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title:“George Mason to Patrick Henry”
authors:George Mason
date written:1783-5-6

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last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:41 a.m. UTC
retrieved:Dec. 1, 2023, 2:08 p.m. UTC

Mason, George. "Letter to Patrick Henry." The Papers of George Mason. Vol. 2. Ed. Robert A. Rutland. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1970. 769-73. Print.
Recipient's Copy, Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, N.Y.; Tr, Mason PApers, Library of Congress

George Mason to Patrick Henry (May 6, 1783)

Fairfax County Gunston-Hall May 6th. 1783.
Altho' it is a long Time since I had the Honour of hearing from you, I reflect, and ever shall reflect, with pleasure on our former Acquaintance, and the Proofs I have experienced of your Esteem & Friendship. I have enjoyed but indifferent Health since I retired from public Business. Shou'd I recover a better State of Health, and have just cause to think I can render any essential public Service, I shall return again to the Assembly.
I congratulate you, most sincerely, on the Accomplishment of what I know was the warmest Wish of your Heart, the Establishment of American Independence, and the Liberty of our Country. We are now to rank among the Nations of the World; but whether our Independence shall prove a Blessing or a Curse, must depend upon our own Wisdom or Folly, Virtue or Wickedness; judging of the future from the Past, the Prospect is not promising. Justice & Virtue are the vital Principles of republican Government; but among us, a Depravity of Manners & Morals prevails, to the Destruction of all Confidence between Man & Man. It greatly behoves the Assembly to revise several of our Laws, and to abolish all such as are contrary to the fundamental Principles of Justice; and by a strict Adherence to the Distinctions between Right & Wrong for the future, to restore that Confidence and Reverence in the People for the Legislature, which has been so greatly impaired by a contrary Conduct; and without which, our Laws can never be much more than a dead-Letter. It is in your Power, my dear Sir, to do more Good, and prevent more Mischief that any Man in this State; and I doubt not that you will exert the great Talents with which God has blessed you, in promoting the public Happiness & Prosperity.
We are told that the present Assembly intend to dissolve themselves, in order to make way for a General Convention, to newmodel the Constitution of Government. Will such a Measure be proper, without a Requisition from a Majority of the People? If it can be done without such Requisition, the Caprice of future Assemblys may repeat it, from time to time, until the Stability of the Constitution is totally destroyed, and Anarchy introduced in it's Stead. Or at any Rate, will it not be better to defer it a Year or two, until the present Ferment (occasioned by the late sudden Change) has subsided, and Men's Minds have had time to cool?
The People in this Part of the Country are made very uneasy by the Reports we have from below, that the Assembly will make some Laws or Resolutions, respecting British Debts, which may infringe the Articles of the Peace; under the mistaken Idea, that Great Britain will not risque a Renewal of the War, on account of such an Infraction of the Treaty. We see, by the late Public Papers, that the Terms of the Peace with America are so strongly censured in both Houses of Parliament, that it has occasioned, or will occasion, a total change in the Ministry. A new Ministry, averse to the Treaty, or even the Ministry who concluded it, might resent, and revenge an Infringement of it in any particular State, by Reprisals upon the Ships or Coasts of such State, or by sending two or three Frigates to intercept their Trade, without Danger of involving themselves in a new War; for the Power of War & Peace, and of making Treatys, being in Congress, and not in the separate States, any such act wou'd be considered as an unwarrantable Assumption of Power in the State adopting it; and we have no Reason to expect, that either the late belligerent Powers in Europe, or even the American States in general, wou'd make a common Cause of it. It is easy to foresee that, in such an Event, our Situation wou'd neither be safe, or honourable.
Had it been in the Power of the American Commissioners (which it certainly was not) to have abolished the British Debts here, it wou'd have been but short sighted Policy to have done so. The far-fetch'd Arguments, which have been used to shew the Distinction between this & other Wars, wou'd not have been approved, or comprehended, by the Bulk of Mankind; and with what Degree of Confidence cou'd foreign Merchants have ventured their Effects here, if upon any national Quarrel, they were liable to Confiscation? I cou'd have wished indeed that some reasonable time had been allowed for the Payment of British Debts, and that the Interest on them had been relinquished. As to the first, the Desire of the British Merchants to reinstate themselves in their Trade here, will probably prevent their pressing their Debtors; and as to the last, their Bond- Debts only will carry Interest. It is notorious that the Custom of giving Interest upon common Accounts was introduced by the Partiality of the Merchants, of whom the Jurys at the General Court were chiefly composed for several Years before the late Revolution. Under our present Circumstances, I think the Accounts of British Creditors may be safely trusted to the Virginia Jurys, without any Interposition of the Legislature. In Conversation upon this Subject, we sometimes hear a very absurd Question "If we are now to pay the Debts due to British Merchants, what have we been fighting for all this while?" Surely not to avoid our just Debts, or cheat our Creditors; but to rescue our Country from the Oppression & Tyranny of the British Government, and to secure the Rights & Liberty of ourselves, & our Posterity; which we have happily accomplished. The Ministry in Great Britain, & the Torys here, have indeed constantly accused us of engaging in the War to avoid the Payment of our Debts; but every honest Man has denyed so injurious a Charge with Indignation. Upon the Whole, we have certainly obtained better Terms of Peace than America had Cause to expect; all the great Points are ceded to us; and I can not but think it wou'd be highly dangerous and imprudent to risque a Breach of it.
The People here too are greatly alarm'd at a prevailing Notion, that those Men who have paid British Debts into the Treasury, in depreciated Paper-Money, instead of making up the real Value to their Creditors, will now attempt to throw the Difference upon the Shoulders of the Public, and levy it by Taxes upon the People. I shou'd hope that such an iniquitous Scheme will be rejected, with the Contempt it deserves. If it is adopted, it will probably cause some violent Convulsion; the People being determined, in many Parts of the Country, to form Associations against it, and to resist the Payment of any Taxes imposed on them for discharging the private Debts of Individuals.
I hope the Assembly will, as soon as they meet, postpone the Collection of the Taxes (which by an Act of last Session were to be paid in this present Month) until August or September. The War being ended, the Delay will occasion no material Inconvenience to the Public; and tho' it will not diminish the Revenue a Shilling, it will lessen the Taxes upon the People 100 per Ct. by enabling them to pay with one half the Tobo. or other Produce, which it wou'd at this time require. If the People are compelled to pay immediately, the Merchants, taking advantage of their Necessity, will keep down the Price of Tobo. in a Manner that may affect the Market thro' the whole Season; whereas if the Collection of the Taxes is postponed, the People will be under no Necessity of selling, until the Arrival of a great many Ships has increased the Demand, and raised the Price of Country-Produce. In short the immediate Collection of the Taxes will, in a great Measure, deprive the People of the Benefits of Peace this Year.
One of my sons, and one William Allison (who have in partnership, erected a Snuff Manufactory in this County) have presented a Petition to the Assembly for laying a Duty upon Snuff imported from foreign Countrys; the Reasons in support of it, being fully stated in their Petition, I will not trouble you with a Recapitulation; but I beg the Favour of you to examine the Petition, and if you think it just & reasonable, I flatter my self it will have your Support & Patronage.
My son George (who is still in Europe) desires me to present his most respectful Compliments to you, with his Thanks for the Testimonial you was so kind to give him under the Seal of the Commonwealth; it has been of great Service, in recommending him to the Notice of many Gentlemen of Rank & Fortune. I have lately received a letter from him, dated in Paris the 20th of February, in which he gives strong Hints of great Duplicity in some Articles of European Politics; such as he says he does not care to venture upon Paper that is to cross the Atlantic; but shall reserve the Communication, until he arrives in America; which he expects will be about the Beginning of July; and concludes with the following Expression. "I wish America wou'd put her Trust only in God, and herself, and have as little to do with the Politicks of Europe as possible." He tells me our old Friend Mazzey was then in Paris, and preparing to return to America.
I have Reason to appoligize for this long Epistle; but I hope your Candour will excuse it, and ascribe it to it's true Cause, the unfeign'd Esteem & Regard with which I am, dear Sir Your affectionate & obdt. Sert.

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