Deficiencies of the Confederation

[Volume 1, Page 171]

CHAPTER 5 | Document 19

Edward Carrington to Thomas Jefferson

9 June 1787Jefferson Papers 11:408--9

The importance of this event [the assembling of the Philadelphia Convention] is every day growing in the public mind, and it will, in all probability, produce an happy era in our political existence; taking a view of the circumstances which have occasioned our calamities, and the present state of things and opinions, I am flattered with this prospect. Public events in the United States since the peace have given a cast to the American character, which is by no means its true countenance. Delinquencies of the States in their foederal obligations; acts of their legislatures violating public Treaties and private Contracts, and an universal imbecility in the public administrations, it is true, form the great features of our political conduct; but these have resulted rather from constitutional defects, and accidental causes than the natural dispositions of the people. Destitute as the foederal sovereignty is of coercive principle, backwardness in the component parts to comply with its recommendations, is natural and inevitable. Coercion in Government produces a double effect--while it compels the obedience of the refractory, it redoubles the alertness of the virtuous by inspiring a confidence in the impartiality of its burthens. From defect of penalty, ideas of delinquency are inseparable. States, as well as individuals, will contemplate both together, and apprehensions of unequal performance, produce disgust and apathy throughout.

The nefarious Acts of State Governments have proceeded not from the will of the people. Peace once obtained, men whose abilities and integrity had gained the intire popular confidence, whose zeal or indolence in the public affairs alike moved or lulled the people, retired from the busy scene, or at least acted with indifference. The news papers ceased to circulate with public information. Demagogues of desperate fortunes, mere adventurers in fraud, were left to act unopposed. Their measures, of course, either obtained the consent of the multitude by misrepresentation, or assumed the countenance of popularity because none said nay. Hence have proceeded paper money, breaches of Treaty &c. The ductility of the Multitude is fully evidenced in the case of the late tumults in Massachusetts. Men who were of good property and owed not a shilling, were involved in the train of desperado's to suppress the courts. A full representation of the public affairs from the General Court through the Clergy has reclaimed so great a proportion of the deluded, that a Rebellion which a few months ago threatened the subversion of the Government is, by measures scarcely deserving the name of exertion, suppressed, and one decided act of authority would eradicate it forever. In this experiment it is proved that full intelligence of the public affairs not only would keep the people right, but will set them so after they have got wrong.

Civil Liberty, in my opinion, never before took up her residence in a country so likely to afford her a long and grateful protection as the United States.--A people more generally enlightened than any other under the sun, and in the habits of owning, instead of being mere tenants in, the Soil, must be proportionably alive to her sacred rights, and qualified to guard them; and I am persuaded that the time is fast approaching when all these advantages will have their fullest influence. Our tendency to anarchy and consequent despotism is felt, and the alarm is spreading. Men are brought into action who had consigned themselves to an eve of rest, and the Convention, as a Beacon, is rousing the attention of the Empire.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 1, Chapter 5, Document 19
The University of Chicago Press

The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Edited by Julian P. Boyd et al. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950--.