Agrippa II

James Winthrop

27 November 1787

by James Winthrop, Agrippa

To the People of Massachusetts.

In the Gazette of the 23d instant, I ascertained from the state of other countries and the experience of mankind, that free countries are most friendly to commerce and to the rights of property. This produces greater internal tranquillity. For every man, finding sufficient employment for his active powers in the way of trade, agriculture and manufactures, feels no disposition to quarrel with his neighbour, nor with the government which protects him, and of which he is a constituent part. Of the truth of these positions we have abundant evidence in the history of our own country. Soon after the settlement of Massachusetts, and its formation into a commonwealth, in the earlier part of the last century, there was a sedition at Hingham and Weymouth. The governour passing by at that time with his guard, seized some of the mutineers and imprisoned them. This was complained of as a violation of their rights, and the govemour lost his election the next year; but the year afterwards was restored and continued to be re-elected for several years. The government does not appear to have been disturbed again till the revocation of the charter in 1686, being a period of about half a century.

Connecticut set out originally on the same principles, and has continued uniformly to exercise the powers of government to this time.

During the last year, we had decisive evidences of the vigour of this kind of government. In Connecticut, the treason was restrained while it existed only in the form of conspiracy. In Vermont, the conspirators assembled in arms, but were suppressed by the exertions of the militia, under the direction of their sheriffs. In New-Hampshire, the attack was made on the legislature, but the insurrection was in a very few hours suppressed, and has never been renewed. In Massachusetts, the danger was, by delay, suffered to increase. One judicial court after another was stopped, and even the capital trembled. Still, however, when the supreme executive gave the signal, a force of many thousands of active, resolute men, took the field, during the severities of winter, and every difficulty vanished before them. Since that time we have been continually coalescing. The people have applied with diligence to their several occupations, and the whole country wears one face of improvement. Agriculture has been improved, manufactures multiplied, and trade prodigiously enlarged. These are the advantages of freedom in a growing country. While our resources have been thus rapidly increasing, the courts have set in every part of the commonwealth, without any guard to defend them; have tried causes of every kind, whether civil or criminal, and the sheriffs, have in no case been interrupted in the execution of their office. In those cases indeed, where the government was more particularly interested, mercy has been extended, but in civil causes, and in the case of moral offences, the law has been punctually executed. Damage done to individuals, during the tumults, has been repaired, by judgment of the courts of law, and the award has been carried into effect. This is the present state of affairs, when we are asked to relinquish that freedom which produces such happy effects.

The attempt has been made to deprive us of such a beneficial system, and to substitute a rigid one in its stead, by criminally alarming our fears, exalting certain characters on one side, and villifying them on the other. I wish to say nothing of the merits or demerits of individuals; such arguments always do hurt. But assuredly my countrymen cannot fail to consider and determine who are the most worthy of confidence in a business of this magnitude.—Whether they will trust persons, who have, from their cradles, been incapable of comprehending any other principles of government, than those of absolute power, and who have, in this very affair, tried to deprive them of their constitutional liberty, by a pitiful trick. They cannot avoid prefering those who have uniformly exerted themselves to establish a limited government, and to secure to individuals all the liberty that is consistent with justice, between man and man, and whose efforts, by the smiles of Providence, have hitherto been crowned with the most splendid success. After the treatment we have received, we have a right to be jealous, and to guard our present constitution with the strictest care. It is the right of the people to judge, and they will do wisely to give an explicit instruction to their delegates in the proposed convention, not to agree to any proposition that will, in any degree, militate with that happy system of government under which Heaven has placed them.

Agrippa.