Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO JAMES McHENRY, IN CONGRESS. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. X (1782-1785)
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TO JAMES McHENRY, IN CONGRESS. - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. X (1782-1785) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890). Vol. X (1782-1785).
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TO JAMES McHENRY, IN CONGRESS.
As the clouds which overspread your hemisphere are dispersing, and peace with all its concomitants is dawning upon your Land, I will banish the sound of War from my letter:—I wish to see the sons and daughters of the world in Peace and busily employed in the more agreeable amusement of fulfilling the first and great commandment—Increase and Multiply: as an encouragement to which we have opened the fertile plains of the Ohio to the poor, the needy and the opressed of the Earth; any one therefore who is heavy laden or who wants land to cultivate, may repair thither & abound, as in the Land of promise, with milk and honey:—the ways are preparing, and the roads will be made easy, thro’ the channels of Potomac & James river.
Mount Vernon, 22 August, 1785.
Speaking of these navigations, I have the pleasure to inform you that the subscriptions (especially for the first) at the surrender of the books, agreeably to the act which I enclosed you in my last, exceeded my most sanguine expectation:—for the latter, that is James river, no comparison of them has yet been made.—
* * * * * *
Of the £50,000 Sterlg. required for the Potomac navigation, upwards of £40,000, was subjoined before the middle of May, and encreasing fast—a President & four Directors, consisting of your hble. servant, Govrs. Johnson and Lee of Maryland, and Colos. Fitzgerald and Gilpin of this State, were chosen to conduct the undertaking.—The first dividend of the money was paid in on the 15th of this month; and the work is to be begun the first of next, in those parts which require least skill, leaving the more difficult ’till an Engineer of abilities and practical knowledge can be obtained; which reminds me of the question which I propounded to you in my last, on this subject, and on which I should be glad to learn your sentiments. This prospect, if it succeeds, and of which I have no doubt, will bring the Atlantic States and the Western Territory into close connexion, and be productive of very extensive commercial and political consequences; the last of which gave the spur to my exertions, as I could foresee many, and great mischiefs which would naturally result from a separation—and that a separation would inevitably take place, if the obstructions between the two countries remained, and the navigation of the Mississippi should be made free.
As I have ever been a friend to adequate powers of Congress, without which it is evident to me we never shall establish a national character, or be considered as on a respectable footing by the powers of Europe, I am sorry I cannot agree with you in sentiment not to enlarge them for the regulating of commerce. I have neither time nor abilities to enter into a full discussion of this subject; but it should seem to me, that your arguments against it, principally that some States may be more benefited than others by a commercial regulation, apply to every matter of general utility. Can there be a case enumerated, in which this argument has not its force in a greater or less degree? We are either a united people under one head and for federal purposes, or we are thirteen independent sovereignties, eternally counteracting each other. If the former, whatever such a majority of the States, as the constitution points out, conceives to be for the benefit of the whole, should, in my humble opinion, be submitted to by the minority. Let the southern States always be represented; let them act more in union; let them declare freely and boldly what is for the interest of, and what is prejudicial to, their constituents; and there will, there must be, an accommodating spirit. In the establishment of a navigation act, this in a particular manner ought, and will doubtless be attended to. If the assent of nine, or as some propose of eleven States, is necessary to give validity to a commercial system, it insures this measure, or it cannot be obtained.
Great Britain, in her commercial policy is acting the same unwise part, with respect to herself, which seems to have influenced all her councils; and thereby is defeating her own ends:—the restriction of our trade, and her heavy imposts on the staple commodities of this country, will I conceive, immediately produce powers in Congress to regulate the Trade of the Union; which, more than probably would not have been obtained without in half a century. The mercantile interests of the whole Union are endeavoring to effect this, & will no doubt succeed; they see the necessity of a controuling power, and the futility, indeed the absurdity, of each State’s enacting Laws for this purpose independant of one another.—This will be the case also, after a while, in all matters of common concern;—It is to be regretted, I confess, that Democratical States must always feel before they can see:—it is this that makes their Governments slow—but the people will be right at last.—
Wherein then lies the danger? But if your fears are in danger of being realized, cannot certain provisos in the ordinance guard against the evil; I see no difficulty in this, if the southern delegates would give their attendance in Congress, and follow the example, if it should be set them, of hanging together to counteract combinations. I confess to you candidly, that I can foresee no evil greater than disunion; than those unreasonable jealousies, (I say unreasonable, because I would have a proper jealousy always awake, and the United States on the watch to prevent individual States from infracting the constitution with impunity,) which are continually poisoning our minds and filling them with imaginary evils to the prevention of real ones.
Congress after long deliberation,—have at length agreed upon a mode for disposing of the Lands of the United States in the Western territory:—it may be a good one, but it does not comport with my ideas.—The ordinance is long, and I have none of them by me, or I would send one for your perusal.—They seem in this instance, as in almost every other, to be surrendering the little power they have, to the States individually which gave it to them.—Many think the price which they have fixed upon the Lands too high;—and all to the Southward I believe, that disposing of these in Townships, and by square miles alternately, will be a great let to the sale:—but experience, to which there is an appeal, must decide.
As you have asked the question, I answer, I do not know that we can enter upon a war of imposts with Great Britain, or any other foreign power; but we are certain, that this war has been waged against us by the former; professedly upon a belief that we never could unite in opposition to it; and I believe there is no way of putting an end to, or at least of stopping the increase of it, but to convince them of the contrary. Our trade, in all points of view, is as essential to Great Britain, as hers is to us; and she will exchange it upon reciprocal and liberal terms, if better cannot be had. It can hardly be supposed, I think, that the carrying business will devolve wholly on the States you have named, or remain long with them if it should; for either Great Britain will depart from her present contracted system, or the policy of the southern States in framing the act of navigation, or by laws passed by themselves individually, will devise ways and means to encourage seamen for the transportation of the product of their respective countries or for the encouragement of it [Editor: missing word?]. But, admitting the contrary, if the Union is considered as permanent, and on this I presume all superstructures are built, had we not better encourage seamen among ourselves, with less imports, than divide it with foreigners, and by increasing the amount of them ruin our merchants, and greatly injuring the mass of our citizens.
Soon after I had written to you in Feby., Mr. Jefferson, and after him Mr. Carmichael informed me that in consequence of an application from Mr. Harrison for permission to export a Jack for me from Spain, his Catholic Majesty had ordered two of the first race in his Kingdom (lest an accident might happen to one) to be purchased and presented to me as a mark of his esteem.—Such an instance of condescension and attention from a crowned head is very flattering and lays me under great obligation to the King; but neither of them is yet arrived:—these I presume are the two mentioned in your favor of the 16th of April; one as having been shipped from Cadiz—the other as expected from the Isle of Malta, which you would forward.—As they have been purchased since December last, I began to be apprehensive of accidents; which I wish may not. In the case with respect to the one from Cadiz, if he was actually shipped at the time of your account:—should the other pass thro’ your hands you cannot oblige me more, than by requiring the greatest care, & most particular attention to be paid to him. I have long endeavored to procure one of a good size and breed, but had little expectation of receiving two as a royal gift.—
To sum up the whole, I foresee, or think I do it, the many advantages which will arise from giving powers of this kind to Congress (if a sufficient number of States are required to exercise them), without any evil, save that which may proceed from inattention, or want of wisdom in the formation of the act; whilst, without them, we stand in a ridiculous point of view in the eyes of the nations of the world, with whom we are attempting to enter into commercial treaties, without means of carrying them into effect; who must see and feel, that the Union or the Sates individually are sovereigns, as best suits their purposes; in a word, that we are one nation to-day and thirteen to-morrow. Who will treat with us on such terms—but perhaps I have gone too far and therefore will only add, that Mrs. Washington offers her compliments and best wishes for you, and that with great esteem and regard, I am, dear Sir, &c.
I am much obliged to you my dear Marquis, for your attention to the Hounds, & not less sorry that you should have met the smallest difficulty, or experienced the least trouble in obtaining them: I was no way anxious about these, consequently should have felt no regret, or sustained no loss if you had not succeeded in your application.—I have commissioned three or four persons (among whom Colo. Marshall is one) to procure for me in Kentucke, for the use of the King’s Gardens at Versailles or elsewhere, the seeds mentioned in the list you sent me from New York, and such others as are curious, and will forward them as soon as they come to my hands: which cannot be ’till after the growing crop has given its seeds.