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“State Soldier” Essays: I, II, V - 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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Virginia Independent Chronicle, Richmond, 16 January, 6 February, and 2 April 1788
The author of these essays may have been George Nicholas (1754?-99). Nicholas was a Charlottesville lawyer-planter, a former officer in the Continental army, and a supporter of the proposed Constitution in the Virginia State Convention. According to the editors of Documentary History, authorship may be attributable to Nicholas based on the fact that parts of a manuscript in his handwriting are similar to sections of the fourth letter in this series of essays. See DH, 8:303.
Changes to the first essay in this series have been made on the basis of a list of corresponding errata published in conjunction with the second essay.
An ADDRESS to the GOOD PEOPLE of VIRGINIA, on the NEW FŒDERAL CONSTITUTION, by an old State Soldier, in answer to an Officer in the late American army.1
A fellow-citizen whose life has once been devoted to your service, and knows no other interest now than what is common to you all, solicits your attention for a new few moments on the new plan of government submitted to your consideration.
Well aware of the feebleness of a Soldier’s voice after his service shall be no longer requisite, and sensible of the superiority of those who have already appeared on this subject, he does not flatter himself that what he has now to say will have much weight—Yet it may serve to contradict some general opinions which may have grown out of circumstances too dangerous to our reputations, to remain unanswered.
Conscious of the rectitude of his own intentions however, and trusting that “in searching after error truth will appear,” he flatters himself he should be excused, were he to leave the merits of this cause to that more able ADVOCATE, the CONSTITUTION itself, and confine himself wholly to those general, plain, and honest truths which flow from the feelings of the warmest heart.
FREEDOM has its charms, and authority its use—but there are certain points beyond which neither can be stretched without falling into licentiousness, or sinking under oppression.
Here then let us pause!—and before we approach these dreadful extremes, view well the ground on which we now stand, as well as that to which we are about to step. Let it be remembered that after a long and bloody conflict, we have been left in possession of that great blessing for which we so long contended—and which was only obtained, and could not be perfectly founded at a time when there was only a chance for succeeding in the claim. The one being separate and distinct from the other at all times, a happy REVOLUTION therefore, has necessarily left incomplete the labors of the war for the more judicious and permanent establishment of the calms of peace. It was not expected, or even wished, that a SYSTEM, which was the mere OFF-SPRING of NECESSITY, should govern and controul us when our object was changed, and another time than confusion should offer itself to our service for making choice of a better. But on the contrary the same mutual agreement which promised us success in our undertaking during the war, led us to hope for a happy settlement of those rights at the approach of peace—which alone can be done now by that policy which holds out at equal balance, strength and energy in the one hand, and justice, peace, and lenity in the other. Too much ’tis true may be surrendered up—but ’tis as certain too much may be retained, since there is no way more likely to lose ones liberty in the end than being too niggardly of it in the beginning. For he who grasps at more than he can possibly hold, will retain less than he could have handled with ease had he been moderate at first. Omnes deteriores sumus licentia. But how much is necessary to be given up is the difficulty to be ascertained. We all know however the more desperate any disease has become, so much more violent must be the remedy—that if there be now a danger in making the attempt, it is owing more to the putting off to this late period that which at some time or another is unavoidable, than to any thing in the design itself. Having neglected this business until necessity pressed us forward to it, we see an anxiety and hurry now in some which is extremely alarming to others—when in fact had it been attempted at the close of the war, it might have seemed nothing more perhaps than a necessary guard to that tender infant, INDEPENDENCE, to whom we had just given birth.
Long had the friends to the late REVOLUTION observed how incomplete the business was when we contented ourselves under that form of government, after the return of peace, which was only designed to bind us together the more effectually to carry on the war—and which could not be expected to operate effectually in many cases, the exspence of which no one at that time could foresee. At this late period then an attempt has been made to complete the designs of a war that ended many years before. And the first object which presented itself to our view in the business was the necessity of strengthening the UNION—the only probable way to do which, was the creating an authority whereby our credit could be supported—and in doing this (although it seems a single alteration in our old plan) the introduction of several other things was unavoidable. The credit of the UNION, like that of an individual, was only to be kept up by a prospect of being at some time or another able to pay the debts it had necessarily contracted—and that prospect could no way begin but by the establishment of some fund whereon the CONTINENT could draw with certainty. But the right of taxation (the only certain way of creating that fund) was too great a surrender to be made without [being] accompanied with some other alterations in the old plan. Among these the Senate, and the mode of proportioning the taxes with the representatives, seem to be the most material—the one acting as a curb, the other as a guide in the business. Though in fact the credit of the UNION depended on several other things besides the payment of its debts—Its internal defence, its compliance with its treaties, and the litigation of its own disputes, must be considered as inseparable from its national dignity. Therefore the additional authorities of the President, and the institution of the supreme court, were nothing more than necessary appendages to that AUTHORITY which every one seems to grant was necessary to be given up to strengthen our UNION and support our credit and dignity as a people—and when rightly considered can amount to nothing more than one alteration, so generally wished for, divided into several parts. One thing however appears to be entirely forgot: No one seems to remember that we had any fœderal constitution before this. Or if they do they have entirely forgotten what it was—it must be remembered however, that there was no other complaint made about that, but a want of energy and power. The removing this grand objection then, which seems to be the only material alteration made by this new Constitution, has not, as was expected, perfected the UNION; but it has served only to make way for the discovery of smaller imperfections which were not before seen. The want of a bill of rights, a charter for the press, and a thousand other things which are now discovered, have been heretofore unnoticed although they existed then in as great a degree as they now do. Whenever any alterations have been made in any of these lesser faults, they have universally been for the better. For instance the appropriation of monies under pretence of providing for our national defence, which then was without hesitation, is now restricted to two years: For although Congress could not absolutely keep a large standing force in time of profound peace, yet they had it in their power to provide for an army when there was not an absolute war: For the declaration being at their sole will, and they not accountable for the necessity, left the appropriation which was given them for supporting the one, entirely at their discretion in time of the other. That when this article shall be viewed independent of the grand object, and considered as one of the smaller faults, separate and distinct from the right of taxation, it must be confessed that part of our SYSTEM has been altered for the better. And thus too respecting a bill of rights, and the liberty of the press, it may also be said, the objection has been diminished by the new plan: For what security had we on this head before but that which was in our state constitutions? And of what is the republican form of government which Congress is now to guarantee to each state to consist?2 Certainly of any thing each state shall think proper that does not take from Congress what this constitution absolutely claims. Even the very one we now have, or such parts of it as do not extend that far, may be that form of government which this new plan obliges Congress to guarantee. That so far from these objections being increased, they are diminished by the new plan; as there will not only be the same state security for these rights then, but also a continental conformation of them—there being nothing in the new system that excludes that part of the old. That it is not, because those smaller faults have not been before seen, they necessarily originate in, or are magnified by the new constitution: but the truth is, they have always been overlooked in beholding that grand blemish which marked the features of the old plan. The representation which was much more unequal and far more objectionable, then went unnoticed—as no one would observe the disproportion of the fingers while the whole carcase was disjointing for the want of sinews. The general cry and only wish then was, for more authority in our government. It was not expected the amendments would extend much further—yet they have: Many inferior objections which existed in the old plan, are in the new altered for the better. That when we came to enquire into the merits of this matter fairly, and set apart in the first place those things which are absolutely necessary to compose that alteration in our fœderal plan which we all so ardently wished for, and then in the next place give the proper credits to this new constitution for the amendments made in the more inferior faults of the old, we shall find there are but few things left worthy of grounding an opposition on. ’Tis much to be lamented however that we cannot avoid extremes on either side: For as all extremes are subject to a union in the end, it will be well if our violent opposition at this time, does not return to the most opposite submission at another. Indeed the comparrison of this opposition among ourselves to that of the late one towards our original situation, serves only to prove the likeness there is between the beginning and ending of our liberty—for there are no two things more strikingly alike than the first respirations of life and the last melancholy gasps of existence. But when confined to the likeness of situation itself, the same comparison is entirely unjust: For formerly we were governed by those who had no interest in our prosperity: But now it is our FRIENDS, our COUNTRYMEN, and our BRETHREN, on whom we are called to rely, whose very existence is so inseparable from our welfare as to render it impossible for them to injure us without giving a fatal stab to themselves and the happiness of their posterity. But to those who cannot distinguish between a cause and a people, a sentiment and an individual, the analogy may appear just, in its intended meaning—yet self-evident as the contrary is, it would illy become those whose reputations are immediately concerned to stifle an honest resentment on this occasion. When we behold the character of individuals held up to view as an argument in favor of any cause, we are sufficiently disgusted with the ignorance of the author; but when we see the credit of that ignorance (accompanied by illiberality) given to us who would willingly merit a better appellation than the secret movers of personal jealousy and detraction among citizens, we are doubly mortified—considering an endeavor to keep alive those distinctions now which owed their existence to the heat of war, as illiberal as a suspicion over our best friends would be unjust. The one serving only to keep up a perpetual war among ourselves; and the other to make distrust a justification for dishonesty—neither of which is a trait in the character of a real soldier it is presumed: For besides the dishonor, he who really knows what war is, would scarcely wish to keep it up when he could have peace. But it is a trite remark that he who is most violent in time of the one, has generally been the most mild during the other. It is not at all surprising however that you should be brought to believe your liberties are now in danger, when you are thus shewn how that bravery you have once felt in your favor, is likely to take residence in the breasts of those thus capable of any thing. By thus assuming our names and holding to view their own genuine characters, designing men do us more real injury, and their own cause more essential service, than those who insinuate that we shall be preferred from our former services to share the spoils when our country shall fall a prey to aristocratical invasion. These last only add insult to misfortune: For there is but little in our influence to rouse your jealousy, and much less in our situations to excite your envy, unless the nobleness of your gratitude should make you wish to share in our poverty and fears.—These being all we have obtained, there is but little prospect of our becoming your tyrants, since misery and wretchedness are seldom called in to share the dignities of oppression. In short, as there is nothing in this constitution itself that particularly bargains for a surrender of your liberties, it must be your own faults if you become enslaved. Men in power may usurp authorities under any constitution—and those they govern may oppose their tyranny: For although it be wrong to refuse the legal currency of one’s country, yet there can be no harm in rejecting base coin, since there is no state in the world which compels a man to take that which is under its own standard.
It cannot be denied however but this constitution has its faults—yet when the whole of those objections shall be collected together and compared to the excellence of the main object, we cannot but conclude that the opposition will be like quarrelling about the division of straws, and neglecting the management of the grain. The period is not far distant however when it must be determined whether it be best to adopt it as it now stands, or run the risk of losing it by attempting amendments. This last consideration, deeply impressed on the minds of those who are interested in the welfare of America, cannot fail to call forth your attention, when a fitter season shall demand it, and another paper give it circulation.
To the good PEOPLE ofVirginia,on the new FŒDERAL CONSTITUTION, by an old STATE SOLDIER, in answer to the proposition for amendments.
Under a persuasion of the utility of the UNION themselves, some persons till lately have been weak enough to suppose that no one would contend for the separation of the States. But all things have their duration—Politics as well as dress are often under the controul of fashion; and there are stated periods when the plainness and honesty of the old, must give way to the artifice and foppery of the new.
Impressed with the necessity in time of danger, each state was taught to believe, that it was by being “united they were to stand—and when divided to fall.” And unaware of such open confessions as has lately been made of the contrary, I had intended to confine myself at present entirely to the subject of altering the new fœderal constitution—but finding the one so inseparably linked with the designs of the other, a few observations will necessarily occur in the course of this paper, as well to shew the necessity of continuing the UNION, as to strengthen the objections I had to offer against an attempt to alter the new plan of government.
It would be difficult, if not impossible however, to point out the difference between a public attempt to amend this new system, and a secret design to destroy it—yet it may not be hard to shew the evil tendency of either.
That no other method for bringing about so useful a business as the separation of the states could be devised but the framing a new constitution for the more effectually binding them together, and then destroying it, seems at least strange. GOVERNMENT being the foundation of all human happiness, untinctured with fickleness, should be the solid work of WISDOM and mature DELIBERATION—Children indeed may make impressions on the sands and rub them out when they become tired of looking at them; but states when they do childish things make impressions which their maturer days cannot efface.
For the noble purposes of combining us together and making us respectable as a nation abroad, and rich as individuals at home, a system of government is now offered to our service—which, though fraught with some lesser evils, has every important recommendation—but to correct the one we are now invited to risk the other—for as the principle objection to this constitution is the undue influence which some of the states will have over the others from their superiority in number, it is too obvious what must be the remedy applied in the first instance. For it being too well known to admit of a dispute that the same majority which the northern states now hold, will at another time be as great, it becomes as obvious that no alteration in that system at this time can correct this inconvenience but a dissolution of the UNION—yet a remedy may be found indeed in that very constitution itself as it now stands.
Through the feebleness of the UNION and popular turn of our system, the different interests of the states have heretofore been rendered somewhat discordant—Congress being entirely dependent on, and ever amenable to the state legislatures, that same fear of offending which has often operated on the state representative (in favor of a few to the prejudice of the many) extends itself to the continental delegate—which, when aided by the consideration of the dependence which most preferments have on the individual states, together with the insignificance of the present UNION, render the interest of a part more the object of fœderal consideration than the welfare of the whole—whence arises that contention of interests in which some states may have suffered; and is at this time so much dreaded.
Powerful however as that objection may appear against the existence of a general UNION, it has little to do with that question now: for to argue from what experience we have already had, would be nothing against the necessity of a UNION. Having never yet felt the effects of a perfect one, all that can be drawn from the experience of the old, will only prove the necessity of a new.
The present fœderal constitution, though under the name of a UNION, wanted every proper, strong, and well-tried string at its formation (if I may so express myself) to produce a perfect unison—the want of authority and independence rendered it too feeble an instrument to produce the wished for effects. When on the contrary had the general government of the continent been set at a proper distance above those of the states, the objections now started might never been known perhaps. The representative instead of contending for the particular interest of his own state, would then have had something of higher dignity in view—Congress being considered the only head of the continent, to ornament which so as to make a figure among the other nations of the world, would [have] been his only object—since from that source alone would spring the only political reputation worth adding to his name. And all preferments of the highest honor and emolument coming from the continent at large, it would thence have been immediately his interest to consult the dignity of the whole, and not the contracted, and too often illiberal interest of a part.
Whence we may consider the want of a perfect UNION the very cause of those evils which are so much dreaded, and now urged against a confederation of the states—For as men of contracted habits and moderate circumstances see no way of mending their fortunes but a selfish and narrow œconomy in their own system, so states will look no further than their own immediate interests, till a friendly intercourse with others has taught the benefit of making trivial sacrifices for double gain.
The use of trade has taught the benefit of loan—and favors with obligations by frequent and mutual intercourse become reciprocal interest at last. By a strict confederacy, under which the fruits of commerce would find a regular and general circulation, it would soon become the interest of each state to contribute to the profits of the whole—And acting under one uniform system, nothing but superior industry could give an advantage to any particular part: for it then being out of the power of each state to intrigue for its traders, party skill would necessarily give way to political wisdom—and thus the states, habituated by confederation to alternate sacrifices and advantages, growing into one grand EMPIRE, would gradually lose sight of every local and pernicious interest as the whole advanced into national perfection. And as the government became more and more fixed and freed from those local prejudices and interests, any necessary alterations might more easily be made.
But since those evils can no way be remedied at this time but by a separation of the states, I trust you will treat the attempt with that detestation which a design to ruin you forever would deserve.
For my part it is far from me to suspect any man of private designs in his public acts—But I fear every one will not be so liberal. The great opening which this doctrine leaves for suspicion to enter in, will not be long unoccupied I suspect. The many accomplishments which are necessary to entitle men to the presidency and other high offices under a government so extensive as this is likely [to] be; and on the contrary the few ingredients necessary to constitute that fitness where a state or two shall compose a UNION, render this darling scheme of disuniting the states too suspicious to go unnoticed by all. A general reputation throughout the continent,3 both military and political, will be necessary in the one, and a few marches and retreats about Williamsburg at the beginning of the war, the taking a tory or two by surprise at their own houses by night, together with a popular eloquence, will be sufficient recommendations, both military and civil, in the other.
Though for my own part I should rather suppose that this strange, wild, and dangerous scheme has arisen from a mistaken zeal in some, and been kept up from a reverence for the opinions of particular men by others. For let a man whose wisdom, experience, or patriotism has been thought uncommon, advocate an opinion, however fallacious it may be, he will always find converts. And this I take to be the case in the present instance.
Some celebrated statesman perhaps has taken up an opinion that we cannot exist but by separate governments—and a number of others, who under an admiration of the man have adopted his opinions by way of recommending themselves, as if they thought it sufficient for that purpose if their wisdom could come up to a level with his folly.
Long, too long indeed my countrymen, have we been liable to be lulled into a fatal stupor by the musical eloquence of a single man!—Whence our government, free as it appears to be, has ever had the worst of tyranny lurking in it.
At all times liable to be governed by the breath of a single man, under a constitution subject to be swept away by his eloquence, no one can foretell at what instant we may fall a prey to his ambition. These being the only dangers you have to dread from designing men, you have it now in your powers to be relieved from every fear of the sort in future.
Under the general government of a UNION, whose members will be farther removed from those fears which spring from popular sources, another kind of eloquence than inflammatory declamation will be necessary for persuasion. And from an assembly composed of men (many of whom of equal abilities, or at least of too great an equality of pride and ambition to suffer an individual of their own number to dictate to the rest) would flow laws founded on the combined abilities of all North America, and supersede those which were but the labours of some popular individual in each state.
Commerce then, freed from the oppressive hand of state jealousy and local interest, traversing the whole continent and seeking your commodities, would stamp a higher value on all your property. While policy and justice, unawed by popular resentment, extending their united hands, the one receiving from the delinquent states that portion of supplies which they have so long withheld, and the other placing it where it most righteously belongs—together with the assistance of a general impost, would soon relieve you from your debts both foreign and domestic, public and private. For as our present private embarrassments are in a great measure owing to the daily public demands which come against us, the[y] being relieved from the latter by any means whatever, will surely render us the more able to get rid of the former.
But while we impute to the taxes we pay towards supporting an ill-managed government our inability to discharge our private debts, let us recollect to what cause we owe that mismanagement itself;—and in doing this we shall probably find how inconsistent we are in opposing a government in every degree calculated to correct the evils of which we complain.
To look up for favors to others, without being willing to do a kindness in return, would be equally pitiful and unjust; and to expect to enjoy the benefits of a society to whose interests we are not always willing to adhere, would be unreasonable and absurd. Yet there are those who do not scruple to claim the most unbounded liberty, while they condemn the mismanagement of a government, the pressures of which are entirely owing to its being already too feeble and too popular to subsist but by relaxing first into the very lowest stages of existence, and then struggling and straining into vigor. Whence, though they are blinded to the cause, proceeds all the miseries they feel.—For that government which is distressed itself, by relenting in its demands at one time, must be the more rigid and severe at another.
To the different postponements of our taxes therefore, which have only been to please for the instant and not to give any lasting and permanent relief, we may justly [attribute] the most of our present distresses since the removing those necessary payments from time to time the further from us, only served to accumulate the load which at some time or another through necessity was doomed to fall on us with a threefold wretchedness—for the arrow that goes upwards is not rendered the less dangerous by being removed the further from us; but on the contrary the higher it ascends with so much the more force and weight it will return on our heads.
To an endeavor then to heal the wounds which that kind of policy has already made, which if too long irritated might become incurable at last, as well as to the causes before mentioned, the matter now under consideration owes its existence. But unfortunately that constitution, like all other human things, has its faults; and those faults are such as cannot be removed at this time without destroying it entirely—and what is worse, as I have before advanced, disuniting the whole of the states. And this last I trust, if sufficiently proved, will render the idea of amendments at this time as shocking in the eyes of the undesigning as the intent is treacherous in the minds and hearts of all others.
Let us for a moment however remove from our view the powerful tendency which the amendments themselves proposed by such men will have that way, and view them earnestly endeavoring to have those objectionable parts eradicated without a design of endangering the UNION. To that end it will only be necessary to consider the effects which the favorable reception that constitution may meet with from a part, will have on the UNION when met by such obstructions as amendments from the rest.
For it will not only be confessed, but it has already been urged as an objection to this new system of government, that it will be the interest of a majority of the states to oppress the rest—and it being the interest of that same majority to accede to any measure so highly favorable to that end as the new constitution will be, renders it at least probable that it will be adopted by a large majority of the states—which done, the proposing an amendment will be nothing less than a request to those states to undo and reconsider what they have already finally determined on;—and obstinately to persist in such amendments when that shall be the case, will be nothing less than in other words to withdraw ourselves from a connexion with them.
Though when we consider how numerous the objections as well as those who start them are, and how natural it is for all men to be attached to their own opinions, it will not be necessary to admit that nine states shall have adopted it to render an attempt to amend it the same with a design to destroy the UNION.
The many local interests which will rise up in opposition to each other throughout the continent, not being naturally reconcileable, if set in motion at a time when there is no legal restraint to their operations, will necessarily form the states into parties which no future exertions can reunite.—When on the contrary if under the interference of a government whose existence will depend on the welfare of the whole, those necessary amendments may be made by sacrificing a small share of the interest of different parts, without endangering that last and deepest interest of the whole—the existence of the UNION.
In securing to the states their different rights the larger received a considerable advantage over the smaller in the number of representatives they found themselves entitled to in Congress—and those smaller states could no way be prevailed on to join in a government which would only [have] been formed for the advantage of others and the destruction of themselves, had they not also been secured. To that end an equal representation has been allowed them in one of the branches of the legislature;—to deprive them of which, would be to take from them not only their only inducement to engage in the business as well as their only safety when united; but also the only possible means of bringing them up to a level with those parts with which their respectability was to join in making up the dignity of the whole.
Yet such is the anxiety of some to bring about a separation of the states that while they feign the most pious wish to perfect this new work, they plot its destruction by proposing amendments, the success of which they know must inevitably carry along with them the consequences they wish. For when any of the states shall be deprived of the only inducement they can have to unite themselves with, and what is worse, the only thing that can secure them from being swallowed up by the more important interests of the rest, how long must it be expected they will continue in that situation?—And to force others to withdraw from the UNION will no way differ from doing it ourselves, except that those who contrive this artful expedient to separate the states, will secretly effect the blackest design while they publicly wear the fairest face the most sincere love of their country could put on.
Nor would there be wanting pretences still more plausible than the representation in the senate to effect the dissolution of the UNION by pretending amendments. Objections which are called general, and really appear so at first, would be started and urged with a degree of plausibility that might impose on some of the best friends to the UNION.
It is well known that several of the states on the continent have never made any formal declaration of their rights. Well aware of the impossibility of enumerating all those blessings to which by nature they were entitled, and highly sensible of the danger there was intrusting to their recollection of them (knowing that when once they attempted to set to them legal bounds, what ever should by chance be left out, was of course given up) some of the states more prudently thought fit to enumerate on the other hand what should be the powers of their government, when of course what ever was omited on that side, remained as their natural and inviolable rights on the other. And but few states in the world have deemed it safe to do otherwise.
England itself until the reign of King John remained in this situation, when that foundation of the present British constitution, the Magna Charta of the land, made its appearance, under whose benign influence the plant of liberty was expected to grow and flourish. But unfortunately that bright luminary in the British constitution dawned but with a glimmering ray on this quarter of the world from its first settlement. America, though secured under the constitution of England, from time to time felt itself oppressed by its laws—till at length it was found, but little also than mercy, instead of our own rights, was left us in that government to depend on for safety—“when enquiring into the first principles of society, we became convinced that power, when its object was not the good of those who were subject to it, was nothing more than the right of the strongest, and might be repressed by the exertion of a similar right.” And growing more and more restless the attempt soon followed the discovery.
The whole of the states at once becoming united, in what was considered the common cause of all, a general agitation took place, which increased as it extended itself across the continent “like the rolling waves of an extensive sea.” When all the world, though interested in the event, stood motionless at first with astonishment at the attempt. Yet relying on the justness of their cause, while destitute of every resource, the thirteen states of America thus united and impressed with a true sense of the origin of power, most piously resolved to maintain those natural rights, the relinquishment of which to aggrandise any power on earth, would only be an insult on that divine authority from whence they sprung.
And to forge indiscriminately now those states into a declaration of their rights, who may think it still unsafe to rely on a bare recital of them, particularly in a general government which at its commencement must involve its authors in too great a variety of difficulties and cares, to be sufficiently mindful of every natural right necessary to be secured to each particular state, would be as unjust and inconsistent with our former pretentions, as its natural consequence—the separation of the states—would be contrary to that policy which gave us success.
But why need I labour thus to prove what is in itself so definitely clear?—The constitution itself admits of no amendments till put in force. To adopt it or reject it is all we have to do—The one I confess is the most ardent wish of my heart—though the other were to entitle me to the credit of prophesy; from whose foresight I should only most earnestly recommend to you to consider well before the approaching election whether a total dissolution of the UNION is desirable; for that I apprehend to be the only amendment which can be made in the new plan of government by our state convention.
To the GOOD PEOPLE ofVirginia,on the new FŒDERAL CONSTITUTION, by an old STATE SOLDIER, in answer to the objections.
It is now my intention to examine into that class of objections in which it is said our interests are concerned; and in doing that I shall have answered such of the objections to the new constitution as appear worthy of notice.
If a general union be necessary for the preservation of the continent at large, whatever tends to that object most, comes nearest the interest of every particular part. Whence it follows that the interest of any individual state cannot be endangered by that policy which promotes the general welfare of the whole; but on the contrary must be strengthened with that of the rest, or else it never can be the interest of the union which is promoted.
It would only seem necessary therefore to prove that this constitution will promote the interest of the whole continent to shew its salutary effects on every particular state—yet, before I claim the advantage which so just a position in itself would give, I shall (in disseminating the seeds of refutation in other points) endeavor to supplant all doubts on that head, by means also, more local and particular. And in order the more clearly to do that, I shall endeavor to examine into the objections themselves;—the first of which, is that, which relates to the expensiveness of the plan;—and the next, a dread of the superiority of the northern states over the southern in Congress:—which together, acting in such diametrical contradiction to each other, render it necessary, to consider the two as nearly together as possible, thereby to prove the futility of both. The last of which however, so far as it respects the present instant, may perhaps hold good—and has indeed been admitted in a former paper,4 and ought now to serve as a hint to shew the impropriety of attempting to amend the constitution at a time, when those states, whose influence we dread, will have it in their power to shape it as they please. But when considered as an objection to a government which is to last for many ages over a country like this, must appear not only trifling, but even applicable to the very reverse of things. For let us but consider this objection as connected with our geographical knowledge of America, and we shall find its weight preponderating in favor of the southern scale in the end.
The northern states, in comparison, contracted in their limits and already replete with inhabitants, even at this time feel the extent of their future influence in the union—whilst those to the south, though rich and extensive, yet thinly inhabited, look forward to a future population which presages a superiority unknown at present.
But considering this constitution even as unconnected with future events, how contradictory is this objection in itself!—“This government is to promote the interest of the northern states,” and at the same time hold out the destruction of the rest on whose approbation, as well as their own, its adoption and continuance depend. Whence alone we might infer that no such material objection could exist in reality should the constitution take place;—for as nothing less than the approbation of a large majority of the states can procure the adoption of this government, and nothing else than its being the interest of that majority could obtain such an approbation, so even the adoption of it, in itself, will imply its being the interest of more than seven of the northern states, since we know it will require more than the consent of that number to set it in motion. And thus too from the same mode of reasoning it may be reduced to a certainty that no such influence could be exerted even should it be found to exist;—for as the same causes which establishes must remain to support it, nothing need be apprehended from an influence, the very exercise of which would be a means of destroying the advantage itself, as nothing could induce so considerable a part of the continent to continue a connection which was to prove the destruction of themselves.
But let us now examine how this objection will square with that of the expensiveness of the plan. Between which, while we admit the propriety of the one, we shall destroy the force of the other. For if nothing but a separation of the states can cure the baneful influence of one part of the continent over the other, while that influence arises from a superiority of a number in that particular part, so nothing but a confederation of the whole can lessen the expence of the weakest part; and this I will prove from the two objections themselves, together with a short contrast on that head between a general confederation and two or more separate ones.
The advantages to be derived from one general government, are, that the necessary disbursements of state will be drawn from the whole continent and proportioned to the strength of each state—whereas under separate confederacies, though the expenditures of each would be nearly as great as the whole when united into one, they would be drawn from the few states within the separate union to which they belonged without regard to any inequality between them and the other states on the continent; which would make the expences of government, even were they no greater to the whole under one form than another, heavier to some, and lighter to others, than under one general head. And the difference, according to one of the foregoing objections itself, would unavoidably operate against the southern states;—for as it is on account of the disproportion of strength which the southern states hold to the northern that this constitution is in one instance objected to, so it will necessarily follow that the states which form southern confederacies will have most to pay, as those confederacies will be weakest when formed; and being weakest, and yet having the same to pay for their own support, will leave those states which form them with more to contribute than others forming stronger unions; as the fewer there are to make up the same sum at any time, so much the more must be contributed by each.
And thus this objection to the expensiveness of the plan, and that to the superior influence of the northern states, at present, operate in pointed contradiction to each other, and when taken together only serve to prove the advantages of this constitution to the southern states in particular.
But having already denied that the present superiority of the northern states will remain a lasting objection to a general Union, I shall endeavor to prove the particular advantages which some of the southern states will receive from this plan, on the score of œconomy, from another consideration.
From the establishment of the present confederation until this day the whole of the continental expences have been defrayed by little more than seven states, of which Virginia is one. I say by seven states because four only having complied fully with the requisitions of Congress, seven others having furnished about half their quotas, and the rest nothing at all, leaves still upwards of five proportions unpaid. So that we who have heretofore been making up the deficiencies of others, have little reason to complain of the expensiveness of a plan, the very first object of which was to force an equal compliance from all the states, as well to discharge our foreign as domestic debts; the first of which if left to be collected by coercion and distraint might fall equally severe on the punctual and delinquent.
Thus even in every local point of view this constitution is calculated to promote the interest of those very states which it has been supposed it would injure; and when examined into as distributing individual benefit by rendering general good, will be found equally interesting and desirable. And that being the general position laid down in the begining of this paper, I shall now advance to support it, and at once attack the main body of the enemy in their last retreat and strong hold,—which is, in the objection that makes the northern states the monopolisers of the carrying business.
Were I an East-Indian, a Turk, or an Englishman, I should in all probability find the same fault with this constitution; but as a Virginian and a friend to my country, I cannot object to the loss of an advantage which we never possessed, merely because it may be taken out of the hands of foreigners and put into those of our friends and neighbours; to enrich whom would be to strengthen ourselves.
Though even were there sacrifices to be made on that head by one state to another, the advantages arising from them would, on another principle, be felt in common by them all. For from the efforts necessary to give motion to a confederated republic, the different states, like the several parts of a complicated machine, must necessarily play into each other. Their sacrifices and advantages must be mutual and just;—for as there are certain proportions in mechanics necessary to form the powers of operation, so is there an equilibrium in government between the interests of its several parts necessary to give it force. That whilst a general operation remains, there must be felt a mutual assistance throughout the parts. And thus all those different advantages would revolve to each in turn, which under separate confederacies would centre where they first inclined.
But then, the carrying business is not one of the cases in which concessions are necessary to be made from one state to another;—for even were it to be entirely yielded into the hands of the northern states, there could be no great loss to the southern in consequence of the surrender, as would be proved by the very act of giving it up: for nothing but its being more the interest of the southern states to cultivate the commodities intended for exportation, than to carry them to market, could make them yield that business to the northern states, when they possessed every natural advantage in as great a degree as themselves for carrying it on. Blessed with a soil productive of every ingredient necessary for ship building; and environed, as well as interspersed with as advantageous bays and rivers as nature can bestow, Virginia might vie with any quarter of the globe in the profits of a maritime exertion—a competition in which, would not only redound to the dignity and safety, but also the interests of all America, as it would be the means of rearing a navy on the continent, as well as fixing all the profits arising from that business among ourselves, which now centre in foreign bottoms. And such a competition would naturally arise from what is now supposed will be the consequence of throwing such a business into the hands of the northern states. For as the only mischief that could arise from such a monopoly would be their having it in their power to raise the freightage, so the very evil itself would tend to produce the happiest of all effects. The different states compelled by their opposite interests, on such an occasion, would naturally struggle against each other, whereby they would render the most important of all public services to the continent at large, while they would be establishing a proper balance between the landed and mercantile interests of the different states.
In fine, there is no one instance in which the interest of an individual state can be injured by the promotion of that of the whole; but on the contrary must be particularly advanced. And the interests of every country being so inseparable from the dignity, the honor, and the credit of it, consequently renders that government most its immediate advantage which is best calculated to promote all those. Whence it only remains to enquire now how far the plan under consideration advances that way, to determine its real effects on the interests of the states.
Under a general and efficient government the powers of the different states, drawn to a single focus, would no longer be left to scatter their feeble rays in vain across the continent, but penetrating to the very bottom of the state authorities would bring forth that which would restore life to the decaying plant of PUBLIC FAITH; and with that would spring both private confidence and individual wealth:—for as it is by the extent of credit alone that the true value of property can be ascertained, so is it by honesty only that real wealth can exist. And to know that this government will promote honesty, it only remains to be told, that under it, no interference with private contracts in future can take place, as the states are “prohibited from passing any law impairing the obligation of contracts;” nor can the value of any debt be lessened, as at present by an emission of any kind of money of less value than that in which it was contracted, since the states are “prohibited making any thing but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts;” neither can our credit as a nation hereafter be injured in the eyes of the world by the interference of the individual states in any foreign treaty, as the sole right of declaring war or making peace, “unless when actually invaded,” will be in the continental head.
And thus the day begins to dawn in America when all those pernicious authorities, now exercised in the different states, shall be lost in the general lustre of the whole government, whence PUBLIC JUSTICE in its usual splendor, firmly fixed, shall mark the NEW FEDERAL CONSTITUTION as the rising SUN of the western world.
[1. ]According to Storing, William Findley was An Officer of the late Continental Army. This letter first appeared in the Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer on 6 November 1787, and was widely reprinted. See Storing, 3:8.
[2. ]See William W. Wiecek, The Guarantee Clause of the U.S. Constitution (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1972).
[3. ]See James Ceaser, Presidential Selection: Theory and Development (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1979).
[4. ]See State Soldier, Friends, 119-28.