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title:“Centinel V”
authors:Anonymous
date written:1789-7-31

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https://consource.org/document/centinel-v-1789-7-31/20130122080659/
last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:06 a.m. UTC
retrieved:July 23, 2019, 5:46 p.m. UTC

transcription
citation:
"Centinel V." The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution. Vol. 14. Ed. Gaspare J. Saladino and John P. Kaminski. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 1983. 343-48. Print.
manuscript
source:
Manuscripts Division, Library of Congress

Centinel V (July 31, 1789)

To the PEOPLE of PENNSYLVANIA.
Friends, Countrymen, and Fellow-Citizens, Mr. Wilson in a speech delivered in our Convention on Saturday the 24th instant, has conceded, nay forceably proved, that one consolidated government, will not answer for so extensive a territory as the United States includes, that slavery would be the necessary fate of the people under such a government; his words are so remarkable, that I cannot forbear reciting them, they are as follows, viz. "The extent of country for which the new con- stitution was required, produced another difficulty in the business of the federal convention. It is the opinion of some celebrated writers, that to a small territory, the democratical, to a middling territory, (as Montesquieu has termed it) the monarchical, and, to an extensive territory, the despotic form of government, is best adapted. Regarding then, the wide and almost unbounded jurisdiction of the United States, at first view, the hand of despotism seemed necessary to controul, connect, and protect it; and hence the chief embarrasment rose. For, we knew that, although our constituents would chearfully submit to the legislative restraints of a free government, they would spurn at every attempt to shackle them with despotic power." See page 5 of the printed speech. And again in page 7, he says "Is it probable that the dissolution of the state governments, and the establishment of one consolidated empire, would be eligible in its nature, and satisfactory to the people in its administration? I think not, as I have given reasons to shew that so extensive a territory could not be governed, connected, and preserved, but by the supremacy of despotic power. All the exertions of the most potent emperors of Rome were not capable of keeping that empire together, which, in extent, was far inferior to the dominion of America."
This great point having been now confirmed by the concession of Mr. Wilson, though indeed it was self evident before, and the writers against the proposed plan of government, having proved to demonstration, that the powers proposed to be vested in Congress, will necessarily annihilate and absorb the state Legislatures and judiciaries and produce from their wreck one consolidated government, the question is determined. Every man therefore who has the welfare of his country at heart, every man who values his own liberty and happiness, in short, every description of persons, except those aspiring despots who hope to benefit by the mysery and vassalage of their countrymen, must now concur in rejecting the proposed system of government, must now unite in branding its authors with the stigma of eternal infamy. The anniversary of this great escape from the fangs of despotism, ought to be celebrated as long as liberty shall continue to be dear to the citizens of America.
I will repeat some of my principal arguments, and add some further remarks, on the subject consolidation.
The Legislative is the highest delegated power in government, all others are subordinate to it. The celebrated Montesquieu establishes it as a maxim, that legislation necessarily follows the power of taxation. By the 8th sect of article the 1st of the proposed government, "the1 Congress are to have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States." Now, what can be more comprehensive than these words? Every species of taxation, whether external or internal are included. Whatever taxes, duties, and excises that the Congress may deem necessary to the general welfare may be imposed on the citizens of these states and levied by their officers.2 The congress are to be the absolute judges of the propriety of such taxes, in short they may construe every purpose for which the state legislatures now lay taxes, to be for the general welfare, they may seize upon every source of taxation, and thus make it impracticable for the states to have the smallest revenue, and if a state should presume to impose a tax or excise that would interfere with a federal tax or excise, congress may soon terminate the contention, by repealing the state law, by virtue of the following section—"To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers and all other powers vested by this constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department thereof." Indeed every law of the states may be controuled by this power.3 The legislative power granted for these sections is so unlimited in its nature, may be so comprehensive and boundless in its exercise, that this alone would be amply sufficient to carry the coup de grace to the state governments, to swallow them up in the grand vortex of general empire. But the legislative has an able auxiliary in the judicial department, for a reference to my second number will shew that this may be made greatly instrumental in effecting consolidation; as the federal judiciary would absorb all others. Lest the foregoing powers should not suffice to consolidate the United States into one empire, the Convention as if determined to prevent the possibility of a doubt, as if to prevent all clashing by the opposition of state powers, as if to preclude all struggle for state importance, as if to level all obstacles to the supremacy of universal sway, which in so extensive a territory, would be an iron-handed despotism, have ordained by article the 6th, "That this constitution, and the laws of the United States, which shall be made in pursuance thereof, and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby any thing in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding."
The words "pursuant to the constitution" will be no restriction to the authority of congress; for the foregoing sections gives them unlimited legislation; their unbounded power of taxation does alone include all others, as whoever has the purse strings will have full dominion.45 But the convention has superadded another power, by which the congress may stamp with the sanction of the constitution every possible law; it is contained in the following clause—"To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof " Whatever law congress may deem necessary and proper for carrying into execution any of the powers vested in them, may be enacted; and by virtue of this clause, they may controul and abrogate any and every of the laws of the state governments, on the allegation that they interfere with the execution of any of their powers, and yet these laws will "be made in pursuance of the constitution," and of course will "be the supreme law of the land, and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, any thing in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding."6
There is no reservation made in the whole of this plan in favor of the rights of the separate states. In the present plan confederation made in the year 1778, it was thought necessary by article the 2d to declare that "each state retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence, and every power, jurisdiction and right, which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States in Congress assembled." Positive grant was not then thought sufficiently descriptive and restrictive upon congress, and the omission of such a declaration now, when such great devolutions of power are proposed, manifests the design of consolidating the states.
What restriction does Mr. Wilson pretend there is in the new constitution to the supremacy of despotic sway over the United States? What barrier does he assign for the security of the state governments? Why truly a mere cobweb of a limit! by interposing the shield of what will become mere form, to check the reality of power. He says, that the existence of the state governments are essential to the organization of congress, that the former is made the necessary basis of the latter, for the federal senators and president are to be appointed by the state legislatures; and that hence all fears of a consolidation are groundless and imaginary. It must be confessed, as reason and argument would have been foreign to the defence of the proposed plan of government, Mr. Wilson has displayed much ingenuity on this occasion, he has involved the subject in all the mazes of sophistry, and by subtil distinctions, he has established principles and positions, that exist only in his own fertile imagination. It is a solecism in politics for two coordinate sovereignties to exist together, you must separate the sphere of their jurisdiction, or after running the race of dominion for some time, one would necessarily triumph over the other; but in the mean time the subjects of it would be harrassed with double impositions to support the contention; however the strife between congress and the states could not be of long continuance, for the former has a decisive superiority in the outset, and has moreover the power by the very constitution itself to terminate it, when expedient.
As this necessary connexion, as it has been termed, between the state governments and the general government, has been made a point of great magnitude by the advocates of the new plan, as it is the only obstacle alledged by them against a consolidation, it ought to be well considered. It is declared by the proposed plan, that the federal senators and the electors who chuse the president of the United States, shall be appointed by the state legislatures for the long period of six and four years respectively;—how will this connexion prevent the state legislatures being divested of every important, every efficient power? may not they, will not they dwindle into mere boards appointment, as has ever happened in other nations to public bodies, who, in similar circumstances, have been so weak as to part with the essentials of power?7 Does not history abound with such instances? And this may be the mighty amount of this inseparable connexion, which is so much dwelt upon as the security of the state governments. Yet even this shadow of a limit against consolidation, may be annihilated by the imperial fiat, without any violation of even the forms of the constitution, section 4th of article the 1st has made a provision for this, when the people are sufficiently fatigued with the useless expence maintaining the forms of departed power and security, and when they shall pray to be relieved from the imposition. This section cannot be too often repeated, as it gives such a latitude to the designing, as it revoke's every other part of the constitution that may be tolerable, and as it may enable the administration under it, to complete the system of despotism; it is in the following words, viz. "The times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations, except as to the place of chusing senators." The only apparent restriction in this clause, is as to the place of appointing senators, but even this may be rendered of no avail, for as the Congress have the controul over the time appointment of both senators and representatives, they may under the pretence of an apprehension of invasion, upon the pretence of the turbulence of what they may stile a faction, and indeed pretences are never wanting to the designing, they may postpone the time of the election of the senators and the representatives from period to period to perpetuity; thus they may and if they may, they certainly will from the lust of dominion, so inherent in the mind of man, relieve the people from the trouble of attending elections condescending to create themselves.8 Has not Mr. Wilson avowed it in fact? Has he not said in the Convention, that it was necessary that Congress should possess this power as the means of its own preservation, otherwise says he, an invasion, a civil war, a faction, or a secession of a minority of the assembly might prevent the representation of a state in Congress.
The advocates of the proposed government must be hard driven, when they represent, that because the legislatures of this and the other states have exceeded the due bounds of power, notwithstanding every guard provided by their constitutions; that because the lust of arbitrary sway is so powerful as sometimes to get the better of every obstacle; that therefore we should give full scope to it, for that all restriction would be useless and nugatory. And further, when they tell you that a good administration will atone for all the defects in the government, which, say they, you must necessarily have, for how can it be otherwise, your rulers are to be taken from among yourselves. My fellow citizens, these aspiring despots, must indeed have a great contempt for your understandings, when they hope to gull you out of your liberties by such reasoning; for what is the primary object of government, but to check and controul the ambitious and designing, how then can moderation and virtue be expected from men, who will be in possession of absolute sway, who will have the United States at their disposal? They would be more than men, who could resist such temptation! their being taken from among the people, would be no security; tyrants are of native growth in all countries, the greatest bashaw in Turky has been one of the people, as Mr. Wilson tells you the president general be. What consolation would this be, when you shall be suffering under his oppression.
Philadelphia, Nov. 30, 1787.

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