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1788. - 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 THOMAS JEFFERSON.
Mount Vernon, 1 January, 1788.
I have received your favor of the 14th of August, and am sorry that it is not in my power to give any further information relative to the practicability of opening a communication between Lake Erie and the Ohio, than you are already possessed of. I have made frequent inquiries since the time of your writing at Annapolis, but could never collect any thing that was decided or satisfactory. I have again renewed them, and flatter myself with better prospects.
The accounts generally agree as to its being a flat country between the waters of Lake Erie and Big Beaver, but differ very much with respect to the distance between their sources, their navigation, and the inconveniences which would attend the cutting a canal between them. From the best information I have been able to obtain of that country, the sources of the Muskingum and Cayahoga approach nearer to each other than Big Beaver; but a communication through the Muskingum would be more circuitous and difficult, having the Ohio in a greater extent to ascend, unless the latter could be avoided by opening a communication between James River and the Great Kanhawa, or between the Little Kanhawa and the west branch of the Monongahela, which is said to be very practicable by a short portage. As a testimony thereof, a road is now opened, or opening, under the authority and at the expense of the States of Virginia and Maryland, from the North Branch of Potomac, “commencing at the mouth of Savage River,” to Cheat River; and continued from thence to the navigable water of the Little Kanhawa, at the cost of the former.
The distance between Lake Erie and the Ohio through the Big Beaver is however so much less than the route through the Muskingum, that it would in my opinion operate very strongly in favor of opening a canal between the sources of the nearest water of the Lake and Big Beaver, although the distance between them should be much greater, and the operation more difficult, than to the Muskingum, as it is the direct line to the nearest shipping port on the Atlantic. I shall omit no opportunity of gaining every information relative to this important subject, and with pleasure communicate to you whatever may be worthy of your attention.1
I did myself the honor to forward to you the plan of government formed by the convention, as soon as that body rose; but was not a little disappointed, and mortified indeed, (as I wished to make the first offering of it to you,) to find by a letter dated the 9th of November in New York from Commodore Jones, that it was at that time in his possession. You have undoubtedly received it, or some other, ere now, and formed an opinion upon it. The public attention is at present wholly engrossed by this important subject. The legislatures of those States (Rhode Island excepted), which have met since the constitution has been formed, have readily assented to its being submitted to a convention chosen by the people. Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, are the only States whose conventions have as yet decided upon it. In the former it was adopted by forty-six to twenty-three, and in the two latter unanimously.
Connecticut and Massachusetts are to hold their conventions on the first and second Tuesdays of this month; Maryland in April, Virginia in June; and upon the whole it appears, so far as I have had an opportunity of learning the opinions of the people in the several States, that it will be received. There will undoubtedly be more or less opposition to its being adopted in most of the States, and in none a more formidable one than in this, as many influential characters here have taken a decided part against it, among whom are Mr. Henry, Colonel Mason, Governor Randolph, and Mr. Richard Henry Lee; but from every information, which I have been able to obtain, I think there will be a majority in its favor, notwithstanding their dissention. In New York a considerable opposition will also be given.
I am much obliged to you, my dear Sir, for the account which you gave me of the general state of affairs in Europe. I am glad to hear, that the Assemblée des Notables has been productive of good in France. The abuse of the finances, being disclosed to the King and the nation, must open their eyes, and lead to the adoption of such measures as will prove beneficial to them in future. From the public papers it appears, that the parliaments of the several provinces, and particularly that of Paris, have acted with great spirit and resolution. Indeed, the rights of mankind, the privileges of the people, and the true principles of liberty, seem to have been more generally discussed and better understood throughout Europe since the American revolution, than they were at any former period.
Although the finances of France and England were such, as led you to suppose at the time you wrote to me, yet, if we credit the concurrent accounts from every quarter, there is little doubt but that they have commenced hostilities before this. Russia and the Porte have formally begun the contest, and from appearances, (as given to us,) it is not improbable but that a general war will be kindled in Europe. Should this be the case, we shall feel more than ever the want of an efficient general government to regulate our commercial concerns, to give us a national respectability, and to connect the political views and interests of the several States under one head in such a manner, as will effectually prevent them from forming separate, improper, or indeed any connexion with the European powers, which can involve them in their political disputes.1 For our situation is such, as makes it not only unnecessary, but extremely imprudent, for us to take a part in their quarrels; and whenever a contest happens among them, if we wisely and properly improve the advantages, which nature has given us, we may be benefited by their folly, provided we conduct ourselves with circumspection and under proper restrictions; for I perfectly agree with you, that an extensive speculation, a spirit of gambling, or the introduction of any thing, which will divert our attention from agriculture, must be extremely prejudicial if not ruinous to us. But I conceive, under an energetic general government, such regulations might be made, and such measures taken, as would render this country the asylum of pacific and industrious characters from all parts of Europe, would encourage the cultivation of the earth by the high price, which its products would command, and would draw the wealth and wealthy men of other nations into our bosom, by giving security to property and liberty to its holders.
I have the honor to be, &c.
TO EDMUND RANDOLPH, GOVERNOR OF VIRGINIA.
Mount Vernon, 8 January, 1788.
The letter, which you did me the honor of writing to me on the 27th ultimo, with the enclosure,1 came duly to hand. I receive them as a fresh instance of your friendship and attention. For both I thank you.
The diversity of sentiments upon the important matter, which has been submitted to the people, was as much expected as it is regretted by me. The various passions and motives, by which men are influenced, are concomitants of fallibility, engrafted into our nature for the purposes of unerring wisdom; but, had I entertained a latent hope, (at the time you moved to have the constitution submitted to a second convention,) that a more perfect form would be agreed to, in a word, that any constitution would be adopted under the impressions and instructions of the members, the publications, which have taken place since, would have eradicated every form of it. How do the sentiments of the influential characters in this State, who are opposed to the constitution, and have favored the public with their opinions, quadrate with each other? Are they not at variance on some of the most important points? If the opponents in the same State cannot agree in their principles, what prospect is there of a coalescence with the advocates of the measure, when the different views and jarring interests of so wide and extended an empire are to be brought forward and combated?
To my judgment it is more clear than ever, that an attempt to amend the constitution, which is submitted, would be productive of more heat and greater confusion than can well be conceived. There are some things in the new form, I will readily acknowledge, which never did, and I am persuaded never will, obtain my cordial approbation; but I then did conceive, and do now most firmly believe, that in the aggregate it is the best constitution, that can be obtained at this epoch, and that this, or a dissolution of the Union, awaits our choice, and are the only alternatives before us. Thus believing, I had not, nor have I now, any hesitation in deciding on which to lean.
I pray your forgiveness for the expression of these sentiments. In acknowledging the receipt of your letter on this subject, it was hardly to be avoided, although I am well-disposed to let the matter rest entirely on its own merits, and men’s minds to their own workings. With very great esteem and regard I am, &c.
TO COLONEL FREDERICK WEISSENFELS.
Mount Vernon, 10 January, 1788.
I have received your letter of the 10th of December. In answer to that, as well as those which you wrote to me in June last, I am sorry to inform you that I cannot, with any propriety, make application to Congress, had [it] the offices to bestow, or any other publick body in your behalf, for an appointment; because it would be acting directly contrary to a resolution which I made, when I quitted the publick service, not to make application for, or interfere with appointments of any kind.
It is a matter of regret as well as surprize that you should apply to me in an affair of this nature, in preference to those persons among whom you live and have been more immediately employ’d, and who must from their long acquaintance with you, have a much better knowledge of your merits and sufferings than I can be supposed to have. If you expect relief from the Cincinnati, it is to the State Society you must look for it, or apply to the General-meeting, when convened, for I cannot, as an individual, transact any business of this kind relating to the Society. I am, &c.
TO JAMES MADISON, IN CONGRESS.
Mount Vernon, 10 January, 1788.
My dear Sir,
I stand indebted to you for your favors of the 20th and 26th ultimo, and I believe for that of the 14th also, and their enclosures. It does not appear to me, that there is any certain criterion in this State by which a decided judgment can be formed, as to the opinion entertained by its citizens with respect to the new constitution. My belief on this occasion is that whenever the matter is brought to a final decision, not only a majority, but a large one, will be found in its favor. That the opposition should have gained strength at Richmond, among the members of Assembly, is not, if true, to be wondered at, when we consider that the great adversaries to the constitution are all assembled at that place, acting conjointly, with the promulgated sentiments of Colonel Richard Henry Lee as auxiliary. It is said, however, and I believe it may be depended upon, that the latter, (though he may retain his sentiments,) has withdrawn, or means to withdraw, his opposition; because, as he has expressed himself, or as others have done it for him, he finds himself in bad company such as with M[erce]r, Sm[i]th, &c, &c. His brother, Francis L. Lee, on whose judgment the family place much reliance, is decidedly in favor of the new form, under a conviction, that it is the best that can be obtained, and because it promises energy, stability, and that security, which is, or ought to be, the wish of every good citizen of the Union.
How far the determination of the question before the debating club, (mentioned to you in a former letter,) may be considered as auspicious of the final decision of the convention in this State, I will not prognosticate; but in this club the question, it seems, was determined by a very large majority in favor of the constitution. But of all arguments, that may be used at the convention, which is to be held for it, the most prevailing one I expect will be, that nine States at least will have acceded to it. And if the unanimity or majorities in those which follow, are equal to those which are passed, the force of them will prove irresistible. The governor has given his reasons to the public for withholding his signature; a copy of them I send you.
Our Assembly has been long in session, employed chiefly, as far as I can understand, in rectifying some of the mistakes of the last, and committing new ones for emendations at the next; yet, “Who so wise as we are?” We are held in painful suspense in regard to European matters. War, or peace, seems yet undecided, although the first is loudly talked of. I have no regular correspondent in Massachusetts; otherwise, as an occasional matter, I should have had no objection to the communication of my sentiments to him, as they are unequivocal and decided. I am, &c.
P. S. I have this moment been informed, that the Assembly of North Carolina have postponed the meeting of the convention of that State until July. This seems to be calculated evidently for the purpose of taking the tone from Virginia.1
TO CHARLES CARTER.
Mount Vernon, 12 January, 1788.
I find that an extract from my letter to you is running through all the newspapers, and published in that of Baltimore with the addition of my name. Although I have no disinclination to the promulgation of my sentiments on the proposed constitution, (not having concealed them on any occasion,) yet I must nevertheless confess, that it gives me pain to see the hasty and indigested production of a private letter handed to the public, to be animadverted upon by the adversaries of the new government.
Could I have supposed, that the contents of a private letter, (marked with evident haste,) would have composed a newspaper paragraph, I certainly should have taken some pains to dress the sentiments (to whom known is indifferent to me) in less exceptionable language, and would have assigned some reasons in support of my opinion, and the charges against others. I am persuaded your intentions were good; but I am not less persuaded, that you have provided food for strictures and criticisms. Be this however as it may, it shall pass off unnoticed by me, as I have no inclination and still less abilities for scribbling. With very great esteem and regard, I am, &c.1
TO JONATHAN TRUMBULL.
Mount Vernon, 5 February, 1788.
My dear Sir,
I thank you for your obliging favor of the 9th ulto. which came duly to hand, and congratulate with you on the adoption of the new Constitution in your State by so decided a majority and so many respectable Characters. I wish for the same good tidings from Massachusetts but the accounts from thence are not so favorable—The decision, it is even said, is problematical, arising, as I believe 9/10ths of the opposition does, from local circumstance and sinister views. The result of the deliberations in that State will have considerable influence on those which are to follow—especially in that of New York where I fancy the opposition to the form will be greatest.1
Altho’ an inhabitant of this State, I cannot speak with decision on the publick sentiment of it with respect to the proposed Constitution—my private opinion however of the matter is, that it will certainly be received, but in this opinion I may be mistaken.—I have not been ten miles from home since my return to it from Philadelphia—I see few who do not live within that circle, except Travellers and strangers and these form opinions upon too slight ground to be relied on. The opponents of the Constitution are indefatigable in fabricating and circulating papers, reports, &c. to its prejudice; whilst the friends generally content themselves with the goodness of the cause and the necessity for its adoption, supposing it wants no other support.
Mrs. Washington, and others of this family with whom you are acquainted (among which is Colo. Humphries) join me in every good wish for you, Mrs. Trumbull and family; and with sentiments of the sincerest regard and friendship, I am, &c.
TO JAMES MADISON, IN CONGRESS.
Mount Vernon, 5 February, 1788.
My dear Sir,
I am indebted to you for several of your favors, and thank you for their enclosure. The rumor of war between France and England has subsided, and the poor patriots of Holland, it seems, are left to fight their own battles or negotiate, in either case with no great prospect of advantage. They must have been much deceived, or their conduct has been weak, and precipitate, and absurd. The former, however, I believe is the truth.
I am sorry to find by yours and other accounts from Massachusetts, that the decision of its convention, (at the time of their respective dates,) remained problematical.1 A rejection of the new form by that State would invigorate the opposition, not only in New York, but in all those which are to follow; at the same time this would afford materials for the minority, in such as have actually agreed to it, to blow the trumpet of discord more loudly. The acceptance by a bare majority, though preferable to a rejection, is also to be deprecated. It is scarcely possible to form any decided opinion of the general sentiment of the people of this State on this point. Many have asked me with anxious solicitude if you did not mean to get into the convention, conceiving it of indispensable necessity. Colonel Mason, who returned but yesterday, I am told has offered himself for Stafford county, and his friends say he can be elected not only in that, but in the counties of Prince William and Fauquier also. The truth of this I know not. I rarely go from home, and my visitors, who, for the most part are travellers and strangers, have not the best means of information.
At the time you suggested for my consideration the expediency of a communication of my sentiments to any correspondent I might have in Massachusetts on the proposed constitution, I did not recollect that General Lincoln and myself frequently interchanged letters; much less did I expect, that a hasty and indigested extract [from a letter] of which I had written, intermingled with a variety of other matters, to Colonel Charles Carter in answer to a letter I had received from him, on the subject of some experiments we had made in farming, wolves, wolf-dogs, sheep, and the Lord knows what else, was then in the press, and would bring them to public view by means of the general circulation I find that extract has had. Although I never have concealed, and am perfectly regardless who becomes acquainted with my sentiments with respect to the proposed constitution, yet nevertheless, as no pains have been taken to dress the ideas, nor any reasons assigned in support of opinion, I feel myself hurt by the publication, and informed my friend the Colo. thereof. In answer, he has fully acquitted himself of the intention; but his zeal in the cause prompted him to distribute copies, (under a prohibition, which was disregarded,) that it should not go to the press. As you have seen the crude, or rude extract, as you may please to term it, I will add no more on the subject.
Perceiving that the Federalist, under the signature of Publius, is about to be republished, I would thank you for forwarding to me three or four copies, one of which to be bound, and inform me of the cost. Although we have not had many or deep snows, yet we have since the commencement of it, had a very severe winter, and if this day with you is as much keener than we now feel it, as the difference of latitude ought to make it, you will feel a comfortable fire no bad antidote against cold fingers and toes. I am, &c.
TO THE CHEVALIER DE LA LUZERNE.
Mount Vernon, 7 February, 1788.
The Count de Moustier, your successor in office, hath forwarded from New York the letter, in which you did me the honor to bring me acquainted with the merits of that nobleman. Since it is the misfortune of America not to be favored any longer with your residence, it was necessary, to diminish our regrets, that so worthy and respectable a character should be appointed your successor. I shall certainly be happy in cultivating his acquaintance and friendship. The citizens, from gratitude as well as from personal considerations, will, I am persuaded, treat him with the greatest respect. Congress, I doubt not, will by every means in their power desire to make his sojourn in the United States as agreeable as it possibly can be.
But, Sir, you may rest assured that your abilities and dispositions to serve this country were so well understood, and your services so properly appreciated, that the residence of no public minister will ever be longer remembered, or his absence more sincerely regretted. It will not be forgotten, that you were a witness to the dangers, the sufferings, the exertions, and the successes of the United States, from the most perilous crises to the hour of triumph. The influence of your agency on the cabinet to produce a coöperation, and the prowess of your countrymen coöperating with ours in the field to secure the liberties of America, have made such an indelible impression on the public mind, as will never be effaced. Wherever you may be, our best wishes will follow you. And such is our confidence in your disinterested friendship, that we are certain you will wish to be useful to us, in whatever mission you may be honored by your King. It has been surmised, on I know not what authority, that there was a probability of your being employed in the diplomatic corps at the court of London. Should this be the case, your zeal may still find occasions of being serviceable to America, and profitable to your own country at the same time; for I conceive the commercial interests of the two nations are in many instances blended, and in opposition to those of Great Britain. * * *
I feel, Sir, not only for myself, but in behalf of my country, under great obligations for the affectionate wishes you have the goodness to make, with respect to the tranquillity and happiness of America. Separated as we are by a world of water from other nations, if we are wise, we shall surely avoid being drawn into the labyrinth of their politics, and involved in their destructive wars. * * *
TO THE MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE.
Mount Vernon, 7 February, 1788.
My dear Marquis,
You know it always gives me the sincerest pleasure to hear from you, and therefore I need only say, that your two kind letters of the 9th and 15th of October, so replete with personal affection and confidential intelligence, afforded me inexpressible satisfaction. I shall myself be happy in forming an acquaintance and cultivating a friendship with the new minister plenipotentiary of France, whom you have commended as a “sensible and honest man.” These are qualities too rare and too precious not to merit one’s particular esteem. You may be persuaded, that he will be well received by the Congress of the United States, because they will not only be influenced in their conduct by his individual merits, but also by their affection for the nation, of whose sovereign he is the representative. For it is an undoubted fact, that the people of America entertain a grateful remembrance of past services, as well as a favorable disposition for commercial and friendly connexions with your nation.1
You appear to be, as might be expected from a real friend to this country, anxiously concerned about its present political situation. So far as I am able, I shall be happy in gratifying that friendly solicitude. As to my sentiments with respect to the merits of the new constitution, I will disclose them without reserve, (although by passing through the post-office they should become known to all the world,) for in truth I have nothing to conceal on that subject. It appears to me, then, little short of a miracle, that the delegates from so many different States (which States you know are also different from each other), in their manners, circumstances, and prejudices, should unite in forming a system of national government, so little liable to well-founded objections. Nor am I yet such an enthusiastic, partial, or undiscriminating admirer of it, as not to perceive it is tinctured with some real (though not radical) defects. The limits of a letter would not suffer me to go fully into an examination of them; nor would the discussion be entertaining or profitable. I therefore forbear to touch upon it. With regard to the two great points, (the pivots upon which the whole machine must move,) my creed is simply,
1st. That the general government is not invested with more powers, than are indispensably necessary to perform the functions of a good government; and consequently, that no objection ought to be made against the quantity of power delegated to it.
2ly. That these powers, (as the appointment of all rulers will for ever arise from, and at short, stated intervals recur to, the free suffrage of the people,) are so distributed among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, into which the general government is arranged, that it can never be in danger of degenerating into a monarchy, an oligarchy, an aristocracy, or any other despotic or oppressive form, so long as there shall remain any virtue in the body of the people.
I would not be understood, my dear Marquis, to speak of consequences, which may be produced in the revolution of ages, by corruption of morals, profligacy of manners, and listlessness for the preservation of the natural and unalienable rights of mankind, nor of the successful usurpations, that may be established at such an unpropitious juncture upon the ruins of liberty, however providently guarded and secured; as these are contingencies against which no human prudence can effectually provide. It will at least be a recommendation to the proposed constitution, that it is provided with more checks and barriers against the introduction of tyranny, and those of a nature less liable to be surmounted, than any government hitherto instituted among mortals hath possessed. We are not to expect perfection in this world; but mankind, in modern times, have apparently made some progress in the science of government. Should that, which is now offered to the people of America, be found on experiment less perfect than it can be made, a constitutional door is left open for its amelioration.
Some respectable characters have wished, that the States, after having pointed out whatever alterations and amendments may be judged necessary, would appoint another federal convention to modify it upon those documents. For myself, I have wondered, that sensible men should not see the impracticability of this scheme. The members would go fortified with such instructions, that nothing but discordant ideas could prevail. Had I but slightly suspected, at the time when the late convention was in session, that another convention would not be likely to agree upon a better form of government, I should now be confirmed in the fixed belief that they would not be able to agree upon any system whatever; so many, I may add, such contradictory and in my opinion unfounded objections have been urged against the system in contemplation, many of which would operate equally against every efficient government that might be proposed. I will only add, as a further opinion founded on the maturest deliberation, that there is no alternative, no hope of alteration, no intermediate resting-place, between the adoption of this, and a recurrence to an unqualified state of anarchy, with all its deplorable consequences.
Since I had the pleasure of writing to you last, no material alteration in the political state of affairs has taken place to change the prospect of the constitution’s being adopted by nine States or more. Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and Connecticut, have already done it. It is also said Georgia has acceded. Massachusetts, which is perhaps thought to be rather more doubtful that when I last addressed you, is now in convention.
A spirit of emigration to the western country is very predominant. Congress have sold, in the year past, a pretty large quantity of land on the Ohio for public securities, and thereby diminished the domestic debt considerably. Many of your military acquaintances, such as the Generals Parsons, Varnum, and Putnam, the Colonels Tupper, Sprout, and Sherman, with many more, propose settling there. From such beginnings much may be expected.
The storm of war between England and your nation, it seems, is dissipated. I hope and trust the political affairs in France are taking a favorable turn. If the Turks will suffer themselves to be precipitated into a war, they must abide the consequences. Some politicians speculate on a triple alliance between the two imperial courts and Versailles.
It gives me great pleasure to learn, that the present ministry of France are friendly to America, and that Mr. Jefferson and yourself have a prospect of accomplishing measures, which will mutually benefit and improve the commercial intercourse between the two nations. Every good wish attend you and yours. I am, &c.
TO ALEXANDER SPOTSWOOD.
Mount Vernon, 13 February, 1788.
* * * * * *
I think with you, that the life of a husbandman of all others is the most delectable. It is honorable, it is amusing, and, with judicious management, it is profitable. To see plants rise from the earth and flourish by the superior skill and bounty of the laborer fills a contemplative mind with ideas which are more easy to be conceived than expressed.
I am glad to find, that your first essay to raise Indian corn in drills has succeeded so much to your satisfaction; but I am inclined to think, unless restoratives were more abundant than they are to be found on common farms, that six feet by two will be too oppressive to your land. Experience has proved, that every soil will sink under the growth of this plant; whether from the luxuriancy and exhausting quality of it, or the manner of tillage, or from both, is not very certain; because instead of two thousand four hundred and twenty plants, which stand on an acre at six feet square with two stalks in a hill, (as is usual in land of middling quality,) you have three thousand six hundred and thirty at six feet by two, single stalks. How far the exposing of land to the rays of the sun in summer is injurious, is a question yet more difficult to solve than the other. My own opinion of the matter is that it does; but this controverts the practice of summer fallows, which, (especially in heavy land,) some of the best practical farmers in England contend for as indispensably necessary, notwithstanding the doctrine of Mr. Young and many others, who are opposed to them.
The reason, however, which induced me to give my corn-rows the wide distance of ten feet, was not because I thought it essential to the growth of that plant, but because I introduced other plants between them. And this practice, from the experience of two years, one the wettest, and the other the driest that ever was felt on my estate, I am resolved to continue until the inutility of it, or something more advantageous, shall point out the expediency of a change. But I mean to practise it with variations, fixing on eight by two feet as the medium or standing distance, which will give more plants by three hundred to the acre, than six feet each way with two stalks in a hill will do.
As all my corn will be thus drilled, so between all I mean to put in drills also potatoes, carrots (as far as my seed will go), and turnips, alternately, that not one sort more than another may have the advantage of soil, thereby to ascertain the comparative quantity and value of each of these plants as food for horses and stock of every kind. From the trials I have made, (under the disadvantages already mentioned,) I am well satisfied, that my crop of corn in this way will equal the yield of the same fields in the usual mode of cultivation, and that the quantity of potatoes, proportionate to the number of rows, will quadruple the corn. I entertain the same opinion with respect to carrots; but, being more unlucky in the latter, I cannot speak with so much confidence, and still less can I do it with respect to turnips.
From this husbandry, and statement of what I conceive to be facts, any given number of acres will yield as much corn in the new, as they will in the old way, and will moreover with little or no extra labor produce four times as many potatoes or carrots, which adds considerably to the profit from the field. But here it may be asked, If the land will sustain these crops, or rather the potatoes in addition to the corn? This is a question my own experience does not enable me to answer. The received opinion of many practical farmers in England is, that potatoes and carrots are ameliorators, not exhausters of the soil, preparing it well for other crops. But I do not scruple to confess, that, notwithstanding the profit which appears to result from the growth of corn and potatoes, or corn and carrots, or both thus blended, my wish is to exclude Indian corn altogether from my system of cropping; but we are so habituated to the use of this grain, and it is so much better for negroes than any other, that it is not to be discarded; consequently to introduce it in the most profitable, or least injurious manner, ought to be the next consideration with the farmer.
To do this, some are of opinion that a small spot, set apart solely for the purpose, and kept highly manured, is the best method. And an instance in proof is adduced, of a gentleman near Baltimore, who for many years past from the same ground has not made less than ten barrels to the acre in drills, six feet apart, and, (if I recollect rightly,) eighteen inches in the rows. But query, where the farmer has no other resource than the manure of his own farm, will not his other crops be starved by this extra allowance to the Indian corn? I am inclined to think it will; and for that reason I shall try the intermixture of potatoes, carrots, and turnips, or either, as from practice shall be found most profitable, with my corn, which shall become a component part of some regular and systematic plan best adapted to the nature of my soil.
To societies, which have been formed for the encouragement of agriculture, is the perfection to which husbandry is now arrived in England indebted. Why then does not this country (Virginia I mean) follow so laudable and beneficial an example? And particularly why do not the gentlemen in the vicinity of Fredericksburg begin this work? Your lands are peculiarly well adapted to it. There are more of you in a small circle than I believe is to be found in the same compass almost anywhere; and you are well able to afford experiments; from which, and not from theory, are individuals to derive useful knowledge, and the public a benefit. My love, to which Mrs. Washington’s is joined, is presented to Mrs. Spotswood and I am, &c.
TO SAMUEL GRIFFIN.
Mount Vernon, 20 February, 1788.
I have been duly honored and greatly affected with the receipt of the resolution of the visitors and governors of William and Mary College, appointing me chancellor of the same, and have to thank you for your polite attention in the transmission. Not knowing particularly what duties, or whether any active services, are immediately expected from the person holding the office of chancellor, I have been greatly embarrassed in deciding upon the public answer proper to be given. It is for that reason I have chosen to explain in this private communication my situation and feelings, and to defer an ultimate decision until I shall have been favored with farther information on this subject.
My difficulties are briefly these. On the one hand, nothing in this world could be farther from my heart, than a want of respect for the worthy gentlemen in question, or a refusal of the appointment with which they have honored me, provided its duties are not incompatible with the mode of life to which I have entirely addicted myself; and, on the other hand, I would not for any consideration disappoint the just expectations of the convocation by accepting an office, whose functions I previously knew, (from my preëngagements and occupations,) I should be absolutely unable to perform.
Although as I observed before, I know not specifically what those functions are, yet, Sir, I have conceived that a principal duty required of the chancellor might be a regular and indispensable visitation once, or perhaps twice, a year. Should this be expected, I must decline accepting the office. For, notwithstanding I most sincerely and ardently wish to afford whatever little influence I may possess, in patronizing the cause of science, I cannot, at my time of life and in my actual state of retirement, persuade myself to engage in new and extensive avocations.
Such being the sentiments of a heart unaccustomed to disguise, I flatter myself the candid manner in which I have explained them, cannot be displeasing to the convocation; and that the intervening delay between the present, and the moment in which I shall have the pleasure of receiving such ulterior explanations as may enable me to give a definitive answer, will not prove very detrimental to the collegiate interests. I am, &c.1
TO BENJAMIN LINCOLN.
Mount Vernon, 28 February, 1788.
My dear Sir,
I have to acknowledge the receipt of your three letters of the 3d, 6th, and 9th instant. The information conveyed by the last was extremely pleasing to me, though I cannot say it was altogether unexpected, as the tenor of your former letters had, in some measure, prepared me for the event; but the conduct of the minority was more satisfactory than could have been expected.1 The full and fair discussion, which you gave the subject in your convention, was attended with the happiest consequences. It afforded complete information to all those, who went thither with dispositions to be informed, and at the same time gave an opportunity to confute and point out the fallacy of those specious arguments, which were offered in opposition to the proposed government. Nor is this all. The conciliating behavior of the minority will strike a damp on the hopes, which opponents in other States might otherwise have formed from the smallness of the majority, and must be greatly influential in obtaining a favorable determination in those States, which have not yet decided upon it.1
These is not perhaps a man in Virginia less qualified than I am to say, from his own knowledge and observation, what will be the fate of the constitution here; for I very seldom ride beyond the limits of my own farms, and am wholly indebted to those gentlemen who visit me for any information of the disposition of the people towards it; but from all I can collect, I have not the smallest doubt of its being accepted.
I thank you, my dear Sir, for the accounts which you have, from time to time, transmitted me since the meeting of your convention. Nothing could have been more grateful or acceptable to me. I am also obliged by your promise to inform me of any important matters, that may transpire; and you know I shall at all times be happy to hear of your welfare. Mrs. Washington joins me in compliments to Mrs. Lincoln and yourself. I am, dear Sir, &c.
TO JAMES MADISON, IN CONGRESS.
Mount Vernon, 2 March, 1788.
The decision of Massachusetts, notwithstanding its concomitants,1 is a severe stroke to the opponents of the proposed constitution in this State; and, with the favorable decision of those which have gone before it, and such as are likely to follow after, will have a powerful operation on the minds of men, who are not more influenced by passion, pique, and resentment, than they are by candor, moderation, and judgment. Of the former description, however, I am sorry to say there are too many; and among them some, who would hazard every thing rather than fail in their opposition, or have the sagacity of their prognostications impeached by the issue.
The determination you have come to, will give much pleasure to your friends.1 From those in your county you will learn with more certainty, than from me, the expediency of your attending the election in it. With some, to have differed in sentiment is to have passed the Rubicon of their friendship, although you should go no further; with others, (for the honor of humanity,) I hope there is more liberality. But the consciousness of having discharged that duty, which we owe to our country, is superior to all other considerations, and will put these out of the question.
His Most Christian Majesty speaks and acts in a style not very pleasing to republican ears, or to republican forms; nor do I think it is altogether so to the temper of his own subjects at this day. Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth. The checks he endeavors to give it, however warranted by ancient usage, will more than probably kindle a flame, which may not be easily extinguished though it may be smothered for a while by the armies at his command and the nobility in his interest. When a people are oppressed with taxes, and have a cause to believe that there has been a misapplication of the money, they illy brook the language of despotism. This, and the mortification, which the pride of the nation must have undergone with respect to the affairs of Holland, (if it is fair to judge from appearances,) may be productive of events, which prudence forbids one to mention.
To-morrow the elections for delegates to the State convention begin; and, as they will tread close upon the heels of each other, it will make an interesting and important month. With the most friendly sentiments and affectionate regard, I am. &c.1
TO SAMUEL HANSON, ESQ.
Mount Vernon, 18 March, 1788.
Your letter of the 16th Inst. was handed me yesterday in Alexandria as I was going to dinner—previous to that I had seen my nephew George Washington, and asked him if he had heard of any suitable place for himself and Lawrence to board at after their quarter with Mr. McWhir expired; he told me that it was probable a place might be obtained at a Mrs. Sandford’s;—I desired him to inform himself of the terms, &c. and let me know them; as I had not an opportunity of seeing him again before I left town to know the result of his enquiries, it is not at this moment, in my power to give a decided answer to your offer of taking them again into your family.
Your candid and free communications respecting the conduct of my Nephews, while with you, meet my warmest approbation and deserve my best thanks, and I should think myself inexcusable, if, upon this occasion, I did not act a part equally open and candid, by informing you of general allegations which they have, from time to time, offered on their part, viz: They having been frequently detained from school in the morning beyond their proper hour, in consequence of not having their breakfast seasonably provided, and sometimes obliged to go to school without any.—They have likewise complained of their not being permitted to dine with company at the House, and served indifferently in another place afterwards, and, after being a short time with Mr. McWhir, they made application for shirts, and upon being asked what they had done with those which were made for them not long before, they replied that the manner of washing them at Mr. Hanson’s (in Lye without soap) had entirely destroyed them.
This communication, Sir, cannot, I think, be displeasing to a person of your candor.—I do not state the above as facts but merely as the reports of the boys, and if they should live with you again it will undoubtedly have a good effect by shewing them that their reports will always be made known to you, and the truth or falsehood of them discovered.
The motive which first induced me to put the Boys with you, explained upon a former occasion, together with the advantage of throwing them into company, will still operate, and incline me to give a preference to your House upon terms nearly equal in other respects but I cannot decide upon the matter till I know the result of George’s enquiries, and so soon as I do, you may depend upon hearing further from Sir, &c.
TO THE COUNT DE MOUSTIER.
Mount Vernon, 26 March, 1788.
I have received the letter, which your Excellency did me the honor of addressing to me by the hand of Mr. Madison. While I am highly gratified with the justice you do me in appreciating the friendly sentiments I entertain for the French nation, I cannot avoid being equally astonished and mortified in learning, that you have met with any subject of discontent or inquietude since your arrival in America.1 Be assured, Sir, as nothing could have been more unexpected, so nothing can now give me greater pleasure, than to be instrumental in removing, as far as may be in the power of a private citizen as I am, every occasion of uneasiness that may have occurred. I have even hoped, from the short time of your residence here, and the partial acquaintance you may have had with the characters of the persons, that a natural distance in behavior and reserve in address may have appeared as intentional coldness and neglect. I am sensible that the apology itself, though it should be well founded, would be but an indifferent one, yet it will be better than none, while it served to prove, that it is our misfortune not to have the same cheerfulness in appearance and facility in deportment, which some nations possess, and this I believe in a certain degree to be the real fact; and that such a reception is sometimes given by individuals, as may affect a foreigner with very disagreeable sensations, when not the least shadow of an affront is intended.
As I know the predilections of most of our leading characters for your nation; as I had seen the clearest proofs of affection for your King given by the people of this country, on the birth of the Dauphin; as I had heard before the receipt of your letter, that you had been received at your public audience by Congress with all the marks of attention, which had ever been bestowed upon a representative of any sovereign power; and as I found that your personal character stood in the fairest point of light; I must confess I could not have conceived, that there was one person in public office in the United states capable of having treated with indifference, much less with indignity, the representative from a court, with which we have ever been upon the most friendly terms. And confident I am, that it is only necessary for such conduct to be known to be detested.
But in the mean [time,] so ardently do I wish to efface any ill impressions, which may have been made upon your Excellency’s mind to the prejudice of the public by individuals, that I must again repeat, that I am egregiously deceived if the people of this country are not in general extremely well effected to France. The prejudices against that kingdom had been so riveted by our English connexion and English policy, that it was some time before our people could get entirely the better of them. This, however, was thoroughly accomplished in the course of the war. And I may venture to say, that a greater revolution never took place in the sentiments of our people respecting another. Now, as none of their former attachments have been revived for Britain, and as no subject of uneasiness has turned up with respect to France, any disgust or enmity to the latter would involve a mystery beyond my comprehension. For I had always believed, that some apparent cause, powerful in its nature and progressive in its operation, must be employed to produce a change in national sentiments. But no prejudice has been revived, no jealousy excited (to my knowledge,) which could have wrought a revolution unfriendly to your nation. If one or a few persons in New York have given a different specimen of thinking and acting, I rely too much upon your candor to apprehend, that you will impute it to the American people at large.
I am happy to learn, that your Excellency is meditating to strengthen the commercial ties that connect the two nations, and that your ideas of effecting it, by placing the arrangement upon the basis of mutual advantages, coincide exactly with my own. Treaties, which are not built upon reciprocal benefits, are not likely to be of long duration. Warmly as I wish to second your views, it is a subject of regret, that my little acquaintance with commercial affairs, and my seclusion from public life, have not put me in a state of preparation to answer your several questions with accuracy. I will endeavor to inform myself of the most interesting particulars, and shall take a pleasure in communicating the result.
At present I can only remark, that I think the taste for many articles of French merchandise is rather increasing. Still there are three circumstances, which are thought to give the British merchant an advantage over all others.
1st. Their extensive credit, which, I confess, I wish to see abolished.
2d. Their having in one place magazines containing all kinds of articles, that can be required.
3d. Their knowledge of the precise kinds of merchandise and fabrics which are wanted.
For my own part I could wish to see the time when no credit should be given. Attention and experience in the American trade would enable the French merchants, I apprehend, to accommodate our markets in other respects. Between this country and England many causes of irritation exist, and it is not impossible but that the ill policy of the British court may accelerate the removal of our trade into other channels. I am, &c.
TO HENRY KNOX.
Mount Vernon, 30 March, 1788.
My dear Sir,
Your favor of the 10th came duly to hand, and by Mr. Madison I had the pleasure to hear that you had recovered from a severe illness. On this event I sincerely congratulate you. The conduct of the State of New Hampshire has baffled all calculation, and has come extremely malapropos for a favorable decision on the proposed constitution in this State; for, be the real cause of the late adjournment what it may, the anti-federal party with us do not scruple to pronounce, that it was done to await the issue of this convention before it would decide, and add, that, if this State should reject it, all those who are to follow will do the same, and consequently that it cannot obtain, as there will be only eight States in favor of the measure.1
Had it not been for this untoward event, the opposition would have proved entirely unavailing in this State, notwithstanding the unfair (I might without much impropriety have made use of a harsher expression) conduct, which has been practised to rouse the fears and to inflame the minds of the people. What will be the result now, is not for me to say, as I have seen but a partial return of the delegates, and have little or no knowledge of the political sentiments of many of them. In the northern part of the State the current of sentiment, (I know,) is generally in favor of the new form. In the southern part, I am told, it is the reverse. Whilst in deciding the question, and here the idea of its becoming an impediment to its separation from this, operates thoroughly, whilst pains have not been wanting to inculcate a belief, that the general government proposed will, without scruple or delay, barter away their rights to navigation of the Mississippi.1
The postponement in New Hampshire will give strength and vigor to the opposition in New York, and possibly render Rhode Island more tardy than she would otherwise have been, if all the New England States had adopted the measure. Mrs. Washington joins in every good wish for Mrs Knox, yourself & family, &c. I am, &c.
TO CHARLES LEE.
Mount Vernon, 4 April, 1788.
I am very sorry I have not yet been able to discharge my account with the James River Company, for the amount of which you presented me with an order.
The almost total loss of my crop last year by the drought, which has obliged me to purchase upwards of eight hundred barrels of corn, and my other numerous and necessary demands for cash, when I find it impossible to obtain what is due to me by any means, have caused me more perplexity and given me more uneasiness than I ever experienced before from the want of money. In addition to the disappointments, which I have met with from those who are indebted to me, I have in my hands a number of indents and other public securities, which I have received from time to time as the interest of some Continental loan-office certificates, which are in my possession. As I am so little conversant in public securities of every kind, as not to know the use or value of them, and hardly the difference of one species from another, I have kept them by me from year to year without having an idea that they would depreciate, as they were drawn for interest, and never doubting but they would be received in payment of taxes at any time, till I have found by the revenue law of the last session, that only a particular description of them will pay the taxes of the year 1787. The others pay all arrearages of taxes, and I am informed are not worth more than two shillings and sixpence in the pound. The injustice of this measure is too obvious and too glaring to pass unobserved. It is taxing the honest man for his punctuality, and rewarding the tardy or dishonest with the sum of seventeen shillings and sixpence in every pound which is due from him for taxes. As you are now in Richmond I take the liberty of enclosing to you (in a letter from Mr. Pendleton) a certificate for a negro executed in the year 1781, amounting to £69, which I will thank you to negotiate for me there upon the best terms you can and pay the proceeds thereof in behalf of what is due from me to the James River Company.—The principal for the negro, and three years interest thereon (which is all that was allowed) amounted to £133, which was divided into two certificates, one receivable in the taxes now due, which I retain to discharge part of my taxes for the year 1787, and the other you have with this. Upon what principle of justice interest is allowed on the above certificates from the 1st of Jany, 1785 only my ideas are not sufficiently comprehensive to understand, and if it should fall in your way to inquire, should be glad to know; as also what will or is likely to be the final result of my holding the certificates, which have been given to me for interest of the money I lent the public in the day of its distress. I am well apprized, that these are negotiable things as above, and when a person is obliged to part with them, he must, as with other commodities at market, take what they will fetch; but the object of my inquiry is to know what the final end of them will be if retained in my chest. Strange indeed it seems, that the public officers should take in the original certificates, issued new by a scale of their own, reducing the money, as they say, to specie value, give warrants for interest accordingly, and then, behold! these specie warrants are worth two shillings and sixpence in the pound. To commit them to the flames, or suffer this, is a matter of indifference to me. There can be no justice, where there are such practices. You will pardon me for dwelling so long upon this subject. It is a matter, which does not concern me alone, but must affect many others. With great esteem and regard, I am, &c.
TO JAMES WILSON.
Mount Vernon, 4 April, 1788.
You will please to accept of my best thanks for the copy of the debates of your late convention,1 which you have been so polite as to send me. That, together with your favor of the 11th ultimo, was handed to me by Mr. Madison. The violent proceedings of the enemies of the proposed constitution in your State are to be regretted, as disturbing the peace of society; but in any other point of view they are not to be regarded, for their unimportance effectually precludes any fear of their having an extensive or lasting influence, and their activity holds up to view the general cast and character of them, which need only to be seen to be disregarded.
It is impossible to say, with any degree of certainty, what will be the determination of the convention in this State upon the proposed plan of government. I have no opportunity of gaining information respecting the matter, but what comes through the medium of the newspapers, or from those gentlemen who visit me, as I have hardly been ten miles from my farm since my return from Philadelphia. Some judgment may be formed when the members chosen by the several counties to serve in convention are known; as their sentiments will be decided, and their choice determined, by their attachment or opposition to the proposed system. A majority of those names I have yet seen are said to be friendly to the constitution; but these are from the northern parts of the State, from whence less opposition was to be expected. It is, however, certain, that there will be a greater weight of abilities opposed to it here than in any other State. I am, &c.
TO THOMAS JOHNSON.
Mount Vernon, 20 April, 1788.
As well from report, as from the ideas expressed to me in your letter in December last, I am led to conclude, that you are disposed, (circumstanced as our public affairs are at present,) to ratify the constitution, which has been submitted to the people by the federal convention; and, under this impression, I take the liberty of expressing a single sentiment on the occasion. It is, that an adjournment, if attempted, of your convention,1 to a later period than the decision of the question in this State, will be tantamount to the rejection of the constitution. I have good reasons for this opinion, and am told it is the blow which the leading characters of the opposition in the next State have meditated,2 if it shall be found that a direct attack is not likely to succeed in yours. If this be true it cannot be too much deprecated and guarded against. The postponement in New Hampshire, (although it made no reference to the convention of this State, but proceeded altogether from the local circumstances of its own,) is ascribed by the opposition here to complaisance towards Virginia, and great use is made of it. An event similar to this in Maryland would have the worst tendency imaginable; for indecision there would certainly have considerable influence upon South Carolina, the only other State, which is to precede Virginia, and submits the question almost wholly to the determination of the latter. The pride of the State is already touched upon this string, and will be raised much higher if there is fresh cause.
The sentiments of Kentucky are not yet known here. Independent of these, the parties in this State, from the known or presumed opinions of the members, are pretty equally balanced. The one in favor of the constitution preponderates at present; but a little matter, cast into the opposite scale, may make it heaviest.
If, in suggesting this matter, I have exceeded the proper limit, I shall yet hope to be excused. I have but one public wish remaining. It is, that in peace and retirement I may see this country rescued from the danger which is pending, and rise into respectability, maugre the intrigues of its public and private enemies.
I am, with very great esteem and regard, &c.1
TO THE MARQUIS DE CHASTELLUX.
Mount Vernon, 25 April, 1788.
My dear Marquis,
In reading your very friendly and acceptable letter, of 21st Decr., 1787, which came to hand by the last mail, I was, as you may well suppose, not less delighted than surprised to meet the plain American words, “my wife.” A wife! Well, my dear Marquis, I can hardly refrain from smiling to find you are caught at last. I saw, by the eulogium you often made on the happiness of domestic life in America, that you had swallowed the bait, and that you would as surely be taken, one day or another, as that you were a philosopher and a soldier. So your day has at length come. I am glad of it, with all my heart and soul. It is quite good enough for you. Now you are well served for coming to fight in favor of the American rebels, all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, by catching that terrible contagion—domestic felicity—which time, like the small pox or the plague, a man can have only once in his life: because it commonly lasts him (at least with us in America—I dont know how you manage these matters in France) for his whole life time. And yet after all the maledictions you so richly merit on the subject, the worst wish which I can find in my heart to make against Madame de Chastellux and yourself is, that you may neither of you ever get the better of this same—domestic felicity during the entire course of your mortal existence.
If so wonderful an event should have occasioned me, my dear Marquis, to have written in a strange style—you will understand me as clearly as if I had said (what in plain English, is the simple truth) do me the justice to believe that I take a heartfelt interest in whatever concerns your happiness. And in this view I sincerely congratulate you on your auspicious matrimonial connection. I am happy to find that Madame de Chastellux is so intimately connected with the Dutchess of Orleans, as I have always understood that this noble lady was an illustrious pattern of connubial love, as well as an excellent model of virtue in general.
While you have been making love, under the banner of Hymen, the great Personages in the North have been making war, under the inspiration, or rather under the infatuation of Mars. Now, for my part, I humbly conceive, you have had much the best and wisest of the bargain. For certainly it is more consonant to all the principles of reason and religion (natural and revealed) to replenish the earth with inhabitants, rather than to depopulate it by killing those already in existence, besides it is time for the age of knight-errantry and mad-heroism to be at an end. Your young military men, who want to reap the harvest of laurels, don’t care (I suppose) how many seeds of war are sown; but for the sake of humanity it is devoutly to be wished, that the manly employment of agriculture, and the humanizing benefits of commerce, would supersede the waste of war and the rage of conquest; and the swords might be turned into ploughshares, the spears into pruninghooks, and, as the Scripture expresses it, “the nations learn war no more.”
Now I will give you a little news from this side of the water, and then finish. As for us, we are plodding on in the dull road of peace and politics. We, who live in these ends of the earth, only hear of the rumors of war like the roar of distant thunder. It is to be hoped, that our remote local situation will prevent us from being swept into its vortex.
The constitution, which was proposed by the federal convention, has been adopted by the States of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Georgia. No State has rejected it. The convention of Maryland is now sitting, and will probably adopt it; as that of South Carolina is expected to do in May. The other conventions will assemble early in the summer. Hitherto there has been much greater unanimity in favor of the proposed government, than could have reasonably been expected. Should it be adopted, (and I think it will be,) America will lift up her head again, and in a few years become respectable among the nations. It is a flattering and consolatory reflection, that our rising republics have the good wishes of all the philosophers, patriots, and virtuous men in all nations; and that they look upon them as a kind of asylum for mankind. God grant that we may not disappoint their honest expectations by our folly or perverseness. * * *
With sentiments of the purest attachment and esteem, I have the honor to be, my dear Marquis, &c.
TO JOHN ARMSTRONG.
Mount Vernon, 25 April, 1788.
From some cause or other, which I do not know, your favor of the 20th of February did not reach me till very lately. This must apologize for its not being sooner acknowledged. Although Colonel Blaine forgot to call upon me for a letter before he left Philadelphia, yet I wrote a few lines to you previous to my departure from that place; whether they ever got to your hands, you best know.
I well remember the observation you made in your letter to me of last year, “that my domestic retirement must suffer an interruption.” This took place, notwithstanding it was utterly repugnant to my feelings, my interests, and my wishes. I sacrificed every private consideration, and personal enjoyment, to the earnest and pressing solicitations of those, who saw and knew the alarming situation of our public concerns, and had no other end in view but to promote the interests of their country; conceiving, that under those circumstances, and at so critical a moment, an absolute refusal to act might on my part be construed as a total disregard of my country, if imputed to no worse motives. Although you say the same motives induce you to think, that another tour of duty of this kind will fall to my lot, I cannot but hope, that you will be disappointed; for I am so wedded to a state of retirement, and find the occupations of a rural life so congenial with my feelings, that to be drawn into public at my advanced age would be a sacrifice, that would admit of no compensation.1
Your remarks on the impressions, which will be made on the manners and sentiments of the people by the example of those, who are first called to act under the proposed government, are very just; and I have no doubt but, if the proposed constitution obtains those persons who are chosen to administer it will have wisdom enough to discern the influence, which their example as rulers and legislators may have on the body of the people, and will have virtue enough to pursue that line of conduct, which will most conduce to the happiness of their country. As the first transactions of a nation, like those of an individual upon his first entrance into life, make the deepest impression, and are to form the leading traits in his character, they will undoubtedly pursue those measures, which will best tend to the restoration of public and private faith, and of consequence promote our national respectability and individual welfare.
That the proposed constitution will admit of amendments is acknowledged by its warmest advocates; but to make such amendments as may be proposed by the several States the condition of its adoption would, in my opinion, amount to a complete rejection of it; for, upon examination of the objections, which are made by the opponents in different States, and the amendments, which have been proposed, it will be found, that what would be a favorite object with one State, is the very thing which is strenuously opposed by another. The truth is, men are too apt to be swayed by local prejudices, and those, who are so fond of amendments, which have the particular interest of their own States in view, cannot extend their ideas to the general welfare of the Union. They do not consider, that, for every sacrifice which they make, they receive an ample compensation by the sacrifices, which are made by other States for their benefit; and that those very things, which they give up, operate to their advantage through the medium of the great interest.
In addition to these considerations it should be remembered, that a constitutional door is opened for such amendments, as shall be thought necessary by nine States. When I reflect upon these circumstances, I am surprised to find, that any person, who is acquainted with the critical state of our public affairs, and knows the variety of views, interests, feelings, and prejudices, which must be consulted in framing a general government for these States, and how little propositions in themselves so opposite to each other will tend to promote that desirable end, can wish to make amendments the ultimatum for adopting the offered system.
I am very glad to find, that the opposition in your State, however formidable it has been represented, is generally speaking composed of such characters, as cannot have an extensive influence. Their strength, as well as that of those in the same class in other States, seems to lie in misrepresentation, and a desire to inflame the passions and to alarm the fears by noisy declamation, rather than to convince the understanding by sound arguments or fair and impartial statements. Baffled in their attacks upon the constitution, they have attempted to vilify and debase the characters, who formed it; but even here I trust they will not succeed. Upon the whole, I doubt whether the opposition to the constitution will not ultimately be productive of more good than evil. It has called forth in its defence abilities which would not perhaps have been otherwise expected that have thrown new light upon the science of government. It has given the rights of man a full and fair discussion, and explained them in so clear and forcible a manner, as cannot fail to make a lasting impression upon those, who read the best publications on the subject, and particularly the pieces under the signature of Publius. There will be a greater weight of abilities opposed to the system in the convention of this State, than there has been in any other; but, notwithstanding the unwearied pains which have been taken, and the vigorous efforts which will be made in the convention to prevent its adoption, I have not the smallest doubt but it will obtain here.
I am sorry to hear, that the college in your neighborhood1 is in so declining a state as you represent it, and that it is likely to suffer a further injury by the loss of Dr. Nisbet, whom you are afraid you shall not be able to support in a proper manner, on account of the scarcity of cash, which prevents parents from sending their children thither. This is one of the numerous evils, which arise from the want of a general regulating power; for in a country like this, where equal liberty is enjoyed, where every man may reap his own harvest, which by proper attention will afford him much more than is necessary for his own consumption, and where there is so ample a field for every mercantile and mechanical exertion, if there cannot be money found to answer the common purposes of education, not to mention the necessary commercial circulation, it is evident that there is something amiss in the ruling political power, which requires a steady, regulating, and energetic hand to correct and control it. That money is not to be had, every man’s experience tells him, and the great fall in the price of property is an unequivocal and melancholy proof of it; when, if that property were well secured, faith and justice well preserved, a stable government well administered, and confidence restored, the tide of population and wealth would flow to us from every part of the globe, and, with a due sense of the blessings, make us the happiest people upon earth. With sentiments of very great esteem and regard, I am, my dear Sir, &c.
TO THE MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE.
Mount Vernon, 28 April, 1788.
* * * * * *
I notice with pleasure the additional immunities and facilities in trade, which France has granted by the late royal arret to the United States. I flatter myself it will have the desired effect in some measure of augmenting the commercial intercourse. From the productions and wants of the two countries, their trade with each other is certainly capable of great amelioration to be actuated by a spirit of unwise policy. For so surely as ever we shall have an efficient government established, so surely will that government impose retaliating restrictions, to a certain degree, upon the trade of Britain. At present, or under our existing form of confederation, it would be idle to think of making commercial regulations on our part. One State passes a prohibitory law respecting some article, another State opens wide the avenue for its admission. One Assembly makes a system, another Assembly unmakes it. Virginia, in the very last session of her legislature, was about to have passed some of the most extravagant and preposterous edicts on the subject of trade, that ever stained the leaves of a legislative code. It is in vain to hope for a remedy of these, and innumerable other evils, until a general government shall be adopted.
The conventions of six States only have as yet accepted the new constitution. No one has rejected it. It is believed that the convention of Maryland, which is now in session, and that of South Carolina, which is to assemble on the 12th of May, will certainly adopt it. It is also since the elections of members of the convention have taken place in this State, more generally believed, that it will be adopted here, than it was before those elections were made. There will, however, be powerful and eloquent speeches on both sides of the question in the Virginia convention; but as Pendleton, Wythe, Blair, Madison, Jones,1 Nicholas, Innes, and many other of our first characters, will be advocates for its adoption, you may suppose the weight of abilities will rest on that side. Henry and Mason are its great adversaries.2 The governor, if he approves it at all, will do it feebly.
On the general merits of this proposed constitution, I wrote to you some time ago my sentiments pretty freely. That letter had not been received by you, when you addressed to me the last of yours, which has come to my hands. I had never supposed that perfection could be the result of accommodation and mutual concession. The opinion of Mr. Jefferson and yourself is certainly a wise one, that the constitution ought by all means to be accepted by nine States before any attempt should be made to procure amendments; for, if that acceptance shall not previously take place, men’s minds will be so much agitated and soured, that the danger will be greater than ever of our becoming a disunited people. Whereas, on the other hand, with prudence in temper and a spirit of moderation, every essential alteration may in the process of time be expected.
You will doubtless have seen, that it was owing to this conciliatory and patriotic principle, that the convention of Massachusetts adopted the constitution in toto, but recommended a number of specific alterations, and quieting explanations as an early, serious, and unremitting subject of attention. Now, although it is not to be expected, that every individual in society will or can be brought to agree upon what is exactly the best form of government, yet there are many things in the constitution, which only need to be explained, in order to prove equally satisfactory to all parties. For example, there was not a member of the convention, I believe, who had the least objection to what is contended for by the advocates for a Bill of Rights and Trial by Jury. The first, where the people evidently retained every thing, which they did not in the express terms give up, was considered nugatory, as you will find to have been more fully explained by Mr. Wilson and others; and, as to the second, it was only the difficulty of establishing a mode, which should not interfere with the fixed modes of any of the States, that induced the convention to leave it as a matter of future adjustment.
There are other points in which opinions would be more likely to vary. As for instance, on the ineligibility of the same person for president, after he should have served a certain course of years. Guarded so effectually as the proposed constitution is, in respect to the prevention of bribery and undue influence in the choice of president, I confess I differ widely myself from Mr. Jefferson and you, as to the necessity or expediency of rotation in that appointment. The matter was fairly discussed in the convention, and to my full conviction, though I cannot have time or room to sum up the argument in this letter. There cannot in my judgment be the least danger, that the president will by any practicable intrigue ever be able to continue himself one moment in office, much less perpetuate himself in it, but in the last stage of corrupted morals and political depravity; and even then, there is as much danger that any other species of domination would prevail. Though, when a people shall have become incapable of governing themselves, and fit for a master, it is of little consequence from what quarter he comes. Under an extended view of this part of the subject, I can see no propriety in precluding ourselves from the services of any man, who on some great emergency shall be deemed universally most capable of serving the public.1
In answer to the observations you make on the probability of my election to the presidency, knowing me as you do, I need only say, that it has no enticing charms and no fascinating allurements for me. However, it might not be decent for me to say I would refuse to accept, or even to speak much about an appointment, which may never take place; for, in so doing, one might possibly incur the application of the moral resulting from that fable, in which the fox is represented as inveighing against the sourness of the grapes, because he could not reach them. All that it will be necessary to add, my dear Marquis, in order to show my decided predilections is, that, (at my time of life and under my circumstances,) the increasing infirmities of nature and the growing love of retirement do not permit me to entertain a wish beyond that of living and dying an honest man on my own farm. Let those follow the pursuits of ambition and fame, who have a keener relish for them, or who may have more years in store for the enjoyment.
Mrs. Washington, while she requests that her best compliments may be presented to you, joins with me in soliciting that the same friendly and affectionate memorial of our constant remembrance and good wishes may be made acceptable to Madame de Lafayette and the little ones. I am, &c.
P. S. May 1st. Since writing the foregoing letter, I have received authentic accounts that the Convention of Maryland has ratified the new Constitution by a majority of 63 to 11.1
TO THE COUNT DE ROCHAMBEAU.
Mount Vernon, 28 April, 1788.
My dear Count,
I have just received the letter, which you did me the honor to write to me on the 18th of January; and am sorry to learn, that the Count de Grasse, our gallant coadjutor in the capture of Cornwallis, is no more. Yet his death is not, perhaps, so much to be deplored as his latter days were to be pitied. It seemed as if an unfortunate and unrelenting destiny pursued him, to destroy the enjoyment of all earthly comfort. The disastrous battle of the 12th of April, the loss of the favor of his King, and the subsequent connexion in marriage with an unworthy woman, were sufficient to have made him weary of the burden of life. Your goodness in endeavoring to sweeten its passage was truly commendable, however it might have been marred by his own impetuosity. But his frailties should now be buried in the grave with him, while his name will be long deservedly dear to his country, on account of his successful coöperation in the glorious campaign of 1781. The Cincinnati in some of the States have gone into mourning for him.
Although your nation and England have avoided from prudential motives, going into a war, yet I fancy their affections have not been much increased by the affair in Holland. The feeling occasioned to France, by the interference of Prussia and Britain, may not pass away altogether without consequences. I wish indeed the affairs of France to be on a footing, which would enable her to be the arbiter of peace to the neighboring nations. The poor Dutch patriots seem, by some means or other, to have been left sadly in the lurch, and to be reduced to a most humiliating condition. And as if the two powers, who reinstated the Stadtholder, had not done enough to set the middle nations together by the ears, they have embroiled forsooth all the north of Europe by bringing the Turks into hostility with the two imperial courts. Should France join with the latter, or even should she continue neuter, I can scarcely conceive that the Ottoman, will be permitted to hold any of their possessions in Europe. The torch of hostility being once kindled, commonly spreads apace; but it is beyond my prescience to foretell how far this flame will extend itself, before it shall be entirely extinguished. * * *
TO BENJAMIN LINCOLN.
Mount Vernon, 2 May, 1788.
My dear Sir,
I have now to acknowledge the receipt of your favor of the 29th of March, which should have been done at an earlier period, had any thing transpired in these parts that was worth communicating.
I can now with pleasure inform you, that the State of Maryland adopted the proposed constitution last Monday by a very great majority. This you will undoubtedly have announced by the public papers before this letter reaches you; but that State will not receive the sole benefit of its adoption; it will have a very considerable influence upon the decision in Virginia, for it has been strongly insisted upon by the opponents in the lower and back counties in this State, that Maryland would reject it by a large majority. The result being found so directly opposite to this assertion will operate very powerfully upon the sentiments of many, who were before undecided, and will tend to fix them in favor of the constitution. It will, if I am not misinformed, have this effect upon many, who are chosen to the convention, and who have depended in a great measure upon the determination of Maryland to confirm their opinion. But exclusive of this influence the most accurate returns of the members of the convention, with their sentiments so far as they were known, annexed, gave a decided majority in favor of the constitution, and the prevailing opinion is, that it gains advocates daily. I never have, for my own part, once doubted of its adoption here; and, if I have at any time been wavering in my opinion, the present appearances and concurrent information would have completely fixed it.1
I am very sorry to find by your letter, that there is so much of the spirit of insurrection yet remaining in your State, and that it discovered itself so strongly in your Assembly; but I hope the influence of those gentlemen, who are friendly to the proposed constitution, and the conciliatory disposition, which was shown by many of the minority in your convention, will so far pervade the States as to prevent that factious spirit from gaining ground. * * * With sentiments of the highest esteem and regard, I am, &c.
TO GEORGE STEPTOE WASHINGTON.1
Mount Vernon, 5 May, 1788.
I yesterday received a letter from Mr. Hanson, informing me that you slept from home three nights successively, and one contrary to his express prohibition. Complaints of this nature are extremely painful to me, as it discovers a degree of impropriety in your conduct, which at your time of life, your good sense and discretion ought to point out to you, and lead you to avoid. Although there is nothing criminal in your having slept with a companion of good manners and reputation, as you say you have, yet your absenting yourself from your own lodgings under that pretence may be productive of irregularities and disagreeable consequences; and I now insist upon it in the most pointed terms, that you do not repeat it without the consent and approbation of Mr. Hanson.
One strong motive for my placing you in your present lodgings was, that you might, in your conduct out of school, be guided by Mr. Hanson’s advice and directions, as I confide very much in his discretion, and think that he would require nothing of you but what will conduce to your advantage; and, at the age to which you have now arrived, you must be capable of distinguishing between a proper and improper line of conduct, and be sensible of the advantages or disadvantages which will result to you through life from the one or the other.
Your future character and reputation will depend very much, if not entirely, upon the habits and manners, which you contract in the present period of your life. They will make an impression upon you, which can never be effaced. You should therefore be extremely cautious how you put yourself into the way of imbibing those customs, which may tend to corrupt your manners or vitiate your heart. I do not write to you in this style from knowing or suspecting that you are addicted to any vice, but only to guard you against pursuing a line of conduct, which may imperceptibly lead on to vicious courses. Mr. Hanson has done you and Lawrence justice in saying, that your behavior since you have been last with him has been unexceptionable except in this instance, and one more which he has not mentioned; and I hope this is the last complaint I shall ever hear, while you remain in your present situation at least, as it will prevent me from using means to regulate your behavior, which will be disagreeable to us both. I am your sincere friend and affectionate uncle.1
TO THE MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE.
Mount Vernon, 28 May, 1788.
My dear Marquis,
I have lately had the pleasure to receive the two letters by which you introduced to my acquaintance M. Du Pont and M. Vanderkemp and altho’ those gentlemen have not as yet been to visit me, you may be persuaded that whensoever I shall have the satisfaction of receiving them, it will be with all that attention to which their merits and your recommendations entitle them.
Notwithstanding you are acquainted with Mr. Barlow in person, and with his works by reputation, I thought I would just write you a line by him, in order to recommend him the more particularly to your civilities. Mr. Barlow is considered by those who are good Judges to be a genius of the first magnitude; and to be one of those Bards who hold the keys of the gate by which Patriots, Sages and Heroes are admitted to immortality. Such are your Antient Bards who are both the priest and door-keepers to the temple of fame. And these, my dear Marquis, are no vulgar functions. Men of real talents in Arms have commonly approved themselves patrons of the liberal arts and friends to the poets, of their own as well as former times. In some instances by acting reciprocally, heroes have made poets, and poets heroes. Alexander the Great is said to have been enraptured with the Poems of Homer, and to have lamented that he had not a rival muse to celebrate his actions. Julius Cæsar is well known to have been a man of a highly cultivated understanding and taste. Augustus was the professed and magnificent rewarder of poetical merit—nor did he lose the return of having his atcheivments immortalized in song. The Augustan Age is proverbial for intellectual refinement and elegance in composition; in it the harvest of laurels and bays was wonderfully mingled together. The age of your Louis the fourteenth, which produced a multitude of great Poets and great Captains, will never be forgotten; nor will that of Queen Ann in England, for the same cause, ever cease to reflect a lustre upon the kingdom. Although we are yet in our cradle, as a nation, I think the efforts of the human mind with us are sufficient to refute (by incontestable facts) the doctrines of those who have asserted that every thing degenerates in America. Perhaps we shall be found at this moment, not inferior to the rest of the world in the performances of our poets and painters; notwithstanding many of the incitements are wanting which operate powerfully among older nations. For it is generally understood, that excellence in those sister Arts has been the result of easy circumstances, public encouragements and an advanced stage of society. I observe that the Critics in England, who speak highly of the American poetical geniuses (and their praises may be the more relied upon as they seem to be reluctantly extorted,) are not pleased with the tribute of applause which is paid to your nation. It is a reason why they should be the more caressed by your nation. I hardly know how it is that I am drawn thus far in observations on a subject so foreign from those in which we are mostly engaged, farming and politics, unless because I had little news to tell you.
Since I had the pleasure of writing to you by the last Packet, the Convention of Maryland has ratified the federal Constitution by a majority of 63 to 11 voices. That makes the seventh State which has adopted it. Next Monday the Convention in Virginia will assemble—we have still good hopes of its adoption here, though by no great plurality of votes. South Carolina has probably decided favorably before this time. The plot thickens fast. A few short weeks will determine the political fate of America for the present generation, and probably produce no small influence on the happiness of society through a long succession of ages to come. Should every thing proceed with harmony and consent according to our actual wishes and expectations, I will confess to you sincerely, my dear Marquis, it will be so much beyond any thing we had a right to imagine or expect eighteen months ago, that it will demonstrate as visibly the finger of Providence, as any possible event in the course of human affairs can ever designate it. It is impracticable for you or any one who has not been on the spot, to realise the change in men’s minds and the progress towards rectitude in thinking and acting which will then have been made.
Adieu, my dear Marquis, I hope your affairs in France will subside into a prosperous train without coming to any violent crisis. Continue to cherish your affectionate feelings for this country and the same portion of friendship for me, which you are ever sure of holding in the heart of your most sincere, &c.
TO JAMES MADISON.
Mount Vernon, 8 June, 1788.
My Dear Sir,
I am much obliged by the few lines you wrote to me on the 4th; and though it is yet too soon to rejoice, one cannot avoid being pleased at the auspicious opening of the business of your convention.1 Though an ulterior opinion of the decision of this State on the constitution would, at any time previous to the discussion of it in the convention, have been premature, yet I have never yet despaired of its adoption here. What I have mostly apprehended is, that the insidious arts of its opposers to alarm the fears and inflame the passions of the multitude, may have produced instructions to the delegates, that would shut the door against argument, and be a bar to reason. If this is not the case, I have no doubt but that the good sense of this country will prevail against the local views of designing characters, and the arrogant opinions of chagrined and disappointed men.
The decision of Maryland and South Carolina by so large majorities, and the almost certain adoption of the proposed constitution by New Hampshire, will make all, except desperate men, look before they leap into the dark consequences of rejection. The ratification by eight States without a negative, by three of them unanimously, by six against one in another, by three to one in another, by two to one in two more, and by all the weight of abilities and property in the other, is enough, one would think, to produce a cessation of opposition. I do not mean, that this alone is sufficient to produce conviction in the mind, but I think it ought to produce some change in the conduct of any man, who distrusted his infallibility.
Although I have little doubt of your having received a copy of the enclosed pamphlet, I send it. It is written with much good sense and moderation. I conjecture, but upon no certain ground, that Mr. Jay is the author of it. He sent it to me some time ago, since which I have received two or three more copies.1
With sincere esteem and affectionate regard, I am ever yours.
TO JOHN JAY.
Mount Vernon, 8 June, 1788.
By the last mail I had the pleasure to receive your letter of the 29th of May, and have now the satisfaction to congratulate you on the adoption of the constitution by the convention of South Carolina. I am sorry to learn, there is a probability that the majority of members in the New York convention will be anti-federalists. Still I hope, that some event may turn up before they assemble, which may give a new complexion to the business. If this State should, in the intermediate time, make the ninth that shall have ratified the proposed government, it will, I flatter myself have its due weight. To show that this event is now more to be expected than heretofore, I will give you a few particulars, which I have from good authority, and which you might not perhaps immediately obtain through any public channel of conveyance.1
On the day appointed for the meeting of the convention, a large proportion of the members assembled, and unanimously placed Mr. Pendleton in the chair. Having on that and the subsequent day chosen the rest of their officers, and fixed upon the mode of conducting the business, it was moved by some one of those opposed to the constitution to debate the whole by paragraphs, without taking any question until the investigation should be completed. This was as unexpected as acceptable to the federalists, and their ready acquiescence seems to have somewhat startled the opposite party, for fear they had committed themselves.
Mr. Nicholas opened the business by very ably advocating the system of representation. Mr. Henry in answer went more vaguely into the discussion of the constitution, intimating that the federal convention had exceeded their powers, and that we had been and might be happy under the old confederation, with a few alterations. This called up Governor Randolph, who is reported to have spoken with great pathos in reply, and who declared, that, since so many of the States had adopted the proposed constitution, he considered the sense of America to be already taken, and that he should give his vote in favor of it without insisting previously upon amendments. Mr. Mason rose in opposition, and Mr. Madison reserved himself to obviate the objections of Mr. Henry and Colonel Mason the next day. Thus the matter rested when the last accounts came away.
Upon the whole, the following inferences seem to have been drawn; that Mr. Randolph’s declaration will have considerable effect with those, who had hitherto been wavering; that Mr. Henry and Colonel Mason took different and awkward ground, and by no means equalled the public expectation in their speeches; that the former has probably receded somewhat from his violent measures to coalesce with the latter, and that the leaders of the opposition appear rather chagrined, and hardly to be decided as to their mode of opposition.
The sanguine friends of the constitution counted upon a majority of twenty at their first meeting, which number they imagine will be greatly increased; while those equally strong in their wishes, but more temperate in their habits of thinking, speak less confidently of the greatness of the majority, and express apprehensions of the arts, that may yet be practised to excite alarms with the members from the western district (Kentucky). All, however, agree, that the beginning has been auspicious as could possibly have been expected. A few days will now ascertain us of the result. With sentiments of the highest esteem and regard, I am, &c.
TO WILLIAM SMITH, AND OTHERS, OF BALTIMORE.
Mount Vernon, 8 June, 1788.
Captain Barney has just arrived here in the miniature ship called The Federalist, and has done me the honor to offer that beautiful curiosity as a present to me on your part. I pray you, Gentlemen, to accept the warmest expressions of my sensibility for this specimen of American ingenuity, in which the exactitude of the proportions, the neatness of the workmanship, and the elegance of the decorations, which make your present fit to be preserved in a cabinet of curiosities, at the same time that they exhibit the skill and taste of the artists, demonstrate that Americans are not inferior to any people whatever in the use of mechanical instruments, and the art of ship-building.
The unanimity of the agricultural State of Maryland in general, as well as of the commercial town of Baltimore in particular, expressed in their recent decision on the subject of a general government, will not, (I persuade myself,) be without its due efficacy on the minds of their neighbors, who, in many instances, are intimately connected, not only by the nature of their produce, but by the ties of blood and the habits of life. Under these circumstances, I cannot entertain an idea, that the voice of the convention of this State, which is now in session, will be dissonant from that of her nearly allied sister, who is only separated by the Potomac.
You will permit me, Gentlemen, to indulge my feelings in reiterating the heart-felt wish, that the happiness of this country may equal the desires of its sincerest friends, and that the patriotic town, of which you are inhabitants, and in the prosperity of which I have always found myself strongly interested, may not only continue to increase in the same wonderful manner it has formerly done, but that its trade, manufactures, and other resources of wealth, may be placed permanently in a more flourishing situation than they have hitherto been. I am, with respect, &c.1
TO HENRY KNOX.
Mount Vernon, 17 June, 1788.
My dear Sir,
I received your letter of the 25th of May, just when I was on the eve of a departure for Fredericksburg to pay a visit to my mother, from whence I returned only last evening. The information of the accession of South Carolina to the new government since your letter, gives us a new subject of mutual felicitations. It was to be hoped that this auspicious event would have considerable influence upon the proceedings of the convention of Virginia, but I do not find that to have been the case. Affairs in the convention, for some time past, have not worn so good an aspect as we could have wished; and, indeed, the acceptance of the constitution has become more doubtful than it was thought to be at their first meeting.
The purport of the intelligence I received from my private letters by the last night’s mail is, that every species of address and artifice has been put in practice by the antifederalists to create jealousies and excite alarms. Much appears to depend upon the final part which the Kentucky members will take; into whose minds apprehensions of unreal dangers, respecting the navigation of the Mississippi, and their organization into a separate State, have been industriously infused.1 Each side seems to think at present, that it has a small majority. However it shall turn, it will be very inconsiderable. Though for my own part, I cannot but imagine, if any decision is had, it will be in favor of the adoption. My apprehension rather is, that a strenuous and successful effort may be made for an adjournment, under an idea of opening a correspondence with those who are opposed to the constitution in other States. Colonel Oswald has been at Richmond, it is said, with letters from the antifederalists in New York and Pennsylvania to their coadjutors in this State.
The resolution, which came from the antifederalists, much to the astonishment of the other party, that no question should be taken until the whole plan should have been discussed paragraph by paragraph, and the remarkable tardiness in their proceedings (for the convention has been able as yet only to get through the second or third section), are thought by some to have been designed to protract business until the time when the Assembly is to convene, that is the 23d instant, in order to have a more colorable pretext for an adjournment. But, notwithstanding the resolution, there has been much desultory debating, and the opposers of the constitution are reported to have gone generally into the merits of the question. I know not how the matter may be, but a few days will now determine.
I am sorry to find, not only from your intimations, but also from many of the returns in the late papers, that there should be so great a majority against the constitution in the convention of New York; and yet I can hardly conceive, from motives of policy and prudence, they will reject it absolutely, if either this State or New Hampshire should make the ninth in adopting it; as that measure, which gives efficacy to the system, must place any State that shall actually have refused its assent to the new Union in a very awkward and disagreeable predicament.
By a letter I have just received from a young gentleman who lives with me, but who is now at home in New Hampshire,1 I am advised that there is every prospect that the constitution will be adopted in that State almost immediately upon the meeting of the convention. I cannot but hope, then, that the States, which may be disposed to make a secession, will think often and seriously on the consequences. Colo. Humphreys who is still here occupied with literary pursuits, desires to be remembered in terms of the sincerest friendship to you and yours.
Mrs. Washington and the family offer with me their best compliments to Mrs. Knox and the little ones.
I am, &c.
TO THE MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE.
Mount Vernon, 18 June, 1788.
My dear Marquis,
I like not much the situation of affairs in France. The bold demands of the parliaments, and the decisive tone of the King, show that but little more irritation would be necessary to blow up the spark of discontent into a flame, that might not easily be quenched. If I were to advise, I should say that great moderation should be used on both sides. Let it not, my dear Marquis, be considered as a derogation from the good opinion, that I entertain of your prudence, when I caution you, as an individual desirous of signalizing yourself in the cause of your country and freedom, against running into extremes and prejudicing your cause. The King, though, I think from every thing I have been able to learn, he is really a good-hearted though a warm-spirited man, if thwarted injudiciously in the execution of prerogatives that belonged to the crown, and in plans which he conceives calculated to promote the national good, may disclose qualities he has been little thought to possess. On the other hand, such a spirit seems to be awakened in the kingdom, as, if managed with extreme prudence, may produce a gradual and tacit revolution much in favor of the subjects, by abolishing lettres de cachet, and defining more accurately the powers of government. It is a wonder to me, there should be found a single monarch, who does not realize that his own glory and felicity must depend on the prosperity and happiness of his people. How easy is it for a sovereign to do that, which shall not only immortalize his name, but attract the blessings of millions.
In a letter I wrote you a few days ago by Mr. Barlow, but which might not possibly have reached New York until after his departure, I mentioned the accession of Maryland to the proposed government, and gave you the state of politics to that period. Since which the convention of South Carolina has ratified the constitution by a great majority. That of this State has been sitting almost three weeks; and, so nicely does it appear to be balanced, that each side asserts that it has a preponderancy of votes in its favor. It is probable, therefore, the majority will be small, let it fall on whichever part it may. I am inclined to believe it will be in favor of the adoption. The conventions of New York and New Hampshire both assemble this week. A large proportion of members, with the governor at their head, in the former, are said to be opposed to the government in contemplation. New Hampshire, it is thought, will adopt it without much hesitation or delay. It is a little strange, that the men of large property in the south should be more afraid that the constitution will produce an aristocracy or a monarchy, than the genuine democratical people of the east. Such are our actual prospects. The accession of one State more will complete the number, which, by the constitutional provision, will be sufficient in the first instance to carry the government into effect.
And then, I expect, that many blessings will be attributed to our new government, which are now taking their rise from that industry and frugality, into the practice of which the people have been forced from necessity. I really believe, that there never was so much labor and economy to be found before in the country as at the present moment. If they persist in the habits they are acquiring, the good effects will soon be distinguishable. When the people shall find themselves secure under an energetic government, when foreign nations shall be disposed to give us equal advantages in commerce from dread of retaliation, when the burdens of war shall be in a manner done away by the sale of western lands, when the seeds of happiness which are sown here shall begin to expand themselves, and when every one, (under his own vine and fig-tree,) shall begin to taste the fruits of freedom, then all these blessings (for all these blessings will come) will be referred to the fostering influence of the new government. Whereas many causes will have conspired to produce them. You see I am not less enthusiastic than I ever have been, if a belief that peculiar scenes of felicity are reserved for this country is to be denominated enthusiasm. Indeed, I do not believe, that Providence has done so much for nothing. It has always been my creed, that we should not be left as an awful monument to prove, “that mankind, under the most favorable circumstances for civil liberty and happiness, are unequal to the task of governing themselves, and therefore made for a master.”
We have had a backward spring and summer, with more rain and cloudy weather than almost ever has been known; still the appearance of crops in some parts of the country is favorable, as we may generally expect will be the case, from the difference of soil and variety of climate in so extensive a region; insomuch that I hope, some day or another, we shall become a storehouse and granary for the world. In addition to our former channels of trade, salted provisions, butter, and cheese are exported with profit from the eastern States to the East Indies. In consequence of a contract, large quantities of flour are lately sent from Baltimore for supplying the garrison of Gibraltar. I am, &c.
TO RICHARD HENDERSON.1
Mount Vernon, 19 June, 1788.
Your favor of the 5th instant was lodged at my house while I was absent on a visit to my mother. I am now taking the earliest opportunity of noticing its contents, and those of its enclosure. Willing as I am to give satisfaction, so far as I am able, to every reasonable inquiry, (and this is certainly not only so, but may be highly important and interesting,) I must however rather deal in general than particular observations; as I think you will be able, from the length of your residence in the country, and the extensiveness of your acquaintance with its affairs, to make the necessary applications, and add the proper details. Nor would I choose that my interference in the business should be transmitted, lest, in a malicious world, it might be represented that I was officiously using the arts of seduction to depopulate other countries for the sake of peopling our own.
In the first place it is a point conceded, that America, under an efficient government, will be the most favorable country of any in the world for persons of industry and frugality possessed of a moderate capital to inhabit. It is also believed, that it will not be less advantageous to the happiness of the lowest class of people, because of the equal distribution of property, the great plenty of unoccupied lands, and the facility of procuring the means of subsistence. The scheme of purchasing a good tract of freehold estate, and bringing out a number of able-bodied men, indented for a certain time, appears to be indisputably a rational one.
All the interior arrangements of transferring the property and commencing the establishment, you are as well acquainted with as I can possibly be. It might be considered as a point of more difficulty to decide upon the place, which should be most proper for a settlement. Although I believe that emigrants from other countries to this, who shall be well-disposed, and conduct themselves properly, would be treated with equal friendship and kindness in all parts of it; yet, in the old settled States, land is so much occupied, and the value so much enhanced by the contiguous cultivation, that the price would, in general, be an objection. The land in [the] western country, or that on the Ohio, like all others, has its advantages and disadvantages. The neighborhood of the savages, and the difficulty of transportation, were the great objections. The danger of the first will soon cease by the strong establishments now taking place; the inconveniences of the second will be, in a great degree, remedied by opening the internal navigation. No colony in America was ever settled under such favorable auspices, as that which has just commenced at the Muskingum. Information, property, and strength, will be its characteristics. I know many of the settlers personally, and that there never were men better calculated to promote the welfare of such a community.
If I was a young man, just preparing to begin the world, or if advanced in life, and had a family to make a provision for, I know of no country where I should rather fix my habitation than in some part of that region, for which the writer of the queries seems to have a predilection. He might be informed that his namesake and distant relation, General St. Clair, is not only in high repute, but that he is governor of all the territory westward of the Ohio, and that there is a gentleman (to wit, Mr. Joel Barlow) gone from New York by the last French packet, who will be in London in the course of this year, and who is authorized to dispose of a very large body of land in that country. The author of the queries may then be referred to the “Information for those who would wish to remove to America,” and published in Europe in the year 1784, by the great philosopher Dr. Franklin. Short as it is, it contains almost every thing, that needs to be known on the subject of migrating to this country. You may find that excellent little treatise in “Carey’s American Museum,” for September, 1787. It is worthy of being republished in Scotland, and every other part of Europe.
As to the European publications respecting the United States, they are commonly very defective. The Abbé Raynal is quite erroneous. Guthrie, though somewhat better informed, is not absolutely correct. There is now an American Geography preparing for the press by a Mr. Morse of New Haven in Connecticut, which, from the pains the author has taken in travelling through the States, and acquiring information from the principal characters in each, will probably be much more exact and useful. Of books at present existing, Mr. Jefferson’s “Notes on Virginia” will give the best idea of this part of the continent to a foreigner; and the “American Farmer’s Letters,” written by Mr. Crevecœur (commonly called Mr. St. John), the French consul in New York, who actually resided twenty years as a farmer in that State, will afford a great deal of profitable and amusive information, respecting the private life of the Americans, as well as the progress of agriculture, manufactures, and arts, in their country. Perhaps the picture he gives, though founded on fact, is in some instances embellished with rather too flattering circumstances. I am, &c.
TO CHARLES CARTER.
Mount Vernon, 28 June, 1788.
When Mrs. Washington was at the Church in Fredericksburg she perceived the Tomb of her Father, the late John Dandridge, Esqr., to be much out of Sorts and being desirous to have it done up again, will you permit me to request the favor of you to engage a workman to do this, the cost of which I will remit as soon as you shall signify to me that the work is accomplished, and inform me of its amount. I would thank you, my dear Sir, for the ascertainment of this before hand. I have (not inclining to dispute Accounts) felt, in too many instances, the expansion of Tradesmen’s consciences when no previous agreement has been made, ever to put it in their power to charge what they please in future. My best wishes, in which Mrs. Washington joins me, are tendered to Mrs. Carter. With much truth.
TO CHARLES COTESWORTH PINCKNEY.
Mount Vernon, 28 June, 1788.
I had the pleasure to receive, a day or two ago, your obliging letter of the 24th of last month, in which you advise me of the ratification of the federal constitution by South Carolina. By a more rapid water conveyance, that good news had some few days before arrived at Baltimore, so as to have been very opportunely communicated to the convention of this State in session at Richmond. It is with great satisfaction I have it now in my power to inform you, that, on the 25th instant, the delegates of Virginia adopted the constitution in toto, by a division of eighty-nine in favor of it, to seventy-nine against it; and that, notwithstanding the majority is so small, yet, in consequence of some conciliatory conduct and recommendatory amendments, a happy acquiescence, it is said, is likely to terminate the business here in as favorable a manner as could possibly have been expected.
No sooner had the citizens of Alexandria, (who are federal to a man,) received the intelligence by the mail last night, than they determined to devote this day to festivity. But their exhilaration was greatly increased, and a much keener zest given to their enjoyment, by the arrival of an express, two hours before day, with the news that the convention of New Hampshire had, on the 21st instant, acceded to the new confederacy by a majority of eleven voices, that is to say, fifty-seven to forty-six.
Thus the citizens of Alexandria, when convened, constituted the first public company in America, which had the pleasure of pouring [a] libation to the prosperity of the ten States, that had actually adopted the general government. The day itself is memorable for more reasons than one. It was recollected, that this day is the anniversary of the battles of Sullivan’s Island and Monmouth. I have just returned from assisting at the entertainment, and mention these details, unimportant as they are in themselves, the rather because I think we may rationally indulge the pleasing hope, that the Union will now be established upon a durable basis, and that Providence seems still disposed to favor the members of it with unequalled opportunities for political happiness.
From the local situation, as well as the other circumstances of North Carolina, I should be truly astonished if that State should withdraw itself from the Union. On the contrary, I flatter myself with a confident expectation, that more salutary counsels will certainly prevail. At present there is more doubt how the question will be immediately disposed of in New York; for it seems to be understood, that there is a majority in the convention opposed to the adoption of the new federal system. Yet it is hardly to be supposed, (or rather in my judgment it is irrational to suppose,) they will reject a government, which, from an unorganized embryo ready to be stifled with a breath, has now in the maturity of its birth assumed a confirmed bodily existence. Or, to drop the metaphor, the point in debate has at least shifted its ground from policy to expediency. The decision of ten States cannot be without its operation. Perhaps the wisest way in this crisis will be not to attempt to accept or reject, but to adjourn until the people in some parts of the State can consider the magnitude of the question, and of the consequences involved in it, more coolly and deliberately. After New York shall have acted, then only one little State will remain. Suffice it to say, it is universally believed, that the scales are ready to drop from the eyes, and the infatuation to be removed from the heart, of Rhode Island. May this be the case before that inconsiderate people shall have filled up the measure of iniquity, before it shall be too late.
Mrs. Washington and all with us desire their best compliments may be presented to Mrs. Pinckney and yourself. Wishing that mine may also be made acceptable to you both, I am, &c.
TO BENJAMIN LINCOLN.
Mount Vernon, 29 June, 1788.
My dear Sir,
I beg you will accept my thanks for the communications handed to me in your letter of the 3d instant, and my congratulations on the increasing good dispositions of the citizens of your State, of which the late elections are strongly indicative. No one can rejoice more than I do at every step the people of this great country take to preserve the Union, to establish good order and government, and to render the nation happy at home and respectable abroad. No country upon earth ever had it more in its power to attain these blessings than United America. Wondrously strange, then, and much to be regretted indeed would it be, were we to neglect the means, and to depart from the road, which Providence has pointed us to so plainly. I cannot believe it will ever come to pass. The great Governor of the universe has led us too long and too far on the road to happiness and glory, to forsake us in the midst of it. By folly and improper conduct, proceeding from a variety of causes, we may now and then get bewildered; but I hope and trust, that there is good sense and virtue enough left to recover the right path before we shall be entirely lost.
You will, before this letter can have reached you, have heard of the ratification of the new government by this State. The final question without previous amendments was taken the 25th. Ayes, 89. Noes, 79—but something recommendatory or declaratory of the rights, the ultimate decision. This account and the news of the adoption by New Hampshire arrived in Alexandria nearly about the same time on Friday evening, and as you will suppose was cause for great rejoicing among the inhabitants, who have not I believe an antifederalist among them. Our accounts from Richmond are, that the debates, through all the different stages of the business, though animated, have been conducted with great dignity and temper; that the final decision exhibited an awful and solemn scene; and that there is every reason to expect a perfect acquiescence therein by the minority. Not only the declaration of Mr. Henry, the great leader of it, who has signified, that, though he can never be reconciled to the constitution in its present form, and shall give it every constitutional opposition in his power, yet that he will submit to it peaceably, as he thinks every good citizen ought to do when it is in exercise, and that he will, both by precept and example, inculcate this doctrine to all around him.
There is little doubt entertained here now of the ratification of the proposed constitution by North Carolina; and, however great the opposition to it may be in New York, the leaders thereof will, I should conceive, consider well the consequences before they reject it. With respect to Rhode Island, the power that governs there has so far baffled all calculation on this question, that no man would choose to hazard an opinion, lest he might be suspected of participating in its phrensy.1 You have every good wish of this family, and the sincere regard of your affectionate, &c.
TO JOHN JAY.
Mount Vernon, 18 July, 1788.
A few days ago I had the pleasure to receive your letter from Poughkeepsie; since which I have not obtained any authentic advices of the proceedings of your convention. The clue you gave me to penetrate into the principles and wishes of the four classes of men among you, who are opposed to the constitution, has opened a large field for reflection and conjecture. The accession of ten States must operate forcibly with all the opposition, except the class which is comprehended in your last description.1 Before this time you will probably have come to some decision. While we are waiting the result with the greatest anxiety, our printers are not so fortunate as to obtain any papers from the eastward. Mine, which have generally been more regular, have however frequently been interrupted for some time past.
It is extremely to be lamented, that a new arrangement in the post-office, unfavorable to the circulation of intelligence, should have taken place at the instant when the momentous question of a general government was to come before the people. I have seen no good apology, not even in Mr. Hazard’s publication, for deviating from the old custom of permitting printers to exchange their papers by the mail. That practice was a great public convenience and gratification. If the privilege was not from convention an original right, it had from prescription strong pretensions for continuance, especially at so interesting a period. The interruption in that mode of conveyance has not only given great concern to the friends of the constitution, who wished the public to be possessed of every thing, that might be printed on both sides of the question, but it has afforded its enemies very plausible pretexts for dealing out their scandals, and exciting jealousies by inducing a belief, that the suppression of intelligence, at that critical juncture, was a wicked trick of policy, contrived by an aristocratic junto. Now, if the postmaster-general, with whose character I am unacquainted, and therefore would not be understood to form an unfavorable opinion of his motives, has any candid advisers, who conceive that he merits the public employment, they ought to counsel him to wipe away the aspersion he has incautiously brought upon a good cause. If he is unworthy of the office he holds, it would be well that the ground of a complaint, apparently so general, should be inquired into, and, if founded, redressed through the medium of a better appointment.
It is a matter in my judgment of primary importance, that the public mind should be relieved from inquietude on this subject. I know it is said, that the irregularity or defect has happened accidentally, in consequence of the contract for transporting the mail on horseback, instead of having it carried in the stages; but I must confess I could never account, upon any satisfactory principles, for the inveterate enmity with which the postmaster-general is asserted to be actuated against that valuable institution. It has often been understood by wise politicians and enlightened patriots, that giving a facility to the means of travelling for strangers, and of intercourse for citizens, was an object of legislative concern, and a circumstance highly beneficial to any country. In England, I am told, they consider the mail-coaches as a great modern improvement in their post-office regulations. I trust we are not too old, or too proud, to profit by the experience of others. In this article the materials are amply within our reach. I am taught to imagine, that the horses, the vehicles, and the accommodations in America, with very little encouragement, might in a short period become as good as the same articles are to be found in any country of Europe. And at the same time I am sorry to learn, that the line of stages is at present interrupted in some parts of New England, and totally discontinued at the southward.
I mention these suggestions only as my particular thoughts on an establishment, which I had conceived to be of great importance. Your proximity to the person in question, and connexion with the characters in power, will enable you to decide better than I can on the validity of the allegations, and in that case to weigh the expediency of dropping such hints as may serve to give satisfaction to the public. With sentiments of the highest consideration and regard, I am, &c.
P. S.—Since writing the foregoing I have been favored with your letter which was begun on the 4th and continued till the 8th and thank you for the information therein contained. Your next will I hope announce the ratification by your State, without previous amendments.
TO NOAH WEBSTER.
Mount Vernon, 31 July, 1788.
I duly received your letter of the 14th of July, and can only answer you briefly, and generally from memory; that a combined operation of the land and naval forces of France and America, for the year 1781, was preconcerted the year before: that the point at attack was not absolutely agreed upon, because it would be easy for the Count de Grasse in good time before his departure from the West Indies to give notice by express at what place he could most conveniently first touch to receive advices, because it could not be foreknown where the enemy would be most susceptible of impression, and because we, (having the command of the water, and with sufficient means of conveyance,) could transport ourselves to any spot with the greatest celerity: that it was determined by me, (nearly twelve months beforehand,) at all hazards to give out and cause it to be believed by the highest military as well as civil officers, that New York was the destined place of attack, for the important purpose of inducing the eastern & middle States to make greater exertions in furnishing specific supplies than they otherwise would have done, as well as for the interesting purpose of rendering the enemy less prepared elsewhere: that these means, and these alone, artillery, boats, stores, and provisions were in seasonable preparation to move with the utmost rapidity to any part of the continent; for the difficulty consisted more in providing, than knowing how to apply, the military apparatus: that before the arrival of the Count de Grasse, it was the fixed determination to strike the enemy in the most vulnerable quarter so as to ensure success with moral certainty, as our affairs were then in the most ruinous train imaginable: that New York was thought to be beyond our effort, and consequently the only hesitation that remained was between an attack upon the British army in Virginia or that in Charleston: and, finally, that (by the intervention of several communications,) and some incidents which cannot be detailed in a letter, and which were altogether unknown to the late quartermaster-general of the army, who was informed of nothing but what related to the immediate duties of his own department,) the hostile post in Virginia, from being a provisional and strongly expected, became the definitive and certain object of the campaign. I only add, that it never was in contemplation to attack New York, unless the garrison should first have been so far disgarnished to carry on the southern operations, as to render our success in the siege of that place as infallible as any future military event can ever be made. For, I repeat it, and dwell upon it again and again, some splendid advantage (whether upon a larger or smaller scale was almost immaterial) was so essentially necessary to revive the expiring hopes and languid exertions of the country, at the crisis in question, that I never would have consented to embark in any enterprise, wherein, from the most rational plan and accurate calculations, the favorable issue should not have appeared as clear to my view as a ray of light. The failure of an attempt against the posts of the enemy could, in no other possible situation during the war, have been so fatal to our cause.
That much trouble was taken and finesse used to misguide and bewilder Sir Henry Clinton in regard to the real object, by fictitious communications as well as by making a deceptive provision of ovens, forage, and boats in his neighborhood, is certain. Nor were less pains taken to deceive our own army; for I had always conceived, when the imposition did not completely take place at home, it could never sufficiently succeed abroad.
Your desire of obtaining truth is very laudable. I wish I had more leisure to gratify it, as I am equally solicitous the undisguised verity should be known. Many circumstances will unavoidably be misconceived and misrepresented. Notwithstanding most of the papers, which may properly be deemed official, are preserved, yet the knowledge of innumerable things of a more delicate and secret nature is confined to the perishable remembrance of some few of the present generation. I am, with sentiments of esteem and regard, Sir, &c.
TO JAMES MADISON, IN CONGRESS.
Mount Vernon, 3 August, 1788.
My dear Sir,
Your favors of the 21st and 27th of last month came duly to hand. The latter contained the pleasing, and I may add (though I could not reconcile it to any ideas I entertained of common policy) unexpected account of the unconditional ratification of the constitution by the State of New York. That North Carolina will hesitate long in its choice, I can scarcely believe; but what Rhode Island will do is more difficult to say, though not worth a conjecture, as the conduct of the majority there has hitherto baffled all calculation.
The place proper for the new Congress to meet at will unquestionably undergo, if it has not already done it, much investigation; but there are certain things, which are so self-evident in their nature, as to speak for themselves. This possibly may be one. Where the true point lies I will not undertake to decide; but there can be no hesitation, I think, in pronouncing that in all societies, if the band or cement is strong and interesting enough to hold the body together, the several parts should submit to the inconveniences, for the benefits which they derive from the conveniences of the compact.1
We have nothing in these parts worth communicating. Towards New York we look for whatever is interesting till the States begin to act under the new form, which will be an important epoch in the annals of this country. With sentiments of sincere friendship and affection, I am yours, &c.
TO GEORGE STEPTOE WASHINGTON.
Mount Vernon, 6 August, 1788.
It was with equal pain and surprise, that I was informed by Colonel Hanson on Monday last of your unjustifiable behavior in rescuing your brother from that chastisement, which was due to his improper conduct; and which you know, because you have been told it in explicit language, he was authorized to administer whensoever he should deserve it. Such refractory behavior on your part I consider as an insult equally offered to myself, after the above communications; and I shall continue to view it in that light, till you have made satisfactory acknowledgments to Colonel Hanson for the offence given him.
It is as much my wish and intention to see justice done to you and your brother, as it is to punish either when it is merited; but there are proper modes by which this is to be obtained, and it is to be sought by a fair and candid representation of facts which can be supported, and not by vague complaints, disobedience, perverseness, or disobliging conduct, which make enemies without producing the smallest good. So often and strenuously have I endeavored to inculcate this advice, and to show you the advantages, which are to be expected from close application to your studies, that it is unnecessary to repeat it. If the admonitions of friendship are lost, other methods must be tried, which cannot be more disagreeable to you, than it would be to one, who wishes to avoid it, who is solicitous to see you and your brother (the only remaining sons of your father) turn out well, and who is very desirous of continuing your affectionate uncle.1
TO CHARLES PETTIT.
Mount Vernon, 16 August, 1788.
I have to acknowledge with much sensibility the receipt of your letter, dated the 5th instant, in which you offer your congratulations on the prospect of an established government, whose principles seem calculated to secure the benefits of society to the citizens of the United States, and in which you also give a more accurate state of federal politics in Pennsylvania than I had before received. It affords me unfeigned satisfaction to find, that the acrimony of parties is much abated.
Doubtless there are defects in the proposed system, which may be remedied in a constitutional mode. I am truly pleased to learn, that those, who have been considered as its most violent opposers, will not only acquiesce peaceably, but coöperate in its organization, and content themselves with asking amendments in the manner prescribed by the constitution. The great danger in my view was, that every thing might be thrown into the last stage of confusion before any government whatsoever could be established, and that we should suffer a political shipwreck without the aid of one friendly star to guide us into port. Every real patriot must have lamented, that private feuds and local politics should have unhappily insinuated themselves into, and in some measure obstructed, the discussion of a great national question. A just opinion, that the people when rightly informed will decide in a proper manner, ought certainly to have prevented all intemperate or precipitate proceedings on a subject of so much magnitude; nor should a regard to common decency have suffered the zealots in the minority to stigmatize the authors of the constitution as conspirators and traitors. However unfavorably individuals, blinded by passion and prejudice, might have thought of the characters who composed the convention, the election of those characters by the legislatures of the several States, and the reference of their proceedings to the free determination of their constituents, did not carry the appearance of a private combination to destroy the liberties of their country. Nor did the outrageous disposition, which some indulged in traducing and vilifying the members, seem much calculated to produce concord or accommodation.
For myself, I expected not to be exempted from obloquy any more than others. It is the lot of humanity. But if the shafts of malice had been aimed at me in ever so pointed a manner on this occasion, shielded as I was by a consciousness of having acted in conformity to what I believed my duty, they would have fallen blunted from their mark. It is known to some of my countrymen, and can be demonstrated to the conviction of all, that I was in a manner constrained to attend the general convention, in compliance with the earnest and pressing desires of many of the most respectable characters in different parts of the continent.
At my age, and in my circumstances, what sinister object or personal emolument had I to seek after in this life? The growing infirmities of age, and the increasing love of retirement, daily confirm my decided predilection for domestic life; and the great Searcher of human hearts is my witness, that I have no wish, which aspires beyond the humble and happy lot of living and dying a private citizen on my own farm.
Your candor and patriotism in endeavoring to moderate the jealousies and remove the prejudices, which a particular class of citizens had conceived against the new government, are certainly very commendable, and must be viewed as such by all true friends to their country. In this description I shall fondly hope I have a right to comprehend myself; and shall conclude by professing a grateful sense of your favorable opinion for me. I am, &c.
TO JOHN BEALE BORDLEY.
Mount Vernon, 17 August, 1788.
* * * * * *
No wheat that has ever yet fallen under my observation exceeds the wheat which some years ago I cultivated extensively but which, from inattention during my absence of almost nine years from home, has got so mixed or degenerated as scarcely to retain any of its original characteristics properly. But if the march of the Hessian fly, southerly, cannot be arrested, and Colo. Morgan’s experiments are corroborated by others of equal skill and attention, it must yield to the palm the yellow bearded wheat, which, alone, it is said, is able to resist the depredations of that destructive insect. This makes your present of it to me more valuable. I shall cultivate it with care.
The Cape wheat I have cultivated three years successively—The frost of the last year almost destroyed it.—In neither, did it produce a full grain, though a large one.—I have just harvested a little of two kinds of wheat sent me by Arthur Young, Esqr., of England, one of which he says is called the Harrison wheat, and is in high estimation in that country; the other is a large white wheat, to which I do not recollect he has given any name.—The seed being injured in its passage, came up badly and with difficulty any of it was preserved from weads, &c.—No conclusive opinion therefore can be formed of either from the trial of this year, but if there is any thing which indicates a superior quality in it next, I will reserve some of the seed for you.
That the system (if it deserves the appelation of one) of corn, wheat, hay, has been injurious, and if continued would prove ruinous, to our Lands, I believe no person who has attended to the ravages which have been produced by it in our fields is at a loss to decide; but with deference let me ask if the substitute you propose is the best that can be devised? Wheat follows Corn: here are not only two Corn Crops, but those of the most exhausting nature following each other without the intervention of a restorative, when by the approved courses now practiced in England Grain and (what are called) fallow Crops, succeed each other alternately. Though I am not strongly attached to a particular course (being open to conviction) yet that which has obtained most in my mind, and which I have been endeavoring (for it is not easy to go fully into any system which produces a material change at once), is the following, which for the more perfect understanding of it shall have dates to their respective growths of the Crops. By the usual mode it is scarcely necessary to observe we have three fields—viz—one in Corn, one in wheat, and one in hay.—By my plan, these three fields are divided into Six.—For instance one of them, say No. 1, is planted with Corn 8 feet by 2—single stalks; with Irish Potatoes, or Carrots, or partly both, between that Corn planted in this manner, will yield as much to the Acre as in any other; that the quantity of Potatoes is at least quadruple the quantity of Corn, and that Potatoes do not exhaust the Land, are facts well established in my mind.—In April 1789 it is sown with Buck wheat (for manure) which is plowed in before harvest, when the seed begins to ripen, and there is enough to seed the ground a second time. In July it is again plowed in which gives two dressings to the Land at the expence only of a bushel of B. W: and the plowings which would otherwise be essential for a summer fallow.—In August, after the putrefaction and fermentation is over, wheat is sown, and in 1790 harvested.—In 1791—The best—and earliest kind of Indian Pease are sown in broad cast, to be mown when generally Ripe. Since the adoption of this course, and the progress that has been made to carry it into effect, I have had too much cause to be convinced, that, Pease, harvested in this manner is a considerable exhaustion of the soil—I have some thoughts therefore of substituting a medley—of Pease, Buck wheat for seed, Turnips, Pom-kins, &c., in such parts of the field as will be useful on the farm, and all of them preparatives of the ensuing Crop. In 1792 Spring Barley or Oats; or equal quantities of each will follow with Clover—The latter to be fed with light Stock after harvest.—In 1793 the Field remains in Clover for Hay or grazing according to circumstances. In 1794 it comes again into Corn and goes on as before.
It may be remarked here as an objection to this System—that wheat, in the best farming Counties in England, follows the Clover hay—is sown on a single plowing—and has been found profitable from practice.—My reasons for departing from that mode are—1st our plowing is not equal to theirs, of course the Clover is not so well buried, nor the ensuing (wheat) Crop so free from grass as theirs; and 2dly, if we sow wheat, at an early and proper period, we loose a valuable part of the clover Crop—whereas the ground for Corn need not be broken till the season for grazing is over and the Stock in the farm yard. By the tillage too, which the Corn Crop ought to receive, followed by B. W. twice plowed in, Weeds and grass must be entirely eradicated.
To contrast the probable yield of this with the old course, of Corn, wheat and hay—suppose a farm of 300 acres of arable Land.
In the above statement, as much, I conceive, is allowed to the old, and taken from the new course, as can be done with Justice.—The Pastures of the latter will be fine, and improving; Those of the former are continually declining, and washing into gullies.—The hand-machine spoken of by you for sowing Clover Seed I have wished to see but have never yet seen one—but I cannot conceive that by this, or any other contrivance a bushel of seed can be made to subserve 20 acres of Land, and without a considerable mixture of other grass seeds, which would in a manner, be washed in so short a lay as is proposed by either of our Systems.
I have been informed that you have in possession one of Winlaw’s machines for threshing wheat: Pray how do you approve of it on trial? Many of these newly invented things meet the approbation of the moment but will not stand the test of constant use, or the usage of common laborers—I have requested Mr. Young if this machine has supported its reputation—either in his opinion, or the Judgment of those on whom he can rely, to send me one. I am, &c.
TO THE COUNT DE MOUSTIER.
Mount Vernon, 17 August, 1788.
In the letter I did myself the honor to address to your Excellency on the 26th of last March, I intimated that as soon as I should have obtained more particular information concerning the commercial intercourse between France and the United States, I would most willingly communicate the result. Ill prepared as I still am to treat of a subject so complicated in its nature, and so extensive in its consequences, I will now hazard a few facts and general observations, without confining myself strictly to your questions, to which, however, you may find there will be a constant allusion.
Respecting the utility or hurtfulness of the tobacco contract between Mr. Morris and the Farmers-General, I have heard so many specious arguments on one side and the other, that I find myself embarrassed in making a fair judgment. In ordinary cases I know that all exclusive privileges and even partial monopolies are pernicious. How far in this instance the contract has been only a transference of the business from the foreign agents, (English or Scottish,) who used to conduct it, into other hands, and whether the same exportations in quantity would have been made directly to France through more advantageous channels, I cannot pretend to determine. A free competition in the purchase of that article here, as well as in the sale at the place of market, it seems reasonable to conclude, would be mutually beneficial to both nations, however it might be inconvenient to individuals. Though the present contract will soon expire of course, and leave an equal field of speculation on this side of the Atlantic, I have been taught to believe, that the Farmers-General will not so readily give up their share in the monopoly on the other. So the business must in all probability revert to its original channel.
In reply to your second, third, and fourth questions, I would only briefly observe, that we are yet scarcely sufficiently acquainted with the coarse French woollens, and their lowest prices, to determine how far they can come in rivalship with those of Britain. The prevailing opinion is in[favor of] the latter; but I see no reason why the former, when calculated for the particular purpose, may not be made equally cheap and good. As to other articles of importation directly from France, they might consist in superfine broadcloths, (particularly blue which can be afforded cheaper and better than from England,) glass, gloves, ribbons, silks, cambrics, plain lawns, linens, printed goods, wine, brandy, oil, fruit, and in general every thing necessary for carrying on the Indian trade; from the Islands, sugar and coffee, in addition to the molasses and rum, which alone are permitted to be exported to the United States at present. Our produce in return to Europe might comprehend tobacco (as the staple from this State), and from the States aggregately wheat, rice, other grain, bread, flour, fish, fish oil, potashes, pearlashes, skins, furs, peltry, indigo, madder, different dyeing woods, lumber, naval stores, iron, coals, and ships ready built; to the Islands, lumber, bar iron, coals, live stock, and provisions of all kinds.
It may be mentioned here as a first principle of extending the intercourse, and as a theory which will be found incontestably true in experiment, that, in proportion as France shall increase the facility of our making remittances, in the same ratio shall we increase the consumption of her produce and manufactures. Common sense and sound policy speak thus on our part: “We can furnish new materials of great value, and our ability to do it will augment with our population every day; we want no money for them, and we desire no credit may be given to us; we cannot manufacture fine articles so cheaply as we can import them, and must, while we continue an agricultural people, be supplied from some quarter; we offer you the preference, and will take in different goods to the amount received from us in our staple commodities.”
This doctrine has been already verified, so far as an opportunity has been afforded to observe the effect. The use of French brandy in common taverns, as well as private houses, has been substituted for two or three years past very much in the room of Jamaica rum. Probably not less than twenty-four thousand gallons have been imported into this State in one year. The consumption of French wines is also much greater than it has formerly been; and may, by a moderate calculation, amount to between one half and one third of all that is imported. The demand for both these articles might still be extended with the means of making remittances. Not much French salt is made use of for curing provisions in Virginia. The opinion is, that it is not so clean as that imported from other parts of Europe. If it was properly purified, it might and certainly would be brought out as ballast in great quantities, and find a ready market.
About half the exports from Virginia are carried in American bottoms, the remainder principally in British bottoms. There are, however, a number of other foreign vessels employed in the trade.
I know not of any other equivalents, than those to be derived by France from the extension of her commerce, which we can give for any new favors in your Islands.1 Under the present rigorous restrictions, it is thought that trade is unprofitable for us, and will decay or be disused as soon as other avenues for receiving our produce shall be gradually opened. The maritime genius of this country is now steering our vessels in every ocean; to the East Indies, the north-west coasts of America, and the extremities of the globe. I have the best evidence, that the scale of commerce, so long against us, is beginning to turn in our favor, and that, (as a new thing in our new world,) the amount of exports from one State last year exceeded that of the imports more than two hundred and thirty thousand pounds.
What change in systems, and amelioration in the general complexion of our affairs, are likely to be produced in consequence of the national government, which is on the eve of being established, I will not undertake to predict. I hope and trust the ties, which connect this nation with France, will be strengthened and made durable by it. In the mean time there are three things, which I flatter myself will counterbalance, on the side of the French commerce, the three advantages, of which I conceive the British merchants to be possessed. The circumstances to which I allude are, 1st, the increasing prejudices of this country against a commercial intercourse with England, occasioned by provocations and augmented by impositions on her part; 2ndly, the facility given in many instances by the French government for our making remittances in the staple commodities of this country; and, 3dly, the change of taste in favor of articles produced or manufactured in France, which may indeed in a great degree be attributed to the affection and gratitude still felt for her generous interposition in our favor.
I should be truly happy to learn, that this country and its inhabitants have become agreeable to your Excellency upon acquaintance. For you may be assured, Sir, no one can be more zealous than myself in promoting a friendly connexion between our nations, or in rendering your situation perfectly satisfactory, while the United States shall enjoy the benefit of your residence in them. With the highest consideration and respect, I have the honor to be, &c.1
TO BENJAMIN LINCOLN.
Mount Vernon, 28 August, 1788.
My dear Sir,
I received with your letter of the 9th instant, one from Mr. Minot, and also his “History of the Insurrections in Massachusetts.” The work seems to be executed with ingenuity, as well as to be calculated to place facts in a true point of view, obviate the prejudices of those, who are unacquainted with the circumstances, and answer good purposes in respect to our government in general. I have returned him my thanks for his present by this conveyance.
The public appears to be anxiously waiting for the decision of Congress respecting the place for convening the national assembly under the new government, and the ordinance for its organization. Methinks it is a great misfortune, that local interests should involve themselves with federal concerns at this moment.
So far as I am able to learn, federal principles are gaining ground considerably. The declaration of some of the most respectable characters in this State (I mean of those who were opposed to the government) is now explicit, that they will give the constitution a fair chance by affording it all the support in their power. Even in Pennsylvania, the minority, who were more violent than in any other place, say they will only seek for amendments in the mode pointed out by the constitution itself.
I will, however, just mention by way of caveat, there are suggestions, that attempts will be made to procure the election of a number of antifederal characters to the first Congress, in order to embarrass the wheels of government, and produce premature alterations in its constitution. How these hints, which have come through different channels, may be well or ill-founded, I know not; but it will be advisable, I should think, for the federalists to be on their guard, so far as not to suffer any secret machinations to prevail, without taking measures to frustrate them.1 That many amendments and explanations might and should take place, I have [no] difficulty in conceding; but I will confess my apprehension is, that the New York circular letter is intended to bring on a general convention at too early a period, and, in short, by referring the subject to the legislatures, to set every thing afloat again. I wish I may be mistaken in imagining, that there are persons, who, upon finding they could not carry their point by an open attack against the constitution, have some sinister designs to be silently effected if possible. But I trust in that Providence, which has saved us in six troubles, yea, in seven, to rescue us again from any imminent though unseen dangers. Nothing, however, on our part ought to be left undone. I conceive it to be of unspeakable importance, that whatever there be of wisdom, and prudence, and patriotism on the continent, should be concentred in the public councils at the first outset. Our habits of intimacy will render an apology unnecessary—Heaven is my witnesss that an inextinguishable desire for the felicity of my country may be prompted is my only motive in making these observations. I am, &c.
TO ALEXANDER HAMILTON.
Mount Vernon, 28 August, 1788.
I have had the pleasure to receive your letter dated the 13th, accompanied by one addressed to General Morgan. I will forward the letter to General Morgan by the first conveyance, and add my particular wishes, that he would comply with the request contained in it. Although I can scarcely imagine how the watch of a British officer, killed within their lines, should have fallen into his hands, who was many miles distant from the scene of action, yet, if it so happened, I flatter myself there will be no reluctance or delay in restoring it to the family.
As the perusal of the political papers under the signature of Publius has afforded me great satisfaction, I shall certainly consider them as claiming a most distinguished place in my library. I have read every performance, which has been printed on one side and the other of the great question lately agitated (so far as I have been able to obtain them); and, without an unmeaning compliment, I will say, that I have seen no other so well calculated, in my judgment, to produce conviction on an unbiassed mind as the production of your triumvirate. When the transient circumstances and fugitive performances, which attended this crisis, shall have disappeared, that work will merit the notice of posterity, because in it are candidly and ably discussed the principles of freedom and the topics of government, which will be always interesting to mankind, so long as they shall be connected in civil society.
The circular letter from your convention I presume was the equivalent, by which you obtained an acquiescence in the proposed constitution. Notwithstanding I am not very well satisfied with the tendency of it, yet the federal affairs had proceeded, with few exceptions, in so good a train, that I hope the political machine may be put in motion, without much effort or hazard of miscarrying.1
On the delicate subject with which you conclude your letter, I can say nothing, because the event alluded to may never happen, and because, in case it should occur, it would be a point of prudence to defer forming one’s ultimate and irrevocable decision, so long as new data might be afforded for one to act with the greater wisdom and propriety. I would not wish to conceal my prevailing sentiment from you; for you know me well enough, my good Sir, to be persuaded, that I am not guilty of affectation when I tell you, that it is my great and sole desire to live and die in peace and retirement on my own farm. Were it even indispensable, a different line of conduct should be adopted, while you and some others who are acquainted with my heart would acquit, the world and posterity might possibly accuse me [of] inconsistency and ambition. Still I hope I shall always possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain (what I consider the most enviable of all titles), the character of an honest man, as well as prove, what I desire to be considered in reality, that
I am, with great sincerity and esteem,