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Civis to the Inhabitants of Philadelphia



If ever there was or can be a question that ought to engage the serious attention of every man whose lot is cast in this American land, it is that now agitated, viz; In what shape we shall hereafter exist as a people? Whether we shall preserve the ancient forms of Government, which have led us to our present rank and importance in the world, or explore the dark and untrodden way of Independence and Republicanism? I hope it will not be objected to me, that I have connected the idea of separation from Great Britain with that of erecting a Republick in America. I have in this followed the author of Common Sense; and, indeed, it can hardly be supposed, nor has it been suggested, that, when we set up for ourselves, we shall immediately again set up for a Kingly Government. Our new legislators would persuade us, that when these Colonies have shaken off the British yoke, they will calmly sit down with one heart and one voice, to form themselves into a great Republick. They will be governed by the pure dictates of wisdom, and influenced by a love of liberty in framing their new constitution. Passion and prejudice will have no hand in it. Ancient grudges and dislikes, clashing interests and religious discords, will be done away. Thus assembled, and thus disposed, who can doubt but that they will rear up a fabrick upon the ruins of the English form of Government, that shall be the admiration of the world, and endure forever? That men do, or at least affect to believe, this will be the case, I have no more doubt than that it certainly would not happen accordingly.

However, as it is but common prudence to consider an evil before we devise a remedy, let us take a view of the state of these Colonies before the existence of our present disputes; and I will venture to affirm that political liberty never existed in greater perfection than here. Some abuses, indeed, we had reason to be uneasy under; but they were rather complained of as establishing precedents for future violations, than as severely felt. The consequence, then, is plain, that redress of these grievances, and security from future ones, should be the objects of this contest. But whence (it will be asked) shall we procure this security? I answer, from solemn compact, mutual interest, and length of time. Great Britain, by this dispute, will be taught that her true interest lies in a friendly connection with us; and a few years hence a similar attempt will be impracticable, from our increase of numbers and strength.

But the most singular argument urged to reconcile us to


this intended political change, is drawn from the imperfection of the English Constitution — a Constitution, till this Utopian started up, the admiration of the world, and which, at this moment, gives birth to the only freemen in the habitable globe! It would be improper in this place to enter fully into a vindication of the mixed form of the English Constitution, and it is extraordinary, that one who has lived under it, should want any other guide than his own consciousness.

It is the language of our lawyers, that a King of England is absolute in doing good, but he has no power to do wrong. This we have seen exemplified in the history of the Stuarts, who, with as much inclination to be despotick as any Princes on earth, found the attempt fatal to their family. The same may be said of the other parts of the Constitution; and unless there is a conspiracy of the whole to subvert its liberty, it must ever remain unshaken. Why may not such a conspiracy take place in a Republick, as well as in a mixed Monarchy? The temptation is equally great, and the road to it much easier, where one body is to be brought into it, than three.

I would refer the reader to Judge Blackstone' s Commentaries, and shall only cite from him the following observations: "Here, then, is lodged the sovereignty of the British Constitution, and lodged as beneficially as it is possible for society. For, in no other shape could we be as certain of finding the three great qualities of Government so happily united. If the supreme power were lodged in any one of the three branches, separately, we must be exposed to the inconveniences of either absolute Monarchy, Aristocracy, or Democracy, and so want two of the three principal ingredients of good policy — either virtue, wisdom, or power. But the constitutional Government of this Island is so admirably tempered and compounded, that nothing can endanger or hurt it, but destroying the equilibrium of power between one branch of the Legislature and the rest. Herein consists the true excellence of the English Constitution, that all the parts of it form a mutual check upon each other. In all tyrannical Governments, the supreme magistracy, or the right of making and enforcing laws, is vested in one and the same person; and wherever these two powers are united, there can be no publick liberty. In England, this supreme power is divided into two branches; the one legislative, to wit: the Parliament; the other executive, consisting of the King alone. The total union of them would be productive of tyranny."

When the reader has perused the book from whence these extracts are taken, he must decide for himself which of the two is of most authority, Judge Blackstone or the author of Common Sense.

What is there, either in theory or experience, that can make us in love with a Commonwealth? It will be said, that the good of the people being the object of Government, the whole administration of it should be in their hands. But this does not follow; for if the happiness of the people is better promoted by leaving but part in their hands, that mode is most eligible. For instance, if the laws which the people make will be better observed by entrusting the execution of them to a Magistrate, or Magistrates, who are not immediately accountable to, and do not stand in awe of the populace, certainly it is the wisest method. That this is the case, both reason and fact verify. Where popular opinions and prejudices interfere in the execution of laws, what Magistrate, depending on the breath of the people, would dare to adhere to the letter of the law, and render himself obnoxious to the prevailing party, and consequently part with his office? This observation is equally true in fact. The worst Judges I have ever seen, are those who have some favour to ask of the people. An elective Judge is a monster in Government. Without some other constitutional aid, in vain would the feeble hand of justice endeavour to support the balance against a powerful prevailing faction. I should much doubt if justice is better administered in Rhode-Island than some of the monarchical Colonies, or even in Westminster-Hall.

I believe history, ancient or modem, will make few Republicans. He that reads the state of the Grecian or Roman Republicks, what doth he read, but scenes of domestick violence and rapine, war and bloodshed? Even the virtue of individuals could not preserve them from crumbling to pieces. Like ill-constructed machines set in motion, they


perished by their own instability and unwieldiness. Nor will the Commonwealths of our own times excite our envy. I know of but two pure Democracies in the world, viz: Connecticut and Rhode-Island. Those of Holland, Switzerland, and Italy, are Aristocracies — of all tyrannies the least supportable. If any one chooses to turn panygerist, and declaim in praise of the two I have mentioned, I have no objection.

But it must be acknowledged that the English Constitution, like all other human systems, is in some parts imperfect, and open to corruption. The unequal representation by means of Boroughs, and the length of Parliaments, have made them less amenable to the people, and introduced a system of venality. How long this poison will operate before the vitals are affected, or whether the soundness of the Constitution will one day throw it off, time must discover. In this happy land of Pennsylvania, we have imitated its excellencies without its defects. Our mode of representation being uniform and equal, the election from year to year, and the right of our Assemblies to sit on their own adjournments, not subject to dissolution or prorogation, have corrected the errors of the British Government, and made this the most perfect and happiest in the known world. But should we, in an evil hour, barter it for an uncertainty, or a certainty of having a much worse, it would be madness in the extreme. I flatter myself the good people of this Province will seriously take the consideration of this great question to heart; that they will not shrink back from the contest, but, with their usual good sense, assert their attachment to their ancient happy Constitution.

When attempts are made to plunge us into anarchy, and rob us of that equal liberty under which this Province has so signally flourished; when the Constitution itself is threatened with dissolution, because its guardians have instructed our Delegates to preserve it sacred, it is criminal to be silent. But the spirit of the friends to the Constitution was up, and, by a timely zeal in supporting our Assembly, the attempt was crushed in its shell.

As the complexion of this Province will be known by our conduct on the 1st day of May, I hope we shall exercise that great constitutional right as becomes freemen attached inviolably to their form of Government. The weight we have in the American scale makes it an object of the last importance, too great to be sported away in compliance with the designs or dreams of modern lawgivers.