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Letter #1 – Alexander Hamilton –
To the People of the State of New York:
There is no doubt that the current federal government under the Articles of Confederation has failed and can’t go forward. You are now called upon to decide a new form of government under a new Constitution for the United States of America. At stake is nothing less than the Union’s very existence, its citizens’ safety and welfare, and its uniqueness in the world. Quite often many have said that it is up to Americans, by their conduct and example, to decide whether societies are able to establish good governments by their own design and choosing, or to always depend on a government created by accident or by force. If this is true, we now find ourselves in a crisis where a decision must be made; and if we make the wrong choice it will be considered unfortunate for all of mankind.
The task at hand will add an element of generosity and good will to that of patriotism, to raise the concern and care that all good men must have on this issue. It would be great if our choice is guided by good judgment in line with our true interests, with no confusion and free from bias by issues not connected with the common public good. It is more of a passionate wish than a serious expectation. But the plan you will consider affects too many local interests and institutions not to be diverted into extraneous issues and passions and blinded to the truth.
The greatest obstacle the new Constitution will encounter is the resistance of certain men in every State to changes that could diminish their power, income and social status; and from others who hope to elevate themselves by abolishing the Union and dividing the country into several confederacies, rather than having a union under one government.
It is not my plan to dwell on these observations. I know it would be insincere to indiscriminately discredit political opposition without care or good judgement simply because their views may subject them to suspicion. We will honestly acknowledge that even such men may be moved by honorable intentions; there is no doubt that much of the opposition we have seen or may see in the future will come from positions, blameless at least, if not respectable – due to honest errors in judgment led astray by preconceived jealousies and fears. The causes are many and powerful that give false bias in judgment; thus, we quite often see wise and good men on the wrong as well as the right side of questions of the greatest importance to society. This opportunity, if we pay attention, would give a lesson in caution to those who are always certain they are on the right side of any disagreement. Another reason to take caution in this respect, is it may be concluded that we are not always certain that those who support the truth are influenced by more pure principles than their opponents. Ambition, greed, personal animosity, party opposition, and many other motives are bound to influence those who support as much as those who oppose the right side of a question. If not for these influences to caution, nothing could be more unwise than the intolerant spirit which has characterized political parties. In politics, as in religion, it is absurd to try to make a convert through force and intimidation. Radicals in either are rarely cured by persecution.
Yet, these views will be allowed as they always are in great national discussions. A flood of angry and infectious passions will be released. Judging by the conduct of the opposite parties, we will be led to conclude that they will all hope to persuade the justness of their opinions, and to grow the number of converts by bold rhetoric and bitter insults. A rational enthusiasm for the energy and efficiency of government will be stigmatized and regarded as the result of a tyrannical power and hostile to the principles of liberty. Keeping a careful eye out for things that endanger the people’s rights will be represented as old fashioned to popular culture at the expense of the public good. But jealousy, usually associated with love, and the moral interest in liberty is likely to be infected with narrow mindedness. However, it will be easy to forget that the government’s effort is essential to the security of liberty; that in pondering sound and well informed judgment, their interest can never be separated; and that dangerous ambition usually hides more behind the misleading mask of enthusiasm for the rights of the people than under enthusiasm for firmness and efficiency of government. But history teaches us that the previous is a more certain road to despotism than to good administration of government and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the majority began their career by appealing to the desires and prejudices of “the people”, and then ending as tyrants.
In these preceding observations, it has been my intention, my fellow citizens, to put you on guard of all attempts, from any direction, to influence your decision in a matter of the utmost importance to your well-being, by any opinion other than those that result in the truth. I will not put false reservations before you. I will not pretend to be undecided when I have made up my mind. I will frankly share my opinions and tell you my reasons for them. The awareness of good intentions scorns uncertainty. I will not have multiple assertions in my mind. My motives reside within my heart. My arguments will be open to all and be judged by all. They will be offered in the spirit to not dishonor the truth.
I plan a series of papers, to discuss the following interesting points:
- The Union’s usefulness to your political prosperity;
- The Confederation’s inadequacy to preserve the Union;
- The necessity of a government equally dynamic to the one being proposed to the attainment of these goals;
- The compliance of the proposed Constitution to the true principles of republican government;
- Its similarity to your own State’s Constitution; and lastly,
- The additional security which its ratification will provide to the preservation of that species of government, to liberty, and to property.
As we continue this discussion, I will strive to answer all counter points to these issues as they arise and try to claim your attention.
It may seem unnecessary to offer arguments for the necessity of the UNION, a point no doubt held deeply in the hearts of people in every state, and one you might imagine has no opponents. But the fact is, we already hear the whispers in private circles of those who oppose this Constitution, and that the thirteen States are too great in size for any general form of government and that by necessity we must resort to separate Confederacies as distinct portions of the whole*. These principles will, most likely, gradually spread, until it has devoted followers to accept an open affirmation to the truth of it. Nothing can be more evident to those who can look at the big picture, than the alternative to adoption of the new Constitution or the disbanding of the UNION. Therefore, it will be useful to begin examining the advantages of that UNION, the certain evils, and the likely dangers, to which every State will be exposed from its termination. This will therefore establish the subject of my next letter.
*The same idea, tracing the arguments to their consequences, is held out in several of the late publications against the new Constitution.