A Copy of a Letter from Centinel

January 23, 1788

Copy of a Letter from the Author of the CENTINEL to
his Friend in — County.

Philadelphia, January 19, 1788.

Dear Sir, I received your letter by Mr. —, and am sorry to find that your exertions in the county of — have been attended with so little success. I expected, long before this, to have heard of a commotion begun. It is, indeed, high time that something vigorous should be attempted, otherwise the spirit of our cause will languish in our hands, and when once that spirit is flown, it will not be in our power to recall it. You know it was always our opinion, that the great gun should be charged here and fired in one of the western counties. I am sure I have not been remiss in my part of the business. Have I not already charged it with eleven cartridges well ramm’d down; and when I am every moment expecting the explosion, you only urge me to double my diligence, and ram away. In short, I am almost weary of this fruitless toil. I don’t find that my publications have had the desired effect here; I hope they have been more successful in the counties—if so, you should have informed me, for I want encouragement more than a spur. Whilst I am issuing number after number of my Centinel, all written with a freedom and spirit sufficient, one would think, to rouse the people—I say, while I am doing this, the states, one after another, either unanimously or by large majorities, are ratifying the new constitution. You have heard, or will hear, that Connecticut has adopted it by a majority of 127 to 40 in their Convention. Besides this, I have the mortification to see my Centinels printed, and re—printed, but never replied to. Attempts to answer would afford fresh sources of argument. Can any thing be more provoking or discourageing? I have rung the changes upon—the liberty of the press—trial by jury—despotism and tyranny—and am reduced to the necessity of repeating in different words the same railings against the constitution, and the same abuse against the framers of it.—The novelty of this boldness is over, and my pieces are scarcely read. I am astonished, that such extraordinary exertions have had so little effect with the people. I have, directly and without reserve, called the members of the late General Convention, with G——e W———n at their head, villains, traytors, fools, and conspirators, collectively and individually, and yet the mob does not rise. I have often told you, that it is of no great importance on which side an insurrection takes place: All that is necessary is, to have a commotion begun: A faction can always turn public confusion to its own account. I was in great hopes that the attack upon Major Boyd’s house would have produced something; it was indeed serviceable to our party; but the flame was too weak to spread—the law interfered, and extinguished it entirely. A mob is not worth a farthing, unless, by its great numbers or the weight of its leaders, it can stoutly look law in the face, and bid defiance to its operations.

You tell me, that you have enlisted about 60 insurgents—but what can they do?—600 in each of the counties would have been more to the purpose. Either you must have been very negligent, or your influence in the county is not as great as you gave us reason to believe. You say you have constantly attended at taverns, vendues, funerals, and other public meetings—liberally treated those whom you thought it would be of use to gain—dispersed my Centinels—and watched the most favorable opportunities for inflaming the minds of the people. This is all very well—but if the effect has been no more than the association of 60 insurgents, it is certainly very poor doings. If our friends have done no better in the other counties, and I have not yet heard that they have done any thing, our party had better tack about, and cry up the new constitution, that some of us may stand a chance at least for a share in the loaves and fishes. For if, notwithstanding our opposition, this new constitution should be established, we shall always be looked upon as disaffected to the government, and unfit to be trusted with offices under it.

Our champions in the other states begin to fall off. You have seen, I suppose, Gov. R’s letter2—and I am told that R. H. L.— and M—3 have dropped all opposition. Unless some extraordinary exertions are made, and speedily too, our whole scheme must fall to the ground. Only imagine what a ridiculous figure I make here. I am every week publishing things, which in any other country would bring the author to the gallows, as a seditious disturber of the public peace—and nothing comes of it. My performances, as I said before, do not even provoke a reply. Can any thing be more mortifying?—In the mean time the new constitution is taking root in the other states. And it must be confessed, that in every instance where the people have been legally brought together, either in Conventions, or as Assemblymen, Grand Juries, or otherwise, they have uniformly declared themselves in favour of it. These are great obstacles to our views. We have affected the popular
side of the question, and the voice of the people is decidedly against us. Patriotism, not supported by the body of citizens, it always denominated — Faction.

To conclude. Unless we can do something, speedily, towards raising a respectable commotion in the state, it is my opinion that we ought to prepare for joining the general current in favour of this new system of government. And this may be plausibly effected by declaring, that we never had any thing in view but the good of our country—that the new constitution appeared in our judgments to contain many things objectionable, and some even dangerous to the liberties of the people—but, as the general opinion seems to be otherwise, we resign our own prejudices to the will of the Majority, as every good citizen ought to do;—and since we find the new system of federal government is indeed likely to be established, we shall not be behind any in zealous exertions for its support.

Think of these things—and let me hear from you as soon as possible. In the mean time I am, dear Sir, Your’s, &c.

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