Letter from General Sullivan to Meshech Weare



Winter-Hill, December 11, 1775.

DEAR SIR: Though continually involved in those difficulties which necessarily attend a military life, I can by no means forget the duty I owe to that Province whose generous favours I have so largely shared, and whose generous favours I have so often experienced. Being deeply impressed with gratitude to that truly patriotick Colony, and fully sensible that the remaining part of my life ought to be devoted to the interest of my country in general, and that Province in particular, I have stolen a few moments from the busy scenes of war, to offer you my thoughts upon a matter which I deem essential to the future welfare of my truly spirited and deserving brethren within that Government.

I hear that the Continental Congress has given our Province a power to assume government. But the contents of this letter to the Provincial Congress having never transpired, and my friends at the Continental Congress having never informed me but in general terms that we had liberty to assume government, I must conclude that liberty is given to set up and establish a new form of government; for, as we were, properly speaking, a King' s Government before, the giving us a power to assume government, would be giving us a license to assume a form of government which we could never obtain. Taking it therefore for granted that the Congress have given us liberty to set up that form of government which will best answer the true end and design thereof, I shall beg leave to offer you my thoughts upon the subject, leaving you to make such use thereof as your wisdom shall direct. And, as my ideas of government may in some measure differ from many others, I shall beg leave to premise some few things. And in the first place must observe, that all governments are, or ought to be, instituted for the good of the people; and that form of government is most perfect where that design is most nearly and effectually answered.

Secondly. That government which admits of contrary or clashing interests, is imperfect, and must work its own ruin whenever one branch has gained a power sufficient to overrule or destroy the other. And the adding a third, with a separate and distinct interest, in imitation of the British Constitution, so much celebrated by those who understand nothing of it, is only like two contending powers calling in a third which is unconnected in interest, to keep the other two in awe, till it can gain power sufficient to destroy them both. And I may almost venture to prophesy, that the period is now at hand when the British nation will too late discover the defects in their much boasted Constitution, and the ruin of that empire evince to the world the folly and danger of establishing a government consisting of different branches, whose interests must ever clash with each other.

Third. That no danger can arise to a State from giving the people a free and full voice in their own government. And that, what is called the prerogatives of the Crown, or checks upon the licentiousness of the people, are only the


children of designing or ambitious men, no such thing being necessary; for, though many States have been overturned by the rage and violence of the people, yet that spirit of rage and violence has ever been awakened in the first place by the misconduct of their rulers. And, though often carried to the most dangerous heights, so far from being owing to too much power being lodged in the hands of the people, that it is clearly owing to their having too small, and their rulers too extensive a power.

Thus, we find Rome enjoyed its liberties until their Dictators and others were clothed with power unknown before, at least in that country, and made in some sort independent of the people; and to this authority, so inconsiderately given, should be charged all the tumults at Rome, and the final ruin of that empire. This uncontrollable power, so much sought after by designing men, is made use of to enslave the people, and either brings about that event, or raises the just indignation of the people to extirpate the tyrant thus seeking their ruin. And it sometimes happens that the resentment is so far carried by the fury of an enraged populace, as totally to destroy the remains of government, and leave them in a state of anarchy and confusion; and too often have designing persons taken advantage of this confusion, and established tyranny in its place.

I am well convinced that people are too fond of their own ease and quiet to rise up in rebellion against government, unless where the tyranny of their rulers becomes intolerable. And their fondness for government must clearly appear, from their so often submitting to one tyrant after they had extirpated another, rather than live in a state of anarchy and confusion.

I would therefore advise to such a form of government as would admit of but one object to be kept in view, both by the governour and governed, namely, the good of the whole; that one interest should unite the several governing branches, and that the frequent choice of the rulers, by the people, should operate as a check upon their conduct, and remind them that a new election would soon honour them for their good conduct, or disgrace them for betraying the trust reposed in them.

I by no means object to a Governour, but would have him freely appointed by the people, and dependent upon them, and his appointment not to continue for a long time, unless re-elected-at most, not exceeding three years; and this appointment to be made by the freeholders in person, and not by their representatives, as that would be putting too dangerous a power in their hands, and possibly a majority of designing men might elect a person to answer their own particular purposes, to the great emolument of those individuals, and the oppression of their fellow-subjects; whereas, we can never suppose the people to have any thing but the true end of government, viz: their own good in view, unless we suppose them idiots or self-murderers.

I am likewise much in favour of a Council and House of Representatives, but would have them likewise chosen by the people, and by no means for a longer time than three years; and this mode of choosing would effectually destroy that pernicious power distinguishing Governours, to throw aside those persons who they found would not join them in enslaving the people.

The late conduct of Bernard and Hutchinson, and the present unhappy state of the Province I am now in, are striking witnesses of the justice of this observation; nor can I see the least reason for a Governour having a power to negative a Speaker of the House.

I would have some rule established for making that person incapable of holding either of the above offices, that should, either before or after his election, bribe or treat the voters, with intent either to procure an election or reward the electors for having chosen him. Accusation, if against the Governour, to be tried by the two Houses; and if against either of the other members, by the Governours and the other members of both Houses, he having only a vote equal to any other member. And in case judgment should pass against the new elected Governour, the old one to remain till a new election be had; and in case he be the same person formerly elected, the President of the Council to supply his place till a new election can be made, which President should be appointed by free vote of the members of the Council, at their first meeting.

The infamous practice of bribing people, in Great Britain


to sell their votes, and consequently their liberty, must show the danger of permitting so dangerous a practice to be instituted under our Constitution, to prevent which, and to guard against the undue influence of persons in power over votes, I would recommend the Pennsylvanian method, viz: that every vote should be rolled up, sealed on the back thereof, be noted that it is a vote for a Governour, which should be deposited in a box prepared for that purpose; and a vote for Counsellors and Representatives, sealed up, noted on the back, brought in as aforesaid, and deposited in separate boxes, provided for the purpose. That all voters having once given in their votes, should pass out, and care be taken that they should not come in again till the voting was over; or, if it be thought more expedient, to let the clerk of the meeting have a perfect list of all voters, with three columns ruled against those names, one marked for a Governour, one for a Representative; and when a person brings in a vote for one, a mark to be made against his name in that column; and if he brings in for all three at the same time, a mark to be made in each column; which I think will effectually prevent any fraud in voting again. The Representatives' box to be examined in meeting, and the election declared. The votes given for Counsellors and Governour to be sealed up by the clerk, and forwarded by him to the capital of the Province, where all the votes being had together, a sworn committee should examine the whole and declare the elections.

This method, though it may appear somewhat troublesome, will not turn out so upon trial; and it is the most effectual method to secure the freedom of voting, and prevent every species of fraud and connivance.

Any persons who offer themselves as candidates for any berth, may, agreeably to the method practised in Pennsylvania, publish their design in newspapers, or communicate it in any other method they may think proper, or leave the people to find out persons of merit and nominate for themselves. All civil officers should be appointed by the three branches, and all military officers by the Governour and Council, and never superseded in commission but by the same power which created them. All laws negatived by a Governour, if revived afterwards, and passed by a new House and Council, to be assented to by him at all events, as it would be unreasonable to suppose two Houses of Representatives, and two sets of Counsellors, possessed of less wisdom, or to have less understanding of the true interests of the people, than a single person has, and that after having a long time to think upon the matter, and to consult their constituents thereon.

And here I must beg leave to observe that, however high other people' s notions of government may run, and however much they may be disposed to worship a creature of their own creation, I can by no means consent to lodging too much power in the hands of one person, or suffering an interest in government to exist separate from that of the people, or any man to hold an office, for the execution of which he is not in some way or other answerable to that people to whom he owes his political existence.

Time will not permit me to go more largely into the subject, but I must leave you to weigh these hints, and make such improvement thereon as your wisdom shall direct; and though my notions of government are something singular, yet, I think this plan will be an improvement upon the Constitution, by far the happiest I know of. Where I have supposed a defect in that Constitution, I have taken the freedom to borrow from that of Pennsylvania, and other governments, to supply it; and, in some instances have added my own thoughts, which, if they have the force of reason in them, will have their weight. If they should not appear to be founded on reason, I must beg you to excuse my giving you trouble, as I sincerely aim to promote the welfare of that Colony, to which I wish the most lasting happiness.

And assure yourself that I am, with much esteem, your most obedient servant,