George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William Gordon, 13 August 1783

Jamaica Plain Aut 13. 1783

My Dear Sir

Your obliging letter of the 8th ulto was duly received. We have been earnestly waiting for the definitive treaty, but as yet have had no authentic account of it. However looking upon it as certain & at hand, have determined with the permission of Heaven setting off for the Jerseys next monday fortnight. Mrs Gordon accompanying me in the chaise will oblige us for the sake of better roads & a shorter journey to go through New York, so that I must postpone for the present the pleasure of seeing your Excellency at Newburgh, to which I trust You are safely returned, after an agreeable tour to the North. Besides I have some business to transact with William Smith Esqr., whose mother in law, born in my own native town & personally acquainted with me, appointed me a legacy, when she died about 1776, payable out of the arrears of an annuity left her by Judge Smith.

I am fully of your Excellency’s mind, that "it rests with the confederated powers by the line of conduct they mean to adopt, to make this country great happy & respectable"—& I most sincerely pray, they may be directed to it in a way that shall secure the liberties of individuals, without which Independence will be of no avail: indeed the country cannot be happy without freedom, however great & respectable it might be. Regulations are certainly wanting; but that they may not introduce sooner or later greater evils than they are meant to remedy, time must be taken to form them with the deepest deliberation, & with this the peace will furnish the United States. The different tempers of the inhabitants must be well consulted, & measures must be accommodated to them; for I am convinced that, in this country especially, they will not be forced; & the neglect of them will give rise to that anarchy, which every honest patriot will deprecate & endeavour to prevent.

‘Twould indeed be political madness to flatter ourselves, that, in case of a fresh war, we should be favored with the like providences & concatenation of causes that have lately contributed to our salvation; and therefore in providing for our future security we must not calculate upon them. It is true, that we are known by no other character among Nations than as the United States: but they either do, or ought to know, the articles by which we are confederated & that there is no other federal government than what is built upon the express concept in the said articles. It is of little or no consequence to me, personally considered, whether the Confederation is strictly adhered to or not; but it is my real opinion, that unless it is carefully attended to we shall soon be in great difficulties as a people. A better band of Union than the present Confederation I despair of seeing, considering the opposite cases of the people in the different states; & I humbly conceive, that nothing would endanger a dissolution sooner than refusing to hearken to the voice of a single state pleading for the rights it enjoys by the confederation, that so an alteration may be obtained in favor of the rest. Such is the condition of human affairs, that in all great unions certain individuals or bodies will enjoy greater advantages than others: & it has been generally found by experience better to let them do it than break in upon the original contract.

The evils that delays have occasioned cannot be remedied in future by Congress, unless they have a compulsive power, in other words, a standing army & navy at their command sufficient for the purpose, which would at length necessarily produce a civil war, & destroy the liberties of the several states, & erect an Empire instead of suffering us to remain distinct Republics united for common safety in a Congress of delegates. The evils above alluded to, I am apprehensive, have arisen from the weak condition of the separate governments, owing to the special circumstances of the Revolution; and may be effectually guarded against in future by strengthening the powers of government in each state; & for which there will be now a good opportunity, that I hope will not be lost but carefully improved. Necessity indeed will oblige us to attend to that business. When the several members grow strong, the whole body will soon be healthy & vigorous.

I cannot for the life of me judge with your Excellency, that "there can be no danger of trusting Congress with powers, because they are the creatures of the people, amenable to them for their conduct, & dependent from day to day on their breath," for with certain powers a Congress in time might make the people their slaves, as has been repeatedly done, in cases nearly similar, by which communities once perfectly free have been subjugated to the will of tyrants, put into authority by themselves. I wish Congress to have all the support to which they are entitled by the Confederation; & to have the full benefit of an impost, alike through, & raised by, the several States; & faithfully forwarded by each to the common treasury, for the payment of all debts they have contracted during the war, whether foreign or domestic, due to soldiers officers or others. Your Excellency mistook my meaning therefore in my former letter, in supposing that I was opposed to an impost that should raise the sums wanted: it was the mode of collecting it by the servants of Congress to which I referred when I said "many reprobate the circumstances of the mode prescribed.

The hopes I expressed in my former letters of being soon indulged with the privilege of consulting your papers, went upon the presumption that the peace would, be perfected before the fall, & that therefore “one of those periods would be arrived when you would think yourself justified in suffering an inspection of & extracts to be taken from your records” agreeable to what you was so kind as to write Oct 28. 1782. However as your Excellency appears desirous of my applying first of all to Congress, that they may take the lead in that business I propose presenting a Petition to them upon the subject when at Princeton, from whence I shall write or ride to visit you; & in the mean while with the highest esteem remain Your Excellency’s sincere Friend & most obedient humble Servant

William Gordon

Mrs Gordon joins in respectful Compliments to Self & Lady.

DLC: Papers of George Washington.

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