A Massachusetts farmer speaks for the Constitution (1787)

Jonathan Smith was a farmer from rural Massachusetts who spoke in favour of the Constitution at the state’s ratifying convention in 1787:

“Mr President, I am a plain man and get my living by the plough. I am not used to speaking in public, but I beg your leave to say a few words to my brother plough-joggers in this house.

I have lived in a part of the country where I have known the worth of good government by the want [lack] of it. There was a black cloud that rose in the east last winter and spread over the west. I mean, sir, in the county of Bristol; the cloud rose there and burst upon us, and produced a dreadful effect. It brought on a state of anarchy, and that leads to tyranny.

I say it brought anarchy [because] people that used to live peaceably and were before good neighbours, got distracted and took up arms against government. I am a-going, Mr President, to show you, my brother farmers, what were the effects of anarchy that you may see the reasons why I wish for good government.

People took up arms and then if you went to speak to them, you had the musket of death presented to your breast. They would rob you of your property threaten to burn your houses; oblige you to be on your guard night and day. Alarms spread from town to town; families were broke up; the tender mother would cry, “Oh my son is among them! What shall I do for my child!” Some were taken captive, children taken out of their schools and carried away. Then we should hear of an action, and the poor prisoners were set in the front to be killed by their own friends.

How dreadful, how distressing was this? Our distress was so great that we should have been glad to catch at anything that looked like a government for protection. Had any person able to protect us, come and set up his standard we should all have flocked to it, even if it had been a monarch, and that monarch might have proved a tyrant, so that you see that anarchy leads to tyranny… and better to have one tyrant than so many at once.

Now, Mr President, when I saw this Constitution, I found that it was a cure for these disorders. It was just such a thing as we wanted. I got a copy of it and read it over and over I had been a member of the Convention to form our own state Constitution, and had learnt something of the checks and balances of power, and I found them all here. I did not go to any lawyer to ask his opinion, we have no lawyer in our town, and we do well enough without. I formed my own opinion and was pleased with this Constitution.

My honourable old daddy there (pointing to Mr Singletary) won’t think that I expect to be a Congressman and swallow up the liberties of the people. I never had any post, nor do I want one, and before I am done you will think that I don’t deserve one. But I don’t think the worse of the Constitution because lawyers and men of learning and monied men are fond of it.

We are by this Constitution allowed to send ten members to Congress. Have we not more than that number fit to go? I dare say if we pick out ten, we shall have another ten left, and I hope ten times ten, and will not these be a check upon those that go? Will they go to Congress and abuse their power and do mischief when they know that they must return and look the other ten in the face, and be called to account for their conduct?

Some gentlemen think that our liberty and property is not safe in the hands of monied men and men of learning, I am not of that mind… These lawyers, these monied men, these men of learning, are all embarked in the same cause with us, and we must all swim or sink together. Shall we throw the Constitution overboard because it does not please us alike?

Some gentlemen say don’t be in a hurry, take time to consider and don’t take a leap in the dark. I say take things in time; gather fruit when it is ripe. There is a time to sow and a time to reap. We sowed our seed when we sent men to the federal convention, now is the harvest, now is the time to reap the fruit of our labour and if we don’t do it now I am afraid we never shall have another opportunity.”