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Knox, Henry (1750-1806) to Mercy Otis Warren

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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC02437.03558 Author/Creator: Knox, Henry (1750-1806) Place Written: New York, New York Type: Autograph letter Date: 30 May 1787 Pagination: 10 p. : docket ; 32.2 x 19.9 cm.

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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC02437.03558 Author/Creator: Knox, Henry (1750-1806) Place Written: New York, New York Type: Autograph letter Date: 30 May 1787 Pagination: 10 p. : docket ; 32.2 x 19.9 cm.

Summary of Content: Replies to her letter from 2 May (GLC02437.03539). Discusses a financial matter involving Winslow Warren (Warren's son), Mr. Hawkins, Knox's brother William, and Mr. Breck. Apologizes for not being able to fully comply with her request from 2 May due to William's limited power in that regard. Knox discusses the present state of government, and the divided nature of the states, in the context of the Constitutional Convention, which gathered at Philadelphia 25 May. Discusses "the present awful crisis- I arrange in my imagination two or three hundred millions of [our] posterity with their eyes fixed on our conduct, ready to applaud our wisdom or to execrate our folly." Praises a book by Mr. Adams, noting that it should have been called "The Soul of a Free Government," (likely commenting on John Adams's book, A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America). Comments that "paper money - and ex post facto Laws are the main springs of the American governments." Mentions the Cincinnati (likely the Society of the Cincinnati). Reflects on the Constitutional Convention and the men attending it: "Should they possess the hardihood to be unpopular and propose an efficient national government from the entanglements of the present defective state [systems], we may yet be a happy and great nation." Adds, "Should they possess local and not general views should they propose to patch up the wretched & defective thing called the confederation- look out ye patriots- supplicate heaven separate anarchies will take place..." Discusses the issue of state's rights versus national power, "The state governments should be deprived of the power of injuring themselves or the nation. The people have parted with power enough to form an excellent constitution- But it is intercepted and diffused among hordes which cannot use it to good purpose- It must be [concerted] in a national government. The power of that government should be divided between a strong executive, senate, and assembly.... every thing should be defined, marked, and checked according to the highest human wisdom- an attempt to overleap the bounds of the Constitution should be punished on the absolute certainty of great severity." Writes that in this letter, he only suggested the smallest possible changes that can be made to the government. Anything less "will be to precipitate us in to the gulph of separate anarchies or the issue of which we may see established seperate tyrannies." This is Knox's draft. The sent copy of this letter is in the Warren-Adams Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Full Transcript: [draft]
New York 30 May 1787.
Madam
Having but just returned from Philadelphia it was only yesterday I had the honor to receive your favor of the 2d instant
I have conversed ...with [struck: Mr] my brother, on the subject you wrote to me [struck: concerning Mr Winslow Warren] Whatever may be his dispositions on the occasions his powers are utterly inadequate to give a discharge on the part of Mr Hawkins for less than the real sum. Were he to do [struck: this] [inserted: it] he would render himself liable for the deficiency - But he will cheerfully accept the sum proposed by Mr Winslow Warren on account, and will write to Mr Hawkins a fair statement of the [struck: affair] [inserted: transaction] In the mean time Mr W. Warren, may be assured that my brother will in no degree attempt [strikeout] [inserted: to] interrupt [struck: or hindrance] to his plans - and he informs him that he has written to Mr Breck to this purpose - [2]
I feel myself [inserted: madam] much indebted to you [struck: madam] for the favor of your letter, and the confidence you reposed in my friendship on the primary subject of it - I have only to lament the want of power on the part of my brother, or I am persuaded that I should have been able to have influenced to acquiesce [struck: with] [inserted: completely] with [struck: the requ] your request.
Respecting politics, as you have given me the opportunity I shall take the liberty of indulging [inserted: confidentially] a few reflections, [struck: confidentially] [inserted and struck: confidentially] relying on your candour for an excuse [inserted: struck line] if any ideas escape, which from my view of things may have the appearance of being inconsistent with our former creeds.
When I survey man, [struck: analyze] [inserted: analyze] his passions & investigate his views - [inserted: Take] Retrospect [inserted: of] his progressions through the various stages of society [struck: exhibited by history and the various] [inserted: and blind impulses to pursue the present enjoyment to the exclusion of future good, I tremble at the [inserted: present] awful crises - I arrange in my imagination two or three hundred millions of [our] posterity with their [inserted: eyes] fixed on our conduct, ready to [struck: burst] [3] [struck: into loud [accumulations] of applause of] [inserted: applaud] our wisdom or to execrate our folly - I long for that [inserted: degree of] intuition which belongs [struck: not] to a higher race of [inserted: beings than] man, in order to exhibit [inserted: strongly] to the view of my countrymen the importance of the present moment [struck: to show them clearly] the [struck: f] effects which will flow from the [causes] established at the [present] moment, [whether arising from accident or design] -
That our system operates badly indeed, no person, who knows the discontents which pervade the united states will deny - not only our commerce is ruined but such [struck: a total] [destruction] of moral principle as must alarm every upright and intelligent lover of his country - [struck line] Anarchy with [struck: his his] [inserted: its] [struck: wide] [inserted: horrid] [strikeout] [inserted: train of] misery seems ready to overwhelm [struck: this happy] this region marked by nature for happiness [4] Were we to examine [inserted: without prejudice] our [inserted: political] systems [struck: will] perhaps we shall there find the [inserted: source of all the] evils of which we complain and [inserted: all] those what we apprehend -
Our [struck: friend] respectable and [enlightened] friend Mr Adams [struck: has another] book will be the surest basis of his reputation - It is true he has been unfortunate in his title [inserted and struck: It should have been] [inserted: it should have been "The Soul of a free governmt"] - But still his book will be the means of great good. It is [word] spoken in season - He there points out [struck: the root of] [inserted: one of the causes of] our misery and prost[text loss] character - There in, the caprice, [struck: of] the [struck: uncontrollable effects] [inserted: headlong conduct] of a government with[out] [strikeout] [inserted: strong] checks by [struck: branches] different branches, or a division of power by a balance - Smart democracy sweeps away every [struck: feature] [inserted and struck: trait moral] [inserted: & divine trait] from the human character [struck: either moral or dive divine] However [struck: you see] [inserted: it is that] reason law and [strikeout] [inserted and struck: moral] [inserted: [illegible]] [struck: principle overwhelmed in every] [inserted: is banished almost every] legislature [strikeout] in the [that] [text loss] [5] [presents] Convenience, - paper money - and ex post facto Laws are the main springs of the American governments - [struck: virtue is sick vice is riding & about to ride triumphant those are the cases for] In addition to the these evils [inserted: [strikeout]], The [inserted: [local]] national character is totally lost, by the [monster of money] [strikeout] [inserted: the state governments] [granted] says candor but the remedy? - pardon me the convention is sitting - and [strikeout] [inserted: shall] one [end] of the [strikeout] Cincinnati [struck: to have the] presume to give his opinion! -
I confess [inserted: however] my only hope [inserted: of [illegible] assistance] is found [struck: under the auspice of heaven] on the Convention. Should they possess the hardihood to be unpopular, and propose an efficient national government free from the entanglements of the present defective state systems, we may [struck: yet be happy] yet be a happy and great nation - But I have no expectations [6] expectations if there propositions are [truly] [struck: good] [inserted: wise] that they will be immediately accepted - I should rather suppose that they will be ridiculed, in the same manner [struck: that] as was the ark while building by Noah - But if human nature be influenced by invariable principles we are on the eve of political storms - If [struck: the propositions sh] the convention should propose [struck: the erection of a fine] [inserted: to erect a] temple [struck: of] [inserted: to] Liberty [struck: supported by] [inserted: founded on equal Laws virtue, and Justice all [struck: the] people of principle will in the first instance embrace the proposals - Demegogues and vicious characters [struck: may] [inserted: will] oppose for a while - but reason will at [struck: last be] [inserted: length] triumph.
But should the convention seek to please, should they possess local [7] local and not general views - should they propose to patch up the wretched & defective thing called the confederation - look out ye patriots - supplicate heaven [strikeout]
Seperate anarchies will take place [strikeout] hostile conflicts will happen and in [proportion] to their [struck: length and] [services], [inserted: & duration] will be the [strikeout] strength of the tyrannies which shall be established on the issue - The party triumphant will never submit its actions to the decisions of a free legislature no - The [inserted: tyrants] will [direct] - If they call an assembly of the people it will be to devise ways & [8] means for raising more money like the notables in France -
But say you all this may appear true to a man of warm imagination, but still you have not given a [distant] glimpse of your government of Laws - your [paradise] of [strikeout] humanity - true madam - I should like to hear your [struck: ideas] opinions [illegible] upon the subject - do you [remember] what you once [whispered] to me at M. Russells? - [struck: I wished that it [strikeout] [was] not so far gone ] [inserted: I should [illegible] so hereafter But [illegible]] - I wish to try the experiment of a strong national republic - [struck: I] The state governments should be deprived of the power of injuring themselves or the nation - The people have parted with power enough to form an excellent constitution - But [struck: the power] [inserted: it], is intercepted and diffused among hordes which cannot use it to good purpose - It must be concertered [sic] in a national government [9] The power of that government should be divided between a strong executive, senate and assembly - The powers that each should have, [struck: and the length of time and by whom they should be chosen] [inserted: finished] would be a subject of nice discussion and much detail - [struck: with respect to the length of] [inserted: The] time [inserted: however] it should be for [such] a term as would give stability to the system - The assembly might be annual biannul [sic] & triannial but not longer - a judicial formed on the highest principles of independency - This government should possess every power necessary for national purposes - [inserted: which would leave the state governments but very little] [struck: the] But every thing should be defined, marked, and checked according to the highest human wisdom - an attempt to overleap the bounds of the Constitution should be punished on the absolute certainty & great severity -
Thus Madam I have [10] I have confided to your liberality my [crude] sentiments on our present situation & [struck: the] stated the mildest remedy that the case will admit - To attempt less I am apprehensive will be to precipitate us in to the gulph of separate anarchies on the [issue] of which we may see established seperate [sic] tyrannies - [strikeout] [inserted: The tyrants] will find ways and means by reciprocal alliances between the forces to render the fetters of the people as [durable] as brass or iron
I have said nothing on the subject of foreign intrigues which will agitate us in the course of our [conversations] - [struck: This obj] This circumstance is too [struck: ostensible] [inserted: obvious] to need any [struck: comment] [inserted: illustration] and much evil it will produce -

[docket]
To Mrs General Warren
Milton Hill near Boston
30 May 1787
See More

People: Knox, Henry, 1750-1806
Warren, Mercy Otis, 1728-1814
Warren, Winslow, fl. 1790
Adams, John, 1735-1826

Historical Era: The New Nation, 1783-1815

Subjects: US ConstitutionRevolutionary War GeneralWomen's HistoryChildren and FamilyFinanceUS Constitutional ConventionPresidentLiterature and Language ArtsLawCoins and CurrencyEconomicsFraternal OrganizationSociety of the CincinnatiArticles of ConfederationRebellionCongressPresidentContinental CongressGovernment and Civics

Sub Era: Creating a New Government

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