December 19, 1787
Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer, 19 December
“This is true liberty, when free born men
Having to advise the public may speak free;
Which he who can, and will, deserves high praise;
Who neither can, nor will, may hold his peace;
What can be juster in a state than this?”‘
My Fellow Citizens, If the arbitrary proceedings of the convention of Pennsylvania do not rouse your attention to the rights of yourselves and your children, there is nothing that I can say will do it. If the contempt and obloquy with which that body (whose legality even may be questioned) has treated your petitions, can not bring you to think seriously, what then will? When a few Demagogues despising every sense of order and decency, have rejected the petitions of the people, and in the most supercilious manner, triumphed over the freemen of America, as if they were their slaves, and they themselves their lords and masters. I say that if such barefaced presumption and arrogance, such tyrannical proceedings of the men, who, if acting constitutionally, were the servants of the people, be not sufficient to awaken you to a sense of your duty and interest, nothing less than the goad and the whip can succeed: your condition must be like that of the careless and insecure sinner, whom neither the admonitions nor entreaties of his friends, nor even the threatnings of awaiting justice, could reclaim or convince of his error; his reformation is neglected until it is too late, when he finds himself in a state of unutterable and endless woe.
It may be asserted with confidence, that besides the petitions that Mr. Whitehill presented to the convention from Cumberland county against the adoption of the new constitution, there is not a county or town in the state that should not have followed the example, if a reasonable time had been allowed for the petitions to come in. Now if we consider but for a moment how contemptuously the people were treated on this occasion, we may form some idea of the way in which they are hereafter to be governed by their well born masters. “The petitions being read from the chair. Mr. M’Kean said he was sorry that at this stage of the business so improper an attempt should be made; he hoped therefore that the petitions would not be attended to.” (Pennsylvania Herald.) Where is the freeman in America that can tamely suffer such an insult to his dignity to pass with impunity; where is that pusillanimous wretch who can submit to this contumely? Is not this the language of Britain, in the years 1775 and 1776, renewed. What said George the third and his pampered ministers, more than this, to the petitions of America? Is it improper for freemen to petition for their rights? If it be; then I say that the impropriety consisted only in their not demanding them. Propriety requires that the people should approach their representatives with a becoming humility; but the governors of a free people must ever be considered as their servants, and are therefore bound to observe decency towards them, and to act according to their instructions and agreeably to conscience. If the petitions of the freemen of America, couched in decent and respectful terms, will not be attended to; then be it known, that their demands must and will be granted: If no better will do, the ultima ratio regum must secure to the people their rights. God in his providence has crowned them with success once already on this head; and their is little doubt, with the same assistance, but a second attempt will terminate just as much in favor of liberty.
The indignity offered to the people and their petitions, by the haughty lordlings of the convention, proclaims the chains of despotism already firmly riveted; like a herald it cries aloud, hush ye slaves, how dare you interrupt your mighty rulers, who alone have a divine right to establish constitutions and governments calculated to promote their own agrandizement and honor. Ah my friends, the days of a cruel Nero approach fast; the language of a monster, of a Caligula, could not be more imperious. I challenge the whole continent, the well born and their parasites, to show an instance of greater insolence than this, on the part of the British tyrant and his infernal junto, to the people of America, before our glorious revolution. My fellow citizens, this is an awful crisis; yoi.:r situation is alarming indeed; yourselves and your petitions are despised and trampled under the feet of self-important nabobs; whose diabolical plots and secret machinations have been carried on since the revolution, with a view to destroy your liberties, and reduce you to a state of slavery and dependence; and alas! I fear they have found you off your guard, and taken you by surprise: these aspiring men have seized the government, and secured all power, as they suppose, to themselves, now openly browbeat you with their insolence, and assume majesty; and even treat you like menial servants, your representatives as so many conquered slaves, that, they intend to make pass under the yoke, as soon as leisure from their gluttony and rioting on the industry of the poor, shall permit them to attend such a pleasing piece of sport.
But I trust, these petty tyrants will soon find to their confussion, that their own imprudent zeal has defeated their designs. Providence has ordered, that they should begin to carry their arbitrary schemes too soon into execution, that, their boundless ambition should precipitate their destruction, and that the glory of God should be made perfect in the salvation of the poor. Blessed be his name, “He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he hath sent empty away.” As a villain, who, secreted to rob and murder in the silent hour of night, issues forth from his lurking place before the people have retired to sleep, and thus frustrates his infernal design by impatience; so in like manner the lust of dominion has urged these despots on to the adoption of measures that will inevitably, and, I hope, immediately unhinge every part of their conspiracy against the rights of their fellow-men, and bring on themselves infamy and disgrace.
Figure to yourselves, my brethren, a man with a plantation just sufficient to raise a competency for himself and his dear little children; but by reason of the immoderate revenue necessary to support the emperor, the illustrious well born Congress, the standing army, &c. &c. he necessarily fails in the payment of his taxes; then a hard-hearted federal officer seizes, and sells, his cows, his horses, and even the land itself must be disposed of to answer the demands of government: He pleads unfruitful seasons, his old age, and his numerous, and helpless family. But alas! these avail him nothing, his farm, his cattle, and his all are sold for less than half their value to his wealthy neighbour, already possessed of half the land in the county, to whom also himself and his children must become servants and slaves, or else perish with hunger and want. Do I exaggerate here? No truly. View the misery of the poor under the despotic governments of Europe and Asia, and then deny the truth of my position, if you can. It is a common saying among the poor of Indostan, that to lie is better than to stand, to sleep is better than to wake, but death is best of all; for it delivers them from the cruelty of their nabobs. Even in the freest country in Europe, a lady’s lap-dog is more esteemed than the child of a poor man. 0 God, what a monster is man! that a dog should be nourished and pampered up by him with dainties; whilst a being, possessed of knowledge, reason, judgement, and an immortal soul, bought with no less a price than the blood of our divine Redeemer, should be driven from his door, without admitting him even for a moment to assuage his hunger with the crumbs that might fall from his table.
But the members of the Federal Convention were men who have been all tried in the field of action, say some; they have fought for American liberty: Then the more to their shame be it said; curse on the villain who protects virgin innocence only with a view that he may himself become the ravisher; so that if the assertion were true, it only turns to their disgrace; but as it happens it is not true, or at least only so in part: This was a scheme taken by the despots and their sycophants to biass the public mind in favor of the constitution; for the convention was composed of a variety of characters; ambitious men Jesuites, tories, lawyers, &c. formed the majority, whose similitude to each other, consisted only in their determination to lord it over their fellow citizens; like the rays that converging from every direction meet in a point, their sentiments and deliberations concentered in tyranny alone; they were unanimous in forming a government that should raise the fortunes and respectability of the well born few, and oppress the plebians.