George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Mifflin, 18 April 1794

From Thomas Mifflin

Philadelphia 18. April 1794


In answer to a circular letter, which I addressed to the Officers of this Commonwealth, enjoining, among other things, an implicit obedience to the laws of the Union, I have received a variety of communications of a very patriotic and satisfactory nature:1 and the inclosed Extracts from the letters of Judge Addison and Mr Reddick (the Prothonotary of the County of Washington) relatively to the Excise, appear to me to contain information of sufficient moment, to excuse my submitting them to your consideration.2 I am, with perfect respect, Sir, Your most obedt Servt

Tho. Mifflin

LS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; Df, PHarH: Executive Correspondence; LB, PHarH: Governor’s Letter-Books.

1In his circular letter of 21 March, Mifflin wrote: “In the present state of our National affairs, relatively to the Belligerent powers of Europe, I think it my duty to call the attention of the Officers of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to the prospect of such events, as cannot fail to interest the patriotism of every good Citizen; and which, if not happily averted, will, I anxiously hope, produce that unanimity of sentiment and conduct among the people, that is obviously essential to give energy and success to the exertions of a Republican Government, created by their will, and only to be supported by their confidence. . . . The disposition that has appeared in some of the Counties, to resist and counteract the execution of the Excise Law of Congress, will attract particular notice. Whatever diversity of opinion may arise as to the policy of imposing that tax; the propriety of acquiescing in it, while sanctioned by the Legislative authority, cannot be controverted, by any friend to the peace and happiness of his Country. The same Constitution that gave the power to lay a tax, has designated the mode in which original impolicy, or oppressive operation, may be represented to that tribunal which can, and, in the case of real grievance, is bound, to grant redress. As Freemen, let us always remonstrate against actual wrongs; but, as Citizens, let us always obey existing Laws” (PHarH: Executive Correspondence). The federal excise tax on whiskey was opposed, sometimes violently, by many residents of the western counties in Pennsylvania (see GW’s Proclamation of 24 Feb.). For the excise tax, see “An Act repealing, after the last day of June next, the duties heretofore laid upon Distilled Spirits imported from abroad, and laying others in their stead; and also upon Spirits distilled within the United States, and for appropriating the same,” 3 March 1791, and “An Act concerning the Duties on Spirits distilled within the United States,” 8 May 1792 (Stat description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends . 1:199–214, 267–71).

2Alexander Addison (1759–1807) a native of Scotland, attended the University of Edinburgh and was a licensed Presbyterian preacher when he emigrated to the United States in the early 1780s. After preaching for a short time in Pennsylvania, he studied law and was then admitted to the bar in Washington County. He served as the chief justice on the state’s fifth district court, 1791–1803. The extract of his letter to Mifflin of 31 March reports that nothing “of a criminal nature” has “come within my cognizance,” except for “the conviction of Samuel Wilson, and the submission of the other rioters in Allegheny county. . . . In private conversation I have endeavoured to inculcate that constitutional resistance, which alone is justifiable in a free people. The Constitution, however, ordaining an equal Excise, renders it impossible to make this an equal tax, in the estimation of the people of this Country. Were I to express an opinion, I would say, that if the Collection of the Excise were in proper hands, it might now be made; but it seemd to be intrusted to men without spirit or discretion, and in whose principles the people have no confi dence. They seem tamely content with the enjoyment of their appointments; or, if they have discovered any acts of decision and vigor, it is, I conceive, in unlawful and oppressive stretches of authority and in the commission of trespasses” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

Attorney David Redick (d. 1805), a native of Ireland, originally lived in Lancaster County, Pa., after emigrating to the United States, but circa 1780 he settled permanently in the town of Washington, Pa., in Washington County. He represented Washington County in the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania, 1786–89, and served briefly as the state’s vice president in 1788. The extract of his letter to Mifflin of 8 April reads: “I had conversations with many of the People on the subject matter of your letter—Generally I found a disposition to comply; but I found one very considerable obstacle in their way—they fear a vindictive spirit in the Collector [Robert Johnson], which may prompt a rigorous hand, in order to retaliate for past disappointments and affronts—however they may be mistaken in the Man, I have no doubt but a change would have very happy effects. Indeed, I have reason to believe, at least, to fear, that altho’ a general compliance should take place, that as the minds of many being heated, ungovernable spirits would now and then boil over and scald the head of the present Officer—Whereas if another should be appointed to supercede him, one who would not only have spirit, but dignity of manners, all might be well” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

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