New York, March 28, 1790

Dear Sir,

—I arrived here on the 21st inst, after as laborious a journey of a fortnight from Richmond as I ever went through; resting only one day at Alexandria and another at Baltimore. I found my carriage & horses at Alexandria, but a snow of 18 inches deep falling the same night, I saw the impossibility of getting on in my own carriage, so left it there to be sent to me by water, and had my horses led on to this place, taking my passage on the stage, tho’ relieving myself a little sometimes by mounting my horse. The roads thro’ the whole were so bad that we could never go more than three miles an hour, sometimes not more than two, and in the night but one. My first object was to look out a house in the Broadway if possible, as being the center of my business. Finding none there vacant for the present, I have taken a small one in Maiden lane, which may give me time to look about me. Much business had been put by for my arrival, so that I found myself all at once involved under an accumulation of it. When this shall be got thro’ I may be able to judge whether the ordinary business of my department will leave me any leisure. I fear there will be little. Letters from Paris to the 25th of December inform us that the revolution there was still advancing with a steady pace. There had been two riots since my departure. The one on the 5th & 6th of October, which occasioned the royal family to remove to Paris, in which 9 or 10 of the Gardes du corps fell, and among these a Chevalier de Varicourt brother of Made de la Villatte & of Mademlle Varicourt, Patsey’s friend. The second was on the 21st of the same month in which a baker had been hung by the mob. On this occasion, the government (i. e. the National assembly) proclaimed martial law in Paris and had two of the ringleaders of the mob seized, tried & hung, which was effected without any movement on the part of the people. Others were still to be tried. The troubles in Brabant become serious. The insurgents have routed the regular troops in every rencounter.

Congress is principally occupied by the Treasury report. The assumption of the state debts has been voted affirmatively in the first instance; but it is not certain it will hold it’s ground thro’ all the stages of the bill when it shall be brought in. I have recommended Mr. D. R. to the president for the office he desired, in case of a vacancy. It seemed however as if the President had had no intimation before that a vacancy was expected. I shall not fail to render in this every service in my power to your friend. I inclose to Patsey a letter from I do not know whence. Mrs. Trist complains of her, so does Miss Rittenhouse; & so will, I fear her friends beyond the Atlantic. Be so good as to assure her and Marie of my tender affections. I shall be happy to hear from you frequently as you can do me the favor to write to me. No body has your health & happiness more at heart, nor wishes more a place in your esteem. I am my dear Sir, with compliments to Colo. Randolph Yours affectionately.


March 23, 1790

To the Editor of the Federal Gazette.


Reading last night in your excellent paper the speech of Mr. Jackson in Congress, against meddling with the affair of slavery, or attempting to mend the condition of slaves, it put me in mind of a similar one made about one hundred years since, by Sidi Mehemet Ibrahim, a member of the Divan of Algiers, which may be seen in Martin’s account of his consulship, anno 1687. It was against granting the petition of the Sect called Erika or Purists, who prayed for the abolition of piracy and slavery, as being unjust. Mr. Jackson does not quote it; perhaps he has not seen it. If therefore some of its reasonings are to be found in his eloquent speech, it may only show that men’s interests and intellects operate and are operated on with surprising similarity in all countries and climates, whenever they are under similar circumstances. The African’s speech, as translated, is as follows:

“Allah Bismillah, &c. God is great, and Mahomet is his Prophet.

“Have these Erika considered the consequences of granting their petition? If we cease our cruises against the christians, how shall we be furnished with the commodities their countries produce, and which are so necessary for us? If we forbear to make slaves of their people, who, in this hot climate, are to cultivate our lands? Who are to perform the common labours of our city, and in our families? Must we not then be our own slaves? And is there not more campassion and more favour due to us Mussulmen, than to these christian dogs? We have now above 50,000 slaves in and near Algiers. This number, if not kept up by fresh supplies, will soon diminish, and be gradually annihilated. If then we cease taking and plundering the Infidel ships, and making slaves of the seamen and passengers, our lands will become of no value for want of cultivation; the rents of houses in the city will sink one half? and the revenues of government arising from its share of prizes must be totally destroyed. And for what? to gratify the whim of a whimsical sect! who would have us not only forbear making more slaves, but even to manumit those we have. But who is to indemnify their masters for the loss? Will the state do it? Is our treasury sufficient? Will the Erika do it? Can they do it? Or would they, to do what they think justice to the slaves, do a greater injustice to the owners? And if we set our slaves free, what is to be done with them? Few of them will return to their countries, they know too well the greater hardships they must there be subject to: they will not embrace our holy religion: they will not adopt our manners: our people will not pollute themselves by intermarying with them: must we maintain them as beggars in our streets; or suffer our properties to be the prey of their pillage; for men accostomed to slavery, will not work for a livelihood when not compelled. And what is there so pitiable in their present condition? Were they not slaves in their own countries? Are not Spain, Portugal, France and the Italian states, governed by despots, who hold all their subjects in slavery, without exception? Even England treats its sailors as slaves, for they are, whenever the government pleases, seized and confined in ships of war, condemned not only to work but to fight for small wages or a mere subsistance, not better than our slaves are allowed by us. Is their condition then made worse by their falling into our hands? No, they have only exchanged one slavery for another: and I may say a better: for here they are brought into a land where the sun of Islamism gives forth its light, and shines in full splendor, and they have an opportunity of making themselves acquainted with the true doctrine, and thereby saving their immortal souls. Those who remain at home have not that happiness. Sending the slaves home then, would be sending them out of light into darkness. I repeat the question, what is to be done with them? I have heard it suggested, that they may be planted in the wilderness, where there is plenty of land for them to subsist on, and where they may flourish as a free state; but they are, I doubt, too little disposed to labour without compulsion, as well as too ignorant to establish a good government, and the wild Arabs would soon molest and destroy or again enslave them. While serving us, we take care to provide them with every thing; and they are treated with humanity. The labourers in their own countries, are, as I am well informed, worse fed, lodged and cloathed. The condition of most of them is therefore already mended, and requires no farther improvement. Here their lives are in safety. They are not liable to be impressed for soldiers, and forced to cut one another’s christian throats, as in the wars of their own countries. If some of the religious mad bigots who now teaze us with their silly petitions, have in a fit of blind zeal freed their slaves, it was not generosity, it was not humanity that moved them to the action; it was from the conscious burthen of a load of sins, and hope from the supposed merits of so good a work to be excused from damnation. How grosly are they mistaken in imagining slavery to be disallowed by the Alcoran! Are not the two precepts, to quote no more, Masters treat your slaves with kindness: Slaves serve your masters with cheerfulness and fidelity, clear proofs to the contrary? Nor can the plundering of infidels be in that sacred book forbidden, since it is well known from it, that God has given the world and all that it contains to his faithful Mussulmen, who are to enjoy it of right as fast as they can conquer it. Let us then hear no more of this detestable proposition, the manumission of christian slaves, the adoption of which would, by depreciating our lands and houses, and thereby depriving so many good citizens of their properties, create universal discontent, and provoke insurrections, to the endangering of government, and producing general confusion. I have therefore no doubt, but this wise Council will prefer the comfort and happiness of a whole nation of true believers, to the whim of a few Erika, and dismiss their petition.”

The result was, as Martin tells us, that the Divan came to this resolution, “The doctrine that plundering and enslaving the Christians is unjust, is at best problematical; but that it is the interest of this state to continue the practice, is clear; therefore let the petition be rejected.”

And it was rejected accordingly.

And since like motives are apt to produce in the minds of men like opinions and resolutions, may we not, Mr. Brown, venture to predict, from this account, that the petitions to the parliament of England for abolishing the slave trade, to say nothing of other legislatures, and the debates upon them, will have a similar conclusion. I am, Sir, Your constant reader and humble servant



New York, March 21, 1790

Dear Sir

Your favor of the 10th came to hand yesterday. I feel much anxiety for the situation in which you found Mrs. Randolph; but it is somewhat alleviated by the hopes which you seem to indulge.

The language of Richmond on the proposed discrumination does not surprise me. It is the natural language of the towns, and decides nothing. Censure I well knew would flow from those sources. Should it also flow from other sources, I shall not be the less convinced of the right of the measure, or the less satisfied with myself for having proposed it. The conduct of the Gentlemen in Amherst & Culpeper proves only that their personal animosity is unabated. Here it is a charge agst me that I sacrificed the federal to anti federal Sentiments. I am at a loss to divine the use that C [a] b [e] ll and S-t [even] can make of the circumstance.

The debates occasioned by the Quakers have not yet expired.2 The stile of them has been as shamefully indecent as the matter was evidently misjudged. The true policy of the Southn members was to have let the affair proceed with as little noise as possible, and to have made use of the occasion to obtain along with an assertion of the powers of Congs. a recognition of the restraints imposed by the Constitution.

The State debts have been suspended by the preceding business more than a Week. They lose ground daily, & the assumption will I think ultimately be defeated. Besides a host of objections agst the propriety of the measure in its present form, its practicability becomes less & less evident. The case of the paper money in Georgia S. C., N. C., &c to R. Isld, is a most serious difficulty. It is a part of the debts of those States, and comes in part within the principle of the assumption.

A packet arrived a few days ago but threw little light on the affairs of Europe. Those of France do not recede but their advance does not keep pace with the wishes of liberty. Remember me to Mr. M— & his land lady.
Yrs Affly

Mr. Jefferson is not yet here. The bad roads have retarded him. We expect him today or tomorrow. I am this instant told he is come.

New York, March 14, 1790

My dear friend,—

I have recd the few lines you dropped me from Baltimore, and daily expect those promised from Fredg. I am made somewhat anxious on the latter point, by the indisposition under which you were travelling.

The question depending at your departure was negatived by a very large majority, though less than stated in the Newspapers. The causes of this disproportion which exceeds greatly the estimate you carried with you cannot be altogether explained. Some of them you will conjecture. Others, I reserve for conversation if the subject should ever enter into it. As far as I have heard, the prevailing sense of the people at large does not coincide with the decision, and that delay and other means might have produced a very different result.

The assumption of the State debts has of late employed most the H. of Reps. A majority of 5 agreed to the measure in Come of the Whole. But it is yet to pass many defiles, and its enemies will soon be reinforced by N. Carolina. The event is consequently very doubtful. It could not be admissible to Virga unless subservient to final justice, or so varied as to be more consistent with intermediate justice. In neither of these respects has Va been satisfied, and the whole delegation is agst the measure except Bland!!1

The substance of the Secretary’s arrangements of the Debts of the Union has been agreed to in Come of the Whole and will probably be agreed to by the House. The number of alterations have been reduced for the sake of greater simplicity, and a disposition appears at present, to shorten the duration of the Debt. According to the Report, the Debt wd subsist 40 or 50 years, which, considering intermediate probabilities, amounts to a perpetuity. Adieu

Mr. Jefferson is not arrived. He has notified his acceptance & is expected in a day or two.

Alexandria, March 11, 1790


—Accept my sincere thanks for yourself and the worthy citizens of Alexandria, for their kind congratulations on my return to my native country.

I am happy to learn that they have felt a benefit from the encouragements to our commerce which have been given by an allied nation. But truth & candor oblige me at the same time to declare you are indebted for these encouragements solely to the friendly dispositions of that nation which has shown itself ready on every occasion to adopt all arrangements which might strengthen our ties of mutual interest and friendship.

Convinced that the republican is the only form of government which is not eternally at open or secret war with the rights of mankind, my prayers & efforts shall be cordially distributed to the support of that we have so happily established. It is indeed an animating thought that, while we are securing the rights of ourselves & our posterity, we are pointing out the way to struggling nations who wish, like us, to emerge from their tyrannies also. Heaven help their struggles, and lead them, as it has done us, triumphantly thro’ them.

Accept, Sir, for yourself and the citizens of Alexandria, the homage of my thanks for their civilities, & the assurance of those sentiments of respect & attachment with which I have the honor to be, Sir, your most obedient and most humble servant.


Philadelphia, March 9, 1790

Reverend and Dear Sir,

I received your kind Letter of Jany 28, and am glad you have at length received the Portraits of Govr Yale from his Family, and deposited it in the College Library. He was a great and good Man, and has the Merit of doing infinite Service to your Country by his Munificence to that Institution. The Honour you propose doing me by placing in the same Room with his, is much too great for my Deserts; but you always had a Partiality for me, and to that it must be ascribed. I am however too much obliged to Yale College, the first learned Society that took Notice of me, and adorned me with its Honours, to refuse a Request that comes from it thro’ so esteemed a Friend. But I do not think any one of the Portraits you mention as in my Possession worthy of the Place and Company you propose to place it in. You have an excellent Artist lately arrived. If he will undertake to make one for you, I shall chearfully pay the Expence: But he must not long delay setting about it, or I may slip thro’ his Fingers, for I am now in my 85th Year’s and very infirm.

I send with this a very learned Work, (as it seems to me) on the antient Samaritan Coins, lately printed in Spain, and at least curious for the Beauty of the Impression. Please to accept it for your College Library. I have subscribed for the Encyclopedia now printing here, with the Intention of presenting it to the College; I shall probably depart before the Work is finished, but shall leave Directions for its Continuance to the End. With this you will receive some of the first Numbers.

You desire to know something of my Religion. It is the first time I have been questioned upon it: But I do not take your Curiosity amiss, and shall endeavour in a few Words to gratify it. Here is my Creed: I believe in one God, Creator of the Universe. That He governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable Service we can render to him, is doing Good to his other Children. That the Soul of Man is immortal, and will be treated with Justice in another Life respecting its Conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental Principles of all sound Religion, and I regard them as you do, in whatever Sect I meet with them. As to Jesus of Nazareth, my Opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the System of Morals and his Religion as he left them to us, the best the World ever saw, or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting Changes, and I have with most of the present Dissenters in England, some Doubts as to his Divinity: tho’ it is a Question I do not dogmatise upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an Opportunity of knowing the Truth with less Trouble. I see no harm however in its being believed, if that Belief has the good Consequence as probably it has, of making his Doctrines more respected and better observed, especially as I do not perceive that the Supreme takes it amiss, by distinguishing the Believers, in his Government of the World, with any particular Marks of his Displeasure. I shall only add respecting myself, that having experienced the Goodness of that Being, in conducting me prosperously thro’ a long Life, I have no doubt of its Continuance in the next, tho’ without the smallest Conceit of meriting such Goodness. My Sentiments in this Head you will see in the Copy of an old Letter enclosed, which I wrote in answer to one from a zealous Religionist whom I had relieved in a paralitic Case by Electricity, and who being afraid I should grow proud upon it, sent me his serious, tho’ rather impertinent, Cautions. I send you also the Copy of another Letter, which will shew something of my Disposition relating to Religion. With great and sincere Esteem and Affection, I am, Dear Sir, Your obliged old Friend and most obedient humble Servant

B Franklin

p.s. Had not your College some Present of Books from the King of France? Please to let me know if you had an Expectation given you of more, and the Nature of that Expectation. I have a Reason for the Enquiry. (I confide, that you will not expose me to Criticism and Censure by publishing any part of this Communication to you. I have ever let others enjoy their religious Sentiments, without reflecting on them for those that appeared to me insupportable and even absurd. All Sects here, and we have a great Variety, have experienced my Good will in assisting them with Subscriptions for building their new Places of Worship, and as I have never opposed any of their Doctrines I hope to go out of the World in Peace with them all.)


New York, March 4, 1790

Dear Sir

Your recommendation of Docr M (illegible) was handed me some time ago. I need not tell you that I shall always rely on your vouchers for merit, or that I shall equally be pleased with opportunities of forwarding your wishes.

The only Act of much consequence which the present Session has yet produced, is one for enumerating the Inhabitants as the basis of a reapportionment of the Representation. The House of Reps has been chiefly employed of late on the Report of the Secy of the Treasury. As it has been printed in all the Newspapers I take for granted that it must have fallen under your eye. The plan which it proposes is in general well digested, and illustrated & supported by very able reasoning. It has not however met with universal concurrence in every part. I have myself been of the number who could not suppress objections. I have not been able to persuade myself that the transactions between the U. S. and those whose services were most instrumental in saving their country, did in fact extinguish the claims of the latter on the justice of the former; or that there must not be something radically wrong in suffering those who rendered a bona fide consideration to lose ⅞ of their dues, and those who have no particular merit towards their country to gain 7 or 8 times as much as they advanced. In pursuance of this view of the subject, a proposition was made for redressing in some degree, the inequality. After much discussion, a large majority was in the negative. The subject at present before a Committee of the whole, is the proposed assumption of the State debts. On this, Opinions seem to be pretty equally divided. Virga is endeavoring to incorporate with the measure some effectual provision for a final settlement and payment of balances among the States. Even with this ingredient, the project will neither be just nor palatable, if the assumption be referred to the present epoch, and by that means deprives the States who have done most, of the benefit of their exertions. We have accordingly made an effort, but without success to refer the assumption to the state of the debts at the close of the war. This would probably add ⅕ more to the amount of the Debts, but would more than compensate for this by rendering the measure more just & satisfactory. A simple unqualified assumption of the existing debts would bear peculiarly hard on Virginia. She has paid I believe a greater part of her quotas since the peace than Massts. She suffered far more during the war. It is agreed that she will not be less a Creditor on the final settlement, yet if such an assumption were to take place she would pay towards the discharge of the debts, in the proportion of ⅕ and receive back to her Creditor Citizens or ⅛, whilst Massts would pay not more than or ⅛, and receive back not less than ⅕. The case of S Carola is a still stronger contrast. In answer to this inequality we are referred to the final liquidation for which provision may be made. But this may possibly never take place. It will probably be at some distance. The payment of the balances among the States will be a fresh source of delay & difficulties. The merits of the plan independently of the question of equity, are also controvertible, tho’ on the other side there are advantages which have considerable weight.

We have no late information from Europe more than what the Newspapers contain. France seems likely to carry thro’ the great work in which she has been laboring. The Austrian Netherlands have caught the flame, and with arms in their hands have renounced the Government of the Emperor forever. Even the lethargy of Spain begins to awake at the voice of liberty which is summoning her neighbors to its standard. All Europe must by degrees be aroused to the recollection and assertion of the rights of human nature. Your good will to mankind will be gratified with this prospect, and your pleasure as an American be enhanced by the reflection that the light which is chasing darkness & despotism from the old World, is but an emanation from that which has procured and succeeded the establishment of liberty in the new.

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