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Constitutional Government

CHAPTER 17 | Document 16

Alexander Hamilton, The Farmer Refuted

23 Feb. 1775Papers 1:100--101

You are mistaken, when you confine arbitrary government to a monarchy. It is not the supreme power being placed in one, instead of many, that discriminates an arbitrary from a free government. When any people are ruled by laws, in framing which, they have no part, that are to bind them, to all intents and purposes, without, in the same manner, binding the legislators themselves, they are in the strictest sense slaves, and the government with respect to them, is despotic. Great-Britain is itself a free country; but it is only so because its inhabitants have a share in the legislature: If they were once divested of that, they would cease to be free. So that, if its jurisdiction be extended over other countries that have no actual share in its legislature, it becomes arbitary to them; because they are destitute of those checks and controuls which constitute that moral security which is the very essence of civil liberty.

I will go farther, and assert, that the authority of the British Parliament over America, would, in all probability, be a more intolerable and excessive species of despotism than an absolute monarchy.1 The power of an absolute prince is not temporary, but perpetual. He is under no temptation to purchase the favour of one part of his dominions, at the expence of another; but, it is his interest to treat them all, upon the same footing. Very different is the case with regard to the Parliament: The Lords and Commons both, have a private and separate interest to pursue. They must be, wonderfully, disinterested, if they would not make us bear a very disproportional part of the public burthens, to avoid them as much as possible themselves. The people of Britain must, in reality, be an order of superior beings, not cast in the same mould, with the common degenerate race of mortals, if the sacrifice of our interest and ease to theirs be not, extremely, welcome and alluring. But should experience teach us, that they are only mere mortals, fonder of themselves than their neighbours, the philanthropy and integrity of their representatives will be of a transcendent and matchless nature, should they not gratify the natural propensities of their constituents, in order to ingratiate themselves, and enhance their popularity.

  1. Mr. Hume, in enumerating those political maxims, which will be eternally true, speaks thus: "It may easily be observed, that though free governments have been commonly the most happy, for those who partake of their freedom, yet are they the most ruinous and oppressive to their provinces." He goes on to give many solid reasons for this, and among other things, observes, that "a free state necessarily makes a great distinction (between herself and the provinces) and must continue to do so, 'till men learn to love their neighbours as well as themselves." He confirms his reflections by many historical facts and concludes them thus: "Compare the pais conquis of France with Ireland, and you will be convinced of this truth; though this latter kingdom being in a good measure peopled from England, possesses so many rights and privileges, as should naturally make it challenge better treatment."

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 1, Chapter 17, Document 16
The University of Chicago Press

The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. Edited by Harold C. Syrett et al. 26 vols. New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1961--79. See also: Federalist

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