January 03, 1788
The New York Antifederalist Cato warns his readers that the proposed Constitution does not provide an adequate check and balance system between the Senate and the President. Accordingly, and contrary to the advice of Montesquieu, the American people are being asked to place an unreasonable trust in the virtue of their rulers.
To the Citizens of the State of New York,
That the senate and president are further improperly connected, will appear, if it is considered, that their dependence on each other will prevent either from being a check upon the other; they must act in concert, and whether the power and influence of the one or the other is to prevail, will depend on the character and abilities of the men who hold those offices at the time. The senate is vested with such a proportion of the executive, that it would be found necessary that they should be constantly sitting. This circumstance did not escape the convention, and they have provided for the event, in the 2d article, which declares, that the executive may, on extraordinary occasions, convene both houses or either of them. No occasion can exist for calling the assembly without the senate; the words or either of them, must have been intended to apply only to the senate. Their wages are already provided for; and it will be therefore readily observed, that the partition between a perpetuation of their sessions and a perpetuation of their offices, in the progress of the government, will be found to be but thin and feeble. Besides, the senate, who have the sole power to try all impeachments, in case of the impeachment of the president, are to determine, as judges, the propriety of the advice they gave him, as senators. Can the senate in this, therefore, be an impartial judicature? And will they not rather serve as a screen to great public defaulters?
Among the many evils that are incorporated in this new system of government, is that of congress having the power of making or altering the regulations prescribed by the different legislatures, respecting the time, place, and manner of holding elections for representatives, and the time, and manner of choosing senators. If it is enquired, in what manner this regulation may be exercised to your injury the answer is easy.
By the first article the house of representatives shall consist of members, chosen every second year by the people of the several states, who are qualified to vote for members of their several state assemblies; it can therefore readily be believed, that the different state legislatures, provided such can exist after the adoption of this government, will continue those easy and convenient modes for the election of representatives for the national legislature, that are in use, for the election of members of assembly for their own states; but the congress have, by the constitution, a power to make other regulations, or alter those in practice, prescribed by your own state legislature; hence, instead of having the places of elections in the precincts, and brought home almost to your own doors, Congress may establish a place, or places, at either the extremes, center, or outer parts of the states; at a time and season too, when it may be very inconvenient to attend; and by these means destroy the rights of election; but in opposition to this reasoning, it is asserted, that it is a necessary power because the states might omit making rules for the purpose, and thereby defeat the existence of that branch of the government; this is what logicians call argumentum absurdum, for the different states, if they will have any security at all in this government, will find it in the house of representatives, and they, therefore, would not be very ready to eradicate a principle in which it dwells, or involve their country in an instantaneous revolution. Besides, if this was the apprehension of the framers, and the ground of that provision, why did not they extend this controlling power to the other duties of the several state legislatures. To exemplify this the states are to appoint senators and electors for choosing of a president; but the time is to be under the direction of congress. Now, suppose they were to omit the appointment of senators and electors, though congress was to appoint the time, which might well be apprehended as the omission of regulations for the election of members of the house of representatives, provided they had that power; or suppose they were not to meet at all: of course, the government cannot proceed in its exercise. And from this motive, or apprehension, congress ought to have taken these duties entirely in their own hands, and, by a decisive declaration, annihilated them, which they in fact have done by leaving them without the means of support, or at least resting on their bounty. To this, the advocates for this system oppose the common, empty declamation, that there is no danger that congress will abuse this power, but such language, as relative to so important a subject, is mere vapour, and sound without sense. Is it not in their power, however, to make such regulations as may be inconvenient to you? It must be admitted because the words are unlimited in their sense. It is a good rule, in the construction of a contract, to support, that what may be done will be; therefore, in considering this subject, you are to suppose, that in the exercise of this government, a regulation of congress will be made, for holding an election for the whole state at Poughkeepsie, at New York, or, perhaps, at Fort Stanwix: who will then be the actual electors for the house of representatives? Very few more than those who may live in the vicinity of these places. Could any others afford the expense and time of attending? And would not the government by this means have it in their power to put whom they pleased in the house of representatives? You ought certainly to have as much or more distrust with respect to the exercise of these powers by congress, than congress ought to have with respect to the exercise of those duties which ought to be entrusted to the several states, because over them congress can have a legislative controlling power.
Hitherto we have tied up our rulers in the exercise of their duties by positive restrictions if the cord has been drawn too tight, loosen it to the necessary extent, but do not entirely unbind them. I am no enemy to placing a reasonable confidence in them but such an unbounded one as the advocates and framers of this new system advise you to, would be dangerous to your liberties; it has been the ruin of other governments, and will be yours, if you adopt with all its latitudinal powers unlimited confidence in governors as well as individuals is frequently the parent of deception. What facilitated the corrupt designs of Philip of Macedon, and caused the ruin of Athens, but the unbounded confidence in their statesmen and rulers? Such improper confidence Demosthenes was so well convinced had ruined his country, that in his second Philippic oration he remarks “that there is one common bulwark with which men of prudence are naturally provided, the guard and security of all people, particularly of free states, against the assaults of tyrants What is this? Distrust. Of this be mindful; to this adhere; preserve this carefully, and no calamity can affect you.”Montesquieu observes, that “the course of government is attended with an insensible descent to evil, and there is no reascending to good without very great efforts.” The plain inference from this doctrine is, that rulers in all governments will erect an interest separate from the ruled, which will have a tendency to enslave them. There is therefore no other way of interrupting this insensible descent and warding off the evil as long as possible, than by establishing principles of distrust in your constituents, and cultivating the sentiment among yourselves. But let me enquire of you, my countrymen, whether the freedom and independence of elections is a point of magnitude? If it is, what kind of a spirit of amity, deference and concession, is that which has put in the power of congress at one stroke to prevent your interference in government, and do away your liberties forever? Does either the situation or circumstances of things warrant it?