To Robert Morris November 20, 1782

To Robert Morris November 20, 1782

Second Street, PHILADELPHIA,


As I do not sit down with a design of making a fair copy of this letter, but only to communicate a few thoughts, you will, I hope, excuse what blotting or scratching there may be in the course of it.

I have made a beginning on the citizens of R[hode] I[sland] which will appear in Bradford’s and Claypoole’s Sunday’s papers, I intend to continue the subject to three Letters, as you will see by the conclusion of the first. The second will be on the convenience and equality of the Tax, and the third on the Union of the States. I shall not put the signature, Common Sense, to them, because I do not wish to bring them into more notice than there is occasion for. But I intend putting them under cover to the printers of the Providence paper, and that he may not grumble I shall pay the postage.

All these embarrassments are ascribable to the loose and almost disjointed condition of the Union. The States severally not knowing what each will do are unwilling to do anything themselves. But the point to be considered now is, whether we cannot make the inconvenience a foundation for a reform, by applying the inconvenience as a reason for it.

In our situation, as a republic, made up of many parts, there are matters Continental, others which are Statacal. The first, like the second, is easily conceived to divide itself into two parts, Executive and Legislative. Of the first kind (a Continental executive) is the right of war and peace, all foreign affairs, the direction of the Army and Navy when we have one, the ascertainment of expenses in the gross, and perhaps the quotoing them out in the several States. Of the second kind (Continental legislation) is the regulation of the Post Office, the regulation of Commerce and consequently of all taxes to be raised by commerce to, or from foreign parts, the right of making laws for treason against the United States, against forgery of Continental bills bonds or notes, and other matters (which are not many) in which all the States are interested alike and for which reason the law therefore must be alike in each.

The people in all the States have conceived an im[pro]priety, or rather what they call an inconsistency an imblending the executive with the legislative (I observe the objection is thrown out by the Citizens of R[hode] Ifsland] in the Freeman’s Journal of today) and I am apt to think that some of the embarrassments respecting the present duly arises from an idea, that Congress is pointing out the law itself, instead of calling for the sum only, slips into a legislative character.

Now in all matters of this kind which must be alike in all the States, to secure any one from having an unfair advantage taken of her situation by another, were Congress in the form of a message and recommendation to lay the matter with the necessity, propriety and advantage before the several States and summon, once a year or occasionally a legislature of 3 or 5 persons from each State, to meet and enact the law for and in behalf of the whole, and that to be the operating law for all. I think much of the difficulty would be got over and Congress stand in a much better and more exalted situation than at present, because being obliged now to act in cases where it is conceived they have not a delegated right, and subjects their whole authority to suspicious observation; and consequently to take from them the occasion of acting out of character, will establish their acting in character.

As the people of America do not feel themselves legislatively connected, and are not willing that Congress should supply it, they feel a link wanting in the chain of union which something like what I have mentioned might complete, because I would have all these sort of laws ceremoniously passed by a legislature summoned for the purpose. It would remove the present little and prevailing suspicion of the Executive powers.

But my immediate view in suggesting these thoughts to you is to find a way to carry us over the present difficulty with R[hode] I[sland]. I see a train of evils attending a rupture, and many inconveniences following from his present conduct.

But if you think these hints worthy of some attention, and should find on conversing with others, that they are of the same opinion, might it not be suggested to Rhode Island that it is in contemplation to recommend to the State to depute a number from their bodies for the express purpose of deliberating upon, and framing such a law as shall operate with equal justice over all, inferring at the same time the necessity of her cordially going hand and hand with the States as far as they have already gone, and refer herself in common with the rest to a legislative decision of the whole.

My third Number will be particularly calculated to ENJOIN THE NECESSITY OF A STRONGER UNION, FOR AT PRESENT WE HANG SO LOOSELY TOGETHER THAT WE ARE IN DANGER OF HANGING ONE ANOTHER; and it appears to me more likely that the Union may be strengthened by the adoption of another Cord, than by twisting a new strand into the old one.

Before I publish my third Letter, I should be glad of an opportunity of talking the subject over. Mr. Livingston once mentioned to me that I should see an occasion of taking up the subject of the Confederation, and as this letter has a reference thereto, I wish when you have an opportunity that you would show it [to] him.

As I bargained with you for blots and blunders, I close with reminding you of it. I have just time to close my letter and that is all. It is now past eight O’clock, the 20th of November which is the anniversary of the evacuation of Fort Lee in which I had my share of difficulties and I am going to spend the evening with a Whig of that year who was in the same situation.

I am Sir Your Obedient Humble Servant,