The most prescient of the Founders, Patrick Henry discerned the predictable result of ratifying a Constitution which he viewed as nothing more than consolidating the States into one centralized government. He challenged the Federalists of his day: “let me appeal to the candor of the committee, if the want of money be not the source of all our misfortunes.” He maintained that the new government was a consolidated one, and that its advocates sought “splendor” – not liberty.
Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865
Constitution Unable to Control Man’s Nature
“Man,” Patrick Henry warned, “is a fallen creature, a fallible being, and cannot be depended upon without self-love.” Certainly, a large measure of Henry’s ideas of the type of government which would serve the true function of government, the preservations of liberty, were based upon this idea of the nature of the human species. Indeed, the best government would be one which would be one which made the most effective provisions against this.
One of the primary modes in which this “self-love” manifested itself was in a desire for power because “human nature never will part from power.” The human temptation was present in all men . . . Henry deduced, for “the characteristic of the good or great Man is not that he has been exempted from the evils of life, but that he surmounted them.”
The annals of history pointed this out, for “can the annals of mankind exhibit one single example, where rulers overcharged with power willingly let go the oppressed, though solicited and requested most earnestly?” In fact, “a willing relinquishment of power is one of those things which human nature never was, nor will ever be capable of.”
What was there about this new government which did not provide for this innate weakness of man? Why had the men at the Constitutional Convention created a new government? Was it because the government of the Articles of Confederation was so weak that they were faced with the alternatives of drastic action or anarchy? Patrick Henry did not think so.
The Confederation had won the war; it had saved the West. He protested that history was replete with examples, “instances of people losing their liberties by their own carelessness and the ambition of a few.” Was this not the real reason for the proposed change in government?
Also disturbing to Henry’s mind was the fact that in many States which had ratified the new Constitution, the masses had not been awarded the opportunity to vote on the election of new delegates to the ratification conventions. He protested, “. . . only 10,000 were represented in Pennsylvania although 70,000 had a right to be represented. Is this not a serious thing?”
If the people did not want a change in their government, why then did the Philadelphia Convention write the new Constitution?”
(The Christian Philosophy of Patrick Henry, James M. Wells, Carris J. Kocher, editor, Bill of Rights Bicentennial Committee, 2004 (original 1960), pp. 58-59)