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What the event will be, is also beyond the reach of my foresight. We have errors to correct ; we have probably had too good an opinion of human nature in forming our confederation. Experience has taught us that men will not adopt and carry into execution, measures the best calculated for their own good, without the intervention of coercive power. I do not conceive we can subsist long as a nation, without lodging somewhere a power which will pervade the whole union in as energetic a manner, as the authority of the state governments extends over the several states. To be fearful of investing Congress, constituted as that body is, with ample authorities for national purposes, appears to me the very climax of popuIar absurdity and madness. Could Congress exert them for the detriment of the people, without injuring themselves in an equal or greater propor. tion? Are not their interests inseparably connected with those of their constituents ? By the rotation of appointment, must they not mingle frequently with the mass of citizens? Is it not rather to be apprehended, if they were possessed of the powers before described, that the individual members would be induced to use them on many occasions, very timidly and inefficaciously, for fear of losing their popularity and future election ? We must take human nature as we find it; perfection falls not to the share of mortals. Many are of opinion, that Congreșs have too frequently made use of the suppliant humble tone of requisition, in applications to the states, when they had a right to assert their imperial dignity, and command obedience. Be that as it may, requisitions are a perfect nullity, where thirteen sovereign, independent, disunited states, are in the habit of discussing, and refusing or complying with them at their option. Requisitions are actually little better than a jest and a byeword throughout the land. If you tell the legislatures they have violated the treaty of peace, and invaded the prerogatives of the confederacy, they will laugh in your face. What then is to be done ? Things cannot go on in the same train for ever. It is much to be feared, as you observe, that the better kind of people, being disgust.cd with these circumstances, will have their minds prepared for any revolution whatever. We are apt to run from one extreme into another. To anticipate and prevent disastrous contingences, would be the part of wisdom and patriotism.
" What astonishing changes are a few years capable of producing! I am told that even respect. able characters speak of a monarchical form of government, without horror. From thinking, proceeds speaking ; thence to acting is often but a single step.
But how irrevocable and tremendous ! What a triumph for our enemies to verify their predictions! What a triumph for the advocates of despotism to find that we are incapable of governing ourselves, and that systems founded on the basis of equal liberty, are merely ideal and fallacious! Would to God that wise measures may be taken in time, to avert the consequences we have but too much reason to apprehend.”
• Retired as I am from the world, I frankly acknowledge, I cannot feel myself an unconcerned spectator. Yet having happily assisted in bringing the ship into
port, and having been fairly discharged, it is not my business to embark again on a sea of troubles.
“ Nor could it be expected that my sentiments and opinions would have much weight on the minds of my countrymen. They have been neglected, though given as a last legacy, in the most solemn manner. I had then, perhaps, some claims to public attentions. I consider myself as having none at present."
Illumination, on the subject of enlarging the powers of Congress, was gradual. Washington, in his extensive correspondence and intercourse with the leading characters of the different states, urged the necessity of a radical reform in the existing system of government. The business was at length seriously taken up, and a proposition was made by Virginia, for electing deputies to a general convention, for the sole purpose of reyising the federal system of government.
While this proposition was under consideration, an event took place, which pointed out the propri. ety of its adoption. The pressure of evils in a great degree resulting from the imbecility of
government, aided by erroneous opinions, which confound. liberty with licentiousness, produced commotions in Massachusetts, which amounted to treason and rebellion. On this occasion, Washing-ton expressed himself in a letter as follows; “The commotions and temper of numerous bodies in the eastern country, present a state of things equally to be baniented and deprecated. They exhibit a melancholy verification of what our transatlantic foes have predicted, and of another thing perhaps,
which is stiil more to be regretted, and is yet more unaccountable, that mankind when left to themselves, are unfit for their own government. I am mortified beyond expression, when I view the clouds which have spread over the brightest morn that ever dawned upon my country.
In a word, I am lost in amazement, when i behold what intrigue the interested views of desperate characters, ignorance and jealousy of the minor part, are capable of effecting, as a scourge on the major part of our fellowcitizens of the union; for it is hardly to be supposed, that the great body of the people, though they will not act, can be so short sighted, or enveloped in darkness, as not to see rays of a distant sun through all this mist of intoxication and folly.
“ You talk, my good sir, of employing influence to appease the present tumults in Massachusetts. I know not where that influence is to be found, nor, if attainable, that it would be a proper remedy for these disorders. Influence is not government. Let us have a government by which our lives, liberties, and properties, will be secured, or let us know the worst at once. Under these impressions, my humble opinion is, that there is a call for decision. Know precisely what the insurgents aim at. If they have real grievances, redress them if possible, or acknowledge the justice of them, and your inability to do it in the present moment. If they have not, employ the force of government against them at once. If this is in. adequate, all will be convinced that the superstructure is bad, or wants support. To be more ex. posed in the eyes of the world, and more contemp
tible, is hardly possible. To delay one or the other of these expedients, is to exasperate on the one hand, or to give confidence on the other, and will add to their numbers; for like snowballs such bodies increase by every movement, unless there is something in the way to obstruct and crumble them before their weight is too great and irresistible.
“ These are my sentiments. Precedents are dangerous things. Let the reins of government, then, be braced and held with a steady hand, and every violation of the constitution be reprehended. If defective, let it be amended, but not suf. fered to be trampled upon while it has an exist
Virginia placed the name of Washington at the head of her delegates for the proposed convention. Letters poured in upon him from all sides, urging his acceptance of the appointment. In answer to one from Mr. Madison, who had been the principal advocate of the measure in the Virginia legislature, Gen. Washington replied, “ Although. I have bid a public adieu to the public walks of life, and had resolved never more to tread that theatre, yet,
upon any occasion so interesting to the well being of our confederacy, it had been the wish of the assembly that I should be an associate in the business of revising the federal system, I should, from a sense of the obligation I am under for repeated proofs of confidence in me, more than from any opinion I could entertain of my usefulness, have obeyed its call; but it is now out of my power to do this with any degree of consistency. The cause I will mention.