Virginia Independent Chronicle
January 16, 1788
An ADDRESS yo the GOOD PEOPLE of Virginia, on the new
FEDERAL CONSTITUTION, by an old
STATE SOLDIER, in an answer to an Officer in the late American Army.
A fellow-citizen whose life has once been devoted to your service, and knows no other interest now than what is common to you all, solicits your attention for a new few moments on the new plan of government submitted to you consideration.
Well aware of the feebleness of a Soldier’s voice after his service shall be no longer requisite, and sensible of the superiority of those who have already appeared on this subject, he does not flatter himself that what he has now to say will have much weight— Yet it may serve to contradict some general opinions which may have grown out of circumstances too dangerous to our reputations, to remain unanswered.
Conscious of the rectitude of his own intentions however, and trusting that ” in searching after error truth will appear,” he flatters himself he should be excused, were he to leave the merits of this cause to that more able ADVOCATE, the CONSTITUTION itself, and confine himself wholly to those general, plain, and honest truths which flow from the feelings of the warmest heart.
FREEDOM has its charms, and authority its use— but there are certain points beyond which neither can be stretched without falling into licentiousness, or sinking under oppression.
Here then let us pause!— and before we approach these dreadful extremes, view well the ground on which we now stand, as well as that to which we are about to step. Let is be remembered that after a long and bloody conflict, we have been left in possession of that great blessing for which we so long contended— and which was only obstained, and could not be perfectly founded at a time when there was only a chance for succeeding in the claim. The one being separate and distinct from the other at all times, a happy REVOLUTION therefore, has necessarily left incomplete the labors of the war for the more judicious and permanent establishment of the calms of peace. It was not expected, or even wished, that a SYSTEM, which was the mere OFFSPRING of NECESSITY, should govern and controul us when our object was chanted, and another time than confusion should offer itself to our service for making choice of a better. But on the contrary the same mutual agreement which promised us success in our undertaking during the war, led us to hope for a happy settlement of those right at the approach of peace— which alone can be done now by that policy which holds out at equal balance, strength and energy in the one hand, and justice, peace, and lenity in the other. Too much ’til tru may be surrendered up— but ’tis as certain too much may be retained, since there is no way more likely to lose ones liberty in the end than being to niggardly of it in the beginning. For he who grasps at more than he can possibly hold, will retain less than he could have handled with ease had he been moderate at first. Omnes deteriores sumus licentia.But how much is necessary to be given up is the difficulty to be ascertained. WE all know however the more desperate any disease has become, so much more violent must be the remedy— that if there be now a danger in making the attempt, it is owing more to the putting off to this late period that which at some time or another is unavoidable, than to any thing in the design itself. Having neglected this business until necessity pressed us forward to it, we see an anxiety and hurry now in some which is extremely alarming to others— when in fact had it been attempted at the close of the war, it might have seemed nothing more perhaps than a necessary guard to that tender infant, INDEPENDENCE, to whom we had jus given birth.
Long had the friends to the late REVOLUTION observed how incomplete the business was when we contented ourselves under that form of government, after the return of peace, which was only designed to bind us together the more effectually to carry on the war— and which could not be expected to operate effectually in many cases, the exspence of which no one at that time could foresee. At this late period then an attempt has been made to complete the designs of a war that ended many years before. And the first object which presented itself to our view in the business was the necessity of strengthening the UNION— the only probable way to do which, was the creating an authority whereby our credit could be supported— and in doing this (although it seems a single alteration in our old plan) the introduction of several other things was unavoidable. The credit of the UNION, like that of an individual, was only to be kept up by a prospect of being at some time or another able to pay the debts it had necessarily contracted— and that prospect could no way begin but by the establishment of some fund whereon the CONSTINENT could draw with certainty. But the right of taxation (the only certain way of creating that fund) was too great a surrender to be made without [being] accompanied with some other alterations in the old plan. Among these the Senate, and the mode of proportioning the taxes with the representatives, seem to be the most material— the one acting as a curb, the other as a guide in the business. Though in fact the credit of the depts.— Its internal defence, its compliance with its treaties, and the litigation of its own disputes, must be considered as inseparable from its national dignity. Therefore the additional authorities of the President, and the institution of the supreme court, were nothing more than necessary appendages to that AUTHORITY which every one seems to grant was necessary to be given up to strengthen our UNION and support our credit and dignity as a people— and when rightly considered can amount to nothing more than one alteration, so generally wished for, divided into several parts. One thing however appears to be entirely forgot: No one seems to remember that we had any federal constitution before this. Or if they do they have entirely forgotten what it was— it must be remembered however, that there was no other complaint made about that, but a want of energy and power. The removing this grand objection then, which seems to be the only material alteration made by this new Constitution, has not, as was expected, perfected the UNION; but it has served only to make way for the discovery of smaller imperfections which were not before seen. The want of a bill of rights, a charter for the press, and a thousand other things which are now discovered, have been therefore unnoticed although they existed then in as great a degree as they now do. Whenever any alterations have been made in any of these lesser faults, they have universally been for the better. For instance the appropriation of monies under pretence of providing for our national defence, which then was without hesitation, is now restricted to two years: For although Congress could not absolutely keep a large standing fore in time of profound peace, yet they had it in their power to provide for an army when there was not an absolute war: For the declaration being at their sole will, and they not accountable for the necessity, left the appropriation which was given them for supporting the one, entirely at their discretion in time of the other. That when this article shall be viewed independent of the grand object, and considered as one of the smaller faults, separate and distinct from the right of taxation, it must be confessed that part of our SYSTEM has been altered for the better. And thus too respecting a bill of rights, and the liberty of the press, it may also be said, the objection has been diminished by the new plan: For what security had we on this head before but that which was in our state constitutions? And of what is the republican form of government which Congress is now to guarantee to each state to consist? Certainly of any thing each state shall think proper that does not take from Congress what this constitution absolutely claims. Even the very one we now have, or such part of it as do not extend that far, may guarantee. That so far from these objections being increased, they are diminished by the new plan; as there will not only be the same state security for these rights then, but also a continental conformation of them— there being nothing in the new system that excludes that part of the old. That it is not, because those smaller faults have not been before seen, they necessarily originate in, or are magnified by the new constitution: but the truth is, they have always been overlooked in beholding that grand blemish which marked the features of the old objectionable, then went unnoticed— as no one would observe the disproportion of the fingers while the whole carcase was disjointing for the want of sinews. The general cry and only wish then was, for more authority in our government. IT was not expected the amendments would extend much further— yet they have: Many inferior objections have existed in the old plan, are in the new altered for the better. That when we came to enquire into the merits of this matter fairly, and set apart in the first place those things which are absolutely necessary to compose that alteration in our federal plan which we all so ardently wished for, and then in the next place give the proper credits to this new constitution for the amendments made in the more inferior faults of the old, we shall find there are but few things left worthy of grounding an opposition on. ’Tis much to be lamented however that we cannot avoid extremes on either side: For as all extremes are subject to a union in the end, it will be well if our violent opposition at this time, does not return to the most opposite submission at another. Indeed the comparrison of this opposition among ourselves to that of the late one towards our original situation, serves only to prove the likeness there is between the beginning and ending of our liberty— for there are no two things more strikingly alike than the first respiration of life and the last melancholy gasps of existence. But when confined to the likeness of situation itself, the same comparison is entirely unjust: For formerly we were governed by thsoe who had no interest in our prosperity: But now it is our FRIENDS, our COUNTRYMENT, and our BRETHREN, on whom we are called to rely, whose very existence is so inseparable form our welfare as to render it impossible for them to injure us without giving a fatal stab to themselves and the happiness of their posterity. But to those who cannot distinguish between a cause and a people, a sentiment and an individual, the analogy may appear just, in its intended meaning— yet self— evident as the contrary is, it would illy become those whose reputations are immediately concerned to stifle an honest resentment on this occasion. When we behold the character of individuals held up to view as an argument in favor of any cause, we are sufficiently disgusted with the ignorance of the author; but when we see the credit of that ignorance (accompanied by illiberality) given to us who would willingly merit a better appellation than the secret movers of personal jealousy and detraction among citizens, we are doubly mortified— considering an endeavor to keep alive those distinctions now which owed their existence to the heat of war, as illiberal as a suspicion over our best friends would be unjust. The one serving only to keep up a perpetually war among ourselves; and the other to make distrust a justification for dishonesty— neither of which is a trait in the character of a real soldier it is presumed: For besides the dishonor, he who really knows what war is, would scarcely wish to keep it up when he could have peace. But it is a trite remark that he who is most violent in time of the one, has generally been the most mild during the other. It is not at all surprising however that you should be brought to believe your liberties are now in danger, when you are thus shewn how that bravery you have once held in your favor, is likely to take residence in the breasts of those thus capable of any thing. By thus assuming our names and holding to view their own genuine characters, designing men do us more real injury, and their own cause more essential service, than those who insinuate that we shall be preferred from our former services to share the spoils when our country shall fall a pretty to aristocratical invasion. These last only add insult to misfortune: For there is but little in our influence to rouse your jealousy, and much less in our situations to excite your envy, unless the nobleness of your gratitude should make you wish to share in our poverty and fears.— These being all we have obtained, there is but little prospect of our becoming your tyrants, since misery and wretchedness are seldom called in to share the dignities of oppression. In short, as there is nothing in this constitution itself that particularly bargains for a surrender of your liberties, it must be your own faults if you become enslaved. Men in power may usurp authorities under any constitution— and those they govern may oppose their tyranny: For although it be wrong to refuse the legal currency of one’s country, yet there can be no harm in rejecting base coin, since there is no state in the world which compels a man to take that which is under its own standard.
It cannot be denied however but this constitution has its faults— yet when the whole of those objections shall be collected together an compared to the excellence of the main object, we cannot but conclude that the opposition will be like quarrelling about the division of straws, and neglecting the management of the grain. The period is not far distant however when it must be determined whether it be best to adopt it as it now stands, or runt he risk of losing it by attempting amendments. This last consideration, deeply impressed on the minds of those who are interested in the welfare of America, cannot fail to call forth your attention, when a fitter season shall demand it, and another paper give it circulation.