Front Page Titles (by Subject) 1786. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. XI (1785-1790)
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1786. - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. XI (1785-1790) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890). Vol. XI (1785-1790).
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TO BENJAMIN LINCOLN.
Mount Vernon, 6 February, 1786.
My dear Sir,
Your favor of the 4th of January never reached me till yesterday, or the receipt of it should have had an earlier acknowledgment. Let me, in the first place, thank you for your kind attention to my inquiries; and in the next, pray you to know precisely from Mr. Lear upon what terms he would come to me. I am not inclined to leave matters of this kind to after discussion or misconception. Whatever agreement is previously made shall be pointedly fulfilled on my part, which will prevent every cause of complaint on his.
Mr. Lear, or any other who may come into my family in the blended characters of preceptor to the children, and as a clerk or private secretary to me, will sit at my table, will live as I live, will mix with the company who resort to the house, and will be treated in every respect with civility and proper attention. He will have his washing done in the family, and may have his linen and stockings mended by the maids of it. The duties, which will be required of him, are generally such as appertain to the offices above mentioned. The first will be very trifling, till the children are a little more advanced; and the latter will be equally so, as my correspondences decline (which I am endeavoring to effect), and after my accounts and other old matters are brought up. To descend more minutely into his avocations I am unable, because occasional matters may call for particular services; but nothing derogatory will be asked or expected. After this explanation of my wants, I request Mr. Lear would mention the annual sum he will expect for these services, and I will give him a decided answer by the return of the stages, which now carry the mail and travel quick. A good hand, as well as a proper diction, would be a recommendation on account of fair entries, and for the benefit of the children who will have to copy after it.1 * * *
TO SAMUEL PURVIANCE, ESQ.
Mount Vernon, 10 March, 1786.
Your Letter of the 6th instant, is this moment put into my hands; was it in my power I would cheerfully answer your queries respecting the settlements on the Kanhawa; the nature of the water and quality of the soil.
But of the first, I only know from information that Colo. Lewis is settled there, from his own mouth I learnt that it was his intention to do so, & to establish a Town in the fork of the two rivers, where he proposes to fix families in the vicinity on his own Lands. Of the second, I never could obtain any distinct account of the navigation. It has been variously represented; favorably by some,—extremely difficult by others, in its passage thro’ the Gauley mountain, (which I presume is the Laurel hill)—but the uncertainty of this matter will now soon be at an end, as there are commissioners appointed by this State to explore the navigation of that river and the communication between it and James river, with a view to a portage. This, equally with the extension of the Potomac navigation, was part of my original plan, and equally urged by me to our Assembly; for my object was to connect the Western and Eastern or Atlantic States together by strong commercial ties.
I am a friend, therefore on this principle to every channel that can be opened, and wish the people to have choice.—The Kanhawa, and James river, if the obstacles in the former are not great, are certainly the shortest and best for the settlers thereon, for those on the Ohio below, above, perhaps as high as the little Kanhawa and for the Country immediately west of it.
The Monongahela and Yohoghaney with the Potomac are most convenient for all the settlers from the little Kanhawa, inclusively, to Fort Pitt and upwards, & west as far as the Lakes. Susquehanna and the Alleghany above Fort Pitt some distance, will accommodate a third District of Country; and may for ought I know be equally convenient to the trade of the Lakes. All of them therefore have my best wishes; for as I have observed already, my object & my aim are political. If we cannot bind those people to us by interest, and it is no otherwise to be effected but by a commercial knot, we shall be no more to them after a while, than G. Britain or Spain, and they may be as closely linked with one or other of those powers, as we wish them to be with us, and in that event, they may be a severe thorn in our side.
With respect to the nature of the soil on the Kanhawa, the bottoms are fine, but the lands adjoining are broken.—In some places the hills are very rich, in others piney and very poor: but the principal reason as I conceive, why the settlement has not progressed more, is that the greater part if not all the good Lands, on the main river, are in the hands of persons who do not incline to reside thereon themselves, and possibly hold them too high for others, as there is a surrounding country open to them; this I take to be my own case and might be an inducement to concur in any well concerted measures to further a settlement, which might ultimately, not at too great a distance, subserve my interest in that quarter.
The Great Kanhawa is a long river with very little interruption for a considerable distance—No very large waters empty into it, I believe; Elk river, Coal river and a creek called Pokitellico below the falls, and Green river above them, are the most considerable. I am glad to hear that the Susquehanna canal is so well advanced. I thank you for the offer of Mr. Nielson’s services in the western country, and am, with very great, &c.
TO COLS. FITZGERALD AND GILPIN.
Mount Vernon, 31st March, 1786.
Yesterday Mr. Brindley, in company with a Mr. Harris, Manager for the James river Company (the latter having been sent for the former, by the Directors thereof,) left this on their way to Richmond from whence Mr. Brindley expects to be returned, as far as Alexandria, in seven days from the date hereof. I have engaged him to call upon Colo. Gilpin on his rout back.
Mr. Brindley1 and Mr. Harris took the great Falls in their way down and both approve of the present line for our Canal—the first very much. He conceives that 9-10ths of the expence of the one fifth proposed will be saved by this cut, the work altogether as secure, and the entrance into the river by no means unfavorable. He thinks however that a good deal of attention and judgment is required in fixing Locks there; the height of which he observes is always governed by the ground—they frequently run from four to eighteen feet, and some times are as high as twenty four.
The nature and declination of the ground, according to him, is alone to direct—and where this will admit he thinks the larger the Locks are made the better, because more convenient.
With respect to this part of the business I feel, and always have confessed an entire incompetency:—nor do I conceive that theoretical knowledge alone is adequate to the undertaking. Locks, upon the most judicious plan, will certainly be expensive; and if not properly constructed and judiciously placed, may be altogether useless. It is for these reasons therefore that I have frequently suggested (though no decision has been had) the propriety of employing a professional man.
Nevertheless whether the expense of obtaining one in, and bringing him from Europe has been thought unnecessary, or too burthensome for the advantages, which are to be expected, I know not: but as it is said no person in this country has more practical knowledge than Mr. Brindley, I submit to your consideration the propriety of engaging him to take the Falls in his way back; to examine, level and digest a plan for Locks at that place; if it shall appear good, and his reasons in support of the spots and sizes conclusive it will justify the adoption; if palpably erroneous, there is no obligation upon us to follow him, and the expence in that case is the only evil which can result from it—this for the chance of a probable good, I am not only willing but desirous of encountering; and if Colo. Gilpin has not already made the trip to that place which he proposed at our last visit, and disappointment there, it would give me great pleasure if it could be so timed as to accompany Mr. Brindley; this would not only give countenance to the measure, but aid also, and might serve to remove the little jealousies which otherwise arise in the minds of our own managers. Taking Mr. Brindley to the works now may ultimately save expence—at the same time having a plan before us, enable us at all convenient times to provide materials for its execution. I am, &c.
P. S. If my proposition is acceded to, it would be better to fix at once what Mr. Brindley is to receive, and I will readily subscribe my name to what you two gentlemen shall agree to give him.
TO ROBERT MORRIS.
Mount Vernon, 12 April, 1786.
I give you the trouble of this letter at the instance of Mr. Dalby of Alexandria, who is called to Philadelphia to attend what he conceives to be a vexatious lawsuit respecting a slave of his, which a society of Quakers in the city, (formed for such purposes,) have attempted to liberate. The merits of this case will no doubt appear upon trial. From Mr. Dalby’s state of the matter, it should seem, that this society is not only acting repugnant to justice, so far as its conduct concerns strangers, but in my opinion extremely impoliticly with respect to the State, the city in particular, and without being able, (but by acts of tyranny and oppression,) to accomplish its own ends. He says the conduct of this society is not sanctioned by law. Had the case been otherwise, whatever my opinion of the law might have been, my respect for the policy of the State would on this occasion have appeared in my silence; because against the penalties of promulgated laws one may guard, but there is no avoiding the snares of individuals, or of private societies. And if the practice of this society, of which Mr. Dalby speaks, is not discountenanced, none of those, whose misfortune it is to have slaves as attendants, will visit the city if they can possibly avoid it; because by so doing they hazard their property, or they must be at the expense (and this will not always succeed) of providing servants of another description for the trip.
I hope it will not be conceived from these observations, that it is my wish to hold the unhappy people, who are the subject of this letter, in slavery. I can only say, that there is not a man living, who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it; but there is only one proper and effectual mode by which it can be accomplished, and that is by legislative authority; and this, as far as my suffrage will go, shall never be wanting. But when slaves, who are happy and contented with their present masters, are tampered with and seduced to leave them; when masters are taken unawares by these practices; when a conduct of this sort begets discontent on one side and resentment on the other; and when it happens to fall on a man, whose purse will not measure with that of the society, and he loses his property for want of means to defend it; it is oppression in such a case, and not humanity in any, because it introduces more evils than it can cure.
I will make no apology for writing to you on this subject, for, if Mr. Dalby has not misconceived the matter, an evil exists which requires a remedy; if he has, my intentions have been good, though I may have been too precipitate in this address. Mrs. Washington joins me in every good and kind wish for Mrs. Morris and your family, and I am, &c.
TO THE MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE.
Mount Vernon, 10 May, 1786.
My dear Marquis,
* * * * * *
The letter which you did me the favor to write to me by Mr. Barrett dated the 6th of February together with the parcel and packages which accompanied it came safely to hand, and for which I pray you to accept my grateful acknowledgments.
The account of and observations which you have made on the policy and practice of Great Britain at the other courts of Europe, respecting these States, I was but too well informed and convinced of before. Unhappily for us, though their accounts are greatly exaggerated, yet our conduct has laid the foundation for them. It is one of the evils of democratical governments, that the people, not always seeing and frequently misled, must often feel before they can act right; but then evils of this nature seldom fail to work their own cure. It is to be lamented, nevertheless, that the remedies are so slow, and that those, who may wish to apply them seasonably, are not attended to before they suffer in person, in interest, and in reputation. I am not without hopes, that matters will take a more favorable turn in the federal constitution. The discerning part of the community have long since seen the necessity of giving adequate powers to Congress for national purposes, and the ignorant and designing must yield to it ere long. Several late acts of the different legislatures have a tendency thereto. Among these the impost, which is now acceded to by every State in the Union, (though clogged a little by that of New York,) will enable Congress to support the national credit in pecuniary matters better than it has been; whilst a measure, in which this State has taken the lead at its last session, will, it is to be hoped, give efficient powers to that body for all commercial purposes. This is a nomination of some of its first characters to meet other commissioners from the several States, in order to consider of and decide upon such powers, as shall be necessary for the sovereign power of them to act under; which are to be reported to the respective legislatures at their autumnal sessions, for, it is to be hoped, final adoption; thereby avoiding those tedious and futile deliberations, which result from recommendations and partial concurrences, at the same time that it places it at once in the power of Congress to meet European nations upon decisive and equal ground. All the legislatures, which I have heard from, have come into the proposition; and have made very judicious appointments.1 Much good is expected from this measure, and it is regretted by many, that more objects were not embraced by the meeting. A general convention is talked of by many for the purpose of revising and correcting the defects of the federal government; but whilst this is the wish of some, it is the dread of others, from an opinion that matters are not yet sufficiently ripe for such an event.2
The British still occupy our posts to the westward, and will, I am persuaded, continue to do so under one pretence or another, no matter how shallow, as long as they can. Of this, from some circumstances which had occurred, I have been convinced since August, 1783, and gave it as my opinion at that time, if not officially to Congress as the sovereign, at least to a number of its members, that they might act accordingly. It is indeed evident to me, that they had it in contemplation to do this at the time of the treaty. The expression of the article, which respects the evacuation of them, as well as the tenor of their conduct since relative to this business, is strongly marked with deception. I have not the smallest doubt, but that every secret engine is continually at work to inflame the Indian mind, with a view to keep it at variance with these States, for the purpose of retarding our settlements to the westward, and depriving us of the fur and peltry trade of that country.
Your assurances, my dear Marquis, respecting the male and female asses, are highly pleasing to me, I shall look for them with much expectation and great satisfaction, as a valuable acquisition and important service.
The Jack which I have already received from Spain, in appearance is fine; but his late royal master, tho’ past his grand climacteric, cannot be less moved by female allurements than he is; or when prompted can proceed with more deliberation and majestic solemnity to the work of procreation.—The other Jack perished at sea.
The benevolence of your heart, my dear Marquis, is so conspicuous upon all occasions, that I never wonder at any fresh proofs of it; but your late purchase of an estate in the colony of Cayenne, with a view of emancipating the slaves on it, is a generous and noble proof of your humanity. Would to God a like spirit would diffuse itself generally into the minds of the people of this country. But I despair of seeing it. Some petitions were presented to the Assembly, at its last session, for the abolition of slavery, but they could scarcely obtain a reading. To set them afloat at once would, I really believe, be productive of much inconvenience and mischief; but by degrees it certainly might, and assuredly ought to be effected; and that too by legislative authority.
I give you the trouble of a letter to the Marquis de St. Simon, in which I have requested to be presented to M. de Menonville. The favorable terms in which you speak of Mr. Jefferson gives me great pleasure. He is a man of whom I early imbibed the highest opinion. I am as much pleased, therefore, to meet confirmations of my discernment in these matters, as I am mortified when I find myself mistaken. * * *
TO JOHN JAY.
Mount Vernon, 18 May, 1786.
In due course of post, I have been honored with your favors of the 2d and 16th of March1 ; since which I have been a good deal engaged and pretty much from home. For the enclosure, which accompanied the first, I thank you. Mr. Littlepage seems to have forgot what had been his situation, forgot what was due to you, and indeed what was necessary to his own character; and his guardian, I think, seems to have forgotten every thing.1
I coincide perfectly in sentiment with you, my dear Sir, that there are errors in our national government, which call for correction; loudly, I would add; but I shall find myself happily mistaken if the remedies are at hand. We are certainly in a delicate situation; but my fear is, that the people are not yet sufficiently misled to retract from error. To be plainer, I think there is more wickedness than ignorance mixed in our councils. Under this impression I scarcely know what opinion to entertain of a general convention. That it is necessary to revise and amend the articles of confederation, I entertain no doubt; but what may be the consequences of such an attempt is doubtful. Yet something must be done, or the fabric must fall, for it certainly is tottering.
Ignorance and design are difficult to combat. Out of these proceed illiberal sentiments, improper jealousies, and a train of evils which oftentimes in republican governments must be sorely felt before they can be removed. The former, that is ignorance, being a fit soil for the latter to work in, tools are employed by them which a generous mind would disdain to use; and which nothing but time, and their own puerile or wicked productions, can show the inefficacy and dangerous tendency of. I think often of our situation, and view it with concern. From the high ground we stood upon, from the plain path which invited our footsteps, to be so fallen! so lost! it is really mortifying. But virtue, I fear, has in a great degree taken its departure from our land, and the want of a disposition to do justice is the source of the national embarrassments; for, whatever guise or colorings are given to them, this I apprehend is the origin of the evils we now feel, and probably shall labor under for some time yet. With respectful compliments to Mrs. Jay, and sentiments of sincere friendship, I am, dear Sir, &c.
TO HENRY L. CHARTON.
Mount Vernon, 20th May, 1786.
The letter which you did me the favor to write to me from Philadelphia on the 5th inst. came safely to hand, and I should have given it an earlier acknowledgment had not frequent calls from home, & unavoidable business prevented it.
I do not perceive, upon recurring to the subject, that I can be more explicit in the description of my Lands on the Big Kanhawa, & on the Ohio between the two Kanhawas, than I was when I had the pleasure of seeing you at this place.—If I recollect rightly I then informed you, that from the accounts given me of them by the Surveyor; from what I had seen of them myself, (especially the tract on the big Kanhawa) from every other source of information, & from my best knowledge & belief, there can be no finer land in that or any other country; or lands more abounding in natural advantages.
The whole of them are washed by the rivers I have mentioned—are furnished with land streams fit for water works of various kinds—stored with meadow ground wch. may be reclaimed in the cheapest & most expeditious manner imaginable, (by only cutting away trifling banks of earth, which have been formed by the Beaver) and abound in fish & wild fowl of all kinds, as well as every other sort of game with which the country is filled. With respect to the quality of the soil, it may be conceived that none can exceed it when I relate a single fact, namely, that it was the first choice of the whole country thereabouts, after a thorough research of it by an excellent judge, the late Colo. Crawford.
As to the situation of them, none can be more advantageous; for living about midway between the upper & lower settlements on the Ohio, the trade must pass within sight of those Lands, whilst the occupants of them, equally convenient to both might embrace the inland navigation of either Potomac or James river, as soon as they are made to communicate with the Western waters; which no doubt will soon be effected. I think too, I should not be mistaken were I to add that ere long a town of some importance will be established in the vicinity of them—viz—at the confluence of the big Kanhawa & Ohio; which is the point at which the trade to Richmond, & that which is carried to the northern parts of this State, & to Maryland & Pennsylvania, must separate. But to go into a more minute detail in writing of what has before been the subject of oral conversation, would be more tiresome than interesting; especially as it is by no means my wish that any purchase, whatever—should rely upon my accot. of this matter, or on those of any others—but judge for himself or themselves, in all things.
When you asked me if I was disposed to sell these Lands, I answered and truly that I had never had it in contemplation, because I well knew they would rise more in value than the purchase money at the present time would accumulate by interest; consequently under these circumstances it would be difficult in the present moment to fix on a price which would be acceded to, that would be an equivalent for them hereafter. However as I had no family, wished to live easy & to spend the remainder of my days with as little trouble as possible, I said I would part with them if a good price could be obtained; and that my sense of their value might easily be ascertained by the terms on which I had proposed to rent them (& which I think you told me you had seen). One of which, amounting in fact to an absolute sale, being on a Lease of 999 years, renewable, was at ten pounds this currency per hundred acres, which at 5 p. ct.—(the legal interest in this State), would have come to 40s. like money pr. acre for the land on purchase; but I added, that if any one person, or sett of men would take the whole, I would make the terms of payment easy and abate considerably in the price. I therefore now inform you that the lands (the patents & plats of which I shewed you) the titles to which are uncontrollable—free from those clashing interests and jarring disputes with which much of the property in that country is replete, are in quantities & situation as follows—
1st.—2314, on the Ohio river three or four miles below the mouth of the little Kanhawa.
2d.—2448 acres on the said river abt. sixteen miles below the former.
3d.—4395 acres on Ditto, just above the great bend in it & below the other two.
4th.—10,990—on the big Kanhawa (west side) beginning within two or three miles of its conflux with the Ohio & extending up the former 17 miles.
5th.—7,276 acres a little above this on the East side of the same river Kanhawa.
6th.—2000 acres higher up the Kanhawa (west side) in the fork between Coal river and it.
7th.—2950 acres, opposite thereto, on the East side. In all 32,373 acres on both rivers.
For these lands I would take Thirty thousand English guineas (of the proper weight) or other specie current in the country, at its equivalent value.—Two thousand five hundred of which to be paid at the execution of the Deeds & the remainder in seven years therefrom with an interest of five pr. ct. pr. ann. regularly paid at my seat ’till the principal shall be discharged.
I am not inclined to part with any of these Lands, as an inducement to settle the rest. My mind is so well satisfied of the superior value of them to most others, that there remains no doubt on it of my obtaining my own terms as the country populates and the situation & local advantages of them unfold. These terms have already been promulgated, but I have not a copy of them by me, or I could send it to you. They were inserted in Dunlaps & Claypoole’s Gazette about two years ago, at whose Office it is probable a copy might be had.1 —One of the conditions was, if my memory serves me, an exemption from the payment of rent three years whilst the tenements were opening & improvements making; this I am still inclined to fulfill.
The rents were different according to the term for which leases were to be granted.
If for twenty one years only, they were to commence & end at £5 pr. hundred; for in that case the stipulated improvements being made, I knew that almost any rent might be had for the Tenement thereafter.
If on leases renewable every ten years forever, the rents were in that case to advance in a certain ratio, to keep pace with the encreasing value of the Land. And if given in the first instance for 999 yrs. as has been mentioned before, then the rent was to commence at ten pounds pr. hund. Acres; which being in fact an alienation of the property, shewed my ideas of its present value & purchase money, as mentioned already. These, as far as I can recite from memory, were the terms on which I offered to rent, and from which I feel no disposition to relax unless as in the case of a purchase, some one or more persons would take the whole off my hands at once, & become responsible for the rent; in which case being influenced by similar principles I might abate accordingly.
I should have great pleasure in giving such letters as you have asked, to the Marquis de la Fayette and Chevr. de la Luzerne, but conceive they could only have an embarrassing operation. It is certainly as consistent with the policy of one country to discourage depopulation, as it is for another to encourage emigration. Considering the matter in this point of view I cannot suppose, however well disposed either of the above gentlemen may be to serve this country, that they would do it at the expence of, & perhaps hazard of censure from their own.
One of these gentlemen too being in the diplomatic or ministerial line would, undoubtedly, be very cautious in expressing a sentiment favorable to a business of this kind.—my best wishes however will follow you thro’ all the stages of it; and with esteem, I am, &c.
P. S. I shou’d be glad to know whether this letter found you in Philadelphia.
TO JAMES TILGHMAN.
Mount Vernon, 5 June, 1786.
I have just had the honor to receive your favor of the 26th ulto.—
Of all the numerous acquaintances of your lately deceased son,1 & amidst all the sorrowings that are mingled on that melancholy occasion, I may venture to assert (that excepting those of his nearest relatives) none could have felt his death with more regret than I did, because, no one entertained a higher opinion of his worth, or had imbibed sentiments of greater friendship for him than I had done. That you, Sir, should have felt the keenest anguish for this loss, I can readily conceive,—the ties of the parental affection united with those of friendship could not fail to have produced this effect. It is however a dispensation, the wisdom of which is inscrutable, and amidst all your grief, there is this consolation to be drawn;—that while living, no man could be more esteemed, and since dead, none more lamented than Colo. Tilghman.
As his correspondence with the comtee. of New York is not connected with any transactions of mine, so, consequently, it is not necessary that the Papers to which you allude should compose part of my public documents; but if they stand single, as they exhibit a trait of his public character, and like all the rest of his transactions will, I am persuaded, do honor to his understanding and probity, it may be desirable in this point of view, to keep them alive by mixing them with mine; which, undoubtedly, will claim the attention of the Historian;—who, if I mistake not, will, upon an inspection of them, discover the illiberal ground on which the charge mentioned in the extract of the letter you did me the honor to inclose me is founded.—That a calumny of this kind had been reported, I knew;—I had laid my acct. for the calumnies of annonymous scribblers; but I never before had conceived that such an one as is related, could have originated with, or have met the countenance of Capt. Asgill; whose situation often filled me with the keenest anguish.
I felt for him on many accts.; and not the least, when, viewing him as a man of honor & sentiment, how unfortunate it was for him that a wretch who possessed neither should be the means of causing in him a single pang or a disagreeable sensation. My favorable opinion of him, however is forfeited, if being acquainted with these reports, he did not immediately contradict them.—That I could not have given countenance to the insults which he says were offered to his person, especially the grovelling one of erecting a Gibbet before his prison window, will I expect, readily be believed, when I explicitly declare that I never heard of a single attempt to offer an insult, and that I had every reason to be convinced, that, he was treated by the officers around him, with all the tenderness and every civility in their power.—I would fain ask Captn. Asgill how he could reconcile such belief (if his mind had been seriously impressed with it) to the continual indulgencies and procrastinations he had experienced? He will not I presume deny that, he was admitted to his parole within ten or twelve miles of the British lines:—if not to a formal parole, to a confidence yet more unlimited—by being permitted, for the benefit of his health and recreation of his mind, to ride, not merely about the cantonment, but into the surrounding country for many miles with his friend and companion Maj. Gordon, constantly attending him. Would not these indulgencies have pointed a military character to the portrait from whence they flowed? Did he conceive that discipline was so lax in the American army as that any officer in it would have granted these liberties to a Person confined by the express order of the Commander in Chief, unless authorized to do so by the same authority? and to ascribe them to the interference of Count de Rochambeau, is as void of foundation as his other conjectures; for I do not recollect that a sentence ever passed between that General and me, directly, or indirectly, on the subject. I was not without suspicions after the final liberation and return of Capt. Asgill to New York that his mind had been improperly impressed or that he was defective in politeness. The treatment he had met with, in my conception, merited an acknowledgment—None, however was offered, and I never sought for the cause.
This concise acct. of the treatment of Capt. Asgill is given from a hasty recollection of the circumstances.—If I had had time, and it was essential, by unpacking my papers and recurring to authentic files, I might have been more pointed and full. It is in my power at any time to convince the unbiased mind that my conduct through the whole of the transaction was neither influenced by passion, guided by inhumanity or under the control of any interference whatsoever. I essayed everything to save the innocent and bring the guilty to punishment, with what success the impartial world must and hereafter certainly will decide.
With very great esteem, &c.1
TO HENRY LEE, IN CONGRESS.
Mount Vernon, 18 June, 1786.
My dear Sir,
* * * * * *
The advantages, with which the inland navigation of the Rivers Potomac and James are pregnant, must strike every mind that reasons upon the subject; but there is, I perceive, a diversity of sentiment respecting the benefits and the consequences, which may flow from the free and immediate use of the Mississippi. My opinion of this matter has been uniformly the same; and no light in which I have been able to consider the subject is likely to change it. It is, neither to relinquish nor to push our claim to this navigation, but in the mean while to open all the communications, which nature has afforded, between the Atlantic States and the western territory, and to encourage the use of them to the utmost. In my judgment it is a matter of very serious concern to the well-being of the former to make it the interest of the latter to trade with them; without which, the ties of consanguinity, which are weakening every day, will soon be no bond, and we shall be no more a few years hence to the inhabitants of that country, than the British and Spaniards are at this day; not so much, indeed, because commercial connexions, it is well known, lead to others, and united are difficult to be broken, and these must take place with the Spaniards, if the navigation of the Mississippi is opened.
Clear I am, that it would be for the interest of the western settlers, as low down the Ohio as the Big Kanhawa, and back to the Lakes, to bring their produce through one of the channels I have named; but the way must be cleared, and made easy and obvious to them, or else the ease with which people glide down stream will give a different bias to their thinking and acting. Whenever the new States become so populous and so extended to the westward, as really to need it, there will be no power which can deprive them of the use of the Mississippi. Why then should we prematurely urge a matter, which is displeasing and may produce disagreeable consequences, if it is our interest to let it sleep? It may require some management to quiet the restless and impetuous spirits of Kentucky, of whose conduct I am more apprehensive in this business, than I am of all the opposition that will be given by the Spaniards.1 Mrs. Washington & George and his wife join me in compliments and good wishes to your lady. With great esteem and regard, I am, dear Sir, &c.
TO WILLIAM GRAYSON, IN CONGRESS.
Mount Vernon, 26 July, 1786.
Is it not among the most unaccountable things in nature, that the representation of a great country should generally be so thin as not to be able to execute the functions of government?1 To what is this to be ascribed? Is it the result of political manœuvre in some States, or is it owing to supineness or want of means? Be the causes what they may, it is shameful and disgusting. In a word, it hurts us. Our character as a nation is dwindling; and what it must come to, if a change should not soon take place, our enemies have foretold; for in truth we seem either not capable, or not willing, to take care of ourselves.
For want, I suppose, of competent knowledge of the Connecticut claim to western territory, the compromise which is made with her appears to me to be a disadvantageous one for the Union, and, if her right is not one of the motives (according to your account) for yielding to it, in my humble opinion, is exceedingly dangerous and bad; for upon such principles might, not right, must ever prevail, and there will be no surety for any thing.1
I wish very sincerely, that the land ordinance may answer the expectations of Congress. I had, and still have, my doubts of the utility of the plan, but pray devoutly, that they may never be realized, as I am desirous of seeing it a productive branch of the revenue. That part, which makes the waters and carrying-places common highways, and free for all the States, is certainly valuable.
I thank you for the other articles of information. Such as you have disclosed confidentially, you may rest assured will proceed no further, till it becomes public through other channels; and this shall always be the case with paragraphs, which are so marked. The answer to the memorial of Mr. Adams by Lord Carmarthen I have seen at large. It was impolitic and unfortunate if it was not unjust in these States to pass laws, which by fair construction might be considered as infractions of the treaty of peace. It is good policy at all times to place one’s adversary in the wrong. Had we observed good faith, and the western posts had then been withheld from us by Great Britain, we might have appealed to God and man for justice; and, if there are any guarantees to the treaty, we might have called upon them to see it fulfilled.1 But now we cannot do this; though clear I am, that the reasons assigned by the British ministry are only ostensible, and that the posts, under one pretence or another, were intended to have been detained, though no such acts had ever passed. But how different would our situation have been under such circumstances. With very sincere regard and affection, I am, dear Sir, &c.
TO WAKELIN WELCH, ESQ.
Mount Vernon,—July, 1786.
Since my last of the 28th of Novr., I have been favored with your letters of the 27th of Feby. & 13th of March; and have receiv’d the paper hangings and watch by Capt. Andrews. With the last Mrs. Washington is well pleased, and I thank you in her name for your attention to the making of it.
If the stocks keep up, and there is not a moral certainty of their rising higher in a short time, it is my wish and desire that my interest in the Bank may be immediately sold, and the money arising therefrom made subject to my Drafts in your hands, some of which at 60 days sight may soon follow this letter.
The footing on which you have placed the interest of my debt to you, is all I require. To stand on equal ground with others who owe money to the merchants in England, and who were not so prompt in their payment of the principal as I have been, is all I aim at. Whatever the two Countries may finally decide with respect to interest; or whatever general agreement or compromise may be come to, between British Creditors and American Debtors, I am willing to abide by; nor should I again have touched upon this subject in this letter, had you not introduced a case which, in my opinion has no similitude with the point in question.
You say I have received interest at the Bank, for the money which was there—granted—but (besides remarking that only part of this money was mine) permit me to ask if G. Britain was not enabled by means of the bank, to continue the War with this country? whether this war did not deprive us of the means of paying our Debts? and whether the interest I received from this source did or could bear any proportion to the losses I sustained by having my grain, my Tobacco and every article of produce, rendered unsaleable and left to perish on my hands?
However, I again repeat that I ask no discrimination of you in my favor, for had there been no stipulation by treaty to secure debts—nay more, had there even been an exemption by the legislative authority or practice of this Country against it, I would, from a conviction of the propriety and justice of the measure, have discharged my original debt to you.
But from the moment our ports were shut, and our markets were stopped by the hostile fleets and armies of Great Britain, ’till the first were opened, and the others revived, I should, for the reasons I have (tho’ very cursorily) assigned, have thought the interest during that epocha, stood upon a very different footing.
I am much obliged by the trouble you have taken to enquire into the nature of the connexion between the House of Messrs. Hanbury & Co., and Balfour & Barrand. I had no sanguine hopes of redress from that quarter, but as it seemed to be the only chance I was willing to try it. I am, &c.
TO THE CHEVALIER DE LA LUZERNE.
Mount Vernon, 1 August, 1786.
The letter you did me the honor to write to me on the 3d of February has come safely to hand. Nothing could be more satisfactory to me than the friendly sentiments contained in it, and the generous manner in which you always interest yourself in the happiness and dignity of the United States. I wish I had it in my power to inform you that the several States had fully complied with all the wise requisitions, which Congress has made to them on national subjects. But, unfortunately for us, this is not yet the case, although for my own part I do not cease to expect, that this just policy will ultimately take effect. It is not the part of a good citizen to despair of the republic; nor ought we to have calculated, that our young governments would have acquired in so short a period all the consistency and solidity, which it has been the work of ages to give to other nations. All the States, however, have at length granted the impost; though unhappily some of them have granted it under such qualifications as have hitherto prevented its operation. The greater part of the Union seems to be convinced of the necessity of federal measures, and of investing Congress with the power of regulating the commerce of the whole. The reasons you offer on this subject are certainly forcible, and I cannot but hope will ere long have their due efficacy.1
In other respects our internal governments are daily acquiring strength. The laws have their fullest energy; justice is well administered; robbery, violence, or murder is not heard of, from New Hampshire to Georgia. The people at large, (as far as I can learn,) are more industrious than they were before the war. Economy begins, partly from necessity and partly from choice and habit, to prevail. The seeds of population are scattered over an immense tract of western country. In the old States, which were the theatres of hostility, it is wonderful to see how soon the ravages of war are repaired. Houses are rebuilt, fields enclosed, stocks of cattle, which were destroyed, are replaced, and many a desolated territory assumes again the cheerful appearance of cultivation. In many places the vestiges of conflagration and ruin are hardly to be traced. The arts of peace, such as clearing rivers, building bridges, and establishing conveniences for travelling, are assiduously promoted. In short, the foundation of a great empire is laid, and I please myself with a persuasion, that Providence will not leave its work imperfect.
I am sensible, that the picture of our situation, which has been exhibited in Europe since the peace, has been of a very different complexion; but it must be remembered, that all the unfavorable features have been much heightened by the medium of the English newspapers, through which they have been represented. The British still continue to hold the posts on our frontiers, and affect to charge us with some infractions of the treaty. On the other hand we retort the accusation. What will be the consequences is more than I can predict. To me, however, it appears, that they are playing the same foolish game in commerce that they have lately done in war; that their ill-judged impositions will eventually drive our ships from their ports, wean our attachments from their manufactures, and give to France decided advantages for a commercial connexion with us. To strengthen the alliance, and promote the interests of France and America, will ever be the favorite object of him, who has the honor to subscribe himself, with every sentiment of attachment, dear Sir, &c.
TO THOMAS JEFFERSON.
Mount Vernon, 1 August, 1786.
The letters you did me the favor to write to me, on the 4th and 7th of January, have been duly received. In answer to your obliging inquiries respecting the dress, attitude, &c., which I would wish to have given to the statue in question, I have only to observe, that, not having sufficient knowledge in the art of sculpture to oppose my judgment to the taste of connoisseurs, I do not desire to dictate in the matter. On the contrary, I shall be perfectly satisfied with whatever may be judged decent and proper. I should even scarcely have ventured to suggest, that perhaps a servile adherence to the grab of antiquity might not be altogether so expedient, as some little deviation in favor of the modern costume, if I had not learnt from Colonel Humphreys, that this was a circumstance hinted in conversation by Mr. West to Mr. Houdon. This taste, which has been introduced in painting by West, I understand is received with applause, and prevails extensively. * * *
We have no news of importance; and, if we had, I should hardly be in the way of learning it, as I divide my time between the superintendence of opening the navigation of our rivers, and attention to my private concerns. Indeed I am too much secluded from the world to know with certainty what sensation the refusal of the British to deliver up the western posts has made on the public mind. I fear the edge of its sensibility is somewhat blunted. Federal measures are not yet universally adopted. New York, which was as well disposed a State as any in the Union, is said to have become in a degree anti-federal. Some other States are in my opinion falling into very foolish and wicked plans of emitting paper money. I cannot however give up my hopes and expectations, that we shall ere long adopt a more just and liberal system of policy. What circumstances will lead, or what misfortunes will compel us to it, is more than can be told without the spirit of prophecy. In the mean time the people are industrious. Economy begins to prevail, and our internal governments are in general tolerably well administered.
You will probably have heard of the death of General Greene before this reaches you; in which case you will, in common with your countrymen, have regretted the loss of so great and so honest a man.1 General McDougall, who was a brave soldier and a disinterested patriot, is also dead.2 He belonged to the legislature of his State. The last act of his life was (after being carried on purpose to the Senate) to give his voice against the emission of a paper currency. Colonel Tilghman, who was formerly of my family, died lately, and left as fair a reputation as ever belonged to a human character. Thus some of the pillars of the revolution fall. Others are mouldering by insensible degrees. May our country never want props to support the glorious fabric. With sentiments of esteem and regard, I have the honor to be, &c.
TO JOHN JAY.
Mount Vernon, 1 August, 1786.
I have to thank you very sincerely for your interesting letter of the 27th of June, as well as for the other communications you had the goodness to make at the same time. I am sorry to be assured, of what indeed I had little doubt before, that we have been guilty of violating the treaty in some instances. What a misfortune it is, the British should have so well grounded a pretext for their palpable infractions! And what a disgraceful part, out of the choice of difficulties before us, are we to act!
Your sentiments, that our affairs are drawing rapidly to a crisis, accord with my own. What the event will be, is also beyond the reach of my foresight. We have errors to correct. We have probably had too good an opinion of human nature in forming our confederation. Experience has taught us, that men will not adopt and carry into execution measures the best calculated for their own good, without the intervention of a coercive power. I do not conceive we can exist long as a nation without having lodged some where a power, which will pervade the whole Union in as energetic a manner as the authority of the State governments extends over the several States.
To be fearful of investing Congress, constituted as that body is, with ample authorities for national purposes, appears to me the very climax of popular absurdity and madness. Could Congress exert them for the detriment of the public, without injuring themselves in an equal or greater proportion? Are not their interests inseparably connected with those of their constituents? By the rotation of appointment, must they not mingle frequently with the mass of citizens? Is it not rather to be apprehended, if they were possessed of the powers before described, that the individual members would be induced to use them, on many occasions, very timidly and inefficaciously for fear of losing their popularity and future election? We must take human nature as we find it. Perfection falls not to the share of mortals. Many are of opinion, that Congress have too frequently made use of the suppliant, humble tone of requisition in applications to the States, when they had a right to assert their imperial dignity and command obedience. Be that as it may, requisitions are a perfect nullity where thirteen sovereign, independent, disunited States are in the habit of discussing and refusing compliance with them at their option. Requisitions are actually little better than a jest and a by-word throughout the land. If you tell the legislatures they have violated the treaty of peace, and invaded the prerogatives of the confederacy, they will laugh in your face. What then is to be done? Things cannot go on in the same train forever. It is much to be feared, as you observe, that the better kind of people, being digusted with the circumstances, will have their minds prepared for any revolution whatever. We are apt to run from one extreme into another. To anticipate and prevent disastrous contingencies would be the part of wisdom and patriotism.
What astonishing changes a few years are capable of producing. I am told that even respectable characters speak of a monarchical form of government without horror. From thinking proceeds speaking; thence to acting is often but a single step. But how irrevocable and tremendous! What a triumph for our enemies to verify their predictions! What a triumph for the advocates of despotism to find, that we are incapable of governing ourselves, and that systems founded on the basis of equal liberty are merely ideal and fallacious! Would to God, that wise measures may be taken in time to avert the consequences we have but too much reason to apprehend.
Retired as I am from the world, I frankly acknowledge I cannot feel myself an unconcerned spectator. Yet, having happily assisted in bringing the ship into port, and having been fairly discharged, it is not my business to embark again on a sea of troubles. Nor could it be expected, that my sentiments and opinions would have much weight on the minds of my countrymen. They have been neglected, though given as a last legacy in the most solemn manner. I had then perhaps some claims to public attention. I consider myself as having none at present. Mrs Washington joins me in compliments, etc.
With sentiments of sincere esteem and friendship, I am, dear Sir, &c.
TO THE MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE.
Mount Vernon, 15 August, 1786.
My dear Marquis,
I will not conceal, that my numerous correspondencies are daily becoming irksome to me. Yet I always receive your letters with augmenting satisfaction, and therefore rejoice with you in the measures, which are likely to be productive of a more frequent intercourse between our two nations. Thus motives of a private as well as of a public nature conspire to give me pleasure, in finding that the active policy of France is preparing to take advantage of the supine stupidity of England with respect to our commerce.
While the latter by its impolitic duties and restrictions is driving our ships incessantly from its harbors, the former seems, by the invitations it is giving, to stretch forth the friendly hand to invite them into its ports. I am happy in a conviction, that there may be established between France and the United States such a mutual intercourse of good offices and reciprocal interests, as cannot fail to be attended with the happiest consequences. Nations are not influenced, as individuals may be, by disinterested friendships; but, when it is their interest to live in amity, we have little reason to apprehend any rupture. This principle of union can hardly exist in a more distinguished manner between two nations, than it does between France and the United States. There are many articles of manufacture, which we stand absolutely in need of, and shall continue to have occasion for, so long as we remain an agricultural people, which will be while lands are so cheap and plenty, that is to say, for ages to come.
In the mean time we shall have large quantities of timber, fish, oil, wheat, tobacco, rice, indigo, &c. to dispose of. Money we have not. Now it is obvious, that we must have recourse for the goods and manufactures we may want to the nation, which will enable us to pay for them by receiving our produce in return. Our commerce with any of the great manufacturing kingdoms of Europe will, therefore, be in proportion to the facility of making remittances, which such manufacturing nations may think proper to afford us. On the other hand, France has occasion for many of our productions and raw materials. Let her judge whether it is most expedient to receive them by direct importation, and to pay for them in goods, or to obtain them through the circuitous channel of Britain, and to pay for them in money as she formerly did.
I know that Britain arrogantly expects we will sell our produce wherever we can find a market, and bring the money to purchase goods from her. I know that she vainly hopes to retain what share she pleases in our trade, in consequence of our prejudices in favor of her fashions and manufacturers. But these are illusions, which will vanish and disappoint her, as the dreams of conquest have already done. Experience is constantly teaching us, that these predilections were founded in error. We find the quality and price of the French goods we receive, in many instances, to be better than the quality and price of the English. Time, and a more thorough acquaintance with the business may be necessary to instruct your merchants in the choice and assortment of goods necessary for such a country. As to an ability for giving credit, in which the English merchants boast a superiority, I am confident it would be happy for America if the practice could be entirely abolished.
However unimportant America may be considered at present, and however Britain may affect to despise her trade, there will assuredly come a day, when this country will have some weight in the scale of empires. While connected with us as colonies only, was not Britain the first power in the world? Since the dissolution of that connexion, does not France occupy the same illustrious place? Your successful endeavors, my dear Marquis, to promote the interests of your two countries, (as you justly call them,) must give you the most unadulterated satisfaction. Be assured the measures, which have lately been taken, with regard to the two articles of oil and tobacco, have tended very much to endear you to your fellow citizens on this side of the Atlantic.
Although I pretend to no peculiar information respecting commercial affairs, nor any foresight into the scenes of futurity, yet, as the member of an infant empire, as a philanthropist by character, and, (if I may be allowed the expression,) as a citizen of the great republic of humanity at large, I cannot help turning my attention sometimes to this subject. I would be understood to mean, I cannot avoid reflecting with pleasure on the probable influence, that commerce may hereafter have on human manners and society in general. On these occasions I consider how mankind may be connected like one great family in fraternal ties. I indulge a fond, perhaps an enthusiastic idea, that, as the world is evidently much less barbarous than it has been, its melioration must still be progressive; that nations are becoming more humanized in their policy, that the subjects of ambition and causes for hostility are daily diminishing; and, in fine, that the period is not very remote, when the benefits of a liberal and free commerce will pretty generally succeed to the devastations and horrors of war.
Some of the late treaties, which have been entered into, and particularly that between the King of Prussia and the United States, seem to constitute a new era in negotiation, and to promise the happy consequences I have just now been mentioning. But let me ask you, my dear Marquis, in such an enlightened, such a liberal age, how is it possible the great maritime powers of Europe should submit to pay an annual tribute to the little piratical states of Barbary? Would to Heaven we had a navy able to reform those enemies to mankind, or crush them into non-existence. * * *
TO DAVID HUMPHREYS.1
Mount Vernon, 1 September, 1786.
My dear Humphreys,
Enclosed are all the documents Mr. Lear could find respecting the confinement and treatment under it of Captain Asgill. For want of recurrence to them before I wrote to Mr. Tilghman,2 I perceive, that a bad memory had run me into an error in my narrative of the latter, in one particular. For it should seem by that, as if the loose and unguarded manner, in which Captain Asgill was held, was sanctioned by me; whereas one of my letters to Colonel Dayton condemns this conduct, and orders Asgill to be closely confined. Mr. Lear has given all the letters at length. Extracts might have answered; but I judged it better that the whole tenor of the correspondence should appear, that no part might seem to be hidden.
I well remember Major Gordon’s attending Asgill; and by one of my letters to Dayton it is evident, that Gordon had written to me, but my letter books have registered no reply. In what manner it would be best to bring this matter before the public I am at a loss, and leave it to you to determine under a consideration of the circumstances, which are as fully communicated as the documents in my hands will enable me to do. There is one mystery in the business, which I cannot develop, nor are there any papers in my possession which explain it. Hazen was ordered to send an unconditional prisoner. Asgill comes. Hazen, or some other, must have given information of a Lieutenant Turner, (under the former description). Turner is ordered on, but never came. Why? I am unable to say; nor is there any letter from Hazen (to be found,) which accounts for a non-compliance with the order. If I had not too many causes to distrust my memory, I should ascribe it to there having been no such officer, or that he was also under capitulation; for Captain Shaach1 seems to have been held as a proper victim after this.
I will write as soon as I am able to Mr. Tilghman, requesting him to withhold my first accounts of Asgill’s treatment from his correspondent in England, promising an authentic one from original papers. It may, however, have passed him. In that case, it will be necessary for me to say something to reconcile my own accounts.
I write to you with a very aching head and disordered frame, and Mr. Lear will copy the letter. Saturday last, by an imprudent act, I brought on an ague and fever on Sunday, which returned with violence Tuesday and Thursday; and, if Dr. Craik’s efforts are ineffectual, I shall have them again this day. The family join me in every good wish for you. It is unnecessary to assure you of the friendship and affection with which I am, &c.
P. S. We have found Gordon’s letters. They contain a demand of Asgill, as an officer protected by the capitulation of Yorktown. This I suppose is the reason they were not answered.
TO JOHN FRANCIS MERCER.
Mount Vernon, 9 September, 1786.
Your favor of the 20th ulto. did not get to my hands ’till about the first of this month. It found me in a fever from which I am now but sufficiently recovered to attend to business. I mention this as the reason why your propositions have not been attended to before.
With respect to the first, I never mean (unless some particular circumstance should compel me to it) to possess another slave by purchase; it being among my first wishes to see some plan adopted, by which slavery in this country may be abolished by slow, sure, and imperceptible degrees.1 —With respect to the second, I never did, nor never intend to purchase a military certificate. I see no difference it makes with you, (if it is one of the funds allotted for the discharge of my claim) who the purchaser is. If the depreciation between them and specie is three for one; you will have it in your power whilst at the receipt of Custom—Richmond—where it is said the great regulator of this business (Graves) resides—to convert them into specie at that rate. If the difference is more, there would be no propriety (if I inclined to deal in them at all) in my taking them at that exchange.
I shall rely upon your promise of £200—in five weeks from the date of your letter. It will enable me to pay the workmen which have been employed about this House all the Spring & Summer (some of whom are yet here); but there are two debts which press hard upon me—one of which, if there is no other method left—I must sell Land or Negroes to discharge. It is owing to the Govr. of New York (Clinton), who was so obliging as to borrow the sum of £2000 to answer some calls of mine;—to be paid in 12 months after the conclusion of Peace.
For this sum he became my security, & for what remains due (about £800 York currency) I am now paying an interest of 7 pr. ct.—but the high interest, tho’ more than any estate can bear, I should not regard if my credit was not at stake to comply with the conditions of the loan. The other debt, tho’ I am anxious to discharge it and the person to whom I owe it, I know wants it, yet it might I believe be put off a while longer—this sum is larger than the other. I am, &c.
TO WILLIAM TRIPLET.
Mount Vernon, 25 September, 1786.
If Mr. Lund Washington has not misconceived the conversation which passed between you and me, the day you lay ill in bed; or if you understood the matter in the same light he seems to have done, I find there is another mistake between us respecting Mrs. French’s land, which it behooves me to clear up as soon as possible.
He thinks you asked me if I meant to take the land for the term of Robinson’s lease; and that I answered yes.—If such a question and such an answer passed, we must some how or other have been at cross purposes; for clear and evident it must be, even to yourself, that I could have no intention of being concerned with the land at all, unless it was for Mrs. French’s life. You may well recollect Sir, that I declared this in explicit terms in the conversation I had with you at my own house, and assigned reasons for it to you—namely—that if I got this and Mr. Manley’s Land it was my intention to blend them, and my other plantations together, and to form entire new ones out of the whole; that I meant to go into an entire new course of cropping, &c., would lay off my fields accordingly in a permanent and lasting farm by Ditches and Hedges;—and that it was for this reason I was desirous of knowing this fall (before I went into such arrangement and expence), whether I had any chance of getting these places or not; because it might be too late afterwards to make any change in my plan. With this object in view, I must have been insane, to have taken the plantation for the remainder of Robinson’s lease only; first, because it is uncertain whether I could get possession of the Land or not, never having exchanged a word with Robinson on the subject, nor never intending to do it unless I had got the place to myself entirely; and secondly, if I did because I should not probably be able to compleat the plan of enclosures by the time the Lease would expire. What situation should I be in then? A new bargain under every disadvantage to make, or go back to my former grounds? In the latter case all my labor and expence would have been thrown away and my whole plan defeated.—In the former (that is supposing Robinson could not be got off by fair means, and Mr. Lee is of opinion, which opinion I had in my pocket at the time I call’d upon you in expectation of meeting Mrs. French that, without a regular demand of rent and reentry, which might be a tedious and expensive process in Courts, the Lease cannot be got aside,) under these circumstances I say, I should have made myself liable for the payment of Robinson’s rent, without deriving a single advantage. Will any body think this reasonable; or suppose that whilst I retain my senses, I would do it?
As I do not recollect that in the course of my life I ever forfeited my word, or broke a promise made to any one, I have been thus particular to evince (if you understand the matter in the same light that Lund Washington did) that I was not attending to or did not understand the question.
I am sorry any mistake has happened and to convince you and Mrs. French that through the whole of this business, I meant to act upon fair, open and honorable grounds, I will, as mistakes have taken place, and as there is a difference of opinion respecting the annual value of the Lands and negroes, leave it to any person of her own choosing (Major Little if she pleases) to say, whether the rent after the expiration of Robinson’s lease shall be £136, or £150 pr. an:—if he thinks one too much and the other too little, any sum between.—Mrs. French has declared that she neither wanted nor would take more than the intrinsic worth of the place.—I on the word of a man of honor declare that I do not desire it for a farthing less than the value; for to make money by it was never my object; but we differ in our sentiments of this. Is there any mode then so fair, as for an impartial person to see the place, and to hear what Mrs. French, or you in her behalf and myself will say on the subject, and then to decide according to this judgment from the facts? and can there be any thing more favorable to her wishes than to have this determined by her friend in whom she places, I presume, implicit confidence? I never exchanged a word directly nor indirectly with Majr. Little on the subject, but believing him to be a gentleman who will decide according to the dictates of his judgment, I am not afraid to entrust the matter to him, notwithstanding the family connexion between him and Mrs. French—In a word, I am so conscious of the rectitude of my intentions in the whole of this business, that it is a matter of the most perfect indifference to me, to whom it is left.—and, tho’ it may be supposed I have some sinister views in saying it, yet without the gift of prophecy, I will venture to pronounce, that if Mrs. French misses me as a Tenant, she will repent, long before Robinson’s Lease expires, for having done so:—for I can assure her from an experience of more than twenty five years that there is a very wide difference between getting Tenants and getting rents. She may get a dozen of the first (& I have not the smallest doubt but she may); but if there is one among them who (having no other dependence than the produce of the Plantation) will pay her the latter without hard working and pinching her negroes, and a great deal of trouble and vexation to her, I shall be more mistaken than I ever was in any thing of the kind in my life.
This may not appear so to her at first view; because it is but too common to compare things without attending enough to the circumstances of them.
I have no doubt but that Mrs. French thinks it very strange that I should receive £120 a year rent from Mr. Dulaney, and scruple to give her £150—for rather more land, and twenty odd negroes, but has she considered that the one is accompanied by no charge except the land tax, and the other with many and heavy ones? And do not every body who have meadows, and have ever made an estimate of their value, know that an acre of tolerable good grass will pay all the expences of cutting, curing and stacking, and will put at least 40/ in the owner’s pocket annually? What then has Mr. Dulaney to do more than to keep up his fences to pay the rent? By his Advertisement of pasturage for Horses at 3/ pr. week he has — acres. Suppose it — only; the meadow alone without a single hand will yield him at least — pr. ann: Is there a single acre of land on Mrs. French’s plantation from which (besides cropping, so precarious) this is to be expected? Is there a single acre which can be converted into meadow? Is not the Land much worn, greatly exhausted and gullied in many places? None can deny it. But why need I enumerate or dwell on these things? Have I not put the matter upon as fair a footing as a man possibly can do? If Mrs French wants no more than the value as she has declared, what objection can she have to Majr. Little’s saying what that value is? If this proposition is acceded to, the sooner it is communicated to me the better. I have never yet opened my mouth to Robinson on the subject of his Lease, nor never intended to do it unless I had got the Plantation for Mrs. French’s life. When I sent the papers to Mr. Lee to draw the writings, I asked his opinion of the lease, which he gave, to the effect already mentioned.
It was for my private satisfaction; I asked it, for as I told you before and now repeat, I never had an intention to get him off otherwise than by fair means, this year or any other. This year will convince him or I am mistaken, that his inevitable ruin (if he has any thing to lose) will follow his holding it another year, if it is not the case already. I am, &c.
TO BUSHROD WASHINGTON.
Mount Vernon, 30 September, 1786.
I was from home when your servant arrived, found him in a hurry to be gone when I returned. Have company in the house, and am on the eve of a journey up the river to meet the directors of the Potomac Company. These things combining will not allow me time to give any explicit answer to the question you have propounded.
Generally speaking, I have seen as much evil as good result from such societies as you describe the constitution of yours to be. They are a kind of imperium in imperio, and as often clog as facilitate public measures. I am no friend to institutions, except in local matters, which are wholly or in a great measure confined to the county of the delegates. To me it appears much wiser and more politic to choose able and honest representatives, and leave them, in all national questions to determine from the evidence of reason, and the facts which shall be adduced, when internal and external information is given to them in a collective state. What certainty is there that societies in a corner or remote part of a State can possess that knowledge, which is necessary for them to decide on many important questions which may come before an Assembly? What reason is there to expect, that the society itself may be accordant in opinion on such subjects? May not a few members of this society, more sagacious and designing than the rest, direct the measures of it to private views of their own? May not this embarrass an honest, able delegate, who hears the voice of his country from all quarters, and thwart public measures?
These are first thoughts, but I give no decided opinion. Societies, nearly similar to such as you speak of, have lately been formed in Massachusetts, but what has been the consequence? Why, they have declared the senate useless, many other parts of the constitution unnecessary, salaries of public officers burthensome, &c. To point out the defects of the constitution, (if any existed,) in a decent way was proper enough; but they have done more. They first voted the courts of justice in the present circumstances of the State oppressive; and next by violence stop them; which has occasioned a very solemn proclamation and appeal from the governor to the people. You may say no such matters are in contemplation by your society. Granted. A snow-ball gathers by rolling. Possibly a line may be drawn between occasional meetings for special purposes, and a standing society to direct with local views and partial information the affairs of the nation, which cannot be well understood but by a large and comparative view of circumstances. Where is this so likely to enter as in the General Assembly of the people? What figure then must a delegate make, who comes there with his hands tied, and his judgment forestalled? His very instructors, perhaps, if they had nothing sinister in view, were they present at all the information and arguments, which would come forward, might be the first to change sentiments.
Hurried as this letter is, I am sensible I am writing to you upon a very important subject. I have no time to copy, correct, or even peruse it; for which reason I could wish to have it or a copy returned to me. George and his wife set off yesterday for the races at Fredericksburg. The rest of the family are well and join in love and good wishes for all at Bushefield. I am, &c.1
TO GEORGE AUGUSTINE WASHINGTON.
Mount Vernon, 25 October, 1786.
It is natural for young married people who are launching into life, to look forward to a permanent establishment. If they are prudent, they will be reasonably solicitous to provide for those who come after and have a right to look to them for support.
It is also natural for those who have passed the meridian of life, and are descending into the shades of darkness to make arrangements for the disposal of the property of which they are possessed. The first of these observations will apply to you, and the second to myself. I have no doubt but that you and Fanny are as happy and contented in this family as circumstances will admit. Yet something is still wanting to make that situation more stable and pleasing.
It is well known that the expensive manner in which I am as it were involuntarily compelled to live, will admit of no diminution in my income; nor could it be expected if I now had, or ever should have descendants, that I either would or ought in justice to deprive them of what the laws of nature and the laws the land, if left to themselves, have declared to be their inheritance. The first however is not the case at present; and the second not likely to be so hereafter.
Under this statement then I may add that it is my present intention to give you at my death, my landed property in the Neck, containing by estimation between two & three thousand acres by purchases from Wm. Clifton and George Brent, and that the reasons why I communicate this matter to you at this time, are that you may if you chuse it, seat the negroes, which Colo. Bassett has promised you upon that part of the cleared land on which Saml. Johnson formerly lived; and under this expectation and prospect, that you may when it perfectly suits your inclination and convenience, be preparing for, and building thereon by degrees.
You may say, or think perhaps that as there is a contingency tacked to this intimation the offer is too precarious to hazard the expence of building; but if Mrs. Washington should survive me, there is a moral certainty of my dying without issue; and should I be the longest liver, the matter in my opinion, is hardly less certain; for while I retain the faculty of reasoning, I shall never marry a girl; and it is not probable that I should have children by a woman of an age suitable to my own, should I be disposed to enter into a second marriage. However, that there may be no possibility of your sustaining a loss, the matter may rest on the footing of compensation. I do therefore hereby declare it to be, and it is my express meaning, that if by the event above alluded to, or any other by which you may be deprived of the fee-simple in the lands herein mentioned, (unless a full equivalent is given in lieu thereof) that I will pay the cost of any buildings which you may erect on the premises.
The use of the Plantation, it is presumed will be adequate for the fences with which it may be enclosed, and for the labor arising from the cultivation—nothing therefore need be said on that head.
Here then, the prospect of a permanent inheritance is placed in the opposite scale of possible disappointment, and you are to judge for yourself.
I have been thus particular, because I would be clearly understood; because it is not my wish to deceive, and because I would not even raise an expectation not warranted from the premises by fair deduction.
Johnson’s plantation, as I believe you know is destitute of fencing, but there is timber at hand. The cleared land, whatever may have been the original quality of it, now is, by use, and more so by abuse much gullied and in bad condition; but as there is a sufficiency of it for the hands you will get, it may soon by care, good management and a proper course of cropping, be recovered.
One thing more and I will close this letter. Do not infer from my proposing it to you to build, that I meant it as a hint for you to prepare another home. I had no such idea. To point you to a settlement which you might make at leisure, & with convenience was all I had in view. More than once, I have informed you that in proportion as age and its concomitants encrease upon me, I shall stand in need of some person in whose industry and integrity I can confide for assistance. The double ties by which you are connected with this family (to say nothing of the favorable opinion we have of you,) by marriage union, have placed you differently from any other of my relations for this purpose; because no other married couple could give, or probably would receive the same satisfaction by living in it as you and Fanny do. But whether you remain in the same house, or at a future day may remove to the place proposed, your services will be convenient and essential to me; because with your aid I shall be able to manage my concerns without having recourse to a Steward, which comports neither with my interest nor inclination to employ.
With very affectionate regard I am, &c.
TO HENRY LEE, IN CONGRESS.
Mount Vernon, 31 October, 1786.
My dear Sir,
I am indebted to you for your several favors of the 1st, 11th, and 17th of this instant, and shall reply to them in the order of their dates. But first let me thank you for the interesting communications imparted by them.
The picture which you have exhibited, and the accounts which are published of the commotions and temper of numerous bodies in the eastern States, are equally to be lamented and deprecated. They exhibit a melancholy proof of what our transatlantic foe has predicted; and of another thing perhaps, which is still more to be regretted, and is yet more unaccountable, that mankind, when left to themselves, are unfit for their own government I am mortified beyond expression when I view the clouds, that have spread over the brightest morn that ever dawned upon any country. In a word, I am lost in amazement when I behold what intrigue, the interested views of desperate characters, ignorance, and jealousy of the minor part, are capable of effecting, as a scourge on the major part of our fellow citizens of the Union; for it is hardly to be supposed, that the great body of the people, though they will not act, can be so shortsighted or enveloped in darkness, as not to see rays of a distant sun through all this mist of intoxication and folly.1
You talk, my good Sir, of employing influence to appease the present tumults in Massachusetts. I know not where that influence is to be found, or, if attainable, that it would be a proper remedy for the disorders. Influence is no government. Let us have one by which our lives, liberties, and properties will be secured, or let us know the worst at once. Under these impressions, my humble opinion is, that there is a call for decision. Know precisely what the insurgents aim at. If they have real grievances, redress them if possible; or acknowledge the justice of them, and your inability to do it in the present moment. If they have not, employ the force of government against them at once. If this is inadequate, all will be convinced, that the superstructure is bad, or wants support. To be more exposed in the eyes of the world, and more contemptible than we already are, is hardly possible. To delay one or the other of these, is to exasperate on the one hand, or to give confidence on the other, and will add to their numbers; for, like snow-balls, such bodies increase by every movement, unless there is something in the way to obstruct and crumble them before the weight is too great and irresistible.
These are my sentiments. Precedents are dangerous things. Let the reins of government then be braced and held with a steady hand, and every violation of the constitution be reprehended. If defective, let it be amended, but not suffered to be trampled upon whilst it has an existence.
With respect to the navigation of the Mississippi, you already know my sentiments thereon. They have been uniformly the same, and, as I have observed to you in a former letter, are controverted by one consideration, only of weight, and that is, the operation which the conclusion of it may have on the minds of the western settlers, who will not consider the subject in a relative point of view, or on a comprehensive scale, and may be influenced by the demagogues of the country to acts of extravagance and desperation, under a popular declamation, that their interests are sacrificed. Colonel Mason at present is in a fit of the gout. What [his] sentiments on the subject are, I know not, nor whether he will be able to attend the Assembly during the present session. For some reasons, however, (which need not be mentioned,) I am inclined to believe he will advocate the navigation of that river. But in all matters of great national moment, the only true line of conduct, in my opinion, is dispassionately to compare the advantages and disadvantages of the measure proposed, and decide from the balance. The lesser evil, where there is a choice of them, should always yield to the greater. What benefits, more than we now enjoy, are to be obtained by such a treaty as you have delineated with Spain, I am not enough of a commercial man to give any opinion on.1 The china came to hand without much damage & I thank you for your attention in the procuring & forwarding it.2 Mrs. Washington joins me in best wishes for Mrs. Lee and yourself.
I am, dear Sir, &c.3
TO JAMES MADISON.
Mount Vernon, 5 November, 1786.
My dear Sir,
I thank you for the communications in your letter of the 1st instant. The decision of the House on the question respecting a paper emission is portentous, I hope, of an auspicious session. It certainly may be classed with the important questions of the present day, and merited the serious attention of the Assembly. Fain would I hope, that the great and most important of all subjects, the federal government, may be considered with that calm and deliberate attention, which the magnitude of it so critically and loudly calls for at this critical moment. Let prejudices, unreasonable jealousies, and local interests, yield to reason and liberality. Let us look to our national character, and to things beyond the present moment. No morn ever dawned more favorably than ours did; and no day was ever more clouded than the present. Wisdom and good examples are necessary at this time to rescue the political machine from the impending storm. Virginia has now an opportunity to set the latter, and has enough of the former, I hope, to take the lead in promoting this great and arduous work. Without an alteration in our political creed, the superstructure we have been seven years in raising, at the expense of so much treasure and blood, must fall. We are fast verging to anarchy and confusion.
By a letter which I have received from General Knox, who had just returned from Massachusetts, whither he had been sent by Congress consequent of the commotions in that State, is replete with melancholy accounts of the temper and designs of a considerable part of that people. Among other things he says:
“Their creed is, that the property of the United States has been protected from the confiscation of Britain by the joint exertions of all; and therefore ought to be the common property of all; and he that attempts opposition to this creed, is an enemy to equity and justice, and ought to be swept from off the face of the earth.” Again: “They are determined to annihilate all debts, public and private, and have agrarian laws, which are easily effected by the means of unfunded paper money, which shall be a tender in all cases whatever.” He adds: “The number of these people amount in Massachusetts to about one fifth part of several populous counties, and to them may be collected people of similar sentiments from the States of Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire, so as to constitute a body of about twelve or fifteen thousand desperate and unprincipled men. They are chiefly of the young and active part of the community.”
How melancholy is the reflection, that in so short a space we should have made such large strides towards fulfilling the predictions of our transatlantic foes! “Leave them to themselves, and their government will soon dissolve.” Will not the wise and good strive hard to avert this evil? Or will their supineness suffer ignorance, and the arts of self-interested, designing, disaffected, and desperate characters, to involve this great country in wretchedness and contempt? What stronger evidence can be given of the want of energy in our government, than these disorders? If there is not power in it to check them, what security has a man for life, liberty, or property? To you I am sure I need not add aught on this subject. The consequences of a lax or inefficient government are too obvious to be dwelt upon. Thirteen sovereignties pulling against each other, and all tugging at the federal head, will soon bring ruin on the whole; whereas a liberal and energetic constitution, well guarded and closely watched to prevent encroachments, might restore us to that degree of respectability and consequences, to which we had a fair claim and the brightest prospect of attaining. With sentiments of very great esteem and regard.
I am, dear Sir, &c.1
TO BUSHROD WASHINGTON.
Mount Vernon, 15 November, 1786.
Your letter of the 31st of October in reply to mine of the 30th of September came safe to hand. It was not the intention of my former letter either to condemn, or give my voice in favor of the Patriotic Society, of which you have now, but not before, declared yourself a member; nor do I mean to do it now. I offered observations under the information I had then received, the weight of which was to be considered. As first thoughts, they were undigested, and might be very erroneous.
That representatives ought to be the mouth of their constituents, I do not deny; nor do I mean to call in question the right of the latter to instruct them. It is to the embarrassment, into which they may be thrown by these instructions in national matters, that my objections lie. In speaking of national matters I look to the federal government, which, in my opinion, it is the interest of every State to support; and to do this, as there are a variety of interests in the Union, there must be a yielding of the parts to coalesce the whole. Now a county, a district, or even a State, might decide on a measure, which, though apparently for the benefit of it in its unconnected state, may be repugnant to the interests of the nation, and eventually to the State itself, as a part of the confederation. If, then, members go instructed to the Assembly from certain districts, the requisitions of Congress repugnant to the sense of them, and all the lights which they may receive from the communications of that body to the legislature, must be unavailing, although the nature and necessity of them, when the reasons therefor are fully expounded (which can only be given by Congress to the Assembly through the Executive, and which come before them in their legislative capacity), are as clear as the sun. In local matters which concern the district, or things which respect the internal policy of the State, there may be nothing amiss in instructions. In national matters, also, the sense, but not the law of the district may be given, leaving the delegates to judge from the nature of the case and the evidence before them.
The instructions of your Society, as far as they have gone, meet my entire approbation, except in the article of “commutables.” Here, if I understand the meaning and design of the clause, I must disagree to it most heartily; for, if the intention of it is to leave it optional with the person taxed, to pay any staple commodity (tobacco would be least exceptionable) in lieu of specie, the people will be burthened, a few speculators enriched, and the public derive no benefit from it. Have we not had a recent and melancholy proof of this during the war in the provision tax? Did not the people pay this in some way or other, perhaps badly? And was not the army almost starved? Can any instance be given, where the public has sold tobacco, hemp, flour, or any other commodity upon as good terms as individuals have done it? Must not there be places of deposit for these commutables; collectors, storekeepers, and the like, employed? These, rely on it, will sink one half, and a parcel of speculators will possess themselves of the other half. It was to these things, that we owe the present depravity of the minds of so many people of this country, and filled it with so many knaves and designing characters.
Among the great objects, which you took into consideration at your meeting at Richmond, how comes it to pass, that you never turned your eyes to the inefficacy of the federal government, so as to instruct your delegates to accede to the propositions of the commissioners at Annapolis, or to devise some other mode to give it that energy, which is necessary to support a national character? Every man, who considers the present constitution of it, and sees to what it is verging, trembles. The fabric, which took nine years, at the expense of much blood and treasure, to rear, now totters to the foundation, and without support must soon fall.
The determination of your Society to promote frugality and industry by example, to encourage manufactures, and to avoid dissipation, is highly praiseworthy. These, and premiums for the most useful discoveries in agriculture within your district, the most profitable course of cropping, and the best method of fencing to save timber, would soon make us a rich and happy people. With every good wish for you and yours, in which your aunt joins.
I am, &c.
TO JAMES MADISON.
Mount Vernon, 18 November, 1786.
My Dear Sir,
Not having sent to the post-office with my usual regularity, your favor of the 8th did not reach me in time for an earlier acknowledgment than of this date. It gives me the most sensible pleasure to hear, that the acts of the present session are marked with wisdom, justice, and liberality. They are the palladium of good policy, and the sure paths that lead to national happiness. Would to God every State would let these be the leading features of their constituent characters. Those threatening clouds, which seem ready to burst on the confederacy, would soon dispel. The unanimity with which the bill was received for appointing commissioners agreeably to the recommendation of the convention at Annapolis, and the uninterrupted progress it has met with since, are indications of a favorable issue. It is a measure of equal necessity and magnitude, and may be the spring of reanimation.
Although I had bid adieu to the public walks of life in a public manner, and had resolved never more to tread on public ground, yet if, upon an occasion so interesting to the well-being of the confederacy, it should have appeared to have been the wish of the Assembly to have employed me with other associates in the business of revising the federal system, I should, from a sense of the obligation I am under for repeated proofs of confidence in me, more than from any opinion I should have entertained of my usefulness, have obeyed its call; but it is now out of my power to do this with any degree of consistency. The cause I will mention.
I presume you heard, Sir, that I was first appointed, and have since been rechosen, President of the Society of the Cincinnati; and you may have understood also, that the triennial general meeting of this body is to be held in Philadelphia the first Monday in May next. Some particular reasons, combining with the peculiar situation of my private concerns, the necessity of paying attention to them, a wish for retirement and relaxation from public cares, and rheumatic pains which I begin to feel very sensibly, induced me on the 31st ultimo to address a circular letter to each State society, informing them of my intention not to be at the next meeting, and of my desire not to be rechosen President. The Vice-President1 is also informed of this, that the business of the Society may not be impeded by my absence. Under these circumstances it will readily be perceived, that I could not appear at the same time and place on any other occasion, without giving offence to a very worthy and respectable part of the community, the late officers of the American army. I feel as you do for our acquaintance Colo. Lee; better never have delegated than left him out, unless some daring impropriety of conduct had been ascribed to him.2 I hear with pleasure that you are in the New choice. With sentiments of the highest esteem and affection,
I am, &c.
TO FIELDING LEWIS.
Mount Vernon, 4 December, 1786.
Your letter of the 11th of Octor. never came to my hands ’till yesterday.—Altho’ your disrespectful conduct towards me, in coming into this country and spending weeks therein without ever coming near me, entitles you to very little notice or favor from me; yet I consent that you may get timber from off my Land in Fauquier County to build a house on your Lott in Rectertown. Having granted this, now let me ask you what your views were in purchasing a Lott in a place which, I presume, originated with and will end in two or three Gin shops, which probably will exist no longer than they serve to ruin the proprietors, and those who make the most frequent applications to them. I am, &c.
TO P. MARSTELLER.
Mount Vernon, 15 December, 1786.
To the severity of the weather whch has in a manner shut every thing up, and put a stop to all intercourse; and to some other circumstances unnecessary to mention, is to be ascribed my silence ’till now; and even now, when I recollect how fully I have already explained my ideas to you on what is intended to be the subject of this letter, I find that I have hardly anything to trouble you with by way of illucidation.
I will just observe, however, that having been well informed that seasons and circumstances have occurred and probably will arrive again when goods by vendue have sold considerably below the sterlg. cost of them;—nay that they have even been bought for the nominal sum currency, which they cost sterling in the countries from whence they were imported; and having found from experience, that I derive little or no advantage from the ready money payments I make for such articles as are requisite for the use of my estate, (when I go to the stores in Alexandria,) I had determined to make the proposition to you which was pretty fully explained in the conversation I had with you at our last inteview as has been already mentioned, and which in a word is as follows:—
To allow you a Commission of 2½ p. ct. (which you, yourself declared was sufficient,) upon all purchases you shall make for me at Vendue, of articles which may from time to time be enumerated to you. It is your interest, I know to sell high:—it is mine to buy low:—but there is nothing incompatible that I can conceive in your agency in both these cases; for when the former is the case, I mean not to become a purchaser—when the latter happens, which no skill or exertion of yours can at all times prevent, is the moment of which I mean, thro’ your attention to the business to avail myself for supplies. To your knowledge of the goods which are intended for sale; the circumstances of the sale, and to your honor of which I entertain a very favorable opinion from the good report made of it by others, I entirely confide for the management. The payments shall always keep pace with the purchases; you have nothing more to do therefore than to give intimation of the latter by a line lodged at the post office, to receive the former, and were you now and then to add a concise list of the principal articles which are for sale, it would be obliging.
To particularize all the articles which are necessary for the use of a large family, would be as tedious as unnecessary. Every merchant who retails, and every man who provides for one, can be at no loss for them. The heavy articles, and such as at present occur to me are enumerated in the enclosed list;—in which you will perceive no mention is made of coarse woolens; because of these I manufacture a sufficiency to clothe my out-door negroes—Nor have I said any thing of Wines, because I import my own;—but of the latter, if good Claret should at any time go cheap, I would take two or three Boxes;—I have been obliged to buy about 200 ells of Ticklenburg for present use:—perhaps the 2 or 300 more enumerated in the enclosed, may suffice—possibly more may be wanted.—The Blankets will not be wanted before next Autumn. Of Sugars my demand (as a private family) is great and constant:—but of Coffee and Molasses I have on hand a large stock.
It is scarcely necessary to impress on you the idea that it is the prospect of very cheap buying which has induced me to adopt this mode of obtaining my supplies; and that unless the end is accomplished, my purposes will not be answered, nor my inclination gratified by it; but to prevent mistakes, I explicitly declare it. Few of the enumerated articles am I in present want of—those for which I shall soonest have a call, are marked thus * in the margin; many of the others I may dispense with a year, or two years.—They stand in the List as a memento only, in case very favorable moments present, for the purchase of them.
I am told it sometimes happens that Goods which come under the imputation of being damaged, tho’ in fact they have received little or no real injury, are frequently sold uncommonly low indeed—particularly Bale blanketing, and other Bale goods.—To embrace such opportunities is recommended, not in this, judgment and a close inspection are necessary; for it is not the lowest priced goods that are always the cheapest—the quality is, or ought to be as much an object with the purchaser, as the price.
I pray you to accept my thanks for the trouble you had with the German redemptioners which were purchased for me;—the expence my nephew the bearer of this will pay. I am, &c.
TO JAMES MADISON.
Mount Vernon, 16 December, 1786.
Your favor of the 7th came to my hands the evening before last. The resolutions, which you say are inserted in the papers, I have not yet seen.1 The latter come irregularly, though I am a subscriber to Hay’s Gazette.
Besides the reasons, which were assigned in my circular letter to the several State societies of the Cincinnati, for my non-attendance at the next general meeting to be holden at Philadelphia on the first Monday in May next, there existed one, of a political nature, which operated stronger on my mind, than all the others, and which in confidence I will now communicate to you.
When this Society was first formed, I am persuaded not a member of it conceived, that it would give birth to those jealousies, or be charged with those dangers, real or imaginary, with which the minds of many, and of some respectable characters in these States, seem to be agitated. The motives, which induced the officers to enter into it, were, I am positive, truly and frankly recited in the institution; one of which, and the principal, was to establish a charitable fund for the relief of such of their compatriots, the widows and descendants of them, as were fit objects for such support, and for whom no public provision had been made by the public. But, the trumpet being sounded, the alarm was spreading far and wide. I readily perceived, therefore, that, unless a modification of the plan could be effected (to annihilate the Society altogether was impracticable on account of the foreign officers who had been admitted), irritations would arise, which would soon draw a line between the Society and their fellow citizens.
To avoid this, to conciliate the affections, and to convince the world of the purity of the plan, I exerted myself, and with much difficulty effected the changes, which appeared in the recommendation that proceeded from the general meeting to those of individual States. But the accomplishment of it was not easy; and I have since heard, that, while some States have acceded to the recommendation, others are not disposed to do so, alleging that unreasonable prejudices, and ill-founded jealousies, ought not to influence a measure laudable in its institution, and salutary in its objects and operation.
Under these circumstances it may readily be conceived, that the part I should have had to have acted would have been delicate. On the one hand, I might be charged with dereliction of the officers, who had nobly supported me, and had even treated me with uncommon attention and attachment; on the other, with supporting a measure incompatible with republican principles. I thought it best, therefore, without assigning this (the principal) reason, to decline the presidency and to excuse my attendance on the ground, which is firm and just, of necessity of attending to my private concerns, and in conformity to my determination of spending the remainder of my days in a state of retirement; and to indisposition occasioned by rheumatic complaints with which at times I am a good deal afflicted; professing at the same time my entire approbation of the institution as altered, and the pleasure I feel at the subsidence of those jealousies, which have yielded to the change, presuming on the general adoption of it.
I have been thus particular, to show, that, under circumstances like these, I should feel myself in an awkward situation to be in Philadelphia on another public occasion, during the sitting of this Society. That the present moment is pregnant of great and strange events, none who will cast their eyes around them can deny. What may be brought forth between this and the first of May, to remove the difficulties, which at present labor in my mind against the acceptance of the honor, which has lately been conferred on me by the Assembly, is not for me to predict; but I should think it incompatible with that candor, which ought to characterize an honest mind, not to declare, that, under my present view of the matter, I should be too much embarrassed by the meeting of these two bodies in the same place at the same moment, after what I have written to be easy in my situation, and therefore that it would be improper to let my appointment stand in the way of another. Of this, you, who have had the whole matter before you, will judge; for, having received no other than private intimation of my election, and unacquainted with the formalities, which are or ought to be used on these occasions, silence may be deceptious, or considered as disrespectful. The imputation of both or either I would wish to avoid. This is the cause of the present disclosure to you immediately upon my receipt of your letter, which has been locked up by ice; for I have had no communication with Alexandria for many days, till the day before yesterday.
My sentiments are decidedly against Commutables; for sure I am it will be found a tax without a revenue. That the people will be burthened, the public expectation deceived, and a few speculators only enriched. Thus the matter will end, after the morals “of some” are more corrupted than they now are—and the minds of all, filled with more leaven, by finding themselves taxed, and the public demands in full force. Tobacco, on acct. of the public places of deposit and from the accustomed mode of negotiating the article, is certainly better fitted for a Commutable than any other production of this country, but if I understand the matter rightly (I have it from report only) will any man pay five pounds in specie for five taxables when the same sum (supposing Tobacco not to exceed 20s. per cwt.), will purchase 500 lbs. of Tobo., and this if at 28s. will discharge the tax on Seven? And will not the man who neither makes, nor can easily procure this commodity, complain of the inequality of such a mode, especially when he finds that the revenue is diminished by the difference be it what it may between the real and nominal price? And that he is again to be taxed to make this good. These and such like things in my humble opinion are extremely hurtful and are among the principal causes that produce depravity and corruption, without accomplishing the object in view; for it is not the shadow, but the substance with which taxes must be paid, if we mean to be honest. With sentiments, &c.1
TO EDMUND RANDOLPH, GOVERNOR OF VIRGINIA.1
Mount Vernon, 21 December, 1786.
I had not the honor of receiving your Excellency’s favor of the 6th, with the enclosure, till last night.2 Sensible as I am of the honor conferred on me by the general Assembly of this Commonwealth, in appointing me one of the deputies to a convention proposed to be held in the city of Philadelphia in May next, for the purpose of revising the federal constitution, and desirous as I am on all occasions of testifying a ready obedience to the calls of my country; yet, Sir, there exist at this moment circumstances, which I am persuaded will render this fresh instance of confidence incompatible with other measures, which I had previously adopted, and from which seeing little prospect of disengaging myself, it would be disingenuous not to express a wish, that some other character, on whom greater reliance can be had, may be substituted in my place; the probability of my non-attendance being too great to continue my appointment.
As no mind can be more deeply impressed than mine is with the critical situation of our affairs, resulting in a great measure from the want of efficient powers in the federal head, and due respect to its ordinances, so consequently those, who do engage in the important business of removing these defects, will carry with them every good wish of mine, which the best dispositions towards the obtainment can bestow. I am, &c.1
TO DAVID HUMPHREYS.
Mount Vernon, 26 December, 1786.
Mr dear Humphreys,
I am much indebted to you for your several favors of the 1st, 9th, and 16th of November. The last came first. Mr. Morse, having in mind the old proverb, was determined not to make more haste than good speed in prosecuting his journey to Georgia; so I got the two first lately.
For your publication respecting the treatment of Captain Asgill, I am exceedingly obliged to you. The manner of making it is the best that could be devised, whilst the matter will prove the illiberality as well as the fallacy of the reports, which have been circulated on that occasion, and which are fathered upon that officer as the author.
It is with the deepest and most heartfelt concern I perceive, by some late paragraphs extracted from the Boston papers, that the insurgents of Massachusetts, far from being satisfied with the redress offered by their General Court, are still acting in open violation of law and government, and have obliged the chief magistrate in a decided tone to call upon the militia of the State to support the constitution. What, gracious God! is man, that there should be such inconsistency and perfidiousness in his conduct? It is but the other day, that we were shedding our blood to obtain the constitutions under which we now live; constitutions of our own choice and making; and now we are unsheathing the sword to overturn them. The thing is so unaccountable, that I hardly know how to realize it, or to persuade myself, that I am not under the illusion of a dream.
My mind, previous to the receipt of your letter of the 1st ultimo, had often been agitated by a thought similar to the one you have expressed respecting an old friend of yours; but Heaven forbid that a crisis should come, when he shall be driven to the necessity of making choice of either of the alternatives there mentioned.1 Let me entreat you, my dear Sir, to keep me advised of the situation of affairs in your quarter. I can depend upon your accounts. Newspaper paragraphs, unsupported by other testimony, are often contradictory and bewildering. At one time, these insurgents are spoken of as a mere mob; at other times, as systematic in all their proceedings. If the first, I would fain hope, that like other mobs it will, however formidable, be of short duration. If the latter, there are surely men of consequence and abilities behind the curtain, who move the puppets, the designs of whom may be deep and dangerous. They may be instigated by British counsel, actuated by ambitious motives, or, being influenced by dishonest principles, had rather see the country in the horrors of civil discord, than do what justice would dictate to an honest mind.
I had scarcely despatched my circular letters to the several State Societies of the Cincinnati, when I received letters from some of the principal members of our Assembly, expressing a wish, that they might be permitted to name me as one of the deputies of this State to the convention proposed to be held at Philadelphia the first of May next. I immediately wrote to my particular friend Mr. Madison, and gave similar reasons to the others. The answer is contained in the extract No. 1; in reply I got the extract No 2. This obliges me to be more explicit and confidential with him on points which a recurrence to the conversations we have had on this subject will bring to your mind and save me the hazard of a recital in this letter. Since this interchange of letters I have received from the Governor the letter No. 4 and have written No. 5 in answer to it. Should this matter be further pressed, (which I hope it will not, as I have no inclination to go,) what had I best do? You, as an indifferent person, and one who is much better acquainted with the sentiments and views of the Cincinnati than I am, (for in this State, where the recommendations of the general meeting have been agreed to, hardly any thing is said about it,) as also with the temper of the people and state of politics at large, can determine upon better ground and fuller evidence than myself; especially as you have opportumities of knowing in what light the States to the eastward consider the convention, and the measures they are pursuing to contravene or to give efficiency to it.
On the last occasion,1 only five States were represented; none east of New York. Why the New England governments did not appear, I am yet to learn; for, of all others, the distractions, and turbulent temper of these people would, I should have thought, have afforded the strongest evidence of the necessity of competent powers somewhere. That the federal government is nearly if not quite at a stand, none will deny. The first question then is, shall it be annihilated or supported? If the latter, the proposed convention is an object of the first magnitude, and should be sustained by all the friends of the present constitution. In the other case, if, on a full and dispassionate revision, the continuance shall be adjudged impracticable or unwise, as only delaying an event which must ere long take place, would it not be better for such a meeting to suggest some other, to avoid if possible civil discord or other impending evils? I must candidly confess, as we could not remain quiet more than three or four years in time of peace, under the constitutions of our own choosing, which it was believed, in many States at least, were formed with deliberation and wisdom, I see little prospect either of our agreeing upon any other, or that we should remain long satisfied under it if we could. Yet I would wish any thing and every thing essayed to prevent the effusion of blood, and to avert the humiliating and contemptible figure we are about to make in the annals of mankind.
If this second attempt to convene the States, for the purposes proposed by the report of the partial representation at Annapolis in September, should also prove abortive, it may be considered as an unequivocal evidence, that the States are not likely to agree on any general measure, which is to pervade the Union, and of course that there is an end of federal government. The States, therefore, which make the last dying essay to avoid these misfortunes, would be mortified at the issue, and their deputies would return home chagrined at their ill success and disappointment. This would be a disagreeable circumstance for any one of them to be in, but more particularly so for a person in my situation. If no further application is made to me, of course I shall not attend; if there is, I am under no obligation to do it, but, as I have had so many proofs of your friendship, know your abilities to judge, and your opportunities of learning the politics of the day on the points I have enumerated, you would oblige me by a full and confidential communication of your sentiments thereon.
Peace and tranquillity prevail in this State. The Assembly, by a very great majority and in very emphatical terms, have rejected an application for paper money, and spurned the idea of fixing the value of military certificates by a scale of depreciation. In some other respects, too, the proceedings of the present session have been marked with justice, and a strong desire of supporting the federal system. Although I lament the effect I am pleased at the cause which has deprived us of the pleasure of your aid in the attack of Christmas pies. We had one yesterday on which all the company tho’ pretty numerous, were hardly able to make an impression. Mrs. Washington & George & his wife (Mr. Lear I had occasion to send to the Western Country) join in affectionate regards for you and with sentiments, &c. I am, &c.
TO HENRY KNOX.
Mount Vernon, 26 December 1786.
My dear Sir,
* * * I feel, my dear General Knox, infinitely more than I can express to you, for the disorders, which have arisen in these States. Good God! Who, besides a Tory, could have foreseen, or a Briton predicted them? Were these people wiser than others, or did they judge of us from the corruption and depravity of their own hearts? The latter I am persuaded was the case and that notwithstanding the boasted virtue of America we are very little if anything behind them in dispositions to every thing that is bad.
I do assure you, that even at this moment, when I reflect upon the present prospect of our affairs, it seems to me to be like the vision of a dream. My mind can scarcely realize it as a thing in actual existence; so strange, so wonderful does it appear to me. In this, as in most other matters, we are too slow. When this spirit first dawned, probably it might have been easily checked; but it is scarcely within the reach of human ken, at this moment, to say when, where, or how it will terminate. There are combustibles in every State, which a spark might set fire to. In this a perfect calm prevails at present; and a prompt disposition to support and give energy to the federal system is discovered, if the unlucky stirring of the dispute respecting the navigation of the Mississippi does not become a leaven that will ferment and sour the mind of it.
The resolutions of the present session respecting a paper emission, military certificates, &c., have stamped justice and liberality on the proceedings of the Assembly. By a late act, it seems very desirous of a general convention to revise and amend the federal constitution. Apropos; what prevented the eastern States from attending the September meeting at Annapolis? Of all the States in the Union it should have seemed to me, that a measure of this sort, (distracted as they were with internal commotions and experiencing the want of energy in the government,) would have been most pleasing to them. What are the prevailing sentiments of the one now proposed to be held in Philadelphia in May next? and how will it be attended? You are at the fountain of intelligence, where the wisdom of the nation, it is to be presumed, is concentred; consequently better able, (as I have had sufficient experience of your intelligence, confidence, and candor,) to solve these questions.
The Maryland Assembly has been violently agitated by the question for a paper emission. It has been carried in the House of Delegates; but what has been or may be the fate of the bill in the Senate, I have not yet heard. The partisans in favor of the measure in the lower House threaten, it is said, a secession, if it is rejected by that branch of the legislature. Thus are we advancing. In regretting, which I have often done with the keenest sorrow, the death of our much lamented friend General Greene, I have accompanied it of late with a query, whether he would not have preferred such an exit to the scenes, which, it is more than probable, many of his compatriots may live to bemoan.
In both your letters you intimate, that the men of reflection, principle, and property in New England, feeling the inefficacy of their present government, are contemplating a change; but you are not explicit with respect to its nature. It has been supposed, that the constitution of the State of Massachusetts was amongst the most energetic in the Union. May not these disorders then be ascribed to an indulgent exercise of the powers of administration? If your laws authorized, and your powers are equal to the suppression of these tumults in the first instance, delay and unnecessary expedients were improper. These are rarely well applied; and the same causes would produce similar effects in any form of government, if the powers of it are not exercised. I ask this question for information. I know nothing of the facts.
That Great Britain will be an unconcerned spectator of the present insurrections, if they continue, is not to be expected. That she is at this moment sowing the seeds of jealousy and discontent among the various tribes of Indians on our frontiers, admits of no doubt in my mind; and that she will improve every opportunity to foment the spirit of turbulence within the bowels of the United States, with a view of distracting our governments and promoting divisions, is with me not less certain. Her first manœuvres in this will no doubt be covert, and may remain so till the period shall arrive when a decided line of conduct may avail her. Charges of violating the treaty, and other pretexts, will then not be wanting to color overt acts, tending to effect the great objects of which she has long been in labor. A man is now at the head of their American affairs, well calculated to conduct measures of this kind, and more than probably was selected for the purpose. We ought not therefore to sleep nor to slumber. Vigilance in watching and vigor in acting is become in my opinion indispensably necessary. If the powers are inadequate, amend or alter them; but do not let us sink into the lowest state of humiliation and contempt, and become a by-word in all the earth. I think with you, that the spring will unfold important and distressing scenes, unless much wisdom and good management is displayed in the interim. Adieu. Be assured no man has a higher esteem and regard for you, than I have; none more sincerely your friend.
P. S. Mrs. Washington joins me in every good wish for you and Mrs. Knox and in compliments of congratulation on the late addition to your family.
[1 ]An arrangement was made satisfactory to both parties; and Mr. Lear, a young gentleman from Portsmouth in New Hampshire, who had recently graduated at Harvard University, went to Mount Vernon and became General Washington’s Secretary, at an annual salary of two hundred dollars.
[1 ]A nephew of the engineer who conducted the work of the Duke of Bridge-water. He was engaged by the Susquehanna Company.
[1 ]This convention met at Annapolis in September, 1786. Five States only were represented, and when the members came together, they found themselves invested with such limited powers, as not to enable them to act for the general purposes of the meeting. They did little else than to draw up a report, to be presented to the several States, urging the necessity of a revision of the confederated system of government and recommending a convention of delegates with larger powers to be held at Philadelphia on the 2d of May following.
[2 ]“My sentiments with respect to the federal government are well known. Publicly and privately have they been communicated without reserve; but my opinion is, that there is more wickedness than ignorance in the conduct of the States, or, in other words, in the conduct of those who have too much influence in the government of them; and until the curtain is withdrawn, and the private views and selfish principles, upon which these men act, are exposed to public notice, I have little hope of amendment without another convulsion.
[1 ]See Life of John Jay, vol. i., p. 242.
[1 ]This subject appears to have been made a matter of much more public importance than its merits deserved. It is fully explained in the Life of John Jay, vol. i., pp. 204-229.
[1 ]This advertisement is reprinted in the Magazine of American History, 1878, p. 623.
[1 ]Tench Tilghman died, 18 April, 1786.
[1 ]Col. Humphreys published in the Columbian Magazine for January, 1787, many of the papers relating to the Asgill affair.
[1 ]Mr. Lee’s reply to the above showed that the general voice in Congress was not for insisting on the navigation of the Mississippi as a necessary requisite, in a treaty with Spain. “Your reasoning,” said he, “is perfectly conformable to the prevalent doctrine on that subject in Congress. We are very solicitous to form a treaty with Spain for commercial purposes. Indeed no nation in Europe can give us conditions so advantageous to our trade as that kingdom. The carrying business they are like ourselves in, and this common source of difficulty in adjusting commercial treaties between other nations, does not apply to America and Spain. But, my dear General, I do not think you go far enough. Rather than defer longer a free and liberal system of trade with Spain, why not agree to the exclusion of the Mississippi? This exclusion will not, cannot, exist longer than the infancy of the western emigrants. Therefore, to those people, what is now done cannot be important. To the Atlantic States it is highly important; for we have no prospect of bringing to a conclusion our negotiations with the court of Madrid, but by yielding the navigation of the Mississippi. Their minister here is under positive instructions on that point. In all other arrangements the Spanish monarch will give to the States testimonies of his regard and friendship. And I verily believe, that, if the above difficulty should be removed, we should soon experience the advantages, which would flow from a connexion with Spain.”—July 3d.
[1 ]Mr. Grayson had written: “Till within a short time the representation has been so thin, as to render it impracticable for Congress to undertake any matter of importance, although there are many which require their serious attention.”—May 27th.
[1 ]Alluding to the tract of country usually called the Connecticut Reserve, making a part of the State of Ohio, and situate on the south side of Lake Erie. Speaking of the measure, as acceded to by Congress, Mr. Grayson said: “The consequence I apprehend is a clear loss of about six millions of acres to the United States, which had already been ceded by Virginia and New York; for the Assembly of Connecticut now sitting will unquestionably open a land-office, and the federal constitution has not given a court in this instance. The advocates for this measure urged in favor of its adoption, that the claim of a powerful State, although unsupported by right, was, under present circumstances, a disagreeable thing; that sacrifices must be made for the public tranquillity, as well as to acquire an indisputable title to the residue; that Connecticut would settle it immediately with emigrants well-disposed to the Union, who would form a barrier, not only against the British, but the Indian tribes; and that the thick settlement they would immediately form would enhance the value of the adjacent country and facilitate emigrations thereto.”—Upon these grounds the cession on the part of Connecticut was accepted by Congress, the reservation above mentioned being conceded at the same time. All the delegates, except those from Virginia and Maryland, voted in favor of the proposition.—Journals, May 26th.
[1 ]By the seventh article of the treaty of peace, the posts held by the British within the United States were to be evacuated. By the fourth article, every facility was to be allowed to British subjects to collect the debts due to them in the several States. Lord Carmarthen had shown, by quoting the recent laws of some of the States, that obstacles had been thrown in the way of collecting such debts, and that the fourth article of the treaty was thus violated, which was the reason why the posts were not given up.
[1 ]“I thank your Excellency for the details, which you have so kindly given me respecting American affairs. The sentiments at Versailles are similar to your own, in regard to the powers that the States ought to grant to Congress for the purpose of a general regulation of commerce. So wise and prudent a measure cannot surely result in any detriment to liberty; and the Americans have too much intelligence and good sense not to perceive that foreign powers, who desire commercial alliances with them, cannot treat with thirteen distinct States, which, having different interests among themselves, can only act in a united capacity through Congress in adopting such general measures, as will redound to the advantage of the republic. I hope the next news, which we shall receive from America, will inform us, that the several legislatures have put the last hand to this important affair.”—Luzerne to Washington, 3d February, 1786.
[1 ]Greene died near Savannah, 19 June, 1786, aged forty-four.
[2 ]Died 8 June, 1786.
[1 ]The commissioners for making treaties in Europe, of which Colonel Humphreys was secretary, having been dissolved, he returned to the United States in May, and since that time he had passed several days at Mount Vernon. He was now in Connecticut.
[2 ]This letter may be seen under the date of June 5th.
[1 ]Probably an error of the transcriber for Asgill.
[1 ]As Mercer could pay his debt in no other way, Washington agreed to take six male negroes: “three or four young fellows for ditchers: and the like number of well grown lads for artificers. It is for you to determine whether you can supply me with such negroes. If you agree to do it, and will appoint a time, I would send for them, relying on your word, that the whole are healthy, and none of them addicted to running away. The latter I abominate, and unhealthy negroes, women or children, would not suit my purpose on any terms.”—Washington to Mercer, 6 November, 1786.
[1 ]To understand the full purport of the views here advanced, it is necessary to know the plan of the Society, as described by Mr. Bushrod Washington in his letter to his uncle.
[1 ]“For God’s sake tell me what is the cause of all these commotions? Do they proceed from licentiousness, British influence, disseminated by the Tories, or real grievances which admit of redress? If the latter, why were they delayed till the public mind had become so much agitated? If the former, why are not the powers of government tried at once? It is as well to be without, as not to live under their exercise. Commotions of this sort, like snow-balls, gather strength as they roll, if there is no opposition in the way to divide and crumble them.”—Washington to Humphreys, 22 October, 1786.
[1 ]From Mr. Lee’s Letter.—“The eastern States consider a commercial connexion with Spain as the only remedy for the distresses, which oppress their citizens, most of which they say flow from the decay of their commerce. Their delegates have consequently zealously pressed the formation of this connexion, as the only effectual mode to revive the trade of their country. In this opinion they have been joined by two of the middle States. On the other hand, Virginia has with equal zeal opposed the connexion, because the project involves expressly the disuse of the navigation of the Mississippi for a given time, and eventually they think will sacrifice our right to it. The delegation is under instructions from the State on this subject. They have acted in obedience to their instructions, and, myself excepted, in conformity to their private sentiments. I confess that I am by no means convinced of the justice or policy of our instructions, and very much apprehend, unless they are repealed by the present Assembly, the fatal effects of discord in council will be experienced by the United States in a very high degree.”—New York, October 11th.
[2 ]Some china marked with the order of the Cincinnati.
[3 ]While Kentucky was seeking to become a separate State, its agent before the legislature of Virginia, John Marshall, wrote: “The negotiation which has been opened with Spain, for ceding the navigation of the Mississippi—a negotiation so dishonorable and injurious to America, so destructive of the natural rights of the western world—is warmly opposed by this country [Virginia], and for this purpose the most pointed instructions are given to our delegates in Congress. I persuade myself that this negotiation will terminate in securing instead of ceding that great point.” On August 3d, 1786, Jay had announced to Congress his conclusion that no agreement could be reached with Spain without surrendering the claim to the navigation of the Mississippi for a limited period. An attempt by the southern delegates to take the negotiation out of Jay’s direction failed, and full powers were conferred upon him, powers that he was seeking to carry into effect when the new government interrupted his diplomatic contentions with Gardoqui. The intelligence of the grant of these powers, however, awoke a strong feeling of resentment among the people of the back country, a resentment that was directed against the Confederation, for the legislature of Virginia had promptly taken up the cause of the West, and insisted upon the claims to their fullest extent. (Resolution, 29 November, 1786.)
[1 ]From Mr. Madison’s reply.—“The intelligence from General Knox, is gloomy indeed, but is less so than the colors in which I had it through another channel. If the lessons which it inculcates should not work the proper impressions on the American public, it will be a proof that our case is desperate. Judging from the present temper and apparent views of our Assembly, I have some ground for leaning to the side of hope. The vote against paper money has been followed by two others of great importance. By one of them, sundry petitions for applying a scale of depreciation to the military certificates was unanimously rejected. By the other the expediency of complying with the recommendation from Annapolis, in favor of a general revision of the federal system, was unanimously agreed to. A bill for the purpose is now depending, and in a form which attests the most federal spirit. As no opposition has been yet made, and it is ready for the third reading, I expect it will soon be before the public.
[1 ]General Gates.
[2 ]It is not very clear why Henry Lee was dropped from the Virginia delegation; but his supposed heterodoxy on the Mississippi question was mentioned as one reason. Jones, the delegate chosen, declined to serve, and Lee was unanimously named in his place.
[1 ]On the Mississippi question, “I am entirely convinced, from what I observe here, that unless the project of Congress [for ceding to Spain the Mississippi for 25 years] can be reversed, the hopes of carrying this State into a proper federal system will be demolished.”—Madison to Washington, 7 December, 1786.
[1 ]In replying to this letter Mr. Madison said: “I have considered well the circumstances which it confidentially discloses, as well as those contained in your preceding favor. The difficulties, which they oppose to an acceptance of the appointment, in which you are included, can as little be denied as they can fail to be regretted. But I am still inclined to think, that the posture of our affairs, if it should continue, would prevent any criticism on the situation, which the contemporary meetings would place you in; and wish that at least a door could be left open for your acceptance hereafter, in case the gathering clouds should become so dark and menacing, as to supersede every consideration but that of our national existence or safety. A suspense of your ultimate determination would be nowise inconvenient in a public view, as the executive are authorized to fill vacancies, and can fill them at any time; and, in any event, three out of seven deputies are authorized to represent the State. How far it may be admissible in another view, will depend perhaps in some measure on the chance of your finally undertaking the service, but principally on the correspondence, which is now passing on the subject between yourself and the governor.”
[1 ]He had recently been elected as successor to Patrick Henry.
[2 ]Communicating official intelligence of his having been unanimously chosen one of the delegates from Virginia for attending a general convention. His name was placed at the head of the deputation, consisting of seven persons as follows: George Washington, Patrick Henry, Edmund Randolph, John Blair, James Madison, George Mason, and George Wythe.
[1 ]To the above letter Governor Randolph replied. “Although compelled, by duty to lay before the Council your answer to my notification of your appointment to Philadelphia, I was happy to find them concurring with me in the propriety of entreating you not to decide on a refusal immediately. Perhaps the obstacles now in view may be removed before May; and the nomination of a successor, if necessary at all, will be as effectually made some time hence as now. Perhaps too (and indeed I fear the event) every other consideration may seem of little weight, when compared with the crisis, which may then hang over the United States. I hope, therefore, that you will excuse me for holding up your letter for the present, and waiting until time shall discover the result of the commotions now prevailing.”—Richmond, January 4th, 1787.
[1 ]The following extract will explain this paragraph, and show that the “old friend” alluded to was General Washington himself.
[1 ]The convention at Annapolis.