“The Republican” to the People
Connecticut Courant (Hartford), January 7, 1788
The liberties that Americans hold dear are not inherently self-sustaining. While the Constitution secures many liberties, it requires Americans to be vigilant in fulfilling their civic duties. This week’s Constitution Sunday highlights the Connecticut Courant, which explored these issues amidst the debate about ratifying the Constitution:
“In answer to the objection[s to the Constitution], I say, that adopting the new Constitution will not expose us to the loss of liberty; but the great barriers of liberty will still remain, and, in all human probability, will continue to be its security for ages and generations to come. The principal circumstances, which render liberty secure, are a spirit of liberty among the people—a general diffusion of knowledge—a general distribution of property—a militia of freemen—and a fair representation in the supreme Legislature.
The people of the United States possess in a high degree a spirit of liberty. This is a principle which is natural to the human mind. We love to have the command of our own actions and the direction of our own interests. Our minds rise with indignation against oppression and tyranny. These natural feelings have never been eradicated from our minds by subjection to the will of a tyrant. But that freedom which the principles of liberty have been discussed, that ardour with which they have been inculcated upon the public minds, that long struggle for liberty which has called these principles into action, have so fixed and confirmed the spirit of liberty that it must and will long continue to be a ruling principal of our actions, and guard us against the encroachments of tyranny.
Another circumstances highly conducive to the security of liberty, is the general diffusion of knowledge among the great body of the people. The American citizens in general are by far better educated and more knowing than the people at large in other countries. And in those states where the people have heretofore had the fewest advantages for learning, they are setting up schools, and gaining fast in point of useful knowledge. This is a circumstance of the highest importance to a free people. For where the great body of the citizens are ignorant, and incapable of discerning their true interests, they may be duped by artful and factious men, and led to do things destructive to their own rights and liberties. But a sensible intelligent people, who have access to the sources of information, and are capable of discerning what measures are conducive to the public welfare, will not be easily induced to act contrary to their own interests, and destroy those rights and liberties which are the foundation of public happiness.
. . .
But, my fellow citizens, the prospect of human affairs is not so gloomy. Act out your native good sense; be not afraid to entrust men appointed by yourselves with the powers necessary for promoting your interest; learn the characters of those whom you appoint to places of trust and power; choose men who know what the public good requires; and have virtue to act accordingly; act rationally upon the great political subjects which are submitted to your consideration. Our national hopes are fast approaching to their grand crisis; the friends of liberty throughout the world have their eyes fixed upon us; if we have not wisdom and virtue enough to unite government and liberty; the cause of liberty must be given up for lost. We are a young, virtuous, and growing people; we have the good wishes of all mankind; nature has bountifully bestowed upon us the blessings of climate and soil; the extent of our country affords room for our rapid increase for ages to come; a wise system of government we want; a wise system of government is offered for our acceptance; receive the offered good; put it in practice with wisdom, moderation, and virtue; and you may become a great, flourishing and happy nation.”
The author, filled with hope and optimism for what the Constitution could bring to the country, described the civic duties that characterize American citizenship: participation in the political process, attention to current issues, accountability for those in power, and a keen sense of what is just. Two of the components for securing liberty—the fair distribution of property and representation in a legislature—are at the center of the argument. Without some measure of prosperity and without a voice for the common person, liberty is not secure and may simply be eradicated (even by those who are the primary beneficiaries of liberty). Resentment more easily builds when members of society perceive that they are excluded from wealth or forgotten in political discourse, and when that resentment overflows, depriving others of liberties can be an appealing tool for those excluded or forgotten to attempt to use to rebalance society.
Rather than wait for that to occur, the author implored the reader to have some level of trust for the system but also to realize that each member of society has an obligation to consider how best to move forward and then to act accordingly. When that occurs, when there is widespread belief in the system itself (even despite vehement disagreement on specific policies), Americans maintain the principle at the heart of the country: that no tyrant or oppressive figure should dominate the country at his or her whim. Regardless of ideological or philosophical differences, Americans must seek to educate themselves on the issues of the day and ensure that those in power are held accountable. Then, and only then, will the Constitution have the support required to withstand the waves of passion that flow with each generation.