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title:“Fairfax County Freeholders' Address and Instructions to Their General Assembly Delegates”
authors:George Mason
date written:1783-5-30

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last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:23 a.m. UTC
retrieved:Dec. 9, 2023, 7:20 p.m. UTC

Mason, George. "Letter to Their General Assembly Delegates." The Papers of George Mason. Vol. 2. Ed. Robert A. Rutland. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1970. 779-82. Print.

Fairfax County Freeholders' Address and Instructions to Their General Assembly Delegates (May 30, 1783)

May 30, 1783
We have committed to you the greatest and most sacred trust, which a free people can repose in any of their fellow-citizens; the care of our dearest and most important interests, the protection of our rights and liberty, and the power of making, on our behalf, those laws by which we are to be governed, and this commonwealth preserved in safety and prosperity. And although we confide thoroughly in your integrity and attachment to the public good, yet we judge it expedient, at this critical and important season, to communicate to you our sentiments, and to exercise our undoubted right of instructing you, as our immediate Representatives in the Legislature.
And first, Gentlemen, we desire and expressly instruct you, that you give not your assent to, and on the contrary, that you oppose, to the utmost of your power, the smallest infraction of the late Treaty of Peace, either with respect to the payment of debts, or in any other matter whatsoever, whereby the public faith, solemnly pledged by the American Commissioners duly authorized, may be violated, and this country again involved in the calamities of war, or the danger of reprisals.
We also direct and instruct you, that you use your utmost endeavors to enact a law for repayment of the principal and interest to each and every individual, who hath paid paper money into the public treasury, in discharge of the debts due to British creditors, according to its real value in specie, to 'be adjusted by the legal scale of depreciation, at the time each sum was respectively placed in the Treasury; and that such debts, as well as all other private debts and contracts, be thereafter left to the common course of the laws of the land. And in case of any division of the House, upon either of these subjects, or upon any other important matter, whereby the rights of the people, and the safety of the Commonwealth may be endangered, the maxims of justice contravened, or the fundamental principles of the Constitution violated; we desire and instruct you to call for and cause to be published, the yeas and nays upon the state of the question, that so the people may, at least, be enabled to distinguish their country's foes from its friends, and hereafter to separate the tares from the corn.
We desire and instruct you, that you give not your assent to, and that you firmly oppose, granting any exclusive privileges or advantages in our trade, to any particular kingdom or nation, other than what may be stipulated in the Commercial Treaties concluded by the authority of Congress, it being the true and permanent interest of America to admit the trade of all nations, upon equal terms, without preference to any, further than the goodness and cheapness of their commodities may entitle them to. We desire and instruct you that you give not your assent to, and that you oppose, any further occlusion of the Courts of Justice; as withholding the due and regular administration of justice in any country, must loosen the bonds of society, corrupt the morals of the people, and tend to produce anarchy and public confusion. We desire and instruct you to oppose all future emissions of paper money; all interference of the Legislature in private contracts, they being properly cognizable in the judiciary departments of the State; all ex post facto laws, except such only as are warranted by the greatest emergencies, and the plain principles of justice; and that you endeavour to procure a revisal or repeal of all laws, which may have been heretofore made, contrary to such principles.
We desire and instruct you to oppose any further delay in the collection of this year's taxes than will be absolutely necessary to give the people the benefit of this summer's market, for their commodities now on hand; all such delays being highly injurious to public credit.
We desire and instruct you to promote a strict enquiry into the expenditure of public money, and the bringing to speedy account and punishment all public delinquents and defaulters.
We desire and instruct you to endeavour to procure ample justice to the officers and soldiers of the American army; who though constantly surrounded with uncommon distress and difficulties, have so bravely defended the rights and liberties of their country.
We desire and instruct you that you assent not to, and that you oppose repealing the law for preventing extensive credits upon open accounts; and also that you assent not to, but oppose the imposition of any greater duty upon imported iron or cordage than shall be imposed upon other imported goods, for the reasons respectively given in our petitions to the Assembly upon these subjects.
We desire and instruct you strenuously to oppose all encroachments of the American Congress upon the sovereignty and jurisdiction of the separate States; and every assumption of power, not expressly vested in them, by the Articles of Confederation. If experience shall prove that further powers are necessary and safe, they can be granted only by additional articles to the Confederation, duly acceded to by all the States; for if Congress, upon the plea of necessity, or upon any pretence whatever, can arrogate powers not warranted by the Articles of Confederation, in one instance, they may in another, or in an hundred; every repetition will be strengthened and confirmed by precedents.
And in particular we desire and instruct you to oppose any attempts which may be made by Congress to obtain a perpetual revenue, or the appointment of revenue officers. Were these powers superadded to those they already possess, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitutions of Government in the different States would prove mere parchment bulwarks to American liberty.
We like not the language of the late address from Congress to the different States, and of the report of their committee upon the subject of revenue, published in the same pamphlet. If they are carefully and impartially examined, they will be found to exhibit strong proofs of lust of power. They contain the same kind of arguments which were formerly used in the business of ship money and to justify the arbitrary measures of the race of the Stuarts in England. And the present king and council of Great Britain might not improperly adopt great part of them, to prove the expediency of levying money without consent of Parliament. After having reluctantly given up part of what they found they could not maintain, they still insist that the several States shall invest the United States in Congress assembled with a power to levy, for the use of the United States, the following duties, &c., and that the revenue officers shall be amenable to Congress. The very style is alarming. The proposed duties may be proper, but the separate States only can safely have the power of levying taxes. Congress should not have even the appearance of such a power. Forms generally imply substance, and such a precedent may be applied to dangerous purposes hereafter. When the same man, or set of men, holds both the sword and the purse, there is an end of liberty. As little are we satisfied with the resolution of Congress of the 10th of October, 1780, lately renewed, engaging that the unappropriated lands "that may be ceded or relinquished to the United States by any particular States, shall be disposed of for the common benefit of the United States."1 Who is to judge of the quality and legality of pretended appropriations? And will this vague resolution be a sufficient bar to Congress against confirming the claims under Indian purchases, or pretended grants from the Crown of Great Britain, in which many of their own members are interested as partners, and by which great part of the ceded lands may be converted to private, instead of public purposes? The intrigues of the great land companies, and the methods by which they have strengthened their interest are no secret to the public. We are also at a loss to know whence Congress derives the powers of demanding cessions of lands and of erecting new States before such powers have been granted them by their constituents. And finally we recommend it to you (for in this we will not presume to give positive instructions) to endeavour to obtain an instruction from the General Assembly to the Virginia delegates in Congress, against sending ambassadors to the courts of Europe; it being an expence which (in our present circumstances) these United States are unable to support. Such appointments can hardly fail of producing dangerous combinations, factions, and cabals, in the great council of America. And from the great distance and the difficulty of knowing and examining their conduct, there is danger, too, that some of the persons so sent, may be corrupted and pensioned by the courts where they reside. We are of opinion, that consuls to superintend our trade (at less than a tenth part of the charge of ambassadors) will be sufficient to answer every good purpose. And nature having separated us, by an immense ocean, from the European nations, the less we have to do with their quarrels or politics, the better. Having thus, Gentlemen, given you our opinions and instructions, upon such subjects as we deem at this time most important, we remain, with sentiments of great respect and esteem, your friends and fellow-citizens.

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