Strictures on the Proposed Constitution

Freeman's Journal - Philadelphia 
September 26, 1787

The writer of the following Remarks has the happiness and respectability of the United States much at hear-and it is with pleasure he has seen a system promulged by the late Convention, which promises to ensure those blessings: But as perfection is not the lot of human nature, we are not to expect it in the new Federal Constitution. Candour must confess, however, that it is a well wrought piece of stuff and claims, upon the whole, the approbation of all the States. Our situation is critical, and demands our immediate care. It is therefore to be hoped that every State will be speedy in calling a Convention-speedy; because the business is momentous, and merits the utmost deliberation.

The following strictures on the proposed Constitution, are submitted with diffidence. Excepting a single instance, they regard points of an inferior magnitude only:-and as the writer is not possessed of any of the reasons which influenced the Convention, he feels the more diffident in offering these.


Art. I Sect. 2. (3d clause) "The number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every 30,000."-If we consider the vast extent and increasing population of the United States, it will appear that a Representation upon this principle (though proper to begin with) cannot last very long. It must grow far too unwieldly for business-and the Constitution must therefore be mended, and patched with new work. Let your government be invariably fixed; so far, at least, as human foresight can go-and age will secure it respect and veneration from the multitude.1 In framing a government, we should consider a century to come as but a day, and leave the least possible for posterity to mend. Errors sanctified by long usage are not easily relinquished. Their age attaches the people, and renders a reform difficult. There is even danger in reforming the errors of a government, but there is more in letting them alone.-Hence we ought to aim at PERMANENCY in every part of a Constitution intended to endure.2 In America Representation ought to be in a ratio with population-and this should be provided for in the government of the United States.

Sect. 4. (1st clause) "The times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations, except as to the places of chusing senators." A general uniformity of acting in confederations (whenever it can be done with convenience) must tend to federalize (allow me the word) the sentiments of the people. The time, then, might as well have been fixed in Convention-not subject to alteration afterwards. Because a day maybe chosen by Congress which the Constitution or laws of a State may have appropriated to local purposes, not to be subverted or suspended. Leaving the places subject to the alteration of Congress, may also lead to improper consequences, and (humanum est errare) tempt to sinister views.-Who in Pennsylvania would think it adviseable to elect Representatives on the shore of Lake Erie; or even at Fort Pitt?

Second clause. "The Congress shall assemble at least once in every year, and such meeting shall be on the first Monday in December." Here is a kind of solecism; as the late period of assembling hardly admits of a prorogation and re-assembling in the same year: But as probably a Federal year is meant, it should have been so expressed. December is an objectionable month, too, for the Representatives of so many distant States to meet in-the depth of winter forbids the convenience of water, and the communication by land is expensive, inconvenient, and often obstructed this season: Much time would necessarily be lost in bringing the members together.

Sect. 9. (22d clause) "No Capitation or other direct tax shall be laid, unless" &c.-I confess here a great disappointment. When I began to read this clause, I did not doubt that the poll-tax would share the fate of ex post facto laws and bills of attainder. I am sorry to find myself mistaken: For a Capitation Tax is impolitic and unjust; it is a tax upon population, and falls indiscriminately upon the poor and the rich; the helpless, who cannot work, and the robust, who can. The poll-taxes of the Eastern States, have forced many thousands of their valuable citizens to emigrate, and made those disaffected who staid behind.

Art. 3. Sect. 2. (3d clause) "The trial of all crimes, except in cases of impeachment, shall be by Jury-I sincerely wish the Convention had said, a "Jury" of THIRTEEN, a MAJORITY of whom shall determine the verdict. Is it not extravagantly absurd to expect that twelve men shall have but one opinion among them upon the most difficult case? Common sense revolts at the idea,-while conscience shudders at the prostitution of an oath thus sanctified by law! Starve, or be perjured! say our Courts. The monstrous attachment of the people to an English Jury shews how far the force of prejudice can go-and the encomiums which have been so incessantly lavished upon it should caution us against borrowing from others, without the previous conviction of our own minds.

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