The Society for Political Inquiries
Philip Foner's introduction:
This body, set up in Philadelphia in February, 1787, met usually at the home of Benjamin Franklin. The following rules and regulations of the organization were written by Paine and read at its first meeting. Paine does not seem to have taken an active part in the discussions at these meetings, but he did write an essay on the inexpediency of incorporating towns which he read to the body. No copy of this dissertation has ever been located.
The preamble to the rules and regulations is highly significant, for, in emphasizing that citizens in a Republic should study the nature of their political institutions, it foreshadowed the approach of the Democratic-Republican Societies formed during the 1790's. See Eugene P. Link, Democratic-Republican Societies, 1790-1800, New York, 1942, Chapter I.
THE moral character and happiness of mankind are so interwoven with the operations of government, and the progress of the arts and sciences is so dependent on the nature of our political institutions that it is essential to the advancement of civilized society to give ample discussion to these topics.
But important as these inquiries are to all, to the inhabitants of these republics they are objects of peculiar magnitude and necessity. Accustomed to look up to those nations, from whom we have derived our origin, for our laws, our opinions and our manners, we have retained with undistinguishing reverence their errors with their improvements have blended with our public institutions the policy of dissimilar countries; and have grafted on an infant commonwealth the manners of ancient and corrupted monarchies. In having effected a separate government, we have as yet effected but a partial independence. The Revolution can only be said to be complete, when we shall have freed ourselves, no less from the influence of foreign prejudices than from the fetters of foreign power. When breaking through the bounds, in which a dependent people have been accustomed to think and act, we shall probably comprehend the character we have assumed and adopt those maxims of policy which are suited to our new situation. While objects of subordinate importance have employed the associated labors of learned and ingenious men, the arduous and complicated science of government has been generally left to the care of practical politicians, or the speculations of individual theorists. From a desire of supplying this deficiency, and of promoting the welfare of our country, it is now proposed to establish a society for mutual improvement in the knowledge of government, and for the advancement of political science.
With these views, the subscribers associate themselves under the title of THE SOCIETY FOR POLITICAL INQUIRIES, and under the following laws and regulations:
LAWS AND REGULATIONS
I. This society shall consist of fifty residing members, and shall meet every Friday fortnight, at half past six o'clock in the evening (the chair to be taken precisely at seven) except during the months of June, July, August and September, when their meetings shall be discontinued.
II. There shall be a president, two vice-presidents, a treasurer, and two secretaries, who shall be elected annually by ballot on the second Friday in February.
III. Persons residing at a distance shall be eligible into the society as honorary members, but shall not be entitled to the privilege of electing.
IV. Every candidate for admission shall be proposed by at least two residing members, who shall give in his name in writing with their own subscribed to it. After which one of the acting secretaries shall read aloud the name of the candidate as well as of the nominating members, at two successive meetings previous to the election.
V. Every election shall be conducted by ballot, twelve members at least being present; and the votes of three-fourths of the number present, shall be necessary to the admission of the candidate.
VI. Each residing member shall pay twenty shillings on his admission, as well as fifteen shillings annually, toward the expenses of the society.
VII. A committee of papers shall be appointed annually by ballot, on the same evening that the officers of the society are elected. This committee shall consist of the president, vice-president, and six other members of the society, and shall decide on the propriety of reading or publishing any paper which shall be presented to the society. But they shall not proceed to any decision unless five of their number are present. Nor shall any essay, or the name of its author be published, without previously obtaining his consent.
VIII. The attention of the society shall be confined to subjects of government and political economy. And members having any essays, facts, or observations on these subjects, that they wish to have read in the society, or any political queries that they may be desirous of having discussed in conversation, shall give the same into the hands of the president or vice-president who shall communicate the same to the committee of papers and take order thereon.
IX. The president or vice-president shall announce to the society, what papers are to be read, and what subjects to be discussed at their next meeting.
X. A fair record shall be kept of the proceedings of the society, which shall be open to the inspection of the members.
XI. Medals shall be adjudged at the discretion of the society to the authors (whether members or not) of the best essays upon such subjects as the society may propose for that purpose. The votes in these cases shall be taken by ballot.
XII. If any person to whom a medal shall be adjudged, should not be a member of the society, he shall be included in the list of honorary members.
XIII. The president or vice-president shall have power to call at any time a special meeting of the society.
XIV. The society shall be subject to such laws and regulations as shall be made from time to time. But no laws shall be enacted, rescinded or altered without the presence of twelve members, and without the consent of three-fourths of the number present: Nor shall any such measures be proposed, without notice has been previously given at two successive meetings of the alterations or additions intended to be made.
XV. There shall be a penalty of one shilling paid by every member not attending at any meeting, either stated or special, provided he be not out of town or confined by sickness.