"A Freeman" Essay to the People of Connecticut

No study questions

This is a day, by way of eminence, for political deliberation, and we are amused with reasons against and reasons for the new Constitution from one part of the continent to the other. Held up to our view as something magnificent are the reasons of the Honorable Mr. [Elbridge] Gerry for not subscribing to the Constitution. From Virginia, we have the objections of the Honorable George Mason, pompously set forth. In New York, a factious genius pours a flood of eloquence against the Constitution. And our printers possess so much candor as to keep their presses open to all parties. Amid all these publications, a Freeman of Connecticut ventures to make his remarks and professes to do it in the spirit of candor.

In the course of some late publications, several things have been discussed relating to the new Constitution that might have a tendency to prevent prejudices and clear off objections, to give the landholders and farmers an opportunity to judge for themselves as to the defects or excellencies of it. And, as the season for the sitting of the state Convention approaches, so I would call your attention still further to the interesting subject.

Our country now seems to hang in anxious suspense, not knowing whether she is to have a good and efficient government or none at all, or a despotic one imposed upon her by some daring adventurer. She has fought, her enemies must do her the justice to own, gallantly with one of the most powerful kingdoms on the globe; a kingdom which had spread the glory of its arms and the terror of its name over every quarter of the world. She has bled, we are all mournful witnesses, at a thousand veins through a bloody and long way. She has nobly conquered, to the astonishment of the nations of Europe. On account of her splendid victories and passion for freedom approaching to enthusiasm, her fame has diffused itself far and wide. Her generals, her soldiers, her perseverance and patience under every difficulty, her statesmen and her resources are the admiration of distant nations, and probably will be of applauding posterity, if she improve aright the present eligible situation for adopting a good federal system of policy. The grand question is—shall she be happy in a good or wretched in a bad form of government? Shall all her blood and treasures expended in the late war be lost? Shall the advantages which she now possesses, prodigal-like be squandered away? When peace was established and the horrors of war terminated, the most of us mistakenly concluded that all was done for us, and that we had nothing left but to reach out the eager hand and take hold of happiness. Independence we fondly believed would cost us little or nothing—good government, national faith, national honor, and national dignity would take place of course, without any exertions of our own. But an arduous task was still to be performed. We had an empire to build. The American Revolution is a distinguished era in the history of mankind. And the present is to us a period as important, as delicate and as critical, and perhaps more so, than any that has yet been. To fight battles and vanquish enemies is far less difficult than to curb selfish passions, to liberalize the narrow-minded, to eradicate old prejudices (as the most stupid and silly and ungenerous prejudices have subsisted in the several states against each other), to give up local attachments, and to cement together as one great people, pursuing one general interest. An opportunity now presents of realizing the richest blessings. The new Constitution holds out to us national dignity, respectability, and an energetic form of government. I wish to see candidly discussed the most material objections against it as they may appear in the public papers, be proposed by gentlemen of sense and merit, or be started by the common people and be enlarged upon with malignant pleasure by popular drudges, who clamor plausibly about the rights of the people, but whose intentions invariably are to promote and secure their own lucrative posts or honorable employments.

In this publication, I shall consider that objection to the Constitution upon which much is confidently advanced by many, that if we adopt the Constitution our liberties are gone forever, that moment the nations receives this form of government, that moment we become a nation of slaves. It is incumbent upon those who make this objection to point out the dangerous clause. They should be challenged to show where we may find it. Designing and factious men throw out this objection; and many honest, well-meaning farmers and landholders are frightened with it. They hear others, of whose wisdom knowledge in politics, and character, they have an exalted opinion, speak of the Constitution as a dangerous one, an insidious one, which is to betray the liberties of the people, while it professes to defend and guard them. They consequently fear the worst of evils lie hidden under a fair guise. For themselves, they see no danger, and never would dream of any, were it not from the base surmises of the designing. With their own eyes they can see no evils, but the more shrewd have eyes to see. Such, and such characters, important men—men in high posts—men of reputed principles and integrity—object against the Constitution as designed to annihilate the state sovereignties, undermine our rights, and to end either in a corrupt aristocracy or absolute monarchy. Thus stands the objection. Let the well-meaning who fear no loss of lucrative posts view the mighty scarecrow. O ye my countrymen, be not deceived with fair words and plausible speeches. You have eyes; use them for yourselves—employ your own good sense—read and examine the Constitution—trust not to others to do it for you—narrowly inspect every part of it. Then, you will be convinced that the objection is wholly groundless, having no existence but in imagination. Believe for once that many who pretend to be so tender for your rights, and are so deeply concerned for your liberties, and on all occasions boast of their love and veneration for liberty, only mean to dupe you. I am credibly informed that in a certain town, when the inhabitants were convened in pursuance of the order of the General Court to choose delegates to sit in Convention to determine whether this state will assent to and ratify a Constitution which has for its object the establishment of the dignity, freedom, and happiness of our country, a great man made a great speech, in length two hours, in breadth one hair, and closed with this striking observation: My fellow citizens, this is the day in which you are to vote whether you will be freemen or slaves; if we reject the Constitution, we shall be free; if we adopt it, we shall be slaves. The candor and justice of this representation, I presume, will be discerned by every man of common sense. Such an observation not obliquely, but directly insinuates that the Constitution will infallibly make us a nation of slaves. There certainly is nothing in it that looks this way. On the contrary it seems to guard you on every side from despotism and shows an uncommon solicitude to prevent any infringement upon the liberties of the people; gives all the liberty which a judicious people could desire. Liberty, a word that has charms sufficient to captivate a generous mind, is revered in the Constitution; and is totally different from licentiousness. Many have no other idea of liberty, but for everyone to do as he pleases—to be as honest as he pleases—to be as knavish as he pleases—and to traduce and revile the rulers as much as he pleases. Such a liberty, which to our shame has for several years been our idol, ought to be done away and never more stop the progress of justice or with its foul streams pollute this beautiful country. Every government which is worth having and supporting must have a competent degree of power in it to answer the great ends of its creation—the happiness of the people, the protection of their persons, and security of their property. A government without such a power is only a burden. That government, provided for us by the concentered wisdom of the states, secures all our liberties that ought to be secured.

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