[Volume 1, Page 365]
CHAPTER 12|Document 9
Pennsylvania Gazette26 March 1777
Sorry am I to see that rancourous contest concerning the Constitution of this State, revived with all the asperity it first commenced. The matter in debate seems a meer nothing: for when the sticklers for a Legislative Council urge the danger of having crude and inconsistent bills pass into laws, without a second digestion in another house, the fact is still admitted on the other side, and in several publications remedies for this evil have been proposed.
Philerene, whose calm and sensible performance does him much honour, goes, however, a little too far, in proposing that the people should instruct their representatives to vote a number of their own body a Council for revising the laws, and invest them with a negative power. Constituents should never trust Legislative Representatives with a power of altering the constitution; and to establish any power, which should be able to controul the immediate Representative of the whole people, would be an essential and fundamental alteration of the constitution. The wisdom of Pennsylvania collected in the late Convention concluded justly that the power of government really resided in the body of the people, and considering we have no hereditary King nor Lords, whose prerogatives entitle them to negatives in their own right, a negative, or power of controuling the united will of the whole community, is not only absurd and ridiculous, but highly dangerous. Consistent with their trust, the convention could not have established such a power, without special instructions for that purpose, neither had they a precedent for it in our former Constitution. Yet that there should be a power to revise, and most scrutinously to examine the Bills of the Assembly, will be allowed by every one who considers the necessity of having laws concordant with themselves and the Constitution, and adequate to the designs of their framers.
As the people, the common people alone, are the source of constituent power in this country, their immediate representatives are of course the supreme delegate power. This representative body may call to their assistance the advice of what bodies they judge necessary; but there is a material difference between calling in advice, and obliging ourselves to take it whether we approve of it or not. The republic of Holland has a great lawyer whom they call a Pensionary, whose business it is to examine all their bills, and point out every flaw or imperfection he can discover in them. The great lawyer, now set at the head of the judicial department, would undoubtedly take the same trouble, without fee or reward, were he applied to by the legislature for that purpose. We cannot suppose either the Council, or the Supreme Court, so mercenary as to deny a little extra service, when they are pretty generously gratified for what they do statedly.
© 1987 by The University of Chicago