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Popular Government and Civic Virtue - 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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Popular Government and Civic Virtue
Despite numerous Anti-Federalist accusations that the Federalists were advancing aristocratic government in America, virtually all Federalists defended the cause of popular government. The Federalist case for popular government rested on both the natural right of the people to institute government and the concomitant duty to establish and preserve good government. Even “Caesar,” who with “blunt and ungracious reasoning” fully admitted that he considered the “unthinking masses” ill qualified to evaluate the Constitution, and that he was “not much attached to the majesty of the multitude,” nonetheless recognized the inherent right of the people to receive or reject the Constitution. He simply exhorted them to look to the opinions of their more learned superiors in deciding the case. In contrast to the deferential role “Caesar” advised the people to take, Noah Webster argued that “it is not only the right, but the indispensable duty of every citizen to examine the principles” of the proposed government.
Though strongly committed to popular government, the Federalists were not inattentive to the problems and excesses of democracy. Unwilling to defend “popular government with a vengeance” or “licentious democracy,” they sought a way to retain the principles and spirit of democratic government and at the same time avoid the defects toward which it tended. In response to the Anti-Federalist view that a large territory is unfit for popular government and that only in small territories are the republican virtues of public spiritedness and moderation possible, Federalists charged that the small republic thesis was flawed. The problem of small republics, they said, is that they are prone to turbulence, licentiousness, and faction. To counteract these diseases, Federalists asserted the need for a large republic.
How did the Federalists understand the purpose of republican government? How did they think such a government was to be preserved and perpetuated? Was there a Federalist vision of republicanism that was more than a defense against Anti-Federalist criticisms? The following selections demonstrate that many of the Federalists did not simply react to their opponents’ charges, but presented philosophically thoughtful, albeit sometimes competing, views about the nature of republican government. The “State Soldier” ridicules the “chimerical and speculative enjoyments” that amused the political imaginations of his opponents and declares that “the only desirable purpose of any government is, the security of men’s persons and property.” According to Noah Webster, a general distribution of property is “the very soul of a republic.” Indeed, Montesquieu was wrong; it is not virtue that provides the sturdiest support of free government but property and dominion.
In contrast, Nicholas Collin warns against an “overdriven spirit of commerce,” for the desire to accumulate wealth and dominion, left unchecked by moral and religious principles, fosters base passions. Put simply “there can be no liberty without virtue.” In his view, the moral and intellectual qualities that ennoble men and make them capable of self-government are the very soul of the republic. A people of good manners, morals, and learning make the political union stronger, animating it “by the same generous spirit.” In turn, a noble republican civilization gradually enhances “the dispositions necessary for civil government.” John Dickinson agreed. He believed that while government ought to safeguard the liberty and property of the people, the perpetuation of the people’s virtue and the advancement of their happiness is the final purpose of government. Dickinson’s understanding of the rights of man places the individual “in a close connection with all his duties.” The right of the people to establish a constitution and institute government is inextricably bound to the purpose of a constitution and government: to advance the general welfare and happiness of the people in the way ordained by the Creator and the law of nature.
The competing views on the nature of republican government represent two different poles of political science in the eighteenth century. According to the narrower vision, not only is free government limited in its powers, but it is also limited in its purpose. The aim of republican government is the security of the individual and his property, or in other words the prevention of injustice; republican government neither attempts to form nor depends upon a virtuous citizenry. Proponents of the broader vision agreed that republican government must be limited in its powers, for only a government of constitutionally limited authority is consistent with the rights of man. They did not, however, believe that the recognition of man’s natural rights reduced the ends of politics. Rather than lowering the ends of political association, the discovery and recognition of the rights of man offered the just basis on which to construct the political community and to accomplish the highest of political tasks. There can be no self-government without liberty, they believed, but further there can be no genuine liberty and self-government without virtue.
Despite the lack of unanimity about the purpose of republican government, most Federalists understood that the regime they were about to establish would affect the manners and souls of the citizens. They also generally agreed that the perpetuation of republicanism depends ultimately on the character of the citizens. The need for ethical and religious instruction in the polity was widely felt and frequently spoken of, though as a whole the Federalists did not draw a detailed roadmap for the journey of moral education in the United States. Instead, they tended to speak to their fellow citizens in generalities, almost in matter-of-fact tones, about the need for and the benefits that would derive from religion, education, good statesmanship, and law.
Having said this, it is important to point out that there were indeed some Federalists who confronted certain moral and religious matters explicitly. It is not sufficient to assume a common consensus on the “universally established principles of humanity and common equity,” Collin said. These principles must be applied in practice. Thus he, Tench Coxe, “Crito,” and others raised their voices in condemnation of the cruel, inhuman practice of slavery in America. Presaging the poignant appeal of Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War era, “Crito” reminds his fellow citizens of the principles to which the American union is dedicated. “It was repeatedly declared,” he says, “ . . . that all men are created equal; That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Pointing out the striking contradiction between the sacred principles and the profane practices of America, “Crito” continues:
The Africans, and the blacks in servitude among us, were really as much included in these assertions as ourselves; and their right, unalienable right to liberty, and to procure and possess property, is as much asserted as ours, if they be men. And if we have not allowed them to enjoy these unalienable rights, but violently deprive them of liberty and property, and are still taking, as far as in our power, all liberty, and property from the nations in Africa, we are guilty of a ridiculous wicked contradiction and inconsistence: and practically authorize any nation or people, who have power to do it, to make us their slaves.
It would seem that David Ramsay of South Carolina could not hear the pleas of “Crito,” or the “bitter sighs, groans, and tears” of the distressed men and women held in bondage. Congress is prohibited from outlawing the slave trade for twenty-one years, Ramsay points out. It does not follow that they must or will forbid it after 1808; indeed, “it is probable that they will not.” Ramsay’s prediction is premised on his calculation of the economic self-interest of both the South and the North, implying that the desire for wealth will decide the question of the future of the slave trade in the United States. “One of the People Called Quakers” saw things very differently. The Virginia delegates to the Constitutional Convention, he says, were obdurately opposed to slavery and agreed to the limited importation of slaves only because it was the best compromise they could then attain. “The new federal government,” he concludes, “ . . . would eagerly embrace the opportunity not only of putting an end to the importation of slaves, but of abolishing slavery forever.”
In matters of religious conviction, the Federalists concurred that liberty requires the unrestrained exercise of the conscience and prohibits religious tests for office. This did not mean to “Elihu” that the impious and the immoral were not fools nor to Oliver Ellsworth that the law must be indifferent to gross impieties and immoralities. Indeed in matters of morality the law serves not only to punish indiscretions but also to induce good habits and educate to virtue. For the vast majority of the Founders, liberty was compatible with morality; it was not compatible with, or even secure in, a polity that failed or refused to make moral distinctions. The concern for the relationship between liberty and morality was also applied to economic matters. Some of the Federalists viewed the life of commerce and manufacturing as incompatible with an independent, simple-mannered, virtuous republican citizenry. More often than not, however, Federalists concluded that there is no incongruity between scientific progress and commercial prosperity on the one hand, and the preservation of a virtuous citizenry on the other. In fact according to Collin, Dickinson, Ellsworth, and Wilson, the moderate and just pursuit of wealth is perfectly compatible with, and may even provide a mutual support for, the ethical life.
Many leading Federalists contended that adherence to the just principles of republican government requires both a dependence on the character of the citizenry and guidance from intelligent and virtuous leaders. The call for a republican spirit throughout the government and across the land is echoed by a host of voices in choral array. Dickinson tells of how this may be achieved, teaching that a popular government in a large territory acting according to the principles of representation and federalism can be characterized by an “animated moderation.” Similarly Wilson calls for the union of public-spiritedness and moderation. In his Fourth of July oration of 1788 he exhorts the American people to the cause of their celebrated independence and union, demonstrating at once the profoundly popular character of the American polity and the crucial task that must be performed by statesmen-educators if republican government is to endure. One can almost hear the sonorous echoes of the Federalists sounding across the many July Fourths that separate us in time but connect us in spirit, calling out their hope for a “constellation of noble minds” to continue the trial of self-government and thus shedding “a bright day over American till time is no more.”
“One of Four Thousand”
Independent Gazetteer, Philadelphia, 15 October 1787
To the Freemen of Pennsylvania.
A publication has lately appeared in several of our papers, said to be signed by sixteen members of the late Assembly of Pennsylvania, which challenges a few remarks.1
The first remark that occurs is, that the paper was neither written by any one of them, nor signed by all of them. They are too illiterate to compose such an address, and it can be proved that several of the persons whose names are subscribed to it left the city on Saturday, before there was time to collect the materials of the address, or to receive it from the person who is well known to have written it.
A second remark that occurs in this place is, that there was a fixed resolution of the anti-federal junto to oppose the federal government, long before it made its appearance. In the month of July last, at a meeting of this junto, it was agreed, “that if the new constitution of Congress interfered in the least with the constitution of Pennsylvania, it ought to be opposed and rejected, and that even the name of a Washington should not carry it down.” Happily it requires a reduction of the enormous expenses, and some other alterations of our constitution. Hence the reason of their opposition. Had it been much more perfect, or had it, like the Jewish theocracy, been framed by the hand of the Supreme Being himself, it would have been equally unpopular among them, since it interferes with their expensive hobby-horse, the Constitution of Pennsylvania.
The address, and all the opposition to the new government, originate from the officers of government, who are afraid of losing their salaries or places. This will not surprise those of us who remember the opposition which our Independence received from a few officers of government in the years 1775 and 1776. Recollect the Friendly Addresses and the Catos, which appeared in those years in all our newspapers. Remember too, that these publications came from men of as great understandings, and of more extensive influence, than Randolph, Mason or Gerry. Which of them is fit to be named with Hutchinson, Bernard, Tryon or Kemp?
The Address begins with two palpable falsehoods. “We lamented (it says) at the time, that a majority of our legislature appointed men to represent this state, who were all citizens of Philadelphia, and none of them calculated to represent the landed interest of Pennsylvania.”
It is a well known fact, that a seat in the Convention was offered to William Findley, and that he objected to it, because no wages were to be connected with it. It became, therefore, a matter of economy, as well as convenience, to fill up the delegation with members from Philadelphia. If this was a crime, the sixteen concurred in it, for they all voted for five of the delegation, and for three other men who were at that time citizens of Philadelphia, viz. Thomas McKean, Charles Pettit, and John Boyard, Esquires.
The story of the delegates from Pennsylvania having no interest in the landed property of the state is equally groundless with the foregoing. They are all land holders, and one of them alone owns a greater landed estate than the whole sixteen absconders; and has for many years past punctually and justly paid more taxes on it, than are paid by the whole antifederal junto—and, unfortunately, for the support of the men who compose this junto.
The address confesses that the sixteen absconded, to prevent the majority of the House from calling a convention, to consider the new form of government. Is this right, Freemen of Pennsylvania?—Is it agreeable to democratic principles, that the Minority should govern the Majority?—Is not this aristocracy in good earnest?—Is it not tyranny, that a few should govern the many?—By absconding, and thereby obstructing the public business, they dissolved the constitution. They annihilated the first principles of government, and threw the commonwealth into a state of nature. Under these circumstances, the citizens of Philadelphia appealed to the first of nature’s laws, viz. self-preservation. They seized two of the sixteen absconders, and compelled them to form a House by their attendance. In this they acted wisely and justly—as much so as the man who seizes a highwayman, who is about to rob him. If they were wrong in this action, then the men who drove Galloway, Skinner, Delancey, and other miscreants, from our states, by force, in the year 1776, were wrong likewise. What justified all the outrages that were committed against the tories in the beginning of the war? Nothing but the dissolution of our governments.—What was the foundation of the dissolution of these governments? Nothing but a resolution of Congress.—What determined us to establish new governments on the ruins of the old? Nothing but a recommendation of Congress.—Why, then, do these men fly in the faces of the Convention and Congress?—It was from similar bodies of men, similarly constituted, that their present form of government derived its independence. It cannot exist without a Congress—it is meet, therefore, that it should harmonize with it.
The objections to the federal government are weak, false, and absurd. The neglect of the Convention to mention the Liberty of the Press arose from a respect to the state constitutions, in each of which this palladium of liberty is secured, and which is guaranteed to them as an essential part of their republican forms of government. But supposing this had not been done, the Liberty of the Press would have been an inherent and political right, as long as nothing was said against it. The Convention have said nothing to secure the privilege of eating and drinking, and yet no man supposes that right of nature to be endangered by their silence about it.
Considering the variety of interests to be consulted, and the diversity of human opinions upon all subjects, and especially the subject of government, it is a matter of astonishment, that the government formed by the Convention has so few faults. With these faults, it is a phenomenon of human wisdom and virtue, such as the world never saw before. It unites in its different parts all the advantages, without any of the disadvantages of the three well known forms of government, and yet it preserves the attributes of a republic. And lastly, if it should be found to be faulty in any particular, it provides an easy and constitutional method of curing its faults.
I anticipate the praise with which this government will be viewed by the friends of liberty and mankind in Europe. The philosophers will no longer consider a republic as an impracticable form of government, and pious men of all denominations will thank God for having provided in our federal constitution, an Ark for the preservation of the remains of the justice and liberties of the world.
Freemen of Pennsylvania, consider the character and services of the men who made this government. Behold the venerable Franklin, in the 70th year of his age, cooped up in the cabin of a small vessel, and exposing himself to the dangers of a passage on the ocean, crowded with British cruisers, in a winter month, in order to solicit from the court of France that aid, which finally enabled America to close the war with so much success and glory—and then say, is it possible that this man would set his hand to a constitution that would endanger your liberties? From this aged servant of the public, turn your eyes to the illustrious American hero, whose name has ennobled human nature—I mean our beloved Washington. Behold him, in the year 1775, taking leave of his happy family and peaceful retreat, and flying to the relief of a distant, and at that time an unknown part of the American continent. See him uniting and cementing an army, composed of the citizens of thirteen states, into a band of brothers. Follow him into the field of battle, and behold him the first in danger, and the last out of it. Follow him into his winter quarters, and see him sharing in the hunger, cold and fatigues of every soldier in his army. Behold his fortitude in adversity, his moderation in victory, and his tenderness and respect upon all occasions for the civil power of his country. But above all, turn your eyes to that illustrious scene he exhibited at Annapolis in 1782, when he resigned his commission, and laid his sword at the feet of Congress, and afterwards resumed the toils of an American farmer on the banks of the Potomac. Survey, my countrymen, these illustrious exploits of patriotism and virtue, and then say, is it possible that the deliverer of our country would have recommended an unsafe form of government for that liberty, for which he had for eight long years contended with such unexampled firmness, constancy and magnanimity?
Pardon me, if I here ask—Where were the sixteen absconders and their advisers, while these illustrious framers of our federal constitution were exposing their lives and exerting their talents for your safety and happiness? Some of them took sanctuary in offices, under the constitution of Pennsylvania, from the dangers of the year 1776, and the rest of them were either inactive, or known only on the muster-rolls of the militia during the war.
Look around you, my fellow citizens, and behold the confusion and distresses which prevail in every part of our country.2 Behold, from the weakness of the government of Massachusetts, the leaders of rebellion making laws to exempt themselves from punishment. See, in Rhode Island, the bonds of society and the obligations of morality dissolved by paper money and tender laws. See the flames of courthouses in Virginia, kindled by debtors to stop the course of justice. Hear the complaints of our farmers, whose unequal and oppressive taxes in every part of the country amount to nearly the rent of their farms. Hear too the complaints of every class of public creditors. Look at the records of bankruptcies that fill every newspaper. Look at the melancholy countenances of our mechanics, who now wander up and down the streets of our cities without employment. See our ships rotting in our harbors, or excluded from nearly all the ports in the world. Listen to the insults that are offered to the American name and character in every court of Europe. See order and honor everywhere prostrate in the dust, and religion, with all her attending train of virtues, about to quit our continent forever. View these things, my fellow citizens, and then say that we do not require a new, a protecting, and efficient federal government, if you can. The picture I have given you of the situation of our country is not an exaggerated one. I challenge the boldest enemy of the federal constitution to disprove any one part of it.
It is not to be wondered at, that some of the rulers and officers of the government of Pennsylvania are opposed to the new constitution of the United States. It will lessen their power, number and influence—for it will necessarily reduce the expenses of our government from nearly 50,000 l. to 10,000 l., or, at most, 15,000 l. a year. I am very happy in being able to except many worthy officers of our government from concurring in this opposition. Their names, their conduct, and their characters, are well-known to their Fellow Citizens, and I hope they will all be rewarded by a continuance and accumulation of public favor and confidence.
The design of this address is not to inflame the passions of my fellow citizens; I know the feelings of the people of Pennsylvania are sufficiently keen. It becomes me not, therefore (to use the words of the address of the sixteen absconders), to add to them, by dwelling longer “upon the distresses and dangers of our country. I have laid a real state of facts before you; it becomes you, therefore, to judge for yourselves.”
The absconders have endeavored to sanctify their false and seditious publication by a solemn address to the Supreme Being. I shall conclude the truths I have written, by adopting some of their own words, with a short addition to them.
“May He, who alone has dominion over the passions and understandings of men, preserve you from the influence of rulers, who have upon many occasions held fellowship with iniquity, and established mischief by law.”
The author of this Address is one of the Four Thousand Citizens of Philadelphia and its neighborhood, who subscribed the petition to the late Assembly, immediately to call a Convention, in order to adopt the proposed Federal Constitution.
Daily Advertiser, New York, 17 October 1787
In his editorial notes to Essays on the Constitution of the United States, Paul L. Ford identifies Alexander Hamilton as the author of the Caesar letters. But as Jacob E. Cooke has shown, Ford’s reasons are “not altogether convincing.” Cooke has cast enough doubt on Hamilton’s authorship to attribute the letters simply to the effort of an anonymous Caesar. See Cooke, “Alexander Hamilton’s Authorship of the Caesar Letters,” William and Mary Quarterly 17 (1960): 78.
“The great source of all the evils which afflict Republics, is, that the people are too apt to make choice of rulers, who are either Politicians without being Patriots, or Patriots without being Politicians.”
Mr. Childs: When I took notice of Cato’s1 prefatory address to the Citizens of the State of New York, in your paper of the first instant, I had no serious intention of becoming a controversial defendant of the new constitution. Indeed, if the system required defence, I was neither so weak nor so vain as to suppose myself competent to the task. To obviate difficulties which may arise, when such weighty affairs as the principles of legislation are under discussion, I am sensible requires talents far beyond my limited abilities. When I offered a few remarks on Cato’s introduction, I was strongly impressed with the idea that even the most substantial criticisms, promulgated by the most influential avowed Citizens, could have no good tendency at this time. I viewed the public mind as wound up to a great pitch of dissatisfaction, by the inadequacy of the powers of the present Congress to the general good and conversation of the union. I believed then, as I do now, that the people were determined and prepared for a change. I conceived, therefore, that the wish of every good man would be, that this change might be peaceably effected. With this view I opposed myself to Cato. I asserted, in my last, that the door of recommendation was shut, and cannot be opened by the same men—that the Convention was dissolved. If I am wrong, it will be of great importance to Cato’s future remarks that he make it appear. If he will declare from sufficient authority, that the members of the late Convention have only adjourned to give time to hear the sentiments of every political disputant, that after the numerous presses of America have groaned with the heavy productions of speculative politicians, they will again meet, weigh their respective merits, and accommodate accordingly—I say, if Cato can do this, I make no hesitation in acknowledging the utility of his plan. In the mean time, I positively deny having any, the most distant desire of shutting the door of free discussion, on any subject which may benefit the people; but I maintain (until Cato’s better information refutes me) that the door, as far as relates to this subject, is already shut, not by me, but by the highest possible authority which the case admits, even by those great Patriots who were delegated by the people of the United States to open such a door, as might enable them to escape from impending calamities and political shipwreck. This distinction is clear, I conceive, and ought to have some weight even with Cato, as well as those for whom he writes. I am not one of those who gain an influence by cajoling the unthinking mass (tho’ I pity their delusions), and ringing in their ears the gracious sound of their absolute Sovereignty. I despise the trick of such dirty policy. I know there are Citizens, who, to gain their own private ends, enflame the minds of the well-meaning, tho’ less intelligent parts of the community, by sating their vanity with that cordial and unfailing specific, that all power is seated in the people. For my part, I am not much attached to the majesty of the multitude, and therefore waive all pretensions (founded on such conduct), to their countenance. I consider them in general as very ill qualified to judge for themselves what government will best suit their peculiar situations; nor is this to be wondered at. The science of government is not easily understood. Cato will admit, I presume, that men of good education and deep reflection, only, are judges of the form of a government; whether it is constituted on such principles as will restrain arbitrary power, on the one hand, and equal to the exclusion of corruption and the destruction of licentiousness on the other; whether the New Constitution, if adopted, will prove adequate to such desirable ends, time, the mother of events, will show. For my own part, I sincerely esteem it a system, which, without the finger of God, never could have been suggested and agreed upon by such a diversity of interests. I will not presume to say that a more perfect system might not have been fabricated; but who expects perfection at once? And it may be asked, who are judges of it? Few, I believe, who have leisure to study the nature of Government scientifically, but will frequently disagree about the quantum of power to be delegated to Rulers, and the different modifications of it. Ingenious men will give every plausible, and, it may be, pretty substantial reasons, for the adoption of two plans of Government, which shall be fundamentally different in their construction, and not less so in their operation; yet both, if honestly administered, might operate with safety and advantage. When a new form of government is fabricated, it lies with the people at large to receive or reject it—that is, their inherent right. Now, I would ask (without intending to triumph over the weaknesses or follies of any men), how are the people to profit by this inherent right? By what conduct do they discover that they are sensible of their own interests in this situation? Is it by the exercise of a well-disciplined reason, and a correspondent education? I believe not. How then? As I humbly conceive, by a tractable and docile disposition, and by honest men endeavoring to keep their minds easy, while others, of the same disposition, with the advantages of genius and learning, are constructing the bark that may, by the blessing of Heaven, carry them to the port of rest and happiness, if they will embark without diffidence and proceed without mutiny. I know this is blunt and ungracious reasoning; it is the best, however, which I am prepared to offer on this momentous business; and, since my own heart does not reproach me, I shall not be very solicitous about its reception. If truth, then, is permitted to speak, the mass of the people of America (any more than the mass of other countries) cannot judge with any degree of precision concerning the fitness of this New Constitution to the peculiar situation of America; they have, however, done wisely in delegating the power of framing a government to those every way worthy and well-qualified; and, if this Government is snatched, untasted, from them, it may not be amiss to inquire into the causes which will probably occasion their disappointment. Out of several, which present to my mind, I shall venture to select one, baneful enough, in my opinion, to work this dreadful evil. There are always men in society of some talents, but more ambition, in quest of that which it would be impossible for them to obtain in any other way than by working on the passions and prejudices of the less discerning classes of citizens and yeomanry. It is the plan of men of this stamp to frighten the people with ideal bugbears, in order to mould them to their own purposes. The unceasing cry of these designing croakers is, My friends, your liberty is invaded! Have you thrown off the yoke of one tyrant to invest yourselves with that of another? Have you fought, bled and conquered for such a change? If you have—go—retire into silent obscurity, and kiss the rod that scourges you.
To be serious: These state empirics leave no species of deceit untried to convince the unthinking people that they have power to do—what? Why truly to do much mischief, and to occasion anarchy and wild uproar. And for what reason do these political jugglers incite the peaceably disposed to such extravagant commotions? Because until the people really discover that they have power, by some outrageous act, they never can become of any importance. The misguided people never reflect during this frenzy, that the moment they become riotous, they renounce, from that moment, their independence, and commence vassals to their ambitious leaders, who instantly, and with a high hand, rob them of their consequence, and apply it to their own present or future aggrandisement; nor will these tyrants over the people stick at sacrificing their good, if an advantageous compromise can be effected for themselves.
Before I conclude, I cannot refrain from observing that Cato states very disingenuously the manner in which the Federal System came abroad. He tells us, Congress were sensible that the late Convention exercised a power which no authority could delegate to them. The Convention, says Cato, have taken upon them to make a perfectly new system, which by its operations will absorb the sovereignties of the individual States; this new government founded on usurpation, (Cato, this expression is very indecent—but I will rouse no passions against you) this consolidated system Congress did not approve and therefore have been silent on its character. That Congress was silent on its character is true, but could Cato find no other reason for their silence than that of disapprobation? I believe Congress were by no means dissatisfied with the freedom the Convention took with the Articles of Confederation; I believe further that with very few exceptions, that honorable body approves of the New Constitution; and that they did not accompany it to the States with a recommendatory capitation or circular letter, proceeded from a delicate attention to the members of the late Convention, to a few of their own body, and to the people of America at large. That the Convention went so earnestly into the business committed to their care ought, instead of being matter of chagrin, to occasion the liveliest expressions of approbation and gratitude—as matters stand just now. I think it may be fairly said, that no generous plan of government for the United States has ever been constructed, (the plan only excepted which is under consideration) so that it seems quite unnecessary in Cato to disturb the peace of society by a bombast appeal to their feelings, on the generous plan of power delivered down by their renowned forefathers. I venerate the memory of the slaughtered patriots of America, and rejoice as much as Cato that they did not bleed in vain, but I would have America profit by their death in a different manner from him. I believe they sought to obtain liberty for no particular State, but for the whole Union, indissolubly connected under one controlling and supreme head.
Cato complains of my anticipating parts of his subject which he intended for future periods. I shall break in no more upon his arrangements. All he can say against the New Constitution has been already disseminated in a neighboring State by the glorious defenders of Shayism. I shall therefore leave Cato to the wicked influences of his own heart, in the fullest persuasion that all good citizens will combine their influence to establish the fair fabric of American liberty beyond the reach of suspicion, violence, anarchy, and tyranny. When this glorious work is accomplished, what may America not hope to arrive at? I will venture to prophesy that the day on which the Union under the new government shall be ratified by the American States, that that day will begin an era which will be recorded and observed by future ages as a day which the Americans had marked by their wisdom in circumscribing the power and ascertaining the decline of the ancient nations in Christendom.
Independent Chronicle and the Universal Advertiser, Boston, 9 August, 18 October, 22 November, and 27 December 1787
For the Independent Chronicle.
Mess’rs. PRINTERS. If you think the following worth the public notice, please to insert it in your paper.
IT will often be the lot of him, who is a calm, and Philosophical Spectator of the movements of human beings, to remark the sudden changes of their sentiments, and passions. The first observations will create great surprize; but the vehemence of wonder will abate, when a variety of experiments shall have proved the truth of my motto, viz. That man is a being governed by custom, whose frequent changes make her a true Proteus.
Did the capricious power of fashion only extend to regulating the attire of ladies and petit-maitres, the Philosopher would have no cause to complain. But it requires a good degree of patience, calmly to behold her interfering in the province of wisdom, subverting the sciences and perplexing the most important concerns of human kind.
What but fashion teaches the smart and popular divine to talk, in these days, of the absolute necessity of human actions; and that God has acted out his wisdom and goodness, that is, done his utmost in the formation of the universe. But a few years ago, the Deity was thought unsearchable, and man a free agent.
Newtonianism was not long since the fashionable Philosophy; but now is scarcely to be admitted by the beaux-esprits. No, without some tincture of Cartesian, or Hutchinsonian principles, by tasty Philosophers, a man is thought a novice.
Ideas enjoyed a former brilliant day under the patronage of the illustrious Locke. But common sense (the only metaphysics worth a farthing) afterwards seemed to be regaining her authority, supported by Beattie and Reid. But her reign was short; for men will not long be contented with such a homespun mistress as common sense. Ideas have revived their reign, in all their tinsel and splendor.
In physic, not long since, the hot regimen was all in all for the small-pox, and other eruptive disorders. To this succeeded the Suttonian system, and fevers were to be cooled by frost. A simple process indeed! Of late some Physicians have practised inoculation, on the temperate regimen, with great success. And perhaps, after all, this is the very dictate of nature.
Republicanism, a few years ago, was all the vogue of politicians. “A government of laws and not of men.” But now the aristocratics and monarchy-men on the one hand, and the insurgent party on the other, are with different views contending for a “government of men, and not of laws.” The weakness of republics is become the everlasting theme of speculative politicians. While a man of less enthusiasm, on remarking the extravagancies of parties, is ready to say,
But even this is not strictly true. A government may be deficient in its form: and afford no principles on which the executive power shall proceed. We may therefore define a good government thus. It is that which contains a good system of laws, with provision suitable and sufficient, for the putting them into execution. By whatever name such a government be called, it is a good one. The goodness of forms of government is, however, almost wholly relative. Some agree with one nation, with respect to their temper and circumstances, some with another. Habit and actual experience alone, can absolutely determine that which is fit for any individual State.
Liberty, when considered as a power, is the unrestrained power of acting reasonably: As a privilege, it is the security which a man feels in acting rightly and enjoying the fruit of his own labor. When either of these are wanting, the people are not free, although their government may be called a democracy. When these exist, the people are free, although the government may be stiled an absolute monarchy. For an absolute, and arbitrary government, are very different things.2
If a government shall contain a good system of laws, then it is a good one, if these laws can be executed, and guarded from abuse. The form of government is then such as it ought to be; and the evils of such a government are either only accidental, or such as no form can remedy. If false opinions prevail among the people, let common-sense have fair play; and matters will come right again. If the temper and principles of the nation be wholly corrupt, their ruin is certain in the nature of things. They must of necessity be slaves.3 In vain did Brutus think to make the Romans free by killing Caesar. The spirit of Romans had so totally forsaken them, that any man, who could assemble an army of desperadoes, might be a Caesar if he pleased. In all these things the form of the government was not at fault.
Such as above defined is the system of government we enjoy. The laws are indisputably good. The provision for executing them amply sufficient. We have evidently seen the force of our government, in the surprising rapidity and success, with which the active powers of the State, demolished a rebellion, which, from late facts, appears to have comprehended, in one form or another, a full third part of the people in the State. If any say it is weak, because certain persons under sentence of death, are not executed; let them ask themselves, Whether the Executive are not able to do it? That the government is afraid, or unable, to execute the laws, can only enter the head of some distracted party-man. They, who could bring a man to the gallows, and keep him there, till within two minutes of the time of execution, doubtless could have suggested their authority two minutes longer.
You will then say, There is a faulty remissness in the Executive.—So there might be if the government were absolutely despotic. But perhaps we are too positive, when we affirm this absolutely—we may not see all that they do—we have not seen the full result of their administration—when we have, we may be better judges. To publish inflammatory libels in news-papers; or revile, and oppose, the present government, is doing, ourselves what we before censured in others. It is insurrection and rebellion. If the present Executive, acquired, hold, and exercise their powers constitutionally, they cannot lawfully be reviled or opposed. The spirit of all parties is the same, and it ought to be received as a political maxim, that no violent party-man can be a good citizen.4
As for the perfection of monarchies, in force, in wisdom, in dispatch of operations, in security of private property, it is merely ideal, the fashionable cant of the day, which experience abundantly refutes. No government, in these respects, can claim a preference to our own if we consider its form. Did not the government of France under the administration of the despotic Louis XIV, with an army of 80,000 men, dally with a body of insurgents, for several years; and finally treat with the leaders, give them full indemnity, and admission to places in the government? Who claimed to be more despotic, yet who governed with less force, than the three last Kings of France, of the family of Valois? Who claimed to be more despotic in England, and who governed with less force, than the family of the Stuarts? Did not the whole army of James II. desert him, tho’ raised in his name, supported by his bread, and paid by his order? Even the all powerful Sultan of Turkey, whose subjects scarcely dare whisper of politics, often sees his favourite minister torne in pieces by the populace; and his hands and feet respectfully laid before the door of his palace. While HE trembles from within; and dares not assist his dearest friend.
The folly of Ishbosheth King of Israel; the uxoriousness of Ahab; the inconsistency of James II. of England, Lewis XIV. and XV. of France, governed by women; the madness of Caligula the Roman Emperor, who made his horse a Consul; the South Sea bubble of England when the king was the head of the company; the madness of France in pursuing the schemes of LAW, the Scotch financier, (the very paper money whim of our own country) sufficiently shew, that wisdom is not intailed on monarchies.
What nation ever made more glorious marches, and more quick and vigourous expeditions, than the Greeks? ’Twas the custom of the Romans, according to Virgil, to meet their enemies before they thought of it. Lincoln’s expedition of last winter, proves what republics can do—when the administration is equal to the form.
Property is so insecure in France that the cultivation of lands is greatly neglected. The great men trample on the peasants. The merchant in England is secure, but the tenant often sees his fields destroyed without remedy, if the Squire be fond of hunting. For Spain, Germany, and the dominions of the Pope, no advocate will appear.
Let the people of this Commonwealth, give up their idle whim of tender-acts, and legal alteration of bargains;5 let us lay aside all violence of party spirit, and esteem the laws which we ourselves have adopted; then our government will appear wise, good, and sufficiently forceable. If we will destroy ourselves, not all the despotism on earth, could save us.
For the Independent Chronicle.
Letter II. From a gentleman in the Country to his friend in town.
YES, as I observed sometime ago, no violent party man can ever be a good citizen. He seeks to destroy all interests but his own; and to ride triumphant over the prostrate necks of his opposers. Such is his delirium and fury, that he pays no regard to the wisest laws, or the most unquestionable rights of mankind. Yet, by the wisdom of Patriots, occasional good may be drawn from the storm of party-rage. The wrath of parties, when not suffered to reach the extreme to which it tends, shall work the good of the State. When the troops which were ordered to Concord, the last September, to support the Court of Common Pleas, were countermanded, it was not difficult for a person of but moderate skill in political movements, to foresee, that thenceforth there would be two parties, or factions, in the State. That one of these, that of the populace, would tend to general levelism, and democratic turbulence. That the other, that of the rich, and of men of austere political principles, would tend to an alteration of the constitution of our State, and the subjection of the people to a rigid aristocracy.
The first of these factions arises from the impatience and uneasiness, which they who compose it feel, under their embarrassed circumstances, which they commonly attribute to rich men, and officers of the State. From this uneasiness arises their licentious humour and their envy of the rich, and powerful—The latter of these factions arises from the love of property and the desire of preserving it. The reason why these appeared distinct, at the time above mentioned, was this; that then the populace tho’t they might, without fear of punishment, shake off subjection to those laws, which obliged them to fulfil their obligations to men of property. And perhaps some even wished to seize on that wealth which was not their own. While the men of wealth judged from the countermanding of the troops, that the laws were not sufficient to defend them in the possession of that property which they had acquired. Thus both parties, with mortal animosity against each other, agreed in reprobating the then present system of government.6
Here it will be instructive to inspect the basis on which each party is formed. That of the first is composed, (unless we have been deceived in our attentive observations) of men of some, but small property, much embarrassed, and devoured by the interest of their debts. That of the latter, of men of large estates, especially those which consist in money. And to these parties are joined many, not immediately interested; but as their relations in life, their dependence, their mode of education, or caprice may lead them. They, we think, properly speaking, are the factions of the m[e]n of large estates, and the men of small estates; but for convenience, we shall call them by names, invented long ago, the democratic and aristocratic factions. And they will exist, as long as uneasiness at embarrassments will dare to express itself on the one hand; or the love of property have scope to exert itself on the other—nor can they be stilled so long as laws, and not men, claim dominion. They will not be silent, till despotism render all subjects of government as silent as the grave.
The tears of a patriot are worthily shed for dying laws. Nothing represents mankind to a true philosopher in so pityable a situation, as their rising in wrath, against those laws, which defend to them their lives, their liberty, their religion, their possessions, and all that is dear to the human heart.
Yet for a professed politician, to turn pale at the rise of parties, while the laws are preserved, is as much out of character, as for a veteran soldier to tremble at the discharge of cannon. Parties are the materials of which the most perfect societies are formed. As in the making of PUNCH the ingredients are perfect contradictions; and each in excessive quantities, would disturb, if not destroy, the human frame, but the composition is generally thought excellent. The most opposite interests rightly blended, make the harmony of the State.7
Parties give life to the moving powers of the State, and when properly checked and balanced, are productive of much good. The dishonest, and ambitious, excite the rage of parties, to promote their own designs; but the patriot directs their force, like that of fire, to the profit of the State, and not to its destruction. Fire in its own nature tends to dissipate the most solid bodies. But the skilful artist suffers it not to proceed so far. When the iron becomes pliable by means of heat, he shapes it according to his wisdom; and then leaves it to cool. Thus a patriot deals with parties.
Parties always keep alive, an attention to public measures. While men are immersed in their own concerns, public officers may act as they please. The materials of which the Commonwealth is composed, become like the waters of a stagnant pool. They must be ruffled by the hurricane of parties, before they will become wholesome.
Parties produce great attendance and carefulness respecting elections. Among the various evils, arising from the disturbances of the last year, this hopeful symptom appear’d. The people were never so attentive to elections before. And, if the effect was not in every case, what a judicious person would wish for; it ought to be ascribed to the agitation of their minds at the time of election. This great attention to elections, if continued, will one day produce excellent effects.
Parties keep any one interest from swallowing up the rest. The idea of an opposite party influence, renders every part of the community anxious to secure itself. And a warm emulation is excited. Each wishes to recommend itself by illustrious deeds, which shall increase the numbers of its advocates. Each interest equips itself with all kinds of powers, for reducing the exorbitance of other parties, and strengthening itself. The chieftains, seek to excel in all the arts of policy. Each separate interest marks out, and publicly exposes the errors and illegal proceedings of the rest. The history of England, will convince any impartial observer, that, since the rise of the memorable factions of the whigs and tories, the government of that country has been much more mild and favourable to the interests of the whole community, than before.
But here lies the danger of parties. Two factions of nearly equal strength, violently played off against each other by ill designing or mistaken men, would either mutually destroy each other, and suffer a third power to prevail, or the contest would terminate in the utter extinction of one, and the insolent triumph of the other. Either event would introduce a most insupportable tyranny. Hence the necessity of a third power sufficient to check the exorbitances of each. Of aristocracy and democracy our State has enough. The partizans are animated sufficiently against each other. Have we a third power sufficient to restrain them? This is the question. But it must be answered at some future day, if you have the candor to read the speculations of ATTICUS.
On the letter of the Hon. E. G. Esq;8published in the Independent Chronicle, Nov. 8, 1787, and other pieces lately published in opposition to the Federal Constitution: In LETTER III.
From a Gentleman in the country, to his friend in town.
I Must postpone my designed answer to the question, with which I concluded my last letter, (whether there be any power, or principle, in our Commonwealth, sufficient to keep within proper bounds, the contests of the great and little men amongst us?) and must now attend to your favour of November 14th.
You have read the letter of the Hon. E[lbridge] G[erry] and it seems to have given you some disturbance. The letter I have several times perused, with great attention; yet find not, that it contains any thing which ought greatly to offend us. It seems to be an excuse for his d[issent] from the federal system. Ought we to resent his apology with anger? We too, must think for ourselves. The only question here, seems to be, Whether, after the business of the delegation was finished, a delegate, any more than any private gentleman, could with propriety, write to the Legislature, either for or against the adopted system? Especially as a State Convention, and not the Legislature, were to decide the important question.
His observation, “that the greatest men may err,” is of real importance, and leads to this conclusion, that the Hon. E[lbridge] G[erry] may err. If the authority of a Washington, a Franklin, or a Rufus King, supported by the authority of all the States in Convention, be no good argument in favour of their system; then, by parity of reason, the authority of the Hon. E[lbridge] G[erry] or a Randolph, or a Mason, can be no better argument against it. Between these great Casuists, the people, in Convention assembled, must judge; and to this decision, we hope, they will bring cool heads and pure hearts.
The federal system determines, that every branch of its Legislature shall be elective; the qualifications of electors are ascertained; and caution is taken that elections be not held at an inconvenient place. The time, whether in July, May or August, or other month of the year; the manner, whether by ballot or otherwise, is to be regulated by state, or federal laws. Here I can see no great “insecurity of the right of elections.” Nor do I fear, that the federal government will not be as likely as the State Legislatures, to fix on some method, by which the sense of the people shall be fairly taken. As to the representation, it seems to be as large, as the state of our country will well admit of; and as well defined, as numbers can make it. If those observations be just, is “the representation inadequate,” or “elections insecure?”
Yet the Hon. E[lbridge] G[erry] has reasons on which his objections are founded, to be divulged when he shall return to Massachusetts. If reasons he hath, by all means let us hear them; and let us confront them by better reasons, if we can.
The Hon. E[lbridge] G[erry] and others, complain, that the system has not the security of a bill of rights. That series of propositions commonly called a bill of rights, is taken out of lawbooks, and is only an extract of the rights of persons.—Now let us suppose, that it stands in a law-book, which is appealed to, as an authority, in all the Courts of judicature, or is tacked (without pains or penalty annexed to the violation of it) as a preface to the Constitution. In which case is it likely to afford the greatest security to the rights of persons? Let the unbiased judge. On this point we may appeal to fact. There is a Commonwealth, with which we are not wholly unconnected, which hath a bill of rights prefixed to its Constitution. Yet ask those of either of the great parties, into which that State hath lately been divided, if this bill of rights hath not been frequently violated? If you confide in the zealots of each party, will you not be ready to conceive, that the actual Legislators have had as poor an opinion of the bill of rights, as Cromwell had of Magna Charta? If you speak to the moderate men in that same State, they will perhaps shrug their shoulders, and shake their heads, and give you no answer.
When the powers to be exercised, under a certain system, are in themselves consistent with the people’s liberties, are legally defined, guarded and ascertained, and ample provision made for bringing to condign punishment all such as shall overstep the limitations of law,—it is hard to conceive of a greater security for the rights of the people.
It hath been said, that the Constitution proposed, “has few federal features, but is rather a system of national government.” Perhaps the features of a confederacy, and of a national government, are happily blended; as a child may have a resemblance of both its parents. If so, may not the event be happy for us? For is it not for want of national government, that commerce, husbandry, mechanics, the arts and manufactures, are now languishing and seem ready to die? was it not for want of this, that the States of Greece, were enslaved by a petty monarchy, that Switzerland is destitute of national importance, and Holland torn with all the distresses of a civil war? Must not the States of America, without this, serve with the fruits of their hardy industry, their enemies in Britain. Dean Tucker (whose political prophecies have mostly been verified) hath predicted concerning America, “that they will be a contemptible people to the end of time.” Without national government, must it not be so in fact? for a confederacy, without energy sufficient to bring the confederates to joint-action, is a mere nullity. Let us not quarrel about words and sounds, national or federal; it is a good system if its tendency be to make us a happy people.
It is said that it “dissolves the state governments, because it makes the federal laws supreme in each State.” What bond of union could there be without this? It ought to be allowed, however, that the powers given to Congress in this system, are the utmost extent of the federal legislation. If these relate to matters of merely national concern, they do not interfere, any more than they ought, with the legislative powers of particular States.
It is suggested that this system may be “amended” before its adoption. On this two questions arise; when are the people groaning under present burthens, to be eased of the expences of conventions and assemblies, for settling government? and will there probably be fewer dissentients from the amendments, than from the system as it now stands?
Should it be received as it now stands, it is suggested “that our liberties may be lost.” The caution expressed in the word may, is commendable, because many persons whose abilities the modesty of the Hon. E[lbridge] G[erry] would not suffer him to undervalue, think quite otherwise. Too, too long it hath been the humour of our countrymen, to be so fearful of giving their rulers power to do hurt, that they never have given them power to do good. This is the very reason why the public authority, hath been so much despised by the people; and why the people have so little attachment to their civil institutions.
When such a great affair is depending, parties, disputes, and objections, are to be expected. It is best I believe that they should, in a certain degree, take place. I hope they will not proceed to violent extremes. The State of Massachusetts is not bound to imitate Pennsylvania: Let not our good citizens mistake passion for council; but let them choose men of clear heads, and honest minds, for their State Convention. When the “greatest of men” differ, the assembled people must decide. And let them, after the affair is impartially examined, and thoroughly sifted, receive, amend, or utterly reject the Federal Constitution. Let not the leading characters among us, in the mean time, forget that excellent advice of the Hon. E[lbridge] G[erry] worthy to be written for their use in letters of gold, that they preserve moderation.
Further communications and correspondence on those interesting subjects, will be agreeable to your friend ATTICUS.
EVERY State, of any considerable magnitude, contains three classes of men. Those who have small estates in land, and little money: those who have large estates in one, or both of these: and those who depend for their support, upon salaries, or wages given for personal service. The influence of the first mentioned class, tends to a mere democracy; that of the second evidently to aristocracy; and, of the last, a monarch is the natural defender, and patron. This latter class will always find, that great men will oppress them; men of small estates will pay them ill; but a monarch will defend them; for they are in turn the instruments of his power.—To make the citizens peaceable, the government of every country, of an considerable extent, should be mixed, and should consist of the combined influence of all these three classes of men.
It is certain that in a country like ours, mere democracy can never be the prevailing government. That class of people who favour it, have no regular system of action. Their force is exerted only by starts, and on sudden occasions. Their domestic concerns soon call them back to their ordinary employments.—They cannot become soldiers themselves, unless they leave their families to perish, and they have not money to hire others to fight for them. They cannot bring the rich down to their class, nor prevent the dependant sort from feeling the influence of money. They pay the learned professions ill, and particularly are apt to leave the clergy unsupported. So that the influence of learning and of religious instruction, is against them.—This class is very apt to lose its patrons. If they become eminent, they acquire riches, or power, and their ideas change.—If they are unfortunate, they sink into the dependant part of the community.—Were the people actually brought to an equality, you could not keep them so. An entire massacre of all the great men (were it possible) once in seven years, would not effect the purpose. So that in so large a territory as that of Massachusetts, whose inhabitants are so variously employed, and of such an active, ambitious and enterprising spirit, a pure democracy can never prevail.
There are also very great obstacles to the establishment of an aristocracy. We have no intailed estates, no hereditary offices.—Our aristocracies are all, such as nature, personal merit, present office, and not standing laws have made. Offices and estates are continually changing from man to man. If the father of a family shall amass a large estate, it is soon divided thro’ a numerous family, or dissipated by some pamper’d heir. There are only two supposeable cases, in which it is possible for an aristocracy to prevail. Either the people must sink into a state of stupidity and total inattention to public affairs, which I conceive party-spirit must forbid; or they must by insurrections give occasion to the rich and politic to raise an army, and maintain it. Otherwise an aristocracy cannot be established. If the laws under our present Constitution, were allowed to have their full effect, it would forever be impossible.
Considering then, the natural obstacles there are to the prevalence of either party: Is not the force of the executive and judicial departments, sufficient to hold the balance between them? Were our state not influenced by the policy of other states, I am certain it would be. Any number of spirited citizens, with law, money, discipline, and experience on their side, would be equal to three times their number without them. That Governour will scarcely be found, who will not dread, more than death, the infamy of having the state subverted when he is at the head. Nor will his dependence on the people for his office utterly enervate the power of that motive for defending the state. Thro’ inexperience of a new government, some of the dependant part of the community lost their places in a late grand contest; but they will soon learn to range themselves under the banners of the executive power. You will find most of the learned professions disposed to give strength to the monarchical principle. And by a most natural connection, the kingdom and the priesthood always go together.
Did we consider these principles of reasoning only, we should be ready to pronounce, that our constitution was a most happy one, and calculated for a long duration. But we are in a kind of ambiguous connection with twelve other republics; whose separate interests will often lead them to measures injurious to us. If we enact laws, seemingly wise and wholesome, to prevent unnecessary importations; to oblige our rivals in trade to deal with us on equal footing; to relieve the public wants and establish the state’s credit, by duties and excises; the neighbouring states are sure to counteract us, and take advantage of our laws for their own emolument.—Then an artificial scarcity of money is created; lands depreciate, every kind of business is stagnated, and taxes which compared with estates are not heavy, yet are too severely felt in the collection. All public and private credit is lost. The people at large not seeing whence their evils arise, charge them on the government and laws. They clamor for tender-acts, paper-money, and all the engines of fraud. Harpy speculators join the din of complaint. The democratic party are aroused to arms, and proceed to open rebellion. But here they find themselves weak, being destitute of discipline, and resources for war. They are defeated. But on the field of election they have better success; turn out their former representatives, and executive officers, and choose new ones; and perhaps seem appeased for a while. They find out the weak side of government, and will keep it always in view at their annual elections, and prevent it from ever rising to strength and respectability.
Nor do I conceive that it is possible, without a government over the whole thirteen States, invested with the powers to transact all concerns, which are properly national, with Judicial Courts and all the apparatus of civil power, ever to remedy the contentions in particular States, between the great men and the adverse party. But we must be tossing from one wretched measure, and expedient to another; continually quarrelling, and making laws which discourage arts and industry, and discountenance honesty itself; till we, being sick of our boasted equal liberty, shall gladly embrace the offer of some hero, of plausible character, to give us a good government, and establish it by the sword.
The Americans are of quick understanding, lively and enterprising: They possess great means of information: They will not therefore be long in finding out that government which shall be a balance to their passions: Under that, and that only, will they rest: From this, I am almost confident that the government, proposed by the Federal Convention, will take place: They who think that it will bear to be much relaxed, or amended, may be honest; but they are short-sighted men. Powers must be adequate to their end.10 And let any man judge from facts that have already appeared, whether any linsey-woolsey, half formed expedients, will deliver us from the wretched perplexity of our affairs. If this does not take place, I am about as certain as I can be of any thing, short of fact and demonstration, that in less than ten years, perhaps in less than five, a bold push will be made to establish a monarchy. And it may succeed to the loss of thousands of lives, and of the liberties of the people. I rather think that a government; either the federal or one very like it, will take place: Or that the states will divide, and the northern establish a mixed government; and the southern a monarchy, or else go to perdition.
You seem to be anxious, my friend, lest we should lose all government: Never fear it, we shall have an efficient government, and that very soon: The great first cause has constructed the universe, better than you imagine. He has inserted in it principles which will give us government; and the rage of parties, will only quicken their operation: My fears are, lest we reject the milder government, and be obliged to receive the more severe. The principles, which of late have appeared, are productive of the most efficient governments. The hand of the Supreme is in all these things, and we can do nothing against his established laws.
Your love to your country, my friend, must needs be tender, since every trifle alarms you: A Mason,11 angry at being left almost alone in a favourite opinion; and pleading in one breath for a bill of rights, and in the next for expost-facto laws, (which are destructive of all right) alarms you. A plausible and artful Brutus12 alarms you: But pay a little attention to his argument, and you will see it flatly contradicts itself. In one part of his argument, the Federal government is so enormously powerful, that it swallows up all before it, the State governments with all their appurtenances! In the other part it is so weak, that it cannot command the obedience of the people: But if it proves any thing, it proves, that we ought to establish a royal government: For I presume this will not be denied, that these States, as governments, utterly unconnected with each other, cannot subsist. We shall become the prey of every invader. From this proceeds Brutus, and says, We cannot subsist as a national republican government; because the people, in different States, differ in climate, manners, interest, &c.—But for a much stronger reason, we cannot subsist, as confederated sovereign States, differing as we do, in climate, manners, interest, &c.—Therefore we cannot subsist as republican governments at all. And I have known several persons, who oppose the federal Constitution, do it in order to compel us at least to submit to a monarchy. I wish that they and all other politicians were more honest. Of this, however, I am secure, that we shall soon have an effective government. The rich, the wise, the brave, the industrious, and enterprising, I am sure, will not be content to lie at the mercy of the idle, and licentious; and be the prey of harpy speculators. But as to the precise method of bringing it to pass, I cheerfully submit to the power that rules the Glove.—Adieu, remember your friend, ATTICUS.
Country Journal and Advertiser, Poughkeepsie, 12 December 1787
IN my address to you in the spring of 1766, on the subject of our political concerns, I promised at a future period to continue my observations; but was happy to find, that the general voice of the nation superseded the necessity of them. The radical defects in the constitution of the confederate government, was too obvious to escape the notice of a sensible, enlightened people—they saw with concern the danger their former caution & jealousy had involved them in; and very wisely called a general Convention of the States to devise a plan to check the mischief of anarchy in its bud—happily for this country many of the wisest men and most distinguished characters, independent in their principles and circumstances, and disconnected with party influence, were appointed to the important trust; and their unanimity in the business affords a pleasing presage of the happiness that will result from their deliberation.
It is but a groveling business, and commonly ruinous policy, to repair by peace-meal a shattered defective fabric—it is better to raise the disjointed building to its formation, and begin a new. The confederation was fraught with so many defects, and these so interwoven with its substantial parts, that to have attempted to revise it would have been doing business by the halves, and therefore the Convention with a boldness and decision becoming freemen, wisely carried the remedy to the root of the evil; and have offered a form of government to your consideration on an entire new system—much depends on your present deliberations.—It is easy to foresee that the present crisis will form a principal epoch in the politics of America, from whence we may date our national consequence and dignity, or anarchy, discord and ruin; the arguments made use of by a certain class of political scribblers, I conceive calculated (instead of throwing light on the subject) to deceive the ignorant but perhaps honest part of the community; and to misguide the thoughtless and unweary—in our present enquiry it is of no consequence who are the authors of these inflamatory productions, whether they are the result of the vanity of a northern champion to become the head of a party; the expiring groans of a principal magistrate of a state; or the last effort of the patriotic bower of a Treasury to gain popularity; or all together, I trust will bare equal rights on the minds of the public. It is natural enough to suppose that, when any general plan is proposed, that thwarts the private interests or views of a party, that, such party will draw the most unpleasing picture of the plan, and blacken it with all the false colouring that a gloomy imagination can invent: thus are we told by these evil prospects, that the system is impracticable; smallness of territory being essential to a republican government—in support of this doctrine, Montesquieu (who was born and educated under a monarchical government and knew nothing of any other but in theory) is quoted as an uncontrovertable authority, and after all, I presume they have mistaken the meaning of this author,1 for if I comprehend him right he is speaking of a pure democracy, such as Athens where the people all met in council; to be sure in such a government, extensive territory would be inconvenient, but a remedy to this evil has long since been found out: when the territory of any state became too large for the general assembling of the people, it was thought best to transact the business of the Commonwealth by representation: and thus large states may be governed as well by delegates from twenty districts, as small ones are from two or three; but this is what we are told by the politicians of the day constitutes a dangerous aristocracy, for say they in their learned definition, it is a government of the few; on this shameful quibble they attempt to ketch the attention of the rabble and frighten them into the measure of rejecting the proposed government—if I understand any thing of the meaning of the term, aristocracy signifies a government by a body of Nobles, who derive their power either from hereditary succession or from self appointment; and are no way dependent on the people for their rank in the state. By the plan offered to us, both the legislative and executive, derive their appointments either directly from the people, or from the representatives chosen directly from the people: how this can be called aristocracy exceeds the limits of my comprehension; it is true that we are told that the better sort of people will be appointed to govern; I pray God the prediction may not be a false one. But should that be the case, say these political empirics, we shall not have an equal representation. Why? Because every class of people will not be represented. God knows that fools and knaves have voice enough in government already; it is to be hoped these wise prophesiers of evil would not wish to give them a constitutional privilege to send members in proportion to their numbers. If they mean by classes the different professions in the state, their plan is totally new, and it is to be feared the system once adopted, there would be no end to their democratical purity; to take in every profession from the Clergy to the Chimney-sweep, will besides composing a motley assemblage of heterogeneous particles, enlarge the representation so that it will become burthensome to the Community; had the representation in Massachusetts been no larger than that in the proposed government of the Union, Shays would never have had a follower:—I think my judgment will not be impeached when I say that if our representation in this state was less, we should be better represented, and the public saved a very great expence—to judge of the future by the past, it is easy to perceive, that small states are as subject to aristocratic oppressions, as large ones; witness the small territory of Venice, at present the purest aristocracy in the world: Geneva, the circumference of which may be traversed in an hour’s march is now oppressed by a dangerous aristocracy; while the democratic branch of the legislature in England retains its primitive purity. Who was it that enslaved the extensive empire of Rome, but an abandoned democracy? Who defended the republic at the battle of Pharsallia, but the better sort of people? Caesar can be considered in no other light than a more fortunate Cattiline, and the latter in no other than that of an ambitious demagogue attempting to ruin the Commonwealth, at the head of licentious democracy. In the present crisis of our public affairs I confess with the frankness of a free man and the concern of a patriot, that I apprehend more danger from a licentious democracy, than from aristocratic oppression.
I clearly perceive there will be no mid-way in the present business; we must either adopt the advice of these pretended democratical puritans, and then carry their doctrines to the point they evidently lead, viz. To divide the present union into at least five hundred independent sovereign states, build a council-house in the centre of each, and by a general law declare all the servants and apprentices free, and then let the multitude meet and govern themselves—or on the other hand, fall to the plain road of common sense, and govern the union by representatives in one collective council; as pointed-out in the system offered to your consideration: In the first you will possess popular liberty with a vengeance, and like a neighbour* state, no man’s property will be secure, but each one defrauding his neighbor under the sanction of law,—thus subverting every principle of morality and religion.—In the second you will enjoy the blessing of a well balanced government, capable of inspiring credit and respectability abroad, and virtue, confidence, good order and harmony at home.—Should the Author have leisure to attend to it, the dangerous consequences that will inevitably flow from dividing the union, will be the subject of another paper.
“A Democratic Federalist”
Independent Gazetteer, Philadelphia, 26 November 1787
Although the evidence is not conclusive, the editors of The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution suggest that “it is possible that Tench Coxe wrote ‘A Democratic Federalist.’ On the address page of a letter he wrote on 26 November, Coxe states: ‘The enclosed paper is also mine. I wish you would have it republished in New York, but do not mention the writer, as my attempt to conciliate our Constitutionals (the design of the paper) may be deemed uniting with them. You know I am of no party.’ ” DH, 2:298 n. 1.
The examination of the principle of liberty and civil polity is one of the most delightful exercises of the rational faculties of man. Hence the pleasure we feel in a candid, unimpassioned investigation of the grounds and probable consequences of the new frame of government submitted to the people by the Federal Convention. The various doubts, which the subject has created, will lead us to consider it the more by awakening our minds to that attention with which every freeman should examine the intended constitutions of his country.
Several zealous defenders of liberty in America, and some of them of the first reputation, have differed from the bulk of the nation in their speculative opinions on the best constitution for a legislative body. In Pennsylvania this question has formed the line of division between two parties, in each of which are to be found men of sound judgment and very general knowledge. As this diversity of opinion has not arisen from any peculiarity in our situation or circumstances, it must have been produced by the imperfections of our political researches and by the fallibility of the human mind, ever liable to unfavorable influence even from laudable and necessary passions. The sincere and zealous friend of liberty is naturally in love with a refined democracy, beautiful and perfect as a theory, and adapted to the government of the purest beings; and he views with jealousy, apprehension and dislike not only real deviations from democratic principles, but the appearance of aristocracy. Hence the idea of an upper house (a term erroneously adopted from the British constitution) has been disagreeable and even alarming to many, who were equally friends to perfect and real liberty and to an effective government. Among the various regulations and arrangements of the new Federal Constitution the peculiar ground on which the Senate is placed is on this account the most striking and perhaps estimable. A careful comparison of our second branch, as proposed by the Convention, with the upper house in the British constitution, will show, I hope, that there is something like a middle ground on which the wise and good of both opinions may meet and unite.
The ancestors of the upper house in England originally derived all their power from the feudal system. Possessed by lawless force of extensive domains, which, after a certain period, became hereditary in their families, they established a permanent power through the military service of their tenants, for upon those terms were all the lands of the kingdom once held under them. When the address and spirit of the people, exerted upon every proper occasion, obtained for them the interesting privileges of holding in their families also the tenanted estates of the lords, and of alienating their tenancies to such as would perform the conditions on which they were held—when, by the extinction of the families of some of the barons, their tenants remained in possession of their lands—when by the increase of the property, the knowledge and the power of the tenants (or Commons of England) and from other favorable circumstances, the people of that country obtained a portion of that independence which Providence intended for them, such of their nobles as stood the shock, which fell from these circumstances on their order, were formed into a separate independent body. They claimed an absolute right to act in their proper persons, and not by representatives, in the formation of the laws. Being from their wealth, their hereditary power to legislate and judge, and their extraordinary learning in those times, perfectly independent of the rest of the nation, they have often been useful in checking the encroachments of the crown, and the precipitation and inadvertance of the people. In that country they have really held the balance between the king and the Commons. But though such a balance may be proper in a royal government, it does not appear necessary merely in that view in a genuine republic—which ought to be a government of laws. Yet there are striking and capital advantages resulting from a second, not an upper house, if they can be obtained without departing, in our practice, from the real principles of liberty. The arts and influence of popular and unworthy men; too hasty, careless, incautious and passionate proceedings; breaches of wholesome order and necessary form are evils we must wish to avoid, if to be effected without the hazard of greater. Let us examine how far the peculiar constitution of our federal Senate will give us the advantages of a second legislative branch without subjecting us to the dangers usually apprehended from such bodies, that the sincere friends of freedom and mankind in America, if there is no longer reason for their differing upon a point of speculation may harmonize and unite.
The federal Senate, from the nature of our governments, will not be hereditary, nor will they possess, like the British barons, a power originally usurped by lawless violence and supported by military tenants. They will not necessarily have even an influential property, for they will have a greater number of fellow citizens, as rich as themselves; and no qualification of wealth exists in the Constitution at present, nor can it be introduced without the consent of three-fourths of the people of the Union. It cannot be apprehended, that the people at large of these free commonwealths will consent to disqualify themselves for the senatorial office, which God and the Constitution have intended they should fill. The members of the Senate should certainly be men of very general information, but through the goodness of Providence, numbers will be found in every state, equally well qualified in that respect to execute a trust for which two persons only will be necessary. Instead of their possessing all the knowledge of the state, an equal proportion will be found in some of the members of the House of Representatives, and even a greater share of it will often adorn persons in private walks of life. They will have no distinctions of rank, for the persons over whom a Senator might be weak enough to affect a superiority will be really equal to him and may in a short time change situations with him. The Senator will again become a private citizen and the citizen may become a Senator—may more—a president of the Senate or President of the Union. The upper house in England have an interest different and separate from the people and, whether in the execution of their office or not, are a distinct body of men, a superior order. Many little circumstances tend to favor and promote this unjust and preposterous distinction. If an ambassador is sent to their court by France or Spain, he is a nobleman of his own country, and a nobleman must be sent from England in return, which operates as a deprivation of the rights of every well-qualified commoner in the kingdom. This is a hardship, which cannot arise from our second branch, but exists in Britain not only in the case particularized, but in regard to many other employments of honor and profit. But a greater and more essential distinction between the upper house in England and our federal Senate yet remains. The members of the former claim and possess all their powers and honors in their own right, their own hereditary right, while the new Constitution renders our Senate merely a representative body without one distinction in favor of the birth, rank, wealth or power of the Senators or their fathers. There has arisen out of the particular nature of our affairs, a peculiar happiness in the formation of this body. The federal Senate are the representatives of the sovereignties of their respective states. A second branch, thus constituted, is a novelty in the history of the world. Instead of an hereditary upper house, the American Confederacy has created a body, the temporary representatives of their component sovereignties, dignified only by their being the immediate delegates and guardians of sovereign states selected from the body of the people for that purpose, and for no reasons, but their possessing the qualifications necessary for their station. We find then in this body, none of the evils of aristocracy apprehended by those who have drawn their reasonings from an erroneous comparison with the upper house of Britain, and all the benefits of a second branch, without hazarding the rights of the people in the smallest particular. As our federal Representatives and state legislatures will be composed of men, who, the moment before their election, were a part of the people and who on the expiration of their time, will return to the same private situations, so the members of our federal Senate will be elected from out of the body of the people, without one qualification being made necessary, but mere citizenship, and at the expiration of their term will again be placed in private life. The Senate, therefore, will be as much a democratic body as the House of Representatives, with this advantage, that they will be elected by the state legislatures to whom, on account of their superior wisdom and virtue, the people at large will have previously committed the care of their affairs.
The plan of federal government proposed by the Convention has another merit of essential consequence to our national liberties. Under the old Confederation, the people at large had no voice in the election of their rulers. The collected wisdom of the state legislatures will hereafter be exercised in the choice of the Senate, but our federal Representatives will be chosen by the votes of the people themselves. The Electors of the President and Vice President of the Union may also, by laws of the separate states, be put on the same footing.
The separation of the judicial power from the legislative and executive has been justly deemed one of the most inestimable improvements in modern polity; yet no country has ever completely accomplished it in their actual practice. The British peers are criminal judges in cases of impeachment, and are a court of appeal in civil cases. The power of impeachment, vested in our federal Representatives, and the right to hear those cases, which is vested in the Senate, can produce no punishment in person or property, even on conviction. Their whole judicial power lies within a narrow compass. They can take no cognizance of a private citizen and can only declare any dangerous public officer no longer worthy to serve his country. To punish him for his crimes, in body or estate, is not within their constitutional powers. They must consign him to a jury and a court, with whom the deprivation of his office is to be no proof of guilt.
The size of the Senate has been considered by some, as an objection to that body. Should this appear of any importance it is fortunate that there are reasons to expect an addition to their number. The legislature of Virginia have taken measures preparatory to the erection of their western counties into a separate state, from which another good consequence will follow, that the free persons, which will remain within the Dominion of Virginia, will perhaps be nearly or quite as well represented in the Senate as Pennsylvania or Massachusetts. Should Vermont, at some future time, be also introduced into the Union, a further addition to the number of our Senators will take place. If therefore there is any importance in the objection to the size of our federal Senate, or if any such objection prevails in the minds of the people, it is in a way of being removed.
The executive powers of the Union are separated in a higher degree from the legislative than in any government now existing in the world. As a check upon the President, the Senate may disapprove of the officers he appoints, but no person holding any office under the United States can be a member of the federal legislature. How differently are things circumstanced in the two houses in Britain where an officer of any kind, naval, military, civil or ecclesiastical, may hold a seat in either house.
This is a most enlightened time, but more especially so in regard to matters of government. The divine right of kings, the force of ecclesiastical obligations in civil affairs, and many other gross errors, under which our forefathers have lain in darker ages of the world, are now done away. The natural, indefeasible and unalienable rights of mankind form the more eligible ground on which we now stand.
The United States are in this respect “the favored of Heaven.” The Magna Charta, Bill of Rights, and common law of England furnished in 1776 a great part of the materials out of which were formed our several state constitutions.1All these were more or less recognized in the old Articles of Confederation.
On this solid basis is reared the fabric of our new federal government. These taken together form THE GREAT WHOLE OF THE AMERICAN CONSTITUTIONS, the fairest fabric of liberty that ever blessed mankind, immovably founded on a solid rock, whose mighty base is laid at the center of the earth.
Massachusetts Centinel, Boston, 13 October 1787
“It is impossible but that offenses will come.”
The above sentence of holy writ occurred to me on reading some paragraphs in the Massachusetts Gazette of Tuesday last.1 The late Continental Convention could not entertain the idea of suiting the AMERICAN CONSTITUTION to the whims, caprices, prejudices, and self-interest of every individual in the United States.—Such an anticipation would have been as absurd as the conduct of the old man in the fable, who set out to carry his ass to market.
This paragraphist observes, “That a Confederation for purposes merely national, would undoubtedly be exceedingly beneficial to these States.”—What his ideas of a nation are, is difficult to ascertain. If the nation is composed of individual States, it evidently follows that a confederation must fall short of answering any national purpose, except it has influence on the concerns of particular States—and here the Confederation under which we at present are languishing, fainting, and expiring, discovers its total inefficiency—The new Constitution is happily calculated not only to restore us to animation and vigour, but to diffuse a national spirit, and inspire every man with sentiments of dignity, when he reflects that he is not merely the individual of a State, but a CITIZEN of AMERICA. This leads to his second paragraph, respecting, “the mode of publick business, being conformable to the habits of the people”—Is this antifederalist to be informed at this time of day, that the “habits” of the citizens of America are very dissimilar?—And that this is owing in a great measure to the disuniting and discordant principles of the separate Constitutions of the States, and the want of a federal Government?—It is in vain to expect a national trait in our characters, or a similitude of habits, but as the effect of a national efficient government—Virtue or good habits are the result of good laws—and from the excellent American Constitution those habits will be induced, that shall lead to those exertions, manufactures and enterprises, which will give a scope to the American genius, and “find employment for their activity.”
His third paragraph contains the basest anti-federal insinuations and suspicions—Although the Representative body is by the new Constitution to be much larger than at present, he represents it as a “small number;”2 and the period for which they are chosen every one knows is short enough to acquire that legislative knowledge which the great concerns of such an extensive government must require—Fatal experience has evinced the absurdity of a rapid rotation of publick officers; and a more frequent recurrence to elections would deprive us of the whole advantage of a national government: But the Congress of the United States “is to be invested with almost every branch of Legislative authority”—Well, in the name of reason, why should they not?—Does this paragraphist mean to treat the publick as children or as fools? Are we to exist as a nation without laws, and without legislators?—And another dreadful circumstance with him is, the Congress will not set in ALL the States at one and the same time!—How long are we to be troubled by such ridiculous cavillings of moonshine politicians?
Fourthly—Congress by the new Constitution are to regulate commerce, external and internal—“a consummation devoutly to be wished”—“But they are “NOT” to keep up standing armies within the States at all times,” although this paragraphist wickedly and falsely asserts it—Look at the Constitution, see if the supreme power has there delegated to it greater authority in this respect than what the very nature of things requires? How the States lose the right of compelling the obedience of their own subjects, I cannot devise—it is true we resign those rights that are incompatible with our NATIONAL INTEREST, and no others.
Fifthly—This paragraphist asserts that no State will be able to pay its debts but by a dry tax—Where he acquired this knowledge I cannot determine—the Constitution says no such thing—It is true that the right (not an exclusive one by the bye) of levying Impost and Excise is to be vested in the Congress, and if the domestick debts of the States are put upon a continental establishment, as justice, policy, and the facilitating publick business evidently point out, this bugbear of a dry tax vanishes—What the paragraphist means by the States not having a right to certify their own debts, he must write more paragraphs to explain.
His Sixth paragraph is equally enigmatical respecting lands—That the Continental Government will operate unequally for a time may be true—but this is an evil merely temporary, and better to be indured than no government—this State will have an equal chance, and time and experience will doubtless effect an equality—That the State of Vermont will be excluded from the union is a meer assertion, or rather vile incendiary insinuation—one of the group that certain restless spirits are anxious to disseminate for the sole purpose of [advising] the people, and keeping themselves in power.
His Seventh paragraph is full of that mean suspicion which has too long prevailed, and been one chief mean of bringing the whole continent into its present deplorable circumstances. That “we are every day coalescing under a wise and moderate, but firm government,” all our senses contradict:—But that the good people through the States are earnestly desiring such a government, is undoubtedly a fact—The people appear to be united in sentiment, that the American Constitution will give them such a government—why then, in the name of honesty, should they be plagued with the groundless surmises and falsehoods of those who fear for themselves, but for the publick have no bowels of compassion? Why should any man be so vain, so self-sufficient, as to palm his individual judgment upon the people, as superiour to that of the concentered wisdom of America, in its late glorious CONVENTION?
Virginia Independent Chronicle, Richmond, 12 and 19 March 1788
To the GOOD PEOPLE of Virginia, on the new FŒDERAL CONSTITUTION, by an old STATE SOLDIER, respecting the influence of great names.
When I first entered the list among the patriotic advocates for the new constitution, which I look up to now as the salvation of America, I had nothing else in view than just to expose the folly of those who made use of the names and characters of private men to support the insignificance of their own arguments.
But alarmed at the thoughts of a dissolution of the UNION, which I consider the greatest curse that could befall America, I determined to suspend my answer to those authors, to which my first address was only an introduction, until I cautioned you against laying the foundation of your own destruction by electing men for the approaching convention, who, under a pretence of amending and perfecting this new work, mean to dissolve the confederation.
And having in the fullest manner, I trust, proved to you in my last the impossibility of amending this new plan of government, at this time, without disuniting the states, I shall now return to my first design.
The adversaries to the constitution have not only held up the chief heroes of their party as the infallible guides on this occasion, but have spoken of some of its friends with such asperity and* disingenuousness as would induce those who were unacquainted with the dispute, to suppose, that it was nothing more than a private quarrel among some leading individuals, under whose standards all the rest of America had servilely enlisted as their vassals.
If in answering those ingenuous, polite, and liberal authors, I should bring to view some truths which have not yet appeared, by using their own method of arguing as the only means to refute their folly, I trust I shall be excused, as they have not only taught the useful lesson, but absolutely driven those who attempt to answer them into the necessity.
But notwithstanding all that has been said about the liberty of the press being destroyed by the new constitution, I scarcely expect to find a sufficient remnant of that great blessing even in our present system to bring this paper to your view.
For to those very causes which some attribute the destruction of the liberty of the press, I look up for its becoming more unbounded—since clear it is, there are great restraints of that sort already, nor can any thing else be expected in a government as popular as this is.
The liberty of the press is not always one of the most lovely traits of the freest governments:—for as the most popular kinds have generally been thought the most free, it follows that the most free will not be the most favorable to that spirit which is necessary to constitute the liberty of the press.
It is in popular governments that men obtain that very superiority over others, by consent, which is held in other governments by hereditary right; with this only difference, that as the one is always the attainment of superior abilities, and the other too often the right of fools, the just sense we have of the one’s being capable of doing us more real good or harm than the other, renders the influence of merit much greater than that of birth.
Whence it follows that men in popular repute over-awe the actions of others much more than those who are only the favorites of fortune. For in kingly governments where men are statesmen by birth, and perhaps only revered for their empty titles, dignity remains protected no longer than it is unattacked—which in general is not long—for superior merit ever anxious to float uppermost in the stream of life, those who possess it necessarily strive to sink others who have only risen above them by the partial hand of fortune. When instantly, that same superiority of talents which adheres to the side of government in the one instance, shifts its influence to the side of liberty in the other.
And thus the press becomes influenced, not by the absolute interference of any government, but by the mere complexion of it—and is nothing more at last than an adherence to the popular side.
In those governments whose heads are the free choice of the people, it is ever to be found on the side of the state, as the same voice which promotes will protect its favorite; and where the success of an author depends on the breath of those who have thus promoted the man at whose character he aims, it would be deemed madness to make the attempt, and nothing less than treason to aid him in it.
When on the other hand, in those governments whose heads are the establishment of birth, and the detestation of the majority, the assistance of the press is to be found on the side of the people. And this it is that is called the liberty of the press.
In England where government has always had some of the ablest men for its opponents, with the popular voice of the people on their side, the liberty of the press is such that even the dignity of the crown does not protect men from ridicule and abuse.
But in America where the dignity of an individual depends on the voice of the people at large, the very reverse has already been seen.
In the course of the late war many attempts were made by General Lee to publish different pieces in abuse of General Washington, only one of which ever made its appearance, and for publishing that, the printer was severely handled, not by government, but by the populace. Which we cannot now but consider as improper:—for sacred as the character of any individual may be, yet the voice of another should be fairly heard—since ridicule, when unconnected with truth, not only ceases to be severe, but degenerating into scurrility, renders the author, and not the person pointed at, the object of contempt.
Under this consideration no good man could object to seeing his character fully stated to the world—and much less would HE whose merits like the purest gold could only become the brighter by being the more frequently handled;—and whose character when held up to public view would only serve to dazzle the eye of envy itself.
That however justly General Lee might have merited our hatred on that occasion, we cannot but lament the consequences of such a disposition. For as no one can judge of the merits of another before he hears them fairly investigated, it would be wrong to shut our eyes against an attack on any one until we were convinced thereby of his purity. The impropriety of which however will be still more clearly seen in a much more recent affair—The recital of which will bring me to the principal object of this paper, from which I have already too long digressed.
As late as in the contest now subsisting about the constitution under consideration, a printer in this state for some time refused to publish a piece because it contained some reflections on one Richard Henry Lee—when, had he measured the dignity of that name by the merits of the letter to which we have lately seen it annexed, he would have had no such scruples perhaps.1
But it is not at all surprising that folly should come off with impunity where even vice itself meets with protection.
Fortunately however for this country, we are now likely to profit from both. This gentleman at length, led by his vanity to give us a true attested copy of the powers of his genius, has relieved us from any fear we might have had of being deluded by his abilities; and being long convinced how far we might rely on his integrity, we feel ourselves more and more at ease under any political opinions he may advance. From the commencement of his political career until the publication of his letter, we have been in doubt about the one; but from the stamp-act until the present day, we have been clear in the other.
But whatever could have induced the opponents to the constitution, and Mr. Lee above all, to hint at the designs of its friends, I cannot conceive. Did they expect that the mere name of Lee or Mason would be sufficient protection to such barefaced impudence and folly? Did they expect that no enquiry would be made, and no return given to such uncharitable methods?—Or did they expect their characters, abilities, or designs would bear a stricter scrutiny than those aimed at on the other side?—Nothing but the vain manner in which one of those gentlemen ushered his pamphlet forth, could make us suspect either of them of such ill-grounded hopes.
It is not at all surprising however that Mr. Lee should be opposed to a government, which will probably begin with a man at its head, to procure whose disgrace he has once before convinced us he would cheerfully have sacrificed all America. This is a circumstance too fresh in the minds of all to be forgotten, though it might not have been mentioned at this time, had not this gentleman’s own imprudence forced it from me.
Had those two great statesmen but sent forth their objections to the new constitution through the verbal medium of their friends; or, had they, like another author of the same stamp, but sent them forth in the more important form of parables for others to comment* upon, they would have had much more weight, I suspect, than even the objections of a Lycurgus or a Solon, supported by the printed arguments of a Lee or a Mason.
But how far the dignity of names may go towards making up for a deficiency of argument, I am incapable of ascertaining—Or how far the name of Lee may be considered as such, I only shall appeal to his own pamphlet to determine—where, whenever it shall be seen deprived of every other ornament but the genius of the man, the mighty name of—Lee—in weight, as well as size, will only be found to be the picture of greatness in miniature at best.
Mr. Lee begins his objections to the constitution by observing that “to say (as many do) that a bad government must be established for fear of anarchy, is really saying that we must kill ourselves for fear of dying.”—From which, as simplicity of thought generally denotes a goodness of heart, I should suppose this gentleman to be one of the best creatures in nature, and if considered as similar only to what he meant should follow after, was as just as it is inelegant and inapplicable if intended to answer any other end.
For how does he prove this to be a bad government?—Is it by comparing it with the perfection of his own scheme, for I observe he has been graciously pleased to offer us his amendments to the constitution?
It is a pity this gentleman had not given a sample of what he could do before the appointment to the grand convention was made, that he might have offered his amendments in a more seasonable place. For had he convinced the world that he was superior to either of the nine, who were in the course of the business appointed by this state, I have no doubt but he would have been in that honorable Assembly, where he might have shewn that superiority, of which he thinks himself possessed over the thirty nine who signed the constitution, without exposing his name at this time to the ridicule of the world.
In respect to the tyranny those gentlemen paint in such horrid colours, it appears to me, but little need be said; for it is not only true, that those who are the loudest about liberty, have always been the greatest tyrants themselves when they have had it in their power; but it is also clear that while in the very act of the one, they are even then exercising the very worst kind of the other. For it being a fixed point that human nature cannot exist without the assistance of government, and there being no power to which mankind are incident, more terrible than fear, it follows, that to keep men under a perpetual alarm about what they cannot, agreeable to their own natures, get rid of, is to worry them out with one oppression and thereby fit them for every other. And this too being generally done by the most insignificant members of the community, renders the tyranny of popular alarm much worse than the fixed oppressions of the most formidable government—and in the present instance far more degrading, as it would be much more honorable to be devoured alive by a LION, than frightened to death by a monkey.
But I should not deal thus in trifles were it not for two reasons: The first is, having set out solely with a view of exposing in this paper the meanness and folly of being led away by the mere sound of names, I could not pass by this self-sufficient politician in silence—and the other is, that were we determined to pay no attention to trifles, Mr. Lee’s whole letter would go unnoticed—which would be rather mortifying, after the hints he dropped to get it printed;—notwithstanding which, however, it had nearly died in manuscript. For unfortunately that gentleman’s correspondent was either too good a judge of literary performances to suppose, as he did, that the mere name of Richard Henry Lee would stamp it with the title of perfection; or else, he had not clearly determined, at that time, on taking his side of the question, as he has since prudently taken both:—and that being the case, I shall say nothing to caution you against relying on his opposition to the constitution; as there are few I presume willing to rely much on the command of a general who will not openly head his own army for fear of offending the enemy.
As for Mr. Mason, poor old man, he appears to have worn his judgment entirely thread-bare and ragged in the service of his country.3 But however faint his present endeavors may be to render public good, his past services can never be forgot while his great zeal in the Indiana cause remains so lasting a monument of his righteous endeavors, and happy effects of his land-office scheme have shewn themselves so clearly—at least in favor of his own fortune.
To a man thus zealous, the want of authority to pass ex post facto laws may be a great objection to the new constitution indeed, as they might be rendered highly useful to, and a great improvement on, the art of speculation. But in all other cases they have ever been considered a great curse, since they can only be productive of a halter to the innocent and ignorant.
Whatever this gentleman might have intended when he said that this government would “vibrate for some time between aristocracy and monarchy,” and then that “it will settle at last between the one and the other,” I will not undertake to say, as I would not presume to dive into the meanings of so profound a man. But if its vibrating between the two—and then settling between the two, proves any thing, it must be that it will not end in either—and this is what we wish.
But what do you suppose are the real motives of such gentlemen for advocating the cause of liberty so strenuously at this time?—Is it that Mr. Mason, who is a man of immense fortune, and Mr. Lee, who possesses as much pride and ambition as he does fortune, are really anxious to see all men raised up to an equality with themselves?—Or is it not rather from a fear that they themselves shall be reduced below the level of some others?
Two things appear to me to operate most powerfully against the adoption of this constitution. The one is dignity—the other debt. And to both of those causes I attribute the opposition of a man whose designs and ingenuity are much more to be dreaded than any I have yet mentioned. The constant propensity he has ever shewn to soar upwards on the breath of popular applause, justifies my surmising the one; and his uniform opposition to the payment of certain debts, in which the majority of this country are little interested, and the establishment of this government will certainly bring about, warrants me in asserting the other.
For he who was willing but a few years ago to vest Congress with the power of raising taxes by the absolute assistance of* armies, could have little objection to a plan at this time, which only proposes to raise them by moderate means, was there not something of secret consequence involved in it.
But as this gentleman has been too wise to trust his objections to the new constitution to the eyes of the public, I shall not mention his name; though I should have little scruple in exposing to view the name of a man, who after all his patriotic canting and whining has been among the first to speculate on the unfortunate credit of his country, and that too when he enjoyed one of the first posts in government. And should a proper opening ever offer, I shall let loose such a train of hyprocricy and deceit upon you, as will astonish you to behold.
But admitting all the enemies to the constitution to be equally honest in their opposition, that in itself is the strongest proof of the necessity there is of adopting it before we attempt to amend it. For if their different designs cannot be offered as an excuse for their differing so widely as they do about the faults of the constitution, nothing I am sure but an acknowledgement that some of them are wrong can account for it; and since we know not on which to rely, nothing but experience can teach us which is right.
Thus having remarked on the designs of some of the principal enemies to the constitution with that freedom which becomes the spirit of an independent man, to which none of those gentlemen themselves can with propriety object, since they are all such great friends to the Liberty of the press, I shall return again to the more pleasing subject of the constitution, and endeavor in my next to answer, in as plain a manner as I can, such objections to it as I think worthy of notice.
To the GOOD PEOPLE ofVirginia,on the new FŒDERAL CONSTITUTION, by an old STATE SOLDIER, in answer to the objections.
I have now shewn you the effects which an attempt to amend the new constitution, at this time, would have on the Union; and also the meanness there is in being influenced by the mere sound of names on this important occasion.
And in doing this, I have been unavoidably led to answer some of the individual objections to the constitution themselves—among these are the want of a bill of rights, the equality in the senate, and the liberty of the press—all of which I shall avoid recapitulating at this time, with an intention of confining myself wholly to those objections which I have not heretofore entered fully into.
All the objections to the constitution appear to be contained under two heads—the one respects our liberties, the other our interests. To those which respect our liberties, only, I mean to reply in this paper; and in order the more effectually to do that, I shall head this first class of objections under that assertion, which holds forth, that by the adoption of this constitution we shall be deprived of our liberties.
And considering that as the ne plus ultra of antifœderal workmanship, I shall, after viewing it in the light of a slender fabrick built in air, and filled with imaginary bugbears, first examine into its foundation as a general assertion; and then prove its feebleness by trying the arguments on which it depends for support.
The only desirable purpose of any government, is, the security of men’s persons and property; and that which advances farthest that way, is not only the most perfect, but the most free.
Chimerical and speculative enjoyments may amuse the imagination; but justice and safety alone can ensure real happiness—and liberty without happiness is but emptiness and sound.
The more independent a government is therefore of the people, under proper restraints, the more likely it is to produce that justice; and the more substantial and efficient under such restraints, the better calculated to protect both the persons and property of mankind. And the efficiency and energy, of this government being acknowledged in this general objection itself, the only necessary enquiry will be, whether the restraints are sufficient to prevent its becoming too formidable in the end.
In respect to restraints on government, there are but three things necessary to be guarded against, the first is a power to deprive men of their personal rights or property by direct laws; the second, is, a power to depress those natural rights into a meanness of person by preventing men from acquiring property from loading them unequally with the public burthens of the state; and the third is, a power to destroy the equality of right by a partial administration of justice. That government which is guarded against those powers, may be said to have all the restraints necessary to constitute a rational happiness under any society.
Let us examine then how far the proposed constitution may be valued on that head.
Under this government neither the Congress nor state legislature could, by direct laws, deprive us of any property we might hold under the general law of the land, or punish us for any offence committed previous to the passage of such laws, since they are prohibited from passing ex post facto laws. Nor could they injure the value of any species of property by partial taxes, since from the proportion laid down in that government, to affect the value of slaves, for instance, in this state, they must ruin all the free persons in several others. Nor could they injure the property of an individual in any state, since the same proportion must be observed throughout a part as well as the whole.
Neither could they in the third instance destroy the equality of right, or injure the value of property in a particular state, or belonging to any individual by a partial administration of justice, since the same doors of one general tribunal would be opened to all—which would on the contrary enhance the value of all property on the continent by giving confidence to foreign creditors, and an equal security to citizens of every state.
Under such restraints and useful regulations, it cannot be denied but that the authorities contained in a firm and efficient government are necessary to procure safety, and give to that machine a proper motion; unless there be those so chimerical and speculative as to expect government, like a windmill, to go on by airy efforts only.
But in order the more clearly to view that great objection still on general principles, as I first proposed to examine it, let us next try it by the simple test of facts.
That there will go no more power out of the peoples’ hands by the adoption of this constitution than what is already given up, is obvious, because the state legislature and Congress together have in their hands, at this time, every authority which is proposed to be given to the new head, and that too without any restraints on those of the state. The right of passing ex post facto laws, the power of administering partial taxation, and a right to procrastinate justice, or interfere, in their legislative capacity, in private affairs, make up the only compound necessary to give a dismal hue to the finest features of any government. Yet such are the powers already given into the hands of government as to justify and produce all those acts.
The only difference therefore between our present situation and under the new government will be, that the most of the powers already given up will be in the hands of Congress instead of the legislature of the state; which change will only be felt by the leading men in each state, and not by the people. Whence we shall experience all the security which an efficient government can afford, without being subject to its oppressions. For in the proposed plan will be exercised all the useful authorities which already belong to the state, with all the salutary and safe restraints inseparable from the new system.
Thus having shewn on general principles the fallacy of that doctrine which holds out that we shall be deprived of our liberties by the adoption of this constitution, I shall now examine how this general assertion stands supported by the individual objections themselves.
The first I shall touch upon, is, that to the authorities of the supreme court.
There were three things in the first place which made it necessary to establish this court—the first is, the disputes that might arise between the different states, which could not otherwise [have] been determined but by a recourse to arms—the second is, in disputes between foreigners and citizens, without which general and impartial mode of trial under a fœderal government, an end would soon be put to foreign credit, and of course to that extensive commerce which alone can ensure a lasting value to our property—and the third is, in disputes between citizens of different states, which alone could prevent that jealousy that must have been excited by trials in the state where only one of the parties resided; and which would have been destructive of that confidence and harmony which will ever be requisite to preserve that union and agreement, without which, this new government itself would cease to exist. And the two last are the only cases in which the people can be much affected; and that in most instances only by appeal.
The next objection I shall take notice of, is, that against standing armies.
There are but two ways in which armies are ever employed, the one is defending, the other abusing, mens’ rights; and in order to do the one, they must first begin with a pretence of intending the other. Nor can they long go undiscovered in acting thus, as the difference between the two is very easily observed; and as it will only become necessary to make the discovery to put an end to its progress, so in order to become a lasting evil, they must have some other foundation to depend on, than the will of those they are to injure. Either the separate interests or popular influence of those who employ them, have ever been the causes of their being used for a bad purpose. Hence it follows that a body of men so numerous as to make a division of power but a small object to any; and who only enjoy that power under the will of those they would endeavor to enslave, would neither wish to succeed in such a design, even were it practicable, nor expect to find it practicable should they make the attempt. As long therefore as the representatives of a people are elected by them, and under the necessity of returning among them at stated periods, when they will be liable to their resentments, there is but little danger of their committing an open outrage on their liberties. It cannot be then for the abuse of our rights that Congress are to have a power of raising armies, as it is clearly on the will of the people the right of creating them depends—and therefore for our protection alone can be employed.
The right of laying direct taxes is also objected to, though this is among the powers already given up by the people, and necessary for the existence of every government. Whether it extends itself over the whole continent or only a single state therefore, the effects will be the same to the people; and all the difference there will be, is, that less will be collected by the states individually, and more by the continent than now is.—But this, like all the other powers to be exercised by a representative who holds his authority under the will of those he is to govern; cannot be exercised but for their immediate benefit.
But then “the laws made under this constitution are to be the supreme laws of the land.” Under this clause it is said every authority is included.
It is with this objection however as with that about taxation; it would [have] availed but little to have attempted altering our system, and at the same time withhold from the new plan every thing that was useful. The great object which we had in view when we first called for the assistance of a convention, was, the strengthening the hands of the UNION; and if there are to be left in the hands of the different states sufficient powers to supersede those of Congress, little after all has been effected. At least a contention for supremacy between the different states and Congress would have been the consequence, had not some such distinguishing mark been set up to decide the superiority; the consequence of which would have been, that each in vieing with the other would be provoked to make daily experiments of its power, while the people would be left between the two rival authorities as the subject of their anatomy.
But this objection is a contradiction in itself; and if of any weight, only serves to operate against every other objection that has been made to the constitution; for if there be an objection to any other part of the constitution, it must be because there is an authority some where else besides in that general clause, which is a contradiction, because, an absolute and unbounded authority admits of no rivalship—And on the other hand, by viewing it in the light of a general authority given to Congress without controul, we render null and void all the other authorities, of which, in the same breath are so loudly complained; and in doing that, we destroy at a single blow every other objection, since there can be no objection to any part, where there is to be no power.
But to view it in a still more serious light, the saying that the laws made under that constitution shall be the supreme laws of the land, never could [have] been intended to bear that construction which has been put on it by some, because, if it had been intended or wished that Congress should have possessed such an unbounded power as is said, it would have been needless to run the risk of losing that desirable point, by adding to it, things which were to be of no use. And as it is not, that the laws made under that particular clause of the constitution, but the laws made under the whole system, of which that is but a small part, shall be the supreme laws of the land, so any law made in contradiction to any other clause, will be as void of effect as another made in direct compliance with that will be binding.
That this part of the constitution is neither so contradictory in itself as it appears when made an objection, nor are the other parts so useless and insignificant as they are made by giving that particular clause absolute power—but each in their several places form the different useful authorities and checks which are necessary to give both stability to our laws and safety to the people.
These, together with the other three assertions which I have endeavored to refute in some previous papers, form the most important supports of that grand objection to the constitution which respects our liberties; though there are many others which might have come under the same head; for it is a rule with artists, that in rearing the superstructure of all fabrics, to have as good a foundation and as firm supporters as possible; but when they cannot support the edifice by strength of braces, they naturally have recourse to [a] number of posts; and when they far exceed the number, which if found, would answer, it does not require much reasoning to prove that they themselves have but little confidence in any.
That from what has been said already on either side, it may I think be concluded that our liberties so far from being diminished, will be increased by the adoption of the new constitution, as it will be a means of depriving the states of the right of exercising the most unbounded acts of injustice, under which, both the persons and property of men are insecure; and under such insecurity, every earthly consideration is lessened in its value. Whence, as there is no species of liberty but what is connected either with the person or property of mankind, so there is no species of it also but what is increased by adding confidence and safety to the one, and permanence and value to the other. And that government therefore which is best calculated to ensure both, is most consistent with every rational idea of liberty and happiness.
“A Citizen of America” [Noah Webster]
Philadelphia, 17 October 1787
Of all the memorable æras that have marked the progress of men from the savage state to the refinements of luxury, that which has combined them into society, under a wise system of government, and given form to a nation, has ever been recorded and celebrated as the most important. Legislators have ever been deemed the greatest benefactors of mankind—respected when living, and often deified after their death. Hence the fame of Fohi and Confucius—of Moses, Solon and Lycurgus—of Romulus and Numa—of Alfred, Peter the Great, and Mango Capac; whose names will be celebrated through all ages, for framing and improving constitutions of government, which introduced order into society and secured the benefits of law to millions of the human race.
This western world now beholds an æra important beyond conception, and which posterity will number with the age of Czar of Muscovy, and with the promulgation of the Jewish laws at Mount Sinai. The names of those men who have digested a system of constitutions for the American empire, will be enrolled with those of Zamolxis and Odin, and celebrated by posterity with the honors which less enlightened nations have paid to the fabled demi-gods of antiquity.
But the origin of the American Republic is distinguished by peculiar circumstances. Other nations have been driven together by fear and necessity—the governments have generally been the result of a single man’s observations; or the offspring of particular interests. In the formation of our constitution, the wisdom of all ages is collected—the legislators of antiquity are consulted—as well as the opinions and interests of the millions who are concerned. In short, it is an empire of reason.
In the formation of such a government, it is not only the right, but the indispensable duty of every citizen to examine the principles of it, to compare them with the principles of other governments, with a constant eye to our particular situation and circumstances, and thus endeavor to foresee the future operations of our own system, and its effects upon human happiness.1
Convinced of this truth, I have no apology to offer for the following remarks, but an earnest desire to be useful to my country.
In attending to the proposed Federal Constitution, the first thing that presents itself to our consideration, is the division of the legislative into two branches. This article has so many advocates in America, that it needs not any vindication.* —But it has its opposers, among whom are some respectable characters, especially in Pennsylvania; for which reason, I will state some of the arguments and facts which incline me to favor the proposed division.
On the first view of men in society, we should suppose that no man would be bound by a law to which he had not given his consent. Such would be our first idea of political obligation. But experience, from time immemorial, has proved it to be impossible to unite the opinions of all the members of a community, in every case; and hence the doctrine, that the opinions of a majority must give law to the whole State: a doctrine as universally received, as any intuitive truth.
Another idea that naturally presents itself to our minds, on a slight consideration of the subject, is, that in a perfect government, all the members of a society should be present, and each give his suffrage in acts of legislation, by which he is to be bound. This is impracticable in large states; and even were it not, it is very questionable whether it would be the best mode of legislation. It was however practised in the free states of antiquity; and was the cause of innumerable evils. To avoid these evils, the moderns have invented the doctrine of representation, which seems to be the perfection of human government.
Another idea, which is very natural, is, that to complete the mode of legislation, all the representatives should be collected into one body, for the purpose of debating questions and enacting laws. Speculation would suggest the idea; and the desire of improving upon the systems of government in the old world, would operate powerfully in its favor.
But men are ever running into extremes. The passions, after a violent constraint, are apt to run into licentiousness; and even the reason of men, who have experienced evils from the defects of a government, will sometimes coolly condemn the whole system.
Every person, moderately acquainted with human nature, knows that public bodies, as well as individuals, are liable to the influence of sudden and violent passions, under the operation of which, the voice of reason is silenced. Instances of such influence are not so frequent, as in individuals; but its effects are extensive in proportion to the numbers that compose the public body. This fact suggests the expediency of dividing the powers of legislation between the two bodies of men, whose debates shall be separate and not dependent on each other: that, if at any time, one part should appear to be under any undue influence, either from passion, obstinacy, jealousy of particular men, attachment to a popular speaker, or other extraordinary causes, there might be a power in the legislature sufficient to check every pernicious measure. Even in a small republic, composed of men, equal in property and abilities, and all meeting for the purpose of making laws, like the old Romans in the field of Mars, a division of the body into two independent branches, would be a necessary step to prevent the disorders, which arise from the pride, irritability and stubborness of mankind. This will ever be the case, while men possess passions, easily inflamed, which may bias their reason and lead them to erroneous conclusions.
Another consideration has weight: A single body of men may be led astray by one person of abilities and address, who, on the first starting [of] a proposition, may throw a plausible appearance on one side of the question, and give a lead to the whole debate. To prevent any ill consequence from such a circumstance, a separate discussion, before a different body of men, and taken up on new grounds, is a very eligible expedient.
Besides, the design of a senate is not merely to check the legislative assembly, but to collect wisdom and experience. In most of our constitutions, and particularly in the proposed federal system, greater age and longer residence are required to qualify for the senate, than for the house of representatives. This is a wise provision. The house of representatives may be composed of new and unexperienced members—strangers to the forms of proceeding, and the science of legislation. But either positive institutions, or customs, which may supply their place, fill the senate with men venerable for age and respectability, experienced in the ways of men, and in the art of governing, and who are not liable to the bias of passions that govern the young. If the senate of Rhode Island is an exception to this observation, it is a proof that the mass of the people are corrupted, and that the senate should be elected less frequently than the other house: Had the old senate in Rhode Island held their seats for three years; had they not been chosen, amidst a popular rage for paper money, the honor of that state would probably have been saved. The old senate would have stopped the measure for a year or two, till the people could have had time to deliberate upon its consequences. I consider it as a capital excellence of the proposed constitution, that the senate can be wholly renewed but once in six years.
Experience is the best instructor—it is better than a thousand theories. The history of every government on earth affords proof of the utility of different branches in a legislature. But I appeal only to our own experience in America. To what cause can we ascribe the absurd measures of Congress, in times past, and the speedy recision of whole measures, but to the want of some check? I feel the most profound deference for that honorable body, and perfect respect for their opinions; but some of their steps betray a great want of consideration—a defect, which perhaps nothing can remedy, but a division of their deliberations. I will instance only their resolution to build a Federal Town. When we were involved in a debt, of which we could hardly pay the interest, and when Congress could not command a shilling, the very proposition was extremely absurd. Congress themselves became ashamed of the resolution, and rescinded it with as much silence as possible. Many other acts of that body are equally reprehensible—but respect forbids me to mention them.
Several states, since the war, have experienced the necessity of a division of the legislature. Maryland was saved from a most pernicious measure, by her senate. A rage for paper money, bordering on madness, prevailed in their house of delegates—an emission of £.500,000 was proposed; a sum equal to the circulating medium of the State. Had the sum been emitted, every shilling of specie would have been driven from circulation, and most of it from the state. Such a loss would not have been repaired in seven years—not to mention the whole catalogue of frauds which would have followed the measure. The senate, like honest, judicious men, and the protectors of the interests of the state, firmly resisted the rage, and gave the people time to cool and to think. Their resistance was effectual—the people acquiesced, and the honor and interest of the state were secured.
The house of representatives in Connecticut, soon after the war, had taken offence at a certain act of Congress. The upper house, who understood the necessity and expediency of the measure, better than the people, refused to concur in a remonstrance to Congress. Several other circumstances gave umbrage to the lower house; and to weaken or destroy the influence of the senate, the representatives, among other violent proceedings, resolved, not merely to remove the seat of government, but to make every county town in the state the seat of government, by rotation. This foolish resolution would have disgraced school-boys—the senate saved the honor of the state, by rejecting it with disdain—and within two months, every representative was ashamed of the conduct of the house. All public bodies have these fits of passion, when their conduct seems to be perfectly boyish; and in these paroxisms, a check is highly necessary.
Pennsylvania exhibits many instances of this hasty conduct. At one session of the legislature, an armed force is ordered, by a precipitate resolution, to expel the settlers at Wioming from their possessions—at a succeeding session, the same people are confirmed in their possessions. At one session, a charter is wrested from a corporation—at another, restored. The whole state is split into parties—everything is decided by party—any proposition from one side of the house, is sure to be damned by the other—and when one party perceives the other has the advantage, they play truant—and an officer or a mob hunt the absconding members in all the streets and alleys in town. Such farces have been repeated in Philadelphia—and there alone. Had the legislature been framed with some check upon rash proceedings, the honor of the state would have been saved—the party spirit would have died with the measures proposed in the legislature. But now, any measure may be carried by party in the house; it then becomes a law, and sows the seeds of dissension throughout the state.*
A thousand examples similar to the foregoing may be produced, both in ancient and modern history. Many plausible things may be said in favor of pure democracy—many in favor of uniting the representatives of the people in one single house—but uniform experience proves both to be inconsistent with the peace of society, and the rights of freemen.
The state of Georgia has already discovered such inconveniences in its constitution, that a proposition has been made for altering it; and there is a prospect that a revisal will take place.
People who have heard and read of the European governments, founded on the different ranks of monarch, nobility and people, seem to view the senate in America, where there is no difference of ranks and titles, as a useless branch—or as a servile imitation of foreign constitutions of government, without the same reasons. This is a capital mistake. Our senates, it is true, are not composed of a different order of men; but the same reasons, the same necessity for distinct branches of the legislature exists in all governments. But in most of our American constitutions, we have all the advantages of checks and balance, without the danger which may arise from a superior and independent order of men.
It is worth our while to institute a brief comparison between our American forms of government, and the two best constitutions that ever existed in Europe, the Roman and the British.
In England, the king or supreme executive officer, is hereditary. In America, the president of the United States, is elective. That this is an advantage will hardly be disputed.
In ancient Rome, the king was elective, and so were the consuls, who were the executive officers in the republic. But they were elected by the body of the people, in their public assemblies; and this circumstance paved the way for such excessive bribery and corruption as are wholly unknown in modern times. The president of the United States is also elective; but by a few men—chosen by the several legislatures—under their inspection—separated at a vast distance—and holding no office under the United States. Such a mode of election almost precludes the possibility of corruption. Besides, no state however large, has the power of chusing a president in that state; for each elector must choose at least one man, who is not an inhabitant of that State to which he belongs.
The crown of England is hereditary—the consuls of Rome were chosen annually—both these extremes are guarded against in our proposed constitution. The president is not dismissed from his office, as soon as he is acquainted with business—he continues four years, and is re-eligible, if the people approve his conduct. Nor can he canvass for his office, by reason of the distance of the electors; and the pride and jealousy of the states will prevent his continuing too long in office.
The age requisite to qualify for this office is thirty-five years.* The age requisite for admittance to the Roman consulship was forty-three years. For this difference, good reasons may be assigned—the improvements in science, and particularly in government, render it practicable for a man to qualify himself for an important office, much earlier in life, than he could among the Romans; especially in the early part of their commonwealth, when the office was instituted. Besides it is very questionable whether any inconvenience would have attended admission to the consulship at an earlier age.
The powers vested in the president resemble the powers of the supreme magistrates in Rome. They are not so extensive as those of the British king; but in one instance, the president, with concurrence of the senate, has powers exceeding those of the Roman consuls; I mean in the appointment of judges and other subordinate executive officers. The prætors or judges in Rome were chosen annually by the people. This was a defect in the Roman government. One half the evils in a state arise from a lax execution of the laws; and it is impossible that an executive officer can act with vigor and impartiality, when his office depends on the popular voice. An annual popular election of executive officers is the sure source of a negligent, partial and corrupt administration. The independence of the judges in England has produced a course of the most just, impartial and energetic judicial decisions, for many centuries, that can be exhibited in any nation on earth. In this point therefore I conceive the plan proposed in America to be an improvement on the Roman constitution. In all free governments, that is, in all countries, where laws govern, and not men, the supreme magistrate should have it in his power to execute any law, however unpopular, without hazarding his person or office. The laws are the sole guardians of right, and when the magistrate dares not act, every person is insecure.
Let us now attend to the constitution and the powers of the senate.
The house of lords in England is wholly independent of the people. The lords spiritual hold their seats by office; and the people at large have no voice in disposing of the ecclesiastical dignities. The temporal lords hold their seats by hereditary right or by grant from the king: And it is a branch of the king’s prerogative to make what peers he pleases.
The senate in Rome was elective; but a senator held his seat for life.*
The proposed senate in America is constituted on principles more favorable to liberty: The members are elective, and by the separate legislatures: They hold their seats for six years—they are thus rendered sufficiently dependent on their constituents; and yet are not dismissed from their office as soon as they become acquainted with the forms of proceeding.
It may be objected by the larger states, that the representation is not equal; the smallest states having the privilege of sending the same number of senators as the largest. To obviate this objection, I would suggest but two or three ideas.
I. If each state had a representation and a right in deciding questions, proportional to its property, three states would almost command the whole. Such a constitution would gradually annihilate the small states; and finally melt down the whole United States into one undivided sovereignty. The free states of Spain and the heptarchy in England, afford striking examples of this.
Should it be said that such an event is desirable, I answer; the states are all entitled to their respective sovereignties, and while they claim independence in international jurisdiction, the federal constitution ought to guarantee their sovereignty.
2. Another consideration has weight—There is, in all nations, a tendency toward an accumulation of power in some point. It is the business of the legislator to establish some barriers to check the tendency. In small societies, a man worth £.100,000 has but one vote, when his neighbors, who are worth but fifty pounds, have each one vote likewise. To make property the sole basis of authority, would expose many of the best citizens to violence and oppression. To make the number of inhabitants in a state, the rule of apportioning power, is more equitable; and were the United States one indivisible interest, would be a perfect rule for representation. But the detached situation of the states has created some separate interests—some local institutions, which they will not resign nor throw into the hands of other states. For these peculiar interests, the states have an equal attachment—for the preservation and enjoyment of these, an equal sovereignty is necessary; and the sovereignty of each state would not be secure, had each state, in both branches of the legislature an authority in passing laws, proportioned to its inhabitants.
3. But the senate should be considered as representing the confederacy in a body. It is a false principle in the vulgar idea of representation, that a man delegated by a particular district in a state, is the representative of that district only; whereas in truth a member of the legislature from any town or county, is the representative of the whole state. In passing laws, he is to view the whole collective interest of the state, and act from that view; not from a partial regard to the interest of the town or county where he is chosen.
The same principle extends to the Congress of the United States. A delegate is bound to represent the true local interest of his constituents—to state in its true light to the whole body—but when each provincial interest is thus stated, every member should act for the aggregate interest of the whole confederacy. The design of representation is to bring the collective interest into view—a delegate is not the legislator of a single state—he is as much the legislator of the whole confederacy as of the particular state where he is chosen; and if he gives his vote for a law which he believes to be beneficial to his own state only, and pernicious to the rest, he betrays his trust and violates his oath. It is indeed difficult for a man to divest himself of local attachments and act from an impartial regard to the general good; but he who cannot for the most part do this, is not a good legislator.
These considerations suggest the propriety of continuing the senators in office, for a longer period, than the representatives. They gradually lose their partiality, generalize their views, and consider themselves as acting for the whole confederacy. Hence in the senate we may expect union and firmness—here we may find the general good the object of legislation, and a check upon the more partial and interested acts of the other branch.
These considerations obviate the complaint, that the representation in the senate is not equal; for the senators represent the whole confederacy; and all that is wanted of the members is information of the true situation and interest of each state. As they act under the direction of the several legislatures, two men may as fully and completely represent a state, as twenty; and when the true interest of each state is known, if the senators perform the part of good legislators, and act impartially for the whole collective body of the United States, it is totally immaterial where they are chosen.*
The house of representatives is the more immediate voice of the separate states—here the states are represented in proportion to their number of inhabitants—here the separate interests will operate with their full force, and the violence of parties and the jealousies produced by interfering interests, can be restrained and quieted only by a body of men, less local and dependent.
It may be objected that no separate interests should exist in a state; and a division of the legislature has a tendency to create them. But this objection is founded on mere jealousy, or a very imperfect comparison of the Roman and British governments, with the proposed federal constitution.
The house of peers in England is a body originally and totally independent of the people—the senate in Rome was mostly composed of patrician or noble families, and after the first election of a senator, he was no longer dependent on the people—he held his seat for life. But the senate of the United States can have no separate interests from the body of the people; for they live among them—they are chosen by them—they must be dismissed from their place once in six years and may at any time be impeached for mal-practices—their property is situated among the people, and with their persons, subject to the same laws. No title can be granted, but the temporary titles of office, bestowed by the voluntary election of the people; and no pre-eminence can be acquired but by the same means.
The separation of the legislature divides the power—checks—restrains—amends the proceedings—at the same time, it creates no division of interest, that can tempt either branch to encroach upon the other, or upon the people. In turbulent times, such restraint is our greatest safety—in calm times, and in measures obviously calculated for the general good, both branches must always be unanimous.
A man must be thirty years of age before he can be admitted into the senate—which was likewise a requisite in the Roman government. What property was requisite for a senator in the early ages of Rome, I cannot inform myself; but Augustus fixed it at six hundred sestertia—between six and seven thousand pounds sterling. In the federal constitution, money is not made a requisite—the places of senators are wisely left open to all persons of suitable age and merit, and who have been citizens of the United States for nine years; a term in which foreigners may acquire the feelings and acquaint themselves with the interests, of the native Americans.
The house of representatives is formed on very equitable principles; and is calculated to guard the privileges of the people. The English house of commons is chosen by a small part of the people of England, and continues for seven years. The Romans never discovered the secret of representation—the whole body of citizens assembled for the purposes of legislation—a circumstance that exposed their government to frequent convulsions, and to capricious measures. The federal house of representatives is chosen by the people qualified to vote for state representatives,* and continues two years.
Some may object to their continuance in power two years. But I cannot see any danger arising from this quarter. On the contrary, it creates less trouble for the representatives, who by such choice are taken from their professions and obliged to attend Congress, some of them at the distance of at least seven hundred miles. While men are chosen by the people, and responsible to them, there is but little danger from ambition or corruption.
If it should be said that Congress may in time become triennial, and even septennial, like the English parliaments, I answer, this is not in their power. The English parliament had power to prolong the period of their existence—but Congress will be restrained by the different legislatures, without whose constitutional concurrence, no alteration can be made in the proposed system.
The fourth section, article I, of the new constitution declares that “The times, places, and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives, shall be prescribed in “each state by the legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations, except as to the places of chusing senators.“ Here let us pause—What did the convention mean by giving Congress power to make regulations, prescribed by the legislatures? Is this expression accurate or intelligible? But the word alter is very intelligible, and the clause puts the election of representatives wholly, and the senators almost wholly, in the power of Congress.
The views of the convention I believe to be perfectly upright—They might mean to place the election of representatives and senators beyond the reach of faction—They doubtless had good reasons, in their minds, for the clause—But I see no occasion for any power in Congress to interfere with the choice of their own body—They will have power to suppress insurrections, as they ought to have; but the clause in Italics gives needless and dangerous powers—I hope the states will reject it with decency, and adopt the whole system, without altering another syllable.
The method of passing laws in Congress is much preferable to that of ancient Rome or modern Britain. Not to mention other defects in Rome, it lay in the power of a single tribune to obstruct the passing of a law. As the tribunes were popular magistrates, the right was often exercised in favor of liberty; but it was also abused, and the best regulations were prevented, to gratify the spleen, the ambition, or the resentment of an individual.
The king of Great-Britain has the same power, but seldom exercises it. It is however a dangerous power—it is absurd and hazardous to lodge in one man the right of controlling the will of a state.
Every bill that passes a majority of both houses of Congress, must be sent to the president for his approbation; but it must be returned in ten days, whether approved by him or not; and the concurrence of two thirds of both houses passes the bill into a law, notwithstanding any objections of the president. The constitution therefore gives the supreme executive a check but no negative, upon the sense of Congress.
The powers lodged in Congress are extensive; but it is presumed that they are not too extensive. The first object of the constitution is to unite the states into one compact society, for the purpose of government. If such union must exist, or the states be exposed to foreign invasions, internal discord, reciprocal encroachments upon each others property—to weakness and infamy, which no person will dispute; what powers must be collected and lodged in the supreme head or legislature of these states. The answer is easy: This legislature must have exclusive jurisdiction in all matters in which the states have a mutual interest. There are some regulations in which all the states are equally concerned—there are others, which in their operation, are limited to one state. The first belongs to Congress—the last to the respective legislatures. No one state has a right to supreme control, in any affair in which the other states have an interest, nor should Congress interfere in any affair which respects one state only. This is the general line of division, which the convention have endeavored to draw, between the powers of Congress and the rights of the individual states. The only question therefore is, whether the new constitution delegates to Congress any powers which do not respect the general interest and welfare of the United States. If these powers intrench upon the present sovereignty of any state, without having for an object the collective interest of the whole, the powers are too extensive. But if they do not extend to all concerns, in which the states have a mutual interest, they are too limited. If in any instance, the powers necessary for protecting the general interest, interfere with the constitutional rights of an individual state, such state has assumed powers that are inconsistent with the safety of the United States, and which ought instantly to be resigned. Considering the states as individuals, on equal terms, entering into a social compact, no state has a right to any power which may prejudice its neighbors. If therefore the federal constitution has collected into the federal legislature no more power than is necessary for the common defence and interest, it should be recognized by the states, however particular clauses may supersede the exercise of certain powers by the individual states.
This question is of vast magnitude. The states have very high ideas of their separate sovereignty; altho’ it is certain, that while each exists in its full latitude, we can have no Federal sovereignty. However flattered each state may be by its independent sovereignty, we can have no union, no respectability, no national character, and what is more, no national justice, till the states resign to one supreme head the exclusive power of legislating, judgingand executing, in all matters of a general nature. Every thing of a private or provincial nature, must still rest on the ground of the respective state-constitutions.2
After examining the limits of the proposed congressional powers, I confess I do not think them too extensive—I firmly believe that the life, liberty and property of every man, and the peace and independence of each state, will be more fully secured under such a constitution of federal government, than they will under a constitution with more limited powers; and infinitely more safe than under our boasted distinct sovereignties. It appears to me that Congress will have no more power than will be necessary for our union and general welfare; and such power they must have or we are in a wretched state. On the adoption of this constitution, I should value real estate twenty per cent. higher than I do at this moment.
I will not examine into the extent of the powers proposed to be lodged in the supreme federal head; the subject would be extensive and require more time than I could bestow upon it. But I will take up some objections, that have been made to particular points of the new constitution.
Most of the objections I have yet heard to the constitution, consist in mere insinuations unsupported by reasoning or fact. They are thrown out to instil groundless jealousies into the minds of the people, and probably with a view to prevent all government; for there are, in every society, some turbulent geniuses whose importance depends solely on faction. To seek the insidious and detestable nature of these insinuations, it is necessary to mention, and to remark on a few particulars.
I. The first objection against the constitution is, that the legislature will be more expensive than our present confederation. This is so far from being true, that the money we actually lose by our present weakness, disunion and want of government would support the civil government of every state in the confederacy. Our public poverty does not proceed from the expensiveness of Congress, nor of the civil list; but from want of power to command our own advantages. We pay more money to foreign nations, in the course of business, and merely for want of government, than would, under an efficient government, pay the annual interest of our domestic debt. Every man in business knows this to be truth; and the objection can be designed only to delude the ignorant.
2. Another objection to the constitution, is the division of the legislature into two branches. Luckily this objection has no advocates but in Pennsylvania; and even here their number is dwindling. The factions that reign in this state, the internal discord and passions that disturb the government and the peace of the inhabitants, have detected the errors of the constitution, and will some time or other produce a reformation. The division of the legislature has been the subject of discussion in the beginning of this essay; and will be deemed, by nineteen-twentieths of the Americans, one of the principal excellencies of the constitution.
3. A third insinuation, is that the proposed federal government will annihilate the several legislatures. This is extremely disingenuous. Every person, capable of reading, must discover, that the convention have labored to draw the line between the federal and provincial powers—to define the powers of Congress, and limit them to those general concerns which must come under federal jurisdiction, and which cannot be managed in the separate legislatures—that in all internal regulations, whether of civil or criminal nature, the states retain their sovereignty, and have it guaranteed to them by this very constitution. Such a groundless insinuation, or rather mere surmise, must proceed from dark designs or extreme ignorance, and deserves the severest reprobation.
4. It is alledged that the liberty of the press is not guaranteed by the new constitution. But this objection is wholly unfounded. The liberty of the press does not come within the jurisdiction of federal government. It is firmly established in all the states either by law, or positive declarations in bills of right; and not being mentioned in the federal constitution, is not—and cannot be abridged by Congress. It stands on the basis of the respective state-constitutions. Should any state resign to Congress the exclusive jurisdiction of a certain district, which should include any town where presses are already established, it is in the power of the state to reserve the liberty of the press, or any other fundamental privilege, and make it an immutable condition of the grant, that such rights shall never be violated. All objections therefore on this score are “baseless visions.”
5. It is insinuated that the constitution gives Congress the power of levying internal taxes at pleasure. This insinuation seems founded on the eighth section of the first article, which declares, that “Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States.”
That Congress should have power to collect duties, imposts and excises, in order to render them uniform throughout the United States will hardly be controverted. The whole objection is to the right of levying internal taxes.
But it will be conceded that the supreme head of the states must have power, competent to the purposes of our union, or it will be, as it now is, a useless body, a mere expense, without any advantage. To pay our public debt, to support foreign ministers and our own civil government, money must be raised; and if the duties and imposts are not adequate to these purposes, where shall the money be obtained? It will be answered, let Congress apportion the sum to be raised, and leave the legislatures to collect the money. Well this is all that is intended by the clause under consideration; with the addition of a federal power that shall be sufficient to oblige a delinquent state to comply with the requisition. Such power must exist somewhere, or the debts of the United States can never be paid. For want of such power, our credit is lost and our national faith is a bye-word.
For want of such power, one state now complies fully with a requisition, another partially, and a third absolutely refuses or neglects to grant a shilling. Thus the honest and punctual are doubly loaded—and the knave triumphs in his negligence. In short, no honest man will dread a power that shall enforce an equitable system of taxation. The dishonest are ever apprehensive of a power that shall oblige them to do what honest men are ready to do voluntarily.
Permit me to ask those who object to this power of taxation, how shall money be raised to discharge our honest debts which are universally acknowledged to be just? Have we not already experienced the inefficacy of a system without power? Has it not been proved to demonstration, that a voluntary compliance with the demands of the union can never be expected? To what expedient shall we have recourse? What is the resort of all governments in cases of delinquency? Do not the states vest in the legislature, or even in the governor and council, a power to enforce laws, even with the militia of the states? And how rarely does there exist the necessity of exerting such a power? Why should such a power be more dangerous in Congress than in a legislature? Why should more confidence be reposed in a member of one legislature than of another? Why should we choose the best men in the state to represent us in Congress, and the moment they are elected arm ourselves against them as against tyrants and robbers? Do we not, in this conduct, act the part of a man, who, as soon as he has married a woman of unsuspected chastity, locks her up in a dungeon? Is there any spell or charm, that instantly changes a delegate to Congress from an honest man into a knave—a tyrant? I confess freely that I am willing to trust Congress with any powers that I should dare lodge in a state-legislature. I believe life, liberty, and property is as safe in the hands of a federal legislature, organized in the manner proposed by the convention, as in the hands of any legislature, that has ever been or ever will be chosen in any particular state.
But the idea that Congress can levy taxes at pleasure is false, and the suggestion wholly unsupported. The preamble to the constitution is declaratory of the purposes of our union, and the assumption of any powers not necessary to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, will be unconstitutional, and endanger the existence of Congress. Besides, in the very clause which gives the power of levying duties and taxes, the purposes to which the money shall be appropriated are specified, viz. to pay the debts and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States.* For these purposes money must be collected, and the power of collection must be lodged, sooner or later, in a federal head; or the common defence and general welfare must be neglected.
The states in their separate capacity, cannot provide for the common defence; nay in case of a civil war, a state cannot secure its own existence. The only question therefore is, whether it is necessary to unite, and provide for our common defence and general welfare. For this question being once decided in the affirmative, leaves no room to controvert the propriety of constituting a power over the whole United States, adequate to these general purposes.
The states, by granting such power, do not throw it out of their own hands—they only throw, each its proportion, into a common stock—they merely combine the powers of the several states into one point, where they must be collected, before they can be exerted. But the powers are still in their own hands; and cannot be alienated, till they create a body independent of themselves, with a force at their command, superior to the whole yeomanry of the country.
6. It is said there is no provision made in the new constitution against a standing army in time of peace. Why do not people object that no provision is made against the introduction of a body of Turkish Janizaries; or against making the Alcoran the rule of faith and practice, instead of the Bible? The answer to such objections is simply this—no such provision is necessary. The people in this country cannot forget their apprehensions from a British standing army, quartered in America; and they turn their fears and jealousies against themselves. Why do not the people of most of the states apprehend danger from standing armies from their own legislatures? Pennsylvania and North Carolina, I believe, are the only states that have provided against this danger at all events. Other states have declared that “no standing armies shall be kept up without the consent of the legislature.” But this leaves the power entirely in the hands of the legislature. Many of the states however have made no provision against this evil. What hazards these states suffer! Why does not a man pass a law in his family, that no armed soldier shall be quartered in his house by his consent? The reason is very plain: no man will suffer his liberty to be abridged, or endangered—his disposition and his power are uniformly opposed to any infringement of his rights. In the same manner, the principles and habits, as well as the power of the Americans are directly opposed to standing armies; and there is as little necessity to guard against them by positive constitutions, as to prohibit the establishment of the Mahometan religion. But the constitution provides for our safety; and while it gives Congress power to raise armies, it declares that no appropriation of money to their support shall be for a longer term than two years.
Congress likewise are to have power to provide for organizing, arming and disciplining the militia, but have no other command of them, except when in actual service. Nor are they at liberty to call out the militia at pleasure—but only, to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions. For these purposes, government must always be armed with a military force, if the occasion should require it; otherwise laws are nugatory, and life and property insecure.
7. Some persons have ventured to publish an intimation, that by the proposed constitution, the trial by jury is abolished in all civil cases. Others very modestly insinuate, that it is in some cases only. The fact is, that trial by jury is not affected in any case, by the constitution; except in cases of impeachment, which are to be tried by the senate. None but persons in office in or under Congress can be impeached; and even after a judgment upon an impeachment, the offender is liable to a prosecution, before a common jury, in a regular course of law. The insinuation therefore that trials by jury are to be abolished, is groundless, and beyond conception, wicked. It must be wicked, because the circulation of a barefaced falsehood, respecting a privilege, dear to freemen, can proceed only from a depraved heart and the worst intentions.
8. It is also intimated as a probable event, that the federal courts will absorb the judiciaries of the federal states. This is a mere suspicion, without the least foundation. The jurisdiction of the federal states is very accurately defined and easily understood. It extends to the cases mentioned in the constitution, and to the execution of the laws of Congress, respecting commerce, revenue, and other general concerns.
With respect to other civil and criminal actions, the powers and jurisdiction of the several judiciaries of each state, remain unimpaired. Nor is there anything novel in allowing appeals to the supreme court. Actions are mostly to be tried in the state where the crimes are committed—But appeals are allowed under our present confederation, and no person complains; nay, were there no appeal, every man would have reason to complain, especially when a final judgement, in an inferior court, should affect property to a large amount. But why is an objection raised against an appellate jurisdiction in the supreme court, respecting fact as well as law? Is it less safe to have the opinions of two juries than of one? I suspect many people will think this is no defect in the constitution. But perhaps it will destroy a material requisite of a good jury, viz. their vicinity to the cause of action. I have no doubt, that when causes were tried, in periods prior to the Christian æra, before twelve men, seated upon twelve stones, arranged in a circular form, under a huge oak, there was great propriety in submitting causes to men in the vicinity. The difficulty of collecting evidence, in those rude times, rendered it necessary that juries should judge mostly from their own knowledge of facts or from information obtained out of court. But in these polished ages, when juries depend almost wholly on the testimony of witnesses; and when a complication of interests, introduced by commerce and other causes, renders it almost impossible to collect men, in the vicinity of the parties, who are wholly disinterested, it is no disadvantage to have a cause tried by a jury of strangers. Indeed the latter is generally the most eligible.
But the truth is, the creation of all inferior courts is in the power of Congress; and the constitution provides that Congress may make such exceptions from the right of appeals as they shall judge proper. When these courts are erected, their jurisdictions will be ascertained, and in small actions, Congress will doubtless direct that a sentence in a subordinate court shall, to a certain amount, be definite and final. All objections therefore to the judicial powers of the federal courts appear to me as trifling as any of the preceding.
9. But, say the enemies of slavery, negroes may be imported for twenty-one years. This exception is addressed to the quakers; and a very pitiful exception it is.
The truth is, Congress cannot prohibit the importation of slaves during that period; but the laws against the importation into particular states, stand unrepealed. An immediate abolition of slavery would bring ruin upon the whites, and misery upon the blacks, in the southern states. The constitution has therefore wisely left each state to pursue its own measures, with respect to this article of legislation, during the period of twenty-one years.3
Such are the principal objections that have yet been made by the enemies of the new constitution. They are mostly frivolous, or founded on false constructions, and a misrepresentation of the true state of facts. They are evidently designed to raise groundless jealousies in the minds of well meaning people, who have little leisure and opportunity to examine into the principles of government. But a little time and reflection will enable most people to detect such mischievous intentions; and the spirit and firmness which have distinguished the conduct of the Americans, during the conflict for independence, will eventually triumph over the enemies of union, and bury them in disgrace or oblivion.
But I cannot quit this subject without attempting to correct some of the erroneous opinions respecting freedom and tyranny, and the principles by which they are supported. Many people seem to entertain an idea, that liberty consists in a power to act without any control. This is more liberty than even the savages enjoy. But in civil society, political liberty consists in acting conformably to a sense of a majority of the society. In a free government every man binds himself to obey the public voice, or the opinions of a majority; and the whole society engages to protect each individual. In such a government a man is free and safe. But reverse the case; suppose every man to act without control or fear of punishment—every man would be free, but no man would be sure of his freedom one moment. Each would have the power of taking his neighbor’s life, liberty, or property; and no man would command more than his own strength to repel the invasion. The case is the same with states. If the states should not unite into one compact society, every state may trespass upon its neighbor, and the injured state has no means of redress but its own military force.
The present situation of our American states is very little better than a state of nature—Our boasted state sovereignties are so far from securing our liberty and property, that they, every moment, expose us to the loss of both. That state which commands the heaviest purse and longest sword, may at any moment, lay its weaker neighbor under tribute; and there is no superior power now existing, that can regularly oppose the invasion or redress the injury. From such liberty, O Lord, deliver us!
But what is tyranny? Or how can a free people be deprived of their liberties? Tyranny is the exercise of some power over a man, which is not warranted by law, or necessary for the public safety. A people can never be deprived of their liberties, while they retain in their own hands, a power sufficient to any other power in the state. This position leads me directly to enquire, in what consists the power of a nation or of an order of men?
In some nations, legislators have derived much of their power from the influence of religion, or from that implicit belief which an ignorant and superstitious people entertain of the gods, and their interposition in every transaction of life. The Roman senate sometimes availed themselves of this engine to carry their decrees and maintain their authority. This was particularly the case, under the aristocracy which succeeded the abolition of the monarchy. The augurs and priests were taken wholly from patrician families.* They constituted a distinct order of men—had power to negative any law of the people, by declaring that it was passed during the taking of the auspices.† This influence derived from the authority of opinion, was less perceptible, but as tyrannical as a military force. The same influence constitutes, at this day, a principal support of federal governments on the Eastern continent, and perhaps in South America. But in North America, by a singular concurrence of circumstances, the possibility of establishing this influence, as a pillar of government, is totally precluded.
Another source of power in government is a military force. But this, to be efficient, must be superior to any force that exists among the people, or which they can command: for otherwise this force would be annihilated, on the first exercise of acts of oppression. Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretence, raised in the United States. A military force, at the command of Congress, can execute no laws, but such as the people perceive to be just and constitutional; for they will possess the power, and jealousy will instantly inspire the inclination, to resist the execution of a law which appears to them unjust and oppressive. In spite of all the nominal powers, vested in Congress by the constitution, were the system once adopted in its fullest latitude, still the actual exercise of them would be frequently interrupted by popular jealousy. I am bold to say, that ten just and constitutional measures would be resisted, where one unjust or oppressive law would be enforced. The powers vested in Congress are little more than nominal; nay real power cannot be vested in them, nor in any body, but in the people. The source of power is in the people of this country, and cannot for ages, and probably never will, be removed.
In what then does real power consist? The answer is short and plain—in property. Could we want any proofs of this, which are not exhibited in this country, the uniform testimony of history will furnish us with multitudes. But I will go no farther for proof, than the two governments already mentioned, the Roman and the British.
Rome exhibited a demonstrative proof of the inseparable connexion between property and dominion. The first form of its government was an elective monarchy—its second, an aristocracy; but these forms could not be permanent, because they were not supported by property. The kings at first and afterwards the patricians had nominally most of the power; but the people, possessing most of the lands, never ceased to assert their privileges, till they established a commonwealth. And the kings and senate could not have held the reigns of government in their hands so long as they did, had they not artfully contrived to manage the established religion, and play off the superstitious credulity of the people against their own power. “Thus this weak constitution of government,” says the ingenious Mr. Moyle, speaking of the aristocracy of Rome, “not founded on the true center of dominion, land, nor on any standing foundation of authority, nor rivetted in the esteem and affections of the people; and being attacked by strong passion, general interest and the joint forces of the people, mouldered away of course, and pined of a lingering consumption, till it was totally swallowed up by the prevailing faction, and the nobility were moulded into the mass of the people.”* The people, notwithstanding the nominal authority of the patricians, proceeded regularly in enlarging their own powers. They first extorted from the senate, the right of electing tribunes, with a negative upon the proceedings of the senate.† They obtained the right of proposing and debating laws; which before had been vested in the senate; and finally advanced to the power of enacting laws, without the authority of the senate.‡ They regained the rights of election in their comitia, of which they had been deprived by Servius Tullius.§ They procured a permanent body of laws, collected from the Grecian institutions. They destroyed the influence of augurs, or diviners, by establishing the tributa comitia, in which they were not allowed to consult the gods. They increased their power by large accessions of conquered lands. They procured a repeal of the law which prohibited marriages between the patricians and plebians.? The Licinian law limited all possessions to five hundred acres of land; which, had it been fully executed, would have secured the commonwealth.#
The Romans proceeded thus step by step to triumph over the aristocracy, and to crown their privileges, they procured the right of being elected to the highest offices of the state. By acquiring the property of the plebians, the nobility, several times, held most of the power of the state; but the people, by reducing the interest of money, abolishing debts, or by forcing other advantages from the patricians, generally held the power of governing in their own hands.
In America, we begin our empire with more popular privileges than the Romans ever enjoyed. We have not to struggle against a monarch or an aristocracy—power is lodged in the mass of the people.
On reviewing the English history, we observe a progress similar to that in Rome—an incessant struggle for liberty from the date of Magna Charta, in John’s reign, to the revolution. The struggle has been successful, by abridging the enormous power of the nobility. But we observe that the power of the people has increased in an exact proportion to their acquisitions of property. Wherever the right of primogeniture is established, property must accumulate and remain in families. Thus the landed property in England will never be sufficiently distributed, to give the powers of government wholly into the hands of the people. But to assist the struggle for liberty, commerce has interposed, and in conjunction with manufacturers, thrown a vast weight of property into the democratic scale. Wherever we cast our eyes, we see this truth, that property is the basis of power; and this, being established as a cardinal point, directs us to the means of preserving our freedom. Make laws, irrevocable laws in every state, destroying and barring entailments; leave real estates to revolve from hand to hand, as time and accident may direct; and no family influence can be acquired and established for a series of generations—no man can obtain dominion over a large territory—the laborious and saving, who are generally the best citizens, will possess each his share of property and power, and thus the balance of wealth and power will continue where it is, in the body of the people.
A general and tolerably equal distribution of landed property is the whole basis of national freedom: The system of the great Montesquieu will ever be erroneous, till the words property or lands in fee simple are substituted for virtue, throughout his Spirit of Laws.
Virtue, patriotism, or love of country, never was and never will be, till men’s natures are changed, a fixed, permanent principle and support of government. But in an agricultural country, a general possession of land in fee simple, may be rendered perpetual, and the inequalities introduced by commerce, are too fluctuating to endanger government. An equality of property, with a necessity of alienation, constantly operating to destroy combinations of powerful families, is the very soul of a republic—While this continues, the people will inevitably possess both power and freedom; when this is lost, power departs, liberty expires, and a commonwealth will inevitably assume some other form.
The liberty of the press, trial by jury, the Habeas Corpus writ, even Magna Charta itself, although justly deemed the palladia of freedom, are all inferior considerations, when compared with a general distribution of real property among every class of people.* The power of entailing estates is more dangerous to liberty and republican government, than all the constitutions that can be written on paper, or even than a standing army. Let the people have property, and they will have power—a power that will for ever be exerted to prevent a restriction of the press, and abolition of trial by jury, or the abridgement of any other privilege. The liberties of America, therefore, and her forms of government, stand on the broadest basis. Removed from the fears of a foreign invasion and conquest, they are not exposed to the convulsions that shake other governments; and the principles of freedom are so general and energetic, as to exclude the possibility of a change in our republican constitutions.
But while property is considered as the basis of the freedom of the American yeomanry, there are other auxiliary supports; among which is the information of the people. In no country, is education so general—in no country, have the body of the people such a knowledge of the rights of men and the principles of government. This knowledge, joined with a keen sense of liberty and a watchful jealousy, will guard our constitutions, and awaken the people to an instantaneous resistance of encroachments.
But a principal bulwark of freedom is the right of election. An equal distribution of property is the foundation of a republic; but popular elections form the great barrier, which defends it from assault, and guards it from the slow and imperceptible approaches of corruption. Americans! never resign that right. It is not very material whether your representatives are elected for one year or two—but the right is the Magna Charta of your governments. For this reason, expunge that clause of the new constitution before mentioned, which gives Congress an influence in the election of their own body. The time, place and manner of chusing senators or representatives are of little or no consequence to Congress. The number of members and time of meeting in Congress are fixed; but the choice should rest with the several states. I repeat it—reject the clause with decency, but with unanimity and firmness.
Excepting that clause the constitution is good—it guarantees the fundamental principles of our several constitutions—it guards our rights—and while it vests extensive powers in Congress, it vests no more than are necessary for our union. Without powers lodged somewhere in a single body, fully competent to lay and collect equal taxes and duties—to adjust controversies between different states—to silence contending interests—to suppress insurrections—to regulate commerce—to treat with foreign nations, our confederation is a cobweb—liable to be blown asunder by every blast of faction that is raised in the remotest corner of the United States.
Every motive that can possibly influence men ever to unite under civil government, now urges the unanimous adoption of the new constitution. But in America we are urged to it by a singular necessity. By the local situation of the several states a few command all the advantages of commerce. Those states which have no advantages, made equal exertions for independence, loaded themselves with immense debts, and now are utterly unable to discharge them; while their richer neighbors are taxing them for their own benefit, merely because they can. I can prove to a demonstration that Connecticut, which has the heaviest internal or state debt, in proportion to its number of inhabitants, of any in the union, cannot discharge its debt, on any principles of taxation ever yet practised. Yet the state pays in duties, at least 100,000 dollars annually, on goods consumed by its own people, but imported by New York. This sum, could it be saved to the state by an equal system of revenue, would enable that state to gradually sink its debt.*
New Jersey and some other states are in the same situation, except that their debts are not so large, in proportion to their wealth and population.
The boundaries of the several states were not drawn with a view to independence; and while this country was subject to Great Britain, they produced no commercial or political inconveniences. But the revolution has placed things on a different footing. The advantages of some states, and the disadvantages of others are so great—and so materially affect the business and interest of each, that nothing but an equalizing system of revenue, that shall reduce the advantages to some equitable proportion, can prevent a civil war and save the national debt. Such a system of revenue is the sine qua non of public justice and tranquillity.
It is absurd for a man to oppose the adoption of the constitution, because he thinks some part of it defective or exceptionable. Let every man be at liberty to expunge what he judges to be exceptionable, and not a syllable of the constitution will survive the scrutiny. A painter, after executing a masterly piece, requested every spectator to draw a pencil mark over the part that did not please him; but to his surprise, he soon found the whole piece defaced. Let every man examine the most perfect building by his own taste, and like some microscopic critics, condemn the whole for small deviations from the rules of architecture, and not a part of the best constructed fabric would escape. But let any man take a comprehensive view of the whole, and he will be pleased with the general beauty and proportions, and admire the structure. The same remarks apply to the new constitution. I have no doubt that every member of the late convention has exceptions to some part of the system proposed. Their constituents have the same, and if every objection must be removed, before we have a national government, the Lord have mercy on us.
Perfection is not the lot of humanity. Instead of censuring the small faults of the constitution, I am astonished that so many clashing interests have been reconciled—and so many sacrifices made to the general interest! The mutual concessions made by the gentlemen of the convention, reflect the highest honor on their candor and liberality; at the same time, they prove that their minds were deeply impressed with a conviction, that such mutual sacrifices are essential to our union. They must be made sooner or later by every state; or jealousies, local interests and prejudices will unsheath the sword, and some Cæsar or Cromwell will avail himself of our divisions, and wade to a throne through streams of blood.
It is not our duty as freemen, to receive the opinions of any men however great and respectable, without an examination. But when we reflect that some of the greatest men in America, with the venerable Franklin and the illustrious Washington at their head; some of them the fathers and saviors of their country, men who have labored at the helm during a long and violent tempest, and guided us to the haven of peace—and all of them distinguished for their abilities [and] their acquaintance with ancient and modern governments, as well as with the temper, the passions, the interests and the wishes of the Americans;—when we reflect on these circumstances, it is impossible to resist impressions of respect, and we are almost impelled to suspect our own judgements, when we call in question any part of the system, which they have recommended for adoption. Not having the same means of information, we are more liable to mistake the nature and tendency of particular articles of the constitution, or the reasons on which they were admitted. Great confidence therefore should be reposed in the abilities, the zeal and integrity of that respectable body. But after all, if the constitution should, in its future operation, be found defective or inconvenient, two-thirds of both houses of Congress or the application of two-thirds of the legislatures, may open the door for amendments. Such improvements may then be made, as experience shall dictate.
Let us then consider the New Federal Constitution, as it really is, an improvement on the best constitutions that the world ever saw. In the house of representatives, the people of America have an equal voice and suffrage. The choice of men is placed in the freemen or electors at large; and the frequency of elections, and the responsibility of the members, will render them sufficiently dependent on their constituents. The senate will be composed of older men; and while their regular dismission from office, once in six years, will preserve their dependence on their constituents, the duration of their existence will give firmness to their decisions, and temper the factions which must necessarily prevail in the other branch. The president of the United States is elective, and what is a capital improvement on the best governments, the mode of chusing him excludes the danger of faction and corruption. As the supreme executive, he is invested with power to enforce the laws of the union and give energy to the federal government.
The constitution defines the powers of Congress; and every power not expressly delegated to that body, remains in the several state-legislatures. The sovereignty and the republican form of government of each state is guaranteed by the constitution; and the bounds of jurisdiction between the federal and respective state governments, are marked with precision. In theory, it has all the energy and freedom of the British and Roman governments, without their defects. In short, the privileges of freemen are interwoven into the feelings and habits of the Americans; liberty stands on the immoveable basis of a general distribution of property and diffusion of knowledge; but the Americans must cease to contend, to fear, and to hate, before they can realize the benefits of independence and government, or enjoy the blessings, which heaven has lavished, in rich profusion, upon this western world.
“A Foreign Spectator” [Nicholas Collin]
Independent Gazetteer, Philadelphia, 6, 10, 16, 17, 24 August and 4, 12, 13, 17 September 1787
An ESSAY on the Means of Promoting Federal Sentiments in the United States, by a Foreign Spectator.
It is an old maxim, that no Republican Government can be lasting without the good will of its subjects. What majority of loyal citizens, or what degree of public virtue, are indispensable, depends indeed on many circumstances; but the greater they are, the more safe and happy is a state; and in many cases an apparently small defect in either may produce very critical dangers. Republican Liberty is inseparable from a certain want of energy in the Government: The indolent and selfish can often with impunity clog its most important operations: The disaffected may go deep into rebellion, before they can be legally impeached: Infernal traitors may sometimes assume the heavenly form of patriots, and while they point a dagger to the bosom of their country, are by insane multitudes idolized as its guardian angels.
The people of a Federal Republic stand in the double relation, as citizens of a particular state, and citizens of the United States: In the former they think and act for their respective Republics, in the latter for the whole Confederacy. As Federal subjects it is their duty to promote the general interest—to regard their own state only as a Member of the Union—and to allow it only a just proportion. Those rights of the Federal Republic, and of each particular state, which are defined by the articles of Confederation, must be faithfully supported. The Federal Allegiance is supreme, and obligates every person to be an enemy of his own state, if it should prove treacherous to the Union. In cases not clearly defined by the Constitution, or when the occasional surrender of a right is very beneficial to the Confederacy, for another state, a generous condescension, and a Federal affection are very salutary.
In Federal Monarchies or Aristocracies the people in general need not have any high Federal sentiments; it is enough, that they are attached to their own governments, and that these act their part in the Federal System. But in United Republics a general Federal spirit is necessary: because a want of it will naturally be visible in the several Legislatures, which bear the complexion of their constituents, and often are the mere interpreters of their wishes; and because Federal measures adopted by a wise and patriotic state government could not be inforced against the sense of its people. My design is to inquire, by what means this happy Federal spirit may be improved, and not to hazard any thoughts on the political arrangement of the Confederation, except what are inseparable from my subject.
Four grand operations appear to me necessary—to promote a general disposition for order and Government—to limit the political Union of the respective states—to prevent any partial affection between two or more—and to render the Confederacy an object of general attachment. These operations admirably support and facilitate each other, and being more or less performed by the same means, cannot be treated separately. The Ruler of the Universe has disposed the principles of our political felicity in this charming harmony; woe be to those discordant minds, that wish to frustrate his divine design.
Man is naturally an unruly animal, little capable of governing himself, and very averse to controul from others. Any person in the least acquainted with human life, knows how fatal unrestrained liberty is to the individual and society. It is absurd to expect, that a man, whose will was never curbed, can be a dutiful subject of any Government; but whoever has by a cultivated reason, and the salutary check of others, learnt to govern his passions, will easily submit to a legal civil authority. Several causes of long standing have very generally marked the American character with an overdriven sense of liberty. Parents are very indulgent to their children—very few families have private tutors—some country places have no public schools, many only at times, and often kept by indifferent masters. The facility of subsisting by very moderate industry makes every person independent. Superiority of birth, fortune, and office has hitherto been very trifling. Ecclesiastical authority has been little or nothing. The Negro slavery has no doubt often created habits of pride, dominion and severity. Taxes, and other burdens of civil Government have till the revolution been extremely easy. This high sense of liberty has indeed, even in ruder minds, produced a fierce independent spirit, without which the revolution could not have been effected, but it has also in too many created a licentiousness, at present very detrimental, and incompatible with good Government.
The jealous fondness of liberty so common among republicans, makes them very loth to grant the necessary powers of Government to their duly elected Representatives: the more ignorant and turbulent pretend, that the people have a right to disobey any disagreeable law—nay, to call their Legislators to an account—a doctrine subversive of all Government. In Federal Republics these ideas are still more prevalent; because, if it is dangerous, to give full power of attorney to a person of our own choice, it is much more so to delegate it to one chosen by him. In America, an excessive love of liberty and the novelty of a Federal constitution, combine to render great numbers averse from the so necessary and rational Government of a Supreme Congress; though it has proved so worthy of the public trust.
Knowledge, prudence, temperence, industry, honor, decency, justice, benevolence—all those qualities, which enable men to govern themselves, to regard the rights of others, to respect superior merit, to love order and tranquillity, are so many excellent dispositions for civil Government. They are necessary in Republics, where the energy of Government depends on a chearful obedience. As the people cannot be led as children, or drove as mules, the only method is, to make them rational beings. Men of reflection have the advantage, not only to see things in extensive combinations, and remote consequences, but to feel an important truth with more sensibility; because in a chain of reasoning the result does not forcibly strike the mind, except it can rapidly run through the links—doubts or slow apprehension dull the feeling. This accounts for the great difficulty of persuading thoughtless people in the greatest concerns, even when their understanding is at last convinced. Thus a man well acquainted with political principles, and the fate of Empires, will feelingly perceive the dreadful catastrophes, that must ensue from a weakness of Federal Union; but let an ignorant clown hear the clearest discourse on the subject—he will at the conclusion think; this may be; that looks very likely: however I’ll think farther on it. Political knowledge cannot be too much encouraged. Pope’s maxim is here applicable: a little learning is a dangerous thing—drink deep, or touch not the Castalian spring. America has many great politicians; but as a sensible gentleman very justly observed, the people in general have too much, and too little. The wretched dialogues on politics so frequent in the taverns and elsewhere, please the mirthy not less than the novel of Peregrine Pickle, while they enrage the splenetic, and grieve the serious patriot. These political tinkers think themselves capable of governing a universal monarchy: speak with contempt of their Legislators, as the servants of the public, and declaim with more than royal pride, on the Majesty of the people, meaning in fact their own servants, and their own majesty.
By various excellent improvements in the public education, the institution of political societies throughout the continent, much may be done. We must however not form a Utopian scheme of making every citizen an enlightened patriot. God has not granted such perfection to human nature in the present state; but ordered the wise and good to direct their weaker brethren, and to chastise refractory members of society. Far be it from me, to recommend passive obedience, or too mechanical habits of discipline: I would rather have the people turbulent than servile. But if men submit to the fidelity and better knowledge of others in their greatest concerns—if they trust their lives in the hands of a physician—if they commit themselves, their families, and properties to the care of an experienced mariner; it is unreasonable to deny their best fellow-citizens, whom they freely chose, those powers of Government absolutely necessary for the well-being of the community, and their own. The majority of a Legislature may indeed sometimes do wrong; but it is very improbable, that there should be less wisdom and integrity in the flower of a nation, chosen as such, than in tumultuary multitudes, or the discontented individuals scattered over the country, whose number and grievances often appear great only from the loudness and frequency of their complaints. The necessity of human affairs requires even obedience to laws evidently wrong; and nothing but measures atrociously and immediately pernicious can justify resistance, when the people have the right to remonstrate, and to change the Legislators in a short time. These principles are the plain dictates of sound common sense, and should be engraved on every American heart. Religion itself sanctifies them: it commands us to be subject for conscience sake, to regard the civil power as the minister of God for our good. Rom: 13, and not to use liberty as a cloak of maliciousness 1 Pet: 2. If the almighty has made civil Government an indispensable means for human felicity, and if the greatest miseries and most horrid crimes are the certain fruits of anarchy; loyalty to a legal Government is a sacred duty to him, and disobedience an atrocious sin. This doctrine should be held up in the pulpit, and be taught in the catechism of every denomination. Grown children will understand it equally well with the first principles of morality. I would even insert the words to honor and obey the Congress, &c. Sentiments of loyalty thus imbibed with the first ideas of religion, among the best and happiest sensations of a young heart; and afterwards confirmed by reason and experience, will be dear and sacred through life.
Civil society becomes, in its natural progress, by degrees more happy. The faculties of human nature are unfolded and improved; consequently better enabled to pursue and attain the means of felicity, which lie in man himself and in external nature—the many wants of reciprocal assistance in these pursuits call forth the social affections—the very competition of interests, and clashing of passions, teach the necessity of good manners, and moral government. I say, a natural progress—because a civil society may set out in a wrong way; or in a prosperous career be retarded, misled, and entangled by the ignorance or ill designs of the guides, or the laziness, obstinacy, disorder of its members. The progress of civilization in the United States will, if properly conducted, gradually improve the dispositions necessary for civil government, and the federal in particular. The rapid encrease of population will soon multiply and draw closer the links of society. Idleness and a slovenly œconomy will then be corrected by a sense of real want, or at least the loss of great comforts. The labouring people must work more; yet will be much happier by a greater sobriety and frugality. Smaller portions of land must be improved with more assiduous, orderly, and ingenious industry. A competition in the several trades and manufactures will produce a greater emulation, in workmanship, and complaisance to customers. Commercial dealings will require more punctuality and exactness. In Europe the payment of a small sum to the very day is often indispensable; because a trader depending on several such, cannot, if disappointed, discharge his contracts, or carry on the branches of his business; and one disappointment creates many hundred, where national industry has formed extensive and intricate connexions—In America, the neglect of payment is not so pernicious; people expect to be disappointed by each other; they can easily find credit; and the great majority, depending on agriculture, or the most useful trades, cannot at the worst want necessaries. Hence, merchants, shopkeepers, tradesmen, and farmers are in accounts with each other for years: money-hunting is a common expression, and very proper, as many hunt for days, and cannot get a shilling.
The multiplicity of interests and connexions, that increases in every progressive society, and is in America quickened by a rapid population, will improve the general manners by a deeper and more frequent sense of the necessity, propriety, and advantage of an equitable, obliging, and decent conduct—men will from interest and examples learn to check rude and selfish passions; to yield, not only to the rights, but sometimes even the fancies of others; and will be easily reconciled to this self-denial, because they receive the same good treatment from others. The civil arts will in their progress visit the ruder parts of the country; procure ease and affluence, and thereby taste and means for education, reading, social pleasures, and for the genuine elegancies of human life, which improve the understanding, embellish the imagination, and refine the passions. The necessity of civil order encreases with the multiplicity and reciprocal connexion of civil affairs—The many objects of wealth and pleasure raise eager competitions, and excite the ill-disposed to acts of violence and fraud; they also produce inordinate gratifications in luxuries—Fortune and talents will claim an invidious distinction—moral prejudices and high principles of honor may sometimes raise warm contentions—Not only malice and selfishness of individuals, but in many cases their neglect, may destroy the property and lives of thousands—Local situation, wealth, &c. may expose a nation to foreign attacks—This and commercial affairs, may involve it in extensive connexions with other powers. All this will point out the necessity of legislation, police, public defence; of a general powerful government; which cannot be supported without a chearful obedience, personal services, and pecuniary contributions—Let us compare, in this respect, a peasant from a wilder part of the country with a citizen of Philadelphia. The first has every necessary of simple life within himself; he has no law-suits, fears no thieves and robbers; knows nothing of a foreign enemy—The latter finds a jail the most necessary building in the city; he must trust a great part of his property among strangers, for which a regular administration of justice is his only security—He sees the necessity of strict police, not only for conveniency, but health, life, and his dearest interests—a rude carter may drive over his children—unlucky boys may set his house on fire by their squibs—the stinking dock may cause a putrid fever, by which he may die or lose his wife. He knows, that in case of war, a frigate may burn the city, if the river is not fortified; and that the whole militia of Pennsylvania could not defend him without a federal power. The events of Massachusetts Bay confirm my assertions; the rebellion broke out in the remoter counties—Boston and other great-towns are loyal. In Europe riots are more frequent in great towns, where a numerous and indigent populace is more corrupt than the poorest country people. In America the cities have yet but a small mob; the great body of people live in the country; and numbers have, from ignorance, rude manners, and a weak sense of social dependence, dispositions very unfavorable to civil, and especially federal, government. The civil corruption, so visible in many ancient states, and aggravated by the pens of some great political writers, has made it a very common opinion—that high civilization brings on political diseases, and final dissolution. But we should consider, that a refined civilization is not principally an immense apparatus of wealth and luxury: such a corrupt national taste will indeed be fatal—that although every period of the political body, like that of the human frame, has its peculiar disorders; yet there is not such a corruption in human nature, that men by too near approach must infect each other—that the United States, whose constitution is young, and tainted with no mortal distemper, may hope by a genuine civilization to live forever. Human reason is a ray from the eternal MIND, and true goodness an image of his loveliest attribute. They can in conjunction plan the felicity of the greatest political systems; must they then be confined to narrow spheres? Must they be conquered by the night of ignorance and vice! No! the constellation of noble minds shall, we hope, shed a bright day over America till time is no more.
It cannot be too well considered, that as Republicans govern themselves and each other, they must be good and wise; that in this confederacy, so free and extensive, benevolence and integrity are the very elements of political union. Manners ought then to be a capital object, in all the operations of government, and patriotic exertions of individuals. There is an immediate necessity for improveing the public education. The encreasing idleness, profligacy, thieving, and robbing, among the populace of great towns, call aloud for the erection of free schools: without them Philadelphia will soon have a numerous and desperate mob. Reflect on the consequence—The mad rabble of a crazy Lord Gordon, had nearly burnt London—The children, that lisp horrid imprecations, and strike the pavement with impotent rage, may, when 12 years old, murder your son—The many idle boys, who do nothing but beg, play, and fight,—will soon be the very men for a rebel Shays. In the country, every town should have one or more good schools. For want of clergymen, schoolmasters are in many parts the only moral teachers; I hope to God then none among them will hereafter be illiterate knavish vagabonds: can such instructors and patterns qualify a people for domestic, social, and civil duties? for the important functions of jurymen, magistrates, electors, legislators? In some places we see good plantations with convenient buildings, well kept taverns, and shops with many articles of luxury; but no house of public worship, and miserable schools. Silly people may admire such improvement; for my part I lament this unequal civilization, and find ample reason for it: The owner of this fine plantation got it by cheating illiterate wretches, who did not know what they signed; another lately belonged to a spendthrift, who, because he knew no higher enjoyment, drank grog, and followed horse racing—Several likely girls have been seduced, under promise of marriage, by fellows, who are too free and independent for the bonds of matrimony; and besides cannot support a family, because they hate work, and must ride an English horse—Gentlemen of superior fortune and character, who for many years have been in civil authority, are turned out, because they are against paper money; and ignorant, knavish demagogues chosen for legislators—A number of labourers play at quoits for the whole day at the taverns, running in debt for liquors, while their wives and children want bread—Numerous law-suits arise from drunken frais, malice, lying, fraud, extortion, inability and unwillingness of paying debts—executions are common, and often ruinous to whole families. It is a great maxim in government, to balance the human passions: objects of wealth and pleasure are dangerous without a proper check of moral and religious principles, and sense to see the consequences of ill conduct, though in many cases remote and intricate: and the desire of these objects is not to be estimated by their real value, but the circumstances of the people. One person gets drunk on rum, another on claret. A common farmer may long as much for his neighbour’s meadow, as a wealthy proprietor for a fine country seat. A chintz gown is the wish of a country girl, as a diamond stomacher of a peeress; a young rake in bright buff on a fine horse is as dangerous to her, as an embroidered beau in a coach and six is to the other. The necessary moral and religious instruction in public schools need not be impeded by the difference of religious professions. Moral principles are universal—Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do unto them, love thy neighbour as thyself: These principles of equity and benevolence, are engraven on all human hearts by the same Almighty hand; known in Japan and America, in Lapland and Otabeite. The moral precepts of Christianity are the same plain dictates of natural conscience, refined and exalted by motives of religion. I have seen in Europe, a treatise on the whole system of natural religion and morality, comprised in a small duodecimo under the title of Dialogues between an old man and a boy of eight years: the author in a clear and affecting manner impresses the young mind with a sense of every moral duty; even humanity to the brute creation; and the political virtues of citizens, and nations: such a book is a treasure. In the Christian religion, the catechism of Dr. Watts would be the best system, for perspicuity, and universality. In schools, where the bible, and moral writings are used, the great defect is: not to explain, apply, and combine the several moral duties; which a judicious teacher may do to the satisfaction of elder children. Some virtues are peculiarly important in a certain state of national affairs, or the circumstances of a particular county, and even township. There is an intimate connexion between the moral virtues; they defend, support and adorn each other, so that one cannot be violated without hurting the other. Few men are so ill disposed as to have no good affections; most have some tender part in the heart, by which they can be led—if therefore all the consequences of virtue and vice were clearly and pathetically pointed out to a young person; he would behold so much dignity in one virtue, beauty in another, delight in the third; he would feel the meanness, anguish, horror of the several vices; he would find the impossibility of indulging one vicious inclination, without stabbing his favourite virtue, the mistress of his heart—he must, if not of the worst clay, become a tolerable character; and if naturally good, grow excellent. Men do more frequently rush into crimes and miseries from blindness, than the impulse of a wicked heart. Many, when they awake from intoxicating passions, or behold the sparks wantonly thrown, kindle a dreadful fire; stand aghast at their woeful gilt; and unable to pluck the daggers from their hearts, plunge with despair into a dark eternity.
That religion is a most valuable security to states, by its general influence on men of diverse characters and conditions, is an opinion held not only by all the good and wise in the world, but by every thinking man. Montesquieu values it more than all the fear of despotism, the honor of monarchies, and the political virtue of republics. There is a striking similarity in the sentiments of truly great minds in every age and country: Cyrus the Great never begun a battle, before he had sacrificed to Jupiter the ruler and preserver;* and the great Gustavus Adolphus King of Sweden used to say, that the best Christian was the best soldier.** The fears of religion have a salutary check on many: if not on every vicious disposition: on some—if not constantly; at some periods; would it then be wise, to take off one strong chain from ungovernable beasts, and to let others quite loose on society? Mixed characters are highly improved by the blended effect of hopes and fears, instruction, and a certain air of tender solemnity. Minds naturally good must derive the greatest strength and noblest elevation from a firm belief—that every deed, and every virtuous thought are known by a most holy God, who values moral excellency above all that is great and beautiful, as a mirror of his own perfection—that all the toils and sufferings in the cause of virtue, are so many dear proofs of our fidelity to HIM; and so many steps to immortal glory and perfect felicity; where the good of every nation shall meet, and the remembrance of every noble deed will be a source of rapture through all eternity. How will these sentiments warm and exalt the human mind? Happy the nation, that has such heroes and statesmen! A firm belief in the soul’s immortality is a necessary support for the best affections. You wish to mark every day of your life by some good action—You can sacrifice ease, property, health, popular applause for your duty—You can die in tortures for your country; but alas! every step in this bright career hurries you to that dark goal, where the head, that plans the felicity of an empire, and the heart that glowes with philanthropy, shall lose every thought and feeling—where an Henry the Fourth, and a Ravailac, Washington and Arnold, shall mingle in the parent-dust—at such a thought heaven soaring genius droops; virtue sighs with anguish; the noblest minds wish to be a worm. The letter of the late King of Prussia to Marshal Keith, on the death of Count Saxe, Marshal of France, breathes a spirit of melancholy horror through all the consolation of a false philosophy, and the charms of poetry.† But, he was a great man? ask that question from the many hundred thousands in the shades below; by whose blood every acre in Silesia was bought—God preserve America and the world from such great men.
Unbelief of a future state is often the offspring of immorality, and never fails to encrease national iniquity. Providence has awfully warned mankind against it by the ruin of the greatest empire in the world. The corruption, that like a gangrene so rapidly dissolved the Roman Republic, grew from that Epicurean doctrine dressed up by Lucretius in all the beauties of poetry. The historians and moral poets of the age prove it sufficiently. Horace, who certainly was no bigot, laments the neglect of public worship, and the ruinous condition of the temples.* The severe, but judicious Juvenal exclaims—To what dire cause can we ascribe these crimes—but to that reigning atheism of the times—ghosts, Stygian lakes—are now thought fables—He then strongly paints the grief and indignation felt in the Elysian abodes by Curius, Camillus, the Fabii, and Scipios, and by all the brave Romans slain at Canna, at seeing a glorious Republic, reared by their virtues, blood and victories, ruined by this vile doctrine. The Roman constitution was originally interwoven with strong principles of religion; which continued in force during the prosperous times of the Republic. Polybious, an eminent politician, ascribes to these her superiority over other nations, and very justly censures those as wretched politicians, who at that time endeavoured to eradicate the fear of a future state out of the minds of a people. He draws a very striking contrast between the Roman integrity, and the corruption of Greece already prophane by this false philosophy—trust, he says, but a single talent to a Greek, who has been used to finger the public money; and though you have the security of ten counterparts, drawn up by as many public notaries, backed by as many feats, and the testimony of as many witnesses; yet with all these precautions you cannot possibly prevent him from proving a rogue; whilst the Romans, who by their various offices are intrusted with large sums of public money, pay so conscientious a regard to the religion of their office oath, that they were never known to violate their faith, though restrained only by that single tie.* Wealth and dominion fostered avarice, luxury, ambition—the execrable doctrine imported from Greece, grew rapidly in this soil, destroyed public virtue—and the republic. Cicero, and Sallust paint the corruption as dreadful; conspiracies and civil wars were inevitable consequences of it. Among the** banditti of Cataline were such as had committed sacrilege, murdered parents, and made a livelihood by false swearing. In the debates of the Senate on the best mode of punishing these rebels, Caesar openly asserted, that beyond the grave is neither pleasure nor pain, and that death could not be a severe punishment to them who only regarded it as the end of all troubles.†
The political corruption of the British Empire, which undoubtedly is dangerous even for a limited Republic, proceeds in a great measure from irreligion. Among the higher classes many are neither good Christians, nor sound Deists. The instruction of the lower classes has been extremely neglected, ’til the frequency and enormity of crimes has at last forced a thoughtless government into expedients which might easily have been adopted long ago. The immediate benefit from Sunday schools is a proof, how many lives would have been saved, and what losses and misfortunes avoided by that simple remedy. But alas! nations, like silly individuals, are often intent on show and pleasure, while a cancer gains on their vital parts. Irreligion is peculiarly baneful to Republics even in this respect, that it weakens or annihilates the sacredness of oaths, which are so frequent in the many public charges, and may, especially in juries and elections be considered as the bulwark of the constitution.‡ The excellent Lord Kames§ reproves the abuse and careless administration of oaths—a most salutary advice even to America—I hope, magistrates will not tender an oath in a hasty muttering manner equally prophane and disgraceful; and that other states will not learn from a neighbouring assembly to swear people for a pound of sugar, and a quart of rum.
I speak here of religion only as a political blessing, given by the Universal Parent to all his children, that will accept of it. In this view we find often among dark superstitions some bright and fixed principles, that like polar stars lead mankind to virtue and happiness. Virgil’s description of a future state is not indeed perfect; but it is far superior to the picture drawn by many Christians, who people heaven with such a multitude of knaves and fools, men of faith without works, saints without common honesty, and bigotted tyrants; and doom to eternal misery a Plato and Marcus Aurelius, nay millions of the human race, and, I shudder at the thought, numbers of innocent children, who did not know the right hand from the left. In Virgil’s hell you find unkind brothers, unnatural sons and daughters, knaves, misers, adulterers, rebels and traitors. In his paradise there is not one bad character—but the good and wise, who have been the benefactors of mankind, inventors and promoters of useful arts, moral sublime poets, holy priests, and those who for their country have freely bled, and nobly died.*
Contempt for religion is by no means general in America; the great mass of people has rather a spirit of devotion; which however in some cases must be animated, and in others regulated. The want of regular worship in so great a part of the country is a severe evil: many learn absolutely nothing—others acquire absurd and dangerous ideas in religion—and many of good principles degenerate, because they are seldom or never animated by the persuasive address of good and sensible teachers. A sermon every Sunday is a powerful antidote against selfish and malicious passions,—it would often dispose people for good government better than the wisest laws, and by promoting all the civil virtues, enable them to pay taxes, and to fulfil all the duties of a good citizen. This want is often caused by neglect and a penurious disposition, which throws the whole burden of supporting public worship on a few generous persons—in that case it is a mark of ignorance and a depravity incompatible with public virtue; because people, who begrudge a few shillings for what they really believe will be of importance to their future happiness, and that of their children, cannot surely be liberal in the support of government. Another cause is the mixture of several religious professions, and will I doubt not be in part removed by the progress of liberal sentiments. The greater majority hold now the sound principle, that all faithful worshipers please the Supreme Being; why then should smaller differences prevent so great a national blessing as a general public worship; why do not the several denominations, who admit of regular teachers, join in supporting some kind of worship, as in some parts of Germany and Swisserland, where Protestants and Catholics worship under one roof. Ministers, who are real Christian philosophers, would easily please all rational hearers, because they teach only what is necessary, good, and sublime—no mithology, no metaphysic jargon, no dull mysteries, no useless controversies will disgrace their preaching. It must be a bad religion, that is not preferable to irreligion. Such, says an American author,* is my veneration for every religion, that reveals the attributes of the Deity, and a future state of rewards and punishments, that I had rather see the opinions of Confucius or Mahomed inculcated upon our youth, than see them grow up wholly devoid of a system of religious principles. A sentiment so just cannot be too much enforced. The main question in matters of religion is useful truth: and even errors that improve the heart without impairing, the judgement in other things, are valuable. Without this generous association of religious professions, some of the most cultivated parts of the country will suffer yet a long time from the want of public worship, and the influence of ignorant, gloomy enthusiasts; and the scattered settlement, will become very savage.
In this friendly concert the harsher notes of religious discord would be excluded; because a preacher could not without giving offence, insist on peculiarities, but must dwell on the essentials of religion. By this, only the most valuable parts of each religious system would be retained, and gradually formed into a system more refined and sublime. The limits of an essay will not permit me to pursue this important subject, but it demands a serious consideration. The clergy in America are sufficiently respected, but often badly supported; which is very detrimental to religion. A clergyman should not desire wealth; but he ought to live according to his station, and have means for private and public beneficence. If this is with-held, the clerical profession will frequently be taken up by persons of low education, who have no prospect in life, and by ignorant, intemperate devotees, who may infect multitudes with a pernicious superstition. In this lies the danger of being priest-ridden in America. The clergy are not prompted either by sentiments or circumstances to ambitious designs. The examples of hierarchy in other countries need not raise any suspicion. They arose from an overdriven and mistaken devotion, not any original plans of the clergy; and have in general been less oppressive than aristocracies.* It is reasonable to suppose some good dispositions in a person who takes upon him a sacred function, and he must be very bad not to grow better in the exercise of it. Clergymen must be sensible of the importance of civil order to the interest of religion, and the good of mankind. So far as I know, those in America are general friends of true liberty, and supporters of a federal government.
In America, the sudden influx of money and foreign luxury, could not have produced the extravagance so much complained of without the aid of an overdriven principle of equality. I have often heard fellows complain, how hard it is that a poor man cannot get his belly full of rum like other people. However, this hardship is not deemed a disgrace; nor is a luxurious table as yet reckoned honorable in America. Besides the inferiority in costly fare can generally be concealed. But disadvantage in external appearance so visible to the public eye revolts against this levelling principle—as poverty, it is a serious evil where wealth is in high estimation—as want of gentility, it is peculiarly obnoxious to those that associate the ideas of wealth and refinement.
Inequality of property dictates a difference in living; if people do not comply with this from principle; pride, luxury, vanity will urge them to a thousand tricks of knavery and violence, and perhaps to mutiny and open rebellion—extreme liberty, untempered by religious and moral principles, is the source of agrarian laws, and all the foul monsters of anarchy. I despise aristocracies, and abhor the idea of making religion an engine of slavery—but I wish to make people sensible, that Almighty God has established an order in human affairs, on which political happiness absolutely depends. Great disparity of property is bad; but some must arise from the inequality of genius and industry, inheritance, and that chance, which in fact is the disposition of providence. Whatever is the quantity of national wealth, the great body of a people can never be rich; an easy, decent competency, is the utmost they can obtain, and should be the height of their wishes. The people of America cannot complain of poverty—the land is generally fertile, and amply sufficient—all useful trades are profitable—nay, every pair of industrious hands is a competent estate—the present difficulties may easily be removed by a proper federal government. America equally removed from the distress of poverty, and the danger of wealth, has obtained from all-bountiful heaven that happy lot, which Solomon in all his glory thought the most desirable[;]* why then that love of money! which has been the root of so much evil, and pierced her through with so many sorrows.** As to distinction; integrity, goodness, manly sense, an independent spirit, invincible fortitude, patriotic virtue, are the genuine honors of a Republic; honors open to all; honors, without which all the gems of India, and all the gold of Peru, are shining toys. The wealthy are only more respectable, if they excell in these qualities: if grateful to God and their country, they enjoy their wealth with dignity, humanity, generosity and public spirit. Whoever acts honorably in a lower station, is infinitely superior to one that disgraces the highest: There is no comparison between sound feet and a dropsical head. A labourer, who by honest industry supports his family, whose heart can feel, and hand can act for his country, is a far greater man than a volumptous, idle, selfish beau, though he was covered with rubies—the one is a rough solid stone in the ground work of the federal system; the other a rotten piece in the gilded dome. That labourer’s wife, who continually studies the comfort of her husband, who toils for her numerous children, and often gives them the bread from her own mouth, is infinitely more of a lady, than those women of quality, who carry a dress twice the value of their husband’s income; who gad about from place to place to show their finery, and prattle nonsense; who find no pleasure in the nursery; nay, ruin husband and children by a cruel dissipation.
These are the sentiments of the noblest men and women in every nation, and in every station of life; and they cannot be too much impressed on America. If wealth and show is the great object, people will all run mad after gugaws, scuffle and trample on each other, and raise a bloody fray. Neither laws nor habits can here authorise any man to say keep your distance; and your right to a more glittering bauble will be disputed by many—what then can be done, but to teach all poorer or richer, not to overvalue these trifles, and at any rate to acquire them honestly. In Europe, an established order of civil society prevents a general infection by luxury—the middle gentry does not emulate the first nobility; and is not rivalled by the yeomanry: such vanity would be ridiculous. In America the maid too often vies with her mistress, and a common laborer can with propriety dress like a governor.
The question is not, whether other countries do not surpass America in avarice, luxury, and vanity; it is a poor consolation to a sick man, that his neighbour is worse. The symptoms of corruption so feelingly described by many good and wise Americans are not trifling, and they are founded on open well-known facts. The civil war in Massachusetts, and the treason of Rhode-Island are alarming proofs. Early marriages are marks of national prosperity, and have been very general in America; they are not so now, especially in the great towns—because women not worth a groat speak with scorn of 200 a year; and because pretty beaus and smart bucks prefer English buttons and Madeira wine to the best American girl. The patriots of America will then be sensible, that a putrid fever is not to be trifled with; principiis obsta, fera medicina paratur.
A regular progress of national wealth under the direction of virtue and taste, will considerably promote national happiness. The unequal civilization of America has in a great measure occasioned that false taste so well criticized by judicious writers.* That dress, says one, which unites the articles of convenience, simplicity, and neatness in the greatest perfection, must be considered as the most elegant. But true taste goes farther—it has reference to age, to shape, to complexion, and to the season of the year. The same dress which adorns a miss of 15, will be frightful on a venerable lady of 70—But the passive disposition of Americans in receiving every mode that is offered them, sometimes reduces all ages, shapes, and complexions to a level. Our distance also from our models of dress, &c—a thin garment which will scarcely form a visible shadow, and was designed for summer dress in Europe, may just be introduced into America when frost begins. Yet the garment must be worn; for before the arrival of a proper season there will perhaps be a new fashion.—He justly commends the simplicity and neatness of the Quaker ladies, who by neglect of superfluous finery, dress with two-thirds of the common expence; and after a handsome compliment to the native charms of his country women, entreats them not to be implicitly directed by the milliners and mantoa-makers on the other side of the Atlantic. “We behold,” says Dr. Rush, “our ladies panting in a heat of ninety degrees, under a hat and cushion, which were calculated for the temperature of a British summer.* —It is high time to awake from this servility—to study our own character—to examine the age of our country—In particular, we must make ornamental accomplishments yield to principles and knowledge in the education of our women.”
A good taste is not the spontaneous product of sense and delicacy; it implies an accuracy of judgment, a refinement of sentiment, a perception of order and propriety, not to be acquired without long observation on men and things. Hence the greatest genius has an imperfect taste in youth—and the taste of a young nation cannot be perfect, for want of regularity in many things. The states of Northern Europe have suffered much from an indiscreet adoption of French manners—It is no wonder that [in] America a young easy country girl should prejudice herself by an unreserved imitation of Europe, and especially of her grandam Great-Britain.
I have now shewn, how federal sentiments must be acquired by education, manners, laws, morals, and religion; and proceed to consider how they may be promoted by civil institutions—my reader will please to remember, that the political arrangement of a federal system is my object only in this view. There can be no republican liberty, but where the great body of the people does by representatives exercise the sovereign power. A great number should therefore be qualified to rule in their turn—the far greater majority should have the knowledge and virtue of electors—the whole nation ought to have a warm zeal for liberty, integrity and courage to intimidate the boldest ambition; yet be generous enough to love and respect a good government, and to support it with their lives and fortunes. We may heartily despise those politicians, who pretend to establish a noble republican system only by a nice balance of civil powers. Can a Palladio erect a palace, that shall be the wonder of ages, with untempered mortar, soft bricks, and rotten timbers! Can a Vauban with such materials form national bulwarks, that shall mock the fury of batteries, and the disperate attack of the forlorn hope. Suppose the Turkish Sultan had a mind to transform his vast despotic empire into a federal republic, and had for this purpose all the best politicians in Europe and America, and the honorable Federal Convention; do you think, he could do it? No, a dreadful civil war would kindle from the Black Sea to Lybia, and the blood of a million would only cement the vast prison of slavery. In the republican edifice, the people are not inanimate materials, but living stones. They must not only be sound and proper, but also willing to lie, to stand, to join as the architect wishes, nay, to go into their proper places; because in a free country there is no machinery strong enough to hoist massy stones and heavy timbers against their will—no iron capable of trussing a roof, when the rafters will not join—no force to fix a kingpost against his inclination—to make the stately columns, that bear up the dome, stand in their places—The very stones of the foundation can, if they please, begin to fight, and like a fatal earthquake shake the whole fabric into a heap of rubbish. Reflect on this ye federal people! Spurn the crooked stick; let the unwieldly mass stick in the mire; despise every showy but hollow hearted tree; be like the best freestone; firm, sound, invariable, as your live oaks and evergreen cedars—consider also, that the stones, however solid, must be smoothed and joined by the yielding well tempered mortar; that discord is a bursting mine. Ye political architects! exert all your skill; poise your centers of gravity; calculate the weights and bearings; Consult the plans of Montesquieu, Harrington, Stuart, Hume, Smith,* and others—but consider that never did so much depend on the quality of the materials; ameliorate and innoble them therefore by all means; improve their solidity, firmness, cohesion; animate them with the generous spirit of true freedom: make them say—here we are, place us where we suit best: that is the post of honor, whether in the lowest part of the foundation, or in the towering arch. Then shall your masterly hands rear a grand temple of federal liberty, perennial as this western continent, and the sun that gildes it with his mild evening rays.
THE PRINCIPLES of SENTIMENTAL POLITICAL UNION.
Not only the necessaries and conveniencies of life, but the principal enjoyments of human nature, depend on society. The Great Creator has therefore given us strong social passions, and the best minds have the most of this moral magnetism: The little girl that weeps for her doll, will be an excellent wife and mother—A man of sensibility would in a wilderness place his affections on the most beautiful trees. A well-ordered political society is a theatre for the noblest exertions of human genius, the best feelings of the human heart. To be the guardian Angels of a nation, to chain the monsters that ravage it; to repel daring foes; to diffuse the heavenly light of virtue and knowledge; continually to open some rich source for the ease and comfort of mankind—must indeed be a glorious delightful employment. To form connexions with persons of enlightened and exalted minds; mutually to give and receive the glad applause, and respectful affection; to have the grateful esteem of the good and just; nay, to dispise the rage and falshood of the wicked; to pity and forgive well meaning enemies—all this is high enjoyment. While man is wrapt up in himself he is a mean little being; but when he steps out from his prison, he becomes great, and rises to an amazing glory. The generous patriot lives but for his country, and will gladly dye for it—his country’s love of him is his very soul, entwined with every fibre of his heart; the dear thought of it is his last in this world, and remains with him through an happy eternity.
Inferior men will be also much improved by a social union. There is a native dignity in the generous affections, that strikes even the selfish, and often makes them forget themselves. Society calls many of these into play. The common object is a center, that attracts numbers of dissimilar dispositions, and thus brings them near each other—it becomes a source of reciprocal good-will, because they expect to attain it by joint endeavors; in this pursuit they frequently must exchange mutual good offices, and upon trying occasions sacrifice ease, humour, interest; leading characters will by their talents and public virtue, animate and attach the less sanguine; in action and conversation will arise the sympathetic passions of hopes and fears, grief and joy, admiration of worthy members, dislike of the bad, with all the congenial sentiments on the common cause. Self love itself, if not too sordid, is gratified in a social union—Besides a share in the common object, a new and often superior interest is acquired: the pleasure of acting as a member; the honor, dignity, importance, and whatever advantage that attend it; a participation of the merit and glory of eminent fellow citizens, and of the whole society, all which in a great measure reflect on every member. If therefore the common object of attachment is interesting, and a sufficient majority has those moral principles, which are the stamina of all rational government; the political union has a natural tendency to grow stronger—because the selfish passions will necessarily be weakened, or take a better direction; and all the sentiments of integrity, honor, private attachment, and public spirit, will encrease; by the exercise of social duties, by civil habits, and the gradual incorporation of the body politic, which will be finally moulded into an excellent form, and animated by the same generous spirit. Let us then consider the principal bonds of a sentimental political union, and apply the theory to the United States.
The grand federal interest, which is to preserve independency, safety and peace, requires, next to a solid military union, a concert in some other important affairs. The states must be reciprocal guarantees of their several constitutions, when they shall be properly settled; because an alteration in these may break or prejudice the union—As if any state should unanimously or by a great majority, set up monarchy, aristocracy, or democracy; or should annul the habeas corpus law, tryal by juries, and the like institutions, which are the pillars of republican liberty. If corruption becomes so rife in any state, that a party could establish itself in oppression; the federal power should redress the grievance, though it might not threaten the confederacy with danger—because such an evil may be worse than a rebellion, or a foreign invasion; and the states ought surely to guarantee each other that happiness, which is the end of all political union.
All external commerce must be under a federal regulation in all cases, when it involves foreign treaties and political connexions; affects the federal revenue; or creates a collision of interest between the states. It is evident that internal commerce will also, in many cases, become a federal object in a country that has 3000 miles extent of coast, and an inland navigation of the same length, with large bays, many great rivers, and numberless inlets. There cannot be any doubt, but a federal power will, whenever its interference is necessary, manage the national commerce to the best advantage. It will obtain from foreign powers, every advantage that the situation of the United States can procure—it will prevent disagreement and war with other nations—it will do justice to the respective states, and keep peace among them, when it would be disturbed by numberless collisions. But I am persuaded, that with every exertion of federal wisdom and integrity, no subject is more likely to become a bone of contention, than this, if the states do not display that reciprocal generosity, and confidence in the federal head, which I have so warmly recommended. First, commerce is in its nature very variable, and more so in America, where its regular course has been so disturbed, and where new channels of industry from manufactures not yet formed, and products of regions not yet explored, will arise and mingle in many intricate windings—in consequence of this, the respective commercial rights of the states cannot be fixed at present, but require successive alterations. Secondly, the people of America have an overdriven spirit of trade; and great numbers that formerly derived wealth and support from it, are by the present stagnation in great difficulties, or what to some appears very hard, cannot make money as they used to do. Thirdly, many have too sanguine and unreasonable expectations of commercial benefit from the exertions of an adequate federal power. I shall beg leave to observe, that in some respects that very decay of trade so much lamented, is a real advantage. Before the war, America was continually in debt to Great-Britain for articles of luxury. After the peace, all Europe poured in an immensity of goods upon her; the one was as foolish to give, as the other to receive an unbounded credit. Many of the European merchants expected to find Mexican wealth in the United States; and these chearfully went in debt for trinkets and finery in the high spirits and golden dreams that naturally followed a war closed with so much honor and success.*
“Triumphant over a great enemy, courted by the most powerful nations in the world, it was not in human nature, that America should immediately comprehend her new situation—really possessed of the means of future greatness, she anticipated the most distant benefits of the revolution, and considered them as already in her hands.” Is it not very happy that these thoughtless adventures and imprudent credits from foreign countries have ceased! that some silver and gold is left! that the demands of foreign nations are not become so great as to make us insolvents, and bring on a war to compel payment! Necessity and good sense will, I hope, stop that torrent of iniquity, which a ridiculous fondness of glittering toys has poured over the land; which threatened to annihilate the landmarks of common honesty, and to break down the barriers of national integrity, honor, liberty, and independency. Far be it from me to dissuade from those measures, which may alleviate the distresses of the commercial interest, and its dependencies; but when this is done, I sincerely wish to check, for the future, the overdriven spirit of commerce, so unsuitable to America, and in many respects pernicious. “So uninformed,” says the last mentioned author,** “or mistaken have many of us been, that commerce has been stated as the great object, and I fear it is yet believed to be the most important interest in New-England. But from the best calculations I have been able to make, I cannot raise the proportion of property, or the number of men employed in manufactures, fisheries, navigation, and trade, to one-eighth of the property and people occupied by agriculture, even in that commercial quarter of the union.” This author very judiciously ranks agriculture, manufactures, internal trade, and foreign commerce in the first, second, &c. places, respectively. It is but just to pay this gentleman the compliment, that his ideas of national œconomy are not warped by professional habits, but just and liberal. His theory corresponds with the principles of an excellent modern author, who ought to be generally perused.* At present, necessary manufactures are a great object, and may by prudent spirited exertion soon flourish beyond expectation. These will improve agriculture and promote internal trade. With them jointly, America will be a great, powerful, and in a just sense, wealthy country, without any dependence on foreign nations. She will easily obtain the few valuable articles really wanted, without any solicitations or compliments. China, Indostan, and ancient Egypt, countries of high population and wealth, have had but little external commerce. The coal trade between New-Castle and London, employs more shipping than all the carrying trade of England.**
What would you think of a great Virginia proprietor turning shopkeeper! weighing a pound of sugar, drawing a quart of molasses twenty times a day; measuring inches of tobacco; disputing with sordid customers about weight and measure; cajoling and humoring huckster women, or ladies who in sentiment are not above such, for their custom; solicitous from morn till night how to make a penny. Can such a man have noble, generous, independent sentiments, suitable to his fortune? what will he be in two or three years? Is he, or will he be, qualified to command a brigade, to act as a governor, or member of Congress? America is a great heiress of an immense landed estate, with fruitful plains, charming meadows, green stately woods full of game, mountains of ore, glimmering lakes stored with fish, numberless limpid brooks that embellish and fertilise the land, fragrant orchards and blooming gardens. She can keep a plentiful table, dress in fine cloth, linen and silk of her own, build stone, brick and cedar-houses with her own materials; she can make her own ploughs, boats and fishing tackle; she need not go abroad for steel, guns and powder. By swapping a little tobacco for paint and some little trifles, she can even ride round her estate in a coach and six. Her fine flour will furnish her tea-table, and purchase rum for her hunters and fishermen. This great lady need not, with Nicholas Frog, look for suckers in every puddle, or hunt in distant forests for drugs among serpents and tigers.* She need not, with Highland Peggy, knitt stockings till her hands are all in blisters;** nor with John Bull† hammar hardware, and comb wool till she becomes sore-eyed and phthisical—coax the fancy of customers with frying-pan and gridiron-buttons, and by forcing the scarlet on a haughty lord Strutt,‡ get a black eye and a broken pate.
It would require many papers to shew all the evils arising from an absurd spirit of trade. Let a few facts speak. How many robust fellows cry limes and clams about the street, who ought to work in iron forges! What number of huckster women sit with a few apples and gingerbread, who should be at the spinning-wheel! how many lads and grown men stand leaning over the rum-barrel! We have half as many sellers as buyers; how shall they live! will not shifting, turning, going in debt, gradually weaken the principles of honesty? can a continual minute attention to interest be consistent with generous and patriotic sentiments! when you continually handle brass, will not your hands smell of it? Among the country people a spirit of petty trading and sordid speculation is, in some places, too common—The most interesting conversation is how poultry and butter sell in the market—swapping horses is a favorite trade—vendues are entertainments, where they vie in buying on trust; this nuisance has occasioned a very common saying, that one vendue is the mother of many; consequently of law-suits, executions, and moral depravity, complaint of hard times, and murmurs against government. In every country excess of petty trading is marked with cunning and sordid selfishness. The Chinese are very fraudulent: I have been informed that some of the crew in the late China ships, were imposed upon by pieces of wood in the shape and colour of gammons.
An extensive foreign commerce would involve America in troublesome political connexions, perhaps in wars, and undoubtedly create parties at home. A spirit of commerce is unfavourable to those high sentiments of honor and military virtue, which are the only real bulwarks of a nation. China, with a million or more of standing troops, was conquered by a small army of Tartars, who established their empire and yet have a prince of their blood on the throne. Montesquieu remarks, “that when Carthage made war with her opulence against the Roman poverty, her great disadvantage arose from what she esteemed her greatest strength and chief dependence. Gold and silver may easily be exhausted, but public virtue, constancy, firmness of mind, and fortitude are inexhaustible.” The Carthaginians in their wars employed foreign mercenaries. A defeat or two at sea obstructed their commerce and stopped the spring, which supplied their exchequer. The loss of a battle in Africa reduced them to submit to any terms. Regulus in the first punic war cooped them up in their capital after one defeat by sea, and one by land. Their final ruin arose from a mean spirit of avarice, that denied the gallant Hannibal the necessary supplies of men and money.* Holland is in great part defended by foreign mercinaries. Great-Britain to her shame cannot do without them in time of war—It is a mark of dreadful corruption, when a nation will entrust such with her safety, her honor, even that wealth she doats upon, because her own people can earn more at the loom. What is the consequence. The pretender with 6000 half disciplined ragged Highlanders took all Scotland, advanced into England, and struck a panic on London, which alone could furnish 100,000 fighting men. America was lost because Great-Britain was intent on turning buttons, and making Manchester fluff. O! horrid, base! America became independent, not by those wretches, whose political sentiments depended on hard money, salt, molasses; but by those who without shoes and stockings marched day and night in the snow; who naked and half starved, met every dreary form of death—by those who made a generous sacrafice of property, when the selfish would contribute nothing. I mean not to depreciate British valour, and I have told America harsh truth; I am neither Briton or American—what I say is evident. Had Great Britain been less commercial, and America more, this had yet been a province of the other. A rich fleet of merchantmen may be taken or destroyed only by an unlucky change of the wind: Great cities may be pillaged, or ruined by the fatal bombs:—But the land can neither sink or burn; and a brave people of a great landed interest is invincible. They cannot be starved into a compliance: If their forts are taken, every noble heart is an impregnable castle.
By the 9th article of confederation “the United States in Congress assembled, have the sole and exclusive right and power of regulating the alloy and value of coin struck by their own authority, or by that of the respective states.” Consequently no state can have a right to enact tender-laws, emit any sort of paper currency, or adopt any plan of finance that may affect the union, without the consent of a federal head. Neither ought it to have any such right to the prejudice of its own people, or foreigners; because the states are guarantees to each other, and must, without any special treaty, guarantee to every foreign nation the jus gentium, mutual rights of nations, regarded as sacred in every civilized country, nay among savages. The United States are known as a nation only in their federal quality. If a nation is injured by any state it looks up to the union for satisfaction, and if refused, has a right to procure it by force. If a Spanish merchant f[or] e[xample] is defrauded by a trader of Rhode-Island, it is a private affair; but if he is injured by a tender law that pays him a dollar with a shilling, his government may demand satisfaction from Congress, and if refused, seize the property of a Philadelphian. What disgrace and danger may not then arise from such a weakness of federal power, that cannot restrain a wicked state government from robbing its own people, and the world at large! What antifederal impression must it not make on every mind! Money is a universal object, in which every person is concerned, some daily and hourly: it is a general standard by which all commodities are measured; to be harrassed, wronged, and trifled with, by a medium depending on every body’s caprice, must create hatred and contempt of the sovereign power. But a coin of permanent universal value, struck by federal authority, would impress all the citizens of the United States with a constant sense of this power, and of its salutary protection. Federal emblems and mottos on the different species of coin, would also have a good effect. As these must significantly express the most interesting federal sentiments in few words, they are objects for a fine genius.
As there can be no liberty without virtue, there can be none without a very general share of learning. An overdriven spirit of wealth has, both in Great Britain and America, nearly established the false maxim, that national liberty is safest in the hands of the rich, because they have a greater share in the public interest. This can be admitted so far only as wealth is attended with superior virtue and wisdom. Avarice and luxury is as little satisfied with 10,000 l. a year, as 100 l. and a person may have his pockets full of money with empty brains. The public education throughout the states, is a great federal concern, as without it no state can be well governed, nor act its part in the confederation with dignity, honor and a federal spirit.
There is of late an honorable exertion for the interest of learning very general; but, as may naturally be expected, in many cases ill directed. A smattering of Greek is nothing in comparison to the essential parts of learning which we continually want in public and private life. The great science of politics is the capital learning of republics, and three years at least should be dedicated to it in every state college, by those that expect to be legislators. What can we expect from men who know nothing but the little affairs of their own townships, who not only have no reading, but want the knowledge and reflection acquired by travelling through different parts of the country, and conversation with men of science and political experience? Their affections are too often equally narrow with their ideas—The union is an object by far too grand for them. It is a most important consideration, that ignorance creates suspicion—it is a law of nature for our good. A man of common sense, who knows nothing about fine horses, will not give 200 l. for one, without solicitous consultation with men on whose knowledge and integrity he can depend—For the same reason an ignorant assemblyman will refuse the most necessary grant of a federal requisition; because he don’t understand the fatal consequence of a refusal to the union, his own state, and finally to himself; but he knows that his neighbours must pay a share of it, and feels that some must come out of his own pocket. What is remarkable, this suspicion not seldom influences electors; they are afraid of choosing men who know too much. Hence an infatuated multitude place their confidence either in those who are too stupid to do either good or harm; or in quacks who promise to cure every political disorder with a six pence nostrum.
When the public education shall distinguish many by political abilities and a polite taste; and enable great numbers to esteem these qualities; the most eminent characters will be chosen for the legislature, civil administration, and military command—consequently the government will not only in reality be so much better, but acquire that love and respect from the people, so necessary for its efficacy. What can you expect when a legislator or a magistrate can, over his bowl of grog, talk of nothing but hogs, potatoes, and the necessity of lessening the taxes! What may you not expect when such men are enlightened patriots, gentlemen in ideas, sentiments, and behaviour; who at the same time as they mix in chearful society with their fellow citizens, by instruction and example, make them wiser and better, more patriotic and federal.
A gentleman under the signature of Nestor, some months ago, gave the public a hint for erecting a Federal University. How much this will promote learning in general, is evident from the situation of this young country, whose pecuniary and literary resources cannot yet be great enough for more than one illustrious assembly of the muses. It would be an excellent institution for promoting federal sentiments. In the happy spring of youth all our best affections bloom—the high sense of honor, the warmth of friendship, the glow of patriotic virtue then animate the enraptured soul—Sublime and elegant literature has then its highest relish, refines and exalts these noble passions. What glorious effects may not then a nation expect from a concourse of her best sons at the temple of wisdom! Society in the sweet enjoyment of literature, and the many social pleasures of an academic life, will create a mutual endearment, and form those charming friendships, that will continue to the grave. When after a finished education they depart to their different stations, and places of residence, they will be so many capital links of the federal union, so many stately columns under the grand fabric, so many bright luminaries to shed a radiance through the whole federal system, and so many powerful centripetal forces to give it eternal stability. Infinitely above the local prejudices of vulgar bosoms, they will think and feel as genuine sons of America. I scruple not to say, that though a State College is formed on the most liberal plan, its education cannot be so patriotic as that in a Federal University. Let us propose these questions to the respective students. Where did you spend the happiest part of your life? In, f[or] e[xample] Pennsylvania. Where did you acquire those sciences and liberal arts which you value more than Peruvian treasures? In Pennsylvania. Where did you know the best politicians, philosophers and poets? In Pennsylvania. Where are your most faithful and admired friends? In Pennsylvania. When the dearest objects of the human heart are thus confined within a narrow sphere, it must be uncommonly noble to embrace unknown persons and objects however near politically related. But all these questions are answered by the federal student—in America. His learning, his virtues, his graces, all the blessings of education were acquired in the center of the confederacy.* The friends of his youth, for whom he would die, are Americans, some in Georgia, others in New-Hampshire, or in Kentucky—Military officers, clergymen, magistrates, members of legislatures, delegates in congress.
This institution is separate from the university, and will be on the same footing as the philosophical societies: only more extensive, both in a federal view, and to render it more respectable by a combination of all the sons of Apollo. Distant members may correspond, and besides form the like societies on a smaller scale in their respective states. This federal academy of belles letters will not require any public expense, nor any other care from government than encouragement and protection. In proportion as elegant learning is cultivated, it will tincture manners, religion, laws, and government. The great admiration of the British constitution, which is not confined to Great-Britain, is in great part owing to the enthusiastic eulogiums on it blended with the finest English compositions. When the federal system shall be established, this federal academy of polite learning will be an ornamental and not feeble support to it. The large western territory is in several views a great federal object. A firm union will prevent those dissentions, which may otherwise arise between some states about lands so valuable—Extent of dominion is immaterial, when they are united provinces of one empire—What other advantage may be had from possession, is the same, when thrown into a common stock, and impartially administered. It is highly necessary to settle this territory slowly and regularly; otherwise this part of the union can neither be civilized, governed, nor secured. Among those who flock hither from the different states, some are bold and enterprizing; many of the most idle and licentious character; not a few fled from criminal and civil justice. The well disposed will generally degenerate in bad society, under want of education, public worship, and other means of civilization. A continual warfare with the Indians will render them fierce and warlike. Constant hunting naturally creates a ferocious temper: humanity is undoubtedly weakened by the constant destruction of animals, sight of blood and mortal agonies in various forms. In consequence of all this, the back inhabitants would for a while be like the wild herds of Tartars and Arabs; and with an encreasing population form many petty states unconnected with the union, and in perpetual war among themselves—if attacked by a federal force they would unite and erect a considerable empire. This is a serious consideration; in comparison to which it is but a small evil, that so many hands withdraw into the wilderness from the scenes of industry, to the great hurt of necessary manufactures, and agriculture itself. The vast frontiers of Persia, Turkey and Russia have always been infested with rebellions—The last Russian rebel Pugaschef was a mean wretch; yet he seduced a multitude of ignorant, savage people, gave the government great trouble; and caused the destruction of many thousands:* What may not America dread from such men as Sullivan—If the letter signed by that name, and addressed to the Spanish Governor of Florida, is genuine, what may not be feared from such a daring ambition, such ardour for war, such a military genius improved by liberal knowledge.
Though the federal power should not interfere in the internal management of the states; yet some extraordinary affairs demand an exception. At present the negro slavery is a federal object—It revolts against the plainest and universally established principles of humanity and common equity; it is in that respect a national disgrace; it is a standing proof and example of corruption. In a political view the effect is dangerous—A man who exercises absolute power over some hundred fellow creatures, although he should not abuse it, cannot easily have a heart-felt sensibility of the equal rights of mankind, the moderation of a republican, and a genuine love of liberty. It is impossible but the cruelty of some masters, and the obstinacy of some slaves should often create horrid excesses.* Who does not know many examples, that shock humanity! This national evil must indeed be abolished with prudence, and by degrees; but let it be done with all possible speed, and in the mean time be mitigated by the humanity and wisdom of federal government. Let no barbarian with impunity starve, mangle, and kill in lingering tortures a miserable defenceless fellow-creature! Let not a brute, who never felt parental, filial or conjugal affection, by a cruel separation inflict on husband and wife, parents and children, agonies worse than the most dreadful death—agonies from which the most affectionate bosoms often seek from the poison, the dagger, the friendly wave that relief which an impotent or inhuman government will not give. America! Africa is thy sister; thy children may one day become her slaves, if thou wilt not regard thy honor, the sacred rights of humanity, that liberty which is thy pride, and that GREAT GOD, who is the universal father of mercies, and a terrible avenger of his injured children.
In all national affairs, and especially in the modern state of political society, money is a great and necessary instrument. The federal government, though frugal, has a considerable expence in time of peace: it must have certain and adequate resources for an eventual war; and for discharging the national debt. No person of any sense can believe that foreign powers will wait for ever. When they cannot even obtain interest for a generous loan, what must they think of national honor, integrity, gratitude! Will they think America worthy of their friendship, or even common civility! will they again spend their blood and treasure for her independency! In case of war with any formidable power, how will an army be raised and equipped! Will the troops again list for money, of which a month’s pay will soon scarcely buy a morning dram? Will men of honor suffer hunger and cold, bleed and dye, for a country that will not do them common justice? While the states are disputing whether they shall grant the federal requisitions or not; an enemy may penetrate into the heart of a country, and cut off some members of the union. In the midst of a debate whether a few hundred pounds more or less shall be granted, an enemies’ grenadiers may step in, and say deliver or die: raise immediately so many thousand pounds, or have your city pillaged and burnt! This is plain sense; those who will not comprehend it, are insane, and if nothing else will cure them, had better be bled by their own citizens, than massacreed by an enemy. Was I an American, my sword would not sleep in the scabbard, while sordid wretches ruined my country. Is it not horrible that at this very time the savages riot in blood and destruction, because the federal government cannot support a regiment of soldiers on the frontiers! The wail of the babe, who dies under the tomahawk on the mothers breast, the shrieks of the mother that fill the wilderness, and pierce the very rocks—the expiring groans of the father writhing in slow fires, do they not cry to heaven for vengeance over that cruel avarice, which is the cause of such woe.1
It is high time then to have done with those requisitions of Congress so neglected, and even treated with contempt.* This head of the Empire has been forced to declare publicly in pathetic addresses to the States that the confederacy is in danger, and that it cannot answer for the cruel accidents that may befall the body politic.
The federal government must have a fixed and ample revenue to be furnished by certain taxes in every state, and collected by officers of its own appointment, and under its own direction. Without this we shall either have foreign soldiers or our own Shayses for collectors; or the brave and generous must join, and with the bayonet to every ignoble breast, say deliver.
“Crito” [Stephen Hopkins]
Providence Gazette and Country Journal, 6 October 1787
This essay was written while the Federal Convention was still sitting, and thus is not strictly speaking either a Federalist or Anti-Federalist tract. It does, however, address many of the themes touched upon by other Federalist writers. Its date of publication and the importance of the topic recommend its inclusion in this collection.
Stephen Hopkins was a leading statesman from Rhode Island and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Given his participation in that event, his views on slavery and the slave trade contribute a good deal to our understanding of these issues during the Founding period. See Herbert J. Storing, “Slavery and the Moral Foundations of the American Republic”; and Walter Berns, “The Constitution and the Migration of Slaves,” Yale Law Journal 78 (1968): 198.
The second part of this essay followed on 13 October in the Providence Gazette and Country Journal. Like the first part, it deals with the inconsistency of practicing the slave trade whilst continuing to affirm the founding principles expounded in the Declaration of Independence. Yet the second installment of the Crito essays goes further in admonishing the American people for this great “national sin.” In addition to warning America’s citizens—and in a larger sense, all peoples everywhere engaged in the slave trade—of a divine retribution, it directly ties “repentance and reformation” to the future success of the great experiment in self-government then under consideration. Crito writes: “If we persist in thus transgressing the laws of Heaven, and obstinately refuse to do unto us, we cannot prosper.”
Also, like the connection Crito draws between the British and slavery in the first part, he develops a connection between slavery and the Algerine problem in the second. The war with Algiers, not officially declared until the war with England ended in 1812, was the result of prolonged Algerine pirating of American ships and the enslavement of the captured seamen. Crito draws the reader’s attention to the inconsistency of American cries for retribution against Algiers for their crimes while continuing the practice of like crimes at home.
When the public, or any part of the community, are taking those measures or going into that practice, which may issue in ruin, and most certainly will, unless reformed; he who foresees the approaching evil cannot act a benevolent or faithful part, unless he gives warning of the danger, and does his utmost to reform and save his fellow-citizens, even though he should hereby incur the displeasure and resentment of a number of individuals. In this view, Crito asks the candid attention of the public to what he has to say on the following interesting and important subject.
Some, perhaps, will not chuse to read any farther; but drop this paper with a degree of uneasy disgust, when they are told the subject to which their attention is asked is, The AFRICA SLAVE TRADE, which has been practiced and in which numbers in these United States are now actually engaged.
So much has been published within a few years past on this subject, describing the fertile country of Africa, and the ease and happiness which the natives of that land enjoy, and might enjoy to a yet greater degree, were it not for their own ignorance and folly, and the unhappy influence which the Europeans and Americans have had among them, inducing them to make war upon each other, and by various methods to captivate and kidnap their brethren and neighbours, and sell them into the most abject and perpetual slavery—and at the same time giving a well-authenticated history of this commerce in the human species, pointing out the injustice, inhumanity and barbarous cruelty of this trade, from beginning to end, until the poor Africans, are fixed in a state of the most cruel bondage, in which, without hope, they linger out a wretched life; and then leave their posterity, if they are so unhappy as to have any, in the same miserable state: So much has been lately published, I say, on these subjects, that it is needless particularly to discuss them here. It is sufficient to refer the inquisitive to the following books, viz.—Several tracts collected and published by the late Anthony Benezet, of Philadelphia—A Dialogue concerning the Slavery of the Africans, lately reprinted at New York, by order of the society here, for promoting the admission of slaves, and protecting such of them as have been or may be liberated; and especially, An Essay on the Slaves and Commerce of the Human Species, particularly the Africans, by Thomas Clarkson, which was honoured with the first prize in the University of Cambridge, for the year 1785.
If the African slave trade, and the consequent slavery of the Negroes in the West-Indies, and in the United States of America, be an open and gross violation of the rights of mankind, a most unrighteous, inhuman and cruel practice, which has been the occasion of the death of millions, and of violently forcing millions of others from their dear native country, and their most tender and desirable connexions, and of bringing them to a land of slavery, where they have not a friend to pity and relieve them, but are doomed to cruel bondage, without hope of redress, till kind death shall release them, as is represented, and seems to be abundantly proved in the above mentioned publications, and many others, a conviction of which is fast spreading among all ranks of men in Europe and America; then the following terrible consequence, which may well make all shudder and tremble who realize it, forces itself upon us, viz. all who have had any hand in this iniquitous business, whether more directly or indirectly, have used their influence to promote it, or have consented to it, or ever connived at it, and have not opposed it, by all proper exertions of which they have been capable; All these are, in a greater or less degree, chargeable with the injuries and miseries which millions have suffered, and are suffering, in consequence of this trade; and are guilty of the blood of millions who have lost their lives by this traffic of the human species! Not only the merchants who have been engaged in this trade, and for the sake of gain have sacrificed the liberty and happiness, yea the lives of millions of their fellow men, and the captains and men who have been tempted by the love of money to engage in this cruel work, to buy and sell and butcher men; and the slave holders of every description, are guilty of shedding rivers of blood: But all the Legislatures who have authorized, encouraged, or even neglected to suppress it, to the utmost of their power; and all the individuals in private stations, who have any way aided in this business, consented to it, or have not opposed it to the utmost of their ability, have a share in this guilt. It is therefore become a national sin, and a sin of the first magnitude; a sin which righteous Heaven has never suffered to pass unpunished in this world. For the truth of this assertion we may appeal to history, both sacred and profane.
We will leave the inhabitants of Britain, and other European nations, who have been and still are concerned in the slave trade, to answer for themselves; and consider this subject as it more immediately concerns the United States of America.—Hundreds of thousands of slaves have been imported into these States, many thousands are now in slavery here, and many more thousands have been brought from Africa by the inhabitants of these States, and sold in the West-Indies, where slavery is attended with cruelty and horrors beyond description. And who can reckon upon the numbers who have lost their lives, and been really murdered, by this trade, or have a full conception of the suffering and distressed of body and mind, which have been the attendants and effects of it: All this blood which has been shed, constantly cries to Heaven; and all the bitter sighs, groans, and tears, of these injured, distressed, helpless poor, have entered into the ears of the Lord of hosts, and are calling and waiting for the day of vengeance.
The inhabitants of Rhode-Island, especially those of Newport, have had by far the greatest share in this traffic of all these United States. This trade in the human species has been the first wheel of commerce in Newport, on which every other movement in business has chiefly depended: That town has been built up and flourished, in times past, at the expence of the blood, the liberty and happiness, of the poor Africans; and the inhabitants have lived on this, and by it have gotten most of their wealth and riches.—If a bitter woe is pronounced on “him who buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong,” (Jer.xxii.13) “to him who buildeth a town by blood, and establisheth a city by iniquity.” (Heb.ii.12) “to the bloody city,” (Ezek.xxiv.6) what a heavy, dreadful woe hangs over the heads of all those, whose hands are defiled by the blood of the Africans, especially the inhabitants of that State, and of that town, who have had a distinguished share in this unrighteous, bloody commerce!
All this, and more, follows as a necessary consequence, which, it is presumed, none will dispute, on supposition the before mentioned publications give in any measure a just representation of the slave trade, and the consequent slavery of the Africans; and unless thousands and millions of all ranks, and of the most disinterested, and many of them men of the best abilities and character for knowledge, uprightness, and benevolence, and who are under the greatest advantages to know the truth, and judge right of this matter, both in Europe and America; unless all those are grossly deluded.
But if all these may be fairly confuted, and the African slave trade, and the consequent treatment of those who are by means of this reduced to slavery, can be justified and shown to be confident with justice, humanity and universal benevolence, then the whole of this consequence will be obviated, and all the supposed guilt of injuring our fellow men in the highest degree, and of shedding rivers of innocent blood, will be wiped away as a mere phantom, and vanish as the baseless fabric of a night vision. It is earnestly to be desired therefore, if this be possible, that some able, disinterested advocate for the slave trade, if such an one can be found, would step forth, and do it. But if there be no such man, let the interested, and those who are in this traffic, and the slavery of the Africans, arise, and shew it to be just and benevolent if they can. We will promise you a candid and patient hearing; for we desire to justify you, if it were possible. If this can be done to the satisfaction of all, it would remove from our minds a sett of painful feelings, which cannot be easily described, and dissipate a gloom which now hangs heavy upon us, in the view of the exceeding depravity, uprighteousness and cruelty of men, who, for a little gain, will deluge millions in slavery, and blood, with an unfeeling heart, and their eyes fast shut against the floating light which condemns their horrid deeds; and in the painful prospect of the dreadful vengeance of Heaven, for such daring outrage against our fellow-men, our brethren!
But until this be done, this business must be unavoidably viewed in the most disagreeable, odious, horrible light, by us. And we must be suffered to consider, and lay before the public some of the great aggravations which attend the continuation of this practice by us in these American States.
When the inhabitants of these States found themselves necessarily involved in convention with Britain, in order to continue a free people, and had the distrusting prospect of a civil war, they, being assembled in Congress, in October 1774, did agree and resolve in the following words: “We will neither import nor purchase any slave imported, after the first day of December next: After which time we will wholly discontinue the slave trade; and will neither be concerned in it ourselves, nor will we hire our vessels, nor sell our commodities or manufactures, to those who are concerned in it.” This reasonable, noble and important resolution, was approved by the people in general, and they adhered to it through the war; during which time there was much publicly said and done, which was, at least, an implicit and practical declaration of the unreasonableness and injustice of the slave trade, and of the slavery in general. It was repeatedly declared in Congress, as the language and sentiment of all these States, and by other public bodies of men, “that we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness: “That all men are born, equally free and independent, and have certain natural, inherent, and unalienable rights, among which are the defending and enjoying life and liberty, acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety. By the immutable laws of nature, all men are entitled to life and liberty.” etc. etc.1
The Africans, and the blacks in servitude among us, were really as much included in these assertions as ourselves; and their right, unalienable right to liberty, and to procure and possess property, is as much asserted as ours, if they be men. And if we have not allowed them to enjoy these unalienable rights, but violently deprive them of liberty and property, and are still taking, as far as in our power, all liberty, and property from the nations in Africa, we are guilty of a ridiculous wicked contradiction and inconsistence: and practically authorize any nation or people, who have power to do it, to make us their slaves.
The whole of our war with Britain was a contest for Liberty: By which we, when brought to the severest test, practically adhered to the above assertions, so far as they concerned ourselves, at least, and we declared, in words and actions, that we chose rather to die than to be slaves, or have our liberty and property taken from us. We viewed the British in an odious and contemptible light, purely because they were attempting, by violence, to deprive us, in some measure, of those our unalienable rights. But if at the same time, or since we have taken or withheld these same rights from the Africans, or any of our fellow men, we have justified the inhabitant of Britain in all they have done against us, and declared that all the blood which has been shed in consequence of our opposition to them, is chargeable on us. If we do not allow this, and abide by the above declarations, we charge ourselves with the guilt of all the blood which has been shed by means of the slave trade; and of an unprovoked and most injurious conduct in depriving innumerable Africans of their just, unalienable rights, in violently taking and withholding from them all liberty and property; holding them as our own property, and buying and selling them, as we do our horses, and cattle; reducing them to the most vile, humiliating, and painful situation.
This whole contest, it must be again observed, was suited to bring and keep in our view, and impress on our minds, a deep and lasting sense of the worth of liberty, and the unrighteousness of taking it from any man; and consequently of our unrighteousness and cruelty towards the Africans—If it were known, that the wise Governor of the world had determined to take some method to convince us of the injustice of the slave trade, and of the slavery of the Africans, had manifest his displeasure with us for it, and use means suited to reform us, could we conceive of any measures which might be better suited to answer this end, than those which have actually taken place in this war considered in all the circumstances of it; It would be thought impossible that every one who then was, or had been, active in reducing the Africans to the abject and suffering state in which they are in the West Indies, and even among us, should not reflect upon it with self-condemnation, regret and horror, had not experiment proved the contrary. And while we execrated the British for taking out men, and ordering them to be transported to the East Indies, and for crowding so many of our people into prisons, and prisonships, where they died by the thousands, without any relief or pity from them, was it possible for us not to reflect upon our treatment of the Africans, in transporting so many thousands of them from their native country, to a land of slavery, while multitudes, being crowded and shackled in our ships, have died on their passage, without one to help or pity them? Could any avoid seeing the righteous hand of GOD stretched out against us and retaliating our unrighteous, cruel treatment of them, in a way suited to strike conviction into our minds of our guilt, and of the righteous displeasure of Heaven with us for these horrid deeds which had been done by us? Surely we had good reason to espouse the language of the brethren of Joseph in a similar case: “We are verily guilty concerning our brethren, the Africans, in that we saw the anguish of their souls, under our cruel bards, and they besought us, and cried for pity; but we would not hear: Therefore is this distress come upon us.”
Is it possible that the Americans should, after all this, and in the face of all this light and conviction, and after they had obtained liberty and independence for themselves, continue to hold hundreds of thousands of their fellow men in the most abject slavery? And not only so, but notwithstanding their resolutions and declarations, renew and carry on the slave trade; and from year to year convey thousands of their fellow-men from the native country, to a state of most severe and perpetual bondage: This would have been thought impossible was it not known to be true in fact. And who can describe the aggravated guilt which the Americans have brought upon themselves by this? If this was an Heaven daring crime, of the first magnitude, before the war with Britain, how much more criminal must we be now, when, instead of regarding the admonitions of Heaven, and the light and conviction set before us, and repenting and reforming, we persist in this evil practice: What name shall be given to their daring presumption and hardiness, who, from a thirst for gold, have renewed this trade in slaves, in the bodies and souls of men, and of those whom they employ in this unhuman horrid business!
who owe their riches to such aggravated, detestable crimes, now necessarily involved in carrying on this trade!
“Civis” [David Ramsay]
Columbian Herald, Charleston, 4 February 1787
A member of the Continental Congress and the South Carolina ratifying convention, Ramsay was also a physician and a noted historian.
Friends, Countrymen, and Fellow Citizens, You have at this time a new federal constitution proposed for your consideration. The great importance of the subject demands your most serious attention. To assist you in forming a right judgment on this matter, it will be proper to consider,
1st. It is the manifest interest of these states to be united. Eternal wars among ourselves would most probably be the consequence of disunion. Our local weakness particularly proves it to be for the advantage of South-Carolina to strengthen the federal government; for we are inadequate to secure ourselves from more powerful neighbours.
2d. If the thirteen states are to be united in reality, as well as in name, the obvious principle of the union should be, that the Congress or general government, should have power to regulate all general concerns. In a state of nature, each man is free and may do what he pleases; but in society, every individual must sacrifice a part of his natural rights; the minority must yield to the majority, and the collective interest must controul particular interests. When thirteen persons constitute a family, each should forego every thing that is injurious to the other twelve. When several families constitute a parish, or county, each may adopt any regulations it pleases with regard to its domestic affairs, but must be abridged of that liberty in other cases, where the good of the whole is concerned.
When several parishes, counties or districts form a state, the separate interests of each must yield to the collective interest of the whole. When thirteen states combine in one government, the same principles must be observed. These relinquishments of natural rights, are not real sacrifices: each person, county or state, gains more than it loses, for it only gives up a right of injuring others, and obtains in return aid and strength to secure itself in the peaceable enjoyment of all remaining rights. If then we are to be an united people, and the obvious ground of union must be, that all continental concerns should be managed by Congress—let us by these principles examine the new constitution. Look over the 8th section, which enumerates the powers of Congress, and point out one that is not essential on the before recited principles of union. The first is a power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts, and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States.
When you authorised Congress to borrow money, and to contract debts for carrying on the late war, you could not intend to abridge them of the means of paying their engagements, made on your account. You may observe, that their future power is confined to provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States. If they apply money to any other purposes, they exceed their powers. The people of the United States who pay, are to be judges how far their money is properly applied. It would be tedious to go over all the powers of Congress, but it would be easy to shew that they all may be referred to this single principle, “that the general concerns of the union ought to be managed by the general government.” The opposers of the constitution, cannot shew a single power delegated to Congress, that could be spared consistently with the welfare of the whole, nor a single one taken from the states, but such as can be more advantageously lodged in the general government, than in that of the separate states.
For instance—the states cannot emit money; this is not intended to prevent the emission of paper money, but only of state paper money. Is not this an advantage? To have thirteen paper currencies in thirteen states is embarrassing to commerce, and eminently so to travellers. It is obviously our interest, either to have no paper, or such as will circulate from Georgia to New-Hampshire. Take another instance—the Congress are authorised to provide and maintain a navy—Our sea coast in its whole extent needs the protection thereof; but if this was to be done by the states, they who build ships, would be more secure than they who do not. Again, if the local legislatures might build ships of war at pleasure, the Eastern would have a manifest superiority over the Southern states. Observe how much better this business is referred to the regulations of Congress. A common navy, paid out of the common treasury, and to be disposed of by the united voice of a majority for the common defence of the weaker as well as of the stronger states, is promised, and will result from the federal constitution. Suffer not yourselves to be imposed on by declamation. Ask the man who objects to the powers of Congress two questions. Is it not necessary that the supposed dangerous power be lodged somewhere? and secondly, where can it be lodged consistently with the general good, so well as in the general government? Decide for yourselves on these obvious principles of union.
It has been objected, that the eastern states have an advantage in their representation in Congress. Let us examine this objection—the four eastern states send seventeen members to the house of representatives, but Georgia, South-Carolina, North-Carolina and Virginia, send twenty-three. The six northern states send twenty-seven, the six southern thirty. In both cases we have a superiority;—but, say the objectors, add Pennsylvania to the northern states, and there is a majority against us. It is obvious to reply, add Pennsylvania to the Southern states, and they have a majority. The objection amounts to no more than that seven are more than six. It must be known to many of you, that the Southern states, from their vast extent of uncultivated country, are daily receiving new settlers; but in New-England their country is so small, and their land so poor, that their inhabitants are constantly emigrating. As the rule of representation in Congress is to vary with the number of inhabitants, our influence in the general government will be constantly increasing. In fifty years, it is probable that the Southern states will have a great ascendency over the Eastern. It has been said that thirty-five men, not elected by yourselves, may make laws to bind you. This objection, if it has any force, tends to the destruction of your state government. By our constitution, sixty-nine make a quorum, of course, thirty-five members may make a law to bind all the people of South-Carolina.—Charleston, and any one of the neighbouring parishes send collectively thirty-six members; it is therefore possible, in the absence of all others, that three of the lower parishes might legislate for the whole country. Would this be a valid objection against your own constitution? It certainly would not—neither is it against the proposed federal plan. Learn from it this useful lesson—insist on the constant attendance of your members, both in the state assembly, and Continental Congress: your representation in the latter, is as numerous in a relative proportion with the other states as it ought to be. You have a thirteenth part in both houses; and you are not, on principles of equality, entitled to more.
It has been objected, that the president, and two-thirds of the senate, though not of your election, may make treaties binding on this state. Ask these objectors—do you wish to have any treaties? They will say yes.—Ask then who can be more properly trusted with the power of making them, than they to whom the convention have referred it? Can the state legislatures? They would consult their local interests—Can the Continental House of Representatives? When sixty-five men can keep a secret, they may. Observe the cautious guards which are placed around your interests. Neither the senate nor president can make treaties by their separate authority.—They must both concur.—This is more in your favor than the footing on which you now stand. The delegates in Congress of nine states, without your consent can not bind you;—by the new constitution there must be two thirds of the members present, and also the president, in whose election you have a vote. Two thirds are to the whole nearly as nine to thirteen. If you are not wanting to yourselves by neglecting to keep up the states compliment of senators, your situation with regard to preventing the controul of your local interests by the Northern states, will be better under the proposed constitution than now it is under the existing confederation.
It has been said, we will have a navigation act, and be restricted to American bottoms, and that high freight will be the consequence. We certainly ought to have a navigation act, and we assuredly ought to give a preference, though not a monopoly, to our own shipping.
If this state is invaded by a maritime force, to whom can we apply for immediate aid?—To Virginia and North-Carolina? Before they can march by land to our assistance, the country may be over run. The Eastern states, abounding in men and in ships, can sooner relieve us, than our next door neighbours. It is therefore not only our duty, but our interest, to encourage their shipping. They have sufficient resources on a few months notice, to furnish tonnage enough to carry off all your exports; and they can afford, and doubtless will undertake to be your carriers on as easy terms as you now pay for freight in foreign bottoms.
On this subject, let us consider what we have gained, & also what they have lost by the revolution. We have gained a free trade with all the world, and consequently a higher price for our commodities, it may be said, and so have they; but they who reply in this manner, ought to know, that there is an amazing difference in our favor: their country affords no valuable exports, and of course the privilege of a free trade is to them of little value, while our staple commodity commands a higher price than was usual before the war. We have also gained an exemption from quit rents, to which the eastern states were not subjected. Connecticut and Rhode-Island were nearly as free before the revolution as since. They had no royal governor or councils to control them, or to legislate for them. Massachusetts and New-Hampshire were much nearer independence in their late constitutions than we were. The eastern states, by the revolution, have been deprived of a market for their fish, of their carrying-trade, their ship building, and almost of every thing but their liberties.
As the war has turned out so much in our favor, and so much against them, ought we to begrudge them the carrying of our produce, especially when it is considered, that by encouraging their shipping, we increase the means of our own defence. Let us examine also the federal constitution, by the principle of reciprocal concession. We have laid a foundation for a navigation act.—This will be a general good; but particularly so to our northern brethren. On the other hand, they have agreed to change the federal rule of paying the continental debt, according to the value of land as laid down in the confederation, for a new principle of apportionment, to be founded on the numbers of inhabitants in the several states respectively. This is an immense concession in our favor. Their land is poor; our’s rich; their numbers great; our’s small; labour with them is done by white men, for whom they pay an equal share; while five of our negroes only count as equal to three of their whites. This will make a difference of many thousands of pounds in settling our continental accounts. It is farther objected, that they have stipulated for a right to prohibit the importation of negroes after 21 years. On this subject observe, as they are bound to protect us from domestic violence, they think we ought not to increase our exposure to that evil, by an unlimited importation of slaves. Though Congress may forbid the importation of negroes after 21 years, it does not follow that they will. On the other hand, it is probable that they will not.1 The more rice we make, the more business will be for their shipping: their interest will therefore coincide with our’s. Besides, we have other sources of supply—the importations of the ensuing 20 years, added to the natural increase of those we already have, and the influx from our northern neighbours, who are desirous of getting rid of their slaves, will afford a sufficient number for cultivating all the lands in this state.
Let us suppose the union to be dissolved by the rejection of the new constitution, what would be our case? The United States owe several millions of dollars to France, Spain, and Holland. If an efficient government is not adopted, which will provide for the payment of our debt, especially of that which is due to foreigners—who will be the losers? Most certainly the southern states. Our exports, as being the most valuable, would be the first objects of capture on the high seas; or descents would be made on our defenceless coasts, till the creditors of the United States had paid themselves at the expence of this weaker part of the union. Let us also compare the present confederation, with the proposed constitution. The former can neither protect us at home, nor gain us respect abroad: it cannot secure the payment of our debts, nor command the resources of our country, in case of danger. Without money, without a navy, or the means of even supporting an army of our own citizens in the field, we lie at the mercy of every invader; our sea port towns may be laid under contribution, and our country ravaged.
By the new constitution, you will be protected with the force of the union, against domestic violence and foreign invasion. You will have a navy to defend your coasts.—The respectable figure you will make among the nations, will so far command the attention of foreign powers, that it is probable you will soon obtain such commercial treaties, as will open to your vessels the West-India islands, and give life to your expiring commerce.
In a country like ours, abounding with free men all of one rank, where property is equally diffused, where estates are held in fee simple, the press free, and the means of information common; tyranny cannot readily find admission under any form of government; but its admission is next to impossible, under one where the people are the source of all power, and elect either mediately by their representatives, or immediately by themselves the whole of their rulers.
Examine the new constitution with candor and liberality. Indulge no narrow prejudices to the disadvantage of your brethren of the other states; consider the people of all the thirteen states, as a band of brethren, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, inhabiting one undivided country, and designed by heaven to be one people. Consent that what regards all the states should be managed by that body which represents all of them; be on your guard against the misrepresentations of men who are involved in debt; such may wish to see the constitution rejected, because of the following clause “no state shall emit bills of credit, make any thing but gold and silver coin, a tender in payment of debts, pass any expost facto law, or law impairing the obligation of contracts.” This will doubtless bear hard on debtors who wish to defraud their creditors, but it will be of real service to the honest part of the community. Examine well the characters & circumstances of men who are averse to the new constitution. Perhaps you will find that the above recited clause is the real ground of the opposition of some of them, though they may artfully cover it with a splendid profession of zeal for state privileges and general liberty.
On the whole, if the proposed constitution is not calculated to better your country, and to secure to you the blessings for which you have so successfully contended, reject it: but if it is an improvement on the present confederation, and contains within itself the principles of farther improvement suited to future circumstances, join the mighty current of federalism, and give it your hearty support. You were among the first states that formed an independent constitution; be not among the last in accepting and ratifying the proposed plan of federal government; it is your sheet anchor; and without it, independence may prove a curse.
“One of the People Called Quakers”
Virginia Independent Chronicle, Richmond, 12 March 1788
Mr. DAVIS, “A Virginian”1 might have a right to expect, and would perhaps have received, the thanks of “the people called Quakers in Virginia,” for the “hint” he hath given them, if they thought it was wholly dictated by an unfeigned regard for their interests and happiness: but its seeming want of candor, the criterion, by which a plain simple people, lovers of truth, are led to judge, inclines them to think that it springs from some other motive.
He tells the Quakers, that they should “disapprove of the new constitution”—[“]because it admits of the importation of slaves to America for a limited time.” Hence it would seem, as if he inferred, and would have them to believe that the new constitution would introduce slaves into Virginia contrary to the inclination of the people: which the Quakers apprehend is not the case. Virginia indeed, may import slaves, but she may, as she now does, also prohibit, and which it is reasonable to expect she will continue to do; and therefore, the Quakers, or any other society opposed to the slave trade, have nothing to apprehend on that score; and more especially, when it is considered that the late convention, used every means in their power, to prevail upon the Carolina’s and Georgia, the only states in the union, that at present import slaves, at once to put an end to this unjust traffic; but the representatives of these states being inflexible in their opposition thereto, occasioned the limited importation as the best compromise that could be made; hence it is but just to conclude, that the new fœderal government, if established, would eagerly embrace the opportunity not only of putting an end to the importation of slaves, but of abolishing slavery forever.
Though the Quakers, are fully sensible of the favors and protection that they have hitherto experienced under the present constitution, and government of Virginia, they see no great reason to apprehend that their principles would not be as safe under the new constitution, and better secured and protected, under a government of more weight, dignity, and stability.
This “hint” like most of the other hints and objections that have hitherto appeared, rather tend to fix, than to remove any favorable impressions that “the people called Quakers in Virginia” have received of the new constitution. A good cause, will always be supported by plain reasons, addressed to the most common understanding; while a bad one, stands in need of sophistry, subtilty, and even trifling “hints,” calculated to operate upon the passions and prejudices of man, in order to mislead and confound, where they cannot convince.
“An American Citizen” [Tench Coxe]
Independent Gazetteer, Philadelphia, 26-29 September 1788
Essays I, II, and III in this series appeared in the Independent Gazetteer on 26, 28, and 29 September. On or before 21 October, a reprint of the series was printed by Hall and Sellers of the Pennsylvania Gazette, Philadelphia, in which the fourth essay first appeared.
It is impossible for an honest and feeling mind, of any nation or country whatever, to be insensible to the present circumstances of America. Were I an East Indian, or a Turk, I should consider this singular situation of a part of my fellow creatures, as most curious and interesting. Intimately connected with the country, as a citizen of the Union, I confess it entirely engrosses my mind and feelings.
To take a proper view of the ground on which we stand, it may be necessary to recollect the manner in which the United States were originally settled and established. Want of charity in the religious systems of Europe and of justice in their political governments were the principal moving causes which drove the emigrants of various countries to the American continent. The Congregationalists, Quakers, Presbyterians and other British dissenters, the Catholics of England and Ireland, the Huguenots of France, the German Lutherans, Calvinists, and Moravians, with several other societies, established themselves in the different colonies, thereby laying the ground of that catholicism in ecclesiastical affairs, which has been observable since the late Revolution. Religious liberty naturally promotes corresponding dispositions in matters of government. The constitution of England, as it stood on paper, was one of the freest at that time existing in the world, and the American colonies considered themselves as entitled to the fullest enjoyment of it. Thus when the ill-judged discussions of latter times in England brought into question the rights of this country, as it stood connected with the British Crown, we were found more strongly impressed with their importance and accurately acquainted with their extent, than the wisest and most learned of our brethren beyond the Atlantic. When the greatest names in Parliament insisted on the power of that body over the commerce of the colonies, and even the right to bind us in all cases whatsoever, America, seeing that it was only another form of tyranny, insisted upon the immutable truth, that taxation and representation are inseparable, and while a desire of harmony and other considerations induced her into an acquiescence in the commercial regulations of Great Britain, it was done from the declared necessity of the case, and with a cautious, full and absolute saving of our voluntarily suspended rights. The Parliament was persevering, and America continued firm till hostilities and open war commenced, and finally the late Revolution closed the contest forever.
Tis evident from this short detail and the reflections which arise from it, that the quarrel between the United States and the Parliament of Great Britain did not arise so much from objections to the form of government, though undoubtedly a better one by far is now within our reach, as from a difference concerning certain important rights resulting from the essential principles of liberty, which the constitution preserved to all the subjects actually residing within the realm. It was not asserted by America that the people of the island of Great Britain were slaves, but that we, though possessed absolutely of the same rights, were not admitted to enjoy an equal degree of freedom.
When the Declaration of Independence completed the separation between the two countries, new governments were necessarily established.1 Many circumstances led to the adoption of the republican form, among which was the predilection of the people. In devising the frames of government it may have been difficult to avoid extremes opposite to the vices of that we had just rejected; nevertheless many of the state constitutions we have chosen are truly excellent. Our misfortunes have been, that in the first instance we adopted no national government at all, but were kept together by common danger only, and that in the confusions of a civil war we framed a federal constitution now universally admitted to be inadequate to the preservation of liberty, property, and the Union. The question is not then how far our state constitutions are good or otherwise—the object of our wishes is to amend and supply the evident and allowed errors and defects of the federal government. Let us consider awhile, that which is now proposed to us. Let us compare it with the so much boasted British form of government, and see how much more it favors the people and how completely it secures their rights, remembering at the same time that we did not dissolve our connection with that country so much on account of its constitution as the perversion and maladministration of it.
In the first place let us look at the nature and powers of the head of that country, and those of the ostensible head of ours.
The British king is the great bishop or supreme head of an established church, with an immense patronage annexed. In this capacity he commands a number of votes in the House of Lords, by creating bishops, who, besides their great incomes, have votes in that assembly, and are judges in the last resort. They have also many honorable and lucrative places to bestow, and thus from their wealth, learning, dignities, powers and patronage give a great luster and an enormous influence to the Crown.
In America our President will not only be without these influencing advantages, but they will be in the possession of the people at large, to strengthen their hands in the event of a contest with him. All religious funds, honors and powers are in the gift of numberless, unconnected, disunited, and contending corporations, wherein the principle of perfect equality universally prevails. In short, danger from ecclesiastical tyranny, that longstanding and still remaining curse of the people—that sacrilegious engine of royal power in some countries, can be feared by no man in the United States. In Britain their king is for life. In America our President will always be one of the people at the end of four years. In that country the king is hereditary and may be an idiot, a knave, or a tyrant by nature, or ignorant from neglect of his education, yet cannot be removed, for “he can do no wrong.” In America, as the President is to be one of the people at the end of his short term, so will he and his fellow citizens remember, that he was originally one of the people; and that he is created by their breath. Further, he cannot be an idiot, probably not a knave or a tyrant, for those whom nature makes so, discover it before the age of thirty-five, until which period he cannot be elected. It appears we have not admitted that he can do no wrong, but have rather presupposed he may and will sometimes do wrong, by providing for his impeachment, his trial, and his peaceable and complete removal.
In England the king has a power to create members of the upper house, who are judges in the highest court, as well as legislators. Our President not only cannot make members of the upper house, but their creation, like his own, is by the people through their representatives, and a member of assembly may and will be as certainly dismissed at the end of his year for electing a weak or wicked Senator, as for any other blunder or misconduct.
The king of England has legislative power, while our President can only use it when the other servants of the people are divided. But in all great cases affecting the national interests or safety, his modified and restrained power must give way to the sense of two-thirds of the legislature. In fact it amounts to no more, than a serious duty imposed upon him to request both houses to reconsider any matter on which he entertains doubts or feels apprehensions; and here the people have a strong hold upon him from his sole and personal responsibility.
The president of the upper house (or the chancellor) in England is appointed by the king, while our Vice President, who is chosen by the people through the Electors and the Senate, is not at all dependent on the President, but may exercise equal powers on some occasions. In all royal governments an helpless infant or an inexperienced youth may wear the crown. Our President must be matured by the experience of years, and being born among us, his character at thirty-five must be fully understood. Wisdom, virtue, and active qualities of mind and body can alone make him the first servant of a free and enlightened people.
Our President will fall very far short indeed of any prince in his annual income,2 which will not be hereditary, but the absolute allowance of the people passing through the hands of their other servants from year to year as it becomes necessary. There will be no burdens on the nation to provide for his heir or other branches of his family. Tis probable, from the state of property in America and other circumstances, that many citizens will exceed him in show and expense, those dazzling trappings of kingly rank and power. He will have no authority to make a treaty without two-thirds of the Senate, nor can he appoint ambassadors or other great officers without their approbation, which will remove the idea of patronage and influence, and of personal obligation and dependence. The appointment of even the inferior officers may be taken out of his hands by an act of Congress at any time; he can create no nobility or titles of honor, nor take away offices during good behavior. His person is not so much protected as that of a member of the House of Representatives; for he may be proceeded against like any other man in the ordinary course of law. He appoints no officer of the separate states. He will have no influence from placemen in the legislature, nor can he prorogue or dissolve it. He will have no power over the treasures of the state; and lastly, as he is created through the Electors by the people at large, he must ever look up to the support of his creators. From such a servant with powers so limited and transitory, there can be no danger, especially when we consider the solid foundations on which our national liberties are immovably fixed by the other provisions of this excellent Constitution. Whatever of dignity or authority he possesses is a delegated part of their majesty and their political omnipotence, transiently vested in him by the people themselves for their own happiness.
We have seen that the late Honorable Convention, in designating the nature of the chief executive office of the United States, have deprived it of all the dangerous appendages of royalty, and provided for the frequent expiration of its limited powers. As our President bears no resemblance to a king, so we shall see the Senate have no similitude to nobles.
First then not being hereditary, their collective knowledge, wisdom and virtue are not precarious, for by these qualities alone are they to obtain their offices; and they will have none of the peculiar follies and vices of those men who possess power merely because their fathers held it before them, for they will be educated (under equal advantages and with equal prospects) among and on a footing with the other sons of a free people. If we recollect the characters, who have, at various periods, filled the seats of Congress, we shall find this expectation perfectly reasonable. Many young men of genius and many characters of more matured abilities, without fortunes, have been honored with that trust. Wealth has had but few representatives there, and those have been generally possessed of respectable personal qualifications. There have also been many instances of persons, not eminently endowed with mental qualities, who have been sent thither from a reliance on their virtues, public and private. As the Senators are still to be elected by the legislatures of the states, there can be no doubt of equal safety and propriety in their future appointment, especially as no further pecuniary qualification is required by the Constitution.
They can hold no other office civil or military under the United States, nor can they join in making provisions for themselves, either by creating new places or increasing the emoluments of old ones. As their sons are not to succeed them, they will not be induced to aim at an increase or perpetuity of their powers, at the expense of the liberties of the people of which those sons will be a part. They possess a much smaller share of the judicial power than the upper house in Britain, for they are not, as there, the highest court in civil affairs. Impeachments alone are the cases cognizable before them, and in what other place could matters of that nature be so properly and safely determined? The judges of the federal courts will owe their appointments to the President and Senate, therefore may not feel so perfectly free from favor, affection and influence as the upper house, who receive their power from the people, through their state representatives, and are immediately responsible to those assemblies, and finally to the nation at large. Thus we see when a daring or dangerous offender is brought to the bar of public justice, the people who alone can impeach him by their immediate representatives will cause him to be tried, not by the judges appointed in the heat of the occasion, but by two-thirds of a select body, chosen a long time before, for various purposes by the collected wisdom of their state legislatures. From a pretense or affection of extraordinary purity and excellence of character their word of honor is the sanction under which these high courts in other countries have given their sentence. But with us, like the other judges of the Union, like the rest of the people of which they are never to forget they are a part, it is required that they be on oath.
No ambitious, undeserving or unexperienced youth can acquire a seat in this house by means of the most enormous wealth or most powerful connections, till thirty years have ripened his abilities and fully discovered his merits to his country—a more rational ground of preference surely than mere property.
The Senate, though more independent of the people as to the free exercise of their judgment and abilities than the House of Representatives, by the longer term of their office, must be older and more experienced men, and the public treasures, the sinews of the state, cannot be called forth by their original motion. They may restrain the profusion or errors of the House of Representatives, but they cannot take the necessary measures to raise a national revenue.
The people, through the Electors, prescribe them such a President as shall be best qualified to control them.
They can only, by conviction on impeachment, remove and incapacitate a dangerous officer, but the punishment of him as a criminal remains withinthe province of the courts of law to be conducted under all the ordinary forms and precautions, which exceedingly diminishes the importance of their judicial powers. They are detached, as much as possible, from local prejudices in favor of their respective states by having a separate and independent vote, for the sensible and conscientious use of which, every member will find his person, honor and character seriously bound. He cannot shelter himself, under a vote in behalf of his state, among his immediate colleagues. As there are only two, he cannot be voluntarily or involuntarily governed by the majority of the deputation. He will be obliged, by wholesome provisions, to attend his public duty, and thus in great national questions must give a vote of the honesty of which he will find it necessary to convince his constituents.
The Senate must always receive the exceptions of the President against any of their legislative acts, which, without serious deliberation and sufficient reasons, they will seldom disregard. They will also feel a considerable check from the constitutional powers of the state legislatures, whose rights they will not be disposed to infringe, since they are the bodies to which they owe their existence, and are moreover to remain the immediate guardians of the people.
And lastly the Senate will feel the mighty check of the House of Representatives—a body so pure in its election, so intimately connected, by its interests and feelings, with the people at large, so guarded against corruption and influence—so much, from its nature, above all apprehensions, that it must ever be able to maintain the high ground assigned to it by the Federal Constitution.
In pursuing the consideration of the new Federal Constitution, it remains now to examine the nature and powers of the House of Representatives—the immediate delegates of the people.
Each member of this truly popular assembly will be chosen by about six thousand electors, by the poor as well as the rich. No decayed and venal borough will have an unjust share in their determinations. No old Sarum will send thither a Representative by the voice of a single elector. As we shall have no royal ministries to purchase votes, so we shall have no votes for sale. Forthe suffrages of six thousand enlightened and independent freemen are above all price. When the increasing population of the country shall render the body too large at the rate of one member for every thirty thousand persons, they will be returned at the greater rate of one for every forty or fifty thousand, which will render the electors still more incorruptible. For this regulation is only designed to prevent a smaller number than thirty thousand from having a Representative. Thus we see a provision follows, that no state shall have less than one member; for if a new and greater number should hereafter be fixed on, which shall exceed the whole of the inhabitants of any state, such state, without this wholesome provision, would lose its voice in the House of Representatives, a circumstance which the Constitution renders impossible.
The people of England, whose House of Commons is filled with military and civil officers and pensioners, say their liberties would be perfectly secured by triennial parliaments. With us no placemen can sit among the Representatives of the people, and two years are the constitutional term of their existence. Here again, lest wealth, powerful connections, or even the unwariness of the people should place in this important trust an undeserving, unqualified or inexperienced youth, the wisdom of the Convention has proposed an absolute incapacity till the age of twenty-five. At twenty-one a young man is made the guardian of his own interests, but he cannot for a few years more be entrusted with the affairs of the nation. He must be an inhabitant of the state that elects him, that he may be intimately acquainted with their particular circumstances. The House of Representatives is not, as the Senate, to have a president chosen for them from without their body, but are to elect their speaker from their own number. They will also appoint all their other officers. In great state cases, they will be the grand inquest of the nation, for they possess the sole and uncontrollable power of impeachment. They are neither to wait the call nor abide the prorogations and dissolutions of a perverse or ambitious prince, for they are to meet at least once in every year, and sit on adjournments to be agreed on between themselves and the other servants of the people. Should they differ in opinion, the President, who is a temporary fellow servant and not their hereditary master, has a mediatorial power to adjust it for them, but cannot prevent their constitutional meeting withinthe year. They can compel the attendance of their members, that their public duty may not be evaded in times of difficulty or danger. The vote of each Representative can be always known, as well as the proceedings of the House, that so the people may be acquainted with the conduct of those in whom they repose so important a trust. As was observed of the Senators, they cannot make new offices for themselves, nor increase, for their own benefit, the emoluments of old ones, by which the people will be exempted from needless additions to the public expenses on such sordid and mercenary principles. They are not to be restrained from the firm and plain language which becomes the independent representatives of freemen, for there is to be a perfect liberty of speech. Without their consent no monies can be obtained, no armies raised, no navies provided. They alone can originate bills for drawing forth the revenues of the Union, and they will have a negative upon every legislative act of the other house. So far, in short, as the sphere of federal jurisdiction extends, they will be controllable only by the people, and in contentions with the other branch, so far as they shall be right, they must ever finally prevail.
Such, my countrymen, are some of the cautionary provisions of the frame of government your faithful Convention have submitted to your consideration—such the foundations of peace, liberty and safety, which have been laid by their unwearied labors. They have guarded you against all servants but those “whom choice and common good ordain,” against all masters “save preserving Heaven.”
In considering the respective powers of the President, the Senate and the House of Representatives, under the fœderal constitution, we have seen a part of the wholesome precautions, which are contained in the new system. Let us examine what further securities for the safety and happiness of the people are contained in the general stipulations and provisions.
The United States guarantee to every state in the union a separate republican form of government. From thence it follows, that any man or body of men, however rich or powerful, who shall make an alteration in the form of government of any state, whereby the powers thereof shall be attempted to be taken out of the hands of the people at large, will stand guilty of high treason; or should a foreign power seduce or over-awe the people of any state, so as to cause them to vest in the families of any ambitious citizens or foreigners the powers of hereditary governors, whether as Kings or Nobles, that such investment of powers would be void in itself, and every person attempting to execute them would also be guilty of treason.
No religious test is ever to be required of any officer or servant of the United States. The people may employ any wise or good citizen in the execution of the various duties of the government. In Italy, Spain, and Portugal, no protestant can hold a public trust. In England every Presbyterian, and other person not of their established church, is incapable of holding an office. No such impious deprivation of the rights of men can take place under the new fœderal constitution. The convention has the honour of proposing the first public act, by which any nation has ever divested itself of a power, every exercise of which is a trespass on the Majesty of Heaven.
No qualification in monied or landed property is required by the proposed plan; nor does it admit any preference from the preposterous distinctions of birth and rank. The office of the President, a Senator, and a Representative, and every other place of power or profit, are therefore open to the whole body of the people. Any wise, informed and upright man, be his property what it may, can exercise the trusts and powers of the state, provided he possesses the moral, religious and political virtues which are necessary to secure the confidence of his fellow citizens.
The importation of slaves from any foreign country is, by a clear implication, held up to the world as equally inconsistent with the dispositions and the duties of the people of America. A solid foundation is laid for exploding the principles of negro slavery, in which many good men of all parties in Pennsylvania, and throughout the union, have already concurred.3 The temporary reservation of any particular matter must ever be deemed an admission that it should be done away. This appears to have been well understood. In addition to the arguments drawn from liberty, justice and religion, opinions against this practice, founded in sound policy, have no doubt been urged. Regard was necessarily paid to the peculiar situation of our southern fellow-citizens; but they, on the other hand, have not been insensible of the delicate situation of our national character on this subject.4
The people will remain, under the proposed constitution, the fountain of power and public honour. The President, the Senate, and the House of Representatives, will be the channels through which the stream will flow—but it will flow from the people, and from them only. Every office, religious, civil and military will be either their immediate gift, or it will come from them through the hands of their servants. And this, as observed before, will be guaranteed to them under the state constitution which they respectively approve; for they cannot be royal forms, cannot be aristocratical, but must be republican.
The people of those states which have faithfully discharged their duty to the union will be no longer subjected alone to the weight of the public debts. Proper arrangements will call forth the just proportion of their sister states, and our national character will again be as unstained as it was once exalted. Elevation to independence, with the loss of our good name, is only to be conspicuous in disgrace. The liberties of a people involved in debt are as uncertain as the liberty of an individual in the same situation. Their virtue is more precarious. The unfortunate citizen must yield to the operation of the laws, while a bankrupt nation too easy annihilates the sacred obligations of gratitude and honour, and becomes execrable and infamous. I cannot refrain from reminding my fellow-citizens of our near approach to that deplorable situation, which must be our miserable condition, if the defects of the old confederation remain without amendment. The proposed constitution will cure the evil, and restore us to our rank among mankind.
Laws, made after the commission of the fact, have been a dreadful engine in the hands of tyrannical governors. Some of the most virtuous and shining characters in the world have been put to death, by laws formed to render them punishable, for parts of their conduct which innocence permitted, and to which patriotism impelled them. These have been called ex post facto laws, and are exploded by the new system. If a time of public contention shall hereafter arrive, the firm and ardent friends to liberty may know the length to which they can push their noble opposition, on the foundation of the laws. Should their country’s cause impel them further, they will be acquainted with the hazard, and using those arms which Providence has put into their hands, will make a solemn appeal to “the power above.”
The destruction of the ancient republics was occasioned in every instance by their being ignorant of a great political position, which was left for America to discover and establish. Self-evident as the truth appears, we find no friend to liberty in ancient Greece or Rome asserting, that taxation and representation were inseparable. The Roman citizens, proud of their own liberty, imposed, in the freest times of the commonwealth, the most grievous burdens on their wretched provinces. At other times we find thousands of their citizens, though residing within the walls of Rome, deprived of legislative representatives. When America asserted the novel truth, Great Britain, though boasting herself as alone free among the modern nations, denied it by her legislature, and endeavoured to refute it by her arms—the reasoning of tyrants.5 But the attempt was vain, for the voice of truth was heard above the thunders of the war, and reached the ears of all nations. Henceforth the people of the earth will consider this position as the only rock on which they can found the temple of liberty, that taxation and representation are inseparable. Our new constitution carries it into execution on the most enlarged and liberal scale, for a Representative will be chosen by six thousand of his fellow-citizens, a Senator by half a sovereign state, a President by a whole nation.
The old fœderal constitution contained many of the same things, which from error or disingenousness are urged against the new ones. Neither of them have a bill of rights, nor does either notice the liberty of the press, because they are already provided for by the state constitutions; and relating only to personal rights, they could not be mentioned in a contract among foreign states.
Both the old and new fœderal constitutions, and indeed the constitution of Pennsylvania, admit of courts in which no use is made of a jury. The board of property, the court of admiralty, and the high court of errors and appeals, in the state of Pennsylvania, as also the court of appeals under the old confederation, exclude juries. Trial by jury will therefore be in the express words of the Pennsylvania constitution, “as heretofore,”—almost always used, though sometimes omitted. Trials for lands lying in any state between persons residing in such state, for bonds, notes, book debts, contracts, trespasses, assumptions, and all other matters between two or more citizens of any state, will be held in the state courts by juries, as now. In these cases the fœderal courts cannot interfere.* But when a dispute arises between the citizens of any state about lands lying out of the bounds thereof, or when a trial is to be had between the citizens of any state and those of another, or the government of another, the private citizen will not be obliged to go into a court constituted by the state, with which, or with the citizens of which, his dispute is. He can appeal to a disinterested fœderal court. This is surely a great advantage, and promises a fair trial, and an impartial judgment. The trial by jury is not excluded in these fœderal courts. In all criminal cases, where the property, liberty or life of the citizen is at stake, he has the benefit of a jury. If convicted on impeachment, which is never done by a jury in any country, he cannot be fined, imprisoned or punished, but only may be disqualified from doing public mischief by losing his office, and his capacity to hold another. If the nature of his offence, besides its danger to his country, should be criminal in itself—should involve a charge of fraud, murder or treason—he may be tried for such crime, but cannot be convicted without a jury. In trials about property in the fœderal courts, which can only be as above stated, there is nothing in the new constitution to prevent a trial by jury. No doubt it will be the mode in every case, wherein it is practicable. This will be adjusted by law, and it could not be done otherwise. In short, the sphere of jurisdiction for the fœderal courts is limited, and that sphere only is subject to the regulations of our fœderal government. The known principles of justice, the attachment to trial by jury whenever it can be used, the instructions of the state legislatures, the instructions of the people at large, the operation of the fœderal regulations on the property of a president, a senator, a representative, a judge, as well as on that of a private citizen, will certainly render those regulations as favorable as possible to property; for life and liberty are put more than ever into the hands of the juries. Under the present constitution of all the states, a public officer may be condemned to imprisonment or death on impeachment, without a jury; but the new fœderal constitution protects the accused, till he shall be convicted, from the hands of power, by rendering a jury the indispensible judges of all crimes.
The influence which foreign powers may attempt to exercise in our affairs was foreseen, and a wholesome provision has been made against it; for no person holding an office under the United States is permitted to enjoy any foreign honours, powers or emoluments.
The apprehensions of the people have been excited, perhaps by persons with good intentions, about the powers of the new government to raise an army. Let us consider this point with moderation and candour. As enemies will sometimes insult us, invade our country and capture our property, it is clear a power in our government to oppose, restrain or destroy them, is necessary to our honor, safety and existence. The military should, however, be regarded with a watchful eye; for it is a profession that is liable to dangerous perversion. But the powers vested in the fœderal government do not go the length which has been said. A standing army is not granted or intended, for there can be no provision for its continuing three years, much less for its permanent establishment. Two years are the utmost time for which the money can be given. It will be under all the restrictions which wisdom and jealousy can suggest, and the original grant of the supplies must be made by the House of representatives, the immediate delegates of the people. The Senate and President, who also derive their power from the people, appoint the officers; and the heads of the departments, who must submit their accounts to the whole legislature, are to pay and provide them, as shall be directed by the laws that shall contain the conditions of the grant. The militia, who are in fact the effective part of the people at large, will render many troops quite unnecessary. They will form a powerful check upon the regular troops, and will generally be sufficient to over-awe them—for our detached situation will seldom give occasion to raise an army, though a few scattered companies may often be necessary. But whenever, even on the most obvious reasons, an army shall be raised, the several states will be called, by the nature of things, to attend to the condition of the militia. Republican jealousy, the guardian angel of these states, will watch the motions of our military citizens, even though they will be the soldiers of a free people. There is a wide difference however between the troops of such commonwealths as ours, founded on equal and unalterable principles, and those of a regal government, where ambition and oppression are the profession of the king. In the first case, a military officer is the occasional servant of the people, employed for their defence; in the second, he is the ever ready instrument to execute the schemes of conquest or oppression, with which the mind of his royal master may be disturbed.
Observations have been made on the power given to the fœderal Government in regard to the elections of Representatives and Senators. The regulations of these elections are, by the first part of the clause, to be prescribed by the state legislatures, who are certainly the proper bodies, if they will always execute the duty. But in case the union or the public safety should be endangered by an omission of this duty, as in the case of Rhode-Island, then the legislature of the United States can name for the people a convenient time, and do other matters necessary to insure the free exercise of their right of election. The exception, in regard to the places of chusing Senators, was made from due respect to the sovereignty of the state legislatures, who are to elect the senators, and whose place of meeting ought not to be prescribed to them by any authority, except, indeed, as we always must, by the authority of the people. This power given to the fœderal legislature is no more than what is possessed by the governments of all the states. The constitution of Pennsylvania permits two thirds of such cities and counties, as shall elect representatives, to exercise all the powers of the General Assembly, “as fully and amply as if the whole were present,” should any part of the state neglect or refuse to perform their duty in this particular. In short, it is a power necessary to preserve the social compact of each state and the confederation of the United States.
Besides the securities for the liberties of the people arising out of the fœderal government, they are guarded by their state constitutions, and by the nature of things in the separate states.6 The Governor or President in each commonwealth, the Councils, Senates, Assemblies, Judges, Sheriffs, Grand and Pettit Juries, Officers of Militia, Clergy and Lay Officers of all churches, state and county Treasurer, Prothonotaries, Registers, Presidents and other officers of Universities, Colleges and Academies, Wardens of ports and cities, Burgesses of towns, Commissioners of counties, County Lieutenants, and many other officers of power and influence, will still be chosen within each state, without any possible interference of the fœderal Government. The separate states will also choose all the members of the legislative and executive branches of the United States. The people at large in each state will choose their fœderal representative, and, unless ordered otherwise by state legislatures, may choose the electors of the President and Vice-President of the Union. And lastly, the legislature of the state will have the election of the senate, as they have heretofore had of the Members of Congress. Let us then, with a candor worthy of the subject, ask ourselves, whether it can be feared, that a majority of the Representatives, each of whom will be chosen by six thousand enlightened freemen, can betray their country?—Whether a majority of the Senate, each of whom will be chosen by the legislature of a free, sovereign and independent state, without any stipulations in favour of wealth or the contemptible distinctions of birth or rank, and who will be closely observed by the state legislatures, can destroy our liberties, controuled as they are too by the house of representatives? or whether a temporary, limited, executive officer, watched by the fœderal Representatives, by the Senate, by the state legislatures, by his personal enemies among the people of his own state, by the jealousy of the people of rival states, and by the whole of the people of the Union, can ever endanger our Freedom.*
Permit me, my fellow-citizens, to close these observations by remarking, that there is no spirit of arrogance in the new fœderal constitution. It addresses you with becoming modesty, admitting that it may contain errors. Let us give it a trial; and when experience has taught its mistakes, the people, whom it preserves absolutely all powerful, can reform and amend them. That I may be perfectly understood, I will acknowledge its acceptance by all the states, without delay, is the second wish of my heart. The first is, that our country may be virtuous and free.
American Mercury, Hartford, 18 February 1788
I was afraid, and durst not shew mine opinion. I said days should speak and multitude of years should teach wisdom. Great men are not always wise, neither doth age understand judgment. I will answer. I also will shew mine opinion. The Spirit within me constraineth me. I will speak that I may be refreshed. Let me not accept any man’s person, neither let me give flattering titles unto man. etc. Job, chap. XXXII.
It was an objection against the Constitution, urged in the late Convention, that the being of a God was not explicitly acknowledged in it. It has been reported that an honorable gentleman, who gave his vote in favor of the Constitution, has since expressed his discontent by an expression no less remarkable than this, “that they (speaking of the framers of the Constitution) had not allowed God a seat there”!!
Another honorable gentleman who gave his vote in like manner, has published a specimen of an introductory acknowledgment of a God such as should have been in his opinion prefixed to the Constitution, viz.: We the people of the United States, in a firm belief of the being and perfections of the one living and true God, the creator and supreme Governor of the world, in His universal providence and the authority of His laws: that He will require of all moral agents an account of their conduct, that all rightful powers among men are ordained of, and mediately derived from God, therefore in a dependence on His blessing and acknowledgment of His efficient protection in establishing our Independence, whereby it is become necessary to agree upon and settle a Constitution of federal government for ourselves—This introduction is likewise to serve as a religious test, for he says “instead of none, no other religious test should ever be required, etc.”
In treating of a being who is above comprehension there may be a certain degree of propriety in using language that is so; if any reader’s brain is too weak to obtain a distinct idea of a writer’s meaning, I am sensible it may be retorted that a writer is not obliged to furnish his readers with comprehension. Neither is there any law to oblige him to write comprehensible matter, which is a great comfort to me; as I shall not stop to think, but proceed to give mine opinion! Should any body of men, whose characters were unknown to me, form a plan of government, and prologue it with a long pharisaical harangue about God and religion, I should suspect a design to cheat and circumvent us, and their cant, and semblance of superior sanctity would be the ground of my suspicion. If they have a plan founded on good sense, wisdom, and experience, what occasion have they to make use of God, His providence, or religion, like old cunning monks to gain our assent to what is in itself rational and just? “There must be (tis objected) some proof, some evidence that we the people acknowledge the being of a God.” Is this a thing that wants proof? Is this a thing that wants constitutional establishment in the United States? It is almost the only thing that all universally are agreed in; everybody believes there is a God; not a man of common sense in the United States denies or disbelieves it. The fool hath said in his heart there is no God, but was there ever a wise man said such a thing? No, not in any age or in any country. Besides, if it was not so, if there were unbelievers, as it is a matter of faith, it might as well be admitted; for we are not to bind the consciences of men by laws or constitutions. The mind is free; it may be convinced by reasoning, but cannot be compelled by laws or constitutions, no, nor by fire, faggot, or the halter. Such an acknowledgment is moreover useless as a religious test—it is calculated to exclude from office fools only, who believe there is no God; and the people of America are now become so enlightened that no fool hereafter (it is hoped) will ever be promoted to any office or high station.
An honorable gentleman objects that God has no seat allowed him. Is this only to find fault with the Constitution because he had no hand in making it? Or is he serious? Would he have given God a seat there? For what purpose? To get a name for sanctity that he might have it in his power to impose on the people? The time has been when nations could be kept in awe with stories of gods sitting with legislators and dictating laws; with this lure, cunning politicians have established their own power on the credulity of the people, shackling their uninformed minds with incredible tales. But the light of philosophy has arisen in these latter days, miracles have ceased, oracles are silenced, monkish darkness is dissipated, and even witches at last hide their heads. Mankind are no longer to be deluded with fable. Making the glory of God subservient to the temporal interest of men is a wornout trick, and a pretense to superior sanctity and special grace will not much longer promote weakness over the head of wisdom.
A low mind may imagine that God, like a foolish old man, will think himself slighted and dishonored if he is not complimented with a seat or a prologue of recognition in the Constitution, but those great philosophers who formed the Constitution had a higher idea of the perfection of that INFINITE MIND which governs all worlds than to suppose they could add to his honor or glory, or that He would be pleased with such low familiarity or vulgar flattery.
The most shining part, the most brilliant circumstance in honor of the framers of the Constitution is their avoiding all appearance of craft, declining to dazzle even the superstitious by a hint about grace or ghostly knowledge. They come to us in the plain language of common sense and propose to our understanding a system of government as the invention of mere human wisdom; no deity comes down to dictate it, not even a God appears in a dream to propose any part of it.
A knowledge of human nature, the aid of philosophy, and the experience of ages are seen in the very face of it; whilst it stands forth like a magnificent STATUE of gold. Yet, there are not wanting FANATICS who would crown it with the periwig of an old monk and wrap it up in a black cloak—whilst political quackery is contending to secure it with fetters and decorate it with a leather apron!!
“A Landholder” [Oliver Ellsworth]
Connecticut Courant, Hartford, 17 December 1787 and 24 March 1788
To the Landholders and Farmers.
I have often admired the spirit of candour, liberality, and justice, with which the Convention began and completed the important object of their mission. “In all our deliberations on this subject,” say they, “we kept steadily in our view, that which appears to us the greatest interest of every true American, the consolidation of our union, in which is involved our prosperity, felicity, safety, 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, than might otherwise have been expected; 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 political situation rendered indispensible.”
Let us, my fellow citizens, take up this constitution with the same spirit of candour and liberality; consider it in all its parts; consider the important advantages which may be derived from it, and the fatal consequences which will probably follow from rejecting it. If any objections are made against it, let us obtain full information on the subject, and then weigh these objections in the balance of cool impartial reason. Let us see, if they be not wholly groundless; But if upon the whole they appear to have some weight, let us consider well, whether they be so important, that we ought on account of them to reject the whole constitution. Perfection is not the lot of human institutions; that which has the most excellencies and fewest faults, is the best that we can expect.
Some very worthy persons, who have not had great advantages for information, have objected against that clause in the constitution, which provides, that no religious Test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.1 They have been afraid that this clause is unfavourable to religion. But, my countrymen, the sole purpose and effect of it is to exclude persecution, and to secure to you the important right of religious liberty. We are almost the only people in the world, who have a full enjoyment of this important right of human nature. In our country every man has a right to worship God in that way which is most agreeable to his own conscience. If he be a good and peaceable citizen, he is liable to no penalties or incapacities on account of his religious sentiments; or in other words, he is not subject to persecution.
But in other parts of the world, it has been, and still is, far different. Systems of religious error have been adopted, in times of ignorance. It has been the interest of tyrannical kings, popes, and prelates, to maintain these errors. When the clouds of ignorance began to vanish, and the people grew more enlightened, there was no other way to keep them in error, but to prohibit their altering their religious opinions by severe persecuting laws. In this way persecution became general throughout Europe. It was the universal opinion that one religion must be established by law; and that all, who differed in their religious opinions, must suffer the vengeance of persecution. In pursuance of this opinion, when popery was abolished in England, and the church of England was established in its stead, severe penalties were inflicted upon all who dissented from the established church. In the time of the civil wars, in the reign of Charles I. the presbyterians got the upper hand, and inflicted legal penalties upon all who differed from them in their sentiments respecting religious doctrines and discipline. When Charles II. was restored, the church of England was likewise restored, and the presbyterians and other dissenters were laid under legal penalties and incapacities. It was in this reign, that a religious test was established as a qualification for office; that is, a law was made requiring all officers civil and military (among other things) to receive the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, according to the usage of the church of England, written six months after their admission to office, under the penalty of 500 l. and disability to hold the office. And by another statute of the same reign, no person was capable of being elected to any office relating to the government of any city or corporation, unless, within a twelvemonth before, he had received the Sacrament according to the rites of the church of England. The pretence for making these severe laws, by which all but churchmen were made incapable of any office civil or military, was to exclude the papists; but the real design was to exclude the protestant dissenters. From this account of test-laws, there arises an unfavourable presumption against them. But if we consider the nature of them and the effects which they are calculated to produce, we shall find that they are useless, tyrannical, and peculiarly unfit for the people of this country.
A religious test is an act to be done, or profession to be made, relating to religion (such as partaking of the sacrament according to certain rites and forms, or declaring one’s belief of certain doctrines,) for the purpose of determining, whether his religious opinions are such, that he is admissible to a public office. A test in favour of any one denomination of christians would be to the last degree absurd in the United States. If it were in favour of either congregationalists, presbyterians, episcopalions, baptists, or quakers; it would incapacitate more than three fourths of the American citizens for any public office; and thus degrade them from the rank of freemen. There needs no argument to prove that the majority of our citizens would never submit to this indignity.
If any test-act were to be made, perhaps the least exceptionable would be one, requiring all persons appointed to office, to declare, at the time of their admission, their belief in the being of a God, and in the divine authority of the scriptures. In favour of such a test, it may be said, that one who believes these great truths, will not be so likely to violate his obligations to his country, as one who disbelieves them; we may have greater confidence in his integrity. But I answer: His making a declaration of such belief is no security at all. For suppose him to be an unprincipled man, who believes neither the word nor the being of a God; and to be governed merely by selfish motives; how easy is it for him to dissemble? how easy is it for him to make a public declaration of his belief in the creed which the law prescribes; and excuse himself by calling it a mere formality? This is the case with the test-laws and creeds in England. The most abandoned characters partake of the sacrament, in order to qualify themselves for public employments. The clergy are obliged by law to administer the ordinance unto them; and thus prostitute the most sacred office of religion; for it is a civil right in the party to receive the sacrament. In that country, subscribing to the thirty-nine articles is a test for admission into holy orders. And it is a fact, that many of the clergy do this; when at the same time, they totally disbelieve several of the doctrines contained in them. In short, test-laws are utterly ineffectual; they are no security at all; because men of loose principles will, by an external compliance, evade them. If they exclude any persons, it will be honest men, men of principle, who will rather suffer an injury, than act contrary to the dictates of their consciences. If we mean to have those appointed to public offices, who are sincere friends to religion; we the people who appoint them, must take care to choose such characters; and not rely upon such cob-web barriers as test-laws are.
But to come to the true principle, by which this question ought to be determined: The business of civil government is to protect the citizen in his rights, to defend the community from hostile powers, and to promote the general welfare. Civil government has no business to meddle with the private opinions of the people. If I demean myself as a good citizen, I am accountable, not to man, but to God, for the religious opinions which I embrace, and the manner in which I worship the supreme being. If such had been the universal sentiments of mankind, and they had acted accordingly, persecution, the bane of truth and nurse of error, with her bloody axe and flaming hand, would never have turned so great a part of the world into a field of blood.
But while I assert the right of religious liberty; I would not deny that the civil power has a right, in some cases, to interfere in matters of religion. It has a right to prohibit and punish gross immoralities and impieties; because the open practice of these is of evil example and public detriment. For this reason, I heartily approve of our laws against drunkenness, profane swearing, blasphemy, and professed atheism. But in this state, we have never thought it expedient to adopt a test-law; and yet I sincerely believe we have as great a proportion of religion and morality, as they have in England, where every person who holds a public office, must be either a saint by law, or a hypocrite by practice. A test-law is the parent of hypocrisy, and the offspring of error and the spirit of persecution. Legislatures have no right to set up an inquisition, and examine into the private opinions of men. Test-laws are useless and ineffectual, unjust and tyrannical; therefore the Convention have done wisely in excluding this engine of persecution, and providing that no religious test shall ever be required.
The attempt to amend our federal Constitution, which for some time past hath engrossed the public regard, is doubtless become an old and unwelcome topic to many readers whose opinions are fixed, or who are not concerned for the event. There are other subjects which claim a share of attention, both from the public and from private citizens. It is good government which secures the fruits of industry and virtue; but the best system of government cannot produce general happiness unless the people are virtuous, industrious and œconomical.
The love of wealth is a passion common to men, and when justly regulated it is condusive to human happiness. Industry may be encouraged by good laws—wealth may be protected by civil regulations; but we are not to depend on these to create it for us, while we are indolent and luxurious. Industry is most favourable to the moral virtue of the world, it is therefore wisely ordered by the Author of Nature, that the blessings of this world should be acquired by our own application in some business useful to society; so that we have no reason to expect any climate or soil will be found, or any age take place, in which plenty and wealth will be spontaneously produced. The industry and labour of a people furnish a general rule to measure their wealth, and if we use the means we may promise ourselves the reward. The present state of America will limit the greatest part of its inhabitants to agriculture; for as the art of tilling the earth is easily acquired, the price of land low, and the produce immediately necessary for life, greater encouragement to this is offered here than in any country on earth.—But still suffer me to enquire whether we are not happily circumstanced and actually able to manage some principal Manufactories with success, and encrease our wealth by encreasing the labour of the people, and saving the surplus of our earnings, for a better purpose than to purchase the labour of European nations. It is a remark often made, and generally believed, that in a country so new as this, where the price of lands is low and the price of labour high, manufactories cannot be conducted with profit. This may be true of some manufactures, but of others it is grossly false. It is now in the power of New-England to make itself more formidable to Great-Britain, by rivaling some of her principal manufactures, than ever it was by separating from her government. Woolen cloaths the principal English manufacture, may more easily be rivaled than any other. Purchasing all the materials and labour at the common price of the country, cloths of three quarters width, may be fabricated for six shillings per yard, of fineness and beauty equal to English cloths of six quarters width, which sell at twenty shillings. The cost of our own manufacture is little more than half of the imported, and for service it is allowed to be much preferable. It is found that our wool is of equal quality with the English, and that what we once supposed the defect of our wool, is only a deficiency in cleansing, sorting and dressing it.
It gives me pleasure to hear that a number of gentlemen in Hartford and the neighbouring towns are forming a fund for the establishment of a great Woolen Manufactory—The plan will doubtless succeed, and be more profitable to the stockholders than money deposited in trade. As the manufacture of cloths is introduced, the raising of wool and flax the raw materials, will become an object of the farmers attention.
Sheep are the most profitable part of our stock, and the breed is much sooner multiplied than horses or cattle. Why do not our opulent farmers avail themselves of the profit? An experiment would soon convince them there is no better method of advancing property, and their country would thank them for the trial. Sheep are found to thrive and the wool to be of a good quality in every part of New-England, but as this animal delights in grazing, and is made healthy by coming often to the earth, our sea coasts with the adjacent country, where snow is of short continuance, are particularly favourable to their propagation. Our hilly coasts were designed by nature for this, and every part of the country that abounds in hills ought to make an experiment by which they will be enriched.
In Connecticut, the eastern and south-eastern counties, with the highlands on Connecticut river towards the sea, ought to produce more wool than would cloath the inhabitants of the state. At present the quantity falls short of what is needed for our own consumption; if a surplusage could be produced, it would find a ready market and the best pay.
The culture of flax, another principal material for manufacturing, affords great profit to the farmer. The seed of this crop when it succeeds well will pay the husbandman for his labour, and return a better ground rent than many other crops which are cultivated. The seed is one of our best articles for remittance and exportation abroad. Dressing and preparing the flax for use is done in the most leisure part of the year, when labour is cheap, and we had better work for six pence a day and become wealthy, than to be idle and poor.
It is not probable the market can be overstocked, or if it should chance for a single season to be the case, no article is more meliorated by time, or will better pay for keeping, by an increase of quality. A large flax crop is one most certain sign of a thrifty husbandman. The present method of agriculture in a course of different crops is well calculated to give the husbandman a sufficiency of flax ground, as it is well known that this vegetable will not thrive when sown successively in the same place.
The Nail Manufacture might be another source of wealth to the northern states. Why should we twice transport our own iron, and pay other nations for labour which our boys might perform as well. The art of nail making is easily acquired. Three thousand men and boys in Connecticut, might spend our long and idle winters in this business, without detriment to their agricultural service. Remittances have actually been made from some parts of the state in this article, the example is laudable and ought to be imitated. The sources of wealth are open to us, and there needs but industry to become as rich as we are free.
“Fabius” [John Dickinson]
Thus happily mistaken was the ingenious, learned, and patriotic lord Belhaven, in his prediction concerning the fate of his country; and thus happily mistaken, it is hoped, some of our fellow-citizens will be, in their prediction concerning the fate of their country.
Had they taken large scope, and assumed in their proposition the vicissitude of human affairs, and the passions that so often confound them, their prediction might have been a tolerably good guess. Amidst the mutabilities of terrestrial things, the liberty of United America may be destroyed. As to that point, it is our duty, humbly, constantly, fervently, to implore the protection of our most gracious maker, “who doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men,” and incessantly to strive, as we are commanded, to recommend ourselves to that protection, by “doing his will,” diligently exercising our reason in fulfilling the purposes for which that and our existence were given to us.
How the liberty of this country is to be destroyed, is another question. Here, the gentlemen assign a cause, in no manner proportioned, as it is apprehended, to the effect.
The uniform tenor of history is against them. That holds up the licentiousness of the people, and turbulent temper of some of the states, as the only causes to be dreaded, not the conspiracies of federal officers. Therefore, it is highly probable, that, if our liberty is ever subverted, it will be by one of the two causes first mentioned. Our tragedy will then have the same acts, with those of the nations that have gone before us; and we shall add one more example to the number already too great, of people that would not take warning, not, “know the things which belong to their peace.” But, we ought not to pass such a sentence against our country, and the interests of freedom: Though, no sentence whatever can be equal to the atrocity of our guilt, if through enormity of obstinacy or baseness, we betray the cause of our posterity and of mankind, by providence committed to our parental and fraternal care. There is reason to believe, that the calamities of nations are the punishments of their sins.
As to the first mentioned cause, it seems unnecessary to say any more upon it.
As to the second, we find, that the misbehaviour of the constituent parts acting separately, or in partial confederacies, debilitated the Greeks under The Amphictionic Council, and under The Achæan League. As to the former, it was not entirely an assembly of strictly democratical republics. Besides, it wanted a sufficiently close connection of its parts. After these observations, we may call our attention from it.
’Tis true, The Achæan League was disturbed by the misconduct of some parts, but it is as true, that it surmounted these difficulties, and wonderfully prospered, until it was dissolved in the manner that has been described.
The glorious operations of its principles bear the clearest testimony to this distant age and people, that the wit of man never invented such an antidote against monarchical and aristocratical projects, as a strong combination of truly democratical republics. By strictly or truly democratical republics, the writer means republics in which all the principal officers, except the judicial, are from time to time chosen by the people.
The reason is plain. As liberty and equality, or as well termed by Polybius, benignity, were the foundations of their institutions, and the energy of the government pervaded all the parts in things relating to the whole, it counteracted for the common welfare, the designs hatched by selfishness in separate councils.
If folly or wickedness prevailed in any parts, friendly offices and salutary measures restored tranquility. Thus the public good was maintained. In its very formation, tyrannies and aristocracies submitted, by consent or compulsion. Thus, the Ceraunians, Trezenians, Epidaurians, Megalopolitans, Argives, Hermionians, and Phlyayzrians were received into the league. A happy exchange! For history informs us, that so true were they to their noble and benevolent principles, that, in their diet, “no resolutions were taken, butwhat were equally advantageous to the whole confederacy, and the interest of each part so consulted, as to leave no room for complaints!”
How degrading would be the thought to a citizen of United America, that the people of these states, with institutions beyond comparison preferable to those of The Achæan league, and so vast a superiority in other respects, should not have wisdom and virtue enough, to manage their affairs, with as much prudence and affection of one for another as these ancients did.
Would this be doing justice to our country? The composition of her temper is excellent, and seems to be acknowledged equal to that of any nation in the world. Her prudence will guard its warmth against two faults, to which it may be exposed—The one, an imitation of foreign fashions, which from small things may lead to great. May her citizens aspire at a national dignity in every part of conduct, private as well as public. This will be influenced by the former. May simplicity be the characteristic feature of their manners, which, inlaid with their other virtues and their forms of government, may then indeed be compared, in the Eastern stile, to “apples of gold in pictures of silver.” Thus will they long, and may they, while their rivers run, escape the contagion of luxury—that motley issue of innocence debauched by folly, and the lineal predecessor of tyranny, prolific of guilt and wretchedness. The other fault, of which, as yet, there are no symptoms among us, is the thirst of empire. This is a vice, that ever has been, and from the nature of things, ever must be, fatal to republican forms of government. Our wants, are sources of happiness: our irregular desires, of misery. The abuse of prosperity, is rebellion against Heaven; and succeeds accordingly.
Do the propositions of gentlemen who object, offer to our view, any of the great points upon which, the fate, fame, or freedom of nations has turned, excepting what some of them have said about trial by jury; and which has been frequently and fully answered? Is there one of them calculated to regulate, and if needful, to controul those tempers and measures of constituent parts of an union, that have been so baneful to the weal of every confederacy that has existed? Do not some of them tend to enervate the authority evidently designed thus to regulate and controul? Do not others of them discover a bias in their advocates to particular connections, that if indulged to them, would enable persons of less understanding and virtue, to repeat the disorders, that have so often violated public peace and honor? Taking them altogether, would they afford as strong a security to our liberty, as the frequent election of the federal officers by the people, and the repartition of power among those officers, according to the proposed system?
It may be answered, that, they would be an additional security. In reply, let the writer be permitted at present to refer to what has been said.
The principal argument of gentlemen who object, involves a direct proof of the point contended for by the writer of this address, and as far as it may be supposed to be founded, a plain confirmation of Historic evidence.
They generally agree, that the great danger of a monarchy or aristocracy among us, will arise from the federal senate.
The members of this senate, are to be chosen by men exercising the sovereignty of their respective states. These men therefore must be monarchically or aristocratically disposed, before they will chuse federal senators thus disposed; and what merits particular attention, is, that these men must have obtained an overbearing influence in their respective states, before they could with such disposition arrive at the exercise of the sovereignty in them: or else, the like disposition must be prevalent among the people of such states.
Taking the case either way, is not this a disorder in parts of the union, and ought it not to be rectified by the rest? Is it reasonable to expect, that the disease will seize all at the same time? If it is not, ought not the sound to possess a right and power, by which they may prevent the infection from spreading? And will not the extent of our territory, and the number of states within it, vastly increase the difficulty of any political disorder diffusing its contagion, and the probability of its being repressed?1
From the annals of mankind, these conclusions are deducible—that confederated states may act prudently and honestly, and apart foolishly and knavishly; but, that it is a defiance of all probability, to suppose, that states conjointly shall act with folly and wickedness, and yet separately with wisdom and virtue.
The proposed confederation offers to us a system of diversified representation in the legislative, executive, and judicial departments, as essentially necessary to the good government of an extensive republican empire. Every argument to recommend it, receives new force, by contemplating events, that must take place. The number of states in America will increase. If not united to the present, the consequences are evident. If united, it must be by a plan that will communicate equal liberty and assure just protection to them. These ends can never be attained, but by a close combination of the several states.
It has been asserted, that a very extensive territory cannot be ruled by a government of republican form. What is meant by this proposition? Is it intended to abolish all ideas of connection, and to precipitate us into the miseries of division, either as single states, or partial confederacies? To stupify us into despondence, that destruction may certainly seize us? The fancy of poets never feigned so dire a Metamorphosis, as is now held up to us. The Ægis of their Minerva was only said to turn men into stones. This spell is to turn “a band of brethren,” into a monster, preying on itself, and preyed upon by all its enemies.
If hope is not to be abandoned, common sense teaches us to attempt the best means of preservation. This is all that men can do, and this they ought to do. Will it be said, that any kind of disunion, or a connection tending to it, is preferable to a firm union? Or, is there any charm in that despotism, which is said, to be alone competent to the rule of such an empire? There is no evidence of fact, nor any deduction of reason, that justifies the assertion. It is true, that extensive territory has in general been arbitrarily governed; and it is as true, that a number of republics, in such territory, loosely connected, must inevitably rot into despotism.
It is said—Such territory has never been governed by a confederacy of republics.2 Granted. But, where was there ever a confederacy of republics, in such territory, united, as these states are to be by the proposed constitution? Where was there ever a confederacy, in which, the sovereignty of each state was equally represented in one legislative body, the people of each state equally represented in another, and the sovereignties and people of all the states conjointly represented, possessed such a qualified and temperating authority in making laws? Or, in which the appointment to federal offices was vested in a chief magistrate chosen as our president is to be? Or, in which, the acts of the executive department were regulated, as they are to be with us? Or, in which, the federal judges were to hold their offices independently and during good behaviour? Or, in which, the authority over the militia and troops was so distributed and controuled, as it is to be with us? Or, in which, the people were so drawn together by religion, blood, language, manners and customs, undisturbed by former feuds or prejudices? Or, in which, the affairs relating to the whole union, were to be managed by an assembly of several representative bodies, invested with different powers that became efficient only in concert, without their being embarrassed by attention to other business? Or, in which, a provision was made for the federal revenue, without recurring to coercion against states, the miserable expedient, of every other confederacy that has existed, an expedient always attended with odium, and often with a delay productive of irreparable damage? Where was there ever a confederacy, that thus adhered to the first principle in civil society; obliging by its direct authority every individual, to contribute, when the public good necessarily required it, a just proportion of aid to the support of the commonwealth protecting him—without disturbing him in the discharge of the duties owing by him to the state of which he is an inhabitant; and at the same time, so amply, so anxiously provided, for bringing the interests, and even the wishes of every sovereignty and of every person of the union, under all their various modifications and impressions, into their full operation and efficacy in the national councils? The instance never existed. The conclusion ought not to be made. It is without premises. So far is the assertion from being true, that “a very extensive territory cannot be ruled by a government of a republican form,” that such a territory cannot be well-ruled by a government of any other form.
The assertion has probably been suggested by reflections on the democracies of antiquity, without making a proper distinction between them and the democracy of The United States.
In the democracies of antiquity, the people assembled together and governed personally. This mode was incompatible with greatness of number and dispersion of habitation.
In the democracy of The United States, the people act by their representatives. This improvement collects the will of millions upon points concerning their welfare, with more advantage, than the will of hundreds could be collected under the ancient form.
There is another improvement equally deserving regard, and that is, the varied representation of sovereignties and people in the constitution now proposed.
It has been said, that this representation was a mere compromise.
It was not a mere compromise.3The equal representation of each state in one branch of the legislature, was an original substantive proposition, made in convention, very soon after the draft offered by Virginia, to which last mentioned state United America is much indebted not only in other respects, but for her merit in the origination and prosecution of this momentous business.
The proposition was expressly made upon this principle, that a territory of such extent as that of United America, could not be safely and advantageously governed, but by a combination of republics, each retaining all the rights of supreme sovereignty, excepting such as ought to be contributed to the union; that for the securer preservation of these sovereignties, they ought to be represented in a body by themselves, and with equal suffrage; and that they would be annihilated, if both branches of the legislature were to be formed of representatives of the people, in proportion to the number of inhabitants in each state.
The principle appears to be well founded in reason, Why cannot a very extensive territory be ruled by a government of republican form? They answered, because its power must languish through distance of parts. Granted, if it be not a “body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered and knit together.” If it be such a body, the objection is removed. Instead of such a perfect body, framed upon the principle that commands men to associate, and societies to confederate; that, which by communicating and extending happiness, corresponds with the gracious intentions of our maker towards us his creatures? what is proposed? Truly, that the natural legs and arms of this body should be cut off, because they are too weak, and their places supplied by strongest limbs of wood and metal.
Monarchs, it is said, are enabled to rule extensive territories, because they send viceroys to govern certain districts; and thus the reigning authority is transmitted over the whole empire. Be it so: But what are the consequences? Tyranny, while the viceroys continue in submission to their masters, and the distraction of civil war besides, when they revolt, to which they are frequently tempted by the very circumstances of their situation, as the history of such governments indisputably proves.
America is, and will be, divided into several sovereign states, each possessing every power proper for governing within its own limits for its own purposes, and also for acting as a member of the union.4
They will be civil and military stations, conveniently planted throughout the empire, with lively and regular communications. A stroke, a touch upon any part, will be immediately felt by the whole. Rome famed for imperial arts, had a glimpse of this great truth; and endeavoured, as well as her hard-hearted policy would permit, to realize it in her colonies. They were miniatures of the capital: But wanted the vital principal of sovereignty, and were too small. They were melted down into, or overwhelmed by the nations around them. Were they now existing, they might be called curious automatons—something like to our living originals. These, will bear a remarkable resemblance to the mild features of patriarchal government, in which each son ruled his own household, and in other matters the whole family was directed by the common ancestor.
Will a people thus happily situated, ever desire to exchange their condition, for subjection to an absolute ruler; or can they ever look but with veneration, or act but with deference to that union, that alone can, under providence, preserve them from such subjugation?
Can any government be devised, that will be more suited to citizens, who wish for equal freedom and common prosperity; better calculated for preventing corruption of manners; for advancing the improvements that endear or adorn life; or that can be more conformed to the understanding, to the best affections, to the very nature of man? What harvests of happiness may grow from the seeds of liberty that are now sowing? The cultivation will indeed demand continual attention, unceasing diligence, and frequent conflict with difficulties: but, to object against the benefits offered to us by our Creator, by excepting to the terms annexed, is a crime to be equalled only by its folly.
Delightful are the prospects that will open to the view of United America—her sons well prepared to defend their own happiness, and ready to relieve the misery of others—her fleets formidable, but only to the unjust—her revenue sufficient, yet unoppressive—her commerce affluent, but not debasing—peace and plenty within her borders—and the glory that arises from a proper use of power, encircling them.
Whatever regions may be destined for servitude, let us hope, that some portions of this land may be blessed with liberty; let us be convinced, that nothing short of such an union as has been proposed, can preserve the blessing; and therefore let us be resolved to adopt it.
As to alterations, a little experience will cast more light upon the subject, than a multitude of debates. Whatever qualities are possessed by those who object, they will have the candor to confess, that they will be encountered by opponents, not in any respect inferior, and yet differing from them in judgment, upon every point they have mentioned.
Such untired industry to serve their country, did the delegates to the federal convention exert, that they not only laboured to form the best plan they could, but, provided for making at any time amendments on the authority of the people, without shaking the stability of the government. For this end, the Congress, whenever two-thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to the constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two-thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of the constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three-fourths thereof, as one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by Congress.
Thus, by a gradual progress, we may from time to time introduce every improvement in our constitution, that shall be suitable to our situation. For this purpose, it may perhaps be advisable, for every state, as it sees occasion, to form with the utmost deliberation, drafts of alterations respectively required by them, and to enjoin their representatives, to employ every proper method to obtain a ratification.
In this way of proceeding, the undoubted sense of every state, collected in the coolest manner, not the sense of individuals, will be laid before the whole union in congress, and that body will be enabled with the clearest light that can be afforded by every part of it, and with the least occasion of irritation, to compare and weigh the sentiments of all United America; forthwith to adopt such alterations as are recommended by general unanimity; by degrees to devise modes of conciliation upon contradictory propositions; and to give the revered advice of our common country, upon those, if any such there should be, that in her judgment are inadmissible, because they are incompatible with the happiness of these states.
It cannot be with reason apprehended, that Congress will refuse to act upon any articles calculated to promote the common welfare, though they may be unwilling to act upon such as are designed to advance partial interests: but, whatever their sentiments may be, they must call a convention for proposing amendments, on applications of two-thirds of the legislatures of the several states.
May those good citizens, who have sometimes turned their thoughts towards a second convention, be pleased to consider, that there are men who speak as they do, yet do not mean as they do. These borrow the sanction of their respected names, to conceal desperate designs. May they also consider, whether persisting in the suggested plan, in preference to the constitutional provision, may not kindle flames of jealousy and discord, which all their abilities and virtues can never extinguish.
When the sentiments of some objectors, concerning the British constitution, are considered, it is surprising, that they should apprehend so much danger to United America, as, they say, will attend the ratification of the plan proposed to us, by the late federal convention.
These gentlemen will acknowledge, that Britain has sustained many internal convulsions, and many foreign wars, with a gradual advancement in freedom, power, and prosperity. They will acknowledge, that no nation has existed that ever so perfectly united those distant extremes, private security of life, liberty, and property, with exertion of public force—so advantageously combined the various powers of militia, troops, and fleets—or so happily blended together arms, arts, science, commerce, and agriculture. From what spring has flowed this stream of happiness? The gentlemen will acknowledge, that these advantages are derived from a single democratical branch in her legislature. They will also acknowledge, that in this branch, called the house of commons, only one hundred and thirty-one are members for counties: that nearly one half of the whole house is chosen by about five thousand seven hundred persons, mostly of no property; that fifty-six members are elected by about three hundred and seventy persons, and the rest in an enormous disproportion to the numbers of inhabitants who ought to vote.
Thus are all the millions of people in that kingdom, said to be represented in the house of commons.
Let the gentlemen be so good, on a subject so familiar to them, as to make a comparison between the British constitution, and that proposed to us. Questions like these will then probably present themselves: Is there more danger to our liberty, from such a president as we are to have, than to that of Britons from an hereditary monarch with a vast revenue—absolute in the erection and disposal of offices, and in the exercise of the whole executive power—in the command of the militia, fleets, and armies, and the direction of their operations—in the establishments of fairs and markets, the regulation of weights and measures, and coining of money—who can call parliaments with a breath, and dissolve them with a nod—who can, at his will, make war, peace, and treaties irrevocably binding the nation—and who can grant pardons and titles of nobility, as it pleases him? Is there more danger to us, from twenty-six senators, or double the number, than to Britons, from an hereditary aristocratic body, consisting of many hundreds, possessed of enormous wealth in lands and money—strengthened by a host of dependants—and who, availing themselves of defects in the constitution, send many of these into the house of commons—who hold a third part of the legislative power in their own hands—and who form the highest court of judicature in the nation? Is there more danger to us, from a house of representatives, to be chosen by all the freemen of the union, every two years, than to Britons, from such a sort of representation as they have in the house of commons, the members of which, too, are chosen but every seven years? Is there more danger to us, from the intended federal officers, than to Britons, from such a monarch, aristocracy, and house of commons together? What bodies are there in Britain, vested with such capacities for enquiring into, checking, and regulating the conduct of national affairs, as our sovereign states? What proportion does the number of free holdersin Britain bear to the number of people? And what is the proportion in United America?
If any person, after considering such questions, shall say, there will be more danger to our freedom under the proposed plan, than to that of Britons under their constitution, he must mean, that Americans are, or will be, beyond all comparison, inferior to Britons in understanding and virtue; otherwise, with a constitution and government, every branch of which is so extremely popular, they certainly might guard their rights, at least at well, as Britons can guard theirs, under such political institutions as they have; unless the person has some inclination to an opinion, that monarchy and aristocracy are favourable to the preservation of their rights. If he has, he cannot too soon recover himself. If ever monarchy or aristocracy appears in this country, it must be in the hideous form of despotism.
What an infatuated, depraved people must Americans become, if, with such unequalled advantages, committed to their trust in a manner almost miraculous, they lose their liberty? Through a single organ of representation, in the legislature only, of the kingdom just mentioned, though that organ is diseased, such portions of popular sense and integrity have been conveyed into the national councils, as have purified other parts, and preserved the whole in its present state of healthfulness. To their own vigour and attention, therefore, is that people, under providence, indebted for the blessings they enjoy. They have held, and now hold the true balance in their government. While they retain their enlightened spirit, they will continue to hold it; and if they regard what they owe to others, as well as what they owe to themselves, they will, most probably, continue to be happy.
They know, that there are powers that cannot be expressly limited, without injury to themselves; and their magnanimity scorns any fear of such powers. This magnanimity taught Charles the first, that he was but a royal servant; and this magnanimity caused James the second’s army, raised, paid, and kept up by himself, to confound him with huzzas for liberty.
They ask not for compacts, of which the national welfare, and, in some cases, its existence, may demand violations. They despise such dangerous provisions against danger.
They know, that all powers whatever, even those that, according to the forms of the constitution, are irresistible and absolute, of which there are many, ought to be exercised for the public good; and that when they are used to the public detriment, they are unconstitutionally exerted.
This plain text, commented upon by their experienced intelligence, has led them safe through hazards of every kind: and they now are, what we see them. Upon the review, one is almost tempted to believe, that their insular situation, soil, climate, and some other circumstances, have compounded a peculiarity of temperature, uncommonly favourable to the union of reason and passion.
Certainly, ’tis very memorable, with what life, impartiality, and prudence, they have interposed on great occasions; have by their patriotism communicated temporary soundness to their disordered representation; and have bid public confusions to cease. Two instances out of many may suffice. The excellent William the third was distressed by a house of commons. He dissolved the parliament, and appealed to the people. They relieved him. His successor, the present king, in the like distress, made the same appeal; and received equal relief.
Thus they have acted: but Americans, who have the same blood in their veins, have, it seems, very different heads and hearts. We shall be enslaved by a president, senators, and representatives, chosen by ourselves, and continually rotating within the period of time assigned for the continuance in office of members in the house of commons? ’Tis strange: but, we are told, ’tis true. It may be so. As we have our all at stake, let us enquire, in what way this event is to be brought about. Is it to be before or after a general corruption of manners? If after, it is not worth attention. The loss of happiness then follows of course. If before, how is it to be accomplished? Will a virtuous and sensible people choose villains or fools for their officers? Or, if they should choose men of wisdom and integrity, will these lose both or either, by taking their seats? If they should, will not their places be quickly supplied by another choice? Is the like derangement again, and again, and again, to be expected? Can any man believe, that such astonishing phænomena are to be looked for? Was there ever an instance, where rulers, thus selected by the people from their own body, have, in the manner apprehended, outraged their own tender connexions, and the interests, feelings, and sentiments of their affectionate and confiding countrymen? Is such a conduct more likely to prevail in this age of mankind, than in the darker periods that have preceded? Are men more disposed now than formerly, to prefer uncertainties to certainties, things perilous and infamous to those that are safe and honorable? Can all the mysteries of such iniquity, be so wonderfully managed by treacherous rulers, that none of their enlightened constituents, nor any of their honest associates, acting with them in public bodies, shall ever be able to discover the conspiracy, till at last it shall burst with destruction to the whole federal constitution? Is it not ten thousand times less probable, that such transactions will happen, than it is, that we shall be exposed to innumerable calamities, by rejecting the plan proposed, or even by delaying to accept it?
Let us consider our affairs in another light. Our difference of government, participation in commerce, improvement in policy, and magnitude of power, can be no favourite objects of attention to the Monarchies and Sovereignties of Europe. Our loss will be their gain—our fall, their rise—our shame, their triumph. Divided, they may distract, dictate, and destroy. United, their efforts will be waves dashing themselves into foam against a rock. May our national character be—an animated moderation, that seeks only its own, and will not be satisfied with less.
To his beloved fellow-citizens of United America, the writer dedicates this imperfect testimony of his affection, with fervent prayers, for a perpetuity of freedom, virtue, piety, and felicity, to them and their posterity.
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette, 9 July 1788
My Friends and Fellow Citizens, Your candid and generous indulgence I may well bespeak, for many reasons. I shall mention but one. While I express it, I feel it, in all its force. My abilities are unequal—abilities far superior to mine would be unequal—to the occasion, on which I have the honor of being called to address you.
A people, free and enlightened, ESTABLISHING and RATIFYING a system of government, which they have previously CONSIDERED, EXAMINED and APPROVED! this is the spectacle, which we are assembled to celebrate; and it is the most dignified one that has yet appeared on our globe. Numerous and splended have been the triumphs of conquerors. From what causes have they originated? Of what consequences have they been productive? They have generally begun in ambition: They have generally ended in tyranny. But no thing tyrannical can participate of dignity; and to Freedom’s eye, SESOSTRIS himself appears contemptible, even when he treads on the necks of Kings.
The Senators of Rome, seated in their curule chairs, and surrounded with all their official lustre, were an object much more respectable; and we view, without displeasure, the admiration of those untutored savages, who considered them as so many gods upon earth. But who were those Senators? They were only a part of a society: They were vested with only inferior powers.
What is the object exhibited to our contemplation? a WHOLE PEOPLE exercising its first and greatest power—performing an act of SOVEREIGNTY, ORIGINAL and UNLIMITED.
The scene before us is unexampled as well as magnificent. The greatest part of governments have been the deformed offspring of force and fear. With these we deign not comparison. But there have been others who have formed bold pretentions to higher regard. You have heard of SPARTA, of ATHENS and of ROME. You have heard of their admired constitutions, and of their high prized freedom. In fancied right of these, they conceived themselves to be elevated above the rest of the human race, whom they marked with the degrading title of Barbarians. But did they, in all their pomp and pride of liberty, ever furnish to the astonished world an exhibition similar to that, which we now contemplate? Were their constitutions framed by those, who were appointed for that purpose, by the people? After they were framed, were they submitted to the consideration of the people? Had the people an opportunity of expressing their sentiments concerning them? Were they to stand or fall by the people’s approving or rejecting vote? To all these questions attentive and impartial history obliges us to answer in the negative. The people were either unfit to be trusted; or their lawgivers were too ambitious to trust them.
The far-famed establishment of LYCURGUS was introduced by deception and fraud. Under the specious pretence of consulting the oracle concerning his laws, he prevailed on the SPARTANS to make a temporary experiment of them during his absence, and to swear that they would suffer no alteration of them till his return. Taking a disingenuous advantage of their scrupulous regard for their oaths, he prevented his return by a voluntary death; and in this manner endeavoured to secure a proud immortality to his system.
Even SOLON—the mild and moderating SOLON—far from considering himself as employed only to propose such regulations as he should think best calculated for promoting the happiness of the commonwealth, made and promulgated his laws with all the haughty airs of absolute power. On more occasions than one, we find him boasting, with much self complacency, of his extreme forbearance and condescension, because he did not establish a despotism in his own favor, and because he did not reduce his equals to the humiliating condition of his slaves.
Did NUMA submit his institutions to the good sense and free investigation of ROME? They were received in precious communications from the goddess EGERIA, with whose presence and regard he was supremely favored; and they were imposed on the easy faith of the citizens as the Dictates of an inspiration that was divine.
Such, my fellow citizens, was the origin of the most splendid establishments that have been hitherto known; and such were the arts, to which they owed their introduction and success.
What a flattering contrast arises from a retrospect of the scenes which we now commemorate? Delegates were appointed to deliberate and to propose. They met, and performed their delegated trust. The result of their deliberations was laid before the people. It was discussed and scrutinized in the fullest, freest and severest manner,—by speaking, by writing and by printing—by individuals and by public bodies,—by its friends and by its enemies. What was the issue? Most favourable and most glorious to the system. In state after state, at time after time, it was ratified—in some states unanimously—on the whole, by a large and very respectable majority.
It would be improper now to examine its qualities. A decent respect for those who have accepted of it will lead us to presume that it is worthy of their acceptance. The deliberate ratifications, which have taken place, at once recommend the system, and the people by whom it has been ratified.
By why—methinks I hear some one say—why is so much exultation displayed in celebrating this event? We are prepared to give the reasons of our joy. We rejoice, because, under this constitution, we hope to see just government, and to enjoy the blessings that walk in its train.
Let us begin with PEACE—the mild and modest harbinger of felicity! How seldom does the amiable wanderer chuse, for her permanent residence, the habitations of men! In their systems she sees too many arrangements, civil and ecclesiastical, inconsistent with the calmness and benignity of her temper. In the old world, how many millions of men do we behold, unprofitable to society, burthensome to industry, the props of establishments that deserve not to be supported, the causes of distrust in the times of peace,—and the instruments of destruction in the times of war? Why are they not employed in cultivating useful arts, and in forwarding public improvements? Let us indulge the pleasing expectation, that such will be the operation of government in the UNITED STATES. Why may we not hope, that, disentangled from the intrigues and jealousies of European politics, and unmolested with the alarm and solicitude, to which these intrigues and jealousies give birth, our councils will be directed to the encouragement, and our strength will be exerted in the cultivation of the arts of peace?
Of these, the first is AGRICULTURE. This is true in all countries. In the UNITED STATES its truth is of peculiar importance. The subsistence of man, the materials of manufactures, the articles of commerce—all spring originally from the soil. On agriculture, therefore, the wealth of nations is founded. Whether we consult the observations that reason will suggest, or attend to the information that history will give, we shall, in each case, be satisfied of the influence of government, good or bad, upon the state of agriculture. In a government, whose maxims are those of oppression, property is insecure. It is given, it is taken away, by caprice. Where there is no security for property, there is no encouragement for industry. Without industry, the richer the soil the more it abounds with weeds. The evidence of history warrants the truth of these general remarks. Attend to Greece; and compare her agriculture in ancient and in modern times. THEN, smiling harvests bore testimony to the bountiful boons of liberty. Now, the very earth languishes under oppression. View the Compania of ROME. How melancholy the prospect? Which ever way you turn your afflicted eyes, scenes of desolation crowd before them. Waste and barrenness appear around you in all their hideous forms. What is the reason? With DOUBLE tyranny the land is cursed. Open the classic page: you trace, in chaste description, the beautiful reverse of every thing you have seen. Whence proceeds the difference? When that description was made, the force of liberty pervaded the soil.
But is agriculture the only art, which feels the influence of government? Over MANUFACTURES and COMMERCE its power is equally prevalent. There the same causes operate; and there they produce the same effects. The industrious village, the busy city, the crowded port—all these are the gifts of liberty; and without a good government liberty cannot exist.
These are advantages, but these are not all the advantages that result from a system of good government. Agriculture, manufactures and commerce will ensure to us plenty, convenience and elegance. But is there not something still wanting to finish the man? Are internal virtues and accomplishments less estimable or less attracting than external arts and ornaments? Is the operation of government less powerful upon the former than upon the latter? By no means. Upon this, as upon a preceding topic, reason and history will concur in their information and advice. In a serene mind the SCIENCES and the VIRTUES love to dwell. But can the mind of a man be serene, when the property, liberty and subsistence of himself, and of those, for whom he feels more than he feels for himself, depends on a tyrant’s nod? If the dispirited subject of oppression can, with difficulty, exert his enfeebled faculties, so far as to provide, on the incessant demands of nature, food just enough to lengthen out his wretched existence; can it be expected, that, in such a state, he will experience those fine and vigorous movements of the soul, without the full and free exercise of which science and virtue will never flourish. Look around you to the nations that now exist. View, in historic retrospect, the nations that have heretofore existed. The collected result will be an entire conviction of these all-interesting truths—Where tyranny reins, there is the COUNTRY of IGNORANCE and VICE—Where GOOD GOVERNMENT prevails there is the COUNTRY of SCIENCE and VIRTUE. Under a good government, therefore, we must look for the accomplished man.
But shall we confine our views even here? While we wish to be accomplished men and citizens, shall we wish to be nothing more? While we perform our duty, and promote our happiness in this world; shall we bestow no regards upon the next? Does no connexion subsist between the two? From this connexion flows the most important of all the blessings of good government. But here let us pause—unassisted reason can guide us no farther, she directs us to that HEAVEN-DESCENDED SCIENCE, by which LIFE and IMMORTALITY have been brought to light.
May we now say, that we have reason for our joy? But while we cherish the delightful emotion, let us remember those things which are requisite to give it permanence and stability. Shall we lie supine, and look, in listlesslangour, for those blessings and enjoyments, to which exertion is inseparably attached? If we would be happy; we must be active. The Constitution and our manners must mutually support and be supported. Even on the Festivity, it will not be disagreeable or incongruous to review the virtues and manners that both justify and adorn it.
FRUGALITY and TEMPERANCE first attract our attention. These simple but powerful virtues are the sole foundation, on which a good government can rest with security. They were the virtues which nursed and educated infant ROME, and prepared her for all her greatness. But in the giddy hour of her prosperity, she spurned from her the obscure instruments, by which it was procured; and in their place substituted luxury and dissipation. The consequence was such as might have been expected. She preserved, for some time, a gay and flourishing appearance; but the internal health and soundness of her constitution were gone. At last she fell, a victim to the poisonous draughts, which were administered by her perfidious favourites. The fate of Rome, both in her rising and in her falling state, will be the fate of every other nation that shall follow both parts of her example.
INDUSTRY appears next among the virtues of a good citizen. Idleness is the nurse of villains. The industrious alone constitute a nation’s strength. I will not expatiate on this fruitful subject. Let one animating reflection suffice. In a well constituted commonwealth, the industry of every citizen extends beyond himself. A common interest pervades the society. EACH gains from ALL, and ALL gain from EACH. It has often been observed, that the sciences flourish all together: The remark applies equally to the arts.
Your patriot feelings attest to the truth of what I say, when, among the virtues necessary to merit and preserve the advantages of a good government, I number a warm and uniform ATTACHMENT to LIBERTY, and to the CONSTITUTION. The enemies of liberty are artful and insiduous. A counterfeit steals her dress, imitates her manner, forges her signature, assumes her name. But the real name of the deceiver is Licentiousness. Such is her effrontery, that she will charge liberty to her face with imposture; and she will, with shameless front, insist that herself alone is the genuine character, and that herself alone is entitled to the respect, which the genuine character deserves. With the giddy and undiscerning, on whom a deeper impression is made by dauntless impudence than by modest merit, her pretensions are often successful. She receives the honors of liberty, and liberty herself is treated as a traitor and an usurper. Generally, however, this bold impostor acts only a secondary part. Though she alone appear, upon the stage, her motions are regulated by dark ambition, who sits concealed behind the curtain, and who knows that despotism, his OTHER favourite, can always follow the success of licentiousness. Against these enemies of liberty, who act in concert, though they appear on opposite sides, the patriot citizen will keep a watchful guard.
A good constitution is the greatest blessing, which a society can enjoy. Need I infer, that it is the duty of every citizen to use his best and most unremitting endeavours for preserving it pure, healthful and vigorous? For the accomplishment of this great purpose, the exertions of no one citizen are unimportant. Let no one, therefore, harbour, for a moment, the mean idea, that he is and can be of no value to his country. Let the contrary manly impression animate his soul. Every one can, at many times, perform to the state, useful services; and he, who steadily pursues the road of patriotism, has the most inviting prospect of being able, at some times, to perform eminent ones.
Allow me to direct your attention, in a very particular manner, to a momentous part, which by this constitution, every citizen will frequently be called to act. All those in places of power and trust will be elected either immediately by the people; or in such a manner that their appointment will depend ultimately on such immediate election. All the derivative movements of government must spring from the original movement of the people at large. If, to this, they give a sufficient force and a just direction, all the others will be governed by its controuling power. To speak without a metaphor; if the people, at their elections, take care to chuse none but representatives that are wise and good; their representatives will take care, in their turn, to chuse or appoint none but such as are wise and good also. The remark applies to every succeeding election and appointment. Thus the characters proper for public officers will be diffused from the immediate elections of the people over the remotest parts of administration. Of what immense consequence is it, then, that this PRIMARY duty should be faithfully and skillfully discharged? On the faithful and skillful discharge of it the public happiness or infelicity, under this and every other constitution, must, in a very great measure, depend. For, believe me, no government, even the best, can be happily administered by ignorant or vicious men. You will forgive me, I am sure, for endeavouring to impress upon your minds, in the strongest manner, the importance of this great duty. It is the first connection in politics; and if an error is committed here, it can never be corrected in any subsequent process: The certain consequence must be disease. Let no one say, that he is but a single citizen; and that his ticket will be but one in the box. That one ticket may turn the election. In battle, every soldier should consider the public safety as depending on his single arm. At an election, every citizen should consider the public happiness as depending on his single vote.
A PROGRESSIVE STATE is necessary to the happiness and perfection of Man. Whatever attainments are already reached, attainments still higher should be pursued. Let us, therefore, strive with noble emulation. Let us suppose we have done nothing, while any thing yet remains to be done. Let us, with fervent zeal, press forward, and make unceasing advances in every thing that can SUPPORT, IMPROVE, REFINE or EMBELISH Society.
To enter into particulars under each of these heads, and to dilate them according to their importance, would be improper at this time. A few remarks on the last of them will be congenial with the entertainments of this auspicious day.
If we give the slightest attention to NATURE, we shall discover that with utility she is curious to blend ornament. Can we imitate a better pattern? Public exhibitions have been the favorite amusements of some of the wisest and most accomplished nations. GREECE, in her most shining era, considered her games as far from being the least respectable among her public establishments. The shows of the Circus evince, that, on this subject, the sentiments of GREECE were fortified by those of ROME.
Public processions may be so planned and executed, as to join both the properties of Nature’s rule. They may instruct and improve, while they entertain and please. They may point out the elegance or usefulness of the sciences and the arts. They may preserve the memory, and engrave the importance of great political events. They may represent, with peculiar felicity and force, the operation and effects of great political truths. The picturesque and splendid decorations around me furnish the most beautiful and most brilliant proofs, that these remarks are FAR FROM BEING IMAGINARY.
The commencement of our Government has been eminently glorious: Let our progress in every excellence be proportionably great. It will, it must be so. What an enraptured prospect opens on the UNITED STATES! Placid HUSBANDRY walks in front, attended by the venerable plough. Lowing herds adorn our vallies: Bleating flocks spread o’er our hills, Verdant meadows, enameled pastures, yellow harvests, bending orchards, rise in rapid succession from east to west. PLENTY, with her copious horn, sits easy-smiling, and in conscience complacency, enjoys and presides over the scenes. COMMERCE next advances, in all her splendid and embellished forms. The rivers and lakes and seas are crouded with ships. Their shores are covered with cities. The cities are filled with inhabitants. The ARTS, decked with elegance, yet with simplicity, appear in beautiful variety, and well-adjusted arrangement. Around them are diffused, in rich abundance, the necessaries, the decencies and the ornaments of life. With heartfelt contentment, INDUSTRY beholds his honest labors flourishing and secure. PEACE walks serene and unalarmed over all the unmolested regions; while LIBERTY, VIRTUE and RELIGION go hand in hand harmoniously, protecting, enlivening and exalting all! HAPPY COUNTRY! MAY THY HAPPINESS BE PERPETUAL.
17 September 1787
The following remarks were recorded by James Madison at the close of the Constitutional Convention. See James Madison, Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1966), 659. In addition, this account was also printed in the Newport Herald on 20 December and reprinted five times by 25 February 1788.
Whilst the last members were signing it [i.e., the Constitution] DoctrFranklin looking towards the Presidents Chair, at the back of which a rising sun happened to be painted, observed to a few members near him, that Painters had found it difficult to distinguish in their art a rising from a setting sun. I have said he, often and often in the course of the Session, and the vicisitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting: But now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting Sun.
This book is set in Adobe Garamond. Robert Slimbach modeled his design of Claude Garamond’s type on sixteenth-century original manuscripts. The companion italic was drawn from the types of Robert Granjon, a contemporary of Garamond.
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[1. ]The unknown author of this essay is responding to An Address of the Minority of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. For the address see DH, 2:112-17.
[2. ]Consider the following catalogue of political evils in light of the arguments by Publius in The Federalist, No. 10.
[1. ]The letters of Cato began appearing in the New York Journal on 27 September 1787. Paul L. Ford attributed authorship to George Clinton, but in the wake of additional research by Jacob Cooke and Linda Grant DePauw, it appears, as Storing has remarked, that the attribution is “almost entirely groundless.” See especially the appendix to DePauw, The Eleventh Pillar (Ithaca: American Historical Association, Cornell University Press, 1966). Cato’s letters are in Storing, 2:6.
[1. ]See The Federalist, No. 68. Publius there insists that one must not acquiesce in the “political heresy” of Pope, but he goes on to argue that “the true test of a good government is its aptitude and tendency to produce a good administration.”
[2. ]Consider, for example, the plan of government Alexander Hamilton introduced in the Federal Convention. Farrand, Records, 1:282-93.
[3. ]The problems posed to republican government by the moral degeneracy of the people was a common political theme during the Founding period. For an interesting discussion of the problem (and one which many of that generation were familiar with), see Adam Ferguson, An Essay on the History of Civil Society (Edinburgh, 1776).
[4. ]See Publius’s famous discussion of this problem in The Federalist, Nos. 10, 49, and 51.
[5. ]One of the major problems of the period, exemplified in the minds of many by Daniel Shays’s uprising, was what Publius calls the “rage for paper money” (The Federalist, No. 10) and the ability of the legislatures to nullify contracts and absolve debtors from their obligations under them.
[6. ]A fear held by many was of what they termed the “leveling spirit,” a rampant egalitarianism. In the Federal Convention James Madison spoke of the political problem presented by “those who . . . labour under all the hardships of life & secretly sigh for a more equal distribution of its blessings” (Farrand, Records, 1:422). In The Federalist, No. 10 he would argue that “the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold, and those who are without property, have ever formed distinct interests in society. . . . The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern Legislation, and involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of Government.”
[7. ]Cf. The Federalist, No. 51.
[8. ]Elbridge Gerry. His objections to the Constitution are in Storing, 2:1; Allen, 20-22.
[9. ]Richard II 5.2.
[10. ]See The Federalist, No. 31. Publius elaborates this point by arguing that a “government ought to contain within itself every power requisite to the full accomplishment of the objects committed to its care, and to the complete execution of the trusts for which it is responsible, free from every other control but a regard to the public good and to the sense of the people.”
[11. ]See Storing, 2:2; Allen, 11-13.
[12. ]See Storing, 2:9; Allen, 102-13, 201-3, 269-74.
[* ]Cato was a pseudonym especially popular with the Anti-Federalists. See Storing, 2:6, 5:7, and 5:10; Allen, 159-69.
[1. ]For an elaboration of this argument that the Anti-Federalists failed to grasp the full implications of Montesquieu’s argument in behalf of small republics, see The Federalist, Nos. 9 and 10. For a study of Montesquieu’s political philosophy, see Thomas Pangle, Montesquieu’s Philosophy of Liberalism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973).
[1. ]See Willi Paul Adams, The First American Constitutions: Republican Ideology and the Making of the State Constitutions in the Revolutionary Era (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980).
[1. ]The anonymous essay is in Storing, 4:1.
[2. ]A common Anti-Federal argument was that the new Constitution was insufficiently representative. As Richard Henry Lee saw it, even the most democratic institution, the House of Representatives, was “a mere shread or rag of representation.”
[* ]The Am. Off. The Centinel, etc. of Gen. Washington, Franklin, and Wilson.
[1. ]See Storing, 5:6; Allen, 22-27.
[* ]The present Governor, who gave out his objections to the constitution, and then left them like a parcel of poor little helpless orphans to be supported by a contribution of arguments from his friends.2
[3. ]See Mason’s “Objections,” Storing, 2:7; Allen, 11-13.
[* ]See Journals of Assembly of Virginia 1784, resolution proposing to give Congress a right to compel the states to comply with their requisitions by force of arms—Who by?—
[1. ]See The Federalist, No. 1, for a similar sentiment.
[* ]A division of the legislature has been adopted in the new constitution of every state except Pennsylvania and Georgia.
[* ]I cannot help remarking the singular jealousy of the constitution of Pennsylvania, which requires that a bill shall be published for the consideration of the people, before it is enacted into a law, except in extraordinary cases. This annihilates the legislature, and reduces it to an advisory body. It almost wholly supersedes the uses of representation, the most excellent improvement in modern governments. Besides the absurdity of constituting a legislature, without supreme power, such a system will keep the state perpetually embroiled. It carries the spirit of discussion into all quarters, without the means of reconciling the opinions of men, who are not assembled to hear each others’ arguments. They debate with themselves—form their own opinions, without the reasons which influence others, and without the means of information. Thus the warmth of different opinions, which, in other states, dies in the legislature, is diffused through the state of Pennsylvania, and becomes personal and permanent. The seeds of dissension are sown in the constitution, and no state, except Rhode Island, is so distracted by factions.
[* ]In the decline of the republic, bribery or military force obtained this office for persons who had not attained this age—Augustus was chosen at the age of twenty; or rather obtained it with his sword.
[* ]I say the senate was elective—but this must be understood with some exceptions; or rather qualifications. The constitution of the Roman senate has been a subject of enquiry, with the first men in modern ages. Lord Chesterfield requested the opinion of the learned Vertot, upon the manner of chusing senators in Rome; and it was a subject of discussion between Lord Harvey and Dr. Middleton. The most probable account of the manner of forming the senate, and filling up vacancies, which I have collected from the best writers on this subject, is here abridged for the consideration of the reader.
[* ]It is a capital defect of most of the state-constitutions, that the senators, like the representatives, are chosen in particular districts. They are thus inspired with local views, and however wrong it may be to entertain them, yet such is the constitution of human nature, that men are almost involuntarily attached to the interest of the district which has reposed confidence in their abilities and integrity. Some partiality therefore for constituents is always expectable. To destroy it as much as possible, a political constitution should remove the grounds of local attachment. Connecticut and Maryland have wisely destroyed this attachment in their senates, by ordaining that the members shall be chosen in the state at large. The senators hold their seats by the suffrages of the state, not of a district; hence they have no particular number of men to fear or to oblige.—They represent the state; hence that union and firmness which the senates of those states have manifested on the most trying occasions, and by which they have prevented the most rash and iniquitous measures.
[* ]It is said by some, that no property should be required as a qualification for an elector. I shall not enter into a discussion of the subject; but remark that in most free governments, some property has been thought requisite, to prevent corruption and secure government from the influence of an unprincipled multitude.
[2. ]See Madison to Washington, 16 April 1787.
[* ]The clause may at first appear ambiguous. It may be uncertain whether we should read and understand it thus—“The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises in order to pay the debts,” &c. or whether the meaning is—“The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, and shall have power to pay the debts,” &c. On considering the construction of the clause, and comparing it with the preamble, the last sense seems to be improbable and absurd. But it is not very material; for no powers are vested in Congress but what are included under the general expressions, of providing for the common defence and general welfare of the United States. Any powers not promotive of these purposes, will be unconstitutional;—consequently any appropriations of money to any other purpose will expose the Congress to the resentment of the states, and the members to impeachment and loss of their seats.
[3. ]See Storing, “Slavery and the Moral Foundations of the American Republic,” in Robert Horowitz, ed., The Moral Foundations of the American Republic (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1977).
[* ]“Quod nemo plebeius auspicia haberet, ideoque decemviros connubium diremisse, ne incerta prole auspicia turbarentur.” Tit. Liv. lib. 4. cap. 6.
[† ]Auguriis certe sacerdotisque augurum tantus honos accessit, ut nihil belli domique postea, nisi auspicato, gereretur: concilia populi, exercitus vocati, summa rerum, ubi aves non admisissent, dirimerentur. Liv. lib. I. cap. 37.
[† ]Livy, 2. 33.
[‡ ]Livy, 3. 54.
[§ ]Livy, 3. 33.
[? ]Livy, 4. 6.
[# ]Livy, 6. 35. 42. “Ne quis plus quingenta jugera agri possideret.”
[* ]Montesquieu supposed virtue to be the principle of a republic. He derived his notions of this form of government, from the astonishing firmness, courage and patriotism which distinguished the republics of Greece and Rome. But this virtue consisted in pride, contempt of strangers and a martial enthusiasm which sometimes displayed itself in defence of their country. These principles are never permanent—they decay with refinement, intercourse with other nations and increase of wealth. No wonder then that these republics declined, for they were not founded on fixed principles; and hence authors imagine that republics cannot be durable. None of the celebrated writers on government seems to have laid sufficient stress on a general possession of real property in fee-simple. Even the author of the Political Sketches, in the Museum for the month of September, seems to have passed it over in silence; although he combats Montesquieu’s system, and to prove it false, enumerates some of the principles which distinguish our governments from others, and which he supposes constitutes the support of republics.
[* ]The state debt of Connecticut is about 3,500,000 dollars, its proportion of the federal debt about the same sum. The annual interest of the whole 420,000 dollars.
[* ]Xenophon’s life of Cyrus, page 367.
[** ]Hart’s history of Gustavus Adolphus.
[† ]Oeuvres du philosophe de sans souci.
[* ]Lib. 3. Ode 6.
[* ]Montague on the rise and fall of the ancient Republics. Page 304 and 307.
[** ]Sallust P. 25.
[† ]Ibidem, Pag. 94.
[‡ ]Montague, P. 307.
[* ]Aneidos lib. 6 v. 608. &c. ditto 660, &c.
[* ]Thoughts upon the mode of education proper in a Republic, Page 15.
[* ]Hume’s history—Moore’s travels in Italy.
[* ]Prov. 30. 8 give me neither poverty nor riches.
[** ]1 Tim. 6. 10.
[* ]Webster[,] Pennsylvania Packet, 15th February, 1787.
[* ]Thoughts upon female education—United States. page 19. a piece wrote with taste and judgment.
[* ]On the wealth of nations.
[* ]Principles of a commercial system for the United States, by Tench Coxe, merchant of Philadelphia.
[** ]Tench Coxe.
[* ]Smith on the wealth of nations. See the second book, fifth chapter.
[** ]Smith, in the book and chapter mentioned.
[* ]Allusion to the herring fishery, and spice trade of Holland.
[** ]Scotch Highlands.
[† ]England, where consumption, &c. have encreased with assiduous sedentary manufactures.
[‡ ]Swift’s history of John Bull—Competition in manufactures and commerce, have created many wars.
[* ]Montague on the rise and fall of the ancient republics. page 339, ditto 219.
[* ]The university should be where Congress meets.
[* ]Cox’s travels in Russia.
[* ]See in the American Museum an account of a negro enclosed in an iron cage, and miserably devoured by birds of prey.
[1. ]This paragraph was reprinted in the Freeman’s Journal, 26 September and the Pennsylvania Packet, 12 October.
[* ]Col. Hamilton’s speech in the Assembly of New-York. 18th February, forcibly treats of this matter—but alas rocks will not as in ancient times move for the best music—the impost was strangled by a band of mutes.
[1. ]Compare Hopkins’s view with that of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney in Dred Scott v. Sanford, 19 How. 393 (1857), and the responses of Abraham Lincoln to that decision. See Don E. Fehrenbacher, Prelude to Greatness: Lincoln in the 1850’s (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1962); and Harry V. Jaffa, Crisis of the House Divided (New York: Doubleday, 1959).
[1. ]See One of the People Called Quakers, Friends, 457.
[1. ]The author is responding to a letter from a “Virginian,” published in the Virginia Independent Chronicle, 13 February 1788.
[1. ]See Adams, The First American Constitutions.
[2. ]In the Federal Convention, Franklin spoke in favor of not paying the chief executive at all. To Franklin’s way of thinking, payment would serve only to unite the passion of avarice with the passion of ambition in those who would seek the executive office: “Place before the eyes of such men a post of honour that shall at the same time be a place of profit, and they will move heaven and earth to obtain it.” The “pleasure of doing good & serving their Country and the respect such conduct entitles them to,” Franklin insisted, “are sufficient motives” to draw the most capable men into public affairs. The suggestion was not taken seriously. As Madison recorded in his notes, “No debate ensued.” Farrand, Records, 1:81-85.
[3. ]See Crito, Friends, 441-49; One of the People Called Quakers, Friends, 457-58; Cf. Civis, Friends, 450-56.
[4. ]See Storing, “Slavery and the Moral Foundations of the American Republic.”
[5. ]As Chief Justice John Marshall would have occasion to instruct in McCulloch v. Maryland: “The power to tax involves the power to destroy.”
[* ]Trials between a state and its own Citizens, and between Citizens of the same state, involving questions concerning state laws that infringe this constitution, may be carried by appeal, it is presumed, into a fœderal court.
[6. ]Cf. The Federalist, No. 51.
[* ]There is one grand operation of the new fœderal constitution, favorable to general liberty, which I do not remember to have heard from any of its friends. It is well known, that in most of the states the members of their Houses of Representatives are chosen in equal numbers from each county, and in the eastern states, in equal numbers from each town, without any regard to the number of taxable inhabitants, or the number of souls. Hence it is very frequent for a county, with ten thousand souls, to send only the same number of members to the state house of representatives, as a county with two thousand souls, by which each person in the least populous county has five times as great a voice in electing representatives, as his fellow citizen of the most populous county. This is clearly a departure from the principles of equal liberty, and ought to be altered in the several states. I speak the more plainly because our state constitution is free from that fault in the formation of our house of Assembly. Now the new constitution expressly declares, that the fœderal Representatives shall be in the proportion of one to every thirty thousand, which accords with reason and the true principles of liberty. This house, therefore, so far as national matters go, will remedy the evil spoken of in the several states, and is one more great step towards the perfection of equal liberty and genuine republicanism in America. It must strongly recommend the fœderal constitution to the serious reflecting patriot, even though he may formerly have had doubts, and it will suggest to the several states the propriety of reconsidering that point in their respective constitutions. Pennsylvania, though right in the principles on which her legislative elections are and will be held, is less safe from the existence of this fault in the adjoining sister states of Virginia, Maryland, Jersey, Delaware and New York, and in others more remote.
[1. ]See the letter of William Williams, “A Letter to The Landholder,” in Paul Leicester Ford, Essays on the Constitution of the United States (New York: Historical Printing Club, 1892), 207-9.
[1. ]See the famous argument by Publius in The Federalist, No. 10; and James Madison’s speech of 6 June in the Federal Convention: “[W]ere we not thence admonished,” Madison asked the Convention, “to enlarge the sphere as far as the nature of the Govt. would admit. This was the only defence agst. the inconveniences of democracy consistent with the democratic form of Govt.” Farrand, Records, 1:134-35.
[2. ]Publius in The Federalist, No. 9, referred to this notion of an extensive republic better serving the rights of the people than a small republic as a “novel” contribution to the only recently improved science of politics.
[3. ]Strictly speaking, the notion of equal representation of each state in one branch of the legislature was the result of a compromise, a compromise that one might consider the essence of the statesmanship of those in Convention. Dickinson’s rhetorical effort is aimed at undermining the notion that the Constitution was a “bundle of compromises” with no unifying theory of politics. In Dickinson’s view such a compromise was, as he puts it, not a “mere compromise”; it was, rather, a prudential modification of principles after due deliberation. See Storing, “The Federal Convention of 1787: Politics, Principles, and Statesmanship,” in Rossum and McDowell, eds., The American Founding.
[4. ]On the eve of the Federal Convention, James Madison shared his thoughts on the nature of a federal republic with George Washington: “Conceiving that an individual independence of the States is utterly irreconcileable with their aggregate sovereignty; and that a consolidation of the whole into one simple republic would be as inexpedient as it is unattainable, I have sought for some middle ground, which may at once support a due supremacy of the national authority, and not exclude the local authorities wherever they can be subordinately useful.” Madison to Washington, 16 April 1787. See also The Federalist, No. 14.
[* ]The present Governor, who gave out his objections to the constitution, and then left them like a parcel of poor little helpless orphans to be supported by a contribution of arguments from his friends.2
[2. ]Letter of Edmund Randolph, Storing, 2:5.
[4. ]Walter Moyle, A Select Collection of Tracts . . . Containing, I. An Essay Upon the Roman Government . . . (Glasgow, 1750).