September 21, 1787
My general sketch of additional federal powers has come very near to the plan of the Honorable Convention now published, and I am glad to have in one or two particulars rather gone beyond than below the mark. Unasked, unadvised, and unbiassed I have only sought truth on this important subject; and beg leave to observe that she is the same in American and European minds, invariable from the North to the South Pole; that this blessing, like the Great Giver of it, is found by all that earnestly seek it.
It is evident, that all the necessary powers of this federal government are fully consistent with every species of right and liberty of the people. First, This constitution has very dew offices in the revenue, foreign, and civil departments, that will be objects for men of easy fortunes either in profit or dignity. While land is so plenty, and consequently every kind of industry profitable, the lower offices will not be much affected by the middle classes as means of subsistence, nor as distinctions while a republican spirit is kept alive. This influence then is trifling to that in the best limited monarchies, where so great a part of the gentry and nobility depend more or less on the crown for support, honor, power; and the difficulty of subsistence with prejudices of ambition render the petty offices valuable to great numbers. As a further security, the 6th section of the 1st article, enacts, that no senator or representative shall, during the time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil office under the authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the emolument whereof shall have been encreased during such time; and no person holding any office under the United States, shall be a member of either house during his continuance in office.
Secondly. The conduct of members in both houses will be publicly known, because by 5th section of 1st article, “each house shall keep a journal of its proceedings, and from time to time publish the same—and the yeas and nays of the members of either house on any question shall, at the desire of one-fifth of those present, be entered on the journal.” Any unpatriotic member may therefore be excluded at the new election. The representatives are chosen every second year, and the senators for six years; but with the proviso, that one third of them goes out at the end of two years, and another after four, so that only two thirds of them coexist for four and one third for six years. Art. I Sect. 3. This excellent regulation sufficiently prevents all combination; men that come together with different habits, principles and interests, could not in a short time form a dangerous collusion. What scheme of iniquity could ripen in two years? or by what supernatural means could the whole body of representatives, and the new third part of the senate, be corrupted? A quicker rotation would be prejudicial, because men of the best theoretic knowledge want practice; and among the great numbers who in their turn become members of Congress, many, however sensible in the common affairs of life, must be indifferent politicians, even when the public education is brought to great perfection. No solid system can be concerted in a continual change of legislators; neither plans or modes of execution can be fixed. Besides a member who but comes and goes, is less responsible for bad public measures, and consequently less animated by a sense of duty and honor. It is therefore necessary, that no part of the legislature should be changed too often, and that one part should remain for a longer time, in order to form and preserve the stamina of administration. A person who wants only a common dwelling house, does not change the master workmen every week. The high office of president is held only during the term of four years. His electors must not be representatives, senators, or persons holding an office of trust or profit under the United States. The person having the greatest number of votes, becomes president, if such a number is a majority of the whole number of electors; if more than one have such majority, and an equal number of votes; the house of representatives immediately chooses by ballot one of them; if no person has a majority, then from the five highest on the list, the said house chooses in like manner the president. Art. 2. Sect. I. This prudently guards against any aristocratic collusion between the executive power and the senate, as some members of this body may otherways take an undue advantage from their superiority of talents and fortunes, and from a longer continuance in power. Thirdly, though it is nearly impossible, that under these circumstances a majority of the congress with the president should conspire to subvert the constitution; yet supposing the worst—their design must be watched and opposed by the minority, who would give the nation an early alarm—they have not money to carry it on, because by the 9th sect. 1st art. “no money shall be drawn from the treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law; and a regular statement and account of the receipts and expenditures of all public money shall be published from time to time.” They could not raise an army without a pretence of war, nor impose on the nation by a false alarm; and though they have a right “to call forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, and to suppress insurrections,” sect. 8. art. I; it is evident, that a people of tolerable virtue would never become tools for enslaving themselves: would any man be ordered to kill himself by his own sword? who but an idiot or a most dastardly wretch would not plunge it in the heart of the tyrant. For the raising and supporting armies no appropriation of money is allowed for more than two years by the 8th sect. 1st art. This term must be prolonged when necessary; but while an enemy is in the country, the army cannot be employed against its liberties; and after the war it is disbanded, or must be for the want of pay. The happy situation of America will generally guard her against long and severe wars—but should any such happen; even the power of a veteran army could not subdue a patriotic militia ten times its number, and rendered perfectly military in the course of such war. Besides, regular troops, who are natives of a country, allied by friendship and blood to the other citizens, bred in the principles of republican liberty, and who have for years defended this country with their blood against a powerful invader, cannot be so generally corrupted, as to turn their arms against those with whom they have so long shared danger and glory; to enslave and murder their friends, and relations, brothers, sons and fathers—in all probability a great part of this army would take part with the nation.
The constitution incorporates all the states as members of one body with a federal and generous spirit. Representatives and direct taxes are apportioned among them, according to their respective numbers, with proper allowance for the inferior value of persons not free. Art. I. sect. 2. By this the people are wisely regarded more than property; because a multitude of virtuous, brave, industrious people is the real strength, glory, wealth, and prosperity of a country; especially in America, where no necessity renders great numbers indigent, consequently dependent, poor in spirit, and in many respects less valuable as men and citizens. By the 3d sect. 1st art. A generous indulgence is shown to the smaller states, who delegate two senators equally with the greater. In cases when the house of representatives chooses the president, the votes are also taken by states. Art. 2. sect. I. All duties, imposts, and excises are uniform through the United States; likewise the rule of naturalization, and the laws on bankruptcies. No preference is given by any regulation of commerce or revenue to the ports of one state over those of another. Art. I. sect. 9. The citizens of each state shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states. Art. 4. sect. 2. &c. It would be very unjust and impolitic to grant all the states an equal right in the house of representatives. Voting by states, though according to the established proportion, would only keep up a local antifederal spirit; it is therefore laid aside, even in the senate, notwithstanding the indulgence mentioned—The United States in Congress assembled, should consider themselves as provinces of one empire: every member of either house is a federal citizen, sent there to think and act for the prosperity and glory of the UNION, and should never desire any thing for his own state, but an equitable share in the general happiness, which must be the result of united wisdom and federal virtue.
Earn graduate credits toward a Master’s
degree for each Live Online Graduate
Course in American History &
Government from Ashbrook Center at
Ashland University. Learn More