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Lobbyists pro/con Ratification, other than Madison & JayThe Federalist Papers were not the only propagations of essays, articles and pamphlets being distributed as the States began to consider ratification of the Constitution.
Noah Webster was a great pamphleteer:
An Examination into the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution
October 10, 1787
In America, we begin our empire with more popular privileges than the Romans ever enjoyed. We have not to struggle against a monarch or an aristocracy - power is lodged in the mass of the people.
On reviewing the English history, we observe a progress similar to that in Rome - an incessant struggle for liberty from the date of Magna Charta, in John's reign, to the revolution. The struggle has been successful, by abridging the enormous power of the nobility.
But we observe that the power of the people has increased in an exact proportion to their acquisitions of property.
Wherever the right of primogeniture is established, property must accumulate and remain in families. Thus the landed property in England will never be sufficiently distributed, to give the powers of government wholly into the hands of the people.
But to assist the struggle for liberty, commerce has interposed, and in conjunction with manufacturers, thrown a vast weight of property into the democratic scale.
Wherever we cast our eyes, we see this truth, that property is the basis of power; and this, being established as a cardinal point, directs us to the means of preserving our freedom.
Make laws, irrevocable laws in every state, destroying and barring entailments; leave real estates to revolve from hand to hand, as time and accident may direct; and no family influence can be acquired and established for a series of generations - no man can obtain dominion over a large territory - the laborious and saving, who are generally the best citizens, will possess each his share of property and power, and thus the balance of wealth and power will continue where it is, in the body of the people.
A general and tolerably equal distribution of landed property is the whole basis of national freedom: The system of the great Montesquieu will ever be erroneous, till the words property or lands in fee simple are substituted for virtue, throughout his Spirit of Laws.
Virtue, patriotism, or love of country, never was and never will be, till mens' natures are changed, a fixed, permanent principle and support of government. But in an agricultural country, a general possession of land in fee simple, may be rendered perpetual, and the inequalities introduced by commerce, are too fluctuating to endanger government.
An equality of property, with a necessity of alienation, constantly operating to destroy combinations of powerful families, is the very soul of a republic - While this continues, the people will inevitably possess both power and freedom; when this is lost, power departs, liberty expires, and a commonwealth will inevitably assume some other form.
The liberty of the press, trial by jury, the Habeas Corpus writ, even Magna Charta itself, although justly deemed the palladia of freedom, are all inferior considerations, when compared with a general distribution of real property among every class of people.¹
The power of entailing estates is more dangerous to liberty and republican government, than all the constitutions that can be written on paper, or even than a standing army.
Let the people have property, and they will have power - a power that will for ever be exerted to prevent a restriction of the press, and abolition of trial by jury, or the abridgement of any other privilege.
The liberties of America, therefore, and her forms of government, stand on the broadest basis. Removed from the fears of a foreign invasion and conquest, they are not exposed to the convulsions that shake other governments; and the principles of freedom are so general and energetic, as to exclude the possibility of a change in our republican constitutions.
But while property is considered as the basis of the freedom of the American yeomanry, there are other auxiliary supports; among which is the information of the people. In no country, is education so general - in no country, have the body of the people such a knowledge of the rights of men and the principles of government.
This knowledge, joined with a keen sense of liberty and a watchful jealousy, will guard our constitutions, and awaken the people to an instantaneous resistance of encroachments.
¹Montesquieu supposed virtue to be the principle of a republic. He derived his notions of this form of government, from the astonishing firmness, courage and patriotism which distinguished the republics of Greece and Rome. But this virtue consisted in pride, contempt of strangers and a martial enthusiasm which sometimes displayed itself in defence of their country.
These principles are never permanent - they decay with refinement, intercourse with other nations and increase of wealth.
No wonder then that these republics declined, for they were not founded on fixed principles; and hence authors imagine that republics cannot be durable.
None of the celebrated writers on government seems to have laid sufficient stress on a general possession of real property in fee-simple. Even the author of the Political Sketches, in the Museum for the month of September, seems to have passed it over in silence; although he combats Montesquieu's system, and to prove it false, enumerates some of the principles which distinguish our governments from others, and which he supposes constitutes the support of republics.
The English writers on law and government consider Magna Charta, trial by juries, the Habeas Corpus act, and the liberty of the press, as the bulwarks of freedom. All this is well. But in no government of consequence in Europe, is freedom established on its true and immoveable foundation. The property is too much accumulated, and the accumulations too well guarded, to admit the true principle of republics.
But few centuries have elapsed, since the body of the people were vassals. To such men, the smallest extension of popular privileges, was deemed an invaluable blessing. Hence the encomiums upon trial by juries, and the articles just mentioned.
But these people have never been able to mount to the source of liberty, estates in fee, or at least but partially; they are yet obliged to drink at the streams. Hence the English jealousy of certain rights, which are guaranteed by acts of parliament.
But in America, and here alone, we have gone at once to the fountain of liberty, and raised the people to their true dignity. Let the lands be possessed by the people in fee-simple, let the fountain be kept pure, and the streams will be pure of course.
Our jealousy of trial by jury, the liberty of the press, &c., is totally groundless. Such rights are inseparably connected with the power and dignity of the people, which rest on their property. They cannot be abridged.
All other [free] nations have wrested property and freedom from barons and tyrants; we begin our empire with full possession of property and all its attending rights.
John DeWitt EssaysOct 22, 1787
To the Free Citizens of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Whoever attentively examines the history of America, and compares it with that of other will find its commencement, its growth, and its present situation, without a precedent.
It must ever prove a source of pleasure to the Philosopher, who ranges the explored parts of this inhabitable globe, and takes a comparative view, as well of the rise and fall of those nations, which have been and are gone, as of the growth and present existence of those which are now in being, to close his prospect with this Western world.
In proportion as he loves his fellow creatures, he must here admire and approve; for while they have severally laid their foundations in the blood and slaughter of three, four, and sometimes, ten successive generations, from their passions have experience, every misery to which human nature is subject, and at this day present striking features of usurped power, unequal justice, and despotic tyranny. America stands completely systemised without any of these misfortunes.
On the contrary, from the first settlement of the country the necessity of civil associations, founded upon equality, consent, and proportionate justice have ever been universally acknowledged. The means of education always attended to, and the fountains of science brought within the reach of poverty.
Hitherto we have commenced society, and advanced in all respects resembling a family, without partial affections, or even a domestic bickering: And if we consider her as an individual instead of an undue proportion of violent passions and bad habits, we must set her down possessed of reason, genius and virtue.
I premise these few observations because there are too many among us of narrow minds, who live in the practice of blasting the reputation of their own country. They hold it as a maxim, that virtues cannot grow in their own soil. They will appreciate those of a man, they know nothing about, because he is an exotic; while they are sure to depreciate those much more brilliant in their neighbours, because they are really acquainted with and know them.
Civil society is a blessing. - It is here universally known as such. - The education of every child in this country tends to promote it.
There is scarcely a citizen in America who does not wish to bring it, consistent with our situation and circumstances, to its highest state of improvement.
Nay, I may say further, that the people in general aim to effect this point, in a peaceable, laudable, and rational way.
These assertions are proved by stubborn facts, and I need only resort to that moment, when, in contest with a powerful enemy, they paid such an unprecedented attention to civilization, as to select from among themselves their different conventions, and form their several constitutions, which, for their beautiful theoretical structure, caught the admiration of our enemies, and secured to us the applause of the world.
We at this day feel the effects of this disposition, and now live under a government of our own choice, constructed by ourselves, upon unequivocal principles, and requires but to be well administered to make us as happy under it as generally falls to the lot of humanity.
The disturbances in the course of the year past cannot be placed as an objection to the principle I advance.
They took their rise in idleness, extravagance and misinformation, a want of knowledge of our several finances, a universal delusion at the close of the war, and in consequence thereof, a pressure of embarrassments, which checked, and in many cases, destroyed that disposition of forbearance, which ought to be exercised towards each other.
These were added to the accursed practice of letting money at usury, and some few real difficulties and grievances, which our late situation unavoidably brought upon us. The issue of them, however, rather proves the position for, a very few irreclaimables excepted, we find even an anxiety to hearken to reason pervading all classes - industry and frugality increasing, and the advantages arising from good, wholesome laws, confessed by every one. - Let who will gain say it.
I am confident we are in a much better situation, in all respects, than we were at this period the last year; and as fast as can be expected, consistent with the passions and habits of a free people, of men who will think for themselves, coalescing, as a correspondent observes in a late paper, under a firm, wise and efficient government. The powers vested in Congress have hitherto been found inadequate.
Who are those that have been against investing them? The people of this Commonwealth have very generally supposed it expedient, and the farmer equally with the merchant have taken steps to effect it.
A Convention from the different States for that sole purpose hath been appointed of their most respectable citizens - respectable indeed I may say for their equity, for their literature, and for their love of their country. Their proceedings are now before us for our approbation.
The eagerness with which they have been received by certain classes of our fellow citizens, naturally forces upon us this question:
Are we to adopt this Government, without an examination?
Some there are, who, literally speaking, are for pressing it upon us at all events.
The name of the man who but lisps a sentiment in objection to it, is to be handed to the printer, by the printer to the public, and by the public he is to be led to execution. They are themselves stabbing its reputation. For my part, I am a stranger to the necessity for all this haste!
Is it not a subject of some small importance? Certainly it is.
Are not your lives, your liberties and properties intimately involved in it? Certainly they are.
Is it a government for a moment, a day, or a year? By no means - but for ages - Altered it may possibly be, but it is easier to correct before it is adopted.
Is it for a family, a state, or a small number of people? It is for a number no less respectable than three millions.
Are the enemy at our gates, and have we not time to consider it? Certainly we have.
Is it so simple in its form as to be comprehended instantly? Every letter, if I may be allowed the expression, is an idea.
Does it consist of but few additions to our present confederation, and those which have been from time to time described among us, and known to be necessary? Far otherwise. It is a compleat system of government, and armed with every power, that a people in any circumstances ought to bestow. It is a path newly struck out, and a new set of ideas are introduced that have neither occurred or been digested.
A government for national purposes, preserving our constitution entire, hath been the only plan hitherto agitated. I do not pretend to say, but it is in theory the most unexceptionable, and in practice will be the most conducive to our happiness of any possible to be adopted: - But it ought to undergo a candid and strict examination.
It is the duty of every one in the Commonwealth to communicate his sentiments to his neighbour, divested of passion, and equally so of prejudices. If they are honest and he is a real friend to his country, he will do it and embrace every opportunity to do it. If thoroughly looked into before it is adopted, the people will be more apt to approve of it in practice, and every man is a TRAITOR to himself and his posterity, who shall ratify it with his signature, without first endeavouring to understand it.
We are but yet in infancy; and we had better proceed slow than too fast. It is much easier to dispense powers, then recall them. The present generation will not be drawn into any system; they are too enlightened; they have not forfeited their right to a share in government, and they ought to enjoy it.
Some are heard to say, "When we consider the men who made it, we ought to take it for sterling, and without hesitation - that they were the collected wisdom of the States, and had no object but the general good." - I do not doubt all this, but facts ought not to be winked out of sight:
They were delegated from different States, and nearly equally represented, though vastly disproportionate both in wealth and numbers. They had local prejudices to combat, and in many instances, totally opposite interests to consult. Their situations, their habits, their extent, and their particular interest, varied each from the other. The gentlemen themselves acknowledge that they have been less rigid upon some points, in consequence of those difficulties than they otherwise should have been.
Others again tell you that the Convention is or will be dissolved; that we must take their proceedings in whole or reject them - But this surely cannot be a reason for their speedy adoption; it rather works the other way. If evils are acknowledged in the composition, we ought, at least, to see whose shoulders are to bear the most; to compare ours with those of other States, and take care that we are not saddled with more than our proportion: That the citizens of Philadelphia are running mad after it, can be no argument for us to do the like: Their situation is almost contrasted with ours; they suppose themselves a central State; they expect the perpetual residence of Congress, which of itself alone will ensure their aggrandizement: We, on the contrary, are sure to be near one of the extremes; neither the loaves or fishes will be so plenty with us, or shall we be so handy to procure them.
We are told by some people, that upon the adopting this New Government, we are to become every thing in a moment: Our foreign and domestic debts will be as a feather; our ports will be crowded with the ships of all the world, soliciting our commerce and our produce: Our manufactures will increase and multiply; and, in short, if we STAND STILL, our country, notwithstanding, will be like the blessed Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey.
Let us not deceive ourselves; the only excellency of any government is in exact proportion to the administration of it:
Idleness and luxury will be as much a bane as ever; our passions will be equally at war with us then as now; and if we have men among us trying with all their ability to undermine our present Constitution, these very persons will direct their force to sap the vitals of the new one.
Upon the whole, my fellow countrymen, I am as much a federal man as any person: In a federal union lies our political salvation - To preserve that union, and make it respectable to foreign opticks, the National Government ought to be armed with all necessary powers; but the subject I conceive of infinite delicacy, and requires both ability and reflection.
In discussing points of such moment, America has nothing to do with passions or hard words; every citizen has an undoubted right to examine for himself, neither ought he to be ill treated and abused, because he does not think at the same moment exactly as we do.
It is true, that many of us have but our liberties to lose but they are dearly bought, and are not the least precious in estimation:
In the mean time, is it not of infinite consequence that we pursue inflexibly that path, which I feel persuaded we are now approaching, wherein we shall discourage all foreign importations; shall see the necessity of greater oeconomy and industry; shall smile upon the husbandman, and reward the industrious mechanic; shall promote the growth of our own country, and wear the produce of our own farms; and, finally, shall support measures in proportion to their honesty and wisdom, without any respect to men.
Nothing more is wanted to make us happy at home, and respectable abroad.
[signed] John DeWitt.
DeWitt is an pseudonym signed to 13 essays urging caution in hurrying to ratification - and in some DeWitt essays urging downright opposition to ratification because of the dangers of too much power in the federal government.
Excerpt from the second essay of "John DeWitt":
That the want of a Bill of Rights to accompany this proposed System, is a solid objection to it, provided there is nothing exceptionable in the System itself, I do not assert.
If, however, there is at any time, a propriety in having one, it would not have been amiss here. A people, entering into society, surrender such a part of their natural rights, as shall be necessary for the existence of that society. They are so precious in themselves, that they would never be parted with, did not the preservation of the remainder require it. They are entrusted in the hands of those, who are very willing to receive them, who are naturally fond of exercising of them, and whose passions are always striving to make a bad use of them.
They are conveyed by a written compact, expressing those which are given up, and the mode in which those reserved shall be secured. Language is so easy of explanation, and so difficult is it by words to convey exact ideas, that the party to be governed cannot be too explicit. The line cannot be drawn with too much precision and accuracy. The necessity of this accuracy and this precision encreases in proportion to the greatness of the sacrifice and the numbers who make it.
That a Constitution for the United States does not require a Bill of Rights, when it is considered, that a Constitution for an individual State would, I cannot conceive..
Entire essay, including specific criticisms to many parts of the Constitution:
And the portal with links to ALL the Federalist and Anti-Federalist documents which have been found thus far:
As noted on the other threads, although lists of citizens' rights were a part of previous continental congresses - both federal and state - the final review Committee at the Constitutional Congress voted 11-0 NOT TO INCLUDE a Bill of Rights in the Constitution.
From DeWitt's first essay, see last post on this thread:
"Some are heard to say, 'When we consider the men who made it, we ought to take it for sterling, and without hesitation - that they were the collected wisdom of the States, and had no object but the general good.'
"I do not doubt all this, but facts ought not to be winked out of sight.
"They were delegated from different States, and nearly equally represented, though vastly disproportionate both in wealth and numbers. They had local prejudices to combat, and in many instances, totally opposite interests to consult. Their situations, their habits, their extent, and their particular interest, varied each from the other. The gentlemen themselves acknowledge that they have been less rigid upon some points, in consequence of those difficulties than they otherwise should have been."
I remember DeWitt's views every time I hear/read someone refer to the Constitution as if it were some Holy Book inspired by God (like some view the Bible and the Koran).
Its very much like the kneejerk reaction of "my way or the highway" pro or anti some issue, person or political party.