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A Delegate to the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention Fears for the Little People

The ratification of the United States Constitution was the subject of intense discussion, debate, and dissent during the period 1787-1789. Though ultimately ratified by all thirteen states, the decision was by no means unanimous, and ratification faced considerable opposition from many elements of the population. Among those opposed to ratification were many small farmers and yeoman, who were suspicious about the motives of the wealthy elite and feared the power of a strong federal government. Speaking as a delegate before the state's ratification convention in 1788, Amos Singletary, a farmer from Worchester County, Massachusetts, voiced some of the concerns of his constituency. Chief among these are fears that the new government's ability to levy taxes and "impost" (import) duties would harm debt-saddled farmers who barely eked an existence from their land. Singley also worried that "these lawyers, and men of learning, and moneyed men," were scheming to consolidate power at the expense of "us little folks."

We contended with Great Britain—some said for a three-penny duty on tea, but it was not that. It was because they claimed a right to tax us and bind us in all cases whatever. And does not this Constitution do the same? Does it not take away all we have—all our property? Does it not lay all taxes, duties, imposts, and excises? And what more have we to give?

They tell us Congress won't lay dry [direct] taxes upon us, but collect all the money they want by impost [import duties]. I say, there has always been a difficulty about impost.... They won't be able to raise money enough by impost, and then they will lay it on the land and take all we have got.

These lawyers, and men of learning, and moneyed men, that talk so finely and gloss over matters so smoothly, to make us poor illiterate people swallow down the pill, expect to get into Congress themselves. They expect to be the managers of this Constitution, and get all the power and all the money into their own hands. And then they will swallow up all of us little folks, like the great Leviathan, Mr. President; yes, just as the whale swallowed up Jonah. This is what I am afraid of...

Source | Amos Singletary, in Thomas A. Bailey and David M. Kennedy, eds., The American Spirit, 7th ed., vol. 1 (D. C. Heath and Company, 1991), 139-140.
Creator | Amos Singletary
Item Type | Speech
Cite This document | Amos Singletary, “A Delegate to the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention Fears for the Little People,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed June 19, 2019, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1266.

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