A Letter From Phocion To The Considerate Citizens Of New York on the Policies of the Day (Excerpted)

Under the name "Phocion," Alexander Hamilton wrote the following argument regarding the importance of carrying out the terms of the Treaty of Paris regarding treatment of loyalists. He points out that the sixth article mentions no recommendation of Congress, rather, it is mandatory. Furthermore, it is in the interests of the United States to adhere to all articles of the treaty, since breaking the treaty would justify the British to selectively enforce it as well. In response to fears that one-time loyalists will undermine the new government, Hamilton argues that allowing them full participation in society is the best way to avoid resentment.

However compelling Hamilton's arguments may have been, they lacked practical power as long as the states continued to be responsible for enforcing the treaty.

[…] These men [who support laws targeting loyalists], not only overleap the barriers of the constitution without remorse, but they advise us to become the scorn of nations, by violating the solemn engagements of the United States. They attemptendeavour to mould the Treaty with Great-Britain, into such form as pleases them, and to make it mean any thing or nothing as suits their views. They tell us, that all the conditions agreed tostipulations, with respect to the Tories, are merely that Congress will recommend, and the States may comply or not as they please.

But let any man of sense and honestycandour read the Treaty, and it will speak for itself. The fifth article is indeed recommendatory; but the sixth is as definite, without qualificationpositive as words can make it. “There shall be no future confiscations made, nor prosecutions commenced against any person or persons, for, or by reason of the part which he or they may have taken in the present war, and no person shall, on that account, suffer any future loss or damage, either in his person, liberty, or property.”

As to the restoration of confiscated property which is the subject of the fifth article, the states may restore or not as they think proper, because Congress engage only to recommend; but there is not a word about recommendation in the 6th article. […]

Let us examine the pretext upon which it is disputed. Congress, say our political jugglers, have no right to meddle with our internal police. They would be puzzled to tell what they mean by the expression. The truth is, it has no definite meaning; for it is impossible for Congress to do a single act which will not directly or indirectly affect the internal police of every state. When in order to procure privileges of commerce to the citizens of these states in foreign countries, they stipulate a reciprocity of privileges here, does not such an admission of the subjects of foreign countries to certain rights within these states operate, immediately upon their internal police? And were this not done, would not the power of making commercial treaties assigned to, given tovested in Congress, become a mere nullity? In short if nothing was to be done by Congress that would affect our internal police, in the large sense in which it has been taken, would not all the powers of the confederation be annihilated and the union dissolved? […]

But let it be admitted that Congress had no right to enter into this article. Do not equity and prudence strongly urge the several states to comply with it? We have in part enjoyed the benefit of the treaty; in consequence of which, we of this state are now in possession of our capital; and this implies an obligation in conscience, to perform what is to be performed on our part. But there is a consideration which will perhaps have more force with men, who seem to be superior to conscientious obligations; it is that the British are still in possession of our frontier posts, which they may keep in spite of us; and that they may essentially exclude us from the fisheries if they are so disposed. Breach of treaty on our part will be a just ground for breaking it on theirs. The treaty must stand or fall together. The wilful breach of a single article annuls the whole. Congress are appointed by the constitution to manage our foreign concerns. The nations with whom they contract are to suppose they understand their own powers and will not exceed them. If they do it in any instance, and we think it proper to disavow the act, it will be no apology to those with whom they contract that they had exceeded their authority. One side cannot be bound unless the obligation is reciprocal.

Suppose then Great-Britain should be induced to refuse a further compliance with the treaty, in consequence of a breach of it on our part, what situation should we be in? Can we renew the war to compel a compliance. We know, and all the world knows, it is out of our power? Will those who have heretofore assisted us take our part? Their affairs require peace as well as ours, and they will not think themselves bound to undertake an unjust war to regain to us rights which we have forfeited by a childish levity and a wanton contempt of public faith. […]

But not to insist on possible inconveniences, there is a certain evil which attends our intemperance, a loss of character in Europe. Our Ministers write that our conduct, hitherto, in this respect, has done us infinite injury, and has exhibited us in the light of a people, lackingdestitute of government, on whose engagements of course no dependence can be placed. […]

But say some, to suffer these wealthy disaffected men to remain among us, will be dangerous to our liberties; enemies to our government, they will be always endeavouring to undermine it and bring us back to the subjection of Great-Britain. The safest reliance of every government is on mens interests. This is a principle of human nature, on which all political speculation to be just, must be founded. Make it the interest of those citizens, who, during the revolution, were opposed to us to be friends to the new government, by affording them not only protection, but a participation in its privileges, and they will undoubtedly become its friends. The apprehension of returning under the dominion of Great Britain is chimerical; if there is any way to bring it about, the measures of those men, against whose conduct these remarks are aimed, lead directly to it. A disorderly or a violent government may disgust the best citizens, and make the body of the people tired of their Independence.

The embarrassed and exhausted state of Great-Britain, and the political system of Europe, render it impossible for her ever to reacquire the dominion of this country. Her former partizans must be convinced of this, and abandon her cause as desperate. They will never be mad enough to risk their fortunes a second time in the hopeless attempt of restoring her authority; nor will they have any inclination to do it, if they are allowed to be happy under the government of the society in which they live. To make it practicable, if they should be so disposed, they must not only get the government of this state, but of the United States into their hands. To suppose this possible, is to suppose that a majority of the numbers, property and abilities of the United States has been and is in opposition to the revolution. Its success is a clear proof that this has not been the case; and every man of information among us, knows the contrary. The supposition itself would show the absurdity, of expelling a small number from the city, which would constitute so insignificant a proportion of the whole, as without diminishing their influence, would only increase their disposition to do mischief. The policy in this case would be evident, of appealing to their interests rather than to their fears.

Nothing can be more ridiculous than the idea of expelling a few from this city and neighbourhood, while there are numbers in different parts of this and other states, who must necessarily partake in our governments, and who can never expect to be the objects of animadversion or exclusion. It is confirming many in their hostilityenmity and prejudices against the state, to indulge our enmity and prejudices against a few.

The idea of suffering the Tories to live among us under disqualifications, is equally mischievous and absurd. It is necessitating a large body of citizens in the state to continue enemies to the government, ready, at all times, in a moment of commotion, to throw their weight into that scale which meditates a change whether favourable or unfavourable to public liberty.

Viewing the subject in every possible light, there is not a single interest of the community but dictates moderation rather than violence. That honesty is still the best policy; that justice and moderation are the surest supports of every government, are maxims, which however they may be called trite, at all times true, though too seldom regarded, but rarely neglected with impunity. Were the people of America, with one voice, to ask, What shall we do to perpetuate our liberties and secure our happiness? The answer would be, “govern well” and you have nothing to fear either from internal disaffection or external hostility. Abuse not the power you possess, and you need never apprehend its diminution or loss. But if you make a wanton use of it, if you furnish another example, that despotism may debase the government of the many as well as the few, you like all others that have acted the same part, will experience that licentiousness is the fore-runner to slavery. […]

These sentiments are delivered to you in the frankness of conscious integrity, by one who feels that solicitude for the good of the community which the zealots, whose opinions he encounters profess, by one who pursues not as they do, the honour or salary, monetary profitsemoluments of his country, by one who, though he has had, in the course of the Revolution, a very confidential share in the public councils, civil and military, and has as often, at least, met danger in the common cause as any of those who now assume to be the guardians of the public liberty, asks no other reward of his countrymen, than to be heard without prejudice for their own interest. […]

Source: "A Letter From Phocion To The Considerate Citizens Of New York on the Policies of the Day," National Archives— Founders Online, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Hamilton/01-03-02-0314

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