[Volume 1, Page 448]
CHAPTER 14|Document 22
Richard Henry Lee to Samuel Adams5 Oct. 1787Letters 2:444--45
Having long toiled with you my dear friend in the Vineyard of liberty, I do with great pleasure submit to your wisdom and patriotism, the objections that prevail in my mind against the new Constitution proposed for federal government--which objections I did propose to Congress in form of amendments to be discussed, and that such as were approved might be forwarded to the States with the Convention system. You will have been informed by other hands why these amendments were not considered and do not appear on the Journal, and the reasons that influenced a bare tranmission of the Convention plan, without a syllable of approbation or disapprobation on the part of Congress. I suppose my dear Sir, that the good people of the U. States in their late generous contest, contended for free government in the fullest, clearest, and strongest sense. That they had no idea of being brought under despotic rule under the notion of "Strong government," or in form of elective despotism: Chains being still Chains, whether made of gold or iron.
The corrupting nature of power, and its insatiable appetite for increase, hath proved the necessity, and procured the adoption of the strongest and most express declarations of that Residuum of natural rights, which is not intended to be given up to Society; and which indeed is not necessary to be given for any good social purpose. In a government therefore, when the power of judging what shall be for the general welfare, which goes to every object of human legislation; and where the laws of such Judges shall be the supreme Law of the Land: it seems to be of the last consequence to declare in most explicit terms the reservations above alluded to. So much for the propriety of a Bill of Rights as a necessary bottom to this new system--It is in vain to say that the defects in this new Constitution may be remedied by the Legislature created by it. The remedy, as it may, so it may not be applied--And if it should a subsequent Assembly may repeal the Acts of its predecessor for the parliamentary doctrine is "quod leges posteriores priores contrarias abrogant" 4 Inst. 43. Surely this is not a ground upon which a wise and good man would choose to rest the dearest rights of human nature.
The Letters of Richard Henry Lee. Edited by James Curtis Ballagh. 2 vols. New York: Macmillan Co., 1911--14.
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