950. Solon
Independent Chronicle, 30 October 17881

Mess’rs. ADAMS and NOURSE, Some writers on the subject of the Federal Constitution, write with a candour peculiar to themselves; every man or number of men, who advance sentiments of the propriety, necessity or utility of any amendments in the Constitution, are held up as “antifederalists,” or “time serving politicians,” “sticklers for alterations,” “alteration mongers,” “shameless seekers of posts and pensions,” and the like, who want to “divide”—“perplex,” and “harrass the people,” and are “anticipating the destruction of the essence and spirit of the adopted Constitution”:—But such a mode of reasoning with candid and impartial men, is seldom convincing. A free and enlightned people are capable of distinguishing between right and wrong. If the federal Constitution is a system of government, ballanced, and sufficiently checked, by those principles which reason and common sense dictate, and approve, and experience hath taught and confirmed, any attempt needlessly to alarm, perplex or harrass the people will undoubtedly be treated by them with that inattention and contempt which they deserve;—But if on the other hand, it appears, that with all the excellencies of the new Constitution, it is essential to the security and permanence of the rights and liberties of the people, that in some particulars, a more explicit definition and express limitation of power be made,—the men who advance, and hold up to the people, the propriety and necessity of such measures, will justly merit, not the character of antifederalists, or time serving politicians, but that of true federalists and true patriots.

The respectable Convention of this State, have stated nine propositions—these speak for themselves; will any man say, there were no grounds for, or weight in them, or that it is a matter of indifference, whether there are any such checks or declarations adopted into the federal Constitution or not? Several other States have likewise proposed amendments, not of a local but general nature: Is no respect or attention due to these? Hath not every man, and every body of men, in a free country, a right to express their sentiments, with decency and candour, touching public measures; and those objects in which both they and their posterity are deeply interested, to be heard, and attended to, as far as the merits of their observations have weight, and not to be stigmatized? It is measures, and not men, that are to be scaned, (truth is truth from whomsoever it comes) and these will ever stand or fall, as they have their basis on truth and reason, or not—unless supported by arbitrary power.—This people, are not only remarkable for their good sense and discernment, but they live in a peculiar age—and without recurence to ancient story, within the compass of a score of years, have seen and heard sufficiently, to caution them, carefully to define those powers, which they delegate to others.

Great-Britain, who stiled herself the mother country, of these now sovereign States, not long since her colonies, claimed the exercise of those powers over them in all cases whatsoever, to which this enlightned people would not submit; and an everlasting seperation has taken place.

A Prince and a virtuous people, a Republic too, we have seen, not long since, disputing of prerogative, and of rights—a horrid civil war commenced—a foreign force commanded silence. If powers delegated, and rights retained, had been definite, probably this dispute had not happened.

In a nation with whom these States have not only a near connection, but for whom they also possess a warm affection, and between a Prince the most amiable and paternal, and a people the most filial and obedient, are matters at this moment in a most disagreeable situation—the one claiming, what the other suppose ought not to be conceded; what the event will be, time must discover,—Heaven grant that the love of the Prince for his people, to whom he has remarkably shewn himself in time past, the father; and the love of the people for their Prince, who has been their pride and their boast, may cement, and forever unite their affections, in those measures which tend to the prosperity and happiness of the nation.

But these things show, as was my intention in the mention of them, that powers delegated, ought never to be indefinite, or ambiguous, but clearly defined, and well understood; as it will not only prevent unhappy disputes, but as it heretofore might, so it hereafter may, prevent bloodshed, and the loss of liberty. A celebrated writer has told us, that “in every society there is an effort constantly tending to confer on one part the height of power, and to reduce the other to the extreme of weakness and misery.” And another has observed, “Is it not strange, though true, to say that virtue itself has need of limits.”—Ought then, a wise and free people carefully to guard that which of all human enjoyments, is the most invaluable—or, in any essential point, grant it unlimited and at discretion? Let common sense and reason, in the breasts of those who determine, and who have virtue to be free, decide.

1. Reprinted: Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer, 4 December.