secretary of state to mifflin
Draft by Hamilton.
The President of the United States has directed me to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 5th instant, and to communicate to you the following reply:
In requesting an interview with you on the subject of the recent disturbances in the western parts of Pennsylvania, the President, besides the desire of manifesting a respectful attention to the chief magistrate of a State immediately affected, was influenced by the hopes that a free conference, guided by a united and comprehensive view of the Constitutions of the United States and of Pennsylvania, and of the respective institutions, authorities, rights, and duties of the two governments, would have assisted him in forming more precise ideas of the nature of the cooperation which could be established between them, and a better judgment of the plan which it might be advisable for him to pursue, in the execution of his trust in so important and delicate a conjuncture. This having been his object, it is matter of some regret, that the course which has been suggested by you, as proper to be pursued, seems to have contemplated Pennsylvania in a light too separate and unconnected. The propriety of that course, in most if not in all respects, would be susceptible of little question if there were no federal government, federal laws, federal judiciary, or federal officers; if important laws of the United States, by a series of violent as well as of artful expedients, had not been frustrated in their execution for more than three years; if officers immediately charged with that execution, after suffering much and repeated insult, abuse, personal ill-treatment, and the destruction of property, had not been compelled for safety to fly the places of their residence, and the scenes of their official duties; if the service of the processes of a court of the United States had not been resisted; the marshal of the district made and detained for some time a prisoner, and compelled for safety also to abandon the performance of his duty, and return by a circuitous route to the seat of government; if, in fine, a judge of the United States had not in due form of law notified to the President, “that in the counties of Washington and Alleghany, in Pennsylvania, laws of the United States are opposed, and the execution thereof obstructed by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or by the powers vested in the marshal of that district.” It is true, your excellency has remarked, that in the plan suggested you have only spoken as the executive magistrate of Pennsylvania, charged with a general superintendence and care, that the laws of the commonwealth be fully executed, leaving it implicitly to the judgment of the President to choose, on such evidence as he approves, the measures for discharging the analogous trust which is confided to him in relation to the laws of the Union. But it is impossible not to think that the current of the observations in your letter, especially as to the consequences which may result from the employment of coercive measures, previous to the preliminary course which is indicated in it, may be construed to imply a virtual disapprobation of that plan of conduct, on the part of the General Government, in the actual stage of its affairs, which you acknowledge would be proper on the part of the Government of Pennsylvania, if arrived at a similar stage. Let it be assumed here (to be more particularly shown hereafter), that the Government of the United States is now at that point, where it is admitted, if the Government of Pennsylvania was, the employment of force by its authority would be justifiable; and let the following extracts be consulted for the truth of the inference which has been just expressed. “Will not the resort to force inflame and cement the existing opposition? Will it not associate in a common resistance those who have hitherto peaceably, as well as those who have riotously, expressed their abhorrence of the excise? Will it not collect and combine every latent principle of discontent, arising from the supposed oppressive operations of the federal judiciary, the obstruction of the western navigation, and a variety of other local sources? May not the magnitude of the opposition on the part of the ill-disposed, or the dissatisfaction of a premature resort to arms on the part of the well-disposed citizens of the State, eventually involve the necessity of employing the militia of other States? And the accumulation of discontent which the jealousy engendered by that movement may produce, who can calculate, or who will be able to avert?”
These important questions naturally give birth to the following serious reflections. The issues of human affairs are in the hands of Providence. Those intrusted with them in society have no other sure guide than the sincere and faithful discharge of their duty, according to the best of their judgments. In emergencies, great and difficult, not to act with an energy proportioned to their magnitude and pressure, is as dangerous as any other conceivable course. In the present case, not to exert the means which the laws prescribe for effectuating their own execution, would be to sacrifice those laws, and with them the Constitution, the Government, the principles of social order, and the bulwarks of private right and security. What worse can happen from the exertion of these means?
If, as cannot be doubted, the great body of the citizens of the United States are attached to the Constitution, which they have established for the management of their common concerns; if they are resolved to support their own authority in that of the constitutional laws, against disorderly and violent combinations of comparatively small portions of the community; if they are determined to protect each other in the enjoyment of security to person and property; if they are decided to preserve the character of republican government, by evincing that it has adequate resources for maintaining the public order; if they are persuaded that their safety and their welfare are materially connected with the preservation of the Union, and consequently of a government adequate to its exigencies; in fine, if they are disposed to continue that state of respectability and prosperity which is now deservedly the admiration of mankind—the enterprise to be accomplished, should a resort to force prove inevitable, though disagreeable and painful, cannot be arduous or alarming.
If, in addition to these dispositions in the community at large, the officers of the governments of the respective States, feeling it to be not only a patriotic but a constitutional duty (inculcated by the oath enjoined upon all the officers of a State, legislative, executive, and judicial), to support in their several stations the Constitution of the United States, shall be disposed, as occasion may require (a thing as little to be doubted as the former), with sincerity and good faith to co-operate with the Government of the United States, to second with all their influence and weight its legal and necessary measures, by a legal and substantial concert, then the enterprise to be accomplished can hardly even be deemed difficult.
But if, contrary to the anticipations which are entertained of these favorable dispositions, the great body of the people should be found indifferent to the preservation of the government of the Union, or insensible to the necessity of vigorous exertions to repel the danger which threatens their most important interests; or, if an unwillingness to encounter partial inconveniences should interfere with the discharge of what they owe to their permanent welfare; or if, either yielding to the suggestions of particular prejudices, or misled by the arts which may be employed to infuse jealousy and discontent, they should suffer their zeal for the support of public order to be relaxed by an unfavorable opinion of the merits and tendency of the measures which may be adopted; if above all it were possible that any of the State governments should, instead of prompting the exertions of the citizens, assist directly or indirectly in damping their ardor by giving a wrong bias to their judgment, or by disseminating dissatisfaction with the proceedings of the General Government, or should counteract the success of those proceedings by any sinister influence whatever, then, indeed, no one can calculate or may be able to avert the fatal evils with which such a state of things would be pregnant. Then, indeed, the foundations of our political happiness may be deeply shaken, if not altogether overturned.
The President, however, can suppose none of these things. He cherishes an unqualified confidence in the virtue and good sense of the people, in the integrity and patriotism of the officers of the State governments; and he counts absolutely on the same affectionate support, which he has experienced upon all former occasions, and which he is conscious that the goodness of his intentions now, not less than heretofore, merits.
It has been promised to show more particularly hereafter that the Government of the United States is now at that point where, it is confessed, if the State Government was, the employment of force on its part would be justifiable. This promise remains to be fulfilled.
The facts already noted establish the conclusion; but to render it palpable, it will be of use to apply them to the positions which your excellency has been pleased to lay down.
You admit that, as the offences committed respect the State, the military power of the government ought to be employed, when its judiciary authority, after a fair experiment, had proved incompetent to enforce obedience or to punish infractions of the law; that if the strength and audacity of a lawless combination shall baffle and destroy the efforts of the judiciary authority, to recover a penalty or inflict a punishment, that authority may constitutionally claim the auxiliary intervention of the military power; that in the last resort; at the requisition and as an auxiliary of the civil authority, the military force of the State would be called forth. And you declare that the circumstances of the case evidently require a firm and energetic conduct on the part both of the State and General Government.
For more than three years, as already observed, certain laws of the United States have been obstructed in their execution by disorderly combinations. Not only officers, whose immediate duty it was to carry them into effect, have suffered violent personal outrage and injury, and destruction of property, at different times, but similar persecution has been extended to private citizens, who have aided, countenanced, or only complied with the laws. The violences committed have been so frequent, and such in their degree as to have been matters of general notoriety and alarm; and it may be added that they have been abundantly within the knowledge and under the notice of the judges and magistrates of Pennsylvania, of superior as well as inferior jurisdiction. If in particular instances they have been punished by the exertions of the magistrates, it is at least certain that their efforts have been in the main ineffectual. The spirit has continued, and, with some intervals of relaxation, has been progressive, manifesting itself in reiterated excesses. The judiciary authority of the United States has also, prior to the attempt which preceded the late crisis, made some fruitless efforts. Under a former marshal, an officer sent to execute process was deterred from it by the manifest danger of proceeding. These particulars serve to explain the extent, obstinacy, and inveteracy of the evil.
But the facts which immediately decide the complexion of the existing crisis are these: Numerous delinquencies existed with regard to a compliance with the laws laying duties on spirits distilled within the United States, and upon stills. An armed banditti, in disguise, had recently gone to the house of an officer of the revenue, in the night, attacked it, broken open the doors, and, by menaces of instant death, enforced by pistols presented at him, had compelled a surrender of his commission and books of office. Contemporary acts of violence had been perpetrated in other quarters. Processes were issued out of a court of the United States, to recover the penalties incident to a non-compliance with the laws, and to bring to punishment the violent infractors of them, in the above-mentioned case, against two of whom indictments had been found. The marshal of the district went in person to execute these processes. In the course of his duty he was actually fired upon, on the high-road, by a body of armed men. Shortly after, other bodies of armed men (in the last instance amounting to several hundred persons) repeatedly attacked the house of the inspector of the revenue, with the declared intention of compelling him to renounce his office, and of obstructing the execution of the laws. One of these bodies of armed men made prisoner the marshal of the district, put him in jeopardy of his life, and did not release him till, for safety and to obtain his liberty, he engaged to forbear the further execution of the processes with which he was charged. In consequence of further requisitions and menaces of the insurgents, the marshal, together with the inspector of the revenue, has been since under the necessity of flying, secretly and by a circuitous route, from the scene of these transactions, towards the seat of government. An associate justice, pursuant to the provisions of the laws for that purpose, has, in the manner already stated, officially notified the President of the existence of combinations, in two of the counties of this State, to obstruct the execution of the laws, too powerful to be suppressed by the judiciary authority, or by the powers of the marshal.
Thus, then, it is unequivocally and in due form ascertained, in reference to the Government of the United States, that the judiciary authority, after a fair and full experiment, has proved incompetent to enforce obedience to, or to punish infractions of, the laws; that the strength and audacity of certain lawless combinations have baffled and destroyed the efforts of the judiciary authority to recover penalties or inflict punishment; and that this authority, by a regular notification of this state of things, has, in the last resort, as an auxiliary of the civil authority, claimed the intervention of the military power of the United States. It results, from these facts, that the case exists when—according to the positions advanced by your excellency, in reference to the State Government—the military power may, with due regard for all the requisite cautions, be rightfully interposed; and that the interposition of this power is called for, not only by principles of a firm and energetic conduct on the part of the General Government, but by the indispensable duty which the Constitution and the laws prescribe to the Executive of the United States. In this conclusion, your excellency’s discernment, on mature reflection, cannot, it is presumed, fail to acquiesce; nor can it refuse its concurrence in the opinion which the President entertains, that he may reasonably expect, when called for, the zealous co-operation of the militia of Pennsylvania; that as citizens, and friends to law and order, they may comply with the call, without any thing that can properly be denominated “a passive obedience to the mandates of government”; and that, as freemen, judging rightly of the cause and nature of the service proposed to them, they will feel themselves under the most sacred obligations to accept and perform it with alacrity. The theory of our political institutions knows no difference between the obligations of our citizens, in such a case, whether it relate to the government of this Union or of a State; and it is hoped and confided, that a difference will be as little known to their affections or opinions.
Your excellency, it is also presumed, will as little doubt, on the like mature reflection, that in such a case the President could not, without an abdication of the undoubted rights and authorities of the United States, and of his duty, postpone the measures for which the laws of the United States provide, to a previous experiment of the plan which is delineated in your letter.
The people of the United States have established a government for the management of their general interests; they have instituted executive organs for administering that government; and their representatives have established the rules by which these organs are to act. When their authority in that of their government is attacked, by lawless combinations of the citizens of part of a State, they could never be expected to approve that the care of vindicating their authority, of enforcing their laws, should be transferred from the officers of their own government to those of a State, and this to wait the issue of a process so undeterminate in its duration as that which it is proposed to pursue; comprehending a further and full experiment of the judiciary authority of the State, a proclamation “to declare the sentiments of its government, announce a determination to prosecute and punish offenders, and to exhort the citizens at large to pursue a peaceable and patriotic conduct”; the sending of commissioners “to address those who have embarked in the present combinations upon the lawless nature and ruinous tendency of their proceedings; to inculcate the necessity of an immediate return to the duty which they owe their country; and to promise, as far as the State is concerned, forgiveness of their past transactions, upon receiving a satisfactory assurance that, in future, they will submit to the laws”; and, finally, a call of the Legislature of Pennsylvania, “that the ultimate means of subduing the spirit of insurrection, and of restoring tranquillity and order, may be prescribed by their wisdom and authority.”
If there were no other objection to a transfer of this kind, the very important difference which is supposed to exist in the nature and consequences of the offences that have been committed, in the contemplation of the laws of the United States and those of Pennsylvania, would alone be a very serious obstacle. The paramount considerations which forbid an acquiescence in this course of proceeding, render it unnecessary to discuss the probability of its success; else it might have been proper to test the considerations which have been mentioned as a ground of hope, by the inquiry, what was the precise extent of the success of past experiments, and especially whether the execution of the revenue laws of Pennsylvania within the scene in question was truly and effectually accomplished by them, or whether they did not rather terminate in a tacit compromise, by which appearances only were saved?
You are already, sir, advised that the President, yielding to the impressions which have been stated, has determined to take measures for calling forth the militia; and that these measures contemplate the assembling of a body of between twelve and thirteen thousand men, from Pennsylvania and the neighboring States of Virginia, Maryland, and New Jersey. The recourse thus early to the militia of the neighboring States, prevails from a probability of the insufficiency of that of Pennsylvania alone to accomplish the object; your excellency having, in your conference with the President, confirmed the conclusion which was deducible from the known local and other circumstances of the State, by the frank and express declaration which you made of your conviction of that insufficiency in reference to the number which could be expected to be drawn forth for the purpose.
But, while the President has conceived himself to be under an indispensable obligation to prepare for that eventual resort, he has still consulted the sentiment of regret which he expressed to you, at the possible necessity of an appeal to arms; and to avert it, if practicable, as well as to manifest his attention to the principle, that “a firm and energetic conduct does not preclude the exercise of a prudent and humane policy,” he has (as you have been also advised) concluded upon the measure of sending himself commissioners to the discontented counties, to make one more experiment of a conciliatory appeal to the reason, virtue, and patriotism of their inhabitants; and has also signified to you how agreeable would be to him your co-operation in the same expedient, which you have been pleased to afford. It can scarcely be requisite to add, that there is nothing he has more at heart than that the issue of this experiment, by establishing the authority of the laws, may preclude the always calamitous necessity of an appeal to arms. It would plant a thorn in the remainder of his path through life, to have been obliged to employ force against fellow-citizens, for giving solidity and permanency to blessings which it has been his greatest happiness to co-operate with them in procuring for a much-loved country.
The President receives with much pleasure the assurance you have repeated to him, that whatever requisition he may make, whatever duty he may impose, in pursuance of his constitutional and legal powers, will, on your part, be promptly undertaken and faithfully discharged; and acknowledging, as an earnest of this, and even more, the measures of cooperation which you are pursuing, he assures you, in return, that he relies fully on the most cordial aid and support from you in every way which the Constitutions of the United States and of Pennsylvania shall authorize, and present or future exigencies may require.
And he requests that you will construe, with a reference to this assurance of his confidence, whatever remarks may have been made in the course of this reply to your letter, if it shall have happened that any of them have erred from a misconception of the sentiments and views which you may have meant to communicate.
With perfect respect and esteem, I have the honor to be, etc.,
Secretary of State.