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“An American Citizen” [Tench Coxe] “Thoughts on the Subject of Amendments”: II-III - 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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“An American Citizen” [Tench Coxe]
Pennsylvania Gazette, Philadelphia, 10 December and 24 December 1788
To moderate the ardor and diminish the fears of the friends of amendment, we took a cursory view, in the last paper, of the ground upon which liberty is fixed in this enlightened time, and particularly in the United States. It clearly appeared, that the dangers to property, peace, liberty and life, so far as they have heretofore proceeded from the abuse of ecclesiastical power, are now done away by the total suppression of that species of authority. It was also evident, that instead of general feeling and opinion, on which the liberties of the ancient republics precariously rested, the progress of political knowledge had given us the more certain basis of the acknowledged rights of man, and the established principles of freedom. Being possessed of constitutions formed out of these rights and principles, it was argued, that no sudden inroads upon the liberties of the people could be made, no insidious encroachments could be effected. Wherefore, it was further observed, the business of amendment, equally important to liberty and government, need not be precipitated, from any dangerous circumstances that attend our present situation.
The amendments that have been hitherto suggested may not improperly be divided into two kinds—1st. Those which are supposed immediately to regard the liberties of the people; and 2dly. Those which would effect a diminution of the powers of the federal legislature.
In considering those amendments which immediately relate to the rights of individuals, we must call to mind that the United States have successfully concluded an important contest, the grounds of which principally were, their assertion of their general and common rights, in the utmost extent to which the theory of a free government could carry them. We must remember also, that our federal and state governments are and will be, so far as a very large majority goes, in the hands of those men who originated that contest, or maintained it to an happy issue. If we give ourselves a moment’s time for reflection, we shall be satisfied that the leaders of the general and state councils from 1775 to 1778, both civil and military characters, who are now entering upon the duties of the new government, will not betray that liberty they then asserted, nor be silent spectators of its destruction by the plans of their fellow-citizens. When the body of the new Congress shall be assembled—when the state legislatures shall see in the Senate the representatives of their various interests, created by a deliberate exercise of their own powers—when the people at large shall behold in the House of Representatives the men of their freest choice, and in their Chief Magistrate, the creature of their breath and the venerated object of their warmest affections—they will not unreasonably and ungenerously suppose that such a body, formed at a juncture so important and [by] means so just, will be inattentive to any consideration, which may affect the happiness of a country on whose fortunes hang all their joys and sorrows. Shall we not then calmly wait the short period of their meeting? Shall we formally elect them for the most important duties, and immediately withdraw from them the confidence their station demands? ’Till their conduct gives us some shadow of cause to censure them, let us rationally expect that they will examine, with becoming anxiety and care, what further checks in favor of liberty can be introduced, what further explanations of the constitution time and reflection prove to be necessary. Should they discover that the preservation of freedom, or even the restoration of general harmony, renders it necessary that a declaration of the rights of conscience, the freedom of the press, and other articles, should be expressed as fully in the constitution of the union as they are in those of the states, we should be wanting to ourselves, and cruelly unjust to them, to suppose they will neglect to propose them.
If we consider the manner in which a general convention must be created, by the election of the state legislatures—if we remember at the same time, that one branch of the new Congress are to be chosen by those bodies, and the other by the people at large—if we bear in mind also, that the rights of the states, as well as those of the people, are involved in the proposed amendments—we shall see that a General Convention would not be as competent to decide on alterations, as the new Congress, from the nature of its two branches, will be to propose them for the determination of the legislatures or people of the states. Considering the mixed nature of the new constitution, made up as it is of the rights of the people and the rights of the states, a mixed body only, created by both the parties concerned, can safely and equitably amend it. The contracting parties in the federal compact are the people of the several states and the federal state governments. Amendments originated by the representatives of either, alone, cannot be just, and may be dangerous to the other.
Considering, then, that the present situation of the United States is peculiarly free from those rocks on which the liberties of the people have formerly been lost,—that we may place our affairs, both in the state and general governments, under the guidance of our most enlightened citizens,—that there is every reason to believe the interest, the wisdom and the virtue of those, whom the people and the legislatures shall elect, will ensure a due attention to the peace and safety of our country,—that precipitation, warmth, and unreasonable prejudices may possibly mar the constitution, but cannot amend it—we must deem it at once our interest and duty, calmly to wait the first operations of the federal legislature. Impatience under assumed powers has been the just characteristic of Americans. Let not our enemies, in this our political infancy, be able to charge us with the same temper towards the just authority, which we ourselves have deliberately created.
In examining those amendments which relate to the powers vested in Congress by the new constitution, we find the principle ground of objection to be, the effect which the general government will have upon the governments of the states. And here it may be well for us briefly to notice the principle causes of opposition throughout the United States, which unhappily can be too easily ascertained. Considerations with regard to personal rights no doubt have affected many worthy men, but we trust we have already shewn, that every amendment really affecting liberty may be expected of the new Congress. The event must very soon prove the prediction to be true or false, and in the mean time it must be evident that there is no danger from an unorganized government, from a constitution yet on paper.
The first great cause of objection which presents itself is, that the federal constitution will prevent those legal invasions of the rights of property, which have shewn themselves in paper emissions, lawful tenders, installment laws, and valuation laws. To all arguments drawn from such considerations, it would be an insult to the integrity of an honest opponent to the constitution to offer an answer. He will reject them of his own accord. Only to remind him of the facts will be sufficient. He will find, on examination, that a majority of the state legislatures had committed trespasses of this kind, prior to the meeting of the late general convention, and that attempts were making in some one of the remaining states at every session.
The second objection to the constitution of the United States which occurs, and which is of too general influence, is, that it aims to restore energy, and to give effect to government. The delay of justice, and in the collection of taxes and debts, in the interior parts of some, and every part of other states, is too convenient, too agreeable to many. To all arguments drawn from such considerations, also, it would be an insult to the integrity of an honest opponent of the constitution to offer an answer. Measures, which will remedy these two evils, must be acceptable to good men of both parties, and are indispensably necessary to the prosperity and honor of the United States.
The third objection to the powers of the federal government, which create a strong and warm body of opponents, is the influence, ’tis said, it will have on the powers of the state governments.
The constitutions of a majority of the states establish, in many important particulars, an equality among their respective counties, tho’ they differ in their number of freemen in the proportion of ten to one, and in their contributions to government much more. This is surely a violation of justice and the equal rights of man. Such constitutions are not the codes of liberty, nor can a just and safe administration take place under them.
Several of the state constitutions impose religious tests. One of them disfranchises the whole body of the clergy of all denominations—another disfranchises all christian sects but one. Would not the friends of religious men, and the meritorious advocates of religious liberty, be well employed in obtaining amendments of these articles.
If the state constitutions thus violate the rights of man, both temporal and spiritual, the administration under them must always be precarious, and has been already extremely unjust. Foreigners, and the merchants and tradesmen of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Maryland (where special payments can be compelled) have placed large properties in goods in the hands of the merchants, traders, planters and farmers in Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia, New Jersey and Rhode Island. The legal impediments, which the several legislatures of the latter states have thrown in the way, or which they have purposely omitted to remove, though within their powers, have long detained, and yet continue to keep the rightful property of the former out of their hands. The consequence to the unhappy creditor, who is within the reach of a just and efficient government, is a loss of those profits, which would maintain his family and educate his children, injurious sales of his landed property to make his payments, too often forced by legal executions, or even a distressful bankruptcy. The public debts and the public revenues might be enlarged on; but the picture of our country, as it stood at the time of the establishment of the federal constitution, arising principally from the defects and faults in the state constitutions, or the mal-administration of them, would be too painful. Let our own reflexion and these facts, which are as true as they are deplorable, suffice. Let us, however, deduce from these observations the conclusion to which they were meant to lead, that a diminution of the powers of the state governments, and a transfer of a due portion of them to a national body, was necessary to the salvation of our country.
In the formation of this national body a careful examination was previously made. It was seen, that the United States were made up of the people at large, and of thirteen local governments, and that both must be completely represented in the general government. Hence an entire body was assigned to the people, called the House of Representatives, without whose consent nothing can be done, and whose election is always to be made in a manner as consistent with equality and liberty, as that of any body upon earth. Hence, also, an entire representative body was assigned to the state legislatures, called the Senate, in which the thirteen governments are completely represented, and their equal rights are duly maintained. To preserve unimpaired the independency of the freemen of the United States, no inequality was permitted to be introduced, to the prejudice of any man, in the election of the federal representatives; so also, to preserve inviolate the independency of the states, no inequality was allowed, to the injury of any one of them, in the election of their representatives, the Federal Senators. How just and safe to both is this arrangement.
We are now electing the men of our choice to represent us in the two houses of the general government. Let us, ’till the short period of their meeting, give them a generous credit for the amendments they will propose, affecting the rights of conscience, the liberty of the press, and other topics, concerning which our apprehensions have been some times honestly, and at other times dishonestly, excited. Let us remember, what we will all admit, that they love virtue and freedom no less than ourselves.