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To George Washington from John Taylor, 14 January 1794

From John Taylor

[Philadelphia, c.14 January 1794]1

SIR,

IN the spirit of truth, and not of adulation, does the following performance solicit your attention. Nor is its hope of acquiring some share of your countenance diminished, by the circumstance of your not having in an official character withheld your signature, from several of the measures investigated.2

A responsibility in the chief magistrate, for the effects of every legislative act—an avowal, that unforeseen consequences, however mischievous, ought to be submitted to, for the sake of consistency in error—that experiment in search of truth, is to be rejected; are positions to which a liberal and enlightened mind will never accede.

Your general assent to laws ought to be ascribed to republican principles, and not to an indiscriminate approbation of their contents. To yourself therefore, as well as to every other citizen, remains intire the invaluable birth-right of freedom in the reexamination of public measures. For surely the right and duties of a citizen cannot be absorbed by official functions.

Whilst, under the influence of republicanism, you have cautiously checked the will of the people, you have also reserved your negative power, to be exerted on great and momentous occasions, for the preservation of their rights. Such an occasion occured in a direct attempt upon the principles of representation,3 the defeat of which sufficiently evinces, that you cannot approve of the indirect means by which these principles have been so much more deeply wounded, than that attempt contemplated. Can it then be delusion to cherish a hope, that assaults directed against the vital organ of popular government, are destined to be defeated by the same laudable vigilance?

The AUTHOR.

Printed, [John Taylor], An Enquiry into the Principles and Tendency of Certain Public Measures (Philadelphia, 1794), pp. iii–iv. John Taylor (1753–1824), of Caroline County, Va., was at this time representing Virginia in the U.S. Senate. By May 1793 he had written a long essay on the Bank of the United States, which circulated in manuscript during that year (Madison Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds. The Papers of James Madison, Congressional Series. 17 vols. Chicago and Charlottesville, Va., 1962–91. description ends , 15:13–14, 17, 34–35, 52–53, 89–91, 104, 111, 121, 123). When the essay finally was published in January 1794, this letter served as a preface to the pamphlet. An Enquiry, according to one reviewer, constituted “a very bold attack on the Bank” using “a great variety of facts and arguments. . . . The work. . . comprehends a review of the whole range of American politics. The author tells his countryman their faults and their errors, or at least what he considers to be so” (Philadelphia Gazette and Universal Daily Advertiser, 4 Feb.).

1This letter was reprinted in the Philadelphia Gazette and Universal Daily Advertiser, 15 Jan., which noted that the pamphlet to which it was “prefixed” was “just published.”

2In addition to “An Act to incorporate the subscribers to the Bank of the United States,” approved on 25 Feb. 1791 (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 . 1:191–96), Taylor took issue with “An Act making provision for the [payment of the] Debt of the United States,” approved 4 Aug. 1790 (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 . 1:138–44). For GW’s consideration of the constitutional issues raised by the Bank of the United States, see Edmund Randolph to GW, 12 Feb. 1791, and enclosures; Thomas Jefferson to GW, 15 Feb. 1791; GW to Alexander Hamilton, 16 Feb. 1791; James Madison to GW, 21 Feb. 1791; and Hamilton to GW, 23 Feb. 1791, and enclosure.

3Taylor was referring to GW’s veto on 5 April 1792 of “An Act for an apportionment of Representatives among the several States according to the first enumeration” (see The First Presidential Veto, 3–5 April 1792).

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