letter signed: Mount Vernon, to Henry Knox, 1787 February 3.
6 p. + doc.
Vernon 3d: Feby. 1787
feel my self exceedingly obliged to you for the full, &
friendly communications in your letters of the 14th.
21st. & 25th ult.; and shall
(critically as matters are described in the latter) be
extremely anxious to know the issue of the movements of the
forces that were assembling; the one to support, the other to
oppose the constitutional rights of Massachusetts. The
moment is, indeed, important! If government shrinks, or is
unable to enforce its laws; fresh manuvres will be displayed
by the insurgents anarchy & confusion must prevail
and every thing will be turned topsy turvey in that State;
where it is not probable the mischiefs will terminate.
your letter of the 14th. you express a wish to know
my intention respecting the Convention, proposed to be held at
Philada. in May next. In confidence I inform you,
that it is not, at this time, my purpose to attend it.
When this matter wa[s] first moved in the Assembly of this
State, some of the principal characters of it wrote to me,
requesting to be permitted to put my name in the delegation.
To this I objected They again pressed, and I again
refused; assigning among other reasons my having declined
meeting the Society of the Cincinnati at that place, about the
same time; & that I thought it wou[ld] be disrespectfull
to that body (to whom I owd much) to be there on any other
occasion. Notwithstanding these
intimations, my name was inserted in the Act; and an official
communication], thereof made by the Executive to me; to whom,
at the same time [inserted: that] I expressed my sense of the confidence reposed in
me, I declared, that as I saw no prospect of my attending, it
was my  wish that my name might not remain in the
delegation, to the exclusion of another. To this I have
been requested, in emphatical terms, not to decide absolutely,
as no inconvenience would result from the non-appointment of
another, at least for some time. Thus the matter stands,
which is the reason of my saying to you in confidence
that at present I retain my first intention not to go.
In the meanwhile as I have the fullest conviction of your
friendship for, and attachment to me; know your abilities
to judge; and your means of information, I shall
receive any communications from you, respecting this business,
with thankfulness. My first wish is, to do for the best,
and to act with propriety; and you know me too well, to
believe that reserve or concealment of any circumstance or
opinion, would be at all pleasing to me.
legallity of this Convention I do not mean to discussnor
how problamatical  the issue of it may be.
powers are wanting, none ca<n> deny.
Through what medium they are to be derived, will, like
other matters, engage public attention. That which takes
the shortest course to obtain them, will, in my opinion; under
present circumstances, be found best. Otherwise, like a
house on fire, whilst the most regular mode of extinguishing
it is contending for, the building is reduced to ashes. My
opinion of the energetic wants of the federal government are
well known publickly & privately, I have declared it;
and however constitutionally it may be for Congress to point
out the defects of the fderal System, I am strongly inclined
to believe that it would not be found the most efficatious
channel for the recommendation, more especially the
alterations, to flow for reasons too obvious to enumerate.
System on which you seem disposed to build a national
government  is certainly more energetic, and I dare say, in
every point of view is more desirable than the present one;
which, from experience, we find is not only slow
debilitated and liable to be thwarted by every breath, but
is defective in that secrecy, which for the accomplishment of
many of the most important national purposes, is indispensably
necessary; and besides, having the Legislative, Executive
& Judiciary departments concentered, is exceptionable.
But at the same time I give this opinion, I believe that the
political machine will yet be much tumbled & tossed, and
possibly be wrecked altogether, before such a system as you
have defined, will be adopted. The darling Sovereignties
of the States individually, The Governors elected &
elect. The Legislators with a long train of etcetra
whose political consequence will be lessened, if not
anihilated, would give their weight of opposition  to such
a revolution. But I may be speaking without book, for
scarce ever going off my own farms I see few people who do not
call upon me; & am very little acquainted with the
Sentiments of the great world; [strike-out]
indeed, after what I have seen, or rather after what I have
heard, I shall be surprized at nothing; for if three years
ago, any person had told me that at this day, I should see [strike-out]
such a formidable [inserted:
rebellion] aga[inst] the laws & constitutions of our own
making [inserted: as
now appears] I should have thought him a bedlamite a fit
subject for a mad house.
Adieu, you know how much, and how sincerely I am, ever,
Affecte. & most
Washington joins me in every good wish for yourselfMrs Knox
and the family.
Vernon, 3 February
Excellency Genl Washington
- different hand: original No 26]
Published in Twohig, Dorothy et al.
The Papers of George Washington.
Confederation Series 5:7-8.
Published in Fitzpatrick, John C.
The Writings of George Washington.
vol. 29, p. 151-153.
GLC2437.52.159 is a duplicate of this document.