THOUGHTS ON THE PEACE, AND THE PROBABLE
"THE times that tried men's souls,"* are over- and the greatest
and completest revolution the world ever knew, gloriously and
But to pass from the extremes of danger to safety- from the tumult
of war to the tranquillity of peace, though sweet in contemplation,
requires a gradual composure of the senses to receive it. Even
calmness has the power of stunning, when it opens too instantly upon
us. The long and raging hurricane that should cease in a moment, would
leave us in a state rather of wonder than enjoyment; and some
moments of recollection must pass, before we could be capable of
tasting the felicity of repose. There are but few instances, in
which the mind is fitted for sudden transitions: it takes in its
pleasures by reflection and comparison and those must have time to
act, before the relish for new scenes is complete.
In the present case- the mighty magnitude of the object- the various
uncertainties of fate it has undergone- the numerous and complicated
dangers we have suffered or escaped- the eminence we now stand on, and
the vast prospect before us, must all conspire to impress us with
To see it in our power to make a world happy- to teach mankind the
art of being so- to exhibit, on the theatre of the universe a
character hitherto unknown- and to have, as it were, a new creation
intrusted to our hands, are honors that command reflection, and can
neither be too highly estimated, nor too gratefully received.
In this pause then of recollection- while the storm is ceasing,
and the long agitated mind vibrating to a rest, let us look back on
the scenes we have passed, and learn from experience what is yet to be
Never, I say, had a country so many openings to happiness as this.
Her setting out in life, like the rising of a fair morning, was
unclouded and promising. Her cause was good. Her principles just and
liberal. Her temper serene and firm. Her conduct regulated by the
nicest steps, and everything about her wore the mark of honor. It is
not every country (perhaps there is not another in the world) that can
boast so fair an origin. Even the first settlement of America
corresponds with the character of the revolution. Rome, once the proud
mistress of the universe, was originally a band of ruffians. Plunder
and rapine made her rich, and her oppression of millions made her
great. But America need never be ashamed to tell her birth, nor relate
the stages by which she rose to empire.
The remembrance, then, of what is past, if it operates rightly, must
inspire her with the most laudable of all ambition, that of adding
to the fair fame she began with. The world has seen her great in
adversity; struggling, without a thought of yielding, beneath
accumulated difficulties, bravely, nay proudly, encountering distress,
and rising in resolution as the storm increased. All this is justly
due to her, for her fortitude has merited the character. Let, then,
the world see that she can bear prosperity: and that her honest virtue
in time of peace, is equal to the bravest virtue in time of war.
She is now descending to the scenes of quiet and domestic life.
Not beneath the cypress shade of disappointment, but to enjoy in her
own land, and under her own vine, the sweet of her labors, and the
reward of her toil.- In this situation, may she never forget that a
fair national reputation is of as much importance as independence.
That it possesses a charm that wins upon the world, and makes even
enemies civil. That it gives a dignity which is often superior to
power, and commands reverence where pomp and splendor fail.
It would be a circumstance ever to be lamented and never to be
forgotten, were a single blot, from any cause whatever, suffered to
fall on a revolution, which to the end of time must be an honor to the
age that accomplished it: and which has contributed more to
enlighten the world, and diffuse a spirit of freedom and liberality
among mankind, than any human event (if this may be called one) that
ever preceded it.
It is not among the least of the calamities of a long continued war,
that it unhinges the mind from those nice sensations which at other
times appear so amiable. The continual spectacle of woe blunts the
finer feelings, and the necessity of bearing with the sight, renders
it familiar. In like manner, are many of the moral obligations of
society weakened, till the custom of acting by necessity becomes an
apology, where it is truly a crime. Yet let but a nation conceive
rightly of its character, and it will be chastely just in protecting
it. None ever began with a fairer than America and none can be under a
greater obligation to preserve it.
The debt which America has contracted, compared with the cause she
has gained, and the advantages to flow from it, ought scarcely to be
mentioned. She has it in her choice to do, and to live as happily as
she pleases. The world is in her hands. She has no foreign power to
monopolize her commerce, perplex her legislation, or control her
prosperity. The struggle is over, which must one day have happened,
and, perhaps, never could have happened at a better time.* And instead
of a domineering master, she has gained an ally whose exemplary
greatness, and universal liberality, have extorted a confession even
from her enemies.
* "These are the times that try men's souls," The Crisis No. I.
published December, 1776.
With the blessings of peace, independence, and an universal
commerce, the states, individually and collectively, will have leisure
and opportunity to regulate and establish their domestic concerns, and
to put it beyond the power of calumny to throw the least reflection on
their honor. Character is much easier kept than recovered, and that
man, if any such there be, who, from sinister views, or littleness
of soul, lends unseen his hand to injure it, contrives a wound it will
never be in his power to heal.
As we have established an inheritance for posterity, let that
inheritance descend, with every mark of an honorable conveyance. The
little it will cost, compared with the worth of the states, the
greatness of the object, and the value of the national character, will
be a profitable exchange.
But that which must more forcibly strike a thoughtful, penetrating
mind, and which includes and renders easy all inferior concerns, is
the UNION OF THE STATES. On this our great national character depends.
It is this which must give us importance abroad and security at
home. It is through this only that we are, or can be, nationally known
in the world; it is the flag of the United States which renders our
ships and commerce safe on the seas, or in a foreign port. Our
Mediterranean passes must be obtained under the same style. All our
treaties, whether of alliance, peace, or commerce, are formed under
the sovereignty of the United States, and Europe knows us by no
other name or title.
The division of the empire into states is for our own convenience,
but abroad this distinction ceases. The affairs of each state are
local. They can go no further than to itself. And were the whole worth
of even the richest of them expended in revenue, it would not be
sufficient to support sovereignty against a foreign attack. In
short, we have no other national sovereignty than as United States. It
would even be fatal for us if we had- too expensive to be
maintained, and impossible to be supported. Individuals, or individual
states, may call themselves what they please; but the world, and
especially the world of enemies, is not to be held in awe by the
whistling of a name. Sovereignty must have power to protect all the
parts that compose and constitute it: and as UNITED STATES we are
equal to the importance of the title, but otherwise we are not. Our
union, well and wisely regulated and cemented, is the cheapest way
of being great- the easiest way of being powerful, and the happiest
invention in government which the circumstances of America can admit
of.- Because it collects from each state, that which, by being
inadequate, can be of no use to it, and forms an aggregate that serves
The states of Holland are an unfortunate instance of the effects
of individual sovereignty. Their disjointed condition exposes them
to numerous intrigues, losses, calamities, and enemies; and the almost
impossibility of bringing their measures to a decision, and that
decision into execution, is to them, and would be to us, a source of
It is with confederated states as with individuals in society;
something must be yielded up to make the whole secure. In this view of
things we gain by what we give, and draw an annual interest greater
than the capital.- I ever feel myself hurt when I hear the union, that
great palladium of our liberty and safety, the least irreverently
spoken of. It is the most sacred thing in the constitution of America,
and that which every man should be most proud and tender of. Our
citizenship in the United States is our national character. Our
citizenship in any particular state is only our local distinction.
By the latter we are known at home, by the former to the world. Our
great title is AMERICANS- our inferior one varies with the place.
So far as my endeavors could go, they have all been directed to
conciliate the affections, unite the interests, and draw and keep
the mind of the country together; and the better to assist in this
foundation work of the revolution, I have avoided all places of profit
or office, either in the state I live in, or in the United States;
kept myself at a distance from all parties and party connections,
and even disregarded all private and inferior concerns: and when we
take into view the great work which we have gone through, and feel, as
we ought to feel, the just importance of it, we shall then see, that
the little wranglings and indecent contentions of personal parley, are
as dishonorable to our characters, as they are injurious to our
It was the cause of America that made me an author. The force with
which it struck my mind and the dangerous condition the country
appeared to me in, by courting an impossible and an unnatural
reconciliation with those who were determined to reduce her, instead
of striking out into the only line that could cement and save her, A
DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, made it impossible for me, feeling as I
did, to be silent: and if, in the course of more than seven years, I
have rendered her any service, I have likewise added something to
the reputation of literature, by freely and disinterestedly
employing it in the great cause of mankind, and showing that there may
be genius without prostitution.
Independence always appeared to me practicable and probable,
provided the sentiment of the country could be formed and held to
the object: and there is no instance in the world, where a people so
extended, and wedded to former habits of thinking, and under such a
variety of circumstances, were so instantly and effectually
pervaded, by a turn in politics, as in the case of independence; and
who supported their opinion, undiminished, through such a succession
of good and ill fortune, till they crowned it with success.
But as the scenes of war are closed, and every man preparing for
home and happier times, I therefore take my leave of the subject. I
have most sincerely followed it from beginning to end, and through all
its turns and windings: and whatever country I may hereafter be in,
I shall always feel an honest pride at the part I have taken and
acted, and a gratitude to nature and providence for putting it in my
power to be of some use to mankind.
PHILADELPHIA, April 19, 1783.
- * That the revolution began at the exact period of time best
fitted to the purpose, is sufficiently proved by the event.- But the
great hinge on which the whole machine turned, is the Union of the
States: and this union was naturally produced by the inability of
any one state to support itself against any foreign enemy without
the assistance of the rest.
- Had the states severally been less able than they were when the
war began, their united strength would not have been equal to the
undertaking, and they must in all human probability have failed.- And,
on the other hand, had they severally been more able, they might not
have seen, or, what is more, might not have felt, the necessity of
uniting: and, either by attempting to stand alone or in small
confederacies, would have been separately conquered.
- Now, as we cannot see a time (and many years must pass away before
it can arrive) when the strength of any one state, or several
united, can be equal to the whole of the present United States, and as
we have seen the extreme difficulty of collectively prosecuting the
war to a successful issue, and preserving our national importance in
the world, therefore, from the experience we have had, and the
knowledge we have gained, we must, unless we make a waste of wisdom,
be strongly impressed with the advantage, as well as the necessity
of strengthening that happy union which had been our salvation, and
without which we should have been a ruined people.
- While I was writing this note, I cast my eye on the pamphlet, Common
Sense, from which I shall make an extract, as it exactly applies to
the case. It is as follows:
- "I have never met with a man, either in England or America, who
has not confessed it as his opinion that a separation between the
countries would take place one time or other; and there is no instance
in which we have shown less judgment, than in endeavoring to
describe what we call the ripeness or fitness of the continent for
- "As all men allow the measure, and differ only in their opinion of
the time, let us, in order to remove mistakes, take a general survey
of things, and endeavor, if possible, to find out the very time. But
we need not to go far, the inquiry ceases at once, for, the time has
found us. The general concurrence, the glorious union of all things
prove the fact.
- "It is not in numbers, but in a union, that our great strength lies.
The continent is just arrived at that pitch of strength, in which no
single colony is able to support itself, and the whole, when united,
can accomplish the matter; and either more or less than this, might be
fatal in its effects."
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A Supernumerary Crisis (To The People Of America)