January 10, 1788
Common sense said, that, in case America became an independent nation, neutrality would be a safer convoy thana man of war: Probably Mr. Paine thought so, when he wrote; but if he did he thought wrong: For the position ought to be reversed. A man of war is a safer convoy than neutrality; or at least, without a naval convoy there is no safety in neutrality. If America is to be a commercial neutral power, she ought to have some naval strength to intitle her to the appellation. We all know that the armed neutrality of the northern European powers injured the trade of Britain more, during the late war, than the combined fleets of her open enemies. If a war should now commence between Britain and France or any of the nations who have possessions in America; can America remain a neutral power, or join in an armed neutrality for the protection of her commerce? No. Neutral she may be, and neutral she must be, and nothing else; and as for her being called a power it is a mere solecism, as long as she has no navy: Her trade may be destroyed with impunity; her seamen taken to man the fleets of her enemies, without the possibility of redress; and her government insulted and her cities laid in ashes by her enemies ships riding triumphant in her rivers and harbours, without being able to help herself, or retaliate.
But however necessary a fleet may be for the protection of our seamen, commerce, and national honor, it is pretty plain, that as long as the proposed government would exist, (if ever it should be established) we must do without one; That government must at least for some years be administred by a standing army. Nothing short of despotism can reduce the disaffected part of the people to submit to it, who are the friends to liberty and the rights of human nature. Those who say that its enemies are a few insignificant individuals, talk something like the British ministry at the commencement of the war, who represented the American discontents, as a parcel of cowardly paltroons, whom they would soon bring to obedience, by a handful of military; but a short time convinced them of their mistake.
As the spirit of the new constitution admits of a standing army, and the opposition absolutely must be crushed by strength, every nerve of power must be strained, and every way and means of collecting money devised, for raising an efficient army for this purpose, in the first instance. This is a system of procedure that the despots must pursue, if they have any hopes of success. Either moderation or delay would effectually defeat them.
I question whether all the hard money, that the well born can procure at this juncture, will be sufficient to support their government and army for six months; without expending a single shilling on building a federal navy. The greater part of that junto are extremely poor; and have their hopes of agrandizement on the new government; now if a part of the people refuse to pay taxes to that government, as they certainly will, how will they provide for the national debt; how will these poor gentlemen make their fortunes; how will they pay their standing army, to whom they owe their existence; a few interogatives of this sort must shew clearly, that a single ship of war will never be built while this great government is in operation.
It is generally said, that the present distresses of America are in consequence of the want of the states delegating sufficient powers to congress: This is right in part, for the powers of congress were certainly too limitted to promote the general good of the union; but little power as that body had, they have not managed it well; indeed if they had had any more and the number of members so small, we would have had a tyrannical aristocracy established long ago; and the country involved in more misery. That body never attempted to build a navy; but, on the contrary, to complete our disgrace, sold the only ship of war we had, the Alliance frigate, for a mere song: They have found money however, to pay their well born ambassadors at the different European courts, and squandered away money on guilded swords, presents to Baron — –, &c. &c. &c. and they have even had credit to negociate loans lately;’ but not a farthing could be spared to employ our poor mechanics to build a few frigates, by which a thousand honest families might have been saved from starving, and prevented from emigrating from the country, and our commerce and national respectability preserved. This is a specimen of the plan of our new system of government. When the present peddling and limited congress have taken such arbitrary steps, so diametrically opposite to the interest of the public good, what may we not expect from the friends of the new constitution? The poor working–man is not to be thought of, except his work will add to the character and dignity of the lordling nobility.