A Right Demanded

There are two distinct reasons for the demand that the Right of We The People to Keep and Bear Arms be secured in the United States Constitution.

The first reason of course, was that the British crown had attempted to disarm the American colonists. Which was one of the main sparks that ignited the actual fighting of the American Revolution. As is evidenced by the following:

A DECLARATION By the Representatives of the United Colonies Of NORTH-AMERICA, now met in General Congress AT PHILADELPHIA, Setting forth the CAUSES and NECESSITY Of their taking up ARMS. By Order of CONGRESS, JOHN HANCOCK, President. Philadelphia, July 6th, 1775

“…The Legislature of Great-Britain, however stimulated by an inordinate Passion for a Power not only unjustifiable, but which they know to be peculiarly reprobated by the very Constitution of that Kingdom, and desperate of Success in any Mode of Contest, where Regard should be had to Truth, Law, or Right, have at length, deserting those, attempted to effect their cruel and impolitic Purpose of enslaving these Colonies by Violence, and have thereby rendered it necessary for us to close with their last Appeal from Reason to Arms….

“…Soon after the Intelligence of these Proceedings arrived on this Continent, General Gage, who, in the Course of the last Year, had taken Possession of the Town of Boston, in the Province of Massachusetts Bay, and still occupied it as a Garrison, on the 10th Day of April, sent out from that Place a large Detachment of his Army, who made an unprovoked Assault on the Inhabitants of the said Province, at the Town of Lexington, as appears by the Affidavits of a great Number of Persons, some of whom were Officers and Soldiers of that Detachment, murdered eight of the Inhabitants, and wounded many others. From thence the Troops proceeded in warlike Array to the Town of Concord, where they set upon another Party of the Inhabitants of the same Province, killing several and wounding more, until compelled to retreat by the Country People suddenly assembled to repel this cruel Aggression. Hostilities thus commenced by the British Troops, have been since prosecuted by them without Regard to Faith or Reputation.–The Inhabitants of Boston being confined within that Town by the General their Governor, and having in order to procure their Dismission, entered into a Treaty with him, it was stipulated that the said Inhabitants having deposited their Arms with their own Magistrates, should have Liberty to depart, taking with them their other Effects. They accordingly delivered up their Arms, but in open Violation of Honor, in Defiance of the Obligation of Treaties, which even savage Nations esteem sacred, the Governor ordered the Arms deposited as aforesaid, that they might be preserved for their Owners, to be seized by a Body of Soldiers; detained the greatest Part of the Inhabitants in the Town, and compelled the Few who were permitted to retire, to leave their most valuable Effects behind.

The memory of the British tyranny was burnt into the mind of every American for decades afterward. As will be shown conclusively in the second main reason for the inclusion of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. Which was due to an insurrection that had occurred in the state of Massachusetts. Commonly referred to as the Shay’s Rebellion. A summary of the Shay’s Insurrection, which occurred just before the forming of our U.S. Constitution, follows below:

“By this Perfidy, Wives are separated from their Husbands’ Children from their Parents, the Aged and Sick from their Relations of Friends, who wish to attend and comfort them; and those who have been used to live in Plenty, and even Elegance, are reduced to deplorable Distress….

“…We have counted the Cost of this Contest, and find nothing so dreadful as voluntary Slavery.–Honor, Justice and humanity, forbid us tamely to surrender that Freedom which we received from our gallant Ancestors, and which our innocent Posterity have a Right to receive from us. We cannot endure the infamy and guilt of resigning succeeding generations to that wretchedness which inevitably awaits them, if we basely entail hereditary bondage upon them.

“Our Cause is just. Our Union is perfect. Our internal Resources are great; and if necessary, foreign Assistance is undoubtedly attainable.–We gratefully acknowledge, as signal Instances of the Divine Favour towards us, that his Providence would not permit us to be called into this severs Controversy, until we were grown up to our present strength, had been previously exercised in Warlike Operations, and possessed of the Means of defending ourselves.–With Hearts fortified with these animating Reflections, we most solemnly, before GOD and the World declare, that, exerting the utmost Energy of those Powers, which our benificent Creator hath graciously bestowed upon us the Arms we have been compelled by our Enemies to assume, we will, in defiance of every Hazard, with unabating Firmness and Perseverance, employ for the Preservation of our Liberties, being with one Mind resolved, to die Freemen rather than to live Slaves….”

The Shay’s Insurrection

Commonwealth of Massachusetts. By His excellency, James Bowdoin, Esquire, Governour of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, an address to the good people of the commonwealth
[Two columns regarding Shays’ rebellion] … [Boston: Printed by Adams and Nourse, 1787].
(An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera – Library of Congress, American Memory)

“Shay’s insurrection.–The Shay’s Insurrection, in Massachusetts, has been frequently alluded to, of late, as affording a parallel to the course expected from South Carolina. But there is, in fact, little or no parity in the case. In Massachusetts, the insurrection was quelled by the State Authorities; while, in South Carolina, it is the State Authorities themselves, who are leading the incipient rebellion. Shays had neither office nor power to make his influence felt, nor talents to delude or guide the multitude. He attained the rank of captain in the army of the revolution; but he acquired no laurels in that honorable service, and voluntarily resigned his rank in the army, and retired to private life, before the objects of the war were achieved.

“When peace was proclaimed, the finances of the states were in confusion, and the affairs of individuals embarrassed. The debt of Massachusetts alone, was $5,000,000, and taxation of course heavy. The number of debtors was so great, that in 1782 the legislature had been reduced to resort to the empirical expedient of an Act, requiring creditors to receive, in payment for their debts, cattle and other specific articles of property, tendered by the debtors. This Relief quackery only exasperated the disease, and the law was suffered to expire in a year. Discontented debtors then held Conventions, and soon resolved to resort to Stop Law measures; they prescribed Sheriffs, Lawyers, Judges and Courts. The disaffected succeeded in their attempts to exclude lawyers from their seats in the General Court; still the Legislature were unable to redress the fancied grievances of the discontented. In the autumn of 1786, the malcontents assembled in multitudes at the shire towns, and by force prevented the sittings of the courts of justice.

“Daniel Shays appeared at the head of 2000 armed men at Springfield, to prevent the sitting of the Supreme Court. Gen. Wm Shepard, however, with 600 men, had pre-occupied the Court House, and Shays retired. When the Legislature assembled, an act passed to suspend the privilege of the habeas corpus, and the Governor (Bowdoin) was authorized to arrest by a State warrant any seditious insurgent, and imprison him without bail or mainprise. Shays, and the other insurgent chieftains, marched to Worcester and Concord, to stop the courts. The Governor despatched parties of volunteer cavalry from Boston into Worcester and Middlesex counties in November, and Job Shattuck and several others were arrested and confined in Boston jail. At this time, there were strong apprehensions that the rebel forces would march to Boston, and make desperate efforts to liberate these prisoners from Boston jail. Shays exclaimed with an oath that he would have done it, had it not been for that county of Essex. Essex was almost the only county that was perfectly loyal and uninfected. In Old Hampshire, Shays, with 300 of his followers, took possession of the Court House at Springfield, and prevented the sitting of the court.

“The Governor, finding the posse comitatus was too weak to resist such violence, ordered a detachment of 4400 rank and file of the militia to be raised, to be ready to act by the 19th of January, 1787, under Major General Benjamin Lincoln.–A body of Militia reached Worcester on the 22d, and the Court was protected. Gen. Shepard, with another detachment of the militia, of 1100 men, was stationed at Springfield, to protect the arsenal. The rebels, under Daniel Shays, Luke Day, and Eli Parsons, soon gathered a force in that vicinity, of 2000 men, and on the 25th of January advanced in a menacing manner towards the arsenal. Gen. Shepard sent an aid-de-camp to inquire the design of the movement, and to warn Shays of his danger. The answer was, that they would have possession of the barracks; and they immediately marched to within 250 yards of the arsenal. They were again warned that if they approached nearer, they would be fired on: still they advanced. He then ordered the artillery to be pointed at the centre of their column. The cry of murder then arose from the rear of the insurgents, and the whole were struck with panic and confusion. Shays lost all control over them, and they fled precipitately, 10 miles, leaving 3 dead and 1 wounded. Gen. Lincoln arrived on the 27th, and commenced a pursuit of the rebels, which continued till the principal part were dispersed.

“Those who held together, on the 3d of February, marched to Petersham. Gen. Lincoln, with his forces, commenced the pursuit at 8 o’clock the same evening, and made a forced march of 30 miles, through a deep snow, in severe cold, and amid a violent storm. At 9 o’clock the following morning, he reached Petersham, rushed upon the unsuspecting rebels, routed them without bloodshed, and took 150 prisoners.

“Shays, and the other leaders escaped, and fled for refuge first to the New Hampshire Grants, (since, the state of Vermont.) Gov. Chittenden, desirous of augmenting the population of that territory, was disposed to give them shelter; but Gov. Bowdoin sent to demand the refugees. They then fled to Isle aux Noix and to St Johns, with the view of retiring to Canada; but the British commander at the latter post refused to allow them to pass, unless Lord Dorchester, the Canadian Governor in Chief, first granted permission. They turned back, and were some time concealed in Vermont.

“On the 10th March, the General Court appointed three Commissioners, Gen. Lincoln, Hon. S. Phillips, Jr., and Hon. S. A. Otis, to proceed to the Western Counties, for the purpose of granting indemnity to the insurgents, on their making submission and taking the oath of allegiance. Seven hundred and ninety persons took the benefit of the commission. Shays, Wheeler, Parsons, Luke Day, and a few others, however, were excepted.–Fourteen were arrested, and convicted of high treason, and received the sentence of death, but were all ultimately pardoned.

“Good frequently springs from evil. Shays’ Rebellion served to impress on the public mind a belief of the necessity of a new form of National Government. It may be doubted, whether the present United States Constitution would have been adopted, if that rebellion had not predisposed the minds of the people in favor of an energetic government.”

Following is a letter to George Washington concerning Shay’s:

Letters of Delegates to Congress:Volume 23 November 7, 1785-November 5, 1786
Henry Lee to George Washington

Dear Genl. October 1? 1786

I have not written to you for a long time having nothing important or agreable to communicate.
Nor have I now any thing agreable, but alas the reverse.

The commotions which have for some time past distracted the two eastern states, have risen in Massachusetts to an alarming height. In New Hampshire the firmness of their President the late General Sullivan has dissipated the troubles in that state.(2) I enclose a full narration of his decided conduct, and the effects which it produced.(3) But affairs are in a very different situation in Massachusetts. After various insults to government, by stopping the courts of Sussex &c, the insurgents have in a very formidable shape taken possession of the town of Springfield, at which place the supreme court was sitting. The friends to government arrayed under the Militia general of the district Shephard in support [of] the court, but their exertions were not effectual. The court removed and broke up, the insurgents continue possessed, of the town & General Shepherd has retired to the United states Arsenal one mile from Springfield. This Arsenal contains a very important share of our munitions of war. Congress have sent their secretary of this department, General Knox, to take the best measures in his power in concert with government for the safety of the Arsenal. What renders the conduct of the insurgents more alarming is, that they behave with decency & manage with system, they are encamped and reg-[Page 578]ularly supplied with provisions by their friends & have lately given orders to the delegates in Assembly from their particular towns, not to attend the meeting of the Legislature.

It must give you pleasure to hear in this very distressing scene, the late officers & soldiers are on the side of government unanimously. The Insurgents it is said are conducted by a Captain of the late army, who continued but a small period in service & possessed a very reputable character.(4) This event produces much suggestion as to its causes. Some attribute it to the weight of taxes and the decay of commerce, which has produced universal idleness.

Others, to British Councils the vicinity of Vermont & the fondness for novelty which always has & ever will possess more or less influence on man. The next accounts will I hope produce favorable intelligence, but present appearances do not justify this hope.

Has your china arrived, & does it please Mrs Washington. Be pleased to present my best respects to her & accept the repitition of my unceasing regard with which, I have the honor to be most sincerely, Your ob ser,
Henry Lee Junr.

RC (DLC: Washington Papers). Endorsed by Washington: “The Honble. Henry Lee about 1st Octr. 1786.”
1 Date conjectured from the endorsement and Washington’s reference to this letter in an October 31 reply as one of “the 1st.” Washington, Writings (Fitzpatrick), 29:33.
2 See King to Theodore Sedgwick, September 29, note 2.
3 This “full narration” is not in the Washington Papers, DLC; but for an eye-witness account and discussion of the episode from the perspective of a participant, see Colonial Society of Massachusetts, Transactions, 11 (1906–;7): 390–;97; and Lynn W. Turner, William Plumer of New Hampshire, 1759–;1850 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1962), pp. 22–;25.
4 That is, Daniel Shays.

And here is an address from the governor of Massachusetts concerning the Rebellion:

Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
By His Excellency
Governour of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,

To the good People of the Commonwealth.

A Spirit of discontent, originating in supposed grievances, having, in the course of the last fall, stimulated many of the citizens in several of the Counties of this Commonwealth, to the commission of acts subversive of government, and of the peace and security derived from it, I thought it expedient to assemble, and accordingly did assemble, the General Court for the special purpose of considering those grievances, and all complaints whatever, and if possible, removing the causes of them. A patient and candid attention was paid to the business of the Session, and every relief given, consistent with the existence of government, and the principles of equal justice. These the Legislature could not infringe, without bringing upon themselves the detestation of mankind, and the frowns of Heaven.

But relief was not the only object, upon which the General court bestowed their attention. In tenderness to the misguided, and in hopes of reclaiming the obstinate, an Act of Indemnity was passed for all the outrages, which had been committed against law, and the officers of it, upon this mild condition alone, that the perpetrators should return to a due submission to lawful authority; and, as a test of their sincerity, should, before the first day of January following, take and subscribe the oaths of allegiance, required by the Constitution.

In addition to these measures, the state of the Treasury, the expenditure of monies received, the situation of our foreign and domestic debt, and other important matters, were, in particular detail, communicated to the people, by an address from the Legislature. In that address they were also informed, of the dangerous and destructive tendency of popular insurrections; and the Insurgents were conjured, in the most serious and persuasive manner, to desist from their lawless conduct, lest they should involve themselves and their country in ruin. But, what have been the consequences?–The measures intended for giving them satisfaction and indemnity have been spurned at: And since the publication of those measures, the same Insurgents have frequently embodied, and with a military force, repeatedly interrupted the Judicial Courts in the Counties of Hampshire and Worcester: which demonstrates, that the Government is held by them at open defiance; and that the laws are, in those Counties, laid prostrate.

By a resolve of the 24th of October, the Legislature expressed their full confidence, that the Governour would persevere in the exercise of the powers, vested in him by the Constitution, for enforcing due obedience to the authority and laws of government; and for preventing any attempts to interrupt the administration of law and justice; upon which the peace and safety of the Commonwealth so essentially depend.

In the present dangerous and critical situation of affairs, I feel myself constrained, by the most sacred obligations of duty, and for the purposes intended by the Legislature, to call those powers into immediate exercise, for the protection of the Commonwealth, against the attempts of all persons who shall enterprize its destruction, invasion, detriment or annoyance: And I have accordingly, pursuant to my own ideas of duty, as well as the expectations of the General Court, ordered a part of the Militia to assemble in arms, for the purpose of protecting the Judical Courts next to be holden in the County of Worcester; of aiding the Civil Magistrate to execute the laws; of repelling all Insurgents against the Government; and of apprehending all disturbers of the public peace.

It is now become evident, that the object of the Insurgents is to annihilate our present happy constitution, or to force the General Court into measures repugnant to every idea of justice, good faith, and national policy.

{Begin handwritten}Nos {Omitted text, 2w} Rebellion{End handwritten}

And those who encourage, or in any way assist them, either individually, or in a corporate capacity, do partake of their guilt; and will be legally responsible for it.

Success, on the part of the Insurgents, in either of those views, must be destructive of civil liberty, and of the important blessings derived from it: and as it would be the result of force, undirected by any moral principle, it must finally terminate in despotism–despotism in the worst of its forms.

Is then the goodly fabric of freedom, which cost us so much blood and treasure, so soon to be thrown into ruins?–Is it to stand but just long enough, and for no other purpose than, to flatter the tyrants of the earth in their darling maxim, that mankind are not made to be free?

The present is certainly a most interesting period; and if we wish to support that goodly fabric, and to avoid domestick slavery, men of principle, the friends of justice and the Constitution, must now take their stations, and unite under the Government in every effort for suppressing the present commotions and all insurrections whatever, or be infamously accessory to their own and their country’s ruin. But in such an union, should they prove as firm in the support of justice and the Constitution, as the Insurgents have been obstinate in trampling them under their feet, the force of government will have so decided a superiority as to put an end to the present convulsions, and restore a regular administration of law, without the horrors of bloodshed, and a civil war: which I most ardently deprecate; and will strenuonsly endeavor to prevent.

But unless such a force appears, those, which indeed are the greatest of national evils, seem inevitable.

If the Constitution is to be destroyed, and insurrection stalk unopposed by authority, individuals, as they regard their own happiness and freedom, will, from necessity, combine for defence, and meet force with force: or voluntarily and ingloriously relinquish the blessings, without which life would cease to be desirable; and which, by the laws of God and Nature ought never to be tamely surrendered.

What would be the end of such events, is known only to Him, who can open the volume and read the pages of futurity.

Strongly impressed with the truth of these ideas, I must conjure the good people of the Commonwealth, as they value life and the enjoyments of it, as they regard their own characters, and the dignity of human nature, to summon up every virtuous principle within them, and to co-operate with Government in every necessary exertion, for restoring to the Commonwealth that order, harmony and peace, upon which its happiness and character do essentially depend.

Given at the Council-Chamber, in Boston, the 12th day of January, 1787; and in the eleventh year of the Independence of the Confederated States of America.

James Bowdoin.

By his Excellency’s command.

John Avery, jun. Sec.

[Published by Authority.]

And the Continental Congress was well aware of these happenings as well. The following quotes are from the Journals of the Continental Congress, and letters between delegates to the same. There is also the transcription of the perverse law that almost started another Revolution. As well as correspondence to and from George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and other notable people of the time. They spell out quite clearly the reason why the right was demanded to be secured in the new Constitution:

“The great numbers of people in Massachusetts* and the neighbouring States who avow the principle of annihilating all debts public and private. The probability of those men combining themselves into an armed body for the purpose of executing their designs. The dreadful consequences which may be expected from wicked and ambitious men, possessing the command of a force to overturn, not only the forms, but the principles of the present constitutions, require the wisest councils and most vigorous measures on the part of Government.

“I conceive my Official duty obliges me to inform Congress, that it is my firm conviction, arising from the information I have received, that unless the present commotions are checked with a strong hand, that an armed tyranny may be established on the ruins of the present constitutions. The insurgents will not probably longer delay the execution of their designs, those systems can be formed and means found for that purpose.”- Journals of the Continental Congress, WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 18, 1786.

The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799. John C. Fitzpatrick, Editor.

Mount Vernon, October 22, 1786.

My Dr. Humphreys: Your favor of the 24th. ulto. came to my hands about the middle of this month. For the enclosures it contained I pray you to receive my warmest acknowledgments and thanks. The Poem, tho’ I profess not to be a connoisseur in these kind of writings, appears pretty in my eye, and has sentiment and elegance which must I think render it pleasing to others.

With respect to the circular letter,32 I see no cause for suppressing or altering any part of it, except as to the place of meeting. Philadelphia, on three accots. is my opinion must be more convenient to the majority of the delegation, than New York. 1st. as most central. 2dly. because there are regularly established packet-boats, well accommodated for Passengers, to it from the Southern States; and 3dly. because it appears to me that the seat of Congress would not be so well for this meeting. When you have digested your thoughts for publication, in the case of Captn. Asgill, I would thank you for a copy of them; having arrested the account I had furnished Mr. Tilghman, with an assurance of a more authentic one for his friend in England.

[Note 32: See Washington’s letter to the State societies of the Cincinnati, Oct. 31, 1786, post.]

I am pleased with the choice of Delegates which was made at your State meeting; and wish the Representatives of all the State societies may appear at the Genl. Meeting, with as good dispositions as I believe they will. It gives me pleasure also to hear that so many Officers are sent to your Assembly: I am persuaded they will carry with them more liberality of sentiments, than is to be found among any other class of Citizens. The speech of our friend Cobb was noble, worthy of a patriot and himself; as was the conduct of Genl. Sullivan. But for God’s sake tell me what is the cause of all these commotions:33 do they proceed from licentiousness, British-influence disseminated by the tories, or real grievances which admit of redress? If the latter, why were they delayed ’till the public 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 live under their exercise. Commotions of this sort, like snow-balls, gather strength as they roll, if there is no opposition in the way to divide and crumble them. Do write me fully, I beseech you, on these matters; not only with respect to facts, but as to opinions of their tendency and issue. I am mortified beyond expression that in the moment of our acknowledged independence we should by our conduct verify the predictions of our transatlantic foe, and render ourselves ridiculous and contemptible in the eyes of all Europe. My health (I thank you for the enquiry) is restored to me; and all under this roof join me in most affectionate regards, and in regretting that your letter has held out no idea of visiting it again this winter, as you gave us hope of doing when you left us. To all the gentn. of my acquaintance who may happen to be in your circle, I beg to be remembered with sincere regard. To assure you of the

[Note 33: Shay’s rebellion in Massachusetts.] sincerity of my friendship for you, would be unnecessary; as you must I think be perfectly satisfied of the high esteem and affection with which, I am, etc.34

[Note 34: From the “Letter Book” copy in the Washington Papers.]

Letters of Delegates to Congress: Volume 24 November 6, 1786-February 29, 1788
Rufus King to Charles Thomson

Dr Sir Hartford 10 Decr. 1786

A party of men assembled at Concord under Shattuck, Parker & Page, to oppose the sitting of the court of common pleas at Cambridge on the 28th ult, but not meeting with assistance from Worcester & Bristol as they had been led to expect they gave up their design, and were [Page 47]returning to their respective homes, when a party of men under the Sheriff of Middlesex aided by the those from Boston commanded by Col. Hichborn, over took and apprehended Shattuck, Parker and Page.(1) These men are now confined in the Boston Goal. Tuesday the 5th instant was the day assigned for the sitting of the court of common Pleas at Worcester; previous to that day Shays repaired to that County, and assembled a force in opposition to the court. On Tuesday the Judges preceeded by the Sheriff went towards the Court House, but were denied admittance by the insurgents. The Sheriff read the Riot Act, some of the Judges harangued the Insurgents, and finally by agreement or otherwise the Judges were permitted to enter the court House, where they opened the court and immediately adjourned the scene to a late Day in January. It is reported that a majority of the council was against any measure which might have brought the Question to an issue of Force; otherwise the well affected militia would have been collected in opposition to the Insurgents. By information received last evening from Worcester, on Friday last Shays had under his command, a body of 1500 Men well armed at that place, and at Rutland, about 18 Miles distant. The convention Troops were some Time of the Barracks which they formerly occupied. The division at Worcester are quartered upon the Inhabitants. The Insurgents are plentifully supplied with provisions which are brought to them daily by their Friends—;they conduct with great decorum to individuals, and have not yet been discovered to have plundered in a single instance. Their Force increases and the Gentleman who gives me this information adds that he met 200 Men in one body after leaving Worcester on Friday, on their way to join Shays—;the avowed object of remaining their together since the adjournment of the court, is the liberation of Shattuck, Parker & Page—;and to accomplish this purpose, they affirmed on Friday, that Shays had sent an express to the Governor demanding the liberation of the Prisoners and giving notice if he was refused, that he would march his party to effect that Object in another way.

What measures have been pursued on the part of Government, I have not learnt. The post left Boston on Thursday morning, the idea then entertained there was that the Insurgents would separate after preventing the sitting of the Court.

Knowing that the situation of this unhappy commotion would be the subject of curiosity, & perhaps anxiety, with the Gentleman of Congress, I cannot suffer the post to pass without this communication. The Gentleman is personally known to me from whom I received my information, I therefore give it full credit so far as relates to the positions and numbers of the Insurgents.

I hope to be in New York some Time next week—;with Sentiments of Esteem & Respect, I am Dr. Sir your Obt. & very Humble Servant, R King(2)

[Page 48]

RC (DNA: PCC, item 59).
1 For these events, see Szatmary, Shays’ Rebellion, pp. 92–;93.
2 King also sent the following report to the secretary at war Henry Knox from Hartford on December 13.
“Shays disbanded his party on Sunday & Monday last. The Stageman passed them in detachments on the road yesterday and to Day, returning home rather chap fallen. Some of them say they will go no more, others that they are not yet tired of the business.
“The stageman informs, and this is the only information, that the returning Insurgents say that one of the Days has gone to Boston with a memorial &c &c and that Shays will remain at Worcester till he receives a Reply from the Governor. They add that Ward & Gill have given their paroles to deliver themselves into the Hands of Mr. Shays if the Govr. does not liberate Mathews, Page & Parker.
“Nothing certain can be collected except that Hunger & Cold compelled the Insurgents to separate. Farewel, R King.
“We have a prospect of compromising with N York, I hope to see you by the 21st.” Knox Papers, Mhi.

Letters of Delegates to Congress: Volume 24 November 6, 1786-February 29, 1788
Henry Lee to George Washington

My dear General Nov. 11h. [17]86, N-York

I have your letter of the 31st Octr.(1) Besides the pleasure we all feel in knowing the health of Mount Vernon I am delighted and edified by your sentiments. This moment Genl. Knox & Mr. King left me having perused the part of your letr. which respects the Insurgents. They expressed the highest satisfaction in finding that your retirement had not abated your affectionate zeal for the prosperity of every part of the empire.

Every day brings new information of the designs & preparations of the malcontents—;they are training their people, have officered some considerable bodys & are forming connexions with their neighboring states and the Vermontese. A convention has assembled to devise ways & means of supporting their military arrangements, & of doing such other things as may be necessary for the prosecution of their intentions. We have authentic information that they contemplate a re-union with G. Britain, & it is not improbable but that the convention now sitting will formally make propositions of this nature to Lord Dorchester (Sir Guy Carleton) who is arrived at Quebec with plenipotentiary powers as Governor General of British America. They also declare their willingness to establish an imperial government in the U. States and I beleive could they be indulged with their favorite wish abolition of debts they would chearfully enter into the plan of a fOEderal government assimilating the British government.(2) In some matters these people certainly [Page 27] think right, altho they act wrong. A continuance of our present feeble political form is pregnant with daily evils & must drive us at last to a change—;then it would be wise that this necessary alteration should be effected in peace & governed by reason, not left to passion & accident. If the insurgent would submit to government, & by constitutional exertions induce their state to commence this change, they woud benefit themselves, their country & the Union. Good management might perhaps produce this wholesome conduct, but it is too probable that desperate & entriguing men may pursue private objects only.

I enclose you a piece signed Belisaurius. He is said to be Baron Steuben—;this excites universal wonder.(3)

I hope to see you & your lady next month. Our united love & respects to Mount Vernon. Adieu. With most affectionate regard your h sr,
H. Lee Junr

RC (DLC: Washington Papers).
1 See Washington, Writings (Fitzpatrick), 29:33–;35.
2 For prevailing fears that the newly-arrived Sir Guy Carleton had sent agents among the Massachusetts’ insurgents to sow disaffection, foment Indian war, and forestall American recovery of the northwest posts, see Szatmary, Shays’ Rebellion, pp. 74–;76, 108–;9; and Robert A. Feer, Shays’s Rebellion (New York: Garland Pub. Co., 1988), pp. 289–;306.
3 See Rufus King to Elbridge Gerry, November 5, 1786, note 4.

“553. Insurrection in Massachusetts. During the extinction of the authority of Congress, Massachusetts made an effort to maintain her credit, and laid a very heavy tax to satisfy her creditors. As the country had not recovered from the distresses of the war; as trade and manufactures had declined, and the habits of the people had become luxurious and licentious by means of a liberal credit of goods, and a disorganized state of the government, the measures of the legislature were found to favor more of a zeal for doing justice, than of expediency. The people opposed the tax; in some parts of the state, county meetings were held, and abusing the privilege of petitioning for a redress of grievances, they proceeded to combine their scattered forces; the people obstructed the sitting of courts, and finally took arms in opposition to the laws of the state. Some skirmishing ensued, and several persons were killed; while in some counties, the friends of the government were robbed and plundered. The prudent and conciliating measures of Governor Bowdoin and his council, seconded by an armed force under General Lincoln, in the winter of 1786, gradually subdued the spirit of opposition, and restored the authority of the laws.”–Noah Webster, History of the United States, To which is Prefixeda Brief Historical Acoount ou Our Ancestors, From the Dispersion at Babel, to Their Migration to America, 1832.

Letters of Delegates to Congress: Volume 24
Rufus King to Henry Lee?

My dear friend,(1) New York 10 Feby. 1787

My letter of Thursday(2) informed you that Lincoln on the 30th of Jan. was at Hadley and Shays with his Party at Pelham distant about Eight miles. About the 2d instant Lincoln moved his Troops to Pelham and reconnoitered Shays’ situation. This approach gave evident uneasiness to the Insurgents, on the Morning of the 3d a Flag was received from Shays with propositions of dispersing his party provided the Leaders could be assured of safety. General Lincoln replied, that he could enter into no Engagements on that Subject—;immediately after, Lincoln received intelligence that Shays intended leaving Pelham, and taking Post at Petersham, distant 30 Miles eastwardly, and situated in that Part of the County of Worcester, where the People were the most disaffected to the Government. This information was confirmed soon after, and Lincoln put his whole Force in motion at Eight OClock that Evening for Petersham, the early part of the night was moderate, but it became a violent North East Snow Storm before three O Clock in the morning, and before day light the cold was intense. The Troops could not be covered, and the Cold was too severe for them to halt. They pressed on, and arrived at Petersham, at 9 O.Clock in the morning. They entered the town near its centre, and the party under Shays were so completely surprized, that the flight was totally irregular, and in all directions. 150 Men were made Prisoners, Shays escaped, and has fled into the State of New Hampshire, every man becoming his own General. I dont learn that there was a Gun fired, or a man hurt.

On the 5th Lincoln disbanded a considerable part of his Forces, and gave orders that the militia at Springfield should be dismissed except a Guard of two companies of 50 men each for the protection of the federal magazine. A Body of Insurgents had collected in Berkshire, and another Body of Militia under Genl. Patterson was assembled to oppose them. Lincoln marched on the 5th or 6th with a respectable Force for Berkshire; since the dissolution of the Party under Shays the Resistance will be small in Berkshire. I think this insurrection will now be wholly suppressed, and the Government in Consequence may [become] more vigorous. I do not form this opinion from the Facts now communicated, but from another quarter; The Legislature of Mass. did not assemble until the 3d, the Governor then communicated the measures he had adopted, and stated that the Situation of the Insurgency required the most decisive measures. The Speech was committed and the two Branches adjourned until the next day, the Report was agreed to, and the Legislature on the same day that Lincoln dispersed Shays declared that a Rebellion existed in the Commonwealth, approved the conduct of the Governor, and requested him to adopt the most vigorous Measures to suppress the same. You will remember that when the Legislature declare the existence of a Rebellion the powers of the Governor, by our Constitution, become almost absolute. He may exercise Law martial, and in every Respect Treat the Citizens in arms agt. the state & their adherents as open Enemies.

What think you of this? Farewel, R King

[P.S.] I hope to see you very soon. Nine states are represented.

RC (DLC: Miscellaneous Manuscripts).
1 Not identified, but apparently a delegate from a state other than Massachusetts whom King expected to return soon to Congress (see postscript). The letter was acquired by the Library of Congress in 1908 with a group of 82 documents of almost entirely southern, and principally Virginian, provenance, 12 of which were addressed to Henry Lee or Henry Lee, Jr. If King was indeed addressing a Virginian, Henry Lee is the only delegate who fits the recipient’s requirements. He had been reelected to Congress December 1, 1786, and was expected to return soon to New York, although he did not actually resume his seat until April 19. In addition, the two men were of the same general political persuasion, and Lee is known to have been keenly interested in the “disturbances” in Massachusetts.
2 Not found.

And here is the perverse piece of state legislation that almost started another Revolution:

Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

In the Year of our LORD, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Eighty-Seven.

An ACT, describing the Disqualifications to which Persons shall be subjected, who have been, or may be guilty of Treason, or giving Aid or Support to the present REBELLION, and to whom a Pardon may be extended.

WHEREAS the General Court, at their present sessions, have “Resolved, That the Governour, be authorized and empowered, in the name of the General Court, to promise a pardon, under such disqualifications as should thereafter be provided, to such private soldiers and others, who might have acted in the capacity of non-commissioned officers, as had been, or were in arms against the Commonwealth, with such exceptions as he, or the General Officer, commanding the troops, might judge necessary: Provided, they should deliver up their arms, and take and subscribe the oath of allegiance to this Commonwealth, within such time as might be limited by his Excellency, for that purpose:”

And whereas it is fit and expedient, That the conditions and disqualifications upon which the pardon and indemnity to the offenders, aforesaid, should be offered and given, should, as soon as possible, be established and made known:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court assembled, and by the authority of the same, That no pardon or indemnity, shall be promised as aforesaid by the Governour, by virtue of any act or resolve of the General Court, that has been or shall be passed, to any person or persons, who have acted in the capacity of non-commission officers or privates, or persons of any other description, who, since the first day of August, seventeen hundred and eighty-six, have been, now are, or hereafter may be in arms against the authority and Government of this Commonwealth, or who have given or may hereafter give them counsel, aid, comfort or support, voluntarily, with intent to encourage the opposition to Government, unless they shall on or before such time as the Governour shall limit for that purpose, deliver up their arms to, and take and subscribe the oath of allegiance, before some Justice of the Peace, within some county of this Commonwealth; and no pardon or indemnity shall be offered or given by the Governour to any of the offenders aforesaid, who are not citizens of this State.

And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That to whomsoever of the offenders aforesaid, the Governour shall think fit, by virtue of any act or resolve of the General Court, to promise a pardon and indemnity, for the offences aforesaid, it shall be under the following restrictions, conditions and disqualifications, that is to say, That they shall keep the peace for the term of three years, from the time of passing this act, and that during that term of time, they shall not serve as Jurors, be eligible to any Town-Office, or any other Office under the Government of this Commonwealth, and shall be disqualified from holding or exercising the employments of School-Masters, Innkeepers or Retailers of spirituous liquors, or either of them, or giving their votes for the same term of time, for any officer, civil or military, within this Commonwealth, unless such persons, or any of them, shall after the first day of May, seventeen hundred and eighty-eight, exhibit plenary evidence of their having returned to their allegiance, and kept the peace, and that they possess an unequivocal attachment to the Government, as shall appear to the General Court a sufficient ground to discharge them, or any of them, from all or any part of the disqualifications aforesaid.

Be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That it shall be the duty of the Justice before whom any offender or offenders aforesaid may deliver up their arms, and take and subscribe the oath aforesaid, and he is accordingly directed, immediately on the expiration of the term to be limited by the Governour as aforesaid, to certify to the Clerks of the several towns, districts, and plantations, whereunto the offenders may belong, the names of all such who shall deliver up their arms and take and subscribe the oath aforesaid, and shall also, as soon as may be after the expiration of the said term, make a return to the Secretary of this Commonwealth, of the number of arms in his possession, and to whom they belong, and shall at the same time lodge with the Secretary, their original subscription to the oath of allegiance; and it shall be duty of the Justice to require such as shall take and subscribe the oath of allegiance, to subjoin to their names, their places of abode, and their additions, and if required, to give to each offender who shall deliver up his arms, and take and subscribe the oath aforesaid, a certificate of the same, under his seal; and he shall be intitled to ask and receive nine pence, of the offenders, for each certificate. And any Justice of the Peace to whom any arms may voluntarily be delivered as aforesaid, shall certify to the Major-General or commanding-officer of the division, in which the said Justice may live, the number of arms so delivered to him, and by whom they were delivered; and it shall be the duty of such Major-General or commanding-officer, to give such directions as he may think necessary, for the safe keeping such arms, in order that they may be returned to the person or persons who delivered the same, at the expiration of the said term of three years, in case such person or persons shall have complied with the conditions above-mentioned, and shall obtain an order for the re-delivery of such arms, from the Governour, who is hereby authorized and empowered to make such order, unless it appears to him, that the conditions aforesaid have not been complied with.

Be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That if any offender or offenders aforesaid, who shall deliver up their arms and take and subscribe the oath of allegiance, as aforesaid, or to whom a pardon may be promised by virtue of any future act or resolve of the General Court, shall vote, or offer to vote in any town or other meeting, for any office, civil or military, within the Commonwealth, or shall make, forge, or alter any certificate of a Justice, of his having delivered up his arms, and taken the oath of allegiance as aforesaid, he shall forfeit all his right and interest in and to the pardon and indemnity which may be promised him, by virtue of the authority aforesaid, and be subject to the same pains and penalties, as if such promise had never been made.

And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That the Governor be, and he hereby is authorized and empowered, to promise a pardon of their past offences, unconditional, and without any disqualifications, to all such privates, as have borne arms against the Government of this Commonwealth, who afterwards voluntarily took up arms previously to the first day of February current, in support of the said Government, and to those, who aggreably to the proposals of General Lincoln, of the twenty-ninth and thirtieth of January last, voluntarily came in, surrendered their arms, and took and subscribed the oath of allegiance, within three days, from the said twenty-ninth day of January, any thing in this act to the contrary notwithstanding: Provided, that no pardon which shall be promised by the Governour, shall be construed to extend to indemnify any person or persons whatever, from any suits or prosecutions, to which they may be liable, for injuries done or committed, to the property or person, of any individual.

Be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That it is the duty of all officers civil and military, within this Commonwealth, to hold all offenders as aforesaid, who shall not within the term to be limited as aforesaid, deliver up their arms, and take and subscribe the oath of allegiance, as rebels and open enemies, and they are directed and required, to encounter, pursue, conquer, apprehend, and secure them, so that they may be brought to trial and punishment; and all the citizens of this Commonwealth are hereby required to aid and support the said officers; in the execution of their said duty.

And be it further enacted, That the Governour be, and be here by is requested, to except out of the pardon he shall promise, by virtue of the resolve abovementioned all those who have been members of any General Court in this State, or of any State or county convention, or who have been employed heretofore in any commissioned office civil or military, those, who after delivering up their arms, and taking the oath of allegiance during the present rebellion, have again taken and borne arms against the Government; those who have fired upon, or wounded any of the loyal subjects of this Commonwealth, those who have acted as Committees, Counsellors or advisers to the Rebels; and those, who in former years have been in arms against the Government in the capacity of commissioned officers, and were afterwards pardoned and have been concerned in the present rebellion.

And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That the Clerks of the several towns, districts and plantations, be directed to read this act at the opening of their annual meetings in March and April next.

In the HOUSE of REPRESENTATIVES, February 16, 1787.

This Bill having had three several Readings, passed to be enacted………..ARTEMAS WARD, Speaker.

In SENATE February 16, 1787.

This Bill having had two federal Readings, passed to be enacted………..SAMUEL PHILLIPS, jun, President.

By the Governor Approved,


A True Copy………..Attest.
JOHN AVERY, jun, Secretary.

Letters, and proceedings in the continental congress, concerning Shay’s:

Letters of Delegates to Congress: Volume 24 November 6, 1786-February 29, 1788
Rufus King to Thomas Dwight

My Dr. Sir New York 18 Feb. 1787

I am indeed obliged to you for your Letter giving me the earliest and only correct account of the State of the Insurgency which I received. The Packet sailed the morning after your Letter came to hand, and I was so strongly impressed with the Anxiety of Mr. Adams at London, that I could not refrain inclosing your Letter to him as the best information in my power to communicate relative to the situation of Massachusetts.(1)

We are without information of the proceedings of Genl. Lincoln in Berkshire; and I am extremely anxious to know the present Effects of the proceedings of the General Court, as well in relation to the declaration of the Rebellion & its consequent measures, as concerning the more delicate decision of disfranchising for a limited Time the persons who have born Arms and those who have aided them in the late proceedings against Government.
General Knox has ordered the Recruits at Hartford under Colo. Humphries to rendezvous at Springfield, I am uncertain of the num-[Page 100] ber of this corps, but suppose it to amount to about 100 Rank & File.

I have only Time to add Assurances of real respect & Esteem & that I am sincerely your Obt. & very Humble servt., Rufus King

[P.S.] Pray inform me of the situation of Berkshire if your Leisure will permit.

RC (PHi: Gratz Collection).
1 Dwight’s 11-page February 1 letter to King explaining recent developments concerning Shays’ Rebellion at Springfield, Mass., and two enclosed intercepted January 25 letters of the Shaysite captain Luke Day, to Capt. Daniel Shays and to Gen. William Shephard, are in the Adams Family Papers, Mhi.

Journals of the Continental Congress, In Congress. Feb.y. 19. 1787

Mr Pinckney in support of his motion entered on the Journal, for stopping the enlistment of Troops, argued that we had reason to suppose the insurrection in Massts., the real, tho’ not ostensible object of this measure, to be already crushed:–that the Requisition of 500,000 dollrs. for supporting the troops had been complied with by one State only, viz Virginia and that but in part:–that it would be absurd to proceed in the raising of men who could neither be paid cloathed nor fed, and that such a folly was the more to be shunned, as the consequences could not be foreseen, of embodying and arming men under circumstances which would be more likely to render them the terror than the support of Government. We had, he observed, been so lucky in one instance, meaning the disbanding of the army on the peace, to get rid of an armed force without satisfying their just claims, but that it would not be prudent to hazard the repetition of the experiment.

Mr. King made a moving appeal to the feelings of Congs. reminding them that the real object in voting the troops was, to countenance the exertions of the Govt. of Masss.; that the silent cooperation of these military preparations under the orders of Congs. had had a great and double effect, in animating the Govt. and awing the insurgents: that he hoped the late success of the former had given a deadly blow to the disturbances, yet that it would be premature, whilst a doubt could exist as to the critical fact, to withdraw the co-operating influence of the federal measures.

He particularly and pathetically intreated Congs. to consider that it was in agitation and probably would be determined by the Legis. of Massts.* not only to bring to due punishment the more active & leading offenders, but to disarm & disfranchise for a limited time the great body of them; that for the policy of this measure he would not undertake to vouch, being sensible that there were great & illustrious examples agst. it, that His confidence however in the prudence of that Govt. would not permit him to call their determinations into question; that what the effect of these rigors might be it was impossible to foresee. He dwelt much on the sympathy which they probably would excite in behalf of the stigmatized party, scarce a man was without a father, a brother, a friend in the mass of the people; adding that as a precaution agst. contingencies, it was the purpose of the State to raise and station a small military force in the most suspected districts and that £40,000, to be drawn from their impost on trade had been appropriated accordingly; that under these circumstance a new crisis more solemn than the late one might be bro’t on & therefore to stop the federal enlistments and thereby withdraw the aid which had been held out, would give the greatest alarm imaginable to the Govt. and its friends, as it would look like a disapprobation & desertion of them, and if viewed in that light by the disaffected might rekindle the insurrection. He took notice of the possibility to which every State in the Union was exposed, of being visited with similar calamities–in which events they would all be suing for support in the same strain now used by the delegates from Massts. & that the indulgence now requested in behalf of that State might be granted without the least inconvenience to the U. S. as their enlistments without any countermanding orders, would not go on whilst those of the State were in competition; it being natural for men to prefer the latter service in which they would stay at home & be sure of their pay, to the former, in which they might with little prospect of it, be sent to the Ohio to fight the Indians. He concluded with the most earnest entreaties, and the fullest confidence that Congs. would not at so critical a moment and without any necessity whatever, agree to the motion, assuring them that in 3 or 4 weeks, possibly in less time, he might himself be a friend to it and would promote it.

Mr Pinckney in reply contended that if the measures pursuing by Massts. were such as had been stated, he did not think the U. S. bound to give them countenance. He thought them impolitic and not to be reconciled with the genius of free Govts. and if fresh commotions should spring from them, that the State of Massts. alone should be at the charge, and abide by the consequences of their own misconduct.

Mr Madison would not examine whether the original views of Congs. in the enlargemt. of their military force were proper or not, nor whether it were so to mask these views with an ostensible preparation agst. the Indians. He admitted indeed that it appeared rather difficult to reconcile an interference of Congs. in the internal controversies of a State with the tenor of the Confederation which does not authorise it expressly, and leaves to the States all powers not expressly delegated; or with the principles of Republican Govts. which as they rest on the sense of the majority, necessarily suppose power and right always to be on the same side. He observed however that in one point of view military precautions on the part of Congs. might have a different aspect. Whenever danger was apprehended from any foreign quarter which of necessity extended itself to the federal concerns, Congs. were bound to guard agst. it, and altho’ there might be no particular evidence in this case of such a meditated interference, yet there was sufficient ground for a general suspicion of readiness in G. B. to take advantage of events in this country, to warrant precautions agst. her. But leaving the question as to the original propriety of ye. measure adopted and attending merely to the question whether at this moment the measure ought from a change of circumstances to be rescinded, he was inclined to think it would be more advisable to suspend than to go instantly into the recision. The considerations which led to this opinion were

That though it appeared pretty certain that the main body of the insurgents had been dispersed it was by no means certain that the spirit of insurrection was subdued. The leaders too of the insurgents had not been apprehended, and parties of them were still in arms in disaffected places.

That great respect is due on such an occasion to the wishes and representations of the suffering member of the federal body, both of which must be judged of by what comes from her representatives on the floor. These tell us that the measures taken by Congs. have given great satisfaction & spirits to their constituents and have cooperated much in baffling the views of their internal enemies; that they are pursuing very critical precautions at this moment for their future safety and tranquility; and that the construction which will be put on the proposed resolution if agreed to by Congs. cannot fail to make very unhappy impressions, and may have very serious consequences. The propriety of these precautions depends on so many circumstances better known to the Govt. of Massts. than to Congs that it would be premature in Congs. to be governed by a disapprobation.

That every State ought to bear in mind the consequences of popular commotions if not thoroughly subdued, on the tranquility of the Union, & the possibility of its being itself the scene of them. Every State ought therefore to submit with cheerfulness to such indulgences to others, as itself may in a little time be in need of. He had been a witness of the temper of his own State (Virginia) on this occasion. It was understood by the Legislature that the real object of the military preparations on foot was the disturbance in Massts. & that very consideration inspired the ardor which voted toward their quota, a tax on tobacco which wd. not have been granted for scarce any other purpose whatever, being a tax operating very partially in the opinion of the people of that State who cultivate that article: yet this class of the Legislature were almost unanimous in making the sacrifice, because the fund was considered as the most certain that could be provided.

That it was probable the enlistments for the reasons given would be suspended without an order from Congs. in which case, the inconveniences suggested would be saved to the U. S. and the wishes of Massts. satisfied at the same time.

That as no bounty was given for the troops, and they could be dismissed at any time, the objections drawn from the consideration of expence, could have but little force.

That it was contended only for a continuance of the apparent aid of Congs. for 3 or 4 weeks, the members from Massts. themselves considering that as a sufficient time. After the rejection of the motion as stated on the journal a dispute arose whether the vote should be entered among the secret or public proceedings. Mr Pinckney insisted that in the latter [former]1 case, his view which was to justify himself to his constituents would be frustrated. Most of those who voted with him were opposed to an immediate publication. The expedient of a temporary concealment was proposed as answering all purposes.

[Note 1: 1 The word “former” interlined in apparently another hand.]

Letters of Delegates to Congress: Volume 24
William Irvine to Josiah Harmar

Dear Col.
New York
Febry. 27Th 1787

I received your favor of the 10th Decr. and will attend to your business whenever a fair oppertunity presents of being able to carry it through. We are obliged to watch for a proper time to strike here with as much attention and caution—;as a good General will an Enemy.
I intend to make Fort Pitt a Visit in May before that time I hope you will receive orders for making an establishment at Vinango—;I mean a detachment only. My motives for wishing this done shall explain to you after the thing is accomplished which will be with difficulty if at all. The grand object most people seem to have in view is to prevent intruders on the lands. I confess this is not the principle with me. The great War in Massachusetts is near a close—; but the people of that Government are by no means satisfied. The Legislature have it is thought carried their triumph too far. An Act to disarm* and Disfranchise for three years, all those who took up arms has passed it is thought the number is about 14,000—;outlaws. The numbers really disaffected by these measures will be three fold as all the near relations and particular friends to those disfranchised will feel sore. If this calculation & reasoning is Just—;is it not to be feared that insurgency will soon again raise its head? These troubles have doubtless had bad effect on the Recruiting. I believe the whole yet raised do not exceed 300. And it is said Massachusetts are about to raise 1500 Men for four months state Troops to keep the insurgents in awe. Under these circumstances I think it probable no competitors for the Command, will appear in the West for some time—; notwithstanding the poetick fire of an Humphry in the East—;shines with so much lustre.(1) Inclosed you have an Act of Congress—;which I hope will be productive of much good—;it may do good & can do no harm, which is greatly in favor of the measure. Several states have already appointed Delegates and I think all will. Such a respectable body of Men have not been convened on any occasion since the first Congress as it is supposed these will be.

Some States have complied in part with the requisitions of Congress—;some not at all, and others have flatly refused. There is therefore no alternative to giving up all at once for lost—;but that of attempting to revise and mend the Confederation—;or frame an entire new Government—;whether the proposed Convention will be able to effect either it is hard to say—;but an attempt is necessary and the sooner it is made it will be sooner compleated.
Under the present Government it is much to be feared—;that insurgency—;& Rebellion—;may pervade more States than Massachusetts. The people of Maryland are at this moment in great ferment about paper money, some are Violent for & others as much against it. The Assembly were generally for—;and the Sennate unanimously against. Such was the Animosity that an Adjournment took place for the purpose of appealing to the people. They are soon to meet again when I hope they will accommodate.

The foregoing hints I have t[h]rown out meerly to give you some general Ideas—;of what is passing. You will therefore not I am persuaded make an improper use of them. Pray present my respects to Mrs. Harmar—;and believe me to be with great regard, Dear Col., Your friend & Humble Servant, Wm. Irvine(2)

RC (MiU–;C: Harmar Papers). Addressed: “Colonel Jos. Harmar at Fort Harmar, Muskingum.” Endorsed: “March 3d. 1787. Received & forwarded by your Humle Servt, Sam Nicholas.” “Answered May 25th. 1787.”
1 Undoubtedly a reference to “The Anarchiad,” a mock-epic poem written by David Humphreys in collaboration with Joel Barlow, Lemuel Hopkins, and John Trumbull—;the Connecticut Wits—;for which see Stephen Mix Mitchell to Jeremiah Wadsworth, January 24, 1787, note 3.
2 An account of Irvine with the state of Pennsylvania—;”To fifty nine days attendance at Congress—;Viz from the 4th Decr. 1786 to the 1st Feby. 1787 inclusive”—;signed “Ex[amine] & settled, Jno. Nicholson, Comptrl. Genls Office Feby 3d 1787,” is in the Gratz Collection, Phi.

Letters of Delegates to Congress: Volume 24 November 6, 1786-February 29, 1788 Massachusetts Delegates to James Bowdoin

Sir, New York 4 March 1787.

Mr. Williams of Pittsfield arrived in this City on the Evening of the 2d instant, with a Dispatch from Genl. Lincoln representing to the Governor of this State the Countenance and support which had been afforded, to the Fugitives from Massachusetts, by the people inhabiting a District within this Jurisdiction & adjacent to the County of Berkshire, and giving information of the Incursion made from this State into that County on the 26th ult.(1) As your Excellency will undoubtedly have received official information of this Event before this reaches you, we forbear the communication of any particulars on that subject. The Intelligence received from Genl. Lincoln was by the Governor laid before the Legislature yesterday morning; and it is with real satisfaction that we now have the Honor to inclose to your Excellency, a Resolution, which they adopted in consequence thereof.(2)

Governor Clinton left this City early this morning, and will in the most Effectual & Expeditious manner cooperate with Genl. Lincoln “in apprehending & securing such of the Rebels as shall be found in this state.”(3)

With perfect Respect we have the Honor to be yr. Excellency’s Obt. & very Humble Servts., Rufus King
Nathan Dane

RC (MHi: Shays’ Rebellion Collection). Written by Rufus King and signed by King and Nathan Dane.
1 For Gen. Benjamin Lincoln’s February 21 dispatch to Gov. George Clinton, a copy of which Lincoln enclosed with a February 22 letter to Governor Bowdoin, see Bowdoin and Temple Papers (MHS Colls.), pp. 149–;50, 156–;58.
2 By this March 3 resolve, the New York Assembly authorized Governor Clinton to call out the militia and to cooperate with General Lincoln against the Shaysites who had fled into New York, from which they continued to mount raids against Stockbridge, [Page 128] Mass., and the surrounding countryside. Journal of the Assembly of the State of New York, 10th session, p. 80. DLC(ESR).
3 Assuming personal command of the New York militia, Governor Clinton met with General Lincoln at New Lebanon, N.Y., on March 17 to complete their plans, but the insurgents, sensing their danger, withdrew to safety in Vermont and Canada and the crisis passed. For an account of these developments and an assessment of Clinton’s leadership against the threatened spread of rebellion to New York, see Szatmary, Shays’ Rebellion, pp. 107–;14; and John P. Kaminski, George Clinton. Yeoman Politician of the New Republic (Madison, Wis.: Madison House, 1993), pp. 107–;9.

Letters of Delegates to Congress: Volume 24
William Irvine to James Wilson

Dear Sir
New York
March 6th 1787

I promised myself the pleasure of writing to you, when any thing interesting should be likely to take place. There has been hitherto so little prospect of any thing being done in Congress that I have frequently been almost determined to return home—;but have spun out the time from day to day still in expectation that every succeeding day would bring on a full house—;all in vain—;we have had about one week in this year, nine States on the floor—;but most of the time not even seven. You know under these circumstances what can possibly be done. At a favourable moment either Delaware or Maryland, being represented would have carried Congress to Philadelphia. Now South Carolina is off the floor—;it therefore requires the attendance of both the former, and Col. Forrest will set out in a few days as none of the other Delegates of Maryland are likely soon to attend he thinks it vain to wait. I almost despair of so good an opportunity presenting for some time as I believed this to be. I regret it the more as I am persuaded Congress and the Convention sitting at the same time & place might facilitate the business of the Convention—;a free communication of Sentiments would be usefull to both these bodies, particularly as it might have a tendency to cause the Convention to propose such new articles of confederation—;or alterations in the old as Congress might probably approve—;which would doubtless have weight with the several Legislatures.

It was with some difficulty Congress carried the recommendation for a Convention. The Eastern Delegates were all much against the measure—;indeed I think they would never have come into it—;but that they saw it would be carried without them. Then they Joined—;which has made it a piece of patched work—;but this was thought better than to keep up the smallest appearance of opposition to public view.

Inclosed you have the agreement between N York and Massachusetts—;it speaks for itself.(1) But I have conversed with the Commissioners—;who insist that the Cession of N York to the United States does not preclude them from claiming as far West as Pennsylvania—;so far from it they say that it expressly reserves that extent—;or to a line drawn through the most westerly bent or inclination of Lake Ontario which they say extends much west of any part of Pennsylvania. If this is a fair construction—;which I do not believe, the United States will be pretty well trimmed of the exuberancies which many are afraid holding will be a disadvantage. And it will destroy the prospects of the purchase we talked of. I wish you would look at the Cession of N York—;and see whether it will possibly bear such a construction, and if it will not—;what steps should be taken—;if any previous to Massachusetts beginning to sell the land—;which I doubt will be too late. Massachusetts have passed a Law*—;which disfranchises—;and disarms all the insurgents, the chief object of which appears to be to prevent their voting at the next general Election in May. I have seen Gentlemen who lately passed through that Country—;that say this act has created more universal disgust than any other of Government and that the risings which was so nearly suppressed are rather more likely to begin again than the assembly had an Idea of. I could lay my hands on only one copy of the Act, which I forwarded yesterday to Genl. Armstrong Junr. for the perusal of Council. I mention this that you may get it from him if you wish to see it. It is said that some of the chiefs of the insurgents—;with a few followers have retreated into this State. I do not recollect the name of the place—;but on the border of their own state—;where some few people of this State have Joined them—;this is Report. But there must be something in it, as the Governor & sundry Officers set out Express yesterday morning—;with a view doubtless to strike them before they gain strength—;which is very wise as a few prompt punishments may put an entire stop to further mischief. I hope these troubles will not reach the south side of the Hudson, as I am certain if they do they will soon pervade the whole of the Southern States—;which Governor Clintons Vigilance and Zeal may check in infancy.(2) I am Dear Sir, Your Obedient Humble Servant, Wm. Irvine

RC (PHarH: RG 27).
1 For this January 30 agreement, see JCC, 33:619–;29; and Massachusetts and New York Delegates to Congress, April 23, 1787.
2 See Massachusetts Delegates to James Bowdoin, March 4, note 3.

Journals of the Continental Congress,
TUESDAY, MARCH 13, 1787.

Congress assembled. Present as yesterday.

…[Report of Secretary at War on removal of military stores from Springfield 2]

[Note 2: 2 Papers of the Continental Congress, No. 151, pp. 243–254, read March 13, 1787. See March 8, 1787.]

The Secretary of the United States for the department of War, to whom was referred the Motion of the Honorable Mr. Grayson respecting the removal of the Arms, and Military Stores from Springfield in the State of Massachusetts,


That he humbly conceives it will be necessary, in order to form a right judgement of the measure proposed, to examine, whether Springfield possesses those qualities, which are essential to a permanent national deposit of the United States. To take into consideration the number and convenience of the buildings erected there. The expence that would be incurred in removing the ordnance and Stores, and also, to enquire into the, existing political circumstances of Massachusetts as they may affect the safety of the federal property at Springfield.

If the local situation of Springfield be examined relatively to the Country east of Hudsons River, excepting the remote parts of Massachusetts formerly the province of Main, it will be found, to be well placed as common centre, whence might be issued such warlike apparatus as national objects should, from time to time require; Being a considerable distance up on Connecticut river, it has the benefits of a water transportation by boats, and a perfect security against a marine enemy.

In the year 1777, the United States in Congress assembled, decided on Springfield, as one of their important deposits of Ordnance and Stores. A lease of 10 acres of ground in an eligible situation, was purchased of the town for 99 years, on which were erected, a variety of large wooden buildings for the reception of the Stores, and accomodation of the troops and artificers, a laboratory, a foundery for casting of brass cannon, and a spacious and well constructed brick Magazine.

The returns on the files of Congress will show the numbers of Cannon, and small arms, and the variety of Stores deposited at Springfield, the whole weight of which amounts by estimation to 450 or 500 Tons.

The expence of removal would depend on the distance and circumstances of the place to which they should be removed, but in almost any case, a considerable sum would be required for the purpose.

If the political state of Massachusetts be investigated it will appear, that a rebellion has arisen within that state, and that it is in a train of being effectually suppressed by the vigor of the government.

That in the commencement, and progress of the rebellion, the executive government of said State, manifested the highest degree of attention to the safety of the federal Arsenal and Magazine.

That on the first application of your Secretary to the Governor of said State, on the 19th. September 1786, he instantly issued an order to the Major General of the division of Militia in the vicinity of Springfield, directing him, to furnish such a guard for the protection of the Stores, as your Secretary should judge necessary.

Although circusmtances rendered it prudent to pospone the immediate execution of said order, yet in consequence thereof, a large body of militia were in constant readiness, to march to the Arsenal on the shortest notice.

That when the executive government of said State decided on the employment of troops, against the insurgents as the last remedy, the security of the federal Arsenal, was considered as a most important object, and accordingly, Major General Shepard of the Militia, was directed to take post at the same, with 1200 men, two days before the troops assembled in the vicinity of Boston. That a large body of armed insurgents, did make their appearance before General Shepard, on the 25th of January, who repulsed and dispersed them by discharging cannon against them.

That after the said 25th. of January, an adequate guard was stationed at the federal buildings by the officers of said State, untill relieved on the 24th. of February by a detachment of the troops of the United States, raised in Connecticut, amounting to about 120 men.

That however just, the apprehensions which may have been entertained for the safety of the Stores at Springfield; yet the power, and dispositions of the government of Massachusetts to protect the same, have been amply evinced.

That the guard now stationed at Springfield will be sufficient to protect the Stores against any small parties of desperate men, and a large body of such cannot be collected without the circumstance being known, and time given to assemble a sufficient reinforcement of the well effected militia of the neighbourhood.

That certain block houses and defences were constructed, and partly executed, by General Shepard which Colonel Humphreys is finishing, and which will afford considerable security to the buildings.

That your Secretary is decidedly of opinion, that no Arsenal or Magazines of the United States, can be deemed perfectly secure, unless guarded by a military force bound to obey the orders of Congress.

Impressed with the Idea, that in proportion to the freedom of government is the danger of faction, your Secretary apprehends, that all the States in the Union, are liable in different degrees, to be agitated with similar commotions to those which have manifested themselves in Massachusetts, but that the issues may be dissimilar. He therefore is utterly at a loss to point out any place, where the stores will be more secure than at Springfield, unless at the fortified post of West-point on Hudsons River.

But in the opinion of your Secretary there is an insuperable objection to West Point as a national Arsenal. The bold navigation of the river, renders it continually liable to be insulted, or injured by the caprice or interest, of any foreign marine power. The importance of the place in a military point of view, is particularly reported and submitted to Congress1 on the 31st. July 1786.

[Note 1: 1 Journals, vol. XXX, pp. 447–449 and vol. XXXI, p. 467.]

Besides its insecurity against a foreign invasion unless strongly garrisoned, it would be highly injudicious, in addition to the numerous Ordnance and Stores already there, which are but indifferently accomodated, to crowd those which are at Springfield. The accidents to which powder, or other combustible matter is perpetually liable, should ever prevent too great an accumulation of stores at one point.

Should the disorders of Massachusetts extend themselves, West Point with its advantages might tempt some daring usurper to possess himself of it, in its present weak situation, to the extreme injury of the public. Anxious to guard against such an event, your Secretary has ordered the recruits of Massachusetts from Boston to Springfield in order to releive the recruits of Connecticut who will be ordered to West-Point, Provided that Massachusetts will furnish the necessary means to march their recruits to and subsist them at Springfield; and that the means can be obtained for the same purposes for the Connecticut troops at West Point, and provided also, that the same should be conformable to the intentions of Congress.
Convinced as your Secretary is of the probable comparative security of the Arsenal at Springfield for the present, he cannot report in favor of removing them–a measure, the expenses of which, would be great and immediate, the consequences at least equivocal, if not politically injurious.

Your Secretary has had under his consideration for a long period, a system for the establishment of permanent national Magazines, and Arsenals, throughout the United States. He has not brought it forward because the state of the public treasury has been such, as to preclude any expences, but those which are essential to immediate existence. In the report, which will be submitted on this subject, four places are pointed out, at which it may be proper to establish the principal national deposits. Vizt.

  1. Springfield in Massachusetts. To supply all the Country east of Hudsons River.
  2. At some suitable place on the Delaware not lower than Coriels ferry nor higher than Easton, for all the Country westward of Hudsons river to the Potowmak inclusively.
    The public are in possession of a variety of brick buildings at Carlisle in Pennsylvania, constructed and erected specially for the purpose of a national deposit. The returns on the files of Congress will show that the military stores now there are inconsiderable. Were the river Susquehannah navigable for Boats, and also the Creek which runs through Carlisle, the stores in Philadelphia might be transported to that place. But as the navigation of the said Creek and River is not a probable event, at an early period, it would be fortunate if the said buildings could be sold to any tolerable advantage. It would require a larger sum of money than can probably be furnished for the object, to transport the stores by land to Carlisle. But the expence of the first transportation is not so great an objection as the amount of the successive transportations and re-transportations during a period of forty or fifty years. The probability of the navigation of the Delaware being completed in a few years from the falls of Trenton to Easton, renders the place beforementioned between Coriels ferry, and Easton, much more eligible than Carlisle. But its relation to the Country between Hudsons River and the Delaware, The facility with which stores could be transported to Christiana Bridge and thence by a portage of 12 miles to the head of Elk render the Delaware decidedly superior to Carlisle. The Stores in Philadelphia, are liable to be destroyed by fire and they are not well deposited being in common buildings in different parts of the City, the rent of which, annually amounts to a considerable sum of money.
    3d. At on near the point of Forks on James River, to serve Virginia and part of North Carolina.
    4th. At or near the junction of the Congaree and Wateree with the Santee, to serve part of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.
    A deposit might be formed at Fort Pitt for all the posts on the Ohio; and the posts on the lakes might be supplied from West point on Hudsons river, by the way of the Mohawk river and Wood creek.
    The aforesaid proposed principal deposits will enjoy the great advantages of a water communication with the Ocean without the danger of being injured by a hostile navy. Circumstanced as the United States are and as they probably will be for a long period in future, the means of defence ought to be secured from a sudden approach of a foreign enemy.
    It will be proposed, that the number of one hundred thousand arms, shall be deposited in the respective Arsenals, a train of battering Artillery and every kind of Stores necessary thereto, field Artillery and every necessary equipment for an army of every species of troops.
    That the respective Arsenals and Magazines should contain Arms, Ammunition and other stores in proportion to the population of the districts they were intended to supply. But that the trains of battering Artillery with their apparatus and Ammunition should be equal at each Arsenal and Magazine. That the Ordnance, Arms, and Stores at present in possession of the United States should be distributed to the Arsenals in proportion to the numbers and quantities to be deposited at each according to the directions of Congress. The Arms Ordnance and Stores deficient, should be manufactured and produced if practicable within the United States, as soon as the finances of the same would admit agreably to the orders and appropriations of Congress.
    All which is humbly submitted.
    H. Knox.
    War Office March 13th. 1787.
    [Report of committee on resolution of Virginia 1]
    [Note 1: 1 Papers of the Continental Congress, No. 20, II, p. 325, in the writing of Mr. William Blount. Read March 13 and question taken and lost May 8, 1787. See February 26 and March 1, 1787.]
    The Committee [consisting of Mr. William Blount, Mr. James Mitchel Varnum and Mr. William Grayson] to whom was refered the Resolution of the State of Virginia of the 13th January 1786 passed in Conformity to a Resolution entered into by the State of Maryland in the same year and to whom was refered the Resolutions of the said State of Virginia of the 22d. November 1786 report the following Resolve
    That Congress do consent to the Annual Meetings of Commissioners as proposed in the said Resolutions for the purposes therein expressed for the Term of seven Years. unless some general Regulation of Congress shall sooner take place.2
    [Note 2: 2 March 13, 1787. According to indorsement and Committee Book, Papers of the Continental Congress, No. 190, p. 140, the letter of Thomas Jefferson to John Jay, October 23, 1786, was referred to the Secretary for Foreign Affairs to report. According to the indorsement it was referred to the Secretary to report particularly on Mr. Jefferson’s request to be permitted to travel on account of his health and on what respects the Marquis de Lafayette. See March 8, 1787.]

Letters of Delegates to Congress: Volume 24 November 6, 1786-February 29, 1788
James Madison to George Washington

Dear Sir, New York March 18th. 1787

“…By our latest and most authentic information from Massts. it would seem that a calm has been restored by the expedition of Genl. Lincoln. The precautions taking by the State however betray a great distrust of its continuance. Besides their act disqualifying the malcontents fromvoting in the election of members for the Legislature &c. another has been passed for raising a corps of 1000 or 1,500 men, and appropriating the choicest revenues of the Country, to its support.(3) It is said that at least half of the insurgents decline accepting the terms annexed to the amnesty, and that this defiance of the law agst. Treason, is countenanced not only by the impunity with which they shew themselves on public occasions, even with insolent badges of their character, but by marks of popular favor conferred on them in various instances in the election to local offices….”
3 Hard on the heels of its February 4 declaration of rebellion, the Massachusetts General Court authorized the enlistment of up to 2,600 additional troops to suppress further uprisings and subsequently passed a Disqualification Act banning the insurgents from, among other things, voting, officeholding, and jury duty. But Benjamin Lincoln had yet to restore “calm” and the insurgents remained active throughout the spring. See Szatmary, Shays’ Rebellion, pp. 106–;19. See also Massachusetts Delegates to James Bowdoin, February 21 and March 4.

Letters of Delegates to Congress: Volume 24 November 6, 1786-February 29, 1788

James Madison to Thomas Jefferson

Dear Sir N. York. March 19th. 1787.

My last was of the 11th of Feby. and went by the Packet. This will go to England in the care of a French gentleman who will consign it to the care of Mr. Adams.

The appointments for the Convention go on auspiciously. Since my last Georgia, S. Carolina, N. York, Massts. and N. Hampshire have come into the measure. The first and last of these States have commissioned their delegates to Congress, their representatives in Convention. The deputation of Massts. consists of Messrs. Ghoram, Dana, King, Gerry, and Strong. That of N. York, Messrs. Hamilton, Yates & Lansing. That of S. Carolina, Messrs. J. Rutlidge, Laurens, Pinkney (General) Butler, and Chas. Pinkney lately member of Congress. The States which have not yet appointed are R. Island, Connecticut, and Maryland. The latter has taken measures which prove her intention to appoint, and the two former it is not doubted will follow the example of their neighbours. I just learn from the Governor of Virginia that Mr. Henry has resigned his place in the deputation from that State, and that Genl. Nelson is put into it by the Executive who were authorized to fill vacancies. The Governor, Mr. Wythe & Mr. Blair will attend, and some hopes are entertained of Col. Mason’s attendance. Genl. Washington has prudently authorized no expectations of his attendance, but has not either precluded himself absolutely from stepping into that field if the crisis should demand it. What may be the result of this political experiment cannot be foreseen. The difficulties which present themselves are on one side almost sufficient to dismay the most sanguine, whilst on the other side the most timid are compelled to encounter them by the mortal diseases of the existing constitution. These diseases need not be pointed out to you who so well understand them. Suffice it to say that they are at present marked by symptoms which are truly alarming, which have tainted the faith of the most orthodox republicans, and which challenge from the votaries of liberty every concession in favor of stable Government not infringing fundamental principles, as the only security against an opposite extreme of our present situation. I think myself that it will be expedient in the first place to lay the foundation of the new system in such a ratification by the people themselves of the several States as will render it clearly paramount to their Legislative authorities. 2dly. Over & above the positive power of regulating trade and sundry other matters in which uniformity is proper, to arm the federal head with a negative in all cases whatsoever on the local Legislatures. Without this defensive power experience and reflection have satisfied me that however ample the federal powers may be made, or however Clearly their boundaries may be delineated, on paper, they will be easily and continually baffled by the Legislative sovereignties of the States. The effects of this provision would be not only to guard the national rights and interests against invasion, but also to restrain the States from thwarting and molesting each other, and even from oppressing the minority within themselves by papermoney and other unrighteous measures which favor the interest of the majority. In order to render the exercise of such a negative prerogative convenient, an emanation of it must be vested in some set of men within the several States so far as to enable them to give a temporary sanction to laws of immediate necessity. 3dly. to change the principle of Representation in the federal system. Whilst the execution of the Acts of Congs. depends on the several legislatures, the equality of votes does not destroy the inequality of importance and influence in the States. But in case of such an augmentation of the federal power as will render it efficient without the intervention of the Legislatures, a vote in the general Councils from Delaware would be of equal value with one from Massts. or Virginia. This change therefore is just. I think also it will be practicable. A majority of the States conceive that they will be gainers by it. It is recommended to the Eastern States by the actual superiority of their populousness, and to the Southern by their expected superiority. And if a majority of the larger States concur, the fewer and smaller States must finally bend to them. This point being gained, many of the objections now urged in the leading States agst. renunciations of power will vanish. 4thly. to organise the federal powers in such a manner as not to blend together those which ought to be exercised by separate departments. The limited powers now vested in Congs. are frequently mismanaged from the want of such a distribution of them. What would be the case, under an enlargement not only of the powers, but the number, of the federal Representatives? These are some of the leading ideas which have occurred to me, but which may appear to others as improper, as they appear to me necessary.

Congress have continued so thin as to be incompetent to the despatch of the more important business before them. We have at present nine States and it is not improbable that something may now be done. The report of Mr. Jay on the mutual violations of the Treaty of peace will be among the first subjects of deliberation.(1) He {favors the British claim of interest}(2) but {refers} the {question to the court}. The amount of the {report which is an able one} is that the {treaty should} be {put in force} as a {law and the exposition of it} left like that {of other laws to the ordinary tribunals}.

The {Spanish project sleeps. A} perusal of the {attempt of seven states} to make a {new treaty by repealing} an {essential condition of the old} satisfied me that Mr. {Jay’s caution} would {revolt at so irregular a sanction}. A late accidental conversation with {Guardoqui proved to me} that the {negociation is arrested}.(3) It may appear strange that a member of {Congress should be indebted to a foreign minister} for {such information yet such} is the {footing on which} the {intemperance} of {party has put the matter} that it rests wholly with {Mr. Jay how far he} will {communicate with Congress} as well as {how far he will negociate with Guardoqui}. But although it appears that the intended{sacrifice of} the {Missisipi will not be made}, the {consequences of the intention} and the {attempt are likely to be very serious}. I have already made known to you the light in which the subject was {taken up by Virginia}.(4) Mr. {Henry’s disgust exceeded all measure} and I am not singular in ascribing his refusal to {attend the Convention} to the {policy of keeping himself free} to {combat or espouse the result of it according} to the result {of the Missisipi business among other circumstances. North Carolina also} has given {pointed instructions} to {her delegates, so has New Jersey}. A {proposition} for the {like purpose} was a {few days ago made in the legislature of Pennsylvania} but went off without a {decision on its merits. Her delegates in Congress are equally divided} on the subject. The tendency of this {project} to {foment distrusts among the Atlantic states} at a {crisis when harmony} and {confidence ought to have been} studiously {cherished} has not been more {verified than its predicted effect} on the {ultramontane-settlements}. I have credible information that the people {living on the western waters are already in great agitation and are} taking {measures for uniting their consultations}. The {ambition} of {individuals} will {quickly mix itself} with the {original motives of resentment and interest}. A {communication will gradually} take place {with their British neighbors}. They will be {led to set up for themselves} to {seize on the vacant lands} to {entice emigrants(5) by bounties} and an {exemption from federal burdens} and in all respects to {play the part of Vermont on a larger theatre}. It is {hinted to me} that {British partisans} are already {feeling the pulse} of some of the {Western settlements}. Should these {apprehensions not be imaginary Spain may have equal reason} with the {United States to rue the unnatural attempt to shut the Missisipi. Guardoqui has been admonished} of {the danger} and I believe {is not insensible to it tho’} he {affects to be otherwise} and {talks} as if the dependance of {Britain on the commercial favors of his court} would {induce her to play into the hands of Spain}. The eye of {France also can not fail to watch over the western prospects}. I learn from those who {confer here with Otto and de la Forest} that they {favor the opening of the Missisipi} dis{claim[in]g at the same time any authority to} speak the {sentiments of their court}. I find that the {Virginia delegates during the Missisipi discussions} last {fall entered into very confidential interviews with these gentlemen}. In one of them the {idea was communicated to Otto} of {opening the Missisipi for exports} but {not for imports} and {of giving to France and Spain} some {exclusive privileges in the trade}.(6) He {promised} to transmit it to {Vergennes to obtain his sentiments} on the {whole matter} and {to communicate them to the delegates}. Not long {since Grayson called on him} and {revived the subject}. He as{sured G—;—;} that {he had received no answer from(7) France} and signified his {wish that you might pump the Count de Vergennes observing that he would deny to you his having received any information from America}. I {discover thro} several {channels that it would be} very {grateful to the French politicians here to see our negociations with Spain shifted into your hands} and {carried on under the mediating auspices of their court}.(8)

{Van Berkel has remonstrated against the} late {acts of Virginia giving privileges to French wines and brandies in French bottoms, contending} that the {Dutch are entitled} by {their treaty to equal exemptions} with the {most favored nation without being subject to a compensation for them}. Mr. {Jay has reported against this construction} but considers the {act of Virginia as violating the treaty} first {because it appears to be gratuitous} not {compensatory on the face of it}. Secondly {because the states have no right to form tacit compacts} with {foreign nations}. No decision of Congress has yet taken place on the subject.(9)

The expedition under General Lincoln agst. the insurgents has effectually succeeded in dispersing them. Whether the calm which he has restored will be durable or not is uncertain. From the precautions taking by the Govt. of Massts. it would seem as if their apprehensions were not extinguished. Besides disarming and disfranchising for a limited time those who have been in arms, as a condition of their pardon, a military corps is to be raised to the amount of 1000, or 1500 men, and to be stationed in the most suspected districts. It is said that notwithstanding these specimens of the temper of the Government, a great proportion of the offenders chuse rather to risk the consequences of their treason, than submit to the conditions annexed to the amnesty*, that they not only appear openly on public occasions but distinguish themselves by badges of their character, and that this insolence is in many instances countenanced by no less decisive marks of popular favor than elections to local offices of trust & authority.

A proposition is before the Legislature of this State now sitting for renouncing its pretensions to Vermont, and urging the admission of it into the Confederacy. The different parties are not agreed as to the form in which the renunciation should be made, but are likely to agree as to the substance. Should the offer be made, and Vermont should not reject it altogether I think they will insist on two stipulations at least, 1st. that their becoming parties to the Confederation shall not subject their boundaries, or the rights of their citizens to be questioned under the 9th art. 2dly. that they shall not be subject to any part of the public debts already contracted.

The Geographer and his assistants have returned surveys on the federal lands to the amount of about 800,000 Acres which it is supposed would sell pretty readily for public securities, and some of it lying on the Ohio even for specie. It will be difficult however to {get proper steps taken by Congress, so many of the states having} now {lands of their own at market}. It is supposed that this consideration had {some share in the zeal for shutting the Missisipi. New Jersey} and some others {having no western lands} which {favored this measure} begin now to {penetrate the secret}.

A letter from the Govr. of Virga. informs me that paper money is beginning to recover from the blow given it at the last Session of the Legislature. {If Mr. Henry espouses it, of which} there is {little doubt I think an emission will take place}. The Governor mentions the death of Col A. Cary speaker of the Senate.

This letter will be accompanied by another inclosing a few Peccan Nuts.(10) When I sent the latter to the Gentleman who is charged with it, I doubted whether I should be able to finish this in time, and I only succeed by having written to the last moment. Adieu. Yrs. Afey., Js. Madison Jr

RC (DLC: Madison Papers). Madison, Papers (Rutland), 9:317–;22. For flaws in the text of this letter in the early editions of Madison’s papers and a comparison of the present text with a partial transcript of it made in 1834 by Nicholas P. Trist, see ibid., p. 322, document note and notes 1–;5.
1 John Jay’s lengthy report of October 13, 1786, was taken up the following day, for which see Madison’s Notes of Debates, March 20.
2 Words printed in braces in this text were written by Madison in cipher.
3 For evidence that Madison’s and William Bingham’s interview with the Spanish minister was far from “accidental,” see Madison’s Notes of Debates, March 13. For the Virginia delegates’ subsequent meeting with Gardoqui, see Madison’s Notes of Debates, March 29.
4 See Madison’s letters to Jefferson of August 12 and December 4, 1786, in Madison, Papers (Rutland), 9:93–;99, 189–;92, and his letter of February 11 in this volume.
5 “Emigrants” supplied by Jefferson, for which Madison had omitted the code.
6 See the Virginia Delegates’ Motion, August 21, 1786.
7 Madison interlined this word at a later time.
8 For Madison’s April 18 motion to authorize Jefferson to negotiate with Madrid, John Jay’s unfavorable April 20 report on that motion, and the April 23 debate on the issue, see JCC, 32:210, 217–;20; and Madison’s Notes of Debates, April 23.
9 See Virginia Delegates to Edmund Randolph, March 5, note 1.
10 For this brief March 18 letter, see Madison, Papers (Rutland), 9:313–;14.

William Blount to Richard Caswell, [Letters of Delegates to Congress: Volume 24.]


New York November 16th 1786

“As yet there have not appeared a sufficient Number of Members to form a Congress.
I arrived here on the 5th Instant and did myself the honor to address a letter to You on the 6th. I sent it by a Water Conveyance and hope it will be to hand before this. Ever since the above- mentioned Time my Colleague Mr. Nash has been so much indisposed as to be confined to his bed at some Times better and again worse, today he appears to be as ill as at any other Time and talks much of returning to Carolina with Capt. Tinker who will probably leave this in eight or ten days. I have been thus particular respecting Mr. Nash to show the Necessity there is for some other Gentleman of the Delegation to come on and if the State mean to be represented by three, two ought to come on. The Insurgents in Massachusetts seem inflexably determined not to give up their arms only to a superior force and a Gentleman lately from that State high in Office and of the best Information has given it as his decided Opinion that much blood will be shed before they will submit to Government.

“I have the Honor to be, Your Excellency’s Most Obedient Servant,

Wm. Blount

The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799. John C. Fitzpatrick, Editor.

[Note 6: In command of State troops for suppressing Shay’s rebellion.]

Mount Vernon, March 23, 1787.

My Dear Sir: Ever since the disorders in your State began to grow serious I have been peculiarly anxious to hear from that quarter; General Knox has from time to time transmitted to me the state of affairs as they came to his hands; but nothing has given such full and satisfactory information as the particular detail of events which you have been so good as to favor me with, and for which you will please to accept my warmest and most grateful acknowledgments. Permit me also, my dear Sir, to offer you my sincerest congratulations upon your success. The suppression of those tumults and insurrections with so little bloodshed, is an event as happy as it was unexpected; it must have been peculiarly agreeable to you, being placed in so delicate and critical a situation. I am extremely happy to find that your sentiments upon the disfranchising act are such as they are; upon my first seeing it, I formed an opinion perfectly coincident with yours, vizt., that measures more generally lenient might have produced equally as good an effect without entirely alienating the affections of the people from the government; as it now stands, it affects a large body of men, some of them, perhaps, it deprives of the means of gaining a livelihood; the friends and connections of those people will feel themselves wounded in a degree, and I think it will rob the State of a number of its inhabitants, if it produces nothing worse.

It gives me great pleasure to hear that your Eastern settlements succeeds so well the sincere regard which I have for you will always make your prosperity a part of my happiness. I am etc.7
[Note 7: From the “Letter Book” copy in the Washington Papers.
On March 23 Washington wrote to John Parke, of Delaware, thanking him for his poetical works and “The Honor which you have done me in dedicating your book to me….I always wish to give every possible encouragement to those works of Genius which are the production of an American.”
On this same day (March 23) Washington wrote also to Matthew McConnell, thanking him for his Essay on the Domestic Debts of the United States. Copies of both of these letters are in the “Letter Book” in the Washington Papers.]

Letters of Delegates to Congress: Volume 24 November 6, 1786-February 29, 1788
—;Hoc multa desunt.—;
[April 2, 1787]

“Quem Deus perdere vult, primo demantat,”(2) may, with great propriety, be applied to the majority of your Legislature.(3) When diseases gradually, and by means almost imperceptable, infect the body politic, the nicest discernment and closest attention are requisite in the application of a remedy, and after all, the most profound skill may be baffled in every attempt. The seeds of dissolution are sown in every political constitution, & the great care of the Legislators should be to watch their sprouts, to nip them in infancy, and to cherish, with a faustering hand, every tender plant that may enrich the soil. A conduct direc[t]ly contrary hereto most commonly counteracts its own intentions. For instead of destroying the bands of political society, the administrators, by exciting too sudden and too ardent a fever, serve as fuel themselves to feed, & become as ashes to smother its flames.

I do not feel any great degree of anxiety about the impolicy of this legislature. They represent only the present humors of the state; and even the state itself is but of very little consequence in the great scale of the Union. It cannot be expected that the Convention at Philadelphia will frame and recommend a system that will ever be federally adopted. They will probably investigate the defects of our present national government, and point out the means of removing them. The respective States will greatly differ in their ideas upon the subject, and their encreasing animosities will precipitate the period of anarchy and confusion. From these exuberant sources will arise a government that may be assisted in its formation and principles by the wisdom of the convention. For it is very possible that the majority of wealth, influence and numbers will meet their sentiments; and if so, the residue will be compelled to come in.

For instance; should the Convention report a plan to [Page 199] Congress, & this plan be by them recommended to the Legislatures for adoption, and it should be adopted, by a great majority of the States. Will not this majority be finally led to a seperate Association? And as the States forming it will probably be intermixed with the other states, will not the latter be absorbed by the superior influence of the former?

“Has the Legislature violated the articles of Confederation”? Yes, in thought, word and deed; but not in the instance particularly referred to in the query. Had Governor Bodoin demanded of Governor Collins certain Fugitives from justice agreably to those articles, and the state had refused to deliver them, the refusal would have been a direct violation. But Governor Bodoin’s request was to issue a Proclamation offering a reward &c.,(4) The granting or refusing of which was a matter discretionary. The refusal, it is true, was unneighbourly and tantalising; but it was made under those peculiar circumstances wherein the Administration could demonstrate, “Quam prope ad peccatum sine peccato accedere prossunt.”(5) It is in vain, my worthy friend, to think of particular violations. There is not a state which can throw the first stone. The evil is radical, and so must be the cure. Politicians differ widely in their opinions upon this head. Many are for a mixed monarchy; more, for a well organised Republic: Of the latter, are all the southern and middle states. New England seems to be divided, but inclining to the former sentiment. This sentiment will probably be embraced in the end, but not in the first assay of a new government. Some are warm espousers of seperate confederacies, to be united in the ties of commerce and defensive alliance. This is a visionary scheme, calculated by shallow heads, upon the basis of our present imbacility; & for this very reason may be adopted. But should it, like the morning dew before the rising Sun, it will no sooner appear than vanish….”

RC (RHi: Ward Papers). Addressed: “Colonel Samuel Ward, Warwick.”
1 Samuel Ward, Jr. (1756–;1832), son of former Rhode Island delegate Samuel Ward (1725–;76), had been a captain in Varnum’s Rhode Island Regiment in 1775 and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the 1st Rhode Island Regiment, 1778–;81. He was at this time a member of the Rhode Island Society of the Cincinnati, of which Varnum was president since the death of Nathanael Greene. See Heitman, Historical Register, p. 417; and John Ward, “Lieut.-Colonel Samuel Ward of the Revolutionary War,” New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, 6 (July 1875): 113–;23.
2 That is, “Whom God would ruin, he first deprives of reason,” a phrase of “spurious Latinity and purely modern [17th century] origin.” William Francis King, Classical and Foreign Quotations (London: J. Whitaker, 1904), p. 298.
3 Varnum was one of the most outspoken opponents of the Rhode Island Assembly’s paper money policies, and had been counsel for the defense in the September 1786 trial of Trevett v. Weeden, the most serious constitutional challenge mounted against the assembly. See Polishook,Rhode Island and the Union, chapter 6, “The Paper Money Tangle,” especially pp. 134–;42.
4 Rhode Island’s governor John Collins had responded to Massachusetts’ appeal by issuing a proclamation against the fugitives from Shays’ rebellion as requested, but the assembly had voted it down by a large majority and in act of defiance had even invited one prominent fugitive, Dr. Samuel Willard, to witness its proceedings. See ibid., pp. 177–;78.
5 Cf. “Quam prope ad crimen sine crimen!—;How near to guilt, without being guilty! Put interrogatively, this was a favourite query with the Jesuits, who refined very extensively upon the point.” Henry Thomas Riley, A Dictionary of Latin and Greek Quotations, Proverbs, Maxims and Mottos (London: George Bell, 1876), pp. 357–;58.

The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787 [Farrand’s Records, Volume 3]
XXVII. William Grayson to James Monroe.1
[Page 30]

[Note 1: 1 Documentary History of the Constitution, IV, 170–171.]

N York May 29th. 1787.

The draught made from Congress of members for the Convention has made them very thin & no business of course is going on here: I do not believe that this will be the case untill that body shall be dissolved, which I hardly think will be the case these three months. What will be the result of their meeting I cannot with any certainty determine, but I hardly think much good can come of it: the people of America don’t appear to me to be ripe for any great innovations & it seems they are ultimately to ratify or reject: the weight of Genl. Washington as you justly observe is very great in America, but I hardly think it is sufficient to induce the people to pay money or part with power.

The delegates from the Eastwd. are for a very strong government, & wish to prostrate all ye. state legislature, & form a general system out of ye. whole; but I don’t learn that the people are with them, on ye. contrary in Massachuzets they think that government too strong & are about rebelling again, for the purpose of making it more democratical: In Connecticut they have rejected the requisition for ye. present year decidedly, & no Man there would be elected to the office of a constable if he was to declare that he meant to pay a copper towards the domestic debt: — R. Island has refused to send members — the cry there is for a good government after they have paid their debts in depreciated paper: — first demolish the Philistines / i, e, their Creditors/ & then for propriety.

N Hamshire has not paid a shilling, since peace, & does not ever mean to pay one to all eternity: — if it was attempted to tax the people for ye domestic debt 500 Shays would arise in a fortnight. — In N. York they pay well because they can do it by plundering N Jersey & Connecticut. — Jersey will go great lengths from motives of revenge and Interest: Pensylvany will join provided you let the sessions of the Executive of America be fixed in Philada. & give her other advantages in trade to compensate for the loss of State power. I shall make no observations on the southern States, but I think they will be/ perhaps from different motives/ as little disposed to part with efficient power as any in the Union.

Here we see how Massachusetts realized just how mistaken they were in passing the perverse act:

Governour of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

A Proclamation.

WHEREAS the Legislature of this Commonwealth, with an intention, “not only to adopt every vigorous and “efficacious method, necessary to suppress the present traiterous opposition to the laws, and to restore peace and harmony to “the Commonwealth, but also to repeat the offers of grace and mercy to the penitent citizen, and to extend the same as “far as may be consistent with the true interest of this Commonwealth, and the security of her citizens in future;” have, by a resolve of the thirteenth day of June, instant, made provision for the raising and supporting a force, to defend the Commonwealth, against all wicked and rebellious men; and have also with a very extensive clemency, by the same resolve provided, that, “each and every citizen of this Commonwealth, who have committed any treasons or misprisions of treason against the same, since the first day of June, A. D. 1786, be, and they thereby are indemnified for the same, and for all felonies which had been perpetrated by any of the said citizens in the commissions of treasons, and which are overt acts of the same; and each and every citizen aforesaid, are thereby discharged of all pains, penalties, disqualifications and disabilities of the law in such case, made and provided: Provided, That pursuant to the said resolve, such of said offenders, who have not taken and subscribed the oath of allegiance to this Commonwealth, since the first day of June, A. D. 1786, shall take and subscribe the said oath, before any Justice of the Peace within the Commonwealth, on or before the twelfth day of September next; excepting out of the same indemnification, as well all such persons as had been convicted of such crimes by due course of law, as Daniel Shays, of Pelham, Gentleman, Luke Day, of West-Springfield, Gentleman, both of the county of Hampshire, and Lieutenant-Colonel William Smith, of the same county, Eli Parsons, of Adams, Gentleman, Perez Hamlin, of Lenox, Yecman, Elisha Manning, of a place called the Eleven Thousand Acres, Yeoman, David Dunham, of Sheffield, Yeoman, Ebenezer Crittenden, of Sandisfield, Yeoman, Jacob Fox, of Washington, Gentleman, all within the country of Berkshire, whose crimes are so attrocious, and whose obstinancy so great, as to exclude them from an offer of that indemnification, which is extended to those who have been misled, and are not so flagrantly guilty.

I HAVE THEREFORE, by and with the advice of Council, and at the request of the General Court, thought fit to issue this Proclamation, that the extention of mercy and indemnification offered by the Legislature, may be fully known, to those unhappy offenders who are the objects of it, and who have been deceived by wicked and designing men, and to give them assurances of their indemnification for all past treasons, misprisions of treason and felonies, and of being again renewed to the arms of their country, and once more enjoying the rights of free citizens of the Commonwealth.

As the lenient measures taken by the General Court, coinciding with the wishes of all good men who love their country, and ardently wish for the perfect restoration of peace and tranquility, cannot fail to convince the people of the whole State, that should the unhappy and deluded offenders, the subjects of said indemnity, again spurn at the clemency of government, and continue their attrocious and traiterous exertions to overthrow the Commonwealth, the most spirited and decisive measures must be adopted: And I cannot but believe, that the good sense of my fellow-citizens, the regard the people have for the Constitution of civil government established by themselves; their knowledge of their true interest; the obvious necessity of good government, and the unhappy and distressing consequences of supporting government by the sword, will unite all ranks and orders of men, in the pursuit of peace, good order and due obedience to the laws.

And all officers civil and military, who may be called upon in the duty of their offices to carry the resolve aforesaid, into execution, are hereby strictly enjoined to yield a ready and punctual attention to the same.

GIVEN at the COUNCIL-CHAMBER, in Boston, the fifteenth day of June, in the year of our LORD, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-seven, and in the eleventh year of the Independence of the United States of AMERICA.

By his Excellency’s Command,
JOHH AVERY, jun. Secretary.

BOSTON: Printed by ADAMS AND NOURSE, Printers to the Honourable GENERAL COURT.

Letters of Delegates to Congress: Volume 24 November 6, 1786-February 29, 1788
Nathan Dane to Nathaniel Gorham

Dear Sir. New York June 22. 1787

The inclosed paper I believe contains all that has been done of any importance by the General Court during their present Session. I imagine the Yeas & nays as they stand on the resolve of the 13th are true evidence of the disposition of the House(1) —;those in the negative argued that the troops were unnecessary—;probably they thought so—; but I think you will not be at a loss to discover the principle on which they acted and formed their opinions when you shall cast your eye upon the accurate division of men—;men on the one hand that have been for years steady in support of Government &c—;on the other men who for years have opposed taxes, proposed paper money, tender laws, &c.

Dr. Holten has arrived—;and I wish the officers of Congress and members not engaged in the Convention would return to New York. I do not know how it may be in the Southern States—;but, I assure you, the present State of Congress has a very disagreeable effect in the Eastern States. The people hear of a Convention in Philada. and that Congress is done sitting, &c. Many of them are told, it seems, that Congress will never meet again probably—;Dr. H. says he saw several sober men who had got an idea that the people were to be called on to take arms to carry into effect immediately the report of the Convention &c. I see no help for men’s being so absurd & distracted—;but these things have a pernicious effect on the industry, peace, & habits of the people. Are not the printers imprudent to publish so many contradictory pieces about the proceedings of your body which must be mere conjecture? You know many people always believe all they see in the new papers without the least examination. It appears to me that Congress at this time especially ought to be together & doing business as usual, and if we mean to avoid convulsions those appearances which to the unthinking look so much like abandoning the established Government ought not to be suffered to take place. To be here idle in the present situation of things is become extremely painful and I hope you will [use] your influence with Mr. Meredith, Hawkins, &c, &c to return to Congress.

Your affecte. friend, N. Dane

RC (MHi: Washburn Collection).
1 This vote was on “the resolve reported by the Committee appointed to consider the expediency of repealing the disqualifying act & for raising a number of troops not exceeding eight hundred nor less than five hundred men to be stationed in the western counties, and for pardoning all persons concerned in the late [Shays’] rebellion excepting as therein mentioned,” which was adopted 108 to 100. See “Journal of the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, commencing Wednesday 30 May 1787,” DLC(ESR), pp. 60–;63.
[Pg. 340]

The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution [Elliot’s Debates, Volume 5]

Thursday, August 23. (1787)

In Convention. — The report of the committee of eleven, made the 21st of August, being taken up, and the following clause being under consideration, to wit: —
“To make laws for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia, and for governing such parts of them as may be employed in the service of the United States; reserving to the states, respectively, the appointment of the officers, and authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed,” —
Mr. SHERMAN moved to strike out the last member, “and authority of training,” &c. He thought it unnecessary. The states will have this authority, of course, if not given up.
Mr. ELLSWORTH doubted the propriety of striking out the sentence. The reason assigned applies as well to the other reservation, of the appointment to offices. He remarked, at the same time, that the term “discipline,” was of vast extent, and might be so expounded as to include all power on the subject.
Mr. KING, by way of explanation, said, that by organizing, the committee meant, proportioning the officers and men — by arming, specifying the kind, size, and calibre of arms — and by disciplining, prescribing the manual exercise, evolutions, &c.
Mr. SHERMAN withdrew his motion.
Mr. GERRY. This power in the United States, as explained, is making the states drill-sergeants. He had as lief let the citizens of Massachusetts be disarmed, as to take the command from the states, and subject them to the general legislature. It would be regarded as a system of despotism.
Mr. MADISON observed, that “arming,” as explained, did not extend to furnishing arms; nor the term “disciplining,” to penalties, and courts martial for enforcing them.

Here’s a very enlightening letter from Mr. Jefferson concerning Shay’s Rebellion:

“The people cannot be all, & always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. We have had 13. states independent 11. years. There has been one rebellion. That comes to one rebellion in a century & a half for each state. What country before ever existed a century & half without a rebellion? & what country can preserve it’s liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon & pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is it’s natural manure. Our Convention has been too much impressed by the insurrection of Massachusetts: and in the spur of the moment they are setting up a kite to keep the hen-yard in order. I hope in God this article will be rectified before the new constitution is accepted.”–Thomas Jefferson, Nov. 13, 1787 letter to William S. Smith. [William Stephens Smith, (Nov. 8, 1755 – June 10, 1816), was a United States Representative from New York. He married Abigail “Nabby” Adams, the daughter of President John Adams, and so was a brother-in-law of President John Quincy Adams. He was appointed by President Washington as the First U.S. Marshal of New York. Mr. Smith had frequent correspondence with Thomas Jefferson, as well as John Jay, (Dec. 12, 1745 – May 17, 1829), who was an American statesman, Patriot, diplomat, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, signer of the Treaty of Paris, and first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, (1789–95).]

Letters of Delegates to Congress: Volume 24 November 6, 1786-February 29, 1788
James Madison to George Washington
Dear Sir N. York Feby 3d. 1788.

Another mail has arrived from Boston without terminating the conflict between our hopes and fears. I have a letter from Mr. King of the 27 which after dilating somewhat on the ideas in his former letters, concludes with the following paragraph.(1) “We have avoided every question which would have shewn the division of the House. Of consequence we are not positive of the numbers on each side. By the last calculation we made on our side, we were doubtful whether we ex-[Page 635]ceeded them or they us in numbers. They however say that they have a majority of eight or twelve against us. We by no means despair.” Another letter of the same date from another member gives the following picture.(2) “Never was there an assembly in this State in possession of greater ability & information than the present Convention—;yet I am in doubt whether they will approve the Constitution. There are unhappily three parties opposed to it. 1. All men who are in favour of paper money & tender laws; those are more or less in every part of the State. 2. All the late insurgents & their abettors. In the three great western Counties they are very numerous. We have in the Convention 18 or 20 who were actually in Shay’s army. 3. A great majority of the members from the Province of Main. Many of them & their Constituents are only squatters upon other people’s land, and they are afraid of being brought to account. They also think though erroneously that their favorite plan, of being a separate State will be defeated. Add to these the honest doubting people, and they make a powerful host. The leaders of this Party are a Mr. Wedgery, Mr Thomson, & Mr Nason from the province of Main—;A Docr. Taylor from the County of Worster & Mr. Bishop from the neighbourhood of R. Island. To manage the cause agst. them are the present and late Govr., 3 Judges of the supreme Court—; 15 members of the Senate—;20 from among the most respectable of the Clergy, 10 or 12 of the first characters at the bar, Judges of probate, High Sheriffs of Counties & many other respectable people, Merchants &c—;Genls. Heath, Lincoln, Brooks & others of the late army. With all this ability in support of the cause, I am pretty well satisfied we shall lose the question, unless we can take off some of the opposition by amendments. I do not mean such as are to be made conditions of the ratification, but recommendatory only. Upon this plan I flatter myself we may possibly get a majority of 12 or 15 if notmore.”(3)

The Legislature of this State has voted a Convention on June 17.

I remain Yrs. most respectfully & Affecly., Js Madison Jr

RC (DLC: Washington Papers). Madison, Papers (Rutland), 10:464–;65.
1 Cf. ibid., p. 437.
2 For Nathaniel Gorham’s letter of January 27, see ibid., pp. 435–;36.
3 Prospects for ratification of the Constitution in Massachusetts was also noted in the following February 4 delegate letter which appeared in the February 7 issue of the Pennsylvania Packet under the heading “Extract of a letter from a Member of Congress at New-York, Feb. 4.”
“By letters from Massachusetts, the delegates from that state are in hopes that there is little danger of that state’s acceding to the constitution, though at first setting of their convention the contrary was apprehended.
“The New-Yorkers have fixed a day in April for a convention [actually June 17—;April 29 was the date set to elect delegates to the convention] by a majority only of three in the senate, and two in the other house.”
Page 636
February 3, 1788

Letters of Delegates to Congress: Volume 24 November 6, 1786-February 29, 1788
James Madison to Thomas Jefferson

Dear Sir New York Feby. 19. 1788

…The Public here continues to be much agitated by the proposed fOEderal Constitution and to be attentive to little else. At the date of my last Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey had adopted it.(4) It has been since adopted by Connecticut, Georgia, and Massachusetts. In the first the minority consisted of 40 against 127. In Georgia the adoption was unanimous. In Massachusetts the conflict was tedious and the event extremely doubtful. On the final question the vote stood 187 against 168; a majority of 19 only being in favor of the Constitution. The prevailing party comprized however all the men of abilities, of property, and of influence. In the opposite multitude there was not a single character capable of uniting their wills or directing their measures. It was made up partly of deputies from the province of Maine who apprehended difficulties from the New Government to their scheme of separation, partly of men who had espoused the disaffection of Shay’s; and partly of ignorant and jealous men, who had been taught or had fancied that the Convention at Philada. had entered into a conspiracy against the liberties of the people at large, in order to erect an aristocracy for the rich, the well-born, and the men of Education. They had no plan whatever. They looked no farther than to put a negative on the Constitution and return home. The amendments as recommended by the Convention, were as I am well informed not so much calculated for the minority in the Convention, on whom they had little effect, as for the people of the State. You will find the amendments in the Newspapers which are sent from the office of foreign affairs. It appears from a variety of circumstances that disappointment had produced no asperity in the minority, and that they will probably not only acquiesce in the event, but endeavour to reconcile their constituents to it. This was the public declaration of several who were called the leaders of the party. The minority of Connecticut behaved with equal moderation. That of Pennsylvania has been extremely intemperate and continues to use a very bold and menacing language. Had the decision in Massachusetts been adverse to the Constitution, it is not improbable that some very violent measures would have followed in that State. The cause of the inflamation [Page 653] however is much more in their State factions, than in the system proposed by the Convention. New Hampshire is now deliberating on the Constitution. It is generally understood that an adoption is a matter of certainty. South Carolina & Maryland have fixed on April or May for their Conventions. The former it is currently said will be one of the ratifying States. Mr. Chace and a few others will raise a considerable opposition in the latter. But the weight of personal influence is on the side of the Constitution, and the present expectation is that the opposition will be outnumbered by a great majority. This State is much divided in its sentiment. Its Convention is to be held in June. The decision of Massts. will give the turn in favor of the Constitution unless an idea should prevail or the fact should appear, that the voice of the State is opposed to the result of its Convention. North Carolina has put off her Convention till July.(5) The State is much divided it is said. The temper of Virginia, as far as I can learn, has undergone but little change of late. At first there was an enthusiasm for the Constitution. The tide next took a sudden and strong turn in the opposite direction. The influence and exertions of Mr. Henry, and Col. Mason and some others will account for this. Subsequent information again represented the Constitution as regaining in some degree its lost ground. The people at large have been uniformly said to be more friendly to the Constitution than the Assembly. But it is probable that the dispersion of the latter will have a considerable influence on the opinions of the former. The previous adoption of nine States must have a very persuasive effect on the minds of the opposition, though I am told that a very bold language is held by Mr. H—;—;y and some of his partizans. Great stress is laid on the self-sufficiency of that State; and the prospect of external props is alluded to.

Congress have done no business of consequence yet, nor is it probable that much more of any sort will precede the event of the great question before the public.

The Assembly of Virginia have passed the district Bill of which I formerly gave you an account.(6) There are 18 districts, with 4 new Judges, Mr. Gabl Jones, Richd. Parker, St. George Tucker and Jos. Prentis. They have reduced much the taxes, and provided some indulgences for debtors. The question of British debts underwent great vicicitudes. It was after long discussion resolvd. by a majority of 30 agst. the utmost exertions of Mr. Henry that they sd. be paid as soon as the other States sd. have complied with the treaty. A few days afterwards he carried his point by a majority of 50 that G.B. should first comply. Adieu, Yrs. Affety., Js. Madison Jr

P.S. Mr. St. John(7) has given me a very interesting description of a System of Nature lately published at Paris—;will you add it for me. The Boxes which were to have come for myself, G.W. & A.D. &c have not yet arrived.

[Page 654]

RC (DLC: Madison Papers). Madison, Papers (Rutland), 10:518–;20.

1 For Jefferson’s October 8 letter of introduction for the comte de Moustier and his sister-in-law, the marquise de Bréhan, see ibid., pp. 187–;88.
2 The “publication” by Charles Alexandre de Calonne, who had been discharged as controller general of finance in April 1787, was apparently his defense of his tenure, Rêquete au Roi. Adressée à Sa Majesté, par M. de Calonne, Ministre d’État, published in London in 1787. See Jefferson, Papers (Boyd), 12:246–;47.
3 That is, the Mercure de France.
4 See Madison to Jefferson, December 20.
5 At this point in the manuscript Madison later inserted an asterisk to which he keyed at the bottom of the page: “see letter from Col. Davie to J.M.,” an apparent reference to a June 10, 1788, letter from William R. Davie discussing attitudes in North Carolina toward the Constitution, which is the only extant Davie letter in Madison’s papers.
6 That is, in his letter of December 9.
7 Michel-Guillaume St. Jean de Crèvecoeur.

Letters of Delegates to Congress: Volume 25 March 1, 1788-December 31, 1789
Cyrus Griffin to James Madison

My dear sir N. York 24 March 1788.

Before the date of this letter I hope you are gotten safe to Orange, and found all things in a situation the most agreeable.

We are still going forward in the same tract of Seven states, of course not a great deal can be done, and indeed not a great deal to do.

A prospect of the new Constitution seems to deaden the activity of the human mind as to all other matters; and yet I greatly fear that constitution may never take place; a melancholy Judgment most certainly—;and would to heaven that nothing under the Sun shall be more erroneous!

The adjournment of N. Hampshire, the small majority of Massachusets, a certainty of rejection in Rhode Island, the formidable opposition in the state of N. York, the convulsions and Committee meetings in Pennsylvania, and above all the antipathy of Virginia to the system, operating together, I am apprehensive will prevent the noble[Page 25]
[Page 26] fabrick from being enacted. The constitution is beautiful in Theory—;I wish the experiment to be made—;in my opinion it would be found a government of sufficient energy only.

Neither of the packets have yet arrived, and what has detained the french no one at this place can determine.

Not a word from our Ministers abroad.

Congress have taken final leave of the Chavalier by a very polite and friendly letter.

(1) The Marchioness is recovering rapidly, and the Count in good health; I mention them because they entertain a very exalted [opinion] of you and talk much upon that subject.
Daniel Shays and Eli Parsons have petitioned the Legislature of Massachusets for pardon—;and will succeed.

(2) The frequent attacks upon the post-office has produced the enclosed performance.

(3) The customary papers are sent to you within this cover. I am, my dear Sir, with friendship and Sincerity, your obedient Servant, C Griffin
RC (DLC: Madison Papers).

The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, Volume 1

…Samuel Adams. § 135a. The voluminous papers of Samuel Adams, in the possession of Mr. Bancroft, the free inspection of which he granted to me, enable an accurate estimate to be made of the character of this remarkable statesman, whose career they illustrate. In the series of large volumes in which this correspondence is entered are given not merely the letters he received during the Revolution, but drafts or copies of letters written by him. Not only are his political views here brought to light without reserve, but in his family letters and in the drafts and memoranda of papers issued or proposed to be issued by him his character, as well as his life, are exhibited with a fullness and naturalness which win entire confidence that we have here exhibited to us the man as he really was. And among his characteristics we discover the following:

Incorruptible in every sense of the term, desiring neither money nor office, and incapable of being swerved from his course by either; accustomed to live with great frugality, and so indifferent to money as to take no pains even to make it for his daily support, he gave untiring energy and single-hearted devotion to the assertion and maintenance of the liberty of the individual against authority. This principle he gathered from the Puritans by whom Massachusetts was settled, and like them he did not trouble himself with the inquiry how far the liberty of one man, if absolutely carried out, may not be a deprivation of liberty in others. Liberty of the individual was under all hazards to be secured and all sorts of despotisms overthrown. To enforce these views he used the town meetings of Massachusetts with skill and zeal that knew no abatement. The field was an admirable one for his purpose. At these meetings there were to be found many high spirited and determined men like himself by whom the cause of liberty was held deserving of every sacrifice, and by these men the town meetings were controlled, and from them delegates were elected to provincial assemblies and to committees of correspondence. In this way men of his own type were chosen as his associates in public affairs, and over them his influence was supreme.

When we read his correspondence we see the source of the elements of this influence. He controlled the elections; and such was his austere purity of character, so earnest and yet implacable his advocacy of the principles he maintained, so keen the logic with which he carried out these principles to their extremest consequences, that those who went to Congress under his auspices were apt to remain in it under his control.

But devotion so uncompromising to the liberty of the individual could not be limited to resistance to authority from abroad. By authority at [Page 515] home this principle could also be put in jeopardy. To him the town meeting was the primary guardian of liberty, and it was because Congress represented either town meetings, or the equivalent of town meetings, that he regarded it as a proper depository of power. But beyond this he would not go. He was for placing the entire direction of public affairs in the hands of congressional committees acting under the immediate direction of Congress; and he not only resolutely opposed the establishment of departments of finance and of foreign affairs, but when these departments were filled by the election of Morris and Livingston, he not only looked on these eminent men with distrust as intruders on the domain of popular rights, but he almost uniformly threw his influence against the measures they held necessary for the public good. Nor was this all. Washington was in military affairs more or less supreme; and while he respected Washington’s moral character and while he was not a participant in any cabal for his removal, yet he opposed almost every project which Washington thought necessary for military success, while he over and over again insisted that Washington’s “Fabian dilatoriness” should be overruled by peremptory congressional instructions to attack the enemy no matter at what odds. And the jealousy with which he watched Washington as the embodiment of military power appears from the frequent letters by and to him among his papers, in which the “Fabian policy” of the “great man” is disapproved and his measures for building up the army objected to. And this may be attributed not so much to personal opposition to Washington as to his dislike of executive authority and to his acceptance of the view, elsewhere commented on, that in revolutions heroic and impetuous force is rather embarrassed than aided by the arts of military and diplomatic science, and the mechanism constructed by these arts it can sweep aside by its natural onslaught.

With Franklin Samuel Adams had little correspondence; but among his papers are numerous letters from Arthur Lee, Richard H. Lee, and William Lee, charging Franklin with dissoluteness, disloyalty, and peculation; and when it was known that Arthur Lee’s continuance in the French legation would make Franklin’s position intolerable, Samuel Adams voted not only to retain Arthur Lee, but to humiliate Franklin by a resolution declaring him to be engaged in “dissensions” in that legation.

The position of Congress when led by Samuel Adams, especially on the question of enlistments, was not unlike that of the Parliament of 1654 when led by Bradshaw. In both cases legislation deemed essential by the executive was refused. In letters written by confidential agents of the British Government in 1781 and the early part of 1782 it was said that Washington’s only course in order to sustain himself would be to follow the example of Cromwell and dissolve and even imprison the contumacious legislators; and it was further said that if Washington took this course he would be supported by the army. But Cromwell’s dissolution [Page 516] of parliamentary government was followed in a few years by a restoration of the Stuarts. Washington’s submission to the legislative action, however unwise that action was, was followed in a few years by the call of a Constitutional Convention, of which he was president, and by the adoption of the Constitution of the United States.

Two causes, after the war was over, contributed greatly to modify Samuel Adams’ jealousy of executive power. In the first place the Continental Congress fell into a decrepitude which drew from him a reluctant confession that it was as a body incapable of administering the federal affairs of the Colonies, and that for such purposes a stronger federal government should be instituted. In the second place Shay’s rebellion showed that by town meetings the affairs of States could not be satisfactorily governed, and that a stronger State government was necessary to preserve the peace than that which previously had been his ideal. He adopted, as the result of this experience, the position that both federal and State governments, as co-ordinate sovereign powers, should be supreme in their particular orbits. Hence it was that he accepted the federal Constitution as reported by the Constitutional Convention, on the understanding that amendments should be adopted giving additional security to individual liberty and State sovereignty; and that, when these amendments were passed in substance as he proposed, he gave the Constitution his cordial support. Hence also it was that as governor of the State, in 1794, 1795, 1796, he was resolute in maintaining the supremacy of State law as much against popular tumult on the one side as federal aggression on the other. Yet till his death, in 1803, he maintained, while loyally accepting the federal Constitution, and accepting, though not until after long experience, the necessity of investing the executive and judiciary with powers in their fundamental relations co-ordinate with the legislature, he watched with his old jealousy any encroachment of authority, whether federal or State, over the limits of the law, and he continued to regard England as she then was with the same distrust with which his Puritan predecessors had regarded England under Charles II and he himself had regarded England under Lord North. This brought him into antagonism with the federalists, by whom his election as governor was opposed, and caused him to doubt the wisdom of Jay’s treaty and to support Jefferson’s candidacy for the presidency. His life then fell into three distinct eras:

(1) That of rightful organization of popular power to overthrow the British rule.
(2) That of the wrong-headed diversion of these forces for the obstruction of the building up an adequate revolutionary government.
(3) That of the rightful and harmonious adjustment of popular and of administrative power, which he advocated and enforced after the perfection of the Constitution of the United States.

The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787 [Farrand’s Records, Volume 3]
CCCXLI. James Madison to J. G. Jackson.2

[Note 2: 2 Documentary History of the Constitution, V, 312–315.]

Montpr. Decr. 27-1821.

With respect to that portion of the mass, which contains the voluminous proceedings of the Convention, it has always been my intention that they should some day or other see the light. But I have always felt at the same time the delicacy attending such a use of them; especially at an early season. In general I have leaned to the expediency of letting the publication be a posthumous one. The result of my latest reflections on the subject, I cannot more conveniently explain, than by the inclosed extract from a letter* confidentially written since the appearance of the proceedings of the Convention as taken from the Notes of Chf: Juste Yates.

[Note *: * See letter of the of Sepr. 1821. to Ths. Ritchie [CCCXL].]

Of this work I have not yet seen a copy. From the scraps thrown [Page 449]into the Newspapers I cannot doubt that the prejudices of the author guided his pen, and that he has committed egregious errors at least, in relation to others as well as to myself.

That most of us carried into the Convention a profound impression produced by the experienced inadequacy of the old Confederation, and by the monitory examples of all similar ones ancient & modern, as to the necessity of binding the States together by a strong Constitution, is certain. The necessity of such a Constitution was enforced by the gross and disreputable inequalities which had been prominent in the internal administrations of most of the States. Nor was The recent & alarming insurrection headed by Shays, in Massachusetts without a very sensible effect on the pub: mind. Such indeed was the aspect of things, that in the eyes of all the best friends of liberty a crisis had arrived which was to decide whether the Amn. Experiment was to be a blessing to the world, or to blast for ever the hopes which the republican cause had enspired; and what is not to be overlooked the disposition to give to a new System all the rigour consistent with Republican principles, was not a little stimulated by a backwardness in some quarters towards a Convention for the purpose, which was ascribed to a secret dislike to popular Govt. and a hope that delay would bring it more into disgrace, and pave the way for a form of Govt. more congenial with Monarchical or aristocratical predilections.

This view of the crisis made it natural for many in the Convention to lean more than was perhaps in strictness warranted by a proper distinction between causes temporary as some of them doubtless were, and causes permanently inherent in popular frames of Govt. It is true also, as has been sometimes suggested that in the course of discussions in the Convention, where so much depended on compromise, the patrons of different opinions often set out on negociating grounds more remote from each other, than, the real opinions of either were from the point at which they finally met.

For myself, having from the first moment of maturing a political opinion, down to the present one, never ceased to be a votary of the principle of self-Govt: I was among those most anxious to rescue it from the danger which seemed to threaten it; and with that view was willing to give to a Govt. resting on that foundation, as much energy as would ensure the requisite stability and efficacy. It is possible that in some instances this consideration may have been allowed a weight greater than subsequent reflection within the Convention, or the actual operation of the Govt. would sanction. It may be remarked also that it sometimes happened that opinions as to a particular modification or a particular power of the Govt. had [Page 450] a conditional reference to others which combined therewith would vary the character of the whole.

But whatever might have been the opinions entertained in forming the Constitution, it was the duty of all to support it in its true meaning as understood by the Nation at the time of its ratification. No one felt this obligation more than I have done; and there are few perhaps whose ultimate & deliberate opinions on the merits of the Constitution, accord in a greater degree with that obligation.

. “In Massachusetts a law was passed for making real and per sonal estate a tender in the discharge of executions and actions commenced at law. Other laws were also passed, considered oppressive; one for collecting former taxes not paid in certain specified articles; and another for rendering processes of law less expensive. The distress which prevailed in the country at length produced insurrections. In August, nearly fifteen hundred insurgents assembled under arms at Northampton, and took possession of the court-house. Their object was to prevent the sittings of the court of common pleas, and of course, the issuing of executions under these obnoxious law. The governor issued a proclamation, calling on the citizens to suppress such treasonable proceedings; but his proclamation was utterly disregarded. In the next month, a scene similar to that at Northampton was acted at Worcester. A body of men, exceeding three hundred, assembled and compelled the court there sitting to adjourn.

“Nor was Massachusetts the only state where a disposition to insurgency manifested itself. In New Hampshire a large body of malcontents assembled at Exeter, where the general assembly of the state was convened, and surrounding the house where they were in session, held them prisoners for several hours. The insurrection here was soon crushed by the energetic measures of the government. The leader of the malcontents in Massachusetts was Daniel Shays. At the head of three hundred men, he marched into Springfield, where the supreme judicial court was in session, and took possession of the court-house. He then appointed a committee, who waited on the court with an order couched in the humble form of a petition, requesting them not to proceed to business; and both parties retired. The number of insurgents increased; the posture of affairs became alarming; and an army of 4000 men was at length ordered out for their dispersion. This force was placed under the command of General Lincoln. His first measure was to march to Worcester; and he afforded such protection to the court at that place, that it resumed and executed the judicial functions. Orders were given to General Shepard to collect a sufficient force to secure the arsenal at Springfield. Accordingly, he raised about 900 men, which were reinforced by 300 militia from the county of Hampshire. At the head of his force, he marched as directed, to Springfield.

“On the 25th of January, Shays approached at the head 1100 men. Shepard sent out one of his aids to know the intention of the insurgents and to warn them of their danger. Their answer was that they would have the barracks, and they proceeded to within a few hundred yards of the arsenal. They were then informed that the militia were posted there by order of the governor; and that they would be fired upon, if they approached nearer. They continued to advance, when General Sbepard ordered his men to fire, but to direct their fire over their heads; even this did not intimidate them, or retard their movements. The artillery was then levelled against the centre column, and the whole body thrown into confusion. Shays attempted in vain to rally them. They made a precipitate retreat to Ludlow, about ten miles from Springfield. Three men were killed and one wounded. They soon after retreated to Petersham; but General Lincoln pursuing their retreat, they finally dispersed.

“Some of the fugitives retired to their homes; but many, and among them their principal officers, took refuge in the states New Hampshire, Vermont and New York.

“Commissioners were appointed by the government of Massachusetts, empowered to promise pardon, on certain conditions, to all concerned in the rebellion. Several hundreds received the benefit of the commission. Fourteen only were sentenced to death, and these were afterwards pardoned.”

[HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES OR REPUBLIC OF AMERICA: EXHIBITED IN CONNEXION WITH ITS CHRONOLOGY & PROGRESSIVE GEOGRAPHY; BY MEANS OF A SERIES OF MAPS: The first of which shows the country as inhabited by various tribes of Indians at the time of its discovery, and the remainder, its state at different subsequent epochas; so arranged, as to associate the principal events of the history and their dates with the places in which they occurred: arranged on the plan of teaching History adopted in Troy Female Seminary. DESIGNED FOR SCHOOLS AND PRIVATE LIBRARIES. OFFERED TO THE PUBLIC BY EMMA WILLARD, PRINCIPAL OF TROY FEMALE SEMINARY. NEW YORK: WHITE, GALLAHER & WHITE. 1828.Pg. 270-71] .

Very interesting, isn’t it? Now We The People of today can see the exact reasons why our forebears demanded our right be secured from all government intrusions in our constitution.

As is readily gathered from the above evidence, those that had participated in Shay’s Rebellion were guilty of the high felonious crime of treason. (Just as all those that had participated in our Revolution; according to valid British law.) And yet those people that had participated in Shay’s had been restored their arms. Which makes the words in the restrictive clause; shall not be infringed, mean precisely that which was written.

This evidence of course makes all past, present and future ‘gun control’ laws most definitely null and void. Especially the Felon-In-Possession statute; (18 U.S.C. § 921),the Misdemeanor Domestic Violence statute; (18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9)) and all other ‘restrictions’. It cannot possibly be argued to the contrary; for those perverse laws are clear violations of Amendment II of the U.S. Constitution.

We The People cannot be deprived of a Constitutionally secured natural right. We can only be punished for the abuse or misuse of that right. And there is plenty of legal commentary which proves that beyond all shadow of doubt. Some of which springs from the U.S. Supreme Court itself.