"John De Witt" Essay I, Oct.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.