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Maryland Farmer V

25 March 1788

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I have been long since firmly persuaded, that there are no hidden sources of moral agency beyond the reach of investigation.—The all-wise and all-bountiful Author of Nature, could never have created human reason unequal to the happy regulation of human conduct.—The errors and misfortunes of mankind spring from obvious sources. Religious and political prejudices, formed by education, strengthened by habit, maintained by interest, and consecrated by fear, are forever arming the passions against the judgment. —The celebrated Blaise Pascal (the powers of whose understanding were rather miraculous than surprizing) closed his painful researches after religious truth, with this dogma, as pernicious as untrue,—"That a religion purely spiritual, was never intended for mankind." There could be no judgment more unbiassed, for there was no mind so strong, no heart more pure; but bred in the bosom of the church, even her idolatry impressed him with veneration and awe. Notwithstanding his conclusion, the doctrines of Calvin maintain their ground in their primitive simplicity, divested of the aid of ceremony and form. The thunders of the Vatican, which for ages deluged Europe with blood, have dissipated their force, and reason has resumed her spiritual empire. Would to God, that the history of temporal despotism had terminated as favourably for the happiness of mankind!—In the political world, the chains of civil power, upheld by the numerous links of private interest, have proved more equal and permanent in their effects; they have, and I fear forever must, shackle the human understanding; and it is much to be questioned whether the full and free political opinion of any one great luminary of science, has been fairly disclosed to the world—Even when the great and amiable Montesquieu had hazarded a panegyric on the English constitution, he shrinks back with terror into this degrading apostrophe— "Think not that I mean to undervalue other governments—I who think an excess of liberty[,] an excess of all things, even of reason itself, a misfortune, and that the happiness of mankind is only to be found in a medium between two extremes."—The author of the Persian letters, at that moment recollected the afflicting presure he had felt from the hand of Gallic government, and his pen trembled as he wrote.

Is it then possible that governments of simplicity and equal right, can have been fairly dealt by in theory or practice? The votaries of tyranny and usurpation, stand not alone—in bitter opposition; every man of enterprize, of superior talents and fortune, is interested to debase them; their banners have ever been deserted because they never can pay their troops. —The most amiable and sensible of mankind seem to have made a stand in favour of a mixed government founded on the permanent orders and objects of men.—Thither I suspect the American government is. now tending. If it must be so—Let it go gently then—with slow and equal steps. —Let each gradation and experiment have a full and fair trial—Let there be no effect without a good, apparent and well considered cause— Let us live all the days of our lives, and as happily as circumstances will permit.—Finally, let moderation be our guide and the influence of manners will conduct us (I hope without injury) to some permanent, fixed establishment, where we may repose a while, unagitated by alteration or revolution—For in sudden and violent changes, how many of the most worthy of our fellow-citizens must get their bones crushed?

I cannot think that any able and virtuous citizen, would in his cool and dispationate moments, wish to blend or risque the fundamental rights of men, with any organization of society that the Americans can or will make for fifty years to come.—Let us keep these rights of individuals— these unalienable blessings[—]reserved and separated from every constitution and form—If they are unmingled, the attentive eyes of every citizen wilt be kept fixed upon them. We shall watch them as a sacred deposit, and we may carry them uninjured and unimpaired through every vicissitude and change, from the government we have left, into some other that may be established on the fixed and solid principles of reason.—Nor can there be, I imagine, any prudent man, who would trust the whimsical inventions of the day, with that dangerous weapon a standing army, in our present unsettled circumstances—striving to substantiate inefficient and unnatural forms—it would wield us into despotism in a moment, and we have surely had throat-cutting enough in our day.

Throughout the world government by representation, seems only to have been established to disgrace itself and be abolished—its very principle is change, and it sets all system at defiance—it perishes by speedy corruption.—The few representatives can always corrupt themselves by legislative speculations, from the pockets of their numerous constituents —quick rotation, like a succession of terms tenants on a farm, only encreases the evil by rendering them more rapacious. If the executive is changeable, he can never oppose large decided majorities of influential individuals—or enforce on those powerful men, who may render his next election [   ] the rigor of equal law, which is the grand and only object of human society.—If the executive is to be rendered ineligible for a certain period, he will either not do his duty, or he will retire into the unprotected situation of a private individual, with all the sworn animosities of a powerful majority—aristocracy—junto —the cry of the populace, or perhaps the whole combined to pursue him to the grave, or a public execution. The considerate and good, who adorn private life, and such only can be safely trusted in high public station, will never commit themselves to a situation where a consciencious discharge of duty may embitter the evening of life, if not draw down ruin and infamy on themselves and families.—There never was but one man who stepped from the top to the bottom, without breaking his neck, and that was Sylla; and although it is true that whilst he was up, he broke the hearts of the Romans, yet his dying undisturbed in private life, is one of those miracles that must remain forever unexplained. If the aristocracy, or representation of wealth, (the principle of wh[i]ch order is to keep all things as they are, for by confusion they may lose more than they can gain) is also changeable, there then is nothing fixed and permanent in government.—Legislative tyranny commences, and exhibits a perpetual scene of plunder and confusion, fearlessly practised under the sanction of authority and law. It is true that the influence of manners may and will resist for a time; yet that must give way to a general and prevalent corruption—Those who are respectable at home and have permanent [   ] in life, and such only can give stability to government, will not suffer themselves to be mounted up on the wheel of fortune, to be let down again as it turns, the mockery of children and fools.—Where representation has been admitted as a component part of government, it has always proved defective, if not destructive. What then must be the consequence where the whole government is founded on representation? Every American can now answer, it will be at best but—representation of government —with us the influence of manners has been great—it is indeed declining fast; but aided by the solidity of the judiciary establishments, and the wisest code of civil laws, that ever mankind were blessed with, it has hitherto supported the forms of society: But the people are now weary of their representatives and their governments.—We may trace the progress.— One candidate, to recommend his pretensions, discloses and descants on the errors of the preceding administration—The people believe him and are deceived—they change men; but measures are still the same, or injured by the sudden and violent alteration of system—At least the next candidate asserts it is so—is again believed, and his constituents again deceived; a general disgust and sullen silence ensue; elections are deserted; government is first despised, and then cordially hated.

There can be no fixed and permanent government that does not rest on the fixed and permanent orders and objects of mankind.—Government on paper may amuse, but we pay dear for the amusement, the only fixed and permanent order with us at present are the YEOMANRY, and they have no power whatever,—unless the right of changing masters at a certain period, and devolving on their changeable representatives their whole political existence—may be called power—The order of GENTRY, with us, is not a fixed and permanent order at all, and if they attempt to erect themselves into one at present, it is usurpation, and they will be pulled down; and yet, in my opinion, such an order is essential to a perfect government, founded on representation.—Every other mode of introducing wealth into power, has proved vicious and abominable.—With us delegates become by selection, themselves a species of subaltern aristocracy—they intrigue with the senates, who by a refined mode of election are a misbegotten, side blow, representation of wealth, and they both form an imperfect aristocracy, on the worst principles on which that order can be admitted into government—and the democratic influence which is thus amalgomated and not divided, but unformed becomes vicious from its impotence.

These defects spring from our attempting to erect republican fabrics on the ruined and imperfect pillars of an old corrupt monarchy—not less absurd, than to expect the limbs to perform the functions of life, after cutting off the head.—The opposition which brought Charles the first to the block, was composed of some of the ablest and most virtuous characters that ever adorned any age or clime—Hampden, Pym, Selden, Sir Harry Vane, Sydney, Marvell and many others.—They pursued their old model—attempted to form a government by representation which was at first steadied and restrained by the best senate in the world, (the English House of Lords)— the two houses soon disagreed, and there being no third power to interpose, the representatives, voted the House of Lords useless—new modelled the government into a single branch, and then began to plunder most unmercifully —At last Cromwell kicked them all out of doors, and after his tyrannical usurpation and death, the nation were very happy to take shelter again under the regal government, and even restored an unworthy family (which they had irritated beyond forgiveness) to the throne.

A Farmer.

(To be continued.)

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