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consent, and not by a legislature possessing authority vested in them for its preservation. Nor could we suppose that, if it had been the intention of the legislature to abrogate the existing Confederation, they would, in such pointed terms, have directed the attention of their delegates to the revision and amendment of it, in total exclusion of every other idea.
Reasoning in this manner, we were of opinion that the leading feature of every amendment ought to be the preservation of the individual states in their uncontrolled constitutional rights; and that, in reserving these, a mode might have been devised of granting to the Confederacy the moneys arising from a general system of revenue, the power of regulating commerce and enforcing the observance of foreign treaties, and other necessary matters of less moment.
Éxclusive of our objections originating from the want of power, we entertained an opinion that a general government, however guarded by declarations of rights, or cautionary provisions, must unavoidably, in a short time, be productive of the destruction of the civil liberty of such citizens who could be effectually coerced by it, by reason of the extensive territory of the United States, the dispersed situation of its inhabitants, and the insuperable difficulty of controlling or counteracting the views of a set of men (however unconstitutional and oppressive their acts might be) possessed of all the powers of government, and who, from their remoteness from their constituents, and necessary permanency of office, could not be supposed to be unifornily actuated by an attention to their welfare and happiness; that, however wise and energetic the principles of the general government might be, the extremities of the United States could not be kept in due submission and obedience to its laws, at the distance of many hundred miles from the seat of government; that, if the general legislature was composed of so numerous a body of men as to represent the interests of all the inhabitants of the United States, in the usual and true ideas of representation, the expense of supporting it would become intolerably burdensome; and that, if a few only were vested with a power of legislation, the interests of a great majority of the inhabitants of the United States must neces
essarily be unknown; or, if known, even in the first stages of the operations of the new government, unattended to.
These reasons were, in our opinion, conclusive against any system of consolidated government: to that recommended by the Convention, we suppose most of them very forcibly apply.
It is not our intention to pursue this subject farther than merely to explain our conduct in the discharge of the trust which the honorable the legislature reposed in us. Interested, however, as we are, in common with our fellow-citizens, in the result, we cannot forbear to declare that we have the strongest apprehensions that a government so organized as that recommended by the Convention cannot afford that security to equal and permanent liberty which we wished to make an invariable object of our pursuit.
We were not present at the completion of the new Constitution ; but before we left the Convention, its principles were so well established as to convince us that no alteration was to be expected, to conform it to our ideas of expediency and safety. A persuasion, that our further attendance would be fruitless and unavailing, rendered us less solicitous to return. We have thus explained our motives for opposing the adoption of the VOL. I.
national Constitution, which we conceived it our duty to communicate to your excellency, to be submitted to the consideration of the honorable legislature.
We have the honor to be, with the greatest respect, your excellency's most obedient and very humble servants,
JOHN LANSING, Jun. His Excellency, Governor CLINTON.
A LETTER OF HIS EXCELLENCY, EDMUND
ON THE FEDERAL CONSTITUTION;
ADDRESSED TO THE HONORABLE THE SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF DELEGATES,
RICHMOND, Oct. 10, 1787. Sir: The Constitution, which I enclosed to the General Assembly in a late official letter, appears without my signature. This circumstance, although trivial in its own nature, has been rendered rather important, to myself at least, by being misunderstood by some and misrepresented by others. As I disdain to conceal the reasons for withholding my subscription, I have always been, still am, and ever shall be, ready to proclaim them to the world. To the legislature, therefore, by whom I was deputed to the Federal Convention, I beg leave now to address them ; affecting no indifference to public opinion, but resolved not to court it by an un manly sacrifice of my own judgment.
As this explanation will involve a summary but general review of our federal situation, you will pardon me, I trust, although I should transgress the usual bounds of a letter.
Before my departure for the Convention, I believed that the Confederation was not so eminently defective as it had been supposed. But after I had entered into a free communication with those who were best informed of the condition and interest of each state; after I had compared the intelligence derived from them with the properties which ought to characterize the government of our Union, - I became persuaded that the Confederation was destitute of every energy which a constitution of the United States ought to possess.
For the objects proposed by its institution were, that it should be a shield against foreign hostility, and a firm resort against domestic commotion; that it should cherish trade, and promote the prosperity of the states under its care.
But these are not among the attributes of our present union. Severe experience under the pressure of war, a ruinous weakness manifested since the return of peace, and the contemplation of those dangers which darken the future prospect, have condemned the hope of grandeur and safety under the auspices of the Confederation
In the exigencies of war, indeed, the history of its effects is but short; the final ratification having been delayed until the beginning of the year 1781. But however short, this period is distinguished by melancholy testimonies of its inability to maintain in harmony the social intercourse of the states, to defend Congress against encroachments on their rights, and to obtain, by requisitions, supplies to the federal treasury, or recruits to the federal armies. I shall not attempt an enumeration of the particu lar instances, but leave to your own remembrance, and the records of Congress, the support of the assertions.
In the season of peace, too, not many years have elapsed; and yet each of them has produced fatal examples of delinquency, and sometimes of pointed opposition to federal duties. To the various remonstrances of Congress I appeal for a gloomy but unexaggerated narrative of the injuries which our faith, honor, and happiness, have sustained by the failure of the states.
But these evils are past; and some may be led by an honest zeal to conclude that they cannot be repeated. Yes, sir, they will be repeated as long as the Confederation exists, and will bring with them other mischiefs springing from the same source, which cannot yet be foreseen in their full array of terror.
If we examine the constitution and laws of the several states, it is immediately discovered that the law of nations is unprovided with sanctions in many cases which deeply affect public dignity and public justice. The letter, however, of the Confederation does not permit Congress to remedy these defects; and such an authority, although evidently deducible from its spirit, cannot without violation of the second article, be assumed. Is it not a political phenomenon, that the head of the confederacy should be doomed to be plunged into war, from its wretched impotency to check offences against this law, and sentenced to witness, in unavailing ánguish, the infraction of their engagements to foreign sovereigns ?
And yet this is not the only grievous point of weakness. After a war shall be inevitable, the requisitions of Congress for quotas of men or money will again prove unproductive and fallacious. Two causes will always conspire to this baneful consequence.
1. No government can be stable which hangs on human inclination alone, unbiased by coercion; and, 2, from the very connection between states bound to proportionate contributions, jealousies and suspicions naturally arise, which at least chill the ardor, if they do not excite the murmurs, of the whole. I do not forget, indeed, that, by one sudden impulse, our part of the American continent has been thrown into a military posture, and that, in the earlier annals of the war, our armies marched to the field on the mere recommendations of Congress. But ought we to argue, from a contest thus signalized by the magnitude of its stake, that, as often as a flame shall be hereafter kindled, the same enthusiasm will fill our legions, or renew them, as they may be thinned by losses ?
If not, where shall we find protection?' Impressions like those which prevent a compliance with requisitions of regular forces, will deprive the American republic of the services of militia. But let us suppose that they are attainable, and acknowledge, as I always shall, that they are the natural support of a free government. When it is remembered, that in their absence agriculture must languish; that they are not habituated to military exposures, and the rigor of military discipline; and that the necessity of holding in readiness successive detachments carries the expense far
beyond that of enlistments, - this resource ought to be adopted with caution.
As strongly, too, am I persuaded that the requisitions for money will not be more cordially received; for, besides the distrust which would prevail with respect to them also, besides the opinion entertained by each state of its own liberality and unsatisfied demands against the United States, there is another consideration, not less worthy of attention — the first rule for determining each quota by the value of all lands granted or surveyed, and of the buildings and improvements thereon. It is no longer doubted that an equitable, uniform mode of estimating that value is impracticable; and therefore twelve states have substituted the number of inhabitants, under certain limitations, as the standard according to which money is to be furnished. But under the subsisting articles of the Union, the assent of the thirteenth state is necessary, and has not yet been given. This does itself lessen the hope of procuring a revenue for federal uses; and the miscarriage of the impost almost rivets our despondency.
Amidst these disappointments, it would afford some consolation, if, when rebellion shall threaten any state, an ultimate asylum could be found under the wing of Congress. But it is at least equivocal whether they can intrude forces into a statè rent asunder by civil discord, even with the purest solicitude for our federal welfare, and on the most urgent entreaties of the state itself. Nay, the very allowance of this power would be pageantry alone, from the want of money and of men.
To these defects of congressional power, the history of man has subjoined others, not less alarming. I earnestly pray that the recollection of common sufferings, which terminated in common glory, may check the sallies of violence, and perpetuate mutual friendship between the states. But I cannot presume that we are superior to those unsocial passions which, under like circumstances, have infested more ancient nations. I cannot presume that, through all time, in the daily mixture of American citizens with each other, in the conflicts for commercial advantages, in the discontents which the neighborhood of territory has been seen to engender in other quarters of the globe, and in the efforts of faction and intrigue, - thirteen distinct communities, under no effective superintending control, (as the United States confessedly now are, notwithstanding the bold terms of the Confederation,) will avoid a hatred to each other deep and deadly.
In the prosecution of this inquiry, we shall find the general prosperity to decline under a system thus unnerved. No sooner is the merchant prepared for foreign ports, with the treasures which this new world kindly offers to his acceptance, than it is announced to him that they are shut against American shipping, or opened under oppressive regulations. He urges Congress to a counter-policy, and is answered only by a condolence on the general misfortune. He is immediately struck with the conviction that, until exclusion shall be opposed to exclusion, and restriction to restriction, the American flag will be disgraced ; for who can conceive that thirteen legislatures, viewing commerce under different points of view, and fancying themselves discharged from every obligation to concede the smallest of their commercial advantages for the benefit of the whole, will be wrought into a concert of action, and defiance of every prejudice? Nor is this all. Let the great improvements be recounted which have enriched and illustrated Europe ; let it be noted how few those are which will be absolutely denied to the United States, comprehending within their bound
aries the choicest blessings of climate, soil, and navigable waters; then let the most sanguine patriot banish, if he can, the mortifying belief, that all these must sleep until they shall be roused by the vigor of a nationa. government.
I have not exemplified the preceding remarks by minute details, because they are evidently fortified by truth and the consciousness of the United States of America. I shall, therefore, no longer deplore the unfitness of the Confederation to secure our peace, but proceed, with a truly unaffected distrust of my own opinions, to examine what order of powers the government of the United States ought to enjoy; how they ought to be defended against encroachments; whether they can be interwoven in the Confederation, without an alteration of its very essence, or must be lodged in new hands; - showing, at the same time, the convulsions which seem to await us, from a dissolution of the Union, or partial confederacies.
To mark the kind and degree of authority which ought to be confided to the government of the United States, is no more than to reverse the description which I have already given of the defects of the Confederation.
From thence it will follow that the operations of peace and war will be clogged without regular advances of money, and that these will be slow indeed, if dependent on supplication alone; for what better name do requisitions deserve, which may be evaded or opposed without the fear of coercion ? But although coercion is an indispensable ingredient, it ought not to be directed against a state, as a state, it being impossible to attempt it except by blockading the trade of the delinquent, or carrying war into its bowels. Even if these violent schemes were eligible in other respects, both of them might perhaps be defeated by the scantiness of the public chest ; would be tardy in their complete effect, as the expense of the land and naval equipments must be first reimbursed ; and might drive the proscribed state into the desperate resolve of inviting foreign alliances. Against each of thein lie separate, unconquerable objections. A blockade is not equally applicable to all the states, they being differently circumstanced in commerce and in ports; nay, an excommunication from the privilege of the Union would be vain, because every regulation or prohibition may be easily eluded under the rights of American citizenship, or of foreign nations. But how shall we speak of the intrusion of troops ? Shall we arm citizens against citizens, and habituate them to shed kindred blood ? Shall we risk the inflicting of wounds which will generate a ran. cor never to be subdued ? Would there be no room to fear that an army, accustomed to fight for the establishment of authority, would salute an emperor of their own? Let us not bring these things into jeopardy. Let us rather substitute the same process by which individuals are compelled to contribute to the government of their own states. Instead of making requisitions to the legislatures, it would appear more proper that taxes should be imposed by the federal head, under due modification and guards; that the collectors should demand from the citizens their respective quotas, and be supported as in the collection of ordinary taxes.
It follows, too, that, as the general government will be responsible to foreign nations, it ought to be able to annul any offensive measure, or enforce any public right. Perhaps, among the topics on which they may be aggrieved or complain, the commercial intercourse, and the manner in which contracts are discharged, may constitute the principal articles of clamor.
It follows, too, that the general government ought to be the supreme