Popular Basis of Political Authority
[Volume 1, Page 60]
CHAPTER 2|Document 13
Caesar, no. 217 Oct. 1787Essays 287--89
I am not one of those who gain an influence by cajoling the unthinking mass (tho' I pity their delusions), and ringing [Volume 1, Page 61] in their ears the gracious sound of their absolute Sovereignty. I despise the trick of such dirty policy. I know there are Citizens, who, to gain their own private ends, enflame the minds of the well-meaning, tho' less intelligent parts of the community, by sating their vanity with that cordial and unfailing specific, that all power is seated in the people. For my part, I am not much attached to the majesty of the multitude, and therefore waive all pretensions (founded on such conduct), to their countenance. I consider them in general as very ill qualified to judge for themselves what government will best suit their peculiar situations; nor is this to be wondered at. The science of government is not easily understood. Cato will admit, I presume, that men of good education and deep reflection, only, are judges of the form of a government; whether it is constituted on such principles as will restrain arbitrary power, on the one hand, and equal to the exclusion of corruption and the destruction of licentiousness on the other; whether the New Constitution, if adopted, will prove adequate to such desirable ends, time, the mother of events, will show. For my own part, I sincerely esteem it a system, which, without the finger of God, never could have been suggested and agreed upon by such a diversity of interests. I will not presume to say that a more perfect system might not have been fabricated; but who expects perfection at once? And it may be asked, who are judges of it? Few, I believe, who have leisure to study the nature of Government scientifically, but will frequently disagree about the quantum of power to be delegated to Rulers, and the different modifications of it. Ingenious men will give every plausible, and, it may be, pretty substantial reasons, for the adoption of two plans of Government, which shall be fundamentally different in their construction, and not less so in their operation; yet both, if honestly administered, might operate with safety and advantage. When a new form of government is fabricated, it lies with the people at large to receive or reject it--that is, their inherent rights. Now, I would ask (without intending to triumph over the weaknesses or follies of any men), how are the people to profit by this inherent right? By what conduct do they discover that they are sensible of their own interests in this situation? Is it by the exercise of a well-disciplined reason, and a correspondent education? I believe not. How then? As I humbly conceive, by a tractable and docile disposition, and by honest men endeavoring to keep their minds easy, while others, of the same disposition, with the advantages of genius and learning, are constructing the bark that may, by the blessing of Heaven, carry them to the port of rest and happiness, if they will embark without diffidence and proceed without mutiny. I know this is blunt and ungracious reasoning; it is the best, however, which I am prepared to offer on this momentous business; and, since my own heart does not reproach me, I shall not be very solicitous about its reception. If truth, then, is permitted to speak, the mass of the people of America (any more than the mass of other countries) cannot judge with any degree of precision concerning the fitness of this New Constitution to the peculiar situation of America; they have, however, done wisely in delegating the power of framing a government to those every way worthy and well-qualified; and, if this Government is snatched, untasted, from them, it may not be amiss to inquire into the causes which will probably occasion their disappointment. Out of several, which present to my mind, I shall venture to select one, baneful enough, in my opinion, to work this dreadful evil. There are always men in society of some talents, but more ambition, in quest of that which it would be impossible for them to obtain in any other way than by working on the passions and prejudices of the less discerning classes of citizens and yeomanry. It is the plan of men of this stamp to frighten the people with ideal bugbears, in order to mould them to their own purposes. The unceasing cry of these designing croakers is, My friends, your liberty is invaded! Have you thrown off the yoke of one tyrant to invest yourselves with that of another? Have you fought, bled and conquered for such a change? If you have--go--retire into silent obscurity, and kiss the rod that scourges you.
To be serious: These state empirics leave no species of deceit untried to convince the unthinking people that they have power to do--what? Why truly to do much mischief, and to occasion anarchy and wild uproar. And for what reason do these political jugglers incite the peaceably disposed to such extravagant commotions? Because until the people really discover that they have power, by some outrageous act, they never can become of any importance. The misguided people never reflect during this frenzy, that the moment they become riotous, they renounce, from that moment, their independence, and commence vassals to their ambitious leaders, who instantly, and with a high hand, rob them of their consequence, and apply it to their own present or future aggrandisement; nor will these tyrants over the people stick at sacrificing their good, if an advantageous compromise can be effected for themselves.
Ford, Paul Leicester, ed. Essays on the Constitution of the United States, Published during Its Discussion by the People, 1787--1788. Brooklyn: Historical Printing Club, 1892.
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