The Anti-Federalist Papers: John DeWitt I
On this day in 1787, an author writing under the pseudonym “John DeWitt” writes his first contribution to the anti-Federalist Papers. These papers argued against the new Constitution, then being considered for ratification by the states.
DeWitt’s points are simple. First, he wants everyone to slow down! The newly proposed Constitution should be considered carefully. Why, he wonders, does everyone feel the need to go so fast?
“I am a stranger to the necessity for all this haste!” DeWitt exclaims. “Is it not a subject of some small importance? Certainly it is. —Are not your lives, your liberties and properties intimately involved in it? — Certainly they are. Is it a government for a moment, a day, or a year? By no means — but for ages — Altered it may possibly be, but it is easier to correct before it is adopted.”
After all, once the people give power to the government, it is very, very difficult to get that power back.
We know that dynamic all too well, don’t we?
DeWitt urges his fellow citizens in Massachusetts to remember that different states will have different interests in the new government. Massachusetts does not have to approve the Constitution, just because other states do. “That the citizens of Philadelphia are running mad after it,” he notes, “can be no argument for us to do the like: — Their situation is almost contrasted with ours; they suppose themselves a central State; they expect the perpetual residence of Congress, which of itself alone will ensure their aggrandizement: We, on the contrary, are sure to be near one of the extremes; neither the loaves or fishes will be so plenty with us, or shall we be so handy to procure them.”
Yes! States have different interests, perspectives, and needs. It’s a point that is forgotten all too often today.
DeWitt concludes by acknowledging that some type of federal union will be necessary. He also agrees that the new “National Government ought to be armed with all necessary powers.” The subject, however, is “of infinite delicacy, and requires both ability and reflection.” He reminds his readers that their liberties were “dearly bought.” Everyone should have time to think about what steps should be taken next.
DeWitt will continue with another paper in a few days.