... As a kind of preface to their objections, they complain ... that our delegates in convention exceeded their powers, which were to make and report such alterations and further provisions in the federal constitution, as would render it fully adequate to the exigencies of the union, or in the language of the 16 complainants, to revise and amend it. I suppose the whole force of their meaning must rest on the word amend; for I imagine that to revise without amending it, would not have come up to their ideas. Now an amendment in the sense of legislative bodies, means either to strike out some words, clauses or paragraphs in a bill, without substituting any thing in the place of them, or to insert new words, clauses or paragraphs where nothing was inserted before; or to strike out some words, clauses or paragraphs, and insert others in their room, which will suit better: Now I challenge the whole sixteen members to shew that the convention have done an iota more than this; besides, the new constitution does not by any express words, repeal the old one; therefore I suppose every article of the old one stands good and valid, unless where they are changed or annulled by the alterations and provisions of the new one. But after all, if the constitution offered to us is either a good one or a bad one, I can't see that it is of any consequence to us, whether it is the old one revised and amended, or a new one fresh made; nor is it material whether the delegates of this state were competent to the business or not-'tis offered by the whole respectable body,-a body dignified by the general election of the states, and therefore ought to be received with respect, and treated with candid attention; but in the discussion of it for a rule of government for us all, the merits of it ought to be the sole consideration, and it is the acceptance of the states alone which can give it the stamp of authority; therefore any little bickerings about the qualities or views, or powers of this or that member, must be mere quibbles of no weight or consequence.
4. It is further objected with great parade, that three members of the convention refused to sign, and but 39 of them only did sign the constitution proposed to us; but I think that so large a majority in its favor very far outweighs the negative of three members against it, neither of which has any pretensions of character superior to the 39 who signed it.
Further, 5, they object to the assembly's recommending the calling a convention, 'til they received the new constitution officially from Congress. I answer, 1, The assembly meant to pursue the recommendation of the Federal Convention, which does not make the official directions of congress necessary to calling the state conventions, under the recommendation of their legislatures; and had Congress refused to issue any official directions at all to the assembly, I do not know that the holding the state convention, ought to have been prevented thereby. 2, The assembly had the most certain information of the fact, and had no doubt of receiving all necessary official communications from Congress, long before the convention could meet, or if they never came, could very well act without them. 3, Their not waiting for official letters from Congress did not proceed from any want of respect to Congress, but merely from their being straitened for time, as the end of the session drew very near.
I come now to consider the objections of our 16 members to the new constitution itself, which is much the most important part that lies on me.
1. Their first objection is, that the government proposed will be too expensive. I answer that if the appointments of offices are not more, and the compensations or emoluments of office not greater than is necessary, the expence will be by no means burdensome, and this must be left to the prudence of Congress; for I know of no way to controul supreme powers from extravagance in this respect. Doubtless many instances may be produced of many needless offices being created, and many inferior officers, who receive far greater emoluments of office than the first president of the state.
2. Their next objection is against a legislature consisting of three branches. This is so far from an objection, that I consider it as an advantage. The most weighty and important affairs of the union, must be transacted in Congress; the most essential councils must be there decided, which must all go through their several discussions in their different chambers (all equally competent to the subject and equally governed by the same motives and interests, viz. the good of the great commonwealth, and the approbation of the people) before any decision can be made; and when disputes are very high, five discussions are necessary, all of which afford time for all parties to cool and reconsider. This appears to me to be a very safe way, and a very likely method to prevent any sudden and undigested resolutions from passing; and though it may delay, or even destroy a good bill, will hardly admit the passing of a bad one, which is by far the worst evil of the two. But if all this cannot stop the course of a bad bill, the negative of the president will at least give it further embarrassment, will furnish all the new light which a most serious discussion in a third house can give, and will make a new discussion necessary in each of the other two, where every member will have an opportunity to revise his opinion, to correct his arguments, and bring his judgment to the greatest maturity possible: If all this can't keep the public decision within the bounds of wisdom, natural fitness, right and convenience, it will be hard to find any efforts of human wisdom that can do it.
I believe it would be difficult to find a man in the union, who would not readily consent to have congress vested with all the vast powers proposed by the new constitution, if he could be sure that those powers would be exercised with wisdom, justice, and propriety, and not be abused; and I don't see that greater precautions and guards against abuses can well be devised, or more effectual methods used to throw every degree of light on every subject of debate, or more powerful motives to a reasonable and honest decision, can be set before the minds of congress, than are here proposed; and if this is the best that can be obtained, it ought in all prudence to be adopted till better appears, rather than to be rejected merely because it is human, not perfect, and may be abused. At any rate I think it very plain that our chance of a right decision in a congress of three branches, is much greater than in one of a single chamber: But however all this may be, I cant see the least tendency in a legislature of three branches to increase the burdens or taxes of the people. I think it very evident that any proposition of extravagant expence would be checked and embarrassed in such an assembly, more than in a single house.
Further, the two houses being by their election taken from the body of the state, and being themselves principal inhabitants, will naturally have the interest of the commonwealth sincerely at heart, their principle must be the same, their differences must be (if any) in the mode of pursuing it, or arise from local attachments; I say, the great interest of their country, and the esteem, confidence and approbation of their fellow citizens, must be strong governing principles in both houses, as well as in the president himself; "whilst at the same time the emulation naturally arising between them, will induce a very critical and sharp sighted inspection into the motions of each other. Their different opinions will bring on conferences between the two houses, in which the whole subject will be exhausted in arguments pro and con, and shame will be the portion of obstinate convicted error. Under these circumstances a man of ignorance or evil design will be afraid to impose on the credulity inattention or confidence of his house, by introducing any corrupt or indigested proposition which he knows he must be called on to defend, against the severe scrutiny, and poignant objections of the other house. I do not believe the many hurtful and foolish legislative acts which first or last have injured all the states on earth, have originated so much in corruption as indolence, ignorance, and a want of a full comprehension of the subject, which a full, prying and emulous discussion would tend in a great measure to remove: This naturally rouses the lazy and idle, who hate the pain of close thinking, animates the ambitious to excel in policy and argument, and excites the whole to support the dignity of their house, and vindicate their own propositions. I am not of opinion that bodies of elective men, which usually compose parliaments, diets, assemblies, congresses, &c. are commonly dishonest; but I believe it rarely happens that there are not designing men among them, and I think it would be much more difficult for them to unite their partizans in two houses and corrupt or deceive them both, than to carry on their designs where there is but one unalarmed, unapprehensive house to be managed; and as there is no hope of making these bad men good, the best policy is to embarrass them, and make their work as difficult as possible-In these assemblies are frequently to be found sanguine men, upright enough indeed, but of strong wild projection, whose brains are always teeming with utopian, chimerical plans and political whims, very destructive to society. I hardly know a greater evil than to have the supreme councils of a nation played off on such mens wires; such baseless visions at best end in darkness, and the dance, though easy and merry enough at first, rarely fails to plunge the credulous simple followers into sloughs and bogs at last. Nothing can tend more effectually to obviate these evils, and to mortify and cure such maggotty brains, than to see the absurdity of their projects exposed, by the several arguments and keen satire which a full, emulous and spirited discussion of the subject will naturally produce: We have had enough of these geniuses in the short course of our politics, both in our national and provincial councils, and have felt enough of their evil effects to induce us to wish for any good method to keep ourselves clear of them in future.
"The consultations and decisions of national councils are so very important, that the fate of millions depends on them; therefore no man ought to speak in such assemblies, without considering that the fate of millions hangs on his tongue, and of course, a man can have no right in such august councils to utter indigested sentiments, or indulge himself in sudden unexamined flights of thought; his most tried and improved abilities are due to the states, who have trusted him with their most important interests. A man must therefore be most inexcusable, who is either absent during such debates, or sleeps, or whispers, or catches flies during the argument, and just rouses when the vote is called to give his yea or nay, to the weal or woe of a nation.-Therefore 'tis manifestly proper, that every natural motive that can operate on his understanding, or his passions, to engage his attention and utmost efforts should be put in practice, and that his present feelings should be raised by every motive of honor and shame, to stimulate him to every practicable degree of diligence and exertion, to be as far as possible useful in the great discussion. I appeal to the feelings of every reader, if he would not (were he in either house) be much more strongly and naturally induced to exert his utmost abilities and attention to any question which was to pass through the ordeal of a spirited discussion of another house, than he would do, if the absolute decision depended on his own house, without any further enquiry or challenge on the subject."-Vide a Dissertation on the Political Union and Constitution of the Thirteen United States, published by a Citizen of Philadelphia, February 16, 1783, where the subject is taken up at large.2
3. Another objection is, that the constitution proposed will annihilate the state governments, or reduce them to mere corporations. I take it that this objection is thrown out (merely invidice causa) without the least ground for it; for I do not find one article of the constitution proposed, which vests congress, or any of their officers or courts, with a power to interfere in the least in the internal police or government of anyone state, when the interests of some other state, or strangers or, the union in general, are not concerned; and in all such cases 'tis absolutely and manifestly necessary, that congress should have a controuling power, otherwise there would be no end of controversies and injuries between different states, nor any safety for individuals, or any possibility of supporting the union with any tolerable degree of honor, strength or security.
4. Another objection is against the power of taxation vested in Congress. But I answer this is absolutely unavoidable from the necessity of the case; I know 'tis a tender point, a vast power, and a terrible engine of oppression and tyranny when wantonly, injudiciously, or wickedly used, but must be admitted; for 'tis impossible to support the union, or indeed any government, without expence-the congress are the proper judges of that expence, the amount of it, and the best means of supplying it; the safety of the states absolutely requires that this power be lodged somewhere, and no other body can have the least pretensions to it; and no part of the resources of the state, can, with any safety, be exempt, when the exigencies of the union or government require their utmost exertion. The stronger we make our government, the greater protection it can afford us, and the greater will our safety be under it. It is easy enough here to harangue on the arts of a court, to create occasions for money, or the unbounded extravagance with which they can spend it; but all this notwithstanding, we must take our courts as we do our wives, for better or for worse. We hope the best of an American Congress, but if they disappoint us, we cannot help it; 'tis in vain to try to form any plan of avoiding the frailties of human nature-Would any man choose a lame horse least a sound one should run away with him; or will any man prefer a small tent to live in, before a large house, which may fall down and crush him in its ruins. No man has any right to find fault with this article, 'till he can substitute a better in its room.
The sixteen members attempt to aggravate the horrors of this devouring power, by suggesting the rigid severity with which congress, with their faithful soldiers, will exact and collect the taxes. This picture, stripped of its black drapery, amounts to just this, viz. That whatever taxes are laid, will be collected, without exception, from every person charged with them, which must look disagreeable I suppose to people who by one shift or another have avoided paying taxes all their lives. But it is a plain truth, and will be obvious to any body who duly considers it, that nothing can be more ruinous to a state or oppressive to individuals, than a partial and dilatory collection of taxes, especially where the tax is an impost or excise, because the man who avoids the tax, can undersell, and consequently ruin him who pays it, i.e. smuggling ruins the fair trader, and a remedy of this mischief, I can't suppose will be deemed by our people in general such a very awful judgement, as the 16 members would make us believe their constituents will consider it to be.
5. They object that the liberty of the press is not asserted in the constitution. I answer neither are any of the ten commandments, but I don't think that it follows that it was the design of the convention to sacrifice either the one or the other to contempt, or to leave them void of protection and effectual support.
6. 'Tis objected further that the constitution contains no declaration of rights. I answer this is not true,-the constitution contains a declaration of many rights, and very important ones, e.g. that people shall be obliged to fulfil their contracts, and not avoid them by tenders of any thing less than the value stipulated; that no ex-post facto laws shall be made &c. but it was no part of the business of their appointment to make a code of laws-it was sufficient to fix the constitution right, and that would pave the way for the most effectual security of the rights of the subject.
7. They further object that no provision is made against a standing army in time of peace. I answer that a standing army, i.e. regular troops are often necessary in time of peace, to prevent a war, to guard against sudden invasions, for garrison duty, to quel mobs and riots, as guards to congress and perhaps other courts, &c. &c. as military schools to keep up the knowledge and habits of military discipline and exercise, &c. &c. and as the power of raising troops is rightfully, and without objection, vested in congress, so they are the properest and best judges of the number requisite and of the occasion, time and manner of employing them, if they are not wanted on military duty, they may be employed in making public roads, fortifications, or any other public works-they need not be a useless burden to the states: And for all this the prudence of congress must be trusted, and no body can have a right to object to this, till they can point out some way of doing better.
8. Another objection is, that the new constitution abolishes tryals by jury in civil causes. I answer, I don't see one word in the constitution, which by any candid construction can support even the remotest suspicion that this ever entered the heart of one member of the convention. I therefore set down the suggestion for sheer malice, and so dismiss it.
9. Another objection is that the federal judiciary is so constructed as to destroy the judiciaries of the several states, and that the appellate jurisdiction, with respect to law and fact, is unnecessary. I answer both the original and appellate jurisdiction of the federal judiciary, are manifestly necessary, where the cause of action affects the citizens of different states, the general interest of the union, or strangers; (and to cases of these descriptions only, does the jurisdiction of the federal judiciary extend) I say, these jurisdictions of the federal judiciary are manifestly necessary for the reasons just now given under the third objection, and I dont see how they can avoid trying any issues joined before them, whether the thing to be decided is law or fact; but I think no doubt can be made, that if the issue joined is on fact, it must be tryed by a jury.
10. They object that the election of delegates for the house of representatives is for two years, and of senators for six years. I think this a manifest advantage rather than an objection. Very great inconveniences must necessarily arise from a too frequent change of the members of large legislative or executive bodies, where the revision of every past transaction must be taken up, explained and discussed anew for the information of the new members; where the settled rules of the house are little understood by them, &c. &c. all which ought to be avoided if it can be with safety. Further, 'tis plain that any man who serves in such bodies, is better qualified the second year than he could be the first, because experience adds qualifications for every business, &c. the only objection is that long continuance affords danger of corruption, but for this the constitution provides a remedy by impeachment and expulsion, which will be a sufficient restraint, unless a majority of the house and senate should become corrupt, which is not easily presumable: In fine, there is a certain mean between too long and too short continuances of members in congress, and I can't see but it is judicialy fixed by the convention.
Upon the whole matter, I think the 16 members have employed an address-writer of great dexterity, who has given us a strong sample of ingenuous malignity and ill-nature-a masterpiece of high colouring in the scare-crow way, in his account of the conduct of the 16 members, by an unexpected openness and candor, he avows facts which he certainly can't expect to justify, or even hope that their constituents will patronize, or even approve, but he seems to lose all candor when he deals in sentiments; when he comes to point out the nature and operation of the new constitution, he appears to mistake the spirit and true principles of it very much, or which is worse, takes pleasure in shewing it in the worst light he can paint it in. I however agree with him in this, that this is the time for consideration and minute examination; and I think the great subject, when viewed seriously, without passion or prejudice, will bear and brighten under the severest examination of the rational enquirer. If the provisions of the law or constitution don't exceed the occasions, if the remedies are not extended beyond the mischiefs, the government can't be justly charged with severity; on the other hand, if the provisions are not adequate to the occasions, and the remedies not equal to the mischiefs, the government must be too lax and not sufficiently operative to give the necessary security to the subject: To form a right judgment, we must compare these two things well together, and not suffer our minds to dwell on one of them alone, without considering them in connexion with the other; by this means we shall easily see that the one makes the other necessary.
Were we to view only the gaols and dungeons, the gallows and pillories, the chains and wheelbarrows of any state, we might be induced to think the government severe; but when we turn our attention to the murders and parricides, the robberies, and burglaries, the piracies and thefts which merit these punishments, our idea of cruelty vanishes at once, and we admire the justice and perhaps clemency of that government, which before shocked us as too severe. So when we fix our attention only on the superlative authority and energetic force vested in congress and our federal executive powers by the new constitution, we may at first sight be induced to think that we yield more of the sovereignty of the states and of personal liberty, than is requisite to maintain the federal government; but when on the other hand, we consider with full survey the vast supports which the union requires, and the immense consequence of that union to us all, we shall probably soon be convinced that the powers aforesaid, extensive as they are, are not greater than is necessary for our benefit: For, 1, No laws of any state, which do not carry in them a force which extends to their effectual and final execution, can afford a certain and sufficient security to the subject; for, 2, Laws of any kind which fail of execution, are worse than none, because they weaken the government, expose it to contempt, destroy the confidence of all men, both subjects and strangers, in it, and disappoint all men who have confided in it; in fine, our union can never be supported without definite and effectual laws which are co-extensive with their occasions, and which are supported by authorities and laws which can give them execution with energy, if admitting such powers into our constitution can be called a sacrifice, 'tis a sacrifice to safety, and the only question is whether our union or federal government is worth this sacrifice: Our union I say, under the protection of which every individual rests secure against foreign and domestic insult and oppression; but without it we can have no security against invasions, insults, and oppressions of foreign powers, or against the inroads and wars of one state on another, or even against insurrections and rebellions arising within particular states, by which our wealth and strength, as well as ease, comfort, and safety, will be devoured and destroyed by enemies growing out of our own bowels. 'Tis our union alone which can give us respectability abroad in the eyes of foreign nations, and secure to us all the advantages both of trade and safety, which can be derived from treaties with them.
The Thirteen States all united and well cemented together, are a strong, rich, and formidable body, not of stationary maturated power, but increasing every day in riches, strength, and numbers; thus circumstanced, we can demand the attention and respect of all foreign nations, but they will give us both in exact proportion to the solidity of our union: For if they observe our union to be lax, from insufficient principles of cement in our constitution, or mutinies and insurrections of our own people (which are the direct consequence of an insufficient cement of union:) I say, when foreign nations see either of these, they will immediately abate of their attention and respect to us, and confidence in us.
And as it appears to me that the new constitution does not vest congress with more or greater powers than are necessary to support this important union, I wish it may be admitted in the most cordial and unanimous manner by all the states.
'Tis a human composition, and may have errors which future experience will enable us to discover and correct; but I think 'tis pretty plain, if it has faults, that the address-writer of the sixteen members has not been able to find them; for he has all along either hunted down phantoms of error, that have no real existence, or which is worse, tarnished real excellencies into blemishes.
I have dwelt the longer on these remarks on this writer, because I observe that all the scribblers in our papers against the new constitution, have taken their cue principally from him, all their lucubrations contain little more than his ideas dressed out in a great variety of forms; one of which colours so high as to make the new constitution strongly resemble the Turkish government (vide Gazetteer of 10th instant) which I think comes about as near the truth as any of the rest, and brings to my mind a sentiment in polemical divinity, which I have somewhere read, that there were once great disputes and different opinions among divines about the mark which was set on Cain, when one of them very gravely thought it was a horn fully grown out on his forehead. 'Tis probable he could not think of a worse mark than that.
On the whole matter there is no end the extravagancies of the human fancy, which are commonly dictated by poignant feelings, disordered passions, or affecting interests; but I could wish my fellow citizens in the matter of vast importance before us, would divest themselves of biass, passion, and little personal or local interests, and consider the great subject with that dignity of reason, and independence of sentiment, which national interests ever require. I have here given my sentiments with the most unbiassed freedom, and hope they will be received with the most candid attention and unbiassed discussion, by the states in which I live, and in which I expect to leave my children.
I will conclude with one observation, which I take to be very capital, viz. That the distresses and oppressions both of nations and individuals, often arise from the powers of government being too limited, in their principle, too indeterminate in their definition, or too lax in their execution, and of course the safety of the citizens depends much on full and definite powers of government, and an effectual execution of them.
Philadelphia, October 12, 1787.