Wikiquote:Transwiki/American History Primary Sources Articles of Confederation and Const. Convention
The United States During the Articles of Confederation
- The word republic means the public good of the whole, in contra-distinction to the despotic form which makes the good of the sovereign, or of one man, the only object of government.
- Thomas Paine
- In a republic, a citizen in “public property. His time and talents — his youth — his manhood — his old age — nay more, life, belong to his country.
- Benjamin Rush
- The fate of America is already decided. Behold her independent beyond recovery. But will she be free and happy?... They are the hope of the world.
- Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, French economist and retired official, in a letter to pro-American British philosopher Richard Price.
- The style [name] of this confederacy shall be “The United States of America.”
- Articles of Confederation, Article I.
- Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labors an posterity will one day cause great change in the world. Americans are the western pilgrims who are carrying along with them that great mass of arts, sciences, vigor, and industry which began long since in the east; they will finish the great circle.
- From Hector St. John de Crevocoeur, Letters from an American Farmer.
America After Winning Independence
- You and I... have been sent into life at a time when the greatest lawgivers of antiquity would have wished to live. How few of the human race have ever enjoyed an opportunity of making... government... fort themselves or their children.
- John Adams
Problems of the Confederation
- The Americans will have no center of Union among them.... [T]he American can never be united.
- English commentator on the newly independent United States
- So long as any individual state has power to defeat the measures of the other twelve, our pretended union is but a name, our confederation, a cobweb.
- Noah Webster, in Sketches of American Policy, complaining about the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation.
- To the Honorable Congress,
- I, Rachel, do make this complaint, who am a Widow for advanced in years & Dearly have occasion of the Interest for that Cash I Lent.... I Lent the State a considerable Sum of Moneys & had I justice done me it might be sufficient to Support me in the country where I am now, near Burdentown. I lived here then... but Being... so Robbed by the Britains & others I went to Phila to try to get a Living... & was There in the year 1783 when our assembly was pleased to pass a law that No one should have any Interest that lived out of Jersey States....
- Now, gentlemen, is this Liberty?... I have done as much to carry on the War as many that Sit now at the helm of government.... My dear Sister... wrote to me to be thankful that I had it in my Power to help on the War, which is well enough, but then this is to be Considered — that others get their Interest & why then a poor old widow be put off?...
- Letter from Rachel Wells of Burdentown, New Jersey, to the Continental Congress. Problems such as her eventually led Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury, to have the new Federal Government take responsibility for paying off holders of the states’ Revolutionary War debts.
- I predict the worst consequences from a half-starved, limping government, always moving upon crutches and tottering at every step.
- George Washington, complaining about the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation.1787
- The toils of agriculture will here be rewarded with a greater variety of valuable productions, than in any part of America.
- Manasseh Cutler, The First Map and Description of Ohio.
- Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged. The utmost good faith shall always be observed towards the Indians; their lands and property shall never be taken from them without their consent; and, in their property, rights, and liberty, they shall never be invaded or disturbed, unless in just and lawful wars authorized by Congress; but laws founded in justice and humanity, shall from time to time be made for preventing wrongs being done to them, and for preserving peace and friendship with them.
- Northwest Ordinance, passed by the Confederation.
- [New states in the Northwest would join the United States] on an equal footing with the original states in all respects whatsoever.
- Northwest Ordinance, passed by the Confederation.
Shays’s Rebellion (July 1786-January 1787)
- Our property is torn from us, our gaols filled & still our debts are not discharged.
- Protest from western Massachusetts during Shays’s Rebellion.
- We have probably had too good an opinion of human nature in forming our Constitution [of the Confederation]. Experience has taught us, that men will not adopt and carry into execution measures best calculated for their own good, without the intervention of a coercive power.
- George Washington
- No morn ever dawned more favorably than ours did; and no day was ever more clouded than the present.
- George Washington to James Madison
- I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.
- Thomas Jefferson, U.S. Minister to France, in a letter to James Madison, as France was nearing the outbreak of revolution.
THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION
- To see this nation happy... is so much the wish of my soul.
- George Washington, on agreeing to give up his retirement and return to public life by heading the Virginia delegation to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.
- It is too probable that no plan we propose will be adopted. Perhaps, another dreadful conflict is to be sustained. If to please the people, we offer what we ourselves disapprove, how can we afterwards defend our work? Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair. The event is in the hand of God.
- George Washington, speech at the start of the Constitutional Convention.
- Let us not be afraid to view with a steady eye the [dangers] with which we are surrounded.... Are we not on the eve of [civil] war, which is only to be prevented by the hopes from this convention?
- Edmund Randolph, governor of Virginia, speaking to delegates early in the Constitutional Convention.
- New Jersey will never agree to the plan. She would be swallowed up! If we are to be considered as a nation, all state distinctions must be abolished.
- New Jersey delegate William Patterson, objecting to the Virginia plan.
- Some of the members from the small states wish for two branches in the general legislature and are friends to a good national government; but we would sooner submit to a foreign power than submit to be deprives, in both branches of the legislature, of an equal suffrage, and thereby thrown under the dominion of the larger states.
- John Dickinson, on stresses between small and large states at the Constitutional Convention.
- I confess that there are several parts of this Constitution which I do not approve, but I am not sure that I shall never approve them....
- I doubt... whether any other Convention... may be able to make a better Constitution.... I cannot help expressing a wish, that very member of the Convention who may still have objections to it, would with me,... put his name to this instrument.
- Benjamin Franklin, urging all member of the Constitutional Convention to agree to sign it.
- In all our deliberations on this subject we kept steadily in our view that which appeared to us the greatest interest of every true American — the consolidation of the Union — in which is involved our prosperity, felicity, safety, and perhaps our national existence.
- Delegate to the Constitutional Convention
- We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, and ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote our general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
- Preamble, Constitution of the United States .
THE DEBATE OVER RATIFYING THE FEDERAL CONSTITUTION
Against the Constitution
- After so recent a triumph over British despots,... it is truly astonishing that a set of men among ourselves should have had the effrontery to attempt the destruction of our liberties.
- Letter from an opponent of the Constitution.
- For what did you throw off the yoke of Britain and call yourselves independent? Was it from a disposition fond of change, or to procure new masters?... This new form of national government.... will be dangerous to your liberty and happiness.
- “Cato” (probably Gov. George Clinton of New York).
- We contended with Great Britain ... because they claimed a right to tax us and bind s in all cases whatever. And does not this Constitution do the same? Does it not take away all we have — all our property? Does it not lay all taxes, duties, imposts, and excises?... These lawyers, and men of learning, and moneyed men that talk so finely... to make us poor illiterate people swallow down the pill.... [They] expect to be managers of this Constitution, and get all the power and all the money into their own hands, and then they will swallow up all us little folk.
- Amos Singletary, an Anti-Federalist farmer from western Massachusetts.*
- You ought to be extremely cautious, watchful, and jealous of your liberty; for if instead of securing your rights, you may lose them forever....
- What right had they to say, “We, the people”?.... Who authorized them to speak the language of “We, the people,” instead of “We, the states”? States are... the soul of a confederation....
- This government will... destroy the state governments and swallow the liberties of the people....
- This Constitution is said to have beautiful features, but... they appear to me to be horribly frightful.... Your President may become king.... If your American chief be a man of ambition and abilities, how easy is it for him to render himself absolute!
- Patrick Henry, speech attacking the Constitution, at the Virginia Ratifying Convention.
For the Constitution
- [A]n objection is made to the form: ‘We, the people’ is thought improper. Permit me to ask the gentleman who made this objection, who but the people can delegate powers? Who but the people have a right to form government?
- Edmund Pendleton, speech in Virginia Ratifying Convention.
- [The Federal Constitution is] the single greatest effort of national deliberation that the world has ever seen.
- John Adams, supporting the Constitution.
- This is a new event in the history of mankind. Heretofore, most governments have been formed by tyrants and imposed on mankind by force. Never before did a people, in time of peace and tranquillity, meet together by their representatives and, with calm deliberation, frame for themselves a system of government.
- Gov. Samuel Huntington of Connecticut, addressing the Connecticut ratification assembly.
- To the people of the State of New York:
- After an unequivocal experience of the inefficiency of the subsisting federal government, you are called upon to deliberate on a new Constitution for the United States of America.... It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force....
- It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force....
- Yes, my countrymen,.... I am clearly of opinion it is in your interest to adopt it. I am convinced that this is the safest course for your liberty, your dignity, and your happiness.
- Alexander Hamilton, writing as Publius, No. 1 of The Federalist, writing in favor of adopting the Federal Constitution, On the power of the people to establish governments.
- Nothing is more certain than the indispensable necessity of government, and it is equally undeniable, that whenever and however it is instituted, the people must cede to it some of their natural rights, ir order to vest it with requisite powers....
- It has often given me pleasure to observe, that independent America was not composed of detached and distant territories, but that one connected, fertile, wide-spreading country was the portion of our western sons of liberty.... With equal pleasure I have as often taken notice, that Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people — a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint counsels, arms, and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established general liberty and independence....
The Federalist No. 2 (John Jay), On the people giving up power to establish a government.
- The smaller the society, the fewer probably will be the distinct parties and interests composing it.... The more easily they will concert and execute their plans of oppression. Extend the sphere and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens.
- James Madison, in Federalist No. 10.
- [I]n a democracy, the people meet and exercise the government in person; in a republic, they assemble and administer it by their representatives and agents. A democracy, consequently, will be confined to a small spot. A republic will be extended over a large region.
The Federalist No. 14 (Madison). The differences between “republic” and “democracy”.
- The principal purposes to be answered by union are these — the common defence of the members; the preservation of the public peace, as well against internal convulsions as external attacks; the regulation of commerce with other nations and between the States; the superintendence of our intercourse, political and commercial, with foreign countries.
The Federalist No. 23 (Hamilton). The purposes of the new Constitution.
- We may define a republic to be, or at least may bestow that name on, a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people, and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure, for a limited period, or during good behavior. It is ESSENTIAL to such a government that it be derived from the great body of the society, njot from an inconsiderable proportion, or a favored class of it.
- James Madison, writing as Publius, in Federalist Number 39.
- The federal and State governments are... designed for different purposes.... Many considerations... seem to place it beyond doubt that the first and most natural attachment of people will be to the governments of their respective States. Into the administration of these a greater number of individuals will expect to rise.... With the affairs of these [government officials], the people will be more familiarly and minutely conversant. And with... these [officials], will a greater portion of the people have the ties of personal acquaintance and friendship.... Measures will too often be decided according to their probable effect, not on the national prosperity and happiness, but on the prejudices, interests, and pursuits of the governments and people of individual States....
- [A]mbitious encroachments of the federal government, on the authority of the State governments, would excite not only the opposition of a single State, or of a few States only. They would be signals of general alarm. Every [state] government would espouse the common cause....
The Federalist No. 46 (Madison). On the loyalty of the people to state or federal governments.
- If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficult difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.
- James Madison, writing for the Constitution as Publius, in Federalist No. 51.
- In Great Britain it is the province of the House of Commons to prefer the impeachment, and of the House of Lords to decide upon it. Several of the State constitutions have follo
wed the example....
- Where else than in the Senate could have been found a tribunal sufficiently dignified, or sufficiently independent? What other body would be likely to feel confidence enough in its own situation, to preserve, unawed and uninfluenced, the necessary impartiality between an individual accused, and the representatives of the people, his accusers?
- Could the Supreme Court have been relied upon as answering this description?.... The awful discretion which a court of impeachments must necessarily have, to doom to honor or to infamy the most confidential and the most distinguished characters of the community, forbids the commitment of the trust to a small number of persons....
The Federalist No. 65 (Hamilton). On impeachment
- [T]he election of the President is... not perfect, [but] it is at lease excellent.... The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require ither talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States.
The Federalist No. 68 (Hamilton). On electing the president.
- I have lived in a part of the country where I have learned the worth of good government by the lack of it. There was a black cloud of rebellion that rose in the east last winter and spread over the west.... Our distress was so great that we should have been glad to grab at anything that looked like a government.... Now when I saw this Constitution, I found it was a cure for these disorders.
- A Western Massachusetts farmer who had witnessed Shay’s Rebellion, on why he supported the Constitution.
- Some gentlemen say, don’t be in a hurry..., don’t take a leap in the dark. I say... gather the fruit when it is ripe. *
A Federalist farmer, speaking in support of the Constitution at the Massachusetts ratifying convention.
- Anarchy leads to tyranny... These lawyers, these moneyed men, these men of learning, are all embarked in the same cause with us, and we must all sink or swim together.
- A Western Massachusetts farmer who supported the Constitution.
- The interpretation of the laws is the proper and peculiar province of the courts.... It therefore belongs to them to ascertain... the meaning of any particular act.... The courts must declare the sense of the law; and if they should be disposed to exercise WILL instead of JUDGMENT, the consequence would be... the substitution of their pleasure to that of the legislative body.
- Alexander Hamilton, writing as Publius in Federalist Number 78, on one weakness of the Constitution: the possibility that the Federal Courts would become a super-legislature.
On the Need for a Bill of Rights
- A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth,... and what no government should refuse.
- Thomas Jefferson, United States Minister to France, letter to James Madison
- I have seen the [Virginia] bill of rights violated in every instance where it has been exposed to a popular current.
- James Madison, on why the checks and balances in the federal Constitution are a better safeguard for the rights of the people than a bill of rights.
- Such bills generally begin with declaring that all men are by natures born free. Now, we should make that declaration with very bad grace when a large part of our property consist in men who are actually born slaves.
- Charles Cotesworth Pinckney of South Carolina, on the conflict between a bill of rights and slavery.
- ‘Tis done. We have become a nation.
- Dr. Benjamin Rush, in a letter after a July 4th parade in Philadelphia celebrating the ratification of the Constitution.