Judd W. Patton, Ph.D. (Biography) Bellevue University Online
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A DISSERTATION on the Political Union and Constitution of the Thirteen United States of North America

Which is necessary to their Preservation and Happiness

Humbly offered to the Public.

[First published in Philadelphia, February 16, 1783.]

[Webster's comment on his Dissertation from his 1791 book, Political Essays]:

Forming a plan of confederation, or a system of general government of the United States, engrossed the attention of Congress from the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776, until the same was completed by Congress, July 9, 1778, and recommended to the several States for ratification, which finally took place, March 1, 1781. From which time the said confederation was considered as the grand Constitution of the general government, and the whole administration was conformed to it.

And as it had stood the test of discussion in Congress for two years, before they completed and adopted it, and in all the States for three years more, before it was finally ratified, one would have thought that it must have been a very finished and perfect plan of government.

But on trial of it in practice, it [the Confederation] was found to be extremely weak, defective, totally inefficient, and altogether inadequate to its great ends and purposes. For,

1. It blended the legislative and executive powers together in one body.

2. This body, viz., Congress, consisted of but one house, without any check upon their resolutions.

3. The powers of Congress in very few instances were definitive and final. In the most important articles of government they could do no more than recommend to the several States, the consent of every one of which was necessary to give legal sanction to any act so recommended.

4. They could assess and levy no taxes.

5. They could institute and execute no punishments, except in the military department.

6. They had no power of deciding or controlling the contentions and disputes of different States with each other.

7. They could not regulate the general trade, or

8. Even make laws to secure either public treaties with foreign States, or the persons of public ambassadors, or to punish violations or injuries done to either of them.

9. They could institute no general judiciary powers.

10. They could regulate no public roads, canals, or inland navigation, &c. &c. &c.

And what caps all the rest was, that whilst under such an inefficient political constitution, the only chance we had of any tolerable administration lay wholly in the prudence and wisdom of the men who happened to take the lead in our public councils. It was fatally provided by the absurd doctrine of rotation, that if any Member of Congress by three years' experience and application, had qualified himself to manage our public affairs with consistency and fitness, that he should be constitutionally and absolutely rendered incapable of serving any longer, until by three years' discontinuance, he had pretty well lost the cue or train of the public counsels, and forgot the ideas and plans which made his services useful and important. And, in the meantime, his place should be supplied by a fresh man, who had the whole matter to learn, and when he had learned it, was to give place to another fresh man, and so on to the end of the chapter.

The sensible mind of the United States, by long experience of the fatal mischiefs of anarchy, or which is about the same thing, of this ridiculous, inefficient form of government, began to apprehend that there was something wrong in our policy, which ought to be redressed and mended. But nobody undertook to delineate the necessary amendments.

I was then pretty much at leisure, and was fully of opinion---though the sentiment at that time would not very well bear---that it would be ten times easier to form a new constitution than to mend the old one. I therefore sat myself down to sketch out the leading principles of that political constitution, which I thought necessary to the preservation and happiness of the United States of America, which are comprised in this Dissertation.

I hope the reader will please to consider, that these are the original thoughts of a private individual, dictated by the nature of the subject only, long before the important theme became the great object of discussion, in the most dignified and important assembly [Constitutional Convention of 1787], which ever sat or decided in America.

[Now Webster's Pioneering Essay of February 16, 1783]:

Essential Principles for a Federal Government

I. The supreme authority of any State must have power enough to affect the ends of its appointment, otherwise these ends cannot be answered, and effectually secured. At best they are precarious. But at the same time,

II. The supreme authority ought to be so limited and checked, if possible, as to prevent the abuse of power, or the exercise of powers that are not necessary to the ends of its appointment, but hurtful and oppressive to the subject. But to limit a supreme authority so far as to diminish its dignity, or lessen its power of doing good, would be to destroy or at least to corrupt it, and render it ineffectual to its ends.

III. A number of sovereign States uniting into one Commonwealth, and appointing a supreme power to manage the affairs of the union, do necessarily and unavoidably part with and transfer over to such supreme power, so much of their own sovereignty, as is necessary to render the ends of the union effectual. Otherwise their confederation will be a union without bands of union, like a cask without hoops, that may and probably will fall to pieces, as soon as it is put to any exercise which requires strength.

In like manner, every member of civil society parts with many of his natural rights, that he may enjoy the rest in greater security under the protection of society.

Advantages of a Federal Government: Security, Trade and Liberty

The union of the Thirteen States of America is of mighty consequence to the security, sovereignty, and even liberty of each of them, and of all the individuals who compose them. United under a natural, well adjusted, and effectual Constitution, they are a strong, rich, growing power, with great resources and means of defense, which no foreign power will easily attempt to invade or insult. They may easily command respect.

As their exports are mostly either raw materials or provisions, and their imports mostly finished goods, their trade becomes a capital [chief or important] object with every manufacturing nation of Europe, and all the southern colonies of America. Their friendship and trade will of course be courted, and each power in amity with them will contribute to their security.

Their union is of great moment in another respect. They thereby form a superintending power among themselves that can moderate and terminate disputes that may arise between different States, restrain intestine [internal] violence, and prevent any recourse to the dreadful decision of the sword.

I do not mean here to go into a detail of all the advantages of our union. They offer themselves on every view, and are important enough to engage every honest, prudent mind, to secure and establish that union by every possible method, that we may enjoy the full benefit of it, and be rendered happy and safe under the protection it affords.

Call for a Federal Constitution Rooted in Truth, Fitness

This union, however important, cannot be supported without a Constitution founded on principles of natural truth, fitness, and utility [profitableness]. If there is one article wrong in such Constitution, it will discover itself in practice, by its baleful operation, and destroy or at least injure the union.

Many nations have been ruined by the errors of their political constitutions. Such errors first introduce wrongs and injuries, which soon breed discontents, which gradually work up into mortal hatred and resentments. Hence inveterate [deep rooted, firmly established] parties are formed, which of course make the whole community a house divided against itself, which soon falls either a prey to some enemies without, who watch to devour them, or else crumble into their original constituent parts, and lose all respectability, strength, and security.

It is as physically impossible to secure to civil society, good cement of union, duration, and security, without a Constitution founded on principles of natural fitness and right, as to raise timbers into a strong, compact building, which have not been framed upon true geometric principles. For if you cut one beam a foot too long or too short, not all the authority and all the force of all the carpenters can ever get it into its place, and make it fit with proper symmetry there.

As the fate then of all governments depends much on their political Constitutions, they become an object of mighty moment to the happiness and well-being of society. And as the framing of such a Constitution requires great knowledge of the rights of men and societies, as well as of the interests, circumstances, and even prejudices of the several parts of the community or commonwealth, for which it is intended, it becomes a very complex subject, and of course requires great steadiness and comprehension of thought, as well as great knowledge of men and things, to do it properly. I shall, however, attempt it with my best abilities, and hope from the candor of the public to escape censure, if I cannot merit praise.

Necessary Powers for Constitutional Government

I begin with my first and great principle, viz: That the Constitution must vest powers in every department sufficient to secure and make effectual the ends of it. The supreme authority must have the power of making war and peace—of appointing armies and navies—of appointing officers both civil and military—of making contracts—of emitting, coining, and borrowing money—of regulating trade—of making treaties with foreign powers—of establishing post offices. And in short of doing everything which the well-being of the Commonwealth may require, and which is not compatible to any particular State, all of which require money, and cannot possibly be made effectual without it.

Power to Tax is Dangerous, but Necessary

They must therefore of necessity be vested with a power of taxation. I know this is a most important and weighty trust, a dreadful engine of oppression, tyranny, and injury, when ill-used. Yet, from the necessity of the case, it must be admitted.

For to give a supreme authority a power of making contracts, without any power of payment—of appointing officers civil and military, without money to pay them—a power to build ships, without any money to do it with—a power of emitting money, without any power to redeem it—or of borrowing money, without any power to make payment, &c. &c., such solecisms [errors] in government, are so nugatory [worthless] and absurd, that I really think to offer further arguments on the subject would be to insult the understanding of my readers.

To make all these payments dependent on the votes of thirteen popular assemblies, who will undertake to judge of the propriety of every contract and every occasion of money, and grant or withhold supplies according to their opinion, whilst at the same time, the operations of the whole may be stopped by the vote of a single one of them, is absurd. For this renders all supplies so precarious, and the public credit so extremely uncertain, as must in its nature render all efforts in war, and all regular administration in peace, utterly impracticable, as well as most pointedly ridiculous. Is there a man to be found, who would lend money, or render personal services, or make contracts on such precarious security?

Broken Finances in the Aftermath of the Revolutionary War

Of this we have a proof of fact, the strongest of all proofs, a fatal experience, the surest though severest of all demonstrations, which renders all other proof or argument on this subject quite unnecessary:

The present broken state of our finances—public debts and bankruptcies, enormous and ridiculous depreciation of public securities, the total annihilation of our public credit—prove beyond all contradiction the vanity of all recourse to the several Assemblies of the States. The recent instance of the duty of 5 per cent on imported goods, struck dead, and the bankruptcies which ensued on the single vote of Rhode-Island, affords another proof, of what it is certain may be done again in like circumstances.

Second Reason for Federal Taxation: Import Duties on all Luxury Items

I have another reason why a power of taxation or of raising money ought to be vested in the supreme authority of our commonwealth, viz., the monies necessary for the public ought to be raised by a duty imposed on imported goods, not a bare 5 per cent or any other per cent on all imported goods indiscriminately, but a duty much heavier on all articles of luxury or mere ornament, and which are consumed principally by the rich or prodigal part of the community, such as silks of all sorts, muslins[fine cotton cloth], cambrick [fine white linen made of flax], lawns[a sort of fine linen], superfine cloths, spirits, wines, &c. &c.

Such an impost [duty or tax] would ease the husbandman, the mechanic, and the poor; would have all the practical effects of a sumptuary law; would mend the economy and increase the industry of the community; would be collected without the shocking circumstances of collectors and their warrants; and [would] make the quantity of tax paid always depend on the choice of the person who pays it.

This tax can be laid by the supreme authority much more conveniently than by the particular [state] Assemblies, and would in no case be subject to their repeals or modifications. And of course the public credit would never be dependent on, or liable to bankruptcy by the humors of any particular Assembly. (This subject is treated more fully in my Sixth Essay on Free Trade and Finance). [Post article comment from Webster's 1791 publication of his essays.]

Representatives Should Be Wise and Moral

The delegates which are to form that august body, which are to hold and exercise the supreme authority, ought to be appointed by the States in any manner they please. They should not be limited by any restrictions. Their own dignity and the weight that they will hold in the great public councils will always depend on the abilities of the persons they appoint to represent them there. And if they are wise enough to choose men of sufficient abilities, and respectable characters, men of sound sense, extensive knowledge, gravity, and integrity, they will reap the honor and advantage of such wisdom.

But if they are fools enough to appoint men of trifling or vile characters, of mean abilities, faulty morals, or despicable ignorance, they must reap the fruits of such folly, and content themselves to have no weight, dignity, or esteem in the public councils. And what is more to be lamented by the Commonwealth [than] to do no good there.

Best Qualified Ought To Be Appointed

I have no objection to the States electing and recalling their delegates as often as they please, but think it hard and very injurious both to them and the Commonwealth, that they should be obliged to discontinue them after three years' service, if they find them on that trial to be men of sufficient integrity and abilities. A man of that experience is certainly much more qualified to serve in that office, than a new member of equal good character can be. Experience makes perfect in every kind of business—old, experienced statesmen, of tried and approved integrity and abilities, are a great blessing to a State. They acquire great authority and esteem as well as wisdom and very much contribute to keep the system of government in good and salutary order. And this furnishes the strongest reason why they should be continued in the service, on Plato's great maxim, that "the man best qualified to serve, ought to be appointed."

I am sorry to see a contrary maxim adopted in our American counsels---to make the highest reason that can be given for continuing a man in the public administration, assigned as a Constitutional and absolute reason for turning him out---seems to me to be a solecism [absurdity] of a piece with many other reforms, by which we set out to surprise the world with our wisdom.

Statesmanship Gained by Experience

If we should adopt this maxim in the common affairs of life, it would be found inconvenient,     e. g., if we should make it a part of our Constitution that a man who has served a three years' apprenticeship to the trade of a tailor or shoemaker should be obliged to discontinue that business for the [next] three successive years, I am of opinion the country would soon be cleared of good shoemakers and tailors! Men are no more born statesmen than shoemakers or tailors. Experience is equally necessary to perfection in both.

It seems to me that a man's inducements to qualify himself for a public employment, and make himself master of it, must be much discouraged by this consideration that let him take whatever pains to qualify himself in the best manner, he must be shortly turned out, and of course it would be of more consequence to him to turn his attention to some other business, which he might adopt when his present appointment should expire. And by this means the Commonwealth is in danger of losing the zeal, industry, and shining abilities, as well as services, of their most accomplished and valuable men.

One-Year Governors Stalking About in Georgia!

I hear that the state of Georgia has improved on this blessed principle and limited the continuance of their governors to one year. The consequence is that they have already the ghosts of departed governors stalking about in every part of their State, and growing more plentiful every year. And as the price of everything is reduced by its plenty, I can suppose governors will soon be [of] very low [value] there.

This doctrine of rotation was first proposed by some sprightly geniuses of brilliant politics, with this cogent reason: that by introducing a rotation in the public offices, we should have a great number of men trained up to public service. But it appears to me that it will be more likely to produce many jacks at all trades, but good at none!

I think that frequent elections are a sufficient security against the continuance of men in public office whose conduct is not approved, and there can be no reason for excluding those whose conduct is approved, and who are allowed to be better qualified than any men who can be found to supply their places [elected offices].

Possible Rules for Apportionment of Taxes and Expenditures

Another great object of government is the apportionment of burdens and benefits. For if a greater quota of burden, or a less quota of benefit than is just and right, be allotted to any State, this ill apportionment will be an everlasting source of uneasiness and discontent. In the first case, the over-burdened State will complain. In the last case, all the States, whose quota of benefit is under-rated, will be uneasy. And this is a case of such delicacy that it cannot be safely trusted to the arbitrary opinion or judgment of any body of men however august [grand].

Some natural principle of confessed equity, and which can be reduced to a certainty, ought, if possible, to be found and adopted. For it is of the highest moment to the Commonwealth to obviate and, if possible, wholly to take away such a fruitful and common source of infinite disputes as that of apportionment of quotas has ever proved in all States of the earth.

The value of lands may be a good rule. But the ascertainment of that value is impracticable. No assessment can be made which will not be liable to exception and debate. To adopt a good rule in anything which is impracticable is absurd, for it is physically impossible that anything should be good for practice, which cannot be practiced at all! But if the value of lands was capable of certain assessment, yet to adopt that value as a rule of apportionment of quotas, and at the same time to except from valuation large tracts of sundry States of immense value, which have all been defended by the joint arms of the whole Empire, and for the defense of which no additional quota of supply is to be demanded of those States, to whom such lands are secured by such joint efforts of the States, is in its nature unreasonable and will open a door for great complaint.

It is plain without argument that such States ought either to make grants to the Commonwealth of such tracts of defended territory, or sell as much of them as will pay their proper quota of defense, and pay such sums into the public treasury. And this ought to be done. Let what rule of quota whatsoever be adopted with respect to the cultivated part of the United States. For no proposition of natural right and justice can be plainer than this, that every part of valuable property which is defended ought to contribute its quota of supply for that defense.

If then the value of cultivated lands is found to be an impracticable rule of apportionment of quotas, we have to seek for some other, equally just and less exceptionable.

It appears to me, that the number of living souls or human persons of whatever age, sex, or condition, will afford us a rule or measure of apportionment which will forever increase and decrease with the real wealth of the States. And will of course be a perpetual rule not capable of corruption by any circumstances of future time. [This] is of vast consideration in forming a Constitution which is designed for perpetual duration, and which will in its nature be as just as to the inhabited parts of each State, as that of the value of lands, or any other that has or can be mentioned.

Economics of Land and Labor Valuation

Land takes its value not merely from the goodness of its soil, but from innumerable other relative advantages, among which the population of the country may be considered as principal. Lands in a full-settled country will always (ceteris paribus) bring more than lands in thin settlement. On this principle, when the inhabitants of Russia, Poland, &c. sell real estates, they do not value them as we do, by the number of acres, but by the number of people who live on them.

Where any piece of land has many advantages, many people will crowd there to obtain them, which will create many competitors for the purchase of it and which will of course raise the price. Where there are fewer advantages, there will be fewer competitors, and of course a less price. These two things will forever be proportionate to each other and, of course, the one will always be a sure index of the other.

The only considerable objection I have ever heard to this is: that the quality of inhabitants differs in the different States, and it is not reasonable that the black slaves in the southern States should be estimated on a par with the white freemen in the northern States. To discuss this question fairly, I think it will be just to estimate the neat [net market] value of the labor of both. And if it shall appear that the labor of the black person produces as much neat [net market] wealth to the southern State, as the labor of the white person does to the northern State, I think it will follow plainly that they are equally useful inhabitants in point of wealth. And therefore in the case before us, should be estimated alike.

And if the amazing profits which the southern planters boast of receiving from the labor of their slaves on their plantations are real, the southern people have greatly the advantage in this kind of estimation---and as this objection comes principally from the southward---I should suppose that the gentlemen from that part would blush to urge it any further [to pay higher taxes].

Powers to Decide State Controversies

That the supreme authority should be vested with powers to terminate and finally decide controversies arising between different States, I take it, will be universally admitted. But I humbly apprehend that an appeal from the first instance of trial ought to be admitted in causes of great moment, on the same reasons that such appeals are admitted in all the States of Europe. It is well known to all men versed in courts that the first hearing of a cause rather gives an opening to that evidence and reason which ought to decide it, than such a full examination and thorough discussion, as should always precede a final judgment, in causes of national consequence. A detail of reasons might be added, which I deem it unnecessary to enlarge on here.

Power to Declare War, Form Treaties & Alliances with Foreign Nations

The supreme authority ought to have a power of peace and war, and forming treaties and alliances with all foreign powers. [This] implies a necessity of their also having sufficient powers to enforce the obedience of all subjects of the United States to such treaties and alliances with full powers to unite the force of the States and direct its operations in war, and to punish all transgressors in all these respects. Otherwise, by the imprudence of a few, the whole Commonwealth may be embroiled with foreign powers and the operations of war may be rendered useless, or fail much of their due effect.

All these I conceive will be easily granted, especially the latter. As the power of Congress to appoint and direct the army and navy in war, with all departments thereto belonging, and punishing delinquents in them all, is already admitted into practice in the course of the present unhappy war [Revolutionary War] in which we have been long engaged.

Part II: Limited Government with Checks and Balances

But now the great and most difficult part of this weighty subject remains to be considered, viz., how these supreme powers are to be constituted in such manner that they may be able to exercise with full force and effect the vast authorities committed to them, for the good and well-being of the United States, and yet be so checked and restrained from exercising them to the injury and ruin of the States, that we may with safety trust them with a commission of such vast magnitude.

And may Almighty wisdom direct my pen in this arduous discussion.

Critical Discussions of Legislative Issues Produce Light

1. The men who compose this important council must be delegated from all the States. And, of course, the hope of approbation and continuance of honors will naturally stimulate them to act right, and to please. The dread of censure and disgrace will naturally operate as a check to restrain them from improper behavior. But however natural and forcible these motives may be, we find by sad experience, they are not always strong enough to produce the effects we expect and wish from them.

It is to be wished that none might be appointed that were not fit and adequate to this weighty business. But a little knowledge of human nature, and a little acquaintance with the political history of mankind, will soon teach us that this is not to be expected.

The representatives appointed by popular elections are commonly not only the legal, but real, substantial representatives of their electors, i. e., there will commonly be about the same proportion of grave, sound, well-qualified menas there are trifling, desultory men, wild or knavish schemers, and dull, ignorant fools---in the delegated assembly as in the body of electors.

I know of no way to help this. Such delegates must be admitted, as the States are pleased to send, and all that can be done, is, when they get together, to make the best of them.

We will suppose then they are all met [together] in Congress, clothed with that vast authority which is necessary to the well-being and even existence of the union, that they should be vested with. [But] how shall we empower them to do all necessary and effectual good and restrain them from doing hurt? To do this properly, I think we must recur to those natural motives of action, those feelings and apprehensions, which usually occur to the mind at the very time of action. For distant consequences, however weighty, are often too much disregarded.

Truth loves light and is vindicated by it. Wrong shrouds itself in darkness and is supported by delusion. An honest, well-qualified man loves light, can bear close examination and critical inquiry, and is best pleased when he is most thoroughly understood. A man of corrupt design, or a fool of no design, hates close examination and critical inquiry. The knavery of the one and the ignorance of the other are discovered by it. And they both usually grow uneasy before the investigation is half done. I do not believe there is a more natural truth in the world than that divine one of our Savior, "he that doth truth, cometh to the light." [John 3:21]. I would therefore recommend that mode of deliberation, which will naturally bring on the most thorough and critical discussion of the subject, previous to passing any act. And for that purpose humbly propose:

Two Chambers of Congress: Senate and House of Representatives

2. That the Congress shall consist of two chambers, an upper and lower House, or Senate and Commons, with the concurrence of both necessary to every act. And that every State [shall] send one or more delegates to each house. This will subject every act to two discussions before two distinct chambers of men equally qualified for the debate, equally masters of the subject, and of equal authority in the decision.

These two houses will be governed by the same natural motives and interests, viz., the good of the Commonwealth, and the approbation of the people. Whilst, at the same time, the emulation [rivalry] naturally arising between them, will induce a very critical and sharp-sighted inspection into the motions of each other. Their different opinions will bring on conferences between the two houses, in which the whole subject will be exhausted in arguments pro and con, and shame will be the portion of obstinate, convicted error.

Spirited Debate Hinders the Ideas of Utopians and Evil Men

Under these circumstances a man of ignorance or evil design will be afraid to impose on the credulity, inattention, or confidence of his house by introducing any corrupt or indigested proposition which he knows he must be called on to defend against the severe scrutiny and poignant objections of the other house. I do not believe the many hurtful and foolish legislative acts, which first or last have injured all the States on earth, have originated so much in corruption as [in] indolence, ignorance, and a want of a full comprehension of the subject, which a full, prying, and emulous [rivalrous] discussion would tend in a great measure to remove. This naturally rouses the lazy and idle, who hate the pain of close thinking, animates the ambitious to excel in policy and argument, and excites the whole to support the dignity of their house, and vindicate their own propositions.

I am not of [the] opinion that bodies of elective men, which usually compose Parliaments, Diets, Assemblies, Congresses, and so forth, are commonly dishonest. But I believe it rarely happens that there are not designing men among them, and I think it would be much more difficult for them to unite their partisans in two houses, and corrupt or deceive them both, than to carry on their designs where there is but one unalarmed, unapprehensive house to be managed. And as there is no hope of making these bad men good, the best policy is to embarrass them, and make their work as difficult as possible.

In these assemblies are frequently to be found sanguine [confident, ardent] men, upright enough indeed, but of strong, wild projection, whose brains are always teeming with Utopian, chimerical [imaginary] plans, and political whims, very destructive to society. I hardly know a greater evil than to have the supreme counsels of a Nation played off on such men's wires [dreams]. Such baseless visions at best end in darkness, and the dance, though easy and merry enough at first, rarely fails to plunge the credulous, simple followers into sloughs [mires] and bogs at last.

Nothing can tend more effectually to obviate these evils, and to mortify and cure such maggotty brains [heads full of whims], than to see the absurdity of their projects exposed by the several arguments and keen satire which a full, emulous, and spirited discussion of the subject will naturally produce. We have had enough of these geniuses in the short course of our politics, both in our national and provincial councils, and have felt enough of their evil effects to induce us to wish for any good method to keep ourselves clear of them in future.

The consultations and decisions of national councils are so very important that the fate of millions depends on them. Therefore no man ought to speak in such assemblies without considering that the fate of millions hangs on his tongue. And of course a man can have no right in such august councils to utter indigested sentiments, or indulge himself in sudden, unexamined slights of thought. His most tried and improved abilities are due [owed] to the State, who have trusted him with their most important interests.

Representatives Must Be Engaged and Diligent

A man must therefore be most inexcusable, who is either absent during such debates, or sleeps, or whispers, or catches flies during the argument, and just rouses when the vote is called, to give his yea or nay, to the weal or woe of a nation. Therefore, it is manifestly proper that every natural motive that can operate on his understanding, or his passions, to engage his attention and utmost efforts, should be put in practice, and that his present feelings should be raised by every motive of honor and shame to stimulate him to every practicable degree of diligence and exertion, to be as far as possible useful in the great discussion.

I appeal to the feelings of every reader, if he would not---were he in either house)---be much more strongly and naturally induced to exert his utmost abilities and attention to any question which was to pass through the ordeal of a spirited discussion of another house, than he would do, if the absolute decision depended on his own house, without any further inquiry or challenge on the subject.

Ministers of State: Best Source of Information

As Congress will ever be composed of men delegated by the several States, it may well be supposed that they have the confidence of their several States, and understand well the policy and present condition of them. It may also be supposed that they come with strong local attachments and habits of thinking limited to the interests of their particular States. It may therefore be supposed they will need much information, in order to their gaining that enlargement of ideas, and great comprehension of thought. [That] will be necessary to enable them to think properly on that large scale which takes into view the interests of all the States.

The greatest care and wisdom is therefore requisite to give them the best and surest information. And of that kind that may be the most safely relied on to prevent their being deluded or prejudiced by partial representations made by interested men who have particular views.

This information may perhaps be best made by the great ministers of state who ought to be men of the greatest abilities and integrity. Their business is confined to their several departments and their attention engaged strongly and constantly to all the several parts of the same. The whole arrangement, method, and order of which are formed, superintended [overseen], and managed in their offices, and all information relative to their departments center there.

These ministers will of course have the best information, and most perfect knowledge of the state of the Nation as far as it relates to their several departments. And will of course be able to give the best information to Congress in what manner any bill proposed will affect the public interest in their several departments which will nearly comprehend the whole.

Four Ministers of State, Judges, and Chancery [Highest Court]

The Financier [Treasurer] manages the whole subject of revenues and expenditures. The Secretary of State takes knowledge of the general policy and internal government. The Minister of war presides in the whole business of war and defense. And the Minister of foreign affairs regards the whole state of the nation as it stands related to, or connected with, all foreign powers.

I mention a Secretary of State because all other nations have one, and I suppose we shall need one as much as they. And the multiplicity of affairs which naturally fall into his office will grow so fast that I imagine we shall soon be under necessity of appointing one.

To these I would add Judges of law, and chancery [Supreme Court]. But I fear they will not be very soon appointed. The one supposes the existence of law, and the other of equity, and when we shall be altogether convinced of the absolute necessity of the real and effectual existence of both these, we shall probably appoint proper heads to preside in those departments.

I would therefore propose:

Legislative Procedures: Making Laws Right at First

3. That when any bill shall pass the second reading in the house in which it originates, and before it shall be finally enacted, copies of it shall be sent to each of the said ministers of state in being at the time. [They] shall give said house in writing the fullest information in their power and their most explicit sentiments of the operation of the said bill on the public interest, as far as relates to their respective departments, which shall be received and read in said house and entered on their minutes before they finally pass the bill. And when they send the bill for concurrence to the other house they shall send therewith the said information of the said ministers of state which shall likewise be read in that house before their concurrence is finally passed.

I do not mean to give these great ministers of state a negative on Congress, but I mean to oblige Congress to receive their advice before they pass their bills, and that every act shall be void that is not passed with these forms. And I further propose that either house of Congress may, if they please, admit the said ministers to be present and assist in the debates of the house but without any right of vote in the decision. ["But in the multitude of wise counselors there is safety" (Proverbs 11:14)].

It appears to me that if every act shall pass so many different corps of discussion before it is completed, where each of them stake their characters on the advice or vote they give, there will be all the light thrown on the case which the nature and circumstances of it can admit. And any corrupt man will find it extremely difficult to foist in any erroneous clause whatever. And every ignorant or lazy man will find the strongest inducements to make himself master of the subject that he may appear with some tolerable degree of character in it. And the whole will find themselves in a manner compelled, diligently and sincerely to seek for the real state of the facts, and the natural fitness and truth arising from them, i. e., the whole natural principles on which the subject depends, and which alone can endure every test, to the end that they may have not only the inward satisfaction of acting properly and usefully for the States, but also the credit and character which is or ought ever to be annexed to such a conduct.

This will give the great laws of Congress the highest probability, presumption, and means of right, fitness, and truth, that any laws whatever can have at their first enactment, and will of course afford the highest reason for the confidence and acquiescence of the States, and all their subjects in them. And being grounded in truth and natural fitness, their operation will be easy, salutary, and satisfactory.

If experience shall discover errors in any law (for practice will certainly discover such errors, if there be any) the legislature will always be able to correct them---by such repeals, amendments, or new laws as shall be found necessary. But as it is much easier to prevent mischiefs than to remedy them, all possible caution, prudence, and attention should be used to make the laws right at first.

Merchants Know the Sources of Our Wealth!

4. There is another body of men among us whose business of life, and whose full and extensive intelligence, foreign and domestic, naturally make them more perfectly acquainted with the sources of our wealth. And whose particular interests are more intimately and necessarily connected with the general prosperity of the country than any other order of men in the States. I mean the Merchants. And I could wish that Congress might have the benefit of that extensive and important information which this body of men are very capable of laying before them.

Trade is of such essential importance to our interests, and so intimately connected with all our staples, great and small, that no sources of our wealth can flourish and operate to the general benefit of the community without it. Our husbandry [the business of farmers], that grand staple of our country, can never exceed our home consumption without this. It is plain at first sight that the farmer will not toil and sweat through the year to raise great plenty of the produce of the soil if there is no market for his produce, when he has it ready for sale, i. e., if there are no merchants to buy it.

In like manner the manufacturer will not lay out his business on any large scale if there is no merchant to buy his fabrics when he has finished them. A vent is of the most essential importance to every manufacturing country. The merchants, therefore, become the natural negotiators of the wealth of the country, who take off the abundance, and supply the wants [demands], of the inhabitants. And as this negotiation is the business of their lives, and the source of their own wealth, they of course become better acquainted with both our abundance and wants and are more interested in finding and improving the best vent for the one, and supply of the other, than any other men among us. And they have a natural interest in making both the purchase and supply as convenient to their customers as possible, that they may secure their custom [revenue], and thereby increase their own business.

It follows then, that the merchants are not only qualified to give the fullest and most important information to our supreme legislature concerning the state of our trade---the abundance and wants, the wealth and poverty, of our people, i. e., their most important interests. But they are also the most likely to do it fairly and truly, and to forward with their influence, every measure which will operate to the convenience and benefit of our commerce. And oppose with their whole weight and superior knowledge of the subject any wild schemes which an ignorant or arbitrary legislature may attempt to introduce to the hurt and embarrassment of our intercourse [trade] both with one another, and with foreigners.

The States of Venice and Holland have ever been governed by merchants or at least their policy has ever been under the great influence of that sort of men. No States have been better served, as appears by their great success, the ease and happiness of their citizens, as well as the strength and riches of their Commonwealths. The one is the oldest and the other the richest State in the world of equal number of people. The one has maintained sundry wars with the Grand Turk and the other has withstood the power of Spain and France. The capitals of both have long been the principal marts of the several parts of Europe in which they are situated. And the banks of both are the best supported, and in the best credit, of any banks in Europe, though their countries or territories are very small and their inhabitants but a handful when compared with the great States in their neighborhood.

Merchants must, from the nature of their business, certainly understand the interests and resources of their country---the best of any men in it. And I know not of any one reason why they should be deemed less upright or patriotic than any other rank of citizens whatever.

I therefore humbly propose [A Chamber of Commerce]:

If the merchants in the several States are disposed to send delegates from their body, to meet and attend the sitting of Congress, that they shall be permitted to form a chamber of commerce, and their advice to Congress be demanded and admitted concerning all bills before Congress as far as the same may affect the trade of the States.

I have no idea that the continent is made for Congress. I take them to be no more than the upper servants of the great political body who are to find out things by study and inquiry as other people do. And therefore I think it necessary to place them under the best possible advantages for information and to require them to improve all those advantages---to qualify themselves in the best manner possible, for the wise and useful discharge of the vast trust and mighty authority reposed in them. And as I conceive the advice of the merchants to be one of the greatest sources of mercantile information which is anywhere placed within their reach, it ought by no means to be neglected, but so husbanded and improved, that the greatest possible advantages may be derived from it.

Merchants Also Understand Heavy Taxes Cause Ruin

Besides this, I have another reason why the merchants ought to be consulted. I take it to be very plain that the husbandry and manufactures of the country must be ruined if the present weight of taxes is continued on them much longer. And of course a very great part of our revenue must arise from imposts [a duty or tax on foreign imports] on merchandise which will fall directly within the merchants' sphere of business. And of course their concurrence and advice will be of the utmost consequence, not only to direct the proper mode of levying those duties, but also to get them carried into quiet and peaceable execution.

Many English Merchants Opposed the American [Revolutionary] War

No men are more conversant with the citizens, or more intimately connected with their interests, than the merchants, and therefore their weight and influence will have a mighty effect on the minds of the people. I do not recollect an instance in which the Court of London ever rejected the remonstrances [petitions or reasons in opposition to an act or measure] and advice of the merchants, and did not suffer severely for their pride. We have some striking instances of this in the disregarded advice and remonstrances of very many English merchants against the American war, and their fears and apprehensions we see verified, almost like prophecies, by the event.

Consult Merchants!

I know not why I should continue this argument any longer, or indeed why I have urged it so long, in as much as I cannot conceive that Congress or anybody else will deem it below the dignity of the supreme power to consult so important an order of men, in matters of the first consequence, which fall immediately under their notice. And in which their experience, and of course their knowledge and advice, are preferable to those of any other order of men.

Eight Advantages of a Chamber of Commerce

Besides the benefits which Congress may receive from this institution, a chamber of commerce, composed of members from all trading towns in the States, if properly instituted and conducted, will produce very many, I might almost say, innumerable advantages of singular utility to all the States. It will give dignity, uniformity, and safety to our trade; establish the credit of the bank; secure the confidence of foreign merchants; prove in very many instances a fruitful source of improvement of our staples and mutual intercourse; correct many abuses; pacify discontents; unite us in our interests and thereby cement the general union of the whole Commonwealth;  relieve Congress from the pain and trouble of deciding many intricate questions of trade which they do not understand by referring them over to this chamber, where they will be discussed by an order of men, the most competent to the business of any that can be found, and most likely to give a decision that shall be just, useful, and satisfactory.

Human Nature a Weakness

It may be objected to all this that the less complex and the more simple every constitution is the nearer it comes to perfection. This argument would be very good, and afford a very forcible conclusion, if the government of men was like that of the Almighty [God], always founded on wisdom, knowledge, and truth. But in the present imperfect state of human nature, where the best of men know but in part ["For now we see through a glass darkly" (1 Corinthians 13:12)], and must recur to advice and information for the rest, it certainly becomes necessary to form a Constitution on such principles as will secure that information and advice in the best and surest manner possible.

Maxim: Better to Lose a Good Bill than Pass a Bad One

It may be further objected that the forms herein proposed will embarrass the business of Congress and make it at best slow and dilatory [extending in time, tardy]. As far as this form will prevent the hurrying a bill through the House without due examination, the objection itself becomes an advantage. At most these checks on the supreme authority can have no further effect than to delay or destroy a good bill, but cannot pass a bad one. I think it much better in the main to lose a good bill than to suffer a bad one to pass into a law. Besides, it is not to be supposed that clear, plain cases will meet with embarrassment. And it is most safe that untried, doubtful, difficult matters should pass through the gravest and fullest discussion before the sanction of law is given to them.

But what is to be done if the two Houses grow jealous and ill-natured, and after all their information and advice, grow out of humor and insincere, and no concurrence can be obtained? I answer, sit still and do nothing until they get into better humor. I think this much better than to pass laws in such a temper and spirit as the objection supposes.

It is, however, an ill compliment to so many grave personages, to suppose them capable of throwing aside their reason, and giving themselves up like children to the control of their passions. Or, if this should happen for a moment, that it should continue any length of time, is hardly to be presumed of a body of men placed in such high stations of dignity and importance with the eyes of all the world upon them. But if they should, after all, be capable of this, I think it madness to set them to making laws during such fits. It is best, when they are in no condition to do good, to keep them from doing hurt. And if they do not grow wiser in reasonable time, I know of nothing better than to be ashamed of our old appointments and make new ones.

If an Emergency: Choose a Dictator!

But what if the country is invaded or some other exigency happens so pressing that the safety of the State requires an immediate resolution? I answer: What would you do if such a case should happen where there was but one House, unchecked, but equally divided, so that a legal vote could not be obtained. The matter is certainly equally difficult and embarrassed in both cases. But in the case proposed, I know of no better way than that which the Romans adopted on the like occasion, viz., that both Houses meet in one chamber and choose a dictator, who should have and exercise the whole power of both Houses, until such time as they should be able to concur in displacing him. And that the whole power of the two houses should be suspended in the meantime.

Crime to Appropriate Money and Use for Another Purpose

5. I further propose:

That no grant of money whatever shall be made without an appropriation and that rigid penalties shall be inflicted on any person, however august his station, who should give order or vote for the payment, or actually pay one shilling of such money to any other purpose than that of its appropriation. And that no order whatever of any superior in office shall justify such payment. But every order shall express what funds it is drawn upon and what appropriation it is to be charged to, or the order shall not be paid.

This kind of embezzlement is of so fatal a nature that no measures or bounds are to be observed in curing it. When ministers will set forth the most specious and necessary occasions for money, and induce the people to pay it in full tale, and when they have gotten possession of it, to neglect the great objects for which it was given, and pay it, sometimes squander it away, for different purposes, oftentimes for useless, yea, hurtful ones, yea, often even to bribe and corrupt the very officers of government, to betray their trust, and contaminate the State, even in its public offices, to force people to buy their own destruction, and pay for it with their hard labor, the very sweat of their brow, is a crime of so high a nature that I know not any gibbet [gallows] too cruel for such offenders!

Executive Authority---President Appointed by Congress

6. I would further propose:

That the aforesaid great ministers of state shall compose a Council of State, to whose number Congress may add three others, viz., one from New-England, one from the middle States, and one from the southern States. And one of which is to be appointed President by Congress. All of whom shall be committed the supreme executive authority of the States---all and singular of them ever accountable to Congress---who shall superintend [oversee] all the executive departments, and appoint all executive officers who shall ever be accountable to and removable for just cause by them or Congress, i. e., either of them.

Restrict the Powers of Congress to General Necessity of the States

7. I propose further:

That the powers of Congress, and all the other departments acting under them, shall all be restricted to such matters only of general necessity and utility to all the States, as cannot come within the jurisdiction of any particular State, or to which the authority of any particular State is not competent., so that each particular State shall enjoy all sovereignty and supreme authority to all intents and purposes excepting only those high authorities and powers by them delegated to Congress for the purposes of the general union.

Federal Enforcement of Its Laws

There remains one very important article still to be discussed, viz., what methods the Constitution shall point out to enforce the acts and requisitions of Congress through the several States, and how the States which refuse or delay obedience to such acts or requisitions, shall be treated. This, I know, is a particular of the greatest delicacy as well as of the utmost importance, and therefore, I think, ought to be decidedly settled by the Constitution in our coolest hours, whilst no passions or prejudices exist which may be excited by the great interests or strong circumstances of any particular case which may happen.

Great Natural Principles for Our Constitution

I know that supreme authorities are liable to err, as well as subordinate ones. I know that courts may be in the wrong, as well as the people. Such is the imperfect state of human nature in all ranks and degrees of men, but we must take human nature as it is. It cannot be mended. We are compelled both by wisdom and necessity to adopt such methods as promise the greatest attainable good, though perhaps not the greatest possible, and such as are liable to the fewest inconveniences, though not altogether free of them.

This is a question of such magnitude that I think it necessary to premise the great natural principles on which its decision ought to depend. In the present state of human nature, all human life is a life of chances. It is impossible to make any interest so certain, but there will be a chance against it. And we are in all cases obliged to adopt a chance against us in order to bring ourselves within the benefit of a greater chance in our favor. And that calculation of chances which is grounded on the great natural principles of truth and fitness, is of all others, the most likely to come out right.

1. No laws of any State whatever, which do not carry in them a force which extends to their effectual and final execution, can afford a certain or sufficient security to the subject. This is too plain to need any proof.

2. Laws or ordinances of any kind---especially of august bodies of high dignity and consequence ---which fail of execution are much worse than none. They weaken the government, expose it to contempt, and destroy the confidence of all men, natives and foreigners, in it. And they expose both aggregate bodies and individuals, who have placed confidence in it, to many ruinous disappointments which they would have escaped had no law or ordinance been made. Therefore,

3. To appoint a Congress with powers to do all acts necessary for the support and uses of the union, and at the same time to leave all the States at liberty to obey them or not with impunity, is, in every view, the grossest absurdity worse than a state of nature without any supreme authority at all, and at best a ridiculous effort of childish nonsense. And of course,

4. Every State in the Union is under the highest obligations to obey the supreme authority of the whole, and in the highest degree amenable to it, and subject to the highest censure for disobedience. Yet all this notwithstanding, I think the soul that sins should die [Ezekiel 18:20],     i. e., the censure of the great supreme power ought to be so directed, if possible, as to light on those persons who have betrayed their country and exposed it to dissolution by opposing and rejecting that supreme authority, which is the band of our union, and from whence proceeds the principal strength and energy of our government.

Proposal for Treasonous Acts

I therefore propose,

That every person whatever, whether in public or private character, who shall by public vote or other overt act, disobey the supreme authority, shall be amenable[answerable] to Congress, shall be summoned and compelled to appear before Congress, and, on due conviction, suffer such fine, imprisonment, or other punishment as the supreme authority shall judge requisite.

It may be objected here that this will make a Member of Assembly accountable to Congress for his vote in Assembly. I answer: It does so in this only case, viz., when that vote is to disobey the supreme authority, no Member of Assembly can have right to give such a vote, and therefore ought to be punished for so doing. When the supreme authority is disobeyed the government must lose its energy and effect, and of course the Empire must be shaken to its very foundation.

A government which is but half executed, or whose operations may all be stopped by a single vote, is the most dangerous of all institutions. See the present Poland, and ancient Greece buried in ruins, in consequence of this fatal error in their policy. A government which has not energy and effect can never afford protection or security to its subjects, i. e., must ever be ineffectual to its own ends.

Can't Reject All Government Because of Potential Abuses

I cannot therefore admit, that the great ends of our Union should lie at the mercy of a single State, or that the energy of our government should be checked by a single disobedience, or that such disobedience should ever be sheltered from censure and punishment. The consequence is too capital [important], too fatal to be admitted. Even though I know very well that a supreme authority, with all its dignity and importance, is subject to passions like other lesser powers. They may be and often are heated, violent, oppressive, and very tyrannical, yet I know also, that perfection is not to be hoped for in this life, and we must take all institutions with their natural defects, or reject them altogether. I will guard against these abuses of power as far as possible [in my proposals], but I cannot give up all government, or destroy its necessary energy, for fear of these abuses.

But to fence them [the abuses] out as far as possible and to give the States as great a check on the supreme authority, as can consist with its necessary energy and effect, I propose:

 That any State may petition Congress to repeal any law or decision which they have made, and if more than half the States do this, the law or decision shall be repealed. Let its nature or importance be however great, excepting only such acts as create funds for the public credit, which shall never be repealed until their end is effected or other funds equally effectual are substituted in their places. But Congress shall not be obliged to repeal any of these acts so petitioned against until they have time to lay the reasons of such acts before such petitioning States, and to receive their answer, because such petitions may arise from sudden heats, popular prejudices, or the publication of matters false in fact. And [they] may require time and means of cool reflection and the fullest information before the final decision is made. But if after all, more than half the States persist in their demand for a repeal, it shall take place.

Better to Repeal If a Majority of States Oppose

The reason is, the uneasiness of a majority of States affords a strong presumption that the act is wrong, for uneasiness arises much more frequently from wrong than right. But if the act was good and right, it would still be better to repeal and lose it, than to force the execution of it against the opinion of a major part of the States. And lastly, if every act of Congress is subject to this repeal, Congress itself will have stronger inducement not only to examine well the several acts under their consideration, but also to communicate the reasons of them to the States, than they would have, if their simple vote gave the final stamp of irrevocable authority to their acts.

Congress Can Suppress a State's Force with Force

Further I propose:

That if the execution of any act or order of the supreme authority shall be opposed by force in any of the States---which God forbid! --it shall be lawful for Congress to send into such State a sufficient force to suppress it.

On the whole, I take it that the very existence and use of our union essentially depends on the full energy and final effect of the laws made to support it, and therefore I sacrifice all other considerations to this energy and effect. And if our union is not worth this purchase we must give it up. The nature of the thing does not admit any other alternative.

I do contend that our union is worth this purchase. With it, every individual rests secure under its protection against foreign or domestic insult and oppression. Without it, we can have no security against the oppression, insult, and invasion of foreign powers. For no single State is of importance enough to be an object of treaty with them, nor, if it was, could it bear the expense of such treaties, or support any character or respect in a dissevered state, but must lose all respectability among the nations abroad.

Treaties and Alliances Important for International Trade and National Security

We have a very extensive trade, which cannot be carried on with security and advantage, without treaties of commerce and alliance with foreign nations.

We have an extensive western territory which cannot otherwise be defended against the invasion of foreign nations, bordering on our frontiers, who will cover it with their own inhabitants, and we shall lose it forever, and our extent of empire be thereby restrained. And what is worse, their numerous posterity will in future time drive ours into the sea, as the Goths and Vandals formerly conquered the Romans in like circumstances, unless we have the force of the Union to repel such invasions. We have, without the union, no security against the inroads and wars of one State upon another, by which our wealth and strength, as well as ease and comfort, will be devoured by enemies growing out of our own bowels.

Conclusion: We Ought to Have a Union of Our Thirteen States by a Constitution

I conclude then, that our union is not only of the most essential consequence to the well-being of the States in general, but to that of every individual citizen of them. And, of course, our union ought to be supported, and made as useful and safe as possible, by a Constitution which admits that full energy and final effect of government which alone can secure its great ends and uses.

Small Particulars: Congress Should Have Power to Discipline and Expel It's Members

In a dissertation of this sort I would not wish to descend to minutiae [the smaller particulars], yet there are some small matters which have important consequences, and therefore ought to be noticed. It is necessary that Congress should have all usual and necessary powers of self-preservation and order, e. g., to imprison for contempt, insult, or interruption, and so forth, and to expel their own members for due causes, among which I would rank that of non-attendance on the House, or partial attendance without such excuse as shall satisfy the House.

Where there is such a vast authority and trust devolved on Congress, and the grand and most important interests of the Empire rest on their decisions, it appears to me highly unreasonable that we should suffer their august consultations to be suspended, or their dignity, authority, and influence lessened by the idleness, neglect, and non-attendance of its members. For we know that the acts of a thin house do not usually carry with them the same degree of weight and respect as those of a full house.

Besides I think, when a man is deputed a delegate in Congress, and has undertaken the business [the role of a representative], the whole Empire [Nation] becomes of course possessed of a right to his best and constant services, which if any member refuses or neglects, the Empire is injured and ought to resent the injury, at least so far as to expel and send him home so that his place may be better supplied.

I have one [additional] argument in favor of my whole plan, viz., it is so formed that no men of dull intellects, or small knowledge, or of habits too idle for constant attendance, or close and steady attention, can do the business with any tolerable degree of respectability. Nor can they find either honor, or profit, or satisfaction in being there. And, of course, I could wish that the choice of the electors might never fall on such a man, or if it should, that he might have sense enough---of pain at least, if not of shame---to decline his acceptance.

Able, Faithful and Upright Leaders are the Keys to Good Government

After all that can be done, I do not think that a good administration depends wholly on a good Constitution and good laws. Insufficient or bad men will always make bad work and a bad administration. Let the Constitution and laws be ever so good. The management of able, faithful, and upright men alone can cause an administration to brighten, and the dignity and wisdom of an Empire to rise into respect. Make truth the line and measure of public decisions. Give weight and authority to the government, and security and peace to the subject.

We now hope that we are on the close of a war of mighty effort and great distress, against the greatest power on earth [England], whetted into the most keen resentment and savage fierceness, which can be excited by wounded pride, and which usually rises higher between brother and brother offended, than between strangers in contest. Twelve of the Thirteen United States have felt the actual and cruel invasions of the enemy, and eleven of our capitals have been under their power, first or last, during this dreadful conflict. But a good Providence, our own virtue and firmness, and the help of our friends, have enabled us to rise superior to all the power of our adversaries, and made them seek to be at peace with us.

During the extreme pressures of the war, indeed, many errors in our administration have been committed, when we could not have experience and time for reflection, to make us wise. But these [errors] will easily be excused, forgiven, and forgotten, if we can now, while at leisure, find virtue, wisdom, and foresight enough to correct them, and form such establishments, as shall secure the great ends of our Union, and give dignity, force, utility, and permanency to our Empire.

Fall Back or Form a Constitution Republic?

It is a pity we should lose the honor and blessings which have cost us so dear, for want of wisdom and firmness in measures, which are essential to our preservation. It is now at our option, either to fall back into our original atoms, or form such a Union, as shall command the respect of the world, and give honor and security to all our people.

This vast subject lies with mighty weight on my mind, and I have bestowed on it my utmost attention, and here offer the public the best thoughts and sentiments I am master of.1 I have confined myself in this dissertation entirely to the nature, reason, and truth of my subject, without once adverting to the reception it might meet with from men of different prejudices or interests. To find the truth, not to carry a point, has been my object.

Dissertation's Purpose: Throwing Light on a Constitutional Plan for Our Union

I have not the vanity to imagine that my sentiments may be adopted. I shall have all the reward I wish or expect if my dissertation shall throw any light on the great subject, shall excite an emulation [excelling] of inquiry, and animate some abler genius to form a plan of greater perfection, less objectionable, and more useful.


Endnotes [Comment by Webster in 1791 in his book, Political Essays.]

1At the time when this Dissertation was written (Feb. 16, 1783) the defects and insufficiency of the Old Federal Constitution were universally felt and acknowledged. It was manifest, not only that the internal police, justice, security, and peace of the States could never be preserved under it, but the finances and public credit would necessarily become so embarrassed, precarious, and void of support, that no public movement, which depended on the revenue, could be managed with any effectual certainty. But though the public mind was under full conviction of all these mischiefs, and was contemplating a remedy, yet the public ideas were not at all concentrated, much less arranged into any new system or form of government, which would obviate these evils. Under these circumstances I offered this Dissertation to the public. How far the principles of it were adopted or rejected in the New Constitution, which was four years afterwards (September. 17, 1787) formed by the General Convention, and since ratified by all the States, is obvious to everyone.

I wish here to remark the great particulars of my plan which were rejected by the Convention.

1. My plan was to keep the legislative and executive departments entirely distinct. The one to consist of the two Houses of Congress, the other to rest entirely in the Grand Council of State.

2. I proposed to introduce a Chamber of Commerce, to consist of merchants, who should be consulted by the legislature in all matters of trade and revenue, and which should have the conducting the revenue committed to them.

The first of these the Convention qualified. The second they say nothing of it, i. e., take no notice of it.

3. I proposed that the great officers of state should have the perusal of all bills, before they were enacted into laws, and should be required to give their opinion of them, as far as they affected the public interest in their several departments. The report of them Congress should cause to be read in their respective houses, and entered on their minutes. This is passed over without notice.

4. I proposed that all public officers appointed by the executive authority, should be amenable both to them and to the legislative power, and removable for just cause by either of them. This is qualified by the Convention.

And in as much as my sentiments in these respects were either qualified or totally neglected by the Convention, I suppose they were wrong. However, the whole matter is submitted to the politicians of the present age and to our posterity in future.

In sundry other things, the Convention have gone into minutiae, e. g., respecting elections of President, Senators, and Representatives in Congress, &c. which I proposed to leave at large to the wisdom and discretion of Congress, and of the several States.

Great reasons may doubtless be assigned for their decisions, and perhaps some little ones for mine. Time, the great arbiter of all human plans, may, after a while, give his decision. But neither the Convention nor myself will probably live to feel either the exultation or mortification of his [time's] approbation or disapprobation of either of our plans.

But if any of these questions should in future time become objects of discussion, neither the vast dignity of the Convention, nor the low, unnoticed state of myself, will be at all considered in the debates. The merits of the matter, and the interests connected with or arising out of it, will alone dictate the decisions.

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