Agrippa XVII

James Winthrop

29 January 1788

by James Winthrop

(Concluded from our last.)

The Massachusetts Convention

Gentlemen,

This appears to be the universal effect of such establishments. A point of such magnitude ought, then, to be particularly guarded. In some respects it is beneficial that a system of commerce should be established by national authority. But if it is found, as it will upon examination, that most governments establish those companies. from occasional and temporal motives. and that they produce ill effects on government and on trade; the power ought in this respect to be restrained. As we are situated at one extreme of the empire. two or three such companies would annihilate the importance of our seaports, by transferring the trade to Philadelphia. With the decay of trade is connected the depreciation of lands and estates for want of a market for the produce. At present our exports are great and our manufactures are every day rising in importance. It seems to be agreed on all sides, that from the port of Boston only the balance was last year as much as an hundred & fifty thousand pounds in favour of the state; a comparison of that and former years is far from proving the distressed state of commerce. Complains in that respect are about as well founded as in most others. They are made to serve a present purpose, and when that is accomplished, there is no redress for the disappointment of the publick expectation. It becomes us then to consider well of the powers before we surrender them. There is no recovering them when once given. It is vain to flatter ourselves with the idea, that three quarters of the members of the new government will ever be for restraining their own power. If it was so easy as the federalists pretend to procure an alteration of the system after its adoption, I think, that it is a circumstance not much in its favour. In order to be perfect a constitution should be permanent. The new system sets out with a violation of the compact between the states. While it is in discussion, we ought to consider, that injustice never can be the basis of a good government. I have met with an account of one government uniformly supported by that principle, and I do not wish even my antagonists to become the subjects of that kingdom.

In answer to the favourite remark of the federalists, that what is not given is reserved, it is sufficient to reply, that the framers of the proposed constitution have themselves thought it necessary to make an explicit reservation of the power to grant titles of nobility. Why did they reserve this point, if it would not otherwise have been given up? The conversation of the party is in direct opposition to any design ever to alter the system in favour of the liberties of the people. It is said that a constitution is itself a bill of rights. The fallacy of this position is easily shewn, but the length of this paper makes it necessary to postpone that part of the argument. At present we shall only observe, that a constitution does not necessarily point out any other dependencies than of the parts of the government upon each other, and not those between the government and people. Has Venice no constitution? Yet the people have no share in the government.

Agrippa.