CHAPTER 16 | Document 8

Gouverneur Morris, Political Enquiries

1776Amerikastudien 21:329--31 1976

Of Society

Of these three Things Life Liberty Property the first can be enjoyed as well without the aid of Society as with it. The second better. We must therefore seek in the third for the Cause of Society. Without Society Property in Goods is extremely precarious. There is not even the Idea of Property in Lands. Conventions to defend each others Goods naturally apply to the Defense of those places where the Goods are deposited. The Object of such Conventions must be to preserve for each his own Share. It follows therefore that Property is the principal Cause & Object of Society.

Of the Progress of Society

Property in Goods is the first Step in Progression from a State of Nature to that of Society. Till Property in Lands be admitted Society continues rude and barbarous. After the Lands are divided a long Space intervenes before perfect Civilization is effected. The Progress will be accelerated or retarded in Proportion as the Administration of Justice is more or less exact. Here then are three distinct Kinds of Society: Rude and which must continue so. 2 progressive towards Civilization. 3 Civilized. For Instances of each take 1. The Tartar Hordes & American Savages, 2d The History of any European Kingdom before the sixteenth Century and the present State of Poland, 3ly the actual Circumstances of France and England. If the foregoing Reflections be just, this Conclusion results that the State of Society is perfected in Proportion as the Rights of Property are secured.

Of Natural Liberty

Natural Liberty absolutely excludes the Idea of political Liberty since it implies in every man the Right to do what he pleases. So long, therefore, as it exists Society cannot be established. And when Society is established natural Liberty must cease. It must be restricted. But Liberty restricted is no longer the same. He who wishes to enjoy natural Rights must establish himself where natural Rights are admitted. He must live alone.

If he prefers Society the utmost Liberty he can enjoy is political. Is there a Society in which this political Liberty is perfect? Shall it be said that Poland is that Society? It must first be admitted that nine tenths of the Nation (the Serfs) are not Men. But dignify the Nobles with an exclusive Title to the Rank of Humanity and then examine their Liberum Veto. By this it is in the Power of a single Dissent to prevent a Resolution. Unanimity therefore being required no Man is bound but by his own Consent, at least no nobleman. If it be the Question to enact a Law this is well. But suppose the Reverse or suppose the public Defence at Stake. In both Cases the Majority are bound by the Minority or even by one--this then is not political Liberty.

Progress of Society. The Effect on political Liberty

We find then that perfect political Liberty is a Contradiction in terms. Its Limitation is essential to its Existence. Like natural Liberty it is a theory. A has the natural Right to do as he pleases. So has B. A in Consequence of his natural Right binds B to an oak. If it be said that Each is to use his Right so not to injure that of another we come at once within the Pale of civil or social Right.

That Degree of political Liberty essential to one State of Society is incompatible with another. The Mohawks or Oneidas may assemble together & decide by the Majority of Votes. The six Nations must decide by a Majority of Sachems.--In a numerous Society Representation must be substituted to a general assemblage. But Arts produce a Change as essential as Population. In order that Government decide properly it must understand the Subject. The Objects of Legislation are in a rude Society simple, in a more advanced State complex. Of two Things therefore one. Either Society must stop in its Progression for the Purpose of preserving political Liberty or the latter must be checked that the former may proceed.

Where political Liberty is in Excess Property must be insecure and where Property is not secured Society cannot advance. Suppose a State governed by Representatives equally & annually chosen of which the Majority to govern. Either the Laws would be so arbitrary & fluctuating as to destroy Property or Property would so influence the Legislature as to destroy Liberty. Between these two extremes Anarchy.

Of Commerce

The most rapid advances in the State of Society are produced by Commerce. Is it a Blessing or a Curse? Before this question be decided let the present and former State of commercial Countries be compared. Commerce once begun is from its own Nature progressive. It may be crippled[?] or destroyed not fixed. It requires not only the perfect Security of Property but perfect good faith. Hence its Effects are to encrease civil and to diminish political Liberty. If the public be in Debt to an Individual political Liberty enables a Majority to cancel the obligation, but the Spirit of Commerce exacts punctual Payment. In a Despotism everything must bend to the Prince. He can seize the Property of his Subject but the Spirit of Commerce requires that Property be sacred. It requires also that every Citizen have the Right freely to use his Property.

Now as Society is in itself Progressive, as Commerce gives a mighty spring to that progressive Force, as the Effects of both joint & separate are to diminish political Liberty, and as Commerce cannot be stationary the Society without it may. It follows that political Liberty must be restrained or Commerce prohibited. If a medium be sought it will occasion a Contest between the Spirit of Commerce and that of the Government till Commerce is ruined or Liberty destroyed, perhaps both. These Reflections are justified by the different Italian Republics.

Civil Liberty in Connection with political

Political Liberty considered separately from civil Liberty can have no other Effect than to gratify Pride. That Society governs itself is a pleasing Reflection to Members at their Ease but will it console him whose Property is confiscated by an unjust Law? A Majority influenced by the Heat of Party Spirit banishes a virtuous Man and takes his Effects. Is Poverty or is Exile less bitter decreed by a thousand than inflicted by one? Examine that Majority. In the Madness of Victory are they free from Apprehension? What happens this Day to the Victim of their Rage may it not happen tomorrow to his Persecutors?

If we consider political in Connection with civil Liberty we place the former as the Guard and Security to the latter. But if the latter be given up for the former we sacrifice the End to the Means. We have seen that the Progress of Society tends to Encrease civil and diminish political Liberty. We shall find on Reflection that civil Liberty itself restricts political. Every Right of the Subject with Respect to the Government must derogate from its Authority or be thereby destroyed. The Authority of Magistrates is taken from that Mass of Power which in rude Societies and unballanced Democracies is wielded by the Majority. Every Separation of the Executive and judicial Authority from the Legislature is a Diminution of political and Encrease of civil Liberty. Every Check and Ballance of that Legislature has a like Effect. And yet by these Means alone can political Liberty itself be secured. Its Excess becomes Destruction.

In looking back we shall be struck with the following Progression. Happiness the Object of Government. Virtue the Source of Happiness. Civil Liberty the Guardian of Virtue, political Liberty the Defence of civil, Restrictions on political Liberty the only Means of preserving it.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 1, Chapter 16, Document 8
The University of Chicago Press

Easy to print version.