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increase its influence in the Parliament without effecting any material change in the constitution of India. View the prospects of Britain as we will in the East and I cannot see how in any event any arrangements can turn to any great national advantage. Will the population of India increase the number of British citizens? Will any Eastern arrangement increase the feet or add to the army but to guard itself? I am therefore of opinion that if the court of London are wise they will be cautious how they interpose in the affairs of the East.
“I am therefore of opinion that the Court of London will still turn her attention to this continent in every consideration she may have in view to add to or increase her national strength. Passion or folly may sometimes govern her councils, but in time she will observe her error and attempt to correct the fault. I think as national advantages are to be derived from it, she will turn her attention to these provinces, and there is a kind of energy in the natives of that country which is not to be found in the peasantry of any of the monarchies of Europe. When any of the countries are overstocked in France or Spain the overplus turn beggars in the street or starve ; but the people of England seek a dwelling in foreign climes and distant countries. I suppose, therefore, these provinces will prove a drain to the surplus of citizens in Great Britain. What will be their policy with respect to these provinces, whether they will extend to them the freedom of the British Constitution, or keep in them a standing army, be this as it may, will it not be a desirable circumstance to us to prevail on them to keep few or no troops in Canada ? Will not this be a proper subject for a convention between us? But if they will not acceed to it, I still think with you that the defence of the country should be thrown on the militia.” 1
Colonel Mason's friends in Fairfax County were anxious to see him again in the Assembly, and some of them, it seems, in the spring of 1784 were about to take a step that would force him to re-enter the Legislature, as they hoped. Against this proceeding he made a vigorous protest in a letter to his friend Mr. Cockburn, declaring that it was an infringement of his personal liberty :
Gouverneur Collection. The MS. draft is endorsed by Monroe, “Supposed to have been written to Col. George Mason."
COLONEL MASON AND THE COUNTY ELECTION.
GUNSTON HALL, April 18, 1784. DEAR SIR :
I have been lately informed that some people intend to open a poll for me at the election to-morrow in this county. I hope this will not be offered for I have repeatedly declared that I cannot serve the county at this time as one of its representatives. I should look upon such an attempt in no other light than an oppressive and unjust invasion of my personal liberty, and was I to be elected under such circumstances I should certainly refuse to act, be the consequences what they may. I mention this to you in your official capacity as high sheriff of the county, and if a poll is demanded for me I must request the favor of you to inform the people publicly of my resolution, and that such a demand is made against my consent or approbation. If ever I should see a time when I have just cause to think I can render the public essential service and can so arrange my domestic concerns so as to enable me to leave my family for any length of time, I will most cheerfully let the county know it, but this is not the case in either instance at present. Your affectionate and obedient servant,
Others besides his constituents, as we have seen, wished to recall George Mason to the councils of the State. Madison and Jefferson were still urging changes in the Virginia Constitution. Madison wrote to his friend on this subject March 16th: “Much will depend on the politics of Mr. Henry which are wholly unknown to me. Should they be adverse, and G. Mason not in the Assembly, hazardous as delay is, the experiment must be put off to a more auspicious conjunction.": After the opening of the session he writes from Richmond, deploring Jefferson's departure to Europe at this time, and adds in regard to the contemplated revision of the Constitution : “As Col. Mason remains in private life, the expediency of starting the idea will depend much on the part to be expected from R. H. Lee and Mr. Henry.” 1 Mason Papers.
Writings of Madison," vol. i., p. 73. 3 Ibid., vol. i., p. 60.
In the meantime though George Mason was no longer in the Assembly, his State had some work for him to do which he could not refuse to undertake. On the 28th of June the following resolution was introduced in the House of Delegates :
“Whereas great inconveniences are found to result from the want of some concerted regulations between this State and the State of Maryland, touching the jurisdiction and navigation of the river Potomac ; Resolved, That George Mason, Edmund Randolph, James Madison, jun., and Alexander Henderson, Esqrs. be appointed commissioners ; and that they, or any three of them, do meet such commissioners as may be appointed on the part of Maryland, and in concert with them frame such liberal and equitable regulations concerning the said river, as may be mutually advantageous to the two States ; and that they make report thereof to the General Assembly." |
Questions of trade and revenue were much discussed at this session, and the subject of the British debts still agitated the Assembly and the people. Should the treaty of peace be carried out in all its provisions, while the British still held the western posts, was asked. At the fall session of 1784-5 the subject was renewed in the Assembly, and through Madison's influence, provision was finally made for payments of British debts in seven annual instalments. But the House adjourned before the bill was acted upon, and the matter remained practically unsettled until after the adoption of the Federal Constitution. Other subjects of interest to Colonel Mason brought before this Assembly were the assessment plan, and resolutions adding to the duties assigned the commission of which he had been appointed a member at the previous session. On the 11th of November the House resolved: “That the people of this commonwealth, according to their respective abilities, ought to pay a moderate tax or contribution annually, for the support of the Christian religion, or of some Christian church, denomination or com
Journal of the Assembly.
VIRGINIA'S PROPOSAL TO PENNSYLVANIA.
munion of Christians, or of some form of Christian worship." Patrick Henry, who favored the resolution, was made chairman of the committee appointed to bring in a bill on the subject. Those who opposed the assessment, with Madison at their head, finally induced the Assembly to postpone consideration of the bill until the following November. It was to be published with a record of the votes upon it, in handbills, and twelve copies given to each member to be distributed in their respective counties, and the people were requested to signify their opinion respecting the adoption of such a bill to the next session of the Assembly. On the 28th of December the House came to the following resolutions :
“That the commissioners or any two of them appointed on the twenty-eighth of June last, to concert with commissioners on the part of Maryland, regulations touching the navigation and jurisdiction of the Potomac, be further authorized to unite with the said commissioners in representing to the State of Pennsylvania, that it is in contemplation of the said two States to promote the clearing and extending the navigation of the Potomac, from tide water upwards as far as the same may be found practicable ; to open a convenient road from the head of such navigation to the waters running into the Ohio; and to render the waters navigable as far as may be necessary and proper: That the said works will require great expense, which may not be repaid unless a free use be secured to the said States and their citizens, of the waters of the Ohio and its branches so far as the same lie within the limits of Pennsylvania. That as essential advantages will accrue from such works, to a considerable portion of said State, it is thought reasonable that the legislature thereof, should by some previous act, engage that for the encouragement of the said works, all articles of produce and merchandise which may be conveyed to or from either of the said two States through either of the said rivers, within the limits of Pennsylvania to or from any place without the said limits, shall pass throughout free from all duties or tolls whatsoever other than such tolls as may be established and be necessary for reimbursing expenses incurred by the State or its citizens, in clearing, or for defraying the expense of preserving the navigation of the said rivers : And that no articles imported into the State of Pennsylvania through the channel or channels, or any part thereof to be opened as aforesaid and vended or used within the said State, shall be subject to any duties or imposts other than such articles would be subject to if imported into the said State through any other channel whatsoever : That in case a joint representation in behalf of this State and of Maryland shall be rendered by circumstances unattainable, the said commissioners or any two of them, may of themselves make such representations on the subject to the State of Pennsylvania, as will in such event become proper."
We obtain a glimpse of Colonel Mason in domestic life, and of the family circle, through a letter to his daughter, Mrs. McCarty, on the death of an infant. The original letter has been carefully preserved by this lady's granddaughter:
GUNSTON HALL, February roth, 1785. MY DEAR CHILD :
I most sincerely condole with you for the loss of your dear little girl, but it is our duty to submit with all the resignation human nature is capable of to the dispensation of Divine Providence which bestows upon us our blessings, and consequently has a right to take them away. A few years' experience will convince us that those things which at the time they happened we regarded as our greatest misfortunes have proved our greatest blessings. Of this awful truth no person has lived to my age without seeing abundant proof. Your dear baby has died innocent and blameless, and has been called away by an all wise and merciful Creator, most probably from a life of misery and misfortune, and most certainly to one of happiness and bliss.
Your sisters are both at Col. Blackburn's and not expected home before Sunday or you should immediately have their company. Your brother George and his wife are in Chotanck. I wish you could come to Gunston Hall. In the meantime I would by all means advise you to lose a little blood without delay, and