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FReeper Book Club: The Debate over the Constitution, Centinel #1
A Publius/Billthedrill Essay | 1 February 2010 | Publius & Billthedrill

Posted on 02/01/2010 7:56:26 AM PST by Publius

The States’ Men Speak First: The Battle is Joined

The proceedings of the Constitutional Convention in the summer of 1787 were conducted in secret, thus masking to the public the divisions between Nationalists and States’ Men, small states and large states, North and South. The mandate from Congress had been to propose amendments to the Articles of Confederation, but the Convention quickly decided to start afresh, something that upset the States’ Men.

The lines between the two factions were based on a combination of social class and activity during the Revolution. Nationalists, for the most part, had served as officers in the Continental Army or state militias. They tended to be businessmen and among the moneyed class. States’ Men had served as enlisted men or not at all, and tended to be among the smallholding farming class.

The financial chaos that gripped the young nation after the Treaty of Paris in 1783 had affected each class differently. The lack of a genuine coin of the realm had crippled the financial and commercial classes, while little affecting the agricultural classes – until they had to pay their property taxes or engage in interstate commerce.

The proposed Constitution marked a break with the past and the strong anti-government currents in American life and politics. The new document proposed a government on the British model, but far more efficient, which greatly disturbed the States’ Men.

The Convention had exceeded the limited mandate granted by the Confederation Congress, but there was a safety valve – a provision in Article XIII that required Congress to approve the product of the Convention before passing it on to the states for ratification. Congress could have thanked General Washington for his work and thrown the Constitution out, but Washington’s status with the citizenry and the sense of crisis prompted Congress to swallow its doubts and approve the Constitution for ratification.

Samuel Bryan was the son of a Pennsylvania Supreme Court judge who wrote a series of papers under the pseudonym “Centinel”, in which he opposed the adoption of the proposed Constitution. It was Bryan who spoke first, but not so well as those who followed.

Centinel #1

Samuel Bryan, 5 October 1787

1 To the Freemen of Pennsylvania.

2 Friends, Countrymen and Fellow Citizens,


3 Permit one of yourselves to put you in mind of certain liberties and privileges secured to you by the Constitution of this Commonwealth, and to beg your serious attention to his uninterested opinion upon the plan of federal government submitted to your consideration, before you surrender these great and valuable privileges up forever.

4 Your present frame of government secures to you a right to hold yourselves, houses, papers and possessions free from search and seizure, and therefore warrants granted without oaths or affirmations first made, affording sufficient foundation for them, whereby any officer or messenger may be commanded or required to search your houses or seize your persons or property, not particularly described in such warrant, shall not be granted.

5 Your Constitution further provides “that in controversies respecting property, and in suits between man and man, the parties have a right to trial by jury, which ought to be held sacred.”

6 It also provides and declares, “that the people have a right of freedom of speech, and of writing and publishing their sentiments, therefore the freedom of the press ought not to be restrained.”

7 The Constitution of Pennsylvania is yet in existence, as yet you have the right to freedom of speech and of publishing your sentiments.

8 How long those rights will appertain to you, you yourselves are called upon to say; whether your houses shall continue to be your castles; whether your papers, your persons and your property are to be held sacred and free from general warrants, you are now to determine.

9 Whether the trial by jury is to continue as your birthright, the freemen of Pennsylvania, nay, of all America, are now called upon to declare.


10 Without presuming upon my own judgment, I cannot think it an unwarrantable presumption to offer my private opinion and call upon others for theirs, and if I use my pen with the boldness of a freeman, it is because I know that the liberty of the press yet remains unviolated, and juries yet are judges.


11 The late Convention have submitted to your consideration a plan of a new federal government – the subject is highly interesting to your future welfare.

12 Whether it be calculated to promote the great ends of civil society, namely the happiness and prosperity of the community, it behooves you well to consider, uninfluenced by the authority of names.

13 Instead of that frenzy of enthusiasm that has actuated the citizens of Philadelphia in their approbation of the proposed plan, before it was possible that it could be the result of a rational investigation into its principles, it ought to be dispassionately and deliberately examined and its own intrinsic merit the only criterion of your patronage.

14 If ever free and unbiased discussion was proper or necessary, it is on such an occasion.

15 All the blessings of liberty and the dearest privileges of freemen are now at stake and dependent on your present conduct.

16 Those who are competent to the task of developing the principles of government ought to be encouraged to come forward and thereby the better enable the people to make a proper judgment; for the science of government is so abstruse that few are able to judge for themselves; without such assistance the people are too apt to yield an implicit assent to the opinions of those characters whose abilities are held in the highest esteem and to those in whose integrity and patriotism they can confide; not considering that the love of domination is generally in proportion to talents, abilities and superior acquirements; and that the men of the greatest purity of intention may be made instruments of despotism in the hands of the artful and designing.

17 If it were not for the stability and attachment which time and habit gives to forms of government, it would be in the power of the enlightened and aspiring few, if they should combine, at any time to destroy the best establishments and even make the people the instruments of their own subjugation.


18 The late Revolution having effaced in a great measure all former habits, and the present institutions are so recent that there exists not that great reluctance to innovation, so remarkable in old communities, and which accords with reason, for the most comprehensive mind cannot foresee the full operation of material changes on civil polity; it is the genius of the common law to resist innovation.


19 The wealthy and ambitious, who in every community think they have a right to lord it over their fellow creatures, have availed themselves very successfully of this favorable disposition, for the people thus unsettled in their sentiments have been prepared to accede to any extreme of government; all the distresses and difficulties they experience, proceeding from various causes, have been ascribed to the impotency of the present Confederation, and thence they have been led to expect full relief from the adoption of the proposed system of government, and in the other event, immediately ruin and annihilation as a nation.

20 These characters flatter themselves that they have lulled all distrust and jealousy of their new plan by gaining the concurrence of the two men in whom America has the highest confidence and now triumphantly exult in the completion of their long meditated schemes of power and aggrandizement.

21 I would be very far from insinuating that the two illustrious personages alluded to have not the welfare of their country at heart, but that the unsuspecting goodness and zeal of the one, has been imposed on, in a subject of which he must be necessarily inexperienced, from his other arduous engagements, and that the weakness and indecision attendant on old age, has been practiced on in the other.


22 I am fearful that the principles of government inculcated in Mr. Adams' treatise, and enforced in the numerous essays and paragraphs in the newspapers, have misled some well designing members of the late Convention.

23 But it will appear in the sequel that the construction of the proposed plan of government is infinitely more extravagant.


24 I have been anxiously expecting that some enlightened patriot would, ere this, have taken up the pen to expose the futility and counteract the baneful tendency of such principles.

25 Mr. Adams' sine qua non of a good government is three balancing powers whose repelling qualities are to produce an equilibrium of interests and thereby promote the happiness of the whole community.

26 He asserts that the administrators of every government will ever be actuated by views of private interest and ambition to the prejudice of the public good; that therefore the only effectual method to secure the rights of the people and promote their welfare is to create an opposition of interests between the members of two distinct bodies in the exercise of the powers of government and balanced by those of a third.

27 This hypothesis supposes human wisdom competent to the task of instituting three coequal orders in government and a corresponding weight in the community to enable them respectively to exercise their several parts, and whose views and interests should be so distinct as to prevent a coalition of any two of them for the destruction of the third.

28 Mr. Adams, although he has traced the constitution of every form of government that ever existed, as far as history affords materials, has not been able to adduce a single instance of such a government; he indeed says that the British Constitution is such in theory, but this is rather a confirmation that his principles are chimerical and not to be reduced to practice.

29 If such an organization of power were practicable, how long would it continue?

30 Not a day, for there is so great a disparity in the talents, wisdom and industry of mankind that the scale would presently preponderate to one or the other body, and with every accession of power the means of further increase would be greatly extended.

31 The state of society in England is much more favorable to such a scheme of government than that of America.

32 There they have a powerful hereditary nobility and real distinctions of rank and interests, but even there, for want of that perfect equality of power and distinction of interests, in the three orders of government, they exist but in name; the only operative and efficient check upon the conduct of administration is the sense of the people at large.


33 Suppose a government could be formed and supported on such principles, would it answer the great purposes of civil society; if the administrators of every government are actuated by views of private interest and ambition, how is the welfare and happiness of the community to be the result of such jarring adverse interests?


34 Therefore, as different orders in government will not produce the good of the whole, we must recur to other principles.

35 I believe it will be found that the form of government which holds those entrusted with power in the greatest responsibility to their constituents, the best calculated for freemen.

36 A republican, or free government, can only exist where the body of the people are virtuous, and where property is pretty equally divided; in such a government the people are the sovereign, and their sense or opinion is the criterion of every public measure; for when this ceases to be the case the nature of the government is changed, and an aristocracy, monarchy or despotism will rise on its ruin.

37 The highest responsibility is to be attained in a simple structure of government, for the great body of the people never steadily attend to the operations of government and for want of due information are liable to be imposed on.

38 If you complicate the plan by various orders, the people will be perplexed and divided in their sentiments about the source of abuses or misconduct; some will impute it to the Senate, others to the House of Representatives, and so on, that the interposition of the people may be rendered imperfect or perhaps wholly abortive.

39 But if, imitating the Constitution of Pennsylvania, you vest all the legislative power in one body of men – separating the executive and judicial – elected for a short period, and necessarily excluded by rotation from permanency, and guarded from precipitancy and surprise by delays imposed on its proceedings, you will create the most perfect responsibility, for then whenever the people feel a grievance, they cannot mistake the authors and will apply the remedy with certainty and effect, discarding them at the next election.

40 This tie of responsibility will obviate all the dangers apprehended from a single legislature and will the best secure the rights of the people.


41 Having premised this much, I shall now proceed to the examination of the proposed plan of government, and I trust, shall make it appear to the meanest capacity that it has none of the essential requisites of a free government; that it is neither founded on those balancing restraining powers recommended by Mr. Adams and attempted in the British Constitution, or possessed of that responsibility to its constituents which in my opinion is the only effectual security for the liberties and happiness of the people; but on the contrary that it is a most daring attempt to establish a despotic aristocracy among freemen that the world has ever witnessed.


42 I shall previously consider the extent of the powers intended to be vested in Congress before I examine the construction of the general government.


43 It will not be controverted that the legislative is the highest delegated power in government and that all others are subordinate to it.

44 The celebrated Montesquieu establishes it as a maxim that legislation necessarily follows the power of taxation.

45 By Section 8 of the first article of the proposed plan of government, “the Congress are to have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States, but all duties, imposts and excises, shall be uniform throughout the United States.”

46 Now what can be more comprehensive than these words; not content by other sections of this plan to grant all the great executive powers of a confederation and a standing army in time of peace, that grand engine of oppression, and moreover the absolute control over the commerce of the United States and all external objects of revenue, such as unlimited imposts upon imports, etc., they are to be vested with every species of internal taxation; whatever taxes, duties and excises that they may deem requisite for the general welfare may be imposed on the citizens of these states, levied by the officers of Congress, distributed through every district in America; and the collection would be enforced by the standing army, however grievous or improper they may be.

47 The Congress may construe every purpose for which the state legislatures now lay taxes to be for the general welfare and thereby seize upon every object of revenue.


48 The judicial power by 1st section of Article 3 “shall extend to all cases, in law and equity, arising under this constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties made or which shall be made under their authority; to all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls; to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, to controversies to which the United States shall be a party, to controversies between two or more states, between a state and citizens of another state, between citizens of different states, between citizens of the same state claiming lands under grants of different states, and between a state, or the citizens thereof, and foreign states, citizens or subjects.”


49 The judicial power to be vested in one Supreme Court and in such Inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.


50 The objects of jurisdiction recited above are so numerous, and the shades of distinction between civil causes are oftentimes so slight, that it is more than probable that the state judicatories would be wholly superseded; for in contests about jurisdiction, the federal court, as the most powerful, would ever prevail.

51 Every person acquainted with the history of the courts in England knows by what ingenious sophisms they have at different periods extended the sphere of their jurisdiction over objects out of the line of their institution and contrary to their very nature, courts of a criminal jurisdiction obtaining cognizance in civil causes.


52 To put the [omnipotence] of Congress over the state government and judicatories out of all doubt, the 6th Article ordains that “this constitution and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof, and all treaties made, or which shall be made under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land, and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, any thing in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.”


53 By these sections, the all-prevailing power of taxation, and such extensive legislative and judicial powers are vested in the general government, as must in their operation, necessarily absorb the state legislatures and judicatories; and that such was in the contemplation of the framers of it will appear from the provision made for such event in another part of it – but that fearful of alarming the people by so great an innovation, they have suffered the forms of the separate governments to remain as a blind.

54 By section 4th of the 1st Article, “the times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time, by law, make or alter such regulations, except as to the place of chusing senators."

55 The plain construction of which is that when the state legislatures drop out of sight from the necessary operation this government, then Congress are to provide for the election and appointment of representatives and senators.


56 If the foregoing be a just comment, if the United States are to be melted down into one empire, it becomes you to consider whether such a government, however constructed, would be eligible in so extended a territory, and whether it would be practicable, consistent with freedom?

57 It is the opinion of the greatest writers that a very extensive country cannot be governed on [democratic] principles, on any other plan than a confederation of a number of small republics, possessing all the powers of internal government but united in the management of their foreign and general concerns.


58 It would not be difficult to prove that any thing short of despotism could not bind so great a country under one government, and that whatever plan you might at the first setting out establish, it would issue in a despotism.


59 If one general government could be instituted and maintained on principles of freedom, it would not be so competent to attend to the various local concerns and wants of every particular district as well as the peculiar governments who are nearer the scene and possessed of superior means of information; besides, if the business of the whole Union is to be managed by one government, there would not be time.

60 Do we not already see that the inhabitants in a number of larger states who are remote from the seat of government are loudly complaining of the inconveniences and disadvantages they are subjected to on this account, and that to enjoy the comforts of local government they are separating into smaller divisions?


61 Having taken a review of the powers, I shall now examine the construction of the proposed general government.


62 Article 1, Section 1: “All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a senate and house of representatives.” By another section? The President, the principal executive officer, has a conditional control over their proceedings.

63 Section 2: “The house of representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year, by the people of the several states. The number of representatives shall not exceed one for every 30,000 inhabitants."

64 The Senate, the other constituent branch of the legislature, is formed by the legislature of each state appointing two senators for the term of six years.


65 The executive power by Article 2, Section 1 is to be vested in a President of the United States of America elected for four years: Section 2 gives him “power, by and with the consent of the senate to make treaties, provided two thirds of the senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States, whose appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by law,” etc.

66 And by another section he has the absolute power of granting reprieves and pardons for treason and all other high crimes and misdemeanors except in case of impeachment.


67 The foregoing are the outlines of the plan.


68 Thus we see, the House of Representatives are on the part of the people to balance the Senate, who I suppose will be composed of the better sort, the well born, etc.

69 The number of the representatives, being only one for every 30,000 inhabitants, appears to be too few, either to communicate the requisite information of the wants, local circumstances and sentiments of so extensive an empire, or to prevent corruption and undue influence in the exercise of such great powers; the term for which they are to be chosen, too long to preserve a due dependence and accountability to their constituents, and the mode and places of their election not sufficiently ascertained, for as Congress have the control over both, they may govern the choice by ordering the representatives of a whole state to be elected in one place, and that too may be the most inconvenient.


70 The Senate, the great efficient body in this plan of government, is constituted on the most unequal principles.

71 The smallest state in the Union has equal weight with the great states of Virginia, Massachusetts or Pennsylvania.

72 The Senate, besides its legislative functions, has a very considerable share in the Executive; none of the principal appointments to office can be made without its advice and consent.

73 The term and mode of its appointment will lead to permanency; the members are chosen for six years, the mode is under the control of Congress, and as there is no exclusion by rotation, they may be continued for life, which, from their extensive means of influence, would follow of course.

74 The President, who would be a mere pageant of state unless he coincides with the views of the Senate, would either become the head of the aristocratic junto in that body or its minion; besides, their influence being the most predominant, could the best secure his re-election to office.

75 And from his power of granting pardons, he might screen from punishment the most treasonable attempts on liberties of the people when instigated by the Senate.


76 From this investigation into the organization of this government, it appears that it is devoid of all responsibility or accountability to the great body of the people, and that so far from being a regular balanced government, it would be in practice a permanent aristocracy.


77 The framers of it, actuated by the true spirit of such a government which ever abominates and suppresses all free enquiry and discussion, have made no provision for the liberty of the press, that grand palladium of freedom and scourge of tyrants, but observed a total silence on that head.

78 It is the opinion of some great writers that if the liberty of the press, by an institution of religion or otherwise, could be rendered sacred, even in Turkey, that despotism would fly before it.

79 And it is worthy of remark that there is no declaration of personal rights, premised in most free constitutions; and that trial by jury in civil cases is taken away; for what other construction can be put on the following, namely Article m., Section 2d: “In all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and those in which a State shall be party, the Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction. In all the other cases above mentioned, the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to law and fact?”

80 It would be a novelty in jurisprudence, as well as evidently improper, to allow an appeal from the verdict of a jury on the matter of fact; therefore, it implies and allows of a [dismissal] of the jury in civil cases, and especially when it is considered that jury trial in criminal cases is expressly stipulated for, but not in civil cases.


81 But our situation is represented to be so critically dreadful that, however reprehensible and exceptionable the proposed plan of government may be, there is no alternative between the adoption of it and absolute ruin.

82 My fellow citizens, things are not at that crisis; it is the argument of tyrants; the present distracted state of Europe secures us from injury on that quarter, and as to domestic dissensions, we have not so much to fear from them as to precipitate us into this form of government, without it is a safe and a proper one.

83 For remember, of all possible evils, that of despotism is the worst and the most to be dreaded.


84 Besides, it cannot be supposed that the first essay on so difficult a subject is so well digested as it ought to be,

85 If [the] proposed plan, after a mature deliberation, should meet the approbation of the respective states, the matter will end, but if it should be found to be fraught with dangers and inconveniences, a future general convention, being in possession of the objections, will be the better enabled to plan a suitable government.


86 Who's here so base, that would a bondsman be?
If any, speak; for him have I offended.
Who's here so vile, that will not love his country?
If any, speak; for him have I offended.
[Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 2 ]

Bryan’s Critique

To properly appreciate the work of these 18th Century men, one must visualize them with hemp paper on a table, quill pen in hand, and a pot of ink into which that pen had to be dipped every few words. This forced a certain economy of expression, the entire composition being formed of units constrained by the ability of a split feather to hold ink. To the modern eye this appears to be an uncomfortable concentration of expression, but here concision is immortality.

In military terms, the author has fired an artillery barrage.

Samuel Bryan’s topic is the proposed federal Constitution itself and not the Bill of Rights. To contemporary Americans this is a distinction less apparent than it was to the debaters. The necessity or desirability of a bill of rights can be tabled for the moment, but already it begins to take shape in Bryan’s first paragraphs. Bryan references the guarantees and protections of the Pennsylvania Constitution of the time in comparison to the proposed federal Constitution.

In Verse 4, one sees the beginnings of the 4th Amendment, and the freedom of houses, papers and possessions from search and seizure, such seizure to be accomplished by warrants taken under oath.

In Verse 5, there is the germ of the 6th Amendment and trial by jury.

In Verses 6 and 7, there is a hint of the 1st Amendment with freedom of speech and of the press.

There will be more as the debate begins to take shape.

There is, as well, a pre-Marx recognition of the importance of class interest in both the formation and the function of government, stated with the distinct whiff of class warfare.

At the Convention, Gouveneur Morris had gone so far as to propose institutionalizing differences of class and financial status in the makeup of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Without realizing it, Morris was proposing enshrinement of the class struggle in the design of the Legislative branch. Fortunately for all, the Convention rejected his proposal.

In Verse 31, it is clear that Bryan believes that Great Britain's government is the better for such class distinctions. There, such institutions as aristocracy are formally built into government. Parliament was bicameral, and it is not entirely apparent that Bryan’s objections are altogether germane if the nascent government were to attempt to accommodate this sort of class warfare instead of acting against it. Nevertheless, we see in this a hint of the argument that Edmund Burke was to make in his Reflections on the Revolution in France roughly three years later that such things occasionally serve a purpose that is not in their original design.

Bryan believes that while splitting the Legislative branch into Senate and House mirrors the British practice of Lords and Commons and accurately reflects the British society of the time, it poorly mirrors that of the United States. He prefers the unicameral Pennsylvania practice.

He points out the vagueness of the term “general welfare” and its susceptibility to over-interpretation with regard to expansion of the powers of Congress. He is particularly suspicious that this will lead Congress to supplant the state legislative bodies by taking over “every object of revenue.”

A similar objection leads him to warn against a tendency of the Supreme Court to supplant the responsibilities of the sundry state courts.

He warns that the President must, under the terms of Article 2, be at risk of becoming a tool of the class-based Senate.

He further objects that the Senate as constituted under the plan would confer a power to the various states disproportionate to their population and economic clout. Clearly the fact that this would be offset by the population-based representation of the House is an argument yet to coalesce. He does not recognize the bicameral nature of Congress as a means to address this issue.

Ironically it is a side note – a rather amusing one – that Bryan does not think that one representative per 30,000 inhabitants is sufficient, but his reasons are sound, being based on the capacity of communications in those days. One would love to see the look on his face were he told that a similar policy in the current United States would imply a House of some 10,000 members.

He closes with a warning against the tendency of a government so formed to devolve toward despotism. He particularly considers the power of presidential pardon a temptation to the exemption of the Senate from the rule of the law.

Verse 84 is a plea for modesty:

84 Besides, it cannot be supposed that the first essay on so difficult a subject is so well digested as it ought to be.

That may be true, but it is an excellent beginning. Bryan makes a strong start at defining the criteria against which any constitution must be considered. The battle is, indeed, joined.

Harbingers of the French Revolution

The French Revolution was in its very early stages at the writing of this essay, the Estates-General still two years in the future. It was clear to more than just Edmund Burke that the whole affair was likely to turn sour. The questions were: why, how to avoid it, and if class warfare were a signal characteristic of late Enlightenment government, how could one deal with it in such a way that it did not tear that government apart? The reader receives hints of that concern in this essay. Bryan is clearly apprehensive that class distinctions would be codified in the new government to its detriment, specifically with respect to the Senate (Verse 68). Thus, the question is, can they be controlled?

How can one structure a government so that it does not embody the seeds of a new aristocracy, invalidating the struggle of the War of Independence? Here one must consider the body of thought available at the time. Samuel Bryan cites the great French political scientist Montesquieu, by name in Verse 44 and by allusion in Verse 57, to the effect that democracy is out of the question for a country the size of which was already being anticipated by the Founders; that a confederation of small republics (Verse 57) or an outright despotism (Verse 58) was the only effective way to govern such a large enterprise. This was in part a recognition of the limitations of communication, but Montesquieu's was not the only opinion in the matter. Gibbon had barely finished his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire at the time, but Machiavelli, in his Discourses, had already laid out the case that a republic was perfectly capable of such an act of governance and that it was other factors, notably corruption, that led away from it toward despotism. Between Machiavelli and Washington were Cromwell and the English experience in forming a government that guarded against the abuses of untrammeled monarchical power. To a great degree the revolutions in both France and America were the bookends of that debate.

That is a little more apparent in retrospect than it was for Bryan, who appreciated the issues involved and would no doubt have been astounded at the fact that all of them are still in play some two centuries later. Americans are still debating the proper balance between the ability of local government to apprehend local issues in detail and the economies of scale of a national government. It may be that the true function of the Constitution is not to provide any comprehensive answer but to delineate the boundaries within which that long-standing debate may take place.

The Use of the Word “Democratic”

In the original text, Bryan uses the word “democratical”, which is an archaism. We have used the word “democratic” enclosed within brackets instead to convey the idea. In 1787, words such as “democracy”, “democrat” and “democratical” carried a certain amount of ideological weight. The Framers had no intention of creating a democracy, and Franklin’s opinion of democracy was scathing, going far beyond Madison’s gentle and scholarly criticism.

Yet by 1800, the political landscape had altered drastically. In that year, a man who lost his temper and accused another of being a “democrat” or engaging in “democratical” principles would have been quickly challenged to an “interview” under the code duello, concluding with the words, “My seconds shall call upon you on the morrow.” Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Party in that year labeled Thomas Jefferson’s Republican Party as the Democratic-Republican Party, linking Jefferson’s own name for his party to an epithet. What had changed?

The French Revolution had shocked the American psyche. There was a great deal of good will for King Louis XVI, who had sent the French navy to intervene in America’s war with England, facilitating an American victory at Yorktown and prompting the British to rethink their approach. Louis had been deposed, decapitated and replaced by the Republic, the Terror, the Directory and finally a military coup. Napoleon had yet to send his armies to spread the poison of the French Revolution to all Europe, but America under John Adams had already fought a naval cold war with the French revolutionary government.

Despite Jefferson’s occasionally bloodthirsty prose in favor of the French Revolution, most Americans regarded the events in France as a psychotic episode tied to the idea of democracy-in-excess. While America no longer honored the concept of kings and hereditary nobility, regicide was something that shocked, especially as a progressive monarch and friend of America had been the victim. In the 1790's, democracy had begun to acquire a bad name, a situation that did not change until 1828 when Andrew Jackson ran for president the second time.

In 1787, Bryan was referring to the rough democracy seen at the most basic unit of governance in America, the county. It was the county that built the roads, maintained the poorhouse for indigents and collected the property tax. A concept that could be called “stakeholder franchise” was observed throughout the young United States. When a voter cast his ballot, he walked or rode to the county courthouse where he showed his latest property tax receipt to the county clerk in order to be allowed to vote. Upon validation of the receipt, the clerk would then ask for the citizen’s vote. There being no secret ballot, the voter would inform the clerk for whom he was voting, and representatives of the person who had won the citizen’s vote would then give him a glass of beer, cider or “punch”, a concoction of alcoholic spirits and sugar that today would be classified as a “girl drink”, but which packed a wallop. Even Jefferson, who worshiped the People in the abstract, strongly favored the retention of property qualifications, lest an un-propertied urban proletariat control the levers of power.

Bryan’s idea of “democratical” principles were rough-hewn, a part of the political mainstream, and very American.

Discussion Topics

A word of warning to FReepers. Threads such as these tend to attract one line comments bewailing the fact that modern America has broken faith with the Founders. Occasionally one will cast blame, usually at progressives, liberals, lie-berals, Democrats, DemonCrats, DemonRats, Democraps and others. Let’s avoid this. We’ll stipulate that much of America today was not what the Framers intended. But precisely where and how did we go wrong? And, more importantly, how did the men of the 18th Century err, and how did some of those men anticipate the errors?

If the reader has ever tackled the crossword puzzles of The Times of London, he knows that the clues are not direct, but are allusions that require thinking two or three levels more deeply. Our goal is to stimulate thought, forcing the reader to go several layers beneath the surface. We want to avoid the facile in favor of the comprehensive. If your head begins to ache contemplating these questions, the authors have done their job.

Coming Thursday, 4 February

The First Nationalist Speaks
James Wilson’s Speech at the State House

TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Free Republic
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To: whodathunkit
There had been much contention between the rural/frontier areas of Pennsylvania and the urban/Philadelphia powers. Unlike today, those in power had a real fear that an angry mounted mob would take time out of their pioneering endeavors to 'run the rascals out' and in fact it had happened previously.

And when it happened, they chased the Confederation Congress north to Princeton. Hamilton wrote an incendiary letter to Washington asking him to leave Mount Vernon, take control of the army and re-take Philadelphia. The crisis petered out before anyone could jump on his horse.

That information you dug up about Bryan's father and the Junto is important. I suspect Franklin founded the Junto because Philadelphia did not have a Masonic Lodge in 1727. Usually, the local lodge took on the functions of social interaction and network building.

Before his death in 1984, I had an uncle who was the past grand master of a Masonic lodge in Philadelphia, and I'm sure he could have given me a detailed history of Freemasonry in the city.

41 posted on 02/01/2010 6:20:05 PM PST by Publius
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To: Publius
A BTT for the evening crowd. As this proceeds we are going to try to trace some of the origins of the ideas that informed these debaters. It didn't happen in a vacuum - Bryan mentions, for example, Montesquieu, and we have to consider Locke as well as such contemporaries as Rousseau, Voltaire, Hume, and Burke. We will, as well, attempt to link events chronologically with those of the French Revolution and contrast the two histories. One of these conflicts ended up in an enduring Republic, the other in a new despotism under Napoleon. Many of the reasons for this reside in the debates we are about to examine.

Others reside in where the two upheavals started. We have already seen a hint of the class struggles that were about to send Paris into flames, whose seeds many of the Founders recognized in the New World. Did they avoid them, reconcile them, or merely delay a reckoning?

Well, all right then, the battle is joined.

42 posted on 02/01/2010 7:34:39 PM PST by Billthedrill
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To: Publius
In Verse 47, Bryan says, “The Congress may construe every purpose for which the state legislatures now lay taxes to be for the general welfare and thereby seize upon every object of revenue.” This line has echoed through American history for two centuries. To what extent was he anticipating the direct taxation that even then was forbidden by the Constitution? Was he anticipating that power would accrete to the center over time, and why or why not?

This verse really resonated with me. I can't tell you how many people I have talked to who seize upon the "general welfare" phrase to open up the floodgates to federal power and taxation. I believe that he was fearful of a government of elites gradually taking over and using such loose phrases as this as the justification for doing so. And he appears to have been correct.

43 posted on 02/01/2010 7:59:32 PM PST by tstarr
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To: tstarr; Loud Mime
"But it's for a good cause."

I hear it all the time, and it really infuriates me. I would recommend Steven Maikoski's Initial Points in Politics for an excellent diagnosis of this problem.

44 posted on 02/01/2010 8:02:52 PM PST by Publius
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To: LearsFool
Ironically it is a side note – a rather amusing one – that Bryan does not think that one representative per 30,000 inhabitants is sufficient, but his reasons are sound, being based on the capacity of communications in those days. One would love to see the look on his face were he told that a similar policy in the current United States would imply a House of some 10,000 members.

I think the crux of the issue is less the total number of representatives, but what should be done at the federal level. If Congress was only concerned with "big picture" items like should we go to war, etc., 10,000 members could vote remotely now and it would be fine. But we have gradually allowed the federal to overtake the state (as warned of by Bryan), which would turn to complete anarchy with a large number of representatives. Of course, the answer to this is to reduce the size of the federal government to what was intended at the time.

45 posted on 02/01/2010 8:10:39 PM PST by tstarr
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To: Publius
In Verses 57 and 58, Bryan argues that America may be too large for the kind of government envisioned in the Constitution. His answer is a group of small republics united in the sphere of foreign relations. To what extent was he right? Is he right today, with a much larger country? Is despotism inevitable, and why or why not?

I believe that America is NOT too large for the kind of government envisioned in the Constitution, but we don't really have that today, do we? I wonder if we wouldn't be better served today by a group of 5-6 individual republics united by a common currency and foreign relations, but charting their own way in other areas. My first choice would be a return to the original constitution and away from "case law" as the basis for our judicial decisions. However, there are some advantages to this idea, not least of which is greater local control of all issues. Do you think something better would have been done about illegal immigration if it was dealt with by a government closer to the people of the Southwest as a separate republic?

46 posted on 02/01/2010 8:19:23 PM PST by tstarr
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To: tstarr
Do you think something better would have been done about illegal immigration if it was dealt with by a government closer to the people of the Southwest as a separate republic?

That depends on who was running that republic. First a little history for perspective.

To a very great degree organized labor was responsible in the Fifties for creating the American middle class as we know it, and it did so by insisting that unskilled labor be paid the same wages as skilled labor. Following the war, America had the only industrial framework in the world that hadn’t been destroyed by bombardment. American unions could demand higher wages, and the rest of the world had no choice but to pay whatever price was demanded for American goods while the devastated countries were rebuilt. That was balanced by the fact that much of the reconstruction was funded out of the pockets of those same American workers. But it was a good time to be one of the latter. An American male could drop out of school, get his union card, sign up at the local plant, marry, have 2.3 children, own a car, house and vacation home, and at age 65 retire with a full pension and go fishing. Good times while they lasted.

In the Sixties, the Third World came on line as a source of cheap labor; in the Seventies, high labor costs caused American goods to be priced out of world markets. The unions had at last lost their pricing power. The only way to compete, other than moving the company overseas, was to reduce American wages to Third World levels, and what better way to do that than to open up the floodgates of immigration, legal or otherwise? This is why the Wall Street Journal has long pushed for a constitutional amendment stating, "There shall be open borders."

But the interests of Big Business are not necessarily in the best interests of all Americans. A Southwest republic might guard the border and shoot all invaders, but if business interests held the reins of power, I wouldn't bet on that.

47 posted on 02/01/2010 8:31:06 PM PST by Publius
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To: Publius; Jacquerie
"The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, selfappointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."

James Madison Federalist 47

This is a GREAT thread!!

48 posted on 02/01/2010 9:21:58 PM PST by Loud Mime (Liberalism is a Socialist Disease)
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To: Publius

Thanks. That filled a gap in my knowledge. What is the name of the book?

49 posted on 02/02/2010 3:24:28 AM PST by Jacquerie (Support and Defend our Beloved Constitution.)
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To: Publius
In Verses 16 and 17, Bryan doesn’t believe that a man’s opinion should be trusted just because of his abilities. One would imagine his horror at the opinions of actors being taken seriously! His stance is reminiscent of William Buckley’s famous statement that he would rather be governed by the first one hundred people in the New York telephone directory than by the entire faculty of Harvard. Hamilton was no doubt horrified by Bryan’s statement, but even Jefferson would have had his doubts. Is there room for elites in American governance, and why or why not? Is there truly a certain native wisdom resident in the People, and why or why not?

Is there room for elites in American governance, and why or why not? I suspect that the elites of their time were well educated in history and well tempered by their own religion. These men holding this debate were of all walks of life, some even were "elites" at their time. I think the difference between then and now is a matter of what set their understanding of the Natural Law and the principals that guided them.

The elites of today are schooled, coached in perverted histories and discouraged from embracing any form of religious upbringing or beliefs. They are taught, learn well how to circumvent the law, misinterpret the Constitution with the magic of empty rhetoric. They do this without the least glimmer of a conscience.

It is this observation, of the elite ruling culture of modern times, that causes me to often doubt our current endeavors to restore our Constitution.

50 posted on 02/02/2010 3:55:34 AM PST by EBH (The warning bell of Freedom is ringing, can you not hear it?)
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To: Publius
This is a critical point. Were we to adhere to the rule of 30,000, then we would have 10,000 congressmen in the House today. This is why I've begun to think that we should maintain the House of Repesentatives on the Internet and actually have those 10,000 congresscrittters. They would never leave home, would be available to their constituents 24/7, and would work via secure server. Bribing that many congressmen would be much more difficult than bribing 435.

I've worked through this argument several times and abandoned this premise. It would take more effort to bribe so many officials, but the bribes would be much smaller and therefore more difficult to discover. For one thing, there would be 10,000 possible sources of corruption to investigate. I return to the belief that the Congress should have more members not because of the economy of bribery. The economy of scale in the current system makes it unworkable. How can one person represent half a million people living in up to twenty different towns?

The suggestion is ridiculous. It also costs a fortune to run a legitimate campaign against the incumbent. Politicians quickly learn the value of photo ops and speechifying. It gets their names out, and people rarely question the validity of the news story. The challenger has to create these media exposures for himself. This takes time and money, which eliminates many potentially good candidates. He has to convince more than 250,000 people that he is the right person for the job.

If the district contains less people, it is easier to do this. The district is not one of the gerrymandered abortions we currently use, so the people actually have things in common. If the district only has 30,000 people, or 50,000 (my preferred number) then it's much easier to reach them. You'd be surprised how many hands you can shake standing outside Wal-Mart on a Saturday morning. I can do that, even driving my little Chevy and working full time. You can do it, too. Even if our campaigns rely on BS, we have to stand in front of a group of people and smile while we deliver that BS. If we deliver enough BS, our neighbor BilltheDrill might also decide that he can run for the office against both of us.

51 posted on 02/02/2010 6:01:35 AM PST by sig226 (Bring back Jimmy Carter!)
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To: Loud Mime
"The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."

Is that not the situation we currently find ourselves in?

Do we not have currently a single "same hands" group very much in control of all three branches of our government?

I believe we do and the "same hands" group I speak of is lawyers.

52 posted on 02/02/2010 6:25:53 AM PST by Bigun ("It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere." Voltaire)
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To: Bigun
The Republicans should be using that quote from Madison at every opportunity!
53 posted on 02/02/2010 6:41:52 AM PST by Loud Mime (Liberalism is a Socialist Disease)
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To: sig226

You cannot properly represent the people when they do not understand the proper processes of government.

As has been known for thousands of years, once the people recognize they have power, they will do all they can to gain riches from the treasury.

54 posted on 02/02/2010 6:44:15 AM PST by Loud Mime (Liberalism is a Socialist Disease)
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To: Publius
Early draft of the Constitution found in Phila.
55 posted on 02/02/2010 6:50:07 AM PST by LucyJo (
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To: LucyJo; Publius
Re: post #55, the James Wilson info is an interesting addition to your topic for Thursday.
56 posted on 02/02/2010 6:59:42 AM PST by LucyJo (
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To: LearsFool; Publius
>But Bryan grates on the modern ear with his statement that a successful republic would also require that property be fairly equally distributed. How would Bryan see today’s America with its disparities of wealth, some created by merit and others by government?

I read Bryan as saying, not that property ought to be RE-distributed, but merely that a fairly equal distribution of property is a necessary precondition for free government to flourish. In other words, upon seeing vast disparities of property in a nation, he would not be optimistic that a republic could thrive there.

I agree that was the intention of Bryans statement about wealth in relation to a new form of government. I'm assuming that real property (land) was what he was considering.

One way to become wealthy at that time was to acquire land at low cost and immediately cut the timber off to be burnt on site. The ashes from the burnt hardwoods (potash) could be sold at a price that would cover the cost of the land and also the labor involved. The land could then be used for farming or pasture. Even the most destitute man, if he was industrious enough and physically able, could become a landowner in a fairly short period of time.

57 posted on 02/02/2010 8:16:56 AM PST by whodathunkit (Obama will be remembered as our most whimsical President)
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To: Publius

Verse 16 and 17..native wisdom or “common sense” does tend to reside with the people.

See Daniel Boone and how he was taken to task by a constituent regarding the government getting involved in settling money upon a man who had died in service of his country.

According to Boone, while it was a worthy and noble cause, it was not the proper place of government to do such.

How many times have so called “experts” said one thing, then, 10 years later, after further study, reversed themselves?

It looks to me like Bryan has no problem with elites being in government, but, he understood having a government of just elites would tend to distance government from the people.

When one class of people runs government, government is going to reflect the biases of that class.

58 posted on 02/02/2010 8:38:18 AM PST by stylin_geek (Greed and envy is used by our political class to exploit the rich and poor.)
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To: Jacquerie
I read a review of the book in The New Republic back in '95, but I don't remember the name of it. The reviewer rehashed the entire story with -- surprisingly -- a tone of regret that it had happened.
59 posted on 02/02/2010 11:56:58 AM PST by Publius
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To: Publius

Fine Job.

60 posted on 02/02/2010 3:00:53 PM PST by TASMANIANRED (Liberals are educated above their level of intelligence.. Thanks Sr. Angelica)
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