Demophilus: Principles of the English Constitution: The Legislature

Principles of the Ancient English Constitution, Democratic Thinker

Shortly after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, a writer under the pseudonym of Demophilus publishes a small booklet—The Genuine Principles of the Ancient Saxon, or English Constitution—calling for constitutions framed in accordance with the common practices of the freemen of early England.

For on no circumstance does the public peace and prosperity more immediately depend, than on the clearness, fullness and consistency of the laws.

The Genuine Principles of the Ancient Saxon, or English Constitution

Carefully collected from the best Authorities; With some Observations, on their peculiar fitness, for the United Colonies in general; and Pennsylvania in particular.


The powers of the several parts of the


“THE respective powers of the several branches of the Legislature come next into consideration. And it must be confessed, that on this question I find the greatest difference of opinion among the really wise and learned, of any pertaining to our system. Some talk of having two councils, one legislative, and the other executive: some of a small executive council only; which should have nothing to do with framing the laws. Some would have the Governor, an integral part of the legislature: others, only president of the council with a casting vote.

The latter opinion appears to me most consonant to the intentions of wise framers of Governments. The Governor should have a seat in some part of the Legislature, that he might be fully acquainted with the necessity and reasons for passing any bill into a law, and on the other hand, to prevent any one person from possessing too much, or a dangerous power, he should have no more than a casting vote when necessary.

Some are strenuous for only one legislative body namely, the house of representatives: but a council will be found necessary for the following reasons.

An Act, ever so well intended, and in appearance ever so well framed to promote the public good, will notwithstanding, throw the society into confusion, if it can be made appear that it is founded on principles which will not bear examination.

The persons selected to compose a council, are of course always supposed to have a superior degree of acquaintance with the history, laws, and manners of mankind; and by that means they will be more likely to foresee the mischievous consequences, that might follow a proceeding, which at first view did not appear to have any thing dangerous in it, to many honest men, who may however, be very worthy of a seat in the house of representatives.

For on no circumstance does the public peace and prosperity more immediately depend, than on the clearness, fullness and consistency of the laws.

The Governor should be furnished with a small privy council, to afford him their advice and assistance in the executive department; but they should have no share whatever in the Legislature.

In this capacity they should take cognizance of high crimes; such as mal-administration of Judges in their offices; being the proper inquest for this purpose—The Assembly and Legislative Council, in like manner to enquire into the conduct of the Governor and privy council, and the cause of complaint being found, a regular trial by the country should determine all causes whatever.

A COUNCIL, annually eligible, will endeavor to maintain their seats by the rectitude of their conduct.

TO suppose they can inveterate themselves, is to suppose that mankind will forget the mischiefs which have overspread the world from the days of Sylla to the present bloody period, from the same tyrannic source.

WE should make all prudent provision for posterity, and indeed the most salutary provision we can possibly make for them, is to enable them to provide for themselves; but we ought never to run into one extreme to avoid another.

THE last important measure I would propose, is, that, whereas the heat of war in our very neighborhood, may well be supposed to agitate the minds of the delegates in convention, and render it impossible to have every provision made for the security of our liberties, that cool and continued reflection would suggest, after the principal parts of the constitution are established, an adjournment might be made to a convenient day; and mean while every man might be invited to give his sentiments freely and discreetly upon any part of the system he might conceive could be altered for the better.

PROBABLY a decennial meeting of delegates, to examine the state of the constitution, and conduct of the government, would not be an imprudent provision for keeping the constitution in health and vigor, by having an opportunity to see that it did not depart from its first principles. This would be effectually holding the supreme power in its only safe repository the hands of THE PEOPLE.

Contributed by Democratic Thinker