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A Massachusetts Yeoman Opposes the "Aristocratickal" Constitution

The ratification of the United States Constitution was the subject of intense discussion, debate, and dissent during the period 1787-1789. This letter gives a sense of the opposition of many Anti-Federalists to what they perceived as the "aristocratickal" nature of the new Constitution, which they saw as benefiting the elite. Despite the endorsement of "illustrious names" like Washington and Franklin, many small farmers and yeoman were suspicious of a document they saw as created by and for "civil and ecclesiastical gown men," i.e., lawyers, civil servants, and others with a vested interest in the new government. The letter's author also points out the hypocrisy of men like George Washington advocating equality while also owning slaves.

To the Publick.


Many are the arts made use of by our aristocratick gentlemen, to accomodate the federal constitution to the yeomanry of the country. But it is very unlucky for them, that they should be so far misled, as to attempt to trump up one thing which appears by no means to be founded in truth, viz that none but placemen and pensioners are opposed to it. This is so far from [equating] with truth, that we conceive it to be an absolute falsehood. We would ask the disinterested part of the community just to look over the characters w[h]ich are so fond of swallowing this creature, which exhibits all the pourtraits of an over-bearing aristocracy, and see if they are not chiefly composed of salary men and pensioners, and those who at least think themselves fair candidates for places of honour and emolument, whenever the aristocratick wheels of the federal chariot shall be set in motion.


When we see the adherents to this constitution chiefly made up of civil and ecclesiastical gown men, and their dependents, the expedient they have hit upon is not likely to have the intended effect. There are many men destitute of eloquence, yet they can see and hear—They can think and judge, and are therefore not likely to be wheedled out of their senses by the sophistical reasonings of all the advocates for this new constitution in the country combined. We know this is not true; and as we well know the design of such representations, we would have those gentlemen know, that it will not take. They must pull upon some other string, or they must fail. Another thing they tell us, that the constitution must be good, from the characters which composed the Convention that framed it. It is graced with the names of a Washington and a Franklin. Illustrious names, we allow—worthy characters in civil society. Yet we cannot suppose them, to be infallible guides, neither yet that a man must necessarily incur guilt to himself merely by dissenting from them in opinion.


We cannot think the noble general, [Washington] has the same ideas with ourselves, with regard to the rules of right and wrong. We cannot think, he acts a very consistent part, or did through the whole of the contest with Great Britain: who, notwithstanding he wielded the sword in defence of American liberty, yet at the same time was, and is to this day, living upon the labours of several hundreds of miserable Africans, as free born as himself; and some of them very likely descended from parents who, in point of property and dignity in their own country, might cope with any man in America. We do not conceive we are to be overborne by the weight of any names, however revered. "ALL MEN ARE BORN FREE AND EQUAL;" if so, every man hath a natural and unalienable right to his own opinion, and, for asserting this right, ought not to be stigmatized with the epithets of tenacious and dogmatical.


. . . We do not wish to tire the publick, but would hint to those gentlemen, who would rob the people of their liberties, that their sophistry is not like to produce the effect. We are willing to have a federal constitution. We are willing another trial should be made; this may be done without derogating from the gentlemen, who composed the late convention. In framing a constitution for this commonwealth, two trials were made before one would stick. We are willing to relinquish so much, as to have a firm, energetick government, and this we are sensible may be done, without becoming slaves, to the capricious fancies of any sett of men whatever. It is argued, that there is no danger that the proposed rulers will be disposed to exercise any powers that this constitution puts into their hands, which may enable them to deprive the people of their liberties. But in case, say they, they should make such attempts, the people may, and will rise to arms and prevent it; in answer to which, we have only to say, we have had enough of fighting in the late war, and think it more eligible, to keep our liberties in our own hands, whilst it is in our power thus to do, than to place them in the hands of fallible men, like ourselves, who may if they please, entirely deprive us of them, and so we be at last reduced to the sad alternative of losing them forever, or recovering them back by the point of the sword. The aristocratick party are sensible, that these are the sentiments of the majority of the community, and their conduct plainly evinces the truth of a well known ancient adage— "Nothing cuts like the truth."

Source | The Massachusetts Gazette, Vol.7, No. 403, Boston, 25 January 1788; at http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/6213.
Creator | Anonymous
Item Type | Newspaper/Magazine
Cite This document | Anonymous, “A Massachusetts Yeoman Opposes the "Aristocratickal" Constitution,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed June 19, 2019, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/917.

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