A Foreign Spectator XXVIII
September 28, 1787
It is the singular happiness of America, to establish her federal empire at this enlightened era, when the principles of political union are in general pretty well understood; and when superstition, a passion for war, or other dangerous prejudices have no baneful influence. A sad experience of the evils that arise from an immoderate pursuit of wealth, and an overdriven love of liberty, is also very beneficial to a young nation, as it will impress the great maxims of moderation and integrity, without which neither individuals or civil societies can be happy. By the grace of Providence peace and tranquility favors a mature deliberation on the grand affairs of a national system. A solid confederation will secure the states against any external force, and prevent any dangerous internal tumults; but they may fear every calamity from the evil genius of party, that is the peculiar fiend of republics, and has ruined so many flourishing states—Let us then see, through what avenues this daemon may approach, and may they be shut up forever. No great or permanent national object can so differently affect individuals, as to create a general party through the states; but men may differ in sentiment on some capital matters to such a degree as to form opposite parties, which will afterwards, as usual, be variously blended with personal interest, prude, influence of leaders, mutual sympathy, antipathies, religious prejudices, &c. Extensive foreign connexions would among other great evils occasion this; because such complex systems are beyond the comprehension of great numbers, and cannot be regulated by fixed rules, but often require that reasoning of probability, in which men seldom agree. When foreign powers meddle in national affairs, in which men seldom agree. When foreign powers meddle in national affairs, foment animosities, and introduce a fatal corruption, great disasters are certain consequences—some of the greatest citizens will be their avowed partizans; and foreign old will purchase yeas and nays in the most important debates. America, if wise, will enjoy her happy situation, and neither covet a greater share of the western continent, was it ten times more fertile, not cast a wishful eye on the mines of Mexico; nor force over the friendly barrier of the Atlantic into the political labyrinths of Europe, in which she would lose her money, and many of her best sons. As to commerce, she will form a proper estimate of its advantages; not seek with danger and toil in remote climes what can be had at home; and value human blood more than liquors or toys.
The constitution itself often becomes an object of contention, even when it has no material faults, merely from a too refined political taste, irritated by prude, personal pique, and the other usual sauce of party. No human production was ever perfect; individuals should not presume to pick out little blemishes in systems composed by some of the best and wisest citizens. In a grand building a small omission in minute parts, is nothing—yet little minds can often espy this, but are not capable of admiring the great design, the beauty and strength of proportion, the skill in attaining advantages almost incompatible. The memorable expression of Solon, that his laws were the best his country would admit, should be well considered by all political critics. It is better to put up with some real imperfections, than to be always reforming—Hudibras justly ridicules those who seemed to think, that religion was only made to be mended—A political satirist relates how a nurse, in order to reduce the overgrown foot of a chilled, first squeezed, and then trimmed it, till it became necessary to cut it off. It is wisdom to be satisfied with that degree of perfection allotted our present state. The 5th article reserves a very proper mode for amending the federal constitution; it is certainly reasonable to give it a fair tryal by some years experience; and it must be madness to pull down a house at the approach of winter because there may hereafter be a leak in the roof.
It would be presumption not only in me, but I scruple not to say, in most native Americans, to define how far the federal union may in all cases be agreeable to the interest of the respective states; because they have as a nation just entered into the political world; and the very circumstance of being a young country not half improved is a source of many unknown complicated events. Should upon a fair trial any permanent inequality appear in favor of some states, it will no doubt be remedied—In the mean time all well-disposed Americans will pay a grateful regard to the faithful endeavors of the honorable Convention; the modesty and sensibility expressed in their address to Congress—″In all our deliberations on this subject we kept steadily in our view, &c. the greatest interest of every true American, the consolidation of our union, in which is involved our prosperity, &c. perhaps our national existence. This important consideration, seriously and deeply impressed on our minds, led each state in the convention to be less rigid on points of inferior magnitude—And thus the constitution which we now present, is the result of a spirit of amity, and of that mutual deference and concession, which the peculiarity of our situation then rendered indispensable.” In a discussion of respective rights, the main question is, to what states is the union most necessary? Local situation, natural strength, and the temptation of advantage to foreign or internal enemies, must determine this. The small states want protection, those on the frontiers especially. The most powerful could not resist a formidable power. The southern states are more wealthy than strong; their situation and wealth would naturally invite a foreign attack. The union of Great-Britain was much opposed by those who extolled the superior wealth of England; but men of sense set a proper value on the military spirit of Scotland, and observed that gold must be defended by steel. If some states derive any superior advantage from the Inland carrying trade, it is a mark of their inferiority in a landed interest, and should not be a cause of envy; besides their maritime strength would upon occasion defend the other parts of the union. Thus the interest property, which is a secondary object, may on the whole be not very unequally shared among the states.
Though the many small causes of parties cannot endanger the union, they will no doubt disturb its happiness, and should be carefully suppressed. It is an absurd maxim with some, that parties are happy symptoms of a public spirit, and support the balance of power. These men think that a person must be mortally sick, or have a slight disorder. A lethargy is indeed worse than a fever; but many constitutions are free from both. As to the balance, sober men will hold it better than those who are drunk. It is very pernicious merely for a temporary advantage to sour the public mind, and weaken all the social virtues, which are the bonds of civil union. I know, that furious flames are stopped by kindling a fire in a contrary direction; but I would not except in case of necessity, throw out a single spark. It is even dangerous to foment antipathy against foreign nations, because it contracts the heart, and raises an evil spirit, that often recoil upon those ungenerous silly politicians. How common is it to hear a rude person first vent his spleen in the most absurd and mean expressions against some European nation, and then with the same virulence curse his own government. Unhappily too many Americans know but little of Europe, and look upon it as a land of slaves—whereas though some parts of it are oppressed, others have as much liberty as they can bear, and much more real freedom, than America in her present anarchy. The many needy adventurers, bad characters, and low bred wretches, that flock hither from European countries, cannot but give unfavorable ideas; but it is wrong to judge from these; and happier would America be without this scum of the earth.
The United States are as yet not the most homogenial body politic—the federal union will gradually incorporate and animate it with one spirit; at the same time any ill humors and heterogeneous particles must be corrected. A diversity of manners and customs is found in all countries, and causes an agreeable variety; but any peculiarities that are objects of contempt, and aversion, should be prevented. An equal improvement of human nature through all the states is an important object; a superiority in virtue, learning, and manners would not only give some political ascendancy, but inspire an antifederal disregard of their inferiors.
The rational opinion, that sincere worshippers in whatever religion are pleasing to Almighty God, is now pretty generally established in all civilized nations. It is of the highest consequence, because the belief that eternal happiness depends on a particular creed or mode of worship, will prompt even good men to establish such at all adventures. We must not however imagine that this species of bigotry has alone produced the many religious wars and tumults; for there are antipathies arising merely from the peculiar genius of a religion, capable of doing much hurt. Any thing that appears to another sect very absurd, mean, unsocial, &c. has an ill effect. A bad influence on manners and government is a serious affair. If it cannot be helped, divide et impera is a good maxim with religious as other parties—where any sect has a decided superiority, or a rapid increase, others may be encouraged. Indifferency is not the proper remedy against superstition; for a very defective religion is better than none. Let then the several professions respect the advantages of each other, and with candid benevolence criticize mutual infirmities—Let the bright luminary of reason gradually rise, and shed its majestic radiance over this western world; it will manifest to all the same great God, and the same road to happiness here and hereafter.