Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO DAVID STUART. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. XI (1785-1790)
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TO DAVID STUART. - 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 DAVID STUART.
New York, 15 June, 1790.
Your letter of the 2d instant came duly to hand. If there are any gazettes among my files at Mount Vernon, which can be of use to you, they are at your service.
Your description of the public mind in Virginia gives me pain. It seems to be more irritable, sour, and discontented, than, (from the information I receive,) it is in any other State in the Union, except Massachusetts, which, from the same causes, but on quite different principles, is tempered like it.1
That Congress does not proceed with all that despatch, which people at a distance expect, and which, were they to hurry business, they possibly might, is not to be denied. That measures have been agitated, which are not pleasing to Virginia, and others, pleasing perhaps to her, but not so to some other States, is equally unquestionable. Can it well be otherwise in a country so extensive, so diversified in its interests? And will not these different interests naturally produce in an assembly of representatives, who are to legislate for and to assimilate and reconcile them to the general welfare, long, warm, and animated debates? Most assuredly they will; and if there was the same propensity in mankind for investigating the motives, as there is for censuring the conduct of public characters, it would be found, that the censure so freely bestowed is oftentimes unmerited and uncharitable. For instance, the condemnation of Congress for sitting only four hours in the day. The fact is, by the established rules of the House of Representatives, no committee can sit whilst the House is sitting; and this is and has been for a considerable time from ten o’clock in the forenoon until three, often later, in the afternoon; before and after which the business is going on in committees. If this application is not as much as most constitutions are equal to, I am mistaken.
Many other things, which undergo malignant constructions, would be found, upon a candid examination, to wear better faces than is given to them. The misfortune is, that the enemies to the government, always more active than its friends, and always upon the watch to give it a stroke, neglect no opportunity to aim one. If they tell truth, it is not the whole truth, by which means one side only of the picture is exhibited; whereas, if both sides were seen, it might and probably would assume a different form, in the opinion of just and candid men, who are disposed to measure matters by a Continental scale.
I do not mean, however, from what I have here said, to justify the conduct of Congress in all its movements; for some of these movements, in my opinion, have been injudicious, and others unseasonable; whilst the questions of assumption, residence, and other matters have been agitated with a warmth and intemperance, with prolixity and threats, which it is to be feared has lessened the dignity of that body, and decreased that respect, which was once entertained for it. And this misfortune is increased by many members, even among those who wish well to the government, ascribing in letters to their respective States, when they are defeated in a favorite measure, the worst motives for the conduct of their opponents; who, viewing matters through another medium, may and do retort in their turn, by which means jealousies and distrusts are spread most impolitically far and wide, and will, it is to be feared, have a most unhappy tendency to injure our public affairs, which if wisely managed might make us, as we are now by Europeans thought to be, the happiest people upon earth. As a proof of it, our reputation has risen in every part of the globe, and our credit, especially in Holland (above par, where our funds are), has got higher than that of any nation in Europe, as appears by official advices just received. But the conduct we seem to be pursuing must soon bring us back to our former disreputable condition. The introduction of the Quaker memorial respecting slavery was, to be sure, not only ill-timed, but occasioned a great waste of time. The final decision, however, thereon, was as favorable as the proprietors of this species of property could well have expected, considering the light in which slavery is viewed by a large part of this Union.
The question of assumption has occupied a great deal of time, and no wonder, for it is certainly a very important question; and, under proper restrictions and scrutiny into accounts, will be found, I conceive, to be a just one. The cause, in which the expenses of the war were incurred, was a common cause. The States (in Congress) declared it so at the beginning, and pledged themselves to stand by each other. If, then, some States were harder pressed than others, or from particular and local circumstances contracted heavier debts, it is but reasonable, when this fact is clearly ascertained, though it is a sentiment which I have not communicated here, that an allowance ought to be made them. Had the invaded and hard pressed States believed the case would have been otherwise, opposition would very soon, I believe, have changed to submission in them, and given a different termination to the war.1
In a letter of last year, to the best of my recollection, I informed you of the motives, which compelled me to allot a day for the reception of idle and ceremonious visits, (for it never has prevented those of sociability and friendship in the afternoon, or at any other time;) but, if I am mistaken in this, the history of this business is simply and shortly as follows. Before the custom was established, which now accommodates foreign characters, strangers, and others, who, from motives of curiosity, respect to the Chief Magistrate, or any other cause, are induced to call upon me, I was unable to attend to any business whatsoever; for gentlemen, consulting their own convenience rather than mine, were calling from the time I rose from breakfast, often before, until I sat down to dinner. This, as I resolved not to neglect my public duties, reduced me to the choice of one of these alternatives, either to refuse them altogether, or to appropriate a time for the reception of them. The former would, I well knew, be disgusting to many; the latter I expected would undergo animadversion and blazoning from those, who would find fault with or without cause. To please everybody was impossible. I therefore adopted that line of conduct, which combined public advantage with private convenience, and which in my judgment was unexceptionable in itself. That I have not been able to make bows to the taste of poor Colonel Bland, (who, by the by, I believe never saw one of them), is to be regretted, especially too, as (upon those occasions,) they were indiscriminately bestowed, and the best I was master of, would it not have been better to throw the veil of charity over them, ascribing their stiffness to the effects of age, or to the unskillfulness of my teacher, than to pride and dignity of office, which God knows has no charms for me? For I can truly say, I had rather be at Mount Vernon with a friend or two about me, than to be attended at the seat of government by the officers of state and the representatives of every power in Europe.
These visits are optional. They are made without invitation. Between the hours of three and four every Tuesday I am prepared to receive them. Gentlemen, often in great numbers, come and go, chat with each other, and act as they please. A porter shows them into the room, and they retire from it when they please, and without ceremony. At their first entrance, they salute me, and I them, and as many as I can talk to, I do. What pomp there is in all this, I am unable to discover. Perhaps it consists in not sitting. To this, two reasons are opposed: first, it is unusual; secondly, which is a more substantial one, because I have no room large enough to contain a third of the chairs, which would be sufficient to admit it. If it is supposed, that ostentation, or the fashions of courts (which, by the by, I believe originate oftener in convenience, not to say necessity, than is generally imagined), gave rise to this custom, I will boldly affirm, that no supposition was ever more erroneous; for, if I was to give indulgence to my inclinations, every moment that I could withdraw from the fatigue of my station should be spent in retirement. That they are not, proceeds from the sense I entertain of the propriety of giving to every one as free access, as consists with that respect, which is due to the chair of government; and that respect, I conceive, is neither to be acquired nor preserved but by observing a just medium between much state and too great familiarity.
Similar to the above, but of a more sociable kind, are the visits every Friday afternoon to Mrs. Washington, where I always am. These public meetings, and a dinner once a week to as many as my table will hold, with the references to and from the different departments of state, and other communications with all parts of the Union, are as much, if not more, than I am able to undergo; for I have already had within less than a year, two severe attacks, the last worse than the first. A third, more than probable, will put me to sleep with my fathers. At what distance this may be I know not. Within the last twelve months I have undergone more and severer sickness, than thirty preceding years afflicted me with. Put it all together I have abundant reason, however, to be thankful, that I am so well recovered; though I still feel the remains of the violent affection of my lungs; the cough, pain in my breast, and shortness in breathing not having entirely left me. I propose in the recess of Congress to visit Mount Vernon; but when this recess will happen is beyond my ken, or the ken I believe of any of its members.
I am, dear Sir, &c.
[1 ]From Dr. Stuart’s Letter: “I shall now endeavor to give you all the information I have been able to collect during my journey, respecting the present temper of mind of the people of Virginia, so far as I can judge from those I mixed with, and from what I could hear. I could wish indeed to speak more favorably of it; but it appears to me, that the late transactions of Congress have soured the public mind to a great degree; which was just recovering from the fever, which the slave business had occasioned, when the late much-agitated question of the State debts came on. With respect to the slave business, I am informed by Mr. Lomax, whom I met on his return from Pittsylvania, that great advantages had been taken of it in that distant quarter by many, who wished to purchase slaves, circulating a report, that Congress were about to pass an act for their general emancipation. This occasioned such an alarm, that many were sold for the merest trifle. The sellers were of course much enraged at Congress for taking up a subject they were precluded by the constitution from meddling with for the present, and thus furnishing the occasion for the alarm which induced them to sell. As the people in that part of the country were before much opposed to the government, it may naturally be supposed, that this circumstance has embittered them much more against it.
[1 ]In his report on Public Credit, 9th January, 1790, Hamilton gave it as his full conviction “that an assumption of the debts of the particular States by the Union, and a like provision for them as for those of the Union, will be a measure of sound policy and substantial justice.” He distinctly recognized that the principles of equitable settlement between the States and the United States would require all the moderation and wisdom of the government, and suggested that the balance in favor of each State be first determined, and then “to equalize the contributions of the States, let each be charged with its proportion of the aggregate of those balances, according to some equitable ratio, to be devised for that purpose.” On this point were made the heaviest attacks, for it was claimed Virginia would suffer peculiarly, while Massachusetts and South Carolina would benefit as greatly. On these divisions the various States ranged themselves according to their interest, and early in April the opposition obtained a rejection of the scheme in the House, but its advocates still held to the measure. This was the situation when Washington wrote. Jefferson hinted that the scruples of those who, in favoring the Constitution, had argued the improbability of Congress laying taxes where the States could do it separately, stood in the way of the assumption scheme. The blocking of the bill for a permanent residence of Congress afforded an opportunity to play the one measure against the other, and a bargain was made that passed the assumption and removed the seat of government to the Potomac. The President did not escape some abuse on the result, and Jefferson, through whom the bargain was effected, regarded himself as “duped” by Hamilton.