To Elisha Babcock 1804-08-27
From Richard Gimbel’s pamphlet New Political Writings by Thomas Paine
New Rochelle, New York State August 27, 1804 I have received three of your Papers. The first wherein you announce for publication of the piece I sent to Mr. Bishop signed A friend to Constitutional Order. The next, in which the piece is published; and the last (Augst. 23) The papers of the two preceding weeks have not arrived. In Duane’s paper (the Aurora of the 8th Inst) is a piece of mine signed Common Sense, on Governeur Morris’s foolish Oration on Hamilton8 I desired Duane to send you one in case he was not in the habit of doing so; and in Duane’s Country paper of the 23 and 24, and in his daily paper of one of those dates, is a piece of mine signed Camus and entitled Nonsense from New York. It is a burlesque on a piece in Lang’s paper and on Mason’s Oration on Hamilton.
Mr. Bishop, in his answer to me (20 July) after receiving the piece says, “I have submitted its contents to our general Committee, who consider it rather as a valuable Chapter of texts, from which we may preach for a long time, than as an essay for publication.” But as it was better to publish it first, and preach about it afterwards, I was glad to find they had changed their mind and sent it to you.
From what I could learn, the republicans of Connecticut were endeavouring to reform their legislature for the purpose of obtaining a constitution. This round-about way, besides the tediousness and uncertainty of it, was fundamentally wrong; because as a Constitution is a law to the legislature, and defines and limits its powers, it cannot, from the Nature of the Case, be the act of the legislature; it must be the act of the people creating a legislature. The right way is always a strait line, and a strait line is always shorter than a crooked one. A law, enacted by a legislature, binds the citizens individually; but a Constitution binds the legislature collectively.
I see by your last paper there is to be “a Meeting of the republicans at New Haven, not to form a Constitution, but to consider the expediency of proposing this measure to the people.” - I much question if the feds had any Idea of being taken upon this ground, and therefore as long as they could keep a Majority, ac cording to the present state of election rights, they felt themselves secure; but this cuts them up at the root. I know not what is the qualification to entitle a Man to vote according to your rechartered Charter, but be it what it may it cannot become a rule for electing a convention, because conventions for forming constitutions being of American origin cannot be under the controul of an english Charter. The people when they elect a Convention, and the Convention when elected, can know of no such authority as Charles the Second, nor of any such instrument as the Charter.
I suppose I shall see in your next paper some account of the meeting at New Haven, and if there is any thing you can inform me of by letter I shall be glad to receive it.
The last paragraph in the first page of this letter beginning with the words From what I learn, and ending on this page with the words legislature collectively, you may, if you please, put in the Mercury as, Extract of a letter from a Republican in a Neighbouring State. The paragraph is concise and the Idea clear, and is of that kind that serves to put thought in Motion.
I am now settled on my farm at N. Rochelle where I intend to reside. It is a healthy pleasant situation about ten Miles from the Connecticut line. The southern and eastern posts pass through every day. It is not my intention to publish any pieces or letters on the ensuing presidential election, because I think there will be no occasion for it; but if any Champion of the Feds whether priest or Musqueteer throws the Gauntlet I hold myself in reserve for him.- yours in friendship THOMAS PAINE