Charles Carroll of Carrollton’s First CX Letter
SOURCE: Dunlap’s Maryland Gazette, or the Baltimore General Advertiser (Tuesday, March 26, 1776). Article by Charles Carroll of Carrollton, under the pseudonym “CX.”
“An established government has an infinite advantage by that very circumstance of its being established; the bulk of mankind being governed by authority, not reason; and never attributing authority to any thing, that has not the recommendation of antiquity.”–Hume’s Essays, Idea of a Perf. Commonweath.
The foregoing observation of the judicious Essayist fully explains the cause of that reluctance, which most nations discover to innovations in their government: oppressions must be grievous and extensive, before the body of the people can be prevailed on to resist the established authority of the state; or the pernicious tendency of unexperienced measures very evident indeed, when opposed by considerable numbers. This proneness of mankind to obey the settled government, is productive of many benefits to society; it restrains the violence of factions, prevents civil wars, and frequent revolutions; more destructive to the Commonwealth, than the grievances real, or pretended, which might otherwise have given birth to them. Changes in the constitution ought not be lightly made; but when corruptions has long infected the legislative, and executive powers: when these pervert the public treasure to the worst of purposes, and fraudently [sic] combine to undermine the liberties of the people; if THEY tamely submit to such misgovernment, we may fairly conclude, the bulk of that people to be ripe for slavery. In this extremity, it is not only lawful, but it becomes the duty of all honest men, to unite in defense of their liberties; to use force, if force should be requisite; to suppress such enormities and to bring back the constitution to the purity of its original principles. If a nation, in the case put, may lawfully resist the established government; resistance solely is equally justifiable in an empire composed of several separate territories; to each of which, for securing liberty and property, legislative powers have been granted by compact, and long enjoyed by common consent; for should these powers be invaded, and attempted to be rendered nugatory and useless by the principal part of the empire, possessing a limited sovereignty over the whole; should this part relying on its superior strength and riches, reject the supplications of the injured, or treat them with contempt; and appeal from reason to the sword: then are the bands burst asunder, which held together, and united under one dominion these separate territories; a dissolution of the empire ensues; all oaths of allegiance cease to be binding, and the parts attacked are at liberty to erect what government they think best suited to the temper of the people, and exigency of affairs. The British North American Colonies are thus circumstanced:–they have then a right to chuse [sic] a constitution for themselves, and if the choice is delayed (should the contest continue) necessity will enforce that choice.–Whether it be prudent to wait till necessity shall compel these colonies to assume the forms, as well as the powers of government, shall be discussed in this paper.
That the United Colonies have already exercised the real powers of government, will not be denied: Why they should not assume the forms, no good reason can be given; as the controversy must NOW be decided by the sword! it may be said, that forms are unessential; if of so little consequence, why hesitate to give to every colony a COMPLEAT government? it has been suggested, that the inhabitants of this Province are not yet ripe for the alteration, and that they are still strongly attached to the subsisting constitution; –if they are so strongly attached to it, their attachment will continue, as long as the name and appearances of that constitution remain. The argument drawn from the affection of the people for the present constitution against the expediency of the proposed change at this time, will extend to any given period of time; and render the measure as improper THEN, as NOW. While our people consider the King of Great-Britain as THEIR King, while they wish to be connected with, and subordinate to Great Britain; while the notion remains impressed on their minds, that this connection and subordination are beneficial to themselves, we must not expect that unanimity, and those exertions of valour and perseverance, which distinguishes nations fighting in support of their independence. Confidence once betrayed and extinguished friendship can never be regained; the confidence of the colonies in, and their attachment to the Parent State arose from the interchange of benefits, and the conceived opinion of a sameness of interests; but now we plainly perceive that these are distinct; nay, incompatible: Why then should we consider ourselves any longer dependent on Great Britain, unless we mean to prefer slavery to liberty, or unconditional submission to independence? I by no means admit that the people are so much attached, as is alleged, to the present constitution: they are now fully convinced by facts too plain to be flossed over with ministerial arts; that the British government, on which the several provincial administrations immediately depend has for some years past aimed at a tyranny over these colonies. What security have they that some other attempt will not be made, should this be defeated? And before this security is obtained, or even proposed, to suppose an inclination in our people to run the hazard a second time of being enslaved, by the obstinately adhering to the present constitution; which in the end would inevitably lead them to their former dependence, and thus expose them to that hazard; is paying no great compliment to their understandings. For no other purpose are forms of a nominal, useless, and expensive government preserved, but that on a possible though very improbably compromise; the transition may be early and gentle from the present arrangements into the ordinary and customary course of administration. Is the advantage (and let the sticklers for the measure answer the question) any way equal to the risk? To suffer men to continue at the head of our communities, and in places of profit and trust, who are attached by interest, and conceive themselves to be found by the ties of oaths to the British government; is keeping up the remembrance of that subordination, which we should strive to obliterate since self-defence [sic], and the preservation of all we hold dear, seem NOW to be necessarily connected with our independence. It has been asserted, but not proved, that the people of this Province would dislike the abolition of the old, and the establishment of a new government, because they conceive the Convention to be already armed with too much power; and that this step would obstruct a reconciliation with Great Britain.–Were a compleat [sic] government to be framed, and the legislative, executive, and judicial functions distributed into different orders in the state; it is most certain, that the Convention so far from being thereby invested with ample powers, would deprive itself of part of those, which it now engrosses. What is it that constitutes despotism, but the assemblage and union of the legislative, executive, and judicial functions in the same person, or persons? When they are united in one person, a monarchy is established; when in many, an aristocracy, or oligarchy, both equally inconsistent with the liberties of the people: the absolute dominion of a single person is indeed preferable to the absolute dominion of many, as one tyrant is better than twenty. When the British ministry and senate are taught wisdom by experience; when they find that force will not effectuate what treaty may, they will offer terms of peace and reconciliation. If the former connection and dependence should be insisted on, and no security given to the colonies against the repetition of similar injuries, and similar attacks; would they act unwisely in rejecting the proposition? however, should a considerable majority entertain a different sentiment; a few placement under the new establishment, if inclined, will not have the power, I presume, to defeat the treaty. The interests of the people rightly understood, calls for the establishment of a regular and constituent government; and good policy should induce the Convention to consult the true interest of the people, by parting with the executive, and judicial powers, and placing them in different hands. By neglecting to do this, the long Parliament grew at last obnoxious to the nation.
There is nothing more natural (Dr. DAVENANT observes) than, for the commonality to love their own representatives, and to respect that authority, which by the constitution was established to protect their civil rights; and yet the Parliament in 1640, is an instance, that when the House of Commons took upon themselves the whole administration of affairs; the people grew as weary of them, as they had formerly been of State Ministers; and while they acted in this executive capacity, many of the multitude began to complain of their proceedings, question their privileges, and arraign their authority; for when collective bodies take in hand such affairs as were wont to be transacted by private men, mankind is apt to suspect they may be liable to those partialities, errors, or corruptions, of which particular persons may be accused in their management; so that it is possible for assemblies to become unpopular, as well as Ministers of State.
The Provincial Conventions, or Congresses have inadvertently pursued the very conduct they so justly condemn in the British Parliament, which has exceeded the limits prescribed by the constitution to its operations. The House of Commons was not instituted for the sole purpose of concurring with the other branches of the legislature in enacting laws, but to be a check also on bad ministers, to correct abuses, and to punish offenders too great for the ordinary courts of justice; in short the Commons were formerly not improperly [ailed?] the Grand Inquest of the nation:–But what are they now? Why a part of that very administration, they were by the original institution intended to control. The design the ministry in making parliament a partaker of, or indeed a principal in all their undertakings, is as evident, as it is pernicious to the public: for as the above quoted author remarks, “When the lawmakers transact the whole business of the State, for what can the ministers be accountable!” Besides the danger arising from the want of a proper check on the administration wherever the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government are blended together; these several powers in their nature distinct, and unfit to be trusted to the same persons, to interfere and clash with each other, that business is thereby greatly retarded; and the public of course considerably injured. For the truth of this assertion, I appeal to the last session of Convention the business of which might have been transacted in half the time, had not the attention of the members been distracted by the different capacities, they were constrained to act in, and taken up by matters very foreign from the duty of legislators. To those, who consider the subsisting forms of an useless government, as outward and insignificant signs power while the Convention grasps the solid substance, the above reasoning may appear to have little weight by such it must be objected, that Caesar in Rome, and Cromwell in England, without the name and pageantry of a King, governed as absolutely, as Tarquin the proud, or Henry VIII. If they should thus object, I will venture to pronounce, that they do not, or will not comprehend the force of the foregoing arguments. As perpetual dictator, Caesar was perpetual tyrant; Cromwell chose to rule the English nation, rather as Protector, than King; the prerogatives of the latter being defined, the powers of the former unknown. Having endeavoured to shew [sic] the expediency, if not the necessity of settling without delay a new government: I shall point out in my next paper, what alterations of the old one would render it, in my judgment, more perfect, and better adapted to our present, and probably future situation, and change of circumstances.
–CX [Charles Carroll of Carrollton]