On the Affairs of The State



from the Pennsylvania Packet, September 21, 1786.

At the commencement of the present constitution, it was strongly opposed, and as strongly contended for. This gave existence to two parties, which have since maintained nearly an equal contest, sometimes the one, and sometimes the other, prevailing at elections.

Among those who at that time opposed the alteration of the constitution, I bore my share, in a number of publications, entitled “A serious address to the people of Pennsylvania on the present state of their affairs.”

Whether a single legislative Assembly, or a legislature composed of two branches, is best suited to support the just principles of equal liberty, is a point I never touched upon in any of those publications. My aim was to quiet the dispute, and prevent it from entangling the country, at a time when the utmost harmony of its powers was necessary to its safety. The constitution was upon experiment, and the manner in which a single House would use such in abundance of power would best determine whether it ought to be trusted with it. — Besides this, the constitution very prudently held out, in the forty-seventh section, the probability of its own defects, by appointing the means (by a convention) at the period of every seven years, of adding new articles or amending defective ones. The words in the said section are: — “The Council of Censors shall also have power to call a convention, to meet within two years after their sitting, if there appears to them an absolute necessity of amending any article of the constitution which may be defective, explaining such as may be thought not clearly expressed, and the adding such as are necessary for the preservation of the rights and happiness of the people.” Therefore, any alteration which experience or circumstances shall prove necessary or proper is consistent with the constitution itself.

But the causes or reasons which then operated for not altering the constitution, could not be conclusively taken as causes or reasons for confirming it. With many people, those reasons went no further than to give the constitution a fair trial, or, rather, to give a single legislature a sufficient opportunity to shew with what degree of wisdom and prudence, impartiality and moderation, it would act. With others, the attempt to alter appeared to be ill-timed. And there were many who held an opinion, that has always prevailed among the political part of mankind, which is, that the form of government best calculated for preserving liberty in time of peace, is not the best form for conducting the operations of war; and that as the government of a single house had a considerable resemblance to the government of a single person, the present form, on account of the quickness of its execution, was preferable during the war to the proposed alterations.

There is, however, one fact very clearly deduced from experience had, which is, that a single legislature, into the hands of whatever party it may fall, is capable of being made a compleat aristocracy for the time it exists: And that when the majority of a single house is made up on the ground of party prejudice, or fitted to be the dupes thereof, that its government, instead of comprehending the good of the whole dispassionately and impartially, will be that of party favor and oppression. To establish the present form as the best, it was absolutely necessary that the prejudices of party should have no operation within the walls of the legislature; for when it descends to this, a single legislature, on account of the superabundance of its power, and the uncontrouled rapidity of its execution, becomes as dangerous to the principles of liberty as that of a despotic monarchy. The present form was well intended, but the abuse of its power operates to its destruction. It withstood the opposition of its enemies, and will fall through the misconduct of its friends.

At the commencement of the revolution, it was supposed that what is called the executive part of a government was the only dangerous part; but we now see that quite as much mischief, if not more, may be done, and as much arbitrary conduct acted, by a legislature. In establishing the Executive Council, the constitution took care to prevent its being subject to inconsistent and contradictory conduct, and sudden convulsions. This is done by providing, that the periods their elections shall not all expire at once. By this means, says the nineteenth section of the constitution, “there will in every subsequent year be found in the council a number of persons acquainted with the proceedings of the foregoing years, whereby the business will be more consistently conducted, and, moreover, the danger of establishing an inconvenient aristocracy be effectually prevented.”

The council are as much the choice and representatives of the people as the assembly are, and have the, same common interest in the community; and if it is necessary to guard against such events in the council, it is equally so in the legislature; and this would undoubtedly have been the case, could the convention have foreseen the capricious and inconsistent conduct of assemblies.

By the whole legislative power being entrusted to a single body of men, and that body expiring all at once, the state is subject to the perpetual convulsions of imperfect measures and rash proceedings; as by this means it may happen (as it has happened already) that a number of men, suddenly collected, unexperienced in business, and unacquainted with the grounds, reasons and principles, which former assemblies proceeded on in passing certain acts, and without seeking to inform themselves thereof, may precipitate the state into disorder by a confused medley of doing and undoing, and make the grievances they pretend to remove.

Of this kind was the attack made by a late assembly on that most useful and beneficial institution, incorporated by a former assembly,* The Bank of North America*. The proceedings on this business are a stain to the national reputation of the state. They exhibit a train of little and envious thinking, a scene of passion of arbitrary principles and unconstitutional conduct; and the disgrace is filled up by assigning an untruth (which themselves have since acknowledged to) in the preamble to the act for annulling the charter of the Bank, as a cause for doing it. Such a disreputable circumstance in government could scarcely have happened, but from the cause I have already stated. For the Assembly which did it was newly formed, and elected on one of those sudden caprices which often happens in a free country, and there was not one man amongst them fully acquainted with the nature of the business they were going upon.

Public Banks are reckoned among the honors, privileges and advantages of a free people, and are never found among those under a despotic government. It is the confidence which people have in the measures and principles of government, and the strict observance of faith and honor on the part of government, which encourage people to put their money into circulation by means of a public Bank. A faithless or arbitrary government cannot be trusted, and therefore in free countries only are Banks established. In this state it has been the means of restoring that credit and confidence among individuals, which for many years was lost, and without which, agriculture, commerce, and every species of business, must decline and languish.

As gold and silver are not the natural products of Pennsylvania, we have no other hard money than what the produce of the country exported to foreign parts brings in. This being the case, the interest of the farmer and the merchant, the one being employed to raise the produce and the other to export it, are as naturally connected, as that of sowing the grain is connected with reaping the harvest; and any man must be held an enemy to the public prosperity, who endeavours to create a. difference, or dissolve the mutual interest existing between them. The Plough and the Sail are the Arms of the state of Pennsylvania, and their connection should be held in remembrance by all good citizens.

As blood, tho’ taken from the arm, is nevertheless taken from the whole body, so the attempt to destroy the Bank eventually operated to distress the farmer as well as the merchant; for if the one is prevented in the means of buying the produce of the country, the other, of consequence, is deprived of the opportunities of selling.

I shall conclude this paper with remarking, that so long as it shall be the choice of the people to continue the legislature in a single house, the circumstances of the country and the importance of the trust (being greater than that committed to any single body of men in any state in the union) evidently require, that the persons to be elected thereto be men freed from the bigotry and shackles of party, of liberal minds, and conversant in the means of increasing the riches of the state, and cultivating and extending the prosperity thereof.

Common Sense. Philad. Sept.15, 1786.