Virginia Independent Chronicle
March 19, 1788
To the GOOD PEOPLE of Virginia, on the new
FEDERAL CONSTITUTION, by an old
STATE SOLDIER, in answer to the objections.
I have now shewn you the effects which an attempt to amend the new constitution, at this time, would have on the Union; and also the meanness there is in being influenced by the mere sound of names on this important occasion.
And in doing this, I have been unavoidable led to answer some of the individual objections to the constitution themselves—among these are the want of a bill of rights, the equality in the senate, and the liberty of the press—All of which I shall avoid recapitulating at this time, with an intention of confining myself wholly to those objections which I have not heretofore entered fully into.
All the objections to the constitution appear to be contained under two heads—the one respects our liberties, the other our interests. To those which respects our liberties, only, I mean to reply in this paper; and in order the more effectually to do that, I shall head this first class of objections under that assertion, which holds forth, that by the adoption of this constitution we shall be deprived of our liberties.
And considering that as the new plus ultra of antifederal workmanship, I shall, after viewing it in the light of a slender fabrick built in air, and filled with imaginary bugbears, first examine into its foundation as a general assertion; and then prove its feebleness by trying the arguments on which it depends for support.
The only desirable purpose of any government, is, the security of mens persons and property; and that which advances farthest that way is not only the most perfect, but the most free.
Chimerical and speculative enjoyments may amuse the imagination; but justice and safely alone can ensure real happiness—and liberty without happiness is but emptiness and sound.
The more independent a government is therefore of the people, under proper restraints, the more likely it is to produce that justice; and the more substantial and efficient under such restraints, the better calculated to protect both the persons and property of mankind. And the efficiency and energy, of this government being acknowledged in this general objection itself, the only necessary enquiry will be, whether the restraints are sufficient to prevent its becoming too formidable in the end.
In respect to restraints on government, there are but three things necessary to be guarded against, the first is a power to deprive men of their personal rights or property by direct laws; the send, is, a power to depress those natural rights into a meanness of person by preventing men from acquiring property from loading them unequally with the public burthens of this state; and the third is, a power to destroy the equality of right by a partial administration of justice. That government which is guarded against those powers, may be said to have all the restraints necessary to constitute a rational happiness under any society.
Let us examine then how far the proposed constitution may be valued on that head.
Under this government neither the Congress nor state legislature could, by direct laws, deprive us of any property we might hold under the general law of the land, or punish us for any offence committed previous to the passage of such laws, since they are prohibited from passing ex post facto laws. Nor could they injure the value of any species of property by partial taxes, since from the proportion laid down in that government, to affect the value of slaves, for instance, in this state, they must ruin all the free persons in several others. Nor could they injure the property of an individual in any state, since the same proportion must be observed throughout a part as well as the whole.
Neither could they in the third instance destroy the equality of right, or injure the value of property in a particular state, or belonging to any individual by a partial administration of justice, since the same doors of one general tribunal would be opened to all—which would on the contrary enhance the value of all property on the continent by giving confidence to foreign creditors, and an equal security to citizens of every state.
Under such restraints and useful regulations, it cannot be denied but that the authorities contained in a firm and efficient government are necessary to procure safely, and give to that machine a proper motion; unless there be those so chimerical and speculative as to expect government, like wind—mill, to go on by airy efforts only.
But in order the more clearly to view that great objection still on general principles, as I first proposed to examine it, let us next try it by the simple test of facts.
That there will go no more power out of the peoples’ hands by the adoption of this constitution that what is already given up, is obvious, because the state legislature and Congress together have in their hands, at this time very authority which is proposed to be given to the new head, and that too without any restraints on those of the state. The right of passing ex post facto laws, the power of administering partial taxation, and a right to procrastinate justice, or interfere, in their legislative capacity, in private affairs, make up the only compound necessary to give a dismal hue to the finest features of any government. Yet such are the powers already given into the hands of government as to justify and produce all those acts.
The only difference therefore between our present situation and under the new government will be, that the most of the powers already given up will be in the hands of Congress instead of the legislature of the state; which change will only be felt by the leading men in each state, and not by the people. Whence we shall experience all the security which an efficient government can afford, without being subject to its oppressions. For in the proposed plan will be exercised all the useful authorities which already belong to the state, with all the salutary and safe restraints inseparable from the new system.
Thus having shewn on general principles the fallacy of that doctrine which holds out that we shall be deprived of our liberties by the adoption of this constitution, I shall now examine how this general assertion stands supported by the individual objections themselves.
The first I shall touch upon, is, that to the authorities of the supreme court.
There were three things in the first place which made it necessary to establish this court—the first is, the disputes that might arise between the different states, which could not otherwise [have] been determined but by a recourse to arms—the second is, in disputes between foreigners and citizens, without which general and impartial mode of trial under a federal government, an end would soon be put to foreign credit, and of course to that extensive commerce which alone can ensure a lasting value to our property—and the third is, in disputes between citizens of different states, which alone could prevent that jealousy that must have been accited by trials in the state where only one of the parties resided; and which would have been destructive of that confidence and harmony which will ever be requisite to preserve that union and agreement without which, this new government itself would cease to exist. And the two last are the only cases in which the people can be much affected; and that in most instances only by appeal.
The next objection I shall take notice of, is, that against standing armies.
There are but two ways in which armies are ever employed, the one is defending, the other abusing, mens’ rights; and in order to do the one, they must first begin with a pretence of intending the other. Nor can they long go undiscovered in acting thus, as the difference between the two is very easily observed; and as it will only become necessary to make the discovery to put an end to its progress, so in order to become a lasting evil, they must have some other foundation to depend on, than the will of those they are to injure. Either the separate interests or popular influence of those who employ them, have ever been the causes of their being used for a bad purpose. Hence it follows that a body of men so numerous as to make a division of power but a small object to any; and who only enjoy that power under the will of those they would endeavor to enslave, would neither wish to succeed in such a design, even were it practicable, nor expect to find it practicable should they make the attempt. As long therefore as the representatives of a people are elected by them, and under the necessity of returning among them at states periods, when they will be liable to their resentments, there is but little danger of their committing an open outrage on their liberties. It cannot be then for the abuse of our rights that Congress are to have a power of raising armies, as it is clearly on the will of the people the right of creating them depends—and therefore for our protection alone can be employed.
The right of laying direct taxes is also objected to, thought this is among the powers already given up by the people, and necessary for the existence of every government. Whether it extends itself over the whole continent or only a single state therefore, the effects will be the same to the people; and all the difference there will be, is, that less will be collected by the states individually, and more by the continent than now is.—But this, like all the other powers to be exercised by a representative who holds his authority under the will of those he is to govern; cannot be exercised but for their immediate benefit.
But then “the laws made under this constitution are to be the supreme laws of the land.”Under this clause it is said every authority is included.
It is with this objection however as with that about taxation; it would [have] availed but little to have attempted altering our system, and at the same time withhold from the new plan every thing that was useful. The great object which we had in view when we first called for the assistance of a convention, was, the strengthening the hands of the UNION; and if there are to be left in the hands of the different states sufficient powers to supersede those of Congress, little after all has been effected. At least a contention for supremacy between the different states and Congress would have been the consequence, had not some such distinguishing mark been set up to decide the superiority; the consequence of which would have been, that each in vieing with the other would be provoked to make daily experiments of its power, while the people would be left between the two rival authorities as the subject of their anatomy.
But this objection is a contradiction it itself; and if of any weight, only serves to operate against every other objection that has been made to the constitution; for if there be an objection to any other part of the constitution, it must be because there is an authority some where else besides in that general clause, which is a contradiction, because, an absolute and unbounded authority admits of no rivalship—And on the other hand, by viewing it in the light of a general authority given to Congress without controul, we render null and void all the other authorities, of which, in the same breath are so loudly complained; and in doing that, we destroy at a single blow every other objection, since there can be no objection to any part, where there is to be no power.
But to view it in a still more serious light, the saying that the laws made under that constitution shall be the supreme laws of the land, never could [have] been intended to bear that construction which has been put on it by some, because, if it had been intended or wished that Congress should have possessed such an unbounded power as is said, it would have been needless to run the risk of losing that desirable point, by adding to it, things which were to be of no use. And as it is not, that the laws made under that particular clause of the constitution, but the laws made under the whole system, of which that is but a small part, shall be the supreme laws of the land, so any law made in contradiction to any other clause, will be as void of effect as another made in direct compliance with that will be binding.
That this part of the constitution is neither so contradictory in itself as it appears when made an objection, nor are the other parts so useless and insignificant as they are made by giving that particular clause absolute power—but each in their several places form the different useful authorities and checks which are necessary to give both stability to our laws and safety to the people.
These, together with the other three assertions which I have endeavored to refute in some previous papers, form the most important supports of that grand objection to the constitution which respects our liberties; though there are many others which might have come under the same head; for it is a ruse with artists, that in rearing the superstructure of all fabrics, to have as good a foundation and as firm supporters as possible; but when they cannot support the edifice by strength of braces, they naturally have recourse to [a] number of posts; and when they far exceed the number, which if found, would answer, it does not require much reasoning to prove that they themselves have but little confidence in any.
That from what has been said already on either side, it may I think be concluded that our liberties so far from being diminished, will be increased by the adoption of the new constitution, as it will be a means of depriving the states of the right of exercising the most unbounded acts of injustice, under which, both the persons and property of men are insecure; and under such insecurity, every earthly consideration is lessened in its value. Whence, as there is no species of liberty but what is connected either with the person or property of mankind, so there is no species of it also but what is increased by adding confidence and safety to the one, and permanence and value to the other. And that government therefore which is best calculated to ensure both, is most consistent with every rational idea of liberty and happiness.