« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
LIFE AND CORRESPONDENCE OF
GEORGE MASON, OF VIRGINIA.
IN PRIVATE LIFE.
George Mason did not attend the fall session of the Assembly in 1780, as had been his design, and his temporary retirement from public life, which took place at this time, occurred, therefore, a little earlier than he had at first contemplated. In the letters of Joseph Jones, who was then in the Assembly, letters which have been recently published, there are several allusions to Colonel Mason. Jones wrote to Madison in October that he had been applied to both by Colonel Mason and Colonel Meade relative to the consulship for Spain, which they desired should be given to Mr. Harrison, George Mason's merchant friend in Martinique. It is satisfactory to know that this gentleman did get the appointment, some years later, after the adoption of the new Constitution. Joseph Jones wrote to Madison the 2d of December :
“Mr. Mason has not yet appeared, and I do not expect he will this session, as he has the remains upon him of a severe attack of the gout.'
1 " Letters of Joseph Jones," p. 59. Department of State, 1889.
The project of the land cession had therefore to be carried through the Assembly without George Mason's personal assistance, and on the 2d of January, 1781, the act for this purpose was passed. But as two of its eight conditions were not satisfactory to Congress, the matter was not fully settled until some time later. Colonel Clark was in Virginia during this winter, and no doubt he visited his friend at “Gunston Hall" before leaving the State. Arnold's raid took place at this time, and Colonel Clark assisted in the defence of the James River. In the spring the Assembly, which met in March, was disturbed by the British and forced to adjourn from place to place. Colonel Mason, in his retirement at “Gunston," was keenly alive to the critical situation of the country, and though no longer in the councils of his State, he was revolving at home projects for the public good. And the fruit of some of his reflections appears in the following letter to the Virginia delegates in Congress:
Letter to the Honorable the Virginia Delegates in Congress at Phila
delphia, April 3, 1781. GENTLEMEN :
Permit me to recommend to your consideration a subject which I think merits the attention of Congress. The enemy is now professedly carrying on a predatory war against the United States contrary to the custom of civilized nations. A board of Refugees has been some time sitting in New York upon the subject of depredation and consulting upon the most effectual methods of plundering the defenceless part of the inhabitants of the American States in which they are avowedly authorized and supported by the British king and his generals. Several private people have lately been robbed, their houses burned and their estates ruined by the crews of British ships. Arnold is at this time preparing a great number of flat-bottomed boats at Portsmouth notoriously for the purpose of plundering the tobacco warehouses and the inhabitants upon the rivers and creeks in Virginia and Maryland. How practicable a plan of this sort is I need hardly mention to gentlemen acquainted with the situation of this country. What may be the fatal consequences not only of disabling many thouLETTER TO THE VIRGINIA DELEGATES IN CONGRESS. 3
sands from paying their taxes and contributing to the support of the common cause, but of throwing them also as a dead weight on the rest of the community, or how few of them may have public virtue enough to withstand the terrors of poverty and ruin are topics which, however disagreeable, deserve the most serious reflections that if possible the evil may be averted. Whether the king and his ministry encouraged by their success in Carolina expect by such means to make an easier conquest of the Southern States, or whether expecting the interference of the great powers of Europe to compel them to relinquish their claim to the American States, they are now acting upon the principles of revenge determined to desolate what they despair of recovering-be this as it may-it is surely the duty of the Great Council of America to endeavor if possible to prevent the mischief and save from ruin such numbers of their citizens. Whoever considers the importance of the trade of these States to Great Britain, and her expectations of great part of it returning into British channels, upon a peace, may readily conceive that she will be alarmed at. any measures which must affect it hereafter by imposing such burdens upon it as will give a lasting preference to other nations. If therefore Congress were to recommend to the Legislatures of the different States immediately to enact laws, declaring that all private property which has been or shall be plundered or destroyed by the British troops or others acting under the authority of the King of Great Britain, beyond high-water mark, from a certain day shall be hereafter reimbursed and made good to the individual sufferers and their heirs by dutys to be imposed upon all imports from Great Britain into the respective States, after a peace and to be continued until full reparation shall be accordingly made, and for this purpose directing valuations upon oath to be made of all private property so plundered or destroyed, to be returned with the names and places of abode of the owners to some certain public office in each State and there duly registered, it is more than probable it would produce good effects. fund is adequate to the purpose and the measure without conquest could not be counteracted. There is hardly a merchant or manufacturer in Great Britain who would not feel himself affected by it; if anything can restrain them this probably would. Their commanders here would immediately represent it to the
ministry and inquire their further instructions and the nation would be cautious of repeating mischiefs which must one day reverberate upon themselves. If it had not this effect it at least would be a piece of justice to the injured to whom the community owes justice, if it cannot afford them protection. The only objection that occurs to me is the common maxim “that all dutys ultimately fall upon the consumer," and consequently that this would be a tax upon ourselves. If this were true I think it no good objection, because it would only be reimbursing by a voluntary tax one part of the community what they had suffered from their local circumstances more than the other without any fault of their own. But the maxim is not true with respect to dutys upon the imports of any particular country, while we are not confined to their market, but have an open trade with all the world, and therefore this charge would fall either upon the aggressing nation, or upon those who, disaffected to the American cause, were desirous of giving Great Britain an impolitic and undue preference. It would fall partly upon both. I got a bill passed a year or two ago in the Virginia House of Delegates but it was rejected in the Senate for no other reason that I could learn but that it was ruin for Virginia to make such a law unless similar measures were adopted by the other States. Should these hints be approved there is not a moment to be lost, and such a measure should not be intended merely in terrorem, but carried into the strictest execution.
There is another subject which deserves the public attention. I have always endeavored to make myself well acquainted with the sentiments of the bulk of the people, conscious that in governments like ours, upon this in a great measure must depend the success of the present contest. I live in a part of the country remarkable for its Whigism and attachment to the cause of liberty, and it is with much concern I find a general opinion prevailing that our allies are spinning out the war in order to weaken America as well as Great Britain and thereby leave us at the end of it as dependent as possible on themselves. However unjust this opinion may be, it is natural enough to planters and farmers burdened with heavy taxes and frequently dra ged from their families by military duty in the continual alarms occasioned by the superiority of the British navy. They see their property