The Key of Liberty (William Manning, 1798): Excerpt 2

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare

2. A Description of a free Government & its administration

There are many sorts of governments, or rather names by which they are distinguished, Such as Despotic, Monarchical, Aristocratic. In these the power to govern is in the hands of one or a few to govern as they please, consequently they are masters & not servants, so that the government is not free.

There are also sundry names by which free governments are described, such as Democratical, Republican, Elective, all of which I take to be synonymous terms, or that all those nations who ever adopted them aimed at nearly the same thing, viz. to be governed by known Laws in which the whole nation had a Voice in making, by a full and fair Representation, & in which all the officers in every department of Government are (or ought to be) servants & not masters. Great pains have been taken & the wisdom of many Nations and States have been put to the rack, to delineate the rights of the people & powers of government & form Constitutions so that the blessings of government might be enjoyed without being oppressed by them, and it is thought that it has been much improved upon since the American Revolution.

The Constitution of Massachusetts, although it does not materially differ from all the other Constitutions on the Continent, yet as it was later made & the Convention who formed it has the advantage of the others, took more time & fixed a Bill of Rights to it, it is generally thought both in Europe & America to be the completest model of a free government of any existing. France has imitated it in her Constitution & the Federal Constitution by a fair construction both not materially differ from it. Therefore I shall describe a free government principally from it.

In the Bill of Rights it declares all men to be free and equal as to their rights in & under the government, as in Art. 1, & that all power lays in the people & all the officers of government are their servants & accountable to them, as in Art. 5. No man, Corporation, or Body of Men however high by birth, riches or honor have any right by them any more than the poorest man in the government, as in Art. 6 & 7th. The people have the sole right to reform, alter & totally change their Constitution or Administration of government when they please, as in Art. 7th, And have a right to meet and deliberate on all matters of government at such times & in such places & bodies as they please, provided they do it in a peaceable Manner, as in Art. 19th. The people have a right to know & convey to each other their sentiments & circumstances through the medium of the press, as in Art. 16th.

A free government is a government of laws made by the free consent of a majority of the whole people, But as it is impossible for a whole Nation to meet together and deliberate, So all their laws Must be made, judged & executed by men chosen & appointed for that purpose. And the duty of all those men are to act & do in making, judging & executing those laws just as the people would, provided they were all together and equally knew what was for their interest. If any of said officers or any who are chosen to elect or appoint any person into office does anything contrary to the true interests of the majority of the people, he violates his trust and ought to be punished for it.

In making laws in a free Government there cannot be too much pains or caution used to have them plain to be understood & not too numerous to this end. And as all bodies of men are liable to the same rashness & mistakes as individuals are, it is necessary that the Legislature Should be divided into two Branches, a Senate & house of representatives (not that they have separate interests or objects to act from as some pretend), but that they may guard against each other’s rashness & mistakes & to see that the laws are made plain & not too numerous. And as a further guard against unnecessary laws the Executive may have a partial negative on the passing of laws, & in difficult cases the opinion of the Judges may be called in (not that the Judicial or Executive powers ought to have a Voice in saying whether a law is necessary or not), but whether it can be carried into execution or not. For there is nothing more essential in a free Government than to keep the Legislative, Judicial & Executive powers entirely separate, as in Art. 30, not only separate Departments but entirely different sets of men (for reasons which I shall hereafter give).

The Business & Duty of the Judicial power is to hear & examine all complaints & breaches of the law and pass sentence (not on the law whether it is good or not) but whether it is broken or not & in every respect according to law.

The Business & Duty of the Executive power is to execute all the laws according to the orders & precepts he receives from the other Powers without any reference to their being right or wrong in his opinion for that would be legislating and judging too.

The sole end of Government is the protection of Life, Liberty & property. The poor man’s shilling ought to be as much the care of government as the rich man’s pound. Every person in the Nation ought to be compelled to do justice & have it done to him promptly & without delay. All taxes for the support of government ought to be laid equally according to the property each person possesses & the advantages he receives from it, & the people ought to support just so many persons in office as is absolutely necessary and no more, & pay them just so much salaries as will command sufficient abilities, & no more.

Also in free Government the most sacred regard must be paid to the Constitutions established by the people to guard their Rights. No law ought or can be made or constructed contrary to the true meaning thereof without becoming a nullity & those becoming guilty who does it, let them be either Legislative, Judicial or executive officers or bodies of men. And no parts of the Constitution can be constructed contrary to the declared Rights of the people.

In short a free Government is one In which all the laws are made judged & executed according to the will & interest of a majority of the whole people and not by the craft, cunning & arts of the few. To support such a government it is absolutely necessary to have a larger degree or better means of knowledge among the people than we now have, which I shall endeavor to make appear before I close.

9:48 am on December 27, 2012