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George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. XI (1785-1790) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890). Vol. XI (1785-1790).
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Table of Contents
Of this Letter-press Edition
750 Copies have been Printed for Sale
G. P. Putnam’s Sons
New York[Back to Table of Contents]
THE WRITINGS OF GEORGE WASHINGTON.[Back to Table of Contents]
1785.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO JAMES WARREN.
Mount Vernon, 7 October, 1785.
The assurances of your friendship, after a silence of more than six years, are extremely pleasing to me. Friendship, 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 very justly observed, has terminated most advantageously for America, and a fair field is presented to our view; but I confess to you freely, my dear 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. 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 keep good faith with the rest of the world. That our resources are ample and increasing, none can deny; but, while they are grudgingly applied, or not applied at all, we give a vital stab to public faith, and shall sink, in the eyes of Europe, into contempt.
It 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 behoves 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 controlling power is obvious; and why it should be withheld is beyond my comprehension.
The Agricultural Society, lately established in Philadelphia, promises extensive 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.
* * * 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, yours, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO PATRICK HENRY, GOVERNOR OF VIRGINIA,
Mount Vernon, 29 October, 1785.
Your Excellency having been pleased to transmit to me a copy of the act, appropriating to my benefit certain shares in the companies for opening the navigation of James and Potomac Rivers, I take the liberty of returning to the General Assembly, through your hands, the profound and grateful acknowledgments inspired by so signal a mark of their beneficent intentions towards me. I beg you, Sir, to assure them, that I am filled on this occasion with every sentiment, which can flow from a heart warm with love for my country, sensible to every token of its approbation and affection, and solicitous to testify in every instance a respectful submission to its wishes.
With these sentiments in my bosom, I need not dwell on the anxiety I feel in being obliged in this instance to decline a favor, which is rendered no less flattering by the manner in which it is conveyed, than it is affectionate in itself. In explaining this observation I pass over a comparison of my endeavors in the public service with the many honorable testimonies of approbation, which have already so far overrated and overpaid them; reciting one consideration only, which supersedes the necessity of recurring to every other.
When I was first called to the station, with which I was honored during the late conflict for our liberties, to the diffidence which I had so many reasons to feel in accepting it, I thought it my duty to join a firm resolution to shut my hand against every pecuniary recompense. To this resolution I have invariably adhered, and from it, if I had the inclination, I do not feel at liberty now to depart.
Whilst I repeat, therefore, my fervent acknowledgments to the legislature for their very kind sentiments and intentions in my favor, and at the same time beg them to be persuaded, that a remembrance of this singular proof of their goodness towards me will never cease to cherish returns of the warmest affection and gratitude, I must pray that their act, so far as it has for its object my personal emolument, may not have its effect. But if it should please the General Assembly to permit me to turn the destination of the fund vested in me, from my private emolument, to objects of a public nature, it will be my study in selecting these to prove the sincerity of my gratitude for the honor conferred on me, by preferring such as may appear most subservient to the enlightened and patriotic views of the legislature. With great respect and consideration, I have the honor to be, &c.1[Back to Table of Contents]
TO GEORGE WILLIAM FAIRFAX.
Mount Vernon, 10 November, 1785.
My Dear Sir,
* * * * * *
The two youngest children of Mr. Custis—the oldest a girl of six years—the other a boy a little turned of four live with me. They are both promising children; but the latter is a remarkable fine one—and my intention is to give him a liberal education; the rudiments of which shall, if I live, be in my own family.—Having promised this, let me next, my good Sir, ask if it is in your power conveniently, to engage a proper preceptor for him?—at present, and for a year or two to come, much confinement would be improper for him; but this being the period in which I should derive more aid from a man of Letters and an accomptant than at any other, to assist me in my numerous correspondences, and to extricate the latter from the disordered state into which they have been thrown by the war, I could usefully employ him in this manner until his attention should be more immediately required for his pupil.—
Fifty or Sixty pounds Sterling pr. Ann. with board, lodging, washing and mending, in the family, is the most my numerous expenditures will allow me to give; but how far it may command the services of a person well qualified to answer the purposes I have mentioned, is not for me to decide. To answer my purposes, the Gentleman must be a master of composition, and a good accomptant:—to answer his pupil’s, he must be a classical scholar, and capable of teaching the French language grammatically:—the more universal his knowledge is, the better.—
It sometimes happens that very worthy men of the cloth come under this description; men who are advanced in years, and not very comfortable in their circumstances. Such an one, if unencumbered with a family, would be more agreeable to me than a young man just from college—but I except none of good moral character answering my description, if he can be well recommended.—
To you my Dr. Sir, I have offered this my first address; but if you should think my purposes cannot be subserved in your circle, upon the terms here mentioned; I beg, in that case, that you will be so obliging as to forward the enclosed letter as it is directed.—This gentleman has written to me upon another subject, & favored me with his lucubrations upon Education, which mark him a man of abilities, at the same time that he is highly spoken of as a teacher, and a person of good character. In Scotland we all know that Education is cheap, and wages not so high as in England:—but I would prefer, on account of the dialect, an Englishman to a Scotchman, for all the purposes I want.
We have commenced our operations on the navigation of this river; and I am happy to inform you, that the difficulties rather vanish than increase as we proceed.—James river is under similar circumstances; and a cut between the waters of Albermarle in No. Carolina, and Elizabeth river in this State, is also in contemplation—and if the whole is effected and I see nothing to prevent it, it will give the greatest and most advantageous inland Navigation to this Country of any in the Union—or I believe, in the world:—for as the Shannondoah, the South branch, Monocasy and Conogocheague are equally capable of great improvement, they will no doubt be immediately attempted; and more than probable a communication by good roads will be opened with the waters to the westward of us; by means of the No. Branch of Potomac, which interlocks with the Cheat river and Yohoghaney (branches of the Monongahela) that empty into the Ohio at Fort Pitt.—The same is equally practicable between James river and the Greenbriar a branch of the Great Kanhawa, which empties into the same river, 300 miles below that place; by means whereof the whole trade of that Territory which is now unfolding to our view, may be drawn into this State—equally productive of political as commercial advantages.
As I never ride to my plantations without seeing something which makes one regret having continued so long in the ruinous mode of farming, which we are in; I beg leave, tho’ I am persuaded it will give you trouble, to recall your attention to the request of my former letter, the duplicate of which you now have.—Miscarriages, and where this is not the case, delays of letters must be my apology for reiterating the matter, that there may be time for decision, before the intervention of another year.
The marriage mentioned in my last is celebrated, but a fit of the gout prevented Colo. Bassett from beeing at it—consequently I am to lay a little longer out of your kind present. Mrs. Washington who has very indifferent health, joins me in the sincerest and best wishes for every blessing which can be bestowed on Mrs. Fairfax and yourself.
With great esteem, &c.
P. S. Since writing the above & foregoing I have seen Mr. Battaile Muse who looks after your Estate; & upon enquiry of him, am authorized to inform you that your negroes, and everything under his care are tolerably well, & your prospect of a crop midling, which is saying a good deal this year.
I have the pleasure also to inform you that your Brother and his family were very well a few days ago when I was there, attending the business of the Potomac Company at the Great Falls.
Your Sister and family are likewise well—I saw her three oldest daughters last week—the elder of them, Milly, is on the eve of Matrimony with a Mr. Ogden Throckmorton—a match not very agreeable, it is said, to her friends, & kept off by Mrs. Bushrod ’till her death which happened some three or four months ago—but now is yielded to by her Parents.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO LUND WASHINGTON.
Mount Vernon, 20 November, 1785.
I know as little of G: W.s plans or wishes as you do, never having exchanged a word with him upon the subject in my life.—By his Advertisement, and from what has frequently dropped from Fanny, he is desirous of getting a place in this country to live at.—
Before their marriage he and Fanny were both told that it would be very agreeable to Mrs. W. and myself, that they should make this House their home ’till the squalling and trouble of children might become disagreeable.—I have not repeated the matter since, because it was unnecessary—an offer once made is sufficient.—It is hardly to be expected that two people young as they are, with their nearest connexions at extreme points, would like confinement:—and without it, he could not answer my purposes as a Manager or Superintend., unless I had more leisure to attend to my own business; which by the by I shall aim at, let the consequences, in other respects, be as they may.
These however are no reasons for detaining you a moment longer in my employ than suits your interest, or is agreeable to your inclination, and family concerns But as the proposition is new, and hath never been resolved in my mind, it will take some time to digest my own thoughts upon the occasion before it is hinted to another.
In the mean while if I can do with the aids you offer, and for which I sincerely thank you, I will ask your constant attention no longer than this year—at any rate not longer than the next.—The inexplicitness of this answer cannot, I presume, put you to much if any inconvenience as yet; because retirement from, & not a change of business, is professedly your object.—
However unlucky I may have been in crops, &c. of late years, I shall always retain a grateful sense of your endeavors to serve me;—for as I have repeatedly intimated to you in my Letters from camp, nothing but that entire confidence which I reposed, could have made me easy under an absence of almost nine years from my family and Estate, or could have enabled me, consequently, to have given not only my time, but my whole attention to the public concerns of this Country for that space. I am, &c.1[Back to Table of Contents]
TO JAMES MADISON.
Mount Vernon, 30 November, 1785.
Receive my thanks for your obliging communications of the 11th. I hear with much pleasure, that the Assembly are engaged seriously in the consideration of the revised laws. A short and simple code in my opinion, though 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 a code so short, plain & simple. I hope the resolutions, which were published for the consideration of the House, respecting the reference of Congress for the regulation of a commercial system, will have passed.1
The proposition, in my opinion, is so self-evident, that I confess I am unable to discover wherein lies the weight of objection to the measure. We are either a united people, or we are not so. If the former, let us in all matters of general concern, act as a nation which has 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 double game, or playing a game between the two, we never shall be consistent or respectable, but may be the dupes of some powers, and the contempt assuredly of all. In any case, it behoves us to provide good militia laws, and to 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 the respectability of the Union.2
It is much to be wished that public faith may be held inviolable. 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 its consequences. 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. * * *
From the complexion of the debates in the Pennsylvania Assembly, 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 Youghiogany,) should be on the condition that permission be given by the latter to open a communication between the Chesapeake and Delaware, by the way of the rivers Elk and Christiana; which I am sure will never be obtained, if the Baltimore interest can give effectual opposition. The directors of the Potomac navigation 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 economy 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 expedite the business, and to obtain uniformity without delay, or an intercourse between the two Assemblies on so trifling a matter, we have taken the liberty of sending the draft of a bill to members of both Assemblies, which, if approved, will be found exactly similar. With the greatest esteem and regard, I am, Dear Sir, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO ALEXANDER HAMILTON.
Mount Vernon, 11 December, 1785.
I have been favored with your letter of the 25th of November by Major Farlie.
Sincerely do I wish that the several State Societies had, or would, adopt the alterations that were recommended by the General meeting in May, 1784.—I then thought, and have had no cause since to change my opinion, that if the Society of the Cincinnati mean to live in peace with the rest of their fellow citizens, they must subscribe to the alterations which were at that time adopted.
That the jealousies of, and prejudices against this Society were carried to an unwarrantable length, I will readily grant. And that less than was done, ought to have removed the fears which had been imbibed, I am as clear in, as I am that it would not have done it. But it is a matter of little moment whether the alarm which seized the public mind was the result of foresight—envy and jealousy—or a disordered imagination; the effect of perseverance would have been the same; wherein there would have been found an equivalent for the separation of the Interests, which (from my best information, not from one state only but from many) would inevitably have taken place?
The fears of the people are not yet removed, they only sleep, and a very little matter will set them afloat again. Had it not been for the predicament we stood in with respect to the foreign officers, and the charitable part of the Institution, I should on that occasion, as far as my voice would have gone, have endeavored to convince the narrow-minded part of our Countrymen that the Amor Patriæ was much stronger in our breasts than theirs—and that our conduct through the whole of the business was actuated by nobler and more generous sentiments than were apprehended, by abolishing the Society at once, with a declaration of the causes, and the purity of its intention. But the latter may be interesting to many, and the former, is an inseparable bar to such a step.1
I am sincerely concerned to find by your letter that the Baron is again in straightened circumstances—I am much disinclined to ask favors of Congress, but if I knew what the objects of his wishes are, I should have much pleasure in rendering him any services in my power with such members of that body as I now and then corrispond with.—I had flattered myself, from what was told me some time ago, that Congress had made a final settlement with the Baron much to his satisfaction. * * *[Back to Table of Contents]
TO THE TRUSTEES OF THE ALEXANDRIA ACADEMY.
17 December, 1785.
That I may be perspicuous and avoid misconception, the proposition which I wish to lay before you is committed to writing, and is as follows:
It has long been my intention to invest, at my death, one thousand pounds current money of this State in the hands of trustees, the interest only of which to be applied in instituting a school in the town of Alexandria, for the purpose of educating orphan children, who have no other resource, or the children of such indigent parents, as are unable to give it; the objects to be considered of and determined by the trustees for the time being, when applied to by the parents or friends of the children, who have pretensions to this provision. It is not in my power at this time to advance the above sum; but that a measure, that may be productive of good, may not be delayed, I will until my death, or until it shall be more convenient for my estate to advance the principal, pay the interest thereof, to wit, fifty pounds annually.
Under this state of the matter, I submit to your consideration the practicability and propriety of blending the two institutions together, so as to make one seminary under the direction of the president, visitors, or such other establishment as to you shall seem best calculated to promote the objects in view, and for preserving order, regularity, and good conduct in the academy. My intention, as I have before intimated, is, that the principal sum shall never be broken in upon; the interest only to be applied for the purposes above-mentioned. It was also my intention to apply the latter to the sole purpose of education, and of that kind of education, which would be most extensively useful to people of the lower class of citizens, namely, reading, writing, and arithmetic, so as to fit them for mechanical purposes.
The fund, if confined to this, would comprehend more subjects; but, if you shall be of opinion, that the proposition I now offer can be made to comport with the institution of the school which is already established, and approve of an incorporation of them in the manner before mentioned, and thereafter, upon a full consideration of the matter, should conceive that this fund would be more advantageously applied towards clothing and schooling, than solely to the latter, I will acquiesce in it most cheerfully; and shall be ready, (as soon as the trustees are established upon a permanent footing,) by deed or other instrument of writing, to vest the aforesaid sum of one thousand pounds in them and their successors for ever, with powers to direct and manage the same agreeably to these my declared intentions.1[Back to Table of Contents]
1786.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO BENJAMIN LINCOLN.
Mount Vernon, 6 February, 1786.
My dear Sir,
Your favor of the 4th of January never reached me till yesterday, or the receipt of it should have had an earlier acknowledgment. Let me, in the first place, thank you for your kind attention to my inquiries; and in the next, pray you to know precisely from Mr. Lear upon what terms he would come to me. I am not inclined to leave matters of this kind to after discussion or misconception. Whatever agreement is previously made shall be pointedly fulfilled on my part, which will prevent every cause of complaint on his.
Mr. Lear, or any other who may come into my family in the blended characters of preceptor to the children, and as a clerk or private secretary to me, will sit at my table, will live as I live, will mix with the company who resort to the house, and will be treated in every respect with civility and proper attention. He will have his washing done in the family, and may have his linen and stockings mended by the maids of it. The duties, which will be required of him, are generally such as appertain to the offices above mentioned. The first will be very trifling, till the children are a little more advanced; and the latter will be equally so, as my correspondences decline (which I am endeavoring to effect), and after my accounts and other old matters are brought up. To descend more minutely into his avocations I am unable, because occasional matters may call for particular services; but nothing derogatory will be asked or expected. After this explanation of my wants, I request Mr. Lear would mention the annual sum he will expect for these services, and I will give him a decided answer by the return of the stages, which now carry the mail and travel quick. A good hand, as well as a proper diction, would be a recommendation on account of fair entries, and for the benefit of the children who will have to copy after it.1 * * *[Back to Table of Contents]
TO SAMUEL PURVIANCE, ESQ.
Mount Vernon, 10 March, 1786.
Your Letter of the 6th instant, is this moment put into my hands; was it in my power I would cheerfully answer your queries respecting the settlements on the Kanhawa; the nature of the water and quality of the soil.
But of the first, I only know from information that Colo. Lewis is settled there, from his own mouth I learnt that it was his intention to do so, & to establish a Town in the fork of the two rivers, where he proposes to fix families in the vicinity on his own Lands. Of the second, I never could obtain any distinct account of the navigation. It has been variously represented; favorably by some,—extremely difficult by others, in its passage thro’ the Gauley mountain, (which I presume is the Laurel hill)—but the uncertainty of this matter will now soon be at an end, as there are commissioners appointed by this State to explore the navigation of that river and the communication between it and James river, with a view to a portage. This, equally with the extension of the Potomac navigation, was part of my original plan, and equally urged by me to our Assembly; for my object was to connect the Western and Eastern or Atlantic States together by strong commercial ties.
I am a friend, therefore on this principle to every channel that can be opened, and wish the people to have choice.—The Kanhawa, and James river, if the obstacles in the former are not great, are certainly the shortest and best for the settlers thereon, for those on the Ohio below, above, perhaps as high as the little Kanhawa and for the Country immediately west of it.
The Monongahela and Yohoghaney with the Potomac are most convenient for all the settlers from the little Kanhawa, inclusively, to Fort Pitt and upwards, & west as far as the Lakes. Susquehanna and the Alleghany above Fort Pitt some distance, will accommodate a third District of Country; and may for ought I know be equally convenient to the trade of the Lakes. All of them therefore have my best wishes; for as I have observed already, my object & my aim are political. If we cannot bind those people to us by interest, and it is no otherwise to be effected but by a commercial knot, we shall be no more to them after a while, than G. Britain or Spain, and they may be as closely linked with one or other of those powers, as we wish them to be with us, and in that event, they may be a severe thorn in our side.
With respect to the nature of the soil on the Kanhawa, the bottoms are fine, but the lands adjoining are broken.—In some places the hills are very rich, in others piney and very poor: but the principal reason as I conceive, why the settlement has not progressed more, is that the greater part if not all the good Lands, on the main river, are in the hands of persons who do not incline to reside thereon themselves, and possibly hold them too high for others, as there is a surrounding country open to them; this I take to be my own case and might be an inducement to concur in any well concerted measures to further a settlement, which might ultimately, not at too great a distance, subserve my interest in that quarter.
The Great Kanhawa is a long river with very little interruption for a considerable distance—No very large waters empty into it, I believe; Elk river, Coal river and a creek called Pokitellico below the falls, and Green river above them, are the most considerable. I am glad to hear that the Susquehanna canal is so well advanced. I thank you for the offer of Mr. Nielson’s services in the western country, and am, with very great, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO COLS. FITZGERALD AND GILPIN.
Mount Vernon, 31st March, 1786.
Yesterday Mr. Brindley, in company with a Mr. Harris, Manager for the James river Company (the latter having been sent for the former, by the Directors thereof,) left this on their way to Richmond from whence Mr. Brindley expects to be returned, as far as Alexandria, in seven days from the date hereof. I have engaged him to call upon Colo. Gilpin on his rout back.
Mr. Brindley1 and Mr. Harris took the great Falls in their way down and both approve of the present line for our Canal—the first very much. He conceives that 9-10ths of the expence of the one fifth proposed will be saved by this cut, the work altogether as secure, and the entrance into the river by no means unfavorable. He thinks however that a good deal of attention and judgment is required in fixing Locks there; the height of which he observes is always governed by the ground—they frequently run from four to eighteen feet, and some times are as high as twenty four.
The nature and declination of the ground, according to him, is alone to direct—and where this will admit he thinks the larger the Locks are made the better, because more convenient.
With respect to this part of the business I feel, and always have confessed an entire incompetency:—nor do I conceive that theoretical knowledge alone is adequate to the undertaking. Locks, upon the most judicious plan, will certainly be expensive; and if not properly constructed and judiciously placed, may be altogether useless. It is for these reasons therefore that I have frequently suggested (though no decision has been had) the propriety of employing a professional man.
Nevertheless whether the expense of obtaining one in, and bringing him from Europe has been thought unnecessary, or too burthensome for the advantages, which are to be expected, I know not: but as it is said no person in this country has more practical knowledge than Mr. Brindley, I submit to your consideration the propriety of engaging him to take the Falls in his way back; to examine, level and digest a plan for Locks at that place; if it shall appear good, and his reasons in support of the spots and sizes conclusive it will justify the adoption; if palpably erroneous, there is no obligation upon us to follow him, and the expence in that case is the only evil which can result from it—this for the chance of a probable good, I am not only willing but desirous of encountering; and if Colo. Gilpin has not already made the trip to that place which he proposed at our last visit, and disappointment there, it would give me great pleasure if it could be so timed as to accompany Mr. Brindley; this would not only give countenance to the measure, but aid also, and might serve to remove the little jealousies which otherwise arise in the minds of our own managers. Taking Mr. Brindley to the works now may ultimately save expence—at the same time having a plan before us, enable us at all convenient times to provide materials for its execution. I am, &c.
P. S. If my proposition is acceded to, it would be better to fix at once what Mr. Brindley is to receive, and I will readily subscribe my name to what you two gentlemen shall agree to give him.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO ROBERT MORRIS.
Mount Vernon, 12 April, 1786.
I 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. 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 impoliticly with respect to the State, the city in particular, and without being able, (but by acts of tyranny and oppression,) to accomplish its 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 expense (and this will not always succeed) of providing servants of another description for the trip.
I 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 loses his property for want of means to defend it; it is oppression in such a 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.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO THE MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE.
Mount Vernon, 10 May, 1786.
My dear Marquis,
* * * * * *
The letter which you did me the favor to write to me by Mr. Barrett dated the 6th of February together with the parcel and packages which accompanied it came safely to hand, and for which I pray you to accept my grateful acknowledgments.
The 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 federal 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, (though 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. 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.1 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 federal 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.2
The 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.
Your 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.
The benevolence of your heart, my dear Marquis, 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 Marquis de St. Simon, in which I have requested to be presented to M. de Menonville. The favorable 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. * * *[Back to Table of Contents]
TO JOHN JAY.
Mount Vernon, 18 May, 1786.
In due course of post, I have been honored with your favors of the 2d and 16th of March1 ; 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.1
I coincide perfectly in sentiment with you, my dear 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 fabric 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 our land, and the want of a 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 labor under for some time yet. With respectful compliments to Mrs. Jay, and sentiments of sincere friendship, I am, dear Sir, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO HENRY L. CHARTON.
Mount Vernon, 20th May, 1786.
The letter which you did me the favor to write to me from Philadelphia on the 5th inst. came safely to hand, and I should have given it an earlier acknowledgment had not frequent calls from home, & unavoidable business prevented it.
I do not perceive, upon recurring to the subject, that I can be more explicit in the description of my Lands on the Big Kanhawa, & on the Ohio between the two Kanhawas, than I was when I had the pleasure of seeing you at this place.—If I recollect rightly I then informed you, that from the accounts given me of them by the Surveyor; from what I had seen of them myself, (especially the tract on the big Kanhawa) from every other source of information, & from my best knowledge & belief, there can be no finer land in that or any other country; or lands more abounding in natural advantages.
The whole of them are washed by the rivers I have mentioned—are furnished with land streams fit for water works of various kinds—stored with meadow ground wch. may be reclaimed in the cheapest & most expeditious manner imaginable, (by only cutting away trifling banks of earth, which have been formed by the Beaver) and abound in fish & wild fowl of all kinds, as well as every other sort of game with which the country is filled. With respect to the quality of the soil, it may be conceived that none can exceed it when I relate a single fact, namely, that it was the first choice of the whole country thereabouts, after a thorough research of it by an excellent judge, the late Colo. Crawford.
As to the situation of them, none can be more advantageous; for living about midway between the upper & lower settlements on the Ohio, the trade must pass within sight of those Lands, whilst the occupants of them, equally convenient to both might embrace the inland navigation of either Potomac or James river, as soon as they are made to communicate with the Western waters; which no doubt will soon be effected. I think too, I should not be mistaken were I to add that ere long a town of some importance will be established in the vicinity of them—viz—at the confluence of the big Kanhawa & Ohio; which is the point at which the trade to Richmond, & that which is carried to the northern parts of this State, & to Maryland & Pennsylvania, must separate. But to go into a more minute detail in writing of what has before been the subject of oral conversation, would be more tiresome than interesting; especially as it is by no means my wish that any purchase, whatever—should rely upon my accot. of this matter, or on those of any others—but judge for himself or themselves, in all things.
When you asked me if I was disposed to sell these Lands, I answered and truly that I had never had it in contemplation, because I well knew they would rise more in value than the purchase money at the present time would accumulate by interest; consequently under these circumstances it would be difficult in the present moment to fix on a price which would be acceded to, that would be an equivalent for them hereafter. However as I had no family, wished to live easy & to spend the remainder of my days with as little trouble as possible, I said I would part with them if a good price could be obtained; and that my sense of their value might easily be ascertained by the terms on which I had proposed to rent them (& which I think you told me you had seen). One of which, amounting in fact to an absolute sale, being on a Lease of 999 years, renewable, was at ten pounds this currency per hundred acres, which at 5 p. ct.—(the legal interest in this State), would have come to 40s. like money pr. acre for the land on purchase; but I added, that if any one person, or sett of men would take the whole, I would make the terms of payment easy and abate considerably in the price. I therefore now inform you that the lands (the patents & plats of which I shewed you) the titles to which are uncontrollable—free from those clashing interests and jarring disputes with which much of the property in that country is replete, are in quantities & situation as follows—
1st.—2314, on the Ohio river three or four miles below the mouth of the little Kanhawa.
2d.—2448 acres on the said river abt. sixteen miles below the former.
3d.—4395 acres on Ditto, just above the great bend in it & below the other two.
4th.—10,990—on the big Kanhawa (west side) beginning within two or three miles of its conflux with the Ohio & extending up the former 17 miles.
5th.—7,276 acres a little above this on the East side of the same river Kanhawa.
6th.—2000 acres higher up the Kanhawa (west side) in the fork between Coal river and it.
7th.—2950 acres, opposite thereto, on the East side. In all 32,373 acres on both rivers.
For these lands I would take Thirty thousand English guineas (of the proper weight) or other specie current in the country, at its equivalent value.—Two thousand five hundred of which to be paid at the execution of the Deeds & the remainder in seven years therefrom with an interest of five pr. ct. pr. ann. regularly paid at my seat ’till the principal shall be discharged.
I am not inclined to part with any of these Lands, as an inducement to settle the rest. My mind is so well satisfied of the superior value of them to most others, that there remains no doubt on it of my obtaining my own terms as the country populates and the situation & local advantages of them unfold. These terms have already been promulgated, but I have not a copy of them by me, or I could send it to you. They were inserted in Dunlaps & Claypoole’s Gazette about two years ago, at whose Office it is probable a copy might be had.1 —One of the conditions was, if my memory serves me, an exemption from the payment of rent three years whilst the tenements were opening & improvements making; this I am still inclined to fulfill.
The rents were different according to the term for which leases were to be granted.
If for twenty one years only, they were to commence & end at £5 pr. hundred; for in that case the stipulated improvements being made, I knew that almost any rent might be had for the Tenement thereafter.
If on leases renewable every ten years forever, the rents were in that case to advance in a certain ratio, to keep pace with the encreasing value of the Land. And if given in the first instance for 999 yrs. as has been mentioned before, then the rent was to commence at ten pounds pr. hund. Acres; which being in fact an alienation of the property, shewed my ideas of its present value & purchase money, as mentioned already. These, as far as I can recite from memory, were the terms on which I offered to rent, and from which I feel no disposition to relax unless as in the case of a purchase, some one or more persons would take the whole off my hands at once, & become responsible for the rent; in which case being influenced by similar principles I might abate accordingly.
I should have great pleasure in giving such letters as you have asked, to the Marquis de la Fayette and Chevr. de la Luzerne, but conceive they could only have an embarrassing operation. It is certainly as consistent with the policy of one country to discourage depopulation, as it is for another to encourage emigration. Considering the matter in this point of view I cannot suppose, however well disposed either of the above gentlemen may be to serve this country, that they would do it at the expence of, & perhaps hazard of censure from their own.
One of these gentlemen too being in the diplomatic or ministerial line would, undoubtedly, be very cautious in expressing a sentiment favorable to a business of this kind.—my best wishes however will follow you thro’ all the stages of it; and with esteem, I am, &c.
P. S. I shou’d be glad to know whether this letter found you in Philadelphia.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO JAMES TILGHMAN.
Mount Vernon, 5 June, 1786.
I have just had the honor to receive your favor of the 26th ulto.—
Of all the numerous acquaintances of your lately deceased son,1 & amidst all the sorrowings that are mingled on that melancholy occasion, I may venture to assert (that excepting those of his nearest relatives) none could have felt his death with more regret than I did, because, no one entertained a higher opinion of his worth, or had imbibed sentiments of greater friendship for him than I had done. That you, Sir, should have felt the keenest anguish for this loss, I can readily conceive,—the ties of the parental affection united with those of friendship could not fail to have produced this effect. It is however a dispensation, the wisdom of which is inscrutable, and amidst all your grief, there is this consolation to be drawn;—that while living, no man could be more esteemed, and since dead, none more lamented than Colo. Tilghman.
As his correspondence with the comtee. of New York is not connected with any transactions of mine, so, consequently, it is not necessary that the Papers to which you allude should compose part of my public documents; but if they stand single, as they exhibit a trait of his public character, and like all the rest of his transactions will, I am persuaded, do honor to his understanding and probity, it may be desirable in this point of view, to keep them alive by mixing them with mine; which, undoubtedly, will claim the attention of the Historian;—who, if I mistake not, will, upon an inspection of them, discover the illiberal ground on which the charge mentioned in the extract of the letter you did me the honor to inclose me is founded.—That a calumny of this kind had been reported, I knew;—I had laid my acct. for the calumnies of annonymous scribblers; but I never before had conceived that such an one as is related, could have originated with, or have met the countenance of Capt. Asgill; whose situation often filled me with the keenest anguish.
I felt for him on many accts.; and not the least, when, viewing him as a man of honor & sentiment, how unfortunate it was for him that a wretch who possessed neither should be the means of causing in him a single pang or a disagreeable sensation. My favorable opinion of him, however is forfeited, if being acquainted with these reports, he did not immediately contradict them.—That I could not have given countenance to the insults which he says were offered to his person, especially the grovelling one of erecting a Gibbet before his prison window, will I expect, readily be believed, when I explicitly declare that I never heard of a single attempt to offer an insult, and that I had every reason to be convinced, that, he was treated by the officers around him, with all the tenderness and every civility in their power.—I would fain ask Captn. Asgill how he could reconcile such belief (if his mind had been seriously impressed with it) to the continual indulgencies and procrastinations he had experienced? He will not I presume deny that, he was admitted to his parole within ten or twelve miles of the British lines:—if not to a formal parole, to a confidence yet more unlimited—by being permitted, for the benefit of his health and recreation of his mind, to ride, not merely about the cantonment, but into the surrounding country for many miles with his friend and companion Maj. Gordon, constantly attending him. Would not these indulgencies have pointed a military character to the portrait from whence they flowed? Did he conceive that discipline was so lax in the American army as that any officer in it would have granted these liberties to a Person confined by the express order of the Commander in Chief, unless authorized to do so by the same authority? and to ascribe them to the interference of Count de Rochambeau, is as void of foundation as his other conjectures; for I do not recollect that a sentence ever passed between that General and me, directly, or indirectly, on the subject. I was not without suspicions after the final liberation and return of Capt. Asgill to New York that his mind had been improperly impressed or that he was defective in politeness. The treatment he had met with, in my conception, merited an acknowledgment—None, however was offered, and I never sought for the cause.
This concise acct. of the treatment of Capt. Asgill is given from a hasty recollection of the circumstances.—If I had had time, and it was essential, by unpacking my papers and recurring to authentic files, I might have been more pointed and full. It is in my power at any time to convince the unbiased mind that my conduct through the whole of the transaction was neither influenced by passion, guided by inhumanity or under the control of any interference whatsoever. I essayed everything to save the innocent and bring the guilty to punishment, with what success the impartial world must and hereafter certainly will decide.
With very great esteem, &c.1[Back to Table of Contents]
TO HENRY LEE, IN CONGRESS.
Mount Vernon, 18 June, 1786.
My dear Sir,
* * * * * *
The advantages, with which the inland navigation of the Rivers Potomac and James are pregnant, must strike every mind that reasons upon the subject; but there is, I perceive, a diversity of sentiment respecting the benefits and the consequences, which may flow from the free and immediate use of the Mississippi. My opinion of this matter has been uniformly the same; and no light in which I have been able to consider the subject is likely to change it. It is, neither to relinquish nor to push our claim to this navigation, but in the mean while to open all the communications, which nature has afforded, between the Atlantic States and the western territory, and to encourage the use of them to the utmost. In my judgment it is a matter of very serious concern to the well-being of the former to make it the interest of the latter to trade with them; without which, the ties of consanguinity, which are weakening every day, will soon be no bond, and we shall be no more a few years hence to the inhabitants of that country, than the British and Spaniards are at this day; not so much, indeed, because commercial connexions, it is well known, lead to others, and united are difficult to be broken, and these must take place with the Spaniards, if the navigation of the Mississippi is opened.
Clear I am, that it would be for the interest of the western settlers, as low down the Ohio as the Big Kanhawa, and back to the Lakes, to bring their produce through one of the channels I have named; but the way must be cleared, and made easy and obvious to them, or else the ease with which people glide down stream will give a different bias to their thinking and acting. Whenever the new States become so populous and so extended to the westward, as really to need it, there will be no power which can deprive them of the use of the Mississippi. Why then should we prematurely urge a matter, which is displeasing and may produce disagreeable consequences, if it is our interest to let it sleep? It may require some management to quiet the restless and impetuous spirits of Kentucky, of whose conduct I am more apprehensive in this business, than I am of all the opposition that will be given by the Spaniards.1 Mrs. Washington & George and his wife join me in compliments and good wishes to your lady. With great esteem and regard, I am, dear Sir, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO WILLIAM GRAYSON, IN CONGRESS.
Mount Vernon, 26 July, 1786.
Is it not among the most unaccountable things in nature, that the representation of a great country should generally be so thin as not to be able to execute the functions of government?1 To what is this to be ascribed? Is it the result of political manœuvre in some States, or is it owing to supineness or want of means? Be the causes what they may, it is shameful and disgusting. In a word, it hurts us. Our character as a nation is dwindling; and what it must come to, if a change should not soon take place, our enemies have foretold; for in truth we seem either not capable, or not willing, to take care of ourselves.
For want, I suppose, of competent knowledge of the Connecticut claim to western territory, the compromise which is made with her appears to me to be a disadvantageous one for the Union, and, if her right is not one of the motives (according to your account) for yielding to it, in my humble opinion, is exceedingly dangerous and bad; for upon such principles might, not right, must ever prevail, and there will be no surety for any thing.1
I wish very sincerely, that the land ordinance may answer the expectations of Congress. I had, and still have, my doubts of the utility of the plan, but pray devoutly, that they may never be realized, as I am desirous of seeing it a productive branch of the revenue. That part, which makes the waters and carrying-places common highways, and free for all the States, is certainly valuable.
I thank you for the other articles of information. Such as you have disclosed confidentially, you may rest assured will proceed no further, till it becomes public through other channels; and this shall always be the case with paragraphs, which are so marked. The answer to the memorial of Mr. Adams by Lord Carmarthen I have seen at large. It was impolitic and unfortunate if it was not unjust in these States to pass laws, which by fair construction might be considered as infractions of the treaty of peace. It is good policy at all times to place one’s adversary in the wrong. Had we observed good faith, and the western posts had then been withheld from us by Great Britain, we might have appealed to God and man for justice; and, if there are any guarantees to the treaty, we might have called upon them to see it fulfilled.1 But now we cannot do this; though clear I am, that the reasons assigned by the British ministry are only ostensible, and that the posts, under one pretence or another, were intended to have been detained, though no such acts had ever passed. But how different would our situation have been under such circumstances. With very sincere regard and affection, I am, dear Sir, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO WAKELIN WELCH, ESQ.
Mount Vernon,—July, 1786.
Since my last of the 28th of Novr., I have been favored with your letters of the 27th of Feby. & 13th of March; and have receiv’d the paper hangings and watch by Capt. Andrews. With the last Mrs. Washington is well pleased, and I thank you in her name for your attention to the making of it.
If the stocks keep up, and there is not a moral certainty of their rising higher in a short time, it is my wish and desire that my interest in the Bank may be immediately sold, and the money arising therefrom made subject to my Drafts in your hands, some of which at 60 days sight may soon follow this letter.
The footing on which you have placed the interest of my debt to you, is all I require. To stand on equal ground with others who owe money to the merchants in England, and who were not so prompt in their payment of the principal as I have been, is all I aim at. Whatever the two Countries may finally decide with respect to interest; or whatever general agreement or compromise may be come to, between British Creditors and American Debtors, I am willing to abide by; nor should I again have touched upon this subject in this letter, had you not introduced a case which, in my opinion has no similitude with the point in question.
You say I have received interest at the Bank, for the money which was there—granted—but (besides remarking that only part of this money was mine) permit me to ask if G. Britain was not enabled by means of the bank, to continue the War with this country? whether this war did not deprive us of the means of paying our Debts? and whether the interest I received from this source did or could bear any proportion to the losses I sustained by having my grain, my Tobacco and every article of produce, rendered unsaleable and left to perish on my hands?
However, I again repeat that I ask no discrimination of you in my favor, for had there been no stipulation by treaty to secure debts—nay more, had there even been an exemption by the legislative authority or practice of this Country against it, I would, from a conviction of the propriety and justice of the measure, have discharged my original debt to you.
But from the moment our ports were shut, and our markets were stopped by the hostile fleets and armies of Great Britain, ’till the first were opened, and the others revived, I should, for the reasons I have (tho’ very cursorily) assigned, have thought the interest during that epocha, stood upon a very different footing.
I am much obliged by the trouble you have taken to enquire into the nature of the connexion between the House of Messrs. Hanbury & Co., and Balfour & Barrand. I had no sanguine hopes of redress from that quarter, but as it seemed to be the only chance I was willing to try it. I am, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO THE CHEVALIER DE LA LUZERNE.
Mount Vernon, 1 August, 1786.
The letter you did me the honor to write to me on the 3d of February has come safely to hand. Nothing could be more satisfactory to me than the friendly sentiments contained in it, and the generous manner in which you always interest yourself in the happiness and dignity of the United States. I wish I had it in my power to inform you that the several States had fully complied with all the wise requisitions, which Congress has made to them on national subjects. But, unfortunately for us, this is not yet the case, although for my own part I do not cease to expect, that this just policy will ultimately take effect. It is not the part of a good citizen to despair of the republic; nor ought we to have calculated, that our young governments would have acquired in so short a period all the consistency and solidity, which it has been the work of ages to give to other nations. All the States, however, have at length granted the impost; though unhappily some of them have granted it under such qualifications as have hitherto prevented its operation. The greater part of the Union seems to be convinced of the necessity of federal measures, and of investing Congress with the power of regulating the commerce of the whole. The reasons you offer on this subject are certainly forcible, and I cannot but hope will ere long have their due efficacy.1
In other respects our internal governments are daily acquiring strength. The laws have their fullest energy; justice is well administered; robbery, violence, or murder is not heard of, from New Hampshire to Georgia. The people at large, (as far as I can learn,) are more industrious than they were before the war. Economy begins, partly from necessity and partly from choice and habit, to prevail. The seeds of population are scattered over an immense tract of western country. In the old States, which were the theatres of hostility, it is wonderful to see how soon the ravages of war are repaired. Houses are rebuilt, fields enclosed, stocks of cattle, which were destroyed, are replaced, and many a desolated territory assumes again the cheerful appearance of cultivation. In many places the vestiges of conflagration and ruin are hardly to be traced. The arts of peace, such as clearing rivers, building bridges, and establishing conveniences for travelling, are assiduously promoted. In short, the foundation of a great empire is laid, and I please myself with a persuasion, that Providence will not leave its work imperfect.
I am sensible, that the picture of our situation, which has been exhibited in Europe since the peace, has been of a very different complexion; but it must be remembered, that all the unfavorable features have been much heightened by the medium of the English newspapers, through which they have been represented. The British still continue to hold the posts on our frontiers, and affect to charge us with some infractions of the treaty. On the other hand we retort the accusation. What will be the consequences is more than I can predict. To me, however, it appears, that they are playing the same foolish game in commerce that they have lately done in war; that their ill-judged impositions will eventually drive our ships from their ports, wean our attachments from their manufactures, and give to France decided advantages for a commercial connexion with us. To strengthen the alliance, and promote the interests of France and America, will ever be the favorite object of him, who has the honor to subscribe himself, with every sentiment of attachment, dear Sir, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO THOMAS JEFFERSON.
Mount Vernon, 1 August, 1786.
The letters you did me the favor to write to me, on the 4th and 7th of January, have been duly received. In answer to your obliging inquiries respecting the dress, attitude, &c., which I would wish to have given to the statue in question, I have only to observe, that, not having sufficient knowledge in the art of sculpture to oppose my judgment to the taste of connoisseurs, I do not desire to dictate in the matter. On the contrary, I shall be perfectly satisfied with whatever may be judged decent and proper. I should even scarcely have ventured to suggest, that perhaps a servile adherence to the grab of antiquity might not be altogether so expedient, as some little deviation in favor of the modern costume, if I had not learnt from Colonel Humphreys, that this was a circumstance hinted in conversation by Mr. West to Mr. Houdon. This taste, which has been introduced in painting by West, I understand is received with applause, and prevails extensively. * * *
We have no news of importance; and, if we had, I should hardly be in the way of learning it, as I divide my time between the superintendence of opening the navigation of our rivers, and attention to my private concerns. Indeed I am too much secluded from the world to know with certainty what sensation the refusal of the British to deliver up the western posts has made on the public mind. I fear the edge of its sensibility is somewhat blunted. Federal measures are not yet universally adopted. New York, which was as well disposed a State as any in the Union, is said to have become in a degree anti-federal. Some other States are in my opinion falling into very foolish and wicked plans of emitting paper money. I cannot however give up my hopes and expectations, that we shall ere long adopt a more just and liberal system of policy. What circumstances will lead, or what misfortunes will compel us to it, is more than can be told without the spirit of prophecy. In the mean time the people are industrious. Economy begins to prevail, and our internal governments are in general tolerably well administered.
You will probably have heard of the death of General Greene before this reaches you; in which case you will, in common with your countrymen, have regretted the loss of so great and so honest a man.1 General McDougall, who was a brave soldier and a disinterested patriot, is also dead.2 He belonged to the legislature of his State. The last act of his life was (after being carried on purpose to the Senate) to give his voice against the emission of a paper currency. Colonel Tilghman, who was formerly of my family, died lately, and left as fair a reputation as ever belonged to a human character. Thus some of the pillars of the revolution fall. Others are mouldering by insensible degrees. May our country never want props to support the glorious fabric. With sentiments of esteem and regard, I have the honor to be, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO JOHN JAY.
Mount Vernon, 1 August, 1786.
I have to thank you very sincerely for your interesting letter of the 27th of June, as well as for the other communications you had the goodness to make at the same time. I am sorry to be assured, of what indeed I had little doubt before, that we have been guilty of violating the treaty in some instances. What a misfortune it is, the British should have so well grounded a pretext for their palpable infractions! And what a disgraceful part, out of the choice of difficulties before us, are we to act!
Your sentiments, that our affairs are drawing rapidly to a crisis, accord with my own. What the event will be, is also beyond the reach of my foresight. We have errors to correct. We have probably had too good an opinion of human nature in forming our confederation. Experience has taught us, that men will not adopt and carry into execution measures the best calculated for their own good, without the intervention of a coercive power. I do not conceive we can exist long as a nation without having lodged some where a power, which will pervade the whole Union in as energetic a manner as the authority of the State governments extends over the several States.
To be fearful of investing Congress, constituted as that body is, with ample authorities for national purposes, appears to me the very climax of popular absurdity and madness. Could Congress exert them for the detriment of the public, without injuring themselves in an equal or greater proportion? Are not their interests inseparably connected with those of their constituents? By the rotation of appointment, must they not mingle frequently with the mass of citizens? Is it not rather to be apprehended, if they were possessed of the powers before described, that the individual members would be induced to use them, on many occasions, very timidly and inefficaciously for fear of losing their popularity and future election? We must take human nature as we find it. Perfection falls not to the share of mortals. Many are of opinion, that Congress have too frequently made use of the suppliant, humble tone of requisition in applications to the States, when they had a right to assert their imperial dignity and command obedience. Be that as it may, requisitions are a perfect nullity where thirteen sovereign, independent, disunited States are in the habit of discussing and refusing compliance with them at their option. Requisitions are actually little better than a jest and a by-word throughout the land. If you tell the legislatures they have violated the treaty of peace, and invaded the prerogatives of the confederacy, they will laugh in your face. What then is to be done? Things cannot go on in the same train forever. It is much to be feared, as you observe, that the better kind of people, being digusted with the circumstances, will have their minds prepared for any revolution whatever. We are apt to run from one extreme into another. To anticipate and prevent disastrous contingencies would be the part of wisdom and patriotism.
What astonishing changes a few years are capable of producing. I am told that even respectable characters speak of a monarchical form of government without horror. From thinking proceeds speaking; thence to acting is often but a single step. But how irrevocable and tremendous! What a triumph for our enemies to verify their predictions! What a triumph for the advocates of despotism to find, that we are incapable of governing ourselves, and that systems founded on the basis of equal liberty are merely ideal and fallacious! Would to God, that wise measures may be taken in time to avert the consequences we have but too much reason to apprehend.
Retired as I am from the world, I frankly acknowledge I cannot feel myself an unconcerned spectator. Yet, having happily assisted in bringing the ship into port, and having been fairly discharged, it is not my business to embark again on a sea of troubles. Nor could it be expected, that my sentiments and opinions would have much weight on the minds of my countrymen. They have been neglected, though given as a last legacy in the most solemn manner. I had then perhaps some claims to public attention. I consider myself as having none at present. Mrs Washington joins me in compliments, etc.
With sentiments of sincere esteem and friendship, I am, dear Sir, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO THE MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE.
Mount Vernon, 15 August, 1786.
My dear Marquis,
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. 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 harbors, 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 United States 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, tobacco, 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 remittances, which such manufacturing nations 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 through the circuitous channel of Britain, and to pay for them in money as she formerly did.
I 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 manufacturers. 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.
However 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 dear Marquis, 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.
Although 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.
Some of the late treaties, which have been entered into, and particularly that between the King of Prussia and the United 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 dear Marquis, in such an enlightened, 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. * * *[Back to Table of Contents]
TO DAVID HUMPHREYS.1
Mount Vernon, 1 September, 1786.
My dear Humphreys,
Enclosed are all the documents Mr. Lear could find respecting the confinement and treatment under it of Captain Asgill. For want of recurrence to them before I wrote to Mr. Tilghman,2 I perceive, that a bad memory had run me into an error in my narrative of the latter, in one particular. For it should seem by that, as if the loose and unguarded manner, in which Captain Asgill was held, was sanctioned by me; whereas one of my letters to Colonel Dayton condemns this conduct, and orders Asgill to be closely confined. Mr. Lear has given all the letters at length. Extracts might have answered; but I judged it better that the whole tenor of the correspondence should appear, that no part might seem to be hidden.
I well remember Major Gordon’s attending Asgill; and by one of my letters to Dayton it is evident, that Gordon had written to me, but my letter books have registered no reply. In what manner it would be best to bring this matter before the public I am at a loss, and leave it to you to determine under a consideration of the circumstances, which are as fully communicated as the documents in my hands will enable me to do. There is one mystery in the business, which I cannot develop, nor are there any papers in my possession which explain it. Hazen was ordered to send an unconditional prisoner. Asgill comes. Hazen, or some other, must have given information of a Lieutenant Turner, (under the former description). Turner is ordered on, but never came. Why? I am unable to say; nor is there any letter from Hazen (to be found,) which accounts for a non-compliance with the order. If I had not too many causes to distrust my memory, I should ascribe it to there having been no such officer, or that he was also under capitulation; for Captain Shaach1 seems to have been held as a proper victim after this.
I will write as soon as I am able to Mr. Tilghman, requesting him to withhold my first accounts of Asgill’s treatment from his correspondent in England, promising an authentic one from original papers. It may, however, have passed him. In that case, it will be necessary for me to say something to reconcile my own accounts.
I write to you with a very aching head and disordered frame, and Mr. Lear will copy the letter. Saturday last, by an imprudent act, I brought on an ague and fever on Sunday, which returned with violence Tuesday and Thursday; and, if Dr. Craik’s efforts are ineffectual, I shall have them again this day. The family join me in every good wish for you. It is unnecessary to assure you of the friendship and affection with which I am, &c.
P. S. We have found Gordon’s letters. They contain a demand of Asgill, as an officer protected by the capitulation of Yorktown. This I suppose is the reason they were not answered.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO JOHN FRANCIS MERCER.
Mount Vernon, 9 September, 1786.
Your favor of the 20th ulto. did not get to my hands ’till about the first of this month. It found me in a fever from which I am now but sufficiently recovered to attend to business. I mention this as the reason why your propositions have not been attended to before.
With respect to the first, I never mean (unless some particular circumstance should compel me to it) to possess another slave by purchase; it being among my first wishes to see some plan adopted, by which slavery in this country may be abolished by slow, sure, and imperceptible degrees.1 —With respect to the second, I never did, nor never intend to purchase a military certificate. I see no difference it makes with you, (if it is one of the funds allotted for the discharge of my claim) who the purchaser is. If the depreciation between them and specie is three for one; you will have it in your power whilst at the receipt of Custom—Richmond—where it is said the great regulator of this business (Graves) resides—to convert them into specie at that rate. If the difference is more, there would be no propriety (if I inclined to deal in them at all) in my taking them at that exchange.
I shall rely upon your promise of £200—in five weeks from the date of your letter. It will enable me to pay the workmen which have been employed about this House all the Spring & Summer (some of whom are yet here); but there are two debts which press hard upon me—one of which, if there is no other method left—I must sell Land or Negroes to discharge. It is owing to the Govr. of New York (Clinton), who was so obliging as to borrow the sum of £2000 to answer some calls of mine;—to be paid in 12 months after the conclusion of Peace.
For this sum he became my security, & for what remains due (about £800 York currency) I am now paying an interest of 7 pr. ct.—but the high interest, tho’ more than any estate can bear, I should not regard if my credit was not at stake to comply with the conditions of the loan. The other debt, tho’ I am anxious to discharge it and the person to whom I owe it, I know wants it, yet it might I believe be put off a while longer—this sum is larger than the other. I am, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO WILLIAM TRIPLET.
Mount Vernon, 25 September, 1786.
If Mr. Lund Washington has not misconceived the conversation which passed between you and me, the day you lay ill in bed; or if you understood the matter in the same light he seems to have done, I find there is another mistake between us respecting Mrs. French’s land, which it behooves me to clear up as soon as possible.
He thinks you asked me if I meant to take the land for the term of Robinson’s lease; and that I answered yes.—If such a question and such an answer passed, we must some how or other have been at cross purposes; for clear and evident it must be, even to yourself, that I could have no intention of being concerned with the land at all, unless it was for Mrs. French’s life. You may well recollect Sir, that I declared this in explicit terms in the conversation I had with you at my own house, and assigned reasons for it to you—namely—that if I got this and Mr. Manley’s Land it was my intention to blend them, and my other plantations together, and to form entire new ones out of the whole; that I meant to go into an entire new course of cropping, &c., would lay off my fields accordingly in a permanent and lasting farm by Ditches and Hedges;—and that it was for this reason I was desirous of knowing this fall (before I went into such arrangement and expence), whether I had any chance of getting these places or not; because it might be too late afterwards to make any change in my plan. With this object in view, I must have been insane, to have taken the plantation for the remainder of Robinson’s lease only; first, because it is uncertain whether I could get possession of the Land or not, never having exchanged a word with Robinson on the subject, nor never intending to do it unless I had got the place to myself entirely; and secondly, if I did because I should not probably be able to compleat the plan of enclosures by the time the Lease would expire. What situation should I be in then? A new bargain under every disadvantage to make, or go back to my former grounds? In the latter case all my labor and expence would have been thrown away and my whole plan defeated.—In the former (that is supposing Robinson could not be got off by fair means, and Mr. Lee is of opinion, which opinion I had in my pocket at the time I call’d upon you in expectation of meeting Mrs. French that, without a regular demand of rent and reentry, which might be a tedious and expensive process in Courts, the Lease cannot be got aside,) under these circumstances I say, I should have made myself liable for the payment of Robinson’s rent, without deriving a single advantage. Will any body think this reasonable; or suppose that whilst I retain my senses, I would do it?
As I do not recollect that in the course of my life I ever forfeited my word, or broke a promise made to any one, I have been thus particular to evince (if you understand the matter in the same light that Lund Washington did) that I was not attending to or did not understand the question.
I am sorry any mistake has happened and to convince you and Mrs. French that through the whole of this business, I meant to act upon fair, open and honorable grounds, I will, as mistakes have taken place, and as there is a difference of opinion respecting the annual value of the Lands and negroes, leave it to any person of her own choosing (Major Little if she pleases) to say, whether the rent after the expiration of Robinson’s lease shall be £136, or £150 pr. an:—if he thinks one too much and the other too little, any sum between.—Mrs. French has declared that she neither wanted nor would take more than the intrinsic worth of the place.—I on the word of a man of honor declare that I do not desire it for a farthing less than the value; for to make money by it was never my object; but we differ in our sentiments of this. Is there any mode then so fair, as for an impartial person to see the place, and to hear what Mrs. French, or you in her behalf and myself will say on the subject, and then to decide according to this judgment from the facts? and can there be any thing more favorable to her wishes than to have this determined by her friend in whom she places, I presume, implicit confidence? I never exchanged a word directly nor indirectly with Majr. Little on the subject, but believing him to be a gentleman who will decide according to the dictates of his judgment, I am not afraid to entrust the matter to him, notwithstanding the family connexion between him and Mrs. French—In a word, I am so conscious of the rectitude of my intentions in the whole of this business, that it is a matter of the most perfect indifference to me, to whom it is left.—and, tho’ it may be supposed I have some sinister views in saying it, yet without the gift of prophecy, I will venture to pronounce, that if Mrs. French misses me as a Tenant, she will repent, long before Robinson’s Lease expires, for having done so:—for I can assure her from an experience of more than twenty five years that there is a very wide difference between getting Tenants and getting rents. She may get a dozen of the first (& I have not the smallest doubt but she may); but if there is one among them who (having no other dependence than the produce of the Plantation) will pay her the latter without hard working and pinching her negroes, and a great deal of trouble and vexation to her, I shall be more mistaken than I ever was in any thing of the kind in my life.
This may not appear so to her at first view; because it is but too common to compare things without attending enough to the circumstances of them.
I have no doubt but that Mrs. French thinks it very strange that I should receive £120 a year rent from Mr. Dulaney, and scruple to give her £150—for rather more land, and twenty odd negroes, but has she considered that the one is accompanied by no charge except the land tax, and the other with many and heavy ones? And do not every body who have meadows, and have ever made an estimate of their value, know that an acre of tolerable good grass will pay all the expences of cutting, curing and stacking, and will put at least 40/ in the owner’s pocket annually? What then has Mr. Dulaney to do more than to keep up his fences to pay the rent? By his Advertisement of pasturage for Horses at 3/ pr. week he has — acres. Suppose it — only; the meadow alone without a single hand will yield him at least — pr. ann: Is there a single acre of land on Mrs. French’s plantation from which (besides cropping, so precarious) this is to be expected? Is there a single acre which can be converted into meadow? Is not the Land much worn, greatly exhausted and gullied in many places? None can deny it. But why need I enumerate or dwell on these things? Have I not put the matter upon as fair a footing as a man possibly can do? If Mrs French wants no more than the value as she has declared, what objection can she have to Majr. Little’s saying what that value is? If this proposition is acceded to, the sooner it is communicated to me the better. I have never yet opened my mouth to Robinson on the subject of his Lease, nor never intended to do it unless I had got the Plantation for Mrs. French’s life. When I sent the papers to Mr. Lee to draw the writings, I asked his opinion of the lease, which he gave, to the effect already mentioned.
It was for my private satisfaction; I asked it, for as I told you before and now repeat, I never had an intention to get him off otherwise than by fair means, this year or any other. This year will convince him or I am mistaken, that his inevitable ruin (if he has any thing to lose) will follow his holding it another year, if it is not the case already. I am, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO BUSHROD WASHINGTON.
Mount Vernon, 30 September, 1786.
I was from home when your servant arrived, found him in a hurry to be gone when I returned. Have company in the house, and am on the eve of a journey up the river to meet the directors of the Potomac Company. These things combining will not allow me time to give any explicit answer to the question you have propounded.
Generally speaking, I have seen as much evil as good result from such societies as you describe the constitution of yours to be. They are a kind of imperium in imperio, and as often clog as facilitate public measures. I am no friend to institutions, except in local matters, which are wholly or in a great measure confined to the county of the delegates. To me it appears much wiser and more politic to choose able and honest representatives, and leave them, in all national questions to determine from the evidence of reason, and the facts which shall be adduced, when internal and external information is given to them in a collective state. What certainty is there that societies in a corner or remote part of a State can possess that knowledge, which is necessary for them to decide on many important questions which may come before an Assembly? What reason is there to expect, that the society itself may be accordant in opinion on such subjects? May not a few members of this society, more sagacious and designing than the rest, direct the measures of it to private views of their own? May not this embarrass an honest, able delegate, who hears the voice of his country from all quarters, and thwart public measures?
These are first thoughts, but I give no decided opinion. Societies, nearly similar to such as you speak of, have lately been formed in Massachusetts, but what has been the consequence? Why, they have declared the senate useless, many other parts of the constitution unnecessary, salaries of public officers burthensome, &c. To point out the defects of the constitution, (if any existed,) in a decent way was proper enough; but they have done more. They first voted the courts of justice in the present circumstances of the State oppressive; and next by violence stop them; which has occasioned a very solemn proclamation and appeal from the governor to the people. You may say no such matters are in contemplation by your society. Granted. A snow-ball gathers by rolling. Possibly a line may be drawn between occasional meetings for special purposes, and a standing society to direct with local views and partial information the affairs of the nation, which cannot be well understood but by a large and comparative view of circumstances. Where is this so likely to enter as in the General Assembly of the people? What figure then must a delegate make, who comes there with his hands tied, and his judgment forestalled? His very instructors, perhaps, if they had nothing sinister in view, were they present at all the information and arguments, which would come forward, might be the first to change sentiments.
Hurried as this letter is, I am sensible I am writing to you upon a very important subject. I have no time to copy, correct, or even peruse it; for which reason I could wish to have it or a copy returned to me. George and his wife set off yesterday for the races at Fredericksburg. The rest of the family are well and join in love and good wishes for all at Bushefield. I am, &c.1[Back to Table of Contents]
TO GEORGE AUGUSTINE WASHINGTON.
Mount Vernon, 25 October, 1786.
It is natural for young married people who are launching into life, to look forward to a permanent establishment. If they are prudent, they will be reasonably solicitous to provide for those who come after and have a right to look to them for support.
It is also natural for those who have passed the meridian of life, and are descending into the shades of darkness to make arrangements for the disposal of the property of which they are possessed. The first of these observations will apply to you, and the second to myself. I have no doubt but that you and Fanny are as happy and contented in this family as circumstances will admit. Yet something is still wanting to make that situation more stable and pleasing.
It is well known that the expensive manner in which I am as it were involuntarily compelled to live, will admit of no diminution in my income; nor could it be expected if I now had, or ever should have descendants, that I either would or ought in justice to deprive them of what the laws of nature and the laws the land, if left to themselves, have declared to be their inheritance. The first however is not the case at present; and the second not likely to be so hereafter.
Under this statement then I may add that it is my present intention to give you at my death, my landed property in the Neck, containing by estimation between two & three thousand acres by purchases from Wm. Clifton and George Brent, and that the reasons why I communicate this matter to you at this time, are that you may if you chuse it, seat the negroes, which Colo. Bassett has promised you upon that part of the cleared land on which Saml. Johnson formerly lived; and under this expectation and prospect, that you may when it perfectly suits your inclination and convenience, be preparing for, and building thereon by degrees.
You may say, or think perhaps that as there is a contingency tacked to this intimation the offer is too precarious to hazard the expence of building; but if Mrs. Washington should survive me, there is a moral certainty of my dying without issue; and should I be the longest liver, the matter in my opinion, is hardly less certain; for while I retain the faculty of reasoning, I shall never marry a girl; and it is not probable that I should have children by a woman of an age suitable to my own, should I be disposed to enter into a second marriage. However, that there may be no possibility of your sustaining a loss, the matter may rest on the footing of compensation. I do therefore hereby declare it to be, and it is my express meaning, that if by the event above alluded to, or any other by which you may be deprived of the fee-simple in the lands herein mentioned, (unless a full equivalent is given in lieu thereof) that I will pay the cost of any buildings which you may erect on the premises.
The use of the Plantation, it is presumed will be adequate for the fences with which it may be enclosed, and for the labor arising from the cultivation—nothing therefore need be said on that head.
Here then, the prospect of a permanent inheritance is placed in the opposite scale of possible disappointment, and you are to judge for yourself.
I have been thus particular, because I would be clearly understood; because it is not my wish to deceive, and because I would not even raise an expectation not warranted from the premises by fair deduction.
Johnson’s plantation, as I believe you know is destitute of fencing, but there is timber at hand. The cleared land, whatever may have been the original quality of it, now is, by use, and more so by abuse much gullied and in bad condition; but as there is a sufficiency of it for the hands you will get, it may soon by care, good management and a proper course of cropping, be recovered.
One thing more and I will close this letter. Do not infer from my proposing it to you to build, that I meant it as a hint for you to prepare another home. I had no such idea. To point you to a settlement which you might make at leisure, & with convenience was all I had in view. More than once, I have informed you that in proportion as age and its concomitants encrease upon me, I shall stand in need of some person in whose industry and integrity I can confide for assistance. The double ties by which you are connected with this family (to say nothing of the favorable opinion we have of you,) by marriage union, have placed you differently from any other of my relations for this purpose; because no other married couple could give, or probably would receive the same satisfaction by living in it as you and Fanny do. But whether you remain in the same house, or at a future day may remove to the place proposed, your services will be convenient and essential to me; because with your aid I shall be able to manage my concerns without having recourse to a Steward, which comports neither with my interest nor inclination to employ.
With very affectionate regard I am, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO HENRY LEE, IN CONGRESS.
Mount Vernon, 31 October, 1786.
My dear Sir,
I am indebted to you for your several favors of the 1st, 11th, and 17th of this instant, and shall reply to them in the order of their dates. But first let me thank you for the interesting communications imparted by them.
The picture which you have exhibited, and the accounts which are published of the commotions and temper of numerous bodies in the eastern States, are equally to be lamented and deprecated. They exhibit a melancholy proof of what our transatlantic foe has predicted; and of another thing perhaps, which is still more to be regretted, and is yet more unaccountable, that mankind, when left to themselves, are unfit for their own government I am mortified beyond expression when I view the clouds, that have spread over the brightest morn that ever dawned upon any country. In a word, I am lost in amazement when I behold what intrigue, the interested views of desperate characters, ignorance, and jealousy of the minor part, are capable of effecting, as a scourge on the major part of our fellow citizens of the Union; for it is hardly to be supposed, that the great body of the people, though they will not act, can be so shortsighted or enveloped in darkness, as not to see rays of a distant sun through all this mist of intoxication and folly.1
You talk, my good Sir, of employing influence to appease the present tumults in Massachusetts. I know not where that influence is to be found, or, if attainable, that it would be a proper remedy for the disorders. Influence is no government. Let us have one by which our lives, liberties, and properties will be secured, or let us know the worst at once. Under these impressions, my humble opinion is, that there is a call for decision. Know precisely what the insurgents aim at. If they have real grievances, redress them if possible; or acknowledge the justice of them, and your inability to do it in the present moment. If they have not, employ the force of government against them at once. If this is inadequate, all will be convinced, that the superstructure is bad, or wants support. To be more exposed in the eyes of the world, and more contemptible than we already are, is hardly possible. To delay one or the other of these, is to exasperate on the one hand, or to give confidence on the other, and will add to their numbers; for, like snow-balls, such bodies increase by every movement, unless there is something in the way to obstruct and crumble them before the weight is too great and irresistible.
These are my sentiments. Precedents are dangerous things. Let the reins of government then be braced and held with a steady hand, and every violation of the constitution be reprehended. If defective, let it be amended, but not suffered to be trampled upon whilst it has an existence.
With respect to the navigation of the Mississippi, you already know my sentiments thereon. They have been uniformly the same, and, as I have observed to you in a former letter, are controverted by one consideration, only of weight, and that is, the operation which the conclusion of it may have on the minds of the western settlers, who will not consider the subject in a relative point of view, or on a comprehensive scale, and may be influenced by the demagogues of the country to acts of extravagance and desperation, under a popular declamation, that their interests are sacrificed. Colonel Mason at present is in a fit of the gout. What [his] sentiments on the subject are, I know not, nor whether he will be able to attend the Assembly during the present session. For some reasons, however, (which need not be mentioned,) I am inclined to believe he will advocate the navigation of that river. But in all matters of great national moment, the only true line of conduct, in my opinion, is dispassionately to compare the advantages and disadvantages of the measure proposed, and decide from the balance. The lesser evil, where there is a choice of them, should always yield to the greater. What benefits, more than we now enjoy, are to be obtained by such a treaty as you have delineated with Spain, I am not enough of a commercial man to give any opinion on.1 The china came to hand without much damage & I thank you for your attention in the procuring & forwarding it.2 Mrs. Washington joins me in best wishes for Mrs. Lee and yourself.
I am, dear Sir, &c.3[Back to Table of Contents]
TO JAMES MADISON.
Mount Vernon, 5 November, 1786.
My dear Sir,
I thank you for the communications in your letter of the 1st instant. The decision of the House on the question respecting a paper emission is portentous, I hope, of an auspicious session. It certainly may be classed with the important questions of the present day, and merited the serious attention of the Assembly. Fain would I hope, that the great and most important of all subjects, the federal government, may be considered with that calm and deliberate attention, which the magnitude of it so critically and loudly calls for at this critical moment. Let prejudices, unreasonable jealousies, and local interests, yield to reason and liberality. Let us look to our national character, and to things beyond the present moment. No morn ever dawned more favorably than ours did; and no day was ever more clouded than the present. Wisdom and good examples are necessary at this time to rescue the political machine from the impending storm. Virginia has now an opportunity to set the latter, and has enough of the former, I hope, to take the lead in promoting this great and arduous work. Without an alteration in our political creed, the superstructure we have been seven years in raising, at the expense of so much treasure and blood, must fall. We are fast verging to anarchy and confusion.
By a letter which I have received from General Knox, who had just returned from Massachusetts, whither he had been sent by Congress consequent of the commotions in that State, is replete with melancholy accounts of the temper and designs of a considerable part of that people. Among other things he says:
“Their creed is, that the property of the United States has been protected from the confiscation of Britain by the joint exertions of all; and therefore ought to be the common property of all; and he that attempts opposition to this creed, is an enemy to equity and justice, and ought to be swept from off the face of the earth.” Again: “They are determined to annihilate all debts, public and private, and have agrarian laws, which are easily effected by the means of unfunded paper money, which shall be a tender in all cases whatever.” He adds: “The number of these people amount in Massachusetts to about one fifth part of several populous counties, and to them may be collected people of similar sentiments from the States of Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire, so as to constitute a body of about twelve or fifteen thousand desperate and unprincipled men. They are chiefly of the young and active part of the community.”
How melancholy is the reflection, that in so short a space we should have made such large strides towards fulfilling the predictions of our transatlantic foes! “Leave them to themselves, and their government will soon dissolve.” Will not the wise and good strive hard to avert this evil? Or will their supineness suffer ignorance, and the arts of self-interested, designing, disaffected, and desperate characters, to involve this great country in wretchedness and contempt? What stronger evidence can be given of the want of energy in our government, than these disorders? If there is not power in it to check them, what security has a man for life, liberty, or property? To you I am sure I need not add aught on this subject. The consequences of a lax or inefficient government are too obvious to be dwelt upon. Thirteen sovereignties pulling against each other, and all tugging at the federal head, will soon bring ruin on the whole; whereas a liberal and energetic constitution, well guarded and closely watched to prevent encroachments, might restore us to that degree of respectability and consequences, to which we had a fair claim and the brightest prospect of attaining. With sentiments of very great esteem and regard.
I am, dear Sir, &c.1[Back to Table of Contents]
TO BUSHROD WASHINGTON.
Mount Vernon, 15 November, 1786.
Your letter of the 31st of October in reply to mine of the 30th of September came safe to hand. It was not the intention of my former letter either to condemn, or give my voice in favor of the Patriotic Society, of which you have now, but not before, declared yourself a member; nor do I mean to do it now. I offered observations under the information I had then received, the weight of which was to be considered. As first thoughts, they were undigested, and might be very erroneous.
That representatives ought to be the mouth of their constituents, I do not deny; nor do I mean to call in question the right of the latter to instruct them. It is to the embarrassment, into which they may be thrown by these instructions in national matters, that my objections lie. In speaking of national matters I look to the federal government, which, in my opinion, it is the interest of every State to support; and to do this, as there are a variety of interests in the Union, there must be a yielding of the parts to coalesce the whole. Now a county, a district, or even a State, might decide on a measure, which, though apparently for the benefit of it in its unconnected state, may be repugnant to the interests of the nation, and eventually to the State itself, as a part of the confederation. If, then, members go instructed to the Assembly from certain districts, the requisitions of Congress repugnant to the sense of them, and all the lights which they may receive from the communications of that body to the legislature, must be unavailing, although the nature and necessity of them, when the reasons therefor are fully expounded (which can only be given by Congress to the Assembly through the Executive, and which come before them in their legislative capacity), are as clear as the sun. In local matters which concern the district, or things which respect the internal policy of the State, there may be nothing amiss in instructions. In national matters, also, the sense, but not the law of the district may be given, leaving the delegates to judge from the nature of the case and the evidence before them.
The instructions of your Society, as far as they have gone, meet my entire approbation, except in the article of “commutables.” Here, if I understand the meaning and design of the clause, I must disagree to it most heartily; for, if the intention of it is to leave it optional with the person taxed, to pay any staple commodity (tobacco would be least exceptionable) in lieu of specie, the people will be burthened, a few speculators enriched, and the public derive no benefit from it. Have we not had a recent and melancholy proof of this during the war in the provision tax? Did not the people pay this in some way or other, perhaps badly? And was not the army almost starved? Can any instance be given, where the public has sold tobacco, hemp, flour, or any other commodity upon as good terms as individuals have done it? Must not there be places of deposit for these commutables; collectors, storekeepers, and the like, employed? These, rely on it, will sink one half, and a parcel of speculators will possess themselves of the other half. It was to these things, that we owe the present depravity of the minds of so many people of this country, and filled it with so many knaves and designing characters.
Among the great objects, which you took into consideration at your meeting at Richmond, how comes it to pass, that you never turned your eyes to the inefficacy of the federal government, so as to instruct your delegates to accede to the propositions of the commissioners at Annapolis, or to devise some other mode to give it that energy, which is necessary to support a national character? Every man, who considers the present constitution of it, and sees to what it is verging, trembles. The fabric, which took nine years, at the expense of much blood and treasure, to rear, now totters to the foundation, and without support must soon fall.
The determination of your Society to promote frugality and industry by example, to encourage manufactures, and to avoid dissipation, is highly praiseworthy. These, and premiums for the most useful discoveries in agriculture within your district, the most profitable course of cropping, and the best method of fencing to save timber, would soon make us a rich and happy people. With every good wish for you and yours, in which your aunt joins.
I am, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO JAMES MADISON.
Mount Vernon, 18 November, 1786.
My Dear Sir,
Not having sent to the post-office with my usual regularity, your favor of the 8th did not reach me in time for an earlier acknowledgment than of this date. It gives me the most sensible pleasure to hear, that the acts of the present session are marked with wisdom, justice, and liberality. They are the palladium of good policy, and the sure paths that lead to national happiness. Would to God every State would let these be the leading features of their constituent characters. Those threatening clouds, which seem ready to burst on the confederacy, would soon dispel. The unanimity with which the bill was received for appointing commissioners agreeably to the recommendation of the convention at Annapolis, and the uninterrupted progress it has met with since, are indications of a favorable issue. It is a measure of equal necessity and magnitude, and may be the spring of reanimation.
Although I had bid adieu to the public walks of life in a public manner, and had resolved never more to tread on public ground, yet if, upon an occasion so interesting to the well-being of the confederacy, it should have appeared to have been the wish of the Assembly to have employed me with other associates in the business of revising the federal system, I should, from a sense of the obligation I am under for repeated proofs of confidence in me, more than from any opinion I should have entertained of my usefulness, have obeyed its call; but it is now out of my power to do this with any degree of consistency. The cause I will mention.
I presume you heard, Sir, that I was first appointed, and have since been rechosen, President of the Society of the Cincinnati; and you may have understood also, that the triennial general meeting of this body is to be held in Philadelphia the first Monday in May next. Some particular reasons, combining with the peculiar situation of my private concerns, the necessity of paying attention to them, a wish for retirement and relaxation from public cares, and rheumatic pains which I begin to feel very sensibly, induced me on the 31st ultimo to address a circular letter to each State society, informing them of my intention not to be at the next meeting, and of my desire not to be rechosen President. The Vice-President1 is also informed of this, that the business of the Society may not be impeded by my absence. Under these circumstances it will readily be perceived, that I could not appear at the same time and place on any other occasion, without giving offence to a very worthy and respectable part of the community, the late officers of the American army. I feel as you do for our acquaintance Colo. Lee; better never have delegated than left him out, unless some daring impropriety of conduct had been ascribed to him.2 I hear with pleasure that you are in the New choice. With sentiments of the highest esteem and affection,
I am, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO FIELDING LEWIS.
Mount Vernon, 4 December, 1786.
Your letter of the 11th of Octor. never came to my hands ’till yesterday.—Altho’ your disrespectful conduct towards me, in coming into this country and spending weeks therein without ever coming near me, entitles you to very little notice or favor from me; yet I consent that you may get timber from off my Land in Fauquier County to build a house on your Lott in Rectertown. Having granted this, now let me ask you what your views were in purchasing a Lott in a place which, I presume, originated with and will end in two or three Gin shops, which probably will exist no longer than they serve to ruin the proprietors, and those who make the most frequent applications to them. I am, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO P. MARSTELLER.
Mount Vernon, 15 December, 1786.
To the severity of the weather whch has in a manner shut every thing up, and put a stop to all intercourse; and to some other circumstances unnecessary to mention, is to be ascribed my silence ’till now; and even now, when I recollect how fully I have already explained my ideas to you on what is intended to be the subject of this letter, I find that I have hardly anything to trouble you with by way of illucidation.
I will just observe, however, that having been well informed that seasons and circumstances have occurred and probably will arrive again when goods by vendue have sold considerably below the sterlg. cost of them;—nay that they have even been bought for the nominal sum currency, which they cost sterling in the countries from whence they were imported; and having found from experience, that I derive little or no advantage from the ready money payments I make for such articles as are requisite for the use of my estate, (when I go to the stores in Alexandria,) I had determined to make the proposition to you which was pretty fully explained in the conversation I had with you at our last inteview as has been already mentioned, and which in a word is as follows:—
To allow you a Commission of 2½ p. ct. (which you, yourself declared was sufficient,) upon all purchases you shall make for me at Vendue, of articles which may from time to time be enumerated to you. It is your interest, I know to sell high:—it is mine to buy low:—but there is nothing incompatible that I can conceive in your agency in both these cases; for when the former is the case, I mean not to become a purchaser—when the latter happens, which no skill or exertion of yours can at all times prevent, is the moment of which I mean, thro’ your attention to the business to avail myself for supplies. To your knowledge of the goods which are intended for sale; the circumstances of the sale, and to your honor of which I entertain a very favorable opinion from the good report made of it by others, I entirely confide for the management. The payments shall always keep pace with the purchases; you have nothing more to do therefore than to give intimation of the latter by a line lodged at the post office, to receive the former, and were you now and then to add a concise list of the principal articles which are for sale, it would be obliging.
To particularize all the articles which are necessary for the use of a large family, would be as tedious as unnecessary. Every merchant who retails, and every man who provides for one, can be at no loss for them. The heavy articles, and such as at present occur to me are enumerated in the enclosed list;—in which you will perceive no mention is made of coarse woolens; because of these I manufacture a sufficiency to clothe my out-door negroes—Nor have I said any thing of Wines, because I import my own;—but of the latter, if good Claret should at any time go cheap, I would take two or three Boxes;—I have been obliged to buy about 200 ells of Ticklenburg for present use:—perhaps the 2 or 300 more enumerated in the enclosed, may suffice—possibly more may be wanted.—The Blankets will not be wanted before next Autumn. Of Sugars my demand (as a private family) is great and constant:—but of Coffee and Molasses I have on hand a large stock.
It is scarcely necessary to impress on you the idea that it is the prospect of very cheap buying which has induced me to adopt this mode of obtaining my supplies; and that unless the end is accomplished, my purposes will not be answered, nor my inclination gratified by it; but to prevent mistakes, I explicitly declare it. Few of the enumerated articles am I in present want of—those for which I shall soonest have a call, are marked thus * in the margin; many of the others I may dispense with a year, or two years.—They stand in the List as a memento only, in case very favorable moments present, for the purchase of them.
I am told it sometimes happens that Goods which come under the imputation of being damaged, tho’ in fact they have received little or no real injury, are frequently sold uncommonly low indeed—particularly Bale blanketing, and other Bale goods.—To embrace such opportunities is recommended, not in this, judgment and a close inspection are necessary; for it is not the lowest priced goods that are always the cheapest—the quality is, or ought to be as much an object with the purchaser, as the price.
I pray you to accept my thanks for the trouble you had with the German redemptioners which were purchased for me;—the expence my nephew the bearer of this will pay. I am, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO JAMES MADISON.
Mount Vernon, 16 December, 1786.
Your favor of the 7th came to my hands the evening before last. The resolutions, which you say are inserted in the papers, I have not yet seen.1 The latter come irregularly, though I am a subscriber to Hay’s Gazette.
Besides the reasons, which were assigned in my circular letter to the several State societies of the Cincinnati, for my non-attendance at the next general meeting to be holden at Philadelphia on the first Monday in May next, there existed one, of a political nature, which operated stronger on my mind, than all the others, and which in confidence I will now communicate to you.
When this Society was first formed, I am persuaded not a member of it conceived, that it would give birth to those jealousies, or be charged with those dangers, real or imaginary, with which the minds of many, and of some respectable characters in these States, seem to be agitated. The motives, which induced the officers to enter into it, were, I am positive, truly and frankly recited in the institution; one of which, and the principal, was to establish a charitable fund for the relief of such of their compatriots, the widows and descendants of them, as were fit objects for such support, and for whom no public provision had been made by the public. But, the trumpet being sounded, the alarm was spreading far and wide. I readily perceived, therefore, that, unless a modification of the plan could be effected (to annihilate the Society altogether was impracticable on account of the foreign officers who had been admitted), irritations would arise, which would soon draw a line between the Society and their fellow citizens.
To avoid this, to conciliate the affections, and to convince the world of the purity of the plan, I exerted myself, and with much difficulty effected the changes, which appeared in the recommendation that proceeded from the general meeting to those of individual States. But the accomplishment of it was not easy; and I have since heard, that, while some States have acceded to the recommendation, others are not disposed to do so, alleging that unreasonable prejudices, and ill-founded jealousies, ought not to influence a measure laudable in its institution, and salutary in its objects and operation.
Under these circumstances it may readily be conceived, that the part I should have had to have acted would have been delicate. On the one hand, I might be charged with dereliction of the officers, who had nobly supported me, and had even treated me with uncommon attention and attachment; on the other, with supporting a measure incompatible with republican principles. I thought it best, therefore, without assigning this (the principal) reason, to decline the presidency and to excuse my attendance on the ground, which is firm and just, of necessity of attending to my private concerns, and in conformity to my determination of spending the remainder of my days in a state of retirement; and to indisposition occasioned by rheumatic complaints with which at times I am a good deal afflicted; professing at the same time my entire approbation of the institution as altered, and the pleasure I feel at the subsidence of those jealousies, which have yielded to the change, presuming on the general adoption of it.
I have been thus particular, to show, that, under circumstances like these, I should feel myself in an awkward situation to be in Philadelphia on another public occasion, during the sitting of this Society. That the present moment is pregnant of great and strange events, none who will cast their eyes around them can deny. What may be brought forth between this and the first of May, to remove the difficulties, which at present labor in my mind against the acceptance of the honor, which has lately been conferred on me by the Assembly, is not for me to predict; but I should think it incompatible with that candor, which ought to characterize an honest mind, not to declare, that, under my present view of the matter, I should be too much embarrassed by the meeting of these two bodies in the same place at the same moment, after what I have written to be easy in my situation, and therefore that it would be improper to let my appointment stand in the way of another. Of this, you, who have had the whole matter before you, will judge; for, having received no other than private intimation of my election, and unacquainted with the formalities, which are or ought to be used on these occasions, silence may be deceptious, or considered as disrespectful. The imputation of both or either I would wish to avoid. This is the cause of the present disclosure to you immediately upon my receipt of your letter, which has been locked up by ice; for I have had no communication with Alexandria for many days, till the day before yesterday.
My sentiments are decidedly against Commutables; for sure I am it will be found a tax without a revenue. That the people will be burthened, the public expectation deceived, and a few speculators only enriched. Thus the matter will end, after the morals “of some” are more corrupted than they now are—and the minds of all, filled with more leaven, by finding themselves taxed, and the public demands in full force. Tobacco, on acct. of the public places of deposit and from the accustomed mode of negotiating the article, is certainly better fitted for a Commutable than any other production of this country, but if I understand the matter rightly (I have it from report only) will any man pay five pounds in specie for five taxables when the same sum (supposing Tobacco not to exceed 20s. per cwt.), will purchase 500 lbs. of Tobo., and this if at 28s. will discharge the tax on Seven? And will not the man who neither makes, nor can easily procure this commodity, complain of the inequality of such a mode, especially when he finds that the revenue is diminished by the difference be it what it may between the real and nominal price? And that he is again to be taxed to make this good. These and such like things in my humble opinion are extremely hurtful and are among the principal causes that produce depravity and corruption, without accomplishing the object in view; for it is not the shadow, but the substance with which taxes must be paid, if we mean to be honest. With sentiments, &c.1[Back to Table of Contents]
TO EDMUND RANDOLPH, GOVERNOR OF VIRGINIA.1
Mount Vernon, 21 December, 1786.
I had not the honor of receiving your Excellency’s favor of the 6th, with the enclosure, till last night.2 Sensible as I am of the honor conferred on me by the general Assembly of this Commonwealth, in appointing me one of the deputies to a convention proposed to be held in the city of Philadelphia in May next, for the purpose of revising the federal constitution, and desirous as I am on all occasions of testifying a ready obedience to the calls of my country; yet, Sir, there exist at this moment circumstances, which I am persuaded will render this fresh instance of confidence incompatible with other measures, which I had previously adopted, and from which seeing little prospect of disengaging myself, it would be disingenuous not to express a wish, that some other character, on whom greater reliance can be had, may be substituted in my place; the probability of my non-attendance being too great to continue my appointment.
As no mind can be more deeply impressed than mine is with the critical situation of our affairs, resulting in a great measure from the want of efficient powers in the federal head, and due respect to its ordinances, so consequently those, who do engage in the important business of removing these defects, will carry with them every good wish of mine, which the best dispositions towards the obtainment can bestow. I am, &c.1[Back to Table of Contents]
TO DAVID HUMPHREYS.
Mount Vernon, 26 December, 1786.
Mr dear Humphreys,
I am much indebted to you for your several favors of the 1st, 9th, and 16th of November. The last came first. Mr. Morse, having in mind the old proverb, was determined not to make more haste than good speed in prosecuting his journey to Georgia; so I got the two first lately.
For your publication respecting the treatment of Captain Asgill, I am exceedingly obliged to you. The manner of making it is the best that could be devised, whilst the matter will prove the illiberality as well as the fallacy of the reports, which have been circulated on that occasion, and which are fathered upon that officer as the author.
It is with the deepest and most heartfelt concern I perceive, by some late paragraphs extracted from the Boston papers, that the insurgents of Massachusetts, far from being satisfied with the redress offered by their General Court, are still acting in open violation of law and government, and have obliged the chief magistrate in a decided tone to call upon the militia of the State to support the constitution. What, gracious God! is man, that there should be such inconsistency and perfidiousness in his conduct? It is but the other day, that we were shedding our blood to obtain the constitutions under which we now live; constitutions of our own choice and making; and now we are unsheathing the sword to overturn them. The thing is so unaccountable, that I hardly know how to realize it, or to persuade myself, that I am not under the illusion of a dream.
My mind, previous to the receipt of your letter of the 1st ultimo, had often been agitated by a thought similar to the one you have expressed respecting an old friend of yours; but Heaven forbid that a crisis should come, when he shall be driven to the necessity of making choice of either of the alternatives there mentioned.1 Let me entreat you, my dear Sir, to keep me advised of the situation of affairs in your quarter. I can depend upon your accounts. Newspaper paragraphs, unsupported by other testimony, are often contradictory and bewildering. At one time, these insurgents are spoken of as a mere mob; at other times, as systematic in all their proceedings. If the first, I would fain hope, that like other mobs it will, however formidable, be of short duration. If the latter, there are surely men of consequence and abilities behind the curtain, who move the puppets, the designs of whom may be deep and dangerous. They may be instigated by British counsel, actuated by ambitious motives, or, being influenced by dishonest principles, had rather see the country in the horrors of civil discord, than do what justice would dictate to an honest mind.
I had scarcely despatched my circular letters to the several State Societies of the Cincinnati, when I received letters from some of the principal members of our Assembly, expressing a wish, that they might be permitted to name me as one of the deputies of this State to the convention proposed to be held at Philadelphia the first of May next. I immediately wrote to my particular friend Mr. Madison, and gave similar reasons to the others. The answer is contained in the extract No. 1; in reply I got the extract No 2. This obliges me to be more explicit and confidential with him on points which a recurrence to the conversations we have had on this subject will bring to your mind and save me the hazard of a recital in this letter. Since this interchange of letters I have received from the Governor the letter No. 4 and have written No. 5 in answer to it. Should this matter be further pressed, (which I hope it will not, as I have no inclination to go,) what had I best do? You, as an indifferent person, and one who is much better acquainted with the sentiments and views of the Cincinnati than I am, (for in this State, where the recommendations of the general meeting have been agreed to, hardly any thing is said about it,) as also with the temper of the people and state of politics at large, can determine upon better ground and fuller evidence than myself; especially as you have opportumities of knowing in what light the States to the eastward consider the convention, and the measures they are pursuing to contravene or to give efficiency to it.
On the last occasion,1 only five States were represented; none east of New York. Why the New England governments did not appear, I am yet to learn; for, of all others, the distractions, and turbulent temper of these people would, I should have thought, have afforded the strongest evidence of the necessity of competent powers somewhere. That the federal government is nearly if not quite at a stand, none will deny. The first question then is, shall it be annihilated or supported? If the latter, the proposed convention is an object of the first magnitude, and should be sustained by all the friends of the present constitution. In the other case, if, on a full and dispassionate revision, the continuance shall be adjudged impracticable or unwise, as only delaying an event which must ere long take place, would it not be better for such a meeting to suggest some other, to avoid if possible civil discord or other impending evils? I must candidly confess, as we could not remain quiet more than three or four years in time of peace, under the constitutions of our own choosing, which it was believed, in many States at least, were formed with deliberation and wisdom, I see little prospect either of our agreeing upon any other, or that we should remain long satisfied under it if we could. Yet I would wish any thing and every thing essayed to prevent the effusion of blood, and to avert the humiliating and contemptible figure we are about to make in the annals of mankind.
If this second attempt to convene the States, for the purposes proposed by the report of the partial representation at Annapolis in September, should also prove abortive, it may be considered as an unequivocal evidence, that the States are not likely to agree on any general measure, which is to pervade the Union, and of course that there is an end of federal government. The States, therefore, which make the last dying essay to avoid these misfortunes, would be mortified at the issue, and their deputies would return home chagrined at their ill success and disappointment. This would be a disagreeable circumstance for any one of them to be in, but more particularly so for a person in my situation. If no further application is made to me, of course I shall not attend; if there is, I am under no obligation to do it, but, as I have had so many proofs of your friendship, know your abilities to judge, and your opportunities of learning the politics of the day on the points I have enumerated, you would oblige me by a full and confidential communication of your sentiments thereon.
Peace and tranquillity prevail in this State. The Assembly, by a very great majority and in very emphatical terms, have rejected an application for paper money, and spurned the idea of fixing the value of military certificates by a scale of depreciation. In some other respects, too, the proceedings of the present session have been marked with justice, and a strong desire of supporting the federal system. Although I lament the effect I am pleased at the cause which has deprived us of the pleasure of your aid in the attack of Christmas pies. We had one yesterday on which all the company tho’ pretty numerous, were hardly able to make an impression. Mrs. Washington & George & his wife (Mr. Lear I had occasion to send to the Western Country) join in affectionate regards for you and with sentiments, &c. I am, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO HENRY KNOX.
Mount Vernon, 26 December 1786.
My dear Sir,
* * * I feel, my dear General Knox, infinitely more than I can express to you, for the disorders, which have arisen in these States. Good God! Who, besides a Tory, could have foreseen, or a Briton predicted them? Were these people wiser than others, or did they judge of us from the corruption and depravity of their own hearts? The latter I am persuaded was the case and that notwithstanding the boasted virtue of America we are very little if anything behind them in dispositions to every thing that is bad.
I do assure you, that even at this moment, when I reflect upon the present prospect of our affairs, it seems to me to be like the vision of a dream. My mind can scarcely realize it as a thing in actual existence; so strange, so wonderful does it appear to me. In this, as in most other matters, we are too slow. When this spirit first dawned, probably it might have been easily checked; but it is scarcely within the reach of human ken, at this moment, to say when, where, or how it will terminate. There are combustibles in every State, which a spark might set fire to. In this a perfect calm prevails at present; and a prompt disposition to support and give energy to the federal system is discovered, if the unlucky stirring of the dispute respecting the navigation of the Mississippi does not become a leaven that will ferment and sour the mind of it.
The resolutions of the present session respecting a paper emission, military certificates, &c., have stamped justice and liberality on the proceedings of the Assembly. By a late act, it seems very desirous of a general convention to revise and amend the federal constitution. Apropos; what prevented the eastern States from attending the September meeting at Annapolis? Of all the States in the Union it should have seemed to me, that a measure of this sort, (distracted as they were with internal commotions and experiencing the want of energy in the government,) would have been most pleasing to them. What are the prevailing sentiments of the one now proposed to be held in Philadelphia in May next? and how will it be attended? You are at the fountain of intelligence, where the wisdom of the nation, it is to be presumed, is concentred; consequently better able, (as I have had sufficient experience of your intelligence, confidence, and candor,) to solve these questions.
The Maryland Assembly has been violently agitated by the question for a paper emission. It has been carried in the House of Delegates; but what has been or may be the fate of the bill in the Senate, I have not yet heard. The partisans in favor of the measure in the lower House threaten, it is said, a secession, if it is rejected by that branch of the legislature. Thus are we advancing. In regretting, which I have often done with the keenest sorrow, the death of our much lamented friend General Greene, I have accompanied it of late with a query, whether he would not have preferred such an exit to the scenes, which, it is more than probable, many of his compatriots may live to bemoan.
In both your letters you intimate, that the men of reflection, principle, and property in New England, feeling the inefficacy of their present government, are contemplating a change; but you are not explicit with respect to its nature. It has been supposed, that the constitution of the State of Massachusetts was amongst the most energetic in the Union. May not these disorders then be ascribed to an indulgent exercise of the powers of administration? If your laws authorized, and your powers are equal to the suppression of these tumults in the first instance, delay and unnecessary expedients were improper. These are rarely well applied; and the same causes would produce similar effects in any form of government, if the powers of it are not exercised. I ask this question for information. I know nothing of the facts.
That Great Britain will be an unconcerned spectator of the present insurrections, if they continue, is not to be expected. That she is at this moment sowing the seeds of jealousy and discontent among the various tribes of Indians on our frontiers, admits of no doubt in my mind; and that she will improve every opportunity to foment the spirit of turbulence within the bowels of the United States, with a view of distracting our governments and promoting divisions, is with me not less certain. Her first manœuvres in this will no doubt be covert, and may remain so till the period shall arrive when a decided line of conduct may avail her. Charges of violating the treaty, and other pretexts, will then not be wanting to color overt acts, tending to effect the great objects of which she has long been in labor. A man is now at the head of their American affairs, well calculated to conduct measures of this kind, and more than probably was selected for the purpose. We ought not therefore to sleep nor to slumber. Vigilance in watching and vigor in acting is become in my opinion indispensably necessary. If the powers are inadequate, amend or alter them; but do not let us sink into the lowest state of humiliation and contempt, and become a by-word in all the earth. I think with you, that the spring will unfold important and distressing scenes, unless much wisdom and good management is displayed in the interim. Adieu. Be assured no man has a higher esteem and regard for you, than I have; none more sincerely your friend.
P. S. Mrs. Washington joins me in every good wish for you and Mrs. Knox and in compliments of congratulation on the late addition to your family.[Back to Table of Contents]
1787.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO BUSHROD WASHINGTON.
Mount Vernon, 10 January, 1787.
My dear Bushrod,
I condole most sincerely with you, my sister & family, on the death of my Brother1 : I feel most sensibly for this event; but resignation being our duty—to attempt an expression of my sorrow on this occasion would be as feebly described, as it would be unavailing when related.
If there are any occasional services which I can render my sister or any of you, I shall have great pleasure in the execution; if I could discharge the duties of an Executor, I would undertake the trust most cheerfully; but in truth I am not in a situation to do this. Already I am so much involved in and so perplexed with other people’s affairs, that my own are very much unattended to. Happily, there is not the least occasion of my assistance in the administration of your deceased Father’s Estate. Your competency alone is sufficient for this purpose—when joined by that of my Sister, and your brother, the task will be easy. It may be an alleviating circumstance of my brother’s death, that his affairs fall into such good hands, and that each of you have dispositions and capability to do what is proper. * * *[Back to Table of Contents]
TO HENRY KNOX.
Mount Vernon, 3 February, 1787.
My dear Sir,
I feel myself exceedingly obliged to you for the full and friendly communications in your letters of the 14th, 21st, and 25th ultimo, and shall (critically as matters are described in the letter) be exceedingly anxious to know the issue of the movements of the forces, that were assembling in support of, and in opposition to, the constitution of Massachusetts. The moment is important. If government shrinks, or is unable to enforce its laws, fresh manœuvres will be displayed by the insurgents, anarchy and confusion must prevail, and every thing will be turned topsy-turvy in that State, where it is not probable it will end.1
In your letter of the 14th you express a wish to be informed of my intention, respecting the convention proposed to be held in Philadelphia May next. In confidence I inform you, that it is not, at this time, my intention to attend it. When this matter was first moved in the Assembly of this State, some of the principal characters of it wrote to me, requesting they might be permitted to put my name in the delegation. To this I objected. They again pressed, and I again refused, assigning among other reasons my having declined meeting the Society of the Cincinnati at that place about the same time, and that I thought it would be disrespectful to that body, to whom I owe much, to be there on any other occasion. Notwithstanding these intimations, my name was inserted in the act; and an official communication thereof made by the executive to me, to whom, at the same time that I expressed my sense for the confidence reposed in me, I declared that, as I saw no prospect of my attending, it was my wish that my name might not remain in the delegation to the exclusion of another. To this I have been requested in emphatical terms not to decide absolutely, as no inconvenience would result from the new appointment of another, at least for some time yet.
Thus the matter stands, which is the reason of my saying to you in confidence, that at present I retain my first intention not to go. In the mean while, as I have the fullest conviction of your friendship for and attachment to me, know your abilities to judge, and your means of information, I shall receive any communications from you on this subject with thankfulness. My first wish is to do for the best, and to act with propriety. You know me too well to believe, that reserve or concealment of any opinion or circumstance would be at all agreeable to me. The legality of this convention I do not mean to discuss, nor how problematical the issue of it may be. That powers are wanting none can deny. Through what medium they are to be derived will, like other matters, engage the attention of the wise. That, which takes the shortest course to obtain them, in my opinion will, under present circumstances, be found best; otherwise, like a house on fire, whilst the most regular mode of extinguishing the flames is contended for, the building is reduced to ashes. My opinion of the energetic wants of the federal government are well known. My public annunciations and private declarations have uniformly expressed these sentiments; and, however constitutional it may be for Congress to point out the defects of the federal system, I am strongly inclined to believe, that it would not be found the most efficacious channel for the recommendations, more especially the alterations, to flow, for reasons too obvious to enumerate.1
The system on which you seem disposed to build a national government, is certainly more energetic, and I dare say in every point of view more desirable than the present, which from experience we find is not only slow, debilitated, and liable to be thwarted by every breath, but is defective in that secrecy, which, for the accomplishment of many of the most important national objects, is indispensably necessary; and besides, having the legislative, executive, and judiciary departments concentred, is exceptionable. But, at the same time that I gave this opinion, I believe the political machine will yet be much tumbled and tossed, and possibly be wrecked altogether, before that or any thing like it will be adopted. The darling sovereignties of each State, the governors elected and elect, the legislators, with a long tribe of et ceteras, whose political importance will be lessened, if not annihilated, would give their weight of opposition to such a revolution; but I may be speaking without book; for, scarcely ever going off my own farms, I see few people, who do not call upon me, and am very little acquainted with the sentiments of the great public. Indeed, after what I have seen, or rather after what I have heard, I shall be surprised at nothing; for, if three years since any person had told me, that there would have been such a formidable rebellion as exists at this day against the laws and constitution of our own making, I should have thought him a bedlamite, a fit subject for a mad-house. Adieu. You know how much, and how sincerely I am your ever affectionate and most obedient servant.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO CHARLES WASHINGTON.
Mount Vernon, 14 February, 1787.
When the enclosed was written, I knew nothing of George’s1 intention of visiting Berkeley. The safe conveyance afforded by him, is very favorable, and [I] gladly embraced it.
Having seen Bushrod and Corbin Washington on their way from Berkeley, their information is the subject of this letter and is exceedingly distressing to me, inasmuch as I have not the means of affording immediate relief. By them I learn that the remaining negros of my deceased Brother Samuel’s Estate are under an execution, and a momentary sale of them may be expected, and this too by the extraordinary conduct of Mr. White in applying moneys received towards the discharge of a Bond not in suit, when they ought to have given it in payment of Mr. Alexander’s claim, on which judgment had been, or was on the point of being obtained. How in the name of Heaven came Mr. White to be vested with powers to dispose of the money he should recover, unaccompanied with instructions respecting the disposal; Will not Mr. Alexander when he sees every exertion making to pay him have mercy on the orphan? Can he as a Father and man of feeling see the Fatherless reduced from Competency to distress untouched? If there was an unwillingness to pay him, if property had not been sold for the express purpose of doing it, and if there was not a prospect of [its] being done in a very short time, it would be right in Mr. Alexander to push matters to extremity; but when (as I am informed) in the case every exertion is making to satisfy him, to cause perhaps three pounds worth of property to be sold to raise 20/ cash, this would be inconsistent with that benevolence which should be characteristic of every man and to which, from what I have heard of the Gentleman, he is justly intitled. I therefore think as Executor to the will and guardian to the boys, you should before the dye is cast apply by fair and candid representation to Mr. Alexander on this subject, not in the cold mode of letter, but personally, to see if this evil cannot be averted. Vain would it be for me to offer Mr. Alexander any assurances of the money at a short given day. I cannot get it from those who owe me without suit, and I hate to sue them. I have offered lands for sale at very moderate prices, but have not been able to sell them. Otherwise, or if I could raise the money by any other means, I would relieve my nephews without hesitation from the impending evil. Indeed, I would essay any thing to save the estate; for if the negros are sold for ready money, they will go for a song. To add aught to this is unnecessary. With the most affectionate regards.
My love, in which Mrs. Washington joins, to my sister and the family.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO MRS. MARY WASHINGTON.
Mount Vernon, 15 February, 1787.
In consequence of your communication to George Washington, of your want of money, I take the (first safe) conveyance by Mr. John Dandridge to send you 15 guineas, which believe me is all I have, and which indeed ought to have been paid many days ago to another, agreeable to my own assurances. I have now demands upon me for more than 500£, three hundred and forty odd of which is due for the tax of 1786; and I know not where or when, I shall receive one shilling with which to pay it. In the last two years I made no crops. In the first I was obliged to buy corn and this year have none to sell, and my wheat is so bad, I cannot neither eat it myself nor sell it to others, and Tobacco I make none. Those who owe me money cannot or will not pay it without suits, and to sue is to do nothing; whilst my expences, not from any extravagance, or an inclination on my part to live splendidly, but for the absolute support of my family and the visitors who are constantly here, are exceedingly high; higher indeed than I can support without selling part of my estate, which I am disposed to do, rather than run in debt, or continue to be so; but this I cannot do, without taking much less than the lands I have offered for sale are worth. This is really and truely my situation. I do not however offer it as any excuse for not paying you what may really be due; for let this be little or much, I am willing, however unable, to pay to the utmost farthing; but it is really hard upon me when you have taken every thing you wanted from the Plantation by which money could be raised, when I have not received one farthing, directly nor indirectly from the place for more than twelve years, if ever, and when, in that time I have paid, as appears by Mr. Lund Washington’s accounts against me (during my absence) Two hundred and sixty odd pounds, and by my own account Fifty odd pounds out of my own Pocket to you, besides (if I am rightly informed) every thing that has been raised by the Crops on the Plantation. Who to blame, or whether any body is to blame for these things I know not, but these are facts; and as the purposes for which I took the Estate are not answered, nor likely to be so, but dissatisfaction on all sides have taken place, I do not mean to have any thing more to say to your Plantation or negros since the first of January, except the fellow who is here, and who will not, as he has formed connections in this neighborhood, leave it. As experience has proved him, I will hire. Of this my intention, I informed my brother John sometime ago, whose death I sincerely lament on many accounts, and on this painful event condole with you most sincerely. I do not mean by this declaration to withhold any aid or support I can give from you; for whilst I have a shilling left, you shall have part, if it is wanted, whatever my own distresses may be. What I shall then give, I shall have credit for; now I have not, for tho’ I have received nothing from your Quarter, and am told that every farthing goes to you, and have moreover paid between 3 and 4 hundred pounds besides out of my own pocket, I am viewed as a delinquent, and considsidered perhaps by the world as [an] unjust and undutiful son. My advice to you, therefore, is to do one of two things with the Plantation. Either let your grandson Bushrod Washington, to whom the land is given by his Father, have the whole interest there, that is, lands and negros, at a reasonable rent; or, next year (for I presume it is too late this, as the overseer may be engaged) to let him have the land at a certain yearly rent during your life; and hire out the negros. This would ease you of all care and trouble, make your income certain, and your support ample. Further, my sincere and pressing advice to you is, to break up housekeeping, hire out all the rest of your servants except a man and a maid, and live with one of your children. This would relieve you entirely from the cares of this world, and leave your mind at ease to reflect undisturbedly on that which ought to come. On this subject I have been full with my Brother John, and it was determined he should endeavor to get you to live with him. He alas is no more, and three, only of us remain. My house is at your service, and [I] would press you most sincerely and most devoutly to accept it, but I am sure, and candor requires me to say, it will never answer your purposes in any shape whatsoever. For in truth it may be compared to a well resorted tavern, as scarcely any strangers who are going from north to south, or from south to north, do not spend a day or two at it. This would, were you to be an inhabitant of it, oblige you to do one of 3 things: 1st, to be always dressing to appear in company; 2d, to come into [the room] in a dishabille, or 3d, to be as it were a prisoner in your own chamber. The first you’ld not like; indeed, for a person at your time of life it would be too fatiguing. The 2d, I should not like, because those who resort here are, as I observed before, strangers and people of the first distinction. And the 3d, more than probably, would not be pleasing to either of us. Nor indeed could you be retired in any room in my house; for what with the sitting up of company, the noise and bustle of servants, and many other things, you would not be able to enjoy that calmness and serenity of mind, which in my opinion you ought now to prefer to every other consideration in life. If you incline to follow this advice, the House and lots on which you now live you may rent, and enjoy the benefit of the money arising therefrom as long as you live. This with the rent of the land at the Little Falls, and the hire of your negros, would bring you in an income which would be much more than sufficient to answer all your wants and make ample amends to the child you live with; for myself I should desire nothing; if it did not, I would most cheerfully contribute more. A man, a maid, the phaeton and two horses, are all you would want. To lay in a sufficiency for the support of these would not require ¼ of your income, the rest would purchase every necessary you could possibly want, and place it in your power to be serviceable to those with whom you may live, which no doubt would be agreeable to all parties.
There are such powerful reasons in my mind for giving this advice that I cannot help urging it with a degree of earnestness which is uncommon for me to do. It is, I am convinced, the only means by which you can be happy. The cares of a family, without any body to assist you; the charge of an estate the profits of which depend upon wind, weather, a good overseer, an honest man, and a thousand other circumstances, cannot be right or proper at your advanced age, and for me, who am absolutely prevented from attending to my own plantations, which are almost within call of me, to attempt the care of yours, would be folly in the extreme; but [by] the mode I have pointed out, you may reduce your income to a certainty, be eased of all trouble, and if you are so disposed, may be perfectly happy; for happiness depends more upon the internal frame of a person’s own mind, than on the externals in the world. Of the last, if you will pursue the plan here recommended, I am sure you can want nothing that is essential. The other depends wholly upon yourself, for the riches of the Indies cannot purchase it.
Mrs. Washington, George and Fanny join me in every good wish for you, and I am, honored madame, your most dutiful and aff. son.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO THOMAS STONE.1
Mount Vernon, 16 February, 1787.
Your favor of the 30th ultimo came duly to hand. To give an opinion in a cause of so much importance as that, which has warmly agitated two branches of your legislature, and which, from the appeal that is made, is likely to create great and perhaps dangerous divisions, is rather a delicate matter; but, as this diversity of opinion is on a subject, which has, I believe, occupied the minds of most men, and as my sentiments thereon have been fully and decidedly expressed long before the Assembly either of Maryland or this State were convened, I do not scruple to declare, that, if I had a voice in your legislature, it would have been given decidedly against a paper emission upon the general principles of its utility as a representative, and the necessity of it as a medium.2 And as far as I have been able to understand its advocates (for the two papers you sent me were the same, and contained no reasons of the House of Delegates for the local want of it in your State, though I have seen and given them a cursory reading elsewhere) I should have been very little less opposed to it.
To assign reasons for this opinion would be as unnecessary as tedious. The ground has been so often trod, that a place hardly remains untouched. But in a word, the necessity arising from a want of specie is represented as greater than it really is. I contend, that it is by the substance, not with the shadow of a thing, we are to be benefitted. The wisdom of man, in my humble opinion, cannot at this time devise a plan, by which the credit of paper money would be long supported; consequently depreciation keeps pace with the quantity of the emission, and articles, for which it is exchanged, rise in a greater ratio than the sinking value of the money. Wherein, then, is the farmer, the planter, the artisan benefitted? The debtor may be, because, as I have observed, he gives the shadow in lieu of the substance; and, in proportion to his gain, the creditor or the body politic suffer. Whether it be a legal tender or not, it will, as hath been observed very truly, leave no alternative. It must be that or nothing. An evil equally great is, the door it immediately opens for speculation, by which the least designing, and perhaps most valuable, part of the community are preyed upon by the more knowing and crafty speculators.
But, contrary to my intention and declaration, I am offering reasons in support of my opinion; reasons too, which of all others are least pleasing to the advocates for paper money. I shall therefore only observe generally, that so many people have suffered by former emissions, that, like a burnt child who dreads the fire, no person will touch it who can possibly avoid it. The natural consequence of which will be, that the specie, which remains unexported, will be instantly locked up. With great esteem and regard, I am, dear Sir, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO COLONEL DAVID HUMPHREYS.
Mount Vernon, 8 March, 1787.
My dear Humphreys,
Colo. Wadsworth, as I informed you in my last, presented me your obliging favor of the 20th of January and the Post since has handed me the subsequent one of the 11th ulto.
My sentiments respecting the inexpediency of my attending the proposed convention of the States in Philadelphia remain the same as when I wrote you last, tho’ Congress I am informed are about to remove one of the objections by their recommendation of this Convention. I am still indirectly and delicately pressed by many to attend this meeting; and a thought has run thro’ my mind of late attended with more embarrassment than any former one. It is whether my not doing it will not be considered as an implied dereliction to Republicanism—nay more, whether (however injurious the imputation) it may not be ascribed to other motives. My wish is I confess to see this Convention tied [tried?]; after which, if the present form is not made efficient, conviction of the propriety of a change will pervade all ranks, and many [may] be effected by peace. Till then, however necessary it may appear to the more discerning part of the community, my opinion is, that it cannot be accomplished without great contention and much confusion for reasons too obvious to enumerate. It is one of the evils, perhaps not the smallest, of democratical governments that they must feel before they will see or act under this view of matters, and not doubting but you have heard the sentiments of many respectable characters since the date of your letter of the 20th of January on this subject, and perhaps since the business has been moved in Congress of the propriety or impropriety of my attendance, let me pray you, my dear Sir, to give me confidentially the public opinion and expectation as far as it has come to your knowledge of what it is supposed, I will or ought to do on this occasion. You will readily see the necessity of my receiving it soon, if it is to have an operation contrary to the former, because my communications to the executive of this State are not considered as definitive, I must make these so shortly. * * *1[Back to Table of Contents]
TO JOHN JAY.
Mount Vernon, 10 March, 1787.
I stand indebted to you for two letters. The first, introductory of Mr. Anstey, needed no apology, nor will any be necessary on future similar occasions. The other of the 17th of January is on a very interesting subject deserving very particular attention.
How far the revision of the federal system, and giving more adequate powers to Congress may be productive of an efficient government, I will not under my present view of the matter, presume to decide.—That many inconveniences result from the present form, none can deny. Those enumerated in your letter are so obvious and sensibly felt that no logic can controvert, nor is it likely that any change of conduct will remove them, and that attempts to alter or amend it will be like the proppings of a house which is ready to fall, and which no shoars can support (as many seem to think) may also be true. But, is the public mind matured for such an important change as the one you have suggested? What would be the consequences of a premature attempt? My opinion is, that this Country must yet feel and see more, before it can be accomplished.
A thirst for power, and the bantling, I had liked to have said monster for sovereignty, which have taken such fast hold of the States individually, will when joined by the many whose personal consequence in the control of State politics will in a manner be annihilated, form a strong phalanx against it; and when to these the few who can hold posts of honor or profit in the national government, are compared with the many who will see but little prospect of being noticed, and the discontent of others who may look for appointments, the opposition will be altogether irresistable till the mass, as well as the more discerning part of the Community shall see the necessity. Among men of reflection, few will be found I believe, who are not beginning to think that our system is more perfect in theory than in practice; and that notwithstanding the boasted virtue of America it is more than probable we shall exhibit the last melancholy proof, that mankind are not competent to their own government without the means of coercion in the sovereign.
Yet I would fain try what the wisdom of the proposed convention will suggest: and what can be effected by their councils. It may be the last peaceable mode of essaying the practicability of the present form, without a greater lapse of time than the exigency of our affairs will allow. In strict propriety a convention so holden may not be legal. Congress, however, may give it a coloring by recommendation, which would fit it more to the taste without proceeding to a definition of the powers. This, however constitutionally it might be done, would not, in my opinion, be expedient: for delicacy on the one hand, and jealousy on the other, would produce a mere nihil.
My name is in the delegation to this Convention; but it was put there contrary to my desire, and remains contrary to my request. Several reasons at the time of this appointment and which yet exist, conspired to make an attendance inconvenient, perhaps improper, tho’ a good deal urged to it. With sentiments of great regard and friendship, &c.
P. S. Since writing this letter I have seen the resolution of Congress recommendatory of the Convention to be holden in Philadelphia the 2d Monday in May.1[Back to Table of Contents]
TO MAJOR-GENERAL BENJAMIN LINCOLN.
Mount Vernon, 23 March, 1787.
My dear Sir,
Ever since the disorders in your State began to grow serious I have been peculiarly anxious to hear from that quarter; General Knox has from time to time transmitted to me the state of affairs as they came to his hands; but nothing has given such full and satisfactory information as the particular detail of events which you have been so good as to favor me with, and for which you will please to accept my warmest and most grateful acknowledgments. Permit me also, my dear Sir, to offer you my sincerest congratulations upon your success. The suppression of those tumults and insurrections with so little bloodshed, is an event as happy as it was unexpected; it must have been peculiarly agreeable to you, being placed in so delicate and critical a situation. I am extremely happy to find that your sentiments upon the disfranchising act are such as they are; upon my first seeing it, I formed an opinion perfectly coincident with yours, vizt., that measures more generally lenient might have produced equally as good an effect without entirely alienating the affections of the people from the government; as it now stands, it affects a large body of men, some of them, perhaps, it deprives of the means of gaining a livelihood; the friends and connections of those people will feel themselves wounded in a degree, and I think it will rob the State of a number of its inhabitants, if it produces nothing more. * * *[Back to Table of Contents]
TO EDMUND RANDOLPH, GOVERNOR OF VIRGINIA.
Mount Vernon, 28 March, 1787.
Your favor of the 11th did not come to my hand till the 24th, and since then till now I have been too much indisposed to acknowledge the receipt of it.1
To what cause to ascribe the detention of the letter I know not as I never omit sending once and often twice a week to the post office in Alexandria. It was the decided intention of the letter I had the honor of writing to your Excellency the 21st of December last to inform you, that it was not convenient for me to attend the convention proposed to be holden at Philadelphia in May next; and I had entertained hopes, that another had been, or soon would be, appointed in my place, inasmuch as it is not only inconvenient for me to leave home, but because there will be, I apprehend, too much cause to arraign my conduct with inconsistency in again appearing on a public theatre, after a public declaration to the contrary, and because it will, I fear, have a tendency to sweep me back into the tide of public affairs, when retirement and ease is so essentially necessary for and is so much desired by me.
However, as my friends, with a degree of solicitude which is unusual, seem to wish for my attendance on this occasion, I have come to a resolution to go, if my health will permit, provided from the lapse of time between the date of your Excellency’s letter and this reply the executive may not (the reverse of which would be highly pleasing to me) have turned their thoughts to some other character; for, independently of all other considerations, I have of late been so much afflicted with a rheumatic complaint in my shoulder that at times I am hardly able to raise my hand to my head, or turn myself in bed. This consequently might prevent my attendance, and eventually a representation of the State, which would afflict me more sensibly than the disorder that occasioned it.
If, after the expression of these sentiments, the executive should consider me as one of the delegates, I would thank your Excellency for the earliest advice of it; because, if I am able and should go to Philadelphia, I shall have some previous arrangement to make, and would set off for that place the 1st or 2d of May, that I might be there in time to account personally for my conduct to the general meeting of the Cincinnati, which is to convene the first Monday of that month. My feelings would be much hurt, if that body should otherwise ascribe my attending the one and not the other occasion to a disrespectful inattention to the Society, when the fact is, that I shall ever retain the most lively and affectionate regard for the members of which it is composed, on account of their attachment to me and uniform support upon many trying occasions, as well as on account of their public virtues, patriotism, and sufferings.
I hope your Excellency will be found among the attending delegates. I should be glad to be informed who the others are; and cannot conclude without once more and in emphatical terms praying, that, if there is not a decided representation in prospect without me, another may be chosen in my room without ceremony and without delay, for the reason already assigned. For it would be unfortunate, indeed, if the State, which was the mover of this convention, should be unrepresented in it. With great respect, I have the honor to be your Excellency’s most obedient servant.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO JAMES MADISON, IN CONGRESS.1
Mount Vernon, 31 March, 1787.
My dear Sir,
At the same time that I acknowledge the receipt of your obliging favor of the 21st ultimo from New York, I promise to avail myself of your indulgence to write only when it is convenient to me. If this should not occasion a relaxation on your part, I shall become very much your debtor, and possibly, like others in similar circumstances, (when the debt is burthensome,) may feel a disposition to apply the sponge, or, what is nearly akin to it, pay you off in depreciated paper, which, being a legal tender, or, what is tantamount, being that or nothing, you cannot refuse. You will receive the nominal value, and that you know quiets the conscience, and makes all things easy with the debtor.
I am glad to find that Congress have recommended to the States to appear in the convention proposed to be holden in Philadelphia next May. I think the reasons in favor have the preponderancy over those against it. It is idle in my opinion to suppose that the Sovereign can be insensible to the inadequacy of the powers under which they act, and that, seeing it, they should not recommend a revision of the federal system; especially when it is considered by many as the only constitutional mode by which the defects can be remedied. Had Congress proceeded to a delineation of the powers, it might have sounded an alarm; but, as the case is, I do not conceive that it will have that effect.1
From the acknowledged abilities of the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, I have no doubt of his having ably investigated the infractions of the treaty on both sides. Much is it to be regretted, however, that there should have been any on ours. We seem to have forgot, or never to have learnt, the policy of placing one’s enemy in the wrong. Had we observed good faith on our part, we might have told our tale to the world with a good grace, but complaints illy become those who are found to be the first aggressors.
I am fully of opinion that those, who lean to a monarchical government, have either not consulted the public mind, or that they live in a region, which (the levelling principles in which they were bred being entirely eradicated) is much more productive of monarchical ideas, than are to be found in the southern States, where, from the habitual distinctions which have always existed among the people, one would have expected the first generation and the most rapid growth of them. I am also clear, that, even admitting the utility, nay, necessity of the form, yet that the period is not arrived for adopting the change without shaking the peace of this country to its foundation. That a thorough reform of the present system is indispensable, none, who have capacities to judge, will deny; and with hand [and heart] I hope the business will be essayed in a full convention. After which, if more powers and more decision is not found in the existing form, if it still wants energy and that secrecy and despatch (either from the non-attendance or the local views of its members), which is characteristic of good government, and if it shall be found (the contrary of which, however, I have always been more afraid of than of the abuse of them), that Congress will, upon all proper occasions, exert the powers which are given, with a firm and steady hand, instead of frittering them back to the States, where the members, in place of viewing themselves in their national character, are too apt to be looking,—I say, after this essay is made, if the system proves inefficient, conviction of the necessity of a change will be disseminated among all classes of the people. Then, and not till then, in my opinion, can it be attempted without involving all the evils of civil discord.
I confess, however, that my opinion of public virtue is so far changed, that I have my doubts whether any system, without the means of coercion in the sovereign, will enforce due obedience to the ordinances of a general government; without which every thing else fails. Laws or ordinances unobserved, or partially attended to, had better never have been made; because the first is a mere nihil, and the second is productive of much jealousy and discontent. But what kind of coercion, you may ask. This indeed will require thought, though the non-compliance of the States with the late requisition is an evidence of the necessity. It is somewhat singular that a State (New York), which used to be foremost in all federal measures, should now turn her face against them in almost every instance.
I fear the State of Massachusetts has exceeded the bounds of good policy in its disfranchisements. Punishment is certainly due to the disturbers of a government, but the operation of this act is too extensive. It embraces too much, and probably will give birth to new instead of destroying the old leaven. Some acts passed at the last session of our Assembly, respecting the trade of this country, have given great and general discontent to the merchants. An application from the whole body of them at Norfolk to the governor has been made, it is said, to convene the Assembly.
I had written thus far, and was at the point of telling you how much I am your obliged servant, when your favor of the 18th ultimo calls upon me for additional acknowledgments. I thank you for the Indian vocabulary, which I dare say will be very acceptable in a general comparison. Having taken a copy, I return you the original with thanks.
It gives me great pleasure to hear, that there is a probability of a full representation of the States in convention; but if the delegates come to it under fetters, the salutary ends proposed will in my opinion be greatly embarrassed and retarded, if not altogether defeated. I am desirous of knowing how this matter is, as my wish is that the convention may adopt no temporizing expedients, but probe the defects of the constitution to the bottom, and provide a radical cure, whether they are agreed to or not. A conduct of this kind will stamp wisdom and dignity on their proceedings, and hold up a light which sooner or later will have its influence.1
I should feel pleasure, I confess, in hearing that Vermont is received into the Union upon terms agreeable to all parties. I took the liberty years ago to tell some of the first characters in the State of New York, that sooner or later it would come to this; that the longer it was delayed, the terms on their part would probably be more difficult; and that the general interest was suffering by the suspense in which the business was held, as the asylum which it afforded was a constant drain from the army, in place of an aid which it would have afforded; and lastly, considering the proximity of it to Canada, if they were not with us, they might become a sore thorn in our side, which I verily believe would have been the case if the war had continued. The western settlements, without good and wise management, may be equally troublesome.
With sentiments of sincere friendship, I am &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO HENRY KNOX.
Mount Vernon, 2 April, 1787.
My dear Sir,
The early attention, which you were so obliging as to pay to my letter of the 8th ultimo, is highly pleasing and flattering. Were you to continue to give me information on the same point, you would add to the favor; as I see or think I see reasons for and against my attendance in convention so near an equilibrium, as will cause me to determine upon either with diffidence. One of the reasons against it is a fear, that all the States will not be represented. As some of them appear to have been unwillingly drawn into the measure, their delegates will come with such fetters as will embarrass and perhaps render nugatory the whole proceeding. In either of these circumstances, that is, a partial representation or cramped powers, I should not like to be a sharer in the business. If the delegates assemble with such powers, as will enable the convention to probe the defects of the constitution to the bottom, and point out radical cures, it would be an honorable employment; but not otherwise. These are matters you may possibly come at by means of your acquaintance with the delegates in Congress, who undoubtedly know what powers are given by their respective States. You also can inform me what is the prevailing opinion, with respect to my attendance or non-attendance; and I would sincerely thank you for the confidential communication of it.
If I should attend the convention, I will be in Philadelphia previous to the meeting of the Cincinnati, where I shall hope and expect to meet you and some others of my particular friends the day before, in order that I may have a free and unreserved conference with you on the subject of it; for, I assure you, this is in my estimation a business of a delicate nature.
That the design of the institution was pure, I have not a particle of doubt; that it may be so still, is perhaps equally unquestionable. But is not the subsiding of the jealousies respecting it to be ascribed to the modifications, which took place at the last general meeting? Are not these rejected in toto by some of the State Societies, and partially acceded to by others? Has any State so far overcome its prejudices as to grant a charter? Will the modifications and alterations be insisted on in the next meeting, or given up? If the first, will it not occasion warmth and divisions? If the latter, and I should remain at the head of this order, in what light would my signature appear in recommendations having different tendencies? In what light will this versatility appear to the foreign members, who perhaps are acting agreeably to the recommendation?
These, and other matters which may be agitated, will, I fear, place me in a disagreeable situation, if I should attend the meeting; and were among the causes, which induced me to decline previously the honor of the presidency. Indeed my health is become very precarious. A rheumatic complaint which has followed me more than six months, is frequently so bad that it is sometimes with difficulty I can raise my hand to my head or turn myself in bed. This, however smooth and agreeable other matters might be, might, almost in the moment of my departure, prevent my attendance on either occasion. I will not at present touch upon any other points of your letter, but will wish you to ponder on all these matters, and write to me as soon as you can.
With sentiments of the sincerest friendship, I am your most affectionate, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO HENRY KNOX.
Mount Vernon, 27 April, 1787.
My dear Sir,
After every consideration my judgment was able to give the subject, I had determined to yield to the wishes of many of my friends who seemed anxious for my attending the Convention which is proposed to be holden in Philadelphia the 2d Monday of May, and though so much afflicted with a Rheumatick complaint (of which I have not been entirely free for six months) as to be under the necessity of carrying my arm in a sling for the last ten days, I had fixed on Monday next for my departure, and had made every necessary arrangement for the purpose when (within this hour) I am called by an express, who assures me not a moment is to be lost, to see a mother and only sister (who are supposed to be in the agonies of death) expire1 ; and I am hastening to obey this melancholy call after having just buried a Brother who was the intimate companion of my youth, and the friend of my ripened age.1 This journey of mine then, 100 miles, in the disordered frame of my body, will, I am persuaded, unfit me for the intended trip to Philadelphia, and assuredly prevent my offering that tribute of respect to my compatriots in arms which results from affection and gratitude for their attachment to, and support of me, upon so many trying occasions.
For this purpose it was, as I had (tho’ with a good deal of Reluctance) consented, from a conviction that our affairs were verging fast to ruin, to depart from the resolution I had taken of never more stepping out of the walks of private life, that I determined to shew my respect to the General Meeting of the Society by coming there the week before. As the latter is prevented, and the other, it is probable, will not take place, I send such papers as have occasionally come to my hands, and may require the inspection, and the consideration of the Cincinnati. An apology for the order in which they are sent is highly necessary, and my present situation is the best I can offer. To morrow I had set apart for the Inspection and arrangement of them, that such only as were fitting, might be laid before the Society; for unless I had time to go over them again with a person who understands the French language, I am not even certain that all of what I send may relate to the affairs of the Cincinnati, and certain I am that some are too personal, the sending of which will not, I hope, be ascribed to improper motives, when the only one I had (as I am in the moment of my departure from home and uncertain of returning to it) is that nothing which has been referred to me, may be with held.— * * *[Back to Table of Contents]
TO LUND WASHINGTON.
Mount Vernon, 7 May, 1787.
* * * I need not tell you, because a moment’s recurrence to your own accounts will evince the fact, that there is no source from which I derive more than a sufficiency for the daily calls of my family, except what flows from the collection of old debts, and scanty and precarious enough, God knows this is. My estate for the last 11 years has not been able to make both ends meet. I am encumbered now with the deficiency. I mention this for no other purpose than to shew that however willing, I am not able to pay debts unless I could sell land, which I have publicly advertised without finding bidders. * * *[Back to Table of Contents]
DIARY DURING THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION, MAY—SEPTEMBER, 1787.1
Monday 7th [May].—At home preparing for my journey to Philadelphia. * * *
Tuesday 8th.—The weather being squally with showers, I defer’d setting off till the morning. Mr. Chas. Lee came to dinner, but left it afterwards.
Wednesday 9th.—Crossed from Mt. Vernon to Mr. Digges a little after sunrise, and pursuing the rout by the way of Baltimore, dined at Mt. Rich’d Henderson’s in Bladensb’g, and lodged at Majr. Snowden’s, when feeling very severely a violent hd. ach & sick stomack I went to bed early.
Thursday 10th.—Very great appearances of rain in the morning & a little falling induced me, tho’ well recovered, to wait till abt. 8 o’clock before I set off. At one o’clock I arrived at Baltimore, dined at the Fountain, & supped & lodged at Doctr. McHenry’s. Slow rain in the evening.
Friday 11th.—Set off before breakfast, rid 12 miles to Sherretts for it, bated there and proceeded without halting (weather threatening) to the Ferry at Havre de Gras where I dined, but could not cross, the wind being turbulent & squally. Lodged here.
Saturday 12th.—With difficulty (on acct. of the wind), crossed the Susquehanna.—Breakfasted at the Ferry house on the East side. Dined at the head of Elk (Hollingsworth’s Tavern) and lodged at Wilmington at O’Flin’s. At the head of Elk I was overtaken by Mr. Francis Corbin, who took a seat in my carriage.
Sunday 13th.—About 8 o’clock,1 Mr. Corbin and myself set out, and dined at Chester (Mrs. Withy), where I was met by the Genls. Mifflin (now Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly), Knox and Varnum; the Colonels Humphreys and Minges [Mentges]—and Majors Jackson and Nicholas, with whom I proceeded to Philadh. At Grays Ferry the City light horse, commanded by Colo. Miles, met me and escorted me in by the Artillery officers who stood arranged & saluted me as I passed. Alighted through a crowd at Mrs. House’s,2 but being again warmly and kindly pressed by Mr. & Mrs. Rob. Morris to lodge with them, I did so and had my baggage removed thither.
Waited on the President, Doctr. Franklin, as soon as I got to town. On my arrival the Bells were chimed.
Monday 14th.—This being the day appointed for the Convention to meet, such members as were in town assembled at the State Ho., but only two States being represented—viz. Virginia & Pensylvania, agreed to attend at the same place at 11 o’clock tomorrow.
Dined in a family way at Mr. Morris’s.1
Tuesday 15th.—Repaired, at the hour appointed, to the State Ho., but no more states being represented than were yesterday (tho’ several more members had come in,2 ) we agreed to meet again tomorrow. Govr. Randolph from Virginia came in today.
Dined with the Members to the Genl. Meeting of the Society of the Cincinnati.
Wednesday 16th.—No more than two States being yet represented agreed till a quoram of them should be formed to alter the hour of meeting at the State House to one o’clock.3
Dined at the President, Doctr. Franklin’s—and drank Tea, and spent the evening at Mr. Jno. Penn’s.
Thursday 17th.—Mr. Rutledge, from Charleston, and Mr. Chs. Pinkney, from Congress, having arrived, gave a representation to So. Carolina; and Colo. Mason getting in this Evening, placed all the Delegates from Virginia on the floor of Convention. Dined at Mr. Powell’s4 and dr’k Tea there.
Friday 18th.—The representation from New York appeared on the floor today.—
Dined at Gray’s Ferry, and drank Tea at Mr. Morris’s; after which accompanied Mrs. and some other Ladies to hear a Mrs. O’Connell read (a charity affair). The lady being reduced in circumstances had had recourse to this expedient to obtain a little money—her performe. was tolerable, at the College Hall.5
Saturday 19th.—No more states represented.1
Dined at Mr. [Jared] Ingersoll’s, spent the evening at my lodgings, & retired to my room soon.
Sunday 20th.—Dined with Mr. & Mrs. Morris and other company at their farm (called the Hills); returned in the afternoon & drank Tea at Mr. Powell’s
Monday 21st.—Delaware State was represented.
Dined and drank Tea at Mr. [William] Bingham’s in great splendor.
Tuesday 22d.—The Representation from No. Carolina was compleated, which made a representation for five States.
Dined and drank Tea at Mr. Morris’s.
Wednesday 23d.—No more States being represented, I rid to Genl. Mifflin’s to breakfast. After which in company with him, Mr. Madison, Mr. Rutledge, and others, I crossed the Schuylkill above the Falls, visited Mr. Peters, Mr. Penn’s seat, and Mr. Wm. Hamilton’s.2
Dined at Mr. Chew’s, with the wedding guests (Colo. [John Eager] Howard of Baltimore having married his daughter Peggy) drank Tea there in a very large circle of ladies.
Thursday 24th.—No more States represented. Dined and Drank Tea at Mr. John Ross’s. One of my Postilion boys (Paris) being sick, requested Doctr. [John] Jones to attend him.
Friday 25th.—Another Delegate coming in from the State of New Jersey, gave it a representation, and encreased the number to Seven, which forming a quoram of the 13, the members present resolved to organize the body; when by a unanimous vote I was called up to the chair as President of the body.3 Majr. William Jackson1 was appointed Secretary and a Comee. was chosen consisting of 3 members2 to prepare rules and regulations for conducting the business; and after ’pointing door keepers, the Convention adjourned till Monday, to give time to the Comee. to report the matter referred to them.
Returned many visits today. Dined at Mr. Thos. Willing’s and spt. the evening at my lodgings.
Saturday 26th.—Returned all my visits this forenoon,3 dined with a club at the City Tavern, and spent the evening at my quarters writing letters.
Sunday 27th.—Went to the Romish Church,4 to high mass. Dined; drank Tea, and spent the evening at my lodgings.
Monday 28th.—Met in Convention at 10 o’clock. Two States more, viz. Massachusetts and Connecticut, were on the floor today.
Established rules—agreeably to the plan brot. in by the Comee. for the Governmt. of the Convention, & adjourned. No Comns.5 without doors.
Dined at home, and drank Tea in a large circle at Mr. [Tench] Francis’s.
Tuesday 29th.—Attended Convention, and dined at home, after wch. accompanied Mrs. Morris to the benefit concert of a Mr. Juhan.
Wednesday 30th.—Attended Convention.
Dined with Mr. [John] Vaughan. Drank Tea and spent the evening at a Wednesday evening’s party at Mr. & Mrs. [John] Lawrence’s.
Thursday 31st.—The State of Georgia came on the Floor of the Convention to-day,1 which made a representation of ten States.
Dined at Mr. Francis’s and drank Tea with Mrs Meredith.
Friday, 1stJune.—Attending in Convention, and nothing being suffered to transpire, no minutes of the proceedings has been or will be inserted in this diary.
Dined with Mr. John Penn, and spent the evening at a superb entertainment at Bush-Hill given by Mr. Hamilton, at which were more than a hundred guests.
Saturday 2nd.—Majr. Jenifer coming in with sufficient powers for the purpose, gave a representation to Maryland, which brought all the States in the Union into Convention, except Rhode Island, which had refused to send delegates thereto.
Dined at the City Tavern with the Club, & spent the evening at my own quarters.
Sunday 3d.—Dined at Mr. Clymer’s and drank Tea there also.
Monday 4th.—Attended Convention; Representation as on Saturday.
Reviewed (at the importunity of Genl. Mifflin and the officers,) the Light Infantry—Cavalry—and part of the Artillery, of the City.
Dined with Genl. Mifflin and drk. Tea with Mrs. Cadwallader.
Tuesday 5th.—Dined at Mr. Morris’s with a large Company, & spent the evening there. Attended in Convention the usual hours.
Wednesday 6th.—In Convention as usual; dined at the Presidents (Doctr. Franklin’s), and drank Tea there, after which retired to my lodgings and wrote letters for France.
Thursday 7th.—Attended Convention as usual. Dined with a club of Convention members at the Indian Queen.2 Drank Tea and spent the evening at my lodgings.
Friday 8th.—Attended the Convention. Dined, drank Tea, and spent the evening at my lodgns.
Saturday 9th.—At Convention. Dined with the Club at the City Tavern; Drank Tea, and set till 10 o’clock at Mr. Powell’s.
Sunday 10th.—Breakfasted by agreement at Mr. Powell’s, and in company with him rid to see the botanical gardens of Mr. Bartram; which, tho’ stored with many curious plts., shrubs, & trees, many of which are exotics, was not laid off with much taste, nor was it large.
From hence we rid to the Farm of one Jones, to see the effect of the plaister of Paris, which appcared obviously great. * * *
From hence we visited Mr. Powell’s own farm, after which I went (by appointment) to the Hills and dined with Mr. & Mrs. Morris, returned to the city abt. dark.
Monday 11th.—Attended in Convention. Dined, drank Tea, and spent the evening in my own room.
Tuesday 12th.—Dined and drank Tea at Mr. Morris’s; went afterwards to a concert at the City Tavern.1
Wednesday 13th.—In convention; dined at Mr. Clymer’s, & drank Tea there; spent the evening at Mr. Bingham’s.
Thursday 14th.—Dined at Major [Thomas Lloyd] Moore’s (after being in Convention,) and spent the evening at my own lodgings.
Friday 15th.—In Convention as usual, dined at Mr. Powell’s & drank Tea there.
Saturday 16th.—In Convention, dined with the Club at the City Tavern, and drank Tea at Doctr. Shippings [Shippen] with Mrs. Livingston’s party.2
Sunday 17th.—Went to Church, heard Bishop White preach, and see him ordain two Gentlemen Deacons; after wch. rid 8 miles into the Country & dined with Mr. Jno. Ross, in Chester County; returned in the Afternoon.
Monday 18th.—Attended the Convention. Dined at the Quarterly Meeting of the Sons of St. Patrick—held at the City Tavern. Drank Tea at Doctr. Shippens with Mrs. Livingston.
Tuesday 19th.—Dined (after leaving Convention,) in a family way at Mr. Morris’s and spent the evening there in a very large company.
Wednesday 20th.—Attended Convention. Dined at Mr. Meredith’s, and drank Tea there.
Thursday 21st.—Attended Convention. Dined at Mr. Prager’s, and spent the evening in my chamber.
Friday 22nd.—Dined at Mr. Morris’s, & drank Tea with Mr. Frans. Hopkinson.
Saturday 23rd.—In Convention. Dined at Doctr. Rushton’s, and drank Tea at Mr. Morris’s.
Sunday 24th—Dined at Mr. Morris’s, and spent the evening at Mr. Meredith’s at Tea.
Monday 25th.—Attended Convention. Dined at Mr. Morris’s, drank Tea there, and spent the evening in my Chamber.
Tuesday 26th.—Attended Convention. Partook of a family dinner with Govr. Randolph, and made one of a party to drink Tea at Gray’s ferry.
Wednesday 27th.—In Convention. Dined at Mr. Morris’s, drank Tea there also, and spent the evening in my Chamber.
Thursday 28th.—Attended Convention. Dined at Mr. Morris’s in a large Company (the news of his Bills being protested arriving last night a little mal á propos) drank Tea there & spent the evening in my Chamber.
Friday 29th—In Convention. Dined at Mr. Morris’s and spent the evening there.
Saturday 30th.—Attended Convention. Dined with a club at1 Springsbury, consisting of several associated families of the City, the Gentlemen of which met every Saturday, accompanied by the females of the families every other Saturday; this was the ladies day.2
Sunday 1st,July.—Dined & spent the evening at home.
Monday 2d.—Attended Convention. Dined with some of the Members of the Convention at the Indian Queen. Drank Tea at Mr. Bingham’s, and walked afterwards in the State house yard.
Set this morning for Mr. Pine who wanted to correct his portt. of me.
Tuesday 3rd.—Sat before the meeting of the Convention for Mr. Peale, who wanted my picture to make a print or Metzotinto by.
Dined at Mr. Morris’s, and drank Tea at Mr. Powell’s. After which in Company with him, I attended the Agricultural Society at Carpenters Hall.
Wednesday 4th.—Visited Doctr. Shovat’s Anatomical figures, and (the Convention having adjourned for the purpose,) went to hear an Oration on the anniversary of Independence delivered1 by a Mr. Mitchell, a student of Law. After which I dined with the State Society of the Cincinnati, at Epplees Tavern, and drank Tea at Mr. Powell’s.
Thursday 5th.—Attended Convention. Dined at Mr. Morris’s, and drank Tea there; Spent the evening also.
Friday 6th.—Sat for Mr. Peale in the morning, attended Convention. Dined at the City Tavern with some members of Convention, and spent the evening at my lodgings.
Saturday 7th.—Attended Convention. Dined with the Club at Springsbury, and drank Tea at Mr. Meredith’s.
Sunday 8th.—About 12 o’clock rid to Doctr. Logan’s, near Germantown, where I dined. Returned in the evening, and drank Tea at Mr. Morris’s.
Monday 9th.—Sat in the morning for Mr. Peale. Attended Convention. Dined at Mr. Morris’s, & accompanied Mrs Morris to Doctr. [John] Redman’s, 3 miles in the Country, where we drank Tea and returned.
Tuesday 10th.—Attended Convention, dined at Mr. Morris’s, drank Tea at Mr. Bingham’s, and went to the play.2
Wednesday 11th.—Attended Convention, dined at Mr. Morris’s and spent the evening there.
Thursday 12th.—In Convention. Dined at Mr. Morris’s, and drank Tea with Mrs. Livingston.
Friday 13th.—In Convention. Dined, drank Tea, and spent the evening at Mr. Morris’s.
Saturday 14th.—In Convention. Dined at Springsbury with the Club and went to the play in the afternoon.1
Sunday 15th.—Dined at Mr. Morris’s and remained at home all day.
Monday 16th.—In Convention. Dined at Mr. Morris’s and drank Tea with Mrs. Powell.
Tuesday 17th.—In Convention. Dined at Mrs. House’s, and made an Excursion with a party for Tea to Gray’s Ferry.
Wednesday 18th.—In Convention. Dined at Mr. [Robert] Milligan’s, & drank Tea at Mr. Meredeth’s.
Thursday 19th—Dined (after coming out of Convention) at Mr. John Penn, the Youngers—Drank Tea & spent the evening at my lodgings.
Friday 20th.—In Convention. Dined at home and drank Tea at Mr. Clymer’s.
Saturday 21st.—In Convention. Dined at Springsbury with the Club of Gentn. & Ladies. Went to the play afterwards.2
Sunday 22nd.—Left town by 5 o’clock A.M. Breakfasted at Genl. Mifflin’s, rode up with him & others to the Spring Mills and returned to Genl. Mifflin’s to dinner; after which proceeded to the City.
Monday 23rd.—In Convention as usual. Dined at Mr. Morris’s and drank Tea at Lansdown (The seat of Mr. Penn.)
Tuesday 24th.—In Convention. Dined at Mr. Morris’s and drank Tea, by appointment, and partr. Invitation at Doctr. Rush’s.
Wednesday 25th.—In Convention.—Dined at Mr. Morris’s, drank Tea & spent the evening there.3
Thursday 26th.—In Convention. Dined at Mr. Morris’s, drank Tea there, and stayed within all the afternoon.
Friday 27th.—In Convention, which adjourned this day, to meet again on Monday the 6th of August that a Comee. which had been appointed (consisting of 5 members) might have time to arrange, and draw into method and form the several matters which had been agreed to by the Convention as a constitution for the United States. Dined at Mr. Morris’s, and drank Tea at Mr. Powell’s.
Saturday 28th.—Dined with the club at Springsbury.—Drank Tea there, and spent the evening at my lodgings.
Sunday 29th.—Dined and spent the whole day at Mr. Morris’s, principally in writing letters.
Monday 30th.—In Company with Mr. Govr. Morris’s and in his Phaeton with my horses; went up to one Jane Moore’s in the vicinity of Valley forge to get Trout.
Tuesday 31st.—Whilst Mr. Morriss was fishing I rid over the old cantonment of the American [army] of the winter 1777 & 8, visited all the Works, wch. were in Ruins; and the Incampments in woods where the ground had not been cultivated. * * *
On my return to Mrs. Moores I found Mr. Robt. Morris & his lady there.
Wednesday, 1st August.—About 11 O’clock, after it had ceased raining, we all set out for the City and dined at Mr. Morris’s.
Thursday 2nd.—Dined, drank Tea, and spent the evening at Mr. Morris’s.
Friday 3rd.—In company with Mr. Robt. Morris and his lady, and Mr. Govr. Morris, I went up to Trenton on another fishing party. Lodged at Colo. Sam Ogden’s, at the Trenton Works. In the evening fished, not very successfully.
Saturday 4th.—In the morning & between Breakfast and dinner, fished again with more success (for perch) than yesterday. Dined at Genl. [Philemon] Dickenson’s on the east side of the river, a little above Trenton, & returned in the evening to Colo. Ogden’s.
Monday 6th.—Met according to adjournment in Convention, & received the rept. of the Committee. Dined at Mr. Morris’s and drank tea at Mr. Meredith’s.
Tuesday 7th.—In Convention. Dined at Mr. Morris’s and spent the evening there also.
Wednesday 8th.—In Convention. Dined at the City Tavern, and remained there till near ten o’clock.
Thursday 9th.—In Convention. Dined at Mr. [John] Swanwick’s, and spent the afternn. in my own room, reading letters and accts. from home.
Friday 10th.—Dined (after coming out of Convention) at Mr. Bingham’s, and drank Tea there; spent the evening at my lodgings.
Saturday 11th.—In Convention. Dined at the Club at Springsbury, and after Tea returned home.
Sunday 12th.—Dined at Bush-Hill with Mr. William Hamilton, spent the evening at home writing letters
Monday 13th.—In Convention.2 Dined at Mr. Morris’s, and drank Tea with Mrs. Bache, at the President’s.
Tuesday 14th.—In Convention. Dined, drank Tea, and spent the evening at home.
Wednesday 15th.—The same as Yesterday.
Thursday 16th.—In Convention. Dined at Mr. [Oliver] Pollock’s, & spent the evening in my Chamber.
Friday 17th.—In Convention. Dined and drank Tea at Mr. Powell’s.
Saturday 18th.—In Convention. Dined at Chief Justice. McKean’s—Spent the Afternoon & evening at my lodgings.
Sunday 19th.—In Company with Mr Powell rode up to the White Marsh. Traversed my old incampment, and contempleated on the dangers which threatened the American Army at that place. Dined at Germantown, visited Mr. Blair McClenegan, drank Tea at Mr. Peters’s, and returned to Philadelphia in the evening.1
Monday 20th.—In Convention. Dined, drank Tea, and spent the evening at Mr. Morris’s.
Tuesday 21st.—Did the like this day also.
Wednesday 22nd.—In Convention. Dined at Mr. Morris’s farm at the Hills—visited at Mr. Powell’s in the Afternoon.
Thursday 23rd.—In Convention. Dined, drank Tea, & spent the evening at Mr. Morris’s.
Friday 24th.—Did the same this day.
Saturday 25th.—In Convention.—Dined with the Club at Springsbury, & spent the afternoon at my lodgings.
Sunday 26th.—Rode into the Country for exercise 8 or 10 miles. Dined at the Hills, and spent the evening in my chamber writing letters.
Monday 27th.—In Convention. Dined at Mr. Morris’s and drank Tea at Mr. Powell’s.
Tuesday 28th.—In Convention. Dined, drank Tea, and spent the evening at Mr. Morris’s.
Wednesday 29th.—Did the same as Yesterday.
Thursday 30th.—Again the same.
Friday 31st.—In Convention. Dined at Mr. Morris’s, and with a Party went to Lansdale & drank Tea with Mr. and Mrs. Penn.
Saturday, 1stSeptember.—Dined at Mr. Morris’s after coming out of Convention, and drank Tea there.
Sunday 2nd.—Rode to Mr. Bartram’s and other places in the country, dined and drank tea at Gray’s ferry, and returned to the City in the evening.
Monday 3d.—In Convention Visited a Machine at Doctr. Franklin’s (called a mangle) for pressing, in place of Ironing, Clothes from the wash, which machine from the facility with which it dispatches business is well calculated for Table cloths & such articles as have not pleats & irregular foldings and would be very useful in all large families. Dined, drank Tea, & spent the evening at Mr. Morris’s.
Tuesday 4th.—In Convention. Dined &c. at Mr. Morris’s.
Wednesday 5th.—In Convention. Dined at Mrs. House’s, & drank Tea at Mr. Bingham’s.
Thursday 6th.—In Convention. Dined at Doctr. [James] Hutchinson’s and spent the Afternoon and evening at Mr. Morris’s.
Friday 7th.—In Convention. Dined, and spent the afternoon at home (except when riding a few miles).
Saturday 8th.—In Convention. Dined at Springsbury with the Club, and spent the evening at my lodgings.
Sunday 9th.—Dined at Mr. Morris’s after making a visit to Mr. Gardoqui, who, as he says, came from New York on a visit to me.
Monday 10th.—In Convention. Dined at Mr. Morris’s & drank Tea there.
Tuesday 11th.—In Convention. Dined at home in a large company with Mr. Gardoqui—drank Tea, and spent the evening there.
Wednesday 12th.—In Convention. Dined at the Presidents and drank Tea at Mr. Pine’s.
Thursday 13th.—Attended Convention. Dined at the Vice Presidents, Chas. Biddle’s, Drank Tea at Mr. Powell’s.
Friday 14th.—Attended Convention. Dined at the City Tavern, at an entertainmt. given on my acct. by the City Light Horse. Spent the evening at Mr. Merediths.
Saturday 15th.—Concluded the business, of Convention all to signing the proceedings, to effect which the House sat till 6 o’clock, and adjourned till Monday that the Constitution, which it was proposed to offer to the People might be engrossed, and a number of printed copies struck off. Dined at Mr. Morris’s and spent the evening there.
Mr. Gardoqui sat off for his return to New York this forenoon.
Sunday 16th.—Wrote many letters in the forenoon. Dined with Mr. & Mrs. Morris at the Hills, & returned to town in the evening.
Monday 17th.—Met in Convention, when the Constitution received the unanimous assent of 11 States and Colo. Hamilton’s from New York (the only delegate from thence in Convention), and was subscribed to by every member present, except Govr. Randolph and Colo. Mason from Virginia, & Mr. Gerry from Massachusetts.1
The business being thus closed, the members adjourned to the City Tavern, dined together, and took a cordial leave of each other. After which I returned to my lodgings, did some business with, and received the papers from the Secretary of the Convention,2 and retired to meditate on the momentous wk. which had been executed, after not less than five, for a large part of the time six and sometimes 7 hours sitting every day, Sundays & the ten days adjournment to give a Comee. opportunity & time to arrange the business for more than four months,1 [excepted.]
Tuesday 18th.—Finished what private business I had to do in the city this forenoon, took my leave of those families in wch. I had been most intimate, dined early at Mr. Morris’s with whom & Mr. Gouvr. Morris’s I parted at Gray’s ferry and reached Chester in company with Mr. [John] Blair, who I invited to a seat in my Carriage till we should reach Mount Vernon.2
Wednesday 19th.—Prevented by rain (much of which fell in the night) from setting off till about 8 o’clock, when it ceased, & promising to be fair we departed, baited at Wilmington, Dined at Christiana, and lodged at the head of Elk. At the bridge near to which my horses (two of them) and carriage had a very narrow escape, for the rain which had fallen the preceeding evening having swelled the water considerably there was no fording it safely, I was reduced to the necessity therefore of remaining on the other side or of attempting to cross on an old, rotten & long disused bridge. Being anxious, to get on, I prefered the latter and in the attempt one of my horses fell fifteen feet at least, the other very near following which (had it happened) would have taken the carriage with baggage along with him and destroyed the whole effectually; however by prompt assistance of some people at a mill just by and great exertion, the first horse was disengaged from his harness, the 2d. prevented from going quite through and drawn off, and the Carriage secured from hurt.
Thursday 20th.—Sett off after an early breakfast, crossed the Susquehanna and dined in Havre de Gras at the House of one Roger’s—and lodged at Skirrett’s Tavern, 12 miles short of Baltimore.
Friday 21st.—Breakfasted in Baltimore, dined at the Widow Balls (formerly Spurrier’s), and lodged at Major Snowden’s, who was not at home.
Saturday 22nd.—Breakfasted at Bladensburgh, and, passing through George Town, dined in Alexandria and reached home (with Mr. Blair) about sun set, after an absence of four months and 14 days.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO THOMAS JEFFERSON.
Philadelphia, 30 May, 1787.
* * * * * *
I come now to the other part of your letter, which concerns the Cincinnati, on which indeed I scarcely know what to say. It is a delicate, it is a perplexing subject. Not having the extract from the Encyclopedia before me, I cannot now undertake to enter into the merits of the publication.1 It may therefore be as much as will be expected from me to observe, that the author appears in general to have detailed very candidly and ingenuously the motives and inducements, which give birth to the Society. Some of the subsequent facts, which I cannot, however, from memory pretend to discuss with precision, are thought by gentlemen, who have seen the publication, to be misstated; insomuch that it is commonly said, truth and falsehood are so intimately blended, that it will become very difficult to sever them.
For myself, I only recollect two or three circumstances, in the narration of which palpable mistakes seem to have insinuated themselves. Monsieur L’Enfant did not arrive and bring the eagles during the session of the general meeting, but some time before that convention. The legislature of Rhode Island never passed any act whatever on the subject, (that ever came to my knowledge,) notwithstanding what Mirabeau and others had previously advanced. Nothing can be more ridiculous than the supposition of the author, that the Society was instituted partly because the country could not then pay the army, except the assertion that the United States have now made full and complete provision for paying, not only the arrearages due to the officers, but the half-pay or commutation at their option; from whence the author deduces an argument for its dissolution. I conceive this never had any thing to do with the institution, yet the officers in most of the States, who never have nor I believe expect to receive one farthing of the principal or interest on their final settlement securities, would be much obliged to the author to convince them how and when they received a compensation for their services. No foreigner, or American, who has been absent some time, will easily comprehend how tender those concerned are on this point. I am sorry to say, a great many of the officers consider me as having in a degree committed myself by inducing them to trust too much in the justice of their country. They heartily wish no settlement had been made, because it has rendered them obnoxious to their fellow citizens, without affording them the least emolument.
For the reason I first mentioned, I cannot think it expedient for me to go into an investigation of the writer’s deductions. I shall accordingly content myself with giving you some idea of the part I have acted, posterior to the first formation of the association.
When I found that you and many of the most respectable characters in the country would entirely acquiesce with the institution, as altered and amended in the first general meeting of 1784, and that the objections against the hereditary and other obnoxious parts were wholly done away, I was prevailed upon to accept the presidency. Happy in finding, (so far as I could learn by assiduous inquiry,) that all the clamors and jealousies, which had been excited against the original association, had ceased, I judged it a proper time in the last autumn to withdraw myself from any farther agency in the business, and to make my retirement complete, agreeably to my original plan. I wrote circular letters to all the State Societies announcing my wishes, informing that I did not propose to be at the general meeting, and requested not to be reëlected president. This was the last step of a public nature I expected ever to have taken. But, having since been appointed by my native State to attend the national convention, and having been pressed to a compliance in a manner, which it hardly becomes me to describe, I have, in a measure, been obliged to sacrifice my own sentiments, and to be present in Philadelphia at the very time of the general meeting of the Cincinnati. After which I was not at liberty to decline the presidency, without placing myself in an extremely disagreeable situation with relation to that brave and faithful class of men, whose persevering patriotism and friendship I had experienced on so many trying occasions.
The business of this convention is as yet too much in embryo to form any opinion of the conclusion. Much is expected from it by some; not much by others; and nothing by a few. That something is necessary, none will deny; for the situation of the general government, if it can be called a government, is shaken to its foundation, and liable to be overturned by every blast. In a word, it is at an end; and, unless a remedy is soon applied, anarchy and confusion will inevitably ensue. But having greatly exceeded the bounds of a letter, I will only add assurances of that esteem, regard, and respect, with which I have the honor to be, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO DAVID STUART.
Philadelphia, 1 July, 1787.
I have been favored with your letter of the 17th ultimo. * * *
Rhode Island, from our last accts. still perseveres in that impolitic, unjust, and one might add without much impropriety scandalous conduct, which seems to have marked all her public Councils of late. Consequently, no Representation is yet here from thence. New Hampshire, tho’ Delegates have been appointed, is also unrepresented. Various causes have been assigned, whether well, or ill-founded I shall not take upon me to decide. The fact, however, is that they are not here. Political contests, and want of money, are amidst the reasons assigned for the non-attendance of the members.
As the rules of the convention prevent me from relating any of the proceedings of it, and the gazettes contain, more fully than I could detail, other occurrences of a public nature, I have little to communicate to you on the article of news. Happy indeed would it be, if the convention shall be able to recommend such a firm and permanent government for this Union, that all who live under it may be secure in their lives, liberty, and property; and thrice happy would it be, if such a recommendation should obtain. Every body wishes, every body expects something from the convention; but what will be the final result of its deliberation, the book of fate must disclose. Persuaded I am, that the primary cause of all our disorders lies in the different State governments, and in the tenacity of that power, which pervades the whole of their systems. Whilst independent sovereignty is so ardently contended for, whilst the local views of each State, and separate interests, by which they are too much governed, will not yield to a more enlarged scale of politics, incompatibility in the laws of different States, and disrespect to those of the general government, must render the situation of this great country weak, inefficient, and disgraceful. It has already done so, almost to the final dissolution of it. Weak at home and disregarded abroad is our present condition, and contemptible enough it is.
Entirely unnecessary was it to offer any apology for the sentiments you were so obliging as to offer me. I have had no wish more ardent, through the whole progress of this business, than that of knowing what kind of government is best calculated for us to live under. No doubt there will be a diversity of sentiments on this important subject; and, to inform the judgment, it is necessary to hear all arguments that can be advanced. To please all is impossible, and to attempt it would be vain. The only way, therefore, is, under all the views in which it can be placed, and with a due consideration to circumstances, habits, &c., &c., to form such a government as will bear the scrutinizing eye of criticism, and trust it to the good sense and patriotism of the people to carry it into effect. Demagogues, men who are unwilling to lose any of their State consequence, and interested characters in each, will oppose any general government. But let these be regarded rightly, and justice, it is to be hoped, will at length prevail. My best wishes attend Mrs. Stuart, yourself, and the girls. If I can render any service whilst I remain here, I shall be happy in doing it. I am, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO ALEXANDER HAMILTON.
Philadelphia, 10 July, 1787.
I thank you for your communication of the 3d. When I refer you to the state of the counsels, which prevailed at the period you left this city, and add that they are now if possible in a worse train than ever, you will find but little ground on which the hope of a good establishment can be formed. In a word, I almost despair of seeing a favorable issue to the proceedings of our convention, and do therefore repent having had any agency in the business.
The men, who oppose a strong and energetic government, are in my opinion narrow-minded politicians, or are under the influence of local views. The apprehension expressed by them, that the people will not accede to the form proposed, is the ostensible, not the real cause of opposition. But, admitting that the present sentiment is as they prognosticate, the proper question ought nevertheless to be, Is it, or is it not, the best form that such a country as this can adopt? If it be the best, recommend it, and it will assuredly obtain, maugre opposition. I am sorry you went away. I wish you were back. The crisis is equally important and alarming, and no opposition, under such circumstances, should discourage exertions till the signature is offered. I will not at this time trouble you with more than my best wishes and sincere regard.
I am, dear Sir, &c.1[Back to Table of Contents]
TO RICHARD HENRY LEE.
Philadelphia, 19 July, 1787.
I have had the honor to receive your favor of the 15th instant, and thank you for the ordinance which was enclosed in it. My sentiments, with respect to the navigation of the Mississippi, have been long fixed, and are not dissimilar to those, which are expressed in your letter. I have ever been of opinion, that the true policy of the Atlantic States, would be instead of contending prematurely for the free navigation of that river (which eventually, and perhaps as soon as it shall be our true interest to obtain it,) must happen, to open and improve the natural communications with the western country, through which the produce of it might be transported with convenience and ease to our markets. Till you get low down the Ohio, I conceive, that it would, (considering the length of the voyage to New Orleans, the difficulty of the current, and the time necessary to perform it in,) be the interest of the inhabitants to bring their produce to our ports; and sure I am, there is no other tie by which they will long form a link in the chain of federal union. I believe, however, from the temper in which those people appear to be, and from the ambitious and turbulent spirit of some of their demagogues, that it has become a moot point to determine, (when every circumstance which attends this business is brought into view,) what is best to be done. The State of Virginia having taken the matter up with so high a hand, is not among the least embarrassing or disagreeable parts of the difficulty. * * *
I have the honor to be, &c.1[Back to Table of Contents]
TO PATRICK HENRY.
Mount Vernon, 24 September, 1787.
In the first moment after my return, I take the liberty of sending you a copy of the constitution, which the federal convention has submitted to the people of these States. I accompany it with no observations. Your own judgment will at once discover the good and the exceptionable parts of it; and your experience of the difficulties, which have ever arisen when attempts have been made to reconcile such variety of interests and local prejudices, as pervade the several States, will render explanation unnecessary. I wish the constitution, which is offered, had been made more perfect; but I sincerely believe it is the best that could be obtained at this time. And, as a constitutional door is opened for amendment hereafter, the adoption of it, under the present circumstances of the Union, is in my opinion desirable.
From a variety of concurring accounts it appears to me, that the political concerns of this country are in a manner suspended by a thread, and that the convention has been looked up to, by the reflecting part of the community, with a solicitude which is hardly to be conceived; and, if nothing had been agreed on by that body, anarchy would soon have ensued, the seeds being deeply sown in every soil. I am, &c.1[Back to Table of Contents]
TO COLONEL DAVID HUMPHREYS.
Mount Vernon, 10 October, 1787.
My dear Humphreys,
Your favor of the 28th Ulto. came duly to hand, as did the former of June. With great pleasure I received the intimation of your spending the winter under this Roof.—The invitation was not less sincere, than the reception will be cordial. The only stipulations I shall contend for are, that in all things you shall do as you please—I will do the same; and that no ceremony may be used or any restraint be imposed on any one.
The Constitution that is submitted, is not free from imperfections, but there are as few radical defects in it as could well be expected, considering the heterogenious mass of which the Convention was composed and the diversity of interests that are to be attended to. As a Constitutional door is opened for future amendments and alterations, I think it would be wise in the People to accept what is offered to them and I wish it may be by as great a majority of them as it was by that of the Convention; but this is hardly to be expected because the importance and sinister views of too many characters, will be affected by the change.—Much will depend however upon literary abilities, and the recommendation of it by good pens should be openly, I mean, publickly afforded in the Gazettes.—Go matters however as they may, I shall have the consolation to reflect that no objects but the public good—and that peace and harmony which I wished to see prevail in the Convention, obtruded even for a moment in my bosom during the whole Session long as it was—What reception this State will give to the proceedings in all its extent of territory, is more than I can inform you of; in these parts it is advocated beyond my expectation—the great opposition (if great there should be) will come from the Southern and Western Counties from whence I have not as yet, received any accounts that are to be depended on.
I condole with you on the loss of your Parents; but as they lived to a good old age you could not be unprepared for the shock, tho’ it is painful to bid an everlasting adieu to those we love, or revere.—Reason, Religion and Philosophy may soften the anguish of it, but time alone can eradicate it.
As I am beginning to look for you, I shall add no more in this letter but the wishes of the Family and the affectionate regards of a Sincere friend, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO JAMES MADISON, IN CONGRESS.
Mount Vernon, 10 October, 1787.
My dear Sir,
I thank you for your letter of the 30th ultimo. It came by the last post. I am better pleased, that the proceedings of the convention are submitted from Congress by a unanimous vote, feeble as it is, than if they had appeared under strong marks of approbation without it. This apparent unanimity will have its effect. Not every one has opportunities to peep behind the curtain; and, as the multitude are often deceived by externals, the appearance of unanimity in that body on this occasion will be of great importance. The political tenets of Colo. M[ason] and Colo. R. H. L[ee] are always in unison. It may be asked which of them gives the tone. Without hesitation I answer the latter, because I believe the latter will receive it from no one. He has I am informed rendered himself obnoxious in Philadelphia, by the pains he took to disseminate his objections amongst some of the leaders of the seceding members of the Legislature of that State. His conduct is not less reprobated in this country; how it will be relished generally is yet to be learnt by me.1
As far as accounts have been received from the southern and western counties, the sentiment with respect to the proceedings of the convention is favorable. Whether the knowledge of this, or conviction of the impropriety of withholding the constitution from State conventions, has worked most in the breast of Colonel Mason, I will not decide; but the fact is, he has declared unequivocally, in a letter to me, for its going to the people. Had his sentiments, however, been opposed to the measure, his instructions, which are given by the freeholders of this county to their representatives, would have secured his vote for it. Yet I have no doubt, but that his assent will be accompanied by the most tremendous apprehensions, which the highest coloring can give to his objections. To alarm the people seems to be the groundwork of his plan. The want of a qualified navigation act is already declared to be a mean by which the price of produce in the southern States will be reduced to nothing, and will become monopoly of the eastern and northern States. To enumerate the whole of his objections is unnecessary, because they are detailed in the address of the seceding members of the Assembly of Pennsylvania, (which no doubt you have seen.)1
I scarcely think any powerful opposition will be made to the constitution’s being submitted to a convention of the people of this State. If it is given, it will be there, at which I hope you will make it convenient to be present. Explanations will be wanting, and none can give them with more accuracy and propriety than yourself. The sentiments of Mr. Henry, with respect to the constitution, are not known in these parts. Mr. Joseph Jones, who it seems was in Alexandria before the convention broke up, was of opinion, that they would not be inimical to the proceedings of it. Others think, as the advocate of a paper emission, he cannot be friendly to a constitution which is an effectual bar.
From circumstances, which have been related, it is conjectured that the Governor1 wishes he had been among the subscribing members; but time will disclose more than we know at present, with respect to the whole of the business, and, when I hear more, I will write to you again. In the mean while I pray you to be assured of the sincere regard and affection with which I am, my dear Sir, &c.
P. S. Having received, (in a letter) from Colonel Mason, a detail in writing of his objections to the proposed constitution, I enclose you a copy of them.2[Back to Table of Contents]
TO HENRY KNOX.
Mount Vernon, October, 1787.
My dear Sir,
Your favor of the 3d instant came duly to hand. The fourth day after leaving Philadelphia I reached home, and found Mrs. Washington and the family tolerably well, but the fruits of the earth almost entirely destroyed by one of the severest droughts (in this neighborhood,) that has ever been experienced. The crops pretty generally have been injured in this State below the mountains, but not to the degree that mine, and some others in a small circle around me, have suffered.
The constitution is now before the judgment-seat. It has, as was expected, its adversaries and supporters. Which will preponderate is yet to be decided. The former more than probably will be most active, as the major part of them will, it is to be feared, be governed by sinister and self-important motives, to which every thing in their breasts must yield. The opposition from another class of them may perhaps, (if they should be men of reflection, candor, and information,) subside in the solution of the following simple questions. 1. Is the constitution, which is submitted by the convention, preferable to the government, (if it can be called one,) under which we now live? 2. Is it probable that more confidence would at the time be placed in another convention, provided the experiment should be tried, than was placed in the last one, and is it likely that a better agreement would take place therein? What would be the consequences if these should not happen, or even from the delay, which must inevitably follow such an experiment? Is there not a constitutional door open for alterations or amendments? and is it not likely that real defects will be as readily discovered after as before trial? and will not our successors be as ready to apply the remedy as ourselves, if occasion should require it? To think otherwise will, in my judgment, be ascribing more of the amor patriæ, more wisdom and more virtue to ourselves, than I think we deserve.
It is highly probable, that the refusal of our Governor and Colonel Mason to subscribe to the proceedings of the convention will have a bad effect in this State; for, as you well observe, they must not only assign reasons for the justification of their own conduct, but it is highly probable that these reasons will be clothed in most terrific array for the purpose of alarming.1 Some things are already addressed to the fears of the people, and will no doubt have their effect. As far, however, as the sense of this part of the country has been taken, it is strongly in favor of the proposed constitution. Further I cannot speak with precision. If a powerful opposition is given to it, the weight thereof will, I apprehend, come from the south side of James River, and from the western counties. I am, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO ALEXANDER HAMILTON.
Mount Vernon, 18 October, 1787.
Your favor without date came to my hand by the last post. It is with unfeigned concern I perceive that a political dispute has arisen between Governor Clinton and yourself. For both of you I have the highest esteem and regard. But, as you say it is insinuated by some of your political adversaries, and may obtain credit, “that you palmed yourself upon me, and was dismissed from my family,” and call upon me to do you justice by a recital of the facts, I do therefore explicitly declare, that both charges are entirely unfounded. With respect to the first, I have no cause to believe, that you took a single step to accomplish, or had the most distant idea of receiving an appointment in my family till you were invited into it; and, with respect to the second, that your quitting it was altogether the effect of your own choice.
When the situation of this country calls loudly for vigor and unanimity, it is to be lamented that gentlemen of talents and character should disagree in their sentiments for promoting the public weal; but unfortunately this ever has been, and most probably ever will be, the case in the affairs of mankind.
Having scarcely been from home since my return from Philadelphia, I can give little information with respect to the general reception of the new constitution in this State. In Alexandria, however, and some of the adjacent counties, it was embraced with an enthusiastic warmth of which I had no conception. I expect, notwithstanding, violent opposition will be given to it by some characters of weight and influence in the State. Mrs. Washington unites with me in best wishes to Mrs. Hamilton and yourself. I am, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO JAMES MADISON, IN CONGRESS.
Mount Vernon, 22 October, 1787.
My dear Sir,
When I wrote to you last, I was possessed of very little information of the sentiments of this State on the new constitution beyond the circle of Alexandria. Since, by the last post, I have received a letter from a member of the assembly in Richmond,1 containing the following paragraphs.
“I believe such an instance has not happened before since the revolution, that there should be a House on the first day of the session, and business immediately taken up. This was not only the case on Monday, but there was a full House when Mr. Prentiss was called up to the chair as speaker, there being no opposition. Thus the session has commenced peaceably.
“It gives me much pleasure to inform you, that the sentiments of the members are infinitely more favorable to the constitution, than the most zealous advocates for it could have expected. I have not met with one in all my inquiries (and I have made them with great diligence) opposed to it, except Mr. Henry, who I have heard is so, but could only conjecture it from a conversation with him on the subject. Other members, who have also been active in their inquiries, tell me that they have met with none opposed to it. It is said, however, that old Mr. Cabell of Amherst disapproves of it. Mr. Nicholas has declared himself a warm friend to it. The transmissory note of Congress was before us to day, when Mr. Henry declared, that it transcended our powers to decide on the constitution, that it must go before a convention,—as it was insinuated he would aim at preventing this, much pleasure was discovered at the declaration.
“Thursday next (the 25th) is fixed upon for taking up the question of calling the convention, and fixing the time of its meeting. In the mean time five thousand copies are ordered to be printed, to be dispersed by the members in their respective counties for the information of the people. I cannot forbear mentioning, that the Chancellor Pendleton espouses the constitution so warmly, as to declare he will give it his aid in a convention if his health will permit. As there are few better judges of such subjects, this must be deemed a fortunate circumstance.”
As the above quotation is the sum of my information, I shall add nothing more on the subject of the proposed government at this time.
Mr. C. Pinckney is unwilling, (I perceive by the enclosures contained in your favor of the 13th,) to lose any fame that can be acquired by the publication of his sentiments. If the subject of the navigation of the Mississippi could have remained as silent, and glided as gently down the stream of time for a while, as the waters do that are contained within the banks, it would, I confess, have comported more with my ideas of sound policy, than any decision that can be come to at this day. With sentiments the most affectionate and friendly, I am, dear Sir, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO MATHEW CAREY.
Mount Vernon, 29 October, 1787.
The last post brought me your letter of the 22d.—your application to me for the loan of £100 is an evidence of your unacquaintedness with my inability to lend money. To be candid—my expenditures are never behind my income—and this year (occasioned by the severest drouth that ever was known in this neighborhood) instead of selling grain which heretofore has been my principal source of revenue it is not £500 that will purchase enough for the support of my family.—After this disclosure of my situation you will be readily persuaded that inclination to serve without the means of accomplishing it, is of little avail.—This however is the fact so far as it respects the point in question.
As you seem anxious that the contents of your letter should not be known I put it in your own power to destroy it by returning it under the same cover with this.
I wish sucess to your Museum, and am, &c.1[Back to Table of Contents]
TO ARCHIBALD JOHNSTON.
Mount Vernon, 30 October, 1787.
My fixed determination is, that no person whatever shall hunt upon my grounds or waters.—To grant leave to one, and refuse another, would not only be drawing a line of discrimination which would be offensive, but would subject one to great inconvenience—for my strict and positive orders to all my people are if they hear a gun fired upon my Land to go immediately in pursuit of it.—Permission therefore to any one would keep them either always in pursuit—or make them inattentive to my orders under the supposition of its belonging to a licensed person by which means I should be obtruded upon by others who to my cost I find had other objects in view. Besides, as I have not lost my relish for this sport when I can find time to indulge myself in it, and Gentlemen who come to the House are pleased with it, it is my wish not to have the game within my jurisdiction disturbed. For these reasons I beg you will not take my refusal amiss, because I would give the same to my brother if he lived off my land.
I am, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO ARTHUR YOUNG.
Mount Vernon, 1 November, 1787.
* * * * * *
Before I undertake to give the information you request, respecting the arrangements of farms in this neighborhood, &c., I must observe that there is, perhaps, scarcely any part of America, where farming has been less attended to than in this State. The cultivation of tobacco has been almost the sole object with men of landed property, and consequently a regular course of crops have never been in view. The general custom has been, first to raise a crop of Indian corn (maize) which according to the mode of cultivation, is a good preparation for wheat; then a crop of wheat; after which the ground is respited (except from weeds, and every trash that can contribute to its foulness) for about eighteen months; and so on, alternately, without any dressing, till the land is exhausted; when it is turned out, without being sown with grass-seeds, or any method taken to restore it; and another piece is ruined in the same manner. No more cattle is raised than can be supported by lowland meadows, swamps, &c., and the tops and blades of Indian corn; as very few persons have attended to sowing grasses, and connecting cattle with their crops. The Indian corn is the chief support of the laborers and horses. Our lands, as I mentioned in my first letter to you, were originally very good; but use, and abuse, have made them quite otherwise.
The above is the mode of cultivation which has been generally pursued here, but the system of husbandry which has been found so beneficial in England, and which must be greatly promoted by your valuable annals, is now gaining ground. There are several (among which I may class myself), who are endeavoring to get into your regular and systematic course of cropping, as fast as the nature of the business will admit; so that I hope in the course of a few years, we shall make a more respectable figure as farmers, than we have hitherto done.
I will, agreeable to your desire, give you the prices of our products as nearly as I am able; but you will readily conceive from the foregoing account, that they cannot be given with any precision. Wheat, for the four last years, will average about 4s. sterling per bushel, of eight gallons. Rye, about 2s. 4d.—Oats, 1s. 6d.—Beans, pease, &c., have not been sold in any quantities.—Barley is not made here, from a prevailing opinion that the climate is not adapted to it; I however, in opposition to prejudice, sowed about 50 bushels last spring, and found that it yielded a proportionate quantity with any other kind of grain which I sowed; I might add, more. Cows may be bought at about 3l. sterling, per head. Cattle for the slaughter vary from 2¼d. to 4½d. sterling per lb., the former being the current price in summer; the latter in the winter or spring. Sheep at 12s. sterling, per head; and wool at 1s. sterling per lb. I am not able to give you the price of labor, as the land is cultivated here wholly by slaves, and the price of labor in the towns is fluctuating, and governed altogether by circumstances. * * *1[Back to Table of Contents]
TO JAMES MADISON, IN CONGRESS.
Mount Vernon, 5 November, 1787.
My dear Sir,
Your favor of the 18th ulto. came duly to hand.—As no subject is more interesting, and seems so much to engross the attention of every one as the proposed Constitution I shall, (though it is probable your communications from Richmond are regular and full with respect to this, and other matters, which employ the consideration of the Assembly) give you the extract of a letter from Doct. Stuart, which follows—
“Yesterday (the 26th of Oct.) according to appointment, the calling of a Convention of the people was discussed.—Though no one doubted a pretty general unanimity on this question ultimately, yet, it was feared from the avowed opposition of Mr. Henry and Mr. Harrison, that an attempt would be made, to do it in a manner that would convey to the people an unfavorable impression of the opinion of the House with respect to the Constitution; and this was accordingly attempted.—It was however soon baffled.—The motion was to this effect; that a Convention should be called to adopt—reject—or amend—the proposed Constitution.—
“As this conveyed an idea that the House conceived an amendment necessary it was rejected as improper.—It now stands recommended to them, on (I think) unexceptionable ground, for their full and free consideration.—My colleague arrived here on the evening before this question was taken up; I am apt to think that the opponents to the Constitution were much disappointed in their expectations of support from him, as he not only declared himself in the fullest manner for a Convention, but also, that notwithstanding his objections, so federal was he, that he would adopt it, if nothing better could be obtained.—The time at which the Convention is to meet, is fixed to the first of June next.—The variety of sentiments on this subject was almost infinite; neither friends or foes agreeing in any one period.—There is to be no exclusion of persons on acct. of their Offices.1
“Notwithstanding this decision the accounts of the prevailing sentiments without, especially on James river and Westwardly, are various.—Nothing decisive, I believe, can be drawn—As far as I can form an opinion however, from different persons, it should seem as if Men judged of others, by their own affection or disaffection to the proposed government.—In the Northern Neck the sentiment I believe, is very generally for it.—I think it will be found such thro the State.”
The Doctor further adds:
“The subject of British debts was taken up the other day when Mr. Henry, reflected in a very warm declamatory manner, on the circular letter of Congress, on that subject.—It is a great and important matter and I hope will be determined as it should be notwithstanding his opposition.”1
So far as the sentiments of Maryland, with respect to the proposed Constitution, have come to my knowledge, they are strongly in favor of it; but as this is the day on which the Assembly of that State ought to meet, I will say nothing in anticipation of the opinion of it. Mr. Carroll of Carrolton, and Mr. Thos. Johnson, are declared friends to it.
With sincere regards and affect.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO BUSHROD WASHINGTON.
Mount Vernon, 10 November, 1787.
In due course of post your letters of the 19th and 26th ultimo came to hand, and I thank you for the communications therein,—for a continuation in matters of importance I shall be obliged to you. That the Assembly would afford the people an opportunity of deciding on the proposed constitution, I had scarcely a doubt. The only question with me was, whether it would go forth under favorable auspices, or receive the stamp of disapprobation. The opponents I expected (for it ever has been, that the adversaries to a measure are more active than its friends,) would endeavor to stamp it with unfavorable impressions, in order to bias the judgment, that is ultimately to decide on it. This is evidently the case with the writers in opposition, whose objections are better calculated to alarm the fears, than to convince the judgment, of their readers. They build their objections upon principles, that do not exist, which the constitution does not support them in, and the existence of which has been, by an appeal to the constitution itself, flatly denied; and then, as if they were unanswerable, draw all the dreadful consequences that are necessary to alarm the apprehensions of the ignorant or unthinking. It is not the interest of the major part of those characters to be convinced; nor will their local views yield to arguments, which do not accord with their present or future prospects.
A candid solution of a single question, to which the plainest understanding is competent, does, in my opinion, decide the dispute; namely, Is it best for the States to unite or not to unite? If there are men, who prefer the latter, then unquestionably the constitution which is offered must, in their estimation, be wrong from the words, “We the people,” to the signature, inclusively; but those, who think differently, and yet object to parts of it, would do well to consider, that it does not lie with any one State, or the minority of the States, to superstruct a constitution for the whole. The separate interests, as far as it is practicable, must be consolidated; and local views must be attended to, as far as the nature of the case will admit. Hence it is, that every State has some objection to the present form, and these objections are directed to different points. That which is most pleasing to one is obnoxious to another, and so vice versâ. If then the union of the whole is a desirable object, the component parts must yield a little in order to accomplish it. Without the latter, the former is unattainable; for again I repeat it, that not a single State, nor the minority of the States, can force a constitution on the majority. But, admitting the power, it will surely be granted, that it cannot be done without involving scenes of civil commotion, of a very serious nature.
Let the opponents of the proposed constitution in this State be asked, and it is a question they certainly ought to have asked themselves, what line of conduct they would advise to adopt, if nine other States, of which I think there is little doubt, should accede to the constitution. Would they recommend, that it should stand single? Will they connect it with Rhode Island? Or even with two others checkerwise, and remain with them, as outcasts from the society, to shift for themselves? Or will they return to their dependence on Great Britain? Or, lastly, have the mortification to come in when they will be allowed no credit for doing so?
The warmest friends and the best supporters the constitution has, do not contend that it is free from imperfections; but they found them unavoidable, and are sensible, if evil is likely to arise therefrom, the remedy must come hereafter; for in the present moment it is not to be obtained; and, as there is a constitutional door open for it, I think the people (for it is with them to judge), can, as they will have the advantage of experience on their side, decide with as much propriety on the alterations and amendments which are necessary, as ourselves. I do not think we are more inspired, have more wisdom, or possess more virtue, than those who will come after us.
The power under the constitution will always be in the people. It is intrusted for certain defined purposes, and for a certain limited period, to representatives of their own choosing; and, whenever it is executed contrary to their interest, or not agreeable to their wishes, their servants can and undoubtedly will be recalled. It is agreed on all hands, that no government can be well administered without powers; yet, the instant these are delegated, although those, who are intrusted with the administration, are no more than the creatures of the people, act as it were but for a day, and are amenable for every false step they take, they are, from the moment they receive it, set down as tyrants; their natures, they would conceive from this, immediately changed, and that they can have no other disposition but to oppress. Of these things, in a government constituted and guarded as ours is, I have no idea; and do firmly believe, that, whilst many ostensible reasons are assigned to prevent the adoption of it, the real ones are concealed behind the curtains, because they are not of a nature to appear in open day. I believe further, supposing them pure, that as great evils result from too great jealousy as from the want of it. We need look, I think, no further for proof of this, than to the constitution of some, if not all, of these States. No man is a warmer advocate for proper restraints and wholesome checks in every department of government, than I am; but I have never yet been able to discover the propriety of placing it absolutely out of the power of men to render essential services, because a possibility remains of their doing ill.
If Mr. Ronald can place the finances of this country upon so respectable a footing as he has intimated, he will deserve much of its thanks. In the attempt, my best wishes, I have nothing more to offer, will accompany him. I hope there remains virtue enough in the Assembly of this State to preserve inviolate public treaties and private contracts. If these are infringed, farewell to respectability and safety in the government.
I have possessed a doubt, but if any had existed in my breast, reiterated proofs would have convinced me of the impolicy of all commutable taxes. If we cannot learn wisdom from experience, it is hard to say where it is to be found. But why talk of learning it. These things are mere jobs, by which few are enriched at the public expense; for, whether premeditation or ignorance is the cause of this destructive scheme, it ends in oppression.
You have, I find, broke the ice. The only advice I will offer to you on the occasion (if you have a mind to command the attention of the House,) is to speak seldom, but to important subjects, except such as particularly relate to your constituents; and, in the former case, make yourself perfectly master of the subject. Never exceed a decent warmth, and submit your sentiments with diffidence. A dictatorial stile, though it may carry conviction, is always accompanied with disgust. I am, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO THOMAS JOHNSON.
Mount Vernon, 22 November, 1787.
The lettter with which you have been pleased to honor me, dated the 16th inst., came to my hand the day before yesterday. By to-morrow’s Post this answer will be forwarded to you.
Mr. Rumsey has given you an uncandid account of his explanation to me of the principle on which his boat was to be propelled against stream. At the time he exhibited his model and obtained certificate, I have no reason to believe that the use of steam was contemplated by him, sure I am it was not mentioned; and equally certain I am, that it would not apply to the project he then had in view; the first communication of which was made to me in September, 1784 (at the springs in Berkley). The Novr. following, being in Richmond, I met Mr. Rumsey there who was at that time applying to the Assembly for a exclusive Act. He then spoke of the effect of steam and the conviction he was under of the usefulness of its application for inland navigation; but I did not then conceive, nor have I done so at any moment since, that it was suggested as a part of his original plan, but rather as the ebullition of his genius.
It is proper, however, for me to add that some time after this Mr. Fitch called upon me on his way to Richmond, and explaining his scheme, wanted a letter from me, introductory of it to the Assembly of this State, the giving of which I declined; and went on to inform him, that tho’ I was bound not to disclose the principles of Mr. Rumsey’s discovery, I could venture to assure him that the thought of applying steam for the purpose he mentioned was not original, but had been mentioned to me by Mr. Rumsey—this I thought myself obliged to say, that whichever (if either) of them was the discoverer might derive the benefit of the invention. To the best of my recollection of what passed between Mr. Rumsey and me, the foregoing is an impartial recital. * * *[Back to Table of Contents]
TO DAVID STUART.
Mount Vernon, 30 November, 1787.
Your favor of the 14th came duly to hand. I am sorry to find by it, that the opposition gains strength. I do not wonder much at this. The adversaries to a measure are generally, if not always, more violent and active than the advocates, and frequently employ means, which the others do not, to accomplish their ends.
I have seen no publication yet, that ought in my judgment to shake the proposed constitution in the mind of an impartial and candid public. In fine, I have hardly seen one, that is not addressed to the passions of the people, and obviously calculated to alarm their fears. Every attempt to amend the constitution at this time is in my opinion idle and vain. If there are characters, who prefer disunion, or separate confederacies, to the general government, which is offered to them, their opposition may, for aught I know, proceed from principle; but, as nothing, according to my conception of the matter, is more to be deprecated than a disunion or these distinct confederacies, as far as my voice can go it shall be offered in favor of the latter. That there are some writers, and others perhaps who may not have written, that wish to see this union divided into several confederacies, is pretty evident. As an antidote to these opinions, and in order to investigate the ground of objections to the constitution which is submitted, the Federalist, under the signature of Publius, is written. The numbers, which have been published, I send you. If there is a printer in Richmond, who is really well disposed to support the new constitution, he would do well to give them a place in his paper. They are, I think I may venture to say, written by able men; and before they are finished will, or I am mistaken, place matters in a true point of light. Although I am acquainted with the writers, who have a hand in this work, I am not at liberty to mention names, nor would I have it known, that they are sent by me to you for promulgation.1
You will recollect, that the business of the Potomac Company is withheld from the Assembly of Maryland until it is acted upon in this State; that the sitting of that Assembly is expected to be short; and that our operations may be suspended, if there is no other recourse to be had than to common law process to obtain the dividends, which are called for by the directors and not paid by the subscribers.
Certificate and commutable taxes I hope will be done away,2 and that the Assembly will not interfere either with public treaties or private contracts. Bad indeed must the situation of that country be, when this is the case. With great pleasure I received the information respecting the commencement of my nephew’s political course. I hope he will not be so buoyed by the favorable impression it has made, as to become a babbler. If the convention was such a tumultuous and disorderly body as a certain gentleman has represented, [it was due] in a great measure, to a few dissatisfied characters who would not submit to the decisions of a majority thereof. * * *
I am, dear Sir, your most obedient, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO JAMES MADISON, IN CONGRESS.
Mount Vernon, 7 December, 1787.
My dear Sir,
Since my last to you, I have been favored with your letters of the 28th of October and 18th of November. With the last came seven numbers of the Federalist, under the signature of Publius, for which I thank you. They are forwarded to a gentleman in Richmond for republication; the doing of which in this State will, I am persuaded, have a good effect, as there are certainly characters, who are no friends to a general government; perhaps I should not go too far was I to add, who have no great objection to the introduction of anarchy and confusion.
The solicitude to discover what the several State legislatures would do with the constitution is now transferred to the several conventions; the decisions of which, being more interesting and conclusive, is consequently more anxiously expected than the other. What Pennsylvania and Delaware have done, or will do, must soon be known. Other conventions to the northward and eastward of them are treading closely on their heels; but what the three southern States have done, or in what light the new constitution is viewed by them, I have not been able to learn. North Carolina, it has been said, “by some accounts from Richmond,” will be governed in a great measure by the conduct of Virginia. The pride of South Carolina will not, I conceive, suffer this influence to work in her councils; and the disturbances in Georgia will, or I am mistaken, show the people of it the propriety of being united, and the necessity there is for a general government. If these, with the States eastward and northward of us, should accede to the federal government, I think the citizens of this State will have no cause to bless the opposers of it here, if they should carry their point. A paragraph in the Baltimore paper has announced a change in the sentiments of Mr. Jay on this subject, and adds, that, from being an admirer of the new form, he has become a bitter enemy to it. This relation, without knowing Mr. Jay’s opinion, I discredit, from a conviction, that he would consider the matter well before he would pass any judgment, and having done so would not change his opinion almost in the same breath.—I am anxious however to know on what ground this report originates, especially the indelicacy of the expression. It is very unlikely, therefore, that a man of his knowledge and foresight should turn on both sides of a question in so short a space.1
It would have given me great pleasure to have complied with your request in behalf of your foreign acquaintance. At present I am unable to do it. The survey of the county between the Eastern and Western waters is not yet reported by the Commissioners—tho’ promised to be made very shortly—the survey being completed. No draught that can convey an adequate idea of the work on this river, has been yet taken. Much of the labor except at the great falls has been bestowed in the bed of the river in a removal of the rocks and deepening the water at the great falls—the labor has indeed been great. The water there (a sufficiency I mean) is taken into a canal about 200 yards above the cataract, and conveyed by a level cut (thro’ a solid rock in some places and much stone everywhere) more than a mile to the lock seats, five in number, by means of which, when completed the craft will be let into the river below the falls (which together amount to 76 feet). At the Seneca falls, six miles above the great falls, a channel which has been formed by the river when inundated, is under improvement for the navigation. The same in part at Shannondoah—At the lower falls where nothing has yet been done, a level cut and locks are proposed. These constitute the principal difficulties and will be the great expense of this undertaking—the parts of the river between requiring loose stones only to be removed in order to deepen the water where it is too shallow in dry season.
P. S. Since writing the foregoing, I have received a letter from a member “of the Assembly” in Richmond, dated the 4th instant, giving the following information:—
“I am sorry to inform you, that the constitution has lost ground so considerably, that it is doubted whether it has any longer a majority in its favor. From a vote, which took place the other day, this would appear certain, though I cannot think it so decisive as the enemies to it consider it. It marks, however, the inconsistency of some of its opponents. At the time the resolutions calling a convention were entered into, Colonel M. sided with the friends to the constitution, and opposed any hint being given, expressive of the sentiments of the House as to amendments. But, as it was unfortunately omitted at that time to make provision for the subsistence of the convention, it became necessary, to pass some resolution providing for any expense, which may attend an attempt to make amendments. As M. had on the former occasion declared, that it would be improper to make any discovery of the sentiments of the House on the subject, and that we had no right to suggest any thing to a body paramount to us, his advocating such a resolution was matter of astonishment. It is true, he declared it was not declaratory of our opinion; but the contrary must be very obvious. As I have heard many declare themselves friends to the constitution since the vote, I do not consider it as altogether decisive of the opinion of the House with respect to it.
“I am informed, both by General Wilkinson, who is just arrived here from New Orleans by way of North Carolina, and Mr. Ross, that North Carolina is almost unanimous for adopting it. The latter received a letter from a member of that Assembly now sitting.
“In a debating society here, which meets once a week, this subject has been canvassed at two successive meetings, and is to be finally decided on to-morrow evening. As the whole Assembly, almost, has attended on these occasions, their opinion will then be pretty well ascertained; and, as the opinion on this occasion will have much influence, some of Colonel Innis’s friends have obtained a promise from him to enter the lists.
“The bill respecting British debts has passed our House, but with such a clause as I think makes it worse than a rejection.”
The letter, of which I enclose you a printed copy, from Colonel R. H. Lee to the Governor, has been circulated with great industry in manuscript four weeks before it went to press, and is said to have had a bad influence.1 The enemies to the constitution leave no stone unturned to increase the opposition to it. I am, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO COLONEL THOMAS LEWIS.
Mount Vernon, 25 December, 1787.
It is my desire and I am told that it is the wish of many—and sure I am policy requires it—that the uncultivated tracts of land on the Great Kanhawa and Ohio belonging to the Military should be settled. The difficulty with me respecting mine has been, how to draw the line of mutual advantage for Landlord and Tenant, with respect to the terms; and where to find a confidential person on or near the spot who would act for me as Agent.
Two reasons, hitherto, have restrained me from making application to you, on this head—first, the uncertainty I was under of your having become an actual resident in those parts—and second a doubt whether it might be agreeable to you to accept this trust on account of the trouble, and little profit that would derive from the agency, at least for some time.
The first cause being removed (having understood, by means of some members in Assembly that you live at Point Pleasant) I shall take the liberty of trying you on the second; under a hope, that more from the desire of seeing the country settled the neighborhood strengthened and property thereby secured; and the value of it increased; than from any pecuniary considerations at the present moment, you may be induced to aid me in seating my lands on the great Kanhawa and on the Ohio between the mouths of the two Rivers bearing that name.
If you accept the trust this letter shall be your authority—fully—and amply given and binding upon me and my heirs for the following purposes.—
First. To place as many Tenants on the several tracts of Lands (Plats of which with my signature annexed to them shall accompany this Power) as you can obtain consistently with your judgment, and suggestions hereafter mentioned.
Second. That an exemption from the payment of Rents for the term of three years shall be allowed them provided certain reasonable improvements such as you shall stipulate for,—and which I think (but leave the matter to you) ought to be comfortable houses,—Acres of Arable—and—Acres of Meadow land, and a certain number of frute Trees planted.
Third. That for the fourth year, rents shall become due, and shall consist (as I am told the custom of the Country is) of a third of whatever is raised on the premises, which rents shall be annually paid thereafter to you, or my agent for the time being in that Country.—
Fourth. That under this tenure they may be assured of the places (if they incline to remain, and will go on to improve them) for the term of—years; were these not to exceed ten, it would be more pleasing to me than any extension beyond that number; but if this limitation will not be acceded to on the part of the tenant, I must leave it to your discretion to augment them making the term definite, and not for lives, which is not only uncertain, but often introductory of disputes to ascertain the termination of them—Instances of which have happened to me. All mines and minerals will be reserved for the landlord,—and where there are valuable streams for water works, the Rents must bear some proportion to the advantages which are likely to result from them.—
Fifth. Whether custom authorizes, or justice requires that the tenant should pay the land tax of what he agrees to hold before the rent becomes due; or afterwards, in whole, or part, must be governed by the practice which prevails and consequently is left to your decision.
Sixth. I do not conceive it necessary nor should I incline to go into much, or indeed any expense in laying the Land off into Lots till it begins to be thick settled and productive. The first comers will of course have the first choice—but they and all others are to be informed that their lotts (be the quantity little or much) will be bounded by water courses, or (where this is not the case) by convenient and regular forms.—And as most of my Tracts (as you will see by the plats) have extensive boundaries on the rivers running but a little ways back it is my wish, indeed it naturally follows, that back part of the land should be considered as the support of that which will be first settled and cleared on the margins of the Rivers and a sufficiency of it reserved for that purpose.
Seventh. For your trouble in negotiating this business, I am very willing to allow the usual Commission for collecting—converting into cash and transmitting to me, the rents after they shall commence and whatever you may think proper to charge me (in reason) for your trouble till this shall happen,—I will cheerfully agree to pay.
Whether you accept this trust or not, you will do me a favor in the communication of your sentiments on the subject. There are two ways by which letters will come safe.—Viz—thrown into the Post Office at Philadelphia or into that at Richmond.—Colo. Bayard an acquaintance of mine, or any acquaintance you may have at Fort Pitt, will forward them to the first place—and the means of doing it to the latter you must be a better judge of than myself—If the letters once get into the Post Office, I shall be sure of them.—On private conveyances there is no reliance—they are tossed about and neglected so as rarely to reach their intended destination when sent in this manner.
If you should incline to act under this power your own good sense and judgment will at once dictate the propriety, indeed necessity of promulgating it as extensively as you can by Advertisements to those parts from whence settlers are most likely to be drawn over and above the opportunities which your situation gives you of communicating the matter to travellers by water on the Ohio.
On the other hand, if you do not incline to act I would thank you for returning me the papers herewith enclosed as it will save me the trouble of making other copies.
Whether the improvements which I had made on the Lands (of which you have herewith the draughts) in the years 1774 and 5 will be of use to Settlers at this day, or not, you who are on the spot can best determine—They cost me, or were valued to between £1500 and 2000.—If they are useful the exemption from rent should be shorter—I thought it necessary to bring the matter into view tho’ my expectations from it are small. I am, &c—
P. S. I have a small tract called the round bottom containing abt. 600 Acres, which I would also let.—It lyes on the Ohio, opposite to pipe Creek, and a little above Capteening.[Back to Table of Contents]
1788.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO THOMAS JEFFERSON.
Mount Vernon, 1 January, 1788.
I have received your favor of the 14th of August, and am sorry that it is not in my power to give any further information relative to the practicability of opening a communication between Lake Erie and the Ohio, than you are already possessed of. I have made frequent inquiries since the time of your writing at Annapolis, but could never collect any thing that was decided or satisfactory. I have again renewed them, and flatter myself with better prospects.
The accounts generally agree as to its being a flat country between the waters of Lake Erie and Big Beaver, but differ very much with respect to the distance between their sources, their navigation, and the inconveniences which would attend the cutting a canal between them. From the best information I have been able to obtain of that country, the sources of the Muskingum and Cayahoga approach nearer to each other than Big Beaver; but a communication through the Muskingum would be more circuitous and difficult, having the Ohio in a greater extent to ascend, unless the latter could be avoided by opening a communication between James River and the Great Kanhawa, or between the Little Kanhawa and the west branch of the Monongahela, which is said to be very practicable by a short portage. As a testimony thereof, a road is now opened, or opening, under the authority and at the expense of the States of Virginia and Maryland, from the North Branch of Potomac, “commencing at the mouth of Savage River,” to Cheat River; and continued from thence to the navigable water of the Little Kanhawa, at the cost of the former.
The distance between Lake Erie and the Ohio through the Big Beaver is however so much less than the route through the Muskingum, that it would in my opinion operate very strongly in favor of opening a canal between the sources of the nearest water of the Lake and Big Beaver, although the distance between them should be much greater, and the operation more difficult, than to the Muskingum, as it is the direct line to the nearest shipping port on the Atlantic. I shall omit no opportunity of gaining every information relative to this important subject, and with pleasure communicate to you whatever may be worthy of your attention.1
I did myself the honor to forward to you the plan of government formed by the convention, as soon as that body rose; but was not a little disappointed, and mortified indeed, (as I wished to make the first offering of it to you,) to find by a letter dated the 9th of November in New York from Commodore Jones, that it was at that time in his possession. You have undoubtedly received it, or some other, ere now, and formed an opinion upon it. The public attention is at present wholly engrossed by this important subject. The legislatures of those States (Rhode Island excepted), which have met since the constitution has been formed, have readily assented to its being submitted to a convention chosen by the people. Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, are the only States whose conventions have as yet decided upon it. In the former it was adopted by forty-six to twenty-three, and in the two latter unanimously.
Connecticut and Massachusetts are to hold their conventions on the first and second Tuesdays of this month; Maryland in April, Virginia in June; and upon the whole it appears, so far as I have had an opportunity of learning the opinions of the people in the several States, that it will be received. There will undoubtedly be more or less opposition to its being adopted in most of the States, and in none a more formidable one than in this, as many influential characters here have taken a decided part against it, among whom are Mr. Henry, Colonel Mason, Governor Randolph, and Mr. Richard Henry Lee; but from every information, which I have been able to obtain, I think there will be a majority in its favor, notwithstanding their dissention. In New York a considerable opposition will also be given.
I am much obliged to you, my dear Sir, for the account which you gave me of the general state of affairs in Europe. I am glad to hear, that the Assemblée des Notables has been productive of good in France. The abuse of the finances, being disclosed to the King and the nation, must open their eyes, and lead to the adoption of such measures as will prove beneficial to them in future. From the public papers it appears, that the parliaments of the several provinces, and particularly that of Paris, have acted with great spirit and resolution. Indeed, the rights of mankind, the privileges of the people, and the true principles of liberty, seem to have been more generally discussed and better understood throughout Europe since the American revolution, than they were at any former period.
Although the finances of France and England were such, as led you to suppose at the time you wrote to me, yet, if we credit the concurrent accounts from every quarter, there is little doubt but that they have commenced hostilities before this. Russia and the Porte have formally begun the contest, and from appearances, (as given to us,) it is not improbable but that a general war will be kindled in Europe. Should this be the case, we shall feel more than ever the want of an efficient general government to regulate our commercial concerns, to give us a national respectability, and to connect the political views and interests of the several States under one head in such a manner, as will effectually prevent them from forming separate, improper, or indeed any connexion with the European powers, which can involve them in their political disputes.1 For our situation is such, as makes it not only unnecessary, but extremely imprudent, for us to take a part in their quarrels; and whenever a contest happens among them, if we wisely and properly improve the advantages, which nature has given us, we may be benefited by their folly, provided we conduct ourselves with circumspection and under proper restrictions; for I perfectly agree with you, that an extensive speculation, a spirit of gambling, or the introduction of any thing, which will divert our attention from agriculture, must be extremely prejudicial if not ruinous to us. But I conceive, under an energetic general government, such regulations might be made, and such measures taken, as would render this country the asylum of pacific and industrious characters from all parts of Europe, would encourage the cultivation of the earth by the high price, which its products would command, and would draw the wealth and wealthy men of other nations into our bosom, by giving security to property and liberty to its holders.
I have the honor to be, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO EDMUND RANDOLPH, GOVERNOR OF VIRGINIA.
Mount Vernon, 8 January, 1788.
The letter, which you did me the honor of writing to me on the 27th ultimo, with the enclosure,1 came duly to hand. I receive them as a fresh instance of your friendship and attention. For both I thank you.
The diversity of sentiments upon the important matter, which has been submitted to the people, was as much expected as it is regretted by me. The various passions and motives, by which men are influenced, are concomitants of fallibility, engrafted into our nature for the purposes of unerring wisdom; but, had I entertained a latent hope, (at the time you moved to have the constitution submitted to a second convention,) that a more perfect form would be agreed to, in a word, that any constitution would be adopted under the impressions and instructions of the members, the publications, which have taken place since, would have eradicated every form of it. How do the sentiments of the influential characters in this State, who are opposed to the constitution, and have favored the public with their opinions, quadrate with each other? Are they not at variance on some of the most important points? If the opponents in the same State cannot agree in their principles, what prospect is there of a coalescence with the advocates of the measure, when the different views and jarring interests of so wide and extended an empire are to be brought forward and combated?
To my judgment it is more clear than ever, that an attempt to amend the constitution, which is submitted, would be productive of more heat and greater confusion than can well be conceived. There are some things in the new form, I will readily acknowledge, which never did, and I am persuaded never will, obtain my cordial approbation; but I then did conceive, and do now most firmly believe, that in the aggregate it is the best constitution, that can be obtained at this epoch, and that this, or a dissolution of the Union, awaits our choice, and are the only alternatives before us. Thus believing, I had not, nor have I now, any hesitation in deciding on which to lean.
I pray your forgiveness for the expression of these sentiments. In acknowledging the receipt of your letter on this subject, it was hardly to be avoided, although I am well-disposed to let the matter rest entirely on its own merits, and men’s minds to their own workings. With very great esteem and regard I am, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO COLONEL FREDERICK WEISSENFELS.
Mount Vernon, 10 January, 1788.
I have received your letter of the 10th of December. In answer to that, as well as those which you wrote to me in June last, I am sorry to inform you that I cannot, with any propriety, make application to Congress, had [it] the offices to bestow, or any other publick body in your behalf, for an appointment; because it would be acting directly contrary to a resolution which I made, when I quitted the publick service, not to make application for, or interfere with appointments of any kind.
It is a matter of regret as well as surprize that you should apply to me in an affair of this nature, in preference to those persons among whom you live and have been more immediately employ’d, and who must from their long acquaintance with you, have a much better knowledge of your merits and sufferings than I can be supposed to have. If you expect relief from the Cincinnati, it is to the State Society you must look for it, or apply to the General-meeting, when convened, for I cannot, as an individual, transact any business of this kind relating to the Society. I am, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO JAMES MADISON, IN CONGRESS.
Mount Vernon, 10 January, 1788.
My dear Sir,
I stand indebted to you for your favors of the 20th and 26th ultimo, and I believe for that of the 14th also, and their enclosures. It does not appear to me, that there is any certain criterion in this State by which a decided judgment can be formed, as to the opinion entertained by its citizens with respect to the new constitution. My belief on this occasion is that whenever the matter is brought to a final decision, not only a majority, but a large one, will be found in its favor. That the opposition should have gained strength at Richmond, among the members of Assembly, is not, if true, to be wondered at, when we consider that the great adversaries to the constitution are all assembled at that place, acting conjointly, with the promulgated sentiments of Colonel Richard Henry Lee as auxiliary. It is said, however, and I believe it may be depended upon, that the latter, (though he may retain his sentiments,) has withdrawn, or means to withdraw, his opposition; because, as he has expressed himself, or as others have done it for him, he finds himself in bad company such as with M[erce]r, Sm[i]th, &c, &c. His brother, Francis L. Lee, on whose judgment the family place much reliance, is decidedly in favor of the new form, under a conviction, that it is the best that can be obtained, and because it promises energy, stability, and that security, which is, or ought to be, the wish of every good citizen of the Union.
How far the determination of the question before the debating club, (mentioned to you in a former letter,) may be considered as auspicious of the final decision of the convention in this State, I will not prognosticate; but in this club the question, it seems, was determined by a very large majority in favor of the constitution. But of all arguments, that may be used at the convention, which is to be held for it, the most prevailing one I expect will be, that nine States at least will have acceded to it. And if the unanimity or majorities in those which follow, are equal to those which are passed, the force of them will prove irresistible. The governor has given his reasons to the public for withholding his signature; a copy of them I send you.
Our Assembly has been long in session, employed chiefly, as far as I can understand, in rectifying some of the mistakes of the last, and committing new ones for emendations at the next; yet, “Who so wise as we are?” We are held in painful suspense in regard to European matters. War, or peace, seems yet undecided, although the first is loudly talked of. I have no regular correspondent in Massachusetts; otherwise, as an occasional matter, I should have had no objection to the communication of my sentiments to him, as they are unequivocal and decided. I am, &c.
P. S. I have this moment been informed, that the Assembly of North Carolina have postponed the meeting of the convention of that State until July. This seems to be calculated evidently for the purpose of taking the tone from Virginia.1[Back to Table of Contents]
TO CHARLES CARTER.
Mount Vernon, 12 January, 1788.
I find that an extract from my letter to you is running through all the newspapers, and published in that of Baltimore with the addition of my name. Although I have no disinclination to the promulgation of my sentiments on the proposed constitution, (not having concealed them on any occasion,) yet I must nevertheless confess, that it gives me pain to see the hasty and indigested production of a private letter handed to the public, to be animadverted upon by the adversaries of the new government.
Could I have supposed, that the contents of a private letter, (marked with evident haste,) would have composed a newspaper paragraph, I certainly should have taken some pains to dress the sentiments (to whom known is indifferent to me) in less exceptionable language, and would have assigned some reasons in support of my opinion, and the charges against others. I am persuaded your intentions were good; but I am not less persuaded, that you have provided food for strictures and criticisms. Be this however as it may, it shall pass off unnoticed by me, as I have no inclination and still less abilities for scribbling. With very great esteem and regard, I am, &c.1[Back to Table of Contents]
TO JONATHAN TRUMBULL.
Mount Vernon, 5 February, 1788.
My dear Sir,
I thank you for your obliging favor of the 9th ulto. which came duly to hand, and congratulate with you on the adoption of the new Constitution in your State by so decided a majority and so many respectable Characters. I wish for the same good tidings from Massachusetts but the accounts from thence are not so favorable—The decision, it is even said, is problematical, arising, as I believe 9/10ths of the opposition does, from local circumstance and sinister views. The result of the deliberations in that State will have considerable influence on those which are to follow—especially in that of New York where I fancy the opposition to the form will be greatest.1
Altho’ an inhabitant of this State, I cannot speak with decision on the publick sentiment of it with respect to the proposed Constitution—my private opinion however of the matter is, that it will certainly be received, but in this opinion I may be mistaken.—I have not been ten miles from home since my return to it from Philadelphia—I see few who do not live within that circle, except Travellers and strangers and these form opinions upon too slight ground to be relied on. The opponents of the Constitution are indefatigable in fabricating and circulating papers, reports, &c. to its prejudice; whilst the friends generally content themselves with the goodness of the cause and the necessity for its adoption, supposing it wants no other support.
Mrs. Washington, and others of this family with whom you are acquainted (among which is Colo. Humphries) join me in every good wish for you, Mrs. Trumbull and family; and with sentiments of the sincerest regard and friendship, I am, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO JAMES MADISON, IN CONGRESS.
Mount Vernon, 5 February, 1788.
My dear Sir,
I am indebted to you for several of your favors, and thank you for their enclosure. The rumor of war between France and England has subsided, and the poor patriots of Holland, it seems, are left to fight their own battles or negotiate, in either case with no great prospect of advantage. They must have been much deceived, or their conduct has been weak, and precipitate, and absurd. The former, however, I believe is the truth.
I am sorry to find by yours and other accounts from Massachusetts, that the decision of its convention, (at the time of their respective dates,) remained problematical.1 A rejection of the new form by that State would invigorate the opposition, not only in New York, but in all those which are to follow; at the same time this would afford materials for the minority, in such as have actually agreed to it, to blow the trumpet of discord more loudly. The acceptance by a bare majority, though preferable to a rejection, is also to be deprecated. It is scarcely possible to form any decided opinion of the general sentiment of the people of this State on this point. Many have asked me with anxious solicitude if you did not mean to get into the convention, conceiving it of indispensable necessity. Colonel Mason, who returned but yesterday, I am told has offered himself for Stafford county, and his friends say he can be elected not only in that, but in the counties of Prince William and Fauquier also. The truth of this I know not. I rarely go from home, and my visitors, who, for the most part are travellers and strangers, have not the best means of information.
At the time you suggested for my consideration the expediency of a communication of my sentiments to any correspondent I might have in Massachusetts on the proposed constitution, I did not recollect that General Lincoln and myself frequently interchanged letters; much less did I expect, that a hasty and indigested extract [from a letter] of which I had written, intermingled with a variety of other matters, to Colonel Charles Carter in answer to a letter I had received from him, on the subject of some experiments we had made in farming, wolves, wolf-dogs, sheep, and the Lord knows what else, was then in the press, and would bring them to public view by means of the general circulation I find that extract has had. Although I never have concealed, and am perfectly regardless who becomes acquainted with my sentiments with respect to the proposed constitution, yet nevertheless, as no pains have been taken to dress the ideas, nor any reasons assigned in support of opinion, I feel myself hurt by the publication, and informed my friend the Colo. thereof. In answer, he has fully acquitted himself of the intention; but his zeal in the cause prompted him to distribute copies, (under a prohibition, which was disregarded,) that it should not go to the press. As you have seen the crude, or rude extract, as you may please to term it, I will add no more on the subject.
Perceiving that the Federalist, under the signature of Publius, is about to be republished, I would thank you for forwarding to me three or four copies, one of which to be bound, and inform me of the cost. Although we have not had many or deep snows, yet we have since the commencement of it, had a very severe winter, and if this day with you is as much keener than we now feel it, as the difference of latitude ought to make it, you will feel a comfortable fire no bad antidote against cold fingers and toes. I am, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO THE CHEVALIER DE LA LUZERNE.
Mount Vernon, 7 February, 1788.
The Count de Moustier, your successor in office, hath forwarded from New York the letter, in which you did me the honor to bring me acquainted with the merits of that nobleman. Since it is the misfortune of America not to be favored any longer with your residence, it was necessary, to diminish our regrets, that so worthy and respectable a character should be appointed your successor. I shall certainly be happy in cultivating his acquaintance and friendship. The citizens, from gratitude as well as from personal considerations, will, I am persuaded, treat him with the greatest respect. Congress, I doubt not, will by every means in their power desire to make his sojourn in the United States as agreeable as it possibly can be.
But, Sir, you may rest assured that your abilities and dispositions to serve this country were so well understood, and your services so properly appreciated, that the residence of no public minister will ever be longer remembered, or his absence more sincerely regretted. It will not be forgotten, that you were a witness to the dangers, the sufferings, the exertions, and the successes of the United States, from the most perilous crises to the hour of triumph. The influence of your agency on the cabinet to produce a coöperation, and the prowess of your countrymen coöperating with ours in the field to secure the liberties of America, have made such an indelible impression on the public mind, as will never be effaced. Wherever you may be, our best wishes will follow you. And such is our confidence in your disinterested friendship, that we are certain you will wish to be useful to us, in whatever mission you may be honored by your King. It has been surmised, on I know not what authority, that there was a probability of your being employed in the diplomatic corps at the court of London. Should this be the case, your zeal may still find occasions of being serviceable to America, and profitable to your own country at the same time; for I conceive the commercial interests of the two nations are in many instances blended, and in opposition to those of Great Britain. * * *
I feel, Sir, not only for myself, but in behalf of my country, under great obligations for the affectionate wishes you have the goodness to make, with respect to the tranquillity and happiness of America. Separated as we are by a world of water from other nations, if we are wise, we shall surely avoid being drawn into the labyrinth of their politics, and involved in their destructive wars. * * *[Back to Table of Contents]
TO THE MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE.
Mount Vernon, 7 February, 1788.
My dear Marquis,
You know it always gives me the sincerest pleasure to hear from you, and therefore I need only say, that your two kind letters of the 9th and 15th of October, so replete with personal affection and confidential intelligence, afforded me inexpressible satisfaction. I shall myself be happy in forming an acquaintance and cultivating a friendship with the new minister plenipotentiary of France, whom you have commended as a “sensible and honest man.” These are qualities too rare and too precious not to merit one’s particular esteem. You may be persuaded, that he will be well received by the Congress of the United States, because they will not only be influenced in their conduct by his individual merits, but also by their affection for the nation, of whose sovereign he is the representative. For it is an undoubted fact, that the people of America entertain a grateful remembrance of past services, as well as a favorable disposition for commercial and friendly connexions with your nation.1
You appear to be, as might be expected from a real friend to this country, anxiously concerned about its present political situation. So far as I am able, I shall be happy in gratifying that friendly solicitude. As to my sentiments with respect to the merits of the new constitution, I will disclose them without reserve, (although by passing through the post-office they should become known to all the world,) for in truth I have nothing to conceal on that subject. It appears to me, then, little short of a miracle, that the delegates from so many different States (which States you know are also different from each other), in their manners, circumstances, and prejudices, should unite in forming a system of national government, so little liable to well-founded objections. Nor am I yet such an enthusiastic, partial, or undiscriminating admirer of it, as not to perceive it is tinctured with some real (though not radical) defects. The limits of a letter would not suffer me to go fully into an examination of them; nor would the discussion be entertaining or profitable. I therefore forbear to touch upon it. With regard to the two great points, (the pivots upon which the whole machine must move,) my creed is simply,
1st. That the general government is not invested with more powers, than are indispensably necessary to perform the functions of a good government; and consequently, that no objection ought to be made against the quantity of power delegated to it.
2ly. That these powers, (as the appointment of all rulers will for ever arise from, and at short, stated intervals recur to, the free suffrage of the people,) are so distributed among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, into which the general government is arranged, that it can never be in danger of degenerating into a monarchy, an oligarchy, an aristocracy, or any other despotic or oppressive form, so long as there shall remain any virtue in the body of the people.
I would not be understood, my dear Marquis, to speak of consequences, which may be produced in the revolution of ages, by corruption of morals, profligacy of manners, and listlessness for the preservation of the natural and unalienable rights of mankind, nor of the successful usurpations, that may be established at such an unpropitious juncture upon the ruins of liberty, however providently guarded and secured; as these are contingencies against which no human prudence can effectually provide. It will at least be a recommendation to the proposed constitution, that it is provided with more checks and barriers against the introduction of tyranny, and those of a nature less liable to be surmounted, than any government hitherto instituted among mortals hath possessed. We are not to expect perfection in this world; but mankind, in modern times, have apparently made some progress in the science of government. Should that, which is now offered to the people of America, be found on experiment less perfect than it can be made, a constitutional door is left open for its amelioration.
Some respectable characters have wished, that the States, after having pointed out whatever alterations and amendments may be judged necessary, would appoint another federal convention to modify it upon those documents. For myself, I have wondered, that sensible men should not see the impracticability of this scheme. The members would go fortified with such instructions, that nothing but discordant ideas could prevail. Had I but slightly suspected, at the time when the late convention was in session, that another convention would not be likely to agree upon a better form of government, I should now be confirmed in the fixed belief that they would not be able to agree upon any system whatever; so many, I may add, such contradictory and in my opinion unfounded objections have been urged against the system in contemplation, many of which would operate equally against every efficient government that might be proposed. I will only add, as a further opinion founded on the maturest deliberation, that there is no alternative, no hope of alteration, no intermediate resting-place, between the adoption of this, and a recurrence to an unqualified state of anarchy, with all its deplorable consequences.
Since I had the pleasure of writing to you last, no material alteration in the political state of affairs has taken place to change the prospect of the constitution’s being adopted by nine States or more. Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and Connecticut, have already done it. It is also said Georgia has acceded. Massachusetts, which is perhaps thought to be rather more doubtful that when I last addressed you, is now in convention.
A spirit of emigration to the western country is very predominant. Congress have sold, in the year past, a pretty large quantity of land on the Ohio for public securities, and thereby diminished the domestic debt considerably. Many of your military acquaintances, such as the Generals Parsons, Varnum, and Putnam, the Colonels Tupper, Sprout, and Sherman, with many more, propose settling there. From such beginnings much may be expected.
The storm of war between England and your nation, it seems, is dissipated. I hope and trust the political affairs in France are taking a favorable turn. If the Turks will suffer themselves to be precipitated into a war, they must abide the consequences. Some politicians speculate on a triple alliance between the two imperial courts and Versailles.
It gives me great pleasure to learn, that the present ministry of France are friendly to America, and that Mr. Jefferson and yourself have a prospect of accomplishing measures, which will mutually benefit and improve the commercial intercourse between the two nations. Every good wish attend you and yours. I am, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO ALEXANDER SPOTSWOOD.
Mount Vernon, 13 February, 1788.
* * * * * *
I think with you, that the life of a husbandman of all others is the most delectable. It is honorable, it is amusing, and, with judicious management, it is profitable. To see plants rise from the earth and flourish by the superior skill and bounty of the laborer fills a contemplative mind with ideas which are more easy to be conceived than expressed.
I am glad to find, that your first essay to raise Indian corn in drills has succeeded so much to your satisfaction; but I am inclined to think, unless restoratives were more abundant than they are to be found on common farms, that six feet by two will be too oppressive to your land. Experience has proved, that every soil will sink under the growth of this plant; whether from the luxuriancy and exhausting quality of it, or the manner of tillage, or from both, is not very certain; because instead of two thousand four hundred and twenty plants, which stand on an acre at six feet square with two stalks in a hill, (as is usual in land of middling quality,) you have three thousand six hundred and thirty at six feet by two, single stalks. How far the exposing of land to the rays of the sun in summer is injurious, is a question yet more difficult to solve than the other. My own opinion of the matter is that it does; but this controverts the practice of summer fallows, which, (especially in heavy land,) some of the best practical farmers in England contend for as indispensably necessary, notwithstanding the doctrine of Mr. Young and many others, who are opposed to them.
The reason, however, which induced me to give my corn-rows the wide distance of ten feet, was not because I thought it essential to the growth of that plant, but because I introduced other plants between them. And this practice, from the experience of two years, one the wettest, and the other the driest that ever was felt on my estate, I am resolved to continue until the inutility of it, or something more advantageous, shall point out the expediency of a change. But I mean to practise it with variations, fixing on eight by two feet as the medium or standing distance, which will give more plants by three hundred to the acre, than six feet each way with two stalks in a hill will do.
As all my corn will be thus drilled, so between all I mean to put in drills also potatoes, carrots (as far as my seed will go), and turnips, alternately, that not one sort more than another may have the advantage of soil, thereby to ascertain the comparative quantity and value of each of these plants as food for horses and stock of every kind. From the trials I have made, (under the disadvantages already mentioned,) I am well satisfied, that my crop of corn in this way will equal the yield of the same fields in the usual mode of cultivation, and that the quantity of potatoes, proportionate to the number of rows, will quadruple the corn. I entertain the same opinion with respect to carrots; but, being more unlucky in the latter, I cannot speak with so much confidence, and still less can I do it with respect to turnips.
From this husbandry, and statement of what I conceive to be facts, any given number of acres will yield as much corn in the new, as they will in the old way, and will moreover with little or no extra labor produce four times as many potatoes or carrots, which adds considerably to the profit from the field. But here it may be asked, If the land will sustain these crops, or rather the potatoes in addition to the corn? This is a question my own experience does not enable me to answer. The received opinion of many practical farmers in England is, that potatoes and carrots are ameliorators, not exhausters of the soil, preparing it well for other crops. But I do not scruple to confess, that, notwithstanding the profit which appears to result from the growth of corn and potatoes, or corn and carrots, or both thus blended, my wish is to exclude Indian corn altogether from my system of cropping; but we are so habituated to the use of this grain, and it is so much better for negroes than any other, that it is not to be discarded; consequently to introduce it in the most profitable, or least injurious manner, ought to be the next consideration with the farmer.
To do this, some are of opinion that a small spot, set apart solely for the purpose, and kept highly manured, is the best method. And an instance in proof is adduced, of a gentleman near Baltimore, who for many years past from the same ground has not made less than ten barrels to the acre in drills, six feet apart, and, (if I recollect rightly,) eighteen inches in the rows. But query, where the farmer has no other resource than the manure of his own farm, will not his other crops be starved by this extra allowance to the Indian corn? I am inclined to think it will; and for that reason I shall try the intermixture of potatoes, carrots, and turnips, or either, as from practice shall be found most profitable, with my corn, which shall become a component part of some regular and systematic plan best adapted to the nature of my soil.
To societies, which have been formed for the encouragement of agriculture, is the perfection to which husbandry is now arrived in England indebted. Why then does not this country (Virginia I mean) follow so laudable and beneficial an example? And particularly why do not the gentlemen in the vicinity of Fredericksburg begin this work? Your lands are peculiarly well adapted to it. There are more of you in a small circle than I believe is to be found in the same compass almost anywhere; and you are well able to afford experiments; from which, and not from theory, are individuals to derive useful knowledge, and the public a benefit. My love, to which Mrs. Washington’s is joined, is presented to Mrs. Spotswood and I am, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO SAMUEL GRIFFIN.
Mount Vernon, 20 February, 1788.
I have been duly honored and greatly affected with the receipt of the resolution of the visitors and governors of William and Mary College, appointing me chancellor of the same, and have to thank you for your polite attention in the transmission. Not knowing particularly what duties, or whether any active services, are immediately expected from the person holding the office of chancellor, I have been greatly embarrassed in deciding upon the public answer proper to be given. It is for that reason I have chosen to explain in this private communication my situation and feelings, and to defer an ultimate decision until I shall have been favored with farther information on this subject.
My difficulties are briefly these. On the one hand, nothing in this world could be farther from my heart, than a want of respect for the worthy gentlemen in question, or a refusal of the appointment with which they have honored me, provided its duties are not incompatible with the mode of life to which I have entirely addicted myself; and, on the other hand, I would not for any consideration disappoint the just expectations of the convocation by accepting an office, whose functions I previously knew, (from my preëngagements and occupations,) I should be absolutely unable to perform.
Although as I observed before, I know not specifically what those functions are, yet, Sir, I have conceived that a principal duty required of the chancellor might be a regular and indispensable visitation once, or perhaps twice, a year. Should this be expected, I must decline accepting the office. For, notwithstanding I most sincerely and ardently wish to afford whatever little influence I may possess, in patronizing the cause of science, I cannot, at my time of life and in my actual state of retirement, persuade myself to engage in new and extensive avocations.
Such being the sentiments of a heart unaccustomed to disguise, I flatter myself the candid manner in which I have explained them, cannot be displeasing to the convocation; and that the intervening delay between the present, and the moment in which I shall have the pleasure of receiving such ulterior explanations as may enable me to give a definitive answer, will not prove very detrimental to the collegiate interests. I am, &c.1[Back to Table of Contents]
TO BENJAMIN LINCOLN.
Mount Vernon, 28 February, 1788.
My dear Sir,
I have to acknowledge the receipt of your three letters of the 3d, 6th, and 9th instant. The information conveyed by the last was extremely pleasing to me, though I cannot say it was altogether unexpected, as the tenor of your former letters had, in some measure, prepared me for the event; but the conduct of the minority was more satisfactory than could have been expected.1 The full and fair discussion, which you gave the subject in your convention, was attended with the happiest consequences. It afforded complete information to all those, who went thither with dispositions to be informed, and at the same time gave an opportunity to confute and point out the fallacy of those specious arguments, which were offered in opposition to the proposed government. Nor is this all. The conciliating behavior of the minority will strike a damp on the hopes, which opponents in other States might otherwise have formed from the smallness of the majority, and must be greatly influential in obtaining a favorable determination in those States, which have not yet decided upon it.1
These is not perhaps a man in Virginia less qualified than I am to say, from his own knowledge and observation, what will be the fate of the constitution here; for I very seldom ride beyond the limits of my own farms, and am wholly indebted to those gentlemen who visit me for any information of the disposition of the people towards it; but from all I can collect, I have not the smallest doubt of its being accepted.
I thank you, my dear Sir, for the accounts which you have, from time to time, transmitted me since the meeting of your convention. Nothing could have been more grateful or acceptable to me. I am also obliged by your promise to inform me of any important matters, that may transpire; and you know I shall at all times be happy to hear of your welfare. Mrs. Washington joins me in compliments to Mrs. Lincoln and yourself. I am, dear Sir, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO JAMES MADISON, IN CONGRESS.
Mount Vernon, 2 March, 1788.
The decision of Massachusetts, notwithstanding its concomitants,1 is a severe stroke to the opponents of the proposed constitution in this State; and, with the favorable decision of those which have gone before it, and such as are likely to follow after, will have a powerful operation on the minds of men, who are not more influenced by passion, pique, and resentment, than they are by candor, moderation, and judgment. Of the former description, however, I am sorry to say there are too many; and among them some, who would hazard every thing rather than fail in their opposition, or have the sagacity of their prognostications impeached by the issue.
The determination you have come to, will give much pleasure to your friends.1 From those in your county you will learn with more certainty, than from me, the expediency of your attending the election in it. With some, to have differed in sentiment is to have passed the Rubicon of their friendship, although you should go no further; with others, (for the honor of humanity,) I hope there is more liberality. But the consciousness of having discharged that duty, which we owe to our country, is superior to all other considerations, and will put these out of the question.
His Most Christian Majesty speaks and acts in a style not very pleasing to republican ears, or to republican forms; nor do I think it is altogether so to the temper of his own subjects at this day. Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth. The checks he endeavors to give it, however warranted by ancient usage, will more than probably kindle a flame, which may not be easily extinguished though it may be smothered for a while by the armies at his command and the nobility in his interest. When a people are oppressed with taxes, and have a cause to believe that there has been a misapplication of the money, they illy brook the language of despotism. This, and the mortification, which the pride of the nation must have undergone with respect to the affairs of Holland, (if it is fair to judge from appearances,) may be productive of events, which prudence forbids one to mention.
To-morrow the elections for delegates to the State convention begin; and, as they will tread close upon the heels of each other, it will make an interesting and important month. With the most friendly sentiments and affectionate regard, I am. &c.1[Back to Table of Contents]
TO SAMUEL HANSON, ESQ.
Mount Vernon, 18 March, 1788.
Your letter of the 16th Inst. was handed me yesterday in Alexandria as I was going to dinner—previous to that I had seen my nephew George Washington, and asked him if he had heard of any suitable place for himself and Lawrence to board at after their quarter with Mr. McWhir expired; he told me that it was probable a place might be obtained at a Mrs. Sandford’s;—I desired him to inform himself of the terms, &c. and let me know them; as I had not an opportunity of seeing him again before I left town to know the result of his enquiries, it is not at this moment, in my power to give a decided answer to your offer of taking them again into your family.
Your candid and free communications respecting the conduct of my Nephews, while with you, meet my warmest approbation and deserve my best thanks, and I should think myself inexcusable, if, upon this occasion, I did not act a part equally open and candid, by informing you of general allegations which they have, from time to time, offered on their part, viz: They having been frequently detained from school in the morning beyond their proper hour, in consequence of not having their breakfast seasonably provided, and sometimes obliged to go to school without any.—They have likewise complained of their not being permitted to dine with company at the House, and served indifferently in another place afterwards, and, after being a short time with Mr. McWhir, they made application for shirts, and upon being asked what they had done with those which were made for them not long before, they replied that the manner of washing them at Mr. Hanson’s (in Lye without soap) had entirely destroyed them.
This communication, Sir, cannot, I think, be displeasing to a person of your candor.—I do not state the above as facts but merely as the reports of the boys, and if they should live with you again it will undoubtedly have a good effect by shewing them that their reports will always be made known to you, and the truth or falsehood of them discovered.
The motive which first induced me to put the Boys with you, explained upon a former occasion, together with the advantage of throwing them into company, will still operate, and incline me to give a preference to your House upon terms nearly equal in other respects but I cannot decide upon the matter till I know the result of George’s enquiries, and so soon as I do, you may depend upon hearing further from Sir, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO THE COUNT DE MOUSTIER.
Mount Vernon, 26 March, 1788.
I have received the letter, which your Excellency did me the honor of addressing to me by the hand of Mr. Madison. While I am highly gratified with the justice you do me in appreciating the friendly sentiments I entertain for the French nation, I cannot avoid being equally astonished and mortified in learning, that you have met with any subject of discontent or inquietude since your arrival in America.1 Be assured, Sir, as nothing could have been more unexpected, so nothing can now give me greater pleasure, than to be instrumental in removing, as far as may be in the power of a private citizen as I am, every occasion of uneasiness that may have occurred. I have even hoped, from the short time of your residence here, and the partial acquaintance you may have had with the characters of the persons, that a natural distance in behavior and reserve in address may have appeared as intentional coldness and neglect. I am sensible that the apology itself, though it should be well founded, would be but an indifferent one, yet it will be better than none, while it served to prove, that it is our misfortune not to have the same cheerfulness in appearance and facility in deportment, which some nations possess, and this I believe in a certain degree to be the real fact; and that such a reception is sometimes given by individuals, as may affect a foreigner with very disagreeable sensations, when not the least shadow of an affront is intended.
As I know the predilections of most of our leading characters for your nation; as I had seen the clearest proofs of affection for your King given by the people of this country, on the birth of the Dauphin; as I had heard before the receipt of your letter, that you had been received at your public audience by Congress with all the marks of attention, which had ever been bestowed upon a representative of any sovereign power; and as I found that your personal character stood in the fairest point of light; I must confess I could not have conceived, that there was one person in public office in the United states capable of having treated with indifference, much less with indignity, the representative from a court, with which we have ever been upon the most friendly terms. And confident I am, that it is only necessary for such conduct to be known to be detested.
But in the mean [time,] so ardently do I wish to efface any ill impressions, which may have been made upon your Excellency’s mind to the prejudice of the public by individuals, that I must again repeat, that I am egregiously deceived if the people of this country are not in general extremely well effected to France. The prejudices against that kingdom had been so riveted by our English connexion and English policy, that it was some time before our people could get entirely the better of them. This, however, was thoroughly accomplished in the course of the war. And I may venture to say, that a greater revolution never took place in the sentiments of our people respecting another. Now, as none of their former attachments have been revived for Britain, and as no subject of uneasiness has turned up with respect to France, any disgust or enmity to the latter would involve a mystery beyond my comprehension. For I had always believed, that some apparent cause, powerful in its nature and progressive in its operation, must be employed to produce a change in national sentiments. But no prejudice has been revived, no jealousy excited (to my knowledge,) which could have wrought a revolution unfriendly to your nation. If one or a few persons in New York have given a different specimen of thinking and acting, I rely too much upon your candor to apprehend, that you will impute it to the American people at large.
I am happy to learn, that your Excellency is meditating to strengthen the commercial ties that connect the two nations, and that your ideas of effecting it, by placing the arrangement upon the basis of mutual advantages, coincide exactly with my own. Treaties, which are not built upon reciprocal benefits, are not likely to be of long duration. Warmly as I wish to second your views, it is a subject of regret, that my little acquaintance with commercial affairs, and my seclusion from public life, have not put me in a state of preparation to answer your several questions with accuracy. I will endeavor to inform myself of the most interesting particulars, and shall take a pleasure in communicating the result.
At present I can only remark, that I think the taste for many articles of French merchandise is rather increasing. Still there are three circumstances, which are thought to give the British merchant an advantage over all others.
1st. Their extensive credit, which, I confess, I wish to see abolished.
2d. Their having in one place magazines containing all kinds of articles, that can be required.
3d. Their knowledge of the precise kinds of merchandise and fabrics which are wanted.
For my own part I could wish to see the time when no credit should be given. Attention and experience in the American trade would enable the French merchants, I apprehend, to accommodate our markets in other respects. Between this country and England many causes of irritation exist, and it is not impossible but that the ill policy of the British court may accelerate the removal of our trade into other channels. I am, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO HENRY KNOX.
Mount Vernon, 30 March, 1788.
My dear Sir,
Your favor of the 10th came duly to hand, and by Mr. Madison I had the pleasure to hear that you had recovered from a severe illness. On this event I sincerely congratulate you. The conduct of the State of New Hampshire has baffled all calculation, and has come extremely malapropos for a favorable decision on the proposed constitution in this State; for, be the real cause of the late adjournment what it may, the anti-federal party with us do not scruple to pronounce, that it was done to await the issue of this convention before it would decide, and add, that, if this State should reject it, all those who are to follow will do the same, and consequently that it cannot obtain, as there will be only eight States in favor of the measure.1
Had it not been for this untoward event, the opposition would have proved entirely unavailing in this State, notwithstanding the unfair (I might without much impropriety have made use of a harsher expression) conduct, which has been practised to rouse the fears and to inflame the minds of the people. What will be the result now, is not for me to say, as I have seen but a partial return of the delegates, and have little or no knowledge of the political sentiments of many of them. In the northern part of the State the current of sentiment, (I know,) is generally in favor of the new form. In the southern part, I am told, it is the reverse. Whilst in deciding the question, and here the idea of its becoming an impediment to its separation from this, operates thoroughly, whilst pains have not been wanting to inculcate a belief, that the general government proposed will, without scruple or delay, barter away their rights to navigation of the Mississippi.1
The postponement in New Hampshire will give strength and vigor to the opposition in New York, and possibly render Rhode Island more tardy than she would otherwise have been, if all the New England States had adopted the measure. Mrs. Washington joins in every good wish for Mrs Knox, yourself & family, &c. I am, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO CHARLES LEE.
Mount Vernon, 4 April, 1788.
I am very sorry I have not yet been able to discharge my account with the James River Company, for the amount of which you presented me with an order.
The almost total loss of my crop last year by the drought, which has obliged me to purchase upwards of eight hundred barrels of corn, and my other numerous and necessary demands for cash, when I find it impossible to obtain what is due to me by any means, have caused me more perplexity and given me more uneasiness than I ever experienced before from the want of money. In addition to the disappointments, which I have met with from those who are indebted to me, I have in my hands a number of indents and other public securities, which I have received from time to time as the interest of some Continental loan-office certificates, which are in my possession. As I am so little conversant in public securities of every kind, as not to know the use or value of them, and hardly the difference of one species from another, I have kept them by me from year to year without having an idea that they would depreciate, as they were drawn for interest, and never doubting but they would be received in payment of taxes at any time, till I have found by the revenue law of the last session, that only a particular description of them will pay the taxes of the year 1787. The others pay all arrearages of taxes, and I am informed are not worth more than two shillings and sixpence in the pound. The injustice of this measure is too obvious and too glaring to pass unobserved. It is taxing the honest man for his punctuality, and rewarding the tardy or dishonest with the sum of seventeen shillings and sixpence in every pound which is due from him for taxes. As you are now in Richmond I take the liberty of enclosing to you (in a letter from Mr. Pendleton) a certificate for a negro executed in the year 1781, amounting to £69, which I will thank you to negotiate for me there upon the best terms you can and pay the proceeds thereof in behalf of what is due from me to the James River Company.—The principal for the negro, and three years interest thereon (which is all that was allowed) amounted to £133, which was divided into two certificates, one receivable in the taxes now due, which I retain to discharge part of my taxes for the year 1787, and the other you have with this. Upon what principle of justice interest is allowed on the above certificates from the 1st of Jany, 1785 only my ideas are not sufficiently comprehensive to understand, and if it should fall in your way to inquire, should be glad to know; as also what will or is likely to be the final result of my holding the certificates, which have been given to me for interest of the money I lent the public in the day of its distress. I am well apprized, that these are negotiable things as above, and when a person is obliged to part with them, he must, as with other commodities at market, take what they will fetch; but the object of my inquiry is to know what the final end of them will be if retained in my chest. Strange indeed it seems, that the public officers should take in the original certificates, issued new by a scale of their own, reducing the money, as they say, to specie value, give warrants for interest accordingly, and then, behold! these specie warrants are worth two shillings and sixpence in the pound. To commit them to the flames, or suffer this, is a matter of indifference to me. There can be no justice, where there are such practices. You will pardon me for dwelling so long upon this subject. It is a matter, which does not concern me alone, but must affect many others. With great esteem and regard, I am, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO JAMES WILSON.
Mount Vernon, 4 April, 1788.
You will please to accept of my best thanks for the copy of the debates of your late convention,1 which you have been so polite as to send me. That, together with your favor of the 11th ultimo, was handed to me by Mr. Madison. The violent proceedings of the enemies of the proposed constitution in your State are to be regretted, as disturbing the peace of society; but in any other point of view they are not to be regarded, for their unimportance effectually precludes any fear of their having an extensive or lasting influence, and their activity holds up to view the general cast and character of them, which need only to be seen to be disregarded.
It is impossible to say, with any degree of certainty, what will be the determination of the convention in this State upon the proposed plan of government. I have no opportunity of gaining information respecting the matter, but what comes through the medium of the newspapers, or from those gentlemen who visit me, as I have hardly been ten miles from my farm since my return from Philadelphia. Some judgment may be formed when the members chosen by the several counties to serve in convention are known; as their sentiments will be decided, and their choice determined, by their attachment or opposition to the proposed system. A majority of those names I have yet seen are said to be friendly to the constitution; but these are from the northern parts of the State, from whence less opposition was to be expected. It is, however, certain, that there will be a greater weight of abilities opposed to it here than in any other State. I am, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO THOMAS JOHNSON.
Mount Vernon, 20 April, 1788.
As well from report, as from the ideas expressed to me in your letter in December last, I am led to conclude, that you are disposed, (circumstanced as our public affairs are at present,) to ratify the constitution, which has been submitted to the people by the federal convention; and, under this impression, I take the liberty of expressing a single sentiment on the occasion. It is, that an adjournment, if attempted, of your convention,1 to a later period than the decision of the question in this State, will be tantamount to the rejection of the constitution. I have good reasons for this opinion, and am told it is the blow which the leading characters of the opposition in the next State have meditated,2 if it shall be found that a direct attack is not likely to succeed in yours. If this be true it cannot be too much deprecated and guarded against. The postponement in New Hampshire, (although it made no reference to the convention of this State, but proceeded altogether from the local circumstances of its own,) is ascribed by the opposition here to complaisance towards Virginia, and great use is made of it. An event similar to this in Maryland would have the worst tendency imaginable; for indecision there would certainly have considerable influence upon South Carolina, the only other State, which is to precede Virginia, and submits the question almost wholly to the determination of the latter. The pride of the State is already touched upon this string, and will be raised much higher if there is fresh cause.
The sentiments of Kentucky are not yet known here. Independent of these, the parties in this State, from the known or presumed opinions of the members, are pretty equally balanced. The one in favor of the constitution preponderates at present; but a little matter, cast into the opposite scale, may make it heaviest.
If, in suggesting this matter, I have exceeded the proper limit, I shall yet hope to be excused. I have but one public wish remaining. It is, that in peace and retirement I may see this country rescued from the danger which is pending, and rise into respectability, maugre the intrigues of its public and private enemies.
I am, with very great esteem and regard, &c.1[Back to Table of Contents]
TO THE MARQUIS DE CHASTELLUX.
Mount Vernon, 25 April, 1788.
My dear Marquis,
In reading your very friendly and acceptable letter, of 21st Decr., 1787, which came to hand by the last mail, I was, as you may well suppose, not less delighted than surprised to meet the plain American words, “my wife.” A wife! Well, my dear Marquis, I can hardly refrain from smiling to find you are caught at last. I saw, by the eulogium you often made on the happiness of domestic life in America, that you had swallowed the bait, and that you would as surely be taken, one day or another, as that you were a philosopher and a soldier. So your day has at length come. I am glad of it, with all my heart and soul. It is quite good enough for you. Now you are well served for coming to fight in favor of the American rebels, all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, by catching that terrible contagion—domestic felicity—which time, like the small pox or the plague, a man can have only once in his life: because it commonly lasts him (at least with us in America—I dont know how you manage these matters in France) for his whole life time. And yet after all the maledictions you so richly merit on the subject, the worst wish which I can find in my heart to make against Madame de Chastellux and yourself is, that you may neither of you ever get the better of this same—domestic felicity during the entire course of your mortal existence.
If so wonderful an event should have occasioned me, my dear Marquis, to have written in a strange style—you will understand me as clearly as if I had said (what in plain English, is the simple truth) do me the justice to believe that I take a heartfelt interest in whatever concerns your happiness. And in this view I sincerely congratulate you on your auspicious matrimonial connection. I am happy to find that Madame de Chastellux is so intimately connected with the Dutchess of Orleans, as I have always understood that this noble lady was an illustrious pattern of connubial love, as well as an excellent model of virtue in general.
While you have been making love, under the banner of Hymen, the great Personages in the North have been making war, under the inspiration, or rather under the infatuation of Mars. Now, for my part, I humbly conceive, you have had much the best and wisest of the bargain. For certainly it is more consonant to all the principles of reason and religion (natural and revealed) to replenish the earth with inhabitants, rather than to depopulate it by killing those already in existence, besides it is time for the age of knight-errantry and mad-heroism to be at an end. Your young military men, who want to reap the harvest of laurels, don’t care (I suppose) how many seeds of war are sown; but for the sake of humanity it is devoutly to be wished, that the manly employment of agriculture, and the humanizing benefits of commerce, would supersede the waste of war and the rage of conquest; and the swords might be turned into ploughshares, the spears into pruninghooks, and, as the Scripture expresses it, “the nations learn war no more.”
Now I will give you a little news from this side of the water, and then finish. As for us, we are plodding on in the dull road of peace and politics. We, who live in these ends of the earth, only hear of the rumors of war like the roar of distant thunder. It is to be hoped, that our remote local situation will prevent us from being swept into its vortex.
The constitution, which was proposed by the federal convention, has been adopted by the States of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Georgia. No State has rejected it. The convention of Maryland is now sitting, and will probably adopt it; as that of South Carolina is expected to do in May. The other conventions will assemble early in the summer. Hitherto there has been much greater unanimity in favor of the proposed government, than could have reasonably been expected. Should it be adopted, (and I think it will be,) America will lift up her head again, and in a few years become respectable among the nations. It is a flattering and consolatory reflection, that our rising republics have the good wishes of all the philosophers, patriots, and virtuous men in all nations; and that they look upon them as a kind of asylum for mankind. God grant that we may not disappoint their honest expectations by our folly or perverseness. * * *
With sentiments of the purest attachment and esteem, I have the honor to be, my dear Marquis, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO JOHN ARMSTRONG.
Mount Vernon, 25 April, 1788.
From some cause or other, which I do not know, your favor of the 20th of February did not reach me till very lately. This must apologize for its not being sooner acknowledged. Although Colonel Blaine forgot to call upon me for a letter before he left Philadelphia, yet I wrote a few lines to you previous to my departure from that place; whether they ever got to your hands, you best know.
I well remember the observation you made in your letter to me of last year, “that my domestic retirement must suffer an interruption.” This took place, notwithstanding it was utterly repugnant to my feelings, my interests, and my wishes. I sacrificed every private consideration, and personal enjoyment, to the earnest and pressing solicitations of those, who saw and knew the alarming situation of our public concerns, and had no other end in view but to promote the interests of their country; conceiving, that under those circumstances, and at so critical a moment, an absolute refusal to act might on my part be construed as a total disregard of my country, if imputed to no worse motives. Although you say the same motives induce you to think, that another tour of duty of this kind will fall to my lot, I cannot but hope, that you will be disappointed; for I am so wedded to a state of retirement, and find the occupations of a rural life so congenial with my feelings, that to be drawn into public at my advanced age would be a sacrifice, that would admit of no compensation.1
Your remarks on the impressions, which will be made on the manners and sentiments of the people by the example of those, who are first called to act under the proposed government, are very just; and I have no doubt but, if the proposed constitution obtains those persons who are chosen to administer it will have wisdom enough to discern the influence, which their example as rulers and legislators may have on the body of the people, and will have virtue enough to pursue that line of conduct, which will most conduce to the happiness of their country. As the first transactions of a nation, like those of an individual upon his first entrance into life, make the deepest impression, and are to form the leading traits in his character, they will undoubtedly pursue those measures, which will best tend to the restoration of public and private faith, and of consequence promote our national respectability and individual welfare.
That the proposed constitution will admit of amendments is acknowledged by its warmest advocates; but to make such amendments as may be proposed by the several States the condition of its adoption would, in my opinion, amount to a complete rejection of it; for, upon examination of the objections, which are made by the opponents in different States, and the amendments, which have been proposed, it will be found, that what would be a favorite object with one State, is the very thing which is strenuously opposed by another. The truth is, men are too apt to be swayed by local prejudices, and those, who are so fond of amendments, which have the particular interest of their own States in view, cannot extend their ideas to the general welfare of the Union. They do not consider, that, for every sacrifice which they make, they receive an ample compensation by the sacrifices, which are made by other States for their benefit; and that those very things, which they give up, operate to their advantage through the medium of the great interest.
In addition to these considerations it should be remembered, that a constitutional door is opened for such amendments, as shall be thought necessary by nine States. When I reflect upon these circumstances, I am surprised to find, that any person, who is acquainted with the critical state of our public affairs, and knows the variety of views, interests, feelings, and prejudices, which must be consulted in framing a general government for these States, and how little propositions in themselves so opposite to each other will tend to promote that desirable end, can wish to make amendments the ultimatum for adopting the offered system.
I am very glad to find, that the opposition in your State, however formidable it has been represented, is generally speaking composed of such characters, as cannot have an extensive influence. Their strength, as well as that of those in the same class in other States, seems to lie in misrepresentation, and a desire to inflame the passions and to alarm the fears by noisy declamation, rather than to convince the understanding by sound arguments or fair and impartial statements. Baffled in their attacks upon the constitution, they have attempted to vilify and debase the characters, who formed it; but even here I trust they will not succeed. Upon the whole, I doubt whether the opposition to the constitution will not ultimately be productive of more good than evil. It has called forth in its defence abilities which would not perhaps have been otherwise expected that have thrown new light upon the science of government. It has given the rights of man a full and fair discussion, and explained them in so clear and forcible a manner, as cannot fail to make a lasting impression upon those, who read the best publications on the subject, and particularly the pieces under the signature of Publius. There will be a greater weight of abilities opposed to the system in the convention of this State, than there has been in any other; but, notwithstanding the unwearied pains which have been taken, and the vigorous efforts which will be made in the convention to prevent its adoption, I have not the smallest doubt but it will obtain here.
I am sorry to hear, that the college in your neighborhood1 is in so declining a state as you represent it, and that it is likely to suffer a further injury by the loss of Dr. Nisbet, whom you are afraid you shall not be able to support in a proper manner, on account of the scarcity of cash, which prevents parents from sending their children thither. This is one of the numerous evils, which arise from the want of a general regulating power; for in a country like this, where equal liberty is enjoyed, where every man may reap his own harvest, which by proper attention will afford him much more than is necessary for his own consumption, and where there is so ample a field for every mercantile and mechanical exertion, if there cannot be money found to answer the common purposes of education, not to mention the necessary commercial circulation, it is evident that there is something amiss in the ruling political power, which requires a steady, regulating, and energetic hand to correct and control it. That money is not to be had, every man’s experience tells him, and the great fall in the price of property is an unequivocal and melancholy proof of it; when, if that property were well secured, faith and justice well preserved, a stable government well administered, and confidence restored, the tide of population and wealth would flow to us from every part of the globe, and, with a due sense of the blessings, make us the happiest people upon earth. With sentiments of very great esteem and regard, I am, my dear Sir, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO THE MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE.
Mount Vernon, 28 April, 1788.
* * * * * *
I notice with pleasure the additional immunities and facilities in trade, which France has granted by the late royal arret to the United States. I flatter myself it will have the desired effect in some measure of augmenting the commercial intercourse. From the productions and wants of the two countries, their trade with each other is certainly capable of great amelioration to be actuated by a spirit of unwise policy. For so surely as ever we shall have an efficient government established, so surely will that government impose retaliating restrictions, to a certain degree, upon the trade of Britain. At present, or under our existing form of confederation, it would be idle to think of making commercial regulations on our part. One State passes a prohibitory law respecting some article, another State opens wide the avenue for its admission. One Assembly makes a system, another Assembly unmakes it. Virginia, in the very last session of her legislature, was about to have passed some of the most extravagant and preposterous edicts on the subject of trade, that ever stained the leaves of a legislative code. It is in vain to hope for a remedy of these, and innumerable other evils, until a general government shall be adopted.
The conventions of six States only have as yet accepted the new constitution. No one has rejected it. It is believed that the convention of Maryland, which is now in session, and that of South Carolina, which is to assemble on the 12th of May, will certainly adopt it. It is also since the elections of members of the convention have taken place in this State, more generally believed, that it will be adopted here, than it was before those elections were made. There will, however, be powerful and eloquent speeches on both sides of the question in the Virginia convention; but as Pendleton, Wythe, Blair, Madison, Jones,1 Nicholas, Innes, and many other of our first characters, will be advocates for its adoption, you may suppose the weight of abilities will rest on that side. Henry and Mason are its great adversaries.2 The governor, if he approves it at all, will do it feebly.
On the general merits of this proposed constitution, I wrote to you some time ago my sentiments pretty freely. That letter had not been received by you, when you addressed to me the last of yours, which has come to my hands. I had never supposed that perfection could be the result of accommodation and mutual concession. The opinion of Mr. Jefferson and yourself is certainly a wise one, that the constitution ought by all means to be accepted by nine States before any attempt should be made to procure amendments; for, if that acceptance shall not previously take place, men’s minds will be so much agitated and soured, that the danger will be greater than ever of our becoming a disunited people. Whereas, on the other hand, with prudence in temper and a spirit of moderation, every essential alteration may in the process of time be expected.
You will doubtless have seen, that it was owing to this conciliatory and patriotic principle, that the convention of Massachusetts adopted the constitution in toto, but recommended a number of specific alterations, and quieting explanations as an early, serious, and unremitting subject of attention. Now, although it is not to be expected, that every individual in society will or can be brought to agree upon what is exactly the best form of government, yet there are many things in the constitution, which only need to be explained, in order to prove equally satisfactory to all parties. For example, there was not a member of the convention, I believe, who had the least objection to what is contended for by the advocates for a Bill of Rights and Trial by Jury. The first, where the people evidently retained every thing, which they did not in the express terms give up, was considered nugatory, as you will find to have been more fully explained by Mr. Wilson and others; and, as to the second, it was only the difficulty of establishing a mode, which should not interfere with the fixed modes of any of the States, that induced the convention to leave it as a matter of future adjustment.
There are other points in which opinions would be more likely to vary. As for instance, on the ineligibility of the same person for president, after he should have served a certain course of years. Guarded so effectually as the proposed constitution is, in respect to the prevention of bribery and undue influence in the choice of president, I confess I differ widely myself from Mr. Jefferson and you, as to the necessity or expediency of rotation in that appointment. The matter was fairly discussed in the convention, and to my full conviction, though I cannot have time or room to sum up the argument in this letter. There cannot in my judgment be the least danger, that the president will by any practicable intrigue ever be able to continue himself one moment in office, much less perpetuate himself in it, but in the last stage of corrupted morals and political depravity; and even then, there is as much danger that any other species of domination would prevail. Though, when a people shall have become incapable of governing themselves, and fit for a master, it is of little consequence from what quarter he comes. Under an extended view of this part of the subject, I can see no propriety in precluding ourselves from the services of any man, who on some great emergency shall be deemed universally most capable of serving the public.1
In answer to the observations you make on the probability of my election to the presidency, knowing me as you do, I need only say, that it has no enticing charms and no fascinating allurements for me. However, it might not be decent for me to say I would refuse to accept, or even to speak much about an appointment, which may never take place; for, in so doing, one might possibly incur the application of the moral resulting from that fable, in which the fox is represented as inveighing against the sourness of the grapes, because he could not reach them. All that it will be necessary to add, my dear Marquis, in order to show my decided predilections is, that, (at my time of life and under my circumstances,) the increasing infirmities of nature and the growing love of retirement do not permit me to entertain a wish beyond that of living and dying an honest man on my own farm. Let those follow the pursuits of ambition and fame, who have a keener relish for them, or who may have more years in store for the enjoyment.
Mrs. Washington, while she requests that her best compliments may be presented to you, joins with me in soliciting that the same friendly and affectionate memorial of our constant remembrance and good wishes may be made acceptable to Madame de Lafayette and the little ones. I am, &c.
P. S. May 1st. Since writing the foregoing letter, I have received authentic accounts that the Convention of Maryland has ratified the new Constitution by a majority of 63 to 11.1[Back to Table of Contents]
TO THE COUNT DE ROCHAMBEAU.
Mount Vernon, 28 April, 1788.
My dear Count,
I have just received the letter, which you did me the honor to write to me on the 18th of January; and am sorry to learn, that the Count de Grasse, our gallant coadjutor in the capture of Cornwallis, is no more. Yet his death is not, perhaps, so much to be deplored as his latter days were to be pitied. It seemed as if an unfortunate and unrelenting destiny pursued him, to destroy the enjoyment of all earthly comfort. The disastrous battle of the 12th of April, the loss of the favor of his King, and the subsequent connexion in marriage with an unworthy woman, were sufficient to have made him weary of the burden of life. Your goodness in endeavoring to sweeten its passage was truly commendable, however it might have been marred by his own impetuosity. But his frailties should now be buried in the grave with him, while his name will be long deservedly dear to his country, on account of his successful coöperation in the glorious campaign of 1781. The Cincinnati in some of the States have gone into mourning for him.
Although your nation and England have avoided from prudential motives, going into a war, yet I fancy their affections have not been much increased by the affair in Holland. The feeling occasioned to France, by the interference of Prussia and Britain, may not pass away altogether without consequences. I wish indeed the affairs of France to be on a footing, which would enable her to be the arbiter of peace to the neighboring nations. The poor Dutch patriots seem, by some means or other, to have been left sadly in the lurch, and to be reduced to a most humiliating condition. And as if the two powers, who reinstated the Stadtholder, had not done enough to set the middle nations together by the ears, they have embroiled forsooth all the north of Europe by bringing the Turks into hostility with the two imperial courts. Should France join with the latter, or even should she continue neuter, I can scarcely conceive that the Ottoman, will be permitted to hold any of their possessions in Europe. The torch of hostility being once kindled, commonly spreads apace; but it is beyond my prescience to foretell how far this flame will extend itself, before it shall be entirely extinguished. * * *[Back to Table of Contents]
TO BENJAMIN LINCOLN.
Mount Vernon, 2 May, 1788.
My dear Sir,
I have now to acknowledge the receipt of your favor of the 29th of March, which should have been done at an earlier period, had any thing transpired in these parts that was worth communicating.
I can now with pleasure inform you, that the State of Maryland adopted the proposed constitution last Monday by a very great majority. This you will undoubtedly have announced by the public papers before this letter reaches you; but that State will not receive the sole benefit of its adoption; it will have a very considerable influence upon the decision in Virginia, for it has been strongly insisted upon by the opponents in the lower and back counties in this State, that Maryland would reject it by a large majority. The result being found so directly opposite to this assertion will operate very powerfully upon the sentiments of many, who were before undecided, and will tend to fix them in favor of the constitution. It will, if I am not misinformed, have this effect upon many, who are chosen to the convention, and who have depended in a great measure upon the determination of Maryland to confirm their opinion. But exclusive of this influence the most accurate returns of the members of the convention, with their sentiments so far as they were known, annexed, gave a decided majority in favor of the constitution, and the prevailing opinion is, that it gains advocates daily. I never have, for my own part, once doubted of its adoption here; and, if I have at any time been wavering in my opinion, the present appearances and concurrent information would have completely fixed it.1
I am very sorry to find by your letter, that there is so much of the spirit of insurrection yet remaining in your State, and that it discovered itself so strongly in your Assembly; but I hope the influence of those gentlemen, who are friendly to the proposed constitution, and the conciliatory disposition, which was shown by many of the minority in your convention, will so far pervade the States as to prevent that factious spirit from gaining ground. * * * With sentiments of the highest esteem and regard, I am, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO GEORGE STEPTOE WASHINGTON.1
Mount Vernon, 5 May, 1788.
I yesterday received a letter from Mr. Hanson, informing me that you slept from home three nights successively, and one contrary to his express prohibition. Complaints of this nature are extremely painful to me, as it discovers a degree of impropriety in your conduct, which at your time of life, your good sense and discretion ought to point out to you, and lead you to avoid. Although there is nothing criminal in your having slept with a companion of good manners and reputation, as you say you have, yet your absenting yourself from your own lodgings under that pretence may be productive of irregularities and disagreeable consequences; and I now insist upon it in the most pointed terms, that you do not repeat it without the consent and approbation of Mr. Hanson.
One strong motive for my placing you in your present lodgings was, that you might, in your conduct out of school, be guided by Mr. Hanson’s advice and directions, as I confide very much in his discretion, and think that he would require nothing of you but what will conduce to your advantage; and, at the age to which you have now arrived, you must be capable of distinguishing between a proper and improper line of conduct, and be sensible of the advantages or disadvantages which will result to you through life from the one or the other.
Your future character and reputation will depend very much, if not entirely, upon the habits and manners, which you contract in the present period of your life. They will make an impression upon you, which can never be effaced. You should therefore be extremely cautious how you put yourself into the way of imbibing those customs, which may tend to corrupt your manners or vitiate your heart. I do not write to you in this style from knowing or suspecting that you are addicted to any vice, but only to guard you against pursuing a line of conduct, which may imperceptibly lead on to vicious courses. Mr. Hanson has done you and Lawrence justice in saying, that your behavior since you have been last with him has been unexceptionable except in this instance, and one more which he has not mentioned; and I hope this is the last complaint I shall ever hear, while you remain in your present situation at least, as it will prevent me from using means to regulate your behavior, which will be disagreeable to us both. I am your sincere friend and affectionate uncle.1[Back to Table of Contents]
TO THE MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE.
Mount Vernon, 28 May, 1788.
My dear Marquis,
I have lately had the pleasure to receive the two letters by which you introduced to my acquaintance M. Du Pont and M. Vanderkemp and altho’ those gentlemen have not as yet been to visit me, you may be persuaded that whensoever I shall have the satisfaction of receiving them, it will be with all that attention to which their merits and your recommendations entitle them.
Notwithstanding you are acquainted with Mr. Barlow in person, and with his works by reputation, I thought I would just write you a line by him, in order to recommend him the more particularly to your civilities. Mr. Barlow is considered by those who are good Judges to be a genius of the first magnitude; and to be one of those Bards who hold the keys of the gate by which Patriots, Sages and Heroes are admitted to immortality. Such are your Antient Bards who are both the priest and door-keepers to the temple of fame. And these, my dear Marquis, are no vulgar functions. Men of real talents in Arms have commonly approved themselves patrons of the liberal arts and friends to the poets, of their own as well as former times. In some instances by acting reciprocally, heroes have made poets, and poets heroes. Alexander the Great is said to have been enraptured with the Poems of Homer, and to have lamented that he had not a rival muse to celebrate his actions. Julius Cæsar is well known to have been a man of a highly cultivated understanding and taste. Augustus was the professed and magnificent rewarder of poetical merit—nor did he lose the return of having his atcheivments immortalized in song. The Augustan Age is proverbial for intellectual refinement and elegance in composition; in it the harvest of laurels and bays was wonderfully mingled together. The age of your Louis the fourteenth, which produced a multitude of great Poets and great Captains, will never be forgotten; nor will that of Queen Ann in England, for the same cause, ever cease to reflect a lustre upon the kingdom. Although we are yet in our cradle, as a nation, I think the efforts of the human mind with us are sufficient to refute (by incontestable facts) the doctrines of those who have asserted that every thing degenerates in America. Perhaps we shall be found at this moment, not inferior to the rest of the world in the performances of our poets and painters; notwithstanding many of the incitements are wanting which operate powerfully among older nations. For it is generally understood, that excellence in those sister Arts has been the result of easy circumstances, public encouragements and an advanced stage of society. I observe that the Critics in England, who speak highly of the American poetical geniuses (and their praises may be the more relied upon as they seem to be reluctantly extorted,) are not pleased with the tribute of applause which is paid to your nation. It is a reason why they should be the more caressed by your nation. I hardly know how it is that I am drawn thus far in observations on a subject so foreign from those in which we are mostly engaged, farming and politics, unless because I had little news to tell you.
Since I had the pleasure of writing to you by the last Packet, the Convention of Maryland has ratified the federal Constitution by a majority of 63 to 11 voices. That makes the seventh State which has adopted it. Next Monday the Convention in Virginia will assemble—we have still good hopes of its adoption here, though by no great plurality of votes. South Carolina has probably decided favorably before this time. The plot thickens fast. A few short weeks will determine the political fate of America for the present generation, and probably produce no small influence on the happiness of society through a long succession of ages to come. Should every thing proceed with harmony and consent according to our actual wishes and expectations, I will confess to you sincerely, my dear Marquis, it will be so much beyond any thing we had a right to imagine or expect eighteen months ago, that it will demonstrate as visibly the finger of Providence, as any possible event in the course of human affairs can ever designate it. It is impracticable for you or any one who has not been on the spot, to realise the change in men’s minds and the progress towards rectitude in thinking and acting which will then have been made.
Adieu, my dear Marquis, I hope your affairs in France will subside into a prosperous train without coming to any violent crisis. Continue to cherish your affectionate feelings for this country and the same portion of friendship for me, which you are ever sure of holding in the heart of your most sincere, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO JAMES MADISON.
Mount Vernon, 8 June, 1788.
My Dear Sir,
I am much obliged by the few lines you wrote to me on the 4th; and though it is yet too soon to rejoice, one cannot avoid being pleased at the auspicious opening of the business of your convention.1 Though an ulterior opinion of the decision of this State on the constitution would, at any time previous to the discussion of it in the convention, have been premature, yet I have never yet despaired of its adoption here. What I have mostly apprehended is, that the insidious arts of its opposers to alarm the fears and inflame the passions of the multitude, may have produced instructions to the delegates, that would shut the door against argument, and be a bar to reason. If this is not the case, I have no doubt but that the good sense of this country will prevail against the local views of designing characters, and the arrogant opinions of chagrined and disappointed men.
The decision of Maryland and South Carolina by so large majorities, and the almost certain adoption of the proposed constitution by New Hampshire, will make all, except desperate men, look before they leap into the dark consequences of rejection. The ratification by eight States without a negative, by three of them unanimously, by six against one in another, by three to one in another, by two to one in two more, and by all the weight of abilities and property in the other, is enough, one would think, to produce a cessation of opposition. I do not mean, that this alone is sufficient to produce conviction in the mind, but I think it ought to produce some change in the conduct of any man, who distrusted his infallibility.
Although I have little doubt of your having received a copy of the enclosed pamphlet, I send it. It is written with much good sense and moderation. I conjecture, but upon no certain ground, that Mr. Jay is the author of it. He sent it to me some time ago, since which I have received two or three more copies.1
With sincere esteem and affectionate regard, I am ever yours.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO JOHN JAY.
Mount Vernon, 8 June, 1788.
By the last mail I had the pleasure to receive your letter of the 29th of May, and have now the satisfaction to congratulate you on the adoption of the constitution by the convention of South Carolina. I am sorry to learn, there is a probability that the majority of members in the New York convention will be anti-federalists. Still I hope, that some event may turn up before they assemble, which may give a new complexion to the business. If this State should, in the intermediate time, make the ninth that shall have ratified the proposed government, it will, I flatter myself have its due weight. To show that this event is now more to be expected than heretofore, I will give you a few particulars, which I have from good authority, and which you might not perhaps immediately obtain through any public channel of conveyance.1
On the day appointed for the meeting of the convention, a large proportion of the members assembled, and unanimously placed Mr. Pendleton in the chair. Having on that and the subsequent day chosen the rest of their officers, and fixed upon the mode of conducting the business, it was moved by some one of those opposed to the constitution to debate the whole by paragraphs, without taking any question until the investigation should be completed. This was as unexpected as acceptable to the federalists, and their ready acquiescence seems to have somewhat startled the opposite party, for fear they had committed themselves.
Mr. Nicholas opened the business by very ably advocating the system of representation. Mr. Henry in answer went more vaguely into the discussion of the constitution, intimating that the federal convention had exceeded their powers, and that we had been and might be happy under the old confederation, with a few alterations. This called up Governor Randolph, who is reported to have spoken with great pathos in reply, and who declared, that, since so many of the States had adopted the proposed constitution, he considered the sense of America to be already taken, and that he should give his vote in favor of it without insisting previously upon amendments. Mr. Mason rose in opposition, and Mr. Madison reserved himself to obviate the objections of Mr. Henry and Colonel Mason the next day. Thus the matter rested when the last accounts came away.
Upon the whole, the following inferences seem to have been drawn; that Mr. Randolph’s declaration will have considerable effect with those, who had hitherto been wavering; that Mr. Henry and Colonel Mason took different and awkward ground, and by no means equalled the public expectation in their speeches; that the former has probably receded somewhat from his violent measures to coalesce with the latter, and that the leaders of the opposition appear rather chagrined, and hardly to be decided as to their mode of opposition.
The sanguine friends of the constitution counted upon a majority of twenty at their first meeting, which number they imagine will be greatly increased; while those equally strong in their wishes, but more temperate in their habits of thinking, speak less confidently of the greatness of the majority, and express apprehensions of the arts, that may yet be practised to excite alarms with the members from the western district (Kentucky). All, however, agree, that the beginning has been auspicious as could possibly have been expected. A few days will now ascertain us of the result. With sentiments of the highest esteem and regard, I am, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO WILLIAM SMITH, AND OTHERS, OF BALTIMORE.
Mount Vernon, 8 June, 1788.
Captain Barney has just arrived here in the miniature ship called The Federalist, and has done me the honor to offer that beautiful curiosity as a present to me on your part. I pray you, Gentlemen, to accept the warmest expressions of my sensibility for this specimen of American ingenuity, in which the exactitude of the proportions, the neatness of the workmanship, and the elegance of the decorations, which make your present fit to be preserved in a cabinet of curiosities, at the same time that they exhibit the skill and taste of the artists, demonstrate that Americans are not inferior to any people whatever in the use of mechanical instruments, and the art of ship-building.
The unanimity of the agricultural State of Maryland in general, as well as of the commercial town of Baltimore in particular, expressed in their recent decision on the subject of a general government, will not, (I persuade myself,) be without its due efficacy on the minds of their neighbors, who, in many instances, are intimately connected, not only by the nature of their produce, but by the ties of blood and the habits of life. Under these circumstances, I cannot entertain an idea, that the voice of the convention of this State, which is now in session, will be dissonant from that of her nearly allied sister, who is only separated by the Potomac.
You will permit me, Gentlemen, to indulge my feelings in reiterating the heart-felt wish, that the happiness of this country may equal the desires of its sincerest friends, and that the patriotic town, of which you are inhabitants, and in the prosperity of which I have always found myself strongly interested, may not only continue to increase in the same wonderful manner it has formerly done, but that its trade, manufactures, and other resources of wealth, may be placed permanently in a more flourishing situation than they have hitherto been. I am, with respect, &c.1[Back to Table of Contents]
TO HENRY KNOX.
Mount Vernon, 17 June, 1788.
My dear Sir,
I received your letter of the 25th of May, just when I was on the eve of a departure for Fredericksburg to pay a visit to my mother, from whence I returned only last evening. The information of the accession of South Carolina to the new government since your letter, gives us a new subject of mutual felicitations. It was to be hoped that this auspicious event would have considerable influence upon the proceedings of the convention of Virginia, but I do not find that to have been the case. Affairs in the convention, for some time past, have not worn so good an aspect as we could have wished; and, indeed, the acceptance of the constitution has become more doubtful than it was thought to be at their first meeting.
The purport of the intelligence I received from my private letters by the last night’s mail is, that every species of address and artifice has been put in practice by the antifederalists to create jealousies and excite alarms. Much appears to depend upon the final part which the Kentucky members will take; into whose minds apprehensions of unreal dangers, respecting the navigation of the Mississippi, and their organization into a separate State, have been industriously infused.1 Each side seems to think at present, that it has a small majority. However it shall turn, it will be very inconsiderable. Though for my own part, I cannot but imagine, if any decision is had, it will be in favor of the adoption. My apprehension rather is, that a strenuous and successful effort may be made for an adjournment, under an idea of opening a correspondence with those who are opposed to the constitution in other States. Colonel Oswald has been at Richmond, it is said, with letters from the antifederalists in New York and Pennsylvania to their coadjutors in this State.
The resolution, which came from the antifederalists, much to the astonishment of the other party, that no question should be taken until the whole plan should have been discussed paragraph by paragraph, and the remarkable tardiness in their proceedings (for the convention has been able as yet only to get through the second or third section), are thought by some to have been designed to protract business until the time when the Assembly is to convene, that is the 23d instant, in order to have a more colorable pretext for an adjournment. But, notwithstanding the resolution, there has been much desultory debating, and the opposers of the constitution are reported to have gone generally into the merits of the question. I know not how the matter may be, but a few days will now determine.
I am sorry to find, not only from your intimations, but also from many of the returns in the late papers, that there should be so great a majority against the constitution in the convention of New York; and yet I can hardly conceive, from motives of policy and prudence, they will reject it absolutely, if either this State or New Hampshire should make the ninth in adopting it; as that measure, which gives efficacy to the system, must place any State that shall actually have refused its assent to the new Union in a very awkward and disagreeable predicament.
By a letter I have just received from a young gentleman who lives with me, but who is now at home in New Hampshire,1 I am advised that there is every prospect that the constitution will be adopted in that State almost immediately upon the meeting of the convention. I cannot but hope, then, that the States, which may be disposed to make a secession, will think often and seriously on the consequences. Colo. Humphreys who is still here occupied with literary pursuits, desires to be remembered in terms of the sincerest friendship to you and yours.
Mrs. Washington and the family offer with me their best compliments to Mrs. Knox and the little ones.
I am, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO THE MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE.
Mount Vernon, 18 June, 1788.
My dear Marquis,
I like not much the situation of affairs in France. The bold demands of the parliaments, and the decisive tone of the King, show that but little more irritation would be necessary to blow up the spark of discontent into a flame, that might not easily be quenched. If I were to advise, I should say that great moderation should be used on both sides. Let it not, my dear Marquis, be considered as a derogation from the good opinion, that I entertain of your prudence, when I caution you, as an individual desirous of signalizing yourself in the cause of your country and freedom, against running into extremes and prejudicing your cause. The King, though, I think from every thing I have been able to learn, he is really a good-hearted though a warm-spirited man, if thwarted injudiciously in the execution of prerogatives that belonged to the crown, and in plans which he conceives calculated to promote the national good, may disclose qualities he has been little thought to possess. On the other hand, such a spirit seems to be awakened in the kingdom, as, if managed with extreme prudence, may produce a gradual and tacit revolution much in favor of the subjects, by abolishing lettres de cachet, and defining more accurately the powers of government. It is a wonder to me, there should be found a single monarch, who does not realize that his own glory and felicity must depend on the prosperity and happiness of his people. How easy is it for a sovereign to do that, which shall not only immortalize his name, but attract the blessings of millions.
In a letter I wrote you a few days ago by Mr. Barlow, but which might not possibly have reached New York until after his departure, I mentioned the accession of Maryland to the proposed government, and gave you the state of politics to that period. Since which the convention of South Carolina has ratified the constitution by a great majority. That of this State has been sitting almost three weeks; and, so nicely does it appear to be balanced, that each side asserts that it has a preponderancy of votes in its favor. It is probable, therefore, the majority will be small, let it fall on whichever part it may. I am inclined to believe it will be in favor of the adoption. The conventions of New York and New Hampshire both assemble this week. A large proportion of members, with the governor at their head, in the former, are said to be opposed to the government in contemplation. New Hampshire, it is thought, will adopt it without much hesitation or delay. It is a little strange, that the men of large property in the south should be more afraid that the constitution will produce an aristocracy or a monarchy, than the genuine democratical people of the east. Such are our actual prospects. The accession of one State more will complete the number, which, by the constitutional provision, will be sufficient in the first instance to carry the government into effect.
And then, I expect, that many blessings will be attributed to our new government, which are now taking their rise from that industry and frugality, into the practice of which the people have been forced from necessity. I really believe, that there never was so much labor and economy to be found before in the country as at the present moment. If they persist in the habits they are acquiring, the good effects will soon be distinguishable. When the people shall find themselves secure under an energetic government, when foreign nations shall be disposed to give us equal advantages in commerce from dread of retaliation, when the burdens of war shall be in a manner done away by the sale of western lands, when the seeds of happiness which are sown here shall begin to expand themselves, and when every one, (under his own vine and fig-tree,) shall begin to taste the fruits of freedom, then all these blessings (for all these blessings will come) will be referred to the fostering influence of the new government. Whereas many causes will have conspired to produce them. You see I am not less enthusiastic than I ever have been, if a belief that peculiar scenes of felicity are reserved for this country is to be denominated enthusiasm. Indeed, I do not believe, that Providence has done so much for nothing. It has always been my creed, that we should not be left as an awful monument to prove, “that mankind, under the most favorable circumstances for civil liberty and happiness, are unequal to the task of governing themselves, and therefore made for a master.”
We have had a backward spring and summer, with more rain and cloudy weather than almost ever has been known; still the appearance of crops in some parts of the country is favorable, as we may generally expect will be the case, from the difference of soil and variety of climate in so extensive a region; insomuch that I hope, some day or another, we shall become a storehouse and granary for the world. In addition to our former channels of trade, salted provisions, butter, and cheese are exported with profit from the eastern States to the East Indies. In consequence of a contract, large quantities of flour are lately sent from Baltimore for supplying the garrison of Gibraltar. I am, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO RICHARD HENDERSON.1
Mount Vernon, 19 June, 1788.
Your favor of the 5th instant was lodged at my house while I was absent on a visit to my mother. I am now taking the earliest opportunity of noticing its contents, and those of its enclosure. Willing as I am to give satisfaction, so far as I am able, to every reasonable inquiry, (and this is certainly not only so, but may be highly important and interesting,) I must however rather deal in general than particular observations; as I think you will be able, from the length of your residence in the country, and the extensiveness of your acquaintance with its affairs, to make the necessary applications, and add the proper details. Nor would I choose that my interference in the business should be transmitted, lest, in a malicious world, it might be represented that I was officiously using the arts of seduction to depopulate other countries for the sake of peopling our own.
In the first place it is a point conceded, that America, under an efficient government, will be the most favorable country of any in the world for persons of industry and frugality possessed of a moderate capital to inhabit. It is also believed, that it will not be less advantageous to the happiness of the lowest class of people, because of the equal distribution of property, the great plenty of unoccupied lands, and the facility of procuring the means of subsistence. The scheme of purchasing a good tract of freehold estate, and bringing out a number of able-bodied men, indented for a certain time, appears to be indisputably a rational one.
All the interior arrangements of transferring the property and commencing the establishment, you are as well acquainted with as I can possibly be. It might be considered as a point of more difficulty to decide upon the place, which should be most proper for a settlement. Although I believe that emigrants from other countries to this, who shall be well-disposed, and conduct themselves properly, would be treated with equal friendship and kindness in all parts of it; yet, in the old settled States, land is so much occupied, and the value so much enhanced by the contiguous cultivation, that the price would, in general, be an objection. The land in [the] western country, or that on the Ohio, like all others, has its advantages and disadvantages. The neighborhood of the savages, and the difficulty of transportation, were the great objections. The danger of the first will soon cease by the strong establishments now taking place; the inconveniences of the second will be, in a great degree, remedied by opening the internal navigation. No colony in America was ever settled under such favorable auspices, as that which has just commenced at the Muskingum. Information, property, and strength, will be its characteristics. I know many of the settlers personally, and that there never were men better calculated to promote the welfare of such a community.
If I was a young man, just preparing to begin the world, or if advanced in life, and had a family to make a provision for, I know of no country where I should rather fix my habitation than in some part of that region, for which the writer of the queries seems to have a predilection. He might be informed that his namesake and distant relation, General St. Clair, is not only in high repute, but that he is governor of all the territory westward of the Ohio, and that there is a gentleman (to wit, Mr. Joel Barlow) gone from New York by the last French packet, who will be in London in the course of this year, and who is authorized to dispose of a very large body of land in that country. The author of the queries may then be referred to the “Information for those who would wish to remove to America,” and published in Europe in the year 1784, by the great philosopher Dr. Franklin. Short as it is, it contains almost every thing, that needs to be known on the subject of migrating to this country. You may find that excellent little treatise in “Carey’s American Museum,” for September, 1787. It is worthy of being republished in Scotland, and every other part of Europe.
As to the European publications respecting the United States, they are commonly very defective. The Abbé Raynal is quite erroneous. Guthrie, though somewhat better informed, is not absolutely correct. There is now an American Geography preparing for the press by a Mr. Morse of New Haven in Connecticut, which, from the pains the author has taken in travelling through the States, and acquiring information from the principal characters in each, will probably be much more exact and useful. Of books at present existing, Mr. Jefferson’s “Notes on Virginia” will give the best idea of this part of the continent to a foreigner; and the “American Farmer’s Letters,” written by Mr. Crevecœur (commonly called Mr. St. John), the French consul in New York, who actually resided twenty years as a farmer in that State, will afford a great deal of profitable and amusive information, respecting the private life of the Americans, as well as the progress of agriculture, manufactures, and arts, in their country. Perhaps the picture he gives, though founded on fact, is in some instances embellished with rather too flattering circumstances. I am, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO CHARLES CARTER.
Mount Vernon, 28 June, 1788.
When Mrs. Washington was at the Church in Fredericksburg she perceived the Tomb of her Father, the late John Dandridge, Esqr., to be much out of Sorts and being desirous to have it done up again, will you permit me to request the favor of you to engage a workman to do this, the cost of which I will remit as soon as you shall signify to me that the work is accomplished, and inform me of its amount. I would thank you, my dear Sir, for the ascertainment of this before hand. I have (not inclining to dispute Accounts) felt, in too many instances, the expansion of Tradesmen’s consciences when no previous agreement has been made, ever to put it in their power to charge what they please in future. My best wishes, in which Mrs. Washington joins me, are tendered to Mrs. Carter. With much truth.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO CHARLES COTESWORTH PINCKNEY.
Mount Vernon, 28 June, 1788.
I had the pleasure to receive, a day or two ago, your obliging letter of the 24th of last month, in which you advise me of the ratification of the federal constitution by South Carolina. By a more rapid water conveyance, that good news had some few days before arrived at Baltimore, so as to have been very opportunely communicated to the convention of this State in session at Richmond. It is with great satisfaction I have it now in my power to inform you, that, on the 25th instant, the delegates of Virginia adopted the constitution in toto, by a division of eighty-nine in favor of it, to seventy-nine against it; and that, notwithstanding the majority is so small, yet, in consequence of some conciliatory conduct and recommendatory amendments, a happy acquiescence, it is said, is likely to terminate the business here in as favorable a manner as could possibly have been expected.
No sooner had the citizens of Alexandria, (who are federal to a man,) received the intelligence by the mail last night, than they determined to devote this day to festivity. But their exhilaration was greatly increased, and a much keener zest given to their enjoyment, by the arrival of an express, two hours before day, with the news that the convention of New Hampshire had, on the 21st instant, acceded to the new confederacy by a majority of eleven voices, that is to say, fifty-seven to forty-six.
Thus the citizens of Alexandria, when convened, constituted the first public company in America, which had the pleasure of pouring [a] libation to the prosperity of the ten States, that had actually adopted the general government. The day itself is memorable for more reasons than one. It was recollected, that this day is the anniversary of the battles of Sullivan’s Island and Monmouth. I have just returned from assisting at the entertainment, and mention these details, unimportant as they are in themselves, the rather because I think we may rationally indulge the pleasing hope, that the Union will now be established upon a durable basis, and that Providence seems still disposed to favor the members of it with unequalled opportunities for political happiness.
From the local situation, as well as the other circumstances of North Carolina, I should be truly astonished if that State should withdraw itself from the Union. On the contrary, I flatter myself with a confident expectation, that more salutary counsels will certainly prevail. At present there is more doubt how the question will be immediately disposed of in New York; for it seems to be understood, that there is a majority in the convention opposed to the adoption of the new federal system. Yet it is hardly to be supposed, (or rather in my judgment it is irrational to suppose,) they will reject a government, which, from an unorganized embryo ready to be stifled with a breath, has now in the maturity of its birth assumed a confirmed bodily existence. Or, to drop the metaphor, the point in debate has at least shifted its ground from policy to expediency. The decision of ten States cannot be without its operation. Perhaps the wisest way in this crisis will be not to attempt to accept or reject, but to adjourn until the people in some parts of the State can consider the magnitude of the question, and of the consequences involved in it, more coolly and deliberately. After New York shall have acted, then only one little State will remain. Suffice it to say, it is universally believed, that the scales are ready to drop from the eyes, and the infatuation to be removed from the heart, of Rhode Island. May this be the case before that inconsiderate people shall have filled up the measure of iniquity, before it shall be too late.
Mrs. Washington and all with us desire their best compliments may be presented to Mrs. Pinckney and yourself. Wishing that mine may also be made acceptable to you both, I am, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO BENJAMIN LINCOLN.
Mount Vernon, 29 June, 1788.
My dear Sir,
I beg you will accept my thanks for the communications handed to me in your letter of the 3d instant, and my congratulations on the increasing good dispositions of the citizens of your State, of which the late elections are strongly indicative. No one can rejoice more than I do at every step the people of this great country take to preserve the Union, to establish good order and government, and to render the nation happy at home and respectable abroad. No country upon earth ever had it more in its power to attain these blessings than United America. Wondrously strange, then, and much to be regretted indeed would it be, were we to neglect the means, and to depart from the road, which Providence has pointed us to so plainly. I cannot believe it will ever come to pass. The great Governor of the universe has led us too long and too far on the road to happiness and glory, to forsake us in the midst of it. By folly and improper conduct, proceeding from a variety of causes, we may now and then get bewildered; but I hope and trust, that there is good sense and virtue enough left to recover the right path before we shall be entirely lost.
You will, before this letter can have reached you, have heard of the ratification of the new government by this State. The final question without previous amendments was taken the 25th. Ayes, 89. Noes, 79—but something recommendatory or declaratory of the rights, the ultimate decision. This account and the news of the adoption by New Hampshire arrived in Alexandria nearly about the same time on Friday evening, and as you will suppose was cause for great rejoicing among the inhabitants, who have not I believe an antifederalist among them. Our accounts from Richmond are, that the debates, through all the different stages of the business, though animated, have been conducted with great dignity and temper; that the final decision exhibited an awful and solemn scene; and that there is every reason to expect a perfect acquiescence therein by the minority. Not only the declaration of Mr. Henry, the great leader of it, who has signified, that, though he can never be reconciled to the constitution in its present form, and shall give it every constitutional opposition in his power, yet that he will submit to it peaceably, as he thinks every good citizen ought to do when it is in exercise, and that he will, both by precept and example, inculcate this doctrine to all around him.
There is little doubt entertained here now of the ratification of the proposed constitution by North Carolina; and, however great the opposition to it may be in New York, the leaders thereof will, I should conceive, consider well the consequences before they reject it. With respect to Rhode Island, the power that governs there has so far baffled all calculation on this question, that no man would choose to hazard an opinion, lest he might be suspected of participating in its phrensy.1 You have every good wish of this family, and the sincere regard of your affectionate, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO JOHN JAY.
Mount Vernon, 18 July, 1788.
A few days ago I had the pleasure to receive your letter from Poughkeepsie; since which I have not obtained any authentic advices of the proceedings of your convention. The clue you gave me to penetrate into the principles and wishes of the four classes of men among you, who are opposed to the constitution, has opened a large field for reflection and conjecture. The accession of ten States must operate forcibly with all the opposition, except the class which is comprehended in your last description.1 Before this time you will probably have come to some decision. While we are waiting the result with the greatest anxiety, our printers are not so fortunate as to obtain any papers from the eastward. Mine, which have generally been more regular, have however frequently been interrupted for some time past.
It is extremely to be lamented, that a new arrangement in the post-office, unfavorable to the circulation of intelligence, should have taken place at the instant when the momentous question of a general government was to come before the people. I have seen no good apology, not even in Mr. Hazard’s publication, for deviating from the old custom of permitting printers to exchange their papers by the mail. That practice was a great public convenience and gratification. If the privilege was not from convention an original right, it had from prescription strong pretensions for continuance, especially at so interesting a period. The interruption in that mode of conveyance has not only given great concern to the friends of the constitution, who wished the public to be possessed of every thing, that might be printed on both sides of the question, but it has afforded its enemies very plausible pretexts for dealing out their scandals, and exciting jealousies by inducing a belief, that the suppression of intelligence, at that critical juncture, was a wicked trick of policy, contrived by an aristocratic junto. Now, if the postmaster-general, with whose character I am unacquainted, and therefore would not be understood to form an unfavorable opinion of his motives, has any candid advisers, who conceive that he merits the public employment, they ought to counsel him to wipe away the aspersion he has incautiously brought upon a good cause. If he is unworthy of the office he holds, it would be well that the ground of a complaint, apparently so general, should be inquired into, and, if founded, redressed through the medium of a better appointment.
It is a matter in my judgment of primary importance, that the public mind should be relieved from inquietude on this subject. I know it is said, that the irregularity or defect has happened accidentally, in consequence of the contract for transporting the mail on horseback, instead of having it carried in the stages; but I must confess I could never account, upon any satisfactory principles, for the inveterate enmity with which the postmaster-general is asserted to be actuated against that valuable institution. It has often been understood by wise politicians and enlightened patriots, that giving a facility to the means of travelling for strangers, and of intercourse for citizens, was an object of legislative concern, and a circumstance highly beneficial to any country. In England, I am told, they consider the mail-coaches as a great modern improvement in their post-office regulations. I trust we are not too old, or too proud, to profit by the experience of others. In this article the materials are amply within our reach. I am taught to imagine, that the horses, the vehicles, and the accommodations in America, with very little encouragement, might in a short period become as good as the same articles are to be found in any country of Europe. And at the same time I am sorry to learn, that the line of stages is at present interrupted in some parts of New England, and totally discontinued at the southward.
I mention these suggestions only as my particular thoughts on an establishment, which I had conceived to be of great importance. Your proximity to the person in question, and connexion with the characters in power, will enable you to decide better than I can on the validity of the allegations, and in that case to weigh the expediency of dropping such hints as may serve to give satisfaction to the public. With sentiments of the highest consideration and regard, I am, &c.
P. S.—Since writing the foregoing I have been favored with your letter which was begun on the 4th and continued till the 8th and thank you for the information therein contained. Your next will I hope announce the ratification by your State, without previous amendments.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO NOAH WEBSTER.
Mount Vernon, 31 July, 1788.
I duly received your letter of the 14th of July, and can only answer you briefly, and generally from memory; that a combined operation of the land and naval forces of France and America, for the year 1781, was preconcerted the year before: that the point at attack was not absolutely agreed upon, because it would be easy for the Count de Grasse in good time before his departure from the West Indies to give notice by express at what place he could most conveniently first touch to receive advices, because it could not be foreknown where the enemy would be most susceptible of impression, and because we, (having the command of the water, and with sufficient means of conveyance,) could transport ourselves to any spot with the greatest celerity: that it was determined by me, (nearly twelve months beforehand,) at all hazards to give out and cause it to be believed by the highest military as well as civil officers, that New York was the destined place of attack, for the important purpose of inducing the eastern & middle States to make greater exertions in furnishing specific supplies than they otherwise would have done, as well as for the interesting purpose of rendering the enemy less prepared elsewhere: that these means, and these alone, artillery, boats, stores, and provisions were in seasonable preparation to move with the utmost rapidity to any part of the continent; for the difficulty consisted more in providing, than knowing how to apply, the military apparatus: that before the arrival of the Count de Grasse, it was the fixed determination to strike the enemy in the most vulnerable quarter so as to ensure success with moral certainty, as our affairs were then in the most ruinous train imaginable: that New York was thought to be beyond our effort, and consequently the only hesitation that remained was between an attack upon the British army in Virginia or that in Charleston: and, finally, that (by the intervention of several communications,) and some incidents which cannot be detailed in a letter, and which were altogether unknown to the late quartermaster-general of the army, who was informed of nothing but what related to the immediate duties of his own department,) the hostile post in Virginia, from being a provisional and strongly expected, became the definitive and certain object of the campaign. I only add, that it never was in contemplation to attack New York, unless the garrison should first have been so far disgarnished to carry on the southern operations, as to render our success in the siege of that place as infallible as any future military event can ever be made. For, I repeat it, and dwell upon it again and again, some splendid advantage (whether upon a larger or smaller scale was almost immaterial) was so essentially necessary to revive the expiring hopes and languid exertions of the country, at the crisis in question, that I never would have consented to embark in any enterprise, wherein, from the most rational plan and accurate calculations, the favorable issue should not have appeared as clear to my view as a ray of light. The failure of an attempt against the posts of the enemy could, in no other possible situation during the war, have been so fatal to our cause.
That much trouble was taken and finesse used to misguide and bewilder Sir Henry Clinton in regard to the real object, by fictitious communications as well as by making a deceptive provision of ovens, forage, and boats in his neighborhood, is certain. Nor were less pains taken to deceive our own army; for I had always conceived, when the imposition did not completely take place at home, it could never sufficiently succeed abroad.
Your desire of obtaining truth is very laudable. I wish I had more leisure to gratify it, as I am equally solicitous the undisguised verity should be known. Many circumstances will unavoidably be misconceived and misrepresented. Notwithstanding most of the papers, which may properly be deemed official, are preserved, yet the knowledge of innumerable things of a more delicate and secret nature is confined to the perishable remembrance of some few of the present generation. I am, with sentiments of esteem and regard, Sir, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO JAMES MADISON, IN CONGRESS.
Mount Vernon, 3 August, 1788.
My dear Sir,
Your favors of the 21st and 27th of last month came duly to hand. The latter contained the pleasing, and I may add (though I could not reconcile it to any ideas I entertained of common policy) unexpected account of the unconditional ratification of the constitution by the State of New York. That North Carolina will hesitate long in its choice, I can scarcely believe; but what Rhode Island will do is more difficult to say, though not worth a conjecture, as the conduct of the majority there has hitherto baffled all calculation.
The place proper for the new Congress to meet at will unquestionably undergo, if it has not already done it, much investigation; but there are certain things, which are so self-evident in their nature, as to speak for themselves. This possibly may be one. Where the true point lies I will not undertake to decide; but there can be no hesitation, I think, in pronouncing that in all societies, if the band or cement is strong and interesting enough to hold the body together, the several parts should submit to the inconveniences, for the benefits which they derive from the conveniences of the compact.1
We have nothing in these parts worth communicating. Towards New York we look for whatever is interesting till the States begin to act under the new form, which will be an important epoch in the annals of this country. With sentiments of sincere friendship and affection, I am yours, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO GEORGE STEPTOE WASHINGTON.
Mount Vernon, 6 August, 1788.
It was with equal pain and surprise, that I was informed by Colonel Hanson on Monday last of your unjustifiable behavior in rescuing your brother from that chastisement, which was due to his improper conduct; and which you know, because you have been told it in explicit language, he was authorized to administer whensoever he should deserve it. Such refractory behavior on your part I consider as an insult equally offered to myself, after the above communications; and I shall continue to view it in that light, till you have made satisfactory acknowledgments to Colonel Hanson for the offence given him.
It is as much my wish and intention to see justice done to you and your brother, as it is to punish either when it is merited; but there are proper modes by which this is to be obtained, and it is to be sought by a fair and candid representation of facts which can be supported, and not by vague complaints, disobedience, perverseness, or disobliging conduct, which make enemies without producing the smallest good. So often and strenuously have I endeavored to inculcate this advice, and to show you the advantages, which are to be expected from close application to your studies, that it is unnecessary to repeat it. If the admonitions of friendship are lost, other methods must be tried, which cannot be more disagreeable to you, than it would be to one, who wishes to avoid it, who is solicitous to see you and your brother (the only remaining sons of your father) turn out well, and who is very desirous of continuing your affectionate uncle.1[Back to Table of Contents]
TO CHARLES PETTIT.
Mount Vernon, 16 August, 1788.
I have to acknowledge with much sensibility the receipt of your letter, dated the 5th instant, in which you offer your congratulations on the prospect of an established government, whose principles seem calculated to secure the benefits of society to the citizens of the United States, and in which you also give a more accurate state of federal politics in Pennsylvania than I had before received. It affords me unfeigned satisfaction to find, that the acrimony of parties is much abated.
Doubtless there are defects in the proposed system, which may be remedied in a constitutional mode. I am truly pleased to learn, that those, who have been considered as its most violent opposers, will not only acquiesce peaceably, but coöperate in its organization, and content themselves with asking amendments in the manner prescribed by the constitution. The great danger in my view was, that every thing might be thrown into the last stage of confusion before any government whatsoever could be established, and that we should suffer a political shipwreck without the aid of one friendly star to guide us into port. Every real patriot must have lamented, that private feuds and local politics should have unhappily insinuated themselves into, and in some measure obstructed, the discussion of a great national question. A just opinion, that the people when rightly informed will decide in a proper manner, ought certainly to have prevented all intemperate or precipitate proceedings on a subject of so much magnitude; nor should a regard to common decency have suffered the zealots in the minority to stigmatize the authors of the constitution as conspirators and traitors. However unfavorably individuals, blinded by passion and prejudice, might have thought of the characters who composed the convention, the election of those characters by the legislatures of the several States, and the reference of their proceedings to the free determination of their constituents, did not carry the appearance of a private combination to destroy the liberties of their country. Nor did the outrageous disposition, which some indulged in traducing and vilifying the members, seem much calculated to produce concord or accommodation.
For myself, I expected not to be exempted from obloquy any more than others. It is the lot of humanity. But if the shafts of malice had been aimed at me in ever so pointed a manner on this occasion, shielded as I was by a consciousness of having acted in conformity to what I believed my duty, they would have fallen blunted from their mark. It is known to some of my countrymen, and can be demonstrated to the conviction of all, that I was in a manner constrained to attend the general convention, in compliance with the earnest and pressing desires of many of the most respectable characters in different parts of the continent.
At my age, and in my circumstances, what sinister object or personal emolument had I to seek after in this life? The growing infirmities of age, and the increasing love of retirement, daily confirm my decided predilection for domestic life; and the great Searcher of human hearts is my witness, that I have no wish, which aspires beyond the humble and happy lot of living and dying a private citizen on my own farm.
Your candor and patriotism in endeavoring to moderate the jealousies and remove the prejudices, which a particular class of citizens had conceived against the new government, are certainly very commendable, and must be viewed as such by all true friends to their country. In this description I shall fondly hope I have a right to comprehend myself; and shall conclude by professing a grateful sense of your favorable opinion for me. I am, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO JOHN BEALE BORDLEY.
Mount Vernon, 17 August, 1788.
* * * * * *
No wheat that has ever yet fallen under my observation exceeds the wheat which some years ago I cultivated extensively but which, from inattention during my absence of almost nine years from home, has got so mixed or degenerated as scarcely to retain any of its original characteristics properly. But if the march of the Hessian fly, southerly, cannot be arrested, and Colo. Morgan’s experiments are corroborated by others of equal skill and attention, it must yield to the palm the yellow bearded wheat, which, alone, it is said, is able to resist the depredations of that destructive insect. This makes your present of it to me more valuable. I shall cultivate it with care.
The Cape wheat I have cultivated three years successively—The frost of the last year almost destroyed it.—In neither, did it produce a full grain, though a large one.—I have just harvested a little of two kinds of wheat sent me by Arthur Young, Esqr., of England, one of which he says is called the Harrison wheat, and is in high estimation in that country; the other is a large white wheat, to which I do not recollect he has given any name.—The seed being injured in its passage, came up badly and with difficulty any of it was preserved from weads, &c.—No conclusive opinion therefore can be formed of either from the trial of this year, but if there is any thing which indicates a superior quality in it next, I will reserve some of the seed for you.
That the system (if it deserves the appelation of one) of corn, wheat, hay, has been injurious, and if continued would prove ruinous, to our Lands, I believe no person who has attended to the ravages which have been produced by it in our fields is at a loss to decide; but with deference let me ask if the substitute you propose is the best that can be devised? Wheat follows Corn: here are not only two Corn Crops, but those of the most exhausting nature following each other without the intervention of a restorative, when by the approved courses now practiced in England Grain and (what are called) fallow Crops, succeed each other alternately. Though I am not strongly attached to a particular course (being open to conviction) yet that which has obtained most in my mind, and which I have been endeavoring (for it is not easy to go fully into any system which produces a material change at once), is the following, which for the more perfect understanding of it shall have dates to their respective growths of the Crops. By the usual mode it is scarcely necessary to observe we have three fields—viz—one in Corn, one in wheat, and one in hay.—By my plan, these three fields are divided into Six.—For instance one of them, say No. 1, is planted with Corn 8 feet by 2—single stalks; with Irish Potatoes, or Carrots, or partly both, between that Corn planted in this manner, will yield as much to the Acre as in any other; that the quantity of Potatoes is at least quadruple the quantity of Corn, and that Potatoes do not exhaust the Land, are facts well established in my mind.—In April 1789 it is sown with Buck wheat (for manure) which is plowed in before harvest, when the seed begins to ripen, and there is enough to seed the ground a second time. In July it is again plowed in which gives two dressings to the Land at the expence only of a bushel of B. W: and the plowings which would otherwise be essential for a summer fallow.—In August, after the putrefaction and fermentation is over, wheat is sown, and in 1790 harvested.—In 1791—The best—and earliest kind of Indian Pease are sown in broad cast, to be mown when generally Ripe. Since the adoption of this course, and the progress that has been made to carry it into effect, I have had too much cause to be convinced, that, Pease, harvested in this manner is a considerable exhaustion of the soil—I have some thoughts therefore of substituting a medley—of Pease, Buck wheat for seed, Turnips, Pom-kins, &c., in such parts of the field as will be useful on the farm, and all of them preparatives of the ensuing Crop. In 1792 Spring Barley or Oats; or equal quantities of each will follow with Clover—The latter to be fed with light Stock after harvest.—In 1793 the Field remains in Clover for Hay or grazing according to circumstances. In 1794 it comes again into Corn and goes on as before.
It may be remarked here as an objection to this System—that wheat, in the best farming Counties in England, follows the Clover hay—is sown on a single plowing—and has been found profitable from practice.—My reasons for departing from that mode are—1st our plowing is not equal to theirs, of course the Clover is not so well buried, nor the ensuing (wheat) Crop so free from grass as theirs; and 2dly, if we sow wheat, at an early and proper period, we loose a valuable part of the clover Crop—whereas the ground for Corn need not be broken till the season for grazing is over and the Stock in the farm yard. By the tillage too, which the Corn Crop ought to receive, followed by B. W. twice plowed in, Weeds and grass must be entirely eradicated.
To contrast the probable yield of this with the old course, of Corn, wheat and hay—suppose a farm of 300 acres of arable Land.
In the above statement, as much, I conceive, is allowed to the old, and taken from the new course, as can be done with Justice.—The Pastures of the latter will be fine, and improving; Those of the former are continually declining, and washing into gullies.—The hand-machine spoken of by you for sowing Clover Seed I have wished to see but have never yet seen one—but I cannot conceive that by this, or any other contrivance a bushel of seed can be made to subserve 20 acres of Land, and without a considerable mixture of other grass seeds, which would in a manner, be washed in so short a lay as is proposed by either of our Systems.
I have been informed that you have in possession one of Winlaw’s machines for threshing wheat: Pray how do you approve of it on trial? Many of these newly invented things meet the approbation of the moment but will not stand the test of constant use, or the usage of common laborers—I have requested Mr. Young if this machine has supported its reputation—either in his opinion, or the Judgment of those on whom he can rely, to send me one. I am, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO THE COUNT DE MOUSTIER.
Mount Vernon, 17 August, 1788.
In the letter I did myself the honor to address to your Excellency on the 26th of last March, I intimated that as soon as I should have obtained more particular information concerning the commercial intercourse between France and the United States, I would most willingly communicate the result. Ill prepared as I still am to treat of a subject so complicated in its nature, and so extensive in its consequences, I will now hazard a few facts and general observations, without confining myself strictly to your questions, to which, however, you may find there will be a constant allusion.
Respecting the utility or hurtfulness of the tobacco contract between Mr. Morris and the Farmers-General, I have heard so many specious arguments on one side and the other, that I find myself embarrassed in making a fair judgment. In ordinary cases I know that all exclusive privileges and even partial monopolies are pernicious. How far in this instance the contract has been only a transference of the business from the foreign agents, (English or Scottish,) who used to conduct it, into other hands, and whether the same exportations in quantity would have been made directly to France through more advantageous channels, I cannot pretend to determine. A free competition in the purchase of that article here, as well as in the sale at the place of market, it seems reasonable to conclude, would be mutually beneficial to both nations, however it might be inconvenient to individuals. Though the present contract will soon expire of course, and leave an equal field of speculation on this side of the Atlantic, I have been taught to believe, that the Farmers-General will not so readily give up their share in the monopoly on the other. So the business must in all probability revert to its original channel.
In reply to your second, third, and fourth questions, I would only briefly observe, that we are yet scarcely sufficiently acquainted with the coarse French woollens, and their lowest prices, to determine how far they can come in rivalship with those of Britain. The prevailing opinion is in[favor of] the latter; but I see no reason why the former, when calculated for the particular purpose, may not be made equally cheap and good. As to other articles of importation directly from France, they might consist in superfine broadcloths, (particularly blue which can be afforded cheaper and better than from England,) glass, gloves, ribbons, silks, cambrics, plain lawns, linens, printed goods, wine, brandy, oil, fruit, and in general every thing necessary for carrying on the Indian trade; from the Islands, sugar and coffee, in addition to the molasses and rum, which alone are permitted to be exported to the United States at present. Our produce in return to Europe might comprehend tobacco (as the staple from this State), and from the States aggregately wheat, rice, other grain, bread, flour, fish, fish oil, potashes, pearlashes, skins, furs, peltry, indigo, madder, different dyeing woods, lumber, naval stores, iron, coals, and ships ready built; to the Islands, lumber, bar iron, coals, live stock, and provisions of all kinds.
It may be mentioned here as a first principle of extending the intercourse, and as a theory which will be found incontestably true in experiment, that, in proportion as France shall increase the facility of our making remittances, in the same ratio shall we increase the consumption of her produce and manufactures. Common sense and sound policy speak thus on our part: “We can furnish new materials of great value, and our ability to do it will augment with our population every day; we want no money for them, and we desire no credit may be given to us; we cannot manufacture fine articles so cheaply as we can import them, and must, while we continue an agricultural people, be supplied from some quarter; we offer you the preference, and will take in different goods to the amount received from us in our staple commodities.”
This doctrine has been already verified, so far as an opportunity has been afforded to observe the effect. The use of French brandy in common taverns, as well as private houses, has been substituted for two or three years past very much in the room of Jamaica rum. Probably not less than twenty-four thousand gallons have been imported into this State in one year. The consumption of French wines is also much greater than it has formerly been; and may, by a moderate calculation, amount to between one half and one third of all that is imported. The demand for both these articles might still be extended with the means of making remittances. Not much French salt is made use of for curing provisions in Virginia. The opinion is, that it is not so clean as that imported from other parts of Europe. If it was properly purified, it might and certainly would be brought out as ballast in great quantities, and find a ready market.
About half the exports from Virginia are carried in American bottoms, the remainder principally in British bottoms. There are, however, a number of other foreign vessels employed in the trade.
I know not of any other equivalents, than those to be derived by France from the extension of her commerce, which we can give for any new favors in your Islands.1 Under the present rigorous restrictions, it is thought that trade is unprofitable for us, and will decay or be disused as soon as other avenues for receiving our produce shall be gradually opened. The maritime genius of this country is now steering our vessels in every ocean; to the East Indies, the north-west coasts of America, and the extremities of the globe. I have the best evidence, that the scale of commerce, so long against us, is beginning to turn in our favor, and that, (as a new thing in our new world,) the amount of exports from one State last year exceeded that of the imports more than two hundred and thirty thousand pounds.
What change in systems, and amelioration in the general complexion of our affairs, are likely to be produced in consequence of the national government, which is on the eve of being established, I will not undertake to predict. I hope and trust the ties, which connect this nation with France, will be strengthened and made durable by it. In the mean time there are three things, which I flatter myself will counterbalance, on the side of the French commerce, the three advantages, of which I conceive the British merchants to be possessed. The circumstances to which I allude are, 1st, the increasing prejudices of this country against a commercial intercourse with England, occasioned by provocations and augmented by impositions on her part; 2ndly, the facility given in many instances by the French government for our making remittances in the staple commodities of this country; and, 3dly, the change of taste in favor of articles produced or manufactured in France, which may indeed in a great degree be attributed to the affection and gratitude still felt for her generous interposition in our favor.
I should be truly happy to learn, that this country and its inhabitants have become agreeable to your Excellency upon acquaintance. For you may be assured, Sir, no one can be more zealous than myself in promoting a friendly connexion between our nations, or in rendering your situation perfectly satisfactory, while the United States shall enjoy the benefit of your residence in them. With the highest consideration and respect, I have the honor to be, &c.1[Back to Table of Contents]
TO BENJAMIN LINCOLN.
Mount Vernon, 28 August, 1788.
My dear Sir,
I received with your letter of the 9th instant, one from Mr. Minot, and also his “History of the Insurrections in Massachusetts.” The work seems to be executed with ingenuity, as well as to be calculated to place facts in a true point of view, obviate the prejudices of those, who are unacquainted with the circumstances, and answer good purposes in respect to our government in general. I have returned him my thanks for his present by this conveyance.
The public appears to be anxiously waiting for the decision of Congress respecting the place for convening the national assembly under the new government, and the ordinance for its organization. Methinks it is a great misfortune, that local interests should involve themselves with federal concerns at this moment.
So far as I am able to learn, federal principles are gaining ground considerably. The declaration of some of the most respectable characters in this State (I mean of those who were opposed to the government) is now explicit, that they will give the constitution a fair chance by affording it all the support in their power. Even in Pennsylvania, the minority, who were more violent than in any other place, say they will only seek for amendments in the mode pointed out by the constitution itself.
I will, however, just mention by way of caveat, there are suggestions, that attempts will be made to procure the election of a number of antifederal characters to the first Congress, in order to embarrass the wheels of government, and produce premature alterations in its constitution. How these hints, which have come through different channels, may be well or ill-founded, I know not; but it will be advisable, I should think, for the federalists to be on their guard, so far as not to suffer any secret machinations to prevail, without taking measures to frustrate them.1 That many amendments and explanations might and should take place, I have [no] difficulty in conceding; but I will confess my apprehension is, that the New York circular letter is intended to bring on a general convention at too early a period, and, in short, by referring the subject to the legislatures, to set every thing afloat again. I wish I may be mistaken in imagining, that there are persons, who, upon finding they could not carry their point by an open attack against the constitution, have some sinister designs to be silently effected if possible. But I trust in that Providence, which has saved us in six troubles, yea, in seven, to rescue us again from any imminent though unseen dangers. Nothing, however, on our part ought to be left undone. I conceive it to be of unspeakable importance, that whatever there be of wisdom, and prudence, and patriotism on the continent, should be concentred in the public councils at the first outset. Our habits of intimacy will render an apology unnecessary—Heaven is my witnesss that an inextinguishable desire for the felicity of my country may be prompted is my only motive in making these observations. I am, &c.[Back to Table of Contents]
TO ALEXANDER HAMILTON.
Mount Vernon, 28 August, 1788.
I have had the pleasure to receive your letter dated the 13th, accompanied by one addressed to General Morgan. I will forward the letter to General Morgan by the first conveyance, and add my particular wishes, that he would comply with the request contained in it. Although I can scarcely imagine how the watch of a British officer, killed within their lines, should have fallen into his hands, who was many miles distant from the scene of action, yet, if it so happened, I flatter myself there will be no reluctance or delay in restoring it to the family.
As the perusal of the political papers under the signature of Publius has afforded me great satisfaction, I shall certainly consider them as claiming a most distinguished place in my library. I have read every performance, which has been printed on one side and the other of the great question lately agitated (so far as I have been able to obtain them); and, without an unmeaning compliment, I will say, that I have seen no other so well calculated, in my judgment, to produce conviction on an unbiassed mind as the production of your triumvirate. When the transient circumstances and fugitive performances, which attended this crisis, shall have disappeared, that work will merit the notice of posterity, because in it are candidly and ably discussed the principles of freedom and the topics of government, which will be always interesting to mankind, so long as they shall be connected in civil society.
The circular letter from your convention I presume was the equivalent, by which you obtained an acquiescence in the proposed constitution. Notwithstanding I am not very well satisfied with the tendency of it, yet the federal affairs had proceeded, with few exceptions, in so good a train, that I hope the political machine may be put in motion, without much effort or hazard of miscarrying.1
On the delicate subject with which you conclude your letter, I can say nothing, because the event alluded to may never happen, and because, in case it should occur, it would be a point of prudence to defer forming one’s ultimate and irrevocable decision, so long as new data might be afforded for one to act with the greater wisdom and propriety. I would not wish to conceal my prevailing sentiment from you; for you know me well enough, my good Sir, to be persuaded, that I am not guilty of affectation when I tell you, that it is my great and sole desire to live and die in peace and retirement on my own farm. Were it even indispensable, a different line of conduct should be adopted, while you and some others who are acquainted with my heart would acquit, the world and posterity might possibly accuse me [of] inconsistency and ambition. Still I hope I shall always possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain (what I consider the most enviable of all titles), the character of an honest man, as well as prove, what I desire to be considered in reality, that
I am, with great sincerity and esteem,
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