November 06, 1787
Friends, Countrymen, Brethren, and Fellow Citizens: The important day is drawing near when you are to elect delegates to represent you in a convention, on the result of whose deliberations will depend, in a great measure, your future happiness.
This convention is to determine whether or not the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania shall adopt the plan of government proposed by the late Convention of delegates from the different states, which sat in this city.
With a heart full of anxiety for the preservation of your dearest rights, I presume to address you on this important occasion. In the name of sacred liberty, dearer to us than our property and our lives, I request your most earnest attention.
The proposed plan of continental government is now fully known to you. You have read it, I trust, with the attention it deserves. You have heard the objections that have been made to it. You have heard the answers to these objections.
If you have attended to the whole with candor and unbiased minds, as becomes men that are possessed and deserving of freedom, you must have been alarmed at the result of your observations. Notwithstanding the splendor of names which has attended the publication of the new Constitution, notwithstanding the sophistry and vain reasoning that have been urged to support its principles; alas! you must at least have concluded that great men are not always infallible, and that patriotism itself may be led into essential errors.
The objections that have been made to the new Constitution are these:
One of them only I shall take notice of, in which I find that argument is weakly attempted. This piece is signed “An American Citizen” and has appeared with great pomp in four succeeding numbers in several of our newspapers. But if you read it attentively, you will find that it does not tell us what the new Constitution IS, but what it IS NOT, and extols it on the sole ground that it does not contain ALL the principles of tyranny with which the European governments are disgraced.
But where argument entirely failed, nothing remained for the supporters of the new Constitution but to endeavor to inflame your passions. The attempt has been made and I am sorry to find not entirely without effect. The great names of WASHINGTON and FRANKLIN have been taken in vain and shockingly prostituted to effect the most infamous purposes. What! because our august chieftain has subscribed his name in his capacity of President of the Convention to the plan offered by them to the states, and because the venerable sage of Pennsylvania has testified by his signature that the majority of the delegates of this state assented to the same plan, will anyone infer from this that it has met with their entire approbation, and that they consider it as the masterpiece of human wisdom? I am apt to think the contrary, and I have good reasons to ground my opinion on.
In the first place we have found by the publication of Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Esquire, one of the signing members of the Convention, who has expressed the most pointed disapprobation of many important parts of the new plan of government, that all the members whose names appear at the bottom of this instrument of tyranny have not concurred in its adoption.5 Many of them might conceive themselves bound by the opinion of the majority of their state, and leaving the people to their own judgment upon the form of government offered to them, might have conceived it impolitic by refusing to sign their names, to offer to the world the lamentable spectacle of the disunion of a body on the decisions of whom the people had rested all their hopes. We KNOW, and the long sitting of the Convention tells us, that (as it is endeavored to persuade us) concord and unanimity did not reign exclusively among them. The thick veil of secrecy with which their proceedings have been covered has left us entirely in the dark, as to the debates that took place, and the unaccountable SUPPRESSION OF THEIR JOURNALS, the highest insult that could be offered to the majesty of the people, shows clearly that the whole of the new plan was entirely the work of an aristocratic majority.
But let us suppose for a moment that the proposed government was the unanimous result of the deliberations of the Convention—must it on that account preclude an investigation of its merits? Are the people to be dictated to without appeal by any set of men, however great, however dignified? Freedom spurns at the idea and rejects it with disdain. We appeal to the collective wisdom of a great nation, we appeal to their general sense which is easily to be obtained through the channel of a multitude of free presses, from the opinions of thirty-nine men, who secluded from the rest of the world, without the possibility of conferring with the rest of their fellow citizens, have had no opportunity of rectifying the errors into which they may have been led by the most designing among them. We have seen names not less illustrious than those of the members of the late Convention subscribed to the present reprobated Articles of Confederation, and if those patriots have erred, there is no reason to suppose that a succeeding set should be more free from error. Nay the very men, who advocate so strongly the new plan of government, and support it with the infallibility of Doctor Franklin, affect to despise the present constitution of Pennsylvania, which was dictated and avowed by that venerable patriot. They are conscious that he does not entirely approve of the new plan, whose principles are so different from those he has established in our ever-glorious constitution, and there is no doubt that it is the reason that has induced them to leave his respected name out of the ticket for the approaching election.
Now then my fellow citizens, my brethren, my friends; if the sacred flame of liberty be not extinguished in your breasts, if you have any regard for the happiness of yourselves, and your posterity, let me entreat you, earnestly entreat you by all that is dear and sacred to freemen, to consider well before you take an awful step which may involve in its consequences the ruin of millions yet unborn. You are on the brink of a dreadful precipice; in the name therefore of holy liberty, for which I have fought and for which we have all suffered, I call upon you to make a solemn pause before you proceed. One step more, and perhaps the scene of freedom is closed forever in America. Let not a set of aspiring despots, who make us SLAVES and tell us tis our CHARTER, wrest from you those invaluable blessings, for which the most illustrious sons of America have bled and died; but exert yourselves, like men, like freemen and like Americans, to transmit unimpaired to your latest posterity those rights, those liberties, which have ever been so dear to you, and which it is yet in your power to preserve.