Independent Gazetteer, Philadelphia
October 15, 1787
To the FREEMEN OF PENNSYLVANIA.
A publication has lately appeared in several of our papers, said to be signed by sixteen members of the late Assembly of Pennsylvania, which challenges a few remarks.
The first remark that occurs is, that the paper was neither written by any one of them, nor signed by all of them. They are too illiterate to compose such an address, and it can be proved that several of the persons whose names are subscribed to it left the city on Saturday, before there was time to collect the materials of the address, or to receive it from the person who is well known to have written it.
A second remark that occurs in this place is, that there was a fixed resolution of the anti-federal junto to oppose the federal government, long before it made its appearance. In the month of July last, at a meeting of this junto, it was agreed, “that if the new constitution of Congress interfered in the least with the constitution of Pennsylvania, it ought to be opposed and rejected, and that even the name of a WASHINGTON should not carry it down.” Happily it requires a reduction of the enormous expenses, and some other alteration of our constitution. Hence the reason of their opposition. Had it been much more perfect, or had it, like the Jewish theocracy, been framed by the hand of the SUPREME BEING himself, it would have been equally unpopular among them, since it interferes with their expensive hobby-horse, the Constitution of Pennsylvania.
The address, and all the opposition to the new government, originate from the officers of government, who are afraid of losing their salaries or places. This will not surprise those of us who remember the opposition which our Independence received from a few officers of government in the years 1775 and 1776. Recollect the FRIENDLY ADDRESSES and the CATOS, which appeared in those years in all our newspapers. Remember too, that these publications came from men of as great understanding, and of more extensive influence, than Randolph, Mason or Gerry. Which of them is fit to be named with Hutchinson, Bernard, Tryon or Kemp?
The Address begins with two palpable falsehoods. “We lamented (it says) at the time, that a majority of our legislature appointed men to represent this state, who were all citizens of Philadelphia, and none of them calculated to represent the landed interest of Pennsylvania.”
It is a well known fact, that a seat in the Convention was offered to William Findley, and that he objected to it, because no wages were to be connected with it. It became, therefore, a matter of economy, as well as convenience, to fill up the delegation with members from Philadelphia. If this was a crime, the sixteen concurred in it, for they all voted for five of the delegation, and for three other men who were at that time citizens of Philadelphia, viz. Thomas McKean, Charles Pettit, and John Boyard, Esquires.
The story of the delegates from Pennsylvania having no interest in the landed property of the state is equally groundless with the foregoing. They are all land holders, and one of them alone owns a greater landed estate than the whole sixteen absconders; and has for many years past punctually and just paid more taxes on it, than are paid by the whole antifederal junto—and, unfortunately, for the support of the men who compose this junto.
The address confesses that the sixteen absconded, to prevent the majority of the House from calling a convention, to consider the new form of government. Is this right, Freemen of Pennsylvania?—Is it agreeable to democratic principles, that the Minority should govern the Majority?—Is not this aristocracy in good earnest?—Is it not tyranny, that a few should govern the many?—By absconding, and thereby obstructing the public business, they dissolved the constitution. They annihilated the first principles of government, and threw the commonwealth into a state of nature. Under these circumstances, the citizens of Philadelphia appealed to the first of nature’s laws, viz. self-preservation. They seized two of the sixteen absconders, and compelled them to form a House by their attendance. In this they acted wisely and justly—as much so as the man who seizes a highwayman, who is about to rob him. If they were wrong in this action, then the men who drove Galloway, Skinner, Delancey, and other miscreants, from our states, by force, in the year 1776, were wrong likewise. What justified all the outrages that were committed against the tories in the beginning of the war? Nothing but the dissolution of our governments.—What was the foundation of the dissolution of these governments? Nothing but a resolution of Congress.—What determined us to establish new governments on the ruins of the old? Nothing but a recommendation of Congress.—Why, then, do these men fly in the faces of the Convention and Congress?—It was from similar bodies of men, similarly constituted, that their present form of government derived its independence. It cannot exist without a Congress—it is meet, therefore, that it should harmonize with it.
The objections to the federal government are weak, false, and absurd. The neglect of the Convention to mention the Liberty of the Press arose from a respect to the state constitutions, in each of which this palladium of liberty is secured, and which is guaranteed to them as an essential part of their republican forms of government. But supposing this had not been done, the Liberty of the Press would have been an inherent and political right, as long as nothing was said against iy. The Convention have said nothing to secure the privilege of eating and drinking, and yet no man supposes that right of nature to be endangered by their silence about it.
Considering the variety of interests to be consulted, and the diversity of human opinions upon all subjects, and especially the subject of government, it is a matter of astonishment, that the government formed by the Convention has so few faults. With these faults, it is a phenomenon of human wisdom and virtue, such as the world never saw before. It unites in its different parts all the advantages, without any of the disadvantages of the three well known forms of government, and yet it preserves the attributes of a republic. And lastly, if it should be found to be faulty in any particular, it provides an easy and constitutional method of curing its faults.
I anticipate the praise with which this government will be viewed by the friends of liberty and mankind in Europe. The philosophers will no longer consider a republic as an impracticable form of government, and pious men of all denominations will thank God for having provided in our federal constitution, an Ark for the preservation of the remains of the justice and liberties of the world.
Freemen of Pennsylvania, consider the character and services of the men who made this government. Behold the venerable FRANKLIN, in the 70th year of his age, cooped up in the cabin of a small vessel, and exposing himself to the dangers of a passage on the ocean, crowded with British cruisers, in a winter month, in order to solicit from the court of France that aid, which finally enabled America to close the war with so much success and glory—and then say, is it possible that this man would set his hand to a constitution that would endanger your liberties? From this aged servant of the public, turn your eyes to the illustrious American hero, whose name has ennobled human nature—I mean our beloved WASHINGTON. Behold him, in the year 1775, taking leave of his happy family and peaceful retreat, and flying to the relief of a distant, and at that time an unknown part of the American continent. See him uniting and cementing an army, composed of the citizens of thirteen states, into a band of brothers. Follow him into the field of battle and behold him the first in danger, and the last out of it. Follow him into his winter quarters, and see him sharing in the hunger, cold and fatigues of every soldier in his army. Behold his fortitude in adversity, his moderation in victory, and his tenderness and respect upon all occasions for the civil power of his country. But above all, turn your eyes to that illustrious scene he exhibited at Annapolis in 1782, when he resigned his commission, and laid his sword at the feet of Congress, and afterwards resumed the toils of an American farmer on the banks of the Potomac. Survey, my countrymen, these illustrious exploits of patriotism and virtue, and then say, is it possible that the deliverer of our country would have recommended an unsafe form of government for that liberty, for which he had for eight long years contended with such unexampled firmness, constancy and magnanimity?
Pardon me, if I here ask—Where were the sixteen absconders and their advisers, while these illustrious framers of our federal constitution were exposing their lives and exerting their talents for your safety and happiness? Some of them took sanctuary in offices, under the constitution of Pennsylvania, from the dangers of the year 1776, and the rest of them were either inactive, or known only on the muster-rolls of the militia during the war.
Look around you, my fellow citizen, and behold the confusion and distresses which prevail in every part of our country. Behold, from the weakness of the government of Massachusetts, the leaders of rebellion making laws to exempt themselves from punishment. See, in Rhode Island, the bonds of society and the obligations of morality dissolved by paper money and tender laws. See the flames of courthouses in Virginia, kindled by debtors to stop the course of justice. Hear the complaints of our farmers, whose unequal and oppressive taxes in every part of the country amount to nearly the rent of their farms. Hear too the complaints of every class of public creditors. Look at the records of bankruptcies that fill every newspaper. Look at the melancholy countenances of our mechanics, who now wander up and down the streets of our cities without employment. See our ships rotting in our harbors, or excluded from nearly all the ports in the world. Listen to the insults that are offered to the American name and character in every court of Europe. See order and honor everywhere prostrate in the dust, and religion with all her attending train of virtues, about to quit our continent forever. View these things, my fellow citizens, and then say that we do not require a new, a protecting, and efficient federal government, if you can. The picture I have given you of the situation of our country is not an exaggerated one. I challenge the boldest enemy of the federal constitution to disprove any one part of it.
It is not to be wondered at, that some of the rulers and officers of the government of Pennsylvania are opposed to the new constitution of the United States. It will lessen their power, number and influence—for it will necessarily reduce the expenses of our government from nearly 50,000 l. to 10,000 l., or, at most, 15,000 l. a year. I am very happy in being able to except many worthy officers of our government from concurring in this opposition. Their names, their conduct, and their characters, are well-known to their Fellow Citizens, and I hope they will all be rewarded by a continuance and accumulation of public favor and confidence.
The design of this address is not to inflame the passions of my fellow citizens; I know the feelings of the people of Pennsylvania are sufficiently keen. It becomes me not, therefore (to use the words of the address of the sixteen absconders), to add to them, by dwelling longer “upon the distresses and dangers of our country. I have laid a real state of facts before you; it becomes you, therefore, to judge for yourselves.”
The absconders have endeavored to sanctify their false and seditious publication by a solemn address to the Supreme Being. I shall conclude the truths I have written, by adopting some of their own words, with a short addition to them.
“May He, who alone has dominion over the passions and understandings of men, preserve you from the influence of rulers, who have upon many occasions held fellowship with iniquity, and established mischief by law.”
The author of this Address is one of the FOUR THOUSAND Citizens of Philadelphia and its neighborhood, who subscribed the petition to the late Assembly, immediately to call a Convention, in order to adopt the proposed FEDERAL CONSTITUTION.