Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER EIGHT: The Citizen Stirs 1784-1786 - George Washington: A Collection
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CHAPTER EIGHT: The Citizen Stirs 1784-1786 - George Washington, George Washington: A Collection 
George Washington: A Collection, compiled and edited by W.B. Allen (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1988).
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The Citizen Stirs
WASHINGTON returned to Mount Vernon, which was in considerable disrepair, to resume the domestic arts he had so long pined for. Martha Washington had visited him in the army’s camp when occasion permitted and shared with him and his men their many privations. Her ministrations to the soldiers were a source of comfort to them and George Washington. He had returned home but once during the long war, taking a brief stop there during the Yorktown campaign. He could already see at that time the labors which lay before him to bring Mount Vernon back to its former glory. He also saw what could not be restored: Martha’s son Jack Custis had died just after the victory at Yorktown. Both her children were now gone, and she and Washington had none of their own.
Though Washington plunged back into the managing of his estates, he found himself under no less weight of correspondence than formerly. He assured one friendly inquirer, “I have not leisure to turn my thoughts to commentaries.” Public concerns still pressed in on him; everyone, it seemed, sought his opinion, and he disappointed none. He resumed his prewar efforts to produce a waterway connecting the transappalachian region and the Potomac, as much for reasons of state—“to cement the union”—as for reasons of commerce. Continuing to press for a strengthening of the Union, between the end of 1783 and 1786 Washington drew a coterie of reform-minded men around him whose efforts at length gave hope of a general reform of the Confederation.
TO JONATHAN TRUMBULL, JR.
Mount Vernon, January 5, 1784
Your obliging Letter of the 15th. of November did not reach me until some days after we had taken possession of the city of New York. The scene that followed, of festivity, congratulation, addresses and resignation, must be my apology for not replying to it sooner.
Governor Trumbull’s addressI sincerely thank you for the copy of the address of Govr. Trumbull to the Genl. Assembly and free Men of your State; the sentiments contained in it are such as would do honor to a patriot of any age or Nation; at least, they are too coincident with my own, not to meet with my warmest approbation. Be so good as to present my most cordial respects to the Governor and let him know that it is my wish, the mutual friendship and esteem which have been planted and fostered in the tumult of public life, may not wither and die in the serenity of retirement: tell him we shou’d rather amuse our evening hours of Life in cultivating the tender plants, and bringing them to perfection, before they are transplanted to a happier clime.
Local jealousiesNotwithstanding the jealous and contracted temper which seems to prevail in some of the States, yet I cannot but hope and believe that the good sense of the people will ultimately get the better of their prejudices; and that order and sound policy, tho’ they do not come so soon as one wou’d wish, will be produced from the present unsettled and deranged state of public affairs. Indeed I am happy to observe that the political disposition is actually meliorating every day; several of the States have manifested an inclination to invest Congress with more ample powers; most of the Legislatures appear disposed to do perfect justice; and the Assembly of this Commonwealth have just complied with the requisitions of Congress, and I am informed without a dissentient voice. Every thing My Dear Trumbull will come right at last, as we have often prophesied; my only fear is that we shall lose a little reputation first.
After having passed with as much prosperity as could be expected, through the career of public Life, I have now reached the goal of domestic enjoyment; in which state, I assure you I find your good wishes most acceptable to me. The family at Mount Vernon joins in the same compliments and cordiality, with which I am, &c.
TO GOVERNOR BENJAMIN HARRISON
Mount Vernon, January 18, 1784
My dear Sir:
Return to private lifeI have just had the pleasure to receive your letter of the 8th., for the friendly and affectionate terms in which you have welcomed my return to this Country and to private life; and for the favourable light in which you are pleased to consider, and express your sense of my past services, you have my warmest and most grateful acknowledgments.
American prospectsThat the prospect before us is, as you justly observe, fair, none can deny; but what use we shall make of it, is exceedingly problematical; not but that I believe, all things will come right at last; but like a young heir, come a little prematurely to a large inheritance, we shall wanton and run riot until we have brought our reputation to the brink of ruin, and then like him shall have to labor with the current of opinion, when compelled perhaps, to do what prudence and common policy pointed out as plain as any problem in Euclid, in the first instance.
State jealousies of Congress and of one anotherThe disinclination of the individual States to yield competent powers to Congress for the Federal Government, their unreasonable jealousy of that body and of one another, and the disposition which seems to pervade each, of being all-wise and all-powerful within itself, will, if there is not a change in the system be our downfal as a nation. This is as clear to me as the A, B, C; and I think we have opposed Great Britain, and have arrived at the present state of peace and independency, to very little purpose, if we cannot conquer our own prejudices. The powers of Europe begin to see this, and our newly acquired friends the British, are already and professedly acting upon this ground; and wisely too, if we are determined to persevere in our folly. They know that individual opposition to their measures is futile, and boast that we are not sufficiently united as a Nation to give a general one! Is not the indignity alone, of this declaration, while we are in the very act of peacemaking and conciliation, sufficient to stimulate us to vest more extensive and adequate powers in the sovereign of these United States? For my own part, altho’ I am returned to, and am now mingled with the class of private citizens, and like them must suffer all the evils of a Tyranny, or of too great an extension of federal powers; I have no fears arising from this source, in my mind, but I have many, and powerful ones indeed which predict the worst consequences from a half-starved, limping Government, that appears to be always moving upon crutches, and tottering at every step. Men, chosen as the Delegates in Congress are, cannot officially be dangerous; they depend upon the breath, nay, they are so much the creatures of the people, under the present constitution, that they can have no views (which could possibly be carried into execution,) nor any interests, distinct from those of their constituents.Political creed My political creed therefore is, to be wise in the choice of Delegates, support them like Gentlemen while they are our representatives, give them competent powers for all federal purposes, support them in the due exercise thereof, and lastly, to compel them to close attendance in Congress during their delegation. These things under the present mode for, and termination of elections, aided by annual instead of constant Sessions, would, or I am exceedingly mistaken, make us one of the most wealthy, happy, respectable and powerful Nations, that ever inhabited the terrestrial Globe, without them, we shall in my opinion soon be every thing which is the direct reverse of them.
I shall look for you, in the first part of next month, with such other friends as may incline to accompany you, with great pleasure, being with best respects to Mrs. Harrison, in which Mrs. Washington joins me, dear Sir, &c.
TO MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE
Mount Vernon, February 1, 1784
At length my Dear Marquis I am become a private citizen on the banks of the Potomac, and under the shadow of my own Vine and my own Fig-tree, free from the bustle of a camp and the busy scenes of public life, I am solacing myself with those tranquil enjoyments, of which the Soldier who is ever in pursuit of fame,Tranquil enjoyments of private life the Statesman whose watchful days and sleepless nights are spent in devising schemes to promote the welfare of his own, perhaps the ruin of other countries, as if this globe was insufficient for us all, and the Courtier who is always watching the countenance of his Prince, in hopes of catching a gracious smile, can have very little conception. I am not only retired from all public employments, but I am retiring within myself; and shall be able to view the solitary walk, and tread the paths of private life with heartfelt satisfaction. Envious of none, I am determined to be pleased with all; and this my dear friend, being the order for my march, I will move gently down the stream of life, until I sleep with my Fathers.
Except an introductory letter or two, and one countermanding my request respecting plate, I have not written to you since the middle of October by Genl. Duportail.British evacuation of New York To inform you at this late hour, that the city of New York was evacuated by the British forces on the 25th. of November; that the American Troops took possession of it the same day, and delivered it over to the civil authority of the State; that good order, contrary to the expectation and predictions of Gl. Carleton, his Officers and all the loyalists, was immediately established; and that the harbour of New York was finally cleared of the British flag about the 5th. or 6th. of Decemr., would be an insult to your intelligence. And to tell you that I remained eight days in New York after we took possession of the city; that I was very much hurried during that time, which was the reason I did not write to you from thence; that taking Phila. in my way, I was obliged to remain there a week; that at Annapolis, where Congress were then, and are now sitting, I did, on the 23d. of December present them my commission, and made them my last bow, and on the Eve of Christmas entered these doors an older man by near nine years, than when I left them, is very uninteresting to any but myself. Since that period, we have been fast locked up in frost and snow, and excluded in a manner from all kinds of intercourse, the winter having been, and still continues to be, extremely severe.
I have now to acknowledge, and thank you for your favors of the 22d of July and 8th of September, both of which, altho’ the first is of old date, have come to hand since my letter to you of October. The accounts contained therein of the political and commercial state of affairs as they respect America, are interesting, and I wish I could add that they were altogether satisfactory; and the agency you have had in both, particularly with regard to the free ports in France, is a fresh evidence of your unwearied endeavours to serve this country; but there is no part of your Letters to Congress My Dear Marquis, which bespeaks the excellence of your heart more plainly than that, which contains those noble and generous sentiments on the justice which is due to the faithful friends and Servants of the public; but I must do Congress the justice to declare, that as a body, I believe there is every disposition in them, not only to acknowledge the merits, but to reward the services of the army: There is a contractedness, I am sorry to add, in some of the States, from whence all our difficulties on this head, proceed; but it is to be hoped, the good sense and perseverance of the rest, will ultimately prevail, as the spirit of meanness is beginning to subside.
From a letter which I have just received from the Governor of this State I expect him here in a few days, when I shall not be unmindful of what you have written about the bust, and will endeavour to have matters respecting it, placed on their proper basis. I thank you most sincerely My Dear Marqs. for your kind invitation to your house, if I should come to Paris. At present I see but little prospect of such a voyage,Little prospect of trip to France the deranged situation of my private concerns, occasioned by an absence of almost nine years, and an entire disregard of all private business during that period, will not only suspend, but may put it for ever out of my power to gratify this wish. This not being the case with you, come with Madame la Fayette and view me in my domestic walks. I have often told you, and repeat it again, that no man could receive you in them with more friendship and affection than I should do; in which I am sure Mrs. Washington would cordially join me. We unite in respectful compliments to your Lady, and best wishes for your little flock. With every sentiment of esteem, Admiration and Love, I am etc.
TO DR. JAMES CRAIK
Mount Vernon, March 25, 1784
In answer to Mr. Bowie’s request to you, permit me to assure that Gentleman, that I shall at all times be glad to see him at this retreat. That whenever he is here, I will give him the perusal of any public papersUse of public papers antecedent to my appointment to the command of the American army, that he may be laying up materials for his work. And whenever Congress shall have opened their Archives to any Historian for information, that he shall have the examination of all others in my possession which are subsequent thereto; but that ‘till this epoch, I do not think myself at liberty to unfold papers which contain all the occurrences and transactions of my late command; first, because I conceive it to be respectful to the sovereign power to let them take the lead in this business; and next, because I have, upon this principle, refused Doctr. Gordon and others who are about to write the History of the revolution, this priviledge.
Publication of biographiesI will frankly declare to you, My Dr. Doctor that any memoirs of my life, distinct and unconnected with the general history of the war, would rather hurt my feelings than tickle my pride whilst I lived. I had rather glide gently down the stream of life, leaving it to posterity to think and say what they please of me, than by any act of mine to have vanity or ostentation imputed to me. And I will further more confess that I was rather surprised into a consent, when Doctor. Witherspoon (very unexpectedly) made the application, than considered the tendency of that consent. It did not occur to me at that moment, from the manner in which the question was propounded, that no history of my life, without a very great deal of trouble indeed, could be written with the least degree of accuracy, unless recourse was had to me, or to my papers for information; that it would not derive sufficient authenticity without a promulgation of this fact; and that such a promulgation would subject me to the imputation I have just mentioned, which would hurt me the more, as I do not think vanity is a trait of my character.
It is for this reason, and candour obliges me to be explicit, that I shall stipulate against the publication of the memoirs Mr. Bowie has in contemplation to give the world, ‘till I shou’d see more probability of avoiding the darts which I think would be pointed at me on such an occasion; and how far, under these circumstances, it wou’d be worth Mr. Bowie’s while to spend time which might be more usefully employed in other matters, is with him to consider; as the practicability of doing it efficiently, without having free access to the documents of this War, which must fill the most important pages of the Memoir, and which for the reasons already assigned cannot be admitted at present, also is. If nothing happens more than I at present foresee, I shall be in Philadelphia on or before the first of May; where ‘tis probable I may see Mr. Bowie and converse further with him on this subject; in the mean while I will thank you for communicating these Sentiments. I am, etc.
TO THOMAS JEFFERSON
Mount Vernon, March 29, 1784
It was not in my power to answer your favor of the 15th. by the last post, for the reason then assigned. I wish I may be able to do it to your satisfaction now, as I again am obliged to pay my attention to other Company, (the Govr. being gone).
On need for connection between Potomac and Ohio riversMy opinion coincides perfectly with yours respecting the practicability of an easy, and short communication between the Waters of the Ohio and Potomac. Of the advantages of that communication, and the preference it has over all others. And of the policy there would be in this State, and Maryland to adopt and render it facile; but I confess to you freely, I have no expectation that the public will adopt the measure; for besides the jealousies wch. prevail, and the difficulty of proportioning such funds as may be allotted for the purposes you have mentioned, there are two others, which, in my opinion, will be yet harder to surmount; these are (if I have not imbibed too unfavourable an opinion of my Countrymen) the impracticability of bringing the great, and truly wise policy of the measure to their view; and the difficulty of drawing money from them, for such a purpose if you could do it. for it appears to me, maugre all the sufferings of the public creditors, breach of public faith, and loss of public reputation, that payment of the taxes which are already laid, will be postponed as long as possible! how then are we to expect new ones, for purposes more remote?
I am not so disinterested in this matter as you are; but I am made very happy to find that a man of discernment and liberality (who has no particular interest in the plan) thinks as I do, who have Lands in that Country the value of which would be enhanced, by the adoption of such a Scheme.
Previous history of Potomac navigationMore than ten years ago I was struck with the importance of it, and despairing of any aid from the public, I became a principal Mover of a Bill to empower a number of Subscribers to undertake, at their own expence, (upon conditions which were expressed) the extension of the Navigation from tide Water to Wills’s Creek (about 150 Miles) and I devoutly wish that this may not be the only expedient by which it can be effected now. To get this business in motion, I was obliged, even upon that ground, to comprehend James River, in order to remove the jealousies which arose from the attempt to extend the Navigation of the Potomack. The plan however, was in a tolerable train when I set out for Cambridge in 1775, and would have been in an excellent way had it not been for the difficulties which were met with in the Maryland Assembly; from the opposition which was given (according to report) by the Baltimore Merchants; who were alarmed, and perhaps not without cause, at the consequence of Water transportation to George Town of the produce which usually came to their Market.
Local jealousies and war defeat projectThe local interest of that place (Baltimore) joined with the short sighted politics, or contracted views of another part of that Assembly, gave Mr. Thomas Johnson who was a warm promoter of the Scheme on the No. side of the River, a great deal of trouble. In this situation things were when I took command of the Army; the War afterwards called Mens attention to different objects, and all the Money they could or would raise, were applied to other purposes; but with you, I am satisfied that not a moment ought to be lost in recommencing this business;New York for I know the Yorkers will delay no time to remove every obstacle in the way of the other communication, so soon as the Posts at Oswego and Niagara are surrendered; and I shall be mistaken if they do not build Vessels for the Navigation of the Lakes, which will supercede the necessity of coasting on either side.
Virginia and MarylandIt appears to me that the Interest and policy of Maryland is proportionably concerned with that of Virginia to remove obstructions, and to invite the trade of the Western territory into the channel you have mentioned. You will have frequent oppertunities of learning the Sentiments of the principal characters of that State, respecting this matter, and if you should see Mr. Johnson (formerly Govr. of the State) great information may be derived from him. How far, upon more mature consideration I may depart from the resolution I had formed of living perfectly at my ease, exempt from all kinds of responsibility, is more than I can, at present, absolutely determine. The Sums granted, the manner of granting them, the powers and objects, would merit consideration. The trouble, if my situation at the time would permit me to engage in a work of this sort would be set at naught; and the immense advantages which this Country would derive from the measure, would be no small stimulus to the undertaking; if that undertaking could be made to comport with those ideas, and that line of conduct with which I meant to glide gently down the stream of life; and it did not interfere with any other plan I might have in contemplation.
The extension of VirginiaI am not less in sentiment with you respecting the impolicy of this State’s grasping at more territory than they are competent to the Government of. And for the reasons you assign, I very much approve of a Meridian from the Mouth of the Great Kanhawa as a convenient and very proper line of seperation. But I am mistaken if our chief Magistrate will coincide with us in this opinion.
CommerceI will not enter upon the subject of Commerce, it has its advantages and disadvantages, but which of them preponderates is not the question. From Trade our Ctizens will not be restrained, and therefore it behoves us to place it in the most convenient channels, under proper regulation, freed as much as possible, from those vices which luxury, the consequence of wealth and power, naturally introduce.
CongressThe incertitude which prevails in Congress, and the non-attendance of its Members, is discouraging to those who are willing, and ready to discharge the trust which is reposed in them; whilst it is disgraceful, in a high degree to our Country. but I believe the case will never be otherwise, so long as that body persist in their present mode of doing business; and will hold constant, instead of annual Sessions; against the former of which, my mind furnishes me with a variety of Arguments, but not one, in times of peace, in favor of the latter.
Annual Sessions would always produce a full representation, and alertness at business. The Delegates, after a recess of 8 or 10 Months would meet each other with glad Countenances; they would be complaisant; they would yield to each other as much as the duty they owed their constituents would permit; and they would have oppertunities of becoming better acquainted with the Sentiments of them and removing their prejudices, during the recess. Men who are always together get tired of each others Company; they throw off the proper restraint; they say and do things which are personally disgusting; this begets opposition; opposition begets faction; and so it goes on till business is impeded, often at a stand. I am sure (having the business prepared by proper Boards or a Committee) an Annual Session of two Months would dispatch more business than is now done in twelve; and this by a full representation of the Union.
Long as this letter is, I intended to be more full on some of the points, and to have touched upon some others; but it is not in my power, as I am obliged to snatch the moments which give you this hasty production from Co. With very great esteem &c.
Quoery, have you not made the distance from Cuyahoga to New York too great?
TO JAMES MADISON
Mount Vernon, June 12, 1784
Thomas PaineCan nothing be done in our Assembly for poor Paine? Must the merits, and Services of Common Sense continue to glide down the stream of time, unrewarded by this Country? His writings certainly have had a powerful effect on the public mind; ought they not then to meet an adequate return? He is poor! he is chagreened! and almost, if not altogether, in despair of relief. New York it is true, not the least distressed, nor best able State in the Union, has done something for him. This kind of provision he prefers to an allowance from Congress; he has reasons for it, which to him are conclusive, and such I think as would have weight with others. His views are moderate; a decent independency is, I believe, all he aims at. Should he not obtain this? If you think so, I am sure you will not only move the matter, but give it your support. For me, it only remains to feel for his Situation, and to assure you of the sincere esteem and regard with which I have the honor &c.
TO GOVERNOR BENJAMIN HARRISON
Mount Vernon, October 10, 1784
Upon my return from the western Country a few days ago, I had the pleasure to receive your favor of the 17th. ulto. It has always been my intention to pay my respects to you before the chance of another early and hard winter should make a warm fireside too comfortable to be relinquished. And I shall feel an additional pleasure in offering this tribute of friendship and respect to you, by having the company of the Marqs. de la Fayette, when he shall have revisited this place from his Eastern tour; now every day to be expected.
I shall take the liberty now, my dear sir, to suggest a matter, which would (if I am not too shortsighted a politician) mark your administration as an important era in the Annals of this Country, if it should be recommended by you, and adopted by the Assembly.
Need for an inland waterwayIt has been long my decided opinion that the shortest, easiest, and least expensive communication with the invaluable and extensive Country back of us, would be by one, or both of the rivers of this State which have their sources in the Apalachian mountains. Nor am I singular in this opinion. Evans, in his Map and Analysis of the middle Colonies which (considering the early period at which they were given to the public) are done with amazing exactness. And Hutchins since, in his topographical description of the Western Country, (a good part of which is from actual surveys), are decidedly of the same sentiments; as indeed are all others who have had opportunities, and have been at the pains to investigate and consider the subject.
But that this may not now stand as mere matter of opinion or assertion, unsupported by facts (such at least as the best maps now extant, compared with the oral testimony, which my opportunities in the course of the war have enabled me to obtain); I shall give you the different routs and distances from Detroit, by which all the trade of the North Western parts of the United territory, must pass; unless the Spaniards, contrary to their present policy, should engage part of it; or the British should attempt to force nature by carrying the trade of the upper Lakes by the river Outawaies into Canada, which I scarcely think they will or could effect. Taking Detroit then (which is putting ourselves in as unfavourable a point of view as we can be well placed, because it is upon the line of the British territory) as a point by which, as I have already observed, all that part of the trade must come, it appears from the statement enclosed, that the tide waters of this State are nearer to it by 168 miles than that of the river St. Lawrence; or than that of the Hudson at Albany by 176 miles.
Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York prospectsMaryland stands upon similar ground with Virginia. Pennsylvania altho’ the Susquehanna is an unfriendly water, much impeded it is said with rocks and rapids, and nowhere communicating with those which lead to her capital; has it in contemplation to open a communication between Toby’s Creek (which empties into the Alleghany river, 95 miles above Fort Pitt) and the west branch of Susquehanna; and to cut a canal between the waters of the latter, and the Schuylkill; the expence of which is easier to be conceived than estimated or described by me. A people however, who are possessed of the spirit of commerce, who see, and who will pursue their advantages, may achieve almost anything. In the mean time, under the uncertainty of these undertakings, they are smoothing the roads and paving the ways for the trade of that western World. That New York will do the same so soon as the British Garrisons are removed, which are at present, insurmountable obstacles in their way, no person who knows the temper, genius, and policy of those people as well as I do, can harbour the smallest doubt.
Objections in VirginiaThus much with respect to rival States; let me now take a short view of our own; and being aware of the objections which are in the way, I will enumerate, in order to contrast them with the advantages.
The first and principal one is, the unfortunate Jealousy, which ever has and it is to be feared ever will prevail, lest one part of the State should obtain an advantage over the other part (as if the benefits of trade were not diffusive and beneficial to all); then follow a train of difficulties viz: that our people are already heavily taxed; that we have no money; that the advantages of this trade are remote that the most direct rout for it is thro’ other States, over whom we have no controul; that the routs over which we have controul, are as distant as either of those which lead to Philadelphia, Albany or Montreal; That a sufficient spirit of commerce does not pervade the citizens of this commonwealth; that we are in fact doing for others, what they ought to do for themselves.
Objections counteredWithout going into the investigation of a question, which has employed the pens of able politicians, namely, whether trade with Foreigners is an advantage or disadvantage to a country. This State as a part of the confederated States (all of whom have the spirit of it very strongly working within them) must adopt it, or submit to the evils arising therefrom without receiving its benefits; common policy therefore points clearly and strongly, to the propriety of our enjoying all the advantages which nature and our local situation afford us; and evinces clearly that unless this spirit could be totally eradicated in other States, as well as in this, and every man made to become either a cultivator of the Land, or a manufacturer of such articles as are prompted by necessity, such stimulas should be employed as will force this spirit; by shewing to our Countrymen the superior advantages we possess beyond others; and the importance of being upon a footing with our Neighbours.
If this is fair reasoning, it ought to follow as a consequence, that we should do our part towards opening the communication with the fur and peltry trade of the Lakes; and for the produce of the Country which lies within; and which will, so soon as matters are settled with the Indians, and the terms on which Congress means to dispose of the Land, and found to be favourable, are announced, settle faster than any other ever did, or any one would imagine. This then when considered in an interested point of view, is alone sufficient to excite our endeavours; but in my opinion, there is a political consideration for so doing, which is of still greater importance.
Political considerationsI need not remark to you Sir, that the flanks and rear of the United States are possessed by other powers, and formidable ones too; nor how necessary it is to apply the cement of interest, to bind all parts of the Union together by indissoluble bonds, especially that part of it, which lies immediately west of us, with the middle States. For, what ties, let me ask, shou’d we have upon those people? How entirely unconnected with them shall we be, and what troubles may we not apprehend, if the Spaniards on their right, and Gt. Britain on their left, instead of throwing stumbling blocks in their way as they now do, should hold out lures for their trade and alliance. What, when they get strength, which will be sooner than most people conceive (from the emigration of foreigners who will have no particular predilection towards us, as well as from the removal of our own citizens) will be the consequence of their having formed close connexions with both, or either of those powers in a commercial way? It needs not, in my opinion, the gift of prophecy to foretell.
Western settlers discussedThe Western settlers, (I speak now from my own observation) stand as it were upon a pivot; the touch of a feather, would turn them any way. They have look’d down the Mississippi, until the Spaniards (very impoliticly I think, for themselves) threw difficulties in their way; and they looked that way for no other reason, than because they could glide gently down the stream; without considering perhaps, the fatigues of the voyage back again, and the time necessary to perform it in; and because they have no other means of coming to us but by a long Land transportation and unimproved roads. These causes have hitherto checked the industry of the present settlers; for except the demand for provisions, occasioned by the increase of population, and a little flour which the necessities of Spaniards compel them to buy, they have no incitements to labour. But smooth the road once, and make easy the way for them, and then see what an influx of articles will be poured upon us; how amazingly our exports will be encreased by them, and how amply we shall be compensated for any trouble and expence we may encounter to effect it.
Virginia’s advantagesA combination of circumstances makes the present conjuncture more favourable for Virginia, than for any other State in the Union, to fix these matters. The jealous and untoward disposition of the Spaniards on one hand, and the private views of some individuals, coinciding with the general policy of the Court of Great Britain, on the other, to retain as long as possible the Posts of Detroit, Niagara, and Oswega &c. (which, tho’ done under the letter of the Treaty, is certainly an infraction of the spirit of it, and injurious to the Union) may be improved to the greatest advantage by this State; if she would open the avenues to the trade of that Country, and embrace the present moment to establish it. It only wants a beginning; the Western Inhabitants wou’d do their part towards its execution. Weak as they are, they would meet us at least half way, rather than be driven into the arms of, or be made dependant upon foreigners; which would, eventually, either bring on a separation of them from us, or a war between the United States and one or the other of those powers, most probably with the Spaniards.
The preliminary steps to the attainment of this great object, would be attended with very little expence, and might, at the same time that it served to attract the attention of the Western Country, and to convince the wavering Inhabitants thereof of our disposition to connect ourselves with them, and to facilitate their commerce with us, would be a mean of removing those jealousies which otherwise might take place among ourselves.
Appointment of commissionersThese, in my opinion are; to appoint Commissioners, who from their situation, integrity and abilities, can be under no suspicion of prejudice or predilection to one part more than to another. Let these Commissioners make an actual survey of James river and Potomack from tide-water to their respective sources. Note with great accuracy the kind of navigation, and the obstructions in it; the difficulty and expence attending the removal of these obstructions; the distances from place to place thro’ the whole extent; and the nearest and best Portages between these waters and the Streams capable of improvement which run into the Ohio; traverse these in like manner to their junction with the Ohio, and with equal accuracy. The navigation of this river (i.e., the Ohio) being well known, they will have less to do in the examination of it; but nevertheless, let the courses and distances of it be taken to the mouth of the Muskingum, and up that river (notwithstanding it is in the ceded lands) to the carrying place with Cayahoga; down the Cayahoga to Lake Erie, and thence to Detroit. Let them do the same with big Bever creek, although part of it is in the State of Pennsylvania; and with the Scioto also. In a word, let the Waters East and West of the Ohio, which invite our notice by their proximity, and the ease with which Land transportation may be had between them and the Lakes on one side, and the rivers Potomac and James on the other, be explored, accurately delineated, and a correct and connected Map of the whole be presented to the public. These things being done, I shall be mistaken if prejudice does not yield to facts; jealousy to candour, and finally, that reason and nature thus aided, will dictate what is right and proper to be done.
In the meanwhile, if it should be thought that the lapse of time which is necessary to effect this work, may be attended with injurious consequences, could not there be a sum of money granted towards opening the best, or if it should be deemed more eligible, two of the nearest communications, one to the Northward and another to the Southward, with the settlements to the westward?A public or private venture And an act be passed (if there should not appear a manifest disposition in the Assembly to make it a public undertaking) to incorporate, and encourage private Adventurers if any should associate and sollicit the same, for the purpose of extending the navigation of Potomac or James river? And, in the former case, to request the concurrence of Maryland in the measure.Geographic consideration It will appear from my statement of the different routs (and as far as my means of information have extended, I have done it with the utmost candour), that all the produce of the settlements about Fort Pitt can be brought to Alexandria by the Yohoghaney in 304 Miles; whereof only 31 is land transportation: And by the Monongahela and Cheat river in 300 miles; 20 only of which are land carriage. Whereas the common road from Fort Pitt to Philadelphia is 320 miles, all Land transportation; or 476 miles, if the Ohio, Toby’s Creek, Susquehanna and Schuylkill are made use of for this purpose: how much of this is by land, I know not; but from the nature of the Country it must be very considerable. How much the interests and feelings of people thus circumstanced would be engaged to promote it, requires no illustration.
For my own part, I think it highly probable, that upon the strictest scrutiny (if the Falls of the Great Kanhawa can be made navigable, or a short portage be had there), it will be found of equal importance and convenience to improve the navigation of both the James and Potomac. The latter I am fully persuaded, affords the nearest communication with the Lakes; but James river may be more convenient for all the settlers below the mouth of the Gt. Kanhawa, and for some distance perhaps above, and west of it: for I have no expectation that any part of the trade above the falls of the Ohio will go down that river and the Mississippi, much less that the returns will ever come up them; unless our want of foresight and good management is the occasion of it. Or upon trial, if it should be found that these rivers, from the beforementioned Falls, will admit the descent of Sea vessels; in which case, and the navigation of the former’s becoming free, it is probable that both vessels and the cargoes will be carried to foreign markets and sold; but the returns for them will never in the natural course of things, ascend the long and rapid current of that river; which with the Ohio to the Falls, in their meanderings, is little if any short of 2000 miles. Upon the whole, the object, in my estimation is of vast commercial and political importance: in these lights I think posterity will consider it, and regret (if our conduct should give them cause) that the present favourable moment to secure so great a blessing for them, was neglected.
Position of PennsylvaniaOne thing more remains, which I had like to have forgot, and that is the supposed difficulty of obtaining a passage thro’ the State of Pennsylvania. How an application to its Legislature would be relished, in the first instance, I will not undertake to decide; but of one thing I am almost certain, such an application would place that body in a very delicate situation. There is in the State of Pennsylvania at least 100,000 souls west of the Laurel hill, who are groaning under the inconveniences of a long land transportation; they are wishing, indeed they are looking for the improvement and extension of inland navigation; and if this cannot be made easy for them, to Philada (at any rate it must be lengthy), they will seek a mart elsewhere; the consequence of which would be, that the State, tho’ contrary to the policy and interests of its Sea-ports, must submit to the loss of so much of its trade, or hazard not only the trade but the loss of the Settlement also; for an opposition on the part of Government to the extension of water transportation, so consonant with the essential interests of a large body of people, or any extraordinary impositions upon the exports or imports to, or from another State, would ultimately bring on a separation between its Eastern and Western Settlements; towards which, there is not wanting a disposition at this moment in that part of it, which is beyond the mountains. I consider Rumsey’s discovery for working Boats against stream, by mechanical powers (principally) as not only a very fortunate invention for these States in general, but as one of those circumstances which have combined to render the present epocha favourable above all others for fixing, if we are disposed to avail ourselves of them, a large portion of the trade of the Western Country in the bosom of this State irrevocably.
Lengthy as this letter is, I intended to have written a fuller and more digested one, upon this important subject, but have met with so many interruptions since my return home, as almost to have precluded my writing at all. What I now give is crude; but if you are in sentiment with me, I have said enough; if there is not an accordance of opinion I have said too much and all I pray in the latter case is, that you will do me the justice to believe my motives are pure, however erroneous my judgment may be on this matter, and that I am with the most perfect esteem etc.
TO THOMAS JOHNSON
Mount Vernon, October 15, 1784
On a supposition that you are now at Annapolis, the petition of the Potomack Company is enclosed to your care. A duplicate has been forwarded to the Assembly of this state; the fate of which I have not yet heard, but entertain no doubt of its favorable reception, as there are many auspicious proofs of liberality and justice already exhibited in the proceedings of the present session. I hope the same spirit will mark the proceedings of yours. The want of energy in the Federal government, the pulling of one State and party of States against another and the commotion amongst the Eastern people have sunk our national character much below par; and has brought our politics and credit to the brink of a precipice; a step or two farther must plunge us into a Sea of Troubles, perhaps anarchy and confusion. I trust that a proper sense of justice and unanimity in those States which have not drunk so deep of the cup of folly may yet retrieve our affairs. But no time is to be lost in essaying them. I have written to no gentlemen in your Assembly respecting the Potomack business but yourself. The justice of the cause and your management of it will insure success. With great regard and respect I am etc.
TO BENJAMIN HARRISON
Mount Vernon, January 22, 1785
My dear Sir:
It is not easy for me to decide by which my mind was most affected upon the receipt of your letter of the 6th. inst., surprise or gratitude: both were greater than I have words to express. The attention and good wishes which the Assembly have evidenced by their act for vesting in me 150Gift of shares in navigation company shares in the navigation of each of the rivers Potomac and James, are more than mere compliment; there is an unequivocal and substantial meaning annexed. But believe me sir, notwithstanding these, no circumstance has happened to me since I left the walks of public life, which has so much embarrassed me. On the one hand, I consider this act, as I have already observed, as a noble and unequivocal proof of the good opinion, the affection, and disposition of my Country to serve me; and I should be hurt, if by declining the acceptance of it, my refusal should be construed into disrespect, or the smallest slight upon the generous intention of the country: or, that an ostentatious display of disinterestedness or public virtue, was the source of the refusal. On the other hand, it is really my wish to have my mind, and my actions which are the result of contemplation, as free and independent as the air, that I may be more at liberty (in things which my opportunities and experience have brought me to the knowledge of) to express my sentiments, and if necessary, to suggest what may occur to me, under the fullest conviction, that altho’ my judgment may be arraigned, there will be no suspicion that sinister motives had the smallest influence in the suggestion. Not content then with the bare consciousness of my having, in all this navigation business, acted upon the clearest conviction of the political importance of the measure; I would wish that every individual who may hear that it was a favorite plan of mine, may know also that I had no other motive for promoting it, than the advantage I conceived it would be productive of to the Union, and to this State in particular, by cementing the Eastern and Western Territory together, at the same time that it will give vigor and encrease to our commerce, and be a convenience to our Citizens.
How would this matter be viewed then by the eye of the world; and what would be the opinion of it, when it comes to be related that G W— exerted himself to effect this work, and G. W— has received 20,000 Dollars, and £5,000 Sterling of the public money as an interest therein? Would not this in the estimation of it (if I am entitled to any merit for the part I have acted; and without it there is no foundation for the act) deprive me of the principal thing which is laudable in my conduct? Would it not, in some respects, be considered in the same light as a pension? And would not the apprehension of this make me more reluctantly offer my sentiments in future? In a word, under what ever pretence, and however customary these gratuitous gifts are made in other Countries, should I not thence forward be considered as a dependant? One moments thought of which would give me more pain, than I should receive pleasure from the product of all the tolls, was every farthing of them vested in me: altho’ I consider it as one of the most certain and increasing Estates in the Country.
I have written to you with an openness becoming our friendship. I could have said more on the subject; but I have already said enough to let you into the State of my mind. I wish to know whether the ideas I entertain occurred to, and were expressed by any member in or out of the House. Upon the whole, you may be assured my Dr. Sir, that my mind is not a little agitated. I want the best information and advice to settle it. I have no inclination (as I have already observed) to avail myself of the generosity of the Country: nor do I want to appear ostentatiously disinterested (for more than probable my refusal would be ascribed to this motive) or that the Country should harbour an idea that I am disposed to set little value on her favours, the manner of granting which is as flattering, as the grant is important. My present difficulties however shall be no impediment to the progress of the undertaking. I will receive the full and frank opinions of my friends with thankfulness. I shall have time enough between the sitting of the next Assembly to consider the tendency of the act, and in this, as in all other matters, will endeavor to decide for the best.
My respectful compliments and best wishes, in which Mrs. Washington and Fanny Bassett (who is much recovered) join, are offered to Mrs. Harrison and the rest of your family. It would give us great pleasure to hear that Mrs. Harrison had her health restored to her. With every sentiment of esteem, regard and friendship. I am, etc.
TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS
Mount Vernon, February 8, 1785
Inland communications with western territorySince my last, I have had the honor to receive your favors of the 26th. of Decr. and 16th. of January. I have now the pleasure to inform you, that the Assemblies of Virginia and Maryland have enacted Laws, of which the enclosed is a copy; they are exactly similar in both States. At the same time and at the joint and equal expence of the two Governments, the sum of 6666 2/3 Dollars are voted for opening and keeping in repair a road from the highest practicable navigation of this river, to that of the river Cheat or Monongahela, as commissioners (who are appointed to survey and lay out the same) shall find most convenient and beneficial to the Western Settlers: and have concurred in an application to the State of Pennsylvania for permission to open another road from Fort Cumberland to the Yohoganey, at the three forks or Turkey foot. A similar Bill to the one enclosed, is passed by our Assembly, respecting the navigation of James river, and the communication between it and the waters of the great Kanhawa, and the Executive authorised by a resolve of the Assembly to appoint Commissioners to examine and report the most convenient course for a canal between Elizabeth river and the waters of Roanoke; with an estimate of the expence: and if the best communication shall be found to require the concurrence of the State of No. Carolina thereto, to make application to the Legislature thereof accordingly.
A plan to spread Christianity among the IndiansTowards the latter part of the year 1783 I was honored with a letter from the Countess of Huntington, briefly reciting her benevolent intention of spreading Christianity among the Tribes of Indians inhabiting our Western Territory; and expressing a desire of my advice and assistance to carry this charitable design into execution. I wrote her Ladyship for answer, that it would by no means comport with the plan of retirement I had promised myself, to take an active or responsible part in this business; and that it was my belief, there was no other way to effect her pious and benevolent designs, but by first reducing these people to a state of greater civilization, but that I wou’d give every aid in my power, consistent with the ease and tranquility, to which I meant to devote the remainder of my life, to carry her plan into effect. Since that I have been favored with other letters from her, and a few days ago under cover from Sir James Jay the papers herewith enclosed.
As the plan contemplated by Lady Huntington, according to the outlines exhibited, is not only unexceptionable in its design and tendency, but has humanity and charity for its object; and may I conceive, be made subservient to valuable political purposes, I take the liberty of laying the matter before you for your free and candid sentiments thereon; the communication I make of this matter to you sir, is in a private way, but you are at full liberty to communicate the plan of Lady Huntington, to the members individually; or officially to Congress, as the importance and propriety of the measure may strike you. My reasons for it are these: 1st. I do not believe that any of the States to whom she has written (unless it may be New York) are in circumstances, since their cession of Territory, to comply with the requisition respecting emigration; for it has been privately hinted to me, and ought not to become a matter of public notoriety, that notwithstanding the indefinite expressions of the Address respecting the numbers or occupations of the emigrants, which was purposely omitted to avoid giving alarms in England, the former will be great, and the useful artisans among them, many. 2d Because such emigration, if it should effect the object in view, besides the humane and charitable purposes which would be thereby answered, will be of immense political consequence; and even if this should not succeed to her Ladyships wishes, it must nevertheless, be of considerable importance from the encrease of population by orderly and well disposed characters, who would at once form a barrier and attempt the conversion of the Indians without involving an expence to the Union. I see but one objection to a compact, unmixed and powerful settlement of this kind, if it is likely to be so, the weight of which you will judge. It is, (and her Ladyship seems to have been aware of it, and endeavours to guard against it) placing a people in a body upon our exterior, where they will be contiguous to Canada, who may bring with them strong prejudices against us, and our form of Government, and equally strong attachments to the country and Constitution they leave, without the means, being detached and unmixed with Citizens of different sentiments, of having them eradicated. Her Ladyship has spoken so feelingly and sensibly, on the religeous and benevolent purposes of the plan, that no language of which I am possessed, can add aught to enforce her observations. And no place I think bids so fair to answer her views as that spot in Hutchin’s map, mark’d Miami Village and Fort, from hence there is a communication to all parts by water and at which, in my opinion we ought to have a Post.
Do not think it strange my good Sir, that I send you the original papers from Lady Huntington. Many, mistakenly, think I am retired to ease and that kind of tranquility which would grow tiresome for want of employment; but at no period of my life, not in the eight years I served the public, have I been obliged to write so much myself, as I have done since my retirement. Was this confined to friendly communications, and to my own business, it would be equally pleasing and trifling; but I have a thousand references of old matters with which I ought not to be troubled; but which, nevertheless, must receive some answer; these, with applications for certificates, copies of Orders &c. &c. &c. deprive me of my usual and necessary exercise.
Seeks secretaryI have tryed, but hitherto in vain, to get a Secretary or Clerk, to take upon him the drudging part of this business: that you might not wonder at my parting with original papers on an important subject, I thought it incumbent upon me to assign the reason, and I beg you to be assured, that I have no other motive for it.
Please to accept my thanks for the pamphlet you sent me, and for the resolutions respecting the temporary and permanent seat of Government. If I might be permitted to hazard an opinion of the latter, I would say, that by the time your Federal buildings on the banks of the Delaware, along the point of triangle, are fit for the reception of Congress; it will be found that they are very improperly placed for the seat of the Empire, and will have to undergo a second edition in a more convenient one. If the union continues, and this is not the case, I will agree to be classed among the false prophets, and suffer for evil prediction. The letter for the Marqs. de la Fayette, I pray you to forward by the Packet. With great esteem and regard, I am etc.
TO WILLIAM GRAYSON
Mount Vernon, June 22, 1785
Since my last to you I have been favored with your letters of the 5th, 27th, and—of May, and beg your acceptance of my thanks for their enclosures, and for the communications you were pleased to make me therein.
I am very glad to find you have pass’d an Ordinance of Congress respecting the sale of the Western Lands: I am too well acquainted with the local politics of individual States, not to have foreseen the difficulties you met with in this business; these things are to be regretted, but not to be altered until liberallity of sentiment is more universal.Establishment of a site for a national capital Fixing the Seat of Empire at any spot on the Delaware, is in my humble opinion, demonstrably wrong: to incur an expence for what may be call’d the permanent seat of Congress, at this time, is I conceive evidently impolitic; for without the gift of prophecy, I will venture to predict that under any circumstance of confederation, it will not remain so far to the Eastward long; and that until the public is in better circumstances, it ought not to be built at all. Time, too powerful for sophistry, will point out the place and disarm localities of their power. In the meanwhile let the widow, the Orphan and the suffering Soldier, who are crying to you for their dues, receive that which can very well be rendered to them.
There is nothing new in this quarter of an interesting nature, to communicate, unless you should not have been informed that the Potomac navigation proceeds under favourable auspices: At the general meeting of the subscribers in May last, it appeared that upwards of 400 of the 500 shares had been engaged; many more have been subscribed since; a Board of Directors have been chosen, proper characters and Labourers advertized for, to commence the work in the least difficult parts of the river, ‘till a skillful Engineer can be engaged to undertake those which are more so; and it is expected the work will be begun by the 10th. of next month. With great esteem, &c.
TO DAVID HUMPHREYS
Mount Vernon, July 25, 1785
My dr. Humphreys:
Since my last to you, I have received your letter of the 15th. of January, and I believe that of the 11th. of November, and thank you for them. It always gives me pleasure to hear from you; and I should think if amusements would spare you, business could not so much absorb your time as to prevent your writing more frequently, especially as there is a regular conveyance once a month by the Packet.
European politics: war, peace, emigrationAs the complexion of European politics seems now (from letters I have received from the Marqs. de la Fayette, Chevrs. Chartellux, De la Luzerne, &c.,) to have a tendency to Peace, I will say nothing of war, nor make any animadversions upon the contending powers; otherwise, I might possibly have said that the retreat from it seemed impossible after the explicit declaration of the parties: My first wish is to see this plague to mankind banished from off the Earth, and the sons and Daughters of this world employed in more pleasing and innocent amusements, than in preparing implements and exercising them for the destruction of mankind: rather than quarrel about territory let the poor, the needy and oppressed of the Earth, and those who want Land, resort to the fertile plains of our western country, the second land of Promise, and there dwell in peace, fulfilling the first and great commandment.
Praise of HumphreysIn a former letter, I informed you my Dr. Humphreys, that if I had talents for it, I have not leisure to turn my thoughts to commentaries: a consciousness of a defective education, and a certainty of the want of time, unfit me for such an undertaking; what with company, letters and other matters, many of them quite extraneous, I have not been able to arrange my own private concerns so as to rescue them from that disorder’d state into which they have been thrown by the war, and to do which is become absolutely necessary for my support, whilst I remain on this stage of human action. The sentiments of your last letter on this subject gave me great pleasure; I should be pleased indeed to see you undertake this business: your abilities as a writer; your discernment respecting the principles which lead to the decision by arms; your personal knowledge of many facts as they occurred in the progress of the War; your disposition to justice, candour and impartiality, and your diligence in investigating truth, combining fit you, when joined with the vigor of life, for this task; and I should with great pleasure, not only give you the perusal of all my papers, but any oral information of circumstances, which cannot be obtained from the former, that my memory will furnish: and I can with great truth add that my house would not only be at your service during the period of your preparing this work, but (and without an unmeaning compliment I say it) I should be exceedingly happy if you would make it your home. You might have an apartment to yourself, in which you could command your own time; you wou’d be considered and treated as one of the family; and meet with that cordial reception and entertainment which are characteristic of the sincerest friendship.
To reverberate European news would be idle, and we have little of domestic kind worthy of attention: We have held treaties indeed, with the Indians; but they were so unseasonably delayed, that these people by our last accounts from the westward, are in a discontented mood, supposed by many to be instigated thereto by our late enemies, now, to be sure, fast friends; who from any thing I can learn, under the indefinite expression of the treaty hold, and seem resolved to retain possession of our western Posts.Congressional ordinance on western lands Congress have also, after a long and tedious deliberation, passed an ordinance for laying off the Western Territory into States, and for disposing of the land; but in a manner and on terms which few people (in the Southern States) conceive can be accomplished: Both sides are sure, and the event is appealed to, let time decide it. It is however to be regretted that local politics and self-interested views obtrude themselves into every measure of public utility: but to such characters be the consequences.
Inland navigationMy attention is more immediately engaged in a project which I think big with great political, as well as commercial consequences to these States, especially the middle ones: it is, by removing the obstructions, and extending the inland navigation of our rivers, to bring the States on the Atlantic in close connexion with those forming to the westward, by a short and easy transportation: without this, I can easily conceive they will have different views, separate interests and other connexions. I may be singular in my ideas; but they are these, that to open a door to, and make easy the way for those Settlers to the westward (which ought to progress regularly and compactly) before we make any stir about the navigation of the Mississippi, and before our settlements are far advanced towards that river, would be our true line of policy. It can, I think, be demonstrated, that the produce of the western Territory (if the navigations which are now in hand succeed, and of which I have no doubt) as low down the Ohio as the Great Kanhawa, I believe to the Falls, and between the parts above and the Lakes, may be brought either to the highest shipping port on this or James river, at a less expence, with more ease, (including the return) and in a much shorter time, than it can be carried to New Orleans if the Spaniards instead of restricting, were to throw open their ports and invite our trade. But if the commerce of that country should embrace this channel, and connexions be formed; experience has taught us (and there is a very recent proof with G: Britain) how next to impracticable it is to divert it; and if that should be the case, the Atlantic States (especially as those to the westward will in a great degree fill with foreigners) will be no more to the present union, except to excite perhaps very justly our fears, than the Country of California which is still more to the westward, and belonging to another power.
Mrs. Washington presents her compliments to you, and with every wish for your happiness, I am etc.
TO MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE
Mount Vernon, July 25, 1785
My Dear Marquis:
I have to acknowledge and thank you for your several favors of the 9th. of February, 19th. of March and 16th. of April, with their enclosures; all of which (the last only yesterday) have been received since I had the honor to address you in February.
I stand before you as a Culprit: but to repent and be forgiven are the precepts of Heaven: I do the former, do you practice the latter, and it will be participation of a divine attribute. Yet I am not barren of excuses for this seeming inattention; frequent absences from home, a round of company when at it, and the pressure of many matters, might be urged as apologies for my long silence; but I disclaim all of them, and trust to the forbearance of friendship and your wonted indulgence: indeed so few things occur, in the line on which I now move, worthy of attention, that this also might be added to the catalogue of my excuses; especially when I further add, that one of my letters, if it is to be estimated according to its length, would make three of yours.
I now congratulate you, and my heart does it more effectually than my pen, on your safe arrival at Paris, from your voyage to this Country, and on the happy meeting with Madame la Fayette and your family in good health. May the blessing of this long continue to them, and may every day add increase of happiness to yourself.
Peace and the Ohio landsAs the clouds which overspread your hemisphere are dispersing, and peace with all its concomitants is dawning upon your Land, I will banish the sound of War from my letter: I wish to see the sons and daughters of the world in Peace and busily employed in the more agreeable amusement of fulfilling the first and great commandment, Increase and Multiply: as an encouragement to which we have opened the fertile plains of the Ohio to the poor, the needy and the oppressed of the Earth; any one therefore who is heavy laden, or who wants land to cultivate, may repair thither and abound, as in the Land of promise, with milk and honey: the ways are preparing, and the roads will be made easy, thro’ the channels of Potomac and James river.
Speaking of these navigations, I have the pleasure to inform you that the subscriptions, (especially for the first) at the surrender of the books, agreeably to the act which I enclosed you in my last, exceeded my most sanguine expectation: for the latter, that is James river, no comparison of them has yet been made.
Potomac navigationOf the £50,000 Sterlg. required for the Potomac navigation, upwards of £40,000, was subscribed before the middle of May, and encreasing fast. A President and four Directors, consisting of your hble. Servant, Govrs. Johnson and Lee of Maryland, and Colo. Fitzgerald and Gilpin of this State, were chosen to conduct the undertaking. The first dividend of the money was paid in on the 15th. of this month; and the work is to be begun the first of next, in those parts which require least skill; leaving the more difficult ’till an Engineer of abilities and practical knowledge can be obtained; which reminds me of the question which I propounded to you in my last, on this subject, and on which I should be glad to learn your sentiments. This prospect, if it succeeds and of which I have no doubt, will bring the Atlantic States and the Western Territory into close connexion, and be productive of very extensive commercial and political consequences; the last of which gave the spur to my exertions, as I could foresee many, and great mischiefs which would naturally result from a separation, and that a separation would inevitably take place, if the obstructions between the two countries remained, and the navigation of the Mississippi should be made free.
Commercial policy of Great BritainGreat Britain, in her commercial policy is acting the same unwise part, with respect to herself, which seems to have influenced all her Councils; and thereby is defeating her own ends: the restriction of our trade, and her heavy imposts on the staple commodities of this Country, will I conceive, immediately produce powers in Congress to regulate the Trade of the Union; which, more than probably would not have been obtained without in half a century. The mercantile interests of the whole Union are endeavouring to effect this, and will no doubt succeed; they see the necessity of a controuling power, and the futility, indeed the absurdity, of each State’s enacting Laws for this purpose independent of one another. This will be the case also, after a while, in all matters of common concern. It is to be regretted, I confess, that Democratical States must always feel before they can see: it is this that makes their Governments slow, but the people will be right at last.
Congressional disposal of western landsCongress after long deliberation, have at length agreed upon a mode for disposing of the Lands of the United States in the Western territory: it may be a good one, but it does not comport with my ideas. The ordinance is long, and I have none of them by me, or I would send one for your perusal. They seem in this instance, as in almost every other, to be surrendering the little power they have, to the States individually which gave it to them. Many think the price which they have fixed upon the Lands too high; and all to the Southward I believe, that disposing of them in Townships, and by square miles alternately, they will be a great let to the sale: but experience, to which there is an appeal, must decide.
A donkey from the King of SpainSoon after I had written to you in Feby., Mr. Jefferson, and after him Mr. Carmichael informed me that in consequence of an application from Mr. Harrison for permission to export a Jack for me from Spain, his Catholic Majesty had ordered two of the first race in his Kingdom (lest an accident might happen to one) to be purchased and presented to me as a mark of his esteem. Such an instance of condescension and attention from a crowned head is very flattering, and lays me under great obligation to the King; but neither of them is yet arrived: these I presume are the two mentioned in your favor of the 16th. of April; one as having been shipped from Cadiz, the other as expected from the Isle of Malta, which you would forward. As they have been purchased since December last, I began to be apprehensive of accidents; which I wish may not be the case with respect to the one from Cadiz, if he was actually shipped at the time of your account: should the other pass thro’ your hands you cannot oblige me more, than by requiring the greatest care, and most particular attention to be paid to him. I have long endeavoured to procure one of a good size and breed, but had little expectation of receiving two as a royal gift.
Hounds and seedsI am much obliged to you my dear Marquis, for your attention to the hounds, and not less sorry that you should have met the smallest difficulty, or experienced the least trouble in obtaining them: I was no way anxious about these, consequently should have felt no regret, or sustained no loss if you had not succeeded in your application. I have commissioned three or four persons (among whom Colo. Marshall is one,) to procure for me in Kentucke, for the use of the Kings Garden’s at Versailles or elsewhere, the seeds mentioned in the list you sent me from New York, and such others as are curious, and will forward them as soon as they come to my hands; which cannot be ‘till after the growing Crop has given its seeds.
My best wishes will accompany you to Potsdam, and into the Austrian Dominions whenever you set out upon that tour. As an unobserved spectator, I should like to take a peep at the troops of those Monarch’s at their manoeuverings, upon a grand field day; but as it is among the unattainable things, my philosophy shall supply the place of curiosity, and set my mind at ease.
In your favor of the 19th. of March you speak of letters which were sent by a Mr. Williams; but none such have come to hand. The present for the little folks did not arrive by Mr. Ridouts Ship as you expected; to what cause owing I know not. Mrs. Washington has but indifferent health; and the late loss of her mother, and only brother Mr. Barthw. Dandridge (one of the Judges of our Supreme Court) has rather added to her indisposition. My mother and friends enjoy good health. George has returned after his peregrination thro’ the West Indies, to Bermuda, the Bahama Islands, and Charlestown; at the last place he spent the winter. He is in better health than when he set out, but not quite recovered: He is now on a journey to the Sweet Springs, to procure a stock sufficient to fit him for a matrimonial voyage in the Frigate F. Bassett, on board which he means to embark at his return in October: how far his case is desperate, I leave you to judge, if it is so, the remedy however pleasing at first, will certainly be violent.
The latter end of April I had the pleasure to receive in good order, by a Ship from London, the picture of yourself, Madame la Fayette and the children, which I consider as an invaluable present, and shall give it the best place in my House. Mrs. Washington joins me in respectful compliments, and in every good wish for Madame de la Fayette, yourself and family, all the others who have come under your kind notice present their compliments to you. For myself, I can only repeat the sincere attachment, and unbounded affection of My Dr. Marqs., &c.
TO EDMUND RANDOLPH
Mount Vernon, July 30, 1785
Altho’ it is not my intention to derive any pecuniary advantage from the generous vote of the Assembly of this State, consequent of its gratuitous gift of fifty shares in each of the navigations of the rivers Potomac and James; yet, as I consider these undertakings as of vast political and commercial importance to the States on the Atlantic, especially to those nearest the centre of the Union,Shares in waterways companies for charitable purposes and adjoining the Western Territory, I can let no act of mine impede the progress of the work: I have therefore come to the determination to hold the shares which the Treasurer was directed to subscribe on my account, in trust for the use and benefit of the public; unless I shall be able to discover, before the meeting of the Assembly, that it would be agreeable to it to have the product of the Sales arising from these shares, applied as a fund on which to establish two Charity schools, one on each river, for the Education and support of the Children of the poor and indigent of this Country who cannot afford to give it; particularly the children of those men of this description, who have fallen in defence of the rights and liberties of it. If the plans succeed, of which I have no doubt, I am sure it will be a very productive and encreasing fund, and the monies thus applied will be a beneficial institun.
I am aware that my non-acceptance of these shares will have various motives ascribed to it, among which an ostentatious display of disinterestedness, perhaps the charge of disrespect or slight of the favors of my Country, may lead the van: but under a consciousness that my conduct herein is not influenced by considerations of this nature, and that I shall act more agreeably to my own feelings and more consistent with my early declarations, by declining to accept them; I shall not only hope for indulgence, but a favorable interpretation of my conduct: my friends, I persuade myself, will acquit me, the World I hope will judge charitably.
Perceiving by the advertisement of Messrs. Cabell, Buchanan and Southa; that half the sum required by the Act, for opening and extending the navigation of James river, is subscribed; and the 20th. of next month appointed for the subscribers to meet at Richmond, I take the liberty of giving you a power to act for me on that occasion. I would (having the accomplishment of these navigations much at heart) have attended in person; but the President and Directors of the Potomac Company by their own appointment, are to commence the survey of this river in the early part of next month; for which purpose I shall leave home tomorrow. Besides which, if the Ejectments which I have been obliged to bring for my Land in Pennsylva. are to be tried at the September Term, as Mr. Smith, my Lawyer, conceived they would, and is to inform me, I shall find it necessary I fear, to attend the trial; an intermediate journey therefore, in addition, to Richmond would be impracticable for me to accomplish. I am, etc.
TO JAMES McHENRY
Mount Vernon, August 22, 1785
Your letter of the first inst: came to this place whilst I was absent on a tour up the river, or an earlier acknowledgment of it shou’d have been sent to you: the inclosure shall, either by this or the next post, be sent to Dr. Gordon for his information, and that justice may be done to a character so deserving American gratitude and the pen of an historian, as the Marqs. de la Fayette.
I am very glad to hear that Congress are relieved from the embarrassment which originated with Longchamp: had the demand of him been persisted in, it might have involved very serious consequences; it is better for the Court of France to be a little vexed, than for it to have perservered in the demand of him.
Powers of Congress over regulation of commerceAs I have ever been a friend to adequate powers of Congress, without which it is evident to me we never shall establish a national character, or be considered as on a respectable footing by the powers of Europe, I am sorry I cannot agree with you in sentiment not to enlarge them for the regulating of commerce. I have neither time nor abilities to enter into a full discussion of this subject, but it should seem to me that your arguments against it; principally, that some States may be more benefited than others by a commercial regulation, apply to every matter of general utility; for can there be a case enumerated in which this argument has not its force in a greater or less degree? We are either a united people under one head, and for federal purposes; or we are thirteen independant sovereignties, eternally counteracting each other: if the former, whatever such a majority of the States as the Constitution points out, conceives to be for the benefit of the whole, should, in my humble opinion, be submitted to by the minority; let the southern States always be represented; let them act more in union; let them declare freely and boldly what is for the interest of, and what is prejudicial to their constituents; and there will, there must be an accommodating spirit; in the establishment of a navigation act, this in a particular manner ought, and will doubtless be attended to. If the assent of nine (or as some propose, of eleven) States is necessary to give validity to a Commercial system; it insures this measure, or it cannot be obtained: Wherein then lies the danger? But if your fears are in danger of being realized, cannot certain provisos in the ordinance guard against the evil? I see no difficulty in this, if the southern Delegates would give their attendance in Congress, and follow the example, if it should be set them, of hanging together to counteract combinations. I confess to you candidly, that I can foresee no evil greater than disunion than those unreasonable jealousies (I say unreasonable, because I would have a proper jealousy always awake, and the United States on the watch to prevent individual States from infracting the constitution with impunity) which are continually poisoning our minds and filling them with imaginary evils to the prevention of real ones.
Imposts on trade with Great BritainAs you have asked the question, I answer, I do not know that we can enter upon a war of Imposts with Gt: Britain, or any other foreign power; but we are certain that this war has been waged agst. us by the former, professedly upon a belief that we never could unite in opposition to it; and I believe there is no way of putting an end to, or at least of stopping the encrease of it, but to convince them of the contrary. Our trade in all points of view, is as essential to G: B: as hers is to us; and she will exchange it upon reciprocal and liberal terms, if better cannot be had. It can hardly be supposed, I think, that the carrying business will devolve wholly on the States you have named, or remain long with them if it should; for either G: B: will depart from her present contracted system; or the policy of the southern States in framing the Act of navigation, or by Laws passed by themselves individually, will devise ways and means to encourage seamen for the transportation of the product of their respective Countries, or for the encouragement of ———. But admitting the contrary; if the Union is considered as permanent, (and on this I presume all superstructures are built) had we not better encourage seamen among ourselves, with less imports, than divide it with foreigners, and by increasing the amount of them, ruin our Merchants and greatly injuring the mass of our Citizens?
To sum up the whole, I foresee, or think I do it, the many advantages which will arise from giving powers of this kind to Congress (if a sufficient number of States are required to exercise them) without any evil, save that which may proceed from inattention, or want of wisdom in the formation of the act; whilst without them we stand in a ridiculous point of view in the eyes of the nations of the world with whom we are attempting to enter into Commercial treaties, without means of carrying them into effect; who must see and feel that the Union, or the States individually are sovereigns as best suits their purposes; in a word, that we are one nation today, and thirteen to-morrow, who will treat with us on such terms? But perhaps I have gone too far, and therefore will only add that Mrs. Washington offers her compliments and best wishes for you and that with great esteem etc.
TO GEORGE MASON
Mount Vernon, October 3, 1785
On taxes for the support of teachers of Christianity in VirginiaI have this moment received yours of yesterday’s date, enclosing a memorial and remonstrance against the Assessment Bill, which I will read with attention. At present I am unable to do it, on account of company. The bill itself I do not recollect ever to have read; with attention I am certain I never did, but will compare them together.
Altho, no man’s sentiments are more opposed to any kind of restraint upon religious principles than mine are; yet I must confess, that I am not amongst the number of those who are so much alarmed at the thoughts of making people pay towards the support of that which they profess, if of the denomination of Christians; or declare themselves Jews, Mahomitans or otherwise, and thereby obtain proper relief. As the matter now stands, I wish an assessment had never been agitated, and as it has gone so far, that the Bill could die an easy death; because I think it will be productive of more quiet to the State, than by enacting it into a Law; which, in my opinion, would be impolitic, admitting there is a decided majority for it, to the disquiet of a respectable minority. In the first case the matter will soon subside; in the latter, it will rankle and perhaps convulse, the State. The Dinner Bell rings, and I must conclude with an expression of my concern for your indisposition. Sincerely and affectionately, I am &c.
TO JAMES WARREN
Mount Vernon, October 7, 1785
The assurances of your friendship, after a silence of more than six years, are extremely pleasing to me. Friendships, formed under the circumstances that ours commenced, are not easily eradicated; and I can assure you, that mine has undergone no diminution; every occasion, therefore, of renewing it, will give me pleasure, and I shall be happy at all times to hear of your welfare.
The war, as you have justly observed, has terminated most advantageously for America, and a fair field is presented to our view; but I confess to you freely, My Dr. Sir, that I do not think we possess wisdom or Justice enough to cultivate it properly. Illiberality, Jealousy, and local policy mix too much in all our public councils for the good government of the Union. In a word, the confederation appears to me to be little more than a shadow without the substance; and Congress a nugatory body, their ordinances being little attended to. To me, it is a solecism in politics: indeed it is one of the most extraordinary things in nature, that we should confederate as a Nation, and yet be afraid to give the rulers of that nation, who are the creatures of our making, appointed for a limited and short duration, and who are amenable for every action, and recallable at any moment, and are subject to all the evils which they may be instrumental in producing, sufficient powers to order and direct the affairs of the same.Wheels of government clogged By such policy as this the wheels of Government are clogged, and our brightest prospects, and that high expectation which was entertained of us by the wondering world, are turned into astonishment; and from the high ground on which we stood, we are descending into the vale of confusion and darkness.
That we have it in our power to become one of the most respectable Nations upon Earth, admits, in my humble opinion, of no doubt; if we would but pursue a wise, just, and liberal policy towards one another, and would keep good faith with the rest of the World: that our resources are ample and encreasing, none can deny; but while they are grudgingly applyed, or not applyed at all, we give a vital stab to public faith, and shall sink, in the eyes of Europe, into contempt.
Usefulness of foreign commerceIt has long been a speculative question among Philosophers and wise men, whether foreign Commerce is of real advantage to any Country; that is, whether the luxury, effeminacy, and corruptions which are introduced along with it; are counterbalanced by the convenience and wealth which it brings with it; but the decision of this question is of very little importance to us; we have abundant reason to be convinced, that the spirit for Trade which pervades these States is not to be restrained; it behooves us then to establish just principles; and this, any more than other matters of national concern, cannot be done by thirteen heads differently constructed and organized. The necessity, therefore, of a controuling power is obvious; and why it should be withheld is beyond my comprehension.
Philadelphia Agricultural SocietyThe Agricultural Society, lately established in Philadelphia, promises extension usefulness if it is prosecuted with spirit. I wish most sincerely that every State in the Union would institute similar ones; and that these Societies would correspond fully and freely with each other, and communicate all useful discoveries founded on practice, with a due attention to climate, soil, and Seasons to the public.
Union and inland navigationThe great works of improving and extending the inland navigations of the two large rivers Potomac and James, which interlock with the waters of the Western Territory, are already begun, and I have little doubt of their success. The consequences to the Union, in my judgment are immense: more so in a political, than in a commercial view; for unless we can connect the new States which are rising to our view in those regions, with those on the Atlantic by interest, (the only binding cement, and no otherwise to be effected but by opening such communications as will make it easier and cheaper for them to bring the product of their labour to our markets, instead of going to the Spaniards southerly, or the British northerly), they will be quite a distinct people; and ultimately may be very troublesome neighbours to us. In themselves considered merely as a hardy race, this may happen; how much more so, if linked with either of those powers in politics and commerce.
It would afford me great pleasure to go over those grounds in your State with a mind more at ease, than when I travelled them in 1775 and 1776; and to unite in congratulating on the happy change, with those characters, who participated of the anxious moments we passed in those days, and for whom I entertain a sincere regard; but I do not know whether to flatter myself with the enjoyment of it: the deranged state of my affairs, from an absence and total neglect of them for almost nine years, and a pressure of other matters, allow me little leisure for gratifications of this sort. Mrs. Washington offers her compliments and best wishes to Mrs. Warren, to which be pleased to add those of, dear Sir, &c.
TO JAMES MADISON
Mount Vernon, November 30, 1785
My dear Sir:
Receive my thanks for your obliging communications of the 11th. I hear with much pleasure that the Assembly are engaged,A simple law code seriously, in the consideration of the revised Laws. A short and simple code, in my opinion, tho’ I have the sentiments of some of the Gentlemen of the long robe against me, would be productive of happy consequences, and redound to the honor of this or any Country which shall adopt such.
Resolution on regualtion of commerceI hope the resolutions which were published for the consideration of the House, respecting the reference to Congress for the regulation of a Commercial system will have passed. The proposition in my opinion is so self evident that I confess I am at a loss to discover wherein lyes the weight of the objection to the measure. We are either a United people, or we are not. If the former, let us, in all matters of general concern act as a nation, which have national objects to promote, and a national character to support. If we are not, let us no longer act a farce by pretending to it. For whilst we are playing a dble. game, or playing a game between the two we never shall be consistent or respectable; but may be the dupes of some powers and, most assuredly, the contempt of all. In any case it behoves us to provide good Military Laws, and look well to the execution of them, but, if we mean by our conduct that the States shall act independently of each other it becomes indispensably necessary, for therein will consist our strength and respectabity in the Union.
It is much to be wished that public faith may be held inviolate. Painful is it even in thought that attempts should be made to weaken the bands of it. It is a dangerous experiment, once slacken the reins and the power is lost, and it is questionable with me whether the advocates of the measure foresee all the consequences of it. It is an old adage that honesty is the best policy; this applies to public as well as private life, to States as well as individuals. I hope the Port and assize Bills no longer sleep, but are awakened to a happy establishment. The first with some alterations, would, in my judgment be productive of great good to this Country; without it, the Trade thereof I conceive will ever labor and languish; with respect to the Second if it institutes a speedier Administration of Justice it is equally desirable.
Rivers, roads, and canalsIt gives me great pleasure to hear that our assembly were in a way of adopting a mode for establishing the Cut betwn. Elizabeth river and Pasquotank which was likely to meet the approbation of the State of No. Carolina. It appears to me that no Country in the Universe is better calculated to derive benefits from inland Navigation than this is, and certain I am, that the conveniences to the Citizens individually, and the sources of wealth to the Country generally, which will be opened thereby will be found to exceed the most sanguine imagination; the Mind can scarcely take in at one view all the benefits which will result therefrom. The saving in draught Cattle, preservation of Roads &ca. &ca. will be felt most interestingly. This business only wants a beginning. Rappahanock, Shannondoah, Roanoke, and the branches of York River will soon perceive the advantages which water transportation (in ways hardly thought of at first) have over that of Land and will extend Navigation to almost every mans door.
From the complexion of the debates in the Pensylvania it should seem as if that Legislature intended their assent to the proposition from the States of Virginia and Maryland respecting a road to the Yohiogany should be conditional of permission given to open a Communication between the Chesapeak and Delaware by way of the rivers Elk and Christeen, which I am sure will never be obtained if the Baltimore interest can give it effectual opposition.
The Directors of the Potomack Company have sent to the Delegates of this County to be laid before the Assembly a Petition (which sets forth the reasons) for relief in the depth of the Canals which it may be found necessary to open at the great and little Falls of the River. As public oeconomy and private interest equally prompt the measure and no possible disadvantage that we can see will attend granting the prayer of it, we flatter ourselves no opposition will be given to it.
To save trouble to expidite the business, and to secure uniformity without delay, or an intercourse between the Assemblies on so trivial a matter we have taken the liberty of sending the draught of a Bill to Members of both Assemblies which if approved will be found exactly similar. With the highest esteem etc.
TO HENRY LEE
Mount Vernon, April 5, 1786
My Dr. Sir:
Ascribe my silence to any cause rather than a want of friendship, or to a disclination to keep up a friendly intercourse with you, by letter. Absences from home, hurry of business, Company &c., however justly they might be offered, are too stale and common place to be admitted. I therefore discard them; throwing myself upon your lenity, and depending more upon your goodness, than on any apology I can make as an excuse for not having acknowledged the receipt of your favours of the 16th. of Feby. and 2d. of March, before this time.
Visit to canal worksThe first came to hand just after I had made one trip to our works at the great Falls of this River; and when I was upon the eve of another to the same place, where the Board of Directors by appointment met the first of last month. I can therefore inform you from my own observation, that this business is progressing in a manner that exceeds our most sanguine expectation, difficulties vanish as we proceed, the time and expence which it was supposed we should have to encounter at this place, will both be considerably reduced. After a thorough investigation of the ground there we have departed from Ballandine’s rout for the Canal, and marked a fresh cut, which in our judgments will save 4/5th. of the labour, consequently proportionate time and expence, and in the opinion of Mr. Brindley who has just been to see it, 9/10ths., and be equally good when effected. Upon the whole, to be laconic, if there are any doubts remaining of the success of this work, they must be confined to three classes of men, viz: those who have not opportunities of investigations, who will not be at the trouble of doing it when it is in their power, and those whose interests being opposed, do not wish to be convinced. The great Fall is the only place where, under our present view of the River, we conceive it necessary to establish Locks; the ground favors them, and there can be no doubt (this being the case) of Locks succeeding as well in this as in other Countries, as the materials for erecting them are abundant. What difficulties may be found where no difficulty was apprehended, I will not take upon me to declare: where they were thought wholly to lie, we are free from apprehension.
Conduct of the statesMy sentiments with respect to the foederal Government, are well known, publicly and privately have they been communicated without reserve; but my opinion is, that there is more wickedness than ignorance in the conduct of the States, or in other words, in the conduct of those who have too much influence in the government of them; and until the curtain is withdrawn, and the private views and selfish principles upon which these men act, are exposed to public notice, I have little hope of amendment without another convulsion. The picture of our Affairs as drawn by the Committee, approved by Congress and handed to the public, did not at all surprize me: before that report, tho’ I could not go into the minutiae of matters, I was more certain of the agregate of our [Here the available manuscript is blank.] than I am now of the remedy which will be applied; without the latter I do not see upon what ground your Agent at the Court of Morocco, and the other at Algiers, are to treat, unless, having to do with new hands, they mean to touch the old string, and make them dance awhile to the tune of promises.
I thank you for the pamphlet which contains the correspondence between Mr. Jay and Mr. Littlepage; and shall be obliged to you for a Gazette containing the publication of the latter, which appears to have given rise to them. I am, etc.
TO ROBERT MORRIS
Mount Vernon, April 12, 1786
Society of QuakersI give you the trouble of this letter at the instance of Mr. Dalby of Alexandria; who is called to Philadelphia to attend what he conceives to be a vexatious lawsuit respecting a slave of his, which a Society of Quakers in the city (formed for such purposes) have attempted to liberate; The merits of this case will no doubt appear upon trial. but from Mr. Dalby’s state of the matter, it should seem that this Society is not only acting repugnant to justice so far as its conduct concerns strangers, but, in my opinion extremely impolitickly with respect to the State, the City in particular; and without being able, (but by acts of tyranny and oppression) to accomplish their own ends. He says the conduct of this society is not sanctioned by Law: had the case been otherwise, whatever my opinion of the Law might have been, my respect for the policy of the State would on this occasion have appeared in my silence; because against the penalties of promulgated Laws one may guard; but there is no avoiding the snares of individuals, or of private societies. And if the practice of this Society of which Mr. Dalby speaks, is not discountenanced, none of those whose misfortune it is to have slaves as attendants, will visit the City if they can possibly avoid it; because by so doing they hazard their property; or they must be at the expence (and this will not always succeed) of providing servants of another description for the trip.
SlaveryI hope it will not be conceived from these observations, that it is my wish to hold the unhappy people, who are the subject of this letter, in slavery. I can only say that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it; but there is only one proper and effectual mode by which it can be accomplished, and that is by Legislative authority; and this, as far as my suffrage will go, shall never be wanting. But when slaves who are happy and contented with their present masters, are tampered with and seduced to leave them; when masters are taken unawares by these practices; when a conduct of this sort begets discontent on one side and resentment on the other, and when it happens to fall on a man, whose purse will not measure with that of the Society, and he looses his property for want of means to defend it; it is oppression in the latter case, and not humanity in any; because it introduces more evils than it can cure.
I will make no apology for writing to you on this subject; for if Mr. Dalby has not misconceived the matter, an evil exists which requires a remedy; if he has, my intentions have been good, though I may have been too precipitate in this address. Mrs. Washington joins me in every good and kind wish for Mrs. Morris and your family, and I am, &c.
TO MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE
Mount Vernon, May 10, 1786
My dear Marquis:
The Letter which you did me the favor to write to me by Mr. Barrett dated the 6th. of Feby., together with the parcel and packages which accompanied it, came safely to hand; and for which I pray you to accept my grateful acknowledgments.
Lafayette’s European tourThe account given of your tour thro’ Prussia and other States of Germany, to Vienna and back; and of the Troops which you saw reviewed in the pay of those Monarchs, at different places, is not less pleasing than it is interesting; and must have been as instructive as entertaining to yourself. Your reception at the Courts of Berlin, Vienna, and elsewhere must have been pleasing to you: to have been received by the King of Prussia, and Prince Henry his brother, (who as soldiers and politicians can yield the palm to none) with such marks of attention and distinction, was as indicative of their discernment, as it is of your merit, and will encrease my opinion of them. It is to be lamented however that great characters are seldom without a blot. That one man should tyranise over millions, will always be a shade in that of the former; whilst it is pleasing to hear that a due regard to the rights of mankind, is characteristic of the latter: I shall revere and love him for this trait of his character. To have viewed the several fields of Battle over which you passed, could not, among other sensations, have failed to excite this thought, here have fallen thousands of gallant spirits to satisfy the ambition of, or to support their sovereigns perhaps in acts of oppression or injustice! melancholy reflection! For what wise purposes does Providence permit this? Is it as a scourge for mankind, or is it to prevent them from becoming too populous? If the latter, would not the fertile plains of the Western world receive the redundancy of the old?
For the several articles of intelligence with which you have been so good as to furnish me, and for your sentimts. on European politics, I feel myself very much obliged; on these I can depend. Newspaper accounts are too sterile, vague and contradictory, on which to form any opinion, or to claim even the smallest attention.
One evil of democratic governmentThe account of and observations which you have made on the policy and practice of Great Britain at the other Courts of Europe, respecting these States, I was but too well informed and convinced of before. Unhappily for us, though their accounts are greatly exaggerated, yet our conduct has laid the foundation for them. It is one of the evils of democratical governments, that the people, not always seeing and frequently misled, must often feel before they can act right; but then evils of this nature seldom fail to work their own cure. It is to be lamented, nevertheless, that the remedies are so slow, and that those, who may wish to apply them seasonably are not attended to before they suffer in person, in interest and in reputation. I am not without hopes, that matters will take a more favorable turn in the foederal Constitution. The discerning part of the community have long since seen the necessity of giving adequate powers to Congress for national purposes; and the ignorant and designing must yield to it ere long. Several late Acts of the different Legislatures have a tendency thereto; among these, the Impost which is now acceded to by every State in the Union, (tho’ clogged a little by that of New York) will enable Congress to support the national credit in pecuniary matters better than it has been; whilst a measure in which this state has taken the lead at its last session, will it is to be hoped give efficient powers to that Body for all commercial purposes.Nomination of commissioners to revise congressional powers This is a nomination of some of its first characters to meet other Commissioners from the several States in order to consider of and decide upon such powers as shall be necessary for the sovereign power of them to act under; which are to be reported to the respective Legislatures at their autumnal sessions for, it is to be hoped, final adoption; thereby avoiding those tedious and futile deliberations, which result from recommendations and partial concurrences; at the same time that it places it at once in the power of Congress to meet European Nations upon decisive and equal ground. All the Legislatures, which I have heard from, have come into the proposition, and have made very judicious appointments: much good is expected from this measure, and it is regretted by many, that more objects were not embraced by the meeting. A General Convention is talked of by many for the purpose of revising and correcting the defects of the foederal government; but whilst this is the wish of some, it is the dread of others from an opinion that matters are not yet sufficiently ripe for such an event.
British in the westThe British still occupy our Posts to the Westward, and will, I am persuaded, continue to do so under one pretence or another, no matter how shallow, as long as they can: of this, from some circumstances which had occurred, I have been convinced since August, 1783 and gave it as my opinion at that time, if not officially to Congress as the sovereign, at least to a number of its members, that they might act accordingly. It is indeed evident to me, that they had it in contemplation to do this at the time of the Treaty; the expression of the Article which respects the evacuation of them, as well as the tenor of their conduct since relative to this business, is strongly marked with deception. I have not the smallest doubt but that every secret engine is continually at work to inflame the Indian mind, with a view to keep it at variance with these States, for the purpose of retarding our settlements to the Westward, and depriving us of the fur and peltry trade of that country.
Donkeys from SpainYour assurances my dear Marquis, respecting the male and female Asses, are highly pleasing to me, I shall look for them with much expectation and great satisfaction, as a valuable acquisition and important service.
The Jack which I have already received from Spain, in appearance is fine; but his late royal master, tho’ past his grand climacteric, cannot be less moved by female allurements than he is; or when prompted, can proceed with more deliberation and majestic solemnity to the work of procreation. The other Jack perished at Sea.
Potomac CompanyMr. Littlepage in his dispute with Mr. Jay seems to have forgot his former situation. It is a pity, for he appears to be a young man of abilities. At the next meeting of the Potomac Company (which I believe will not be ’till August) I will communicate to them your sentiments respecting the terms on which a good Ingénieur des ponts and chaussées may be had and take their opinion thereon.
Emancipation of slavesThe benevolence of your heart my Dr. Marqs. is so conspicuous upon all occasions, that I never wonder at any fresh proofs of it; but your late purchase of an estate in the colony of Cayenne, with a view of emancipating the slaves on it, is a generous and noble proof of your humanity. Would to God a like spirit would diffuse itself generally into the minds of the people of this country; but I despair of seeing it. Some petitions were presented to the Assembly, at its last Session, for the abolition of slavery, but they could scarcely obtain a reading. To set them afloat at once would, I really believe, be productive of much inconvenience and mischief; but by degrees it certainly might, and assuredly ought to be effected; and that too by legislative authority.
I give you the trouble of a letter to the Marqs. de St. Simon, in which I have requested to be presented to Mr. de Menonville. The favourable terms in which you speak of Mr. Jefferson gives me great pleasure: he is a man of whom I early imbibed the highest opinion. I am as much pleased, therefore, to meet confirmations of my discernment in these matters, as I am mortified when I find myself mistaken.
I send herewith the copies of your private Letters to me, promised in my last, and which have been since copied by your old aid. As Mrs. Washington and myself have both done ourselves the honor of writing to Madame de la Fayette, I shall not give you the trouble at this time of presenting my respects to her; but pray to accept every good wish which this family can render for your health and every blessing this life can afford you. I cannot conclude without expressing to you the earnest enquiries and ardent wishes of your friends (among whom, I claim to stand first) to see you in America, and of giving you repeated assurances of the sincerity of my friendship, and of the Affectionate regard with which I am etc.
TO THE SECRETARY FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Mount Vernon, May 18, 1786
In due course of post, I have been honored with your favors of the 2d. and 16th. of March; since which I have been a good deal engaged and pretty much from home. For the enclosure which accompanied the first, I thank you. Mr. Littlepage seems to have forgot what had been his situation, forgot what was due to you, and indeed what was necessary to his own character: and his guardian, I think, seems to have forgotten every thing.
Errors in governmentI coincide perfectly in sentiment with you, my Dr. Sir, that there are errors in our national Government which call for correction, loudly I would add; but I shall find myself happily mistaken if the remedies are at hand. We are certainly in a delicate situation, but my fear is that the people are not yet sufficiently misled to retract from error. To be plainer, I think there is more wickedness than ignorance mixed in our Councils. Under this impression, I scarcely know what opinion to entertain of a general convention. That it is necessary to revise and amend the articles of confederation, I entertain no doubt; but what may be the consequences of such an attempt is doubtful. Yet something must be done, or the fabrick must fall, for it certainly is tottering.
Ignorance and design are difficult to combat. Out of these proceed illiberal sentiments, improper jealousies, and a train of evils which oftentimes, in republican governments, must be sorely felt before they can be removed. The former, that is ignorance, being a fit soil for the latter to work in, tools are employed by them which a generous mind would disdain to use; and which nothing but time, and their own puerile or wicked productions can show the inefficacy and dangerous tendency of. I think often of our situation and view it with concern. From the high ground we stood upon, from the plain path which invited our footsteps, to be so fallen! so lost! it is really mortifying; but virtue, I fear has, in a great degree, taken its departure from us; and the want of disposition to do justice is the source of the national embarrassments; for whatever guise or colorings are given to them, this I apprehend is the origin of the evils we now feel, and probably shall labour under for some time yet. With respectful complimts. to Mrs. Jay, and sentiments of sincere friendship, I am &c.
TO MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE
Mount Vernon, August 15, 1786
My dr. Marqs:
I will not conceal that my numerous correspondencies are daily becoming irksome to me; yet I always receive your letters with augmenting satisfaction, and therefore rejoice with you in the measures which are likely to be productive of a more frequent intercourse between our two nations.French and English commercial policy Thus, motives of a private as well as of a public nature conspire to give me pleasure, in finding that the active policy of France is preparing to take advantage of the supine stupidity of England, with respect to our commerce.
While the latter by its impolitic duties and restrictions is driving our Ships incessantly from its harbours; the former seems by the invitations it is giving to stretch forth the friendly hand to invite them into its Ports. I am happy in a conviction, that there may be established between France and the U.S.,French and American friendship and commerce such a mutual intercourse of good offices and reciprocal interests, as cannot fail to be attended with the happiest consequences. Nations are not influenced, as individuals may be, by disinterested friendships; but, when it is their interest to live in amity, we have little reason to apprehend any rupture. This principle of union can hardly exist in a more distinguished manner between two nations, than it does between France and the United States. There are many articles of manufacture which we stand absolutely in need of and shall continue to have occasion for so long as we remain an agricultural people, which will be while lands are so cheap and plenty, that is to say, for ages to come.
In the mean time we shall have large quantities of timber, fish, oil, wheat, Tobo., rice, Indigo, &c. to dispose of: Money we have not. Now it is obvious that we must have recourse for the Goods and manufactures we may want, to the nation which will enable us to pay for them by receiving our Produce in return. Our commerce with any of the great manufacturing Kingdoms of Europe will therefore be in proportion to the facility of making remittance, which such manufacturing nation may think proper to afford us. On the other hand, France has occasion for many of our productions and raw materials; let her judge whether it is most expedient to receive them by direct importation and to pay for them in goods; or to obtain them thro’ the circuitous channel of Britain and to pay for them in money as she formerly did.
British trade expectationsI know that Britain arrogantly expects we will sell our produce wherever we can find a market and bring the money to purchase goods from her; I know that she vainly hopes to retain what share she pleases in our trade, in consequence of our prejudices in favor of her fashions and manufactures; but these are illusions, which will vanish and disappoint her, as the dreams of conquest have already done. Experience is constantly teaching us, that these predilections were founded in error. We find the quality and price of the French goods we receive in many instances, to be better than the quality and price of the English. Time, and a more thorough acquaintance with the business may be necessary to instruct your merchants in the choice and assortment of Goods necessary for such a Country. As to an ability for giving credit, in which the English merchants boast a superiority, I am confident it would be happy for America if the practice could be entirely abolished.
Future growth of American commercial influenceHowever unimportant America may be considered at present, and however Britain may affect to despise her trade, there will assuredly come a day, when this country will have some weight in the scale of Empires. While connected with us as Colonies only, was not Britain the first power in the World? Since the dissolution of that connexion, does not France occupy the same illustrious place? Your successful endeavors my Dr. Marqs., to promote the interests of your two Countries (as you justly call them) must give you the most unadulterated satisfaction: be assured the measures which have lately been taken with regard to the two Articles of Oil and Tobacco, have tended very much to endear you to your fellow Citizens on this side of the Atlantic.
Influence of commerce on humanityAltho’ I pretend to no peculiar information respecting commercial affairs, nor any foresight into the scenes of futurity; yet as the member of an infant empire, as a Philanthropist by character, and (if I may be allowed the expression) as a Citizen of the great republic of humanity at large; I cannot help turning my attention sometimes to this subject. I would be understood to mean, I cannot avoid reflecting with pleasure on the probable influence that commerce may hereafter have on human manners and society in general. On these occasions I consider how mankind may be connected like one great family in fraternal ties. I indulge a fond, perhaps an enthusiastic idea, that as the world is evidently much less barbarous than it has been, its melioration must still be progressive; that nations are becoming more humanized in their policy, that the subjects of ambition and causes for hostility are daily diminishing, and, in fine, that the period is not very remote, when the benefits of a liberal and free commerce will, pretty generally, succeed to the devastations and horrors of war.
Prussia, the Barbary statesSome of the late treaties which have been entered into, and particularly that between the King of Prussia and the Ud. States, seem to constitute a new era in negotiation, and to promise the happy consequences I have just now been mentioning. But let me ask you my Dr. Marquis, in such an enlightened, in such a liberal age, how is it possible the great maritime powers of Europe should submit to pay an annual tribute to the little piratical States of Barbary? Would to Heaven we had a navy able to reform those enemies to mankind, or crush them into non-existence.
I forbear to enter into a discussion of our domestic Politics, because there is little interesting to be said upon them, and perhaps it is best to be silent, since I could not disguise or palliate where I might think them erroneous. The British still hold the frontier Posts, and are determined to do so. The Indians commit some trifling ravages, but there is nothing like a general or even open war. You will have heard what a loss we have met with by the death of poor Genl. Greene. General McDougal and Colo. Tilghman are also dead.
It is a great satisfaction to have it in my power to pay some attention to Monsr. Du Plessis, by whom I had the happiness of receiving your last letter: he is now at Mount Vernon on his way to Georgia.
You will see by the length to which I have extended this letter, that I can never find myself weary of conversing with you. Adieu, My Dr. Marqs.