Letter from Marcellus to Daniel Webster

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Printed pamphlet of an anonymous letter as written to Daniel Webster.

This is a scanned version of the original document in the Abernethy Collection at Middlebury College.

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Not so with regard to the rights of property. The man who has half a million of dollars in property, and pays five hundred or a thousand dollars annually to support the government and laws which protect the poor man as well as the rich, has a much higher interest in the government, than the man who has little or no property, and pays nothing for the protection of his own person, and the property of others. Without some provision recognizing this distinction, and giving to men of property the means of securing it, and regulating the disposal of it, without being wholly subject to the power of those who have little or no property, universal suffrage may become the instrument of injustice to the most enormous extent. What can be more absurd and more inconsistent with a republican government, whose principle is the security of equal rights, than that the owners of property should not have the right to govern it ; or that those who have no property or the least share of it, should have the power to control the property of others! A constitution based on such a principle, must sooner or later produce consequences fatal to just rights. And it is of no use to the poor: for in the protection of personal rights all men have an equal interest, and the rich have the same motives to protect the rights of the poor, as they have to protect their own. But it is otherwise with regard to the rights of property, which the poor have not the same motives to protect, as those have who own it ; and nineteen twentieths of the laws of all commercial states respect property.

The constitution of the executive department of government involves questions of the highest concern.

C

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From the principle that the people or great body of citizens in a free state are the sources of all legitimate power in a government, it results that in them resides the right of selecting, not only the men who mature the laws, but the men who are to execute them. The government of some of the New England colonies, from their first institution, recognized this right, and it is now recognized in the constitution of the United States, as also by all the state constitutions.

On the assumed principle, that the electors in a great nation can know and will do what is right or expedient in every case of exercising the elective franchise, this provision in a republican government is just and wise. But the premises here supposed have not been found to exist in all the experiments of elective governments ; and the factions which have been generated by competitions for the high office of chief magistrate, have produced such tremendous evils, that most nations have a settled conviction that it is better to trust to hereditary succession for a chief magistrate, than to a popular election. The history of Poland furnishes valuable materials for judging correctly on this subject.

The people of this country are making the experiment of electing their chief magistrates and most of their executive officers. The result of this experiment is not finally determined ; and prudence requires that we should not confidently predict what the issue will be.

In the mean time, it may not be improper to suggest some thoughts on the subject, with a view to call public attention to the evils which exist, and to the remedy.

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The first suggestion is, that in a country of such extent as the United States, it is difficult, not to say impracticable, for the whole body of electors to have a sufficient knowledge of the candidates to form an accurate estimate of their respective characters, and be enabled to select the most suitable person. The difficulty is increased, ten fold, by the representations given of their characters by the friends and the opposers of the different candidates, through the medium of the press.

The second suggestion is, that a great mass of people are and always must be very incompetent judges of the qualifications necessary for the chief magistrate of a great nation. The populace are often influenced by the splendid achievements, more than by the solid talents, of the candidates ; yet a man may gain a great victory on land or water, without the most ordinary qualifications for a chief magistrate.

The third suggestion is, that when party spirit is violent, the people imbibe such strong prejudices as to disqualify them for exercising a temperate, unbiassed judgment.

There is a great defect in the Constitution of the United States, which, if permitted to exist, will utimately shake the government to its center. This defect is, the want of some effectual provision to prevent candidates from seeking the office of chief magistrate by corrupt and illegal means. So long as the president has the bestowment of most of the offices, and the power of removal from office, at pleasure, the most daring and unprincipled intriguer for the office has the best chance of success. It is hardly to be conceived

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20 how wide the avenues of corruption and undue influence are laid open by the possession of these powers. These avenues must be closed, or the most important feature in a republican government, the right of election, will be defaced, annihilated, or converted into an instrument of ruin.

There is perhaps no mistake as to the proper mode of coonstituting and maintaining a republic, which is so menacing to the purity and stability of our institutions, as that of vesting the right of electing executive and judicial officers in the people ; and the more frequent the elections, the more dangerous will be the exercise of this right. There appears to be no method of weakening the execution of the laws, so effectual, as to make executive and judicial officers dependent for their offices on annual elections by the people. When a law is popular, and all men concur in the propriety of its execution, the law will be executed. The murderer, the robber, and the thief, will be punished, by universal consent. But when a law bears hard upon any portion of citizens, the officers will often wink at violations rather than risk the loss of their re-election. If there are exceptions to this remark, yet it will generally prove to be true.

The independence of the judiciary has been a theme of eulogy ever since it was secured to the judges of the higher courts in Great Britain. It is said to have been established with a view to secure impartial decisions, in opposition to the influence of the crown. Be it so ; but it is equally necessary to raise the judges above the influence of the citizens in a republican government. It is even more necessary, as the danger of losing the office by offending the electors, occurs more frequently and steadily in a

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government like ours, than the danger of losing the office in Great Britain does by offending the king. And it is surprising that the obvious good effects of this independence in judges, in securing unbiassed decisions, have not induced our legislators to extend the same independence to inferior courts, and to many executive officers.

It is a mistake, and a most mischievous one, to suppose that annual or frequent elections are the proper correctives of mal-administration in judges and executive officers. The proper correctives are impeachment or other punishment ; not the popular odium against an officer which may be excited withut just cause, and even by the most meritorious acts of the officer in the faithful discharge of his duty.

The proper rule in our governments appears to be this. The citizens composing the state, being the sources of power, should be the constituents of the legislature, the supreme acting power of the state ; but the legislature or a council designated for the purpose, should be the appointing power ; and also the impeaching or punishing power. This is the fact now in regard to many officers, in our state governments. The appointing power should not be invested in a single magistrate elected by the people, unless some provision can be made to restrain him effectually from using the power to secure his election. And how is this to be done ?

The office of president is a prize of too much magnitude not to excite perpetual dissensions ; and if the contentions for the office of chief magistrate, do not ultimately overthrow our constitution, it will be a miracle. It is de-

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