An Address to the Freemen of North Carolina (Publicola)

Written By North Carolina History Project

During the ratification debates, many Federalists and Antifederalists assumed pseudonyms when writing essays supporting or opposing the U.S. Constitution’s adoption.  The Antifederalist James Winthrop of Massachusetts, for instance, used the name Agrippa, and Federalist James Madison used the name Publius.  Under the penname Publicola (meaning friend of the people), Archibald Maclaine of Wilmington, a Federalist, printed a reply to George Mason’s objections to the Constitution.  It appeared in installments in the New Bern State Gazette on March 20 and March 27, 1789.

In An Address to the Freemen of North Carolina, Maclaine doubts that most of his political opponents understand what is stated in the Constitution.  Maclaine points out that Antifederalists are a diverse lot and possess no unifying reason to oppose the Constitution.  According to Maclaine, most Antifederalists are reactionaries: some may oppose the document’s ratification out of principle and argue with sound reason, but Maclaine does more than suggest that many political opponents argue without logic.  He later claims that most people are ignorant concerning government operations.  The point of representative government is for representatives to vote for the people and their interests.

Maclaine is alarmed by Antifederalist motives.   The North Carolinian writes that the Constitution’s opponents are intent “to poison” minds regarding supposed flaws within the document.  Many opponents are operating from economic and private interests.  The Constitution’s adoption, for one, threatened state leaders’ authority.  In sum, Maclaine labels Antifederalist arguments as “weak and dishonest.”

A new form of government is necessary, argues Maclaine.  During the 1780s, the United States had a weak government, one of the weakest and most inept in the world. “Something more than a bare federal union is necessary,” writes Maclaine, “to make us a great and respectable nation.”  The new government will be “partly federal, and partly national.”  He argues that Constitutional restrictions will be placed on the national government and that states will maintain their rights.

A union is needed to preserve liberty.  When people enter into society, Maclaine declares, they give up some part of natural liberty to secure civil liberty.  If the United States remained under the Articles of Confederation, Maclaine worries that a rogue state will undermine the American experiment for other states in the union.   Taxes are needed to sustain this union (fund an army and navy) and the preservation of liberty.  A strong union will also attract foreign trade and further strengthen the young nation.

Maclaine calls for an open debate regarding ratification so that Federalists can explicate their arguments rather than have Antifederalists dismiss them outright.