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CHAPTER 7 | Document 24

Timothy Pickering to George Cabot

29 Jan. 1804New-England Federalism 338--41

A friend of mine in Pennsylvania, in answering a letter, lately asked me, "Is not a great deal of our chagrin founded on personal dislikes, the pride of opinion, and the mortification of disappointment?" I replied, or, to speak correctly, I prepared the following reply. But when I had finished, perceiving the sentiments too strong for the latitude of Pennsylvania, and perhaps for the nerves of my friend, I changed the form, and now address them to you.

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To those questions, perhaps to a certain degree, an affirmative answer may be given. I have more than once asked myself, For what are we struggling? Our lands yield their increase, our commerce flourishes, we are building houses, "are marrying and given in marriage," yet we are dissatisfied: not because we envy the men in office,--to most of us a private life is most desirable. The Federalists are dissatisfied, because they see the public morals debased by the corrupt and corrupting system of our rulers. Men are tempted to become apostates, not to Federalism merely, but to virtue and to religion and to good government. Apostasy and original depravity are the qualifications for official honors and emoluments, while men of sterling worth are displaced and held up to popular contempt and scorn. And shall we sit still, until this system shall universally triumph? until even in the Eastern States the principles of genuine Federalism shall be overwhelmed? Mr. Jefferson's plan of destruction has been gradually advancing. If at once he had removed from office all the Federalists, and given to the people such substitutes as we generally see, even his followers (I mean the mass) would have been shocked. He is still making progress in the same course; and he has the credit of being the real source of all the innovations which threaten the subversion of the Constitution, and the prostration of every barrier erected by it for the protection of the best, and therefore to him the most obnoxious, part of the community. His instruments manifest tempers so malignant, so inexorable, as convince observing Federalists that the mild manners and habits of our countrymen are the only security against their extreme vengeance. How long we shall enjoy even this security, God only knows. And must we with folded hands wait the result, or timely think of other protection? This is a delicate subject. The principles of our Revolution point to the remedy,--a separation. That this can be accomplished, and without spilling one drop of blood, I have little doubt. One thing I know, that the rapid progress of innovation, of corruption, of oppression, forces the idea upon many a reflecting mind. Indeed, we are not uneasy because "unplaced." But we look with dread on the ultimate issue,--an issue not remote, unless some new and extraordinary obstacle be opposed, and that speedily; for paper constitutions are become as clay in the hands of the potter. The people of the East cannot reconcile their habits, views, and interests with those of the South and West. The latter are beginning to rule with a rod of iron. When not convenient to violate the Constitution, it must be altered; and it will be made to assume any shape as an instrument to crush the Federalists. The independence of the judges is now directly assailed, and the majority are either so blind or so well trained that it will most undoubtedly be destroyed. Independently of specific charges, as ground of impeachment, John Randolph, I am informed, avows this doctrine: that the clause in the Constitution granting to the judges their offices during good behavior was intended merely to guard them against Executive removals, and not at all to restrain the two Houses of Congress, on whose representation the President ought to remove them! We should really be safer without any constitution, for then oppressive acts might excite public attention; but while the popular tyrants shelter themselves under the forms or the name of the Constitution, tortured and interpreted to suit their views, the people will not be alarmed.

By the Philadelphia papers, I see that the Supreme Court judges of Pennsylvania are to be hurled from their seats, on the pretence that, in punishing one Thomas Passmore for a contempt, they acted illegally and tyrannically. I presume that Shippen, Yates, and Smith are to be removed by the Governor, on the representation of the legislature. And when such grounds are taken, in the national and State legislatures, to destroy the rights of the judges, whose rights can be safe? Why destroy them, unless as the prelude to the destruction of every influential Federalist, and of every man of considerable property, who is not of the reigning sect? New judges, of characters and tempers suited to the object, will be the selected ministers of vengeance. I am not willing to be sacrificed by such popular tyrants. My life is not worth much; but, if it must be offered up, let it rather be in the hope of obtaining a more stable government, under which my children, at least, may enjoy freedom with security. Some Connecticut gentlemen (and they are all well-informed and discreet) assure me that, if the leading Democrats in that State were to get the upper hand (which would be followed by a radical change in their unwritten constitution), they should not think themselves safe, either in person or property, and would therefore immediately quit the State. I do not believe in the practicability of a long-continued union. A Northern confederacy would unite congenial characters, and present a fairer prospect of public happiness; while the Southern States, having a similarity of habits, might be left "to manage their own affairs in their own way." If a separation were to take place, our mutual wants would render a friendly and commercial intercourse inevitable. The Southern States would require the naval protection of the Northern Union, and the products of the former would be important to the navigation and commerce of the latter. I believe, indeed, that, if a Northern confederacy were forming, our Southern brethren would be seriously alarmed, and probably abandon their virulent measures. But I greatly doubt whether prudence should suffer the connection to continue much longer. They are so devoted to their chief, and he is so necessary to accomplish their plans of misrule and oppression, that as they have projected an alteration of the Constitution to secure his next election, with a continued preponderance of their party, so it would not surprise me, were they, soon after his next election, to choose him President for life. I am assured that some of his blind worshippers in South Carolina have started the idea.

But when and how is a separation to be effected? If, as many think, Federalism (by which I mean the solid principles of government applied to a federate republic,--principles which are founded in justice, in sound morals, and religion, and whose object is the security of life, liberty, and property, against popular delusion, injustice, and tyranny),--if, I say, Federalism is crumbling away in New England, there is no time to be lost, lest it should be overwhelmed, and become unable to attempt its own relief. Its [Volume 1, Page 237] last refuge is New England; and immediate exertion, perhaps, its only hope. It must begin in Massachusetts. The proposition would be welcomed in Connecticut; and could we doubt of New Hampshire? But New York must be associated; and how is her concurrence to be obtained? She must be made the centre of the confederacy. Vermont and New Jersey would follow of course, and Rhode Island of necessity. Who can be consulted, and who will take the lead? The legislatures of Massachusetts and Connecticut meet in May, and of New Hampshire in the same month or in June. The subject has engaged the contemplation of many. The Connecticut gentlemen have seriously meditated upon it. We suppose the British Provinces in Canada and Nova Scotia, at no remote period, perhaps without delay, and with the assent of Great Britain, may become members of the Northern league. Certainly, that government can feel only disgust at our present rulers. She will be pleased to see them crestfallen. She will not regret the proposed division of empire. If with their own consent she relinquishes her provinces, she will be rid of the charge of maintaining them; while she will derive from them, as she does from us, all the commercial returns which her merchants now receive. A liberal treaty of amity and commerce will form a bond of union between Great Britain and the Northern confederacy highly useful to both.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 1, Chapter 7, Document 24
The University of Chicago Press

Adams, Henry, ed. Documents Relating to New-England Federalism. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1877.