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Letter #2 – John Jay
To the People of the State of New York
When Americans reflect that they are now called upon to decide a question which, as a result, will prove one of the most important to ever focus their attention, the correctness of their taking a very complete and serious look at it will be evident.
Nothing is more certain than the crucial requirement of government and it is equally undeniable that whenever and however it is instituted the people must give up some of their natural rights in order to bestow it with necessary powers. It is worth considering, therefore, whether it would be in the best interest of the people of America that they should be one nation, under one federal government, or that they should divide themselves into separate confederacies and give to the Leader of each the same kind of powers which they advised to give to one national government.
It has been an indisputable opinion that the prosperity of the people of America depended on their being firmly united going forward, and the wishes, prayers, and efforts of our best and wisest citizens have been constantly directed to that end. But politicians now appear who insist that this opinion is wrong, and that instead of looking for safety and happiness in union we ought to seek a division of the States into distinct confederacies or sovereignties. However remarkable this new doctrine may appear it nevertheless has its supporters; and certain characters who were much opposed to it formerly are now part of that group. Whatever the arguments or incentives which have created this change in the points of view and statements of these gentlemen, it certainly would not be in the best interest of the people to adopt these new political principles without being fully convinced that they are established in truth and sensible policy.
It has often given me happiness to see that independent America was not made up of detached and distant territories, but that one connected, fertile, wide-spreading country was the destiny of our sons of liberty. Our Creator has in a particular way blessed it with a variety of soils and fruits, and watered it with many streams, for the joy and convenience of its citizens. A series of navigable waters forms a kind of chain around its borders, as if to bind it together; while the most impressive rivers in the world, running at convenient distances, provide them with highways for travel and the mutual transportation and exchange of goods.
With equal joy I have often noticed that our Creator has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people – a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who by their shared leaders, arms, and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have gallantly established general liberty and independence.
This country and this people seem to have been made for each other, and it appears as if it was the design of our Creator, that a gift so proper and convenient for a band of brothers and sisters, united to each other by the strongest ties, should never be split into a number of unsocial, jealous, and alien sovereignties.
Similar beliefs have previously endured among all groups and assemblies of men among us. To all general purposes we have uniformly been one people, each individual citizen everywhere enjoying the same national rights, privileges, and protections. As a nation we have made peace and war; as a nation we have defeated our common enemies; as a nation we have formed alliances, made treaties, and entered into various agreements and conventions with foreign states.
A strong sense of the value and blessing of union motivated the people at a very early period to institute a federal government to preserve and perpetuate it. They formed it almost as soon as they had a political existence; not just that, but at a time when their homes were in flames, when many of their citizens were bleeding, and when the advancement of war and despair left little room for those calm and mature questions and reflections which must precede the formation of a wise and well balanced government for a free people. It is not to be questioned that a government instituted at a time so sinister should at the beginning be found greatly lacking, and inadequate to the purpose it was intended to resolve.
These intelligent people understood and regretted these defects. Still going forward no less committed to union than infatuated of liberty, they saw the danger that immediately threatened the union and even liberty; and being convinced that more than enough security for both could only be found in a national government more wisely framed, with one voice convened the recent convention at Philadelphia, to take that important subject under consideration.
This convention was composed of men who possessed the confidence of the people and many of whom had become highly distinguished by their patriotism, virtue and wisdom; in times which tried the minds and hearts of men who undertook the challenging task. In the calm time of peace, with minds not focused on other subjects, they had many months of friendly, uninterrupted and daily discussions; and finally, without having been enamored by power or influenced by passions except for the love for their country, they presented and recommended to the people the plan produced by their joint efforts and unanimous negotiations.
Acknowledging the fact that this plan is only RECOMMENDED, not imposed, let it be remembered that it is neither recommended to blind approval nor blind rejection; but to that calm and truthful consideration which the extent and importance of the subject demand and which it certainly should receive. But this (as was discussed in the first Letter) is more to be wished for than expected, that it may be so considered and examined. Experience from a previous occasion teaches us not to be too optimistic in such hopes. It is not yet forgotten that well-grounded anxiety of imminent danger convinced the people of America to form the memorable Congress of 1774. That Congress recommended certain plans of action to their voters, and then even proved their wisdom; yet it is fresh in our memories how soon the Press began to abundantly create pamphlets and weekly papers against those very plans of action. Not only many of the leaders of government, who submit to the principles of personal interest, but others, from a mistaken evaluation of the results or the undue influence of former fondness, or whose ambition aimed at objectives which did not correspond with the public good, were tireless in their efforts to persuade the people to reject the advice of that patriotic Congress. Many indeed were deceived and believed it not to be true, but the great majority of the people using good judgment decided accordingly; and they are happy in reflecting that they did so.
They considered that the Congress was composed of many wise and experienced men. That, being assembled from different parts of the country, they brought with them and discussed with each other a variety of useful information. That, in the course of the time they spent together in inquiring into and discussing the true interests of their country, they must have acquired a very accurate knowledge on that principal topic. That they were individually interested in the public liberty and prosperity, and therefore that it was not just their inclination but their duty to recommend only such measures as, after the most mature consideration, they really though prudent and advisable.
These and similar considerations then convinced the people to rely greatly on the judgment and integrity of the Congress; and they took their advice, despite the various attempts used to deter them from it. But if the general public had reason to confide in the men of that Congress, few of whom had been fully tested or generally known, they now have greater reason to respect the judgment and advice of the convention, for it is well known that some of the most distinguished members of that Congress, who have been tested and justly approved for patriotism and abilities, and who have grown old in gaining political knowledge, were also members of this convention, and brought into it their accumulated knowledge and experience.
It is worth stating that not only the first but every succeeding Congress, as well as the recent convention, have invariably joined with the people in thinking that the prosperity of America depended on its Union. To preserve and perpetuate it was the great objective of the people in forming that convention, and it is also the great objective of the plan which the convention has advised them to adopt. With what respectability, therefore, or for what good purposes, are attempts at this particular time made by some men to diminish the importance of the Union? Or why is it suggested that three or four confederacies would be better than one? I am convinced in my own mind that the people have always thought correctly on this subject, and that their universal and uniform bond to the cause of the Union rests on very important reasons, which I shall endeavor to develop and explain in some ensuing papers. They who promote the idea of substituting a number of distinct confederacies into the plan of the convention seem clearly to see that the rejection of it would put the continuance of the Union in the utmost jeopardy. That certainly would be the case, and I sincerely wish that it may be as clearly foreseen by every good citizen, that whenever the dissolution of the Union arrives, America will have reason to exclaim, in the words of the poet: “FAREWELL! A LONG FAREWELL TO ALL MY GREATNESS.”