Front Page Titles (by Subject) JAY TO GOVERNOR CLINTON. - The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, vol. 1 (1763-1781)
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JAY TO GOVERNOR CLINTON. - John Jay, The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, vol. 1 (1763-1781) 
The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, ed. Henry P. Johnston, A.M. (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890-93). Vol. 1 (1763-1781).
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JAY TO GOVERNOR CLINTON.
Philadelphia, 25th September, 1779.
Whether the resolutions of Congress of the 24th inst., providing for the settlement of all disputes between New York and her neighbours, as well as revolted citizens, will please my constituents as much as they do me is uncertain. Nor am I convinced of the prudence of committing to paper all the reasons which induce me to think them (all circumstances considered) perfectly right. Some of them, however, I shall communicate. My first object on coming here was to prevail upon Congress to interpose, though in the smallest degree; well knowing, that if they once interfered ever so little, they might with more ease be led to a further and more effectual interposition.
Soon after my arrival, I found the following objections to an interference with Vermont generally prevailing.
1st. That Congress, being instituted for the sole purpose of opposing the tyranny of Britain, and afterward of establishing our independence, had no authority to interfere in the particular quarrels of any State. Hence all their former resolutions on the subject were merely negative. 2d. That the confederation had not yet taken place, and that the business should be postponed till all the States had acceded: an event then daily expected. 3d. That it was an improper season to interfere, and that the attention of Congress ought not to be diverted from the general objects of the war. 4th. That harsh measures against Vermont might induce them to join the enemy and increase their force. 5th. That they possessed a strong country, were numerous, warlike, and determined; and that more force would be required to reduce them, than could be spared from the general defence.
These were some of the ostensible objections. Besides which I had reason to suspect the following private ones:
1st. That divers persons of some consequence in Congress and New England expected to advance their fortunes by lands in Vermont. 2d. That Vermont, acquiring strength by time, would become actually independent, and afterward acknowledged to be so. 3d. That being settled by New England people, and raised into consequence by New England politics, it would be a fifth New England State, and become a valuable accession of strength both in and out of Congress. 4th. That ancient animosities between New York and New England naturally inclining the former to side with the middle and southern States, the less formidable she was the better, and therefore the loss or separation of that territory was rather to be wished for than opposed. These and many other considerations of the like nature induced me to postpone bringing on the matter till I could have an opportunity of preparing the way for it by acquiring a knowledge of the characters then in Congress, etc.
It is also proper to observe that the House was for the greater part of the winter so heated by divisions on points of general importance, that it would have been improper and imprudent to have called upon them to decide on this delicate business till more temper and calmness had taken place. When these began to appear the subject was introduced, and you have had a copy of the resolutions proposed by New York on that occasion. Against them all objections before mentioned operated, with this additional one, that it would be highly unjust and impolitic to determine against Vermont, without previous inquiry into the merits of their claims, and giving them an opportunity of being heard. This objection, so far as it respected their claim to independence, was absurd though plausible; but it was not to be overcome; and though we might have carried a resolution against it by a slender majority, that majority would have consisted of southern members against a violent opposition from New England and their adherents. A resolution carried under such circumstances would rather have encouraged than disheartened Vermont, and was, therefore, ineligible.
Hence I conceived it to be expedient to promote the measure of appointing a committee of inquiry; knowing that if Congress proceeded to inquire, it would be a ground for pressing them to go further and determine, especially as I was apprised that the result of these inquiries would be in our favour.
The committee, you know, never had a formal meeting; it, nevertheless, had its use. The individual reports of the members who composed it advanced our cause; and even Mr. Witherspoon, who was and is suspected by New York, made representations in our favour.
Your last resolutions were of infinite service, by evincing the moderation, justice, and liberality, and, at the same time, the spirit of the State. On the other hand, the law of Vermont for whipping, cropping, and branding your magistrates made an impression greatly to their disadvantage. Before these emotions should have time to subside, as well in observance of our instructions, I pressed Congress from day to day to adopt such measures as the public exigencies called for, and thereby prevent the flames of civil war from raging. It would not, I believe, have been difficult to have obtained what some among you would call very spirited and pointed resolutions, but which, in my opinion, would have been very imprudent ones; because, among other reasons, they would not have been unanimous. You will find the recitals and particular resolutions numbered in the margin of the copy herewith enclosed, from 1 to 13. I shall trouble you with a few explanatory remarks on each of them, under heads numbered in like manner.
1st and 2d. These recitals were inserted to show the reason why Congress now proceed without the report of the committee, after having resolved to postpone the further consideration of the subject till their report should be made.
3d. This recital justifies the facts set forth in your representations, and in case an appeal to the public should become necessary, may be used with advantage to New York.
4th. This recital destroys the doctrine that the Union (independent of the articles of confederation) had no other object than security against foreign invasions.
5th. This recital is calculated to impress the people with an opinion of the reasonableness and policy of the requisition or recommendation which follows, and therefore will the more readily induce those States to adopt the measures recommended to them.
6th. You may inquire for what reason I consented to this recital, as it puts Massachusetts and New Hampshire on a footing with New York; whereas I well knew that New York alone had a right to claim jurisdiction over Vermont. My reasons were these: Vermont extends over Connecticut River into the acknowledged jurisdiction of New Hampshire; as to Massachusetts, the recital admits only her claims, not her title; and it is as impossible to deny the existence of claims when made, as it is to prevent them. Their delegates pointedly asserted and insisted on the claim of Massachusetts; and it appeared to me expedient to provide for a speedy determination of all claims against us, however ill-founded. You may further ask why Vermont is made a party? The reason is this: that by being allowed a hearing, the candour and moderation of Congress may be rescued from aspersions; and that these people, after having been fully heard, may have nothing to say or complain of, in case the decision of Congress be against them, of which I have no doubt.
7th. It is true that by this resolution the merits of former settlements with these States will be again the subject of inquiry, discussion, and decision; and therefore it may at first sight appear improper; but these settlements will still remain strong evidence of our rights, however objectionable they may be represented to be by those States. Nor will Congress be easily prevailed upon to annul them, because in that case all their boundaries would be afloat. Besides, in my opinion, it is much better for New York to gain a permanent peace with their neighbours by submitting to these inconveniences, than by an impolitic adherence to strict rights, and a rigid observance of the dictates of dignity and pride, remain exposed to perpetual dissensions and encroachment. Peace and established boundaries, under our circumstances, are, I think, almost inestimable.
8th. The reason of this is assigned in the last sentence under the 6th head.
9th. For the same purpose of preserving the appearance of equality in claims, whatever difference there may be in titles, the three States are mentioned in this recommendation, The object of it is a settlement of all disputes respecting interfering grants, in case Vermont should be abolished, and that district in part, or in the whole, adjudged to either of the three States.
10th. I am sure you will admit my prudence in giving your voice for this resolution.
11th. As it was not absolutely certain that New Hampshire and Massachusetts would pass the laws in question, and as I was sure that New York would, it appeared to me highly expedient to provide, by this resolution, that the dispute between New York and Vermont should be determined, whether the other two States came in or no; and, lest the former guarantee contained in the tenth resolution might be construed to be contingent, and to depend on the event of all the three States adopting the measures recommended to them, it is here repeated. You will observe that neither of the three States are to vote on the decision.
12th. On the plan of hearing Vermont, this resolution, however inconvenient, became indispensable. Care, however, has been taken in it to exempt all persons from their jurisdiction who profess allegiance to either of the three States. But you will say, Why to the three States? Why not to New York only; from whom they revolted, and under whose actual jurisdiction they last were? Because it would have clashed with the equality of claims before mentioned, and the least opposition to which would have prevented these resolutions from being unanimous; a circumstance, in my opinion, infinitely more valuable than the preservation of useless etiquette. And, further, because the district is here so described as to extend over the river and affect New Hampshire. In a word, the necessity of the resolution was so obvious that there was no avoiding it. These inconveniences will be temporary, and, if the principles laid down in it are observed, will not be very great; especially as Congress have determined a violation of it to be a breach of the peace of the confederacy, and have declared their resolution to maintain it.
13th. This resolution needs no comment, the policy and justice of it being extremely evident. Anxious to avoid a moment’s delay in sending you these resolutions, I have not time by this opportunity of adding any thing further than that upon this occasion I have acted according to the best of my judgment, after having maturely considered and well weighed the force and tendency of every consideration and circumstance affecting the business in question. When I first received my special commission, I did not apprehend that this matter was in a more particular manner confided to me than to my colleagues, though some of them considered it in that light. The commission vested me with no further power than what any other of your delegates possessed; nor was any matter given more particularly in charge to me than to the others by the Legislature. Their late instructions, however, speak a different language. I am satisfied to be viewed in that light, that is, to be the responsible man; and, provided the measures I adopt are not thwarted, I am confident that I shall be able to bring all these matters to a happy conclusion. I hope, however, that this will not be considered as a hint for my being continued in the delegation; I assure you, nothing but an adherence to the resolutions and principles of action I adopted and professed at the commencement of the war would induce me to remain here at the expense of health as well as property; for though I shall always be ready to serve my country when called upon, I shall always be happy to find it consistent with my duty to remain a private citizen.
I am, sir,