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On the Present State of America



Under the direction of the honourable American Congress, conducted by a chain of wonderful and unexpected events, by a most gracious all-ruling Providence, the several Colonies, before unconnected, in spite of their different principles, interests, and prejudices, arose to such a degree of union, strength, credit, and importance, as to excite the wonder and applause of all the nations in Europe.

When, from the echo of publick affairs (with which I am only concerned as an individual) I saw that Independence was unavoidable, safe and honourable to the Colonies, I reasoned in my mind, and said to my friends, "There can be no difficulty about new forms of Government;" the experience, wisdom, and circumstances of these States, plainly point out the Congress to be the primum mobile and supreme directress of all momentous affairs in peace, as well as war, and the last resort unto which appeals must lie to all who think themselves injured by any Courts or Assemblies below; which Assemblies, therefore, may remain as heretofore, with only some change of names and forms, unless the necessity or justice of things require some small alterations, as the wisdom of Congress, that is, of all the States by their annually-chosen Representatives, may judge necessary. Thus it then appeared to me and others. But when I saw different forms of Government, without so much as taking notice of the Congress, and others only naming it superficially, and none leaving any appeal to it, and some of them even assuming to themselves much of the war department, as appointing all military officers, &c, I concluded my first thoughts must be wrong, and the wisdom of the Colonies must be right, and it was needless to mention my opinion; but last night an occurrence determined me otherwise.

A dream or vision (don' t rashly pronounce me superstitious, for it was not a dream from any disorder of body or mind, as both were healthy and clear, and the same was presented to me twice in the same night, though I have not had a dream to be before regarded these twenty years) represented to me a very great luminary (call it the Sun) in the west, under a great but not total eclipse; there being one straight line or stripe across the centre perpendicularly, that was luminous, the upper end giving most light. At the same time, and of the same height, (about forty degrees above the horizon,) I saw several Moons, about southeast, of different magnitudes, (perhaps thirteen, though. I did not count them.) These having all derived their light from the great luminary before, were now also eclipsed; their discs, however, by means of the luminous diameter of the Sun, were visible, and appeared like a polished white metal, but giving no light; and in each of them T beheld a very deformed black spot, though in some much larger than others, seeming to corrode and waste the body, &c. Every one must interpret this as I do, viz: The Congress, is that great luminary that gave light, beauty, warmth, and usefulness to all the Colonies, which were also represented by the aforesaid moons or planets; for in my dream I called one Saturn, another Jupiter, &c. The black spots, in some large, and the least three times as large as Venus' s transit over the Sun, must represent the American Tories, or friends of the English tyranny, and enemies of the Congress and liberty; traitors in each Colony, completing every little State into a separate policy. These have secretly, and by base intrigues, eclipsed the Sun; and under a pretence of greater liberty in their particular States, prevented the influence of the Congress, in order to produce general darkness and confusion, and to fly to the midnight of eastern slavery.

How far this may be the present situation of affairs, others may be better informed than I. But I have since seen a paper in the Journal signed Brutus, that speaks the author rather willing to return to the tyranny of Britain than the new free Constitution of Pennsylvania, though it breathes more political liberty than any of the States, and in which whatever errata may have happened are proposed for amendment, and the whole to be revised after some trial; though perhaps three might have been better than seven years.

In all the forms I have yet seen, there appears to me one dark and dangerous spot: they are too self-sufficient and disconnected from the great whole, while they are generally too complex, and have too many jarring wheels in themselves. No machine composed of many wheels, all


depending on each other, and totally interrupted if one is only warped a little, can be of long duration; thus, watches that show the phases of the moon, the days of the month, &c˙, are not so durable as the plainer, which only point out hours and minutes; and the smaller the works, the weaker. This is easily applied to some States, as that on Delaware which contains only three Counties, and yet has no less than four distinct legislative bodies, an Assembly, Legislative Council, President, and his Privy Council. All these opposite and incoherent powers (in that small and greatly divided handful) must produce endless jars and confusions, till one of these powers becomes an aristocracy, and like Aaron' s serpent swallows up the rest, or betrays the whole to some foreign Power, which we know the present Representatives of two of these Counties, who have been accounted all along enemies to the cause of America, would, if they durst, presently do. However, they have the nomination of members of Congress, and may thereby effect it, if such discoloured parts of other States prevail. They have also made their form of Government, without any appeal to the people, or hearing any objections, or giving any appeal to Congress, though one whole County was not represented in Convention, except only the Tories in it.

But the other faulty part of most new constitutions appears to me yet more dangerous, viz: their too great self-sufficiency, and want of connection with the great whole. These States must be one government, or we are undone. There can be but one supreme head. Monsters of many heads in the natural world can live but a very short time. It would be very easy to trace this same truth in the civil policies of all nations. This was the true cause of the dissolution of all the ancient free Republicks.

Before our little States became independent of each other, and only looked to the Congress as the animating soul of one great American republick, how great the union, how happy the whole! But now, how changed! The Congress eclipsed; every little State almost separate from the rest, and every bird of the night utters its ill-boding sound; Tories triumph, and those who were in arms against their country last June, are now again openly reading letters to the people, which they say are from Lord Howe, full of encouragement to the disaffected, and desiring them to send only the King' s friends to Assembly, and he will make peace with them, &c, &c.

The people here accordingly will send only Tories; and I am satisfied, unless some great change of affairs, (which can be effected only by Congress,) they will never elect any other members to any of the four or five Delaware branches of government, for many years to come, except men who wickedly pretend the Church is in danger, and who bribe their votes; but no men of sense, patriotism, or virtue, at least in this generation. Perhaps something like this may happen in other counties of other governments. By such constitutions, what can be expected? Must not one State fall into contention with another State, and every degree of anarchy and confusion arise, and the States, thus weakened, become an easy prey to some foreign kingdom, or some fortunate ruffian at home?

Instead, therefore, of leaving ignorant men to contend about forms of government, endangering our all at stake, by disunion among ourselves, why do we not remove the eclipse, and restore the Congress to the supreme power of all affairs at once? This is a simple government. The most simple is the best. We cannot be afraid of our liberty in such hands; they are representatives of all America, (themselves being bound by every law they make is sufficient security,) removed from every little local prejudice, under no temptation to be partial. Let them be chosen every year, and changed every three years, but gradually, and not all at once: then what need for all this costly parade of governours, councils, and privy councils? Cannot every Assembly do all the little common affairs within itself, and in all greater matters receive orders from the grand Council or Congress, which should also be the dernier ressort to settle all greater difficulties of an internal nature? But it will be said, this would give endless trouble, and make too much business for that venerable body. I answer,


they will be chose of men of ability and leisure; and let their support be decent and honourable; then what though they sit half the year or more? Their supreme power, which may be able to call forth the army in times, of war, and the militia in times of peace, would easily settle all affairs, give general satisfaction, and unite all the most distant American States in one strong, honourable, and lasting chain.

It is true there are many united States and Republicks in the world, on the same plan which these Siates are adopting; but is it not certain, too, these have not every liberty? Is there not much tyranny in such particular States, for want of a supreme and impartial tribunal? Monarchies are often lasting, because simple and expeditious in business, and thereby have many advantages over the common republicks; and might not such a republick as I plead for, having their grand council always sitting, with supreme power, ready to determine on every emergence over a whole continent, have all the expedition of a monarchy, and the deliberate counsel of a republick?

On the present plan of these States, there is no one supreme power to connect the divided States, which, by means of new plans, will be internally unhappy, as well as jealous of each other; their union, strength, and happiness lost; they are only connected as a rope of sand crumbling to pieces.

Is it true, that an old Assembly, or some Tory members of it, have met and passed acts in opposition to a new Convention, in one of these States already? Does the same opposition to American measures openly declare their expectation of General Howe' s paying Philadelphia a visit before winter? Do not all these things show the imbecility of Government? Where is the supreme active power of America, when leading men boldly espouse the cause of our most inveterate enemies, who have deluged our (before peaceful) country in blood?

Our cruel enemies boasted an easy conquest of America, because, they alleged, we were cowards: they are convinced to their cost of their mistake in this. But when they shall find the black spots in our constitutions, and the wretched, numbers of American traitors, who sell their country for a mess of pottage, they may be more encouraged. These wretches are in almost every State, striving, by the little arts of policy, to delude, divide, weaken, and subvert every rational and manly measure, to alarm and terrify us into a tame submission to tyranny. But I am confident there is still so much virtue in America, that these cringing candidates for court favour, these sycophants, dissemblers, and false friends, will be detected, displaced, and forever despised.

But it will be objected that I would make the Congress absolute, which might be dangerous as well as a monarchy, unless restricted by a code of laws, &c. I answer, I cannot perceive any danger from rendering them absolute, or restrained by few laws. I would have them be a great court of chancery, governed only by the * A magistrate of good principles needs no other law; and one of bad principles will violate or evade every law of God and man. eternal laws of equity, patriotism, and reason, in order more effectually to promote the safety, equality, industry, union, virtue, and happiness of America. And as to codes of laws, they have had the same effect in all the nations as creeds and confessions, and forms of religion: they have literally and figuratively damned the world.

How happy the Greeks with a few laws, and the Romans when they had only the twelve tables. In the later ages, equity and justice have been nearly banished from the world, by laws complicated to an unwieldy size. The whole world needs but a few laws, and these simple, clear, sensible, and easy in their application to the actions of men.

A grand Congress, chose annually by the people, (not by their representatives,) would contain the united abilities and virtues of all these Colonies in one great republick, the deputed guardians of our civil rights: this would excite the prompt obedience, the fidelity and publick spirit of a willing people, no longer bent under the yoke of oppression, by little tyrants in their own little and wrangling States. The American nation would then raise its head, and universal harmony and joy prevail among all classes and orders of men. This Congress of men of the greatest and most eminent characters, would be a seminary of statesmen and


heroes, a nursery of truth, knowledge, and virtue, to prepare men of abilities for generals, ambassadors, and the highest offices of State.

This simple and plain system contains no seeds of disease or decay; would connect all America in every liberty that freemen wish for, and would probably last as long as time


Delaware, October 10, 1776.



* "There are some good things in the Delaware Constitution, which are evidently borrowed from the Pennsylvanian, but mangled like a school-boy' s abridgment of a Spectator' s paper. Some of their Bill of Rights, explained by Tories, might prevent all American defence. Justices of the Peace may also be Assemblymen, i˙ e˙, "make and execute laws, which destroys all liberty." — Montesquieu.