Confederalist Paper #1
Making a Case for a New American Confederacy under the New Articles of Confederation (NAC)
To the People of all the States of Union:
AFTER an unequivocal experience of the inefficacy of the subsisting national government, you are called upon to deliberate on New Articles of Confederation (NAC) for the United States of America. The subject speaks its own importance; comprehending in its consequences nothing less than the existence of the UNION, the safety and welfare of the parts of which it is composed, the fate of an empire in many respects the most interesting in the world. It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force. If there be any truth in the remark, the crisis at which we are arrived may with propriety be regarded as the era in which that decision is to be made; and a wrong election of the part we shall act may, in this view, deserve to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind.
This idea will add the inducements of philanthropy to those of patriotism, to heighten the solicitude which all considerate and good men must feel for the event. Happy will it be if our choice should be directed by a judicious estimate of our true interests, unperplexed and unbiased by considerations not connected with the public good. But this is a thing more ardently to be wished than seriously to be expected. The plan offered to our deliberations affects too many particular interests, innovates upon too many local institutions, not to involve in its discussion a variety of objects foreign to its merits, and of views, passions and prejudices little favorable to the discovery of truth.
Among the most formidable of the obstacles which the New Articles of Confederation will have to encounter may readily be distinguished the obvious interest of a certain class of men in every State to resist all changes which may hazard a diminution of the power, emolument, and consequence of the offices they hold under the State and National establishments; and the perverted ambition of another class of men, who will either hope to aggrandize themselves by the confusions of their country, or will flatter themselves with fairer prospects of elevation from the continuation of the forced union of the empire under one national government than from its voluntary union into one confederacy.
It is not, however, my design to dwell upon observations of this nature. I am well aware that it would be disingenuous to resolve indiscriminately the opposition of any set of men (merely because their situations might subject them to suspicion) into interested or ambitious views. Candor will oblige us to admit that even such men may be actuated by upright intentions; and it cannot be doubted that much of the opposition which has made its appearance, or may hereafter make its appearance, will spring from sources, blameless at least, if not respectable–the honest errors of minds led astray by preconceived jealousies and fears. So numerous indeed and so powerful are the causes which serve to give a false bias to the judgment, that we, upon many occasions, see wise and good men on the wrong as well as on the right side of questions of the first magnitude to society. This circumstance, if duly attended to, would furnish a lesson of moderation to those who are ever so much persuaded of their being in the right in any controversy. And a further reason for caution, in this respect, might be drawn from the reflection that we are not always sure that those who advocate the truth are influenced by purer principles than their antagonists. Ambition, avarice, personal animosity, party opposition, and many other motives not more laudable than these, are apt to operate as well upon those who support as those who oppose the right side of a question. Were there not even these inducements to moderation, nothing could be more ill-judged than that intolerant spirit which has, at all times, characterized political parties. For in politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution.
And yet, however just these sentiments will be allowed to be, we have already sufficient indications that it will happen in this as in all former cases of great national discussion. A torrent of angry and malignant passions will be let loose. To judge from the conduct of the opposite parties, we shall be led to conclude that they will mutually hope to evince the justness of their opinions, and to increase the number of their converts by the loudness of their declamations and the bitterness of their invectives. A fanatical zeal for the energy and efficiency of centralized government is often the offspring of a temper fond of despotic power and hostile to the principles of liberty. A scrupulous jealousy of danger to the rights of the people, which is more commonly the enlightenment of the head than of the heart, will be represented as mere pretense and artifice, the stale bait for popularity at the expense of the public good. It will be forgotten, on the one hand, that jealousy is the usual concomitant of love, and that the noble enthusiasm of liberty is apt to be accompanied by a healthy dose of practical distrust. On the other hand, it will be equally forgotten that the vigor of decentralized government is essential to the security of liberty; that, in the contemplation of a sound and well-informed judgment, their interest can never be separated; and that a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of centralized government than under the forbidden appearance of zeal for the rights of the people. History will teach us that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people, for stronger government; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.
In the course of the preceding observations, I have had an eye, my fellow-citizens, to putting you upon your guard against all attempts, from whatever quarter, to influence your decision in a matter of the utmost moment to your welfare, by any impressions other than those which may result from the evidence of truth. You will, no doubt, at the same time, have collected from the general scope of them, that they proceed from a source not unfriendly to the New Articles of Confederation. Yes, my countrymen, I own to you that, after having given it an attentive consideration, I am clearly of opinion it is your interest to adopt it. I am convinced that this is the safest course for your liberty, your dignity, and your happiness. I affect not reserves which I do not feel. I will not amuse you with an appearance of deliberation when I have decided. I frankly acknowledge to you my convictions, and I will freely lay before you the reasons on which they are founded. The consciousness of good intentions disdains ambiguity. I shall not, however, multiply professions on this head. My motives must remain in the depository of my own breast. My arguments will be open to all, and may be judged of by all. They shall at least be offered in a spirit which will not disgrace the cause of truth.
I propose, in a series of papers, to discuss the following interesting particulars: — The utility of the UNION to your political prosperity — The insufficiency of the present Constitution to preserve the liberties of that Union — The necessity of a government at least equally energetic with the one proposed, to the attainment of this object — The conformity of the proposed New Articles of Confederation to the true principles of confederal government — Its analogy to your own state constitution — and lastly, The additional security which its adoption will afford to the preservation of that species of government, to liberty, and to property.
In the progress of this discussion I shall endeavor to give a satisfactory answer to all the objections which shall have made their appearance, that may seem to have any claim to your attention.
It may perhaps be thought superfluous to offer arguments to prove the utility of the UNION, a point, no doubt, deeply engraved on the hearts of the great body of the people in every State, and one, which it may be imagined, has no adversaries. But the fact is, that we already hear it whispered in the private circles of those who oppose the New Articles of Confederation, that the fifty States are of too great extent for any general system, and that we must of necessity resort to secession and to separate confederacies or national governments of distinct portions of the whole. This doctrine will, in all probability, be gradually propagated, till it has votaries enough to countenance an open avowal of it. For nothing can be more evident, to those who are able to take an enlarged view of the subject, than the alternative of an adoption of the New Articles of Confederation or a dismemberment of the Union. It will therefore be of use to begin by examining the advantages of that Union, the certain evils, and the probable dangers, to which every State will be exposed from its dissolution. This shall accordingly constitute the subject of my next address.
P.S. I am including the words of a distinguished colleague of mine from Massachusetts who is as equally opposed to the continuation of the U.S. Constitution and in favor of adopting the New Articles of Confederation as I am:
I am pleased to see a spirit of inquiry burst the band of constraint upon the subject of the New Articles of Confederation (NAC) and the United States Constitution (USC), which was a PLAN ENACTED for consolidating the governments of the United States. If either is suitable to the GENIUS and HABITS of the citizens of these states, it will bear the strictest scrutiny. The PEOPLE are the grand inquest who have a RIGHT to judge of their merits.
The hideous daemon of Aristocracy has hitherto had so much influence as to bar the channels of investigation, preclude the people from inquiry and extinguish every spark of liberal information of the qualities of the U.S. Constitution. At length the luminary of intelligence begins to beam its effulgent rays upon this important production; the deceptive mists cast before the eyes of the people by the delusive machinations of its INTERESTED advocates begins to dissipate, as darkness flies before the burning taper; and I dare venture to predict, that in spite of those mercenary declaimers, the U.S. Constitution will have a candid and complete examination.
Those furious zealots who are for continuing to cram it down the throats of the people, without allowing them either time or opportunity to scan or weigh it in the balance of their understandings, in comparison to the New Articles of Confederation, bear the same marks in their features as those who have been long wishing to erect an aristocracy in this State of Massachusetts. Their menacing cry is for a RIGID government, it matters little to them of what kind, provided it answers THAT description. As the New Articles of Confederation now offered diametrically opposes their wishes, and is the most dissonant to their views of any they can hope for, they come boldly forward and DEMAND its denunciation.
They brand with infamy every man who is not as determined and zealous in favor of the U.S. Constitution as themselves. They cry aloud the USC must be swallowed or none at all, thinking thereby to preclude any replacement; they are afraid of having it abated of its present RIGID aspect. They have also strived to overawe or seduce printers to stifle and obstruct a free discussion of the NAC, and have endeavored to further reduce the memory of the people by its concealment from their view, hastening their forgetfulness, before the people can duty reflect upon its properties. In order to deceive them, they incessantly declare that none can discover any defect in the present national system except bankrupts who wish no government. But many of these voices are from officers of the present government who fear to lose a part of their power. These zealous partisans may injure their own cause, and endanger the public tranquility by impeding a proper inquiry; the people may suspect the WHOLE CONSTITUTION to be a dangerous system, from such COVERED and DESIGNING schemes to continue to enforce it upon them.
Compulsive or treacherous measures to perpetuate any government whatever, will always excite jealousy among a free people: better remain single and alone, than blindly adopt whatever a few individuals shall demand, be they ever so wise. I had rather be a free citizen of the small republic of Massachusetts, than an oppressed subject of the great American empire. Let all act understandingly or not at all. If we can confederate upon terms that wilt secure to us our liberties, it is an object highly desirable, because of its additional security to the whole. If the U.S. Constitution has proved such an one, I hope it will remain established, but if it has endangered our liberties as it stands, let it be replaced by the NAC; in order to which it must and ought to be open to inspection and free inquiry.
The inundation of abuse that has been thrown out upon the heads of those who have had any doubts of the Constitution’s universal good qualities, have been so redundant, that it may not be improper to scan the characters of its most strenuous advocates. It will first be allowed that many undesigning citizens may wish its permanence from the best motives, but these are modest and silent, when compared to the greater number, who endeavor to suppress all attempts for investigation. These violent partisans are for having the people gulp down the gilded pill blindfolded, whole, and without any qualification whatever.
These consist generally, of the NOBLE order of Cincinnatus, holders of public securities, men of great wealth and expectations of public office, Bankers and Lawyers: these with their train of dependents form the Aristocratick combination. The Lawyers in particular, keep up an incessant declamation for its permanence; like greedy gudgeons they long to satiate their voracious stomachs with the golden bait. The numerous tribunals that have been erected by the U.S. Constitutional PLAN of consolidated empire, have found employment for ten thousand times their former numbers under the previous system; these are the LOAVES AND FISHES for which they hunger. They have found it suited to THEIR HABITS, if not to the HABITS OF THE PEOPLE. There may be reasons for having but few of them in any Convention of the States, lest THEIR OWN INTEREST should be too strongly considered. The time draws near for the choice of governmental systems. I hope my fellow-citizens will look well to the Supreme Law of their preference, and remember the Old Patriots of 1775; they never led them astray, nor need they fear to follow their example on this momentous occasion.
Brought to you by CINAC [pronounced Ki-NACK] – The Coalition for the Installation of the New Articles of Confederation