James Winthrop: Agrippa III
It has been proved, from the clearest evidence, in two former papers, that a free government, I mean one in which the power frequently returns to the body of the people, is in principle the most stable and efficient of any kind; that such a government affords the most ready and effectual remedy for all injuries done to persons and the rights of property. It is true we have had a tender act. But what government has not some law in favour of debtors? The difficulty consists in finding one that is not more unfriendly to the creditors than ours. I am far from justifying such things. On the contrary I believe that it is universally true, that acts made to favour a part of the community are wrong in principle. All that is now intended is, to remark that we are not worse than other people in that respect which we most condemn. Probably the inquiry will be made, whence the complaints arise. This is easily answered. Let any man look round his own neighbourhood, and see if the people are not, with a very few exceptions, peaceable and attached to the government; if the country had ever within their knowledge more appearance of industry, improvement and tranquillity; if there was ever more of the produce of all kinds together for the market; if their stock does not rapidly increase; if there was ever a more ready vent for their surplus; and if the average of prices is not about as high as was usual in a plentiful year before the war. These circumstances all denote a general prosperity. Some classes of citizens indeed suffer greatly. Two descriptions I at present recollect. The publick creditors form the first of these classes and they ought to, and will be provided for. Let us for a moment consider their situation and prospects. The embarrassments consequent upon a war, and the usual reduction of prices immediately after a war, necessarily occasioned a want of punctuality in publick payments. Still however the publick debt has been very considerably reduced, not by the dirty and delusive scheme of depreciation, but the nominal sum. Applications are continually making for purchases in our eastern and western lands. Great exertions are making for clearing off the arrears of outstanding taxes, so that the certificates for interest on the state debt have considerably increased in value. This is a certain indication of returning credit. Congress this year disposed of a large tract of their lands towards paying the principal of their debt. Pennsylvania has discharged the whole of their part of the continental debt. New-York has nearly cleared its state debt, and has located a large part of their new lands towards paying the continental demands. Other states have made considerable payments. Every day from these considerations the publick ability and inclination to satisfy their creditors increases. The exertions of last winter were as much to support publick as private credit. The prospect therefore of the publick creditors is brightening under the present system. If the new system should take effect without amendments, which however is hardly probable, the increase of expense will be death to the hopes of all creditors both of the continental and of the state. With respect however to our publick delays of payment we have the precedent of the best established countries in Europe.
The other class of citizens to which I alluded was the ship-carpenters. All agree that their business is dull; but as nobody objects against a system of commercial regulations for the whole continent, that business may be relieved without subverting all the ancient foundations and laws which have the respect of the people. It is a very serious question whether giving to Congress the unlimited right to regulate trade would not injure them still further. It is evidently for the interest of the state to encourage our own trade as much as possible. But in a very large empire, as the whole states consolidated must be, there will always be a desire of the government to increase the trade of the capital, and to weaken the extremes. We should in that case be one of the extremes, and should feel all the impoverishment incident to that situation. Besides, a jealousy of our enterprising spirit, would always be an inducement to cramp our exertions. We must then be impoverished or we must rebel. The alternative is dreadful.
At present this state is one of the most respectable and one of the most influential in the union. If we alone should object to receiving the system without amendments, there is no doubt but it would be amended. But the case is not quite so bad. New-York appears to have no disposition even to call a convention. If they should neglect, are we to lend our assistance to compel them by arms, and thus to kindle a civil war without any provocation on their part. Virginia has put off their convention till May, and appears to have no disposition to receive the new plan without amendments. Pennsylvania does not seem to be disposed to receive it as it is. The same objections are made in all the states, that the civil government which they have adopted and which secures their rights will be subverted. All the defenders of this system undertake to prove that the rights of the states and of the citizens are kept safe. The opposers of it agree that they will receive the least burdensome system which shall defend those rights.
Both parties therefore found their arguments on the idea that these rights ought to be held sacred. With this disposition is it not in every man's mind better to recommit it to a new convention, or to Congress, which is a regular convention for the purpose, and to instruct our delegates to confine the system to the general purposes of the union, than to endeavour to force it through in its present form, and with so many opposers as it must have in every state on the continent. The case is not of such pressing necessity as some have represented. Europe is engaged and we are tranquil. Never therefore was an happier time for deliberation. The supporters of the measure are by no means afraid of insurrections taking place, but they are afraid that the present government will prove superiour to their assaults.