943. Alfred I
Massachusetts Spy, 2 October 17881

On the New Federal Government.

Mr. THOMAS, The time, and place, for the meeting of Congress under the federal Constitution, are at length established.

It is not of so much importance to the publick, who shall appear as senators, and representatives, as what measures that august assembly shall adopt when they meet in their first session: At that session, our national concerns will receive a deep impression, and our tender political frame, like that of a young animal, will then, either have those careful, and prudent touches, which will give uniformity and perfection to all its limbs, and features; or attach disproportion to its members, and distortion to its countenance.

The obstinate virulence of party scribblers, the abusive declamation of candidates for places and pensions, and the mistaken zeal of those, who, without enquiry, conceive every thing to be stampt with perfection, which has the approbation of certain great characters, seem to be an obstacle to all free and judicious enquiry, in matters of the highest moment to the people and to posterity. But the real friend to his country, the man who loves her freedom, and delights in her happiness, will still pursue the great object of his attention, and, regardless of the illiberal shafts of party rage, or the unprovoked arrows of mistaken zealots, will still point his countrymen to the path of publick security.

That a federal Constitution has long been necessary to the safety of the Union, is well agreed, on all hands. That the present is a very good one, and that it reflects great honour upon the Convention which compiled it, will be acknowledged by all who regard their own reputation. But the idea, that it is a good Constitution, and is without blemishes, because a Franklin and Washington, with other great men, composed the Convention, is too contemptible for the American state of information. We examine into the nature and tendency of systems, before we decide upon them. The education of our country is too liberal to suffer us to be fascinated with the charm of names. We view each proposition with a philosophick eye, and the body of our people, though incapable of exposing their sentiments, in an elegant and pleasing language, decide at all times, where they have opportunity to deliberate, with wisdom and ability.

I will lay before the publick a few sentiments, upon the necessity of a federal Government, upon the origin of the one now established, and on the propriety of attempting amendments.

No people yet known in history have appeared on the great theatre of human affairs, with such illustrious magnanimity as those of the United States of America. The ancient states of Greece, with much learning, and many sage maxims, were only taught to obtain government by the sword, to support it by the bloody hand of publick severity, or the hidden point of dark assassination. The Romans conquered a world to make it miserable, while a faint glimpse of free urbanity answered no other purpose than to destroy millions. In the northern parts of Europe the feudal system established in the dark unlettered ages, when the people there, were, in point of understanding, at but a small remove from the savages of America, is now supporting by standing armies in cruel and despotick governments. The kingdom of France, divided into many provinces by its conquerors, in the fourth century, has yet, as many independent parliaments; and by consequent divisions and animosities, each, in its turn, has become the dupe of a sovereign, and been employed in rivetting its own shackles, while it aided in forging manacles for another. The southern part of the island of Greatbritain, was four hundred years engaged in bloody wars, in order to unite seven kingdoms in one; while each in its turn became the dupe and conquest of foreign auxiliaries, called in an hour of desperation to its support. The northern and southern parts of that Realm, were not united in one government until about seventy years ago; and Ireland has yet its own parliament, owning a foreign sovereign, but guided by such acts of parliament as a foreign king will consent to.

The wars, devastations, and bloody controversies of those nations, cannot fail to teach wisdom and prudence to a people, whose opportunities and various abilities are so extensive as ours; and therefore the great body of the people agree to a general government. It requires no greater share of sagacity than the world gives us credit for, to foresee, that thirteen, or more different states, possessing separate sovereignty and independence, will very soon, as their numbers multiply, and their opulence encreases, engage in civil broils, and distressing contentions. The advice of Congress can never operate uniformly for the equal interest of each state. Men of ambition will find their way to influence and office; while disappointment will stimulate to revenge, and the people, before they have time to deliberate, may engage in scenes, which, however destructive, and disagreeable, they cannot easily recede from.

Government is the neverfailing companion of private rights and separate property. It gives birth to the former, and value to the latter. Every system therefore, which has not the security of these for its object, so far as it gains exertion, is so far a tyranny. And though men of sober principles and enlightened minds, may, for a temporary benefit to themselves, as in the late Tender Act, and some other instances, agree to measures subversive of this great end, yet, when their private pursuit is answered, and their particular interest is no longer in the way of their reason, they at once condemn in others what they have done themselves:—And it being finally for the interest of all to have a government, the weight of the whole community is pressed that way, and bears down all opposition. But still this government takes its features from the publick opinion. Where the people feel free, the government will be so; and where the people have no ideas of civil liberty, the government of course is a tyranny. A free government is the highest mark of human refinement.

When the late insurrection began in this state, which seemed to possess more energy and firmness than any one in the Union;—when many of the laws enacted about that time, were basely contrived to confound the consequences of industry and idleness—to give virtue and vice the same rank in the community—to bring the honest, industrious creditor, upon the same grade with the idle spendthrift—men, who realized the blessings of property and character, became alarmed for the publick and private safety. A people less enlightened than the Americans, might have thrown themselves into the hands of a domestick tyrant, or a foreign despot, for protection. But instead of this, a Convention is called, who, as conscious of their own integrity, as of the wisdom and prudence of the people, compiled a form of government, which astonishes the political schools of Europe, and which, with a few amendments, will bestow peace and political security to the many millions for whose felicity the states have adopted it.

Having thus in general terms spoken of the necessity of a federal government, and of those principles and measures which induced the establishment of the present, I shall in my next proceed to consider whether amendments are necessary, and how they may be effected.

1. Reprinted: Massachusetts Gazette, 7 October; Independent Chronicle, 9 October; Cumberland Gazette, 6 November.