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Agrippa XIV

James Winthrop

18 January 1788

by James Winthrop

(Concluded from our last.)

To the Massachusetts Convention.


To tell us that we ought to look beyond local interests. and judge for the good of the empire, is sapping the foundation of a free state. The first principle of a just government is. that it shall operate equally. The report of the convention is extremely unequal. It takes a larger share of power from some. and from others, a larger share of wealth. The Massachusetts will be obliged to pay near three times their present proportion towards continental charges. The proportion is now ascertained by the quantity of landed property, then it will be by the number of persons. After taking the whole of our standing revenue, by impost and excise, we must still be held to pay a sixth part of the remaining debt. It is evidently a contrivance to help the other states at our expense. Let us then be upon our guard, and do no more than the present confederation obliges. While we make that our beacon we are safe. It was framed by men of extensive knowledge and enlarged ability, at a time when some of the framers of the new plan were hiding in the forests to secure their precious persons. It was framed by men, who were always in favour of a limitted government. and whose endeavors Heaven has crowned with success. It was framed by men. whose idols were not power and high life, but industry and constitutional liberty, and who are now in opposition to this new scheme of oppression. Let us then cherish the old confederation like the apple of our eye. Let us confirm it by such limitted powers to Congress, and such an enlarged intercourse, founded on commerce and mutual want, with the other states, that our union shall outlast time itself. It is easier to prevent an evil than to cure it. We ought therefore to be cautious of innovations. The intrigues of interested politicians will be used to seduce even the elect. If the vote passes in favour of the plan, the constitutional liberty of our country is gone forever. If the plan should be rejected. we always have it in our power, by a fair vote of the people at large, to extend the authority of Congress. This ought to have been the mode pursued. But our antagonists were afraid to risk it. They knew that the plan would not bear examining. Hence we have seen them insulting all who were in opposition to it, and answering arguments only with abuse. They have threatened and they have insulted the body of the people. But I may venture to appeal to any man of unbiassed judgment, whether his feelings tell him, that there is any danger at all in rejecting the plan. I ask not the palsied or the jaundiced. nor men troubled with bilious or nervous affections, for they can see danger in every thing. But I apply to men who have no personal expectations from a change. and to men in full health. The answer of all such men will be. that never was a better time for deliberation. Let us then, while we have it in our power. secure the happiness and freedom of the present and future ages. To accept of the report of the convention, under the idea that we can alter it when we please, will be sporting with fire-brands[,] arrows and death. It is a system which must have an army to support it, and there can be no redress but by a civil war. If. as the federalists say, there is a necessity of our receiving it. for heaven's sake let our liberties go without our making a formal surrender. Let us at least have the satisfaction of protesting against it. that our own hearts may not reproach us for the meanness of deserting our dearest interests.

Our present system is attended with the inestimable advantage of preventing unnecessary wars. Foreign influence is assuredly smaller in our publick councils, in proportion as the members are subject to be recalled. At present, their right to sit continues no longer than their endeavors to secure the publick interest. It is therefore not an object for any foreign power to give a large price for the friendship of a delegate in Congress. If we adopt the new system, every member will depend upon thirty thousand people mostly scattered over a large extent of country, for his election. Their distance from the seat of government will make it extremely difficult for the electors to get information of his conduct. If he is faithful to his constituents, his conduct will be misrepresented, in order to defeat his influence at home. Of this we have a recent instance, in the treatment of the dissenting members of the late federal convention. Their fidelity to their constituents was their whole fault. We may reasonably expect similar conduct to be adopted, when we shall have rendered the friendship of the members valuable to foreign powers, by giving them a secure seat in Congress. We shall too have all the intrigues. cabals and bribery praictised, which are usual at elections in Great-Britain. We shall see and lament the want of publick virtue; and we shall see ourselves bought at a publick market, in order to be sold again to the highest bidder. We must be involved in all the quarrels of European powers. and oppressed with expense, merely for the sake of being like the nations round about us. Let us then. with the spirit of freemen. reject the offered system, and treat as it deserves the proposition of men who have departed from their commission; and let us deliver to the rising generation the liberty purchased with our blood.


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