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Jensen, Merrill (ed.) / Ratification of the Constitution by the states: Delaware, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut

V. Commentaries on the Constitution, 13 November 1787-7 January 1788,   pp. 456-534

Page 463

our own choice, and keep society in confusion for want of a power
sufficiently concentered to promote its good. It is not strange that the
licentious should tell us a government of energy is inconsistent with
liberty, for being inconsistent the licentious should tell us a government
of energy is inconsistent with their wishes and their vices, they would
have us think it contrary to human happiness. In the state this country
was left by the war, with want of experience in sovereignty, and the
feelings which the people then had, nothing but the scene we had passed
thro could give a general conviction that an internal government of
strength is the only means of repressing external violence and preserving
the national rights of the people against the injustice of their own
brethren. Even the common duties of humanity will gradually go out of
use when the constitution and laws of a country do not insure justice
from the public and between individuals. American experience, in
our present deranged state, hath again proved these great truths,
which have been verified in every age since men were made and be-
came sufficiently numerous to form into public bodies. A govern-
ment capable of controlling the whole, and bringing its force to a
point, is one of the prerequisites for national liberty. We combine
in society with an expectation to have our persons and properties
defended against unreasonable exactions either at home or abroad.
If the public are unable to protect us against the unjust impositions
of foreigners, in this case we do not enjoy our natural rights, and a
weakness in government is the cause. If we mean to have our natural
rights and properties protected, we must first create a power which
is able to do it, and in our case there is no want of resources, but
only of a civil constitution which may draw them out and point their
The present question is, shall we have such a constitution or not?
We allow it to be a creation of power; but power when necessary for
our good is as much to be desired as the food we eat or the air we
breathe. Some men are mightily afraid of giving power, lest it should
be improved for oppression; this is doubtless possible, but where is
the probability? The same objection may be made against the con-
stitution of every state in the Union, and against every possible mode
of government; because a power of doing good always implies a power
to do evil if the person or party be disposed.
The right of the legislature to ordain laws binding on the people
gives them a power to make bad laws. The right of the judge to inflict
punishments gives him both power and opportunity to oppress the
innocent; yet none but crazy men will from thence determine that it
is best to have neither a legislature nor judges.
If a power to promote the best interest of the people necessarily
implies a power to do evil, we must never expect such a constitution

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