George Washington Papers

To George Washington from the Democratic Society of Washington County, Pennsylvania, 24 March 1794

From the Democratic Society of Washington County, Pennsylvania

Washington [Pa.] March 24th 1794.

To the President and Congress of the United States of America.

The Remonstrance of the Democratic Society of the County of Washington, in Pennsylvania, Respectfully sheweth

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.1 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 petetions 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 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.2

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 pursuit been fruitless. Formal and tardy negociations have no doubt been often projected, and have as often miscarried. It is true, some negociations were once attempted, that were neither formal nor tardy, and gave an early shock to our encreasing population and to our peace of mind; but your Remonstrants are constrained to be of opinion, that the neglect or local policy of American councils, has never produced one single 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, and return to that quarter of the Union to whom it was all-important, but an equivocal answer?3 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 dissappointed expectation.

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 attatchment to governments cease to be natural, when they cease to be mutual. To be subjected to all the burthens, and enjoy none of the benefits arising from government is what we will never submit to.4 Our situation compels us to speak plainly. If wrechedness and poverty await 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 sacrifices result from our distresses. If the interest of Eastern America requi⟨res⟩ 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 of the 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 sacrifice of it to any earthly consideration, would be a crime against ourselves and against our posterity.5

W. McCluney
By order of the Society
James Marshel6

DS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

1William Carmichael and William Short, commissioners plenipotentiary to Spain, were currently negotiating with officials in Madrid for the American right to free navigation on the Mississippi River. On their appointment, see GW to U.S. Senate, 11 Jan. 1792.

2This paragraph may refer to the change that occurred in 1788 with the ratification of the U.S. Constitution and the abandonment of the Articles of Confederation as the foundation of the national government.

3Article 8 of the 1783 peace treaty between the United States and Great Britain reads: “The Navigation of the River Mississippi, from its source to the Ocean shall for ever remain free and open to the Subjects of Great Britain and the Citizens of the United States” (Miller, Treaties description begins Hunter Miller, ed. Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America. Vol. 2, 1776-1818. Washington, D.C., 1931. description ends , 2:155). It was not until the U.S. treaty with Spain of 27 Oct. 1795, that Spain, which controlled the mouth of the Mississippi River, agreed that navigation of the Mississippi would be free to the citizens of the United States (Article 4, Miller, Treaties description begins Hunter Miller, ed. Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America. Vol. 2, 1776-1818. Washington, D.C., 1931. description ends , 2:321–22).

4This may be a reference to the federal excise tax on whiskey that was opposed, sometimes violently, by many residents of Washington and other western counties in Pennsylvania (see GW’s Proclamation of 24 Feb.).

5GW submitted this letter to Edmund Randolph, along with a brief cover letter of 11 April.

6James Marshel (1753–1829) was born in Lancaster County, Pa., but by the Revolutionary War he had settled in what is now Cross Creek township in Washington County. He served in the county militia and as justice of the peace during the war. He held the office of registrar of wills and recorder of deeds, 1781–84 and 1791–95. He served as sheriff, 1784–87, and as a delegate to the state ratifying convention in 1787, where he opposed the adoption of the U.S. Constitution. He was a delegate to the Pennsylvania Assembly, 1789–90. In 1795, he moved to what is now Brooke County, West Virginia. William McCluney (1770–1856) later became Marshel’s son-in-law.

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