Constitution Sunday: Rebuttal to “An Officer of the Late Continental Army”: “Plain Truth”

Rebuttal to “An Officer of the Late Continental Army”: “Plain Truth”

Independent Gazetteer (Philadelphia), November 10, 1787

Following are excerpts from an article with an unknown author, published as a rebuttal to a reply by an officer of the late Continental Army to James Wilson’s speech:

“Congress may ‘provide for calling forth the militia,’ ‘and may provide for organizing, arming and disciplining it.’—But the states respectively can only raise it, and they expressly reserve the right of ‘appointment of officers and of training it.’—Now we know that men conscienciously [sic] scrupulous by sect or profession are not forced to bear arms in any of the states, a pecuniary compensation being accepted in lieu of it.—Whatever may be my sentiments on the present state of this matter is foreign to the point: But it is certain that whatever redress may be wished for, or expected, can only come from the state Legislature, where, and where only, the dispensing power, or enforcing power, is in the first instance placed. Article I. section 8.”

“Thus I have answered all the objections, and supported my answers by fair quotations from the new constitution; and I particularly desire my readers to examine all the references with accurate attention. If I have mistaken any part, it will, I trust, be bound to be an error of judgment, not of will, and I shall thankfully receive any candid instruction on the subject.—One quotation more and I have done.—’In all our deliberations on this subject (saith George Washington) we kept steadily in our view, that which appears to us the greatest interest of every true American, the consolidation of our union, in which is involved our prosperity, felicity, safety, perhaps our national existence. This important consideration, seriously and deeply impressed on our minds, led each state in the Convention to be less rigid on points of inferior magnitude, than might have been otherwise expected; and thus the constitution which we now present, is the result of a spirit of amity, and of that mutual deference and concession which the peculiarity of our political situation rendered indispensable.'”

These excerpts of the rebuttal touch on two key points: (1) the rationale for a national military and (2) the underlying spirit for ratification of the Constitution.

The Constitution proposed to create the right for Congress to call for a militia, with the help of the states in raising the men from their respective populations. One concern permeating Antifederalists’ arguments against the Constitution was that Congress was being empowered to raise a national militia that could impose a tyranny upon the people. The check put into the states’ hands, that they are to raise the militia and appoint officers and train the militia, served as insurance against a national tyranny. While this may not have quelled the most ardent and vigorous Antifederalists, it would assuage concerns of ordinary Americans who wanted to know that there was some balance between the state governments and federal government.

Second, the author quoted George Washington’s speech in favor of ratification of the Constitution. Washington’s words not only applied to the ratification of the Constitution but could apply in modern America. More often, Americans should remember that decisions should be viewed through the lens of what fosters unity, prosperity, and safety for Americans as a collective. While individual interests must be protected and valued, modern Americans should remember that sacrificing for the greater good can be a valuable tool for prolonging the prosperity and ensuring the betterment of America.

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