James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Sylvanus Bourne, 23 September 1801

From Sylvanus Bourne, 23 September 1801

Amsterdam Sepr 23 1801.


I had yesterday the honor to address you via Baltimore since which have recd the inclosed to my care. In the letter just referred to I sent you a Gazette giving some detail acct. of a Revolution or change in the Govt. of this Country then operating at the Hague. Many defects were found to belong to the last constitution which called for a remedy, & three of the Existing Directory, formed a new plan & sent it down to the Legislature for its approbation & to decide on the time that it should be presented to the people at large for their vote on it. The questions thereon were of course discussed, & during which a protest came down from the two members of the Directory which were in the Minority & opposed to the new plan & the result of the Legislative discussion was a rejection of it by a majority of two. Upon this Event the three members of the Directory who had formed the plan, immediately sent a Civil officer attended by Military Escort, to dissolve or adjourn the Legislative body & closed the doors of the Chambers where they met with seals, forbidding any further deliberation on that or any Subject till the 11h. of Octr. deciding that in the Interval the new Constitution should be sent t⟨o⟩ the people for their approbation or rejection.

I must confess my regret that such a metho⟨d⟩ has been pursued to insure a majority or enforce a decision in the Legislature favorab⟨le⟩ to the views of the executive as it violates o⟨ne⟩ of the first maxims & one of the strongest pillars of a⟨ll⟩ republican Institutions—“that the voice of the Majority is to be Obeyed”. If at the momen⟨t⟩ that majority could not be obtained in the course of a calm & dispassionate deliberation o⟨n⟩ the proposition before them it would been more c⟨on⟩sonant to the reason & propriety of the ca⟨se⟩ as well as conformable to true republican princi⟨ples⟩ to have waited till a further experience of ⟨the⟩ defects of the old constitution should have ⟨pro⟩duced those further convictions in the min⟨ds⟩ of the members of the necessity of a n⟨ew⟩ one that would have consequently broug⟨ht⟩ the change about in a legal & formal [. . .] manner. These are humble sentiments on the subject, which I however do not express here, As I esteem it to be my duty to myself & Country to keep aloof from every shadow of party Character & to avoid the impossibility of such an imputation in any point of view. They have my regrets on like occasion & my best wishes for a Successfull issue to their Struggles for the establisht. of such a Govt. as should ensure their liberty peace & prosperity.

I have often had occasion since my Residence in Holland to congratulate my fellow Citizens of the US on the great advantages they possess over those in Europe, arising from their more just & correct conceptions of the principles of liberty & Self Govt. May they know how duly to appretiate the blessings they enjoy & to cherish with affection, whatever will tend to their promotion & duration. I am with the greatest Respect Sir Yr Ob Sert

S Bourne

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