|dear Sir||Parliamt. Street. 13 Sept 1785.|
My delay in answering your obliging favour of the 21st. Ult. has arisen partly from business, partly ill health which have alternately prevented me from giving the proper degree of attention to the objections you have stated against the 35th Article of the Pensylvanian Frame of Government. I esteem myself much honoured by your invitation to communicate mutually one sentiment upon the American Constitutions. Nothing can be more pleasing than an enquiry into the acts of Freemen, as Reason & the Public Good in such cases being acknowledged the supreme arbiters, a tribunal is established to which the parties can appeal—and in the present Instance I have every reason to believe that what I offer will be received & considered with candour.
The first Inference in the 36th
resolution viz. that there can be no necessity for nor use in establishing offices of
profit is certainly too peremptory and extensive—& I own that when I expressed
to you my approbation of that article I had not afforded sufficient consideration to the
Subject—The Interpretation however that you put upon the passage, viz, that there can be
no necessity for nor use in annexing either Salary fees, nor perquisites to public offices seems to be precluded by the
acknowledgement that when a man is called into public service to the prejudice of his
private affairs, he has a right to a reasonable compensation. To me the Article appears
to be founded upon the following principle "Although it is the right of every
Individual, and in some measure an obligation imposed upon him by the Law of Nature, to
pursue the means of acquiring an independent Support, yet it is also every freemans
duty, to bear
the his portion of the Public Burdens, & either is Just
rotation, or according to other prescribed rules to perform those services which the
welfare of the State requires. When he can perform these Services without any
considerable detriment to his private fortune, or injury to his family, no recompence is
due; The State justly requires a certain sacrifice of time—of labour—of emolument, from
all its subjects. But if the detriment is considerable, and the burden unequal in its
pressure, he has a right to a compensation from his country." Perhaps the Persons who
drew up this Article had also in contemplation that period, when through the admission
of the Principles of corruption, offices of profit might be instituted solely for the
purpose of increasing influence under the pretext of engaging persons of ability in the
public service—and therefore they wished to guard against that multiplication of honours
& Emoluments, of which Experience has sufficiently demonstrated the pernicious
nature in our European States.
Having thus given that Interpretation of the article, which I think must have been the intention of its framers, I will proceed to examine your objections, which perhaps may with almost equal force be urged against the original article, & the preceding interpretation.
You urge first, that Public Offices in general require the whole time; & all the attention of those who hold them. The word general here I think does not sufficiently qualify the assertion. Let us descend to particulars. First with respect to the office of a member of the House of Assembly. Independency of fortune here is certainly a proper requisite—yet I agree it ought not to be required by Law—free Citizens will naturally elect independent characters to represent them. The persons chosen have a right to a reasonable compensation—but surely the senatorial office does not require a previous specific education. In this instance therefore the doctrine advanced in the article is just & proper.
Secondly in a state, wherein every Citizen ought to be trained to the use of arms, the officers of the Militia, although when actually called out into the field, or even when obliged to leave their families or employments in order to acquire the requisite degree of discipline, they have a right to a reasonable recompence, or they ought not to be esteemed in the same light as the officers of a standing army, where the necessary professional skill undoubtedly requires much previous preparation—& the whole employment of their time.
The office of Justice of the Peace with us requires little previous
andat least not more than can be afforded to it without injury
to the private engagements of the persons who are called to it. and it is a fortunate
circumstance when men equally independent will undertake its duties
The lower orders of magistracy so necessary to the preservation of the tranquillity of the community may with advantage be considered in the light of public Burdens—to be born in Just rotation by the Inhabitants of Townships. the Stipend such as barely to compensate for the labour, or expence of the discharging of them.
And in the highest station that of Governor, although I am of opinion that a very honourable allowance should be settled upon the person who holds it, during his continuance in office; yet I see something peculiarly noble and also useful in the Idea of his returning after having faithfully served his country in this to the enjoyments of an independent though a private station.
You will perceive that our Ideas on these subjects approach nearly to harmony when I declare to you, that I perfectly accord with you in sentiment, respecting the evils, that have arisen from supposing that the Citizens of a free state have a claim to public gratitude, even when in Miltons phrase, "they have performed justly skillfully & magnanimously, all the offices both private & public of Peace & War." If the office is imposed upon him as a burden by equall Law, in duely discharging it he only performs his bounden duty to his country—if led to accept it by the splendor & emoluments of the station in that splendor & let him behold his full reward.
I am decidedly of opinion that a law establishing the principle, that no man should hold an office, who has not a private income sufficient for the subsistance of himself & family, would lead to Aristocratic despotism & every evil you describe. Yet I cannot but most sedulously maintain that in the offices I have hinted at, the moment their approach to the Idea of professional, they become incentives to ambition & every inordinate affection that can influence the human heart.
Other Offices there are, which require previous education, & which by their very nature require the whole attention of the mind. With respect to these I perfectly accord with you in opinion, that the possessors of them should enjoy stated, & in some cases ample Emoluments sufficient to interest the man of ability & business in the honourable pursuit. Such I mean are all Judicial places—such offices in finance as require previous preparation to a skillful discharge of their duties—offices in the naval department &c[.] In all these cases the parties should hold their Stat[us] during good behaviour—their salaries should be fixed—but all Ideas of perquisites & patronage should be utterly excluded.
With respect to your second objection I certainly agree with you that there is inconsistency, or at least a want of necessary precision in the expression; & what you afterwards urge respecting the difference between legal profits, and secret perquisites, appears strictly Just.
But I cannot consent in toto to your third position, that the dependence & servility in the possessors & expectants of public offices do not proceed from the legal profits of offices, which are known to all, but from the perquisites, patronage & abuses which are known only to a few.
I will suppose all perquisites &c abolished & yet
the aforesaid Evils may remain. The nature of the office the mode of appointment are
also to be considered. If the office be strictly useful—the emoluments reasonable
& the power of appointment properly vested, there will only subsist that degree
of emulation which gives life to all the organizations of a state. But if the office or
station—or the mode of appointment, bear any resemblance to the generality of offices in
European states, a servile prostration of all principle, leading to [thorn]e establishment of
the faction or despotism must be
[thorn]e inevitable result—In this view of things I am of
opinion with dr. Price that those states are happy which
know not Bishops Peers or kings; & are strangers to those offices &
Honours falsely so called, which owe their existence to those fantastic monuments of
human folly. But if you mean such offices as are necessary in a well constituted
state—& if provision be made for a proper appointment to them the assertion is
It is said in the Article that whenever an office, through increase
of fees or othewise becomes so unprofitable as to occasion many to apply for it. The
profits ought to be lessened by the Legislature—This you observe is not a good Rule. I
certainly agree with you that the Idea is not expressed either with
propriety or precision—And yet I think there is to me force in the principle. The Stated
fees & emoluments of offices that require previous education &c should
be sufficiently ample to call forth ability & merit, and a number of aspirants
may be permitted, or rather encouragement may be afforded
as a number of aspirants, without substantial evil, but on the
contrary with advantage to the state. But if the fees shuld increase far beyond the
first appointment, all due allowance being made for change in the value of Commodities
&c & if the number of Claimants shuld increase in the same proportion
too many valuable members of society wuld be allured by [thorn]e
greatness of the prizes to embark in the pursuit of public Honours—they wuld by
degrees become insensible to the modes of acquiring an honest Independency by
persevering Industry—& neglect the opportunity of increasing their own
patrimony—& [thorn]e patrimony of the state
by which agriculture Commerce & the Arts hold forth as [thorn]e sure & certain rewards of virtuous Labour in states
circumstanced as the American, with respect to extent of territory and the verious
produce of the Soil
With regard to the subsequent parts of your letter, I am altogether of your opinion. The support & reward of Public officers, shuld ever be considered as matter of Justice. not of gratitude. Indeed in almost all points I trust the appearance of difference in statement will decrease in proportion as our principles are explained—
There are some other points in the American Constitutions, upon which I will take [thorn]e liberty of submitting to you my sentiments—I think myself truly happy in your permission to communicate with you on these interesting topics—I regard the establishment of Liberty in America with a pleasure bordering on Enthusiasm—I feel with Dr Price the ardent wish that nothing may retard the extent & influence of freedom.—I detest the mean & cordial Policy of our present rulers with respect to both America & Ireland—& am sorry to perceive that their opponents are too much actuated with [thorn]e same spirit—but I will trust that [thorn]e same good Providence which hath smiled on the exertions of freemen will safely guide them through every storm, untill at length [thorn]e bright example shall influence the People from whence they sprang, & every other European State, to shake off the shackles of Civil & Religious despotism & enable to become what Heaven intended men to be— virtuous—rational—wise & happy here for [thorn]e enjoyment of still superior degrees of happiness in a more enduring State—The latter is a sentiment which I am not ashamed to confess makes an important article in my Politics—For I really believe that if the genuine doctrines of the Gospel were known & practised—nothing wuld lend more to restore [thorn]e order of Human affairs—& to establish the liberties of Mankind
Mrs Jebb Joins me in best respects to Mrs Adams—& I am with [thorn]e / greatest esteem / yr. obedt. servt.