Philodemos Essay

No study questions


The progress of events is steadily carrying forward the great business of your general government. May the God of our fathers direct this all-important matter to that issue which is really right!—The great opportunity for consideration and discussion afforded to the states, who have elected late, appears to have operated in favour of the constitution. In Maryland, all its faults have been pointed out with little ceremony, and the most delicate proceedings of the General Convention have been laid open without reserve. Yet we find there Johnson, Hanson, McHenry, and other characters, who were early active in the revolution, now decided in favour of the adoption. These gentlemen are not ignorant of liberty and government, nor of the interests of Maryland and the Union, not enemies of the people of America, nor uninterested in her fate. Maryland contains no patriotism, no genius, no virtue, if they be denied to that list of names and many of their respectable colleagues. Does it appear from this choice, that the people of Maryland have been influenced by the active and numerous exertions of their Attorney-General. Do they appear to consider him as having just conceptions of what they deem necessary to welfare and honor, either in their capacity as a separate state, or as a member of the confederacy. Compare the real conduct of the worthy citizens of Maryland with what was asserted to be their sentiments, and it was predicted would be their conduct, by the opponents to the constitution. Mark the dilemma in which the gentlemen in opposition are involved. If their assertion, that Maryland was unfavorable, was true at the time, then has the constitution stood the test of examination, and gained friends on the freest investigation. If, on the other hand, the assertion was not true, then they have passed on [to] you important information not founded on fact, the impressions of which it is now your duty to erase from your minds.

Further discussions of the constitution are daily becoming less necessary for the people; for in almost all the states they have chose[n] their conventions. Yet a constant remembrance of the present condition of our country should be had in mind. The relaxation of government, consequent on a change from monarchy to liberty, and inevitable in war,—suspension and installment laws, paper mediums, and legal tenders, corrupting those who handled property—ardent spirits, flowing through the land like the brooks and rivers, corrupting the morals and destroying the constitutions of the mass of the people—the interruption given to the education of our youth—the avocations of many from the sober habits of private citizens, to the irregularity and dissipations of the military life—the influx of foreign luxury, unknown in former times—the derangement of all business—these, and many other unfavorable circumstances, were found to exist at the conclusion of the war, or have taken place since that period. How painful to the man of virtue and spirit is the situation! how noble—how extraordinary—is the spectacle we are now exhibiting to the world! A people, exposed from adventitious circumstances to a condition so dangerous and corrupting as that above describes, magnanimously binding themselves with the restraints of just government. Let us then not be discouraged by the unworthy measures of some of our fellow citizens, nor let us be prevented from prosecuting the good work by the mistaken, though honest, jealousy and apprehensions of others.

It has been urged to you, that the terms on which we stand with foreign nations are rendered less advantageous than they might be, were we respectable in our general government. Those who have been honored with the charge of your public affairs have long known and felt this unfortunate truth; but a leading member in the British Parliament has lately stated it as a consideration which ought to suspend all arrangements on their part, concerning the intercourse between America and Great Britain. Tho’ the late arret of his Most Christian Majesty is exceedingly favorable to the commerce of the United States, particularly in putting us on a footing with his own subjects in all the ports of India belonging to his crown, yet the same difficulty stands in the way of more important advantages. In short, commerce, whereby we are to vend the surplus of our produce to foreign nations, is circumscribed and suspended, by our standing in the light of separate Commonwealths, instead of on a CONFEDERATED REPUBLIC.

The question before you at this time does not involve the permanent acceptance and adoption of the Federal Constitution for ever, or without amendments. You are called seriously to consider the condition of your affairs at home, and the state of your connexions abroad—to reflect what must be the consequences of your continuing longer in the predicament described—and then to determine whether it is not better to cure a great number of these certain and ruinous evils by the adoption of the government proposed, accompanied as it is with opportunities and provisions for amendment. In resolving this momentous question, I do not wish you to be too far influenced by the distracted state of our affairs. If the liberty and safety obtained by the late revolution will be lost or endangered, take care how you proceed. But let us view the government with candor, and let us consider it as it is, bottomed on the state constitutions. It may not be perfect—it certainly is not perfect. I ask its candid and sincere opposers, where is the constitution, or when has existed the country more fortunate in its frame of government, th[a]n America would be under the combined operations of the State and Federal Constitutions? I admit again, that the constitution is not perfect; but shall we hesitate to accept a constitution better than any heretofore enjoyed by any nation, when the alternative is lawful tenders, insurrection and anarchy at home, and contempt abroad? Surely no. Let us then make the trial of the proposed government, understanding on both sides, that every wholesome alteration and amendment may hereafter be adopted, which shall be necessary to preserve the peace, liberty and safety of the people, and establish the dignity and importance of the United States.

Were the honest opponents of the Federal Constitution to place themselves on the shores of France, Great-Britain or Holland, and thence to view with impartiality the situation and character of this country—were they, in addition to the melancholy evils already enumerated, to see the miserable state of our public and private credit in Europe, and the blessings of worse governments there better administered—they would fly to the Federal Constitution, as the first step to the restoration of order and prosperity at home, and honour and dignity abroad.

It cannot be feared, that amendments will be refused or prevented after adoption. The people and the states will have all power, and if they will not then have wisdom and virtue enough to make wholesome amendments, they cannot be expected to form entirely a new and more perfect system.

The United States, under the proposed system, will be defended from religious tyranny, paper tenders, perpetual or even long grants of military revenues to the executive, and from orders of nobility, or even any other anti-republican distinctions. They will have the independency of judges secured, and will always be certain of a concert of the state legislatures and executives against incroachments of the federal legislature or executive; and they will enjoy constitutions founded in every instance upon the great principle, of representation and political obligation being inseparable. They have rejected feudal principles, the foundation of the European tyrannies, from their habits, and do not now retain them in their laws; for the state legislatures have in some instances already reduced their descents to the principles of republicanism, or perfect equality, and all the rest may do the same without controul. With such securities for liberty, who will hazard the dangers with which it is threatened from a continuance of the present system.

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