<Debate and Ratification
A Foreign Spectator XXIII

A Foreign Spectator XXIII

September 17, 1787

This institution is separate from the university, and will be on the same footing as the philosophical societies: only more extensive, both in a federal view, and to render it more respectable by a combination of all the sons of Apollo. Distant members may correspond, and besides form the like societies on a smaller scale in their respective states. This federal academy of belles letters will not require any public expense, nor any other care from government than encouragement and protection. In proportion as elegant learning is cultivated, it will tincture manners, religion, laws, and government. The great admiration of the British constitution, which is not confined to Great-Britain, is in great part owing to the enthusiastic eulogiums on it blended with the finest English compositions. When the federal system shall be established, this federal academy of polite learning will be an ornamental and not feeble support to it. The largest western territory is in several views a great federal object. A firm union will prevent those dissentions, which may otherwise arise between some states about lands so valuable—Extent of dominion is immaterial, when they are united provinces of one empire—What other advantage may be had from possession, is the same, when thrown into a common stock, and impartially administered. It is highly necessary to settle this territory slowly and regularly; otherwise this part of the union can neither be civilized, governed, nor secured. Among those who flock hither from the different states, some are bold and enterprising; many of the most idle and licentious character; not a few fled from criminal and civil justice. The well disposed will generally degenerate in bad society, under want of education, public worship, and other means of civilization. A continual warfare with the Indians will render them fierce and warlike. Constant hunting naturally creates a ferocious temper: humanity is undoubtedly weakened by the constant destruction of animals, sight of blood and mortal agonies in various forms. In consequence of all this, the back inhabitants would for a while be like the wild herds of Tartars and Arabs; and with an encreasing population form many petty states unconnected with the union, and in perpetual war among themselves—if attacked by a federal force they would unite and erect a considerable empire. This is a serious consideration; in comparison to which it is but a small evil, that so many hands withdraw into the wilderness from the scenes of industry, to the great hurt of necessary manufactures, and agriculture itself. The vast frontiers of Persia, Turkey and Russia have always been infested with rebellions—The last Russian rebel Pugaschef was a mean wretch; yet he seduced a multitude of ignorant, savage people, gave the government great trouble; and caused the destruction of many thousands: What may not America dread from such men as Sullivan—If the letter is signed by that name, and addressed to the Spanish Governor of Florida, is genuine, what may not be feared from such a daring ambition, such ardour for war, such a military genius improved by liberal knowledge.

Though the federal power should not interfere in the internal management of the states; yet some extraordinary affairs demand an exception. At present the negro slavery is a federal object—It revolts against the plainest and universally established principles of humanity and common equity; it is in that respect a national disgrace; it is a standing proof and example of corruption. In a political view the effect is dangerous—A man who exercises absolute power over some hundred fellow creatures, although he should not abuse it, cannot easily have a heart-felt sensibility of the equal rights of mankind, the moderation of a republican, and a genuine love of liberty. It is impossible but the cruelty of some masters, and the obstinacy of some slaves should often create horrid excesses. Who does not know many examples, that shock humanity! This national evil must indeed be abolished with prudence, and by degrees; but let it be done with all possible speed, and in the mean time be mitigated by the humanity and wisdom of federal government. Let no barbarian with impunity starve, mangle, and kill in lingering tortures a miserable defenceless fellow-creature! Let not a brute, who never felt parental, filial or conjugal affection, by a cruel separation inflict on husband and wife, parents and children, agonies worse than the most dreadful death—agonies from which the most affectionate bosom often seek from the poison, the dagger, the friendly wave that relief which an impotent or inhuman government will not give. America! Africa is thy sister; thy children may one day become her slaves, if thou wilt not regard thy honor, the sacred rights of humanity, that liberty which is thy pride, and that GREAT GOD, who is the universal father of mercies, and a terrible avenger of his injured children.

In all national affairs, and especially in the modern state of political society, money is a great and necessary instrument. The federal government, though frugal, has a considerable expence in time of peace: it must have certain and adequate resources for an eventual war; and for discharging the national debt. No person of any sense can believe that foreign powers will wait forever. When they cannot even obtain interest for a generous loan, what must they think of national honor, integrity, gratitude! Will they think America worthy of their friendship, or even common civility! will they again spend their blood and treasure for her independency! In case of war with any formidable power, how will an army be raised and equipped! Will the troops again list for money, of which a month’s pay will soon scarcely buy a morning dram? Will men of honor suffer hunger and cold, bleed and dye, for a country that will not do them common justice? While the states are disputing whether they shall grant the federal requisitions or not; an enemy may penetrate into the heart of a country, and cut off some members of the union. In the midst of a debate whether a few hundred pounds more or less shall be granted, an enemies’ grenadiers may step in, and say deliver or die: raise immediately so many thousand pounds, or have your city pillaged and burnt! This is plain sense; those who will not comprehend it, are insane, and if nothing else will cure them, had better be bled by their own citizens, than massacred by an enemy. Was I an American, my sword would not sleep in the scabbard, while sordid wretches ruined my country. It is not horrible that at this very time the savages riot in blood and destruction, because the federal government cannot support a regiment of soldiers on the frontiers! The wail of the babe, who dies under the tomahawk on the mothers breast, the shrieks of the mother that fill the wilderness, and pierce the very rocks—the expiring groans of the father writhing in slow fires, do they not cry to heaven for vengeance over that cruel avarice, which is the cause of such woe.

It is high time then to have done with those requisitions of Congress so neglected, and even treated with contempt. This head of the Empire has been forced to declare publicly in pathetic addresses to the States that the confederacy is in danger, and that it cannot answer for the cruel accidents that may befall the body politic.

The federal government must have fixed and ample revenue to be furnished by certain taxes in every state, and collected by officers of its own appointment, and under its own direction. Without this we shall either have foreign soldiers or our own Shayses for collectors; or the brave and generous must join, and with the bayonet to every ignoble breast, say deliver.