<Debate and Ratification
Convention Essay

Convention Essay

October 13, 1787

Mr. Russell,

“It is impossible but that offences will come.”

The above sentence of holy write occurred to me on reading some paragraphs in the Massachusetts Gazette of Tuesday last. The late Continental Convention could not entertain the idea of suiting the AMERICAN CONSTITUTION to the whims, caprices, and self—interest of every individual in the United States—Such an anticipation would have been as absurd as the conduct of the old man in the fable, who set out to carry his ass to market.

This paragraphist observes, “That a Confederation for purposes merely national, would undoubtedly be exceedingly beneficial to these States.”—What his ideas of a nation are, is difficult to ascertain. If the federation must fall short of answering any national purpose, except it has influence on the concerns of particular States—and here the Confederation under which we at present are languishing, fainting and expiring, discovers its total inefficiency—The new Constitution is happily calculated not only to restore us to animation and vigour, but to diffuse a national spirit, and inspire every man with sentiments of dignity, when he reflects that he is not merely the individual of a State, but a CITIZEN of AMERICA. This leads to his second paragraph, respecting, “the more of publick business, being conformable to the habits of the people”—Is this antifederalist to be informed at this time of day, that the “habits” of the citizens of America are very dissimilar?—And that this is owing in a great measure to the disuniting and discordant principles of the separate Constitution of the States, and the want of a federal Government?—It is vain to expect a national trait in our characters, or a similitude of habits, but as the effect of a national efficient government—Virtue or good habits are the result of good laws—and from the excellent American Constitution those habits will be induced, that shall lead to those exertions, manufactures and enterprises, which will give a scope to the American genius, and “find employment for their activity.”

His third paragraph contains the basest anti—federal insinuations and suspicions—Although the Representative body is by the new Constitution to be much larger than at present, he represents it as a “small number;” and the period for which they are chosen every one knkows is short enough o acquire that legislative knowledge which the great concerns of such an extensive government must require—Fatal experience has eviced the absurdity of a rapid rotaion of publick officers; and a more frequent recurrence to elections would deprive us of the whole advantage of a national government: But the Congress of the United States “is to be invested with almost every branch of Legislative this paragraphis mean to treat the publick as children or as fools: Are we to exist as a nation without laws, and without legislators?—And another dreadful circumstance with him is, the Congress will not set in ALL the States at one and the same time!—How long are we to be troubled by such ridiculous cavillings of moonshine politicians?

Fourthly—Congress by the new Constitution are to regulate commerce, external and internal—”a consummation devoutly to be wished”—”But they are ’NOT’ to keep up standing armies within the States at all times,” although this paragraphis wickedly and falsely asserts it—Look at the Constitution, see if the supreme power has there delegated to it greater authority in this respect than what the very nature of things requires? How the States lose the right of compelling the obedience of their own subjects, I cannot devise—it is true we resign those rights that are incompatible with our NATIONAL INTEREST, and no others.

Fifthly—This paragraphist asserts that no state will be able to pay its debts but by a dry tax—Where he acquired this knowledge I cannot determine—the Constitution says no such thing—It is true that the right (not an exclusive one by the bye) of levying debts of the States are put upon a continental establishment, as justice, policy, and the facilitating publick business evidently point out, this bugbear of a dry tax vanishes—What the parargraphist means by the States not having a right to certify their own debts, he must write more paragraphs to explain.

His Sixth paragraph is equally enigmatical respecting lands—That the Continental Government will operate unequally for a time may be true—but this is an evil merely temporary, and better to be indured, than no government—this State will have an equal chance, and time and experience will doubtless effect an equality—That the State of Vermont will be excluded from the union is a meer assertion, or rather vile incendiary insinuation—one of the group that certain restless spirits are anxious to disseminate, for the sole purpose of dividing the people, and keeping themselves in power.

His Seventh paragraph is full of that mean suspicion which has too long prevailed, and been one chief mean of bringing the whole continent into its present deplorable circumstances. That “we are everyday coalescing under a wise and moderate, but firm government,” all our senses contradict:—But that the good people through the States are earnestly desiring such a government, is undoubtedly a fact—The people appear to be united in sentiment, that the American Constitution will give them such a government—why then, in the name of honestly, should they be plagued with the groundless surmises and falsehoods of those who fear for themselves, but for the publick have no bowels of compassion? Why should any man be so vain, so self—sufficient, as to palm his individual judgment upon the people, as superiour to that of the concentered wisdom of America, in its late glorious CONVENTION.