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apology for the following detail with which my mind has been labouring for some time, and wishing for an opportunity to give it vent. I have in some late letters hinted to you my apprehensions that the present Constitution of this country could not long subsist in the form it now wears. I shall now throw together the reasons on which I have grounded these apprehensions. t
It is well knowrn that, before the disputes with Brittain began, an union of the (then) colonies was, by the wisest men, thought impracticable. Efforts were made about the year 1754 to bring such a thing into existence, but they all failed; and a writer, whose judgment and information no one can suspect, wrote thus on the subject: "They (i.e. the colonies) have different forms of government, different laws, different interests, some of them different religious persuasions and different manners. Their jealousy of each other is so great that, however necessary an anion of the colonies has long been for their common defence and security, and how sensible soever each colony has been of that necessity, yet they have never been able to effect such an union among them, nor to agree in requesting the mother country to establish it for them. If they could not agree to unite for their defence against the French and Indians, can it reasonably be supposed there is any danger of their uniting against their own nation? There are so many causes that must operate to prevent it, that I will venture to say an union among them for such a purpose is not merely improbable, it is impossible. When I say impossible, I mean without the most grievous tyranny and oppression. The waves do not rise but when the winds blow. What such an administration as the Duke of Alvas in the Netherlands might produce, I know not." These were the sentiments of the great Dr. Franklin in 1760. He has lived to see the only case happen which he supposed could possibly effect an union of the American colonies, and in consequence thereof the Union formed. It was formed by a sense of common danger, or rather by the pressure of a common calamity, "the most grievous tyranny and oppression." But this question has since arisen, If an union could not be formed until we were driven to it by external oppression and tyranny, is it likely that such an union will hold when that pressure is removed? Will not the principles of internal repulsion again operate; and, if they do, what force will' counteract them? This thought has been familiar to me ever since the first formation of our Union; and I could not help arguing, a priori, against the probability of its long continuance after the removal of the force which compelled its formation.
But ought we not in such cases to argue from experience? Well, the experiment is now in hand; and what does it promise? Thirteen equally free, independent, sovereign States are confederated for their mutual defence and security, each one retaining its own sovereignty (a darling word, but highly intoxicating), which is represented in the assembly of the whole. This assembly has by the Confederation "the sole and exclusive power of peace and w^ar; receiving and sending embassies, making treaties and alliances," and other attributes of sovereignty. But have they the power of commanding a shilling out of any man's pocket on this continent? They can incur expences and allow them, and defray them out of a common treasury; but how is that treasury to be supplied? By taxes " laid and levied by the authority of the legislatures of the several States." Then the united sovereignty runs in debt, and the individual sovereignties, acting separately and independently, are to provide the means of payment; and without payment, or at least prospect of payment, we know business cannot be done. Well, how are the supplies to be obtained? Must all the States agree in one specific mode, or are they left to themselves ta contrive the mode? And, in either case, is there any compulsive power to oblige each and every State to furnish its supplies? This last question, we know, must be answered in the negative; and, as to the two former, we are vibrating between yea and nay. Though the Confederation seems to point out one mode, yet an attempt has been making to alter it: how far it has succeeded, I know not; but another mode has been proposed once and again, viz., an impost which cannot be obtained without the consent of every State. The first proposal of this kind seemed to be pretty well relished by all but Rhode Island, who threatened to give it a mortal stab. Congress, alarmed," ordered a deputation to persuade the refractory State to forbear; but, before they could execute their commission, Virginia, with a backhanded stroke, completed its downfall. What now? Congress newmodels the proposal, and sends it forth again. Majestically slow and solemn it stalks along, receives a sweet smile from one, a soft kiss from another, and a friendly shake by the hand from a third; but surly Connecticut gives it a kick, and down it falls again.
Now where are we? What shall we do? How are our debts to be paid? Sell your new lands, says one. Who will buy them? says another. We want cash in hand, and purchasers are not to be found in a day. Well then, raise it by a tax on poll and estates. But, say the southern States, must we pay as much for our negro polls as you New Englanders for your white labouring men that can earn three times as much? And must our poor land, says N.E., that is frozen half the year, pay as much as your rich Virginia and Carolina soil; or our paltry huts and sheds, as much as your palaces? Here we are altogether by the ears about modes and forms of raising cash; and all the while creditors are dunning and complaining, Congress remonstrating and exhorting, and, what is worse than either, all the current coin is going out of the country as fast as water runs over a damm, and all the powers of nature or art cannot stop it. Such I take to be a true picture of the present time. Our federal government is a huge, complicated, unwieldy machine, like — what? Comparisons sometimes illustrate subjects; but where can one be found to illustrate this? Imagine, my friend, thirteen independent clocks, going all together, by the force of their own weights, and carrying thirteen independent hammers fitted to strike on one bell. If you can so nicely wind and adjust all these clocks as to make them move exactly alike, and strike at the same instant, you will have, indeed, a most curious and regular beating of time; but, if there be ever so small a deviation from the point of identity, who will be able to know the hour by the sound of such an automaton?
The plain English of all this is that our present form of federal government appears to be inadequate to the purpose for which it was instituted. A combined sovereignty, subject to be checked, controuled, and negatived by thirteen individual sovereignties, must ever move so heavily and awkwardly that no business can be done to good purpose, if we are to judge by the specimens of its operation which we are daily witnesses of. But is it not a pity that such a machine as we have been at the pains to construct should fail of its effect? What fitter place can there be for a republic than America, where liberty is so well understood and the rights of human nature so clearly defined? Let the republican system " have fair play" in this part of the globe, and it will be seen that men can live together on a plan of equality, and govern themselves without foreign connections or domestic usurpation. All this is very pretty in speculation; and, if you will lay your foundation as deep as Lycurgtis, you may stand a chance to see as fair and lasting a superstructure. Are all men by nature equally free and independent? Let them remain so, or let means be found out to prevent them from rising one above the other. Let there be an agrarian law and an equal division of property; let there be an end to all foreign commerce and navigation; let every ounce of silver and gold be sent back to the mines, and let there be a grand coinage of iron, every twenty shillings to weigh a ton; let the inhabitants of every city, town, and district on this continent breakfast, dine, and sup together daily on black broth, at one table; let the produce of every man's labour be brought into a common stock; in short, let individuals be poor and the State rich, and then set off in your republican career: but, if you attempt it on any other plan, you may be sure it will come to nothing. "Equality is the soul of a republic." Where, then, is our soul? Do not our principles (I mean our practical principles) all tend to inequality? And can it be said that the State is rich, though individuals are poor? Where is the man whose promissory note is not preferable to a State security? Where shall we look for an equal division of property? Not in the five southern States, where every white man is the lordly tyrant of an hundred slaves. Not in the great trading towns and cities, where cash in funds yields 13 or 16 per cent, and in trade much more. The yeomanry of New England are, in point of equality, the fittest materials for a republic; but they want another grand prerequisite, public virtue. They are as mean and selfish as any other people, and have as strong a lurch for territory as merchants have for cash. From such premises is it any forced conclusion that the people of this country are not destined to be long governed in a democratic form?
But all men are by nature equally free and independent, and therefore there should be no power but what is derived from the people and exercised by their consent and for their benefit. Granted. It is a good principle, and ought to stand at the head of every constitution of government and every code of laws in the world. It