A "BILL OF RIGHTS”

“SHOULD FORM A PART OF EVERY FREE GOVERNMENT"

MONROE, JAMES.

 

A fragment from his notes concerning a Bill of Rights [for France's Constitution], over 30 lines introducing in general terms an argument for constraints on the powers of government. 2 pages, approximately 5 1/2x8 inches. [June 1795]

 

"…[dec]laration or bill of rights should form a part of every free government; indeed no gov't can be perfectly free which does not contain one. This doctrine is supported by many considerations, which appear to be strong & conclusive, while not a single weighty objection can be lodged against it. 
"If the constitution of an elective gov't does not contain adequate provisions against the abuse of power, it is as unlimited and unrestrained in its measures as an hereditary one. The quantum of powers in all gov'ts which are completely sovereign must of necessity be the same. They must all be able to inform an obedience to their laws or they do not merit the name of gov'ts. The difference between an elective and an hereditary gov't does not consist in the quantum of power which they severally possess, but the use to which it becomes subservient--by the nature of their respective institutions. . . . 
" . . . “There are two kinds of gov't whose principl[es are] radically opposite to each other. The first is founded by compact in the sovereignty of the people; the second by force, by means whereof the sovereignty is transferred from the people, to those who atchieve it. Each of these kinds of gov'ts is capable of a great variety of modifications b[ut] the principle is the same under whatever form it appears. Indeed there are but two principles known to the science of gov't. . . ."

 

 
In his office as American Minister Plenipotentiary to France, Monroe was charged in 1794 to be the custodian of the nation's interests in France, calming tensions in relations between the countries. In addition to performing this duty, Monroe may have advised the French National Convention on the importance of a Bill of Rights for their Constitution. Monroe's strong convictions concerning the importance of a Bill of Rights had prevented him from voting as a delegate to the Virginia convention in 1788 for the ratification of the U.S. Constitution because of its lack of adequate safeguards. 
His complete notes are published as "Notes on a Constitution 2: For the National Convention" in the Papers of James Monroe, ed. Preston, vol. 3, pp. 342-50.