January 25, 1788
To the Massachusetts Convention,
That the new system, proposed for your adoption, is not founded in argument, but in party spirit, is evident from the whole behaviour of that party, who favour it. The following is a short, but genuine specimen of their reasoning. The South-Carolina legislature have established an unequal representation, and will not alter it: therefore Congress should be invested with an unrestrained power to alter the time, manner and place of electing members into that body. Directly the contrary position should have been inferred. An elected assembly made an improper use of their right to controul elections. therefore such a right ought not to be lodged with them. It will be abused in ten instances, for one in which it will serve any valuable purpose. It is said also that the Rhode Island assembly intend to abuse their power in this respect, therefore we should put Congress in a situation to abuse theirs. Surely this is not a kind of reasoning that, in the opinion of any indifferent person, can vindicate the fourth section. Yet we have heard it publicly advanced as being conclusive.
The unlimited power over trade, domestic as well as foreign, is another power that will more probably be applied to a bad than to a good purpose. That our trade was for the last year much in favour of the commonwealth is agreed by all parties. The freedom that every man, whether his capital is large or small, enjoys, of entering into any branch that pleases him, rouses a spirit of industry and exertion, that is friendly to commerce. It prevents that stagnation of business which generally precedes public commotions. Nothing ought to be done to restrain this spirit. The unlimited power over trade, however, is exceedingly apt to injure it.
In most countries of Europe, trade has been confined by exclusive charters. Exclusive companies are, in trade, pretty much like an aristocracy in government, and produce nearly as bad effects. An instance of it we have ourselves experienced. Before the revolution, we carried on no direct trade to India. The goods imported from that country, came to us through the medium of an exclusive company. Our trade in that quarter is now respectable, and we receive several kinds of their goods at about half the former price.—But the evil of such companies does not terminate there. They always, by the greatness of their capital, have an undue influence on the government.
In a republic, we ought to guard, as much as possible, against the predominance of any particular interest. It is the object of government to protect them all. When commerce is left to take its own course, the advantages of every class will be nearly equal.—But when exclusive privileges are given to any class, it will operate to the weakening of some other class connected with them.