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Cato V

Updated: Feb 24

Cato V,

New York Journal, 22 November 1787

To the Citizens of the State of New-York.

In my last number I endeavored to prove that the language of the article relative to the

establishment of the executive of this new government was vague and inexplicit, that the

great powers of the President, connected with his duration in office would lead to

oppression and ruin. That he would be governed by favorites and flatterers, or that a

dangerous council would be collected from the great officers of state;—that the ten miles

square, if the remarks of one of the wisest men, drawn from the experience of mankind, may

be credited, would be the asylum of the base, idle, avaricious and ambitious, and that the

court would possess a language and manners different from yours; that a vice-president is as

unnecessary, as he is dangerous in his influence—that the president cannot represent you,

because he is not of your own immediate choice, that if you adopt this government, you will

incline to an arbitrary and odious aristocracy or monarchy—that the president possessed of

the power, given him by this frame of government differs but very immaterially from the

establishment of monarchy in Great-Britain, and I warned you to beware of the fallacious

resemblance that is held out to you by the advocates of this new system between it and your

own state governments.

And here I cannot help remarking, that inexplicitness seems to pervade this whole

political fabric: certainly in political compacts, which Mr. Coke calls the mother and nurse of

repose and quietness, the want of which induced men to engage in political society, has ever

been held by a wise and free people as essential to their security, as on the one hand it fixes

barriers which the ambitious and tyrannically disposed magistrate dare not overleap, and on

the other, becomes a wall of safety to the community—otherwise stipulations between the

governors and governed are nugatory; and you might as well deposit the important powers

of legislation and execution in one or a few and permit them to govern according to their

disposition and will; but the world is too full of examples, which prove that to live by one man’s

will became the cause of all men’s misery. Before the existence of express political compacts it was

reasonably implied that the magistrate should govern with wisdom and justice, but mere

implication was too feeble to restrain the unbridled ambition of a bad man, or afford security

against negligence, cruelly, or any other defect of mind. It is alledged that the opinions and

manners of the people of America, are capable to resist and prevent an extension of

prerogative or oppression; but you must recollect that opinion and manners are mutable, and

may not always be a permanent obstruction against the encroachments of government; that

the progress of a commercial society begets luxury, the parent of inequality, the foe to virtue,

and the enemy to restraint; and that ambition and voluptuousness aided by flattery, will teach

magistrates, where limits are not explicitly fixed to have separate and distinct interests from

the people, besides it will not be denied that government assimilates the manners and

opinions of the community to it. Therefore, a general presumption that rulers will govern

well is not a sufficient security.—You are then under a sacred obligation to provide for the

safety of your posterity, and would you now basely desert their interests, when by a small

share of prudence you may transmit to them a beautiful political patrimony, which will

prevent the necessity of their travelling through seas of blood to obtain that, which your

wisdom might have secured:—It is a duty you owe likewise to your own reputation, for you

have a great name to lose; you are characterised as cautious, prudent and jealous in politics;

whence is it therefore, that you are about to precipitate yourselves into a sea of uncertainty,

and adopt a system so vague, and which has discarded so many of your valuable rights:—Is

it because you do not believe that an American can be a tyrant? If this be the case you rest

on a weak basis, Americans are like other men in similar situations, when the manners and

opinions of the community are changed by the causes I mentioned before, and your political

compact inexplicit, your posterity will find that great power connected with ambition, luxury,

and flattery, will as readily produce a Caesar, Caligula, Nero, and Domitian in America, as the

same causes did in the Roman empire.

But the next thing to be considered in conformity to my plan, is the first article of this

new government, which comprises the erection of the house of representatives and senate,

and prescribes their various powers and objects of legislation. The most general objections

to the first article, are that bi-ennial elections for representatives are a departure from the

safe democratical principles of annual ones—that the number of representatives are too few;

that the apportionment and principles of increase are unjust; that no attention has been paid

to either the numbers or property in each state in forming the senate; that the mode in which

they are appointed and their duration, will lead to the establishment of an aristocracy; that

the senate and president are improperly connected, both as to appointments, and the making

of treaties, which are to become the supreme law of the land; that the judicial in some

measure, to wit, as to the trial of impeachments is placed in the senate a branch of the

legislative, and some times a branch of the executive: that Congress have the improper

power of making or altering the regulations prescribed by the different legislatures,

respecting the time, place, and manner of holding elections for representatives; and the time

and manner of choosing senators; that standing armies may be established, and

appropriation of money made for their support, for two years; that the militia of the most

remote state may be marched into those states situated at the opposite extreme of this

continent; that the slave trade, is to all intents and purposes permanently established; and a

slavish capitation, or poll-tax, may at any time be levied—these are some of the many evils

that will attend the adoption of this government.

But with respect to the first objection, it may be remarked that a well digested

democracy has this advantage over all others, to wit, that it affords to many the opportunity

to be advanced to the supreme command, and the honors they thereby enjoy fills them with

a desire of rendering themselves worthy of them; hence this desire becomes part of their

education, is matured in manhood, and produces an ardent affection for their country, and it

is the opinion of the great Sidney, and Montesquieu that this in a great measure produced by

annual election of magistrates.

If annual elections were to exist in this government, and learning and information to

become more prevalent, you never will want men to execute whatever you could design—

Sidney observes that a well governed state is as fruitful to all good purposes as the seven headed serpent is said to have been in evil; when one head is cut off, many rise up in the place of it. He remarks further, that it was also thought, that free cities by frequent elections of magistrates became nurseries of great and able men, every man endeavoring to excel others, that he might be advanced to the honor he had no other title to, than what might arise from his merit, or reputation, but the framers of this perfect government, as it is called, have departed from this democratical principle, and established bi-ennial elections, for the house of representatives, who are to be chosen by the people, and sextennial for the senate, who are to be chosen by the legislatures of the different states, and have given to the executive the unprecedented power of making temporary senators, in case of vacancies, by resignation or otherwise, and so far forth establishing a precedent for virtual representation (though in fact, their original appointment is virtual) thereby influencing the choice of the legislatures, or if they should not be so complaisant as to conform to his appointment—

offence will be given to the executive and the temporary members, will appear ridiculous by rejection; this temporary member, during his time of appointment, will of course act by a power derived from the executive, and for, and under his immediate influence.

It is a very important objection to this government, that the representation consists of

so few; too few to resist the influence of corruption, and the temptation to treachery, against

which all governments ought to take precautions—how guarded you have been on this head,

in your own state constitution, and yet the number of senators and representatives proposed

for this vast continent, does not equal those of your own state; how great the disparity, if

you compare them with the aggregate numbers in the United States. The history of

representation in England, from which we have taken our model of legislation, is briefly this,

before the institution of legislating by deputies, the whole free part of the community usually

met for that purpose; when this became impossible, by the increase of numbers, the

community was divided into districts, from each of which was sent such a number of

deputies as was a complete representation of the various numbers and orders of citizens

within them; but can it be asserted with truth, that six men can be a complete and full

representation of the numbers and various orders of the people in this state? Another thing

may be suggested against the small number of representatives is, that but few of you will

have the chance of sharing even in this branch of the legislature; and that the choice will be

confined to a very few; the more complete it is, the better will your interests be preserved,

and the greater the opportunity you will have to participate in government, one of the

principal securities of a free people; but this subject has been so ably and fully treated by a

writer under the signature of Brutus, that I shall content myself with referring you to him

thereon, reserving further observations on the other objections I have mentioned, for my

future numbers.

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.

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

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