by James and Barbara Rose
ADDRESS by JAMES WILSON, July 4, 1788, Philadelphia
Signer of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, Supreme Court Justice

A people, free and enlightened, ESTABLISHING and RATIFYING a system of government, which they have previously CONSIDERED, EXAMINED and APPROVED! — This is the spectacle, which we are assembled to celebrate; and it is the most dignified one that has yet appeared on our globe. .

What is the object exhibited to our contemplation? A WHOLE PEOPLE exercising its first and greatest power — performing an act of SOVEREIGNTY, ORIGINAL and UNLIMITED. . .

But why — methinks I hear some one say — why is so much exultation displayed in celebrating this event? We are prepared to give the reasons of our joy. We rejoice, because, under this constitution, we hope to see just government, and to enjoy the blessings that walk in its train. . .

The Constitution and our manners must mutually support and be supported. Even on the Festivity, it will not be disagreeable or incongruous to review the virtues and manners that both justify and adorn it. FRUGALITY and TEMPERANCE first attract our attention. These simple but powerful virtues are the sole foundation, on which a good government can rest with security. . .

INDUSTRY appears next among the virtues of a good citizen. Idleness is the nurse of villains. The industrious alone constitute a nation’s strength. I will not expatiate on this fruitful subject. Let one animating reflection suffice. In a well constituted commonwealth, the industry of every citizen extends beyond himself. A common interest pervades the society. EACH gains from ALL, and ALL gain from EACH. . .

Allow me to direct your attention, in a very particular manner, to a momentous part, which, by this constitution, every citizen will frequently be called to act. All those in places of power and trust will be elected either immediately by the people; or in such a manner that their appointment will depend ultimately on such immediate election. All the derivative movements of government must spring from the original movement of the people at large. If, to this they give a sufficient force and a just direction, all the others will be governed by its controlling power.

To speak without a metaphor; if the people, at their elections, take care to chose none but representatives that are wise and good; their representatives will take care, in their turn, to chose or appoint none but such as are wise and good also. The remark applies to every succeeding election and appointment. . . Of what immense consequence is it, then, that this PRIMARY duty should be faithfully and skillfully discharged? On the faithful and skillful discharge of it the public happiness or infelicity, under this and every other constitution, must, in a very great measure, depend. For, believe me, no government, even the best, can be happily administered by ignorant or vicious men. You will forgive me, I am sure, for endeavoring to impress upon your minds, in the strongest manner, the importance of this great duty. It is the first concoction in politics; and if an error is committed here, it can never be corrected in any subsequent process: The certain consequence must be disease. Let no one say, that he is but a single citizen; and that his ticket will be but one in the box. That one ticket may turn the election. In battle, every soldier should consider the public safety as depending on his single arm. At an election, every citizen should consider the public happiness as depending on his single vote. . .
The commencement of our Government has been eminently glorious: Let our progress in every excellence be proportionally great. It will — it must be so. What an enrapturing prospect opens on the UNITED STATES!

With heart felt contentment, INDUSTRY beholds his honest labors flourishing and secure. PEACE walks serene and unalarmed over all the unmolested regions; while LIBERTY, VIRTUE and RELIGION go hand in hand harmoniously, protecting, enlivening and exalting all! HAPPY COUNTRY! MAY THY HAPPINESS BE PERPETUAL!

“As a patriot none was firmer; as a Christian none sincerer; and as a husband, father, neighbor and friend, he was beloved and esteemed in the highest degree.” (B. J. Lossing, Signers of the Declaration of Independence, George F. Cooledge & Brother: New York (1848) p. 129)

“Wise man among wise men: James Wilson was so knowledgeable on the subject of government that he was generally regarded as the most erudite of all the learned Founding Fathers.” Erudite is knowledge gained by study. (Webster’s 1828) “A fellow delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia made the following assessment of James Wilson’s gifts: ‘Government seems to have been his peculiar study, all the political institutions of the world he knows in detail, and can trace the causes and effects of every revolution from the earliest stages of the Grecian commonwealth down to the present time.” (Joe Wolverton II, New American, December 12, 2005)

“Of him, Benjamin Rush said, “An eminent lawyer and a great and enlightened statesman. He had been educated for a clergyman in Scotland, and was a profound and accurate scholar. He spoke often in Congress, and his eloquence was of the most commanding kind. . . His mind while he spoke, was one blaze of light. Not a word ever fell from his lips out of time, or our of place, nor could a word be taken from or added to his speeches without injuring them. He rendered great and essential services to his country in every stage of the Revolution.” Robert G. Ferris (editor), Signers of the Constitution: Historic Places Commemorating the Signing of the Constitution, published by the United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service: Washington, D.C. (revised edition 1976), pages 221-223

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