December 12, 1787
I SAMUEL iii [viii]. 18-And ye shall cry out in that day, because of your king which ye shall have chosen you: and the Lord will not hear you in that day.
My Fellow-Citizens, I do not write to inflame your minds, but to inform them. I do not write with a view to excite jealousies, and exhibit imaginary evils, but to promote your peace: I have no intentions of encouraging you to oppose or alter your present free government; but on the contrary, I advise you, yea, I entreat you, not to change it for one that is worse: if you cannot procure a better, why, be doing with the old bad one. Except you are tired of freedom; except you are determined to entail slavery on yourselves and your posterity, for God’s sake reject with that dignity becoming freemen, that tyrannical system of government, the new constitution. If you adopt it in toto, you will lose every thing dear to freemen, and receive nothing in return but misery and disgrace. Were some additional powers for regulating commerce, and the impost duties for a limited time, granted to the present Congress; this would probably answer all our purposes: but before Congress should be vested with greater powers than they now have, their number ought at least to be tripled-suppose two hundred and sixty; that is, twenty members for each state. But this matter I shall leave for the discussion of our next federal convention; if we should have the good luck to see their high mightinesses once more locked up in the State-house, guarded by captain M’Clean’s old battle-ax battalion.
Among the schemes and collusions that the friends of the new constitution have made use of to dupe the people into its adoption, that of making them believe that such a government would raise America to an eminent rank among the nations of the earth, seems to have been one of the most successful. -There is not a writer that I have seen on the subject, that has called the truth of this matter into question; no wonder then, that the less informed should be imposed upon; when men of more enlightened understandings seem even to have swallowed the bait.
No people in the world have more of the genuine amor patriœ, than the citizens of the United States; that noble ambition, that laudable love for the dignity and character of his country, is so implanted in the breast of an American, that he is willing not only to contribute generously and largely of his property, but likewise to expend his blood to support that government that should establish the national respectability of his country. -This truly grand principle is so copiously infused into the hearts of our countrymen, that, I really believe, there is scarce an inconvenience to which they would not cheerfully submit, provided this great point could be obtained. On this account then there are many who, although they are thoroughly persuaded, that the new constitution is defective in many striking and material instances, yet, through their national pride, would magnanimously overlook these, to have their country on a respectable footing as a nation. But ah, my fellow citizens, you are even disappointed here! It is a mere delusion! nothing but the basest deception; for, in the adoption of this constitution, we will probably lose that small portion of national character which we now enjoy, instead of gaining an accession to it. What compensation then are you to receive in return for the liberties and privileges belonging to yourselves and posterity, that you are now about to sacrifice at the altar of this monster, this Colossus of despotism. Why really the return you deserve, if you are mean enough to submit to be gulled after this manner, is poverty, slavery and broken hearts. -But probably, you will say, these are groundless conjectures, and we are perfectly convinced, that our new government, however it may be imperfect in some matters of an inferior nature, yet it must and will be powerful; yea, a government that will make its enemies tremble. If you mean by its enemies the helpless widow and orphan, the hardworking husbandman, sunk down by labour and poverty, I grant it; but if you mean a foreign enemy, you insult your understanding. No, my friends, instead of becoming formidable, we will be the scorn and contempt of the whole world during the existence of this contemptible government. Let us take but a rational view of its strength and respectability, and then we shall see that we have really nothing to depend on in this new constitution, that can raise the national character of America, but on the contrary, we will sink into a state of insignificance and misery.
The number of inhabitants in the United States is now probably about three millions and an half. -These are scattered over a continent twelve hundred miles long and eight hundred broad. Now to keep such an extensive country in subjection to one general government, a standing army by far too numerous for such a small number of people to maintain, must and will be garrisoned in every district through the whole; and in case of emergency, the collecting of these scattered troops into one large body, to act against a foreign enemy, will be morally impossible. Besides they will have too much business on hand at their respective garrisons, in awing the people, to be spared for other purposes. There is no doubt, but to carry the arbitrary decrees of the federal judges into execution, and to protect the tax gatherers in collecting the revenue, will be ample employment for the military; indeed with all their strength and numbers, I am afraid, that they will find this a job of some difficulty, perhaps more than they will get through decently. Upon the whole I think it is pretty obvious, that our standing army will have other fish to fry than fighting a foreign enemy; there is work enough cut out for them of a domestic nature, without troubling them on other occasions. Moreover, such of them as might be brought into action, could not be depended upon; for they will principally consist of the purgings of the European prisons, and low ruffians bred among ourselves who do not love to work. -And who could suppose that such vile characters as these, should be trusted to protect our country, our wives, our daughters, and our little ones? No, my friends, God deliver us from such protectors! -Their mean souls wanting that amor patriœ, that love of virtue, that noble love for the welfare and happiness of their fellow men, which animates the man of courage, and constitutes him the soldier, would fail them at the approach of an enemy; yea, they would either fly ere the battle commenced, or submit on the first charge; and probably turn their arms against the country that expected their protection. What I advance here, are truths, founded on reason and the nature of things, and the experience of all ages affords ample examples for their illustration.
Very little need be said respecting the militia defending the country; perhaps what I have advanced in my last essay, is enough on that head; indeed the thing itself carries its own evidence along with it. A person that has judgment sufficient to compare two ideas together, must see, that an oppressed people, reduced to a state of abject vassalage, by a despotic government, will never voluntarily venture their lives for it.
When people are once slaves, it is a matter of little concern to them who are their masters.-The fable of the sensible ass is so pertinent to our purpose, that I cannot forbear reciting it:-”An old fellow was feeding an ass in a fine green meadow, and being alarmed by the sudden approach of the enemy, was impatient with the ass to put himself forward, and fly with all the speed he was able. The ass asked him, whether or no he thought the enemy would clap two pair of panniers upon his back? The man said, no, there was no fear of that. Why then, says the ass, I’ll not stir an inch, for what is it to me who my master is, since I shall but carry my panniers as usual.”
There is not the most distant hope, that we shall ever have a navy under this constitution which annihilates the state governments; for, if each state were to retain its sovereignty, I am well convinced, that we might have a considerable fleet in a few years; the larger states might each build a ship of the line every year, and the lesser states would furnish us with frigates; a noble emulation among the states would be the consequence, one state would vie with another, and public spirited individuals would contribute generously to raise the character of their own state. But this consolidation of all the states into one general government, renders this project impossible; the federal government having an unlimited power in taxation, which, no doubt, they will exercise to the utmost; leaves the states without the means of building even a boat. But had they money, they dare not use it for that purpose, for, Congress are to have an absolute power over the standing army, navy, and militia; so that it is out of the question, whether a particular state be, or be not, able to build a ship of war; she must meddle with no such matter; it only belongs to the emperor and our well born Congress to build and maintain a navy. Now, if we give ourselves time to think but for a moment, we must be convinced in our minds, that Congress having a large national debt already accumulated, the emperor, themselves, their judges, lawyers, revenue-collectors, dependants, flatterers, &c. &c. and above all, the standing army, at least double officered, to provide for, will find themselves at their wit’s end, to devise ways and means for all these purposes. In short, the industry of three millions of people, were it all applied to this use, would be little enough. -Where then will the navy come from? Where will Congress find money even to build and maintain cutters to prevent smuggling on the extensive coast of America? No where, truly: such a supposition is farcical indeed; and should the new constitution be established, a federal navy is a mere finesse, an absolute nonentity.
The Congress must procure money to pay the standing army punctually, come of other matters what will; their very existence depends on this. For a neglect of payment might and really would cause a mutiny in the military, and then, down tumbles the federal constitution, whose mighty basis was said to be at the centre of the earth. The standing army will be its grand support-now, if this give way, the building itself will be instantly levelled to the ground. And heaven grant that Columbia may never see such another erected again on her domain. Amen.