The Agrippa letters appear to have been written by James Winthrop, who was register of probate in Middlesex when these letters were written. Although preoccupied with the interests of Massachusetts, they reflect the principled selfishness that is the ground of Agrippa's argument. The letters fall into two distinct sets, the first set (I-XI) were addressed to the people of Massachusetts, the second (XII-XVI) to the Massachusetts Convention.
Many inconveniencies and difficulties in the new plan of government have been mentioned by different writers on that subject. Mr Gerry has given the publick his objections against it, with a manly freedom. The seceding members from the Pennsylvania Assembly also published theirs. Various anonymous writers have mentioned reasons of great weight. Among the many objections have been stated the unlimited right of taxation a standing army an inadequate representation of the people a right to destroy the constitution of the separate states, and all the barriers that have been set up in defence of liberty the right to try causes between private persons in many cases without a jury; without trying in the vicinity of either party; and without any limitation of the value which is to be tried. To none of these or any other objections has any answer been given, but such as have acknowledged the truth of the objection while they insulted the objector. This conduct has much the appearance of trying to force a general sentiment upon the people.
The idea of promoting the happiness of the people by opposing all their habits of business, and by subverting the laws to which they are habituated, appears to me to be at least a mistaken proceeding. If to this we add the limitations of trade, restraints on its freedom, and the alteration of its course, and transfer of the market, all under the pretence of regulation for federal purposes, we shall not find any additional reason to be pleased with the plan.
It is now conceded on all sides that the laws relating to civil causes were never better executed than at present. It is confessed by a warm federalist in answer to mr. Gerry's sensible letter, that the courts are so arranged at present that no inconvenience is found, and that if the new plan takes place great difficulties may arise. With this confession before him, can any reasonable man doubt whether he shall exchange a system, found by experience to be convenient, for one that is in many respects inconvenient, and dangerous? The expense of the new plan is terrifying, if there was no other objection. But they are multiplied. Let us consider that of the representation.
There is to be one representative for every thirty thousand people. Boston would nearly send one, but with regard to another there is hardly a county in the state which would have one. The representatives are to be chosen for two years. In this space, when it is considered that their residence is from two hundred to five [hundred?] miles from their constituents, it is difficult to suppose that they will retain any great affection for the welfare of the people. They will have an army to support them, and may bid defiance to the clamours of their subjects. Should the people cry aloud the representative may avail himself of the right to alter the time of election and postpone it for another year. In truth, the question before the people is, whether they will have a limited government or an absolute one?
It is a fact justified by the experience of all mankind from the earliest antiquity down to the present time, that freedom is necessary to industry. We accordingly find that in absolute governments, the people, be the climate what it may, are [in] general lazy, cowardly, turbulent, and vicious to an extreme. On the other hand, in free countries are found in general, activity, industry, arts, courage, generosity, and all the manly virtues.
Can there be any doubt which to choose? He that hesitates must be base indeed.
A favourite objection against a free government is drawn from the irregularities of the Greek and Roman republicks. But it is to be considered that war was the employment which they considered as most becoming freemen. Agriculture, arts, and most domestick employment were committed chiefly to slaves. But Carthage, the great commercial republick of antiquity, though resembling Rome in the form of its government, and her rival for power, retained her freedom longer than Rome, and was never disturbed by sedition during the long period of her duration. This is a striking proof that the fault of the Greek and Roman republicks was not owing to the form of their government, and that the spirit of commerce is the great bond of union among citizens. This furnishes employment for their activity, supplies their mutual wants, defends the rights of property, and producing reciprocal dependencies, renders the whole system harmonious and energetick. Our great object therefore ought to be to encourage this spirit. If we examine the present state of the world we shall find that most of the business is done in the freest states, and that industry decreases in proportion to the rigour of government.
In the Gazette of the 23d instant, I ascertained from the state of other countries and the experience of mankind, that free countries are most friendly to commerce and to the rights of property. This produces greater internal tranquillity. For every man, finding sufficient employment for his active powers in the way of trade, agriculture and manufactures, feels no disposition to quarrel with his neighbour, nor with the government which protects him, and of which he is a constituent part. Of the truth of these positions we have abundant evidence in the history of our own country. Soon after the settlement of Massachusetts, and its formation into a commonwealth, in the earlier part of the last century, there was a sedition at Hingham and Weymouth. The governour passing by at that time with his guard, seized some of the mutineers and imprisoned them. This was complained of as a violation of their rights, and the govemour lost his election the next year; but the year afterwards was restored and continued to be re-elected for several years. The government does not appear to have been disturbed again till the revocation of the charter in 1686, being a period of about half a century.
Connecticut set out originally on the same principles, and has continued uniformly to exercise the powers of government to this time.
During the last year, we had decisive evidences of the vigour of this kind of government. In Connecticut, the treason was restrained while it existed only in the form of conspiracy. In Vermont, the conspirators assembled in arms, but were suppressed by the exertions of the militia, under the direction of their sheriffs. In New-Hampshire, the attack was made on the legislature, but the insurrection was in a very few hours suppressed, and has never been renewed. In Massachusetts, the danger was, by delay, suffered to increase. One judicial court after another was stopped, and even the capital trembled. Still, however, when the supreme executive gave the signal, a force of many thousands of active, resolute men, took the field, during the severities of winter, and every difficulty vanished before them. Since that time we have been continually coalescing. The people have applied with diligence to their several occupations, and the whole country wears one face of improvement. Agriculture has been improved, manufactures multiplied, and trade prodigiously enlarged. These are the advantages of freedom in a growing country. While our resources have been thus rapidly increasing, the courts have set in every part of the commonwealth, without any guard to defend them; have tried causes of every kind, whether civil or criminal, and the sheriffs, have in no case been interrupted in the execution of their office. In those cases indeed, where the government was more particularly interested, mercy has been extended, but in civil causes, and in the case of moral offences, the law has been punctually executed. Damage done to individuals, during the tumults, has been repaired, by judgment of the courts of law, and the award has been carried into effect. This is the present state of affairs, when we are asked to relinquish that freedom which produces such happy effects.
The attempt has been made to deprive us of such a beneficial system, and to substitute a rigid one in its stead, by criminally alarming our fears, exalting certain characters on one side, and villifying them on the other. I wish to say nothing of the merits or demerits of individuals; such arguments always do hurt. But assuredly my countrymen cannot fail to consider and determine who are the most worthy of confidence in a business of this magnitude. Whether they will trust persons, who have, from their cradles, been incapable of comprehending any other principles of government, than those of absolute power, and who have, in this very affair, tried to deprive them of their constitutional liberty, by a pitiful trick. They cannot avoid prefering those who have uniformly exerted themselves to establish a limited government, and to secure to individuals all the liberty that is consistent with justice, between man and man, and whose efforts, by the smiles of Providence, have hitherto been crowned with the most splendid success. After the treatment we have received, we have a right to be jealous, and to guard our present constitution with the strictest care. It is the right of the people to judge, and they will do wisely to give an explicit instruction to their delegates in the proposed convention, not to agree to any proposition that will, in any degree, militate with that happy system of government under which Heaven has placed them.
November 24, 1787.
It has been proved, from the clearest evidence, in two former papers, that a free government, I mean one in which the power frequently returns to the body of the people, is in principle the most stable and efficient of any kind; that such a government affords the most ready and effectual remedy for all injuries done to persons and the rights of property. It is true we have had a tender act. But what government has not some law in favour of debtors? The difficulty consists in finding one that is not more unfriendly to the creditors than ours. I am far from justifying such things. On the contrary I believe that it is universally true, that acts made to favour a part of the community are wrong in principle. All that is now intended is, to remark that we are not worse than other people in that respect which we most condemn. Probably the inquiry will be made, whence the complaints arise. This is easily answered. Let any man look round his own neighbourhood, and see if the people are not, with a very few exceptions, peaceable and attached to the government; if the country had ever within their knowledge more appearance of industry, improvement and tranquillity; if there was ever more of the produce of all kinds together for the market; if their stock does not rapidly increase; if there was ever a more ready vent for their surplus; and if the average of prices is not about as high as was usual in a plentiful year before the war. These circumstances all denote a general prosperity. Some classes of citizens indeed suffer greatly. Two descriptions I at present recollect. The publick creditors form the first of these classes and they ought to, and will be provided for. Let us for a moment consider their situation and prospects. The embarrassments consequent upon a war, and the usual reduction of prices immediately after a war, necessarily occasioned a want of punctuality in publick payments. Still however the publick debt has been very considerably reduced, not by the dirty and delusive scheme of depreciation, but the nominal sum. Applications are continually making for purchases in our eastern and western lands. Great exertions are making for clearing off the arrears of outstanding taxes, so that the certificates for interest on the state debt have considerably increased in value. This is a certain indication of returning credit. Congress this year disposed of a large tract of their lands towards paying the principal of their debt. Pennsylvania has discharged the whole of their part of the continental debt. New-York has nearly cleared its state debt, and has located a large part of their new lands towards paying the continental demands. Other states have made considerable payments. Every day from these considerations the publick ability and inclination to satisfy their creditors increases. The exertions of last winter were as much to support publick as private credit. The prospect therefore of the publick creditors is brightening under the present system. If the new system should take effect without amendments, which however is hardly probable, the increase of expense will be death to the hopes of all creditors both of the continental and of the state. With respect however to our publick delays of payment we have the precedent of the best established countries in Europe.
The other class of citizens to which I alluded was the ship-carpenters. All agree that their business is dull; but as nobody objects against a system of commercial regulations for the whole continent, that business may be relieved without subverting all the ancient foundations and laws which have the respect of the people. It is a very serious question whether giving to Congress the unlimited right to regulate trade would not injure them still further. It is evidently for the interest of the state to encourage our own trade as much as possible. But in a very large empire, as the whole states consolidated must be, there will always be a desire of the government to increase the trade of the capital, and to weaken the extremes. We should in that case be one of the extremes, and should feel all the impoverishment incident to that situation. Besides, a jealousy of our enterprising spirit, would always be an inducement to cramp our exertions. We must then be impoverished or we must rebel. The alternative is dreadful.
At present this state is one of the most respectable and one of the most influential in the union. If we alone should object to receiving the system without amendments, there is no doubt but it would be amended. But the case is not quite so bad. New-York appears to have no disposition even to call a convention. If they should neglect, are we to lend our assistance to compel them by arms, and thus to kindle a civil war without any provocation on their part. Virginia has put off their convention till May, and appears to have no disposition to receive the new plan without amendments. Pennsylvania does not seem to be disposed to receive it as it is. The same objections are made in all the states, that the civil government which they have adopted and which secures their rights will be subverted. All the defenders of this system undertake to prove that the rights of the states and of the citizens are kept safe. The opposers of it agree that they will receive the least burdensome system which shall defend those rights.
Both parties therefore found their arguments on the idea that these rights ought to be held sacred. With this disposition is it not in every man's mind better to recommit it to a new convention, or to Congress, which is a regular convention for the purpose, and to instruct our delegates to confine the system to the general purposes of the union, than to endeavour to force it through in its present form, and with so many opposers as it must have in every state on the continent. The case is not of such pressing necessity as some have represented. Europe is engaged and we are tranquil. Never therefore was an happier time for deliberation. The supporters of the measure are by no means afraid of insurrections taking place, but they are afraid that the present government will prove superiour to their assaults.
Having considered some of the principal advantages of the happy form of government under which it is our peculiar good fortune to live, we find by experience, that it is the best calculated of any form hitherto invented, to secure to us the rights of our persons and of our property, and that the general circumstances of the people shew an advanced state of improvement never before known. We have found the shock given by the war in a great measure obliterated, and the publick debt contracted at that time to be considerably reduced in the nominal sum. The Congress lands are fully adequate to the redemption of the principal of their debt, and are selling and populating very fast. The lands of this state, at the west, are, at the moderate price of eighteen pence an acre, worth near half a million pounds in our money. They ought, therefore, to be sold as quick as possible. An application was made lately for a large tract at that price, and continual applications are made for other lands in the eastern part of the state. Our resources are daily augmenting.
We find, then, that after the experience of near two centuries our separate governments are in full vigour. They discover, for all the purposes of internal regulation, every symptom of strength, and none of decay. The new system is, therefore, for such purposes, useless and burdensome.
Let us now consider how far it is practicable consistent with the happiness of the people and their freedom. It is the opinion of the ablest writers on the subject, that no extensive empire can be governed upon republican principles, and that such a government will degenerate to a despotism, unless it be made up of a confederacy of smaller states, each having the full powers of internal regulation. This is precisely the principle which has hitherto preserved our freedom. No instance can be found of any free government of considerable extent which has been supported upon any other plan. Large and consolidated empires may indeed dazzle the eyes of a distant spectator with their splendour, but if examined more nearly are always found to be full of misery. The reason is obvious. In large states the same principles of legislation will not apply to all the parts. The inhabitants of warmer climates are more dissolute in their manners, and less industrious, than in colder countries. A degree of severity is, therefore, necessary with one which would cramp the spirit of the other. We accordingly find that the very great empires have always been despotick. They have indeed tried to remedy the inconveniences to which the people were exposed by local regulations; but these contrivances have never answered the end. The laws not being made by the people, who felt the inconveniences, did not suit their circumstances. It is under such tyranny that the Spanish provinces languish, and such would be our misfortune and degradation, if we should submit to have the concerns of the whole empire managed by one legislature. To promote the happiness of the people it is necessary that there should be local laws; and it is necessary that those laws should be made by the representatives of those who are immediately subject to the want of them. By endeavouring to suit both extremes, both are injured.
It is impossible for one code of laws to suit Georgia and Massachusetts. They must, therefore, legislate for themselves. Yet there is, I believe, not one point of legislation that is not surrendered in the proposed plan. Questions of every kind respecting property are determinable in a continental court, and so are all kinds of criminal causes. The continental legislature has, therefore, a right to make rules in all cases by which their judicial courts shall proceed and decide causes. No rights are reserved to the citizens. The laws of Congress are in all cases to be the supreme law of the land, and paramount to the constitutions of the individual states. The Congress may institute what modes of trial they please, and no plea drawn from the constitution of any state can avail. This new system is, therefore, a consolidation of all the states into one large mass, however diverse the parts may be of which it is to be composed. The idea of an uncompounded republick, on an average, one thousand miles in length, and eight hundred in breadth, and containing six millions of white inhabitants all reduced to the same standard of morals, or habits, and of laws, is in itself an absurdity, and contrary to the whole experience of mankind. The attempt made by Great-Britain to introduce such a system, struck us with horrour, and when it was proposed by some theorist that we should be represented in parliament, we uniformly declared that one legislature could not represent so many different interests for the purposes of legislation and taxation. This was the leading principle of the revolution, and makes an essential article in our creed. All that part, therefore, of the new system, which relates to the internal government of the states, ought at once to be rejected.
In the course of inquiry it has appeared, that for the purposes of internal regulation and domestick tranquillity, our small and separate governments are not only admirably suited in theory, but have been remarkably successful in practice. It is also found, that the direct tendency of the proposed system, is to consolidate the whole empire into one mass, and, like the tyrant's bed, to reduce all to one standard. Though this idea has been stated in different parts of the continent, and is the most important trait of this draft, the reasoning ought to be extensively understood. I therefore hope to be indulged in a particular statement of it.
Causes of all kinds, between citizens of different states, are to be tried before a continental court. This court is not bound to try it according to the local laws where the controversies happen; for in that case it may as well be tried in a state court. The rule which is to govern the new courts, must, therefore, be made by the court itself, or by its employers, the Congress. If by the former, the legislative and judicial departments will be blended; and if by the Congress, though these departments will be kept separate, still the power of legislation departs from the state in all those cases. The Congress, therefore, have the right to make rules for trying all kinds of questions relating to property between citizens of different states. The sixth article of the new constitution provides, that the continental laws shall be the supreme law of the land, and that all judges in the separate states shall be bound thereby, any thing in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding. All the state officers are also bound by oath to support this constitution. These provisions cannot be understood otherwise than as binding the state judges and other officers, to execute the continental laws in their own proper departments within the state. For all questions, other than those between citizens of the same state, are at once put within the jurisdiction of the continental courts. As no authority remains to the state judges, but to decide questions between citizens of the same state, and those judges are to be bound by the laws of Congress, it clearly follows, that all questions between citizens of the same state are to be decided by the general laws and not by the local ones.
Authority is also given to the continental courts, to try all causes between a state and its own citizens. A question of property between these parties rarely occurs. But if such questions were more frequent than they are, the proper process is not to sue the state before an higher authority; but to apply to the supreme authority of the state, by way of petition. This is the universal practice of all states, and any other mode of redress destroys the sovereignty of the state over its own subjects. The only case of the kind in which the state would probably be sued, would be upon the state notes. The endless confusion that would arise from making the estates of individuals answerable, must be obvious to every one.
There is another sense in which the clause relating to causes between the state and individuals is to be understood, and it is more probable than the other, as it will be eternal in its duration, and increasing in its extent. This is the whole branch of the law relating to criminal prosecutions. In all such cases the state is plaintiff, and the person accused is defendant. The process, therefore, will be, for the attorney-general of the state to commence his suit before a continental court. Considering the state as a party, the cause must be tried in another, and all the expense of the transporting witnesses incurred. The individual is to take his trial among strangers, friendless and unsupported, without its being known whether he is habitually a good or a bad man; and consequently with one essential circumstance wanting by which to determine whether the action was performed maliciously or accidentally. All these inconveniences are avoided by the present important restriction, that the cause shall be tried by a jury of the vicinity, and tried in the county where the offence was commited. But by the proposed derangement, I can call it by no softer name, a man must be ruined to prove his innocence. This is far from being a forced construction of the proposed form. The words appear to me not intelligible, upon the idea that it is to be a system of government, unless the construction now given, both for civil and criminal processes, be admitted. I do not say that it is intended that all these changes should take place within one year, but they probably will in the course of a half a dozen years, if this system is adopted. In the mean time we shall be subject to all the horrors of a divided sovereignty, not knowing whether to obey the Congress or the state. We shall find it impossible to please two masters. In such a state frequent broils will ensue. Advantage will be taken of a popular commotion, and even the venerable forms of the state be done away, while the new system will be enforced in its utmost rigour by an army. I am the more apprehensive of a standing army, on account of a clause in the new constitution which empowers Congress to keep one at all times; but this constitution is evidently such that it cannot stand any considerable time without an army. Upon this principle one is very wisely provided. Our present government knows of no such thing.
To prevent any mistakes, or misapprehensions of the argument, stated in my last paper, to prove that the proposed constitution is an actual consolidation of the separate states into one extensive commonwealth, the reader is desired to observe, that in the course of the argument, the new plan is considered as an intire system. It is not dependent on any other book for an explanation, and contains no references to any other book. All the defences of it, therefore, so far as they are drawn from the state constitutions, or from maxims of the common law, are foreign to the purpose. It is only by comparing the different parts of it together, that the meaning of the whole is to be understood. For instance
We find in it, that there is to be a legislative assembly, with authority to constitute courts for the trial of all kinds of civil causes, between citizens of different states. The right to appoint such courts necessarily involves in it the right of defining their powers, and determining the rules by which their judgment shall be regulated; and the grant of the former of those rights is nugatory without the latter. It is vain to tell us, that a maxim of common law requires contracts to be determined by the law existing where the contract was made: for it is also a maxim, that the legislature has a right to alter the common law. Such a power forms an essential part of legislation. Here, then a declaration of rights is of inestimable value. It contains those principles which the government never can invade without an open violation of the compact between them and the citizens. Such a declaration ought to have come to the new constitution in favour of the legislative rights of the several states, by which their sovereignty over their own citizens within the state should be secured. Without such an express declaration the states are annihilated in reality upon receiving this constitution the forms will be preserved only during the pleasure of Congress.
The idea of consolidation is further kept up in the right given to regulate trade. Though this power under certain limitations would be a proper one for the department of Congress; it is in this system carried much too far, and much farther than is necessary. This is, without exception, the most commercial state upon the continent. Our extensive coasts, cold climate, small estates, and equality of rights, with a variety of subordinate and concurring circumstances, place us in this respect at the head of the union. We must, therefore, be indulged if a point which so nearly relates to our welfare be rigidly examined. The new constitution not only prohibits vessels, bound from one state to another, from paying any duties, but even from entering and clearing. The only use of such a regulation is, to keep each state in complete ignorance of its own resources. It certainly is no hardship to enter and clear at the custom house, and the expense is too small to be an object.
The unlimitted right to regulate trade, includes the right of granting exclusive charters. This, in all old countries, is considered as one principal branch of prerogative. We find hardly a country in Europe which has not felt the ill effects of such a power. Holland has carried the exercise of it farther than any other state; and the reason why that country has felt less evil from it is, that the territory is very small, and they have drawn large revenues from their colonies in the East and West Indies. In this respect, the whole country is to be considered as a trading company, having exclusive privileges. The colonies are large in proportion to the parent state; so that, upon the whole, the latter may gain by such a system. We are also to take into consideration the industry which the genius of a free government inspires. But in the British islands all these circumstances together have not prevented them from being injured by the monopolies created there. Individuals have been enriched, but the country at large has been hurt. Some valuable branches of trade being granted to companies, who transact their business in London, that city is, perhaps, the place of the greatest trade in the world. But Ireland, under such influence, suffers exceedingly, and is impoverished; and Scotland is a mere bye-word. Bristol, the second city in England, ranks not much above this town in population. These things must be accounted for by the incorporation of trading companies; and if they are felt so severely in countries of small extent, they will operate with tenfold severity upon us, who inhabit an immense tract; and living towards one extreme of an extensive empire, shall feel the evil, without retaining that influence in government, which may enable us to procure redress. There ought, then, to have been inserted a restraining clause which might prevent the Congress from making any such grant, because they consequentially defeat the trade of the out-ports, and are also injurious to the general commerce, by enhancing prices and destroying that rivalship which is the great stimulus to industry.
There cannot be a doubt, that, while the trade of this continent remains free, the activity of our countrymen will secure their full share. All the estimates for the present year, let them be made by what party they may, suppose the balance of trade to be largely in our favour. The credit of our merchants is, therefore, fully established in foreign countries. This is a sufficient proof, that when business is unshackled, it will find out that channel which is most friendly to its course. We ought, therefore, to be exceedingly cautious about diverting or restraining it. Every day produces fresh proofs, that people, under the immediate pressure of difficulties, do not, at first glance, discover the proper relief. The last year, a desire to get rid of embarrassments induced many honest people to agree to a tender-act, and many others, of a different description, to obstruct the courts of justice. Both these methods only increased the evil they were intended to cure. Experience has since shewn, that, instead of trying to lessen an evil by altering the present course of things, every endeavour should have been applied to facilitate the course of law, and thus to encourage a mutual confidence among the citizens, which increases the resources of them all, and renders easy the payment of debts. By this means one does not grow rich at the expense of another, but all are benefited. The case is the same with the states. Pennsylvania, with one port and a large territory, is less favourably situated for trade than the Massachusetts, which has an extensive coast in proportion to its limits of jurisdiction. Accordingly a much larger proportion of our people are engaged in maritime affairs. We ought therefore to be particularly attentive to securing so great an interest. It is vain to tell us that we ought to overlook local interests. It is only by protecting local concerns, that the interest of the whole is preserved. No man when he enters into society, does it from a view to promote the good of others, but he does it for his own good. All men having the same view are bound equally to promote the welfare of the whole. To recur then to such a principle as that local interests must be disregarded, is requiring of one man to do more than another, and is subverting the foundation of a free government. The Philadelphians would be shocked with a proposition to place the seat of general government and the unlimited right to regulate trade in the Massachusetts. There can be no greater reason for our surrendering the preference to them. Such sacrifices, however we may delude ourselves with the form of words, always originate in folly, and not in generosity.
Let me now request your attention a little while to the actual state of publick credit, that we may see whether it has not been as much misrepresented as the state of our trade.
At the beginning of the present year, the whole continental debt was about twelve millions of pounds in our money. About one quarter part of this sum was due to our foreign creditors. Of these France was the principal, and called for the arrears of interest. A new loan of one hundred and twenty thousand pounds was negotiated in Holland, at five per cent. to pay the arrears due to France. At first sight this has the appearance of bad economy, and has been used for the villainous purpose of disaffecting the people. But in the course of this same year. Congress have negotiated the sale of as much of their western lands on the Ohio and Missisippi, as amount nearly to the whole sum of the foreign debt; and instead of a dead loss by borrowing money at five per cent. to the amount of an hundred and twenty thousand pounds, in one sum, they make a saving of the interest at six per cent. on three millions of their domestick debt, which is an annual saving of an hundred and eighty thousand pounds. It is easy to see how such an immense fund as the western territory may be applied to the payment of the foreign debt. Purchasers of the land would as willingly procure any kind of the produce of the United States as they would buy loan office certificates to pay for the land. The produce thus procured would easily be negotiated for the benefit of our foreign creditors. I do not mean to insinuate that no other provision should be made for our creditors, but only to shew that our credit is not so bad in other countries as has been represented, and that our resources are fully equal to the pressure.
The perfection of government depends on the equality of its operation, as far as human affairs will admit, upon all parts of the empire, and upon all the citizens. Some inequalities indeed will necessarily take place. One man will be obliged to travel a few miles further than another man to procure justice. But when he has travelled, the poor man ought to have the same measure of justice as the rich one. Small inequalities may be easily compensated. There ought, however, to be no inequality in the law itself, and the government ought to have the same authority in one place as in another. Evident as this truth is, the most plausible argument in favour of the new plan is drawn from the inequality of its operation in different states. In Connecticut, they have been told that the bulk of the revenue will be raised by impost and excise, and therefore they need not be afraid to trust Congress with the power of levying a dry tax at pleasure. New-York, and Massachusetts, are both more commercial states than Connecticut. The latter, therefore, hopes that the other two will pay the bulk of the continental expense. The argument is in itself delusive. If the trade is not over-taxed, the consumer pays it. If the trade is over-taxed, it languishes, and by the ruin of trade the farmer loses his market. The farmer has in truth no other advantage from imposts than that they save him the trouble of collecting money for the government. He neither gets or loses money by changing the mode of taxation. The government indeed finds it the easiest way to raise the revenue; and the reason is that the tax is by this means collected where the money circulates most freely. But if the argument was not delusive, it ought to conclude against the plan, because it would prove the unequal operation of it, and if any saving is to be made by the mode of taxing, the saving should be applied towards our own debt, and not to the payment of the part of a continental burden which Connecticut ought to discharge. It would be impossible to refute in writing all the delusions made use of to force this system through. Those respecting the publick debt, and the benefit of imposts, are the most important, and these I have taken pains to explain. In one instance indeed, the impost does raise money at the direct expense of the seaports. This is when goods are imported subject to a duty, and re-exported without a drawback. Whatever benefit is derived from this source, surely should not be transferred to another state, at least till our own debts are cleared.
Another instance of unequal operation is, that it establishes different degrees of authority in different states, and thus creates different interests. The lands in New-Hampshire having been formerly granted by this state, and afterwards by that state, to private persons, the whole authority of trying titles becomes vested in a continental court, and that state loses a branch of authority, which the others retain, over their own citizens.
I have now gone through two parts of my argument, and have proved the efficiency of the state governments for internal regulation, and the disadvantages of the new system, at least some of the principal. The argument has been much longer than I at first apprehended, or, possibly, I should have been deterred from it. The importance of the question has, however, prevented me from relinquishing it.
It has been proved, by indisputable evidence, that power is not the grand principle of union among the parts of a very extensive empire; and that when this principle is pushed beyond the degree necessary for rendering justice between man and man, it debases the character of individuals, and renders them less secure in their persons and property. Civil liberty consists in the consciousness of that security, and is best guarded by political liberty, which is the share that every citizen has in the government. Accordingly all our accounts agree, that in those empires which are commonly called despotick, and which comprehend by far the greatest part of the world, the government is most fluctuating, and property least secure. In those countries insults are borne by the sovereign, which, if offered to one of our governours, would fill us with horrour, and we should think the government dissolving.
The common conclusion from this reasoning is an exceedingly unfair one, that we must then separate, and form distinct confederacies. This would be true if there was no principle to substitute in the room of power. Fortunately there is one. This is commerce. All the states have local advantages, and in a considerable degree separate interests. They are, therefore, in a situation to supply each other's wants. Carolina, for instance, is inhabited by planters, while the Massachusetts is more engaged in commerce and manufactures. Congress has the power of deciding their differences. The most friendly intercourse may therefore be established between them. A diversity of produce, wants and interests, produces commerce, and commerce, where there is a common, equal and moderate authority to preside, produces friendship.
The same principles apply to the connection with the new settlers in the west. Many supplies they want, for which they must look to the older settlements, and the greatness of their crops enables them to make payments. Here, then, we have a bond of union which applies to all parts of the empire, and would continue to operate if the empire comprehended all America.
We are now, in the strictest sense of the terms, a federal republick. Each part has within its own limits the sovereignty over its citizens, while some of the general concerns are committed to Congress. The complaints of the deficiency of the Congressional powers are confined to two articles. They are not able to raise a revenue by taxation, and they have not a complete regulation of the intercourse between us and foreigners. For each of these complaints there is some foundation, but not enough to justify the clamour which has been raised. Congress, it is true, owes a debt which ought to be paid. A considerable part of it has been paid. Our share of what remains would annually amount to about sixty or seventy thousand pounds. If, therefore. Congress were put in possession of such branches of the impost as would raise this sum in our state, we should fairly be considered as having done our part towards their debt; and our remaining resources, whether arising from impost, excise, or dry tax, might be applied to the reduction of our own debt. The principal of this last amounts to about thirteen hundred thousand pounds, and the interest to between seventy or eighty thousand. This is, surely, too much property to be sacrificed; and it is as reasonable that it should be paid as the continental debt. But if the new system should be adopted, the whole impost, with an unlimited claim to excise and dry tax, will be given to Congress. There will remain no adequate fund for the state debt, and the state will still be subject to be sued on their notes. This is, then, an article which ought to be limited. We can, without difficulty, pay as much annually as shall clear the interest of our state debt, and our share of the interest on the continental one. But if we surrender the impost, we shall still, by this new constitution, be held to pay our full proportion of the remaining debt, as if nothing had been done. The impost will not be considered as being paid by this state, but by the continent. The federalists, indeed, tell us, that the state debts will all be incorporated with the continental debt, and all paid out of one fund. In this, as in all other instances, they endeavour to support their scheme of consolidation by delusion. Not one word is said in the book in favour of such a scheme, and there is no reason to think it true. Assurances of that sort are easily given, and as easily forgotten. There is an interest in forgetting what is false. No man can expect town debts to be united with that of the state; and there will be as little reason to expect, that the state and continental debts will be united together.
We come now to the second and last article of complaint against the present confederation, which is, that Congress has not the sole power to regulate the intercourse between us and foreigners. Such a power extends not only to war and peace, but to trade and naturalization. This last article ought never to be given them; for though most of the states may be willing for certain reasons to receive foreigners as citizens, yet reasons of equal weight may induce other states, differently circumstanced, to keep their blood pure. Pennsylvania has chosen to receive all that would come there. Let any indifferent person judge whether that state in point of morals, education, energy is equal to any of the eastern states; the small state of Rhode-Island only excepted. Pennsylvania in the course of a century has acquired her present extent and population at the expense of religion and good morals. The eastern states have, by keeping separate from the foreign mixtures, acquired, their present greatness in the course of a century and an half, and have preserved their religion and morals. They have also preserved that manly virtue which is equally fitted for rendering them respectable in war, and industrious in peace.
The remaining power for peace and trade might perhaps be safely enough lodged with Congress under some limitations. Three restrictions appear to me to be essentially necessary to preserve the equality of rights to the states, which it is the object of the state governments to secure to each citizen, ist. It ought not to be in the power of Congress either by treaty or otherwise to alienate part of any state without the consent of the legislature. 2d. They ought not to be able by treaty or other law to give any legal preference to one part above another. 3d. They ought to be restrained from creating any monopolies. Perhaps others may propose different regulations and restrictions. One of these is to be found in the old confederation, and another in the newly proposed plan. The third seems to be equally necessary.
After all that has been said and written on this subject, and on the difficulty of amending our old constitution so as to render it adequate to national purposes, it does not appear that any thing more was necessary to be done, than framing two new articles. By one a limited revenue would be given to Congress with a right to collect it, and by the other a limited right to regulate our intercourse with foreign nations. By such an addition we should have preserved to each state its power to defend the rights of the citizens, and the whole empire would be capable of expanding, and receiving additions without altering its former constitution. Congress, at the same time, by the extent of their jurisdiction, and the number of their officers, would have acquired more respectability at home, and a sufficient influence abroad. If any state was in such a case to invade the rights of the Union, the other states would join in defence of those rights, and it would be in the power of Congress to direct the national force to that object. But it is certain that the powers of Congress over the citizens should be small in proportion as the empire is extended; that, in order to preserve the balance, each state may supply by energy what is wanting in numbers. Congress would be able by such a system as we have proposed to regulate trade with foreigners by such duties as should effectually give the preference to the produce and manufactures of our own country. We should then have a friendly intercourse established between the states, upon the principles of mutual interest. A moderate duty upon foreign vessels would give an advantage to our own people, while it would avoid all the [dis]advantages arising from a prohibition, and the consequent deficiency of vessels to transport the produce of the southern states.
Our country is at present upon an average a thousand miles long from north to south, and eight hundred broad from the Missisippi to the Ocean. We have at least six millions of white inhabitants, and the annual increase is about two hundred and fifty thousand souls, exclusive of emigrants from Europe. The greater part of our increase is employed in settling the new lands, while the older settlements are entering largely into manufactures of various kinds. It is probable, that the extraordinary exertions of this state in the way of industry for the present year only, exceed in value five hundred thousand pounds. The new settlements, if all made in the same tract of country, would form a large state annually; and the time seems to be literally accomplished when a nation shall be born in a day. Such an immense country is not only capable of yielding all the produce of Europe, but actually does produce by far the greater part of the raw materials. The restrictions on our trade in Europe, necessarily oblige us to make use of those materials, and the high price of labour operates as an encouragement to mechanical improvements. In this way we daily make rapid advancements towards independence in resources as well as in empire. If we adopt the new system of government we shall by one rash vote lose the fruit of the toil and expense of thirteen years, at the time when the benefits of that toil and expense are rapidly increasing. Though the imposts of Congress on foreign trade may tend to encourage manufactures, the excise and dry tax will destroy all the beneficial effects of the impost, at the same time that they diminish our capital. Be careful then to give only a limited revenue, and the limited power of managing foreign concerns. Once surrender the rights of internal legislation and taxation, and instead of being respected abroad, foreigners will laugh at us, and posterity will lament our folly.
Friends and Brethren,
It is a duty incumbent on every man, who has had opportunities for inquiry, to lay the result of his researches on any matter of publick importance before the publick eye. No further apology will be necessary with the generality of my readers, for having so often appeared before them on the subject of the lately proposed form of government. It has been treated with that freedom which is necessary for the investigation of truth, and with no greater freedom. On such a subject, extensive in its nature, and important in its consequences, the examination has necessarily been long, and the topicks treated of have been various. We have been obliged to take a cursory, but not inaccurate view of the circumstances of mankind under the different forms of government to support the different parts of our argument. Permit me now to bring into one view the principal propositions on which the reasoning depends.
It is shewn from the example of the most commercial republick of antiquity, which was never disturbed by a sedition for above seven hundred years, and at last yielded after a violent struggle to a foreign enemy, as well as from the experience of our own country for a century and an half; that the republican, more than any other form of government is made of durable materials. It is shewn from a variety of proof, that one consolidated government is inapplicable to a great extent of country; is unfriendly to the rights both of persons and property, which rights always adhere together; and that being contrary to the interest of the extreme of an empire, such a government can be supported only by power, and that commerce is the true bond of union for a free state. It is shewn from a comparison of the different parts of the proposed plan, that it is such a consolidated government.
By article 3, section 2, Congress are empowered to appoint courts with authority to try civil causes of every kind, and even offences against particular states; by the last clause of article 1, section 8, which defines their legislative powers, they are authorized to make laws for carrying into execution all the "powers vested by this constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof;" and by article 6, the judges in every state are to be bound by the laws of Congress. It is therefore a complete consolidation of all the states into one, however diverse the parts of it may be. It is also shewn that it will operate unequally in the different states, taking from some of them a greater share of wealth; that in this last respect it will operate more to the injury of this commonwealth than of any state in the union; and that by reason of its inequality it is subversive of the principles of a free government, which requires every part to contribute an equal proportion. For all these reasons this system ought to be rejected, even if no better plan was proposed in the room of it. In case of a rejection we must remain as we are, with trade extending, resources opening, settlements enlarging, manufactures increasing, and publick debts diminishing by fair payment. These are mighty blessings, and not to be lost by the hasty adoption of a new system. But great as these benefits are, which we derive from our present system, it has been shewn, that they may be increased by giving Congress a limited power to regulate trade, and assigning to them those branches of the impost on our foreign trade only, which shall be equal to our proportion of their present annual demands. While the interest is thus provided for, the sale of our lands in a very few years will pay the principal, and the other resources of the state will pay our own debt. The present mode of assessing the continental tax is regulated by the extent of landed property in each state. By this rule the Massachusetts has to pay one eighth. If we adopt the new system, we shall surrender the whole of our impost and excise, which probably amount to a third of those duties of the whole continent, and must come in for about a sixth part of the remaining debt. By this means we shall be deprived of the benefit arising from the largeness of our loans to the continent, shall lose our ability to satisfy the just demands on the state. Under the limitations of revenue and commercial regulation contained in these papers, the balance will be largely in our favour; the importance of the great states will be preserved, and the publick creditors both of the continent and state will be satisfied without burdening the people. For a more concise view of my proposal, I have thrown it into the form of a resolve supposed to be passed by the convention which is shortly to set in this town.
"Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Resolved, That the form of government lately proposed by a federal convention, held in the city of Philadelphia, is so far injurious to the interests of this commonwealth, that we are constrained by fidelity to our constituents to reject it; and we do hereby reject the said proposed form and every part thereof. But in order that the union of these states may, as far as possible, be promoted, and the federal business as little obstructed as may be, we do agree on the part of this commonwealth, that the following addition be made to the present articles of confederation.
"XIV. The United States shall have power to regulate the intercourse between these states and foreign dominions, under the following restrictions; viz ist. No treaty, ordinance, or law shall alienate the whole or part of any state, without the consent of the legislature of such state. 2d. The United States shall not by treaty or otherwise give a preference to the ports of one state over those of another; Nor, 3d create any monopolies or exclusive companies; Nor, 4th, extend the privileges of citizenship to any foreigner. And for the more convenient exercise of the powers hereby and by the former articles given, the United S[t]ates shall have authority to constitute judicatories, whether supreme or subordinate, with power to try all piracies and felonies done on the high seas, and also all civil causes in which a foreign state, or subject thereof actually resident in a foreign country and not being British absentees, shall be one of the parties. They shall also have authority to try all causes in which ambassadours shall be concerned. All these trials shall be by jury and in some sea-port town. All imposts levied by Congress on trade shall be confined to foreign produce or foreign manufactures imported, and to foreign ships trading in our harbours, and all their absolute prohibitions shall be confined to the same articles. All imposts and confiscations shall be to the use of the state in which they shall accrue, excepting in such branches as shall be assigned by any state as a fund for defraying their proportion of the continental. And no powers shall be exercised by Congress but such as are expressly given by this and the former articles. And we hereby authorize our delegates in Congress to sign and ratify an article in the foregoing form and words, without any further act of this state for that purpose, provided the other states shall accede to this proposition on their part on or before the first day of January, which will be in the year of our Lord 1790. All matters of revenue being underthe controul of the legislature, we reccommend to the general court of this commonwealth, to devise, as early as may be, such funds arising from such branches of foreign commerce, as shall be equal to our part of the current charges of the continent, and to put Congress in possession of the revenue arising therefrom, with a right to collect it, during such term as shall appear to be necessary for the payment of the principal of their debt, by the sale of the western lands."
By such an explicit declaration of the powers given to Congress, we shall provide for all federal purposes, and shall at the same time secure our rights. It is easier to amend the old confederation, defective as it has been represented, than it is to correct the new form. For with what ever view it was framed, truth constrains me to say, that it is insiduous in its form, and ruinous in its tendency. Under the pretence of different branches of the legislature, the members will in fact be chosen from the same general description of citizens. The advantages of a check will be lost, while we shall be continually exposed to the cabals and corruption of a British election. There cannot be a more eligible mode than the present, for appointing members of Congress, nor more effectual checks provided than our separate state governments, nor any system so little expensive, in case of our adopting the resolve just stated, or even continuing as we are. We shall in that case avoid all the inconvenience of concurrent jurisdictions, we shall avoid the expensive and useless establishments of the Philadelphia proposition, we shall preserve our constitution and liberty, and we shall provide for all such institutions as will be useful. Surely then you cannot hesitate, whether you will chuse freedom or servitude. The object is now well defined. By adopting the form proposed by the convention, you will have the derision of foreigners, internal misery, and the anathemas of posterity. By amending the present confederation, and granting limited powers to Congress, you secure the admiration of strangers, internal happiness, and the blessings and prosperity of all succeeding generations. Be wise then, and by preserving your freedom, prove, that Heaven bestowed it not in vain. Many will be the efforts to delude the convention. The mode of judging is itself suspicious, as being contrary to the antient and established usage of the commonwealth. But since this mode is adopted, we trust, that the numbers [members?] of that venerable assembly will not so much regard the greatness of their power, as the sense and interest of their constituents. And they will do well to remember that even a mistake in adopting it, will be destructive, while no evils can arise from a total, and much less, probably, from such a partial rejection as we have proposed.
I have now gone through my reasonings on this momentous subject, and have stated the facts and deductions from them, which you will verify for yourselves. Personal interest was not my object, or I should have pursued a different line of conduct. Though I conceived that a man who owes allegiance to the state is bound, on all important occasions, to propose such inquiries as tend to promote the publick good; yet I did not imagine it to be any pan of my duty to present myself to the fury of those, who appear to have other ends in view. For this cause, and for this only, I have chosen a feigned signature. At present all the reports concerning the writer of these papers are merely conjectural. I should have been ashamed of my system if it had needed such feeble support as the character of individuals. It stands on the firm ground of the experience of mankind. I cannot conclude this long disquisition better than with a caution derived from the words of inspiration. Discern the things of your peace now in the days thereof, before they be hidden from your eyes.
My last Address contained the outlines of a system fully adequate to all the useful purposes of the union. Its object is to raise a sufficient revenue from the foreign trade, and the sale of our publick lands, to satisfy all the publick exigencies, and to encourage, at the same time, our internal industry and manufactures. It also secures each state in its own separate rights, while the continental concerns are thrown into the general department. The only deficiencies that I have been able to discover in the plan, and in the view of federalists they are very great ones, are, that it does not allow the interference of Congress in the domestick concerns of the state, and that it does not render our national councils so liable to foreign influence. The first of these articles tends to guard us from that infinite multiplication of officers which the report of the Convention of Philadelphia proposes. With regard to the second, it is evidently not of much importance to any foreign nation to purchase, at a very high price, a majority of votes in an assembly, whose members are continually exposed to a recall. But give those members a right to sit six, or even two, years, with such extensive powers as the new system proposes, and their friendship will be well worth a purchase. This is the only sense in which the Philadelphia system will render us more respectable in the eyes of foreigners. In every other view they lose their respect for us, as it will render us more like their own degraded models. It is a maxim with them, that every man has his price. If, therefore we were to judge of what passes in the hearts of the federalists when they urge us, as they continually do, to be like other nations, and when they assign mercenary motives to the opposers of their plan, we should conclude very fairly, that themselves wish to be provided for at the publick expense. However that may be, if we look upon the men we shall find some of their leaders to have formed pretty strong attachments to foreign nations. Whether those attachments arose from their being educated under a royal government, from a former unfortunate mistake in politicks, or from the agencies for foreigners, or any other cause, is not in my province to determine. But certain it is. that some of the principal fomenters of this plan have never shewn themselves capable of that generous system of policy which is founded in the affections of freemen. Power and high life are their idols, and national funds are necessary to support them.
Some of the principal powers of Europe have already entered into treaties with us, and that some of the rest have not done it, is not owing, as is falsely pretended, to the want of power in Congress. Holland never found any difficulty of this kind from the multitude of sovereignties in that country, which must all be consulted on such an occasion. The resentment of Great Britain for our victories in the late war has induced that power to restrain our intercourse with their subjects. Probably an hope, the only solace of the wretched, that their affairs would take a more favourable turn on this continent, has had some influence on their proceedings. All their restrictions have answered the end of securing our independence by driving us into many valuable manufactures. Their own colonies in the mean time have languished for want of an intercourse with these states. The new settlement in Nova Scotia has miserably decayed, and the West India Islands have suffered for want of our supplies, and by the loss of our market. This has affected the revenue; and however contemptuously some men may affect to speak of our trade, the supply of six millions of people is an object worth the attention of any nation upon earth. Interest in such a nation as Britain will surmount their resentment. However their pride may be stung, they will pursue after wealth. Increase of revenue to a nation overwhelmed with a debt of near two hundred and ninety millions sterling is an object to which little piques must give way; and there is no doubt that their interest consists in securing as much of our trade as they can.
These are topicks from which are drawn some of the most plausible reasons that have been given by the federalists in favour of their plan, as derived from the sentiments of foreigners. We have weighed them and found them wanting. That they had not themselves full confidence in their own reasons at Philadelphia is evident from the method they took to bias the state Convention. Mess'rs Wilson and M'Kean, two Scottish names, were repeatedly worsted in the argument. To make amends for their own incapacity, the gallery was filled with a rabble, who shouted their applause, and these heroes of aristocracy were not ashamed, though modesty is their national virtue, to vindicate such a violation of decency: Means not less criminal, but not so flagrantly indecent, have been frequently mentioned among us to secure a majority. But those who vote for a price, can never sanctify wrong, and treason will still retain its deformity.
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