The Pivot of American Government

James Sullivan. By: Gilbert Stuart.

In the earliest years of the American Republic, individuals like James Madison, Samuel Williams, Charles Pinckney, and Samuel Langdon concluded that no country had created a better model for representative government than America’s. See Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 596.

Madison wrote that America was the first country where there was “a government wholly popular, and founded at the same time, wholly on that principle [of representation].” The Federalist, No. 14. Madison framed representation as “the pivot” that American government rested on. See The Federalist, No. 63.

James Wilson built on these ideals, stating that whether you viewed the Senate as an aristocratic creation or not, “the power of magistrates, call them by whatever name you please, are the grants of the people.” Wilson, “Lectures on Law,” Wilson, ed., Works of Wilson, I, 445.

James Sullivan, in discussing Americans, observed that: “A portion of their authority they, indeed, delegate; but they delegate that portion in whatever manner, in whatever measure, for whatever time, to whatever persons, and on whatever conditions they choose to fix.” Sullivan, Observations upon the Government, 22, 23. This type of delegation “may extend to some things and not to others or be vested for some purposes, and not for others.” Id.

John Stevens agreed with Sullivan, adding that representation of the American people was always partial and tentative, and Americans had created a system where they could continually model it however they please. See Stevens, Observations on Government, 50.

Undoubtedly, the nature of representation and the nature of American government itself emerged from Americans’ awareness that adaptability was fundamental. Americans wanted a government that could adjust to changing circumstances, realizing that the most dangerous governments were the static ones, the ones that were not malleable and adjusted with the will of the people. Putting representation at the center of the new American government best equipped the government to adapt to centuries of change.

Without it, revolution would be a necessity as times changed. However, with every revolution comes instability and turmoil. Americans must remember this, that a balance must be achieved in government between being static and being unstable.

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