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Centinel, to the People of Pennsylvania
[New York: ca. October 1787]. 2pp., folio broadsheet. (21 1/2 x 16 inches). Text in three columns, comprised of Centinel Numbers 1 and 2 (each signed in print with Bryan's pseudonym "Centinel"), with the addition on the final page of a letter "To the Printer" signed in print by "Timoleon" and dated "New-York, October 24, 1787." (Small losses in lower left affecting some text recto and verso). A major Anti-Federalist broadside response to the proposed Constitution. On September 17, 1787, after nearly five months of debate and deliberation, the Constitutional Convention proposed a plan for a new federal government to the states for ratification. Among the earliest to publicly criticize the new constitution was Pennsylvanian Samuel Bryan, the son of Pennsylvania supreme court judge George Bryan. On October 5, Bryan, under the pseudonym Centinel, published in Philadelphia newspapers, the first of what would eventually be eighteen influential anti-federalist essays. The present broadside, published in New York, reprints the first two Centinel essays. In Centinel I, Bryan begins by praising the Pennsylvania constitution, but warns that he must comment on the proposed federal plan of government before the freedom of the press is revoked. Bryan, however, starts his argument not with a critique of the Constitution, but of the underlying principles and suppositions of John Adams's A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America. Bryan asserts that a government composed of opposing interests yielding equally balanced power between three bodies of government, as advocated by Adams, has never existed in the history of man and cannot possible exist in America and that "the only operative and efficient check, upon the conduct of administration, is the sense of the people at large." Bryan continues by advocating Pennsylvania's unicameral legislature which is held in check by short terms of office. Next, Centinel turns to the proposed plan of the federal government, focusing on the federal government's overly broad rights of internal taxation and the unbalanced power of the federal judiciary over the courts of the individual states. Bryan next gives a general outline of the entire plan of the federal government and suggests that the House of Representatives is too small, the terms of office in the Senate too long, among other complaints. He concludes, "From this investigation into the organization of this government, it appears that it is devoid of all responsibility or accountability to the great body of the people, and that so far from being a regular balanced government, it would be in practice a permanent aristocracy." In his second essay, Bryan begins his opposition to the new federal government citing its lack of a Bill of Rights, calling its omission "an insult on the understanding of the people." Much of the remaining parts of this essay focus on James Wilson's comments in support of the proposed Constitution. Bryan concludes that "it is evident, that the general government would necessarily annihilate the particular governments, and that the security of the personal rights of the people by the state constitutions is superseded and destroyed; hence results the necessity of such security being provided for by a bill of rights to be inserted in the new plan of federal government. What excuse can we then make for the omission of this grand palladium, this barrier between liberty and oppression. For universal experience demonstrates the necessity of the most express declarations and restrictions, to protect the rights and liberties of mankind, from the silent, powerful and ever active conspiracy of those who govern." Following the printing of Centinel I and II, this broadside includes a letter "To the Printer" signed with the pseudonym "Timoleon" and dated October 24, 1787. In it, the author recounts a meeting in New York of a group of sensible men without ambitions under the new government, recounting the arguments of a judge and an older gentleman of the club. The former fears that the new congressional power to levy internal taxes for the "general welfare" of the United States "necessarily includes the right of judging what is for the general welfare" and that in the absence of a Bill of Rights, that speech contrary to the government could be suppressed in the name of "general welfare." The latter quotes Blackstone at length and espouses his fears that the new constitution will trample the right of trial by jury. In direct response to these and other anti-federalist arguments, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay began writing the Federalist Papers. In Federalist 1, published October 27 -- three days after the date of this broadside --, Hamilton writes that the series would "endeavor to give a satisfactory answer to all the objections which shall have made their appearance, that may seem to have any claim to your attention." The only other extant copy of this broadside is located at the New York Historical Society. Broadside printings of any of the anti-federalist papers are of the utmost rarity and seldom appear on the market. Bristol B6461; Shipton & Mooney 45045. On the attribution of Centinel to Samuel Bryan, see Konkle, George Bryan and the Constitution of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: 1922) pp. 308-319.
      [Bookseller: Donald Heald Rare Books]
Last Found On: 2013-07-20           Check availability:      Biblio    

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