Letter from James M. Varnum, of Rhode Island, to the President of the Convention, enclosing the subjoined Communication, from certain Citizens of Rhode Island, to the Federal Convention (1787)

Image: Exchange Place, and the Union Depot. Engraving from The Providence Plantations for 250 Years, Welcome Arnold Greene (1886). page 129. Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Providence_RI_Exchange_Place.jpg

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Note. — The following letter from Rhode Island to the Convention was intended to have been delivered by Gen. VARNUM, who had, however, left Philadelphia before its arrival. On his return to Rhode Island, he wrote the letter enclosing it.

Newport, June 18, 1787.

Sir,— The enclosed address, of which I presume your Excellency has received a duplicate, was returned to me, from New York, after my arrival in this state. I flattered myself that our legislature, which convened on Monday last, would have receded from the resolution therein referred to, and have complied with the recommendation of Congress in sending delegates to the Federal Convention. The upper House, or governor and council, embraced the measure; but it was negatived in the House of Assembly by a large majority, notwithstanding that the greatest exertions were made to support it.

Being disappointed in their expectations. the minority in the administration, and all the worthy citizens of this state whose minds are well informed, regretting the peculiarities of their situation, place their fullest confidence in the wisdom and moderation of the national council, and indulge the warmest hopes of being favorably considered in their deliberations. From these deliberations they anticipate a political system which must finally be adapted, and from which will result the safety, the honor, and the happiness, of the United States.

Permit me, sir, to observe, that the measures of our present legislature do not exhibit the real character of the state. They are equally reprobated and abhorred by gentlemen of the learned professions, by the whole mercantile body and by most of the respectable farmers and mechanics. The majority of the administration is composed of a licentious number of men, destitute of education, and many of them void of principle. From anarchy and confusion they derive their temporary consequence; and this they endeavor to prolong by debauching the minds of the common people, whose attention is wholly directed to the abolition of debts, public and private. With these are associated the disaffected of every description, particularly those who were unfriendly during the war. Their paper money system, founded in oppression and fraud, they are determined to support at every hazard; and, rather than relinquish their favorite pursuit, they trample upon the most sacred obligations. As a proof of this they refused to comply with a requisition of Congress for repealing all laws repugnant to the treaty of peace with Great Britain, and urged, as their principal reason, that it would be calling in question the propriety of their former measures.

These may be attributed partly to the extreme freedom of our constitution, and partly to the want of energy in the Federal Union; and it is greatly to be apprehended that they cannot speedily be removed, but by uncommon and very serious exertions. It is fortunate, however, that the wealth and resources of this state are chiefly in possession of the well-affected, and that they are entirely devoted to the public good.

I have the honor of being, sir, With the greatest veneration and esteem, Your Excellency’s very obedient and most humble servant,*

[Note *: * The signing was omitted through inadvertence, but the letter was from Gen. Varnum. 73 49]


His Excellency, Gen. Washington.

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