James Winthrop: Agrippa XII
To the Massachusetts Convention.
Suffer an individual to lay before you his contemplations on the great subject that now engages your attention. To you it belongs, and may Heaven direct your judgment, to decide on the happiness of all future generations as well as the present.
It is universally agreed, that the object of every just government is to render the people happy, by securing their persons and possessions from wrong. To this end it is necessary that there should be local laws and institutions; for a people inhabiting various climates will unavoidably have local habits and different modes of life, and these must be consulted in making the laws. It is much easier to adapt the laws to the manners of the people, than to make manners conform to laws. The idle and dissolute inhabitants of the south, require a different regimen from the sober and active people of the north. Hence, among other reasons, is derived the necessity of local governments, who may enact, repeal, or alter regulations as the circumstances of each part of the empire may require. This would be the case, even if a very great state was to be settled at once. But it becomes still more needful, when the local manners are formed, and usages sanctified by the practice of a century and an half. In such a case, to attempt to reduce all to one standard, is absurd in itself, and cannot be done but upon the principle of power, which debases the people, and renders them unhappy, till all dignity of character is put away. Many circumstances render us an essentially different people from the inhabitants of the southern states. The unequal distribution of property, [he toleration of slavery, the ignorance and poverty of the lower classes, the softness of the climate, and dissoluteness of manners, mark their character. Among us. the care that is taken of education, small and nearly equal estates, equality of rights, and the severity of the climate, renders the people active, industrious and sober. Attention to religion and good morals is a distinguishing trait in our character. It is plain, therefore, that we require for our regulation laws, which will not suit the circumstances of our southern brethren, and the laws made for them would not apply to us. Unhappiness would be the uniform product of such laws; for no state can be happy, when the laws contradict the general habits of the people, nor can any state retain its freedom, while there is a power to make and enforce such laws. We may go further, and say. that it is impossible for any single legislature so fully to comprehend the circumstances of the different parts of a very extensive dominion, as to make laws adapted to those circumstances. Hence arises in most nations of extensive territory, the necessity of armies, to cure the defect of the laws. It is actually under the pressure of such an absurd government, that the Spanish provinces have groaned for near three centuries; and such will be our misfortune and degradation, if we ever submit to have all the business of the empire done by one legislature. The contrary principle of local legislation by the representatives of the people, who alone are to be governed by the laws, has raised us to our present greatness; and an attempt on the part of Great-Britain, to invade this right, brought on the revolution, which gave us a separate rank among the nations. We even declared, that we would not be represented in the national legislature, because one assembly was not adequate to the purposes of internal legislation and taxation.
(Remainder next Tuesday.)