2. Cornelius
Independent Chronicle, 28 June 1787

A word to the WISE at a critical HOUR.

Such is the frailty of human nature, and such are the restless dispositions of men, that, in opposition to that excellent maxim, in medio tutissimeibis, they are, and ever have been, exceedingly prone to run from one extreme to another. Hence it is, that excessive liberty, and despotic government, have generally been found at no great distance from each other. Men who have felt the inconveniencies attending the most free and popular governments; to remedy those inconveniencies, have often rashly divested themselves, or tamely suffered themselves to be divested, of every degree of freedom and independence, and precipitantly plunged themselves into the most abject state of slavery.

The articles of Confederation, between the United States, were formed at a time, and under circumstances, which had a natural tendency to fix the whole attention of the compilers and enactors of those articles, on providing for the greatest security of the highest possible degrees of liberty to the citizen; and at the same time, for preventing every possible instance of opposition and the abuse of power in the ruler. This was a time, when, by the furnace of oppression, the minds of men were warmed, and even heated to a degree of inflamation. Under circumstances like these, it must have been miraculous, if we had not run to some small degrees of excess in favour of our natural liberty. And this, experience hath since taught us, we in fact did. So little attention was paid to rendering energetic that government which we then adopted, that, in its operation, it is found to be inefficient.

Delegates have been appointed to meet in Convention, for the purpose of revising the articles of Confederation. Their report to the Legislatures of their respective States, may soon be expected. From the characters of the gentlemen appointed to this important trust, there is reason to believe, the result of their deliberations will be wise, solemn and well-digested. The greatest of men, however, are imperfect. Omnes non possuntomnia. The most wise and impartial are, more or less, subject to like passions with their brethren of lower rank.

The public mind is now in a state of unusual irritation. Few can reason and judge of federal principles and measures, with that degree of candor, prudence and circumspection, which they might do in more tranquil times. We are now suffering the inconveniencies arising from a government wanting energy. And we are, perhaps, in that period of suffering, in which we may be most exposed to form rash determinations, and hastily to adopt such violent remedies as may, in their operation, prove more pernicious, than the disease itself. This may be the critical moment, when, from the full possession of too high degrees of natural liberty, we are in particular danger of flying to the opposite extreme, and plunging headlong into the dreadful abyss of despotic government.

Every man of but little observation, and no more than a tolerable degree of mental discernment, will readily admit, that the federal government needs to be amended, and that something ought to be done to render it more efficient. At the same time, it ought to be considered, that great innovations, and sudden alterations in the fundamental principles, may prove no less fatal than a dissolution of the government.

Whatever alterations in the articles of the Confederation, may be recommended to the Legislatures of the several States, they ought to, as they most certainly will, be considered by the Representative Body of the people, with great cautiousness and deliberation. The subject is important, delicate and extensive; involving the joint, the particular and the opposite interests of all the States, as well as those of the various denominations and classes of men in each particular State. A rash and hasty step may greatly injure some particular States; or, possibly, involve the whole in scenes of woe, too dreadful to be described. Nicely to adjust, and effectually to secure those rights and liberties of the people, on the one hand, which ought never to [be] alienated; and that energy of government, on the other, which is necessary to the securing of those rights, is a work equal to the greatest effort of the most discerning mind, after the most dispassionate and mature deliberation. It is possible for a government of the monarchial or despotick kind, to be firm, while the people are oppressed: But civil liberty can never be secured under any government whatever, where that government is inefficient.

The relative interests and abilities of the several States ought accurately to be compared and clearly understood, before any principles are established, that may affect those interests. It ought to be known wherein they coincide, and wherein they militate with each other. Without this, no equal rule of apportioning the public expences can (unless by mere chance) be established. And a federal and free government that has an unequal operation, we may be assured, can never be rendered either permanent or happy.

The levying of taxes and apportioning the same on the several States, is one of the most difficult things, attending our federal government. To establish any particular rule for this purpose, not to be altered, unless by the unanimous consent of all the States, (if it can be avoided) appears to me to be, at present, clearly, uneligible. We have very few men, if any, who are sufficiently acquainted with the relative value of the several States—their respective advantages and disadvantages, to render them competent judges of what would be at present, and would continue to be in future, an equitable rule of apportionment. And certainly, no such particular rule ought to be thus established, until there is the clearest evidence that can be obtained of its equitability. Were I assured that it was neither premature, nor too late, to propose to the consideration of the public, an alteration in the 8th article of the confederation; I would venture to propose (if any alteration in that article is to take place) it should be, for the present; That all charges of war, and all other expences that shall be incurred for the common defence or general welfare, and allowed by the United States in Congress assembled, shall be defrayed out of a common Treasury, which shall be supplied by the several States, in such equitable proportions, and by such just rules of apportionment, as two thirds, at least, of the said States in Congress assembled, shall, from time to time, order and direct. We may presume with as great certainty, perhaps, as we can presume any thing in human affairs, that two thirds of the States in Congress assembled, will never adopt any measure of this kind that shall be apparently unjust and oppressive on any particular State. And we may, I conceive, further presume, with equal certainty, that necessity will compel so large a proportion of the said States, thus assembled, from time to time, to agree upon, and adopt, such effectual measures for the aforesaid purposes, as are not apparently unjust & oppressive. A method something like that which is here suggested of apportioning the public expences for the present, appears to me to be more safe than it would be, immediately to establish any particular rule, to be perpetual. I am sensible, however, that this is a matter which does not belong to any one State to determine, without the concurrence of the other States.

As the federal government is the government of the people of the United States, and was instituted by them: It is humbly submitted to the consideration of the Legislature, whether, in order, as well to prepare the minds of the citizens for any material alterations in that government, as also, to give opportunity for more mature deliberation, it may not be expedient, in some way or other, to lay before the people such recommendations as may be made by the federal Convention, previous to their being finally acted upon by the General Court. Of the propriety of such a procedure, that Hon. Body, must be the most competent judges. To their wise determination, it is, with the greatest defference, humbly submitted by CORNELIUS.