Agrippa X

James Winthrop

1 January 1788

by James Winthrop, Agrippa

To the People.

Friends and Brethren,

It is a duty incumbent on every man, who has had opportunities for inquiry, to lay the result of his researches on any matter of publick importance before the publick eye. No further apology will be necessary with the generality of my readers, for having so often appeared before them on the subject of the lately proposed form of government. It has been treated with that freedom which is necessary for the investigation of truth, and with no greater freedom. On such a subject, extensive in its nature, and important in its consequences, the examination has necessarily been long, and the topicks treated of have been various. We have been obliged to take a cursory, but not inaccurate view of the circumstances of mankind under the different forms of government to support the different parts of our argument. Permit me now to bring into one view the principal propositions on which the reasoning depends.

It is shewn from the example of the most commercial republick of antiquity, which was never disturbed by a sedition for above seven hundred years, and at last yielded after a violent struggle to a foreign enemy, as well as from the experience of our own country for a century and an half; that the republican, more than any other form of government is made of durable materials. It is shewn from a variety of proof, that one consolidated government is inapplicable to a great extent of country; is unfriendly to the rights both of persons and property, which rights always adhere together; and that being contrary to the interest of the extreme of an empire, such a government can be supported only by power, and that commerce is the true bond of union for a free state. It is shewn from a comparison of the different parts of the proposed plan, that it is such a consolidated government.

By article 3, section 2, Congress are empowered to appoint courts with authority to try civil causes of every kind, and even offences against particular states; by the last clause of article 1, section 8, which defines their legislative powers, they are authorized to make laws for carrying into execution all the "powers vested by this constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof;" and by article 6, the judges in every state are to be bound by the laws of Congress. It is therefore a complete consolidation of all the states into one, however diverse the parts of it may be. It is also shewn that it will operate unequally in the different states, taking from some of them a greater share of wealth; that in this last respect it will operate more to the injury of this commonwealth than of any state in the union; and that by reason of its inequality it is subversive of the principles of a free government, which requires every part to contribute an equal proportion. For all these reasons this system ought to be rejected, even if no better plan was proposed in the room of it. In case of a rejection we must remain as we are, with trade extending, resources opening, settlements enlarging, manufactures increasing, and publick debts diminishing by fair payment. These are mighty blessings, and not to be lost by the hasty adoption of a new system. But great as these benefits are, which we derive from our present system, it has been shewn, that they may be increased by giving Congress a limited power to regulate trade, and assigning to them those branches of the impost on our foreign trade only, which shall be equal to our proportion of their present annual demands. While the interest is thus provided for, the sale of our lands in a very few years will pay the principal, and the other resources of the state will pay our own debt. The present mode of assessing the continental tax is regulated by the extent of landed property in each state. By this rule the Massachusetts has to pay one eighth. If we adopt the new system, we shall surrender the whole of our impost and excise, which probably amount to a third of those duties of the whole continent, and must come in for about a sixth part of the remaining debt. By this means we shall be deprived of the benefit arising from the largeness of our loans to the continent, shall lose our ability to satisfy the just demands on the state. Under the limitations of revenue and commercial regulation contained in these papers, the balance will be largely in our favour; the importance of the great states will be preserved, and the publick creditors both of the continent and state will be satisfied without burdening the people. For a more concise view of my proposal, I have thrown it into the form of a resolve supposed to be passed by the convention which is shortly to set in this town.

Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Resolved, That the form of government lately proposed by a federal convention, held in the city of Philadelphia, is so far injurious to the interests of this commonwealth, that we are constrained by fidelity to our constituents to reject it; and we do hereby reject the said proposed form and every part thereof. But in order that the union of these states may, as far as possible, be promoted, and the federal business as little obstructed as may be, we do agree on the part of this commonwealth, that the following addition be made to the present articles of confederation.

XIV. The United States shall have power to regulate the intercourse between these states and foreign dominions, under the following restrictions; viz ist. No treaty, ordinance, or law shall alienate the whole or part of any state, without the consent of the legislature of such state. 2d. The United States shall not by treaty or otherwise give a preference to the ports of one state over those of another; Nor, 3d create any monopolies or exclusive companies; Nor, 4th, extend the privileges of citizenship to any foreigner. And for the more convenient exercise of the powers hereby and by the former articles given, the United S[t]ates shall have authority to constitute judicatories, whether supreme or subordinate, with power to try all piracies and felonies done on the high seas, and also all civil causes in which a foreign state, or subject thereof actually resident in a foreign country and not being British absentees, shall be one of the parties. They shall also have authority to try all causes in which ambassadours shall be concerned. All these trials shall be by jury and in some sea-port town. All imposts levied by Congress on trade shall be confined to foreign produce or foreign manufactures imported, and to foreign ships trading in our harbours, and all their absolute prohibitions shall be confined to the same articles. All imposts and confiscations shall be to the use of the state in which they shall accrue, excepting in such branches as shall be assigned by any state as a fund for defraying their proportion of the continental. And no powers shall be exercised by Congress but such as are expressly given by this and the former articles. And we hereby authorize our delegates in Congress to sign and ratify an article in the foregoing form and words, without any further act of this state for that purpose, provided the other states shall accede to this proposition on their part on or before the first day of January, which will be in the year of our Lord 1790. All matters of revenue being underthe controul of the legislature, we reccommend to the general court of this commonwealth, to devise, as early as may be, such funds arising from such branches of foreign commerce, as shall be equal to our part of the current charges of the continent, and to put Congress in possession of the revenue arising therefrom, with a right to collect it, during such term as shall appear to be necessary for the payment of the principal of their debt, by the sale of the western lands.

By such an explicit declaration of the powers given to Congress, we shall provide for all federal purposes, and shall at the same time secure our rights. It is easier to amend the old confederation, defective as it has been represented, than it is to correct the new form. For with what ever view it was framed, truth constrains me to say, that it is insiduous in its form, and ruinous in its tendency. Under the pretence of different branches of the legislature, the members will in fact be chosen from the same general description of citizens. The advantages of a check will be lost, while we shall be continually exposed to the cabals and corruption of a British election. There cannot be a more eligible mode than the present, for appointing members of Congress, nor more effectual checks provided than our separate state governments, nor any system so little expensive, in case of our adopting the resolve just stated, or even continuing as we are. We shall in that case avoid all the inconvenience of concurrent jurisdictions, we shall avoid the expensive and useless establishments of the Philadelphia proposition, we shall preserve our constitution and liberty, and we shall provide for all such institutions as will be useful. Surely then you cannot hesitate, whether you will chuse freedom or servitude. The object is now well defined. By adopting the form proposed by the convention, you will have the derision of foreigners, internal misery, and the anathemas of posterity. By amending the present confederation, and granting limited powers to Congress, you secure the admiration of strangers, internal happiness, and the blessings and prosperity of all succeeding generations. Be wise then, and by preserving your freedom, prove, that Heaven bestowed it not in vain. Many will be the efforts to delude the convention. The mode of judging is itself suspicious, as being contrary to the antient and established usage of the commonwealth. But since this mode is adopted, we trust, that the numbers [members?] of that venerable assembly will not so much regard the greatness of their power, as the sense and interest of their constituents. And they will do well to remember that even a mistake in adopting it, will be destructive, while no evils can arise from a total, and much less, probably, from such a partial rejection as we have proposed.

I have now gone through my reasonings on this momentous subject, and have stated the facts and deductions from them, which you will verify for yourselves. Personal interest was not my object, or I should have pursued a different line of conduct. Though I conceived that a man who owes allegiance to the state is bound, on all important occasions, to propose such inquiries as tend to promote the publick good; yet I did not imagine it to be any pan of my duty to present myself to the fury of those, who appear to have other ends in view. For this cause, and for this only, I have chosen a feigned signature. At present all the reports concerning the writer of these papers are merely conjectural. I should have been ashamed of my system if it had needed such feeble support as the character of individuals. It stands on the firm ground of the experience of mankind. I cannot conclude this long disquisition better than with a caution derived from the words of inspiration. Discern the things of your peace now in the days thereof, before they be hidden from your eyes.

Agrippa.