Centinel XIV

Image: Tavern Scene. David Teniers the Younger. (1658) National Gallery of Art. https://www.nga.gov/collection/art-object-page.55505.html

No study questions


Fellow-Citizens, I am happy to find the comment that I have made upon the nature and tendency of the new constitution, and my suspicions of the principles and designs of its authors, are fully confirmed by the evidence of the Honorable LUTHER MARTIN, Esquire, late deputy in the general convention. He has laid open the conclave, exposed the dark scene within, developed the mystery of the proceedings, and illustrated the machinations of ambition. His public spirit has drawn upon him the rage of the conspirators, for daring to remove the veil of secrecy, and announcing to the public the meditated, gilded mischief: all their powers are exerting for his destruction; the mint of calumny is assiduously engaged in coining scandal to blacken his character, and thereby to invalidate his testimony; but this illustrious patriot will rise superior to all their low arts, and be the better confirmed in the good opinion and esteem of his fellow-citizens, upon whose gratitude he has an additional claim by standing forth their champion at a crisis when most men would have shrunk from such a duty. Mr. Martin has appealed to general Washington for the truth of what he has advanced, and undaunted by the threats of his and his country’s enemies, is nobly persevering in the cause of liberty and mankind. I would earnestly recommend it to all well meaning persons to read his communication, as the most satisfactory and certain method of forming a just opinion on the present momentous question, particularly the three or four last continuances, as they go more upon the general principles and tendency of the new constitution. I have in former numbers alluded to some passages in this publication; I shall in this number quote some few others, referring to the work itself for a more lengthy detail. The following paragraphs5 are extracted from the continuances republished in the Independent Gazetteer of the 25th January, and the Pennsylvania Packet of the 1st February instant, viz.

“By the eighth section of this article, Congress is to have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises.–When we met in convention after our adjournment, to receive the report of the committee of detail, the members of that committee were requested to inform us what powers were meant to be vested in Congress by the word duties in this section, since the word imposts extended to duties on goods imported, and by another part of the system no duties on exports were to be laid.–In answer to this inquiry we were informed, that it was meant to give the general government the power of laying stamp duties on paper, parchment and vellum. We then proposed to have the power inserted in express words, lest disputes hereafter might arise on the subject, and that the meaning might be understood by all who were to be affected by it; but to this it was objected, because it was said that the word stamp would probably sound odiously in the ears of many of the inhabitants, and be a cause of objection. By the power of imposing stamp duties the Congress will have a right to declare that no wills, deeds, or other instruments of writing, shall be good and valid, without being stamped-that without being reduced to writing and being stamped, no bargain, sale, transfer of property, or contract of any kind or nature whatsoever shall be binding; and also that no exemplifications of records, depositions, or probates of any kind shall be received in evidence, unless they have the same solemnity–They may likewise oblige all proceedings of a judicial nature to be stamped to give them effect–those stamp duties may be imposed to any amount they please, and under the pretence of securing the collection of these duties, and to prevent the laws which imposed them from being evaded, the Congress may bring the decision of all questions relating to the conveyance, disposition and rights of property and every question relating to contracts between man and man into the courts of the general government.–Their inferior courts in the first instance and the superior court by appeal. By the power to lay and collect imposts, they may impose duties on any or every article of commerce imported into these states to what amount they please. By the power to lay excises, a power very odious in its nature, since it authorises officers to go into your houses, your kitchens, your cellars, and to examine into your private concerns; the Congress may impose duties on every article of use or consumption, on the food that we eat–on the liquors we drink–on the cloaths we wear–on the glass which enlighten our houses–or the hearths necessary for our warmth and comfort. By the power to lay and collect taxes, they may proceed to direct taxation on every individual either by a capitation tax on their heads, or an assessment on their property. By this part of the section, therefore, the government has a power to lay what duties they please on goods imported–to lay what duties they please afterwards on whatever we use or consume–to impose stamp duties to what amount they please, and in whatever cases they please–afterwards to impose on the people direct taxes, by capitation tax, or by assessment, to what amount they choose, and thus to sluice them at every vein as long as they have a drop of blood, without any controul, limitation or restraint–while all the officers for collecting these taxes, stamp duties, imposts and excises, are to be appointed by the general government, under its direction, not accountable to the states; nor is there even a security that they shall be citizens of the respective states, in which they are to exercise their offices; at the same time the construction of every law imposing any and all these taxes and duties, and directing the collection of them, and every question arising thereon, and on the conduct of the officers appointed to execute these laws, and to collect these taxes and duties so various in their kinds, are taken away from the courts of justice of the different states, and confined to the courts of the general government, there to be heard and determined by judges holding their offices under the appointment, not of the states, but of the general government.

“Many of the members, and myself in the number, thought that the states were much better judges of the circumstances of their citizens, and what sum of money could be collected from them by direct taxation, and of the manner in which it could be raised, with the greatest ease and convenience to their citizens, than the general government could be; and that the general government ought not in any case to have the power of laying direct taxes, but in that of the delinquency of a state. Agreeable to this sentiment, I brought in a proposition on which a vote of the convention was taken. The proposition was as follows: And wherever the legislature of the United States shall find it necessary that revenue should be raised by direct taxation, having apportioned the same by the above rule, requi-sitions shall be made of the respective states to pay into the continental treasury their respective quotas within a time in the said requisition to be specified, and in case of any of the states failing to comply with such requisition, then and thew only, to have power to devise and pass acts directing the mode and authorising the collection of the same. Had this proposition been acceded to, the dangerous and oppressive power in the general government of imposing direct taxes on the inhabitants, which it now enjoys in all cases, would have been only vested in it in case of the non-compliance of a state, as a punishment for its delinquency, and would have ceased that moment that the state complied with the requisition–But the proposition was rejected by a majority, consistent with their aim and desire of encreasing the power of the general government as far as possible, and destroying the powers and influence of the states–And though there is a provision that all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform, that is, to be laid to the same amount on the same articles in each state, yet this will not prevent Congress from having it in their power to cause them to fall very unequal and much heavier on some states than on others, because these duties may be laid on articles but little or not at all used in some states, and of absolute necessity for the use and consumption of others, in which case the first would pay little or no part of the revenue arising therefrom, while the whole or nearly the whole of it would be paid by the last, to wit, the states which use and consume the articles on which the imposts and excises are laid.”
Another extract, viz.

“But even this provision apparently for the security of the state governments, inadequate as it is, is entirely left at the mercy of the general government, for by the fourth section of the first article, it is expressly provided, that the congress shall have a power to make and alter all regu-lations concerning the time and manner of holding elections for senators; a provision expressly looking forward to, and I have no doubt designed for the utter extinction and abolition of all state governments; nor will this I believe be doubted by any person, when I inform you that some of the warm advocates and patrons of the system in convention, strenuously opposed the choice of the senators by the state legislatures, insisting that the state governments ought not to be introduced in any manner so as to be component parts of, or instruments for carrying into execution the general government–Nay, so far were the friends of the system from pretending that they meant it or considered it as a federal system, that on the question being proposed, “that a union of the states, merely federal, ought to be the sole object of the exercise of the powers vested in the convention;” it was negatived by a majority of the members, and it was resolved, `that a national government ought to be formed; afterwards the word “national” was struck out by them, because they thought the word might tend to alarm–and although now, they who advocate the system, pretend to call themselves federalists; in convention the distinction was just the reverse–those who opposed the system, were there considered and stiled the federal party, those who advocated it, the antifederal.

“Viewing it as a national not a federal government, as calculated and designed not to protect and preserve, but to abolish and annihilate the state governments, it was opposed for the following reasons:–It was said that this continent was much too extensive for one national government, which should have sufficient power and energy to pervade and hold in obedience and subjection all its parts, consistent with the enjoyment and preservation of liberty–That the genius and habits of the people of Amer-ica were opposed to such a government–That during their connexion with Great-Britain they had been accustomed to have all their concerns transacted within a narrow circle, their colonial districts–They had been accustomed to have their seats of government near them, to which they might have access, without much inconvenience when their business should require it–That at this time we find if a county is rather large, the people complain of the inconvenience, and clamour for a division of their county, or for a removal of the place where their courts are held, so as to render it more central and convenient–That in those states, the territory of which is extensive, as soon as the population encreases remote from the seat of government, the inhabitants are urgent for a removal of the seat of their government, or to be erected into a new state–As a proof of this, the inhabitants of the western parts of Virginia and North Carolina, of Vermont and the province of Main, were instances, even the inhabitants of the western parts of Pennsylvania, who it was said already seriously look forward to the time when they shall either be erected into a new state, or have their seat of government removed to the Susquehanna. If the inhabitants of the different states consider it as a grievance to attend a county court or the seat of their own government, when a little inconvenient, can it be supposed they would ever submit to have a national government established, the seat of which, would be more than a thousand miles removed from some of them? It was insisted that governments of a republican nature, are those best calculated to preserve the freedom and happiness of the citizen–That governments of this kind, are only calculated for a territory but small in its extent–That the only method by which an extensive continent like America could be connected and united together consistent with the principles of freedom, must be by having a number of strong and energetic state governments for securing and protecting the rights of the individuals forming those governments, and for regulating all their concerns; and a strong energetic federal government over those states for the protection and preservation, and for regulating the common concerns of the states.–It was further insisted, that even if it was possible to effect a total abolition of the state governments at this time, and to establish one general government over the people of America, it could not long subsist, but in a little time would again be broken into a variety of governments of a smaller extent, similar in some manner to the present situation of this continent; the principal difference in all probability would be that the governments, so established, being effected by some violent convulsion, might not be formed on principles so favorable to liberty as those of our present state governments–That this ought to be an important consideration to such of the states who had excellent governments, which was the case with Maryland and most others, whatever it might be to persons who disapproving of their particular state government, would be willing to hazard every thing to overturn and destroy it.–These reasons, Sir, influenced me to vote against two branches in the legislature, and against every part of the system which was repugnant to the principles of a federal government–Nor was there a single argument urged, or reason assigned, which to my mind was satisfactory, to prove that a good government on federal principles was unattainable, the whole of their arguments only proving, what none of us controverted, that our federal government as originally formed was defective and wanted amendment–However, a majority of the convention hastily and inconsiderately, without condescending to make a fair trial, in their great wisdom, decided that a kind of government which a Montesquieu and a Price have declared the best calculated of any to preserve internal liberty, and to enjoy external strength and security, and the only one by which a large continent can be connected and united consistent with the principles of liberty was totally impracticable, and they acted accordingly.”

After such information, what are we to think of the declarations of Mr. Wilson, who assured our state convention, that it was neither the intention of the authors of the new constitution, nor its tendency to establish a consolidated or national government, founded upon the destruction of the state governments, that such could not have been the design of the general convention he said was certain, because the testimony of experience, the opinions of the most celebrated writers, and the nature of the case demonstrated in the clearest manner, that so extensive a territory as these United States includes, could not be governed by any other mode than a confederacy of republics consistent with the principles of freedom, and that their own conviction was, that nothing short of the supremacy of despotism could connect and bind together this country under ONE GOVERNMENT?7 Has any one a doubt now remaining of the guilt of the conspirators!

The 0-rs of the P-t 0-ce, fearful of the consequences of their conduct, are taking measures to invalidate the charge made against them. As this is a matter of the highest importance to the public, it will be necessary to state the charge and the evidence. In two of my former numbers, I asserted that the patriotic newspapers of this city and that of New-York miscarried in their passage, whilst the vehicles of despotism, meaning those newspapers in favor of the new constitution, passed as usual; and it was particularly asserted that the patriotic essays of Brutus, Cincinnatus, Cato, &c. published at New-York, were withheld during the greatest part of the time that our state convention sat; and in a late number, I further asserted that since the late arrangement at the P-t 0-ce, scarcely a newspaper was suffered to pass by the usual conveyance, and for the truth of this last charge I appealed to the printers; however I understand this last is not denied or controverted. When the dependence of the printers on the P-t 0-ce is considered, the injury they may sustain by incurring the displeasure of these of-rs, and when to this is added that of the complexion of the printers in respect to the new constitution, that most of them are zealous in promoting its advancement, it can scarcely be expected that they would volunteer it against the P-t 0-rs, or refuse their names to a certificate exculpating the of-rs; accordingly we find that most of the printers have signed a certificate that the newspapers arrived as usual prior to the first of January, when the new arrangement took place; however, the printer of the Freeman’s Journal when applied to, had the spirit to refuse his name to the establishment of a falsehood, and upon being called upon to specify the missing papers, particularly during the sitting of the state convention, he pointed out and offered to give a list of a considerable number, instancing no less than seven successive Greenleaf’s patriotic New-York papers, besides others occasionally with-held from him; Colonel Oswald was out of town when his family was applied to, or I have no doubt he would have observed a similar conduct. But there is a fact that will invalidate any certificate that can be procured on this occasion, and is alone demonstrative of the suppression of the patriotic newspapers. The opponents to the new constitution in this state were anxious to avail themselves of the well-written essays of the New-York patriots, such as Brutus, Cincinnatus, Cato, &c. and with that view were attentive to have them republished here as soon as they came to hand, and especially during the sitting of our state convention, when they would have been the most useful to the cause of liberty by operating on the members of that convention; a recurrence to the free papers of this city at that period, well shew a great chasm in these republications, owing to the miscarriage of Greenleaf’s New-York papers; agreeable to my assertions it will appear, that for the greatest part of the time that our state convention sat, scarcely any of the numbers of Brutus, Cincinnatus, Cato, &c. were republished in this city; the fifth number of Cincinnatus that contained very material information about the finances of the union, which strikes at some of the principal arguments in favor of the new constitution, which was published at New-York the 29th November, was not republished here until the 15th December following, two or three days after the convention rose, and so of most of the other numbers of this and the other signatures; so great was the desire of the opponents here to republish them, that the fourth number of Cincinnatus was republished so lately as in Mr. Bailey’s last paper, which with other missing numbers were procured by private hands from New-York, and in two or three instances, irregular numbers were repub-lished. The new arrangement at the P-t 0-ce, novel in its nature, and peculiarly injurious by the suppression of information at this great crisis of public affairs, is a circumstance highly presumptive of the truth of the other charge.

No prior document in this Era
No next document in this Era
Teacher Programs

Conversation-based seminars for collegial PD, one-day and multi-day seminars, graduate credit seminars (MA degree), online and in-person.

Our Core Document Collection allows students to read history in the words of those who made it. Available in hard copy and for download.