Front Page Titles (by Subject) Atticus Essays: I-IV - Friends of the Constitution: Writings of the Other Federalists, 1787-1788
Return to Title Page for Friends of the Constitution: Writings of the “Other” Federalists, 1787-1788
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
“Atticus” Essays: I-IV - 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
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.
[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.