CHAPTER 11|Document 15
James Monroe, Virginia Ratifying Convention10 June 1788Elliot 3:218--19
There is a distinction between this government and ancient and modern ones. The division of power in ancient governments, or in any government at present in the world, was founded on different principles from those of this government. What was the object of the distribution of power in Rome? It will not be controverted, that there was a composition or mixture of aristocracy, democracy, and monarchy, each of which had a repellent quality which enabled it to preserve itself from being destroyed by the other two; so that the balance was continually maintained. This is the case in the English government, which has the most similitude to our own. There they have distinct orders in the government, which possess real, efficient repellent qualities. Let us illustrate it. If the commons prevail, may they not vote the king useless? If the king prevails, will not the commons lose their liberties? Without the interposition of a check, without a balance, the one would destroy the other. The lords, the third branch, keep up this balance. The wisdom of the English constitution has given a share of legislation to each of the three branches, which enables it effectually to defend itself, and which preserves the liberty of the people of that country.
What is the object of the division of power in America? Why is the government divided into different branches? For a more faithful and regular administration. Where is there a check? We have more to apprehend from the union of these branches than from the subversion of any; and this union will destroy the rights of the people. There is nothing to prevent this coalition; but the contest which will probably subsist between the general government and the individual governments will tend to produce it. There is a division of sovereignty between the national and state governments. How far, then, will they coalesce together? Is it not to be supposed that there will be a conflict between them? If so, will not the members of the former combine together? Where, then, will be the check to prevent encroachments on the rights of the people? There is not a third essentially distinct branch, to preserve a just equilibrium, or to prevent such encroachments. In developing this plan of government, we ought to attend to the necessity of having checks. I can see no real checks in it.
Elliot, Jonathan, ed. The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution as Recommended by the General Convention at Philadelphia in 1787. . . . 5 vols. 2d ed. 1888. Reprint. New York: Burt Franklin, n.d.
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