Constitution Sunday: “A Political Dialogue”

“A Political Dialogue”

Massachusetts Centinel (Boston), October 24, 1787

Following are excerpts from an article published in the Massachusetts Centinel, which purported to capture a conversation between “Mr. Grumble” and “Mr. Union”:

“Mr. Union. Well, but neighbour, what are your objections to the new Constitution?”

“Mr. Grumble. Why, as to the matter, I can’t say I have any, but then what vexes me is, that they won’t let me say a word against it—it shews, neighbour, there is some trick in it.”

“Mr. Union. But neighbour this is indeed a country of liberty, and every man may speak his mind, especially on a subject which is presented to you, for your consideration—but if all orders and degrees of people oppose your speaking against this proposed constitution, the conclusion is, that the whole people, both see the necessity, and give their warmest approbation of it. And indeed, neighbour, it is no wonder, when we consider the horrours of our present situation—the decay of our trade and manufactures—the scarcity of money—the failure of publick credit—the distraction of our publick affairs, and the distress of individuals, which have all arisen from a want of this very Federal Government—it is no wonder, I say, if men who are so deeply interested, should not be able to sit patiently, and hear revilings against the only remedy which can be applied with success, to our present grievances.”

“[Mr. Union.] No man is intended to be deprived of a freedom of speech, but the few individuals who oppose the Federal Government, must not be surprised to find, that the Merchant and Trader, who have been ruined for the want of an efficient Federal Government to regulate trade—will resent it—that the Landholder who has been taxed so high that the produce of his farm would scarcely pay its rates—will resent it:—And out of the abundance of the heart, the long train of industrious Tradesmen, who are now spending their past earnings, or selling their tools for a subsistence—will resent it—nay, the whole body of an almost ruined people, will despise and execrate the wretch who dares blaspheme the political saviour of our country.”

This article captures many Federalists’ view of the Antifederalists: while the Constitution was not going to be a perfect document and solve all of the country’s problems, it would save the country from the turmoil that had plagued it up until 1787.

In some ways, the article trivializes the views of Antifederalists, by having Mr. Grumble state “there is some trick in” the Constitution without identifying any significant, substantive complaint. Many Antifederalists had expressed their concerns about the potential for tyranny in the Constitution or the concern about power being too centralized. The author of this article compresses all of those arguments into there being a trick in the Constitution, a persuasive tool for marginalizing the Antifederalists.

Nonetheless, the author makes a convincing case for the Constitution, characterizing it as “the political saviour [sic] of our country.” This captures the gravity of the Constitution, even at the time of its proposal. It was not simply a document that would change Americans’ lives, it was a document that would save the country from the path that it was going down. That inauspicious path held potentially dangerous consequences, and while the Constitution introduced a new uncertainty for America’s future, it gave America the best shot it could ask for to prosper. For Federalists, that was all they could hope for from their government.

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