Thomas Jefferson Sutherland.

Three political letters, addressed to Dr. Wolfred Nelson, late of Lower Canada, now of Plattsburgh, N.Y online

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Online LibraryThomas Jefferson SutherlandThree political letters, addressed to Dr. Wolfred Nelson, late of Lower Canada, now of Plattsburgh, N.Y → online text (page 1 of 8)
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SUTHERLAND'S /^^^JV"'^^



PHITICII LETTERS,

ADDRESSED TO D«. NELSON.



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Diagraui of the Unttlc of Tippecanoe.

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1 Prcscott, 3 Spelling, 5 T.araljop, 7fUwkins, U.S. inf. commarnled by Majnr
Floyd.— 2 Brown, 4 Cook, OPefor.s, HlSiiriou, T'. f?. inf. cominanrlod '
Baen.— 9 Scotr, 11 Albriglit, Iiitliaiia f.iililia, rfiiniiianded by Major Rc' V
10 Warwick, 12 Wilson, 13 Ifargrovi-. l-l Wilkiiis, commanded by Li \
Decker.- -15 RoUb, 16 (Jciircr, inoiirwod riflemen commanded by Majt
— 17. Spencer, abunlcd rillemen, cbmmandcJ l>y Capt. Spencer.— 18
, 20 Parke, wagoons, commanddil by Major Daviess.

NEW-YORIv.

1S40.



THREE ^



POLITICAL LETTERS,



ADDRESSED TO



Dr. WOLFRED NELSON,



LATE OF LOWER CANADA, NOW OF rLATTSBURCII, N. Y.



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BY Til: .fi:iFi:RSO\ SFTIIEULAND.



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NEW-YORK.
ISIO.



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LETTER No. I.

New- York^ June 4, 1840.
To Dr. WoLFRED Nelpon,

Late uf Lower Canada^ now of Plaitsburgk, N. Y. :

Dear ^ir — A gentleman who professes to reside in Clinton
county, and to bo acquainted with you, has just informed me
that you are now eniraging yourself in active measures for the
support of file political party in our country, denominated and
known as British Whigs; and that you are employing your in-
fluence with the people among whom you reside, in order to in-
duce them, at the coming election, to cast their votes for Gene-
ral Harrison, and such other candidates as shall be proposed by
the British Whig party, which has put him in nomination.

Robbed of your property and driven from your homes by a
merciless British Government, you and others of your country-
men have sought an asylum within the borders of these states,
where, by the blessings of Divine Providence, who made power-
ful the arm of our forefathers, and gave liberty to our country,
the poor subject escaping from the dungeon of the despot, and
no longer dreading tlie hand of his oppressor, may set himself
down in quiet beside the banished noble, and the dethroned mo-
narch, who here reside, fearless of the machinations of a corrupt
court, or the waking vengeance of an injured people — and, here
you have the undoubted right to attach yourself to whichever of
our political parties your judgment or your partiality may di-
rect, and it is not for me to say where, or where not, you shall
use your influence. Yet, sir, as we are now engaged in a politi-
cal contest o^ no ordinary importance — but one of the deepest
interest not only to ourselves, but to those who shall follow after
us, and in which, as I conceive, are put in issue the funda-
mental principles of democracy, and the question whether we
shall longer remain as a free republic, with plain and simple
laws, formed in accordance with democratic principles, and ha-
ving effect alike upon the rich and the poor — or wh(>ther we are
thus soon to be deprived of them and forced to accept of a gilded
tyrannous aristocracy, who would tread us to the earth, I think
myself justified in the course 1 have assuoied.



It is but recently I saw you struggling for the liberties of your
own country, and with your sword, endeavoring, as I supposed,
to establish in the Canadas an independent democratic form of
government, instead of the wicked and unjust colonial system,
which was then, and is now still maintained therein by the bayo-
nets of the British nation ; and then, being, as I am, an ardent
admirer of democratic institutions, and an enthusiastic advocate
ot political freedom — and being moved in your behalf — and with
the desire to obtain the small share of applause which might
chance to accrue to one of the humble agents in the erection of
another independent republic on the continent of America, 1 put
on my sword and joined the people of your country with a view
to give you aid : and, therefore, I believe it proper for me to in-
quire at this time whether you are now mistaken in your course
— or, if I have been deceived as to your intentions.

You having once embarked in the effort to achieve the inde-
pendence of your country, and having staked your fortune and
your life in the cause, I am not willing to believe you have aban-
doned that cause ; and I must suppose you still to entertain the
hope that your country, at no very distant day, will be able, in
despite of the enemies of liberty on this side of the St. Lawrence,
and the British power on the other, to assume a station among
the independent nations of the earth. I must, also, believe that,
at the present moment, in all your public acts, you have in view
to promote the liberation of the Canadas from British thraldom ;
and I cannot suppose that you and your compatriots in your late
effort to rid yourselves of the odious domination of Great Bri-
tain, had nothing save independence for your country in view —
but must still entertain the belief that the object of the struggle
you commenced, was to raise up democratic institutions upon
the ruins of British tyranny. Had I believed it your intention to
establish any other form of government in the Canadas than
that of a representative democracy — and that you had design-
ed merely to rid the people of your country from one hateful evil,
that you might saddle them with another as grievous, I should
never have been with you.

There has been some opportunity afforded me to acquire an
intimate knowledge of the affairs of the Canadas, and from such
knowledge, I am satisfied that neither peace, repose, nor prospe-
rity can be hoped for in them, while those provinces are under
British Colonial rule. The parasites of present power will there
hold on to their offices and sinecures with such tenacity, that
nothing shall sever their hold but that instrument with which
Alexander cut the gordian knot — the sword. Nothing but vio-
lent means can give to the Canadian people a government, or
put an end to the trampling upon their rights by British tyrants I



And is not political liberty worth fighting for — and Ihe freedom
of a nation a proper justification for an appeal to arms? That
it is so, the majority of the people of this country will bear wit-
ness. Yet, if no better change could be hoped for the Canadas
than has been obtained for Greece, I must confess that my inte-
rest, or at least my interference, as well as that of the democra-
tic part of my countrymen, would be most likely withheld. A
Christian's dungeon is a matter of the same kind with a Maho-
metan's bowstring — nor is a Prince's sword of less abhorrence
than a Pacha's scimetar, to an American freeman.

If, as I have supposed, you are desirous of establishing for
your own country a democratic form of government, from whom
injthis country, allow me to inquire, do you expect sympathy and
support for your people ? Can you expect to find any honest
feeling in your behalf, resting with the British Whigs of our
country ■? Do you hope for assistance from that portion of our
people who have put forward General Harrison as an available
candidate for the Presidency ?(1.) That you cannot, I believe

(1. ) Copy of a Letter from the Chairman of the Central Committee of the
Britisli Whig Young Men of the State of New-York, accompanying a
Circular distributed just previous to the nomination of General Harri-
son for the Presidency.

"Albany, Oct. 23, 1839.

" To THE EniTOR OF THE SaNGAMON JoURNAL:

" Dear Sir:— I send you [coneiijentially] a Circular which is circu-
lating here, and is producing great effect. Mr. Clay cannot possibly get
this State, or New-England. Our only hope is in Gen. Harrison, who
is perfectly unexceptionable, and has no serious opposition to him on any
possible ground. The leaders do not feel, perhaps, ae sure of getting
paid for their services as with other candidates who have impliedly come
into their views. IJut we can make a glorious rally under his banner, and
reach the hearts of the people, with hi.s services and virtues. (Jen. Scott
has been pushed by a few Anti-Claymcn, but it is all nonsense. I send
you a pamphlet which is also circulating here, and which shows that no
jacksoa men or Clintonians can or will support him. The great point
now is to have the public voice indicate a preference, or there maybe fa-
tal mir.takes made at Harrisburg. I am the Chairman of the State Cen-
tral Committee of Yoimg Men, but do not speak oflicially. I should like
to forward some papers and letters to your delegates, but their residence
is not mentioned. Will you publish their residence and send me a paper?
"Yours truly, S. DE WITT BLOODGOOD."

Extract from the Circular,
I" Confidential,"]

•' Our party leaders want sagacity, or as I prefer styling it, philosophy.
They act as if mankind were always actuated by the best motives, and
that the holding up an abstract truth, is the pledge of victory. Not so,
Nations, like individuals, often rush blindly to ruin, from passion, preju-
dice, ambition, and many other causes. It is in vain to opp«se their will
when they take a particular bias. They who attempt it are sacrificed,



6

you will be made to understand. It is our democracy alone trhfi?
will give you support. Those who compose the British Whig-
party cannot favor a revolution in the Canadas, without violating
their own principles, and assailing the policy of their party— -aa
any revolution in the Canadas, to be successful, must be carried
on with a view not less for the establishment of a free represen-
tative republic — than for independence.

By consulting the pages of our history, you wi!l be informed
that when the people of tnis country assumed the sword, and
stood forth upon their rights— when they took the field against
British tyranny and the despotism of colonial rule, the object for
which they united in their struggle, was independence. That
then the experiment of a free democratic government had not
been tried — and that when independence was gained for our
country, our people were by no means unanimous in its adop-
tion. While they had all, alike, entered heartily into the con-
test for independence, one part were for a democracy, and the
other for an aristocracy. Jefferson, Franklin, and otliers, enter-
taining the same liberal principles, and who were front and fore-
most in the cause, were democrats, and battled for democracy(2.)

and thus history tells us with its monitory pnge, of the downfull of p;itri-
ots vainly struggling against thoir erring countrymen, and tinally of the
downfall of the masses themselves. This is the law of nature and the
will of Providence. Let us nluo apply this fact to politics. We cannot
expect perfection in the people at large; we can only rely on their gene-
ral good intentions, sustained by a consciousness that their own interests
individually, are at stake with those of the nuass. When they arc right
in the main, it is as much as we should expect. We cannot hope that
they will cease to be men in order to please us. In this knowledge con-
sists the tact of ihe Administration party. They studiously seek to know
the public will, and they follow it long enough to profit by its force and
power. How adroitly tliey availed themselves of the popularity of Jack-
son ! By bad measures ttiey have lost much of its advantage, and by
prosecuting such a scheme as the Sub-Treasury, they will lose more.
But still they are strongly entrenched, and we must carry their entrench-
ments, or be doomed to political slavery. How can this be done ? Only
by uniting on the man who has less opposition to him than another. »S'u-
perior or sjpleitdid taleiUs or exalttd claims are not the questiorts to be consi-
dered.^'

(2.) Thomas Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Indepen-
dence, and its sentiments may justly be considered peculiarly his. Here
are the principles of true democracy, viz:

" That all men are created equal ; that they are endowed by their Cre-
ator with certain inalienable rights ; that among these are hfe, liberty,
nnd the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments
are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of
the governed: that whenever any form of government becomes destruc-
tive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to
institute a new government, laying the foundation on such principles,



Kfl well as indcppndonce, while Adams, Hamilton, and their as-
sociates, who had entered into the cause as ardently as the oth-

and orgarii/ing its puvvcrs in such form, aa to tlicm shall seem must likely
to cflt'ct ihcir safety and happincHs."

'I'hfsc pridriplos wore upheld by the true republicans in the conven-
tjon fur the fnrdialion of our consliiulion.

(JKoJUif. .Mxsdx of Virpinin. (page 754 Ft of the Madison Papers,) " ar*
Rued alroiigly lor ;ui eh-rtioti of llio larper brsiin h [n( the legi.shiture] by
tlio people. Il \Mis ti^ be llie crarid depository of the democratic princijjle
of the governint'ijt." " We oiiplit toalleml to llienplits of every class of
tho people." " Kvery sclCsh luolive, every firnily [itlachiiicnt, oupht to
recommend such a system of poliry a« would provide no less carefully for
the rightit and liappincsu of the lowest, than of the highest, order of citi-
zens."

Again: pnue DM, " Ife took this orca.sion to repeat, that, notwithstand-
ing his sohriiiide to estnblisli n iiulional govrrnment, he never would
agree to nboluh the stale govertjtuent.s, or render thera absolutely insig-
nitlcant. 'i'hey were as necessary as tlie general government, and he
would bo eijually careful to preserve them."

Again: page ii2<)l), " Having for his primary object — for the polur star
of his pohtir.il con<liict — the prcjiervation of the rights of the pet>ple, he
held il as an essriuiul [)oinl, as the very palladmrn of civil liberty, that the
great officers of sLite, and partieiilarly the exeeutive, .ijiould at fixed pe-
riods return to that mass from wliieh they were at first taken, in order that
they may feel and respect those rigtits and interests which arc again to bo
person illy valuable to them."

Mr. Mapi^on (p. 7.">,'i,) " Conviderrd the popular election of one branch
of the nation:il legislature as essential to every plan of free government."

Mr. W'li.soN of IVniisylvania, page 801, said: " Ilr uifihed for vigor in
the government, but he wished that vicorons authority to (low immedi-
ately from the N'mlimnte Kouree of all authority. The government ought
to possess, not only, first, {he force, but s cond the miudur srtixe, of the
people at large. The legislature ought to be the most exact transcript
of the whole society. Representation is mado necessary only because
It is impossible for the people to act collectively."

JoM.N Dickinson, of Delaware, p;ico I'-il.'J, said: "lie doubted the
policy ol interweaving into a repnl)lican constitution a veneration for
Tsealih. He had always understood that a veneration for poverty and
virtue were the objects of republirau encouragement."

In leltrr 117, vol. -1. of his eorrespondenrf. 'riir)M\s JKKFKnsofJ says:
" I would say. that the peoi)le, beinp the niily depo.sitory of power, should
exercise in person every function which their (|ualifications enable them
to exercise eoiiMistently with the order ami security of society; that wo
now find them equal to the election of those who shall be invested with
their oxeeiitive and legislative powers, and to act themselves in the ju(h-
ciary, as judges in questions of fact, that t'lC range of their powers ought
to be enlarged," 6ic,

Again: letter 131. " On this view of the import of the term Rrpubiic,
instead of saying, as has been said, 'that it may mean any tiling or no-
thing,' we may say. with truth and meaning, that governments are more
or less rei>iibliran, as they liavp more or less of the elemer t ol popular
elertion and control in their composition: and lieheving, as I do, thai tho
rau.Ha of the citizens is the safest depository of thoirown rights, and espe-



ers, for independence, but not for democracy, were aristocrats,
and in favor of the establishment of an aristocratical government

cially that the evils flowing from the duperies of the people, are less
injurious than those from the egoism of their agents, I am a friend to that
composition of government which has in it the most of this ingredient."

Again, letter 132 : " Our legislators are not sufficiently apprised of the
rightful hmits of their powers, that their true office is to declare and en-
force only our natural rights and duties, to take none of thera from us.—
No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of
another; and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him:
Every man is under the natural duty of contributing to the necessities of
the society, and this is all the laws should enforce on him : And no man
having a natural right to be the judge between himself and another, it
is his natural duty to submit to the umpirage of an impartial third. When
the laws have declared and enforced all this, they have fulfilled their
functions, and the idea is quite unfounded, that on entering into society
we give up any natural right."

Again, letter 135: " At the birth of our republic, I committed that opi-
nion to the world; in the draft of a constitution annexed to the Notes on
Virginia, in which a provision was inserted for a representation perma-
nently equal. The infancy of the subject at that moment, and our inex-
perience' of self-government, occasioned gross departures in that draft,
from genuine republican canons. In truth, the abuses of monarchy had
so much filled all the space of political contemplation, that we imagined
every thing republican that was not monarchy. We had not yet pene-
trated to the mother principle, that ' governments are republican only in
proportion as they embody the will of their people, and execute it.' " —
''The true foundation of republican government is the equal right of
every citizen, in his person and property, and in their management.
Try by this, as a tally, every provision of our constitution, and see if it
hangs directly on the will of the people. Reduce your legislature to a
convenient number for full, but orderly discussion. Let every man who
fights or pays, exercise his just and equal right in their election. Sub-
mit them to approbation or rejection at short intervals. Let the execu-
tive be chosen in the same way, and for the same term, by those whose
agent he is to be; and leave no screen of a council behind which to skulk
from responsibility."

Again, letter 149: " It should be remembered, as an axiom of eternal
truth in politics, that whatever power in any government is independent,
is absolute also; in theory only, at first, while the spirit of the people is
up, but in practice, as fast as that relaxes. Independence can be trusted
no where but with the people in mass. They are inherently indepen-
dent of all but moral law."

Again, letter 172: "Ours, (the object of the republican party,) on the
contrary, was to maintain the will of the majority of the convention, and
of the people themselves. We believed, with them, that man was a ra-
tional animal, endowed by nature with rights, and with an innate sense
of justice; and that lie could be restrained from wrong and protected in
right, by moderate powers, confided to persons of his own choice, and
held to their duties by dependence on his own will. We believed that the
complicated organization of kings, nobles, and priests, was not the wisest
nor best to effect the happiness of associated men; that wisdom and vir-
tue were not hereditary; that the trappings of such a machinery con-



for our country. (3.) The persons who composed this aristocra-
tic party were at first called Federalists.

eumed by their expense those earnings of industry they were meant to
protect, and, by the inequalities they produced, exposed liberty to suffer-
ance. We believed that men, enjoying in ease and security the full fruits
of their own industry, enlisted by all their interests on the side of law
and order, habituated to think for themselves, and follow their reason as
their guide, would be more easily and safely governed, than witli minds
nourished in error, and vitiated and debased, as in Europe, by ignorance,
indigence and oppressioii. The cherishnient of the people then was our
principle, the fear and distrust of them, that of the other party."

In the phikmthropic and consoling faith of a true democrat, Mr. Jeffer-
son lived and died. But ten days before his death, in reference to the De-
claration of Independence and its fruits, he said, letter 193:

" May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts soon
er, to others later, but tinally to all,) the signal of arousing men to
burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had
persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and
security of self-government. That form which we have substituted,
restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom
of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. —
The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every
view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with
saddles on their backs, nor a favorite few booted and spurred, ready to
ride them legitimately, by the grace of God."

These extracts distinctly show that broad differences of opinion existed
among the Fathers of the Republic. These diflerences exhibited them-
selves in the conventions to form the state constitutions, and more strik-
ingly in the convention that formed the federal constitution. The demo-
cratic principle struggled to give the people as direct a control as possible
over the general government, leaving to the states all powers not ab-
solutely necessary to the general welfare, while the anti-democratic
sought to supersede the state governments, and remove the executive
and senatorial branches of the general government entirely, and the re-
presentative as far as practicable, from the popular control. Witli some
concessions to the anti-democratic party in the election of the executive
and senate, which the spirit of our people has rendered nugatory in prac-
tice, the constitution oflered to the people of the states was essentially
democratic, and was adopted with a few explanatory amendments.

(3.) As early as 1787, John Adams, than whom no man entered with
more energy and devotion into the cause of the revolution, wrote and pub-
lished a series of letters on government, under the title of " A defence of
the Constitutions of the United States of America ;" in which the prin-
ciples of the anti-democratic party were clearly developed. A few ex-
tracts will suffice. In his preface he says — " The rich, the well born,
and the able, acquire an influence among the people, that will soon be
too much for simple honesty and plain sense in a house of representa-
tives. The most illustrious of these must, therefore, be separated from
the mass and placed by themselves in a senate."

In his 2Uth letter he says: " 1 only contend that the English constitu-
tion is in theory, the most stupendous fabric of human invention, both
for the adjucjtment of the balance and the prevention of its vibrations ;



10

Now, although the persons who then fornned the Democratic
party, as well as those of whom the Federal party were made

and that the Americans ought to be applauded instead of censured, for imi-
tating it as far as they have."

In his 26lh letter he says : " If there is then in society such a natural
aristocracy as these great writers pretend, and as all history and experi-
ence demonstrate, forined partly by genius, partly by birth, and partly by
riches, how shall the legislator avail himself of their iniiutnre for the equal
benefit of the public? And how, on the other hand, shall lie prevent
them from disturbing the public happiness? I answer by arranging them
all, or at least the most conspicuous of them together in one assembly,
by the name of a Senate; by separating them from all pretensions to the


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Online LibraryThomas Jefferson SutherlandThree political letters, addressed to Dr. Wolfred Nelson, late of Lower Canada, now of Plattsburgh, N.Y → online text (page 1 of 8)