To George Washington Annapolis, Mar. 15, 1784
-- Since my last nothing new has occurred, I suppose
the crippled state of Congress is not new to you. We have only 9
states present, 8. of whom are represented by two members each, and
of course, on all great questions not only an unanimity of States but
of members is necessary. An unanimity which never can be obtained on
a matter of any importance. The consequence is that we are wasting
our time & labour in vain efforts to do business. -- Nothing less
than the presence of 13. States, represented by an odd number of
delegates will enable us to get forward a single capital point. The
deed for the cession of Western territory by Virginia was executed &
accepted on the 1'st instant. I hope our country will of herself
determine to cede still further to the meridian of the mouth of the
great Kanhaway. Further she cannot govern; so far is necessary for
her own well being. The reasons which call for this boundary (which
will retain all the waters of the Kanhaway) are
- That within that
are our lead mines.
- This river rising in N. Carola traverses our
whole latitude and offers to every part of it a channel for
navigation & commerce to the Western Country, but
- It is a channel
which can not be opened but at immense expense and with every
facility which an absolute power over both shores will give.
- This river & it's waters forms a band of good land passing along our whole
frontier, and forming on it a barrier which will be strongly seated.
- For 180 miles beyond these waters is a mountainous barren which
can never be inhabited & will of course form a safe separation
between us & any other State.
- This tract of country lies more convenient to receive it's government from Virginia than from any
- It will preserve to us all the upper parts of Yohogany & Cheat rivers within which much will be done to open these
which are the true doors to the Western commerce.
The union of this navigation with that of the Patowmac is a subject on which I
mentioned that I would take the liberty of writing to you. I am sure
it's value and practicability are both well known to you. This is
the moment however for seizing it if ever we mean to have it. All
the world is becoming commercial. Was it practicable to keep our new
empire separated from them we might indulge ourselves in speculating
whether commerce contributes to the happiness of mankind. But we
cannot separate ourselves from them. Our citizens have had too full
a taste of the comforts furnished by the arts & manufactures to be
debarred the use of them. We must then in our defence endeavour to
share as large a portion as we can of this modern source of wealth &
power. That offered to us from the Western Country is under a
competition between the Hudson, the Patowmac & the Missisipi itself.
Down the last will pass all heavy commodities. But the navigation
through the gulf of Mexico is so dangerous, & that up the Missisipi
so difficult & tedious, that it is not probable that European
merchandize will return through that channel. It is most likely that
flour, lumber & other heavy articles will be floated on rafts which
will be themselves an article of sale as well as their loading, the
navigators returning by land or in light batteaux. There will
therefore be a rivalship between the Hudson & Patowmac for the
residue of the commerce of all the country Westward of L. Erie, on
the waters of the lakes, of the Ohio & upper parts of the Missisipi.
To go to N. York, that part of the trade which comes from the lakes
or their waters must first be brought into L. Erie. So also must
that which comes from the waters of the Missisipi, and of course must
cross at some portage into the waters of the lakes. When it shall
have entered L. Erie it must coast along it's Southern Shore on
account of the number & excellence of it's harbours, the Northern,
tho' shortest, having few harbours & these unsafe. Having reached
Cuyahoga, to proceed on to N. York will be 970 miles from thence &
five portages, whereas it is but 430 miles to Alexandria, if it turns
into the Cuyahoga & passes through that, Big beaver, Ohio, Yohogany
(or Monongahela & Cheat) & Patowmac, & there are but two portages.
For the trade of the Ohio or that which shall come into it from it's
own waters or the Missisipi, it is nearer to Alexandria than to New
York by 730 miles, and is interrupted by one portage only. Nature
then has declared in favour of the Patowmac, and through that channel
offers to pour into our lap the whole commerce of the Western world.
But unfortunately the channel by the Hudson is already open & known
in practice; ours is still to be opened. This is the moment in which
the trade of the West will begin to get into motion and to take it's
direction. It behoves us then to open our doors to it. I have
lately pressed this subject on my friends in the General assembly,
proposing to them to endeavor to have a tax laid which shall bring
into a separate chest from five to ten thousand pounds a year, to be
employed first in opening the upper waters of the Ohio & Patowmac,
where a little money & time will do a great deal, leaving the great
falls for the last part of the work. To remove the idea of
partiality I have suggested the propriety & justice of continuing
this fund till all the rivers shall be cleared successively. But a
most powerful objection always arises to propositions of this kind.
It is that public undertakings are carelessly managed and much money
spent to little purpose. To obviate this objection is the purpose of
my giving you the trouble of this discussion. You have retired from
public life. You have weighed this determination & it would be
impertinence in me to touch it. But would the superintendence of
this work break in too much on the sweets of retirement & repose? If
they would I stop here. Your future time & wishes are sacred in my
eye. If it would be only a dignified amusement to you, what a
monument of your retirement would it be! It is one which would
follow that of your public life and bespeak it the work of the same
great hand. I am confident that would you either alone or jointly
with any persons you think proper be willing to direct this business,
it would remove the only objection the weight of which I apprehend.
Tho' the tax should not come in till the fall, it's proceeds should
be anticipated by borrowing from some other fund to enable the work
to be begun this summer. When you view me as not owning, nor ever
having a prospect of owning one inch of land on any water either of
the Patowmac or Ohio, it will tend to apologize for the trouble I
have given you of this long letter, by showing that my zeal in this
business is public & pure. The best atonement for the time I have
occupied you will be not to add to it longer than while I assure you
of the sincerity & esteem with which I have the honour to be D'r. Sir
Your most obedient & most humble servt.
P. S. The hurry of time in my former letter prevented my
thanking you for your polite & friendly invitation to Mount Vernon.
I shall certainly pay my respects there to Mrs Washington & yourself
with great pleasure whenever it shall be in my power.