Log In Register

Source & Citation Info

title:“William Johnson to ______”
authors:William Johnson
date written:1802-1-16

permanent link
to this version:
last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:04 a.m. UTC
retrieved:Jan. 31, 2023, 2:14 p.m. UTC

Johnson, William. "Letter to ______." Supplement to Max Farrand's The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787. Ed. James H. Hutson. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987. 303-04. Print.
Transcript, Connecticut Historical Society

William Johnson to ______ (January 16, 1802)

Stratford August Dear Sir As I have no correspondent at Boston I presume the honor you did me last autumn to call upon me on your return from New York will be a sufficient apology for my acquainting you with a fact which my friends think I ought to communicate to some gentleman of the Mass. Legislature
In their excellant remonstrance to Congress on the surprising introduction of Louisiana into the union they observe that on enquiry they could not discover that the subject had ever been contemplated by the convention. That it was not actually mentioned in the convention is true, but the subject occurred to me in my comparing the government we were about to form with existing & antient republic's. & particularly that of Holland, which I observed had acquired territory but did not admit it into their union but governed it as a subordinate territory.1 And this as far as I can discover was the case with all the antient republic's, and Rome we know in this manner governed almost the whole of the then known world, by her proconsuls; though indeed she had the indiscretion to admit all Italy to the priviledges of the city & thereby sowed the seeds of her ruin. I then thought to mention the subject in the convention, but first, as was usual in every case committed the matter to my colleagues & stated the question to them in this manner viz. suppose G. B. should make war upon us & in the course of such war we should conquer Nova Scotia & retain it at a peace could this territory be admitted into the union? They both answered without hesitation, by no means it might be held & governed as a subordinate territory. Shall we make it a question before the convention as a subject for their deliberation? They both agreed it was a matter so obvious that it was not worth the while to trouble the convention with it. However I made it a subject of conversation among all the little parties of the members I was conversant with for some time after and I believe mentioned it on several committees but in no instance did I find any Gentleman who thought there would be any grounds for such an admission; or occasion for any provision of the convention with regard to it. For as is remarked in your remonstrance, it was the universal sense that our greatest danger of failure was from the great extent of the union so that I cannot doubt but had the subject been stated to the convention there would have been an unanimous vote against such an admission into the union, so that I was very much surprised when I saw the measure proposed in Congress & astonished when it was adopted. And give me leave to submit to your consideration whether the tenure in its very nature does not forbid it. Louisiana was held by France an absolute government as a subordinate territory in full & absolute dominion at the will of the sovereign, it was conveyed by that sovereign to the sovereign of the United States of America & vested in the sovereignty of the union in the same manner. Congress is not that sovereign (though some of its members at times act & speak as if they were so) but the agent of sovereignty with special limitations. Louisiana is not a free & independant state it is the property of the union the people are not citizens but subjects of the U. S. but the subject of the U . S. the objects & materials of our union were sovereign, free & independant states. Is it possible then that such a subordinate territory so holden could be united to a body so consisting of sovereign and independant States. (Would it not be more a juncture a union of the dead with the living) or had Congress power to take this property from the sovereigns & first to declare it a free and independant state & thus bring it into the union? I think not. Tis true there is a provision of the constitution that Congress may make new States—but out of what are they to make them? The subject before the convention & about which the provision was made was only free & independant states; it therefore amounted only to a power to divide the largest states & so modify parts of the union in point of government as should be most convenient & beneficial to the people. I am not sure this idea is not too metyphisical to be of any use but if ever the part I have stated or the idea relative to the tenure of Louisiana has any solidity in it you & your Friends (Blessed be God) a strong corps of intellect & wisdom united under a chief magistrate (whom I have the honor to know to be a Gentleman) of tried wisdom, integrity, & firmness will know how to apply them....

Resource Metadata