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George Washington to Edmund Randolph, 11 October 1794

George Washington to Edmund Randolph

[Carlisle, Pennsylvania, October 11, 1794. On October 14, 1794, Randolph wrote to Washington: “At eight o’clock last night I was honored by Colo. Hamilton’s public letter1 of the 11th instant.”2 Letter not found.]

1Although Randolph refers to “Colo. Hamilton’s public letter,” in actuality the letter in question was written by H for Washington. On October 11, 1794, Washington wrote a private letter to Randolph, which reads in part as follows: “… I had scarcely dispatched my letter to you yesterday, when the Commissioners of deputies (Findley and Redick) from the Insurgent Counties arrived. My Public letter, written by Colo. Hamilton will inform you of the result. I believe they are scared” (ALS, letterpress copy, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress).

William Findley, who had emigrated from Ireland to America before the American Revolution, had served in the Pennsylvania legislature during the Confederation period. A “Constitutionalist” in state politics and an Antifederalist in national politics, he followed the political views most prevalent in western Pennsylvania. He had been an outspoken opponent of the excise laws. From 1791 to 1799 he was a member of Congress. In 1796 Findley wrote a history of the Whiskey Insurrection. See H to Washington, August 5, 1794, note 1

David Redick, like Findley an emigrant from Ireland, was prominent in Pennsylvania state politics during the Confederation period. In 1791 he was appointed prothonotary of Washington County, and in 1792 he became clerk of the courts. On October 2, 1794, Findley and Redick were appointed at the second Parkinson’s Ferry meeting to present to Washington and Thomas Mifflin resolutions declaring the general willingness of the people to submit to the laws of the United States (Pennsylvania Archives, 2nd ser., IV description begins Pennsylvania Archives, 2nd ser., IV (n.p., 1876). description ends , 389).

Washington wrote about the meeting with Findley and Redick in his diary for October 9, 1794, as follows: “… William Findley and David Redick deputed by the Committee of safety (as it is dissignated) which met on the 2d of this month at Parkinson Ferry arrived in Camp with the Resolutions of the said Committee;—and to give information of the State of things in the four Western Counties of Pennsylvania to wit Washington, Fayette Wesd and Allegany in order to see if it would prevent the March of the Army into them.

“At 10 oclock I had a meeting with these persons in presence of Govr. [Richard] Howell (of New Jersey) the Secretary of the Treasury, Colo. Hamilton, and Mr. [Bartholomew] Dandridge: Govr. [Thomas] Mifflin was invited to be present, but excused himself on acct. of business.

“I told the Deputies that by one of the Resolutions it would appear that they were empowered to give information of the disposition and of the existing state of matters in the four Counties abovemend: that I was ready to hear and would listen patiently, and with candour to what they had to say.

“Mr. Findley began … viz—That the People in the parts where he was best acquainted, had seen there folly, and he believed were disposed to submit to the Laws; that he thought, but could not undertake to be responsible, for the reestablishment of the public Offices for the collection of the Taxes of distilled spirits and Stills—intimating however, that it might be best for the present, and until the peoples minds were a little more tranquilized, to hold the Office of Inspection at Pitsburgh under the protection—or at least under the influence of the Garrison;—That he thought the Distillers would either enter their stills or would put them down; That the Civilian authority was beginning to recover its tone; and enumerated some instances of it;—That the ignorance and general want of information among the people far exceeded any thing he had any conception of; That it was not merely the excise law their opposition was aimed at, but to all law, and Government;—and to the Officers of Government;—and that the situation in which he had been, and the life he had led for sometime, was such, that rather than go through it again, he would prefer quitting this scene altogether.

“Mr Redicks information was similar to the above.… He added, that for a long time after the riots commenced, and until lately, the distrust of one another was such, that even friends were affraid to communicate their sentiments to each other;—That by whispers this was brought about; and growing bolder as they became more communicative they found their strength, and that there was a general disposition not only to acquiesce under, but to support the Laws—and he gave some instances also of Magistrates enforcing them.

“He said the People of those Counties believed that the opposition to the Excise law—or at least that their dereliction to it, in every other part of the U. States was similar to their own, and that no Troops could be got to march against them for the purpose of coercion;—that every acct. until very lately, of Troops marching against them was disbelieved; and supposed to be fabricated tales of governmental men;—That now they had got alarmed;—That many were disposing of their property at an under rate, in order to leave the Country; and added (I think) that they wd. go to Detroit.—That no person of any consequence, except one, but what had availed themselves of the proffered amnesty; that those who were still in the opposition, and obnoxious to the laws, were men of little or no property, and cared but little where they resided;—That he did not believe there was the least intention in them to oppose the Army;—and that there was not three rounds of ammunition for them in all the Western Country,—He (and I think Mr. Findley also) was apprehensive that the resentments of the Army might be productive of treatment to some of those people that might be attended with disagreeable consequences; and on that account seemed to deprecate the March of it; declaring however, that it was their wish, if the people did not give proofs of unequivocal submission, that it might not stop short of its object.

“After hearing what both had to say, I briefly told them—That it had been the earnest wish of government. to bring the people of those counties to a sense of their duty, by mild, and lenient means;—That for the purpose of representing to their sober reflection the fatal consequences of such conduct Commissioners had been sent amongst them that they might be warned in time of what must follow, if they persevered in their opposition to the laws; but that coercion wou’d not be resorted to except in the dernier resort:—but, that the season of the year made it indispensible that preparation for it should keep pace with the propositions that had been made;—That it was unnecessary for me to enumerate the transactions of those people (as they related to the proceedings of government) forasmuch as they knew them as well as I did:—That the measure which they were now witness to the adoption of was not less painful than expensive—was inconvenient and distressing in every point of view;—but as I considered the support of the Laws as an object of the first magnitude, and the greatest part of the expence had already been incurred, that nothing short of the most unequivocal proofs of absolute submission should retard the March of the Army into the Western counties, in order to convince them that the government could, and would enforce obedience to the laws not suffering them to be insulted with impunity.…

“… I assured them that every possible care should be taken to keep the Troops from offering them any insult or damage, and that those who always had been subordinate to the Laws and such as had availed themselves of the amnesty, should not be injured in their persons or property; and that the treatment of the rest would depend upon their own conduct. That the Army, unless opposed, did not mean to act as executioners, or bring offenders to a military Tribunal; but merely to aid the civil Magistrates, with whom offences would lye.…” (GW Diaries description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Diaries of George Washington (Boston and New York, 1925). description ends , IV, 212–16.)

2ALS, RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters, 1790–1799, National Archives.

In his letter to Washington on October 14, 1794, Randolph also wrote: “I shall communicate without reserve the substance of it; as it is important, that the attempts to prove the nonexistence of the necessity for the further march of military force should be counteracted. The statement in that letter leaves no doubt on my mind that the execution of the laws would be at least problematical were military apprehension to be wholly withdrawn.”

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