April 24, 1788
OBSERVATIONS ON THE CONSTITUTION
proposed by the FEDERAL CONVENTION.
Some of our fellow-citizens have ventured to predict the future fate of United America, if the system proposed to us, shall be adopted.
Though, every branch of the constitution and government is to be popular, and guarded by all the balances, that until this day have occurred to mankind, yet the system will end, they say, in the oppression of a monarchy or aristocracy by the federal servants or some of them.
Such a conclusion seems not in any manner suited to the premises. It startles, yet, not so much from its novelty, as from the respectability of the characters by which it is drawn.
We must not be too much influenced by our esteem for those characters: But, should recollect, that when the fancy is warmed, and the judgment inclined, by the proximity or pressure of particular objects, very extraordinary declarations are sometimes made. Such are the frailties of our nature, that genius and integrity sometimes afford no protection against them.
Probably, there never was, and never will be, such an instance of dreadful denunciation, concerning the fate of a country, as was published while the union was in agitation between England and Scotland. The English were for a joint legislature, many of the Scots for separate legislatures, and urged, that they should be in a manner swallowed up and lost in the other, as then they would not possess one eleventh part in it.
Upon that occasion Lord Belhaven, one of the most distinguished orators of the age, made in the Scottish parliament a famous speech, of which the following extract is part.
“My Lord Chancellor,
“When I consider this affair of an union between the two nations, as it is expressed in the several articles thereof, and now the subject of our deliberation at this time, I find my mind crowded with a variety of very melancholy thoughts, and I think it my duty to disburthen myself of some of them, by laying them before and exposing them to the serious consideration of this honorable house.
“I think, I SEE A FREE AND INDEPENDENT KINGDOM delivering up that, which all the world hath been fighting for since the days of Nimrod; yea, that, for which most of all the empires, kingdoms, states, principalities and dukedoms of Europe, are at this very time engaged in the most bloody and cruel wars that ever were; to wit, A POWER TO MANAGE THEIR OWN AFFAIRS BY THEMSELVES, WITHOUT THE ASSISTANCE AND COUNCIL OF ANY OTHER.
“I think, I see A NATIONAL CHURCH, founded upon a rock, secured by a claim of right, hedged and fenced about by the strictest and pointedest legal sanction that sovereignty could contrive, voluntarily descending into a plain, upon an equal level with Jews, Papists, Socinians, Arminian, Anabaptists, and other Sectaries, &c.
“I think, I see THE NOBLE AND HONORABLE PEERAGE OF SCOTLAND, whose valiant predecessors led armies against their enemies upon their own proper charges and expences, now divested of their followers and vassalages, and put upon such an equal foot with their vassals, that I think, I see a petty English Exciseman receive more homage and respect, than what was paid formerly to their quondam Mackallamors.
“I think, I see THE PRESENT PEERS OF SCOTLAND, whose noble ancestors conquered provinces, over-run countries, reduced and subjected towns and fortified places, exacted tribute through the greatest part of England, now walking in the court of requests, like so many English Attornies, laying aside their walking swords when in company with the English Peers, lest their self-defence should be found murder.
“I think, I see THE HONORABLE ESTATE OF BARONS, the bold assertors of the nation’s rights and liberties in the worst of times, now setting A WATCH UPON THEIR LIPS and A GUARD UPON THEIR TONGUES, lest they be found guilty of SCANDALUM MAGNATUM.
“I think, I see THE ROYAL STATE OF BOROUGHS, walking their DESOLATE STREETS, hanging down their heads UNDER DISAPPOINTMENTS; wormed out of ALL THE BRANCHES OF THEIR OLD TRADE, uncertain WHAT HAND TO TURN TO, necessitated to become prentices to their unkind neighbours, and yet after all finding their TRADE SO FORTIFIED BY COMPANIES and secured by prescriptions, that they despair of any success therein.
“I think, I see OUR LEARNED JUDGES laying aside their practiques & decisions, studying the common law of England, gravelled with certioraris, nisi priuses, writs of error, verdicts in dovar, ejectiones firmce, injunctions, demurrers, &c. and frighted with APPEALS and AVOCATIONS, because of THE NEW REGULATIONS, and RECTIFICATIONS they meet with.
“I think, I see THE VALIANT AND GALLANT SOLDIERY, either sent to learn the plantation trade abroad, or at home petitioning for A SMALL SUBSISTANCE, as the reward of their honorable exploits, while their old corps are broken, the common soldiers left to beg, and the youngest English corps kept standing.
“I think, I see THE HONEST INDUSTRIOUS TRADESMAN loaded with NEW TAXES AND IMPOSITIONS, disappointed of the equivalents, drinking water in place of ale, eating his saltless pottage, petitioning for ENCOURAGEMENT TO HIS MANUFACTORIES, and answered by counter petitions.
“In short, I think I see THE LABORIOUS PLOUGHMAN, with his corn spoiling upon his hands FOR WANT OF SALE, cursing the day of his birth; dreading the expence of his burial, and uncertain whether to marry, or do worse.
“I think, I see the incurable difficulties of LANDED MEN, fettered under the golden chain of equivalents, their pretty daughters petitioning for want of husbands, and their sons for want of employments.
“I think, I see OUR MARINERS DELIVERING UP THEIR SHIPS to their Dutch partners, and what through PRESSES AND NECESSITY earning their bread as underlings in the English navy. But above all, my lord, I think, I see OUR ANTIENT MOTHER CALEDONIA, like Caesar, sitting in the midst of our senate, ruefully looking round about her, covering herself with her royal garment, attending the fatal blow, and breathing out her last with a—Et to quoque, mi fili.
“Are not these, my lord, very afflicting thoughts? And yet they are the least part suggested to me by these dishonorable articles. Should not the considerations of these things vivify these dry bones of ours? Should not the memory of our noble predecessors valour and constancy rouse up our drooping spirits? Are our noble predecessors souls got so far into the English cabbage stocks and collfowers, that we should shew the least indignation5 that way? Are our eyes so blinded? Are our ears so deafened? Are our hearts so burdened? Are our tongues so faltered? Are our hands so fettered? that in this our day, I say, my lord,that in this our day, we should not mind the things that concern the very being and well being of our antient kingdom, before the day be hid from our eyes.
“When I consider this treaty as it hath been explained, & spoke to, before us these three weeks by past; I see the ENGLISH constitution remaining firm, the same two houses of Parliament, the same taxes, the same customs, the same excises, the same TRADING COMPANIES, the same municipal laws and courts of judicature; and ALL OURS EITHER SUBJECT TO REGULATIONS OR ANNIHILATIONS, only we are to have THE HONOUR to pay THEIR OLD DEBTS, and to have some few persons present for witnesses to the validity of the deed, when they are pleased to contract more.”
Let any candid American deliberately compare that transaction with the present, and laying his hand upon his heart, solemnly answer this question to himself—Whether, he does not verily believe the eloquent Peer before mentioned, had ten-fold more cause to apprehend evils from such an unequal match between the two kingdoms, than any citizen of these states has to apprehend them from the system proposed. Indeed not only that Peer, but other persons of distinction, and large numbers of the people of Scotland were filled with the utmost aversion to the union; and if the greatest diligence & prudence had not been employed by its friends in removing misapprehensions and refuting misrepresentations, and by the then subsisting government for preserving the public peace, there would certainly have been a rebellion.
Yet, what were the consequences to Scotland of that dreaded union with England?—The cultivation of her virtues and the correction of her errors—The emancipation of one class of her citizens from the yoke of their superiors—A relief of other classes from the injuries and insults of the great—Improvements in agriculture, science, arts, trade, and manufactures—The profits of industry and ingenuity enjoyed under the protection of laws, peace and security at home, and encrease of respectability abroad. Her Church is still eminent—Her laws and courts of judicature are safe—Her boroughs grown into cities—Her mariners and soldiery possessing a larger subsistence, than she could have afforded them, and her tradesmen, ploughmen, landed men, and her people of every rank, in a more flourishing condition, not only than they ever were, but in a more flourishing condition, than the clearest understanding could, at the time, have thought it possible for them to attain in so short a period, or even in many ages. England participated in the blessings. The stock of their union or ingraftment, as perhaps it may be called, being strong, and capable of drawing better nutriment and in greater abundance, than they could ever have done apart.
“Ere long, to Heaven the soaring branches shoot,and wonder at their height, and more than native fruit.”