Front Page Titles (by Subject) Letters of Fisher Ames to George Richards Minot 1791–1792 - Liberty and Order: The First American Party Struggle
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Letters of Fisher Ames to George Richards Minot 1791–1792 - Lance Banning, Liberty and Order: The First American Party Struggle 
Liberty and Order: The First American Party Struggle, ed. and with a Preface by Lance Banning (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2004).
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Letters of Fisher Ames to George Richards Minot 1791–1792
On the other side of the House, the letters of Fisher Ames, the acerbic congressman from Massachusetts who would be a leading Federalist speaker and writer well into the Jeffersonian ascendancy, were another indicator of sharpening feelings.
30 November 1791
… The remark so often made on the difference of opinion between the members [of Congress] from the two ends of the continent appears to me not only true, but founded on causes which are equally unpleasant and lasting. To the northward, we see how necessary it is to defend property by steady laws. Shays confirmed our habits and opinions. The men of sense and property, even a little above the multitude, wish to keep the government in force enough to govern. We have trade, money, credit, and industry, which is at once cause and effect of the others.
At the southward, a few gentlemen govern; the law is their coat of mail; it keeps off the weapons of the foreigners, their creditors, and at the same time it governs the multitude, secures negroes, etc., which is of double use to them. It is both government and anarchy, and in each case is better than any possible change, especially in favor of an exterior (or federal) government of any strength. … Therefore, and for other causes, the men of weight in the four southern states (Charleston city excepted) were more generally antis and are now far more turbulent than they are with us. Many were federal among them at first, because they needed some remedy to evils which they saw and felt, but mistook, in their view of it, the remedy. A debt-compelling government is no remedy to men who have lands and negroes, and debts and luxury, but neither trade nor credit, nor cash, nor the habits of industry, or of submission to a rigid execution of law. My friend, you will agree with me that, ultimately, the same system of strict law which has done wonders for us would promote their advantage. But that relief is speculative and remote. Enormous debts required something better and speedier. I am told that, to this day, no British debt is recovered in North Carolina. … You will agree that our immediate wants were different—we to enforce, they to relax, law… .
Patrick Henry and some others of eminent talents and influence have continued antis, and have assiduously nursed the embryos of faction, which the adoption of the Constitution did not destroy. It soon gave popularity to the antis with a grumbling multitude. It made two parties.
Most of the measures of Congress have been opposed by the southern members. I speak not merely of their members, but their gentlemen, etc. at home. As men, they are mostly enlightened, clever fellows. I speak of the tendency of things upon their politics, not their morals. This has sharpened discontent at home. The funding system, they say, is in favor of the moneyed interest, oppressive to the land; that is, favorable to us, hard on them. They pay tribute, they say, and the middle and eastern people, holders of seven eighths of the debt, receive it. And here is the burden of the song: almost all the little that they had, and which cost them twenty shillings for supplies or services, has been bought up at a low rate, and now they pay more tax towards the interest than they received for the paper. This tribute, they say, is aggravating, for all the reasons before given; they add, had the state debts not been assumed, they would have wiped it off among themselves very speedily and easily. Being assumed, it has become a great debt; and now an excise, that abhorrence of free states, must pay it. This they have never adopted in their states. The states of Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia are large territories. Being strong and expecting by increase to be stronger, the government of Congress over them seems mortifying to their state pride. The pride of the strong is not soothed by yielding to a stronger. How much there is, and how much more can be made of all these themes of grief and anger by men who are inclined and qualified to make the most of them, need not be pointed out to a man who has seen so much and written so well upon the principles which disturb and endanger government.
I confess I have recited these causes rather more at length than I had intended. But you are an observer, and I hope will be a writer of our history. The picture I have drawn, though just, is not noticed. Public happiness is in our power as a nation. Tranquillity has smoothed the surface. But (what I have said of southern parties is so true that I may affirm) faction glows within like a coal-pit. The President lives—is a southern man, is venerated as a demi-god, he is chosen by unanimous vote, etc., etc. Change the key and … You can fill up the blank. But while he lives, a steady prudent system by Congress may guard against the danger. Peace will enrich our southern friends. Good laws will establish more industry and economy. The peculiar causes of discontent will have lost their force with time. Yet, circumstanced as they are, I think other subjects of uneasiness will be found. For it is impossible to administer the government according to their ideas. We must have a revenue; of course an excise. The debt must be kept sacred; the rights of property must be held inviolate. We must, to be safe, have some regular force and an efficient militia. All these, except the last, and that except in a form not worth having, are obnoxious to them. I have not noticed what they call their republicanism, because having observed what their situation is, you will see what their theory must be, in seeing what it is drawn from. I have not exhausted, but I quit this part of the subject. In fine, those three states are circumstanced not unlike our state in 1786.
I think these deductions flow from the premises: That the strength as well as hopes of the Union reside with the middle and eastern states. That our good men must watch and pray on all proper occasions for the preservation of federal measures and principles. That so far from being in a condition to swallow up the state governments, Congress cannot be presumed to possess too much force to preserve its constitutional authority, whenever the crisis to which these discontents are hastening shall have brought its power to the test. And, above all, that in the supposed crisis, the state partisans who seem to wish to clip the wings of the Union would be not the least zealous to support the Union. For, zealous as they may be to extend the power of the General Court of Massachusetts, they would not wish to be controlled by that of Virginia. I will not tire you with more speculation; but I will confess my belief that if, now, a vote was to be taken, “Shall the Constitution be adopted,” and the people of Virginia and the other more southern states (the city of Charleston excepted) should answer instantly, according to their present feelings and opinions, it would be in the negative… .
8 March 1792
My Dear Friend,—Congress moves slowly, too slowly. The spirit of debate is a vice that grows by indulgence. It is a sort of captiousness that delights in nothing but contradiction. Add to this, we have near twenty antis, dragons watching the tree of liberty, and who consider every strong measure, and almost every ordinary one, as an attempt to rob the tree of its fair fruit. We hear, incessantly, from the old foes of the Constitution, “this is unconstitutional, and that is”; and indeed, what is not? I scarce know a point which has not produced this cry, not excepting a motion for adjourning. If the Constitution is what they affect to think it, their former opposition to such a nonentity was improper. I wish they would administer it a little more in conformity to their first creed. The men who would hinder all that is done, and almost all that ought to be done, hang heavy on the debates. The fishery bill was unconstitutional; it is unconstitutional to receive plans of finance from the Secretary; to give bounties; to make the militia worth having; order is unconstitutional; credit is tenfold worse… .
3 May 1792
I am tired of the session. Attending Congress is very like going to school. Every day renews the round of yesterday; and if I stay a day or two after the adjournment, I shall be apt to go to Congress from habit, as some old horses are said to go to the meeting-house on Sunday without a rider, by force of their long habit of going on that day… .
Causes which I have in a former letter explained to you have generated a regular, well-disciplined opposition party, whose leaders cry “liberty,” but mean, as all party leaders do, “power,” who will write and talk and caress weak and vain men till they displace their rivals. The poor Vice will be baited before the election. All the arts of intrigue will be practiced—but more of this when we meet… .