CHAPTER 7 | Document 20

A Freeman to the Minority of the Convention of Pennsylvania, no. 1

23 Jan. 1788Pennsylvania Gazette

When the people of America dissolved their connexion with the crown of Britain, they found themselves separated from all the world, but a few powerless colonies, the principal of which indeed they expected to induce into their measures. The crown having been merely a centre of union, the act of independence dissolved the political ties that had formerly existed among the states, and it was attended with no absolute confederacy; but many circumstances conspired to render some new form of connexion desirable and necessary. We wished not to continue distinct bodies of people, but to form a respectable nation. The remains of our ancient governments kept us in the form of thirteen political bodies, and from a variety of just and prudent considerations, we determined to enter into an indissoluble and perpetual union. Though a confederacy of sovereign states was the mode of connexion which was wisely desired and actually adopted, yet in that feeble and inadequate bond of union to which we assented, articles strongly partaking of the nature of consolidation are observable.

We see, for example, that the free inhabitants of each state were rendered, to all intents and purposes, free citizens of all the rest. Persons fleeing from justice in one state were to be delivered up by any other in which they might take refuge, contrary to the laws prevailing among distinct sovereignties, whereby the jurisdiction of one state pervaded the territories of all the rest, to the effectual length of trial, condemnation and punishment. The right to judge of the sums that should be expended for the use of the nation lies, even under the old confederation, solely with Congress, and after the demand is fixed by them, and formally made, the states are bound, as far as they can be bound by any compact, to pay their respective quotas into the foederal treasury, by which the power of the purse is fully given to them; nor can the states constitutionally refuse to comply. It is very certain that there is not in the present foederal government vigor enough to carry this actually delegated power into execution; yet, if Congress had possessed energy sufficient to have done it, there is no doubt but they would have been justifiable in the measure, though the season of invasion was unfavorable for internal contests.

We shall also find, that the right to raise armies and build navies is also vested in Congress by the present confederation, and they are to be the sole judges of the occasion, and the force required. The state, therefore, that refuses to fulfil the requisitions of Congress on either of these articles, acts unconstitutionally. It appears, then, that it was thought necessary at the time of forming the old foederal constitution, that Congress should have what is termed "the powers of the purse and the sword." That constitution contained a delegation of them, because the framers of it saw that those powers were necessary to the perpetuity and efficiency of the union, and to obtain the desirable ends of it. It is certainly very true, that the means provided to enable Congress to apply those powers, which the constitution vested in them, were so liable to opposition, interruption and delay, that the clauses containing them became a mere dead letter. This however was not expected or desired by any of the states at the time, and their subsequent defaults are infringements of the letter and spirit of the confederation. On these circumstances I entreat your most dispassionate and candid consideration. I beg leave to remark, however, that as in the present constitution they are only appearances of consolidation, irrefragably contradicted by other facts and circumstances, so also are the facts and observations in your address merely appearances of a consolidation, which I hope to demonstrate does not exist. The matter will be better understood by proceeding to those points which shew, that, as under the old so under the new foederal constitution, the thirteen United States were not intended to be, and really are not consolidated, in such manner as to absorb or destroy the sovereignties of the several states. In order to a perfect understanding of each other, it may be proper to observe here, that by your term consolidation I understand you mean the final annihilation of separate state government or sovereignty, by the nature and operations of the proposed constitution. Among the proofs you adduce of such consolidation being the intention of the late convention, is the expression of--"We the People."--Tho' this is a mere form of words, it will be well to see what expressions are to be found in the constitution in opposition to this, and indicative of the intentions of the convention, before we consider those things, which, as I conceive, secure the states from a possibility of losing their respective sovereignties.

First, then, tho' the convention propose that it should be the act of the people, yet it is in their capacities as citizens of the several members of our confederacy--for they are expresly declared to be the people of the United States"--to which idea the expression is strictly confined, and the general term of America, which is constantly used in speaking of us as a nation, is carefully omitted: a pointed view was evidently had to our existing union. But we must see at once, that the reason of "the People" being mentioned was, that alterations of several constitutions were to be effected, which the convention well knew could be done by no authority but that of "the people," either determining themselves in their several states, or delegating adequate powers to their state conventions. Had the foederal convention meant to exclude the idea of "union," that is, of several and separate sovereignties joining in a confederacy, they would have said, we the people of America; for union necessarily involves the idea of component states, which complete consolidations exclude.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 1, Chapter 7, Document 20
The University of Chicago Press

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