Federal v. Consolidated Government

[Volume 1, Page 252]

CHAPTER 8 | Document 8

Edward Carrington to Thomas Jefferson

9 June 1787Jefferson Papers 11:409--10

The prevailing impression as well in as out of Convention is that a foederal Government adapted to the permanent circumstances of the Country, without respect to the habits of the day, be formed, whose efficiency shall pervade the whole Empire: it may, and probably will, at first be viewed with hesitation, but derived and patronised as it will be, its influence must extend into a general adoption as the present fabric gives way. That the people are disposed to be governed is evinced in their turning out to support the shadows under which they now live, and if a work of wisdom is prepared for them, they will not reject it to commit themselves to the dubious issue of anarchy.

The debates and proceedings of the Convention are kept in profound secrecy. Opinions of the probable result of their deliberations can only be formed from the prevailing impressions of men of reflection and understanding.--These are reducible to two schemes--the first, a consolidation of the whole Empire into one republic, leaving in the states nothing more than subordinate courts for facilitating the administration of the Laws.--The second an investiture of a foederal sovereignty with full and independant authority as to the Trade, Revenues, and forces of the Union, and the rights of peace and War, together with a Negative upon all the Acts of the State legislatures. The first idea, I apprehend, would be impracticable, and therefore do not suppose it can be adopted. General Laws through a Country embracing so many climates, productions, and manners as the United States would operate many oppressions, and a general legislature would be found incompetent to the formation of local ones, as a majority would in every instance be ignorant of, and unaffected by, the objects of legislation. The essential rights as well as advantages of representation would be lost, and obedience to the public decrees could only be ensured by the exercise of powers different from those derivable from a free constitution. Such an experiment must therefore terminate in a despotism, or the same inconveniencies we are now deliberating to remove. Something like the second will probably be formed; indeed I am certain that nothing less than what will give the foederal sovereignty a compleat controul over the state Governments will be thought worthy of discussion. Such a scheme constructed upon well adjusted principles would certainly give us stability and importance as a nation, and if the Executive powers can be sufficiently checked, must be eligible. Unless the whole has a decided influence over the parts, the constant effort will be to resume the delegated powers, and these cannot be an inducement in the foederal sovereignty to refuse its assent to an innocent act of a State. The negative which the King of England had upon our Laws was never found to be materially inconvenient.

The Ideas here suggested are far removed from those which prevailed when you was amongst us, and as they have arisen with the most able, from an actual view of events, it is probable you may not be prepared to expect them. They are however the most moderate of any which obtain in any general form amongst reflective and intelligent Men. The Eastern opinions are for a total surrender of the state sovereignties, and indeed some amongst them go to a monarchy at once. They have verged to anarchy, while to the southward we have only felt an inconvenience, and their proportionate disposition to an opposite extreme is a natural consequence.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 1, Chapter 8, Document 8
The University of Chicago Press

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