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Letter to Henry Knox, February 3, 1787

TRANSCRIPT GLC 2437.53.065

George Washington.  Autograph letter signed: Mount Vernon, to Henry Knox, 1787 February 3.  6 p. + doc.


Mount Vernon 3d: Feby. 1787


My dear Sir,


I 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 manœuvres 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. –


[2]In 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 ow’d much) to be there on any other occasion. –  Notwithstanding  these intimations, my name was inserted in the Act; and an official [inserted: 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 [3] 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. –


The legallity of this Convention I do not mean to discuss—nor how problamatical [4] the issue of it may be.


That 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 fœderal 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.


The System on which you seem disposed to build a national government [5] 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 [6] 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,


Yr. Affecte. & most
Obedt. Servant

Go; Washington


Mrs Washington joins me in every good wish for yourself—Mrs Knox and the family. –




Mount Vernon, 3 February



His Excellency Genl Washington

[inserted - different hand: original No 26]



Notes: 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.