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Lift your lamp beside the golden door, Break not the golden rule, avoid well the golden calf, know; not all that glitters is gold, and laissez faire et laissez passer [let do and let pass] but as a shining sentinel, hesitate not to ring the bell, defend the gates, and man the wall

Saturday, April 10, 2010

John Jay's Letter To George Washington 6-27-1786

John Jay letter to George Washington, 27 June 1786

Philadelphia, 27 June, 1786.

Dkir Sir,

Being deputed, by the Church Convention of New York, to attend a general one, convened here, I brought with me your obliging letter of the 18th ultimo, that I might devote the first leisure hour to the pleasure of answering it.

Congress having freed the papers, of which the inclosed are copies, from injunctions of secrecy, and permitted the Delegates to make and send extracts from them to their different States, I think myself at liberty to transmit copies to you. These papers have been referred to me. Some of the facts are inaccurately stated, and improperly colored ; but it is too true that the treaty has been violated. On such occasions, I think it better fairly to confess and correct errors, than attempt to deceive ourselves and others by fallacious, though plausible, palliations and excuses. To oppose popular prejudices, to censure the proceedings, and expose the improprieties of States, is an unpleasant task ; but it must be done.

Our affairs seem to lead to some crisis; some revolution ; something that I cannot foresee, or conjecture. I am uneasy and apprehensive ; more so than during the war. Then we had a fixed object, and, though the means and time of attaining it were often problematical, yet I did firmly believe that we should ultimately succeed, because I was convinced that justice was with us. The case is now altered. We are going and doing wrong ; and therefore I look forward to evils and calamities, but without being able to guess at the instrument, nature, or measure of them. That we shall again recover, and things again go well, I have no doubt ; such a variety of circumstances would not almost miraculously have combined to liberate and make us a nation, for transient and unimportant purposes. I therefore believe we are yet to become a great and respectable people ; but when, or how, the spirit of prophecy only can discern.

There doubtless is much reason to think and to say, that we are wofully, and, in many instances wickedly, misled. Private rage for property suppresses public considerations; and personal, rather than national interests, have become the great objects of attention. Representative bodies will ever be faithful copies of their originals, and generally exhibit a checkered assemblage of virtue and vice, of abilities and weakness. The mass of men are neither wise nor good ; and the virtue, like the other resources, of a country, can only be drawn to a point by strong circumstances ably managed, or strong government ably administered. New governments have not the aid of habit and hereditary respect ; and, being generally the result of preceding tumult and confusion, do not immediately acquire stability or strength. Besides, in times of commotion, some men will gain confidence and importance, who merit neither ; and who, like political mountebanks, are less solicitous about the health of the credulous crowd, than about making the most of their nostrums and prescriptions.

New York was rendered less federal by the opinions of the late President of Congress. This is a singular, though not unaccountable fact. Indeed, human actions are seldom inexplicable. What I most fear is, that the better kind of people (by which I mean the people who are orderly and industrious, who are content with their situations, and not uneasy in their circumstances) will be led, by the insecurity of property, the loss of confidence in their rulers, and the want of public faith and rectitude, to consider the charms of liberty as imaginary and delusive. A state of uncertainty and fluctuation must disgust and alarm such men, and prepare their minds for almost any change that may promise them quiet and security.

Your letter to Mrs. Macaulay Graham is on the way to her, inclosed in one from me to Mr. Adams. I forget the name of the vessel. Be pleased to make my compliments to Mrs. Washington; and be assured that I am, with the greatest respect and esteem.

Dear Sir, &c.,
John Jay.

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