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VIRGINIA, GUNSTON HALL,
March 25, 1783. DEAR SIR :
I thank you for your several favors since I had the pleasure of seeing you last, the receipt of which I should have acknowledged earlier, but have been a long time disabled, by a very sore finger, from holding a pen.
Since your last of the 12th instant, informing me of the arrival of Capt. Barney, &c., I have seen a printed hand bill containing the preliminary Articles between Great Britain and the United States, and so far as I am able to judge, they are, upon the whole, as favorable as America, in her present situation, has a right to expect. The grand points are ceded to her, and as for the payment of debts contracted before the war, it is no more than justice requires, nor do I think it would have been sound policy in us to have abrogated them, had it been in our power. The far-fetched distinctions which have been attempted to be shown between this and other wars would hardly have been approved, as understood by mankind in general ; and with what degree of faith could the merchants of other nations have trusted their effects here, if their private property was in danger of being wrested from them and applied to our own use, upon any national quarrel, and upon arguments and principles in which we should be both judges and parties. There can't, therefore, be a stronger proof of the weakness or wickedness of our Assembly, than their late instructions to our delegates in Congress.
I once thought that we ought to risk a long war in order to bring the remaining British colonies into our Union, but time and reflection have altered my opinion. I have seen that lust of power, so natural to the mind of man, prevailing in Congress at a much earlier period than could well have been expected. I have seen some of the States, from partial, local, temporary views, conniving at, and fostering principles which would inevitably end in their own destruction. I have seen our legislatures trampling under foot the obligations of morality and justice, and wantonly invading the sacred rights of their fellow-citizens. It may not be amiss to have some rival power at their door, some powerful motives to restrain them within the bounds of moderation. It will at least be a comfortable reflection, that if our government should grow intolerable (which, judging of the future from the
LETTER TO ARTHUR LEE.
past, is neither impossible nor improbable) a man would have some place of refuge, the means of sheltering himself from anarchy, ignorance and knavery. But I hope everything from peace. I hope then to see our great national council, as well as our different assemblies, filled with men of honest characters, and of independent circumstances and principles, for until this shall be the case, our affairs can never go well. I therefore hope that the preliminary articles agreed to by our commissioners at Paris, will be ratified by Congress; that Capt. Barney may return with them as speedily as possible ; and that nothing on our part may be wanting to hasten so desirable an event, for I presume his passport from the King of Great Britain is both in and out. I am anxious to hear the determination of Congress upon this important subject, and if there is no injunction of secrecy (and I don't see why there should) shall be much obliged to you for the earliest communication.
The refugee barges are lately returned, and again plundering on the shores of Potomac. One of their crews was lately pretty roughly handled by a small party of Northumberland militia. They lost two of their rascally officers and a few men, upon which they fled with the greatest precipitation. It is a mortifying reflection, and accords badly with the ideas of sovereignty and independence, that the power of two States is not sufficient to protect us from a band of robbers.
I have lately received two or three letters from Europe, via Philadelphia, every one of them broken open and sealed up again there, or at some of the intervening post-offices, as almost all the letters I have had these two years past from Europe have been. The post-office is a considerable tax upon the people; under proper regulations and in honest hands, it would be a great convenience and benefit to the public, but by such vile practices as these it is likely to become a nuisance to society. If Congress fails to put it under better regulations, or don't compel the postmastergeneral to be more circumspect in the appointment of his deputies, the different States will soon be under the necessity of taking it out of their hands into their own.
I sincerely wish you health, and am with great esteem and respect, Dear sir, your most obedient servant,
P. S.-I beg leave to trouble you with the three inclosed letters to Mr. Johnson of Nantes, covering letters to my son George, and as they are duplicates, beg the favor of you to forward them by different vessels.'
Captain Joshua Barney, the celebrated naval hero of the Revolution, had sailed for France the preceding November carrying despatches to Dr. Franklin, and he had returned now with the welcome preliminaries of peace, and also with a loan of money from the French king.
The Virginia Assembly met in May, and was confronted with the important issues of the peace, as they affected Virginia and her section, as also with matters of internal government, and the powers of the Federal Congress. George Mason wrote to two of his friends in the Assembly, William Cabell and Patrick Henry, on the same day, asking them for their interest in support of a project of his son's, Thomson Mason, jr. Colonel Mason discusses public affairs in these letters, and, as was natural, writing them both at one sitting probably, he uses the same language frequently to his two correspondents. But there is a sufficient variety in their contents to warrant the publication of both letters.
FAIRFAX Co., GUNSTON HALL, DEAR SIR :
May 6th, 1783. I congratulate you most sincerely, upon the establishment of American liberty and independence. Happiness and prosperity are now within our reach ; but to attain and preserve them must depend upon our own wisdom and virtue. I hope the Assembly will revise several of our laws, and abolish all such of them as are contrary to the fundamental principles of justice. This and a strict adherence to the distinctions between right and wrong for the future, is absolutely necessary, to restore that confidence and reverence in the people for the legislature, which a contrary conduct has so greatly impaired, and without which their laws must ever remain little better than a dead letter. Frequent interference with private property and contracts, retrospective laws destructive of all public faith, as well as confidence between man and man, and flagrant violations of the Constitution must disgust the best
! MS. Letter.
LETTER TO WILLIAM CABELL.
and wisest part of the community, and occasion a general depravity of manners, bring the legislature into contempt, and finally produce anarchy and public convulsion.
I write to you with the freedom and sincerity of a friend, knowing that you detest such measures as much as I do. They drove me out of the Assembly, with a thorough conviction that it was not in my power to do any manner of good. The love of my country is not extinguished by it, and if I recover tolerable health, and have just cause to think I can do any essential public service, I shall return again into the legislature.
We are told here that the present Assembly intend to dissolve themselves to make way for a general convention to new model the Constitution. Will such a measure be proper, without a requisition from a majority of the people ? If it can be done without such requisition, may not the caprice of future Assemblies repeat it from time to time, until the Constitution shall have lost all stability, and anarchy introduced in its stead ? Or at any rate, will it not be better to defer it a year or two, until the present ferment (occasioned by the late sudden change) has subsided, and men's minds have had time to cool? We are very much alarmed, in this part of the country, least the Assembly should pass some laws infringing the Articles of Peace, and thereby involve us in a fresh quarrel with Great Britain, who might make reprisals upon our shipping or coasts, without much danger of offending the late belligerent powers in Europe, but I trust that more prudent and dispassionate councils will prevail.
One of my sons and one William Allison have lately erected a snuff manufactory in this county, and have already made a large quantity of snuff, which they intend to send soon into different parts of the country. Fearing the attempts of the British merchants [to send] such a manufacture here, they have presented a petition to the Assembly, for laying a duty upon snuff imported from foreign countries. The reasons for this are fully stated in their petition, which I beg the favor of you to examine, and if you think their request just and reasonable, I flatter myself they will be favored with your interest in the General Assembly. I am with much respect and esteem, Dear sir,
Your most obedient servant, G. Mason.' To Col. William Cabell.
1“ Virginia Historical Register," vol. iii., p. 84.
FAIRFAX COUNTY, GUNSTON HALL, DEAR SIR :
May 6, 1783. Although it is a long time since I had the honor of hearing from you, I reflect, and ever shall reflect, with pleasure on our former acquaintance and the proofs I have experienced of your esteem and friendship. I have enjoyed but indifferent health since I retired from public business : should I recover a better state of health, and have just cause to think I can render any essential public service, I shall return again to the Assembly.
I congratulate you most sincerely on the accomplishment of what I know was the warmest wish of your heart, the establishment of American independence and the liberty of our country. We are now to rank among the nations of the world, but whether our independence shall prove a blessing or a curse, must depend on our own wisdom or folly, virtue or wickedness; judging of the future by the past, the prospect is not promising. Justice and virtue are the vital principles of republican government; but among us a depravity of manners and morals prevails to the destruction of all confidence between man and man. It greatly behooves the Assembly to revise several of our laws; to abolish all such as are contrary to the fundamental principles of justice, and by a strict adherence to the distinctions between right and wrong for the future to restore that confidence and reverence in the people for the legislature which has been so greatly impaired by a contrary conduct, and without which our laws can never be much more than a dead letter. It is in your power, my dear sir, to do more good and prevent more mischief than any man in this State ; and I doubt not that you will exert the great talents with which God has blessed you in promoting the public happiness and prosperity. We are told that the present Assembly intend to dissolve themselves, in order to make way for a general convention to new-model the constitution of government.
Will such a measure be proper without a requisition of the people ? If it can be done without such requisition, the caprice of future Assemblies may repeat it from time to time until the stability of the constitution is totally destroyed and anarchy introduced in its stead. Or at any rate will it not be better to defer it a year or two until the present ferment (occasioned by the late sudden change) has subsided and men's minds have had time to cool ?