Amos Kendall: Democratic Principles

Democratic Party Founding Papers, Amos Kendall, Democratic Thinker

During 1832, Amos Kendall, a leader of the Jacksonian Democrats, publishes a political address setting out some of the main principles of the Democratic party.

When doubts arise, the question with us is not whether a power be necessary, but whether it has been delegated. If it be necessary and not delegated, it cannot be exercised. To authorize its exercise, resort must be had to an amendment of the Constitution.


1. Our Federal Union must be preserved.

MEN are beginning to think too lightly of the Union of these States. Some maintain that its value to the South is overbalanced by the evils of the present protecting system. Others insist if that system be abandoned it is of no value to the North. Both are wrong. If the evils of that system be as great on the one hand, or its benefits on the other, as the wildest enthusiasts on either side depict, there are yet advantages in Union which transcend them all. It preserves peace between twenty-four rival republics, covering a large space on this globe. It secures between them ready intercourse and free trade. It provides for the transmission and diffusion of intelligence with a safety and speed unequalled on earth. It maintains the pervading influence of certain great principles, useful alike to all ranks and conditions of men; such as the inviolability of contracts, an uniform tender in the payment of debts, and prospective legislation upon crimes and punishments. The dissolution of the Union would lead to frequent if not perpetual wars,—desolating our fruitful fields, exposing our peaceful cities to fire and sword, and deluging our country with fraternal blood. In addition to the devastations of war, taxes tenfold more heavy than the protecting system imposes would be required to support armies and navies, extended civil establishments and pensioners. Custom-houses would be multiplied on the borders of each State, as well as in the maritime ports; free trade at home would be lost without securing it abroad; all safe, expeditious, and cheap transmission of intelligence would be cut off; all fundamental principles violated in general anarchy; and our people reduced, like those of Europe, to labor only for the support of their rulers and those costly establishments which constant danger would make it necessary for each State to maintain.

Our people must not be reduced to this condition, “our Federal Union must be preserved.” It is the only shield of the people. Its dissolution will soon be followed by the loss of all that is valuable ill liberty. It will multiply beyond measure those who live upon the people’s industry; and it will bring nothing in return but ages of taxation, misery, and blood. Our remedies for all abuses are therefore within the Union. To seek relief from existing evils in a dissolution of the Union is to rush through the flames of anarchy into the arms of slavery. With us, therefore, the Union is sacred. Its preservation is the only means of preserving our civil liberty. We look upon the enemies of the Union as the enemies of liberty.

2. The Constitution of the United States is a declaration of powers.

TO this general principle all assent. Differences arise, however, in determining what is delegated. We are advocates of a strict construction. When doubts arise, the question with us is not whether a power be necessary, but whether it has been delegated. If it be necessary and not delegated, it cannot be exercised. To authorize its exercise, resort must be had to an amendment of the Constitution. Nor can a power which conflicts with any provision of the Constitution, or violates any right of the States, be assumed and exercised as a means of executing clearly delegated powers. The general government cannot, in the use of means, enlarge its own powers, nor curtail those reserved to the States.

3. The State constitutions are limitations of power.

WERE the people of the States to abolish their constitutions, as well as the Constitution of the United States, and elect legislatures untrammelled by instructions, the legislative bodies thus constituted would possess all political power, and be as omnipotent as the British Parliament. The State constitutions are, in their general character, standing instructions from the people to their representatives, forbidding the exercise of certain powers. In some instances they direct the performance of specific acts; but these provisions confer no power. They merely make it the duty of the legislatures to exercise certain powers which would have existed in just as full a manner if they had not been inserted; but would have remained undistinguished in the mass of legislative discretion.

4. The perfection of civil liberty is the power to do as we please, without infringing the rights of others.

PERFECT men would need no government. Each one knowing his own rights and the rights of others, would content himself with quietly enjoying that which belonged to him, without molesting his neighbor. Neither life, liberty, nor property would be in danger from human violence, and therefore no laws would be necessary for their protection. In such a state, government would be unnecessary and unknown. Men would not choose legislators; for they would need no laws. They would not be taxed to support armies and navies, for there would be no enemy to encounter. They would not pay their money to build prisons and support the officers of the law, for none would commit violence upon their persons or depredations on their property. Each would be his own ruler, perfectly free and perfectly just.

It should be the object of government to place the honest and upright man, as nearly as possible, in this condition. It cannot make him more free than it finds him. Its only legitimate object is to protect him in the enjoyment of his freedom. He does not ask government to take the property of others and give it to him, or to subject their persons to his control. All he asks is that it shall protect him in the enjoyment of his property, and shield his character and person from the assaults of bad men. He is justly taxed and cheerfully pays a sum sufficient to support an adequate number of officers to perform these duties. He asks for no advantage over others; he only demands that others shall have no advantage over him. Men thus governed could enjoy “the highest degree of liberty and equality of which mankind is susceptible in the social state.”

The only use of government is to keep off evil. We do not want its assistance in seeking after good. Providence protects us, and leaves us to our own will. If Infinite Wisdom has deemed it inexpedient to infringe upon human liberty, even to promote human happiness, shall this prerogative be assumed by a fallible government? He is as much a slave who is forced to his own good, as he who is unwillingly plunged into evil. That government is as much a tyranny which forces the Laplander, contrary to his will, into the genial climes of the South, as that which drives the unhappy Pole to the frozen deserts of Siberia, Violation of human will is the violation of human liberty, and when it is not necessary to the protection of the rights of others it is tyranny and oppression, whether exercised for good or for evil.

Men do not complain of government for compelling the payment of just debts; for protecting their reputation, restraining the trespasser, punishing the thief, executing the murderer, and shielding them from the ravages of a foreign enemy. It is not for acts like these that discontents arise, rebellions are engendered, and revolutions break forth. These occur only when government departs from its legitimate objects,—“when the laws undertake to add to natural and just advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful.” A government perfectly just is not to be expected; because that very imperfection of our nature which makes it indispensable, necessarily mingles in its administration. But the more deeply impressed the people and public officers are with the legitimate objects of government, the nearer will it approach to perfection, less cause will be given for discontent, and less frequent will be rebellions and revolutions.

5. We consider ability, integrity, and fidelity to the fundamental principles of our republican institutions necessary qualifications for every office of honor or trust in our republic.

ALL concede the necessity of ability and integrity as qualifications for office; but in selections for executive and judicial offices, too little regard is generally paid to correct political principles. Perhaps it is unfortunate in a free government that office carries with it some degree of political influence. The respect of some, the interest of others, and his commanding position give to the opinions of a public officer more weight with the people than generally attends those of a private citizen. It is important, therefore, that public offices shall be held by men of correct political principles. The people do not hesitate to put men in office or out according to the principles which they profess and practise. It is the only process by which their own principles can be made to prevail in the administration of their government. The same reason exists why other officers, not chosen by the people, should accord with them in their views of government and its administration. On this ground it may be maintained that it is the duty of those intrusted with the administration of the government, to fill all offices in their gift with those who have proved by profession and practice their devotion to the fundamental principles of our institutions. Would the Emperor of Austria or the Autocrat of Russia fill his cabinet, his bureaus, or his clerkships with known republicans in principle? They understand too well the effect of excluding their friends, and giving place and influence to the enemies of their despotic principles, to be guilty of such suicidal nets. Should republicans be less regardful of the principles which form the basis of their institutions and the means to give them practical effect? Should they place the offices of the republic in the hands of those who would destroy it? If monarchs are so true to themselves, should not republican magistrates be true to the people? Is it not their duty to fill the offices in their gift with men who have proved themselves devoted to popular right?

Offices in our government are created for the good of the people, and not to provide places for the personal favorites of the chief magistrate or any other man or men. For the people are they established, and at the expense of the people are they maintained. They should be limited in number to the actual exigencies of the public service, and filled with men of talents, integrity, industry, and pure republican principles. No man has a property in the office he holds. It is a trust for the people, and whenever the people, or those whom they have selected to superintend that portion of their public service, think proper to place the trust in other hands, nopersonal wrong is done to him who is displaced. As a matter of expediency and humanity, individual inconvenience or distress should not be produced without cause; but in no case can the displaced officer complain that he is deprived of any personal right.

Dishonesty, indolence, imbecility, immorality, and anti-republican principles constitute, respectively, reasons which make it the duty of those having the power to change the incumbents of public offices. Not the convenience or interests of office-holders or their friends, but the public good should be the supreme law in all appointments and removals.

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