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Cato IV

Updated: Feb 24

Cato IV, New York Journal, 8 November 1787

To the Citizens Of the State of New-­‐York

Admitting, however, that the vast extent of America, together with the various

other reasons which I offered you in my last number, against the practicability of the

just exercise of the new government are insufficient to convince you; still it is an

undeniable truth, that its several parts are either possessed of principles, which you

have heretofore considered as ruinous, and that others are omitted which you have

established as fundamental to your political security, and must in their operation. I will

venture to assert—fetter your tongues and minds, enchain your bodies, and ultimately

extinguish all that is great and noble in man.

In pursuance of my plan, I shall begin with observations on the executive branch of

this new system; and though it is not the first in order, as arranged therein, yet being

the chief, is perhaps entitled by the rules of rank to the first consideration. The

executive power as described in the 2d article, consists of a president and vice-­‐

president, who are to hold their offices during the term of four years; the same article

has marked the manner and time of their election, and established the qualifications of

the president; it also provides against the removal, death, or inability of the president

and vice-­‐president—regulates the salary of the president, delineates his duties and

powers; and lastly, declares the causes for which the president and vice-­‐president shall

be removed from office.

Notwithstanding the great learning and abilities of the gentlemen who composed

the convention, it may be here remarked with deference, that the construction of the

first paragraph of the first section of the second article, is vague and inexplicit, and

leaves the mind in doubt, as to the election of a president and vice-­‐president, after the

expiration of the election for the first term of four years—in every other case, the

election of these great officers is expressly provided for; but there is no explicit

provision for their election in case of the expiration of their offices, subsequent to the

election which is to set this political machine in motion—no certain and express terms

as in your state constitution, that statedly once in every four years, and as often as

these offices shall become vacant, by expiration or otherwise, as is therein expressed,

an election shall be held as follows, &c.—this inexplicitness perhaps may lead to an

establishment for life.

It is remarked by Montesquieu, in treating of republics, that in all magistracies, the

greatness of the power must be compensated by the brevity of the duration; and that a

longer time than a year, would be dangerous. It is therefore obvious to the least

intelligent mind, to account why, great power in the hands of a magistrate, and that

power connected, with a considerable duration, may be dangerous to the liberties of a

republic—the deposit of vast trusts in the hands of a single magistrate, enables him in

their exercise, to create a numerous train of dependants—this tempts his ambition,

which in a republican magistrate is also remarked, to be pernicious and the duration of

his office for any considerable time favours his views, gives him the means and time to

perfect and execute his designs—he therefore fancies that he may be great and glorious

by oppressing his fellow citizens, and raising himself to permanent grandeur on the ruins

of his country.—And here it may be necessary to compare the vast and important

powers of the president, together with his continuance in office with the foregoing

doctrine—his eminent magisterial situation will attach many adherents to him, and he

will be surrounded by expectants and courtiers—his power of nomination and influence

on all appointments—the strong posts in each state comprised within his superintendance, and garrisoned by troops under his direction—his controul over the

army, militia, and navy—the unrestrained power of granting pardons for treason, which

may be used to screen from punishment, those whom he had secretly instigated to

commit the crime, and thereby prevent a discovery of his own guilt—his duration in

office for four years: these, and various other principles evidently prove the truth of the

position—that if the president is possessed of ambition, he has power and time

sufficient to ruin his country.

Though the president, during the sitting of the legislature, is assisted by the senate,

yet he is without a constitutional council in their recess—he will therefore be

unsupported by proper information and advice, and will generally be directed by

minions and favorites, or a council of state will grow out of the principal officers of the

great departments, the most dangerous council in a free country.

The ten miles square, which is to become the seat of government, will of course be

the place of residence for the president and the great officers of state—the same

observations of a great man will apply to the court of a president possessing the powers

of a monarch, that is observed of that of a monarch—ambition with idleness—baseness

with pride—the thirst of riches without labour—aversion to truth—flattery—treason—

perfidy—violation of engagements—contempt of civil duties—hope from the

magistrates weakness; but above all, the perpetual ridicule of virtue—these, he remarks,

are the characteristics by which the courts in all ages have been distinguished.

The language and the manners of this court will be what distinguishes them from

the rest of the community, not what assimilates them to it, and in being remarked for a

behaviour that shews they are not meanly born, and in adulation to people of fortune

and power.

The establishment of a vice president is as unnecessary as it is dangerous. This

officer, for want of other employment, is made president of the senate, thereby

blending the executive and legislative powers, besides always giving to some one state,

from which he is to come, an unjust pre-­‐eminence.

It is a maxim in republics, that the representative of the people should be of their

immediate choice; but by the manner in which the president is chosen he arrives to this

office at the fourth or fifth hand, nor does the highest votes, in the way he is elected,

determine the choice—for it is only necessary that he should be taken from the highest

of five, who may have a plurality of votes.

Compare your past opinions and sentiments with the present proposed

establishment, and you will find, that if you adopt it, that it will lead you into a system

which you heretofore reprobated as odious. Every American whig, not long since, bore

his emphatic testimony against a monarchical government, though limited, because of

the dangerous inequality that it created among citizens as relative to their rights and

property; and wherein does this president, invested with his powers and prerogatives,

essentially differ from the king of Great-­‐Britain (save as to name, the creation of nobility

and some immaterial incidents, the offspring of absurdity and locality) the direct

prerogatives of the president, as springing from his political character, are among the

following:—It is necessary, in order to distinguish him from the rest of the community,

and enable him to keep, and maintain his court, that the compensation for his services;

or in other words, his revenue should be such as to enable him to appear with the

splendor of a prince; he has the power of receiving ambassadors from, and a great

influence on their appointments to foreign courts; as also to make treaties, leagues, and

alliances with foreign states, assisted by the senate, which when made, become the

supreme law of the land: he is a constituent part of the legislative power; for every bill

which shall pass the house of representatives and senate, is to be presented to him for

approbation; if he approves of it, he is to sign it, if he disapproves, he is to return it with

objections, which in many cases will amount to a compleat negative; and in this view he

will have a great share in the power of making peace, coining money, &c. and all the

various objects of legislation, expressed or implied in this Constitution: for though it may

be asserted that the king of Great-­‐Britain has the express power of making peace or

war, yet he never thinks it prudent so to do without the advice of his parliament from

whom he is to derive his support, and therefore these powers, in both president and

king, are substantially the same: he is the generalissimo of the nation, and of course, has

the command & controul of the army, navy and militia; he is the general conservator of

the peace of the union—he may pardon all offences, except in cases of impeachment,

and the principal fountain of all offices & employments. Will not the exercise of these

powers therefore tend either to the establishment of a vile and arbitrary aristocracy, or

monarchy? The safety of the people in a republic depends on the share or proportion

they have in the government; but experience ought to teach you, that when a man is at

the head of an elective government invested with great powers, and interested in his re-­‐

election, in what circle appointments will be made; by which means an imperfect

aristocracy bordering on monarchy may be established.

You must, however, my countrymen, beware, that the advocates of this new

system do not deceive you, by a fallacious resemblance between it and your own state

government, which you so much prize; and if you examine, you will perceive that the

chief magistrate of this state, is your immediate choice, controuled and checked by a

just and full representation of the people, divested of the prerogative of influencing war

and peace, making treaties, receiving and sending embassies, and commanding standing

armies and navies, which belong to the power of the confederation, and will be

convinced that this government is no more like a true picture of your own, than an

Angel of darkness resembles an Angel of light.

Cite as: The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution Digital Edition,

ed. John P. Kaminski, Gaspare J. Saladino, Richard Leffler, Charles H. Schoenleber and

Margaret A. Hogan. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009.

[accessed 10 Jan 2013]

Original source: Ratification by the States, Volume XIX: New York, No. 1

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