On this day in 1787, an author writing under the pseudonym “John DeWitt” writes his second contribution to the anti-Federalist Papers. These papers argued against the new Constitution, then being considered for ratification by the states.
Dewitt is worried about the permanency of the decision that is about to be made!
He reminds his readers that the newly proposed Constitution is not a “mere revision and amendment of our first Confederation.” Instead, it is a “compleat System for the future government of the United States.” If the Constitution is ratified, the decision will be permanent. He does not believe that amendments will come easily.
“It is not so capable of alterations as you would at the first reading suppose,” he insists. The amendment process in Article V of the Constitution requires a three-fourths supermajority of the states. “Where is the probability that three fourths of the States in that Convention,” he asks, “or three fourths of the Legislatures of the different States, whose interests differ scarcely in nothing short of every thing, will be so very ready or willing materially to change any part of this System, which shall be to the emolument of an individual State only?”
He does not think it will happen.
DeWitt remains worried about the lack of a Bill of Rights. Governments will always try to increase their power, even when the people mean to give them only some expressly delegated powers.
“That insatiable thirst for unconditional controul over our fellow-creatures,” he concludes, “and the facility of sounds to convey essentially different ideas, produced the first Bill of Rights ever prefixed to a Frame of Government. The people, although fully sensible that they reserved every tittle of power they did not expressly grant away, yet afraid that the words made use of, to express those rights so granted might convey more than they originally intended, they chose at the same moment to express in different language those rights which the agreement did not include, and which they never designed to part with, endeavoring thereby to prevent any cause for future altercation and the intrusion into society of that doctrine of tacit implication which has been the favorite theme of every tyrant from the origin of all governments to the present day.”
DeWitt worries that adoption of the federal Constitution will undermine the protections currently existing in the states’ bills of rights. He concludes with a final warning to his readers to be “CAUTIOUS.”