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within a circle, having a common centre, in which every
radius meets; and that centre is formed by representation.
To connect representation with what is called monarchy, is
eccentric Government. Representation is of itself the dele-
gated monarchy of a nation, and cannot debase itself by
dividing it with another.

Mr, Burke has two or three times, in his Parliamentary



speeches, and in his publications, made use of a jingle of
words that convey no ideas. Speaking of Government, he
says, " It is better to have monarchy for its basis, and re-
publicanism for its corrective, than republicanism for its
basis, and monarchy for its corrective." If he means that
it is better to correct folly with wisdom, than wisdom with
folly, I will no otherwise contend with him, than that it
would be much better to reject the folly entirely.

But what is this thing which Mr. Burke calls monarchy?
Will he explain it? All men can understand what represen-
tation is ; and that it must necessarily include a variety of
knowledge and talents. But, what security is there for the
same qualities on the part of monarchy ? or, when this mo-
narchy is a child, where then is the wisdom ? What does
it know about Government? Who then is the monarch, or
where is the monarchy? If it is to be performed by a regency,
it proves it to be a farce. A regency is a mock species of
republic, and the whole of monarchy deserves no better de-
scription. It is a thing as various as imagination can paint.
It has none of the stable character that Government ought
to possess. Every succession is a revolution, and every re-
gency a counter-revolution. The whole of it is a scene of
perpetual Court cabal and intrigue, of which Mr. Burke is
himself an instance. To render monarchy consistent with
Government, the next in succession should not be born a
child, but a man at once, and that man a Solomon. It is
ridiculous that nations are to wait, and Government be in-
terrupted, till boys grow to men.

Whether I have too little sense to see, or too much to be
imposed upon ; whether I have too much or too little pride,
or of any thing else, I leave out of the question ; but certain
it is, that what is called monarchy, always appears to me a
silly, contemptible thing. I compare it to something kept
behind a curtain, about which there is a great deal of bustle
and fuss, and a wonderful ffir of seeming solemnity ; but
when by any accident, the curtain happens to be open, and
the company see what it is, they burst into laughter.

In the representative system of Government, nothing of
this can happen. Like the nation itself, it possesses a per-
petual stamina, as well of body as of mind, and presents
itself on the open theatre of the world in a fair and manly
manner. Whatever are its excellences or its defects, they
are visible to all. It exists not by fraud and mystery ; it
deals not in cant and sophistry ; but inspires a" language,
that, passing from heart to heart, is felt and understood.


We must shut our eyes against reason, we must basely
degrade our understanding, not to see the folly of what is
called monarchy. Nature is orderly in all her works ; but
this is a mode of Government that counteracts nature. It
turns the progress of the human faculties upside down. It
subjects age to be governed by children, and wisdom by

On the contrary, the representative system is always pa-
rallel with the order and immutable laws of nature, and
meets the reason of man in every part. For example :

In the American federal Government, more power is de-
legated to the President of the United States, than to any
other individual member of Congress. He cannot, there-
fore, be elected to this office under the age of thirty-five
years. By this time the judgment of man becomes matured,
and he has lived long enough to be acquainted with men and
things, and the country with him. But on the monarchical
plan, (exclusive of the numerous chances there are against
every man born into the world, of drawing a prize in the
lottery of human faculties), the next in succession, whatever
he may be, is put at the head of a nation, and of a Govern-
ment, at the age of eighteen years. Does this appear like
an act of wisdom ? Is it consistent with the proper dignity
and the manly character of a nation? Where is the pro-
priety of calling such a lad the father of the People ? In
all other cases, a person is a minor until the age of twenty-
one years. Before this period, he is not trusted with the
management of an acre of land, or with the heritable pro-
perty of a flock of sheep, or an herd of swine; but, won-
derful to tell ! he may, at the age of eighteen years, be trusted
with a nation.

That monarchy is all a bubble, a mere court artifice to
procure money t is evident, (at least to me), in every cha-
racter in which it can be viewed. It would be impossible,
on the rational system of representative Government, to
make out a bill of expences to such an enormous amount as
this deception admits. Government is not of itself a very
chargeable institution. The whole expence of the federal
Government of America, founded, as I have already said,
on the system of representation, and extending over a coun-
try nearly ten times as large as England, is but six hundred
thousand dollars, or one hundred and thirty-five thousand
pounds sterling.

I presume, that no man in his sober senses, will compare
the character of any of the kings of Europe with that of


General Washington. Yet, in France, and also in England,
the expence of the Civil List only, for the support of one
man, is eight times greater than the whole expence of the
federal Government in America. To assign a reason for
this, appears almost impossible. The generality of People
in America, especially the poor, are more able to pay taxes
than the generality of People either in France or England.

In the representative system, the reason for every thing
must publicly appear. Every man is a proprietor in Go-
vernment, and considers it a necessary part of bis business
to understand. It concerns his interest, because it affects his
property. He examines the cost and compares it with the
advantages ; and above all, he does not adopt the slavish
custom of following what in other Governments are called


It can only be by blinding the understanding of Man, and
making him believe that Government is some wonderful
mysterious thing, that excessive revenues are obtained.
Monarchy is well calculated to ensure this end. It is the
popery of Government ; a thing kept to amuse the ignorant,
and quiet them into taxes.

The Government of a free country, properly speaking, is
not in the persons, but in the laws. The enacting of those
requires no great expence ; and when they are administered,
the whole of civil Government is performed the rest is all
court contrivance.

But the case is, that the representative system diffuses
such a body of knowledge throughout a nation, on the
subject of Government, as to explode ignorance and pre-
clude imposition. The craft of courts cannot be acted on
that ground. There is no place for mystery ; no where for
it to begin. Those who are not in the representation, know
as much of the nature of business as those who are. An
affectation of mysterious importance would there be scouted.
Nations can have no secrets ; and the secrets of courts, like
those of individuals, are always their defects.


Of Constitutions.

THAT men mean distinct and separate things when they
speak of Constitutions and of Governments, is evident; or
why, are those terms distinctly and separately used? A Con-
stitution is not the act of a Government, but of a People
constituting a Government; and a Government without a
Constitution, is power without right.

All power exercised over a nation, must have some be-
ginning. It must be either delegated or assumed. There
are no other sources. All delegated power is trust, and all
assumed power is usurpation. Time does not alter the
nature and quality of either.

In viewing this subject, the case and circumstance of Ame-
rica present themselves as in the beginning of a world; and
our enquiry into the origin of Government is shortened, by
referring to the facts that have risen in our own day. We
have no occasion to roam for information into the obscure
field of antiquity, nor hazard ourselves upon conjecture.
We are brought at once to the point of seeing Government
begin, as if we had lived in the beginning of time. The
real volume, not of history, but of facts, is directly before
us, unmutilated by contrivance, or the errors of tradition.

I will here concisely state the commencement of the
American Constitutions ; by which the difference between
Constitutions and Governments will sufficiently appear.

It may not be improper to remind the reader, that the
United States of America consist of thirteen separate States,
each of which established a Government for itself, after the
Declaration of Independence, done the fourth of July, 1776.
Each State acted independently of the rest, in forming its
Government; but the same general principal pervades the.
whole. When the several State Governments were formed,
they proceeded to form the federal Government, that acts
over the whole in all matters which concern the interest of
the whole, or which relate to the intercourse of the several


States with each other, or with foreign nations. I will
begin with giving an instance from one of the state Govern-
ments, (that of Pennsylvania), and then proceed to the federal

The State of Pennsylvania, though nearly of the same
extent of territory as England, was then divided into only
twelve counties. Each of those counties had elected a
committee at the commencement of the dispute with the
English Government; and as the City of Philadelphia,
which also had its committee, was the most central for
intelligence, it became the centre of communication to the
several county committees. When it became necessary to
proceed to the formation of a Government, the committee
of Philadelphia proposed a conference of all the county
committees, to be held in that city, and which met the latter
end of July 1776.

Though these committees had been elected by the People,
they were not elected expressly for the purpose, nor invested
with the authority of forming a Constitution; and as they
could not, consistently with the American idea of righfs,
assume such a power, they could only confer upon the
matter, and put it into a train of operation. The conferees,
therefore, did no more than state the case, and recommend
to the several counties to elect six representatives for each
county, to meet in a Convention at Philadelphia, with powers
to form a Constitution, and propose it for public conside-

This Convention, of which Benjamin Franklin was presi-
dent, having met and deliberated, and agreed upon a Con-
stitution, they next ordered it to be published, not as a thing
established, but for the consideration of the whole People,
their approbation or rejection, and then adjourned to a
stated time. When the time of adjournment was expired,
the Convention re-assembled; and as the general opinion of
the people in approbation of it was then known, the Con-
stitution was signed, sealed, and proclaimed on the autho-
rity of the People; and the original instrument deposited as
a public record. The Convention then appointed a day for
the general election of the representatives who were to
compose the Government, and the time it should commence;
and having done this, they dissolved, and returned to their
several homes and occupations.

In this Constitution were laid down, first, a Declaration of
Rights. Then followed the form which the Government
/should have, and the powers it should possess the autho^


rity of the Courts of Judicature, and Juries the manner
in which elections should be conducted, and the proportion
of representatives to the number of electors the time
which each succeeding assembly should continue, which
was one year the mode of levying, and accounting for the
expenditure, of public money of appointing public offi-
cers, &c. &c. &c.

No article of this Constitution could be altered or in-
fringed at the discretion of the Government that was to
ensue. It was to that Government a law. But as it would
have been unwise to preclude the benefit of experience,
and in order also to prevent the accumulation of errors, if
any should be found, and to preserve an unison of Govern-
ment with the circumstances of the State at all times, the
Constitution provided, that, at the expiration of every seven
years, a Convention should be elected, for the express pur-
pose of revising the Constitution, and making alterations,
additions, or abolitions therein, if any such should be found

Here we see a regular process a Government issuing out
of a Constitution, formed by the People in their original
character ; and that Constitution serving, not only as an
authority, but as a law of controul to the Government. It
was the political Bible of the State. Scarcely a family was
without it. Every member of the Government had a copy;
and nothing was more common when any debate arose on
the principle of a bill, or on the extent of any species of
authority, than for the members to take the printed Constitu-
tion out of their pocket, and read the chapter with which
such matter in debate was connected.

Having thus given an instance from one of the States, I
will shew the proceedings by which the federal Constitution
of the United States arose and was formed.

Congress, at its two first meetings, in September 1774,
and May 1775, was nothing more than a deputation
from the legislatures of the several provinces, afterwards
States; and had no other authority than what arose from
common consent, and the necessity of its acting as a public
body. In every thing which related to the internal affairs
of America, Congress went no farther than to issue recom-
mendations to the several provincial assemblies, who at dis-
cretion adopted them or not. Nothing on the part of
Congress was compulsive; yet, in this situation, it was
more faithfully and affectionately obeyed, than was any
Government ia Europe. This instance, like that of the Na-


tional Assembly of France, sufficiently shews, that the
strength of Government does not consist in any thing within
itself, but in the attachment of a nation, and the interest
which the People feel in supporting it. When this is lost,
Government is but a child in power; and though, like the
old Government of France, it may harass individuals for a
while, it but facilitates its own fall.

After the Declaration of Independence, it became consist-
ent with the principle on which representative Government
is founded, that the authority of Congress should be denned
and established. Whether that authority should be more
or less than Congress then discretionally exercised, was not
the question. It was merely the rectitude of the measure.

For this purpose, the act called the Act of Confederation,
which was a sort of imperfect federal Constitution), was pro-
posed, and, after long deliberation, was concluded in the
year 1781. It was not the act of Congress, because it is
repugnant to the principles of representative Government
that a body should give power to itself. Congress first in-
formed the several States of the powders which it conceived
were necessary to be invested in the Union, to enable it to
perform the duties and services required from it; and the
States severally agreed with each other, and concentrated in
Congress those powers.

It may not be improper to observe, that in both those in-
stances (the one of Pennsylvania, and the other of the United
States), there is no such thing as the idea of a compact
between the People on one side, and the Government on the
other. The compact was that of the People with each other
to produce and constitute a Government. To suppose that
any Government can be a party in a compact with the
whole People, is to suppose it to have existence before it can
have a right to exist. The only instance in which a com-
pact can take place between the People and those who exer-
cise the Government, is, that the People shall pay them,
while they choose to employ them.

Government is not a trade which any man, or body of
men, has a right to set up and exercise for his or their own
emolument, but is altogether a trust, in right of those by
whom that trust is delegated, and by whom it is always
resumeable. It has of itself no rights ; they are altogether

Having thus given two instances of the original formation
of a Constitution, I will shew the manner in which both
have been changed since their first establishment.


The powers vested in the Governments of the several
States by the State Constitutions, were found, upon expe-
rience, to be too great ; and those vested in the federal Go-
vernment, by the Act of Confederation, too little. The
defect was not in the principle, but in the distribution of

Numerous publications, in pamphlets and in the news-
papers, appeared, on the propriety and necessity of new-
modelling the federal Government. After some time of
public discussion, carried on through the channel of the
press, and in conversations, the State of Virginia, expe-
riencing some inconvenience with respect to commerce, pro-
posed holding a Continental conference ; in consequence of
which, a deputation from five or six of the State Assemblies
met at Anapolis, in Maryland, in 1786. This meeting, not
conceiving itself sufficiently authorised to go into the busi-
ness of a reform, did no more than state their general opi-
nion of the propriety of the measure, and recommend that
a convention of all the States should be held the year fol-

This convention met at Philadelphia in May, 1787, of
which General Washington was elected President. He was
not at that time connected with any of the State Govern-
ments, or with Congress. He delivered up his commission
when the war ended, and since then had lived a private

The convention went deeply into all the subjects ; and
having, after a variety of debate and investigation, agreed
among themselves upon the several parts of a federal Con-
stitution, the next question was, the manner of giving it
authority and practice.

For this purpose, they did not, like a cabal of courtiers,
send fora Dutch Stadtholder, or a German Elector; but
they referred the whole matter to the sense and interest of
the country.

They first directed that the proposed Constitution should
be published. Secondly, that each State should elect a
convention, expressly for the purpose of taking it into con-
sideration, and of ratifying or rejecting it ; and that as soon
as the approbation and ratification of any nine States should
be given, those States should proceed to the election of
their proportion of members to the new federal Govern-
ment; and that the operation of it should then begin, and
the former federal Government cease.


The several States proceeded accordingly to elect their
conventions. Some of those conventions ratified the Con-
stitution by very large majorities, and two or three unani-
mously. In others there were much debate and division of
opinion. In the Massachusetts convention, which met at
Boston, the majority was not above nineteen or twenty, in
about three hundred members; but such is the nature of
representative Government, that it quietly decides all mat-
ters by majority. After the debate in the Massachusetts
convention was closed, and the vote taken, the objecting
members rose, and declared, " That though they had
argued and voted against it, because certain parts appeared
to^them in a different light to what they appeared to other
members; yet, as the vote had decided in favour of the
Constitution as proposed, they should give it the same
practical support as if they had voted for it."

As soon as nine States had concurred, (and the rest fol-
lowed in the order their conventions were elected), the old
fabric of the federal Government was taken down, and the
new one erected, of which General Washington is Presi-
dent. In this place I cannot help remarking, that the
character and services of this gentleman are sufficient to
put all those men called kings to shame. While they are
receiving from the sweat and labours of mankind, a prodi-
gality of pay, to which neither their abilities nor their
services can entitle them, he is rendering every service in
his power, and refusing every pecuniary reward. He ac-
cepted no pay as Commander-in-Chief ; he accepts none as
President of the United States.

After the new federal Constitution was established, the
State of Pennsylvania, conceiving that some parts of its own
Constitution required to be altered, elected a convention
for that purpose. The proposed alterations were pub-
lished, and the People concurring therein, they were

In forming those Constitutions, or in altering them, little
or no inconvenience took place. The ordinary course of
things was not interrupted, and the advantages have been
much. It is always the interest of a far greater number of
People in a nation to have things right, than to let them
remain wrong ; and when public matters are open to debate,
and the public judgment free, it will not decide wrong,
unless it decides too hastily.

In the two instances of changing the Constitution,*, the


Government then in being were not actors either way.
Government has no right to make itself a party in any de-
bates respecting the principles or modes of forming, or of
changing Constitutions. It is not for the benefit of those
who exercise the power of Government, that Constitutions,
and the Governments issuing from them, are established.
In all those matters, the right of judging and acting are in
those who pay, and not in those who receive.

A Constitution is the property of a nation, and not of
those who exercise the Government. All the Constitutions
of America are declared to be established on the authority
of the People. In France the word nation is used instead
of the People ; but in both cases, a Constitution is a thing
antecedent to the Government, and always distinct there-

In England it is not difficult to perceive that every thing
has a Constitution, except the nation. Every society and
association that is established first agreed upon a number of
original articles, digested into form, which are its Constitu-
tion. It then appointed its officers, whose powers and au-
thorities are described in that Constitution, and the Govern-
ment of that society then commenced. Those officers, by
whatever name they are called, have no authority to add to,
alter, or abridge the original articles. It is only to the con-
stituting power that this right belongs.

From the want of understanding the difference between a
Constitution and a Government, Dr. Johnson, and all the
writers of his description, have always bewildered them-
selves. They could not but perceive, that there must neces-
sarily be a controlling power existing somewhere, and they
placed this power in the discretion of the persons exercising
the Government, instead of placing it in a Constitution
formed by the nation. When it is in a Constitution, it has
the nation for its support, and the natural and the political
controuling powers are together. The laws which are en-
acted by Governments controul men only as individuals, but
the nation, through its Constitution, controuls the whole
Government, and has a natural ability so to do. The final
controuiiug power, therefore, and the original constituting
power, are one and the same power.

Dr. Johnson could not have advanced such a position in
any country where there was a Constitution ; and he is
himself an evidence, that no such thing as a Constitution ex-
ists in England, But it may be put as a question, not im-
proper to be investigated, That if. a Constitution does not


exist, how came the idea of its existence so generally
established ?

In order to decide this question, it is necessary to con-
sider a Constitution in both its cases : First, as creating a

Online LibraryThomas PaineThe political and miscellaneous works of Thomas Paine .. (Volume 1) → online text (page 57 of 65)