April 09, 1788
To the PEOPLE of PENNSYLVANIA.
Fellow-Citizens, The measures that are pursuing to effect the establishment of the new constitution, are so repugnant to truth, honor, and the well-being of society, as would disgrace any cause. If the nature and tendency of this system were to be judged of by the conduct of its framers and patrons, what a picture of ambition and villainy would present itself to our view! From the specimens they have already given, anticipation may easily realise the consequences that would flow from the new constitution, if established; may bid adieu to all the blessings of liberty, to all the fruits of the late glorious assertion of the rights of human nature, made at the expence of so much blood and treasure. Yet such is the infatuation of many well meaning persons, that they view with indifference the attrocious villainy which characterises the proceedings of the advocates of the new system: The daring, and in most parts of the United States, the successful methods practised to shackle the press, and destroy the freedom of discussion; the silencing the Pennsylvania Herald, to prevent the publication of the invaluable debates of the late convention of this state the total suppression of real intelligence, and of the illuminations of patriotism through the medium of the post-office; the systematic fraud and deception that pervade the union; the stigmatising, and by every art which ambition and malice can suggest, labouring to villify, intimidate and trample under foot every disinterested patriot, who preferring his country’s good to every other consideration, has the courage to stand forth the champion of liberty and the people; and the intercepting of private confidential letters passing from man to man, violating the sacredness of a seal, and thus infringing one of the first privileges of freemen–that of communicating with each other: I say all these are overlooked by the infatuated admirers of the new system, who, deluded by the phantom of wealth and prosperity, profit not by the admonitory lesson which such proceedings afford, are deaf to the calls of patriotism, and would rush blindly into the noose of ambition.
However, to the honor of Pennsylvania, a very large majority of her citizens view the subject in its true light, and spurn the shackles pre-pared for them. They will in due time convince the aspiring despots and avaricious office-hunters, that their dark intrigues, and deep concerted schemes of power and aggrandisement, are ineffectual, that they are neither to be duped nor dragooned out of their liberties. The conspirators, I know, insolently boast that their strength in the other states will enable them to crush the opposition in this; but let them not build upon that which is in its nature precarious and transient, which must fail them the moment the delusion is dispelled: Their success in the other states is the fruit of deceptions that cannot be long supported. Indeed the audacity and villainy of the conspirators on the one hand, and the frantic enthusiasm, and easy credulity of the people on the other, in some of the states, however well attested and recorded in the faithful page of history, will be treated by posterity as fabulous.
The great artifice that is played off on this occasion, is the persuading the people of one place, that the people every where else are nearly unanimous in favor of the new system, and thus endeavouring by the fa[s]cination of example and force of general opinion to prevail upon the people every where to acquiesce in what is represented to them as the general sentiment.
Thus as one means of deception has failed them, they have adopted another, always avoiding rational discussion. When the glare of great names, the dread of annihilation if the new system was rejected, or the adoption of it even delayed, were dissipated by the artillery of truth and reason; they have recurred to the one now practising, the intimidating and imposing influence of imaginary numbers and una–nimity that are continually reverberated from every part of the union, by the tools and vehicles of the would-be despots; and in which they have had astonishing success. The people in the Eastern states have been taught to believe that it is all harmony to the Southward; and in the Southern states they are discouraged from opposition by the unanimity of the Eastern and Northern states; nay, what will appear incredible, considering the distance, a gentleman of veracity just returned from New-York, assures that the conspirators have had the address to inculcate an opinion there that all opposition had ceased in this state, notwithstanding the evidence of the contrary is so glaring here; this gentleman further informs, that so entirely devoted is the post-office, that not a single newspaper is received by the printers of that place from this city or elsewhere; and a Boston newspaper come by private hand, announces [to] the public, that for some months past, the printers there have received no newspapers to the Southward of New-Haven, in Connecticut, where the press is muzzled, and consequently, cannot injure the cause; that all intelligence of the occurrences in the other states is withheld from them; and that they know more of the state of Europe, than of their own country.
Notwithstanding many thousand copies of the Reasons of Dissent of the minority of the late convention of this state were printed and forwarded in every direction, and by various conveyances, scarcely any of these got beyond the limits of this state, and most of them not until a long time after their publication. The printer of these Reasons, by particular desire, addressed a copy of them to every printer in the union, which he sent to the Post-office to be conveyed in the mail as usual, long before the new arrangement, as it is called, took place; and yet we since find that none of them reached the place of their destination. This is a full demonstration of the subserviency of the Post Office, and a striking evidence of the vigilance that has been exerted to suppress information. It is greatly to be regretted that the opposition in Massachusetts were denied the benefits of our discussion, that the unanswerable dissent of our minority did not reach Boston in time to influence the decision of the great question by their convention, as it would in all probability have enabled patriotism to triumph; not that I would derogate from the good sense and public spirit of that state, which I have no doubt would in common circumstances have shone with equal splendor, but this was far from being the case; the new constitution was viewed in Massachusetts through the medium of a SHAYS, the terrors of HIS insurrection had not subsided; a government that would have been execrated at another time was embraced by many as a refuge from anarchy, and thus liberty deformed by mad riot and dissention, lost her ablest advocates.
As the liberties of all the states in the union are struck at in common with those of Pennsylvania, by the conduct of the Post-Master General and deputies, I trust that the example which her Legislatur& has set by instructing her delegates in Congress on this subject,’ will be followed by the others, that with one accord they will hurl their vengeance on the venal instruments of ambition, who have presumed to prostrate one of the principal bulwarks of liberty. In a confederated government of such extent as the United States, the freest communication of sentiment and information should be maintained, as the liberties, happiness and welfare of the union depend upon a concert of counsels; the signals of alarm whenever ambition should rear its baneful head, ought to be uniform: without this communication between the members of the confederacy the freedom of the press, if it could be maintained in so severed a situation, would cease to be a security against the encroachments of tyranny. The truth of the foregoing position is strikingly illustrated on the present occasion; for want of this inter-community of sentiment and information, the liberties of this country are brought to an awful crisis; ambition has made a great stride towards dominion; has succeeded thro’ the medium of muzzled presses to delude a great body of the people in the other states, and threatens to overwhelm the enlightened opposition in this by external force. Here, indeed, notwithstanding every nerve was strained, by the conspirators, to muzzle or demolish every newspaper that allowed free discussion, two printers have asserted the independency of the press, whereby the arts of ambition have been detected, and the new system has been pourtrayed in its native villainy; its advocates have long since abandoned the field of argument, relinquished the unequal contest, and truth and patriotism reigns triumphant in this state; but the conspirators trust to their success in the other states for the attainment of their darling object, and therefore all their vigilance is exerted to prevent the infectious spirit of freedom and enlightened patriotism communicating to the rest of the union–all intercourse is as far as possible cut off.
To rectify the erroneous representation made in the other states of the sentiments of the people in this respecting the new constitution, I think it my duty to state the fact as it really is:–Those who favor this system of tyranny are most numerous in the city of Philadelphia, where, perhaps, they may be a considerable majority; in the most eastern counties they compose about one-fourth of the people, but in the middle, northern and western counties not above a twentieth part; so that upon the whole the friends to the new constitution in this state are about one-sixth of the people. The following circumstance is an evidence of the spirit and decision of the opposition:–An individual unadvisedly and without conceit, and contrary to the system of conduct generally agreed upon, went to the expence of printing and circulating an address to the Legislature, reprobating in the strongest terms the new constitution, and praying that the deputies of this state in the federal Convention, who in violation of their duty acceeded to the new constitution, be called to account for their daring procedure; this address or petition was signed by upwards of four thousand citizens in only two counties, viz. Franklin and Cumberland, and if the time had admitted, prior to the adjournment of the Legislature, there is reason to believe that this high-toned application would have been subscribed by five-sixth of the freemen of this state. The advocates of the new constitution, availing themselves of this partial measure of two counties, have asserted it to be the result of a general exertion, which is so evidently false that it can only deceive people at a distance from us, for the counties over the mountain are nearly unanimous in the opposition; in Fayette at a numerous county meeting, there appeared to be but two persons in favor of the constitution; in Bedford county in the mountains, there are not above twenty; in Huntingdon adjoining, about 30; in Dauphin, in the middle country, not 100; in Berks, a large eastern county that has near 5000 taxable inhabitants, not more than 50, and so of several others, and yet no petitions were circulated or signed in those counties.–The system of conduct alluded to is the forming societies in every county in the state, who have committees of correspondence; these are now engaged in planning a uniform exertion to emancipate this state from the thraldom of despotism; a convention of deputies from every district will in all probability be agreed upon, as the most eligible mode of combining the strength of the opposition, which is increasing daily both in numbers and spirit.10
The Centinel, supported by the dignity of the cause he advocates, and sensible that his well-meant endeavors have met the approbation of the community, views with ineffable contempt the impotent efforts of disappointed ambition to depreciate his merit and stigmatize his performances, and without pretending to the spirit of divination, he thinks he may predict that the period is not far distant when the authors and willful abettors of the new constitution will be viewed with detestation by every good man, whilst the Centinels of the present day will be honored with the esteem and confidence of a grateful people.
Great pains have been taken to discover the author of these papers, with a view, no doubt, to villify his private character, and thereby lessen the usefulness of his writings, and many suppose they have made the discovery, but in this they are mistaken. The Centinel submits his performance to the public judgement, and challenges fair argumentation; the information he has given from time to time, has stood the test of the severest scrutiny, and thus his reputation as a writer, is established beyond the injury of his enemies. If it were in the least material to the argument, or answered any one good purpose, he would not hesitate a moment in using his own signature; as it would not, but on the contrary, point where the shafts of malice could be levelled with most effect, and thus divert the public attention from the proper object, to a personal altercation, he from the first determined that the prying eye of party or curiosity, should never be gratified with his real name, and to that end to be the sole depository of the secret. He has been thus explicit to prevent the repetition of the weakness of declaring off, when charged with being the author, and to put the matter upon its true footing; however, it may flatter his vanity, that these papers should be ascribed to an illustrious patriot,” whose public spirit and undaunted firmness of mind, eclipse the most shining ornaments of the Roman commonwealth, in its greatest purity and glory, whose persevering exertions for the public welfare, have endeared him to his country, whilst it has made every knave and aspiring despot, his inveterate enemy, and who has never condescended to deny any writings that have been ascribed to him, or to notice the railings of party.
Philadelphia, April 5th, 1788.
(a) The application to Congress from our Legislature, was made upon the complaint of all the printers of newspapers in the city of Philadelphia.
Earn graduate credits toward a Master’s
degree for each Live Online Graduate
Course in American History &
Government from Ashbrook Center at
Ashland University. Learn More