Oliver Ellsworth: Landholder XII
To the Rhode Island Friends of Paper Money, Tender Acts and Anti-Federalism.
The singular system of policy adopted by your state, no longer excites either the surprise or indignation of mankind. There are certain extremes of iniquity, which are beheld with patience, from a fixed conviction that the transgressor is inveterate, - and that his example from its great injustice hath no longer a seducing influence. Milton's lapse of the angels and their expulsion from Heaven, produces deeper regret in a benevolent mind than all the evil tricks they have played or torments they have suffered since the bottomless pit became their proper home. Something similar to this is excited in beholding the progress of human depravity. Our minds cannot bear to be always pained; the Creator hath, therefore wisely provided that our tender sentiments should subside, in those desperate cases where there is no longer a probability that any effort to which we may be excited, will have a power to reclaim. But though our benevolence is no longer distressed with the injustice of your measures, as philosophers above the feelings of passion, we can speculate on them to our advantage. The sentiment thrown out by some of our adventurous divines, that the permission of sin is the highest display of supreme wisdom, and the greatest blessing to the universe, is most successfully illustrated by the effects of your general policy.
In point of magnitude, your little state bears much the same proportion to the united American empire, as the little world doth to the immense intelligent universe; and. if the apostacy of man hath conveyed such solemn warning and instruction to the whole, as your councils have to every part of the union, no one will doubt the usefulness of Adam's fall. At the commencement, of peace, America was placed in a singular situation. Fear of a common danger could no longer bind us together; patriotism had done its best and was wearied with exertion rewarded only by ingratitude-our federal system was inadequate for national government and justice, and from inexperience the great body of the people were ignorant what consequences should flow from the want of them. Experiments in public credit, though ruinous to thousands, and a disregard to the promises of government had been pardoned in the moment of extreme necessity, and many honest men did not realize that a repetition of them in an hour less critical would shake the existence of society. Men full of evil and desperate fortune were ready to propose every method of public fraud that can be effected by a violation of public faith and depreciating promises. This poison of the community was their only preservation from deferred poverty, and from prisons appointed to be the reward of indolence and knavery. An easement of the poor and necessitous was plead as a reason for measures which have reduced them to more extreme necessity. Most of the states have had their prejudices against an efficient and just government, and have made their experiments in a false policy; but it was done with a timorous mind, and seeing the evil they have receded. A sense of subordination and moral right was their check. Most of the people were convinced, and but few remained who wished to establish iniquity by law. To silence such opposition as might be made to the new constitution, it was fit that public injustice should be exhibited in its greatest degree and most extreme effects. For this end Heaven permitted your apostacy from all the principles of good and just government. By your system we see unrighteousness in the essence, in effects, and in its native miseries. The rogues of every other state blush at the exhibition, and say you have betrayed them by carrying the matter too far. The very naming of your measures is a complete refutation of anti-federalism, paper money and tender acts, for no man chooses such company in argument.
The distress to which many of your best citizens are reduced—the groans of ruined creditors, of widows and orphans, demonstrates that unhappiness follows vice by the unalterable laws of nature and society. I did not mention the stings of conscience, but the authors of public distress ought to remember that there is a world where conscience will not sleep.
Is it now at length time to consider. The great end for which your infatuation was permitted is now become complete. The whole union has seen and fears, and while history gives true information, no other people will ever repeat the studied process of fraud. You may again shew the distorted features of injustice, but never in more lively colors, or by more able hands than has been done already. As virtue and good government has derived all possible advantage from your experiment, and every other state thanks you for putting their own rogues and fools out of countenance, begin to have mercy on yourselves. You may not expect to exist in this course any longer than is necessary for public good; and there is no need that such a kind of warning as you set before us should be eternal. Secure as you may feel in prosecuting what all the rest of mankind condemn, the hour of your political revolution is at hand. The cause is within to yourselves, and needs but the permission of your neighbors to take its full effect. Every moral and social law calls for a review, and a volume of penal statutes cannot prevent it. They are in the first instance nullified by injustice, and five years hence not a man in your territories will presume their vindication. Passion and obstinacy, which were called in to aid injustice, have had their reign, and can support you no longer. By a change of policy give us evidence that you are returned to manhood and honour. The inventors of such councils can never be forgiven in this world, but the people at large who acted by their guidance may break from the connection and restore themselves to virtue.
There are among you legislators eminent, through the union for their wisdom and integrity. Penetrated with grief and astonishment they stand in silence, waiting the return of your reason. They are the only men who can remove the impassable gulph that is between you and the rest of mankind. In your situation there must be some sacrifice. It is required by the necessity of the case, and for the dignity of government. You have guilty victims enough for whom even benevolence will not plead; let them make the atonement and save your state. The large body of a people are rarely guilty of any crime greater than indiscretion, in following those who have no qualification to lead but an unblushing assurance in fraud. Acknowledge the indiscretion, and leave those whom you have followed into the quicksands of death to the infamy prepared for them, and from which they cannot be reserved. Your situation admits no compounding of opposite systems, or halving with justice, but to make the cure there must be an entire change of measures. The Creator of nature and its laws made justice as necessary for nations as for individuals, and this necessity hath been sealed by the fate of all obstinate offenders. If you will not hear your own groans, nor feel the pangs of your own torture, it must continue until removed by a political annihilation. Such as do not pity themselves cannot be long be pitied.
Determined that our feelings shall be no longer wounded by any thing to which despair may lead you, with philosophic coolness we wait to continue our speculations on the event.