The Anti-Federalist Papers: Centinel III
On this day in 1787, an author writing under the pseudonym “Centinel” writes his third contribution to the anti-Federalist Papers. These papers argued against the new Constitution, then being considered for ratification by the states.
Some of you will be interested to hear that Centinel begins this essay by citing two Bible verses! John 3:20 and Luke 12:2-3: “‘For every one that doeth evil, hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved,’” he begins. “But ‘there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed; neither hid that shall not be known. . . .’”
Centinel notes the “cursed nature of ambition, so prevalent among men, that it would sacrifice every thing to its selfish gratification.” This aspect of human nature complicates the formation of a new government. He wonders why the country is being asked to accept the Constitution, in its entirety, without any changes. “[S]uch is the imperfection of human reason and knowledge,” he asserts, “that it would not be wise in you to adopt it with precipitation in toto.” After all, experience teaches that revisions are always necessary to correct human errors.
Thus, Centinel is a bit cynical about those who are pushing for swift adoption of the Constitution. “[A]re they fearful,” he asks, “that if you exercise your good sense and discernment, you will discover the masqued aristocracy, that they are attempting to smuggle upon you, under the suspicious garb of republicanism?”
Centinel believes that the delegates to the Constitutional Convention acted beyond the scope of their authority. He thinks it’s a bit of a red flag! The Constitution proposed has “entirely annihilated the old confederation, and the particular governments of the several states.” It replaces the state governments with one national government, but then disingenuously claims that “the United States shall guarantee to every state in this union, a republican form of government.”
Color Centinel doubtful!
Doesn’t this mimic the actions of Caesar, who pretended to keep the old ways, but “changed Rome from the most free, to the most tyrannical government in the world”?
He believes that the Constitution’s proponents can win only if they rush ratification through, quickly, before the people realize what is happening. And, yes, he thinks that pro-Constitution forces are trying to do exactly that! If they were friends to truth and liberty, they would act differently.
“He who has dark purposes to serve,” Centinel concludes, “must use dark means: light would discover him, and reason expose him: he must endeavor to shut out both, and make them look frightful by giving them ill names.”
America is the “remining asylum of liberty.” He urges his fellow citizens to preserve it.