[Volume 1, Page 462]
CHAPTER 14|Document 34
Alexander Contee Hanson, Aristides, Remarks on the Proposed Plan of a Federal Government1788Pamphlets 241--43
I proceed to attack the whole body of anti-federalists in their strong hold. The proposed constitution contains no bill of rights.
Consider again the nature and intent of a federal republic. It consists of an assemblage of distinct states, each completely organized for the protection of its own citizens, and the whole consolidated, by express compact, under one head, for the general welfare and common defence.
Should the compact authorize the sovereign, or head to do all things it may think necessary and proper, then there is no limitation to its authority; and the liberty of each citizen in the union has no other security, than the sound policy, good faith, virtue, and perhaps proper interests, of the head.
When the compact confers the aforesaid general power, making nevertheless some special reservations and exceptions, then is the citizen protected further, so far as these reservations and exceptions shall extend.
But, when the compact ascertains and defines the power delegated to the federal head, then cannot this government, without manifest usurpation, exert any power not expressly, or by necessary implication, conferred by the compact.
This doctrine is so obvious and plain, that I am amazed any good man should deplore the omission of a bill of rights.
When we were told, that the celebrated Mr. Wilson had advanced this doctrine in effect, it was said, Mr. Wilson would not dare to speak thus to a Constitutionalist. With talents inferior to that gentleman's, I will maintain the doctrine against any Constitutionalist who will condescend to enter the lists, and behave like a gentleman.
It is, however, the idea of another most respectable character, that, as a bill of rights could do no harm, and might quiet the minds of many good people, the convention would have done well to indulge them. With all due deference, I apprehend, that a bill of rights might not be this innocent quieting instrument. Had the convention entered on the work, they must have comprehended within it everything, which the citizens of the United States claim as a natural or a civil right. An omission of a single article would have caused more discontent, than is either felt or pretended, on the present occasion. A multitude of articles might be the source of infinite controversy, by clashing with the powers intended to be given. To be full and certain, a bill of rights might have cost the convention more time, than was expended on their other work. The very appearance of it might raise more clamour than its omission,--I mean from those who study pretexts for condemning the whole fabric of the constitution.--"What! (might they say) did these exalted spirits imagine, that the natural rights of mankind depend on their gracious concession. If indeed they possessed that tyrannic sway, which, the kings of England had once usurped, we might humbly thank them for their magna charta, defective as it is. As that is not the case, we will not suffer it to be understood, that their new-fangled federal head shall domineer with the powers not excepted by their precious bill of rights. What! if the owner of 1,000 acres of land thinks proper to fell one half, is it necessary to take a release from the vendee of the other half? Just as necessary is it for the people to have a grant of their natural rights from a government which derives everything it has, from the grant of the people."
The restraints laid on the state legislatures will tend to secure domestic tranquility, more than all the bills, or declarations, of rights, which human policy could devise. It is very justly asserted, that the plan contains an avowal of many rights. It provides that no man, shall suffer by expost facto laws or bills of attainder. It declares, that gold and silver only shall be a tender for specie debts; and that no law shall impair the obligation of a contract.
Ford, Paul Leicester, ed. Pamphlets on the Constitution of the United States, Published during Its Discussion by the People, 1787--1788. Brooklyn, 1888. Reprint. New York: De Capo Press, 1968.
© 1987 by The University of Chicago