Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Francis Hopkinson, 17 July 1788

From Francis Hopkinson

Philada. July 17th. 1788

My Dear Sir

The last Letter I received from you is dated Augt. 1st. 1787 and my last to you April 6th. 1788. I have a pretty large Collection of News Papers for you, waiting a convenient opportunity. Mr. Tillier, who takes this, goes from hence to New York to embark for France. I could not ask him to take Charge of the Papers as they are too bulky: but I have made up a Package of Publications, which I think more immediately interesting, and which I hope he will accommodate with a Place amongst his Baggage. You will perceive that our great object for near a Twelve Month past has been the Formation and Ratification of a new System of Federal Government. I sent you the Plan proposed by the General Convention, long ago. Since the World began, I believe no Question has ever been more repeatedly and strictly scrutenized or more fairly and freely argued, than this proposed Constitution. It has now been solemnly ratified by 10 States viz. New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia, New York now hesitating, North Carolina to determine the last of this Month, Rhode-Island has not even call’d a Convention but seems disposed to do it.—Whether This is the best possible System of Government, I will not pretend to say. Time must determine; but I am well persuaded that without an efficient federal Government, the States must in a very short Time sink into Contempt and the most dangerous Confusion. Many Amendments have been proposed by the ratifying States but discordant with each other. A Door is left open in the Constitution itself for Amendments; but so large a Concurrence is made necessary that it may be supposed none will be admitted but such as shall co-incide with general opinion and general Interest. The new System was long argued and powerfully opposed in Virginia; however, she made the 10th. assenting State, by a Majority of 11 in Convention. Nothing can equal the Rejoicings in the Cities, Towns and Villages thro’out the States on the late fourth of July in Celebration of the Declaration of Independence and the Birth of the new Constitution. The Papers are fill’d with Accounts of Processions, Toasts &c. As a Specimen, I enclose the Exertions of Philadelphia on this Occasion. Altho’ the State of New York hath not ratified, and it is very doubtful whether she will or no, yet the City is making grand Preparations for an Exhibition on the 22d. It is confidently talk’d that if the Convention should reject, the City of New York, with Straten and Long Islands, will seperate themselves from the State and join the Union.

Our friend Dr. Franklin has been, and indeed yet is, ill with a severe Fit of the Stone; he has had no Ease but from daily Annodynes. I was fearful of the Event on Account of his great Age but he seems getting better, and will I believe rub thro’ it for this Time. Mr. Rittenhouse is in but a poor State of Health. No p[hiloso]phical news very interesting. I long [to] hear from you.—I [long] to see you. We [hear] of great Commotions in France. How is your Situation affected by them. I wish you was here during the Formation of our new Government. We shall be in Want of Men of Ability and Integrity to fill important Departments. Much will depend upon our first off-set.

With best Regards to Miss Jefferson & sincere Wishes for your Health & Happiness I am, Dear Sir Your truly affectionate Friend & humble servant,

Fras Hopkinson

RC (DLC); addressed in part: “Favour’d by Mr. Tilier.” The specimen of The exertions of Philadelphia on this occasion that Hopkinson enclosed has not been found, but it clearly was a copy of his own “Account of the Grand Federal Procession” of 4 July 1788, which was published in the Penna. Packet and also the Penna. Gazette of 9 July 1788. Hopkinson was, if anything, guilty of understatement when he described this as “a spectacle as singular in itself as the occasion was extraordinary,” for nothing quite like it had ever occurred in an American city. Even the fabulous Meschianza of 1778 was dwarfed by it; there were 87 divisions in the gigantic parade, consisting of floats, allegorical figures and groups, bands and military organizations, official delegations, and representatives of trades and professions. The float devoted to printing, bookbinding, and paper contained a complete printing press mounted on a platform drawn by four white horses. Mercury “in a white dress, ornamented with red ribbands, and having real wings affixed to his head and feet, and a garland of flowers round his temple,” stood beside the press. As the procession, consisting of about five thousand persons, moved out from South and Third streets, an ode which Hopkinson had composed especially for the occasion and also “one in the German language, fitted to the purpose, and printed by Mr. Steiner, were thrown amongst the people‥‥ Ten small packages, containing the above ode, and the toasts for the day, were made up and addressed to the ten states in union respectively, and these were tied to pigeons, which, at intervals, rose from Mercury’s cap and flew off, amidst the acclamations of an admiring multitude.” Later the entire procession and the spectators, numbering some seventeen thousand persons, gathered around the central float, the “New Roof, or Grand Federal Edifice”—the inspiration for which, of course, was derived from Hopkinson’s own satire of the previous winter—and heard James Wilson deliver an address, after which there was a great dinner served with “American porter, beer, and cyder.” Toasts were drunk to the people of the United States, the Federal Convention, General Washington, the King of France, the United Netherlands, the heroes “who have fallen in defence of our liberties,” “May Reason, and not the sword, hereafter decide all national Disputes,” and, finally, “The whole Family of Mankind.” Each toast was announced by trumpets, and answered by the artillery—ten rounds to each toast—and these in turn were answered by salutes from the Rising Sun, at anchor in the river (Hastings, Hopkinson, p. 407–9). Hopkinson’s earlier satire had used the allegory of the roof to point out the defects of the confederation, and he now composed a poem called “The New Roof: a Song for Federal Mechanics” in which he employed the same device to show the strength of the union; this poem appeared in the American Museum for July and Hopkinson may also have enclosed a copy of it in the present letter. One of its stanzas reads:

Come muster, my lads, your mechanical tools,

Your saws and your axes, your hammers and rules;

Bring your mallets and planes, your level and line,

And plenty of pins of American pine:

For our roof we will raise, and our song still shall be,

Our government firm, and our citizens free.

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