University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
The History Collection

Page View

Jensen, Merrill (ed.) / Ratification of the Constitution by the states: Delaware, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut
(1978)

V. Commentaries on the Constitution, 13 November 1787-7 January 1788,   pp. 456-534


Page 464

CONNECTICUT/19 NOV.
in theory as will not be open in some respects to the objections of
carping and jealous men. The new Constitution is perhaps more
cautiously guarded than any other in the world, and at the same
time creates a power which will be able to protect the subject; yet
doubtless objections may be raised, and so they may against the con-
stitution of each state in the Union. In Connecticut the laws are the
constitution by which the people are governed, and it is generally
allowed to be the most free and popular in the thirteen states. As
this is the state in which I live and write, I will instance several
things which with a proper coloring and a spice of jealousy appear
most dangerous to the natural rights of the people, yet they never
have been dangerous in practice and are absolutely necessary at some
times to prevent much greater evil.
The right of taxation or of assessing and collecting money out of
the people is one of those powers which may prove dangerous in the
exercise, and which by the new Constitution is vested solely in repre-
sentatives chosen for that purpose. But by the laws of Connecticut,
this power called so dangerous may be exercised by the selectmen of
each town, and this not only without their consent but against their
express will, where they have considered the matter, and judge it
improper. This power they may exercise when and so often as they
judge necessary. Three justices of the quorum may tax a whole county
in such sums as they think meet, against the express will of all the in-
habitants. Here we see the dangerous power of taxation vested in
the justices of the quorum, and even in selectmen, men whom we
should suppose as likely to err and tyrannize as the representatives
of three millions of people, in solemn deliberation, and amenable to
the vengeance of their constituents for every act of injustice. The
same town officers have equal authority where personal liberty is
concerned, in a matter more sacred than all the property in the
world, the disposal of your children. When they judge fit, with the
advice of one justice of the peace, they may tear them from the par-
ents' embrace and place them under the absolute control of such
masters as they please; and if the parents' reluctance excites their
resentment, they may place him  and his property under overseers.
Fifty other instances fearful as these might be collected from the
laws of the state, but I will not repeat them lest my readers should
be alarmed where there is no danger. These regulations are doubtless
best; we have seen much good and no evil come from them. I adduced
these instances to show that the most free constitution, when made the
subject of criticism, may be exhibited in frightful colors, and such
attempts we must expect against that now proposed. If, my country-
men, you wait for a constitution which absolutely bars a power of
doing evil, you must wait long, and when obtained it will have no
464


Go up to Top of Page