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TO JOHN MARSHALL. - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. XIII (1794-1798) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890). Vol. XIII (1794-1798).
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TO JOHN MARSHALL.
Mount Vernon, 4 December, 1797.
Your very interesting and obliging favor of the 15th of September from the Hague came duly to hand, and I thank you sincerely for the important details, with which it is fraught, and pray for the continuation of them.
I congratulate you too on your safe arrival from shipboard, and, as the newspapers tell us, at Paris;1 and I wish in a little while hence I may have it in my power to do the same on the favorable conclusion of your embassy, and happy return to your family and friends in this country. To predict the contrary might be as unjust, as it would be impolitic, and therefore mum—on that topic. Be the issue, however, what it may, three things I shall be perfectly satisfied of; and these are, that nothing which justice, sound reasoning, and fair representation would require, will be wanting to render it just and honorable; and, if it is not so, that the eyes of all in this country, who are not wilfully blind and resolved to remain so (some from one motive and some from another), will be fully opened; and, lastly, that if the French Directory proceed on the supposition, that the parties in these United States are nearly equal, and that one of them would advocate their measures in the dernier resort, they will greatly deceive themselves. For the mass of our citizens require no more than to understand a question to decide it properly, and an adverse conclusion of the negotiation will effect this. Indeed, I believe it may be said with truth, that a very great change in the public mind has taken place already. The leaders, it is true, attempt to keep up the ball, which is evidently declining; but as both Houses of Congress have formed quorums, and received the President’s speech, the response of the representative branch will be some criterion by which this opinion of mine may be tried, though not a conclusive one.
The situation of things in Holland is a good lesson or us, if we are disposed to profit by it; but unfortunately the nature of man is such, that the experience of others is not attended to as it ought to be. We must feel, ourselves, before we can think or perceive the danger that threatens. But, as this letter, (after it quits the office of the Secretary of State, to whose care I shall send it,) may pass through many hands, I shall dwell very little on European politics. It is laughable enough, however, to behold those men amongst us, who were reprobating in the severest terms, and sounding the tocsin upon every occasion, that a wild imagination could torture into a stretch of power or unconstitutionality in the executive of the United States, all of a sudden become the warm advocates of those high-handed measures of the French Directory, which succeeded the arrestations on the 4th of September; and this, too, without denying that the barriers of the constitution, under which they acted, have been overleaped, but that they have done it on the ground of tender mercy and an unwillingness to shed blood. But so it always has been, and I presume ever will be with men, who are governed more by passion and party views, than by the dictates of justice, temperance, and sound policy.1 If there were good grounds to suspect, that the proscribed and banished characters were engaged in a conspiracy against the constitution of the people’s choice, to seize them even in an irregular manner might be justified upon the ground of expediency and of self-preservation; but, after they were secured and amenable to the laws, to condemn them without a hearing, and consign them to punishment more rigorous perhaps than death, is the summit of despotism.2
A very severe winter has commenced since the first of November, we have hardly experienced a moderate day; heavy rains following severe frosts have done more damage to the winter grain now growing than I recollect ever to have seen—at this moment and for several days past all the Creeks and small Waters are hard bound with ice—and if the navigation of the River is not entirely stoped is yet very much impeded by it. The crops of Indian Corn in the lower parts of the State, have been uncommonly great: midway of it tolerably good; but under the mountains and above them, extremely bad—with partial exceptions—The Wheat in Crop and in quantity turned out better than was expected; in quality remarkable fine: the white and early wheat weighing from 60 to 64lb. pr. bushel.
Young Lafayette, too fondly led by his eagerness to embrace his parents and sisters, in the first moments of their releasement from prison, and unintentionally deceived by premature accounts from his friends at Hamburg, that this event had actually taken place, embarked for this purpose on the 26th of October at New York for Havre de Grace. Since which, official accounts have been received of the terms on which his liberation was granted by the Emperor, the meeting in Europe is become problematical; a circumstance, should it happen, which will be sorely regretted on both sides. I said all I could to induce him to wait here until he should receive direct advice from his father; but his impatience, on the one hand, and his confidence in the information he had received, that his parents were on their way to Paris, on the other, his apprehensions from a winter’s passage, and belief that he should not be illy received in France, even if they were not there, turned the scale against my opinion and advice, that he should postpone his departure until he heard from him or one of the family.
With very great esteem and regard, I remain, dear Sir, &c.
[1 ]As one of the envoys from the United States, in conjunction with Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and Elbridge Gerry.
[1 ]“I hope the calm with which this session of Congress has commenced will not be succeeded by a storm. I shall confess, however, that my expectations fall far short of my hopes on this occasion. Tranquillity will not continue to the end of it, nor can harmony be looked for while the same men who were sounding the tocsin at every thing that a wild imagination could construe into even a tendency to stretch the power of government here, are advocating the most outrageous violations of it elsewhere. But no conduct is too absurd or inconsistent for some men to give in to.”—Washington to Timothy Pickering, 11 December, 1797.
[2 ]“What their reception [Marshall, Pinckney, and Gerry] has been, and what may be the issue of the negotiation with which they are charged is not for me to pronounce. The late revolution, however, at that place, will not introduce them under the most favorable auspices in my opinion; but this event, like all other acts of the French government, is extolled by men amongst us as a master piece of vigilance, wisdom and patriotism. The means used to effect this are not overlooked, but applauded. Of course the Constitution, like Treaties, are not obligatory when they become inconvenient.”—Washington to William Vans Murray, 3 December, 1797.