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.

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