Philadelphia, December 26, 1789

Dear Sir,

I received some Time since your Dissertations on the English Language. (The Book was not accompanied by any Letter or Message, informing me to whom I am obliged for it; but I suppose it is to yourself.) It is an excellent Work, and will be greatly useful in turning the Thoughts of our Countrymen to correct Writing. Please to accept my Thanks for it, as well as for the great Honor you have done me, in its Dedication. I ought to have made this Acknowledgment sooner, but much Indisposition prevented me.

I cannot but applaud your Zeal for preserving the Purity of our Language, both in its Expressions and Pronunciation, and in correcting the popular Errors, several of our States are continually falling into with respect to both. Give me leave to mention some of them, tho’ possibly they may already have occurr’d to you. I wish however that in some future Publication of your’s, you would set a discountenancing Mark upon them. The first I remember is the Word improved. When I left New England in the Year 23, this Word had never been used among us, as far as I know, but in the Sense of ameliorated or made better, except once in a very old Book of Dr. Mather’s entitled Remarkable Providences. As that eminent Man wrote a very obscure Hand, I remember that when I read that Word in his Book, used instead of the Word employed, I conjectured that it was an Error of the Printer, who had mistaken a too short l in the Writing for an r, and a y with too short a Tail for a v, whereby imployed was converted into improved; but when I returned to Boston in 1733, I found this Change had obtained Favor, and was then become common; for I met with it often in perusing the Newspapers, where it frequently made an Appearance rather ridiculous: Such, for Instance, as the Advertisement of a Country= House to be sold, which had been many Years improved as a Tavern; and in the Character of a deceased Country-Gentleman, that he had been, for more than 30 Years, improved as a Justice-of-Peace. This Use of the Word improve is peculiar to New-England, and not to be met with among any other Speakers of English, either on this or the other Side of the Water.

During my late Absence in France I find that several other new Words have been introduced into our parliamentary Language; for Example, I find a Verb formed from the Substantive Notice, I should not have noticed this, were it not that the Gentleman &c. Also another Verb, from the Substantive, Advocate, The Gentleman who advocates, or who has advocated that Motion, &c. Another from the Substantive Progress, the most awkward and abominable of the three, The Committee having progressed resolved to adjourn. The Word opposed, tho’ not a new Word, I find used in a new Manner, as, The Gentlemen who are opposed to this Measure, to which I have also myself always been Opposed. If you should happen to be of my Opinion with respect to these Innovations you will use your Authority in reprobating them.

The Latin Language, long the Vehicle used in distributing Knowledge among the different Nations of Europe, is daily more and more neglected; and one of the modern Tongues, viz the French, seems in Point of Universality to have supplied its Place; it is spoken in all the Courts of Europe, and most of the Literati, those even who do not speak it, have acquired Knowledge enough of it, to enable them easily to read the Books that are written in it. This gives a considerable Advantage to that Nation; it enables its Authors to inculcate and spread thro’ other Nations such Sentiments and Opinions on important Points as are most conducive to its Interests, or which may contribute to its Reputation, by promoting the common Interests of Mankind. It is perhaps owing to its being written in French, that Voltaire’s Treatise on Toleration, has had so sudden and so great an Effect on the Bigotry of Europe, as almost entirely to disarm it. The general Use of the French Language has likewise a very advantageous Effect on the Profits of the Bookselling Branch of Commerce, it being well known that the more Copies can be sold that are struck off from one Composition of Types, the Profits encrease in a much greater Proportion than they do in making a greater Number of Pieces in any other kind of Manufacture. And at present there is no Capital Town in Europe without a French Bookseller’s Shop corresponding with Paris. Our English bids fair to obtain the second Place. The great Body of excellent printed Sermons in our Language, and the Freedom of our Writings on political Subjects, have induced a Number of Divines of different Sects and Nations, as well as Gentlemen concerned in public Affairs, to study it, so far at least as to read it. And if we were to endeavour the facilitating its Progress, the Study of our Tongue might become much more general. Those who have employed some Part of their Time in learning a new Language must have frequently observed, that while their Acquaintance with it was imperfect, Difficulties, small in themselves, operated as great ones in obstructing their Progress. A Book, for Example, ill printed, or a Pronunciation, in speaking, not well articulated, would render a Sentence unintelligible, which from a clear Print, or a distinct Speaker, would have been immediately comprehended. If therefore we would have the Benefit of seeing our Language more generally known among Mankind, we should endeavour to remove all the Difficulties, however small, that discourage the learning it. But I am sorry to observe, that, of late Years, those Difficulties, instead of being diminished, have been augmented. In examining the English Books that were printed between the Restoration and the Recession of George the 2d, we may observe, that all Substantives were begun with a Capital, in which we imitated our Mother Tongue, the German. This was more particularly useful to those who were not well acquainted with the English, there being such a prodigious Number of our Words, that are both Verbs and Substantives, and spelt in the same Manner, tho’ often accented differently in Pronunciation. This Method has, by the Fancy of Printers, of late Years, been laid aside; from an Idea, that suppressing the Capitals shews the Character to greater Advantage; those Letters, prominent above the Line, disturbing its even, regular Appearance. The Effect of this Change is so considerable that a learned Man of France, who used to read over Books, tho’ not perfectly acquainted with our Language, in Conversation with me on the Subject of our Authors, attributed the greater Obscurity he found in our modern Books, compared with those of the Period abovementioned, to a Change of Style, for the worse, in our Writers; of which Mistake I convinced him by marking for him each Substantive with a Capital, in a Paragraph, which he then easily understood, tho’ before he could not comprehend it. This shews the Inconvenience of that pretended Improvement. [different hand: division]

From the same Fondness for an even and uniform Appearance of Characters in the Line the Printers have of late banished also the Italic Types, in which Words of Importance to be attended to in the Sense of the Sentence, and Words on which an Emphasis should be put in Reading, used to be printed. And lately another Fancy has induced some Printers to use the short round s instead of the long one, which formerly served well to distinguish a Word readily by its varied Appearance. Certainly the omitting this prominent Letter makes the Line appear more even; but renders it less immediately legible; as the paring all Men’s Noses might smoothe and level their Faces, but would render their Physiognomies less distinguishable. Add to all these Improvements backward, another modern Fancy, that grey Printing is more beautiful than black; hence the English new Books are printed in so dim a Character as to be read with Difficulty by old Eyes, unless in a very strong Light and with good Glasses. Whoever compares a Volume of the Gentleman’s Magazine printed between the Year 1731 and 1740 with one of those printed in the last 10 Years, will be convinced of the much greater Degree of Perspicuity given by black Ink than by grey. Lord Chesterfield pleasantly remarked this Difference to Faulkener, the Printer of the Dublin Journal, who was vainly making Encomiums on his own Paper, as the most complete of any in the World, “but, Mr. Faulkener,” says My Lord, “don’t you think it might be still farther improved, by using Paper and Ink not quite so near of a Colour.” For all these Reasons I cannot but wish that our American Printers would in their Editions avoid these fancied Improvements, and thereby render their Works more agreable to Foreigners in Europe, to the great Advantage of our Bookselling Commerce.

Farther to be more sensible of the Advantage of clear and distinct Printing, let us consider the Assistance it affords in Reading well aloud to an Auditory. In so doing the Eye generally slides forward three or four Words before the Voice. If the Sight clearly distinguishes what the coming Words are, it gives time to order the Modulation of the Voice to express them properly. But if they are obscurely printed, or disguised by omitting the Capitals and long s’s, or otherwise, the Reader is apt to modulate wrong, and finding he has done so, he is obliged to go back and begin the Sentence again; which lessens the Pleasure of the Hearers. This leads me to mention an old Error in our Mode of Printing. We are sensible that when a Question is met with in Reading, there is a proper Variation to be used in the Management of the Voice. We have therefore a Point, called an Interrogation, affix’d to the Question in order to distinguish it. But this is absurdly placed at its End, so that the Reader does not discover it, ’till he finds he has wrongly modulated his Voice and is therefore obliged to begin again the Sentence. To prevent this the Spanish Printers, more sensibly, place an Interrogation at the Beginning as well as at the End of a Question. We have another Error of the same kind in printing Plays, where Something often occurs that is marked as spoken aside. But the Word aside is placed at the End of the Speech when it ought to precede it, as a Direction to the Reader that he may govern his Voice accordingly. The Practice of our Ladies in meeting five or six together to form little busy Parties, when each is employed in some useful Work; while one reads to them, is so commendable in itself, that it deserves the Attention of Authors and Printers to make it as pleasing as possible, both to the Reader and Hearers.

After these general Observations permit me to make one that I imagine may regard your Interest. It is that your Spelling-Book is miserably printed here, so as in many Places to be scarcely legible, and on wretched Paper. If this is not attended to, and the new one Lately advertised as coming out should be preferable in those Respects, it may hurt the future Sale of your’s.

I congratulate you on your Marriage of which the Newspapers inform me. My best Wishes attend you, being, with sincere Esteem Sir, Your most obedient and most humble Servant

B Franklin


Chesterfield, December 15, 1789


—I have received at this place the honor of your letters of October 13th and November the 30th, and am truly flattered by your nomination of me to the very dignified office of Secretary of State for which permit me here to return to you my very humble thanks. Could any circumstance induce me to overlook the disproportion between its duties and my talents, it would be the encouragement of your choice. But when I contemplate the extent of that office, embracing as it does the principal mass of domestic administration, together with the foreign, I can not be insensible to my inequality to it; and I should enter on it with gloomy forebodings from the criticisms and censures of a public, just indeed in their intentions, but sometimes misinformed and misled, and always too respectable to be neglected. I can not but foresee the possibility that this may end disagreeably for me, who, having no motive to public service but the public satisfaction, would certainly retire the moment that satisfaction should appear to languish. On the other hand, I feel a degree of familiarity with the duties of my present office, as far, at least, as I am capable of understanding its duties. The ground I have already passed over enables me to see my way into that which is before me. The change of government, too, taking place in the country where it is exercised, seems to open a possibility of procuring from the new rulers some new advantages in commerce, which may be agreeable to our countrymen. So that as far as my fears, my hopes, or my inclination might enter into this question, I confess they would not lead me to prefer a change.

But it is not for an individual to choose his post. You are to marshal us as may be best for the public good; and it is only in the case of its being indifferent to you, that I would avail myself of the option you have so kindly offered in your letter. If you think it better to transfer me to another post, my inclination must be no obstacle; nor shall it be, if there is any desire to suppress the office I now hold or to reduce its grade. In either of these cases, be so good as only to signify to me by another line your ultimate wish, and I will conform to it accordingly. If it should be to remain at New York, my chief comfort will be to work under your eye, my only shelter the authority of your name, and the wisdom of measures to be dictated by you and implicitly executed by me. Whatever you may be pleased to decide, I do not see that the matters which have called me hither will permit me to shorten the stay I originally asked; that is to say, to set out on my journey northward till the middle of March. As early as possible in that month, I shall have the honor of paying my respects to you in New York. In the meantime, I have that of tendering you the homage of those sentiments of respectful attachment with which I am, Sir, your most obedient and most humble servant.


Eppington, December 14, 1789

Dear Sir,

—My last letter was written to you on our coming to anchor. Since that my time has been divided between travelling and the society of my friends, and I avail myself of the first vacant interval to give you the news of the country to which therefore I shall proceed without further prelude.

Marriages.—Ben. Harrison of Brandon to a daughter of Mrs. Byrd.

Doctor Currie to a widow Ingles, daur. of Mr. Atcheson.

Polly Cary to a Mr. Peachy of Amelia.

N. Burrell of the grove, to the widow of Colo. Baylor, a Page formerly.

Betsy Taliaferro to a Mr. Call.

Nancy Taliaferro to a Mr. Nicholas son of G. Nicholas, Petersburg.

Becca Taliaferro to and she dead.

Two of R. Adams’s daurs. to

Peter Randolph of Chatsworth to Miss Southall of Wmsburgh.

Your brother, Peyton Short to Miss Sym[mes], daur. of a Mr. Sym[mes] formerly member of Congress for Jersey, & one of the partners in the great purchases of lands made of Congress. Your brother is to bring his wife to New York in the spring, then to come here alone to persuade his friends & particularly your sisters to go with him to Kentuckey, to which place he will return again by New York.

Deaths.—Colo. Dick Cary, the Judge.

James Cocke of Wmsburgh.

Governor Caswell of Caroline.

Colo. Taliaferro near Wmsburgh.

Colo. Jordan of Buckingham.

Mrs. Harris of Powhatan.

Mrs. Norton.

Mrs. Diggs (wife of Colo. Dudley D.)

Mrs. Nicholas, widow of R. C. Nicholas.

Mrs. Lindsay, wife of Reuben Lindsay.

Terence, your servant.

Miscellaneous events.—Mr. Wythe has abandoned the college of Wm. & Mary, disgusted with some conduct of the professors, & particularly of the ex-professor Bracken, & perhaps too with himself for having suffered himself to be too much irritated with that. The visitors will try to condemn what gave him offence & press him to return: otherwise it is over with the college. Mr. Henry at the present session made an unsuccessful attempt to get a portion of the revenues of Wm. & Mary transferred to Hampden Sidney: that academy too abandoned by Smith is going to nothing owing to the religious phrensy they have inspired into the boys young and old which their parents have no taste for. North Carolina has acceded to the new constitution by a great majority, we have not heard whether at the same time they accepted the new amendments. These have been accepted by our H. of delegates, but will probably not be so, entire, by the Senate, ⅞ of whom are anti-federal. Rhode island has again refused the new constitution. Antifederalism is not yet dead in this country. The Gentlemen who opposed it retain a good deal of malevolence towards the new Government: Henry is it’s avowed foe. He stands higher in public estimation than he ever did, yet he was so often in the minority in the present assembly that he has quitted it, never more to return, unless an opportunity offers to overturn the new constitution. E. Randolph made a proposition to call a convention to amend our form of government. It failed as he expected.—Our new capitol, when the corrections are made, of which it is susceptible, will be an edifice of first rate dignity, whenever it shall be finished with the proper ornaments belonging to it (which will not be in this age) will be worthy of being exhibited along side the most celebrated remains of antiquity, it’s extreme convenience has acquired it universal approbation. There is one street in Richmond (from the bridge straight on towards Currie’s) which would be considered as handsomely built in any city of Europe. The town below Shockoe creek is so deserted that you cannot get a person to live in a house there rent free. Ways’s bridge is repaired and brings him in about 20 dollars a day. He will be obliged however to take it away during two or three months of the year, for fear of floods. He has taken advantage of two islands so that it consists of three bridges, the first & second of which, next to Richmond are of pontoons; the third is on boats. There is 2200 feet of bridge in the whole. The canal from Westham will be opened three days hence and the canoes then come to Broadrock, within 2 miles of Richmond. It will be 3 years before the residue will be finished. There are two locks only, & will be no more. Our neighborhood at Monticillo is much improved. Colo Monroe is living at Charlottesville; so is John Nicholas of Buckingham who is married to Louisa Carter of Wmsburg. A Colo. Bell is there also, who is said to be a very good man. Doctr. Gilmer where Dick Harris lived: the latter with his mother &c. gone to Georgia. Molly Nicholas keeps batchelor’s house in Williamsburg. So does Polly Stith, and Becca Lewis (sister of Warner) is coming there to do the same. Tabby Eppes has not yet come to that resolution. Brackenridge whom you knew lives at the globe near I. Colds. Wilson Nicholas lives in Albemarle also, on the great river. Joshua Fry has sold his lands there to E. Randolph, who by this & other purchases has embarrassed himself a good deal.

Appointments, Supreme Court, Mr. Jay, J. Rutledge, Wilson, Cushing, Rob. H. Harrison, J. Blair.

Every state forms a District, and has a District court. E. Pendleton was appointed District Judge of Virginia: but he refuses. Several Districts form a Circuit (of which there are three in the whole) the circuit court is composed of two of the supreme Judges and the Judge of the District wherever they are sitting so that the latter need never go out of his State, whereas the supreme judges will be [compelled?] to make four journies a year, two to New York, two to the District Courts of their circuit. Marshall is Attorney for the District Court of Virginia & E. Carrington marshall of it, i. e. sheriff. E. Randolph is Atty. Genl. for the Supreme court & removes to New York the beginning of next month.

Osgood is Postmaster-general. Salaries are as follows:
Secretary of State.... 3500 Dollars
of the Treasury.... 3500.
of War.... 3000.
Comptroller of the treasury.... 2000.
Auditor.... 1500
Treasurer.... 2000
Register.... 1250
Governor of the Western territory.... 2000
Judges of the Western territory.... 800
Assistant of Secretary of treasury.... 1500
of Secretary of State.... 800
of Secretary of War.... 600

Congress have suppressed the Secretaryship of foreign Affairs, and put that and the whole domestic administration (war and finance excepted) into one principal department, the person at the head of which is called the Secretary of State. When I arrived at Norfolk, I saw myself in the newspapers nominated to that Office; and here I have received the commission & President’s letter. In this however he very kindly leaves it optional in me to accept of that or remain at Paris as I chuse. It was impossible to give a flat refusal to such a nomination. My answer therefore is that the office I hold is more agreeable to me, but yet if the President thinks the public service will be better promoted by my taking that at New York I shall do it. I do not know how it will end; but I suppose in my remaining as I am.—Frugality is a good deal restored in this country & domestic manufactures resumed. Mr. Skipwith, who is here, promises me to write you fully on your affairs. I make up a bundle of newspapers for you, but I shall endeavor to send them clear of postage so that they may get separated from this. To-morrow I go on with Mr. Skipwith to his house, and then plunge into the Forests of Albemarle. You will not hear from me again till I go on to New York which will be in March. Remember me to all my friends who may ask after me, as if I had here named them; and believe me to be your affectionate friend & Servt.


Orange, December 5, 1789

Dear Sir,—

Since my last I have been furnished with the inclosed copy of the letter from the Senators of this State to its Legislature. It is well calculated to keep alive the disaffection to the Government, and is accordingly applied to that use by violent partizans. I understand the letter was written by the first subscriber of it, as indeed is pretty evident from the style and strain of it. The other it is said, subscribed it with reluctance. I am less surprised that this should have been the case than that he should have subscribed it at all.

My last information from Richmond is contained in the following extract from a letter of the 28th of Novr., from an intelligent member of the H. of Delegates. “The revenue bill which proposes a reduction of the public taxes one fourth below the last year’s amount is with the Senate. Whilst this business was before the H. of Delegates a proposition was made to receive Tobacco & Hemp as commutables, which was negatived, the House determining still to confine the collection to specie and to specie warrants. Two or three petitions have been presented which asked a general suspension of Executions for twelve months; they were read, but denied a reference. The Assembly have passed an Act for altering the time for choosing Representatives to Congress, which is now fixed to be on the third Monday in September, suspending the powers of the Representative until the Feby. after his election. This change was made to suit the time of the annual meeting of Congress. The fate of the Amendments proposed by Congress to the Genl Government is still in suspense. In a Come of the whole House the first ten were acceded to with little opposition; for on a question taken on each separately, there was scarcely a dissenting voice. On the two last a debate of some length took place, which ended in rejection. Mr. E. Randolph who advocated all the others stood on this contest in the front of opposition. His principal objection was pointed agst the word ‘retained,’ in the eleventh proposed amendment, and his argument if I understood it was applied in this manner—that as the rights declared in the first ten of the proposed amendments were not all that a free people would require the exercise of, and that as there was no criterion by which it could be determined whether any other particular right was retained or not, it would be more safe and more consistent with the spirit of the 1st & 17th amendts proposed by Virginia that this reservation agst constructive power, should operate rather as a provision agst extending the powers of Congs by their own authority, than a protection to rights reducible to no definite certainty. But others, among whom I am one, see not the force of this distinction, for by preventing an extension of power in that body from which danger is apprehended, safety will be insured, if its powers be not too extensive already, & so by protecting the rights of the people & of the States, an improper extension of power will be prevented & safety made equally certain. If the House should agree to the Resolution for rejecting the two last, I am of opinion it will bring the whole into hazard again, as some who have been decided friends to the ten first think it would be unwise to adopt them without the 11 & 12th. Whatever may be the fate of the amendments submitted by Congress, it is probable that an application for further amendments will be made by this Assembly, for the opposition to the federal Constitution is in my opinion reduced to a single point, the power of direct taxation—those who wish the change are desirous of repeating the application, whilst those [who] wish it not are indifferent on the subject, supposing that Congs. will not propose a change which would take from them a power so necessary for the accomplishment of those objects which are confided to their care. Messrs Joseph Jones & Spencer Roane are appointed Judges of the Genl. Court, to fill the vacancies occasioned by the death of Mr. Carey & the removal of Mr. Mercer to the Court of appeals.”

The difficulty started agst the amendments is really unlucky, and the more to be regretted as it springs from a friend to the Constitution. It is a still greater cause of regret, if the distinction be, as it appears to me, altogether fanciful. If a line can be drawn between the powers granted and the rights retained, it would seem to be the same thing, whether the latter be secured by declaring that they shall not be abridged, or that the former shall not be extended. If no such line can be drawn, a declaration in either form would amount to nothing. If the distinction were just it does not seem to be of sufficient importance to justify the risk of losing the amendts., of furnishing a handle to the disaffected, and of arming N. C. with a pretext, if she be disposed to prolong her exile from the Union.

With every sentiment of respect & attachment I am Dr Sir Yr Obedt & hble Servt.

November 24, 1789

To the Representatives of the Freemen of the Common-Wealth of Pennsylvania in general Assembly met.

The Petition of the Pennsylvania Society for promoting the abolition of Slavery and the Relief of free Negroes unlawfully held in Bondage. Respectfully sheweth—

That deeply impressed with a Truth similar to the Declaration set forth in the Act for the gradual Abolition of Slavery that “it is not for us to enquire why in the Creation of Mankind the Inhabitants of the several Parts of the Earth were distinguished by a difference in Feature or Complexion it is sufficient to know that all are the Work of the Almighty Hand.” And sincerely animated by a Desire “of removing as much as possible the Sorrows of those who have lived in underscribed Bondage” a Number of Citizens associated together and with persevering Diligence have afforded in many Instances the Means of obtaining that Relief which the Legislature humanely intended to dispense.

That your Petitioners in the Course of their Pursuits, have long since discovered the Necessity of a continued Attention to the Situation of those who have been emancipated, in Order to form their Minds to Habits of Virtue and Industry, and to fit them and their Offspring for becoming useful Members of Society. The more effectually to prosecute so necessary and desirable a Work, the Society have united this Branch of civil Duty, with the original Designs of the Institution and have formed a System for improving the Condition of the free Blacks; but a Design so extensive can-not be conducted with success without considerable Funds. These your Petitioners concieve readily may be obtained from the benevolent and the humane, if a permanency and Security Could be given to their donations, and that the Society would then in many instances meet with Requests and Assistance even unsought for.

Your Petitioners therefore request that they may be incorporated, and that you will be pleased to grant them leave to bring in a bill for that purpose.

By order of the Society

B. Franklin Prest.


Lynhaven Bay, November 21, 1789

Dear Sir,

—Tho’ a committee of American captains at Cowes had [de]termined we must expect a nine weeks passage, the winds [and] weather have so befriended us that we are come to an anch[orage] here 29. days after weighing anchor at Yarmouth, having bee[n] only 26. days from land to land. After getting clear of the etern[al] fogs of Europe, which required 5. or 6. days sailing, the sun broke out upon us, & gave us fine autumn weather almost cons[tant]ly thro the rest of the voyage, & so warm that we had no occas[ion] for fire. In the gulph stream only we had to pass thro’ the squalls of wind & rain which hover generally over that tepid cur[r]ent: & thro the whole we had had nothing stronger tha[n] what seamen call a stiff breeze: so that I have now passed the Atlantic twice without knowing what a storm is. When we had passed the meridian of the Western islands, our weather w[as] so fine that it would have been madness to go 1000. miles out of our way to seek what would not have been better. So we determin[ed] to push on the direct course. We left the banks of Newf[oundland] about as far on our right as the Western islands on our left notwithstanding the evidence of their quadrants to the contrary some of the sailors insisted we were in the trade winds. Our sickness in the beginning was of 3. 4. or 5 days, severe enough. Since that we have been perfectly well. We separated from Mr. Trumbull’s ship the evening on which I wrote you from the needles, & I never saw her more. Our ship is two years old only, excellently accommodated, in ballast, and among the swiftest sailors on the ocean. Her captain a bold & judicious seaman, a native of Norfolk, whose intimate knowledge of our coast has been of both confidence & security to us. So that as we had in prospect every motive of satisfaction, we have found it still greater in event. We came to anchor here because no pilot has yet offered. Being within 15. miles of Norfolk by land, I have some thought of going ashore here in the morning, & going by land to that city. I wrote this from hence in hopes some outward bound vessel may be met to which it may be consigned. My plants & shepherd dogs are well. Remember me to enquiring friends, and accept assurances of sincere esteem & attachment with which I am Dear Sir.


Orange, November 20, 1789

Dear Sir,—

It was my purpose to have dropped you a few lines from Philada, but I was too much indisposed during my detention there to avail myself of that pleasure. Since my arrival here I have till now been without a fit conveyance to the post office.

You will recollect the contents of a letter shewn you from Mr. Innes to Mr. Brown. Whilst I was in Philada. I was informed by the latter, who was detained there, as well as myself by indisposition that he had recd later accounts though not from the same correspondent, that the Spaniards have finally put an entire stop to the trade of our Citizens down the river. The encouragements to such as settle under their own Government are continued.

A day or two after I got to Philada I fell in with Mr. Morris. He broke the subject of the residence of Congs, and made observations which betrayed his dislike of the upshot of the business at N. York, and his desire to keep alive the Southern project of an arrangement with Pennsylvania. I reminded him of the conduct of his State, and intimated that the question would probably sleep for some time in consequence of it. His answer implied that Congress must not continue at New York, and that if he should be freed from his Engagements with the E. States by their refusal to take up the bill and pass it as it went to the Senate, he should renounce all confidence in that quarter, and speak seriously to the S. States. I told him they must be spoken to very seriously, after what had passed, if Penna expected them to listen to her, that indeed there was probably an end to further intercourse on the subject. He signified that if he should speak it would be in earnest, and he believed that no one would pretend that his conduct would justify the least distrust of his going through with his undertakings; adding however that he was determined & accordingly gave me as he had given others notice that he should call up the postponed bill as soon as Congs should be reassembled. I observed to him that if it were desirable to have the matter revived we could not wish to have in it a form more likely to defeat itself. It was unparliamentary and highly inconvenient; and would therefore be opposed by all candid friends to his object as an improper precedent, as well as by those who were opposed to the object itself. And if he should succeed in the Senate, the irregularity of the proceeding would justify the other House in withholding the signature of its Speaker, so that the bill could never go up to the President. He acknowledged that the bill could not be got thro’ unless it had a majority of both Houses on its merits. Why then, I asked, not take it up anew? He said he meant to bring the gentlemen who had postponed the bill to the point, acknowledged that he distrusted them, but held his engagements binding on him, until this final experiment should be made on the respect they meant to pay to theirs. I do not think it difficult to augur from this conversation the views which will govern Penna at the next Session. Conversations held by Grayson both with Morris & others, in Philada, and left by him in a letter to me, coincide with what I have stated. An attempt will first be made to alarm N. York and the Eastern States into the plan postponed, by holding out the Potowmac & Philada as the alternative, and if the attempt should not succeed, the alternative will then be held out to the Southern members. On the other hand N. Y. & the E. States will enforce the policy of delay, by threatening the S. States as heretofore, with German Town or Trenton or at least Susquehannah, and will no doubt carry the threat into execution if they can, rather yn suffer an arrangement to take place between Pena. & the S. States.

I hear nothing certain from the Assembly. It is said that an attempt of Mr. H. to revive the project of commutables has been defeated, that the amendments have been taken up, and are likely to be put off to the next Session, the present house having been elected prior to the promulgation of them. This reason would have more force, if the amendments did not so much correspond as far as they go with the propositions of the State Convention, which were before the public long before the last Election. At any rate, the Assembly might pass a vote of approbation, along with the postponement, and assign the reason for referring the ratification to their successors. It is probable that the scruple has arisen with the disaffected party. If it be construed by the public into a latent hope of some contingent opportunity for promoting the war agst the Genl Government, I am of opinion the experiment will recoil on the authors of it. As far as I can gather, the great bulk of the late opponents are entirely at rest, and more likely to censure a further opposition to the Govt, as now administered than the Government itself. One of the principal leaders of the Baptists lately sent me word that the amendments had entirely satisfied the disaffected of his Sect, and that it would appear in their subsequent conduct.

I ought not to conclude without some apology for so slovenly a letter. I put off writing it till an opportunity should present itself not knowing but something from time to time might turn up that would make it less unworthy of your perusal. And it has so happened that the oppy barely gives me time for this hasty scrawl.

With the most perfect esteem & Affect attachment I remain Dear Sir Yr. Mos Obedt. Servt

Philadelphia, November 4, 1789

Dear Friend,

I received your kind letter of July the 31st which gave me great pleasure, as it inform’d me of the welfare both of yourself and your good lady, to whom please to present my respects. I thank you for the epistle of your yearly meeting and for the card, a specimen of printing which were enclosed.

We have now had one session of congress, and with as much general satisfaction as could reasonably be expected. I wish the struggle in France may end as happily for that nation. We are now in the full enjoyment of our new government for eleven of the states, and it is generally thought that North Carolina is about to join us; Rhode Island will probably take longer time for consideration. We have had a most plentiful year for the fruits of the earth, and our people seem to be recovering fast from the extravagant and idle habits which the war had introduced, and to engage seriously in the contrary habits of temperance, frugality, and industry, which give the most pleasing prospects of future national felicity. Your merchants, however, are I think imprudent in crowding in upon us such quantities of goods for sale here, which are not wrote for by ours, and are beyond the faculties of the country to consume in any reasonable time. This surplus of goods is therefore, to raise present money, sent to the vendues or auction houses, of which we have six or seven in or near this city, where they are sold frequently for less than prime cost, to the great loss of the indiscreet adventurers. Our newspapers are doubtless to be seen at your coffee houses near the Exchange; in their advertisements you may observe the constancy and quantity of these kind of sales, as well as the quantity of goods imported by our regular traders. I see in your English newspapers frequent mention made of our being out of credit with you; to us it appears that we have abundantly too much, and that your exporting merchants are rather out of their senses.

I wish success to your endeavours for obtaining an abolition of the Slave Trade. The epistle from your yearly meeting for the year 1758 was not the first sowing of the good seed you mention; for I find by an old pamphlet in my possession that George Keith near 100 years since wrote a paper against the practice, said to be “given forth by the appointment of the meeting held by him at Phillip James’s house in the city of Philadelphia, about the year 1693,” wherein a strict charge was given to Friends that they should set their negroes at liberty after some reasonable time of service, &c. &c. And about the year 1728 or 29 I myself printed a book for Ralph Sandyford, another of your friends of this city, against keeping negroes in slavery, two editions of which he distributed gratis. And about the year 1736 I printed another book on the same subject for Benjamin Lay, who also professed being one of your Friends, and he distributed the books chiefly among them. By these instances it appears that the seed was indeed sown in the good ground of your profession, though much earlier than the time you mention; and its springing up to effect at last, though so late, is some confirmation of Lord Bacon’s observation that a good motion never dies, and may encourage us in making such, though hopeless of their taking an immediate effect. I doubt whether I shall be able to finish my memoirs, and if I finish them whether they will be proper for publication: you seem to have too high an opinion of them, and to expect too much from them.

I think you are right in preferring a mixed form of government for your country under its present circumstances, and if it were possible for you to reduce the enormous salaries and emoluments of great offices, which are at bottom the source of all your violent factions, that form might be conducted more quietly and happily; but I am afraid that none of your factions when they get uppermost will ever have virtue enough to reduce those salaries and emoluments, but will choose rathr to enjoy them.

I inclose a bill for £25 for which, when received, please to credit my account, and out of it pay Mr. Benjamin Vaughan of Jefferies square, and Mr. Wm. Vaughan his brother of Mincing Lane, such accounts against me as they shall present to you for that purpose.

I am, my dear friend, yours very affectionately,

B. Franklin.
To: Mr. John Wright, Banker, Lombard-street, London


October 12, 1789

I thank you, my dear sir, for the line you were so obliging as to leave for me, and the loan of the book accompanying it, in which I have not made sufficient progress to judge of its merit. I don’t know how it was, but I took it for granted that you had left town earlier than I did; else I should have found an opportunity, after your adjournment, to converse with you on the subjects committed to me by the House of Representatives. It is certainly important that a plan as complete and as unexceptionable as possible should be matured by the next meeting of Congress; and for this purpose it could not but be useful that there should be a comparison and concentration of ideas, of those whose duty leads them to a contemplation of the subject. As I lost the opportunity of a personal communication, may I ask of your friendship, to put to paper and send me your thoughts on such objects as may have occurred to you, for an addition to our revenue, and also as to any modifications of the public debt, which could be made consistent with good faith—the interest of the public and of the creditors.

In my opinion, in considering plans for the increase of our revenue, the difficulty lies not so much in the want of objects as in prejudice, which may be feared with regard to almost every object. The question is very much, What further taxes will be least unpopular?


October 7, 1789

Sir:—I think it probable that you will have learnt, through other channels, before this reaches you, my appointment as Secretary of the Treasury of the United States. In this capacity the debt due from us to France, will, of course, constitute one of the objects of my attention.

Except with regard to a few laws of immediate urgency, respecting commercial imposts and navigation, the late session of Congress was wholly occupied in organizing the government. A resolution, however, passed the House of Representatives, declarative of their opinion that an adequate provision for the support of the public credit was a matter of high importance to the honor and prosperity of the United States; and instructing me to prepare and report a plan for that purpose at their next session.

In this state of things you will readily perceive that I can say nothing very precise with regard to the provision to be made for discharging the arrearages due to France. I am, however, desirous that it should be understood that proper attention will be paid to the subject on my part; and I take it for granted that the National Legislature will not fail to sanction the measures which the faith and credit of the United States require in reference to it. In addition to this I shall only remark that it would be a valuable accommodation to the government of this country if the court of France should think fit to suspend the payment of the instalments of the principal due and to become due, for five or six years from this period, on the condition of effectual arrangements for the punctual discharge of the interest which has accrued and shall accrue. But in giving this intimation it is not my intention that any request should be made to that effect. I should be glad that the thing might come about in the form of a voluntary and unsolicited offer; and that some indirect method may be taken to communicate the idea where it would be of use it should prevail. It may not be amiss that you should know that I have hinted the matter in the inclosed private letter to the Marquis de Lafayette, in forwarding which I request your particular care.

I have the honor to be, Sir,

Your obedient and humble servant,

Alexander Hamilton,

Secretary of the Treasury.

William Short, Chargé d’ Affaires,


P. S.—Since writing the above, I have, in a private and unofficial manner, broken the matter to the Count de Moustier; and I have reason to conclude he will promote what is desired.


October 6, 1789

My Dear Marquis:

I have seen, with a mixture of pleasure and apprehension, the progress of the events which have lately taken place in your country. As a friend to mankind and to liberty, I rejoice in the efforts which you are making to establish it, while I fear much for the final success of the attempts, for the fate of those I esteem who are engaged in it, and for the danger, in case of success, of innovations greater than will con sist with the real felicity of your nation. If your affairs still go well when this reaches you, you will ask why this foreboding of ill, when all the appearances have been so much in your favor. I will tell you. I dread disagreements among those who axe now united (which will be likely to be improved by the adverse party) about the nature of your constitution; I dread the vehement character of your people, whom I fear you may find it more easy to bring on, than to keep within proper bounds after you have put them in motion; I dread the interested refractoriness of your nobles, who cannot be gratified, and who may be unwilling to submit to the requisite sacrifices. And I dread the reveries of your philosophic politicians, who appear in the moment to have great influence, and who, being mere speculatists, may aim at more refinement than suits either with human nature or the composition of your nation.

These, my dear Marquis, are my apprehensions. My wishes for your personal success and that of the cause of liberty are incessant. Be virtuous amidst the seductions of ambition, and you can hardly in any event be unhappy. You are combined with a great and good man; you will anticipate the name of Neckar. I trust you and he will never cease to harmonize.

You will, I presume, have heard before this gets to hand, that I have been appointed to the head of the finances of this country. This event, I am sure, will give you pleasure. In undertaking the task I hazard much, but I thought it an occasion that called upon me to hazard. I have no doubt that the reasonable expectation of the public may be satisfied if I am properly supported by the Legislature, and in this respect I stand at present on the most encouraging footing.

The debt due to France will be among the first objects of my attention. Hitherto it has been from necessity neglected. The session of Congress is now over. It has been exhausted in the organization of the government and in a few laws of immediate urgency respecting navigation and commercial imposts. The subject of the debt, foreign and domestic, has been referred to the next session, which will commence the first Monday in January, with an instruction to me to prepare and report a plan comprehending an adequate provision for the support of the public credit. There were many good reasons for a temporary adjournment.

From this sketch you will perceive that I am not in a situation to address any thing officially to your administration; but I venture to say to you, as my friend, that if the installments of the principal of the debt could be suspended for a few years, it would be a valuable accommodation to the United States. In this suggestion, I contemplate a speedy payment of the arrears of interest now due, and effectual provision for the punctual payment of future interest as it arises. Could an arrangement of this sort meet the approbation of your government, it would be best on every account that the offer should come unsolicited as a fresh mark of good-will.

I wrote you last by Mr. De Warville. I presume you received my letter. As it touched upon some delicate topics I should be glad to know its fate.

P. S.—The latest accounts from France have abated some of my apprehensions. The abdications of privileges patronized by your nobility in the States-General are truly noble, and bespeak a patriotic and magnanimous policy which promises good both to them and their country.


October 3, 1789

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and

Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me " to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness: "

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other trangressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

- Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October,

A. D. 1789. G.ø WASHINGTON.


New York, September 25, 1789

Dear Sir,—

The duplicate, via Charleston, of your letter of the thirtieth of August, never reached my hand till a day or two before the nomination took place to the office of judge of the district of Georgia. As I had the pleasure and advantage of a particular acquaintance with yourself, and the misfortune to know nothing at all, but by a very distant and general reputation, of the gentleman nominated, I should have been ill qualified to make an impartial decision between the candidates. I feel upon all occasions, I own, a particular pleasure in the appointment to office of gentlemen who are now well affected to the national constitution, who had some experience in life before the revolution, and took an active part in the course and conduct of it.

Union, peace, and liberty to North America, are the objects to which I have devoted my life, and I believe them to be as dear to you as to me. I reckon among my friends all who are in the communion of such sentiments, though they may differ in their opinion of the means of obtaining those ends. I will not say that an energetic government is the only means; but I will hazard an opinion, that a well-ordered, a well-balanced, a judiciously-limited government, is indispensably necessary to the preservation of all or either of those blessings. If the poor are to domineer over the rich, or the rich over the poor, we shall never enjoy the happiness of good government; and without an intermediate power, sufficiently elevated and independent to control each of the contending parties in its excesses, one or the other will forever tyrannize. Gentlemen who had some experience before the revolution, and recollect the general fabric of the government under which they were born and educated, and who are not too much carried away by temporary popular politics, are generally of this opinion. But whether prejudice will not prevail over reason, passion over judgment, and declamation over sober inquiry, is yet to be determined.
I am, &c.

John Adams.


New York, September 23, 1789

Dear Sir,

The affectionate congratulations on the recovery of my health and the warm expressions of personal friendship which were contained in your favor of the 16th. instant, claim my gratitude. And the consideration that it was written when you were afflicted with a painful malady, greatly increases my obligation for it.

Would to God, my dear Sir, that I could congratulate you upon the removal of that excruciating pain under which you labour! and that your existence might close with as much ease to yourself, as its continuance has been beneficial to our Country and useful to Mankind. Or, if the united wishes of a free people, joined with the earnest prayers of every friend to science and humanity could relieve the body from pains or infirmities, you could claim an exemption on this score. But this cannot be, and you have within yourself the only resource to which we can confidently apply for relief—a philosophic mind.

If to be venerated for benevolence, if to be admired for talents, if to be esteemed for patriotism, if to be beloved for philanthropy can gratify the human mind, you must have the pleasing consolation to know that you have not lived in vain; and I flatter myself that it will not be ranked among the least grateful occurrences of your life to be assured that so long as I retain my Memory, you will be thought on with respect, veneration and affection by Dear Sir Your sincere friend and Obedient Humble Servant

G. Washington


September 17, 1789

Gentlemen of the Senate.

It doubtless is important that all treaties and compacts formed by the United States with other nations, whether civilized or not, should be made with caution and executed with fidelity.

It is said to be the general understanding and practice of nations, as a check on the mistakes and indiscretions of ministers or commissioners, not to consider any treaty negotiated and signed by such officers as final and conclusive until ratified by the sovereign or government from whom they derive their powers. This practice has been adopted by the United States respecting their treaties with European nations, and I am inclined to think it would be advisable to observe it in the conduct of our treaties with the Indians; for though such treaties, being on their part made by their chiefs or rulers, need not be ratified by them, yet, being formed on our part by the agency of subordinate officers, it seems to be both prudent and reasonable that their acts should not be binding on the nation until approved and ratified by the Government. It strikes me that this point should be well considered and settled, so that our national proceedings in this respect may become uniform and be directed by fixed and stable principles.

The treaties with certain Indian nations, which were laid before you with my message of the 25th May last, suggested two questions to my mind, viz: First, whether those treaties were to be considered as perfected and consequently as obligatory without being ratified. If not, then secondly, whether both or either, and which, of them ought to be ratified. On these questions I request your opinion and advice.

You have, indeed, advised me "to execute and enjoin an observance of " the treaty with the Wyandottes, etc. You, gentlemen, doubtless intended to be clear and explicit, and yet, without further explanation, I fear I may misunderstand your meaning, for if by my executing that treaty you mean that I should make it (in a more particular and immediate manner than it now is) the act of Government, then it follows that I am to ratify it. If you mean by my executing it that I am to see that it be carried into effect and operation, then I am led to conclude either that you consider it as being perfect and obligatory in its present state, and therefore to be executed and observed, or that you consider it as to derive its completion and obligation from the silent approbation and ratification which my proclamation may be construed to imply. Although I am inclined to think that the latter is your intention, yet it certainly is best that all doubts respecting it be removed.

Permit me to observe that it will be proper for me to be informed of your sentiments relative to the treaty with the Six Nations previous to the departure of the governor of the Western territory, and therefore I recommend it to your early consideration.



August 7, 1789


[I] BE IT ENACTED BY THE SENATE AND HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, IN CONGRESS ASSEMBLED, that there shall be an executive department, to be denominated, The department of War, and that there shall be a principal Officer therein, to be called the Secretary for the department of War, who shall perform and execute such duties as shall from time to time be enjoined in, or intrusted to him, by the President of the United States, agreeably to the Constitution, relative to Military Commissions, or to the land or naval forces, ship, or warlike stores of the United States, or to such other matters respecting Military or Naval Affairs, as the President of the United States shall assign to the said department, or relative to the granting of lands to persons entitled thereto, for Military Services rendered to the United States, or relative to Indian Affairs: And furthermore, that the said principal Officer, shall conduct the business of the said department, in such matter as the President of the United States shall from time to time, order or instruct.

[2] AND BE IT FURTHER ENACTED that there shall be in the said department, an inferior officer, to be appointed by the said principal Officer, to be employed therein as he shall deem proper, and to be called the Chief Clerk in the department of War, and who, whenever the said principal Officer shall be removed from Office by the President of the United States, or in any other case of vacancy, shall during such vacancy, have the charge and custody of all records, books, and papers, appertaining to the said department.

[3] AND BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, that the said principal Officer, and every other person to be appointed or employed in the said department, shall before he enters on the execution of his Office or employment, take an oath or afffirmation, well and faithfully to execute the trust committed to him.

[4] AND BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, that the Secretary for the department of War to be appointed in consequence of this Act, shall forthwith after his [Page 2029] appointment, be entitled to have the custody and charge of all records, books and papers, in the Office of Secretary for the department of War, heretofore established by the United States in Congress assembled.

Speaker of the House of Representatives

Vice President of the United States, and
President of the Senate

Approved August the Seventh 1789

President of the United States

Paris, September 6, 1789

Dear Sir,

—I sit down to write to you without knowing by what occasion I shall send my letter. I do it because a subject comes into my head which I would wish to develope a little more than is practicable in the hurry of the moment of making up general despatches.

The question Whether one generation of men has a right to bind another, seems never to have been started either on this or our side of the water. Yet it is a question of such consequences as not only to merit decision, but place also, among the fundamental principles of every government. The course of reflection in which we are immersed here on the elementary principles of society has presented this question to my mind; and that no such obligation can be transmitted I think very capable of proof. I set out on this ground which I suppose to be self evident, “that the earth belongs in usufruct to the living;” that the dead have neither powers nor rights over it. The portion occupied by any individual ceases to be his when himself ceases to be, and reverts to the society. If the society has formed no rules for the appropriation of its lands in severalty, it will be taken by the first occupants. These will generally be the wife and children of the decedent. If they have formed rules of appropriation, those rules may give it to the wife and children, or to some one of them, or to the legatee of the deceased. So they may give it to his creditor. But the child, the legatee or creditor takes it, not by any natural right, but by a law of the society of which they are members, and to which they are subject. Then no man can by natural right oblige the lands he occupied, or the persons who succeed him in that occupation, to the paiment of debts contracted by him. For if he could, he might during his own life, eat up the usufruct of the lands for several generations to come, and then the lands would belong to the dead, and not to the living, which would be reverse of our principle. What is true of every member of the society individually, is true of them all collectively, since the rights of the whole can be no more than the sum of the rights of individuals. To keep our ideas clear when applying them to a multitude, let us suppose a whole generation of men to be born on the same day, to attain mature age on the same day, and to die on the same day, leaving a succeeding generation in the moment of attaining their mature age all together. Let the ripe age be supposed of 21. years, and their period of life 34. years more, that being the average term given by the bills of mortality to persons who have already attained 21. years of age. Each successive generation would, in this way, come on and go off the stage at a fixed moment, as individuals do now. Then I say the earth belongs to each of these generations during it’s course, fully, and in their own right. The 2d. generation receives it clear of the debts and incumbrances of the 1st., the 3d. of the 2d. and so on. For if the 1st. could charge it with a debt, then the earth would belong to the dead and not the living generation. Then no generation can contract debts greater than may be paid during the course of it’s own existence. At 21. years of age they may bind themselves and their lands for 34. years to come: at 22. for 33: at 23 for 32. and at 54 for one year only; because these are the terms of life which remain to them at those respective epochs. But a material difference must be noted between the succession of an individual and that of a whole generation. Individuals are parts only of a society, subject to the laws of a whole. These laws may appropriate the portion of land occupied by a decedent to his creditor rather than to any other, or to his child, on condition he satisfies his creditor. But when a whole generation, that is, the whole society dies, as in the case we have supposed, and another generation or society succeeds, this forms a whole, and there is no superior who can give their territory to a third society, who may have lent money to their predecessors beyond their faculty of paying.

What is true of a generation all arriving to self-government on the same day, and dying all on the same day, is true of those on a constant course of decay and renewal, with this only difference. A generation coming in and going out entire, as in the first case, would have a right in the 1st year of their self dominion to contract a debt for 33. years, in the 10th. for 24. in the 20th. for 14. in the 30th. for 4. whereas generations changing daily, by daily deaths and births, have one constant term beginning at the date of their contract, and ending when a majority of those of full age at that date shall be dead. The length of that term may be estimated from the tables of mortality, corrected by the circumstances of climate, occupation &c. peculiar to the country of the contractors. Take, for instance, the table of M. de Buffon wherein he states 23,994 deaths, and the ages at which they happened. Suppose a society in which 23,994 persons are born every year and live to the ages stated in this table. The conditions of that society will be as follows. 1st. it will consist constantly of 617,703 persons of all ages. 2dly. of those living at any one instant of time, one half will be dead in 24. years 8. months. 3dly. 10,675 will arrive every year at the age of 21. years complete. 4thly. it will constantly have 348,417 persons of all ages above 21. years. 5ly. and the half of those of 21. years and upwards living at any one instant of time will be dead in 18. years 8. months, or say 19. years as the nearest integral number. Then 19. years is the term beyond which neither the representatives of a nation, nor even the whole nation itself assembled, can validly extend a debt.

To render this conclusion palpable by example, suppose that Louis XIV. and XV. had contracted debts in the name of the French nation to the amount of 10.000 milliards of livres and that the whole had been contracted in Genoa. The interest of this sum would be 500 milliards, which is said to be the whole rent-roll, or nett proceeds of the territory of France. Must the present generation of men have retired from the territory in which nature produced them, and ceded it to the Genoese creditors? No. They have the same rights over the soil on which they were produced, as the preceding generations had. They derive these rights not from their predecessors, but from nature. They then and their soil are by nature clear of the debts of their predecessors. Again suppose Louis XV. and his contemporary generation had said to the money lenders of Genoa, give us money that we may eat, drink, and be merry in our day; and on condition you will demand no interest till the end of 19. years, you shall then forever after receive an annual interest of1 125. per cent. The money is lent on these conditions, is divided among the living, eaten, drank, and squandered. Would the present generation be obliged to apply the produce of the earth and of their labour to replace their dissipations? Not at all.

I suppose that the received opinion, that the public debts of one generation devolve on the next, has been suggested by our seeing habitually in private life that he who succeeds to lands is required to pay the debts of his ancestor or testator, without considering that this requisition is municipal only, not moral, flowing from the will of the society which has found it convenient to appropriate the lands become vacant by the death of their occupant on the condition of a paiment of his debts; but that between society and society, or generation and generation there is no municipal obligation, no umpire but the law of nature. We seem not to have perceived that, by the law of nature, one generation is to another as one independant nation to another.

The interest of the national debt of France being in fact but a two thousandth part of it’s rent-roll, the paiment of it is practicable enough; and so becomes a question merely of honor or expediency. But with respect to future debts; would it not be wise and just for that nation to declare in the constitution they are forming that neither the legislature, nor the nation itself can validly contract more debt, than they may pay within their own age, or within the term of 19. years? And that all future contracts shall be deemed void as to what shall remain unpaid at the end of 19. years from their date? This would put the lenders, and the borrowers also, on their guard. By reducing too the faculty of borrowing within its natural limits, it would bridle the spirit of war, to which too free a course has been procured by the inattention of money lenders to this law of nature, that succeeding generations are not responsible for the preceding.

On similar ground it may be proved that no society can make a perpetual constitution, or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs always to the living generation. They may manage it then, and what proceeds from it, as they please, during their usufruct. They are masters too of their own persons, and consequently may govern them as they please. But persons and property make the sum of the objects of government. The constitution and the laws of their predecessors extinguished them, in their natural course, with those whose will gave them being. This could preserve that being till it ceased to be itself, and no longer. Every constitution, then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of 19. years. If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force and not of right.

It may be said that the succeeding generation exercising in fact the power of repeal, this leaves them as free as if the constitution or law had been expressly limited to 19. years only. In the first place, this objection admits the right, in proposing an equivalent. But the power of repeal is not an equivalent. It might be indeed if every form of government were so perfectly contrived that the will of the majority could always be obtained fairly and without impediment. But this is true of no form. The people cannot assemble themselves; their representation is unequal and vicious. Various checks are opposed to every legislative proposition. Factions get possession of the public councils. Bribery corrupts them. Personal interests lead them astray from the general interests of their constituents; and other impediments arise so as to prove to every practical man that a law of limited duration is much more manageable than one which needs a repeal.

This principle that the earth belongs to the living and not to the dead is of very extensive application and consequences in every country, and most especially in France. It enters into the resolution of the questions Whether the nation may change the descent of lands holden in tail? Whether they may change the appropriation of lands given antiently to the church, to hospitals, colleges, orders of chivalry, and otherwise in perpetuity? whether they may abolish the charges and privileges attached on lands, including the whole catalogue ecclesiastical and feudal? it goes to hereditary offices, authorities and jurisdictions; to hereditary orders, distinctions and appellations; to perpetual monopolies in commerce, the arts or sciences; with a long train of et ceteras: and it renders the question of reimbursement a question of generosity and not of right. In all these cases the legislature of the day could authorize such appropriations and establishments for their own time, but no longer; and the present holders, even where they or their ancestors have purchased, are in the case of bona fide purchasers of what the seller had no right to convey.

Turn this subject in your mind, my Dear Sir, and particularly as to the power of contracting debts, and develope it with that perspicuity and cogent logic which is so peculiarly yours. Your station in the councils of our country gives you an opportunity of producing it to public consideration, of forcing it into discussion. At first blush it may be rallied as a theoretical speculation; but examination will prove it to be solid and salutary. It would furnish matter for a fine preamble to our first law for appropriating the public revenue; and it will exclude, at the threshold of our new government the contagious and ruinous errors of this quarter of the globe, which have armed despots with means not sanctioned by nature for binding in chains their fellow-men. We have already given, in example one effectual check to the Dog of war, by transferring the power of letting him loose from the executive to the Legislative body, from those who are to spend to those who are to pay. I should be pleased to see this second obstacle held out by us also in the first instance. No nation can make a declaration against the validity of long-contracted debts so disinterestedly as we, since we do not owe a shilling which may not be paid with ease principal and interest, within the time of our own lives. Establish the principle also in the new law to be passed for protecting copy rights and new inventions, by securing the exclusive right for 19. instead of 14. years [a line entirely faded] an instance the more of our taking reason for our guide instead of English precedents, the habit of which fetters us, with all the political herecies of a nation, equally remarkable for it’s encitement from some errors, as long slumbering under others. I write you no news, because when an occasion occurs I shall write a separate letter for that.


September 2, 1789


[1] BE IT ENACTED BY THE SENATE AND HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, IN CONGRESS ASSEMBLED, that there shall be a department of Treasury, in which shall be the following officers, namely; a Secretary of the Treasury to be deemed head of the department, a Comptroller, an Auditor, a Treasurer, a Register, and an Assistant to the Secretary of the Treasury; which assistant shall be appointed by the said Secretary.

[2] AND BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, that it shall be the duty of the Secretary of the Treasury to digest and prepare plans for the improvement and management of the revenue, and for the support of public credit; to prepare and report estimates of the public revenue, and the public expenditures; to superintend the collection of the revenue; to decide on the forms of keeping and stating accounts and making returns, and to grant, under the limitations herein established, or to be hereafter provided, all Warrants for monies to be issued from the Treasury, in pursuance of appropriations by law; to execute such services relative to the sale of the lands belonging to the United States, as may be by law required of him; to make report and give information to either branch of the Legislature, in person or in writing, (as he may be required) respecting all matters refered to him by the Senate or House of Representatives, or which shall appertain to his office; and generally to perform all such services, relative to the finances, as he shall be directed to perform.

[3] AND BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, that it shall be the duty of the Comptroller to superintend the adjustment and preservation of the public accounts; to examine all accounts settled by the Auditor, and certify the ballances arising thereon to the Register; to countersign all warrants drawn by the Secretary of the Treasury, which shall be warranted by law; to report to the Secretary the official forms of all papers to be issued in the different offices for collecting the public revenue, and the manner and form of keeping and stating the accounts of the several persons employed therein; he shall moreover [Page 1976] provide for the regular and punctual payment of all monies which may be collected, and shall direct prosecutions for all delinquencies of officers of the revenue, and for debts that are or shall be due to the United States.

[4] AND BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, that it shall be the duty of the Treasurer, to receive and keep the monies of the United States, and to disburse the same upon Warrants drawn by the Secretary of the Treasury, countersigned by the Comptroller, recorded by the Register, and not otherwise; he shall take receipts for all monies paid by him, and all receipts for monies received by him shall be endorsed upon Warrants, signed by the Secretary of the Treasury, without which warrant so signed, no acknowledgment for money received into the public Treasury shall be valid: and the said Treasurer shall render his accounts to the Comptroller, quarterly, (or oftener if required) and shall transmit a copy thereof, when settled, to the Secretary of the Treasury, he shall moreover on the third day of every Session of Congress, lay before the Senate and House of Representatives fair and accurate copies of all accounts, by him from time rendered to, and settled with the Comptroller as aforesaid, as also a true and perfect account of the State of the Treasury; he shall at all times, submit to the Secretary of the Treasury and the Comptroller, or either of them, the inspection of the monies in his hands, and shall, prior to the entering upon the duties of his office, give bond with sufficient sureties, to be approved by the Secretary of the Treasury and Comptroller, in the sum of One hundred and fifty thousand dollars, payable to the United States, with condition for the faithful performance of the duties of his office, and for the fidelity of the persons to be by him employed, which bond shall be lodged in the office of the Comptroller of the Treasury of the United States.

[5] AND BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, that it shall be the duty of the Auditor, to receive all public accounts, and after examination to certify the ballance, and transmit the accounts, with the vouchers and certificate to the Comptroller for his decision thereon: PROVIDED, that if any person whose account shall be so audited, be dissatisfied therewith, he may within six months, appeal to the Comptroller against such settlement.

[6] AND BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, that it shall be the duty of the Register, to keep all accounts of the receipts and expenditures of the public money, and of all debts due to or from the United States; to receive from the Comptroller, the accounts which shall have been finally adjusted, and to preserve such accounts with their vouchers and certificates; to record all warrants for the receipt or payment of monies at the Treasury, certify the same thereon, and to transmit to the Secretary of the Treasury copies of the certificates of ballances of Accounts adjusted as is herein directed.

[7] AND BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, that whenever the Secretary shall be removed from office by the President of the United States, or in any other case of vacancy in the office of Secretary, the Assistant shall during the vacancy, [Page 1977] have the charge and custody of the records, books, and papers appertaining to the said office.

[8] AND BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, that no person appointed to any office instituted by this Act, shall directly or indirectly be concerned or interested in carrying on the business of Trade or Commerce, or be owner in whole or in part of any Sea Vessel, or purchase by himself, or another in trust for him, any public lands or other public property, or be concerned in the purchase, or disposal, of any public securities of any State, or of the United States, or take or apply to his own use, any emolument or gain for negotiating or transacting any business in the said department other than what shall be allowed by law, and if any person shall offend against any of the prohibitions of this Act, he shall be deemed guilty of a high misdemeanor, and forfeit to the United States the penalty of three thousand dollars, and shall upon conviction be removed from Office, and for ever thereafter incapable of holding any office under the United States: Provided that if any other person than a public prosecutor shall give information of any such offence, upon which a prosecution and conviction shall be had, one half the aforesaid penalty of three thousand dollars, when recovered, shall be for the use of the person giving such information.

Speaker of the House of Representatives

Vice-President of the United States, and
President of the Senate

Approved September the Second 1789

President of the United States

New York, September 1, 1789

Dear Sir,—

I have not yet answered your letter of the 26th of July. You guess well; I find that I shall have all the unpopular questions to determine, and shall soon be pronounced hostis republicani generis. What they will do with me, I know not, but must trust to Providence. You insinuate that I am accused “of deciding in favor of the power of the prime, because I look up to that goal.” That I look up to that goal sometimes, is very probable, because it is not far above me, only one step, and it is directly before my eyes, so that I must be blind not to see it. I am forced to look up to it, and bound by duty to do so, because there is only the breath of one mortal between me and it. There was lately cause enough to look up to it, as I did with horror, when that breath was in some danger of expiring. But deciding for the supreme was not certainly the way to render that goal more desirable or less terrible, nor was it the way to obtain votes for continuing in it, or an advancement to it. The way to have insured votes would have been to have given up that power. There is not, however, to be serious, the smallest prospect that I shall ever reach that goal. Our beloved chief is very little older than his second, has recovered his health, and is a much stronger man than I am. A new Vice-President must be chosen before a new President. This reflection gives me no pain, but, on the contrary, great pleasure; for I know very well that I am not possessed of the confidence and affection of my fellow-citizens to the degree that he is. I am not of Cæsar’s mind. The second place in Rome is high enough for me, although I have a spirit that will not give up its right or relinquish its place. Whatever the world, or even my friends, or even you, who know me so well, may think of me, I am not an ambitious man. Submission to insult and disgrace is one thing, but aspiring to higher situations is another. I am quite contented in my present condition, and should not be discontented to leave it.

Having said too much of myself, let me say something of you. The place of collector would undoubtedly have been yours, if the President could have found any other situation for your friend Lincoln. It was from no lukewarmness to you, I am certain; but the public cause demanded that Lincoln should be supported, and this could not be done any other way. If, after some time, any other permanent place should be found for him, you, I presume, will come in collector. He sailed yesterday, in good health, for Georgia; and may heaven prosper him with all happiness, honor, and success! It is a very honorable embassy, and will produce great and happy effects to these States.
I am, &c.

John Adams.


Paris, August 28, 1789

Dear Sir,

—My last to you was of July 22. Since that I have received yours of May 27, June 13 & 30. The tranquillity of the city has not been disturbed since my last. Dissensions between the French & Swiss guards occasioned some private combats in which five or six were killed. These dissensions are made up. The want of bread for some days past has greatly endangered the peace of the city. Some get a little, some none at all. The poor are the best served because they besiege perpetually the doors of the bakers. Notwithstanding this distress, and the palpable impotence of the city administration to furnish bread to the city, it was not till yesterday that general leave was given to the bakers to go into the country & buy flour for themselves as they can. This will soon relieve us, because the wheat harvest is well advanced. Never was there a country where the practice of governing too much had taken deeper root & done more mischief. Their declaration of rights is finished. If printed in time I will inclose a copy with this. It is doubtful whether they will now take up the finance or the constitution first. The distress for money endangers everything. No taxes are paid, and no money can be borrowed. Mr. Neckar was yesterday to give in a memoir to the Assembly on this subject. I think they will give him leave to put into execution any plan he pleases, so as to debarrass themselves of this & take up that of the constitution. No plan is yet reported; but the leading members (with some small differences of opinion) have in contemplation the following: The Executive power in a hereditary King, with a negative on laws and power to dissolve the legislature, to be considerably restrained in the making of treaties, and limited in his expenses. The legislative in a house of representatives. They propose a senate also, chosen on the plan of our federal senate by the provincial assemblies, but to be for life, of a certain age (they talk of 40. years) and certain wealth (4 or 500 guineas a year) but to have no other power as to laws but to remonstrate against them to the representatives, who will then determine their fate by a simple majority. This you will readily perceive is a mere council of revision like that of New York, which, in order to be something, must form an alliance with the king, to avail themselves of his veto. The alliance will be useful to both & to the nation. The representatives to be chosen every two or three years. The judiciary system is less prepared than any other part of their plan, however they will abolish the parliaments, and establish an order of judges & justices, general & provincial, a good deal like ours, with trial by jury in criminal cases certainly, perhaps also in civil. The provinces will have assemblies for their provincial government, & the cities a municipal body for municipal government, all founded on the basis of popular election. These subordinate governments, tho completely dependent on the general one, will be intrusted with almost the whole of the details which our state governments exercise. They will have their own judiciary, final in all but great cases, the Executive business will principally pass through their hands, and a certain local legislature will be allowed them. In short ours has been professedly their model, in which such changes are made as a difference of circumstances rendered necessary and some others neither necessary nor advantageous, but into which men will ever run when versed in theory and new in the practice of government, when acquainted with man only as they see him in their books & not in the world. This plan will undoubtedly undergo changes in the assembly, and the longer it is delayed the greater will be the changes; for that assembly, or rather the patriotic part of it, hooped together heretofore by a common enemy, are less compact since their victory. That enemy (the civil & ecclesiastical aristocracy) begins to raise it’s head. The lees too of the patriotic party, of wicked principles & desperate fortunes, hoping to pillage something in the wreck of their country, are attaching themselves to the faction of the Duke of Orleans, that faction is caballing with the populace, & intriguing at London, the Hague, & Berlin, and have evidently in view the transfer of the crown to the D. of Orleans. He is a man of moderate understanding, of no principle, absorbed in low vice, and incapable of abstracting himself from the filth of that to direct anything else. His name and his money therefore are mere tools in the hands of those who are duping him. Mirabeau is their chief. They may produce a temporary confusion, and even a temporary civil war, supported as they will be by the money of England; but they cannot have success ultimately. The King, the mass of the substantial people of the whole country, the army, and the influential part of the clergy, form a firm phalanx which must prevail. Should those delays which necessarily attend the deliberations of a body of 1200 men give time to this plot to ripen & burst so as to break up the assembly before anything definite is done, a constitution, the principles of which are pretty well settled in the minds of the assembly, will be proposed by the national militia, (that is their commander) urged by the individual members of the assembly, signed by the King, and supported by the nation, to prevail till circumstances shall permit its revision and more regular sanction. This I suppose the pis aller of their affairs, while their probable event is a peaceable settlement of them. They fear a war from England, Holland & Prussia. I think England will give money, but not make war. Holland would soon be afire internally were she to be embroiled in external difficulties. Prussia must know this & act accordingly.

It is impossible to desire better dispositions towards us, than prevail in this assembly. Our proceedings have been viewed as a model for them on every occasion; and tho in the heat of debate men are generally disposed to contradict every authority urged by their opponents, ours has been treated like that of the bible, open to explanation but not to question. I am sorry that in the moment of such a disposition anything should come from us to check it. The placing them on a mere footing with the English will have this effect. When of two nations, the one has engaged herself in a ruinous war for us, has spent her blood & money to save us, has opened her bosom to us in peace, and received us almost on the footing of her own citizens, while the other has moved heaven, earth & hell to exterminate us in war, has insulted us in all her councils in peace, shut her doors to us in every part where her interests would admit it, libelled us in foreign nations, endeavored to poison them against the reception of our most precious commodities; to place these two nations on a footing, is to give a great deal more to one than to the other if the maxim be true that to make unequal quantities equal you must add more to the one than to the other. To say in excuse that gratitude is never to enter into the motives of national conduct, is to revive a principle which has been buried for centuries with it’s kindred principles of the lawfulness of assassination, poison, perjury, &c. All of these were legitimate principles in the dark ages which intervened between antient & modern civilization, but exploded & held in just horror in the 18th century. I know but one code of morality for men whether acting singly or collectively. He who says I will be a rogue when I act in company with a hundred others but an honest man when I act alone, will be believed in the former assertion, but not in the latter. I would say with the poet “hic niger est, hunc tu Romane cavato.” If the morality of one man produces a just line of conduct in him, acting individually, why should not the morality of 100 men produce a just line of conduct in them acting together? But I indulge myself in these reflections because my own feelings run into them: with you they were always acknoleged. Let us hope that our new government will take some other occasions to shew that they mean to prescribe no virtue from the canons of their conduct with other nations. In every other instance the new government has ushered itself to the world as honest, masculine and dignified. It has shown genuine dignity, in my opinion in exploding adulatory titles; they are the offerings of abject baseness, and nourish that degrading vice in the people.—

I must now say a word on the declaration of rights you have been so good as to send me. I like it as far as it goes; but I should have been for going further. For instance the following alterations & additions would have pleased me. Art 4. “The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write or otherwise to publish anything but false facts affecting injuriously the life, liberty, property, or reputation of others or affecting the peace of the confederacy with foreign nations. Art 7. All facts put in issue before any judicature shall be tried by jury except 1, in cases of admiralty jurisdiction wherein a foreigner shall be interested; 2, in cases cognizable before a court martial concerning only the regular officers & souldiers of the U. S. or members of the militia in actual service in time of war or insurrection, & 3, in impeachments allowed by the constitution. Art 8. No person shall be held in confinement more than days after they shall have demanded & been refused a writ of Hab. corp. by the judge appointed by law nor more than days after such a writ shall have been served on the person holding him in confinement & no order given on due examination for his remandment or discharge, nor more than hours in any place at a greater distance than miles from the usual residence of some judge authorized to issue the writ of Hab. corp., nor shall that writ be suspended for any term exceeding one year nor in any place more than miles distant from the station or encampment of enemies or of insurgents. Art. 9. Monopolies may be allowed to persons for their own productions in literature & their own inventions in the arts, for a term not exceeding years but for no longer term & no other purpose. Art. 10. All troops of the U. S. shall stand ipso facto disbanded at the expiration of the term for which their pay & subsistence shall have been last voted by Congress, and all officers & souldiers not natives of the U. S. shall be incapable of serving in their armies by land except during a foreign war.” These restrictions I think are so guarded as to hinder evil only. However if we do not have them now, I have so much confidence in my countrymen as to be satisfied that we shall have them as soon as the degeneracy of our government shall render them necessary. I have no certain news of P. Jones. I understand only in a general way that some persecution on the part of his officers occasioned his being called to Petersburgh, & that tho protected against them by the empress, he is not yet restored to his station. Silas Deane is coming over to finish his days in America, not having one sou to subsist on elsewhere. He is a wretched monument of the consequences of a departure from right.—I will before my departure write Colo Lee fully the measures I pursued to procure success in his business, & which as yet offer little hope, & I shall leave it in the hands of Mr. Short to be pursued if any prospect opens on him. I propose to sail from Havre as soon after the 1st of October as I can get a vessel: & shall consequently leave this place a week earlier than that. As my daughters will be with me, & their baggage somewhat more than that of mere voyageures, I shall endeavor if possible to obtain a passage for Virginia directly. Probably I shall be there by the last of November. If my immediate attendance at New York should be requisite for any purpose, I will leave them with a relation near Richmond and proceed immediately to New York. But as I do not foresee any pressing purpose for that journey immediately on my arrival, and as it will be a great saving of time to finish at once in Virginia so as to have no occasion to return there after having once gone on to the Northward, I expect to proceed to my own house directly. Staying there two months (which I believe will be necessary) and allowing for the time I am on the road, I may expect to be at New York in February, and to embark from thence or some eastern port.—You ask me if I would accept any appointment on that side of the water? You know the circumstances which led me from retirement, step by step, & from one nomination to another up to the present. My object is a return to the same retirement. Whenever therefore I quit the present it will not be to engage in any other office, and most especially any one which would require a constant residence from home.—The books I have collected for you will go off for Havre in three or four days with my baggage. From that port, I shall try to send them by a direct occasion to New York. I am with great & sincere esteem Dr. Sir your affectionate friend and servant.

P. S. I just now learn that Mr. Neckar proposed yesterday to the National assembly a loan of 80 millions, on terms more tempting to the lender than the former, & that they approved it, leaving him to arrange the details in order that they might occupy themselves at once about to the constitution.


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