I have the highest veneration of those Gentleman, -- but, Sir, give me leave to demand, what right had they to say, We, the People? My political curiosity, exclusive of my anxious solicitude for the public welfare, leads me to ask who authorized them to speak the language of, We, the People, instead of We, the States? States are the characteristics, and the soul of the confederation. If the States be not the agents of this compact, it must be one of great consolidated National Government of the people of all the States.
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First, the Constitution ought to secure a genuine and guard against a select militia, by providing that the militia shall always be kept well organized, armed, and disciplined, and include, according to the past and general usage of the states, all men capable of bearing arms; and that all regulations tending to render this general militia useless and defenseless, by establishing select corps of militia, or distinct bodies of military men, not having permanent interests and attachments in the community to be avoided.
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The Constitution is said to have beautiful features; but when I come to examine these features, Sir, they appear to me horribly frightful. Among other deformities, it has an awful squinting - it squints towards monarchy. And does not this raise indignation in the breast of every true American? Your president may easily become king. . . . Where are your checks in this government? . . . I would rather infinitely - and I am sure most of this convention are of the same opinion - have a king, lords, and commons than a government so replete with such insupportable evils.
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Have we the means of resisting disciplined armies, when our only defense, the militia, is put in the hands of Congress? Of what service would militia be to you when, most probably, you will not have a single musket in the state? For, as arms are to be provided by Congress, they may or may not provide them.
Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss. Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with those warlike preparations which cover our waters and darken our land. Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled, that force must be called in to win back our love? Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugationthe last arguments to which kings resort.
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The battle, Sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, Sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable; and let it come! I repeat, Sir, let it come!
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It is natural for man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts... For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth, to know the worst, and to provide for it.
Power is the great evil with which we are contending. We have divided power between three branches of government and erected checks and balances to prevent abuse of power. However, where is the check on the power of the judiciary? If we fail to check the power of the judiciary, I predict that we will eventually live under judicial tyranny.
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Amongst other strange things said of me, I hear it is said by the deists that I am one of the number; and indeed, that some good people think I am no Christian. This thought gives me much more pain than the appellation of Tory; because I think religion of infinitely higher importance than politics; and I find much cause to reproach myself that I have lived so long, and have given no decided and public proofs of my being a Christian. But, indeed, my dear child, this is a character which I prize far above all this world has, or can boast.
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That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of the conscience; and it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.
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Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Beside, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of Nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us.
O sir, we should have fine times, indeed, if, to punish tyrants, it were only sufficient to assemble the people! Your arms, wherewith you could defend yourselves, are gone; and you have no longer an aristocratical, no longer a democratical spirit. Did you ever read of any revolution in a nation, brought about by the punishment of those in power, inflicted by those who had no power at all?
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It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, "Peace! Peace!" "" but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!
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Bad men cannot make good citizens. It is when a people forget God that tyrants forge their chains. A vitiated state of morals, a corrupted public conscience, is incompatible with freedom. No free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue; and by a frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.
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If we wish to be free; if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending; if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained - we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms, and to the God of hosts, is all that is left us.
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I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging the future but by the pasty. Let us not, I beseech you, deceive ourselves longer. We have done everything that could he done to avert the storm, which is now coming on. If we wish to be free we must fight, I repeat, we must fight.
Are we at last brought to such humiliating and debasing degradation that we cannot be trusted with arms for our defense? Where is the difference between having our arms in possession and under our direction, and having them under the management of Congress? If our defense be the real object of having those arms, in whose hands can they be trusted with more propriety, or equal safety to us, as in our own hands?
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....I am sure that the dangers of this system (the Federal Constitution) are real, when those who have no similar interest with the people of this country (the South) are to legislate for us - when our dearest rights are to be left, in the hands of those, whose advantage it will be to infringe them.
Is the relinquishment of the trial by jury and the liberty of the press necessary for your liberty? Will the abandonment of your most sacred rights tend to the security of your liberty? Liberty, the greatest of all earlthy blessings - give us that precious jewel, and you may take every things else! . . . Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect every one who approaches that jewel.
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Whether this will prove a blessing or a curse, will depend upon the use our people will make of the blessings which a gracious God hath bestowed on us. If they are wise, they will be great and happy. If they are of a contrary character, they will be miserable. Righteousness alone can exalt them as a nation. Reader! Whoever thou art, remember this: and in thy sphere practice virtue thyself, an encourage it in others.
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The officers of Congress, may come upon you now, fortified with all the terrors of paramount federal authority. Excisemen taxmen may come in multitudes; for the limitation of their numbers no man knows. They may, unless the general government be restrained ... go into your cellars and rooms, and search, ransack, and measure, everything you eat, drink, and wear.
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We are descended from a people whose government was founded on liberty; our glorious forefathers of Great Britain made liberty the foundation of everything. That country is become a great, mighty, and splendid nation; not because their government is strong and energetic, but, sir, because liberty is its direct end and foundation.
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