George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Benjamin Lincoln, 4 January 1789

From Benjamin Lincoln

Boston Jany 4th 1789

My dear General

I mentioned in my last that our Senators were chosen—This common wealth has been divided into Eight districts each having a right to chuse one representative to the general Government. Each town was directed to return the name of two persons for electors of President & vice President from the two highest in each district the General court are to chuse one this will make Eight and two are to be chosen by the Court at large in the State.1

By our mode of voting, the person chosen must have a majority of all the votes put in so that by the first attempt we shall not chuse more than five at most perhaps but four. Those elected are Mr Partridge, formerly member of Congress, Mr Leonard, Mr Ames, known in our convention, and Mr Thatcher, now a member in Congress, It is probable Mr Sedgwick is elected but we cannot be certain of that untill to morrow evening, if he is not now chosen he doubtless will be the next attempt—All the Gentlemen elected are federal2—If Mr Sedgwick is chosen, the divisions unrepresented are the Essex, Middlesex & Worcester—Essex votes are in favor of Mr Goodhue of ⟨Sale⟩m, Mr Jackson of Newbury port, Mr Dane ⟨mutilated⟩ Congress of Beverly, and your old friend ⟨mutilated⟩ten—Goodhue is the highest & will ⟨proba⟩bly be the man.3 In Middlesex Mr Gerry stands high, perhaps the highest, and Mr Gorham next—Mr Gorham suggested to his friends that he would not accept the appointment or probably he would have been elected[.] Brooks & Hull are put up one or the other will be pushed the next attempt4—Worcester are very much divided—The struggle there finally will be, I think, between Mr Paine, who was one of the mandamus counsillors a Gentleman of abilities and a good federalist and a Colo. Grout of a different character5—We can I think promise our selves that six and perhaps seven of the Eight representatives will be firmly attached to the constitution.

By the returns of Gentlemn for electors of President and vice President we cannot have a bad set indeed we must have a good one—What we call good here are Gentlemen who love the constitution & who will vote for ----- President and Mr J. A----s vice president—The other candidate could not act if he was elected his want of health is such as to prevent his attending to the duties of so important a station he has not been abroad but a very few times for two months past and is now confined to his Chamber and it is quite uncertain whether he will be able or not to see the General court which met here on Wednesday last.6

We feel exceedingly the ill eff⟨ects⟩ of the late rebellion in this State, not ⟨mutilated⟩ from the temper of the people, they ⟨mutilated⟩ generally quiet, as from the derangment the expence of it caused in the system of finance. It not only broke in upon appropriations but it led to a mode of drawing orders upon back taxes for debts due from government & for interest by this means orders have been multiplied and much exceeded the sum ⟨illegible⟩ the consequence of this has been a great depreciation of them and a proportionate discontent among the people interested in them—The question is now what shall be done with them7 Government can establish a system by which the common expence of it can be discharged as well as the interest of our debt but the system will not be so productive as to pay of these orders in addition[.] It has been proposed to borrow these outstanding orders but the ⟨ho⟩lders object; so that whether any system will be adopted or not is uncertain the people cannot bear a tax equal to the redemption of all those outstanding orders the expences of Government and the interest of our outstanding debt We are also much embarrassed respecting a system of finance for this State as we cannot determine how far the general government will find it necessary to excise—I am very apprehensive that unless the state debts, contracted by the war, are embraced by the United States that we shall have constant bickering between the parts and the whole that different interests will be created and one ⟨mutilated⟩ cement, necessary to a firm union of ⟨mutilated⟩ whole, totally lost. I have the honour of being my dear General with the most perfect esteem your Obt Sevt

B. Lincoln


1Lincoln’s “last” was his letter to GW of 20 Dec. 1788. The two senators from Massachusetts were elected by the Massachusetts legislature after an acrimonious partisan struggle: Caleb Strong (1745–1819) on 21 Nov. 1788 and Tristram Dalton on 24 Nov. (Massachusetts Centinel [Boston], 26 Nov. 1788). For the Massachusetts election resolutions governing the first federal elections, see Jensen and DenBoer, First Federal Elections description begins Merrill Jensen and Gordon DenBoer et al., eds. The Documentary History of the First Federal Elections, 1788–1790. 4 vols. Madison, Wis., 1976–89. description ends , 1:508–11.

2Massachusetts elected to Congress George Partridge (1740–1828) from the Plymouth-Barnstable district, George Leonard (1729–1819) from the Bristol-Dukes-Nantucket district, Fisher Ames from the Suffolk district, and George Thacher (1754–1824) from the York-Cumberland-Lincoln district. Theodore Sedgwick stood for election to the federal House of Representatives in the Hampshire-Berkshire district. By the time Lincoln wrote to GW in January, one inconclusive election had already been held in the district in December 1788, and four more elections were yet to come before Sedgwick was finally elected in May 1789.

3Among the Essex candidates were Benjamin Goodhue (1748–1814) of Salem, Jonathan Jackson (1743–1810), Nathan Dane (1752–1835), and Samuel Holten (1738–1816). Lincoln’s view of the outcome was accurate: Goodhue’s election was recorded by the legislature on 9 Feb. 1789.

4Elbridge Gerry (1744–1814) was elected to Congress from Middlesex district in the district’s second election, 29 Jan. 1789, defeating, among others, Nathaniel Gorham (1738–1796). In the first election in Middlesex in December 1788, Gorham led Gerry by more than one hundred and fifty votes but failed to receive the 737–vote majority needed for election. Henry Jackson wrote to Henry Knox, 6 Dec. 1788, that Gorham “will not go if choosen” (NNGL: Knox Papers), and in the second election Gorham threw his support to another candidate, Joseph B. Varnum (1751–1821), who with William Hull (1753–1825) lost to Gerry. John Brooks (1752–1825) withdrew from the race by 7 Jan. 1789, giving his support to William Hull (Massachusetts Centinel [Boston], 7 Jan. 1789).

5The leading Worcester candidates were Timothy Paine (1730–1793) and Jonathan Grout (1737–1807), although Gen. Artemas Ward (1727–1800) also stood for election. In the third Worcester election, 2 Mar. 1789, Grout was successful by a large majority (Jensen and DenBoer, First Federal Elections description begins Merrill Jensen and Gordon DenBoer et al., eds. The Documentary History of the First Federal Elections, 1788–1790. 4 vols. Madison, Wis., 1976–89. description ends , 1:676).

6The “other candidate” was undoubtedly John Hancock. See Lincoln to GW, 24 Sept. 1788.

7Many of Massachusetts’s financial problems in the late 1780s stemmed from the vast amount of paper money issued by the state in the early years of the Revolution to pay the costs of the war. Offset initially by a flourishing trading economy, the results of speculation and overexpansion of paper were not fully apparent until the mid–1780s when the state was faced with the necessity of redeeming the public debt, greatly increased by refinancing and by accumulated interest. Legislators turned to the main source of revenue—the tax on property and polls. The redemption of the public debt fell heaviest on farmers, who had expanded production during the Revolution to fill the demand for foodstuffs but were now faced with diminished markets and with large debts that were being rigorously collected in the courts. In August 1786 the farmers’ failure to secure any redress of their grievances led to Shays’ Rebellion. Put down, with considerable severity by state forces, the rebellious farmers had achieved little success in the field. The reelection of John Hancock as governor in 1787 with the strong support of the Shaysites led to eventual pardon of the rebels and to legislation reducing taxes. Lincoln, no friend of Hancock’s, was perennially critical of the governor’s policies.

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