Front Page Titles (by Subject) A Foreign Spectator [Nicholas Collin] An Essay on the Means of Promoting Federal Sentiments in the United States: XXIV, XXV, XXVIII - Friends of the Constitution: Writings of the Other Federalists, 1787-1788
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“A Foreign Spectator” [Nicholas Collin] “An Essay on the Means of Promoting Federal Sentiments in the United States”: XXIV, XXV, XXVIII - Colleen A. Sheehan, Friends of the Constitution: Writings of the “Other” Federalists, 1787-1788 
Friends of the Constitution: Writings of the “Other” Federalists, 1787-1788, edited by Colleen A. Sheehan and Gary L. McDowell (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1998).
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“A Foreign Spectator” [Nicholas Collin]
Independent Gazetteer, Philadelphia, 18, 21, and 28 September 1787
Although these essays began appearing before the Federal Convention concluded, they continued to appear into October 1787. Unlike many of the writings by the Federalists, which tend to focus on particular Anti-Federalist attacks, these essays take up the whole range of human affairs. As the author puts it, since the stability of republics depends upon “fixed principles and settled habits,” it was necessary for him to consider “education, morals, religion, manners, laws, and learning.” The complete set of essays is on the microfiche supplement to volume 3 of The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution.
Nicholas Collin (1746-1831) was the pastor of the Old Swede’s Church on the Delaware River in Philadelphia. A native of Sweden, Collin wrote twenty-nine essays under the general heading “An Essay on the Means of Promoting Federal Sentiments in the United States.” A selection of the twenty-nine essays is reprinted in this volume.
In this federal composition it is not proper to draw comparisons. It is generally known which of the states have been most deficient. Pennsylvania has paid nearly the whole, and New-York more than her quota.* The former has however taken the resolution to discount by federal contribution to her own citizens who are creditors of the United States; and this would not grant the impost but on condition of reserving to herself the power of collecting it, and the liberty of paying in paper money. Both these states assume thus powers very antifederal; yet what else can be expected from the federal states, when others are so neglectful. How alarming are these facts! do they not plainly say—the ship will be lost, let every one take care of himself. If a foreign power should by arms demand payment from the United States, it would not inquire how they have paid their respective quotas; if most convenient, it may take New-York or Philadelphia, and let these cities take satisfaction from New-Hampshire or Carolina as they can. Is it not then shocking, that in this federal anarchy those states that have been the most generous may be ruined by the most selfish! Would not this alone be an ample cause of civil war? When the peace establishment is calculated, and the proportion of the national debt to be annually paid is determined; the federal revenue may with tolerable precision be fixed for several years. Accounts of the federal expenditure to be laid at regular intervals of time before the several Legislatures, will fully satisfy the states. When the national finances will allow, there should be at all times a saving of ready money in the federal treasury, or some certain fund, that could immediately be commanded, as a resource against a war, or some unexpected exigency. In time of actual war, and especially of an invasion, the federal government should have very ample powers for levying money; it will not be possible to limit them but in very general terms.
I have thus ventured to draw a general sketch of the necessary federal powers. To set this grand affair in one clear point of view, let us consider: first, the great interest of the United States—this is nothing less than independency, with external safety, and internal peace; and on this depends the liberty, property, families, lives, and whatever dearest concerns of the people in general, as I have fully proved: secondly, the extent of the union—this requires a center of information and of action, which may collect a speedy and perfect knowledge of all federal affairs, and by quick effectual operations take care of the whole. Can any thing be so absurd as to make the fate of Georgia depend on the exertions of New-Hampshire, when two or three months may elapse before an authentic information could be obtained; as many more be spent in deliberations; and the same time again taken up in the preparation for executing the resolves: The southern states may be conquered by a powerful enemy; before the northern troops had begun their march. The badness of the public roads, and the broken situation of the country divided by great rivers, bays, and many large creeks, are also great impediments of communication—an enemy may by establishing some posts, and by means of a fleet, extremely distress the country if not defended by a federal force. This very local situation necessarily lessens the reciprocal simpathy of different states. They cannot see those flames, that lay a town in ashes, and ruin in a few hours so many hundred families—they do not behold the fields deluged with blood, strewed with human limbs, with the dead and dying—they cannot hear the frantic shrieks of mothers, wives and daughters. Thus neither humanity nor self-interest are alarmed: the enemies’ roaring artillery is heard only as the faint rumbling of a distant thunder storm, though it approaches fast, and will soon pour its deadly fury on the unfeeling and thoughtless. We read perhaps with indifferency, or with a transient emotion the sufferings of the back settlements from Indian barbarity; how different would the effect be, if the scenes were nearer! When there is a fire in the Northern Liberties, the people not only of Southwark, but in the city, are quite easy. Thirdly, though these reasons are quite sufficient, the present habits of the people require a strong federal government. Every person knows the exorbitant ideas of liberty so generally entertained, which render great numbers jealous of their rights, and fond of personal independency, to a degree absolutely incompatible with good government, the general welfare, and their own safety. The great attachment to property so common is visible, and in many respects pernicious to individuals and society. Carelessness about public affairs is another material characteristic, and palpable on numberless occasions. To cure a distemper, we must not contest it; every nation has its virtues and vices; a discreet apprehension of what is wrong, so far from affecting virtuous individuals, reflects the greater honor upon them. These three qualities in the present national character have originated from the peculiar circumstances of this country, as I have at large demonstrated and will be amended in the regular course of civilization and of an efficient government—at present this absolutely requires a strong federal power. The indolent and licentious man will say; I shall pay my federal tax some time or other, when it suits me. The licentious miser says, my property ismy right hand, I will not part with it. The haughty independent spirit says—I will grant the requisition of Congress; but they must come to me cup in hand, and wait my pleasure, they are but servants of the people. The moderate and not ungenerous will naturally say—I will do my part, if others will contribute; but why should the burden fall on a few, property is valuable, liberty is dear. When marching orders come, one says, let who will be a butt for balls and bayonetts, for my part, I will stay at home, and mind my business. Another, I prefer a warm bed and hot supper, to sleeping on the ground with an empty stomach—A third is kept within the arms of a wife, who is more concerned for the safety than the honor of her dear—The generous and brave who cheerfully hazards his own life and property, and though with a tender pang leaves his family, is justly incensed by the selfishness of his fellow citizens; can he be very criminal if he forces the griping hand to contribute for the public safety, and drags the coward into the field, where he may at least do some good with the pickaxe.
Under these circumstances the union cannot possibly be safe without a strong federal government—It must so far as the grand interest of the confederacy requires, have legislative, executive, and judiciary powers. For the benefit of those readers who are less accustomed to political reasoning, I shall illustrate this matter by a plain simile. Suppose thirteen families are settled upon an island in this river, that is liable to be overflowed by the many accidental freshes dangerous to life and property. They must erect a strong bank, and keep it at all times in good repair. If the muskrats bore it through with many small holes, or if it is sunk in one or two places, a sudden storm may destroy the hay, grain, provisions, household goods; drown the cattle and the people themselves. Will they not then naturally appoint overseers, to inspect this bank, and with the most scrupulous attention keep it in order! They will fix a certain fund, to be collected by these men without any delay and opposition; and moreover impower them in case of any sudden danger to imploy all necessary hands; to press men and horses, take provisions and tools that are next at hand. The accounts may be settled when the danger is over. In proportion as all or some of these families are careless, stubborn, contentious, and selfish, those overseers must have greater powers. Suppose the case so bad, that one family keep loitering in their beds, while the water rises rapidly, another is groggy or foolish, and cannot see the danger; a third says, if I lose, my neighbour the rogue will lose more; a fourth will not expose its sons and fine horses to hardship and danger; a fifth is quarrelling and fighting when the furious waves threaten to swallow them up. But let the thirteen families be ever so good; future events are unknown—the overseers must have power adequate to any eventual situation. When those men are near relations of the families, and have themselves a great interest in the island, they may the more be trusted, and still more, if they are only for a time, and must be under other overseers in their turn. If we enlarge this idea, by supposing the island containing thirteen townships, and situated in the ocean, depending on the bank for its safety; the necessity of giving the overseers adequate powers, appears yet more striking. The inland people who seldom or never saw the sea, make hay and reap without any thought of the bank. While assistance is begged from house to house for twenty or thirty miles; or even while the generous hasten from shore to shore, the whole island may be buried in the briny waves; every wary mariner will shun the fatal strand with the reflexion—this land perished by the folly of its people.
My general sketch of additional federal powers has come very near to the plan of the Honorable Convention now published, and I am glad to have in one or two particulars rather gone beyond than below the mark. Unasked, unadvised, and unbiassed I have only sought truth on this important subject; and beg leave to observe that she is the same in American and European minds, invariable from the North to the South Pole; that this blessing, like the Great Giver of it, is found by all that earnestly seek it.
It is evident, that all the necessary powers of this federal government are fully consistent with every species of right and liberty of the people. First, This constitution has very few alluring objects of avarice and ambition: no standing armies, ecclesiastical establishments, pensions, and titles of nobility; and but a few offices in the revenue, foreign, and civil departments, that will be objects for men of easy fortunes either in profit or dignity. While land is so plenty, and consequently every kind of industry profitable, the lower offices will not be much affected by the middle classes as means of subsistence, nor as distinctions while a republican spirit is kept alive. This influence then is trifling to that in the best limited monarchies, where so great a part of the gentry and nobility depend more or less on the crown for support, honor, power; and the difficulty of subsistence with prejudices of ambition render the petty offices valuable to great numbers. As a further security, the 6th section of the 1st article, enacts, that no senator or representative shall, during the time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil office under the authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the emolument whereof shall have been encreased during such time; and no person holding any office under the United States, shall be a member of either house during his continuance in office.”
Secondly. The conduct of members in both houses will be publicly known, because by 5th section of 1st article, “each house shall keep a journal of its proceedings, and from time to time publish the same—and the yeas and nays of the members of either house on any question shall, at the desire of one-fifth of those present, be entered on the journal.” Any unpatriotic member may therefore be excluded at the new election. The representatives are chosen every second year, and the senators for six years; but with the proviso, that one third of them goes out at the end of two years, and another after four, so that only two thirds of them coexist for four and one third for six years. Art. 1 Sect. 3. This excellent regulation sufficiently prevents all combination; men that come together with different habits, principles and interests, could not in a short time form a dangerous collusion. What scheme of iniquity could ripen in two years? or by what supernatural means could the whole body of representatives, and the new third part of the senate, be corrupted? A quicker rotation would be prejudicial, because men of the best theoretic knowledge want practice; and among the great numbers who in their turn become members of Congress, many, however sensible in the common affairs of life, must be indifferent politicians, even when the public education is brought to great perfection. No solid system can be concerted in a continual change of legislators; neither plans or modes of execution can be fixed. Besides a member who but comes and goes, is less responsible for bad public measures, and consequently less animated by a sense of duty and honor. It is therefore necessary, that no part of the legislature should be changed too often, and that one part should remain for a longer time, in order to form and preserve the stamina of administration. A person who wants only a common dwelling house, does not change the master workmen every week. The high office of president is held only during the term of four years. His electors must not be representatives, senators, or persons holding an office of trust or profit under the United States. The person having the greatest number of votes, becomes president, if such number is a majority of the whole number of electors; if more than one have such majority, and an equal number of votes; the house of representatives immediately chooses by ballot one of them; if no person has a majority, then from the five highest on the list, the said house chooses in like manner the president. Art. 2. Sect. 1. This prudently guards against any aristocratic collusion between the executive power and the senate, as some members of this body may otherways take an undue advantage from their superiority of talents and fortunes, and from a longer continuance in power. Thirdly, though it is nearly impossible, that under these circumstances a majority of the congress with the president should conspire to subvert the constitution; yet supposing the worst—their design must be watched and opposed by the minority, who would give the nation an early alarm—they have not money to carry it on, because by the 9th sect. 1st art. “no money shall be drawn from the treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law; and a regular statement and account of the receipts and expenditures of all public money shall be published from time to time.” They could not raise an army without a pretence of war, nor impose on the nation by a false alarm; and though they have a right “to call forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, and to suppress insurrections, sect. 8. art. 1; it is evident, that a people of tolerable virtue would never become tools for enslaving themselves: would any man be ordered to kill himself by his own sword? who but an idiot or a most dastardly wretch would not plunge it in the heart of the tyrant. For the raising and supporting armies no appropriation of money is allowed for more than two years by the 8th sect. 1st art. This term must be prolonged when necessary; but while an enemy is in the country, the army cannot be employed against its liberties; and after the war it is disbanded, or must be for the want of pay. The happy situation of America will generally guard her against long and severe wars—but should any such happen; even the power of a veteran army could not subdue a patriotic militia ten times its number, and rendered perfectly military in the course of such war. Besides, regular troops, who are natives of a country, allied by friendship and blood to the other citizens, bred in the principles of republican liberty, and who have for years defended this country with their blood against a powerful invader, cannot be so generally corrupted, as to turn their arms against those with whom they have so long shared danger and glory; to enslave and murder their friends, and relations, brothers, sons and fathers—in all probability a great part of this army would take part with the nation.
The constitution incorporates all the states as members of one body with a federal and generous spirit. Representatives and direct taxes are apportioned among them, according to their respective numbers, with proper allowance for the inferior value of persons not free. Art. 1. sect. 2. By this the people are wisely regarded more than property; because a multitude of virtuous, brave, industrious people is the real strength, glory, wealth, and prosperity of a country; especially in America, where no necessity renders great numbers indigent, consequently dependent, poor in spirit, and in many respects less valuable as men and citizens. By the 3d sect. 1st art. a generous indulgence is shown to the smaller states, who delegate two senators equally with the greater. In cases when the house of representatives chooses the president, the votes are also taken by states. Art. 2. sect. 1. All duties, imposts, and excises are uniform through the United States; likewise the rule of naturalization, and the laws on bankruptcies. No preference is given by any regulation of commerce or revenue to the ports of one state over those of another. Art. 1. sect. 9. The citizens of each state shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states. Art. 4. sect. 2. &c. It would be very unjust and impolitic to grant all the states an equal right in the house of representatives. Voting by states, though according to the established proportion, would only keep up a local antifederal spirit; it is therefore laid aside, even in the senate, notwithstanding the indulgence mentioned—The United States in Congress assembled, should consider themselves as provinces of one empire: every member of either house is a federal citizen, sent there to think and act for the prosperity and glory of the UNION, and should never desire any thing for his own state, but an equitable share in the general happiness, which must be the result of united wisdom and federal virtue.
It is the singular happiness of America, to establish her federal empire at this enlightened era, when the principles of political union are in general pretty well understood; and when superstition, a passion for war, or other dangerous prejudices have no baneful influence. A sad experience of the evils that arise from an immoderate pursuit of wealth, and an overdriven love of liberty, is also very beneficial to a young nation, as it will impress the great maxims of moderation and integrity, without which neither individuals or civil societies can be happy. By the grace of Providence peace and tranquility favors a mature deliberation on the grand affairs of a national system. A solid confederation will secure the states against any external force, and prevent any dangerous internal tumults; but they may fear every calamity from the evil genius of party, that is the peculiar fiend of republics, and has ruined so many flourishing states—Let us then see, through what avenues this daemon may approach, and may they be shut up forever. No great or permanent national object can so differently affect individuals, as to create a general party through the states; but men may differ in sentiment on some capital matters to such a degree as to form opposite parties, which will afterwards, as usual, be variously blended with personal interest, pride, influence of leaders, mutual sympathy, antipathies, religious prejudices, &c. Extensive foreign connexions would among other great evils occasion this; because such complex systems are beyond the comprehension of great numbers, and cannot be regulated by fixed rules, but often require that reasoning of probability, in which men seldom agree. When foreign powers meddle in national affairs, foment animosities, and introduce a fatal corruption, great disasters are certain consequences—some of the greatest citizens will be their avowed partizans; and foreign gold will purchase yeas and nays in the most important debates. America, if wise, will enjoy her happy situation, and neither covet a greater share of the western continent, was it ten times more fertile, nor cast a wishful eye on the mines of Mexico; nor force over the friendly barrier of the Atlantic into the political labyrinths of Europe, in which she would lose her money, and many of her best sons. As to commerce, she will form a proper estimate of its advantages; not seek with danger and toil in remote climes what can be had at home; and value human blood more than liquors and toys.
The constitution itself often becomes an object of contention, even when it has no material faults, merely from a too refined political taste, irritated by pride, personal pique, and the other usual sauce of party. No human production was ever perfect; individuals should not presume to pick out little blemishes in systems composed by some of the best and wisest citizens. In a grand building a small omission in minute parts, is nothing—yet little minds can often espy this, but are not capable of admiring the great design, the beauty and strength of proportion, the skill in attaining advantages almost incompatible. The memorable expression of Solon, that his laws were the best his country would admit, should be well considered by all political critics. It is better to put up with some real imperfections, than to be always reforming—Hudibras justly ridicules those who seemed to think, that religion was only made to be mended—A political satirist relates how a nurse, in order to reduce the overgrown foot of a child, first squeezed, and then trimmed it, till it became necessary to cut it off. It is wisdom to be satisfied with that degree of perfection allotted our present state. The 5th article reserves a very proper mode for amending the federal constitution; it is certainly reasonable to give it a fair tryal by some years experience; and it must be madness to pull down a house at the approach of winter because there may hereafter be a leak in the roof.
It would be presumption not only in me, but I scruple not to say, in most native Americans, to define how far the federal union may in all cases be agreeable to the interest of the respective states; because they have as a nation just entered into the political world; and the very circumstance of being a young country not half improved is a source of many unknown complicated events. Should upon a fair trial any permanent inequality appear in favor of some states, it will no doubt be remedied—In the mean time all well-disposed Americans will pay a grateful regard to the faithful endeavors of the honorable Convention; the modesty and sensibility expressed in their address to Congress—“In all our deliberations on this subject we kept steadily in our view, &c. the greatest interest of every true American, the consolidation of our union, in which is involved our prosperity, &c. perhaps our national existence. This important consideration, seriously and deeply impressed on our minds, led each state in the convention to be less rigid on points of inferior magnitude—And thus the constitution which we now present, is the result of a spirit of amity, and of that mutual deference and concession, which the peculiarity of our situation then rendered indispensible.” In a discussion of respective rights, the main question is, to what states is the union most necessary? Local situation, natural strength, and the temptation of advantage to foreign or internal enemies, must determine this. The small states want protection, those on the frontiers especially. The most powerful could not resist a formidable power. The southern states are more wealthy than strong; their situation and wealth would naturally invite a foreign attack. The union of Great-Britain was much opposed by those who extolled the superior wealth of England; but men of sense set a proper value on the military spirit of Scotland, and observed that gold must be defended by steel. If some states derive any superior advantage from the Inland carrying trade, it is a mark of their inferiority in a landed interest, and should not be a cause of envy; besides their maritime strength would upon occasion defend the other parts of the union. Thus the interest of property, which is a secondary object, may on the whole be not very unequally shared among the states.
Though the many small causes of parties cannot endanger the union, they will no doubt disturb its happiness, and should be carefully suppressed. It is an absurd maxim with some, that parties are happy symptoms of a public spirit, and support the balance of power. These men think that a person must be mortally sick, or have a slight disorder. A lethargy is indeed worse than a fever; but many constitutions are free from both. As to the balance, sober men will hold it better than those who are drunk. It is very pernicious merely for a temporary advantage to sour the public mind, and weaken all the social virtues, which are the bonds of civil union. I know, that furious flames are stopped by kindling a fire in a contrary direction; but I would not except in case of necessity, throw out a single spark. It is even dangerous to foment antipathy against foreign nations, because it contracts the heart, and raises an evil spirit, that often recoil upon those ungenerous silly politicians. How common is it to hear a rude person first vent his spleen in the most absurd and mean expressions against some European nation, and then with the same virulence curse his own government. Unhappily too many Americans know but little of Europe, and look upon it as a land of slaves—whereas though some parts of it are oppressed, others have as much liberty as they can bear, and much more real freedom, than America in her present anarchy. The many needy adventurers, bad characters, and low bred wretches, that flock hither from European countries, cannot but give unfavorable ideas; but it is wrong to judge from these; and happier would America be without this scum of the earth.
The United States are as yet not the most homogenial body politic—the federal union will gradually incorporate and animate it with one spirit; at the same time any ill humors and heterogeneous particles must be corrected. A diversity of manners and customs is found in all countries, and causes an agreeable variety; but any peculiarities that are objects of contempt, and aversion, should be prevented. An equal improvement of human nature through all the states is an important object; a superiority in virtue, learning, and manners would not only give some political ascendency, but inspire an antifederal disregard of their inferiors.
The rational opinion, that sincere worshippers in whatever religion are pleasing to Almighty God, is now pretty generally established in all civilized nations. It is of the highest consequence, because the belief that eternal happiness depends on a particular creed or mode of worship, will prompt even good men to establish such at all adventures. We must not however imagine that this species of bigotry has alone produced the many religious wars and tumults; for there are antipathies arising merely from the peculiar genius of a religion, capable of doing much hurt. Any thing that appears to another sect very absurd, mean, unsocial, &c. has an ill effect. A bad influence on manners and government is a serious affair. If it cannot be helped, divide et impera is a good maxim with religious as other parties—where any sect has a decided superiority, or a rapid increase, others may be encouraged. Indifferency is not the proper remedy against superstition; for a very defective religion is better than none. Let then the several professions respect the advantages of each other, and with candid benevolence criticise mutual infirmities—Let the bright luminary of reason gradually rise, and shed its majestic radiance over this western world; it will manifest to all the same great God, and the same road to happiness here and hereafter.
[* ]Hamilton’s speech, &c.