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Gouverneur Morris, To Secure the Blessings of Liberty: Selected Writings of Gouverneur Morris [2012]

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Gouverneur Morris, To Secure the Blessings of Liberty: Selected Writings of Gouverneur Morris. Edited and with an Introduction by J. Jackson Barlow (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2012).

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About this Title:

A single-volume collection of Gouverneur Morris’s writings. Morris served as Deputy Superintendent of Finance during the American Revolution, in which capacity he devised the system of decimal coinage. He was a prominent member of the Constitutional Convention, where he spoke more frequently than any other member and, as a member of the Committee on Style and Arrangement, put the Constitution in its present form and authored its Preamble. As a private citizen in Paris, and later Minister to France (1789–94), Morris was a firsthand witness of the French Revolution. On his return to the U.S., he served as a U.S. Senator, was a prime mover in the creation of the Erie Canal, and took a leading role as a critic of the Jefferson and Madison administrations. Providing his unique perspective, this is a wonderful and accessible single source that illuminates the political and economic thought of Gouverneur Morris.

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The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.

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This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.

Table of Contents:

Edition: current; Page: [i]
To Secure the Blessings of Liberty
Selected Writings of Gouverneur Morris
Edition: current; Page: [ii]

Gouverneur Morris

Edition: current; Page: [iii]
To Secure the Blessings of Liberty
Selected Writings of Gouverneur Morris
edited and with an introduction by J. Jackson Barlow
liberty fund
Edition: current; Page: [iv]

This book is published by Liberty Fund, Inc., a foundation established to encourage study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.


The cuneiform inscription that serves as our logo and as the design motif for our endpapers is the earliest-known written appearance of the word “freedom” (amagi), or “liberty.” It is taken from a clay document written about 2300 bc in the Sumerian city-state of Lagash.

Introduction, editorial additions, and index © 2012 by Liberty Fund, Inc.

Cover and frontispiece: Portrait of Gouverneur Morris, 1810, by James Sharples, the Elder, from the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution/Art Resource, New York. Gift of Miss Ethel Turnbull in memory of her brothers, John Turnbull and Gouverneur Morris Wilkins Turnbull.

All rights reserved

Printed in the United States of America

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Morris, Gouverneur, 1752–1816.

To secure the blessings of liberty: selected writings of Gouverneur Morris Edited and with an introduction by J. Jackson Barlow.

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

isbn 978-0-86597-834-8 (hc: alk. paper)—isbn 978-0-86597-835-5 (pbk.: alk. paper)

1. United States—History—Colonial period, ca. 1600–1775—Sources. 2. United States—History—Revolution, 1775–1783—Sources. 3. United States—History—1783–1815—Sources. 4. United States—Politics and government—1775–1783—Sources. 5. United States—Politics and government—1783–1865—Sources. 6. Morris, Gouverneur, 1752–1816. I. Barlow, J. Jackson. II. Title.

e302.6.m7a4 2012


Liberty Fund, Inc.

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Indianapolis, Indiana 46250-1684

Edition: current; Page: [v]


  • Introduction ............ ix
  • Acknowledgments ............ xvii
  • Note on the Texts ............ xix
  • Selected Bibliography ............ xxi
  • 1. To the Inhabitants of the Colony of New-York (1769) ............ 1
  • 2. Political Enquiries (1776) ............ 5
  • 3. Oration on the Necessity for Declaring Independence from Britain (1776) ............ 13
  • 4. Public Letters to the Carlisle Commissioners (1778) ............ 25
    • To the Carlisle Commissioners, June 20, 1778 ............ 26
    • To the Earl of Carlisle, July 21, 1778 ............ 34
    • To the Earl of Carlisle, September 19, 1778 ............ 37
    • To Sir Henry Clinton, October 20, 1778 ............ 45
  • 5. Proposal to Congress Concerning the Management of the Government (1778) ............ 53
  • 6. Report of the Committee on the Treasury (1778) ............ 67
  • 7. Some Thoughts on the Finances of America (1778) ............ 73
  • 8. To the Quakers, Bethlemites, Moderate Men, Refugees, and Other the Tories Whatsoever, and Wheresoever, Dispersed (1779) ............ 87
  • 9. To Governor Johnstone (1779) ............ 95
  • 10. “An American” Letters on Public Finance for the Pennsylvania Packet (1780) ............ 103
    • February 17, 1780 ............ 104
    • February 24, 1780 ............ 110
    • February 29, 1780 ............ 118
    • March 4, 1780 ............ 124
    • March 11, 1780 ............ 131
    • March 23, 1780 ............ 139 Edition: current; Page: [vi]
    • April 11, 1780 ............ 146
    • April 15, 1780 ............ 154
  • 11. Righteousness Establisheth a Nation (1780) ............ 165
  • 12. Observations on Finances: Foreign Trade and Loans (1781?) ............ 171
  • 13. Ideas of an American on the Commerce Between the United States and French Islands As It May Respect Both France and America (1783) ............ 177
  • 14. Address to the Assembly of Pennsylvania on the Abolition of the Bank of North America (1785) ............ 183
  • 15. The Constitution of the United States (1787) ............ 207
    • Letter to Congress ............ 221
  • 16. American Finances (1789) ............ 223
  • 17. Observations on Government, Applicable to the Political State of France (1789) ............ 231
  • 18. Memoir Written for the King of France, Respecting the New Constitution (1791) ............ 239
  • 19. Observations on the New Constitution of France (1791) ............ 251
    • Speech for the King of France ............ 251
    • Observations on the Constitution ............ 252
  • 20. Notes on the Form of a Constitution for France (1791?) ............ 269
  • 21. Remarks upon the Principles and Views of the London Corresponding Society (1795) ............ 285
  • 22. Oration on the Death of George Washington (1799) ............ 293
  • 23. Speeches in the Senate on the Repeal of the Judiciary Act of 1801 ............ 303
    • First Speech on the Judiciary Establishment (1802) ............ 304
  • 24. Letters to the New York Evening Post on the Louisiana Purchase (1803) ............ 333
    • August 30, 1803 ............ 334
    • December 24, 1803 ............ 339
  • 25. Funeral Oration for Alexander Hamilton (1804) ............ 353
  • 26. Oration on the Love of Wealth (1805) ............ 357
  • 27. Oration on Patriotism (1805) ............ 361 Edition: current; Page: [vii]
  • 28. On Prejudice (ca. 1805) ............ 365
  • 29. An Answer to War in Disguise (1806) ............ 369
  • 30. Notes on the United States of America (1806) ............ 405
  • 31. The British Treaty (1807/1808) ............ 423
  • 32. On the Beaumarchais Claim (1807–1808) ............ 473
    • February 24, 1807 ............ 474
    • January 11[, 1808] ............ 476
  • 33. To the People of the United States (1810) ............ 485
  • 34. Election Address (1810) ............ 495
  • 35. Letters to the Evening Post on Albert Gallatin’s Plan for Enforcing the Non-Importation Act (1811) ............ 505
    • December 19, 1811 ............ 506
    • December 21, 1811 ............ 508
    • December 23, 1811 ............ 510
    • December 24, 1811 ............ 512
    • December 26, 1811 ............ 514
    • December 27, 1811 ............ 516
  • 36. Erie Canal Commission Report (1812) ............ 519
  • 37. An Address to the People of the State of New York on the Present State of Affairs (1812) ............ 537
  • 38. Discourse Before the New-York Historical Society (1812) ............ 551
  • 39. Oration Before the Washington Benevolent Society (1813) ............ 573
  • 40. Essays for the Examiner (1814) ............ 587
    • April 9, 1814 ............ 587
    • May 14, 1814 ............ 605
    • June 25, 1814 ............ 608
    • July 23, 1814 ............ 616
  • 41. Oration on Europe’s Deliverance from Despotism (1814) ............ 623
  • 42. To the Legislators of New York (1815) ............ 635
  • 43. An Inaugural Discourse (1816) ............ 641
  • 44. To the Bank Directors of New–York (1816) ............ 655
  • 45. Address on “National Greatness” (no date) ............ 661
  • Index ............ 665
Edition: current; Page: [viii] Edition: current; Page: [ix]


It seems to be customary to begin any discussion of the life and legacy of Gouverneur Morris by lamenting his neglect by later generations, as all four of his recent biographers have done. But however shameful posterity’s treatment of Morris may be, it is about what he expected. This was not because he despaired of America’s future or thought that the mob rule of the Jeffersonians would ruin the country, nor was it because he worried that Americans would be somehow deficient in reverence for their Founding Fathers. It was rather because he expected them to be forever looking forward. He was optimistic about the American future because he thought the spirit of the people would triumph over all difficulties, even the self-imposed ones: their own political follies and ignorance of the past.

Morris was born into a political family in 1752, the son of Lewis Morris, an Admiralty judge in New York, and his second wife Sarah Gouverneur. Three generations of the Morris family had held important positions in colonial government, while the Gouverneurs were merchants and landowners of Huguenot origin. It was as aristocratic a pedigree as anyone in the new world could claim.

Young Gouverneur was a good student, first at the Reverend Tetard’s school in New Rochelle and then at the Philadelphia Academy. At the age of twelve, he enrolled in King’s College (now Columbia University) and received his B.A. in 1768, at the age of sixteen, and a master of arts in 1771. Although a gifted student, Morris was hardly the ponderous academic. In his undergraduate years we have the first evidence of his irreverent streak coming to the surface, with his involvement in circulating a scandalous attack on one of the professors. For his oration at the commencement, he chose to speak on “Wit and Beauty.”1

Since his older half brothers had inherited the bulk of his father’s estate, Gouverneur needed a profession. Thus, upon completing his B.A. he began Edition: current; Page: [x] reading law in the office of William Smith, then one of the leaders of the New York bar. There he formed lifelong friendships with two of Smith’s other young protégés, Robert R. Livingston and John Jay. Smith’s busy practice brought Gouverneur into the center of New York’s governmental and commercial life. While still a seventeen-year-old clerk, Morris wrote and published his first commentary on a public matter, a letter opposing a new issue of bills of credit by the New York colony. The letter earned favorable notice and gained the young lawyer a reputation for expertise in public finance.

Although Morris took the colonists’ side in the constitutional dispute with Britain, he was a late convert to the cause of independence, giving him a reputation as a closet Tory that dogged him later. But once he became an advocate of separation, Morris never looked back. By early 1776 he was taking a prominent part in revolutionary committees and had become a strong advocate of setting up an effective machinery of government. Elected from Westchester County as a delegate to the first and third provincial congresses, his knowledge of law and public finance, together with his skills as a writer and debater, earned him a place on many of the important committees.

Morris and his fellow law clerks, Livingston and Jay, were largely responsible for drafting the New York Constitution of 1777. Later that year, Morris was elected a New York delegate to the Continental Congress, and he assumed his post early in 1778. He arrived in York, Pennsylvania, Congress’s temporary home, to find American fortunes and morale at perhaps their lowest ebb. The British had occupied Philadelphia, forcing Congress to scurry to safety across the Susquehanna; the army—what was left of it—was encamped in dangerously inadequate conditions at Valley Forge.

Morris took on his duties energetically. No sooner had he arrived in York than he was appointed to a committee charged with inspecting the conditions of the army. During his visit to Valley Forge, Morris consulted closely with George Washington on the needs of the army and the reforms needed to make it more effective. Morris came away with a report for Congress, and also with a lifelong admiration for the general. Returning to York, Morris immersed himself in Congress’s work, and over the next two years he served on many committees, often as chair, and drafted scores of resolutions and reports.

Morris’s visit to Valley Forge convinced him that the organization of government under the Continental Congress was seriously flawed. By mid-1778 he was putting substantial energy into proposals for reform. The root Edition: current; Page: [xi] of the problem, in his view, was the absence of an effective executive power. Congress, however, was not ready to accept this conclusion, and his proposals were largely ignored. So were his suggestions for reforming the nation’s finances, even though the depreciation of Congress’s paper currency was beginning to create widespread economic distress.

In the spring of 1778 Congress, recognizing that American morale had declined sharply and apprehensive that the Carlisle Commission would bring proposals from England that would undermine it further, Morris began a public relations offensive. He was prominent in these efforts, not only penning Congress’s public response to the Carlisle Commissioners’ proposals, but publishing several letters of his own. In these essays Morris first used the pseudonym “An American,” which he would use for the rest of his life.

Back home, Morris’s enemies in the New York legislature accused him of neglecting the state’s interests in Congress, and he was not re elected in 1779. Since New York City was still occupied by the British, he settled in Philadelphia, practicing law and engaging in business. While he was working to establish himself, he also found the time to solidify his reputation as a somewhat reckless young man-about-town. On May 15, 1780, as he leaped into his carriage, the horses started and Morris caught his foot in a wheel, badly breaking his ankle.2 The doctors recommended amputation, and Morris submitted to the operation gamely. He seems to have adapted well to the wooden leg. Even late in his life he rode, hiked, and danced—“hobbled,” he said—with few complaints and only minor mishaps.

One of Morris’s business partners was the Philadelphia merchant Robert Morris (to whom he was not related). Robert Morris’s financial genius was already legendary, and Gouverneur seems to have been an eager student. When “The Financier” became superintendent of finance for the Confederation Congress in 1781, he brought Gouverneur back into government as his assistant. Together they shaped American fiscal policy until the war ended. Many of Gouverneur’s ideas for reforming public finance were adopted in Robert’s “Report on the Public Credit” of 1782, which in turn influenced Alexander Hamilton’s report of the same name a decade later. While he was in the finance office, Gouverneur also made the first proposal Edition: current; Page: [xii] to create a decimal currency in the United States. In 1787 Robert persuaded the Pennsylvania legislature to appoint Gouverneur a delegate to the Constitutional Convention.

In James Madison’s words, Morris was “an able, an eloquent, and an active member” of the convention from the beginning of July on. Before that he had mostly been absent, called away to deal with his mother’s estate and the harbingers of collapse for Robert Morris’s business empire. Even so, he has the distinction of speaking more often than any other member. Although the final document differs substantially from the proposals Morris advocated in the convention, he supported it without reservation. What is more, he wrote the final draft, giving the Constitution its organization and its distinctive style. Madison said:

The finish given to the style and arrangement of the Constitution fairly belongs to the pen of Mr. Morris; the task having, probably, been handed over to him by the chairman of the Committee [William Samuel Johnson], himself a highly respectable member, and with the ready concurrence of the others. A better choice could not have been made, as the performance of the task proved. It is true, that the state of the materials . . . was a good preparation for the symmetry and phraseology of the instrument, but there was sufficient room for the talents and taste stamped by the author on the face of it.3

After the convention, Morris turned down Hamilton’s invitation to help write The Federalist Papers and returned to business and his law practice. But his long-awaited opportunity to go to Europe came in 1788, as Robert Morris’s European business interests soured further. Robert needed someone he trusted completely to oversee his European operations, and who better than his bright, energetic assistant? Gouverneur arrived in Paris early in 1789, and for the next three years was a private citizen, based in Paris but frequently traveling to London or elsewhere on business.

Because the United States did not yet have a minister in London, George Washington asked Morris to make some confidential soundings of the British government. Although Morris did not achieve his or Washington’s aims in London (his enemies claimed, with some justification, that he compromised the mission by confiding it to the French ambassador), this did Edition: current; Page: [xiii] not prevent Washington from submitting his name in late 1791 as U.S. minister to France. The appointment was controversial. He was known to be pessimistic about the course of the French Revolution, and to some, including Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, pessimism was identical with hostility. Worse, he had been known to have helped—and, it was rumored, advised—Louis XVI. Beyond that, his lack of reserve in expressing his opinions, his indiscretion in London, and his taste for fast living had given Morris a reputation as anything but diplomatic. Washington knew all this. Yet Morris was his candidate in spite of others’ reservations:

I will place the ideas of your political adversaries, in the light which their arguments have presented them to me, vizt. That the promptitude, with which your lively and brilliant imagination is displayed, allows too little time for deliberation and correction; and is the primary cause of those sallies, which too often offend, and of that ridicule of characters, which begets enmity not easy to be forgotten, but which might easily be avoided, if it was under the control of more caution and prudence. In a word, that it is indispensably necessary, that more circumspection should be observed by our representatives abroad, than they conceive you are inclined to adopt.4

Over the next two years, Morris tried to live up to Washington’s admonitions, even as he faced as challenging an assignment as any American diplomat has ever had. The Revolution entered its most turbulent phase in 1792, and often it was difficult even to know who was in charge. Each succeeding faction tried to destroy the members of the one that preceded it; any diplomat who had good relations with one government was likely to be persona non grata to the next. As long as he remained minister, Morris did what he could to protect Americans and French citizens alike from the worst ravages of the Reign of Terror. For a time he was the only foreign diplomat remaining in Paris; the others had all decided it was too dangerous. Of course, as one who was known to have advised the king, and whose lack of “caution and prudence” before his appointment made his opinions public knowledge, Morris was an obvious target, and in mid-1794 he was replaced by James Monroe.

Relieved to be a private citizen again, Morris left France in the fall of Edition: current; Page: [xiv] 1794 and spent the next four years in Europe, traveling, visiting French exiles, and conducting his business. Wherever he went, he circulated among the social and political elite, and he freely passed on intelligence and gossip as he made the rounds. Politics intruded frequently. In Vienna he lobbied the Austrian government, all the way to the emperor, to release Lafayette from prison. In Britain, he found time to write a pamphlet opposing the radical reform proposals of the London Corresponding Society. But finally in 1798 he came back to the United States and settled in at Morrisania, the family home in what is now the Bronx.

Morris filled one more public office, elected to an unexpired term in the U.S. Senate in 1800 but not reelected in 1802. After that, he continued to speak and write on public affairs and to perform public service when called upon. In 1807 he served on the commission that laid out the street grid for New York City. Despite their political differences, the Federalist Morris and the Democratic-Republican DeWitt Clinton (nephew of his old colleague and mentor, Governor George Clinton) would work together on many public projects. Their most enduring achievement came from their membership on New York’s Commission on Internal Navigation, better known as the Erie Canal Commission.

Morris was deeply skeptical of innovations in politics and was persuaded that human nature dictated a powerful role for self-interest in any governmental scheme. He was thus distrustful of the elite and the mob equally, although at different times he saw each as the more immediate threat. After the Jeffersonians’ victory in 1800, he was convinced that the mob had come to power. But this mob was not ruling in its own interest; it was being manipulated by a Southern slaveholding elite bent on using government to protect its privileges. The three-fifths clause, which Morris had opposed at the Constitutional Convention, gave the slaveholding power an edge in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College, but to secure its rule this faction needed to curb the power of Northern commercial interests. It proceeded to pick a series of unnecessary fights with England, and from 1806 forward, the Jeffersonians’ trade policies seriously damaged the economies of New York and other trading states.

The Jeffersonian ascendancy left Morris gloomy about American politics in his last years. Nevertheless, he remained optimistic about the American future. His own last years featured a domestic contentment that he had never known before. In 1809 the fifty-seven-year-old bachelor finally married. His wife, Anne Cary Randolph, was a Virginia Randolph and younger sister of John Randolph of Roanoke. In spite of or because of her own scandalous Edition: current; Page: [xv] past, they were a good match. Their son, also named Gouverneur, was born in 1813. By this time Morris was an elder statesman, sought for Fourth of July speeches and civic committees, and he retained the optimism and the serene temperament that had always been part of his makeup. On his deathbed in November 1816 he expressed no regrets: “Sixty-four years ago, it pleased the Almighty to call me into existence—here on this spot, in this very room; and now shall I complain that he is pleased to call me hence?”5

Edition: current; Page: [xvi] Edition: current; Page: [xvii]


This project has benefited from the help of many people. Foremost among them have been the staffs of the many libraries that I have consulted. Bernard Crystal, and later Jennifer Lee, of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University facilitated my access to the Morris manuscripts deposited there, as did Patrick Kerwin and Emily Howie of the Library of Congress. The staff of Houghton Library, Harvard University, guided me to the Jared Sparks papers, and Roy Goodman of the American Philosophical Society gave helpful encouragement and advice. The staffs of the Boston Athenaeum, Beinecke Library of Yale University, Pattee Library of Penn State University, and Firestone Library of Princeton University also provided helpful and timely assistance. This project would never have been completed, however, if it had not been for the staff of L. A. Beeghly Library at Juniata College. Lynn Jones was persistent in prying materials from reluctant lenders through interlibrary loan. Julie Woodling put me onto the Charles Brockden Brown Archive and Scholarly Edition and alerted me to the archivists’ skepticism about Brown’s authorship of “The British Treaty.” Andy Dudash—Old Faithful—came through time and again with information and sources, and introduced me to the Juniata pamphlet collection. I am very grateful to all of them.

The James Madison Program at Princeton University provided me an incomparable place to work during my sabbatical in 2007–8. I am grateful to the program’s founder and director, Robert P. George, and to Executive Director Brad Wilson, for being such generous hosts, and to the Garwood family for their support of my fellowship. Duanyi Wang is a magician with computer files; without her help this project would never have been done on time. Juniata College provided the sabbatical leave, and the Provost’s Office—Jim Lakso and Joanne Krugh—has supported this project in many ways large and small since the very beginning.

A number of Juniata students have worked on this project over the seven years from its first conception until its completion: Nicole Watson, Rebecca Zajdel, Amber Laird, Emily Hauser, Sarah Weick, Mariel Edition: current; Page: [xviii] Little, Jacob Gordon, Manal Daher-Mansour, Jordan Yeagley, and Madeline Rathey have all contributed in helpful ways.

Many colleagues have offered encouragement and support for the project as well, prominent among them Michael Zuckert, William B. Allen, John Kaminski, Art Kaufman, Melanie Miller, James Kirschke, and Barbara Oberg. My class of fellows at the James Madison Program—Robert L. Clinton, David Ericson, Paul Kerry, Daryl Charles, and Sebastien Viguier—provided help and good conversation. My Juniata colleagues Jim Tuten, David Sowell, David Hsiung, Emil Nagengast, and Dennis Plane have also been very supportive; Belle Tuten advised me on many of the Latin translations. Laura Goetz of Liberty Fund has been consistently helpful and patient throughout the project. I am also grateful for the very helpful and careful editing by the Liberty Fund staff.

Most of all I am grateful for the support of my family—my wife, Kathleen, and our children, Susan, David, and Julia—who have suffered through this project in many ways. My son David was the only one who actually had a hand in it, however, and I appreciate his careful editing of many of the headnotes and the introduction.

The errors are mine.

Edition: current; Page: [xix]

A Note on the Texts

In thinking about the selections for this collection, I considered what writings of Morris were already available, and what would be most useful. His diaries have been published twice, first in a heavily edited form by his granddaughter in 1888, and in a somewhat less censored form by his great-granddaughter in 1939. Many of his more interesting letters are quoted, sometimes (but not always) in their entirety, in Sparks’s biography or in the 1888 edition of the Diary and Letters. His public writings—speeches, newspaper articles, and reports—were often difficult to find, however. In these writings, Morris develops his arguments more fully than is often the case in his letters, and so they help us attain a more complete view of his political and economic thinking. This selection includes published writings as well as several unpublished essays and speeches. They are presented chronologically for the sake of simplicity and to provide a minimum of editorial intrusion.

In the 1830s Morris’s widow, Anne, turned over the full collection of his manuscripts to Jared Sparks, but since that time they have been scattered. Some have disappeared. Those published in Morris’s lifetime were available in various newspapers or pamphlets but sometimes not identified or misidentified. Many are available in the American Antiquarian Society’s useful collections of Early American Imprints and American Historical Newspapers. Even so, only someone with access to both the manuscript collection and printed sources could identify, with any confidence, writings that had been published anonymously or under pseudonyms.

Even with the restriction to writings for the public, I have had to be selective. Not included in this collection are his two graduation orations from 1768 and 1771, “Wit and Beauty” and “Love,” respectively. Both of these are available in the manuscript collection at Columbia University, together with an 1805 “Oration on Music,” also not included here. Among printed documents, I have omitted the “Observations on the American Revolution,” written for Congress in 1778, because it is primarily composed of quotations from other documents. It, along with Morris’s speech in the Edition: current; Page: [xx] Senate on the Ross Resolutions, his eulogy of George Clinton, and the joint Morris/Robert Fulton pamphlet “Advantages of the Proposed [Erie] Canal,” are available in microform or electronically through the American Antiquarian Society’s Early American Imprints series.

Several newspaper essays have also been omitted, most of them published in the New-York Evening Post under Morris’s pseudonym “An American.”1

All manuscript material is from the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University. The material published in Morris’s lifetime has long since become part of the public domain, but it is scattered widely, and I am grateful to the libraries and institutions that have allowed me access to their collections. I have included information on the holding institution with the documents. Where no holding institution is indicated, the material is from the microform collection in Pattee Library of Penn State University.

I have tried to track down all of Morris’s quotations, as well as key references in the documents, although a few left me stumped. In several places I have silently corrected typographical errors in the published material. The transcriptions and all of the shorter translations are mine. I have used Sparks’s translation of the French portions of the “Observations on the New Constitution of France,” however, which seems to have relatively few errors and would scarcely be improved by adding new errors of my own.

Edition: current; Page: [xxi]

Selected Bibliography

Primary Sources

Morris, Gouverneur. The Diaries of Gouverneur Morris: European Travels, 1794–1798. Edited by Melanie Randolph Miller. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011.
———. The Diary and Letters of Gouverneur Morris. Edited by Anne Cary Morris. 2 vols. New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1888; reprint, n.p.: Dodo Press, n.d.
———. A Diary of the French Revolution. Edited by Beatrix Cary Davenport. 2 vols. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1939; reprint Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1972.
———. Papers. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.
———. Papers. Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University.
Sparks, Jared. The Life of Gouverneur Morris, with Selections from his Correspondence and Miscellaneous Papers. 3 vols. Boston: Gray & Bowen, 1832.


Adams, William Howard. Gouverneur Morris: An Independent Life. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.
Brookhiser, Richard. Gentleman Revolutionary: Gouverneur Morris—The Rake Who Wrote the Constitution. New York: Free Press, 2003.
Crawford, Alan Pell. Unwise Passions: A True Story of a Remarkable Woman—and the First Great Scandal of Eighteenth-Century America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000.
Kirschke, James J. Gouverneur Morris: Author, Statesman, and Man of the World. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2005.
Kline, Mary-Jo. Gouverneur Morris and the New Nation, 1775–1788. Dissertations in American Economic History Series. New York: Arno Press, 1978.
Miller, Melanie Randolph. Envoy to the Terror: Gouverneur Morris and the French Revolution. Dulles, Va.: Potomac Books, 2005. Edition: current; Page: [xxii]
———. An Incautious Man: The Life of Gouverneur Morris. Wilmington, Del.: ISI Books, 2008.
Mintz, Max M. Gouverneur Morris and the American Revolution. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970.
Roosevelt, Theodore. Gouverneur Morris. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1898.
Swigett, Howard. The Extraordinary Mr. Morris. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1952.

Articles, Chapters, and Dissertations

Adams, Willi Paul. “‘The Spirit of Commerce Requires That Property Be Sacred’: Gouverneur Morris and the American Revolution.” Amerikastudien 21 (1976): 327–31.
Fassiotto, Marie-José. “Gouverneur Morris, peintre oublié de la Révolution française.” French Review 62 (1989): 997-1007.
Kaufman, Arthur P. “The Constitutional Views of Gouverneur Morris.” PhD diss., Georgetown University, 1992.
Mintz, Max M. “Gouverneur Morris, George Washington’s War Hawk.” Virginia Quarterly Review 79 (2003): 651–61.
Nedelsky, Jennifer. “Aristocratic Capitalism: The Federalist Alternative of Gouverneur Morris.” Chapter 3 in Private Property and the Limits of American Constitutionalism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.
Robinson, Donald L. “Gouverneur Morris and the Design of the American Presidency.” Presidential Studies Quarterly 17 (1987): 319–28.
Ziesche, Philipp. “Exporting American Revolutions: Gouverneur Morris, Thomas Jefferson, and the National Struggle for Universal Rights in Revolutionary France.” Journal of the Early Republic 26 (2006): 419–47.
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To Secure the Blessings of Liberty
Selected Writings of Gouverneur Morris

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1: To the Inhabitants of the Colony of New-York (1769)*

The first of Morris’s works that has come down to us is his oration on “Wit and Beauty” for the King’s College commencement exercises upon completing his B.A. in 1768. Three years later, receiving his M.A., he delivered an address on “Love.”1 His biographers have not failed to note that in these addresses, Morris sounded academic themes well suited to his unique blend of the intellectual and the romantic.

Meanwhile, on completing his B.A. he had embarked on a more prosaic career as a lawyer. But it, too, seemed to fit him well. His apprenticeship in the law office of William Smith immersed Morris in the commercial and political life of colonial New York; and there he formed lifelong friendships with his fellow law clerk John Jay and a young lawyer in Smith’s office, Robert R. (Chancellor) Livingston.

In 1769, the New York Assembly decided to finance the colony’s debts through an issue of bills of credit. This was a frequent expedient in the colonies, where a shortage of hard currency restricted commerce and left governments perpetually short of revenue.2 But paper money brought its own problems, and even though New York’s was better managed than some, the commercial and creditor interests stood opposed. In this letter Morris, just shy of his 18th birthday, displays the ability to understand and explain the intricacies of public finance that would mark him as a young man on the rise.

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There is a report, that our assembly have been promised the royal assent to the issuing a paper currency. Many in this province declaim against it as pernicious, many extol it as productive of the most solid advantages.

Unpracticed in civil policy, wholly ignorant of exchequer business, and almost a stranger to this currency, I lay before you, the unprejudiced sentiments of a private citizen. Sentiments which reason impresses upon his mind, which a love of his country, and a tender solicitude for its welfare, compels him to make known. Bear with me then a little, whilst I endeavour to trace the effects attendant upon public bills of credit. To evolve which, let us suppose

The money in a country } equal to { £.1000
The yearly exported produce } { 1000
Foreign goods imported yearly } { 600
And the sum struct be to cancelled to in twenty years by an equable tax during that term } { 2000

Let us suppose farther that such a country is indebted to a foreign state 4000l. at 5 per cent. per annum.

Hence it is apparent, that if no money is struck, the foreign debt will, in twenty years, with interest, amount to £.8000.
The ballance of trade in their favour of 400l. per ann. will in twenty years amount to £.8000
Remains due £.0000
The interest at 5 per cent upon that ballance, from the time it arises to the end of that term of twenty years is £.3800

which would remain and circulate among the inhabitants let this money be struck.

Now since it is an invariable true maxim, that the prices of all commodities rise and fall, according to the relative scarceness or plenty of money; since it is as true, that the value both of home produce exported, and foreign goods imported, must be estimated by that price for which they sell, at the place where they are sold; and since by stricking the above supposed sum, the quantity of current money would be encreased two thirds, therefore foreign goods imported will thereupon rise to the value of £1000, and this equals their exported produce, so that no ballance will (as before) remain to pay their debt. But further, as this debt would continually demand payments, because continually increased by the importation of foreign Edition: current; Page: [3] goods; as these payments will always (for convenience of those in trade, and for other reasons too tedious to mention) be made by bills of exchange; and as these for the reason above mentioned will rise two thirds; consequently every year’s remittance will be lessened in that proportion, but to obviate objections which may be made, let us suppose barely one fifth which they most certainly would; then instead of £1000 they would remit £800 and the account would stand thus,

Original debt £.4000
Interest for twenty years, at 5 per cent £.4000
Yearly increase of debt by £200 through default of remittances for twenty years £.4000
Interest upon that increase from time of default to the end of the term £.1900

These therefore would be the consequences of a paper currency under such circumstances. Instead of having a debt of £4000 paid, and their current gold and silver increased by £3800, they would find them in the same situation as before, and their debt increased to £13,900. Their loss therefore upon the whole would be £17,700, a sum so large that the above supposed ballance of trade in their favour, would not pay the interest at 21/2 per cent. I shudder with horror when I would apply this calculation to the province.

It is said that the foreign manufactures imported into this colony exceed in value, the home produce which we export, if so, what will be our situation twenty years hence if this paper currency takes place? A question will naturally arise here; Why are the inhabitants of the colony so fond of this currency, if it be so pernicious in its consequences? It is because they do not know those consequences, because they will not know them; because they are in debt one to another, and because, from a selfishness they ought to be ashamed of, they would pay those debts at the expence of the province: The farmer owes money to the merchant, and will be able to pay it by taking up money at interest, two per cent cheaper than he can now; the merchant if the farmer is enabled to pay him two per cent cheaper, thinks he will pay him; and if he does, he can buy bills at an exorbitant price to pay part of his debts in Great-Britain, and gain credit to run himself farther in debt: as to his loss on sterling bills, that may at any time be compensated, by raising the price of his sterling manufactures. And thus that the debtors in the province, and who compose but a part of the province, may clear two per cent on the monies they owe; the province itself is to be ruined, and that some men may be relieved of a present burden, which extravagance has laid Edition: current; Page: [4] upon their shoulders; posterity is to be involved beyond a possibility of redemption.

I am sorry; that to this argument, the advocates for a paper currency reply in such manner as is really shocking to humanity. For when the abyss into which they are endeavouring to plunge the province, opens itself before them, and discovers all its horrors; when convinced that such a measure will inevitably ruin their children, if on that account some members of the community less infatuated than the rest, prays them to desist, and beseeches them if they will not help themselves, not to entail ruin upon posterity: The answer is, “Let posterity be ruined. What mighty obligations have our children conferred upon us, that to free them from a burden, we should bear it ourselves? Will they thank us for so doing?” Partial reasoners! To relieve yourselves of a small weight, you strive to crush them with a great one; and for a little present ease to yourselves, you are accumulating a load of ills which in a little time will bear them down, under the weight of which, they must sink. Surely for such conduct, they will have reason to curse such parents. But even if you have no regard for them, at least take care of yourselves, it is putting the evil day off for a very little while. Many of us may live above twenty years, and feel the bad effects of our misconduct, and if we do not live so long these effects are not the produce of a moment, they will grow up with an equal increase during the whole of that term, and we shall certainly feel them. Even this therefore, the most barbarous, inhuman shadow of reason which sophism could invent to deceive and betray us, vanishes away. Grant, great God, that the light of truth may dispel every other error. May you, my countrymen, be convinced of your true interests, and with your wonted magnanimity steadily pursue them. May you be endowed with patience to bear present small evils in preferance to future great ones; and may you have fortitude to resist the importunities and arguments, to refute the fallacies of those schemers, who with a specious appearance would decoy us into ruin. For however they may gild the bitter pill they want us to swallow, and whatever shew of reason drawn from our necessities, they may produce to make us swallow it, still these truths stand uncontroverted, that a multiplied paper currency, is a never failing source of national debt, and that THERE ARE NO BOUNDS TO NATIONAL DEBT BUT NATIONAL DESTRUCTION.

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2: Political Enquiries (1776)*

The precise occasion for these “Political Enquiries” is unknown, but at the time of their composition these themes would have been very much on Morris’s mind. As events moved toward American independence, people’s thoughts naturally turned to questions of the purposes and origins of government. Morris had taken a leading part in the patriot cause from his election to the first New York provincial congress in 1775, although for many months he remained hopeful that there could be a reconciliation. By 1776, that caution had evaporated. These short pieces are clearly drafts, with many lines crossed out and as many more inserted. Probably they were meant for Morris’s private use, as he set about preparing himself for the problems of self-government that were ahead.1

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Of the Object of Government

Is it the legitimate Object of Government to accumulate royal Magnificence, to maintain aristocratic Pre-Eminence, or extend national Dominion? The answer presents itself: Is it then the public Good? Let us reflect before we reply. Men may differ in their Ideas of public Good. Rulers therefore may be mistaken. In the sincere Desire to promote it just Men may be proscribed, unjust Wars declared, Property be invaded & violence patronized. Alas! How often has public Good been made the Pretext to Atrocity! How often has the Maxim Salus populi suprema Lex esto,2 been written in Blood!

Suppose a man about to become the Citizen of another State and bargaining for the Terms. What would be his Motive? Surely the Encrease of his own felicity. Hence he would reject every Condition incompatible with that Object, and exact for its Security every Stipulation. Propose to him that when Government might think proper he should be immolated for the public Good: would he agree? To ascertain that Compact which in all Societies is implied, we must discover that which each Individual would express. The Object of Government then is to provide the Happiness of the People.

But are Governments ordained of God? I dare not answer. If they are, they must have been intended for the Happiness of Mankind. Hence an important Lesson to those who are charged with the Rule of Men.

Of Human Happiness

We need not enquire whether mortal Beings are capable of absolute felicity; but it is important to know by what means they may obtain the greatest Portion which is compatible with their State of Existence. Three questions arise: What constitutes the Happiness of a Man, of a State, of the World? The same Answer applies to each. Virtue. Obedience to the moral Law. Of avoidable Evil, there would be less in the World if the Conduct of States towards each other was regulated by Justice; there would be less in Society if each Individual did to others what he would wish from them; and less would fall to every Man’s Lott if he were calm temperate and humane. To inculcate Obedience to the moral Law is therefore the best means of promoting human Happiness. Hence a maxim. No Government can lawfully Edition: current; Page: [7] command what is wrong. Hence also an important Reflection. If Government dispenses with the Rules of Justice, it impairs the Object for which it was ordained.

But how shall Obedience to the moral Law be inculcated? By Education Manners Example & Laws. Hence it follows that Government should watch over the Education of Youth. That Honor and Authority should not be conferred on vicious Men. That those entrusted with office should not only be virtuous but appear so. And that the Laws should compel the Performance of Contracts, give Redress for Injuries, and punish Crimes.

Of Public Virtue

Which should be most encouraged by a wise Government public or private Virtue? Another question immediately arises. Can there be any Difference between them? In other Words, can the same thing be right and wrong? If an Action be in its own Nature wrong, we can never justify it from a Relation to the public Interest but by the Motive of the Actor. & who can know his Motive? From what Principle of the human Heart is public Virtue derived? Benevolence knows not any Distinctions of Nation or Country. Perhaps if the most brilliant Instances of roman Virtue were brought to the ordeal of Reason, they would fly off in the light Vapor of Vanity.

A Man expends his fortune in political Pursuits. Was he influenced by the Desire of personal Consideration, or by that of doing Good? If the latter, has Good been effected which would not have been otherwise produced? If it has, was he justifiable in sacrificing to it the Subsistence of his Family? These are important questions; but there remains one more. Would not as much Good have followed from an industrious attention to his own Affairs? A Nation of Politicians, neglecting their own Business for that of the State, would be the most weak miserable and contemptible Nation on Earth. But that Nation in which every Man does his own Duty, must enjoy the greatest possible Degree of public and private Felicity.

Of Political Liberty

Political Liberty is defined, the right of assenting to or dissenting from every Public Act by which a Man is to be bound. Hence, the perfect enjoyment of it presupposes a Society in which unanimous Consent is required to every public Act. It is less perfect where the Majority govern. Still less Edition: current; Page: [8] where the Power is in a representative Body. Still less where either the executive or judicial is not elected. Still less where only the legislative is elected. Still less where a Part of the Representatives can decide. Still less where such Part is not a Majority of the whole. Still less where the Decisions of such Majority may be delayed or overruled. Thus the Shades grow weaker and weaker, till no Trace remains. But is it not destroyed by the first Restriction?

In England, a Majority of Citizens does not elect the Majority of Representatives. A certain Part of those Representatives being met, the Majority of them can bind the Electors. The Decisions of these Representatives are confined to the legislative Department. And the Dissent of the Lords or of the King sets aside what the Commons had determined. The Englishman therefore does not, in any degree, possess the Right of dissenting from Acts by which he is affected, so far as those Acts relate to the Executive or judicial Department. And in respect to the legislature, his political Liberty consists in the Chance that certain Persons will not consent to Acts which he would not have approved. And is that a Right which, depending on a Complication of Chances, gives one thousand against him for one in his favor? Right is not only independent of, but excludes the Idea of Chance.

Of Society

Of these three things Life Liberty Property the first can be enjoyed as well without the aid of Society as with it. The second better. We must therefore seek in the third for the Cause of Society. Without Society Property in Goods is extremely precarious. There is not even the Idea of Property in Lands. Conventions to defend each others Goods naturally apply to the Defence of those Places where the Goods are deposited. The Object of such Conventions must be to preserve for each his own share. It follows therefore that Property is the principal Cause & Object of Society.

Of the Progress of Society

Property in goods is the first step in Progression from a State of Nature to that of Society. Till property in lands be admitted Society continues rude and barbarous. After the lands are divided a long space intervenes before perfect Civilization is effected. The Progress will be accelerated or retarded in Proportion as the administration of justice is more or less exact. Here then are three distinct kinds of Society:

1. rude and which must continue Edition: current; Page: [9] so. 2. progressive towards Civilization. 3. Civilized. For Instances of each take: 1. The Tartar Hords & American Savages. 2. The History of any European Kingdom before the sixteenth century and the present State of Poland. 3ly. the actual Circumstances of France and England.

If the forgoing reflections be just this Conclusion results that the State of Society is perfected in Proportion as the Rights of Property are secured.

Of Natural Liberty

Natural Liberty absolutely excludes the Idea of political Liberty since it implies in every Man the Right to do what he pleases. So long, therefore, as it exists Society cannot be established and when Society is established natural Liberty must cease. It must be restricted. But Liberty restricted is no longer the same. He who wishes to enjoy natural Rights must establish himself where natural Rights are admitted. He must live alone.

If he prefers Society the utmost Liberty he can enjoy is political. Is there a Society in which this political Liberty is perfect? Shall it be said that Poland is that Society? It must first be admitted that nine tenths of the Nation (the Serfs) are not Men. But dignify the Nobles with an exclusive title to the Rank of Humanity and then examine their Liberum Veto.3 By this it is in the Power of a single Dissent to prevent a Resolution. Unanimity therefore being required no Man is bound but by his own Consent at least no noble man. If it be the Question to enact a law this is well. But suppose the Reverse. Or suppose the public Defence at Stake. In both Cases the Majority are bound by the minority or even by one. This then is not political Liberty.

Progress of Society. The Effect on Political Liberty

We find then that perfect political liberty is a Contradiction in Terms. The Limitation is essential to its existence. Like natural Liberty it is a Theory. A has the natural Right to do as he pleases. So has B. A in consequence of his natural Right binds B to an oak. If it be said that Each is to Edition: current; Page: [10] use his right so as not to injure that of another we come at once within the Pale of civil or social Right.

That Degree of political Liberty essential to one State of Society is incompatible with another. The Mohawks or Oneidas may assemble together & decide by the Majority of Votes. The six Nations must decide by a Majority of the Sachems.4 In a numerous Society Representation must be substituted for a general assemblage. But arts produce a Change as essential as Population. In order that government decide properly it must understand the Subject. The objects of legislation are in a rude Society simple in a more advanced State complex. Of two things therefore one. Either Society must stop in its Progression for the Purpose of preserving political Liberty or the latter must be checked that the former may proceed.

Where political Liberty is in excess Property must always be insecure and where Property is not secure Society cannot advance. Suppose a state governed by Representatives equally & annually chosen of which the Majority to govern. Either the Laws would be so arbitrary & fluctuating as to destroy Property or Property would so influence the Legislature as to destroy Liberty. Between these two Extremes Anarchy.

Of Commerce

The most rapid Advances in the State of Society are produced by Commerce. Is it a Blessing or a Curse? Before this Question be decided let the present and former State of commercial Countries be compared. Commerce once begun is from its own Nature progressive. It may be impeded or destroyed not fixed. It requires not only the perfect Security of Property but perfect good faith. Hence its Effects are to encrease civil and diminish political Liberty. If the public be in Debt to an Individual political Liberty enables a Majority to cancel the Obligation but the spirit of Commerce exacts punctual Payment. In a Despotism everything must bend to the Prince. He can seize the Property of his Subject but the Spirit of Commerce requires that Property be secured. It requires also that every Citizen have the Right freely to use his Property.

Now as Society is in itself Progressive as Commerce gives a mighty Spring to that progressive force as the effects both joint and Separate are to diminish political Liberty. And as Commerce cannot be stationary the society without it may. It follows that political Liberty must be restrained Edition: current; Page: [11] or Commerce prohibited. If a Medium be sought it will occasion a Contest between the spirit of Commerce and that of the Government till Commerce is ruined or Liberty destroyed. Perhaps both. These Reflections are justified by the different Italian Republics.

Civil Liberty in Connection with Political

Political Liberty considered separately from civil Liberty can have no other Effect than to gratify Pride. That society governs itself is a pleasing reflection to Members at their Ease but will it console him whose Property is confiscated by an unjust Law? A Majority influenced by the Heat of party spirit banishes a virtuous Man and takes his Effects. Is Poverty or is Exile less bitter decreed by a thousand than inflicted by one? Examine that Majority. In the Madness of Victory are they free from apprehension? What happens this day to the Victim of their Rage may it not happen tomorrow to his Persecutors?

If we consider political in Connection with civil Liberty we place the former as the Guard and Security to the latter. But if the latter is given up for the former we sacrifice the End to the Means. We have seen that the Progress of Society tends to Encrease civil and diminish political Liberty. We shall find on Reflection that civil Liberty itself restricts political. Every Right of the Subject with Respect to the Government must derogate from its Authority or be thereby destroyed. The Authority of Magistrates is taken from that mass of Power which in rude Societies and unballanced Democracies is wielded by the Majority. Every Separation of the Executive and judicial Authority from the Legislative is a Diminution of political and Encrease of civil Liberty. Every Check and Ballance of that Legislature has a like Effect and yet by these Means alone can political Liberty itself be secured. Its Excess becomes its Destruction.

In looking back we shall be struck with the following Progression Happiness the Object of Government. Virtue the Source of Happiness. Civil Liberty the Guardian of Virtue political liberty the Defence of civil. Restrictions on political Liberty the only Means of preserving it.

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3: Oration on the Necessity for Declaring Independence from Britain (1776)*

Morris did not serve in the second New York Provincial Congress, which was elected in November 1775. The following spring, however, he was elected to the third. By this time he had abandoned any hope for reconciliation with Britain. If independence was coming, it was urgent for the colonies to assume full responsibility for governing themselves; as Morris argues in this speech, independence and self-government are effectively synonymous. The implication is clear. The Provincial Congress must stop thinking of itself merely as a protest body, and begin to think like a government.

It is not clear when this speech was made. Max M. Mintz argues that it was given May 24, 1776, when Morris is reported to have made “a long argument showing the necessity of the measure.”1 The first half of the manuscript is missing.

. . . Merchant, rather than the Husbandman, is to be delivered unto Satan to be buffeted. Furthermore I am convinced that heavy Duties and Impositions on Trade to a certain amount will more effectually injure the Husbandman himself, than any direct Tax you can possibly impose. Shall we secure ourselves by a covenant that the Money shall all be lodged in Provincial Treasuries, and granted away at the Discretion of our Assemblies? This indeed looks very well. But what shall we be the better, for having a Edition: current; Page: [14] Pile of Money in the Treasurer’s Box? Sure we shall be as much distressed, by putting it there, as any where else. Neither can I perswade myself that it would even remain there long, for the Governors and their Assemblies might soon come to a good Understanding with each other, & then nothing can be easier than to share the spoils. Ireland will teach us the whole mystery of Government on this Head. Let me go a little farther. Is the bright Goddess of Liberty “whose Altar’s Earth Sea Skies,”2 is she only to be worshipped in the narrow Temple of Taxation? Advert (I beseech) you to first Principles. Power can not safely be entrusted to Men, who are not accountable to those over whom it is exercised. On this Rock I build. Now Tell me, the Tribunal before which we shall cite the Members of the British Legislature. None that I know of except the august seat of Heaven, & few Men will be found ready to go there in order to prosecute the Appeal. True it is we may make the last Resort to arms, but more of that presently.

Come, sir, don’t let us be discouraged; undoubtedly you will find some State Carpenter ready to frame this disjointed Government & warrant his work. And if there should be some Flaws, considering the Protection you receive from Britain, you ought to put up with them. I know he will tell you so. Protection, Sir, is a very good Thing, yet a man may pay too Dear for Diamonds. There is a common story of a certain Juggler, who would undertake to cut off a Man’s Head, and clap it on again so neatly as to cure him without a Scar. Much such a sort of juggling Business, is this Protection we are to receive. Great Britain will not fail to bring us into a War with some of her Neighbours, and then protect us as a Lawyer defends a Suit, the client paying for it. This is quite in Form, but a wise Man would rather I think get rid of the suit and the Lawyer together. Again, how are we to be protected? If a Descent is made upon our Coasts, and the British Navy and Army are three thousand miles off, we cannot receive very great Benefit from them on that Occasion. If, to obviate this Inconvenience, we have an Army and Navy constantly among us, who can say that we shall not need a little Protection against them? We may indeed put a Clause in the Edition: current; Page: [15] Agreement, that Britain shall not use them to enslave us; and then all will be safe, for we cannot suppose they will break their promise.

Thus I find, Sir, that with the Help of a few Rheams of Paper, and a few Gallons of Ink, we may draw out a large Treaty, filled with cautious Items, and wise et ceteras. Then the whole affair is settled. America is quite independent of Great Britain, except that they have the same King. For altho the British Parliament is allowed to possess, in the Name of Supremacy, an immense Train of Legislative Powers; there are contained in the Agreement, strict Inhibitions from using any one of them. Thus it is settled I say for seven years. Not a Day farther. The very next Parliament, not being bound by the Acts of the former, the whole is in Law as to them a Nullity. Our Acknowledgement of Supremacy binds us as Subjects, and our most exquisite Restrictions being contrary to the very Nature of civil Society, are meerly void. Remember too, that no Faith is to be kept with Rebels.

In this case, or in any other case, if we fancy ourselves hardly dealt with, I maintain there is no Redress but by Arms. For it never yet was known, that when Men assume Power, they will part with it again unless by Compulsion. Now the Bond of continental Union once broken, a vast Load of Debt accumulated, many Lives lost, and nothing got; I wonder whether the People of this Country, would again chuse to put themselves into the Hands of a Congress, even if a general attack was made upon their Liberties. But undoubtedly the whole Continent would not run to arms immediately upon an Attempt against one of the Colonies, and thus one after another, we should infallibly be subjugated to that Power, which we know would destroy even the Shadow of Liberty among us.

These, and ten thousand other reasons Sir, all serve to convince me; that to make a solid & lasting Peace, with Liberty and Security, is utterly impracticable. My Argument therefore stands thus. As a connection with great Britain cannot again exist, without enslaving America, an Independence is absolutely necessary. I cannot ballance between the two. We run a Hazard in one path I confess, but then are infallibly ruined if we pursue the other.

Let us however act fairly. Let us candidly examine this Independence. Let us look back how much of the Journey is past and forward how much is yet to come. Many objects are hideous, only from the [illegible] at which they are viewed. Strict Scrutiny may sometimes give us the Demonstration of sense, that things frightful at the first Appearance, are nevertheless of great utility. The Perfection of Man is to be guided by Reason. And above Edition: current; Page: [16] all Men those who are intrusted with public Concerns, should as much as Possible divest themselves of every Prejudice and Passion. Without Passion or Prejudice therefore, let us coolly go round this Subject & examine it on every Side.

Here it will be necessary to determine in what it consists, which will naturally open our Attention to what further steps are necessary to the Completion of it. Then perhaps it may be proper to weigh the Consequences, as well for the future, as for the present Generation. Let us then imagine ourselves far removed from the present Age. Ignorant entirely of present Transactions, further than History delivereth them: And reasoning about Events, with philosophic Indifference. Or rather let us suppose ourselves elevated upon some vast Mountain, from whence we can see below us all the Glories of human Life, with all its Follies, and all its Cares. Some Mountain round whose Base roar Tempests and Storms, whilst the serenity of Wisdom blazes on the Summit. Call to your Aid the Magnanimity of true Statesmen, and you have gained this splendid Heighth.

Sir, I believe no such thing as perfect Independence, ever yet existed in any State. The Wants and Weaknesses of Cities, Kingdoms and Empires; like the Wants and Weaknesses of those Miserables who inhabit them, form mutual Connections, Relations and Dependencies [one line is obscured here] necessarily adapted to various Purposes. Independence then, applied to Communities, can mean nothing more than the Powers which separate Societies exercise among themselves. These relate to the Society compared either with its component Parts, or with other Societies. As to the first, it comprehends Legislation & distributive Justice. The second consists in Coining Money, raising Armies, regulating Commerce, Peace, War & Treaties. These, Sir, I take to be the grand Lineaments & Characteristics, which mark out Indepence. Go farther, and you will degenerate into quibbling Logicians. To them and Dictionary Makers let us leave all nicer Distinctions; and see how far America may, or may not, be termed an Independent State. First, as to Legislation; I do candidly confess, that I meet with no Laws which you have passed in the usual Stile of be it enacted; but your cogent Recommendations with the Penalties of Disobedience affixed, are far from unfrequent. Secondly, as to distributive Justice. At the first view indeed it seems not to have been your Object; because Writs run, and Judges sit as they were wont to do, and the King of England is (by Fiction of law) present at every Court on the Continent. Sir when this new Government was first organized, we found a very good Code of civil Laws in Being. The Wisdom of Ages hath been collected for their Perfection, Edition: current; Page: [17] and we must have been Loosers by a Change. But if you thought proper to shut up the Shops of Justice, not wantonly, but from evident Necessity, Will any Man pretend to deny, that the Law would from that single Breath become a dead letter? And if any other Government, should take a Step of this Kind without evident necessity, the Subjects of that Government would revolt at least as readily, as the Inhabitants of this Country. We do not find, there was any immediate and personal Act of the Prince necessary, for the exercise of the Law, unless perhaps the affixing a Bit of Wax now and then, to a Bit of Paper or Parchment, and I believe we may find Men in this Country, quite as well skilled in that Manufacture, as any English Workmen. If not, I am confident we may import as many Workmen as we please. But Sir, what says the Law to the present Resistance? We have Lawyers enough among us, to tell what the Law Books say. Many hard names are there stored up for such occasions, of which I believe the very gentlest and smoothest Kind, are riotously and routously.3 Yet from the general Silence of Judges and Juries, I cannot but think that the People consider this House as the Sovereign Power, a Resistance of whose Commands, is that Resistance which all these hard words are levelled at. Let us consider the Matter a little more deeply. Pray, if we had found the People of this Country without any Law whatsoever, or (what amounts to the same Thing) if his Majesty should send a Frigate, to bring over his Governors Councillors Judges Great Seal, &ca, &ca, in such case should we hesitate a Moment, to provide proper Laws and proper Tribunals. Did we in such instances as the Law was deficient in, did we there hesitate? Or rather have we not a strict Tribunal for Congress Law, in every Committee? To affirm then, that the Distribution of Justice is not in the Hands of this House, argues great Want of Attention, & Ignorance of our public Proceedings. To make short of this Part of my Argument, I take the Masachusett’s Bay as an Instance in Point, which renders further reasoning unnecessary.4

We find therefore, the Characteristical Marks & Insignia of Independence Edition: current; Page: [18] in this Society, considered in itself. Compared with other societies, the Enumeration is Conviction. Coining Money, raising Armies, regulating Commerce, Peace, War. All these Things you are not only adepts in, but Masters of. Treaties alone remain, and even this you have dabbled at. Georgia you put under the Ban of the Empire, & received her upon Repentance as a Member of the Flock.5 Canada you are now treating with. France and Spain you ought to treat with, and the Rest is but a Name. I believe Sir the Romans were as much governed, or rather oppressed, by their Emperors; as ever any People were, by their Kings. But Emperor was more agreable to their Ears, than King. Some, nay many Persons in America, dislike the Word Independence. For my own Part, I see no reason why Congress is not full as good a word, as States General or Parliament, and it is a mighty easy matter to please People, when a simple Sound will effect it. But more of this presently.

We will now Sir with your Favor, turn to the Consideration of what advantages and what Disadvantages may result from taking this step, or rather from sliding into this unavoidable Situation. To determine with Precision upon this Head, we must seek for the Objects of Government. We need not wander far, but use your own emphatical Terms, Peace, Liberty, and Security.

Whether a State shall enjoy Peace or suffer War, depends upon two great leading Circumstances; the Probability of Attack, and the Means of Defence. As to the Probability of Attack, we must consider by whom it is to be made, in what Manner, and for what purpose. It is quite a hackneyed Topick, boldly insisted on, tho very lightly assumed, that the Instant an American Independence is declared, we shall have all the Powers of Europe on our Backs, as by a general Consent, to share out this Country amongst them.

Experience Sir has taught these Powers and will teach them more clearly Edition: current; Page: [19] every day, that an American War is tedious, expensive, uncertain & ruinous. Three thousand Miles of a boisterous Ocean are to be passed over, and the vengeful Tempests which whirl along our Coasts, are daily to be encountered, in such expeditions. At least three months expence must be incurred, before one Gun can be fired against an American Village; and three months more, before each shattered armament can find an asylum for Repose. A hardy brave People, or else a destructive climate, must be subdued, while the Troops exhausted by Fatigue, find at every Step that Desertion and Happiness are synonimous terms. Grant, that with a wasteful Dissipation of Blood and Treasure, some little Portion of this vast Country is conquered. Fortresses remain to be built, magazines provided, and Garrisons established, for the Defence of a broad Dessolation, not worth one Shilling to the Possessors. Or should it better please a maritime Power, (and we have none but those to fear) should it please them to carry on a naval War, pray where is the American Property, which will pay the Expenses of an European Armament?

Nations do not make War without some view. Should they be able to conquer America, it would cost them more to maintain such Conquests, than the Fee Simple of the Country is worth. They could gain Nothing but our Commerce, and that they may have without striking a Blow. Thus Sir it appears to my poor Discernment, an incontrovertible Truth, that no Nation whatever would incline to attack us. For after all, this Consideration must arise amongst them; that the surest Consequence of the most splendid victories, would be a bloody War with each other, about sharing the spoils.

But I cannot think it will ever come to this. For when I turn my eye to the means of Defence, I find them amply sufficient. We have all heard, that in the last War America was conquered in Germany. I hold the converse of this Proposition to be true, namely, that in, and by America, his Majesty’s German Dominions were secured. The last, and every other War for more than a Century, has been determined more by the Wealth, than the Arms of contending Nations, and the great source of that Wealth, is in the Western World. It rises here, flourishes in Europe, and is buried in India. The Situation of this Continent formerly did, and still does enable us in a very great Degree, to check that Flood of Property, which thus glides along to the Eastward. The Rapacity of Adventurers will greedily seize the opportunity of becoming Rich, by preying upon the Merchandize of other People. And large Convoys to Merchant Ships, are equally expensive and inefficacious. I appeal to Experience. As to the Project of shutting up all the Edition: current; Page: [20] Creeks and Harbours along this extensive Coast, this is calculated only for the Meridian of St. James,6 and becomes daily an object of Ridicule, even to our Women and Children. I know the objection, that when we ourselves are a trading People, we may suffer equal Loss with our Foes. Altho I cannot admit this in its fullest Latitude, yet it hath some Weight. But it leads to a very obvious Consequence, that is to say, an American Navy. Gentlemen may either start or smile at this idea, as it chances to raise their Contempt or Admiration. Let us consider it. Would a Fleet consisting of ten Sixty, ten fifty, & ten forty Gun Ships, with ten Sloops of twenty and thirty of ten Guns, Would such a Fleet Sir make a respectable Figure in the Defence of our Coasts? Some Persons will say, Aye Aye, but where are you to get them. Why Sir, the materials are amongst us, and five Million Dollars will fit them all out for a six Months voyage. I shall be told, that is very pretty Scheming, and asked perhaps how the Expence of this Fleet is to be maintained. I would not lay heavy Imposts upon Trade. I am sure five p. Cent upon all Commodities imported into this Continent, would be a very trivial Tax, and there certainly are not less than twenty Millions of Dollars in value, annually imported. This would yield one Million, and that is sufficient to keep your Navy afloat. And with such a Navy, it would be still more inconvenient to attack this Country. See what Effects have followed from fitting out a few little insignificant Vessels, under the name of Privateers. The last mode of Defence, consists in having a respectable Army. I do not mean an armed Banditti, to become our Masters. The Officers of your standing army, should be regularly paid, & the Profession by that means cultivated. But the Soldiers should never be inlisted, except when actual service required it; & lest we should then be at a Loss for good ones, it should be provided by wholesome Militia Laws, that every Man in the Country should know the Duties of a Soldier.

Thus Sir, by means of that great Gulph which rolls its Waves between Europe and America, by the Situation of these Colonies always adapted to hinder or intercept all Communication between the two, by the Productions of our Soil which the Almighty has filled with every necessary to make us a great maritime People, by the Extent of our Coasts and those immense Rivers which serve at once to open a Communication with our interior Country and teach us the Art of Navigation, by those vast Fisheries which, affording an inexhaustible Mine of Wealth and Cradle of Industry, breed hardy Mariners inured to Danger and Fatigue, finally by the unconquerable Edition: current; Page: [21] Spirit of Freemen deeply interested in the Preservation of a Government which secures to them the Blessings of Liberty & exalts the Dignity of Mankind. By all these I expect a full & lasting Defence against any and every Part of the Earth. While the great Advantages to be derived from a friendly Intercourse with this Country almost render the Means of Defence unnecessary from the great Improbability of being attacked. So far Peace seems to smile upon our future Independence. But that this fair Goddess will equally crown our union with Great Britain, my fondest Hopes cannot lead me even to suppose. Every War in which she is engaged, must necessarily involve us in its Detestable Consequences, whilst weak & unarmed we have no Shield of Defence, unless such as she may please (for her own Sake) to afford, or else the Pity of her Enemies & the Insignificance of Slaves, beneath the Attention of a generous Foe.

Let us next turn our attention to a Question of infinitely greater Importance, namely the Liberty of this Country. I speak here only of political Liberty, & this may I believe be secured by the simplest Contrivance imaginable. If America is divided into small Districts, and the Elections of Members into Congress annual, and every Member incapacitated from serving more than one Year out of three, I cannot conceive the least Temptation to an abuse of Power, in the Legislative and executive Parts of the Government. And as long as those Fountains are pure, the streams of Justice will flow clear and wholesome. But shall we pretend to say that we have political Liberty, while subject to the Legislative Control of Great Britain? Even freed from that, will not the silent efforts of Influence, undermine any Constitution we can possibly devise? And of what Importance is it to the Subject, whether a Love of Power, or Love of Money, whether avarice or ambition are the Causes of his unhappiness. If I were to chuse a master, it should be a single Tyrant, because I had infinitely rather be torn by a Lion, than eaten by Vermin.

The last Consideration, Sir, is Security, and so long as the System of Laws by which we are now governed shall prevail, It is amply provided for in every separate Colony. There may indeed arise an Objection, because some Gentlemen suppose, that the different Colonies will carry on a sort of Land Piracy with each other. But how this can possibly happen, when the Idea of separate Colonies no longer exists, I cannot for my Soul comprehend. That something very like this (I do not mean to offend) has already been done I shall not deny; but the Reason is as evident as the Fact. We never yet had a Government in this Country, of sufficient Energy to restrain the lawless and indigent. Whenever a Form of Government is established Edition: current; Page: [22] which deserves the Name, these Insurrections must cease. But who is the Man so hardy as to affirm, that they will not grow with our Growth, while on every Occasion we must resort to an English Judicature, to terminate Differences, which the Maxims of Policy will teach them to leave undetermined. By Degrees we are getting beyond the utmost Pale of English Government. Settlements are forming to the Westward of us, whose Inhabitants acknowledge no Authority but their own, and of Consequence no Umpire but the Sword. The King of England will make no new Grants, the Settlers will ask none. We occupy but a small Strip of Land along the Sea Coast, & in less than fifty years those Western Settlements, will endeavour to carve out for themselves a Passage to the Ocean. Are we then to build a huge Wall against them? Are we to solicit Assistance from Britain? Vain thought! Britain already sinking under a vast Load of Debt, and hastening to Ruin by the Loss of Freedom (without which even the Interest of that Debt cannot be paid) She will have Enemies enough of her own. If we seize the present opportunity, we shall have no such Causes of Apprehension. Those Settlements, sensible of their present Weakness & our Power, will all be made under the authority of that Body, which is the Legislature of the Continent. They will constantly look up to it for Laws and Protection.

Sir, I am sensible that I weary you. I could enumerate many Advantages which would result from an Indepency, and which form no Part of what I have already mentioned. I could show, that a free and unrestrained Commerce would fill the Coffers of this Country with Wealth. That all Nations would resort here as an Asylum from oppression. No longer would we fly away across the pathless Deep to the Metropolis of Britain, & waste our Treasure in the Pursuit of Vice, then return to spread the infectious Poison among our Countrymen. Population would increase with Freedom; and our Children’s Children should behold the Cultivation of that great Garden, which their ancestors had enclosed. Here could I expatiate with fond Delight, but I hasten to a Conclusion.

Nothing further remains therefore, than just to examine the Inconveniencies, to which an independent Form of Government would subject us. And what are they? A War with Great Britain. And in that very War are we already engaged. Perhaps some Gentlemen may be apprehensive of loosing a little of Consequence and Importance, by living in a Country where all are on an equal Footing. Virtue in such a Country will always be esteemed, and that alone should be respected in any Country. If these Gentlemen would reflect, that free republican States are always most thickly inhabited, perhaps they may be of Opinion with me; that the Indulgence of a few in Edition: current; Page: [23] Luxurious Ease, to the Prejudice of their fellow Creatures, is at best not laudable; but when it tends to thin the Ranks of Mankind, and to encourage a general Profligacy of Manners, it is then criminal in the highest Degree.

I do not scruple to affirm, that all Dangers to be apprehended from an Independency, may well be obviated by this Assembly. If we so regulate our own Power, as to give perfect Freedom to our constituents, there is but little Danger of intestine Broils. For Mankind, however chargeable with Levity on other occasions, are by no Means prone to change their Form of Government, so long as it is meerly tolerable. And this leads me Sir to consider the last objection to Independence, which I shall take on me to mention. It is, the Reluctance which many Americans feel for this Measure.

This Reluctance Sir, is laudable for the greater Part. It is a patriotic Emotion. In some Cases, Religion has a Share in the Sentiment. It is said what Check have we upon the Members of Congress? If they abuse their Power and establish an Oligarchy, where are the means of Redress? How shall we know, that they will return willingly into the Ranks of Citizens, after so great Elevation? Is there not great Reason to fear, that the American Army may chuse a different Kind of Government, from the Rest of the People? And, say they, altho Providence has kindly interposed so far for our Preservation, how dare we expect his future assistance, when cancelling the Oaths of our Allegiance, we stain the Cause with Perjury?

To most of these Questions, we may make a satisfactory answer, without seeming to know that they were ever asked. As to Danger arising from the Love of Power among ourselves, I cannot believe there is any. Nor do I think it quite proper, for us all to abandon the Senate House, and leave the Business to entire new Men, while the Country continues in its present dangerous Situation. But the Instant we are determined to cut off the small Connection which remains with Great Britain, we ought by our Conduct, to convince our Countrymen, that a Fondness for Power does not possess the smallest Corner of our Hearts. And we should from this moment take Care, that the Gift of all Commissions be reserved to this House. This will cure the Inquietudes of the patriotic Breast. And for the Religionist, let the Change appear as it hath hitherto done, the Work of our Enemies and not of ourselves, we then stand acquitted; and Superstition will see, or think She sees, the Hand of God manifestly laboring to promote our Ends, and this fond Idea is sufficient to remove the Imputation of Guilt.

I do not mean however, to hire a Number of Men, to go and bawl Independence along the Continent. I would send ambassadors to the European Courts, and enter into Treaties with them. Every Thing like Independence, Edition: current; Page: [24] should form secret articles; the Rest I would give to the World as soon as it was completed. This measure will both discourage, and preclude, impertinent Enquiry. And when the People of this Country enjoy the solid Advantages which arise from our Measures, they will thank us for the Deception.

In God’s Name! Why should we ballance? Have you the least Hope in Treaty? Will you even think of it, before certain Acts of Parliament are repealed? Have you heard of any such Repeal? Will you trust these Commissioners? Is there any Act of Parliament passed to ratify what they shall do? No, No, No. They come from the King. We have no Business with the King. We did not quarrel with him. He has officiously made himself a Party in the Dispute against us. And now he pretends to be the Umpire. Trust Crocodiles, trust the hungry Wolf in your Flock, or a Rattle Snake in your Bosom, you may yet be something Wise. But trust the King, his Ministers, his Commissioners, ’tis Madness in the Extreme.

Remember! For Heaven’s Sake I conjure you Remember you have no legal Check upon that Legislature. They are not bound in Interest Duty & Affection to watch over your Preservation, as over that of their Constituents; yet those constituents are daily betrayed. What can you expect? You are not quite mad. Why will you trust them? Why force yourselves to make a daily Resort to Arms? O God! Shall we never again see Peace! Sweet smiling Peace! Is this miserable Country to be plunged in endless War? Must each revolving Year, come heavy laden with those dismal Scenes, we have already seen? If so, Farewell Liberty! Farewell Virtue & Happiness! Oh, farewell, for ever.

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4: Public Letters to the Carlisle Commissioners (1778)

On January 20, 1778, Morris took his seat in the Continental Congress, then meeting in York, Pennsylvania. Almost immediately, he was sent on a fact-finding trip to Washington’s army at Valley Forge and did not return until mid-April. On his return, he served on a number of committees simultaneously and chaired several. It was customary for the committee chairman to do the bulk of the work, and thus Morris was fully occupied—perhaps a welcome distraction given the lack of society in York.

In early May, copies of the treaty of alliance with France reached Congress; meanwhile, a British Commission appointed to negotiate with the Americans had set sail. Rumors had been circulating for some time that the British would offer to concede to a few American demands as a way of undermining the rebellion. Many in Congress were apprehensive that the commission’s proposals would weaken American resolve, just when independence seemed within reach thanks to the French.1

Congress moved to get the propaganda advantage on the commission in May, sending a circular to the people, to be read in all the churches. Its draft, written by Morris, was approved on May 8.2 On June 4, the commissioners, led by the Earl of Carlisle, landed in Philadelphia. They sent their first letter to Congress June 9. A newspaper and pamphlet war ensued, lasting through the summer and fall of 1778. As the commissioners and Congress sparred over the next several months, Morris not only drafted many of Congress’s replies to the commissioners’ proposals, but wrote them these public letters, using the pseudonym “An American.”3

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To the Carlisle Commissioners, June 20, 1778*

Lord Viscount Howe
Howe, Lord Viscount
William Howe
Howe, William
Henry Clinton
Clinton, Henry
William Eden
Eden, William
George Johnstone
Johnstone, George

To the Earl of CARLISLE, Lord Viscount HOWE, Sir WILLIAM HOWE (or, in his absence, Sir HENRY CLINTON), WILLIAM EDEN, and GEORGE JOHNSTONE.

Trusty and well beloved servants of your sacred master, in whom he is well pleased.

As you are sent to America for the express purpose of treating with anybody and anything, you will pardon an address from one who disdains to flatter those whom he loves. Should you therefore deign to read this address, your chaste ears will not be offended with the language of adulation, a language you despise.

I have seen your most elegant and most excellent letter “to his Excellency Henry Laurens, the President, and other Members of the Congress.” As that body have thought your propositions unworthy their particular regard, it may be some satisfaction to your curiosity, and tend to appease the offended spirit of negotiation, if one out of the many individuals on this great Continent should speak to you the sentiments of America. Sentiments which your own good sense hath doubtless suggested and which are repeated only to convince you that, notwithstanding the narrow ground of private information on which we stand in this distant region, still a knowledge of our own rights, and attention to our own interests, and a sacred respect for the dignity of human nature, have given us to understand the true principles which ought, and which therefore shall, sway our conduct.

You begin with the amiable expressions of humanity, the earnest desire of tranquility and peace. A better introduction to Americans could not be devised. For the sake of the latter, we once laid our liberties at the feet of your Prince, and even your armies have not eradicated the former from our bosoms.

You tell us you have powers unprecedented in the annals of your history. And England, unhappy England, will remember with deep contrition, that these powers have been rendered of no avail by a conduct unprecedented in the annals of mankind. Had your royal master condescended to listen to the prayer of millions, he had not thus have sent you. Had moderation Edition: current; Page: [27] swayed what we were proud to call mother country, “her full-blown dignity would not have broken down under her.”

You tell us that “all parties may draw some degree of consolation, and even auspicious hope, from recollection.” We wish this most sincerely for the sake of all parties. America, even in the moment of subjugation, would have been consoled by conscious virtue, and her hope was and is in the justice of her cause, and the justice of the Almighty. These are sources of hope and of consolation, which neither time nor chance can alter or take away.

You mention “the mutual benefits and consideration of evils, that may naturally contribute to determine our resolutions.” As to the former, you know too well that we could derive no benefit from an union with you, nor will I, by deducing the reasons to evince this, cast an insult upon your understandings. As to the latter, it were to be wished you had preserved a line of conduct equal to the delicacy of your feelings. You could not but know that men, who sincerely love freedom, disdain the consideration of all evils necessary to attain it. Had not your own hearts borne testimony to this truth, you might have learnt it from the annals of your history. For in those annals instances of this kind at least are not unprecedented. But should those instances be insufficient, we pray you to read the unconquered mind of America.

That the acts of Parliament you transmitted were passed with singular unanimity, we pretend not to doubt. You will pardon me, gentlemen, for observing, that the reasons of that unanimity are strongly marked in the report of a Committee of Congress, agreed to on the 22d of April last, and referred to in a late letter from Congress to Lord Viscount Howe and Sir Henry Clinton.

You tell us you are willing “to consent to a cessation of hostilities, both by sea and land.” It is difficult for rude Americans to determine whether you are serious in this proposition, or whether you mean to jest with their simplicity. Upon a supposition, however, that you have too much magnanimity to divert yourselves on an occasion of such importance to America, and perhaps not very trivial in the eyes of those who sent you, permit me to assure you, on the sacred word of a gentleman, that if you shall transport your troops to England, where before long your Prince will certainly want their assistance, we never shall follow them thither. We are not so romantically fond of fighting, neither have we such regard for the city of London, as to commence a crusade for the possession of that holy land. Thus you may be certain that hostilities will cease by land. It would be doing singular injustice to your national character, to suppose you are desirous of a like Edition: current; Page: [28] cessation by sea. The course of the war, and the very flourishing state of your commerce, notwithstanding our weak efforts to interrupt it, clearly shew that you can exclude us from the sea. The sea your kingdom.

You offer “to restore free intercourse, to revive mutual affection, and renew the common benefits of naturalization.” Whenever your countrymen shall be taught wisdom by experience, and learn from past misfortunes to pursue their true interests in future we shall readily admit every intercourse which is necessary for the purposes of commerce, and usual between different nations. To revive mutual affection is utterly impossible. We freely forgive you, but it is not in nature that you should forgive us. You have injured us too much. We might, on this occasion, give you some late instances of singular barbarity, committed as well by the forces of his Britannic Majesty, as by those of his generous and faithful allies, the Senecas, Onondagas and Tuscaroras. But we will not offend a courtly ear by the recital of those disgusting scenes. Besides this, it might give pain to that humanity which hath, as you observe, prompted your overtures to dwell upon the splendid victories obtained by a licentious soldiery over unarmed men in defenceless villages, their wanton devastations, their deliberate murders, or to inspect those scenes of carnage painted by the wild excesses of savage rage. These amiable traits of national conduct cannot but revive in our bosoms that partial affection we once felt for everything which bore the name of Englishman. As to the common benefits of naturalization, it is a matter we conceive to be of the most sovereign indifference. A few of our wealthy citizens may hereafter visit England and Rome, to see the ruins of those august temples, in which the goddess of Liberty was once adored. These will hardly claim naturalization in either of those places as a benefit. On the other hand, such of your subjects as shall be driven by the iron hand of Oppression to seek for refuge among those whom they now persecute, will certainly be admitted to the benefits of naturalization. We labour to rear an asylum for mankind, and regret that circumstances will not permit you, Gentlemen, to contribute to a design so very agreeable to your several tempers and dispositions.

But further, your Excellencies say, “we will concur to extend every freedom to trade that our respective interests can require.” Unfortunately there is a little difference in these interests, which you might not have found it very easy to reconcile, had the Congress been disposed to risque their heads by listening to terms, which I have the honour to assure you are treated with ineffable contempt by every honest Whig in America. The difference I allude to is, that it is your interest to monopolize our commerce, and it is Edition: current; Page: [29] our interest to trade with all the world. There is indeed a method of cutting this gordian knot which perhaps no statesman is acute enough to untie. By reserving to the Parliament of Great-Britain the right of determining what our respective interests require, they might extend the freedom of trade, or circumscribe it, at their pleasure, for what they might call our respective interests. But I trust it would not be to our mutual satisfaction. Your “earnest desire to stop the farther effusion of blood, and the calamities of war,” will therefore lead you, on maturer reflection, to reprobate a plan teeming with discord, and which, in the space of twenty years, would produce another wild expedition across the Atlantic, and in a few years more some such commission as that “with which his Majesty hath been pleased to honour you.”

We cannot but admire the generosity of soul, which prompts you “to agree that no military force shall be kept up in the different States of North-America without the consent of the general Congress or particular Assemblies.” The only grateful return we can make for this exemplary condescension is to assure your Excellencies, and, on behalf of my countrymen, I do most solemnly promise and assure you, that no military force shall be kept up in the different States of North-America without the consent of the general Congress, and that of the legislatures of those States. You will therefore cause the forces of your royal master to be removed, for I can venture to assure you that the Congress have not consented, and probably will not consent, that they be kept up.

You have also made the unsolicited offer of concurring “in measures calculated to discharge the debts of America, and to raise the credit and value of the paper circulation.” If your Excellencies mean by this to apply for offices in the department of our finance, I am to assure you (which I do with “perfect respect”) that it will be necessary to procure very ample recommendations. For as the English have not yet pursued measures to discharge their own debt, and raise the credit and value of their own paper circulation, but, on the contrary, are in a fair way to encrease the one and absolutely destroy the other, you will instantly perceive that financiers from that nation would present themselves with the most aukward grace imaginable.

You propose to us a devise to “perpetuate our union.” It might not be amiss previously to establish this union, which may be done by your acceptance of the treaty of peace and commerce tendered to you by Congress; And such treaty, I can venture to say, would continue as long as your ministers could prevail upon themselves not to violate the faith of nations.

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You offer, to use your own language, the inaccuracy of which, considering the importance of the subject, is not to be wondered at, or at least may be excused, “in short to establish the powers of the respective legislatures in each particular State, to settle its revenue, its civil and military establishment, and to exercise a perfect freedom of legislation and internal government, so that the British States throughout North-America acting with us, in peace and war, under one common sovereign, may have the irrevokable enjoyment of every privilege that is short of a total separation of interests, or consistent with that union of force on which the safety of our common religion and liberty depends.” Let me assure you, gentlemen, that the power of the respective legislatures in each particular State is already most fully established, and on the most solid foundations. It is established on the perfect freedom of legislation and a vigorous administration of internal government. As to the settlement of the revenue, and the civil and military establishment, these are the work of the day, for which the several legislatures are fully competent. I have also the pleasure to congratulate your Excellencies, that the country, for the settlement of whose government, revenue, administration, and the like, you have exposed yourselves to the fatigues and hazards of a disagreeable voyage, and more disagreeable negociation, hath abundant resources wherewith to defend her liberties now, and pour forth the rich stream of revenue hereafter. As the States of North-America mean to possess the irrevokable enjoyment of their privileges, it is absolutely necessary for them to decline all connection with a Parliament, who, even in the laws under which you act, reserve in express terms the power of revoking every proposition which you may agree to. We have a due sense of the kind offer you make, to grant us a share in your sovereign, but really, gentlemen, we have not the least inclination to accept of it. He may suit you extremely well, but he is not to our taste. You are solicitous to prevent a total separation of interests, and this, after all, seems to be the gist of the business. To make you as easy as possible on this subject, I have to observe, that it may and probably will, in some instances, be our interest to assist you, and then we certainly shall. Where this is not the case, your Excellencies have doubtless too much good sense as well as good nature to require it. We cannot perceive that our liberty does in the least depend upon any union of force with you; for we find that, after you have exercised your force against us for upwards of three years, we are now upon the point of establishing our liberties in direct opposition to it. Neither can we conceive, that, after the experiment you have made, any nation in Europe will embark in so unpromising a scheme as the subjugation Edition: current; Page: [31] of America. It is not necessary that everybody should play the Quixotte. One is enough to entertain a generation at least. Your Excellencies will, I hope, excuse me when I differ from you, as to our having a religion in common with you: the religion of America is the religion of all mankind. Any person may worship in the manner he thinks most agreeable to the Deity; and if he behaves as a good citizen, no one concerns himself as to his faith or adorations, neither have we the least solicitude to exalt any one sect or profession above another.

I am extremely sorry to find in your letter some sentences, which reflect upon the character of his most Christian Majesty. It certainly is not kind, or consistent with the principles of philanthropy you profess, to traduce a gentleman’s character without affording him any opportunity of defending himself: and that too a near neighbour, and not long since an intimate brother, who besides hath lately given you the most solid additional proofs of his pacific disposition, and with an unparalleled sincerity, which would do honour to other Princes, declared to your court, unasked, the nature and effect of a treaty he had just entered into with these States. Neither is it quite according to the rules of politeness to use such terms in addressing yourselves to Congress, when you well knew that he was their good and faithful ally. It is indeed true, as you justly observe, that he hath at times been at enmity with his Britannic Majesty, by which we suffered some inconveniences: but these flowed rather from our connection with you than any ill-will towards us: At the same time it is a solemn truth, worthy of your serious attention, that you did not commence the present war, a war in which we have suffered infinitely more than by any former contest, a fierce, a bloody, I am sorry to add, an unprovoked and cruel war. That you did not commence this, I say, because of any connection between us and our present ally; but, on the contrary, as soon as you perceived that the treaty was in agitation, proposed terms of peace to us in consequence of what you have been pleased to denominate an insidious interposition. How then does the account stand between us. America, being at peace with all the world, was formerly drawn into a war with France, in consequence of her union with Great-Britain. At present America, being engaged in a war with Great-Britain, will probably obtain the most honourable terms of peace, in consequence of her friendly connection with France. For the truth of these positions I appeal, gentlemen, to your own knowledge. I know it is very hard for you to part with what you have accustomed yourselves, from your earliest infancy, to call your colonies. I pity your situation, and therefore I excuse the little abberations from truth which your Edition: current; Page: [32] letter contains. At the same time it is possible that you may have been misinformed. For I will not suppose that your letter was intended to delude the people of these States. Such unmanly disingenuous artifices have of late been exerted with so little effect, that prudence, if not probity, would prevent a repetition. To undeceive you, therefore, I take the liberty of assuring your Excellencies, from the very best intelligence, that what you call “the present form of the French offers to North-America,” in other words the treaties of alliance and commerce between his most Christian Majesty and these States, were not made in consequence of any plans of accommodation concerted in Great-Britain, nor with a view to prolong this destructive war. If you consider that these treaties were actually concluded before the draught of the bills under which you act was sent for America, and that much time must necessarily have been consumed in adjusting compacts of such intricacy and importance, and further, if you consider the early notification of this treaty by the court of France, and the assurance given that America had reserved a right of admitting even you to a similar treaty, you must be convinced of the truth of my assertions. The fact is, that when the British Minister perceived that we were in treaty with the greatest Prince in Europe, he applied himself immediately to counteract the effect of these negociations. And this leads me with infinite regret to make some observations, which may possibly be by you considered in an offensive point of view.

It seems to me, gentlemen, there is something (excuse the word) disingenuous in your procedure. I put the supposition that Congress had acceded to your propositions, and then I ask two questions. Had you full power from your commission to make these propositions? Possibly you did not think it worth while to consider your commission, but we Americans are apt to compare things together, and to reason. The second question I ask is, What security could you give that the British Parliament would ratify your compacts? You can give no such security, and therefore we should, after forfeiting our reputation as a people, after you had filched from us our good name, and perswaded us to give to the common enemy of man the precious jewel of our liberties; after all this, I say, we should have been at the mercy of a Parliament, which, to say no more of it, has not treated us with too great tenderness. It is quite needless to add, that even if that Parliament had ratified the conditions you proposed, still poor America was to lie at the mercy of any future Parliament, or appeal to the sword, which certainly is not the most pleasant business men can be engaged in.

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For your use I subjoin the following creed of every good American. I believe that in every kingdom, state, or empire there must be, from the necessity of the thing, one supreme legislative power, with authority to bind every part in all cases, the proper object of human laws. I believe that to be bound by laws, to which he does not consent by himself or by his representative, is the direct definition of a slave. I do therefore believe, that a dependence on Great-Britain, however the same may be limited or qualified, is utterly inconsistent with every idea of liberty, for the defence of which I have solemnly pledged my life and fortune to my countrymen; and this engagement I will sacredly adhere to so long as I shall live. Amen.

Now if you will take the poor advice of one, who is really a friend to England and Englishmen, and who hath even some Scotch blood in his veins, away with your fleets and your armies, acknowledge the independence of America, and as Ambassadors, and not Commissioners, solicit a treaty of peace, amity, commerce and alliance with the rising Stars of this western world. Your nation totters on the brink of a stupendous precipice, and even delay will ruin her.

You have told the Congress, “If, after the time that may be necessary to consider this communication, and transmit your answer, the horrors and devastations of war should continue, we call God and the world to witness that the evils, which must follow, are not to be imputed to Great-Britain.” I wish you had spared your protestation. Matters of this kind may appear to you in a trivial light, as meer ornamental flowers of rhetoric, but they are serious things registered in the high chancery of Heaven. Remember the awful abuse of words like these by General Burgoyne, and remember his fate. There is one above us, who will take exemplary vengeance for every insult upon his Majesty. You know that the cause of America is just. You know that she contends for that freedom, to which all men are entitled. That she contends against oppression, rapine, and more than savage barbarity. The blood of the innocent is upon your hands, and all the waters of the ocean will not wash it away. We again make our solemn appeal to the God of Heaven to decide between you and us. And we pray that in the doubtful scale of battle we may be successful, as we have justice on our side, and that the merciful Saviour of the world may forgive our oppressors.

I am, my Lords and Gentlemen, The friend of human nature, And one who glories in the title of,

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To the Earl of Carlisle, July 21, 1778*



My Lord,

As you, in conjunction with your brother Commissioners, have thought proper to make one more fruitless negociatory essay, permit me, through your lordship, once more to address the brotherhood. It is certainly to be lamented that gentlemen so accomplished should be so unfortunate. Particularly, my Lord, it is to be regretted that you should be raised up as the topstone to a pyramid of blunders.

On behalf of America I have to intreat that you will pardon their Congress for any want of politeness in not answering your letter.4 You may remember, that in their last letter they stated certain terms as preliminaries to a negociation. And I am sure your lordship’s candor will do them the justice to acknowledge that they are not apt to tread back the steps they have taken. In addition to this it so happens that they are at present very indifferent whether or not your King and Parliament acknowledge their independency; and still more indifferent as to withdrawing his fleets and armies.

You mistake the matter exceedingly when you suppose that any person in America wishes to prolong the calamities of war. No, my lord, we have had enough of them in all conscience. But the fault lies on you or your master, or some of the people he has about him. Congress when Sir William Howe landed on Staten-Island, met him with their Declaration of Independence. They adhered to it in the most perilous circumstances. They put their lives upon the issue; nay their honor. Now in the name of common sense how can you suppose they will relinquish this object in the present moment?

I am fully of your lordship’s opinion, when you decline any dispute with Congress, about the meaning of the term Independence. They would have infinite advantage over you logically, but what is worse, they are politically in capacity to put upon the term just what construction they please: Nay, my lord, eventually Great-Britain must acknowledge just such an independence as Congress think proper; they are now in the full possession and enjoyment of it. How idle in you to talk of insuring or enlarging what is out of your power and cannot be encreased.

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You give two reasons for not withdrawing your fleets and armies. The first is, that you keep them here by way of precaution against your ancient enemies. Really, my Lord, I was at a loss for some time to comprehend the force of this reasoning, or how a body of men in this country and a large fleet could protect you against an invasion from France. And I am even now perhaps mistaken, when I suppose your sea and land forces have been kept here to draw the attention of your enemies to this quarter, and leave their coast exposed, that so you may have an opportunity of invading France. If this was the object, it hath had the desired effect. Your armies are doubtless assembled in readiness for the descent, which, considering the unprovided state of that country, cannot but prove successful; and therefore I congratulate your lordship on the fair prospect you enjoy of seeing your Sovereign make his triumphant entry through the gates of Paris.

Your second reason for staying here is to protect the Tories. Pray, my lord, ease your mind upon that subject. Let them take care of themselves. The little ones may be pardoned whenever they apply. The great ones have joined you from conscientious or from interested motives. The first in having done what they thought right will find sufficient comfort. The last deserve none. I offer you this consolation, my lord, because we both know that you cannot protect the tories, and because there is every reason to believe that you cannot protect yourselves.

You have, it seems, determined your judgment by what you conceive to be the interest of your country, and you propose to abide by your declarations in every possible situation. I rather imagine that you are determined by your instructions; but if otherwise, surely, my lord, you are not to learn that circumstances may materially alter the interest of your country and your conceptions of it. The decision of some military events which you did not wait for, would put you in a situation to speak to Congress in much more decent terms than those contained in your last letter.

But you want to know, my lord, what treaties we have entered into. In pity to your nerves Congress have kept this knowledge. It will make the boldest among you tremble. As we are not about to negociate at present, there is no need of the communication. However, to satisfy your curiosity as far as an individual can, I pray you to recollect, that the Marquis de Noailles told you his Court, when they formed an alliance with America, had taken eventual measures. You cannot but know that a French fleet is now hovering on the coast near you—draw your own conclusions, my lord.

It is a most diverting circumstance to hear you ask Congress what power they have to treat, after offering to enter into treaty with them, and being Edition: current; Page: [36] refused. But I shall be glad to know by what authority you call on them for this discovery. The Count de Vergennes had a right to it, but the Earl of Carlisle certainly has not.5 Let me add, my lord, that in making the request there is a degree of asperity not suited to your situation. When you were in the arms of victory we pardoned an insolence which had become habitual to your nation. We shall revere it if preserved when you are reduced to the lowest pitch of wretchedness. But in the present moment, when you certainly cannot terrify, and have not suffered so as to deserve pity, such language is quite improper. And it forces from me certain facts which I am sorry to mention, as they shew your masters to be wicked beyond all example.

When they found that an alliance was actually on the carpet between his Most Christian Majesty and these States, they offered to cede a part of the East-Indies, to give equal privileges in the African trade, and to divide the fisheries, provided they might be at liberty to ravage America. And when that would not do, they told the French Ministry that it was absurd to treat with Congress; that they were faithless; nay, that the bargain was actually struck for the purchase of America, and money, to the amount of half a million, sent over to pay the price. These, my lord, are facts—facts which will hang up to eternal infamy the names of your rulers. The French, my lord, laughed at the meanness and falshood of these declarations. But they suffered themselves to appear to be deceived. They permitted you to flounder on in the ocean of your follies and your crimes. You and your brethren, I find, are directed to play the same game here; to call our allies faithless; to tell an hundred incoherent fictions about our treaties, the substance of which you confess yourselves at this moment ignorant of. And what is the very complication of absurdity, you pretend to tell Congress the manner in which the negociations were carried on, when Mr. Deane, the principal negociator, on their part, is on the spot to give information.6 For shame. For shame. It is for these reasons that Congress treat you with such utter contempt.

There is but one way left to sink you still lower, and, thank God you have found it out. You are about to publish! Oh my lord! my lord! you are indeed in a mighty pitiful condition. You have tried fleets and armies, and proclamations, and now you threaten us with news-papers. Go on, exhaust Edition: current; Page: [37] all your artillery, But know, that those who have withstood your flattery and refused your bribes, despise your menaces—Farewell. When you come with better principles, and on a better errand, we shall be glad to meet you: Till that moment, I am your Lordship’s most obedient And most humble servant,


To the Earl of Carlisle, September 19, 1778*


To his Excellency the Earl of CARLISLE.

My Lord,

Through the medium of a newspaper, I see a declaration and requisition, signed by yourself and your brethren Clinton and Eden, together with an apologetic Epistle from Governor Johnstone.7 As these papers are transmitted by your Secretary, and reflect light upon each other, your Lordship will excuse a few animadversions on them addressed to you. My intention is, to undeceive you in some matters you seem to have mistaken, and to state the true ground on which you stand with respect to America. This I attempt from a sincere desire of peace; considering it as a blessing, the loss of which can never be compensated by the splendors of victory.

Your first error, a leading one, which hath tinged the complexion of all your national acts since the early commencement of the controversy, is a supposition that Congress do not speak the sense of the people of America. Of all the people they do not, but of a considerable majority they certainly do. Considerable for the numbers, property, principles, temper and character of those who compose it.

The number, according to my best estimation, is at least two-thirds of the whole; and the remaining third are of very little political consideration. They consist of a few who adhere to you from principle, a few more from interest, and a very few (now) from fear, as Indians worship the Devil. The remainder are attached to no side, unless indeed they could discover with Edition: current; Page: [38] absolute certainty which is the strongest side, being, as they term it moderate men. Add to this, that your American friends, from their religious notions and other circumstances, are generally averse to war.

The majority are further considerable from their property. It is by no means a figurative expression to say that the land of America is against you. This may seem extraordinary after what you have heard, especially if you have had the honor of a conversation with some of those traders who have lately, taken it into their heads to call themselves the Gentlemen of America. But if your Lordship will condescend to enquire for the ten greatest land-holders of the state of New-York on the whig side of the question, you will find that no forty tories throughout the whole Continent have an equal property; considered as to the extent, the fertility, or the value in coin.

The principles of your opponents are republican, some indeed aristocratic; the greater part democratic, but all opposed to Kings, from a thorough conviction by reason, by history, and above both by experience, that nine times in ten they are the scourges of mankind.

The temper of this majority is not only vigilant and irascible, but much roused and exasperated. Exasperated by the injustice, the treachery, the cruelty of Great-Britain. Respect, my Lord, for your feelings forbids that odious detail which justifies these charges. Should you doubt, ask Sir Henry. Ask the officers in your regiments and on board your ships. Let them paint the violations, the burnings, the massacres, the starvings they have been witness to. And if this evidence is insufficient, invocate the manes8 of those wretches who died at Philadelphia in the paroxisms of madness and despair, from reflecting on the horrors they themselves had executed.

Lastly, the character of those who compose the majority in America is of no small importance. Many of them are the most respectable members of the community; others again are distinguished by superior talents; and a great number are of that aspiring cast who look on high, and will neither be thrown out in pursuit of their favourite objects, nor dropped into insignificancy. To these things, I add the perseverance of the lower class in a cause which they think, with me, is just and righteous. At the Valley-Forge I was an eye witness to the sufferings of our soldiery: Many of them lay literally on the earth naked without fire and without food. It is to their honor that they did not mutiny; that they did not desert; that they did not even Edition: current; Page: [39] complain. The sentiment expressed by these brave citizens was, “We know every measure is taken to relieve our wants, and if we are distressed, it is because distress is unavoidable.” Of such a majority, my Lord, the sense is spoken by Congress. To convince you of it, look at their publications; see how frequently, how fully, how directly they appeal to the people. Can you lay your finger on any falsehood sanctioned by their authority? Have they ever descended to meanness or artifice to cajole or to deceive their constituents or even their enemies? I know that your Gazetteers have charged all these things upon them; but, my Lord, I can hardly suppose that you was sent hither to read or to write news-papers.

A second error which hath affected your national conduct, is an opinion that Congress lead the people. The direct contrary is so much a fact, that the business of Congress is, in a great measure, to discover the sentiment of the people and clothe it in words. Whenever any step is to be taken, they ask, what is the opinion of the people? For should they go beyond the ground on which they are supported by popular favour, that instant their power is at an end. To prove this further, I ask if the people have ever refused obedience to the matters proposed by Congress? Have the accumulated distresses of the present war, distresses almost beyond example, prevailed on them to desert their Congress? Nay, have all your efforts impaired the credit of our continental money, resting, as it did, merely on the public opinion and confidence in Congress?

An error of another kind appears in the papers now before me. From them it is manifest that you really misinterpret the language, and mistake the meaning of Congress. You seem to suppose, that when they declared it incompatible with their honor to hold intercourse with George Johnstone, especially to negociate with him upon affairs in which the cause of liberty and virtue is interested, they indirectly receded from their determination to have nothing to say to any of you till you sent away your fleets and armies, or acknowledged the Independence of America. It is a maxim, my Lord, that a positive act cannot be repealed by implication. The plain language of the resolution, therefore, is this, “Perhaps the British Commissioners may have collateral matters to urge, such as the exchange of prisoners, &c. If he who hath insolently tendered bribes to us should join in any application of this sort, we cannot listen to it. Let us therefore give our enemies a timely notice, that they may square their conduct accordingly. Let us not leave them the shadow of a reason to charge us with any disingenuous procedure.”

From the best information, I take on me to assure your Lordship, that not the remotest idea was entertained of departing from their resolutions. Edition: current; Page: [40] The candour which dictated this last determination, is entitled to a very different language from what it hath met with. But since the conduct of Congress is stigmatized with the charge of duplicity, it may not be improper to shew the entire consistency of that Body, notwithstanding the many changes it hath undergone of the individuals. This will corroborate my former position, that they are simply the mouth of a people steadily attached to, and determined to support their rights and liberties.

The declaration of Independence will form a principal part of the present question. But, though much hath been, and much more may be speculated on the right of a people to become independent, it will perhaps ultimately turn on their power. You yourselves tender to Congress every thing they may ask short of a total separation of interests: Therefore, you offer to confine the union simply to the person of the Prince. Supposing it accepted, then without enquiring whether Americans might afterwards choose a King for themselves, clearly the English might, or else as clearly their now King is an usurper. If the people of Britain should exercise this right, then America continuing under her old King, would be independent. But a contract which one party can break, and the other cannot, is void; and therefore America could of right break the bargain as well as Great Britain; and therefore either party might at pleasure be independent of the other. And if America could of right declare herself independent after the agreement, certainly she could before. But further; from your own shewing, we are not subjects of the Parliament: If subjects therefore, we are subjects of the King. Again, it is agreed that if we do not like a King, we can send him away and take another in his stead, for our fathers did so before us. Therefore, as the greater contains within it the lesser, so we could do just one half of the proposition, viz. get rid of one King without getting another; and this is precisely what we have done. Take it lastly as a question of force, and then we fight to determine the moot point of which side are rebels. So much for the right to Independence.

In the commencement of this controversy, Congress prayed to be placed in the situation of sixty-three. This was practicable at that time, for nothing more was necessary than on your part to repeal the impolitic acts you had passed. You refused; they pressed it earnestly. For tho’ the situation of sixty three was not very eligible, yet, as the event of war was uncertain, and the costs and the miseries but too certain, it was prudent and right to urge this request. Still you refused and appealed to the sword, and prosecuted and persecuted us to obtain what you now acknowledge you had no right to ask. Thus then were we plunged into a war against our inclinations, and Edition: current; Page: [41] of consequence could not be bound by any offer made with a view to avoid it. Besides, the situation of sixty three was no longer attainable: For, though the paper acts of your Parliament could have been repealed, yet the bloody acts of your soldiery could not. You could not pour back into the veins of our citizens the blood you had wantonly spilt. Previous to the year sixty three, points which should always have remained in oblivion, had never been started. But the question of supremacy once made in the rude language of arms, a decided line of authority and subjection became necessary to a future union. Desirous of avoiding the further calamities of war, we intreated you to pursue the measures necessary for reconciliation. This you refused, pertinaciously adhering to your first postulatum of unconditional submission, and with a view to the great object of solid revenue. You therefore urged the war, and applied to every little Prince in Europe for troops: We deprecated it, and did not even seek an alliance with any foreign power, knowing well that such alliance would close the door of reconciliation forever with all the bars of national faith and honor.

The situation of America was at length such by your obstinacy, that the evils Congress laboured to avoid were to become certain. At the same time it was a decided fact, that the interests of England and of America were directly opposed to each other. It was your interest to restrict our commerce, and it was our interest to extend it: It was your interest to take our money, and it was our interest to keep it. In a word, it was your interest to tyrannize, and it was our interest to be free. We therefore could not trust you, and you would not trust us. The King and his Ministers no body would trust. So that a re-union became every day more problematical.

The great fleets and armies you had employed, and the pains you had taken to deprive us of all military stores, obliged us to seek foreign aid, and it was clear that no Prince would assist us while we acknowledged ourselves to be rebels. Thus it was certain that we should experience the horrors of war, notwithstanding we had offered a part of our rights to avoid them. It was highly probable that without help we should be conquered. The object of reconciliation was distant and precarious at best, and by no means worth the blood and treasure necessary to attain it; and therefore, the people of America, through their Congress, declared themselves free and independent, as the only mode left to obtain their great end of peace, liberty and safety.

The war continued, and success seemed to be yours. Swoln with the hopes of conquest, you disclaimed every thing which looked like concession. At length the fate of the brave unfortunate Burgoyne recalled you Edition: current; Page: [42] to your senses: You sent to Congress the draft of your conciliatory bills.9 They, at that time, knew nothing of what their Commissioners had done in Europe. They saw, however, that your concessions proceeded from weakness, and were dictated by necessity. They knew your insincerity, and therefore wisely determined to have nothing to say to you till you acknowledged our independence, or withdrew your forces. Between this period and your Lordship’s arrival, Congress received a copy of the treaties with his Most Christian Majesty. In answer to your letters therefore, they informed you, that after you had complied with the alternative just now mentioned, they would consent to a treaty with your Prince, not inconsistent with those already entered into. At length a war hath broken out between your sovereign and France, which, if I am rightly informed, will again alter the situation of affairs as far as they relate to negociation. From this detail your Lordship will perceive that the most perfect consistency hath been maintained on our part. We have acted from a conviction of your force and your violence, of your weakness and your insincerity.

I come now to a matter of some delicacy, which I shall nevertheless, treat with freedom, and hope your Lordship’s pardon for the unpolished terms of a republican. In your declaration you state a series of facts (as you call your assertions) to shew the insincerity of France. My Lord, you are deceived, or you mean to deceive; for the assertions you make are not founded in truth. Not only so, but you grossly mistake our disposition; for were every thing you say admitted, it would not produce the effect you wish for. You say, it is well known to the whole Continent of America, that public intimation of the conciliatory propositions was given in November last—Permit me to undeceive your Lordship. The direct contrary of what you say is perfectly well known to the people of America; and further, they know your Ministers breathed nothing but conquest and war at that period. You say, it is equally well known that the preliminaries of a French treaty, sent by Mr. Simeon Deane, did not bear date earlier than the sixteenth of December. The people of America do not enquire into such trifling circumstances. It is very immaterial to us when Mr. Simeon Deane went to sea, or why he put back, or when he came out again: If these things had been of consequence, we know that Congress would have published them. One thing, however, is very clear to me, that you know not when those preliminaries, as you call them, were dated, nor indeed any thing about them. Let me ask one question: Are you certain, my Lord, that when Mr. Simeon Edition: current; Page: [43] Deane first sailed he had any papers whatever with him?10 You suppose that difficulties arose in the negotiation with France, for want of power in the American Commissioners. No such thing, my Lord; they had powers as ample as they could wish. Our Congress know better than to send their servants on a fool’s errand. Perhaps your Lordship may find it convenient to recommend their example by the old adage of fas est et ab hoste doceri.11 You roundly assert, that the conciliatory propositions were a subject of discussion in all the debates upon the state of the nation from the twentieth of January. I hope12 your Lordship will revise, and correct that sentence, before the next edition of your declaration. A reputation for veracity may be of service to you at some time or other. You assert also, that no treaties were sent from France before the eight of March: Your Lordship’s intelligence is not to be depended on. From better evidence I assure you, that dispatches containing the treaties were sent by the way of Corunna much earlier. The gentleman who brought them left Paris immediately on conclusion of the treaty, which by the bye is not antidated.

I have said above, that the affair of Saratoga determined your conduct; I mean, my Lord, that it opened the scene of American politics at St. James’s, at Versailles, through-out all Europe. You have laboured to prove that France did not act from motives of Generosity but of interest. You have failed; but I will admit the conclusion, though I deny the premises; and then I add, that if she had consulted any thing besides her interest, America would by no means have been pleased with the alliance. The generosity of statesmen, my Lord, is but another name for caprice, and we wish no connection with the capricious. It is the interest of France to be allied to America; it is the interest of America to be allied to France. The rulers of the two nations see their interest and pursue it. What more can be desired? Did you expect, when you told the Congress a long story about reviving free intercourse and mutual affection, with other the airy forms, ideal nothings, to which you had given a local habitation and a name; did you suppose them such coxcombs as to pay the least attention unless, at the Edition: current; Page: [44] same time, you could convince them it was their interest? No, you did not. Your conduct shews you did not. Unfortunately you applied to the private interest of the Members, instead of the general interests of their constituents. We wish to be at peace with all the world, and therefore we will make peace with you when you are properly authorized to speak, and have proper terms to offer. In the mean time, if you like fighting better, why we will fight with you.

My Lord, you are come hither for the very modest purpose of persuading a free and independent nation to surrender their rights and privileges: You are confessedly incompetent to the business of subduing them and are therefore to proceed by what you call reasoning. Now, as public addresses are not always the most clear and intelligible compositions, in order to simplify the matter, I will suppose you in conference with such an honest farmer as myself: You ask me to become a subject of the King of Great Britain; and what shall I get by that? Security of your person and property. My person and property are secure already. He will make laws for you and govern you. I had much rather make laws for myself and govern myself. But he will regulate your trade. Pray what is that? Why he will tell you where your ships shall go, and where they shall not go, and what they shall carry, and what they shall not carry. But I had rather our merchants should send their ships where and with what cargoes they please; I fancy they know as much of trade as your King, and how to get the best prices and the cheapest goods. Aye, aye, but this is for the sake of a union of force, and for the interests of the whole British empire. My good friend, the force of America is already united, and I have nothing to do with the British empire. Yes, you have; for unless you comply with these terms, the King of England will conquer you. I do not think he is able. He will try however; and therefore, if you do not instantly submit your person and property to his disposal, you are answerable to Heaven for all the miseries of the war he shall carry on for that purpose. I do not believe a syllable of the matter. I wish your King would mind his own affairs, and not trouble other people. But if he will send armies hither to fight, we must e’en fight. And so I wish your Lordship a good morning. I am, my Lord, with the most profound veneration, Your Lordships most obedient, and most humble servant,

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To Sir Henry Clinton, October 20, 1778*

Henry Clinton
Clinton, Henry


May it please your Excellency.

I have been favoured with the sight of your letter to the Congress, dated at New-York, the 19th September, 1778, on which I shall take leave to make a few observations.

It was suggested to me to notice the requisition you sent upon the same subject, some time since, as a Commissioner, in conjunction with your brethren, Eden and Carlisle. I avoided it, because I was certain your Excellency would offer me another and a better opportunity. You will, however, pardon me for referring to that paper on the present occasion.

Let me observe, Sir, that fraud and hypocrisy, however they may be mistaken for policy by weak minds, are of a very different family, and have not the slightest connection. The use of them is at all times dishonourable, sometimes dangerous. They may serve one turn and for one moment, but they frequently fail even of that short purpose, and impede a man in all his future operations. If ever there was an opportunity for using these weapons successfully, you had it with us; for we reposed the highest confidence in British integrity, and we had an affection for the nation. But you have so imprudently dissipated our good opinion, that when you aim a great stroke the means are wanting.

When your officers broke their paroles, we imputed it to a defect of principle among them individually from the want of education and other circumstances of that kind, which, considering the characters of some, is not to be wondered at. And when we heard that these persons were not only countenanced but caressed, we did not believe it.

We know tolerably well the insidious manners of your court, for they were painted by your own citizens, and we had reason to believe their assertions. We found the design to enslave us was persisted in through every change of Ministers and measures, and professions in a long course of years. But we did not, we could not believe that their baneful influence had so deeply affected every order of your state. And though the conduct of Lord Dunmore, in tendering freedom to all the slaves who should butcher their masters and repair to his standard, was sufficient to have opened our Edition: current; Page: [46] eyes.13 Yet our partiality in your favour led us to attribute this to the profligacy of his private character, and to a predeliction for Negroes, arising from his natural propensity to the females of that complexion.

In short, I have known some of the best friends to America behave coldly to their friends, for believing the relation now too well attested, of your conduct to those unhappy men who capitulated at Fort Washington.14

At length conviction came, though slow, yet full. To mention the instances in which you broke faith with the public and with individuals, would be to write the history of your three campaigns, with all the attiral15 of proclamations and protections. But it would be for the honour of human nature to bury this history in oblivion. It is sufficient for the present to observe, that we became fully convinced you were no longer to be trusted.

Honest men, after they have been defrauded, acquire that wholesome suspicion which others inherit. The only difference indeed is, that the former reason from facts, the latter from feelings. Of consequence mutual diffidence took place to the greatest degree; and it is perhaps as laughable a circumstance as any of the others that you made at this time, and under such auspices your conciliatory propositions, which of all things required the greatest confidence. But to return.

It was predicted by every discerning man, that the troops of the convention would be used against us the instant they were out of our power. Your former conduct justified the inference, and considering the many infractions you made in it from the very commencement of the treaty, Congress had good right to have declared the stipulations on their part void. Principles, however, of national honour induced the determination of that Body strictly to comply with the convention. Luckily for America General Burgoyne, by declaring in a letter to Congress that they had broken it, gave an additional ground, known and acknowledged among nations, for suspending it until a ratification from the court of Great-Britain. It is observable, that even then the suspension was carried by a very small majority, Edition: current; Page: [47] although every Member present was convinced you did not mean to pay the least regard to it. They reasoned (but with what force it becomes not me to determine) that it was better to convince the world by one more experiment of your want of integrity. Luckily however, they were overruled; and you have daily given additional proofs of the wisdom of that cautionary measure.

On the requisition by yourself and others, Commissioners, &c. dated at New-York, the 26th August, the following doubts arise:

1st. Why was it not made sooner, since clearly the Commissioners had as much power to ratify it before, and their King was as much in need of his troops.

2d. By what authority did the Commissioners intermeddle in a business by no means in contemplation at the time of their appointment, and (as will be shewn hereafter) clearly out of their power, especially when you the proper person was on the spot, and only made one of them.

I am informed that the solution given in Congress at the time was, that the Commissioners had received a ratification of the convention, together with orders to make an application of that kind, with a view to two objects:

1st. If possible to obtain the prisoners, and then declare the convention void by reason of the suspension, and of their want of authority.

2d. At least to lead Congress into some kind of treaty or correspondence with them on the subject, and thereby indirectly into an acknowledgment of an authority in the Commissioners to treat with us as subjects of Great-Britain.

This is confirmed substantially by your letter; for it cannot be supposed that your Ministers have less pride or wisdom than heretofore. If therefore their Commissioners had been possessed of sufficient authority, they would hardly have sent you that express and recent authority you mention to have received since the date of their requisition. It is worthy of observation that this date is the 26th of August, and Your authority the twelfth of June, between which is an interval of eleven weeks. It is evident that Your Ministers in the critical situation of their country, would give this paper every possible dispatch. Six weeks or seven, at farthest, were sufficient to transmit it from Whitehall to New-York. Hence it is evident, not only that you had received that paper before the date of the requisition, but also that it was on that ground the requisition was made.

What right had the Commissioners to interfere in it? They were appointed for the single purpose of persuading us to become subjects to the King, being a kind of missionaries to propagate monarchy in foreign parts, Edition: current; Page: [48] and what connection this has with a military convention, no man can discover. They had no authority to speak to Congress on national grounds. They were not Ambassadors, Ministers Plenipotentiary, nor any thing of that kind. They were not appointed by letters of credence but by commission under the great seal, not from the mere motive of the Prince, but by Act of Parliament. In short, the whole mission was on domestick principles; when therefore the people of America refused to become subjects to the King of England, their authority, if any they had, ceased, nor could they possibly have had authority to the purpose they pretended. It was given them neither by their commission, nor by the act on which that commission was grounded, nor could it possibly have been in contemplation when that act was passed; and your letter shews demonstratively, not only that they had not any such authority, but that your King and his Ministers did not think they had.

But what kind of authority is your’s? Why it seems you have sent a paper, purporting to be the extract of a letter from Lord George Germaine, and that is a true extract, we have the word of one Smith, your secretary. And what is this extract? Why it seems it is a signification of your Monarch’s pleasure? And what is it that will please him? Why that you give assurances, &c. All this appears from the paper. But why will it please him? Because he would get some troops without being under the necessity of keeping the convention. For does it follow, that because he desires you to give assurances, that therefore he gives assurances? Does it follow because your secretary hath signed a piece of paper as an extract, &c. that therefore it is an extract? I believe it is, but I also believe that your court would deny it if they could get any thing by it. Does it follow, if this is a true extract, that the whole letter taken together is not of a different complexion? Does it follow, that it is the King’s pleasure you should do so because Lord George Germaine says it is? In a word, will any assurances given by you under such flimsy authority, amount to that explicit ratification which was demanded by Congress? A demand then justified by the conduct of General Burgoyne, and which the chicane used since, hath rendered it absolutely necessary to [insist]16 on.

The position then, Sir Harry, is clear, that when Carlisle, Eden and Clinton made their remonstrance and requisition, and when you made your demand, neither they or you had given or could give that satisfaction for keeping the convention which Congress had a right to demand: Of consequence Edition: current; Page: [49] you could not expect the troops would be suffered to depart from our shores. This being the case, let us consider the requisition. I say what did you and your brethren mean by your eulogy upon the faith of cartels, military capitulations, conventions and treaties which you have sported with so often? What did you mean by calling on us by the sacred obligations of humanity and justice, to do what, confident with a regard to either, or even to our own safety you knew was impossible? What did you mean by a threat of retaliation, you who have exhausted the mores of military barbarity? What were you to retaliate? A weakness almost amounting to pusilanimity in declining to avenge the injuries you have done? Do you think it possible to affright us by an idea that you will pay no regard to cartels or capitulations? You never yet have done it: Those who surrender to you know they are exposed to the sword or to languish in confinement.

You have dared to say, “all breach of faith, even with an enemy, and all attempts to elude the force of military conventions, or to defeat their salutary purposes by evasion or chicane, are justly held in detestation, and deemed unworthy of any description of persons assuming the characters or stating themselves as the Representatives of nations,” and yet at that moment you are employed in the very attempt by evasion and chicane to elude the convention of Saratoga.17 You had surmounted, possibly after many compunctious struggles, at least for the honour of human nature I hope so, but you had surmounted every sense of justice, of humanity, and of honour. Let me congratulate you on this new victory over the sense of shame. In this view you have gained at length the victory over yourselves, and may stand forth the first of philosophers in your kind, you may boast to be leaders of those, who cloathed with the dignity of national character, display the story of their own disgrace.

It is to be lamented, that on an occasion so solemn, and of such serious consequences to your reputations, we cannot derive an idea of your wisdom, equal to that which your fortitude hath impressed. It would have been Edition: current; Page: [50] glorious indeed, could you have shown a capacity to deceive all mankind with the same facility that you set their opinions at defiance. But unfortunately this is not the case, for you have taken upon you to remonstrate against the unjust detention of the Saratoga troops. Did you consider the force of the term? If the detention is unjust, the convention is broken, if we have broken the convention you are no longer bound by it, if no longer bound in equity, a ratification extorted by the unjust detention will be void. To have released them therefore on this requisition, other objectionable circumstances being removed, would by implication have admitted you a ground whereon to build a release from your engagements; wherefore the requisition taking it conjunctively with the remonstrance contained in it, as it shews the mind an opinion which you possess so presumptively it demonstrates the conduct you mean to hold, and therefore compels Congress to a greater caution and circumspection, being in fact a supplement to that letter of General Burgoyne which I mentioned before.

We come now to your letter of the nineteenth of September. One word more as to chronology. Your offer it seems is not only by express but recent authority, &c. If this epithet means any thing, we are to conclude that the authority was then just received. Indeed you take pains to induce that belief. But the extract you send us is dated the 12th of June, that is more than three months prior to your letter. Did you imagine the Congress had such implicit faith in your dictums, as to believe you had but just received that letter? The imposition is too glaring to pass on men of much less sagacity. What could have put it in your head that it is unprecedented to take no notice of demands by those who have no right to make them? The Lord Chief Justice of England is an officer at least as well known in the constitution of your kingdom as these newfangled Commissioners. Suppose the Earl of Mansfield had written a letter to Congress demanding the convention troops, do you think a neglect of this demand would have been quite unprecedented? And yet he had full as good right to make the demand as those Commissioners; else why the express and recent authority to you? You will not surely pretend that it was sent in consequence of the neglect you complain of, for there again chronology is against you.

But let us examine this express authority. I take it such authority can be derived but two ways respecting those to whom it relates: These are dependent on the points either of sovereignty or subjection.

First then as to the sovereignty. Conceding that America is an independent power, then clearly your authority ought to be expressed in a letter of credence to Congress, which it is not.

Edition: current; Page: [51]

Secondly, as to the subjection. If, as you say we are subjects, then on general principles you are not bound to keep faith with rebels. But further, your laws have expressly determined this matter by a case in point, showing that capitulations and conventions with rebels are merely void, so that the least which could be expected is an act of Parliament. But

Thirdly, on the ground both of sovereignty and of subjection, leaving that great point in dubio, the authority should have been derived under the great seal and sign manual.

In lieu of all this you send an extract of a letter from a Secretary of State, which neither with foreign nations, nor even with your own subjects is worth a pinch of snuff; and thus you have thought proper to dubb with the sounding title of an express and recent authority from the King.

In order however to piece out the deficiencies of your ratification, you have insinuated a threat of certain consequences which are to follow from withholding a compliance with your demands. You are really a most diverting correspondent. What in the name of common sense can you mean by this and by your former menace of retaliation? Is it that if ever we are so weak as to make any agreement with you, you will break it? We always expected as much, we have told you so repeatedly, and this is one of the capital reasons why we reprobate all connection with you. Is it that you will to the utmost of your power lay waste our country? You have done this already, not excepting the territory of those poor creatures who had a confidence in your promises and an affection for your cause. Is it that you will burn our habitations? You made no small figure in that kind of business before the convention was made. Is it that you will murder prisoners in cold blood? Why even that practice, bad as it is, you are by no means unaccustomed to. This part of your letter reminds me of a speech which one of your excellent poets hath put in the mouth of a mad King. He too takes upon him to threaten those whom he cannot injure, and exclaims, “I will do such things! What they are yet I know not.”18

To conclude, Sir Harry, though you are my enemy, I will express to you a wish, prompted by philanthropy; it is this, that the things you have done, and the things you have meditated to do, may not totally reduce you to the situation of that unhappy creature.

I am, with the greatest respect, Sir, your most obedient and humble servant,

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5: Proposal to Congress Concerning the Management of the Government (1778)*

Sometime after his return from visiting the Army at Valley Forge, Morris turned his attention to a systematic overhaul of Congress’s way of doing business. The result is this document, which may have been prepared for delivery as a speech, although there is no record of it being delivered. A number of these proposals later were incorporated into other reports, including the report on the treasury department (chapter 6, below).

The proposal gives an insight into the wide range of issues Congress faced in mid-1778 as its attention turned to the reality of a long war. It also shows the extent to which Congress concerned itself with the minutiae of execution. Morris’s proposals for creating a more effective executive establishment were, however, well ahead of his colleagues’ thinking. Some reforms were made piecemeal, including the appointment of a superintendent of finance and establishment of a secretariat of foreign affairs. But it took nearly three years before those reforms were carried out.1 It was not until 1781 that the Confederation began to conduct its business more efficiently. It would take almost a decade before most of the country would accept the need for the vigorous executive that Morris foreshadowed here.

Edition: current; Page: [54]
To the Congress.

In the present Situation of our Affairs it must be evident to every Observer that America must be victorious if she can prosecute the War since it is impracticable for Great Britain to pursue it much longer. Now America can prosecute the War so long as she can keep an Army in the Field, but to keep an Army it is necessary to have Men to clothe, arm, Feed & pay them. To all these Purposes Money is the great Thing needful. A Paper Circulation may depreciate to such a Degree as no longer to answer the Purposes of Money. And this hath been the Case in a great Measure from the Want of Attention, Management and Method. To look thro the Causes of our Misfortunes may lead to the Cure. The Want of Men arises from sundry Sources. 1st. the short Enlistments at the Commencement of the War. 2ly. the Advance in the Price of Labor & Commodities. 3dly. the enormous Bounties given by several of the States. 4thly. the great Sums paid for Substitutes in the frequent Calls of the Militia. 5thly. from the Want of Discipline by which Means Soldiers not only desert in great Numbers but no Attention being paid to their Manner of Living by their Officers they loose their Cloaths become sickly & finally die or are rendered unfit for Service. 6thly. from the Want of Cloathing, Blankets and the like & lastly from the Defects of the Hospitals by which many die & the Sufferings of those who survive prevent ReEnlistments.

The Money also hath depreciated from several Causes as 1st. From the very Nature of it it was a Matter of very great Doubt among many whether it would not finally sink in the Hands of the Possessor hence the Aspect of our Affairs hath a manifest Influence upon its Credit. 2ly. From the many different Kinds of Paper Money Counterfeits became easy and therefore Men were less inclined to receive it. 3dly. The great Wages given to our Soldiery, The frequent Calls of Militia and after that every other Cause which hath caused great Emissions tends by the Quantity of the Money to lower it’s Value. 4thly. The great Prices given for Commodities the natural Produce of the Country by the Servants of the Public from the Want of due Arrangement in the several Departments. 5thly. The Want of Oeconomy & Frauds in those Departments. 6thly. All those Laws which were framed to regulate Prices from that of Gold & Silver down to every other Article the necessary Consequence of which was to exclude such things or at least the greater Part of them from Commerce and therefore to raise the Price of the Remainder from the Scarcity, from the Plenty of Paper Money & from the Risque of breaking the Law. 7thly. From the Depreciation once begun Edition: current; Page: [55] arose a Depreciation consequent upon it distinct from other Causes since from thence the Possessors of Commodities would ask more than what would otherwise have been the Market Price foreseeing that tho’ that Price might be the just Value at the Time of Sale it must soon become less, others also from this Depreciation would be led to engross and moneyed Men continually receiving their Debts in nominal Money of decreasing Value would be led to realize (or purchase any thing not perishable such as Land, Gold, Silver, Iron & the like) all which was taken out of the Circle of Commerce. 8thly. No Taxes having been laid and the Authority of the Governments in many Instances shaken it became doubtful with many whether even any Attempt would be made to redeem any Part of it and therefore, 9thly. When the Continent offerd to loan their own Money there being no visible Funds to pay the Interest Men were disinclined to trust them.

In order to restore the Value of Money it becomes necessary to lessen the Quantity & Kinds to provide Ways and Means to procure Funds for carrying on the War and to use Oeconomy in the Expenditures.

  • (1) To lessen the Quantity & Kinds of Money I would propose that every State should instantly by Law cry down their own Emissions and redeem them with Continental Loan Office Certificates and be duly charged by the Continent with the Interest of such Certificates.
  • (2) If Credit can be procured in Europe (of which more presently) to absorp a considerable Quantity of the Paper by selling Bills of Exchange.
  • (3) To gain a Credit to our Funds in Order to procure Loans and here

    1st. The Payment of the Bills drawn for the Interest of the Debt will have a considerable Influence but it is necessary to extend that Influence into foreign Countries & gain Credit there, for which Purpose I propose

    2ly. That the States should each pass an Act restricting their several Limits within a certain Line to be drawn for that Purpose and declaring that the Residue shall appertain to the Congress of the united States in Consequence of which Cession the States which really Part with Territory to receive a Compensation by the Abatement of some Part of their future Quota of the Continental Debt. From this Land I would set off a well sized State for our own Soldiers, for Deserters from the Enemy and for such Gratuities as Congress Edition: current; Page: [56] or their public Ministers may chuse to make from a proper Distribution of which Land the Men of great Influence in Europe may be brought to favor our Cause. The Remainder should be divided into other large Districts by Natural Boundaries and be called by separate Name which should denominate our Funds and supposing these names to be A, B & C any Man in Europe who put into the Fund A should be entitled at any Time to so much Land in that Country as could be purchased there at that Time for his Debt by which Means we should be able to give Security for the Principal of our Debt which no Nation in Europe can do.

    3dly. It should be an Additional Article in the Confederation that an Acknowledgement of 21/2 per Cent should be paid on the Value of all Commodities imported into America from any Port not within one of the united States and that this Acknowledgement and also every other Duty for the Regulation of Trade or otherwise laid should be paid to the Continent as a sinking Fund for the Principle & Interest of Debts by them contracted during the War. This Acknowlegement alone would produce from the American Commerce in 1772 £125.000 Stg. equal to 1,250,000 Dollars of our present Money at least and if we add 250,000 for what would arise from other necessary Duties over and above the Cost of collecting the Whole this would make 1,500,000 Dollars which would be the Interest of a Debt of 25,000,000 Dollars at six per Cent. The Post Office also properly regulated would in Time produce a very considerable Remedy without Burthening the Community it being rightly observed that this is the most agreable Tax ever invented. But as these would yield little or nothing at present I would propose

    4thly. that a Capitation Tax of one Dollar upon every Inhabitant be paid as a sinking Fund at present and that this be faithfully and honestly applied notwithstanding any Exigency to pay the interest & Part of the Principle or where the Interest is payable in Europe there the Principle of the public Debts at the same time taking Care that the Debt of highest Interest be paid first.

  • (4) In Order to raise the Value of the Money which is always a saving to the public it will be proper.

    1st. To take off all Restrictions upon the Sale of every Commodity Gold and Silver not excepted. Edition: current; Page: [57]

    2dly. As soon as a State of the public Debts can be made out after adopting the other Plans proposed to publish such State and thereby undeceive the Public who think it much greater than it really is.

    3dly. To devise a proper Mode of calling all those to Account who have received any public Monies and provide Checks in the further Issues of which more hereafter.

  • (5) In providing Money for the public Exigencies I would observe that from January to January Congress should Vote a particular Sum, for Instance 20,000,000 Dollars of which 10,000,000 should be raised by the several States by Tax and the Remainder on Loan in America and as at present 27 Livres Tournois are equal to 15 Dollars supposing Exchange to fall so low as that a Dollar shall be worth two Livres then a Credit of 20,000,000 Livres Tournois will enable us to buy up a Sum of Paper Money equal to the whole Tax by which Means the Cash will be in the public Coffers in Advance and the Credit of the Money at Home just as high as we chuse to make it for by this Means the public will not be indebted to its own Subjects one Shilling more after borrowing 10,000,000 Dollars than before, and the circulating Medium will be 10,000,000 less and as the foreign Debt is to be paid in Produce whenever the Money is made valuable the Produce will become cheap & the Debt consequently small, for Instance, 5 Livres as above will purchase 21/2 Dollars which in the State of New York will purchase one Bushel of Wheat but the Money being made valuable as above the Wheat may be bought for one such Dollar, that is for the same Money two Bushels and an half of Wheat may be purchased which in France will sell for twenty Livres Wherefore 5 Livres borrowed and invested in Paper now will pay twenty Livres hereafter or in other Words the Debt is lessened 3/4 tho By pursuing the above Plan with Judgment it will be very easy to regulate the Value of our Money which ought not be very high for the following Reasons. 1st. The Pay of our Soldiery is now fixed at 61/2 Dollars per Mo. which at par Exchange is 1/Stg. per Day but at present about 4d1/2 or less If Exchange be lowered to 21/2 Livres for 1 Dollar in Paper the Pay of the Soldiery will be 6d per Day. 2dly. The Money being below Par thus much, that is 21/2 instead of 5, We shall by paying our Interest in France give in Effect 12 per Cent which will finally bring all our Money into our own Coffers so as that our Subjects will eventually Edition: current; Page: [58] be our Chief Creditors the Good Reasons for which in sinking the Debt are obvious. 3dly. It will enable us to regulate our Contracts for Supplies to the Army as we please of which more hereafter. Many other Reasons will shew themselves in the Course of time.

These Means being pursued to get Money and render it valuable the next Consideration is to be cautious in the Expenditures without which it is impossible to provide Funds even could we mortgage the Mines of Potosi.

(1) The Treasurey Board, the Navy Board, and the Commercial Board, I am unacquainted with but I must confess that I wish to see all this Business executed by Commission[er]s.

1. The Treasury Board should consist of three Parts, the Treasurer, Auditor & Comptroller. The Auditor should be a Gentleman of Great Industry, Accuracy & Integrity & have in his Office at least six Gentlemen each of them a good Accomptant & faithful which six should form two Chambers, one of Dues the other of Claims. The former should adjust all Accompts brought into the Treasury for Payment, the other All Accompts unsettled where it is supposed that the Public Money lies in the Hands of Individuals. These Accompts being Adjusted should be laid before the Auditor (who should be impowered by the several States to call Persons to accompt by particular Process) and he should examine them & mark them thus Audited for the Sum of Day of 177, and sign it, He and the several Chambers under him always taking Care that exhorbitant Prices are not allowed if charged. Copies of these Accounts should be kept in his Office marked filed & Entries made in his Books of the Sums audited and on what Accounts and make Monthly Returns of such Entries made to Congress, then the Accounts with the Vouchers referred to should be handed over to the Comptroller whose Business it should be to examine them anew and see from whom and to whom the Sums audited are payable & pass the same and make proper Minutes thereof in his Books and draw Bills on the Treasurer comformable to the Manner in which such Accompts are passed (to which the treasury Seal is to be put) and make monthly Returns to Congress of the Accompts by him passed. The treasurer is simply to receive and pay Money taking Care that he pay it only to those duly authorized to receive it, to keep the Check Accompt of the Loan Office & the like and ought also to render monthly Accompts to Congress.

The Navy Board or Board of Admiralty ought as I conceive to be submitted to five Intelligent Sea Officers well acquainted with maritime Affairs and Edition: current; Page: [59] otherwise qualified as Men of Business. Untill our naval Affairs are a little more reduced to System it must require Great Knowlege in Sea Affairs upon a large Scale to qualify a Man for a Seat at that Board. Nor shall we find for many Years Persons duly qualified to act in it from having made such things the Object of their Attention as a Branch of political Science. These Persons should from Time to Time make Report as should the Board of War, the treasury Board & the like to an Executive of which more hereafter.

The Commercial Board should consist of the five most intelligent Merchants to be met with. At present it will be their Duty to attend simply to the Commercial Concerns of the Continent but such a Board ought to exist for the Purpose of continually collecting, comparing & examining the Commerce of the Several States, the Course of Exchange &ca &ca by the Help of which they would be enabled to give Information from Time to Time what Laws, Treaties & Regulations would be proper and beneficial, what Number of Seamen could be had in Emergencies & the like.

The Board of War being at present in Commission I shall say Nothing upon that Chapter only that Men of Experience, of Business & acquainted with the Resources of America should be always upon that Board which for many Years Yet to come will have infinite Concerns to attend to. For whether we have Peace or not I state it as certain that we must have some Soldiers & many Magazines of Artillery, Field Equipage, Ammunition & military Stores &ca.

I will here take an Opportunity to observe upon what must strike the Observation of every Gentleman acquainted with our public Affairs. It is that a Body such as the Congress is inadequate to the Purposes of Execution. They want that Celerity & Decission upon which depend the Fate of Great Affairs. Other Reasons not less cogent might be adduced Wherefore it might be proper especially during the War to have either a Committee of three or a single officer such as Chief of the States Who should superintend the Executive Business, receive the Reports of the several Boards of the Secretary for foreign Affairs and the like and prepare the whole in the Form of Memorials for the House where there Authority is necessary & where it is not there to perform the necessary Acts.

(2) The Next Thing which demands a most serious Attention is to involve all the military Affairs of the Continent into one Department which would prevent a Variety of Abuses by which the public is injured in many Respects but particularly by the Destruction of Vast Sums of Money. Thus there are at present a Commissary’s Department, Edition: current; Page: [60] a Quarter Masters Department & an Hospital Department to the Northward and no army besides the several Departments clash in Purchases double, treble or quadruple the Number of Persons are employed in procuring the same Articles and the like not to mention the absolute sinecures &ca but the Detail is infinite.

(3) As to the several Staff Departments of the Army viz the Quarter Master’s, Commissaries & Hospital in their order.

1. The Quarter Masters Department is open to such an Endless Train of Frauds from the very Nature of the thing that it is impossible to devise any adequate Checks. A thing which hath never as I can learn been done by any Army. The only Way to keep it within any Bounds is by examining the Accounts frequently, the Vouchers accurately, taking Care that the Purchases and Expenditures agree & that Losses, Casualties & the like be properly ascertained, after all the Head of the Department is most to be depended on if he is vigilant, industrious & honest he may do much towards preventing Frauds. Further a constant Return should be required of his Deputies, their Pay & Appointments &ca. where they are &ca. This Detail should be monthly. I would observe particularly that the Article of Forage alone is ruinous without accurate Managemt. Wherefore there should always be in the Army a Forage Yard and Rations of Forage delivd. with Accuracy as also at the several Magazines and Receipts taken without which the Expenditures should not be allowed. At present any of the Depy. Qur. Mrs. may purchase on the Contl. Acct. & sell on his own Acct. without being detected.

2. The Commissaries Department upon which but too much is to be said. Generally I will venture to affirm that every Step is capitally defective. Let me be indulged in a small Detail. A who is a Commissary of Purchases buys 100 Cattle whose Average Weight is in Beef 400, Hide & Tallow 100, in the whole 50,000 wt. for these he gives Certificates at 25 per Ct. Advance upon the Market Price supposing that to be 1/ then his Certificates are at the Rate of 1/3, and to color it the Cattle estimated and marked accordingly to weigh on an Average 600. 50,000 wt. @ 1/ is £2,500 to which add 1/4 or £625, the Price Charged is £3,125, the Difference he pockets by purchasing the Certificates at a Discount by the Intervention of a third Person. These Cattle are driven at the Public Expense during all Seasons favorable or unfavorable to the Camp. When they get there they consume Forage for which the Army is always in great Distress, grow lean, some of them die, some when killed returned unfit for Use, some sent out of Camp into the Country to be fattened, of the Beef, some putrifies almost all the Tallow is Edition: current; Page: [61] lost, a great Part of the Hides lost, many of them much damaged, the Heads are thrown away, the Entrails & Filth serve to generate putrid Diseases, the Horns are lost, the Feet from which Oil to curry all the Hides might be extracted are also thrown into the general Mass of Corruption, finally the Beef itself in the Hot Weather renders the troops liable to Diseases of a bilious Kind. I say Nothing of the purchases of Spirits, of Vinegar, of Bread, of Pease &ca. &ca.

The Remedy I would here propose is 1st. To contract within particular Districts of Country with Individuals for the Cattle of that District as thus to be delivered at some Place on the Banks of the Rivers Susquehannah, Delaware or Hudsons (where it is to be presumed the Enemy could not penetrate) at a certain Time from so many thousand to so many thousand Wt. of Beef, the Beef to be weighed as thus, the four Quarters, the Hide & the rough Tallow at so much per Pound. At these Places should be the public works necessary and Magazines of Salt, Nitre, Allum, Pot or Pearl Ashes, Barrills &ca. &ca. The Cattle should be here killed the Beef cut into Mess Pieces of 4lb. each and 50 Pieces put in a Barrill with a proper Proportion of Salt, Nitre (or Pot Ashes) & Allum to preserve it. The Hides taken proper Care of. The Tallow made into Candles & Soap. The oil extracted from the Feet. The Tripe taken Care of and the Heads made into portable Soap. It is worthy of Observation that those who contract with the Crown in Ireland clear nothing but the Horns & Hoofs by their Bargain. It may be said that the Transportation of Provisions would be by this Means rendered too expensive to which I answer that the Transportation should be by Water as much as possible and if there be 40 Miles Land Carriage for the Provision of 20,000 Men it will require daily twenty good Teams being eighty Horses whereas the same Men would require 40 large Oxen per Day and with 5 Days Provision before Hand there would be a constant Demand of Forage for 400 large Cattle instead of eighty Horses.

As to Purchases of Flour they may I am confident be better made by Contract than at present as may the Baking Business for which the Contract should be that the Quarter Master provide ovens & Fuel and that the Contractor deliver so many Pounds of Bread as he shall receive of Flour.

Spirits & Whiskey ought by a Resolution to be Fixed at a certain Standard in the Delivery to Soldiers for otherwise great Frauds may happen of which more hereafter.

Vinegar which I will venture to say is absolutely necessary to an Army should be procured by Contract in very large Quantities at different Places by which Transportation would be saved and the Article itself if not used Edition: current; Page: [62] one Year be infinitely better the next. So much for the Purchases but in the Issues a still more terrible Scene opens upon us, to trace which let us suppose a Regt. to consist of 500 Rations daily & take the year @ 350 Days, & examine the Perquisites, private & public Frauds.

1st. Perquisites.

500 Rat. Salt Prov. 50 Days is 130 Blls. in each of which is 1/4 of a Bushel of coarse Salt @ 40 Dlls per B. 1300 Dlls.
20 Rat. daily on an Average to the Sick in the whole 10,000 @ 1/5 of a Dollar 2000
Perquisites. 3300

Private Frauds.

500 Gills of Rum or Whisky for abt. 250 Days, 125,000 from which deduct 1/3 (sometimes more) and add Water leaves 40,000 say 32,000 or 1000 Galls @ 4d per Gall is 4,000
For Rat. not delivered, scant Weight & Measure &ca &ca say 20 Rat. for 350 Days, 9000 @ 1/5 1,400
Private Frauds. 5,400

Public Frauds.

500 Rat. fresh Beef @ 11/4 for 300 Days & usual Allowances for Wastage is abt. 200,000 from which the Real Weight killed viz 240,000 deduct 1/6 for false Returns of Wt. by issuing Comy. of Brig. is 40,000 @ 1/8 5,000
Absent on Detachments, With Leave, Deserters &ca. always some wherefore suppose the whole Regt. abt. 10 Days in the Year during which time they draw Provisions elsewhere is 5000 @ 1/5 1,000
For setling back Rations they give (due Bills) wherefore the whole Quantum being issued & due Bills given to such as do not draw the whole say 20 Daily for 250 Days. 5,000 @ 1/5 1,000
Public Frauds. 7,000

The Account then stands thus

Perquisites 3,300
Priv. Frauds 5,400
Public do. 7,000
15,700. Peculation on 500 daily, or 157 on 5
Edition: current; Page: [63]

Suppose 100,000 Rat. daily issued is three Million Dollars. If to this be added the Frauds in purchasing, Losses from Mismanagemt. &ca. which may be fairly stated at two Millions more this will be five Millions, or 50 Dollars on each Ration supposing them worth 1/3 each to the Public then for a Year it is 120. Now if as the Case is at least 3 Rat. be delivered out on the Continent for every soldier actually in Service then each Soldier must be estimated at 360 Dollars per Annum to feed him from which is peculated & wasted in different Ways to the Amount of 150 Dollars, on the whole it will appear that at least 5 times as much is paid as is necessary. But to remedy this.

1. I observe that for this Purpose as well as many others, it is absolutely necessary to procure Muster Masters and Adjutant Generals well acquainted with their Business and possessing Industry and strict Integrity. These Officers are the great Checks of an Army particularly the former who should at every Muster make Return to the Genl. & to the Board of War noting in the same all Differences between the Musters and the Returns.

2. The Officers of every Rank except Genl Officers should be confined to the drawing of but one Ration which if not drawn should not be paid for and a Subsistence Money equal to their present Rations should be allowed in Lieu of what they are now entitled to Under this Head also we may comprehend another Abuse & the Remedy. No Officer should be allowed to keep a Soldier as his Servant but should be allowed the Sum of 8 Dollars per Mo. to pay & subsist his own Servant.

3. No Ration should be allowed to the sick but the same ought to be specifically drawn for by the Surgeon who in his sick Return should also return the Provisions drawn for to the End that the Orders if improper may be corrected by his Superiors and such Orders should be copied by the Clerk of the flying Hospital weekly & transmitted to the Commissary General. From this Regulation also the frequent Absence of Surgeons from their Regts. would be prevented a thing much to be lamented at present.

4. No Rations should be drawn unless for those present fit for Duty and where officers on Command & Detachments not joined &ca. draw Provisions either of Commys. or Inhabitants, they should be charged with the same and obliged to pay therefor unless within a Month Copies of their Receipts are by them filed with the Commissary Genl. or his Deputy or Agent, this being the only Means of checking the Waste occasioned by Detachments.

5. The present Pernicious Practice of serving out Rations to Artificers in Places where they can find Subsistence should be stopped since among Edition: current; Page: [64] many other Evils which arise from it the Infinity of Commissaries is by no Means the least.

6. The Quarter Masters in drawing Provisions should be obliged to make duplicate Returns of their respective Regts. & of the No. of Rations drawn and duplicate Receipts of the specific Articles & one Copy of each should be filed with the Adjutant Genl. who should weekly annex to the same a Copy of the Weekly Return of such respective Regt. & send the same to the Comy. Genl. who should be allowed proper Clerks of the Check to examine and check the same.

7. When any Spirits shall be delivered out below the Standard the Qur. Master should be obliged to make up in Quantity the Defect of Quality.

3dly. of the Hospital Department I will venture to affirm generally that it is replete with Abuses of the greatest Consequence.

1st. in the very great Number of Persons employd in it which partly arises from the Number of Departments into which it is divided.

2ly. In the Ignorance of many of its Members owing to the Promotion of improper Persons to higher office originally than they had Right to expect &

3ly. In the Want of Method and Arrangement throughout or rather in the pernicious Systems adapted.

As this Business is not that to which I am most adequate, so on the other Hand I will venture to say that from Inquiry & Attention I have put myself in a Situation not to be quite ignorant of it. By the last Returns prior to which a great Number were discharged it appears there were in Pay of the Cont. 1 Director Genl., 3 Deputy Directors Gen., 2 Assistant Deputy Directors Genl., 3 Phisicians Genl., 3 Surgeons General, 3 Phisicians & Surgeons Genl., 3 Apothecaries General, 30 senior Surgeons, 36 junior Surgeons, 56 Surgeons Mates and seven Apothecaries Mates over and above all the Regimental Surgeons & Mates & over and above what may be in the Southern Departt. Here it is worthy of Remark that from 1st Jany. to the 1st May all the Sick of our Army were Attended by 1 Senr. & 2 Junr. Surgeons as also 3000 Patients innoculated. To remedy the Evils in this Business, I would propose to institute a Medical Board to consist of a chief Director Genl., Inspector Genl. & chief Phisician & Surgeon. These three should examine all medical Men Candidates for Office & give Certificates according to their talents. Moreover the Chief Director should mark out the several Places for erecting Hospitals, who should attend at them and the like. Edition: current; Page: [65] The Inspector Genl. should visit & examine the Hospitals from Time to Time & the Conduct of those whose Business it might be to take Care of them & the like, and the Chief Phisician & Surgeon should receive regular transcripts of the Diseases & Wounds with the Prescriptions & Operations & examine the same. Under these Gentlemen should be one Purveyor and three Assistants, one Commissary & such Deputies as Occasion might require, 4 Surgeons & Phisicians, 8 Senior Surgeons, 16 junior Surgeons & 32 Mates, 1 Apothecary, 2 Assistants & as many Mates as Circumstances might require. These with occasional Detachments from the Regtl. Surgeons in Times of great Sickness would be amply sufficient for an Army of fifty thousand Men if one-fifth were constantly in Hospital besides Accidents. By this also Men of Science might be got into the Service, a thing which would save the Lives of many brave Soldiers.

4. The Cloathier Genls Department will require considerable Attention but for this Purpose it will be proper to appoint a special Committee to examine into this Matter & report some Method of putting Cloathing into the Hands of the Regt. Paymasters with the Prices to be charged the troops.

Finally as to every Department.

It should be an unalterable Decree that whenever any Person in the public Service either in the Quarter Masters, Commissaries or Medical Departments shall be guilty of trading or of following any other private occupation such Person should be discharged & forfeit all the Pay & Appointments of his Office.

And to all this let it be added that exact Discipline in an Army is essential to Oeconomy & without it no possible Arrangments can be effectual.

Edition: current; Page: [66] Edition: current; Page: [67]

6: Report of the Committee on the Treasury (1778)*

Creating an effective public administration from the materials available to Congress in 1778 was a formidable problem, as the previous document suggests. Not only was there no executive to speak of, but there were no systematic procedures for doing simple things like paying for supplies. Congress was paying bills and considering other issues as they were presented, and thus was always at the mercy of events. Morris’s proposal for organizing the Treasury would be a small step toward regularity. It exhibits both his attention to the details of administration and the degree to which Congress’s procedures were unsystematic, even at this late date.

The Committee to whom was referred the Report from the Treasury of the fifteenth of April last beg leave to report:1

That it appears necessary to organize the several Treasury Departments immediately, for the following Reasons:

1st. Because the Adjustment of the Finances of the United States, now much deranged, cannot be made without arranging that Office, which will in all Instances more or less affect them.

2dly. Because until this be done, it will be impracticable to call the several States to account, and even Individuals, much less to have those frequent Accounts, which can alone check Fraud and regulate the Expences of a Community.

3dly. Because the Attention which Congress are under the Necessity of paying to the particular Disbursements of the public Money, together with the Variety of other Business, which as well as this ought to be transacted Edition: current; Page: [68] elsewhere, prevent them from applying to the greater Affairs of the Continent. And,

4thly. Because the Arrangement of every Department should have an ultimate Reference to the Manner of doing Business at the Treasury, and therefore until that be fixed, the other cannot be adjusted.

That it appears to your Committee the following Particulars should be attended to in the Business referred to them:

1st. That no more Persons should be appointed than are necessary: Since Numbers increase the Expence, delay Business, and give greater Room for Corruption and for the Concealment of Frauds, Indolence or Inattention.

2dly. That there be proper Checks devised to prevent as much as possible those who are intrusted with the public Monies from converting it to their own Use. And those who are to examine the public Accounts from Collusion with the Creditors of the public, or with its Debtors.

3dly. That Congress may be enabled to see with Precision the Manner of Expenditures, and the Amount. And know the state of the public Debts, and the Produce of the public Revenue.

Under these Ideas your Committee submit to the Consideration of Congress the following Arrangement, viz:

That for conducting the Affairs of the Treasury there be three [principal]2 Officers, a Comptroller, a Treasurer, and an Auditor; That each of them be allowed the sum of Dollars per Annum, and the sum of Dollars per Annum for the Expence of an Office and Clerk.

That it shall be the Duty of the Comptroller to keep the Seal of the Treasury. That he shall receive the Accounts transmitted to him by the Auditor with the Vouchers, which he shall examine, and thereon shall determine to whom the several Sums audited are payable, and whether the same are payable by the United States; in which case he shall draw a Bill on the Treasurer in the following form annexed, and marked A.,3 to which he shall affix the Treasury Seal: and if the same are not payable by the United States, then he shall redeliver the Vouchers thereof to the Auditor and mark them “not passed.” That he shall keep regular Books containing the Accounts by him passed, in which Books a separate Account shall be opened between the United States and each Individual or State, and shall transmit monthly Accounts to Congress of the Monies by him drawn for and in whose favor. Edition: current; Page: [69] That he shall affix the Treasury Seal to all Loan Office Certificates, and shall deliver them to the Treasurer, whose Receipt for the same he shall file; and shall transmit monthly Accounts thereof to Congress specifying therein the Dates and Amount of such Certificates. That he shall receive from the Treasurer Receipts for the Monies by him received and shall thereon give a Discharge in the Form annexed and marked B., which he shall sign and affix thereto the Treasury Seal, and transmit the same to the Auditor to be indorsed, rendering a monthly Account as aforesaid. That he shall receive of the several Loan Officers monthly the Certificates which shall not have been by them employed, and shall give thereof a Receipt in the Form annexed and marked C., which he shall sign and transmit to the Auditor, to be indorsed, rendering monthly Account as aforesaid. That where a Resolution of Congress shall direct the Payment or Application of Monies he shall from Time to Time draw Bills on the Treasurer agreeable to such Resolutions in the Form annexed and marked D., which he shall sign and thereto affix the Treasury Seal, and transmit the same to the Auditor to be indorsed, rendering monthly Accounts thereof as aforesaid. That he shall keep a Book for the Entry and Record of Loans made to the United States by Persons who shall choose to put Money in [a Fund to be called the Confederal]4 Fund; and, upon receiving the Treasurer’s Receipt therefor, shall make Entry thereof in the Form annexed and marked E.; a copy of which Entry under the Seal of the Treasury shall be given to the Party, and when he shall receive a Power of Attorney from the Person in whose Name the Entry is made, in the Form annexed and marked F., duly authenticated by a Writing in the Form annexed and marked G., which Authentication shall be under the Hand and Seal of such public Ministers or Officers as Congress shall from Time to Time direct, he shall file such Power of Attorney and authentication. And whensoever and as often as the Attorney therein named shall by Indorsement in the Form annexed and marked H., transfer all or any part of the Stock of his Principal, he shall make an Entry thereof in the Form annexed and marked I., opposite to the Entry above mentioned and marked E.; and also an Entry in the Form annexed and marked K. And he shall make regular Entries of the Interest arising on such sums as aforesaid on the Debit Side of the said Accounts or Entries, and whenever and as often as any Interest shall be paid thereon, he shall make Entry on the Credit Side of the same Accounts; of all which Edition: current; Page: [70] Sums so lent and being due, together with the Interest payable and paid, he shall monthly render an Account to Congress.

That where an Account shall be transmitted to him from the Auditor on which Monies shall be due to the United States, he shall hear the Party, if he chuse to be heard thereon, and shall then fix the Day of Payment and shall thereof notify the Auditor and Treasurer in the Form annexed and marked R.

That it shall be the Duty of the Treasurer to keep the Monies and Loan Office Certificates of the United States. That he shall issue the Monies upon Bills for that Purpose to be drawn by the Comptroller under the Treasury Seal, and shall file Duplicates of the Receipts for such Monies with the Auditor, and render Accounts thereof to Congress monthly. That upon Receipt of Monies paid into the Treasury, he shall give his Receipt therefor in the Form annexed and marked L., of which he shall also render Accounts monthly to Congress. That he shall monthly issue Loan Office Certificates to the several Loan Officers, and take Receipts for the same in the Form annexed and marked M., to which shall be annexed Schedules containing Lists of the Certificates issued, and which Receipts he shall transmit to the Auditor to be by him entered and indorsed, and shall transmit Accounts thereof to Congress monthly. That he shall also receive such Monies as shall be put into the [Confederal]5 Loan aforesaid, and give a Receipt in the Form annexed and marked N., of which he shall also render monthly Accounts to Congress.

That it shall be the Duty of the Auditor to audit all Accounts brought against the United States, and also to call all Persons to account who may be indebted to the said States; that for these Purposes there be two chambers of Accounts, the one to be called the Chamber of Claims, and the other the Chamber of Debts, each to be composed of three Persons, who shall each of them have a Salary of Dollars per Annum.

That the Chamber of Claims shall digest and state all Accounts brought against the United States, examine the Vouchers, &c., as the Auditor shall direct and shall take Care that Articles furnished and Services done be not overrated, or if so, then to reduce them, after which they shall transmit the same to the Auditor with the Vouchers, marking the said Accounts examined. Thereupon the Auditor shall again examine the Accounts and compare them with the Vouchers and reduce any Demands which may be exorbitant, Edition: current; Page: [71] and having caused them to be entered in his Books, mark them in the Form annexed and marked O., and transmit them [with the Vouchers]6 to the Comptroller. That the Chamber of Debts shall digest and state all Accounts of Persons who are, or are supposed to be indebted to the United States, and also all those who may be called to Account in Manner hereafter mentioned; that they shall conduct their Business in like Manner as the Chamber of Claims, and the Auditor shall in like Manner as before examine and enter the Accounts; and where Monies are due to the United States shall mark the Accounts in the Form annexed and marked P., and transmit the same to the Comptroller to be filed, and render monthly Accounts to Congress. That when an Account shall be returned to the Auditor of Articles not passed, he do deliver the same with the Vouchers to the Party, and make Entry thereof and render Account as aforesaid. And where Discharges shall be transmitted to him of Persons who have paid Money into the Treasury, he shall enter the same in his Books and endorse them thus “Entered of Record in my Office, the Day of 177. T. U. Auditor.” And where Receipts of Loan Office Certificates shall be transmitted to him, he shall enter the same in his Books, and indorse them thus “Entered to the Credit of A. B., Loan Officer within mentioned, the Day of 177 in my Office. T. U. Auditor.” And where the Comptroller shall transmit to him Drafts on the Treasurer according to Resolutions of Congress, he shall enter them in his Books and indorse them thus: “Entered to the Debit of in my office. T. U. Auditor.” That where any Person hath received public Monies which remain unaccounted for, or shall be otherwise indebted to the United States, or have an unsettled Account with them he shall issue a Summons in the Form annexed and marked S., in which a reasonable Time shall be given for the Appearance of the Party according to the Distance of his Place of Residence from the Treasury; and in case he shall not appear, then on Proof of the Service in due Time, or of other sufficient Notice of the Summons, a Requisition shall issue under the Treasury Seal, but shall be made out in the Auditor’s Office in the Form annexed and marked T., which shall be directed to the executive Power of the State or States, in which the Party shall reside or be.

That it be recommended to the several States to enact Laws for the taking of such Persons, and also to seize the Property of Persons, who being indebted to the United States shall neglect or refuse to pay the same. Notice Edition: current; Page: [72] whereof shall be given by the Auditor to the Executive Authority of the respective States in the Form annexed and marked V., the which Notice shall be under the Treasury Seal.

That the several Officers of the Treasury above mentioned do, before they take upon them their said Offices, take an oath faithfully and honestly to execute the same.

That the Loan Office Certificates be dated on the tenth Day of every Month respectively, and that Monies be received in the Loan Offices until the twentieth day of every Month and no longer.

That on the three last Days of every Month the Auditor and Treasurer and the Comptrollers do no other Business than to prepare their monthly Accounts for Congress.

That a Committee be appointed to prepare proper Books and other Blanks for the Use of the Treasury.

Edition: current; Page: [73]

7: Some Thoughts on the Finances of America (1778)*

After his report on reorganizing the Treasury in August 1778, Morris turned his attention to the daunting problems of public finance. Congress and the states had resorted to currency finance in order to carry on their operations, and by 1778 the paper was depreciating rapidly. Congress grappled with the problem throughout the fall of 1778 and winter of 1779. On September 19, 1778, the committee on finance delivered a report, authored by Morris, for bringing the government’s finances into better order.1 The proposals, which included levying taxes for Congress’s use, were controversial and for the most part shelved.2

This paper was probably prepared in the course of that effort. Morris’s memorandum at the end sounds a rare note of frustration: “prepared for Congress but not compleated because . . . many had adopted a system they were determined to persevere in.” One of his suggestions, however, was acted on fairly promptly. Congress decided to “lay the state of our Finances” open to France and Spain. The result was the “Observations on the Finances of America,” which Morris drafted along with the diplomatic instructions for Franklin. Congress adopted both the instructions and the “Observations” in late October 1778 and forwarded them to Franklin.3

Edition: current; Page: [74]

The Question of Finance naturally resolves itself in common Cases into two others, viz. the Manner of getting Money and the Manner of spending it. Either of these in the oldest and best organized States is considered as an Object of the greatest Magnitude which can be submitted to the Consideration of the most instructed and most comprehensive Mind. The Congress must consider both. They labor on this Occasion under some particular Disadvantages. The Country is new. It’s Resources are of Consequence not very accurately known and improper Culture may blast the Germ of future Wealth. The Governments being distinct the Machine is proportionately complex and consequently every Effort will be slow and every System liable to great Derangement. The administration of the States having by no Means attained to vigor and Regularity the public Wealth cannot be brought to a Point with Vivacity and Effect. However great may be the Talents of Gentlemen Attention hath been of Necessity wanting to many and the Opportunities of Instruction to all. Besides these there is one capital Object which never occurred fully before & which of Consequence cannot be examined by the Light of Experience. In speaking therefore of our Paper Money we must reason by analogy and consequently without Certitude. From all this however results one striking Maxim. That we must proceed with Caution.

To the many Obstacles which lie in our Way We have to oppose Freedom. The Power of this is great but Knowlege is necessary to direct it’s Activity and it’s Force. Whoever then turns his Attention to the Great Object of Finance tho his Intelligence may be defective is still entitled to Forgiveness for efforts which are well meant.

Disquisitions of this Kind have Nothing wherewith to tickle the Ear and charm the Imagination. They must consist of Reasonings from common Place Observations and dry arguments founded sometimes on Facts and what is still worse sometimes on Hypothesis. These cannot be adorned by a series of Calculations. But we live to serve others not to please ourselves.

We must then in the first Place seriously attend to the Nature and to the Effects of our Paper Money. Secondly to our Situation and consequent Wants. Thirdly to the proper Means of Getting Money and Lastly to the necessary Precautions in expending it. Above all Things, we must divest ourselves of Prejudices from whatever Source they may arise. We must deliberate with Calmness. We must act with Decission. We must persevere.

In considering our Paper, we must observe that Money as such derives it’s Edition: current; Page: [75] Value from a general Consent that to facilitate the Commerce of Mankind it shall represent all commercial Property. Gold and Silver are the only universal Money because they alone have this general Consent. Paper then is the Representative of Gold and Silver, and derives it’s Value from a Consent founded on the former. This Consent arises from a Confidence that at a certain Time and Place the Quantity of Specie mentioned in it will be actually paid. From these Circumstances it follows that when that Confidence is lost the Consent ceases and consequently the Paper becomes of no Value.

Bills of Exchange were the first Paper Money and are precisely in that Situation. The South Sea Paper in England and the Mississipi in France verify the Observation. So do Bankers Notes or Bills and it may safely be affirmed that if any Bank in Europe either public or private should stop Payment for half an Hour it’s Bills would no longer be what they now are a circulating Medium of Trade. This Kind of Paper then is of Consequence either precisely what it purports to be or it is Nothing.

The Advantages of it arise from its greater Portability and the Impracticability of diminishing it in Substance or Alloy. The Disadvantages from the Danger of being counterfeited. Paper Bills therefore of large Amount not liable to be counterfeited ought among an enlightened & commercial People to have the Preference over Specie. And this is precisely the Case.

If a Legislature to prevent the Consequence above stated should utter a Paper Medium payable at a distant Day it would or would not be received according to the Want of such Medium among the People. And when received it’s Value would depend on the Consideration 1st. of the Want 2ly. of the Distance of the Day of Payment & 3 ly. of the Certainty or Uncertainty of such Payment.

If no Day of Payment be assigned then another Consideration will be the Ability of the State and the Integrity of it’s Rulers both of which will influence the Currency and the Value of their Paper. If by Increase of the Quantity or from other Causes either the Ability of the State or the Honesty of the Government should be brought into Question one of two Consequences would certainly follow. Either that the Paper would not circulate at all or that it would circulate with great Rapidity. But if a general Belief should prevail that the Government would not redeem it, the Circulation must cease. If on the contrary, a general Confidence prevailed in the Government, and Doubts as to the Wealth of the State then as the probable Day of Payment would be necessarily postponed it would from this Circumstance Edition: current; Page: [76] become of less immediate Value and from the Decrease of that Value it would obtain a most rapid Circulation, each Individual apprehending that the Loss might happen in his Hands.

If the Legislature were by Law to declare such Paper a Tender in Extinction of Debts this would so far check the Rapidity of Circulation as the Debtor would find it to be in his Hands Money against his Creditor to all Intents and Purposes and of Consequence every new Contract would make a new Fixture of the Valuation. Whenever the Quantity of such Money became too great for the Purposes of Commerce, it would necessarily loose of it’s Value but the Proportion of Loss would depend on an incidental Circumstance.

If on the Face of the Bill the Value should be estimated at a certain ideal Sum such as Pounds Shillings and Pence the decreasing Value would be less perceptible than if a certain specific Coin should be stated such as Guineas Dollars and the like. But in Proportion as the Loss became perceptible would that Loss increase because the Confidence necessary for Support of the Paper would be so far withdrawn. It would not however loose it’s Value entirely except in two Cases. One is a Certainty that the State could no longer exist as such, the other a Certainty that should it exist the Government will never redeem their Emissions.

If neither of these Cases be supposed then the Value would depend 1st. upon the Quantity and the probable Quantity considered relatively to commercial Property 2ly. upon the Certainty or Uncertainty of it’s Genuineness 4thly. upon the Property and probable Property of the State and 5ly. upon the supposed Ability of the Government to command it.

The Question supposes a free State, because the Case would not exist under an arbitrary Government for the plain Reason that such great Confidence never was and cannot possibly be placed in a Prince or his Ministers. This Assertion is Warranted by Experience. The Observations before made will perhaps appear to be also confirmed by the same unerring Guide if proper Allowance be made for adventitious Circumstances all of which cannot and ought not to be taken into View on general Positions seeing that they have only a casual and temporary Existence. It may therefore upon the whole be affirmed that the Instant a Belief should obtain that Congress would not redeem their Money that Instant it would cease to be of Value notwithstanding the Laws making it a Tender and as a Corallary from this Position, that every Thing which might contribute to support such opinion would depreciate and every Thing to discountenance it would appreciate the Continental Bills.

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It is said above that the Value will depend upon the Quantity &ca. it therefore becomes necessary to examine what is the proper Sum of circulating Medium for these States. This is an Object of Calculation and as such Calculation will frequently require a Comparison between Currency and Sterling Money it is necessary to fix some Standard. This will be Taken by estimating Dollars at 4/8 Sterling.4 If the Exchange be calculated on Gold they will stand at 4/6 at least in some of the States but they weigh as much as an English Crown and pass currently throughout America for 112 half Pence or 4/8 wherefore 30 Dollars will be considered as of the Value of £7 Sterling.

The Imports to America from England only exclusive of Linnens for 8 years preceding the year 1765 amounted to £15.283.833. .1. .4 Sterling. The Exports therefore at a more advanced Period of American Population cannot be estimated below the annual Sum of £2.000.000Stg
For Linnens from England and the Imports from
Scotland and Ireland add 1/2 the above Sum 1.000.000
Imports from Great Britain and Ireland £3.000.000
For Articles Imported from elsewhere such as West India
Produce, Wines, India Goods, Gun Powder, Hempen
Cloths, naval Stores, Groceries, Silks &ca must be added at least 1/3 of the above Sum 1.000.000
The Total Imports therefore will be £4.000.000
But lest this might by some Possibility be too high for the greater Certainty deduct 500.000
Remains £3.500.000
Equal to Dlls. 15.000.000
A Sum was exported sufficient to pay for this and all the Expences of the double Transportation and Insurance Merchant’s Profits Port Charges Factorage and Duties both at Home and abroad besides which the Country as such continually became richer notwithstanding the continued annual Expence of Clearing the Wilderness. The Exports therefore cannot be stated lower than 1/2 as much more or 22.500.000
Total of Imports and Exports D 37.500.000
The Inland Commerce arising meerly from the external must necessarily be at least equal to it 37.500.000
Total of Commerce depending on foreign
Trade D 75.000.000
The Internal Commerce arising from other Causes such as different Manufactures Trades and Professions besides meer Husbandry. The Sale of Lands. Expences of travelling. Rents Money on Interest &ca. cannot be less than as much more or 75.000.000
Total annual Commerce D 150.000.000

But as the whole Trade of a State is not carried on in one Day a Sum of Money equal to the whole is not necessary and on the other Hand as no Person can every Day use all his Money so more is necessary in Circulation than what is barely equal to the Commerce of the Day. If a Medium of 1/5 or 73 Days be taken for the Money of the State to change Hands then the above Sum must be divided by 5 which will give for the proper circulating Medium about 30.000.000 of Dollars.

As this is a Matter of Importance it may require some further Attention. It is not possible perhaps to determine the precise Sum but the Object is to discover it nearly so as not to exceed. Suppose the Continent to contain 3,000,000 souls, which at 6 to every Family will be 500,000 Families. Divide this Community into rich and Poor and 1/50 or 10,000 would be rich if 1/2 of these be taken there will be 5000 rich 250,000 in the intermediate Ranks and 240,000 poor or Slaves. The Sum above stated to be imported is 15.000.000 Dollars if of this 1/3 be applied to the Rich (i.e.) those who have the Benefit of the Labor of 49 Families it will be 5.000.000 among 5000 or annually of foreign Articles each 1000 Dlls. If one fifth of the Remr. or 2.000.000 Dollars be applied to the Poor it is 2.000.000 among 240,000 or annually of foreign Articles each . . . 21/3. If the Remainder or 8.000.000 be applied to the middling Ranks it is 8.000.000 among 250,000 or annually of foreign Articles each . . . 32.

Again the Sum stated for internal Commerce distinct from that which arises from the Imports and Exports is 75.000.000.

If 5.000.000 be applied to the rich it will be to each Family 1.000.

If 10.000.000 be applied to the Poor it will be to each Family 44 1/6.

If the Remr 60.000.000 be applied to the middling Ranks it is for each 240.

Lastly the whole Commerce is stated at 150.000.000 if then the rich and the Poor be alike excluded from any share and the intermediate Ranks alone considered there will result to each Family an annual Commerce of 600 Dollars which is by no means exagerated for tho it may exceed that of Edition: current; Page: [79] common Farmers or Mechanicks it is very short of that of the most trifling Retailer.

But as a Corollary of the several Facts above stated the circulating Medium is placed at 30,000,000 Divide this Sum among 500,000 Families and it amounts to 60 Dollars each & this Sum if a medium Rank be taken is small to carry on the necessary Commerce of Life. If it be objected that so much was not formerly in Circulation, it may be answered that this hath never been proved. And if it had been it is not decissive because great Part of the former Commerce was carried on upon Credit for Want of a sufficient Medium.

Some considerable Time before the War the Legislature of the Colony of New York emitted 500,000 Dollars which never circulated beyond that Colony but rapidly within it. Sometime after the Emission this Sum did not form more than 1/4 of the Circulating Medium if so much as the Payments made &ca. served to demonstrate. The Medium therefore of that Place could not be less than 2,000,000. But if the comparative Wealth of New York were placed at 1/10 of that of the whole Continent the Estimate would be very high and consequently at the Time when the Want of a sufficient Medium was loudly complained of it could not have been less than 20,000,000. The above Estimate therefore may be considered as within the Bounds of Truth rather than beyond them.

It hath been said that the Value of our Paper Money would depend 1st upon the Quantity and probable Quantity considered relatively to commercial Property. If the Quantity did not exceed 30,000,000 but in all Likelyhood would exceed it in some short Time this would affect the Value because Persons possessing Property would either demand so much for it as to secure themselves against the Effects of the Increase or they would refuse to sell thereby decreasing the commercial Property. If there were no such Probability of Increase then any Measures which would Decrease the commercial Property or any natural Incidents to the same Effect would necessarily Decrease the Value of the Money, and so would any Cause whatever producing uncommon Rapidity in the Circulation while on the other Hand and Measures tending to bring into Commerce more Property & to lessen the Rapidity of the Circulation would increase the Value.

Hence the following Conclusions are drawn. First. That not only the Increase but the probable Increase of the Paper Money lessens its Value and on the contrary the Decrease or probable Decrease would enhance that Value. Secondly. That any Acts limiting the Prices of or discouraging either Edition: current; Page: [80] the Sale or the Production of any Articles tend to a Depreciation and on the contrary full Permission to sell every Thing at any Price ample Encouragement to Husbandry and Manufactures together with Taxation so far as it may bring even Lands into Commerce must appreciate. & Thirdly. That every Circumstance either natural or adventitious bringing into Question the future Value of the Money by increasing the Rapidity of Circulation decreases its Value and every Thing which by making the Holder secure of an after Compensation renders him less solicitous to part with it will produce an appreciation.

It hath been said also that the Value will depend upon the Certainty or Uncertainty of it’s Genuineness. Hence it follows that if the Paper is easily to be counterfeited it will be less valuable than otherwise and if actually counterfeited the Value will be still less: 1st. Because the counterfeit Money will increase the Quantity 2ly. Because Every Person selling a Commodity will demand as much over and above the ordinary Price as would secure against the Danger of receiving Counterfeits notwithstanding the necessary Precautions. To determine how far the continental Paper hath been counterfeited it may be observed that Specie is now at the Rate of 6 for 5 which would suppose the Medium increased to 180.000.000 at least. If Deductions be made from this for all the Causes of Depreciation distinct from Quantity it will appear that a very considerable Sum must be in Circulation over and above 100.000.000 which is the full amount of all the Emissions as well by the Continent as the several States. Perhaps if the Counterfeit be placed at 15.000.000 after Experience will discover that the Estimate is at least not too high. To provide against Counterfeits it is necessary that the Forms be simple and few. The Act difficult and if not perfectly well performed easily discernible. If then the several States were instantly to redeem their Emissions it would so far be of good Consequence. But it is also necessary to detect those now existing. And to accomplish this the Mode which naturally presents itself is that the several Bills chiefly counterfeited should from Time to Time be called in and redeemed with new Paper not so open to the Villainy. If this Mode is adopted it will become necessary to prepare such Bills and that they may speedily be obtained and for the Reasons which have been before mentioned as also to secure at once a sufficient Sum which the Continent should not exceed. They might be as follows:

1.000.000 of 40 Dollars each D. 40.000.000
1.000.000 of 30 30.000.000
1.000.000 20 20.000.000
1.000.000 15 15.000.000
1.000.000 10 10.000.000
1.000.000 5 5.000.000
1.000.000 Sheets of 120 120.000.000

If this Mode were adopted 30.000.000 might be called in at the End of six Months, 30.000.000 more at the End of nine Months and the Remainder at the End of a Year.

It hath also been said that the Value of the Money will depend on the Property and probable Property of the State. Wherefore every Loss of Territory will render it less and every Accession more valuable. But here the Increase will never be proportionate to the Decrease for the former will operate simply from it’s natural Weight the latter from the Fears of the People affecting the whole Mass of Circulation. Hence it follows that great Expence to acquire Territory of little Value will if attended with the greatest Success be of no good Consequence and that the Expence in defending Territory is necessary. But even this is to be considered in the Degree and with Relation 1st to the Practicability because where not practicable it ought on every Principle to be not attempted 3ly As to the Consequence 4thly as to the Effects of Loss in the general Opinion & 5thly as to the comparative Value or Importance & Expence.

Lastly it hath been said that the Value of the Money would depend upon the supposed Ability of the Government to command the Wealth of the State. This is founded on a Distinction between the Riches of the State and of Individuals. The latter produces the former only where it can be commanded by the Government. Now Obedience to Government frequently arises from the Lenity of its administration. A Demand of two may be granted where three would be refused. The ability abovementioned is only to be evinced by the Effects of Taxation. Taxes therefore should be as Moderate as is possible all Circumstances considered, because the Ill Consequences of their unproductiveness will be greater than the good of all which they really produce.

In a natural State of the Country at least two thirds of the Money would be in the Hands of the Wealthy beyond their Proportion and so as not to be reached by Taxation. The Remainder divided equally not more than one half could be taken without greatly distressing the lower Orders of the Community. If then the Medium were 30.000.000 the Sum of 5.000.000 Edition: current; Page: [82] being 1/6 might be raised and if so then 35.000.000 would be the proper circulating Medium because the Taxation and Expenditures by Government would make a new Commerce to that Amount. In the present Situation of Affairs it might not perhaps be prudent to Attempt more than 1/7 particularly as a far greater Proportion of the Money is in the Hands of a few Individuals. To determine then the Quantum of Taxes to be raised the Medium whatever it be may be divided by 8 and that Sum considered as the Extent of what the Taxes can produce at present.

This being premised with Relation to our Paper Money a System new great and extraordinary the possible Extent of which together with all the Effects perhaps no Man can at present determine. We come next to our Situation and consequent Wants. Engaged as we are in a War which hourly becomes more extensive and inhabiting a Country whose Coast is immense and in every Part accessible bound by Treaties and Engagements on the one Hand and pressed by Debts to the very Brink of Bankruptcy on the other. We are to carry on the War and for that Purpose to arm clothe feed and Pay an Army. We are to create a Marine. And we are either to pay our Debts or at least satisfy our Creditors. For the two last Purposes and also to arm and Cloathe our Army, as well as for some other Purposes which will appear hereafter the Sum of about 1.500.000 £ Stg. will be necessary in Europe for which we should endeavor to get Credit as speedily as possible. For other Services it will appear that about 1.750.000 £ Stg. would with the least Tolerable Management have sufficed at the Commencement of the War. If then the Articles necessary be considered as so scarce at present that they are doubly Valuable it will amount to £3.500.000 Stg. or at the Par 15.000.000 Dollars and if the Depreciation can be so far remedied as to bring the Money to half its proferred Value then 30.000.000 Dollars will be sufficient for the next year’s Expenses with any Tollerable Management. At least the Expenditures ought to be confined within that Sum. Wherefore our wants will induce us to obtain if possible 1.500.000 £ Stg. in Europe and 30.000.000 Dollars here.

To obtain a Loan of Money in Europe several Methods present themselves to all of which there are Objections. The first is to endeavor to get Money of Individuals on the general Credit of the Public. But this requires either that the Credit should be very good or the Interest so high as finally to crush us. And to good Credit solid Securities for the Principle and unquestionable Funds for the Interest are indispensibly necessary. This Mode therefore in our present Circumstances may be considered as ideal or ruinous. A Plan hath been digested to obtain Money in present to be paid (without Edition: current; Page: [83] Interest) the double in future for which the Western Country to be mortgaged as a Security.5 But to this it is objected that this Country is not and in all Probability will not be subject to the Control of Congress. And however true it may be that each of the united States would find the Measure to arise from true Policy it is not probable that the proper Laws would be passed in Season especially as private & local Interests are deeply interested. It may also be attempted to obtain Money by undertaking to make Remittances in the staple Commodities of the Country for Extinguishment of the Debt. But the Lender will in such Case insure himself commercial Advantages at least as oppressive to us as exhorbitant Interest. Our own Merchants will enhance the Value of our Remittances so much that the Public will pay at least twice as much as they ought. Any Agents who can be employed will find it too much for their Interest to sacrifice or for their Ease to neglect the Public Business. And the Means of Transporting will be so difficult and the Danger so great that this Mode cannot be prudent. Many other subaltern Methods may be hinted as to the Manner of making European Loans which greater Knowlege of the Subject may inspire. But perhaps none can be pointed out which will be effectual without it be to obtain the Guarantee of some of the greater Powers of Europe. For this purpose two present themselves viz. France & Spain. The former will certainly want all her Credit for her own Purposes and perhaps if she should spare us a Part it would not among the monied Interest of Europe be of so much Consequence as her great Power and Resources would at the first View indicate. Her Countenance however and Intrigues would be of much Service. The latter certainly must have very great Credit and be enabled very much to serve those whose Cause she espouses. If then France and Spain would be prevailed on jointly to push our Credit and to guarantee for us a Loan of 1.500.000 Stg. and at the same Time the latter would grant us a Subsidy of 3.000.000 Stg. payable in ten annual Payments It would produce the most happy Consequences. A Question arises here whether this is practicable. To which no conclusive Answer can be made untill after a fair Experiment.

Spain hath not as yet acknowleged our Independence but her Connection with France her Preparations for War and her deep Interest in curtailing the exhorbitant Power of Britain together with the Desire of wiping off the Ignominies of the last War will not permit a Doubt that she is disposed to do it. On the other Hand the Power of these States consequent on their Independence. The enterprising Spirit of the People. The Vicinity of her immense Edition: current; Page: [84] Empire. And the contagious Influence of the Example speaks loudly to her Caution. The unbounded Western Claim of some States stimulates her Suspicions. And the Ports of Augustine and Pensacola with Florida are Objects of national Interest and Ambition. To induce Spain then in the first Instance to declare it is necessary to quiet her Suspicions by establishing a Boundary. And this might be the Mississipi to the West and the Latitude of to the South.

The former of these Boundaries will perhaps be readily agreed to. The Propriety of the latter is not quite so obvious. It must be considered then as it affects the Northern States the Middle States the Southern States and the united States. The Northern States will always be drained of Men and consequently of Riches by Migration to the Southward and in Proportion as that Region is extensive and unwholesome will be their Loss. The middle States (i.e.) those who have great Western Territory will find their Security for the Obedience of their Ultramontane Subjects to rest upon carrying on as much as possible their Commerce which will depend greatly upon Keeping the Mouth of the Mississipi in Possession of an unenterprising People not adicted to Commerce. Besides this the great Staple of Tobacco will then be much more confined to the States of Virginia and Maryland than would otherwise happen. The Southern States are most deeply interested because the Attempts of Spain would in the first Instance free them from a very Troublesome Neighbour. A Country which would otherwise be their Rival in the Articles of Rice and Indigo will thereby be doomed to continue Wild as on the one Hand it is the clear Policy of the Spanish Court to inhibit Cultivation and on the other their Subjects have greater Views in the Western Country than on the Atlantic. The numerous Indian Nations who are their very troublesome Neighbours will find full Employment against the Spanish whose Temper will certainly lead them into continued Hostilities and lastly the Trafick which may be indirectly carried on thro that Province with new Spain will bring them a continued Ballance in Specie. The united States would derive Advantage in every point of View 1st immediate because it would bring to their Aid a most powerful Ally & give a decided Superiority on the Ocean by which alone the important States of Quebeck and Nova Scotia can be brought into the Confederacy. Because it would spare the enormous Expense for Defence of the Southern States or Conquest of that Country And because it may reflect the most useful Light on the Affairs of their Finances. 2ly Remote because it would take away a Country which would certainly drain the Remainder of many useful inhabitants. Because it would facilitate the Yearly Subsidy proposed Edition: current; Page: [85] and thereby greatly Aid their military Operations & Because it would tend to ensure the Obedience of the great and valuable Western country.

Further to interest the Courts abovementioned in our Favor it would be necessary to lay the State of our Finances fully before them and shew the utter Impracticability of carrying on the War vigorously on our Part without their Interposition in the Manner proposed.

If the Plan abovementioned should be agreed to by those Courts then of the 1.500.000 borrowed 500.000 should be applied to the Payment of our foreign Debts &ca. and the remaining 1.000.000 in procuring in the North of Europe 20 good Ships of War to carry each 44 Guns of twenty four Pound Caliber and in Cloathing for our Army as well Officers as Soldiers. The Ships should not draw above 25 Feet Water. To pay the Interest of the Sum borrowed 90.000£ should be appropriated from the Subsidy of 300.000 and of that Subsidy the Remainder should be employed for such Uses as Circumstances might require and if not otherwise called for be applied in sinking the Principle of our Debt or lowering the Interest.

Some thoughts on the Finances of America intended for the Congress but not compleated because of much intervening Business of various Kinds & because Many had adopted a System they were determined to persevere in.

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8: To the Quakers, Bethlemites, Moderate Men, Refugees, and Other the Tories Whatsoever, and Wheresoever, Dispersed (1779)*

By late 1778, serious factional divisions had appeared in Congress, particularly in the controversy over Silas Deane’s service as a U.S. commissioner in France. Deane was accused by one of his co-commissioners, Arthur Lee, of misappropriating public money and of engaging in commercial activities of his own while an official representative of the country. The dispute became public in December 1778 with the publication of a series of articles by Thomas Paine, the secretary of Congress’s committee on foreign affairs, in the Pennsylvania Packet. Further, in early 1779 a series of disputes between Congress and the State of Pennsylvania came to light, among them a personal rift between Morris and Joseph Reed, the president of the state. In light of this evidence of divided councils, Morris wrote to assure those who still doubted the American cause that the factional disputes had not diminished Congress’s ability to work with the states or its determination to win the war.

To the Quakers, Bethlemites, Moderate Men, Refugees and other the Tories whatsoever, and wheresoever, dispersed.


I entered into the American contest from a love of my fellow-creatures. Lamenting as a Philosopher the consequences of my conduct as a citizen, while I strove to expel despotism I wept over the victims of ambition. That principle which first prompted me remains uneffaced, nor can I except from amongst men, even those who are my enemies. Equally capable of freedom Edition: current; Page: [88] with others it is my earnest prayer that you may equally deserve it. The effects of prejudice are known, and humanity calls on us to remove it if possible; for the same bosom which flows with indignation against guilt, melts in pity of ignorance. But I intreat you to remember, that men who shut their eyes against the light, as they will deserve, so will they receive a double measure of punishment.

That it is the will of Heaven, mankind should be free, is evidenced by the wealth, the vigor, the virtue and consequent happiness of free States. And the idea that providence will establish such governments as he shall deem most fit for his creatures without their efforts is palpably absurd. Did he overturn the walls of Jerusalem by the mere breath of his mouth, or did he stir up the Romans to add Judea to their other provinces? In short, is not his moral government of the earth always performed by the intervention of second causes? How then can you expect that he should miraculously destroy our enemies, merely to convince you that he favours our cause? Sufficient notifications of his will are always given, and those who will not then believe, neither would they believe though one should rise from the dead to inform them. Trace the progress and mark the incidents of the war, and you will see evident tokens of providential favor. For whether our success be owing to the folly of our opponents or to any other immediate cause, we are equally indebted for it to the bounty of Heaven. Many of our measures which you perhaps justly considered as unwise, have by an amazing coincidence of circumstances become the corner-stones of independence. And on the other hand, many of the enemy’s most brilliant successes which made your hearts to sing for joy, have produced to you nothing but bitterness and woe.

I am led to these reflections and to this address, partly from perceiving and more from being informed, that you derive pleasing hopes from the following circumstances. First, the taking of Georgia. Secondly, the calumnies against Congress, and supposed divisions among them. And Thirdly, the symptoms of discontent, lately exhibited by the Executive Council of Pennsylvania. I shall take notice of these in their order, make some short observations on public affairs, and then leave you to judge. I exhort you to read with attention, and to determine with that coolness which is due to a subject so important to your welfare, perhaps your existence.

The expedition against Georgia was dictated by the necessities of the British army, and the danger of their own dominions. In the first case they expected considerable supplies of rice for an army, and for islands in a starving condition. In the second they labored to establish a barrier between Edition: current; Page: [89] these States and East-Florida, the better to secure that latter, and thereby in case of a war with Spain check the free navigation of the gulf of Florida, thro’ which the treasures of the new world are conveyed to Europe. The consequences are, first, to inspirit your brethern in the Southern States, and thereby to purge them of men who would have been pernicious members of a free society. These men will be justly stripped of that property and those rights which they have not spirit to contend for, and by banishment, poverty and lasting remorse expiate the guilt of endeavoring to subjugate their fellow-citizens. Secondly, this expedition will rouse the States of North and South-Carolina. They will derive from it that energy which is acquired in a state of war, and which produces obedience and subordination so necessary to society in a state of peace. But thirdly, what is of more importance to such of you as dwell in the middle and eastern States, is, that by dividing the force of your friends, whatever may be the lot of those wretches who are doomed to wrestle with a baneful southern clime, it renders their army at New York less efficient and consequently less capable of assisting you.

As to the calumnies against Congress and supposed divisions in that body, you are greatly tho’ not altogether mistaken in the latter fact, and at any rate draw from it very false conclusion. The late abusive writings shew indeed the illiberality of the respective writers, but by no means impeach those against whom they are directed. Being equally indifferent to the several performers, I wish not to balance their respective merits. This is certain that Billingsgate language marks at most a Billingsgate education, and among those who know the real value of such performances, the reputation of a virtuous citizen will not suffer more from the scurrility of a newspaper, than from the nervous diction of an oyster-wench. The licentiousness exhibited on these occasions, demonstrates the existence of liberty, which is a pleasing consideration to those who have a value for it. And altho’ such productions may offend individuals, yet they are not without use to society, in like manner as the blasts of winter tho’ keen are wholesome. We may further deduce from it the falacy or rather falsity of what was once a favorite position among you, that people did not dare to utter their sentiments, neither is it unworthy of your attention that the various attacks upon Congress have not drawn the least notice from that body. From hence it is to be concluded that they have a well founded confidence in themselves, for did the shaft stick, it would make the body sore. And nothing is truer than this, that little minds are more resentful than great ones, and truth more resented than falsehood. From some acquaintance and good information Edition: current; Page: [90] I will venture to add, that the present Congress considered in the double view of abilities and integrity is at least as respectable as any which hath yet been assembled. Let it not be concluded from this, that I conceive the individuals of that body to be of a superior nature. They like other men are subject to passions, prejudices, weaknesses and the influence of the elements, and since the Deity chose one Judas among twelve disciples, it cannot be wondered at if among a much greater number some few should be charged with peculiar pravity. But this by no means militates against the general observation.

To say there are divisions in Congress is only saying in other words that it is a popular Assembly. Different views of the same subject naturally lead men to differ in sentiments. Personal connections excite personal emotions, and the conflict of such emotions sometimes produces personal altercation. The heats inevitable on such occasions seldom evaporate within the walls of one house, but stimulate to bitter observations easily credited, because they flatter a self-importance which is uneasy at any kind of superiority. Perhaps you will ask how it happens that such things did not exist formerly? They did; but the public dangers and distresses taught men to keep more secret those things which they readily divulge in an hour of greater security. The appearance of such divisions therefore in personal matters are striking marks of national prosperity, and you will find, that however the members of Congress may disagree about who shall be in and who shall be out, they will be firmly united in refusing to accept the independance Great-Britain is about to offer, and insist on a clear, explicit and pointed acknowledgment of it in the most extensive sense previous to any treaty whatsoever.

For what regards the dispute between the Executive Council of this State and Congress it is, as far as your views may be served by it, the most trifling of all trifling things.1 Stimulated by a laudable zeal to discover public abuses, their suspicions were turned on one to whose gallantry America is much indebted.2 Greatness and weakness are sometimes nearly allied. Edition: current; Page: [91] That spirit which carried him in triumph over the fields of honor, induced a want of respect for Magistrates to whom he did not deem himself accountable. Charity bids us believe that conscious innocence inspired an elevation which he would not have felt under the pressure of guilt. Perhaps also it was regard to the privileges of his brother soldiers which rejected submission to other than a military tribunal, when his conduct as an officer was arraigned. These and many other reasons doubtless suggested themselves to the Council, and had they been at liberty to obey those dispassionate sentiments which embellish their high office, his refusal might perhaps have been disregarded. But on the one hand attachment to the interests of America, and on the other divisions in their state and doubts about their authority, which naturally rendered them more jealous of it than those to whom dignity and power are familiarized, these motives would not permit a moment delay in pursuing the interests and vindicating the majesty of the people. Perhaps there may have been some little personalities concerned, tho’ the reverence which is due to the Supreme Executive of an independent State, opposes the idea. But be this as it may, Congress seems to have viewed the matter somewhat differently from the State. Conscious of possessing the love and respect of their countrymen in arms as well as of others, they were not open to angry impressions, which indeed are of little use either in public or private life. Affection also for an army which hath served them so faithfully, so generously, might raise some prejudice in favor of it’s members; as an indulgent parent smiles at the petulant vivacity of a favorite child. They did not therefore catch the resentments of the Council, and tho’ determined to support the authority of a State, they were not eager to blemish the reputation of a worthy soldier. The Council probably influenced by good reasons which they will undoubtedly declare at a proper time, came to certain resolutions which they have published and transmitted to the several States. But this little feverish ebullition, and the ridicule which many have attemted to cast upon it, can do no good to you. The Assembly of Pennsylvania which by their constitution is of real importance, acts in perfect harmony with the Congress. And depend upon it, whatever your leaders may flatter you with, the Whigs of Pennsylvania will not engage in any dispute with the representative body of America to the prejudice either of the acknowledged rights of that body, or of the privileges of those brave citizens who have drawn their swords in the cause of Freedom.

And even if any such dispute should exist, can you suppose, that in case of necessity, the President of that State would hesitate a moment to head his militia? That he would not instantly take the field with his wonted alacrity? Edition: current; Page: [92] That he would not fight under the banners of America with his former zeal? Those who know him know better. It would be equally absurd for you to suppose that the Council are disposed to promote public divisions, in order to favor the negociations of the enemy. Do not dwell on the mysteriousness in Doctor Berkenhout’s affair.3 It is nothing new that an artful man should impose upon the unsuspicious. Honesty and knowledge are very different things, and of the two the former is the most amiable.

As little ground have you for hope in the depreciation of the Continental money. You know that this is in a great degree to be attributed to the arts of interested men whose efforts to acquire it shew their conviction of it’s value. I know it hath been a fashionable doctrine, that after the emissions should amount to a certain sum, the bubble, as the phrase was, would burst. But the absurdity of this to men acquainted with human nature was evident. The reasons are needless, because we may appeal to experience to shew whether there is the least danger of this event. When two emissions were called in, and every method, consistent with justice and good faith, taken to stop their circulation; those who had principally contributed to depreciate the money were the very persons who continued to receive the vicious emissions. For as soon as it became a question, whether they should lose not the value, but merely the use of so much money, they made every effort to uphold the credit of it. A few days ago, when a report prevailed of the arrivals of some favorable intelligence from Europe, such of you as are in this city cannot but remember the rapid fall of every article, specie not excepted. Hence the deduction is clear that the money issued by Congress is intrinsically worth what they contend, but is depreciated by the quantity in some degree, and more by the arts of engrossers. Take the familiar proposition, that a country will easily bear taxation to the amount of some given part of the circulating medium, suppose a tenth, tho’ in fact one fifth may be raised among a free people, and you will see that, let the paper medium be increased to any degree, it may be sunk in a short period.

Not pretending to great knowledge of national secrets, and little desirous of communicating whatever of this kind it hath fallen to my lot to know, I shall reason with you on these things as I have reasoned for myself, and I trust the event will verify my conclusions. And first I consider it to be manifestly the interest of every Court in Europe to foster our independence Edition: current; Page: [93] because it is in effect the dividing a great empire, whose power was formidable, and whose insolence was insupportable.

Beginning with Russia; iron, potash and such other commodities as that country produces in common with this, will now have equal advantages at the London market, because no bounties will in future be granted by Parliament to the produce of these States. Sailcloth and the other articles produced there and consumed here will come hither directly from thence, and in direct return they will take our rice and tobacco, the commercial advantages of which are evident, not to mention the increase of naval force they may expect from it. Add to these solid reasons of national interest the personal character of the Empress.4 This is strongly marked by benevolence and the love of that fame which results from contributing to the happiness of mankind, a disposition evidenced by giving to her subjects all the liberty they are at present capable of. These considerations will naturally lead you to the answer filled with disdain which she gave to a proposal of the British Ambassador requesting her troops to subdue us. “My glory shall never be tarnished by the infamy of oppressing those who only contend for freedom and justice.” They will also account for her refusal to accede to subsequent propositions from our enemies the most disgraceful to them as well as apparently advantageous to her.

The spirit of the State reasons abovementioned applies generally all the Northern Courts, and it must be observed that the lesser will be very cautious how they contravene the views of the greater. As to Denmark her imbecility is the best possible reason why she should not side with the weaker party, especially when she holds the little of her West-India possessions as a tenant at will to the maritime powers.

Sweden, the faithful ally of France, if she acts at all, will certainly take part in our favour, and with twenty ships of the line ready at a moment’s warning, is in capacity to afford us no inconsiderable aid.

Prussia and Austria, equally desirous of becoming maritime powers, equally desirous to obtain for that purpose a share of the American commerce, and actually at war with each other, will neither of them be willing to send force against America. Nor will the smaller German Powers dare to weaken their dominions, by the loss of a single soldier, whilst the Emperor and King of Prussia are armed in motion, and in capacity to swallow them up.

Of the United Netherlands and Italy nothing need be said, unless that Edition: current; Page: [94] at least a strict neutrality may be depended on from them; the reasons of which are too obvious.

France is already at war with Great-Britain for American Independence; and those who know the connection between the Courts of Versailles and Madrid, their enmity to that of St. James’s, and their national interests, cannot but perceive that Spain will soon be joined in this contest, unless it be terminated agreeably to our wishes.

Hence then it is evident, either that we shall immediately conclude a safe and honorable peace, or that Great-Britain must carry on the war alone, and unsupported against France, Spain and America, in which case the two former will give every aid in their power, to our trade and finances, so that on the whole no well founded doubt can exist, that the Continental currency will rise greatly in its value, and that the independence and safety of America will be established on the firmest foundation.

Convinced as you must be of these things, what ought your conduct to be? You cannot pretend to plead conscience on this occasion, because the success of our measures being apparent, it is on your own principles the will of God, to which you are conscientiously bound to conform. If you oppose your countrymen you may indeed incourage the enemy, and thereby lengthen out the contest, in which case you yourselves shall determine, whether you will not in some degree be answerable for the consequences. You have seen enough of war to wish a termination of it. You have sense enough to perceive that you can live happily under those governments which you wished in vain to prevent. You ought to fear that if the enemy perform their threats of wasting our country, your persons may become obnoxious to the vengeance of your fellow-citizens, and your estates be applied to compensate the ravages committed on theirs. Take then the counsel which I again declare to you is dictated by humanity. I wish sincerely the happiness of all mankind. I wish sincerely the prosperity and glory of the United States. And as sincerely I wish for peace. May Heaven grant it to us, to you and to all.

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9: To Governor Johnstone (1779)*

After Congress snubbed the Carlisle Commission, George Johnstone returned to Parliament to defend his conduct. He gave a long speech in the House of Commons on November 27, 1778, in which he blamed just about everyone for the commission’s failure. He blamed the North ministry for advocating nothing but coercion and the opposition for wanting nothing but concession. For good measure, Johnstone also blamed the French and the Americans. He reminded the House that he had long recommended a policy that combined force with negotiation, and argued that such an approach would have succeeded. Finally, he defended himself against charges that he had tried to bribe Joseph Reed, the president of Pennsylvania.

Johnstone’s speech was summarized in the Pennsylvania Packet on February 11, 1779, and then published in full on March 9. All of Morris’s quotations come from the full version. Even as busy as he was with Congress’s business, Morris clearly thought it was vital to give a swift response to Johnstone’s speech.

March 4, 1779.
George Johnstone
Johnstone, George



Having seen your speech on American affairs at the opening of the session, I cannot avoid making some observations upon it; for although it contains important facts and sensible remarks, yet it is not without some mistakes.

You say, the cause of America is wicked, because we are united with France for the express purpose of reducing your country. The object of our alliance with the Edition: current; Page: [96] Most Christian King, is simply to secure that Independence without which our liberty would be but a name. And although you are too weak to maintain the present contest, yet you are too powerful to be conquered. Neither is it the interest of the House of Bourbon on the one hand, or of America on the other, that you should. Britain would be as troublesome a province to France, as America to Britain: Either would distract and enfeeble their masters. But, assuming your fact, is it wicked to attempt the reduction of a nation which hath lately shewn itself the common enemy of man? which hath drenched this country in the blood of its inhabitants, for the impious purpose of reducing them to unconditional submission. Impious, as you have repeatedly declared, as they have “with singular unanimity” directly acknowledged. Is it wicked to crush a court and a ministry profligate beyond conception, and deceitful beyond example?

You aver, that the treaty with France is not ratified in a constitutional manner. You are mistaken even on your own ground. Still more are you mistaken on the ground assumed by your government; for they confessed the authority of Congress to form treaties, by the very application which brought you hither.

You are equally wrong in supposing, that the objects of your commission were frustrated by delay. The draught of the bills arrived in season, and the sentiments of Congress were expressed on them so early as the twenty-second of April, previous even to the knowledge, much less the ratification of a treaty with France. They were expressed with an unanimity which, on such occasions, is not singular.

You say, it was always your view that force should accompany the concession. What concession do you mean? The acts of Parliament gave no more than what you frequently contended for as our right, and to assert that there is concession in giving a man his own, is hardly common sense, but certainly not common honesty. The idea of vigorous coercion in the moment of treaty, is a genuine British idea. It is a good one, provided the offers to be made in treating are generous and honest; but if insidious and unequal, it is marked with the spirit, not of a man, but a tyrant. That preparation for war is the best means of obtaining peace, is an old and true adage, but there is an essential difference between peace and dominion. Those in either country who seek the former on safe and honourable terms, will be gratified; those who aim at the latter will inevitably be, as they ought to be, most grievously disappointed.

The opprobrious language you make use of is but little ornamental to your eloquence, and would flow with more propriety from the pen of an Edition: current; Page: [97] hireling than the mouth of a statesman. That the Congress in their proceedings have a respect to the people, is true; that they attempt to deceive the people, is untrue. Shew, if you can, a falshood sanctioned by their authority. If you cannot, retract a charge which must recoil upon you. Whoever hath informed you that the newspapers are under the direction of Congress, was mistaken, or meant to deceive: And when you shall have the pleasure of perusing some late Gazettes, you will see not only that the Congress and its Members, but some other very respectable personages, are handled with sufficient freedom to contradict your charge. Be cautious, however, that you do not draw false conclusions from these publications. The Americans being really free, are subject, like other people, to the intemperatures of freedom. The conversations and conduct of your adherents, have seemed to flow from the following dilemma: If the newspapers do not blame measures and traduce characters, there is tyranny; if they do, there is disunion. But the natural interpretation is, that the former arises from public confidence and a sense of decency, the latter from personal emotion and the irritability of little spirits.

For what relates to the charge brought against you by General Reed, you will certainly acquit Congress of disingenuity, after you have seen what hath been stated on that occasion. Whether their zeal led them into declarations, which those who are accustomed to the business of corruption will consider as hasty and unnecessary, is not for me to determine, having had no transactions where other means besides persuasion have been used. This, however, you may be certain of, that it was no political stroke to avoid the question about General Burgoyne’s troops. Nor will the harsh epithets which you and others so liberally bestow upon Congress, by any means impeach them. Pardon me, Sir, for observing, that on this occasion the charge of duplicity lies against you and your brethren in commission. To enter into the arguments would be tedious; but if you will suppose us to be, what we have declared ourselves, independent, then I pledge myself to meet you on the ground of national right, and shew that the Congress have acted with perfect consistency and integrity. At present I shall only observe, that you had no authority whatever to offer a ratification of the convention of Saratoga, and that you knew you had not at the moment in which you made the offer.1 At the same time I fully agree with you, that policy founded on injustice Edition: current; Page: [98] and dishonour is contemptible in private life, and where the dignity of people is concerned, abominable meanness.

That you was received at Philadelphia with joy; that they wished the continuance of the British army; that they made golden promises of thousands and tens of thousands to join you, is extremely probable. They made the promises as an inducement for you to comply with their wishes, and their wishes were founded on their hopes and their fears. But as a negociator, it was unpardonable to rest your creed on the opinions of those who were confined in Philadelphia.2 Your friends would naturally resort thither from other parts of the state, and consequently afford but a partial sample of the remainder. Your enemies would not readily avow their sentiments under a military government, which had not been exercised with too great lenity. And as for the inhabitants of your gaols, their ideas like their information, would naturally be much circumscribed. Nor can it be wondered at, if in the lingering tediousness of long confinement, worne away with want, and broken with the insolence of petty tyrants, their spirits should be so depressed as to adopt any means of relief which might offer. Had you consulted the British Generals; had you consulted former experience, you would have known that all reasoning on such foundations is illusory; all promises by such men ineptious; all reliance on either absurd.

But it seems you are persuaded, that had you been at liberty to have acted in the field, your most sanguine expectations would have been fulfilled. Those, Sir, who had sanguinary wishes and expectations, would have been gratified; those who delight in human woe, might have beheld with satisfaction the fields of carnage. If there be any who can derive pleasure from the pangs of a helpless widow, or the tears of fatherless children, they might have been satiated with the savage feast. But you are deceived if you suppose that losses, defeats or distress, could have induced a submission to unreasonable terms. America has profited from her own example in the low state of affairs before the action of Trenton, and believe me, the object is too large to depend on the fate of a battle, a siege, or a campaign.

You seem to be of a different opinion, whilst leaving the plain road of facts, you wander through the fields of supposition, to shew the propriety of your former conduct, and what you propose in future. Suppose, you Edition: current; Page: [99] say, Admiral Keppel had beaten Mons. the Count d’Orvilliers, that is; destroyed half his fleet, which he was prevented from doing by the accidents of wind and weather; suppose Admiral Byron’s Squadron had not met with a storm; if Clinton had not been ordered to leave Philadelphia, &c. Why did you not at once suppose you had fairly conquered America, as well as that Byron had met no storms, Kepple [sic] no unfavourable gales, and Clinton no ridiculous commands. Incidents like these, should always be supposed by wise men. Wise men, Sir, will never stake the fate of an empire on the uncertainty of the winds, the turbulence of the waves, and the fluctuations of human opinion. Suppose d’Estaing had arrived in the Delaware before Philadelphia was evacuated, and that by the united efforts of his fleet and the American armies, you had shared the fate of the unfortunate, insulted Burgoyne. Suppose the Count, instead of leaving Rhode-Island had staid till the storm abated and then went to Sandy Hook to wait for the shattered fleets of Howe and Byron. Suppose he had in force have met the latter alone. Your suppositions, it seems, would have laid the topic of Independence asleep, and silenced its supporters; but mine would have placed the opposers of it in the most ridiculous light imaginable.

For the encouragement of friends and the terror of foes, you declare your unalterable resolution to die in the last ditch. The Great Nassau made the same declaration, and in the mouth of a hero contending for freedom after the loss of many battles, against superior force and almost exhaustless resources, it hath a dignity and elevation which description cannot reach. But when it is used to color obstinate perseverance in a ridiculous war, for the sake of a bubble, a feather or a name, it is hardly in the compass of language to descend to such a deep profund. In what ditch, my good Sir, would you die? Shall the rich current which glides through your veins dash along the roaring Susquehanna, swell the great Potowmac, or fill the bay of Chesapeak? Shall it empurple the Canadian snows, shall it fertilize the arid sands of Florida, or stain the rocks of Nova Scotia, hard and unpitying of the generous sacrifice? The gentle Tweed can never be witness of his Johnstone’s fate, for, indeed Sir, if you stay at home, we cannot possibly martyrise you. But seriously; why are you so apprehensive for Canada, Nova-Scotia, the Floridas, and West-India islands? It is not the interest, and therefore hardly the wish of our allies, that we should become dangerous to Europe, though it is their and our determination to render the United States secure. Neither can we harbor a desire after extended empire, when the pernicious effects of it on you are so recent. Besides, we have not men to squander on the unhealthy climates of Florida and the West-Indies. Edition: current; Page: [100] But why are you so inconsistent? You state us as very low and weak. If the fact be so, whence do you derive your apprehensions? You consider your nation in capacity still to subdue us. Why then do you harbor any fears? If our resources are really exhausted, if it is not in imagination to paint our contentions, divisions and sufferings, can you suppose that we shall continue the war for future improbable acquisitions?

You ask, What reason America can have for not explicitly declaring her intentions of conditionally renouncing her connections with France upon your declaring her independency? The answer is plain. Because she is honest. Would you go farther? Because she is wise. If she faithfully abides by her treaties, other nations will court her alliance. Suppose, for the sake of those fanciful advantages to be derived from an union of force with you, and to avoid the evils of war in a dubious contest, America had been guilty of breaking her faith; would you have relied on her promises? While you strove to make her so wicked, could she rely on yours? Not to mention the criminality, is there a greater absurdity, than at the very moment when you would lead men to repose confidence in your faith, to shew a sovereign contempt of it, by persuading them to violate theirs?

You say, that your riches are greater than at the commencement of the last war, but admit the embarrassment of your funds. Is Governor Johnstone yet to learn, that money and riches are very different things when applied to nations? Have you more men? Have you more manufactures? Have you more plenteous productions of the soil? Three millions of subjects are lost. Fifty millions of debt are incurred. All Europe is against you.

Your warlike operations, you say, are less extensive in Germany, the East Indies, Portugal, North-America and the West Indies. Who gave you the pre-science to determine where and how the war shall rage? Are the East-Indies annihilated, that they can be no longer the theatre of your battles and your crimes? What has become of Gibraltar and Minorca? Have you abandoned the shores of Africa? Have you let the miserable Electorate of Hanover to farm? Have you conquered America? Or does it require a lesser operation for that purpose, than it did, with the assistance of your colonies, to reduce Canada? You certainly are of a different opinion; for you think 25,000 men are necessary in America exclusive of what are in Canada and Halifax: These I suppose amount to about 3,000. Add to the account 12,000 which you ought to have in the Floridas and West-Indies, and it will make 45,000 men. You can neither send or maintain so large a force at such a perilous distance. New winds again may blow, again may storms arise, and fresh blunders be again added to the catalogue of national absurdities. Should a convoy be Edition: current; Page: [101] lost or a fleet destroyed, figure to yourself your so excellent, so beautiful, and so well appointed army, in all its comeliness, and in all its grace, panting for a piece of pitiful pork, or surrendering for the lack of musty biscuit. You speak of the American Tories as a shrewd, cunning, sensible people, who will not join the weak and wavering; and will they, think you, join the ruined and undone? Alas! Surrounded as you are with dangers and distresses of every kind, prudence seems wholly to have abandoned you: And like a ruined gamester, having lost so much as almost to have lost your senses, you would stake your clothes, your wife and your children on the desperate hazard, till nothing remains for you but to die in a ditch.

You are led to suppose, from some riots which happened between the French sailors and lower kind of inhabitants in the brothels of Boston, that the indignant spontaneous passions of the people are indisposed to the French alliance. Suppose (since you are so fond of suppositions) that an English fleet should have arrived at the loyal town of Boston, would the officers and seamen have been received with open arms, and pressed and caressed by the inhabitants? Suppose an English seaman and soldier should come to blows for a prostitute, would you, from this circumstance, apprehend a defection of your invincible fleet or graceful army? However spontaneous might be their passions, you would hardly draw that conclusion.

It is said above, that peace may be had on terms safe and honorable for Britain and America. It may be added for every other party who may be concerned in the war. What do you want with Gibraltar and Minorca? As badges of sovereignty and of ancient glory, they may feed your pride, but they empty your purse; for your Levant trade is a losing game, and will, from our independence, be more so every day. These places are like thorns in your neighbour’s sides, who, for that very reason, cannot be your friends. If you mean peace, they can do you no good; and therefore it is your interest to get rid of them on the best terms you can. Jamaica is, indeed, a valuable possession; but as it raises the jealousy of others and creates enemies to you, you should keep it no longer than until you can obtain something better in lieu of it. Your privilege of cutting logwood in the Bay of Honduras, is useless, now that so much better is brought from Campeachey. And considering their situation, you cannot long possess the Floridas, or wish to hold the Bahamas. Why not then abandon all these things to Spain, who can give you territory of far greater value, and may perhaps extricate you from the embarrassment of your finances.

Nova Scotia, inhabited as it is by emigrants from the eastern states, and commodious for their fisheries, is useless to you, tho’ necessary for us. Edition: current; Page: [102] Nor can you suppose we shall think you sincere, if, in a treaty of perpetual peace, you insist on keeping Halifax to check our fisheries and fetter our commerce. Bermuda is so dependent on us, that you cannot wish to hold it in terrorem at a certain national expence, when it can be of no national advantage. Especially as compensation may be made you, in various ways, for ceding these things. Among other benefits you may hope from the cession are these, the saving of men and money; neither of which you abound in. A return of the sweets of American commerce, which a continuance of hostilities may deprive you of for ever; and a certain and firm guarantee of all your American possessions. Great-Britain and Ireland condensed within themselves, will become more powerful than with their late domains. Being not so easily attacked, their defence will be less expensive. They will be more capable of offence, because their force will not be employed in the protection of distant possessions. You can have nothing to apprehend from us, because our system is from its nature, and must be from necessity, pacific and commercial. You will become more populous, because you will not suffer the same waste of men from emigrations, garrisons, &c. By admitting a representation from Ireland, your government might be simplified so as to become active and efficacious. It is no paradox to say, that your manufactures would be in a more flourishing situation. Those in which you cannot rival other nations, might languish; but those which are natural to you, and being derived from your own resources, do not depend upon fortuitous incidents: These would be benefited by the accession of that money, labor, and ingenuity, which is now directed to other objects. And as these manufactures are not precarious, the wealth of a country might safely be rested upon them. It is a mistake, that exclusive privileges are advantageous. The character of a monopolizer is as odious, applied to a nation, as it is to a man, and as unprofitable as it is contemptible. But I beg pardon, Sir, for political disquisitions to so refined a politician, and for mentioning the means of peace to one enamoured of war. To the force of necessity; to the embarrassment of your finances; to that wheel of fortune which you wish not to be thrown out of, and whose revolutions will place your country as low in this as she was high in the last war; to these I leave you. When all other views are precluded, then you will see your true interests, and then you will join in a prayer for peace with Your most obedient and humble servant,

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10: “An American” Letters on Public Finance for the Pennsylvania Packet (1780)*

Morris’s tenure in the Continental Congress ended in November 1779. He decided to stay in Philadelphia and establish his law practice there; he also embarked on a number of business ventures. But he did not give up his interest in public finance. The essays that follow were published in early 1780, partly in response to a set of “Letters on Appreciation,” published in the Pennsylvania Packet in January of that year.1 Max Mintz argues that the ideas Morris puts forward in these letters are the origin of some of the proposals that later appeared in Robert Morris’s “Report on the Public Credit.” That report, drafted by Gouverneur and submitted to the Continental Congress in July 1782, is arguably the most important document on public finance before Hamilton’s 1791 report of the same title.2

Edition: current; Page: [104]

February 17, 1780*


My Countrymen,

A considerable time hath elapsed since I determined to publish a few sentiments on the finances of America, but was restrained by the epidemical madness of the times, which for certain causes not worth enquiring after, would hardly have borne with me. At present there appears to be a sincere desire of attending to reason from any quarter, and at present if ever plain honest reason appears necessary, for after the many unsuccessful efforts which have been made it is not rash to assert, that to draw forth the resources of our great country on free and equitable principles, is no easy task.

The various opinions entertained, propagated and supported relative to your Paper Currency, differ so widely that they cannot all be right. Perhaps not one of them is strictly or entirely so. Unfortunately it happens on such occasions, and indeed on too many others, that mankind reason from their prejudices, their circumstances, and their interests. Thus in the most important affairs, like grown persons at the dancing school, we have much to unlearn, as well as to learn, before we can think and move with ease and grace. We must cast off our prejudices, rise above our circumstances and divest ourselves of a pitiful regard to our interests whether pecuniary or political. Hard task indeed!

The writer of these papers pretends to no extraordinary virtue or abilities. He has thought on the subject and he meant to think consistently and uprightly, but he may be mistaken, he may be deceived, he may be unequal to the task he hath attempted, as he hath no ambition of a literary reputation, and no leisure to acquire it, ornaments of style are not to be expected. The actual state of America, differs from that of any other country, instances therefore drawn from former ages, or foreign nations, are not always applicable. General maxims ought for the same reason to be well considered. But with these salutary cautions, taking experience for our guide, and candor for our friend, let us crawl along in the search of truth, with a disposition to pardon human error in others, but suspect it Edition: current; Page: [105] in ourselves, with a desire to be convinced where solid cause of conviction shall appear, notwithstanding the little cavils of little cavillers, and above all things with an inflexible determination to pursue the public good in spite of all opposition from local or private interests.

In this place before I proceed further, let me pay the tribute justly due to the author of certain letters on free trade and finance, who hath written more good sense on that subject than hath appeared from any, or perhaps every other quarter.3 That the writings are not more generally read and approved of, is perhaps owing to this circumstance, that they contain nothing of novelty to recommend them to prurient curiosity. For in politics as in physics and religion, the plain old sober dictates of science and truth, are neglected, nay despised, for new maxims, new doctrines, new cures, and new tricks. Hence the tribe of schemers, mountebanks, and itinerant preachers, with their attendant herd of rogues, fools and enthusiasts.

The nature of money is among those great political topicks, which require no small share of industry to be fully acquainted with. Nor is the difficulty removed, when paper is substituted in the place of gold; it requires much attention to make proper distinctions, and free ourselves from that connection of different ideas, which habit has rendered almost inseparable. To avoid confusion, the word money will, in these papers be equally applied to every kind of it. Specie to what is called hard-money, that is coined bullion, and the Bills of Credit will be called by the simple name of paper.

Money is the child of commerce, and of consequence it differs in different places, according to the actual state of society. Specie, in some nations, is not money. Paper is so in very few. The first and rudest commerce is by barter, and wherever that obtains, it marks either a very savage State, a very absurd Legislature, or a very tyrannous Administration. The difficulty of comparing the value of different things, renders a common measure necessary. If for instance, among a rude people, any individuals wished to interchange bows and arrows for coarse cloth, it would be difficult to discover how much of the one must be given for the other. It would not be so difficult to estimate the ingenuity, labour and materials expended on each of them. These form the true value; but even these do not admit of a regular and exact comparison. Some other thing therefore, of common use, production or estimation, such as oxen, sheep, corn, &c. must be taken for the Edition: current; Page: [106] common measure, or money. Among nations still more barbarous, where there is no agriculture or tame animals, natural productions used either as food or ornament, become the money of the country. Such as cocoa nuts in the islands of the pacific ocean, and wampum among the Savages of North America. In the advanced state of society, precious metals are adopted, because they are not subject to decay, because their value may be reduced to a certainty, and because they may be divided and subdivided with accuracy. The precious metals are first used as bullion, that is to say, they pass according to their quantity and fineness, in which case, every trader must have a scale to try the weight, and an assay to determine the alloy. This practice formerly obtained through Europe, and continues in some places at this moment. But as it is very inconvenient, the government of civilized States have provided particular marks, to distinguish the value of every piece, and this is called money, in contradistinction to bullion. In a more advanced state of society, it is found to be dangerous, difficult and consequently expensive, to transfer considerable sums of specie from place to place; to remedy this, Bills of Exchange have been invented which are the first kind of paper. The great value of specie, the ease with which a person may be robbed of it, and other circumstances occurring in the rapid progress of civilization, introduced the practice of lodging money in public or private banks, and accepting notes in lieu of it. These are the second kind of paper. Finally, bills have been issued by public authority to pass in lieu of specie, the government covenanting with individuals that at some future period the one shall be given for the other. This then is the third kind of paper, with respect to which it is remarkable, that some governments have had the boldness to compel their subjects to accept it, even when the period of redemption was not fixed, and what is still more remarkable, those laws have been followed neither by insurrection nor yet by the absolute ruin of the paper itself, or even by a general clamor. Thus, as in a strong natural body, where the principle of life is vigorous and energetic, the worst aliments will be digested and become nutritious; so in society, where a thorough confidence in their rulers pervades and animates the whole State. The most impolitic institutions will be corrected by the manners of the people, and rendered subservient to useful purposes. But alas, in the one case as in the other, persisting in error brings on evils of an alarming nature, which the ablest management will hardly alleviate. To quit the metaphor. A course of blunders on the part of government will at length destroy that confidence which is the source of their authority. Then a thousand and a thousand things which were easy before will become impracticable. Then they must Edition: current; Page: [107] bid adieu to fine spun plans and beautiful theories. However reluctant, they must bid adieu to imaginary strokes of finance. With nice distinctions between a breach of promise in words and in deeds; they must no more amuse the casuistical fancy. No more must they soar in aerial heights sublime. In short, they must be content to move slowly along in the plain path of common sense and common honesty, or they will soon cease to move at all.

Money is only the sign of wealth, and its value is derived from credit or opinion. Corn used as money is at once a necessary of life, a commodity and a sign of wealth; specie applied to the same purpose, is both a commodity and money. But paper is money simply and purely, being neither a necessary of life nor a commodity. He who in the first case sells his property for corn, gives it some little credit as money, more as a commodity, and much more as a necessary of life. He who in the second case sells his property for specie, gives it credit as money from a conviction, that the whole commercial world will receive it again; he gives it also some credit as a commodity. But he who sells his property for paper, gives it credit as money alone, for if others will not in their turn, receive his paper, it is absolutely good for nothing.

The experience of ages had long since declared, and our own experience hath severely demonstrated, that all tricks played with money, such as debasing the coin, and others of that cast, have greatly injured the government, as well as individuals. The reason of this appears, from the foregoing considerations, which prove that credit is the foundation of money. Take away the former; and the latter falls in shapeless ruin. Barter is introduced, commerce is fettered, mutual confidence among men is shaken, confidence in the government is lost. No one will trust it for a month, nor with a shilling. The State cannot make vigorous exertions. Oeconomy in the administration, becomes impracticable. Confusion arises. The country lies in prey to its enemies, or hangs as a weight about the neck of its friends. A thousand little shifts and mean expedients take place of manly decisive wisdom and fortitude, while the butterfly dignity of government, is crushed beneath the hand of insult, or blown away in the breath of ridicule.

It is a vulgar error, that specie is better than good paper. If paper were emitted in such form, that it could not be well counterfeited, under such circumstances that it would not depreciate, and for sums not expressed by any particular coin, it would be preferable to specie. 1st. Because the value being purely arbitrary, it would also be determinate, and consequently a more certain measure of value by the same rule that the distance of forty miles is more certain and determinate than a day’s travel, and nine inches Edition: current; Page: [108] than a span. 2dly. Because it would not be liable to gradual waste by the wear, nor to adulteration or diminution. 3dly. Because it could more easily be transported from place to place. And 4thly. Because when destroyed, the community would be at no expence to replace it, which is always the case with specie. To this may be added some other advantages, which not being so obvious shall in this place be omitted.

The credit of paper issued by a State depends upon the idea of the wealth of the State, the ability of the government to call it forth, and the integrity of those whose duty it may be to apply it. These are the ultimate objects of such credit, though the immediate object is the idea of what it will fetch at the market, just as the ultimate credit of a bank paper depends upon the wealth of the banker, and his disposition to pay or the legal means of compelling him. Suppose the credit good as to its ultimate object, still the paper may depreciate by a super-abundance of quantity, by a probability of farther increase, and by the very circumstance that it hath depreciated. For upon the instant that money becomes of uncertain value, men are unwilling to use it as the medium of their commerce, just as they would decline to buy or sell by weights and measures which are continually varying.

An inquiry into all the causes by which our paper hath depreciated would be perhaps amusing, and though laborious, it would not be without utility; but the data on which calculations must be made are too uncertain. It is not for instance at all fixed what would be the necessary circulating medium of the continent, nor even what was the circulating medium heretofore. Were I to hazard an opinion, I should fix both much higher than any estimate I have yet seen. Indeed the present value of the paper cannot otherwise, I believe, be rationally accounted for. No rule of depreciation can be drawn from the quantity by any direct numerical process. Moral causes of various kinds are to be added to the account, and these act with a velocity continually increased by their own action. Even if the quantity alone gave rise to the depreciation, the manner in which it operates appears much mistaken. Suppose in a very sultry day it should be found that, the consumption of this city being ten thousand pounds of flesh, and no salt to be had; does any man believe that this super-abundance would lower the price only one twentieth? Would, for instance, the beef, part of which at six o’clock had been vended at five pence, sell at nine o’clock for five pence three farthings? Would it not more probably fall to three pence, or even two pence? It is not my object to dilate unnecessarily; the intelligent reader when the game is started can himself hunt it down, and the unintelligent had better quit a subject he can never understand. But further, it would be a mistake Edition: current; Page: [109] to suppose that a super-abundance of money acted with no greater force as to its price than the super-abundance of a commodity. The consumption of a commodity is for the most part equable, or if it varies it will be greatest when there is the greatest plenty, and the demand is in a ratio compounded of the consumption and the quantity. A super-abundance of money, on the contrary, instead of increasing really lessens the demands for it, because fewer commodities are offered for sale, and every person striving to turn his money, it is applied with increasing velocity to every saleable object. Now there is no reason in the world why one barleycorn, if an infinite velocity be given to it, could not measure in a moment the immensity of space. Money, therefore, being the measure of wealth, operates like nature with a momentum4 equal to its quantity multiplied into its velocity.

Here let us pause; and while we contemplate the huge object, which by a combination of natural, moral and political causes, is driven forwards impetuously towards general ruin over the prostrate morals of society and amid the imprecations of the widow, the feeble, the fatherless, the aged, the undefended, let us pause and endeavour to investigate those other causes which with contrary influence have impeded, checked, stopped, and almost inverted its progress; causes, which if left to their free operation, will say to this deluging flood in the imperative tone of authority, so far shalt thou go and no farther.

And here it is to be observed, that although in the first instance depreciation will generate a further depreciation, yet at length that further depreciation will cure itself. For there is something in money which leads it, like the power of gravitation in fluids, to seek continually the natural level. Of consequence, therefore, when by any accident money is raised too high, it immediately descends, and, if left to itself, after many undulations will come to a fixture. The increased depreciation having raised the prices of all articles, it is soon found that the circulating medium is too small for the purposes of commerce. Money then becomes relatively scarce. The opposite cause produces an opposite effect and runs to the opposite extreme, until at length it finds that mean where the value is in direct proportion to the quantity. This reasoning, however, does not apply to a medium constantly increasing, an exception which will be afterwards noted, but is mentioned in this place because otherwise conclusions might be too forcibly drawn from what had been before stated.

I have spoken of paper hitherto without marking particularly the effects Edition: current; Page: [110] which follow from the idea of redemption. But now let us advert for this purpose to our own paper. Suppose a full confidence prevailed that in twenty years it would be appreciated to its nominal value; then every man possessed of forty dollars would believe that if he kept it twenty years it would be worth forty dollars in specie. Now if we reckon a compound interest at six per cent. forty dollars payable twenty years hence will be worth at present about twelve and a half, which deducting two and a half leaves ten. Wherefore it would follow, that he who purchased paper at the rate of four for one, would have the best possible security to receive a compound six per cent. interest on his money, with an ultimate additional profit of twenty-five per cent. at the end of twenty years. Our paper then, computing it at forty for one, is depreciated ten times more than it would be if the ultimate objects of credit were unimpaired. Whether the public diffidence arises from an idea of the poverty of the State, the weakness of government, or their want of integrity, is not as yet the subject of enquiry. Let it suffice at present to observe, that the favorable or unfavorable opinion on these topics must necessarily retard or accelerate the progress of depreciation.

To these two general principles may be added some others of lesser import, which will meet the attention of the contemplative reader. Quitting then this subject for the present, the next object deserving of notice is to examine the effects of those laws made with the express design of supporting the credit of our paper.

I am your friend,


February 24, 1780*


My Countrymen,

To combat opinions generally received and supported by great authority, is a task which the prudent would wish to avoid. A man generally gets but little by his labour, and is for the most part, esteemed to be a madman or Edition: current; Page: [111] a fool. Nay, it is well if he comes off at so cheap a rate, for there is a certain dogmaticalness of disposition inherent in human nature, which makes each individual a Pope to himself, and leads him to talk, write and fight with equal obstinacy, to defend his own infallibility, and destroy that of his neighbour.

I should gladly avoid unnecessary opposition to received maxims, being by nature and education so much more attached to ease, than fond of distinction, as fully to agree with a late reverend writer, “That if the army of Martyrs is to be recruited, or a new one raised, I will have no hand in the business one way or t’other.”1 It is, however, necessary to understand the nature of our political complaints, before we can apply a remedy, and for this purpose, attention to facts is better than the best hypothesis. Among the first efforts to support the credit of our paper, was the law for rendering it a lawful tender, and that which inflicted pains and penalties on those who should refuse to receive it as equivalent to specie. The learned Doctor Price, from the bosom of the British capital, hath ventured to assure us of the utility of such laws, and thence inferred, that our paper is much better than that which is issued by the Bank of England.2 His hypothesis may be good, his reasoning on it very good, and his conclusions fairly drawn; but stubborn fact stands opposed to them. This shews at least, that we ought a little to distrust hypothetical propositions.

Shall I be pardoned, for asserting in contradiction to Doctor Price, that a law to make paper a tender, is injurious to it? Will the reader bear with patience an attempt to prove my position? I am aware of the objection that heretofore such laws did not injure the paper then issued, but surely it would be illogical to assert, that every thing of an injurious nature, must do actual injury, or that a weak opposition is no opposition at all. It must be remembered, that the paper emitted through the several States shortly previous to the present war, was strongly requested, nay, demanded by the people. The rapid extension of our commerce, rendered it necessary, notwithstanding a more general credit was given throughout America, than in almost any other country. Add to this, that it was proper to make some money a legal tender, for the meer purposes of jurisprudence, and it was Edition: current; Page: [112] very indifferent what kind of money that was. From these reasons arose an universal consent among all ranks of men, to receive the paper of government, and therefore the ill effects of the law, were no more perceptible, than the weight of an ounce against fifty pounds. Yet there is no doubt but that when the scales are even, the weight of an ounce would cause one of them to preponderate. When the purposes of commerce do not require an increase of the circulating medium, and when of consequence the people do not desire it, nothing can be more unjust than to compel a man to receive for a pound of silver, a piece of paper, which the government do not mean to repay with another pound, in less than twenty years. Suppose the government should seize a man’s flock of fifty sheep, and give him a promissory note to pay fifty sheep twenty years hence, would not this be considered as a horrible tyranny. And where is the difference except in value, between taking a pound of silver, or a pound of mutton, one sheep, or fifty sheep. Suppose again, that after taking the stock of A in the above arbitrary manner, there should be a power given to him, to seize as many sheep from his neighbour B, and to pay for them by the same promissory note, and so on, from B to C and from C to D, through the whole community. Would not such a law of itself, be sufficient to occasion a general revolt, and where is the difference between seizing sheep, and seizing the value of them; or between paying for goods with a note for sheep, and a note for the price of them in silver and gold.

That such laws have not had the effects above stated, is to be attributed to the causes already assigned, and further, we may observe that while the paper is in full credit, and a man can get from his neighbour the specie specified on the face of it, we do not perceive the injustice. But this perception instantly recurs when the paper depreciates. Besides we know, that a great part of the community would have resisted long ago, if they had dared. Many have eluded it, all now join in reprobating it; and the only difficulty as to the repeal, seems to be about the manner.

This law therefore, must appear from the considerations already stated, to be either useless or unjust. Useless before the paper depreciates, unjust afterwards. Useless as to the obtaining a currency for it, because no law could do that, without the general consent of society, and unjust by forcing the acceptance of it, above the natural value. But it is not sufficient, to have proved it simply useless or unjust. I must go farther, and attempt at least to shew that it is pernicious. And to do this let us suppose that without such law government should at any time go on and issue paper until all the channels of commerce were compleatly filled: The paper would at that moment Edition: current; Page: [113] be on the eve of depreciating from its quantity, and would depreciate unless a wise and timely stop was put to the emissions. In this situation of things let us suppose the government become apprehensive of a depreciation, and in order to prevent it enact a Tender Law.

Before we take one step farther, let us remember, that nothing is more pernicious in money-matters than to have what are called State secrets concerning them: Such secrets are very indifferently kept in Republics. A representative Body will never permit any individual to keep their secrets for them, and they may rely on it, the people at large have not delegated their curiosity, but will be at least as prying as their superiors. Nay, they will assert an equal privilege with them, to reason on public affairs, and are not always the worse reasoners of the two.

In the case above put, the people will instantly know the principle on which the law is enacted, or at least they will suspect it. Though government should keep its motives secret, they will immediately infer even from passing such a law that the paper stood in need of aid, and ask this dangerous question: if the legislature were not convinced that the money would not pass without their interposition, why did they interpose? From that moment each individual receives it with suspicious reluctance, and pushes it with eagerness to his neighbour. The debtor begins to pay his debts by selling property at an advanced price to some money-holder solicitous to realize. The creditor accustomed to live from the interest of his funds, and finding no one who will covenant to give him that interest, is obliged to turn speculator or beggar, and becomes one or the other according to his opportunities and abilities, or the degree of his indolence or activity. The circulation thus rapidly increased, and the quantity of vendible property diminished, depreciation is a natural and necessary consequence.

But this is not all. When men begin to reason on a subject, neither tyrants nor mobs can hinder them, on the contrary every effort to prevent it carries them rapidly to conclusions, even without regard to premises. For the argument is still the same, if the thing will bear consideration, why not let us consider it? In reasoning therefore on the Tender Law, they see its injustice; the debtor who is benefited by it, and whose clamors masked under the garb of patriotism, give it vigor and activity. The fraudulent debtor sees the injustice as clearly as his defrauded creditor. Both of them therefore agree in their sentiments of the legislature.

There is nothing more dangerous than the tyrant’s plea of necessity. It is an argument which applies with equal force to every thing, and that government is indeed unhappy which is obliged to recur to it. If necessity can Edition: current; Page: [114] induce the breach of one moral tie, it can of another. If it will justify fraud, it will excuse murder. Let those in authority beware of it. Let them take care how they obey the calls of necessity, even though urged by the voice of the whole community, when that necessity is to commit evil. If they do obey it, however pleasing their conduct may be for a moment, they will soon find, that like the book of the Revelations, though sweet in the mouth, it is better3 in the belly, and that the people will, sooner or later, despise those who have sinned against their own consciences to please the people. In the case before us, each individual will consider, that the redemption of the paper depends on the men who have made it a lawful tender: And he will tremble to think of what necessity may lead to at a future period. Thus one of the ultimate objects of credit is impaired, confidence in the integrity of government.

Of the same class with this, are all other laws made to support the credit of paper. On their very face they carry the strongest arguments against it. No artful preamble can evade—still less can it answer the great question: Why enact it? Why these pains and penalties to compel the exchange of a round dollar for a square one, if the exchange would take place without them? Shall the word necessity stop the clamorous mouth of enquiry? Alas! It only shews that the folly of the law is equal to its iniquity. It shews that the paper and the specie are not of equal value, at the very moment it attempts to force an exchange. It shews too, that they have made an attempt, which from the very manner of making it, must prove ineffectual. Thus in the same moment, the people lose their confidence both in the integrity and in the wisdom of government: So that another of the ultimate objects of credit is impaired.

Here let us stop, and leave to a future opportunity the consideration of those laws for limiting prices, which may be called regulations. They deserve a separate place, for they have not only the disadvantages above stated in common with the Tender and Exchange Laws, but some others of no little moment peculiar to themselves. Whether these are equal to the advantages expected from them, and whether any such advantages really do or can arise will then perhaps appear. It will appear to the candid enquirer. If there be a prejudiced reader, he will perhaps liberally dispense the term knave, blockhead, or some other of the pretty little appellations at present Edition: current; Page: [115] used by witty writers and polite critics. But he will at some time or other acknowlege that such flowers of rhetoric may be very properly spared, and that the interests of society, like those of heaven, can better be served by solid reasoning than florid declamation, much less abuse.

It will be useful in this place to consider attentively the nature of our paper, because the many writings relative to it, like the lace and fringe on Peter’s coat, have almost hidden the original cloth.4 The paper is a promissory note for so much specie from the government to the holder of it: Consequently it is a promise of as much labor and as much of the necessaries and even luxuries of life as that specie would purchase. It is like a similar note from an individual, excepting that the day of payment is not fixed, a circumstance which, among others, hath tended much to impair the credit. Suppose the individual A, being possessed of a great landed estate, with necessary stock and utensils so as to derive from it a considerable income, hath promised his neighbour B to pay him one hundred bushels of wheat at some future day: When the day arrives ought he not to pay? Suppose the promise had been made in 1775, payable in 1780? Would it be just for him to say, one hundred bushels of wheat were worth in 1775 one hundred dollars, here, take you one hundred dollars which I have obtained by the sale of two bushels? Would a Court of Justice support him in this chicanery? A promise to pay money is nothing more or less than a promise to pay what that money will purchase; and that which is unjust in an individual is unjust in a nation.

But what is the contract which results simply from issuing paper? The government promise, on the part of all the land, labor and commodities of the country, to the individual who shall accept the paper in lieu of his property, that an equal quantity shall be returned to him in exchange for that paper. If the individual voluntarily accepts the proffer of government, a contract is made, and that contract ought to be fulfilled scrupulously and exactly, not nominally and apparently. But suppose the individual is unwilling to trust the government, and suppose they compel him to accept their paper, does this diminish their obligation to repay it? In other words, shall government take advantage of their own wrong? Is a trespass more justifiable than a breach of promise? Or is a man less guilty of the violation of a contract because he forcibly compelled his neighbour to make it? Suppose, Edition: current; Page: [116] to carry the matter still further, the individual should incline to ask more of the paper for his property when so obliged to receive it than he would have accepted in specie, and that in such case government should again interpose and force the acceptance of it at an equal rate with specie, would not this also increase the obligation? Laws of this sort, although they impair the value of the paper, increase the duty and multiply the obligations of the State to redeem it. An individual, when called on for money, would best maintain his credit by punctual payment; but if instead thereof he should give notes, bonds, mortgages, judgments, promises, vows and oaths, each step would diminish the faith of his creditors, although it would increase his legal and moral duties to satisfy their demands. If such debtor should daily increase his expences, neglect his occupation, and suffer his affairs to run fast into confusion, none but usurers would deal with him, and those only on the most exorbitant terms. But should he drop a hint that he intended to become a fraudulent bankrupt, from that moment all confidence in him would be lost, and every person who had been so unfortunate as to trust him would endeavour speedily to realize a part of his demand by accepting a large discount. If he happened to be privileged against legal process, the mischief would be increased, and his note for a guinea might sell for a crown, a shilling, or even a groat.5 Similar causes will always produce similar effects, and honesty and credit are alike in public and in private life.

It has for some time past been a fashion to fear that the money would appreciate; that it would appreciate too fast, and the like. These ridiculous apprehensions have found admittance to graver places than will readily be imagined. The experience of many months hath shewn them to be groundless; but now it is contended that appreciation would be a greater injustice to the public in favor of the money-holders, while at the same time it is contended that depreciation was a just and wise tax.6 These propositions when contrasted have no very favorable aspect, and unless I am much mistaken, they will both appear to be false when separately considered.

To recur then to the case above put. Suppose on the death of the debtor his heir should oeconomize his affairs, become industrious and thrifty, pay the debts his father had contracted, retrench the old expences and avoid new ones: Would not his credit increase? Would not the notes which had sold for a groat rise to the value of a shilling, a crown, and at length a guinea? Although he might perhaps honestly buy his father’s notes at their Edition: current; Page: [117] depreciated value, might he as honestly insist on having them at his own price, or not paying them at all? And when the value of them rose, would he be justifiable in forcibly keeping it down? Although he might alledge that what his father had received only a groat for should be repaid with a groat. He would hardly contend that the note given for one guinea should not be repaid with another, merely because it had afterwards been negociated at an under value. If to him who had purchased such a note for a groat it should be said that he ought not in justice to demand a guinea, would he not reply, that when he paid his groat the chance of getting any thing was so dubious that the full value of the note was paid? If his reprover should pretend to be a friend of the deceased, and charge his opponent with an usurious disposition, might not the creditor very properly ask of such a friend, why he had not himself given for the same note a shilling? Might he not ask which was the most sincere in professions of friendship, he who had given a groat or he who would give nothing?

I do not mean to apply this doctrine with all the strictness it would admit of. I do not pretend that the modesty of subjects should serve as a model or rule for the fortitude of their rulers. I am very sensible that government have more enlarged views of objects than can be taken in by the weak optics of private information. Above all things I am far from wishing to hazard the shadow of censure on my superiors. I would, however, pray of them not to consider the breach of moral duties among the common resources of a Financier. I do not contend that our paper will appreciate; I certainly do not fear that it will. This however I do contend, that any effort of the State to prevent the appreciation would, according to the rules of private justice, be wrong; and if public acts are to be tried by a different standard, I confess it is a standard I am unacquainted with.

But it will be said that depreciation hath made engrossers nominally rich, and that appreciation would realize their hoards. The demerits of engrossers will be examined at a future period. Admitting, however, that the effects of their conduct are as pernicious as the cause is despicable, and admitting them to be as nefarious as it shall please any body to describe them, still the point in dispute is far from decided. If they are guilty of one crime, must government to punish them be guilty of another? How is this on the private scale? May A cheat B, because B cheated C? I know it is easy to exclaim against engrossers, but it is much more useful to reason. Putting the immorality of this business out of the question, government I fear would not find their account in it, for the political pursuit of engrossers, tories, &c. very much resembles fox-hunting, which, whatever sport it may give to Edition: current; Page: [118] the huntsmen, and however it may purport the defence of geese and chickens, is always attended with more cost than profit.

Suppose by some sudden stroke from heaven the money could instantly be appreciated: Who would not gain by it? Certainly not the engrosser. He has it not. His occupation consists in keeping any thing and every thing but money. Suppose the appreciation takes place by degrees, in the common course of levying taxes, then all will by degrees gain and lose: They will gain on the appreciation of the money; they will lose in the price of commodities. But the engrosser will gain least because he has least money, and he will lose most because all commodities would be brought to bear their natural proportion to each other, and of consequence those which by monopoly had been raised higher than their due level would necessarily in the reduction of prices be most reduced.

Thus, then, it is evident, that any attempt to prevent the appreciation of our money would be equally impolitic and dishonest. Let us next examine whether depreciation was a just and wise tax.

I am your friend,


February 29, 1780*


My Countrymen,

It is among the advantages of a government, administered on free principles, that a man may not only follow what occupation he pleases, but hold also the opinions, and publish the doctrines which are most agreeable to him. As many seem inclined to use this last privilege, particularly with relation to your finances, all have the opportunity of chusing a system ready made, if they will not be at the trouble of framing one for themselves. It is however by no means a matter of indifference, what system is generally adopted, and particularly whether or not it be an honest system; for though we should admit, that a considerable present profit may be derived from Edition: current; Page: [119] knavery, we must agree that a lasting loss is incurred. So that in effect a sum obtained on fraudulent principles, pays heavier interest than even an usurer would have exacted.

Chartres, who was one of the most notorious as well as one of the greatest rogues that ever lived, often said, he would give ten thousand pounds for a good character.1 It seems that by repeatedly ruining the widow and the orphan, with other enormities, his bad reputation was so firmly established, that he could no longer find men foolish enough to become his dupes. Government will soon arrive at the deplorable situation of Chartres, if they suffer themselves to be drawn into an imitation of his conduct.

These things being premised, let us proceed to examine, whether the depreciation hath been a wise and just tax. I involve these things together, because I wish to inculcate a thorough conviction, that in all cases, but more particularly in matters of finance, that which is wicked can never be wise.

The proposition that depreciation is a good tax, involves two others. First that a tax on money is a good one, and secondly, that the depreciation is a good mode of laying and collecting it. To give both these a fair examination, we will for the present admit the former to be true. In order to determine the latter, let us suppose the State is about to issue its paper, and should say openly to the people, we here offer you our note for a guinea, but we intend to make so many others of the same kind, that it shall not eventually be worth more than a groat. What would such a note sell for in the first instance? Perhaps nothing, but certainly not above four pence, because it is evident, that no man would give more for it in present, than it would be worth in future. The intention of the State, therefore would be defeated at once, and they would have the mortification to find that the whole course of intended depreciation, would be run in an instant.

Suppose that instead of fixing the future value at a groat, they were to leave it indefinite. Then what would the note sell for? It would sell for nothing; because, even those who inclined to believe in it at all, would conclude differently, as to the eventual value. But as the eventual must be the standard of the immediate value, consequently, the latter would be as indeterminate as the former; and therefore, it could not possibly serve as a medium of commerce. If for instance, the individual A, believed it would be worth half a guinea, B a crown, and C a shilling. If A wanted to buy of B, the price would be too high, and if of C, it would be still higher. But as each Edition: current; Page: [120] of them would trade for specie on equal terms, he would refuse the paper for the sake of a more certain medium.

It may be said that experience hath contradicted this reasoning. If her sentence is against us, we must be wrong, but perhaps, that sentence is mistaken. We must remember, that when the money was first issued it was to a people used to place confidence in paper. It was accompanied with promises, similar to those which they had been accustomed to rely on. It was made for a purpose they had much at heart. Their enthusiasm would hardly give time for reflection. The circulation of it at the value specified was a necessary consequence, and that circulation having taken place, the few who had not confidence, found it would purchase of the many who had; wherefore, as it served to satisfy their immediate wants, they also would naturally receive it. Add to this, that the general determination of the people, and their good opinion of the Congress was so great, that no person dared openly suggest a doubt of the future redemption. For whatever solid reasoning such doubt might have arisen from, or been supported by, it certainly would then have been placed to the account of disaffection. Nay, it is more than probable, that if any man out of Congress, had hazarded the idea of an intentional depreciation, the people would have washed out such an insult on that respected Body, with the blood of the offender. There is then an infinite difference between the two cases. But if we consult experience in a more similar instance, we shall find, that her unerring decree is decidedly in our favour. What was the conduct of those who really entertained doubts as to the future value? Did they not shut up their stores, conceal their goods, leave their grain unthreshed, and the like? Were not the first regulations made expressly with the view of punishing disaffected persons? And were not the terms tory and monopolizer very early considered as of the same import? But this is not all: We must all remember the late situation of things, when by an attempt made in some publications to shew the propriety of redeeming our paper at a depreciated rate, the rapidity of depreciation was so accelerated as to give an appearance of reason to the very doctrines which occasioned it. Under these circumstances, many persons refused to traffic for any other money than specie; but since that period, when the paper had obtained a more fixed value, the same persons received it with equal, and in some instances with greater readiness.

The reader’s own judgment and reflection will convince him without further proof, that if the intended depreciation were declared, it would fail of the effect. Let us next suppose it to be concealed, and then the first idea which presents itself is the violation of public faith.

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It hath been already observed, that our paper is a promise made by Government on the part of those who possess the land, labour, and commodities of the country. This idea cannot be too well fixed in our minds. When A purchases a commodity of B what does he give? Not specie but the promise of Government for so much specie at a future period. Not only in the act of emitting therefore is this promise made, it is reiterated by the public officers who convey it from the Treasury to individuals; nay, more; it is confirmed in every private bargain. If A being indebted to B assigns in payment a promissory note, which C had given him, C becomes B’s debtor instead of A; but as this is purely optional, C makes no new contract with B, who relies upon the original promise made to A. On the contrary, if A delivers in payment a promissory note of Government, that is, if he pays the debt with paper, then the Government having by law compelled B to accept their paper in extinguishment of A’s debt, they of consequence make a new contract with him for the redemption of it. This being the case, what can be more dishonest than to continue issuing such notes, in order to reduce their value. If the baleful effect be produced, it is of no consequence in what mode the cause operates. To poison is as wicked as to stab, nor was it ever yet heard of, that the guilt of murder could be atoned by the clean and clever manner of performing it. The iniquity of breaking public promises directly is evident. Can the breaking them indirectly mend the matter? Or in other words, will the weight of a crime be lessened by the addition of hypocrisy?

But further, it is confessed on all hands that taxes should be raised from individuals in proportion to their wealth. Depreciation on the contrary raises its tax in the greatest possible disproportion. He who by the successful efforts of twenty years unremitted industry, had gained a little competence in money, is taxed at least nineteen shillings in the pound, while his neighbour who possesses a country almost equal to that of a German Prince is not taxed a shilling.

Again: If Government can ever be justified in making a difference as to the proportion of taxes to be paid, that difference should be in favour of its best and most faithful subjects, but depreciation operates most on those who have received most of the paper, and he who never would receive it at all, eludes the tax entirely.

Lastly, a wise government will always encourage and reward industry and frugality, and for the same reason, it will discountenance and punish idleness and dissipation, but if the theory and practice of depreciation be established and adopted, then it will follow, that he who laboured most Edition: current; Page: [122] and wasted least, would pay the heaviest tax, and he who wasted most and laboured least, would pay the lightest.

This new doctrine, then, of depreciation, founded on the supposed propriety of taxing money, involves in it as necessary consequences, that those who should receive it, from their confidence in, and attachment to government, would be defrauded, and those who should refuse it, would benefit by the fraud. That those who had industriously added to the wealth of the State, would lose the fruits of their industry, for the sake of the lazy and dissolute; and that those who had been compelled to accept the paper, would be as effectually robbed by the two acts of government taken together, as they would have been by the one act of a highway-man or house-breaker.

I shall forbear to mention the frauds which public officers are excited to commit, by a knowledge that the depreciating money placed in their hands for the public service, may by a seasonable investure for private purposes, produce an amazing profit, and yet their accounts appear to be perfectly square and just. On this subject I feel too much to speak with temper, besides it is not my object to inflame but to inform. Peace be with them, if bosoms like theirs can harbour peace.

But let us now suppose, that all objections to the mode could possibly be obviated, still there remains another question, whether the pre-supposed tax on money is a good one? This again divides itself into two points, first, whether it be right to lay a tax on specie? And secondly, whether if so, it be also right to tax the paper which represents it? These questions should be examined with accuracy, because they bid fair to occur frequently in the course of our public affairs. Admitting then, for the present, that a tax on specie is right, let us examine the other.

Taxes should be laid and levied upon the wealth of the State. If in any society, the wealth, that is the land, labour and commodities were worth 9,900,000 dollars, and if there were in it 100,000 dollars circulating specie, as this sum would when sent abroad, bring home an equivalent in other commodities, the wealth of the State might be estimated at 10,000,000. Suppose in this situation of things, the government should issue a million of paper, would the State be richer than before? Would it produce more of the necessaries of life, or maintain a greater number of men? Certainly it would not, nor on the other hand, would the wealth of the State be diminished, should the whole paper be instantly destroyed. But during the circulation of it, every commodity would nominally be dearer, perhaps at twenty prices, consequently the nominal wealth of that state would be 200,000,000. A tax, therefore, of six pence in the pound, on every man’s Edition: current; Page: [123] property, would sink the whole. Let us suppose that in such a State, during the circulation of the paper, a part of the people, either from diffidence as to the value, opposition to Government, or any other cause, should constantly avoid receiving it, or when received immediately dispose of it, what would be the consequences of a tax on the paper under all these circumstances? In the first place the burden would not fall on the wealth of the State, but meerly on the sign, or measure of that wealth. For instance, if A and B being possessed of equal property, A had sold to B and received paper, B who had the wealth would pay nothing, A who had only the sign would pay all. In the second place the burthen would not fall on the whole people, but only on a part, and that the most friendly to government. In the third place, the doubts and difficulties as to receiving the paper would be encreased, because the tax would operate as a premium to the money-holder, to dispose of it, and as a penalty upon his neighbour, for receiving it. Thus while government by one law compel the reception of their notes, they by another prohibit it. Of consequence the notes and the government too would vaguely fluctuate on the surface of popular opinion, and like a shattered bark with tattered sails and broken oars, whose rudder is lost, they would become the sport of those waves which could not fail to overwhelm them.

The objections above stated have certainly some weight; but another and a weightier objection still remains. To elucidate it let us suppose, that a merchant had issued his promissory notes to the amount of 10,000l. and when called on for payment, instead of vending a part of his property, should offer his creditors, ten fifteen or even nineteen shillings in the pound. If he was able to pay the whole he certainly would be considered as a knave, and if not as a bankrupt. Where is the difference between paying only nineteen shillings in the pound, and a tax of one shilling in the pound laid by government on its own notes? Would not the conclusion in both cases be the same? If a tax of one shilling can be justly laid, why not a tax of ten? Why not of nineteen? Why not sink the whole at a single stroke? Can a satisfactory answer be given to such questions? If it cannot, what will become of that public confidence on which not only the paper but the government itself must be supported? For the security of their rights mankind unite in the social state. For these they place the sword in the hand of the Magistrate. For these they have often resumed it. Let me not be misunderstood. I do not pretend to blame the private sentiments of any individual, much less any collective body, and infinitely less the deliberative act of any State. I know all the indecency of presuming to set up private judgment as the measure Edition: current; Page: [124] of public conduct. I shall therefore most sedulously endeavor to avoid it. I wish to avoid the shadow of offence to any, but I wish to give salutary caution to all. I earnestly wish to remove the cloud of prejudice and display the radiance of truth.

I am your friend,


March 4, 1780*


My Countrymen,

I know not what success these papers may have, but if they answer the intentions of the writer, they will have a good one; as a great part of his time hath been spent in the public service, it became his duty to think attentively on public affairs; and he now considers it as his duty to give you those reflections which were originally made for your benefit. He does not pretend to convince your servants. To be convinced is not their business, as everybody knows. But if his opinions are founded on arguments which have weight with you, your voice will not be unattended to.

Having already endeavoured to shew, that depreciation is a bad mode of collecting a tax on money, and that a tax on paper is a bad one. It still remains to determine, whether paper being out of the question, it is right to tax specie. To tax it as a commodity, is just. To tax it as a luxury, is wise. To tax it as money, is impolitic and unjust. He who hath invested 1000l. in plate, ought to be taxed the same proportion on that sum with him who hath invested 1000l. in land. He may also be taxed for it in a further sum, as being one evidence of that great wealth, which cannot perhaps be reached in any other manner than laying high rates on those luxuries which are the visible signs of it. But the man who hath 1000l. of specie in his chest, or hath lent that sum to his neighbour, ought not to be taxed for it. Now as Edition: current; Page: [125] these propositions may appear extraordinary, and, as it is a very favorite maxim with some, that bonds in particular ought to be taxed. I shall examine the question on the ground both of justice and policy.

If there be no law to regulate the rate of interest, it will regulate itself by the average relation which the wants of the debtor bear to the abilities of the creditor. Suppose this should be about 6 per cent. and suppose A and B to possess lands of equal quantity and value adjoining to each other, and to have equal skill and industry in the management of them. Let the value of each tract be 1000l. Let A be possessed of 1000l. in money, to stock and improve his farm. And let B hire 1000l. from C for the same purposes at 6 per cent. In this situation of things, A’s property will be worth 2000l, and B’s 1000l. Let us then further suppose, the annual produce of each farm to be 200l. and a tax of one per cent. to be laid on the land stock, &c. in possession of each: Then A would pay 20l. and remain master of 180l. from which if we deduct 120l. for the interest of his own property, it would leave 60l. as the reward of his skill and industry. In like manner, B would pay 20l. tax, he would also pay 60l. to C for the interest of his money, which would leave in the hands of B 120l. and if from that we deduct 60l. for the interest of his own property, it would leave a like sum of 60l. as the reward of his skill and industry. A and B therefore for the same labors would have the same reward.

But now let us suppose, that the government should lay a tax of one per cent. on C’s bond. As this would neither diminish the wants of debtors nor increase the abilities of creditors, the average relation before-mentioned would remain the same; and therefore the rate of interest being effectually the same to the creditor, would become greater by the one per cent. tax to the debtor. Of consequence B would pay for the money he had borrowed 7 per cent. and therefore his net profit would be reduced from 60l. to 50l. Thus then a difference would be made in favor of A, the rich man, against B the poor man. But further in the case above stated; C’s bond would only represent the cattle and utensils on B’s farm. Taxing the representative, therefore, as well as the thing represented, would lay a double tax on the poor, and leave it single on the rich. Perhaps we shall be asked, whether the monied man ought not to be taxed. I answer, that if a tax is laid on all other property, then, whenever he purchases any thing with his money, in the price of that he will pay the tax laid on it. Whoever borrows his money in order to purchase with it, must do the same, and will therefore give a lesser interest, which operates a tax. But while it lies in a man’s chest, it is useless to him, wherefore it ought not to be paid for, and the moment it goes out, Edition: current; Page: [126] that moment it pays the tax inseperable from the price of the commodity purchased.

But when the above arguments press hard, and shew what injuries the poor will sustain. We shall be told of laws to regulate the rate of interest. Without observing as I might, that these laws do not operate with all the efficacy which is imagined; it will be easy to shew the injustice of the tax from another quarter. If one penny per pound be laid on candles, and the chandler is at liberty to reimburse himself by the addition of a penny per pound to the price. Then if one shilling per day be laid upon hackney horses the owner ought to be at liberty to increase the daily fare of his horses one shilling. And if he who lets horses, is at liberty to increase the hire, by reason of the tax, surely he who lets money to buy those horses, ought to have the same liberty.

In every case then the tax on money would be unjust, and if unjust then from the principles before established, it must also be unwise. But this general deduction may not appear sufficiently conclusive to those who are pleased with the character of great politicians. A character which the world hath very erroneously bestowed on men of finesse and intrigue. Men who consider attentively the end they have in view, but are not very scrupulous about the means they make use of. As these men have sometimes a great deal more to say in public affairs than is absolutely necessary. I shall mention some arguments against the tax in question, on the ground of policy and expedience, which may perhaps be more agreeable to their temper and disposition.

Supposing the tax to operate the effect intended, then the money holder finding he could not make the proper and necessary advantage from letting his money, would naturally make use of it himself, and thereby deprive the industrious poor of that use, or if from any local or particular circumstances he could not so apply it, he would quit the state and take his bond with him, in which case the tax would be utterly unproductive. The State therefore would derive no benefit from the law, but would sustain an annual loss by payment of the interest. To evince this let it be supposed, that in time of full freedom and peace, Pennsylvania should not tax bonds or money, and every other State in the Union should tax them. Would not every monied man repair to Pennsylvania? Would not Pen[n]sylvania be enriched by the money of the whole Continent? And would not every other State pay her a tribute for the use of it?

It is very common that those who labour, should feel some enmity towards those who do not. It is also very common for those who feel supposed Edition: current; Page: [127] grievances, to take the most direct road for getting rid of them. Mankind are generally wrong in both instances, but never more so than in the question now before us.

Unless the rewards of industry are secure, no one will be industrious; for the motive which prompts the toils of a laborious man, is the hope of enjoying what those toils may produce. This produce is wealth, and whether it be in one shape or in another, so long as it is employed for the purpose of increasing the commodities in a country, so long is it beneficial and no longer. Thus, if the farmer hath not the right to dispose of his grain, he certainly will not labour to raise it, after he hath raised it, if it be applied to feed cattle in order to produce more grain, or to feed men whose labours produce other things, it is beneficial to the State; but not if it is suffered to decay in his granaries. If he sells it and places the money in his chest, the money is unproductive, but if that money be let to a farmer or mechanick, who is thereby enabled to increase his productions, it is beneficial to the State. If instead of this, it is invested in the purchase of uncultivated land, so as to become eventually advantageous to the purchaser, by a rise in the value of the land, that land lying uncultivate, is as unprofitable to the State, as the money would be while lying in a chest. If several purchasers should obtain all the uncultivate land lying contiguous to settlements, they might by monopolizing increase the value of it to themselves, but they would destroy the value of it to the State: Their wealth would be greater; the wealth of the State would be less. The poorer and more industrious part of the Community therefore, which in a political point of view is certainly the more valuable and respectable part, these are injured by the one use of money, as opposed to the other in two different ways. Negatively, because for the want of materials they cannot extend their industry so far as they otherwise would. Positively, because they would pay dearer for the necessaries of life, in proportion as the land was dearer, from which those necessaries were raised, and because, as the aggregate wealth of the State would continue the same, while the relative wealth of the rich became greater, the relative wealth of the poor must necessarily become less.

To deduce from hence the pernicious consequences which would follow to our Republican Constitutions, is needless, neither are they within my present plan. But as doubts may remain with respect to the force of these arguments, we will make a short appeal to experience. And here let it be premised, that in mentioning different States, I mean not to draw any odious comparisons, but simply to shew effects as they have followed from their causes. The land of Holland is very high, interest very low. There are Edition: current; Page: [128] constant emigrations from other countries to Holland. In America the land is very low, interest very high. There are constant emigrations from other countries to America. In Ireland land is high and interest is high. There are constant emigrations from Ireland. Again: In New York land was monopolized; in Pennsylvania it was not. Money in Pennsylvania was at six per cent; in New-York at seven. In Pennsylvania the country was well cultivated, and manufactures were brought to great perfection; in New York the country was not well cultivated, and manufactures were hardly introduced. What was the reason of these differences? The poor man in Pennsylvania bought a farm for one hundred pound, and paid on that sum six per cent interest; The poor man for a like farm in New-York, gave one hundred and fifty pounds, and paid seven per cent. The manufacturer in Pennsylvania gave six per cent. for the money which purchased rude materials, and fed his workmen with flour at sixteen shillings per cwt. raised from a farm of one hundred pound cost; the manufacturer in New-York gave seven per cent. for his materials, and fed his workmen with flour at seventeen shillings per cwt. raised from a farm of one hundred and fifty pound cost. The farmer bought an ax in Pennsylvania for nine shillings, from a smith who gave six per cent. for iron and coals; the farmer in New-York gave ten shillings for an ax, to a smith who paid seven per cent. for iron and coals. Lastly, to the foreigner who wanted flour, the merchant of Pennsylvania offered seventeen barrels in exchange of a piece of gold; which the New-York merchant would only give sixteen barrels for: The Pennsylvania merchant therefore having outbid the other, purchased the piece of gold, and added it to that money, the abundance of which brought interest down to six per cent. in Pennsylvania, and to three per cent in Holland.

From what has been said, it clearly follows, that two uses of property being given, the one to let it out on interest to the industrious, and the other to purchase uncultivate land; the former is far more beneficial to the community than the latter. Now, as a tax on money must produce the latter, if it produces any thing, therefore such tax must be unwise. But this is not all. To raise a tax with ease and cheapness, it must be raised in money, tho’ not on money. It can therefore only be raised out of the circulating medium of the country. But it has already been shewn, that a tax on money would tend to banish it from the State. Hence it follows, that the circulating medium being decreased, to raise a given sum would not only be more difficult, but a greater share of the commodities of the country must be sold to procure it. Or in other words, the tax being nominally the same, Edition: current; Page: [129] and as to other States effectually the same, would as to the particular state be much greater.

The general odium against monied men is therefore very ill founded, although individuals among them in all countries are justly deserving of public scorn. We ought however, in political reasoning, to distinguish very carefully between motives and actions. The motives of an individual may be bad, and yet his actions may be politically good, while on the other hand, his motives may be good, and yet his actions politically bad. Inordinate ambition may stimulate a rich man to spend his fortune in the public service, and misguided zeal may induce a pious man to beggar his children by endowing a convent.

But to return. Monied men being odious, the plain method of dealing with them seems to be by taxing their money, and this is particularly agreeable, when that money hath been acquired in a mean or wicked manner. But this is far from operating the desired effect. I have shewn, that supposing the tax could be rendered effectual, it would produce injury to the State in general, and to the poor in particular. To all this, let me add, that the tax never can be rendered effectual. Money is of too subtile and spiritual a nature to be catched by the rude hand of the law. It will continually elude the grasp of the Legislator. He will at length discover that he hath followed a jack olanthern, in politics over many weary ways and perhaps very muddy ones too, yet still continues as far from the object as ever. How will you find a man’s money, is the question? I know there is a trite reply very ready with some folks. But what should we think of a government that would offer to every one of its subjects a reward for perjury, exactly proportioned to his wealth. And what difference is there, except in the name, between such an offer and laying a tax, the quantum of which is to be determined by the oath of the party? Men who are honest may flatter themselves that perjury would not in general be committed. I wish such men would examine the records of a Court of Chancery, or the history of Holland, or any other country in which such tax has been laid. There is no instance where it has not failed upon fair experiment, and no experiment which has not been injurious to public morals. If however the advocates for such a measure persist in their idea, of the integrity of mankind, I confess it is an amiable prejudice, and I will not strive to remove it. This however must be admitted, that some men would by perjury elude the law, and this being admitted, it follows clearly, that the law would be a tax upon honesty and not upon money.

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A tax then on specie is unjust and unwise; a tax on paper is more unwise; and more unjust! And of all the modes in which it can be laid or collected. Depreciation is the worst. Thus stands the matter in fair argument, but to every argument used on these occasions, there are some who answer by repeating the terms monopolizer, forestaller,1 regrater,2 engrosser, Bloodsucker, and so forth. Thus a conjurer it is said, can raise the devil by the help of certain cabalistic terms, which it would puzzle the very devil himself to understand. Let the money sink say some, and you will punish those villains who are grown rich by the public distress.

There are undoubtedly bad men who have acquired wealth by odious methods, and to take it from them might gratify the public resentment, they justly merit. But Legislators ought not to be swayed by passion. Be these men ever so nefarious, it is not very clear that government hath a right to break their faith, in order that they may punish acts of moral turpitude, by exacting a penalty which no law had inflicted. Perhaps it would be better to leave the punishment of such miscreants to the anger of Heaven, than to incur that anger by committing one crime to avenge another. Besides, among those who have mended their circumstances during the war, a part, and not the smallest part, have done so by plunder taken from the enemy, at the risk of their fortunes, and of their lives, others by adventrous foreign commerce, and some indeed by engrossing. But certainly among those who hold the paper. Persons of the class last mentioned, have not at most, above a hundredth part. To ruin our money then, in order to ruin them, even supposing the one to be both a necessary and desireable consequence of the other, would do at least ninety-nine times as much harm as good. Harm to the honest merchant! Harm to the brave seaman! To the industrious Whig farmer or mechanick! To the helpless orphan, to the distressed widow, and to the generous foreigner, who hath entrusted to us his property in the hour of distress, through difficulties and dangers innumerable. The man who advocates a measure of this sort, must be deceived, or he must be our foe.

I am, your friend,

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March 11, 1780*


My Countrymen,

Having already considered the nature of our currency, some effects of depreciation, and the propriety of taxing money, before we attempt to shew how the value of our paper is to be fixed, how supplies are to be raised, and how oeconomy is to be introduced in the various departments, consistently with the principles of liberty and justice, we must consider the laws against monopolizers, together with those which are called regulations. And here let me repeat, that bad motives may produce actions beneficial to society, and let me add, that infamous characters are oftentimes necessary. The office of hangman must be executed as well as that of Judge, and the villain who informs is so far an useful villain. We ought therefore to be cautious how we listen to the dictates of hatred or contempt, and still more cautious how we obey them.

We have the evidence of history and experience, to shew that laws against monopolizers have been ineffectual. History goes further, and shews that such laws have been injurious. And when we look for the reason why they have been injurious, reason will perhaps inform us, that their object was to prohibit acts of public utility. These propositions may surprize some minds, and that surprize will be increased if these propositions are demonstrated. Thus in the infancy of science, when Toricelli asserted the existence of a vacuum, he was heard with the utmost astonishment and indignation.1 With equal indignation and astonishment we now hear that Toricelli’s assertion was considered as a crime. Since thousands of our fellow-men have been mistaken in former times, let us believe it possible that we of the present day, may in our turns be mistaken. And in this belief let us examine a matter of no small importance, with the calmness and attention it undoubtedly merits.

The principles of a monopolizer I abandon to his foes. His principles are not our present object. Neither is it our business to consider that species of monopoly, by which a few individuals under some particular name or description, Edition: current; Page: [132] enjoy any branch of commerce to the exclusion of their fellow subjects. The monopolizer we now speak of, is he who being possessed of wealth, invests it in the purchase of articles which will probably become more scarce and dear, than at the time of purchasing them. I say possessed of wealth, for, as to those who speculate on the money of other people, I believe that very little is to be apprehended from them, because men soon learn not to give credit, when that credit is to be used against them. Indeed it is somewhat surprizing, that any man would part with his goods for any thing but cash. Both private interest and public good are opposed to the idea. Private interest, because the seller on credit, risques and suffers the depreciation. Public good, because credit takes away the use of money, and therefore enables the same quantity to go farther as a circulating medium, and when that is redundant, increases the redundancy. Besides which, the purchaser on credit, always found it his interest to depreciate the money.

The articles engrossed, may be of two kinds, either foreign or domestic. And foreign articles may be either luxuries or things of common use. As an example of the former, let us take the article of rum, and let us suppose that by means of a monopoly, it were raised to double the real price for which it was bought. I say the real price, because the depreciation hath been such, that many articles are nominally higher than they were, though they have fallen considerably in the real price, by which I mean the price either in wheat or gold. Supposing then, that the price of rum were doubled, the consequence would be, that as the consumption of the article would be lessened, fewer native commodities would be exported to pay for rum, and therefore a balance be created on foreign commerce in favour of the country. If, for instance, it were necessary to send away sixty bushels of wheat, to purchase a hogshead of rum, then every hundred hogsheads of rum saved, would be a clear saving of six thousand bushels of wheat. The country therefore, could pay six thousand bushels of wheat more in taxes, or support as many more men, as those six thousand bushels could maintain. I shall not contend that distilled spirits are unwholesome, and the like. Arguments against luxury, however just, are beside our system. But this at least must be allowed, that a man would not be less healthy, or less happy, at the end of the month, because he had not drank a gallon of rum in it. By this operation then, of the engrosser, and all others like this, the community is greatly enriched without any injury to individuals.

Let us next consider the effect of monopolizing foreign articles of common use. Let us take cloth as the article monopolized and suppose the price of that also to be doubled. In this case as in the other, less of the article Edition: current; Page: [133] would be consumed. The society at large therefore, would be better supplied from the stock on hand, for when the price rose, every man who was not under a necessity of buying, would wear his old coat rather than get a new one: He therefore who really wanted a coat would be able to procure it, for though there might be enough for a part of the people, yet there might not be enough for all of them, and if there was enough for all, the engrosser would not find his account in it, because, as only a part of the people would buy, part of the article would remain unsold to his great detriment. Add to this, that the increased price would encourage the importation of more, and thereby hasten and increase his loss. Neither can it be justly objected that the poor would suffer. For altho’ it is true that they would pay a great advance for their coats, yet they would reimburse themselves by an equal advance on the price of their labour, particularly in this country where the demand for labour is so great. But even if they should not entirely reimburse themselves, yet surely it is better for them to pay a greater price for their cloaths than to go entirely naked, which must inevitably happen to many if the price of the cloth were not increased.

Hence therefore it is evident, that the engrossing foreign luxuries and even foreign necessaries, would be useful to the community, when separately considered. But the engrossing foreign articles in general is attended with other advantages. The speculator, by purchasing immediately of the importer, for cash, enables him immediately to send his ship upon another voyage, and stimulates his industry by the quick sale of his goods. Besides which, it keeps prices more steady, because when the thing is cheap the speculator buys, and when it grows dear he sells; wherefore importations become equally useful to the whole community, whereas otherwise they would benefit that part only which lies near to the sea ports. And however pleasing it might be to them that they should have this superiority over their fellow citizens, they would soon find their error. For if those at a distance could not obtain the things they wanted in exchange of those they had to sell, they certainly would bring nothing to market, and the citizen would feel that the want of beef can be but indifferently compensated by the temporary cheapness of salt, neither would he be able to quiet the clamors of his children for bread by the saving of two pence on the price of a dram. Add to this, that if the merchant could not obtain country produce, he would be obliged to discontinue his importations.

But perhaps it may be doubted, whether speculation tends to fix prices, and indeed the current of opinion, notwithstanding the clear reason of the thing, seems to set very strongly the other way. This is owing to the depreciation Edition: current; Page: [134] and some other particular circumstances which have attended the present war. Neither is it all surprizing, that under such circumstances effects should be attributed to improper causes. For the true causes were as remote and intricate, as the effects were apparent and oppressive. But if we turn our eyes to times and countries, in which these circumstances have not existed, we shall see the truth of the proposition above laid down in the clearest manner imaginable. We shall find that in our own country and within our own memory, if we except those articles which from their nature and that of the trade to obtain them were not liable to much alteration, such as hardware and the like, if I say we except these articles, the prices of those which were in any degree objects of speculation, were much more fixed and determinate than any other. Indeed this must be so, for speculators govern their purchases and sales by the average price of their sales and purchases, or which comes to the same thing, by the average price of the commodity, all risques, costs and charges considered. Thus, for instance, if the average price of rum were 45–90 of a dollar per gallon, the speculator would buy at 44, and sell at 46.2 Thus in Holland, which is as it were a nation of speculators, prices are more fixed and determinate than in any other country. Any commodity or cargo which is carried thither, may be immediately sold on good terms; and any commodity or cargo which is wanted from thence, may be immediately bought on good terms. The concurrence of speculators, desirous of buying, brings up the cargo to be sold within a small per centage of the average price; and a like concurrence of speculators, desirous of selling, brings down the cargo to be bought in the same degree. From these circumstances it happens that so many cargoes are carried there, and so many others brought away. And also that the subsistence of the people, not the tenth part whereof is raised in the country, is fixed in its price to the tenth part of a farthing. Lastly, we shall find that Bills of Exchange, which were not speculated on in America, were more fluctuating here than anywhere else, but in Holland where bills are most speculated on, there exchange has but a small variation. It is the merchant’s business to know the effects of his fluctuation, but rely on it, that the husbandman will feel them, and to his sorrow.

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Engrossing articles of home produce has the same effect on the farmer which that of foreign articles has on the merchant, for a ready market not only prompts the farmer to make the articles engrossed, but the ready money enables him to make them. This kind of monopoly tends also to fix the price of home produce, in like manner with that of foreign articles. But it is of more importance, because, as home produce is the fund on which the laborer subsists, fixing the price of it, fixes the price of labor, and fixing the price of labor, fixes the price of every thing which labor can produce.

These then are the consequences which attend speculation on native and on foreign articles, when separately considered. A further advantage follows from it, in a more general point of view; which is, that it facilitates the interchange of commodities between the merchant and the husband-man. From the engrosser of home produce, the merchant is sure of getting a cargo to export, without the cost or trouble of collecting it before hand, neither of which might be quite convenient to him; and from the engrosser of foreign produce, the husbandman or country store keeper is sure to find the commodities he wants, without waiting at a great expence the arrival of any particular vessel. Add to this, that without such a class of men in a community, the consumption even of useful things would sometimes from the plenty, run to licentious and pernicious excess, while at others, industry would languish from the scarcity or want of them. Thus, the commodities of a country, like the rains which fall on its surface, when collected in reservoirs, and dealt out by degrees, produce an increase of riches to the whole community. But without that precaution, they frequently deluge and waste the soil they should have refreshed and fertilized, then leave it exposed to the glowing heats of summer, until it is scorched into a barren desart. We shall, perhaps, be told, that the engrosser’s motive, is private interest: Undoubtedly it is, and so is that of the merchant, the farmer, or the mechanic. But while from their labors, society derives a benefit, why not permit them to labor?

Admitting, however, that it were necessary to punish speculators, and prevent speculation, framing laws against them would be but a poor expedient to accomplish it. Many reasons might be adduced to shew this, but it is sufficient to observe, that though often attempted, it never was effected by the laws of any government which ever yet existed. Such Laws have invariably produced the effects they were intended to obviate. On the contrary, if we repeal these laws, and let monopolizers alone, they will soon punish and prevent each other. For when all are at liberty to act as they please, many would speculate in the same articles, and as secrecy is essential to Edition: current; Page: [136] their operations, not one of them could know the quantity engrossed. But the price rising with the demand, would increase the quantity brought to market and lessen the consumption, so that at length they would all find it necessary to sell, and the instant they began, they would also find it necessary to undersell each other, in which case those who bought in last would be so undersold by those who bought in first, that they would have no little cause to repent of their bargains.

Hitherto I have considered monopolizing as a very practicable thing, and I shall still do so, while we pursue our enquiry to the most odious of the whole tribe of engrossers: I mean the man who engrosses the bread of the State. In order to form a proper judgment in this instance we must remember, that while there is no probability of a scarcity, the engrosser will not purchase, or if he does he will most probably lose, whence by the bye, we deduce this corollary, that he must be a man of great knowledge and foresight as well as of great wealth and credit. But to proceed, we will suppose a state in which at some particular season, they should raise no more bread than just what would be necessary for the whole people. Now what would be the conduct of Government if they knew this circumstance? Would they not prohibit waste, secure all they would lay their hands on and appoint trusty persons to take care of it? Would they not deliver it out in small quantities, and in a word imitate the master of a ship, who during a long voyage puts both his passengers and his crew upon short allowance? This is certainly what many Governments would attempt, and in a State not much larger than a ship, they might possibly succeed, tho’ not in an extensive and populous State, at least not without the aid of miracles. For a moment let us pause, and picture to our fancies the feelings of virtuous men, composing such a Government. We shall behold the venerable fathers of the people, their eyes fixed on the meagre form of Famine, who in all his horrors rapidly advances. We shall behold them torn with anxiety, for their careless and improvident children. Solicitous, but unable to avoid the impending evil; their bosoms swell with concern, and every countenance is marked with the deep lines of care and dejection. Already they anticipated the agonies of the poor. What pleasure then it must give them, to be told that their wise laws and their vigorous administration have rendered property secure. That there are men who possess considerable wealth, and are ever intent on the means of increasing it. That these men are sensible of the approaching dearth—That they have already purchased the harvest of the year, as if by consent, though unknown to each other—That they will Edition: current; Page: [137] watch night and day to keep off the vermin which might consume, and the accidents which might destroy it—That they will gradually increase the price, and thereby lessen the consumption—and that they will at the same time be prevented by the fear of each other from raising it extravagantly high. So that upon the whole, though the people will be somewhat impoverished, they will not be starved.

Perhaps, on hearing these glad tidings, the senate might be filled with that resentment which the motives of an engrosser seldom fail to excite, and might point at his devoted forehead the thunders of legal vengeance. But they should remember that resentments are unworthy of their high office. That these men, tho’ indeed prompted by the execrable thirst of gain, have already enabled the husbandman to increase his tillage, and have encouraged his labours. That not only from their efforts hath the impending danger of want been averted, but the fair prospect of plenty expanded to the view. That considering the nature of the commodity in which they had dealt the expence they had necessarily incurred, and the great risque they had been exposed to, the profit was far from being very exorbitant. That if they should repeat the experiment, as many of them certainly would, those who undertook it would thoroughly regorge their former gains. That even those gains were far less than it would have cost, for public purchasers, public superintendants, and public distributors with their endless attirail of directors, deputies, defendants, appendants, purveyors, masters, clerks, aids and assistants; and in short that they have been the cheapest stewards the public could possibly have employed. Above all things government should never forget that restrictions on the use of wealth may produce a land monopoly, which is most thoroughly pernicious, and that if the rights of property are invaded, order and justice will at once take their flight, and perhaps forever.

That speculators should have incurred the public odium, is natural, for their principles deserve it. It is true, they prevent a real want, but in order to do this, they create an artificial scarcity. Those, therefore, who know that such scarcity is artificial, and who feel the effects of it, and who not only act but reason too from their feelings, will always revile and reproach the avaricious authors of their calamities. Amid all these revilings and reproaches however it is somewhat remarkable that King Pharaoh and his prime Minister Joseph, are the first monopolizers which history gives us any account of. It is remarkable that the commodity they speculated upon was bread. That the King made every penny by it which he possibly could. Edition: current; Page: [138] That his whole plan was founded on a miracle. And that no censure whatever is passed on the use he made of that intelligence which the deity had imparted to him.

But further, before we attempt to punish, or prohibit monopolizers, it is worth while to consider, whether it is possible for them to have any very considerable influence, either one way or the other. If people in general monopolize, these two things may be relied on: First, that the cause must originate in some radical defect of commercial policy; and secondly, that it is impossible to execute a law for punishing the delinquents. If only a few individuals monopolize; then let it be considered, what immense property would be necessary to effect any great purpose. When we hear that a man is worth a million dollars, it sounds high. But we must not suffer ourselves to be seduced by sounds. Such a man could not purchase above twenty thousand bushels of wheat. Now this is not more than was formerly in the power of a very small dealer, and it would go but a very little way towards monopolizing the wheat of one State, much less the whole Continent. Besides this, we know that most men among us, who possess large personal property, are engaged in other business. Few of them are even suspected of engrossing, and that few can do very little in effect, though the name may be very great. Nor is this all, for money, notwithstanding, the quantity emitted, is so scarce at present, that the richest can hardly get enough for their necessary occasions. Much less can they expend it in schemes of speculation. And if they would, and did so expend it, they would certainly loose by the business. But as for the effect of laws to prevent engrossing, we shall find, that salt and flour, the two capital articles, for which people in power have shewn most solicitude, are dearer than any other article whatever. Wine on the contrary, about which they seem to have given themselves no concern at all, is the cheapest thing at the market. We shall also find, that salt which hath lately been let alone, is even nominally cheaper than it was some time ago; and that flour itself bids very fair to be so, unless kept up by some aukward strokes of civil policy.

In order that we may have an adequate idea of the practicability of monopolizing, we must recur a little to calculation. This would be very extensive if we chose to go into it. But we may simplify it greatly, and yet derive the full effect from that mode of reasoning. On the lowest computation, there cannot be less than 200,000 bushels of salt consumed in six months, between Connecticut river and James river; nor less than 400,000 gallons of rum in the same time and space. Reckoning therefore the bushel of salt and the gallon of rum, each at 100 dollars, it would require 60,000,000 dollars Edition: current; Page: [139] to engross a six months supply of these two articles only, which sum is as much as could be raised by 120 men, each of which could command half a million for that purpose over and above his other necessary occasions. Where shall we find 120 such men, or where is the chance that not only these but all other articles should be monopolized? If this thing should really happen, it must be, because the great body of the people are engrossers. If this is the fact, then no laws can be executed against them, and indeed such an unnatural combination must be owing to very extraordinary circumstances, which no direct laws can reach. What these circumstances are, and how to obviate them will hereafter appear. We will therefore proceed to the examination of those laws which have been made against monopolizers under the name of regulations. Laws from which it is possible that more of our sufferings have originated, than from any other cause.

I am, Your friend,


March 23, 1780*



It is a painful as well as an invidious task to point out errors, but it is a necessary task. In States as in men, improper treatment of slight maladies will occasion great ones. And though many have died of disease, yet not a few have died of the Doctor. At the commencement of this contest, it was not our fortune to have persons among us thoroughly versed in State affairs. Attentive to their private duties, the citizens of America had no leisure or inclination to study, what there was no use or necessity for them to know; so that your servants were compelled to act, in the very moment when they would have wished to learn. That they have erred therefore is not to be wondered at, for it was human, but that they have erred no more is almost miraculous.

Those who think our present Rulers inferior to their predecessors, judge hastily and perhaps rashly. It must be remembered that our circumstances Edition: current; Page: [140] are different from what they were. Different qualifications therefore are necessary to superintend them. A ship assaulted in mid-ocean by conflicting elements, requires the aid of intrepid seamen. When near her haven she can best be served by a dexterous Pilot. If those at the helm know not how to steer, it is better by far to assist than to revile them. Since in a common bottom we have freely embarked, let our common counsels be freely contributed. If we are friends to the public, let us shew that friendship by our candor in the examination of public affairs. Let us strive to discover what measures were erroneous, meerly that in future we may learn to avoid them. And let us not blame those now in authority for the erroneous measures of those who went before them, but liberally dispense to others that charity of opinion, which according to the common vicissitudes of life, we shall in our turns most surely stand in need of.

When this war began, we were so much opposed to the tyranny of Great-Britain, and so much disgusted with the abuses of her administration, that, by a very natural progress of the human mind, we felt a repugnance even against those useful institutions which our enemies had adopted. It was therefore a kind of merit to do every thing the reverse of what they did. A general rule to which many and great exceptions ought undoubtedly to be made.

A dislike to contracts and contractors was among the number of those which were then imbibed. Whether the Rulers of America were themselves tinctured with the prevailing prejudice, or whether they thought it was wise to give way to the popular stream, is not worth an inquiry. Certain it is, that they might at that time have made as many contracts as they pleased, upon very good terms, and thereby secured every necessary article, stipulating no other payment than their paper. I shall not now state the many advantages which would have resulted from adopting that mode of obtaining supplies, because men are pretty generally convinced of them. I shall simply observe, that it had been sanctioned by the constant practice of all wise nations, particularly by the King of Prussia, the greatest economist in Europe; and that if we had followed their example, it would have been the interest of the contractors with all their Agents and deputies to keep down prices, or in other words, to keep up the value of the paper. I mean not to draw invidious comparisons, but I must be permitted to say, that there is a wisdom in rendering private interest subservient to the public welfare. Let me add, that had contracts been made, there would not have been even the appearance of necessity to render the paper a lawful tender, or to regulate prices.

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Another and a capital error, was the prohibition laid on all commerce. By that the use of money was lessened, at the moment when the quantity of it was increased. America, deprived of manufactures from abroad, was compelled to make them at home, in a season when the demand for labor was increased by the demand of men for the army: The merchant was obliged to sell his ships, and dismiss his seamen in foreign countries, when ships and seamen were necessary to distress the enemy. And the farmer being deprived of a market, had no longer any incitement to his industry; from which must necessarily follow a scarcity of his productions.

A third great error, in the line of finance, was the regulation of prices. Its operation on the money has already been mentioned, but this was only one among many evils. It disgusted the people at a time when their good will and affection was most necessary. It gave a woeful impression of the new governments, by laying down a violation of the rights of property as the corner stone on which they were to be erected. It discouraged commerce, manufactures and agriculture, or rather it left to the husbandman, tradesman and merchant no encouragement at all. It tended to lock up all commodities, compelling the whole community to become monopolizers. It introduced the tedious and expensive mode of trading by barter. And it sapped the foundations of civil authority, for the temptation of interest to contravene or elude the law was too great to be resisted. Hence the breach of it became general, and that taught the dangerous lesson, that laws may be broken with impunity. Of consequence, the legislature fell into contempt, because it was made manifest that they were not possessed of this superior wisdom and power, which are the sources of reverence and respect.

From the breach of regulations of the first kind arose a contest between the government and the people. A contest always dangerous, but particularly so at such times as those in which it happened. This contest produced regulations of the second kind, enforcing the former by pains and penalties, and impowering persons to seize at limited prices. As the legislatures felt a necessity of assigning reasons for these laws they pretty generally agreed to whereas it is necessary to carry on this just and necessary war, and whereas it is necessary to support the army who are engaged in it. From such recitals followed, first, a very disagreeable impression of the justice of a war which was to be maintained by injustice, instead of fair, equal, and general taxation; and secondly, a variance between the people and the army, or at least an abatement of their warm and cordial affection towards each other. For on the one hand, the people felt a degree of coldness for those who were held up as the cause why their property was wrested from them; and on the Edition: current; Page: [142] other hand, the army could not but be disgusted at a people who would not otherwise than by force give bread to their protectors. Besides all this, the British were greatly encouraged to carry on the war, by a hope of obtaining that assistance among us which their refugee adherents had promised. For to make the second kind of regulations as palatable as possible, in compliance with the ruling whimsey of the day, they were all of them levelled at the disaffected, the enemy had therefore the declared opinions of our own legislatures in their favour. Many good Whigs were in some degree intimidated by this bugbear of disaffection, and the Tories were proportionably strengthened and consoled. The enemy ought indeed to have examined the true cases which produced the declaration of our legislatures, before they confided in it; but they might safely confide in the tendency of the laws to which it served as a pretext. For a little reflection must have convinced them, as it ought to have convinced us, that, whatever abundance there might be in the country, our aukward mode of collecting supplies would not only render it difficult to obtain them in the instant, but infallibly produce a future deficiency.

These second regulations were the worst children in the whole family of regulations. The tyranny of the former laws now appeared in its proper garb. The invasion of the rights of property was clothed with every necessary circumstance of violence. And the industrious men who bro’t from abroad or produced at home those things which we stood in need of, were subjected to all the insult, and no little degree of the infamy of felons. Good God! What should we think of a legislator who would declare, that it was a crime to procure bread for the hungry, or clothes for the naked, and enact, that those who should in future commit that crime, should have their houses and barns and stores broken open, their property seized, their persons insulted, and their reputation stigmatized with the odious appellations of Monopolizer and Tory? Change but the terms, and we have had such laws. We have had them, even in the hour of our wants and distresses.

Here let us pause, and ask of plain common sense, what must be the necessary effect of this strange policy. The answer is short, Dearth and dearness. An answer to which melancholy experience hath affixed the seal of truth. What then have we left to hope, unless it be that salutary reflection, tho’ late, may come at last? That it may teach us to avoid those rocks and shoals from which we have hitherto narrowly escaped, and on which thousands before us have been miserably shipwrecked?

It was hardly possible to have embittered the bitter draught which these laws had prepared for the people; yet even that was accomplished by the Edition: current; Page: [143] manner of enforcing them. Men of old approved character, who respected their neighbours and were by them respected, would not descend to it. The executors of these new laws therefore, were men who, like the laws themselves, were new. They were men, raised to the low office of persecution. And yet from necessity they were entrusted with money—but we will draw a veil over this part of the picture.

There were other pernicious consequences which flowed from these laws. Property being shut up from market, it required a number of persons to collect it for the public use whose labour was lost to society. Add to this, the great train which became necessary in order to bring it forwards, and the still greater train which they required to feed and supply them. The quantity of unproductive labour necessarily maintained from these causes is almost beyond calculation, and the unnecessary expence is in proportion to it. But this is not all. These persons are maintained, either by fixed salaries or by commissions. If by the former, they have no incitement to be industrious. Their salary goes on as fast while they are idle as it does while they labour. And whether they sleep or wake, whether the army be well or ill supplied, is equally to them a matter of indifference, save only, that indolence is more agreeable than toil, rest more pleasing than fatigue, and sport more delightful than care. If the public servants are maintained by commissions, in this case they may become as much too attentive, as they are too negligent in the other. There was one Judas among twelve disciples, and one Peter. There was one who betrayed his Lord, and one who denied him. Two out of twelve! I have not the slightest intention to accuse or abuse those which have been or which are employed. I verily believe that they are in general much better than could reasonably be expected, and I know that some of them are highly deserving; but certainly it is dangerous to set the interest of individuals in opposition to that of the Community. Yet this danger inevitably followed from the baneful system of regulations. And what is still worse, while one set of servants are stimulated by commissions to enhance prices, another set of them are lulled by salaries to omit the necessary exertions in forwarding what is procured.

These are the appendages on a system of regulations. These are the fruits of that notable system, which in spite of reason and of history was adopted, and in spite of feeling and experience adhered to. A system of injustice, where injury is sharpened by insult. A system, which if it could be rendered effectual, would, contrary to the declared wishes of its advocates, truly realize the money which moneyed men possess. For strange as it may seem; the same persons, in the same day, on the same occasion, and almost Edition: current; Page: [144] in the same breath or sentence, will tell us: That those who buy and refuse to sell, abound in money. That this money ought not to be realized. And that prices should be so regulated, as that this money would purchase twice as much as it otherwise would do.

But what are these regulations in the event? Are they not a tax, and a very unequal one? They certainly are intended to operate a tax, and on those near to the seat of war, who already suffer enough of its disadvantages. A tax levied on every man in proportion to his industry, and with every circumstance of rigorous injustice. A penalty on commerce, an incitement to engrossing, an discouragement of labor, a reward of indolence. What can such a system produce, except want and distress? Ask of the farmer, why notwithstanding the regulations, he ploughed and sowed, or the merchant, why he imported, their answer is the same, a hope that, by the next harvest or the next arrival, the regulations would be no more; and a confidence that, at the worst, all regulations might be eluded. Happy it is for us that they may, or long since industry ceasing, the fruits of it would have been no more, and pinched with want, persecuting and persecuted by each other, we should have sunk self-subdued beneath the yoke prepared for us.

But to every argument that can possibly be used, we shall receive the empty answer of declamation. Spite of constant and of sore experience we shall receive it. For those who recommended regulations because of the supposed impracticability of paying the prices of 1776, and increased their vociferousness with the increased prices of 1777, and grew still more extravagant with the extravagance of 1778; those same persevering politicians will doubtless support the same dogmatical positions, notwithstanding the contradiction of three successive years. And still they will argue, and though confuted they will argue still; and still find breath and words and noise, to puff and rave and roar as vigorously, as boldly, and as loudly as ever. From the din of such bellowings let us turn away, and consult the sacred oracle of experience.

By the fruit we may know the tree, and sad fruit indeed hath this tree borne. Who would have suspected, three years ago, that, in the midst of a war against the greatest naval power, our native productions should become dearer than foreign commodities? Yet even this thing hath come to pass. The whole system of commerce hath been inverted, the laws of property invaded, the laws of justice infringed, every absurdity practiced, and every impossibility tried, to get a little beef and a little bread, which would almost have come forward of themselves if things had been left to their natural Edition: current; Page: [145] course, if honest labor had been permitted to heap the blushing clusters of plenty in the lap of freedom. And now, after straining and working this cumbrous machinery of grinding regulations for three long tedious and oppressive years, what at last have we squeezed from it to recompence our toil? What but the dry husks of penury? Nothing! Nay worse than nothing. For it is notorious that, when we began this war, our country was full of provisions, that our annual exportation and consumption have been much less than they used to be, and that at present we are miserably poor and base.

Thus then when we look back on the path we have trodden, we shall find penal laws on refusing the paper, and penal laws on receiving it, penal laws on industry, and penal laws on honesty, penal laws to produce monopoly, and penal laws against it, contradiction staring in the face of contradiction, and one half the people employed in exacting all these contradictory penalties from the other half; while one system of finance hath rapidly succeeded to another system of finance, and one Utopian mountain been piled on top of another mountainous Utopia. This is not the coloring of a fervid imagination, neither is it painted for the purposes of ridicule. I have not sought after the faults which I have found; they lay in my path. I might have mentioned others, but I wish them to be hidden, and even these I would have concealed, but it was necessary to point them out, that they may be avoided, and it was just to direct public enquiry to the true sources of public misfortune. Yet not with a desire to draw down censure on those who have erred with upright intentions. Let me then repeat, that we ought not hastily to conclude our present rulers inferior to their predecessors. Let me intreat those rulers to profit by the many striking examples before their eyes. And let me remind them, that, with such examples, they will be doubly answerable for their own conduct.

I am your friend,

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April 11, 1780*


My Countrymen,

Having in some former letters lightly touched a few principal causes of our pecuniary misfortunes; I shall now proceed to shew how the public credit is to be established, supplies drawn forth, and oeconomy introduced. These things are the great desiderata of American politics, they have long been so, and yet they are not only practicable, but very easy, if those whose business it is, will obey the dictates of plain sense and common honesty. If they will fairly bid adieu to finesse and subtility. Neither is any degree of patriotic enthusiasm necessary. Enthusiasm is too frail and shortlived a thing to place any reliance on. He whose labors have added a blade of grass to the common stock, has done more to recruit the finances of his country, than all the enthusiasm of all the enthusiasts in it. Under a proper administration therefore, nothing further is requisite than that the people should be actuated by that regard to private interest, which has been ineffectually written and preached and prayed against, from the fall of Adam to the present hour. It is frequently asserted, that we have nothing to fear, but from the state of our finances, and that patriotism has given way to the love of gain. Happily for us, one of these evils may be overcome by the help of the other. I beg therefore, it may be understood, that I have an utter contempt for every scheme which supposes the least degree of patriotism in the people. On the contrary, I ask no more than that every man get as much as he honestly can. Neither would I desire him to sell a single barley corn if he does not chuse it. On these plain requisitions shall I build, taking man as he is, without pretending to be wiser than his Maker, or supposing my countrymen to be better than those of other people.

Some indeed there are, whose sacrifices in a virtuous cause, would entitle them to any thing the world can give, if the world could give any thing comparable to the internal sense of rectitude. And there is one among them, whose modesty in declining applause, is only equalled by the great and good qualities which deserve it.

Names like these, shall be recorded in the annals of time, on materials Edition: current; Page: [147] more durable than the brazen monuments of glory. Names like these, will render the title of American dear and sacred to succeeding generations. But it would be a cold and uncharitable idea that other nations are barren of talents or virtue. Let us then believe that we stand on the common level of humanity; and let us adopt those things which experience hath shewn to be useful among men.

Some time ago nothing more was necessary to fix the value of our paper, than that government should have undone what had been ill done. Had this been the case, the people would soon, by general consent, have brought it just where it ought to be, nor would they then have complained that it was too high or too low. One object of these papers, was to inculcate that conviction which the writer felt of the inutility of all projects, and to prevail, if possible, that no more should be tried. But the time is past, and nothing shall be said on that subject, not only because it would wear the appearance of acrimony satire or reproof, all of which are very far from his intentions, but because some things which have since taken place, have rendered this easy remedy inefficacious, wherefore there can be no use in displaying its advantages. It has now become necessary, not only to wipe off the blots and blunders of the former day, but to adopt a regular, equitable and prudent system, such as will stand the test of time and the shock of fortune. Not a little temporary expedient to eke out a starvling campaign. A life of expedients is a life of folly and meanness, it is feeding on the beggarly scraps and parings of revenue, instead of the full feast.

In matters of finance there are certain principles to be combined together, the want of which in any system would render it miserably defective. Thus all plans of this sort should be founded in the nature of man, not on ideal notions of excellence. They should be such as will tend to produce public wealth and prosperity, not such as for a present supply will dry up the resources of future taxation. And they should be such as are consistent with the principles of freedom and virtue, not such as will overturn the liberty of the present generation, under a falacious hope of securing that of posterity, or destroy the morals of the people, to come at their wealth.

To these general maxims must be added some others more particularly adapted to our situation. And first our plan should be plain and simple, so as to be understood by every body, and convince every body. Nothing can be more contemptible than the affectation of secrecy and mistery on this subject, for manly sense and truth and justice disdain concealment. Diffident in our paper as the people are at present, they must know all deeply concerned in it, they ought to know all, and inquisitive wise and free they Edition: current; Page: [148] will know all. Any thing therefore which cannot be fully communicated, will not answer the purpose.

Secondly, the plan must be strictly just. Mean paltry pitiful shifts of villainy cannot more effectually injure the character of an individual, than tricks and deceptions will ruin the reputation of a republican government. If kings deceive, yet when the faithless monarch dies, new hopes from a virtuous successor inspire new confidence, but a dishonest republic is irreclaimable, and no prudent men will trust it. But if integrity is necessary in general, how much more so in particular circumstances of distrust, and how indispensible when in such circumstances a part of the community labor to impeach the general credit. If there be an object in the world for which the very existence of a republic should be staked, it is for the preservation of her public faith, particularly an infant republic just emerging from subjection, and claiming the aid, alliance, and confidence of other powers. The government of such republic should guard her honor with the delicate solicitude of Caesar, so that it should not only be unsullied but unsuspected.

The last object I shall mention, is the preservation of our Foederal Union, which in my poor opinion will greatly depend on the management of our revenue. The articles of confederation were formed in a moment when the attachment to Congress was great and warm. The framers of it therefore seem to have been only solicitous how to provide against the power of that body, which by means of their provident foresight and care, now exists almost by meer courtesy and sufferance. This is an evil which cannot at present be remedied; but if in addition to this a number of long accounts and quotas and propositions be left for settlement, until the enemy are removed at a distance, and the fear of them also removed, these will afford so much matter for litigation, and occasion such heart-burnings, and give such room for the intrigues which Great-Britain has already attempted, and which will doubtless be carried on by her or some other foreign power, that our Union will become, what our enemies long since declared it was, a meer rope of sand. Congress then, like the travellers coat in the fable, after having been hugged close through the stormy hour of danger, will be cast aside as an useless burthen in the calm, and sunshine of peace and victory. Surely the consequences of such a measure, the struggles, the convulsions, the miseries need not be pictured to a sensible and discerning people.

Having premised these general observations, I shall proceed to sketch a few outlines of a plan which may perhaps be so improved as to produce the desired effect. I shall give the outlines only, for altho’ much will depend Edition: current; Page: [149] on the detail, yet entering into detail would too much distract the readers attention, besides it is the business of proper ministerial officers whom we shall take notice of hereafter.

Our first object should be, how to fix the value of our circulating paper medium, for untill this be in some measure accomplished, it is impossible either to tax with effect, expend with oeconomy or even act with justice. It becomes therefore both our duty and interest, while at the same time the subject is so delicate that the utmost caution must be used to prevent even the appearance of force or injustice.

The circulating paper is of three kinds, one bearing a stirling interest, one an interest in currency, and the third no interest at all. The two first do indeed go by a different name from the last, being called Loan-Office Certificates, but on inspection it will appear that these Certificates are transferable from hand to hand and payable to the bearer in like manner with the Bills of Credit, and the fact is, that they are actually so transferred.

Posterity will be at a loss for the motives which dictated the form of these Certificates, unless memorandums are kept for their use. I sincerely wish that every thing of this sort may be buried in oblivion, and therefore shall say nothing about them. But it must be remarked that instead of taking money out of circulation more of it was thrown in, tending to depreciate the other by reason of the quantity, and also of the difference between them, that one bore interest and not the other. But the Certificates were at first in the lesser repute of the two, for causes not necessary now to be enumerated; as the fact is fresh in every ones memory. At that time it was truly ludicrous to see the solicitude of many well meaning men, to pay the public debts with these Certificates instead of the common paper, and even to give an advance in purchases to those who would accept of them. Nay, it was no uncommon argument in favor of a large grant; that some considerable part of it was a warrant which was to be liquidated by Loan Office Certificates. Strange as it may seem, it is nevertheless true, that a hope was then cherished by some persons, that the depreciation might be checked by these Certificates, which would, they imagined, be hoarded for the sake of the interest. This reasoning was founded on what was called a parallel instance among the Eastern States, relatively to their old tenor and new lawful reasoning which was deemed conclusive, although the reluctance with which the Certificates were accepted, and the discount at which they were sold, clearly evinced the contrary, and although it was at the same time a common argument of the same persons in favor of their present form, that unless they were transferable, people would not lend money to the public. Edition: current; Page: [150] But it was evident from another quarter, that they must have depreciated, because they manifestly depended on a paper which was itself depreciating with no little rapidity. Thus then, was an interest given on the circulating medium of the country, to answer no one valuable purpose. A measure laudable, perhaps for the generosity, if with the exuberance of public revenue, the Treasury were running over, but savoring much of prodigality in some other circumstances. For not to mention the paper which has been expended for the interest of the Certificates, issued subsequent to March 1778. Those previous to that period, cost us above eight millions livres in France, for less than eight millions of paper here, which might have been made at less expence than the Certificates themselves, and to better purpose.

To remedy the ill effects of the Loan-Office Certificates; people should be induced to exchange them for a funded debt. In order to do this, (assuming what we shall hereafter attempt to prove, that sufficient taxes can be raised for the purpose) I propose, that the full value of each Certificate, at the time when the loan was made, should be estimated in specie; and every holder, who chose to bring in his Certificate, by a given time, should be considered as a creditor to the public for that value, with five per cent. interest, payable half yearly in specie during the war, and both principle and interest, to be paid within ten years after the conclusion of it. This stock should not be subject to any tax, neither should it be transferable without certain legal formalities.

This measure, it is conceived, would be equitable, effectual and beneficial. Equitable, because the public would, by that means, perform all which, by an equitable interpretation, they can be supposed to have promised. The reduction of interest from six to five per cent. would be partly compensated by the security against taxation, and partly by the payment of specie in this country, which sells for a fourth more than specie in Europe; so that the reduction of one sixth would still leave a difference of one half per cent. interest, in favor of the creditor, where that interest is now payable in Europe; but the difference is still more considerable, where the interest is payable in paper. There may perhaps, be some particular instances, where injury would happen; yet it is as small an injury as can possibly be expected in a general calamity; add to this, that it would be optional in the creditor, either to hold his certificate, or to exchange it, and there is no maxim of law or equity, more solid than this, that no injury is done to him who acts from perfect volition.

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This measure would be effectual, because very few, if any, would be disposed to risque their Certificates on the present uncertain contingencies, when they might easily be fixed on the solid base of specie. And the very formalities necessary to a transfer, would be an additional security, especially to foreigners. For there is a manifest folly in supposing that they would willingly entrust their property in our funds, for a Certificate, which, in the hands of their factors, was as so much money, and might pass out of those hands again the instant after, thereby depriving them of the possibility of recovering anything from the public, in case those factors became insolvent.

Sundry advantages would, it is conceived, flow from the adoption of this plan. For first, a considerable sum of paper would be taken out of circulation. Secondly, the stock when funded, would, as an object of commerce, represent part of the circulating medium, and raise the value of the remainder. Thirdly, the Bills of Credit would no longer suffer by a comparison between them, and a medium bearing interest. Fourthly, a considerable saving would be made on the interest now payable in Europe; and the public monies there, might be applied as they most undoubtedly ought, to purchasing necessaries for the army. And fifthly, the public confidence would be in some degree regained, which of all objects is the most valuable.

The Certificates being disposed of, our next point, is to give a fixed value to the Bills of Credit, or rather to fix a standard, below which, they could not fall. Let then, every holder of the paper, be entitled, not compelled, to bring it in, at the rate of forty for one, (if this number should be thought most proper, though I confess, I should have rather chosen twenty, for reasons which I will not trouble the reader to peruse,) and let him be credited in like manner, for a stock in specie, on the same terms with the holders of the Certificates. Let the paper so brought in, be burnt in his presence who brought it. And further, let it be covenanted, that all the paper shall be sunk in five equal annual payments, after the war, or redeemed with specie, at the expiration of that term.

That this proposition would be equitable, will appear from two considerations. First, that the covenant to pay the whole sum in five years after the war, is fully conformable to the original promise on the face of the bills; and secondly, that the liquidation of forty for one, is not an infraction of that promise, but a new engagement for the benefit of those who hold the money, if they themselves choose rather to take that fixed value in the present, than to risque the future redemption. In which case, they can have Edition: current; Page: [152] no more reason to complain, than any other creditor, who allows a discount on a debt for prompt payment. That it would be effectual, if the funds for payment are good, can hardly be doubted, because no man would give forty-one paper dollars to purchase a silver one, if it might be had of government for forty. On the contrary, the conviction that all the paper would be sunk in five years after the conclusion of the war, would rather tend to raise it above that level. Those who declaim against appreciation, will affect to dread the consequences of this step. But waving what hath been said in a former paper, on the justice of permitting an appreciation, it will at least be admitted, that we had better get rid of our present evils, than continue to labour under them, meerly from the apprehension of a future mischief, which, if it could really arise, may always be cured with the greatest facility, or rather a mischief which would cure itself.

So much for the equity, efficacy, and effect of these propositions. But before they can operate, it must be made evident that they are not meer paper, as most of the promises hitherto made, have proved to be. In other words, taxes must be laid and raised in specie, sufficient to discharge the principle and interest of the debt to be funded. I know it is a common assertion, that there is not coin enough in the country, to pay such a tax. The common assertion of men, who busily sow the seeds of a heavier future taxation, while at the same time, before that taxation takes place, they contribute to banish what specie there is, by excluding it from circulation, and laying embargoes on the produce of the country. Supposing therefore, the fact to be as they state it, certainly the policy of their conduct is very contemptible. It would be better to raise such tax as can be paid, and such tax would be sufficient, because the only real object of taxation, after liquidating our debts, is to produce the means of maintaining the army, and the sum necessary for this purpose will depend upon the amount of the circulating medium compared with the real wealth of the country. If there be a great medium, a greater sum will be necessary, and a great sum can be paid. If the medium be small, the public necessities and public revenue will be proportionately small. The ways and means of raising taxes, therefore, will be our next object, previous to which, we must enquire what sums are necessary to be raised, and first, what will be the real amount of the funded debt abovementioned.

There are two reasons why this cannot be done with exactness. First, that there are as yet no accurate accounts to be obtained of the sums put into the several Loan Offices. And secondly, that we have not the means of determining precisely, the depreciation in the several parts of the continent, Edition: current; Page: [153] monthly, from the first of January 1777, to the present time. In order however, to come at it as nearly as possible, I shall state the amont of the several Loans half yearly, from the best accounts and estimates I have been able to procure, and I shall state the average value of the first half years Loans, at one for one, the second, at two for one, and so on in geometrical proportion. The account will then stand thus:

Loans to July 1777, 3,480,081, at one, are 3,480,081
January 1778, 3,278,790, at two, are 1,639,395
July 1778, 5,553,017, at four, are 1,388,254
January 1779, 5,448,776, at 8, are 681,097
July 1779, 14,298,433, at 16, are 893,652
January 1780, 7,052,710, at 32, are 220,397
Total amount of Loans, 39,111,707, of the val. of 8,301,876

This account is by no means exact, as to the amount of the Loans, neither is that of their value of all accurate. Nor would it be proper to make such an average estimate of the depreciation, because as far as it is applicable to private or public justice, the estimate ought to be as minute and precise as possible. But if this account should be near the truth, and it is not far from it, if also the average should be within bounds, and it certainly is not excessive, then the sum found will be tolerably well ascertained for the purposes of political calculation.

As for the Bills of Credit, supposing that one half of them were brought in, which certainly would not happen if sufficient provision were made for liquidating the whole. This half, or one hundred millions, at forty for one, would be two millions and an half, which, with the sum above stated, would be ten millions eight hundred and two thousand eight hundred and seventy six dollars. But as mistakes on one side of this account would be very dangerous, we will suppose that the whole circulating medium were funded, which would add two millions and a half more, and that the Loans since last January are worth about two hundred thousand. This would bring the debt to twelve millions and an half, to which we will add two millions and an half more, in order to provide for any possible deficiencies in the calculation, which ought to be somewhat more than merely just to the creditor, lest it should look like doing him an injustice. We shall then have to provide for a debt of fifteen millions, bearing five per cent. interest, or seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars annually. To pay this debt in ten years, requires an annual sum of two millions, and to this sum we will add five millions Edition: current; Page: [154] more, for the expences of the war, making in the whole seven millions, or one million five hundred and seventy five thousand pounds sterling. A sum so small, that not to raise it in a contest like the present, for the defence of all which is dear and sacred to man, would be the deepest ignominy.

I am your Friend,


April 15, 1780*


My Countrymen,

The inefficacy of all measures hitherto taken with our finances is so evident, that to dwell on them would be a tedious absurdity. To the many intrinsic defects peculiar to each, we must add a general defect which pervades the whole. The plans adopted for aiding our paper, have been themselves but meer paper; having no substantial connection with the universal money of commercial nations. Of consequence, they subsist and act independently of that universal medium; so that as the paper-money ultimately rests upon a paper tax, it cannot, by that means be brought at all nearer to specie than it was before. Hence, a tax in specie becomes necessary, to regulate the present value of our paper.

In considering of ways and means, I shall first state the taxes and their produce, secondly the appropriation, and thirdly the mode of collection.

And first, I propose a tax of two dollars per hundred, in specie, for every hundred acres of appropriated lands within the United States; to continue until ten years after the conclusion of the war; with a proviso, that any person who should bring in the value of twenty dollars, either in bills or certificates, according to the estimate mentioned in a former paper, should be freed from this tax for one hundred acres, and be intitled to receive annually, after the war, one dollar in specie for ten years, and so in like manner for any greater number of acres; the paper or certificates so brought in to be destroyed in his presence.

Secondly, I propose a tax of two dollars, in specie, on every man able to Edition: current; Page: [155] bear arms, and not actually in the Continental army, as a military officer or as a soldier. This tax also to continue until ten years after the war, with a proviso nevertheless, that it may be paid during the war, either in specie or paper, at the rate of forty for one, but in specie alone after the peace.

Thirdly, I propose, that quotas be laid for raising the annual sum of forty millions, payable in paper only, and to continue until five years after the conclusion of the war. I propose quotas, if that mode should be deemed preferable to any other, as it probably may be by some persons however unreasonable. But if it should be found inexpedient, as on experience it undoubtedly will, then, in lieu of it, this sum should be raised by an addition to the other taxable articles, or such of them as shall be most proper.

Fourthly, I propose, that a perpetual tax of five per cent. be laid on all exports, and one dollar per ton annually on all vessels above twenty tons; and that it be an additional article of confederation, that every State lay what regulations and restrictions they may think proper on trade, but that the fiscal produce thereof be paid to the United States.

Lastly, I propose, that the following rates be laid, payable in specie or in paper at forty for one, to wit, one dollar per head on all horses above a year old, and half a dollar per head on all cattle above a year old, and one dollar each for every glazed or sash window, in a house having more than ten windows. These rates to continue only so long as the public exigencies shall require.

Having stated these taxes, our next object is to enquire into their probable produce. This can only be determined, at present, by a rude estimate, which deserves more the name of a guess than a calculation: It must therefore be made within bounds, especially as the cost of collection is supposed to be deducted. And first as to the land-tax.

From Passamaquadi Bay, in the latitude of forty-five degrees north, to the mouth of St. Mary’s river, in the latitude of thirty-two degrees north, and sixteen degrees west long. from Passamaquadi, is in a direct line, along the surface of the globe, about thirteen hundred miles. This line, however, is too much extended for an oeconomical calculation; we will therefore restrain it to the length of one thousand miles, from Casco Bay to the mouth of Savannah river, and we will take an average breadth of one hundred and fifty miles, which is far from being the extent of appropriation in many States, tho’ it exceeds that of some others. This length and breadth will contain one hundred and fifty thousand square miles, or ninety-six million acres. But we must make a deduction, first for bays, rivers, lakes and other lands covered with water; secondly, for mountains, wastes, desarts, marshes Edition: current; Page: [156] and other lands not yet appropriated; thirdly, for highways, cities and public territories; fourthly, for lands in possession of the enemy or otherwise not within the power of the States; and lastly, for the expences of collection. This deduction will be nearly, if not intirely equal to one half of the superficial content. Wherefore we will take off forty-six million acres, and calculate only on the remaining fifty millions; which, at two dollars per hundred, will give a revenue of one million.

The number of inhabitants within these States hath usually been estimated at three millions, and perhaps they may amount to it, the proportion of men able to bear arms is as one to five, so that the number of such men, in America, ought to be about six hundred thousand. But from this number we must, for very obvious reasons, make a considerable deduction; wherefore the number of taxable polls, may be stated at half a million, so that the tax of two dollars each, will amount to one million.

As to the quotas, if the tax of forty millions in paper, be laid that way, then it will be the business of the States to apportion it; but if it be not so laid, then it will be distributed on articles, which experience shall have demonstrated to be sufficiently productive, wherefore this tax may also be considered as amounting to one million.

The amount of our exports cannot be precisely ascertained, but there are good reasons for placing them as high as seven millions sterling before the war, which we will for greater certainty reduce to thirty million dollars. The many natural and artificial reasons which have conspired to lessen the amount of our exports, operates so forcibly that, with melancholy truth, we may now reduce them to one tenth of what they were, or three million. But on the other hand, the inhanced prices will perhaps raise the value of this about one third, so that we may state it at four millions, which at five per cent, gives two hundred thousand; in which sum the tonnage is supposed to be included.

If there is difficulty and uncertainty in numbering the acres, and the men of America, the cattle and horses will be estimated with still greater difficulty and uncertainty. Without any calculations therefore, I shall suppose the horses above a year old, to amount to one million, and the horned cattle of the same age to two million. These numbers are, I have reason to believe, within bounds, and, if so, then the tax on each will amount to a million, being equal to the land and poll tax.

How many houses there may be having above ten windows, and how many windows there may be in such houses, no man can accurately determine, but the wealth of the Americans, compared with that of other nations, Edition: current; Page: [157] gives room to suppose, that here are a much greater proportion of houses liable to the tax now under consideration in this, than in any other country, and of those houses which are subject to it, there are probably a greater number with above thirty windows, than under twenty. The average therefore might be stated at twenty five, but we will take it at twenty, and state the houses at one hundred thousand, wherefore this tax would produce two millions.

The account of the whole will stand thus:
1. Land, 50,000,000 acres, at 2 per cent. 1,000,000
2. Men, 500,000 at 2 per poll, 1,000,000
3. Quotas, 40,000,000 dollars, at 40 for one, 1,000,000
4. Export, 4,000,000 at 5 per cent. 200,000
5. Horses, 1,000,000 at 1 each, 1,000,000
6. Cattle, 2,000,000 at 1–2 each 1,000,000
7. Windows, 2,000,000 at 1 each 2,000,000

Of these taxes the three first should be appropriated, as a sinking fund, to the full and final discharge of the public debts, and cancelling of the paper. And on this head it is to be observed, that as the sum payable for this purpose during the war would be at the most not above seven hundred and fifty thousand, so there would be a further appropriation of the residue, being two million two hundred and fifty thousand, which should be to the expences of the war. Two hundred and fifty thousand of this surplus would be in specie, which should be set apart for secret service, and the support of our countrymen in captivity. It is also very probable that a further sum of specie would result from these taxes, and if so, then it would be proper that our army and navy would be paid in that kind of money; though no promise should be made, because it is unwise and unjust to make promises which the course of accidents may prevent us from performing. But further it is to be observed, that as the sum arising from the land and poll tax might exceed two millions, and as the funded debt would probably fall short of fifteen millions, so there would remain a ballance above what is necessary to sink that debt; this ballance therefore would admit of a further appropriation, as the pledge for payment of such further domestic loans, as the exigencies of the war might require. And lastly, as forty millions of paper annually, would be sufficient to sink two hundred millions in five years, and as these two hundred millions would be lessened by the part brought in and funded, as also by the waste and loss attendant on our frail and perishing medium; so there would remain a considerable surplus, which might be appropriated Edition: current; Page: [158] to sinking such monies as might be issued to make up deficiencies in the circulating medium, if it should be found deficient.

The fourth of these taxes, on exports and ships, ought in reason and propriety to be appropriated to the support of our navy, under which head must be comprehended packet-boats and the like. As it must be the wish of every good American, that our navy should flourish, encrease and endure, so we should take care that the fund to support it be certain, growing, and perpetual. Here then let me indulge in a short digression, while an imagination fond and fervid for the general welfare, anticipates the rising glories of our country. That moment, when the rapid growth of her agriculture, commerce and fisheries, shall multiply her exports, in proportion to the energetic principles of freedom, which give them stability, vigor and animation, thence shall arise a naval force, which, governed with oeconomy and directed by prudence, shall protect our native shores, and wave, in dignity, our peaceful and commercial flag over the remotest verges of the ocean.

The fifth, sixth, and seventh of these taxes should be appropriated to the support of the war, and should continue until the various accounts and expenditures of it be finally liquidated and adjusted; among which accounts must be taken that of foreign loans already made, or which we may hereafter be necessitated to make. But after this final adjustment, these taxes may all be decreased, or one or more remitted, so as to leave only what is necessary for the half pay of the army, and the support of such fortifications and troops as may be necessary during the peace.

It will appear that in this estimate and appropriation no notice is taken of two objects, namely, the general civil list, and the support of government in the several States. The latter of these, is properly an object of internal policy to each State. I will however drop a sentiment with relation to both these things. And, as to the first, the post-office, if properly regulated, would produce a revenue sufficient for the greater or general civil list, by which is meant the support of the civil officers and officers of Congress, both foreign and domestic. As to the second, or lesser civil list, this would be fully provided for by a light stamp duty, in addition to the fees and perquisites of office. It is hard to conceive taxes more easy and more beneficial than these, for they defray the expences of government, by facilitating the commerce and securing the property of individuals. Some readers may not see the force of the latter part of this observation, but those who know that frauds and forgeries have been frequently detected, by means of the stamps affixed to deeds and other instruments, will readily perceive it; and all will Edition: current; Page: [159] feel the difference between a stamp act made by our own legislatures, and a stamp act imposed by a foreign power. Roads, bridges, and inland navigations, will, if I may be allowed the expression, provide for themselves. In other words, they are most equitably and most effectually maintained by tolls and turnpikes; which with a proper administration will leave a surplus to support the poor. These different things are mentioned meerly to shew the propriety of the other taxes and the appropriation of them. Let us then further advert to this reason and propriety in themselves, and in relation to each other.

I know that almost innumerable objections will be raised against these propositions. We shall be told, that the business of Congress is not to lay rates but quotas, that is to say, they have a right to demand money by guess, but not on fair and equal principles. We shall be told, that the land-tax would fall heavy on the rich, the poll tax on the poor, and the other taxes on all. That some of these taxes would fall heavy on the merchant, and some on the husbandman; some on the city, and some on the country. If all this be admitted, it would only shew that these taxes would be heavy to the whole community, and all agree that heavy taxes must be raised, I mean all good whigs; but every one will strive to ease his own shoulders of the burthen. All complain of the evil, yet nobody inclines to look it in the face, which is the only reason why it exists. Congress call on the States to raise quotas, of which an equitable account is to be made by and bye, that is, they will, by the wealth of a State twenty years hence, determine what it is to pay in the present moment. After a month’s debate, on a subject of such magnitude that all agree it cannot admit of a moment’s delay, Congress at length give their fiat, and then the States take up the resolutions. The first thing the States do, is to complain of the apportionment and the second to make excuses why they cannot pay. At length however, in imitation of the very thing they complain of, the States also quota their districts or counties. These, in their turn, guess at the wealth of individuals, or compel the individuals to declare it on oath, which is infinitely worse. Thus guess generates guess, delay produces delay, and murmur succeeds to murmur; till when, with grumbling discontent, a little pittance is paid; one half its value is swept away, by the rapid current of depreciation. In the mean time the war is left to support itself, as if the army could be fed and clothed, our enemies beaten and subdued, or our liberties secured and established, by idle debates, vain reproaches, or quibbling subtilties.

Without adverting, therefore, to the little cavils which may abundantly be made against any and every plan, I shall assign a few reasons in favor of Edition: current; Page: [160] these imposts, generally and particularly. And we are to observe generally, 1st. That the land labor and commodities of our country were originally mortgaged for our debts, and must eventually redeem them. 2dly. That unless taxes are laid on specifick articles, they cannot consist with freedom; because freedom is to be governed by laws, and slavery by men, he therefore who pays a tax levied on a specifick thing is free, because he is governed by the law, but otherwise he is not free, being governed by the will or the whim of the assessor or collector. 3dly. That no other taxes can consist with justice, for it is just that men and states should pay in proportion to their respective wealth; that is to their land labor and commodities, not the opinions of others. Lastly. That as no other taxes can consist with private freedom and justice, so by no other means can the rights and liberties of the several States, and the general superintendence of Congress subsist together. If Congress can compel the least State to pay as large a tax as the greatest, their rights and liberties are no more; and a prevailing faction in Congress may commit the most horrible injustice. If every State has a right to deliberate and determine for itself on the propriety of the quota allowed to it, the authority of Congress is a shadow, our union a thread, and our force an idea.

We will next consider these taxes in their successive order; and here we must remember, that land is the ultimate object of human avarice, for which there is the greatest contest among States and among men. On this, then, let the tax be laid. Let the landholder pay for the defence of his land. A monopoly of the soil is pernicious or even destructive to society, let taxes, therefore, compel the owner, either to cultivate it himself, or sell to those who will cultivate it. Land can neither be carried away nor concealed, no care therefore is necessary to secure, no art to discover it. Other objects may elude the grasp of the Legislature, but this is always open to their inspection, always subject to their authority. There is indeed an objection, that some lands are better than others. This objection would be more solid if it were proposed to tax land alone, still however it has weight; but a part of it will be removed when we reflect, that if it is unjust to tax the bad land of A, as high as the good land of B; it is equally unjust, to tax the cost and labor which C, has expended, to render his farm better than that of D. And the objection will almost vanish when we consider, that if a valuation were made, it would be very partial and unequal in the present moment, but more so in the space of a few years; not to mention the time and expence, neither of which can be spared. To this may be added, that the above tax, Edition: current; Page: [161] tho’ unequal at first, would soon become equitable, by the changes of property and the efforts of industry.

As to the tax on polls, we must remember that labor is scarce and dear at present in this country, beyond any other country and any other period, so that it is difficult to procure soldiers with every possible exertion. If therefore a tax be laid on men, they must either work to pay it, or become soldiers to avoid it, either of which is a desirable consequence. Add to this, that a poll tax will fall on the rich rather than on the poor, especially such a poll tax as that now proposed, because, from the nature of the thing, the laborer must be paid for by his employer, and the slave by his master.

The tax on exports is not liable to the objections against the two former, but will perhaps startle those who expect to discourage foreign articles by laying duties on importation, and to encourage native productions by bounties on exportation. This subject would lead me too far, I shall therefore quit it with a few short but leading objections. 1st. The consumer of the article pays the tax, with the profits of the merchant and retailer. 2dly. Taxes must either be paid from the surplus produce which remains to the country after maintaining its inhabitants, or some of those inhabitants must be starved. 3dly. The cheapness of the necessaries of life is the source of population, and together with it forms the wealth and strength of a nation. And 4thly. A tax on exported commodities will equalize all others, and fall precisely on the wealth of each individual. To evince these positions, let us suppose that the farmer, who consumes in his family about forty gallons of imported spirits annually, is to be taxed five pounds. To obtain this sum, a duty might be laid on spirits of two and six pence per gallon, but the merchant who paid this two and six-pence, in the first instance, would take a fifth profit, or perhaps more, which would bring it up to three shillings on the retailer, who, in his turn, would take a third, or more, and thereby increase it to four shillings, wherefore the farmer’s tax on forty gallons would amount to eight pounds instead of five. If the tax were laid on the produce the farmer brought to market, then he would pay the five pounds and no more, not to mention the advantage of being taxed in the very moment when he sold his commodities. Besides this, he would pay nothing on his own necessary consumption. If he did not bring his surplus produce to market, it would be so much the cheaper in the country, and therefore the means of subsistence, and consequently labor and manufactures would be the cheaper. Something would at length be exported, and the five per cent. on this something would operate backwards, a gentle tax, on all those Edition: current; Page: [162] who had contributed to its production and improvement. The propriety of carrying all duties to the general account, will appear from the single consideration that as the consumer pays the tax, so when one State carries on the commerce of another, that other would be indirectly taxed by those who carry on their trade, over and above their general proportion.

The tax on horses and cattle will encourage the breeding of good stock, which next to the culture of our lands ought to be one great object of our policy. Horses must be very indifferent which are not worth on average forty dollars each, and cattle which are not worth twenty, the tax therefore would be but two and a half per cent. on their value.

Lastly, As to the tax on windows, I can only say, that I know of none which bids so fair to be proportionate to the wealth of the subject, and which will, at the same time, so well bring the city and country on an equal footing of taxation.

There lies I know an objection to all these taxes, which indeed applies with equal force to all others, that the advanced prices near the seat of war, will better enable the inhabitants of that part of the Continent to pay, than those more remote. It is true that there is such an advantage, but I can safely venture to promise on the part of those who enjoy it, that they will readily give it up to such as are more desirous of being in the neighbourhood of the enemy. To determine however the weight of our burthens, let us, before we quit this subject, make an estimate of the taxes which, in consequence of the above plan, would be levied from a rich man, a wealthy husbandman, and a poor laborer.

The Rich Man would pay, Dol.
For himself and thirty laborers or slaves, 62
For ten thousand acres of land, 200
For sixty horses, 60
For one hundred and twenty cattle, 60
For thirty-six windows, 36
For his quota of 40,000,000 paper, in proportion to the above sum 2786 2–3, or 69 2–3.
Proportion on exports according to the poll tax 12 3–5.
500 1–15.
The Wealthy Husbandman would pay, Dol.
For himself and three more, 8
For three hundred acres of land, 6
For eight horses, 8
For sixteen cattle, 8
For twelve windows 12
For his quota as above 280, or 7
Proportion on exports as above, 1 3–5
50 3–5
The Poor Laborer would pay, Dol.
For himself, 2
Or he would inlist and pay 0.

These then are taxes which are far from being oppressive. We will next proceed to inquire into the proper mode of collecting them, but we must first take notice of two objections which may be urged, altho’ contradictory to each other.1 One that the land tax being payable in specie alone would depreciate the paper, the other, that the circulating medium would not be sufficient to pay the taxes. Neither of these objections are solid. The land tax would not depreciate the paper, because there is a means of paying it in paper, so as to render every landholder security to himself for the paper he possesses; and because the other taxes will amount to more than two hundred and forty millions of paper, so that when the certificates alone are funded, even if no bills are brought in, still the tax will exceed the whole paper medium by one fifth. The second objection admits of an answer equally short and clear. If the circulating medium is too small, one of two things will certainly happen; either the value [w]ill rise, or more money will be demanded by the people. If the value rises, less of it will answer the purposes of government. If more is required, government may emit more, without any danger of depreciation. It might, however, have been prudent to obviate it, by raising the paper higher than forty, but, since these taxes are not all to be raised in the same moment, as will more fully appear when we speak of the collection, the paper will serve to pay more than would at first view be supposed. At any rate we had better labor under the weight of taxes, and suffer the want of a circulating medium too, than permit our last struggles in this glorious contest to become feeble and ineffectual.

I am your Friend,

Edition: current; Page: [164] Edition: current; Page: [165]

11: Righteousness Establisheth a Nation (1780)*

As Congress struggled with its financial problems in 1780, it was seriously handicapped by its inability to levy taxes and thus support the paper money it had issued. In March 1780, Congress decided to retire all of its existing paper currency and replace it with a new issue. It exchanged old money for new at a rate of 40 for 1, thus bringing down the value of its paper from $200 million to $5 million. The old money would be retired at a rate of $15 million a month by having the states tax it out of existence.1

The Pennsylvania General Assembly moved quickly, giving a first reading to a bill for carrying out Congress’s plan on March 23, just five days after Congress acted. The bill was published for public comment in the Pennsylvania Packet on March 25. It ultimately passed the General Assembly on June 6. A supplementary bill received its third reading November 29, 1780, and was published in the Packet December 2. This letter was probably written soon afterward.

Righteousness Establisheth a Nation.2

To the general Assembly of the State of Pensilvania.


I crave Leave to submit to you some Considerations on a Bill lately published entitled “a supplement to an Act entitled an Act for funding and redeeming the Bills of Credit of the united States of America, &ca.”3 I shall Edition: current; Page: [166] for the Sake of Perspicuity class these Considerations under two Heads, 1st. on the Bill now published, 2ly. on the Measure to which it relates.

As far as the Bill is designed to operate a Tax, I shall make but one Remark, which if well founded may be useful on all such Occasions. To levy Taxes by Quotas is pernicious. In the first Place, as far as assessors or other such Officers may be concerned in apportioning the Quotas on Individuals, it is parting with the Powers of legislation in the most valuable Instance, and conferring it on Men very inadequate to the Duty; because he who tells me how much I am to pay is the Man who taxes me, & not he who tells me how much my County must pay: In the second Place such Taxes operate unequally and therefore unjustly, and what is almost as bad inefficaciously. If the Property in Bucks County is worth £100,000, and that in Northampton only £50,000, the Taxes on the one, should be just one half of those on the other. But, as it is next to impossible to ascertain what either of those Counties is worth, it is in like Manner next to impossible that the Quotas laid should be proportionate. Now if a man in Bucks County pays on his Property five per Cent Tax, and a Man in Northampton six per Cent, this is unjust. Further, when such unequal Taxes are laid, they must in some Instances fall disproportionately on the Poor: In such Case, if the poor cannot pay them then they are ruined. If, on the contrary, the poor can pay them, then the whole Tax is less efficacious than it ought to be. Because if the true Proportion of a poor Man be two Shillings, & he pays disproportionately four Shillings, it follows that if the rest of the Community were taxed after the same Rate, the Revenue would be double & the Poor not more oppressed than at present, or in other words, that the Revenue is one half less than it ought to be. Lastly, if it be considered, that Assessors and other the like Officers will be elected by those of most Interest in the Counties or Districts, and that those of most Property have generally speaking the most Interest, it would follow, that the wealthy will for the most Part appoint the Assessors; and then, as is natural, those Assessors will favor the Persons by whom they are appointed. I am aware of an objection viz. that Men of Property in Pensilvania do not now govern these Elections. But the evident Reason is because they do not now exert themselves for that Purpose.

As I do not meddle with State Affairs, I should not have troubled you Gentlemen with the foregoing Observations, but that another Part of the Edition: current; Page: [167] Bill appears of a very fatal Tendency. This has forced me as a good Citizen to take Notice of that Part & if in so doing I had been silent as to the Rest it might have been thought that I approved of it.

The Bill proposes to make the new continental money a lawful Tender. I must be indulged one Question. Do you believe that without any such Clause it would be of equal Value with Specie? If you do why do you labor to compel the Currency of it? Surely if it is good Money, he who would refuse it need undergo no greater Penalty than not to receive it. Evidently then you do not think it equal to Gold and Silver. If so, is it not unjust to compel Men to receive it? But Gentlemen this is not all. Do you really believe that making it a lawful Tender would give it a Currency? If you do you are mistaken. Most Men have paid off their old Debts and have now the Leizure to be honest. And all Men dread a new depreciating Medium. The Language of your Constituents is this do not give us a new Emission but if you do at least secure it against Depreciation. It is practicable to grant the former Part of their Prayer but I fear that the latter is impracticable. Do not then mistake the Sense of the People but believe that the same Spirit which dictated the late Association to fix the Value of continental Money will dictate a like Association against the present Plan.4 The Cause is in both Cases the same The Dread of a depreciating Medium.

But it is needless to waste Time on this Head. You are yourselves convinced that making this Money a lawful Tender will not answer the End and therefore have added the Pains and Penalties contained in the last Clause of the Act.5 For God’s Sake Gentlemen consider well of this Clause. How will it apply to the Feelings of Mankind? A fond Father hears that his virtuous Son is a Prisoner with the Enemy. Taken in Battle bravely fighting for the Liberties of his Country. He hears that this captive Son the Staff of his Age languishes in Bondage with distressful Want. He receives a Letter supplicating Edition: current; Page: [168] for the Means to procure a little Bread. The Father sells a Part of his Property & to obtain Specie he sells it cheap. Mark the Consequence. He is dragged from his hospitable Mansion. Indicted. Arraigned. Convicted. Condemned. At one fell stroke Half of his wealth is gone forever. He is immured with in the damp Walls of a Goal.6 Forced into Fellowship with the Dregs of Men. A prey to Vermin Filth & Disease, bending beneath the Weight of Years, and pining to behold a long lost Child, his Grey Hairs are brought with Sorrow to the Grave. Think you that a Law pregnant with Consequences like these can possibly be executed in the State of Pensilvania? Believe me there are Bounds to every Thing human, nor can the Authority even of a free Legislature exceed those Bounds. Should you enact this Law without the last Clause it will be eluded and with the last Clause it will be rejected. Emit the new Money as you please it will be governed by the same Principles and share the same Fate with the old.

Having said thus much as to the Bill I crave your Indulgence for a few Words on the Measure to which it relates. I mean the issuing of the new Money. There is either Money enough already for the Purposes of Commerce and Taxation or there is not. If there is not I shall be glad to learn the Reason why it happened that at the same Time hard Money was exported the Depreciation continued and the Prices of different Articles remained as high as ever and indeed rather rose than fell. Surely this is a Demonstration that at least there was Money enough. If then there be Money enough how can we flatter ourselves that if more be issued it will not depreciate? It is no easy Matter just now to say what is the real Rate of Exchange but in Deference to the Associators I will state it at 80 for 1. I take 80 rather than 75 as it is a round Number and I believe quite near the Truth. Now Gentlemen your Bill is for the issuing 1,250,000 Dollars wherefore according to the Resolution of Congress of the 18th of March 25,000,000 of Dollars continental are to be called in. These at 80 for one are 312,500 Dollars. Your Bill therefore carried into Effect would encrease the present Circulating Medium by the Sum of 937,500 Dollars hard money. Is there a Possibility of doing this without Depreciation? If not is it possible that the proposed Law should be executed? Or if it be executed is it possible that any Commerce should be carried on? Is not this the first commercial State on the Continent? What is to become of us if our commerce is ruined? Turn back Gentlemen to this Resolution of forty for one. What was the evident Design? Edition: current; Page: [169] Was it not to prevent Appreciation? Against whom then was it to operate? Was it not against those who held the Money? And who held the Money? Did not the commercial States hold it? Pardon me one Moment. A Man in New Jersey brought Continental Bills to Philadelphia to purchase Salt and put them off at the Rate of four for one. These Bills necessarily continued in Philadelphia because the Ballance of Trade is in our Favor. Afterwards that very Man by his Representative declares he will redeem that Bill at the Rate of forty for one. Our loss then is ninety per Cent & that which has happened may happen again.

But the Question is what shall we do with this Resolution of the 18th of March. Even if no satisfactory Answer could be given to this Question it does not follow that we should ruin ourselves. But I will attempt to answer it satisfactorily. Congress asks us to bring in 25,000,000 Dollars to be destroyed, and they ask us to provide Funds to destroy in six Years 1,250,000 Dollars, equivalent to Specie with 5 p. Ct. Interest.

The Demand therefore stands thus.
In the Year 1781 25,000,000 at 80 for 1 equal to 312,500
To sink 1,250,000 Dollars with five Per Cent Interest in six Years requires annually 249,536
Total for this year according to the Resolutions of the 18th March 562,036

The sum to be issued, is to be expended at the Rate of 12/pr. Bushel for Wheat, wherefore the Demand is, in Effect, 781,250 Bushels of Wheat, which may certainly be purchased for less than as many Dollars in Specie, if the new Money be not issued. I shall therefore consider the demand as for so many Dollars. Then I pay

To destroy 25,000,000 at 80 for 1 as above 312,500
To defray the Expenses of the current year 781,250
Total 1,093,750
Let a Part of this be paid by the Taxes to wit 293,750
Let the Rem’r. be borrowed viz. 800,000

and to pay this, let a further tax of 162,691 Dollars be mortgaged for six Years. The whole Tax then of the present Year will be 456,441 Dollars; and of the five ensuing Years 162,691. The Difference therefore between the present Mode and the former is, this Year, 105,095 Dollars, and the five succeeding Years each 86,845 Dollars. I am sensible of two Objections which lie against my Proposition. One is that there is not Money enough Edition: current; Page: [170] in the State to pay large Taxes, another that the loans could not be made. To these I answer 1st that we cannot untill the Experiment is made determine what Money is in the State. But if the plain Position be admitted that the Demand for Money will determine the Need of it I shall presently take occasion to shew how the Want, if any, may be supplied. 2ly As to the Practicability of procuring a Loan. I would propose that the Bank be incorporated, the Funds abovementioned mortgaged to them, the Faith of the State pledged to support them, and they [illegible] and directed to make the Loan, or so much of it as the Exigencies of the State might require. I do not believe the whole would be necessary for the Purposes stated. Further, as to a Part of the Loan, to wit 312,500 Dollars, I would propose that Continental Money be received at the Rate of 80 for one, & as to the whole of it, I would propose that the Subscribers pay [several illegible words] the Day of Subscription 1/4 in three Months 1/4 in six Months and the Remaining 1/6 in nine Months, but that it bear Interest from the Day of Subscription. Lastly I would by Law declare that the Notes of the Bank not under three Pounds payable on Demand without Interest should be receivable in some of the Taxes as Specie. I say some of them, because there are some in which Specie alone should be received. These Notes would supply the Place of Money, if there was a want, and on the Contrary if there were no want, they would be immediately brought in for Payment. Now Gentlemen I shall close my observations for the present because I believe you have too much good Sense not to make every proper Reflection—

A Citizen
Edition: current; Page: [171]

12: Observations on Finances: Foreign Trade and Loans (1781?)*

This paper is difficult to assign a date. No published version has been found, nor has the “former paper” Morris cites in the first sentence. The conclusion—that Congress needs an independent revenue—could describe his thinking at any time from 1778 until the Constitutional Convention nine years later. Sparks wrote on the manuscript “1780? Probably printed,” but it was not published with the other public finance essays in the spring of that year. For much of the remainder of 1780 Morris was recuperating from the loss of his leg in mid-May.1

If the paper dates from Morris’s service in Congress, it may be from as early as 1778, when he was preparing a plan for the country’s finances. His committee report of September 19, 1778, recommends both seeking a loan in Europe and the imposition of a poll tax and an import duty.2 Against that is a deleted passage from the manuscript that includes the sentence: “I believe we have engaged a Financier as good as any we would have found even if we had gone into foreign countries to look for him.” Assuming the Financier is Robert Morris, the paper must date from sometime after Morris was appointed Superintendent of Finance in spring 1781. By this time Congress had proposed an impost as well. Thus this may be a draft of a speech or newspaper essay prepared by Morris sometime in the first half of that year. Perhaps, however, it was simply a working document for his own use, for a friend in Congress (possibly Robert Livingston), or for use in the Finance office. Some of these ideas were embodied in the Report on Public Credit of July 29, 1782, which Gouverneur Edition: current; Page: [172] drafted for Robert Morris.3 The passage about Robert Morris may have been deleted when Gouverneur became Robert’s assistant in June 1781.

Having shewn in a former Paper the advantage from foreign Loans it may now be worthwhile to consider that Subject in a few of its different Relations. Some approved old writers going upon certain Principles which they assumed as Facts but which were very disputable & even erroneous had drawn a Conclusion that foreign Loans were impolitic. Among these Principles is the leading one that bringing Specie into a Country is advantageous and carrying it out pernicious. This Principle must be examined because it influences opinion in the Business now before us. It is either true or false according to Circumstances but generally speaking it is false. It is supremely false as to Spain and Portugal. In Great Britain the Importation of Bullion is useful the Exportation more so. In America bringing it in is useful only because it must be brought in before it can be carried out. All this shall be demonstrated. In Spain and Portugal Manufactures languish because Labor and Subsistence are too high. Carry Money out of those Countries faster than it is brought in reduce the Medium by Degrees and Labor would grow cheaper. In Consequence Subsistence would be more abundant and in Consequence of both they would carry on Manufactures for themselves. To dwell on this Part of the Subject is unnecessary because it will receive Light from what follows. In Great Britain to import Bullion is useful. It is a Commodity or rather a raw Material which Industry renders more valuable. It circulates thro all the Different Tribes of Commerce Husbandry and Arts. It leaves the Island again mingled with a thousand different Things and in a thousand different Forms Watches Gilding Lace Embroidery, &ca. The Importation of Specie in this View is like the Importation of Spanish Wool. A vast Quantity of it is exported in Bullion to India. This is also useful because it prevents the too great Increase of it which by raising the Price of Labor in Comparison to other Countries would ruin many of their Manufactories. The same observations apply to France. In Respect to America this Matter ought to be well understood. Let us suppose a Man possessed of Gold to any Amount & that he laid it Edition: current; Page: [173] in his Chest. There it would produce Nothing. Suppose he laid it out to buy Tools and hire Labor for the clearing of Land. There it would become productive. But whatever Labor he hired some other Person might want if Labor were in Demand. The Evil therefore would equal the Good when considered in a general Point of View. Suppose then he brought a Man from abroad and Tools for him to work with sending out his Gold for the Purpose. Here would be a clear gain to the Country. Suppose the Value of a Man’s Labor to be annually ten Pounds over and above his Subsistence. Suppose one Million Pounds could be sent out of the Country and in Exchange for it twenty thousand Men brought in. This would give an annual Revenue of two hundred thousand Pounds whereas Keeping the Money in the Country would give no Revenue at all. But it may be said if so much Money were sent out Commerce would suffer for the want of a Medium. The People would glow clamorous. It is true and they would as heretofore ask Government to issue Paper Money. This would supply the Place of the Gold. The Country would gain by the Exchange. Here then is another Source of our Prosperity and yet nine Men out of ten would cry the Ballance of Trade is against us we are ruined.

It has been said above that many old Writers concluded foreign Loans to be pernicious. These have been followed by a Train of Politicians who prophesized the Ruin of Great Britain from the Increase of the national Debt. They have ventured at different periods to fix the Era of national Bankruptcy by the amount of the day, a Variety of Sums from fifty to two hundred millions. They have been constantly mistaken. The national Debt and national Prosperity have increased together. Expensive Wars are injurious and if they are unnecessary as well as expensive so much the worse. But the Expense being stated borrowing a Part is better than taxing the whole & that is the Reason why Great Britain has for a Century past contended successfully agst superior Force and Resources. But this Proposition must be received with some Limitations. Holland has sunk beneath her Debts. First her Loans were all domestic. Secondly her Country was incapable of greater Improvement. Thirdly her Commerce could be extended only as a Carrier which is the least profitable Mode of employing Money. Hence her Subjects became Lenders to others at a low Interest because they could not find means to invest their Funds to advantage.

France and Britain have borrowed in Holland and they have gained the Difference between the Profits arising from the use of Money and the mere Interest. Besides the Money payable from Britain & France to Holland, if it goes in Cash must raise the Price of Labor in the latter and lower it in Edition: current; Page: [174] the former. Of Consequence the Manufactures of Holland must pine and decay while the others flourish till eventually the Ballance is paid in Goods instead of Money & this has already happened.

There is another Thing worthy of Notice. The Loans which Great Britain has made have prevented her from suffering as much as her Neighbors by the Wars she has carried on and at this Moment her Credit enables her to make Head against an opposition greater than she ever yet experienced. The Subjects of her Enemies are five Times as numerous as her own & with the single Exception of Great Britain herself they are more wealthy and powerful than any proportionate number of People in the World. Yet she opposes them under peculiar Circumstances of Disadvantage. This is by Means of her immense Credit. A Credit partly arising from the very Debts which it was supposed she would sink under. It is true that she must be ruined by the Event of this present war because this Country being cut off the Theatre for Improvement no longer remains. She must therefore soon fall into a Situation similar to that of Holland and the amassed Wealth of her Individuals become a Food for the Improvements Wars and Luxuries of other Countries. Had America continued in Union with her, it is probable that This Misfortune would not have happened.

To apply these Observations to our Country the Reader is requested to cast an Eye at the Map of America and think for himself. His Conclusion from the whole must be that to make Loans for a Part of our Expenditures and to establish our national Credit ought to be two great objects of our Policy. To impress this Conclusion still more forcibly let him reflect that in half a Century our Population will probably amount to fifteen Millions. There will be many more then than now to bear the Weight of Burthens which may now be laid.

But before we can borrow it is necessary that Credit be established and this cannot be done after the severe Shocks it has received without considerable Efforts.4 It requires no great knowledge of Finance to determine Edition: current; Page: [175] that good Sense and Integrity will be of more use on this occasion than the Parade or Affectation of Mistery & Science. It is a plain matter and may safely be rested on plain Principles.

Thus it is very clear that no Man who knows the value of Money will lend it to a Person unable to pay or who is privileged against legal Process. It is equally clear that where a man can give good Security and will pay a high Interest he can command Money. It follows therefore that if Congress are to borrow They must have certain Revenues granted to them in such Manner that they can mortgage them to the public Creditors and thereby put them out of their own Power and that of the States too untill the Debts for which they are mortgaged shall be finally paid. It is the Business of Congress and of the several States to determine the proper Sources from which this Revenue is to be drawn but it must be granted & It ought to be drawn from the same Articles throughout the Union & at the same Rates. It ought to be such as will increase with our Wealth and Population. It ought also to be such as foreigners can easily form an Idea of.

If this be done Money may be had abroad Taxes lessened at Home & the War be supported with Ease to the People. We shall become more rich and more powerful than we otherwise should have done. We shall command Resources which might otherwise be employed by our Enemy. And what is of equal Importance with all the Rest We shall convince that Enemy whose Hopes are confessedly founded in the derangement of our Finances that we are able to carry on the War both longer and easier than he is. That of Consequence he must eventually sink in the Contest & therefore that it is necessary for him to ask Peace. In which Case we and not he shall dictate the Terms. If all this be desirable let the previous Measures be taken. Let the States give to Congress a permanent productive Revenue.

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13: Ideas of an American on the Commerce Between the United States and French Islands As It May Respect Both France and America (1783)*

When Morris arrived in France in early 1789, he already had a reputation for knowledge of economics and finance. In large measure, this reputation rested on several letters that he had written in 1783 and 1784 concerning American trade with the French West Indies, which had been circulated among French policy makers.1 Morris himself was inclined to make light of the letters; in any case he was in France on private business and had no desire to become involved in French policy discussions:

I find . . . that fortunately the Comte de Puisignieu prevented the Publication of my Letter to Mons r. de Chatellux. This Letter is after all, in my Opinion, a very trifling Thing and I cannot conceive the Reason for so much Applause as has been given to it. . . . I tell him I have no Wish to talk with their Ministers on public Affairs but if he [Monsieur de Malesherbes]2 chuses to ask my Ideas it will be my Duty to give them after his very particular Attention to me. In Effect I had rather leave our Affairs in the Hands of our Minister [Thomas Jefferson] and give him my Ideas.

The English originals of most of these documents seem to have been lost. What survive are a draft of the letter to Chevalier de la Luzerne, included here, and a French translation of a letter to the Marquis de Chastellux. Edition: current; Page: [178] There are also summaries of two letters to Chastellux and the letter to Luzerne among Thomas Jefferson’s papers.3

Ideas of an American on the Commerce between the United States and French Islands as it may respect both France and America—It is [considered] by some, to be for the Interest of France to [prohibit] to her Islands the Importation of Flour from this Country, and the Exportation of Sugar &ca. in American Bottoms. That such Regulations will be injurious to the Commerce of the United States, that Artifices will be used to elude them, and that animosities may be excited between the two Powers, is evident. But let us consider whether it [will] advance either the Commerce, the Revenue, or [the] Navigation of France to tread in the Path lately marked out by Great Britain.4

It is said, that the Merchants of Bourdeaux are desirous of confining to themselves the Flour Trade of the Islands. But these Merchants should consider that their Commerce in Wine, already very important, may derive considerable Benefit from the Consumption of this Country. That if America cannot vend her Commodities, she cannot purchase those of other Countries & that the Inability to purchase must restrain us, first, in Articles which are not necessary, and next, in [Articles] which are necessary. In the first Case, we must bear the Want, and in the second we must supply it by our own internal Efforts. Let it then be considered as a general Rule with Respect to this Country, that so long as she can obtain Vent for her gross articles of raw Produce, she will procure Manufactures abroad, and that she will expend for Luxuries, in proportion to her Wealth. But to conciliate the Interests of [French] Merchants with the Interests of this Country, and of the Islands, Edition: current; Page: [179] suppose a light Duty, of about one Livre per Quintal,5 were laid on the Import of Flour from any foreign Country to the french Islands. This would give sufficient Preference to the Produce of France, & secure to the Islands a permanent Mode of Supply, prevent Distress in the Case of Hostilities. It would also produce no inconsiderable Revenue to the Crown.

With Respect to the Islands themselves, it is conceived that they must flourish in Proportion to the Facility with which they can obtain Subsistence. From this Country they cannot receive any European Manufactures, because they can get such things cheaper directly [from] France, & besides which [it] might be provided by an Edict that every Vessel importing contraband Articles should be confiscated, with her Cargo. If the Subsistence of the Islands be cheap, their Produce will be delivered proportionately cheap; & Lands will be cultivated which would not otherwise bear the Expence of Cultivation. As, by this Means, both the Population and Produce of the Islands would be encreased, they would consume more of the Commodities of France, and pay for them more readily. Therefore it may be considered as certain, that every Thing [which] can contribute to subsist the Islands cheaply, must increase the Commerce & Wealth of France. And it is a clear Corollary, that the Navigation & Revenue must increase in as great (if not greater) Proportion. The quantity of Produce being encreased in the Islands, the Revenue arising from that Produce must encrease & the Consumption of the Produce and Manufactures of France being increased, the [Revenue] from that Produce and those Manufactures must also encrease. In like Manner the Produce being encreased, the number of Ships and of Seamen to transport it must be encreased. But further, the Produce being made cheaper by the Cheapness of Supplies, the Demand for it is raised in those Countries which have no Islands, & a Preference obtained over the like Produce from other Countries. The Commerce [in] Sugar between france and the North of Europe will therefore be invigorated, and the Navigation extended in Proportion. On the other Hand it may be worthy of Consideration, in france, that the Sugars of Portugal brought from the Brazils, may soon obtain a Preference (in foreign Markets) over french Sugars, by being delivered at a cheaper Rate.

But will it be prudent for france to permit the Commerce with America, to be carried on in American Bottoms? This also is an important Question. Edition: current; Page: [180] An objection to it is, that if the Americans are permitted to carry away the Produce of the Islands, for their own Use, they will take more than they want, so as to elude any Restrictions [] on them; and if they are permitted, generally, to carry the Produce of the Islands, they will become the sole Carriers of the Islands. To obviate this objection therefore some have proposed that this Trade should be carried on only in french Bottoms. But (all smuggling out of the Question) let it be considered whether this would be a judicious Plan. The Commerce with the Islands cannot be carried on in Vessels from Europe to America thence to the Islands, and thence again to Europe. Nor, supposing the circle to commence at any other of those three points (America for Instance) can it be carried on in that Manner. The articles carried from hence to the Islands must (from the [Nature] of the Navigation among the Islands & on our own Coast) be sent in small Vessels, navigated by few Men. These being not only permanent, but perpetual Reasons; we may well conclude that the Preference formerly given to small Vessels will continue. Such Vessels however are not calculated to carry the Produce of the Islands to Europe, and will suffer as much in a Competition with large Vessels, for that Business, as they will gain in the other [Competition] just mentioned. If then the Islands are to be supplied from hence, by the Intervention of large Vessels from Europe, the Cost of those Supplies will be encreased, and all the Evils consequent thereon must take Place. As this is a Matter which depends a little on Calculation it may be proper to state the general Propositions on which such Calculations are to be founded. And, first, the Produce which is carried directly from America to Europe, employs many [more] Ships than can be employed in bringing articles from Europe to America. Thus, the Tobaccoes exported from the Chesapeak, will require two hundred large Ships, which two hundred Ships are sufficient to bring the annual supplies from Europe for all America—yet Tobacco is among the most valuable Articles of Export in Proportion to its Bulk. Certainly it does not employ above one fifth of the Shipping which plies between Europe and America. It follows from hence, that [a] far greater Part of the Vessels coming from Europe to America must be empty; and this was so notoriously the Case with Respect to the Tobacco Trade, that Goods were freighted from Britain to the Chesapeak for very little, and sometimes for nothing. As tobacco may be carried hereafter to France in french Bottoms, the same Thing will probably happen in the Freight of Goods from France to that Country.

In the second Place it must be considered, that a Ship sailing directly from France to the Islands, can perform her Voyage with great Certainty Edition: current; Page: [181] by a given Time, because of the tropical Winds; but the Voyage to this Country is more uncertain, and much longer.

In both Cases then let it be supposed that she is empty; or, in other Words, that the Ship is risqued, her Crew employed, and the Necessity of Repairs and Refreshments incurred, without any Thing on board, whose Freight can pay the Expence. Now it will be found, that if two Ships sail together, one [for] this Country, and one for the Islands, the Ship coming hither, to fetch a Cargo for the Islands, will have expended (by the Voyage) so much more than the other as will nearly am[oun]t to one fourth the Value of the Cargo to be taken from hence & then she must perform a Voyage (which is always long in such Ships) before she can get to the Islands. The Difference of this Expence is such, as must advance the Price of Supplies carried in that Manner, one fourth [more] than the same Supplies carried from hence in the common Mode. Here then is an Expence incurred, without any Use whatever; and it must be borne either by the Merchant who fits out the Ship, or by the Planter who consumes the Produce. If therefore a free Competition is allowed, it is an Expence which will not be incurred at all; or in other Words, No Merchant will send a Vessel from Europe to carry over products [to the] Islands and take their Produce to Europe. The Corollary is, that No Merchant will send a Vessel from hence to the Islands to take Freight to Europe and return from thence to America. For the Circle is the same, let it commence at whatever Point it may. There is indeed one Case in which American Vessels will take Sugar &ca. to Europe. When a Vessel is built in America, to be sold in Europe, it may sometimes be convenient to send her to the Islands for a Freight, but this will happen only to a Part of the Vessels built for Sale, and can therefore very little interfere in the French carrying Trade. By giving full Permission to this Commerce, France will derive the advantage of having greater numbers of American Ships offered for Sale in her Harbors, which is not a trivial Consideration.

It appears then, that natural Causes will always prevent any material Interference from this Country, in the Carriage of Produce from the Islands, if that Trade be entirely laid open to us. In fact, if we take a View of America (beginning at the South) we shall find that untill we get to the Delaware, so far from being able to carry for others, those States are, and always will be, obliged to employ others to carry for them. The Reason is clear. They have not that Class of People among them from which Seamen are formed, all the Maritime Parts being inhabited by a few [Landholders], Masters of numerous Slaves. Going on Northward, we shall find that the States of Pensilvania & New York must, for a long Period to come, employ Edition: current; Page: [182] Numbers of foreign Seamen to navigate their Ships, used in the Carriage of their own Produce. No Interference then can arise, but from the Eastern States, and if we deduct from the Shipping of those [States] employed in transporting [] Lumber Oil & Live Stock to the Islands, such as are necessary to bring back the Supplies of West India Produce, which they stand in Need of, & such as will be employed in carrying that Produce to the Southern and middle States (there to be freighted home with the articles of Southern Growth consumed to the Eastward) the Remainder is too trivial to be worth Notice.

To make undue Restrictions on the Commerce therefore with a View to encrease thereby the numbers of French Seamen, will defeat the very Purpose intended. For, by allowing a free Trade, the Produce of the Islands will be so much encreased, that with every possible Deduction for what may be carried in American Bottoms, there must be a very great Increase of french Shipping to carry off that Produce. The Benefits in a Commercial Point of View will be reciprocal. Each Nation will derive an addition of private Wealth and of public Revenue, and the Number both of French and American Seamen will be encreased. Which Circumstance ought to be a pleasing Consideration to both Countries, as the Time may not be far distant in which they may at Sea be joined under the same Banners as lately they were at Land.

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14: Address to the Assembly of Pennsylvania on the Abolition of the Bank of North America (1785)*

Robert Morris’s 1781 appointment as superintendent of finance brought the beginnings of order to America’s finances. In May 1781, the Continental Congress approved Morris’s proposal for a national bank, and in December of that year Congress incorporated it as “the President and Company of the Bank of North America.”1 It was not clear, however, that Congress had the authority to issue a corporate charter, and as a result several states also issued charters. The Bank chose to organize itself under the charter issued by the Pennsylvania Assembly on April 1, 1782. But the charter had met with substantial opposition in the General Assembly, and by 1785 the Bank’s opponents felt strong enough to bring a proposal for its repeal. The bill was introduced April 4, 1785, and occasioned considerable debate both inside and outside the Assembly. Both Gouverneur and Robert Morris argued against the repeal. The Morrises saw the Bank as an essential tool in managing the country’s finances, as did Hamilton and as others would later. Their arguments were unsuccessful, however; the charter was repealed September 13, 1785.


Whether the Bank shall be abolished or established, is one of those important questions, which will in course attract your notice. The heat of disputation will then give birth to many arguments. But disputants do not always convey information. There is, no doubt, a great majority of members, Edition: current; Page: [184] who will vote according to their dispassionate judgment; and such men will naturally wish to form opinions on plain reasons plainly delivered. To them, therefore, this paper is addressed. And, in order that we may have a clear view of the object, let us consider, first, whether admitting the institution of the Bank to have been pernicious, a law to abolish it would be wise; and, secondly, whether it is really a pernicious institution.

First, then, admitting the institution of the Bank to have been pernicious, would a law to abolish it be wise? The answer to this question depends on two points. First, whether such a law would be effectual; and secondly, whether it would be prudent. An inquiry whether the law would be effectual involves a doubt of your power, and may, therefore, offend the weak or illiberal, but wise representatives of free citizens will listen with candor and form a dispassionate judgment. They know that the boasted omnipotence of legislative authority is but a jingle of words. In the literal meaning it is impious. And whatever interpretation lawyers may give, free-men must feel it to be absurd and unconstitutional. Absurd, because laws cannot alter the nature of things; unconstitutional, because the Constitution is no more, if it can be changed by the Legislature. A law was once passed in New Jersey, which the judges pronounced to be unconstitutional, and therefore void. Surely no good citizen can wish to see this point decided in the tribunals of Pennsylvania. Such power in judges is dangerous; but unless it somewhere exists, the time employed in framing a bill of rights and form of government was merely thrown away.

The doubt which arises on this occasion, as to the extent of your authority, is not founded on the charter granted by Congress; but supposing the incorporation of the Bank to have been the same in its origin as that of a church, we ask whether the existence and the rights acquired by law can be destroyed by law. Negroes have by law acquired the right of citizens; would a subsequent law take that right away? It is not true that the right to give involves the right to take. A father, for instance, has no power over the life of his child, nor can a felon or traitor, pardoned by act of grace, be by repeal of that act condemned and executed. Should an act be passed to cancel the public debts, would that act be valid? Where an estate has been granted by law, can it be revoked by a subsequent law? Could the lands forfeited and sold be resumed and conveyed to the original owners? Many such questions might be put, and a judicial decision, either affirmative or negative, would be inconvenient and dangerous. Look then to the end ere you commence the labor.

Secondly, admitting your power, ought it, in prudence, be exercised. You Edition: current; Page: [185] will certainly consider, that, as a violation of private property, it must sully the reputation of the State. Good men are careful of their own reputation, and protect that of their country, from sentiment. Wise men are confirmed in this sentiment, by reflection and information. Facts are sometimes better than arguments. It is then a fact, that applications made by citizens of Pennsylvania to borrow money in Holland have been defeated by those attacks already made on the Bank. It is also a fact, that the credit of our merchants has been greatly injured, in foreign countries, from the same cause. This is the argument which foreigners use. If your government so little respects the property of their own citizens, as to overturn an institution like the Bank, how can our property be safe among you? It will not be easy to answer that question, and you know, gentlemen, that your merchants cannot give credit, unless they can get credit; and you know also how important credit is to the frontier inhabitants, at least, if not to those of the more settled country.

Deeply, therefore, are we interested in preserving unsullied fame. But if this consideration has not sufficient weight, reflect on the domestic consequences of abolishing charters. What is practice today becomes precedent tomorrow. And sure it is worth some serious thought, whether this dangerous practice shall be introduced. Every man is interested in the establishment of such precedent, as a member of some religious society, or of particular corporations for the promotion of science, or the purposes of humanity. Attention to the changes of human affairs, like meditation among the tombs, teaches solemn and affecting lessons of wisdom and moderation. Look back to the disputes which convulsed this commonwealth twenty years ago. Mark the succeeding revolutions. See how friendships and how enmities have changed. See how power has been wrested from one, and grasped by another. This generation will soon pass away. Who can designate the men that will sit in seats of authority twenty years hence, or five, or one? You are here today and gone tomorrow. Beware then how you lay the foundation for future encroachments. While justice is the principle of government, to be innocent is to be secure. Be not then seduced by the momentary bauble of power; for place it where you will it is dangerous, and the tyrannous use of it is always tyranny. Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword. The violent must, of necessity, become victims of violence. Should the next election give power to those who may now be oppressed, what bounds shall be set to unbridled resentment? May not all charters be at once laid low, by a general law declaring the existence of corporations to be incompatible with the public welfare? Since, then, Edition: current; Page: [186] these consequences may follow, we may reasonably doubt whether a law to abolish the Bank would be wise, even if the institution had been pernicious. But is it really a pernicious institution?

This question is of great magnitude. Some objections against the Bank may perhaps be well founded. Let us examine them. They are,

First, that it enables men to trade to their utter ruin by giving them the temporary use of credit and money.

Secondly, that the punctuality required at the Bank throws honest men into the hands of usurers.

Thirdly, that the great dividend on bankstock induces monied men to buy stock rather than lend on interest.

Fourthly, that rich foreigners will, for the same reason, become stockholders so as that all the property will finally vest in them.

Fifthly, that the payments of dividends to foreigners will be a constant drain of specie from the country.

Sixthly, that the Bank facilitates the exportation of coin.

Seventhly, that it injures the circulation of bills of credit.

Eighthly, that the wealth and influence of the Bank may become dangerous to the government.

Ninthly, that the directors can obtain unfair advantages in trade for themselves and their friends.

And tenthly, that it is destructive of that equality which ought to take place in a free country.

These objections, though artfully made and industriously circulated, do not consist very well together. For if it be true that the Bank enables men to overtrade themselves, by the use of money at an easy rate; it cannot be true that it throws men into the hands of usurers, who exact for the use of money an exorbitant rate. If it be true, that foreigners will buy out stockholders, even as is said at fifty per cent advance, so as to become proprietors of the whole; it cannot be true that the money of our rich citizens will be vested in bankstock, and none remain for loans. If it be true, that the Bank facilitates the exportation of coin; it cannot be true that it injures the circulation of bills of credit, which bills are always expressly emitted to supply the real or supposed want of specie. If it be true, that the use of money obtained by discounts at the Bank ruins the trader; it cannot be true that the directors and their friends would gain any advantage by it. If it be true, that the Bank has a tendency to lock up in its vaults the money of rich citizens; it cannot be true that it facilitates the exportation of coin. If it be true, that foreigners will continually bring in money to buy the principal of the stock; Edition: current; Page: [187] it cannot be true that the country will continually be drained of specie by paying the dividend on that principal. If it be true, that the funds of the bank must finally vest in foreigners; it cannot be true that it is destructive of equality among the citizens.

Thus much in general. Let us now consider each objection by itself; and FIRST, that it enables men to trade to their utter ruin, by giving them the temporary use of money. It is true that the Bank has given facility to commercial people, of which some have made an imprudent use, by engaging in rash and ruinous enterprises. But this abuse of commercial advantages cannot be prevented, otherwise than by the destruction of commerce itself, or by confining the trade, as in China, to an exclusive company. Neither of these modes would suit the genius and temper of Pennsylvania. We must therefore, as in former times, leave the foolish to suffer the consequence of their folly, and not punish, for their sakes, the sober and discreet. The convenience merchants derive from being able to obtain money for short periods, and on easy terms, is of the greatest consequence to them. And it would be a marvellous thing indeed, if the use of water were prohibited, because some people choose to drown themselves.

SECONDLY, it is said that the punctuality required at the Bank throws honest men into the hands of usurers. This objection will admit of nearly the same answer with the last. If men, who borrow for a short term, will engage the funds borrowed in long speculations, thereby depriving themselves of the means of payment, who is to blame? Is it the benevolent lender, or the foolish and dishonest borrower? Why did he incur the debt and undertake the payment? Or why divest himself of the means? But say, that a man is, by misfortune, in want of a considerable sum, without which his credit would suffer. The Bank advances the sum for forty days, and saves him from ruin. If within that period he collects his funds, and repays the advance, has he derived no benefit from the Bank? If at the end of forty days he should be unable to pay, is the situation worse than it was? If in that case the Bank renews the discount for forty days more, which has usually been done, is not the benefit increased? And if after all, when it will trust him no longer, he apply to usurers, which he must otherwise have done in the first instance, is the Bank to blame? But the man it seems has been unfortunate, and is ruined, which ruin the Bank did delay, but could not prevent.

Now what is the conclusion drawn from these premises, and how is it drawn? Why thus. Misfortune is the cause of loss. Imprudence is the source of disappointment. Loss and disappointment demand supplies of cash. Usurers exact enormous interest. Bad voyages, wild speculations, mismanagement, Edition: current; Page: [188] and usurious interest, produce ruin. Therefore the Bank must be destroyed. It must be destroyed, because it would not continue to trust men who were no longer trustworthy. Before this objection be repeated, let these men, or at least one of them, be openly named; so that the directors may have an opportunity fairly to combat the charge; and then, if they do not show that the party received every indulgence he had any right to claim, expect, or even hope for, let the charge be established. But until this opportunity be given, let not the voice of slander be heard in the sanctuaries of legislation.

Rely on it, gentlemen, that however calumny may cast the aspersion, no proof will ever be adduced. It might therefore be abandoned to merited contempt. But since such pains have been taken to inculcate a false idea, that the Bank promotes usury, let us recur to facts. Before the establishment of the Bank, usury had been carried to an alarming degree. Men of the greatest property, who happened to be here from the neighboring States, were forced to pay as high as ten per cent for one month’s anticipation of their remittances; merchants who met with misfortune were driven to the greatest distress, and the public could not obtain advances upon any terms. Under these circumstances the Bank was instituted; and there are many in this city and elsewhere whom it saved from destruction. The number of usurers and the rate of usury were soon diminished. But as there still remained some objects, whose distresses the Bank could not relieve, because most of its funds were employed in the public service, so there still remained some usurers to prey on those distresses. In proportion as the number who want money is increased, or which comes to the same thing, as the means of obtaining money are diminished, in the same proportion will usury abound and flourish. This the usurious know, and therefore they have never intermitted their efforts to destroy the Bank, as the sure means of increasing and securing their unrighteous gains. Beware then, gentlemen, that you be not dupes to the artifice of such wretches. It is indeed but a slender and despicable artifice; a poor attempt to persuade you, that an institution which lends for one half per cent per month drives folks to borrow at ten per cent. And on this ground they suggest, that the best mode of preventing men from giving ten per cent for a month’s use of money, is to disable them from obtaining it on any other terms.

THIRDLY, it is said the dividend on bankstock induces monied men to buy it rather than lend on interest. The object of this assertion is to persuade you, that the difficulty of borrowing money arises merely or chiefly from the Bank, which is not true. For first, it is notorious that few stock-holders Edition: current; Page: [189] are of that class, who were in the habit of lending on interest. Such as are foreigners or inhabitants of the neighboring States, and these it is said own half the stock, would not lend their money in Pennsylvania, even if circumstances favored such loans. A considerable part of the remaining half belongs to small stockholders, who would not send their money into the country. And a far more considerable part is the property of merchants, who would be obliged immediately to employ their funds in their own business, if deprived of those facilities which the Bank affords. After making these deductions from the capital of the Bank, the remainder, belonging to those who would and could lend, will be inconsiderable. But such as it is, to whom would it be lent? Not to farmers, who pay interest irregularly, and from whom the principal cannot always be recovered without legal process. No, it would be lent to merchants, and the greater part to such as, through necessity, give more than legal interest. Can it be believed, while usurers get ten per cent per month for the use of money, and pledges in hand for security, that the twenty or thirty thousand dollars, now vested in bankstock, which belong to men not engaged in active business, would be lent on bonds and mortgages for six per cent per annum? It is true that money cannot be borrowed, and it is also true that the purchase of bank-stock is more profitable than lending on interest. But trace the evils complained of to their true sources, and it will be found that they flow from that usury, which has been occasioned by the peculiar circumstances of the times, and from that opposition which has been excited against the Bank. Why is money scarce and not to be borrowed? Why is it so desirable to own bankstock? An answer to these two questions will lead to the solution of a third. How is money to be made more plenty, and to be obtained with more ease?

First, then, why is money scarce and not to be borrowed? It is a melancholy truth, that during the late war many were ruined by payment of their debts in paper greatly depreciated. Some, who received the paper while it was valuable, put it in the loan office. Some purchased land. And some kept it till it was good for nothing. It is evident, that these persons, who before the war were lenders of money, have no money to lend now; and that every shilling so paid and disposed of must be deducted from the sum formerly at interest in Pennsylvania. The remainder of that sum is still in the hands of those, who borrowed it ten years ago, and cannot be lent before it be paid. It may perhaps be said, that some merchants made money during the war. But it will be found that the gainers were few, the losers numerous; and that taking the merchants collectively as a body, they are poorer by millions. Edition: current; Page: [190] The reason therefore why money is not to be borrowed is, that no one has money to lend, and even admitting that there should be a few who can lend, there are none who will; for the following reasons. Those who want are always willing to borrow, but those who owe are not always willing to pay.

If therefore the laws of a country, or the administration of those laws, countenance unreasonable delays of payment, the owners of money, or anything else, will not dispose of their property on credit, unless they be tempted by great interest, or great profit. And such as disdain usurious dealing will not be tempted at all. A prudent peaceable man would rather buy stock in the British funds, and receive regularly but five per cent, than take a mortgage at six on the best estate in Pennsylvania. Because he may suffer for years a detention of both interest and principal, and because he apprehends some things which have happened already, and may therefore happen again. For instance, he trembles lest a long train of paper emissions, with a legal tender at the tail of them, should cancel his debt for a tenth of the value. He fears also, that a tax on his bond may reduce the precarious interest of six per cent to four, and even oblige him to pay the two per cent tax, though he cannot recover the six per cent interest. Thus we find, on fair investigation, that money is scarce, because, in one way or another it has been taken or withheld from the owners; and that money is not to be borrowed, from a well grounded apprehension that, when due, it will not be repaid.

Let us then, in the second place, inquire why it is so desirable to own bankstock. Three causes present themselves. First, that the dividend gives something more than legal interest, although by extension of the capital, and contraction of the business, it yields less than formerly. Secondly, that this dividend is payable with rigid punctuality at the end of every half year, so that the proprietors can count with certainty on their income to defray their expenses. Thirdly, that in case of unforeseen demands the stockholder can, for legal interest, command a temporary accommodation; and if unfortunate events should oblige him to collect all his resources, he can speedily sell and thereby command the value of the stock. To these three reasons, which strike every person at first sight, must be added a fourth as applying more directly to the charge, that the benefits of bankstock incline men to purchase it rather than lend. After the peace, when the advantages of the Bank had been felt, and the property of stock had become secure, an opposition was raised by some of the same persons who are now the opposers, but on ground somewhat different. For then, instead of considering Edition: current; Page: [191] a bank as pernicious, it was declared to be so highly beneficial that they must needs have two.2

They did indeed complain of the old Bank. But for what? Not because the capital was so large as to threaten general ruin, but because the directors would not open a subscription to make it larger. And what was the modest request of that day? Why truly such an extension of the capital, as might enable those, who had waited for events in perfect ease and safety, to enjoy the same advantages with those who had borne the burthen, and ran the risk of the contest. It was indeed a hard case, that many worthy gentlemen, who would not have given a shilling to save the State, should be obliged either to pay five hundred dollars for a share in a bank which had cost but four, or to lend their money on bond and mortgage to the farmers of Pennsylvania. A very hard case! And so loudly did they complain of it, that at last many sensible members of Assembly were prevailed on to believe it would be a good thing to have two Banks, two shops to go to; for that was the fashionable phrase. And they were the more easily led into this opinion, because it was laid down by some in high station, for whose sentiments they had acquired a habitual respect. But that respect may perhaps be diminished, if those who pronounced decisive judgment two years ago that two banks were necessary, should now as positively pronounce that no bank at all is necessary; and wonderful to relate, go cackling round the country, that one bank is pregnant with ruin to the State. The language of truth is uniform, and these sudden changes of hasty opinion show so great a want of temper and knowledge, that those who really mean the public good will quit such blind guides, and think for themselves. The consequence of the noise made at that time must be well remembered.

The Assembly were plagued with long arguments on both sides, which might as well have been spared, and then all at once the thing was hushed up and accommodated. Because such of the promoters of the new bank as had money found out that most of their new friends had none. Because they all found out, that the scheme did not promise so much either of profit or security as was imagined. And because they had not too much confidence in each other, being like Nebuchadnezzar’s image composed of discordant materials. They agreed, therefore, to abandon their project, on certain conditions Edition: current; Page: [192] acceded to by the old Bank, one of which was to extend the subscription; and this it is which has converted all the surplus money of the State into bankstock. For otherwise, let the price of a share have risen ever so high, nay had it gone to four thousand instead of four hundred dollars; not one penny would have been added to the bank capital. But in proportion as stock rose, the dividend would have been less valuable, till at length it would have been more profitable to lend at six per cent, than to purchase bankstock. For instance, if the dividend on a share of four hundred dollars had continued to be forty dollars, and the price of such a share had risen to be eight hundred dollars, then the purchaser would have got only five per cent for his money, instead of six.

Thirdly, then, let us inquire how money may be rendered more plenty and easier to be obtained. And first, the surest way to render money plenty is to bear the evils of scarcity. To make it plenty, according to the desire of some, would be as in the continental times to make it no money at all. For when it can be obtained without labor, and found without search, it is of no use to the possessor. Those nice politicians, therefore, who try to make money so plenty that people may get it for nothing, will find that their money is good for nothing. The scarcity constitutes the value. And when that scarcity is such that men will do a great deal for a little, it will become plenty; for those will always have most money, who will give most for it. The complaint that money is scarce is generally made by the idle or the unfortunate; by those who will not, or those who cannot give anything in exchange for money, except bare promises which they cannot or will not perform.

Now such men would suffer more from the want of cash in Amsterdam or London, where it is most plenty, than in any part of the State of Pennsylvania. If folks are idle they must be relieved by labor, and if poor by charity. Till this be done, the complaint that money is scarce will continue, and though very loud, will not be very just. There was, for instance, a grievous complaint of the want of money at the close of the war; and yet every man who had a bushel of wheat could get eight or nine shillings for it. People in general plunged into extravagance, and laid out their coin for foreign fripperies, and the merchants unable to remit for payment of these things in produce, except on ruinous terms, sent away the coin; so that in two years there has been more money exported from this country, in which a scarcity was then complained of, than is necessary for a circulating medium. The several States are now issuing paper, that what little specie is left may also be exported, instead of the wheat, corn, rice, and tobacco. Flour has long Edition: current; Page: [193] been cheaper in London than in Philadelphia. We buy fine coats, and handsome buckles, and a thousand other handsome fine things in London, and then when called on to pay, though our barns be full of wheat, we will not sell it as formerly for five shillings the bushel, but sit down and cry because money is scarce. The wagon is in the mud, and we beg Hercules to pull it out without putting our own shoulders to the wheel. The Legislature must relieve us, for we will not relieve ourselves. And against what do we want to be relieved? Why against our idleness, extravagance, and folly.

But, secondly, another means of making money plenty is to render it less necessary. For this purpose enforce the punctual payment of debts, so that those who trust can be sure of recovering in season from those, whom they have trusted. This will produce two happy consequences. First, that men will no longer run in debt for idle gewgaws, which they must pay for with their substance when pay day comes. Executions for debt will then be as wholesome warnings to the extravagant, as executions for crimes are to the profligate.3 Secondly, a man who wants to buy land or needful goods on credit will then obtain the credit desired. The punctuality of his payments will extend his credit. Those payments will also enable the merchant to comply with his engagements, which will, in like manner, extend his credit at home and abroad. In proportion to the punctuality of remittances, the merchant will get longer credit, and on better terms; and thus money will be plentier because the trading people, who have always a preference in such things, will be relieved from the necessity of borrowing.

Thirdly, another means of making money plenty, is to enforce a collection of taxes, make solid provision for paying the interest of our debts in coin, and introduce order and economy into the administration of affairs. This will restore the public confidence, and then the value of certificates will rise, and the possessors be able to dispose of them for cash. Thousands will thereby be relieved, who are now in great want of money, and under the dire necessity of getting it from usurers, or going to gaol.

Lastly, these plain and simple measures will make money not only plenty but easy to be obtained. Because industry and frugality, which want but little, will thereby be introduced; and we can always command money when we are not in want of it. As to those blades who must forever want, because they spend their time in streets and taverns, and occupy themselves with State affairs, instead of their own affairs, and who dress and feast and will Edition: current; Page: [194] not work, but wish to borrow; let them meet the rebuff given by an old philosopher to one of their predecessors. “Friend, borrow of thy back and belly, they will never ask thee for the money, but I should be very troublesome.”4

A FOURTH objection made against the Bank is, that rich foreigners will be induced to become stockholders, so as that all the property will finally vest in them. This objection has some weight, and, if it be allowed to operate as a bar to measures of public utility, will save a deal of time and trouble to the government, though it may not conduce to the prosperity of the State, and must prove injurious to those by whom it is made. People in general seem now to expect some permanent provision for the interest of the public debts, and if that should happen, foreigners will purchase a considerable share. The Dutch are said to hold about thirty millions sterling in the British funds, bearing an interest of four per cent, and they lent five million guilders to Congress at five per cent, when no funds were provided, and during the war. Hence we may with certainty infer, that they will buy up the certificates bearing six per cent, when placed on a solid footing. Is that a sufficient objection against providing for the public creditors? And if not in one case, why in the other? The practice some men have of affirming today, and denying tomorrow, is neither decent nor becoming. A grievous complaint is made of the want of money, and yet as grievous a complaint of the only means to obtain any. We have it not at home, and we must not receive it from abroad. Do these gentlemen suppose it will rain money now, as it did manna of old? And because they have the same perverseness with the children of Israel, do they expect the same miracles? To experience a want of public credit is, they say, terrible; but to destroy the only means of supporting public credit is, they say, desirable. Let us appeal to facts.

No country on earth enjoys extensive credit which has not a public bank. We have ourselves experienced its good effects, when we were in the greatest distress. And shall we now be told that the Bank must be destroyed, and yet public credit be supported? People who speak in this way show great ignorance, or something worse. They ask how a bank contributes to public credit; and, if no reply be made, think they have gained a victory, when they have puzzled an opponent. For the sake of those who love truth, and not with any hope of making such men sensible either to shame or conviction, their question shall be answered. The Bank may be likened to that which Edition: current; Page: [195] bears the same name, a bank or dam for collecting the waters. After a head is raised, some part turns the wheels of the mill, and some part waters the adjacent grounds. Take the bank away, and the water will still flow, but not with the same beneficial effect. If revenues were appropriated to the interest of the public debt, and other important objects of government; should any delay take place in collections, a similar delay of payment would also happen. The want of punctuality would lessen the value of stock. And, on the other hand, if collections were more rapid than the payments, much money might be taken out of circulation, and lodged in the public coffers.

The consequence would be, either that commerce must suffer as, at present, for the want of it, or that the State must procure more money than is necessary; which might not be very easy, if we may judge from past experience. But with the aid of a bank, the same stream turns the wheel, and fertilizes the ground, being prudently applied to either purpose as occasion requires. And so the same sum of money will not only supply the business of the merchant and of the State, but the funds proceeding from trade, and those arising from taxes, will, when thrown into the same mass, mutually aid the operations of each, and jointly secure the objects of both. Nor is there the least danger that foreigners will hold even a great proportion of the bankstock. Bankstock will always be most useful for the mercantile man who lives on the spot. Because he, and he alone, can at once receive the dividend, and when occasion requires have, by loan for a short time, the use of his money; so that he will naturally outbid the foreigner. And as the object of the foreigner must be to secure a certain annual income from his funds, make but the interest of the public debt as regular and safe as the bank dividend, which by means of the Bank is easily done, and the foreigner will as naturally wish to exchange his bankstock for an amount of funded loan office certificates yielding more annual interest, as the merchant will to exchange such an amount of certificates for bankstock. And so far from any danger to the State, by the interest of foreigners in their funds, there is a great security. Every foreign creditor is an advocate for us with his own government, in times of public calamity, and is induced to lend more as the means of securing what has been already lent; especially if he has been regularly paid the interest of his capital.

The FIFTH objection against the Bank is, that the payment of the dividend to foreigners will be a drain of specie from the country. This has already been answered in part; but farther, a man who has bought a piece of ground wants to borrow money for the purpose of clearing, fencing, draining, and cultivating it. He would not relish the advice of a neighbor, Edition: current; Page: [196] who might tell him not to borrow, lest the payment of interest should drain him of cash. He might indeed be glad to get the money at a low interest, or for no interest, but he would certainly get it if he could; and by industrious attention, and a prudent application of it, he would pay both principal and interest from the profits of his farm. And thus by degrees, a wilderness is converted into beautiful cultivation. From the discovery of America to the present hour, we have been paying interest for what we owe on the other side of the Atlantic. Our debt and our prosperity have gone hand in hand. And yet when people now complain of the difficulty of borrowing money, they must be told it is for their advantage not to obtain the principal, because they will not, in that case, be obliged to pay the interest. If a farmer in Pennsylvania has to pay annually five pounds for the use of a hundred pounds borrowed, is it of any consequence to him whether the lender lives in Philadelphia, New York, Boston, London, or Amsterdam? Twenty bushels of wheat will do the business. And when he has parted with them, whether they are eaten in Philadelphia, or sent to Lisbon, is none of his affair. On the large scale, indeed, it might be convenient that wealthy men should cross the Atlantic to become citizens of Pennsylvania; and so they will, if equal just laws, and a mild firm administration give that security to property, without which it is a curse instead of a blessing. But if bad laws be made, or the good laws be badly executed, and if solid establishments can be overturned by every capricious breath, the wise and the good will avoid us as they would the pestilence. Then indeed there will be a constant drain of wealth, for none will leave property in a country where it is insecure.

But farther, though we admit that borrowing does every year carry a sum out of the country for payment of interest, it will not follow that the country is impoverished by the amount of that sum. When a farmer wants necessaries, and has not cash, he must either take them on trust, or borrow money on interest. Everybody knows that the difference between buying with ready money, and buying on credit, is much greater than the interest on the price of the goods, and therefore it is cheaper for the farmer to borrow, than to run in debt at the store. Just so it is with the country. Most of the articles we want, when purchased at the first hand, must be immediately paid for; and when merchants abroad lay out their cash to buy goods, and after, sell them to us on credit, we pay, in the price of such goods, not only an interest on the purchase money, but for the trouble foreign merchants take, and the risk they run. To all this is added a handsome commission, and then a round profit into the bargain. Thus, for instance, since it has been the practice to buy tea with cash at the first hand, we get that article for Edition: current; Page: [197] nearly one half of what it used to cost. Let any man therefore calculate the difference between paying fifty pound per annum, instead of a hundred, in price, and six per cent, or even ten per cent per annum, for interest on the fifty, and he will be convinced that we are recompensed five fold for the dividend paid abroad.

On the whole, the matter stands thus. The merchant whose business it is, and who must for that reason be the best judge, tells you that the advance of money by foreigners for bankstock, and the facility which the Bank can thereby give to commercial operations, enable him to carry on business more advantageously, though he sells imported commodities lower, and buys produce higher, than before the war. The farmer, who perhaps neither comprehends nor cares for the reasons on which this assertion may be founded, prudently brings it to the test of experience. The tree, says he, is known by its fruits. Let me examine the facts. He does so, and finds that most of the articles imported can be purchased for much less than formerly, and that he can get half as much again for his wheat. So that duties properly laid on articles, the consumption of which is chiefly unnecessary, and sometimes pernicious, would pay the interest of the public debts, and not cost the consumer more than before the war. Thus, without imposing new burthens, full relief may be given to the public creditors, and they be thereby enabled more cheerfully and more easily to sustain their share of such burthens, as circumstances may hereafter require. All which advantages we must, it seems, forego, and preclude ourselves from the possibility of establishing public credit, lest foreigners should derive an interest on lending us money. Overturn the Bank, say they, and perhaps you may get a little of their money. Kill the goose that lays golden eggs, and you may wear her feathers.

SIXTHLY, it has been said that the Bank facilitates the exportation of specie. Of all the charges in the world, this is the last which one would have expected. The operations of the Bank depend, as every body knows, on the quantity of specie in its vaults. When that is gone, the Bank is done, just as the mill stands still when the pond is dry. And therefore to suppose the directors would facilitate the exportation of coin, is the most absurd of all suppositions. Truth is, the directors of the Bank are extremely solicitous to prevent the exportation of coin, and happily for the State have the means in their power. The bank capital is about a million of dollars, part of which is in their vaults, and the remainder lent for short periods. The amount of their loans is supposed to be twice as much as their capital. A part of the sum lent is in bank notes, the remainder in coin. Now, therefore, when the Edition: current; Page: [198] directors find that cash is exported, which they do at once, by perceiving that any considerable sum goes out of the Bank in a week more than is received, they are not merely led by inclination, but driven by necessity, to lessen or to stop their discounts, according to the nature of the case and the degree of the evil. This stoppage has the effect, for not only the money is prevented from going abroad, but if the stoppage continue, it is brought in from every quarter. The operation is so powerful, that on one occasion many thousand dollars were brought to the Bank, and there, taken out of those packages in which they were, next morning, to have been shipped to London.

In this place it may be proper to notice the strange opinion, that in the present state of trade a bank is injurious. This opinion seems to have been founded on the idea, that because money is collected in the Bank, it may easily be taken out of the Bank. And so indeed it might by an armed force, but those who have tried the experiment in any other way, have been disappointed. The money is collected in bank, it is true, but how is a man to get it out? Either he must sell property for the purpose, and then it is of no consequence whether the payment comes out of the Bank, or out of the Treasury, or where it comes from. The owner may dispose of it as he thinks meet; and we might as well say, that David Rittenhouse facilitates the exportation of money, when he pays for arms or clothing to a merchant who sends it to Europe, as lay that blame on the Bank.5 The other mode of getting at money in bank, is by borrowing for the short period of forty days, and if the borrower ships it off, he will be obliged, when the forty days expire, to hunt for it, and will sometimes pay dearly for his trick. Perhaps it will be found on examination that some of those, who complain of being driven to deal with usurers, had been dabbling in this way, and proved too cunning for themselves, as cunning men generally do.

So far is the Bank from being injurious to the present state of trade, that the converse of the proposition is true, viz. that the present state of trade is injurious to the Bank. And it would have been ruinous to the commonwealth, but for the seasonable checks given by the Bank, which checks are among the causes of the present complaints. They say the Bank facilitates the exportation of coin, and that therefore they complain; but in truth the Bank prevented them from exporting the coin, and therefore they complain. While a man spends more than he earns, his coin must go to pay the Edition: current; Page: [199] difference, and he will have less of it when the year ends than when it began. Just so it is with a country. We import great quantities of goods; we either cannot or will not give produce on moderate terms to pay for them, and yet we grumble that our cash runs low. We will not acknowledge our own imprudence, but accuse the Bank, which has alone resisted the general torrent; by which means Pennsylvania is better off than any of the neighboring States.

A SEVENTH objection against the Bank is, that it injures the circulation of bills of credit. This is a popular argument, and therefore it is made. But as to the truth of the assertion, the authors do not trouble their heads about it.

Their maxim is, let us lay it on, and let them take it off as they can. Some will stick. Suppose this kind of morality were extended a little, and when these charitable kind hearted people walk the streets, one of their proselytes should bedaub them with the contents of the kennel, hugging himself in the idea that some will stick, would they not find the practice of their own principles rather unpleasant? Pray how has the Bank injured the circulation of paper money? Why the paper is not received in bank as specie. And did ever any man suppose it would, or could be so received? If it had, would not the directors have been guilty of an infamous breach of trust? Could they have excused themselves to those of whose specie they had the custody? The Bank might indeed have given currency to the bills, as long as their coin lasted, by exchanging one for the other; and no one can doubt that in this case the coin would, as fast as exchanged, have been packed up and sent to our good friends and favorites in London. Under such circumstances, those candid gentlemen who prayed and voted for paper currency, and afterwards refused to receive it, would perhaps have played their patriotic game quite through. And we may reasonably suppose too, that when the coffers of the Bank were filled with their emissions, they would have found as good reasons to abolish the paper, as they now do to abolish the Bank. If a refusal to give money for bills of credit be an injury, what shall be said for those who, though patrons of the plan, would neither give money nor anything else for the bills? It would be difficult to make an apology, if the generality of the refusal were not a sufficient reason for each individual.

Let us then be candid, and far from reprehending the practice, calmly seek the cause. Paper can only circulate on a par with specie, from a general belief that it is equal to specie. The faith makes the thing. If there be not such a general belief, it cannot be equal to coin, because it will not so generally answer the purpose. The holder may think, as in the continental times, Edition: current; Page: [200] that his three pound bill is worth eight dollars, and be very angry that his neighbor is not of the same opinion. But unless he can persuade the person whose goods he wants, that the paper is really equal to the silver, his own conviction will be of small avail. Admitting then, for argument’s sake, that every merchant in Philadelphia did really and truly believe the new bills to be worth what they specify; still they could do nothing with them, unless the farmers, whose produce they want to purchase, had the same belief, and would sell that produce for paper as freely as for gold. Because the merchants being either in debt, or wanting to purchase goods in foreign countries, can make no other use of the paper than to buy such things as may be sent abroad. And further, they must be able to buy not only such things, but at such prices, as may answer in foreign markets. If, therefore, the country gentlemen will agree to sell wheat for five shillings the bushel in paper money, merchants will be as solicitous to receive, as they are now to avoid paper. But while produce continues at the present prices, wise merchants will not sell but for specie, which they can export safely, because they must lose by sending away produce; a practice which some have pursued to their ruin.

Having thus hinted at the true means to give paper a brisk and lively circulation, candor requires that a few words be said in favor of the landed interest, on whom the blame might otherwise be thrown. Supposing, therefore, the charge to be made against an honest farmer, he would perhaps make the following reply. How can it be expected, that I should repose confidence in a government, who for eight years past have been the victim of that confidence? A piece of my land was sold for continental bills; these are all sunk in the gulf of depreciation. Part of my property was seized by officers of Congress, and part was sold to officers of the State. For all this I have nothing but useless certificates. When everybody had grown sick of the old money, Congress issued new, and though experience was against the measure, yet relying on their wisdom, I took the new bills cheerfully; but found, to my sorrow, that the new travelled in the same road with the old, and the only difference was that they travelled faster. The bills issued about that time, by the State, had what they call funds for redemption, but they soon fell to six for one. I have observed too, that when these bills become of little value, the government joins in and agrees to the depreciation; so that every one who receives them is sure to suffer in the end. Now, therefore, until I have eight years’ experience that government may safely be trusted, I cannot forego the benefit of that experience, which I have bought so dear. Edition: current; Page: [201] By trusting government, one half my substance is gone; the other half must be kept to provide for my family.

These reasons, or reasons like these, are not confined to any one body of men, either merchants, husbandmen, or manufacturers. They pervade all ranks and degrees. The citizens of Pennsylvania will not give free circulation to the State paper, because they have not confidence in the government. We know that confidence cannot otherwise be established, than by the steady pursuit of just measures, for a number of years. It is self evident and every man must feel as well as see it. Every man therefore can judge of the excellent sense of those, who cry, down with the Bank, if you could give circulation to the bills. Break a promise made three years ago, by way of inducing men to rely on the promise you make now.

But EIGHTHLY, it is said that the wealth and influence of the Bank may become dangerous to the government. It is a political monster whose property may be ten millions of dollars, whose duration is perpetual. These circumstances are so terrible, that some are for putting the poor monster to instant death, while others in their great goodness would only give him a hectic,6 which should work his dissolution in a dozen years. Of each in turn, but first of those who would limit the duration of the Bank to a few years, and limit the capital to what suits their own ideas of propriety. These are really the worst of the two, for their half way conduct would be every way wrong. Such a law would be as unjust, and have every essential circumstance of violence, as the immediate dissolution of the charter. And however they may deceive themselves into an opinion of their own lenity, not a man among them would either as juryman or judge admit it to be a good defence against a charge of murder, that the act had been performed by a slow poison. Public credit must suffer alike in both cases, for in both the rights of private property will be alike violated.

What then are the advantages held out? Why it seems, that if the charter be limited to a short period, the legislature can, at the expiration, renew it on such terms and conditions as may to them seem meet. And these terms or conditions must of course be some benefit to the commonwealth, which could not otherwise have been obtained. And to prove these things, the Bank of England is quoted. But the choice of an example is rather unlucky, for that limitation of their charter, which one cunning Minister introduced, other cunning Ministers have at different times taken advantage of, till at Edition: current; Page: [202] last all the substance of the Bank has been squeezed out. And for what purpose? Was it to open navigations? To clear new roads? To extend a lucrative commerce? No, it was to support the power of the Minister for the time being, and feed the expense of those ruinous wars, which the people would not otherwise have borne. Standing then on the ground of their experience, let us look forward to the probable consequence of such a limitation in Pennsylvania. Suppose the period arrived when the charter is to expire. Is it certain the State would then want aid from the Bank? If not, the object of the limitation is gone. But even supposing the State should stand in need, what temptation could they offer to obtain relief? Not a prolongation of the charter, because the supposition implies a breach of the contract made when the Bank was first instituted, and therefore no reliance could be placed on any subsequent contract. For if the Bank should lend to the government, then the canceling of that debt would be an additional motive for dissolving the Bank.

Nor is this suspicion injurious, for one act of moral turpitude is always the prelude of another. But admitting that the Bank would purchase a few year’s existence; from whom would the purchase be made, and for what price? The directors of that day would naturally cast their eyes on the leading members in Assembly, and open the negociation with them. Men of great wealth and influence, should any such arise, would make use of the Bank to extend and increase their authority. They would watch this moment to obtain seats in Assembly. And if a majority could be prevailed on to vote with such leaders, the purchase would be made of them, and the price would be some private gain, and not the public good. In like manner, if the capital be limited, it is not the State, but great men in the State would receive the benefit of an enlargement. And why should the capital be limited within narrower bounds than at present? It is notorious that if the directors had not been under compulsion, they would not have extended the subscription beyond the first four hundred thousand dollars.7

It is notorious also, that every addition to the number of shares lessens the value of each. And therefore we have the best security in the world, the interest of the proprietors themselves, against an increase of the capital. In like manner there is every reason to believe that the Bank will continue to afford that aid to government, which has never yet been withheld when it could with propriety be granted. And if they should extend their capital, a thing so contrary to their interest, it can only be on some trying occasion, Edition: current; Page: [203] to support the government of which they are citizens, and preserve the ship in which all are embarked. The charter being held sacred, as chartered rights ought ever to be, applications for aid by the State will be plain and manly transactions, not dirty jobs. The Bank will candidly state their means, the extent to which they are willing to go, and the security they are willing to accept. They will perhaps, on such an occasion, point out the ill treatment they have received, when funds appropriated by the Assembly to payment of a former loan were diverted to another object; and in their quality of citizens, as well as that of directors, they will perhaps go a little farther, and state with becoming firmness the dangers, which must ensue if any individual shall dare to alter appropriations of public money made by legislative authority. But surely this can do no harm. Calm reflection will therefore convince a candid man, that the wealth and influence of the Bank can only become dangerous to the State, by laying it at the mercy of great men in the State. For it is utterly inconceivable that four or five hundred stockholders, of all ranks, parties, and denominations, should join in choosing directors who would attempt to overturn the government. On the contrary it is a truth vouched by uniform experience, from the earliest ages, that the monied interest of a country will ever oppose, check, and counteract all changes, and convulsions of government; because that interest is sure to be the victim of confusion and disorder. This last consideration applies forcibly also to the arguments of those, who would now dissolve the charter.

Let them further consider, that the business of banking is not, of necessity, to be carried on by public banks alone. One or more individuals may form a banking company, whose operations will be extensive and lucrative, in proportion to the degree and extent of their credit and connexions. Over such a bank, or such banks, there can be no control. The citizens of Philadelphia will have no vote in choosing directors, nor will any person be particularly interested in observing their conduct. Dissolve the National Bank in March, and by the first day of May a private bank will rise on its ruins. The merchants of Philadelphia will pour in their coin, with as much confidence as they now do into the National Bank; and experience has so clearly shown the advantage of such an institution, they will not, cannot be without it. If therefore the enemies of the Bank will look around, and see who are the men that will probably set up such a private bank, it may do more towards bringing them to a right judgment, than the most conclusive arguments.

The NINTH objection is, that the directors can obtain unfair advantages in trade for themselves and their friends. And it must be owned, that Edition: current; Page: [204] there is some force in this objection. But it cannot be alleged that the supposed advantages are unfair. Some advantages are necessarily attendant on the place of a director, and some inconveniences are as necessarily the appendages.

It is not possible that things should be otherwise, and the only check is in the annual election, by which the stockholders have an opportunity of testifying their sense of each director’s conduct. This will always prevent any great mischief. For the Bank being an institution in which the money of many acts for the benefit of all, by being jointly applied to each in his turn, every stockholder is a sentinel, bound by his private interest to discover unfair practices, and sound the alarm, when undue advantages are obtained, because the preference of one must operate the exclusion of another. After all, however, we must acknowledge, that this evil will in some degree prevail, for we know that nothing on earth is perfect. But must we forego a great advantage to all, because a greater advantage will result to a few? We might as well object to the existence of government, because it must be administered by fallible men, and confer on them superior eminence and authority, or to the use of money, because it is sometimes applied to vile purposes, as object to a money government or bank, because the labors of a director are compensated, or more than compensated, by commercial advantages.

LASTLY, then, let us consider whether the Bank be destructive of that equality, which ought to take place in a free country. And the first question is, whether by equality is meant equality of property, or equality of rights. If it be the former, then it may perhaps be doubted whether the opposers of the Bank would themselves agree to an equality, that is to say, a general division of property among all the citizens of Pennsylvania. This might suit eight or ten thousand gentlemen, who came over last year from Ireland and Germany to give us the honor of their good company. But will the substantial freeholder, or wealthy mechanic be willing to pay for that good company such an exorbitant price? We have in general, it must be confessed, been ready enough to give a preference to strangers over our own brethren and countrymen, but there is reason in everything. If an equality of rights be meant, then the objection vanishes, for any man may purchase the right of a stockholder in the Bank for less money, than he can purchase a farm, even in the back counties. So that he may be a stockholder on easier terms than he can be a freeholder. And if it suits one man to be a stockholder, and the other to be a freeholder, neither ought to grumble at the right or possessions Edition: current; Page: [205] of the other. But if, which is most likely, the objectors mean here, under a plausible cry raised about equal rights, to cover the dictates of envy at superior fortune and success in the world, then they had best consider again, whether by overturning the public Bank they would not assist in setting up a private bank. And whether such private bank would not bring very great accessions of wealth to those, whom they particularly dislike.

You, gentlemen of the Assembly, who are the guardians of Pennsylvania, and bound by every principle which can actuate honest men to promote her welfare and prosperity, it is with you to consider this great object in all its lights. The objections raised will doubtless be varied. The answers given will certainly be disputed. Perhaps the arguments in support of the Bank are not so strong as the advocates believe. One thing however is certain, that consequences of the last importance to your constituents must follow from your decision. If therefore the event be doubtful, nay if the destruction of this charter should not be absolutely necessary, pause a moment and consider most deeply what you are about to do. How can we hope for public peace and national prosperity, if the faith of government so solemnly pledged can be so suddenly violated? If private property can be so lightly infringed? Destroy this prop, which once gave us support, and where will you turn in the hour of distress? To whom will you look for succor? By what promises or vows can you hope to obtain confidence? This hour of distress will come. It comes to all, and the moment of affliction is known to Him alone, whose divine providence exalts or depresses states and kingdoms. Not by the blind dictates of arbitrary will. Not by a tyrannous and despotic mandate. But in proportion to their obedience or disobedience of his just and holy laws. It is he who commands us that we abstain from wrong. It is he who tells us, “do unto others as ye would that they should do unto you.

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15: The Constitution of the United States (1787)*

Morris was, by his own admission, a surprise choice to represent Pennsylvania at the Constitutional Convention, but he proved to be one of its most active members. On September 10, 1787, the convention adjourned to allow the Committee of Style and Arrangement to put its handiwork in order. By eighteenth-century custom, the committee chair, William Samuel Johnson of Connecticut, would be expected to do the work; but by all accounts the work was done by Morris. He reduced the convention’s twenty-three articles to seven, ordered the contents, and wrote the Preamble as well as the letter transmitting the document to Congress.1 Responding to Jared Sparks, Morris’s biographer, in 1831, James Madison recalled Morris’s role:

The finish given to the style and arrangement of the Constitution fairly belongs to the pen of Mr. Morris; the task having, probably, been handed over to him by the chairman of the Committee, himself a highly respectable member, and with the ready concurrence of the others. A better choice could not have been made, as the performance of the task proved. It is true, that the state of the materials, consisting of a reported draft in detail, and subsequent resolutions accurately penned, and falling easily into their proper places, was a good preparation for the symmetry and phraseology of the instrument, but there was sufficient Edition: current; Page: [208] room for the talents and taste stamped by the author on the face of it. The alterations made by the Committee are not recollected. They were not such, as to impair the merit of the composition. Those, verbal and others made in the Convention, may be gathered from the Journal, and will be found also to leave that merit altogether unimpaired.2

A false story about Morris apparently gained currency from a speech of Albert Gallatin’s about a decade after the convention.3 Gallatin claimed that Morris had tried to enlarge the powers of Congress by inserting a semicolon after “lay and collect taxes, duties and excises” in Article I, section 8. The insertion, so the story goes, was designed to make the next clause—“to provide for the common defense and general welfare”—an independent power. According to Gallatin, one of the Connecticut delegates detected Morris’s “trick,” and the convention “restored” the original language. No such dialogue occurs in the records of the convention, however, and a letter from Madison in 1830 indicates that the semicolon did not appear in any other copy the convention had. Madison concludes that it was “an erratum of the pen or press,” not a trick of Morris’s.4

The Constitution of the United States of America

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

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Article I.

Section 1.

All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.

Section 2.

The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.

No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.

[Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.]* The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative; and until such enumeration shall be made, the State of New Hampshire shall be entitled to chuse three, Massachusetts eight, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations one, Connecticut five, New York six, New Jersey four, Pennsylvania eight, Delaware one, Maryland six, Virginia ten, North Carolina five, South Carolina five and Georgia three.

When vacancies happen in the Representation from any State, the Executive Authority thereof shall issue Writs of Election to fill such Vacancies.

The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.

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Section 3.

The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, [chosen by the Legislature thereof,]* for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote.

Immediately after they shall be assembled in Consequence of the first Election, they shall be divided as equally as may be into three Classes. The Seats of the Senators of the first Class shall be vacated at the Expiration of the second Year, of the second Class at the Expiration of the fourth Year, and of the third Class at the Expiration of the sixth Year, so that one third may be chosen every second Year; [and if Vacancies happen by Resignation, or otherwise, during the Recess of the Legislature of any State, the Executive thereof may make temporary Appointments until the next Meeting of the Legislature, which shall then fill such Vacancies.]

No person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty Years, and been nine Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen.

The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided.

The Senate shall chuse their other Officers, and also a President pro tempore, in the absence of the Vice President, or when he shall exercise the Office of President of the United States.

The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.

Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.

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Section 4.

The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of Chusing Senators.

The Congress shall assemble at least once in every Year, and such Meeting shall be [on the first Monday in December,]* unless they shall by Law appoint a different Day.

Section 5.

Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members, and a Majority of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; but a smaller number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members, in such Manner, and under such Penalties as each House may provide.

Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behavior, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member.

Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such Parts as may in their Judgment require Secrecy; and the Yeas and Nays of the Members of either House on any question shall, at the Desire of one fifth of those Present, be entered on the Journal.

Neither House, during the Session of Congress, shall, without the Consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other Place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting.

Section 6.

The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States. They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the Edition: current; Page: [212] same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be ques tioned in any other Place.

No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been increased during such time; and no Person holding any Office under the United States, shall be a Member of either House during his Continuance in Office.

Section 7.

All bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.

Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such Reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a Law. But in all such Cases the Votes of both Houses shall be determined by yeas and Nays, and the Names of the Persons voting for and against the Bill shall be entered on the Journal of each House respectively. If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not be a Law.

Every Order, Resolution, or Vote to which the Concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary (except on a question of Adjournment) shall be presented to the President of the United States; and before the Same shall take Effect, shall be approved by him, or being disapproved by him, shall be repassed by two thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives, according to the Rules and Limitations prescribed in the Case of a Bill.

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Section 8.

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

To borrow money on the credit of the United States;

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;

To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;

To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;

To establish Post Offices and Post Roads;

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;

To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations;

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

To provide and maintain a Navy;

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular Edition: current; Page: [214] States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings;—And

To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

Section 9.

The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.

The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.

No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.

No Capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census or Enumeration herein before directed to be taken.*

No Tax or Duty shall be laid on Articles exported from any State.

No Preference shall be given by any Regulation of Commerce or Revenue to the Ports of one State over those of another: nor shall Vessels bound to, or from, one State, be obliged to enter, clear, or pay Duties in another.

No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.

No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince or foreign State.

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Section 10.

No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility.

No State shall, without the Consent of the Congress, lay any Imposts or Duties on Imports or Exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing it’s inspection Laws: and the net Produce of all Duties and Imposts, laid by any State on Imports or Exports, shall be for the Use of the Treasury of the United States; and all such Laws shall be subject to the Revision and Controul of the Congress.

No State shall, without the Consent of Congress, lay any duty of Tonnage, keep Troops, or Ships of War in time of Peace, enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power, or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.

Article II.

Section 1.

The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice-President chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows:

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

[The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two persons, of whom one at least shall not be an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves. And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each; which List they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the Seat of the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted. The Person having Edition: current; Page: [216] the greatest Number of Votes shall be the President, if such Number be a Majority of the whole Number of Electors appointed; and if there be more than one who have such Majority, and have an equal Number of Votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately chuse by Ballot one of them for President; and if no Person have a Majority, then from the five highest on the List the said House shall in like Manner chuse the President. But in chusing the President, the Votes shall be taken by States, the Representation from each State having one Vote; a quorum for this Purpose shall consist of a Member or Members from two thirds of the States, and a Majority of all the States shall be necessary to a Choice. In every Case, after the Choice of the President, the Person having the greatest Number of Votes of the Electors shall be the Vice President. But if there should remain two or more who have equal Votes, the Senate shall chuse from them by Ballot the Vice-President.]*

The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.

No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.

[In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by Law provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what Officer shall then act as President, and such Officer shall act accordingly, until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected.]

The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be increased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.

Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully Edition: current; Page: [217] execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Section 2.

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.

He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.

The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.

Section 3.

He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper; he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers; he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States.

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Section 4.

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Article III.

Section 1.

The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services a Compensation which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.

Section 2.

The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority; to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls; to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction; to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party; to Controversies between two or more States; between a State and Citizens of another State; between Citizens of different States; between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, [and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects.]*

In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party, the supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction. In all the other Cases before mentioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.

The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by Law have directed.

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Section 3.

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

The Congress shall have power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.

Article IV.

Section 1.

Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.

Section 2.

The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.

A Person charged in any State with Treason, Felony, or other Crime, who shall flee from Justice, and be found in another State, shall on Demand of the executive Authority of the State from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the State having Jurisdiction of the Crime.

[No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.]*

Section 3.

New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or parts of Edition: current; Page: [220] States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.

The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.

Section 4.

The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.

Article V.

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.

Article VI.

All Debts contracted and Engagements entered into, before the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be as valid against the United States under this Constitution, as under the Confederation.

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

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The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

Article VII.

The Ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be sufficient for the Establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the Same.

Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth. In Witness whereof We have hereunto subscribed our Names.5

George Washington
Washington, George
September 17, 1787

Letter to Congress


We have now the honor to submit to the consideration of the United States in Congress assembled, that Constitution which has appeared to us the most adviseable.

The friends of our country have long seen and desired, that the power of making war, peace and treaties, that of levying money and regulating commerce, and the correspondent executive and judicial authorities should be fully and effectually vested in the general government of the Union: but the impropriety of delegating such extensive trust to one body of men is evident—Hence results the necessity of a different organization.

It is obviously impracticable in the foederal government of these States, to secure all rights of independent sovereignty to each, and yet provide for the interest and safety of all—Individuals entering into society, must give Edition: current; Page: [222] up a share of liberty to preserve the rest. The magnitude of the sacrifice must depend as well on situation and circumstance, as on the object to be obtained. It is at all times difficult to draw with precision the line between those rights which must be surrendered, and those which may be reserved; and on the present occasion this difficulty was encreased by a difference among the several States as to their situation, extent, habits, and particular interests.

In all our deliberations on this subject we kept steadily in our view that which appears to us the greatest interest of every true American, the consolidation of our Union, in which is involved our prosperity, felicity, safety, perhaps our national existence. This important consideration, seriously and deeply impressed on our minds, led each State in the Convention to be less rigid on points of inferior magnitude, than might have been otherwise expected; and thus the Constitution, which we now present, is the result of a spirit of amity, and of that mutual deference and concession which the peculiarity of our political situation rendered indispensable.

That it will meet the full and entire approbation of every State is not perhaps to be expected; but each will doubtless consider, that had her interests been alone consulted, the consequences might have been particularly disagreeable or injurious to others; that it is liable to as few exceptions as could reasonably have been expected, we hope and believe; that it may promote the lasting welfare of that country so dear to us all, and secure her freedom and happiness, is our most ardent wish.

With great respect,
We have the honor to be,
Your Excellency’s most
Obedient and humble Servants,
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16: American Finances (1789)*

Morris had long wanted to go to Europe, and in 1788 his business ventures with Robert Morris at last gave him a reason to do so. Robert’s fortunes began their long decline in 1787 when his London agent suddenly defaulted. Gouverneur’s mission was to try to pick up the pieces as best he could, and especially to save the large contract with the Farmers-General of tobacco in France. Besides this damage control, he intended to pursue some other ventures, including purchasing the American war debt to France and selling land in New York.1

On his journey to Europe, Morris spent some time collecting his thoughts on American affairs.2 On arriving in Paris, he had extensive discussions with Thomas Jefferson, then American minister to France, on American affairs and particularly on finance. This paper was one result of those conversations. It was completed sometime that spring, and enclosed with the letter to Robert Morris of May 8.

The establishment of a new Constitution in America, while it raises the hopes of all true friends to liberty, cannot remove the apprehensions of many, who are intimately acquainted with the affairs of the United States. Those gentlemen, therefore, who are called to act a part on that first great theatre of American legislation, to which the eyes of all are directed with expectation and anxiety, will feel the importance of the duties they are to perform, and, impressed with such feelings, they will not perhaps withhold a moment’s attention to the ideas of an individual, who has no other claim to their notice, than a zeal for the public welfare.

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Among the subjects, which must occupy the deliberations of Congress, those of Finance will demand a principal share. To make effectual provision for the foreign debts, and for those which are due to their fellow citizens, to obtain the sums requisite for current service, to establish on a firm basis the national credit, these are objects which must contribute to reputation abroad, tranquillity at home, security everywhere. All will agree in the propriety of revenue for these important purposes, and so long as the government shall confine itself to general theoretic propositions, universal assent may be expected, but the instant any step is taken towards the necessary end, opposition from some quarter or other will certainly arise; and although the progress towards that end must not be retarded by slight obstacles, yet some may be encountered, which cannot be surmounted, and which ought therefore to be avoided.

The national treasury has an exclusive right to all duties and imposts on commerce, but the commercial States have already laid duties, and incorporated them into their domestic systems of revenue and administration. Some have appropriated them as a fund for payment of the State debts, others, to the discharge of debts due by the Union, which they have adopted. If then these revenues be taken from the States, without any provision for their relief, it would excite disgust among many friends of the new Constitution, and furnish weapons to its enemies. A plausible pretext would be given for opposition to such of the State Legislatures as are inclined to oppose. They would excuse whatever systems they might adopt, upon the ground of necessity, and thus every vice in such systems would adroitly be charged to the account of Congress.

There is a concurrent jurisdiction, respecting internal or direct taxes, but each of the States has laid hold of that, which accords best with the prejudices of its citizens, and is consequently least repugnant to their feelings. Hence the needful resort to this species of revenue will either increase the burthen upon those things which now bear it, or falling on new objects excite apprehension, perhaps disgust, and even opposition. It is the vice of direct taxation, that collectors ask money from those who generally speaking have none to give, and the payment being involuntary produces complaint. But while there exists a party disposed to propagate and magnify every ground of disgust and disaffection, a more than usual degree of caution becomes needful on the part of government.

Another great difficulty arises from the extent and variety of the United States. These render it almost impracticable to tax them equally, because the same sum drawn from like objects in different places would not be proportionate Edition: current; Page: [225] to their respective value. And even if it would, there is a further inconvenience, which arises from the necessity of apportioning direct taxes in a manner fixed by the Constitution. This, which seems to force the Congress into requisitions, leads thereby to perpetuate that ineffective system, whose result will always be a grievous disappointment, and thence much disorder in the finances, and thence national impotence and extravagance.

A difficulty of another kind and of no little magnitude arises from that want of confidence in the government, which so long and so generally prevailed. It is a truth not perhaps sufficiently attended to, that the loss of credit always involves a loss of authority. How indeed can it be otherwise, since both are founded on opinion? That sudden, prompt, and as it were joyful obedience, which is the offspring of respectful confidence, cannot be hoped for in the first moment. The operations, therefore, will be heavy, and those speculations in the public funds, which have drawn the money from commerce, husbandry and the arts, to a business lucrative to individuals, but destructive to the community, will increase the natural difficulty of collecting taxes in America. It must not be forgotten also, that the want of a ratio for apportioning taxes, and adjusting old accounts between Congress and the States, may be seriously felt.

Thus the difficulties arise, present themselves, and demand deliberate attention. To obviate them, let us suppose first, that all accounts with the States be settled without any view to the various contributions demanded. That every sum paid into the public treasury, or value supplied, with the interest, be carried to their respective credits, and the balances which may be due to each, after deducting the payments or advances made to them, be constituted a debt from the Union to the States, bearing interest at six per cent. This would quiet all clamor and heart-burning about quotas and proportions for the past, and it would become a fund from which the States would not only pay the principal and interest of debts due to their particular creditors, but provide also for the administration of their own internal affairs, without the necessity of imposing taxes for either purpose. Consequently all the sources of revenue would at once be laid open to Congress without impeachment. The means of paying this debt to the States will come into contemplation hereafter.

Suppose, secondly, that duties were laid similar to those, which Congress called for in the spring of 1783. It is needless to inquire here whether any alterations therein would be prudent, whether salt would be a proper article to be added, and the like, for everything of that sort is mere matter of arrangement, to be adjusted in consequence of conversation and reflection Edition: current; Page: [226] among the different Representatives, who will doubtless adopt what appears best at present, and make such amendments hereafter as experience may dictate. It seems, however, to be an opinion both general and well founded, that these duties would produce annually from one and a half to two millions of dollars. In order then to establish the public credit abroad, a loan might be opened in Europe for payment of the debts to France, to Spain, to foreign officers, and to the Farmers General, as also for various contingent matters, which will occur in the course of the investigation. These objects would require a sum, which, together with the present loans in Holland, may be stated at about twelve millions of dollars, the interest of which at five per cent would be six hundred thousand; consequently the duties would leave about a million surplus. But instead of appropriating a specific sum of these duties to such loans, it might be best to appropriate the whole, declaring that the surplus should be carried to the aggregate fund. The terms and the manner of such loans, with many other details, are matters of administration, which will be considered presently. It is from the surplus of these loans, after paying the various demands abroad, that the current expense of the war should be taken, because the taxes to be imposed for that object cannot be productive until a future period. But besides the current expense, it is probable that there will still remain a surplus, which may be usefully applied towards establishing the public credit, by taking up some of these unrepresented effects, which now float about the continent, and will, so long as they exist in their present depreciated state, impair confidence and prevent domestic anticipations. But this also is a matter of administration.

Suppose, thirdly, that a general tax were laid of one twentieth of the produce payable in kind, but redeemable by the taxable at one half of the value at the place of delivery. A thousand objections rise at once, and yet the idea may merit consideration. There are circumstances, which render a measure of this sort more applicable to America, than to any other country. Let it then be examined, premising that the surplus, if any, beyond the contribution of the State, as fixed by the Constitution, is to be paid into the State Treasury. Hence it results that the State Legislature may safely and usefully be entrusted with various matters of internal administration, which relate to it. Thus, there can be no danger in leaving them to enumerate the objects on which the tax is to fall, and to fix the value of each; for if by defective enumeration, or valuation, the sum prove deficient, Congress may increase the ratio of demand, or lessen the redemption price. And leaving Edition: current; Page: [227] the enumeration to the States, enables each to give indirectly a protection to the cultivation or manufacture, which it may wish to introduce.

In like manner the States can have no inducement, by fixing too few or too many places of delivery, either to burthen the people or to increase the expense of collection; for it is understood that each taxable person should deliver at the place of delivery the proportion allotted to him either in articles or cash. They would have every reason to provide that the collectors and receivers should sell and dispose of the articles at the best price, and therefore as the receivers should be appointed by the Union, with authority to appoint the collectors within their respective districts, and the whole expense of collection should be paid by a certain commission on the amount the States might be entrusted with, making many regulations respecting their conduct, they would naturally watch that conduct with a useful jealousy. The States might also be entrusted, at least in the first instance, with determining in what mode the share of each taxable should be ascertained. The estimation ought to be, and probably would be, the just value of each article at the place of delivery, and as the individual could commute it for one half of that value, the payment would generally speaking be in money. For this is an inverse progress to the plan which has usually been pursued, of laying taxes in money, and making them payable in produce above its value, which always brings in produce instead of money.

A tax of this sort would be perfectly just, and seldom or never oppressive;3 for a good crop can bear a large tax, and when the crop fails the tax is avoided. Every day’s experience would meliorate the collection, and thereby render it both more productive and less burthensome. The circumstance of having receivers and collectors of the Union throughout the country, would be no serious objection, although it might at first furnish a topic of declamation to many unfriendly dispositions. It would, certainly, tend to procure for the Union better lights, than they now possess, and these persons would always be at hand to explain the operations of Congress, so as to avoid this representation and consequent disaffection. By this means also the collection of taxes might go on for the ensuing year, at the same time with the enumeration of the people, and the one would be completed in season to regulate the other.

The appropriation of this tax might be first to the current service; but in this place it is proper to observe, that the civil list might be paid by taxes on Edition: current; Page: [228] legal proceedings in the national courts, and from the post office, so that those, who derive the immediate and evident benefit from government, would immediately and evidently contribute to its support. The military and naval establishments, with what relates to them, would by this means be first in the appropriation of the direct tax. And therefore these important services would certainly be provided for.

The second appropriation might be to pay the interest of the debt above mentioned from the union to the several States. This circumstance would greatly facilitate and accelerate the collection. The balance, if any, might go to the aggregate fund.

Lastly, this aggregate fund, which should contain the remainder of all receipts, whether ordinary or extraordinary, ought to be chargeable with the interest of the domestic debt, and the balance, after deducting contingent expenses, should be applied as a sinking fund, in discharge of the public debts generally. The mode of this application is also an object of administration. But it may not be amiss to observe here, that in proportion as the public debt shall be lessened, and by the extension of commerce the public revenue increased, a part of the duties may be applied to the construction and support of a Navy, for the protection of that commerce on which it depends.

Success in matters of administration must depend on the powers and abilities of the administrators to take advantage of circumstances as they arise, and use them for the public benefit. But setting aside all question as to integrity, and notwithstanding the good effect of ministerial responsibility, the conciliation of public confidence is so important, that it will always be wise to guard in such manner against abuses, as that the public mind may be tranquillized. On no subject perhaps can it be more needful to take precautions of this sort, than on that of finance both for the public security and for the reputation of the Ministers. It might therefore be wise to provide, that the terms on which loans are to be made, and the manner of making them, should be discussed and decided on, not only by the officers of the Finance department, but by the President and the other principal officers of State, such as the Secretary at War, and of Foreign Affairs. These taken together might be very safely entrusted with the appropriation of the revenue to purposes generally described in the law, and as their determinations would be secret, the public would derive every advantage of wisdom, activity, and integrity from such an arrangement. And in the same view of this great subject it occurs, that as some matters must, after all possible care Edition: current; Page: [229] in the framing of instructions, be left to the discretion of the agent or Minister employed in Europe, it would not perhaps be quite useless to direct, that in affairs of major importance, he should consult with the other public Ministers abroad. But as this is more properly within the purview of the Administration, than of the Legislature, the idea shall not be pursued.

The absorption of those unfunded effects, which are at present in circulation, appears to be a measure of indispensable necessity to the establishment of public credit, but the ways and means are not very evident. To purchase them up might be well, when funds are at command for that purpose, but a formal act of the Legislature to that effect would defeat itself, and at the same time be charged by some with injustice, which charge, whether well or ill founded, will always be both unpleasant and injurious. To receive them on loan, would increase the public debt considerably, and prove of but little relief to the holders, who having only small sums would be obliged to sell to those who have money, and who would by that means profit considerably by their dispersed and indigent situation. Perhaps it might be well to make them receivable in the direct taxes, at the rate of one half the amount annually for two years, and the administration above mentioned under general powers might in the mean time apply the surplus of any loans abroad, and also the effects of any anticipations which would be obtained, in purchasing them up, which, after a provision made for them, would be a justifiable procedure. Every saving resulting therefrom would be felt within two years at farthest, and the taking of them out of circulation would be felt immediately. To prevent, at the same time, any material defecit of the revenue, the estimates for the service of the first two years should bear, each, one half of this unfunded debt, and afterwards a like amount might be carried annually to the head of Marine, and thus this operation would only postpone for a little time the naval establishments of the United States.

A third object of administration is mentioned above, viz. the application of a sinking fund to the discharge of the public debts. Perhaps America offers the fairest field for this business of any country on earth, especially if the above hints should be converted into any regular plan. The debt due by the States would in such case be represented by a debt due to them from the Union. Every purchase therefore of stock from the State creditors would enable a set off by the Union in alleviation of its debt to the State, and as the only revenue which would prove deficient would be that, which this last debt would be founded upon, and as this deficiency could only arise Edition: current; Page: [230] from the neglect of the States themselves, the Administration of the Union would on every principle be justifiable in beginning their operations at that end.

From looking back on this sketch, a general and consoling idea arises, viz. that the people of the United States by paying to the public treasury one fortieth of the annual produce of their property and their industry, and by allowing one shilling on the pound on their consumption of foreign productions, which is in effect a bounty on domestic manufactures, would establish their credit on the most solid foundation, bind their union by the most indissoluble ties, quiet the apprehensions by which they have so long been agitated, and secure, as far as human prudence can do it, the future enjoyment of freedom and happiness.

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17: Observations on Government, Applicable to the Political State of France (1789)*

The Estates-General convened on May 5, 1789, amid royal pageantry and unrealistic expectations. Morris attended the opening session with Thomas Jefferson and later commented to Mrs. Robert Morris:

Here drops the Curtain on the first great Act of this Drama in which Bourbon gives Freedom. His Courtiers seem to feel what he seems to be insensible of, the Pang of Greatness going off.1

Throughout that summer Morris was frequently asked his advice on constitutional issues, since it was well known he had a part in writing the new American Constitution. His initial reluctance to give advice to the French (see the headnote to chapter 13) faded as he became convinced that the French were about to replace one despotism with another.

Around the end of July, as Morris was preparing to travel to England on some more of Robert Morris’s business, a member of the Estates-General asked him “to throw together some Thoughts respecting the Constitution of this Country.”2 This is probably that document, although the original apparently has not survived. Morris wrote it on July 25 and spent the next few days alternately translating it and consummating his relationship with Adele de Flahaut. That translation also does not seem to have survived; the version here is Sparks’s back-translation from an unknown French original.

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That the French have not those manners, which are suited to a free constitution, is a reflection by no means dishonorable to that nation. It applies with equal force to all others, whose political situation is similar. Voltaire has called his countrymen, lâches courtisans mais braves guerriers.3 Had the despotism been more complete, that moral painter would perhaps have said vils courtisans et lâches guerriers.4

But whence this deprivation of morals in arbitrary governments? The Almighty, for wise purposes, has formed man in such manner, that he lives not in himself, but in the opinion of others. In monarchies he looks upwards, and each contrives how best to gain the good opinion of his immediate superior. Begin then at the point of the pyramid, where the crown is placed, and in each degree of descent you will find that, to flatter the prevailing folly or the ruling vice, obtains the good opinion of the superior, and opens the way to fortune. The vulgar, who are at the base of the pyramid, dazzled by the splendor of the great, suffer their opinion to be captivated by show, and adore the idol that is raised for their devotion. With them a golden calf commands the respect, which is due to the Lord of Hosts.

In a republican government, those who wish to be great must begin by obtaining the good opinion of their equals. For this purpose they must be virtuous, or appear so; and the appearance has, generally speaking, the same advantages, as to the community, with the reality; because the example is the same, and because the opportunities of ruining the nation, by vices long concealed, are not frequent. But remark, that the possession or appearance of virtue will not alone suffice. In this kind of government, as in the other, the prevailing follies and vices must be flattered. The Roman must be brave, the Athenian polite, the monk devout; and each must prefer the interest of his society to those of mankind, and the rules of his Order to the principles of justice. In pursuing these reflections, we shall find the source of an important maxim, which Montesquieu has advanced; That laws and manners have a mutual influence on each other. To fit us for a republic, as for any other form of government, a previous education is necessary. But what is education? Let us not confound things. Education of the head, learning, pedantry, superstition; these are what the college confers. Education of the heart, manners, these we derive from the society around us. Edition: current; Page: [233] Hence the Dutchman is avaricious, the Englishman proud, the Frenchman vain; and yet each has read the same Livy, the same Cicero, the same Horace.

The education, even the scholastic education, of a free government is more virtuous, because the tutor is obliged to sacrifice to public opinion; and the pupil does not see a horrible contrast of divine precepts and diabolical practices. In free governments, men are obliged to pay inviolable regard to their promises, because falsehood is a crime which cannot be concealed, and which, as it exposes to infamy, is sure to impede the march towards that greatness, which can only be obtained by public favor. This is a trait of infinite consequence, because men, being able to trust each other, perform cheerfully the part allotted to them, either for the acquirement or for the defence of liberty.

Lastly, in free governments the laws being supreme, and the only supreme, there arises from that circumstance a spirit of order, and a confidence in those laws for the redress of all injuries, public or private. The sword of justice is placed in the hands of the constitutional magistrate, and each individual trembles at the idea of wresting it from his grasp, lest the point should be turned upon his own bosom, or that of his friend. In despotic governments the people, habituated to behold everything bending beneath the weight of power, never possess that power for a moment without abusing it. Slaves, driven to despair, take arms, execute vast vengeance, and then sink back to their former condition of slaves. In such societies the patriot, the melancholy patriot, sides with the despot, because anything is better than a wild and bloody confusion. Those, therefore, who form the sublime and godlike idea of rescuing their fellow creatures from a slavery, they have long groaned under, must begin by instruction, and proceed by slow degrees, must content themselves with planting the tree, from which posterity is to gather the fruit.

But to quit metaphor, which, though it may enforce sentiment, very rarely conveys a clear and precise idea; and leaving these general observations, in order to apply more particularly our investigations to the facts immediately before us, it must be remembered, that, as each individual is governed by the opinion of the public, so each contributes to the formation of that very opinion. Thus, a thing not unfrequent in moral action, the effect becomes, in form, the cause. Those things then, which command the public opinion, command the public. A reverence for religion gave power to its ministers. Again, destroy at once an opinion, without raising at the same time another, you destroy all which stands connected with that opinion. Edition: current; Page: [234] Bring the people to despise their priests, and their religion is gone, unless you introduce enthusiasm to drive out superstition. The French have a blind deference for their nobles, and a warm attachment for their Prince. Bring them to detest the one and despise the other, what have you gained? A multitude ungoverned, and very soon ungovernable. Will you preach to them as a philosopher, the dignity of man, the empire of reason, the majesty of the laws? You might as well talk of the centripetal and centrifugal forces in the solar system, or the reflection and refraction of the rays of light. To such fine discourses, you will receive your answer from some decollated victim at the Place de Grève.5

And what end are we to look for as the result of unbridled licentiousness? History tells us of but one. Reason can discover but one. Experience proclaims that it is despotism. If then from history, from reason, from experience, we may derive one lesson, as to our political conduct, we must agree in the propriety of preserving those objects, which now command the reverence of opinion, till time shall raise a new generation, educated in different opinions. Leave to the people a corps, which they may consider as the common enemy, and which may, from that circumstance, unite them in a steady and constant support of the rights of mankind, the object for which they long contend will be endeared by the contest. By degrees they will feel, that which now they only think, and they will love that liberty, which they at present admire. A body constantly opposed to the popular wish, nay, constantly laboring to oppress, will save them from their most dangerous enemy. It will save them from themselves. They and their representatives will always be as desirous of oppressing the nobility, as that nobility can possibly be of debasing the people.

In the legislative struggle, where each having a veto neither can prevail, the good of all must be consulted, to obtain the consent of each. It is not the number of chambers in which laws are discussed which is important, but the spirit which prevails in the discussion; and that prevailing spirit will depend on the prevailing interest. The pride of nobility is offensive; but to whom? Not to the humble. Pride stimulates the great to rise. And pride prompts the little, who cannot rise, to pull down the mighty from his seat. Reduce the noble, against whom envy now points her arrows, reduce him to the common level, there remains no other mark but the Prince.

But in destroying orders, do you destroy the natural inequality of man, or the artificial inequality of society? In attacking one effect, do you remove Edition: current; Page: [235] the general cause? If you cannot alter the nature of man, why not consent to treat him according to that nature? Suppose all distinctions gone, and one body of representatives appointed for this great kingdom, on whom will the choice fall? This question demands a solemn pause. In the answer is involved all future consequences. Will not the rich and the great be chosen? Have wealth and grandeur lost their influence? Have the people of France attained to that philosophic contempt of splendor and riches, which induces men to perish inactive, and starve with tranquillity? The rich and great, possessed of power which is only not absolute because there is a king, will they not desire to remove the only obstacle to the increase of their greatness? Or will pity restrain them from those impositions on the people, which will increase their wealth? Will not a very slight reflection convince us, that the methods pursued by some to overturn the authority of the great, must tend eventually to fix that authority, and to give legal sanction to what is at present perhaps an unjust usurpation? Is it not most wise to put all these enemies in one body together, and not suffer them to elude the vigilance of observation, by dressing in the popular garb? Why suffer the wolves, (if wolves they be) to occupy the place, which should be reserved for the shepherd?

Again, let us not in our zeal for momentary reformation, lose sight of the probable consequences. Where the national character is base, the national government cannot be pure. Let the legislator then always bear in mind an attention to the means of preserving and exalting the character of his nation. This is particularly needful, when we would form a free constitution. In absolute monarchies, as has already been observed, the Prince gives the tone to all subordinate ranks. Cyrus commands the brave Persians, and Darius the voluptuous. But a free people take, by degrees, their distinctive traits, which are indelible. You would destroy the nobility of France. You say, that the respect paid to a titled fool is misplaced, and that the Condé of today should not be decorated with the insignia of his heroic ancestors. You reason on the equality of mankind, till you believe in it yourself, and become convinced that the whole nation are of your opinion. They think that they believe the same thing, and yet they are deceived. Such rooted sentiments are not to be in a moment eradicated.

But suppose it were as you imagine. Your nation, no longer influenced by the splendor of rank and titles, will pursue more steadily the objects of ambition and avarice. Remember that you are to be free, and have much to apprehend from ambition. You will of course render the acquisition of power difficult, the possession precarious, the abuse fatal, and consequently the Edition: current; Page: [236] pursuit will be confined to those few, whose souls are formed with loftiest views, and who can be happy only in command. Such men there are in all societies, and such will risk all things, and suffer all things, to obtain their darling superiority. The great mass, however, terrified at the rugged ascent, at the uncertain stand, and the tremendous fall, will prefer a humbler walk in life.

Suppose then, that you have arrived at the philosophic situation, where a love of power is repressed, and a love of titles annihilated. You have cut down ambition, and torn up vanity by the roots. What then? Why then the great, rich, fertile, commercial kingdom of France is to be under the base dominion of avarice. Everything is to be rated at its price in gold. And do you imagine that liberty will be the only exception in such a general sale? God has formed man with a variety of passions, but man would be wiser than his Creator, and simplify the principles of human action. Alas! in proportion to his success, will be his misfortune. What shall we think of the musician, who cuts three strings of his violin, and plays upon one? And yet he may plead in excuse, that an instrument with but one string is more easily kept in tune.

Suppose for a moment that man could be reduced to this standard, and that a wise legislature were about to form a constitution of government for such men. Would he not foresee and anxiously provide against the dangerous consequences of that overruling, base, inordinate propensity? And in the midst of this anxiety would he not rejoice to meet with some one, who could awaken the bosoms of his countrymen to new and livelier emotions; to those passions, whose quick and energetic action briskly agitates the national manners, and dissipates all stagnant and putrescent scum? Would he not thank the man, who should give to youth the headlong fury of love, and to manhood the insatiate thirst of applause? When these restless passions prevail, they chase ambition and avarice from the stage. By the prodigality of youth, riches are as lightly squandered, as they were busily or basely collected. And ofttimes the victorious general in catching at a feather lets fall his sword.

But farther, let us suppose an excellent constitution established. This alone is not sufficient. Next year perhaps it will be destroyed. We ought, therefore, to provide as well for the preservation as for the establishment. And how is that to be done? Quit your philosophic closet, and look abroad into the world. Behold those numerous swarms of human insects, all busy, all intent upon some pursuit. What is it, which animates them? Observe a little nearer and you will see that it is interest. No matter whether well Edition: current; Page: [237] or ill understood, no matter whether the object be salutary or pernicious, it is still self-interest, or if you please self-love, which, to obtain that desired object, sets all in motion. Be pleased then to consider, that in society there will always be a great number, who, from their natural propensities or peculiar situation, must feel a direct interest in the overturning of actual establishments.

Here then is a constant cause, which must have its effect, and produce a constant and persevering effort to destroy the constitution. The acting individuals will change forever, but the action will forever be the same. As in a siege, the bullets are successive, but the direction and operation continual. How are we to obviate the fatal consequences, of this evil, which is unavoidably interwoven into all possible societies? We may venture to say with geometric certitude, that to a force constantly acting, a similar force must be opposed. To balance this permanent interest, another must be raised equally permanent. An order of men with distinct privileges will feel a constant and regular desire to prevent innovations and change. But a hundred mouths are open to exclaim, why prevent any change? Have not the people a right to alter the constitution and laws as they think proper?

Such questions require no answer with men acquainted with affairs, and to others it is difficult to give an answer which will be understood. Perhaps it is best to ask this other question, why should we have any laws at all? No man will deny, that a government greatly defective and oppressive ought to be changed, and that laws manifestly cruel and unjust ought to be abrogated. But a very little experience will convince any thinking man, that frequent variations in the law are a serious evil, and that frequent changes in the form of government are the most afflicting misfortune. From these must follow a loss of commerce, a decay of manufactures, a neglect of agriculture, and thence poverty, famine, and universal wretchedness. It is not worth while then to dispute about the inherent right, which man enjoys to plunge himself into this situation, for surely all will agree, that to exercise such right is madness in the extreme.

But another violent cry is raised from a different quarter. What beautiful and pathetic dissertations have we not heard, about the natural equality of mankind! A thing, which the writers themselves do not believe in, or they would never have taken so much pains to show their own superiority. How unjust that we are not all born Dukes! True; but still more unjust that we are not all born Kings. Is the establishment of distinct orders in a monarchy necessary to the national happiness? If it be, let the establishment be made, or being made, let it be preserved. But you complain that you do not possess Edition: current; Page: [238] nobility. The road is open. Deserve it. But many are noble who never deserve it. True. And many are rich by no better right. You will not violate the laws of property, because it is necessary to the national prosperity that they be held sacred. If then the privileges of a distinct order be equally necessary, why will you violate them? But you will not impair the rights of property; why then will you take away from the son those privileges, which his father bought? Surely the one property should be as sacred as the other. And if you respect the eminence, which was bought, can you despise that which was earned? If you acknowledge the titles paid for with gold, will you deny those which were purchased with blood?

Lastly. Examine the history of mankind, and find, if possible, the instance where a monarchy has existed in which the people were free without an intermediate order. If there be none such, consider the vast sum which France must stake upon a new experiment. The happiness or misery of twenty millions. But is it a new experiment? Has it not been tried? And have not events demonstrated, that all such trials terminate in despotism?

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18: Memoir Written for the King of France, Respecting the New Constitution (1791)*

By mid-1791 the National Assembly had been deliberating a new constitution for France for two years. Along the way, however, it had taken some radical steps, including abolishing the feudal system, issuing the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, and nationalizing the property of the Catholic Church. The Civil Constitution of the Clergy, issued in July 1790, made the church subordinate to the state. At each step, King Louis XVI responded in ways that were ultimately counterproductive. On June 20, 1791, the royal family, who by this time were virtually prisoners in the Tuileries, tried to flee the country. They were captured at Varennes on June 25. After some debate, the king was reinstated July 15.

By the end of August, it was clear that the National Assembly would soon finish work on the constitution, and equally clear that the king’s fate depended on how he handled the situation. Most of the king’s advisors favored simply accepting the constitution. Morris advocated a firmer line, accepting the document but making the king’s reservations known. The following two documents were prepared by Morris for the king. The first is a memorandum on the political situation, which according to Sparks was “given to M. de Montmorin on the 31st of August, 1791.”1 The second Edition: current; Page: [240] is a speech written for the king. Morris records in his diary that he read the speech to Montmorin on August 27, and that Montmorin made it clear he would not use it.2

Memoir Written for the King of France, Respecting the New Constitution

In the present posture of affairs what is the King to do?

This question is important, and, to decide it properly, three things are necessary. First, a retrospect of the past; secondly, an examination of the present; and thirdly, a rational investigation of the future.

It may be said, in general, that few Kings have shown a more tender regard for their subjects; and an eloquent discourse might be made, in which some striking incidents of the present reign might be placed in a strong light, but this would be attended with inconveniences. There is little dignity in praising one’s self, and still less in begging future favor on the score of past kindness. Men in general are not very grateful for benefits bestowed on themselves, and no one thinks himself bound, in his own particular, to return good offices performed for a whole nation. All agree in considering the good done as so much gained, and in looking forward for as much more as they can contrive to obtain. A discourse of this sort, therefore, would be attended with no profound effect. The fine phrases in it would be applauded, and at the next moment the speaker might be insulted. Such things have already happened.

In reviewing the past, therefore, we must not seek for occasions or means to make his Majesty applaud himself. Still less should he beg the poor pittance of gratitude at the hands of the ungrateful. But it is important for him to show that he has acted consistently. And yet this should be accomplished in such manner, as to produce the effect without appearing to intend it; because such appearance would place him in the situation of one, who defends himself before his judges, and a King should never forget that he is accountable only to God. It is a general fault in his discourses, since the States-General were first convened, that too great court is paid to popularity. The consequence of such proceeding is, that the monarch purchases momentary favor for his Ministers, at the expense of royal authority. Edition: current; Page: [241] The people revere only those who show superiority without contempt, and that calm wisdom which their breath can neither reach nor ruffle.

To render a short view of the past in some degree useful, it may be proper to show what the King might have done at particular periods. For instance, when he determined to convoke the States-General, he might have given to the kingdom such a Constitution as he pleased; and if he had chosen a tolerable form of government, those who now exclaim against all monarchic power, would have raised statues to Louis the Sixteenth. But, by the manner of convoking the States, some questions were left undecided, which necessarily tended to create dissension; and from thence must have resulted, as a necessary consequence, one of two things; either that royal authority would preserve sufficient force to decide the question during the contest, in which case (if that authority was exercised) one of the parties would be thrown into opposition, so as to obstruct the good intentions of the King; or else, that the royal authority not having sufficient force, one of the parties would overpower the other, in which case a future scene of violence must succeed, and suspicions arise tending to multiply those acts of injustice, which ever attend the steps of a predominant faction. These things ought to have been foreseen, because in such circumstances they are inevitable, and nothing is so vain as the expectation to allay the heats of party, by sprinkling on them a few soft sentences or pretty phrases.

When the States-General were assembled, the King might still, by his speech at the opening, have given them whatever form he pleased; and it is the more surprising, that this opportunity was neglected, as the many discussions of every kind, which had taken place on that subject, ought to have pointed out the evil, and led to the best remedy which remained. This measure would have been attended, however, with the first inconvenience above mentioned. Possibly it was with a view to avoid such inconvenience, that it was thought prudent to wait until the strength of the parties should be fairly tried, and then to join the strongest. But the mischiefs resulting from such a line of conduct were self-evident. First, it contains an acknowledgment of weakness, and that, in matters dependent on public opinion, always creates the thing which it confesses. Secondly, it contains a proof of bad faith, and of course precludes the hope of zealous assistance from anybody. And thirdly, it must prevent the royal authority from being brought into action, until that action should be evidently useless; and consequently the King could not command the party which he might join, under such auspices, but they would command him. Whatever might have been the reason for neglecting to organize the States-General on that day, this at Edition: current; Page: [242] least is certain, that such neglect showed timidity, and of course invited the danger which it feared, for this also is inevitable in matters dependent on opinion.

The Sêance Royale of June 1789 was held too late. The force, which might have been crushed before it appeared dangerous, was then too great for the power which attempted to oppose it. The subsequent measures showed an ignorance of the actual state of things, which, though great, is more pardonable than is now imagined, because an intimate knowledge of man, and of the nature of his existence, in the approach towards freedom, are necessary to decide on all the energies of human character, and on the effects which result from a sudden display of its powers. But, although the cause of those counsels by which his majesty was swayed at that time, may be overlooked, the consequences can never be forgotten. The Assembly acquired thereby the reputation of courage, consistency, and power, and of course became master of the empire.

Here commenced a new epoch. Men acquainted with the violence of popular assemblies, could not doubt that they would arrogate to themselves all power. Resistance was evidently ineffectual, and of course must have the consequence of increasing their power, and inflaming their wrath. And since an attempt to reject their decrees must, in the nature of things, be unsuccessful, it only remained to choose one, of two things, either to accept the decrees in silence, or to make suitable remarks. Had a clear view been obtained, of those events which were unavoidable, the choice would perhaps have been different from what it was. These events are, first, the assumption of all power by the Assembly, and consequent abuse of it. Secondly, corrupt and unjust conduct on their part. Thirdly, the relaxation of order, and of course the introduction of anarchy. Lastly, as the necessary result of these, a thorough contempt of the Assembly among all ranks and degrees of men.

To provide beforehand the means of profiting by these events, such observations should have been delivered on each decree, such explanations given of its tendency, and such prediction made of its consequences, that when the Assembly should have reached that point of disrespect, at which they could not but arrive, the simple repetition, in a methodical manner, of what had been already said, would convince the nation that their King was both wiser and better than their representatives. This conviction would naturally lead them to restore his authority. A different determination, however, was adopted, which had always this inconvenience in it, that when his Majesty should find it necessary to reject the whole work Edition: current; Page: [243] he had previously adopted in detail, he would not be able to preserve that frankness and nobleness of character, which he might have done, had he given the reasons for his dissent to each part of that work. Still, however, he had it in his power to show, when a proper occasion might offer, that he had acted only under the influence of a controlling necessity, and been in fact a passive instrument in the hands of the Assembly. But his speech to that body in February, 1790, deprived him of this last advantage, at least in a considerable degree, and it forms at this moment the most disagreeable circumstance in the whole of his conduct.3

In the month of June last, the Assembly had approached very near to that period which they must reach, and as far as it is possible to decide where there is no absolute evidence, the chance is, that, by the present day, the royal authority would have been considerably exalted on their ruins, if the King had not taken the ill-advised step which he did. This step could not eventuate well; for in the supposition that he had reached Montmedy, or any other place in the kingdom, he would still have been brought back, unless he had sufficient force to protect himself, and the question as to that point must have depended upon the event of a civil war. If he had gone out of the kingdom, the same situation would have occurred.

Nothing, therefore, but the favorable event of a bloody contest could reinstate him, and there is every reason to believe that the event would have been unfavorable. First, the kingdom would have been united in opposition, and the conquest of France is, perhaps, beyond the strength of all Europe combined. Secondly, the feebleness of the constitution would have been instantly remedied, by general consent, from a general conviction of the necessity. Thirdly, the bankruptcy, which is now perhaps unavoidable, would have been charged to the King, as arising from his flight, and subsequent hostility. Fourthly, by confiscations a considerable addition would have been obtained to the stock of public lands, so as to alleviate the taxes, which by means of the bankruptcy would be less heavy than before. And, fifthly, since in the course of the contest, discipline must have been established Edition: current; Page: [244] in the army, it is more than probable, that foreign powers would have been obliged to acknowledge such form of government as the National Assembly might have adopted. The best thing, therefore, which could have happened, is that which actually did happen; and the proof of what is said above, respecting the events which would have taken place if his Majesty had remained quietly at home, exists in the present state of things, after he had, by his departure, done so much to increase the power of his enemies.

Being now at the second subject of contemplation, viz. the present state of things, it is proper, if possible, to look at them with the same calmness, that posterity will enjoy in making the same examination. This is one requisite quality in the character of a statesman.

The members of the Assembly begin to feel the inevitable consequences, which follow from the want of wisdom and virtue. To gratify the little interest, or pitiful vanity, or base fear of the moment, the leaders have urged forward measures which they could not but know were pernicious. As to the great herd, they must, in every such Assembly, be profoundly ignorant of the business they are engaged in; and although there is not a petit maitre among them, who would employ a shoemaker that had not long worked at his trade, each has the unaccountable pretension to be, without any sort of experience, an able legislator and profound politician; as if it were an easier thing to make a constitution than a pair of shoes.

The great bulk of the people have already signified their impatience, that the session of the Assembly has continued so long; and although very few of their acts failed to produce applause at the moment, from some quarter or other, there is in regard to the whole constitution a solemn silence. The parts were fitted to the fashion of the day, and that fashion has changed. No man approves. And no man of understanding can approve. The rich tremble, and there is throughout all ranks a vast anxiety. How will this end, is the general question; and it proves a general conviction that the constitution is not the end.

The paper money, whose depreciation has long been sensible in the greater circle of commerce, begins now to be felt in those smaller concerns which interest the poor. The price of bread rises, because the produce of the earth cannot remain cheap, while all other articles grow dear. Every day the number of those who feel the necessity of providing against this evil increases; and their efforts, by showing more clearly its nature and extent, accelerate its progress. Hence the inquiry grows general, Where are the blessings promised by the revolution? Why are we not in the enjoyment of them? With whom lies the fault? Is it with the King? Is it with the Assembly? Edition: current; Page: [245] Is it with the emigrants? The nation begins to cry out like a sick savage, I suffer; what ails me? Who has put the pain in me which I feel? The next question will be, “How am I to get it out?”

The situation of the colonies affects deeply the commercial interests of the kingdom, while at the same moment commercial property melts away from the powerful operation of paper money. These things give awful notice to the mercantile cities, that all is not well. The licentious conduct of the army, notwithstanding the attempts to conceal it, excites alarm rather than indignation; which is worthy of remark, because it proves a general sense of weakness and general apprehension of danger. The situation of the Finances is deplorable, and produces also its effect, though not yet in full force. The flattering prospect of restoring an equality between the receipts and expenditures vanishes. The absurdity of establishing order in this department, by introducing disorder into every other, becomes evident; and it is possible, by tearing away the thin veil with which it is at present covered, to make a very deep impression. By striking forcibly at the centre, a shock may be given at the remotest extremities of the empire; and as the evil is inevitable, the stroke is sure.

These circumstances mark a moment, in which the public mind is open to new impressions; and it is of vast consequence to make such impressions as will tend to produce good, and avoid a part of the impending evil. But this leads to the third point of consideration.

A full and complete view of the future course of things would generally lead to a wise conduct. But such knowledge cannot be obtained by man. All that he can do is to form rational conjecture. And for this purpose he must divest himself, as much as possible, both of hope and fear.

It seems to be evident, that the measures taken for securing a peaceable and orderly administration of justice and police are greatly inadequate. Hence violence and injustice must continue to prevail. And as the administration is both expensive and ineffectual, there is in that alone sufficient cause to ruin the finances, were they otherwise in good condition. But if the administration were most vigorous, still a circulation of the immense sum of twelve hundred millions in paper money, would inevitably produce disorder. The effects of such money are, first, a loss of value as to exterior commerce and connexion. Secondly, a similar loss in respect to all manufactures depending in any degree on raw materials of foreign growth. Thirdly, from the combined effect of these two losses results a loss of value, in regard to other manufactures. Fourthly, a rise in the price of the necessaries of life becomes at last inevitable, because the husbandman, Edition: current; Page: [246] in exchanging the things he has for those he wants, by the intervention of money, must of course raise the price of the one, in proportion to the price of the other.

Besides, it must be remarked, that as the value of paper money is dependent on opinion, every event, which affects public opinion, must accelerate the progress of depreciation. Moreover, the expenses of government arise in a great measure from the purchase of different commodities. It follows, therefore, that such expense must be increased as the value of the money diminishes. And since the same diminution forms a reason with every citizen not to sell an object of intrinsic value, until the moment when he wants the money, it becomes his interest to delay the payment of his taxes to the last moment, so as to obtain the highest price for his commodities. Consequently, in proportion as the wants of government increase, its means must diminish. The increase of the price of every article will give to each citizen, who is held to the payment of a fixed sum, and whose means of payment are derived from the produce of the earth, a balance in money which he will perceive to be of little use; and as he will regret the sale of his goods for such money, which grows worse every day, he will of course hold back from the market his remaining merchandize.

On the other hand, all those who are in the receipt of fixed sums, being obliged to economize, by reason of the decreased value of their income, a great number of persons, whom they formerly employed, must remain idle. The heads of manufactories also, who are in the habit of selling on long credit, will at each payment suffer considerable loss, and that must incapacitate them from continuing their operations, whereby a number of workmen will be thrown out of employ. The cities and towns will, from the operation of these causes, be burdened with a great number of people, and at the same time straitened in subsistence. Then will arise a cry against those, who monopolize grain; attempts will be made to regulate the price of bread, and a train of popular excesses will succeed, all tending to increase the evil from which they arise.

This is the probable state resulting merely from a paper currency, but there are other, and abundant sources of evil. While the government possesses a sufficiency of this paper, it is easy to preserve an appearance of paying the public creditors, although in fact they receive but three quarters of their due, but as soon as the paper is all gone abroad, and can be brought back only by the effect of taxation, and when that effect, dependent at best on a feeble and disjointed administration, is weakened by the causes already pointed out, it will become indispensably necessary to suspend again the Edition: current; Page: [247] payments, and this will be the more pernicious, as the abundance of paper money, and its consequent loss of value, destroy all private credit, and thus increase in every way the suffering of those who are deprived of their due. This will also affect the mercantile credit of the whole kingdom, and thus it is probable, that about the time when the revolt of the colonies begins to be severely felt on the seacoast, the capital will be convulsed by a general bankruptcy.

Such a state of things would naturally excite commotion in the army, whatever might be the state of its discipline; but an army already familiarized to revolt, dissolute, debauched, and rapacious, will probably make the people feel, long before that period, the direful effects of military oppression. Whether these various miseries will all arrive, and whether they will take place at the same moment, or only in succession, cannot be decided with precision, but it seems to be inevitable that, from some or all of these causes, an opportunity will present itself, in which the King will be able to act as he pleases, if he shall be possessed of the public confidence. But if he does not possess it, he may be the victim of follies, which others have committed.

Here then recurs again the question; What is the King to do? And with it, a partial answer offers. Let him take such steps now, as will obtain and secure the public confidence hereafter. But how? Shall he reject the constitution? No; for then he would be charged with all the future evils, as resulting from that rejection. Shall he then accept it in the same silence, with which he has received the different parts? No; for then it will be impossible to convince the world, that he acts with good faith, because he has already declared his conviction, though in general terms, that the constitution is bad. Shall he then acknowledge that he has been deceived, and finds it now to be a good constitution? No; for this would be false, and, therefore, in all cases unjustifiable. Besides, it would make him in some sort responsible for events, which he ought in all cases to avoid. Shall he then repeat, in general terms, that he finds the constitution bad, but yet accepts and swears to maintain it? No; for this will involve an appearance of falsehood, meanness, and contradiction. What then shall he do?

Circumstances seem to point out his conduct with a decisive force. He ought to accept, assigning as a reason therefor, the mischiefs which would inevitably follow from his refusal and he should remark at the same time, that the omnipotence of the Assembly, and the deserted state to which he is reduced, leave him no alternative. He may even infer, from a modest doubt of his own judgment, and the decided adherence of the nation to the Edition: current; Page: [248] Assembly, that it is his duty to submit to the public will so strongly pronounced. This idea, contrasted with their self-sufficiency, will, at a future period, when his opinions are justified by events, work strongly in his favor.

On the constitution itself he is bound, by the strongest ties of duty and interest, to make clear and pointed observations. It is a duty to himself, because he will thereby justify his departure in June last, though he had in February, 1790, declared his antecedent adherence; for he will be able to show, that the constitution is so bad, that he ought not to adopt it, unless in the last necessity. It is a duty to his subjects, because it must occasion their misery, and therefore he ought to show, that such is the unavoidable consequence of a form of civil polity so crude and monstrous; and, indeed, all his observations should be raised on that single basis, for which purpose he should introduce them, by declaring that the government ought to be calculated merely for the benefit of the people. Lastly, it is a duty to God. It is to his high Tribunal, that the monarchs of the earth must render a solemn account of their conduct; and he requires of them, that it be regulated by the principles of truth and justice, which alone endure forever, and which forever establish the peace and prosperity of empires.

His Majesty’s observations should be powerful, clear, and convincing. A weak blow recoils, but a strong one penetrates. The present is a decisive moment in his fate. He must conquer or perish. If he does not mark his disapprobation, he is disgraced; and if he shows it faintly and weakly, he is ruined. Every kind of intrigue will doubtless be set on foot to induce him to be sparing in his censure. The reason is clear. The friends of the several members of the Assembly fear their disgrace; and they know, that, if they can avoid the stroke of the moment, time and circumstances will enable them to recover their influence. Already they agree in blaming the constitution in general terms, but if you descend to particulars, each will defend the most blameable parts, and censure only some light and trivial things, which he happened to oppose. Each one, therefore, labors to obtain the royal sanction to his particular opinions, and the only reward which the King and his counsellors will obtain from their generosity, will, as heretofore, be a momentary applause bestowed on the composition of his speech, and in the next half hour, pointed ridicule for being the dupes to superior address.

It must be remembered, that the Assembly will soon be dissolved, and nobody will then be accountable for their misconduct, even at the bar of public opinion. But the King remains; and unless human nature is greatly changed, he has no method of acquiring the favor of the next Assembly so Edition: current; Page: [249] certain, as that of blaming the present, because by this means he provides for them an excuse beforehand, for the evils which must arise under their administration. And he ought also to provide beforehand against the attempts, which they may make to destroy his authority. Above all things, it is important for him, that when any misfortune arises, the people may say, “this is what our King has warned us of, not in vague and indefinite terms, but clearly and pointedly. Happy would it have been for us, had we put our trust in him, instead of an Assembly, which has plundered him and ruined us.” It is proper also for his Majesty, after pointing out, in the most forcible manner which the needful brevity will admit of, the manifold vices of the constitution, to state the general outlines of a better, and that in such way as to secure the support of men of wealth and influence. By this means he will obtain the suffrage of the enlightened part of Europe, and that will have great weight with the vanity of this nation.

In the course of the events which follow, should he pursue the steps now pointed out, a favorable opportunity will offer to effect the great good of the nation, although it is impossible exactly to show that opportunity now, with all its incidental circumstances, each of which will not fail to influence the conduct of the moment. But if he shall have conciliated the good opinion of the nation, which can alone be secured by the general persuasion of his wisdom and virtue, many things now deemed impossible will then appear easy.

A number of little accessory measures are purposely omitted in this place, but one great means is to require the abolition of the decree, prohibiting a choice of Ministers among the members of the Assembly; and in all cases to choose Ministers remarkable for their attachment to the constitution. And should the next Assembly find it necessary, as they certainly will, to invade that constitution, he ought to exercise his veto, assigning as a reason that he will not violate his oath. At length, when the various evils shall be so accumulated, that the business can no longer go on, it is not impossible that the Assembly, acknowledging their own incapacity as arising from the state in which they are now placed, may themselves confer a dictatorial power on the King.

If nothing of this sort should happen, a moment may arrive, in which the King may proclaim a new constitution, and call on the people to proceed to the elections under it, if they approve; and should the day of election be near at hand, and the time for deliberation short, (a thing which necessity would justify,) the example of Paris in electing would be followed throughout the kingdom, and a change be thereby effected. The conduct Edition: current; Page: [250] of Paris might be influenced by a single circumstance, viz. a suspension of the payments, and a view of restoring the public credit by a more vigorous government. Various other modes of changing the constitution might be mentioned, but as has already been observed, the proper measures to be pursued must be pointed out by the circumstances of the moment. All, which man can properly do, is to fix his object, and then steadily pursue it, in consistence with the everlasting rules of justice, and according to the situation in which he is placed.

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19: Observations on the New Constitution of France (1791)*

Morris prepared this speech for the king’s use in accepting the National Assembly’s Constitution of 1791. It reflects the understanding of the king’s political position developed in the previous document.

Speech for the King of France


It is no longer your King who addresses you. Louis the Sixteenth is only a private individual. You have just offered him the crown, and informed him on what conditions he must accept it.

I assure you, Gentlemen, that if I were a stranger to France, I would not mount the slippery steps of the throne. But the blood, which flows in my veins, does not permit me to be insensible to the fortunes of the French. Descended from a long line of Kings, the remembrance of those who are no more, the rights of future generations, and my paternal love for the people whom Divine Providence has once placed in my care, everything, in fine, forbids me to abandon my post. I must at least maintain it, so as to secure you from anarchy, and from civil war. In this perilous position, I have taken counsel only of my own conscience. It is this, which has decided me to accept your Constitution. May it ensure the tranquillity of the kingdom, and contribute to its prosperity!

France, in granting you its entire confidence, has placed you in possession Edition: current; Page: [252] of the whole power. You have therefore become responsible, before the throne of the Almighty, for the happiness of this immense people, whose fortune is in your hands. I have been a King. Nothing remains to me now, either of authority or of influence. Yet I have a last duty to fulfil. It is that of imparting to you my reflections on your work. I pray you to hear them with serious attention.

Observations on the Constitution.

Previous to any examination of the Constitution, it is proper to acknowledge, in the most explicit manner, the eternal maxim of reason and justice, that all government ought to be instituted and exercised for the benefit of the people. And, parting from that principle, we should in any particular society seek that form of government, which is best calculated to protect its citizens against foreign invasion, and secure domestic tranquillity, with the enjoyment of liberty and property.

You have determined on a hereditary monarchy, and by that means you have the certainty, that the chief executive magistrate must ever desire the prosperity of France. A King of France can have no interest distinct from that of the people. Their happiness, their power, and their glory must necessarily be the source of his. Every other public person may have other objects; but your King can aggrandize himself only by increasing the wealth and influence of the nation. He may be mistaken, and he may be misled, but he cannot be bought. It is the misfortune of his situation to see with the eye and act with the hands of others; it is, therefore, evidently his interest, that the representatives of the people should watch over his Ministers, and that they should be punished for misconduct, whether arising from incapacity or any other cause. He cannot but wish also for a strict and, regular administration of justice, since that is alike necessary to his glory and to the national prosperity.

These are among the advantages of hereditary monarchy. Whether you have provided against the evils to which it is liable, and secured the good of which it is susceptible, is a question deeply interesting to France, and to the human race.

You begin with a declaration of the rights of man, but since the instruments of this sort, which have hitherto appeared, have occasioned much metaphysical discussion, it may well be supposed, that a King whose occupations require a knowledge of man, such as he exists, and not such as he may be imagined in abstract contemplation, is little fitted to decide on the Edition: current; Page: [253] merit of such compositions. There seems, however, to be some inconvenience in joining it to a constitution, because if the constitution secures those rights, whatever they may be, it is unnecessary, and otherwise it is useless; but there is in every case the risk of seeming contradictions. Controversies may thence arise, and whoever may be the judge of such controversies, becomes thereby arbiter of the constitution.

To show that this inconvenience is not imaginary, it will perhaps suffice to recall to your recollection the first article of your declaration, that “men are born and exist free and equal in rights.” You have decided, however, that the representatives shall be distributed among the eighty three departments, according to the three proportions of Territory, Population, and Direct Taxes. It results, therefore, that a given number of men, in one of the departments, will have the rights of electing more representatives, than the same number in another department. They might then imagine, that they are not equal in the very important right of choosing the members of the Legislative body.

You have also declared, that “the law is the expression of the general will; that all citizens have the right of concurring personally, or by their representatives, in its formation; and that, all citizens, being equal in the eye of the law, are equally admissible to all dignities, places, and public employments, without other distinction than that of virtues and talents.” On the other hand you have established, “that to be an effective citizen, it is requisite to pay, in some part of the Kingdom, a direct tax, at least equal to the value of three days’ labor, and that no one can be an elector unless he unites with the necessary conditions for being an effective citizen, that of paying a direct tax of———days’ labor.” In reconciling these various clauses, it may be doubted whether the first is to be regarded as an inalienable right, or if, on this hypothesis, the second is a just modification of it.

You have also declared, “that for the maintenance of the public forces, and for the expenses of the government, a general tax is indispensable, and that it ought to be equally distributed among all the citizens, according to their ability”; and yet by your constitution you delegate “exclusively to the legislative body the right of imposing public taxes, of determining the nature and quality thereof, and the mode of collecting them.” Now, as many taxes, and particularly those which are called indirect, are distributed among the citizens, not according to their ability, but according to what they consume, and even to their most urgent necessities, it may happen, that your declaration may become, in regard to imposts for a part of the citizens, the ground of a serious complaint.

Without farther considering the collateral circumstances, it is proper now to examine the organization and the distribution of the legislative, executive, Edition: current; Page: [254] and judiciary powers. According to the declaration of rights “every society wherein the separation of powers is not determined has no constitution.” That the separation of powers is of great importance cannot, indeed, be denied. It is necessary then to examine, whether you have provided for it in such a manner, that no one of them can encroach in the others. Commencing with the LEGISLATIVE POWER, you have decreed as follows;1

Art. I. The National Assembly, forming the Legislative body, is permanent, and is composed of only one chamber. In case of the King’s refusing his assent to the decrees of the Legislative body, this refusal is only suspensive, and when the two legislatures, succeeding that which shall have presented the decree, shall have successively presented the same decree in the same terms, the King shall be considered to have given it his sanction.

Art. II. The Legislative body cannot be dissolved by the King. The representatives of the nation are inviolable. They can for a criminal deed be arrested in the act, or by virtue of an order of arrest, but notice shall be given thereof without delay to the Legislative body, and the prosecution cannot be continued until after the Legislative body shall have decided, that there is ground for accusation.

Art. III. The Legislative body has the right of police in the place of its sessions, and in the compass around, which it shall have determined upon. It has the right of disposing of the forces, which by its own consent are quartered in the city, when it shall hold its sessions; and the Executive power cannot introduce, or quarter, any body of troops of the line within the distance of thirty thousand toises2 from the Legislative body, except by its requisition or authority.

Art. IV. The Constitution delegates exclusively to the Legislative body the power of prosecuting before the High National Court, the responsibility of the Ministers, and principal agents of the Executive power. No Minister in place, or out of place, can suffer a criminal prosecution for an act of his administration, without a decree of the Legislative body.

Art. V. Whenever the King shall have pronounced or confirmed the suspension of Administrators or Sub-administrators, he shall inform the Legislative body thereof. That body can either remove the suspension, Edition: current; Page: [255] or confirm it, or even dissolve the culpable administration, and if there be cause send all the members of it, or a part of them, to the criminal tribunals, or issue a decree of accusation against them. The tribunals cannot summon the members of an administration before them for official acts.

Art. VI. When, after two appeals, the judgment of the third tribunal shall be questioned, upon the same grounds as the two first, the case cannot be farther acted upon in the tribunal of appeal, (Tribunal de Cassation) without having been submitted to the Legislative body, which shall issue a decree explanatory of the law, to which the tribunal shall be bound to conform. The Minister of Justice shall state to the tribunal of appeal, through the medium of the King’s Commissioner, the acts by which the judges may have exceeded the bounds of their power. The tribunal shall annul them, and if there is ground for impeachment, notice shall be given to the Legislative body, who shall grant the decree of accusation, and send the accused before the High National Court.

Art. VII. War cannot be decided upon without a decree of the Legislative body. It belongs to the Legislative body to ratify treaties of peace, of alliance, and of commerce, and no treaty can take effect without such ratification.

By the first article, the whole legislative authority is vested in a single chamber of representatives, and consequently the leaders of a majority in that Assembly may dictate such laws as they think proper. The King may indeed suspend the decrees for a given period, but history furnishes instances of nations, which have for a longer period been under the influence of faction, and if France should ever be in that situation, the King, by suspending the decrees, would only prolong the disorder without avoiding the mischief. A dangerous law may be adroitly framed, so as to suit the popular taste, and the rejection of it might be represented as a ministerial despotism. It is, therefore, to be feared, that if the Assembly should wish to encroach on the executive authority, a suspensive veto would make but a feeble resistance. The time, for instance, may arrive in which a law obliging Ministers to obey such Committees, as shall be appointed to superintend their respective departments, will be represented as essential to the public safety. Rumors of disaffection may be spread abroad, and the people be led to suspect the intentions of their King, even though his whole life should have been a constant endeavor to procure their happiness. It will then give them pleasure to see the power taken from him, who is essentially their friend, and bestowed on those who have no other object but their private interest.

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On the other hand, what are the evils to be apprehended from giving to the first executive magistrate an absolute veto? He cannot, without the consent of the Assembly, extend his own authority; and if that consent be supposed, it is a matter of indifference whether his veto be suspensive or absolute. In a well ordered society, new laws are seldom necessary, either for the purposes of police, or of distributive justice; and if they were, how can we doubt of the King’s consent? The laws for imposing taxes, and for the public defence, will naturally also receive his assent. It is only, therefore, in the case of an attack upon his constitutional authority, that a right of rejection would be exercised. The knowledge that such right exists would frequently prevent the attempt, in like manner as the hope of eventual success, where the rejection is only for a limited time, would frequently invite it. In the one case, peace and order may be expected; in the other, turbulence and tumult.

By the second article it is provided, that the Assembly shall exist, and the persons of the members be held sacred, so long as a majority may think proper. If, therefore, such majority should harbor dangerous designs, there seems to be no means of terminating their session, nor of punishing the guilty, but by general insurrection, or civil war. It is of the nature of absolute power to corrupt the heart, and if there be temptation and indemnity, guilt may ensue. Should a faction be hired by our enemies to sacrifice the national interest and honor, to withhold the needful means of defending the State, or of supporting its credit, the King has no constitutional method of appealing to the people, neither can any tribunal punish the traitors, without the consent of their accomplices. History informs us, that, both in ancient and modern times, the leaders of popular Assemblies have been bought by foreign powers, and that thus nations unconquerable by arms, have become the victims of seduction.

By the third article it is provided, that the Assembly shall command such number of troops at the place of their sessions, as they think proper; consequently, they may possess themselves of the means at once to awe the people, and imprison the King. His person will be in their hands; his life at their disposal; and though he may have the courage to disregard his own life, yet his wife, his children, the dearest objects of his heart, remain also in their power. If, then, some future Assembly should be desirous of changing the form of government, and of assuming greater powers than those, which you have thought proper to delegate, it seems that neither of the other departments, nor even the people themselves, have any means of resistance.

By the fourth article, the Ministers and other agents of the executive authority Edition: current; Page: [257] are exposed to criminal prosecution by the Assembly, and secured against such prosecution from every other quarter. Therefore, should the Assembly incline to make encroachments, the Ministers in opposing them would have much to fear, but by submission would be sure of indemnity.

By the fifth article, the authority of the King over those charged with the administration is rendered subordinate to that of the Assembly. He is, as it were, the public accuser. The Legislative body is authorised to judge their conduct, and consequently to judge his. Administrators protected by the leaders of the Assembly, if such should ever exist, may not only disregard his orders, but even dictate to him the conduct he shall pursue. If the taxes should be either burthensome or disagreeable to several departments, and the administration prove remiss in collecting them, the executive power is in the sad necessity of seeing the public interest sacrificed by their neglect, or of rendering itself odious by more vigorous measures. In both cases the Ministers will be at the mercy of the Assembly, who may accuse them for not having suspended the administration, or, by taking off the suspension, degrade the executive authority. Under such circumstances of absolute dependence, the Minister, although appointed by the King, must obey the orders of those, who can influence a majority of the Assembly, and consequently that part of the executive authority now in question, though vested nominally in him, resides really in them. And the administrators, certain that they cannot be cited before the tribunals, unless previously accused by the Assembly, will frequently consider rather how to please those whom they have cause to fear, than how to perform their duty to the State.

By the sixth article, the judiciary power, in the last resort, is given to the Assembly; for a decree declaring what the law is in a given case, is only another name for a judgment in such case. The Tribunal de Cassation being obliged to conform, its subsequent proceedings are merely ministerial, to clothe the decree in the form of a sentence, and to cause the execution. From hence it results, that the people will no longer enjoy that security in their property and possessions, to which they are entitled; for it may happen, that many judgments of the Tribunal de Cassation will have been submitted to, before the case supposed in the article occurs, and that afterwards the Assembly may decree contradictorily to the tribunal, in which case the preceding judgments will doubtless be questioned. Moreover, as it is not to be supposed that a numerous Assembly will consist of persons skilled in legal discussions, it may happen that their explanatory decrees will affect the whole system of jurisprudence. There is reason to fear also, that their decisions may be influenced by the acts of intrigue, or other Edition: current; Page: [258] motives. The Assembly having reserved to itself the sole right of accusing the judges for misconduct, timid or corrupt judges will decide in favor of those, who have influence with the Assembly, and against the poor and unprotected.

By the seventh article, the Assembly has reserved to itself the rights of war, peace, treaties, so that the King is merely their agent, with this difference, that (not being previously instructed) he must act under the uncertainty of being approved or disavowed. From the changeableness of the representatives, the opinion of the Assembly must be unstable. Moreover, it is hardly to be expected, that persons taken from the ordinary occupations of life, will possess the information needful to judge of foreign politics, and its various combinations. The opinions of men, also, depend much on their respective habits and professions. Some, therefore, would sacrifice everything to the honor of the nation, some its commerce, and some its tranquillity.

By collecting together in one point of view the various powers given to the legislative body, it appears that they have the right to make laws and decide in the last resort, both on the application and execution of them; that they have the supreme right of war, peace, and treaties; that they have an existence dependent only on their own will, power to protect themselves from the pursuit of justice, and the command of such force as they may think proper; of course all power not already vested in them is exposed to their assumption. It may indeed be said, that there is no just reason to suppose the representatives of a free people will prolong their political existence, assume extraordinary powers, or become instruments of foreign ambition; but history informs us, that such representatives have existed, and therefore they may again exist. And since the formation of a constitution and laws presupposes human depravity, we must calculate on the effects of those passions, which have ever influenced the conduct of mankind.

The next in order is the Executive Power, about which you have decreed;

Art. I. To the King is delegated the care of watching the external safety of the kingdom, to maintain its rights and possessions. It belongs to the King to conclude and sign with all foreign powers, all treaties of peace, of alliance, of commerce, and other conventions, which he shall judge necessary to the welfare of the State, under the ratification of the Legislative body.

Art. II. The King appoints two thirds of the Rear Admirals, half of the Lieutenants General, Field Marshals, Captains of vessels, and Colonels Edition: current; Page: [259] of household troops; the third of Colonels and Lieutenant Colonels, and the sixth of Lieutenants of vessels.

Art. III. Administrators are agents elected for a period by the people, to exercise under the superintendence and authority of the King the administrative duties. The King has the right of annulling acts of Administrators of departments, contrary to the laws, or to orders issued to them, and can in case of obstinate disobedience, or if they compromise by their acts the public safety, or tranquillity, suspend them from their offices. He shall inform the Legislative body thereof, and that body may remove or confirm the suspension. The executive power directs and superintends the collection and the disposition of the taxes, and gives all necessary orders to that effect.

Art. IV. The officers of the National Guards are elected for a period, and cannot be reelected, except after an interval of service as soldiers.

In considering the executive power of a State, it is proper to examine the object, for which such power is instituted, because the means should always be proportioned to the end. Now the object is to defend the State, and enforce obedience to the laws. To accomplish this, the members of every department must be perfectly obedient to the chief, who then, and then only, can be responsible for the conduct of affairs. It results also from the nature of this authority, and from that accountability, which the nation has a right to require, that it should be derived from one head, and that in every instance, there should be one principal, or superior. For if a Council, or Committee, be charged with the whole, or any part of the executive department, it may happen, first, that so much time will be consumed in deliberations, that the business will be neglected. Secondly, that their conduct will vacillate according to the attendance of the different members. Thirdly, that the needful secrecy cannot be preserved, since not only each member, but the Secretaries and Clerks also must be privy to their decisions, because the will of a Board is expressed only by the record of its deliberations. Fourthly, that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to render them accountable, since each will give plausible reasons for his vote, so that though the general conduct be manifestly wrong, no one in particular can be convicted. Whereas it is, as has been already noticed, essential to the public safety, that Ministers should be punished as well for incapacity as for misconduct.

It has already been noted, also, that perfect obedience is necessary from every inferior, but to obtain it, the chief should have power to appoint and to remove the subordinate officers. In common life this is necessary to Edition: current; Page: [260] every man, who employs others either in his own affairs, or in those committed to his management. And if this be needful in those small concerns, where the principal can daily superintend his agents, how much more so for him, who must employ many for various purposes, and at considerable distances; for a King, in short, whose duty it is to protect the French against foreign invasion, and to maintain their internal tranquillity; a King, who, in the pursuit of their interest, which is one and the same with his own, must at every step encounter the opposition of private views.

By applying these evident principles of common sense to the four articles just cited, it will appear how far your constitution is calculated to confer on the people of France those benefits, of which a hereditary monarchy is susceptible. By the first, the right of war, peace, and treaties, is granted to the Assembly, and the King must act not only in subordination to their will, but also in uncertainty as to what that will may be. From hence results the difficulty, if not impracticability, of making any treaty at all. Who will enter into stipulations with a Prince, who cannot bind these whom he represents? The communication of powers is a usual preliminary, even to the conversations which precede a treaty. Suppose, for instance, that the King, apprehending the aggression of several powers allied against France, should endeavor to form with other powers a defensive alliance, each of these might be obliged to reject his overtures from regard to its own safety, because the treaty being made and submitted to, the Assembly would, if not approved of, expose it singly to the vengeance of the enemies. Similar observations apply to treaties of commerce.

That the nation may be effectually guarded, it may sometimes be necessary to attack, in order to disconcert measures otherwise injurious, if not fatal. Without looking abroad, the history of France furnishes numerous examples in support of this truth. But it is now impracticable, for an application to the legislature must disclose the design, and would be considered also as an aggression, consequently it would have the evils of such a measure without the advantages. Besides, although a majority of the Assembly might judge the war to be necessary, many of that majority might wish to delay it, that their particular speculations of commerce or finance might be previously arranged; not to mention the advantages, which a foreign Prince might derive from intrigue and corruption.

Lastly, in the course of a war many leading members of the Assembly may have such an interest in the continuation of hostilities, as to prevent the restoration of peace, though necessary to the kingdom. Thus the King, whose position enables him to discover, and whose interest obliges him to Edition: current; Page: [261] promote the national advantage, is rendered incapable of acting, or at best subservient to others, some of whom must be incapable of judging, and even have an interest opposite to that of their country.

The second article relates to the organization of the military force, which, in all governments, is an object of most serious attention. The idea of a society, each member of which is a soldier, cannot be applied to modern States; especially to those, whose power is dependent on commerce and the arts. If our fields and shops be abandoned by the manufacturers and husbandmen, famine and poverty must inevitably ensue. A part of the society must, therefore, be selected to guard the whole. The experience of all ages has proved, that if this part which forms the army, be not well disciplined, it will oppress the kingdom, but cannot defend it. Vain is the attempt to supply by numbers the want of order and subordination, without which, licentious bands must be alike detested by the people, and despised by their foes. The expense of such an army will increase in proportion to its inutility, and thus the public taxes become a public fraud, seeing that those who contribute have a right to expect from the appropriation of their money the greatest benefit which it can produce.

If, however, with the organization which you have devised, it be practicable to establish a strict discipline, it will remain for you to consider whether your army may not become a dangerous instrument in the hands of its chiefs. If only the superior grades feel a dependence on the King, they may be induced to second the views of an ambitious General, and it will be easier for them to lead the troops they command against their country, if the officers are named by election, or seniority, than if they are dependent on the King; for it is not even to be hoped, that an army, which has lost respect for its Prince, will long retain it for a popular Assembly. It has been complained of as one of the ancient abuses, that the command of the troops was given almost exclusively to a privileged order.

It resulted from hence, that, actuated like all others by their own interest, they opposed every attempt to change the existent establishments, so that France preserved a greater degree3 of freedom, than other monarchies; and if the ancient regime had been unexceptionable in other respects, this part would have been eminently useful, for it is certainly wise to interest the army in supporting the constitution. And it is among the advantages of a hereditary monarchy well organized, that numerous and disciplined armies may be maintained without danger to liberty; a thing which in Republics Edition: current; Page: [262] has seldom happened. If ever a design should be formed to subdue France by the arms of Frenchmen, the conspirators must wish for officers without property or connexions, because such men when inured to war will readily follow the standard of him, who can hold out great hopes and expectations; whereas, those who have property of their own, and whose relatives and connexions share in the administration, will not risk the advantages they possess in the great game of revolutions. A resistance, similar to that, which has often irritated you, may on other occasions, and opposed to other efforts, become an impenetrable shield to the liberty of France.

The third article relates to that branch of executive authority, which respects internal affairs. Here it is proper to distinguish between the different duties of administrative bodies. So far as relates to the concerns of a particular department, or district, they are certainly useful, and most certainly they should be chosen by the people for short periods. A great mass of local knowledge and minute attention will thus be usefully employed, and an honest and industrious administration be probably obtained. But when the execution of the laws, the collection of taxes, and the preservation of order, are committed to such bodies, disappointment may be expected. The people in their choice will naturally prefer men of easy temper, and such as are disposed to gratify their wishes. If, therefore, riots or insurrections should happen, the administrators will not always act with requisite vigor; and as they are not personally affected, by the penury of the public treasury, they will sometimes give way to the solicitations of those, who wish to delay their contributions. Being independent of the King, his Ministers will have but little influence on their conduct; and, of course, cannot be accountable for the consequences. But yet on that conduct everything depends. It is not necessary to mention, what all the world knows, that unless order can be restored the Constitution must perish; but it is proper to give a glance at the finances.

The sum of Assignats, which you have decreed, will ere long be expended, and if the mass be increased, the credit will be diminished, and consequently the value.4 This resource, then, is almost exhausted in every respect. If the taxes you have laid be not sufficient, or not seasonably collected, a considerable deficit must ensue, and it must fall either upon the interior administration, or the public force, or the creditors of the State. The interior administration must in all cases be supported, since anarchy is the Edition: current; Page: [263] worst of all political evils. It will only, therefore, remain to decide between your creditors, and your troops. If the payments be again suspended, that last stab to public credit will perhaps prove fatal, and a bankruptcy ensue, after the immense sacrifices of every kind to avoid it. If, on the contrary, the army be not paid, it is easy to see the consequences.

The public resentment will in either case, perhaps, be directed against the Ministers, and perhaps against the King. Such injustice is not uncommon, and might cheerfully be submitted to could it remove the cause of complaint; but, on the contrary, by increasing the disorder, it will increase the mischief. Let then these important truths be duly considered. Where there is no authority, there can be no accountability. Where the executive power is feeble, anarchy must ensue, and where anarchy long prevails, despotism must succeed; not indeed in the descendants of your ancient Kings, for they will probably be the earliest victims.

On the fourth article no particular observation will be necessary, but only a general application of those, which have been already made. You will on the whole decide for the French nation, whether the authority given to the King be sufficient to produce that peace and safety to the people, for which alone that, or any other power, ought to be instituted.

Thirdly, of the Judiciary. The judiciary power is delegated to judges, elected by the people for a period.

It is proper to distinguish between inferior and superior judges. The former may be appointed for a time, because it will be difficult to find proper persons to fill those numerous places; but it is to be desired, that the superior judges should hold their offices during good behavior, and their salaries also. Those, who are charged with the important duties of administering justice, should, if possible, depend only on God. Their impartiality is of the last importance to every member of society, but principally to the most numerous class, who by that alone can be shielded from oppression. It seems important, also, in every point of view, that they should not be named by popular election.

To make a proper choice of judges, as of other officers, those who choose should have not only a competent idea of the duty to be performed, and of the talents required, but an interest also in making a good choice. Will this be the case in a popular election? Will not those, who have suits depending, endeavor to get such men named, as will best answer their purpose? Will not the elections be governed in a great degree by intrigue? Must not the opinion of the voters be in general formed from the information of others? Edition: current; Page: [264] Will not the rich exert themselves to have such judges chosen, as will be instruments of their despotism? And what instrument so dangerous as an iniquitous judge! It is yours to decide, whether this mode gives reasonable ground to hope for proper appointments; and you will consider that to the great mass of French population, the making of the laws will ever be of minor importance, since the needful security of property must confine their wealth within the narrow circle of their wants. But if, in this confined state, their little all be at the mercy of a partial judge, that tranquillity of the soul, which liberty should confer, exists not for them, and that which is to others a blessing, becomes to them a curse. And when their unavoidable dependence on the rich, increased by the influence of such judges, compels them under the pressure of that double weight to reelect their oppressors, then, humiliated and degraded even in their own eyes by the possession of privileges they cannot exercise, they will find themselves enslaved by the excess of liberty.

Such are the observations, which present themselves on the partition of powers, which you have adopted. Many less matters are not noticed, because it is not intended to criticise your work, but to make a last effort for the happiness of the French. There is one, however, which compels to a painful expression the heart of a father. You have decreed, that females are excluded from the regency.5 Alas, in entrusting the charge of the Constitution to wives and mothers, was it possible to forget that maternal love is the only sentiment, which resists all trials, which occupies the heart of a mother until death, and expires only with her latest breath. Can a mother betray the interests of her child, and are not the interests of this child your own?

It remains only to make some remarks, as to the kind of government, which our situation and our manners would seem to require. This beautiful country, profusely blest by the munificence of nature, bears on its bosom the means of exhaustless wealth, and presents in the genius of its people a source of infinitely varied enjoyment. Hence she will ever be viewed with cupidity by her neighbors, and be exposed to those interior ills, which wealth cannot fail to produce in the advanced stages of society. France has also been the protector of inferior powers, from the epoch of the revolution in Switzerland and the Netherlands, to that in which she secured the liberty of the new world. She must then have a vigorous internal administration Edition: current; Page: [265] to control the vices inseparably attached to prosperity; and, at the same time, she must possess such naval and military force, and such constitutional activity and decision, that she may protect her possessions, succor her allies, and repress the audacity of her foes.

A high toned monarchy seems, therefore, to be designated as the only government, which may consist with her physical and moral state. And, accordingly, her history, from Charlemagne to the present hour, proves, that her happiness has always been proportioned to the vigor of her administration. Nature, stronger than man, has preserved the monarchy amid the shocks of various revolutions, so that the royalty has remained, though the race of Kings has been changed.

Admitting, then, the necessity whose existence is proved both by reason and experience, it remains to consider by what means freedom can be secured against the power, which time and circumstances will confer on the King, if that office be not abolished in the attempt to establish a government, which consists neither with our manners nor with our situation. And on this occasion, it is proper to rise above the prejudices of the moment, and speak the language of truth to a bewildered nation. They will discover in it the paternal love of a King, which, founded on principles of religion, is beyond the reach of human power, and has resisted the flatteries of a court, and the indignities of a gaol.

Will numerous representatives, chosen for a short period, prove a sufficient barrier against royal authority?6 Where the members are few, the election is more nice, and the competition of candidates presents a greater choice. Hence the individuals, of which such body is composed, will be less liable to deception and seduction. The post being more rare, is thereby more esteemed and sought after, and at the same time more difficult to be obtained or preserved, and hence a greater dependence of the representatives upon the people. A body not numerous is also more under the dominion of reason, and less exposed to the powers of eloquence, and the wanderings of enthusiasm. Persons chosen for a short period, may feel themselves little interested in supporting the privileges, which they must speedily cease to enjoy, and may therefore betray their trust for the attainment of more permanent or more lucrative situations. That ambition, which prompts a factious leader to wrest authority from a weak prince, might render him the Edition: current; Page: [266] slave to one of stronger mind, and accordingly we learn from history, that the same men have been alternately the leaders of a faction and the flatterers of a court.

It seems, therefore, wise to provide for the stability of the Constitution, by the unchanging principles of private interest, and therefore to oppose against the efforts of a hereditary monarch, the resistance of a hereditary Senate, whose members should possess great landed property. Let it not be imagined, that this would restore abuses justly complained of. A patriot King cannot wish to be surrounded by needy dependents, who first deceive and then betray him; who obtain from his bounty the wealth, which they abuse, and by their pernicious art, render even his virtues the scourge of his people. But he may, in a just abhorrence of despotism, desire an institution, which has ever been considered as its most dangerous enemy.

Such a body, if unchecked by a King on the one hand, and by representatives of the people on the other, would doubtless be oppressive. It has already been so in France. The excess of royal authority has in its turn been also injurious; but the levity, the injustice, and the disorder of a government, merely popular, must be equally subversive of public and private happiness. It is by a just combination of the three, where each having an absolute veto on the others the particular interest of neither can prevail, that the general interest of the whole society will best be known and pursued, and this great nation raised to that station of happiness and glory, which nature seems to have intended.

This form of government has undoubtedly its objections, in common with every other; and since human institutions cannot but partake of the weakness of man, it is in vain that we seek perfection among imperfect beings. In the immense range of affairs, the extremes unite in evil. Reason and happiness are found in a just medium. The wise man stops there, and he who passes farther is lost.7

You have heard, gentlemen, the observations which it has always been my design to offer you, when an occasion should present. I have constantly acted with reference to your will, because I have made it my duty to consider you the organs of the will of the nation, and I have ever recognized in the people the right of being governed according to their wishes.

You require of me, gentlemen, and of every public functionary, an oath never to make any change in your constitution. I will take this oath; but I pray you to consider with me for a moment the consequences it involves. Edition: current; Page: [267] My observation is perhaps superficial, and my fears vain; and the hopes of others may be as well founded as they are brilliant. But no one of us is infallible; there is no one but God, who, having foreseen all, can have pre-ordained all. It is at least possible, that the seeds of evil may be concealed in the constitution, and that nothing but time and circumstances may be wanting to cause their development.

If this happens, as there will be no means of changing it, those to whom the people will have confided their interest will have only the sad alternative of violating their oaths on the one hand, or their duty on the other. It is also possible, that a great majority of the nation may one day be opposed to this form of judgment. Should we not preserve the right of change to this majority? Can we with justice oppose its will? Reflect, gentlemen, on this alternative, and let me urge you to continue your session for a time. Let us together make trial of your work; do not bind yourselves not to change your decrees; for no one is too wise to improve himself in the school of experience. If, after this trial, the Constitution answers your expectations, you will place it with the more confidence in the hands of your successors. If, on the contrary, you find parts of it to be feeble, or ill-adjusted, you will have it in your power to amend them.

But if you still persist in your determination to conclude your task without delay, at least grant the prayer which I make you in behalf of twenty-four millions of Frenchmen, of future generations, nay, of the human race. Deign in mercy to point out the means, by which the people can express their will, without being exposed to the perilous convulsions, which we have so lately experienced.

Whatever may be the result of your deliberations, I repeat to you, gentlemen, that I submit to them unreservedly. Let us then banish all suspicion; it cannot but be injurious to the interests of the empire. I give you my confidence, and I demand yours. Let us then labor in concert for the liberty and prosperity of the French nation.

But that this labor may not be suspected, and may meet with no opposition, I require of you, gentlemen, that you repeal the decree, which prevents me from choosing in the National Assembly the agents of the executive power. I would have it permitted me to nominate, as Ministers of the Constitution, those among you who have shown themselves its most zealous partisans. I would have the choice I shall make obtain your approbation, so that invested with the full force of public opinion, the Ministers may meet no obstacles in the execution of your plan. This appears to me the more proper, inasmuch as to the Ministers will appertain the exercise Edition: current; Page: [268] of royal power, and as you may naturally wish, that, in giving success to your work, they may show in the most striking manner how much I have been deceived in my opinion. I hope you will perceive, gentlemen, in the request I make to you, an unequivocal proof of the sincerity of my conduct; of that sincerity, which the French have a right to expect from their King, and which for his own honor a King ought ever to exhibit.

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20: Notes on the Form of a Constitution for France (1791?)*

Sparks says of this document, “The date of this paper has not been ascertained. The only copy, which has been found, is in the French language and in Mr. Morris’s handwriting, with the following endorsement on the envelope, ‘Notes on a Form of a Constitution for France.’” There are no internal clues about its composition; clearly it differs fundamentally from the Constitution adopted by the National Assembly in 1791, but it reflects views that Morris had expressed consistently since 1789. Possibly this is the document Morris mentions in his diary on December 7 and 13, 1791, which encompassed a “Form of Government” and “general Principles” to accompany it.1

On December 14, Morris mentions the draft to the Minister of the Marine, de Lessart, but that seems to be the last mention of the document. Morris received word that Washington had nominated him to be minister to France in January 1792, and after that he generally stopped giving advice on French politics.

I.: Principles.

The government of a nation should be constructed and administered so as to procure for it the greatest possible good.

The first duty of every State, as well as of every individual, is to provide for self preservation.

Treaties made between nations ought to have in each a sovereign authority, otherwise war could never be terminated except by conquest.

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The tranquillity and liberty of nations can only be sustained upon the basis of justice.

The position of a State, its climate, the extent of its territory and the habits and manners of its citizens, have an influence in determining the proper form of government.

The form of the French government is monarchical, and imperious circumstances demand its preservation.

Monarchies should be hereditary, because an elective monarchy is incompatible with order and liberty.

The vigor of the executive power should be proportioned to the external dangers, to the extent of the empire, and to the circumstances resulting from its commerce, from its riches, from the inequality in the distribution of wealth, and from the luxury thence arising.

In order to preserve the integrity of the executive power, it is necessary that the chief should be an integral part of the legislature.

It is essential to the free exercise of the executive power, that the chief be inviolable, but it is likewise essential to the rights and interests of the citizens, that his agents be responsible for his conduct.

It is important to distribute the power in a State, so that all persons entrusted with it be interested to discharge their duties.

The necessary extent of the executive power and the inviolability of an hereditary chief, require precautions against abuse which might result therefrom.

It is requisite then to form a legislative body, whose members shall be specially interested in the maintenance of the established order of things.

Such a body should be protected against all temptation, as well as against all violence, consequently its members should be immovable and even hereditary.

Such a body should possess only moral powers, and that it may be able to resist authority on the one hand, and license on the other, it is proper to invest it with all the power of opinion.

To preserve to the people public liberty, to guaranty their civil rights, to watch over the administration of their affairs, and to control great criminals, the nation should be represented in the legislature.

None should be represented, however, except citizens, whose age gives assurance of mature judgment, whose condition guaranties moral independence, and whose connexions insure their attachment to their country.

The right of suffrage, like every other, ought to depend only on general rules; it is proper therefore to establish these on principles in accordance with good morals and social order.

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That the representatives may express imperatively the national will, it is proper to constitute them a separate body.

Imposts bear upon the mass of the citizens; therefore, the right to levy them belongs exclusively to the representative body.

That the citizens may discharge their duties and preserve their rights, it is proper that they be acquainted with both; therefore the State should provide for public education.

The education of young citizens ought to form them to good manners, to accustom them to labor, to inspire them with a love of order, and to impress them with respect for lawful authority.

Religion is the only solid basis of good morals; therefore education should teach the precepts of religion, and the duties of man towards God.

These duties are, internally, love and adoration; externally, devotion and obedience; therefore provision should be made for maintaining divine worship as well as education.

But each one has a right to entire liberty as to religious opinions, for religion is the relation between God and man; therefore it is not within the reach of human authority.

Social rights and obligations are reciprocal. The right to be protected in the possession of life, liberty, and property, imposes the duty of not infringing on those of others, and even of protecting them.

It results therefrom, that, social liberty is not the permission for each one to follow his own inclination, but the obligation in which all are placed to perform their duty.

So social liberty exists not only within the limits, but by the limits, which the law prescribes.

The law is the will of all, and the rule of each.

The interpretation of the law ought then to be uniform, because the nation cannot require two opposite things, nor can the citizens conform to two opposite rules.

The interpretation of the law ought to be as fixed as the law itself, because the duty of conforming to it demands the means of understanding it, as well as of knowing it.

In the formation of the law, regard should be often had to the convenience, to the faculties, to the interests, and to the habits of the citizens, sometimes even to their prejudices, but in the interpretation of it, nothing but justice should be regarded.

The interpreters of the law ought to enjoy an independence proportioned to the extent and importance of their functions.

The judges ought to be as immovable as the law which they interpret, Edition: current; Page: [272] impartial as the justice which they dispense, and firm as the authority which they represent.

To guaranty the independence of the judiciary power, on which depends civil liberty, and to insure to the system of jurisprudence the necessary stability, it is proper that the Court of Final Appeal should be an integral part of the legislature.

Decisions of cases are the interpretations of the law; consequently they are of general interest; the facts on the contrary concern only the parties.

The choice of arbitrators is a natural right, but submission to legal authority is necessary to social order. Now every society has the right of providing for what concerns the general interest, so that in permitting the parties to choose the judges of facts, the State reserves to itself the power to name the judges of right, who are the interpreters of the law.

In the social, as in the savage state, there are certain subjects which are within the reach of every one, and consequently each citizen can decide in regard to them, but there are others for which it is necessary to refer to those learned therein; therefore reason and justice require, that the natural right of private judgment should to a certain extent be abridged.

II.: Executive Power.

The executive power belongs to the King; consequently he has the right to appoint to all places and employments whatever, except those respecting which it is otherwise provided by this Constitution.

To the King belongs the power of making war, peace, treaties, and other conventions with foreign powers.

To the King belongs the right of granting to foreigners the privileges of French citizens, under such conditions or restrictions as he shall think proper.

Every oath of fidelity shall be taken to the King, in the manner following. I promise in the name of God to be faithful to the King of the French. But such oath can have reference only to the royal authority as recognized by the Constitution; so that to obey an order of the monarch, contrary to the laws and the Constitution, is to violate the oath of fidelity.

The King is commander in chief of all the forces both land and maritime, and of the national militia.

Justice shall be rendered in the name of the King.

The person of the King is sacred and inviolable.

Royalty is hereditary in the male line, in the order of primogeniture. Regencies shall be established by the legislature.

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III.: King’s Ministers and Council.

To the King belongs the choice and the dismissal of Ministers.

Ministers are responsible for their conduct, and to that effect each one shall countersign the orders of the King relating to his department, without which the order shall be void.

The Chancellor shall countersign every act, to which the seal of State is affixed, and shall be responsible therefor.

The Ministers are,

First, the Chancellor. His duty is to superintend distributive justice, education, and morals.

Secondly, the Minister of the Interior. His duty is to superintend the execution of the laws, and the preservation of public peace.

Thirdly, the Minister of Finance. His duty is to superintend the finances of the State, the receipts and the expenditures.

Fourthly, the Minister of Commerce. His duty is to superintend agriculture, manufactures, commerce, and the colonies.

Fifthly, the Minister of Foreign Affairs. His duty is to cultivate the relations of the State with foreign powers.

Sixthly, the Minister of War. His duty is to superintend the land forces and their operations.

Seventhly, the Minister of Marine. His duty is to superintend the navy, the maritime forces and their operations.

Eighthly, the Secretary of State. He is entrusted with the general charge of affairs.

Ninthly, the President of the Council. He presides at the Council in the absence of the King.

The two last are not essential, and the King may fill the places or leave them vacant at his pleasure.

The Ministers form together the Council of State, and each one shall be responsible for the advice, which he shall there give.

IV.: Administration and Police.

There shall be in each department an administrative body to superintend the affairs, which are peculiar to such department, in the manner which shall be prescribed by the legislature.

The administrative body shall be composed of twelve members named by the electors of the department. The Grand Bailiff shall preside over it Edition: current; Page: [274] either in person or by his deputy. The commission of the Grand Bailiff shall be countersigned by the Minister of the Interior. The Bishop of the department and his Vicar are also members of the administrative body. Each department shall be divided into six districts, each of which shall choose two members (administrateurs) for four years, and it shall be decided by lot after the first election which of the two shall retire from the administration at the end of two years, so that subsequently one half of the members shall be elected every two years. To constitute an administrative body, it is requisite that the Grand Bailiff, or his deputy and six other members, should be present.

In each department there shall be a Government Attorney (Procureur Syndic) appointed by the King. He shall assist at the sessions of the administrative body, and shall have there a voice in consultations, but not in decisions. He is to attend to the crown lands, to the ground rents, and to the casual forfeitures to the treasury.

The King shall appoint each year justices of peace to preserve the tranquillity and maintain the police of the departments. The number of such justices shall depend on the will of the King. Their warrants shall be countersigned by the Minister of the Interior, and their authority shall be prescribed by the legislature.

V.: Public Forces.

To the King belongs the appointment and the discharge of the Military officers. It is, notwithstanding, just and wise for him to prescribe for himself a regular system of promotions, and to preserve to each his rank, and nothing but the interest of the nation ought to induce a deviation from the general principles of the military administration.

The legislature shall determine upon the formation and organization of the public forces, upon the duties of the officers, soldiers, marines, and of the militia, upon the offences and penalties, and upon the manner of judging and punishing.

The commissions and warrants of the land forces and of the militia shall be countersigned by the Minister of War.

It is proper for the officers to be holders of property, because those to whom the State entrusts its forces should be interested in its preservation.

The commissions and warrants of the maritime forces shall be counter-signed by the Minister of Marine.

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VI.: Revenue and Debts of the State.

The legislature shall regulate the imposts, but the collection thereof shall be made by royal authority.

The warrants of the collectors, and other principal agents of the treasury, shall be countersigned by the Minister of Finance. The other agents shall be appointed in such manner as the legislature shall order.

The land taxes and the casual forfeitures shall nevertheless be collected by the constable of the department, his sergeants and deputies, according to the writs issued to him by the Government Attorney, the whole to be done in the manner which the legislature shall prescribe; and nothing shall be paid, either for the collection of the land tax, or for the remittances to be made by the Government Attorney.

The legislature shall regulate whatever relates to the public debt; and no loan can be made without its consent.

VII.: Education and Worship.

In each department there shall be a Council of Education and Worship, which shall be formed by the Bishop and the Professor of the department and six Rectors, one for each district. All the members of the Council shall be appointed by the King, but cannot be turned out; and their appointments shall be made under the seal of State.

The Bishop, or in his absence the Professor, shall preside at the Council, and three Rectors as least must assist thereat.

By the advice of the Council, the Professor shall appoint the preceptors, and the Bishop shall appoint the curates.

The Bishop shall appoint and dismiss his vicar at his own free will.

The places of preceptor and curate shall be removable according to the regulations of the legislature.

For the maintenance of worship, for providing for education, for the relief of the poor, and to defray the expenses of the hospitals, the tithe shall be collected in the manner prescribed by the legislature; but by the orders and under the superintendence of the administrative body, who shall distribute the same. The Government Attorney shall be the treasurer of the tithe, of which a tenth part shall be paid to the Bishop, who shall pay the fifth part to his vicar. One third of the residue shall be applied by the administrative body to the poor and to the hospitals, one third to public worship, Edition: current; Page: [276] and one third to public education. But a tenth part of this last third shall be paid to the order of the Chancellor, towards defraying the expenses of a National Academy, of which the Chancellor shall be always President, and shall appoint by the orders of the King the instructors. In everything else relating to the Academy the legislature shall direct.

VIII.: Commerce and Colonies.

The King shall make all the appointments in the Colonies, in the manner determined upon by common consent. The commissions and warrants shall be countersigned by the Minister of Commerce, who shall also counter-sign the warrants of the Government Attorneys of the departments, of the Comptrollers of Customs, and of the Consuls in foreign countries.

IX.: Relations with Foreign Powers.

Ambassadors, and other Ministers and diplomatic agents, shall be appointed by the King. Their credentials and instructions shall be counter-signed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs. The expenses thereof shall be paid out of the civil list, and when extraordinary expenses are incurred for secret services, the legislature will reimburse the same if it sees fit.

Treaties and Conventions with foreign powers shall be recorded at the King’s Council, and signed by the King in his Council, with the advice of the majority of his Ministers, who are bound to countersign it before the treaty can take effect. It shall then become the supreme law of the State, and the Ministers who shall have signed it shall be all and each responsible therefor.

No treaty of commerce can take place without the previous consent of the Minister of Commerce, which shall be given and confirmed by his signature before the treaty shall be submitted to the Council.

The decisions of the Admiralty Courts respecting prizes taken at sea, shall be made in accordance with the ordinances of the King in his Council, because they affect the external relations of the State, and depend on the rights of war; consequently the appeal from the Admiralty shall be made to the Council in such manner as the ordinances shall prescribe.

The judges of the Admiralty Courts shall be appointed by the King, and their commissions shall be countersigned by the Minister of Foreign Affairs. They are removable.

The royal attorneys in the Admiralty Courts are also removable. They Edition: current; Page: [277] shall be appointed by the King, and their warrants shall be countersigned by the Minister of Marine.

X.: Legislative Power.

The legislative power shall reside always in the Senate and National Assembly, which, in concert with the King, shall make all laws, ordinances, and regulations whatever, which they shall judge necessary to the defence, preservation, and prosperity of the State.

The Senate shall be composed of ninety Senators, hereditary in the male line in order of primogeniture. They shall be appointed by the King, that is to say the King shall appoint forthwith fifty, and others according as circumstances may appear to him to require it. The patents of the Senators shall be issued under the seal of State, and registered at the chancery. They shall never have any other title than that of French Senator. The King shall appoint from among the members of the royal family Senators for life, of which the number shall never exceed nine, and they shall have no other title than that of French Senators; but the Prince Royal shall be always a Senator without the nomination of the King. Thus the Senators of the royal family may be ten in number including the Prince Royal, whose title however shall not be Senator, but only Prince Royal.

The King shall appoint twenty Ecclesiastical Senators, among whom shall be all the Archbishops; their title shall be Bishop Senator. Finally, the twenty-four Superior Judges hereafter mentioned shall also be Senators, but shall not have the title thereof.

No one shall have a seat in the Senate before the age of thirty years, except the Prince Royal, who shall have a seat there at sixteen years, and a voice in the decisions at twenty years, but shall never have a voice in consultations.

The Chancellor shall preside in the Senate, and when he is not there, the President shall take his place. The President shall be nominated by the King at the opening of each session, from among the hereditary Senators.

The Senate shall choose its other officers, such as registers, sergeants, and doorkeepers.

Every Senator shall lose his place for the crime of high treason, and for dishonorable actions or scandalous conduct, according to the decision of the Senate. A Senator cannot be judged except by the Senate.

The King can appoint to the Senate the son of one, who has lost his place, but he cannot reinstate a Senator degraded by a decision of the Senate.

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The Senate judges of accusations brought by the National Assembly, because the complaints of the nation, through the medium of its Representatives, ought not to be submitted to any inferior tribunal.

In order that the accusations of the representative body may be judged in the most solemn manner, the King shall appoint from among the hereditary Senators a constable of France to preside over the Senate; but this office shall cease with the occasion which gives birth to it. The appointment shall be made to the Senate vivâ voce.

The King cannot pardon him, whom the Senate upon the accusation of the representatives shall have condemned. The Senate is judge in the last resort of all cases and causes, which shall be brought to it by appeal, according to the regulations of the legislature.

The Ecclesiastical and Royal Senators shall not assist the judiciary sessions, and the judges shall have only a voice in the consultations.

The Senate can never for purposes of legislation consist of less than forty members, hereditary or others. To fulfill its judicial functions, at least thirty hereditary Senators are necessary.

The National Assembly shall always consist of four members for each department, eight for Paris, and four for each of the cities hereafter named, and of those to which the legislature shall grant a representation.2

In great cities the citizens, who are not holders of property, have the stability necessary to form for themselves an opinion upon public affairs; in the country, on the contrary, they are reduced by circumstances to second the ambition of the rich, and consequently to destroy the equilibrium upon which depends the importance of the middling class and public liberty.

The cities which shall henceforth have representatives are Dunkirk, Lisle [Lille], Dieppe, Amiens, Havre, Rouen, Metz, Strasbourg, Lyons, St Malo, Nantes, Bordeaux, Bayonne, and Marseilles.

One hundred members shall suffice to form a Chamber of Representatives, because circumstances may often prevent members from being present, and the urgency of affairs sometimes does not permit any delay.

The Representatives shall be chosen for eight years, and it shall be decided by lot in each city and department, after the first election, which of the members shall retire from the Assembly at the end of two years, which of them shall retire at the end of four years, and which at the end of six years, so that consequently one quarter of the Representatives shall be Edition: current; Page: [279] elected every two years, and when the place of a Representative shall become vacant, the vacancy shall be filled by an extraordinary election.

The electors of the departments are the male holders of property. The legislature shall determine on the value of the property. No one shall vote before he is married, and has attained the age of twenty-five years.

The elections shall be made in the districts and in the manner which the legislature shall point out. The list of voters of each district shall be sent to the department which shall examine the same, and the Grand Bailiff shall certify to the chancery, by the advice of the administrative body, the person elected. And in case of a disputed election, he shall send the lists to the National Assembly, to which alone belongs the right of judging of its members and of elections.

The electors of the represented cities are those who pay taxes; but after the first election, the cities may grant the right of citizenship to whomsoever they may see fit, provided he shall have attained the age of twenty-five years, shall be married, and of good character. Persons thus admitted by the cities are the only citizens, who have the right to vote for representatives of cities and municipal officers. And this right is inalienable except in cases of conviction of crime.

The municipal officers in the cities above named shall be chosen in the manner pointed out by the legislature, which shall determine upon the organization of the municipal bodies, and upon the cities to which such bodies ought to be granted. But in all cases the Mayors shall be appointed by a warrant from the King, which shall be countersigned by the Minister of the Interior.

The National Assembly shall choose its President at the commencement of each session, for the entire session, and all the other officers necessary shall be chosen in the same manner.

The expenses of the Representatives of each department and city shall be paid by the electors of the cities and departments represented, at a rate regulated by the legislature, and the assessments shall be respectively made by the administrative and municipal bodies.

Every law, or ordinance having the force of a law, other than those specially indicated in this Constitution, may be agreed to by the majority of the Senate and of the Chamber of Representatives, and shall then be presented to the King for his sanction.

Each Chamber has the right of making the alterations it may see fit in acts before assenting to them, and to each belongs the originating of laws, except those of revenue of which the originating belongs exclusively to the Edition: current; Page: [280] Representatives; so the Senate can never have the right of changing anything in relation to imposts, but only of consenting or not consenting.

The style of the laws shall be, “The King, by common consent with the Senate and the French Nation, orders that, &c.” But the style of the laws which levy imposts shall be, “The nation grants to the King for the necessities and honor of the State the imposts, which the Senate has consented to, and which his Majesty accepts, to be employed for the objects designed by the people in granting them; it is therefore ordered by common consent, &c.”

The laws being presented to the King, he shall signify by his Chancellor, to the Senators and Representatives assembled in the Chamber of the Senate, the royal will. If the King does not agree, his refusal shall be expressed by these words, “The King will consider.” If he agrees to the law, the form shall be, “The King consents, and will cause to be executed.” But if it is a question of a law, which grants an impost, and which the King accepts, the form shall be, “The King accepts and will cause to be executed.”

The laws shall be registered at the Chancery, and then sent by the Chancellor to the Keeper of the Records, to be printed under his inspection, and the originals to be deposited among the archives of the State. The Keeper of the Records shall send to the Constable of the department two printed copies of each law, that he may make proclamation thereof, and send one copy with the certificate of having proclaimed it to the Government Attorney, and the other copy with a similar certificate to the Register of the department.

The King shall assemble and prorogue the two Chambers; but if the Ministers suffer more than a year to intervene between two sessions, the Chambers shall assemble themselves by their chief, and the King cannot prorogue them before the expiration of six months without their consent.

Each Chamber can adjourn itself from day to day, but not for more than five days at a time.

Each Chamber shall have the right of police within its interior, and in what relates to it, and that of punishing its own members; the whole according as the legislature shall determine.

The members of the Senate and of the Assembly cannot be arrested during the session, nor in the space of time fixed by the legislature before and after the session, except for crime.

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XI.: Judiciary Power.

The Judges shall be named by the King; their commissions shall be issued under the seal of State, and they shall receive a fixed salary from the public treasury.

The Judges are either Superior or Inferior.

The Superior Judges are not removable, and are twenty-four in number, of which twelve are stationary, and twelve circuit judges.

No one can be appointed a Superior Judge before the age of thirty-five years.

The stationary Judges shall be divided into four Chambers, or Courts, of which each shall have a supreme judge. The first Court shall judge all disputes upon fiscal concerns; the criminal code is the department of the second; the third shall determine cases which relate to real estate; and the fourth, all other cases.

The King shall appoint a crown lawyer for each Court, whose duty is to attend to the fiscal concerns of the nation. His warrant shall be counter-signed by the Minister of Finance.

The King shall appoint a Royal Attorney, whose duty is to prosecute every violation of public order. His warrant shall be countersigned by the Minister of the Interior.

A single Judge shall suffice to hold an ordinary session, but to decide fully upon a subject two at least shall be necessary.

Cases shall be judged by the Stationary Tribunals in the same manner as by the Circuit Courts.

The Judges of Assizes shall be divided into six circuits, and there shall be in each department two annual Assizes, one in the Spring, and the other in the Autumn. A single Superior Judge shall suffice to hold an Assize, with two of the Judges of the department hereafter mentioned, the Superior Judge presiding.

The Assize Courts shall judge all the complaints and cases whatsoever of the department, whether civil, criminal, or fiscal. There shall be an appeal from the decisions of the Judges, whether upon the principles or the adventitious circumstances, which shall be made, according to the nature of the case, to one or the other of the Stationary Tribunals.

The Stationary Tribunals shall likewise hold their sessions twice a year, in the Spring and in the Autumn, to decide on cases which are within their respective jurisdictions. They shall hold two other sessions in Winter and in Summer, to judge the various appeals which shall be made to them.

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There shall be also an appeal from the decisions of the Stationary Courts to the Court of Appeals, over which the Chancellor shall preside, and at which at least twelve Superior Judges shall assist.

There shall be also an appeal from the decisions of the Appeals Court to the Senate, the whole according to the forms and conditions, and under the restrictions which the legislature shall prescribe.

When the subject of discussion in a civil matter involves the examination of accounts, or by the absence of witnesses out of the kingdom, or by other reasons it happens that the Assizes cannot render justice, then the cause may be either commenced in the Court of the Pretor, or be brought there, and appeal shall be had from the Pretor to the Chancellor, and from the Chancellor to the Senate, whether upon the facts or upon the judgments rendered, as well upon the principle as upon the form, the whole in the manner which the legislature shall determine upon.

The Pretor shall be appointed in each department by the Chancellor, and shall be removable. Every dispute in matters of business and of accounts is within his jurisdiction. He shall appoint four Commissioners; the facts shall be established by a Commissioner, and they shall be examined afterwards by the Pretor if he sees fit; and in view of the appeal granted on the facts, the depositions of the witnesses shall be written before the judgment.

There shall be in each department four Inferior Judges appointed by the King, who shall be removable, and their warrants shall be countersigned by the Chancellor. The Inferior Judges or two of them, with one or more Judges of Assize, shall hold the Assizes. A single Judge of a department can decide on the forms and adventitious circumstances to accelerate the proceedings, and obtain an earlier decision upon the principles of the case, but an appeal may be had from his judgment to the Assize Court, and thence a further appeal.

The register shall be named in each department every three years by the Assize Court sitting in the Spring, from among three persons, who shall be presented by the administrative body.

Every transfer or hypothecation of real estate, must be made before the Register, certified by him, and registered by the Government Attorney in the archives of the department; and every deed must be so registered, and the copy of the registry certified by the Government Attorney shall be available in justice; the whole to be according to regulations which the legislature shall establish.

Decisions in Assize Courts on facts shall be by juries of twelve respectable Edition: current; Page: [283] persons, and the witnesses shall all be publicly examined in presence of the jury and of the parties.

To form the juries, the electors shall choose every two years in each district forty-eight persons from among the holders of property in the district, and the list of them shall be registered at the administration and at the registry of the department. The Constable shall make for each case a list of forty-eight persons, according as the Court shall direct, and shall cause them to be summoned to appear under penalties, at the time and place designated, for judging the case. Each individual shall have the right of challenging six of the jurors without cause, and others for sufficient cause, and of the remaining number, twelve shall be drawn by lot to sit in the case. It is necessary that the verdict of the twelve composing the jury be unanimous.

The Constable shall likewise summon, when necessary, twenty-four persons for a grand jury of the department; and no person shall be judged at the Assizes for crime or offence, until he shall have been previously accused by the grand jury. The grand jury shall decide by a majority, but twelve voices are requisite for an accusation.

A person belonging to the grand jury cannot be summoned for another jury.

The King shall order extraordinary Assizes whenever circumstances require it.

To judge of criminal cases the Constable shall summon forty-eight persons, and the accused shall have the right of challenging twelve without cause, and others for sufficient cause. The twelve of whom the jury consists must be agreed to acquit or condemn.

Each person before taking his place as member of a jury shall make oath to give impartial attention to the case, and to speak the truth according to the evidence.

In every suit, before submitting it to the jury, the statements of the parties must be reduced to direct affirmations and negations, that the jury may be able to decide by yea and nay. And for this purpose in every complaint and every defence the facts must be precisely stated with the time, place and circumstances, that the opposite party may admit or deny them positively, and prepare their proofs.

There shall be in each department a Constable appointed by the King every year. His warrant shall be countersigned by the Minister of the Interior. He shall appoint in each district a serjeant, and such number of tipstaffs as he may think proper. To the Constable shall be addressed every Edition: current; Page: [284] writ, sentence, order, or letter of execution whatever, to execute the same. To him belongs particularly to keep the peace of the department, to cause the police to be performed, and the laws to be respected. It is his duty to suppress insurrections, and the citizens are required forcibly to assist him, his serjeants and tipstaffs, when called upon in the name of the King.

The Constable is governor of all the prisons of the department, and he shall appoint the deputy governors, jailers, and other necessary officers.

The legislature shall determine upon the rights honorary and pecuniary of the Constable, of the Government Attorney and Register, in such manner that these officers, their substitutes and agents, shall not be chargeable to the treasury. For it is right, that the citizens should pay the expenses resulting from the execution of the laws, when they have recourse to the protection which they afford; and it is right, that he, who will not render to any one his due, should defray the expenses which his bad faith makes necessary; finally, it is right, that the good and peaceable citizens should be protected in the enjoyment of their property, at the expense of the malevolent and unjust.

To avoid as much as possible lawsuits and quarrels, there shall be conciliatory tribunals for the resident inhabitants. The conciliatory tribunal shall be composed of one Justice of Peace and of two respectable citizens of the neighborhood, whom the Justice of Peace shall summon. This tribunal shall hear the statements of the parties but not the witnesses, and shall recommend means, of accommodation.

If accommodation cannot be had, the Judge shall give to each of the parties a certificate of having appeared, that he may be able to proceed; and if the parties have agreed on the facts, it shall be declared by the same certificate. The facts upon which they have agreed shall likewise be stated, in order to abridge the process of law when it cannot be avoided.

The Justices of Peace shall have such other authority, as the legislature shall grant to them; and the legislature shall establish from time to time all the tribunals, which shall be deemed convenient, useful, or necessary, and shall regulate all proceedings that shall be necessary for the most perfect distribution of justice, and to protect the property, rights, and privileges of all the citizens.

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21: Remarks upon the Principles and Views of the London Corresponding Society (1795)*

Morris left France in October 1794 and spent the next four years traveling in Europe. In mid-June 1795 he arrived in England, where he stayed for a year. Although he did some touring in the country, much of his time was spent in and around London, where he met and conversed with just about everyone of consequence.

In the 1790s various groups advocating reform of Parliament and other more radical political changes had grown up in England, among them the London Corresponding Society. Although not the most radical group, it had a large following—in 1795 it held a rally that attracted one hundred thousand people. Such a group was considered a threat by the government, and on several occasions its leaders were prosecuted. On October 29, 1795, King George III’s carriage was attacked as he rode to Parliament, which led to further arrests.

Perhaps in response to the aftermath of the attack on the king, on November 23 of that year the society published a four-page pamphlet, To the Parliament and People of Great Britain, An Explicit Declaration of the Principles and Views of the London Corresponding Society. Morris returned to London that day from a tour of the northern parts of England, and wrote and published this brief reply sometime in the next month.

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The London Corresponding Society have published An Explicit Declaration of their Principles and Views, by way of Appeal to a Public deluded by their Calumniators. Hence it may be fairly supposed, that this Paper is intended to express the Sentiments of those honest and moderate Members who have in view none but fair and honourable objects. The Writer of it has endeavoured to reconcile, to their satisfaction and that of the world, their Principles with those of the British Constitution. It may be well, therefore, to examine this Political Creed, the first article of which sets forth their firm attachment to the Principles of Equality, accurately defined and properly understood, and then proceeds to define social Equality.

It is presumed that they did not advert to the difference between Equality in its general sense, and the particular limitation1 of it, by the epithet social. The former, in contradistinction to the latter, can only exist between the political aggregations of Men: these are said to be equal; and yet experience shews, that among Nations, however equal in right, the strongest gives the Law: and it would probably be found, if two men of full age were placed, by way of experiment, on a desert island, so as to realize (in some measure) the idea of what is called a state of Nature, that the stronger would compel the weaker to obey him; and thus in this state of Nature, that which Theorists call natural Equality, would be reduced (in practice) to the relation of Tyrant and Slave. Luckily that same state of Nature is not the natural state of Man. He is a social animal. His rights, therefore, and his duties, are social. Consequently, to talk of his natural rights, in contradistinction to the social, seems about as proper as to talk of his angelic rights, or his bestial rights, or of any thing else as his, which does not and cannot belong to him. And let it not be supposed that the common expressions (such for instance as the natural rights and duties of Parent and Child) apply to the distinction here mentioned. Those also are social rights and duties; and so far are they from what are called The Rights of Man, or Perfect Equality, that they imply command and support on the one side; gratitude and obedience on the other. Nay, it is from this special relation, and the long period through which it continues to exist, that man is not only, like other gregarious animals, naturally a social Creature, but he is so necessarily. And let it be further observed, for the consideration of those who amuse themselves and their neighbours by the discussion of political theories, that no creature can have rights inconsistent with its own nature.

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Man, therefore, being a social Creature, can have no rights inconsistent with the social state. And if any such be attributed to him, the conclusions drawn from them, by sound logical deduction, must go to the subversion of civil society. So, on the other hand, when a proposition is stated which militates against the existence of society, it is evident that such proposition cannot be true. And therefore, if it be in the nature of a deduction by just reasoning from supposed premises, it will follow that the premises must be false.

To return then to the Creed: this social Equality is said to consist, 1st, in the acknowledgment of equal Rights. Hence it would appear that social Equality and equal Rights are distinct matters, for surely a thing cannot consist in the acknowledgment of its own existence. It would indeed be a strange answer, if a Child should ask what is a Lion, to tell him it is the acknowledgment of a Lion. As far as one not initiated may venture to judge, the import of the term equal Rights would seem to be, that every one should have the same rights with every other: or that no one should have more or greater rights than his fellow-citizens. Taking this as the interpretation, it will be proper in the next place to enquire what is meant by the term Acknowledgement. And this, it is presumed, is taken from the phraseology of Disputants, and means the admission or confession of the adverse Party, founded on conviction. Now that Party, being in the present case the Government, and those who adhere to it, this first branch of the definition of social Equality amounts to a declaration, on the part of the Corresponding Society, to the following effect: “There is an end of that social Equality to which we are firmly attached, unless it be admitted as a maxim, that no one Member of the Community has a greater right, or a greater number of rights, than any other Member.

Social Equality is said to consist, secondly, in equal Laws for the security of those Rights. Now, the first question which occurs for consideration, is, what must be understood by the term equal Laws? Taken as a figure of rhetoric, it might mean equitable Laws, or Laws equitably administered, or both. But in the present case it must mean something else, or something more, since it forms a part of the definition of Equality, and is to be the security of equal Rights; for equitable Laws, equitably administered, do proportion penalties, damages, and the like (as far as may be), to the ranks and situations of Men, as well as to the circumstances attending their actions, and the resulting degrees of criminality. Now this proportion is the direct opposite to Equality. Proceeding on principles totally different, and founded on a supposed inequality of rights and ranks, it gives to one man Edition: current; Page: [288] greater damages than to another for the same injury, and inflicts heavier fines on different penalties for the same offence. All which, however equitable, is by no means equal: and Laws which operate these effects, though they may be just Laws, certainly are not equal Laws. This term, equal Laws, seems rather to relate to a position in one of those Bills of Rights which have lately sprouted up in different parts of the world, to the great annoyance of His Majesty’s liege Subjects. But here it is proper to pause and explain.

There is an Instrument, commonly called the Bill of Rights, which contains a Declaration of some of the Rights of Englishmen. This is a Piece of great value. It was drawn up with much wisdom and discretion, and may be considered as a solemn Legislative Exposition, so far as it goes, of the British Constitution; setting forth sundry advantages to which the People are entitled by that Constitution, and which, of course, form their Rights—the Rights of Englishmen. And although it be a dangerous thing to lay down general Propositions, and therefore unwise to do so when no occasion calls for it, yet considering how prone Men are to abuse Power, it might be well, perhaps, that in every free Government, some clear statement were made, by public Authority, of the principal Privileges to which its Citizens are entitled. The World might thereby become acquainted with the Rights of Swiss Men, of Dutchmen, of American Men, and of Frenchmen, as well as of Englishmen. And Citizens of the World, in their journey through life, might put up at the Inn where the entertainment was most agreeable to them. But this is very different from those fantastic productions, each of which has been pompously proclaimed as the only solid foundation for all Government: each purporting to be a Declaration of the natural, indefeasible, imprescriptible, &c. &c. &c. Rights of Man, to doubt of which is a political heresy. It has happened with respect to these things, as it usually does in such cases, that they differ considerably from each other; and of course it is evident, at the first blush, that they cannot all be true. And, indeed, it was a strange thing to see the modern State Conventions, like the ancient Church Councils, in violent dispute about what other People should be bound to believe.

It is declared in one of those same Bills of Rights, (a French one, consequently one of the best authority, being a late Edition) that Men are equal in the presence of the Law, whether it protects or whether it punishes: it may therefore be fairly supposed, that by the term equal Laws, in the Creed, is meant Laws which, without respect to persons, operate alike upon all, and in whose presence all are equal, whether the question relate to Punishment Edition: current; Page: [289] or to Protection; consequently, the same fine for the same offence to be laid on the Duke and on the Duke’s Footman—a pleasant thing for the Duke! and if the Nuptial Couch of each should have been sullied, then each to receive the same Compensation—a good thing for the Footman! These, it is to be presumed, are the equal Laws fitted to the Preservation of those equal Rights which are in the contemplation of the Society. Indeed, such equal Rights being acknowledged, these equal Laws must naturally result from them.

The third, and last part of the definition of social Equality, is “equal and actual Representation, by which alone the invasion of those Laws,” the equal Laws, “can be prevented.” Thus then the Trinitarian definition of social Equality is completed, by, 1st, an acknowledgment of equal Rights; 2dly, equal Laws to protect those equal Rights; and, 3dly, equal Representation to protect those equal Laws; and it is in this last that we find the damning clause of the Creed; for it declares, that by equal and actual Representation alone, &c. &c. just like St. Athanasius’s, whoso doth not believe, &c.2 The Indian, more modest, tells you, the sky rests on the earth, the earth on an elephant, the elephant on a tortoise, and then leaves you at liberty to believe in his System, or in that of Newton, though he thinks it somewhat absurd, that you should prefer the principles of attraction to his elephant and his tortoise.

Immediately after their definition, the Society go on to declare, that in their ideas of Equality, they never included the Equalization of Property, or the invasion of personal Rights and Possessions. And this Declaration is made with such warmth of expression, that it would be unfair not to believe it.

The Second Article of the Creed, somewhat in the manner of Pope’s famous couplet:

  • For Forms of Government let Fools contest;
  • Whate’er is best administer’d, is best;

says, that “to dispute about forms and modifications of Government, marks a weak mind, which, in pursuit of shadows, forgets the substance”; and it declares, that “the objects to which the Society directs its attention, are the Edition: current; Page: [290] peace, social order, and happiness of mankind, all of which may be sufficiently secured by the genuine spirit of the British Constitution.” Now then let the different parts of their Declaration be compared together.

Upon examining the definition of Equality, it appears primarily to consist in the admission as a principle, that no one Member of the Community has a greater right, or a greater number of rights, than any other Member; but it is said, nevertheless, that the invasion of personal Rights is not included in that idea. How can this be, if by personal Rights be meant a right of any person or persons which all others have not in common with him or them, and which does not therefore form a part of the common Rights? Nay, how can this be, if it be only admitted in general, that all have equal Rights? If John and Tom have equal Rights, then every thing which Tom possesses more than John, is not by right but by wrong. And consequently, whenever it is established that their Rights are equal, all Tom’s pretensions fall to the ground: and it must appear that what he calls his personal Rights, are a mere Usurpation. His Grace the Duke of Norfolk is Hereditary Earl Marshal, and the first Duke in England, a Member of the Legislative Senate, and Supreme Court of Appeals, in what is called his own right, and these his personal Rights will descend to his Heirs, if no Revolution be effected.

The Corresponding Society declare, that it is not their intention to invade his or any other man’s personal Rights; but, having previously established in their Creed, that none such can exist, it follows that they are not invaded, but merely annihilated. And so indeed are the Rights of the whole House of Peers, as well as some others which it is not proper to mention.

Again, it is said, that the invasion of those equal Laws which secure those equal Rights, can alone be prevented by equal and actual Representation; and yet it is said, that the essential objects to which the Society have always directed their attention, can be sufficiently secured by the genuine spirit of the British Constitution. Hence it follows, that the genuine spirit of the British Constitution consists in equal and actual Representation. Let this be compared with the present state of things, and, putting aside the case of Boroughs (which, be they what else they may, are certainly to be noticed as possessions), this at least will be admitted, that in the choice of County Members, where each sends two, the Freeholders of a small County have, as such, a greater individual share of the Legislative Authority than those of a large County. It is true, that by proportioning the number of Representatives to the number of Inhabitants, all would be put upon a footing of Equality; but surely this could not be done without an invasion of personal Possessions. The great complaint of the Corresponding Edition: current; Page: [291] Society is, that a small part of the Nation possesses a power to legislate for the whole, and their great object is to abolish this, which they consider as an abuse, and to introduce as of right, Universal Suffrage, under the name of equal and actual Representation. But yet, say they, we do not mean to invade personal Possessions. We will take away from the few the power they possess, and divide it among the whole Community; but God forbid that we should invade any man’s Possessions. What would be thought of a civil Murderer, who should tell you, don’t be alarmed, I have no intention to take away your life, but only to kill you? or of a gentle Robber, who should say, bless me, why so much apprehension, I don’t mean to deprive you of your Property, but only to share? The Corresponding Society did not mean any of these contradictions, but the misfortune is, that these, and many more, must arise from attempting to conform the Principles of any Government, however free, to the old exploded System (now newly vamped up) of the Rights of Man. That is to say, from attempting to erect any social Fabric on the foundation of Principles declaredly3 unsocial. And let it not thence be concluded, that the Members of this Society are Sons of Sedition. The chance is, that very few of them are so; nay, that the Marats and Robespierres, the Borgias and Catilines among them, are, as yet, good, honest Men, and justly offended that such appellations should be applied to them; for it is only by degrees that they will be led to crimes at which they now shudder. True it is, that the existence of that Society is pernicious; but yet their intentions are probably innocent. It is to be wished, however, that they would reflect seriously on what they are about. In the fervour of their zeal for Liberty, they may (like the Jews of old), crucify the God they adore. And if so, the mild spirit of expiring Freedom will exclaim, though in agony, “Pity them, Lord, for they know not what they do.”

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22: Oration on the Death of George Washington (1799)*

The only man among his contemporaries for whom Morris could be said to have unqualified admiration was George Washington. They first became acquainted in the very early stages of the Revolution, but Morris’s respect for Washington grew into something approaching hero worship during the years he spent in the Continental Congress. Those years included the winter of the encampment at Valley Forge, where Morris saw the suffering of the troops and the determination of Washington at first hand.

Just a few days before Washington died, Morris had written to urge him to come out of retirement again for the good of the country. John Adams’s deeply unpopular presidency had divided the country and the Federalist party. To Morris, Washington was the only one who could save the country from dissolving into an unhealthy factionalism. Thus for him the loss of Washington was not only personal, but public.

  • Sed quisnam merito divinas Carmine Laudes
  • Concipere, aut tanto par queat esse Viro?
  • aurel. brand.1

Assembled to pay the last dues of filial piety to him who was the father of his country, it is meet that we take one last look at the man whom we have lost forever.

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Born to high destinies, he was fashioned for them by the hand of nature—His form was noble—His port majestic—On his front were enthroned the virtues which exalt, and those which adorn the human character. So dignified his deportment, no man could approach him but with respect—None was great in his presence. You all have seen him, and you all have felt the reverence he inspired; it was such, that to command, seemed in him but the exercise of an ordinary function, while others felt a duty to obey, which (anterior to the injunctions of civil ordinance, or the compulsion of a military code) was imposed by the high behests of nature.

He had every title to command—Heaven, in giving him the higher qualities of the soul, had given also the tumultuous passions which accompany greatness, and frequently tarnish its luster. With them was his first contest, and his first victory was over himself. So great the empire he had there acquired, that calmness of manner and of conduct distinguished him through life. Yet, those who have seen him strongly moved, will bear witness that his wrath was terrible; they have seen boiling in his bosom, passion almost too mighty for man; yet, when just bursting into act, that strong passion was controlled by his stronger mind.

Having thus a perfect command of himself, he could rely on the full exertion of his powers, in whatever direction he might order them to act. He was therefore, clear, decided, and unembarrassed by any consideration of himself. Such consideration did not even dare to intrude on his reflections. Hence it was, that he beheld not only the affairs that were passing around him, but those also in which he was personally engaged, with the coolness of an unconcerned spectator. They were to him as events historically recorded. His judgment was always clear, because his mind was pure. And seldom, if ever, will a sound understanding be met with in the company of a corrupt heart.

In the strength of judgment lay, indeed, one chief excellence of his character. Leaving to feebler minds that splendor of genius, which, while it enlightens others, too often dazzles the possessor—he knew how best to use the rays which genius might emit, and carry into act its best conceptions.

So modest, he wished not to attract attention, but observed in silence, and saw deep into the human heart. Of a thousand propositions he knew to distinguish the best; and to select among a thousand the man most fitted for his purpose. If ever he was deceived in his choice, it was by circumstances Edition: current; Page: [295] of social feeling which did honour to his heart. Should it, therefore, in the review of his conduct, appear that he was merely not infallible, the few errors which fell to his lot, as a man will claim the affections of his fellow men. Pleased with the rare, but graceful weakness, they will admire that elevation of soul, which, superior to resentment, gave honour and power, with liberal hand, to those by whom he had been offended. Not to conciliate a regard, which, if it be venal, is worth no price, but to draw forth in your service the exercise of talents which he could duly estimate, in spite of incidents by which a weaker mind would have been thrown from its bias.

In him were the courage of a soldier, the intrepidity of a chief, the fortitude of a hero. He had given to the impulsions of bravery all the calmness of his character, and, if in the moment of danger, his manner was distinguishable from that of common life, it was by superior ease and grace.

To each desire he had taught the lessons of moderation. Prudence became therefore the companion of his life. Never in the public, never in the private hour did she abandon him even for a moment. And, if in the small circle, where he might safely think aloud, she should have slumbered amid convivial joy, his quick sense of what was just, and decent, and fit, stood ever ready to awaken her at the slightest alarm.

Knowing how to appreciate the world, its gifts and glories, he was truly wise. Wise also in selecting the objects of his pursuit. And wise in adopting just means to compass honorable ends.

Bound by the sacred ties of wedded love, his high example strengthened the tone of public manners. Beloved, almost adored by the amiable partner of his toils and dangers, who shared with him the anxieties of public life, and sweetened the shade of retirement, no fruit was granted to their union. No child to catch with pious tenderness the falling tear, and soothe the anguish of connubial affection. No living image remains to her of his virtues, and she must seek them sorrowing in the grave. Who shall arraign, Oh GOD! thy high decree? Was it in displeasure, that to the father of his country thou hadst denied a son? Was it in mercy, lest the paternal virtues should have triumphed (during some frail moment) in the patriot bosom? AMERICANS! he had no child—BUT YOU—and HE WAS ALL YOUR OWN.

Let envy come forward if she dare, and seek some darkened spot in this sun of our glory. From the black catalogue of crimes envy herself must speak him free. Had he (a mortal) the failings attached to man?—Was he the slave of avarice? No. Wealth was an object too mean for his regard. And yet economy presided over his domestic concerns; for his mind was too Edition: current; Page: [296] lofty to brook dependence. Was he ambitious? No. His spirit soared beyond ambition’s reach. He saw a crown high above all human grandeur. He sought, he gained, and wore that crown. But he had indeed one frailty—the weakness of great minds. He was fond of fame, and had reared a colossal reputation—It stood on the rock of his virtue. This was dear to his heart. There was but one thing dearer. He loved glory, but still more he loved his country. That was the master passion, and, with resistless might, it ruled his every thought, and word, and deed.

We see him stepping, as it were from his cradle, into the fields of glory, and meriting the public confidence, at a period when others too often consume in idleness the moments lent for instruction, or (in pursuit of pleasure) waste their moral energies. While yet his cheek was covered with the down of youth, he had combined the character of an able negotiator with that of a gallant soldier. Scarce had he given this early pledge of future service, when he was called on for the quick performance—He accompanies to the western wilds, Braddock who, bred in camps of European war, despis’d the savage. But soon entrapped in the close ambush, military skill becomes of no avail. The leaders, selected by unerring aim, first fall—the troops lie thick in slaughtered heaps, the victims of an invisible foe. WASHINGTON, whose warnings had been neglected, still gives the aid of salutary counsel to his ill fated chief, and urges it with all the grace of eloquence, and all the force of conviction. A form so manly draws the attention of the savage and is doomed to perish. The murdering instruments are levelled—the quick bolts fly winged with death, and pierce his garments, but obedient to the sovereign will, they dare not shed his blood. Braddock falls at his feet; and the youthful hero covers with his brave Virginians, the retreat of Britons, not less brave, but surprized by unusual war.

These bands of brothers were soon to stand in hostile opposition. Such was the decree of him to whom are present all the revolutions of time and empire. When no hope remained but in the field of blood, WASHINGTON was called on by his country to lead her armies. In modest doubt of his own ability, he submitted with reluctance to the necessity of becoming her chief; and took on him the weight, the care and the anguish of a civil war. Ambition would have tasted here the sweets of power, and drunk deep of intoxicating draughts, but to the Patriot, these sweets are bitterness.

INDUSTRIOUS, patient, persevering he remained at the head of citizens scarcely armed; and, sparing of blood, by skill, rather than by force, compelled his foe to seek a more favorable theatre of war. And now all hope Edition: current; Page: [297] of union lost, America (by her declaration of independence) cut the last slender thread of connection.

She had hitherto been successful; but was soon shaken by adverse storms. The counsel of her Chief had been neglected. His army had been raised by annual enlistment. The poor remnant of accumulated defeat, retreating before an enemy flushed with success, and confident in all superiority, looked with impatience to the approaching term of service. The prospect was on all sides gloomy; and sunshine friends (turning their halcyon backs to fairer skies) sought shelter from the storm. But though betrayed by fortune, his calm and steady mind remained true to itself. Winter had closed the campaign. Solacing in the enjoyment of what their arms had acquired, the victors tasted pleasure unalloyed by the dread of danger. They were sheltered behind one of the broad barriers of nature, and, safely housed, beheld upon its farther shore, a feeble adversary, exposed beneath the canopy of heaven to the rigors of an unpitying season. It was hoped that, their term of enlistment expired, the American troops would disperse; and the Chief (in despair) throw up his command. Such was the reasoning, and such reasoning would (in ordinary cases) have been conclusive. But that Chief was WASHINGTON! He shews to his gallant comrades the danger of their country, and asks the aid of patriotic service. At his voice their hearts beat high. In vain the raging Delaware, vext with the wintry blast, forbids their march. In vain he rolls along his rocky bed, a frozen torrent whose ponderous mass threatens to sweep the soldier from his uncertain footstep, and bear him down the flood! In vain the beating snow adds to the dangerous ford a darkened horror! Difficulties and dangers animate the brave. His little band is arrived; WASHINGTON is within the walls—the enemy is subdued!

Fortune now smiles, but who can trust to that fallacious smile? Preparations are already made to punish the American Leader for his adventurous hardihood. And now he sees, stretched out before him in wide array, a force so great that in the battle there is no hope. Behind him the impassable stream cuts off retreat. Already from his brazen throat the cannon gives loud summons to the field. But the setting sun leaves yet a dreary night to brood over approaching ruin. The earth is shrouded in the veil of darkness; and now the illustrious Chief takes up his silent march, and in wide circuit leads his little band around the unwary foe. At the dawn, his military thunders tell them their reserve posted far in the rear, is in the pounces of the American Eagle. They hasten back to revenge; but he has already secured his advantage, and (by a well chosen position) confines them to inglorious Edition: current; Page: [298] repose. The armies now rest from their toil. But for him there is no rest. His followers claim the double right of returning to their homes, and he stands almost alone. He dares not ask for aid, lest the enemy, emboldened by the acknowledgment of weakness, should dissipate his shadow of an army. Nothing remains but to intimidate by the appearance of a force, which does not exist; and hide from his own troops their great inferiority. Both are effected by skill rarely equalled—never excelled.

Scarce hath the advancing season brought forward a few recruits when he begins offensive operations. His enemy foiled in each attempt to advance, is compelled to ask from the ocean some safer road to conquest. The propitious deep receives on his broad bosom the invading host, and bids his obedient billows bear them to some shore, where they may join the advantage of surprize with those of number, discipline, and appointments. The hope is vain! WASHINGTON had penetrated their views, and stands before them! He is unfortunate. Defeated, not subdued—he leads on again to new attack. The half-gained victory, snatched from his grasp, at the head of an inferior, twice beaten army, he passes the long winter in an open field, within one day’s march of his foe.

Here he was doomed to new difficulties, and dangers unknown before. Faction had reared (in the American counsels) her accursed head, and laboured to remove him from the command. That measure would at once have disbanded his affectionate troops—the country around them was exhausted. He had no means to clothe or feed his army—none to change their position. Many perished—each day the numbers were alarmingly diminished, and reinforcement was dangerous, because it might encrease the famine. Under these circumstances, a new system of organization and discipline was to be formed, introduced, and enforced, while the soldier could seldom obtain even his poor pittance of depreciated paper.

  • who then hath seen
  • The gallant leader of that ruined band,
  • Let him cry praise and glory on his head.2

It was in the solitary walk of night—it was in the bosom of friendship, that he could alone unburthen himself, of the vast woe which weighed Edition: current; Page: [299] upon his heart—Here was indeed no common nor vulgar care. Honour—Liberty—His Country, stood on the dangerous margin of uncertain fate, and no human eye could pierce the dark cloud which hung upon futurity.

From this black night of gloomy apprehension, broke forth the sun of golden, glorious Hope! A mighty monarch had connected his fortunes with those of America—In her defence the flag of France was unfurled, and gratitude hailed the sixteenth Louis, protector of the rights of mankind. His powerful interference took off from what remained of the war, all reasonable doubt as to the final event. After a varied scene of adverse and prosperous circumstances, that event arrived, and a solemn treaty acknowledged your Independence.

Great was the joy and high the general expectation, for the political state of America was not duly considered. Her band of federal union had been woven by the hand of distrust. The different states had been held together, in no small degree, by the external pressure of war. That pressure removed, they might fall asunder. There existed various causes of discontent, which the intrigues of European policy might ripen into disgust. Those who shared in the public counsels were filled, therefore, with deep apprehension. The army, taught by years of painful experience, became a prey to sinister forebodings. Connected by the endearing ties of soldierly brotherhood, these gallant sons of freedom anticipated with horror the moment when they might be called on to unsheathe their swords against each other: and pour, in impious libation, the purest of their blood upon the altars of civil war. Some of the more ardent spirits, smarting from the past, and fearing for the future, had formed a wish, that the army might be kept together, and (by its appearance) accelerate the adoption of an efficient government. The sentiment was patriotic—the plan of doubtful complection—the success uncertain—but the prospect was fair if the CHIEF could be engaged.

He knew their wrongs! He knew their worth! He felt their apprehensions! They had strong claims upon him, and those claims were strongly urged. Supreme power, with meretricious charms, courted his embrace; and was clothed, to seduce him, in the robes of justice. If, therefore, ambition had possessed a single corner of his heart, he might have deliberated. But he was ever loyal. He bid a last adieu to the companions of his glory, and laid all his laurels at the feet of his country!

His fame was now complete, and it was permitted him to hope for ease in dignified retirement. Vain hope! The defects of the Federal compact are soon too deeply felt not to be generally acknowledged—America directs a revision by persons of her choice. He is their President. It is a question, Edition: current; Page: [300] previous to the first meeting, what course shall be pursued. Men of decided temper, who, devoted to the public, overlooked prudential considerations, thought a form of government should be framed entirely new. But cautious men, with whom popularity was an object, deemed it fit to consult and comply with the wishes of the people. AMERICANS! let the opinion then delivered by the greatest and best of men, be ever present to your remembrance. He was collected within himself. His countenance had more than usual solemnity. His eye was fixed, and seemed to look into futurity. “It is (said he) too probable that no plan we propose will be adopted. Perhaps another dreadful conflict is to be sustained. If to please the people, we offer what we ourselves disapprove, how can we afterwards defend our work? Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair. The event is in the hand of God.”3 This was the patriot voice of WASHINGTON; and this the constant tenor of his conduct. With this deep sense of duty, he gave to our constitution his cordial assent; and has added the fame of a legislator to that of a hero.

Again, in the shade of retirement, he seeks repose; but is called, by unanimous voice, to be the first magistrate of the United States. Scarce are the wheels of government in motion, when he is struck by the view of that enormous revolution which still torments and terrifies the earth. The flames of war were spread throughout Europe, and threatened to waste the globe. The delegated incendiaries found America filled with inflamable matter. All the bad passions, with some that were good, stimulated her to engage in the contest. But the President, still calm, discerning, and true to your truest interest, proclaimed, observed, and maintained an exact neutrality. In vain was he assailed from abroad—In vain solicited, excited, urged, by those around him. He stood immoveable! Vain also were the clamors of mistaken zeal, the dark efforts of insidious faction, and the foul voice of mercenary slander. You have all lately seen his firm administration, and all now enjoy the rich result of his inflexible wisdom.

Though he still turned with fond desire towards his domestic shade, he never left the helm during the fury of the storm; but remained till he had the well founded expectation that America might enjoy Peace, Freedom, and Safety—and then at last he claims the right of age. A venerable veteran, in all honourable service, having consecrated to his country Edition: current; Page: [301] the spirit of youth, the strength of manhood, and the ripe experience of laborious years, he asks repose. His body broken with toil must rest. No—He is called forth again—again must he gird on his sword and prepare for the battle! And see! fresh in renewed vigor, he decks his hoary head with nodding plumes of war, and mounts the barbed steed—With countenance erect and firm, his eagle eye measures the lengthened file. Wonderful man! he seems immortal—Oh no—No—No, this our pride, our glory, is gone—He is gone forever.

But yet his spirit liveth. Hail! happy shade—The broad shield of death is thrown before thy fame. Never shall the polluted breath of slander blow upon their ashes—We will watch with pious care the laurels which shade thy urn, and wear thy name engraven on our Hearts. Oh! yet protect thy country! Save her! She is an orphan—Her father is mingled with the dust.

No! he liveth—he shall live forever! And when the latest of your children’s children, shall pronounce his dear, his sacred name, their eyes shall be suffused with the tear of GRATITUDE and LOVE.

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23: Speeches in the Senate on the Repeal of the Judiciary Act of 1801*

On April 3, 1800, Morris became a member of the U.S. Senate as a Federalist from New York. His Senate term lasted until March 3, 1803, and thus spanned the transition from Adams and the Federalists to Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans—the first peaceful transfer of power between rival parties. But the transition had not been entirely free of bitterness. The Judiciary Act of 1801, passed in the lame duck session at the end of the Adams administration, was a particular irritant to the Jeffersonians. It had created a system of circuit courts with their own staff of judges, replacing the earlier practice of circuit courts composed of two Supreme Court justices and one District Court judge, a subject of much complaint by the justices. But the outgoing Adams administration had packed the new courts with Federalist judges—the “Midnight Judges” made famous by the case Marbury v. Madison. Repealing the Act thus became a legislative priority for the Jeffersonians when Congress reconvened in December 1801.

The repeal passed the Senate on February 3 by a 16–15 vote. The constitutionality of abolishing the circuit courts was later upheld by the Marshall Court in Stuart v. Laird, 5 U.S. 299 (1803).

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Delivered in the Senate of the United States, January 8th, 1802.

Mr. President,

I am so very unfortunate, that the arguments for repealing the law, to which this motion refers, have confirmed my opinion that it ought not to be repealed. The honorable mover1 has thought fit to rest his proposition upon two grounds;

First, That the judiciary law, passed last session, is unnecessary and improper.

Secondly, That we have, by the Constitution, a right to repeal it; and, therefore, ought to exercise that right.

The numerical mode of argument he has made use of, to establish his first point, is perfectly novel, and, as such, it commands my tribute of admiration. This, indeed, is the first time I ever heard that the utility of Courts should be estimated by the number of suits, which they are called on to decide. I remember once to have read, that a justly celebrated monarch of England, the great Alfred, had enacted such laws, established such tribunals, and organized such a system of police, that a purse of gold might be hung upon the side of the highway, without any danger that it would be stolen. But, Sir, had the honorable gentleman from Kentucky existed in those days, he would, perhaps, have attempted to convince old Alfred, that he had been egregiously mistaken; and, that a circumstance, which he considered as the pride and glory of his reign, had arisen from its greatest defect and sorest evil. For, by assuming the unfrequency of crimes as the proof that tribunals were unnecessary, and thus boldly substituting the effect for the cause, the gentleman might have demonstrated the inutility of the institution, by the good which it had produced. Surely this kind of reasoning is, of all others, the most false and the most fallacious.

But, Sir, if with that poor measure of ability, which it has pleased God to give me, I march on the ground I have been accustomed to tread, and which experience has taught me to consider as solid, I would venture the assertion, that in so far as our judicial institutions may accelerate the performance Edition: current; Page: [305] of duties, promote the cause of virtue, and prevent the perpetration of crimes, in that same degree ought they to be estimated and cherished. This, Sir, would be my humble mode of reasoning, but for the wonderful discovery made by the honorable mover of the resolution on your table.

To prove, that the law of last session was improper, as well as unnecessary, we have been told of the vast expense of our judiciary. We are referred to the estimates, which lie before us, for proof that it amounts to no less than the yearly sum of one hundred and thirty-seven thousand dollars. And then, attributing the whole expense to this particular law, it has been assumed in argument, that to repeal the law would operate a saving of one hundred and thirty-seven thousand dollars.

If, Sir, the data upon which the honorable member has founded his other arithmetical arguments are equally incorrect, the inferences drawn from them will merit but little attention. Of this whole sum, of one hundred and thirty-seven thousand dollars, (mentioned in the estimates of your Secretary of the Treasury) no less than forty-five thousand dollars are stated as the supposed contingent expense, to accrue for the attendance of jurors, witnesses, &c. From hence is fairly to be inferred the expectation, that much business will be actually done.

The expense, supposed to accrue from the law we are called on to repeal, is but thirty-two thousand dollars for salaries, and fifteen thousand for contingences, making together forty-seven thousand dollars. But let us not stint the argument. Let us make a generous allowance. Let us throw in a few thousands more, and take the amount at fifty-one thousand dollars. Let that sum be apportioned among the people of the United States, according to the census lately taken, and you will find, that the share of each individual is just one cent. Yet, for this paltry saving of a cent a man, we are called on to give up what is most valuable to a nation.

Undoubtedly, it is one great purpose of government to protect the people from foreign invasion, and to be in readiness for it a considerable armament may be necessary. The maintenance of naval and military force to protect our trade, and to guard our arsenals and magazines, will alone require much money; to provide which, you must raise a considerable revenue. That again will for the collection of it demand many officers, involving a still greater expense. All this must be paid, and yet all these provisions are for events uncertain. An invasion may, or may not, take place. Nay, if I may judge from certain documents, those who administer our affairs have little apprehension of such an event. I hope they may not be deceived. But, admitting that we have no danger to fear, or, which comes to the same thing, Edition: current; Page: [306] that we are properly secured against it; what else have the people a right to demand, in return for the whole sum expended in the support of government? They have a right to ask that, without which protection from invasion, nay government itself, is worse than useless. They have a right to ask for the protection of law, well administered by proper tribunals, to secure the weak against the strong, the poor against the rich, the oppressed against the oppressor. This, which involves but little expense, is all they ask for all their money. And is this little to be denied? Must the means by which the injured can obtain redress be curtailed and diminished, to save a poor and pitiful expense? You must pay largely to support but a small force, and much is to be feared from armies. They, indeed, may turn their swords against our bosoms. They may raise to empire some daring chief, and clothe him with despotic power. But what danger is to be apprehended from that army of judges, which the gentlemen have talked of? Is it so great, so imminent, that we must immediately turn to the right about the new corps, lately raised, of sixteen rank and file?

Gentlemen say that we must, and bid us recur to the ancient system. What is that system? Six judges of the Supreme Court, to ride the circuit of all America twice a year, and assemble twice a year at the seat of government. Without inquiring into the accuracy of a statement which the gentleman has made, respecting the Courts of England, (in which, however, he will find himself much mistaken) let me ask what will be the effect here of restoring that old system? Cast an eye over the extent of our country, see the distance to be travelled in making the circuits, and a moment’s consideration will show, that if we resort to the old system, the first magistrate, in selecting a character for the bench, must seek less the learning of a judge, than the agility of a postboy. Can it be expected, is it possible, that men advanced in years, (for such alone have the maturity of judgment which befits that office) men educated in the closet, men, who from their habits of life must have more strength of mind than of body; is it, I say, possible, that such men can be continually running from one end of the continent to the other? Or if they could, can they find time also to hear, consider, and decide, on numerous and intricate causes? No, Sir, they cannot. I have been well assured by men of eminence on your bench, that they would not hold their offices under the old arrangement.

What is the present system? You have added seven district and sixteen circuit judges. These are fully competent to perform the business required, and the complaint is merely on the score of expense. No one has pretended Edition: current; Page: [307] that the business will not be done as speedily and as well. It is merely to save expense, therefore, that we are called on to repeal the law. But what will be the effect of this desired repeal? Will it not be a declaration to the remaining judges, that they hold their offices subject to your will, and during your pleasure? And what is the natural effect of that declaration? Is it not, that, dependent in this situation, they will lose the independent spirit essential to a due exercise of their authority? Thus, then, the check established by the Constitution, desired by the people, and necessary in every contemplation of common sense, will be destroyed. It has been said, and truly said, that governments are made to provide against the follies and vices of men. To suppose that governments rest upon reason, is a pitiful solecism, for if mankind were reasonable, they would want no government. From the same cause it arises, that checks are required in the distribution of power, among those to whom it is confided, and who are to use it for the benefit of the people. Here, then, let me ask, whether the people of America have vested all power uncontrolled in the National Legislature? Surely they have not. They have prescribed to it certain bounds, and in the natural supposition that these bounds might be transgressed, they have vested in the judges a check, which they supposed to be salutary and intended to be efficient. A check of the first necessity, because it may prevent an invasion of the Constitution by unconstitutional laws. And to secure the existence and the operation of this check, there is a provision highly important, whose object is to prevent any party or faction from intimidating or annihilating the tribunals themselves.

On this ground, then, I stand to arrest the victory meditated over the Constitution of my country. A victory meditated by those, who wish to prostrate that Constitution for the furtherance of their ambitious views. Not, Sir, the views of him who recommended, nor of those who now urge this measure (for on his uprightness, and on their uprightness I have full reliance,) but of those who are in the back ground, and who have further and higher objects. To them our national compact forms an insurmountable barrier. Those troops, therefore, which protect the outworks of the Constitution are to be first dismissed; those posts, which present the most formidable defence, are first to be carried; and then the Constitution becomes an easy prey.

Let us consider, therefore, whether we have constitutionally the power to repeal this law. And to this effect, let us hear the language of the Constitution. “The judicial power of the United States shall be vested in one Edition: current; Page: [308] Supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their offices during good behavior, and shall at stated times receive for their services a compensation, which shall not be diminished during their continuance in office.” On this, Sir, I have heard a verbal criticism, about the words shall and may, which appears to me wholly irrelevant. And it is the more unnecessary, as the same word, shall, is applied to the provisions contained in both members of the section. It says, “The judicial power shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may, from time to time, ordain and establish.” The Legislature have, therefore, the undoubted right to determine what inferior Courts they will establish; but, when once established, a part of the judicial power shall vest in them. The words are imperative, and so they are as to the tenure of the office, which the Legislature in the exercise of this discretionary power may have created. The judges, it says, shall hold their offices during good behavior. Thus, upon the establishment of the tribunal, the Constitution has declared, that the judicial power shall vest and the office be held during good behavior. The second member of the section is equally imperative. It declares, that they shall receive a compensation, which shall not be diminished during their continuance in office.

Whether we consider, therefore, the tenure of office or the quantum of compensation, the language is equally clear and conclusive. After this simple exposition, gentlemen are welcome to every advantage they can derive from a criticism upon shall and may.

Another criticism has been made, which, but for its serious effects, I would call pleasant. The amount of it is, you shall not take the man from the office, but you may take the office from the man; you shall not throw him overboard, but you may sink his boat under him; you shall not put him to death, but you may take away his life. The Constitution secures to a judge his office, says he shall hold it, (that is, it shall not be taken from him) during good behavior; the Legislature shall not diminish, though their bounty may increase his salary; thus, the Constitution has made all possible provision for the inviolability of his tenure, as far as the power of language can extend; and, if not, I call on gentlemen to show the contrary, by giving us words more clear, more precise, more definite. If, after the strong positive expressions, any negative terms had been added, would it not have been improper? If the framers of the Constitution had said, the judges shall hold their offices, which shall not be taken away, would not this Edition: current; Page: [309] have been ridiculous? Would it not have almost amounted to what, in vulgar language, is called a bull?2 Would it not have been inconsistent with the gravity of style proper for such an important and serious subject? Let us, I repeat it, Sir, be favored with the words, if any words can be used, more positive, more inhibitory, more peremptory, than those contained in this instrument. And is it not a mere contradiction in terms to say, we may destroy an office which we cannot take away? Will not the destruction of the office as effectually destroy the tenure, as the grant to another person?

But, we are asked if these laws are immutable. Unquestionably, Sir, the legislature have a right to alter, change, and modify, and amend, the laws which relate to the judiciary, so as may best comport with the interest, peace, and happiness, of the people. This right, however, is confined by the limitations which the Constitution prescribes. Neither the legislative nor the executive powers, nor both, can remove a judge from office during his good behavior. There is no power anywhere competent to this purpose; (saving always the right of a conqueror, for that is a power not derived from, but subversive of the Constitution;) and yet, it is contended, that by the repeal of the law, that office, from which he cannot be removed, may be destroyed. Is not this absurd?

But to prove it, we have been told, that whatever one legislature can do another can undo; that no legislature can bind its successor, and that a right to make involves a right to destroy. All this I deny on the ground of reason, and on the ground of the Constitution. What! can a man rightfully destroy his own children? When the legislature have created by law a political existence, can they by repealing the law dissolve the corporation they had made? You say you can undo whatever your predecessors have done. Your predecessors have borrowed money at high interest; can you now reduce that interest? They have funded the national debt; have you now a right to abolish that debt? Under a pressure of necessity, you have given an usurious consideration of eight per cent to obtain money; can you now, because it is onerous, annihilate that contract? When by your laws you have given to any individual the right to make a road or a bridge, and to take a toll, can you by a subsequent law take it away?3 No; when you make a compact you Edition: current; Page: [310] are bound by it. When you make a promise you must perform it. Establish the contrary doctrine, and mark what follows. The whim of the moment becomes the law of the land. You declare to the world that you are no longer to be trusted, that there is no safety, no security, in America. You erect a beacon, to warn all men of property that they do not approach your shores. Honest men will avoid you. They will fly from you. They will consider you as a den of robbers. How can you ask any one to put confidence in you, when you are the first to violate your own contracts? The position, therefore, that the legislature may rightfully repeal every law made by a preceding legislature is untrue, when tested merely by reason. Still more untrue is it, when compared with the precepts of the Constitution. The national legislature of America does not possess unlimited power, it has no pretence to omnipotence. It is restrained by the Constitution. And what does the Constitution say? “You shall make no ex post facto law.” Is not this an ex post facto law.4

Gentlemen, to show that we may properly repeal the law of last session, tell us it is mere theory. For argument’s sake it shall be granted. What then is the language of reason? Try it. Put it to the test of experience, after two or three years shall point out defects, or if they can now be pointed out, amend the law. What respect can the people have for a legislature, that hastily and without reflection meets but to undo the acts of its predecessor? Is it prudent, is it decent, even if the law were improper, thus to commit our reputation and theirs? Is it wise, nay, is it not highly dangerous to make this call on the people to decide which of us are fools? One of us must be.

Such, Sir, will be the effect of this hasty repeal on the public mind. What will it be on the injured man, who seeks redress in your Courts, and whom you have thus deprived of his right? You have saved him a miserable cent, at the price perhaps of his utter ruin.

The honorable mover of this resolution, Sir, in persuading us to adopt it, has told us not only what is, but what is to be.

He has told us that suits have decreased, and that they will decrease. Nay, relying on the strength of his preconceptions, he tells us, that the internal taxes will be repealed, and grounds the expediency of repealing the judiciary Edition: current; Page: [311] law upon the annihilation of those taxes. Thus, taking for granted the nonexistence of taxes which still exist, he has inferred from their destruction, and the consequent cessation of suits, the inutility of the judiciary establishment. And when he shall have carried his present point, and broken down that system, he will tell us perhaps, that we may as well abolish the internal taxes, for that we have no judges to enforce the collection.

But what, I ask, is to be the effect of these repeals, and of all these dismissions from office? I impeach not the motives of gentlemen, who advocate this measure. In my heart, I believe them to be upright. But they see not the consequences. We are told, that the States want and ought to have more power. We are told, that they are the legitimate guardians, from whom the citizen is to derive protection. Their judges are, I suppose, to execute our laws. Judges appointed by State authority, supported by State salary, looking for promotion to State influence, and dependent on State party. Are those the judges contemplated by this Constitution? There are some honorable gentlemen now present, who sat in the Convention when it was formed. I appeal to their recollection. Have they not seen the time, when the state of America was suspended by a hair? My life for it, if another be assembled they will part without doing anything. Never in the flow of time was there a moment so propitious, as that in which the Convention assembled. The States had been convinced, by melancholy experience, how inadequate they were to the management of our national concerns. The passions of the people were lulled to sleep. State pride slumbered. No sooner was the Constitution promulgated than it awoke. Opposition was formed. It was active and vigorous, but it was vain. The people of America bound the States down by this compact.

There was in it a provision tending to exhibit the sublimest spectacle of which my mind can form an idea. It was that of a great State, kneeling at the altar of justice, and sacrificing its pride to a sense of right. I flattered myself, that America would behold this spectacle, but that important provision has been repealed.5 It gave way to the opposition of the States. It is gone. Another great bulwark is now to be removed, and you are told, that we must look to the States for protection. Your internal revenues are also to be swept away, so that no evidence, no exertion, no trace of the national Edition: current; Page: [312] power is to be perceived through the whole interior of America. And in order that it may be confined to your coasts, and be known there only at particular points, your sole reliance for revenue is henceforth to be placed upon commercial duties. In this reliance you will be deceived. But what is to be the effect of all these changes? I am afraid to say; I will leave it to the feelings, and to the consciences of gentlemen. But remember, the moment this union is dissolved, we shall no longer be governed by votes.

Examine the annals of history. Look into the records of time. See what has been the ruin of every Republic. The vile love of popularity. Why are we here? We are here to save the people from their most dangerous enemy, to save them from themselves. What caused the ruin of the Republics of Greece and of Rome? Demagogues, who by flattery prevailed on the populace to establish despotism. But if you will shut your eyes to the light of history, and your ears to the voice of experience, see, at least, what has happened in your own times. In 1789 it was no longer a doubt with enlightened statesmen, what would be the event of the French revolution. Before the first day of January, 1790, the only question was, who will become the despot. The word liberty, indeed, from that day to this, has been continually sounded and resounded, but the thing had no existence. There is nothing left but the word.

We are now about to violate our Constitution. Once touch it with unhallowed hands, sacrifice one of its important provisions, and we are gone. We commit the fate of America to the mercy of time and chance.

I hope the honorable gentleman from Maryland6 will pardon me, if, from the section of the law he has cited, I deduce an inference diametrically opposite to that, for which he has contended. He has told us, that the last Congress, in reducing the judges of the Supreme Court from six to five, have exercised the right which is now questioned, and made thereby a legislative construction of this clause in the Constitution, favorable to the motion on your table. But look at the law. It declares that the reduction shall not take place, until, by death or resignation, there shall remain only five. Thus, in the very moment when they express their opinion that five judges are sufficient, they acknowledge their incapacity to remove the sixth. The legislative construction, therefore, is, that they have not the right which is now pretended.

The same honorable member has cited other cases from the same law, Edition: current; Page: [313] which if I understood his statement, amount to this, that Congress have increased the number of district judges; but surely this cannot prove, that we have a right to diminish the number. It will I think appear, Sir, that this law, so much complained of, is in no wise chargeable with maintaining the dangerous doctrine to be established by its repeal.

The whole argument in favor of the motion comes to this simple proposition, let us get rid of these judges to save expense. We can repeal the law, because we made the law; we have the power, let us exercise it. But, let me ask, Sir, if this argument will not go to prove anything. Will it not go to the abolition of the debts incurred by the last Congress? Shall it be said, that the cases differ because the debt results from a contract with the creditor sanctioned by the legislature? Sir, you have made a contract with the judges, sanctioned by higher authority. You indeed created the office, but when created, the Constitution fixed its duration. The first magistrate in our country, with this Constitution in his hand, applies to men of high character and great ability. He asks them to quit a lucrative and honorable profession, to abandon their former pursuits, to break their ancient connexions, and give their time, their talents, and their virtues, to the service of their country. What does he offer as a compensation? He offers a high and honorable office, to be holden by no capricious will, to depend on no precarious favor. The duration is to be terminated only by death or misconduct. The legislature has affixed a salary, which they may increase, but cannot diminish. Upon these proffered terms, the judge accepts. The contract is then complete. A contract which rests no longer on the legislative will. He is immediately under the protection of the Constitution itself, which neither the President nor the legislature can defeat. His authority rests on the same foundation with yours. It is derived from the same source. Will you pretend, that you are bound by your contract with him, who lent you money at eight per cent interest, and that you are not bound by your contract with him, who devotes his life to your service! Will you say that the consideration you have received is to make a difference, and that paltry pelf is to be preferred to manly worth? Is that to be respected, and this despised? Surely, Sir, the contract with a judge is, of all others, the most solemn. It is sanctioned by the highest of all authority. Can you then violate it? If you can, you may throw this Constitution into the flames. It is gone—It is dead.

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Delivered in the Senate of the United States, January 14th, 1802.

Mr. President,

I had fostered the hope that some gentleman, who thinks with me, would have taken upon himself the task of replying to the observations made yesterday and this morning, in favor of the motion on your table. But since no gentleman has gone so fully into the subject as it seems to require, I am compelled to request your attention.

We were told yesterday by the honorable member from Virginia,7 that our objections were calculated for the bystanders, and made with a view to produce effect upon the people at large. I know not for whom this charge is intended. I certainly recollect no such observations. As I was personally charged with making a play upon words, it may have been intended for me. But surely, Sir, it will be recollected that I declined that paltry game, and declared that I considered the verbal criticism which had been relied on as irrelevant. If I can recollect what I said, from recollecting well what I thought and meant to say, sure I am, that I uttered nothing in the style of an appeal to the people. I hope no member of this House has so poor a sense of its dignity, as to make such an appeal. As to myself, it is now near thirty years since I was called into public office. During that period, I have frequently been the servant of the people, always their friend; but at no one moment of my life their flatterer, and God forbid that I ever should be. When the honorable gentleman considers the course we have taken, he must see that the observation he has thus pointed can light on no object. I trust, that it did not flow from a consciousness of his own intentions. He, I hope, had no view of this sort. If he had, he was much, very much mistaken. Had he looked around upon those, who honor us with their attendance, he would have seen that the splendid flashes of his wit excited no approbatory smile. The countenances of those, by whom we were surrounded, presented a different spectacle. They were impressed with the dignity of this House; they perceived in it the dignity of the American people, and felt with high and manly sentiment their own participation.

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We have been told, Sir, by the honorable gentleman from Virginia, that there is no independent part of this government; that in popular governments, the force of every department, as well as the government itself, must depend upon popular opinion. And the honorable member from North Carolina8 has informed us, that there is no check for the overbearing powers of the legislature, but public opinion; and he has been pleased to notice a sentiment I had uttered. A sentiment which not only fell from my lips, but which flowed from my heart. It has, however, been misunderstood and misapplied. After reminding the House of the dangers to which popular governments are exposed, from the influence of designing demagogues upon popular passion, I took the liberty to say, that we, we the Senate of the United States, are assembled here “to save the people from their most dangerous enemy, to save them from themselves”; to guard them against the baneful effects of their own precipitation, their passion, their misguided zeal. It is for these purposes that all our Constitutional checks are devised. If this be not the language of the Constitution, the Constitution is all nonsense. For why are the Senators chosen by communities, and the Representatives directly by the people? Why are the one chosen for a longer term than the other? Why give one branch of the legislature a negative upon the acts of the other? Why give the President a right to arrest the proceedings of both, till two thirds of each should concur? Why all these multiplied precautions, unless to check and control that impetuous spirit, that headlong torrent of opinion, which has swept away every popular government that ever existed?

With most respectful attention, I heard the declaration of the gentleman from Virginia of his own sentiment. “Whatever,” said he, “may be my opinion of the Constitution, I hold myself bound to respect it.” He disdained, Sir, to profess an affection he did not feel, and I accept his candor as a pledge for the performance of his duty. But he will admit this necessary inference from that frank confession, that although he will struggle against his inclination, to support the Constitution, even to the last moment, yet, when in spite of all his efforts it shall fall, he will rejoice in its destruction. Far different are my feelings. It is possible, that we are both prejudiced, and that in taking the ground on which we respectively stand, our judgments are influenced by the sentiments which glow in our hearts. I, Sir, wish to support this Constitution, because I love it. And I love it, because I consider it as the bond of our union; because, in my soul, I believe, that on it Edition: current; Page: [316] depends our harmony and our peace; that without it, we should soon be plunged in all the horrors of civil war; that this country would be deluged with the blood of its inhabitants, and a brother’s hand be raised against the bosom of a brother.

After these preliminary remarks, I hope I shall be indulged, while I consider the subject in reference to the two points, which have been taken, the expediency and the constitutionality of the repeal.

In considering the expediency, I hope I shall be pardoned for asking your attention to some parts of the Constitution, which have not yet been dwelt upon, and which tend to elucidate this part of our inquiry. I agree fully with the gentleman, that every sentence, every section and every word of the Constitution ought to be deliberately weighed and examined; nay, I am content to go along with him, and give its due value and importance to every stop and comma. In the beginning we find a declaration of the motives, which induced the American people to bind themselves by this compact. And in the foreground of that declaration, we find these objects specified; to form a more perfect union, to establish justice, and to insure domestic tranquillity. But how are these objects effected? The people intended to establish justice. What provision have they made to fulfil that intention? After pointing out the Courts which should be established, the second section of the third article informs us,

The judicial power shall extend to all cases, in law and equity, arising under this Constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties made, or which shall be made, under their authority; to all cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls; to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction; to controversies to which the United States shall be a party; to controversies between two or more States, between a State and citizens of another State, between citizens of different States, between citizens of the same State, claiming lands under grants of different States, and between a State, or the citizens thereof and foreign States, citizens or subjects.

In all cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be a party, the Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction. In all the other cases before mentioned, the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to law and fact, with such exceptions, and under such regulations, as the Congress shall make.

Thus then we find, that the judicial power shall extend to a great variety of cases, but that the Supreme Court shall have only appellate jurisdiction Edition: current; Page: [317] in all admiralty and maritime cases, in all controversies between the United States and private citizens, between citizens of different States, between citizens of the same State claiming lands under different States, and between a citizen of the United States and foreign States, citizens or subjects. The honorable gentleman from Kentucky, who made the motion on your table, has told us, that the Constitution in its judiciary provisions contemplated only those cases, which could not be tried in the State Courts. But he will, I hope, pardon me when I contend, that the Constitution did not merely contemplate, but did by express words reserve to the national tribunals a right to decide, and did secure to the citizens of America a right to demand their decision in many cases, evidently cognizable in the State Courts.

And what are these cases? They are those in respect to which it is by the Constitution presumed, that the State Courts would not always make a cool and calm investigation, a fair and just decision. To form, therefore, a more perfect union, and to insure domestic tranquillity, the Constitution has said, there shall be Courts of the Union to try causes, by the wrongful decision of which the Union might be endangered, or domestic tranquillity be disturbed. And what courts? Look again at the cases designated. The Supreme Court has no original jurisdiction. The Constitution has said that the judicial powers shall be vested in the Supreme and Inferior Courts. It has declared that the judicial powers so vested shall extend to the cases mentioned, and that the Supreme Court shall not have original jurisdiction in those cases. Evidently, therefore, it has declared that they shall, in the first instance, be tried by Inferior Courts, with appeal to the Supreme Court. This, therefore, amounts to a declaration that the Inferior Courts shall exist. Since without them the citizen is deprived of those rights for which he stipulated, or rather those rights verbally granted, would be actually withheld; and that great security of our Union, that necessary guard of our tranquillity, be completely paralyzed, if not destroyed. In declaring, then, that these tribunals shall exist, it equally declares, that the Congress shall ordain and establish them. I say they shall; this is the evident intention, if not the express words, of the Constitution. The Convention in framing, the American people in adopting that compact, did not, could not presume that the Congress would omit to do, what they were thus bound to do. They could not presume, that the legislature would hesitate one moment, in establishing the organs necessary to carry into effect those wholesome, those important provisions.

The honorable member from Virginia has given us a history of the judicial Edition: current; Page: [318] system, and in the course of it has told us, that the judges of the Supreme Court knew, when they accepted their offices, the duties they were to perform and the salaries they were to receive. He thence infers, that if again called on to do the same duties, they have no right to complain. Agreed. But that is not the question between us. Admitting that they have made a hard bargain, and that we may hold them to a strict performance, is it wise to exact their compliance to the injury of our constituents? We are urged to go back to the old system; but let us first examine the effects of that system. The judges of the Supreme Court rode the circuits, and two of them with the assistance of a district judge held circuit Courts, and tried causes. As a Supreme Court they have in most cases only an appellate jurisdiction. In the first instance, therefore, they tried a cause sitting as an Inferior Court, and then on appeal tried it over again as a Supreme Court. Thus then, the appeal was from the sentence of the judges to the judges themselves. But say, that to avoid this impropriety, you will incapacitate the two judges, who sat on the circuit, from sitting in the Supreme Court, to review their own decrees. Strike them off, and suppose either the same or a contrary decision to have been made on another circuit, by two of their brethren in a similar case. For the same reason you strike them off, and then you have no Court left. Is this wise? Is it safe? You place yourself in a situation, where your citizens must be deprived of the advantage given to them of a Court of Appeals, or else run the greatest risk, that the decision of the first court will carry with it that of the others.

The same honorable member has given us a history of the law passed the last session, which he wishes now to repeal. That history is accurate, at least in one important part of it. I believe, that all amendments were rejected, pertinaciously rejected; and I acknowledge, that I joined heartily in that rejection. It was for the clearest reason on earth. We all perfectly understood, that to amend the bill was to destroy it. That if ever it got back to the other House it would perish. Those, therefore, who approved of the general provisions of that bill were determined to adopt it. We sought the practicable good, and would not, in pursuit of unattainable perfection, sacrifice that good to the pride of opinion. We took the bill, therefore, with its imperfections, convinced that when it was once passed into a law it might be easily amended.

We are now told that this procedure was improper, nay, that it was indecent. That public opinion had declared itself against us. That a majority holding different opinions was already chosen to the other House; and that a similar majority was expected for that in which we sit. Mr. President, are Edition: current; Page: [319] we then to understand, that opposition to the majority in the two Houses of Congress is improper, is indecent? If so, what are we to think of those gentlemen, who not only with proper and decent, but with laudable motives, (for such is their claim) so long, so perseveringly, so pertinaciously, opposed that voice of the people, which had so repeatedly, and for so many years, declared itself against them through the organ of their Representatives? Was this indecent in them? If not, how could it be improper for us to seize the only moment, which was left for the then majority to do what they deemed a necessary act? Let me again refer to those imperious demands of the Constitution, which called on us to establish Inferior Courts. Let me remind gentlemen of their assertion on this floor, that centuries might elapse before any judicial system could be established with general consent. And then let me ask, being thus impressed with a sense of the duty, and the difficulty of performing that arduous task, was it not wise to seize the auspicious moment?

Among the many stigmas affixed to this law, we have been told that the President, in selecting men to fill the offices which it created, made vacancies and filled them from the floor of this House. And that, but for the influence of this circumstance, a majority in favor of it could not have been found. Let us examine this suggestion. It is grounded on the supposition of corrupt influence derived from a hope, founded on two remote and successive contingences. First, the vacancy might or might not exist; for it depended as well on the acceptance of another, as on the President’s grant; and secondly, that the President might or might not fill it with a member of this House. Yet on this vague conjecture, on this unstable ground, it is inferred, that men in high confidence violated their duty. It is hard to determine the influence of self-interest on the heart of man. I shall not, therefore, make the attempt. In the present case it is possible, that the imputation may be just; but I hope not, I believe not. At any rate, gentlemen will agree with me, that the calculation is uncertain and the conjecture vague.

But let it now for argument’s sake be admitted, saving always the reputation of honorable men, who are not here to defend themselves. Let it, I say, for argument’s sake be admitted, that the gentlemen alluded to acted under the influence of improper motives. What then? Is a law, that has received the varied assent required by the Constitution, and is clothed with all the needful formalities, thereby invalidated? Can you impair its force by impeaching the motives of any member who voted for it? Does it follow, that a law is bad because all those, who concurred in it, cannot give good reasons Edition: current; Page: [320] for their votes? Is it not before us? Must we not judge of it by its intrinsic merit? Is it a fair argument, addressed to our understanding, to say we must repeal a law, even a good one, if the enacting of it may have been effected in any degree by improper motives? Or is the judgment of this House so feeble, that it may not be trusted?

Gentlemen tell us, however, that the law is materially defective, nay, that it is unconstitutional. What follows? Gentlemen bid us repeal it. But is this just reasoning? If the law be only defective, why not amend? And if unconstitutional, why repeal? In this case no repeal can be necessary; the law is in itself void; it is a mere dead letter.

To show that it is unconstitutional, a particular clause is pointed out, and an inference is made, as in the case of goods, where, because there is one contraband article on board, the whole cargo is forfeited. Admit for a moment, that the part alluded to were unconstitutional, this would in no wise affect the remainder. That part would be void; or if you think proper, you can repeal that part.

Let us, however, examine the clause objected to on the ground of the Constitution. It is said, that by this law the district judges in Tennessee and Kentucky are removed from office, by making them circuit judges. And again, that you have by law appointed two new offices, those of circuit judges, and filled them by law, instead of pursuing the modes of appointment prescribed by the Constitution. To prove all this, the gentleman from Virginia did us the favor to read those parts of the law which he condemns; and if I can trust to my memory, it is clear from what he read, that the law does not remove these district judges, neither does it appoint them to the office of circuit judges. It does indeed put down the district courts; but is so far from destroying the offices of district judges, that it declares the persons filling those offices shall perform the duty of holding the circuit courts. And so far is it from appointing circuit judges, that it declares the circuit courts shall be held by the district judges.

But gentlemen contend, that to discontinue the district Courts was in effect to remove the district judges. This, Sir, is so far from being a just inference from the law, that the direct contrary follows as a necessary result; for it is on the principle that these judges continue in office after their Courts are discontinued, that the new duty of holding other Courts is assigned to them. But gentlemen say, this doctrine militates with the principles we contend for. Surely not. It must be recollected, Sir, that we have repeatedly admitted the right of the Legislature to change, alter, modify, and amend the judiciary system, so as best to promote the interests of the Edition: current; Page: [321] people. We only contend, that you shall not exceed or contravene the authority by which you act. But, say gentlemen, you forced this new office on the district judges, and this is in effect a new appointment. I answer, that the question can only arise on the refusal of those judges to act. But is it unconstitutional to assign new duties to officers already existing? I fear, that if this construction be adopted, our labors will speedily end; for we shall be so shackled, that we cannot move. What is the practice? Do we not every day call upon particular officers to perform duties, not previously assigned to, nor required of them? And must the executive in every such case make a new appointment?

But, as a farther reason to restore, by repealing this law, the old system, an honorable member from North Carolina has told us, that the judges of the Supreme Court should attend in the States, to acquire a competent knowledge of local institutions, and for this purpose should continue to ride the circuits. I believe there is great use in sending young men to travel; it tends to enlarge their views, and give them more liberal ideas, than they might otherwise possess. Nay, if they reside long enough in foreign countries, they may become acquainted with the manners of the people, and acquire some knowledge of their civil institutions. But I am not quite convinced, that riding rapidly from one end of this country to the other is the best way to study law. I am inclined to believe, that knowledge may be more conveniently acquired in the closet, than upon the high road. It is, moreover, to be presumed, that the first magistrate would, in selecting persons to fill these offices, take the best characters from the different parts of the country, who already possess the needful acquirements. But admitting that the President should not duly exercise in this respect his discretionary powers, and admitting that the ideas of the gentleman are correct, how wretched must be our condition! These, our judges, when called on to exercise their functions, would but begin to learn their trade, and that too at a period of life, when the intellectual powers with no great facility can acquire new ideas. We must, therefore, have a double set of judges. One set of apprentice judges to ride circuits and learn, the other set of master judges to hold Courts and decide controversies.

We are told, Sir, that the repeal asked for is important, in that it may establish a precedent; for that it is not merely a question on the propriety of disbanding a corps of sixteen rank and file, but that provisions may hereafter be made, not for sixteen, but for sixteen hundred, or sixteen thousand judges, and that it may become necessary to turn them to the right about. Mr. President, I will not, I cannot presume, that any such provision will Edition: current; Page: [322] ever be made, and therefore I cannot conceive any such necessity; I will not suppose, for I cannot suppose, that any party or faction will ever do anything so wild, so extravagant. But I will ask, how does this strange supposition consist with the doctrine of gentlemen, that public opinion is a sufficient check on the legislature, and a sufficient safeguard to the people. Put the case to its consequences, and what becomes of the check? Will gentlemen say it is to be found in the force of this wise precedent? Is this to control succeeding rulers in their wild and mad career? But how? Is the creation of judicial officers the only thing committed to their discretion? Have they not, according to the doctrine contended for, our all at their disposition, with no other check than public opinion, which, according to the supposition, will not prevent them from committing the greatest follies and absurdities? Take then all the gentleman’s ideas, and compare them together, it will result that here is an inestimable treasure put into the hands of drunkards, madmen, and fools.

But away with all these derogatory suppositions. The legislature may be trusted. Our government is a system of salutary checks. One legislative branch is a check on the other. And should the violence of party spirit bear both of them away, the President, an officer high in honor, high in the public confidence, charged with weighty concerns, responsible to his own reputation, and to the world, stands ready to arrest their too impetuous course. This is our system. It makes no mad appeal to every mob in the country. It appeals to the sober sense of men selected from their fellow citizens for their talents, for their virtue—of men in advanced life, and of matured judgment. It appeals to their understanding, to their integrity, to their honor, to their love of fame, to their sense of shame. If all these checks should prove insufficient, and alas! such is the condition of human nature, that I fear they will not always be sufficient, the Constitution has given us one more. It has given us an independent judiciary. We have been told, that the executive authority carries your laws into execution. But let us not be the dupes of sound. The executive magistrate commands indeed your fleets and armies; and duties, imposts, excises, and all other taxes are collected, and all expenditures are made by officers whom he has appointed. So far indeed he executes your laws. But these his acts apply not often to individual concerns. In those cases, so important to the peace and happiness of society, the execution of your laws is confided to your judges. And therefore are they rendered independent. Before, then, you violate that independence, pause. There are State sovereignties, as well as the sovereignties of general government. There are cases, too many cases, in which the interest Edition: current; Page: [323] of one is not considered as the interest of the other. Should these conflict, if the judiciary be gone, the question is no longer of law, but of force. This is a state of things, which no honest and wise man can view without horror.

Suppose, in the omnipotence of your legislative authority, you trench upon the rights of your fellow citizens, by passing an unconstitutional law; if the judiciary department preserve its vigor, it will stop you short. Instead of a resort to arms, there will be a happier appeal to argument. Suppose a case still more impressive. The President is at the head of your armies. Let one of his generals, flushed with victory, and proud in command, presume to trample on the rights of your most insignificant citizen. Indignant of the wrong, he will demand the protection of your tribunals; and, safe in the shadow of their wings, will laugh his oppressor to scorn.

Having now, I believe, examined all the arguments adduced to show the expediency of this motion, and which, fairly sifted, reduce themselves at last to these two things—restore the ancient system, and save the additional expense—before I close what I have to say on this ground, I hope I shall be pardoned for saying one or two words about the expense. I hope, also, that notwithstanding the epithets which may be applied to my arithmetic, I shall be pardoned for using that which I learnt at school. It may have deceived me when it taught that two and two make four. But, though it should now be branded with opprobrious terms, I must still believe, that two and two do still make four. Gentlemen of newer theories, and of higher attainments, while they smile at my inferiority, must bear with my infirmities and take me as I am.

In all this great system of saving, in all this ostentatious economy, this rage of reform, how happens it that the eagle eye has not yet been turned to the mint? That no one piercing glance has been able to behold the expenditures of that department? I am far from wishing to overturn it. Though it be not of great necessity, nor even of substantial importance; though it be but a splendid trapping of your government; yet, as it may, by impressing on your current coin the emblems of your sovereignty, have some tendency to encourage a national spirit, and to foster the national pride, I am willing to contribute my share to its support. Yes, Sir, I would foster the national pride. I cannot indeed approve of national vanity, nor feed it with vile adulation. But I would gladly cherish the lofty sentiment of national pride. I would wish my countrymen to feel like Romans, to be as proud as Englishmen, and, going still further, I would wish them to veil their pride in the well bred modesty of French politeness. But, can this establishment, the mere decoration of your political edifice, can it be compared with the Edition: current; Page: [324] massy columns on which rest your peace and safety? Shall the striking of a few halfpence be put into a parallel with the distribution of justice? I find, Sir, from the estimates on your table, that the salaries of the officers of your mint amount to 10,600 dollars, and that the expenses are estimated at 10,900; making 21,500 dollars.

I find, that the actual expenditure of the last year, exclusive of salaries, amounted to 25,154 44
Add the salaries, 10,600
We have a total of, $35,754 44

A sum which exceeds the salary of these sixteen judges.

I find, further, that during the last year they have coined cents and half cents to the amount of 10,473 dollars and 29 cents. Thus, their copper coinage falls a little short of what it costs us for their salaries. We have, however, from this establishment about a million of cents, one to each family in America. A little emblematic medal, to be hung over their chimney pieces; and this is all their compensation for all that expense. Yet, not a word has been said about the mint; while the judges, whose services are so much greater, and of so much more importance to the community, are to be struck off at a blow, in order to save an expense, which, compared with the object, is pitiful. What conclusion, then, are we to draw from this predilection?

I will not pretend to assign to gentlemen the motives, by which they may be influenced; but if I should permit myself to make the inquiry, the style of many observations, and more especially the manner, the warmth, the irritability, which have been exhibited on this occasion, would lead to a solution of the problem. I had the honor, Sir, when I addressed you the other day to observe, that I believed the universe could not afford a spectacle more sublime, than the view of a powerful State kneeling at the altar of justice, and sacrificing there her passion and her pride; that I once fostered the hope of beholding that spectacle of magnanimity in America. And now, what a world of figures has the gentleman from Virginia formed on his misapprehension of that remark. I never expressed anything like exultation at the idea of a State, ignominiously dragged in triumph at the heels of your judges. But, permit me to say, the gentleman’s exquisite sensibility on that subject, his alarm and apprehension, all show his strong attachment to State authority. Far be it from me, however, to charge the gentleman with improper motives. I know that his emotions arise from one of those imperfections in our nature, which we cannot remedy. They are excited by causes, which have naturally made him hostile to this Constitution, Edition: current; Page: [325] though his duty compels him, reluctantly, to support it. I hope, however, that those gentlemen, who entertain different sentiments, and who are less irritable on the score of State dignity, will think it essential to preserve a Constitution, without which the independent existence of the States themselves will be but of short duration.

This, Sir, leads me to the second object I had proposed. I shall, therefore, pray your indulgence while I consider how far this measure is constitutional.

I have not been able to discover the expediency, but will now, for argument’s sake, admit it; and here, I cannot but express my deep regret for the situation of an honorable member from North Carolina. Tied fast as he is, by his instructions, arguments however forcible can never be effectual. I ought, therefore, to wish for his sake, that his mind may not be convinced by anything I shall say; for hard indeed would be his condition, to be bound by the contrariant obligations of an order and an oath. I cannot, however but express my profound respect for the talents of those who gave him his instructions, and who, sitting at a distance, without hearing the arguments, could better understand the subject than their Senator on this floor after full discussion.

The honorable member from Virginia has repeated the distinction, before taken, between the supreme and the inferior tribunals; he has insisted on the distinction between the words shall and may; has inferred from that distinction, that the judges of the Inferior Courts are subjects of legislative discretion; and has contended, that the word may includes all power respecting the subject to which it is applied; consequently, to raise up and to put down, to create and to destroy. I must entreat your patience, Sir, while I go more into this subject than I ever supposed would be necessary. By the article so often quoted it is declared, “That the judicial power of the United States shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such Inferior Courts, as the Congress may from time to time establish.” I beg leave to recall your attention to what I have already said of these Inferior Courts. That the original jurisdiction of various subjects being given exclusively to them, it became the bounden duty of Congress to establish such Courts. I will not repeat the argument already used on that subject. But I will ask those who urge the distinction between the Supreme Court and the inferior tribunals, whether a law was not previously necessary before the Supreme Court could be organized? They reply, that the Constitution says there shall be a Supreme Court, and, therefore, the Congress are commanded to organize it, while the rest is left to their discretion.

This, Sir, is not the fact. The Constitution says the judicial power shall Edition: current; Page: [326] be vested in one Supreme Court, and in Inferior Courts. The legislature can, therefore, only organize one Supreme Court, but they may establish as many Inferior Courts as they shall think proper. The designation made of them by the Constitution is, such Inferior Courts as the Congress may, from time to time, ordain and establish. But why, say gentlemen, fix precisely one Supreme Court, and leave the rest to legislative discretion? The answer is simple. It results from the nature of things, from the existent and probable state of our country. There was no difficulty in deciding that one, and only one Supreme Court would be proper or necessary, to which should lie appeals from inferior tribunals. Not so as to these. The United States were advancing in rapid progression. Their population, of three millions, was soon to become five, then ten, afterwards twenty millions. This was well known, as far as the future can become an object of human comprehension. In this increase of numbers, with a still greater increase of wealth, with the extension of our commerce, and the progress of the arts, it was evident, that, although a great many tribunals would become necessary, it was impossible to determine either the precise number or the most convenient form. The Convention did not pretend to this prescience; but had they possessed it, would it have been proper to have established then all the tribunals necessary for all future times? Would it have been wise to have planted Courts among the Chickasaws, the Chocktaws, the Cherokees, the Tuscaroras, and God knows how many more, because at some future day, the regions over which they roam might be cultivated by polished men? Was it not proper, wise, necessary, to leave in the discretion of Congress the number and the kind of Courts, which they might find it proper to establish, for the purpose designated by the Constitution.

This simple statement of facts, facts of public notoriety, is alone a sufficient comment on and explication of the word, on which gentlemen have so much relied. The Convention in framing, the people in adopting this compact, say, the judicial power shall extend to many cases, the original cognizance whereof shall be by the Inferior Courts; but it is neither necessary, nor even possible now to determine their number or their form; that essential power, therefore, shall vest in such Inferior Courts, as the Congress may, from time to time, in the progression of time, and according to the indication of circumstances, establish. Not provide or determine, but establish. Not a mere temporary provision, but an establishment. If, after this, it had said in general terms, that judges should hold their offices during good behavior, could a doubt have existed on the interpretation of this act, under all its attending circumstances, that the judges of the Inferior Courts Edition: current; Page: [327] were intended, as well as those of the Supreme Court? But did the framers of the Constitution stop there? Is there then nothing more? Did they risk on these grammatical niceties the fate of America? Did they rest here the most important branch of our government? Little important, indeed, as to foreign danger; but infinitely valuable to our domestic peace, and to personal protection against the oppression of our rulers. No. Lest a doubt should be raised, they have carefully connected the judges of both Courts in the same sentence; they have said, “the judges both of the Supreme and Inferior Courts,” thus coupling them inseparably together. You may cut the bands, but you can never untie them. With salutary caution, they devised this clause, to arrest the overbearing temper, which they knew belonged to legislative bodies. They do not say the judges simply, but the judges of the Supreme and Inferior Courts, shall hold their offices during good behavior. They say, therefore, to the legislature, you may judge of the propriety, the utility, the necessity, of organizing these Courts; but when established you have done your duty. Anticipating the course of passion in future times, they say to the legislature, you shall not disgrace yourselves by exhibiting the indecent spectacle of judges established by one legislature, removed by another. We will save you also from yourselves. We say, these judges shall hold their offices; and surely, Sir, to pretend that they can hold their office, after the office is destroyed, is contemptible.

The framers of this Constitution had seen much, read much, and deeply reflected. They knew by experience the violence of popular bodies; and, let it be remembered, that since that day many of the States, taught by experience, have found it necessary to change their form of government to avoid the effects of that violence. The Convention contemplated the very act you now attempt. They knew also the jealousy and the power of the States; and they established, for your and for their protection, this most important department. I beg gentlemen to hear and to remember what I say. It is this department alone, and it is the independence alone of this department, which can save you from civil war. Yes, Sir, adopt the language of gentlemen; say, with them, by the act to which you are urged, “If we cannot remove the judges, we can destroy them.” Establish thus the dependence of the judiciary department. Who will resort to them for protection against you? Who will confide in, who will be bound by their decrees? Are we then to resort to the ultimate reason of kings? Are our arguments to fly from the mouths of our cannon?

We are told that we may violate our Constitution, because similar Constitutions have been violated elsewhere. Two States have been cited to that Edition: current; Page: [328] effect, Maryland and Virginia. The honorable gentleman from Virginia tells us, that when this happened in the State he belongs to, no complaint was made by the judges. I will not inquire into that fact, although I have the protest of the judges now laying before me; judges, eminent for their talents, renowned for their learning, respectable for their virtue. I will not inquire what Constitutions have been violated. I will not ask either when or where this dangerous practice began, or has been followed. I will admit the fact. What does it prove? Does it prove that, because they violated, we also may violate. Does it not prove directly the contrary? Is it not the strongest reason on earth for preserving the independence of our tribunals? If it be true that they have with strong hands seized their Courts, and bent them to their will, ought we not to give suitors a fair chance for justice in our Courts, or must the suffering citizen be deprived of all protection?

The gentleman from Virginia has called our attention to certain cases, which he considers as forming necessary exceptions to the principles for which we contend. Permit me to say, that necessity is a hard law, and frequently proves too much; and, let the gentleman recollect, that arguments which prove too much prove nothing.

He has instanced a case where it may be proper to appoint commissioners, for a limited time, to settle some particular description of controversies. Undoubtedly it is always in the power of Congress to form a board of commissioners for particular purposes. He asks, are these Inferior Courts, and must they also exist forever? I answer, that the nature of their office must depend upon the law by which they are created; if called to exercise the judicial functions, designated by the Constitution, they must have an existence conformable to its injunctions.

Again, he has instanced the Mississippi territory, claimed by, and which may be surrendered to, the State of Georgia, and a part of the Union, which may be conquered by a foreign enemy. And he asks, triumphantly, are our Inferior Courts to remain after our jurisdiction is gone? The case rests upon a principle so simple, that I am surprised the honorable member did not perceive the answer in the very moment when he made the objection. Is it by our act that a country is taken from us by a foreign enemy? Is it by our consent that our jurisdiction is lost? I had the honor, in speaking the other day, expressly, and for the most obvious reasons, to except the case of conquest. As well might we contend for the government of a town swallowed up by an earthquake.

General Mason explained; he had supposed the case of territory conquered, Edition: current; Page: [329] and afterwards ceded to the conqueror, or some other territory ceded in lieu of it.

Mr. Morris. The case is precisely the same. Until after the peace, the conquest is not complete. Every body knows, that until the cession by treaty, the original owner has the postliminary right to a territory taken from him. Beyond all question, where Congress are compelled to cede the territory, the judges can no longer exist, unless the new sovereign confer the office. Over such a territory, the authority of the Constitution ceases, and of course the rights which it confers.

It is said, the judicial institution is intended for the benefit of the people, and not of the judge; and it is complained of, that in speaking of the office we say it is his office. Undoubtedly the institution is for the benefit of the people. But the question remains, how will it be rendered most beneficial? Is it by making the judge independent, by making it his office; or is it by placing him in a state of abject dependence, so that the office shall be his today, and belong to another tomorrow. Let the gentleman hear the words of the Constitution; it speaks of their offices, consequently, as applied to a single judge, of his office, to be exercised by him for the benefit of the people of America, to which exercise his independence is as necessary as his office.

The gentleman from Virginia has, on this occasion, likened the judge to a bridge, and to various other objects; but I hope for his pardon, if, while I admire the lofty flights of his eloquence, I abstain from noticing observations, which I conceive to be utterly irrelevant.

The same honorable member has not only given us his history of the Supreme Court, but has told us of the manner in which they do business, and expressed his fears, that having little else to do, they will do mischief. We are not competent, Sir, to examine, nor ought we to prejudge their conduct. I am persuaded that they will do their duty, and presume they will have the decency to believe that we do our duty. In so far as they may be busied with the great mischief of checking the legislative or executive departments, in any wanton invasion of our rights, I shall rejoice in that mischief. I hope, indeed, they will not be so busied, because I hope we shall give them no cause. But I also hope, they will keep an eagle eye upon us, lest we should. It was partly for this purpose that they were established, and, I trust, that when properly called on they will dare to act. I know this doctrine is unpleasant. I know it is more popular to appeal to public opinion, that equivocal transient being, which exists nowhere and everywhere. Edition: current; Page: [330] But if ever the occasion calls for it, I trust, that the Supreme Court will not neglect doing the great mischief of saving this Constitution, which can be done much better by their deliberations, than by resorting to what are called revolutionary measures.

The honorable member from North Carolina, sore pressed by the delicate situation in which he is placed, thinks he has discovered a new argument in favor of the vote, which he is instructed to give. As far as I can enter into his ideas, and trace their progress, he seems to have assumed the position which was to be proved, and then searched through the Constitution, not to discover whether the legislature have the right contended for, but whether, admitting them to possess it, there may not be something which might not comport with that idea. I shall state the honorable member’s argument, as I understand it, and if mistaken pray to be corrected. He read to us that clause, which relates to impeachment, and comparing it with that which fixes the tenure of judicial office has observed, that this clause must relate solely to a removal by the executive power, whose right to remove, though not indeed anywhere mentioned in the Constitution, has been admitted in a practice founded on legislative construction.

That, as the tenure of the office is during good behavior, and as the clause respecting impeachment does not specify misbehavior, there is evidently a cause of removal, which cannot be reached by impeachment, and of course (the executive not being permitted to remove) the right must necessarily devolve on the legislature. Is this the honorable member’s argument? If it be, the reply is very simple. Misbehavior is not a term known in our law. The idea is expressed by the word misdemeanor, which word is in the clause quoted respecting impeachments. Taking, therefore, the two together, and speaking plain old English, the Constitution says; “The judges shall hold their offices so long as they shall demean themselves well; but if they shall misdemean, if they shall on impeachment be convicted of misdemeanor, they shall be removed.” Thus, Sir, the honorable member will find that the one clause is just as broad as the other. He will see, therefore, that the legislature can assume no right from the deficiency of either, and will find that the clause which he relied on goes, if rightly understood, to a confirmation of our doctrine.

Is there a member of this House, who can lay his hand on his heart and say, that consistently with the plain words of our Constitution we have a right to repeal this law? I believe not. And if we undertake to construe this Constitution to our purposes and say, that public opinion is to be our judge, there is an end to all Constitutions. To what will not this dangerous Edition: current; Page: [331] doctrine lead? Should it today be the popular wish to destroy the first magistrate, you can destroy him. And should he tomorrow be able to conciliate to him the popular will, and lead the people to wish for your destruction, it is easily effected. Adopt this principle, and the whim of the moment will not only be the law, but the Constitution of our country.

The gentleman from Virginia has mentioned a great nation brought to the feet of one of her servants. But why is she in that situation? Is it not because popular opinion was called on to decide everything, until those who wore bayonets decided for all the rest. Our situation is peculiar. At present our national compact can prevent a State from acting hostilely towards the general interest. But let this compact be destroyed, and each State becomes instantaneously vested with absolute sovereignty. Is there no instance of a similar situation to be found in history? Look at the States of Greece. They were once in a condition not unlike to that in which we should then stand. They treated the recommendations of their Amphictyonic Council, which was more a meeting of Ambassadors than a legislative assembly, as we did the resolutions of the Old Congress. Are we wise? So were they. Are we valiant? They also were brave. Have we one common language, and are we united under one head? In this also there is a strong resemblance. But by their divisions they became at first victims of the ambition of Philip, and were at length swallowed up in the Roman Empire. Are we to form an exception to the general principles of human nature, and to all the examples of history? And are the maxims of experience to become false, when applied to our fate?

Some, indeed, flatter themselves, that our destiny will be like that of Rome. Such indeed it might be, if we had the same wise but vile Aristocracy, under whose guidance they became the masters of the world. But we have not that strong Aristocratic arm, which can seize a wretched citizen, scourged almost to death by a remorseless creditor, turn him into the ranks, and bid him as a soldier bear our eagle in triumph round the globe. I hope to God we shall never have such an abominable institution. But what, I ask, will be the situation of these States, organized as they now are, if by the dissolution of our national compact they be left to themselves? What is the probable result? We shall either be victims of foreign intrigue, and, split into factions, fall under the domination of a foreign power; or else, after the misery and torment of civil war, become the subjects of a usurping military despot. What but this compact, what but this specific part of it, can save us from ruin? The judicial power, that fortress of the Constitution, is now to be overturned. Yes, with honest Ajax, I would not only throw a Edition: current; Page: [332] shield before it, I would build around it a wall of brass. But I am too weak to defend the rampart against the host of assailants. I must call to my assistance their good sense, their patriotism, and their virtue.

Do not, gentlemen, suffer the rage of passion to drive reason from her seat. If this law be indeed bad, let us join to remedy the defects. Has it been passed in a manner, which wounded your pride, or roused your resentment? Have, I conjure you, the magnanimity to pardon that offence. I intreat, I implore you, to sacrifice those angry passions to the interests of our country. Pour out this pride of opinion on the altar of patriotism. Let it be an expiatory libation for the weal of America. Do not, for God’s sake do not suffer that pride to plunge us all into the abyss of ruin. Indeed, indeed, it will be but of little, very little avail, whether one opinion or the other be right or wrong; it will heal no wounds, it will pay no debts, it will rebuild no ravaged towns. Do not rely on that popular will, which has brought us frail beings into political existence. That opinion is but a changeable thing. It will soon change. This very measure will change it. You will be deceived. Do not, I beseech you, in reliance on a foundation so frail, commit the dignity, the harmony, the existence of our nation to the wild wind. Trust not your treasure to the waves. Throw not your compass and your charts into the ocean. Do not believe that its billows will waft you into port. Indeed, indeed, you will be deceived. Cast not away this only anchor of our safety. I have seen its progress. I know the difficulties through which it was obtained. I stand in the presence of Almighty God and of the world. I declare to you, that if you lose this charter, never, no never, will you get another. We are now perhaps arrived at the parting point. Here, even here, we stand on the brink of fate. Pause, then—Pause. For Heaven’s sake—Pause.

Edition: current; Page: [333]

24: Letters to the New York Evening Post on the Louisiana Purchase (1803)

When the Jefferson administration discovered that Spain had secretly given Louisiana back to France in 1800, they worried about having an ambitious and restless great power for a neighbor. As if to underscore those concerns, in fall 1802 the Spanish—then still in possession of the territory—suddenly suspended the American right of deposit in New Orleans, effectively closing the Mississippi to American commerce.

When Congress met in December 1802, Jefferson’s Annual Message ignored the closure and treated Louisiana as a matter of indifference.1 Congress did not take it so nonchalantly. Morris, who remained in the Senate until March 1803, spoke out against the administration’s passivity and in favor of a set of resolutions by Senator Ross of Pennsylvania advocating a more assertive approach.2

It was not until early summer, well after Congress adjourned, that the news came that Napoleon had decided to sell Louisiana to the United States. Despite his differences with Jefferson, Morris approved of the purchase on the whole. It also pleased him that the purchase had been negotiated by his old friend Robert Livingston. James Monroe’s involvement as Livingston’s co-negotiator, however, was not so welcome to Morris. He and Monroe had clashed years earlier when Monroe succeeded him as U.S. minister to France. In a letter to Livingston, Morris sized up Monroe this way:

It is possible that I am unjust to Mr. Monroe, but really I consider him as a person of mediocrity in every respect. Just exceptions lie against Edition: current; Page: [334] his diplomatic character, and, taking all circumstances into consideration, his appointment must appear extraordinary to the Cabinets of Europe. It is, in itself, a most unwary step, and will lower our government in public estimation.3

In these essays Morris resumes his old pseudonym, “An American,” writing to express his disagreement with many of his fellow Federalists and give his qualified approval of the purchase.

August 30, 1803



Some essays have appeared in federal prints, which tend to raise a prejudice against the treaty by which Louisiana and New-Orleans have lately been ceded to the United States; this does not seem to be right, for it is the principle and the pride of a good federalist to support the government of his country in every thing not inconsistent with the public good, or with a sense of honour and justice. It becomes us therefore to wait patiently for the proceedings of the next Congress; we shall then know the opinions formed by our Senators and Representatives upon full enquiry, and we shall also be acquainted with some facts of which we are now ignorant. It may indeed be objected that the democrats are as busy in prepossessing the public mind with impressions favourable to this treaty, as they were during the administration of Washington in exciting opposition to that which was made with England by Governor Jay. But if the democrats behave ill, does it follow that we also should misdemean ourselves? Let it be remembered, that we possess not their priviledge of saying and unsaying, as may suit a present purpose. We claim confidence on the ground that we are actuated Edition: current; Page: [335] by principle, by a regard for truth, and by that respect for the reputation of others which all men feel who have a proper respect for themselves.

Admit, for argument sake, that the treaty shall turn out to be a bad one, will it not be time enough to say so when we have formed a solid judgment, upon a knowledge of facts? And supposing it to be a good one, (which is surely a supposable case) will it not be better to rejoice without the pain of prefacing congratulation by retracting mistakes?

Let us give a slight glance at some of the most prominent objections. But first let it be premised, that to insinuate a charge of interested motives in our negociators, or either of them, is improper, without evidence, or at least a strong presumption. It is said that we do not want the western side of the Mississippi, having already land enough. It must be confessed, that we have enough, perhaps too much, and curious speculations may be made as to the probable effect of such vast possessions on our moral and political state, but we need not enter this wide field, for it will be readily admitted by considerate men, that our present extent is sufficient to produce the mischiefs (whatever they may be) which arise from wide dominion. The increase, therefore, of our territory gives no just cause for apprehension. But is it not, on the other hand, desirable to take from foreign powers every plausible pretext for coming within the bosom of America and forming establishments, which must be injurious to us, whether they be military, political, or commercial? There are some arguments respecting this river which it would be imprudent to press. Suffice it to say, that proper forts and garrisons at the mouth of it will give a security to our Empire which is not otherwise attainable.

The second objection is, that our honour is tarnished by purchasing what we might justly have taken, and might easily have held, in spite of any thing which could be done by France or Spain. There certainly is force in this objection, but it is proper to hear both sides before we condemn. To plunge a nation into war is easy, whereas, to get out of it on terms honourable and advantageous is frequently difficult, and sometimes impossible. It is true, that by vigorous measures we should probably have established a reputation favourable to our future repose; and it is also true, that paying for aggression, under whatever name, colour, or pretext, invites to, and may perhaps occasion renewed aggressions. But on subjects of this sort men generally reason according to their feelings. Besides, it is reasonable to suppose that the administration possess a knowledge of facts not within the compass of private information. At the time when this treaty was made, war between Britain and France was indeed inevitable—this we know; but there may be Edition: current; Page: [336] other facts of which we are ignorant, and which, when known, will give the business a very different complexion.

May it not, moreover, be said, that if we had taken this country it would have been lawful for France to take it back again at the first convenient opportunity; whereas, now that we have purchased, she is bound in honour to re-purchase if she should hereafter wish for the possession? And may it not be added, that we can, in such case, lawfully insist on a good round price, perhaps three or four times what it cost, seeing that such is the usual profit on land speculations? Nay, if these positions can be well established, may it not be argued that this treaty is a proper supplement to the act making provision for the “whole of the public debt?”

You will perhaps smile, Mr. Coleman,4 at the idea of binding France by these, which you may call “Lilliputian ties”; and it must be acknowledged that the sword of the First Consul has occasionally cut asunder some bands of strong stuff. But is it fair to conclude from the transactions of France with absolute Princes, the conduct she will pursue towards her sister Republic? May it not also be said, that our fellow citizens will fight with a better stomach for what they have acquired by purchase than they would for a conquest, the right to which might be somewhat doubtful with men of tender conscience? And if to this it be objected, that altho’ our independence was acquired by the force of arms, and our right of deposit at New-Orleans by peaceful treaty, yet an administration which would not have borne the slightest question as to our independence (unless perhaps from some sister republic,) felt most pacifically inclined when the right of deposit was infringed; let it be remembered, that men have different ways of viewing and estimating the same things. Hence it has long been a proverb, De Gustibus non est disputandum: in other words: Every man has his own way of riding his own hobby.

One clause has been somewhere mentioned, which will not, on examination, be found in the treaty. It is a stipulation as to what shall be done with the country hereafter. A stipulation of this sort would furnish to France a pretext, and perhaps a right, to meddle in our domestic concerns; it is therefore to be presumed, both from the talents and the patriotism of our ministers, that nothing of the sort exists. But if, unfortunately, such a clause should have slipt in, the wisdom of Government will unquestionably strike it out, and the First Consul will hardly insist on prescribing to us the manner in which we shall dispose of, settle, and govern our own territory.

The great objection remains to be considered. It is said we have paid too Edition: current; Page: [337] much for this country—that France, in the conviction she could neither take nor hold possession, had ordered the troops destined for that quarter to be disembarked before the treaty was made—that she would rather have given it to America than have suffered it to be taken, as it must have been, by England—that the French government, after having rejected haughtily every overture of Mr. Livingston, came all at once round, and made him the tender of Louisiana as soon as the King of England’s Message to his Parliament reached Paris—and, that after all, Mr. Livingston had no power to strike a bargain, by reason whereof it was deferred till Mr. Munroe’s arrival, so that this happy statesman might say with Caesar, veni vidi vici.5 All this and much more is said, but is all this true; and if true is it the whole truth? Prudence requires that we suspend our belief till after the meeting of Congress. The Treaty will then be laid before the Senate, and with it the instructions to our ministers, their correspondence, &c. &c—such being the usage. It will then, most probably, appear, (according to assertions made on democratic authority) that Mr. Livingston was duly authorized. How else could he have made the overtures which are spoken of? It is indeed to be presumed that ample instructions were given to him long before, in which the various contingencies appertaining to the subject were ably discussed. The abilities of the President, and Secretary of State, leave little room for doubt. And however we may differ from those gentlemen, we cannot but acknowledge that they have a considerable share of talents.

But although, for the reasons already assigned, it is improper to examine the above assertions, we ought to give full weight to the observations made on the other side, viz—That the value of the acquired territory so far exceeds the price, that the United States cannot fail of eventual reimbursement. It must indeed be admitted, that the present sale of that land will prevent the sale of an equal quantity within our old limits; and of course, that the benefit to be derived is somewhat remote: But what are twenty or thirty years in the life of an empire? If it can be shewn, that we only make a small advance now, to secure an immense return forty or fifty years hence, what will become of the cavil about price? One objection, indeed, has been hinted, which, if founded, would be somewhat serious—It is, that all the valuable part of this country was granted before the cession, and that these grants are confirmed by a special clause in the treaty, so that the grantees will be able to undersell on the west, the United States on the east of the Edition: current; Page: [338] Mississippi. As to the supposed confirmation, nothing need be said about it, for the plain reason that such clauses are generally understood, even when not expressed. And as to the existence of the supposed grants, it remains to be proved. But whether they exist or not, what ground is there for apprehension? Can it be for a moment supposed, that provision is not made in the treaty for a case so palpable? When the instructions given to our ministers are produced, it will doubtless appear that it has been specifically provided for. The President’s attachment to public property must have presented to him the idea by mere instinct. Neither great genius nor profound political science, was necessary, because the train of thought is so natural that it runs of itself from the pen. He would of course say to his plenipotentiary—“In authorizing you to give so large a sum for the acquisition of Louisiana, it is specially contemplated to reimburse the treasury by a sale of lands to be acquired. Now since it is possible that an abuse of his confidence, by those who surround the First Consul, may induce him to make such previous grants to individuals as would defeat this oeconomical plan; you must take especial care, by a precise clause in the treaty, to confine such grants within narrow limits. They must not exceed———millions of acres; or if they should, a proportionate deduction must be made from the above sum: and should the grants extend to———millions of acres, it will not be adviseable to make the purchase at all, you will in such case confine your views to the Island of Orleans.” It is not pretended that these are the words of the instructions, but unquestionably the idea will be found in them clearly expressed; because should it even have escaped his excellency, it would not have escaped the studious reflection of his Secretary of State. Admitting, however, the bare possibility that both of them, occupied by domestic cares, should have nodded a little over foreign concerns; admitting too that Chancellor Livingston, in his eagerness to acquire fame, should have overlooked every smaller circumstance, can it be believed that the penetration of a gentleman, selected by the wisdom of government for this and other important missions, would not perceive that material defect? The acuteness of Mr. Munroe, would have seized the object instantaneously, and we cannot therefore have any ground for apprehension; more especially as there seems to be another clause in the treaty which would have suggested the precaution to the most inconsiderate. The claims of Americans to reimbursement, out of the price of this territory, for money due to them by France, is it seems limited to about four millions of dollars, nothing therefore could be more natural than to limit, in like manner, the claims of French grantees; the more so as it will otherwise be in the power of the French government to go on granting, provided their patents be dated before the last of April. Edition: current; Page: [339] Monsieur Talleyrand is too well bred to date any of them on the first of that month. If then it be conceded that both the soil and jurisdiction of this vast country are acquired by the United States, the wisdom of the treaty so far as regards the quantum of price and other conditions onerous to us, must depend on that combination of circumstances with which the Congress will, it is to be presumed, be duly made acquainted, & on which that much respected body, will according to its constitutional rights and authorities, make sound and proper decisions. Some gentlemen indeed suppose that a veil of secrecy will be thrown over these transactions; but this seems unlikely, first, because a display of facts will tend it is supposed, to the honour of government; and secondly, because Members of Congress will not easily be persuaded to vote in the dark, when they may afterwards be called on for explanation by their constituents. On the whole, therefore, it seems to be the duty of every good Federalist, and indeed of every good Citizen, patiently to wait for the investigations which will soon take place. In all human probability, where every thing is known the great majority of the people will be of one opinion, and who is there as insensible to the interests of his country, as not to wish that this well founded opinion may be favourable to those who administer our affairs?

I am, sir, your obedient servant,


December 24, 1803*

To the Editor of the Evening Post


Your flattering preface to my former Essay has induced me again to trouble you, and I am the more encouraged to do so as the Aurora folks have, I find paid me the compliment of attributing what I wrote to General Hamilton and Gouverneur Morris.1 I thank them, not only for this mark Edition: current; Page: [340] of approbation but for another not less unequivocal; the wrath with which they have replied. He who wears a tight shoe knows best where it pinches but his wry faces will indicate to a by-stander how it is with his toes.

In my former essay it is premised that to insinuate a charge of interested motives in our negotiators, or either of them, is improper without “evidence, or at least a strong presumption.” Let it be added here that to make such charge is beneath the dignity of any man who has the honour to be a federalist. The ground on which it was made is curious. Chancellor Livingston, in a manner honorable to his talents & zeal insured the payment of a large sum due by the French government to American citizens. Among the creditors are, it seems, some of his relations, and because he has not excepted them from equal justice and common right he is charged with impure motives. The origin of this slander will be known by and bye; and if certain folks wish to preserve appearances, they should be a little more guarded in convivial moments—otherwise a newspaper zeal will not shield them from investigation.

As to the treaty itself, it is in my opinion, in its general scope and effect, a good one, and the Aurora folks are heartily welcome to as much of the praise as they can fairly take to themselves. Moreover, if in treading on this ground, their toes should be uneasy, they may pour out against federalism and federalists a curse as long as that of Ernulphus’; but let them not by sly and vile insinuation, endeavour to injure the man to whom they are indebted for this very treaty, on which they assume such great credit for political sagacity.2

  • That democrats should snarl and bite,
  • is in their nature—therefore right;
  • But yet they ought to spare each other,
  • for ’tis not right to bite a brother.3

I say again, sir, that I approve the general scope and effect of this treaty. We acquire West Florida including both sides the mouth of the Mississippi and Mobile Rivers. This is the great essential, and had it been unattainable but by twenty millions I should have been satisfied to pay my share even of that sum. The acquisition of the rest of Louisiana, if not so necessary, is Edition: current; Page: [341] certainly useful inasmuch as we are thereby enabled to prevent any persons from occupying it until the colonization may be rendered advisable by the exuberance of our population. For these reasons I approve of the treaty and not because of “what was said by Morris, Mason, Wells and White,” altho’ I have the highest respect for those gentlemen. We federalists are in the habit of thinking for ourselves, and when a thing is well done, tho’ by a rank democrat, we want neither a French cook nor a salt mountain to season it to our palates.4 Apropos of that salt mountain. If Congress should, in their wisdom, make an appropriation to build a roof over it for the purpose of keeping off federal rain, might it not be well to construct a Dry dock under the same cover? This could be but a trifling addition to the expense, and then when our ships and frigates are packed up they can with great convenience be salted.

In my former communication I noticed the following among other assertions publickly made about this treaty: “It is said that the French government after having rejected haughtily every overture of Mr. Livingston’s came all at once round and made him the tender of Louisiana as soon as the king of England’s message to his parliament reached Paris, and that after all Mr. Livingston had no power to strike a bargain, by reason whereof it was deferred till Mr. Munroe’s arrival; so that this happy statesman might say with Caesar veni vidi vici.” Having thus stated the reports, I proceeded thus: “All this, and much more is said; but is all this true? and if true is it the whole truth? Prudence requires that we suspend our belief until the meeting of congress. The treaty will then be laid before the senate, and with it the instructions to our ministers, their correspondents,5 &c. &c. such being the usage. It will then most probably appear that Mr. Livingston was duly authorized, how else could he have made the overtures which are spoken of.” The answer of the Aurora folks to this paragraph is amusing. The poor fellows are so pinched, that in their agony they adopt the very observation which they writhe under, and roar out as follows: “First it is acknowleged that Mr. Livingston did make overtures, and of course, before the aggression of the Spanish Intendant; and secondly that the cession was in consequence of the king of England’s speech. Here is saying and unsaying with a vengeance.” To do them justice, however, they have by comparing dates fully Edition: current; Page: [342] refuted the assertion that France ceded Louisiana in consequence of the king of England’s message. This reply, had they stopt there, would have been neat, but, “this paragraph (say they) like four of the preceding, is evidently the result of communications between Mr. King and Mr. Hamilton.” But surely so egregious a mistake in dates could not have been made by Mr. King, for he must have been well acquainted with facts. Calm reflection, therefore, had it been possible for men in their piteous condition to reflect calmly, would have absolved him from the charge. But I hear you exclaim, how could it enter into their noddles to make so strange a charge? Ah! There’s the rub. Suppose, for a moment, that the facts stated are substantially, if not circumstantially true: They would, you know, in such case, naturally enquire how came this American to the knowlege of them? and then the squinting witch suspicion would as naturally whisper King must have told him—and then King and Hamilton being intimate friends the rest follows of course. They would, on slighter circumstances, charge a federalist with biting off his own nose. If then, we trace back their logic, we shall find it amounts to an admission that what I considered as wild assertion, was sober serious fact, viz. that Mr. Livingston was not authorized, and that the offer was made by France. Of this we have indeed further evidence from the same quarter. They say in the Aurora, after repeating the allegation (as if made by me) that Mr. Livingston had not power to strike a bargain, “And what then? admitting this, what does it prove?” “It proves that the administration was cautious in granting extensive powers—that it set on foot negociations and reserved to itself as long as was compatible to the state of things, the exclusive power to determine upon the terms proposed.” And again, “The original negociation was commenced in Europe long before the act of the Spanish Intendant took place.” And again—“If the United States had no alternative between the acceptance of the whole of Louisiana in the utmost extent as is ceded, or none, which of the alternatives ought to be preferred? We will undertake to say (what we believe to be) that such an alternative was given and that the choice of our ministers was made in that way.” And in the message to both houses, “Previous to this period” (viz. the last session of congress, or the Spanish aggression, for by the felicity of expression peculiar to this writer,6 it is doubtful which he means) “propositions had been authorized for obtaining the sovereignty of New-Orleans and of other possessions in that quarter interesting to our quiet to such extent as was deemed practicable, and the provisional appropriation of two millions of Edition: current; Page: [343] dollars intended as part of the price, was considered as conveying the sanction of Congress to the acquisition proposed.” And again in the Aurora: “Mr. Marbois stated on the part of the first Consul that the preliminary to negociation should be that the claims on France by American citizens should be paid out of the first part of the Louisiana purchase money. There are only two other preliminary conditions, that the whole of Louisiana should be taken as France originally held it, and that the purchase should be fifteen millions of dollars.” A host of observations presents itself, but to state them would be tedious, let it suffice that we have here direct acknowledgments, that altho’ propositions had been authorized, or (in the other phraseology) negociations set on foot, no power was given to act. This it seems was reserved as long as was compatible to the state of things. But what state of things? It would seem from the other paper to be the provisional appropriation, which, (says the message-maker) was considered as conveying the sanction of congress to the acquisition proposed. Now by recurring to the report of the secret committee, we shall find that in the very outset they declare that the object of that appropriation was to enable the president to commence the negociation. They of course must have been ignorant of these propositions previously authorized, and of that original negociation commenced long before the Spanish aggression. The congress, however, sanctioned the acquisition proposed. But by whom proposed, and when, and to whom? Plain answers to these questions will probably discover the cause of that soreness which the Aurora folks feel; and the reason why they construe into irony, the simple suggestions of plain common sense. Taking it for granted that the president and secretary of state, men of acknowleged abilities, had fully instructed their ministers on a subject of such great importance, and in directing him to treat, had not only fixed the object & the terms they were willing to grant for its attainment, but had conferred on him the competent authority; assertions made to the contrary seemed to be not only malicious, but absurd. Under this impression, so natural to a man who does not pretend to diplomatic skill or court-intrigue but has been used to the strait forward way of doing business, I attempted to defend the administration against charges which had been publicly made. I was not indeed without apprehension that violent men of my own party might be displeased, but who would have suspected that the writer would have exposed himself to democratic fury? That he would be charged with “aiming to take Mr. Livingston by the legs and to beat down Mr. Munroe and the administration by his knocking out his brains.” Such, however, is the melancholy fact. General Hamilton is charged (as author of my last essay) with this tremendous Edition: current; Page: [344] project, which will I trust, teach the wholesome lesson never to defend our administration upon principles of common sense. By-the-bye this eloquent flight of the Aurora folks would be no bad subject for a painter. In the foreground Gen. Hamilton holding Chancellor Livingston by the legs and swinging him round so as to beat out Munroe’s brains, which, at the instant, fly in the form of grape-shot among the administration. These, of course, on the back ground in attitudes appropriate to their rank and station. The sturdy Secretary of war, for instance, might stand as Mars, and on the shield with which he covers himself, and his chief might be painted the head of the treasury department. But to return—it appears by what they will pardon me, for calling their precious confessions, that Mr. Livingston was not authorized to make a bargain; that if the propositions he was authorized to make, had been accepted, he was not even then authorized to bind his government; in short that he had only a right to say, will you sell, and what will you take? without being able to give any thing or even to declare that his master would give any thing. This may, for aught I know be diplomatic skill but it is presumed that neither the president nor his secretary would, in common life, have been so niggard of authority, if they had sent a negro to buy a pig. It appears also, that the proposition was at length made by France in the shape of three preliminaries. And let it be remarked in this place, that those three preliminaries contain in substance the whole treaty, except the grant of commercial privileges to France and Spain, and the covenant to admit the inhabitants of Louisiana into the American union. These two articles seem, from their account of the matter, not to have been asked by the First Consul, but rather to have been granted by our ministers out of pure love and kindness.

It being thus acknowleged that the offer was made by France, it only remains to enquire why it was made. By recurring to the papers presented by the British Ministry to the two houses of Parliament, it appears that on the seventh of April, Lord Whitworth delivered an official paper to monsieur Talleyrand, in which he peremptorily declares that Malta should not be evacuated and insists on satisfaction &c. Now with all humble submission to men who are well informed, I venture to ask how many days elapsed between the delivery of this note (which proved war to be unavoidable) and the determination of the first Consul to sell Louisiana? And how many days after that determination before it was communicated to Mr. Livingston? And how many days after that before the terms of the treaty were fixed between him and Monsieur Marbois? And how many days after that before it was drawn up in three pieces, such as we now see it? The signature took Edition: current; Page: [345] place on the thirtieth of April. Thus from the time when Lord Whitworth’s paper was delivered to the time when the treaty was signed, is just twenty three days. Moreover it is believed that Mr. Munroe, bearer of the powers (whatever they were) did not reach Paris till the evening of the twelfth, was presented to Mr. Talleyrand on the fourteenth, lay sick a-bed for a week, signed the treaty on the 30th and was presented to the first Consul on the first of May. This was nimble negotiation. Whether beneficial or not will depend on the conditions which have been annexed to the first Consul’s preliminaries.

The treaty contains two articles, which, from the history above given by the adepts, do not seem to have been insisted on by the French government. One of these secures certain commercial privileges to France and Spain, about which, I shall say nothing at present. By the other, viz., the third article, the inhabitants of the ceded territory are to be incorporated in the Union of the United States and admitted as soon as possible, according to the principles of the federal constitution, to all the rights, advantages and immunities of citizens of the United States. It becomes necessary here to repeat what I formerly said before the purport of the treaty was exactly known, “one clause has been somewhere mentioned which will not on examination be found in the treaty. It is a stipulation as to what shall be done with the country hereafter. A stipulation of this sort would furnish to France a pretext and perhaps a right to meddle in our domestic concerns. It is therefore to be presumed both from the talents and the patriotism of our ministers that nothing of the sort exists. But if unfortunately, such a clause should have slipt in, the wisdom of government will undoubtedly strike it out; and the first Consul will hardly insist on prescribing to us the manner in which we shall dispose of, settle, and govern our own territory.”7 Now mark the reply of the Aurora folks. “From the nature and principles of our government we boldly assert there is no such clause as any way to interfere with our right or independence as sovereigns of Louisiana from the moment it came into our possession. Why then this malignant insinuation by an affected denial?” Bravo! This is doing the thing handsomely: but let us reduce the proposition to its simple elements. It will stand thus. A clause which might in any way interfere with our right as sovereigns, is contrary to the nature and principles of our government, therefore no such clause either does or can exist, and therefore to insinuate any such thing is malignant. This I say is the plain and only meaning of the round declaration just cited, unless indeed Edition: current; Page: [346] to elude the obvious import, they recur to a mental reservation and tell us they intended merely to say, that it consists with the nature of our government (that is of our administration) boldly to assert any thing without regard to decency or truth. Should they explain themselves in this way, nothing more need be said on the subject. But if the former be the true interpretation, it will follow that even in their opinion the third article is contrary to the nature and principles of our government. That is to say: it is not only accidentally but irremediably unconstitutional. Whether it be so or not I shall not presume to enquire, for since the principle adopted some time since, that Congress are exclusively the judges of their own power, any thing said on that subject might be deemed a breach of privilege. I leave the matter therefore with my superiors, presuming that if the clause be convenient it will turn out to be constitutional.

Let us then examine whether it be convenient. The reasons for putting it in the treaty, and the reasons for keeping it there, I pretend not to know and presume not to ask. Submitting with all due deference to the constituted authorities, I wait, with them, the course of events. But the day may come, perhaps it is not remote, when we shall feel the serious import of this measure. Those who favor the incorporation have certainly gained one step by stipulating for it with a foreign power; and as certainly, he, with whom we have made the treaty must from the reason and nature of things (what the Aurora folks may say to the contrary notwithstanding) have a right to insist on our compliance with the contract. In binding ourselves therefore to the performance of an internal and domestic act, we have conferred a right to meddle in our internal and domestic affairs. Now such is my idea of the importance of this right, that if I verily believe it wise to raise new states in that extensive region, and if I had the power to act according to my discretion, I would freely give the first Consul five millions of dollars to strike out that clause. Let Congress comply with it, not only to the letter, but to the utmost extent, according to their comprehension, still the French government may conscientiously believe that more remains to be done. The question must in some degree turn on the true intent and meaning of our constitution, of which the French government must therefore have the right to judge. The Congress may form one opinion and the first Consul another. Some of our fellow citizens may adopt his opinion. The contract moreover is such that the breach of this condition destroys its effect. If therefore we fail in the performance, our right to the territory is gone. But inasmuch as that performance, in its nature eventual, can only be compleated when all the inhabitants of the ceded territory shall be incorporated Edition: current; Page: [347] in the union and possessed of all the rights of American citizens, it follows that until that period, necessarily remote, shall arrive our possessory right remains subject to an eventual claim of France which she can make at the time most convenient. It follows also, that any half-dozen Frenchmen, settled if you please at the foot of the salt mountain, may claim the protection of France to obtain from the United States an admission into the Union, with a brace of senators. To be sure they may not be in those circumstances which are designated by the constitution, but who is the judge? Congress unquestionably, so far as regards our conduct, and as unquestionably, France so far as regards her conduct. It will perhaps be said that this is fine spun reasoning, and truly if it were, I might reply that France has never been deficient in fine spun reasoners when necessary to her views. The Empress of Russia had guaranteed an agreement between the catholics and dissenters in Poland, by which the former were to be admitted in common with the latter, to public office. By her armed interference under this guarantee began the partition of Poland. France has generally had the address to form her treaties in such way as to provide for future interpretations suitable to her interest. Let us examine the matter in this respect. We had heard a good deal about the treaty and were not a little surprised to find three treaties instead of one, or rather a treaty and two conventions about a single object. The whole affair consisted in the purchase of Louisiana for fifteen millions, four of which were to be paid to our own citizens, in extinguishment of their claims on the French government. To a man, who, as I said before, has been used to the strait forward way of doing business, this seems strange. If any one in common life purchased a tract of land, he would naturally, as evidence of his title, ask a deed which should specify the sum paid, and the land conveyed, in a plain and simple manner. But if the grantor should propose to put the grant in one paper, as a free gift with an eventual condition annexed to it, and the consideration money in two other papers, one of them having also the air of a free gift, and the other looking like the payment of an award, the grantee would not be a little surprised. And if he were a prudent man he would probably insist on having his title in the known and approved form.

The treaty begins by declaring a desire of the contracting parties to remove all source of misunderstanding relative to objects of discussion, mentioned in articles of a convention of 30th Sept. 1800 relative to the rights we claim by a treaty we made with Spain 27th Oct. 1795. The first article then recites the conveyance made by Spain, and that in consequence of it France has an incontestible right to Louisiana. Then the first Consul as a proof of Edition: current; Page: [348] his friendship gives it to the United States as fully and in the same manner as France had acquired it by the recited conveyance. Evidently therefore, if the Spanish conveyance was void, the United States would gain nothing by the Consuls friendship and bounty, especially as this french conveyance is without a warranttee of title, or a guarantee of possession, or a covenant for peaceable enjoyment.

The third article contains details uninteresting to the present enquiry, but the third already noted provides for the admission of the inhabitants of the ceded territory into the Union. The fourth, fifth, and sixth articles comprize like the second, details which may be omitted. The seventh on the ground of reciprocal advantages to result from it to the contracting parties gives certain commercial privileges exclusively to France and Spain, for twelve years. The eighth extends to France, forever, the right of being treated as the most favored nation there, whatever may be the case in other Ports of the Union. And the ninth, approves of a convention signed the same day for payment of debts due to our citizens, and of another convention signed the same day, relative to a definitive rule between the parties. Both of these conventions are by this article approved, and are to have their effect as if they had been inserted in the treaty. But it is not said that they form a part of the treaty. This is cautiously avoided.

We shall take up the conventions by and bye, at present it must be observed, 1st. That the commercial privileges, being granted on the ground of reciprocal advantage, form no part of the consideration for the grant. 2dly. That the grant itself is not in the nature of a sale, but of a free gift. And 3dly. That the only consideration for it, except what may be deduced from the preamble, is the condition that the inhabitants shall be admitted into our Union. It follows therefore, from the face of the instrument itself, that unless we comply with that condition to the extent in which France may construe it, we shall in her opinion have compleatly forfeited our right. Town, port, river, sugar plantations, and salt mountain, must all go together. In the mean time we hold by this defeasable right just what France was fairly entitled to by her treaty with Spain, and no more. So that if that treaty had previously become void, or been revok’d, we have no shadow of title. And if, under such circumstances, we take possession, no matter whether by force, by threats or by quiet surrender of the Spanish officer on the appearance of force, his Catholic Majesty can rightfully at any time dispossess us, and can properly call on his Allies (France included) for assistance. Since Spain is in possession, and therefore presumptively the owner, the following questions are not wholly impertinent. 1st. Can a nation assume any thing Edition: current; Page: [349] except peaceable possession as the evidence of right, on which to ground a transaction like the present? 2dly. If she may, within what limits does the doctrine prevail. 3dly. If it be unlimited, what shall prevent any two nations from interpreting at their pleasure treaties made by one of them with a third party, and disposing in consequence of towns, provinces and kingdoms? & 4thly. If this right be admitted, as by this treaty, it seems to have been, how are we to limit the exercise of it against ourselves? For instance, we take New-Orleans, and some time hence France and Spain, after examining our title, gravely determine that the treaty of St. Ildefonso,8 from circumstances antecedent or subsequent or from articles in another treaty, or from some other cause which we know nothing about, had really given France no title, and therefore, as the First Consul had by the very words given us no more than France had acquired, we took nothing, but the title still continued in Spain. Thereupon they make a treaty in which, after reciting the Spanish title as we have recited the French title, his Catholic Majesty, as a proof of his friendship, gives the country to France. This may be done as soon after the conclusion of the present war with England as shall suit the convenience of the contracting parties. And if we complain and cry aloud to all Europe, we may very properly be told, that in making a treaty with France for territory in possession of Spain, we ought to have apprized the latter power of what was going forward; to have heard and weighed her objections, if any she had, and finally to have obtained her consent. That the situation of the country in the neighborhood of Spanish colonies did, in itself call on us to make a regular communication of our contract, even had Spain not been in the actual possession; and that having set the example of this strange traffic, we must take the consequence. Those who violate the law cannot claim the protection of the law.

If under these circumstances we complain that France has swindled us out of fifteen million of dollars, she may gravely tell us, 1st. That caveat emptor is a principle which should have taught us to examine the title. 2dly. That we should in common prudence have asked a guarantee; and 3dly. That it savors of insanity to talk of fifteen millions, when it will appear by the treaty that she had generously made us a valuable present, which we, according to the wise maxim, never look a gift horse in the mouth, had greedily accepted. And truly by looking at the treaty we shall find, that there is not one word in it about the fifteen millions, nor indeed about any consideration Edition: current; Page: [350] whatever for the cession, which, on the contrary, appears there to have been perfectly gratuitous. We must then look for the consideration in the conventions, of which the first mentioned in the treaty as the convention for payment of debts, declares that the parties having by a treaty of the same date terminated all difficulties relative to Louisiana, and being desirous to secure the sums due by France to citizens of the United States, agree that a certain species of those debts shall be paid by the United States, to an amount not exceeding twenty millions of French livres, after the possession of Louisiana shall have been given by the commissaries of France to those of the United States. As to debts of any other description, or even those designated which may exceed the twenty millions, there is no provision whatever. This convention then proves, by necessary implication, that the twenty million livres forms no part of the consideration for Louisiana, because it declares in express words that all difficulties respecting Louisiana were already terminated. Indeed these twenty millions are evidently given on condition that a French commissary shall deliver peaceable possession of the country to an American commissary, and if the possession be not delivered by French commissaries but taken by American soldiers, the money is not to be paid. So that if under these circumstances we make such payment, it is an act done in our own wrong, from which, of course, we can derive no advantage.

The convention next noticed in the treaty as a convention relative to a definitive rule, declares that in consequence of the treaty of cession of Louisiana, the parties are willing to regulate definitively every thing relative to the said cession. And thereupon it is agreed that, over and above the sum for payment of debts, the Government of the United States shall pay France (in six per cent stock) sixty million of livres, after Louisiana shall be taken possession of in the name of the United States. Here then we find that the peaceable delivery of possession (one of the things not least important relative to the said cession,) is wholly lost sight of; and no matter how the possession be taken, whether peaceably or forcibly, by right or by wrong, we must pay. These sixty millions then are not given for the cession but for something relative to it. They are in effect promised as men sometimes pay lawyers, not to side with the adversary. It is so much hush money; and the plain English of the contract is, “let us take Louisiana from Spain under color of title from you and we will pay you sixty million livres to carry on your war with England.” Can any reasonable man suppose that the difference of terms used in these two conventions as to the mode of obtaining possession, was purely accidental? Or can it be attributed to mere chance that no part of the eighty millions we are to Edition: current; Page: [351] pay is any where stated as the purchase money of Louisiana? Suppose this country to be wrested from us by Spain, aided by a powerful alliance, can we ask France to refund the money paid? Shall we not be told that in transactions of this serious nature mere talk of ministers can not be resorted to, but the ratified treaties, and that from the face of them Louisiana was a free gift, for which no other consideration was stipulated, or even asked, but the admission of the inhabitants among the American States?

But is it expedient to admit them? I must again say, that were it otherwise desirable, it would be dangerous when they come in by foreign patronage, and of course with foreign attachments. And I will take the liberty to express, as a free citizen, my opinion, that having purchased and paid for the country, we ought to have the right of governing it in the manner most suitable to our interest. It may, perhaps, be most convenient to hold as colonies those districts which from time to time we may deem it expedient to settle; but whether it be or not, we should have the sovereign right to give or to withhold a participation in our national councils. It is a strange policy to call in Frenchmen, Spaniards, and Indians, (for they also are inhabitants of the ceded territory) to decide on our highest concerns. This question is not between northern and southern, eastern and western states, but between United America and Foreign Nations. Analize this condition and we have purchased neither land nor subjects nor citizens, but masters. When, for instance, we give to New-Orleans and the territory around it the rights of a state, and make it a member of the Union, we diminish the share of each existing state in the national authority, and admit a voice in our councils which is not truly American. We must expect a strong predilection to a foreign country; and perhaps that very port for which we pay so much, may be surrendered by the inhabitants to its ancient master. Shall it be said that the enjoyment of freedom will be a pledge of their fidelity? Let those who hold that opinion look at our neighbours in Lower Canada. They chuse representatives to make their own laws; they pay no taxes whatever. The laws are well administered; and they have the protection of the habeas corpus. Yet I am warranted by the concurrent testimony of those who have travelled through their country, though I have not done so myself, to say, that they ardently desire the antient government of the Bourbons, and if an opportunity offered, would unanimously join the royal standard of France. Of us they speak under the name of Yankees, with hatred and contempt. That their brethren to the westward and southward have similar sentiments cannot reasonably be doubted; and the natural consequence it is not difficult to anticipate.

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To pursue these the9 reflections would lead me too far. I therefore close with the sincere wish, that we may not have cause to mourn that portentous condition.