Favorite Quotes

As history’s foremost psychologists of political power, the founding generation knew that power not tightly chained would always seek to expand. Modern politicians, without this understanding, tend to think that if they are right they should have the right. For the founding and next several generations, though, simply being right was not good enough. The founders knew that centralized authority will disempower the people. They knew that the central government is not always the appropriate institution for finding solutions even when the problems are legitimate. And they knew that, not being God, their confidence in their own rightness might be misplaced. So even when the founders believed themselves right, they would not use that belief to exceed the constitutional limits of power or to seek control over every level of government. All levels of human organization, they understood, must be free to work out for themselves the principles, not have them imposed from on high.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 1: Foundations (Kindle Locations 3360-3367). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

The Swiss learned from the resultant French occupation, their only occupation between 1291 and the present, that being free is better than being modern.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 1: Foundations (Kindle Locations 3383-3384). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

The Swiss have bucked history for the succeeding 200 years to become a beacon of peace, freedom, and prosperity. They resisted heroically, alone, and successfully the next attempt by a powerful neighbor to impose scientific modernism, large systems, and centralized government in the 1930s and 40s. The empowerment of the individual that comes with decentralized systems had given them the confidence to go their own way against the trends of the entire world and it gave them the spiritual (Swiss terminology) wherewithal to put up a military defense that cowed even the Nazi and Fascist behemoth that surrounded them.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 1: Foundations (Kindle Locations 3386-3390). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

The intuition of the Hamiltonians was that centralized authority wielded by an educated and superior elite was the way for America. The intuition of the Jeffersonians was that smaller units down to and especially the individual should be empowered. This is why Hamiltonians worked to destroy states’ rights in favor of a strong central government and why Jeffersonians and the writers of the Constitution worked to protect states rights and severely limit the powers of the national government.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 1: Foundations (Kindle Locations 3412-3416). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

Checks and balances were intended to be an intricate web with (in the words of constitutional historian William J. Watkins Jr.) both vertical and horizontal components. The three connected circles represent only the horizontal. The national and state governments were to provide vertical checks on each other. And the individual was to provide vertical checks on both levels through suffrage (the right to vote) and jury nullification.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 1: Foundations (Kindle Locations 3422-3425). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

Hamilton in Federalist 28 [said] it was an “axiom” of the American system of government “that the state governments will in all possible contingencies afford complete security against invasions of the public liberty by national authority,” and if threatened by the national government, states could “at once adopt a regular plan of opposition, in which they can combine all the resources of the community… and unite their common forces for the protection of their common liberty.” Hamilton again, in Federalist 33, states that acts of the national government “which are not pursuant to its constitutional powers… will (not) become the supreme law of the land. These will be merely acts of usurpation and will deserve to be treated as such.”

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 1: Foundations (Kindle Locations 3433-3439). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

Hamilton … argued for the Constitution as it was written and intended.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 1: Foundations (Kindle Locations 3441-3442). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

It would be ruled … by the first law of governmental institutions: no bureaucracy goes quietly and willingly out of existence; and by the second law of governmental institutions: all problems will be solved with infusions of money taken by coercion from the people.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 1: Foundations (Kindle Locations 3471-3473). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

[W]ith vertical checks cut and lower level power centers weakened, both sides are fighting for national solutions. National solutions mean total victory or defeat, something unacceptable to either side, so national solutions mean culture war – an unwinnable and therefore never-ending culture war.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 1: Foundations (Kindle Locations 3474-3476). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

Americans … are not made for authoritarian solutions. And yet the modern irrelevancy of vertical checks and balances leaves no choice. Both sides see no alternative but to rally their troops for an assault on the far away authoritarian center from which they can impose their values on all.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 1: Foundations (Kindle Locations 3481-3483). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

After brief consideration of which branch should have the power to make war, it was decided that, as with taxes, it should be Congress. As it is the people who pay the taxes, it is the people who fight the wars. Only chosen representatives of the people should be able to decide for taxes or wars. The convention also changed Madison’s original phrase “make war” to “declare war” so there would be no misunderstanding that the President could act to repel an invasion when Congress was not in session. But the ultimate decision for war must always be with Congress. Christopher and James Collier in their book Decision In Philadelphia write, “There was virtually no other important question on which the Convention was so solidly in agreement as that the power to declare war be exercised by the Congress, and not the President.” Contrast that intention with the modern reality. Instead of fulfilling its sacrosanct constitutional obligation to decide the question of war, Congress meekly confirms presidential will through war powers acts, an end run around the Constitution.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 1: Foundations (Kindle Locations 3647-3660). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

President Bush told Congress he was pleased to get congressional backing for his war on Iraq but that he did not actually need it. He had the power to make war on his own. President Obama only disagrees with Bush over the location of the principal war. Without consulting Congress, he decided that Afghanistan would be the new focus. Presidents can decide alone for foreign war and blithely switch wars whenever they feel like it. Both Congress and the people have quietly accepted this declaration of constitutional and congressional irrelevancy.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 1: Foundations (Kindle Locations 3660-3667). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

[P]ower solidified in the executive leads inexorably to war. Madison saw the connection in 1795. Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force of the people…. [There are also] opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and… Degeneracy of manners and of morals… No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare… The last 70 years have confirmed Madison’s fears. The age of executive power has been the age of continual warfare, of debts and taxes, and also the age of degeneracy of manners and morals.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 1: Foundations (Kindle Locations 3689-3702). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

[T]hree short words …  equally well explain the political philosophy of the Enlightenment: Non-aggression against non-aggressors. This means that no person, no institution, no government has the right to force anyone to do anything against his own will so long as that person is not forcing others against theirs.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 1: Foundations (Kindle Locations 3708-3711). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

As explained by the preeminent philosopher of the Law of Nations, Emmerich De Vattel (1714-1767) from his book of the same name, “We must therefore apply to nations the rules of natural law to discover what their obligations are, and what their rights; hence the Law of Nations is originally nothing but the Law of Nature applied to Nations.”

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 1: Foundations (Kindle Locations 3713-3717). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

Vattel explains … that non-aggression against non-aggressors applies to nations as well as individuals, no matter how bad some might think those nations are. He writes, “Nations being free and independent, though the conduct of one of them be illegal and condemnable by the laws of conscience, the others are bound to acquiesce in it, when it does not infringe upon their perfect rights. The liberty of that nation would not remain entire, if the others were to arrogate to themselves the right of inspecting and regulating her actions; an assumption on their part, that would be contrary to the law of nature, which declares every nation free and independent of all the others.” Grotius proposed that the grossest infringements by government of its own people’s rights might justify outside intervention, but Vattel explained the danger of this assumption in a section of Law Of Nations titled, But Not By Force. “But, though a nation be obliged to promote, as far as lies in its power, the perfection of others, it is not entitled forcibly to obtrude these good offices on them. Such an attempt would be a violation of their natural liberty. In order to compel any one to receive a kindness, we must have an authority over him; but nations are absolutely free and independent. Those ambitious Europeans who attacked the American nations, and subjected them to their greedy dominion, in order, as they pretended, to civilize them, and cause them to be instructed in the true religion, those usurpers, I say, grounded themselves on a pretext equally unjust and ridiculous. It is strange to hear the learned and judicious Grotius assert that a sovereign may justly take up arms to chastise nations which are guilty of enormous transgressions of the law of nature, which treat their parents with inhumanity like the Sogdians, which eat human flesh as the ancient Gauls. What led him into this error was his attributing to every independent man, and of course to every sovereign, an odd kind of right to punish faults which involve an enormous violation of the laws of nature, though they do not affect either his rights or his safety. But we have shown that men derive the right of punishment solely from their right to provide for their own safety; and consequently they cannot claim it except against those by whom they have been injured. Could it escape Grotius, that, notwithstanding all the precautions added by him in the following paragraphs, his opinion opens a door to all the ravages of enthusiasm and fanaticism, and furnishes ambition with numberless pretexts?” The laws of God and Nature require non-aggression against non-aggressors. Or, to put it another way, aggression only against aggressors, and only against aggressors within your jurisdiction. This applies not only to person on person or nation on person, but nation on nation.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 1: Foundations (Kindle Locations 3749-3777). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

Those who originally debated the Constitution often found freedom and democracy in conflict. Most preferred to resolve the conflict in favor of freedom. Freedom, not democracy, must be the goal. Democracy, and only in the service of strictly limited government, is the lesser god. It is a means, not an end.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 1: Foundations (Kindle Locations 3892-3894). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

[F]reedom must be the goal. A severely limited government administered by chosen representatives of the people must be no more than the means.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 1: Foundations (Kindle Locations 3898-3899). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

Modern Americans ignore the conflict between freedom and democracy and so resolve unthinkingly in the direction of democracy. History has proven the insight of the Founders. The modern ascendancy of democracy over freedom has been accompanied by a strengthening and enlargement of government, which is virtually the definition of reduction of freedom.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 1: Foundations (Kindle Locations 3908-3910). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

The legal profession has firmly grasped the ring of sophist power. With it, it can destroy all parchment barriers between the individual and the coercive force that is government. It can make anything mean anything and transfer the authority for making decisions about one’s own life from the people to themselves.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 1: Foundations (Kindle Locations 3956-3958). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

Jefferson then laid down the argument for a strict construction of the Constitution. Obviously the establishment of a national bank is not one of the powers of government enumerated by the Constitution. If there is justification, then, it can come only from two phrases: that Congress may “provide for the general welfare” and “make all laws necessary and proper for carrying into execution the enumerated powers.” Jefferson first examines the phrase “provide for the general welfare.” To consider [that the phrase gives Congress] a distinct and independent power to do any act they please, which might be for the good of the Union, would render all the preceding and subsequent enumerations of power completely useless. It would reduce the whole instrument to a single phrase, that of instituting a Congress with power to do whatever would be for the good of the U.S. and as they would be the sole judges of the good or evil, it would be also a power to do whatever evil they pleased.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 1: Foundations (Kindle Locations 4169-4180). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

[T]he constitution allows only the means which are ‘necessary’ not those which are merely ‘convenient’ for effecting the enumerated powers. If such a latitude of construction be allowed to this phrase as to give any non-enumerated power, it will go to every one, for there is no one which ingenuity may not torture into a convenience, in some way or other, to some one of so long a list of enumerated powers. It would swallow up all the delegated powers and reduce the whole to one phrase as before observed. Therefore it was that the constitution restrained them to the necessary means, that is to say, to those means without which the grant of the power would be nugatory…

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 1: Foundations (Kindle Locations 4192-4196). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

The end of the institution, maintenance, and administration of government is to secure the existence of the body politic; to protect it; and to furnish the individuals who compose it with the power of enjoying, in safety and tranquility, their natural rights and the blessings of life; and whenever these great objects are not obtained, the people have the right to alter the government, and to take measures necessary for their safety, happiness, and prosperity. The body-politic is formed by a voluntary association of individuals. It is a social compact, by which the whole people covenants with each citizen, and each citizen with the whole people, that all shall be governed by certain laws for the common good.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 1: Foundations (Kindle Locations 4720-4726). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

[G]overnment must be based on a voluntary covenant and that the people have the right to change their government when it does not secure their natural rights and blessings of life.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 1: Foundations (Kindle Locations 4729-4730). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

Who is to decide whether a law is constitutional? The Constitution itself is silent on this question. … The lesser known is the one followed by Vermont congressman Matthew Lyon: Jury Nullification. Jury Nullification is a principle often suppressed and denied by the legal profession but one with a long and splendid history. It says that We The People have the power to judge not only questions of guilt and innocence but the law itself. We The People, sitting as a jury, are competent to nullify laws we consider unjust or unconstitutional.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 1: Foundations (Kindle Locations 4985-4994). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

John Adams himself, arguing in court against the confiscation of John Hancock’s sloop the Liberty and against Parliament’s attempt to deprive Americans of trial by jury, said of the juror, …it is not only his right, but his duty… to find the verdict according to his own best understanding, judgment, and conscience, though in direct opposition to the direction of the court.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 1: Foundations (Kindle Locations 5007-5013). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

Jefferson, though, said, I consider trial by jury as the only anchor yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution. And, …if the question relate to any point of public liberty, or if it be one of those in which the judges may be suspected of bias, the jury undertake to decide both law and fact. First Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay agreed, stating plainly that the juror has, … a right… to determine the law as well as the fact in controversy.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 1: Foundations (Kindle Locations 5019-5032). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

Jefferson’s First Inaugural Address … gave a lesson in the origins of republican strength. In republics the people are the true government and true source of strength. … I believe [ours] the strongest Government on earth. I believe it the only one where every man, at the call of the law, would fly to the standard of the law, and would meet invasions of the public order as his own personal concern. … If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it. … he explained, human fallibility makes strong government dangerous. Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 1: Foundations (Kindle Locations  5466, 5474-5475, 5478-5480, 5484-5486, 5489-5493). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

Providence… proves that it delights in the happiness of man here and his greater happiness hereafter – with all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people? Still one thing more, fellow-citizens – a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 1: Foundations (Kindle Locations 5505-5512). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

Governmental prohibitions do always more mischief than had been calculated; and it is not without much hesitation that a statesman should hazard to regulate the concerns of individuals as if he could do it better than themselves.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 1: Foundations (Kindle Locations 6455-6457). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

On March 9, 1809, James Madison took the oath of office and delivered his first inaugural address. In what must be the longest sentence ever crafted by a United States President, James Madison added to Jefferson’s sum of good government the bulwarks of republics. Here, itemized and numbered, are the sixteen clauses of this single sentence. THE FIRMIST BULWARK OF REPUBLICS 1. To cherish peace and friendly intercourse with all nations having correspondent dispositions; 2. to maintain sincere neutrality toward belligerent nations; 3. to prefer in all cases amicable discussion and reasonable accommodation of differences to a decision of them by an appeal to arms; 4. to exclude foreign intrigues and foreign partialities, so degrading to all countries and so baneful to free ones; 5. to foster a spirit of independence too just to invade the rights of others, too proud to surrender our own, too liberal to indulge unworthy prejudices ourselves and too elevated not to look down upon them in others; 6. to hold the union of the States as the basis of their peace and happiness; 7. to support the Constitution, which is the cement of the union, as well in its limitations as in its authorities; 8. to respect the rights and authorities reserved to the States and to the people as equally incorporated with and essential to the success of the general system; 9. to avoid the slightest interference with the right of conscience or the functions of religion, so wisely exempted from civil jurisdiction; 10. to preserve in their full energy the other salutary provisions in behalf of private and personal rights, and of the freedom of the press; 11. to observe economy in public expenditures; 12. to liberate the public resources by an honorable discharge of the public debts; 13. to keep within the requisite limits a standing military force, always remembering that an armed and trained militia is the firmest bulwark of republics – that without standing armies their liberty can never be in danger, nor with large ones safe; 14. to promote by authorized means improvements friendly to agriculture, to manufactures, and to external as well as internal commerce; 15. to favor in like manner the advancement of science and the diffusion of information as the best aliment to true liberty; 16. to carry on the benevolent plans which have been so meritoriously applied to the conversion of our aboriginal neighbors from the degradation and wretchedness of savage life to a participation of the improvements of which the human mind and manners are susceptible in a civilized state – as far as sentiments and intentions such as these can aid the fulfillment of my duty, they will be a resource which cannot fail me.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 1: Foundations (Kindle Locations 6725-6776). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

Power has moved out of the hands of the founding generation. It is up to their descendents to prove whether the great experiment will work.

If the founding had come a few decades later, the Constitution and the theoretical underpinning of the new republic would certainly have been different. The founding, though, occurred during a tiny window of opportunity when Enlightenment philosophy dominated, and dominated not only the thinking of the intellectual class but of the people in general.

The people in general. This is a critical point. Most of the copious and failed revolutions that followed America’s were the work of the intellectual class, not the people in general. The intellectual class typically claims to represent the people but also recognizes that the people “aren’t ready yet.” So they act in the people’s name, take power in the people’s name – and keep and build power for themselves in the people’s name. It turns out that whatever their superior intelligence and intellectual achievements, though, they are as susceptible as the human race has always been to the insidious whisperings of the ego and the dictum that power corrupts. America’s, though, was a different sort of revolution. It was built from the bottom up as much as from the top down, by the actual people as much as by self-designated representatives of the people. And it was built on Enlightenment principles that dominated during that tiny window of spatial and temporal opportunity on the east coast of North America at the end of the 18th century.

Enlightenment philosophy was not much concerned with what government could do for us. It was concerned with shackling government so we could do for ourselves. Its thinkers were seeing first hand the early fruits of people unshackled and also the unchanging horrors of government unshackled. They saw that mind freed was engendering an expansion of knowledge; trade freed was engendering wealth creation. They also saw that religious wars backed by governments were devastating a continent.

Enlightenment political philosophers would seek a way to encourage freedom of the mind and commerce while diminishing war and its results. … we have not advanced beyond Enlightenment political philosophy but rather we are slowly reverting back to older ways merely lacquered over with modern terminology and intellectual pretensions. Where we are freer, richer, and less warlike than we once were, it is because vestiges of Enlightenment philosophy still underpin our society, not because we have advanced beyond the Enlightenment to find better ways.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 2: Rupture (pp. 6-7). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

The Enlightenment thinkers who established the American system separated state, church, and commerce but recognized mere separation was not enough. Government still retained its dangerous monopoly on raw power. A way must be found to somehow firmly bind the state itself within the limits prescribed by Natural Law. A constitution that would limit the state’s power to the protection of our God-given rights and very little else must be devised. The towering pyramid of centralized power must be lowered and the loci of power spread throughout society, even and especially down to the smallest unit: the individual.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 2: Rupture (pp. 7-8). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.


Intellectuals tend not to realize that in actuality they are usually not so enlightened as they believe and will succumb to greed and power hunger if given the opportunity. Nor do they realize that they are not normally the type of people who can rise even to the copious lower positions of political power that their systems require, let alone the pinnacles of power. Positions of power generally fall not to the intellectuals that created them but to legions of petty bureaucrats and pip-squeak tyrants under the control of the occasional demagogue. Neither do intellectuals generally understand the ecological complexity of the system they imagine themselves altruistically ruling, a complexity far beyond human comprehension or the possibility of beneficial human manipulation.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 2: Rupture (pp. 10-11). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

Historians are generally much more comfortable with people like themselves, intellectuals and politicians (and especially intellectual politicians) who only want to do what is best for the nation. Being driven themselves by motivations far more elevated than the mere desire to make money, historians generally encounter difficulty in admitting that base motives can often do more for the people than pure motives, or that a money-driven system finds solutions much more efficiently than a politically driven system.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 2: Rupture (pp. 22-23). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

The Panic of 1819 sounded a wakeup call to some that the Founders had been right after all in separating State and Commerce. Having experienced both state religion and state mercantilism under the British, the Founders recognized the importance of separating the three power centers of Commerce, Church, and State. Commerce or Church, combined with State, produced both corruption and power too great to oppose – a condition of tyranny.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 2: Rupture (p. 54). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

[Marshall] is largely correct when he says that all means cannot be enumerated so no means should be. This, however, does not imply that any means are acceptable. The Constitution was intended to establish a government that would protect rights but otherwise be severely limited.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 2: Rupture (p. 66). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

If protectionists could obfuscate the economics a bit, they could leave the rest to the political wheeling and dealing that always, without exception, accompanies protectionism.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 2: Rupture (p. 78). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

Government should never interfere but in matters of State; that, in relation to the internal police of a country, it has done all that is required of it, all that it ought to do, when it has secured to its citizens their personal liberty and private property, and an impartial administration of justice.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 2: Rupture (p. 79). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

What if ancient philosophers looking down from the heavens should enquire of them what benefit America has bestowed mankind? Let our answer be this: America, with the same voice which spoke herself into existence as a nation, proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government… She has, in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations while asserting and maintaining her own. She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart. She has seen that probably for centuries to come, all the contests of that Aceldama the European world, will be contests of inveterate power, and emerging right. Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit. Her glory is not dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of the mind. She has a spear and a shield; but the motto upon her shield is, Freedom, Independence, Peace. This has been her Declaration: this has been, as far as her necessary intercourse with the rest of mankind would permit, her practice.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 2: Rupture (pp. 83-84). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

In choosing to be dictatress of the world, America has lost the capacity to rule its own spirit. In choosing to force liberty it has moved from liberty to force. America has silenced the countenance of her own voice, smeared the benignant sympathy of her example in the blood and gore of international power politics. Where once her example moved the world, the world moves now in fear of her sword. It can never be the way of the one true America to go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. America’s is the way of peace, to lead by example, to be the well-wisher of freedom.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 2: Rupture (p. 85). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

“[N]early twenty years have passed since the construction of the first national road was commenced. The authority for its construction was then unquestioned. To how many thousands of our countrymen has it proved a benefit? To what single individual has it ever proved an injury?” Good questions, both. But there is another question. How many more miles of roads were built without government help during that same period and how many millions did they benefit? Then, as now, it is so easy for people who have committed their lives to public service to envision clearly the benefits of public works while missing the private works that may accomplish much more for much less.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 2: Rupture (p. 98). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

[T]he bulk of Americans understood the threat to freedom posed by greatness and magnificence in government. Their ideal was the opposite: minimal government that would protect the rights of the people and otherwise leave them free to pursue greatness and magnificence as they, not the government, saw fit.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 2: Rupture (pp. 99-100). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

[L]ack of activity by the government does not mean the nation itself slumbers in indolence.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 2: Rupture (p. 102). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

William Herndon described Lincoln’s vision and its result thus: Every river and stream… was to be widened, deepened, and made navigable. A canal to connect the Illinois River and Lake Michigan was to be dug… Cities were to spring up everywhere; capital from abroad was to come pouring in… Illinois was to… become the Empire State of the Union…. The gigantic and stupendous operations of the scheme dazzled the eyes of nearly everybody, but in the end it rolled up a debt so enormous as to impede the otherwise marvelous progress of Illinois. The burdens imposed by this Legislature under the guise of improvements became… monumental in size. George Nicolay and John Hay, Lincoln’s personal secretaries during his presidency, co-wrote a Lincoln biography, in which they observed of Lincoln and Illinois’s internal improvements, The system had utterly failed; there was nothing to do but repeal it, stop work on the visionary roads, and endeavor to invent some means of paying the enormous debt… Nothing was left of the brilliant schemes of the historic Legislature of 1836 but a load of debt which crippled for many years the energies of the people, a few miles of embankments which the grass hastened to cover, and a few abutments which stood for years by the sides of leafy rivers, waiting for their long delaying bridges and trains.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 2: Rupture (pp. 108-109). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

To the extent that the Erie Canal’s ostensible success could be said to have contributed to the shift towards mercantilism, it’s fair to say that the rare apparent successes of government intervention may be more dangerous than the failures, as they confirm a philosophy that often leads to war.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 2: Rupture (p. 110). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

Between the mid-1840s and 1860 every state in the Union except Massachusetts and Missouri amended its constitution to prohibit government-funded internal improvements. The constitution of the new southern confederacy in 1861 explicitly outlawed all state participation in internal improvements except for beacons, buoys, and harbor dredging. The party was over, the entire nation disgusted at the expensive failure of government direction of the economy.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 2: Rupture (p. 110). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

Jackson was slow off the mark but he never took his eye off the goal. His mantra was always “reform, retrenchment, and economy.” Reform meant scrubbing the government clean of corruption. Retrenchment meant a return to the Constitution and Jeffersonian ideals. Economy meant reducing costs and paying off the national debt. Jackson clearly recognized that the key to all three was size. According to preeminent Jackson historian Robert Remini, “His first intention had been to cut the size of government.” Small government would reduce the potential for patronage and bribery as there would be fewer government jobs to hand out as rewards and less government ability to do things for those willing to pay. Small government would reflect the ideals of the Constitution and leave people the liberty to pursue as they saw fit their own happiness. And small government would naturally cost less, enabling the debt to be paid off, taxes to be cut, and excesses distributed to the states.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 2: Rupture (p. 130). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

The people expected reform retrenchment and economy in the administration of this government. This is the cry from Maine to Louisiana, and instead of these the great object of Congress, it would seem, is to make mine one of the most extravagant administrations since the commencement of the Government. This must not be; the Federal Constitution must be obeyed, State-rights preserved, our national debt must be paid, direct taxes and loans avoided and the Federal union preserved. These are the objects I have in view, regardless of all consequences, will carry into effect.

Ledbetter, Mark David (2010-04-12). America’s Forgotten History, Part 2: Rupture (pp. 130-131). Mark David Ledbetter. Kindle Edition.

It is true, of course, that no state seceded from the union after Obama’s election; but a quasi-secessionist sentiment instantly swept over large swaths of our country, the depth and virulence of which was largely ignored by the mainstream media. Many liberals assumed such irrational and paranoid fears would give way once Obama actually became president. The new president’s good sense, prudence, and moderation, they argued, would surely relieve such fears, so any remaining paranoia would be restricted to the tiny minority of the lunatic fringe—and who can really take them seriously? Yet, by the middle of the summer of 2009 it had become overwhelmingly evident that the “lunatics” were not a tiny and negligible factor operating in the shadows of American politics. On the contrary, they represented a formidable chunk of American public opinion.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 120-126). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

By and large, the attitude of these people is that of live and let live. But they all have one highly conspicuous quality in common. They don’t like other people telling them what to do. They don’t like being bossed around. They insist on retaining control of their own lives and affairs. They are quick to display the proverbial “Don’t tread on me!” attitude whenever they feel that their own traditional rights and liberties are in danger. These are people that might be best dubbed natural libertarians. They may never have read a single piece of the classic libertarian literature. They may never have even heard of John Locke or John Stuart Mill, but they have instinctively adopted Thomas Paine’s maxim that “government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil.” To such people, there is nothing more odious or obnoxious than a government whose attitude is “Don’t worry; we know what is best for you.”

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 146-153). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

[W]hen confronted with any power that they see as a threat to their precious independence and autonomy, they will rise up to resist its encroachments, often resorting to behavior that makes the recent town hall mayhem look quite tame in comparison.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 157-158). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

The Obama death panel is a myth—but it is a myth that expresses a genuine anxiety that decisions over our lives and deaths could one day end up being made for us and not by us. It is not enough simply to discredit the myth, which is relatively easy; it is necessary to address the underlying anxiety, which is much more difficult, since the source of this anxiety is the well-founded fear of the little guy that those who wield power over him will not be inclined to use it for his benefit. Those who dismiss this anxiety as shrill or alarmist are also misguided. For history has repeatedly shown that the little guy is right to entertain these fears. Power breeds arrogance. It has done so in the past, and those who believe that our modern liberal societies have tamed power to the point where it can never again grow despotic are simply deluding themselves. Power must always be watched and feared, and, when necessary, resisted.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 167-174). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

[T]he freedom enjoyed by any society rests ultimately not on a constitution or a Bill of Rights, but on the willingness of ordinary people to stand up for themselves and to resist those who have the power to trample on their liberty.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 185-187). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

What liberty they have managed to create and maintain for themselves has been the product of their own acts of defiance and rebellion, some bloody and violent, others relatively peaceful, but all inevitably rowdy and unruly. The champions of liberty have not always been knights in shining armor—more frequently they were rebellious peasants, riotous apprentices, outraged artisans, thwarted smugglers, unruly mobs, and lawless vigilantes.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 193-196). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

The incomprehension of the liberal elite is dangerous because it underestimates the potential explosiveness of the current populist upheaval—those who ignore it, or prefer to wish it or explain it away, do so at their peril—and at the peril of their society. The opportunism of the populist demagogue is equally dangerous, however, because the demagogue all too often calls into being demonic forces that take on a life of their own, beyond his control, creating havoc in the body politic. It is easy to shout, “We are mad as hell and we aren’t going to take it anymore,” but it is much more difficult to channel popular anger and frustration into politically constructive purposes. There is an inherent danger in all populist revolts: Once resistance against authority has reached a certain point, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep it in check. Eventually a point of no return is reached, when all efforts to govern the society are baffled, so that no other options remain except revolution and civil war.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 199-206). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

We must do as our forefathers did: We must scrutinize the lessons of the past for clues that can help us through the current crisis that is so rapidly and, to all appearances, so irreversibly breaking us apart. Those who are entirely caught up in the present moment, in the bright, glittering ephemera of the hour, cannot see what is before them because they have forgotten what is behind them.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 209-212). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

The “revolution” did not begin in Massachusetts, but in the town hall meetings that took place all over our nation. They signaled the stirrings of a genuine populist revolt against the liberal elite—a highly educated elite that many ordinary Americans see as arrogant know-it-alls who are grossly out of touch with the fundamental values and visceral convictions of “real Americans.” What was most significant about the town hall uprising was not the unruly defiance of the protestors, but the shock with which this defiance was greeted by the liberal opinion-makers whose opinions the protestors most despise. It was a moment that illuminated, like a lightning flash, just how vast the chasm is that separates the populist conservative from the liberal elite. The future, as always, remains in the lap of the gods. Yet, it is possible that the town hall revolts may turn out to be precisely the kind of event that people look back to and reflect on and say, “This was the first sign of trouble,” similar to the way that Americans looked back on John Brown’s ill-fated raid on Harpers Ferry as a harbinger of the Civil War. This, they might well say, is where we all began to fall apart.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 221-234). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

At the very least, the populist revival may be a helpful hint to the enlightened elite that it is always dangerous to push people too far into a corner, since you can never tell when they might decide to fight back. Even when you cannot see why other people venerate their traditions, you cannot hope to curry their favor by making an open display of contempt toward them. A society that claims to be a democracy should show some minimal regard for the will of the common man, at the very least.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 313-316). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

You cannot ask an individual to care about the fate of everyone in his community and then deny him the right to decide who gets to join it. Or, more accurately, you can try, but you are bound to fail. A genuine community can only exist when the people in it have something they share in common—values and traditions that define their identity, and by so doing, separate them from those whose values and traditions differ from theirs. If a community cannot maintain its borders, it will inevitably lose its established character—a shattering experience for those who are happy with their time-honored way of life.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 346-350). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

The disquieting truth is that there are many different kinds of freedom, and that not all of them are compatible with one another. In order to free the slaves, the North was forced to impose military rule on much of the defeated South for over a decade. On the other hand, if the Confederacy had won and had established its independence and autonomy, it would have meant the continuing enslavement of millions of men, women, and children—and their children’s children as well. Men have been willing to kill each other over their different definitions of freedom and liberty. They have done so in the past and they may well do so again in the future. Liberty, as an ideal, can unite. But it can also divide, and divide very bitterly.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 363-369). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

It does not matter to the populist rebels on what grounds the elite claims to be entitled to govern the rest of society. The elite may boast of their greater self-control, their superiority in arms, their noble blood, or their high IQs, but these self-serving arguments do not impress the defiant populists. They are familiar with the facts that all ruling classes will inevitably find a justification for why they should rule and that the only way to keep a self-appointed elite from abusing its power is by uniting together to resist such abuse from the very first moment it’s felt.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 379-383). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

Today’s populist revolt is different from earlier populist revolts because it is a rebellion against a new kind of elite. It is an elite that is a product of the modern system of education-based meritocracy that has come to dominate not only the United States but all the advanced nations of the world. As today’s populist conservatives see it, the problem with this new elite is that it aims to subvert America’s messy tradition of popular democracy and to replace it with an efficiently operated utopia, managed and planned out to the smallest detail by intellectuals who, like all elites of the past, do not trust average people to make the right decisions about their lives or the welfare of their society.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 384-389). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

Utopias are not democratic. Indeed, they are profoundly antidemocratic.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Location 520). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

Paternalism always involves a curtailment of the personal freedom of those who are the objects of its benevolent intentions.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 537-538). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

[T]here is a different form that paternalism can take, and this occurs whenever one group of adults decides to limit the freedom of other adults in their community. Such groups may spring from a church, a state, an institution, or even a business corporation, but they all have in common a sense of duty to improve the lives of ordinary men and women by limiting their freedom of choice.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 540-543). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

 For the soft paternalists, there is no moral ambiguity to the idea of the “right” decision that they have in mind.

 Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 561-562). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

It is true that the state, acting as your guardian, is psychologically manipulating you to make decisions that you otherwise might not make; but as a result of these subliminally guided decisions, you will become a happier person than you would have become if you were left solely to your own devices …

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 563-565). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

The attitude of the professional soft paternalist is, “You will come to thank us later …”

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 566-567). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

[D]isguise it as much as you please, the essence of every utopia, from Plato’s Republic to Skinner’s Walden Two, is the same: namely, the dictatorship of the intellectual—far less brutal than the dictatorship of ruthless thugs to be sure, but potentially far more deadly to human freedom.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 643-645). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

[L]et us consider the main selling point of the soft paternalists: They are nudging others into making choices that the soft paternalists have already made for them. They are playing the role of the utopian Planners and Managers, but they are doing it so subtly and cleverly that no one even recognizes that he is being psychologically manipulated. The very objective of their soft paternalism is to make people believe that they are really acting freely and making their own choices. The advanced techniques of behavioral modification they employ are … explicitly designed to preserve the illusion of freedom while taking away its substance.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 646-651). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

When adults are positively told what they can and cannot do, they will naturally resent those who are arrogantly setting themselves up as their guardians.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 654-655). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

IF RELIGION is the opium of the people, utopianism is the methamphetamine of the intellectual. Religion, it is often claimed, makes the humble content with their lot in life: It resigns them to their inevitable fate. The utopian’s drug of choice has the opposite effect: It offers intellectuals a vision of a world in which they are omnipotent. Convinced that their superior intelligence provides them with superior ideas, they want to see their ideas implemented in the real world and show scant respect for the traditions to which ordinary people blindly and tenaciously cling. They want to improve society, which, in their minds, means redesigning it according to their own ideals.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 661-666). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

Today’s advocates of soft paternalism share the goal of earlier utopian thinkers. They simply think they have discovered a better and more effective method of reaching this goal than those who came before them. Perhaps they are right. But the psychologically sophisticated approach of our modern soft paternalists, if successful, would extinguish liberty more effectively, because more subtly, than any tyrant of the past could ever hope to do. Theirs will be an invisible dictatorship of men and women who do not think of themselves as dictators, while they control the lives of people who are unaware that they are being controlled. No form of dictatorship has ever been a more insidious threat to human freedom than that. To regard soft paternalism as a threat to liberty there is no need to assume that its practitioners are villains aspiring to be brutal tyrants on the order of a Nero or a Hitler or a Stalin.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 672-679). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

Yet, if they are making all the real decisions for other people—however cleverly they disguise their methods of subliminal persuasion—they will not be creating prosperous, healthy, and happy adults, but prosperous, healthy, and happy infants who just happen to inhabit adult bodies.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 680-682). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

Seen in this light, even the softest paternalism potentially poses a genuine menace to the liberty that Americans of all political persuasions value the most—namely, the right to be in charge of their own lives and to make their own choices as they see fit. The whole point of the paternalism exercised by parents toward their children is to make sure that one day their kids will be able to take charge of their own lives and will learn how to make the right decisions for themselves. Its goal is to turn infants into adults. But the paternalism of the modern liberal state, often dubbed the nanny-state by its critics, reverses this pattern. Its goal is to turn adults into infants. It treats the masses as if they are congenitally incapable of making the right choices for themselves, so that the state must continually act as their guardian. Because it never expects ordinary people to be able to make intelligent decisions about their own lives, it will always feel itself entitled to make these decisions for them. Indeed, it will feel that it has a duty to make them.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 684-692). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

[T]here is an American political tradition that vehemently rejects the very idea that ordinary American men and women need to be managed and controlled by a superior elite. It is the tradition embraced by those people for whom any kind of paternalism, however much softened, is completely unacceptable. This tradition long preceded the establishment of the United States. It was already quite evident in the attitude of those early inhabitants of Oglethorpe’s paternalistic colony who left it because it robbed them of control over their own lives. They wanted to make their own choices, for better or for worse, and they refused to let anyone else make those decisions for them. That same spirit animates the natural libertarians who are at the heart of today’s populist revolt, perhaps receiving its most boisterous expression in the growing Tea Party movement.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 694-700). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

For the conservative thinkers of the past and many of today, the very idea of a political movement that is simultaneously populist and conservative is a contradiction in terms.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 706-708). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

It is this fact that gives our current populist revolt its unique flavor. It also explains why it poses a serious dilemma for both the Republican and Democratic parties—neither of which relishes the prospect of a populist movement that refuses to play by the rules of the game, rules that have been set down by the party establishments themselves.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 709-711). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

The populist conservative is a new kind of political animal. Unlike the neoconservatives who dominated American conservatism in the latter part of the last century, the populist conservatives are not particularly interested in honing beautifully crafted logical arguments directed at other intellectuals. They proudly address their appeals to Joe Six-Pack and feel no shame in vulgar rebel-rousing. In the eyes of populist conservatives, neoconservatives are no less elitist than their favorite target of scorn, the liberal elitist. The neocon has made his peace with too many of those sinister forces that are eroding America’s traditional values and ethos. His pact with the devil can be traced back to the Republican Party’s decision to accept the consequences of the New Deal in the aftermath of Eisenhower’s election in 1952. Since then, the neocon has been far more concerned with establishing America’s global supremacy than in protecting and preserving our precious heritage of liberty here at home.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 715-722). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition

[O]thers may look upon human liberty as an illusion, but the populist conservatives regard it as the supreme value in life, and their heroes are those American patriots whose rebellious passion for liberty made our country a shining exception among the nations of the world.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 725-727). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

American exceptionalism is the conviction that America is unique among nations …

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Location 730). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

Early visitors to America from foreign lands left with the uniform conviction that America really was different, often shockingly different, from their homelands.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 750-751). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

There was one aspect of our national life, however, that struck all the travelers who visited us in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. When giving a general overview of the American character, foreigners repeatedly offered the same assessment: Americans were a people who were fiercely jealous of their liberties.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 753-756). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

THE POPULIST revolt underway in today’s America, symbolized by, but not restricted to, the Tea Party movement, is based on the deeply held conviction that the United States is rapidly losing its exceptional status as the land of the free. It is this anxiety that explains the seemingly paradoxical nature of an avowedly populist movement that simultaneously claims to be conservative. It is a demand for more liberty, a demand historically associated with liberalism. Yet, at the same time it is genuinely conservative, because the liberty that is being demanded is not some newfangled kind of liberty that no society has ever enjoyed before. What is being demanded is the restoration of those liberties our forefathers once enjoyed, but which are now under attack by a central government that has obtained a degree of power over our lives that our Founding Fathers never envisioned.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 765-771). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

[M]odern liberalism was born a political movement characterized by two basic principles. First, the state should be used in order to improve the lives of ordinary people, even if ordinary people did not wish to have their lives improved in this particular manner. Second, the control of the state should be entrusted to intellectuals who were experts and specialists in their fields, like FDR’s famous Brain Trust, made up of distinguished members of the American academic community who were assigned to advise the president on the host of issues facing the nation during its most severe period of economic crisis.2 In this interpretation of American history, modern liberalism is a betrayal of the cherished ideal of individual liberty for which our ancestors fought the American Revolution. Indeed, in the eyes of populist conservatives, modern liberals have no right to call themselves liberals at all. The individual liberty historically championed by the liberals of an earlier epoch, the classical liberals, is of little or no interest to these moderns. On the contrary, modern liberals look upon the desire of people to manage and control their own lives as an obstacle to achieving the construction of the utopian state. As the populist conservatives see it, modern liberalism is a dangerous new form of authoritarianism in which the state uses its immense power to manipulate and control its citizens. The modern liberal is not a liberal at all, but a statist, that is, someone who puts his faith in “the supremacy of the state.”3 Deeply troubled by the enormous expansion of the federal government since the New Deal, populist conservatives are frustrated by the seemingly unstoppable tendency toward statism, a process that neither past Democratic nor past Republican administrations have been able to check despite a host of campaign promises by the presidential candidates of both parties.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 786-801). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

To the self-made man of today, who has often made a tidy sum while running his small business, the American tradition of rugged individualism is not a quaint myth—it is the realization of his dreams and aspirations. A little reflection will show that there is a logical connection between today’s populist revolt and the self-made man’s anxiety over losing hard-won independence and self-determination.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 827-829). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

THE EXCEPTIONAL degree of liberty that once flourished in early America was a product of a set of exceptional historical, geographical, and cultural circumstances—but these circumstances have changed dramatically. America started out as a weird and improbable mixture of an economy made up of self-sufficient farmers and small merchants, the Anglo-Saxon tradition of local government, the European peasant’s tradition of hard work, the Calvinist tradition of the self-governing congregation, the Lutheran tradition of priesthood of every man, the absence of feudal institutions, the expanse and freshness and plentitude of a colossal continent located in a new world. All these factors combined to produce a country overflowing with natural libertarians, and it was this fact that led the Founding Fathers to devise a severely limited government for their new nation. They did not choose to have a limited government—they simply recognized that this was the only form of government that would be tolerated by America’s natural libertarians, who instinctively resented any kind of interference in their own affairs by outsiders.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 882-890). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

[T]oday’s populist conservatives do share one important sentiment with American populists of the past: They are not terribly fond of Europe or Europeans.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 991-992). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition. 

In America, ordinary people were free and didn’t need to grovel before anyone. Servility was neither part of their nature nor part of their society. They were capable of directing their own fate.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 1000-1002). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

[T]here was much truth to the proud belief of early Americans that they were living in a land where the average man was freer and enjoyed greater equality than he had ever possessed before.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 1003-1004). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition

[T]oday there are many Americans, especially among liberal intellectuals, who are firmly convinced that the path of salvation for America is to reform its institutions and its politics, both foreign and domestic, based on European models.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 1008-1010). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

For the populist conservative, such counsel smacks of treason. The explosive quality of today’s populist revolt arises from a pervasive fear that we are rapidly and irreversibly hurtling in the direction of a post-American America.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 1015-1017). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

[T]here is another way of interpreting this phenomenon, which is to argue that the so called education gap is really an “indoctrination gap.” The wide consensus among the better educated on different questions is not proof that they have been taught to think for themselves, but irrefutable evidence that they have been programmed to think alike.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 1097-1099). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

The slippery slope between education and indoctrination is an ambiguous heritage from the European Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. It is a direct result of the new way of looking at the world adopted by the enlightened elite of that time. Before the Enlightenment, European intellectuals most often saw their job as defending the status quo. After the Enlightenment, they came to see their mission as improving the world in accordance with their own values and ideals.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 1108-1111). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

Samuel Johnson wittily caricatured the position of those enlightened intellectuals who spurned tradition in a search for new ideas when he remarked: “Truth will not afford sufficient food for their vanity; so they have betaken themselves to error. Truth, Sir, is a cow that will yield such people no more milk, and so they are gone to milk the bull.”

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 1148-1151). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

The enlightened intellectual has a self-flattering ideology: He claims he is only interested in getting at the truth and disseminating it to the people. Yet his behavior too frequently indicates that he is also interested in gaining power—power to do good, he assures us, but power all the same.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 1159-1161). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

[A] number of celebrated French philosophes, the embodiment of the European Enlightenment, brazenly pursued the goal of obtaining maximum power by shamelessly courting the high and the mighty, in the belief that this was the quickest way to cure the world of all that ailed it. Voltaire grossly flattered Frederick the Great, while Diderot buttered up Catherine, Empress of Russia (also called “the Great”). Neither Voltaire nor Diderot had any moral reservations about encouraging their respective “enlightened despots” to use their full armory of dictatorial power to suppress superstition and ignorance, and to impose on the peasants and the servile classes the ideals and values that reason had revealed to their superior intellects.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 1161-1166). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

TODAY MOST of us simply regard the American system of public education as part of who we are, but it played no role in the Founding Fathers’ vision for our future—and it played an even more marginal role in the mind of the average American of their time.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 1199-1201). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

Perhaps most importantly, average Americans just didn’t think that book-learning was relevant to their affairs. If they could read the Bible, that was enough book-learning for them. Otherwise, everyone could get by on what no one ever complained to be lacking in—namely, common sense.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 1213-1215). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

When populist conservatives speak of godless liberals, oppose gay marriage, and worry about the teaching of evolution in public schools, they are engaging in a battle about the future of American culture. They do not want their children “educated”—or, in their eyes, brainwashed—by a cognitive elite that has nothing but contempt for their traditional ways of life.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 1301-1304). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

John Stuart Mill, perhaps the best educated Englishman of his time, also had serious reservations about public education offered free of charge by the state. Despite his credentials as the leading liberal thinker of his day, Mill argued that a state-operated school system inevitably becomes “a mere contrivance for molding people to be exactly like one another … in proportion as it is efficient and successful, it establishes a despotism over the mind, leading by natural tendency to one over the body.”

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 1348-1351). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

In his speech on the colonial rebellion of 1775, Burke warned his English contemporaries that Americans thought their freedom was “the only advantage worth living for.”13 Today there remains a large contingent of Americans who continue to feel the same way. For these natural libertarians, there is nothing that matters more than keeping control of their own lives and determining their own destinies. They reject paternalism in any form, and they refuse to be managed and manipulated by an intellectual elite, no matter how benevolent their intentions may be.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 1508-1512). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

[T]here is a different kind of tradition, one with which we are all familiar. This is the tradition that teaches us not to submit to the dictates of the bully or tyrant, but to stand up for our rights and liberties, to fight to preserve our freedom and independence. It is the tradition that tells us that we must think for ourselves, even when it makes us outcasts, and to follow the dictates of our conscience, even when it makes us heretics. This is the tradition of the rebel that, far from being an obstacle to human progress, has proven itself to be an indispensable precondition for the creation and maintenance of free and self-governing societies. Those who wish to go to war against this tradition, in the misguided belief that all inherited traditions must be discarded in the interest of progress, are not furthering the cause of liberty, but endangering it. Herein lies the strongest argument that today’s populist conservatives can make in their own defense: Yes, we are defending our inherited traditions, but these traditions are worthy of being defended because they have proven themselves to provide the cultural foundations of free and open societies.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 1539-1548). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

[W]hen it comes to those traditions that have given ordinary human beings their sense of freedom and dignity, we will fight to conserve them, out of the profound conviction that once we have allowed these traditions to perish, human freedom and dignity will perish as well.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 1549-1551). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

BECAUSE A MONOLITHIC TRADITION is virtually inescapable as long as everything is going smoothly, freedom and independence must originate in social breakdown, in chaos, in catastrophe, in eruptions of the unknown and the unfamiliar. It is only when the principle of social inertia has failed that men are forced to improvise their own rules and routines. Only then are men compelled to take charge of their own fate—compelled simply because there is no one else to take charge of it for them.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 1657-1660). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

[T]he blessings of civilization always come at the cost of human liberty. The more civilized we become, the less freedom we have for ourselves. Thomas Jefferson, a child of the eighteenth century, was no doubt thinking of the life cycle theory of liberty when he wrote in a letter to his friend James Madison that “a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.”7 Popular rebellion, precisely because it disrupts the routines of civilized life, is the only way that the claims of liberty can be reaffirmed against the deadening effects of social inertia. Those rebels who are most keen on preserving and reviving the freedoms enjoyed by their forefathers may at first glance appear to be acting like reactionaries, but if their rebellion is the only method by which a society is enabled to continue to enjoy liberty beyond the terms of its natural life-cycle, then even their political adversaries will have cause to thank them.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 1857-1864). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

[T]he fact remains that civilization is orderly and stable, while liberty, by its inherent nature, is volatile and explosive. Freedom most resembles the element of fire. It can provide for the amenities of civilized life, such as the warmth of a hearth and the exquisite taste of cooked food, but it can also set cities and even whole societies ablaze. Which is precisely what the American Sons of Liberty did when they felt their precious freedom was under threat.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 1872-1876). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

[I]t is helpful to recall the role that rowdiness and paranoia played in laying the foundations for the freedom and independence that Americans are so justly proud of. It is also helpful to remember that most intelligent observers of the time thought that these American rebels were surely fighting a lost cause—How could they possibly believe they could intimidate the mighty British Empire? Yet their “lost cause” turned out to be the beginning of a new era of human liberty.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 1877-1880). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

THERE WAS little sense of gratitude to England among most Americans during the colonial period because they were genuinely convinced that they had made their own little New World by their own efforts. Their attitude was that of the classic self-made man: “I got where I am through my own talents and my own hard work; by my perseverance and intelligence, by my native skill and persistent application. I am what I have made myself to be, and I owe nothing to anyone else for what I have obtained by my own hands.”

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 1951-1955). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

William Pitt … had never been to America, and yet he not only sympathized with the violent resistance of the colonists to the Stamp Act, he openly applauded it on the floor of Parliament. “I rejoice that America has resisted. Three millions of people, so dead to all feelings of liberty, as voluntarily submit to be slaves would be fit instruments to make slaves of the rest.”

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 1973-1976). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

In a speech delivered in January 1775, Pitt declared that the “glorious spirit of Whiggism animates three million Americans who prefer poverty with liberty to gilded chains and sordid affluence, and who will die in defense of their rights as freemen.”

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 1991-1993). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

Herein lies the problem with brute-force despotism: Once it has developed, it becomes almost impossible to resist. Few rebels in history have been a match for a well-disciplined professional army. Therefore, safety lies in refusing to let despotism get started, to prevent it from taking its first baby steps down the road to serfdom and ultimately slavery. The monster Tyranny must be strangled in its crib, long before it is allowed to become a raging full-grown Godzilla able to trample all in its way.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 2051-2054). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

To understand the political psychology of those individuals who had managed to escape their chains in colonial America, and who were determined to live free of all future chains, it is essential to grasp that their passion for liberty was intuitive and visceral. It was something that they felt powerfully at the gut level. They were what I have called “natural libertarians.” Their resistance to chains had not come from reading books but from their own experience as individuals who had successfully managed their own affairs for as long as they could remember. They had created their wealth by their own efforts. The church they attended was of their own choosing—often they had created it themselves and were dead set on keeping it entirely in their own hands.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 2078-2083). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

They did not know how to fawn, or to bend their knees before men with titles or power or wealth. They were their own men, and they intended to stay that way—and this has been the attitude of all those with a passion for liberty. Their independence of action had become a tradition that they found it virtually impossible to break.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 2085-2087). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

Here is one explanation for why some people appear to be born freer than others. They are born in self-made societies. They are the children of men and women who were not subject to any despotic or arbitrary force, because their forebears had gone to a place where they were compelled by circumstances beyond their control to make their own rules—born free, but only because their ancestors had been forced to be free.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 2103-2105). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

The experience of making their own rules, their own customs, and their own institutions has a profound impact on the self-image of the individual members of a self-made society. Instead of looking upon their society as a fait accompli that has been passed down from time immemorial, they are bound to see it as their own creation. It is not an heirloom they have inherited; it is a living thing that they have constructed out of their own resources. They are dependent on themselves, which is simply another way of saying they are independent, and out of their practical day-to-day independence arises the most paradoxical of all human institutions—the tradition of independence.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 2130-2134). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

The rule of law means that people cannot take the law into their own hands. When confronted with a possible crime, they cannot select their own judge and compose their own jury; nor can they appoint counsel to the defendant they themselves have apprehended. Instead, they must turn these matters over to the proper authorities, that is to say, the legally established and recognized governmental agencies.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 2168-2171). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

The men who came to California in 1849 believed that they were in control of their own lives and their fate, and they dismissed the notion that they were the helpless victims of circumstances, or of their society, or of the stars. Characteristic of all self-made men, they believed that they could improve their lot by their own efforts.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 2196-2198). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

[A] key to understanding the American national character is to grasp the fact that ours is a self-made society largely created by self-made men and women, who, like the forty-niners, were prepared to make their own rules and regulations to live by, but who were always willing to adopt for their own purposes the traditions of their homeland or, indeed, traditions they had discovered in the writings of the ancients. The pragmatic eclecticism characteristic of our nation-making was unconsciously imitated by those who created the mining communities of the California gold rush.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 2200-2204). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

THERE IS a popular cliché that tries to solve the riddle of liberty by saying that one man’s liberty ends when it begins to infringe on the liberty of others. No doubt; but who is the person who gets to decide when there is such an infringement? If I am smoking a cigarette at my table in the restaurant, and there is no law to prevent me from doing so, then who is to say that I am infringing on your liberty—except you? You might tell me not to smoke while you are eating, but then I will argue that you are infringing on my liberty. It is no insult to human nature to observe that we are naturally more inclined to notice when other people are infringing on our liberties than we are to notice when we are infringing on theirs.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 2237-2242). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

The capacity to make other people think twice before they try to bully and boss us around is a character trait shared by all self-made men. Everyone who is determined to remain in charge of his own life must develop a personal style designed to immediately warn off those who wish to manage and manipulate him. To borrow a word from the nineteenth-century American frontier where it originated, self-made men must become ornery.

Harris, Lee (2010-08-03). The Next American Civil War: The Populist Revolt against the Liberal Elite (Kindle Locations 2270-2272). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

Nature, or rather God, has bestowed upon every one of us the right to defend his person, his liberty, and his property, since these are the three constituent or preserving elements of life; elements, each of which is rendered complete by the others, and that cannot be understood without them. For what are our faculties, but the extension of our personality? and what is property, but an extension of our faculties? If every man has the right of defending, even by force, his person, his liberty, and his property, a number of men have the right to combine together to extend, to organize a common force to provide regularly for this defense. Collective right, then, has its principle, its reason for existing, its lawfulness, in individual right; and the common force cannot rationally have any other end, or any other mission, than that of the isolated forces for which it is substituted. Thus, as the force of an individual cannot lawfully touch the person, the liberty, or the property of another individual—for the same reason, the common force cannot lawfully be used to destroy the person, the liberty, or the property of individuals or of classes. For this perversion of force would be, in one case as in the other, in contradiction to our premises. For who will dare to say that force has been given to us, not to defend our rights, but to annihilate the equal rights of our brethren? And if this be not true of every individual force, acting independently, how can it be true of the collective force, which is only the organized union of isolated forces? Nothing, therefore, can be more evident than this: The law is the organization of the natural right of lawful defense; it is the substitution of collective for individual forces, for the purpose of acting in the sphere in which they have a right to act, of doing what they have a right to do, to secure persons, liberties, and properties, and to maintain each in its right, so as to cause justice to reign over all.

Bastiat, Frederic; Thornton, Mark (2011-04-13). The Bastiat Collection (LvMI) (pp. 50-51). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

Unhappily, law is by no means confined to its own sphere. Nor is it merely in some ambiguous and debatable views that it has left its proper sphere. It has done more than this. It has acted in direct opposition to its proper end; it has destroyed its own object; it has been employed in annihilating that justice which it ought to have established, in effacing amongst Rights, that limit which it was its true mission to respect; it has placed the collective force in the service of those who wish to traffic, without risk and without scruple, in the persons, the liberty, and the property of others; it has converted plunder into a right, that it may protect it, and lawful defense into a crime, that it may punish it.

Bastiat, Frederic; Thornton, Mark (2011-04-13). The Bastiat Collection (LvMI) (p. 52). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

Self-preservation and development is the common aspiration of all men, in such a way that if every one enjoyed the free exercise of his faculties and the free disposition of their fruits, social progress would be incessant, uninterrupted, inevitable. But there is also another disposition which is common to them. This is to live and to develop, when they can, at the expense of one another. This is no rash imputation, emanating from a gloomy, uncharitable spirit. History bears witness to the truth of it, by the incessant wars, the migrations of races, sectarian oppressions, the universality of slavery, the frauds in trade, and the monopolies with which its annals abound. This fatal disposition has its origin in the very constitution of man—in that primitive, and universal, and invincible sentiment that urges it toward its well-being, and makes it seek to escape pain. Man can only derive life and enjoyment from a perpetual search and appropriation; that is, from a perpetual application of his faculties to objects, or from labor. This is the origin of property.

Bastiat, Frederic; Thornton, Mark (2011-04-13). The Bastiat Collection (LvMI) (p. 52). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

[Man] may live and enjoy by seizing and appropriating the productions of the faculties of his fellow men. This is the origin of plunder.

Bastiat, Frederic; Thornton, Mark (2011-04-13). The Bastiat Collection (LvMI) (p. 53). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

[L]abor being in itself a pain, and man being naturally inclined to avoid pain, it follows, and history proves it, that wherever plunder is less burdensome than labor, it prevails; and neither religion nor morality can, in this case, prevent it from prevailing. When does plunder cease, then? When it becomes more burdensome and more dangerous than labor. It is very evident that the proper aim of law is to oppose the fatal tendency to plunder with the powerful obstacle of collective force; that all its measures should be in favor of property, and against plunder.

Bastiat, Frederic; Thornton, Mark (2011-04-13). The Bastiat Collection (LvMI) (p. 53). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

It is in the nature of men to rise against the injustice of which they are the victims. When, therefore, plunder is organized by law, for the profit of those who perpetrate it, all the plundered classes tend, either by peaceful or revolutionary means, to enter in some way into the manufacturing of laws. These classes, according to the degree of enlightenment at which they have arrived, may propose to themselves two very different ends, when they thus attempt the attainment of their political rights; either they may wish to put an end to lawful plunder, or they may desire to take part in it. Woe to the nation where this latter thought prevails amongst the masses, at the moment when they, in their turn, seize upon the legislative power!

Bastiat, Frederic; Thornton, Mark (2011-04-13). The Bastiat Collection (LvMI) (pp. 53-54). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

It would be impossible, therefore, to introduce into society a greater change and a greater evil than this—the conversion of the law into an instrument of plunder. What would be the consequences of such a perversion? … In the first place, it would efface from everybody’s conscience the distinction between justice and injustice. No society can exist unless the laws are respected to a certain degree, but the safest way to make them respected is to make them respectable. When law and morality are in contradiction to each other, the citizen finds himself in the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense, or of losing his respect for the law—two evils of equal magnitude, between which it would be difficult to choose.

Bastiat, Frederic; Thornton, Mark (2011-04-13). The Bastiat Collection (LvMI) (p. 54). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

But if the fatal principle should come to be introduced, that, under pretense of organization, regulation, protection, or encouragement, the law may take from one party in order to give to another, help itself to the wealth acquired by all the classes that it may increase that of one class, whether that of the agriculturists, the manufacturers, the ship owners, or artists and comedians; then certainly, in this case, there is no class which may not try, and with reason, to place its hand upon the law, that would not demand with fury its right of election and eligibility, and that would overturn society rather than not obtain it. Even beggars and vagabonds will prove to you that they have an incontestable title to it.

Bastiat, Frederic; Thornton, Mark (2011-04-13). The Bastiat Collection (LvMI) (p. 57). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

[A]s long as it is admitted that the law may be diverted from its true mission, that it may violate property instead of securing it, everybody will be wanting to manufacture law, either to defend himself against plunder, or to organize it for his own profit. The political question will always be prejudicial, predominant, and absorbing; in a word, there will be fighting around the door of the Legislative Palace. The struggle will be no less furious within it.

Bastiat, Frederic; Thornton, Mark (2011-04-13). The Bastiat Collection (LvMI) (p. 58). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

Is there any need to prove that this odious perversion of law is a perpetual source of hatred and discord, that it even tends to social disorganization? Look at the United States. There is no country in the world where the law is kept more within its proper domain—which is, to secure to everyone his liberty and his property. Therefore, there is no country in the world where social order appears to rest upon a more solid basis. Nevertheless, even in the United States, there are two questions, and only two, that from the beginning have endangered political order. And what are these two questions? That of slavery and that of tariffs; that is, precisely the only two questions in which, contrary to the general spirit of this republic, law has taken the character of a plunderer. Slavery is a violation, sanctioned by law, of the rights of the person. Protection is a violation perpetrated by the law upon the rights of property; and certainly it is very remarkable that, in the midst of so many other debates, this double legal scourge, the sorrowful inheritance of the Old World, should be the only one which can, and perhaps will, cause the rupture of the Union. Indeed, a more astounding fact, in the heart of society, cannot be conceived than this: That law should have become an instrument of injustice. And if this fact occasions consequences so formidable to the United States, where there is but one exception, what must it be with us in Europe, where it is a principle—a system?

Bastiat, Frederic; Thornton, Mark (2011-04-13). The Bastiat Collection (LvMI) (pp. 58-59). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

The law sometimes takes its own part. Sometimes it accomplishes it with its own hands, in order to save the parties benefited the shame, the danger, and the scruple. Sometimes it places all this ceremony of magistracy, police, gendarmerie, and prisons, at the service of the plunderer, and treats the plundered party, when he defends himself, as the criminal. In a word, there is a legal plunder.

Bastiat, Frederic; Thornton, Mark (2011-04-13). The Bastiat Collection (LvMI) (p. 59). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

[H]ow is it to be distinguished? Very easily. See whether the law takes from some persons that which belongs to them, to give to others what does not belong to them. See whether the law performs, for the profit of one citizen, and, to the injury of others, an act that this citizen cannot perform without committing a crime. Abolish this law without delay; it is not merely an iniquity—it is a fertile source of iniquities, for it invites reprisals; and if you do not take care, the exceptional case will extend, multiply, and become systematic.

Bastiat, Frederic; Thornton, Mark (2011-04-13). The Bastiat Collection (LvMI) (pp. 59-60). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

Above all, if you wish to be strong, begin by rooting out of your legislation every particle of socialism which may have crept into it—and this will be no light work.

Bastiat, Frederic; Thornton, Mark (2011-04-13). The Bastiat Collection (LvMI) (p. 59 – 60). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

It is absolutely necessary that this question of legal plunder should be determined, and there are only three solutions of it: 1. When the few plunder the many. 2. When everybody plunders everybody else. 3. When nobody plunders anybody. Partial plunder, universal plunder, absence of plunder, amongst these we have to make our choice. The law can only produce one of these results. Partial plunder. This is the system that prevailed so long as the elective privilege was partial; a system that is resorted to, to avoid the invasion of socialism. Universal plunder. We have been threatened by this system when the elective privilege has become universal; the masses having conceived the idea of making law, on the principle of legislators who had preceded them. Absence of plunder. This is the principle of justice, peace, order, stability, conciliation, and of good sense, which I shall proclaim with all the force of my lungs (which is very inadequate, alas!) till the day of my death. And, in all sincerity, can anything more be required at the hands of the law?

Bastiat, Frederic; Thornton, Mark (2011-04-13). The Bastiat Collection (LvMI) (p. 61). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

Can the law, whose necessary sanction is force, be reasonably employed upon anything beyond securing to every one his right? I defy anyone to remove it from this circle without perverting it, and consequently turning force against right. And as this is the most fatal, the most illogical social perversion that can possibly be imagined, it must be admitted that the true solution, so much sought after, of the social problem, is contained in these simple words—LAW IS ORGANIZED JUSTICE.

Bastiat, Frederic; Thornton, Mark (2011-04-13). The Bastiat Collection (LvMI) (pp. 61-62). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

In fact, can we imagine force encroaching upon the liberty of citizens without infringing upon justice, and so acting against its proper aim? Here I am taking on the most popular prejudice of our time. It is not considered enough that law should be just, it must be philanthropic. It is not sufficient that it should guarantee to every citizen the free and inoffensive of his faculties, applied to his physical, intellectual, and moral development; it is required to extend well-being, instruction, and morality, directly over the nation.

Bastiat, Frederic; Thornton, Mark (2011-04-13). The Bastiat Collection (LvMI) (p. 62). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

[I]t is impossible for me to separate the word fraternity from the word voluntary. I cannot possibly conceive fraternity legally enforced, without liberty being legally destroyed, and justice legally trampled under foot. Legal plunder has two roots: one of them, as we have already seen, is in human greed; the other is in misconceived philanthropy.

Bastiat, Frederic; Thornton, Mark (2011-04-13). The Bastiat Collection (LvMI) (p. 62). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

When a portion of wealth passes out of the hands of him who has acquired it, without his consent, and without compensation, to him who has not created it, whether by force or by artifice, I say that property is violated, that plunder is perpetrated. I say that this is exactly what the law ought to repress always and everywhere. If the law itself performs the action it ought to repress, I say that plunder is still perpetrated, and even, in a social point of view, under aggravated circumstances. In this case, however, he who profits from the plunder is not responsible for it; it is the law, the lawgiver, society itself, and this is where the political danger lies.

Bastiat, Frederic; Thornton, Mark (2011-04-13). The Bastiat Collection (LvMI) (pp. 62-63). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

[W]hether I am believed or not, I declare that I do not mean to impugn the intentions nor the morality of anybody. I am attacking an idea that I believe to be false—a system that appears to me to be unjust; and this is so independent of intentions, that each of us profits by it without wishing it, and suffers from it without being aware of the cause.

Bastiat, Frederic; Thornton, Mark (2011-04-13). The Bastiat Collection (LvMI) (p. 63). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

The Socialists say, since the law organizes justice, why should it not organize labor, instruction, and religion? Why? Because it could not organize labor, instruction, and religion, without disorganizing justice. For remember that law is force, and that consequently the domain of the law cannot properly extend beyond the domain of force. When law and force keep a man within the bounds of justice, they impose nothing upon him but a mere negation. They only oblige him to abstain from doing harm. They violate neither his personality, his liberty, nor his property. They only guard the personality, the liberty, the property of others. They hold themselves on the defensive; they defend the equal right of all. They fulfill a mission whose harmlessness is evident, whose utility is palpable, and whose legitimacy is not to be disputed.

Bastiat, Frederic; Thornton, Mark (2011-04-13). The Bastiat Collection (LvMI) (p. 64). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

But when the law, through the medium of its necessary agent—force—imposes a form of labor, a method or a subject of instruction, a creed, or a worship, it is no longer negative; it acts positively upon men. It substitutes the will of the legislator for their own will, the initiative of the legislator for their own initiative. They have no need to consult, to compare, or to foresee; the law does all that for them. The intellect is for them a useless encumbrance; they cease to be men; they lose their personality, their liberty, their property. Try to imagine a form of labor imposed by force, that is not a violation of liberty; a transmission of wealth imposed by force, that is not a violation of property. If you cannot succeed in reconciling this, you are bound to conclude that the law cannot organize labor and industry without organizing injustice.

Bastiat, Frederic; Thornton, Mark (2011-04-13). The Bastiat Collection (LvMI) (pp. 64-65). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

You say, “There are men who have no money,” and you apply to the law. But the law is not a self-supplied fountain, whence every stream may obtain supplies independently of society. Nothing can enter the public treasury, in favor of one citizen or one class, but what other citizens and other classes have been forced to send to it. If everyone draws from it only the equivalent of what he has contributed to it, your law, it is true, is no plunderer, but it does nothing for men who want money—it does not promote equality. It can only be an instrument of equalization as far as it takes from one party to give to another, and then it is an instrument of plunder. Examine, in this light, the protection of tariffs, subsidies, right to profit, right to labor, right to assistance, free public education, progressive taxation, gratuitousness of credit, social workshops, and you will always find at the bottom legal plunder, organized injustice. You say, “There are men who want knowledge,” and you apply to the law. But the law is not a torch that sheds light that originates within itself. It extends over a society where there are men who have knowledge, and others who have not; citizens who want to learn, and others who are disposed to teach. It can only do one of two things: either allow a free operation to this kind of transaction, i.e., let this kind of want satisfy itself freely; or else pre-empt the will of the people in the matter, and take from some of them sufficient to pay professors commissioned to instruct others for free. But, in this second case there cannot fail to be a violation of liberty and property—legal plunder. You say, “Here are men who are wanting in morality or religion,” and you apply to the law; but law is force, and need I say how far it is a violent and absurd enterprise to introduce force in these matters?

Bastiat, Frederic; Thornton, Mark (2011-04-13). The Bastiat Collection (LvMI) (pp. 65-66). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

And so, every time we object to a thing being done by Government, it concludes that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of education by the State—then we are against education altogether. We object to a State religion—then we would have no religion at all. We object to an equality which is brought about by the State then we are against equality, etc., etc. They might as well accuse us of wishing men not to eat, because we object to the cultivation of corn by the State. How is it that the strange idea of making the law produce what it does not contain—prosperity, in a positive sense, wealth, science, religion—should ever have gained ground in the political world?

Bastiat, Frederic; Thornton, Mark (2011-04-13). The Bastiat Collection (LvMI) (pp. 66-67). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

[M]odern politicians … begin by supposing that men are devoid of any principle of action, and of any means of discernment in themselves; that they have no initiative; that they are inert matter, passive particles, atoms without impulse; at best a vegetation indifferent to its own mode of existence, susceptible of assuming, from an exterior will and hand an infinite number of forms, more or less symmetrical, artistic, and perfected. Moreover, every one of these politicians does not hesitate to assume that he himself is, under the names of organizer, discoverer, legislator, institutor or founder, this will and hand, this universal initiative, this creative power, whose sublime mission it is to gather together these scattered materials, that is, men, into society.

Bastiat, Frederic; Thornton, Mark (2011-04-13). The Bastiat Collection (LvMI) (p. 67). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

[T]he politicians … look upon society as an artificial production of the legislator’s genius. … To all these persons, the relations between mankind and the legislator appear to be the same as those that exist between the clay and the potter. Moreover, if they have consented to recognize in the heart of man a capability of action, and in his intellect a faculty of discernment, they have looked upon this gift of God as a fatal one, and thought that mankind, under these two impulses, tended fatally toward ruin. They have taken it for granted that if abandoned to their own inclinations, men would only occupy themselves with religion to arrive at atheism, with instruction to come to ignorance, and with labor and exchange to be extinguished in misery.

Bastiat, Frederic; Thornton, Mark (2011-04-13). The Bastiat Collection (LvMI) (p. 68). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

What is law? What ought it to be? What is its domain? What are its limits? Where, in fact, does the prerogative of the legislator stop? I have no hesitation in answering, Law is common force organized to prevent injustice—in short, Law is Justice. It is not true that the legislator has absolute power over our persons and property, since they pre-exist, and his work is only to secure them from injury. It is not true that the mission of the law is to regulate our consciences, our ideas, our will, our education, our sentiments, our works, our exchanges, our gifts, our enjoyments. Its mission is to prevent the rights of one from interfering with those of another, in any one of these things. Law, because it has force for its necessary sanction, can only have the domain of force, which is justice. And as every individual has a right to have recourse to force only in cases of lawful defense, so collective force, which is only the union of individual forces, cannot be rationally used for any other end. The law, then, is solely the organization of individual rights that existed before law. Law is justice. So far from being able to oppress the people, or to plunder their property, even for a philanthropic end, its mission is to protect the people, and to secure to them the possession of their property.

Bastiat, Frederic; Thornton, Mark (2011-04-13). The Bastiat Collection (LvMI) (p. 89). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

Law is justice. In this proposition we represent to ourselves a simple, immovable Government. And I defy anyone to tell me whence the thought of a revolution, an insurrection, or a simple disturbance could arise against a public force confined to the repression of injustice. Under such a system, there would be more well-being, and this well-being would be more equally distributed; and as to the sufferings inseparable from humanity, no one would think of accusing the Government of them, for it would be as innocent of them as it is of the variations of the temperature. Have the people ever been known to rise against the court of appeals, or assail the justices of the peace, for the sake of claiming the rate of wages, free credit, tools of labor, the advantages of the tariff, or the social workshop? They know perfectly well that these matters are beyond the jurisdiction of the justices of the peace, and they would soon learn that they are not within the jurisdiction of the law quite as much. But if the law were to be made upon the principle of fraternity, if it were to be proclaimed that from it proceed all benefits and all evils—that it is responsible for every individual grievance and for every social inequality—then you open the door to an endless succession of complaints, irritations, troubles, and revolutions. Law is justice.

Bastiat, Frederic; Thornton, Mark (2011-04-13). The Bastiat Collection (LvMI) (pp. 90-91). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

Does it follow that if we are free, we shall cease to act? Does it follow that if we do not receive an impulse from the law, we shall receive no impulse at all? Does it follow that if the law confines itself to securing to us the free exercise of our faculties, our faculties will be paralyzed? Does it follow, that if the law does not impose upon us forms of religion, modes of association, methods of education, rules for labor, directions for exchange, and plans for charity, we shall plunge headlong into atheism, isolation, ignorance, misery, and greed? Does it follow, that we shall no longer recognize the power and goodness of God; that we shall cease to associate together, to help each other, to love and assist our unfortunate brethren, to study the secrets of nature, and to aspire after perfection in our existence?

Bastiat, Frederic; Thornton, Mark (2011-04-13). The Bastiat Collection (LvMI) (pp. 91-92). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

[I]t is under the law of justice, under the reign of right, under the influence of liberty, security, stability, and responsibility, that every man will attain to the fullness of his worth, to all the dignity of his being, and that mankind will accomplish with order and with calmness—slowly, it is true, but with certainty—the progress ordained for it.

Bastiat, Frederic; Thornton, Mark (2011-04-13). The Bastiat Collection (LvMI) (p. 92). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

Which are the happiest, the most moral, and the most peaceable nations? Those where the law interferes the least with private activity; where the Government is the least felt; where individuality has the most scope, and public opinion the most influence; where the machinery of the administration is the least important and the least complicated; where taxation is lightest and least unequal, popular discontent the least excited and the least justifiable; where the responsibility of individuals and classes is the most active, and where, consequently, if morals are not in a perfect state, at any rate they tend incessantly to correct themselves; where transactions, meetings, and associations are the least fettered; where labor, capital, and production suffer the least from artificial displacements; where mankind follows most completely its own natural course; where the thought of God prevails the most over the inventions of men; those, in short, who realize the most nearly this idea that within the limits of right, all should flow from the free, perfectible, and voluntary action of man; nothing be attempted by the law or by force, except the administration of universal justice.

Bastiat, Frederic; Thornton, Mark (2011-04-13). The Bastiat Collection (LvMI) (pp. 92-93). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

“[T]he most significant thing about [a man] is what he thinks; and significant also is how he came to think it, why he continued to think it, or, if he did not continue, what the influences were which caused him to change his mind.”

Nock, Albert Jay; Shaffer, Butler; Chodorov, Frank (2010-12-23). Our Enemy, the State (LvMI) (Kindle Locations 56-58). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

Those who chide critics of the state as being “idealistic” or “utopian” must, themselves, answer for their visionary faith that state power could be made to restrain itself. As Nock understood, and as more recent history confirms, it is those who believe that written constitutions can protect the individual from the exercise of state power who hold to a baseless idealism, particularly when it is the state’s judicial powers of interpretation that define the range of such authority.

Nock, Albert Jay; Shaffer, Butler; Chodorov, Frank (2010-12-23). Our Enemy, the State (LvMI) (Kindle Locations 74-78). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

The post-9/11 years have seen a wholesale retreat by the American government from the illusion of limited government, with constitutional prescriptions for and proscriptions against state power widely ignored.

Nock, Albert Jay; Shaffer, Butler; Chodorov, Frank (2010-12-23). Our Enemy, the State (LvMI) (Kindle Locations 81-82). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

Has history shown that political systems and the citizenry retain the sense of mutuality that is implicit in the “contract” theory that supposedly underlies the modern state? Does the avowed purpose of political systems to protect the lives, liberty, and property interests of individuals remain intact? The modern state increasingly manifests itself as the ill it was the purpose of centuries-old philosophies to identify, and of constitutional systems to prevent.

Nock, Albert Jay; Shaffer, Butler; Chodorov, Frank (2010-12-23). Our Enemy, the State (LvMI) (Kindle Locations 84-87). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

If we look beneath the surface of our public affairs, we can discern one fundamental fact, namely: a great redistribution of power between society and the State.

Nock, Albert Jay; Shaffer, Butler; Chodorov, Frank (2010-12-23). Our Enemy, the State (LvMI) (Kindle Locations 120-121). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

It is unfortunately none too well understood that, just as the State has no money of its own, so it has no power of its own. All the power it has is what society gives it, plus what it confiscates from time to time on one pretext or another; there is no other source from which State power can be drawn. Therefore every assumption of State power, whether by gift or seizure, leaves society with so much less power; there is never, nor can there be, any strengthening of State power without a corresponding and roughly equivalent depletion of social power. Moreover, it follows that with any exercise of State power, not only the exercise of social power in the same direction, but the disposition to exercise it in that direction, tends to dwindle.

Nock, Albert Jay; Shaffer, Butler; Chodorov, Frank (2010-12-23). Our Enemy, the State (LvMI) (Kindle Locations 125-130). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

When the Johnstown flood occurred, social power was immediately mobilized and applied with intelligence and vigour.

Nock, Albert Jay; Shaffer, Butler; Chodorov, Frank (2010-12-23). Our Enemy, the State (LvMI) (Kindle Locations 143-144). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

If such a catastrophe happened now, not only is social power perhaps too depleted for the like exercise, but the general instinct would be to let the State see to it. Not only has social power atrophied to that extent, but the disposition to exercise it in that particular direction has atrophied with it. If the State has made such matters its business, and has confiscated the social power necessary to deal with them, why, let it deal with them.

Nock, Albert Jay; Shaffer, Butler; Chodorov, Frank (2010-12-23). Our Enemy, the State (LvMI) (Kindle Locations 145-148). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

When the State intervenes to fix wages or prices, or to prescribe the conditions of competition, it virtually tells the enterpriser that he is not exercising social power in the right way, and therefore it proposes to confiscate his power and exercise it according to the State’s own judgment of what is best. Hence the enterpriser’s instinct is to let the State look after the consequences. As a simple illustration of this, a manufacturer of a highly specialized type of textiles was saying to me the other day that he had kept his mill going at a loss for five years because he did not want to turn his workpeople on the street in such hard times, but now that the State had stepped in to tell him how he must run his business, the State might jolly well take the responsibility.

Nock, Albert Jay; Shaffer, Butler; Chodorov, Frank (2010-12-23). Our Enemy, the State (LvMI) (Kindle Locations 153-158). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

[T]he State “turns every contingency into a resource” for accumulating power in itself, always at the expense of social power; and with this it develops a habit of acquiescence in the people. New generations appear, each temperamentally adjusted – or as I believe our American glossary now has it, “conditioned” – to new increments of State power, and they tend to take the process of continuous accumulation as quite in order. All the State’s institutional voices unite in confirming this tendency; they unite in exhibiting the progressive conversion of social power into State power as something not only quite in order, but even as wholesome and necessary for the public good.

Nock, Albert Jay; Shaffer, Butler; Chodorov, Frank (2010-12-23). Our Enemy, the State (LvMI) (Kindle Locations 172-177). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

Practically all the sovereign rights and powers of the smaller political units – all of them that are significant enough to be worth absorbing – have been absorbed by the federal unit; nor is this all. State power has not only been thus concentrated at Washington, but it has been so far concentrated into the hands of the Executive that the existing regime is a regime of personal government.

Nock, Albert Jay; Shaffer, Butler; Chodorov, Frank (2010-12-23). Our Enemy, the State (LvMI) (Kindle Locations 178-181). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

This regime was established by a coup d’Etat of a new and unusual kind, practicable only in a rich country. … It therefore presents what might be called an American variant of the coup d’Etat. Our national legislature was not suppressed by force of arms, like the French Assembly in 1851, but was bought out of its functions with public money; and as appeared most conspicuously in the elections of November, 1934, the consolidation of the coup d’Etat was effected by the same means; the corresponding functions in the smaller units were reduced under the personal control of the Executive.

Nock, Albert Jay; Shaffer, Butler; Chodorov, Frank (2010-12-23). Our Enemy, the State (LvMI) (Kindle Locations 185-190). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

The pressure of centralization has tended powerfully to convert every official and every political aspirant in the smaller units into a venal and complaisant agent of the federal bureaucracy.

Nock, Albert Jay; Shaffer, Butler; Chodorov, Frank (2010-12-23). Our Enemy, the State (LvMI) (Kindle Locations 195-196). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

Two years ago, many of our people were in hard straits; to some extent, no doubt, through no fault of their own, though it is now clear that in the popular view of their case, as well as in the political view, the line between the deserving poor and the undeserving poor was not distinctly drawn. Popular feeling ran high at the time, and the prevailing wretchedness was regarded with undiscriminating emotion, as evidence of some general wrong done upon its victims by society at large, rather than as the natural penalty of greed, folly or actual misdoings; which in large part it was. The State, always instinctively “turning every contingency into a resource” for accelerating the conversion of social power into State power, was quick to take advantage of this state of mind. All that was needed to organize these unfortunates into an invaluable political property was to declare the doctrine that the State owes all its citizens a living; and this was accordingly done. It immediately precipitated an enormous mass of subsidized voting-power, an enormous resource for strengthening the State at the expense of society. There is an impression that the enhancement of State power which has taken place since 1932 is provisional and temporary, that the corresponding depletion of social power is by way of a kind of emergency-loan, and therefore is not to be scrutinized too closely. There is every probability that this belief is devoid of foundation.

Nock, Albert Jay; Shaffer, Butler; Chodorov, Frank (2010-12-23). Our Enemy, the State (LvMI) (Kindle Locations 203-214). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

Our nominally republican system is actually built on an imperial model, with our professional politicians standing in the place of the praetorian guards; they meet from time to time, decide what can be “got away with,” and how, and who is to do it; and the electorate votes according to their prescriptions. Under these conditions it is easy to provide the appearance of any desired concession of State power, without the reality; our history shows innumerable instances of very easy dealing with problems in practical politics much more difficult than that. One may remark that in this connexion also the notoriously baseless assumption that party-designations connote principles, and that party-pledges imply performance. Moreover, underlying these assumptions and all others that faith in “political action” contemplates, is the assumption that the interests of the State and the interests of society are, at least theoretically, identical; whereas in theory they are directly opposed, and this opposition invariably declares itself in practice to the precise extent that circumstances permit. However, without pursuing these matters further at the moment, it is probably enough to observe here that in the nature of things the exercise of personal government, the control of a huge and growing bureaucracy, and the management of an enormous mass of subsidized voting-power, are as agreeable to one stripe of politician as they are to another.

Nock, Albert Jay; Shaffer, Butler; Chodorov, Frank (2010-12-23). Our Enemy, the State (LvMI) (Kindle Locations 235-244). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

It is now being further demonstrated by the derisible haste that the leaders of the official opposition are making towards what they call “reorganization” of their party. One may well be inattentive to their words; their actions, however, mean simply that the recent accretions of State power are here to stay, and that they are aware of it; and that, such being the case, they are preparing to dispose themselves most advantageously in a contest for their control and management. This is all that “reorganization” of the Republican party means, and all it is meant to mean; and this is in itself quite enough to show that any expectation of an essential change of regime through a change of party-administration is illusory. … [I]t is clear that whatever party-competition we shall see hereafter will be on the same terms as heretofore. It will be a competition for control and management, and it would naturally issue in still closer centralization, still further extension of the bureaucratic principle, and still larger concessions to subsidized voting-power. … Indeed, it is by this means that the aim of the collectivists seems likeliest to be attained in this country; this aim being the complete extinction of social power through absorption by the State. Their fundamental doctrine was formulated and invested with a quasi-religious sanction by the idealist philosophers of the last century; and among peoples who have accepted it in terms as well as in fact, it is expressed in formulas almost identical with theirs. Thus, for example, when Hitler says that “the State dominates the nation because it alone represents it,” he is only putting into loose popular language the formula of Hegel, that “the State is the general substance, whereof individuals are but accidents.” Or, again, when Mussolini says, “Everything for the State; nothing outside the State; nothing against the State,” he is merely vulgarizing the doctrine of Fichte, that “the State is the superior power, ultimate and beyond appeal, absolutely independent.”

Nock, Albert Jay; Shaffer, Butler; Chodorov, Frank (2010-12-23). Our Enemy, the State (LvMI) (Kindle Locations 247-262). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

Mr. Jefferson wrote in 1823 that there was no danger he dreaded so much as “the consolidation [i.e., centralization] of our government by the noiseless and therefore unalarming instrumentality of the Supreme Court.” These words characterize every advance that we have made in State aggrandizement. Each one has been noiseless and therefore unalarming, especially to a people notoriously preoccupied, inattentive and incurious. Even the coup d’Etat of 1932 was noiseless and unalarming. In Russia, Italy, Germany, the coup d’Etat was violent and spectacular; it had to be; but here it was neither. Under covers of a nation-wide, State-managed mobilization of inane buffoonery and aimless commotion, it took place in so unspectacular a way that its true nature escaped notice, and even now is not generally understood.

Nock, Albert Jay; Shaffer, Butler; Chodorov, Frank (2010-12-23). Our Enemy, the State (LvMI) (Kindle Locations 272-277). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

[I]n respect of the relation between the theory and the actual practice of public affairs, the American is the most unphilosophical of beings. The rationalization of conduct in general is most repugnant to him; he prefers to emotionalize it. He is indifferent to the theory of things, so long as he may rehearse his formulas; and so long as he can listen to the patter of his litanies, no practical inconsistency disturbs him – indeed, he gives no evidence of even recognizing it as an inconsistency.

Nock, Albert Jay; Shaffer, Butler; Chodorov, Frank (2010-12-23). Our Enemy, the State (LvMI) (Kindle Locations 294-298). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

An army on the march has no philosophy; it views itself as a creature of the moment. It does not rationalize conduct except in terms of an immediate end. As Tennyson observed, there is a pretty strict official understanding against its doing so; “theirs not to reason why.”

Nock, Albert Jay; Shaffer, Butler; Chodorov, Frank (2010-12-23). Our Enemy, the State (LvMI) (Kindle Locations 304-306). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

The condition of public affairs in all countries, notably in our own, has done more than bring under review the mere current practice of politics, the character and quality of representative politicians, and the relative merits of this-or- that form or mode of government. It has served to suggest attention to the one institution whereof all these forms or modes are but the several, and, from the theoretical point of view, indifferent, manifestations. It suggests that finality does not lie with consideration of species, but of genus; it does not lie with consideration of the characteristic marks that differentiate the republican State, monocratic State, constitutional, collectivist, totalitarian, Hitlerian, Bolshevist, what you will. It lies with consideration of the State itself.

Nock, Albert Jay; Shaffer, Butler; Chodorov, Frank (2010-12-23). Our Enemy, the State (LvMI) (Kindle Locations 321-326). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

My purpose in writing is to raise the question whether the enormous depletion of social power which we are witnessing everywhere does not suggest the importance of knowing more than we do about the essential nature of the institution that is so rapidly absorbing this volume of power.

Nock, Albert Jay; Shaffer, Butler; Chodorov, Frank (2010-12-23). Our Enemy, the State (LvMI) (Kindle Locations 345-347). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

At the outset of his pamphlet called Common Sense, Paine draws a distinction between society and government. While society in any state is a blessing, he says, “government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.” In another place, he speaks of government as “a mode rendered necessary by the inability of moral virtue to govern the world.” He proceeds then to show how and why government comes into being. Its origin is in the common understanding and common agreement of society; and “the design and end of government,” he says, is “freedom and security.” Teleologically, government implements the common desire of society, first, for freedom, and second, for security. Beyond this it does not go; it contemplates no positive intervention upon the individual, but only a negative intervention. It would seem that in Paine’s view the code of government should be that of the legendary king Pausole, who prescribed but two laws for his subjects, the first being, Hurt no man, and the second, Then do as you please; and that the whole business of government should be the purely negative one of seeing that this code is carried out.

Nock, Albert Jay; Shaffer, Butler; Chodorov, Frank (2010-12-23). Our Enemy, the State (LvMI) (Kindle Locations 368-376). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

The positive testimony of history is that the State invariably had its origin in conquest and confiscation.

Nock, Albert Jay; Shaffer, Butler; Chodorov, Frank (2010-12-23). Our Enemy, the State (LvMI) (Kindle Locations 434-435). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

Oppenheimer defines the State, in respect of its origin, as an institution “forced on a defeated group by a conquering group, with a view only to systematizing the domination of the conquered by the conquerors, and safeguarding itself against insurrection from within and attack from without. This domination had no other final purpose than the economic exploitation of the conquered group by the victorious group.” An American statesman, John Jay, accomplished the respectable feat of compressing the whole doctrine of conquest into a single sentence. “Nations in general,” he said, “will go to war whenever there is a prospect of getting something by it.”

Nock, Albert Jay; Shaffer, Butler; Chodorov, Frank (2010-12-23). Our Enemy, the State (LvMI) (Kindle Locations 438-442). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

Wherever economic exploitation has been for any reason either impractical or unprofitable, the State has never come into existence; government has existed, but the State, never.

Nock, Albert Jay; Shaffer, Butler; Chodorov, Frank (2010-12-23). Our Enemy, the State (LvMI) (Kindle Locations 457-458). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

Based on the idea of natural rights, government secures those rights to the individual by strictly negative intervention, making justice costless and easy of access; and beyond that it does not go. The State, on the other hand, both in its genesis and by its primary intention, is purely anti-social. It is not based on the idea of natural rights, but on the idea that the individual has no rights except those that the State may provisionally grant him. It has always made justice costly and difficult of access, and has invariably held itself above justice and common morality whenever it could advantage itself by so doing.

Nock, Albert Jay; Shaffer, Butler; Chodorov, Frank (2010-12-23). Our Enemy, the State (LvMI) (Kindle Locations 468-472). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

As Dr. Sigmund Freud has observed, it can not even be said that the State has ever shown any disposition to suppress crime, but only to safeguard its own monopoly of crime.

Nock, Albert Jay; Shaffer, Butler; Chodorov, Frank (2010-12-23). Our Enemy, the State (LvMI) (Kindle Locations 474-475). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

Spencer remarks the fact so notoriously common in our experience, that when State power is applied to social purposes, its action is invariably “slow, stupid, extravagant, unadaptive, corrupt and obstructive.”

Nock, Albert Jay; Shaffer, Butler; Chodorov, Frank (2010-12-23). Our Enemy, the State (LvMI) (Kindle Locations 490-491). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

Republicanism permits the individual to persuade himself that the State is his creation, that State action is his action, that when it expresses itself it expresses him, and when it is glorified he is glorified.

Nock, Albert Jay; Shaffer, Butler; Chodorov, Frank (2010-12-23). Our Enemy, the State (LvMI) (Kindle Locations 515-516). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

Lincoln’s phrase, “of the people, by the people, for the people” was probably the most effective single stroke of propaganda ever made in behalf of republican State prestige.

Nock, Albert Jay; Shaffer, Butler; Chodorov, Frank (2010-12-23). Our Enemy, the State (LvMI) (Kindle Locations 517-519). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

There are two methods, or means, and only two, whereby man’s needs and desires can be satisfied. One is the production and exchange of wealth; this is the economic means. The other is the uncompensated appropriation of wealth produced by others; this is the political means.

Nock, Albert Jay; Shaffer, Butler; Chodorov, Frank (2010-12-23). Our Enemy, the State (LvMI) (Kindle Locations 532-534). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.




by Thomas Jefferson

Resolved, that it be an instruction to the said deputies, when assembled in general congress with the deputies from the other states of British America, to propose to the said congress that an humble and dutiful address be presented to his majesty, begging leave to lay before him, as chief magistrate of the British empire, the united complaints of his majesty’s subjects in America; complaints which are excited by many unwarrantable encroachments and usurpations, attempted to be made by the legislature of one part of the empire, upon those rights which God and the laws have given equally and independently to all. To represent to his majesty that these his states have often individually made humble application to his imperial throne to obtain, through its intervention, some redress of their injured rights, to none of which was ever even an answer condescended; humbly to hope that this their joint address, penned in the language of truth, and divested of those expressions of servility which would persuade his majesty that we are asking favors, and not rights, shall obtain from his majesty a more respectful acceptance. And this his majesty will think we have reason to expect when he reflects that he is no more than the chief officer of the people, appointed by the laws, and circumscribed with definite powers, to assist in working the great machine of government, erected for their use, and consequently subject to their superintendence. And in order that these our rights, as well as the invasions of them, may be laid more fully before his majesty, to take a view of them from the origin and first settlement of these countries.

To remind him that our ancestors, before their emigration to America, were the free inhabitants of the British dominions in Europe, and possessed a right which nature has given to all men, of departing from the country in which chance, not choice, has placed them, of going in quest of new habitations, and of there establishing new societies, under such laws and regulations as to them shall seem most likely to promote public happiness. That their Saxon ancestors had, under this universal law, in like manner left their native wilds and woods in the north of Europe, had possessed themselves of the island of Britain, then less charged with inhabitants, and had established there that system of laws which has so long been the glory and protection of that country. Nor was ever any claim of superiority or dependence asserted over them by that mother country from which they had migrated; and were such a claim made, it is believed that his majesty’s subjects in Great Britain have too firm a feeling of the rights derived to them from their ancestors, to bow down the sovereignty of their state before such visionary pretensions. And it is thought that no circumstance has occurred to distinguish materially the British from the Saxon emigration. America was conquered, and her settlements made, and firmly established, at the expense of individuals, and not of the British public. Their own blood was spilt in acquiring lands for their settlement, their own fortunes expended in making that settlement effectual; for themselves they fought, for themselves they conquered, and for themselves alone they have right to hold. Not a shilling was ever issued from the public treasures of his majesty, or his ancestors, for their assistance, till of very late times, after the colonies had become established on a firm and permanent footing. That then, indeed, having become valuable to Great Britain for her commercial purposes, his parliament was pleased to lend them assistance against an enemy, who would fain have drawn to herself the benefits of their commerce, to the great aggrandizement of herself, and danger of Great Britain. Such assistance, and in such circumstances, they had often before given to Portugal, and other allied states, with whom they carry on a commercial intercourse; yet these states never supposed, that by calling in her aid, they thereby submitted themselves to her sovereignty. Had such terms been proposed, they would have rejected them with disdain, and trusted for better to the moderation of their enemies, or to a vigorous exertion of their own force. We do not, however, mean to under-rate those aids, which to us were doubtless valuable, on whatever principles granted; but we would show that they cannot give a title to that authority which the British parliament would arrogate over us, and that they may amply be repaid by our giving to the inhabitants of Great Britain such exclusive privileges in trade as may be advantageous to them, and at the same time not too restrictive to ourselves. That settlements having been thus effected in the wilds of America, the emigrants thought proper to adopt that system of laws under which they had hitherto lived in the mother country, and to continue their union with her by submitting themselves to the same common sovereign, who was thereby made the central link connecting the several parts of the empire thus newly multiplied.

But that not long were they permitted, however far they thought themselves removed from the hand of oppression, to hold undisturbed the rights thus acquired, at the hazard of their lives, and loss of their fortunes. A family of princes was then on the British throne, whose treasonable crimes against their people brought on them afterwards the exertion of those sacred and sovereign rights of punishment reserved in the hands of the people for cases of extreme necessity, and judged by the constitution unsafe to be delegated to any other judicature. While every day brought forth some new and unjustifiable exertion of power over their subjects on that side the water, it was not to be expected that those here, much less able at that time to oppose the designs of despotism, should be exempted from injury.

Accordingly that country, which had been acquired by the lives, the labors, and the fortunes, of individual adventurers, was by these princes, at several times, parted out and distributed among the favorites and (1) followers of their fortunes, and, by an assumed right of the crown alone, were erected into distinct and independent governments; a measure which it is believed his majesty’s prudence and understanding would prevent him from imitating at this day, as no exercise of such a power, of dividing and dismembering a country, has ever occurred in his majesty’s realm of England, though now of very ancient standing; nor could it be justified or acquiesced under there, or in any other part of his majesty’s empire.

That the exercise of a free trade with all parts of the world, possessed by the American colonists, as of natural right, and which no law of their own had taken away or abridged, was next the object of unjust encroachment. Some of the colonies having thought proper to continue the administration of their government in the name and under the authority of his majesty king Charles the first, whom, notwithstanding his late deposition by the commonwealth of England, they continued in the sovereignty of their state; the parliament for the commonwealth took the same in high offence, and assumed upon themselves the power of prohibiting their trade with all other parts of the world, except the island of Great Britain. This arbitrary act, however, they soon recalled, and by solemn treaty, entered into on the 12th day of March, 1651, between the said commonwealth by their commissioners, and the colony of Virginia by their house of burgesses, it was expressly stipulated, by the 8th article of the said treaty, that they should have “free trade as the people of England do enjoy to all places and with all nations, according to the laws of that commonwealth.” But that, upon the restoration of his majesty king Charles the second, their rights of free commerce fell once more a victim to arbitrary power; and by several acts (2) of his reign, as well as of some of his successors, the trade of the colonies was laid under such restrictions, as show what hopes they might form from the justice of a British parliament, were its uncontrolled power admitted over these states. History has informed us that bodies of men, as well as individuals, are susceptible of the spirit of tyranny. A view of these acts of parliament for regulation, as it has been affectedly called, of the American trade, if all other evidence were removed out of the case, would undeniably evince the truth of this observation. Besides the duties they impose on our articles of export and import, they prohibit our going to any markets northward of Cape Finesterre, in the kingdom of Spain, for the sale of commodities which Great Britain will not take from us, and for the purchase of others, with which she cannot supply us, and that for no other than the arbitrary purposes of purchasing for themselves, by a sacrifice of our rights and interests, certain privileges in their commerce with an allied state, who in confidence that their exclusive trade with America will be continued, while the principles and power of the British parliament be the same, have indulged themselves in every exorbitance which their avarice could dictate, or our necessities extort; have raised their commodities, called for in America, to the double and treble of what they sold for before such exclusive privileges were given them, and of what better commodities of the same kind would cost us elsewhere, and at the same time give us much less for what we carry thither than might be had at more convenient ports. That these acts prohibit us from carrying in quest of other purchasers the surplus of our tobaccos remaining after the consumption of Great Britain is supplied; so that we must leave them with the British merchant for whatever he will please to allow us, to be by him reshipped to foreign markets, where he will reap the benefits of making sale of them for full value. That to heighten still the idea of parliamentary justice, and to show with what moderation they are like to exercise power, where themselves are to feel no part of its weight, we take leave to mention to his majesty certain other acts of British parliament, by which they would prohibit us from manufacturing for our own use the articles we raise on our own lands with our own labor. By an act (3) passed in the 5th Year of the reign of his late majesty king George the second, an American subject is forbidden to make a hat for himself of the fur which he has taken perhaps on his own soil; an instance of despotism to which no parallel can be produced in the most arbitrary ages of British history. By one other act, (4) passed in the 23d year of the same reign, the iron which we make we are forbidden to manufacture, and heavy as that article is, and necessary in every branch of husbandry, besides commission and insurance, we are to pay freight for it to Great Britain, and freight for it back again, for the purpose of supporting not men, but machines, in the island of Great Britain. In the same spirit of equal and impartial legislation is to be viewed the act of parliament (5), passed in the 5th year of the same reign, by which American lands are made subject to the demands of British creditors, while their own lands were still continued unanswerable for their debts; from which one of these conclusions must necessarily follow, either that justice is not the same in America as in Britain, or else that the British parliament pay less regard to it here than there. But that we do not point out to his majesty the injustice of these acts, with intent to rest on that principle the cause of their nullity; but to shew that experience confirms the propriety of those political principles which exempt us from the jurisdiction of the British parliament. The true ground on which we declare these acts void is, that the British parliament has no right to exercise authority over us.

That these exercises of usurped power have not been confined to instances alone, in which themselves were interested, but they have also intermeddled with the regulation of the internal affairs of the colonies. The act of the 9th of Anne for establishing a post office in America seems to have had little connection with British convenience, except that of accommodating his majesty’s ministers and favorites with the sale of a lucrative and easy office.

That thus have we hastened through the reigns which preceded his majesty’s, during which the violations of our right were less alarming, because repeated at more distant intervals than that rapid and bold succession of injuries which is likely to distinguish the present from all other periods of American story. Scarcely have our minds been able to emerge from the astonishment into which one stroke of parliamentary thunder has involved us, before another more heavy, and more alarming, is fallen on us. Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the accidental opinion of a day; but a series of oppressions, begun at a distinguished period, and pursued unalterably through every change of ministers, too plainly prove a deliberate and systematical plan of reducing us to slavery.

That the act (6) passed in the 4th year of his majesty’s reign, entitled “An act for granting certain duties in the British colonies and plantations in America, &c.”

One other act (7), passed in the 5th year of his reign, intitled “An act for granting and applying certain stamp duties and other duties in the British colonies and plantations in America, &c.”

One other act (8), passed in the 6th year of his reign, intitled “An act for the better securing the dependency of his majesty’s dominions in America upon the crown and parliament of Great Britain;” and one other act (9), passed in the 7th year of his reign, intitled “An act for granting duties on paper, tea, &c.” form that connected chain of parliamentary usurpation, which has already been the subject of frequent applications to his majesty, and the houses of lords and commons of Great Britain; and no answers having yet been condescended to any of these, we shall not trouble his majesty with a repetition of the matters they contained.

But that one other act (10), passed in the same 7th year of the reign, having been a peculiar attempt, must ever require peculiar mention; it is entitled “An act for suspending the legislature of New York.” One free and independent legislature hereby takes upon itself to suspend the powers of another, free and independent as itself; thus exhibiting a phenomenon unknown in nature, the creator and creature of its own power. Not only the principles of common sense, but the common feelings of human nature, must be surrendered up before his majesty’s subjects here can be persuaded to believe that they hold their political existence at the will of a British parliament. Shall these governments be dissolved, their property annihilated, and their people reduced to a state of nature, at the imperious breath of a body of men, whom they never saw, in whom they never confided, and over whom they have no powers of punishment or removal, let their crimes against the American public be ever so great? Can any one reason be assigned why 160,000 electors in the island of Great Britain should give law to four millions in the states of America, every individual of whom is equal to every individual of them, in virtue, in understanding, and in bodily strength? Were this to be admitted, instead of being a free people, as we have hitherto supposed, and mean to continue ourselves, we should suddenly be found the slaves, not of one, but of 160,000 tyrants, distinguished too from all others by this singular circumstance, that they are removed from the reach of fear, the only restraining motive which may hold the hand of a tyrant.

That by “an act (11) to discontinue in such manner and for such time as are therein mentioned the landing and discharging, lading or shipping, of goods, wares, and merchandize, at the town and within the harbor of Boston, in the province of Massachusetts Bay, in North America,” which was passed at the last session of British parliament; a large and populous town, whose trade was their sole subsistence, was deprived of that trade, and involved in utter ruin. Let us for a while suppose the question of right suspended, in order to examine this act on principles of justice: An act of parliament had been passed imposing duties on teas, to be paid in America, against which act the Americans had protested as inauthoritative. The East India company, who till that time had never sent a pound of tea to America on their own account, step forth on that occasion the assertors of parliamentary right, and send hither many ship loads of that obnoxious commodity. The masters of their several vessels, however, on their arrival in America, wisely attended to admonition, and returned with their cargoes. In the province of New England alone the remonstrances of the people were disregarded, and compliance, after being many days waited for, was flatly refused. Whether in this the master of the vessel was governed by his obstinacy, or his instructions, let those who know, say. There are extraordinary situations which require extraordinary interposition. An exasperated people, who feel that they possess power, are not easily restrained within limits strictly regular. A number of them assembled in the town of Boston, threw the tea into the ocean, and dispersed without doing any other act of violence. If in this they did wrong, they were known and were amenable to the laws of the land, against which it could not be objected that they had ever, in any instance, been obstructed or diverted from their regular course in favor of popular offenders. They should therefore not have been distrusted on this occasion. But that ill-fated colony had formerly been bold in their enmities against the house of Stuart, and was now devoted to ruin by that unseen hand which governs the momentous affairs of this great empire. On the partial representations of a few worthless ministerial dependents, whose constant office it has been to keep that government embroiled, and who, by their treacheries, hope to obtain the dignity of the British knighthood, without calling for a party accused, without asking a proof, without attempting a distinction between the guilty and the innocent, the whole of that ancient and wealthy town is in a moment reduced from opulence to beggary. Men who had spent their lives in extending the British commerce, who had invested in that place the wealth their honest endeavors had merited, found themselves and their families thrown at once on the world for subsistence by its charities. Not the hundredth part of the inhabitants of that town had been concerned in the act complained of; many of them were in Great Britain and in other parts beyond sea; yet all were involved in one indiscriminate ruin, by a new executive power, unheard of till then, that of a British parliament. A property, of the value of many millions of money, was sacrificed to revenge, not repay, the loss of a few thousands. This is administering justice with a heavy hand indeed! and when is this tempest to be arrested in its course? Two wharfs are to be opened again when his majesty shall think proper. The residue which lined the extensive shores of the bay of Boston are forever interdicted the exercise of commerce. This little exception seems to have been thrown in for no other purpose than that of setting a precedent for investing his majesty with legislative powers. If the pulse of his people shall beat calmly under this experiment, another and another will be tried, till the measure of despotism be filled up. It would be an insult on common sense to pretend that this exception was made in order to restore its commerce to that great town. The trade which cannot be received at two wharfs alone must of necessity be transferred to some other place; to which it will soon be followed by that of the two wharfs. Considered in this light, it would be an insolent and cruel mockery at the annihilation of the town of Boston.

By the act (12) for the suppression of riots and tumults in the town of Boston, passed also in the last session of parliament, a murder committed there is, if the governor pleases, to be tried in the court of King’s Bench, in the island of Great Britain, by a jury of Middlesex. The witnesses, too, on receipt of such a sum as the governor shall think it reasonable for them to expend, are to enter into recognizance to appear at the trial. This is, in other words, taxing them to the amount of their recognizance, and that amount may be whatever a governor pleases; for who does his majesty think can be prevailed on to cross the Atlantic for the sole purpose of bearing evidence to a fact? His expenses are to be borne, indeed, as they shall be estimated by a governor; but who are to feed the wife and children whom he leaves behind, and who have had no other subsistence but his daily labor? Those epidemical disorders, too, so terrible in a foreign climate, is the cure of them to be estimated among the articles of expense, and their danger to be warded off by the almighty power of parliament? And the wretched criminal, if he happen to have offended on the American side, stripped of his privilege of trial by peers of his vicinage, removed from the place where alone full evidence could be obtained, without money, without counsel, without friends, without exculpatory proof, is tried before judges predetermined to condemn. The cowards who would suffer a countryman to be torn from the bowels of their society, in order to be thus offered a sacrifice to parliamentary tyranny, would merit that everlasting infamy now fixed on the authors of the act! A clause (13) for a similar purpose had been introduced into an act, passed in the 12th year of his majesty’s reign, entitled “An act for the better securing and preserving his majesty’s dockyards, magazines, ships, ammunition, and stores;” against which, as meriting the same censures, the several colonies have already protested.

That these are the acts of power, assumed by a body of men, foreign to our constitutions, and unacknowledged by our laws, against which we do, on behalf of the inhabitants of British America, enter this our solemn and determined protest; and we do earnestly entreat his majesty, as yet the only mediatory power between the several states of the British empire, to recommend to his parliament of Great Britain the total revocation of these acts, which, however nugatory they be, may yet prove the cause of further discontents and jealousies among us.

That we next proceed to consider the conduct of his majesty, as holding the executive powers of the laws of these states, and mark out his deviations from the line of duty: By the constitution of Great Britain, as well as of the several American states, his majesty possesses the power of refusing to pass into a law any bill which has already passed the other two branches of legislature. His majesty, however, and his ancestors, conscious of the impropriety of opposing their single opinion to the united wisdom of two houses of parliament, while their proceedings were unbiased by interested principles, for several ages past have modestly declined the exercise of this power in that part of his empire called Great Britain. But by change of circumstances, other principles than those of justice simply have obtained an influence on their determinations; the addition of new states to the British empire has produced an addition of new, and sometimes opposite interests. It is now, therefore, the great office of his majesty, to resume the exercise of his negative power, and to prevent the passage of laws by any one legislature of the empire, which might bear injuriously on the rights and interests of another. Yet this will not excuse the wanton exercise of this power which we have seen his majesty practice on the laws of the American legislatures. For the most trifling reasons, and sometimes for no conceivable reason at all, his majesty has rejected laws of the most salutary tendency. The abolition of domestic slavery is the great object of desire in those colonies, where it was unhappily introduced in their infant state. But previous to the enfranchisement of the slaves we have, it is necessary to exclude all further importations from Africa; yet our repeated attempts to effect this by prohibitions, and by imposing duties which might amount to a prohibition, have been hitherto defeated by his majesty’s negative: Thus preferring the immediate advantages of a few African corsairs to the lasting interests of the American states, and to the rights of human nature, deeply wounded by this infamous practice. Nay, the single interposition of an interested individual against a law was scarcely ever known to fail of success, though in the opposite scale were placed the interests of a whole country. That this is so shameful an abuse of a power trusted with his majesty for other purposes, as if not reformed, would call for some legal restrictions.

With equal inattention to the necessities of his people here has his majesty permitted our laws to lie neglected in England for years, neither confirming them by his assent, nor annulling them by his negative; so that such of them as have no suspending clause we hold on the most precarious of all tenures, his majesty’s will, and such of them as suspend themselves till his majesty’s assent be obtained, we have feared, might be called into existence at some future and distant period, when time, and change of circumstances, shall have rendered them destructive to his people here. And to render this grievance still more oppressive, his majesty by his instructions has laid his governors under such restrictions that they can pass no law of any moment unless it have such suspending clause; so that, however immediate may be the call for legislative interposition, the law cannot be executed till it has twice crossed the Atlantic, by which time the evil may have spent its whole force.

But in what terms, reconcilable to majesty, and at the same time to truth, shall we speak of a late instruction to his majesty’s governor of the colony of Virginia, by which he is forbidden to assent to any law for the division of a county, unless the new county will consent to have no representative in assembly? That colony has as yet fixed no boundary to the westward. Their western counties, therefore, are of indefinite extent; some of them are actually seated many hundred miles from their eastern limits. Is it possible, then, that his majesty can have bestowed a single thought on the situation of those people, who, in order to obtain justice for injuries, however great or small, must, by the laws of that colony, attend their county court, at such a distance, with all their witnesses, monthly, till their litigation be determined? Or does his majesty seriously wish, and publish it to the world, that his subjects should give up the glorious right of representation, with all the benefits derived from that, and submit themselves the absolute slaves of his sovereign will? Or is it rather meant to confine the legislative body to their present numbers, that they may be the cheaper bargain whenever they shall become worth a purchase.

One of the articles of impeachment against Tresilian, and the other judges of Westminister Hall, in the reign of Richard the second, for which they suffered death, as traitors to their country, was, that they had advised the king that he might dissolve his parliament at any time; and succeeding kings have adopted the opinion of these unjust judges. Since the establishment, however, of the British constitution, at the glorious revolution, on its free and ancient principles, neither his majesty, nor his ancestors, have exercised such a power of dissolution in the island of Great Britain; and when his majesty was petitioned, by the united voice of his people there, to dissolve the present parliament, who had become obnoxious to them, his ministers were heard to declare, in open parliament, that his majesty possessed no such power by the constitution. But how different their language and his practice here! To declare, as their duty required, the known rights of their country, to oppose the usurpations of every foreign judicature, to disregard the imperious mandates of a minister or governor, have been the avowed causes of dissolving houses of representatives in America. But if such powers be really vested in his majesty, can he suppose they are there placed to awe the members from such purposes as these? When the representative body have lost the confidence of their constituents, when they have notoriously made sale of their most valuable rights, when they have assumed to themselves powers which the people never put into their hands, then indeed their continuing in office becomes dangerous to the state, and calls for an exercise of the power of dissolution. Such being the causes for which the representative body should, and should not, be dissolved, will it not appear strange to an unbiased observer, that that of Great Britain was not dissolved, while those of the colonies have repeatedly incurred that sentence?

But your majesty, or your governors, have carried this power beyond every limit known, or provided for, by the laws: After dissolving one house of representatives, they have refused to call another, so that, for a great length of time, the legislature provided by the laws has been out of existence. From the nature of things, every society must at all times possess within itself the sovereign powers of legislation. The feelings of human nature revolt against the supposition of a state so situated as that it may not in any emergency provide against dangers which perhaps threaten immediate ruin. While those bodies are in existence to whom the people have delegated the powers of legislation, they alone possess and may exercise those powers; but when they are dissolved by the lopping off one or more of their branches, the power reverts to the people, who may exercise it to unlimited extent, either assembling together in person, sending deputies, or in any other way they may think proper. We forbear to trace consequences further; the dangers are conspicuous with which this practice is replete.

That we shall at this time also take notice of an error in the nature of our land holdings, which crept in at a very early period of our settlement. The introduction of the feudal tenures into the kingdom of England, though ancient, is well enough understood to set this matter in a proper light. In the earlier ages of the Saxon settlement feudal holdings were certainly altogether unknown; and very few, if any, had been introduced at the time of the Norman conquest. Our Saxon ancestors held their lands, as they did their personal property, in absolute dominion, disencumbered with any superior, answering nearly to the nature of those possessions which the feudalists term allodial. William, the Norman, first introduced that system generally. The lands which had belonged to those who fell in the battle of Hastings, and in the subsequent insurrections of his reign, formed a considerable proportion of the lands of the whole kingdom. These he granted out, subject to feudal duties, as did he also those of a great number of his new subjects, who, by persuasions or threats, were induced to surrender them for that purpose. But still much was left in the hands of his Saxon subjects; held of no superior, and not subject to feudal conditions. These, therefore, by express laws, enacted to render uniform the system of military defense, were made liable to the same military duties as if they had been feuds; and the Norman lawyers soon found means to saddle them also with all the other feudal burthens. But still they had not been surrendered to the king, they were not derived from his grant, and therefore they were not holden of him. A general principle, indeed, was introduced, that “all lands in England were held either mediately or immediately of the crown,” but this was borrowed from those holdings, which were truly feudal, and only applied to others for the purposes of illustration. Feudal holdings were therefore but exceptions out of the Saxon laws of possession, under which all lands were held in absolute right. These, therefore, still form the basis, or ground-work, of the common law, to prevail wheresoever the exceptions have not taken place. America was not conquered by William the Norman, nor its lands surrendered to him, or any of his successors. Possessions there are undoubtedly of the allodial nature. Our ancestors, however, who migrated hither, were farmers, not lawyers. The fictitious principle that all lands belong originally to the king, they were early persuaded to believe real; and accordingly took grants of their own lands from the crown. And while the crown continued to grant for small sums, and on reasonable rents; there was no inducement to arrest the error, and lay it open to public view. But his majesty has lately taken on him to advance the terms of purchase, and of holding to the double of what they were; by which means the acquisition of lands being rendered difficult, the population of our country is likely to be checked. It is time, therefore, for us to lay this matter before his majesty, and to declare that he has no right to grant lands of himself. From the nature and purpose of civil institutions, all the lands within the limits which any particular society has circumscribed around itself are assumed by that society, and subject to their allotment only. This may be done by themselves, assembled collectively, or by their legislature, to whom they may have delegated sovereign authority; and if they are allotted in neither of these ways, each individual of the society may appropriate to himself such lands as he finds vacant, and occupancy will give him title.

That in order to enforce the arbitrary measures before complained of, his majesty has from time to time sent among us large bodies of armed forces, not made up of the people here, nor raised by the authority of our laws: Did his majesty possess such a right as this, it might swallow up all our other rights whenever he should think proper. But his majesty has no right to land a single armed man on our shores, and those whom he sends here are liable to our laws made for the suppression and punishment of riots, routs, and unlawful assemblies; or are hostile bodies, invading us in defiance of law. When in the course of the late war it became expedient that a body of Hanoverian troops should be brought over for the defense of Great Britain, his majesty’s grandfather, our late sovereign, did not pretend to introduce them under any authority he possessed. Such a measure would have given just alarm to his subjects in Great Britain, whose liberties would not be safe if armed men of another country, and of another spirit, might be brought into the realm at any time without the consent of their legislature. He therefore applied to parliament, who passed an act for that purpose, limiting the number to be brought in and the time they were to continue. In like manner is his majesty restrained in every part of the empire. He possesses, indeed, the executive power of the laws in every state; but they are the laws of the particular state which he is to administer within that state, and not those of any one within the limits of another. Every state must judge for itself the number of armed men which they may safely trust among them, of whom they are to consist, and under what restrictions they shall be laid.

To render these proceedings still more criminal against our laws, instead of subjecting the military to the civil powers, his majesty has expressly made the civil subordinate to the military. But can his majesty thus put down all law under his feet? Can he erect a power superior to that which erected himself? He has done it indeed by force; but let him remember that force cannot give right.

That these are our grievances which we have thus laid before his majesty, with that freedom of language and sentiment which becomes a free people claiming their rights, as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate: Let those flatter who fear; it is not an American art. To give praise which is not due might be well from the venal, but would ill beseem those who are asserting the rights of human nature. They know, and will therefore say, that kings are the servants, not the proprietors of the people. Open your breast, sire, to liberal and expanded thought. Let not the name of George the third be a blot in the page of history. You are surrounded by British counselors, but remember that they are parties. You have no ministers for American affairs, because you have none taken from among us, nor amenable to the laws on which they are to give you advice. It behooves you, therefore, to think and to act for yourself and your people. The great principles of right and wrong are legible to every reader; to pursue them requires not the aid of many counselors. The whole art of government consists in the art of being honest. Only aim to do your duty, and mankind will give you credit where you fail. No longer persevere in sacrificing the rights of one part of the empire to the inordinate desires of another; but deal out to all equal and impartial right. Let no act be passed by any one legislature which may infringe on the rights and liberties of another. This is the important post in which fortune has placed you, holding the balance of a great, if a well-poised empire. This, sire, is the advice of your great American council, on the observance of which may perhaps depend your felicity and future fame, and the preservation of that harmony which alone can continue both to Great Britain and America the reciprocal advantages of their connection. It is neither our wish, nor our interest, to separate from her. We are willing, on our part, to sacrifice everything which reason can ask to the restoration of that tranquility for which all must wish. On their part, let them be ready to establish union and a generous plan. Let them name their terms, but let them be just. Accept of every commercial preference it is in our power to give for such things as we can raise for their use, or they make for ours. But let them not think to exclude us from going to other markets to dispose of those commodities which they cannot use, or to supply those wants which they cannot supply. Still less let it be proposed that our properties within our own territories shall be taxed or regulated by any power on earth but our own. The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time; the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them. This, sire, is our last, our determined resolution; and that you will be pleased to interpose with that efficacy which your earnest endeavors may ensure to procure redress of these our great grievances, to quiet the minds of your subjects in British America, against any apprehensions of future encroachment, to establish fraternal love and harmony through the whole empire, and that these may continue to the latest ages of time, is the fervent prayer of all British America!

(1) 1632 Maryland was granted to lord Baltimore, 14. c. 2. Pennsylvania to Penn, and the province of Carolina was in the year 1663 granted by letters patent of majesty, King Charles II. in the 15th year of his reign, in propriety, unto the right honorable Edward earl of Clarendon, George duke of Albemarle, William earl of Craven, John lord Berkeley, Anthony lord Ashley, sir George Carteret, sir John Coleton, knight and baronet, and sir William Berkeley, knight; by which letters patent the laws of England were to be in force in Carolina: But the lords proprietors had power, _with the consent of the inhabitants,_ to make bye-laws for the better government of the said province; so that no money could be received, or law made, without the consent of the inhabitants, or their representatives. Back

(2) 12. c. 2. c. 18. 15. c. 2. c. II. 25. c. 2. c. 7. 7. 8. W. M. c. 22. II. W. 3. 4. Anne. 6. G. 2. c. 13. Back

(3) 5. G. 2. Back

(4) 23. G. 2. c. 29. Back

(5) 5. G. 270. Back

(6) 4. G. 3. c. 15. Back

(7) 5. G. 3. c. 12. Back

(8) 6. G. 3. c. 12. Back

(9) 7. G. 3. Back

(10) 7. G. 3. c. 59. Back

(11) 14. G. 3. Back

(12) 14. G. 3. Back

(13) 12. G. 3. c. 24. Back



A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law

John Adams

“Ignorance and inconsideration are the two great causes of the ruin of mankind.” This is an observation of Dr. Tillotson, with relation to the interest of his fellow men in a future and immortal state. But it is of equal truth and importance if applied to the happiness of men in society, on this side the grave. In the earliest ages of the world, absolute monarchy seems to have been the universal form of government. Kings, and a few of their great counselors and captains, exercised a cruel tyranny over the people, who held a rank in the scale of intelligence, in those days, but little higher than the camels and elephants that carried them and their engines to war.

By what causes it was brought to pass, that the people in the Middle Ages became more intelligent in general, would not, perhaps, be possible in these days to discover. But the fact is certain; and wherever a general knowledge and sensibility have prevailed among the people, arbitrary government and every kind of oppression have lessened and disappeared in proportion. Man has certainly an exalted soul; and the same principle in human nature, — that aspiring, noble principle founded in benevolence, and cherished by knowledge; I mean the love of power, which has been so often the cause of slavery, — has, whenever freedom has existed, been the cause of freedom. If it is this principle that has always prompted the princes and nobles of the earth, by every species of fraud and violence to shake off all the limitations of their power, it is the same that has always stimulated the common people to aspire at independency, and to endeavor at confining the power of the great within the limits of equity and reason.

The poor people, it is true, have been much less successful than the great. They have seldom found either leisure or opportunity to form a union and exert their strength; ignorant as they were of arts and letters, they have seldom been able to frame and support a regular opposition. This, however, has been known by the great to be the temper of mankind; and they have accordingly labored, in all ages, to wrest from the populace, as they are contemptuously called, the knowledge of their rights and wrongs, and the power to assert the former or redress the latter. I say RIGHTS, for such they have, undoubtedly, antecedent to all earthly government, — Rights, that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws — Rights, derived from the great Legislator of the universe.

Since the promulgation of Christianity, the two greatest systems of tyranny that have sprung from this original are the canon and the feudal law. The desire of dominion, that great principle by which we have attempted to account for so much good and so much evil, is, when properly restrained, a very useful and noble movement in the human mind. But when such restraints are taken off, it becomes an encroaching, grasping, restless, and ungovernable power. Numberless have been the systems of iniquity contrived by the great for the gratification of this passion in themselves; but in none of them were they ever more successful than in the invention and establishment of the canon and the feudal law.

By the former of these, the most refined, sublime, extensive, and astonishing constitution of policy that ever was conceived by the mind of man was framed by the Romish clergy for the aggrandizement of their own order. All the epithets I have here given to the Romish policy are just, and will be allowed to be so when it is considered, that they even persuaded mankind to believe, faithfully and undoubtingly, that God Almighty had entrusted them with the keys of heaven, whose gates they might open and close at pleasure; with a power of dispensation over all the rules and obligations of morality; with authority to license all sorts of sins and crimes; with a power of deposing princes and absolving subjects from allegiance; with a power of procuring or withholding the rain of heaven and the beams of the sun; with the management of earthquakes, pestilence, and famine; nay, with the mysterious, awful, incomprehensible power of creating out of bread and wine the flesh and blood of God himself. All these opinions they were enabled to spread and rivet among the people by reducing their minds to a state of sordid ignorance and staring timidity, and by infusing into them a religious horror of letters and knowledge. Thus was human nature chained fast for ages in a cruel, shameful, and deplorable servitude to him, and his subordinate tyrants, who, it was foretold, would exalt himself above all that was called God, and that was worshipped.

In the latter we find another system, similar in many respects to the former;1 which, although it was originally formed, perhaps, for the necessary defense of a barbarous people against the inroads and invasions of her neighboring nations, yet for the same purposes of tyranny, cruelty, and lust, which had dictated the canon law, it was soon adopted by almost all the princes of Europe, and wrought into the constitutions of their government. It was originally a code of laws for a vast army in a perpetual encampment. The general was invested with the sovereign propriety of all the lands within the territory. Of him, as his servants and vassals, the first rank of his great officers held the lands; and in the same manner the other subordinate officers held of them; and all ranks and degrees held their lands by a variety of duties and services, all tending to bind the chains the faster on every order of mankind. In this manner the common people were held together in herds and clans in a state of servile dependence on their lords, bound, even by the tenure of their lands, to follow them, whenever they commanded, to their wars, and in a state of total ignorance of every thing divine and human, excepting the use of arms and the culture of their lands.

But another event still more calamitous to human liberty, was a wicked confederacy between the two systems of tyranny above described. It seems to have been even stipulated between them, that the temporal grandees should contribute everything in their power to maintain the ascendancy of the priesthood, and that the spiritual grandees in their turn, should employ their ascendancy over the consciences of the people, in impressing on their minds a blind, implicit obedience to civil magistracy.

Thus, as long as this confederacy lasted, and the people were held in ignorance, liberty, and with her, knowledge and virtue too, seem to have deserted the earth, and one age of darkness succeeded another, till God in his benign providence raised up the champions who began and conducted the Reformation. From the time of the Reformation to the first settlement of America, knowledge gradually spread in Europe, but especially in England; and in proportion as that increased and spread among the people, ecclesiastical and civil tyranny, which I use as synonymous expressions for the canon and feudal laws, seem to have lost their strength and weight. The people grew more and more sensible of the wrong that was done them by these systems, more and more impatient under it, and determined at all hazards to rid themselves of it; till at last, under the execrable race of the Stuarts, the struggle between the people and the confederacy aforesaid of temporal and spiritual tyranny, became formidable, violent, and bloody.

It was this great struggle that peopled America. It was not religion alone, as is commonly supposed; but it was a love of universal liberty, and a hatred, a dread, a horror, of the infernal confederacy before described, that projected, conducted, and accomplished the settlement of America.

It was a resolution formed by a sensible people, — I mean the Puritans, — almost in despair. They had become intelligent in general, and many of them learned. For this fact, I have the testimony of Archbishop King himself, who observed of that people, that they were more intelligent and better read than even the members of the church, whom he censures warmly for that reason. This people had been so vexed and tortured by the powers of those days, for no other crime than their knowledge and their freedom of inquiry and examination, and they had so much reason to despair of deliverance from those miseries on that side the ocean, that they at last resolved to fly to the wilderness for refuge from the temporal and spiritual principalities and powers, and plagues and scourges of their native country.

After their arrival here, they began their settlement, and formed their plan, both of ecclesiastical and civil government, in direct opposition to the canon and the feudal systems. The leading men among them, both of the clergy and the laity, were men of sense and learning. To many of them the historians, orators, poets, and philosophers of Greece and Rome were quite familiar; and some of them have left libraries that are still in being, consisting chiefly of volumes in which the wisdom of the most enlightened ages and nations is deposited, — written, however, in languages which their great-grandsons, though educated in European universities, can scarcely read. 2

Thus accomplished were many of the first planters in these colonies. It may be thought polite and fashionable by many modern fine gentlemen, perhaps, to deride the characters of these persons, as enthusiastical, superstitious, and republican. But such ridicule is founded in nothing but foppery and affectation, and is grossly injurious and false. Religious to some degree of enthusiasm it may be admitted they were; but this can be no peculiar derogation from their character; because it was at that time almost the universal character not only of England, but of Christendom. Had this, however, been otherwise, their enthusiasm, considering the principles on which it was founded and the ends to which it was directed, far from being a reproach to them, was greatly to their honor; for I believe it will be found universally true, that no great enterprise for the honor or happiness of mankind was ever achieved without a large mixture of that noble infirmity. Whatever imperfections may be justly ascribed to them, which, however, are as few as any mortals have discovered, their judgment in framing their policy was founded in wise, humane, and benevolent principles. It was founded in revelation and in reason too. It was consistent with the principles of the best and greatest and wisest legislators of antiquity. Tyranny in every form, shape, and appearance was their disdain and abhorrence; no fear of punishment, nor even of death itself in exquisite tortures, had been sufficient to conquer that steady, manly, pertinacious spirit with which they had opposed the tyrants of those days in church and state. They were very far from being enemies to monarchy; and they knew as well as any men, the just regard and honor that is due to the character of a dispenser of the mysteries of the gospel of grace. But they saw clearly, that popular powers must be placed as a guard, a control, a balance, to the powers of the monarch and the priest, in every government, or else it would soon become the man of sin, the whore of Babylon, the mystery of iniquity, a great and detestable system of fraud, violence, and usurpation. Their greatest concern seems to have been to establish a government of the church more consistent with the Scriptures, and a government of the state more agreeable to the dignity of human nature, than any they had seen in Europe, and to transmit such a government down to their posterity, with the means of securing and preserving it forever. To render the popular power in their new government as great and wise as their principles of theory, that is, as human nature and the Christian religion require it should be, they endeavored to remove from it as many of the feudal inequalities and dependencies as could be spared, consistently with the preservation of a mild limited monarchy. And in this they discovered the depth of their wisdom and the warmth of their friendship to human nature. But the first place is due to religion. They saw clearly, that of all the nonsense and delusion which had ever passed through the mind of man, none had ever been more extravagant than the notions of absolutions, indelible characters, uninterrupted successions, and the rest of those fantastical ideas, derived from the canon law, which had thrown such a glare of mystery, sanctity, reverence, and right reverend eminence and holiness, around the idea of a priest, as no mortal could deserve, and as always must, from the constitution of human nature, be dangerous in society. For this reason, they demolished the whole system of diocesan episcopacy; and, deriding, as all reasonable and impartial men must do, the ridiculous fancies of sanctified effluvia from Episcopal fingers, they established sacerdotal ordination on the foundation of the Bible and common sense. This conduct at once imposed an obligation on the whole body of the clergy to industry, virtue, piety, and learning, and rendered that whole body infinitely more independent on the civil powers, in all respects, than they could be where they were formed into a scale of subordination, from a pope down to priests and friars and confessors, — necessarily and essentially a sordid, stupid, and wretched herd, — or than they could be in any other country, where an archbishop held the place of a universal bishop, and the vicars and curates that of the ignorant, dependent, miserable rabble aforesaid, — and infinitely more sensible and learned than they could be in either. This subject has been seen in the same light by many illustrious patriots, who have lived in America since the days of our forefathers, and who have adored their memory for the same reason. And methinks there has not appeared in New England a stronger veneration for their memory, a more penetrating insight into the grounds and principles and spirit of their policy, nor a more earnest desire of perpetuating the blessings of it to posterity, than that fine institution of the late Chief Justice Dudley, of a lecture against popery, and on the validity of Presbyterian ordination. This was certainly intended by that wise and excellent man, as an eternal memento of the wisdom and goodness of the very principles that settled America. But I must again return to the feudal law. The adventurers so often mentioned, had an utter contempt of all that dark ribaldry of hereditary, indefeasible right, — the Lord’s anointed, — and the divine, miraculous original of government, with which the priesthood had enveloped the feudal monarch in clouds and mysteries, and from whence they had deduced the most mischievous of all doctrines, that of passive obedience and non-resistance. They knew that government was a plain, simple, intelligible thing, founded in nature and reason, and quite comprehensible by common sense. They detested all the base services and servile dependencies of the feudal system. They knew that no such unworthy dependencies took place in the ancient seats of liberty, the republics of Greece and Rome; and they thought all such slavish subordinations were equally inconsistent with the constitution of human nature and that religious liberty with which Jesus had made them free. This was certainly the opinion they had formed; and they were far from being singular or extravagant in thinking so. Many celebrated modern writers in Europe have espoused the same sentiments. Lord Kames, a Scottish writer of great reputation, whose authority in this case ought to have the more weight as his countrymen have not the most worthy ideas of liberty, speaking of the feudal law, says, –“A constitution so contradictory to all the principles which govern mankind can never be brought about, one should imagine, but by foreign conquest or native usurpations.” Rousseau, speaking of the same system, calls it, — “That most iniquitous and absurd form of government by which human nature was so shamefully degraded.” It would be easy to multiply authorities, but it must be needless; because, as the original of this form of government was among savages, as the spirit, of it is military and despotic, every writer who would allow the people to have any right to life or property or freedom more than the beasts of the field, and who was not hired or enlisted under arbitrary, lawless power, has been always willing to admit the feudal system to be inconsistent with liberty and the rights of mankind.

To have holden their lands allodially, or for every man to have been the sovereign lord and proprietor of the ground he occupied, would have constituted a government too nearly like a commonwealth. They were contented, therefore, to hold their lands of their king, as their sovereign lord; and to him they were willing to render homage, but to no mesne or subordinate lords; nor were they willing to submit to any of the baser services. In all this they were so strenuous, that they have even transmitted to their posterity a very general contempt and detestation of holdings by quitrents, as they have also a hereditary ardor for liberty and thirst for knowledge.

They were convinced, by their knowledge of human nature, derived from history and their own experience, that nothing could preserve their posterity from the encroachments of the two systems of tyranny, in opposition to which, as has been observed already, they erected their government in church and state, but knowledge diffused generally through the whole body of the people. Their civil and religious principles, therefore, conspired to prompt them to use every measure and take every precaution in their power to propagate and perpetuate knowledge. For this purpose they laid very early the foundations of colleges, and invested them with ample privileges and emoluments; and it is remarkable that they have left among their posterity so universal an affection and veneration for those seminaries, and for liberal education, that the meanest of the people contribute cheerfully to the support and maintenance of them every year, and that nothing is more generally popular than projections for the honor, reputation, and advantage of those seats of learning. But the wisdom and benevolence of our fathers rested not here. They made an early provision by law, that every town consisting of so many families, should be always furnished with a grammar school. They made it a crime for such a town to be destitute of a grammar schoolmaster for a few months, and subjected it to a heavy penalty. So that the education of all ranks of people was made the care and expense of the public, in a manner that I believe has been unknown to any other people ancient or modern.

The consequences of these establishments we see and feel every day. A native of America who cannot read and write is as rare an appearance as a Jacobite or a Roman Catholic, that is, as rare as a comet or an earthquake. It has been observed, that we are all of us lawyers, divines, politicians, and philosophers. And I have good authorities to say, that all candid foreigners who have passed through this country, and conversed freely with all sorts of people here, will allow, that they have never seen so much knowledge and civility among the common people in any part of the world. It is true, there has been among us a party for some years, consisting chiefly not of the descendants of the first settlers of this country, but of high churchmen and high statesmen imported since, who affect to censure this provision for the education of our youth as a needless expense, and an imposition upon the rich in favor of the poor, and as an institution productive of idleness and vain speculation among the people, whose time and attention, it is said, ought to be devoted to labor, and not to public affairs, or to examination into the conduct of their superiors. And certain officers of the crown, and certain other missionaries of ignorance, foppery, servility, and slavery, have been most inclined to countenance and increase the same party. Be it remembered, however, that liberty must at all hazards be supported. We have a right to it, derived from our Maker. But if we had not, our fathers have earned and bought it for us, at the expense of their ease, their estates, their pleasure, and their blood. And liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right, from the frame of their nature, to knowledge, as their great Creator, who does nothing in vain, has given them understandings, and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean, of the characters and conduct of their rulers. Rulers are no more than attorneys, agents, and trustees for the people; and if the cause, the interest and trust, is insidiously betrayed, or wantonly trifled away, the people have a right to revoke the authority that they themselves have deputed, and to constitute abler and better agents, attorneys, and trustees. And the preservation of the means of knowledge among the lowest ranks, is of more importance to the public than all the property of all the rich men in the country. It is even of more consequence to the rich themselves, and to their posterity. The only question is, whether it is a public emolument; and if it is, the rich ought undoubtedly to contribute, in the same proportion as to all other public burdens, — that is, in proportion to their wealth, which is secured by public expenses. But none of the means of information are more sacred, or have been cherished with more tenderness and care by the settlers of America, than the press. Care has been taken that the art of printing should be encouraged, and that it should be easy and cheap and safe for any person to communicate his thoughts to the public. And you, Messieurs printers, 3 whatever the tyrants of the earth may say of your paper, have done important service to your country by your readiness and freedom in publishing the speculations of the curious. The stale, impudent insinuations of slander and sedition, with which the gormandizers of power have endeavored to discredit your paper, are so much the more to your honor; for the jaws of power are always opened to devour, and her arm is always stretched out, if possible, to destroy the freedom of thinking, speaking, and writing. And if the public interest, liberty, and happiness have been in danger from the ambition or avarice of any great man, whatever may be his politeness, address, learning, ingenuity, and, in other respects, integrity and humanity, you have done yourselves honor and your country service by publishing and pointing out that avarice and ambition. These vices are so much the more dangerous and pernicious for the virtues with which they may be accompanied in the same character, and with so much the more watchful jealousy to be guarded against.

“Curse on such virtues, they’ve undone their country.”

Be not intimidated, therefore, by any terrors, from publishing with the utmost freedom, whatever can be warranted by the laws of your country; nor suffer yourselves to be wheedled out of your liberty by any pretenses of politeness, delicacy, or decency. These, as they are often used, are but three different names for hypocrisy, chicanery, and cowardice. Much less, I presume, will you be discouraged by any pretenses that malignants on this side the water will represent your paper as factious and seditious, or that the great on the other side the water will take offence at them. This dread of representation has had for a long time, in this province, effects very similar to what the physicians call hydrophobia, or dread of water. It has made us delirious; and we have rushed headlong into the water, till we are almost drowned, out of simple or phrensical fear of it. Believe me, the character of this country has suffered more in Britain by the pusillanimity with which we have borne many insults and indignities from the creatures of power at home and the creatures of those creatures here, than it ever did or ever will by the freedom and spirit that has been or will be discovered in writing or action. Believe me, my countrymen, they have imbibed an opinion on the other side the water, that we are an ignorant, a timid, and a stupid people; nay, their tools on this side have often the impudence to dispute your bravery. But I hope in God the time is near at hand when they will be fully convinced of your understanding, integrity and courage. But can anything be more ridiculous, were it not too provoking to be laughed at, than to pretend that offence should be taken at home for writings here? Pray, let them look at home. Is not the human understanding exhausted there? Are not reason, imagination, wit, passion, senses, and all, tortured to find out satire and invective against the characters of the vile and futile fellows who sometimes get into place and power? The most exceptionable paper that ever I saw here is perfect prudence and modesty in comparison of multitudes of their applauded writings. Yet the high regard they have for the freedom of the press, indulges all. I must and will repeat it, your paper deserves the patronage of every friend to his country. And whether the defamers of it are arrayed in robes of scarlet or sable, whether they lurk and skulk in an insurance office, whether they assume the venerable character of a priest, the sly one of a scrivener, or the dirty, infamous, abandoned one of an informer, they are all the creatures and tools of the lust of domination.

The true source of our sufferings has been our timidity.

We have been afraid to think. We have felt a reluctance to examining into the grounds of our privileges, and the extent in which we have an indisputable right to demand them, against all the power and authority on earth. And many who have not scrupled to examine for themselves, have yet for certain prudent reasons been cautious and diffident of declaring the result of their inquiries.

The cause of this timidity is perhaps hereditary, and to be traced back in history as far as the cruel treatment the first settlers of this country received, before their embarkation for America, from the government at home. Everybody knows how dangerous it was to speak or write in favor of anything, in those days, but the triumphant system of religion and politics. And our fathers were particularly the objects of the persecutions and proscriptions of the times. It is not unlikely, therefore, that although they were inflexibly steady in refusing their positive assent to anything against their principles, they might have contracted habits of reserve, and a cautious diffidence of asserting their opinions publicly. These habits they probably brought with them to America, and have transmitted down to us. Or we may possibly account for this appearance by the great affection and veneration Americans have always entertained for the country from whence they sprang; or by the quiet temper for which they have been remarkable, no country having been less disposed to discontent than this; or by a sense they have that it is their duty to acquiesce under the administration of government, even when in many smaller matters grievous to them, and until the essentials of the great compact are destroyed or invaded. These peculiar causes might operate upon them; but without these, we all know that human nature itself, from indolence, modesty, humanity, or fear, has always too much reluctance to a manly assertion of its rights. Hence, perhaps, it has happened that nine tenths of the species are groaning and gasping in misery and servitude.

But whatever the cause has been, the fact is certain, we have been excessively cautious of giving offence by complaining of grievances. And it is as certain, that American governors, and their friends, and all the crown officers, have availed themselves of this disposition in the people. They have prevailed on us to consent to many things which were grossly injurious to us, and to surrender many others, with voluntary tameness, to which we had the clearest right. Have we not been treated, formerly, with abominable insolence, by officers of the navy? I mean no insinuation against any gentleman now on this station, having heard no complaint of any one of them to his dishonor. Have not some generals from England treated us like servants, nay, more like slaves than like Britons? Have we not been under the most ignominious contribution, the most abject submission, the most supercilious insults, of some custom-house officers? Have we not been trifled with, brow-beaten, and trampled on, by former governors, in a manner which no king of England since James the Second has dared to indulge towards his subjects? Have we not raised up one family, in them placed an unlimited confidence, and been soothed and flattered and intimidated by their influence, into a great part of this infamous tameness and submission? “These are serious and alarming questions, and deserve a dispassionate consideration.”

This disposition has been the great wheel and the mainspring in the American machine of court politics. We have been told that “the word rights is an offensive expression;” “that the king, his ministry, and parliament, will not endure to hear Americans talk of their rights;” “that Britain is the mother and we the children, that a filial duty and submission is due from us to her,” and that “we ought to doubt our own judgment, and presume that she is right, even when she seems to us to shake the foundations of government;” that “Britain is immensely rich and great and powerful, has fleets and armies at her command which have been the dread and terror of the universe, and that she will force her own judgment into execution, right or wrong.” But let me entreat you, sir, to pause. Do you consider yourself as a missionary of loyalty or of rebellion? Are you not representing your king, his ministry, and parliament, as tyrants, — imperious, unrelenting tyrants, — by such reasoning as this? Is not this representing your most gracious sovereign as endeavoring to destroy the foundations of his own throne? Are you not representing every member of parliament as renouncing the transactions at Running Mede, (the meadow, near Windsor, where Magna Charta was signed;) and as repealing in effect the bill of rights, when the Lords and Commons asserted and vindicated the rights of the people and their own rights, and insisted on the king’s assent to that assertion and vindication? Do you not represent them as forgetting that the prince of Orange was created King William, by the people, on purpose that their rights might be eternal and inviolable? Is there not something extremely fallacious in the common-place images of mother country and children colonies? Are we the children of Great Britain any more than the cities of London, Exeter, and Bath? Are we not brethren and fellow subjects with those in Britain, only under a somewhat different method of legislation, and a totally different method of taxation? But admitting we are children, have not children a right to complain when their parents are attempting to break their limbs, to administer poison, or to sell them to enemies for slaves? Let me entreat you to consider, will the mother be pleased when you represent her as deaf to the cries of her children, — when you compare her to the infamous miscreant who lately stood on the gallows for starving her child, — when you resemble her to Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare, (I cannot think of it without horror,) who

“Had given suck, and knew how tender’t was to love the babe that milked her,”

but yet, who could “Even while ’t was smiling in her face, Have plucked her nipple from the boneless gums, And dashed the brains out.”

Let us banish forever from our minds, my countrymen, all such unworthy ideas of the king, his ministry, and parliament. Let us not suppose that all are become luxurious, effeminate, and unreasonable, on the other side the water, as many designing persons would insinuate. Let us presume, what is in fact true, that the spirit of liberty is as ardent as ever among the body of the nation, though a few individuals may be corrupted. Let us take it for granted, that the same great spirit which once gave Cesar so warm a reception, which denounced hostilities against John till Magna Charta was signed, which severed the head of Charles the First from his body, and drove James the Second from his kingdom, the same great spirit (may heaven preserve it till the earth shall be no more) which first seated the great grandfather of his present most gracious majesty on the throne of Britain, — is still alive and active and warm in England; and that the same spirit in America, instead of provoking the inhabitants of that country, will endear us to them forever, and secure their good-will.

This spirit, however, without knowledge, would be little better than a brutal rage. Let us tenderly and kindly cherish, therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write. Let every order and degree among the people rouse their attention and animate their resolution. Let them all become attentive to the grounds and principles of government, ecclesiastical and civil. Let us study the law of nature; search into the spirit of the British constitution; read the histories of ancient ages; contemplate the great examples of Greece and Rome; set before us the conduct of our own British ancestors, who have defended for us the inherent rights of mankind against foreign and domestic tyrants and usurpers, against arbitrary kings and cruel priests, in short, against the gates of earth and hell. Let us read and recollect and impress upon our souls the views and ends of our own more immediate forefathers, in exchanging their native country for a dreary, inhospitable wilderness. Let us examine into the nature of that power, and the cruelty of that oppression, which drove them from their homes. Recollect their amazing fortitude, their bitter sufferings, — the hunger, the nakedness, the cold, which they patiently endured, — the severe labors of clearing their grounds, building their houses, raising their provisions, amidst dangers from wild beasts and savage men, before they had time or money or materials for commerce. Recollect the civil and religious principles and hopes and expectations which constantly supported and carried them through all hardships with patience and resignation. Let us recollect it was liberty, the hope of liberty for themselves and us and ours, which conquered all discouragements, dangers, and trials. In such researches as these, let us all in our several departments cheerfully engage, — but especially the proper patrons and supporters of law, learning, and religion!

Let the pulpit resound with the doctrines and sentiments of religious liberty. Let us hear the danger of thralldom to our consciences from ignorance, extreme poverty, and dependence, in short, from civil and political slavery. Let us see delineated before us the true map of man. Let us hear the dignity of his nature, and the noble rank he holds among the works of God, — that consenting to slavery is a sacrilegious breach of trust, as offensive in the sight of God as it is derogatory from our own honor or interest or happiness, — and that God Almighty has promulgated from heaven, liberty, peace, and good-will to man!

Let the bar proclaim, “The laws, the rights, the generous plan of power” delivered down from remote antiquity, — inform the world of the mighty struggles and numberless sacrifices made by our ancestors in defense of freedom. Let it be known, that British liberties are not the grants of princes or parliaments, but original rights, conditions of original contracts, coequal with prerogative, and coeval with government; that many of our rights are inherent and essential, agreed on as maxims, and established as preliminaries, even before a parliament existed. Let them search for the foundations of British laws and government in the frame of human nature, in the constitution of the intellectual and moral world. There let us see that truth, liberty, justice, and benevolence, are its everlasting basis; and if these could be removed, the superstructure is overthrown of course.

Let the colleges join their harmony in the same delightful concert. Let every declamation turn upon the beauty of liberty and virtue, and the deformity, turpitude, and malignity, of slavery and vice. Let the public disputations become researches into the grounds and nature and ends of government, and the means of preserving the good and demolishing the evil. Let the dialogues, and all the exercises, become the instruments of impressing on the tender mind, and of spreading and distributing far and wide, the ideas of right and the sensations of freedom.

In a word, let every sluice of knowledge be opened and set a-flowing. The encroachments upon liberty in the reigns of the first James and the first Charles, by turning the general attention of learned men to government, are said to have produced the greatest number of consummate statesmen which has ever been seen in any age or nation. The Brookes, Hampdens, Vanes, Seldens, Miltons, Nedhams, Harringtons, Nevilles, Sidneys, Lockes, are all said to have owed their eminence in political knowledge to the tyrannies of those reigns. The prospect now before us in America ought in the same manner to engage the attention of every man of learning, to matters of power and of right, that we may be neither led nor driven blindfolded to irretrievable destruction. Nothing less than this seems to have been meditated for us, by somebody or other in Great Britain. There seems to be a direct and formal design on foot, to enslave all America. This, however, must be done by degrees. The first step that is intended seems to be an entire subversion of the whole system of our fathers, by the introduction of the canon and feudal law into America. The canon and feudal systems, though greatly mutilated in England, are not yet destroyed. Like the temples and palaces in which the great contrivers of them once worshipped and inhabited, they exist in ruins; and much of the domineering spirit of them still remains. The designs and labors of a certain society, to introduce the former of them into America, have been well exposed to the public by a writer of great abilities; and the further attempts to the same purpose, that may be made by that society, or by the ministry or parliament, I leave to the conjectures of the thoughtful. But it seems very manifest from the Stamp Act itself, that a design is formed to strip us in a great measure of the means of knowledge, by loading the press, the colleges, and even an almanac and a newspaper, with restraints and duties; and to introduce the inequalities and dependencies of the feudal system, by taking from the poorer sort of people all their little subsistence, and conferring it on a set of stamp officers, distributors, and their deputies. But I must proceed no further at present. The sequel, whenever I shall find health and leisure to pursue it, will be a “disquisition of the policy of the stamp act.” In the meantime, however, let me add, — These are not the vapors of a melancholy mind, nor the effusions of envy, disappointed ambition, nor of a spirit of opposition to government, but the emanations of a heart that burns for its country’s welfare. No one of any feeling, born and educated in this once happy country, can consider the numerous distresses, the gross indignities, the barbarous ignorance, the haughty usurpations, that we have reason to fear are meditating for ourselves, our children, our neighbors, in short, for all our countrymen and all their posterity, without the utmost agonies of heart and many tears.

1 Rob. Hist. ch. v. pp. 178-9, &c. <=”” i=””>

2 “I always consider the settlement of America with reverence and wonder, as the opening of a grand scene and design in Providence for the illumination of the ignorant, and the emancipation of the slavish part of mankind all over the earth.” <=”” i=””>

3 Edes and Gill, printers of the Boston Gazette.



Thoughts on Government

John Adams

My dear Sir,

If I was equal to the task of forming a plan for the government of a colony, I should be flattered with your request, and very happy to comply with it; because, as the divine science of politics is the science of social happiness, and the blessings of society depend entirely on the constitutions of government, which are generally institutions that last for many generations, there can be no employment more agreeable to a benevolent mind than a research after the best.

Pope flattered tyrants too much when he said,

“For forms of government let fools contest, that which is best administered is best.”

Nothing can be more fallacious than this. But poets read history to collect flowers, not fruits; they attend to fanciful images, not the effects of social institutions. Nothing is more certain, from the history of nations and nature of man, than that some forms of government are better fitted for being well administered than others.

We ought to consider what is the end of government, before we determine which is the best form. Upon this point all speculative politicians will agree, that the happiness of society is the end of government, as all divines and moral philosophers will agree that the happiness of the individual is the end of man. From this principle it will follow, that the form of government which communicates ease, comfort, security, or, in one word, happiness, to the greatest number of persons, and in the greatest degree, is the best.

All sober inquirers after truth, ancient and modern, pagan and Christian, have declared that the happiness of man, as well as his dignity, consists in virtue. Confucius, Zoroaster, Socrates, Mahomet, not to mention authorities really sacred, have agreed in this.

If there is a form of government, then, whose principle and foundation is virtue, will not every sober man acknowledge it better calculated to promote the general happiness than any other form?

Fear is the foundation of most governments; but it is so sordid and brutal a passion, and renders men in whose breasts it predominates so stupid and miserable, that Americans will not be likely to approve of any political institution which is founded on it.

Honor is truly sacred, but holds a lower rank in the scale of moral excellence than virtue. Indeed, the former is but a part of the latter, and consequently has not equal pretensions to support a frame of government productive of human happiness. The foundation of every government is some principle or passion in the minds of the people. The noblest principles and most generous affections in our nature, then, have the fairest chance to support the noblest and most generous models of government.

A man must be indifferent to the sneers of modern Englishmen, to mention in their company the names of Sidney, Harrington, Locke, Milton, Nedham, Neville, Burnet, and Hoadly. No small fortitude is necessary to confess that one has read them. The wretched condition of this country, however, for ten or fifteen years past, has frequently reminded me of their principles and reasonings. They will convince any candid mind, that there is no good government but what is republican. That the only valuable part of the British constitution is so; because the very definition of a republic is “an empire of laws, and not of men.” That, as a republic is the best of governments, so that particular arrangement of the powers of society, or, in other words, that form of government which is best contrived to secure an impartial and exact execution of the laws, is the best of republics.

Of republics there is an inexhaustible variety, because the possible combinations of the powers of society are capable of innumerable variations.

As good government is an empire of laws, how shall your laws be made? In a large society, inhabiting an extensive country, it is impossible that the whole should assemble to make laws. The first necessary step, then, is to depute power from the many to a few of the most wise and good. But by what rules shall you choose your representatives? Agree upon the number and qualifications of persons who shall have the benefit of choosing, or annex this privilege to the inhabitants of a certain extent of ground.

The principle difficulty lies, and the greatest care should be employed in constituting this representative assembly. It should be in miniature an exact portrait of the people at large. It should think, feel, reason and act like them. That it may be the interest of this assembly to do strict justice at all times, it should be an equal representation, or, in other words, equal interests among the people should have equal interests in it. Great care should be taken to effect this, and to prevent unfair, partial, and corrupt elections. Such regulations, however, may be better made in times of greater tranquility than the present; and they will spring up themselves naturally, when all the powers of government come to be in the hands of the people’s friends. At present, it will be safest to proceed in all established modes, to which the people have been familiarized by habit.

A representation of the people in one assembly being obtained, a question arises, whether all the powers of government, legislative, executive, and judicial, shall be left in this body? I think a people cannot be long free, nor ever happy, whose government is in one assembly. My reasons for this opinion are as follow:–

1. A single assembly is liable to all the vices, follies, and frailties of an individual; subject to fits of humor, starts of passion, flights of enthusiasm, partialities, or prejudice, and consequently productive of hasty results and absurd judgments. And all these errors ought to be corrected and defects supplied by some controlling power.

2. A single assembly is apt to be avaricious, and in time will not scruple to exempt itself from burdens, which it will lay, without compunction, on its constituents.

3. A single assembly is apt to grow ambitious, and after a time will not hesitate to vote itself perpetual. This was one fault of the Long Parliament; but more remarkably of Holland, whose assembly first voted themselves from annual to septennial, then for life, and after a course of years, that all vacancies happening by death or otherwise, should be filled by themselves, without any application to constituents at all.

4. A representative assembly, although extremely well qualified, and absolutely necessary, as a branch of the legislative, is unfit to exercise the executive power, for want of two essential properties, secrecy and dispatch.

5. A representative assembly is still less qualified for the judicial power, because it is too numerous, too slow, and too little skilled in the laws.

6. Because a single assembly, possessed of all the powers of government, would make arbitrary laws for their own interest, execute all laws arbitrarily for their own interest, and adjudge all controversies in their own favor.

But shall the whole power of legislation rest in one assembly? Most of the foregoing reasons apply equally to prove that the legislative power ought to be more complex; to which we may add, that if the legislative power is wholly in one assembly, and the executive in another, or in a single person, these two powers will oppose and encroach upon each other, until the contest shall end in war, and the whole power, legislative and executive, be usurped by the strongest.

The judicial power, in such case, could not mediate, or hold the balance between the two contending powers, because the legislative would undermine it. And this shows the necessity, too, of giving the executive power a negative upon the legislative, otherwise this will be continually encroaching upon that.

To avoid these dangers, let a distinct assembly be constituted, as a mediator between the two extreme branches of the legislature, that which represents the people, and that which is vested with the executive power.

Let the representative assembly then elect by ballot, from among themselves or their constituents, or both, a distinct assembly, which, for the sake of perspicuity, we will call a council. It may consist of any number you please, say twenty or thirty, and should have a free and independent exercise of its judgment, and consequently a negative voice in the legislature.

These two bodies, thus constituted, and made integral parts of the legislature, let them unite, and by joint ballot choose a governor, who, after being stripped of most of those badges of domination, called prerogatives, should have a free and independent exercise of his judgment, and be made also an integral part of the legislature. This, I know, is liable to objections; and, if you please, you may make him only president of the council, as in Connecticut. But as the governor is to be invested with the executive power, with consent of council, I think he ought to have a negative upon the legislative. If he is annually elective, as he ought to be, he will always have so much reverence and affection for the people, their representatives and counselors, that, although you give him an independent exercise of his judgment, he will seldom use it in opposition to the two houses, except in cases the public utility of which would be conspicuous; and some such cases would happen.

In the present exigency of American affairs, when, by an act of Parliament, we are put out of the royal protection, and consequently discharged from our allegiance, and it has become necessary to assume government for our immediate security, the governor, lieutenant-governor, secretary, treasurer, commissary, attorney-general, should be chosen by joint ballot of both houses. And these and all other elections, especially of representatives and counselors, should be annual, there not being in the whole circle of the sciences a maxim more infallible than this, “where annual elections end, there slavery begins.”

These great men, in this respect, should be, once a year,

“Like bubbles on the sea of matter borne, They rise, they break, and to that sea return.”

This will teach them the great political virtues of humility, patience, and moderation, without which every man in power becomes a ravenous beast of prey.

This mode of constituting the great offices of state will answer very well for the present; but if by experiment it should be found inconvenient, the legislature may, at its leisure, devise other methods of creating them, by elections of the people at large, as in Connecticut, or it may enlarge the term for which they shall be chosen to seven years, or three years, or for life, or make any other alterations which the society shall find productive of its ease, its safety, its freedom, or, in one word, its happiness.

A rotation of all offices, as well as of representatives and counselors, has many advocates, and is contended for with many plausible arguments. It would be attended, no doubt, with many advantages; and if the society has a sufficient number of suitable characters to supply the great number of vacancies which would be made by such a rotation, I can see no objection to it. These persons may be allowed to serve for three years, and then be excluded three years, or for any longer or shorter term.

Any seven or nine of the legislative council may be made a quorum, for doing business as a privy council, to advise the governor in the exercise of the executive branch of power, and in all acts of state.

The governor should have the command of the militia and of all your armies. The power of pardons should be with the governor and council.

Judges, justices, and all other officers, civil and military, should be nominated and appointed by the governor, with the advice and consent of council, unless you choose to have a government more popular; if you do, all officers, civil and military, may be chosen by joint ballot of both houses; or, in order to preserve the independence and importance of each house, by ballot of one house, concurred in by the other. Sheriffs should be chosen by the freeholders of counties; so should registers of deeds and clerks of counties.

All officers should have commissions, under the hand of the governor and seal of the colony.

The dignity and stability of government in all its branches, the morals of the people, and every blessing of society depend so much upon an upright and skillful administration of justice, that the judicial power ought to be distinct from both the legislative and executive, and independent upon both, that so it may be a check upon both, as both should be checks upon that. The judges, therefore, should be always men of learning and experience in the laws, of exemplary morals, great patience, calmness, coolness, and attention. Their minds should not be distracted with jarring interests; they should not be dependent upon any man, or body of men. To these ends, they should hold estates for life in their offices; or, in other words, their commissions should be during good behavior, and their salaries ascertained and established by law. For misbehavior, the grand inquest of the colony, the house of representatives, should impeach them before the governor and council, where they should have time and opportunist y to make their defense; but, if convicted, should be removed from their offices, and subjected to such other punishment as shall be proper.

A militia law, requiring all men, or with very few exceptions besides cases of conscience, to be provided with arms and ammunition, to be trained at certain seasons; and requiring counties, towns, or other small districts, to be provided with public stocks of ammunition and entrenching utensils, and with some settled plans for transporting provisions after the militia, when.marched to defend their country against sudden invasions; and requiring certain districts to be provided with field-pieces, companies of matrosses, and perhaps some regiments of light-horse, is always a wise institution, and, in the present circumstances of our country, indispensable.

Laws for liberal education of youth, especially of the lower class of people, are so extremely wise and useful, that, to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.

The very mention of sumptuary laws will excite a smile. Whether our countrymen have wisdom and virtue enough to submit to them, I know not; but the happiness of the people might be greatly promoted by them, and a revenue saved sufficient to carry on this war forever. Frugality is a great revenue, besides curing us of vanities, levities, and fopperies, which are real antidotes to all great, manly, and warlike virtues.

But must not all commissions run in the name of a king? No. Why may they not as well run thus, “The colony of to A.B. greeting,” and be tested by the governor?

Why may not writs, instead of running in the name of the king, run thus, “The colony of to the sheriff,” &c., and be tested by the chief justice?

Why may not indictments conclude, “against the peace of the colony of and the dignity of the same?”

A constitution founded on these principles introduces knowledge among the people, and inspires them with a conscious dignity becoming freemen; a general emulation takes place, which causes good humor, sociability, good manners, and good morals to be general. That elevation of sentiment inspired by such a government makes the common people brave and enterprising. That ambition which is inspired by it makes them sober, industrious, and frugal. You will find among them some elegance, perhaps, but more solidity; a little pleasure, but a great deal of business; some politeness, but more civility. If you compare such a country with the regions of domination, whether monarchical or aristocratical, you will fancy yourself in Arcadia or Elysium.

If the colonies should assume governments separately, they should be left entirely to their own choice of the forms; and if a continental constitution should be formed, it should be a congress, containing a fair and adequate representation of the colonies, and its authority should sacredly be confined to those cases, namely, war, trade, disputes between colony and colony, the post-office, and the unappropriated lands of the crown, as they used to be called.

These colonies, under such forms of government, and in such a union, would be unconquerable by all the monarchies of Europe.

You and I, my dear friend, have been sent into life at a time when the greatest lawgivers of antiquity would have wished to live. How few of the human race have ever enjoyed an opportunity of making an election of government, more than of air, soil, or climate, for themselves or their children! When, before the present epocha, had three millions of people full power and a fair opportunity to form and establish the wisest and happiest government that human wisdom can contrive? I hope you will avail yourself and your country of that extensive learning and indefatigable industry which you possess, to assist her in the formation of the happiest governments and the best character of a great people. For myself, I must beg you to keep my name out of sight; for this feeble attempt, if it should be known to be mine, would oblige me to apply to myself those lines of the immortal John Milton, in one of his sonnets:–

“I did but prompt the age to quit their clogs
By the known rules of ancient liberty,
When straight a barbarous noise environs me
Of owls and cuckoos, asses, apes, and dogs.”




John Adams
March 6, 1775


March 6, 1775

Our rhetorical magician in his paper of January the 9th continues to wheedle: You want nothing but “to know the true state of facts, to rectify whatever is amiss.” He becomes an advocate for the poor of Boston! is for making great allowance for the whigs. “The whigs are too valuable a part of the community to lose. He would not draw down the vengeance of Great Britain. He shall become an advocate for the leading whigs,” etc. It is in vain for us to inquire after the sincerity or consistency of all this. It is agreeable to the precept of Horace:

Irritat, mulcet, falsis terroribus implet, Ut magus— ;

And that is all he desires.

After a long discourse, which has nothing in it but what has been answered already, he comes to a great subject indeed, the British constitution, and undertakes to prove that “the authority of parliament extends to the colonies.”

Why will not this writer state the question fairly? The whigs allow that, from the necessity of a case not provided for by common law and to supply a defect in the British dominions, which there undoubtedly is, if they are to be governed only by that law, America has all along consented, still consents, and ever will consent that parliament, being the most powerful legislature in the dominions, should regulate the trade of the dominions. This is founding the authority of parliament to regulate our trade upon compact and consent of the colonies, not upon any principle of common or statute law, not upon any original principle of the English constitution, not upon the principle that parliament is the supreme and sovereign legislature over them in all cases whatsoever. The question is not, therefore, whether the authority of parliament extends to the colonies in any case, for it is admitted by the whigs that it does in that of commerce, but whether it extends in all cases.

We are then detained with a long account of the three simple forms of government and are told that “the British constitution, consisting of king, lords, and commons, is formed upon the principles of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, in due proportion; that it includes the principal excellences and excludes the principal defects of the other kinds of government—the most perfect system that the wisdom of ages has produced, and Englishmen glory in being subject to and protected by it.”

Then we are told “that the colonies are a part of the British empire.” But what are we to understand by this? Some of the colonies, most of them, indeed, were settled before the kingdom of Great Britain was brought into existence. The union of England and Scotland was made and established by act of parliament in the reign of Queen Anne, and it was this union and statute which erected the kingdom of Great Britain. The colonies were settled long before, in the reigns of the Jameses and Charleses. What authority over them had Scotland? Scotland, England, and the colonies were all under one king before that; the two crowns of England and Scotland united on the head of James I and continued united on that of Charles I, when our first charter was granted. Our charter being granted by him who was king of both nations to our ancestors, most of whom were post nati, born after the union of the two crowns, and consequently, as was adjudged in Calvin’s case, free, natural subjects of Scotland as well as England—had not the king as good a right to have governed the colonies by his Scottish as by his English parliament, and to have granted our charters under the seal of Scotland as well as that of England?

But to wave this. If the English parliament were to govern us, where did they get the right without our consent to take the Scottish parliament into a participation of the government over us? When this was done, was the American share of the democracy of the constitution consulted? If not, were not the Americans deprived of the benefit of the democratical part of the constitution? And is not the democracy as essential to the English constitution as the monarchy or aristocracy? Should we have been more effectually deprived of the benefit of the British or English constitution, if one or both houses of parliament, or if our house and council, had made this union with the two houses of parliament in Scotland without the king?

If a new constitution was to be formed for the whole British dominions and a supreme legislature coextensive with it upon the general principles of the English constitution, an equal mixture of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, let us see what would be necessary. England has six millions of people, we will say; America had three. England has five hundred members in the house of commons, we will say; America must have two hundred and fifty. Is it possible she should maintain them there, or could they at such a distance know the state, the sense, or exigencies of their constituents? Ireland, too, must be incorporated and send another hundred or two of members. The territory in the East Indies and West India Islands must send members. And after all this, every navigation act, every act of trade must be repealed. America, and the East and West Indies, and Africa, too, must have equal liberty to trade with all the world that the favored inhabitants of Great Britain have now. Will the ministry thank Massachusettensis for becoming an advocate for such a union and incorporation of all the dominions of the king of Great Britain? Yet, without such a union, a legislature which shall be sovereign and supreme in all cases whatsoever and coextensive with the empire can never be established upon the general principles of the English constitution which Massachusettensis lays down, namely, an equal mixture of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. Nay, further, in order to comply with this principle, this new government, this mighty colossus which is to bestride the narrow world, must have a house of lords, consisting of Irish, East and West Indian, African, American, as well as English and Scottish noblemen; for the nobility ought to be scattered about all the dominions, as well as the representatives of the commons. If in twenty years more America should have six millions of inhabitants, as there is a boundless territory to fill up, she must have five hundred representatives. Upon these principles, if in forty years she should have twelve millions, a thousand, and if the inhabitants of the three kingdoms remain as they are, being already full of inhabitants, what will become of your supreme legislative? It will be translated, crown and all, to America. This is a sublime system for America. It will flatter those ideas of independence which the tories impute to them, if they have any such, more than any other plan of independence that I have ever heard projected.

“The best writers upon the law of nations tell us that when a nation takes possession of a distant country and settles there, that country, though separated from the principal establishment, or mother country, naturally becomes a part of the state, equal with its ancient possessions.” We are not told who these “best writers” are. I think we ought to be introduced to them. But their meaning may be no more than that it is best they should be incorporated with the ancient establishment by contract, or by some new law and institution, by which the new country shall have equal right, powers, and privileges, as well as equal protection, and be under equal obligations of obedience, with the old. Has there been any such contract between Britain and the colonies? Is America incorporated into the realm? Is it a part of the realm? Its it a part of the kingdom? Has it any share in the legislative of the realm? The constitution requires that every foot of land should be represented in the third estate, the democratical branch of the constitution. How many millions of acres in America, how many thousands of wealthy landholders, have no representatives there?

But let these “best writers” say what they will, there is nothing in the law of nations, which is only the law of right reason applied to the conduct of nations, that requires that emigrants from a state should continue, or be made, a part of the state.

The practice of nations has been different. The Greeks planted colonies and neither demanded nor pretended any authority over them; but they became distinct, independent commonwealths. The Romans continued their colonies under the jurisdiction of the mother commonwealth; but, nevertheless, they allowed them the privileges of cities. Indeed, that sagacious city seems to have been aware of difficulties similar to those under which Great Britain is now laboring. She seems to have been sensible of the impossibility of keeping colonies planted at great distances under the absolute control of her senatus-consulta. . . .

I have said that the practice of free governments alone can be quoted with propriety to show the sense of nations. But the sense and practice of nations is not enough. Their practice must be reasonable, just, and right, or it will not govern Americans.

Absolute monarchies, whatever their practice may be, are nothing to us; for, as Harrington observes, “Absolute monarchy, as that of the Turks, neither plants its people at home nor abroad otherwise than as tenants for life or at will; wherefore, its national and provincial government is all one.”

I deny, therefore, that the practice of free nations or the opinions of the best writers upon the law of nations will warrant the position of Massachusettensis that “when a nation takes possession of a distant territory, that becomes a part of the state equally with its ancient possessions.” The practice of free nations and the opinions of the best writers are in general on the contrary.

I agree that “two supreme and independent authorities cannot exist in the same state,” any more than two supreme beings in one universe; and , therefore, I contend that our provincial legislatures are the only supreme authorities in our colonies. Parliament, notwithstanding this, may be allowed an authority supreme and sovereign over the ocean, which may be limited by the banks of the ocean or the bounds of our charters; our charters give us no authority over the high seas. Parliament has our consent to assume a jurisdiction over them. And here is a line fairly drawn between the rights of Britain and the rights of the colonies, namely, the banks of the ocean, or low-water mark, the line of division between common law and civil or maritime law. If this is not sufficient—if parliament are at a loss for any principle of natural, civil, maritime, moral, or common law on which to ground any authority over the high seas, the Atlantic especially, let the colonies be treated like reasonable creatures, and they will discover great ingenuity and modesty. The acts of trade and navigation might be confirmed by provincial laws and carried into execution by our own courts and juries, and in this case illicit trade would be cut up by the roots forever. I knew the smuggling tories in New York and Boston would cry out against this because it would not only destroy their profitable game of smuggling, but their whole place and pension system. But the whigs, that is, a vast majority of the whole continent, would not regard the smuggling tories. In one word, if public principles, and motives, and arguments were alone to determine this dispute between the two countries, it might be settled forever in a few hours; but the everlasting clamors of prejudice, passion, and private interest drown every consideration of that sort and are precipitating us into a civil war.

“If, then, we are a part of the British empire, we must be subject to the supreme power of the state, which is vested in the estates in parliament.”

Here again, we are to be conjured out of our senses by the magic in the words “British empire,” and “supreme power of the state.” But, however it may sound, I say we are not a part of the British empire; because the British government is not an empire. The governments of France, Spain, etc., are not empires but monarchies, supposed to be governed by fixed fundamental laws, though not really. The British government is still less entitled to the style of an empire. It is a limited monarchy. If Aristotle, Livy, and Harrington knew what a republic was, the British constitution is much more like a republic than an empire. They define a republic to be a government of laws, and not of men. If this definition be just, the British constitution is nothing more nor less than a republic in which the king is first magistrate. This office being hereditary and being possessed of such ample and splendid prerogatives is no objection to the government’s being a republic, as long as it is bound by fixed laws which the people have a voice in making and a right to defend. An empire is a despotism, and an emperor a despot bound by no law or limitation but his own will; it is a stretch of tyranny beyond absolute monarchy. For, although the will of an absolute monarch is law, yet his edicts must be registered by parliaments. Even this formality is not necessary in an empire. There the maxim is quod principi placuit legis habet vigorem, even without having that will and pleasure recorded. There are but three empires now in Europe, the German or Holy Roman, the Russian, and the Ottoman.

There is another sense, indeed, in which the word empire is used in which it may be applied to the government of Geneva or any other republic as well as to monarchy or despotism. In this sense it is synonymous with government, rule, or dominion. In this sense we are within the dominion, rule, or government of the king of Great Britain.

The question should be whether we are a part of the kingdom of Great Britain. This is the only language known in English laws. We are not then a part of the British kingdom, realm, or state; and therefore the supreme power of the kingdom, realm, or state is not, upon these principles, the supreme power of us. That “supreme power over America is vested in the estates in parliament” is an affront to us, for there is not an acre of American land represented there; there are no American estates in parliament.

To say that we “must be” subject seems to betray a consciousness that we are not by any law or upon any principles but those of mere power, and an opinion that we ought to be or that it is necessary that we should be. But if this should be admitted for argument’s sake only, what is the consequence? The consequences that may fairly be drawn are these: that Britain has been imprudent enough to let colonies be planted, until they are become numerous and important, without ever having wisdom enough to concert a plan for their government consistent with her own welfare; that now it is necessary to make them submit to the authority of parliament; and, because there is no principle of law, or justice, or reason by which she can effect it, therefore she will resort to war and conquest—to the maxim, delenda est Carthago. These are the consequences, according to this writer’s idea. We think the consequences are that she has after one hundred and fifty years discovered a defect in her government which ought to be supplied by some just and reasonable means, that is, by the consent of the colonies; for metaphysicians and politicians may dispute forever but they will never find any other moral principle or foundation of rule or obedience than the consent of governors and governed. She has found out that the great machine will not go any longer without a new wheel. She will make this herself. We think she is making it of such materials and workmanship as will tear the whole machine to pieces. We are willing, if she can convince us of the necessity of such a wheel, to assist with artists and materials in making it, so that it may answer the end. But she says, we shall have no share in it, and if we will not let her patch it up as she pleases, her Massachusettensis and other advocates tell us, she will tear it to pieces herself by cutting our throats. To this kind of reasoning we can only answer that we will not stand still to be butchered. We will defend our lives as long as Providence shall enable us. . . . .

. . .”If the colonies are not subject to the authority of parliament, Great Britain and the colonies must be distinct states, as completely so as England and Scotland were before the union, or as Great Britain and Hanover are now.” There is no need of being startled at this consequence. It is very harmless. There is no absurdity at all in it. Distinct states may be united under one king. And those states may be further centered and united together by a treaty of commerce. This is the case. We have by our own express consent contracted to observe the Navigation Act and by our implied consent, by long usage and uninterrupted acquiescence, have submitted to the other acts of trade, however grievous some of them may be. This may be compared to a treaty of commerce by which those distinct states are cemented together in perpetual league and amity. And if any further ratifications of this pact or treaty are necessary, the colonies would readily enter into them provided their other liberties were inviolate.

That “the colonies owe no allegiance to any imperial crown,” provided such a crown involves in it a house of lords and a house of commons, is certain. Indeed, we owe no allegiance to any crown at all. We owe allegiance to the person of his majesty, King George III, whom God preserve. But allegiance is due universally, both from Britons and Americans, to the person of the king, not to his crown; to his natural, not his politic capability, as I will undertake to prove hereafter, from the highest authorities and the most solemn adjudications which were ever made within any part of the British dominions.

If his majesty’s title to the crown is “derived from an act of parliament, made since the settlement of these colonies,” it was not made since the date of our charter. Our charter was granted by King William and Queen Mary, three years after the revolution; and the oaths of allegiance are established by a law of the province. So that our allegiance to his majesty is not due by virtue of any act of a British parliament but by our own charter and province laws. It ought to be remembered that there was a revolution here, as well as in England, and that we, as well as the people of England, made an original, express contract with King William.

If it follows from thence that he appears “king of Massachusetts, king of Rhode Island, king of Connecticut, etc.” this is no absurdity at all. He will appear in this light, and does appear so, whether parliament has authority over us or not. He is king of Ireland, I suppose, although parliament is allowed to have authority there. As to giving his majesty those titles, I have no objection at all; I wish he would be graciously pleased to assume them.

The only proposition in all this writer’s long string of pretended absurdities which he says follows from the position that we are distinct states is this: That “as the king must govern each state by its parliament, those several parliaments would pursue the particular interest of its own state, and however well disposed the king might be to pursue a line of interest that was common to all, the checks and control that he would meet with would render it impossible.” Every argument ought to be allowed its full weight; and therefore candor obliges me to acknowledge that here lies all the difficulty that there is in this whole controversy. There has been from the first to last on both sides of the Atlantic an idea, an apprehension, that it was necessary there should be some superintending power to draw together all the wills and unite all the strength of the subjects in all the dominions, in case of war and in the case of trade. The necessity of this in case of trade has been so apparent that, as has often been said, we have consented that parliament should exercise such a power. In case of war it has by some been thought necessary. But in fact and experience it has not been found so. What thought the proprietary colonies, on account of disputes with the proprietors, did not come in so early to the assistance of the general cause in the last war as they ought, and perhaps one of them not at all? The inconveniences of this were small in comparison of the absolute ruin to the liberties of all which must follow the submission to parliament in all cases, which would be giving up all the popular limitations upon the government. These inconveniences fell chiefly upon New England. She was necessitated to greater exertions; but she had rather suffer these again and again than others infinitely greater. However, this subject has been so long in contemplation that it is fully understood now in all the colonies, so that there is no danger in case of another war of any colony’s failing of it’s duty.

But, admitting the proposition in its full force, that it is absolutely necessary there should be a supreme power coextensive with all the dominions, will it follow that parliament, as now constituted, has a right to assume this supreme jurisdiction? By no means.

A union of the colonies might be projected and an American legislature, for if America has three millions of people and the whole dominions twelve millions, she ought to send a quarter part of all the members to the house of commons, and instead of holding parliaments always at Westminster, the haughty members for Great Britain must humble themselves, one session in four, to cross the Atlantic and hold the parliament in America.

There is no avoiding all inconveniences in human affairs. The greatest possible or conceivable would arise from ceding to parliament power over us without a representation in it. The next greatest would accrue from any plan that can be devised for a representation there. The least of all would arise from going on as we began and fared well for one hundred and fifty years by letting parliament regulate trade, and our own assemblies all other matters.

As to ” the prerogatives not being defined, or limited,” it is as much so in the colonies as in Great Britain, and as well understood and as cheerfully submitted to in the former as the latter.

But “where is the British constitution, that we all agree we are entitled to?” I answer, if we enjoy and are entitled to more liberty than the British constitution allows, where is the harm? Or if we enjoy the British constitution in greater purity and perfection than they do in England, as is really the case, whose fault is this? Not ours.

We may find all the blessings of this constitution “in our provincial assemblies.” Our houses of representatives have, and ought to exercise, every power of the house of commons. The first charter to this colony is nothing to the present argument, but it did grant a power of taxing the people, implicitly, though not in express terms. It granted all the rights and liberties of Englishmen, which include the power of taxing the people.

“Our council boards” in the royal governments “are destitute of the noble independence and splendid appendages of peerage.” Most certainly they are the meanest creatures and tools in the political creation, dependent every moment for their existence on the tainted breath of a prime minister. But they have the authority of the house of lords in our little models of the English constitution; and it is this which makes them so great a grievance. The crown has really two branches of our legislature in its power. Let an act of parliament pass at home, putting it in the power of the king to remove any peer from the house of lords at his pleasure, and what will become of the British constitution? It will be overturned from the foundation. Yet we are perpetually insulted by being told that making our council by mandamus brings us nearer to the British constitution. In this province by charter, the council certainly hold their seats for the year, after being chosen and approved, independent of both of the other branches. For their creation they are equally obliged to both the other branches, so that there is little or no bias in favor of either; if any, it is in favor of the prerogative. In short, it is not easy without an hereditary nobility to constitute a council more independent, more nearly resembling the house of lords, than the council of this province has ever been by charter.

But perhaps it will be said that we are to enjoy the British constitution in our supreme legislature, the parliament, not in our provincial legislatures. To this I answer, if parliament is to be our supreme legislature, we shall be under a complete oligarchy or aristocracy, not the British constitution, which this writer himself defines a mixture of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. For king, lords, and commons will constitute one great oligarchy, as they will stand related to America, as much as the decemvirs did in Rome; with this difference for the worse, that our rulers are to be three thousand miles off. The definition of an oligarchy is a government by a number of grandees over whom the people have no control. The States of Holland were once chosen by the people frequently, then chosen for life; now they are not chosen by the people at all. When a member dies, his place is filled up, not by the people he is to represent, but by the States. Is not this depriving the Hollanders of a free constitution and subjecting them to an aristocracy or oligarchy? Will not the government of America be like it? Will not representatives be chosen for them by others whom they never saw nor heard of? If our provincial constitutions are in any respect imperfect and what alteration, they have capacity enough to discern it and power enough to effect it without the interposition of parliament. There never was an American constitution attempted by parliament before the Quebec bill and Massachusetts bill. These are such samples of what they may, and probably will be, that few Americans are in love with them. However, America will never allow that parliament has any authority to alter their constitution at all. She is wholly penetrated with a sense of the necessity of resisting it at all hazards. And she would resist it if the constitution of the Massachusetts has been altered as much for the better as it is for the worse. The question we insist on most is, not whether the alteration is for the better or not, but whether parliament has any right to make any alteration at all. And it is the universal sense of America that it has none.

We are told, that “the provincial constitutions have no principle of stability within themselves.” This is so great a mistake that there is not more order or stability in any government upon the globe than there ever has been in that of Connecticut. The same may be said of the Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, and, indeed, of the others very nearly. “That these constitutions, in turbulent times, would become wholly monarchical or wholly republican,” they must be such times as would have a similar effect upon the constitution at home. But in order to avoid the danger of this, what is to be done? Not give us an English constitution, it seems, but make sure of us at once by giving us constitutions wholly monarchical, annihilating our houses of representatives first, by taking from them the support of government, etc., and then making the council and judges wholly dependent on the crown.

That a representation in parliament is impracticable we all agree; but the consequence is that we must have a representation in our supreme legislatures here. This was the consequence that was drawn by kings, ministers, our ancestors, and the whole nation more than a century ago when the colonies were first settled and continued to be the general sense until the last peace; and it must be the general sense again soon, or Great Britain will lose her colonies.

“This is apparently the meaning of that celebrated passage in Governor Hutchinson’s letter, that rung through the continent, namely, ’There must be an abridgment of what is called English liberties.’” But all the art and subtlety of Massachusettensis will never vindicate or excuse that expression. According to this writer, it should have been “there is an abridgment of English liberties, and it cannot be otherwise.” But every candid reader must see that the letter writer had more than that in his view and in his wishes. In the same letter, a little before, he says, “what marks of resentment the parliament will show, whether they will be upon the province in general or particular persons, is extremely uncertain; but that they will be placed somewhere is most certain; and I add, because I think it ought to be so.” Is it possible to read this without thinking of the Port Bill, the Charter Bill, and the resolves for sending persons to England by the statute of Henry VIII to be tried? But this is not all: “This is most certainly a crisis,” says he, etc. “If no measure shall have been taken to secure this dependence (that is, the dependence which a colony ought to have upon the parent state), it is all over with us.” “The friends of government will be utterly disheartened; and the friends of anarchy will be afraid of nothing, be it ever so extravagant.” But this is not all: “I never think of the measures necessary for the peace and good order of the colonies without pain.” “There must he an abridgment of what are called English liberties.” What could he mean? Anything less than depriving us of trial by jury? Perhaps he wanted an act of parliament to try persons here for treason, by a court of admiralty. Perhaps an act that the province should be governed by a governor and a mandamus council without a house of representatives. But to put it out of all doubt that his meaning was much worse that Massachusettensis endeavors to make it, he explains himself in a subsequent part of the letter: “I wish,” says he, “the good of the colony, when I wish to see some further restraint of liberty.” Here it is rendered certain that he is pleading for a further restraint of liberty, not explaining the restraint he apprehended the constitution had already laid us under. My indignation at this letter has sometimes been softened by compassion. It carries on the face of it evident marks of madness. It was written in such a transport of passions, ambition and revenge chiefly, that his reason was manifestly overpowered. The vessel was tost in such a hurricane that she could not feel her helm. Indeed he seems to have had a confused consciousness of this himself. “Pardon me this excursion,” says he; “it really proceeds from the state of mind into which our perplexed affairs often throw me.”

“It is our highest interest to continue a part of the British empire and equally our duty to remain subject to the authority of parliament,” says Massachusettensis.

We are a part of the British dominions, that is, of the King of Great Britain, and it is our interest and duty to continue so. It is equally our interest and duty to continue subject to the authority of parliament in the regulation of our trade as long as she shall leave us to govern our internal policy, and to give and grant our own money, and no longer.

This letter concludes with an agreeable flight of fancy. The time may not be so far off, however, as this writer imagines, when the colonies may have the balance of numbers and wealth in their favor. But when that shall happen, if we should attempt to rule her by an American parliament without an adequate representation in it, she will infallibly resist us by her arms.


March 13, 1775

It has often been observed by me, and it cannot be too often repeated, that colonization is casus omissus at common law. There is no such title known in that law. By common law I mean that system of customs, written and unwritten, which was known and in force in England in the time of King Richard I. This continued to be the case down to the reign of Elizabeth and King James I. In all that time the laws of England were confined to the realm and within the four seas. There was no provision made in this law for governing colonies beyond the Atlantic or beyond the four seas by authority of parliament; no, nor for the king to grant charters to subjects to settle in foreign countries. It was the king’s prerogative to prohibit the emigration of any of his subjects by issuing his writ ne exeat regno. And, therefore, it was in the king’s power to permit his subjects to leave the kingdom. “It is a high crime to disobey the king’s lawful commands or prohibitions, as not returning from beyond sea upon the king’s letters to that purpose, for which the offender’s lands shall be seized until he return; and when he does return, he shall be fined, etc.; or going beyond sea against the king’s will, expressly signified, either by the writ ne exeat regno, or under the great or privy seal, or signet, or by proclamation.” When a subject left the kingdom by the king’s permission, and if the nation did not remonstrate against it, by the nation’s permission too, at least connivance, he carried with him as a man all the rights of nature. His allegiance bound him to the king and entitled him to protection. But how? Not in France; the King of England was not bound to protect him in France. Nor in America. Nor in the dominions of Louis. Nor of Sassacus, or Massachusetts. He had a right to protection and the liberties of England upon his return there, not otherwise. How, then, do we New Englandmen derive our laws? I say, not from parliament, not from common law, but from the law of nature and the compact made with the king in our charters. Our ancestors were entitled to the common law of England when they emigrated, that is, to just so much of it as they pleased to adopt, and no more. They were not bound or obliged to submit to it unless they chose it. By a positive principle of the common law they were bound, let them be in what part of the world they would, to do nothing against the allegiance of the king. But no kind of provision was ever made by common law for punishing or trying any man, even for treason committed out of the realm. He must be tried in some country of the realm by that law, the country where the overt act was done, or he could not be tried at all. Nor was any provision ever made until the reign of Henry VIII for trying treasons committed abroad, and the acts of that reign were made on purpose to catch Cardinal Pole.

So that our ancestors, when they emigrated, having obtained permission of the king to come here and being never commanded to return into the realm, had a clear right to have erected in this wilderness a British constitution, or a prefect democracy, or any other form of government they saw fit. They, indeed, while they lived, could not have taken arms against the King of England without violating their allegiance; but their children would not have been born within the king’s allegiance, would not have been natural subjects, and consequently not entitled to protection or bound to the king.

Massachusettensis seems possessed of these ideas and attempts in the most awkward manner to get rid of them. He is conscious that America must be a part of the realm before it can be bound by the authority of parliament and, therefore, is obliged to suggest that we are annexed to the realm and to endeavor to confuse himself and his readers by confounding the realm with the empire and dominions.

But will any man soberly contend that America was ever annexed to the realm? to what realm? When New England was settled, there was a realm of England, a realm of Scotland, and a realm of Ireland. To which of these three realms was New England annexed? To the realm of England, it will be said. But by what law? No territory could be annexed to the realm of England but by an act of parliament. Acts of parliament have been passed to annex Wales, etc., to the realm; but none ever passed to annex America.

But if New England was annexed to the realm of England, how came she annexed to the realm of, or kingdom of Great Britain? The two realms of England and Scotland were by the act of union incorporated into one kingdom by the name of Great Britain; but there is not one word about America in that act.

Besides, if America was annexed to the realm, or a part of the kingdom, every act of parliament that is made would extend to it, named or not named. But everybody knows that every act of parliament and every other record constantly distinguishes between this kingdom and his majesty’s other dominions. Will it be said that Ireland is annexed to the realm or a part of the kingdom of Great Britain? Ireland is a distinct kingdom or realm by itself, notwithstanding British parliament claims a right of binding it in all cases and exercises it in some. And even so, the Massachusetts is a realm, New York is a realm, Pennsylvania another realm, to all intents and purposes, as much as Ireland is or England or Scotland ever were. The King of Great Britain is the sovereign of all these realms.

This writer says “that in denying that the colonies are annexed to the realm and subject to the authority of parliament, individuals and bodies of men subvert the fundamentals of government, deprive us of British liberties, and build up absolute monarchy in the colonies.”

This is the first time that I ever heard or read that the colonies are annexed to the realm. It is utterly denied that they are and that it is possible they should be without an act of parliament and acts of the colonies. Such an act of parliament cannot be produced nor any such law of any one colony. Therefore, as this writer builds the whole authority of parliament upon this fact, namely, that the colonies are annexed to the realm, and as it is certain they never were so annexed, the consequence is that his whole superstructure falls.

When he says that they subvert the fundamentals of government, he begs the question. We say that the contrary doctrines subvert the fundamentals of government. When he says that they deprive us of British liberties, he begs the question again. We say that the contrary doctrine deprives us of English liberties; as to British liberties, we scarcely know what they are, as the liberties of England and Scotland are not precisely the same to this day. English liberties are but certain rights of nature reserved to the citizen by the English constitution, which rights cleaved to our ancestors when they crossed the Atlantic and would have inhered in them if, instead of coming to New England, they had gone to Otaheite (Tahiti) or Patagonia, even although they had taken no patent or charter from the king at all. These rights did not adhere to them the less, for their purchasing patents and charters in which the king expressly stipulates with them that they and their posterity should forever enjoy all those rights and liberties.

The human mind is not naturally the clearest atmosphere; but the clouds and vapors which have been raised in it by the artifices of temporal and spiritual tyrants have made it impossible to see objects in it distinctly. Scarcely anything is involved in more systematical obscurity than the rights of our ancestors when they arrived in America. How, in common sense, came the dominions of King Philip, King Massachusetts, and twenty other sovereigns, independent princes here to be within the allegiance of the Kings of England, James and Charles? America was no more within the allegiance of those princes by the common law of England or by the law of nature than France and Spain were. Discovery, if that was incontestable, could give no title to the English king by common law or by the law of nature to the lands, tenements, and hereditaments of the native Indians here. Our ancestors were sensible of this and, therefore, honestly purchased their lands of the natives. They might have bought them to hold allodially if they would.

But there were two ideas which confused them and have continued to confuse their posterity, one derived from the feudal, the other from the canon law. By the former of these systems, the prince, the general, was supposed to be sovereign lord of all the lands conquered by the soldiers in his army; and upon this principle, the King of England was considered in law as sovereign lord of all the land within the realm. If he had sent an army here to conquer King Massachusetts and it had succeeded, he would have been sovereign lord of the land here upon these principles; but there was no rule of the common law that made the discovery of the country by a subject a title to that country in the prince. But conquest would not have annexed the country to the realm nor have given any authority to the parliament. But there was another mist cast before the eyes of the English nation from another source. The pope claimed a sovereign propriety in, as well as authority over, the whole earth. As head of the Christian church and vicar of God, he claimed this authority over all Christendom; and, in the same character, he claimed a right to all the countries and possessions of heathens and infidels, a right divine to exterminate and destroy them at his discretion in order to propagate the Catholic faith. When King Henry VIII and his parliament threw off the authority of the pope, stripped his holiness of his supremacy, and invested it in himself by an act of parliament, he and his courtiers seemed to think that all the rights of the holy see were transferred to him; and it was a union of these two (the most impertinent and fantastical ideas that ever got into a human pericranium, namely, that, as feudal sovereign and supreme head of the church together, a king of England had a right to all the lands his subjects could find not possessed by any Christian state or prince, though possessed by heathen or infidel nations) which seems to have deluded the nation about the time of the settlement of the colonies. But none of these ideas gave or inferred any right in parliament over the new countries conquered or discovered; and, therefore, denying that the colonies are a part of the realm and that as such they are subject to parliament by no means deprives us of English liberties. Nor does it “build up absolute monarchy in the colonies.” For, admitting these notions of the common and feudal law to have been in full force and that the king was absolute in America when it was settled, yet he had a right to enter into a contract with his subjects and stipulate that they should enjoy all the rights and liberties of Englishmen forever in consideration of their undertaking to clear the wilderness, propagate Christianity, pay a fifth part of ore, etc. Such a contract as this has been made with all the colonies, royal governments as well as charter ones. For the commissions to the governors contain the plan of the government and the contract between the king and subject in the former as much as the charters in the latter.

Indeed, this was the reasoning, and upon these feudal and catholic principles, in the time of some of the predecessors of Massachusettensis. This was the meaning of Dudley when he asked, “Do you think that English liberties will follow you to the ends of the earth?” His meaning was that English liberties were confined to the realm, and out of that the king was absolute. But this was not true, for an English king had no right to be absolute over Englishmen out of the realm any more than in it; and they were released from their allegiance as soon as he deprived them of their liberties.

But “our charters suppose regal authority in the grantor.” True, they suppose it, whether there was any or not. “If that authority be derived from the British (he should have said English) crown, it presupposes this territory to have been a part of the British (he should have said English) dominion and as such subject to the imperial sovereign.” How can this writer show this authority to be derived from the English crown, including in the idea of it lords and commons? Is there the least color for such an authority but in the popish and feudal ideas before mentioned? And do these popish and feudal ideas include parliament? Was parliament, were lords and commons parts of the head of the church; or was parliament, that is, lords and commons, part of the sovereign feudatory? Never. But why was this authority derived from the English any more than the Scottish or Irish crown? It is true, the land was to be held in socage like the manor of East Greenwich; but this was compact, and it might have been as well as they held in Glasgow or Dublin.

But, says this writer, “if that authority was vested in the person of the king in a different capacity, the British constitution and laws are out of the question and the king must be absolute as to us as his prerogatives have never been limited.” Not the prerogatives limited in our charters, when in every one of them all the rights of Englishmen are secured to us? Are not the rights of Englishmen sufficiently known, and are not the prerogatives of the king among those rights?

As to those colonies which are destitute of charters, the commissions to their governors have ever been considered as equivalent securities, both for property, jurisdiction, and privileges, with charters; and as to the power of the crown being absolute in those colonies, it is absolute nowhere. There is no fundamental or other law that makes a king of England absolute anywhere except in conquered countries; and an attempt to assume such a power by the fundamental laws forfeits the prince’s right even to the limited crown.

As to “the charter governments reverting to absolute monarchy, as their charters may happen to be forfeited by the grantees not fulfilling the conditions of them,” I answer, if they could be forfeited and were actually forfeited, the only consequence would be that the king would have no power over them at all. He would not be bound to protect the people, nor, that I can see, would the people here, who were born here, be by any principle of common law bound even to allegiance to the king. The connection would be broken between the crown and the natives of the country.

It has been a great dispute whether charters granted within the realm can be forfeited at all. It was a question debated with infinite learning in the case of the charter of London. It was adjudged forfeited in an arbitrary reign; but afterwards, after the revolution, it was declared in parliament not forfeited and by an act of parliament made incapable of forfeiture. The charter of Massachusetts was declared forfeited too. So were other American charters. The Massachusetts alone were tame enough to give it up. But no American charter will ever be decreed forfeited again; or if any should, the decree will be regarded no more than a vote of the lower house of the Robinhood society. The court of chancery has no authority without the realm; by common law, surely it has none in America. What! The privileges of millions of Americans depend on the discretion of a lord chancellor? God forbid! The passivity of this colony in receiving the present charter in lieu of the first is, in the opinion of some, the deepest stain upon its character. There is less to be said in excuse for it than the witchcraft or hanging the Quakers. A vast party in the province were against it at the time and thought themselves betrayed by their agent. It has been a warning to their posterity and one principle motive with the people never to trust any agent with power to concede away their privileges again. It may as well be pretended that the people of Great Britain can forfeit their privileges, as the people of this province. If the contract of state is broken, the people and king of England must recur to nature. It is the same in this province. We shall never more submit to decrees in chancery or acts of parliament annihilating charters or abridging English liberties.

Whether Massachusettensis was born as a politician in the year 1764, I know not; but he often writes as if he knew nothing of that period. In his attempt to trace the denial of the supreme authority of the parliament, he commits such mistakes as a man of age at that time ought to blush at. He says that “when the Stamp Act was made, the authority of parliament to impose external taxes or, in other words, to lay duties upon goods and merchandise was admitted,” and that when the Tea Act was made, “a new distinction was set up, that parliament had a right to lay duties upon merchandise for the purpose of regulating trade but not for the purpose of raising a revenue.” This is a total misapprehension of the declared opinions of people at those times. The authority of parliament to lay taxes for a revenue has been always generally denied. And their right to lay duties to regulate trade has been denied by many who have ever contended that trade should be regulated only by prohibitions. . . .

This writer sneers at the distinction between a right to lay the former duty of a shilling on the pound of tea and the right to lay the threepence. But is there not a real difference between laying a duty to be paid in England upon exportation and to be paid in America upon importation? Is there not a difference between parliament’s laying on duties within their own realm, where they have undoubted jurisdiction, and laying them out of their realm, nay, laying them on in our realm, where we say they have no jurisdiction? Let them lay on what duties they please in England, we have nothing to say against that.

“Our patriots most heroically resolved to become independent states and flatly denied that parliament had a right to make any laws whatever that should be binding upon the colonies.”

Our scribbler, more heroically still, is determined to show the world that he has courage superior to all regard to modesty, justice, or truth. Our patriots have never determined or desired to be independent states if a voluntary cession of a right to regulate their trade can make them dependent even on parliament, though they are clear in theory that by the common law and the English constitution parliament has no authority over them. None of the patriots of this province of the present age have ever denied that parliament has a right from our voluntary cession to make laws which shall bind the colonies so far as their commerce extends.

“There is no possible medium between absolute independence and subjection to the authority of parliament.” If this is true, it may be depended upon that all North America are as fully convinced of their independence, their absolute independence, as they are of their own existence and as fully determined to defend it at all hazards as Great Britain is to defend her independence against foreign nations. But it is not true. An absolute independence on parliament in all internal concerns and cases of taxation is very compatible with an absolute dependence on it in all cases of external commerce.

“He must be blind indeed that cannot see our dearest interest in the latter (that is, in an absolute subjection to the authority of parliament), notwithstanding many pant after the former” (that is, absolute independence). The man who is capable of writing, in cool blood, that our interest lies in an absolute subjection to parliament is capable of writing or saying anything for the sake of his pension. A legislature that has so often discovered a want of information concerning us and our country; a legislature interested to lay burdens upon us; a legislature, two branches of which, I mean the lords and commons, neither love nor fear us! Every American of fortune and common sense must look upon his property to be sunk downright one half of its value the moment such an absolute subjection to parliament is established.

That there are any who pant after “independence” (meaning by this word a new plan of government over all America unconnected with the crown of England or meaning by it an exemption from the power of parliament to regulate trade) is as great a slander upon the province as ever was committed to writing. The patriots of this province desire nothing new; they wish only to keep their old privileges. They were for one hundred and fifty years allowed to tax themselves and govern their internal concerns as they thought best. Parliament governed their trade as they thought fit. This plan they wish may continue forever. But it is honestly confessed, rather than become subject to the absolute authority of parliament in all cases of taxation and internal policy, they will be driven to throw off that of regulating trade.

“To deny the supreme authority of the state is a high misdemeanor; to oppose it by force, an overt act of treason.” True; and therefore, Massachusettensis, who denies the king represented by his governor, his majesty’s council by charter, and house of representatives, to be the supreme authority of this province, has been guilty of a high misdemeanor; and those ministers, governors, and their instruments who have brought a military force here and employed it against that supreme authority are guilty of ——, and ought to be punished with ——. I will be more mannerly than Massachusettensis. . . .

From the conquest of Lewellyn to this statute of James is near three hundred and fifty years, during all which time the Welsh were very fond of being incorporated and enjoying the English laws; the English were desirous that they should be; yet the crown would never suffer it to be completely done because it claimed an authority to rule it by discretion. It is conceived, therefore, that there cannot be a more complete and decisive proof of anything than this instance is that a country may be subject to the crown of England, the imperial crown, and yet not annexed to the realm, nor subject to the authority of parliament.

The word crown, like the word throne, is used in various figurative senses; sometimes it means the kingly office, the head of the commonwealth, but it does not always mean the political capacity of the king; much less does it include in the idea of it lords and commons. It may as well be pretended that the house of commons includes or implies a king. Nay, it may as well be pretended that the mace includes the three branches of the legislature.

By the feudal law, a person or a country might be subject to a king, a feudal sovereign three several ways.

1. It might be subject to his person, and in this case it would continue so subject, let him be where he would, in his dominions or without. 2. To his crown, and in this case subjection was due to whatsoever person or family wore that crown and would follow it, whatever revolutions it underwent. 3. To his crown and realm of state, and in this case it was incorporated as one body with the principle kingdom; and if that was bound by a parliament, diet, or cortes, so was the other.

It is humbly conceived that the subjection of the colonies by compact and law is of the second sort.


April 17, 1775

We now come to Jersey and Guernsey, which Massachusettensis says, “are no part of the realm of England, nor are they represented in parliament, but are subject to its authority.” A little knowledge of this subject will do us no harm; and, as soon as we shall acquire it, we shall be satisfied how these islands came to be subject to the authority of parliament. It is either upon the principle that the king is absolute there and has a right to make laws for them by his mere will, and, therefore, may express his will by an act of parliament or an edict at his pleasure, or it is an usurpation. If it is an usurpation, it ought not to be a precedent for the colonies, but it ought to be reformed, and they ought to be incorporated into the realm by act of parliament and their own act. Their situation is no objection to this. Ours is an insurmountable obstacle.

Thus we see that in every instance which can be found the observation proves to be true that, by the common law, the laws of England, the authority of parliament, and the limits of the realm were confined within seas. That the kings of England had frequently foreign dominions, some by conquest, some by marriage, and some by descent. But in all those cases the kings were either absolute in those dominions or bound to govern them according to their own respective laws and by their own legislative and executive councils. That the laws of England did not extend there, and the English parliament pretended no jurisdiction there nor claimed any right to control the king in his government of those dominions. And from this extensive survey of all the foregoing cases there results a confirmation of what has been so afore said, that there is no provision in the common law, in English precedents, in the English government or constitution, made for the case of the colonies. It is not a conquered but a discovered country. It came not to the king by descent but was explored by the settlers. It came not by marriage to the king but was purchased by the settlers of the savages. It was not granted by the king of his grace, but was dearly, very dearly earned by the planters in the labor, blood, and treasure which they expended to subdue it to cultivation. It stands upon no grounds, then, of law or policy, but what are found in the law of nature, and their express contracts in their charters, and their implied contracts in the commissions to governors and terms of settlement.

Massachusettensis then comes to the first charter of this province (Massachusetts Bay), and he tells us that in it we shall find irresistible evidence that our being a part of the empire, subject to the supreme authority of the state, bound by its laws and subject to its protection were the very terms and conditions by which our ancestors held their lands and settled the province. This is roundly and warmly said, but there is more zeal in it that knowledge. As to our being part of the empire, it could not be the British empire, as it is called, because that was not then in being, but was created seventy or eighty years afterwards. It must be the English empire, then; but the nation was not then polite enough to have introduced into the language of the law, or common parlance, any such phrase or idea. Rome never introduced the terms Roman empire until the tragedy of her freedom was completed. Before that, it was only the republic or the city. In the same manner the realm, or the kingdom, or the dominions of the king were the fashionable style in the age of the first charter. As to being subject to the supreme authority of the state, the prince who granted that charter thought it resided in himself, without any such troublesome tumults as lords and commons; and before the granting that charter had dissolved his parliament and determined never to call another, but to govern without. It is not very likely, then, that he intended our ancestors should be governed by parliament or bound by its laws. As to being subject to its protection, we may guess what ideas king and parliament had of that, by the protection they actually afforded to our ancestors. Not one farthing was ever voted or given by the king or his parliament, or any one resolution taken about them. As to holding their lands, surely they did not hold their lands of lords and commons. It they agreed to hold their lands of the king, this did not subject them to English lords and commons any more than the inhabitants of Scotland, holding their lands of the same king, subjected them. But there is not a word about the empire, the supreme authority of the state being bound by its laws or obliged for its protection in the whole charter. But “our charter is in the royal style.” What then? Is that the parliamentary style? The style is this: “Charles, by the grace of God, King of England, Scotland, France, and Ireland, Defender of the Faith,” etc. Now, in which capacity did he grant that charter, as King of France, or Ireland, or Scotland, or England? He governed England by one parliament, Scotland by another. Which parliament were we to be governed by? And Ireland by a third; and it might as well be reasoned that America was to be governed by the Irish parliament as by the English. But it was granted “under the great seal of England.” True; but this seal runneth not out of the realm, except to mandatory writs, and when our charter was given, it was never intended to go out of the realm. The charter and the corporation were intended to abide and remain within the realm and be like other corporations there. But this affair of the seal is a mere piece of imposition.

In Moore’s Reports, in the case of the union of the realm of Scotland with England, it is resolved by the judges that “the seal is alterable by the king at his pleasure, and he might make one seal for both kingdoms (of England and Scotland); for seals, coin, and leagues are of absolute prerogative to the king without parliament, not restrained to any assent of the people”; and in determining how far the great seal does command out of England, they made this distinction:

That the great seal was current for remedials, which groweth on complaint of the subject, and thereupon writs are addressed under the great seal of England; which writs are limited, their precinct to be within the places of the jurisdiction of the court that was to give the redress of the wrong. And therefore writs are not to go into Ireland, or the Isles, nor Wales, nor the countries palatine, because the king’s courts have not power to hold pleas of lands or things there. But the great seal hath a power preceptory to the person, which power extendeth to any place where the person may be found . . .

This authority plainly shows that the great seal of England has no more authority out of the realm, except to mandatory or preceptory writs (and surely the first charter was no preceptory writ) than the privy seal, or the great seal of Scotland, or no seal at all. In truth, the seal and charter were intended to remain within the realm and be of force to a corporation there; but the moment it was transferred to New England, it lost all its legal force, by the common law of England; and as this translation of it was acquiesced in by all parties, it might well be considered as good evidence of a contract between the parties, and in no other light, but not a whit the better or stronger for being under the great seal of England. But “the grants are made by the king, for his heirs and successors.” What then? So the Scots held their lands of him who was then king of England, his heirs and successors, and were bound to allegiance to him, his heirs and successors; but it did not follow from thence that the Scots were subject to the English parliament. So the inhabitants of Aquitain, for ten descents, held their lands, and were tied by allegiance to him who was king of England, his heirs and successors, but were under no subjection to English lords and commons.

Heirs and successors of the king are supposed to be the same persons, and are used as synonymous words in the English law. There is no positive artificial provision made by our laws, or the British constitution, for revolutions. All our positive laws suppose that the royal office will descend to the eldest branch of the male line or, in default of that, to the eldest female, etc., forever, and that the succession will not be broken. It is true that nature, necessity, and the great principles of self-preservation have often overruled the succession. But this was done without any positive instruction of law. Therefore, the grants being by the king, for his heirs and successors, and the tenures being of the king, his heirs and successors, and the reservation being to the king, his heirs and successors, are so far from proving that we were to be part of an empire as one state, subject to the supreme authority of the English or British state and subject to its protection, that they do not so much as prove that we are annexed to the English crown. And all the subtlety of the writers on the side of the ministry has never yet proved that America is so much as annexed to the crown, much less to the realm. “It is apparent the king acted in his royal capacity, as king of England.” This I deny. The laws of England gave him no authority to grant any territory out of the realm. Besides, there is no color for his thinking that he acted in that capacity but his using the great seal of England; but if the king is absolute in the affair of the seal, and may make or use any seal that he pleases, his using that seal which had been commonly used in England is no certain proof that he acted as king of England; for it is plain he might have used the English seal in the government of Scotland, and in that case it will not be pretended that he would have acted in his royal capacity as king of England. But his acting as king of England “necessarily supposes the territory granted to be a part of the English dominions, and holden of the crown of England.” Here is the word “dominions” systematically introduced instead of the word “realm.” There was no English dominions but the realm. And I say that America was not any part of the English realm or dominions. And therefore, when the king granted it, he could not act as king of England, by the laws of England. As to the “territory being holden of the crown, there is no such thing in nature or art.” Lands are holden according to the original notices of feuds, of the natural person of the lord. Holding lands, in feudal language, means no more than the relation between lord and tenant. The reciprocal duties of these are all personal. Homage, fealty, etc., and all other services are personal to the lord; protection, etc. is personal to the tenant. And therefore no homage, fealty, or other services can ever be rendered to the body politic, the political capacity, which is not corporated but only a frame in the mind, an idea. No lands here, or in England, are held of the crown, meaning by it the political capacity; they are all held of the royal person, the natural person of the king. Holding lands, etc. of the crown is an impropriety of expression; but it is often used; and when it is, it can have no other sensible meaning than this, that we hold lands of that person, whoever he is, who wears the crown; the law supposes he will be a right, natural heir of the present king forever.

Massachusettensis then produces a quotation from the first charter to prove several points. It is needless to repeat the whole, but the parts chiefly relied on are italicized. It makes the company a body politic in fact and name, etc., and enables it “to sue and be sued.” Then the writer asks, “whether this looks like a distinct state or independent empire?” I answer, no. And that it is plain and uncontroverted that the first charter was intended only to erect a corporation within the realm; and the governor and company were to reside within the realm; and their general courts were to be held there. Their agents, deputies, and servants only were to come to America. And if this had taken place, nobody ever doubted but they would have been subject to parliament. But this intention was not regarded on either side, and the company came over to America and brought their charter with them. And as soon as they arrived here, they got out of the English realm, dominions, state, empire, call it by what name you will, and out of the legal jurisdiction of parliament. The king might, by his writ or proclamation, have commanded them to return, but he did not.



A Defense of the Constitution of Government of the United States of America

John Adams

Marchamont Nedham lays it down as a fundamental principle and an undeniable rule, “That the people, (that is, such as shall be successively chosen to represent the people,) are the best keepers of their own liberties, and that for many reasons. First, because they never think of usurping over other men’s rights, but mind which way to preserve their own.”

Our first attention should be turned to the proposition itself,—”The people are the best keepers of their own liberties.”

But who are the people?

“Such as shall be successively chosen to represent them.”

Here is a confusion both of words and ideas, which, though it may pass with the generality of readers in a fugitive pamphlet, or with a majority of auditors in a popular harangue, ought, for that very reason, to be as carefully avoided in politics as it is in philosophy or mathematics. If by the people is meant the whole body of a great nation, it should never be forgotten, that they can never act, consult, or reason together, because they cannot march five hundred miles, nor spare the time, nor find a space to meet; and, therefore, the proposition, that they are the best keepers of their own liberties, is not true. They are the worst conceivable; they are no keepers at all. They can neither act, judge, think or will, as a body politic or corporation. If by the people is meant all the inhabitants of a single city, they are not in a general assembly, at all times, the best keepers of their own liberties, nor perhaps at any time, unless you separate from them the executive and judicial power, and temper their authority in legislation with the maturer counsels of the one and the few. If it is meant by the people, as our author explains himself, a representative assembly, “such as shall be successively chosen to represent the people,” still they are not the best keepers of the people’s liberties or their own, if you give them all the power, legislative, executive, and judicial. They would invade the liberties of the people, at least the majority of them would invade the liberties of the minority, sooner and oftener than an absolute monarchy, such as that of France, Spain, or Russia, or than a well-checked aristocracy, like Venice, Bern, or Holland.

An excellent writer has said, somewhat incautiously, that “a people will never oppress themselves, or invade their own rights.” This compliment, if applied to human nature, or to mankind, or to any nation or people in being or in memory, is more than has been merited. If it should be admitted that a people will not unanimously agree to oppress themselves, it is as much as is ever, and more than is always, true. All kinds of experience show, that great numbers of individuals do oppress great numbers of other individuals; that parties often, if not always, oppress other parties, and majorities almost universally minorities. All that this observation can mean then, consistently with any color of fact, is, that the people will never unanimously agree to oppress themselves. But if one party agrees to oppress another, or the majority the minority, the people still oppress themselves, for one part of them oppress another.

“The people never think of usurping over other men’s rights.”

What can this mean? Does it mean that the people never unanimously think of usurping over other men’s rights? This would be trifling; for there would, by the supposition, be no other men’s rights to usurp. But if the people never, jointly nor severally, think of usurping the rights of others, what occasion can there be for any government at all? Are there no robberies, burglaries, murders, adulteries, thefts, nor cheats? Is not every crime a usurpation over other men’s rights? Is not a great part, I will not say the greatest part, of men detected every day in some disposition or other, stronger or weaker, more or less, to usurp over other men’s rights? There are some few, indeed, whose whole lives and conversations show that, in every thought, word, and action, they conscientiously respect the rights of others. There is a larger body still, who, in the general tenor of their thoughts and actions, discover similar principles and feelings, yet frequently err. If we should extend our candor so far as to own, that the majority of men are generally under the dominion of benevolence and good intentions, yet, it must be confessed, that a vast majority frequently transgress; and, what is more directly to the point, not only a majority, but almost all, confine their benevolence to their families, relations, personal friends, parish, village, city, county, province, and that very few, indeed, extend it impartially to the whole community. Now, grant but this truth, and the question is decided. If a majority are capable of preferring their own private interest, or that of their families, counties, and party, to that of the nation collectively, some provision must be made in the constitution, in favor of justice, to compel all to respect the common right, the public good, the universal law, in preference to all private and partial considerations.

The proposition of our author, then, should be reversed, and it should have been said, that they mind so much their own, that they never think enough of others.


We concur also most sincerely in our author’s conclusion, in part, namely,——That since kings and all standing powers are so inclinable to act according to their own wills and interests, in making, expounding, and executing of laws, to the prejudice of the people’s liberty and security, no laws whatsoever should be made but by the people’s consent, as the only means to prevent arbitrariness.” But we must carry the conclusion farther, namely,—that since all men are so inclinable to act according to their own wills and interests, in making, expounding, and executing laws, to the prejudice of the people’s liberty and security, the sovereign authority, the legislative, executive, and judicial power, can never be safely lodged in one assembly, though chosen annually by the people; because the majority and their leaders, the principes populi, will as certainly oppress the minority, and make, expound, and execute laws for their own wealth, power, grandeur, and glory, to the prejudice of the liberty and security of the minority, as hereditary kings or standing senates.

The conclusion, therefore, that “the people, in a succession of their supreme single assemblies, are the best keepers of their liberties,” must be wholly reprobated.


It is indeed a “most excellent maxim, that the original and fountain of all just power and government is in the people;” and if ever this maxim was fully demonstrated and exemplified among men, it was in the late American Revolution, where thirteen governments were taken down from the foundation, and new ones elected wholly by the people, as an architect would pull down an old building and erect a new one. There will be no dispute, then, with Cicero, when he says, “A mind well instructed by the light of nature, will pay obedience,” willingly “to none but such as command, direct, or govern for its good or benefit;” nor will our author’s inferences from these passages from that oracle of human wisdom be denied:

“1. That by the light of nature people are taught to be their own carvers and contrivers in the framing of that government under which they mean to live.

“2. That none are to preside in government, or sit at the helm, but such as shall be judged fit, and chosen by the people.

“3. That the people are the only proper judges of the convenience or inconvenience of a government when it is erected, and of the behavior of governors after they are chosen.”

But then it is insisted, that rational and regular means shall be used that the whole people may be their own carvers, that they may judge and choose who shall preside, and that they may determine on the convenience or inconvenience of government, and the behavior of governors. But then it is insisted, that the town of Berwick upon Tweed shall not carve, judge, choose, and determine for the whole kingdom of Great Britain, nor the county of Berkshire for the Massachusetts; much less that a lawless tyrannical rabble shall do all this for the state, or even for the county of Berkshire.

It may be, and is admitted, that a free government is most natural, and only suitable to the reason of mankind; but it by no means follows “that the other forms, as of a standing power in the hands of a particular person, as a king; or of a set number of great ones, as in a senate,” much less that a mixture of the three simple forms “are beside the dictates of nature, and mere artificial devices of great men, squared out only to serve the ends and interests of avarice, pride, and ambition of a few, to a vassalizing of the community.” If the original and fountain of all power and government is in the people, as undoubtedly it is, the people have as clear a right to erect a simple monarchy, aristocracy, or democracy, or an equal mixture, or any other mixture of all three, if they judge it for their liberty, happiness, and prosperity, as they have to erect a democracy; and infinitely greater and better men than Marchamont Nedham, and the wisest nations that ever lived, have preferred such mixtures, and even with such standing powers as ingredients in their compositions. But even those nations who choose to reserve in their own hands the periodical choice of the first magistrate, senate, and assembly, at certain stated periods, have as clear a right to appoint a first magistrate for life as for years, and for perpetuity in his descendants as for life.

When I say for perpetuity or for life, it is always meant to imply, that the same people have at all times a right to interpose, and to depose for maladministration—to appoint anew. No appointment of a king or senate, or any standing power, can be, in the nature of things, for a longer period than quam diu se bene gesserit, the whole nation being judge. An appointment for life or perpetuity can be no more than an appointment until further order; but further order can only be given by the nation.



Discourses Concerning Government,
ed. Thomas G. West (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1996)
Author: Algernon Sidney

  • SECTION 11
  • That which is not just, is not Law; and that which is not Law, ought not to be obeyed.

Our author having for a long time pretended conscience, now pulls off his mask, and plainly tells us, that ’tis not on account of conscience, but for fear of punishment, or hopes of reward, that laws are to be obeyed. That familiar distinction of the Schoolmen, says he, whereby they subject kings to the directive, but not to the coactive power of the law, is a confession, that kings are not bound by the positive laws of any nation, since the compulsory power of laws is that which properly makes laws to be laws.1 Not troubling myself with this distinction of the Schoolmen, nor acknowledging any truth to be in it, or that they are competent judges of such matters, I say, that if it be true, our author’s conclusion is altogether false; for the directive power of the law, which is certain, and grounded upon the inherent good and rectitude that is in it, is that alone which has a power over the conscience, whereas the coercive is merely contingent; and the most just powers commanding the most just things, have so often fallen under the violence of the most unjust men, commanding the most execrable villainies, that if they were therefore to be obeyed, the consciences of men must be regulated by the success of a battle or conspiracy, than which nothing can be affirmed more impious and absurd. By this rule David was not to be obeyed, when by the wickedness of his son he was driven from Jerusalem,2 and deprived of all coercive power; and the conscientious obedience that had been due to him was transferred to Absalom who sought his life. And in St. Paul’s time it was not from him who was guided only by the spirit of God, and had no manner of coercive power, that Christians were to learn their duty, but from Caligula, Claudius, and Nero, who had that power well established by the mercenary legions. If this were so, the governments of the world might be justly called magna latrocinia;3 and men laying aside all considerations of reason or justice, ought only to follow those who can inflict the greatest punishments, or give the greatest rewards. But since the reception of such opinions would be the extirpation of all that can be called good, we must look for another rule of our obedience, and shall find that to be the law, which being, as I said before, sanctio recta, must be founded upon that eternal principle of reason and truth, from whence the rule of justice which is sacred and pure ought to be deduced, and not from the depraved will of man, which fluctuating according to the different interests, humors and passions that at several times reign in several nations, one day abrogates what had been enacted the other. The sanction therefore that deserves the name of a law, which derives not its excellency from antiquity, or from the dignity of the legislators, but from an intrinsic equity and justice,4 ought to be made in pursuance of that universal reason to which all nations at all times owe an equal veneration and obedience. By this we may know whether he who has the power does justice or not: Whether he be the minister of God to our good, a protector of good, and a terror to ill men; or the minister of the Devil to our hurt, by encouraging all manner of evil, and endeavoring by vice and corruption to make the people worse, that they may be miserable, and miserable that they may be worse. I dare not say I shall never fear such a man if he be armed with power: But I am sure I shall never esteem him to be the minister of God, and shall think I do ill if I fear him. If he has therefore a coercive power over me, ’tis through my weakness; for he that will suffer himself to be compelled, knows not how to die.5 If therefore he who does not follow the directive power of the law, be not the minister of God, he is not a king, at least not such a king as the Apostle commands us to obey: And if that sanction which is not just be not a law, and can have no obligation upon us, by what power soever it be established, it may well fall out, that the magistrate who will not follow the directive power of the law, may fall under the coercive, and then the fear is turned upon him, with this aggravation, that it is not only actual, but just. This was the case of Nero; the coercive power was no longer in him, but against him. He that was forced to fly and to hide himself, that was abandoned by all men, and condemned to die according to ancient custom,6 did, as I suppose, fear, and was no way to be feared. The like may be said of Amaziah king of Judah, when he fled to Lachish;7 of Nebuchadnezzar, when he was driven from the society of men;8 and of many emperors and kings of the greatest nations in the world, who have been so utterly deprived of all power, that they have been imprisoned, deposed, confined to monasteries, killed, drawn through the streets, cut in pieces, thrown into rivers, and indeed suffered all that could be suffered by the vilest slaves.

If any man say these things ought not to have been done, an answer may be given in a proper place; though ’twere enough to say, that the justice of the world is not to be overthrown by a mere assertion without proof; but that is nothing to the present question: For if it was ill done to drive Nero to despair, or to throw Vitellius into the common shore, it was not because they were the ministers of God; for their lives were no way conformable to the character which the Apostle gives to those who deserve that sacred name. If those only are to be feared who have the power, there was a time when they were not to be feared, for they had none; and if those princes are not obliged by the law, who are not under the coercive power, it gave no exemption to those, for they fell under it: and as we know not what will befall others who walk in their steps, till they are dead, we cannot till then know whether they are free from it or not.

[1][Patriarcha, ch. 23, pp. 101–102.]

[2][2 Samuel 15.]

[3][“Robbery on a grand scale.” Augustine, City of God, bk. 4, ch. 4.]

[4]Tertul. [Tertullian, Apology, ch. 4, sec. 10.]

[5]Qui cogi potest nescit mori. [Seneca, The Madness of Hercules, li. 426.]

[6]More majorum. Sueton. [Suetonius, Life of Nero, ch. 49.]

[7][2 Kings 14:19.]

[8][Daniel 4:25–30.]


SECTION 45: The Legislative Power is always Arbitrary, and not to be trusted in the hands of any who are not bound to obey the Laws they make. – Algernon Sidney, Discourses Concerning Government

If it be objected that I am a defender of arbitrary powers, I confess I cannot comprehend how any society can be established or subsist without them; for the establishment of government is an arbitrary act, wholly depending upon the will of men. The particular forms and constitutions, the whole series of the magistracy, together with the measure of power given to everyone, and the rules by which they are to exercise their charge, are so also. Magna Charta, which comprehends our ancient laws, and all the subsequent statutes were not sent from heaven, but made according to the will of men. If no men could have a power of making laws, none could ever have been made; for all that are or have been in the world, except those given by God to the Israelites, were made by them; that is, they have exercised an arbitrary power in making that to be law which was not, or annulling that which was. The various laws and governments, that are or have been in several ages and places, are the product of various opinions in those who had the power of making them. This must necessarily be, unless a general rule be set to all; for the judgments of men will vary if they are left to their liberty, and the variety that is found among them, shows they are subject to no rule but that of their own reason, by which they see what is fit to be embraced or avoided, according to the several circumstances under which they live. The authority that judges of these circumstances is arbitrary, and the legislators show themselves to be more or less wise and good, as they do rightly or not rightly exercise this power. The difference therefore between good and ill governments is not, that those of one sort have an arbitrary power which the others have not, for they all have it; but that those which are well constituted, place this power so as it may be beneficial to the people, and set such rules as are hardly to be transgressed; whilst those of the other sort fail in one or both these points. Some also through want of courage, fortune, or strength, may have been oppressed by the violence of strangers, or suffered a corrupt party to rise up within themselves, and by force or fraud to usurp a power of imposing what they pleased. Others being sottish, cowardly and base, have so far erred in the foundations, as to give up themselves to the will of one or few men, who turning all to their own profit or pleasure, have been just in nothing but in using such a people like beasts. Some have placed weak defenses against the lusts of those they have advanced to the highest places, and given them opportunities of arrogating more power to themselves than the law allows. Where any of these errors are committed, the government may be easy for a while, or at least tolerable, whilst it continues uncorrupted, but it cannot be lasting. When the law may be easily or safely overthrown, it will be attempted. Whatever virtue may be in the first magistrates, many years will not pass before they come to be corrupted; and their successors deflecting from their integrity, will seize upon the ill-guarded prey. They will then not only govern by will, but by that irregular will, which turns the law, that was made for the public good, to the private advantage of one or few men. ’Tis not my intention to enumerate the several ways that have been taken to effect this; or to show what governments have deflected from the right, and how far. But I think I may justly say, that an arbitrary power was never well placed in any men and their successors, who were not obliged to obey the laws they should make. This was well understood by our Saxon ancestors: They made laws in their assemblies and councils of the nation; but all those who proposed or assented to those laws, as soon as the assembly was dissolved, were comprehended under the power of them as well as other men. They could do nothing to the prejudice of the nation, which would not be as hurtful to those who were present and their posterity, as to those who by many accidents might be absent. The Normans entered into, and continued in the same path. Our parliaments at this day are in the same condition. They may make prejudicial wars, ignominious treaties, and unjust laws: Yet when the session is ended, they must bear the burden as much as others; and when they die, the teeth of their children will be set on edge with the sour grapes they have eaten.1 But ’tis hard to delude or corrupt so many: Men do not in matters of the highest importance yield to slight temptations. No man serves the Devil for nothing: Small wages will not content those who expose themselves to perpetual infamy, and the hatred of a nation for betraying their country. Our kings had not wherewithal to corrupt many till these last twenty years, and the treachery of a few was not enough to pass a law. The union of many was not easily wrought, and there was nothing to tempt them to endeavor it; for they could make little advantage during the session, and were to be lost in the mass of the people, and prejudiced by their own laws, as soon as it was ended. They could not in a short time reconcile their various interests or passions, so as to combine together against the public; and the former kings never went about it. We are beholden to H-de, Cl-ff-rd and D-nby,2 for all that has been done of that kind. They found a parliament full of lewd young men chosen by a furious people in spite to the Puritans, whose severity had distasted them. The weakest of all ministers had wit enough to understand that such as these might be easily deluded, corrupted, or bribed. Some were fond of their seats in parliament, and delighted to domineer over their neighbors by continuing in them: Others preferred the cajoleries of the court before the honor of performing their duty to the country that employed them. Some sought to relieve their ruined fortunes, and were most forward to give the king a vast revenue, that from thence they might receive pensions: others were glad of a temporary protection against their creditors. Many knew not what they did when they annulled the Triennial Act, voted the militia to be in the king, gave him the excise, customs and chimney-money, made the act for corporations, by which the greatest part of the nation was brought under the power of the worst men in it; drunk or sober passed the five mile act, and that for uniformity in the church.3 This emboldened the court to think of making parliaments to be the instruments of our slavery, which had in all ages past been the firmest pillars of our liberty. There might have been perhaps a possibility of preventing this pernicious mischief in the constitution of our government. But our brave ancestors could never think their posterity would degenerate into such baseness to sell themselves and their country: but how great soever the danger may be, ’tis less than to put all into the hands of one man and his ministers: the hazard of being ruined by those who must perish with us, is not so much to be feared, as by one who may enrich and strengthen himself by our destruction. ’Tis better to depend upon those who are under a possibility of being again corrupted, than upon one who applies himself to corrupt them, because he cannot otherwise accomplish his designs. It were to be wished that our security were more certain; but this being, under God, the best anchor we have, it deserves to be preserved with all care, till one of a more unquestionable strength be framed by the consent of the nation.

[1]Jeremiah 31: 29.]

[2][Hyde, Clifford, Danby.]

[3][The Triennial Act (1641) had stipulated that three years were not to pass without a parliament being summoned. The Act of Uniformity (1662) required the use of the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. Clergymen who refused to comply lost their positions; and, by the Five Mile Act of 1665, they were forbidden to go within five miles of a place where they had held a church position.]