POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY IN AMERICA

What we are not talking about already elsewhere
thelivyjr
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Re: POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY IN AMERICA

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America Essay, continued ...

by Noah Webster

December 31, 1787

But you will say, that trial by jury, is an unalienable right, that ought not to be trusted with our rulers.

Why not?

If it is such a darling privilege, will not Congress be as fond of it, as their constituents?

An elevation into that Council, does not render a man insensible to his privileges, nor place him beyond the necessity of securing them.

A member of Congress is liable to all the operations of law, except during his attendance on public business; and should he consent to a law, annihilating any right whatever, he deprives himself, his family and estate, of the benefit resulting from that right, as well as his constituents.

This circumstance alone, is a sufficient security.

But, why this outcry about juries?

If the people esteem them so highly, why do they ever neglect them, and suffer the trial by them to go into disuse?

In some States, Courts of Admiralty have no juries — nor Courts of Chancery at all.

In the City-Courts of some States, juries are rarely or never called, although’ the parties may demand them; and one State, at least, has lately passed an act, empowering the parties to submit both law and fact to the Court.

It is found, that the judgment of a Court, gives as much satisfaction, as the verdict of a jury, as the Court are as good judges of fact, as juries, and much better judges of law.

I have no desire to abolish trials by jury, although the original design and excellence of them, is in many cases superseded.

While the people remain attached to this mode of deciding causes, I am confident, that no Congress can wrest the privilege from them.

But, Gentlemen, our legal proceedings want a reform.

Involved in all the mazes of perplexity, which the chicanery of lawyers could invent, in the course of 500 years, our road to justice and redress is tedious, fatiguing and expensive.

Our Judicial proceedings are capable of being simplified, and improved in almost every particular.

For God’s sake, Gentlemen, do not shut the door against improvement.

If the people of America, should ever spurn the shackles of opinion, and venture to leave the road, which is so overgrown with briers and thorns, as to strip a man’s cloaths from his back as he passes, I am certain they can devise a more easy, safe, and expeditious mode of administering the laws, than that which harasses every poor mortal, that is wretched enough to want legal justice.


In Pennsylvania, where very respectable merchants, have repeatedly told me, they had rather lose a debt of fifty pounds, than attempt to recover it by a legal process, one would think that men, who value liberty and property, would not restrain any Government from suggesting a remedy for such disorders.

TO BE CONTINUED ...
thelivyjr
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Re: POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY IN AMERICA

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America Essay, continued ...

by Noah Webster

December 31, 1787

Another right, which you would place beyond the reach of Congress, is the writ of habeas corpus.

Will you say that this right may not be suspended in any case?

You dare not.

If it may be suspended in any case, and the Congress are to judge of the necessity, what security have you in a declaration in its favor?

You had much better say nothing upon the subject.

But you are frightened at a standing army.

I beg you, Gentlemen, to define a standing army.

If you would refuse to give Congress power to raise troops, to guard our frontiers, and garrison forts, or in short, to enlist men for any purpose, then we understand you — you tie the hands of your rulers so that they cannot defend you against any invasion.

This is protection indeed!

But if Congress can raise a body of troops for a year, they can raise them for a hundred years, and your declaration against standing armies can have no other effect, than to prevent Congress from denominating their troops, a standing army.

You would only introduce into this country, the English farce of mechanically passing an annual bill for the support of troops which are never disbanded.

TO BE CONTINUED ...
thelivyjr
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Re: POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY IN AMERICA

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America Essay, continued ...

by Noah Webster

December 31, 1787

You object to the indefinite power of taxation in Congress.

You must then limit the exercise of that power by the sums of money to be raised; or leaving the sums indefinite, must prescribe the particular mode in which, and the articles on which the money is to be raised.

But the sums cannot be ascertained, because the necessities of the States cannot be foreseen nor defined.

It is beyond even your wisdom and profound knowledge, Gentlemen, to ascertain the public exigencies, and reduce them to the provisions of a Constitution.

And if you would prescribe the mode of raising money, you will meet with equal difficulty.

The different States have different modes of taxation, and I question much whether even your skill, Gentlemen, could invent a uniform system that should sit easy upon every State.

It must therefore be left to experiment, with a power that can correct the errors of a system, and suit it to the habits of the people.

And if no uniform mode will answer this purpose, it will be in the power of Congress to lay taxes in each State, according to its particular practice.

But you know, Gentlemen, that an efficient Federal Government will render taxes unnecessary — that it will ease the people of their burdens, and remove their complaints, and therefore when you raise a clamor about the right of taxation, you must be guilty of the basest design — your hearts must be as malignant as your actions have been insidious.

You know that requisitions on the States are ineffectual.

That they cannot be rendered effectual, but by a compulsory power in Congress.

You know that without an efficient power to raise money, Government cannot secure a person, property or justice.

Nay, you know further, that such power is as safely lodged in your Representatives in Congress, as it is in your Representatives in your distinct Legislatures.

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thelivyjr
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Re: POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY IN AMERICA

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America Essay, continued ...

by Noah Webster

December 31, 1787

You would likewise restrain Congress from requiring excessive bail, or imposing excessive fines and unusual punishment.

But unless you can, in every possible instance, previously define the words excessive and unusual — if you leave the discretion of Congress to define them on occasion, any restriction of their power by a general indefinite expression, is a nullity — mere formal nonsense.

What consummate arrogance must you possess, to presume you can now make better provision for the Government of these States, during the course of ages and centuries, than the future Legislatures can, on the spur of the occasion!

Yet your whole reasoning on the subject implies this arrogance, and a presumption that you have a right to legislate for posterity!


But to complete the list of unalienable rights, you would insert a clause in your declaration, that every body shall, in good weather, hunt on his own land, and catch fish in rivers that are public property.

Here, Gentlemen, you must have exerted the whole force of your genius!

Not even the all-important subject of legislating for a world can restrain my laughter at this clause!

As a supplement to that article of your bill of rights, I would suggest the following restriction: ”That Congress shall never restrain any inhabitant of America from eating and drinking, at seasonable times, or prevent his lying on his left side, in a long winter’s night, or even on his back, when he is fatigued by lying on his right.”

This article is of just as much consequence as the 8th clause of your proposed bill of rights.

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thelivyjr
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Re: POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY IN AMERICA

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America Essay, continued ...

by Noah Webster

December 31, 1787

But to be more serious, Gentlemen, you must have had in idea the forest-laws in Europe, when you inserted that article; for no circumstance that ever took place in America, could have suggested the thought of a declaration in favor of hunting and fishing.

Will you forever persist in error?

Do you not reflect that the state of property in America, is directly the reverse of what it is in Europe?

Do you not consider, that the forest-laws in Europe originated in feudal tyranny, of which not a trace is to be found in America?

Do you not know that in this country almost every farmer is Lord of his own soil?

That instead of suffering under the oppression of a Monarch and Nobles, a class of haughty masters, totally independent of the people, almost every man in America is a Lord himself — enjoying his property in fee?

Where then the necessity of laws to secure hunting and fishing?

You may just as well ask for a clause, giving licence for every man to till his own land, or milk his own cows.

The Barons in Europe procured forest-laws to secure the right of hunting on their own land, from the intrusion of those who had no property in lands.

But the distribution of land in America, not only supersedes the necessity of any laws upon this subject, but renders them absolutely trifling.

The same laws which secure the property in land, secure to the owner the right of using it as he pleases.

But you are frightened at the prospect of a consolidation of the States.

I differ from you very widely.

I am afraid, after all our attempts to unite the States, that contending interests, and the pride of State-Sovereignties, will either prevent our union, or render our Federal Government weak, slow and inefficient.

The danger is all on this side.

If any thing under Heaven now endangers our liberties and independence, it is that single circumstance.

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thelivyjr
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Re: POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY IN AMERICA

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America Essay, continued ...

by Noah Webster

December 31, 1787

You harp upon that clause of the New Constitution, which declares, that the laws of the United States, &c. shall be the supreme law of the land; when you know that the powers of the Congress are defined, to extend only to those matters which are in their nature and effects, general.

You know, the Congress cannot meddle with the internal police of any State, or abridge its Sovereignty.


And you know, at the same time, that in all general concerns, the laws of Congress must be supreme, or they must be nothing.

But the public will ask, who are these men that so violently oppose the New Constitution?

I will tell them.

You are the heads of that party, Gentlemen, which, on the celebration of a very glorious event in Philadelphia, at the close of the war, collected in a mob, and broke the windows of the Quakers, and committed the most detestable outrages, because their religion would not suffer them to illuminate their windows, and join in the rejoicings.

You are the men, Gentlemen, that wrested the Charter from the Bank, without the least justifiable pretence; sporting with a grant which you had made, and which had never been forfeited.

You are the men, that, without a show of right, took away the Charter of the University, and vested it in the hands of your own tools.

Yes, Gentlemen, you are the men, who prescribed a test law an oath of abjuration in Pennsylvania, which excluded more than half the Citizens of the State from all Civil Offices.

A law, which, had it not been altered by the efforts of more reasonable men, would have established you, and your adherents, as an Aristocratic junto, in all the offices and emoluments of the State.

Could your base designs have been accomplished, you would have rioted in all the benefits of Government, and Pennsylvania would now, have been subject to as tyrannical an Aristocracy, as ever cursed Society.

Such has been the uniformly infamous conduct of the men, who now oppose the best Constitution of Government, ever devised by human wisdom.

TO BE CONTINUED ...
thelivyjr
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Re: POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY IN AMERICA

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America Essay, concluded ...

by Noah Webster

December 31, 1787

But the most bare-faced act of tyranny and wickedness, which has distinguished your political characters, remains to be mentioned.

You are the men, Gentlemen, who have abandoned your parts of duty, and betrayed the constitutional rights of the State of Pennsylvania, by seceding from the Legislature, with the design of defeating the measures of a constitutional quorum of the House.

Yes, Gentlemen, and to add to the infamy of your conduct, you have the audacity to avow the intention.

Will you then attempt to palliate the crime, by saying it was necessary?

Good Heavens!

Necessary that a State should be ruled by a minority!

Necessary that the sense of a legislature should be defeated by a junto, which had labored incessantly, for four years, to establish an Aristocracy in the State!

The same principle which will vindicate you, will justify any one man in defeating the sense of the whole State.

If a minority may prevent a law, one man may do it; but is this liberty?

Is this your concern for the rights of the State?

Dare you talk of rights, which you have so flagrantly invaded?

Will the world expect you to be the guardians of privileges?

No, Gentlemen, they will sooner expect lessons of morality from the wheel-barrowed criminals, that clank their chains along your streets.

Do you know, Gentlemen, that you are treading in the steps of the Governors before the revolution?

DO you know that from the first settlement of Pennsylvania, there was a contest between the people and the deputies of the proprietaries?

And that when a Governor could not bring the Assembly to resign their rights, he would prevail on certain members to leave the House, and prevent their measures.

Yes, Gentlemen, you are but following the precedents of your tyrannical Governors.

You have begun, and pursued, with unwearied perseverance, the same plan of Despotism which wrought the late revolution; and, with a calm, hypocritical phiz, pretend to be anxious for the liberties of the people.

These facts stare you in the face!

They are felt in Pennsylvania — and known to the world!

There is not a spot in the United States, where the solemnity of contracts and grants, has been so sacrilegiously violated — and the rights of men so wantonly and perseveringly abused, as by you and your junto in Pennsylvania — except only in the little detestable corner of the Continent, called Rhode-Island.

Thanks be to the Sovereign Ruler of events, you are checked in your career of tyranny — your power is dwindling into impotence — and your abuse of the respectable Convention, and of the friends of our Federal Union, will shroud you in oblivion, or accelerate your progress to merited contempt.
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Re: POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY IN AMERICA

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"A Freeman" Essay to the People of Connecticut

December 31, 1787

This is a day, by way of eminence, for political deliberation, and we are amused with reasons against and reasons for the new Constitution from one part of the continent to the other.

Held up to our view as something magnificent are the reasons of the Honorable Mr. [Elbridge] Gerry for not subscribing to the Constitution.

From Virginia, we have the objections of the Honorable George Mason, pompously set forth.

In New York, a factious genius pours a flood of eloquence against the Constitution.

And our printers possess so much candor as to keep their presses open to all parties.

Amid all these publications, a Freeman of Connecticut ventures to make his remarks and professes to do it in the spirit of candor.

In the course of some late publications, several things have been discussed relating to the new Constitution that might have a tendency to prevent prejudices and clear off objections, to give the landholders and farmers an opportunity to judge for themselves as to the defects or excellencies of it.

And, as the season for the sitting of the state Convention approaches, so I would call your attention still further to the interesting subject.

Our country now seems to hang in anxious suspense, not knowing whether she is to have a good and efficient government or none at all, or a despotic one imposed upon her by some daring adventurer.

She has fought, her enemies must do her the justice to own, gallantly with one of the most powerful kingdoms on the globe; a kingdom which had spread the glory of its arms and the terror of its name over every quarter of the world.

She has bled, we are all mournful witnesses, at a thousand veins through a bloody and long way.

She has nobly conquered, to the astonishment of the nations of Europe.

On account of her splendid victories and passion for freedom approaching to enthusiasm, her fame has diffused itself far and wide.

Her generals, her soldiers, her perseverance and patience under every difficulty, her statesmen and her resources are the admiration of distant nations, and probably will be of applauding posterity, if she improve aright the present eligible situation for adopting a good federal system of policy.

The grand question is — shall she be happy in a good or wretched in a bad form of government?

Shall all her blood and treasures expended in the late war be lost?

Shall the advantages which she now possesses, prodigal-like be squandered away?

When peace was established and the horrors of war terminated, the most of us mistakenly concluded that all was done for us, and that we had nothing left but to reach out the eager hand and take hold of happiness.

Independence we fondly believed would cost us little or nothing — good government, national faith, national honor, and national dignity would take place of course, without any exertions of our own.

But an arduous task was still to be performed.

We had an empire to build.


The American Revolution is a distinguished era in the history of mankind.

And the present is to us a period as important, as delicate and as critical, and perhaps more so, than any that has yet been.

To fight battles and vanquish enemies is far less difficult than to curb selfish passions, to liberalize the narrow-minded, to eradicate old prejudices (as the most stupid and silly and ungenerous prejudices have subsisted in the several states against each other), to give up local attachments, and to cement together as one great people, pursuing one general interest.

An opportunity now presents of realizing the richest blessings.


The new Constitution holds out to us national dignity, respectability, and an energetic form of government.

I wish to see candidly discussed the most material objections against it as they may appear in the public papers, be proposed by gentlemen of sense and merit, or be started by the common people and be enlarged upon with malignant pleasure by popular drudges, who clamor plausibly about the rights of the people, but whose intentions invariably are to promote and secure their own lucrative posts or honorable employments.

TO BE CONTINUED ...
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