]] to maintain the dignity of their elevated stations, amidst the strong temptations with which they may be assaulted—feeling their just accountableness to those of their fellow men, who have placed such confidence in them, as to entrust them with all their valuable temporal interests: and what is infinitely more, feeling their accountableness to God; they will labor to discharge the important duties of their office; remembering that the day is fast approaching, Edition: 1983; Page: [16] when, notwithstanding, “they are gods, and children of the Most High, yet they shall die like men, an[d] fall like one of the princes.” Able pious magistrates, who wish to answer the end of their appointment, will not wish to hide their real characters from the public eye—they will come to the light that their deeds may be manifest.

It is the interest and privilege of an enlightened free people, to be acquainted with the characters of their most worthy citizens, who are candidates for public offices in the community; and, it is equally their interest and privilege, to make choice of those only to be rulers, who are known among their tribes, for wisdom and piety. Following the salutary counsel of the prince of Midian, they will provide out of all the people, able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness.

Free republicans, as observed above, have it in their power to be governed well: but they are in the utmost danger through a wanton abuse of this power. Actuated, by noble public spirited motives, and a primary regard to real merit in their elections; they will have the heads of their tribes, as fathers to lead them in paths of safety and peace: under the guidance of such rulers, who consider their subjects as brethren, and children, and all the interests of the community as their own; a people can hardly fail of all that happiness of which societies are capable in this degenerate state.

But when party spirit, local views, and interested motives, direct their suffrages, when Edition: 1983; Page: [17] they loose sight of the great end of government the public good, and give themselves up, to the baneful influence of parasitical demagogues, they may well expect to reap the bitter fruits of their own folly, in a partial wavering administration. Through the neglect, or abuse of their privileges, most states have lost their liberties; and have fallen a prey to the avarice and ambition of designing and wicked men. “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn.” This joy, or mourning, among a people, greatly depends on Edition: current; Page: [[847]] their own conduct in elections—bribery here, is the bane of society—the man who will give or receive a reward in this case, must be extremely ignorant, not to deserve the stigma of an enemy to the state—and should he have address to avoid discovery, he must be destitute of sensibility, not to feel himself to be despicable. All private dishonorable methods to raise persons to office, convey a strong suspicion to the discerning mind, that merit is wanting: real merit may dwell in obscurity, but it needeth not, neither will it ever solicit, the aids of corruption to bring itself into view. When streams are polluted in their fountain they will not fail to run impure—offices in government obtained by purchase, will always be improved to regain the purchase money with large increase: and a venal administration will possess neither disposition nor strength to correct the vices of others, but will lose sight of the public happiness, in the eager pursuit of personal emolument.

Edition: 1983; Page: [18] 4. Wisdom will lead a people to maintain a sacred regard to righteousness, in reference to the public, and individuals.

Moral righteousness is one of those strong bonds by which all public societies are supported. Heathen nations ignorant of divine revelation, and the particular duties and obligations which are enlightened and inforced by the word and authority of God have nevertheless been sensible, of the great importance of moral righteousness. Greece and Rome, in the beginning of their greatness, before they sunk into effeminacy and corruption, were careful to encourage and maintain public and private justice: they laboured to diffuse principles of righteousness among all ranks of their citizens. Many of their writings on this subject, deserve attention so far as the observance of moral duties respect civil communities, and the well-being of mankind in the present world. As all civil communities have their foundation in compacts, by which individuals immerge out of a state of nature, and become one great whole, cemented together by voluntary engagements; covenanting with each other, to observe such regulations, and perform such duties as may tend to mutual advantage: hence ariseth the necessity of righteousness, this being the basis on which all must depend. When this fails, compacts will be disregarded, men will loose a sense of their obligations to each other, instead of confidence and harmony, will be a spirit of distrust and fear, every man will be afraid of his neighbour; jealousies will subsist betwixt rulers and subjects, the strength of Edition: 1983; Page: [19] the community will be lost in animosity and Edition: current; Page: [[848]] division, all ability for united exertion will be destroyed, and, the bonds of society being broken it must be dissolved. It was long since observed, by one of the greatest and wisest of kings, and will for ever remain true; “That righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.” The truth of this divine maxim doth not depend upon any arbitrary constitution, or, positive system of government: but flows from the reason and nature of things.

There is in the constitution of heaven, an established connection, between the practice of righteousness and the happiness of moral beings united in society. Public faith, and private justice, lay a foundation, for public spirit and vigorous exertion to rest upon; in such a state, every one will receive a proper reward for his service, let his station be what it may: and every delinquent, will realize such punishment, as his offence, or neglect of duty may deserve. In a fixed regular course of communicative and distributive justice, all may know before hand, what the reward of their conduct will be. What the apostle hath said concerning the natural body, and applied to the church of Christ: may with equal propriety and little variation, be applied to political societies. These bodies are composed of various members, the members have various offices, but all of them are necessary, for the well being of the whole; there is something due from the body to every member, and from every member to the body: every part is to be regarded, Edition: 1983; Page: [20] and righteousness maintained throughout the whole.

The members of a well organized civil community, under an equal and just administration, have no more reason to complain of the station alloted to them in providence; than the members of the natural body, have of the place, by God assigned them in that. “The eye cannot say unto the head, I have no need of thee; nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. But that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it: or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.” No member of the natural body, of a civil community, or of God’s moral kingdom, can be required to do more, than observe the proper duty of its own station: when this is performed, all is done which can reasonably be demanded, it hath done well, and may expect the approbation and protection of the whole body.

Men may indeed complain, because they are not angels; and do it with as much propriety, as to feel discontented, because they are Edition: current; Page: [[849]] not all placed at the head of civil communities. The allwise God, hath given us our capacities, and fixed our stations, and when righteousness is observed by us, and the community of which we are members, we shall then do, and receive, what belongs to us, and this is all we can reasonably desire.

5. The wisdom of a people essentially consists, in paying an unfeigned obedience to the Edition: 1983; Page: [21] institutions of that religion, which the Supreme Lawgiver hath established in his church on earth.

That religion, which God hath enjoined upon rational beings, is not only necessary for his glory, but essential to their happiness. To establish a character as being truly religious, under the light of divine revelation, it is by no means sufficient, that men should barely acknowledge the existence, and general providence of one supreme Diety. From this heavenly light, we obtain decided evidence, that the Almighty Father, hath set his well beloved Son the blessed Immanuel, as King upon his holy hill of Zion. This Divine person, in his mediatorial character, “is exalted, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also, in that which is to come. And all things are put under his feet. That at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

In vain, do guilty mortals worship the great Jehovah, and present their services before him, but, in the name, and for the sake of this glorious Mediator. For it is his will “that all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father.”

Communities, have their existence in, and from, this glorious personage. The kingdom is his, and he ruleth among the nations. Edition: 1983; Page: [22] Through his bounty, and special providence, it is, that a people enjoy the inestimable liberties and numerous advantages of a well regulated civil society: through his influence, they are inspired with understanding to adopt, with strength and public spirit to maintain, a righteous constitution: He gives able impartial rulers, to guide in paths of virtue and peace; or gets up over them the basest of men. By his invisible hand, states are preserved from internal convulsions, and shielded by his Almighty arm from external violence: or, through his providential displeasure, they are given as a prey to their own vices; or to the lusts and passions of other states, to be destroyed.

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Thus absolutely dependent, are temporal communities, and all human things, upon Him who reigneth King in Zion. “Be wise now therefore, O ye kings; be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Kiss the Son lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little: blessed are all they that put their trust in him.”

The holy religion of the Son of God, hath a most powerful and benign influence upon moral beings in society. It not only restrains malicious revengeful passions, and curbs unruly lusts; but will in event, eradicate them all from the human breast—it implants all the divine graces and social virtues in the heart—it sweetens the dispositions of men, and fits them for all the pleasing satisfactions, of rational friendship—teaches them self denial—inspires them with a generous public spirit—fills them Edition: 1983; Page: [23] with love to others, to righteousness and mercy—makes them careful to discharge the duties of their stations—diligent and contented in their callings—this, beyond any other consideration, will increase the real dignity of rulers—will give quiet and submission to subjects—this is the only true and genuine spirit of liberty, which can give abiding union and energy to states—and will enable them to bear prosperity without pride—and support them in adversity without dejection—this will afford all classes of men consolation in death, and render them happy in God, their full eternal portion, in the coming world.

Religion, therefore is the glory of all intelligent beings, from the highest angel, to the meanest of the human race: and will for ever happify its possessors, considered, either individually, or, as connected in society: for this assimulates the hearts of creatures, to the great fountain of being in the exercise of general and disinterested affection; and is, the consumation of wisdom.

If the preceding observations, have their foundation in reason, and the word of God: we see the happy connection between religion and good government. The idea that there is, and ought to be, no connection between religion and civil policy, appears to rest upon this absurd supposition; that men by entering into society for mutual advantage, become quite a different class of beings from what they were before, that they cease to be moral beings; and consequently, loose their relation and obligations Edition: 1983; Page: [24] to God, as his creatures and subjects: and also their relations to each other as rational social creatures. If these are the real consequences of civil connections, they are unhappy indeed, as they must exceedingly debase and degrade Edition: current; Page: [[851]] human nature: and it is readily acknowledged, these things being true, that religion can have no further demands upon them. But, if none of the relations or obligations of men to their Creator, and each other are lost by entering into society; if they still remain moral and accountable beings, and, if religion is the glory and perfection of moral beings, then the connection, between religion and good government is evident—and all attempts to separate them are unfriendly to society, and inimical to good government, and must originate in ignorance or bad design.

Religion essentially consists in friendly affection to God, and his rational offspring; and such affection, can never injure that government which hath public happiness for its object.

Attempts have been made to distinguish between moral and political wisdom—moral and political righteousness—as tho there were two kinds of wisdom and righteousness, distinct in their nature, and applicable only to different subjects: that which is moral, belonging to the government of men as subjects of God’s dominion; and that which is political, to men as subjects of civil rule—But, if wisdom and righteousness, are the same in the fountain, as in the streams, in God, as in his creatures; differing Edition: 1983; Page: [25] not in nature and kind, but only in degree, then all such distinctions are manifestly without foundation. We read it is true, of a particular kind of wisdom, the fruit of which is “bitter envying and strife and every evil work: and that this wisdom, is earthly, sensual and devilish.” But, until it is made to appear, that this is more friendly to civil government, than the wisdom “from above, which is pure and peaceable, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy:”* the supposed distinction, will not apply to human governments with advantage—nor, destroy the connection between religion and good government.

Religion and civil government, are not one and the same thing: tho’ both may, and are designed to embrace some of the same objects, yet the former, extends its obligations and designs immensely beyond what the latter can pretend to: and it hath rights and prerogatives, with which the latter may not intermeddle. Still, there are many ways, in which civil government may give countenance, encouragement, and even support to religion, without invading the prerogatives Edition: current; Page: [[852]] of the Most High; or, touching the inferior, tho sacred rights of conscience: and in doing of which, it may not only shew its friendly regard to christianity, but derive important advantages to itself.

The friends of true happiness, whether ministers of state, or ministers of religion, or, in whatever character they may act, will therefore Edition: 1983; Page: [26] exert themselves to promote that cause, which aims at no less an object, than the glory of Jehovah, and the highest felicity of his unlimited and eternal kingdom.

A civil community, formed, organized, and administered, agreeably to the principles which have been suggested, will possess internal peace and energy; its strength and wealth may easily be collected for necessary defence, consequently will ever be prepared to repel foreign injuries: it will enjoy prosperity within itself, and become respectable amongst the nations of the earth.

Could this, and the other states in the American Republic in their separate and united capacities, be established upon the principles of true wisdom, that righteousness and goodness, which have their foundation in the nature of things, and are essential parts, of the christian system—could we build upon this foundation, we might set forth a good example, and become a blessing to mankind—in this way we might establish our character as a wise and understanding people—become* “beautiful as Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem”—we should “look forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners.”

Those deserve well of their brethren, who have devoted their time and superior abilities to the public, in the establishment and administration of civil constitutions, which are calculated to answer purposes, importantly beneficial to mankind.

Edition: 1983; Page: [27] These thoughts, may call our grateful attention, to the honourable and venerable characters, collected this morning in the house of God. Some respectful, serious addresses, to the different characters here present may conclude this discourse.

May it please your Excellency,

Seats of dignity in free republics are truly honorable, where merit, and the voice of uncorrupted citizens are the only causes of elevation. The first Magistrate in such a state, is more respectable than the most Edition: current; Page: [[853]] powerful Monarch, who obtains his throne, either by arbitrary usurpation, the arts of venality, or even the fortunate circumstance of hereditary succession. In either of the instances supposed, the throne may be filled without personal worth, may be supported by the same means by which it was at first obtained, and may be improved for the purposes of idleness and dissipation: or what is worse, to consume the wealth, destroy the liberties, and even sport with the lives of subjects. By means of such abuse of power, a people will be rendered vastly more wretched, than they would have been in a state of nature; and yet find it extremely difficult, to extricate themselves from these complicated evils. But such abuse of power cannot so easily take place, or be continued, in free republican governments; where places of honor are inseparably connected with important duties; duties which must be performed, otherwise such places will not long be supported, under the jealous inspection of a people, possessed of the knowledge, Edition: 1983; Page: [28] and love of liberty, together with the means of its preservation.

These considerations, add to the merit, and increase the lustre of those worthy characters, which have been repeatedly called by the united voice of their brethren to preside in this State. The understanding of this people and their knowledge of worth, have been conspicuous, in the attention generally paid, to deserving personages in the election of their rulers: especially in the long succession of wise religious governors, whose eminent talents, and pious examples, have been so extensively beneficial to this community. May your Excellency’s name, in this honourable catalogue, remain a lasting memorial, of the many services which you have rendered to this people, as a public testimony of the respect of your enlightened fellow citizens: and may your unremitted exertions for their prosperity be continued, and all your benevolent endeavours to promote their temporal and eternal interests, meet the divine blessing—may you never bear that sword in vain, which the exalted Mediator, through the instrumentality of men, hath put into your hand; let this be a shield to the innocent, the widow, and the orphan, in their oppressions; while it remains a terror, to all such as do evil: you will if possible, scatter the wicked with your eyes, but when coercion becomes necessary, you will bring the wheel over them. Sensible of the weighty cares, and strong temptations of your exalted station, may your dependance, be increasingly fixed on that glorious and gracious Being, who hath called you to office; esteeming Edition: 1983; Page: [29] his approbation infinitely superior to the applause of Edition: current; Page: [[854]] mortals. By the weight of your example, and the influence of that authority with which you are clothed, may you, sir, do much for the honor of God the Redeemer, for the advancement of his holy religion among men—for the promotion of righteousness and peace, in this, and the United States of America—for the abolition of slavery and every species of oppression—for the increase of civil and religious liberty, in the earth—And when, by the Supreme Disposer of all events, you may be called, to relinquish the honors, and cares of this mortal life, our prayer to Almighty God; is, that in that solemn hour, you may enjoy the supports of conscious integrity, meet with the approbation of your Judge, and be graciously received to the society of the blessed.

The public address, may now, be respectfully presented, to his Honor the Lieutenant-Governor, the Council, and House of Representatives.

Honored Gentlemen,

The trust, which God, and this respectable commonwealth, have reposed in you is truly important. All the temporal interests of this people, in a sense, are put into your hands and committed to your management, for the general good. Children place strong confidence, in the wisdom and tender care of their natural parents; so, do this people in you, gentlemen, as their civil fathers: this confidence is not only implied, but expressed, in the designation Edition: 1983; Page: [30] of your persons to those offices which you hold, in the government of your fellow citizens. Civil liberty, is an inheritance descending from the Father of Lights, a talent which, individuals may not despise, or misimprove without guilt: how vastly important then, must this, with its connected blessings in society, be, to a large community? The extensive views, and patriotic feelings, of wise and virtuous magistrates, cannot fail, deeply to impress their minds with the weight and solemnity of the trust reposed in them. Great anxiety for preferment, betrays a weak mind, or a vicious heart. Those only, deserve the honors of an elevated station, who are willing to bear the burdens, and perform the duties which belong to it: and to reap the rewards which righteousness and benevolence will bestow: and who, in the ways of well doing, can meet with calmness, the temporary ingratitude, of a misguided misjudging people. Not that the preacher would be understood to mean, that great esteem, with an ample pecuniary recompense, are Edition: current; Page: [[855]] not due, to those, whose time, and superior talents are employed, in promoting the happiness of their fellow men.

You, gentlemen, are vested with an authority which men of wisdom and virtue will ever revere; which properly exercised, none can resist, without resisting the ordinance of God: and persevering in their resistance “must receive to themselves damnation.” May you ever exercise such authority, in the meekness of wisdom, for the best good of your brethren: agreeably to those unchangeable laws of righteousness Edition: 1983; Page: [31] and goodness, which the Supreme Lawgiver hath established in his moral kingdom.* “That no iniquity, be found in the place of righteousness, or, wickedness, in the place of judgment; your eyes will be upon the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with you: those who walk in a perfect way,” will be designated by you for all important executive trusts. Viewing yourselves, in the light of truth, as the ministers of God, to this people for good, you will realize the important connection between the moral government of Jehovah, and those inferior governments which he hath ordained to exist among men. In this light, you will esteem it your highest glory, to manifest a personal, supreme regard, to the benevolent institutions of the Son of God: by the weight of your example, and the force of all that influence you possess, you will study to commend his holy religion to all men; that you may be instrumental, in promoting the temporal peace and eternal happiness of this people. Public sentiments have a vast influence upon the conduct of mankind; public sentiments receive their complexion from public men; the rulers of a people can do more than some may imagine, to promote real godliness: if this, is recommended in their conversation, and exemplified in their lives, it will attract the attention of multitudes; it may lead some to a happy imitation, and will not fail, to give strong support, to all the friends of God. But men, sufficiently disposed at all times to cast off the fear of God, need slender aid, from public influential characters, to become professed Edition: 1983; Page: [32] advocates, for infidelity and licentiousness. How exceedingly interesting, gentlemen, to yourselves and the community, is the station assigned to you in providence? May unerring wisdom guide all your steps, and the God of Abraham be your shield, and exceeding great reward.

The Ministers of God’s sanctuary, will accept some thoughts Edition: current; Page: [[856]] addressed to them, not indeed for their instruction, but, to “stir up their pure minds by way of remembrance.”

Reverend Fathers and Brethren,

Our character as christians, obligeth us to be righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless: not forgetting that, of civil magistracy, as one of the wise and gracious appointments of heaven, which, rightly improved, will extend its happy influence beyond the present life. And, our office as ministers, calleth us to exhort all the disciples of Jesus, that they “submit themselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: unto kings and governors as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil doers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.” The ignorance and folly of that principle, that there is no connection between religion and civil policy, is most happily refuted, when the followers of Jesus act in character, and demonstrate to the world, that real christians are the best members of society in every station. We are not then acting out Edition: 1983; Page: [33] of character, when pointing out the advantages of a righteous government, and the necessity of subjection to magistrates. This however, is not the principal object of our ministry: our wisdom and understanding will eminently appear, in converting sinners from the error of their ways—in winning souls to Christ. To effect which our speech and our preaching must not be with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the spirit and of power.

Confiding, in the unerring wisdom, and boundless goodness, of God, we need not be ashamed, nor afraid, to declare all his counsel—being well assured, that no doctrine, or duty, can be found in his revealed will, but such as are profitable for men to believe and practice. The great comprehensive design of the christian ministry, is the glory of God, in the salvation of sinners, through Jesus Christ. In pursuing this noble all important design, we shall labor to exhibit, the divine excellency of the christian religion, in the holiness of our lives and conversation, as well, as in the simplicity, and uncorruptness of our doctrines: that our example and our preaching, may unite in their tendency, to persuade sinners, to become reconciled to God. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings; that publisheth peace, that saith unto Zion, thy God reigneth!” Edition: current; Page: [[857]] and how is this beauty increased? when the spiritual watchmen upon the walls of Zion, “sing together with the voice, and see eye to eye.”*

Edition: 1983; Page: [34] That this beauty may appear and shine, in all the ministers and churches of Christ; let us become more fervent, and united, in supplications, to our Father in Heaven, that he may shed forth plentiful effusions of that spirit of love, and of a sound mind, which is the only abiding principle of union, between moral beings. Under the influence of this holy spirit, awakened to activity and diligence, by the repeated instances of mortality, among the ministering servants of God, in the past year; may we all pursue the sacred work assigned to us, with increasing joy, and success, until called from our labors, to receive the free rewards of faithful servants, in the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

A brief address, to the numerous audience present on this joyful anniversary, will close this discourse.—

Brethren and Fellow Citizens,

Let us not vainly boast, in our truly happy constitution—nor in the number of wise, and pious personages, whom God hath called to preside in its administration. We have abundant occasion indeed, to bless, and praise, the God of Heaven; for all our distinguishing privileges, both civil and religious—few of our lapsed race, enjoy immunities, equal to those which we possess: but we do well to remember, that profaneness and irreligion, infidelity and ungodliness, when connected with such advantages, will exceedingly enhance the guilt of men, and without repentance will awfully increase the Edition: 1983; Page: [35] pains of damnation. Would we become a wise understanding people, we must learn the statutes, and judgments, which the Lord our God, hath commanded, and obey them—we must be a religious, holy people, “for without holiness, no man shall see the Lord.” Let all be exhorted, to become wise to salvation, through faith, which is in Christ Jesus.—Amen.

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[57]: David Rice 1733-1816

Slavery Inconsistent With Justice and Good Policy

Born and reared in rural Virginia, David Rice was attracted to the Presbyterian Church while a youth, studied theology, and took up a career of evangelical preaching and organization for the Presbyterian Church, first in Virginia and North Carolina and later in Kentucky. He made the provision of low-cost or free education an important aspect of his mission and was instrumental in founding Hampden-Sydney College, in Virginia, and Transylvania University, in Kentucky. His travels and stands for preaching in the back country acquainted him thoroughly with the conditions and consequences of slavery and brought him early to a stubborn opposition to human bondage. In this speech Rice is, as an elected member, addressing the constitutional convention that drew up the first Kentucky Constitution. His objective is a provision in the fundamental document that will make slavery unlawful in Kentucky. Both in terms of rhetorical force and theoretical sophistication, this is as thoughtful and effective a statement on the subject as one can find during the founding era.

Mr. Chairman,

I rise Sir, in support of the motion now before you. But my reverence for this body, the novelty of my present situation, the great importance and difficulty of the subject, and the thought of being opposed by gentlemen of the greatest abilities, has too sensible an impression on my mind. But, Sir, I know so much of my natural timidity, which Edition: current; Page: [[859]] increases with my years, that I foresaw this would be the case: I therefore prepared a speech for the occasion.

Sir, I have lived free, and in many respects happy for near sixty years; but my happiness has been greatly diminished, for much of the time, by hearing a great part of the human species groaning under the galling yoke of bondage. In this time I lost a venerable father, a tender mother, two affectionate sisters, and a beloved first born son; but all these together have not cost me half the anxiety as has been occasioned by this wretched situation of my fellow-men, whom without a blush I call my brethren. When I consider their deplorable state, and who are the cause of their misery, the load of misery that lies on them, and the load of guilt on us for imposing it on them; it fills my soul with anguish. I view their distresses, I read the anger of Heaven, I believe that if I should not exert myself, when, and as far, as in my power, in order to relieve them, I should be partaker of the guilt.

Sir, the question is, Whether slavery is consistent with justice and good policy? But before this is answered, it may be necessary to enquire, what a slave is.

A slave is a human creature made by law the property of another human creature, and reduced by mere power to an absolute unconditional subjection to his will.

This definition will be allowed to be just, with only this one exception, that the law does not leave the life and the limbs of the slave entirely in the master’s power: and from it may be inferred several melancholy truths, which will include a sufficient answer to the main question.

In order to a right view of this subject, I would observe, that there are some cases, where a man may justly be made a slave by law. By vicious conduct he may forfeit his freedom; he may forfeit his life. Where this is the case, and the safety of the public Edition: 1983; Page: [4] may be secured by reducing the offender to a state of slavery, it will be right; it may be an act of kindness. In no other case, if my conceptions are just, can it be vindicated on principles of justice or humanity.

As creatures of God we are, with respect to liberty, all equal. If one has a right to live among his fellow creatures, and enjoy his freedom, so has another; if one has a right to enjoy that property he acquires by an honest industry, so has another. If I by force take that from another, which he has a just right to according to the law of nature, (which is a divine law) which he has never forfeited, and to Edition: current; Page: [[860]] which he has never relinquished his claim, I am certainly guilty of injustice and robbery; and when the thing taken is the man’s liberty, when it is himself, it is the greatest injustice. I injure him much more, than if I robbed him of his property on the high-way. In this case, it does not belong to him to prove a negative, but to me to prove that such forfeiture has been made, because, if it has not, he is certainly still the proprietor. All he has to do is to shew the insufficiency of my proofs.

A slave claims his freedom, he pleads that he is a man, that he was by nature free, that he had not forfeited his freedom, nor relinquished it. Now unless his master can prove that he is not a man, that he was not born free, or that he has forfeited or relinquished his freedom, he must be judged free; the justice of his claim must be acknowledged. His being long deprived of this right, by force or fraud, does not annihilate it, it remains; it is still his right. When I rob a man of his property, I leave him his liberty, and a capacity of acquiring and possessing more property; but when I deprive him of his liberty, I also deprive him of this capacity; therefore I do him greater injury, when I deprive him of his liberty, than when I rob him of his property. It is in vain for me to plead that I have the sanction of law; for this makes the injury the greater, it arms the community against him, and makes his case desperate.

If my definition of a slave is true, he is a rational creature reduced by the power of legislation to the state of a brute, and thereby deprived of every privilege of humanity, except as above, that he may minister to the ease, luxury, lust, pride, or avarice of another, no better than himself.

We only want a law enacted that no owner of a brute, nor other person, should kill or dismember it, and then in law the case of a slave and a brute is in most respects parallel; and where they differ, the state of the brute is to be preferred. The brute may steal or rob, to supply his hunger; the law does not condemn him to die for his offence, it only permits his death; but the slave, though in the most starving condition, dare not do either, on penalty of death or some severe punishment.

Is there any need of arguments to prove, that it is in a high degree unjust and cruel, to reduce one human creature to such an Edition: 1983; Page: [5] abject wretched state as this, that he may minister to the ease, luxury, or avarice of another? Has not that other the same right to have him Edition: current; Page: [[861]] reduced to this state, that he may minister to his interest or pleasure? On what is this right founded? Whence was it derived? Did it come from heaven, from earth, or from hell? Has the great King of heaven, the absolute sovereign disposer of all men, given this extraordinary right to white men over black men? Where is the charter? In whose hands is it lodged? Let it be produced and read, that we may know our privilege.

Thus reducing men is an indignity, a degradation to our own nature. Had we not lost a true sense of its worth and dignity, we should blush to see it converted into brutes. We should blush to see our houses filled, or surrounded with cattle in our own shapes. We should look upon it to be a fouler, a blacker stain, than that with which the vertical suns have tinged the blood of Africa. When we plead for slavery, we plead for the disgrace and ruin of our own nature. If we are capable of it we may ever after claim kindred with the brutes, and renounce our own superior dignity.

From our definition it will appear, that a slave is a creature made after the image of God, and accountable to him for the maintenance of innocence and purity; but by law reduced to a liableness to be debauched by men, without any prospect or hope of redress.

That a slave is made after the image of God no Christian will deny; that a slave is absolutely subjected to be debauched by men, is so apparent from the nature of slavery, that it needs no proof. This is evidently the unhappy case of female slaves; a number of whom have been remarkable for their chastity and modesty. If their master attempts their chastity, they dare neither resist or complain. If another man should make the attempt, though resistance may not be so dangerous, complaints are equally vain. They cannot be heard in their own defence, their testimony cannot be admitted. The injurious person has a right to be heard, may accuse the innocent sufferer of malicious slander, and have her severely chastised.

A virtuous woman, and virtuous Africans no doubt there are, esteems her chastity above every other thing; some have preferred it even to their lives: then forcibly to deprive her of this, is treating her with the greatest injustice. Therefore since law leaves the chastity of a female slave entirely in the power of her master; and greatly in the power of others, it permits this injustice; it provides no remedy, it refuses to redress this insufferable grievance; it denies even the small privilege of complaining.

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From our definition it will follow, that a slave is a free moral agent legally deprived of free agency, and obliged to act according to the will of another free agent of the same species; and yet he is accountable to his Creator for the use he makes of his own free agency.

Edition: 1983; Page: [6] When a man, though he can exist independent of another, cannot act independent of him, his agency must depend upon the will of that other; and therefore he is deprived of his own free agency; and yet, as a free agent, he is accountable to his Maker for all the deeds done in the body. This comes to pass through a great omission and inconsistency in the legislature. They ought farther to have enacted, in order to have been consistent, that the slave should not have been accountable for any of his actions; but that his master should have answered for him in all things, here and hereafter.

That a slave has the capacities of a free moral agent will be allowed at all. That he is, in many instances, deprived by law of the exercise of these powers, evidently appears from his situation. That he is accountable to his Maker for his conduct, will be allowed by those, who do not believe that human legislatures are omnipotent and can free men from this allegiance and subjection to the King of heaven.

The principles of conjugal love and fidelity in the breast of a virtuous pair, of natural affection in parents, and a sense of duty in children, are inscribed there by the finger of God; they are the laws of heaven; but an inslaving law directly opposes them, and virtually forbids obedience. The relation of husband and wife, or parent and child, are formed by divine authority, and founded on the laws of nature. But it is in the power of a cruel master, and often of a needy creditor, to break these tender connections, and forever to separate these dearest relatives. This is ever done, in fact, at the call of interest or humour. The poor sufferers may expostulate; they may plead; may plead with tears; their hearts may break; but all in vain. The laws of nature are violated, the tender ties are dissolved, a final separation takes place, and the duties of these relations can no longer be performed, nor their comforts enjoyed. Would these slaves perform the duties of husbands and wives, parents and children; the law disables them, it puts it altogether out of their power.

In these cases, it is evident that the laws of nature, or the laws of man, are wrong; and which, none will be at a loss to judge. The divine law says, Whom God hath joined together, let no man put asunder; the law of man says, to the master of the slave, Though the Edition: current; Page: [[863]] divine law has joined them together, you may put them asunder when you please. The divine law says, Train up your child in the way he should go; the law of man says, You shall not train up your child, but as your master thinks proper. The divine law says, Honor your father and mother, and obey them in all things; but the law of man says, Honor and obey your master in all things, and your parents just as far as he shall direct you.

Should a master command his slave to steal or rob, and he should presume to disobey, he is liable to suffer every extremity of punishment short of death or amputation, from the hand of his Edition: 1983; Page: [7] master; at the same time he is liable to a punishment equally severe, if not death itself, should he obey.

He is bound by law, if his master pleases, to do that, for which the law condemns him to death.

Another consequence of our definition is, That a slave, being a free moral agent, and an accountable creature, is a capable subject of religion and morality; but deprived by law of the means of instruction in the doctrines and duties of morality, any further than his master pleases.

It is in the power of the master to deprive him of all the means of religious and moral instruction, either in private or in public. Some masters have actually exercised this power, and restrained their slaves from the means of instruction, by the terror of the lash. Slaves have not opportunity, at their own disposal, for instructing conversation; it is put out of their power to learn to read; and their masters may restrain them from other means of information. Masters designedly keep their slaves in ignorance lest they should become too knowing to answer their selfish purposes; and too wise to rest easy in their degraded situation. In this case the law operates so as to answer an end directly opposed to the proper end of all law. It is pointed against every thing dear to them; against the principal end of their existence. It supports in a land of religious liberty, the severest persecutions and may operate so as totally to rob multitudes of their religious privileges, and the rights of conscience.

If my definition is just, a slave is one who is bound to spend his life in the service of another, to whom he owes nothing, is under no obligation; who is not legally bound to find him victuals, clothes, medicine, or any other means of preservation, support or comfort.

That a slave is bound to spend his life in the service of his master, Edition: current; Page: [[864]] no one will dispute; and that he is not indebted to his master, is under no obligations to him, is also evident. How can he possibly be indebted to him, who deprives him of liberty, property, and almost every thing dear to a human creature. And all he receives is the bare means of subsistence; and this not bestowed until he has earned it; and then not in proportion to his labor; nor out of regard to him, but for selfish purposes. This bare support the master is not bound by law to give; but is left to be guided by his own interest or humour; and hence the poor slave often falls short of what is necessary for the comfortable support of the body.

The master is the enemy of the slave; he has made open war against him, and is daily carrying it on in unremitted efforts. Can any one then imagine, that the slave is indebted to his master, and bound to serve him? Whence can the obligation arise? What is it founded upon? What is my duty to an enemy that is carrying on war against me? I do not deny, but, in some circumstances, it is the duty of the slave to serve; but it is a duty he owes himself, Edition: 1983; Page: [8] and not his master. The master may, and often does, inflict upon him all the severity of punishment the human body is capable of bearing; and the law supports him in it: if he does but spare his life and his limbs, he dare not complain; none can hear and relieve him; he has no redress under heaven.

When we duly consider all these things, it must appear unjust to the last degree, to force a fellow creature, who has never forfeited his freedom, into this wretched situation; and confine him and his posterity in this bottomless gulph of wretchedness for ever. Where is the sympathy, the tender feelings of humanity? Where is the heart that does not melt at this scene of woe? Or that is not fired with indignation to see such injustice and cruelty countenanced by civilized nations, and supported by the sanction of the law?

If slavery is not consistent with justice, it must be inconsistent with good policy. For who would venture to assert, that it would be good policy for us to erect a public monument of our injustice, and that injustice is necessary for our prosperity, and happiness? That old proverb, that honesty is the best policy, ought not to be despised for its age.

But the inconsistency of slavery with good policy will fully appear, if we consider another consequence of our definition, viz.

A slave is a member of civil society bound to obey the law of Edition: current; Page: [[865]] the land; to which laws he never consented; which partially and feebly protect his person; which allow him no property; from which he can receive no advantage; and which chiefly, as they relate to him, were made to punish him. He is therefore bound to submit to a government, to which he owes no allegiance; from which he receives great injury; and to which he is under no obligations; and to perform services to a society, to which he owes nothing and in whose prosperity he has no interest. That he is under this government, and forced to submit to it, appears from his suffering the penalties of its laws. That he receives no benefit by the laws and government he is under, is evident, from their depriving him of his liberty, and the means of happiness. Though they protect his life and his limbs, they confine him in misery, they will not suffer him to fly from it; the greatest favours they afford him chiefly serve to perpetuate his wretchedness.

He is then a member of society, who is, properly speaking, in a state of war with his master, his civil rulers, and every member of that society. They are all his declared enemies, having, in him, made war upon almost every thing dear to a human creature. It is a perpetual war, with an avowed purpose of never making peace. This war, as it is unprovoked, is, on the part of the slave, properly defensive. The injury done him is much greater than what is generally esteemed a just ground of war between different nations; it is much greater than was the cause of war between us and Britain.

It cannot be consistent with the principles of good policy to keep a numerous, a growing body of people among us, who add no Edition: 1983; Page: [9] strength to us in time of war; who are under the strongest temptations to join an enemy, as it is scarce possible they can lose, and may be great gainers, by the event; who will count so many against us in an hour of danger and distress. A people whose interest it will be whenever in their power, to subvert the government, and throw all into confusion. Can it be safe? Can it be good policy? Can it be our interest or the interest of posterity, to nourish within our own bowels such an injured, inveterate foe, a foe, with whom we must be in a state of eternal war? What havock would a handful of savages, in conjunction with this domestic enemy, make in our country! Especially at a period when the main body of the inhabitants were softened by luxury and ease, and quite unfitted for the hardships and dangers of war. Let us turn our eyes to the West-Indies; and there learn the melancholy effects of this wretched policy. We may there read them written with the blood Edition: current; Page: [[866]] of thousands. There you may see the fable, let me say, the brave sons of Africa engaged in a noble conflict with their inveterate foes. There you may see thousands fired with a generous resentment of the greatest injuries, and bravely sacrificing their lives on the altar of liberty.

In America, a slave is a standing monument of the tyranny and inconsistency of human governments.

He is declared by the united voice of America, to be by nature free, and entitled to the privilege of acquiring and enjoying property; and yet by laws past and enforced in these states, retained in slavery, and dispossessed of all property and capacity of acquiring any. They have furnished a striking instance of a people carrying on a war in defence of principles, which they are actually and avowedly destroying by legal force; using one measure for themselves and another for their neighbours.

Every state, in order to gain credit abroad, and confidence at home, and to give proper energy to government, should study to be consistent; their conduct should not disagree with their avowed principles, nor be inconsistent in its several parts. Consistent justice is the solid basis on which the fabric of government will rest securely; take this away, and the building totters, and is liable to fall before every blast. It is, I presume, the avowed principles of each of us, that all men are by nature free, and are still entitled to freedom, unless they have forfeited it. Now, after this is seen and acknowledged, to enact that men should be slaves, against whom we have no evidence that they have forfeited their right; what would it be but evidently to fly in our own face; to contradict ourselves; to proclaim before the world our own inconsistency; and warn all men to repose no confidence in us? After this, what credit can we ever expect? What confidence can we repose in each other? If we generally concur in this nefarious deed, we destroy mutual confidence, and break every link of the chain that should bind us together.

Edition: 1983; Page: [10] Are we rulers? How can the people confide in us, after we have thus openly declared that we are void of truth and sincerity; and that we are capable of enslaving mankind in direct contradiction to our own principles? What confidence in legislators, who are capable of declaring their constituents all free men in one breath; and, in the next, enacting them all slaves? In one breath, declaring that they have a right to acquire and possess property; and, in the next, that they shall neither acquire nor possess it during their existence here? Can I Edition: current; Page: [[867]] trust my life, my liberty, my property in such hands as these? Will the colour of my skin prove a sufficient defence against their injustice and cruelty? Will the particular circumstance of my ancestors being born in Europe, and not in Africa, defend me? Will straight hair defend me from the blow that falls so heavy on the wooly head?

If I am a dishonest man, if gain is my God, and this may be acquired by such an unrighteous law, I may rejoice to find it enacted; but I never can believe that the legislature were honest men; or repose the least confidence in them, when their own interest would lead them to betray it. I never can trust the integrity of the judge who can sit upon the seat of justice, and pass an unrighteous judgment, because it is agreeable to law; when that law itself is contrary to the light and law of nature.

Where no confidence can be put in men of public trust, the exercise of government must be very uneasy, and the condition of the people extremely wretched. We may conclude, with the utmost certainty, that it would be bad policy to reduce matters to this unhappy situation.

Slavery naturally tends to sap the foundations of moral, and consequently of political virtue; and virtue is absolutely necessary for the happiness and prosperity of a free people. Slavery produces idleness; and idleness is the nurse of vice. A vicious commonwealth is a building erected on quicksand, the inhabitants of which can never abide in safety.

Young gentlemen, who ought to be the honour and support of the state, when they have in prospect an independent fortune consisting in land and slaves, which they can easily devolve on a faithful overseer or steward, become the most useless and insignificant members of society. There is no confining them to useful studies, or any business that will fit them for serving the public. They are employed in scenes of pleasure and dissipation. They corrupt each other, they corrupt the morals of all around them; while their slaves, even in time of peace, are far from being equally useful to society with the same number of freemen; and, in time of war, are to be considered as an enemy within our walls. I said they were useless, insignificant members of society. I should have said more; I should have said, they are intolerable nuisances, pernicious pests of society. I mean not to reproach men of fortune; I mean only to point out the natural tendency of slavery, in order to shew, how inconsistent it is with good policy.

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Edition: 1983; Page: [11] The prosperity of a country depends upon the industry of its inhabitants; idleness will produce poverty: and when slavery becomes common, industry sinks into disgrace. To labour, is to slave, to work, is to work like a Negro: and this is disgraceful; it levels us with the meanest of the species; it sits hard upon the mind; it cannot be patiently borne. Youth are hereby tempted to idleness, and drawn into other vices; they see no other way to keep their credit, and acquire some little importance. This renders them like those they ape, nuisances of society. It frequently tempts them to gaming, theft, robbery, or forgery; for which they often end their days in disgrace on the gallows. Since every state must be supported by industry, it is exceedingly unwise to admit what will inevitably sink it into disgrace; and that this is the tendency of slavery is known for matter of fact.

Slavery naturally tends to destroy all sense of justice and equity. It puffs up the mind with pride: teaches youth a habit of looking down upon their fellow creatures with contempt, esteeming them as dogs or devils, and imagining themselves beings of superior dignity and importance, to whom all are indebted. This banishes the idea, and unqualifies the mind for the practice of common justice. If I have, all my days, been accustomed to live at the expence of a black man, without making him any compensation, or considering myself at all in his debt, I cannot think it any great crime to live at the expence of a white man. If I rob a black man without guilt, I shall contract no great guilt by robbing a white man. If I have been long accustomed to think a black was made for me, I may easily take it into my head to think so of a white man. If I have no sense of obligation to do justice to a black man, I can have little to do justice to a white man. In this case, the tinge of our skins, or the place of our nativity, can make but little difference. If I am in principle a friend to slavery, I cannot, to be consistent, think it any crime to rob my country of its property and freedom, whenever my interest calls, and I find it in my power. If I make any difference here, it must be owing to a vicious education, the force of prejudice, or pride of heart. If in principle a friend to slavery, I cannot feel myself obliged to pay the debt due to my neighbor. If I can wrong him of all his possessions, and avoid the law, all is well.

The destruction of chastity has a natural tendency to introduce a number of vices, that are very pernicious to the interest of a commonwealth; and slavery much conduces to destroy chastity, as it Edition: current; Page: [[869]] puts so great a number of females entirely in the power of the other sex; against whom they dare not complain, on peril of the lash; and many of whom they dare not resist. This vice, this bane of society, has already become so common, that it is scarcely esteemed a disgrace, in the one sex, and that the one that is generally the most criminal. Let it become as little disgraceful in the other, and there is an end to domestic tranquility, an end to the public prosperity.

Edition: 1983; Page: [12] It is necessary to our national prosperity, that the estates of the inhabitants of the country be greatly productive. But perhaps no estates, possessed in any part of the world, are less productive than those which consist in great numbers of slaves. In such estates there will be old and decrepid men and women, breeding women, and little children; all must be maintained. They labour only from servile principles, and therefore not to equal advantage with free men. They will labour as little, they will take as little care, as they possibly can. When their maintenance is deducted from the fruit of their labour, only a small pittance remains for the owner. Hence many, who are proud of their estates, and envied for their wealth, are living in poverty, and immersed in debt. Here are large estates to be taxed; but small incomes to pay the taxes. This, while it gives us weight in the scale of the Union, will make us groan under the burden of our own importance.

Put all the above considerations together, and it evidently appears, that slavery is neither consistent with justice nor good policy. These are considerations, one would think, sufficient to silence every objection; but I foresee, notwithstanding, that a number will be made, some of which have a formidable appearance.

It will be said, Negroes were made slaves by law, they were converted into property by an act of the legislature; and under the sanction of that law I purchased them; they therefore became my property, I have a legal claim to them. To repeal this law, to annihilate slavery, would be violently to destroy what I legally purchased with my money, or inherit from my father. It would be equally unjust with dispossessing me of my horses, cattle, or any other species of property. To dispossess me of their offspring would be injustice equal to dispossessing me of my annual profits of my estate. This is an important objection, and it calls for a serious answer.

The matter seems to stand thus: many years ago, men, being deprived of their natural right to freedom, and made slaves, were by Edition: current; Page: [[870]] law converted into property. This law, it is true, was wrong, it established iniquity; it was against the law of humanity, common sense, reason, and conscience. It was, however, a law; and under the sanction of it, a number of men, regardless of its iniquity, purchased these slaves, and made their fellow men their property.

The question is concerning the liberty of a man. The man himself claims it as his own property. He pleads, that it was originally his own; that he has never forfeited, nor alienated it; and therefore, by the common laws of justice and humanity, it is still his own. The purchaser of the slave claims the same property. He pleads, that he purchased it under the sanction of a law, enacted by the legislature; and therefore it became his. Now, the question is, who has the best claim? Did the property in question belong to the legislature? Was it vested in them? If legislatures are possessed of such property as this, may another never exist! Edition: 1983; Page: [13] No individual of their constituents could claim it as his own inherent right; it was not in them collectively; and therefore they could not convey it to their representatives. Was it ever known, that a people chose representatives to create and transfer this kind of property? The legislatures were not, they could not be possessed of it; and therefore could not transfer it to another; they could not give what they themselves had not. Now does the property belong to him, who received it from a legislature that had it not to give, and by a law they had no right to enact; or to the original owner, who has never forfeited, nor alienated his right? If a law should pass for selling an innocent man’s head, and I should purchase it; have I in consequence of this law and this purchase, a better claim to this man’s head than he has himself?

To call our fellow-men, who have not forfeited, nor voluntarily resigned their liberty, our property, is a gross absurdity, a contradiction to common sense, and an indignity to human nature. The owners of such slaves then are the licenced robbers, and not the just proprietors, of what they claim; freeing them is not depriving them of property, but restoring it to the right owner; it is suffering the unlawful captive to escape. It is not wronging the master, but doing justice to the slave, restoring him to himself. The master, it is true, is wronged, he may suffer and that greatly; but this is his own fault, and the fault of the enslaving law; and not of the law that does justice to the oppressed.

You say, a law of emancipation would be unjust, because it Edition: current; Page: [[871]] would deprive men of their property; but is there no injustice on the other side? Is nobody intitled to justice, but slave-holders? Let us consider the injustice on both sides; and weigh them in an even balance. On the one hand, we see a man deprived of all property, and all capacity to possess property, of his own free agency, of the means of instruction, of his wife, of his children, of almost every thing dear to him: on the other, a man deprived of eighty or an hundred pounds. Shall we hesitate a moment to determine, who is the greatest sufferer, and who is treated with the greatest injustice? The matter appears quite glaring, when we consider, that neither this man, nor his parents had sinned, that he was born to these sufferings; but the other suffers altogether for his own sin, and that of his predecessors.—Such a law would only take away property, that is its own property, and not ours: property that has the same right to possess us, as its property, as we have to possess it: property that has the same right to convert our children into dogs, and calves, and colts, as we have to convert theirs into these beasts: property that may transfer our children to strangers, by the same right that we transfer theirs.

Human legislatures should remember, that they act in subordination to the great Ruler of the universe, have no right to take the government out of his hand nor to enact laws contrary to his; that if they should presume to attempt it, they cannot make that right, Edition: 1983; Page: [14] which he has made wrong; they cannot dissolve the allegiance of his subjects, and transfer it to themselves, and thereby free the people from their obligations to obey the laws of nature. The people should know, that legislatures have not this power; and that a thousand laws can never make that innocent, which the divine law has made criminal; or give them a right to that, which the divine law forbids them to claim. But to the above reply it may be farther objected, that neither we nor the legislature, enslaved the Africans: but they enslaved one another, and we only purchased those, whom they had made prisoners of war, and reduced to slavery.

Making prisoners of war slaves, though practised by the Romans and other ancient nations, and though still practised by some barbarous tribes, can by no means be justified; it is unreasonable and cruel. Whatever may be said of the chief authors and promoters of an unjust war, the common soldier who is under command and obliged to obey, and as is often the case, deprived of the means of information as to the grounds of the war, certainly cannot be thought guilty of a crime Edition: current; Page: [[872]] so heinous, that for it himself, and posterity deserve the dreadful punishment of perpetual servitude. It is a cruelty that the present practice of all civilized nations bears testimony against. Allow then the matter objected to be true, and it will not justify our practice of enslaving the Africans. But the matter contained in the objection is only true in part. The history of the slave trade is too tragical to be read without a bleeding heart and weeping eyes.

A few of these unhappy Africans, and comparatively very few, are criminals, whose servitude is inflicted as a punishment for their crimes. The main body are innocent, unsuspecting creatures, free, living in peace, doing nothing to forfeit the common privileges of men. They are stolen, or violently borne away by armed force, from their country, their parents, and all their tender connections; treated with an indignity and indecency shameful to mention, and a cruelty shocking to all the tender feelings of humanity; and they and their posterity forced into a state of servitude and wretchedness for ever. It is true they are commonly taken prisoners by Africans; but it is the encouragement given by Europeans that tempts the Africans to carry on these unprovoked wars. They furnish them with the means, and hold out to them a reward for their plunder. If the Africans are thieves, the Europeans stand ready to receive the stolen goods: if the former are robbers, the latter furnish them with arms, and purchase the spoil. In this case who is the most criminal, the civilized European, or the untutored African? The European merchants know, that they themselves are the great encouragers of these wars, as they are the principal gainers by the event. They furnish the sinews, add the strength, and receive the gain. They know, that they purchase these slaves of those, who have no just pretence to claim them as theirs. The African can give the European no better claim than Edition: 1983; Page: [15] he himself has; the European merchant can give us no better claim than is vested in him; and that is one founded only in violence or fraud.

In confirmation of this account might be produced many substantial vouchers, and some who had spent much time in this nefarious traffic. But such as are accustomed to listen to the melancholy tales of these unfortunate Africans cannot want sufficient evidence. Those who have seen multitudes of poor innocent children driven to market, and sold like beasts, have it demonstrated before their eyes.

It will be farther objected, that in our situations, the abolition of slavery would be bad policy; because it would discourage emigrants Edition: current; Page: [[873]] from the Eastward, prevent the population of this country, and consequently its opulence and strength.

I doubt not but it would prevent a number of slave-holders from coming into this country, with their slaves. But this would be far, very far from being an evil. It would be a most desirable event; it would be keeping out a great and intolerable nuisance, the bane of every country where it is admitted, the cause of ignorance and vice, and of national poverty and weakness. On the other hand, if I mistake not, it would invite five useful citizens into our state, where it would keep out one slave-holder; and who would not rejoice in the happy exchange? Turn your eyes to the Eastward; behold numerous shoals of slaves, moving toward us, in thick succession. Look to the Westward; see a large, vacant, fertile country, lying near, easy to access, an asylum for the miserable, a land of liberty. A man, who has no slaves, cannot live easy and contented in the midst of those, who possess them in numbers. He is treated with neglect, and often with contempt: he is not a companion for his free neighbours, but only for their more reputable slaves: his children are looked upon and treated by theirs as underlings. These things are not easy to bear; they render his mind uneasy, and his situation unpleasant. When he sees an open way to remove from this situation, and finds it may be done consistent with his interest, he will not long abide in it. When he removes, his place is filled up with slaves. Thus, this country will spew out its white inhabitants; and be peopled with slave-holders, their slaves, and a few, in the highest posts of a poor free man, I mean that of an overseer. When we attentively view and consider our situation, with relation to the East and the West, we may be assured that this event will take place, that the progress towards it will be exceedingly rapid, and greatly accelerated by the fertility of our soil.

That this, on supposition that slavery should continue, would soon be the state of population in this country, is not only possible, but very probable; not only probable but morally certain. But is this a desirable situation? Would it be safe, and comfortable? Would it be so, even to masters themselves? I presume not: especially when I consider, that their near neighbors, beyond the Edition: 1983; Page: [16] Ohio, could not, consistent with their principles, assist them, in case of a domestic insurrection. Suppose our inhabitants should be fewer; they would be useful citizens, who could repose a mutual confidence in each other. To increase the inhabitants of this state by multiplying an enemy Edition: current; Page: [[874]] within our own bowels; an enemy, with whom we are in a state of perpetual war, and can never make peace, is very far from being an object of desire: especially if we consider, that a belief of the iniquity of this servitude is fast gaining ground. Should this sentiment obtain the general belief, what might be the event? What the condition of this country?

Another frightful objection to my doctrine is, That should we set our slaves free, it would lay a foundation for intermarriages and an unnatural mixture of blood, and our posterity at length would all be Mulattoes.

This effect, I grant, it would produce. I also grant, that this appears very unnatural to persons labouring under our prejudices of education. I acknowledge my own pride remonstrates against it; but it does not influence my judgment, nor affect my conscience.

To plead this as a reason for the continuation of slavery, is to plead the fear that we should disgrace ourselves, as a reason why we should do injustice to others: to plead that we may continue in guilt, for fear the features and complexion of our posterity should be spoiled. We should recollect, that it is too late to prevent this great imaginary evil; the matter is already gone beyond recovery; for it may by proved, with mathematical certainty, that, if things go on in the present channel, the future inhabitants of America will inevitably be Mulattoes.

How often have men children by their own slaves, by their fathers’ slaves, or the slaves of their neighbours? How fast is the number of Mulattoes increasing in every part of the land? Visit the towns and villages in the Eastward, visit the seats of gentlemen, who abound in slaves; and see how they swarm on every hand. All the children of Mulattoes will be Mulattoes, and the whites are daily adding to the number; which will continually encrease the proportion of Mulattoes. Thus this evil is coming upon us in a way much more disgraceful, and unnatural, than intermarriages. Fathers will have their own children for slaves, and leave them as an inheritance to their children. Men will possess their brothers and sisters as their property, leave them to their heirs, or sell them to strangers. Youth will have their grey-headed uncles and aunts for slaves, call them their property, and transfer them to others. Men will humble their own sisters, or even their aunts, to gratify their lust. An hard-hearted master will not know whether he has a blood relation, a brother or a sister, an Edition: current; Page: [[875]] uncle or an aunt, or a stranger of Africa, under his scourging hand. This is not the work of imagination; it has been frequently realized.

Edition: 1983; Page: [17] The worst that can be made of this objection, ugly as it is, that it would be hastening an evil in an honest way which we are already bringing on ourselves in a way that is absolutely dishonest, perfectly shameful, and extremely criminal. This objection then can have no weight with a reasonable man, who can divest himself of his prejudices and his pride, and view the matter as really circumstanced. The evil is inevitable; but as it is a prejudice of education, it would be an evil only in its approach; as it drew near, it would decrease; when fully come, it would cease to exist.

Another objection to my doctrine, and that esteemed by some the most formidable, still lies before me: an objection taken from the sacred scriptures. There will be produced on the occasion, the example of faithful Abraham, recorded Gen. xvii and the law of Moses, recorded in Lev. xxv. The injunctions laid upon servants in the gospel, particularly by the Apostle Paul, will also be introduced here. These will all be directed, as formidable artillery, against me, and in defence of absolute slavery.

From the passage of Genesis, it is argued, by the advocates for perpetual slavery, that since Abraham had servants born in his house and bought with money, they must have servants for life, like our negroes: and hence they conclude, that it is lawful for us to purchase heathen servants also. From the law of Moses it is argued, that the Israelites were authorised to leave the children of their servants, as an inheritance to their own children for ever: and hence it is inferred that we may leave the children of our slaves as an inheritance to our children forever. If this was immoral in itself, a just God would never have given it the sanction of his authority; and, if lawful in itself, we may safely follow the example of Abraham, or act according to the law of Moses.

None, I hope, will make this objection, but those who believe these writings to be of divine authority; for if they are not so, it is little to the purpose to introduce them here. If you grant them to be of divine authority, you will also grant, that they are consistent with themselves, and that one passage may help to explain another. Grant me this; and then I reply to the objection.

In the 12th verse of the 17th of Genesis, we find that Abraham was commanded to circumcise all that were born in this house, or Edition: current; Page: [[876]] bought with money. We find in the sequel of the chapter, that he obeyed the command without delay; and actually circumcised every male in his family, who came under this description. This law of circumcision continued in force; it was not repealed, but confirmed by the law of Moses.

Now, to the circumcised were committed the oracles of God; and circumcision was a token of that covenant by which, among other things, the land of Canaan, and their various privileges in it, were promised to Abraham and his seed; to all that were included in that convenant. All were included, to whom circumcision, Edition: 1983; Page: [18] which was the token of the covenant, was administered, agreeably to God’s command. By divine appointment, not only Abraham and his natural seed, but he that was bought with money of any stranger that was not of his seed, was circumcised. Since the seed of the stranger received the token of this covenant, we must believe, that he was included, and interested in it; that the benefits promised were to be conferred on him. These persons bought with money were no longer looked upon as uncircumcised and unclean, as aliens and strangers; but were incorporated with the church and nation of the Israelites; and became one people with them; became God’s covenant people. Whence it appears, that suitable provision was made by the divine law that they should be properly educated, made free, and enjoy all the common privileges of citizens. It was the divine law enjoined upon the Israelites; thus to circumcise all the males born in their houses; then if the purchased servants in question had any children, their masters were bound by law to incorporate them into the church and nation. These children then were the servants of the Lord, in the same sense as the natural descendants of Abraham were; and therefore, according to the law, Lev. xxv. 42, 55. they could not be made slaves. The passages of scripture under consideration were so far from authorising the Israelites to make slaves of their servants’ children, that they evidently forbid it; and therefore are so far from proving the lawfulness of our enslaving the children of the Africans, that they clearly condemn the practice as criminal.

These passages of sacred writ have been wickedly pressed into the service of Mammon, perhaps more frequently than any others: but does it not now appear, that these weighty pieces of artillery may be fairly wrested from the enemy, and turned upon the hosts of the Mammonites, with very good effect?

Edition: current; Page: [[877]]

The advocates for slavery should have observed, that in the law of Moses referred to, there is not the least mention made of the children of these servants, it is not said that they should be servants or any thing about them. No doubt some of them had children, but it was unnecessary to mention them; because they were already provided for by the law of circumcision.

To extend the law of Moses to the children of these servants, is arbitrary and presumptuous; it is making them include much more than is expressed or necessarily implied in the expression, They shall be your bond men forever; because the word forever is evidently limited by the nature of the subject; and nothing appears, by which it can be more properly limited, than the life of the servants purchased. The sense then is simply this, they shall serve you and your children as long as they live.

We cannot certainly determine how these persons were made servants at first; nor is it necessary we should. Whether they were persons who had forfeited their liberty by capital crimes; Edition: 1983; Page: [19] or whether they had involved themselves in debt by folly or extravagance, and submitted to serve during their lives, in order to avoid a greater calamity; or whether they were driven to that necessity in their younger days, for want of friends to take care of them, we cannot tell. This however we may be sure of, that the Israelites were not sent by a divine law to nations three thousand miles distant, who were neither doing, nor mediating any thing against them, and with whom they had nothing to do; in order to captivate them by fraud or force, tear them away from their country and all their tender connections, bind them in chains, crowd them into ships, and there murder them by thousands, with the want of air and exercise; and then condemn the survivors and their posterity to slavery for ever.

But it is further objected, that the Apostle advises servants to be contented with their state of servitude, and obedient to their masters; and though he charges their masters to use them well, he no where commands them to set them free.

In order rightly to understand the matter, we should recollect the situation of Christians at this time. They were under the Roman yoke, the government of the heathen; who were watching every opportunity of charging them with designs against their government, in order to justify their bloody persecutions. In such circumstances, for the Apostle to have proclaimed liberty to the slaves, would probably Edition: current; Page: [[878]] have exposed many of them to certain destruction, brought ruin on the Christian cause, and that without the prospect of freeing one single man; which would have been the height of madness and cruelty. It was wise, it was humane in him not to drop a single hint on this subject, farther than saying, If thou mayest be made free, use it rather.

Though the Apostle acted with this prudent reserve, the unreasonableness of perpetual unconditional slavery, may easily be inferred from the righteous and benevolent doctrines and duties taught in the New Testament. It is quite evident, that slavery is contrary to the spirit and genius of the Christian religion. It is contrary to that excellent precept laid down by the divine author of the Christian institution, viz. Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you do ye even so to them. A precept so finely calculated to teach the duties of justice, to inforce their obligation, and induce the mind to obedience, that nothing can excel it. No man, when he views the hardships, the sufferings, the excessive labours, the unreasonable chastisements, the reparations between loving husbands and wives, between affectionate parents, and children, can say, were I in their place, I should be contented; I so far approve this usage, as to believe the law that subjects me to it, to be perfectly right: that I and my posterity should be denied the protection of law, and by it be exposed to suffer all these calamities; though I never forfeited my freedom, nor merited such treatment, more than others. No; there is an honest something in our breasts, that hears testimony against this, as unreasonable and wicked. I found it in my own breast near forty years ago, and Edition: 1983; Page: [20] through all the changes of time, the influence of custom, the arts of sophistry, and the facinations of interest, remains here still. I believe, it is a law of my nature; a law of more ancient date than any act of parliament; and which no human legislature can ever repeal. It is a law inscribed on every human heart; and may there be seen in legible characters, unless it is blotted by vice, or the eye of the mind blinded by interest. Should I do any thing to countenance this evil, I should fight against my own heart; should I not use my influence to annihilate it, my own conscience would condemn me.

It may be farther objected, this slavery, it is true, is a great evil; but still greater evils would follow their emanciption. Men who have laid out their money in purchase of slaves, and now have little other property, would certainly be great sufferers; the slaves themselves are unacquainted with the arts of life, being used to act only under the Edition: current; Page: [[879]] direction of others; they have never acquired the habits of industry; have not that sense of propriety and spirit of emulation necessary to make them useful citizens. Many have been so long accustomed to the meaner vices, habituated to lying, pilfering and stealing, that when pinched with want, they would commit these crimes, become pests to society, or end their days on the gallows. Here are evils on both hands, and of two evils, we should take the least.

This is a good rule, when applied to natural evils; but with moral evils it has nothing to do; for of these we must chuse neither. Of two evils, the one natural, the other moral, we must always chuse the natural evil; for moral evil, which is the same thing as sin, can never be a proper object of choice. Enslaving our fellow creatures is a moral evil; some of its effects are moral, and some natural. There is no way so proper to avoid the moral effects as by avoiding the cause. The natural evil effects of emancipation can never be a balance for the moral evils of slavery, or a reason why we should prefer the latter to the former.

Here we should consider, on whom these evils are to be charged; and we shall find they lie at our own doors, they are chargeable on us. We have brought one generation into this wretched state; and shall we therefore doom all the generations of their posterity by it? Do we find by experience, that this state of slavery corrupts and ruins human nature? And shall we persist in corrupting and ruining it in order to avoid the natural evils we have already produced? Do we find, as the ancient Poet said, that the day we deprive a man of freedom, we take away half his soul? and shall we continue to maim souls, because a maimed soul is unfit for society! Strange reasoning indeed! An astonishing consequence! I should have looked for a conclusion quite opposite to this, viz. that we should be sensible of the evil of our conduct, and persist in it no longer. To me this appears a very powerful argument against slavery, and a convincing proof of its iniquity. It is ruining God’s creatures whom he has made free moral agents and accountable Edition: 1983; Page: [21] beings; creatures who still belong to him; and are not left to us to ruin at our pleasure.

However, the objection is weighty, and the difficulty suggested great. But I do not think, that it is such as ought to deter us from our duty, or tempt us to continue a practice so inconsistent with justice and sound policy: therefore I give it as my opinion, that the first thing to be done is To Resolve, Unconditionally, To Put Edition: current; Page: [[880]] An End To Slavery In This State. This, I conceive, properly belongs to the convention; which they can easily effect, by working the principle into the constitution they are to frame.

If there is not in government some fixed principle superior to all law, and above the power of legislators, there can be no stability, or consistency in it; it will be continually fluctuating with the opinions, humours, passions, prejudices, or interests, of different legislative bodies. Liberty is an inherent right of man, of every man; the existence of which ought not to depend upon the mutability of legislation; but should be wrought into the very constitution of our government, and be made essential to it.

The divising ways and means to accomplish this end, so as shall best consist with the public interest, will be the duty of our future legislature. This evil is a tree that has been long planted, it has been growing many years, it has taken deep root, its trunk is large, and its branches extended wide; should it be cut down suddenly, it might crush all that grew near it; should it be violently eradicated, it might tear up the ground in which it grows, and produce fatal effects. It is true, the slaves have a just claim to be freed instantly: but by our bad conduct, we have rendered them incapable of enjoying, and properly using this their birth-right; and therefore a gradual emancipation only can be adviseable. The limbs of this tree must be lopped off by little and little, the trunk gradually hewn down, and the stump and roots left to rot in the ground.

The legislature, if they judged it expedient, would prevent the importation of any more slaves: they would enact that all born after such a date should be born free: be qualified by proper education to make useful citizens, and be actually freed at the proper age.

It is no small recommendation of this plan, that it so nearly coincides with the Mosaic law, in this case provided; to which even suppose it a human institution, great respect is due to its antiquity, its justice and humanity.

It would, I think, avoid in a great measure, all the evils mentioned in the objection. All that was the master’s own, at the time fixed upon in the act, would still be his own: All that should descend from them would be his own until he was paid for their education. All he would lose would be the prospect of his children’s being enriched at the expence of those who are unborn. Would any man murmur at Edition: current; Page: [[881]] having this prospect, which was given him by a righteous law, that frees from oppression future generations?

Edition: 1983; Page: [22] Is there any such man to be found? Let us stop a moment to hear his complaint. “I have long lived happy by oppression. I wanted to leave this privilege as an inheritance to my children. I had a delightsome prospect of their living also in ease and splendor at the expence of others; this iniquity was once sanctified by a law, of which I hope my children’s children would have enjoyed the sweets; but now this hard-hearted, this cruel convention has cut off this pleasing prospect.

“They will not suffer my children to live in ease and luxury, at the expence of poor Africans. They have resolved, and alas! the resolution must stand forever, that black men in the next generation shall enjoy a fruit of their own labour, as well as white men; and be happy according to the merit of their own conduct. If justice is done to the offspring of negroes, mine are eternally ruined. If my children cannot, as I have done, live in injustice and cruelty, they are injured, they are robbed, they are undone. What—must young master saddle his own horse?—Must pretty little miss sweep the house and wash the dishes? and these black devils be free!—No heart can bear it!—Such is the difference between us and them, that it is a greater injury to us to be deprived of their labour, then it is to them to be deprived of their liberty and every thing else. This wicked convention will have to answer another day for the great injury they have done us, in doing justice to them.”

Emancipation on some such plan as above hinted, would probably in many instances, be a real advantage to children in point of wealth. Parents would educate them in such a manner, and place them in such circumstances, as would be more to their interest, than possessing such unproductive estates as slaves are found to be.

The children would imbibe a noble independent spirit, learn a habit of managing business, and helping themselves. They would learn to scorn the mean and beggarly way of living, at the expence of others, living in splendour on plunder of the innocent. Where estates were wisely managed, children would not find their fortunes diminished. They would not be mocked with nominal, but possess real wealth; wealth that would not merely feed their vanity, but fill their coffers.

The children of the slaves, instead of being ruined for want of education, would be so brought up as to become useful citizens. The Edition: current; Page: [[882]] country would improve by their industry; manufacturers would flourish; and, in time of war, they would not be the terror, but the strength and defence of the state.

It may be farther objected, that to attempt, even in this gradual way, the annihilation of slavery in this country, where so many are deeply interested, might so sensibly touch the interest of some unreasonable men, as probably to stir up great confusion, and endanger the tranquility of our infant state.

Though I doubt not but some men of narrow minds, under the influence of prejudice or covetousness, might be made uneasy and Edition: 1983; Page: [23] disposed to clamour; yet I apprehend but little danger of any ill effects. The measure would be so agreeable to the honest dictates of conscience, the growing sentiments of the country, and of many even of the slave-holders themselves, that any opposition they might make would not be supported; and they would be too wise to hazard the hastening an event they so much dread.

If the growing opinion of the unlawfulness of slavery should continue to grow, holding men in that state will soon be impracticable; there will be no cause existing sufficient to produce the effect, when this shall happen a certain event may suddenly take place, the consequences of which may be very disagreeable. This I take to be the proper time to prevent this evil. We may now do it in a peaceable manner, without going a step out of the way of our duty, and without hazarding what might be attended with tenfold more confusion and danger.

The slavery of the negroes began in iniquity; a curse has attended it, and a curse will follow it. National vices will be punished with national calamities. Let us avoid these vices, that we may avoid the punishment which they deserve; and endeavour so to act, as to secure the approbation and smiles of Heaven.

Holding men in slavery is the national vice of Virginia; and while a part of that state, we were partakers of the guilt. As a separate state, we are just now come to the birth; and it depends upon our free choice whether we shall be born in this sin, or innocent of it. We now have it in our power to adopt it as our national crime; or to bear a national testimony against it. I hope the latter will be our choice; that we shall wash our hands of this guilt; and not leave it in the power of a future Edition: current; Page: [[883]] legislature, ever more to stain our reputation or our conscience with it.


This work is re-printed at the request of many persons, some of whom belong to the Society of Friends, to whom it is now dedicated. It may, with their assistance, tend to aid the views of our Legislature in abolishing the representation of slaves, and eventually of the existence of slavery in this country.

Edition: current; Page: [[884]]

[58]: Theodore Dwight 1764-1846

An Oration, Spoken Before the Connecticut Society, for the Promotion of Freedom and the Relief of Persons Unlawfully Holden in Bondage

Dwight was educated at Yale University and later studied law. He earned his living mainly in the practice of law in Hartford, Connecticut, where he was a frequent contributor to newspapers and other journals, writing principally on political subjects. Public discussion of the conditions and consequences of slavery had become a common occurrence in New England and the Middle Atlantic States by the time Dwight entered the controversy. His effort is distinguished by his dealing with the issue in more than the abstract terms of rights. The effects of slavery on the slaves, their masters, and government and society in general are discussed in a rather comprehensive fashion.

If this assembly were convened, for the purpose of listening to a dissertation on the general subjects of freedom and slavery, the fact would appear singular, in the view of a stranger. For certainly, a nation, which has led the rest of the world to the consideration of these most interesting topics, and fully disclosed the nature of the latter, ought to furnish no employment for the advocate of the former. And if any thing can sound like a solecism in the ears of mankind, it will be this story—That in the United States of America, societies are formed for the promotion of freedom. Will not the enquiry instantly Edition: current; Page: [[885]] be made—“Are the United States of America not free? Possessed of the best country, the wisest government, and the most virtuous inhabitants, on the face of the earth; are they still enslaved?” No—America is not enslaved; she is free. Her country is still excellent, her government wise, and her inhabitants virtuous. But this reply must be mixed with one base ingredient. The slavery of negroes is still suffered to exist. The answer being given, the astonishment will immediately Edition: 1983; Page: [4] cease, and the enquiry become cool and spiritless. Whether negroes are enslaved, or free; miserable, or happy; are questions not interesting to their whiter masters. Placed by Providence in a more fortunate situation, and impelled by that love of domination, which is inherent in man, they become much more active in securing the subjects of their tyranny, than in the extension of human happiness. Nor is this all. Such is the depravity of our nature and the force of habit, that Reason is too often called in to aid the dictates of Passion, and sanction the cruelties of Tyranny.

The existence of African slavery then even in the State of Connecticut, being a fact which admits not of contradiction, the propriety of institutions like that, which has brought this audience together, will sufficiently appear. Nor will the frequent recurrence of this meeting, in the smallest degree lessen the importance of its duty. For tho’ to the ear of cold and nerveless Apathy, the frequent detail of iniquities steadily committed, and of duties too often neglected, may be a tedious and painful talk; yet the benevolent heart can never be uninterested, when contemplating the prospect of his encreasing felicity.

There is not a point of view, in which African slavery has not been considered by men of the first talents for research, for detail, and for description. The labours of the poet, the historian, the legislator, and the divine, have often presented the subject in the strongest, and most odious colours. Still the evil exists; and Interest Edition: 1983; Page: [5] alone has been able to withstand the united force of imagination, of eloquence, of truth, and of religion. I say interest alone; for I will venture to assert, that when it shall cease to be for the interest if mankind, to torture their fellow creatures in this wicked commerce, not one solitary individual will be found trafficking in human flesh. Those commands of the Deity, which are now impiously appealed to, as a sanction for barbarity and murder, will then be passed by unregarded; and these defenceless objects of cruelty, will be left in the quiet enjoyment of Edition: current; Page: [[886]] their native simplicity, innocence, and happiness. Where is the zealous apostle of truth, who, believing it to be the will of the compassionate God, that every being, among his creatures, who wears a sable complexion, should be reduced to the most abject servitude, would risque his property, his health, and his life, on a tedious and dangerous voyage, merely to fulfil the decrees of Heaven. It is presumed, that such an instance cannot be found, among the sons of men. And those persons who justify slavery by the permission, or command of God, must believe that the omniscient Jehovah paid but a slender regard to a part of his will, which is opposed by every emotion of generosity, compassion and sensibility, when he submitted the chance of its propagation, to the uncertain management of human interest.

Persuaded that Interest then is the only support of a practice so wicked, so detestable, and so destructive in its effects on the human mind, I shall be pardoned for the manifestation, at least of earnestness, in the following desultory remarks, on some of the reasons, urged against Edition: 1983; Page: [6] that total abolition of slavery, in the State of Connecticut. These remarks may perhaps be interspersed, or succeeded by others, in some measure descriptive of its nature, and of its effects on the human mind.

Within a few years past, the subject of slavery has been repeatedly discussed, in the legislature of this state, with great force of reasoning, and eloquence. The injustice of it has been generally, if not uniformly acknowledged; and the practice of it severely reprobated. But, when the question of total abolition has been seriously put, it has met with steady opposition, and has hitherto miscarried, on the ground of political expediency—That is, it is confessed to be morally wrong, to subject any class of our fellow-creatures to the evils of slavery; but asserted to be politically right, to keep them in such subjection. Without attending to this strange, and unfounded doctrine, in itself, I will consider some of the arguments, used in support of that political rectitude.

It is said, that the slavery of negroes was introduced by our ancestors—who, are acknowledged to have been generally humane and pious, and yet never questioned its rectitude; from them it descended to us; therefore, as we inherit the evil, we are at liberty to extricate ourselves from it by degrees; and are not bound to do it immediately. In support of this doctrine, we are told—that, tho’ the blacks have a claim to justice, the whites have also a claim; that by doing strict justice to Edition: current; Page: [[887]] them, we shall do injustice to ourselves; and that we ought not to consult the interests of one part of the community, at the expense of another.

Edition: 1983; Page: [7] It being then acknowledged that the enslaving of Africans was wrong in the first instance, it must necessarily follow, that the continuance of it is wrong: for a continued succession of unjust actions, can never gain the pure character of justice. If it was originally wrong, it has never ceased to be wrong for a moment since; and length of time, instead of factioning, aggravates the transgression. This mode of reasoning is uniformly adopted by courts of justice, when deciding on questions of property, by the rules of municipal law. No tribunal ever admitted a plea of injustice on the part of a father in vindication of his son, to whom the fruits of his illegal, or wicked conduct had descended. So far is this from the fact, that every person, found guilty of withholding strict justice from his neighbour, on such a frivolous pretence, is forced by the laws of his country to compensate the person injured, for every moment, during which the claim remains unanswered. And certainly, the moral law enjoins a very different doctrine from that, against which I am contending. “I the Lord, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of the fathers, upon the children”—is a strong, and unequivocal language of the decalogue. And if any man should deny substantial right to another, for the reasons which I have mentioned, the voice of common sense, as well as of law, would justify his creditor in casting him into prison, until he should pay the uttermost farthing. And what is the real ground of this difference, in the administration of justice, between white men, and negroes? Simply this—the white men can appeal to the laws of their country, and enforce their rights. The negroes whom our fathers, and ourselves have enslaved, Edition: 1983; Page: [8] have no tribunal to listen to their complaints, or to redress their injuries. Forced from their country, their friends, and their families, they are dragged to the sufferance of slavery, of torture, and of death, with no eye, and no arm, but the eye and arm of God, to pity, and to punish their wrongs. Society recognizes their existence, only for the purposes of injustice, oppression, and punishment.

By doing strict justice to the negroes, I presume is meant, totally to abolish slavery, and place them on the same ground, with free white men. The injustice, which, it is contended, will proceed from the immediate accomplishment of this end, in the first place respects the property of the persons who hold slaves. It is said that they were purchased under the sanction of the laws of the country; and therefore, Edition: current; Page: [[888]] arbitrarily to deprive the owners of such property without any retribution would be injustice. This is combining two questions which have no relation to each other. The right of the slave to liberty, in a distinct consideration, from the right of the master to a compensation for the loss of his slave. Nor will the act of government, in granting freedom to the slave, weaken the master’s claim for that compensation; but if it is just, at the time when the slave is set at liberty, it will forever remain just until it is satisfied. Emancipating the slave then, subjects the master to no disadvantage in claiming from government the value of the slave; and therefore holding the slave in bondage, until compensation is made to the master, is clearly unjust.

Edition: 1983; Page: [9] But this question must be considered on very different grounds. “The rights of persons,” says a sensible writer on the laws of England, “considered in their natural capacities, are of two sorts, absolute and relative. By the absolute rights of mankind, we mean those, which are from their primary, and strictest sense; such as would belong to their persons merely in a state of nature, and which every man is entitled to enjoy, whether out of society, or in it. And these may be reduced to three principal, or primary articles, the right of personal security, the right of personal liberty, and the right of private property.”* No person, who hears me, will deny the justice or reasonableness of this doctrine. Concerning it, then, as acknowledged, it is evident that the right of private property, standing in a station, subordinate to the right of personal security, and the right of personal liberty, means an inferiour consideration. Therefore, previously in discussing, and establishing the right of private property, the rights of personal security, and personal liberty, must be discussed, and established. If this reasoning be just, it is impossible, in any situation, or under the authority of any laws to acquire a property in a human being. For it cannot be acquired without violation of rights, to which he has a prior, and absolute claim; and which are of inconceivably greater importance. The result, then, must necessarily be, that, in abolishing African slavery, no injury is done to private property.

But granting, for the moment, that property Edition: 1983; Page: [10] can be gained in the body and mind of man; a concession which can scarcely be made, for the sake of argument, without horror; I deny, that any such property ever was gained, in this state, under the sanction of law. Edition: current; Page: [[889]] Search the statute books of Connecticut, from the date of its Charter to the present moment, and tell me where is the law which establishes such an inhuman privilege? Happily for the honour of the state, those books were never stained with so black a statute. But it will be replied, that slavery is sanctioned by Prescription, and implicitly allowed by laws of the land. “To make a particular Custom good,” says the accomplished jurisprudent, from whom I have already quoted, “the following are necessary requisites—That it have been used so long, that the memory of man runneth not to the contrary. So that if any one can shew the beginning of it, it is no good custom.” It would not be a difficult task, to discover the beginning of the Custom under consideration. “It must have been continued. Which must be understood of the right; for if the right be any how discontinued for a day, the Custom is quite at an end.”—The right of the Custom of slavery, is given up by much the greater part of the community. “It must have been peaceable—It must be reasonable.” Surely no man will contend that this Custom is either peaceable, or reasonable. The reason of man rises in uniform opposition to it; and it is marked in every stage with war, barbarity, and murder.

But if this Prescription, or Custom, when tried by the rules of the English common law, would stand the test, still I contend, that no prescriptive right, can infringe the absolute rights of Edition: 1983; Page: [11] mankind. These, especially personal security, and personal liberty, cannot be violated but by the positive laws of society. Such laws, I have already remarked, do not exist, in the code of Connecticut. But in that code there does exist a law, which speaks emphatically the opposite language. “No man’s person shall be arrested, restrained, or any ways punished—No man shall be deprived of his wife, or children—No man’s goods or estate shall be taken away from him, nor any ways indamaged, under colour of the law, or countenance of authority, unless clearly warranted by the laws of this state.” Are not negroes men? Are they not arrested, restrained, and punished? Are they not deprived of their wives, and children? Are not their goods and estate taken from them, and endamaged, under colour of law, and countenance of authority alone? For the Custom, so often mentioned, can have no force, if there is a positive statute authorizing African slavery; and if there is no such statute, African slavery must owe its existence, solely to the countenance of authority.

But to make a still stronger concession, in favour of the friends Edition: current; Page: [[890]] of slavery than those already made, viz. That the absolute rights of individuals are subject to violation, under the authority of custom, and that such custom, having obtained, is clearly warranted by the laws of this state, yet I venture to assert, that no Custom and no Law, which a state where slavery is practised, either has made, or can make, ought to affect the enslaved negroes at all, unless designed as a partial compensation for the injuries which they have suffered—injuries, for which all the wealth of man can never atone. The right of society to make Edition: 1983; Page: [12] laws of any description, depends entirely on the original compact, which formed the society. This compact, must have the real, or implied assent of every person, who is to be bound by the regulations of the society. Every person, then, who is forced to submit to the laws, and institutions of society, has a right to be heard, either in person, or by his representative, when those laws, and institutions are framed; and every person, who is forced to submit to such laws and institutions, without the opportunity of being thus heard, is forced to submit to the hard, and oppressive hand of Tyranny. Slaves then, having never really, nor impliedly agreed to any social compact, and never being heard, either personally, or representatively in the legislature, form no part of the social body; and therefore cannot justly be the object of laws, except in the case I have already instanced. On the contrary, so far from uniting voluntarily with societies, in this country, they are bro’t into them by force, and by force subjected to the laws, and regulations of powers, which they never acknowledged, and to which they owe neither obedience, nor gratitude. Being thus forced into a state of hostility, if defensive war is susceptible of justification, in any possible instance, this is that instance. Their lives, their property, their liberty, their happiness, are perpetually exposed to the inroads of every merciless invader. And tho’, as the finishing stroke to their systems of guilt, societies think fit to punish those acts in slaves, which indeed in their own members, would be both civil and moral evils; yet, probably on the strength of reasoning similar to that which I have adopted, an elegant English writer, pronounces it “impossible for a slave, to be guilty of a civil crime.” The same law, Edition: 1983; Page: [13] which justifies the enormities, committed by civilized nations, when engaged in war, will justify slaves for every necessary act of defence, against the wicked, and unprovoked outrages, committed against their peace, freedom, and existence.

But this question of expediency, is entitled to a still further Edition: current; Page: [[891]] consideration. It is said by the opposers of abolition, that the slaves are happier with their masters, than they could be, if possessed of freedom. Who is it that decides for them? Have the slaves been asked the question? Shall the man, whose heart rejoices in the opportunity of tyrannizing over the happiness of an abject wretch, whom force has subjected to his domination, prescribe enjoyments for that wretch? Let the inestimable jewel of freedom, be held out to their acceptance by the hand of legislation, and with it some shadow of compensation for their indescribable sufferings, and then, if they refuse it, let them serve their masters forever. But, until that has been done, let decency forbid the mouth of the savage, to utter the shameful falsehood.

Perhaps the strain, in which I have spoken, may be censured, as dangerous to the peace of society. But if I have spoken the words of truth and soberness, I will risque the charge. Few men love their country with a more sincere, and ardent affection, than myself. Dear as it is to me, I am more solicitous for its justice, than for its peace. But when justice can be rendered, without disturbing the public tranquillity, it becomes a duty of the most peremptory and indispensible nature.

Edition: 1983; Page: [14] In surveying the history of those countries, where domestic slavery has been carried to its greatest length, the mind is forcibly impressed with its detestable consequences on the human character. One of the most obvious, is a disposition to cruelty and injustice. Children are trained up from the cradle, in habits of punishment and revenge. Unrestrained, by their parents, from an implicit obedience to the dictates of passion, they regard slaves only as objects of convenience, oppression, and torture; and often embrue their infant hands in the blood of Innocence. Under the influence of such an education, they advance in life, improving in the most inhuman, and destructive qualities. For the most trifling offence, and frequently for the sake of amusement, the slave is doomed to the sufferance of the most ingenious barbarity. And when grown to adult years, with a mind as debased as cruel, the imperious, and unprincipled master, satiates his brutal passion on violated chastity. And when the offspring of his guilty embraces, opens its eyes on the light of the sun, instead of the protection, the support, and the affection of a father, it experiences the injustice, the barbarity, and the vengeance of a tyrant. Nay, masters procreate the slaves, which not only perform every menial, and degrading office for them, but often are sold by them in Edition: current; Page: [[892]] market, like the beasts of the field. And however shocking it may sound to our ears, the instances are doubtless too frequent, in which the innocent offspring of the master and servant, not only becomes the slave of her unnatural brother, but is also forced to submit to his horrid and incestuous passion.

Edition: 1983; Page: [15] Another consequence of slavery, is a spirit of denomination. For proof of this, we may apply to those parts of the United States, where slavery is most extensively practiced. In the four southern states, there exists the strongest spirit of aristocracy to be found in the union. This assertion I dare to make, in defiance of all the clamour, which can be raised to contradict it. Where is that spirit of republicanism, equality, freedom, and emnity to tyranny, of which they so arrogantly boast? Believe me, they exist but in sound. Domestic despotism rides triumphantly over the liberties, and happiness of thousands of our fellow-creatures, in each of those pretended republics. In no other country on earth, is slavery carried to such a length of oppression. Not contented with the common round of cruelty and wickedness, the masters there mock their slaves with the name of privileges, which they never enjoy; and thus force them to contribute to the strengthening of the powers, which hold them in bondage. Enjoying no rank in the community, and possessing no voice, either in elections, or legislation, the slaves are bro’t into existence, in the Constitution of the United States, merely to afford opportunity for a few more of their masters, to tyrannize over their liberties. And no event could fill these states with such alarming apprehensions, as the erection of the standard of Freedom among their enslaved subjects. Therefore, before they upbraid the citizens of the northern states, with an attachment to the principles of aristocracy, or monarchy, let them begin the equal communication of those privileges, which in theory, they confess to be the birth right of man. Let them visit New-England, and learn the rudiments Edition: 1983; Page: [16] of freedom. Here they will find, at least in some places, and God grant I may speedily say in all, that instead of the lawful distance between the master and the slave, each inhabitant is as independent as the insolent planter. That here,

  • “Tho’ poor the peasant’s hut, his feast tho’ small,
  • He sees his little lot the lot of all;
  • Sees no contiguous palace rear its head
  • To shame the meanness of his humble shed;
  • No costly lord the sumptuous banquet dear,
  • Edition: current; Page: [[893]]
  • To make him loath his healthful, homely meal;
  • But calm, and bred in innocence and toil,
  • Each wish contracting fits him to the soil.
  • Cheerful at morn he wakes from short repose,
  • Breathes the keen air, and carols as he goes.
  • At night returning, every labour sped,
  • He sits him down the monarch of a shed,
  • Smiles by his cheerful fire, and round surveys
  • His children’s looks, which brighten at the blaze.”*

On the whole, every species of wickedness results from slavery, wherever it exists. The inhabitants, in the common course of events, become licentious in the commission of every immorality. All the honest, and virtuous employments of life, falling to the share of the slaves, the master naturally avoids them as unworthy of his dignity, and plunges into habits of indolence, and vice, equally destructive, and disgraceful to society. Even the females, forgetting those amiable, and endearing qualities, which bend the fiercer nature of man to gentleness and love, indulge themselves in paroxisms of rage; and under the influence of the most ferocious passions, seize the engines of torture, Edition: 1983; Page: [17] and with their feeble force, inflict on their unhappy servants the keenest misery. See a picture, drawn by one of the most humane and ingenious of her sex.

  • “Lo! where reclin’d, pale Beauty courts the breeze,
  • Diffused on sofas of voluptuous ease,
  • With anxious awe, her menial train around,
  • Catch her faint whispers of unutter’d sound.
  • See her in monstrous fellowship unite
  • At once the Scythian, and the Sybarite;
  • Blending repugnant vices, misallied,
  • Which frugal nature purpos’d to divide.
  • See her with indolence, to fierceness join’d,
  • Of body delicate, infirm of mind,
  • With languid tones imperious mandates urge,
  • With arm recumbent wield the household scourge,
  • And with unruffled mien, and placid sounds,
  • Contriving torture, and inflicting wounds.”
Edition: current; Page: [[894]]

At the present period, when the principles of liberty are so highly revered, and the practice of them so justly admired, every question, in which they are involved, ought to be discussed by the soundest reason, and established on the most substantial justice. For when the persons interested in the event of such discussion, are of sufficient force to be formidable, those who are hardy enough to withhold their unalienable rights, will find themselves plunged in a deluge of calamity. Every instance on historical record, and every example before our eyes, abundantly teaches this solemn truth. Without wasting time in multiplying cases, I will only resort to one of the latter description. The situation of France, and some of her most important Edition: 1983; Page: [18] colonies, affords a melancholy proof, that a deviation from the path of reason and justice, in the pursuit of freedom, is necessarily attended, with the most distressing evils. When the councils of the nation were guided by discretion and integrity, the surrounding world beheld with admiration and applause, a stupendous object in the great system of Providence—one of the most numerous and mighty nations, on the earth, led by the hand of Reason alone to the acquisition of freedom and happiness. But when the government was siezed by a profligate, and blood-thirsty junto, which, for a period, forced the infatuated republic to assassination and ruin.

  • “Then fell the flower of Gallia, mighty names,
  • Her scary senators, and gasping patriots.
  • The Mountain spake, and their licentious band
  • Of blood-train’d ministry were loos’d to ruin,
  • Invention wanton’d in the toil of servants
  • Stabb’d on the breast, or reeking on the points
  • Of sportive javelins. Husbands, sons and sires,
  • With dying ears drank in the loud despair
  • Of shrieking Chastity. The waste of war
  • Was peace and friendship to their civil massacres.”*

From France, turn your attention to the island of St. Domingo. A succession of unjust, and contradictory measures, in both the national and colonial governments, at length highly exasperated the negroes, and roused their spirits to unanimity and fanaticism. Seized by the phrenzy of oppressed human nature, they suddenly awoke from the lethargy of slavery, attacked their tyrannical masters, spread desolation Edition: current; Page: [[895]] and blood over the face of the colony, and by a series of vigorous efforts, established themselves on Edition: 1983; Page: [19] the firm pillars of freedom and independence. Driven from their houses and possessions, by new and exulting masters, the domestic tyrants of that island wander over the face of the earth, dependent on the uncertain hand of Charity for shelter, and for bread. To the honour of Americans, it is true, that in this country, they have realized the most liberal humanity. But by a dispensation of Providence which Humanity must applaud, they are forced to exhibit, in the most convincing manner, this important truth—that despotism and cruelty, whether in the family, or the nation, can never resist one angry, or enraged and oppressed man, struggling for freedom.

These evils may perhaps appear distant from us; yet to some of our sister states they are probably nigh, even at the doors. Ideas of liberty and slavery, have taken such stronghold of the negroes, that unless their situation is suddenly ameliorated, the inhabitants of the southern states, will have the utmost reason to dread the effects of insurrection. And with the example of the West-Indies before their eyes, they will be worse than mad, if they do not adopt effectual measures to escape their danger. To oppose the slaves by force when in a state of rebellion, or to hold them in their present condition, for any considerable length of time in future, will be beyond their strength. Courage and discipline, form but a feeble front to check the onset of freedom.

  • “For what are fifty, what a thousand slaves,
  • Match’d to the sinew of a single arm
  • That strikes for liberty?”*

And when hostilities are commenced, where shall they look for auxiliaries in such an iniquitous Edition: 1983; Page: [20] warfare? Surely, no friend to freedom and justice will dare to lend them his aid. In the case, not essentially different in principle from the one under consideration, except its being less aggravated, the God of Heaven has uttered the following denunciation. “Therefore thus saith the Lord, ye have not harkened unto me, in proclaiming liberty every one to his neighbour, and every man to his brother: Behold I proclaim a liberty for you, saith the Lord, to the sword, to the pestilence, and to the famine. Edition: current; Page: [[896]] And I will make you to be removed into all the face of the earth. And I will give the men that have transgressed my covenant, into the hand of their enemies, and into the hand of them, which seek their life. And their dead bodies shall be for meat unto the fowls of heaven, and to the beasts of the earth.”* Nor can the threatenings in this passage be avoided, under the idea, that it is a prophecy, remote, and uninteresting to us. It contains nothing more than the natural and necessary consequences of slavery, in every country, where the slaves are more numerous than their masters. Indeed the prophecy has been most minutely fulfilled in the island already mentioned.

In this state indeed, and with the sincerest pleasure I make the remark, in consequence of the small number of slaves, the advancement of civilization, and the diffusion of a liberal policy, the situation of the negroes is essentially different. Exposed to few severe punishments, and indulged in many amusements, compared with what is found in most other countries, they are here flourishing, and happy. But even here they are slaves. The very idea embitters every enjoyment. Edition: 1983; Page: [21] So necessary is freedom to happiness, that the mind, well informed of its nature, and acquainted with its blessings, if subjected to the will of an arbitrary and cruel master, would be wretched and solitary, altho’ surrounded by all the pleasures of the garden of God. But as slaves do in fact exist in Connecticut, the inhabitants of the state, as it respects this great subject, must be divided into two classes—those, who justify slavery in the abstract—and those, who condemn it. And this general division will be found to comprehend every intermediate stage of character. For tho’ the number of persons is small, who will avowedly advocate the principles of slavery; yet such persons do not only exist, but have the hardihood to appeal for arguments to support their barbarous sentiments, to the fountain of our holy religion, which breathes nought but peace and good will to man. But there is another more specious description of persons, which I class among the enemies of the freedom and happiness of mankind. These persons professedly acknowledge the wickedness of slavery, and still, on the pretence of political expedience, use every artifice of ingenuity and fraud, to rivet the fetters, which bind their fellow creatures in bondage. Such persons, deaf to the voice of Reason, and the supplications of Humanity, bend every object to the advancement of their wealth, and the gratification Edition: current; Page: [[897]] of their ambition; while the groans of dying Innocence, the screams of violated Chastity, and the ravings of tortured Maniacks, would sleep on their ears like the gentle musick of the passing gale. To such persons, as well as to those of the second class, which I have mentioned, a few enslaved, wretched beings, appeal for the blessings of freedom. Edition: 1983; Page: [22] On the part of the slaves, it is a question of right; and on that of the state, a question of justice—a question, which cannot be suppressed by the strong pleadings of Avarice, nor hidden in the subterfuges of Sophistry. The first of these spirits is not more opposed to humanity, than the latter is to integrity. Sophistry may at times assist the advocate at the bar, when espousing the cause of iniquity; but in a legislator it must ever be infamous, and the conscience of an honest man will never submit to its imposition. Nor should motives of ambition be suffered to operate, to the destruction of human happiness. It is a possession of too much value, to be held by so frail a tenure. Depraved indeed must be the heart of that man, who will swerve from the rigid rules of justice and duty, to aid his ambitious projects. Equally depraved, and if possible more execrable is the unfeeling savage, who will lengthen out the misery of a fellow being with a smile of sarcastic pleasure on his fraudful countenance. In the hour of distress and apprehension, gloomy and bitter must be the reflections of such a mind. But to the mind animated with a love of justice, and glowing with the purest benevolence, the valley of the shadow of death, will open a peaceful passage to the preference of his God.

If the arguments which I have used, as well as innumerable others which are constantly urged in opposition to slavery, cannot be fully answered and refuted, may it not be hoped, that this relique of oppression, so odious and so wicked, will be speedily extirpated in the state of Connecticut. Why should a countenance in this happy land, be saddened with the melancholy evil! Edition: 1983; Page: [23] Can it be urged as a reason for its continuance, that the slaves, not being numerous enough to become troublesome, are unworthy of the public attention? A regard to the happiness of beings, occupying but a point in his dominions, destitute even of the claim of justice, and dependent on his will for existence, induced the Son of the living God to exchange the bosom of his Father, for a cruel, and ignominious death. And shall we refuse so slightly to imitate this illustrious example? The slaves are sufficiently numerous, and sufficiently important, to be Edition: current; Page: [[898]] highly injured, by being stripped of the only blessing, which can render life worth enjoying. For where is the being, who would not rather yield up his life a sacrifice, than part with his freedom? The wretch, if such an one can be found, is unworthy of the name of man.

Who then can charge the negroes with injustice, or cruelty, when “they rise in all the vigour of insulted nature,” and avenge their wrongs? What American will not admire their exertions, to accomplish their own deliverance? Every friend to justice and freedom, while his heart bleeds at the recital of the devastation and slaughter, which necessarily attend such convulsions of liberty, must thank his God for the emancipation of every individual from the miseries of slavery. This is the language of freedom; but it is also the language of truth—a language which ever grates on the ears of tyrants, whether placed at the head of a plantation, or the head of an empire. Every description of them, sooner than be deprived of domination—

  • Would rather see
  • This earth a desart, desolate, and wild,
  • And like a lion stalk his lonely round,
  • Famish’d, and roaring for his prey.”*

Edition: 1983; Page: [24] But this spirit, has neither charms to allure, nor terrors to awe the inhabitants of America. Having resisted it in the full vigour of manhood, they will disdain to yield to it in the imbecility of infancy. And indeed, submission would not only be deeply degrading, but extremely dangerous—dangerous, not to liberty alone, but to security and peace. Those tender plants can never flourish, on the bleak and barren soil of Slavery. For the same principles, which lead nations to the attainment of freedom, urge individuals to pursue the same important object; and the struggles of the latter, are as often marked with desperation as the efforts of the former. Indeed, from individuals, the spirit is generally communicated to states, and from states to nations. And since the mighty, and majestic course of Freedom has begun, nothing but the arm of Omnipotence can prevent it from reaching to the miserable Africans. But let the domestic tyrants of the earth, tremble at the approaches of such a destructive enemy. For should they even attempt to oppose it, either by strategem or force—

  • “Devouring War, shall wake his bloody band
  • Edition: current; Page: [[899]]
  • At Freedom’s call, and scourge their guilty land.
  • And while this thundering chariot rolls along,
  • And scatters discord o’er the fated throng,
  • Death in the man, with Anger, Hate, and Fear,
  • And Desolation stalking in the rear,
  • Revenge, by Justice guided, with his train,
  • Shall drive impetuous o’er the trembling plain.”**
Edition: current; Page: [[900]]

[59]: Americanus [TIMOTHY FORD 1762-1830]

The Constitutionalist: Or, An Inquiry How Far It Is Expedient and Proper to Alter the Constitution of South Carolina

Born and raised in New Jersey, Ford graduated from Princeton and studied law in New York. Thereafter he practiced law in Charleston, South Carolina, where he was prominent in public life and civic affairs. Between September 29 and November 10, 1794, Ford published ten essays in Charleston’s City Gazette and Daily Advertiser under the name Americanus. At issue was the demand by those in the uplands of South Carolina, the Piedmont area west of the first set of falls, for a redistricting of the legislature to take into account population shifts during the previous two decades. Those in the eastern tidewater region, now in a minority among the voting population, naturally opposed such reapportionment, as well as any attempt to reapportion the upper house on the basis of anything but wealth. Ford, speaking for the tidewater interests, outlines a theory of representation drawn from a conservative Whig perspective that looks back to the pre-Revolution era for its roots, and foreshadows the Southern view until the Civil War. Only the first seven essays are reproduced here because the last three are taken up with specific and technical details of proposed districts.

No. I.

It has been customary amongst theoretical writers on government, to deduce the rights of man from an ideal state, called a state of nature. Edition: current; Page: [[901]] This is a state in which the human race is supposed to have been placed by their Maker, the world being a great common, and man the incumbent; a state in which each one had a right to take what he wanted from the objects that surrounded him but acquired no property in what he did take, except while using or consuming it; that the moment he laid it out of his hand, it reverted to the general mass, and became the equal property of all, by ceasing to be the peculiar property of any. Possession was the only legitimate mode of acquiring right, and that right could be secured only by consuming the subject. The part that remained unconsumed, though only laid down upon the turf while the possessor could go to the spring and drink, immediately belonged to the byestander, who, in his absence might incline to take it up. To make the hypothesis better answer the ends of its creation, it goes on to say, that in this state might and right were synonimous terms; and he who wrested from the hands of his weaker neighbour the root which he had dug out of the ground, or the prey which he had hunted in the forest, acquired the privilege of calling it his own. That the state of nature was by this means a scene of constant strife, and man the most barbarous savage of the wilderness; that victory and defeat were the only events that could be recorded, and alternate plunder the only intercourse amongst God’s creation; that the moral principle had no place amongst men, mere inclination being the only incentive to action, and their will the only law they knew. The hypothesis then supposes, that men, grown weary of a state so barbarous and bloody, at length took up the idea of associating together in a compact, in order that they might, by the united strength, curb the outrageous, and protect the weak and pusilanimous; that by this means the world was transformed Edition: 1983; Page: [4] from a state of nature to a state of society, from a state of war to a state of peace.

There is a rule in arithmetic called the rule of false, which teaches us by assuming some numbers known not to be true, but working with them as though they were true, to find out that which is really so. Fortunately, arithmetic furnishes other methods of arriving at the truth, and I should be sorry if it were the only science that could boast of that prerogative. Indeed, the very rule itself requires, that as there should be some other rule by which it can be tested; no man could ever know that the conclusions to which he might be conducted by the rule of false were just, unless he had the result of a true rule to compare them with. The only advantage derivable from the fact is, Edition: current; Page: [[902]] that we are thereby taught that falsehood may be so disguised under the garb of truth, as to confound all distinction between them, unless the mind be guarded by caution.

Now, it is manifest, that such a state as is called a state of nature never in fact existed since the creation of Adam and Eve. Man was no sooner born, than he was associated under some common tie, which bound the human race together. The first knowledge he had of himself was this. Nature implanted the ties, habit confirmed them, and experience approved them. Man knew his powers and his rights, before the fancy of philosophers ever engendered this ideal state; and felt the relation in which he stood to his fellowmen, by rules superior to those which were metaphysically deduced from it. The laws of nature he knew from his own experience; but a state of nature was neither intelligible nor credible. When he was told, that what he acquired by his own industry was his own, he understood it; but when he was talked to of a state of nature, in which nothing was his own, but that he had felt the inconveniencies of his weak and destitute situation, and had transferred himself into a state of society in order to acquire property, he recollected nothing of it. He attended to the narrative concerning it, as to a fairy tale which amused his curiosity; but when he sat down soberly to reflect upon his rights and his duties, he placed himself under the direction of his senses, and deduced his rule of conduct from the real situation which he found he occupied in the world, and which he understood to be much the same as Edition: 1983; Page: [5] the generations of men who had gone before. It appeared safer to reason upon things as they are, than as they might have been; rather upon that which was real, than upon that which feigned. Nor was he destitute of sufficient lights to guide his reason. Observing that every man came into the world equally naked and helpless, and all returned to a state of perfect equality in the grave, he easily inferred that each was by nature as good as his neighbour. When he experienced hunger and thirst, cold and nakedness, he learnt the necessity and the means of remedying them at the same time. Feeling that the benevolencies and affections of the heart rewarded their possessor with peculiar gratification, and made all around him contented and happy; and perceiving that the angry passions harrowed up his own repose, and threw all around him into a state of ferment and confusion; he at once learnt the value of the social duties and kindred virtues. When he trangressed the rules which these virtues invariably suggested, he felt a degree of Edition: current; Page: [[903]] self reproach; and when he performed them, of self-approbation; which taught him to mark the difference between good and evil, virtue and vice. The principles of honor and shame sprung spontaneously from the evolutions of the moral sense; and man was at once referred to a monitor within, to which he entrusted the government of his actions. When he surveyed his strength and his faculties, and found that they were subjected by nature to his own volition only, and that each was endowed with his portion thereof, he easily learnt that the portion allotted to each individual belonged exclusively to himself. When he perceived that in the exercise of them he could procure what nature prompted him to desire he learnt that the things procured belonged to himself in the same manner. The rules of justice resulted from every thing he saw and felt. It was easy to conclude, that no one could take from another the fruits of his faculties, since he could not command the faculties themselves. Each one was of course entitled to his acquisitions in proportion to his own exertions, or to the degree of ability which nature had conferred; for it was soon evinced that she had her favorites. In a word, the moral principle aided by experience, and unfolding itself at every turn, became the able instructor and the unerring guide of man; his rights, his interests, his duties and his obligations naturally Edition: 1983; Page: [6] sprung from this source; he felt it in every emotion, and saw it exemplified in all the works of nature. But, as the first station he found himself in was the social, so his first and all his subsequent reflections arose in it; its benefits and conveniencies, which every day’s experience demonstrated, were not considered as the moving cause with man to form that state, but as the substantial reason why he was placed in it. Unbiassed nature could never believe that the Maker of man placed him in a state excessively bad, and that he altered it for the better by a contrivance of his own. The inference which man naturally drew from every thing he saw, knew and felt, was, that God placed him in a social state, but left the regulation of the terms of association to himself. To be associated, therefore, was the law of his nature; but the modification of the social compact was to be governed by those various circumstances in which each society might find themselves; each was at liberty to form their own contract, and fix their own principles.

The Scythians might choose one mode, the companions of Cecrops another, and the followers of Romulus, a third; each might bind themselves by their own institutes, but could not be bound by those Edition: current; Page: [[904]] of one another. Men did not, therefore, learn their rights from the form of the compact they made, but made the compact the means of protecting the rights which they had previously ascertained to belong to them as associating beings. To say then, that this or that particular right is the offspring of a social compact, if true at all, is not the whole truth, and therefore misleads. Every substantial right depends as much upon society as every other. The right of property is generally adduced as an instance of what is derived merely from the social compact. To prove this, it is said, that the strong rob the weak of their acquisitions in a state of nature, and therefore that the institution of society is necessary to guarantee the possession and enjoyment of them. Yielding for a moment to the supposition of such a state as is called a state of nature, I will prove that the right to life depends on the same principle: for, let me ask, if the same superiority of strength in that state, is not equally sufficient to take the life? and not the combined force of society equally necessary to protect it? It follows then, that life, and every other right, are as much the gift Edition: 1983; Page: [7] or emanation of society, as the right of property; because, it must be confessed, that in a state of nature they are equally subject to the invasion of the strong. Will it be answered, that life being the gift of nature, and necessarily existent under her laws, is to be distinguished from property, which being a subsequent acquisition made by man, has no dependence on the laws of nature? It will not avail; for the preservation of life is nature’s first law, and she herself points out the means. These consist in the fruits of the earth, or the prey of the forest, acquired by him whose existence is to be preserved thereby; to take these away, is to take life itself. If, therefore, the right to the property thus acquired be not a natural right, neither is the right to life such: for, I can see no substantial difference between taking away the life of a man by intercepting his food, or by strangling. Nor is this right of property confined to mere present subsistence, as it is very easy to evince. Nature has ordained a period to the bodily powers, short of that she has assigned for life. She has implanted in man as strong an attachment to his existence when those powers have sunk under the elapse of years, as when the vigor of youth enabled him to provide the requisites of life. She has bestowed upon him in youth more strength and activity than the current exigencies of life require, with an evident reference to the wants and imbecility of his declining years. She has, therefore, announced to him, that the time will come Edition: current; Page: [[905]] when he will wish to live, and shall not be able, unless he devotes the surplus of his youthful strength to provide for his helpless condition when age shall have dissolved his nerves. Thus having implanted in every man the right to future as well as present existence, and appointed the same means for both, the right and the means are as clear and inviolable in the one case as the other. To this we may add, that she has laid her strongest injunctions on man to provide for the infant years of his offspring; the right to that provision, when made, is therefore as strong as is the right of his offspring to life.

The conclusion then is, that the right of property, as well as those of life and liberty, are the gifts of nature. The end of civil society is to guard them by stronger sanctions, the moral sense being too weak and too unequal amongst men for that purpose. The two last are common to all men in Edition: 1983; Page: [8] equal degrees; the first is common to all, but the degree depends upon the endowments of nature, and industry and success in the pursuit. The idle and the indigent acquire no title, under the social compact to supply their own remissness out of the acquisitions of the industrious; yet this is ever the tendency of human nature: against this the social institutions ought chiefly to be directed. If an individual attempt it, he is instantly punished by the sentence of the laws, as an invader both of natural and social right. No aggregation of numbers can sanction the act; and that social compact or constitution must be exceedingly imperfect, which does not protect the industrious as well against public rapacity as against private robbery. The latter we know can be at all times suppressed; it is from the former that most is to be apprehended, and against it therefore the civil institutions ought chiefly to be directed. When men confederate for wicked purposes, their numbers keep them in countenance; and under the plausible pretence of being a majority, they may be led to attempt that which, as individuals, they would blush to avow. And when by deceitful casuistry, they are reconciled to the attempt of preying upon the possessions of the wealthy, the point of satiety is the only one at which they will be likely to stop. Where this point is, would be hard to know. The merely malevolent passions expire of their own violence, or subside with the blood; perfidy and fraud may out-run their means, or grow tired: but rapacity, when once put into motion, knows no bounds short of exhausting the objects. Small successes are the parents of greater desires; the sweets Edition: current; Page: [[906]] of enjoyment tempt on the pursuit, and that which began in vice becomes sanctioned by precedent.

No. II.

Edition: 1983; Page: [9] The natural rights of men undoubtedly form the rational foundation of the social compact. I say the rational foundation; for, it cannot be doubted, that if man be a free agent, endowed by nature with the power of disposing of his own situation in the world, he may in this and every other instance make a compact or agreement irrational and foolish. I have shewn, in a former number, that these natural rights are derived from the laws of necessities of nature; that is, what is common and necessary to all men, as such, must spring from nature. It is not requisite to frame the fanciful system of a state of nature, in order to learn what these are; for, as the laws of nature cannot be changed, so neither can they be beholden to any contrivances of man. They illustrate and prove themselves. Life, liberty and property, have been adduced as the chief among the natural rights of men. The two former are common to all men, and in equal degree; the latter is indeed common to all, but the degree depends upon industry and success. That very industry, while it produces the personal benefit of each individual, constitutes the prosperity, strength and comfort of the whole. It is as necessary to the existence of the body-politic, under its best organization, as to the existence of the individual in the supposed natural state. A variety of writers have attempted to shew what a people ought to do when they form a social compact for the purpose of perpetuating or securing their rights. If the natural rights were the only matters to be regarded, perpetuated or secured by the institution of society, the rules which they commonly frame would be liable to fewer exceptions. It is here that their fancied state of nature misleads them; they first of all place man naked and destitute amongst the roving animals of the forest, where they run for some time without connection, and almost without knowledge of one another; then they collect their rude materials into a plain and form a horde, and out of this horde springs a social compact. Here, as every man comes out of the same rude situation of nakedness and savage barbarity, all are to start even and equal in the career of society, no interest being acquired by any, with nothing in possession, but every thing in pursuit, the Edition: current; Page: [[907]] object of the association may be summed up in a short sentence—“Life, liberty and property shall be secured Edition: 1983; Page: [10] to all;” and all that would be required of a constitution would be to provide the means of accomplishing that end. But as such a previous state never existed but in the dreams of theorists, so the rules that are formed upon it must be imperfect for a practical system. If men, at the formation of a compact or constitution, are in fact possessed of acquired rights, and vested interests, these must be regarded, or the compact will embrace but one half of its object. Instead of being founded upon the principles of reason and justice, it would be evidently partial; and the descriptions of people, whose peculiar rights and interests were thus discarded from the compact, in subscribing to it, would authenticate the evidence of their own folly.

A late ingenious author* seems to have had a view to this distinction, when he says, “Besides the general maxims of legislation which apply to all, there are particular circumstances confined to each people, which must influence their establishment, and render their regulations proper only for themselves. Thus we see that the Hebrews formerly, and the Arabs in later times, have had religion for their principal object; the Athenians, literature; Tyre and Carthage, commerce; Rhodes, her marine; Sparta, war; and Rome, virtue.” If the accidental state into which society may be thrown after the formation of a constitution, ought to influence the laws and regulations, by parity of reason ought the pre-existent state of the people themselves to influence the consitution. For what purpose is it made, if not to suit the state and condition of men? The natural rights of man ought indeed to be common to all constitutions; but the real situation of each people ought to govern their own institutes, and make them peculiar to themselves. The natural rights of man can never vary in any society, because they are built upon the eternal principles of nature; but the interests of man are subject to all those vicissitudes to which the state of society is itself liable. Where there is but one specie of interest among the people who are about to adjust their association it will be as easy to adopt their constitution to their acquired interests as to their natural rights. If they were all shepherds, whatever guaranteed the interests of one, would serve for all.Edition: 1983; Page: [11] If they were all huntsmen or husbandmen, the rules would still be simple and Edition: current; Page: [[908]] plain. But if the husbandmen should come to associate with the shepherds, the latter would necessarily stipulate, that the pastures should not all be turned up by the plow; and if the huntsmen should join both, the one would stipulate that they should not frighten away or scatter the flocks; the other that they should not trample the fields of grain. And here it is proper to distinguish the rights of prior occupants from those of subsequent emigrants. It can never be contended under any laws, human or divine, that a body of husbandmen have a right to enter upon the peaceful society of shepherds, and prescribe their own terms of association.

This would be neither a social nor a civil compact; it would be a forcible invasion of right, which is the very thing the social compact is intended to avoid. If the prior occupants were free, they would surely have a right to prescribe to the new comers such stipulations as would effectually guard their acquired interests; and all that the latter could in decency ask, would be such stipulations as would secure to them the enjoyment of all the natural rights, and the benefit of all their acquired interests. If the interests of the two were of such a nature as to be utterly inconsistent and incapable of union, the emigrants ought to seek some other place, or some other people, and leave the prior occupants to themselves, none the worse for their visit. But if a union should be still insisted upon by the visitants, they ought to take the benefit, willing to yield their interests or their claims in those points where they could not be made consistent with the condition of the other party. Natural reason and unbiassed justice would dictate such a concession.

The superior right was on the side of the occupants, and no people can have a right to set down amongst them upon terms subversive of the rights they antecedently possessed; at least such a pretence can spring from nothing better than mere conquest which at this time of day no person will, I believe, contend to be a legitimate source of right. The occupants may indeed concede some of their rights, in order to facilitate the union, but the very idea of concession supposes a liberty of refusal. It at once involves the idea of a mere contract, in which each party may propose their terms Edition: 1983; Page: [12] of union, but neither can be compelled to accept; but, when they do accept, the compact then takes its rise, and is equally obligatory upon all, and is to be the touchstone of all future claims. The very essence of the compact, when made, is mutual obligation, which is obviously Edition: current; Page: [[909]] inconsistent with a power reserved in either party to rescind or remodel the stipulations so as to suit only themselves.

Force or conquest can be the only source of such a claim, and its advocates must equally contend for a right in the hunters of setting down, under terms prescribed by themselves, upon the prior occupancy of the peaceful shepherds. The party who would attempt either, place themselves at once in a state of war, and depend on force, and not on reason, for the accomplishment of their ends.

An intrusion like this into the domains of a settled people can claim no more pretence of right than Alexander, when he passed the Granicus, or Caesar when he passed the Rubicon. A wandering horde has just as good a right to set down amongst a people, and be their law givers, as they have, after having formed an association upon mutual principles, to change them at pleasure, as their varying interests, their passions, or their caprice may dictate. Power is in each case the only source of right, and arbitrary will the measure of its exercise. The common notions of a contract utterly exclude the idea of a right residing in one party to alter or rescind it—mutual obligation forms its very essence. To bind one party, and leave the other at large, is to impose a law upon a conquered people, instead of forming a contract between free and equal parties.

Mere power can never constitute a legitimate right, and yet by what other claim can one party presume, of their own accord, to change the compact? It is said indeed, that the majority ought to govern. This principle is true under modifications, but it is not indefinitely so. It is a principle very capable of being perverted, and likely always to be enlisted on the side of those who have or hope to have a majority, let their views or principles be what they may.

But I contend, 1st. That the majority of an associated people have no right to infringe the social compact. If they have, then it follows that the compact has no existence longer than while the contracting interests are equal in point of number or power. It would derive its sanctions not from Edition: 1983; Page: [13] mutual assent, nor from moral obligation, but from physical force. It would be no breach of civil duty to attempt a subversion of the government at any time, provided the enterprizing leader had a tolerable prospect of gaining a successful majority; for it never can be unlawful to attempt that which would be lawful if attended with success; and on this principle Cataline’s name ought to be erased from the records of infamy, and inscribed in Edition: current; Page: [[910]] the brightest page of Roman virtue. The weaker party in society would literally have no right whatever: neither life, liberty or property would be guaranteed to them by the social compact, seeing the majority are not bound by it, but might destroy the whole, and by the same rule any part of it at pleasure. In the case which we have supposed above of the husbandmen associating with the shepherds, the farmers, if a majority, would be justifiable in commiting rapine upon the flocks of their associates. Virtue and vice would lose their distinction; the most vicious views would be sanctified, if pursued by the greater number, and the most virtuous resistance punishable in the less. 2d. If the principles of justice are derived from a higher source than human institutions, (and who will deny it?) I contend that the majority have no right to infringe them. Society is made up of different descriptions of men; between each description a common interest creates a common sympathy. The merchants, the farmers, the planters and the manufacturers, each have their common interests; each of these interests have their respective rights annexed to them, independently of the great natural rights which are common to all.

Suppose one of these communities of interest (as the mercantile) to include a majority of the whole society—May they infringe the rights of any or of all of the others? May they do to the others as in return they would be unwilling should be done to themselves? (This I take as the best criterion of justice or injustice.) If they may, then a majority have a right to infringe the laws of nature, and every other law which dictates the rules of justice. These cease to be obligatory of course when three men chuse to abolish them, and but two men vote to observe them. In fine, justice would import no obligation per se, and must always count the number of her votaries against that of her opponents, to know whether she had any existence at all. The truth is, that the Edition: 1983; Page: [14] term majority is a relative term, and supposes a compact already made; by which compact it is stipulated or implied, that the general will in the functions of government shall be taken to be that which a majority declares. But take away the idea of a compact or association, and to what does this term then relate? It relates to nothing; or, which is the same thing, to an indefinite number of unassociated men, none of whom have any power or controul over the others. If then the rights of the majority (be they what they may) derive themselves from a previous compact, the compact is the principal, and those rights the accessory dependant upon it; and whenever the Edition: current; Page: [[911]] latter attempt to destroy the former, it in the same instant destroys itself. And what sort of right must that be, the exercise of which necessarily works its own destruction? A phantom raised up in the dark recesses of brooding theory, where “airy nothing often gains a local habitation and a name,” but which the light of practical reason dissolves away “like the baseless fabric of a vision.”

No. III.

In my first number I took the liberty of refusing my assent to the doctrine of a state of nature as being precedent to a state of society; because it is a mere creature of theory, and as such capable of being so managed and moulded as to mislead the candid enquirer. If any person will, however, point out to me the time and place, when and where it had existence, I will still acknowledge myself a convert to the doctrine. It would be sufficient for all my present purposes to deny, (which I believe I may safely do) that it ever existed in Carolina. I contended also, that a state of society is the natural state; that nature placed man in it the moment she produced him, but left the regulation of the terms of association to himself, as she did every thing else which respected his transactions and circumstances in this world. That without resorting to a state of nature, the natural rights of men may be easily known and understood, being in fact nothing more than what nature has obviously conferred or made necessary to Edition: 1983; Page: [15] every man. Of these were enumerated life, liberty and property. The first is conferred, the second and third made necessary by the decrees of nature. We might have included the intellectual right: but it might have led to a prolixity of metaphysical discussion unnecessary for the present purpose. These rights being common to all men, necessarily formed the foundation of the social compact. In the second number, however, it has been shewn, that they do not form the only foundation of it. The acquired interests of the different parties in society necessarily enter into the constitution of it. If this were not the case a party of merchants could never voluntarily associate with a party of planters, or a party of manufacturers with either. If their several interests be precious to each, neither can ever be supposed to assent to a compact, in which those interests are disregarded. What temptation could they have to associate? The rights about which they would be most solicitous Edition: current; Page: [[912]] (being most liable to invasion) would be those which the social compact would not provide for. This compact then, rationally understood, supposes the contracting parties to be of two descriptions. When it immediately regards the natural rights of man, each individual is a party per se, because each individual, as such, possesses those rights. When the rights of certain descriptions are to be provided for, each description, composed of many individuals, forms a contracting party. In no country under heaven is the latter better exemplified than in Carolina, being composed of the mercantile, the planting, the farming and the manufacturing interests. Each of these is as much entitled to consideration, in forming a compact, as any of the others; and neither submitted to it upon the principle of holding their peculiar rights and interests at the courtesy of any of the others. Such a submission, as I have before shewn, would import an act of necessity, and not of free agency and assent. There is a more general division, into which the society we live in may be viewed; I mean, the holders of slaves, and those who have none; or, more properly, those who pursue and must pursue their occupations by slaves, and those who pursue, or may pursue, their occupations of themselves. This latter division is, perhaps, the most comprehensive of any that can be made, and forms two interests very distinguishable from each other. This distinction Edition: 1983; Page: [16] must be qualified by a very important consideration. Not every one who holds slaves merely, is to be considered as forming a branch of the former description; but those whose cultivation is of such a nature, as that the very existence of it depends on that property. Nature has decreed, that the race of white people shall not labour in the fertile swamps of this climate; but she has not interdicted their labouring in the up lands, particularly above the falls of the rivers. These truths none will, I presume, undertake to controvert in the face of every day’s experience. It follows necessarily that, on the one hand, an upland farmer may part with all his slaves and be a farmer still; while, on the other, a swamp planter parting with them is broken up entirely, and is a planter no more. Let not, therefore, these distinct circumstances be confounded; for in confounding them we confound the rights of different parties, and open the door for erroneous reasoning. The slave is essential to the one; he is but convenient to the other. In the second number I have stated what I conceive to be rights of prior occupants, of those who have first discovered and settled a country, compared with the rights of those who afterwards emigrate and join them. A Edition: current; Page: [[913]] union between two such people can arise from but two sources, conquest or compact. As the former claims every thing, the occupants can have nothing but what is derived from courtesy. It is vain to attempt to reason upon rights unreasonably acquired. Instead of rights, reason declares them to be wrongs ab initio; and disclaims the having of any connexion with them.

There is, as yet, no avowed pretence in Carolina, of any rights being derived from this source. It is to be passed over as unworthy of discussion in a free country.

Compact then is the foundation on which we stand, subsisting as I have already shewn, between each individual of the one part, and the whole mass on the other, so far as respects life, liberty and property, and the other natural rights of men; and between each description of interest, and the residue collectively, so far as regards the common interests of each description. Thus the common mercantile interest contracts that the planting, farming and manufacturing interests shall be sacredly regarded, while they, on the other hand, guarantee the mercantile. Each of these interests alternately contract Edition: 1983; Page: [17] with all the others; and this branch of the social compact is as necessary, as obvious, and as indispensible as the former: as necessary, because the danger of invasion is as great; as obvious, because the title of each party is as clear; and as indispensible, because the inducements are as cogent as any right to which the social compact can have relation. Nay, the danger of invasion is greater than in the case of the natural rights, as I have hinted in a former number; for although these interests are the emanation of one of the natural rights, vis. property, yet there are a thousand ways in which arbitrary restrictions, preferences, monopolies, or unequal taxation may be brought to bear upon some one or more of them, without a direct invasion of the natural right of property. The sacredness of the natural rights forms in a great degree their protection, and throws a sudden and forcible check upon the effects of power.

But when interest has seduced the heart, insidious glosses dazzled the understanding, and consciousness of power tempted the act, the subverted interests of particular classes have been made to bear reluctant testimony to the truth of the assertion. Every citizen then in society, who was of a particular description of interest, may be said to have contracted in a double capacity. If a planter, he stipulated as a man, that his natural rights should be preserved, and as a planter, that the Edition: current; Page: [[914]] planting interest should not be swallowed up by the other interests in the state. It would be a piece of mockery, if the former only were provided, and the latter left unsecured. The same may be said of all the other descriptions. In this view of the compact, there is no mystery, no far fetched theory; it is what every man feels when he refers to himself, and all must approve when applied to others. It takes man as it finds him, with all his real rights, interests and circumstances attending him. The social compact appears what it ought to be; a bargain, in which a variety of interests are concerned, adopted by common consent for the safety of all. In adjusting such a compact, amongst a people extensive in numbers and territory, unequal in population and riches, diverse in habits and manners, many difficulties must be expected to occur. Some will be natural, some fictitious. That effort which self-interest always makes to gain the advantage of a contract, will be no less employed on an occasion like this. Each party will set off their respective interests, and state Edition: 1983; Page: [18] their demands with peculiar ferver. It is here that the different interests which I have been contending for, but which the common theory takes no notice of, make their appearance. Each interest unites in distinct views, and makes an integral party in the discussion. The natural rights, as all men agree in them, are found easy to adjust; the difficulty made no account of in theory, turns out in practice to be the subject most agitated in arranging the social compact. It is morally impossible that the several interests should be composed of equal numbers. Nor is it necessary they should, in order that they may be entitled to weight as an interest in the adjustment of the social compact, because it would at once be estimating the rights and interests of man by the number of votes, and not by principle; a position which I trust has been refuted in a former number. As in a free constitution, no man is so poor or contemptible, but his natural rights are to be sacredly regarded, so no existing interest is to be set at nought or sacrificed, because of its comparative smallness in point of number. If it forms in reality a contracting party, that is sufficient to entitle it to every claim it could have, were the numbers never so much augmented. If this were not so, the master interest, like Aaron’s serpent, might constitutionally swallow up all the rest; and an Agrarian law be engrafted upon legitimate right, under a system which professes to secure to every man his possessions. When by a compact, a people have determined that the society shall be governed by laws made for Edition: current; Page: [[915]] the common good (so they do not oppugn the compact) it is natural indeed, that they should agree to take the sense of the majority of the constituted bodies as the touch stone of such laws; because there is no other method for them to fix upon. But they could never make a compact, and then submit to the majority of the people, who contract, whether it is a compact or not, or whether it should continue as they made it. Three men might as well sign and seal a mutual obligation, and after they had done, leave it to the determination of any two of them, whether it is obligatory or not; any two might in that case collude together for the purpose of defrauding the third.

It follows from this, that, as to all legislative acts, the majority of the constituted body has a right to determine; but Edition: 1983; Page: [19] that the right is derived from the very compact itself, and not from any pre-existent quality supposed to reside in the people during the time they were in an unconnected state, or were passing from that to another state. It has been shewn before, that any attempt to exercise such a right upon a contract itself, would be the same thing as an attempt to rescind and destroy it. Thus, then, the minority are bound to the majority in the making of laws; but in the making of constitutions the obligation is reciprocal, and therefore equal upon both. This is a distinction of the utmost consequence to a free government. Laws spring from constantly varying circumstances of the society: their objects, and of course, their duration, are often temporary; they are sometimes founded in mistake, sometimes made for experiment, and are therefore in all cases subject to be varied or abrogated.

The good of society requires that the laws should change with its exigencies; and the power of deciding when these exigencies occur, must be referred to the majority of the constituted bodies. This majority may speak the sense of a majority of the people, or it may not; but I know of no constitution which prescribes a mode of ascertaining the fact, or that requires the ascertainment of the fact as a prerequisite to give force and validity to the law. The people having, in their charter of association, drawn certain rules for the government of the bodies they constitute, surrender to those bodies the right of judging upon matters of public expediency; reposing their safety and tranquility in this, that let them institute what they may, there are certain rights and interests which they cannot invade, certain prescribed boundaries which they cannot pass. Their constitution is a strong citadel which commands every part that is without, and, having been Edition: current; Page: [[916]] built by the aid of all, nothing less than the strength of all can demolish it. But when a part of the association, perhaps a bare majority by one, assumes the privilege of destroying this goodly fabrick of pleasure, it then becomes rather a place of annoyance than of defence. Nothing is, from that moment, safe in society. A majority—it is an appellation easy to assume, a thing which every man in society (no matter by what means) will assume the right to form if he can. The vilest of factions may sometimes acquire it in the moments of popular delusion, and invoke its sanction in Edition: 1983; Page: [20] the worst of causes. A compact which cannot secure society against such efforts or pretensions, is unworthy of a free people. It ensures no tranquility to the peaceable, no success to the industrious, and no prospect of reward to any, but those who would break all the bands of society and commence a general plunder.

No. IV.

In the three former numbers I have stated certain principles which influence men upon entering into society, as well as in adjusting the association; or, in other words, in framing a constitution. These have been deduced from practice and experience, from acknowledged rights and interests, and not from any particular theory. They have been illustrated and proved in a manner at least satisfactory to myself. They are before the public, who will form their own judgment concerning them. Persuaded as I am myself, of their solidity, it will not be inconsistent in me to build upon them as upon a solid foundation. It has probably struck the reader already, that these papers have a reference to a subject which has lately been made public, and which is likely to become highly interesting to the people of this country. It has been announced that a number of gentlemen in the upper country, have associated together as reformers; have organized themselves into a systematic body, and have dispersed their subordinate bodies throughout the country, under prescribed principles and special instructions. They have addressed themselves to the people at large, telling them that they had made a new discovery which had astonished them; though they had indeed suspected before, from some facts within their knowledge, that matters were as they turned out to be upon their Edition: current; Page: [[917]] “careful and attentive examination.”* This new discovery, it seems, Edition: 1983; Page: [21] was of an inequality in the representation of this country: from whence it was inferred, that our government possesses the form of freedom without the substance; and the constitution being radically defective or oppressive, the people are called upon to join the reformers in setting it right. The latter have promised to draw petitions for the people to sign, and to support them before the legislature in such a manner as will not be unworthy of the cause. They tell the people, that attempts had before been made to obtain a partial redress, but the legislature was of opinion that the people did not wish it. They are therefore exhorted to refute this opinion by the unanimity of their measures; although the evil itself was announced by the association as a recent discovery, which they were then giving the first notice of to the people. These communications have been followed by a series of letters, signed Appius, addressed in a familiar style to the people of South-Carolina; but upon a perusal of them, we find, that they are particularly addressed to that part of the state commonly called the upper or back country. The object seems to be to convince the inhabitants that they are exceedingly oppressed under the existing form of government in this state, and to reinforce the address from the reform association. To remodel the constitution, in point of representation, so as to place the wealth of the low country, and all its interests and concerns, under the immediate administration of the back country, seems to be the direct view both of the association and of the address. It is declared, that wealth ought not be represented; that a rich citizen ought to have fewer votes than his poor neighbour; that wealth should be stripped of as many advantages as possible, and it will then have more than enough; and finally, that in giving property the power of protecting itself, government becomes an aristocracy. The advocates for such a system, have, in my view, but one step further to go. These principles are well pointed, and their aim pretty well disclosed, in the 31st page of the pamphlet, where it is said, “The upper and lower countries have opposite habits and views in almost every particular. One is accustomed to expence, the other to frugality. One will be inclined to numerous offices, large salaries, and an expensive government; the other, from Edition: current; Page: [[918]] the moderate fortunes of the inhabitants, and their simple way of life, will prefer low Edition: 1983; Page: [22] taxes, small salaries, and a very frugal civil establishment. One imports almost every article of consumption, and pays for it in produce; the other is far removed from navigation, has very little to export, and must therefore supply its own wants. Consequently one will favor commerce, the other manufactures; one wishes slaves, the other will be better without them. Where two classes of people in the same community have such opposite inclinations and customs, it is fit that the most numerous should govern.”

I cannot think that the people of this country, and particularly of the lower country, have been tranquil readers of these doctrines. To them it involves a question no less than “to be or not to be.” I profess myself to be one who considers it of the utmost magnitude, who views the attempt now making, as of the most dangerous and alarming kind, and one which ought to arouse our most steady and determined opposition. Under this impression, I shall proceed, in the course of a few remaining numbers, to discuss these claims under the principles which I have already laid down with that freedom which becomes a citizen, and I trust with that respectful deference which is due to the public. It is observable, that not only the right to govern, but the manner in which the government is to be exerted, are plainly disclosed in this pamphlet; commerce and slaves, and the other points which constitute “the opposite views and interests,” are to be governed (perhaps abolished) by the “most numerous,” whose manufacturing interests are repugnant to the first, and who would “be better without the second.” One unavoidable inference results from the whole, which is, that the upper and lower country, as they are at present situated, never can be connected under any form which does not explicitly lay all the peculiar rights of the latter at the feet of the former. I shall, however, refer observations of this kind to a future paper, and at present resume my plan. I trust I have demonstrated already, that certain rights attach to the prior occupants of a country, which subsequent emigrants can claim no right to divest, unless it is the right of conquest.

I have also hinted, and in some measure exemplified what these rights are; and now lay it down as a principle, that the right of prior occupancy comprehends all those advantages and immunities which are essential to the nature of the industry and Edition: 1983; Page: [23] pursuits which led the prior occupants to settle and attach themselves to the country in which the emigrants found Edition: current; Page: [[919]] them. If the latter cannot associate with the former under any other terms than compelling them to abandon their original occupations, the latter have no right to associate at all; because their union becomes inconsistent with the very existence of one of the parties; and if so, who ought to give way? Appius tells us the prior occupants: then Appius must contend for the right of conquest. Let the republicans of Carolina weigh well the principles of such a pretence, before they decide upon it.

Here then we come to the question, in whom doth the rights of prior occupancy reside? A short survey of the history of Carolina will answer the question. Indeed Appius himself tells us who are not the prior occupants, by setting forth the great rapidity with which the upper country has become peopled within the few last years. He tells us that “all that is now called the back country, and even the middle districts, were for a long time held by the savages; that population and wealth were confined to a few leagues along the sea coast; and that the lower country was flourishing and wealthy, while the middle was either wholly unsettled, or contained only a few indigent and scattering inhabitants, and the more remote, interior parts now called the back country, entirely unknown or occupied by savages.” Those Carolinians who have formed any acquaintance with the history of their own country, know, that some where about the year 1670, a number of adventurers, under the auspices of the first proprietors, fled from want and religious persecution at home, and took refuge amongst the forests of this country. The first settlement was made under governor Sayle, upon the spot where Charleston now stands. Those poor occupants, and such as joined them from year to year, encountered every possible hardship incident to their situation, and braved the hostile tribes of barbarians that surrounded them; fondly imagining that they would enjoy themselves and transmit to their children all the rights, civil and religious, which they sacrificed so much to obtain. After twenty years labour, expended with little reward, in clearing and cultivating the sandy uplands near the coast, accident discovered that the riches of the country lay in the swamps; and the rice was the grain congenial both to the soil and the climate. It was soon found, Edition: 1983; Page: [24] however, that the race of white people could not labour there, and that he who attempted it, seldom cleared more ground than sufficed for his own grave, in which he was very shortly deposited. Captive Indians were soon substituted, and in process of time, labourers were drawn from Edition: current; Page: [[920]] Africa. The cultivation of the swamps, by their agency, became a system which made the low country flourishing and wealthy; while the upper country was the habitation of savages, and the place from whence the settlers were constantly invaded. Inconsiderable in numbers as they were, their blood and treasure were often drawn upon to purchase that peaceable territory now enjoyed by their brethren of the upper country. Children are now alive, who have wept a father slain by the hands of the savages; nay, there are now many citizens whose feet have trodden the wilderness of that country, and who, at the risk of their lives, have derived to the present inhabitants the privilege of setting down upon lands uninfested by the barbarous tribes. Not more than twenty-one years before the late war, the territory which now claims to govern the low country, was acquired from the Indians, and forts were built for the defence of it. And who are the present occupants? Those who have gathered from all quarters of late years, and associated themselves with the people of the low country; the first occupants of the one place, and for the most part the first proprietors of the other. The latter were in possession of their country, their slaves, their rights, and their properties, as they now stand; while the former were in other countries and associated with other people. Hither they came, acquiescing in the country as they found it; they found it a country abounding in wealth, but weak in numbers; they held out their numbers as the guarantee, and not as the destroyer of its wealth; and in return acquired the equal right of pursuing their fortunes and partaking of its privileges.

The population of the low country was nearly as great as it is at the present time, when that of the middle country was but inconsiderable, and when the trees of the back forest had never felt the axe. In the low country it spread from the sea coast; in the back country it arose from a current of migrations setting down the continent on each side of the mountains. The settlers of the low country, for the most Edition: 1983; Page: [25] part, brought with them a stock of wealth which they threw into the common fund. In the back country the settlers brought little else but their persons. I mean no offence by this distinction; but the fact is not controvertible. All the emigrants who joined the low country, found it peculiarly situated both with regard to its government and its slaves; they acquiesced in a system which they saw so necessary and proper for a people so peculiarly situated.

They felt many advantages in their indigent situation, of sitting Edition: current; Page: [[921]] down amongst a people whose resources of wealth were abundantly competent for all the exigencies both of government and defence. The people with whom they associated, cheerfully recognized their title to all the privileges of freemen, and all the rights of protection; they were even content to see the fruits of their labour enure to themselves with little or no exactions to government; but they uniformly said, “that our very existence as a people, depends upon the perpetual observance of certain fundamental institutions, and we cannot submit to any people on earth the power of abrogating or altering them.” We have embarked all that is dear to us in this system, which our forefathers planted and transmitted to us; and we must cease to be altogether, the instant we cease to be just what we are. To you who are settling a different country, we chearfully guarantee every benefit and immunity you can possibly derive from it; our ancient system possesses nothing that opposes any obstacle to you; but on the contrary, our wealth purchases the means of your protection, and our commerce affords reward to your industry. We are willing to share with you every interest and every right which we possess; but we cannot surrender the power of regulating our great and peculiar concerns. Though we take you into our association, content that you should share the government, yet we can never surrender ourselves into your hands with power to dispose of us as you please; being bound by no natural or moral obligation to do so, and feeling that it would be reposing too much in the hands of a people, strangers to our interests, our customs and our concerns. The nature of the country you are about to settle, and of the pursuits of the settlers, point out that its numbers will soon transcend those of the low country; and we must at this moment stipulate Edition: 1983; Page: [26] for our ultimate safety, or by admitting you into our body, we surrender ourselves to your disposal. As an alliance upon such terms would probably be fatal unto us at some time or another, we would rather decline its present advantages; but if your object be, as you profess, to embark with us, content that wealth should form the ballast, as it does in fact the sinews of the state, we welcome you as fellow citizens, and embrace you as brethren. The language was natural, the compact reasonable, and therefore acquiesced in. The emigrants in the back country felt an honest disposition to subscribe to the superior rights of the prior occupants; they pretended no claim of setting down amongst the latter, and being their law-givers; they did that from principle which they clearly felt Edition: current; Page: [[922]] they should themselves have required under like circumstances. They stipulated that man should be free, and all his natural rights sacredly regarded; and under these stipulations they were content to associate and pursue their industry. They saw that the occupants of the low country could never, with safety, blend themselves with a people who were likely to be superior in numbers, and in every respect so differently circumstanced, upon any other terms; they were conscious of no right themselves to negative the terms, being free to accept them, or seek some other people, whose interests, habits and views were more congenial with their own. They found them advantageous and accepted them. Under the union thus formed, they have lived happy and free; their numbers have increased almost beyond example, and the later emigrants have discovered nothing in the state of the connexion to prevent their placing themselves, their interests, and their families under it. Bad as it is, in the opinion of the reformers, thousands have thought it more eligible than any thing offered by the neighboring states, and, without any view of altering the system, have planted their vines and fig trees in confidence of peace and happiness.

No. V.

Edition: 1983; Page: [27] I hope that it has been evinced in the last number, to every candid and unprejudiced mind, that the inequality of representation between the low and the back country, so much exclaimed against by Appius hath sprung from no usurpation, nor from any novel principles incorporated into the government of this country. Instead, therefore, of announcing it as a discovery just made, as a horrible thing just burst upon them, the association might have read it in every period of the Carolina history, and traced it through every vestige of its government. They might have seen it not only at the original settlement of the upper and back country, but found it running through the progress of the connexion to the present day; and some of them might perhaps have recognized it as the system under which they were born. Had they been willing, they might also have surveyed the causes that produced it. They would have noticed it as the production of assent, always implicitly and often expressly given. As relating to the people of the low country, they would have recognized in it nothing but Edition: current; Page: [[923]] what common prudence and self preservation would dictate; as relating to the back country, nothing but reasonable and just acquiescence. Placing themselves amongst the former, they would have felt at once that they would themselves have stipulated for it, placing themselves candidly amongst the latter, that they could not with reason refuse it. They must in the one case feel all the solicitude of prior occupants, who had grown old and wealthy under a system, the violation of which would be their ruin; as emigrants on the other hand, who had acquired every thing but the mere balance of the government, or a power to violate the established system, they must feel every reason to be satisfied. The emigrants having acquired every thing necessary to the success of their own views in joining a settled people, and all that was consistent with the safety of that people could claim no more under professions of a peaceable connexion. To have then demanded more, would have betrayed an overweening ambition; and would have suggested to the occupants well founded apprehensions that the demand was prompted by other views than those of sitting down peaceably and pursuing their fortunes under equal laws. They might have Edition: 1983; Page: [28] began to dread, that in fostering these emigrations, they would plant in their own bosoms the seeds of their ruin. Under such an impression, instead of draining their treasury, and even mortgaging their future industry, as they often did, to drive from the back country those who were constantly opposing the progress of that settlement; they would rather have entered into an everlasting treaty with Moytoy and Skijogustah, and the nations they represented, to stand a barrier to foreign migrations. Better might they conceive it, to resort occasionally to arms to repel savage invasions, than to surrender themselves by compact to the unqualified disposal of people from all countries, little better acquainted with the pre-existent institutions and peculiar circumstances of the country than the aborigines, and restrained by no constitutional check from the violation of them. Had the settlers, in fact, announced or avowed one half of what Appius has done, instead of being welcomed as associates by the occupants, under the persuasion that by such accessions, strength and prosperity would be derived to the state, the latter would have been shocked at every emigration, viewing as a reinforcement to an internal enemy. The usual means of public safety would have become the harbingers of real danger; and the low country must have considered themselves as a crop ripening for the sickle, to be cut down and divided when the upper country Edition: current; Page: [[924]] should have increased in labourers sufficient to begin the harvest. For to what principle of probable safety could they have entrusted themselves and their posterity, after putting into the possession of indefinite numbers of needy settlers, in the back country, all the power that could be requisite for invading and subverting their essential interests? Human nature, it is well known, is too frail to be always true to the principles of virtue and justice; too often tempted, too seldom rectified to be safely relied on. Could then its mere clemency and moderation form a safe depository of all that was precious, to a people in all respects so differently circumstanced as Appius has described them? Though virtue and justice sometimes bind men to the right, yet their efficacy is not uniform; if it were there would be no need of laws or constitutions. Interest, the most powerful impulse of the human breast, often overlooks or out runs the dictates of the regular virtues. In the mad career of Edition: 1983; Page: [29] its pursuits, when thoroughly excited, laws themselves form feeble obstacles; and what could be expected from those rights or possessions of other people, which were the objects of the excitement? It was obvious to the slightest observation, that the emigrants to the back country, for some time, at least, must be poor and necessitous, they therefore could not want temptation; that they must soon become very numerous, and therefore could not want the power. In the same part of society then must soon unite the two requisites which seldom fail to set mankind in motion, vis. temptation, or an ardent desire to obtain an object; and power to accomplish what they wish. The power and temptation to do wrong have seldom found any successful restraint or opposition. To unite these two in any one party, or in any one person, is always dangerous in the extreme. If he must necessarily be cloathed with the power, prudence required that every thing be thrown in which can mitigate or destroy the temptation; if he must be placed in a way of temptation, all proper checks ought to be directed against the power.

From hence it is plain, that the low country occupants preserved to themselves no more than the principle of mere self preservation dictated, and that the emigrants as reasonable beings, were content to acquiesce in an arrangement which left them every thing, but the mere power of oppressing by numbers, the few, but wealthy people with whom they associated. Increasing as they were every day, by accessions of people from all quarters, with whom they had no prior acquaintance, however honest their own intentions might have been, Edition: current; Page: [[925]] it was strictly impossible for them to ensure the low country against abuses, otherwise than by leaving in their hands those checks which they found them in possession of. If then, there ever subsisted between the back and the low country anything of that original compact upon which, the association tells us, all lawful governments rests, it is to be found here; and its leading feature is that very inequality of representation which they have so recently discovered. Hence the people of the low country, so far from being chargeable with usurpation, or with wresting the government from its original institution, have adhered to original terms and stipulations; while the association, guided by some new lights or smitten by some new impulse, are attempting the destruction Edition: 1983; Page: [30] of the fundamental system, to make way for a government all their own. They have claimed the right to govern in explicit terms, and yet talk about “the origin of the society when the mutual contract was formed.” At the origin of society in Carolina, I have shewn that the people they address were no parties to the compact. And if ever any compact was made, which conferred upon them the right they now contend for, let them shew it. Perhaps I shall yet produce them a compact to the contrary. The association further alledges, that “all the contracting parties, that is all the people, were equal and stipulated to continue so.” Reserving for another occasion, the particular consideration of the perverted term equality, I will here examine a little this general and unequalified position, as relating to this country. 1st. All the people were not equal in rights. In natural rights I admit they were. But the rights of prior occupancy have been, in my view, clearly defined and brought home to the people of the low country. In this respect, therefore, the emigrants to the back country, have at no time been upon terms of equality. 2nd. I believe it will hardly be affirmed, that the people between whom the question is at issue, were equal in their circumstances. 3rd. The efficient motives which induced the association were not equal. One party had everything to gain from it; the other could gain nothing but the additional benefits that might be derived from an augmentation of the settlement. All that the one could want was the peaceable enjoyment of what they already possessed; the other sat down to gain that which was unpossessed. The one was happy before the union; the other fought the union as the means of happiness.

Thus then, though the association may have read of people who Edition: current; Page: [[926]] were in all respects equal at the time they formed an association it is manifest that it is improperly affirmed of the people of Carolina.

It is as far from being true that any stipulation was ever made, that all the people should in all respects continue equal. If the rights of prior occupancy, if the rights of extensive wealth did in fact exist, it remains for the association to shew us when the stipulation was made to give them up and equalize them. I have shewn, from the history of this country, that the reverse was the fact. There can be but two modes of Edition: 1983; Page: [31] parting with a right of any kind: voluntarily surrender, or forcible divestment. The latter has never taken place, as yet, in Carolina, whatever may happen under the auspices of the association. They indeed, seem to have taken liberty, one of the natural rights of man, and erected it into a deity mighty to destroy: cloathed it with omnipotence and fallen down to invoke it’s aid, in bringing to the dust every other right, natural and acquired. In the blaze of glory with which they have incircled the god, all the rights of property are lost. One would almost imagine that, in their views, a free government is to consist of nothing but mere freedom; that liberty and property have no affinity to each other. But on the contrary, that true liberty confers the divine right of “stripping property of all its advantages,” and of presenting the proprietors, like Charon’s passengers, in the form of naked skeletons. But let them beware, lest in arraying liberty with the omnipotence of a deity, or the captiousness of an arbitrary monarch, they convert her into a tyrant; and on the placid brow which naturally beams peace and all the charming virtues, they stamp the scowl of malevolence and the terrific bodings of civil discord.

No. VI.

When a favorite principle has gone forth in society, and every person smitten with its captivating qualities, has given it a cordial admission, any attempt to lop off its excrescences, or to bound its extent is apt to meet with a cold reception. The fancy wrought up by degrees to the highest pitch, and indulging an enthusiastic rapture, is disturbed by the smallest break or diminution; like the ear of the amateur, when the full chorus is invaded by the grating discords of an untuned instrument. The term equality has of late been chaunted with so much Edition: current; Page: [[927]] delight, and echoed from all quarters with so much fervor, that it has become almost the only carmen necessarium; the centre and substance of all that is precious. It has been said, with truth, “that best things spoiled, corrupt to worst.” Liberty abused to licentiousness has become Edition: 1983; Page: [32] a curse; religion pushed to enthusiasm has drenched the earth in blood. From hence the enemies of both have taken occasion to infer that there is no reality in either; or that they are inconsistent with human happiness. Their advocates, on the other hand, have always exerted themselves to restrain the one within the bounds of temperate enjoyment, and the other within those of rational exercise; and in effecting these they have always had the sublime satisfaction of evincing the reality and the blessings of both. Equality, like liberty, its sister, and religion, its supporter, when the notions concerning it are confined to the boundaries nature has prescribed, displays at once the reality of its existence, the divinity of its origin, and the substantial blessings of its institution. But when carried to an excess which nature never intended; when employed to support a set of illusions which experience must sooner or later explode, (as cool deliberating reason always disclaims) it is in danger of expiring with its own unnatural works; and its real utility of being at length questioned or denied. If we wish to ensure its permanency, and transmit it as a blessing to posterity, we ought to avoid connecting it with any thing that is impure or unnatural; assured that nothing of that kind can last longer than the fleeting passion of the times in which they subsist; and that posterity judging coolly, will be urged in vain to accept the legacy. To form extravagant or erroneous notions upon almost any subject whatever, is not a difficult matter. We need only let the mind or the fancy run without the curb of reason, and their own vagaries will soon effect it. But to rectify and reform them, is always a work arduous in the attempt, slow and doubtful in the progress and effect. There is a reluctance in human nature to confess its error and to tread back its mazes, which is always forward. These considerations point out the propriety of our guarding against erroneous notions respecting so valuable a principle as that of equality. So much has it been the theme of popular eulogy, so animated and extravagant the praises lavished upon it, and so copiously have its qualities been described, that it is no wonder if men should begin to call for a general plan of equalization. A few degrees more of the calorific principle would probably produce ebullition or inflammation, beyond the power of the body politic to Edition: current; Page: [[928]] endure. Already has it been carried so far as to intimate that Edition: 1983; Page: [33] it would not be improper to strip wealth of its advantages; and to assert roundly that it ought to have no representation or influence in civil society. It is but one gradation to say it ought to have no specific protection. Thus the term equality has been made to signify the state and condition of men, though the abusers of the principle have not avowed it. We observe inequality of condition so constantly set in contrast with civil liberty, that the implication cannot be disguised. Yet, however, the most extravagant advocates of these notions, profess to draw their principles from nature—from a state of nature. I will then discuss this point upon their own grounds, and the institutes of nature shall decide. That she created all men free and equal in their rights; and that in this respect she has not one favorite in all her progeny, I most religiously believe. But in the endowment of natural gifts and faculties, nature has instituted almost every gradation, from the confines of inferior animals to the state of superior creation. Her views in the human condition are evidently to inequality. Why hath she made one man strong and another weak; one nimble and alert, another heavy and inactive; one industrious and another slothful? Why hath she dropped scarcely a solitary spark of her celestial fire into one mind, and beamed into another the richest and most copious effulgence? Why are some men bold and others timid; some sagacious and others dull; some successful and others unfortunate?

Delivering mankind out of her hands so differently and unequally endowed in these respects, can it for a moment be imagined that nature ever intended they should be equal in their circumstances? If she did she stands fairly convicted of instituting means which must of necessity frustrate her own ends; of making war upon her own purposes. If nature then has not only made men unequal at first, but has put them into a situation in which the fruits of that inequality must be constantly accumulating; if in all the combinations into which men have been thrown in the world, it has ever been preserved, the unavoidable conclusion is, that inequality of condition is one of nature’s laws. If we consider this matter in a civil view, the result will be the same. If inequality of condition be in fact the institution of nature herself, it would be rather presumptuous to attempt to establish civil society upon principles repugnant to her laws. Indeed those civil Edition: 1983; Page: [34] institutions have seldom lasted long which have counteracted them. All seem to agree however, that the fundamental rights of men in Edition: current; Page: [[929]] civil society are to be inferred from the laws of nature. It will appear then that equality of rights and equality of conditions are matters entirely distinct; and that the former is so far from implying the latter, that it is the true parent of the very reverse. For instance the equal rights of men require that each individual should be the exclusive proprietor of the fruits of his own industry.

Take then a strong man and a weak one, or one who is industrious, and another who is indolent, and let them start even in a course of labor. At the expiration of any given period, how will matters stand amongst them? Obviously, the former must have acquired abundantly more than the latter. Now society, by the very principles of the social compact, guarantees to each what each acquires; and in so doing must necessarily guarantee inequality of condition.

Let us, for the sake of argument, take this matter upon a larger scale. Suppose 100 men, with a bow and a hatchet each should set down together in a wilderness; these men, it is obvious, would be all equal in condition as well as in rights; all at full liberty to pursue the plan they like best: in the course of the first year, 20 of these clear ten acres of land each, build a house and set down to agriculture: twenty more catch and tame ten head of cattle each, and subsist upon the milk and the young of their flocks. The remaining sixty wander about the settlement, and depend upon the precarious chance of their bow, perhaps upon pilfering, for daily subsistence; will it be said at the end of the first year, that their circumstances or their rights, are equal; obviously not the first, nor also the second; because the industrious forty have acquired rights in property, which the idle sixty have not. Yet Appius will tell us, that because the latter are most numerous, and possess the natural right of liberty (in common with the others) they are unquestionably entitled to govern the whole; to dispose of the hard earned property of the industrious forty, at pleasure. Strange state indeed, must that be, where the rights of the citizen diminish in proportion as his industry and acquisitions increase, and where he who contributes nothing, has a right to dispose of all! It might afford a subject of curious speculation, to enquire Edition: 1983; Page: [35] what sort of laws they would be likely to make for the good government and police of the settlers? They would pass no criminal laws against pilfering and plundering, robbery or rapacity; no laws to check idleness and vagrancy; no laws to protect property, and no other laws in short, but such as would authorize the lounging crew to prey upon the industrious. Edition: current; Page: [[930]] If some public exigency should require the raising of a common fund, the other party would, of course, be called upon to raise it. If personal services should be requisite, the government party, too idle to afford them, would call as readily upon the habits of industry of the others, as they had usually done upon the fruits of their industry on other occasions. The honest minority would probably be obliged first to labour in building fortifications, and then to pay themselves for it. These proceedings of the majority would naturally arise from the strong principle of self love, moving in concert with absolute authority; or rather, as I have stated in my last number, from the dangerous and destructive union of power with temptation. If such a government as I have been describing is not perfectly consistent with the political dogmas avowed by the association and supported by Appius, I shall be glad they will point out the difference. But to return to the question of equality. I think it must be manifest that men cannot be considered equal in their natural endowments, nor in their personal acquisitions; nor in their civil rights, so far as regards such acquisitions: that is to say, that though the man worth but 10£ has as clear a right to what he holds, as the one worth 10,000£ yet the latter surely has more extensive civil rights guaranteed by society, than the former. In a word, equality of condition is inconsistent with the laws of nature, not derivable from the rights of man, and not to be found in any of the institutions of civil society. It is as absurd to look for it, or to attempt to force the human condition to it, as equality of happiness.

To what then does this term equality relate? I will answer in the words of the French constitution; “men are born and always continue free, and equal in respect of their rights.” Thus, my personal liberty is equal to that of any other man; my life is equally sacred and inviolable, my bodily powers are equally my own; my power over my own actions is equally great and equally secured from external restraint; Edition: 1983; Page: [36] my will is equally free; what I acquire, be it greater or less, I have an equal right to possess, to use and to enjoy. I have an equal claim upon the protection of the laws; an equal right to serve my country, and an equal claim to be exempted from service. If I am the most weak, the most indigent man in society, the laws of the land, no person, no description of persons can do to me what might not equally be done to the most powerful and the most wealthy. And finally, when I dislike the government under which I live, I have an equal right to transport myself into another country, and associate with another Edition: current; Page: [[931]] people. Here is matter sufficient for the republican to prize; sufficient to constitute honest contentment with his lot in other respects. He may be happy even in indigent circumstances and placid, though unfortunate.

In the possession of rational liberty, he may pursue his industry under the most flattering omens; and enjoy the fruits of it, with the highest relish. But when his mind is poisoned with notions of equality of condition (which the incautious and undiscriminating use of the term is apt to effect) he is at once soured with discontentment with his own lot; and with envy at the lot of others. Private repose and public tranquility are alike sacrificed; and one of the best principles of reformed government becomes the bane of society. And so it must ever be when men refine on theory, and endeavor forcibly to warp every thing into a mathematical agreement. When in spite of nature’s decrees, her inequalities are to be broken down for the purpose of making equal fractions; when an artificial frame is made, like Dionysius’s bedstead, and every thing is to be cut and spliced to suit it; no wonder if society should be found in tatters and fragments. Short, however, must be the reign of such politics; nature will speak out; a little experience must soon condemn, and sober reason explode the delusion. If the effects would instantly expire with the cause, good men might always wait the event with patience. But in such cases the sentiment of the poet is too often verified.

  • “One moment gives occasion to destroy
  • What to re-build, would a whole age employ.”

No. VII.

Edition: 1983; Page: [37] We are told by Appius, “that wealth will always acquire influence enough in every government to protect itself. That the influence it does acquire, is a dangerous disease, which ought to be checked.” Let us enquire a little how these observations apply, as between the lower and the back country; for it is to be remembered that the present controversy is between them. And here we shall find that Carolina, so distinguishable in many other respects from all other countries, has also her peculiarities in this respect. Appius himself, has drawn the picture of the two. He has pointed all his arguments Edition: current; Page: [[932]] respecting the influence of wealth against the low country; and has also said, that in the upper country, a great equality of property prevails, and that the fortunes of the inhabitants are moderate. The lower country then is generally wealthy, or in easy circumstances; the upper or back country generally possessed of but moderate acquisitions. Now I can easily conceive that a very rich man, if he be also a good man, seated in the midst of a circle of poor people, will acquire amongst those people, a considerable degree of influence. He has it in his power to employ their industry, to relieve their necessities, and to bestow many comforts upon them. In this respect, a rich man on the bank of the Keowee, and another on the Santee, would be similarly situated. But the question is, how the man at Keowee is to acquire his influence upon the Santee, and vice versa. I believe Appius would not very readily solve it. Here it is, as in many other parts, that the mind would be misled by a general principle, unqualified by circumstances. It is generally true, that great riches are apt to acquire influence; but it is as true, that the influence is acquired only in and about the place where the riches are seated. The association have given pretty good proofs of late, that the “protecting influence,” of low country riches, acts rather feebly beyond the falls of the rivers. Nor do present omens leave it much to confide in, when divested of all other means of protection. It is not probable that a poor man at Enoree or Tyger, being told that the low country was very rich, would feel himself much influenced to protect those riches; it would be well if he did not feel a persuasion that they were “a dangerous disease,” which required a remedy. The truth is, Edition: 1983; Page: [38] that in countries where wealthy men are dispersed, pretty equally throughout, some influence may attach to their situation, and that influence will act in every part of society; but in countries like Carolina, where a geographical line may be drawn, so as to divide the rich from those of moderate property; the influence of riches, however it may act within the tract to which it is confined, can take no effect beyond it. Low country wealth therefore, will have as little influence in Pinckny and Washington, as beyond the Atlantic. Instead of acquiring influence enough to protect itself, as Appius tells us, it is manifest, that by placing the government of Carolina in the hands of the back country, the wealth of the low country will be divested of every means of protection; even that silent influence which it possesses in almost every other country, by being dispersed equally throughout. It may not be amiss to enquire a little into the effect of Edition: current; Page: [[933]] the government as it now stands, with a view to the safety and protection of all parties. The controversy resolves itself indeed into a question of right, and a question of expediency. The right to govern has been already variously considered with relation to prior occupancy, to the claims of majority, and those other claims deducible from the natural rights of man. I shall add here, that the low country possesses in common with the upper country, every thing that comes under the denomination of personal right; over and above these, the rights of superior property, clearly appertain to the low country. If the latter does not include the balance (and in the opinion of Appius, it seems it does not) it must be for this only reason, that property is entitled to no consideration in a free government. Let the maintainers of this doctrine tell us for what purpose, in reality, men enter into and support society? If it be not to strengthen the right of property, and to make each one the sovereign master and sole possessor of his goods and chattels, houses and land. I confess I see no temptation to adopt or support it. Assuming the affirmative however, as a principle, I must believe that he will be most attached to the government, who has most at stake in it. So universal is this opinion amongst men that I belive there are but few constitutions in the United States, which do not like our own, make the possession of property to a certain extent, Edition: 1983; Page: [39] most commonly a freehold, an essential qualification for a seat in the legislature.

Appius might upon his principles as well complain, that the citizen who owns nothing but his cloaths and his gun is excluded from the legislature, as that the superiority of more numbers does not govern. The principle to be complained against is precisely the same in both cases, only differing in degree. But take it upon the point [of] expediency. That mode of government is surely the most proper and expedient which gives the most reasonable prospect of protecting the rights of all parties; because this is the end of government. The question then is whether it is most likely that the low country, possessing the balance of the government, will invade the personal rights of the back country (which the low country hold in common with them) or that the back country would be more likely to invade the rights of wealth, which they do not hold in common with the low country; that is to say in extent. In the one case the personal right could not be subverted by the low country, without injuring themselves; in the other, the possessions of the wealthy may be infringed not only without injury Edition: current; Page: [[934]] to the back country, but perhaps in pursuance of their own interests. Here then is a distinguishing mark of probability in favor of the present system, and against the reform.

While the spirit of liberty prevails in the low country, they must regard as sacredly as their own, the personal rights of their back country brethren. That this spirit does now exist in equal degree, I presume will not be questioned; that it will continue as long, if not longer, I will endeavor to prove. Liberty is a principle which naturally and spontaneously contrasts itself with slavery. In no country on earth can the line of distinction ever be marked so boldly as in the low country. Here there is a standing subject of comparison, which must be ever present and ever obvious. The instant a citizen is oppressed below par (if I may so express myself) in point of freedom, he approaches to the condition of his own slave, his spirit is at once aroused, and he necessarily recoils into his former standing. The constant example of slavery stimulates a free man to avoid being confounded with the blacks; and seeing that in every instance of depression he is brought nearer to a par with them, his efforts must invariably force him towards an opposite point. In the country Edition: 1983; Page: [40] where personal freedom, and the principles of equality, were carried to the greatest extent ever known, domestic slavery was the most common, and under the least restraint. I shall at once be understood as speaking of the Spartans. They threw all property into common stock, abolished gold and silver circulation, and no man could call any one thing his own. The Helots, like our negroes, were slaves. The citizens exercised the most savage authority over them. Children might hunt them and kill them, provided they did it skillfully, in order to exercise themselves in the art of insidious warfare. Yet the Spartans possessed freedom in the greatest extent, and were abundantly jealous of it.

If then domestic slavery, so far from being inconsistent, has in fact, a tendency to stimulate and perpetuate the spirit of liberty in the low country, it is to be fairly inferred, that under their management, the personal rights would receive as effectual and as permanent protection, as under any other people. Consistently with the constitution we live under, all laws must be general; of course any act calculated to invade personal rights, must operate every where, and by necessity, upon the low country people themselves. The question of expediency then is, whether the low country, are as likely to subvert the personal rights of the back country as the latter would be to invade Edition: current; Page: [[935]] the property of the former? If the same tie does not secure the latter, which (as I have shewn) secures the former, the answer must be in the negative. And it follows of course, that the back country are much safer under the present system, then the low country would be under the change proposed by the association. Upon the whole, then, the superior right to govern, as claimed by the back country, has been discussed under a variety of views, independently of the constitution, and proved to be without foundation. The question of expediency, situated as Carolina is, has also been considered, and results in favor of the government as it now stands for the safety, as well of the personal rights, as of the rights of property. That both parties are safe as matters now stand, one might be unsafe after the proposed alteration. It is a thing therefore not demandable of right, and not adviseable in point of expediency.

Edition: current; Page: [[936]]

[60]: James Kent 1763-1847

An Introductory Lecture to a Course of Law Lectures

Son of a successful lawyer on the Connecticut-New York border, James was from an early age coached for entry to Yale University. The careful selection of preparatory schools and special tutors paid off. Interrupted by military maneuvers in his freshman year at Yale, he fell upon the four volumes of Blackstone’s Commentaries and read them from end to end. They “inspired me, at the age of fifteen, with awe,” and that stroke of luck also incited great rewards. The mature James Kent may be said to have pursued three careers. As professor of law at Columbia he did not attract students, but he wrote a series of lectures that, after revision several years later, marked him as one of the country’s foremost students of American law and the English common law in which it is rooted. Simultaneous with his study, teaching, and practice of law, Kent was for some thirty years active in politics as a Federalist in pronounced opposition to Jeffersonian Republicans. This phase of his career saw him for three terms a member of the New York legislature and an influential member of the New York Constitutional Convention of 1820-21. Finally, he established his greatest claim to renown in a quarter-century of service as chief judge of two of New York’s highest courts. By common accord, persons who study the development of American law seriously count Kent one of the half-dozen jurists who have put the deepest imprint on American jurisprudence. The Introductory Lecture, which appears here, was written in his first year as a teacher of law and does not stand intact in the Commentaries published over thirty years later. It fits into this collection of writings vital to the establishment of republican government because it clearly enunciates the doctrine of judicial review in somewhat different terms than Hamilton did in The Federalist. Stressing the American basis of the doctrine, Kent makes it sound more like an established, traditional part of American law.

Edition: current; Page: [[937]]


Mr. President, and Gentlemen,

In entering upon a Course of Lectures on the Government and Laws of our Country, I cannot refrain from expressing what I have long felt, a deep sense of the greatness of the undertaking, and a just diffidence of my own qualifications to execute it with success. This is the first instance in the annals of this Seat of Learning, that the Science of our Municipal Laws has thus been admitted into friendship with her Sister Arts, and been invited to lend her aid to complete a course of public Education. The experiment is however well deserving of a favorable reception; and none I am persuaded will be more ready to bestow it, than those Gentlemen who are the most truly sensible of the importance and difficulty of the inquiries which this experiment involves. No persons will more cheerfully regard this attempt with the indulgence it will greatly need, than those who have been accustomed to liberal pursuits, and have taken a comprehensive survey of the natural foundation of Laws, and the complicated System of our National Jurisprudence.

Institutions of the present kind seem to be peculiarly proper at this day, when the general attention of mankind is strongly engaged in Edition: 1983; Page: [4] speculations on the Principles of Public Policy. The Human Mind, which had been so long degraded by the fetters of Feudal and Papal Tyranny, has begun to free herself from bondage, and has roused into uncommon energy and boldness. The Theory of Government, and the Elements of Law, have been examined with a liberal spirit, and the profoundest discernment. Nor have our American Constitutions been neglected abroad; they have excited scrutiny, and merited and received applause. A learned French Professor* has incorporated them, although in a very imperfect manner, into his plan of Juridical Lectures; and he even expressed a concern, lest the picture he drew of the purity of our Legislation should promote Emigrations from Europe. How inexcusable should we probably be deemed by mankind, if we neglected to make our own Laws and Constitutions an interesting object of Public Instruction?

But the People of this Country are under singular obligations, from the nature of their Government, to place the Study of the Law Edition: current; Page: [[938]] at least on a level with the pursuits of Classical Learning. The Art of maintaining Social Order, and promoting Social Prosperity, is not with us a mystery fit only for those who may be distinguished by the adventitious advantages of birth or fortune. The Science of Civil Government has been here stripped of its delusive refinements, and restored to the plain Principles of Reason. Every office in the vast chain of political subordination, Edition: 1983; Page: [5] is rendered accessible to every man who has talents and Virtue to recommend him to the notice of his Country. There is no individual in any station, art, or occupation, who may not entertain a reasonable expectation in some period of his life, and in some capacity, to be summoned into public employment. If it be his lot however to be confined to private life, he still retains the equal and unalienable Rights of a Citizen, and is deeply interested in the knowledge of his social duties; and especially in the great duty of wisely selecting, and attentively observing those who may be entrusted with the guardianship of his Rights; and the business of the Nation. But those who are favoured with nobler and superior parts, with a brighter portion of moral and intellectual accomplishments, (and such I hope will from time to time be the ornaments and pride of this Seat of Learning) have a still louder invitation to a knowledge of the Law, and stronger obligations to obtain it. Such persons are reared up by Providence, not to slumber away their lives in the obscurity of retreat, but to be useful, eminent, and illustrious in public stations. Their usefulness will not be confined merely to the exercise of the inferior offices of the local districts in which they may live, although in such offices a competent share of legal information is required. A wider field is opened for the virtuous and generous Youth of our Universities. The free Commonwealth of the United States, which in all its ties, relations and dependencies, is animated with the pure spirit of popular representation, offers the highest rewards to a successful cultivation of the Law, and the utmost encouragement to genius. The numerous seats in our State Legislatures, in Congress, in the Edition: 1983; Page: [6] higher Judicial and Executive Departments, ought in general to be filled with a succession of men, who to the indispensable virtues of probity and patriotism, unite a masterly acquaintance with the leading principles of our Constitutional Polity, and the maxims and general detail of our Municipal Institutions. A moment’s reflection must surely convince every one what an amazing trust is confided to those who are placed in the administration of our Edition: current; Page: [[939]] Government, and what extensive legal and political knowledge is requisite to render them competent to discharge it. Our political Fabrics and Systems of Jurisprudence, which have been reared with great pains, and perfected with much wisdom, are to be guarded and preserved not only from the open assaults of violence, but the insidious operations of Faction, which are more hostile and dangerous to the Principles of Liberty.

A general initiation into the elementary learning of our Law, has a happy tendency to guard against mischief, and at the same time to promote a keen sense of Right, and a warm love of Freedom. This is strikingly illustrated in the historical progress of our Colony Governments, and manners. It is well known that the influence of the Common Law was strongly felt and widely diffused by our American Ancestors, from the time of their emigration from Europe, and settlement on this side of the Atlantic. The History of their Colonial Proceedings, (an inquiry too much neglected at the present day) discovers clearly the marks of a wise and resolute People, who understood the best securities of political happiness, and the true foundation of the social ties. Edition: 1983; Page: [7] The earliest inhabitants of the present State of Massachusetts declared by law that the free enjoyment of the Liberties of Humanity was due to every Man in his place and proportion, and ever had been, and ever would be, the tranquility and stability of the Commonwealth. They also avowed that they came over with the Privileges of Freemen, and they ascertained and defined those Privileges, and established a Charter of Rights, with a caution, sagacity, and precision, rarely, if at all, surpassed by their descendants.* In the distant History of this State, we meet with traces of the same enlightened sense of civil security. Early in the present century, our Colonial Assembly declared, that it was, and always had been, the unquestionable Right of every Freeman to have a perfect and entire property in his goods and estate; and that no money could be imposed or levied upon him without the consent of his Representatives. Testimonies of the same flattering nature are probably to be found in the Records of all our Colony Legislatures. But no higher evidence need or can be produced of the prevailing knowledge of our Rights, and the energy of the freedom of the Common Law, than the spirit Edition: current; Page: [[940]] which pervaded and roused every part of this Continent on the eve of the late Revolution; when the same power which had once nourished us, jealous of our rising greatness, attempted to abridge our immunities, and check our prosperity. The first Congress, which assembled in the year 1774, discovered a familiar acquaintance with the sound Edition: 1983; Page: [8] principles of Government, and just notions of the social Rights of Mankind. They declared and asserted these Rights with a perspicuity, force, manliness and firmness, which threw much lustre on the American Character. The late Earl of Chatham said he could discover no Nation or Council that surpassed them, notwithstanding he had read Thucydides, and had studied and admired the master-states of antiquity.

By thus comparing the excellent Principles of our Civil Policy, with their effects upon the progress of our Government, and the spirit of our People, we are insensibly and properly led to feel for them an uncommon share of reverence and attachment. I cannot but be of opinion, that the Rudiments of a Law, and Senatorial Education in this Country, ought accordingly to be drawn from our own History and Constitutions. We shall by this means imbibe the principles of Republican Government from pure fountains; and prevent any improper impressions being received from the artificial distinctions, the oppressive establishments, or the wild innovations which at present distinguish the Trans-Atlantic World.

The British Constitution and Code of Laws, to the knowledge of which our Lawyers are so early and deeply introduced by the prevailing course of their professional inquiries, abounds, it is true, with invaluable Principles of Equity, of Policy, and of Social Order; Principles which cannot be too generally known, studied and received. It must however be observed at the same time, that many of the fundamental doctrines of their Government, and Axioms of their Jurisprudence, are Edition: 1983; Page: [9] utterly subversive of an Equality of Rights, and totally incompatible with the liberal spirit of our American Establishments. The Student of our Laws should be carefully taught to distinguish between the Principles of the one Government, and the Genius which presides in the other. He ought to have a correct acquaintance with genuine Republican Maxims, and be thereby induced to cultivate a superior regard for our own, and I trust more perfect systems of Liberty and Justice. In the words of a discerning writer in this country, who has very ably unfolded the doctrine of Representative Republics, “the Edition: current; Page: [[941]] Student should be led thro’ a System of Laws applicable to our Governments, and a train of reasoning congenial to their Principles.”*

But there is one consideration, which places in a strong point of view, the importance of a knowledge of our constitutional principles, as a part of the education of an American Lawyer; and this arises from the uncommon efficacy of our Courts of Justice, in being authorised to bring the validity of a law to the test of the Constitution. As this is however a subject of a very interesting tendency, and has in many cases inspired doubts and difficulties, I will take the liberty of devoting a few reflections to it, even in this Introductory Discourse.

The doctrine I have suggested, is peculiar to the United States. In the European World, no Edition: 1983; Page: [10] idea has ever been entertained (or at least until lately) of placing constitutional limits to the exercise of the Legislative Power. In England, where the Constitution has separated and designated the Departments of Government with precision and notoriety, the Parliament is still considered as transcendently absolute; and altho some Judges have had the freedom to observe, that a Statute made against natural equity was void,** yet it is generally laid down as a necessary principle in their Law, that no Act of Parliament can be questioned or disputed. But in this country we have found it expedient to establish certain rights, to be deemed paramount to the power of the ordinary Legislature, and this precaution is considered in general as essential to perfect security, and to guard against the occasional violence and momentary triumphs of party. Without some express provisions of this kind clearly settled in the original compact, and constantly protected by the firmness and moderation of the Judicial department, the equal rights of a minor faction, would perhaps very often be disregarded in the animated competitions for power, and fall a sacrifice to the passions of a fierce and vindictive majority.

No question can be made with us, but that the Acts of the Legislative body, contrary to the true intent and meaning of the Constitution, ought to be absolutely null and void. The only inquiry which can arise on the subject is, whether the Legislature Edition: 1983; Page: [11] is not of itself the competent Judge of its own constitutional limits, and its Edition: current; Page: [[942]] acts of course to be presumed always conformable to the commission under which it proceeds; or whether the business of determining in this instance, is not rather the fit and exclusive province of the Courts of Justice. It is easy to see, that if the Legislature was left the ultimate Judge of the nature and extent of the barriers which have been placed against the abuses of its discretion, the efficacy of the check would be totally lost. The Legislature would be inclined to narrow or explain away the Constitution, from the force of the same propensities or considerations of temporary expediency, which would lead it to overturn private rights. Its will would be the supreme law, as much with, as without these constitutional safeguards. Nor is it probable, that the force of public opinion, the only restraint that could in that case exist, would be felt, or if felt, would be greatly regarded. If public opinion was in every case to be presumed correct and competent to be trusted, it is evident, there would have been no need of original and fundamental limitations. But sad experience has sufficiently taught mankind, that opinion is not an infallible standard of safety. When powerful rivalries prevail in the Community, and Parties become highly disciplined and hostile, every measure of the major part of the Legislature is sure to receive the sanction of that Party among their Constituents to which they belong. Every Step of the minor Party, it is equally certain will be approved by their immediate adherents, as well as indiscriminately misrepresented or condemned by the prevailing voice. The Courts of Justice which are organized with peculiar advantages to exempt them from the Edition: 1983; Page: [12] baneful influence of Faction, and to secure at the same time, a steady, firm and impartial interpretation of the Law, are therefore the most proper power in the Government to keep the Legislature within the limits of its duty, and to maintain the Authority of the Constitution.

It is regarded also as an undisputed principle in American Politics, that the different departments of Government should be kept as far as possible separate and distinct. The Legislative body ought not to exercise the Powers of the Executive and Judicial, or either of them, except in certain precise and clearly specified cases. An innovation upon this natural distribution of power, has a tendency to overturn the balance of the Government, and to introduce Tyranny into the Administration. But the interpretation or construction of the Constitution is as much a judicial act, and requires the exercise of the same legal discretion, as the interpretation or construction of a Law. Edition: current; Page: [[943]] The Courts are indeed bound to regard the Constitution what it truly is, a Law of the highest nature, to which every inferior or derivative regulation must conform. It comes from the People themselves in their original character, when defining the permanent conditions of the social alliance. And to contend that the Courts must adhere implicitly to the Acts of the Legislature, without regarding the Constitution, and even when those Acts are in opposition to it, is to contend that the power of the Agent is greater than that of his Principal, and that the will of only one concurrent and co-ordinate department of the subordinate authority, ought to controul the fundamental Laws of the People.

Edition: 1983; Page: [13] This power in the Judicial, of determining the constitutionality of Laws, is necessary to preserve the equilibrium of the government, and prevent usurpations of one part upon another; and of all the parts of government, the Legislative body is by far the most impetuous and powerful. A mere designation on paper, of the limits of the several departments, is altogether insufficient, and for this reason in limited Constitutions, the executive is armed with a negative, either qualified or complete upon the making of Laws. But the Judicial Power is the weakest of all, and as it is equally necessary to be preserved entire,* it ought not in sound theory to be left naked without any constitutional means of defence. This is one reason why the Judges in this State are associated with the Governor, to form the Council of Revision, and this association renders some of these observations less applicable to our own particular Constitution, than to any other. The right of expounding the Constitution as well as Laws, will however be found in general to be the most fit, if not only effectual weapon, by which the Courts of Justice are enabled to repel assaults, and to guard against encroachments on their Chartered Authorities.

Nor can any danger be apprehended, lest this principle should exalt the Judicial above the Legislature. They are co-ordinate powers, and equally bound by the instrument under which they Edition: 1983; Page: [14] act, and if the former should at any time be prevailed upon to substitute arbitrary will, to the exercise of a rational Judgment, as it is possible it may do even in the ordinary course of judicial proceeding, it is not Edition: current; Page: [[944]] left like the latter, to the mere controul of public opinion. The Judges may be brought before the tribunal of the Legislature, and tried, condemned, and removed from office.

I consider then the Courts of Justice, as the proper and intended Guardians of our limited Constitutions, against the factions and encroachments of the Legislative Body. This affords an additional and weighty reason, for making a complete knowledge of those Constitutions to form the Rudiments of a public, and especially of a law Education. Nor are the accomplishments of Academical learning any ways repugnant to a rapid improvement in the Law. On the contrary, the course of instruction which is taught within these walls, will greatly assist the researches of the Student into the nature and history of all Governments,—will give him a just sense of the force of moral and political obligation, and will especially crown the career of his active life, with increasing honour and success. A Lawyer in a free country, should have all the requisites of Quinctilian’s orator. He should be a person of irreproachable virtue and goodness. He should be well read in the whole circle of the Arts and Sciences. He should be fit for the administration of public affairs, and to govern the commonwealth by his councils, establish it by his Laws, and correct it by his Example. In short, he should resemble Tully, whose fruitful mind, as this Edition: 1983; Page: [15] distinguished Teacher of oratory* observes, was not bounded by the walls of the Forum, but by those of nature. Nor do I recollect any material part of the attractive chain of classical studies, but which may be useful as well as ornamental in our legal pursuits.

The perusal of the best Greek and Roman Authors, the purest models of composition and correctness, is highly important to those who wish to form their taste and animate their genius. The ancient Classic Writers, are in general so distinguished for their good sense and manly graces, and have formed their Works on such sure principles of nature, that they have always been diligently studied in countries, and by scholars, the most celebrated for learning and accomplishments, and no doubt they will receive the admiration of the most distant ages. But it is not only with a general view to taste and elegance, or even for the glowing exhibition of public examples, that I would thus warmly recommend the original compositions of the ancients. The Edition: current; Page: [[945]] knowledge of the civil law, the most durable monument of the wisdom of the Romans, is extremely interesting, whether we consider the intrinsic merit of the system, or its influence upon the Municipal Laws of the land. That venerable body of Law, which was compiled under the auspices of the Emperor Justinian, and which has fortunately come down for the delight and improvement of modern times, discovers almost every where, the traces of an enlightened age of the Roman Jurisprudence. And it is a well known Edition: 1983; Page: [16] fact, that altho the Taste and Philosophy of the Romans declined with their freedom, a succession of eminent Civilians continued to shine with equal lustre far under the Emperors, and Papinian, Paul, and Ulpian still preserved the sound sense and classic purity of the civil law.

The art of close reasoning, which is greatly helped by the Sciences of Logic and Mathematics, is of indispensable importance to those who wish to possess weight and reputation at the Bar. A distinguishing mind is to be sure not an ordinary gift. An accurate acquaintance with the general Principles of Universal Law, and an acute discernment of the minute and often latent circumstances which discriminate the operation of causes, and enable the means to be justly applied to the end, are the fruits only of great capacity and consummate application. Such fortunate geniuses are destined like Hardwicke or Mansfield, to enlighten and meliorate the Jurisprudence of their own times, and to render their names familiar with future generations. But as an eminent Author has observed,* legal studies require only a state of peace and refinement, and may even be pursued with a common share of judgment, experience and industry: and it will be found in almost every degree of natural talents, that mathematical and logical exercises, contribute to collect and strengthen the powers of the human mind.

The doctrines of Moral Philosophy form the foundation of Human Laws and must be deemed Edition: 1983; Page: [17] an essential part of Juridical Education. It is the business of this Science to examine the nature and moral character of Man, the relations he stands in to the Great Author of his being, and to his Fellow-Men; the duties, the rights and happiness resulting from those relations. We are led by these inquiries to a knowledge of the nature, extent, and fitness of moral obligation, the object and efficacy of punishment, the necessity and final end of government, the justness and harmony of obedience.

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But the Art of Public Speaking is singularly applicable to the Profession of the Law, which by its Bar and Senatorial Employments, possesses a field, which next to that of the Pulpit, is eminently within the region and under the influence of Eloquence. The object of public speaking is to illustrate and enforce the truth. To this end, it is necessary to remove prejudices, engage the attention, state the cause with clearness, arrange the arguments with skill, and deliver them with justness of expression and the force of sincerity. “Perhaps there is no scene of public speaking, says an elegant Teacher of the Science of Rhetoric,* where eloquence is more necessary than at the Bar. The dryness and subtilty of the subjects, generally agitated in such places, require more than any other a certain kind of eloquence in order to command attention; in order to give proper weight to the arguments that are employed, and to Edition: 1983; Page: [18] prevent any thing which the pleader advances from passing unregarded.” And when we recollect the intimate connection that subsists between the pursuits of Law and General Policy, and the path which is opened in this and in all free countries, from the laborious duties of the Bar into the deliberate Assemblies of the Nation, the Student is strongly invited to aim at something higher than the calm and temperate eloquence which is proper in his profession. He should strive to make himself a Master of the great variety of Public Interests, and the Springs of Public Action. He should cultivate a glowing Attachment to his Country and the best good of Mankind, and awaken in his breast those lively Passions which give the highest energy to the understanding, and the boldest efforts to eloquence. It was by virtues like these, added to the force of universal Education, that the ancient orators, most of whom were Lawyers, attained to such distinguished Pre-eminence in their age and country. And in like manner the principal ornaments of the English Bench and Bar, within the period of the present times, have been not more remarkable for their consummate knowledge of the Law, than for their Talents, Oratory and acquisitions as Scholars.

But I have ventured perhaps sufficiently far, in endeavouring to point out for the benefit of the Student, the principal advantages of a knowledge of our Government and Laws, and the utility of Academical Learning in aiding his pursuits. It remains only, that I designate the Edition: current; Page: [[947]] Edition: 1983; Page: [19] general path I intend to pursue in the course of the following Lectures.

This is not the proper place to prescribe a System of Rules for the mere Mechanical Professor of our Laws. The design of this Institution, is undoubtedly of a more liberal kind. It is intended to explain the Principles of our Constitutions, the reason and History of our Laws, to illustrate them by a comparison with those of other Nations, and to point out the relation they bear to the spirit of Representative Republics. Nothing I apprehend is to be taught here, but what may be usefully known by every Gentleman of Polite Education, but is essential to be known by those whose intentions are to pursue the science of the Law as a practical Profession.

I propose to begin with an Examination of the nature and duties of Government in general, and a brief Historical Review of the several Forms of Government which have hitherto appeared in the World. The Political History of the United States, will then be considered from the earliest dawn to Union to the settlement of the present Constitution. The final establishment of our Independence, will naturally lead us to examine the consequence of our separate situation, by a summary review of the Law of Nations, as applicable to the several Conditions of Peace, of War and of Neutrality. With these preliminary dissertations, we shall be prepared to enter into a systematic View of the Constitution and Laws of the National Government.

Edition: 1983; Page: [20] I shall consider the structure, rights, and Powers of Congress, the Constitution and Powers of the President, and of the subordinate Executive Departments, with a survey of the several subjects of a fiscal and military nature, which are incident to those departments. The Judicial System will next occupy our attention. This will involve a consideration of the organization, powers and jurisdiction of the Federal Courts, with an historical and critical examination of the elementary parts of a Suit at Law. The powers and objects of the Admiralty, and Equity side of those Courts will also be the subject of a distinct inquiry. I shall then conclude the Subject of the Federal Government and its Jurisprudence, with a detail of the Criminal Law, and the various proceedings in public prosecutions.

The constitutions of the several States, their structure and residuary portion of power, and particularly the Constitution of this State, in all its Branches, Legislative, Executive, and Judicial, will be the next and extensive subject of our inquiries. The remainder of this Course, Edition: current; Page: [[948]] will be principally if not entirely confined to the Municipal Laws of this State. This will lead me to examine the Rights of Property, both real and personal, in all their several gradations and modifications, and the several ways in which property is acquired and transferred. The interesting subject of Personal Contracts, will naturally involve itself in this examination. Our attention will probably be finally directed to the diffusive subject of Private Actions, and of Crimes Edition: 1983; Page: [21] and Punishments, but with respect to some of these latter subjects I have not as yet been able to make the ultimate arrangements.

This is a Sketch of the outlines of the Course of Lectures which are before me. The anxieties which are felt for the execution, are in some measure proportioned to the impressions which result from the dignity of the subject, and the interesting nature of this Institution. The Science of Law, has expressly for its object the advancement of social happiness and security. It reaches to every tie which is endearing to the affections, and has a concern in every action which takes place in the extensive circles of public and private life. According to the lively expression of Lord Bacon, it may justly be said to come home to every man’s business and bosom. But there are other considerations which naturally arise in connection with our Reflections on the happy System of our Constitutions and Laws.

The events which are rapidly crowding the present æra, are to be deemed among the most solemn, and the most important in their consequences, of any which have hitherto been displayed in the History of Mankind. Great Revolutions are taking place in the European World, in Government, in Policy and in morals, and a new turn will be given to the habits of thinking, and probably to the destination of human society. A total demolition of the ancient fabrics, and the most daring hand of innovation, may possibly be expedient in the eastern continent, to recall Edition: 1983; Page: [22] Society to its original Principles of simplicity and freedom; and to dissolve the long, intricate and oppressive chain of subordination, which has degraded the principal Nations of Europe, and who have been doomed so severely to suffer in the first instance by the violence of the Roman Power, and afterwards by the Genius of the Feudal System. But amidst the universal passion for novelty, which threatens to overturn every thing which bears the stamp of time and experience, we in this country ought to be extremely careful, not to pass along unconscious of the labours of the Patriots who effected our Revolution; nor let the admirable Fabrics of our Constitutions, Edition: current; Page: [[949]] and the all pervading Freedom of our Common Law, be left unheeded or despised. I am most thoroughly, most deeply persuaded, that we are favoured with the best Political Institutions, take them for all in all, of any People that ever were united in the Bonds of Civil Society. The goodness of these Institutions will brighten on free investigation, and faithful experiment, and be respected according as they are understood.

To preserve these best Fruits of our Independence, is a trust to be confided to the rising hopes of the day, to such of our Young Gentlemen as are animated with the generous passion of becoming hereafter distinguished as Lawyers, Magistrates and Statesmen; and permit me to add, it is a trust which they ought not to contemplate, but with a reverence due to its importance, and with a manly determination to deserve it. If he to whom is entrusted in this seat of Learning the cultivation of our Laws, can have any effect in elevating Edition: 1983; Page: [23] the attention of some of our Youth from the narrow and selfish objects of the Profession, to the nobler study of the General Principles of our Governments, and the Policy of our Laws:—If he can in any degree illustrate their Reason, their Wisdom, and their propitious Influence on the freedom, order, and happiness of Society, and thereby produce a more general Interest in their support, he will deem it a happy consolation for his labors.

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[61]: Samuel Williams 1743-1817

The Natural and Civil History of Vermont (Chapters XIII, XIV, and XV)

In addition to sermons, pamphlets, and newspaper essays, a surprising number of books on politics, some of them multi-volume treatises, were published during the founding era. The present selection is an example. Since it is impossible to print here the four hundred pages and more that Williams wrote, three successive chapters in which political matters are most directly treated are reproduced—pages 324-351 of the original edition. The book enjoyed a long life as a textbook in the schools of Vermont and was reprinted as late as 1944. The author, son of a Massachusetts Congregationalist minister, was blessed with fine mental equipment, betrayed by excessive vanity, and enticed into moral lapses that led to his forced resignation from the Harvard College faculty at the age of forty-five. He instituted his career as a Congregational minister but from the day of his ordination found time for serious study of astronomy and mathematics, published occasional papers, and claimed to possess “the best astronomical apparatus in America” when he accepted a chair in Natural and Experimental Philosophy at Harvard. Forced out of this position ten years later, he made his way in disgrace to Rutland, Vermont, where he mustered a miserable income by publishing a newspaper and a magazine and doing odd jobs for the state government. Apparently not embittered by his previous defeats and current disfavor with fortune, Williams and his family were kindly received in the frontier capital. He responded by writing an analysis and critique of the state and its problems that is worth careful reading two hundred years later. A man with Samuel Williams’ diverse interests and profound learning could not be satisfied writing a simple history, and in the sections reproduced here, the eye of an anthropologist is turned upon the American experience. The result is an analysis of American politics combining traditional, theoretical discourse with early social, scientific analysis.

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State of Society.Customs and Manners: Education, early Marriages, Activity, Equality, Economy, and Hospitality of the People.

The customs and manners of nations are derived from descent, situation, employment, and all those regulations which have an influence upon the state of the people; and they serve better than other circumstances to ascertain the character of nations, and to denote the state of society at any given period in their history.—The customs and manners of the people of Vermont, are principally derived from the people of Newengland, from whom they are descended: But in a few particulars they have received a direction, from the state of society which takes place among the settlers in a new country.

Education.—Among the customs which are universal among the people, in all parts of the state, one that seems worthy of remark, is, the attention that is paid to the education of children. The aim of the parent, is not so much to have his children acquainted with the liberal arts and sciences; but to have them all taught to read with ease and propriety; to write a plain and legible hand; and to have them acquainted with the rules of arithmetic, so far as shall be necessary to carry on any of the most common and necessary occupations of life. All the children are trained up to this kind of knowledge: They Edition: 1983; Page: [325] are accustomed from their earliest years to read the Holy Scriptures, the periodical publications, newspapers, and political pamphlets; to form some general acquaintance with the laws of their country, the proceedings of the courts of justice, of the general assembly of the state, and of the Congress, &c. Such a kind of education is common and universal in every part of the state: And nothing would be more dishonourable to the parents, or to the children, than to be without it. One of the first things the new settlers attend to, is to procure a schoolmaster to instruct their children in the arts of reading, writing, and arithmetic: And where they are not able to procure or to hire an instructor, the parents attend to it themselves. No greater misfortune could attend a child, than to arrive at manhood unable to read, write, and keep small accounts: He is viewed as unfit for the common business of the towns and plantations, and in a state greatly inferiour to his neighbours. Every consideration joins to prevent so degraded and mortifying a state, by giving to every one the customary education, Edition: current; Page: [[952]] and advantages.—This custom was derived from the people of New-england; and has acquired greater force in the new settlements, where the people are apprehensive their children will have less advantages, and of consequence, not appear equal to the children in the older towns.—No custom was ever better adapted to private, or public good. Such kind of education and knowledge, is of more advantage to mankind, than all the speculations, disputes, and distinctions, that metaphysics, logic, and scholastic theology, have ever produced. In the plain common good sense, promoted by the one, virtue, utility, freedom, and public happiness, have their foundations. In the useless speculations produced by the other, common sense is lost, folly becomes refined, and the useful branches of knowledge are darkened, and forgot.

Edition: 1983; Page: [326] Early Marriages.—Another custom, which every thing tends to introduce in a new country, is early marriage. Trained up to a regular industry and economy the young people grow up to maturity, in all the vigour of health, and bloom of natural beauty. Not enervated by idleness, weakened by luxury, or corrupted by debauchery, the inclinations of nature are directed towards their proper objects, at an early period; and assume the direction, which nature and society designed they should have. The ease with which a family may be maintained, and the wishes of parents to see their children settled in the way of virtue, reputation, and felicity, are circumstances, which also strongly invite to an early settlement in life. The virtuous affections are not corrupted nor retarded by the pride of families, the ambition of ostentation, or the idle notions of useless and dangerous distinctions, under the name of honour and titles. Neither parents nor children have any other prospects, than what are founded upon industry, economy, and virtue.—Where every circumstance thus concurs to promote early marriages, the practice becomes universal, and it generally takes place, as soon as the laws of society suppose the young people of sufficient age and discretion to transact the business of life.—It is not necessary to enumerate the many advantages, that arise from this custom of early marriages. They comprehend all the society can receive from this source; from the preservation, and increase of the human race. Every thing useful and beneficial to man, seems to be connected with obedience to the laws of his nature: And where the state of society coincides with the laws of nature, the inclinations, the duties, and the happiness of individuals, resolve themselves into Edition: current; Page: [[953]] customs and habits, favourable, in the highest degree, to society. In no case is this more apparent, than in the customs of nations respecting marriage. When Edition: 1983; Page: [327] wealth, or the imaginary honour of families, is the great object, marriage becomes a matter of trade, pride, and form; in which affection, virtue, and happiness, are not consulted; from which the parties derive no felicity, and society receives no advantage. But where nature leads the way, all the lovely train of virtues, domestic happiness, and the greatest of all public benefits, a rapid population, are found to be the fruit.

Activity and Enterprize.—A spirit of activity and enterprize is every where found in a new state. Depending upon their own industry, and having nothing to expect from speculation and gaming in public funds, or from the errors or vices of government, the views of the people are directed to their own employments and business, as the only probable method of acquiring subsistence, and estate. Hence arises a spirit of universal activity, and enterprize in business. No other pursuits or prospects are suffered to divert their attention; for there is nothing to be acquired in any other way. Neither begging, or gaming, or trading upon public funds, measures, and management, can be profitable employments to the people who live at a distance from wealthy cities, and the seat of government. The only profitable business, is to pursue their own profession and calling.—To this pursuit their views become directed; and here, their activity and enterprize become remarkable. No difficulty or hardship seem to discourage them: And the perseverance of a few years generally serves to overcome the obstacles, that lay in their way at first. It is only those who are of this enterprising spirit, who venture to try their fortunes in the woods; and in a few years, it generally raises them into easy and comfortable circumstances.—To the most essential and necessary duties of man, heaven has annexed immediate and important blessings. The people thus active, laborious, Edition: 1983; Page: [328] and perpetually in hard exertions, are destitute of many of the conveniences of life; and of what, in every populous city, would be esteemed its necessaries. Can their health and spirits remain unimpaired, amidst this scene of hard living, and hard labour? Will they not waste away thus labouring in the woods, without good living, able physicians, and the advantages of medicine? So far from it, that no people have so few diseases, multiply so fast, or suffer so little from sickness. Temperance and labour do more for them, than art and medicine can do for others. Edition: current; Page: [[954]] The disorders which wear away the inhabitants of wealthy cities, are almost unknown in the woods. Very few die, but under the unavoidable decays of nature; and the deaths are to the births, in no higher a proportion than 1 to 4,8. Unacquainted with the improvements which are made in the medical art in Europe, the people of the new settlements neither know the names of the diseases, or their remedies; nor stand in any need of their discoveries, or prescriptions. The benevolent Author of Nature has annexed that health to their temperance, industry, and activity, which is never found in drugs, medicines, or any attainments of art. And while the people are thus active and industrious in performing their duty, the property and health of individuals, and the prosperity of the state, are all found to flourish together.

Equality.—The nearest equality that ever can take place among men, will also be found among the inhabitants of a new country. When a number of men are engaged in the same employments and pursuits, and have all of them to depend upon their own labour and industry for their support, their situation, views, and manners, will be nearly the same; the way to subsistence, to ease, and independence, being the same to all. In this stage of society the nearest equality will take place, that ever can subsist among Edition: 1983; Page: [329] men. But this equality will be nothing more than an equality of rights; and a similarity of employment, situation, pursuit, and interest. In a new country this similarity will be so great, as to form a near resemblance of manners and character; and to prevent any very great inequalities of privilege from taking place in society, either from rank, offices of government, or any other cause.—But nothing ever did, or ever can produce an equality of power, capacity, and advantages, in the social, or in any other state of man. By making men very unequal in their powers and capacities, nature has effectually prevented this. The whole race resemble one another in the make and form of their bodies; in their original appetites, passions, and inclinations; in reason, understanding, and the moral sense, &c. But in these respects it is similitude, not equality, which nature has produced. To some, the Author of Nature has assigned superiour powers of the mind, a strength of reason and discernment, a capacity of judging, and a genius for invention, which are not given to others. To others, the Deity has assigned a strength, vigour, and firmness of constitution, by which the bodily powers are more favoured in one, than in another. Causes thus natural and original, will be followed with their natural and proper effects. Edition: current; Page: [[955]] Superiour wisdom and abilities, will have superiour influence and effect in society. Superiour strength and activity of body, will also have advantages peculiar to themselves. In making these natural distinctions, nature evidently designed to qualify men for different attainments, and employments. And while she gave to all the nature and the rights of man, she assigned to some a capacity and a power, to make a much more useful improvement and exercise of that nature, and of those rights, than she has given to others.—Thus a state of nature is itself a state of society, or at least naturally tends to produce Edition: 1983; Page: [330] it. And in the earliest stages of society, all that equality will take place among mankind, which is consistent with it. Placed in a situation nearly similar, the employments, views, and pursuits of the people, become nearly the same. The distinctions derived from birth, blood, hereditary titles and honours, and a difference of rights and privileges, are either unknown or resolve themselves into nothing, among a people in such a situation; in every view, they cease to be of any use or importance to them. Their situation naturally leads them to discern the tendencies, and designs of nature. They all feel that nature has made them equal in respect to their rights; or rather that nature has given to them a common and an equal right to liberty, to property, and to safety; to justice, government, laws, religion, and freedom. They all see that nature has made them very unequal in respect to their original powers, capacities, and talents. They become united in claiming and in preserving the equality, which nature has assigned to them; and in availing themselves of the benefits, which are designed, and may be derived from the inequality, which nature has also established. Wherever a number of people are engaged in a common, economical, laborious pursuit of subsistence, property, and security; such views of their equality, and rights, immediately occur to their minds; they are easily discerned, and they are perfectly well understood.

Economy.—Every thing in the situation and employments of the people, in a new country, will naturally tend to produce economy. There are no large estates, or cultivated farms, prepared beforehand for the heir. Every thing for food, raiment, and convenience, must be procured by the labour and industry of the planter; and it is not without much difficulty and hardship, that the people can procure the necessaries of life at first, or the conveniences Edition: 1983; Page: [331] of it afterwards. What is thus procured with labour and difficulty, will be used with Edition: current; Page: [[956]] prudence and economy. The custom will not be to fall into scenes of expensive entertainments, amusement, and dissipation: But to provide for the calls and demands of nature, to preserve the health and vigour of the body, and to be able to raise up and support a family. And this will of course, introduce a steady regard to economy, in all their expenses, habits, and customs.—The influence that this has on the affairs of individuals, and on the state of society, is every where apparent. No such degrees of wealth can ever exist in any place, as shall be equal to the demands of luxury. And where custom has introduced a habit of living and expense, above the annual income, dependence, venality, and corruption, with constant want and distress, is the never failing consequence. But the most pernicious of all the effects of luxury, is the degradation it brings on the nature of man. It destroys the vigour and powers of men, and by constantly enfeebling the body and mind, seems to reduce them to a lower order of beings. The body, weakened by excessive indolence and indulgence, loses health, vigour, and beauty, and becomes subject to a thousand emaciating pains and maladies. The mind, subdued by indolence and inactivity, scarcely retains its rational powers; and becomes weak, languid, and incapable of manly exertions, or attainments. To a state thus degraded, effeminate, and unmanly, luxury frequently reduces those, who bear the remains of the human form. Political writers have frequently argued that luxury was of real service to the nations of Europe; that it tended to find employments for the poor, and was necessary to keep the money in circulation. This reasoning cannot be contradicted: But it supposes the state of society to be essentially bad; and that it cannot be supported but Edition: 1983; Page: [332] by the management, operations, and balance of vices. In such a state of society, luxury is certainly a benefit: And the highest degree of it, would be the greatest benefit of all. It would be the best thing that could happen in such a society, for the corrupted venal part to spend their estates, by luxury and dissipation, and to have them pass into other hands. This would be far better for mankind than to have them live useless, be constantly corrupting others, or train up an emaciated feeble race, degraded by effeminacy and weakness, below the rest of the human race. Whatever might be done to load such with honours, titles, and distinctions, it will be impossible ever to make them men; or at least such kind of men, as shall be upon terms of equality with the rest of the human race.—Activity, industry, and economy, will prevent such a race from Edition: current; Page: [[957]] appearing, or such effects from taking place, in any of the new states of America.

Hospitality.—That benevolent friendly disposition, which man should bear to man, will appear under different forms, in different stages of society. In the first combinations of mankind, when all are exposed to danger, sufferings, and want, it appears in one of its most amiable forms, and has been called hospitality. In this form it exists among the people who are subjected to the common danger, fatigue, and sufferings, which attend the forming of new settlements. Feeling every moment their own wants and dangers, they are led by their situation, to assist each other in their difficulties and danger. The traveller finds among them, all the relief their circumstances will enable them to afford him: And before they are able to erect houses for public entertainment, the stranger is sure to find the best accommodations, the situation of private families will admit.—This hospitable disposition seems to be universal, in all the new settlements: And the Edition: 1983; Page: [333] unfortunate and poor man finds a relief from it, which he never expects to find among a more wealthy people. No custom was ever better adapted to afford relief to an individual, or to promote the advantage of the state. A beggar or robber is scarcely ever to be seen in a country, where there is nothing to be obtained by the business. The poor find their relief in labour, and not from a multiplicity of laws, which extract large sums from others, but afford little relief to them: And from the profits of their labour, they will soon cease to be in distress. Those that appear to be objects of distress, are generally such in reality: And where the public has not been abused by such pretences, few will be exposed to suffer on such accounts. In such a state of society, hospitality naturally performs what it ought to perform: It encourages none in idleness and dissipation, but relieves those whose circumstances require relief. It provides only for those, who cannot find other resources; and aims only to put such into a situation, in which they may support themselves, and be of use to the public.

CHAP. XIV. Edition: 1983; Page: [334]

State of Society.Religion: Importance of this Principle, Danger of any Controul in it, Equality of all Denominations, Effect of this Equality, Edition: current; Page: [[958]] Grants and Laws for the Support of Religion, Extent of Religious Liberty, Connexion of Religion with Science and Education.

Religion is one of those concerns, which will always have great influence upon the state of society. In our original frame and constitution, the Benevolent Author of our Natures, has made us rational and accountable creatures: Accountable to ourselves, to our fellow men, and to our God. These foundations of religion, are so strong, and universal, that they will not fail to have an effect upon the conduct of every one: And while they thus enter into the feelings and conduct of all the members, they will unavoidably have a great influence upon the state and conduct of society. Nor can society either set them aside, or carry on the public business without them. Instead of this, in one form or another, society will be perpetually calling in the aids of religion. When human declarations and evidence are to receive their highest force, and most solemn form, or when the most important transactions are to be performed, and offices of the highest trust and consequence are committed Edition: 1983; Page: [335] to men, the last appeal will be to religion, in the form of solemn affirmation or oath.

The most pure and benevolent system of religion, which has ever prevailed among men, is that of Christianity. This religion founded in truth, and adapted to the nature and state of man, has proposed for its end and aim, that which is of the highest importance to men and to society, universal benevolence, the love of God and man, or universal virtue. But neither this, nor any other system of moral truth, can impart infallibility to men. Whatever infallibility there may be in moral, in mathematical, or in revealed truths, men may greatly mistake when they come to explain, and apply them: And instead of being above all possibility of error, they will find that infallibility belongs only to the government of God; and that it certainly is not entailed upon any parties, or denominations of men.—Nothing therefore could be more dangerous, than to allow to any of these denominations the power to make laws to bind the rest, in matters of religion. The ruling party would vote themselves to be the only pure denomination, they would make the rest contribute to their support, and establish their own sentiments and practice, as the perfection of knowledge, wisdom, and religion; and in this way adopt measures, which tend to entail all their imperfections and errors, upon future ages. The dominion of one party over another in matters of religion, Edition: current; Page: [[959]] has always had this effect: It has operated to confirm error, oppress the minority, prevent the spirit of free inquiry and investigation; and subjected men to the most unrelenting of all persecutions, the persecution of priests and zealots, pleading principle to justify their vilest actions.—At the same time, every good man feels himself bound not to renew or admit any such authority in matters of religion. The obligations of religion are antecedent to, and more Edition: 1983; Page: [336] strong than any obligations derived from the laws of society. The first and the most important obligation any man can feel, is to obey his Maker, and the dictates of his own heart. The peace of our minds depends more essentially upon this, than any other circumstance in the course of human life.—What then has society to do in matters of religion, but simply to follow the laws of nature: To adopt these, and no other; and to leave to every man a full and perfect liberty, to follow the dictates of his own conscience, in all his transactions with his Maker?

The people of Vermont have adopted this principle, in its fullest extent. Some of them are episcopalians, others are congregationalists, others are of the presbyterian, and others are of the baptist persuasion; and some are quakers. All of them find their need of the assistance of each other, in the common concerns and business of life; and all of them are persuaded, that the government has nothing to do with their particular and distinguishing tenets.—It is not barely toleration, but equality, which the people aim at. Toleration implies either a power or a right in one party, to bear with the other; and seems to suppose, that the governing party are in possession of the truth, and that all the others are full of errors. Such a toleration is the most that can be obtained by the minority, in any nation, where the majority assume the right and the power, to bind society, by established laws and forms in religion. The body of the people in this commonwealth, carry their ideas of religious liberty much further than this: That no party shall have any power to make laws or forms to oblige another; that each denomination may lay themselves under what civil contracts and obligations they please; but that government shall not make any distinctions between them; that all denominations shall enjoy Edition: 1983; Page: [337] equal liberty, without any legal distinction or preeminence whatever.

The effect of this religious freedom, is peace, quietness, and prosperity to the state. No man is chosen to, or excluded from civil offices, on account of his particular religious sentiments. The clergy of the several denominations, have no chance to assume any powers, Edition: current; Page: [[960]] but among their own party. The people are under no obligation to support any teachers, but what they choose to lay themselves under. And no civil advantages are to be gained, or lost, by belonging to one denomination, rather than to another. The causes and the motives to contention, being thus taken away, there is scarcely any thing left to influence men to join one denomination rather than another, but belief, sentiment, and conscience. In this equality of all parties, religious professions become what they always ought to be; not matters of gain, profit, or civil distinctions; but matters of opinion, persuasion, and conscience: Sentiments and faith respecting the Deity, in which none expect to find the power of oppressing or ruling over others; but the same protection and benefit from the government, which they are at equal expense in supporting.

The settlement and support of the ministers of religion, has been encouraged and assisted by the government. The earliest grants of land in this state, were made by Benning Wentworth, governor of Newhampshire. This gentleman was of the communion of the church of England. In the grants of land that were made by him, there were three rights in each township reserved for religious purposes: One to the society for propagating the gospel in foreign parts; one for a glebe, designed for the use of an episcopal clergy; a third for the first settled minister, intended for his private property, to Edition: 1983; Page: [338] encourage the settlement of a minister in the new plantations. In the grants of townships, which have been made by the government of Vermont, two rights have been reserved for the support of a clergy: One for a parsonage, designed for the support of a minister, and unalienable from that purpose; another to become the property, and designed to encourage the settlement of the first minister. This right accrues to the first clergyman who is settled in the town, of whatever denomination he may be.—The salary of the minister ariseth wholly from the contract which the people may make with him. These contracts are altogether voluntary: But when made, by a law passed October 18, 1787, are considered as being of equal force and obligation as any other contracts; but no persons of a different denomination are obliged by them. The law has no reference to any particular denomination, but considers them all as having a right to make what contracts they please, with the minister they choose; and being of course bound by their own act, to fulfil their contract. A law designed to confirm the Edition: current; Page: [[961]] equal rights of all, is not subject to the exceptions or complaints of any party.

No embarrassments have attended any of the grants of land, which have been made for religious purposes, but those designed for a glebe, and those made to the society for propagating the gospel in foreign parts. In most of the towns there are not any persons of the episcopal persuasion, nor any incumbent to have the care of the glebe lots. The society for propagating the gospel in foreign parts, have not concerned themselves about the lands, which were granted to them. Both these rights have remained unimproved and uncultivated, except where individuals have gained possession of them; and it has been a disadvantage to the state, to have such tracts of land lying waste. It has been repeatedly a Edition: 1983; Page: [339] matter of consideration in the general assembly, what ought to be done with these lands.—Instead of coming to any decision upon the matter, in October, 1787, the general assembly passed an act, authorising the selectmen of the several towns, to take care of and improve the glebe and society lands, for the space of seven years; and to apply the incomes to the improvements of the lands, those excepted, which were in the possession of an episcopal minister. This law has been but little attended to, and is not at all competent to the improvement of the lands, or to render them beneficial to the state, or to any valuable purpose.—In any view of the matter, these lands ought not to be suffered to remain useless, and detrimental to the state. If the society for propagating the gospel in foreign parts, had made such as assignation of them, as would have served to promote religious instruction and knowledge, the people would have had the benefit that was intended by the grantor. If this be neglected an unreasonable time, it becomes the duty of the legislature, to prevent their remaining a public disadvantage to the state, by continuing uncultivated and useless.

The principles of religious liberty, are asserted in their fullest extent, in the constitution of Vermont. In the declaration of rights, there is a clause which seems to be adequate to the subject, and clearly expresses the religious rights of the people.—“Nor can any man be justly deprived or abridged of any civil right as a citizen, on account of his religious sentiments, or peculiar mode of religious worship; and no authority can, or ought to be vested in, or assumed by any power whatever, that shall in any case interfere with, or in any manner controul the rights of conscience, in the free exercise of religious Edition: current; Page: [[962]] worship.”* In the plan of government formed in Edition: 1983; Page: [340] 1778, and revised in 1786, a religious test was imposed upon the members of the assembly, inconsistent with the above declaration: In the late revisal of the constitution (1792) this imperfection has been done away; and religious liberty has acquired a complete establishment, by a declaration that “no religious test shall be required of any member of the legislature.”

A greater attention to the liberal arts and science, would be of great advantage to the religious and civil interests of the state. The people of Vermont have not the advantages for the education of their youth, or the improvement of knowledge, which the people in the other states have. The disadvantages and dangers, which arise for want of literary institutions, are greater than they are aware of. The religion of ignorance, will either be, infidelity, or superstition; and it often produces an unnatural mixture of both, greatly unfavourable to the moral, and civil interests of men. When folly, in its own view, is become infallible and sacred, it opposes with obstinacy, all improvements in society; and requires, with a peculiar insolence, the submission of all other men, to its own weakness and bigotry. The only remedy for the difficulties which arise in society, from this cause, is the increase of knowledge and education. And where society is destitute of the means and institutions, which are requisite to promote knowledge, it is without one of its most essential advantages; the means of her own cultivation, and improvement.

The education of children for the common business of life, is well attended to. But the customary methods of education for the professions of divinity, law, or physic, are extremely deficient; and do not promise either eminence, or improvement. The Edition: 1983; Page: [341] body of the people appear to be more sensible of this defect, than professional men themselves. From the first assumption of all of the powers of government, the assembly had in contemplation, the establishment of an university in the state; and with this view, reserved one right of land in all the townships which they granted, for the use of such a seminary. In November, 1791, the legislature passed an act establishing the university at Burlington, upon a liberal, catholic, and judicious foundation. It has not as yet, entered upon the business of instruction. Edition: current; Page: [[963]] If it should be furnished with able and judicious instructors, by extending the benefits of education, and promoting an attention to the arts and sciences, it would greatly assist the intellectual and moral improvement of the people: These improvements are of essential importance to men, in every stage of society; but most of all necessary, when they are forming a new state.

CHAP. XV. Edition: 1983; Page: [342]

State of SocietyNature of the American Government. Constitution of Vermont, Laws.

Nature of the American Government. The object and the principle of government is the same, in every part of the United States of America. The end or the design of it, is the public business; not the power, the emolument, or the dignity, of the persons employed, but only that public business which concerns either the whole federal territory, or some particular state.—The principle on which all the American governments are founded, is representation. They do not admit of sovereignty, nobility, or any kind of hereditary powers; but only of powers granted by the people, ascertained by written constitutions, and exercised by representation for a given time.

Governments founded on this principle, do not necessarily imply the same form. They do not admit of monarchy, or aristocracy; nor do they admit of what was called democracy by the ancients. In the ancient democracies the public business was transacted in the assemblies of the people: The whole body assembled to judge and decide, upon public affairs. Upon this account, the ancient democracies were found to be unfit, and inadequate to the government of a large nation. In America this Edition: 1983; Page: [343] difficulty never occurs: All is transacted by representation. Whatever may be the number of the people, or the extent of the territory, representation is proportioned to it; and thus becomes expressive of the public sentiment, in every part of the union. Hence the government in different states, though chiefly republican, varies in its form; committing more or less power to a governor, senate, or house of representatives, as the circumstances of any particular state may require. As each of these branches derive their whole power from the people, are accountable to them for the use and exercise they Edition: current; Page: [[964]] make of it, and may be displaced by the election of others; the security of the people is derived not from the nice ideal application of checks, ballances, and mechanical powers, among the different parts of the government; but from the responsibility, and dependence of each part of the government, upon the people.

This kind of government seems to have had its form and origin, from nature. It is not derived from any of the histories of the ancient republics. It is not borrowed from Greece, Rome, or Carthage. Nor does it appear that a government founded in representation ever was adopted among the ancients, under any form whatever.—Representation thus unknown to the ancients, was gradually introduced into Europe by her monarchs; not with any design to favour the rights of the people, but as the best means that they could devise to raise money. The monarchs who thus introduced it, with a view to collect money from the people, always took care to check it when it ventured to examine the origin and extent of the privileges of the sovereign, or of the rights of the people.—In America every thing tended to introduce, and to complete the system of representation. Made equal in their rights by nature, the body of the people were in a situation nearly Edition: 1983; Page: [344] similar with regard to their employments, pursuits, and views. Without the distinctions of titles, families, or nobility, they acknowledged and reverenced only those distinctions which nature had made, in a diversity of talents, abilities, and virtues. There were no family interests, connexions, or estates, large enough to oppress them. There was no excessive wealth in the hands of a few, sufficient to corrupt them. Britain tried in vain to force upon them a government, at first, derived from the decrees of her parliament; afterwards, from conquest. Nothing remained for such a people, but to follow what nature taught; and as they were too numerous to attempt to carry on their governments in the form of the ancient democracies, they naturally adopted the system of representation: Every where choosing representatives, and assigning to them such powers as their circumstances required. This was evidently the system of government, that nature pointed out: And it is a system that has no where been suffered to prevail but in America, and what the people were naturally lead to by the situation, in which Providence had placed them. The system of government then in America, is not derived from superstition, conquest, military power, or a pretended compact between the rulers and the people; but it was derived from nature, and reason; and is Edition: current; Page: [[965]] founded in the nature, capacities, and powers, which God hath assigned to the race of men.

All the Power that such governments can have, is derived from the public opinion. The body of the people while they remain industrious and economical, will be steadily attached to the public interest, which will entirely coincide with their own. They will more readily discern what their interest is, and be more steadily attached to it, than is to be expected from men who are placed in offices of honour and profit. The public opinion will be much Edition: 1983; Page: [345] nearer the truth, than the reasonings and refinements of speculative or interested men: The former will be founded wholly in a desire, and aim, to promote the public safety; the latter will be unavoidably more or less governed, by private views, interests, and aims: And when the government has the general opinion of the people to support it, it can act with the greatest force and power; that is, with the collected force and power of the whole nation: And this is the greatest force that ever can be exerted by any government, in any situation whatever.—Despotism never acquires a force equal to this. When a whole nation unite, and the public spirit moves and operates in the same direction, nothing can withstand its force, and the powers of despotism, with all their standing troops and regular armies, fall before it. It is only when the public sentiment and spirit is thus united, and brought into action, that government has acquired, or is able to exert the whole force of the national power.—With this strength, the governments of America amidst every kind of difficulty, rose superiour to all opposition; firmly established themselves, in fifteen different states; and gave uncommon vigour and efficacy to a federal establishment, which was designed and adapted to manage the public business of the whole system.

But whatever be the form or the power of government, it cannot attain its greatest perfection, unless it contains within itself, the means of its own improvement. The men of civilized countries, are making gradual and constant improvements in knowledge, in the sciences, and in all the arts by which life is made more secure and happy. Hence, that form of government which was best suited to their state in one stage of society, ceases to be so, in another: And unless the government itself improves, with the gradual improvement of society, it will lose much of its respectability, and power; become unsuited to Edition: 1983; Page: [346] the state, and injurious to the people. Despotism has always Edition: current; Page: [[966]] contemplated the body of the people, as mere mob; and has aimed and operated to keep them in that situation. To governments founded in this principle, the improvement of mankind proves fatal and destructive: And there is nothing, such governments are more anxious to prevent, than knowledge, property, and improvement, in the body of the people.—Built upon the rational and social nature of man, the American government expects to find its surest support, and greatest duration, in the gradual improvement, in the encreasing knowledge, virtue, and freedom, of the human race. The present government of America, is therefore proposed to her citizens, not as the most perfect standard of what man can ever attain to, but only as the best form, which we have as yet been able to discover: Not as a form, which is to bind our heirs and posterity forever, but as a form which is referred to them, to alter and improve, as they shall find best. Upon this idea, it is one of the constituent and essential parts of American government, that conventions shall be called at certain periods of time, to alter, amend, and improve the present form and constitution of government; as the state, circumstances, and improvements of society, shall then require. Thus provision is made, that the improvement of government, shall keep pace with the improvement of society in America. And no policy would appear more puerile or contemptible to the people of America, than an attempt to bind posterity to our forms, or to confine them to our degrees of knowledge, and improvement: The aim is altogether the reverse, to make provision for the perpetual improvement and progression of the government itself.

As this kind of government is not the same as that, which has been called monarchy, aristocracy, or democracy; as it had a conspicuous origin in America, Edition: 1983; Page: [347] and has not been suffered to prevail in any other part of the globe, it would be no more than just and proper, to distinguish it by its proper name, and call it, The American System of Government.

Constitution of Vermont.—The government of Vermont is of the same nature, and founded upon the same principles, as the other governments in the United States. By their constitution, formed in 1778, and revised in 1786, and 1792, the supreme legislative power is vested in a house of representatives of the freemen. Every town has a right to choose a representative, on the first Tuesday of September annually. The representatives so chosen, are to meet on the second Thursday of the succeeding October, and are styled The General Edition: current; Page: [[967]] Assembly of the state of Vermont. They have power to choose their own officers; to sit on their own adjournments; prepare bills, and enact them into laws; they may expel members, but not for causes known to their constituents antecedent to their election; impeach state criminals; grant charters of incorporation, constitute towns, boroughs, cities, and counties; in conjunction with the council they are annually to elect judges of the supreme, county, and probate courts, sheriffs and justices of the peace; and also with the council, may elect majorgenerals, and brigadiergenerals, as often as there shall be occasion: They have all other powers necessary for the legislature of a free and sovereign state: But have no power to add to, alter, abolish, or infringe any part of the constitution.

The supreme executive power is vested in a governor, or lieutenantgovernor, and a council of twelve persons, chosen by the freemen, at the same time they choose their representative. The governor, or the lieutenantgovernor and council, are to commission all officers; prepare such business as may appear to them necessary to lay before the general Edition: 1983; Page: [348] assembly: They are to sit as judges to hear and determine on impeachments, taking to their assistance, for advice only, the judges of the supreme court. They have power to grant pardons, and remit fines, in all cases whatsoever, except in treason and murder, in which they have power to grant reprieves, but not to pardon until after the end of the next session of assembly, and in cases of impeachment, in which there is no remission or mitigation of punishment, but by act of legislation. They may also lay embargoes, or prohibit the exportation of any commodity, for any time not exceeding thirty days, in the recess of the house only.—The governor is captaingeneral and commander in chief of the forces of the state, but shall not command in person, except advised thereto by the council, and then only so long as they shall approve: And the lieutenantgovernor by virtue of his office, is lieutenantgeneral of all the forces of the state.

That the laws before they are enacted may be more maturely considered, and the inconvenience of hasty determinations as much as possible prevented, all bills which originate in the assembly are laid before the governor and council for their revision and concurrence, or proposals of amendment; who return the same to the assembly with their proposals of amendment (if any) in writing; and if the same are not agreed to by the assembly, it is in the power of the governor and Edition: current; Page: [[968]] council, to suspend the passing of such bills, until the next session of the legislature. But no negative is allowed to the governor and council.

The formers of the constitution were aware that the plan of government, which they had drawn up, would not be adequate to the affairs of government, when the state of the people should become different, but must necessarily vary with it: And they wisely made provision to have the whole examined Edition: 1983; Page: [349] and revised, at the end of every seven years. The provision they made for this purpose was a council of censors, to consist of thirteen persons, to be elected by the people every seventh year, on the last Wednesday in March; and to assemble on the first Wednesday in June. The duty assigned to them, is to inquire whether the constitution has been preserved inviolate in every part; whether the legislative and executive branches of government have performed their duty, as guardians of the people; or assumed to themselves, or exercised other or greater powers, than they are entitled to by the constitution; whether the public taxes have been justly laid, and collected; in what manner the public monies have been disposed of; and whether the laws have been duly executed. Powers fully competent to these purposes, are committed to them. They may send for persons, papers, and records: They have authority to pass public censures, to order impeachments, and to recommend to the legislature the repealing such laws, as shall appear to them to have been enacted contrary to the principles of the constitution. These powers they may exercise during the space of one year, from the time of their election; and they may call a convention to meet within two years after their sitting, if they judge it necessary.

In examining a constitution of government, the most capital circumstance to be taken into consideration, is, the condition and circumstances of the people, or the state of society among them. At the first assumption of government in Vermont, the form of it differed but little from the democracy of the ancients. From that period, it has been constantly tending to give more power to the house of representatives,—But it is found by experience, that in so popular a government, nothing is more necessary than some provision, like that of the council of censors, to have all the public proceedings revised at Edition: 1983; Page: [350] certain periods of time; and such alterations made in the constitution, as time, events, or the circumstances of the people, may require. As the state of society is progressive, there is no way to have Edition: current; Page: [[969]] the government adapted to the state of society, but to have the government also progressive; that both may admit of the improvements, that are gradually made in human affairs. With this provision, a constitution of government which contains many faults, will gradually mend and improve itself, without being forced to the dangers and convulsions of a revolution: And it seems to be the only provision which human wisdom has yet found to prevent the interposition of such calamities.

Laws.—So much of the common law of England as is not repugnant to the constitution, or to any act of the legislature, is adopted as law within this state: And such statute laws, and parts of laws of the kingdom of England and Greatbritain, as were passed before the first day of October, 1760, for the explanation of the common law, and are not repugnant to the constitution, or some act of the legislature, and are applicable to the circumstances of the state, are also adopted and made law in Vermont.—The criminal law of Greatbritain seems to be adapted only to a very degraded, vicious, and barbarous state of society. No less than one hundred and sixty crimes are punishable by death. Sanguinary laws and executions have there made death so common and familiar, that it seems to have become one of those common occurrences, which is constantly to be expected, and is very little regarded. Several of the punishments, in the contrivances of their cruelty, are fully equal to any thing that has ever been perpetrated by the Indians of America: In brutal rage and inhuman torture, the punishment assigned to high treason, fairly exceeds any thing the Indian genius could ever conceive.—Such a code of Edition: 1983; Page: [351] criminal law is wholly unfitted to the uncorrupted state of the people in America; nor would they in any part of the continent, be persuaded to admit it. Instead of one hundred and sixty, there are only nine crimes, to which the laws of Vermont have assigned the punishment of death: And since the first assumption of government in 1777, there has not been any person convicted of any of these crimes.—What relates to the internal affairs of government, the regulations necessary for a new country, or such as are suited to our particular state of society, are provided for by statutes made for such particular cases and purposes.—To form a code of laws suited to the state of a large nation, has been justly esteemed the most difficult Edition: current; Page: [[970]] part of government. It does not appear that human wisdom has ever been able to effect this without great errors, in any part of the earth. If it is to be obtained, the particular states of America have now a fair opportunity to make the experiment, how far human wisdom can proceed at present, in effecting this arduous but most important attainment.

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[62]: Jack Nips
[JOHN LELAND 1754-1841]

The Yankee Spy

John Leland could point to ancestors who had been in North America a full century before his birth. At the age of eighteen, having only the education provided in elementary schools, he was licensed as a Baptist preacher. His first pastorates were in Virginia where he was deeply moved by his observations of slavery. At age 37 he returned to the Bay State to complete a career that won him repute as a worthy successor of Isaac Backus, great founder and leader of the church in New England. As a Baptist clergyman, John Leland had a vested interest in the doctrine of separation of Church and State, since any connection between the two would invariably work to the detriment of the Baptists, who were in a distinct minority everywhere. It is not surprising, then, that Leland was influential in the passage of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, in 1786. He supported the United States Constitution only after James Madison assured him that a bill of rights guaranteeing freedom of religion would be added. The essay reproduced here, which begins in catechism form, is surprisingly modern, and relevant to issues that still exercise American politics in the late twentieth century.


Question. Why are men obliged, every year, to pay their taxes?

Answer. To support government.

Q. What is government?

A. The government here intended, is the mutual compact of a Edition: current; Page: [[972]] certain body of people, for the general safety of their lives, liberty, and property.

Q. Are all systems of civil government founded in compact?

A. No: successful robbers and tyrants have founded their systems in conquest—enthusiasts and priest-ridden people have founded theirs in grace—while men without merit have founded their system in birth; but the true principle, that all Gentile nations should found their government upon, is, compact.

Q. Was civil government appointed by the Almighty from the beginning?

A. It was not; nor was it necessary until sin had intoxicated man with the principle of self-love. The law was not made for a righteous man, but for the disobedient.

Q. What form of government prevailed first among mankind?

A. Patriarchal. The father of a family used to exercise some sovereignty over his successors, until they moved from the city of their father, and became patriarchs themselves.

Q. How long did the world stand without any government in it but patriarchal?

Edition: 1983; Page: [4] A. There was no other kind before the flood, (which was more than one thousand six hundred and forty-five years,) nor afterwards till Nimrod, two generations after the flood.

Q. What was Nimrod?

A. He was the first that began to be a mighty one in the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord, who hunted beasts to support his army with, and hunted men to reduce them to his will.

Q. What form of government did he adopt?

A. A kingly form; for the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh. He was the first of those pretty creatures called kings, who reduced others to subjection by hunting them like beasts.

Q. Did the Almighty ever give a code of political laws to any nation? or, are nations left to act at discretion in establishing forms of government and codes of laws?

A. The Almighty did certainly give the nation of Israel a complete code of laws on Sinai, and in the wilderness, for their rule of conduct in religious, civil and military life.

Q. Were those laws obligatory on other nations?

A. Laws, that are in themselves just, are binding on all men, Edition: current; Page: [[973]] but the particular form of many of those laws was peculiar to that nation. The transgression of many of those precepts was criminal in that nation, which the Gentiles were never accused of by their great apostle, Paul.

Q. What did other nations do, in point of government, while Israel was in the wilderness and under the regulation of judges?

A. When Nimrod usurped the monarch’s crown, the spirit of domination ran through the world like a raging plague. Ashur went out to the land of Shinar, where Nimrod’s seat was, and built Nineveh, and founded the Assyrian monarchy, and the contagion of having kings, and being kings, prevailed so greatly, that every little village had a king. Abraham, with three hundred and eighteen servants, conquered four of them and their hosts—Joshua destroyed thirty-one—and Adonibezek cut off the thumbs and great toes of seventy; also eight kings and eleven dukes reigned over Edom, before any in Israel.

Q. In what condition was the nation of Israel, after they left Egypt, before Saul reigned over them, in regard to their police?

A. They were in a state of theocracy, the best of all states when people have virtue enough to bear it.

Q. Were there no men among them who exercised dominion over the rest?

Edition: 1983; Page: [5] A. Moses and Aaron exercised divine orders among them; the princes of the tribes and the officers bore authority, and the judges, of whom there were thirteen, had some pre-eminence, but neither of them had the power of making laws; when God appointed them, they were to execute his laws, and no other.

Q. Was the code of laws, ordained for the government of Israel, sufficient to govern other nations by, in their very different circumstances?

A. It was not. Canaan was an inland country—the people were forbidden to trade with other nations, so that no laws were made for navigation, commerce, or union; all of which are necessary in Gentile nations. And, beside, their civil and religious laws were all blended together. The sabbath of the seventh day—seventh year, and fiftieth year—the three grand feasts, and a multitude of sacrifices, ceremonies, and oblations were enjoined on that people, which things Gentile nations have nothing to do with.

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Q. Has the political part of that constitution ever been abused by Gentile legislatures?

A. Abundantly so, among Gentile nations that have become Christian; for by bringing Christian states upon the same footing with the commonwealth of Israel, they have supposed that Christian nations have a just right to dispossess the heathen of their lands and make slaves of their persons, as Israel served the Canaanites and Jebusites: for no better claim than this had the European nation to make a seizure of America. Nor is this all: civil rulers, in Christian countries, have taken the liberty of adopting such precepts of the Mosaic constitution as suited them, and punished those who would not submit, when, at the same time, they have left unnoticed a great number of the precepts of Moses which were equally obligatory.

Q. Has the ecclesiastical part of the Mosaic constitution ever been abused as well as the political part?

A. Yes, and that to a great degree. The church of Israel took in the whole nation, and none but that nation: whereas, Christ’s church takes no whole nation, but those who fear God and work righteousness in every nation. But almost all Christian nations and states, since the reign of Constantine, have sought to establish national churches: in order to effect which, they have brought in all the natural seed of the professors into the pales of the church, making no difference between the precious and the vile; and from this foundation they have appealed to the laws of state, instead of the laws of Christ, to direct their mode of discipline. What a Edition: 1983; Page: [6] scandal it is to the Christian name to see church discipline executed in a court-house, before the judges of the police—to see censures given at the whipping-post, and excommunications at the gallows;* and for smaller breaches, to be admonished by a sheriff’s seizing and selling cows, etc., or wiping off the admonition by a pecuniary mulet! Yet such has been, and still is the case, even in New England, that has made her boast of religion and liberty. Circumcision, as to its first institution, was not of Moses, but of the fathers that lived before Moses, yet it was enjoined by Moses to be performed on all the males of Israel. From this a great number of ecclesiastics have changed blood for water, and sprinkle their children Edition: current; Page: [[975]] instead of bleeding them, in order to make the gospel church as extensive as the church of Israel was. Yet many of them will not admit a person to go back as far as John for the origin of baptism, because, say they, John’s administration was under the law; yet they will run back two thousand four hundred years before John for a precedent of baptism.

Q. Was not circumcision, to the church of Israel, the same that water-baptism is to the church of Christ?

A. If so, the following absurdities arise.

First. None but the males were circumcised: whereas, both males and females are sprinkled with water. To say that the females were virtually circumcised in the males, is just as good sense as to say the females are virtually sprinkled in the males.

Second. None were ever circumcised under eight days old, which was the general time appointed; but children are sprinkled sometimes Edition: 1983; Page: [7] before they are eight hours old. Midwives have been empowered to do it, in case death was nearer than a priest.

Third. Circumcision was never a priestly rite: fathers, masters, mothers, and friends did the work; but sprinkling is supposed to be a ministerial rite.

Fourth. Whatever circumcision figured out, it was something that was wrought in the spirit and done without hands; and as there is nothing done by men, that is called baptism by water, either sprinkling, pouring, or dipping, that can possibly change the spirit, so neither of them are effected without the hands of men. The conclusion, therefore, is, that the first did not figure out the last.

Fifth. None but those who were circumcised were to inherit Canaan; of course, then, none but those who are baptized with water can inherit heaven, which is a consequence inadmissible.

Q. What do you think of the British constitution of government?

A. There is no constitution in Britain. It is said, in England, that there are three things unknown, viz. the prerogatives of the Edition: current; Page: [[976]] crown—the privileges of parliament—and the liberty of the people. These things are facts, for although they consider the seventy-two articles of the Magna Charta as the basis of their government, yet from that basis they have never formed a constitution to describe the limits of each department of government. So that precedents and parliamentary acts are all the constitution they have.

Q. How does government operate in England?

A. A hereditary king of the Protestant faith, must always fill the throne, whether he be a wise man or a dunce. A house of lords, of the hereditary mould, must always check the house of commons.

Q. What is the house of commons?

A. It is a representative body of a small part of the nation, chosen once in seven years. It is called the house of commons, because the house of lords is a house of uncommons, supposed to be a species of beings like the Genii of the Mahometans, between angels and men, born only to rule, without having a fellow-feeling with those whom they rule over.

Q. What condition has that form of government reduced the people to?

A. It has sunk them in a debt of more than two hundred and eighty millions, so that the interest of their debt, together with the support of the civil and military lists, imposes an annual tax Edition: 1983; Page: [8] on the people equal to thirty shillings sterling per soul, and at the expiration of the year the nation is a million of pounds more in debt than at the beginning.

Q. How stand religious concerns in England?

A. The thirty-nine articles and book of common prayer are established by law. No man can fill any office in the civil or military departments without taking an oath to support them, and upon receiving a commission he must seal his oath with the eucharist: this is true of all, saving the members of parliament, who are obliged only to take the oath of abjuration, Curse the Pope and Papistry.

Q. But are there none in England that dissent from the established religion?

A. Many of them, of various denominations.

Q. How do they fare?

A. They are deprived of such advantages as the conformists enjoy. In addition to all their proscriptions, the tenth part of all their Edition: current; Page: [[977]] income is taken from them to support priests that they never hear, and in whom they place no confidence.

Q. Is it supposed that the articles and forms of the church of England are so perfect that they cannot be mended?

A. They are always perfect when dissenters are handled. Edward Wrightman was burnt to death at Litchfield, by a warrant from prince James, for saying that the worship of God was not fully described in the thirty-nine articles and book of common prayers, and nearly eight thousand lost their property, liberties, and lives in the reign of the merciful king Charles, because they could not, would not say, that they believed what they could not believe, and so conform to the established worship.

They are also always perfect when a candidate enters into holy orders, for all of them do solemnly declare that they give their unfeigned assent and consent to all and every thing contained in that book, and yet, from the first formation of that book, it has passed above six hundred alterations, and to this day, many parts of it are complained of by many of the Episcopal clergymen.

Q. What have you to say about the Federal Constitution of America?

A. It is a novelty in the world: partly confederate, and partly consolidate—partly directly elective, and partly elective one or two removes from the people; but one of the great excellencies of the Constitution is, that no religious test is ever to be required to qualify any officer in any part of the government. To say that the Constitution is perfect, would be too high an encomium upon Edition: 1983; Page: [9] the fallibility of the framers of it; yet this may be said, that it is the best national machine that is now in existence.

Q. What think you of the Constitution of Massachusetts?

A. It is as good a performance as could be expected in a state where religious bigotry and enthusiasm have been so predominant.

Q. What is your opinion of having a bill of rights to a constitution of government?

A. Whenever it is understood that all power is in the monarch—that subjects possess nothing of their own, but receive all from the potentate, then the liberty of the people is commensurate with the bill of rights that is squeezed out of the monarch.

After the conquest of William, the government of England was completely monarchical, until the reign of king John, when the Magna Edition: current; Page: [[978]] Charta was given to the people: this has often been mentioned in America as a sufficient reason for a bill of rights, to preface each constitution: but in republican, representative governments, like those of America, where it is understood that all power is originally in the people, and that all is still retained in their hands, except so much as for a limited time is given to the rulers, where is the propriety of having a bill of rights? In this view, no such bill is found in the Federal Constitution.

But it is not my intention, at this time, to dispute the point of propriety or impropriety of a bill of rights, but shall only add that the liberty of the people depends more upon the organization of government, the responsibility of rulers, and the faithful discharge of the officers, than it does upon any bill of rights that can be named.

The illustrious patriots of Massachusetts, in framing their Constitution of government, in 1780, prepared a bill of rights, which is adopted in the state, on which I shall make some remarks. The bill contains thirty articles, upon a few of which I shall animadvert.

In the second article it is said, “it is the right and duty of all men publicly, and at stated seasons, to worship the Supreme Being.” This article would read much better in a catechism than in a state constitution, and sound more concordant in a pulpit than in a state-house.

Suppose there are, in Massachusetts, a number of Pagans and Deists: the Pagans, upon hearing that it is their duty to worship one Supreme Being only, must consequently renounce all other deities whom they have been taught to adore; here their consciences must be dispensed with, or the constitution broken. The Deist, who believes all religion to be a cheat, must either act the Edition: 1983; Page: [10] hypocrite, or disregard the supreme law of the State. This duty is called a right: if every man has this right, then he has a right to judge for himself, and will hardly thank any body for turning his right into what they may call a duty. That it is the duty of men, and women too, to worship God publicly, I heartily believe, but that it is the duty or wisdom of a convention or legislature to enjoin it on others, is called in question, and will be, until an instance can be given in the New Testament, that Jesus, or his apostles, gave orders therefor to the rulers of this world.

It is the duty of men to repent and believe—to worship God in their closets and families as well as in public—and the reason why Edition: current; Page: [[979]] public worship is enjoined by authority, and private worship is omitted, is only to pave the way for some religious establishment by human law, and force taxes from the people to support avaricious priests.

What leads legislators into this error, is confounding sins and crimes together—making no difference between moral evil and state rebellion: not considering that a man may be infected with moral evil, and yet be guilty of no crime, punishable by law. If a man worships one God, three Gods, twenty Gods, or no God—if he pays adoration one day in a week, seven days, or no day—wherein does he injure the life, liberty or property of another? Let any or all these actions be supposed to be religious evils of an enormous size, yet they are not crimes to be punished by the laws of state, which extend no further, in justice, than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor.

When civil rulers undertake to make laws against moral evil, and punish men for heterodoxy in religion, they often run to grand extremes. The eating of a potatoe for food, and using emetics for physic, were once considered in France as religious evils. Galileo was once excommunicated and banished by the Pope’s bull, as a man of dangerous heresy, because he believed in the Copernican system. The ancients were treated as heretics, who believed they had antipodes. The court of Zurich made a law to drown Felix Mentz with water, because he was baptized in water. In short, volumes might be written, and have been written, o show what havoc among men the principle of mixing sins and crimes together has effected, while men in power have taken their own opinions as infallible tests of right and wrong.

The third article of the bill of rights is similar to the second in its structure. It is said, “The people of this commonwealth have a right to invest their legislature with power to authorise and Edition: 1983; Page: [11] require, and the legislature shall from time to time authorise and require the several towns, parishes, etc., to make suitable provision, at their own expense, for the institution of the public worship of God, and for the support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers, in all cases where such provision shall not be made voluntarily.”

If the legislature of this commonwealth have that power to institute and establish that religion, which they believe is the best in the world, by the same rule, all the legislatures of all the commonwealths, states, kingdoms and empires that are in the world, and that have been in the world, may claim the same.

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If dumb idols are called devils, and idolatry is the religion of the devil, this claim of power brings all the Gentile nations under the government of the devil. Idolatry was established by this pretended power in the Gentile nations, when the Christian religion was first sent among them; now if that establishment was right, then the apostles were wrong in separating so many thousands from the established religion. They were guilty of effecting a schism, and government was innocent in inflicting such punishment upon them and their adherents. In process of time, the religion of Christ prevailed so far that it was established in the empire of Rome; at which epoch it received a deadly wound, which gradually reduced it to superstition, fraud and ignorance; so that, in the sixteenth century, a number of kingdoms and principalities protested against the church of Rome; but this was a grand piece of obstinacy, if rulers have the power that the article under consideration says belongs to the legislature of Massachusetts. These Protestants, especially in England, retained so many of the Papal relics, that great numbers became nonconformists; here they repeated their crime, rejecting the English establishment, as well as that of Rome. Some of those nonconformists came into New-England, and soon began to exercise that power which the bill of rights says they have a right to.

Now, how shall all these evils be remedied? answer—all who have dissented from the established religion of New-England must return to that fold, and confess their errors; then all must return to the church of England, and submit to that establishment; then, joining with the Episcopalians, all must apply to the Pope for pardon, and submit to his uncontrolable authority; then, with the Papists, all must return to the Pagans, and submit to the Polytheism. If the power spoken of is right, then this mode of procedure is right; and, therefore, it is not the natural consequence of religious Edition: 1983; Page: [12] establishments by human law, to bring all men under the government and religion of the devil, it is because there is neither devil nor devilish religion in the world.

It is observed, that “the people of this commonwealth have a right to invest their legislature with this power.” But where do they get this right? The universe is composed of a multitude of units; so this commonwealth is formed by a number of individuals. The confederacy is the sovereign, and rulers are agents; and how can the creature have more power than the Creator? Propter quod unum quodque Edition: current; Page: [[981]] est tale, illud ibsum est magis tale. Whatever is found in the commonwealth, in aggregate, is found in small, essential particles among all the individuals; if, therefore, this power is in the commonwealth, each individual has a little of it in his own breast; and has a right to exercise it towards his neighbor, and force him to worship God, when, where, and in such a manner as he himself shall choose; and if this be the case, what means the first article in the bill of rights; where it is said, “all men are born free and equal.” To be consistent, either that clause should be erased, or the power contended for given up.

This power is to be used to oblige the people “to make suitable provision at their own expense, for the institution of the public worship of God.” I have long been of the belief that Jesus Christ instituted his worship; and if my faith is well founded, then it is not left for rulers to do in these days; but, surely nothing more can be meant by it, than that the legislature shall incorporate religious societies, and oblige them to build houses for public worship. Parishes, precincts, and religious societies politically embodied, are phrases not known in the New Testament; convey ideas contrary to the spirit of the gospel, and pave the way for force and cruelty, inadmissible in Christ’s kingdom, which is not of this world. If any number of real saints are incorporated by human law, they cannot be a church of Christ, by virtue of that formation, but a creature of state.

This power is further to be exercised, to require the people to be at expense “for the support and maintenance of public Protestant preachers.”

Preaching by the day, by the month, by the year, annual taxes for preaching; what strange sounds these are! not strange in these days; but such strangers in the New Testament, that they are not to be found there. How insignificant would the federal government be, if it was dependant on the laws of the states to support its officers! That government that has not force enough Edition: 1983; Page: [13] in it to support its officers, will soon fall; just so with the government of Jesus. The author of our religion has appointed a maintenance for his teachers; but has never told the rulers of this world to interfere in the matter.

How much did John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, James or John, ask per year? Answer: I know not. If a man preaches Jesus, he cannot talk enough for it; the gold of Ophir cannot equal it; if he preaches himself, it is good for nothing.

Strange it is, that men should pretend to be sent by God to Edition: current; Page: [[982]] preach to sinners, and yet will not do the work of the Lord, unless they can get men to be legal bondsmen for Jehovah.

To read in the New Testament, that the Lord has ordained that those that preach the gospel shall live by its institutions and precepts, sounds very harmonical; but to read in a state constitution, that the legislature shall require men to maintain teachers of piety, religion and morality, sounds very discordant.

We may next observe, that the legislature of Massachusetts have not power to provide for any public teachers, except they are Protestant. Pagans, Turks and Jews, must not only preach for nothing; but Papists, those marvellous Christians, cannot obtain a maintenance for their preachers by the laws of their commonwealth. Such preachers must either be supported voluntarily, support themselves, or starve. Is this good policy? Should one sect be pampered above others? Should not government protect all kinds of people, of every species of religion, without showing the least partiality? Has not the world had enough proofs of the impolicy and cruelty of favoring a Jew more than a Pagan, Turk, or Christian; or a Christian more than either of them? Why should a man be proscribed, or any wife disgraced, for being a Jew, a Turk, a Pagan, or a Christian of any denomination, when his talents and veracity as a civilian, entitles him to the confidence of the public.

The next thing to be noticed is, that the legislature of Massachusetts is invested with power and “authority to enjoin upon all the subjects an attendance upon the instructions of the public teachers, at stated times and seasons.” By which stated times, no doubt, is meant the days called Sabbaths, Sundays (Sondays,) First-days or Lord’s-days. I shall not dispute the point about the holy-day, whether it was enjoined on men from the beginning, or never before the manna was given in the wilderness; whether the fourth commandment in the decalogue, was of a moral or ceremonial nature; whether it was binding on all nations, or only on Israel; Edition: 1983; Page: [14] whether the same day of the week is to be kept to the end of the world; whether the seventh part of time answers the end of the law, or whether the seventh day is changed for the first; but shall use the liberty of saying, that the appointment of such stated holy-days, is no part of human legislation. I cannot see upon what principle of national right, the people of Massachusetts could invest their legislature with that power; and as I cannot deduce it from the source of natural right, so neither can I Edition: current; Page: [[983]] find a hint in the New Testament, that Jesus or his apostles, ever reproved any for the neglect of that day; or that they ever called upon civil rulers to make any penal laws about it. And it is curious to see what havoc rulers make of good sense, whenever they undertake to legalize said day. No longer ago than 1791, the legislature of this commonwealth made a sabbatical law; wherein, for the groundwork, they say, that the seventh part of time is to be kept holy; but how do they calculate time? A man on a journey may travel until Saturday night, midnight, and begin again on Sunday at sundown; if eighteen hours is the seventh part of a week, then their calculation is good; but being conscious that it is not, they make it up (i. e. pay what they have borrowed) out of recreation; for such exercise must cease on Saturday at the going down of the sun, and continue to cease till Sunday midnight. It may further be observed, that the law of God, and the laws of men, differ widely in phrase; the law that enjoined the observance of the seventh day on the nation of Israel, which came from Jehovah, did not except the works of necessity and mercy; neither man, maid, nor beast were to work—but a little way were they to travel—a bundle of sticks was not to be gathered and laid on the fire—nor had they any orders to assemble on that day, in a stated manner, to read the laws of Moses. It was to be a day of rest, which gave it the name Sabbath; but the laws of men have so many exceptions, that nothing, and anything, are done on said day.

But however these things are, the legislature of this state is to oblige the people to assemble on these stated times, to hear the instructions of these teachers of piety, religion and morality, if there be any on whose instructions they can conscientiously and conveniently attend. Here is a gap wide enough for any man to creep out. If neglecting to go to meeting is not justified by pleading inconveniency, his conscience will soon do it; but whether he goes to church or not, his pennies must go to the treasurer’s purse.

It is true that one sect of Protestant Christians has as fair an opportunity to be incorporated as another, but there are many who Edition: 1983; Page: [15] justly despise the idea of religious incorporation by human law, and therefore those who do not, have an undue advantage over others. Supposing, in France, the National Convention should decree that all sects of Christians, that believed that kings, in certain cases, might wear their heads and crowns upon them, should have equal privileges in France, I ask, whether the Jacobin party should share equal favors Edition: current; Page: [[984]] with the royalists? So, in this case, all sects of Protestant Christians that choose to be incorporated, may elect their own teachers and contract with them for their maintenance, and assess it upon all within their respective precincts; but those who cannot, in conscience, accord with this legal religion, must pay their tax with the rest, and be at the trouble of drawing it out of the treasury again, which sometimes occasions vexatious lawsuits.

Now, if it should be argued that a great many in this commonwealth believe, in their consciences, that it is the best way to serve God, to have societies incorporated by law, and levy a tax upon all to support their worship and maintain their teachers, how easily the above evils might be prevented, and all enjoy liberty of conscience. If those only, who are conscientious in legal religion, are incorporated, and tax none but themselves, there will be no cruel distraining from those whose consciences dictate another mode of worship. A man can cheerfully work when he verily believes he is doing God service; a man, therefore, who believes in religious incorporation, can joyfully give in his name to be taxed; and he who believes that the law has nothing to do about religious worship, can as joyfully stay at home. The last of these have as good grounds to judge that the first plead conscience for cruelty, as the first have to judge that the last plead conscience for covetousness.

But there is no need for a constitutional clause about things of this nature; for if a number of men contract with a preacher, for a year, or for life, the bond which they give him, is as recoverable by law as any bond whatever; but the poison of such contracts is, including those who do not act voluntarily, and perpetuating them upon their successors or natural offspring.

The last clause of the third article reads thus:

“And every denomination of Christians, demeaning themselves peaceably, and as good subjects of the commonwealth, shall be equally under the protection of the law; and no subordination of any one sect or denomination to another, shall ever be established by law.”

Edition: 1983; Page: [16] On this section I have several remarks to make:

First. The first part of it is very liberal, to a certain degree; but if it read all men instead of every denomination of Christians, it would be unexceptionable.

When the Pagans were favored by law, more than Christians, what devastation it made in the empire of Rome, in the first introduction Edition: current; Page: [[985]] of the Christian religion, until the reign of Constantine. In the first three centuries, almost two millions of lives were lost for conscience sake. These were men, women and children, who were as good subjects of state as any in the empire. After the change in the empire, when the Christian religion became established by law, the Pagans suffered in the same manner that the Christians had done in the ten preceding persecutions. Who can read the history of these sufferings without seeing the bad policy of establishing either of the religions in the empire?

Second. Although the clause now under consideration is some what liberal, indeed entirely so among Christians, yet it nowise accords with a former clause in the same article, where the legislature is forbidden to incorporate any Christians but Protestants, at least, are not vested with power to do it. Protestants only can be formed into religious societies and distrain for a maintenance for their teachers.

One of two things must be granted; either that Papists are no Christians, or that there is a partiality established. Among little souled bigots, who believe nobody right but themselves, who confine the Christian religion to their own sect, and conclude that they have the exclusive right to monopolize salvation, it would not be strange to hear that Papists, and all others who differed with them in sentiment, were no Christians; but this cannot be the case here. The framers of the constitution were men of information and acquaintance with the world; the result is, then, that there is a contradiction in the two clauses of the same article.

Such is the state of things in Massachusetts, that the legislature, according to the power vested in them by the first part of the third article, have made such laws as have effected a subordination of one sect to another, contrary to the last clause in the same article.

On March 23, and June 28, 1786, two acts passed; the first respecting towns, the other precincts, which effect the subordination just mentioned. These two laws were somewhat uniform in structure, and therefore a quotation from one of them may Edition: 1983; Page: [17] suffice in this place. Each inhabitant has the power of voting in town or precinct affairs, who pays two-thirds more in one tax than a poll tax; and then follows, “That the freeholders and other inhabitants, in each respective town, qualified as aforesaid, at the annual meeting for the choice of town officers, or at any other town-meeting regularly warned, may grant and vote such sums of money as they shall judge necessary for Edition: current; Page: [[986]] the settlement, maintenance and support of the ministry, to be assessed upon the polls and property within the same, as by law provided.”

Now if any Christians but Protestants are thus incorporated, the constitution is violated; and if none but Protestants, what may the Catholics say? But this is not all; by this act, property entitles a man to church privileges. A degree of simony is contained in the act. The wisest man that was ever born of a woman could not estimate wisdom, by all the gold and pearls on earth; but here a little property procures it; at least, an annual tax entitles a man to the rights of it. Whether these voters are spiritual, moral, or profane, they have an equal suffrage in the choice of spiritual teachers, who have, or should have, the cure of souls at heart.

It is well known, that there are a number of Baptists in this state; in some towns they and their adherents form a majority; but in the greatest part of the towns, those called the standing order are superior to all the rest. As the Baptists are Protestants, where they form a majority, they might be incorporated as well as others, and tax all in the town or precinct to part with their money for religious uses. But it is well known that they are principled against it. They do not believe that the legislature have any proper authority, upon the scale of good policy, to make any laws to incorporate religious societies and require a maintenance for the ministry. Now the question is, Do their sentiments prevent their demeaning themselves as peaceable subjects of state? Let those who differ with them in judgment answer. Yet from their known and conscientious principles, how are they reduced to subordination in various places?

In a town or precinct where the Baptists are a minority, the major part choose and settle a minister; the expense is levied upon all according to poll and property; the Baptists, in this case, must either part with their money to support a religion that they do not fully believe in, or be subordinate enough to get a certificate to draw it out of the treasurer’s hands. Some have condescended to the last mode, as being the best alternative they had; while others have had such a disgust to submit to a power, belonging Edition: 1983; Page: [18] neither to the kingdom of the Messiah, nor the civil government on earth, that they would not bow let the consequences be what they would. The distraining law-suits and oppressions that have risen from this source, even since the ratification of the present constitution, need not be mentioned at this time.

Edition: current; Page: [[987]]

One observation more shall close my strictures on this article. It is well noticed that none shall be protected by law, but those who properly demean themselves as peaceable subjects of the commonwealth. This, however should be extended to all men, as well as to Christian denominations.

For any man, or set of men, to expect protection from the law, when they do not subject themselves to government, is a vain expectation. Let a man’s motive be what it may, let him have what object soever in view; if his practice is opposed to good law, he is to be punished. Magistrates are not to consult his motive or object, but his actions.

Without adverting to Bohemia, Munster, or any part of Europe or Asia for instances, we shall pay attention to a few recent transactions of our own. A Shaking-Quaker, in a violent manner, cast his wife into a mill-pond in cold weather; his plea was, that God ordered him so to do. Now the question is, Ought he not to be punished as much as if he had done the deed in anger? Was not the abuse to the woman as great? Could the magistrate perfectly know whether it was God Satan, or ill-will, that prompted him to do the deed? The answers to these questions are easy.

In the year of 1784, Matthew Womble, of Virginia, killed his wife and four sons, in obedience to a Shining One, who, he said, was the Son of God, to merit heaven by the action; but if the court had been fearful of offending that Shining One, and pitied Womble’s soul, they would never have inflicted that punishment upon him which they did the October following. Neither his motive, which was obedience, nor his object, which was the salvation of his soul had any weight on the jury.

Should magistrates or jurors be biased by such protestations, the most atrocious villains would always pass with impunity.

I shall here add, that in Scotland, two women were brought before the sessions for fornication; one of them was a church member and the other was not. She who was a daughter of Zion was pitied, and the man who had defiled her was judged a vile seducer, and severely fined; but she who was not a member of the church, was judged a lewd slattern, and was driven out of the parish, that she might not deceive honest men any more.

Edition: 1983; Page: [19] Should a man refuse to pay his tribute for the support of government, or any wise disturb the peace and good order of the civil Edition: current; Page: [[988]] police, he should be punished according to his crime, let his religion be what it will; but when a man is a peaceable subject of state, he should be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience.

It is often the case, that laws are made which prevent the liberty of conscience; and because men cannot stretch their consciences like a nose of wax, these non-conformists are punished as vagrants that disturb the peace. The complaint is: “These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble the city.” Let any man read the laws that were made about Daniel and the three children, and see who were the aggressors, the law makers or the law breakers. The rights of conscience should always be considered inalienable—religious opinions as not the objects of civil government, nor any way under its jurisdiction. Laws should only respect civil society; then if men are disturbers they ought to be punished.

Among the many beautiful traits of the constitution of Massachusetts, the provision made for its revision shines with great effulgence.

Permanency and improvement should be mixed together in government. But few nations have ever had patriotism sufficient to remove the radical deficiencies of government, without falling into convulsion and anarchy. There are certain ebbs and tides in men, and bodies of men, which often break over all proper bounds, without a proper check. To leave government, therefore, so mutable that a bare majority can alter it, when under some prevailing passion, exposes that permanency that the good of the whole, and the confidence of allies, call for. In this last view of things, some real, confessed evils had better be borne with, than to make government too fluctuating. In the federal government, it requires two-thirds of the states, or two-thirds of the members of Congress, to change the constitution. In Massachusetts the same; but not till after the experiment of fifteen years. However this may appear to others, to me it appears one of the fairest lines in the constitution; a signal of a patriotic people, conscious of their liability of mistake, wishing to improve in policy, attached to energy and freedom. And there is no doubt but, in the year 1795, the citizens of this state may meet by their delegates, and coolly improve upon the constitution, and remove its defects, that time and experience have discovered, without the least danger of Edition: 1983; Page: [20] tumult or noise. Should that be the case, it is hoped that some things Edition: current; Page: [[989]] respecting religion will be altered, which is the chief end of the publishing of this small tract.

If the constitution should be revised, and anything about religion should be said in it, the following paragraph is proposed:—

“To prevent the evils that have heretofore been occasioned in the world by religious establishments, and to keep up the proper distinction between religion and politics, no religious test shall ever be requested as a qualification of any officer, in any department of this government; neither shall the legislature, under this constitution, ever establish any religion by law, give any one sect a preference to another, or force any man in the commonwealth to part with his property for the support of religious worship, or the maintenance of ministers of the gospel.”

Edition: current; Page: [[990]]

[63]: Peres [Perez] Fobes 1742-1812

An Election Sermon

In a day when Harvard listed its students according to their social rank, as perceived by the Harvard faculty, Perez Fobes was fifth from the bottom in a graduating class of forty-seven. He was born in Massachusetts, served as a chaplain in the Revolutionary Army, and held pastorates in the Congregational Church for some twenty years. At the age of forty-four he took up a professorship in Natural Philosophy at Rhode Island College (later called Brown University) and thereafter pursued a mixed career of preaching, teaching, and administration at preparatory school and college levels. In this sermon before the governor and General Court of Massachusetts, Fobes makes evident the problems and pitfalls encountered in extending a liberal theory of politics, developed to justify a revolution, to the practicalities of establishing republican government on a continental scale. What are the characteristics of a good public official? What is acceptable behavior toward such an official by citizens with freedom of speech and press and a habit of criticizing government? At what point does behavior that was once considered purely patriotic cease being patriotic and become subversive? Fobes here previews the problems surrounding the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798.

Edition: current; Page: [[991]]


II. Peter, II. Chap. part of the 10th and 12th Verses.

They despise government—are not afraid to speak evil of dignities—and things they understand not.

An honest man is a character more frequently claimed than deserved. But of all claims, that of a calumniator is one of the most unfounded. The pen of inspiration has left a stigma in the evil of detraction. It is condemned by the voice of nature, and the verdict of reason. Whether it is vented by the tongue, the pen, or the press; whether it is conveyed under the disguise of dark insinuation, affected silence, or the contumelious brow; whether it arises from competitions of honour, or the jealousies of interest from prejudice, or rancorous passion; or is retailed only for amusement, to supply the vacancy of reason, or the barrenness of conversation; from whatever source it springs, whatever form it assumes, Edition: 1983; Page: [16] or however confined in its walks, slander is a crime of the deepest dye, base in itself, and baneful to society. But if such is the criminality of “speaking evil one of another” in the circle of private life, what is their crime “who dare to speak evil of dignities?” Presumptuous and self willed are they called, and in company joined with characters of such infamy, that the most copious language on earth, under the control of genius and inspiration, was found too barren to describe them, without the aid of metaphors, the most degrading that could be borrowed from Heaven, Earth, and Sea.

“Fallen angels, wandering stars, raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame, filthy dreamers, spots and blemishes in society, trees twice dead, cursed children, brute beasts made to be taken and destroyed,” with such company are they ranked who despise government. And is there not a cause amply sufficient to justify this marked distinction between evil speaking in common, and speaking evil of dignities? An attempt to investigate this distinction, while it diversifies a common topic, will perhaps suggest some useful observations on civil government. I feel on this occasion, the want of more than all the apologies that have ever been made in this place: but to ask the candour and patience of such an audience as this, might be “to speak evil of dignities;” and to speak evil, is in the original Greek, to blaspheme: to open the mouth against the civil magistrate, the vicegerent of God on earth, is “to set the mouth against heaven.” Edition: 1983; Page: [7] The word, dignities, is here taken in the Edition: current; Page: [[992]] abstract, and signifies political authority; in the concrete it is put for persons exercising power and jurisdiction. While it extends to all the grades and departments of public office, it strongly implies, that all men in public office ought to be men of dignity. But who are these dignities? What is that government which cannot be spoken against, without incurring the guilt of blasphemy, and the penalty of damnation? The answer is plain: That government, which the Apostle calls an ordinance of God, is a government chosen by the people; for he as expressly calls it the ordinance of man. Rulers are ministers ordained of God, only when they are the ministers of good to the people. Obedience therefore, to civil rulers imposed on the people, or to any form or administration of government contrary to the will of the people, was never inculcated by the inspired Apostle on pain of damnation: for the same authority which in this instance condemns, in others justifies open resistance and opposition to government. The unreasonable humour of Ahab King of Israel, the menacing edicts of Nebuchadnezzar, and the peremptory mandate of the Egyptian Monarch were disregarded with impunity, and even without blame. Was it a crime in Hushai to develop the machinations of Ahitophel? or did Mordecai speak evil of dignities when he exposed the plot of Haman against the whole nation of the Jews? If Sir Edmund Andross is a tyrant, if Arnold is a traitor, or even Lord Bacon is the bribed Judge, let their villany be unmasked, let their guilt be Edition: 1983; Page: [8] unkennelled. To do this every citizen is bound by prior and superior claims of society. Should the highest officer of any government on earth, flagrantly abuse the authority of his station, even by prosecuting private designs, or by adopting public measures hostile to the public good, it is not a crime, but the duty of a free people to be free enough to speak evil of him. The tongue in this case is the proper weapon to chastise and refrain, where the laws of men cannot reach. This will keep the public mind awake, by adding stimulus to ardour and information.

Hence we conclude, that speaking evil of dignities is a crime on the supposition only, that rulers are both the choice and ministers of good to the people. When this is a fact, those words of the Apostle which seem to carry horror in their sound, do not exaggerate its criminality. This will appear both from the nature and design of government, and from the duties and character of its officers.

In man, the noblest work of God on earth, three worlds co-exist: The material, animal and angelic; or spirit, soul and body. These are Edition: current; Page: [[993]] all governed by Deity, in a manner wisely adapted to their different natures and capacities. The material world is governed by irresistible force, the brute creation by instinct, man by law, he alone is endued with moral life, united with the animal and intellectual. This triple life, which combines all the known powers of nature, renders man a moral agent; amenable to God Edition: 1983; Page: [9] the moral governor of the world. With the angel and the brute in his composition, he possesses power and propensity to do wrong as well as right. This renders him a fit subject of civil government. The impulses of animal nature render it necessary, and the social principle makes it agreeable, as the author of these powers, God himself is the author of government.

To that astonishing variety in his composition, which renders man a proper subject, we may add, the still greater variety, visible in the human genius and disposition, which demonstrates the necessity of subordination. Different stations in life require different talents and qualifications. If every man had the same degree of taste, of reason, or education, which are the portion of a few individuals, how wretched would be the lot of those who occupy the lowest offices, and perform the drudgeries of life. A sublime genius, a refined imagination, without an object, or the possibility of gratification, would serve only to tantalize and torment the possessor. Such is the difference of intellectual abilities among men, that the condition of an ox or an ass, endued with some human intellect, would not be more wretched, perhaps, than that of some philosophic genius destined only to drive them. This diversity of genius, which is independently the gift of providence, plainly indicates the necessity of those distinctions in life, which are implied in government; it shews moreover, the wisdom and benevolence of the deity, in providing for all, in such manner, as proves at once Edition: 1983; Page: [10] the indispensability of every man in society; and that the poorest in his humble condition may be as useful, contented and happy as the richest and most elevated officer of government.

Again—The signatures of subordination are legible in the human form. We behold in the countenance of some persons a kind of dignity, which at once beams reverence, and designates for dominion: in others, we observe such vacancy and prostration of dignity, as equally marks them for subjection. This diversity, altho it may arise in part from the original constitution of the mind, or from moral culture and improvement, is so conspicuous and captivating, as none will affirm, that the elevated stature of King Saul, the beauty of Absalom’s person, Edition: current; Page: [[994]] the ruddy complexion of David, and the ennobling form of Washington, had no share in raising them up to the highest stations in life.

There is yet another proof of the divine authority of government, and that is the manner in which we come into existence. Had this been, like the original pair of our race, in a state of adult maturity and independence, it would have been, perhaps, more difficult to reduce fallen men to a state of government than the most savage beast, “which are tamed, and have been tamed of mankind.” But, happy for us, a different plan has been adopted. By a law of nature we all begin to exist in a state of helpless infancy, under the entire control and direction of parents. By Edition: 1983; Page: [11] this means children early become members of a family, which is itself an empire in miniature. Having formed in the moulding age of life, proper ideas and habits of government, they become at length prepared for civil society, in larger communities. While this benevolent law of nature announces government coeval with our existence, it speaks louder than the tongue of men or angels, the necessity of early education. Her voice to legislators is, “depend not on the number of your laws, or the severity of fines and punishments; but lay the axe at the root of vice, take possession of the heart, and charm, if possible, the young stranger to the love of virtue and country, in the tenderest period of life. Do this, by giving birth and energy to every possible institution for the education of youth.” It teaches parents also, the ministers of religion and others, that while employed in the humble office of instructing youth, their services may be as patriotic, and perhaps more useful to their country, than the wisdom of their counsels in the senate, or the valour of their arms in the field. In fine, while it teaches all this, it shews, that to despise government is to violate a law of nature.

But in still blacker colours does this crime appear, if we consider the design of government, and the manner in which it is supported. Its benevolent design embraces the greatest good of the whole community. But this can be effected in that way only which God himself has taken, both to instruct mankind, and to govern the world. His will is taught us Edition: 1983; Page: [12] in the sacred scriptures, not in detail, but by general rules. In like manner God governs the world by the laws of a general providence. These laws are calculated to secure the good of the whole. They must therefore, equally affect each individual comprehended under them, without any distinction of personal circumstance or character. Should the thunderbolt be diverted in its Edition: current; Page: [[995]] course, or stopped in its career, contrary to the fixed laws of electricity, to save one useful citizen, why not to save another? “But shall the earth be forsaken, or the rock moved out of its place for thee?” This would introduce such a train of miraculous events, as would subvert the whole constitution of nature, and destroy that established connexion between cause and effect, which is now the principal source of human knowledge and foresight.

Analogous to this divine model, all human governments must be constructed and maintained; i. e. by general laws; laws adapted to the state and happiness of men collectively. That endless variety in the condition and circumstances of individuals who compose by a community, renders it impossible to secure by general laws, the good of the whole, without injury or inconvenience to some individuals. An attempt to avoid by particular laws, the jarring claims, and infinite collisions of interest, which happen in society, would be perfectly nugatory. God himself has not done it. Inattention to this subject had been the unhappy cause, not only of strong prejudices against the book Edition: 1983; Page: [13] of God, but of bold censures against God and man. Under a mistake of this kind, the friends of Job censured an innocent man. Is it not owing to this, more than to any other cause, that men so often speak evil of dignities? Observing that some existing law is less favorable to their own private interest, than to that of some others, or than different regulations might be, they at once let loose the tongue of censure against them; not considering perhaps, not knowing, that the very law which would please them might injure, if not ruin thousands. Let us further observe, that the same object in view, when the legislator frames a law, ought to be in his eye, when the penalty is affixed; that is, the general good: In order to which, he will consider that moral evil is estimated by the intention of the agent; political evil by its consequences in society. Human laws cannot reach the heart; the cognizable actions therefore, of men in society, must be estimated in the abstract only; as such they are denominated political crimes, varying in magnitude, according to their tendency or general consequences to the community; that is, in proportion to the intensity and extent of misery that would follow, if all actions of that description were to be generally tolerated, or become common.

By this standard the penalty of every law should be adjusted; and not by the supposed moral evil of the action, which cannot be known, nor by its particular consequences to a few individuals, which Edition: current; Page: [[996]] cannot be regarded, but by its general effects on society. This Edition: 1983; Page: [14] is the pole star of every statesman; by the light of which only it is that we can account for the capital punishment of Uzzah for touching the ark, the zeal of Saint Paul in abstaining from meat, and the necessity of severe punishments for burglary, counterfeiting money, running contraband goods, exercitual desertion for cowardice, and many other actions, which in themselves appear small offences, if not innocent or indifferent.—Inattention to this principle, it is presumed, has been the fruitful source of great misdemeanors and public disturbance. Can it be supposed, that the late insurgents in a sourthern state would have refused the payment of a small excise, had they considered, that the general consequence of that refusal was the certain loss of all public revenue, and the final subversion of all government?—From the same cause, have we not seen, what humanity ever blushes to relate, a reputed honest man, in open town-meeting, hold up his hand to defraud the public, or a public creditor, who would not, scarcely for his right hand, have been seen to injure one of his neighbours?

Inattention, permit me to say, is the best apology I can make for numbers of my fellow-citizens who neglect public worship, perform journeys, and unnecessary business on the Lord’s Day. They do not consider, that if every other person, who had an equal right and the same excuse, should follow the example, public worship, that great pillar of civil government, would be entirely overthrown. But Edition: 1983; Page: [15] more than all, this principle now unfolds its chief design, and shews, as with a sun beam, the enormity of reviling dignities. A ruler is the father of his country; he stands at the head of government, at the helm of the ship, in which our lives and fortunes are all embarked. An attack upon him may sink the whole. Slander in this instance, is more then death; it is parricide, more fatal than all the malignant influences once ascribed to baleful comets, which spread plagues and desolations through a whole country.

But if we consider civil rulers in character of real dignities, it will strike a deeper stain of guilt and baseness into the crime.

If it could be said of David, on account of the dignity and importance of his public character, that he was with 10,000 of the people; was it not a greater crime to speak evil of such a “dignity,” than of another man? Dignity is opposed to meanness. It can be applied to no action but what is virtuous, and therefore to no being on earth but man. To him it is applied in point of character, sentiment and Edition: current; Page: [[997]] behaviour, all which in some degree, must unite in a man of dignity. But to form a ruler of that description, he ought to be—1st. a man of a good discernment and information. Great talents, and erudition may be indispensable in the learned professions, and in the pretorean department of a government, in which the people are governed by laws and not men. The police of some nations may indeed, be a science of operose attainment; but the administration Edition: 1983; Page: [16] of a government, simple in its structure and formed as our own is, by the common sense of a free, virtuous people, cannot be a subject of vast depth or difficulty. Where men have honesty enough, they rarely will want skill enough, to guide well the affairs of state. The human body is subsisted chiefly by common food. This is the most easily obtained and the most wholesome, otherwise it would not have been common. The grand object, let us remember, as well as name of our government, is the “Common-wealth.” It must however, be granted, that the smallest accession of knowledge adds to every character a dignity which is felt; and were it not for envy, would be acknowledged by all. Children soon feel the superiour authority, it gives a parent even in the government of a family. Rulers may not all be men of science, but if they are not men “who have understanding in the times, and know what Isreal ought to do,” it is at the risque of both of their country, and their own reputation, as dignities. 2d. meekness of wisdom, a cool dispassionate temper, is a distinguished trait in the character of official dignity. The greatest legislator was the meekest man on earth. It was an excess of diffidence in Moses, to decline, for want of abilities, the office of an embassador to a royal court. But it raises in the mind an idea of greater dignity, than the conduct of that aspiring young man, who spoke the real sentiments of others, besides his own, when he said, “O that I were made ruler in the land, that every man who hath any suit or cause, might come to me and I Edition: 1983; Page: [17] would do him justice!” Hypocrites may be found in politics, as well as in divinity. With patriotism on the tongue, there may be faction or tyranny in the heart. High pretensions of friendship to the rights of man, attended with bitter criminations of men in public office, ought never to be admitted as a test of sincerity, or of real qualifications for office; because great zeal and ostentation are seldom united with that cool dispassionate temper which is always necessary to form a just opinion upon any subject. In our coolest moments, “we see through a glass darkly.” But when we see through a ferment of passion, we see and judge falsely. The medium Edition: current; Page: [[998]] has a property strange and unknown in optics. It distorts and discolours, magnifies and diminishes every object at the same time. The rash policy of boisterous men at the helm of Government has been compared to a whirlwind at sea. When it happens to blow the right way, it may drive the ship from rocks or shoals, and save the cargo. But tornadoes are always dangerous to navigation.

To this cool dispassionate temper we must unite, 3d. resolution and intrepidity of mind; for this gives great dignity and elevation to a ruler. Unmoved by the fawnings of flattery or the four scowls of ambition, deaf to the croaking of anarchy and blind to the splendid baits of monarchy, he will nobly dare to speak his opinion, and act with firmness and decision. Like a rock in the midst of the ocean, he stands unshaken. The waves of violence, of Edition: 1983; Page: [18] intrigue and faction may rise, foam and roar against him, but dash and die at his feet. This firmness of mind is directly opposed to that indecisive temper, by which some are perpetually halting between two opinions, without forming any at all. It stands opposed also to another temper, which may be called decision in excess, a rapid rotation of opinion.—Men of this cast decide in such haste, and with so little discretion, that they are given to change; vibrating from one side to the other, that we know not where to find them. “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways, unstable as water he shall not excel.” There is another contrast of this mental fortitude, and that is ductility of mind; this renders the possessor too obsequious to flattery, to the lure of interest and popularity; too prone to be duped by the intrigues of disaffected aspiring men. Whatever may be the real cause or composition of these different tempers, certain it is, that the indecisive character, a bivious mind, and the ductile temper, all diminish dignity, and disqualify men for public office.

Firmness of mind must be accompanied with, 4th. consideration; for this, when united as commonly it is with industry and a public spirit, is one of the most prominent and pleasing features in the whole character of dignity. With what mild and gentle rays it shines through the characters of David, Solomon and a Washington, and gives them more real dignity, than all the dazzling splendours of a throne? This will soften the splendors of their stations, and give them an affable deportment, a complacency Edition: 1983; Page: [19] of behaviour, and such conciliating manners, as cannot fail to secure the most commanding influence over the people.—In this way the greatest monarch of the earth governed Edition: current; Page: [[999]] men, who were in debt, in distress, and discontented. There our exasperated spirits, bankrupts, and broken fortunes, who had no interest in the welfare of the country, he influenced into one common concern for its property.—Such a motley mass of discordant materials he kneaded up, into one useful harmonious compound! It is a unanimous vote in our world, never to respect, but always to despise a haughty disposition. This disposition once degraded from his throne, the royal brute of Babylon, and turned him out a grazing with the beasts of the field! it sunk another as low in the eyes of millions, when in the haughtiness of his spirit, he said “I will bring all America to my feet.” Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit is the fall of dignity. How unreasonable in a ruler as well as degrading is such a temper? What has he that he did not receive? Is he superior to others in the dignity of his person? God is the author of his frame. Has he more official dignity? It is derived from the sovereignty of the people. Does he shine in the most elevated stations? Like the moon he shines only in borrowed light. We do not particularly mention justice, humanity and patriotism, because they are all included in 5th. “Religion” which above all, gives to a ruler the highest dignity of character. The patriarchal benediction truly applies to religion alone: “thou art the excellency of dignity and the excellency of power.” Edition: 1983; Page: [20] This refines, enables and animates all the features that compose dignity, both of character and office.—Emancipated from inglorious passions and pursuits, which rob me of all true honour, religion plants in the heart such undissembled virtue and piety, as will ensure respect and reverence, even to men of the lowest rank, but in men appointed to move in the higher spheres of life, religion casts a lustre on their elevated seats, and “by a strong reflection doubles the beams of dignity.” How amiable, how sublime in such a character! Every feature, every action in it, creates esteem, and commands reverence. How sordid then is the wretch who dares to speak evil of such dignities! Is it now possible to sully this crime with an additional stain of infamy? Yes, it is done only by considering that the character of a ruler deprives him of the power of retaliation in his own defence. “When Michael the arch-angel contended with the Devil about the body of Moses, he durst not bring against him a railing accusation;” the dignity of Michael’s character, rendered him an unequal match for Satan, at railing; therefore he said, the Lord rebuke thee, and not I. From the subject naturally arise the following

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1. Rulers are involved in the guilt of slander, when their conduct affords a just occasion for the people to speak evil of them. Can it be possible, that a legislator should enter the walls of the Senate, and under the solemnities of an oath, there give his voice and sanction to a law which he sacredly commits to the Edition: 1983; Page: [21] magistrate for execution; and then both of them be seen to violate that law, which the one has made, and the other is sworn to execute? Is it a crime to speak evil of such dignities? there is no dignity in such men. Vice is eternally mean. 2d. The character given of a ruler, leads us to decide a long controverted question, respecting the best form of civil policy, in favor of a free republic. I mean “a democratical aristocracy, resting on the free election of the people, and revocable at pleasure.”—The strength and glory of such a republic depend on the virtue of the people, which is real dignity. That of monarchy is supported by the glare of earthly grandeur, by the pageantry of heroism, and the weapons of death, which is royal dignity. This intoxicates the senses, but the other touches the heart. Hence a republican form was the choice and fabric of God himself for his own people. Moses with a senate of seventy, shared the government of Israel. The nature of man, the character of christian rulers, above all the benevolent principles of liberty and equality, embosomed in the religion of Jesus, are congenial to no other form; at least they appear incompatible with monarchical principles and the dynasty of kings. 3d—The advocated principle of calculating laws to embrace the aggregate sum of happiness in a community shews the absurdity of that doctrine, which maintains that moral evil is political good; or that private vice is public virtue. Were this a fact, it would be the duty of legislators to establish iniquity by law, i.e. they ought to enact laws to encourage Edition: 1983; Page: [22] the practice of fraud, rapine, falsehood, robbery, assassination &c. than which nothing can be more absurd, or abhorrent to the principles of reason and common sense. 4th. Since it is a crime of such malignity to despise government, it highly concerns every citizen, particularly to know in what manner this may be done. Government, I would observe, may be despised by fallacious comparisons—by inequality of elections—licentiousness of the press—neglect to diffuse virtue and knowledge—disunion of the magistracy and christian priesthood—exorbitant wealth in the hands of individuals—improper connexions with despotic Edition: current; Page: [[1001]] governments—neglect to watch and provide for our own government, the means of military defence—in such ways as well as by speaking evil of dignities, we may despise and even destroy a free government. On some of these articles, I would subjoin a few observations.

1st. The palladium of Liberty may pull down the pillars of freedom. A licentious press, like the unruly tongue, is full of deadly poison. It sows the seeds of discord, and saps the foundation of all government. By corrupting the source of public information, it becomes the bane both of private and social felicity. When political poison is vomited from the press, few will escape the contagion. When partiality in a printer loses its infamy, or the most uncorrupted integrity ceases to be the summit of his ambition—when he and his readers are not struck with the horror of an earthquake, at the idea of venality and misrepresentation Edition: 1983; Page: [23] —when they print falsehood for hire, publish scandal for money, sell the liberties of their country for a reward, and the wicked bare rule by their means, and the peeple love to have it so—what shall we do in the end thereof?

2d. Whatever tends to destroy or diminish an equal voice in elections, will endanger the immunities of a people. Associations of every description, whether civil or ecclesiastical, whether self-created or sanctioned by government or by the god of nature, all tend to create in the mind certain byasses and attachments which produce an accretion of power and influence in future elections; nor can this be avoided without eradicating the principles of human nature. The existence of society depends on this principle; similar effects will arise from a natural superiority of genius, from greater acquisitions in knowledge, in wealth and in the arts of address. The Deity never intended a perfect equality among men, not even in their elective power. This would have been a scar, if not a solecism in the analogy of nature. This however, bears no proportion to that inequality which prevails among despotic nations, and which ought to be considered as the horror of all free governments. In nature we always observe variety, but we seldom find extremes. The beauty and utility of the human hand, that badge of human authority, would suffer great diminution, if its fingers were equal, but much more if they were enormous, either in length or size. It is only from an extreme or abuse Edition: 1983; Page: [24] of this inequality, that danger is apprehended; and over which we ought ever to watch with a jealous eye.

3d. National wealth, especially when carefully accumulated in the Edition: current; Page: [[1002]] hands of a few individuals, is dangerous in the extreme to human liberty. The experience of ages, the repeated admonitions of our Saviour and his apostles prove beyond a doubt, the power of riches corrupt the human heart. Hardly can we find one period of prosperity, in the whole history of the Israelites, or of any other nation on the earth, which has not been followed with a decay of piety, and a corruption of morals. Shall we then rejoice and not tremble, when we see a profusion of earthly good; flowing streams of prosperity, in which multitudes are bathing themselves at ease, while the rapid current is carrying away the liberties of mankind? Opulence is the common parent of idleness, luxury and dissipation &c. The reflection of a moment will convince us, that wealth is both the object and principal cause of avarice and ambition. These are the common sources of anarchy and despotism, and these again, are the charybdis and scylla of our country—most of the disputes and quarrels that happen in the world, originate from the idea of property. Savages live in tolerable peace almost without government, because they feel not, as we do, the power of wealth. While this attracts the gaze of vulgar admiration, it is apt to swell the heart with pride, “that unsocial and unfriendly passion,” only by pride cometh contention. Its influence Edition: 1983; Page: [25] on civil elections is still more pernicious. Money is frequently the most forcible logic, and he that carries the longest purse, will often carry the most votes. In this view of wealth, we see and admire the policy as well as justice of a late act of our legislature, which rescinded an old fragment of monarchy too long worn as the right of primogeniture. We feel also, and revere the wisdom of God in the appointment of a jubilee, as an essential article in the Jewish policy. This, it is probable, was the great palladium of liberty to that people. A similar institution perhaps may be the only method in which liberty can be perpetuated among selfish, degenerate beings in any government under heaven. But aside from this, and in full view of the dangers of exorbitant wealth, permit me to say that the prayer of one good man ever ought to be the united prayer of all America, “give us not riches—nor poverty.”

4th. The baneful effects of ignorance among the subjects of a free government, I need not describe. Inspiration has done it for me in one of her horrid descriptions of wild beasts and birds of prey, prowling under the dreary darkness of night, “Wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth, their houses shall be full of doleful creatures, owls shall dwell there, and satyrs, not fabulous, shall dance there.” Happy for Edition: current; Page: [[1003]] us, such darkness is past, and the present is a period of unusual ardour; for inquiry and diffusion of knowledge. Yea, the present is a most luminous period in that regular gradation of human knowledge, Edition: 1983; Page: [26] which from the beginning of creation down to the present time, has been constantly advancing. By a train of surprising events in providence, calculated to throw light upon each other, the public mind in every age, and among all nations, has been gradually opening, from the father of lights; as much light and knowledge have been sent down to earth, as the circumstances of its inhabitants would bear. At certain periods however, knowledge on earth, like the heavenly bodies, has proceeded with unequal velocity; and like them, it has sometimes appeared stationary and even retrograde; but this was in appearance only. Upon the whole it has been progressive, and will probably continue its progress, until its final completion in the full effulgence of millennial glory, when “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of God.” Partial interruptions have only paved the way for accelerating its progress. Great conquests and revolutions in the world, have given the people an opportunity for reforming their systems of government, and for great improvements, in useful arts and knowledge.—The American revolution is an instance of this kind, beyond a parallel. A large portion of the globe inhabited by millions of people, rapid in population, had long been held in subjection to one distant island. But the vision which the young Hebrew saw in his dream, was but for an appointed time. No longer could the sun, the moon and stars, be made to gravitate round a pebble: no longer could they make obeisance to Briton’s king.—Nature itself revolted. They arose to independence, ascended their native Edition: 1983; Page: [27] sphere, and formed a new solar system; a system compleat of federal democracy; in which equal power, emanating from each individual, uniting, formed one central luminary. This is retained in its station by a balance of gravitating power, accumulated in separate branches of the same body, as well as in a number of separate bodies or states. These are each independent in jurisdiction, different in structure, magnitude and distance from the centre; around them a number of secondaries perform their judicial circuits in periodical times; these are attended with satellites of executive power. A large judiciary body, created and impelled by solar influence, ranges like a comet through the whole system; spreads terror among evil doers; and gives lustre and stability to the whole frame. In a word, the influence of the solar orb pervades every other body, retains each in its own Edition: current; Page: [[1004]] orbit, and gives to all energy and motion, by confederating all into one fast harmonious system. No sooner was this luminary kindled up in America, than it darted its beams of science and liberty across the Atlantic. It dawned in Europe—it glows in France. New discoveries and vast accessions of knowledge, and the arts of life astonished the world. We lived an age in a few years; we saw a nation born in a day. Having felt the pangs and pleasures of the parturition of a new empire, we now behold the aurora of science fast rising to meridian lustre. Hardly can we contemplate the present, and anticipate the future state of our country, without moments of triumph. When we reflect on the present improved state of commerce, agriculture and of tactics, the mechanical and fine Edition: 1983; Page: [28] arts, geography and natural history, surgery and the medical art, chymistry, electricity, areology with the infant, but real science of physiognomy &c. all in progression; then lift up our eyes and behold a new galaxy of American geniuses, lately risen and still rising in our hemisphere, what in the name of science, what may we not expect? At least, we may hope, that modern polish of literature will not, like Pharoh’s lean kine, eat up the more substantial parts; and that the time will soon arrive, when four years at a college will not roll away, without consecrating a portion of it, to the classical, scientific study of natural history, and those practical principles of chymistry, on which the rationale and improvements of agriculture and the mechanical arts, so much depend; and which at the present day are so highly necessary to the growth and prosperity of this young American empire. May we not also indulge the pleasing hope, that the orthography of our own language, that vehicle and repository of arts and sciences, will soon be purged of its barbaric dross, and become as pure simple, and systematic as our politics. May the genius, the unconquerable spirit of Americans, forbid that a language formed by accident in days of Gothic ignorance, and refined and enriched with so many infusions of elegance and learning, that a language which probably will become the vernacular tongue of more millions than ever spoke one language on earth, should long remain perplexed and incumbered with so many literal defects and redundancies easily corrected. On this account I beg leave to Edition: 1983; Page: [29] say that the orthography of the English language, in its present state, is a tax on life, the opprobrium of science, a load of expensive lumber on the tender minds of millions of our race. In such a nation as this, it is intolerable. I will not think of it, but proceed to a thought more pleasing, 5th. Edition: current; Page: [[1005]] virtue and religion above all are the strongest pillars of government. The mask of hypocrisy is a public acknowledgment of the worth of religion. The suggestion even of Atheists, when they dub religion a state engine to awe men into obedience, is a tacit confession of its utility in government. A safe engine it is, and of such force too, that the want, or weakness of but a single spring in it, I mean the belief of a future state, has always proved fatal to the establishment of government over any one whole nation on earth. Inspectors of the public manners, appointed by the law-givers of antiquity, prove that virtue was esteemed essential to the prosperity & even existence of government. Should we appeal to the records of history—to that of the Jewish nation—to the Egyptians, Persians, Grecians, Romans, and to most of the flourishing states in the world, her verdict would be in favor of virtue. The interchange of virtue and vice, graduated the scale, by which the wealth, power and respectability of all nations may be accurately measured. Polybius, who ascribes to irreligion the ruin of his own country, which preceded that of Rome, observes that a tenfold security given by a Grecian trustee for a small sum of public money, was sure to be violated, while the religion Edition: 1983; Page: [30] of an oath among the Romans was ample security for every engagement. While virtue prevailed in the Roman Empire, her feet in the language of Daniel, were iron. But when the people began to degenerate, the iron began to be mixed with clay. Her feet were broken, and the empire fell.—In a word, it can no more be doubted that happiness and misery of public communities, as well as individuals, are connected with virtue and vice, than that gravitation is a property of matter. But if ethical virtue was the existence and prosperity of ancient governments, what may not be expected from the purest system of moral virtue ever taught on earth? Compared with this, the finest morals of Socrates or Confucius, or Plato, or Epictetus, are no more than the light or heat of a glow worm, to that of the meridian sun. The religion of nature teaches men to be just and righteous; but a righteous man is not the character which christianity calls a good man. A good man will do more than strict justice can demand of him; he will do more than others. His services done for the public are performed not with servility, but affection.—Not merely to escape censure, or for the sake of reward, “but as a servant of Christ with good will” to mankind, “doing service as unto the Lord, and not to men.” Religion requires those who rule over men to be more than just; they must rule in the fear of God: Because gods on Edition: current; Page: [[1006]] earth are the subjects of Heaven, and must give an account of their stewardship to God, as well as to men. It was from this principle only, that the vice-roy of Egypt could assure Edition: 1983; Page: [31] his brethren, that he would be just to them; that he was a man that could be trusted; for says he, I fear God. This will operate with peculiar force on the people as well as on rulers. This will seize the hearts. And the subject yields to the magistrate, not for wrath, but for conscience sake. He will not despise government; he is afraid to speak evil of dignities, because he believes that one is the ordinance, and the other, the minister of God. And those who resist, however they may escape punishment from men, will yet receive to themselves damnation. To him the word of God is sharper than the magistrate’s sword; a guard stronger to human laws, than all their penal sanctions.

A judgment to come awes him more than all the terrors of an earthly tribunal. By those sublime and interesting discoveries which revelation unfolds, a new tribunal of justice is erected in the human breast; where conscience sits as judge, a judge that will be heard, when all others are silent. Such is the energy of religion! O religion the scorn of infidels, “a pitiful and paltry thing,” but the everlasting pillar of government; for the sake of which, may heaven save us from the vortex of deism—that old harlot, lately re-baptized by the name of reason—the age of reason. Immortalized indeed, for the discovery of a new proof, that infidelity is only another name for ignorance; and that a great politician in Europe as well as insurgents in America, may be guilty of speaking evil of “DIGNITIES,” and things they “understand not”—with proper deference to lord Bolingbrooke, Edition: 1983; Page: [32] Bill Beadle,* and Tom Paine. I will close this article with an aphorism of the wisest and one of the greatest politicians that ever lived, and presume to recommend it, as more than equal to the Spanish proverbs, or even those of the American Franklin—it is this—“righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.

In the presence of an assembly, that contains so many living characters of dignity; His Excellency claims our first attention. Two annual suns have not yet revolved over the silent corpse of the patriotic, the generous, the amiable Hancock, since we saw him here. The man Edition: current; Page: [[1007]] of dignity, the patron of Liberty, the friend of religion, of its ministers, and institutions, must die! But happy for us, his co-patriot lives, and this day fills his vacant seat. Venerable with age, more venerable for his piety and unconquerable love of liberty, we behold him again placed in the first seat of Government, by the United voice of his grateful country. She loved his brother in proscription, and still remembers the name of Adams enrolled with him, on the immortal list of exemptions from pardon, for no other crime but that of being a friend to his country. If his inflexible attachment to the same principles has since procured him the wounds of censure, are they not wounds without a cause? and Edition: 1983; Page: [33] will he not with his dying breath, forgive his enemies, and pray for the liberties of mankind. His eminent services in the cause of freedom are too deeply engraved on the hearts of all true republicans ever to be forgotten. May the fostering hand of heaven guard him, at this critical period of life, from every adverse event which might shake the few remaining sands, that now measure his important life. With all the sensibilities of an imperfect offending mortal, united with the honest intrepidity of virtue, may he not appeal to heaven and earth, in the language of an inspired patriot of his own name, and say—“I am old and grey headed, I have walked before you from my childhood to this day; behold here I am, witness against me, before the Lord, and before his people, whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed? Or of whose hand have I taken a bribe. And the people will say—thou hast not defrauded, thou hast not oppressed us, the Lord is witness, the Lord think upon you for good according to all that you have done for this people.”

The re-election of a distinguished character to the second office in this Commonwealth bears an honorable attestation to his abilities and public virtue.—His early attachment to the principles of republicanism, his patriotic exertions in the accomplishment of our happy revolution, with later services, in promoting the true interests of his country, have fully justified the wisdom, the gratitude and patriotism of his electors. May heaven reward his faithful services with honours unfading and eternal.

Edition: 1983; Page: [34] With grateful hearts we hail the return of an anniversary, which has once more convened those honored gentlemen who compose the two branches of our happy Legislature. From their known abilities, and the characters of their electors, we presume they have brought with them, to this consecrated spot, real dignity of character.

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We rejoice in the senatorial branch of our government—chosen by the people at large. Their influence will operate as a useful check on the more local interest of the other branch, which otherwise might interfere and diminish the sum of public happiness.—This influence of the patrician order may indeed operate as a check on the dispatch of business, but repeated discussions of the same subject, in a different branch of the same body, will be more than a compensation for delay. As the object is ever the same, both branches will harmoniously cooperate for the general good. Every member holds an office, that is rendered highly momentous, both by the magnitude of its object, and the solemnity of an oath by which their fidelity is pledged. Guardians of the public rights, great confidence is reposed in them.—The eyes of the people, yea, the eyes of God himself are upon them. Unto Heaven may they look for assistance, and to the most perfect models on earth, for imitation.

Jesus was “the prince of the kings of the earth;” but he washed his disciples feet. He went about doing Edition: 1983; Page: [35] good. Learn of him, learn industry, condescension, philanthrophy: “whosoever would be greatest among you, let him be the servant of all.” Moses, when he stood on the mount with the laws of the Hebrew nation in his hand, with what astonishing dignity and splendour did this great magistrate appear in the eyes of the people? But Moses wist not that his face shone: “Be instructed ye rulers of the earth.” This man had been with his God in the mount; and Judah ruleth with God, and therefore is faithful.—“The power of godliness” is the supreme dignity of all rulers in Heaven or earth. Acquainted with human nature, our civil fathers will not be disappointed to find honest men, who from ignorance of the duties, the expenditures and responsibility of public office, will be apt to consider rulers in a state like drones in the hive, which live on the honey of the poor labouring bees.—Others will mutter against government, and clamour for different measures, when they neither know nor can tell what they want. White they condemn rulers for oppressing the people, they are themselves acting the very part of that tyrant, who having once had a dream, threatened to kill his officers, if they did not interpret it, when he himself could not tell his own dream. When evils or inconveniences are felt in society, too many are apt to imagine the fault is in rulers, when it is in the people: hence they will seek a remedy in a change of the former; not considering, that an army infected with the plague, or composed of cowards, cannot Edition: current; Page: [[1009]] be cured by a new choice of officers. Others will be found turbulent and disappointed—men of desperate Edition: 1983; Page: [36] minds and fortunes, who constantly carry about them the tinder of faction, waiting only for a spark to produce an explosion. They wish for convulsions in the state, that they may rise into view, “ride in the tempest, and direct the storm.” From such men, no honest ruler can escape the calumny of the tongue. Envy is the tax of eminence, and must be paid by every man in public office. While the Son of God remained in private life, he increased in favour both with God and “Men.” But when he assumed his public office he suffered more than the scourge of tongues. If our amiable President has made his escape, beyond any human character, it must be remembered, that he, like the amiable and intrepid Daniel, said to the people “Let thy gifts be to thyself and thy reward to another;” otherwise he might have heard the growls of avarice and the curses of clowns.—In proportion to the degree in which a public spirit, or the social principle, prevails over the selfish, rulers will feel their own dignity, and make others feel it too. Conscious integrity will raise them far above the petulance of the tongue, or the virulence of party rage; “none of these things move them.” Nothing will abate the ardor of their exertions for the public good. They know that silence is the school of wisdom, and “with well doing they will put to “silence” the ignorance of foolish men.” We shall see them moving on, in silent majesty, like the full-orbed moon, above the reach of the arrows of slander, and beyond all danger of an eclipse or even a spot, from the little shadows of ten thousand beagles barking at them.—Example unblemished in public life will forever be Edition: 1983; Page: [37] held sacred: they know that man is an imitative being; that between mind and body there exists such a reciprocity of influence, that even imitating the gestures and manners of others tends to produce a similarity of disposition. The passions of the people are moulded by the inclinations of the great. The actions of rulers, like the rods of Jacob, which he peeled and set before the flocks, will give colour and complexion to all that behold them; yea, more than this, the influence of public example will operate on the people, like the magnetic influence upon iron, which not only attracts or repels, but even communicates its own nature. This theory is authenticated by the most striking facts of inspiration. “As in water face answereth to face,” so did the character of God’s ancient people, both of Israel and Judah, correspond to that of her rulers. Whether they neglected or attended to religion and the Edition: current; Page: [[1010]] worship of God, the people generally followed their example. What a lesson is before us! a volume of the most serious instruction in a single fact. May “the honourable of the earth” never forget, that character gives currency as well as dignity to their laws and public administrations; and while enforced by example, their own exertions to promote piety and morality, industry and temperance, with all the useful arts of life, will be productive of the most salutary effects.

Among numerous objects that may claim the attention of our honored rulers, and to which their own wisdom is fully competent, I would only suggest Edition: 1983; Page: [38] that the property of numbers among us while they and their families are attending public worship on the Lord’s Day, is liable to invasion, from licentious neighbours who attend no worship at all.—When the people of Israel left their own habitations and went up to Jerusalem to worship, God himself interposed; and by a miracle guarded in their absence, the property of his own people against the rapacity of their enemies. But without a miracle, or the least invasion of the rights of conscience, may not our legislators in this instance, place the property of every citizen upon the same ground of security. This would be done, if those who do not, should be obliged either to attend public worship themselves, or to furnish at their own expense a guard to the property of others, while they do attend.—“With that confidence wherewith I am bold to say, that our civil rulers will not forget their own names as “dignities,” it may be presumed, they will not forget that public institution of learning, to which they are so much indebted both for their literary and official dignity. May “stand as a seal upon their arm, and a signet on their right hand.”—Above all, our venerable fathers will bear it in mind, that while employed in the service of their country, they are all acting a part for eternity. Fired with a noble emulation of transmitting their names to posterity in laurels of honour, they will be infinitely more concerned, to secure an enrolment of their names on the Lamb’s book of life; where “the righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance.”

Edition: 1983; Page: [39] My fellow citizens of this numerous and respectable assembly,

We know the value of freedom. We can truly appreciate the blessings of a free and happy constitution. When our birth-right was sold, with a great sum the purchase was made. Most ardently we wish they may never be abused, despised or lost. May Heaven, auspicious, forever guard them:—but this cannot be done unless men will guard their own tongues. A savage undisciplined tongue is more to be Edition: current; Page: [[1011]] dreaded than undisciplined troops, or the most inhuman savage. Sharper than a two edged sword, it cuts the bands of love which unite man to man, and thrusts its deadly stab into the bosom of society; it is a pestilence that walks in darkness and wasteth at noon day. When the cause of liberty bleeds, let the patriotic tongue blow the trumpet, and plead its injured rights. Freedom of speech and of the press, in such a cause, is the terror of tyrants and the scourge of anarchy. But when licentious and ungoverned, they create jealousies, infuse suspicions, weaken public confidence, kindle, and augment the flames of such contention, as may desolate a country, and crimson it with blood! While every man claims, as he justly may, a right to watch his own government, let him watch his own tongue. In this way the poorest man may plant one of the strongest guards around the liberties of his country, by that which will cost him nothing, but silence. If he cannot keep his heart from deceit, he may keep his lips from speaking evil of dignities. Should we ever Edition: 1983; Page: [40] behold what Solomon saw and lamented in his day, viz. “Folly set in great dignity;” the fault must be chiefly in the people who set them up. While therefore, we censure our rulers, we condemn ourselves. Never let us dare to sport with the character of a ruler. Public character especially ought to be treated as one of the most dear and delicate of all possessions. How easily is it tarnished? and how often is it done in ways unknown and unsuspected? Is there a man on earth willing, that his faults should be enumerated without naming his virtues? Partiality in this case is a species of the blackest slander.—Names and epithets of the most honourable import are, from the poverty of language, always liable to this kind of partiality; and when perverted, they become vehicles of the most abusive scandal: Just as the rankest poison may be conveyed in the richest perfumes. The names appropriated to express power, as it resides in the two branches of our own legislature, have not escaped this kind of perversion. Monarchy is exploded; but the idea still remains. Should an appropriate name to express that idea be wanted, etymology will present us with the word, “Autocratical,” i.e. the power of self, or self-important. This, it is presumed, truly expresses the feelings of the heart, and is perhaps the best definition of both the others, when they are bandied on the tongues of zealous partizans by way of reproach.

Where encomiums on the one side—ridicule and obloquy on the Edition: current; Page: [[1012]] other, are both extravagant, it becomes difficult if not impossible to find the truth.

Edition: 1983; Page: [41] Among a free people there will be a variety of opinions, from whence different plans and systems of civil policy will be adopted, even where the object is the same. In this case, if different paths should not lead us with equal safety to the desired object, candour and moderation are the best remedies.

When political heresy creeps in, the standard must be lifted up against it. “To the law and to the testimony”—to the constitution and to the sovereign people we must appeal—the majority must decide, and all the people shall say Amen. While we are watching our own, and speak with freedom on the great republic of France, let us be afraid to speak evil of “dignities” and things we understand not. Let no envenomed tongue or sacrilegious hand dare touch the ark of liberty, or presume to make one link in that infernal chain of confederation against human happiness! May heaven secure us from systems of monarchical policy, and the devouring gulph of European politics! In fine, may all the friends of peace and harmony in our own and in the federal government, that admired fabric of human policy; may the friends of union without division, and of union without consolidation, yea, let every individual among us, unite and display his friendship by a strict government over the tongue, that “unruly, member” of society; the greatest tyrant, the vilest insurgent on earth! “fight neither with small nor great, but with the King” of tyrants, this demagogue of faction. To do this we are bound, both Edition: 1983; Page: [42] by the highest claims of society and the more sacred ties of christianity. For, “if any man speak with the tongues of men and angels, and bridleth not his own tongue,” this man’s religion is vain. Convinced of this, and knowing that the heart is the guilty source from whence proceed evil thoughts, and speaking evil of dignities, let us look up to him, under whose dominion is the heart of man, and pray him to create within us a pure heart, and form us anew in Christ Jesus, that we may govern our passions, and bridle our tongues. May the most ardent gratitude from every heart, and every tongue arise to the eternal throne of the Supreme Ruler of nations, for the present peace and prosperity of our nation. Luminated with the hope of its continuance, let every one follow the unerring path of national and individual happiness, delineated by the dictates of infinite wisdom in such language as this—“He that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from Edition: current; Page: [[1013]] evil and his lips that they speak no guile, let him depart from evil and do good.” Travelling in this peaceful path of wisdom and rectitude. A few days more the journey of life will be ended, the strife of tongues will cease, all our connexions with civil society be dissolved; while the renovated soul, washed in the Redeemer’s blood, panting for liberty, will burst the chains of its prison, and bound over the long range of eternity, exploring and triumphing in all the “Liberties of the sons of God.

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[64]: Justice [Jacob] Rush 1746-1820

The Nature and Importance of an Oath—the Charge to a Jury

Jacob Rush chose to make law his profession rather than to follow in the steps of his elder brother Benjamin, who was destined to become America’s first physician to command eminence in the great hospitals of Europe. He also differed from his brother in displaying little disposition to figure in the great debate over grievances with England and the rules to be followed in constructing a republican form of government. His charge to a jury in Philadelphia that is printed here excited enough interest in other places to be printed in a magazine in Vermont, the Rural Magazine or Vermont Repository, in 1796. A careful reading of the text will show that Judge Rush took the opportunity to outline a little-understood aspect of American political theory. Many Americans believed that political obligation rested not on any signed contract but rather on the taking of an oath. Many colonies had required oaths before one could vote or become a citizen, and state constitutions often required oaths of a wide range of officials. We still require oaths of jurors, witnesses in court, military personnel, and naturalized citizens, not to mention the president of the United States, and this essay is a reminder that to a completely Christian people the problem of political obligation has a simple, theoretical solution. The text here is taken from the October issue of the Vermont magazine.

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A Charge, delivered by Judge Rush, at Easton Court, on the 8th Sept. 1796, to the Grand Jury of the County of Northampton, in Pennsylvania.

Gentlemen of the Grand Jury.

As we are constantly employed in the administration of oaths, and every person is liable to be called upon to swear before some competent authority, it cannot be deemed improper, in this place, to address a few observations to you on the importance of an oath. This is the more requisite, from the danger that every idea, with respect to the solemnity of an oath, is likely to be obliterated from the mind, by the indecent manner in which they are daily uttered in familiar conversation, and the almost equally indecent manner in which they are frequently administered in the ordinary course of justice.

An oath, gentlemen, is a very serious transaction, and may be defined, a solemn appeal to God for the truth of the facts asserted by the witness, with an imprecation of the divine justice upon him, if the facts which he relates are false; or in the case of a promissory oath, if the party doth not fulfil his engagement.

We perceive from this definition, that oaths are of two kinds, assertory and promissory. The former included the testimony given by witnesses, and in general all matters of fact that are asserted or related upon oath. Promissory oaths are those taken by officers of government—all oaths of allegiance and protection, and likewise the oaths you have severally taken as grand jurymen.

The use of oaths, as a means of ascertaining the truth, it is impossible to trace to its origin. They have prevailed in different ages and countries, as far back as historical information can carry us, and are in fact as old as the creation. Abraham and Abimeleck ratified their covenant by the solemnity of mutual oaths, as did also Jacob and Laban—in which cases we observe, that Abraham and Jacob received the oaths of Abimeleck and Laban, though they swore by false gods, which are acknowledged by modern writers to be binding, provided the party believes in the existence of one God, the creator of all things. Swearing by inferior deities in such cases is considered as a mode of appealing through them to the Supreme Being; agreeably Edition: 1983; Page: [470] to the declaration of our Saviour, “He that sweareth by the throne of God, sweareth by him who sitteth thereon, and he that sweareth by the temple, sweareth by him who inhabits the same.” Edition: current; Page: [[1016]] Through these inferior objects the appeal is made, and terminated in a solemn invocation of the God of all Gods.

If we suppose the institution of an oath to be of divine origin, yet there is no doubt, that human authority is competent to establish those forms of swearing that are most calculated to strike with religious awe and veneration. Accordingly the forms of swearing vary in different countries. But in one point all ages and countries have uniformly concurred—namely, that oaths are to be administered to all persons according to their opinion, and in such form as most affects their consciences.

In the Old Testament we find Abraham called upon his servant to swear, and requiring him to place his right hand under Abraham’s thigh, while he repeated the words of the oath to him; and Jacob used the same ceremony when he made his son Joseph swear he would not bury him in Egypt.

The persons of the Gentoo religion in India, when they take an oath, fall prostrate before the bramin or priest, and lay the right hand upon the bramin’s foot; an oath of this kind has been admitted to be legal evidence in England, because the Gentoos profess a belief in one God, the creator and governor of all things.

A Mahometon swears upon the Alcoran, and places his right hand flat upon it, and his left hand upon his forehead. In this posture he looks steadily a few minutes at the Alcoran, and by this ceremony he conceives himself bound to speak the truth.

A Jew is sworn upon the five books of Moses, upon which he lays his right hand.

The general form in use among Christians, is to lay the right hand upon the Bible, or the New Testament only, and to kiss it. The ceremony of laying the hand upon the book, is undoubtedly of Pagan origin, and was introduced among the primitive Christians from the example of the heathens, who were accustomed to swear in the presence of their false gods—and sometimes by actually touching or laying the hand upon the sacred utensils of their superstition. The mode appeared solemn and affecting to the Christians; and therefore the presence of the Bible when they swore, was substituted in the place of the false gods of the Pagans, and was produced as a sacred memento of the religious obligations they were under to speak the truth. Hence we find some of them swore with the hand laid upon the Bible—some with the Bible spread open before them—some by laying their hand Edition: current; Page: [[1017]] upon the breast, others with the hand stretched out, or lifted up towards heaven, but always with the sacred book in their immediate presence and sight. The insatiable spirit of superstition, which finally terminated in the establishment of popery, had at that time made considerable progress in the christian church; and to this spirit we must ascribe the circumstance of kissing the book and the expressions we sometimes meet with in ancient writers—so help me God and his saints, which last words, viz. and his saints, have been omitted by the protestants: Though they Edition: 1983; Page: [471] still retain the former, and the ceremony of kissing the book.

Thus we see the mode of swearing amongst us, is partly of pagan, and partly of popish extraction. Among the early Christians, great latitude was admitted with respect to the form of swearing; nor does it appear that any mode whatever was prescribed, but that every person made use of the form most agreeable to his conscience. Even in the reign of Charles the second in England, we meet with an instance of a Doctor Owen, Vice Chancellor of Oxford, who being summoned as a witness, refused to be sworn by laying his hand upon the Bible, and kissing it; but he caused the book to be held open before him, with his right hand lifted up towards heaven, and was sworn in that form. The jury conceiving some doubts, whether he deserved as much credit as a witness sworn in the common form, put the question to the court. The chief justice with the utmost liberality told them that the doctor had taken as strong an oath, as any other witness, and was as much entitled to belief—but added he, if he himself was to be sworn, he would lay his right hand upon the book.

These and many other forms of swearing have been made use of in the world—but an oath does not consist merely in form. It consists in something more than laying the hand upon the Bible—kissing it—looking at it—or having placed it in our sight with the hand held up or stretched out. These are so many shadows, and alter not the nature of the transaction. It is the solemn appeal to God—it is engaging to speak the truth, and calling upon him to witness our sincerity, that constitute the oath and obligation. If this be done, it is immaterial whether any or what form be used. Whether the witness kiss the book, or lay his hand upon it, or whether he does neither, he is equally bound to speak the truth; and if he does not, he is guilty of perjury. But though oaths are obligatory in all religions, however indistinct the views they exhibit of God and his attributes, yet is their Edition: current; Page: [[1018]] force peculiarly binding in Christian countries; because the sanction of rewards and punishments is more fully revealed by the Christian religion, and consequently the degree of guilt in transgressing the rules of moral duty, must be greater.

But can this appeal be made by every body? Can this security for speaking the truth be given by every one? Most certainly, gentlemen, it cannot.

It is impossible this appeal should be made or this security given, by those who do not believe in one God as creator and governor of the world. A Turk, or Indian, believing this, may be a witness, and a Christian renouncing the belief of it, or through ignorance unacquainted with it, is utterly incapable of being sworn in our courts of justice. The ties of religion can have no effect upon a mind, in which no idea of religion can be found, and there can be no religion if you take away a belief in the existence of a God, because it is the foundation of all religion. Upon this ground, Lord Kenyon, the present chief justice of England, rejected a person as incompetent to give evidence, who knew nothing of the obligations of an oath, of a future state of rewards and punishment, had never learned his catechism, and had only heard there was a God, and that Edition: 1983; Page: [472] those who told lies would go to the gallows. A person discovering a disbelief of these principles, stands in the same predicament with one who is entirely ignorant of them, and consequently cannot be a witness.

If the obligation of an oath depend wholly upon the sense and belief of a deity; that he abhors falsehood, and will punish perjury; and if oaths are necessary for the maintenance of peace and justice among men; it clearly follows that a belief in the existence of God is necessary for the support of civil society. Every thing therefore that tends to unhinge our belief in this important principle, must be reprobated by all good men; because it tends to weaken the security of an oath. Lord Mansfield has asserted, what no person will venture to deny, “that no country can subsist a twelve-month in which an oath is not thought binding: for the want of it, he adds, must necessarily dissolve society.” Whatever therefore relaxes the religious sentiment upon which an oath is founded, is injurious to society; because it lessens the restraint which the belief of that salutary principle imposes upon the human mind.

It is with perjury as with other crimes, there are certain paths that lead to it; and though there are some persons who may never Edition: current; Page: [[1019]] arrive at the commission of this horrid crime, yet there is reason to fear, by their practices and example, they may be the means of others falling into it. One deviation from moral rectitude necessarily leads to another. He who has robbed his neighbour, will not hesitate to deny it with a lie or an oath, if such denial may be the means of his acquital. Drunkenness is often the foundation of quarrels, which not unfrequently end in murder or manslaughger.

The two vices that more immediately lead to perjury, are the infamous habits of lying, and swearing in common conversation. With respect to the person who has been accustomed to disregard truth in the ordinary occurrences of life, besides the pernicious example he sets to others, it is much more likely he should fall into the crime of perjury, than the man who is distinguished for strict veracity in his conversation. As to the impious vice of common swearing: to say that least of it—it is so absurd in itself, that nothing can possibly exceed the guilt, unless it be the folly of it. And were it not that it becomes criminal when viewed in its consequences upon civil society, would deserve it be mentioned only to be despised. It is indeed to be lamented that so many persons of rank, and good sense, among us, are addicted to it. They little think while they are invoking the vengeance of heaven upon themselves and others, and confirming the most trivial assertions with the awful name of the diety, that they are scattering firebrands, arrows and death around them. Man is an imitative animal; and the lower rank are eternally copying the manners, and even the expressions of those they have been taught to look upon as their superiors in education and stile of living. Though we are ready to admit, that persons of rank and sense who are guilty of this vice, if called upon to swear in a court, would scrupulously adhere to the truth, yet are they by the force of their example doing infinite mischief by inducing others to treat with contempt the Edition: 1983; Page: [473] name of the deity, who perhaps may not be restrained from perjury by the advantages of a good education, and better reflection, which their superiors may have enjoyed. It is indeed a self-evident proposition, that an habitual profanation of the name of God by the familiar use of oaths and curses in common conversation, must very much tend to lessen that awe and reverence of the Supreme Being, which is one of the strongest guards against perjury; and consequently be in a high degree injurious to society. It is for this reason our laws have endeavoured to restrain common swearing, and have made it an offence punishable by a Edition: current; Page: [[1020]] magistrate. Such, however, is the unfortunate predominance of custom, that the law is seldom put in execution: And this in fact will be always the case, while men of influence in elevated stations, lead the way in the violation of the laws. Their example like a torrent, sweeps away all before it, and the law seems to be silently repealed, by the rank, the character, and the number of the offenders.

Let the pretensions of a person to virtue be what they may, if he conducts himself in any manner injurious to his country, and forbidden by the laws, he is at best but a pretender to the character of a good citizen. His actions speak louder than his words, and mark him the decided enemy of social order and public happiness. “By their fruit you shall know them”—is not less true when applied to detect the pretender in patriotism, than the hypocrite in religion. The man who by his immoral practices is constantly infringing the laws of order, and spreading confusion through the moral world, contributes his utmost efforts to involve every thing in anarchy and ruin; and whatever may be the language of his lips with his vices, he is stabbing his country to the heart.

I observed, gentlemen, that some oaths are called promissory oaths; such are all oaths of office, and some others. This mode of exacting the performance of a trust, by the additional security of an oath, is universally practised by civilized nations; and though by our law the punishment of perjury cannot be inflicted for the violation of such engagement, yet may it be prosecuted as a misdemeanor; and in the sight of God, the guilt is equal to the case of perjury, where facts are misrepresented or concealed. In the eye of reason there can be no difference, between a person’s swearing to a fact that never existed, and swearing that he will perform a particular act, and wilfully omitting it; or swearing that he will not perform a particular act, and afterwards deliberately doing it. There are doubtless different degrees of malignity attending the crime of perjury, as well as all other crimes. Yet I cannot avoid remarking that perjury in the case of violated promises may be, and frequently is, a more aggravated and detestable crime than even swearing to a direct falsehood, because it is accompanied with a perfidious breach of trust. In the case of marriage, for example, which is generally understood to be a contract, fortified with the solemnities of an oath, scarcely any guilt can exceed the violation of it. It is a cruel breach of trust, coupled with perjury; and tends directly to destroy the peace of families, and to tear up the very foundation of Edition: current; Page: [[1021]] society. Contracts Edition: 1983; Page: [474] and oaths must have some meaning. But if the inconvenience of executing them, or mere whim and pleasure, be admitted as an excuse for the breach of them; then farewell, gentlemen, to all honour and honesty. If one of the parties be discharged, the other cannot remain bound. The consequence of both parties being released from obligations, whenever either party shall feel, or fancy he feels, an inconvenience from adhering to his contract, must be this—that every person will be at liberty to rescind his solemn compact whenever he pleases. A doctrine pregnant with the most horrid confusion, and the entire subversion of society.

The true criterion or standard of any action whatever is this—what would be the result to society, if every other person did the same thing. In this scale man may weigh his actions, with the utmost nicety—by this rule he may measure the innocence or criminality of every step he takes in life. Suppose, for example, all persons to abandon themselves to adulterous courses—or suppose an universal and unrestrained intercourse to take place between the sexes; in either of these cases, such an universal depravity of morals would ensue, as must utterly destroy society.

Every single act therefore, comprized in either of these supposed cases, must be unlawful. If one man has a right to be his own avenger, every other person must have the same right. But if all men were to execute their own revenge, desolation, rapine and murder would quickly overspread the land. Every single act of revenge therefore, is utterly repugnant to social obligation.

From the consequences of any action being injurious to the public welfare, if universally practised, we infer, that every single action of the same kind of description, is criminal. The rule will hold good when applied to lying, stealing, drunkenness, and every other vice. For if one man has a right to steal, to tell a lie, to get drunk, or to violate his solemn promises as often as he pleases, so has every other man. But if all men were to give into these practices, society must be annihilated; for it could not possibly exist, if it were entirely composed of such infamous wretches. In the one case there would be no such thing as property—in the other no truth, or dependence of one man upon the words of another; and in the third, viz. a society consisting of drunkards, universal wretchedness must be the inevitable consequence.

From these observations, gentlemen, we cannot but perceive the Edition: current; Page: [[1022]] destructive tendency of vice, in its very nature; and how utterly incompatible it is, with the interests of society. It is at the same time agreeable to remark, the coincidence, the perfect harmony, between the precepts of heaven, and the necessary consequences of human actions.

The laws of God forbid the indulgence of our passions only in such cases, where their gratification would be injurious to ourselves, or our neighbours, and enjoin the performance of all those duties, that are calculated to improve the heart, or promote the welfare of others. The Christian religion is in fact the surest basis of morality, and consequently of order and good government.

Of this heaven born religion it Edition: 1983; Page: [475] is the peculiar characteristic, that while obedience to its commands constitutes the highest felicity of the individual, the practice of its benevolent precepts, is at the same time, the firmest foundation of social happiness and public prosperity. In the elegant language of holy writ, “her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.” even in this world. “Righteousness exalts a nation; (that is, makes it flourish) but sin is a reproach to any people; and by slow, but sure steps, under any form of government, inevitably leads to national misery and destruction.”

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[65]: Nathanael Emmons 1745-1840

A Discourse Delivered on the National Fast

Born and raised in Connecticut, Emmons studied at Yale, and spent fifty of his years as a Congregational minister in the Massachusetts village of Franklin, near Rhode Island. Widely sought after for instruction in theology and the art of preaching, he had a favorite dictum: “Have something to say; say it.” For a full half-century Americans had been listening to sermons dealing with the nature of civil authority and the right of citizens to resist wrongful acts of rulers. Emmons here looks upon civil disobedience from the other side—the duty to obey constituted authorities in a new nation. Revolutionary principles are not abandoned but discussed in a balanced fashion as Americans struggle to preserve political stability during the 1790s without abandoning their heritage.


TITUS iii. 1.

Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work.

Heathens and infidels have always been disposed to represent the friends of revealed religion, as enemies to the peace and order of civil society. The nations bordering upon Jerusalem basely insinuated, that “it was a rebellious city, hurtful to kings and provinces.” The Edition: current; Page: [[1024]] unbelieving Jews accused our Savior of being opposed to Caesar and to the laws of his country. And it was a very common practice among the Pagans, to cast the odium of their own seditions and insurrections upon the peaceable and harmless Christians. To wipe off this aspersion from the followers of Christ, the Apostle Paul, who was a Roman citizen, and well understood the nature and importance of civil government, abundantly inculcated the duty of submission to those in authority. Nor did he stop here, but exhorted other preachers Edition: 1983; Page: [6] of the gospel, to inculcate the same duty upon all the professors of religion. Knowing the general reluctance of mankind to legal restraint, and the peculiar prejudice of the Jewish converts against Pagan princes, he expressly enjoined it upon Titus, “to put his hearers in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, and to obey magistrates.” By these appellations, he meant to denote all orders and ranks of civil officers, under all forms of civil government. This therefore, is the plain and practical truth, which falls under our present consideration:

That ministers ought to inculcate upon subjects the duty of obedience to civil rulers.

Here it may be proper to show,

  • I. Who are to be understood by civil rulers.
  • II. That it is the duty of subjects to obey them: and,
  • III. That ministers ought to inculcate this duty.

I. Let us consider who are to be understood by civil rulers.

Though God has not seen fit, under the gospel dispensation, to institute any particular form of civil government; yet he has prescribed the qualifications and duties of civil rulers. And we can hardly suppose, that he would delineate the duties and qualifications of a certain order of men, which he neither approved, nor intended should exist. It is, therefore, evidently the will of God, that there should be civil government, and that there should be a certain order of men to administer it. In this sense, we may consider civil government, as the ordinance of God, and civil rulers, as the ministers of God; though they derive all their authority from their fellow citizens. But the question before us is, who are to be Edition: 1983; Page: [7] understood by civil rulers, to whom submission is due. This seems to be a plain question, though it has been much agitated by the greatest statesmen and divines. Reason and scripture concur to teach us, that the powers that be, or Edition: current; Page: [[1025]] those who are in peaceable possession of civil authority, are the magistrates whom we ought to obey.

There are three ways of men’s coming into possession of civil power. One way, and indeed the best way, is by the free and fair election of the people, who, in every republican government, enjoy the right of choosing their own rulers. This right generally is, and always ought to be, restricted to persons of a certain character and interest. Those, who are so dependent, as to have no will of their own, are totally disqualified to give their suffrages for civil magistrates. Such men, however, as are fairly chosen into office by the people, are properly civil rulers, and to be acknowledged and treated accordingly.

Another way in which men may become clothed with civil authority, is by hereditary right. Any people may make their government hereditary, if they please. And after they have adopted such a form of government, men may come into power by succession, without any formal election. The eldest son of a king, for instance, may be the rightful heir to the throne; and, upon his father’s decease, abdication, or removal, may take possession of it, without the voice of the people.

The last and worst way of men’s coming into the seat of government, is by usurpation. This method of obtaining power has been much practised in all ages of the world. A son has often usurped the throne of his father. A prime minister, or a peculiar favorite, has often usurped the throne of his master. An Edition: 1983; Page: [8] enterprising and successful general has often turned his arms against his sovereign, and placed himself in his room. Though the conduct of usurpers is to be condemned and detested, yet after the people have, through fear or feebleness, acknowledged their supremacy, they are to all intents and purposes civil rulers, to whom obedience and subjection belong. It must be supposed, that the Apostle meant to include sovereigns of this description, among “principalities and powers” in the text. For it is well known, that many of the primitive Christians lived under the government of usurpers. Most of the sovereigns, in the first ages of Christianity, had unrighteously seized the thrones which they filled. And if Christians were to obey the principalities and powers then in being, they were to obey those who came into power, by unjust and unlawful means. Indeed, there seems to be an obvious reason why such men should be obeyed. After usurpers are peaceably established in their dominions, the people explicitly or implicitly engage to Edition: current; Page: [[1026]] submit to their authority. Though they promised submission with reluctance; yet having promised, their promise is morally binding. Besides, those, who have violently seized the reins of government, may afterwards be very good rulers. And it matters not, whether they rule by written or verbal laws, provided they rule in wisdom and equity. So long as they employ their power to promote the public good, the people have reason to lead peaceable and quiet lives in all godliness and honesty. As Augustus Caesar used his usurped power with great moderation, during his long and gentle reign; so the Romans were so much obliged to obey his authority, as if he had come to the throne, by the free and general voice of the empire. But not to enlarge upon this Edition: 1983; Page: [9] topic at present, I would say in a word, that by civil rulers in the text and in this discourse, are to be understood all those, who are in the peaceable possession of civil power. I proceed to show,

II. That it is the duty of subjects to obey their civil rulers. And this will appear, if we consider,

1. That the Scripture expressly enjoins this duty upon subjects. The Apostle Paul requires them to “be subject to principalities and powers, and to obey magistrates.” The Apostle Peter, in his first Epistle, exhorts believers to be good subjects of civil government, in order to adorn their Christian profession, and recommend their religion to those, who were strongly prejudiced against it. “Dearly beloved,” says he, “I beseech you to have your conversation honest among the Gentiles: That whereas they speak against you as evil doers, they may by your good works which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation. Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man, for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil doers, or for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well-doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.” There is another passage in the thirteenth of Romans, which more fully and forcibly inculcates, upon all, the great duty of submission to civil magistrates. “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which Edition: 1983; Page: [10] is good, and thou Edition: current; Page: [[1027]] shalt have praise of the same. For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain; for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For, for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers attending upon this very thing.” Here submission to those in authority, is most expressly enjoined upon all, as a moral and Christian duty. Many passages of a similar import might be adduced from the Old Testament: but I choose to draw the proof of this duty, from the precepts of Christianity, which are unquestionably binding upon subjects at this day, under whatever form of government they live.

2. The duty of submission naturally results from the relations, which subjects bear to their rulers. There would be no propriety in calling the body of the people subjects, unless they were under obligation to obey those in the administration of government. Every people either directly or indirectly promise submission to their rulers. Those, who choose their civil magistrates, do voluntarily pledge their obedience, whether they take the oath of allegiance or not. By putting power into the hands of their rulers, they put it out of their own; by choosing and authorizing them to govern, they practically declare, that they are willing to be governed; and by declaring their willingness to be governed, they equally declare their intention and readiness to obey. In every free government, the rulers and the ruled lay themselves under mutual obligations to each other. For a free government is founded in compact; and every compact, whether private or public, invariably binds all the parties concerned. Edition: 1983; Page: [11] The subjects of every elective government, therefore, voluntarily and expressly engage to obey those, whom they raise to places of power and trust. And as to such as live under different forms of government, they also indirectly and implicitly promise submission to the powers that be. Hence all subjects owe obedience to the civil magistrates, by virtue of their own actual engagements. There is not a single exception in this case. The man, who is born after a government is established, is as much obliged to submit to it, as if he had lived while it was framing, and had actually assisted in framing it. The man, who is born after an usurper has taken the supreme power, is as much obliged to submit to him, as if he had lived in the time of the revolution, and had personally consented to his sovereignty. Every person is born the subject of some Edition: current; Page: [[1028]] government, and has no right, when he comes upon the stage of action, to refuse obedience to those, who are in the peaceable possession of civil power. There are no detached individuals in any civil community; but all are members of the body politic, and universally bound, by their own explicit or implicit consent to pay obedience and subjection to those, whom they have either chosen or allowed to sit in the seats of government.

I may add,

3. All subjects ought to obey their rulers, for the sake of the public good. It is the duty of civil magistrates to seek the general welfare of the people, and so long as they diligently and faithfully attend upon this very thing, they justly merit the obedience and concurrence of every one of their subjects. For every person ought to desire, and as far as he can, contribute to the peace and prosperity of that community to which he belongs. Let a civil constitution Edition: 1983; Page: [12] be ever so good, it can answer no valuable purpose, unless the people will submit to those in administration. Rulers are mere cyphers, without the aid and concurrence of their subjects. What can a general do to defend his country, if his soldiers refuse to fight? And what can the supreme magistrate do to maintain the peace and order of society, if his subjects refuse to obey? All the benefit to be derived from civil government ultimately depends upon the people’s obedience to civil rulers. The subject, therefore, is under moral obligation, resulting from the general good, to submit to the civil magistrate. And agreeably to this, the Apostle says, “He is the minister of God to thee for good. Wherefore ye must needs be subject not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.” As the conscience of every man tells him, he ought to seek the general good; so it equally tells him he ought to obey the higher powers, who are seeking the same desirable and important end.

Thus the people, in every civil society, are universally bound by the general good, as well as by their own engagements and the authority of God, to pay a cordial and conscientious obedience to all the officers of government. I now proceed to show,

III. That ministers ought to inculcate such submission to civil magistrates.

Here permit me to observe,

1. That preachers are expressly required to press this plain and important duty upon the people of their charge. “Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, and to obey magistrates.” Edition: current; Page: [[1029]] The Apostle wrote this Epistle on purpose to direct a minister of the gospel how to conduct in his sacred office. And instead of warning against him being too officious, in treating upon the delicate subject of Edition: 1983; Page: [13] submission to government, he commands him, without fear or favor, to admonish his hearers of their indispensable obligation to obey every order of civil magistrates. There appears no circumstance of time or place to restrict this injunction to Titus in particular; and, therefore, we must suppose, that it equally applies to all the preachers of the gospel, in every age of Christianity. It is beyond doubt, that the Apostle intended, by the precept in the text, to teach not only Titus, but all succeeding ministers, the great importance of inculcating upon subjects that obedience and submission, which they owe to all in authority, from the highest to the lowest.

2. It becomes the preachers of the gospel, in this case, to follow the example of the inspired Teachers. John the Baptist repeatedly inculcated submission to civil authority. When some of the Publicans were about to be baptized, they seriously asked him, “Master, what shall we do?” Shall we relinquish our civil employment, and no longer gather the public taxes? “And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you.” Defraud not the public to promote your own private interest; nor disobey the lawful authority under which you act. At the same time, “the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do?” Shall we cease to be soldiers, and refuse to obey our officers? “And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.” Slay only your public enemies; abuse none of your fellow soldiers; and cheerfully take the lot and perform the duties assigned you. Our Saviour taught the same doctrine. On a certain occasion, the Pharisees sent unto him their disciples, with the Herodians, saying, “Master, we know that thou art Edition: 1983; Page: [14] true, and teachest the way of God in truth, tell us, therefore, what thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar or not? Then said he unto them, Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” This was a plain and explicit command to be subject to principalities and powers, and to obey magistrates. The Apostles strictly followed the example of their divine Master, and forcibly inculcated upon subjects the duty of submission to all in authority, whether kings, or governors, or more subordinate rulers. These examples are worthy of the attention and imitation of all the ministers Edition: current; Page: [[1030]] of the gospel. Though in some cases they have no right to imitate Christ and the Apostles; yet no reason can be assigned, why they should not follow their example in ordinary preaching, and inculcate upon subjects the same submission to government, which those infallible preachers inculcated.

3. It no less belongs to the office of gospel ministers, to teach men their duty towards civil rulers, than to teach them any other moral or religious duty. This appears from the manner, in which the Apostle commands Titus to address the various characters among his people. He first directs him to instruct the aged, the young, and those in a state of servitude; and then immediately exhorts him to “put all persons in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, to speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing meekness to all men.” In this connection, the Apostle plainly teaches ministers, that they are under the same obligation to inculcate upon their hearers the duty of submitting to civil rulers, as to exhort them to be peaceable, and gentle, and ready to every good work. It is an essential branch of the ministerial Edition: 1983; Page: [15] office, to explain and inculcate all the duties, which God has enjoined upon all persons of every age, relation, and connection of life. Those in the gospel ministry, therefore, as truly act in character and agreebly to their sacred office, while they teach and exhort subjects to obey magistrates, as while they teach and exhort them to love God with all the heart, or to love their neighbours as themselves. And I may still further observe,

4. That there are some peculiar reasons, why the duty of submission to civil authority should be more especially inculcated upon the minds of subjects. Men are extremely apt to forget that, they are under any moral obligation to obey the rulers of the land. This the Apostle plainly suggests, by his mode of expression in the text. “Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers.” The people are very ready to imagine, that there is no moral evil in violating the laws of their country. They are much more disposed to regard the power, than the authority, of civil magistrates. If they obey, it is for wrath, and not for conscience sake. If they disobey, they feel no remorse nor regret, unless they receive the due reward of their deeds. How frequently are the good and wholesome laws against gaming, tavern haunting, sabbath breaking, and such like evils, trampled upon by multitudes, without once reflecting, that they have Edition: current; Page: [[1031]] poured contempt upon the ordinance of God? The general respect paid to civil authority seems to be much more owing to a principle of prudence, than to a sense of duty. Hence there appears to be a peculiar necessity of inculcating the duty of obedience and submission to all orders of civil rulers. As no duty is more generally forgotten or neglected than this; so no duty needs to be more frequently and powerfully inculcated.

Edition: 1983; Page: [16] Besides, there is scarcely any duty more disagreeable to the human heart, than submission to civil government. Men are naturally unwilling to be controlled, and especially by human laws, the reasons of which they seldom understand. Some have no capacity, some have no inclination, and some have no opportunity, to examine the wisdom and rectitude of public measures. But even supposing, that those in administration could demonstrate to the apprehension of every individual, that all the laws and measures of government were calculated to promote the general good; yet there is no reason to think, that this would satisfy the minds of people in general. For the public good is a light object, when thrown into the scale against private interest. Just so long, therefore, as men are disposed to prefer private good to public, they will feel a strong reluctance to the obedience and submission which they owe to civil rulers. And since it is well known, that this is the prevailing disposition of mankind, it must be granted, that subjects need to be often and solemnly admonished, to sacrifice their private interest to the public good, and submit to every ordinance of man, for the Lord’s sake.

There is still another plain and important reason, why submission to government should be strongly inculcated. The safety and happiness of the whole body politic more essentially depend upon each member’s performing this, than any other duty. A subject may neglect any other duty, and injure only himself, or a few individuals, with whom he is intimately connected. But if he rise against government, or disobey the laws of the land, his disobedience is like the disobedience of a centinel who exposes both himself and the whole army to destruction. A seditious and disorganizing spirit is extremely contagious. It will Edition: 1983; Page: [17] suddenly and almost imperceptibly enflame the minds of the largest people. And when this spirit once seizes the majority, neither their numbers, nor their riches, nor their arms can afford them the least protection. The most excellent and patriotic rulers, and the most peaceable and virtuous citizens are liable to fall victims to the fury Edition: current; Page: [[1032]] and revenge of lawless and ungovernable rebels. Where there is no subordination, there can be no government; and where there is no government, there can be no public peace nor safety. Such an absolute necessity of submission to civil authority, in every civil community, renders this duty of the highest political importance. And this importance loudly calls upon the ministers of the gospel of peace, to inculcate upon subjects, in the most plain and pungent manner, their indispensable obligation to be subject to principalities and powers, and to obey magistrates, and every order and distinction.

This subject now suggests some seasonable and useful reflections.

1. There is no ground to complain of the ministers of the gospel, for inculcating political duties. Those who dislike public men and public measures are very apt to complain of preachers, if they undertake to adapt their discourses to the present state of public affairs, and press obedience and subjection to the powers that be. In the beginning of this century, there was a party in Britain friendly to the Pretender, who bitterly complained of Bishop Hoadly and other clergymen, for supporting the house of Hanover, and inculcating loyalty and subjection to those in the peaceable possession of the reins of government. And there are many now in America, who are friendly to France, and who publicly reproach those preachers of the gospel, who presume, at this interesting crisis of public Edition: 1983; Page: [18] affairs, to step forth in the cause of their country, and inculcate the duty of submission to those patriotic rulers, who are seeking the safety and interest of the nation. But, if what has been said in this discourse be true, their complaint of the clergy is altogether unscriptural, unreasonable, and inconsistent. It is unscriptural, because ministers are required by the precepts of the gospel and the practice of Christ and the Apostles, to inculcate submission to government. It is unreasonable, because ministers have the common right of citizens, to form their own opinions, and to speak their own sentiments, upon such public measures, as relate not merely to the local politics of a town or parish, but to the great body of the nation. And it is inconsistent; because those who complain, are highly pleased to hear ministers preach in favor of the government they like, and in support of the measures they approve. They now condemn the same kind of preaching, which, less than twenty years ago, they highly applauded. They have no real objection against political preaching, but against what is preached upon political subjects. It is readily admitted, if ministers recommend tyranny to rulers, or Edition: current; Page: [[1033]] sedition to subjects, they deserve to be censured; but on the other hand, if they preach sound doctrine in politics and morals, their preaching ought to be candidly heard, and religiously followed. And for my own part, I verily believe, there is now a special call in providence to all the ministers of the gospel, to put men in mind of the duty and importance of supporting the constitution, and submitting to the administration, of our present free and excellent government.

2. There appears to be no more difficulty in determining the measure of submission to civil government, than the measure of submission to any other human Edition: 1983; Page: [19] authority. Volumes have been written in favor of passive obedience and non-resistance to the higher powers. And volumes have been written in opposition to this absurd and detestable doctrine. But notwithstanding all the learning and ingenuity which have been displayed on both sides of this question, and the remaining diversity of opinion upon it, it seems to be attended with no peculiar difficulty but what arises from the selfish views and feelings of mankind. Many cannot endure the idea of submission to civil authority, unless it be so qualified, softened, and limited, as to allow them to disobey and resist their rulers, whenever their private opinion, or personal interest requires it. But God enjoins submission to all human authority, in the same general, and unlimited terms. The Scripture requires subjects “to submit themselves to every ordinance of man, for the Lord’s sake.” The Scripture requires children “to obey their parents in all things,” and the Scripture requires servants, “to obey, in all things, them that are their masters according to the flesh.” Who can discover, upon reading these precepts given to subjects, servants, and children, the least difference in the measure of submission? But though the Scripture no where prescribes the measure of submission to government, yet it is the plain dictate of reason, that all submission to human authority is absolutely limited. Servants, and even slaves, have the right of private judgment, and may, in certain cases, justly refuse obedience to their masters, and oppose their authority. Children have the right of private judgment, and may, in certain cases, refuse obedience to their parents, and resist unto blood. So subjects have the right of private judgment, and may, in certain cases, refuse submission to those in authority, and even destroy them. But all moral agents, Edition: 1983; Page: [20] who have the right of private judgment, are accountable for their exercise of it. If servants resist their masters, without reason, they deserve to be punished. If children resist their parents, without reason, Edition: current; Page: [[1034]] they deserve to be punished. And if subjects rise in opposition to government, without reason, they deserve to suffer as criminals. In short, every subject, who resists the powers that be, is either a patriot or a rebel, and ought to be considered and treated as such. The reason why no divine nor human law fixes the measure of submission to human authority, is because the cases in which it may be right to resist, cannot be ascertained until they actually occur. Though we know before hand, that there are measures of submission to all human authority; yet no man can determine what they are, until cases actually take place, which will justify resistance. Who can tell when a servant may justly rise against his master, and destroy his life? None will pretend, that every time he feels provoked, or thinks himself injured, he may rise and redress his supposed grievances. Children often imagine they are abused, when their parents reprove, restrain, or correct them; but will any say, that, in all such cases, they have a right to resist parental authority? It also appears from observation and experience, that subjects are apt to think themselves injured and oppressed, when they are heavily taxed, or called upon to support and defend their government; but who will maintain, that every supposed or real grievance will justify resistance to legal authority? Though rulers ought not to injure any of their subjects; yet individuals cannot be justified in disturbing the public peace, for the sake of redressing their own private wrongs. Hence it is easy to see, that there is no more nor less difficulty in ascertaining the proper measure of submission to civil Edition: 1983; Page: [21] government, than the proper measure of submission to any other human authority. There is nothing but absolute necessity can justify a people in breaking the bands of society. It is theirs to judge when such necessity exists, and to judge according to truth. For, if they either ignorantly or wilfully rise against their rulers, without just cause, they act the part of rebels; and if there be power and virtue enough in government, they must be restrained and punished.

3. It is extremely criminal to disobey civil rulers, and oppose the regular administration of government. There is a strong propensity in mankind to trample upon human authority, and obstruct the execution of the most wise and salutary laws. And this unruly spirit infatuates their minds, and leads them to imagine, that there is little or no criminality, in striking at the foundation of public peace and safety. Indeed, many consider a restless, discontented, seditious spirit as virtuous, rather than sinful; and would be thought to be acting a Edition: current; Page: [[1035]] noble, manly, patriotic part, while they are weakening the hands of rulers, and destroying the energy of government. But such persons ought seriously to consider, that they are violating their own voluntary engagements, opposing the public good, and disobeying the express commands of the Supreme Ruler of the universe. These sacred and solemn obligations bind their consciences to obedience and submission; and their guilt in disobeying and opposing the laws of the land, is in proportion to the obligations they violate. The Scripture calls those, who are enemies and opposers of government, heady, high minded, trucebreakers, and traitors; and represents them as deserving to be punished not only in this life, but in that which is to come. It is true, indeed, all transgressions of human as well as divine laws are not Edition: 1983; Page: [22] equally heinous. The violation of some civil laws is so common, and so generally winked at, that it may be supposed to be owing to ignorance, or inattention, rather than to a deliberate and wicked design. But when subjects knowingly and violently oppose the laws of the land, and aim to overturn the pillars of government, they contract a heavy load of guilt, and expose themselves to the heavy hand of human and divine justice.

4. It is criminal not only to disobey and resist civil authority, but also to countenance, cherish, and enflame a spirit of disobedience and rebellion. This is often done by some great and influential men, who are either afraid or ashamed to appear in open opposition to government. Those who wish to weaken the hands of rulers, and to pave the way to anarchy and confusion, very often conceal their views, while they use every mean in their power, to diffuse a spirit of discord and sedition in the minds of the people. They speak evil of dignities. They represent the most wise and upright rulers, as acting from mean, mercenary, and arbitrary motives, and aiming to enrich and aggrandize themselves. They complain of their public measures, and insinuate, that they are systematically calculated to enslave and destroy the people. They represent wise laws to be unwise; just laws to be unjust; necessary laws to be unnecessary; and constitutional laws to be unconstitutional. And if these methods of enflaming the passions of the populace against their rulers be not sufficient to answer their purpose, they have recourse to another, which is next to irresistable, I mean bribery. This engine both antient and modern nations have employed to promote conspiracies, insurrections, and rebellions, against government. The French have of late carried Edition: 1983; Page: [23] the art of bribery Edition: current; Page: [[1036]] to the highest degree of perfection. According to the best accounts, they have corrupted every people whom they have subjugated, by this diabolical method. These are the means, which artful and designing men employ to diffuse a disobedient and rebellious spirit into the minds of those, who are unacquainted with public affairs. And we have great reason to believe, that not a few are now secretly exerting all their influence, to propagate such a dangerous spirit. We clearly discover such a strong and zealous opposition to government, as cannot be accounted for, by any visible cause. There must be, therefore, some men behind the curtain, who are pushing on the populace to open sedition and rebellion. It is highly probable, that the late insurgents in Pennsylvania were corrupted and deluded, by some artful and influential characters, who have chosen to lie concealed from the public eye. And it is no less probable, that those unhappy creatures still really believe, many of the populace, and some of the principal men, in all the United States, secretly approve and applaud their insurrection, as a bold and noble act of patriotism. But those, who thus secretly cherish and enflame a seditious and rebellious spirit, are of all subjects the meanest and vilest. They do more mischief, and contract more guilt, than the poor, deluded, infatuated mortals, who actually rise in rebellion, and attempt the subversion of government.

5. Those in executive authority are under indispensable obligation, to give rebels and traitors a just recompense of reward. They are God’s ministers to execute wrath upon them that do evil; and they ought not to hold the sword of justice in vain. They are not only to countenance and encourage obedience, but to discountenance and discourage disobedience. Edition: 1983; Page: [24] They are not only to reward them that do well, but to punish the lawless and disobedient, as a terror to all their subjects. It is true indeed, they ought to make distinctions among the guilty, and proportion their punishments according to the nature and aggravations of their crimes. Though they may with propriety appear lenient towards ignorant and deluded transgressors; yet the general good of society requires them to make examples of some, at least, of the more bold and malignant enemies of government. The best laws will soon lose their force, if they be not duly executed, and the transgressors of them generally entertain a hope of impunity. Though the penalties of the laws should be lenient, yet the execution of them should be speedy and rigid. For it is not the penalty of the law, but the execution of it, that strikes terror into the minds of Edition: current; Page: [[1037]] rebels. Rebellion is an heinous crime and deserves a severe punishment; and yet there is scarcely any crime, which the great body of the people more ardently desire should be treated with lenity. They can coolly, if not cheerfully, see the murderer, money-maker, or the thief, receive the due reward of his deeds; but they are extremely apt to pity, and endeavor to screen the insurgent, or rebel, from condign punishment. This compassion towards the disturbers of the public peace, has been carried far enough, if not too far, in both the Northern and Southern States. It seriously concerns those who are entrusted with the execution of the laws to reflect, that “the judgment is God’s,” and that he allows them not to fear the face of man, nor to indulge that tender mercy towards the enemies of government, which would prove cruelty to their most virtuous and peaceable subjects.

Edition: 1983; Page: [25] 6. The present appearance of a seditious and rebellious spirit in this happy country is extremely alarming. This spirit has often appeared in the world; and produced the most fatal effects. When the spies returned from searching the land of promise, a spirit of rebellion broke out in the camp of Israel. And though Moses and Aaron, on the occasion, fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel; and Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, employed the whole force of their eloquence, to persuade the deluded and infatuated rebels, to go forward and take possession of the land of Canaan, yet they absolutely refused to obey the authority of their wise and faithful rulers. This was highly displeasing to God, who doomed them t