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An American Citizen I

An American Citizen I

September 26, 1787

It is impossible for an honest and feeling mind, of any nation or country whatever, to be

insensible to the present circumstances of America. Were I an East Indian, or a Turk, I should

consider this singular situation of a part of my fellow creatures, as most curious and interesting.

Intimately connected with the country, as a citizen of the Union, I confess it entirely engrosses

my mind and feelings.

To take a proper view of the ground on which we stand, it may be necessary to recollect the

manner in which the United States were originally settled and established. Want of charity in

the religious systems of Europe and of justice in their political governments were the principal

moving causes which drove the emigrants of various countries to the American continent. The

Congregationalists, Quakers, Presbyterians and other British dissenters, the Catholics of

England and Ireland, the Huguenots of France, the German Lutherans, Calvinists, and

Moravians, with several other societies, established themselves in the different colonies,

thereby laying the ground of that catholicism in ecclesiastical affairs, which has been

observable since the late Revolution. Religious liberty naturally promotes corresponding

dispositions in matters of government. The constitution of England, as it stood on paper, was

one of the freest at that time existing in the world, and the American colonies considered

themselves as entitled to the fullest enjoyment of it. Thus when the ill-judged discussions of

latter times in England brought into question the rights of this country, as it stood connected

with the British Crown, we were found more strongly impressed with their importance and

accurately acquainted with their extent, than the wisest and most learned of our brethren

beyond the Atlantic. When the greatest names in Parliament insisted on the power of that body

over the commerce of the colonies, and even the right to bind us in all cases whatsoever,

America, seeing that it was only another form of tyranny, insisted upon the immutable truth,

that taxation and representation are inseparable, and while a desire of harmony and other

considerations induced her into an acquiescence in the commercial regulations of Great Britain,

it was done from the declared necessity of the case, and with a cautious, full and absolute

saving of our voluntarily suspended rights. The Parliament was persevering, and America

continued firm till hostilities and open war commenced, and finally the late Revolution closed

the contest forever.

Tis evident from this short detail and the reflections which arise from it, that the quarrel

between the United States and the Parliament of Great Britain did not arise so much from

objections to the form of government, though undoubtedly a better one by far is now within our

reach, as from a difference concerning certain important rights resulting from the essential

principles of liberty, which the constitution preserved to all the subjects actually residing within

the realm. It was not asserted by America that the people of the island of Great Britain were

slaves, but that we, though possessed absolutely of the same rights, were not admitted to

enjoy an equal degree of freedom.

When the Declaration of Independence completed the separation between the two countries,

new governments were necessarily established. Many circumstances led to the adoption of the

republican form, among which was the predilection of the people. In devising the frames of

government it may have been difficult to avoid extremes opposite to the vices of that we had

just rejected; nevertheless many of the state constitutions we have chosen are truly excellent.

Our misfortunes have been, that in the first instance we adopted no national government at all,

but were kept together by common danger only, and that in the confusions of a civil war we

framed a federal constitution now universally admitted to be inadequate to the preservation of

liberty, property, and the Union. The question is not then how far our state constitutions are

good or otherwise—the object of our wishes is to amend and supply the evident and allowed

errors and defects of the federal government. Let us consider awhile, that which is now

proposed to us. Let us compare it with the so much boasted British form of government, and

see how much more it favors the people and how completely it secures their rights,

remembering at the same time that we did not dissolve our connection with that country so

much on account of its constitution as the perversion and maladministration of it.

In the first place let us look at the nature and powers of the head of that country, and those of

the ostensible head of ours.

The British king is the great bishop or supreme head of an established church, with an immense

patronage annexed. In this capacity he commands a number of votes in the House of Lords, by

creating bishops, who, besides their great incomes, have votes in that assembly, and are judges

in the last resort. They have also many honorable and lucrative places to bestow, and thus from

their wealth, learning, dignities, powers and patronage give a great luster and an enormous

influence to the Crown.

In America our President will not only be without these influencing advantages, but they will be

in the possession of the people at large, to strengthen their hands in the event of a contest with

him. All religious funds, honors and powers are in the gift of numberless, unconnected,

disunited, and contending corporations, wherein the principle of perfect equality universally

prevails. In short, danger from ecclesiastical tyranny, that longstanding and still remaining curse

of the people—that sacrilegious engine of royal power in some countries, can be feared by no

man in the United States. In Britain their king is for life. In America our President will always be

one of the people at the end of four years. In that country the king is hereditary and may be an

idiot, a knave, or a tyrant by nature, or ignorant from neglect of his education, yet cannot be

removed, for “he can do no wrong.” In America, as the President is to be one of the people at

the end of his short term, so will he and his fellow citizens remember, that he was originally

one of the people; and that he is created by their breath. Further, he cannot be an idiot,

probably not a knave or a tyrant, for those whom nature makes so, discover it before the age of

thirty-five, until which period he cannot be elected. It appears we have not admitted that he

can do no wrong, but have rather presupposed he may and will sometimes do wrong, by

providing for his impeachment, his trial, and his peaceable and complete removal.

In England the king has a power to create members of the upper house, who are judges in the

highest court, as well as legislators. Our President not only cannot make members of the upper

house, but their creation, like his own, is by the people through their representatives, and a

member of assembly may and will be as certainly dismissed at the end of his year for electing a

weak or wicked Senator, as for any other blunder or misconduct.

The king of England has legislative power, while our President can only use it when the other

servants of the people are divided. But in all great cases affecting the national interests or

safety, his modified and restrained power must give way to the sense of two-thirds of the

legislature. In fact it amounts to no more, than a serious duty imposed upon him to request

both houses to reconsider any matter on which he entertains doubts or feels apprehensions;

and here the people have a strong hold upon him from his sole and personal responsibility.

The president of the upper house (or the chancellor) in England is appointed by the king, while

our Vice President, who is chosen by the people through the Electors and the Senate, is not at

all dependent on the President, but may exercise equal powers on some occasions. In all royal

governments an helpless infant or an inexperienced youth may wear the crown. Our President

must be matured by the experience of years, and being born among us, his character at thirty-

five must be fully understood. Wisdom, virtue, and active qualities of mind and body can alone

make him the first servant of a free and enlightened people.

Our President will fall very far short indeed of any prince in his annual income, which will not be hereditary, but the absolute allowance of the people passing through the hands of their other

servants from year to year as it becomes necessary. There will be no burdens on the nation to

provide for his heir or other branches of his family. Tis probable, from the state of property in

America and other circumstances, that many citizens will exceed him in show and expense,

those dazzling trappings of kingly rank and power. He will have no authority to make a treaty

without two-thirds of the Senate, nor can he appoint ambassadors or other great officers

without their approbation, which will remove the idea of patronage and influence, and of

personal obligation and dependence. The appointment of even the inferior officers may be

taken out of his hands by an act of Congress at any time; he can create no nobility or titles of

honor, nor take away offices during good behavior. His person is not so much protected as that

of a member of the House of Representatives; for he may be proceeded against like any other

man in the ordinary course of law. He appoints no officer of the separate states. He will have no

influence from placemen in the legislature, nor can he prorogue or dissolve it. He will have no

power over the treasures of the state; and lastly, as he is created through the Electors by the

people at large, he must ever look up to the support of his creators. From such a servant with

powers so limited and transitory, there can be no danger, especially when we consider the solid

foundations on which our national liberties are immovably fixed by the other provisions of this

excellent Constitution. Whatever of dignity or authority he possesses is a delegated part of

their majesty and their political omnipotence, transiently vested in him by the people

themselves for their own happiness.

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