Mr. CHILDS, When I took notice of Cato's prefatory Address to the Citizens of the State of New York, in your paper of the first instant, I had no serious intention of becoming controversial defendant of the New Constitution. Indeed, if the system required defence, I was neither so weak, nor so vain, as to suppose myself competent to the task.-To obviate difficulties which may arise, when such weighty affairs as the principles of legislation are under discussion; I am sensible requires talents far beyond my limited abilities. When I offered a few remarks on Cato's introduction, I was strongly impressed with the idea, that even the most substantial criticisms, promulgated by the most influential and avowed Citizens, could have no good tendency at this time. I viewed the public mind as wound up to a great pitch of dissatisfaction, by the inadequacy of the powers of the present Congress, to the general good and conservation of the Union-I believed then, as I do now, that the people were determined and prepared for a change: I conceived, therefore, that the wish of every good man would be, that this change might be peaceably effected. With this view, I opposed myself to Cato.
I asserted, in my last, that the door of recommendation was shut, and cannot be opened by the same men, that the Convention was dissolved. If I am wrong, it will be of great importance to Cato's future remarks, that he make it appear. If he will declare, from sufficient authority, that the Members of the late Convention have only adjourned, to give time to hear the sentiments of every political disputant, that, after the numerous presses of America have groaned with the heavy productions speculative politicians, they will again meet-weigh their respective merits, and accommodate accordingly:-I say, if Cato can do this, I make no hesitation in acknowledging the utility of his plan.1
In the mean time, I positively deny having any, the most distant desire of shutting the door of free discussion, on any subject, which may benefit the people; but I maintain (until Cato's better information refutes me) that the door, as far as relates to this subject, is already shut-not by me, but by the highest possible authority which the case admits-even by those great Patriots who were delegated by the people of the United States, to open such a door, as might enable them to escape from impending calamities, and political shipwreck. This distinction is clear, I conceive, and ought to have some weight even with Cato, as well as those for whom he writes.-I am not one of those who gain an influence by cajoling the unthinking mass (tho' I pity their delusions) and ringing in their ears the gracious sound of their absolute Sovereignty. I despise the trick of such dirty policy.
I know there are Citizens, who, to gain their own private ends, enflame the minds of the well meaning, tho' less intelligent parts of the community, by sating their vanity with that cordial and unfailing specific, that all power is seated in the People. For my part, I am not much attached to the Majesty of the multitude, and therefore wave all pretentions (founded on such conduct) to their countenance. I consider them in general as very ill qualified to judge for themselves what government will best suit their peculiar situations; nor is this to be wondered at-The science of Government is not easily understood.-2
Cato will admit, I presume, that men of good education and deep reflection, only, are judges of the form of a Government; whether it is calculated to promote the happiness of society; whether it is constituted on such principles as will restrain arbitrary power, on the one hand, and equal to the exclusion corruption, and the destruction of licentiousness, on the other. Whether the New Constitution, if adopted, will prove adequate to such desirable ends, time, the mother of events must shew. For my own part, I sincerely esteem it a system, which, without the finger of God, never could have been suggested and agreed upon by such a diversity of interests. I will not presume to say, that a more perfect system might not have been fabricated;-but who expects perfection at once?-And it may be asked, who are judges of it? Few, I believe, who have leisure to study the nature of Government scientifically, but.will frequently disagree about the quantum of power to be delegated to Rulers, and the different modifications of it. Ingenious men will give very plau[si]ble, and, it maybe, pretty substantial reasons, for the adoption of two plans of Government, which shall be fundamentally different in their construction, and not less so in their operation;-yet both, if honestly administered, might operate with safety and advantage. When a new form of Government is fabricated, it lies with the people at large to receive or reject it;-this is their inherent right. Now, I would ask, (without intending to triumph over the weaknesses or follies of any men) how are the people to profit by this inherent right? By what conduct do they discover, that they are sensible of their own interest in this situation? Is it by the exercise of a well disciplined reason, and a correspondent education? I believe not. How then? As I humbly conceive, by a tractable and docile disposition, and by honest men endeavoring to keep their minds easy; while others, of the same disposition, with the advantages of genius and learning, are constructing the bark that may, by the blessing of Heaven, carry them to the port of rest and happiness; if they will embark without diffidence, and proceed without mutiny. I know this is blunt and ungracious reasoning: it is the best, however, which I am prepared to offer on this momentous business; and, since my own heart does not reproach me, I shall not be very solicitous about its reception.
If truth, then, is permitted to speak, the mass of the people of America (anymore than the mass of other countries) cannot judge with any degree of precision, concerning the fitness of this New Constitution to the peculiar situation of America;-they have, however, done wisely in delegating the power of framing a Government to those every way worthy and well qualified;3
and, if this Government is snatched, untasted, from them, it may not be amiss to enquire into the causes which will probably occasion their disappointment. Out of several, which present to my mind, I shall venture to select One, baneful enough, in my opinion, to work this dreadful evil There are always men in society of some talents, but more ambition, inquest of that which it would be impossible for them to obtain in any other way than by working on the passions and prejudices of the less discerning classes of citizens and yeomanry.-It is the plan of men of this stamp to frighten the people with ideal bugbears, in order to mould them to their own purposes. The unceasing cry of these designing croakers is, my friends, your liberty is invaded! Have you thrown off the yoke of one tyrant, to invest yourselves with that of another! Have you fought, bled, and conquered, for such a change! If you have-go- retire into silent obscurity, and kiss the rod that scourges you.