George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Alexander Spotswood, Jr., 22 November 1798

To Alexander Spotswood, Jr.

Philadelphia 22d Novr 1798

Dr Sir,

Your letter of the 13th instt enclosing a publication under the signature of Gracchus, on the Alien & Sedition Laws, found me at this place—deeply engaged in business.1

You ask my opinion of these Laws, professing to place confidence in my judgment, for the compliment of which I thank you. But to give opinions unsupported by reasons might appear dogmatical, especially, as you have declared that, Gracchus has produced “thorough conviction in your mind of the unconstitutionality, and inexpediency of the acts above mentioned.” To go into an explanation on these points I have neither leizure nor inclination; because it would occupy more time than I have to spare.

But I will take the liberty of advising such as are not “thoroughly convinced” and whose minds are yet open to conviction, to read the peices, and hear the arguments which have been adduced in favor of, as well as those against the Constitutionality and expediency of those Laws, before they decide. And consider to what lengths a certain description of men, in our Country, have already driven, and seem resolved further to drive matters; and then ask themselves, if it is not time & expedient to resort to protecting Laws against aliens (for Citizens you certainly know are not affected by that Law) who acknowledge no allegiance to this Country, and in many instances are sent among us (as there is the best circumstantial evidence) for the express purpose of poisoning the minds of our people; and to sow dissentions among them; in order to alienate their affections from the Government of their choice, thereby endeavouring to dissolve the Union; and of course, the fair and happy prospects which were unfolding to our View from the Revolution—But, as I have observed before, I have no time to enter the field of Politicks; and therefore shall only add my best respects to the good family at New Post—and the assurances of being Dr Sir Your Very Hble Servant

Go: Washington

ADfS, NjP: De Coppet Collection; LB, DLC:GW. The differences between the two copies are almost entirely matters of punctuation and capitalization.

1The letter has not been found; on 9 Dec. young Spotswood declared it to be a forgery, in these terms: “Your favor of the 22nd Ultimo, in answer to one of the 13th of the same, (Which from the signiture you have justly attributed to me) I have received—I now declare on my honor, and as I hope, (when I depart from this world of trouble) to enter the holy mansion of almighty God that the sd Letter, dated the 13th, bearing my signiture, is an infamous forgery, And that I never saw, or read, the publication under the signiture of Gracchus, nor did I ever know, that such a publication was in being, untell I received your favour; It gives me infinite pleasure, when I figure to myself from the import which your Letter bears, of the impropriety of the one receivd, by you, conceived to be an address of mine, that it might be personal regard alone, which could have induced you to condecend an answer—Which has afforded me, an opportunity, of makeing known to you, my sentiments, as being the reverse of that ungenerous Scrip, evidently calculated, to answer some ungenerous purpose, that I cannot divine—politicks which from the provoked circumstances of the present times, I may be induced to pay some attention to, so far, As may be necessary to form a just opinion, (are quite foreign to my present happy pursuits) and be assure’d, when I reflect upon the present contamination of principals, which pervades some parts of our southern Country, It endears to me, more, and more, that domestic repose, which you yourself have so justly caress’d; I am well apprised of the happy prospects which were to have been expected from the Resolution, as also the most principal attendant circumstances, and so far as the slight documents I have seen, authorizes me, I am convinced, that nothing but those constitutional principals, as maintained by the firmness, of some of our Worthy Citizens, who aided by public, and private virtue, and who have ever been under the Just influence, of the support of Government, and cultivation of peace—possessing a determination at the same time not dareingly to be insulted, That has preserved us from being drawn into that Unhappy European conflict, Which we have so unjustly been invited, to participate in, and as yet have so wisely evaded—So far, have I erected a monument in my mind to such discription of Men. The Sedition, and Alien Laws, as being the offspring of necessity and safeguard of our Rights, I do, and ever have approved of, for should any discription of men, be induced to stir up dissentions in our Government, thereby, Alienating the affections of the people, from those rules of Civil Order, as prescribed, by general consent; and as a preservative of our Liberty, The plain principals of justice in my mind, dictates that some cure should be found for the disease; the necessity of the present ⟨Area⟩, demanding a direct, and immediate one, Which I hope will be found in those Laws—The above are the reflections of a calm, and undisturbed mind, And I trust, so long as my reason remains with me, and opposite oppinions not accompanyed with truth, I shall remain as I am, Leaving you to Judge the motives of that Letter I have in truth denied. . . .

“P.S. I will thank you to fo[r]ward me the forged Letter, with the assistance of my friends I may possib[l]y be able to fix it on the person who wrote it, present my respects to Mrs Washington” (ViMtvL).

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