compose a short essay in which you: Use the attached Historical Document for information regarding the tasks. 1. Summarize the concerns of the Anti-federalists (100-150 words). 2. Summarize the reasons that the Federalists believed there were advantages to a stronger, central government (100-150 words). 3. Very briefly, take a side and explain why you favor one position over the other (100-150 words).
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Anti-Federalist: Patrick Henry’s speech in the Virginia Ratifying Convention (1788)
From Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution
Patrick Henry passionately opposed the ratification of the United States Constitution in this
speech delivered June 5, 1788 in the Virginia ratifying convention. It is also known as his “Shall
Liberty or Empire Be Sought?” speech. This document has been edited for brevity.
[ 43 ] Mr. Chairman, I am much obliged to the [ 44 ] very worthy gentleman for his encomium.
I wish I was possessed with talents, or possessed of any thing that might enable me to elucidate
this great subject. I am not free from suspicion: I am apt to entertain doubts. I rose yesterday to
ask a question which arose in my own mind. When I asked that question, I thought the meaning
of my interrogation was obvious. The fate of this question and of America may depend on this.
Have they said, We, the states? Have they made a proposal of a compact between states? If
they had, this would be a confederation. It is otherwise most clearly a consolidated
government. The question turns, sir, on that poor little thing â?? the expression, We, the people,
instead of the states, of America. I need not take much pains to show that the principles of this
system are extremely pernicious, impolitic, and dangerous. Is this a monarchy, like England â?? a
compact between prince and people, with checks on the former to secure the liberty of the
latter? Is this a confederacy, like Holland â?? an association of a number of independent states,
each of which retains its individual sovereignty? It is not a democracy, wherein the people
retain all their rights securely. Had these principles been adhered to, we should not have been
brought to this alarming transition, from a confederacy to a consolidated government. We have
no detail of these great considerations, which, in my opinion, ought to have abounded before
we should recur to a government of this kind. Here is a resolution as radical as that which
separated us from Great Britain. It is radical in this transition; our rights and privileges are
endangered, and the sovereignty of the states will be relinquished: and cannot we plainly see
that this is actually the case? The rights of conscience, trial by jury, liberty of the press, all your
immunities and franchises, all pretensions to human rights and privileges, are rendered
insecure, if not lost, by this change, so loudly talked of by some, and inconsiderately by others.
Is this tame relinquishment of rights worthy of freemen? Is it worthy of that manly fortitude
that ought to characterize republicans? It is said eight states have adopted this plan. I declare
that if twelve states and a half had adopted it, I would, with manly firmness, and in spite of an
erring world, reject it. You are not to inquire how your trade may be increased, nor how you are
to become a great and powerful [ 45 ] people, but how your liberties can be secured; for liberty
ought to be the direct end of your government.
Having premised these things, I shall, with the aid of my judgment and information, which, I
confess, are not extensive, go into the discussion of this system more minutely. Is it necessary
for your liberty that you should abandon those great rights by the adoption of this system? Is
the relinquishment of the trial by jury and the liberty of the press necessary for your liberty?
Will the abandonment of your most sacred rights tend to the security of your liberty? Liberty,
the greatest of all earthly blessings â?? give us that precious jewel, and you may take every thing
else! But I am fearful I have lived long enough to become an old-fashioned fellow. Perhaps an
invincible attachment to the dearest rights of man may, in these refined, enlightened days, be
deemed old-fashioned; if so, I am contented to be so. I say, the time has been when every pulse
of my heart beat for American liberty, and which, I believe, had a counterpart in the breast of
every true American; but suspicions have gone forth â?? suspicions of my integrity â?? publicly
reported that my professions are not real. Twenty-three years ago was I supposed a traitor to
my country? I was then said to be the bane of sedition, because I supported the rights of my
country. I may be thought suspicious when I say our privileges and rights are in danger. But, sir,
a number of the people of this country are weak enough to think these things are too true. I am
happy to find that the gentleman on the other side declares they are groundless. But, sir,
suspicion is a virtue as long as its object is the preservation of the public good, and as long as it
stays within proper bounds: should it fall on me, I am contented: conscious rectitude is a
powerful consolation. I trust there are many who think my professions for the public good to be
real. Let your suspicion look to both sides. There are many on the other side, who possibly may
have been persuaded to the necessity of these measures, which I conceive to be dangerous to
your liberty. Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect every one who approaches
that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up
that force, you are inevitably ruined. I am answered by gentlemen, that, though I might speak
of terrors, yet the fact was, that we were surrounded by none of the [ 46 ] dangers I
apprehended. I conceive this new government to be one of those dangers: it has produced
those horrors which distress many of our best citizens. We are come hither to preserve the
poor commonwealth of Virginia, if it can be possibly done: something must be done to preserve
your liberty and mine. The Confederation, this same despised government, merits, in my
opinion, the highest encomium: it carried us through a long and dangerous war; it rendered us
victorious in that bloody conflict with a powerful nation; it has secured us a territory greater
than any European monarch possesses: and shall a government which has been thus strong and
vigorous, be accused of imbecility, and abandoned for want of energy? Consider what you are
about to do before you part with the government. Take longer time in reckoning things;
revolutions like this have happened in almost every country in Europe; similar examples are to
be found in ancient Greece and ancient Rome â?? instances of the people losing their liberty by
their own carelessness and the ambition of a few. We are cautioned by the honorable
gentleman, who presides, against faction and turbulence. I acknowledge that licentiousness is
dangerous, and that it ought to be provided against: I acknowledge, also, the new form of
government may effectually prevent it: yet there is another thing it will as effectually do â?? it will
oppress and ruin the peopleâ?¦
A standing army we shall have, also, to execute the execrable commands of tyranny; and how
are you to punish them? Will you order them to be punished? Who shall obey these orders?
Will your mace-bearer be a match for a disciplined regiment? In what situation are we to be?
The clause before you gives a power of direct taxation, unbounded and unlimited, exclusive
power cf legislation, in all cases whatsoever, for ten miles square, and over all places purchased
for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, &c. What resistance could be made?
The attempt would be madness. You will find all the strength of this country in the hands of
your enemies; their garrisons will naturally be the strongest places in the country. Your militia is
given up to Congress, also, in another part of this plan: they will therefore act as they think
proper: all power will be in their own possession. You cannot force them to receive their
punishment: of what service would militia be to you, [ 52 ] when, most probably, you will not
have a single musket in the state? for, as arms are to be provided by Congress, they may or may
not furnish them.
Let me here call your attention to that part which gives the Congress power “to provide for
organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be
employed in the service of the United States â?? reserving to the states, respectively, the
appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline
prescribed by Congress.” By this, sir, you see that their control over our last and best defence is
unlimited. If they neglect or refuse to discipline or arm our militia, they will be useless: the
states can do neither â?? this power being exclusively given to Congress. The power of appointing
officers over men not disciplined or armed is ridiculous; so that this pretended little remains of
power left to the states may, at the pleasure of Congress, be rendered nugatory. Our situation
will be deplorable indeed: nor can we ever expect to get this government amended, since I
have already shown that a very small minority may prevent it, and that small minority
interested in the continuance of the oppression. Will the oppressor let go the oppressed? Was
there ever an instance? Can the annals of mankind exhibit one single example where rulers
overcharged with power willingly let go the oppressed, though solicited and requested most
earnestly? The application for amendments will therefore be fruitless. Sometimes, the
oppressed have got loose by one of those bloody struggles that desolate a country; but a willing
relinquishment of power is one of those things which human nature never was, nor ever will
be, capable ofâ?¦
When the American spirit was in its youth, the language of America was different: liberty, sir,
was then the primary object. We are descended from a people whose government was
founded on liberty: our glorious forefathers of Great Britain made liberty the foundation [ 54 ]
of every thing. That country is become a great, mighty, and splendid nation; not because their
government is strong and energetic, but, sir, because liberty is its direct end and foundation.
We drew the spirit of liberty from our British ancestors: by that spirit we have triumphed over
every difficulty. But now, sir, the American spirit, assisted by the ropes and chains of
consolidation, is about to convert this country into a powerful and mighty empire. If you make
the citizens of this country agree to become the subjects of one great consolidated empire of
America, your government will not have sufficient energy to keep them together. Such a
government is incompatible with the genius of republicanism. There will be no checks, no real
balances, in this government. What can avail your specious, imaginary balances, your ropedancing, chain-rattling, ridiculous ideal checks and contrivances? But, sir, we are not feared by
foreigners; we do not make nations tremble. Would this constitute happiness, or secure
liberty? I trust, sir, our political hemisphere will ever direct their operations to the security of
Suppose the people of Virginia should wish to alter their government; can a majority of them
do it? No; because they are connected with other men, or, in other words, consolidated with
other states. When the people of Virginia, at a future day, shall wish to alter their government,
though they should be unanimous in this desire, yet they may be prevented therefrom by a
despicable minority at the extremity of the United States. The founders of your own
Constitution made your government changeable: but the power of changing it is gone from
you. Whither is it gone? It is placed in the same hands that hold the rights of twelve other
states; and those who hold those rights have right and power to keep them. It is not the
particular government of Virginia: one of the leading features of that government is, that a
majority can alter it, when necessary for the public good. This government is not a Virginian,
but an American government. Is it not, therefore, a consolidated government? The sixth clause
of your bill of rights tells you, “that elections of members to serve as representatives of the
people in Assembly ought to be free, and that all men having sufficient evidence of permanent
common interest with, and attachment to, the community, have the right of suffrage, and
cannot be taxed, or deprived of their property for public uses, without their own consent, or
that of their representatives so elected, nor bound by any law to which they have not in like
manner assented for the public good.” But what does this Constitution say? The clause under
consideration gives an unlimited and unbounded power of taxation. Suppose every delegate
from Virginia opposes a law laying a tax; what will it avail? They are opposed by a majority;
eleven members can destroy their efforts [ 56 ] those feeble ten cannot prevent the passing
the most oppressive tax law; so that, in direct opposition to the spirit and express language of
your declaration of rights, you are taxed, not by your own consent, but by people who have no
connection with youâ?¦
This Constitution is said to have beautiful features; but when I come to examine these features,
sir, they appear to me horribly frightful. Among other deformities, it has an awful squinting; it
squints towards monarchy; and does not this raise indignation in the breast of every true
Your President may easily become king. Your Senate is so imperfectly constructed that your
dearest rights may be sacrificed by what may be a small minority; and a very small minority may
continue forever unchangeably this government, [ 59 ] although horridly defective. Where are
your checks in this government? Your strongholds will be in the hands of your enemies. It is on
a supposition that your American governors shall be honest, that all the good qualities of this
government are founded; but its defective and imperfect construction puts it in their power to
perpetrate the worst of mischiefs, should they be bad men; and, sir, would not all the world,
from the eastern to the western hemisphere, blame our distracted folly in resting our rights
upon the contingency of our rulers being good or bad? Show me that age and country where
the rights and liberties of the people were placed on the sole chance of their rulers being good
men, without a consequent loss of liberty! I say that the loss of that dearest privilege has ever
followed, with absolute certainty, every such mad attempt.
If your American chief be a man of ambition and abilities, how easy is it for him to render
himself absolute! The army is in his hands, and if he be a man of address, it will be attached to
him, and it will be the subject of long meditation with him to seize the first auspicious moment
to accomplish his design; and, sir, will the American spirit solely relieve you when this happens?
I would rather infinitely â?? and I am sure most of this Convention are of the same opinion â?? have
a king, lords, and commons, than a government so replete with such insupportable evils. If we
make a king, we may prescribe the rules by which he shall rule his people, and interpose such
checks as shall prevent him from infringing them; but the President, in the field, at the head of
his army, can prescribe the terms on which he shall reign master, so far that it will puzzle any
American ever to get his neck from under the galling yoke. I cannot with patience think of this
idea. If ever he violates the laws, one of two things will happen: he will come at the head of his
army, to carry every thing before him; or he will give bail, or do what Mr. Chief Justice will order
him. If he be guilty, will not the recollection of his crimes teach him to make one bold push for
the American throne? Will not the immense difference between being master of every thing,
and being ignominiously tried and punished, powerfully excite him to make this bold push? But,
sir, where is the existing force to punish him? Can he not, at the head of his army, beat down
every opposition? Away with your [ 60 ] President! we shall have a king: the army will salute
him monarch: your militia will leave you, and assist in making him king, and fight against you:
and what have you to oppose this force? What will then become of you and your rights ? Will
not absolute despotism ensue?…
Permit me, sir, to say, that a great majority of the people, even in the adopting states, are
averse to this government. I believe I would be right to say, that they have been egregiously
misled. Pennsylvania has, perhaps, been tricked into it. If the other states who have adopted it
have not been tricked, still they were too much hurried into its adoption. There were very
respectable minorities in several of them; and if reports be true, a clear majority of the people
are averse to it. If we also accede, and it should prove grievous, the peace and prosperity of our
country, which we all love, will be destroyed. This government has not the affection of the
people at present. Should it be oppressive, their affections will be totally estranged from it;
and, sir, you know that a government, without their affections, can neither be durable nor
happy. I speak as one poor individual; but when I speak, I speak the language of thousands. But,
sir, I mean not to breathe the spirit, nor utter the language, of secession.
I have trespassed so long on your patience, I am really concerned that I have something yet to
say. The [ 64 ] honorable member has said, we shall be properly represented. Remember, sir,
that the number of our representatives is out ten, whereof six is a majority. Will those men be
possessed of sufficient information? A particular knowledge of particular districts will not
suffice. They must be well acquainted with agriculture, commerce, and a great variety of other
matters throughout the continent; they must know not only the actual state of nations in
Europe and America, the situations of their farmers, cottagers, and mechanics, but also the
relative situations and intercourse of those nations. Virginia is as large as England. Our
proportion of representatives is but ten men. In England they have five hundred and fifty-eight.
The House of Commons, in England, numerous as they are, we are told, are bribed, and have
bartered away the rights of their constituents: what, then, shall be come of us? Will these few
protect our rights? Will they be incorruptible? You say they will be better men than the English
commoners. I say they will be infinitely worse men, because they are to be chosen blindfolded:
their election (the term, as applied to their appointment, is inaccurate) will be an involuntary
nomination, and not a choice.
I have, I fear, fatigued the committee; yet I have not said the one hundred thousandth part of
what I have on my mind, and wish to impart. On this occasion, I conceived myself bound to
attend strictly to the interest of the state, and I thought her dearest rights at stake. Having lived
so long â?? been so much honored â?? my efforts, though small, are due to my country. I have
found my mind hurried on, from subject to subject, on this very great occasion. We have been
all out of order, from the gentleman who opened to-day to myself. I did not come prepared to
speak, on so multifarious a subject, in so general a manner. I trust you will indulge me another
time. Before you abandon the present system, I hope you will consider not only its defects,
most maturely, but likewise those of that which you are to substitute for it. May you be fully
apprized of the dangers of the latter, not by fatal experience, but by some abler advocate than
Anti-Federalist: Richard Henry Leeâ??s Objections to the Constitution. October 16, 1787
LETTER FROM THE HON. RICHARD HENRY LEE, ESQ., ONE OF THE DELEGATES IN CONGRESS
FROM THE STATE OF VIRGINIA, TO HIS EXCELLENCY, EDMUND RANDOLPH, ESQ., GOVERNOR OF
SAID STATE. This document has been edited for brevity.
It has hitherto been supposed a fundam …
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