To Nathaniel Barrell

    New York City        28, 30 January 1788

    Dear Sir,

    Your Letter of the 15th. inst. is still before me; and as I told you in my Letter of Yesterday, I would read yours it with attention and send you my more deliberativee sentiments upon your objections to the Constitution, as soon as I could get leisure—

    This morning I have read yours it again & again—and am more & more inclined to think that you will finally approve of the Constitution—that is, so far as to adopt it, and will say—that, tho it is not perfect, yet the Liberties, & property of the people are perfectly safe—and that some alterations, which can better be made after it is adopted than before, will render it the most finished plan of Government in the world—

    Your first observation is upon the known difficulty of turning out a Representative, when he behaves ill, tho he be elected for one year only,1 and then conclude that it will be much more difficult, if not impossible, to turn out or change the Representatives in the Continental Government seeing they are, by that plan, to be elected for two years—Here, my friend, a close attention to the sentiments of the people, about election time, will tend to shew that your conclusion against Biennial elections is by no means, conclusive—But proves the contrary—

    The sentiments of the people may always be collected by their conversation, with one another when they get together, in small clubs, & circles, at and before election time—when the enquiry—who shall we send? becomes general—how common, is it to hear one and another say—why, there is our old Representative, what objection have you against him—let us send him—’tis but for a year, he cant do much hurt, in so short a time, tho he does us no good—come let us try him another year—he just begins to understand the Business; And if we dont like his conduct after this year we will put him down—I never attended to the conversation of the people, when it run upon the choice of a Representative, but what it always expressed this general Sentiment—that a year is so short a period they had rather run the risque of a bad man’s doing ill in that time than turn him out & put in another—Now if these observations are just—and I think they are copied from nature and fact—what is the general conclusion? It appears to me clearly this—that when the elections come to be but once in two years the people will entertain different sentiments upon this matter—instead of saying—Let us try our Representative two years more—they will more naturally say to one another—he has been there two years already—this is a long time—we ought to be careful how we continue people too long in office—if we dont turn him out now we shall not have another opportunity under two years—This Language is demonstrative of sentiments & principles that will ever decide against reelections of the same persons either as Representatives or Senators, under the new Constitution, unless they have given the most unequivocal evidence of their attachment to the Rights & Privilidges of the people—And when this shall be the case every reason of in the world must operate in favour of a re-election. I have not aimed at proving the meliority of Biennial to annual elections of Representatives under the new-Constitution; this has been done fully to my satisfaction by the Supporters of the Constitution in your Convention;2 But only to shew from the real sentiments, feelings & opinions of the people, that they will always be more ready, & prone to turn out a Representative, under the new Constitution, than they are a State Representative—From whence I conclude that any objection against the plan of Government, on account of the people making the House of Representatives, or Senators perpetual or for Life, by their continual elections is altogether inadmissible.

    “I see it (the Constitution) pregnant with the fate of our Liberties &c for it vests Congress with much more extensive powers than ever great Britain exercised over us—And too great to intrust with any set of men let their talents and Virtues be ever so conspicuous.”

    By this paragraph from your Letter, my friend, I am persuaided that although you may have read the Constitution many times over, and paid particular attention to the Arguments for and against it, you have not done this with clear, distinct and definite Ideas—that is have not took the Constitution in its several parts, and, in idea, pursued the several branches of power, delegated to it, through their respective branches to the various objects this power is designed to operate upon—In order to do this, for a moment, imagine the Constitution adopted—the Congress formed under it, and each branch thereof performing its offices—And then point out to me what objects the power of Congress reaches, according to its natural operation, which the Supreme power of the Union ought not to reach—or what objects the power of Congress will extend to so as to endanger the Rights and Liberties of the people—For if, upon this investigation, it should appear, as I am confident it will to you and every body else who does it with candor, that the power of Congress does not extend to any objects but such as ought to be under the controul of the federal Authority—And that it extends to none that can endanger the Rights & Priviledges of the people, you will then say the sentiments contained in the foregoing Quotation are not well founded—This mode of considering the matter will also convince you that the origin and extent of the power claimed by great Britain, over the Colonies, are so essentially different from the origin and extent of the power vested by the Constitution in the Congress, that the latter may be much more extensive than the former and yet by no means dangerous to the Liberties of the people—Nothing can be more different than the origin of these powers as they related to the people over whom they were claimed—In the former case they originated with King, Lords & Commons in England—The Americans, over whom they were claimed, had neither voice nor influence in creating or originating them—In the latter case the power originates from the people, and the State Legislatures composed by & depending upon the people—and is to be exercised over these people themselves—As to the extent of those Powers—The power claimed by Great Britain extended to the turning out and puting in, at mere will & pleasure, the several Branches of the Collonial Legislatures; & making them, in all respects, independent of the people—And in all other cases was equally if not more extensive than the power vested in Congress—And without any check whatever—The King & Lords hereditary—and the Commons chosen by people three thousand miles different.

    You say you are convinced that “six years is to long a term for any Set of men to be at the helm of Government, for in that time they will get so firmly fixed their influence will be so great as to continue them for Life”—In all political propositions, like the foregoing quotation, the mind may rest satisfied at various stages, between simple belief and clear demonstration—If I thought you had arrived to [a] demonstration in your certainty of the truth of your objection; and had clear Ideas of the agreement of Destruction on one branch of a Legislature constituted like the Senate, it would be in vain for me to attempt any reply to this part of your Letter; But my friend, apprehending that you, at present, only think or believe, upon evidence of one kind & another, that six years is too long for any set of men to be at the helm of Government, I will make a few observations on this part of your Letter—And the more readily because it is a weighty objection in your mind.

    And first—I dont know what your conviction arises from, but I am pretty clear it cant be from experience; For this I think is against your position—The Senate of New-York are chosen for four years with an annual Rotation of one fou[rth] The Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania is chosen for three years, with a Rotation of one third annually—Delaware like Pennsylvania Maryland chooses their Senate for five years without any Rotation—Here, my friend, in our own Country, we find different bodies of men in the Legislatures, continuing by their respective Constitutions, three, four & five years—three of them like the new Constitution with a Rotation—and one, for five years, without—

    The whole Senate, in the new Constitution, continue for two years only—And but two thirds for four years—while every second year one third of the Senate is made up of new members—Now as we hear no complaints from New-York, Pensylvania, Maryland or Delaware, on account of the duration of their Senates, tho some of these Governments have been existing for more than ten years—I think we may draw this Conclusion—that in a Legislature consisting of two branches, like the several Legislatures in the United States, or the Constitution under consideration, one Branch thereof may be for thr[ee,] four, five, or six years, with a quarterly, or a <lined out> larger Rotation without endangering the Rights or Liberties of the people. Your allusion to the Emperors of Rome I look upon altogether inapplicable to the proposed Congress, or any Branch thereof, under the new Constitution.3

    There you behold an individual publishing his mere will & pleasure for both Law and Constitution—Here you see a regular Constitution fixed and permanent, unless altered by the people—The power of the Legislators circumscribed—And the time of their continuance in that capacity, established, beyond which th[ey] cannot continue to in office; and after which as well as during the time in [which] they become individuals of the people themselves & subject to every Law they have passed—

    The idea of the Senators becoming rooted, as you express it, in their Seats, and holding their offices for Life has before been demonstrated to be repugnant to the natural Sentiments of the people, and what cannot be expected but upon unequivocal proof of their being fit & good persons for Senators, & so become re-elected—Under this Constitution and among men with such high notions of Liberty, to use your words upon a like occasion tho with a different view, as we Americans have it will ever be impracticable for the Senate, or any branch of the Congress, to get themselves so established, in their Seats, as to become a dangerous Body of men—

    But, my friend, whether the Senate continue in office two, three, or six years, is not in itself essential to the preservation of political Liberty; but their being choosen by the people, for a definite period, and impeachable by them—

    Therefore I shall not dispute about any period of years—if it be not extravagant—which I do not look upon six years to be—Had the Constitution limited the continuance of the Senate to two, or three years—or four years—I would not, on that account, have objected to it, tho I, at present, think the period of six years is better adapted to the circumstances of the United States than any period short of that—And since it is become necessary, for the preservation of the Union, & our existance as a nation, to have an efficient Government established, dont let objections to the present plan, not connected with the Liberty or Safety of the people, prevent its taking place—

    Another objection is—The Government will be too expensive—To this I cannot give a direct answer as I have not time to make the calculations necessary for that purpose; But to speak generally upon the subject—I do not look upon this as a sufficient reason for rejecting the plan—it lays, in kind, equally against every Government whatever; and I am not able, at present, to substitute one that would be less expensive, and, at the same time, equally preserve the Liberties of the people—We cannot expect a Government without expence—The existing one is expensive; and many, among whom are some [of] the principal opposers of the new plan, are of opinion that it is as expensive as the one under considerati[on] will be should it be adopted; these same persons also object against the Constitution because both Senate & House of Representatives are too small—they would have these augmented one third at lest—

    This shews that they do not make the same objection that you do; from which circumstance, with many others of the like kind, it appears that the objections, made by different persons, in different States, are so various, and contradictory, that the objectors themselves would agree upon nothing that has the resemblance of a Government—I think it is deserving the attention of the objectors to examine and compare together their own objections, and see whether it is possible, according to the principles of their objections, to form any Government at all—I have compared several of them together & they are so repugnant to each other, that it is next to impossible for them to meet in any system whatever—And yet every one feelingly acknowledges the necessity of some Government being immediately adopted. This objection, I candidly confess, has heretofore weighed, in my mind, considerably against the plan—But after duly considering the nature of it—and how it must ever lay against any, and every form of Government in a greater or less degree—after conversing with great and respectable Characters, as well those opposed to it as such who patronise it, both of whom give up the objection and confess it the plan ought not to be rejected on that account I say after the most impartial enquiry I am capable of making upon this matter, I have changed my Judgment—& am now convinced the expence is no objection to the adoption of the plan—But should not the same enquiry & degree of evidence convince you that has convinced me upon this matter—I doubt not but you will have such an additional weight offered in the Convention as to satisfy, in your candid mind, every rising doubt on this or any other poi[nt.]

    Your other two objections—that of the annihilation of the State Governments—And Taxes being collected by a standing army—I cannot reply to at this time—And tho I am clear that no objection against the Government than these, has less foundation than these; yet to demonstrate, as tis easy to do, upon the clearest principles, that the former is impossible; & the latter, if I may be allowed the expression is infinitely improbable, would greatly exceed the bounds of a Letter—which I fear I have already done to that degree which will not admit of an apology—

    However that I may not still be more guilty of trespassing upon your time which may be employed to better purposes both for yourself and the Public than by attending to my reverees—for such, perhaps, the foregoing will appear to you—I throw myself upon your candor and friendship to make my apology—& conclude, by assuring you—that I am

    dear Sir, your friend & humble Servant

    Post Script—I take the Liberty of inclosing, for your persusal, two papers containing three numbers of the Federalist4—These, I apprehend, will go a great way in answering your two last objections against the Constitution—Also any objections you may entertain against it on account of a supposed mixture of the Judicial Legislative & executive Powers—which haves been much insisted upon by many—But I think without foundation—

    Letters were last night recieved, by his Excellency the President, from Virginia—giving an account of a change of Sentiments in several of the principal opposers of the Constitution—that from a full consideration of the nature of the Constitution, they are convinced it is best to have it established—and have accordingly became warm advocates for the System—This may be depended upon5

    Januay. 30th.

    * * *

    ALS, Barrell Correspondence. On 20 February, NB replied: “Major [Samuel] Nason deliverd me your two last favors of 27th. & 28th. Ultimo the day after the great, the Important question was decided. and tho I blush to think of the trouble I’ve given you on this subject, yet Im pleasd, much gratified, to find we at last agree in sentiment on this matter, & that Ive this further confirmation of your attachment to me your friend our Eastern Cicero [Samuel Nasson?] can will give you more perfectly the particulars of the convention than this feeble little instrument in my hand is capable of, & save me the pain of exposing my own folly—he can tell you wth. what zeal I pushd the oposition till <illegible> powerful reason flushed conviction of my mind, & obligd me in spite of myself the power force of prejudice to resist it no longer” (NB to GT, 20 Feb. 1788, Barrell Correspondence; NB’s docketing noted “Rough copy”).