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LETTERS OF H. G. - Alexander Hamilton, The Works of Alexander Hamilton, (Federal Edition), vol. 2 
The Works of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Henry Cabot Lodge (Federal Edition) (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). In 12 vols. Vol. 2.
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LETTERS OF H. G.
LETTERS OF H. G.
February 20, 1789.
Your letter of the 18th instant has duly come to hand, and entitles you to my particular thanks. In return I shall endeavor fully to comply with your request, and furnish you, in a series of letters, with all the material in my power to enable you to judge what conduct it will be proper for you to pursue in relation to the ensuing election for governor. Your influence is considerable, and you do well to examine before you resolve on what side to bestow it.
The present Governor was bred to the law under William Smith, Esquire, formerly of this city. Some time before the late revolution he resided in Ulster County, and there followed his profession with reputation, though not with distinction. He was not supposed to possess considerable talents, but, upon the whole, stood fair on the score of probity. It must, however, be confessed, he very early got the character with many of being a very artful man, and it is not to be wondered at, if that impression, on the minds in which it prevailed, deducted something from the opinion of his integrity. But it would be refining too much to admit such a consequence to be a just one. There certainly are characters (though they may be rare) which unite a great degree of address, and even a large portion of what is best expressed by the word cunning, with a pretty exact adherence in the main to the principles of integrity.
Mr. Clinton, from his youth upward, has been remarkable for a quality which, when accompanied by a sound and enlarged understanding, a liberal mind, and a good heart, is denominated firmness, and answers the most valuable purposes; but which, when joined with narrow views, a prejudiced and contracted disposition, a passionate and interested temper, passes under the name of obstinacy, and is the source of the greatest mischiefs, especially in exalted public stations.
This gentleman, immediately preceding the contest with Great Britain, was several times returned a member of Assembly for the county in which he lived, and being of a warm, zealous, and resolute temper, became in a great measure the head of one of the parties which then prevailed in the Legislature. The merit or demerit of these parties is not now worthy of discussion, nor can they, or the principles upon which they reciprocally moved, be too soon or too entirely buried in oblivion.
In the beginning of 1775 the contest with Great Britain had become serious; and we all remember the interesting question then agitated in our Assembly, respecting the co-operation of this State in the general measures of America. Here Mr. Clinton and Mr. Philip Schuyler1 were the leaders of the minority, who advocated the propriety of that co-operation; and both these gentlemen, for their conduct upon the occasion, will always be entitled to credit from the friends of the revolution. To compare the degree of merit to which they may respectively lay claim would be an invidious task. But as the partisans of Governor Clinton have taken pains to propagate an opinion of superior merit in him, in regard to this transaction, it is but justice to the other gentleman to observe that he was equally open and decided in the part he took in that question; that as none will pretend to ascribe to Mr. Clinton greater abilities than to Mr. Schuyler, the exertions of the latter must have been at least as useful as those of the former; and that Mr. Schuyler has in his favor the additional circumstance of having risked a large property, which Mr. Clinton had not to risk, upon the event of this revolution.
With sincere esteem,
I remain, dear sir,
Your obedient servant,
February 21, 1789.
Shortly after the breaking out of the war with Great Britain, Mr. Clinton received an appointment as brigadier-general, in which capacity he served until he was elected governor of this State, some time in the early part of the year 1777.
In both these situations, from the condition of the State, which, during the greater part of the war, was its principal theatre, Mr. Clinton was frequently engaged in military duties. There is, however, no part of his character which has been more misrepresented than the military part of it. His panegyrists describe him to us as the “war-worn veteran”—the complete soldier—the consummate general. One would imagine from their stories of him that he had often, in the language of Sergeant Kite, “breakfasted upon ravelins, and picked his teeth with palisadoes,”—that he was the first of American generals—a Marius in courage—a Cæsar in skill—inferior in nothing to a Turenne or a Monticuculli, an Eugene or a Marlborough. But trust me, my dear sir, this is mere rant and romance. That Mr. Clinton is a man of courage, there is no reason to doubt. That he was upon most occasions active and vigorous, cannot be justly disputed. In his capacity of governor he was ever ready to promote the common cause, prompt in affording the aid of the militia when requisite, and scrupling not, when he thought his presence might be of use, to put himself at the head of them. But here his praise as a soldier ends. Beyond this he has no pretension to the wreath of military renown. No man can tell when or where he gave proofs of generalship, either in council or in the field. After diligent inquiry, I have not been able to learn that he was ever more than once in actual combat. This was at Fort Montgomery, where he commanded in person, and which, after a feeble and unskilful defence, was carried by storm. That post, strongly fortified by nature, almost inaccessible in itself, and sufficiently manned, was capable of being rendered a much more difficult morsel to the assailants than they found it to be. This, I own, was not the common idea at the time; but it is not the less true. To embellish military exploits, and varnish military disgraces, is no unusual policy. Besides, Governor Clinton was at the zenith of his popularity—a circumstance which disposed men's minds to take a great deal for granted. One particular in this affair deserves to be noticed. It is certain that the Governor made a well-timed retreat (I mean personally, for the greatest part of the garrison were captured), a thing which must have occasioned no small conflict in the breast of a commander nice in military punctilio. But squeamishness on this head had been illplaced. It was undoubtedly the duty of the Brigadier to provide in season for the safety of the Governor.
Those who are best acquainted with the particulars of the burning of Esopus, in the fall of the year 1777, assert that his Excellency was culpably deficient in exertion on that occasion. The fact seems to have been that a large body of men remained unemployed in the vicinity, under his direction, while the descent of the enemy was made with little or no opposition. And there is room to suppose that, if a better countenance had been kept up, the evil might have been prevented.
Very sincerely yours, H. G.
February 22, 1789.
You mention, toward the close of your letter, two reports circulating in your county, which you say operate to the advantage of Mr. Clinton: the one, that at the time he first took the chair of government, “the great men,” as they are insidiously called, declined the station, through apprehension of the dangers that might attend it,—not less willing then to set him up as a mark for the resentment of the power with which we were contending, in case of an unfortunate issue to the war, than eager now to deprive him of the well-earned fruits of his courage, after it has been happily terminated; the other, that the exertions made by this State during the war are chiefly to be attributed to his influence.
Truly, my dear sir, had the terms of your letter been less positive, I could not have supposed it possible that suggestions so unfounded as these, and so easily to be disproved by the testimony of all well-informed men, could ever have been propagated.
So far is the first report from being true, that it is a fact notorious to those who were acquainted with the transactions of the period, that in the very first election for governor in this State General Schuyler was a competitor with Mr. Clinton for the office, and it is alleged would have been likely to prevail, had not the votes of a considerable body of militia, then under the immediate command and influence of the latter, turned the scales in his favor.
Neither is there much more of truth in the second report. Mr. Clinton's zeal and activity in forwarding the revolution were unquestionably conspicuous. But to ascribe to him the chief merit of the exertions of the State is to decorate him with the spoils of others. There were, at every period of the war, choice spirits in both Houses of the Legislature, his equals in zeal and fortitude, his superiors in abilities. These men needed not his incitement to invigorate their efforts, nor his counsel to direct their plans.
One of the number only I shall name, Egbert Benson, Esq., the present attorney-general; this gentleman, in the capacity of a member of the Assembly, long had a principal agency in giving energy and animation to the measures of the State. In confining myself to the mention of Mr. Benson, it is not because there are not others who have an equal right to it, but because it is his peculiar good fortune to have virtues and talents, and yet to be unenvied. And as it is my intention you should be at liberty to make any use of these letters which you may think proper, I am unwilling to attempt an enumeration of all the characters alluded to, lest, if incomplete, it should be the occasion of offence. Though not immediately connected with the subject, there is one circumstance which I cannot forbear mentioning before I conclude. Mr. Benson, during the war, was considered as the confidential friend and adviser of the Governor. Not long after the peace, it was perceived that this relation between the two persons began to be weakened, and it is some time since it has been understood to have entirely ceased. The first appearance of the change was, to discerning men, an ill omen of the future. But Benson was an unfit confidant for the new system of policy. He was honest and independent. Materials better adapted for tools were wanted, and they have been selected with admirable judgment
Yours, with much regard,
February 24, 1789.
You will perceive, my dear sir, from the sketch I have given you, that though the present Governor has a just title to credit for his exertions in the last revolution, yet the degree of credit to which he is entitled has been immodestly exaggerated. It is to be wished, nevertheless, for the honor and interest of the State, that his administration since the peace was proportionably commendable. But with the close of the war, the scene of merit closes. All that succeeds is either negative or mischievous.
It may seem strange to some, that a man who had behaved well in one situation should be so entirely defective or faulty in another. But men acquainted with human nature and its history, on a large scale, will be sensible that there is nothing extraordinary in the thing. Many of those who have proved the worst scourges of society have, in the commencement of their career, been its brightest ornaments. These fair beginnings are sometimes the effect of premeditation, to pave the way to future mischief; at other times, they are the natural result of a mixed character, placed in favorable circumstances.
In all struggles for liberty, the leaders of the people have fallen under two principal discriminations; those who, to a conviction of the real usefulness of civil liberty, join a sincere attachment to the public good, and those who are of restless and turbulent spirit, impatient of control, and averse to all power or superiority which they do not themselves enjoy. With men of the latter description, this transition from demagogues to despots is neither difficult nor uncommon.
Mr. Clinton, as a zealous advocate for American independence in the course of a war, in which the cause to which he was attached was every moment exposed to the most critical hazards, under the influence of a sense of continual danger to that cause, and of course to himself, as one of its supporters, was naturally led to activity and exertion. But such a situation affords a very partial and imperfect view of his character. No certain conclusion can be drawn from it of the general disposition and principles of the man. These can only be estimated with certainty in situations in which the passions have their natural and ordinary course, free from any violent impulse of any kind.
It is therefore in the peace-administration of Mr. Clinton, that we may expect to find the best materials for judging of his fitness or unfitness to govern. These I shall endeavor to explore in some succeeding letters, concluding the present with this general observation: I do not recollect a single measure of public utility, since the peace, for which the State is indebted to its Chief Magistrate.
Yours, with sincere regard,
February 25, 1789.
In yours of the 23d instant, which has just come to hand, you observe that there are persons in your county who entertain favorable impressions of the present Governor, for the good order preserved in this city upon the evacuation by the British troops, and which you say is ascribed to his moderation, care, and decision. This is an idea not confined to your county. Mr. Clinton and his friends have had the address to disseminate it in this and in other parts of the district. The apprehensions excited by some imflammatory publications, prior to our taking possession of the city, disposed men's minds to regard it as a great merit in the Executive, that they were not subjected to general plunder and massacre. But this compliment to him includes a supposition of licentiousness and fury in the citizens in general, who returned within the district at that period, which they do not deserve, and which, in truth, form no part of the American character.
It must be confessed that there were a few violent men, and that these, for the sake of present consequence, endeavored to work on the passions of others for intemperate purposes. But the number of those who were inclined to violate the laws, or disturb the public peace, was at no time considerable enough to make the danger serious. The greater part were either for liberal and moderate measures, or, at worst, for some legislative discriminations. It is worthy of remark, that some of the most heated have been, at all times, warm adherents to the Governor, and objects of his peculiar patronage.
What was the precise line of conduct pursued by his Excellency at the juncture in question, I have never been able clearly to ascertain. But to many, and to me among the rest, it appeared indecisive and temporizing, favoring more of artifice and duplicity than of real prudence or energy. A popular Chief Magistrate, as Mr. Clinton then certainly was, standing on the firm ground of national faith and the constitution, by an independent use of his influence, might, in all probability, have prevented some measures of that day which have been both injurious and disreputable to the State.
The inclination of the Governor to hinder tumult or commotion is not to be questioned. In his situation, a man must have been both abandoned and mad not to have had that inclination. Regard to his own authority and consequence, independent of other motives, was sufficient to produce it. But there are circumstances which warrant a conclusion, that he had formed a plan of building up his own popularity in the city upon that of certain individuals who were then advocates for persecution; not indeed, in the shape of mobs and riots, but of law; by banishment, disfranchisement, and the like; and that his conduct was guided by condescensions to them, which, in some measure, involved him in their policy. There is a fact to this effect, the particulars of which I do not now distinctly recollect, but which, as far as my memory serves me, was of the following complexion:—The council appointed for the temporary government of the southern district, on account of some irregularities which had happened, passed a resolution, or framed a proclamation, for repressing the spirit that had occasioned them, which was intrusted to the Governor for publication. Instead, however, of executing the intention of the council, he communicated their act to two of the persons alluded to, and, upon their advices or remonstrances, withheld it from publication till the next meeting of the council, a majority of whom were then prevailed upon to rescind it.
It is not undeserving of attention, that the chief agents in promoting the laws passed after the evacuation of the city, of which the inhabitants of the southern district had reason to complain, were men who had been constantly devoted to the Governor; and that the persons who have had the greatest share in mitigating or abrogating those exceptiona laws have been in opposite views to him. And it ought not to escape observation, that there has never been any official act of the Governor calculated to effect the alteration or repeal of those laws.
It is with reluctance, my dear sir, that I look back to transactions which cannot be too soon forgotten. All parties now rejoice in the effects of a more liberal policy. And I should not have been induced to revive topics of so disagreeable a nature, had it not been necessary as well to the advancement of truth as to the performance of my promise to you.
I remain your friend and servant,
February 26, 1789.
I shall now proceed to give you a brief history of the Governor's administration since the peace, as it respects the United States, from the whole of which, preferring the evidence of actions to that of professions, I am persuaded that you will agree with me, that there is satisfactory proof of his being an enemy to the American Union.
The facts from which I shall draw this conclusion are of the following nature:
From the assemblage of these facts, I am mistaken, my dear sir, if you do not think the evidence of his enmity to the Union complete; and I shall not be the less mistaken if you do not consider this as a conclusive objection to his re-election.
Whatever may have been your doubts respecting parts of the new Constitution, I am satisfied that you regard the preservation of the Union as essential to the peace and prosperity of the country, and will deem it unsafe to trust any man with power, who entertains views inimical to it.
February 27, 1789.
In my last I stated a number of facts tending to prove that Mr. Clinton is not a friend of the Union. I would not be understood that either of these facts singly would authorize such a conclusion, but that it is the result of them collectively. Many men, of whose good intentions I have no doubt, have entertained similar sentiments with him on several of the points stated; but I am mistaken if there is to be found one, out of the circle of his immediate instruments, who has had or discovered the same disposition in all the particulars. I shall now briefly mention the different articles of charge.
The first is, that, while he has acknowledged the insufficiency of the old government, he has strenuously opposed the principal measures devised by the joint councils of America for supporting and strengthening it.
This admission of the insufficiency of the old confederation has not only been made in private conversations, but fully and pointedly in the late convention of this State. He has not, however, uniformly held the same language, as will be taken notice of hereafter.
To prove the latter part of the charge, I shall instance his opposition to the impost system proposed by Congress, and repeatedly urged by them as the only measure to obtain revenue, for objects of indispensable importance, on which reliance could be placed.
The first idea of a general impost for the benefit of the United States is said to have originated in a convention held at Hartford, consisting of deputies from the four New England States and from New York. The measure was agreed upon in Congress in February, 1781, at a period when the United States, after various trials of requisitions and of other expedients, were reduced to the utmost extremity of distress for want of money to carry on the war. The impost then proposed was, I believe, granted by all the States except Rhode Island. The act of this State, passed 19th of March, 1781, expressly provides, that the duties granted to Congress “should be levied and collected in such manner and form, and under such pains, penalties, and regulations, and by such officers, as Congress should from time to time make, order, direct, and appoint.”
But, on the appearance of peace, the system of our policy changed. The foregoing act was repealed by one passed the 15th of March, 1783, by which it was too apparent that the leaders of our councils, at the first dawn of peace, were resolved to desert the principles which had governed them in the time of common danger.
It is true, that the same act grants the duties anew, but to be collected by the officers and under the authority of the State; which was so essential an alteration of the plan as would have rendered it necessary (had not the opposition of Rhode Island already done so) to recommence the business in a new form, in order that all the States might stand on an equal footing.
I remain, dear sir,
Your obedient and humble servant,
February 28, 1789.
The embarrassments experienced in carrying through the first plan, the increase of the national debt, and other circumstances, induced Congress to devise a new system of impost, which was finally agreed upon on the 18th of April, 1783.
In this system, the appointment of the officers to collect the duties was referred to the several States, which it was supposed would remove the principal objection to the former plan. All the States, except New York, substantially adopted it, annexing certain precautions for the more secure exercise of the powers granted to Congress. But New York persisted to the last in withholding her assent. She passed, indeed, a law for granting an impost on different principles; but as Congress could not accept this without releasing the other States, and setting the whole business afloat, it was evident to all the world that the act of New York was nothing better than a mere evasion of the thing asked.
The Governor, undoubtedly, took an active part in opposition to this measure. It is true, he declared in the convention that he had always been a friend to the impost, but could not agree to the manner in which Congress proposed to exercise the power. This is plainly a subterfuge. He was a friend to an abstract something, which might be any thing or nothing, as he pleased; but he was an enemy to the thing proposed. A general impost, being a measure not within the provision of the confederation, could only be brought about by some general plan devised by the common councils of the Union, and submitted to the adoption of the several States. There could else be no concert, no common agreement. To oppose, therefore, the specific plan offered, and yet pretend to be a friend to the thing in the abstract, deserves no better name than that of hypocrisy.
I am possessed of unquestionable evidence, to prove that he used personal influence with members of the Legislature to prejudice them against the granting of the impost. You may obtain a confirmation of this from one of the gentlemen who represented your own county in the year 1786. The argument employed with him was, that Congress being a single body, and consequently without checks, would be apt to misapply the money arising from it. This looks like more than an objection to the mode. If the money was to be granted in any shape, that consequence, if to be apprehended at all, might follow.
A question of a very delicate and serious nature arises on the conduct of the Governor. Is it justifiable in the Chief Magistrate of a State to employ his personal influence with individual members of the Legislature in relation to any matter of public concern which is to come under their deliberation? To me an interference of this sort appears highly exceptionable.
With sincere regard, I am, dear sir
Your most obedient servant, H. G.
March 2, 1789.
The second particular which I have stated, as evidence of Mr. Clinton's enmity to the Union, is, that he has treated Congress, as a body, in a contemptuous manner.
A proof of this exists in his refusal to convene the Legislature of this State in the year 1786, upon pressing and repeated supplications of Congress; sheltering himself under the frivolous pretence that the constitution did not leave him at liberty to do it.
The constitution empowers the governor to convene the Legislature “on extraordinary occasions.” This provision is evidently calculated to enable him to call together the Legislature whenever any thing of importance out of the ordinary routine of State business should occur. To put any other meaning upon it is absurd, and would embarrass the operations of government. It cannot be supposed that the constitution intended by “extraordinary occasions” nothing but wars, rebellions, plagues, or earthquakes. The word “extraordinary,” as used in this case, can only be construed as equivalent to special; and a special occasion is any thing of moment out of the common and expected course. It merits attention, that the words of the constitution are, simply, that the governor “shall have power to convene the Legislature upon extraordinary occasions.” This mode of expression has plainly an authorizing and empowering, not a restricting operation. It is true that the governor is bound, in the exercise of this power, to observe a reasonable discretion, and not to act with caprice, levity, or wantonness; but the same may be said of every other power with which he is intrusted, and does not affect the constitutional sense of the provision.
Let us now, sir, take a view of the nature of the application and refusal. The Legislature of the State, in May, 1786, passed the act I have already mentioned, in lieu of one conformable to the plan proposed by Congress, and agreed to by the other twelve States; for even Rhode Island had at length got the better of her scruples. Congress were of opinion, for the most obvious and solid reasons, that they could derive no advantage from the act of New York; that to attempt it would be to let go their hold on the twelve adopting States, who had made the passing of similar acts by all the States the condition of their grants; that the act of New York, independent of the objection just mentioned, was framed upon principles mischievous in their nature, and calculated not only in a great measure to defeat the revenue, but to prevent several of the States from entering into the plan. One of these principles was, that the paper-money of the States should be receivable in payment of duties. If Congress had acceded to such a plan, the consequence would have been that the other States which had emitted paper-money would insist upon the same privilege; by which means the duties would be paid in nominal money of different degrees of value, in some States at a depreciation of forty or fifty per cent.; a circumstance which would have diminished the product of the impost, rendered the burthen unequal upon the citizens of different States, and deterred the States averse to paper-money from engaging in the scheme.
Congress, for these and other good reasons, considered the act of New York as amounting to nothing. They felt at the same time that the honor and interest of the Union were suffering for want of the co-operation of this State. They experienced the most painful embarrassment, in particular, from the just demands of those foreigners who had lent us money to carry on the war. They saw themselves without resource even for paying the interest of the foreign debt, except by new loans abroad for that purpose,—a resource which had the pernicious effect of an accumulation of the debt (for which all our estates must be considered as mortgaged) by the tremendous process of compound interest.
In this disgraceful and ruinous situation, the representatives of the United States make a solemn application to the Governor to convene the Legislature for the purpose of reconsidering the act. He refuses to comply, assigning the curious reason that the constitution empowers him to convene the Legislature only on extraordinary occasions, and that the present does not seem to him such. To give color to this idea, he intimates the recent consideration of the business by the Legislature.
He seems in this proceeding not only to have taken it for granted that the Legislature would be immovable by the most solid reasons for altering their policy (which, if true, he had no right to presume), but also to have forgotten, or not to have chosen to recollect, that the Legislature to be convened was not to be regarded as the same body which had before decided, having been formed by a subsequent election of the people. The measure would, therefore, have had to undergo a new examination by a new body.
He, notwithstanding, refuses. Congress, impelled by the exigency of the situation, pass new resolutions, declaring their opinion that the critical and embarrassed situation of the finances of the United States required that the system of impost should be carried into immediate effect, and that they deemed the occasion sufficiently important and extraordinary to request that the Legislature of this State should be convened, and therefore again earnestly recommending it to the Executive to convene the Legislature. The Governor persisted in his refusal, and the Legislature is not convened.
Now, sir, I will boldly appeal to every candid mind whether this transaction is not evidence, as well of a splenetic and disrespectful disposition toward the government of the United States, as of a temper inflexibly haughty and obstinate. In what a humiliating light must he have considered Congress, not to have looked upon their earnest and repeated application on a matter which they and all the other States, thought of the most serious moment to the Union, in a situation notoriously distressing and critical, as an occasion sufficiently special to leave him at liberty to call the Legislature together! How much of contempt and disregard toward the representative authority of confederated America was implied in such a construction! The merits of the impost system are of no consequence in the consideration of the subject. The whole is a question of decorum and due deference in the head of a particular member of the confederacy toward the head of the whole confederacy. In this light, it is evident that the conduct of the Governor on the occasion was an insult to the people of the United States, and of course to the people of this State, through their representatives in Congress.
I remain with the truest attachment, dear sir,
Your obedient and humble servant,
March 3, 1789.
I have mentioned as a third circumstance tending to prove the enmity of the Governor to the Union, “that his behavior toward the individuals composing Congress has been of a nature calculated to give them just cause of disgust.”
I am well informed that his Excellency never made a visit to, or had any intercourse of civilities with, either of the two last Presidents of Congress. This neglect on his part appears the more pointed, as it is well known that he had been upon a footing of intimacy with one of the gentlemen previous to his appointment—I mean General St. Clair. This gentleman had been heard to lament that the Governor's conduct toward him, in an official respect, had put it out of his power to keep up the amicable intercourse which had formerly subsisted between them. It seems as if the character of a President of Congress amounted, in the Governor's estimation, to a forfeiture even of the rights of private friendship.
This behavior to the official head of Congress is to be regarded in a stronger light than mere disrespect to the individual. It may justly be esteemed disrespect to the body themselves, and to have been dictated by a disposition to humiliate the government which they administered.
The same spirit ran through the Governor's conduct toward the members of Congress in general. Very few, if any of them, experienced any attentions whatever from him.
Whatever apology may be made for the Governor's want of decent hospitality toward the representatives of the United States, I believe it will be difficult to find an excuse for his personal neglect of them. There are civilities which cost nothing, and these might have been bestowed without any violation of the frugality of his Excellency's maxims.
It may be asked how it can be determined where the fault lay, whether with the Governor, or with the individuals of Congress. I answer, that with regard to the Presidents of Congress, there can be no doubt. As that body sat in the State, it was unquestionably the duty of the Governor to pay the first attentions to the President after his election. This rule has been understood throughout America, and its propriety is self-evident. The omitting to pay those attentions was a mark of disregard to the government of the Union, for which there can be no excuse, and which admits of but one interpretation.
Dear sir, Yours sincerely,etc.,
March 4, 1789.
Some time in the latter part of the year 1785, or beginning of 1786, the State of Virginia proposed the holding of a convention for the purpose of devising some system of commercial regulations for the United States. This State, among others, acceded to the proposition, and the deputies from the different States appointed pursuant, met at Annapolis in the fall of 1786. But the number actually assembled formed so incomplete a representation of the Union, that, if there had been no other reason, it would have been inexpedient for them to proceed in the execution of their mission. In addition to this, they were unanimously of opinion that some more radical reform was necessary; and that even to accomplish the immediate end for which they had been deputed, certain collateral changes in the federal system would be requisite, to which their powers in general could not be deemed competent. Under these impressions, they, with one voice, earnestly recommended it to the several States to appoint deputies to meet in convention, in the ensuing month of May, with power to revise the confederation at large, and to propose such alterations and amendments as should appear to them necessary to render it adequate to the exigencies of the Union.
The report of this convention was in course handed to the Governor, on the return of the deputies of this State from Annapolis.
I have ascertained it beyond a doubt that, in a conversation on the subject of this report, he expressed a strong dislike of its object, declaring that, in his opinion, no such reform as the report contemplated was necessary; that the confederation as it stood was equal to the purposes of the Union, or, with little alteration, could be made so; and that he thought the deputies assembled upon that occasion would have done better to have confined themselves to the purposes of their errand.
This was the first thing that gave me a decisive impression of the insincerity of his Excellency's former conduct. The opponents of the impost system had, in their writings and conversation, held up the organization of Congress as a principal objection to the grant of power required by that system. The same sentiment had been conveyed by the Governor. The want of checks from the constitution of Congress, as a single body, seemed to be the bulwark of the opposition. But now that a proposal was made which evidently had in view a different construction of the Federal Government, the language was all at once changed. The old confederation as it stood, or with little alteration, was deemed to be competent to the ends of the Union.
This, then, seemed to be the true state of the business. On the one hand, Congress, as constituted, was not fit to be trusted with power; on the other, it was not expedient to constitute them differently. To me it appears impossible to reconcile all this to a sincere attachment to an efficient Federal Government. Thus, sir, have I explained to you my meaning in the assertion: that the Governor disapproved of the very first step taken toward the effectual amendment of the old confederation.
I remain with esteem, dear sir, Your very humble servant,
March 6, 1789.
One of the circumstances stated to you in mine of the 26th of February, to show that the Governor is unfriendly to the Union, is, that he prejudged and condemned the new Constitution before it was framed.
This fact has been long since given to the public, to which no other answer, that I have heard, has been made by his Excellency or his friends than that he, as a citizen, had a right to entertain and declare such sentiments as appeared to him proper. This is a position not to be denied; but it is equally undeniable that his constituents have as good a right to judge of the propriety of his opinions and conduct, and of the views by which they seem to be actuated.
While the convention was sitting at Philadelphia, the Governor, I am well informed, made unreserved declarations of his opinion, that no good was to be expected from the appointment or deliberations of that body. That the most likely result was, that the country would be thrown into confusion by the measure. That it was by no means a necessary one, as the confederation had not had a sufficient trial, and probably, on more full experiment, would be found to answer all the purposes of the Union.
Here we shall discover the clearest indication of a predetermined opposition in the mind of his Excellency. He is not a man governed in ordinary cases by sudden impulse. Though of an irritable temper, when not under the immediate influence of irritation he is circumspect and guarded; and seldom acts or speaks without premeditation and design.
Language of the kind I have mentioned, from him, clearly betrayed an intention to excite prejudices beforehand against whatever plan should be proposed by the convention. For such conduct, or for such an intention, no apology can be made. The United States conceived a convention to be proper, necessary, and expedient. They appointed one, this State concurring. Their deputies were actually assembled, and in deliberation. The step once taken, it became the duty of every good man to give the attempt a fair chance. It was criminal to endeavor to raise prepossessions against it. That very conduct might have led to the mischief predicted. It was certainly not his Excellency's fault that his predictions were not fulfilled. In all probability, if his whole party had been as pertinacious as himself, the confusion he foretold would now exist. But, happily for the United States, some of them were more prudent, and we are in peace.
The declarations of the Governor on this occasion fix upon him the charge of inconsistency. How can what he said in the instance in question be reconciled with his declaration in the convention, “that he had always lamented the feebleness of the confederation”?
Yours, with great regard,
March 7, 1789.
The next in order of the circumstances alleged in proof of the unfriendly disposition of the Governor to the Union, is that he opposed the new Constitution, after it appeared, with unreasonable obstinacy.
To judge of the propriety of this observation, it ought to be recollected, that the merits or demerits of that Constitution must, after all, be in a great measure a speculative question, which experience only can solve with certainty.
It ought also to be recollected that the convention who framed it consisted, if not wholly, at least generally, of men from whom America had received the strongest proofs of patriotism and ability; that this body, so composed (with the exception of only three individuals), united in the plan, which was the result of their joint deliberations; and that a Franklin and a Washington are among the number of those who gave their approbation to it.
It ought further to be attended to, that when the convention of this State came to a decision, ten out of the thirteen States had adopted the Constitution, and that a majority of the characters in each State, most distinguished for virtue and wisdom, were among its advocates.
These, sir, are truths which (notwithstanding the clandestine arts made use of to traduce some of the best and brightest characters of America for being friends to the Constitution) no man of candor or information among its opponents will deny.
I do not infer from them that the Constitution ought on those accounts to have been considered as a good one; but I contend that they dictated greater moderation in the opposition than appeared in the Governor's conduct. They ought to have taught him, that unless he had better assurance of his own infallibility than an impartial estimate of himself would justify, there was a possibility of his being mistaken in his speculations; and that as a further resistance to the general sense of America was pregnant with manifest inconveniences and hazards, it became him to sacrifice the pride of opinion to a spirit of accommodation.
I should be the last to blame any man for opposing the adoption of the Constitution while its establishment was yet a question in the United States; but when that was no longer the case; when nine States, the number required by the Constitution to its establishment, had adopted it; when it had thereby become the government of the Union, I think further opposition was not justifiable by any motives of prudence or patriotism. These considerations had their proper weight with a great proportion of the Governor's party.
Out of sixty-four members, of which the Convention of this State consisted, there were at first only nineteen in favor of the Constitution. In the conclusion, there was a majority which did actually adopt it. But the Governor persisted to the last in his negative.
All those of his party who concurred in the adoption (and among whom were some of its ablest leaders), are to be regarded as so many witnesses to the unreasonable obstinacy of the Governor's conduct on the occasion. Why did they agree to adopt? Because they saw that a contrary course was replete with danger to the peace and welfare of this State and of the Union. They acted in that like moderate and prudent men. Why did not his Excellency act a similar part? Let facts decide! Let the collective complexion of his language and behavior inform us! The inference from the whole will certainly not exempt him from the imputation of obstinacy, nor give us a very favorable impression of his inclination to preserve the tranquillity and Union of the States.
I entertain no doubt that your judgment of this instance of the Governor's conduct will correspond with mine, as I have understood that the conduct of the members of your county had met your entire approbation. These gentlemen are among the number of those who, though, like yourself, not attached in the abstract to the Constitution as it stands, prudently yielded to the considerations of expediency which recommended its adoption.
Accept my best wishes for your health, and Believe me always yours,
March 8, 1789.
The seventh of the circumstances enumerated in proof of his Excellency's enmity to the Union is, that he has continued his opposition to the new Constitution even since its adoption by this State.
There are two kinds of opposition, direct and indirect. The Governor must have been an idiot to have rendered himself chargeable with the first kind. It would have brought the resentment of the whole community upon him, and frustrated the very object he had in view. Indirect methods were the only ones that could be practised with safety, or with any prospect of success. To embarrass, not to defeat, the operations of the government, was, of necessity, the plan of a man who wished ill to it.
The adversaries of the Constitution in Virginia have furnished a striking specimen of this species of policy. The last Legislature, in which they were predominant, made no difficulty about organizing the government. The act of the people was, of course, to be obeyed in appearance. But its efficacy was to be destroyed by throwing obstacles in the way of the administration of the system. For this purpose an act has been passed, declaring it incompatible for any officer of the State to perform official functions under the authority of the United States.
This act, if valid, would oblige the United States to have a complete set of officers for every branch of the national business—judges, justices of the peace, sheriffs, jail-keepers, constables, etc.,—which could not fail to render the government odious. This may serve as a sample of the means by which it may be distressed and counteracted.
The friends of the Governor tell us that after the adoption of the Constitution he declared in convention that he would conceive himself bound to maintain the public peace, and to concur in putting the system into operation. This was saying as little as possible. Luckily, the public peace was in no danger; and his Excellency, with all his hardihood, would not dare to refuse an official co-operation in putting the government established by the people in motion. I attended the debates of the convention, and I could not forbear remarking that the Governor, in the speech alluded to, seemed carefully to confine his assurances to a mere official compliance. The impression made upon my mind by the two last speeches he delivered was this: that he would, as Governor of the State, in mere official transactions, conform to the Constitution; but that he should think it expedient to keep alive the spirit of opposition in the people, until the amendments proposed, or another convention (I am not certain which), could be obtained. In this impression I am not singular; there were others who understood him in the same sense.
No reasonable man can doubt that such a sentiment was an unjustifiable one. The United States are to determine on the propriety of amendments, and on the expediency of a convention. Both must be referred to their judgment. If they think both improper or unnecessary, it is the duty of a particular member to acquiesce. This is the fundamental principle of the social compact. To threaten the continuance of an opposition, therefore, till either of those purposes was accomplished, was in every way intemperate and unwarrantable. That there will be a reconsideration of parts of the system, and that certain amendments will be made, I devoutly wish and confidently expect. I have no doubt that the system is susceptible of improvement, and I anxiously desire that every prudent means may be used to conciliate the honest opponents of it. But I reprobate the idea of keeping up an opposition upon principles which derogate from those on which it is, and must necessarily be, supported. I reprobate the idea of one State giving law to the rest.
But even the official compliance promised by the Governor has hitherto been afforded in a very ungracious and exceptionable manner; in such a manner as indicates secret hostility and a disposition to have the government considered in an unimportant and inferior light. On the 13th of September, 1788, the act for organizing the government was passed by Congress, and it is presumed was communicated without delay. We know that it immediately appeared in the public papers. But it was not until the 13th of October following, that the Governor issued his proclamation for convening the Legislature, and the time appointed for their meeting was less than a month from that which was fixed for the appointment of electors to choose the President and Vice-President. This procrastination appeared at a time extraordinary to everybody, and wore the aspect of slight and neglect at least. The Governor asserts that it was impracticable to convene the Legislature sooner; but he has not told us why it was so; and I scruple not to affirm, that if a reason is ever assigned, it will be found so flimsy a one, as to discover the insignificant light in which his Excellency was disposed to view and treat the National Government. Neglect and slights calculated to lessen the opinion of the importance of a thing, and bring it into discredit, are often the most successful weapons by which it can be attacked.
But this is not the only view in which the delay in convening the Legislature is to be considered as reprehensible. It had the effect of depriving the Legislature itself of the exercise of a right vested in them by the national Constitution, and hazarded an undue postponement of our representation in Congress, which has actually happened. As to the first, the Constitution of the United States leaves the mode of appointing electors to the discretion of State Legislatures. They may, therefore, refer them to the choice of the people, if they think proper. This has been done in several of the States, and is, in my opinion, a privilege which it is of great importance should be in the hands of the people. Making the usual allowances for want of punctuality in meeting, disagreement in opinion, difficulties in framing new and untried regulations, it may be safely pronounced that the Legislature was assembled too late to refer the choice of electors to the people; whereby they were deprived of an opportunity of exercising a constitutional discretion, and the people of a chance of exercising a privilege of very considerable moment to their interests. May it not be justly said, in this instance, that the Governor undertook to think for the Legislature? But this is not all. The state of the parties in the Legislature was understood long before they met, and it was to have been foreseen that there would have been a diversity of views in regard to the mode of appointing our national representatives, and consequently delays in agreeing upon any. By not calling the Legislature early enough to allow time for overcoming these impediments, it happens, that in a matter in which the two Houses did finally agree, to wit, the manner of choosing members of the national House of Representatives, the execution has been so greatly procrastinated, that it must be more than a month from the time appointed for the meeting of the body before it can be even ascertained who our representatives are.
There is a further circumstance in which the Governor's conduct subjects him to the suspicion of an intention to embarrass the measures relating to the Constitution.
The Senate having, in very gentle terms, intimated a wish that the Legislature had been more early convened, the Governor, in a very petulant and indecent reply, considering that it was the Executive speaking to a branch of the Legislature, made himself a party on the side of the Assembly in the controversy between the two Houses, and thereby furnished a motive of obstinacy to the one and of irritation to the other. It is well known that, in that controversy, one of the reasons on which the Assembly had chiefly relied in insisting upon the joint ballot was, that it approached more nearly to an election by the people; while the Senate held that they were entitled to an equal voice, and that, as being the peculiar representative, by our Constitution, of the great body of the freeholders, they were bound, by a regard to the interests of that class, as well as to their own rights as a branch of the Legislature, to insist upon the equality they claimed.
The Senate in their speech had observed that, if there had been time, they would have been for referring the choice of electors to the people. The Governor answers, that it was impracticable to convene the Legislature in time for that object, and intimates a persuasion that the Senate will see the propriety of pursuing their principle, as far as circumstances would permit, by adopting such mode of appointment as should appear most nearly to approach an election by the people, adverting to the ground which had been taken by the majority in the Assembly. This intimation of the Governor could not be understood in any other light than as advocating their principle, and could not have failed to have had the effect of confirming them in it, and alienating the Senate, who were indelicately treated, still more from it. There are circumstances which render a hint as intelligible as the most precise and positive expressions.
This species of interference in a question between the two branches of the Legislature was very unbecoming in the Chief Magistrate, and bespoke much more the intemperate partisan than the temperate arbiter of differences prejudicial to the State.
And the inference from the whole of what I have stated is, that the Governor, since the adoption of the Constitution in this State, has manifested the reverse of a disposition to afford it a cordial support.
I remain, with great regard, Yours, etc.,
March 9, 1789.
The last of the circumstances mentioned by me in my letter of the 20th of February, as evincive of the inimical disposition of the Governor toward the Union, is, that he is unfriendly to the residence of Congress in this city.
This may be inferred from the disrespectful manner in which he has treated that honorable body, aggregately and individually, as detailed in some former letters; and from his fomenting that spirit of party in the Legislature which has left us without a representation in Congress.
But the matter does not rest on this evidence only. I have direct proof that he has held language clearly indicating an opinion in him, real or affected, that it was a disadvantage to the State to have the seat of the Federal Government in it. His objections have been drawn from its pretended tendency to promote luxury and dissipation. He has, I am well informed, talked in this style, among others, to our friend, Judge ——, of —— County, with some circumstances of aggravation, which, from a regard to decency, I forbear to repeat.
Now, my dear sir, nothing but a rooted hostility to all federal government could have dictated this sentiment in the breast of the Governor. Every man of sense knows that the residence of Congress among us has been a considerable source of wealth to the State; and as to the idle tale of its promoting luxury and dissipation, I believe there has not been for a number of years past a period of greater frugality than that in which Congress have resided in this city. As far as my observation or information extends, it has made no sensible difference in the style of living, as to the article of expense. The truth must be, that the Governor has supposed that the presence of Congress in the State has had an influence in encouraging the zeal and exertions of the friends to federal government. Thus it appears that the whole system of thinking adopted by the Governor has been manifestly adverse to every thing connected with the Federal Government, and has led him to view all its concerns through a jaundiced medium.
To what can all this be attributed? To what can be ascribed the regular and undeviating opposition on his part to the measure devised by the joint council of America for strengthening and confirming the Union? How shall we explain the different and inconsistent grounds of opposition taken at different periods? To me, my dear sir, the collective view of his conduct will admit of no other supposition than that he has entertained a project for erecting a system of State Power, unconnected with, and in subversion of, the Union. This is my firm and sincere belief; founded upon a long and close attention to the secret and public proceedings of his Excellency. Some of the circumstances which have led to it, I am not at liberty to disclose, because I could not do it without a breach of confidence. Viewing in the light I do the conduct of the Governor, I consider it as a sacred duty which I owe to the country, to advise all those with whom I have any connection or intercourse, to promote a change. It is possible that the Governor, finding the execution of his schemes impracticable, may have abandoned them. But I conceive a man capable of adopting such views as too dangerous to be trusted at the head of the State. And I should hold it to be the extreme of credulity and weakness to confide in any assurances of amendment which his friends, to answer a present purpose, may be induced to give.
With unalterable regard, I remain yours,
April 9, 1789.
In mine of the 25th of February last, I observed that there were reasons to conclude that the Governor's conduct, immediately after the evacuation of this city, had been influenced by considerations of those who were at the time advocates for persecution, which in some measure involved him in their policy; and in confirmation of this idea, I mentioned some circumstances, as they then presented themselves to my memory, which had attended the suppression of a proclamation issued by the council for the temporary government of the southern district, in consequence of certain irregularities committed in this city by some of the persons alluded to.1 You have no doubt seen in the papers Mr. Willet's statement of this affair, and the correspondence which ensued between that gentleman and myself.
Pursuant to the assurance contained in my letter to Mr. Willet, I shall now disclose to you the result of the inquiries I have made. It has turned out as was to have been apprehended. Neither of the gentlemen to whom I have applied has a distinct recollection of particulars. One of them indeed recollects little more than that he was a good deal displeased with the transaction. The other has a perfect remembrance of some circumstances, though not of all. Among other things, he well recollects that he was much dissatisfied with the Governor's conduct in the affair, and that the impression which he had at the time was, and constantly since has been, that there had been on the part of the Governor an undue and improper acquiescence, at least, in the conduct of the persons concerned, in suspending the proclamation. But what the facts or appearances were which produced that impression have now, in a great measure, escaped his memory.1
Thus stands the affair. The investigation has not weakened in my mind the evidence that the circumstances attending the suppression of the proclamation were evincive of condescensions on the part of the Governor toward the advocates for persecution, at the period in question, which in some manner involved him in their policy.
This, by reference to my letter, you will perceive, was the sole purpose for which the transaction was quoted. I do not insist that the particulars as first stated are accurate. You will observe they are stated with hesitation and uncertainty; but I feel an entire conviction that the aggregate complexion of the affair was such as I have supposed it to be.
I remain with sincere regard, Dear sir, Your very humble servant,
Then called Colonel Schuyler, and since General Schuyler.
See the first address to the Albany Supervisors.
Mr. Willet, by applying to the printer, may satisfy himself of the fairness of this representation and of the respectability of the authority on which it is founded.