Certain General and Miscellaneous Objections
to the Constitution Considered and Answered
From McLEAN's Edition, New York.
Wednesday, May 28, 1788
To the People of the State of New York:
IN THE course of the foregoing review of the Constitution, I have
taken notice of, and endeavored to answer most of the objections which have appeared against it. There, however, remain a
few which either did not fall naturally under any particular head or were forgotten in their proper places. These shall now
be discussed; but as the subject has been drawn into great length, I shall so far consult brevity as to comprise all my observations
on these miscellaneous points in a single paper.
The most considerable of the remaining objections is that the
plan of the convention contains no bill of rights. Among other answers given to this, it has been upon different occasions
remarked that the constitutions of several of the States are in a similar predicament. I add that New York is of the number.
And yet the opposers of the new system, in this State, who profess an unlimited admiration for its constitution, are among
the most intemperate partisans of a bill of rights. To justify their zeal in this matter, they allege two things: one is that,
though the constitution of New York has no bill of rights prefixed to it, yet it contains, in the body of it, various provisions
in favor of particular privileges and rights, which, in substance amount to the same thing; the other is, that the Constitution
adopts, in their full extent, the common and statute law of Great Britain, by which many other rights, not expressed in it,
are equally secured.
To the first I answer, that the Constitution proposed by the convention
contains, as well as the constitution of this State, a number of such provisions.
Independent of those which relate to the structure of the government,
we find the following: Article 1, section 3, clause 7 -- "Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to
removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States;
but the party convicted shall, nevertheless, be liable and subject to indictment, trial, judgment, and punishment according
to law." Section 9, of the same article, clause 2 -- "The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless
when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it." Clause 3 -- "No bill of attainder or ex-post-facto
law shall be passed." Clause 7 -- "No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States; and no person holding any office
of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title
of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state." Article 3, section 2, clause 3 -- "The trial of all crimes,
except in cases of impeachment, shall be by jury; and such trial shall be held in the State where the said crimes shall have
been committed; but when not committed within any State, the trial shall be at such place or places as the Congress may by
law have directed." Section 3, of the same article -- "Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war
against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason, unless
on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court." And clause 3, of the same section
-- "The Congress shall have power to declare the punishment of treason; but no attainder of treason shall work corruption
of blood, or forfeiture, except during the life of the person attainted."
It may well be a question, whether these are not, upon the whole,
of equal importance with any which are to be found in the constitution of this State. The establishment of the writ of habeas
corpus, the prohibition of ex post facto laws, and of TITLES OF NOBILITY, to which we have no corresponding provision in our
Constitution, are perhaps greater securities to liberty and republicanism than any it contains. The creation of crimes after
the commission of the fact, or, in other words, the subjecting of men to punishment for things which, when they were done,
were breaches of no law, and the practice of arbitrary imprisonments, have been, in all ages, the favorite and most formidable
instruments of tyranny. The observations of the judicious Blackstone, in reference to the latter, are well worthy of recital:
"To bereave a man of life, [says he] or by violence to confiscate his estate, without accusation or trial, would be so gross
and notorious an act of despotism, as must at once convey the alarm of tyranny throughout the whole nation; but confinement
of the person, by secretly hurrying him to jail, where his sufferings are unknown or forgotten, is a less public, a less striking,
and therefore a more dangerous engine of arbitrary government." And as a remedy for this fatal evil he is everywhere peculiarly
emphatical in his encomiums on the habeas corpus act, which in one place he calls "the BULWARK of the British Constitution."
Nothing need be said to illustrate the importance of the prohibition
of titles of nobility. This may truly be denominated the corner-stone of republican government; for so long as they are excluded,
there can never be serious danger that the government will be any other than that of the people.
To the second that is, to the pretended establishment of the common
and state law by the Constitution, I answer, that they are expressly made subject "to such alterations and provisions as the
legislature shall from time to time make concerning the same." They are therefore at any moment liable to repeal by the ordinary
legislative power, and of course have no constitutional sanction. The only use of the declaration was to recognize the ancient
law and to remove doubts which might have been occasioned by the Revolution. This consequently can be considered as no part
of a declaration of rights, which under our constitutions must be intended as limitations of the power of the government itself.
It has been several times truly remarked that bills of rights
are, in their origin, stipulations between kings and their subjects, abridgements of prerogative in favor of privilege, reservations
of rights not surrendered to the prince. Such was MAGNA CHARTA, obtained by the barons, sword in hand, from King John. Such
were the subsequent confirmations of that charter by succeeding princes. Such was the Petition of Right assented to by Charles
I., in the beginning of his reign. Such, also, was the Declaration of Right presented by the Lords and Commons to the Prince
of Orange in 1688, and afterwards thrown into the form of an act of parliament called the Bill of Rights. It is evident, therefore,
that, according to their primitive signification, they have no application to constitutions professedly founded upon the power
of the people, and executed by their immediate representatives and servants. Here, in strictness, the people surrender nothing;
and as they retain every thing they have no need of particular reservations. "WE, THE PEOPLE of the United States, to secure
the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of
America." Here is a better recognition of popular rights, than volumes of those aphorisms which make the principal figure
in several of our State bills of rights, and which would sound much better in a treatise of ethics than in a constitution
But a minute detail of particular rights is certainly far less
applicable to a Constitution like that under consideration, which is merely intended to regulate the general political interests
of the nation, than to a constitution which has the regulation of every species of personal and private concerns. If, therefore,
the loud clamors against the plan of the convention, on this score, are well founded, no epithets of reprobation will be too
strong for the constitution of this State. But the truth is, that both of them contain all which, in relation to their objects,
is reasonably to be desired.
I go further, and affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and
to the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed Constitution, but would even be dangerous.
They would contain various exceptions to powers not granted; and, on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to
claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? Why, for instance,
should it be said that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may
be imposed? I will not contend that such a provision would confer a regulating power; but it is evident that it would furnish,
to men disposed to usurp, a plausible pretense for claiming that power. They might urge with a semblance of reason, that the
Constitution ought not to be charged with the absurdity of providing against the abuse of an authority which was not given,
and that the provision against restraining the liberty of the press afforded a clear implication, that a power to prescribe
proper regulations concerning it was intended to be vested in the national government. This may serve as a specimen of the
numerous handles which would be given to the doctrine of constructive powers, by the indulgence of an injudicious zeal for
bills of rights.
On the subject of the liberty of the press, as much as has been
said, I cannot forbear adding a remark or two: in the first place, I observe, that there is not a syllable concerning it in
the constitution of this State; in the next, I contend, that whatever has been said about it in that of any other State, amounts
to nothing. What signifies a declaration, that "the liberty of the press shall be inviolably preserved"? What is the liberty
of the press? Who can give it any definition which would not leave the utmost latitude for evasion? I hold it to be impracticable;
and from this I infer, that its security, whatever fine declarations may be inserted in any constitution respecting it, must
altogether depend on public opinion, and on the general spirit of the people and of the government. And here, after all,
as is intimated upon another occasion, must we seek for the only solid basis of all our rights.
There remains but one other view of this matter to conclude the
point. The truth is, after all the declamations we have heard, that the Constitution is itself, in every rational sense, and
to every useful purpose, A BILL OF RIGHTS. The several bills of rights in Great Britain form its Constitution, and conversely
the constitution of each State is its bill of rights. And the proposed Constitution, if adopted, will be the bill of rights
of the Union. Is it one object of a bill of rights to declare and specify the political privileges of the citizens in the
structure and administration of the government? This is done in the most ample and precise manner in the plan of the convention;
comprehending various precautions for the public security, which are not to be found in any of the State constitutions. Is
another object of a bill of rights to define certain immunities and modes of proceeding, which are relative to personal and
private concerns? This we have seen has also been attended to, in a variety of cases, in the same plan. Adverting therefore
to the substantial meaning of a bill of rights, it is absurd to allege that it is not to be found in the work of the convention.
It may be said that it does not go far enough, though it will not be easy to make this appear; but it can with no propriety
be contended that there is no such thing. It certainly must be immaterial what mode is observed as to the order of declaring
the rights of the citizens, if they are to be found in any part of the instrument which establishes the government. And hence
it must be apparent, that much of what has been said on this subject rests merely on verbal and nominal distinctions, entirely
foreign from the substance of the thing.
Another objection which has been made, and which, from the frequency
of its repetition, it is to be presumed is relied on, is of this nature: "It is improper [say the objectors] to confer such
large powers, as are proposed, upon the national government, because the seat of that government must of necessity be too
remote from many of the States to admit of a proper knowledge on the part of the constituent, of the conduct of the representative
body." This argument, if it proves any thing, proves that there ought to be no general government whatever. For the powers
which, it seems to be agreed on all hands, ought to be vested in the Union, cannot be safely intrusted to a body which is
not under every requisite control. But there are satisfactory reasons to show that the objection is in reality not well founded.
There is in most of the arguments which relate to distance a palpable illusion of the imagination. What are the sources of
information by which the people in Montgomery County must regulate their judgment of the conduct of their representatives
in the State legislature? Of personal observation they can have no benefit. This is confined to the citizens on the spot.
They must therefore depend on the information of intelligent men, in whom they confide; and how must these men obtain their
information? Evidently from the complexion of public measures, from the public prints, from correspondences with theirrepresentatives,
and with other persons who reside at the place of their deliberations. This does not apply to Montgomery County only, but
to all the counties at any considerable distance from the seat of government.
It is equally evident that the same sources of information would
be open to the people in relation to the conduct of their representatives in the general government, and the impediments to
a prompt communication which distance may be supposed to create, will be overbalanced by the effects of the vigilance of the
State governments. The executive and legislative bodies of each State will be so many sentinels over the persons employed
in every department of the national administration; and as it will be in their power to adopt and pursue a regular and effectual
system of intelligence, they can never be at a loss to know the behavior of those who represent their constituents in the
national councils, and can readily communicate the same knowledge to the people. Their disposition to apprise the community
of whatever may prejudice its interests from another quarter, may be relied upon, if it were only from the rivalship of power.
And we may conclude with the fullest assurance that the people, through that channel, will be better informed of the conduct
of their national representatives, than they can be by any means they now possess of that of their State representatives.
It ought also to be remembered that the citizens who inhabit the
country at and near the seat of government will, in all questions that affect the general liberty and prosperity, have the
same interest with those who are at a distance, and that they will stand ready to sound the alarm when necessary, and to point
out the actors in any pernicious project. The public papers will be expeditious messengers of intelligence to the most remote
inhabitants of the Union.
Among the many curious objections which have appeared against
the proposed Constitution, the most extraordinary and the least colorable is derived from the want of some provision respecting
the debts due to the United States. This has been represented as a tacit relinquishment of those debts, and as a wicked contrivance
to screen public defaulters. The newspapers have teemed with the most inflammatory railings on this head; yet there is nothing
clearer than that the suggestion is entirely void of foundation, the offspring of extreme ignorance or extreme dishonesty.
In addition to the remarks I have made upon the subject in another place, I shall only observe that as it is a plain dictate
of common-sense, so it is also an established doctrine of political law, that "States neither lose any of their rights, nor
are discharged from any of their obligations, by a change in the form of their civil government."
The last objection of any consequence, which I at present recollect,
turns upon the article of expense. If it were even true, that the adoption of the proposed government would occasion a considerable
increase of expense, it would be an objection that ought to have no weight against the plan.
The great bulk of the citizens of America are with reason convinced,
that Union is the basis of their political happiness. Men of sense of all parties now, with few exceptions, agree that it
cannot be preserved under the present system, nor without radical alterations; that new and extensive powers ought to be granted
to the national head, and that these require a different organization of the federal government -- a single body being an
unsafe depositary of such ample authorities. In conceding all this, the question of expense must be given up; for it is impossible,
with any degree of safety, to narrow the foundation upon which the system is to stand. The two branches of the legislature
are, in the first instance, to consist of only sixty-five persons, which is the same number of which Congress, under the existing
Confederation, may be composed. It is true that this number is intended to be increased; but this is to keep pace with the
progress of the population and resources of the country. It is evident that a less number would, even in the first instance,
have been unsafe, and that a continuance of the present number would, in a more advanced stage of population, be a very inadequate
representation of the people.
Whence is the dreaded augmentation of expense to spring? One source
indicated, is the multiplication of offices under the new government. Let us examine this a little.
It is evident that the principal departments of the administration
under the present government, are the same which will be required under the new. There are now a Secretary of War, a Secretary
of Foreign Affairs, a Secretary for Domestic Affairs, a Board of Treasury, consisting of three persons, a Treasurer, assistants,
clerks, etc. These officers are indispensable under any system, and will suffice under the new as well as the old. As to ambassadors
and other ministers and agents in foreign countries, the proposed Constitution can make no other difference than to render
their characters, where they reside, more respectable, and their services more useful. As to persons to be employed in the
collection of the revenues, it is unquestionably true that these will form a very considerable addition to the number of federal
officers; but it will not follow that this will occasion an increase of public expense. It will be in most cases nothing more
than an exchange of State for national officers. In the collection of all duties, for instance, the persons employed will
be wholly of the latter description. The States individually will stand in no need of any for this purpose. What difference
can it make in point of expense to pay officers of the customs appointed by the State or by the United States? There is no
good reason to suppose that either the number or the salaries of the latter will be greater than those of the former.
Where then are we to seek for those additional articles of expense
which are to swell the account to the enormous size that has been represented to us? The chief item which occurs to me respects
the support of the judges of the United States. I do not add the President, because there is now a president of Congress,
whose expenses may not be far, if any thing, short of those which will be incurred on account of the President of the United
States. The support of the judges will clearly be an extra expense, but to what extent will depend on the particular plan
which may be adopted in regard to this matter. But upon no reasonable plan can it amount to a sum which will be an object
of material consequence.
Let us now see what there is to counterbalance any extra expense
that may attend the establishment of the proposed government. The first thing which presents itself is that a great part of
the business which now keeps Congress sitting through the year will be transacted by the President. Even the management of
foreign negotiations will naturally devolve upon him, according to general principles concerted with the Senate, and subject
to their final concurrence. Hence it is evident that a portion of the year will suffice for the session of both the Senate
and the House of Representatives; we may suppose about a fourth for the latter and a third, or perhaps half, for the former.
The extra business of treaties and appointments may give this extra occupation to the Senate. From this circumstance we may
infer that, until the House of Representatives shall be increased greatly beyond its present number, there will be a considerable
saving of expense from the difference between the constant session of the present and the temporary session of the future
But there is another circumstance of great importance in the view
of economy. The business of the United States has hitherto occupied the State legislatures, as well as Congress. The latter
has made requisitions which the former have had to provide for. Hence it has happened that the sessions of the State legislatures
have been protracted greatly beyond what was necessary for the execution of the mere local business of the States. More than
half their time has been frequently employed in matters which related to the United States. Now the members who compose the
legislatures of the several States amount to two thousand and upwards, which number has hitherto performed what under the
new system will be done in the first instance by sixty-five persons, and probably at no future period by above a fourth or
fifth of that number. The Congress under the proposed government will do all the business of the United States themselves,
without the intervention of the State legislatures, who thenceforth will have only to attend to the affairs of their particular
States, and will not have to sit in any proportion as long as they have heretofore done. This difference in the time of the
sessions of the State legislatures will be clear gain, and will alone form an article of saving, which may be regarded as
an equivalent for any additional objects of expense that may be occasioned by the adoption of the new system.
The result from these observations is that the sources of additional
expense from the establishment of the proposed Constitution are much fewer than may have been imagined; that they are counterbalanced
by considerable objects of saving; and that while it is questionable on which side the scale will preponderate, it is certain
that a government less expensive would be incompetent to the purposes of the Union.
1. Vide Blackstone's Commentaries, Vol. 1, p. 136.
Vol. 4, p. 438.
3. To show that there is a power in the Constitution by which the liberty of the press may be affected,
recourse has been had to the power of taxation. It is said that duties may be laid upon the publications so high as to amount
to a prohibition. I know not by what logic it could be maintained, that the declarations in the State constitutions, in favor
of the freedom of the press, would be a constitutional impediment to the imposition of duties upon publications by the State
legislatures. It cannot certainly be pretended that any degree of duties, however low, would be an abridgment of the liberty
of the press. We know that newspapers are taxed in Great Britain, and yet it is notorious that the press nowhere enjoys greater
liberty than in that country. And if duties of any kind may be laid without a violation of that liberty, it is evident that
the extent must depend on legislative discretion, respecting the liberty of the press, will give it no greater security than
it will have without them. The same invasions of it may be effected under the State constitutions which contain those declarations
through the means of taxation, as under the proposed Constitution, which has nothing of the kind. It would be quite as significant
to declare that government ought to be free, that taxes ought not to be excessive, etc., as that the liberty of the press
ought not to be restrained.
4. Vide Rutherford's Institutes, Vol. 2, Book II, Chapter X, Sections XIV and XV. Vide also
Grotius, Book II, Chapter IX, Sections VIII and IX.
From MCLEAN's Edition,
Wednesday, May 28, 1788
To the People of the State of New York:
ACCORDING to the formal division of the subject of these papers,
announced in my first number, there would appear still to remain for discussion two points: "the analogy of the proposed government
to your own State constitution," and "the additional security which its adoption will afford to republican government, to
liberty, and to property." But these heads have been so fully anticipated and exhausted in the progress of the work, that
it would now scarcely be possible to do any thing more than repeat, in a more dilated form, what has been heretofore said,
which the advanced stage of the question, and the time already spent upon it, conspire to forbid.
It is remarkable, that the resemblance of the plan of the convention
to the act which organizes the government of this State holds, not less with regard to many of the supposed defects, than
to the real excellences of the former. Among the pretended defects are the re-eligibility of the Executive, the want of a
council, the omission of a formal bill of rights, the omission of a provision respecting the liberty of the press. These and
several others which have been noted in the course of our inquiries are as much chargeable on the existing constitution of
this State, as on the one proposed for the Union; and a man must have slender pretensions to consistency, who can rail at
the latter for imperfections which he finds no difficulty in excusing in the former. Nor indeed can there be a better proof
of the insincerity and affectation of some of the zealous adversaries of the plan of the convention among us, who profess
to be the devoted admirers of the government under which they live, than the fury with which they have attacked that plan,
for matters in regard to which our own constitution is equally or perhaps more vulnerable.
The additional securities to republican government, to liberty
and to property, to be derived from the adoption of the plan under consideration, consist chiefly in the restraints which
the preservation of the Union will impose on local factions and insurrections, and on the ambition of powerful individuals
in single States, who may acquire credit and influence enough, from leaders and favorites, to become the despots of the people;
in the diminution of the opportunities to foreign intrigue, which the dissolution of the Confederacy would invite and facilitate;
in the prevention of extensive military establishments, which could not fail to grow out of wars between the States in a disunited
situation; in the express guaranty of a republican form of government to each; in the absolute and universal exclusion of
titles of nobility; and in the precautions against the repetition of those practices on the part of the State governments
which have undermined the foundations of property and credit, have planted mutual distrust in the breasts of all classes of
citizens, and have occasioned an almost universal prostration of morals.
Thus have I, fellow-citizens, executed the task I had assigned
to myself; with what success, your conduct must determine. I trust at least you will admit that I have not failed in the assurance
I gave you respecting the spirit with which my endeavors should be conducted. I have addressed myself purely to your judgments,
and have studiously avoided those asperities which are too apt to disgrace political disputants of all parties, and which
have been not a little provoked by the language and conduct of the opponents of the Constitution. The charge of a conspiracy
against the liberties of the people, which has been indiscriminately brought against the advocates of the plan, has something
in it too wanton and too malignant, not to excite the indignation of every man who feels in his own bosom a refutation of
the calumny. The perpetual changes which have been rung upon the wealthy, the well-born, and the great, have been such as
to inspire the disgust of all sensible men. And the unwarrantable concealments and misrepresentations which have been in various
ways practiced to keep the truth from the public eye, have been of a nature to demand the reprobation of all honest men. It
is not impossible that these circumstances may have occasionally betrayed me into intemperances of expression which I did
not intend; it is certain that I have frequently felt a struggle between sensibility and moderation; and if the former has
in some instances prevailed, it must be my excuse that it has been neither often nor much.
Let us now pause and ask ourselves whether, in the course of these
papers, the proposed Constitution has not been satisfactorily vindicated from the aspersions thrown upon it; and whether it
has not been shown to be worthy of the public approbation, and necessary to the public safety and prosperity. Every man is
bound to answer these questions to himself, according to the best of his conscience and understanding, and to act agreeably
to the genuine and sober dictates of his judgment. This is a duty from which nothing can give him a dispensation. 'T is one
that he is called upon, nay, constrained by all the obligations that form the bands of society, to discharge sincerely and
honestly. No partial motive, no particular interest, no pride of opinion, no temporary passion or prejudice, will justify
to himself, to his country, or to his posterity, an improper election of the part he is to act. Let him beware of an obstinate
adherence to party; let him reflect that the object upon which he is to decide is not a particular interest of the community,
but the very existence of the nation; and let him remember that a majority of America has already given its sanction to the
plan which he is to approve or reject.
I shall not dissemble that I feel an entire confidence in the
arguments which recommend the proposed system to your adoption, and that I am unable to discern any real force in those by
which it has been opposed. I am persuaded that it is the best which our political situation, habits, and opinions will admit,
and superior to any the revolution has produced.
Concessions on the part of the friends of the plan, that it has
not a claim to absolute perfection, have afforded matter of no small triumph to its enemies. "Why," say they, "should we adopt
an imperfect thing? Why not amend it and make it perfect before it is irrevocably established?" This may be plausible enough,
but it is only plausible. In the first place I remark, that the extent of these concessions has been greatly exaggerated.
They have been stated as amounting to an admission that the plan is radically defective, and that without material alterations
the rights and the interests of the community cannot be safely confided to it. This, as far as I have understood the meaning
of those who make the concessions, is an entire perversion of their sense. No advocate of the measure can be found, who will
not declare as his sentiment, that the system, though it may not be perfect in every part, is, upon the whole, a good one;
is the best that the present views and circumstances of the country will permit; and is such an one as promises every species
of security which a reasonable people can desire.
I answer in the next place, that I should esteem it the extreme
of imprudence to prolong the precarious state of our national affairs, and to expose the Union to the jeopardy of successive
experiments, in the chimerical pursuit of a perfect plan. I never expect to see a perfect work from imperfect man. The result
of the deliberations of all collective bodies must necessarily be a compound, as well of the errors and prejudices, as of
the good sense and wisdom, of the individuals of whom they are composed. The compacts which are to embrace thirteen distinct
States in a common bond of amity and union, must as necessarily be a compromise of as many dissimilar interests and inclinations.
How can perfection spring from such materials?
The reasons assigned in an excellent little pamphlet lately published
in this city, are unanswerable to show the utter improbability of assembling a new convention, under circumstances in any
degree so favorable to a happy issue, as those in which the late convention met, deliberated, and concluded. I will not repeat
the arguments there used, as I presume the production itself has had an extensive circulation. It is certainly well worthy
the perusal of every friend to his country. There is, however, one point of light in which the subject of amendments still
remains to be considered, and in which it has not yet been exhibited to public view. I cannot resolve to conclude without
first taking a survey of it in this aspect.
It appears to me susceptible of absolute demonstration, that it
will be far more easy to obtain subsequent than previous amendments to the Constitution. The moment an alteration is made
in the present plan, it becomes, to the purpose of adoption, a new one, and must undergo a new decision of each State. To
its complete establishment throughout the Union, it will therefore require the concurrence of thirteen States. If, on the
contrary, the Constitution proposed should once be ratified by all the States as it stands, alterations in it may at any time
be effected by nine States. Here, then, the chances are as thirteen to nine in favor of subsequent amendment, rather than
of the original adoption of an entire system.
This is not all. Every Constitution for the United States must
inevitably consist of a great variety of particulars, in which thirteen independent States are to be accommodated in their
interests or opinions of interest. We may of course expect to see, in any body of men charged with its original formation,
very different combinations of the parts upon different points. Many of those who form a majority on one question, may become
the minority on a second, and an association dissimilar to either may constitute the majority on a third. Hence the necessity
of moulding and arranging all the particulars which are to compose the whole, in such a manner as to satisfy all the parties
to the compact; and hence, also, an immense multiplication of difficulties and casualties in obtaining the collective assent
to a final act. The degree of that multiplication must evidently be in a ratio to the number of particulars and the number
But every amendment to the Constitution, if once established,
would be a single proposition, and might be brought forward singly. There would then be no necessity for management or compromise,
in relation to any other point -- no giving nor taking. The will of the requisite number would at once bring the matter to
a decisive issue. And consequently, whenever nine, or rather ten States, were united in the desire of a particular amendment,
that amendment must infallibly take place. There can, therefore, be no comparison between the facility of affecting an amendment,
and that of establishing in the first instance a complete Constitution.
In opposition to the probability of subsequent amendments, it
has been urged that the persons delegated to the administration of the national government will always be disinclined to yield
up any portion of the authority of which they were once possessed. For my own part I acknowledge a thorough conviction that
any amendments which may, upon mature consideration, be thought useful, will be applicable to the organization of the government,
not to the mass of its powers; and on this account alone, I think there is no weight in the observation just stated. I also
think there is little weight in it on another account. The intrinsic difficulty of governing THIRTEEN STATES at any rate,
independent of calculations upon an ordinary degree of public spirit and integrity, will, in my opinion constantly impose
on the national rulers the necessity of a spirit of accommodation to the reasonable expectations of their constituents. But
there is yet a further consideration, which proves beyond the possibility of a doubt, that the observation is futile. It is
this that the national rulers, whenever nine States concur, will have no option upon the subject. By the fifth article of
the plan, the Congres will be obliged "on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the States [which at present
amount to nine], to call a convention for proposing amendments, which shall be valid, to all intents and purposes, as part
of the Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the States, or by conventions in three fourths
thereof." The words of this article are peremptory. The Congress "shall call a convention." Nothing in this particular is
left to the discretion of that body. And of consequence, all the declamation about the disinclination to a change vanishes
in air. Nor however difficult it may be supposed to unite two thirds or three fourths of the State legislatures, in amendments
which may affect local interests, can there be any room to apprehend any such difficulty in a union on points which are merely
relative to the general liberty or security of the people. We may safely rely on the disposition of the State legislatures
to erect barriers against the encroachments of the national authority.
If the foregoing argument is a fallacy, certain it is that I am
myself deceived by it, for it is, in my conception, one of those rare instances in which a political truth can be brought
to the test of a mathematical demonstration. Those who see the matter in the same light with me, however zealous they may
be for amendments, must agree in the propriety of a previous adoption, as the most direct road to their own object.
The zeal for attempts to amend, prior to the establishment of
the Constitution, must abate in every man who is ready to accede to the truth of the following observations of a writer equally
solid and ingenious: "To balance a large state or society [says he], whether monarchical or republican, on general laws, is
a work of so great difficulty, that no human genius, however comprehensive, is able, by the mere dint of reason and reflection,
to effect it. The judgments of many must unite in the work; EXPERIENCE must guide their labor; TIME must bring it to perfection,
and the FEELING of inconveniences must correct the mistakes which they inevitably fall into in their first trials and experiments."
These judicious reflections contain a lesson of moderation to all the sincere lovers of the Union, and ought to put them upon
their guard against hazarding anarchy, civil war, a perpetual alienation of the States from each other, and perhaps the military
despotism of a victorious demagogue, in the pursuit of what they are not likely to obtain, but from TIME and EXPERIENCE. It
may be in me a defect of political fortitude, but I acknowledge that I cannot entertain an equal tranquillity with those who
affect to treat the dangers of a longer continuance in our present situation as imaginary. A NATION, without a NATIONAL GOVERNMENT,
is, in my view, an awful spectacle. The establishment of a Constitution, in time of profound peace, by the voluntary ocnsent
of a whole people, is a PRODIGY, to the completion of which I look forward with trembling anxiety. I can reconcile it to no
rules of prudence to let go the hold we now have, in so arduous an enterprise, upon seven out of the thirteen States, and
after having passed over so considerable a part of the ground, to recommence the course. I dread the more the consequences
of new attempts, because I know that POWERFUL INDIVIDUALS, in this and in other States, are enemies to a general national
government in every possible shape.
1. Entitled "An Address to the People of the State of New York."
2. It may rather be said TEN, for though two thirds may set on foot the measure, three fourths must ratify.
Essays, Vol. I, p. 128: "The Rise of Arts and Sciences."