Apr.27,Letter from Cassandra to Cato: He should either point out a complete remedy for the existing evils, and prove it more easily attainable than a complete delivery by a Declaration of Independence or give no further opposition to the measure. [Undated]. [S4-V5-p1092] [Document Details][Complete Volume]
I have engaged in the present political controversy with a design to be of service to my country. On an impartial inquiry into the present state of the British Constitution, it appears to me that it is out of the power of the British Legislature to give us security for the future enjoyment of our rights and liberties; and on this ground I have opposed a reunion. I have examined everything advanced by you on the subject, and find them wide of the mark. The point with me has ever been, what will secure our liberties? The question of interest is ever determined thereby. National prosperity and national happiness are incompatible with national slavery. It is of small consequence to America, whether God has granted a King to the People of Britain
or not, or whether the Constitution of their Government answers excellently to the inhabitants of that Island, if dependance on that excellent form of Government is big with slavery and ruin to America.
If you mean not to hold your countrymen in suspense until the day of salvation is past, I call upon you to prove that Great Britain can offer any plan of constitutional dependance which will not leave the future enjoyment of our liberties to hope, hazard, and uncertainty, as the Forester has finely expressed it; and that if she can, there is a probability she will. If the one is impossible, or the other altogether improbable, yourself must acknowledge it is time to part.
By the Constitution of Great Britain, the present Parliament can make no law which shall bind any future one. For as the author of Lex Parliamentaria, or Law of Parliament, observes, page 77, when treating of the power and authority of Parliaments, "Though it be apparent what transcendent power and authority the Parliament hath, and though divers Parliaments have attempted to bar, restrain, suspend, qualify, or make void, the power of subsequent Parliaments, yet could they never effect it. For the latter Parliament hath ever power to abrogate, suspend, qualify, explain, or make void, the former, in the whole, or in any part thereof, notwithstanding any words of restraint, prohibition, or penalty in the former. For it is a maxim in the law of Parliament, quod leges posteriores priores contraries abrogant." Therefore should any Parliament give up, renounce, and forever quit claim to the right of making laws to bind us in any case whatever, yet it can constitutionally stipulate for no longer than that one sitting. They have as full power and authority to revive and enforce the claim at their next sitting as if such renunciation had never taken place. Is it wisdom, then, or is there safety in entering upon terms of accommodation with a power which cannot stipulate for the performance of its engagements? If we are foolish enough to do this, must not our future security depend entirely on the will of a British Parliament, i. e. of a British Ministry? This, in my opinion, must form an insuperable obstacle to reconciliation in the mind of every honest man and sincere lover of liberty on the Continent.
A second reason against reconciliation is, that the British Constitution is so effectually undermined by the influence of the Crown, that the People of Britain have no security for the enjoyment of their own liberties, and therefore America can never be safe in being dependant on such a State.
The author of "An Historical Essay on the English Constitution," printed Anno 1771, says: "I shall not hesitate to date the decline of our Constitution from the Revolution. William the Third and his Parliament began the practice of restraining the elective power of the People, by the Legislative authority a power that might become ten thousand times more dangerous to the elective rights of the People than the Crown could ever possibly be. For whenever the active parts of a Government, founded upon the common rights of mankind; shall usurp a power to restrain or destroy those rights from whence they derive their authority, that State is not far from destruction.
"Thus the primary law of our Constitution, the first principle upon which it was founded, which had stood the test of twelve hundred years, and been the admiration of ages, was now reduced to the common level of a nuisance, to be corrected by Acts of Parliament. Our Legislative authority is, by its own nature, confined to act within the line of the Constitution, because it is only vested with a trust by the People, to the end they may protect and defend them in their rights and privileges. And therefore it is a contradiction in terms to say they have a right to consent to any that may restrain or destroy them. Their consent to this law was a notorious violation of the trust reposed in them." For, "upon this principle our Constitution may be one thing to-day, and another thing to-morrow. It is this, and that, or anything that our Legislative authority, for the time being, shall think proper to make it. But the prevailing faction of those days, after sowing divisions among the People to destroy their power and weaken their force, obtained a law, under pretence of providing for the distemper of the times, by which they have lost nay, what have they not lost? They have lost the distinguishing character between freemen and slaves! They have lost the distinguishing character of Englishmen! They have lost what the most
tyrannical of Kings of England could never force from them! They have lost what their forefathers have been spending their blood and treasure to defend for these thousand years! They have lost the greatest jewel that ever any People possessed! They have lost their constitutional and natural liberty, their birthright and inheritance derived from God and Nature! They have lost their constitutional redress for all their grievances! They have lost their all, their everything, by that damnable Septennial Law."
To my quotations from this Invaluable essay, I beg leave to add the following, as perfectly applicable to America; and the foregoing extracts will not only justify, but enforce the doctrine it contains, to every honest heart:
"To deduce our rights from the principles of equity, justice, and the Constitution, is very well; but equity and justice are no defence against power. You must take your constitutional rights under your own protection, and that quickly too, or they will be lost forever. Protect and defend them as the apple of your eye from danger, or as you would your wives and children from destruction. And never desist from using every remedy" in your power, "till you have established them on a foundation nevermore to be shaken, either by King or Parliament." A Constitution that affords no check against its own servants can yield no security to us.
He who has the nomination of the Officers of Government has the whole power of that Government in his own hand, and may do with it as he pleases. This is abundantly proved by the present ruinous state of Government in every Colony, where the King or a Proprietor had the nomination. Liberty will never flourish in such a Government. "By the Constitution of the Saxon Government (says the author first quoted) no officer, either civil or military, or even ecclesiastical, could be in vested in his office, or exercise any jurisdiction or authority over freemen, without the free election of those freemen over whom he was to exercise such authority. And it is for this reason, more especially, that the People of England were denominated free; for that by the ancient Laws and Constitution of the Kingdom, they had this just and natural right, viz: the free election of their Magistrates and Governours; without which our ancestors thought all our liberties were but a species of bondage. For of what use can liberty be to him whose person or estate is subject to officers, &c., set over him without his consent?" How different from, and how much superior to our present form of Government, was the Saxon, or old Constitution of England.
These three considerations form, in my opinion, an insurmountable obstacle against a reunion with Great Britain. The man who has not thought upon these points is ill qualified to judge of the necessity of Independence, or the inevitable ruin attendant on reunion.
My objections are radical, reaching to the root of the evil; and if a radical cure cannot be obtained in one way, it ought to be obtained in another. To skin over the wound would be madness. I therefore once more entreat you either to point out a complete remedy for these defects, and prove it more easily attainable than a complete delivery by a Declaration of Independence, or to give no further opposition to the measure. He who cannot see a fair prospect of removing these defects, and yet wishes to see America return to a state of dependance, has something else in view than the liberties of his country.
N. B. No good man can agree to any terms which will not give perfect security; and a division must therefore be intended by every man who attempts to prepare the minds of the ignorant and unwary to accept of anything else. As every writer on the side of dependance has hitherto studiously evaded the point, it appears they design, if possible, to effect a division. Take care, then, ye good People of America, not to be duped by distinguished Tories.