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John DeWitt III

5 November 1787

by John DeWitt

To the Free Citizens of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Civil liberty, in all countries, hath promoted by a free discussion of publick measures, and the conduct of publick men. The FREEDOM OF THE PRESS hash, in consequence thereof, been esteemed one of its safe guards. That freedom gives the right, at all times, to every citizen to lay his sentiments, in a decent manner, before the people. If he will take that trouble upon himself, whether they are in point or not, his countrymen are obliged to him for so doing; for, at least, they lead to an examination of the subject upon which he writes.—If any possible situation makes it a duty, it is our present important one, for in the course of sixty or ninety days you are to approve of or reject the present proceedings of your Convention, which, if established, will certainly effect, in a greater or less degree, during the remainder of your lives, those privileges which you esteem dear to you, and not improbably those of your children for succeeding ages. Now therefore is unquestionably the proper time to examine it, and see if it really is what, upon paper, it appears to be. If with yours eyes open, you deliberately accept it, however different it may prove in practice from what it appears in theory, you will have nobody to blame but yourselves; and what is infinitely worse, as I have before endeavoured to observe to you, you will be wholly without a remedy. It has many zealous advocates, and they have attempted, at least as far as their modesty would permit, to monopolize our gazettes, with their encomiums upon it. With the people they have to manage, I would hint to them, their zeal is not their best weapon, and exertions of such a kind, artful attempts to seize the moment, do seldom tend either to elucidate and explain principles, or ensure success. Such conduct ought to be an additional stimulus for those persons who are not its professed admirers, to speak their sentiments with freedom however unpopular.—Such conduct ought to inspire caution, for as a man is invariably known by his company, so is the tendency of principles known by their advocates—Nay, it ought to lead you to esquire who are its advocates? Whether ambitious men throughout America, waiting with impatience to make it a stepping stone to posts of honour and emolument, are not of this class? Whether men who openly profess to be tired of republican governments, and sick to the heart of republican measures; who daily ridicule a government of choice, and pray ardently for one of force, are not of the same class? And, whether there are not men among us, who disapprove of it only because it is not an absolute monarchy, but who, upon the whole, are among its advocates?—In such examinations as these, you cannot mispend a proportion of the sixty days.

All contracts are to be construed according to the meaning of the parties at the time of making them. By which is meant, that mutual communications shall take place, and each shall explain to the other their ideas of the contract before them.—If any unfair practices are made use of, if its real tendency is concealed by either party, or any advantage taken in the execution of it, it is in itself fraudulent and may be avoided. There is no difference in the constitution of government—Consent it is allowed is the spring—The form is the mode in which the people choose to direct their affairs, and the magistrates are but trustees to put that mode in force.—It will not be denied, that this people, of any under Heaven, have a right of living under a government of their own choosing.—That government, originally consented to, which is in practice, what it purports to be in theory, is a government of choice; on the contrary, that which is essentially different in practice, from its appearance in theory, however it may be in letter a government of choice, it never can be so in spirit. Of this latter kind appear to me to be the proceedings of the Federal Convention—They are presented as a Frame of Government purely Republican, and perfectly consistent with the individual governments in the Union. It is declared to be constructed for national purposes only, and not calculated to interfere with domestic concerns. You are told, that the rights of the people are very amply secured, and when the wheels of it are put in motion, it will wear a milder aspect than its present one. Whereas the very contrary of all this doctrine appears to be true. Upon an attentive examination you can pronounce it nothing less, than a government which in a few years, will degenerate to a complete Aristocracy, armed with powers unnecessary in any case to bestow, and which in its vortex swallows up every other Government upon the Continent. In short, my fellow-citizens, it can be said to be nothing less than a hasty stride to Universal Empire in this Western World, flattering, very flattering to young ambitious minds, but fatal to the liberties of the people. The cord is strained to the very utmost.—There is every spice of the SIC. JUBEO possible in the composition. Your consent is requested, because it is essential to the introduction of it, after having received confirmation, your complaints may increase the whistling of the wind, and they will be equally regarded.

It cannot be doubted at this day by any men of common sense, that there is a charm in politicks. That persons who enter reluctantly into office become habitated, grow fond of it, and are loath to resign it.—They feel themselves flattered and elevated, and are apt to forget their constituents, until the time returns that they again feel the want of them.—They uniformly exercise all the powers granted to them, and ninety-nine in a hundred are for grasping at more. It is this passionate thirst for power, which has produced different branches to exercise different departments and mutual checks upon those branches. The aristocratical hath ever been found to have the most influence, and the people in most countries have been particularly attentive in providing checks against it. Let us see if it is the case here.—A President, a Senate, and a House of Representatives are proposed. The Judicial Department is at present out of the question, being separated excepting in impeachments. The Legislative is divided between the People who are the Democratical, and the Senate who are the Aristocratical part, and the Executive between the same Senate and the President who represents the Monarchial Branch.—In the construction of this System, their interests are put in opposite scales. If they are exactly balanced, the Government will remain perfect; if there is a prepondency, it will firmly prevail. After the first four years, each Senator will hold his seat for the term of six years. This length of time will be amply sufficient of itself to remove any checks that he may have upon his independency, from the fear of a future election. He will consider that it is a serious portion of his life after the age of thirty; that places of honour and trust are not generally obtained unsolicited. The same means that placed him there may be again made use of, his influence and his abilities arising from his opportunities, will during the whole term increase those means, he will have a complete negative upon all laws that shall be general, or that shall favor individuals, and a voice in the appointment of all officers in the United States.—Thus habituated to power, and living in the daily practice of granting favors and receiving solicitations, he may hold himself completely independent of the people, and at the same time ensure his election. If there remains even a risque, the blessed assistance of a little well-distributed money, will remove it.

With respect to the Executive, the Senate excepting in nomination, have a negative upon the President, and if we but a moment attended to their situation and to his, and to the power of persuasion over the human mind, especially when employed in behalf of friends and favorites, we cannot hesitate to say, that he will be infinitely less apt to disoblige them, than they to refuse him. It is far easier for twenty to gain over one, than one twenty; besides, in the one case, we can ascertain where the denial comes from, and the other we cannot. It is also highly improbable but some of the members, perhaps a major part, will hold their seats during their lives. We see it daily in our own Government, and we see it in every Government we are acquainted with, however many the cautions, and however frequent the elections.

These considerations, added to their share above mentioned in the Executive department must give them a decided superiority over House of Representatives.—But that superiority is greatly enhanced, when we consider the difference of time for which they are chosen. They will have become adepts in the mystery of administration, while the House of Representatives may be composed perhaps two thirds of members, just entering into office little used to the course of business, and totally unacquainted with the means made use of to accomplish it.—Very possible also in a country where they are total strangers.—But, my fellow-citizens, the important question here arises, who are this House of Representatives? "A representative Assembly, says the celebrated Mr. Adams, is the sense of the people, and the perfection of the portrait, consists in the likeness."— Can this Assembly be said to contain the sense of the people?—Do they resemble the people in any one single feature?—Do you represent your wants, your grievances, your wishes, in person? If that is impracticable, have you a right to send one of your townsmen for that purpose?—Have you a right to send one from your county? Have you a right to send more than one for every thirty thousand of you? Can he be presumed knowing to your different, peculiar situations— your abilities to pay public taxes, when they ought to be abated, and when increased? Or is there any possibility of giving him information? All these questions must be answered in the negative. But how are these men to be chosen? Is there any other way than by dividing the Senate into districts? May not you as well at once invest your annual Assemblies with the power of choosing them—where is the essential difference? The nature of the thing will admit of none. Nay, you give them the power to prescribe the mode. They may invest it in themselves.—If you choose them yourselves, you must take them upon credit, and elect those persons you know only by common fame. Even this privilege is denied you annually, through fear that you might withhold the shadow of control over them. In this view of the System, let me sincerely ask you, where is the people in this House of Representatives?—Where is the boasted popular part of this much admired System?—Are they not cousins—german in every sense to the Senate? May they not with propriety be termed an Assistant Aristocratical Branch, who will be infinitely more inclined to co-operate and compromise with each other, than to be the careful guardians of the rights of their constituents? Who is there among you would not start at being told, that instead of your present House of Representatives, consisting of members chosen from every town, your future Houses were to consist of but ten in number, and these to be chosen by districts?—What man among you would betray his country and approve of it? And yet how infinitely preferable to the plan proposed?—In the one case the elections would be annual, the persons elected would reside in the center of you, their interests would be yours, they would be subject to your immediate control, and nobody to consult in their deliberations _ But in the other, they are chosen for double the time, during which, however well disposed, they become strangers to the very people choosing them, they reside at a distance from you, you have no control over them, you cannot observe their conduct, and they have to consult and finally be guided by twelve other States, whose interests are, in all material points, directly opposed to yours. Let me again ask you, What citizen is there in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, that would deliberately consent laying aside the mode proposed, that the several Senates of the several States, should be the popular Branch, and together, form one National House of Representatives?—And yet one moment's attention will evince to you, that this blessed proposed Representation of the People, this apparent faithful Mirror, this striking Likeness, is to be still further refined, and more Aristocratical four times told.— Where now is the exact balance which has been so diligently attended to? Where lies the security of the people? What assurances have they that either their taxes will not be exacted but in the greatest emergencies, and then sparingly, or that standing armies will be raised and supported for the very plausible purpose only of cantoning them upon their frontiers? There is but one answer to these questions.—They have none. Nor was it intended by the makers they should have for meaning to make a different use of the latter, they never will be at a loss for ways and means to expend the former. They do not design to beg a second time. Knowing the danger of frequent applications to the people, they ask for the whole at once, and are now by their conduct, tearing and absolutely haunting of you into a compliance. —If you choose all these things should take place, by all means gratify them. Go, and establish this Government which is unanimously confessed imperfect, yet incapable of alteration. Intrust it to men, subject to the same unbounded passions and infirmities as yourselves, possessed with an insatiable thirst for power, and many of them, carrying in them vices, tho' tinsel'd and concealed, yet, in themselves, not less dangerous than those more naked and exposed. But in the mean time, add an additional weight to the stone that now covers the remains of the Great WARREN and MONTGOMERY; prepare an apology for the blood and treasure, profusely spent to obtain those rights which you now so timely part with. Conceal yourselves from the ridicule of your enemies, and bring your New England spirits to a level with the contempt of mankind. Henceforth you may sit yourselves down with propriety, and say, Blessed are they that never expect, for they shall not be disappointed.

John DeWitt.


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