George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Citizens West of the Allegheny Mountains, December 1793

From Citizens West of the Allegheny Mountains

[December 1793]

The remonstrance of the Citizens West of the aligany Mountains Respectfully shewith That your remonstrants are Entitled by Nature and by stipulation to the undisturbed Navigation of the river Mississippi; and consider it a right Inseperable from their prosperity. That in colonizing this distant and dangerous desart, they always contemplated the free Enjoyment of this right, and considered it as an inseperable Appendage to the country they had sought out, had fought for, and acquired. That for a series of years during their Early settlement, their petitions to government to Secure this right, were answered by its alledged weakness, and your remonstrants taught to Expect, that the time was approaching fast, when both power and Inclination would both unite, to establish it on the firmest grounds. In this anxious expectation they waited, and to the insolence of those who arrogated its exclusive Exercise they patiently submitted, till the government of america had so Strengthened itself, as to hold out an assurance of future protection to all its citizens, and of redress for all their wrongs.

That protection has not been extended to us, we need only refer to our present situation, and that that situation has not been concealed from, or unknown to, congress we appeal to its archives. We have without ceasing deplored to you our degraded situation, and burdened you with our humble petitions and requests but alas! we still experience, that the strong nerved government of america extends its arm of protection to all the branches of the Union, but to your remonstrants. That it is competent to every End, but that single one, by which alone it can benefit us; The protection of our territorial rights. It is competent to exact obedience, but not to make that return, which can be the only Just and natural Exchange for it. Long have your remonstrants been anxiously in Quest of the obstacles that have stood in your way, to the establishment of this our right; and as long has their persuit been fruitless. Formal and Tardy Negotiations have no doubt been often projected, and have as often Miscarried. It is true some Negotiations were once attempted, that were neither formal nor tardy and gave an early shock to our encreasing population, and to our peace of mind;1 but your remonstrants are constrained to be of Opinion, that the neglect or local policy of american councils, has never produced one single real effort to procure this right. Could the government of america be for ten years seriously in pursuit of the establishment of a grand territorial right, which was arrogantly suspended,2 and return to that quarter of the union to whom it was all-important, but an Equivocal answer? We think it high time that we should be thoroughly informed of the situation on which your negociations, if any, have left this right: for apathy itself has grown hopeless from long disappointed expectations.

Your remonstrants yield not in patriotism to any of their fellow citizens: but patriotism, like every other thing, has its bounds. We love those states from which we were all congregated, and no event (not even an attempt to barter away our best rights) shall alien our affections from the individual members who compose them: but attachment to governments cease to be natural, when they cease to be natural.3 To be subjected to all the burthens, and enjoy none of the benefits arising from government, is what we will never submit to. Our situation compells us to speak plainly. If wretchedness and poverty awa[i]t us it is of no concern to us how they are produced. We are gratified in the prosperity of the atlantic States, but would not speak the language of Truth and Sincerity, were we not to declare our unwillingness to make any sacrifices to it, when their importance and those sacrafices result from our Distress. If the Interest of eastern america requires, that we should be kept in poverty, it is unreasonable from such poverty to exact contributions. The first, if we cannot emerge from, We must Learn to bear; but the latter, We never can be taught to submit to.

From the general government of america, therefore, your remonstrants now ask protection, in the free enjoyment of the navigation of the river mississippi, which is withheld from them by the spaniards. We demand it as a right which you have the power to invest us With, and which not to exert, is as great a breach of our rights, as to withhold. We declare, that nothing can retribute us for the suspension or loss of this inestimable right. We declare it to be a right which must be obtained; and do also declare, that if the General Government will not procure it for us, We shall hold ourselves not answerable for any consequences that may result from our own procurement of it. The God of nature has given us both the right and means of acquiring and enjoying it; and to permit a Sacrafice of it to any earthly consideration, Would be a crime against ourselves and against our posterity.

Copy, DLC: Papers of the Breckinridge Family.

This copy bears a note, written by John Breckinridge: “A Copy of the Remonstrance which I drew, for the Committee of the Democratic Scociety. Decr 1793. J. Bdge.” The Democratic Society of Kentucky, which was formed at Lexington in August 1793 on the model of the Philadelphia Democratic Society, began considering a resolution on Mississippi River navigation at its meeting of 7 October (Kentucky Gazette [Lexington], 24 and 31 Aug., 12 Oct.).

When the society met at Lexington on 11 Nov., they resolved “That the free and undisturbed use and navigation of the river Mississippi is the NATURAL RIGHT of the inhabitants of the countries bordering on the waters communicating with that river” and “that the inhabitants of the Western Country had a right to expect that the present Federal Government would before this time have taken effectual measures to obtain from the King of Spain an acknowledgment of their undoubted right to the free navigation of the river Mississippi.” They further resolved to “prepare in the name of the inhabitants of the western waters, a remonstrance to the President and Congress of the United States on this subject, stating (in the bold decent and determined language proper to be used by injured freemen, when they address the servants of the people) that we consider the feeble attempts which have been made by the executive under the present government, and the total silence of Congress on this important subject, as strong proofs that most of our brethren in the eastern part of America, are totally regardless whether this our just right is kept from us or not” (Kentucky Gazette [Lexington], 16 Nov. 1793). This address “To the President and Congress of the united States of America” evidently was prepared in response to that resolution.

By 31 Dec. the committee of correspondence was distributing printed copies of the address, with the request that each recipient “exert your influence to induce your neighbouring fellow-citizens to give their sanction to the Remonstrance.” The committee continued, “The Remonstrance when signed, may be transmitted to the representative in Congress from your district, or to any other member of that body, delegated from the Western Country. It is intended that a decision upon this subject should be obtained during the present Session of Congress, and to effect this, it is necessary that the Remonstrance should be presented as soon as possible” (William Murray et al. to George Muter, 31 Dec. 1793, DLC: Papers of Harry Innes).

On 15 April 1794 “remonstrances from citizens of the United States, west of the Allegany mountains, whose names are thereunto subscribed, were presented to the House and read, stating their right to a free enjoyment of the navigation of the river Mississippi, and praying that the general government will adopt such measures, as shall be most expedient and effectual to secure the same from encroachment by the citizens or subjects of foreign countries.” The remonstrances were referred to a committee, which reported on 23 April 1794. The report “was read, and ordered to lie on the table.” On 5 June the House took up the report and resolved that as “the right of the United States, to the free navigation of the Mississippi, is now the subject of negociation with the court of Spain . . . no farther proceeding should be had on the said remonstrance” (Journal of the House description begins The Journal of the House of Representatives: George Washington Administration 1789–1797. Edited by Martin P. Claussen. 9 vols. Wilmington, Del., 1977. description ends , 6:257, 271, 412).

1This was a reference to the negotiations between United States secretary for foreign affairs John Jay and Spanish negotiator Diego de Gardoqui from 1785 to 1787 (see James Madison to GW, 26 Sept. 1788, n.1).

2Until the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, western settlers had enjoyed the right to navigate the Mississippi River under concessions granted by Spain to England in 1763 and Spanish instructions extending the privilege for the war’s duration. In 1784, however, Spanish agents in America were instructed, “Until the limits of Louisiana and the two Floridas shall be settled and determined with the United States of America, his Majesty commands that you should give the states and Congress to understand that they are not to expose to process and confiscation the vessels which they destine to carry on commerce on the River Mississippi, inasmuch as a treaty concluded between the United States and England, on which the former ground their pretensions to the navigation of that river, could not fix limits in a territory which that power did not possess” (Josef de Galvez to Francisco Rendon, 26 June 1784, JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 27:690).

3The printed copies of the remonstrance use the word “mutual” here.

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