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ble and tremendous ! what a triumph for our enemies to verify their predictions! what a triumph for the ad. vocates of despotism to find that we are incapable of governing ourselves, and that systems, founded on the basis of equal liberty, are merely ideal and fallacivus ! Would to God that wise measures may be taken in time to avert the consequences we have but too much reason to apprehend.
“ Retired as I am from the world, 1 frankly acknowledge I cannot feel myself an unconcerned spectator. Yet having happily assisted in bringing the ship into port, and having been fairly discharged, it is not my business to embark again on the sea of troubles.
“ Nor could it be expected that my sentiments and opinions would have much weight on the minds of my countrymen. They have been neglected, though given as a last legacy in a most solemn manner. I then perhaps had some claims to publick attention. I consider myself as having none at present.”
When the plan of a Convention was ripened, and its meeting appointed to be at Philadelphia in May, 1787, a respectable character in Virginia, communicated to General WASHINGTON the intention of that state to elect him one of her representatives, on this important occasion. He explicitly declined being a candidate, yet the Legislature placed him at the head of her delegation, in the hope that mature reflection would induce him to attend upon the service. The Governour of the state, Mr. Randolph, informed him of his appointment, by the following letter. “By the enclosed act you will readily discover that the Assembly are alarmed at the storms which threaten the United States. What our enemies have foretold seems to be hastening to its accomplishment, and cannot be frus. trated but by an instantaneous, zealous, and steady union among the friends of the federal government To you I need not press our present dangers. The Inefficacy of Congress vou have often felt in your offi
for the M ucapake di
cial character ; the increasing languor of our asso ciated republicks you hourly see ; and a dissolution would be, I know, to you, a source of the deep tification. I freely then entreat you to accept the unanimous appointment of the General Assembly to the Convention at Philadelphia. For the gloomy prospest still admits one ray of hope, that those who began, carried on, and consummated the revolution, can yet restore America from the impending ruin ”
“ Sensible as I am,” said the General in his answer, " of the honour conferred on me by the General Assembly of this commonwealth, in appointing me one of the deputies to a Convention proposed to be held in the city of Philadelphia in May next, for the purpose of revising the federal constitution; and desirous as I am on all occasions of testifying a ready obedience to the calls of my country—yet, Sir, there exist at this moment, circumstances which I am persuaded will render this fresh instance of confidence incompatible with other measures which I had previously adopted, and from which seeing little prospect of disengaging myself, it would be disingenuous not to express a wish that some other character on whom greater reliance can be had, may be substituted in my place, the probability of my non-attendance being too great to continue my appointment.
“ As no mind can be more deeply impressed than mine is with the critical situation of our affairs, resulting in a great measure from the want of efficient powers in the federal head, and due respect to its ordinances, so consequently those who do engage in the important business of removing these defects, will carry with them every good wish of mine, which the best dispositions towards their obtainment can bestow.
The Governour declined the acceptance of his re signation of the appointment, and begged hiin to sus spend his determination until the approach of the pe riod of the meeting of Convention that his final judo
ment might be the result of a full acquaintance with all circumstances.
Thus situated, the General reviewed the subject, that he might upon thorough deliberation make the decision which duty and patriotism enjoined. He had, by a circular letter to the state societies, declined being re-elected the President of the Cincinnati, and had an nounced that he should not attend their general meeting at Philadelphia on the next May; and he apprehended, that if he attended the Convention at the time and place of their meeting, that he should give offence to all the officers of the late army who como posed this body. He was under apprehension that the states would not be generally represented on this occasion, and that a failure in the plan would diminish the personal influence of those who engaged in it. Some of his confidential friends were of opinion that the ocoasion did not require his interposition, and that he ought to reserve himself for a state of things which would unequivocally demand his agency and influence. Even on the supposition that the plan should succeed, they thought that he ought not to engage in it; because his having been in Convention would obligate him to make exertions to carry the measures that body might recommend, into effect, and would necessarily “sweep him into the tide of publick affairs.” His own experience since the close of the revolutionary war created in his mind serious doubts, whether the respective states would quietly adopt any system, calculated to give stability and vi gour to the national government. “As we could not," to use his own language, “ remain quiet more than three or four years in times of peace, under the constitutions of our own choosing, which were believed in many states to have been formed with deliberation and wisdom, I see little prospect either of our agreeing on any other, or that we should remain long satisfied under it, if we could Yet I would wish any thing
and every thing essayed to prevent the effusion of blood, and to divert the humiliating and contemptible figure we are about to make in the annals of mankind."
These considerations operated powerfully to confirm him in the opinion first formed not to attend the Convention.
On the other hand, he realized the greatness of the publick stake.
The confederation was universally considered as a nullity. The advice of a Convention, composed of respectable characters from every part of the union, would probably have great influence with the community, whether it should be to amend the articles of the old government, or to form a new constitution.
Amidst the various sentiments which at this time prevailed, respecting the state of publick affairs, many entertained the supposition that the “times must be worse before they could be better," and that the American people could be induced to establish an efficient and liberal national government only by the scourge of anarchy. Some seemed to think that the experiment of a republican government in America had already failed, and that one, more energetick, must soon by violence be introduced. General Washington entertained some apprehension, chat his declining to attend the Convention would be considered as a derelic tion of republican principles.
While he was balancing these opposite circumstances in his mind, the insurrection of Massachusetts occurred, which turned the scale of opinion in favour of his joining the Convention. He viewed this event as awfully alarıning. “For God's sake tell me,” said he in a letter to Colonel Humphroys, “ what is the cause of all these commotions? Do they proceed from licentiousness, British influence disseminated by the tories or real grievances which admit of redress ? If the lat ter, why was redress delayed until the publick mind had become so much agitated ? If the former, why are
not the powers of government tried at once? It is as well to be without as not to exercise them.”
To General Knox and other friends, similar apprehensions were expressed. “I feel infinitely more than I can express to you, for the disorders which have arisen in these states. Good God! who besides a tory could have foreseen, or a Briton have predicted them? I do assure you that even at this moment, when I re flect upon the present aspect of our affairs, it seems to me like the visions of a dream. My mind can scarcely realize it as a thing in actual existence :-So strange, so wonderful, dues it appear to me. In this, as in most other matters, we are too slow. When this spirit first dawned, it might probably have been easily checked; but it is scarcely within the reach of human ken, at this moment, to say when, where, or how, it will terminate. There are combustibles in every state, to which a spark might set fire. In bewailing, which I have often done with the keenest surrow, the death of our much lamented friend General Greene, I have accompanied my regrets of late with a query whether he would not have preferred such an exit, to thu scenes which it is more than probable many of his compatriots may live to bemoan.
“ You talk, my good sir, of employing influence to appease the present tumults in Massachusetts. I know not where that influence is to be found ; nor if attainable, that it would be a proper remedy for these disorders. Influence is not government. Let us have a government by which our lives, liberties, and proper ties will be secured; or let us know the worst at once. Under these impressions my humble opinion is that there is a call for decision. Know then precisely what the insurgents aim at. If they have real grievances, redress them if possible ; or acknowledge the justice of them, and your inability to do it in the present mo. ment. If they have not, employ the fo.ce of the government against them at once. If this is inade