Letter from Marcellus to Daniel Webster

ReadAboutContentsHelp
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.

Pages That Need Transcription

p.
Complete

p.

22

sirable, however, that the experiment should be fully tried, to determine whether our government, with this feature, can be rendered permanent.

A mode of electing the president may be devised which shall preclude the possibility of his using undue influence to obtain the office. But the practicability of introducing such a mode is questionable.

There are errors of opinion on the subject of republican government so long cherished, and so interwoven with the habits of thinking among our citizens, that reasoning will not remove or correct them. The opinion that the rich are the enemies and oppressors of the poor, industriously propagated by designing men for their selfish purposes ; and the opinion that all incorporated companies are aristocratic in their tendency, are among the false and most pernicious doctrines that ever cursed a nation.

Equally injurious to the public interest is the attempt to excite jealousies against learning and the seminaries in which young men are to be qualified for the professions and for the higher offices of government. This war against superior attainments in science, and against large possessions of property, is a most suicidal attempt to destroy the dignity of the state, degrade our public character, and check the spirit of improvement. The effect is, to raise to the higher offices, men wholly incompetent to discharge their duties with honour and advantage. To these dispositions we may ascribe the derangement of our fnancial concerns, and the disturbance of the usual course of business, producing unparalleled distresses in the community. The extensive and complicated operations of finance, in a great

Last edit 10 months ago by ginnymc
p.
Complete

p.

23

commercial nation, can be managed only by men of long practical experience and observation. Men of narrow views, scanty information, and strong prejudices, cannot regulate commerce and finance. Very few of our public characters are competent to this task.

Another most pernicious opinion prevails, that the legislator is to follow the wishes of his particular constituents, called the people. This opinion, reduced to practice, changes the legislator into a mere agent or attorney of the district in which he is elected. This is to invert the whole order of things in legislation. The man who is chosen to the legislature by a city, town, or county, is not elected to make laws for that particular district, but for the whole state. He then becomes the representative of the state, and is bound by his duty and his oath, to act for the interest of the whole state. He is not to be governed by the wishes or opinions of a particular district, but by a view of all the interests of the several parts of the state. Probably no rule of public duty is more frequently violated than this.

In addition to this consideration, it must be observed that, in most cases, a man's constituents in a particular district, have not the means of forming correct opinions, and are as likely to be wrong as right. Examples are continually presented to us of candidates for election pledging themselves if elected to vote for or against a particular measure, when the opinions of their constituents are mere prejudices, instilled into their minds by false reasoning and misrepresentations, and the measures they expect their representative to advocate, operate directly against their own interest.

Last edit 10 months ago by ginnymc
p.
Complete

p.

24

This practice of looking to the people for direction destroys the independence of the representative, and must often reduce him to a mere machine, obliging him to act in direct opposition to his own views of what is right and expedient.

The object of assembling representatives from all parts of a state, is to collect a knowledge of all the interest of the whole community ; to unite the counsels of intelligent men, and from the concentrated wisdom of the whole, to adopt measures which shall promote the general welfare. The practice of taking opinions or wishes of a particular part of the state, as the binding rule of action, may and often does defeat the object of collecting the wisdom of the whole. It is an inversion of the proper order of legislation, in which wisdom should be drawn from the collected views of the whole state, and not from the partial views of a distinct portion.

Another very common error is, to consider offices as created for the benefit of individuals, rather than for the state. From this mistake proceeds the demand of rotation in office. In this particular men do not make an important, but just distinction, between legislative offices, and offices in the other departments of government. Legislators may be changed frequently, without inconvenience or prejudice to the public. It is not necessary nor expedient to change every year, for experience in legislation is highly useful. But a part of the legislative body may be changed every year, often to advantage.

But to subject executive, ministerial, and judicial offices to frequent changes, for the sake of distributing the

Last edit 10 months ago by ginnymc
p.
Complete

p.

25

salaries and emoluments, among numbers, is a most injurious practice. It often displaces officers who are dependent on the salaries or fees for the support of their families, and who are thus deprived of means of living, when there is no pretence of unfaithfulness, and when the incumbent is better qualified to discharge the duties of the office than any other man.

But this demand of rotation in executive offices is fruitful of evils to the community. It promotes that scrambling for office in which all the worst passions of men are called into action ; in which characters are vilified, neighbourhoods disturbed, and the harmony of society is violated.

It is for the peace of society, for the interest of the incumbents in office, and for the good of the community, that all executive and judicial officers should hold their offices during good behaviour. No man should be removed from office, merely to make a vacancy for another man. It is a species of injustice to faithful officers, which ought to be reprobated by every good citizen.

Much less ought faithful officers to be removed on account of their political opinions. The practice of constraining men to vote for a particular candidate, under the penalty of losing his means of subsistence, is one of the wickedest and meanest practices that ever disgraced a representative government. It is intolerance, as detestable in principle as the punishment of the rack, to compel men to support a religious establishment. It is to compel men to violate their consciences, and assume the garb of hypocrites. It is a practice that destroys the independence of citizens,

D

Last edit 10 months ago by ginnymc
p.
Complete

p.

26

and actually makes them the slaves of a party. And it is one of the most extraordinary instances of self-deception, which is exhibited in human life, that men, professing to be the warmest friends of a republican government, and of equal rights, should subject their fellow citizens to this species of injustice, and triumph in the practice.

The doctrine that the spoils belong to the victors, originated in savagism. The original state of savages is a state of war for plunder, and the ancient barbarians of the north of Europe avowed the object for which they invaded more civilized nations. "Quum illi se in armis jus ferre, et omnia fortium virorum esse, ferociter dicerent,"--Livy. 5. 36. The Gauls declared that they bore right on the point of their swords, and that every thing belongs to the brave.

Now what is the difference in principle between the Gauls who fought to rob their enemies of their cattle and their lands, and a political party that contends by all means, moral and immoral, for victory in the election, to strip their opposers, and engross all the emoluments of the government? And how can men claim to be republicans, who perpetually struggle to deprive their opposers of the equal benefits of government, and engross the whole for themserves and their adherents? A practice of this kind is a species of tyranny, which tarnishes the honour of the state, corrupts the citizens, and agitates the community with endless contentions and animosity.

But other principles of a still more alarming tendency begin to prevail. One is, that there can be no such thing as vested rights, but that all grants of a legislature may be revoked by a subsequent legislature at pleasure.

Last edit 10 months ago by ginnymc
Displaying pages 21 - 25 of 33 in total