An American Citizen: An Examination of the Constitution of the United States I

Tench Coxe

Philadelphia

Independent Gazetteer

September 26, 1788

It is impossible for an honest and feeling mind, of any nation or country whatever, to be insensible to the present circumstances of America. Were I an East Indian, or a Turk, I should consider this singular situation of a part of my fellow creatures, as most curious and interesting. Intimately connected with the country, as a citizen of the Union, I confess it entirely engrosses my mind and feelings.

To take a proper view of the ground on which we stand, it may be necessary to recollect the manner in which the United States were originally settled and established. Want of charity in the religious systems of Europe and of justice in their political governments were the principal moving causes which drove the emigrants of various countries to the American continent. The Congregationalists, Quakers, Presbyterians and other British dissenters, the Catholics of England and Ireland, and the Huguenots of France, the German Lutherans, Calvinists, and Moravians, with several other societies, established themselves in the different colonies, thereby laying the ground of that catholicism in ecclesiastical affairs, which has been observable since the late Revolution. Religious liberty naturally promotes corresponding dispositions in matters of government. The constitution of England, as it stood on paper, was one of the freest at that time existing in the world, and the American colonies considered themselves as entitled to the fullest enjoyment of it. Thus when the ill-judged discussions of latter times in England brought into question the rights of this country, as it stood connected with the British Crown, we were found more strongly impressed with their importance and accurately acquainted with their extent, than the wisest and most learned of our brethren beyond the Atlantic. When the greatest names in Parliament insisted on the power of that body over the commerce of the colonies, and even the right to bind us in all cases whatsoever, America, seeing that it was only another form of tyranny, insisted upon the immutable truth, that taxation and representation are inseparable, and while a desire of harmony and other considerations induced her into an acquiescence in the commercial regulations of Great Britain, it was done from the declared necessity of the case, and with a cautious, full and absolute saving of our voluntary suspended rights. The Parliament was persevering, and America continued firm till hostilities and open war commenced, and finally the late Revolution closed the contest forever.

Tis evident from this short detail and the reflections which arise from it, that the quarrel between the United States and the Parliament of Great Britain did not arise so much from objections to the form of government, though undoubtedly a better one by far is now within our reach, as from a difference concerning certain important rights resulting from the essential principles of liberty, which the constitution preserved to all the subjects actually residing within the realm. It was not asserted by America that the people of the island of Great Britain were slaves, but that we, though possessed absolutely of the same rights, were not admitted to enjoy an equal degree of freedom.

When the Declaration of Independence completed the separation between the two countries, new governments were necessarily established. Many circumstances led to the adoption of the republican form, among which was the predilection of the people. In devising the frames of government it may have been difficult to avoid extremes opposite to the vices of that we had just rejected; nevertheless many of the state constitutions we have chosen are truly excellent. Our misfortunes have been, that in the first instance we adopted no national government at all, but were kept together by common danger only, and that in the confusions of a civil war we framed a federal constitution now universally admitted to be inadequate to the preservation of liberty, property, and the Union. The question is not then how far our state constitutions are good or otherwise–the object of our wishes is to amend and supply the evident and allowed errors and defects of the federal government. Let us consider awhile, that which is now proposed to us. Let us compare it with the so much boasted British form of government, and see how much more it favors the people and how completely it secures their rights, remembering at the same time that we did not dissolve our connection with that country so much on account of its constitution as the perversion and maladministration of it.

In the first place let us look at the nature and powers of the head of that country, and those of the ostensible head of our own.

The British king is the great bishop or supreme head of an established church, with an immense patronage annexed. In this capacity he commands a number of votes in the House of Lords, by creating bishops, who, besides their great incomes, have voted in that assembly, and are judges in the last resort. They have also many honorable and lucrative places to bestow, and thus from their wealth, learning, dignities, powers and patronage giver a great luster and an enormous influence to the Crown.

In America our President will not only be without these influencing advantages, but they will be in the possession of the people at large, to strengthen their hands in the event of a contest with him. All religious funds, honors and powers are in the gift of numberless, unconnected, disunited, and contending corporations, wherein the principle of perfect equality universally prevails. In short, danger from ecclesiastical tyranny, that longstanding and still remaining curse of the people–that sacrilegious engine of royal power in some countries, can be feared by no man in the United States. In Britain their king is for life. In America our President will always be one of the people at the end of four years. In that country the king is hereditary and may be an idiot, a knave, or a tyrant by nature, or ignorant from neglect of his education, yet cannot be removed, for “he can do no wrong.” In America, as the President is to be one of the people at the end of his short term, so will he and his fellow citizens remember, that he was originally one of the people; and that he is created by their breath. Further, he cannot be an idiot, probably not a knave or a tyrant, for those whom nature makes so, discover it before the age of thirty-five, until which period he cannot be elected. It appears we have not admitted that he can do no wrong, but have rather presupposed he may and will sometimes do wrong, by providing for his impeachment, his trial, and his peaceable and complete removal.

In England the king has a power to create members of the upper house, who are judges in the highest court, as well as legislators. Our President not only cannot make members of the upper house, but their creation, like his own, is by the people through their representatives, and a member of assembly may and will be as certainly dismissed at the end of his year for electing a weak or wicked Senator, as for any other blunder or misconduct.

The king of England has legislative power, while our President can only use it when the other servants of the people are divided. But in all great cases affecting the national interests or safety, his modified and restrained power must give way to the sense of two-thirds of the legislature. In fact it amounts to no more, than a serious duty imposed upon him to request both houses to reconsider any matter on which he entertains doubts or feels apprehensions; and here the people have a strong hold upon him from his sole and personal responsibility.

The president of the upper house (or the chancellor) in England is appointed by the king, while our Vice President, who is chosen by the people through the Electors and the Senate, is not at all dependent on the President, but may exercise equal powers on some occasions. In all royal governments an helpless infant or an inexperienced youth may wear the crown. Our President must be matured by the experience of years, and being born among us, his character at thirty-five must be fully understood. Wisdom, virtue, and active qualities of mind and body can alone make him the first servant of a free and enlightened people.

Our President will fall very far short indeed of any prince in his annual income, which will not be hereditary, but the absolute allowance of the people passing through the hands of their other servants from year to year as it becomes necessary. There will be no burdens on the nation to provide for his heir or other branches of his family. Tis probably, from the state of property in America and other circumstances, that many citizens will exceed him in show and expense, those dazzling trappings of kingly rank and power. He will have no authority to make a treaty without two-thirds of the Senate, nor can he appoint ambassadors or other great officers without their approbation, which will remove the idea of patronage and influence, and of personal obligation and dependence. The appointment of even the inferior officers may be taken out of his hands by an act of Congress at any time; he can create no nobility or titles of honor, nor take away offices during good behavior. His person is not so much protected as that of a member of the House of Representatives; for he may be proceeded against like any other man in the ordinary course of law. He appoints no officer of the separate states. He will have no influence from placemen in the legislature, nor can he prorogue or dissolve it. He will have no power over the treasures of the state; and lastly, as he is created through the Electors by the people at large, he must ever look up to the support of his creators. From such a servant with powers so limited and transitory, there can be no danger, especially when we consider the solid foundations on which our national liberties are immovably fixed by the other provisions of this excellent Constitution. Whatever of dignity or authority he possesses is a delegated part of their majesty and their political omnipotence, transiently vested in him by the people themselves for their own happiness.

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