945. Alfred II
Massachusetts Spy, 16 October 17881

Mr. THOMAS, Before I go into the question, whether amendments are necessary to the Constitution of the United States, I will beg pardon of the publick, while I consider the general effect which it must have upon the government of them in its present form. Perhaps the open avowal of an opinion in this case, will be singular, and the positions submitted to the publick, will be contested by those who are convinced of their truth, but who wish to have the constitution remain as it is, let the consequent evils of it be as great as they may; and by those also, who have been exhibiting in the most prodigal manner, their learning and elocution on a subject, which they have affected to comprehend, whilst they have been total strangers to the true construction of many parts of it.

The clamour of the day seems exceedingly against amendments, and the papers teem with scurrility against all advocates for the measure. But it is to be observed, that where the press is free, a few interested and virulent scribblers may keep up the appearance of a general fire, and sound a perpetual noise of threatening and abuse, while the body of the people wait only for a cool and dispassionate inquiry, after which, in spite of such contemptible partizans, they will pursue such measures as will insure their own political happiness.

By the seventh section of the constitution, Congress have the power “to make all laws, which shall be necessary and proper, for carrying into execution the powers vested by this constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.” The general powers vested, are contained in the same section; I shall mention only those which are of a general nature, and affect the whole system of government with a force exerting itself upon the first principles of it.

“The Congress shall have power to lay, and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay debts, provide for the general defence, &c.” The matter of appropriation of money, when a subordinate derives a controlable authority from a supreme power to raise it for particular purposes, is to be sacredly adhered to; but when a supreme legislature has that authority constitutionally, for the purposes of the general defence, and support of government, it amounts to a discretionary, undefined, and unlimited authority.

By the constitution, Congress have power to constitute superiour and inferiour tribunals, with ministerial officers to carry their laws into execution.—These authorities, together with that of raising money, will in a very short space of time, bring the United States into one consolidated government. That this is necessary, fit and right, I have, I think, clearly shewn by the examples which I produced from history, in a former paper. Nothing but this will prevent those bloody contests which would arise from the address of ambitious and turbulent men in separate sovereign powers. This idea alone, will furnish a necessity for the measure, even if a new constitution was necessary to the purpose. The money, and force of the union, are completely in the hands of the general government—the salaries of officers will be ample and honourable there; while those of the separate States will be mean and penurious—the officers under the United States will be honourable, while those of the small governments will, by strangers, be considered as holding no rank. This will throw the weight of the men of fortune and ability, into the general government.

That Congress will have the control of the publick wealth, is evinced from this consideration, that they are vested with power to lay taxes, duties, &c. There can never be two separate, independent powers, exercising legislative authority over the same subject, or the same property, at the same time.—Legislative power over a subject, implies obedience, and allegiance, either local, or transitory, in the subject; but if laws are made by Congress for a poll tax upon a citizen, and another law made by a particular State for that purpose, at the same time, which of them shall be obeyed? It may be answered, that both shall find obedience. But this will by no means do; for in such case, any State in the Union, by laying a tax beyond the ability of the subject, may defeat the revenue of the general government. This operates still more forcibly upon the objects of imposts and duties. Should Congress lay a shilling upon a gallon of wine, a State may lay ten; and thus the revenue be prevented—But suppose the officers of the general government, and those of a particular State, shall make distress upon the same property for taxation, or a seizure upon the same article for breach of the laws of trade, who shall have the possession, or to whom shall the forfeiture accrue? The truth is, that ideas of this kind are total strangers to all systems of police, and there can be no such government in existence as would arise from such an heterogeneous mixture of principles. There can be but one supreme power, and that power must treat all others as subordinate. The particular States have therefore, no right of taxation, duties, imposts, or excises, remaining in them, excepting what may be exercised by the tacit or promulgated consent of the general government. I may be called an enemy to the union, an antifederalist, for thus openly avowing my sentiments;—but be that as it may, the question to be discussed, is not what I am, but whether the position is true. This idea at once brings us where Dr. Price, and other friends in Europe wish to see us, to the form of one great nation, one great sovereign power, uniting and exerting all our force, in our common defence, and for our general welfare, under the direction of one head; above the intrigues of foreign courts, and beyond the reach of ambitious and disappointed men, who would otherwise cause one State to war against another, until all should fly to the arms of tyranny for defence and safety.

Thus united as one nation, no less by one common military force than by one common revenue, and one supreme legislature, this union is still secured by one common supreme, and divers subordinate judicial courts, deriving their authority from one and the same source. Congress are to appoint a supreme judicial to decide upon all matters which are within the legislative power of the general government; but no power is, or indeed, in the nature of things can be, appointed to describe the line of jurisdiction between the tribunals of the several States, and that of the general government. It may be answered, that the constitution draws the line, and this answer may amuse those who do not examine the question.—A constitution is a law intended to govern the rulers of a nation; but all laws are mere dead letters, and inoperative principles, until the ministers of law and government carry them into execution—and should there arise contention between the two separate, independent tribunals, respecting their jurisdictions, which of them must yield? It is very clear, that the court of the general government must be supported, unless their attempt should be so daring as to be likely to cause such convulsions in the publick mind, and such insurrections in the nation as the general government cannot quell—in which case it will become necessary to recede, in order to manage the matter under a better cover, and with more address. But what a charge this is against the men chosen by the people, by frequent elections, and against the people themselves, who would suffer such encroachments!—It is no charge at all—I have laid it down as proved, in my own understanding at least, that the people have established a consolidated government over the whole union, and that nothing is now left but to bring it into exercise—this requires some address, but the principles adopted will presently effect it. Who is there that will, while Congress is chosen by the people, contend for two sets of tribunals, two sets of attendant officers, sheriffs, marshals, &c. &c. two gaols and keepers, a double set of taxgatherers, impost and excise officers, or two independent courts of admiralty?—Or who will risque his character (that has one) in attempting to prove, that while Congress have the exclusive regulation of commerce, any particular State can lay imposts or excises by their own authority?

The words federalism, and antifederalism, have been dealt out to the people, like Huzza, and bear 'em down, to a mob; when in fact they have no meaning or place in the controversy—the word federal may be annexed to an assembly, a connexion, a meeting &c. but a federal government is confusion in idea, and a solecism in language. The word federal implies a league, compact, or covenant of equal powers; but government carries the idea of sovereignty, and subordination, of command, and obedience. The system compiled by the convention, is, as they call it, “the Constitution of the United States of America.” The only instance of attempting to place a sovereignty within a sovereignty, in the history of nations, is the contemptible system of confederation, made in America, in the year 1776. This exhibited a sovereign power over thirteen sovereign powers, having a right to borrow, and not to pay, to make wars, and not support them, to make peace, and not be able to fulfil treaties for that purpose; to make laws, but not to execute them, to raise armies without power to feed, or pay them. We have now a Constitution for the United States of America. The word State, meant either a territory under the control of a particular power, the people inhabiting that territory, or the form of exerting the government within it—if by a constitution for the United States is meant the former, then it is a government for all the people, and the sovereign power is lodged in it—if it be meant a government over the form of governmental exertion in the several states, then these governments are subordinate—if the third is meant, then the effect is the same as in the first.

Finding ourselves thus one nation, united by one government, having only one sovereignty, the question will be, whether the constitution needs amendments in order to secure the rights, and liberties of the people?

It is frequently said, that the people cannot be enslaved, or deprived of their liberties—and that therefore it is not material what constitution they have, but the same reasoning would prove, that none at all is necessary, if it proves any thing. He is now called by some, an enemy to his country, who would attempt amendments, and we are told that the propositions for that purpose in the convention, were only conciliatory, and the constitution being adopted, there can be no need of them. And did a Hancock introduce the propositions, did Adams support them, did the leaders in convention advocate, and agree to them, in order to obtain a vote—in order to beguile the majority into what they would not have done, unless they had been thus deceived?

America has not yet made such strides in political vice and deception, as to be contented with such chicanery and cunning, and the people can have no reason to conclude, from the base insinuations of a few individuals, that after his Excellency our Governour, and many other patriots, have sacredly pledged themselves to attempt amendments, that they will now basely desert the people, and avow an unexampled piece of chicanery, that would disgrace the character of a Nero, or a Caligula. Indeed the man who has consented to the adoption of the constitution, upon the propositions introduced in the several conventions, and will now oppose a revision of those propositions in Congress, or vote for a member who would oppose an investigator into the necessity of them, ought to be branded with the odious epithet of a betrayer of his country’s freedom—and never can be trusted by the people.

I shall trouble the publick with one paper more, in which I shall consider the necessity of particular amendments.

1. Reprinted: Herald of Freedom, 20 October (partial); Massachusetts Gazette, 21 October; Independent Chronicle, 23 October; Hampshire Gazette, 30 October; Providence United States Chronicle, 30 October and 20 November; Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer, 19 November; Cumberland Gazette, 20 November.