Mount Vernon, October 26, 1788
My dear Sir:
I have been lately favored with the receipt of your letters of the 24th and 30th of September, with their enclosures, and thank you sincerely for your free and friendly communications. As the period is now rapidly approaching which must decide the fate of the new Constitution, as to the manner of its being carried into execution, and probably as to its usefulness, it is not wonderful that we should all feel an unusual degree of anxiety on the occasion. I must acknowledge my fears have been greatly alarmed, but still I am not without hopes. From the good beginning that has been made in Pennsylvania, a State from which much was to be feared, I cannot help foreboding well of the others. That is to say, I flatter myself a majority of them will appoint foederal members to the several branches of the new government. I hardly should think that Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, South Carolina, and Georgia, would be for attempting premature amendments. Some of the rest may, also, in all probability be apprehensive of throwing our affairs into confusion, by such ill-timed expedients.
There will however, be no room for the advocates of the Constitution to relax in their exertions; for if they should be lulled into security, appointments of Antifoederal men may probably take place, and the consequences, which you so justly dread, be realized. Our Assembly is now in session; it is represented to be rather antifoederal, but we have heard nothing of its doings. Mr. Patrick Henry, R.H. Lee and Madison are talked of for the Senate. Perhaps as much opposition, or, in other words, as great an effort for early amendments, is to be apprehended from this State, as from any but New York. The constant report is, that North Carolina will soon accede to the new Union. A new Assembly is just elected in Maryland, in which it is asserted the number of Foederalists greatly predominates; and that being the case, we may look for favorable appointments, in spite of the rancour and activity of a few discontented, and I may say apparently unprincipled men.
I would willingly pass over in silence that part of your letter, in which you mention the persons who are Candidates for the two first Offices in the Executive, if I did not fear the omission might seem to betray a want of confidence. Motives of delicacy have prevented me hitherto from conversing or writing on this subject, whenever I could avoid it with decency. I may, however, with great sincerity and I believe without offending against modesty or propriety say to you, that I most heartily wish the choice to which you allude may not fall upon me: and that, if it should, I must reserve to myself the right of making up my final decision, at the last moment when it can be brought into one view, and when the expediency or inexpediency of a refusal can be more judiciously determined than at present. But be assured, my dear Sir, if from any inducement I shall be persuaded ultimately to accept, it will not be (so far as I know my own heart) from any of a private or personal nature. Every personal consideration conspires to rivet me (if I may use the expression) to retirement. At my time of life, and under my circumstances, nothing in this world can ever draw me from it, unless it be a conviction that the partiality of my Countrymen had made my services absolutely necessary, joined to a fear that my refusal might induce a belief that I preferred the conservation of my own reputation and private ease, to the good of my Country. After all, if I should conceive myself in a manner constrained to accept, I call Heaven to witness, that this very act would be the greatest sacrifice of my personal feelings and wishes that ever I have been called upon to make. It would be to forego repose and domestic enjoyment, for trouble, perhaps for public obloquy: for I should consider myself as entering upon an unexplored field, enveloped on every side with clouds and darkness.
From this embarrassing situation I had naturally supposed that my declarations at the close of the war would have saved me; and that my sincere intentions, then publicly made known, would have effectually precluded me for ever afterwards from being looked upon as a Candidate for any office. This hope, as a last anchor of worldly happiness in old age, I had still carefully preserved; until the public papers and private letters from my Correspondents in almost every quarter, taught me to apprehend that I might soon be obliged to answer the question, whether I would go again into public life or not.
You will see, my dear Sir, from this train of reflections, that I have lately had enough of my own perplexities to think of, without adverting much to the affairs of others. So much have I been otherwise occupied, and so little agency did I wish to have in electioneering, that I have never entered into a single discussion with any person nor to the best of my recollection expressed a single sentiment orally or in writing respecting the appointment of a Vice President. From the extent and respectability of Massachusetts it might reasonably be expected, that he would be chosen from that State. But having taken it for granted, that the person selected for that important place would be a true Foederalist; in that case, I was altogether disposed to acquiesce in the prevailing sentiments of the Electors, without giving any unbecoming preference or incurring any unnecessary ill-will. Since it here seems proper to touch a little more fully upon that point, I will frankly give you my manner of thinking, and what, under certain circumstances, would be my manner of acting.
For this purpose I must speak again hypothetically for argument’s sake, and say, supposing I should be appointed to the Administration and supposing I should accept it, I most solemnly declare, that whosoever shall be found to enjoy the confidence of the States so far as to be elected Vice President, cannot be disagreeable to me in that office. And even if I had any predilection, I flatter myself, I possess patriotism enough to sacrifice it at the shrine of my Country; where, it will be unavoidably necessary for me to have made infinitely greater sacrifices, before I can find myself in the supposed predicament: that is to say, before I can be connected with others, in any possible political relation. In truth, I believe that I have no prejudices on the subject, and that it would not be in the power of any evil-minded persons, who wished to disturb the harmony of those concerned in the government, to infuse them into my mind. For, to continue the same hypothesis one step farther, supposing myself to be connected in office with any gentleman of character, I would most certainly treat him with perfect sincerity and the greatest candour in every respect. I would give him my full confidence, and use my utmost endeavours to co-operate with him, in promoting and rendering permanent the national prosperity; this should be my great, my only aim, under the fixed and irrevocable resolution of leaving to other hands the helm of the State, as soon as my service could possibly with propriety be dispensed with.
I have thus, my dear Sir, insensibly been led into a longer detail than I intended; and have used more egotism than I could have wished; for which I urge no other apology, than but my opinion of your friendship, discretion and candour. With sentiments of real esteem etc.
Labels: Papers of George Washington
Philadelphia, October 25, 1788
The Pennsylvania Society for promoting the abolition of slavery and the relief of free negroes unlawfully held in bondage has taken the liberty to ask your Excellency’s acceptance of a few copies of their Constitution and the laws of Pennsylvania which relate to one of the objects of their Institution; also, of a copy of Thomas Clarkson’s excellent Essay upon the Commerce and Slavery of the Africans.
The Society have heard, with great regret, that a considerable part of the slaves who have been sold in the Southern States have been imported in Vessels fitted out in the state over which your Excellency presides. From your Excellency’s station, they hope your influence will be exerted, hereafter, to prevent a practice which is so evidently repugnant to the political principles and form of government lately adopted by citizens of the United States and which cannot fail of delaying the employment of the blessings of peace and liberty by drawing down the displeasure of the great and impartial Ruler of the Universe upon our country. I am, in behalf of the Society Sir, your most obedient servant
To His Excellency John Langdon, Esq. President of New Hampshire
Philadelphia, October 24, 1788
I received and read with great Pleasure, my dear and much respected Friend’s Letter of the 12th July. It gave me the clearest and most satisfactory Account of the present State of Affairs in your Country that I have hitherto been able to obtain. You judge rightly that they must be interesting to me. I love France. I have 1000 Reasons for doing so: and whatever promotes or impedes her Happiness, affects me as if she were my Mother. I hope all will end to the general Advantage of the Nation.
Having now finish’d my Term as President, and promising myself to engage no more in public Business, I hope to enjoy during the small Remains of Life that are left me, the Leisure I have so long wish’d for. I have begun already to employ it in compleating the personal History you mention. It is now brought down to my Fiftieth Year. What is to follow will be of more important Transactions: But it seems to me that what is done will be of more general Use to young Readers; as exemplifying strongly the Effects of prudent and imprudent Conduct in the Commencement of a life of Business.
Our public Affairs begin to wear a more quiet Aspect. The Disputes about the Faults of the new Constitution are subsided. The first Congress will probably mend the principal Ones, and future Congresses the rest. That which you mention did not pass unnoticed in the Convention. Many, if I remember right, were for making the President incapable of being chosen after the first four Years: but a Majority were for leaving the Electors free to chuse whom they pleased, and it was alledged that such Incapability might tend to make the President less attentive to the Duties of his Office, and to the Interests of the People, than he would be if a second Choice depended on their good Opinion of them. We are making Experiments in Politicks; what Knowledge we shall gain by them will be more certain: tho’ perhaps we may hazard too much in that Mode of acquiring it.
I thank you much for the Dissertation sur la Nyctalopie. It was quite a Novelty to me, having never before heard of such a Malady. One of our most ancient Physicians assures me; that tho’ he had some Knowledge of the Distemper from his Reading, he never knew an Instance of it in any Part of North America. Indeed we have no Chalk in this Country, nor any Soil so white as to dazzle the Eyes when the Sun’s Light is reflected from it. The Dissertation mentions that there are terres crétacées, &c. Are those terres white?
Be pleased to make my Respects acceptable to Made la Duchesse d’Enville, whose many Civilities and Kindnesses to me when in France, I shall ever remember with Gratitude. My best Wishes attend you and all that are dear to you. May I here desire to be remembered kindly to the Marquis de Condorcet and l’Abbé Rochon? With the greatest and most sincere Esteem and Respect, I am, ever, Your obliged and most obedient Servant
October 24, 1788
Having now finished my term in the Presidentship, and resolving to engage no more in public affairs, I hope to be a better correspondent for the little time I have to live. I am recovering from a long continued gout, and am dilligently employed in writing the History of my Life, to the doing of which the persuasions contained in your letter of January 31, 1783, have not a little contributed. I am now in the year 1756 just before I was sent to England. To shorten the work, as well as for other reasons, I omit all facts and transactions that may not have a tendency to benefit the young reader, by showing him from my example, and my success in emerging from poverty, and acquiring some degree of wealth, power, and reputation, the advantages of certain modes of conduct which I observed, and of avoiding the errors which were prejudicial to me. If a writer can judge properly of his own work, I fancy on reading over what is already done, that the book may be found entertaining, interesting, and useful, more so than I expected when I began it. If my present state of health continues, I hope to finish it this winter: when done you shall have a manuscript copy of it, that I may obtain from your judgment and friendship, such remarks as may contribute to its improvement.
The violence of our party debates about the new constitution seems much abated, indeed almost extinct, and we are getting fast into good order. I kept out of those disputes pretty well, having wrote only one little piece, which I send you inclosed.
I regret the immense quantity of misery brought upon mankind by this Turkish war; and I am afraid the King of Sweeden may burn his fingers by attacking Russia. When will princes learn arithmetick enough to calculate if they want pieces of one another’s territory, how much cheaper it would be to buy them, than to make war for them even though they were to give an hundred years purchase? But if glory cannot be valued, and therefore the wars for it cannot be subject to arithmetical calculation so as to show their advantage or disadvantage, at least wars for trade, which have gain for their object may be proper subjects for such compensation; and a trading nation as well as a single trader ought to calculate the probabilities of profit and loss, before engaging in any considerable adventure. This however nations seldom do, and we have had frequent instances of their spending more money in wars for acquiring or securing branches of commerce, that an hundred years’ profit or the full empjoyment of them can compensate.
Remember me affectionately to good Dr. Price and to the honest heretic Dr. Priestly. I do not call him honest by way of distinction; for I think all the heretics I have known have been virtuous men. They have the virtue of fortitude or they would not venture to own their heresy; and they cannot afford to be deficient in any of the other virtues, as that would give advantage to their many enemies; and they have not like orthodox sinners, such a number of friends to excuse or justify them. Do not, however mistake me. It is not to my good friend’s heresy that I impute his honesty. On the contrary, ’tis his honesty that has brought upon him the character of heretic. I am ever, my dear friend, yours sincerely,
New York, October 21, 1788
I send you the enclosed paper chiefly for the sake of the Edict which fixes on May for the meeting of the States general in France. Letters from Mr. Jefferson authenticate the document. They mention also the disgrace as it is called of the Marquis. The struggle at present in that Kingdom seems to be entirely between the Monarchy & aristocracy, and the hopes of the people merely in the competition of their enemies for their favor. It is probable however that both the parties contain real friends to liberty who will make events subservient to their object.
The Count Moustier and the Marchioness Brehan are to set out this day for Mount Vernon. I take it for granted you are not only apprised of the intended visit, but of the time at which the guests may be expected.
The State of Connecticut has made choice of Docr. Johnson and Mr. Elsworth for its Senators, and has referred that of its representatives to the people at large, every individual citizen to vote for every Representative.
I have not heretofore acknowledged your last favor, nothing material having turned up for some time, and the purpose of Col. Carrington to see you on his way to Virginia superseding all the ordinary communications through the epistolary channel. It gives me much pleasure to find that both the opposition at first and finally the accession to the vote fixing N. York for the first meeting of the New Congress has your approbation. My fears that the measure would be made a handle of by the opposition are confirmed in some degree by my late information from Virga. Mr. Pendleton the Chancellor tells me he has already met taunts from that quarter on this specimen of Eastern equity & impartiality. Whether much noise will be made will depend on the policy which Mr. Henry may find it convenient to adopt. As N. York is at the head of his party, he may be induced by that circumstance not to make irritating reflections; though the fact is that the party in this [State] which is with him is supposed to be indifferent & even secretly averse to the residence of Congress here. This however may not be known to him.
I am Dear Sir Yours most respectfully & Affectely.
New York, October 20, 1788
I acknowledge with much pleasure your favor of the 6th instant. The “balmy” nature of the resolutions concerning the Mississippi will I hope have the effect you suggest; though the wounds given to some & the pretexts given to others by the proceedings which rendered them necessary, will not I fear be radically removed. The light in which the temporary seat of the new Government is viewed & represented by those who were governed by antecedent jealousies of this end of the Union, is a natural one, and the apprehension of it was among the most persuasive reasons with me for contending with some earnestness for a less eccentric position. A certain degree of impartiality or the appearance of it, is necessary in the most despotic Governments. In republics this may be considered as the vital principle of the Administration. And in a federal Republic founded on local distinctions involving local jealousies, it ought to be attended to with a still more scrupulous exactness.
I am glad to find you concurring in the requisite expedients for preventing anti federal elections, and a premature Convention. The circular letter from this State has united and animated the efforts on the adverse side with respect to both these points. An early Convention threatens discord and mischief. It will be composed of the most heterogeneous characters—will be actuated by the party spirit reigning among their constituents—will comprehend men having insidious designs agst the Union—and can scarcely therefore terminate in harmony or the public good. Let the enemies to the System wait until some experience shall have taken place, and the business will be conducted with more light as well as with less heat. In the mean time the other mode of amendments may safely be employed to quiet the fears of many by supplying those further guards for private rights which can do no harm to the system in the judgment even of its most partial friends, and will even be approved by others who have steadily supported it.
It appears from late foreign intelligence that war is likely to spread its flames still farther among the unfortunate inhabitants of the old world. France is certainly enough occupied already with her internal fermentations. At present the struggle is merely between the Aristocracy and the Monarchy. The only chance in favor of the people lies in the mutual attempts of the Competitors to make their side of the question the popular one. The late measures of the Court have that tendency. The nobility and Clergy who wish to accelerate the States General wish at the same time to have it formed on the antient model established on the feudal idea, which excluded the people almost altogether. The Court has at length agreed to convene this assembly in May, but is endeavouring to counteract the aristocratic policy, by admitting the people to a greater share of representation. In both the parties there are some real friends to liberty who will probably take advantage of circumstances to promote their object. Of this description on the anti court side is our friend the Marquis. It is not true I believe that he is in the Bastile but true that he is in disgrace, as the phrase there is.
New York, October 17, 1788
I have written a number of letters to you since my return here, and shall add this by another casual opportunity just notified to me by Mr. St. John. Your favor of July 31 came to hand the day before yesterday. The pamphlets of the Marquis Condorcet & Mr. Dupont referred to in it have also been received. Your other letters inclosed to the Delegation have been and will be disposed of as you wish; particularly those to Mr Eppes & Col. Lewis.
Nothing has been done on the subject of the outfit, there not having been a Congress of nine States for some time, nor even of seven for the last week. It is pretty certain that there will not again be a quorum of either number within the present year, and by no means certain that there will be one at all under the old Confederation. The Committee finding that nothing could be done have neglected to make a report as yet. I have spoken with a member of it in order to get one made, that the case may fall of course and in a favorable shape within the attention of the New Government. The fear of a precedent will probably lead to an allowance for a limited time of the salary, as enjoyed originally by foreign ministers, in preference to a separate allowance for outfit. One of the members of the treasury board, who ought, if certain facts have not escaped his memory, to witness the reasonableness of your calculations, takes occasion I find to impress a contrary idea. Fortunately his influence will not be a very formidable obstacle to right.
The States which have adopted the New Constitution are all proceeding to the arrangements for putting it into action in March next. Pennsylva. alone has as yet actually appointed deputies & that only for the Senate. My last mention that these were Mr. R. Morris & a Mr. McClay. How the other elections there & elsewhere will run is matter of uncertainty. The Presidency alone unites the conjectures of the public. The vice president is not at all marked out by the general voice. As the President will be from a Southern State, it falls almost of course for the other part of the Continent to supply the next in rank. South Carolina may however think of Mr. Rutledge unless it should be previously discovered that votes will be wasted on him. The only candidates in the Northern States brought forward with their known consent are Handcock and Adams, and between these it seems probable the question will lie. Both of them are objectionable & would I think be postponed by the general suffrage to several others if they would accept the place. Handcock is weak ambitious a courtier of popularity, given to low intrigue, and lately reunited by a factious friendship with S. Adams. J. Adams has made himself obnoxious to many, particularly in the Southern States by the political principles avowed in his book. Others recollecting his cabal during the war against general Washington, knowing his extravagant self-importance, and considering his preference of an unprofitable dignity to some place of emolument better adapted to private fortune as a proof of his having an eye to the presidency, conclude that he would not be a very cordial second to the General, and that an impatient ambition might even intrigue for a premature advancement. The danger would be the greater if particular factious characters, as may be the case, should get into the public councils. Adams it appears, is not unaware of some of the obstacles to his wish, and thro a letterto Smith has thrown out popular sentiments as to the proposed president.
The little pamphlet herewith inclosed will give you a collective view of the alterations which have been proposed for the new Constitution. Various and numerous as they appear they certainly omit many of the true grounds of opposition. The articles relating to Treaties, to paper money, and to contracts, created more enemies than all the errors in the System positive & negative put together. It is true nevertheless that not a few, particularly in Virginia have contended for the proposed alterations from the most honorable & patriotic motives; and that among the advocates for the Constitution there are some who wish for further guards to public liberty & individual rights. As far as these may consist of a constitutional declaration of the most essential rights, it is probable they will be added; though there are many who think such addition unnecessary, and not a few who think it misplaced in such a Constitution. There is scarce any point on which the party in opposition is so much divided as to its importance and its propriety. My own opinion has always been in favor of a bill of rights; provided it be so framed as not to imply powers not meant to be included in the enumeration. At the same time I have never thought the omission a material defect, nor been anxious to supply it even by subsequent amendment, for any other reason than that it is anxiously desired by others. I have favored it because I supposed it might be of use, and if properly executed could not be of disservice. I have not viewed it in an important light—1. because I conceive that in a certain degree, though not in the extent argued by Mr. Wilson, the rights in question are reserved by the manner in which the federal powers are granted. 2 because there is great reason to fear that a positive declaration of some of the most essential rights could not be obtained in the requisite latitude. I am sure that the rights of conscience in particular, if submitted to public definition would be narrowed much more than they are likely ever to be by an assumed power. One of the objections in New England was that the Constitution by prohibiting religious tests, opened a door for Jews Turks & infidels. 3. because the limited powers of the federal Government and the jealousy of the subordinate Governments, afford a security which has not existed in the case of the State Governments, and exists in no other. 4. because experience proves the inefficacy of a bill of rights on those occasions when its controul is most needed. Repeated violations of these parchment barriers have been committed by overbearing majorities in every State. In Virginia I have seen the bill of rights violated in every instance where it has been opposed to a popular current. Notwithstanding the explicit provision contained in that instrument for the rights of Conscience, it is well known that a religious establishment wd have taken place in that State, if the Legislative majority had found as they expected, a majority of the people in favor of the measure; and I am persuaded that if a majority of the people were now of one sect, the measure would still take place and on narrower ground than was then proposed, notwithstanding the additional obstacle which the law has since created. Wherever the real power in a Government lies, there is the danger of oppression. In our Governments the real power lies in the majority of the Community, and the invasion of private rights is chiefly to be apprehended, not from acts of Government contrary to the sense of its constituents, but from acts in which the Government is the mere instrument of the major number of the Constituents. This is a truth of great importance, but not yet sufficiently attended to; and is probably more strongly impressed on my mind by facts, and reflections suggested by them, than on yours which has contemplated abuses of power issuing from a very different quarter. Whereever there is an interest and power to do wrong, wrong will generally be done, and not less readily by a powerful & interested party than by a powerful and interested prince. The difference so far as it relates to the superiority of republics over monarchies, lies in the less degree of probability that interest may prompt more abuses of power in the former than in the latter; and in the security in the former agst an oppression of more than the smaller part of the Society, whereas in the former [latter] it may be extended in a manner to the whole. The difference so far as it relates to the point in question—the efficacy of a bill of rights in controuling abuses of power—lies in this: that in a monarchy the latent force of the nation is superior to that of the Sovereign, and a solemn charter of popular rights must have a great effect, as a standard for trying the validity of public acts, and a signal for rousing & uniting the superior force of the community; whereas in a popular Government, the political and physical power may be considered as vested in the same hands, that is in a majority of the people, and, consequently the tyrannical will of the Sovereign is not [to] be controuled by the dread of an appeal to any other force within the community. What use then it may be asked can a bill of rights serve in popular Governments? I answer the two following which, though less essential than in other Governments, sufficiently recommend the precaution: 1. The political truths declared in that solemn manner acquire by degrees the character of fundamental maxims of free Government, and as they become incorporated with the national sentiment, counteract the impulses of interest and passion. 2. Altho. it be generally true as above stated that the danger of oppression lies in the interested majorities of the people rather than in usurped acts of the Government, yet there may be occasions on which the evil may spring from the latter source; and on such, a bill of rights will be a good ground for an appeal to the sense of the community. Perhaps too there may be a certain degree of danger, that a succession of artful and ambitious rulers may by gradual & well timed advances, finally erect an independent Government on the subversion of liberty. Should this danger exist at all, it is prudent to guard agst it, especially when the precaution can do no injury. At the same time I must own that I see no tendency in our Governments to danger on that side. It has been remarked that there is a tendency in all Governments to an augmentation of power at the expence of liberty. But the remark as usually understood does not appear to me well founded. Power when it has attained a certain degree of energy and independence goes on generally to further degrees. But when below that degree, the direct tendency is to further degrees of relaxation, until the abuses of liberty beget a sudden transition to an undue degree of power. With this explanation the remark may be true; and in the latter sense only is it, in my opinion applicable to the Governments in America. It is a melancholy reflection that liberty should be equally exposed to danger whether the Government have too much or too little power, and that the line which divides these extremes should be so inaccurately defined by experience.
Supposing a bill of rights to be proper the articles which ought to compose it, admit of much discussion. I am inclined to think that absolute restrictions in cases that are doubtful, or where emergencies may overrule them, ought to be avoided. The restrictions however strongly marked on paper will never be regarded when opposed to the decided sense of the public, and after repeated violations in extraordinary cases they will lose even their ordinary efficacy. Should a Rebellion or insurrection alarm the people as well as the Government, and a suspension of the Hab. Corp. be dictated by the alarm, no written prohibitions on earth would prevent the measure. Should an army in time of peace be gradually established in our neighborhood by Britn. or Spain, declarations on paper would have as little effect in preventing a standing force for the public safety. The best security agst these evils is to remove the pretext for them. With regard to Monopolies, they are justly classed among the greatest nuisances in Government. But is it clear that as encouragements to literary works and ingenious discoveries, they are not too valuable to be wholly renounced? Would it not suffice to reserve in all cases a right to the public to abolish the privilege at a price to be specified in the grant of it? Is there not also infinitely less danger of this abuse in our Governments than in most others? Monopolies are sacrifices of the many to the few. Where the power is in the few it is natural for them to sacrifice the many to their own partialities and corruptions. Where the power as with us is in the many not in the few the danger cannot be very great that the few will be thus favored. It is much more to be dreaded that the few will be unnecessarily sacrificed to the many.
I inclose a paper containing the late proceedings in Kentucky. I wish the ensuing Convention may take no step injurious to the character of the district, and favorable to the views of those who wish ill to the U. States. One of my late letters communicated some circumstances which will not fail to occur on perusing the objects of the proposed Convention in next month. Perhaps however there may be less connection between the two cases than at first one is ready to conjecture.
I am, Dr sir with the sincerest esteem & affectn,
October 9, 1788
I thank you, my dear sir, for your obliging congratulations on the event towards effecting which your aid as a joint laborer was so essential. I hope experience may show that, while it promotes the interest of this place, it will not be incompatible with public good. We are making efforts to prepare handsome accommodations for the session of the new Congress.
On the subject of Vice-President, my ideas have concurred with yours, and I believe Mr. Adams will have the votes of this State. He will certainly, I think, be preferred to the other gentleman. Yet certainly is perhaps too strong a word. I can conceive that the other, who is supposed to be a more pliable man, may command Anti-federal influence.
The only hesitation in my mind with regard to Mr. Adams has arisen within a day or two from a suggestion by a particular gentleman that he is unfriendly in his sentiments to General Washington. Richard H. Lee, who will probably, as rumor now runs, come from Virginia, is also in this style. The Lees and Adamses have been in the habit of uniting, and hence may spring up a cabal very embarrassing to the Executive, and of course to the administration of the government. Consider this—Round the reality of it, and let me hear from you.
What think you of Lincoln or Knox ? This is a flying thought.
Labels: Works of Alexander Hamilton
New York, October 8, 1788
I have been favored with several letters from you since the date of my last; but some of them having been recd in Virginia I am not able now to acknowledge all of them by their respective dates. The date of the last was in May.
You ask me why I agreed to the constitution proposed by the Convention of Philada. I answer because I thought it safe to the liberties of the people, and the best that could be obtained from the jarring interests of States, and the miscellaneous opinions of Politicians; and because experience has proved that the real danger to America & to liberty lies in the defect of energy & stability in the present establishments of the United States.—Had you been a member of that assembly and been impressed with the truths which our situation discloses, you would have concurred in the necessity which was felt by the other members. In your closet at Paris and with the evils resulting from too much Government all over Europe fully in your view it is natural for you to run into criticisms dictated by an extreme on that side. Perhaps in your situation I should think and feel as you do. In mine I am sure you would think and feel as I do.
To the paragraph in your letter of the 9th. of May on the subject of a mission to Holland or Italy, I can say nothing more than that it is a business which belongs now to the new Govt. or if I were to say more my friendship would guard you agst. any reliance on such an event. In the first place nothing can be more uncertain than the nature of the system which will be adopted with regard to foreign affairs. And in the next place activity is a sort of merit which prejudice rates too high to be outweighed by any other sort of merit. The Americans are an enlightened and liberal people, compared with other nations, but they are not all philosophers. I have recd the copies of your book and have taken the measures proper for disposing of them. The number allowed to Virginia are selling there I am told very well. I am afraid the other portions will not be equally successful. The French language is the greater obstacle as many who can read it expect the work will be translated into a language they can read still better.
Derliman tells he means to remit you forthwith via London about £300 Sterling. If he does, and I flatter myself he will not fail, it will pass thro’ the hands of Mr. Jefferson. His affairs here do not produce ready means but I hope you will be ultimately secured agst. loss.
Are we ever to see you again in America? Here or elsewhere God bless you.
Mount Vernon, October 3, 1788
In acknowledging the receipt of your candid and kind letter by the last Post; little more is incumbent upon me, than to thank you sincerely for the frankness with which you communicated your sentiments, and to assure you that the same manly tone of intercourse will always be more than barely welcome, indeed it will be highly acceptable to me. I am particularly glad in the present instance, that you have dealt thus freely and like a friend.
Although I could not help observing, from several publications and letters that my name had been sometimes spoken of, and that it was possible the Contingency which is the subject of your letter might happen; yet I thought it best to maintain a guarded silence and to seek the counsel of my best friends (which I certainly hold in the highest estimation) rather than to hazard an imputation unfriendly to the delicacy of my feelings. For, situated as I am, I could hardly bring the question into the slightest discussion, or ask an opinion even in the most confidential manner, without betraying, in my judgment, some impropriety of conduct, or without feeling an apprehension, that a premature display of anxiety might be construed into a vain-glorious desire of pushing myself into notice as a candidate. Now, if I am not grossly deceived in myself, I should unfeignedly rejoice, in case the Electors, by giving their votes in favor of some other person, would save me from the dreaded Dilemma of being forced to accept or refuse.
If that may not be, I am, in the next place, earnestly desirous of searching out the truth, and of knowing whether there does not exist a probability that the government would be just as happily and effectually carried into execution without my aid, as with it. I am truly solicitous to obtain all the previous information which the circumstances will afford, and to determine (when the determination can with propriety be no longer postponed) according to the principles of right reason, and the dictates of a clear conscience; without too great a reference to the unforeseen consequences, which may affect my person or reputation. Untill that period, I may fairly hold myself open to conviction; though I allow your sentiments to have weight in them; and I shall not pass by your arguments without giving them as dispassionate a consideration, as I can possibly bestow upon them.
In taking a survey of the subject, in whatever point of light I have been able to place it, I will not suppress the acknowledgment, my Dr. Sir that I have always felt a kind of gloom upon my mind, as often as I have been taught to expect, I might, and perhaps must ere long, be called to make a decision. You will, I am well assured, believe the assertion (though I have little expectation it would gain credit from those who are less acquainted with me) that if I should receive the appointment and if I should be prevailed upon to accept it, the acceptance would be attended with more diffidence and reluctance than I ever experienced before in my life. It would be, however, with a fixed and sole determination of lending whatever assistance might be in my power to promote the public weal, in hopes that at a convenient and early period my services might be dispensed with, and that I might be permitted once more to retire, to pass an unclouded evening after the stormy day of life, in the bosom of domestic tranquility.
But why these anticipations? if the friends to the Constitution conceive that my administering the government will be a means of its acceleration and strength, is it not probable that the adversaries of it may entertain the same ideas, and of course make it an object of opposition? That many of this description will become Electors, I can have no doubt of, any more than that their opposition will extend to any character who (from whatever cause) would be likely to thwart their measures. It might be impolitic in them to make this declaration previous to the Election; but I shall be out in my conjectures if they do not act conformably thereto, and that the seeming moderation by which they appear to be actuated at present is neither more or less than a finesse to lull and deceive. Their plan of opposition is systematized, and a regular intercourse, I have much reason to believe between the Leaders of it in the several States is formed to render it more effectual. With sentiments of sincere regard &c.
Labels: Papers of George Washington