Oliver Ellsworth: Landholder X

Updated September 23, 2019 | Infoplease Staff

Landholder X

Oliver Ellsworth

Monday, March 3, 1788

To the Citizens of New Hampshire [20]

The opposition in your state to the new federal constitution, is an event surprising to your New England brethren, yet we are not disposed to criminate a people, which made such gallant efforts in the establishment of the American Empire. It is the prerogative of freemen to determine their own form of government, and if this constitution is not addressed to your interest, if it is not calculated to preserve your freedom and make you glorious, we wish you not to accept it. We have fought by your side, we have long been connected in interest, and with many of you by consanguinity, and wish that you may share with us in all the benefits of a great and free empire. Brethren who differ in their opinions how a common interest may be best governed, ought to deliberate with coolness, and not wantonly accuse each other, either of folly or design. Massachusetts and Connecticut have decidedly judged the new government well calculated not only for the whole but for the northern states. Either you or these states have judged wrong. Your interests are similar to theirs, and cannot be separated from them without counteracting nature.

If there be any one state more interested than the others in the adoption of this system, it is New Hampshire. Your local situation, which can never be altered, is a solemn argument in its favor. Tho' separated from the government of Britain at no less price than the blood of your bravest sons, you border on her dominions. She is your enemy, and wishes nothing more than your submission to her laws, and to the will of her proud servants.

Her force may easily be pointed thro' your whole territory and a few regiments would effectually banish resistance. New Hampshire, tho' growing in population, and amongst the first states in personal bravery, cannot yet stand alone. Should a disunion of the states tempt Britain to make another effort for recovering her former greatness, you will be the first to fall under her sway. In such case you will have nothing to expect from the other states. Dispirited with a fruitless attempt to unite in some plan of general government and protection, they will say, let the dissenting states abide the consequence of their own false opinions. Though such a reply might not be wise, it would be exactly comfortable to what we have ever found in human nature; and nature will have its course, let policy be what it may. You are the northern barrier of the United States, and by your situation, must first meet any hostile animosity from that quarter designed against any part of them. It is certainly for the interest of a barrier country, to have a general government on such efficient principles, as can point the force of the whole for its relief when attacked. The old constitution could not do this; that now under consideration, if accepted, we trust will produce a circulation of riches and the powers of protection to the most extreme parts of the body. On these principles it has generally been said that New Hampshire and Georgia would be amongst the first in adopting. Georgia has done it, not, perhaps, because they were more wise than New Hampshire, but being pressed with a dangerous war in the very moment of decision, they felt its necessity; and feeling is an argument none can resist. Trust not to any complaisance of those British provinces on your northern borders, or those artful men who govern them, who were selected on purpose to beguile your politicks, and divide and weaken the union. When the hour for a permanent connection between the states is past, the teeth of the lion will be again made bare, and you must be either devoured, or become its jackal to hunt for prey in the other states.

We believe those among you who are opposed to the system, as honest and brave as any part of the community, and cannot suspect them of any design against American Independence; but such persons ought to consider what will be the probable consequence of their dissent; and whether this is not the only hour in which this community can be saved from a condition, which is, on all hands, allowed to be dangerous and unhappy. There are certain critical periods in which nations, as well as individuals, who have fallen into perplexity, by a wise exertion may save themselves and be glorious. Such is the present era in American policy, but if we do not see the hour of our salvation, there is no reason to expect that heaven will repeat it. The unexpected harmony of the federal Convention-their mutual condescension in the reconcilement of jarring interests and opposing claims between the several States-the formation of a system so efficient in appearance, at the same time so well guarded against an oppression of the subject-the concurring sentiments of a vast majority thro' the United States, of those persons who have been most experienced in policy; and most eminent in wisdom and virtue; are events which must be attributed to the special influence of heaven.

To be jealous of our liberties is lawful, but jealously in excess is a deliriam [sic] of the imagination, by no means favourable to liberty. If you would be free and happy a power must be created to protect your persons and properties; otherwise you are slaves to all mankind. Your British neighbors have long known these truths, and will not fail by their emissaries to seminate such jealousies as favor their own designs. To prophesy evil is ungrateful business; but forgive me when I predict, that the adoption of this Constitution is the only probable means of saving the greatest part of your State from becoming an appendage of Canada or Nova Scotia. In some future paper I shall assign other reasons why New Hampshire, more than any other State, is interested in this event.

A Landholder.

[20] This number duplicates the preceding one, for an explanation of which see the footnote to the first Number X. The convention of New Hampshire had met on the 13 of June, and after a discussion of seven days, had adjourned without voting upon the constitution.—P.L.F.

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