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The Life of Gouverneur Morris

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‘Here it will be necessary to determine in what it consists, which will naturally open our attention to what further steps are necessary to the completion of it.  Sir, I believe no such thing as perfect independence ever yet existed in any State.  The wants and weaknesses of cities, kingdoms, and empires, like the wants and weaknesses of the miserable people who inhabit them, form mutual connexions, relations, and dependencies, necessarily adapted to various purposes.  Independence then, applied to communities, can mean nothing more than the powers which separate societies exercise among themselves.  These relate to the society, compared either with its component parts, or with other societies.  As to the first, it comprehends legislation, and distributive justice.  The second consists in coining money, raising armies, regulating commerce, peace, war, and treaties.  These, Sir, I take to be the grand lineaments and characteristics, which mark out independence.  Go farther, and you will degenerate into quibbling logicians.  To them and dictionary makers let us leave all nicer distinctions; and see how far America may, or may not, be termed an independent State.

‘First, as to legislation.  I do candidly confess, that I meet with no laws, which you have passed in the usual style of be it enacted; but your cogent recommendations, with the penalties of disobedience affixed, are far from unfrequent.  Secondly, as to distributive justice.  At the first view, indeed, it seems not to have been your object, because writs run and judges sit as they were wont to do, and the King of England is (by fiction of law) present at every court on the continent.  Sir, when this system was first organized, we found a very good code of civil lads in being.  The wisdom of ages has been collected for their perfection, and we must have been losers by a change.  But if you should think proper to shut up the shop of justice, not wantonly, but from evident necessity, will any man pretend to deny, that the law would from that single breath become a dead letter?  And if any other government should take a step of this kind, without evident necessity, the subjects

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From The Life of Gouverneur Morris: With Selections from His Correspondence and Miscellaneous Papers; Detailing Events in the American Revolution, The French Revolution, and in the Political History of the United States, by Jared Sparks, Volume 1, Boston: Gray & Bowen, 1832, p 98. Some minor edits may have been made, but an attempt has been made to preserve the original spelling. Although some effort has been made to correct the limitations of OCR technology, if you find an error please report it to


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