Elliot’s Debates: Volume 5
Letters Written after the Adjournment of the Federal Convention
TO GENERAL WASHINGTON.
New York, September30, 1787.
Dear Sir, I found, on my arrival here, that certain ideas, unfavorable to the act of the Convention, which had created difficulties in that body, had made their way into Congress. They were patronized chiefly by Mr. R. H. Lee, and Mr. Dane, of Massachusetts. It was first urged, that, as the new Constitution was more than an alteration of the Articles of Confederation, under which Congress acted, and even subverted those Articles altogether, there was a constitutional impropriety in their taking any positive agency m the work. The answer given was, that the resolution of Congress in February had recommended the Convention as the best means of obtaining a firm national government; that, as the powers of the Convention were defined, by their commissions, in nearly the same terms with the powers of Congress given by the Confederation on the subject of alterations. Congress were not more restrained from acceding to the new plan, than the Convention were from proposing it. If the plan was within the powers of the Convention, it was within those of Congress; if beyond those powers, the same necessity which justified the Convention would justify Congress; and a failure of Congress to concur in what was done would imply, either that the Convention had done wrong in exceeding their powers, or that the government proposed was in itself liable to insuperable objections; that such an inference would be the more natural, as Congress had never scrupled to recommend measures foreign to their constitutional functions, whenever the public good seemed to require it; and had in several instances, particularly in the establishment of the new western governments, exercised assumed powers of a very high and delicate nature, under motives infinitely less urgent than the present state of our affairs, if any faith were due to the representations made by Congress themselves, echoed by twelve states in the Union, and confirmed by the general voice of the people. An attempt was made, in the next place, by R. H. L.,to amend the act of the Convention before it should go forth from Congress. He proposed a Bill of Rights, provision for juries in civil cases, and several other things corresponding with the ideas of Col. Mason. He was supported by Mr. Melancthon Smith, of this state. It was contended, that Congress had an undoubted right to insert amendments, and that it was their duty to make use of it in a case where the essential guards of liberty had been omitted. On the other side, the right of Congress was not denied, but the inexpediency of exerting it was urged on the following grounds; first, that every circumstance indicated that the introduction of Congress as a party to the reform was intended by the states merely as a matter of form and respect; secondly, that it was evident, from the contradictory objections which had been expressed by the different members who had animadverted on the plan, that a discussion of its merits would consume much time, without producing agreement even among its adversaries; thirdly, that it was clearly the intention of the states that the plan to be proposed should be the act of the Convention, with the assent of Congress, which could not be the ease, if alterations were made, the Convention being no longer in existence to adopt them; fourthly, that as the act of the Convention, when altered, would instantly become the mere act of Congress, and must be proposed by them as such, and of course be addressed to the legislatures, not conventions of the states, and require the ratification of thirteen instead of nine states, and as the unaltered act would go forth to the states directly from the Convention, under the auspices of that body, some states might ratify the one and some the other of the plans, and confusion and appointment be the least evils that would ensue. These difficulties, which at one time threatened a serious division in Congress, and popular alterations, with the yeas and nays on the Journals, were at length fortunately terminated by the following resolution: “Congress having received the report of the Convention lately assembled in Philadelphia, Resolved unanimously, that the said report, with the resolutions and letter accompanying the same, be transmitted to the several legislatures, in order to be submitted to a convention of delegates chosen in each state by the people thereof, in conformity to the resolves of the Convention made and provided in that case.” Eleven states were presentthe absent ones, Rhode Island and Maryland. A more direct approbation would have been of advantage in this and some other states, where stress will be laid on the agency of Congress in the matter, and a handle be taken by adversaries of any ambiguity on the subject. With regard to Virginia and some other states, reserve on the part of Congress will do no injury. The circumstance of unanimity must be favorable every where.
The general voice of this city seems to espouse the new Constitution. It is supposed, nevertheless, that the party in power is strongly opposed to it. The country must finally decide, the sense of which is as yet wholly unknown. As far as Boston and Connecticut have been heard from, the first impression seems to be auspicious. 1 am waiting with anxiety for the echo from Virginia, but with very faint hopes of its corresponding with my wishes.
TO EDMUND RANDOLPH.
New York, October 21, 1787.
Dear Sir, We hear that opinions are various in Virginia on the plan of the Convention. I have received, within a few days, a letter from the chancellor, by which I find that he gives it his approbation; and another from the president of William and Mary, which, though it does not absolutely reject the Constitution, criticises it pretty freely. The newspapers in the Northern and Middle States begin to teem with controversial publications. The attacks seem to be principally levelled against the organization of the government, and the omission of the provisions contended for in favor of the press, and juries, &c. A new combatant, however, with considerable address and plausibility, strikes at the foundation. He represents the situation of the United States to be such as to render any government improper and impracticable which forms the states into one nation, and is to operate directly on the people. Judging from the newspapers, one would suppose that the adversaries were the most numerous and the most earnest. But there is no other evidence that it is the fact. On the contrary, we learn that the Assembly of New Hampshire, which received the Constitution on the point of their adjournment, were extremely pleased with it. All the information from Massachusetts denotes a favorable impression there. The legislature of Connecticut have unanimously recommended the choice of a convention in that state, and Mr. Baldwin, who is just from the spot, informs me that from present appearances, the opposition will be inconsiderable; that the Assembly, if it depended on them would adopt the system almost unanimously; and that the clergy and all the literary men are exerting themselves in its favor. Rhode Island is divided; the majority being violently against it. The temper of this state cannot yet be fully discerned. But they will probably be outnumbered, if those whose numbers are not yet known should take the opposite side. New Jersey appears to be zealous. Meetings of the people in different counties are declaring their approbation, and instructing their There will probably be a strong Opposition in Pennsylvania. The representative. other side, however, continue to be sanguine. Dr. Carroll, who came hither lately far from considering the public mind as fully known, or finally settled on the subject.
They amount only to a strong presumption that the general sentiment in the Eastern and Middle States is friendly to the proposed system at this time.
TO THOMAS JEFFERSON.[EXTRACT.]
New York, October 24, 1787.
Dear Sir,When the plan of the Constitution proposed by the Convention came before Congress for their sanction, a very serious effort was made by R.H. Lee and Mr. Dane, from Massachusetts, to embarrass it. It was first contended, that Congress could not properly give any positive countenance to a measure which had for its object the subversion of the Constitution under which they acted. This ground of attack failing, the former gentleman urged the expediency of sending out the plan with amendments, and proposed a number of them corresponding with the objections of Col. Mason. This experiment had still less effect. In order, however, to obtain unanimity, it was necessary to couch the resolution in very moderate terms.
TO GENERAL WASHINGTON.[EXTRACT.]
New York, October 28, 1787.
Dear Sir,The mail of yesterday brought me your favor of the 22d instant. The communications from Richmond give me as much pleasure as they exceed my expectations. As I find by a letter from a member of the Assembly, however, that Col. Mason has not got down, and it appears that Mr. Henry is not at bottom a friend, I am not without fears that their combined influence and management may yet create difficulties. There is one consideration which I think ought to have some weight in the case, over and above the intrinsic inducements to embrace the Constitution, and which I have suggested to some of my correspondents. There is at present a very strong probability that nine states at least will pretty speedily concur in establishing it. What will become of the tardy remainder? They must be either left, as outcasts from the society, to shift for themselves, or be compelled to come in, or must come in of themselves when they will be allowed no credit for it. Can either of these situations be as eligible as a prompt and manly determination to support the Union, and share its common fortunes?
My last stated pretty fully the information which had arrived here from different quarters, concerning the proposed Constitution. I recollect nothing that is now to be added, further than that the Assembly of Massachusetts, now sitting, certainly gives it a friendly reception. I enclose a Boston paper, by which it appears that Gov. Hancock has ushered it to them in as propitious a manner as could have been required.
Mr. Charles Pinckney’s character is, as you observe, well marked by the publications which I enclosed. His printing the secret paper at this time could have no motive but the appetite for expected praise; for the subject to which it relates has been dormant a considerable time, and seems likely to remain so.
TO EDMUND RANDOLPH.
New York, November 18, 1787.
Dear Sir,I have not, since my arrival, collected any additional information concerning the progress of the Federal Constitution. I discovered no evidence, on my journey through New Jersey, that any opposition whatever would be made in that state. The Convention of Pennsylvania is to meet on Tuesday next. The members returned, I was told by several persons, reduced the adoption of the plan in that state to absolute certainty, and by a greater majority than the most sanguine advocates had calculated. One of the counties, which had been set down by all on the list of opposition, had elected deputies of known attachment to the Constitution.
I do not find that a single state is represented except Virginia, and it seems very uncertain when a Congress will be made. There are individual members present from several states; and the attendance of this and the neighboring states may, I suppose, be obtained, when it will produce a quorum.
TO EDMUND RANDOLPH.
New York, December 2, 1787.[EXTRACT.]
Dear Sir,No recent indications of the views of the states as to the Constitution have come to my knowledge. The elections in Connecticut are over, and, as far as the returns are known, a large majority are friendly to it. Dr. Johnson says, it will be pretty certainly adopted; but there will be opposition. The power of taxing any thing but imports appears to be the most popular topic among the adversaries. The convention of Pennsylvania is sitting. The result there will not reach you first through my hands. The divisions on preparatory questions, as they are published in the newspapers, show that the party in favor of the Constitution have forty-four or forty-five versus twenty-two or twenty-four, or thereabouts.
The enclosed paper contains two numbers of the Federalist. This paper was begun about three weeks ago, and proposes to go through the subject. I have not been able to collect all the numbers, since my return from Philadelphia, or I would have sent them to you. I have been the less anxious, as I understand the printer means to make a pamphlet of them, when I can give them to you in a more convenient form. You will probably discover marks of different pens. I am not at liberty to give you any other key than that I am in myself for a few numbers, and that one besides myself was a member of the Convention.
TO THOMAS JEFFERSON.
New York, December 20, 1787.[EXTRACT.]
Dear Sir,Since the date of my other letter, the convention of Delaware have unanimously adopted the new Constitution. That of Pennsylvania has adopted it by a majority of 46 against 23. That of New Jersey is sitting, and will adopt pretty unanimously. These are all the conventions that have met. I hear, from North Carolina, that the Assembly there is well disposed.
TO GENERAL WASHINGTON.
New York, December 20, 1787.[EXTRACT.]
Dear Sir,I was favored on Saturday with your letter of the 7th instant, along with which was covered the printed letter of Col. R. H. Lee to the governor. [See p. 503, Vol. I. Elliot's Debates.] It does not appear to me to be a very formidable attack on the new Constitution; unless it should derive an influence from the names of the correspondents, which its intrinsic merits do not entitle it to. He is Certainly not perfectly accurate in the statement of all his facts; and I should infer, from the tenor of the objections in Virginia, that his plan of an executive would hardly be viewed as an amendment of that of the Convention. It is a little singular that three of the most distinguished advocates for amendments, and who expect to unite the thirteen states in their project, appear to be pointedly at variance with each other on one of the capital articles of the system. Col. Lee proposes, that the President should choose a council of eleven, and, with their advice, have the appointment of all officers. Col. Mason’s proposition is, that a council of six should be appointed by the Congress. What degree of power he would confide to it, I do not know. The idea of the governor is, that there should be a plurality of coequal heads, distinguished probably by other peculiarities in the organization. It is pretty certain that some others, who make a common cause with them in the general attempt to bring about alterations, differ still more from them than they do from each other; and that they themselves differ as much on some other great points as on the constitution of the executive.
You did not judge amiss of Mr. Jay. The paragraph affirming a change in his opinion of the plan of the Convention, was an arrant forgery. He has contradicted it in a letter to Mr. J. Vaughan, which has been printed in the Philadelphia gazettes. Tricks of this sort are not uncommon with the enemies of the new Constitution. Col. Mason’s objections were, as I am told, published in Boston, mutilated of that which pointed at the regulation of commerce. Dr. Franklin’s concluding speech, which you will meet with in one of the papers herewith enclosed, is both mutilated and adulterated, so as to change both the form and spirit of it.
The Philadelphia papers will have informed you of the result of the convention of that state. New Jersey is now in convention, and has probably by this time adopted the Constitution. Gen. Irvine, of the Pennsylvania delegation, who is just arrived here, and who conversed with some of the members at Trenton, tells me that great unanimity reigns in the convention.
Connecticut, it is pretty certain, will decide also in the affirmative by a large majority. So, it is presumed, will New Hampshire; though her convention will be a little later than could be wished. There are not enough of the returns in Massachusetts known for a final judgment of the probable event in that state. As far as the returns are known, they are extremely favorable; but as they are chiefly from the maritime parts of the state, they are a precarious index of the public sentiment. I have good reason to believe that if you are in correspondence with any gentleman in that quarter, and a proper occasion should offer for an explicit communication of your good wishes for the plan, so as barely to warrant an explicit assertion of the fact, that it would be attended with valuable effects. I barely drop the idea. The circumstances on which the propriety of it depends are best known to you, as they will be best judged of by yourself. The information from North Carolina gave me great pleasure. We have nothing from the states south of it.
TO EDMUND RANDOLPH.
New York, January 10, 1788.
Dear Sir,I received two days ago your favor of December 27, enclosing a copy of your letter to the Assembly. I have read it with attention, and I can add with pleasure, because the spirit of it does as ranch honor to your candor, as the general reasoning does to your abilities. Nor can l believe that in this quarter the opponents of the Constitution will find encouragement in it. You are already aware that your objections are not viewed in the same decisive light by me that they are by you. I must own that I differ still more from your opinion, that a prosecution of the experiment of a second Convention will be favorable, even in Virginia, to the object which I am sure you have at heart. It is to me apparent that, had your duty led you to throw your influence into the opposite scale, it would have given it a decided and unalterable preponderance; and that Mr. Henry would either have suppressed his enmity, or been baffled in the policy which it has dictated. It appears also that the grounds taken by the opponents in different quarters forbid any hope of concord among them. Nothing can be farther from your views than the principles of different sets of men who have carried on their opposition under the respectability of your name. In this state, the party adverse to the Constitution notoriously meditate either a dissolution of the Union, or protracting it by patching up the Articles of Confederation. In Connecticut and Massachusetts, the opposition proceeds from that part of the people who have a repugnance in general to good government, or to any substantial abridgment of state powers, and a part of whom, in Massachusetts, are known to aim at confusion, and are suspected of wishing a reversal of the revolution. The minority in Pennsylvania, as far as they are governed by any other views than an habitual opposition to their rivals, are manifestly averse to some essential ingredients in a national government. You are better acquainted with Mr. Henry’s politics than I can be; but I have for some time considered him as no further concurring in the plan of amendments than as he hopes to render it subservient to his real designs. Viewing the matter in this light, the inference with me is unavoidable that, were a second trial to be made, the friends of a good constitution for the Union would not only find themselves not a little differing from each other as to the proper amendments, but perplexed and frustrated by men who had objects totally different. A second Convention would, of course, be formed under the influence, and composed in a great measure of the members, of the opposition in the several states. But were the first difficulties overcome, and the Constitution reedited with amendments, the event would still be infinitely precarious. Whatever respect may be due to the rights of private judgment, (and no man feels more of it than I do,) there can be no doubt that there are subjects to which the capacities of the bulk of mankind are unequal, and on which they must and will be governed by those with whom they happen to have acquaintance and confidence. The proposed Constitution is of this description. The great body of those who are both for and against it must follow the judgment of others, not their own. Had the Constitution been framed and recommended by an obscure individual, instead of a body possessing public respect and confidence, there cannot be a doubt that, although it would have stood in the identical words, it would have commanded little attention from most of those who now admire its wisdom. Had yourself, Col. Mason, Col. R. H. Lee, Mr. Henry, and a few others, seen the Constitution in the same light with those who subscribed it, I have no doubt that Virginia would have been as zealous and unanimous, as she is now divided, on the subject. I infer from these considerations, that if a government be ever adopted in America, it must result from a fortunate coincidence of leading opinions, and a general confidence of the people in those who may recommend it. The very attempt at a second Convention strikes at the confidence in the first; and the existence of a second, by opposing influence to influence, would in a manner destroy an effectual confidence in either, and give a loose rein to human opinions,which must be as various and irreconcilable concerning theories of government, as doctrines of religion,and give opportunities to designing men, which it might be impossible to counteract.
The Connecticut convention has probably come to a decision before this; but the event is not known here. It is understood that a great majority will adopt the Constitution. The accounts from Massachusetts vary extremely, according to the channels through which they come. It is said that S. Adams, who has hitherto been reserved, begins to make open declaration of his hostile views. His influence is not great, but this step argues an opinion that he can calculate on a considerable party. is said here, and, I believe, on good ground, that North Carolina has postponed her convention till July, in order to have the previous example of Virginia. Should North Carolina fall into Mr. Henry’s politics, which does not appear to me improbable, it will endanger the Union more than any other circumstance that could happen. My apprehensions of this danger increase every day. The multiplied inducements, at this moment, to the local sacrifices necessary to keep the states together, can never be expected to coincide again, and they are counteracted by so many unpropitious circumstances, that their efficacy can with difficulty be confided in. I have no information from South Carolina, or Georgia, on which any certain opinion can be formed of the temper of those states. The prevailing idea has been, that both of them would speedily and generally embrace the Constitution. It is impossible, however, that the example of Virginia and North Carolina should not have an influence on their politics. I consider every thing, therefore, problematical from Maryland southward.
We have no Congress yet. The number of states on the spot does not exceed five. It is probable that a quorum will now be soon made. A delegate from New Hampshire is expected, which will make up a representation from that state. The termination of the Connecticut convention will set her delegates at liberty, and the meeting of the Assembly of this state will fill the vacancy which has some time existed in her delegation.
TO EDMUND RANDOLPH.
New York, January 27, 1788.
Dear Sir,A Congress was made, for the first time, on Monday last, and our friend C. Griffin placed in the chair. There was no competition in the case, which you will wonder at, as Virginia has so lately supplied a president. New Jersey did not like it, I believe, very well, but acquiesced.
I postponed writing by the last mail, in hopes of being able, by this, to acquaint you with the probable result of the convention of Massachusetts. It appears, however, that the prospect continues too equivocal to justify a conjecture on the subject. The representations vary somewhat, but they all tend to excite, rather than diminish, anxiety. Mr. Gerry had been introduced to a seat, for the purpose of stating facts. On the arrival of the discussion at the article concerning the Senate, he signified, without being called on, that he had important information to communicate on that subject. Mr. Dana and several others remarked on the impropriety of Mr. Gerry’s conduct. Gerry rose to justify. Others opposed it as irregular. A warm conversation arose, and continued till the adjournment; after which a still warmer one took place between Gerry and Dana. The members gathered around them, took sides as they were for or against the Constitution, and strong symptoms of confusion appeared. At length, however, they separated. It was expected that the subject would be renewed in the Convention the next morning. This was the state of things when the post came off In one of the papers enclosed, you will find your letter to the Assembly reviewed by some critic of this place. I can form no guess who he is. I have seen another attack grounded on a comparative view of your objections, Col. Mason’s, and Mr. Gerry’s. This was from Philadelphia. I have not the paper, or l would add it.
TO GENERAL WASHINGTON.
New York, February 3, 1788.
Dear Sir,Another mail has arrived from Boston without terminating the conflict between our hopes and fears. I have a letter from Mr. King, of the 27th, which, after dilating somewhat on the ideas in his former letters, concludes with the following paragraph: “We have avoided every question which would have shown the division of the House. Of consequence, we are not positive of the numbers on each side. By the last calculation we made on our side, we were doubtful whether we exceeded them, or they us, in numbers. They, however, say that they have a majority of eight or twelve against us. We by no means despair.” Another letter of the same date, from another member, gives the following picture: “Never was there an assembly in this state in possession of greater ability and information than the present convention; yet I am in doubt whether they will approve the Constitution. There are, unhappily, three parties opposed to itfirst, all men who are in favor of paper money and tender laws,these are, more or less, in every part of the state; secondly, all the late insurgents and their abettors,in the three great western counties they are very numerous; we have, in the convention, eighteen or twenty who were actually in Shay’s army; thirdly, a great majority of the members from the Province of Maine. Many of them and their constituents are only squatters on other people’s land, and they are afraid of being brought to account; they also think, though erroneously, that their favorite plan, of being a separate state, will be defeated. Add to these the honest doubting people, and they make a powerful host. The leaders of this party areMr. Widgery, Mr. Thomson, and Mr. Nasson, from the Province of Maine; Dr. Taylor, from the county of Worcester; and Mr. Bishop, the neighborhood of Rhode Island. To manage the cause against them are the present and late governors, three judges of the Supreme Court, fifteen members of the Senate, twenty from among the most respectable of the clergy, ten or twelve of the first characters at the bar, judges of probate, high sheriffs of counties, and many other respectable people, merchants, &c., Generals Heath Lincoln, Brooks, and others of the late army. With all this ability in support of the cause, I am pretty well satisfied we shall lose the question, unless we can take off some of the opposition by amendments. I do not mean such as are to be made conditions of the ratification, but recommendations only. Upon this plan I flatter myself we may possibly get a majority of twelve or fifteen, if not more.”
The legislature of this state has voted a convention on the 17th of June.
TO EDMUND RANDOLPH.
New York, March 3, 1788.
Dear Sir,The convention of New Hampshire have disappointed the general expectation. They have not rejected the Constitution, but they have adjourned without adopting it. It was found that, on a final question there would be a majority of three or four in the negative; but in this number were included some who, with instructions from their towns against the Constitution, had been proselyted by the discussions. These, concurring with the federalists in the adjournment, carried it by fifty-seven against forty-seven, if I am rightly informed as to the numbers. The second meeting is not to be till the last week in June. I have inquired of the gentlemen from that quarter, what particularly recommended so late a day, supposing it might refer to the times fixed by New York and Virginia. They tell me it was governed by the intermediate annual elections and courts. If the opposition in that state be such as they are described, it is not probable that they pursue any sort of plan, more than that of Massachusetts. This event, whatever cause may have produced it, or whatever consequences it may have in New Hampshire, is no small check to the progress of the business. The opposition here, which are unquestionably hostile to every thing beyond the federal principle, will take new spirits. The event in Massachusetts had almost extinguished their hopes. That in Pennsylvania will, probably, be equally encouraged.
TO EDMUND RANDOLPH.[EXTRACT.]
New York, July 2, 1788.
Dear Sir,There are public letters just arrived from Jefferson. The contents are not yet known. His private letters to me and others refer to his public for political news. I find that he is becoming more and more a friend to the new Constitution, his objections being gradually dispelled by his own further reflections on the subject. He particularly renounces his opinion concerning the expediency of a ratification by nine, and a repeal by four, states, considering the mode pursued by Massachusetts as the only rational one, but disapproving some of the alterations recommended by that state. He will see still more room for disapprobation in the recommendation of other states. The defects of the Constitution which he continues to criticise are, the omission of a bill of rights, and of the principle of rotation, at least in the executive department.
TO EDMUND RANDOLPH.
New York, July 16, 1788.
Dear Sir,The enclosed papers will give you the latest intelligence from Poughkeepsie. It seems by no means certain what the result there will be. Some of the most sanguine calculate on a ratification. The best informed apprehend some clog that will amount to a condition. The question is made peculiarly interesting in this place, by its connection with the question relative to the place to be recommended for the meeting of the first Congress under the new government.
Thirteen states are at present represented. A plan for setting this new machine in motion has been reported some days, but will not be hurried to a conclusion. Having been but a little time here, I am not yet fully in the politics of Congress.
TO EDMUND RANDOLPH.
New York, July 29, 1788.
Dear Sir,The enclosed papers will give you a view of the business in the Convention at Poughkeepsie. It is not as yet certain that the ratification will take any final shape that can make new York immediately a member of the new Union. The opponents cannot come to that point without yielding a complete victory to the federalists, which must be a severe sacrifice of their pride. It is supposed, too, that some of them would not be displeased at seeing a bar to the pretensions of this city to the first meeting of the new government. On the other side, the zeal for an unconditional ratification is not a little increased by contrary wishes.
TO EDMUND RANDOLPH.[EXTRACT.]
New York, August 22, 1788.
Dear Sir,I have your favor of the 13th. The effect of Clinton’s circular letter in Virginia does not surprise me. It is a signal of concord and hope to the enemies of the Constitution every where, and will, I fear, prove extremely dangerous. Notwithstanding your own remarks on the subject, I cannot but think that an early convention will be an unadvised measure. It will evidently be the offspring of party and passion, and will, probably for that reason alone, be the parent of error and public injury. It is pretty clear that a majority of the people of the Union are in favor of the Constitution as it stands, or at least are not dissatisfied with it in that form; or, if this be not the case, it is at least clear that a greater proportion unite in that system than are likely to unite in any other theory. Should radical alterations take place, therefore, they will not result from the deliberate sense of the people, but will be obtained by management, or extorted by menaces, and will be a real sacrifice of the public will, as well as of the public good, to the views of individuals, and perhaps the ambition of state legislatures.*[Note *: * The circular letter of Gov. Clinton will be found in Elliot's Debates, vol. 2, page 387. See, also, Washington's Writings, vol. 9, page 419.]
TO EDMUND RANDOLPH.[EXTRACT.]
New York, September 24, 1788.
Dear Sir,I have been favored with yours of the 12th instant. The picture it gives of the state of our country is the more distressing as it seems to exceed all e known resources for immediate relief. Nothing, in my opinion, can give the desired facility to the discharge of debts, but a reëstablishment of that confidence which will at once make the creditor more patient and open to the solvent debtor other means than bringing his property to market. How far the new government will produce these effects, cannot yet be decided. But the utmost success that can be hoped from it will leave in full force the causes of intermediate embarrassment. The additional pressure apprehended from British debts, is an evil also for which I perceive at present no certain remedy. As far, however, as the favorable influence of the new government may extend, that may be one source of alleviation.
It may be expected also that the British creditors will feel several motives to indulgence. And I will not suppress a hope that the new government will be both able and willing to effect something by negotiation. Perhaps it might not be a miss for the Assembly to prepare the way by some act or other, for drawing the attention of the first session of the Congress to this subject. The possession of the post by Great Britain, after the removal of the grounds of her complaint by the provision in the new Constitution with regard to the treaty, will justify a renewal of our demands, and an interference in favor of American citizens on whom the performance of the treaty on our side depends.
TO EDMUND RANDOLPH.
New York, October 17, 1788.
Dear Sir,I have a letter from Mr. Jefferson, but it contains nothing of much consequence. His public letters, to which it refers, have not yet been communicated from the office of foreign affairs. Through other authentic channels, I learn that the States-General will pretty certainly be convened in May next. The efficacy of that cure for the public maladies will depend materially on the mode in which the deputies may be selected, which appears to be not yet settled. There is good reason also to presume that, as the spirit which at present agitates the nation has been in a great measure caught from the American revolution, so the result of the struggle there will be not a little affected by the character which liberty may receive from the experiment now on foot here. The tranquil and successful establishment of a great reform, by the reason of the community, must give as much force to the doctrines urged on one side, as a contrary event would do to the policy maintained on the other.
As Col. Carrington will be with you before this gets to hand, I leave it with him to detail all matters of a date previous to his departure. Of a subsequent date I recollect nothing worth adding. I requested him also to confer with you in full confidence on the appointments to the Senate and House of Representatives, so far as my friends may consider me in relation to either. He is fully possessed of my real sentiments, and will explain them more conveniently than can be done on paper. I mean not to decline an agency in launching the new government, if such should be assigned me, in one of the Houses, and I prefer the House of Representatives, chiefly because, if I can render any service there, it can only be to the public, and not, even in imputation, to myself. At the same time my preference, I own, is somewhat founded on the supposition, that the arrangements for the popular elections may secure me against any competition which would require, on my part, any step that would speak a solicitude which I do not feel, or have the appearance of a spirit of electioneering, which I despise.
TO EDMUND RANDOLPH.
New York, November 2, 1788.
Dear Sir,I received yesterday your favor of the 23d ultimo. The first countenance of the Assembly corresponds with the picture which my imagination had formed of it. The views of the greater part of the opposition to the federal government have, ever since the Convention, been regarded by me as permanently hostile, and likely to produce every effort that might endanger or embarrass it.
My last letter with Col. Carrington’s communications, to which it referred, will have sufficiently explained my sentiments with regard to the legislature service under the new Constitution. My first wish is, to see the government put into quiet and successful operation, and to afford any service that may be acceptable from me for that purpose. My second wish, if that were to be consulted, would prefer, for reasons formerly hinted, an opportunity of contributing that service in the House of Representatives, rather than in the Senate, provided the opportunity be attainable from the spontaneous suffrage of the constituents. Should the real friends of the
Constitution think this preference inconsistent with any primary object, as Col. Carrington tells me is the case with some who are entitled to peculiar respect, and view my renouncing it as of any material consequence, I shall not hesitate to comply. You will not infer, from the freedom with which these observations are made, that I am in the least unaware of the probability that, whatever my inclinations or those of my friends may be, they are likely to be of little avail in the present case. I take it for certain that a clear majority of the Assembly are enemies to the government, and I have no reason to suppose that I can be less obnoxious than others on the opposite side. An election into the Senate, therefore, can hardly come into question. I know, also, that a good deal will depend on the arrangements for the election of the other branch, and that much may depend, moreover, on the steps to be taken by the candidates, which will not be taken by me. Here again, therefore, there must be great uncertainty, if not improbability, of my election. With these circumstances in view, it is impossible that I can be the dupe of false calculations, even if I were in other cases disposed to indulge them. I trust it is equally impossible for the result, whatever it may be, to rob me of any reflections which enter into the internal fund of comfort and happiness. Popular favor or disfavor is no criterion of the character maintained with those whose esteem an honorable ambition must court: much less can it be a criterion of that maintained with one’s self. And when the spirit of party directs the public voice, it must be a little mind, indeed, that can suffer in its own estimation, or apprehend danger of suffering in that of others.