WASHINGTON, George. Autograph letter signed ("G:o Washington"), to Bushrod Washington, Mount Vernon, 15 November 1786. 4 pp., folio, expert mends to creases, docketed by Bushrod Washington.
"EVERY MAN WHO CONSIDERS THE PRESENT [ARTICLES OF CONFEDERATION], AND SEES TO WHAT IT IS VERGING, TREMBLES"
"THE FABRICK WHICH TOOK NINE YEARS...TO REAR...AT THE EXPENSE OF MUCH BLOOD AND TREASURE, NOW TOTTERS TO THE FOUNDATION, and without support must soon fall," Washington writes, in this impassioned continuation of his exchange with his nephew Bushrod (see previous lot) about Bushrod's "Patriotic Society" and the Annapolis Convention. Washington sees nothing wrong with citizens trying to instruct and guide their elected representatives, but "It is to the embarrassment, into which they may be thrown by these instructions in national matters that my objections lie. In speaking of national matters I look to the federal Government, which in my opinion it is the interest of every State to support; and to do this, as there are a variety of interests in the union, there must be a yielding of the parts to coalesce the whole." Legislative actions beneficial to one state may injure another state, or the nation as a whole, Washington points out. And what about a case where a member of the national legislature is presented with a measure whose benefit to the nation may be "as clear as the sun" and yet it goes against his home state instructions? Wouldn't it be wrong, he asks, to put local concerns above national interests? "In national matters..." however, "the sense, but not the Law of the District may be given, leaving the Delegates to judge from the nature of the case and the evidence before them."
In no area was this more important than taxes, or what Washington calls "commutables," the allocation of crops and livestocks that were to be sold to benefit the government treasury. His words betray the scars of his Revolutionary War experience as Washington bitterly recalls the difficulty of getting the disparate state governments to adequately supply his army. "The instructions of your Society as far as they have gone, meet my entire approbation, except in the article of commutables. Here, if I understand the meaning and design of the clause, I must disagree to it most heartily; for if the intention of it is to leave it optional with the person taxed to pay any staple commodity (Tobo. would be least exceptionable) in lieu of specie, the people will be burthened, a few speculators enriched, and the public derive no benefit from it. Have we not had a recent and melancholy proof of this during the war in the provision tax? Did not the people pay this in some way or other, perhaps badly; and was not the army almost starved?"
If the nation persists in using commodities as a substitute for cash revenue, he warns, it will result in these goods being improperly seized and sold by speculators, with the money going into their own pockets instead of the federal treasury. "It was to these things that we owe the present depravity of the minds of so many people of this Country, and filled it with so many knaves and designing characters." If Bushrod and his Patriotic Society comrades really wanted to do some good, Washington wonders, why aren't they giving their full support to the delegates at the Annapolis Convention. "How comes it to pass, that you never turned your eyes to the inefficacy of the Federal Government, so as to instruct your Delegates to accede to the propositions of the Commrs. at Annapolis; or to devise some other mode to give it that energy, which is necessary to support a national character? Every man who considers the present constitution of it, and sees to what it is verging, trembles. The fabrick which took nine years, at the expense of much blood and treasure, to rear, now totters to the foundation, and without support must soon fall." An eloquent and impassioned expression of Washington's determination to build a strong national government, and to scrap the weak confederation that mismanaged the country through the Revolutionary War years. Published in Fitzpatrick 29:66-69.