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sands of gallant spirits to satisfy the ambition of their sovereigns, or to support them perhaps in acts of oppression and injustice! Melancholy reflection ! For what wise purpose does Providence permit this? Is it as a scourge to mankind, or is it to prevent them from becoming too populous? If the latter, would not the fertile plains of the western world receive the redundancy of the old ?”*
For the several articles of intelligence with which you have been so good as to furnish me, and for your sentiments on European politics, I feel myself very much obliged. obliged. On these
On these I can depend. Newspaper accounts are too sterile, vague, and contradictory, on which to form any opinion or to claim even the smallest attention.
The observations you have made on the policy and practice of Great Britain at other courts of Europe, respecting these States, I was but too well informed and convinced of before. Unhappily for us, though their accounts are greatly exaggerated, yet our conduct has laid the foundation for them. It is one of the evils of democratical governments, that the people, not always seeing and frequently misled, must often feel before they can act right; but then evils of this nature seldom fail to work their own cure. It is to be lamented, nevertheless, that the remedies are so slow, and that those, who may wish to apply them seasonably, are not attended to before they suffer in person, in interest, and in reputation. I am not without hopes, that matters will take a more favorable turn in the federal constitution. The discerning part of the community have long since seen the necessity of giving adequate pow
* A description of this tour by Lafayette is contained in a letter from him to Mr. Jay. See Diplomatic Correspondence, Vol. X. p. 53. VOL. IX.
ers to Congress for national purposes, and the ignorant and designing must yield to it ere long. Several late acts of the different legislatures have a tendency thereto. Among these the impost, which is now acceded to by every State in the Union, though clogged a little by that of New York, will enable Congress to support the national credit in pecuniary matters better than it has been ; whilst a measure, in which this State has taken the lead at its last session, will, it is to be hoped, give efficient powers to that body for all commercial purposes. This is a nomination of some of its first characters to meet other commissioners from the several States, in order to consider and decide upon such powers, as shall be necessary for the sovereign authority of them to act under; which are to be reported to the respective legislatures at their autumnal sessions, for, it is to be hoped, final adoption ; thereby avoiding those tedious and futile deliberations, which result from recommendations and partial concurrences, at the same time that it places it at once in the power of Congress to meet European nations upon decisive and equal grounds. All the legislatures, which I have heard from, have come into the proposition, and have made very judicious appointments.* Much good is expected from this measure, and it is regretted by many, that more objects were not embraced by the meeting. A general convention is talked of by many for the purpose of revising and correcting the defects
* This convention met at Annapolis in September, 1786. Five States only were represented, and when the members came together, they found themselves invested with such limited powers, as not to enable them to act for the general purposes of the meeting. They did little else than to draw up a report, to be presented to the several States, urging the necessity of a revision of the confederated system of government, and recommending a convention of delegates with larger powers to be held at Philadelphia on the 2d of May following.
of the federal government; but, whilst this is the wish of some, it is the dread of others, from an opinion that matters are not yet sufficiently ripe for such an event.
The British still occupy our posts to the westward, and will, I am persuaded, continue to do so under one pretence or another, no matter how shallow, as long as they can. Of this, from some circumstances which had occurred, I have been convinced since August, 1783, and gave it as my opinion at that time, if not officially to Congress as the sovereign, at least to a number of its members, that they might act accordingly. It is indeed evident to me, that they had it in contemplation to do this at the time of the treaty. The expression of the article, which respects the evacuation of them, as well as the tenor of their conduct since relative to this business, is strongly marked with deception. I have not the smallest doubt, but that every secret engine is continually at work to inflame the Indian mind, with a view to keep it at variance with these States, for the purpose of retarding our settlements to the westward, and depriving us of the fur and peltry trade of that country.
The benevolence of your heart, my dear Marquis, is so conspicuous upon all occasions, that I never wonder at any fresh proofs of it; but your late purchase of an estate in the colony of Cayenne, with a view of emancipating the slaves on it, is a generous and noble proof of your humanity.* Would to God a like spirit might diffuse itself generally into the minds of the people of this country. But I despair of seeing it. Some petitions were presented to the Assembly, at its last session, for the abolition of slavery, but they could scarcely obtain a reading. To set the slaves afloat at once would, I really believe, be productive of much inconvenience and mischief; but by degrees it certainly might, and assuredly ought to be effected; and that too by legislative authority.
* In a remarkable and very interesting letter, written by Lafayette in the prison of Magdeburg, he said; “I know not what disposition has been made of my plantation at Cayenne, but I hope Madame de Lafayette will take care, that the negroes, who cultivate it, shall preserve their liberty.” — SPARKS's Life of Gouverneur Morris, Vol. I. p. 410.
I give you the trouble of a letter to the Marquis de St. Simon, in which I have requested to be presented to M. de Menonville. The favorable terms in which you speak of Mr. Jefferson give me great pleasure. He is a man of whom I early imbibed the highest opinion. I am as much pleased, therefore, to meet confirmations of my discernment in these matters, as I am mortified when I find myself mistaken.
I send herewith the copies of your private letters to me, promised in my last, and which have been since copied by your old aid. As Mrs. Washington and myself have both done ourselves the honor of writing to Madame de Lafayette, I shall not give you the trouble at this time of presenting my respects to her, but pray you to accept every good wish, which this family can render for your health, and every blessing this life can afford you. I cannot conclude without expressing to you the earnest inquiries and ardent wishes of your friends (among whom I claim to stand the first) to see you in America, and giving you repeated assurances of the sincerity of my friendship, and of the affectionate regard with which I am, &c.
P. S. I had like to have forgotten a promise, which I made in consequence of the enclosed application from Colonel Carter. It was, that I would write to you for the wolf-hound, if to be had conveniently. The inducements, and the services you would render by
this act, will be more evident from the expressions of the letter, than from any thing I can say.
The vocabulary for her Imperial Majesty I will use my best endeavours to have completed, but she must have a little patience. The Indian tribes on the Ohio are numerous, dispersed, and distant from those, who are most likely to do the business properly.
TO THE MARCHIONESS DE LAFAYETTE.
Mount Vernon, 10 May, 1786. MADAM, The tokens of regard, with which Miss de Lafayette and my namesake* honored the young folks of this family, will cement the friendship, which seems to be rising in their tender breasts, and will increase those flames of it, which they have imbibed from their parents, to which nothing can add strength but the endearments that flow from personal interviews, and the unreserved exchange of liberal sentiments. not then, Madam, afford them this opportunity ? May we hope for it soon? If the assurances of the sincerest esteem and affection, if the varieties of uncultivated nature, the novelty of exchanging the gay and delightful scenes of Paris, with which you are surrounded, for the rural amusements of a country in its infancy, if the warbling notes of the feathered songsters on our lawns and meads, can for a moment make you forget the melody of the opera and the pleasures of the court, these all invite you to give us this honor, and the opportunity of expressing to you personally those sentiments of attachment and love, with which you have inspired us.
• George Washington Lafayette.