<br /> Lee Letter: b365

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee, Proposed Amendments to the Federal Constitution
Recipient:

It having been found from universal experience that the most express declarations and reservations arc necessary to protect the just rights and liberty of Mankind from the silent, powerful, and ever active conspiracy of those who govern, and it appearing to be the sense of the good people of America by the various Bills or declarations of Rights whereon the Governments of the greater number of the States are founded, that such precautions are necessary to restrain and regulate the exercise of the great powers necessarilly given to Rulers – In conformity wth. these principles and from respect for the public sentiment on this subject it is submitted – That the new Constitution proposed for the government of the U. States be bottomed upon a declaration or Bill of Rights, clearly and precisely stating the principles upon which this Social Compact is founded, to wit; That the right of Conscience in matters of Religion shall not be violated – That the freedom of the Press shall be secured – That the Trial by Jury in Criminal and Civil cases, and the modes prescribed by the Common law for safety of life in Criminal prosecutions shall be held sacred – That standing Armies in times of peace are dangerous to liberty and ought not to be permitted unless assented to by two thirds of the Members composing each house of Legislature under the new Constitution. That Elections should be free and frequent – That the right administration of justice should be secured by the freedom and independency of the Judges – That excessive Bail, excessive Fines, or cruel and unusual punishments should not be demanded or inflicted – That the right of the people to assemble peaceably for the purpose of petitioning the Legislature shall not be prevented – That the Citizens shall not be exposed to unreasonable searches, seizure of their persons, houses, papers, or property.

And as it is necessary for the good of Society that the administration of government be conducted with all possible maturity of judgement; for which reason it hath been the practice of civilized nations, and so determined by every State in this Union, that a Council of States or Privy Council should be appointed to advise and assist in the arduous business assigned to the Executive power – Therefore, let the new Constitution be so amended as to admit the appointment of a Privy Council to consist of eleven Members chosen by the President, but responsible for the advice they may give – for which purpose the advice given shall be entered in a Council book and signed by the Giver in all affairs of great concern. And that the Counsellors act under an Oath of Office. In order to prevent the dangerous blending of the Legislative and Executive powers, and to secure Responsibility – the Privy Council and not the Senate shall be joined with the President in the appointment of all Officers civil and military under the new Constitution. That the Constitution be so altered as to Omit the creation of a Vice Resident, whose duties as assigned by the Constitution, may be dischar[g]ed by the Privy Council (except in the instance of presiding in the Senate, which may be supplied by a speaker chosen from the body of Senators by themselves as usual) and thus to avoid the establishment of a great Officer of State who is sometimes to be joined with the Legislature, and sometimes to administer the Government, rendering Responsibility difficult; besides giving unjust and needless preeminence to that State from whence this Officer may come.

That such parts of the new Constitution be amended as provide imperfectly for the trial of Criminals by a Jury of the Vicinage, and to supply the omission of a Jury trial in Civil causes or disputes about property between individuals, whereby the Common Law it is directed, and as generally it is secured by the several State Constitutions. – That such parts of the new Constitution be amended as permit the vexatious and oppressive calling of Citizens from their own Country in all cases of controversy concerning property between Citizens of different States, and between Citizens and Foreigners; to be tried in a far distant Court, and as it may be without a Jury. Whereby in a multitude of cases, the circumstances of distance and expence, may compel numbers to submit to the most unjust and illfounded demands. – That in order to secure the rights of the people more effectually from violation, the power and respectability of the House of Representatives be increased, by increasing the number of Delegates to that House where the Democratic interest must chiefly depend for protection – That the Constitution be so amended as to increase the number of votes necessary for making Laws, where a bare majority is now declared sufficient; altho the choice of a Resident is required to be made by a greater number in cases where the Delegates are to choose that Officer – Yet surely it is as necessary to guard against injurious Laws being made, as it is to prevent an improper President from being chosen.

Notes:

Shippen CollectionHistorical Society of Pennsylvania

Printed in James Curtis Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, Volume 2, 1779 – 1794, pp. 442 – 44. Lee apparently enclosed this draft in his letter to William Shippen, Jr., of 2 October 1787. Lee enclosed another draft of the proposed amendments in his letter to Samuel Adams of 5 October 1787, no in the Samuel Adams Papers, Lenox Library