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Knox, Henry (1750-1806) to George Washington

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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC02437.03319 Author/Creator: Knox, Henry (1750-1806) Place Written: New York, New York Type: Autograph letter Date: 23 October 1786 Pagination: 9 p. : docket; 31.8 x 20 cm.

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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC02437.03319 Author/Creator: Knox, Henry (1750-1806) Place Written: New York, New York Type: Autograph letter Date: 23 October 1786 Pagination: 9 p. : docket; 31.8 x 20 cm.

Summary of Content: Writes that he hopes to be able to visit General Washington at Mount Vernon soon. Is convinced of the General's affection for him and feels sure that his limited correspondence will not be misconstrued; is aware that responding to too many letters can be difficult, and he has been traveling to and from Massachusetts on both public and private business, which has prevented him from writing. Argues that the political system currently in place is inadequate: "The powers of Congress are utterly inadequate to preserve the balance between the respective States, and oblige them to do those things which are essential for [strikeout] their own welfare or for the general good." Believes that all states are at odds with each other, at odds with the central government, and at odds within themselves. Comments that the political machine works against the public interest, especially regarding taxes. Writes, "we have arrived at that point of time, in which we are forced to see our own humiliation as a nation and that a progression in this line cannot be productive of happiness either private or public - Something is wanting - and something must [struck: be obtained] be done, or we shall be involved in all the horror of faction and civil war, without a prospect of its termination." Has reason to believe there will be war with the Indians in the frontier, and explains that more troops will be added in the region. Also adds his sadness at the recent death of General [Nathanael] Greene, and his happiness at the birth of another daughter. He and his wife send their love to Washington and his wife. Knox's retained draft.

Full Transcript: New York 23 October 1786
My dear sir I have long intended myself the pleasure of visiting you at Mount Vernon - [inserted: and] although I have not given up that hope, ...and shall probably gratify it in the course of next month yet I cannot longer delay presenting myself to the remembrance of my [struck: much] [inserted: truly] respected and beloved General, whose friendship I shall ever esteem among the most valuable circumstances of my existence.
Conscious of [struck: unlimited] affection and [struck: assured of it being] [inserted: & believing it to be] reciprocal in your breast, [struck: my] [inserted: I have had no] apprehensions [struck: have been quieted lest] of my silence [struck: might be] [inserted: being] misconstrued - I know the perplexity occasioned by yr numerous correspondents and was unwilling to add to it - Besides which [struck: during the last three months] I have lately [inserted: been] [struck: twice] [inserted: once] [struck: as] [inserted and struck: much further far] far eastward of Boston, [struck: the first time principally on my private business, but the second on [inserted: public] business of a public [inserted: of an alarming] nature on private business and was [inserted: no] sooner returned here, than the [struck: colonizing] commotions in Massachusetts hurried me back to Boston on a public account.
[2] Our political machine, [struck: consisting] [inserted: constituted] of thirteen independent sovereignties, [struck: are] [inserted: have been] perpetually [struck: weaker] operating against each other and against the federal Head, [struck: whose power] ever since the peace - The powers of Congress are utterly inadequate to preserve the balance between the respective States, and oblige them to do those things which are essential for [strikeout] their own welfare or for the general good - [struck: In time] the [struck: powers of the] [inserted: human] mind in the [struck: respective several] [inserted: local] Legislatures seem [inserted: to be] exerted to prevent [struck: the proper] the [inserted: federal] constitution from having any [inserted: good] effect - The machine works inversly to the public good in all its parts - Not only is State against State, and all against the federal Head, but the States within themselves, possess the name [inserted: only] without having the essential concomitant of government, the power of preserving the peace - the protection of the liberty & property of the citizens - On the very first [struck: touch of the finger] [inserted: impression] of Faction and licentiousness the fine theoretic government of Massachusetts is prostrated to the earth, and its laws arrested & [3] trampled under foot - Men at a distance who have admired our systems of government, unfounded in nature, are apt to [strikeout] accuse the rulers, and say that taxes have been assessed too high and collected too rigidly - This is [inserted: a] deception equal to any that has been hitherto entertained - That taxes may be the ostensible cause is true, but that they are the true cause is as far remote from truth as light from darkness - The people who [struck: have] [inserted: are] the insurgents have never paid any or but very little taxes - But they see the weakness of Government they feel at once their own poverty compared with the [struck: rich] [inserted: opulent], and their own force, and they are determined to make use of the latter in order to remedy the former - Their creed is that that the property of the United States has been protected from the confiscations of Britain by the joint exertions of all, and therefore ought to be the common property of all, and he that attempts [struck: the] opposition [struck: of] [inserted: to] this [strkeout] creed is an enemy to equity and Justice and ought to be swept from the [4] face of the earth - In a word they are determined as [struck: far as their power] [strikeout] to annihilate all debts public and private, and have agrarian Laws, which are [strikeout] easily effected by the means of unfunded paper money [struck: that] [inserted: which] shall be a tender in all cases whatever - [struck: This] The numbers of these people, may amount in Massachusetts to one [struck: sixth of the people] [inserted: fifth part] of several [strikeout] populous Counties, and to them may be collected the people of similar sentiments from the States of Rhode Island, Connecticut & New Hampshire [struck: great] so as to constitute a body of 12 or 15000 desperate & unprincipled men - They are [struck: primarily] [inserted: cheifly] of the young and active part of the community [struck: easil] more easily collected than Kept together afterwards - But they [struck: may] [inserted: will probably] commit overt acts of treason, which will compell them to embody for their own safety - Once embodied they will be constrained to submit to discipline for the same [strikeout] reason - Having proceeded to this length, [inserted: for] which they are now ripe, we shall have a formidable rebellion against, reason the [principles] of all government, and against the very name of liberty. [5] This [struck: horrid] [inserted: dreadful] situation for what our governments have made no [inserted: adequate] provision has alarmed every man of principle and property in New England - They start as from a dream, and ask what can have been the cause of our delusion? What is to give us security [struck: of] against the violence [struck: of force] of lawless men? - Our government must [illegible illegible] any thing to afford security to our lives and property - We [struck: feared] [inserted: imagined], that the mildness of our government and the virtue of the people were so correspondent that we were not [struck: as other men -] as other nations requiring brutal force [struck: for] to support the laws - But we find that we are men, actual men, possessing all the turbulent passions belonging to that animal and that we must have a government proper and adequate for [strikeout] [inserted: him] - The people of Massachusetts for instance are far advanced in this doctrine, & the men of property and the men of [strikeout] reflection and principle there are determined to endevor to establish a [6] protect them in their lawful pursuits, and what will be efficient in all cases of internal commotions or foreign invasions - They mean that liberty shall form the basis, [struck: an equal] liberty resulting from an equal and firm administration of Law, [struck: and that the government shall have a proper tone] - They wish for a [inserted: general] government of Unity as they see that the local Legislatures must naturally and necessarily tend to retard the general government -
[struck: I am persuaded that] we have arrived at that point of time, in which we are forced to see our own humiliation as a nation and that a progression in this line cannot be productive of [inserted and strikeout] happiness either private or public - Something is wanting - and something must [struck: be obtained] be done, or we shall be involved in all the horror of faction and civil war, without a prospect of its termination [7] every tried friend for the Liberty of his Country is bound to reflect, and step forward to prevent the dreadful consequences, which shall result from a government of events - Unless this is done we shall be liable to be ruled by an abritary and Capricious armed tyranny - whose word and will must be Law -
The indians on the frontiers are giving indisputable evidence of their hostile dispositions - Congress anxiously desirous of averting [struck: all the horor] the evils on the frontiers have unanimously agreed to [struck: revise] augment the troops now in service to a [inserted: legionary] corps of 2040 noncommissioned officers and privates - [struck: These are to be raised 180 new] The [additionals] are to be raised as follows. -

Connecticut 180
Infantry and artillery{ Rhode I. 120
Massachusetts 660
New Hampshire 260
Cavalry{ Maryland - 60
Virginia 60___
1340

[8] This measure is [struck: a wise one] important and will tend to strengthning the principle of government if necessary as well as to defend the frontiers - [struck: I mention this idea of [illegible] [inserted: of strengthning] in perfect confidence]
I mention the idea of strengthning governt as confidential - But [struck: Massachusetts] the State of Massachusetts requires the greatest assistance, and Congress are fully [strikeout] impressed with the importance of supporting her with great exertions -
I received your favor respecting Desdevans who, has been teizing congress for a great number of years - he is now at lake Champlain I never have been [strikeout] convinced of his services to the Union, although he has received very considerable emoluments for them -
[struck: Our] The death of our common friend Genl Greene has been [struck: too affecting] too melancholy and affecting a theme to write upon - I therefore have been [inserted: & am] silent [struck: & cannot write upon].
Mrs Knox has lately presented me with another daughter who with its mother [9] are well - She unites with me in presenting our most [struck: respectfully & affecting] affectionate respects to [inserted: you &] Mrs Washington, and
I am my dear Sir
with [strikeout] and ardent wishes for
Your permanent and perfect felicity
Your sincere friend & very
humble sevt

His Excellency
General Washington Mount Vernon -

[docket]
private
His Excellency Genl
Washington 23 Oct
1786 -
See More

People: Knox, Henry, 1750-1806
Washington, George, 1732-1799
Washington, Martha, 1731-1802
Greene, Nathanael, 1742-1786
Knox, Lucy Flucker, 1756-1824

Historical Era: The New Nation, 1783-1815

Subjects: American Indian HistoryRevolutionary War GeneralMount VernonPresidentPoliticsContinental CongressCongressArticles of ConfederationUS ConstitutionTaxes or TaxationFinanceMilitary HistoryFrontiers and ExplorationDeathChildren and FamilyFirst LadyMobs and RiotsRebellionShays' Rebellion

Sub Era: Creating a New Government

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