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: [ANONYMOUS]: The Alarm: or, an Address to the People of Pennsylvania on the Late Resolve of Congress - Charles S. Hyneman, American Political Writing During the Founding Era: 1760-1805, vol. 1 
American Political Writing During the Founding Era: 1760-1805, ed. Charles S. Hyneman and Donald Lutz (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1983). 2 vols. Volume 1.
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The Alarm: or, an Address to the People of Pennsylvania on the Late Resolve of Congress
The Americans of the founding era were a highly politicized people. Even in the midst of their most serious crisis, every action was subject to debate. The Continental Congress had passed a resolution for the separate colonies to write new constitutions commensurate with their independent statehood. It had called upon the respective state legislatures to draft the constitutions, and in this essay the author argues that constitutions should not be written by legislatures but by special conventions elected for that purpose. While that has become common practice in the United States, few of the more than two dozen state constitutions adopted by 1800 were written by special conventions. The legislature tended also to adopt the new constitutions, and only twice before 1800 did a state both elect a special convention and submit the document to the people for adoption, the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 being the first.
The long continued injuries and insults, which the Continent of America hath sustained from the cruel power of the British Court, and the disadvantages, which the several provinces in the mean time labour under from the want of a permanent form of government, by which they might in a proper constitutional manner of their own, afford protection to themselves, have at length risen to such an height, as to make it appear necessary to the Honourable Continental Congress to issue a Resolve, recommending it to the several Colonies to take up and establish new governments “on the authority of the people,” in lieu of those old ones which were established on the authority of the Crown.
This, Fellow Countrymen, is the situation we now stand in, and the matter for your immediate consideration, is simply this: Who are, or who are not, the proper persons to be entrusted with carrying the said Resolve into execution, in what is the most eligible mode of authorizing such persons? for unless they have the full authority of the people for the especial purpose, any government modelled by them will not stand.
Men of interested view and dangerous designs may tell you, The House of Assembly: But be not deceived by the tinkling of a name, for either such an House does not now exist, or if it does exist, it is by an unconstitutional power, for as the people have not yet, by any public act of theirs, transferred to them any new authority necessary to qualify them agreeable to the sense and expression of Congress, which says, “on the Authority of the People,” they consequently have none other than what is either immediately derived from, or conveyed to them in consequence of, the royal charter of our enemy, and this, saith the Honourable Congress, “should be totally suppressed”. Wherefore, in compliance with this advice and recommendation of Congress, it is proposed to enter a public protest, in order to suppress it, for legislative bodies of men have no more the power of suppressing the authority they sit by, than they have of creating it, otherwise every legislative body would have the power of suppressing a constitution at will; it is an act which can only be done to them, but cannot be done by them. Were the present House of Assembly to be suffered by their own act to suppress the old authority derived from the Crown, they might afterwards suppress the new authority received from the people, and thus by continually making and unmaking themselves at pleasure, leave the people at last no right at all. The power from which the new authority is to be derived, is the only power which can properly suppress the old one. Thus, Fellow Countrymen, you are called upon by the standing law of nature and reason, and by the sense of the Honourable Congress, to assert your natural rights, by entering your protest against the authority of the present House of Assembly, in order that a new government, founded “on the authority of the people,” may be established.
Until the authority of the Crown, by which the present House of Assembly sits, be suppressed, the House is not qualified to carry the Resolve of Congress, respecting a new government, into execution, and after the House is suppressed, it will be again disqualified, for the want of new authority, for in that case it will be no House at all: Wherefore, both before and after suppression, the present House of Assembly cannot be adequate to the purpose of establishing a new government.
Besides, if a review of the past conduct of the House of Assembly be attended to, it will appear that they are a third time disqualified, in consequence of their own resolve. The unwise and impolitic instructions which they have arbitrarily imposed on the Delegates for this province, and confirmed at their last sitting, forbidding them in the strongest and most positive terms to consent to any change of government, should such be moved for in Congress, amount to a protest against the matter itself contained in the aforesaid resolve of Congress, and have even a reasonable tendency towards disolving the happy union of the colonies, for the Delegates, conceiving themselves bound by those instructions, sat as cyphers in Congress when the loud resolve was passed, declaring that they could not vote thereon, on which ground the term “Assemblies,” mentioned in the said resolve of Congress, cannot be applied, as to the purpose of forming new governments, to the Pennsylvania House of Assembly, because it withdrew from the resolve by the neutrality of its Delegates, yet, altho’ the Assembly is not included within the resolve itself, as to the exercise of new powers, it is included within the Preamble to the resolve, which, without regard to any distinct bodies of men, recommends generally that all the old powers of government be totally suppressed, and that new ones be erected on the “authority of the people.” And thus far, and no farther, is the Pennsylvania House of Assembly within the sense both of the preamble and the resolve of Congress.
In this situation, what is to be done? The union of the Colonies is not only our glory, but our protection, and altho’ the House of Assembly hath outwitted itself, it is no reason that the Province should: Wherefore, in order to restore ourselves to our former Continental rank, which we lost in Congress by not being represented in that resolve; and in order, likewise, that the people of this province may be put into a proper capacity of carrying the said resolve of Congress into execution, we must refer to the second term mentioned therein, viz. Conventions, for, even admitting that the present House of Assembly was a proper body, yet, the people may choose which they please, for both are mentioned.
The House of Assembly is a fourth time disqualified by not being sufficiently wise for such an important trust. If the aforesaid instructions to the Delegates be examined on the principles of sound reason and policy, they give a very indifferent character of the judgment and wisdom of the House, for, experience hath now taught us, and men of discernment did, at the time of first passing them, foresee that they were unsound in their policy, and would be hurtful in their effects. They are marked with the strongest characters of mischief and ignorance. Yet, they became a precedent to such other provinces as might be induced to believe that the Pennsylvania Assembly, by its central situation for intelligence, was possessed of some secret, which afforded grounds to expect a reconciliation, and under that delusion they likewise issued instructions to the same purpose; and thus, by circulating a false hope, the hands of power were relaxed, and a poisonous prudence was produced in our councils, at a time when a direct contrary spirit ought to have taken place, for if, instead of those instructions, a motion had been made for disclaiming all allegiance to the crown of Britain; and, had proper persons been immediately dispatched to Europe, to have cleared up the character of America from the aspersions which the British court would throw on her, as a pretence for obtaining foreign assistance, and had those persons been properly authorised to have negociated and ratified a treaty of friendship and commerce therewith, there is every reason to believe that we should not only have prevented Britain from obtaining foreign mercenaries, but that we should by this time have had the goods and manufactures of such countries in our stores, and thereby relieved this country from the present scarcity, and saved the poor from the enormous expence of purchasing goods at these present high prices. Thus hath a whole winter, when no molestation could happen to us, been lost and sacrificed thro’ the ill policy and ill precedent of the present House of Assembly—Therefore it is no longer worthy of our confidence.
Fifthly—The obligation which the said House of Assembly is under by oaths of allegiance to our enemy again disqualifies them fully and effectually from framing a new government. The members of the said House took those oaths, not as members of the community at large, but as members of the House particularly: Therefore they can only be properly discharged therefrom by ceasing to act in this official character in which, and for which, they took those oaths, besides which, as the new elected members will not now take the oaths, they cannot sit in Assembly with those who have; and those who have, cannot sit as a Convention with those who have not—Therefore the present House, in its present state, has not, nor can have, either the authority of an Assembly or Convention.
Sixthly—The undue influence and partial connextions which many members of the said House are biassed by, render them unfit persons to be trusted with powers to carry the late resolve of Congress into execution; and we have very alarming apprehensions, that a government, modelled by such persons, would be calculated to transfer the good people of this province, like live stock upon a farm, to the proprietaries of the soil. Lord and landlord were never yet united since the world began, and such a government would soon reduce us and our posterity to a state even of animal slavery. The most absolute monarch is supported by revenue only and not by revenue and rental both.
Fellow countrymen, it must occur with the fullest force of conviction to every honest, thinking man, that the persons delegated with proper powers to form a plan of government, ought to possess the entire confidence of the people. They should be men having no false bias from old prejudices, no interest distinct or separate from the body of the people; in short, they should be a very different sort of men to what many of the present House of Assembly are. They should be men, likewise, invested with powers to form a plan of government only, and not to execute it after it is framed; for nothing can be a greater violation of reason and natural rights, than for men to give authority to themselves: And on this ground, likewise, the House of Assembly is again disqualified.
We have, my Fellow Countrymen, been making shift long enough. It is now high time to come to some settled point, that we may call ourselves a people; for in the present unsettled state of things we are only a decent multitude. Yet, to the honour of this province, to the honour of all America, be it told, so long as the name of America remains, that by the common consent of Citizens, the public peace was preserved inviolate, for nearly three years, without law. Perhaps the only instance since the world began.
We are now arrived at a period from which we are to look forward as a legal people. The Resolve of Congress, grounded on the justest foundation, hath recommended it to us, to establish a regular plan of legal government, and the means which they have recommended for that purpose, are, either by Assemblies or Conventions.Conventions, my Fellow Countrymen, are the only proper bodies to form a Constitution, and Assemblies are the proper bodies to make Laws agreeable to that constitution.—This is a just distinction. Let us begin right, and there is no [fear] but, under the providence of God, we shall end well. When the tyrant James the Second, king of Britain, abdicated the government, that is, ran away therefrom, or rather, was driven away by the just indignation of the people, the situation of England was like what America is now; and in that state a Convention was chosen, to settle the new or reformed plan of government, before any Parliament could presume to sit; and this is what is distinguished in history by the name of the Revolution.—Here, my Countrymen, is our precedent: A precedent which is worthy of imitation. We need no other—we can have no better. And this precedent is more particularly striking in our situation, because it was concerted between our virtuous ancestors, and the ancestors of those German inhabitants of this and other provinces, who are now incorporated with us in one common stock. Having then a noble precedent before us, let it be our wish to imitate it. The persons who recommend this, are Fellow Citizens with yourselves. They have no private views, no interest to establish for themselves. This aim, end and wish is the happiness of the Community. He who dares say otherwise, let him step forth, and prove it, for, conscious of the purity of our intentions, we challenge the world.
Our present condition may, to many persons, seem more embarrassing than it really is; while, to those who have truly reflected thereon, it appears, that the necessary steps to be taken, in order to extricate ourselves therefrom, and to arrive at a state of legal order, are simple, easy and regular: For the purpose of which, it is proposed, that the Committees of Inspection throughout the several Counties, agreeable to the power they are already invested with, do immediately call a Convention to take charge of the affairs of the province, for we cannot conceive how the House of Assembly can any longer presume to sit, without either breaking through the resolve of Congress, or assuming to themselves arbitrary power. And we do farther propose, that this Convention, when met, so issue out summonses for electing by ballot (of all the freemen throughout the province, including those Germans, or others, who were before disqualified for not having taken oaths of allegiance to our enemy, but are now restored to their natural rights by the late resolve of Congress for suppressing the taking those oaths) a Grand Provincial Convention, consisting at least of One Hundred members, of known and established reputation, for wisdom, virtue and impartiality, without regard to country or profession of religion; whose sole business, when met, shall be to agree upon, and settle a plan of government for this province, which shall secure to every separate inhabitant thereof perfect liberty of conscience, with every civil and legal right and privilege, so that all men, rich and poor, shall be protected in the possession of their peace, property and principles.—And what more can honest men say? We mean well, and under that conscious sanction we implore God and man to help us. The die of this day will cast the fate of posterity in this province. We can no longer confide in the House of Assembly; they have, by a feeble and intimidating prudence held us up as sacrifices to a bloody-minded enemy, they have thrown cold water on the necessary military proceedings of this province and continent, and have been abettors, together with their collegues, in procrastinating the expedition to Canada, which, by that delay only, may probably not now succeed.
It is time, and high time, to break off from such men, and to awaken from such unmanly drowsiness: And we have no fear, that as our cause is just, our God will support us against barbarous tyrants, foreign mercenaries, and American traitors.
Having thus clearly stated the case for your consideration, we leave you to the exercise of your own reason, to determine whether the present House of Assembly, under all the disqualification, inconsistencies, prejudices and private interests herein mentioned, is a proper body to be entrusted with the extensive powers necessary for forming or reforming a government agreeable to the Resolve and Recommendation of Congress. Or whether a Convention, chosen fairly and openly for that express purpose, consisting, as has been before mentioned, of at least One Hundred members, of known reputation for wisdom, virtue and impartiality, is not a far more probable, nay the only possible, method for securing the just Rights of the people, and posterity.