Anti-Federalists Part 4: The Letters of Centinel

I posted a version of this post the other day and I decided I didn’t like splitting Centinel up into multiple parts, and thought he should be discussed all at once. I found myself trying to write a post and read Centinel simultaneously, and it just didn’t go well, so I’m going to do a complete post on Centinel and pretend like the last one never happened. I won’t delete it, because I don’t think that erasing one’s published work is a good idea.

The letters of Centinel are a series of 18 essay published in Philadelphia newspapers by Samuel Bryan. Unlike other founding fathers, Bryan’s mark on history is exclusively tied to his pseudonymous persona, which he rigorously defends against attempts to discern his true identity. From his final essay:

Great pains have been taken to discover the author of these papers, with a view, no doubt, to villify his private character, and thereby lessen the usefulness of his writings, and many suppose they have made the discovery, but in this they are mistaken. The Centinel submits his performance to the public judgement, and challenges fair argumentation; the information he has given from time to time, has stood the test of the severest scrutiny, and thus his reputation as a writer, is established beyond the injury of his enemies. If it were in the least material to the argument, or answered any one good purpose, he would not hesitate a moment in using his own signature; as it would not, but on the contrary, point where the shafts of malice could be levelled with most effect, and thus divert the public attention from the proper object, to a personal altercation, he from the first determined that the prying eye of party or curiosity, should never be gratified with his real name, and to that end to be the sole depository of the secret.

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Harvard Classics, Volume 4: The Poetry of John Milton

After the fiasco of the last Harvard Classics volume where my Kindle edition of the classics did not have all of the texts, I was rushing through to get myself to this fourth volume. This volume was certainly the most difficult and rewarding so far, as it contained what many consider to be the greatest work ever written in the English language, Paradise Lost.

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Anti-Federalists Part 4: Letters of Centinel I – VI

The letters of Centinel, at least the ones pertaining to the adoption of the Constitution, are a collection of 18 essays by Samuel Bryan, who, unlike many of the other pseudonymous authors, isn’t of any particular importance except as the author of these essays. These essays were addressed to the citizens of Pennsylvania.

The first letter opens with a discussion of the Pennsylvania constitution. In light of the current age, I believe it is important to emphasize that like John Milton, Centinel treats the phrases “free press” and “freely publishing¬†your thoughts” as synonymous, as opposed to the modern definition. Also Centinel uses the phrase “so great a disparity in the talent, wisdom and industry of mankind”, which should indicate that he held the correct view of human equality that most Americans in public life would be afraid to say.

Centinel’s main point in his first essay seems to be that a free republic requires that it be filled of men of virtue and relatively equal status. If this can be obtained, a small government with frequent elections and term limits on representatives is all that is required for good governance.

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