CHAPTER 13 | Document 41

St. George Tucker, Blackstone's Commentaries 1:App. 193--94


The representatives by this bill [the Virginia act of 1788 as amended by the act of 1792] are chosen immediately by the people, in a public manner, by the electors within an aggregate number of counties composing a district. The person chosen seems to be strictly the delegate of those by whom he is chosen, and bound by their instructions whenever they think proper to exercise the right. This principle has been denied by the British writers on their own government, and a deference to the maxims of that government probably prevented the decision of the question, when agitated in congress in the form of an article to a proposed bill of rights: but if the maxim be true, that all power is derived from the people; that magistrates are their trustees and servants, and at all times amenable to them for their conduct, it seems impossible to withhold our assent from the proposition, that in a popular government the representative is bound to speak the sense of his constituents upon every subject, where he is informed of it. The difficulty of collecting the sense of the people upon any question, forms no argument against their right to express that sense when they shall think proper so to do. Otherwise, by whatever denomination the government may be called, it is a confirmed aristocracy, in which the people have nothing more to do than to choose their rulers, over whose proceedings, however despotic, and repugnant to the nature and principles of the fundamental laws of the state, they have no control1 . It will be answered, that the power of removing and punishing is not denied by this doctrine. I answer, that the power of preventing offences against the commonwealth, is to be preferred to that of punishing offenders: and if the government is virtually in the people, it ought to be so organized, that whenever they chuse to exercise the right of governing, they may do it without destroying it's existence. Corruption and mal-administration, unchecked, may drive them to a resumption of all the powers which they have entrusted to the government, and bring on tumults and disturbances which will end only with it's final dissolution: an event to be apprehended in all governments, but particularly in democracies, since dissatisfaction towards the administration may produce a desire of change in the constitution itself; and every change by which the government is in the smallest degree removed from its republican nature and principle, must be for the worse. This danger is effectually avoided by the principle here contended for. The aggregate of mankind understand their own interest and their own happiness better than any individual: they never can be supposed to have resigned the right of judging for themselves to any set of men whatsoever; it is a right which can never be voluntarily resigned, though it may be wrested from their hands by tyranny, or violated by the infidelity and perfidy of their servants.

  1. "When we elect persons to represent us in parliament" (says a judicious writer) "we must not be supposed to depart from the smallest right which we have deposited with them. We make a lodgment, not a gift; we entrust, but part with nothing. And, were it possible that they should attempt to destroy that constitution which we had appointed them to maintain, they can no more be held in the rank of representatives than a factor turned pirate, can continue to be called the factor of those merchants whose goods he had plundered, and whose confidence he had betrayed. The men, whom we thus depute to parliament, are not the bare likeness or reflection of us their constituents; they actually contain our powers and privileges, and are, as it were, the very persons of the people they represent. We are the parliament in them? we speak and act by them. We have, therefore, a right to know what they are saying and doing. And should they contradict our sense, or swerve from our interests, we have a right to remonstrate in form, and direct them. By which means we become the regulators of our own conduct, and the institutors of our own laws, and nothing material can be done but by our authority and consent." Burgh's Political Disquisitions, Vol. 1 p. 202 . . . However inadmissible this doctrine may be in Great Britain, it seems perfectly adapted to the principles of our government.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 1, Chapter 13, Document 41
The University of Chicago Press

Tucker, St. George. Blackstone's Commentaries: With Notes of Reference to the Constitution and Laws of the Federal Government of the United States and of the Commonwealth of Virginia. 5 vols. Philadelphia, 1803. Reprint. South Hackensack, N.J.: Rothman Reprints, 1969.

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