December 18, 1787
To the People.
There cannot be a doubt, that, while the trade of this continent remains free, the activity of our countrymen will secure their full share. All the estimates for the present year, let them be made by what party they may, suppose the balance of trade to be largely in our favour. The credit of our merchants is, therefore, fully established in foreign countries. This is a sufficient proof, that when business is unshackled, it will find out that channel which is most friendly to its course. We ought, therefore, to be exceedingly cautious about diverting or restraining it. Every day produces fresh proofs, that people, under the immediate pressure of difficulties, do not, at first glance, discover the proper relief. The last year, a desire to get rid of embarrassments induced many honest people to agree to a tender-act, and many others, of a different description, to obstruct the courts of justice. Both these methods only increased the evil they were intended to cure. Experience has since shewn, that, instead of trying to lessen an evil by altering the present course of things, every endeavour should have been applied to facilitate the course of law, and thus to encourage a mutual confidence among the citizens, which increases the resources of them all, and renders easy the payment of debts. By this means one does not grow rich at the expense of another, but all are benefited. The case is the same with the states. Pennsylvania, with one port and a large territory, is less favourably situated for trade than the Massachusetts, which has an extensive coast in proportion to its limits of jurisdiction. Accordingly a much larger proportion of our people are engaged in maritime affairs. We ought therefore to be particularly attentive to securing so great an interest. It is vain to tell us that we ought to overlook local interests. It is only by protecting local concerns, that the interest of the whole is preserved. No man when he enters into society, does it from a view to promote the good of others, but he does it for his own good. All men having the same view are bound equally to promote the welfare of the whole. To recur then to such a principle as that local interests must be disregarded, is requiring of one man to do more than another, and is subverting the foundation of a free government. The Philadelphians would be shocked with a proposition to place the seat of general government and the unlimited right to regulate trade in the Massachusetts. There can be no greater reason for our surrendering the preference to them. Such sacrifices, however we may delude ourselves with the form of words, always originate in folly, and not in generosity.
Let me now request your attention a little while to the actual state of publick credit, that we may see whether it has not been as much misrepresented as the state of our trade.
At the beginning of the present year, the whole continental debt was about twelve millions of pounds in our money. About one quarter part of this sum was due to our foreign creditors. Of these France was the principal, and called for the arrears of interest. A new loan of one hundred and twenty thousand pounds was negotiated in Holland, at five per cent. to pay the arrears due to France. At first sight this has the appearance of bad economy, and has been used for the villainous purpose of disaffecting the people. But in the course of this same year. Congress have negotiated the sale of as much of their western lands on the Ohio and Mississippi, an amount nearly to the whole sum of the foreign debt; and instead of a dead loss by borrowing money at five per cent. to the amount of an hundred and twenty thousand pounds, in one sum, they make a saving of the interest at six per cent. on three millions of their domestick debt, which is an annual saving of an hundred and eighty thousand pounds. It is easy to see how such an immense fund as the western territory may be applied to the payment of the foreign debt. Purchasers of the land would as willingly procure any kind of the produce of the United States as they would buy loan office certificates to pay for the land. The produce thus procured would easily be negotiated for the benefit of our foreign creditors. I do not mean to insinuate that no other provision should be made for our creditors, but only to shew that our credit is not so bad in other countries as has been represented, and that our resources are fully equal to the pressure.
The perfection of government depends on the equality of its operation, as far as human affairs will admit, upon all parts of the empire, and upon all the citizens. Some inequalities indeed will necessarily take place. One man will be obliged to travel a few miles further than another man to procure justice. But when he has travelled, the poor man ought to have the same measure of justice as the rich one. Small inequalities may be easily compensated. There ought, however, to be no inequality in the law itself, and the government ought to have the same authority in one place as in another. Evident as this truth is, the most plausible argument in favour of the new plan is drawn from the inequality of its operation in different states. In Connecticut, they have been told that the bulk of the revenue will be raised by impost and excise, and therefore they need not be afraid to trust Congress with the power of levying a dry tax at pleasure. New-York, and Massachusetts, are both more commercial states than Connecticut. The latter, therefore, hopes that the other two will pay the bulk of the continental expense. The argument is in itself delusive. If the trade is not over-taxed, the consumer pays it. If the trade is over-taxed, it languishes, and by the ruin of trade the farmer loses his market. The farmer has in truth no other advantage from imposts than that they save him the trouble of collecting money for the government. He neither gets or loses money by changing the mode of taxation. The government indeed finds it the easiest way to raise the revenue; and the reason is that the tax is by this means collected where the money circulates most freely. But if the argument was not delusive, it ought to conclude against the plan, because it would prove the unequal operation of it, and if any saving is to be made by the mode of taxing, the saving should be applied towards our own debt, and not to the payment of the part of a continental burden which Connecticut ought to discharge. It would be impossible to refute in writing all the delusions made use of to force this system through. Those respecting the publick debt, and the benefit of imposts, are the most important, and these I have taken pains to explain. In one instance indeed, the impost does raise money at the direct expense of the seaports. This is when goods are imported subject to a duty, and re-exported without a drawback. Whatever benefit is derived from this source, surely should not be transferred to another state, at least till our own debts are cleared.
Another instance of unequal operation is, that it establishes different degrees of authority in different states, and thus creates different interests. The lands in New-Hampshire having been formerly granted by this state, and afterwards by that state, to private persons, the whole authority of trying titles becomes vested in a continental court, and that state loses a branch of authority, which the others retain, over their own citizens.
I have now gone through two parts of my argument, and have proved the efficiency of the state governments for internal regulation, and the disadvantages of the new system, at least some of the principal. The argument has been much longer than I at first apprehended, or, possibly, I should have been deterred from it. The importance of the question has, however, prevented me from relinquishing it.