Alexander Hamilton Papers
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To Alexander Hamilton from Bushrod Washington, 21 November 1801

From Bushrod Washington

[Westmoreland County, Virginia]
Walnut Farm Novr. 21. 1801.

Dear Sir

Your letter dated in September1 came lately to my hands after having made a circuitous rout through many distant post offices as appears from the endorsements on it.

I sent to Richmond about four months ago all the trunks of papers which I received from Mount Vernon except two.2 I have had so little leisure for examining the contents of those trunks, that it would be impossible for me at the remote distance I live from that place to assist in a search for papers of any Kind either personally or by letter. As to the propriety of sending copies of those you want I am not satisfied, and have felt considerable embarrassment in consequence of the application. On the one hand, my esteem for you produces a correspondent wish to oblige you, whilst on the other I apprehend that a compliance would probably expose me to perhaps a just censure, as well as to future perplexity in consequence of similar applications. The opinions delivered to the President by the heads of departments were those I presume of a private council and intended for his information. From hence I conclude that they were not put upon the files of any of the public offices and are to be found only amongst the papers of the General. They could therefore be obtained from no person but myself. Other measures of that administration may be again censured, discussed & condemned by one party, and vindicated by the other, whilst both must or at least may resort to the same quiver for arms to fight with. Acting with the fairness which shall always mark my conduct, I could not upon such a subject refuse to one what I have granted to the other party, and thus the papers might be used in a way very different from that which I am persuaded was intended by the person who confided them to my care. This is the point of view in which the subject strikes me. I have thought it best to be thus candid, and I feel assured that the frankness which distinguishes your character will induce you to do Justice to the motives which influence my conduct on this occasion. At the same time I beg you to believe that I shall always feel sincere pleasure in opportunities to oblige you where I can do it with propriety.

The system of intolerance & proscription which seems to be the order of the day from the General to many of the State Governments will I fear produce a fatal scism, which may probably divide the States as it already has the people. But I apprehend that the plan of Mr Pendleton3 which not unlikely is the plan of his party, to obtain a general convention for reforming the constitution, will bring us to this ultimate point of our political progress by a shorter road. I do not think that it requires the gift of prophesy to foretell the dissolution of the confederacy if a convention should be agreed to by ⅔ds of the States at this, or perhaps at any other time.

With very great respect & esteem   I am dear Sir   Yr mo. ob. Servt.

Bushrod Washington

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1Letter not found.

2Washington was the executor of George Washington’s estate and heir to his uncle’s library and public and private letters.

3Edmund Pendleton, a Virginia lawyer and a Republican, served as a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses from 1752 to the beginning of the American Revolution. In 1773 he became a member of the state Committee of Correspondence; in 1774 he was a member of the first Continental Congress; in 1774–1775 he served as president of the Committee of Safety, which governed Virginia; and from 1779 to his death in 1803 he was president of the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

On October 20, 1801, an article entitled “The Danger Not Over,” which was signed by Pendleton and dated October 5, 1801, appeared in The [Richmond, Virginia] Examiner. In this article Pendleton suggested the following eight constitutional amendments: “1st. By rendering a president ineligible for the next … [term], and transferring from him to the legislature, the appointment of the judges, and stationary foreign ministers; making the stipends of the latter to be no longer discretionary in the president.

“2. By depriving the Senate of all executive power; and shortning their term of service, of subjecting its members to removal by their constituents.

“3. By rendering members of the legislature and the judges, whilst in office and for a limited time thereafter, incapable of taking any other office whatsoever, (the offices of President and Vice-President excepted;) and subjecting the judges to removal by the concurring vote of both houses of Congress.

“4. By forming some check upon the abuse of public credit, which, tho’ in some instances useful, like Fleets & Armies, may, like those, be carried to extremes dangerous to liberty, and inconsistent with economical government.

“5. By instituting a fair mode of impannelling juries.

“6. By declaring that no treaty with a foreign nation, so far as it may relate to Peace or War,—to the expenditure of public money—or to commercial regulations, shall be law, until ratified by the legislature; the interval between such treaty and the next meeting of Congress, excepted, so far as it may not relate to the grant of money.

“7. By defining prohibited powers so explicitly, as to defy the wiles of construction. If nothing more should be gained, it will be a great acquisition, clearly to interdict laws relating to the freedom of speech,—of the Press—and of religion: To declare that the Common Law of England, or of any other foreign country, in criminal cases, shall not be considered as a law of the United States,—and that treason shall be confined to the cases stated in the constitution, so as not to be extended further, by law, or construction, or by using other terms, such as sedition, &c.; and

“8. By marking out with more precision, the distinct powers of the General and State Governments.”

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