“Philanthrop” to the Public

American Mercury (Hartford), November 19, 1787

Following are excerpts from an article in the American Mercury, located in Hartford, Connecticut:

“Let us for a moment call to view the most specious reason that can be urged by the advocates for anarchy and confusion, and the opposers to this glorious Constitution, and see what weight a rational man could give them: and let us in the first instance allow that all mankind are actuated by interested motives. The most plausible reason then that can be adduced for violation of faith, and prostitution of sentiments, is private interest; but surely real true self interest considered on a large extensive scale, is public good. Can the members of Congress, their friends, and posterity, thrive and flourish, in a country overwhelmed with misfortunes, and subjected thro’ their management to some direful approaching catastrophe? They certainly cannot! their grandour, their peace and happiness, is as much connected with, and as inseparable from the grandour, peace and happiness of the community at large, as that of a husband and his beloved wife. The conjugal state might with as much propriety be forbidden, and celibacy injoined least the head of the family should commit acts of violence on his offspring, and be incapable of governing his houshold, as that the present Constitution should be rejected, least the people selected to preside at the helm of affairs, should commit some flagrant act of injustice and thereby disgrace human nature.”

“There is in my opinion no particular body, or description of men, in north America, so deeply interested in the establishment of the new Constitution, as the Farmer. They of all men will immediately experience the advantage resulting therefrom. Their taxes instead of being increased, will be lessoned, and their produce will instantaneously (or very soon) rise in value; as a field will then be opened for a more extensive trade, than ever can take place while there is no stability in government; the Merchant will then court the Farmer, and the Farmer be encouraged to cultivate his lands.”

The author makes two notable points here. First, the Constitution was always going to inevitably have the task of balancing interests in society against each other to create the most public good possible. This is no small task. Given the diverse and numerous interests that exist in any society, and particularly in American society, creating a system that serves the public good is difficult.

Second, the author rightly points out that the benefit of the Constitution inures to everyone, even the most noble of professions: the farmer. At a time when republicanism was widespread and the farmer was considered one of the most noble ways of living, this was an idea that would have resonated with many common Americans. It also speaks to the values that the Constitution reflects. The elite was not the only class worth protecting. The common people deserved, and must have, protection too.