Friday, November 13, 2020

John Jay's Address to the People of the State of New York, Part 1

The following is taken from John Jay's 1788 address to the people of the State of New York to advocate ratification of the proposed United States Constitution by the state's ratification convention.  The Americans of the 21st century need no less than the Americans of 1788 to give serious consideration to the points made by Jay in this address.  It is a message that Americans have needed to hear (or to read -- to receive, one way or another) for years, but the more time passes, the more intense that need has seemed to grow.

When Jay himself delivered this message, it was a plea to Americans to recover their senses before they (or "we") irreparably damage the hard-won and precious gift that America is and ought to be.  I offer this message now for the same reason.

As the title above indicates, this is the first of several parts.

“Friends and Fellow Citizens:

“THERE are times and seasons, when general evils spread general alarm and uneasiness, and yet arise from causes too complicated, and too little understood by many, to produce an unanimity of opinions respecting their remedies.  Hence it is, that on such occasions, the conflict of arguments too often excites a conflict of passions, and introduces a degree of discord and animosity, which, by agitating the public mind dispose it to precipitation and extravagance.  They who on the ocean have been unexpectedly enveloped with tempests, or suddenly entangled among rocks and shoals, know the value of that serene, self-possession and presence of mind, to which in such cases they owed their preservation; nor will the heroes who have given us victory and peace, hesitate to acknowledge that we are as much indebted for those blessings to the calm prevision, and cool intrepidity which planned and conducted our military measures, as to the glowing animation with which they were executed.

“While reason retains her rule, while men are as ready to receive as to give advice, and as willing to be convinced themselves, as to convince others, there are few political evils from which a free and enlightened people cannot deliver themselves.  It is unquestionably true, that the great body of the people love their country, and wish it prosperity; and this observation is particularly applicable to the people of a free country, for they have more and stronger reasons for loving it than others.  It is not therefore to vicious motives that the unhappy divisions which sometimes prevail among them are to be imputed; the people at large always mean well, and although they may on certain occasions be misled by the counsels, or injured by the efforts of the few who expect more advantage from the wreck, than from the preservation of national prosperity, yet the motives of these few, are by no means to be confounded with those of the community in general.

“That such seeds of discord and danger have been disseminated and begin to take root in America, as unless eradicated will soon poison our gardens and our fields, is a truth much to be lamented; and the more so, as their growth rapidly increases, while we are wasting the season in honestly but imprudently disputing, not whether they shall be pulled up, but by whom, in what manner, and with what instruments, the work shall be done. …”

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