Journal of William Maclay/Third Session of the First Congress/Centralization of Power
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Centralization of Power
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January 1, 1791. — Neither Congress nor the Legislature of the State met this day. I went to settle some business with the Comptroller of the State, but he was equally complaisant to the day as the Government. I determined to do something since I was out, and called on my tailor, who took the amount of his bill. I then visited Hartley, who lies ill with his broken arm. Just as I passed the President's house, Griffin called to me and asked whether I would not pay my respects to the President. I was in boots and had on my worst clothes. I could not prevail on myself to go with him. I had, however, passed him but a little way when Osgood, Postmaster-General, attacked me warmly to go with him. I was pushed forward by him; bolted into the presence; made the President the compliments of the season; had a hearty shake by the hand. I was asked to partake of the punch and cakes, but declined. I sat down, and we had some chat. But the diplomatic gentry and foreigners coming in, I embraced the first vacancy to make my bow and wish him a good-morning.
I called next on the Governor of the State and paid my compliments, and so came home to my dinner; and thus have I commenced the year 1791.
January 2d. — Being Sunday, I stayed at home in the forenoon and attended at meeting in the afternoon. To worship once on the day devoted to the Deity is as small a compliment as decency can pay to the religion of any country, and a regard to health will prefer the after to the forenoon service at this season of the year, as the fire in the stoves has had then time to produce a greater effect in warming the house. I saw nobody this day, but received a letter from home by Colonel Cook.
January 3d. — Being Monday, I attended at the Hall early on a committee respecting the settlers on the Wabash and Mississippi. The business being tedious, the committee agreed to meet to-morrow morning at ten o'clock. We had a communication from the President with some nominations, and one from the Representatives respecting the Algerines. It was from Jefferson. It held out that we must either go to war with these piratical states, compound and pay them an annual stipend, and ransom our captives, or give up trade. The report seemed to breathe resentment, and abounded with martial estimates in a naval way. We have now fourteen unhappy men in captivity at Algiers. I wish we had them relieved, and the trade to the Mediterranean abandoned. There can be no chance of our wanting a market for our produce. At least, nothing of the kind has yet happened.
This day the Bank bill reported. It is totally in vain to oppose this bill. The only useful part I can act is to try to make it of some benefit to the public, which reaps none from the existing banks.
January 4th, Tuesday. — Attended early on the committee on the Wabash business. I could not help remarking the amazing predilection of the New England people for each other. There was no room for debate, but good sense and even Demonstration herself, if personified, would be disregarded by the wise men of the East if she did not come from a New England man.
The several bills were read this day, and business proceeded in the usual routine without any debate of consequence.
It was levee day. I dressed and did the duty of it. Handed a petition of Mr. Adlum's to Major Jackson. Nothing else of consequence happened. This petition business carried me there, and now I think, unless I am somehow called on, I will never see them more.
January 5th, Wednesday. — Attended early at the Hall to meet the committee, but they let me sit an hour without attending me. Strong had not made his draft of a report and was busy at it in the Secretary's office, and Elsworth would do nothing without him. But at last both drafts, Strong's and mine, were produced. I was ready to condemn my own when there was a shadow of objection, but even this conduct would not excite a particle of candor. I, however, cared but little, and was so well guarded that the smallest semblance of discontent did not escape me. General Dickinson came in. He took me to one side. "You have," said he, "enemies in this place. I dined yesterday with the Governor. He is your enemy. He said you will be hard run, and mentioned Smilie as being your competitor." I thanked him for the communication, nor could I do less, however indifferent I might be as to the event.
And now it is evident what plan has been chalked out at Boyd's. My brother overheard Matthew Irwin tell Findley that he (Findley) could command anything in the power of the people; that another man, whom my brother believed to be Smilie, could not do it so certainly; therefore, that Findley must depend on the people and the other one on the Legislature. Mr. Kenedy told my brother that Maclure wanted much to be in the Representatives, and the arrangement of districts which Findley read over at our lodgings plainly pointed out a nest for Mr. Lane — Franklin, Bedford, Mifflin, Huntington, and Northumberland Counties. Maclure is all-powerful in Franklin and Bedford, and has a son living and a considerable party attached to him in Huntington, so that the patriotism of all these three champions for liberty resolves itself into providing places for their accommodation.
I could add more names, evidently abstracted by the same principles, but the shortest way of completing the category is by determining the rule general, for I candidly confess I know not an exception among the present political figments of Pennsylvania. Avarice and ambition are the motives, while the cry of patriotism and the interest of the people are used as the ways and means of advancing their private ends. This peculiar malady is not peculiar to Pennsylvania. It is the disease of all popular governments. Nor does the fault seem to be in Nature. She certainly at all times produces stores of candid and ingenious characters; but these, generally modest and unassuming, are passed by in the ferment of popular elections, while the fiery and forward declaim on general grievances and pour forth their promises of redress. It is thus that ambitious men obtain the management of republics, and to this cause is, perhaps, owing their fall and declension throughout the world, for no selfish, ambitious man ever was a patriot.
January 6th, Thursday. — Nothing of consequence to the continent was transacted to-day, unless it was the report of the committee on the Algerine affair. The amount of it was:
First. The trade of the American States in the Mediterranean can not be supported without an armed force and going to war with them.
Secondly. This ought to be done as soon as the Treasury of the United States will admit of it. It is evident that war has been engaged in with the Indians on the frontiers in rather an unadvised manner, and it is also evident that there is a wish to engage us in this distant war with these pirates. All this goes to increase our burdens and taxes, and these in a debate of this day were called the only bonds of our Union. I will certainly oppose all this.
Dined this day with Mr. Bingham. I can not say that he affects to entertain in a style beyond everything in this place, or perhaps in America. He really does so. There is a propriety, a neatness, a cleanliness that adds to the splendor of his costly furniture and elegant apartments. I am told he is my enemy. I believe it. But let not malice harbor with me. It is not as William Maclay that he opposes me, but as the object that stands in the way of his wishes and the dictates of his ambitions, and on this principle he would oppose perfection itself.
January 7th. — Attended at the Senate as usual. We reported a bill for the Wabash and Illinois donation. Sundry other things were done in the usual routine of business. The Kentucky bill was taken up. I considered it so imperfectly drawn with respect to what were to be the boundaries of the new State that I opposed it, and there was much altercation on the subject, but entirely in the gentlemanly way. It ended in a postponement, with the consent of the Virginia member, Mr. Monroe.
Mr. Morris stayed out all the time of the debate. When the Senate adjourned he asked me to go and eat "pepper-pot" with him. I agreed, and accordingly dined with him en famille. I can not believe that he is my enemy with respect to my re-election; the thing is impossible. I chatted with the family till nearly dark, and came home, as I had an opportunity, with Mr. Hanna.
The human heart really is a strange machine. I certainly have severely felt the inconvenience of being from home these two years past, and my judgment plainly tells me that I am wrong in having submitted to it. Further, I can not help knowing that my re-election, with no friends and many enemies, is impossible; and yet, under all these circumstances, the man who expresses favorable wishes is by far the most acceptable to me. But upon the whole this is right. Good ought to beget gratitude; but oh, what a recollection is it that under such circumstances I am independent, or, in other words, that my manner of living has always been within my means!
A letter to Mr. Harris [the founder of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania]:
Philadelphia, January 8, 1791.
Dear Sir: Agreeably to your request I send you by Mr. Hanna £61:14:6 in State money of 1785, and 3,200 dollars in post notes of 100 dollars each, being 1,200 pounds; the whole amount which I received for your certificates was 1,275:13:5. The present remittance leaves a balance of £75:13:5 in my hands, from which deduct £9:15:0 paid for carpet, and £10:15:11 paid for groceries:
£75:13: 5 £9:15: 0 10:15:11 20:10:11 £55: 2: 6
This leaves a balance of £55:2:6 of your money in my hands, agreeably to an account current which I inclose. This balance I will pay you at any time.
As for newspapers and other occurrences I refer you to Mr. Hanna for them. The bills are all inclosed to you, and one which I paid to Edward Brooks, not put into my account, as you gave me four dollars for this purpose.
I am sir, with much regard, your most obedient servant,
I added a considerable deal more to my letter, and sent the $3,200 and the State money, £61:14:6, along with Mr. Hanna, who set off on Sunday morning. I find that Mr. Hanna or I made a mistake, and he has a note of $1.70 instead of $100. I have sent the note of $100 by Bobby Harris. This only lessens the balance I owe Mr. Harris to the value of the small note 13s. 6d.
£55: 2:6 Less, 13:6 Balance, £54: 9:0
January 9th, Sunday. — The most disagreeable of any day this year. I, however, went to meeting, and the consequence was a cold. Wrote letters to my family, and spent the after part of the day at home.
January 10th, Monday. — Attended at the Hall as usual. The Bank bill was the order of the day. I did not embark deeply, but was up two or three times. The debates were conducted in rather desultory manner. The objectors were Izard, Butler, and Monroe. A postponement took place.
January 11th, Tuesday. — The Bank bill taken up, and the debates became rather more close and interesting. I was up several times, but the debates were rather on collateral points than on the substance of the bill. The ostensible object held out by Butler and Izard were that the public should have all the advantages of the bank; but showed no foundation for this, no system, no plan or calculation. They were called on to show any, and were promised support if they could show any practicability in their system. Till after three o'clock was the matter, agitated, and a postponement broke up the business of the day.
January 12th, Wednesday. — The Bank bill was the business of this day, but Monroe called for a postponement of the subject, and succeeded. A bill was now called up respecting consuls and vice-consuls. This bill was drawn and brought in by Elsworth, and, of course, he hung like a bat to every particle of it. The first clause was a mere chaos — style, preamble, and enacting clause all jumbled together. It was really unamendable; at least, the shortest way to amend it was to bring in a new one.
This same Elsworth is a striking instance how powerful a man may be in some departments of the mind and defective in others. All-powerful and eloquent in debate, he is, notwithstanding, a miserable draftsman. The habits of the bar and the lists of litigation have formed him to the former; the latter is in a degree the gift of Nature.
I dined this day with Mr. Nicholson. The company: Mr. Montgomery, Smilie, B. McClenachan, T. Smith, Kittera, Hamilton, and others. Desultory conversation on a variety of subjects. I left them, for, from some hints, it seemed as if they meant to discourse of the appointment of a Senator, etc. A thought passed my mind that Nicholson, who has often expressed approbation of my conduct, had some hand in it. But I will not disgrace myself in this business. Circumstanced as I am, all the caballing and intrigue I could exercise would not be effectual. And suppose me successful, what am I to gain? Pain, remorse, vexation, and loss of health; for I verily believe that my political wrangles have affected my corporeal feelings so as to bring on, in a degree, my rheumatic indisposition. It is a melancholy truth, but I see plainly that even the best men will not emerge to office in republics without submitting, either directly or indirectly, to a degree of intrigue. It is not, perhaps, so much the case in monarchies, for even tyrants wish to be served with fidelity. Sed ubi plurima notent non ego paucis offendar maculis.
January 13th, Thursday. — This day the Bank bill was debated, but in so desultory a manner as not to merit the commitment of anything to paper.
This day I dined with General Dickinson. As I went there I fell in with Mr. Morris. He told me that Bingham had informed him great discontents prevailed in the General Assembly, and that they were about to instruct their Senators. He added that he was sure that Bingham had a hand in it.
The dinner was a great one, and the ladies, only three of whom attended, were richly or at least fashionably dressed. Nothing remarkable. I sat between two merchants of considerable note. I broached the subject of the bank, and found them magnetically drawn to the contemplation of the moneyed interest.
January 14th, Friday. — This day the bank engaged us to the hour of adjournment. It was limited to twenty years. Mr. Morris had yesterday declared that the public ought to subscribe on the same terms as other individuals. It was not so in the bill. I showed him an amendment to this purpose, and asked him to support me in it. He said Schuyler had told him that Hamilton said it must not be altered, but concluded. I will speak to Hamilton. Adjourned over till Monday.
January 15th, Saturday. — This was a very disagreeable day. I stayed at home and read Price on Annuities. I find he establishes an opinion which I had long entertained that women are longer-lived than men. This I used to charge to accidents and intemperance. But he goes further, and seems to place it in nature, as more males than females die in infancy.
January 16th, Sunday. — Went to meeting and caught some cold, as usual. Spent the residue of the day in reading.
January 17th, Monday. — This day Mr. Morris stayed very late. Langdon came and complained of him. "This is always his way. He never will come when there is any debate." He, however, came. I asked him whether he had called on Hamilton. No. I said I had a mind to move a recommitment, that the Secretary of the Treasury might be consulted and furnish the committee with calculations on this subject, as I had no doubt but he had such. He said he would move such a thing, but did not. The question was put on the clause. Several said ay. I got up; spoke longer than I intended; and made such a motion, but my colleague did not second me. I was seconded by Butler.
And now such a scene of confused speeches followed as I have seldom heard before. Every one affected to understand the subject, and undervalue the capacities of those who differed from himself. If my mental faculties and organs of hearing do not both deceive me, I really never heard such conclusions attempted to be drawn. I wanted some advantage to the United States. They were to subscribe two millions specie. Elsworth repeatedly said they were to do this only as a deposit, and I am convinced he wanted to deprive the public of all advantage save that of safe keeping and convenience in collecting which they could derive from the banks in existence as well as from any new one. All other persons had the power of subscribing three fourths in public securities. It was contended that this was nothing against the public, although it was admitted on all hands that six-per-cents were now at sixteen shillings in the pound. King, Elsworth, and Strong all harped on this string with the most barefaced absurdity that I ever was witness to in my life.
I am now more fully convinced than ever before of the propriety of opening our doors. I am confident some gentlemen would have been ashamed to have seen their speeches of this day reflected in the newspapers of to-morrow. We sat till a quarter after three, and adjourned without any question being put.
I know not whether this fear of taking the question did not arise from some pointed expressions which fell from me. I told them plainly that I was no advocate of the banking systems; that I considered them as machines for promoting the profits of unproductive men; that the business of the United States, so far as respected deposits, could be done in the present banks; that the whole profit of the bank ought to belong to the public, provided it was possible to advance the whole stock on her account. I was sorry that this at present was not possible. I would, however, take half, or I should rather, in the present case, say one fifth of the loaf rather than no bread. But I must remark that the public was grossly imposed upon in the present instance. While she advanced all specie, individuals advanced three fourths in certificates, which were of no more value in the support of the bank than so much stubble. To make this plain: Suppose the vaults empty, and a note presented for payment: would the bearer take certificates as specie? No, verily. Besides, the certificates were all under interest already, and it was highly unjust that other paper should be issued on their credit which bore a premium and operated as a further tax on the country.
January 18th, Tuesday. — This day the Bank bill was taken up again. I feel much reluctance to minute anything on this subject. I never saw the spirit of speculation display itself in stronger colors. Indeed, the guise of regard for the interest of the public was not preserved. Two millions of specie is to be subscribed in by the public. This is to be the basis of the bank; and the other subscribers, who are to draw dividends according to their subscriptions, are to pay three fourths in certificates. King evidently wanted, by a side-wind, to exclude the public from any dividend, under an idea which strangely inculcated that the subscription of the public was to be over and above the capital — ten millions — of the bank, and was to be considered as a deposit. A position which resolved itself into this: that the public should find the specie to support the bank while the speculators, who subscribe almost wholly in certificates, receive the profits of the dividends.
Morris gave me some marks of his malevolence. While I was up and speaking and saw well what I said, he said, loud enough to be heard over half the Chamber, "that I was mistaken." I varied the arguments a little; took new ground, and after placing them in what I thought an incontrovertible light, I concluded, "Here I am not mistaken." The point on which my mistake was charged was my alleging that the Bank of North America wrought but seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars. General Dickenson sat by me and was willing to be called on that they wrought but seven hundred and forty thousand dollars — ten thousand dollars less than I had mentioned. He is, however, a very good-natured man, and I would not call on him. He [General Dickenson] whispered to me: "This day the Treasury will make another purchase, for Hamilton has drawn fifteen thousand dollars from the bank in order to buy, as I suppose." What a damnable villain!
January 19th. — My brother went with me last night to the lodgings of Mrs. Bell and communicated to her the news of the death of her father. She manifested the most unbounded grief, so as to give distress to the bystanders. Death, Death, thou art a solemn messenger, and will take us all in rotation! But let me pause. What art thou? I have been so ill that I would have swallowed thee in an anodyne. Yes, when our joys leave us, when pain possesses all our feelings, thou art the grand composer of all our miseries, the last potion in the cup of life; and surely it need not be called a bitter one, for none ever complained after swallowing the draught. How little of the sweet and how deeply dashed with gall is the diet of life! Passes there a day in which we taste no of it!
This day the Bank bill passed all through. The last clause was caviled at. I supported it on the principle that any law containing a grant of any kind should be irrepealable. Laws touching the regulation of morals, manners, or property, are all made on the principle of experiment and accommodation to time and place; but when legislators make grants the deed should remain inviolate. Three opinions prevailed in the Senate respecting this bill; or rather, I should say, three motives of action. The most prevalent seemed to be to accommodate it to the views of the stockholders who may subscribe. The Potomac interest seem to regard it as a machine which, in the hands of the Philadelphians, might retard the removal of Congress. The destruction of it, of course, was their object. I really wished to make it as subservient to the public as possible. Though all professed this, yet I thought few gate themselves any trouble to promote it. I can not help adding a sincere wish that the integrity of the directors may make amends for the want of it in many of the legislators who enacted it. For, in the hands of bad men, it may be made a most mischievous engine; but, indeed, so may even the best of human institutions.
January 20th. — The business of this day was the third reading of the Bank bill. The same questions were agitated over again, but without heat. It was moved to reduce the limitation to ten years. I at one time thought this long enough, but I conversed on the subject with every moneyed man I could find, and they uniformly declared that they would not subscribe on so short a period, and the consequence would be that they would all join in supporting the old banks and bearing down the national one. I sincerely wish to derive a benefit to the public from the bank; and considering that the public are, in this respect, in the hands of the moneyed interest, I thought it best to agree to such a bargain as we could make, and accordingly voted against the motion. Accident threw me in the company with these men, but I abhor their design of destroying the bank altogether. Mr. Morris came very late this day — indeed, not until all the business was over — but he desired leave to have his vote inserted on the minutes, which was granted.
Dined with the President this day. Sundry gentlemen met me at the door, and, though I rather declined, they pushed me forward. After I had made my bows and was inclining toward a vacant seat, the President, who rose to receive me, edged about on the sofa as he sat down, and said, "Here is room." But I had put myself in motion for another vacant seat. A true courtier would have changed, but I am not one, and sat on the opposite settee or sofa with some New England men. At dinner, after my second plate had been taken away, the President offered to help me to part of a dish which stood before him. Was ever anything so unlucky? I had just before declined being helped to anything more% with some expression that denoted my having made up my dinner. Had, of course, for the sake of consistency, to thank him negatively. but when the dessert came, and he was distributing a pudding, he gave me a look of interrogation, and I returned the thanks positive. He soon after. asked me to drink a glass of wine with him. This was readily accorded to, and, what was remarkable, I did not observe him drink with any other person during dinner; but I think this must have been owing to my inattention.
Giles, the new member from Virginia sat next to me but one. I saw a speech of his in the papers, which read very well, and they say he delivers himself handsomely. I was, therefore, very attentive to him. But the frothy manners of Virginia were ever uppermost. Canvas-back ducks, ham and chickens, old Madeira, the glories of the Ancient Dominion, all fine, were his constant themes. Boasted of personal prowess; more manual exercise than any man in New England; fast but fine living in his country, wine or cherry bounce from twelve o'clock to night every day. He seemed to practice on this principle, too, as often as the bottle passed him. Declared for the assumption and excise, etc. He is but a young man, and seems as if he always would be so.
But after this digression let me turn to the unexpected incident of dining with the President and his marked attention to me. He knows the weight of political odium under which I labor. He knows that my uniform opposition to funding systems (at least to ours), assumptions, high compensation, and expensive arrangements have drawn on me the resentment of all speculators, public creditors, expectants of office, and courtiers in the State. There is another point which, I presume, he does not know, viz., that I will receive no support from the Republican or opposition party, for there is not a man of them who is not aiming at a six-dollar prize, and my place is the best chance in the wheel. But he knows enough to satisfy him that I will be no Senator after the 3d of March, and to the score of his good nature must I place these attentions. Be it so. It is, at least, one amiable trait in his character.
I have now, however, seen him for the last time, perhaps. Let me take a review of him as he really is. In stature about six feet, with an unexceptionable make, but lax appearance. His frame would seem to want filling up. His motions rather slow than lively, though he showed no signs of having suffered by gout or rheumatism. His complexion pale, nay, almost cadaverous. His voice hollow and indistinct, owing, as I believe, to artificial teeth before his upper jaw, which occasioned a flatness of —
[The following leaf, on which the rest of this description was written, has been torn out and is lost.]
January 21st, Friday. — This was a day of no great business in the Senate. Colonel Gunn, of Georgia, wanted copies of the secret journal. Much talk passed about his application. He was, however, gratified. In fact, we have never kept our journal agreeable to the Constitution. All the executive part has been kept secret without any vote for it. A committee is, however, appointed, and the matter will hereafter be under regulation.
We received some lengthy communications from Captain O'Brien and the prisoners at Algiers. A committee of the Senate some time ago recommended a war with them. War is often entered into to answer domestic, not foreign purposes. I fear such was the design of the present report. It was even talked how many ships should be fitted out and of what force. But O'Brien seems to show plainly that a peace may be mined on easy terms by furnishing them naval stores. We have it plainly also from his letters that the French, Danes, and, above all, the British, have done us all the injury in their power with rite Algerines. In fact, all who are at peace with them are decidedly against us, and have done us all the disservice they could. The former report was committed and these referred to them.
Mr. Morris came late and left us soon. We adjourned at about half after two o'clock. George Remsen, one of the clerks of the Treasury, returned from New York, where he had been sent by the Secretary [Hamilton]. Among his letters he pointed to a packet and said it contained ninety thousand dollars. How can I help believing that speculation was the object of his journey?
January 22d, Saturday. — The Speaker of the House of Representatives called on me yesterday; asked me to go and visit with him this day. I agreed, and called at his house about ten. He was, however, gone. His House sat this day, and this will be his excuse. I went to the Chamber of the State Representatives. The resolutions against the excise were the order of the day, and were passed by a great majority. The arguments were not important nor striking. Some ill-nature was expressed by Mr. Findley against a Mr. Evans.
I feel a sincere pleasure that so much independence has been manifested by the yeomanry of Pennsylvania. Indeed, I am fully satisfied that, if a spirit of this kind was not manifested from some quarter or another our liberties would soon be swallowed up.
I trifled away the rest of the day. Much as was said in the Chamber of Representatives, they seemed totally ignorant of the principle that seems to actuate the adherents of Hamilton. Taxes originally flowed from necessity. Ways and means follow contracted or unavoidable expense. Here the system seems reversed. The ways and means are obvious to every reader of a registry of European taxes. We have heads, we have slaves and cattle, and every article of European or Asiatic convenience or luxury is used among us. The difficulty is to find plausible pretext for extending the arm of taxation and ways and means to consume the collected treasures, and the reigning party seem to consider themselves as wanting in duty if the fiscal rent-roll should fall short of the royal revenues of England.
January, 23d, Sunday. — I had fairly devoted this day to my family in the way of writing letters, but, just as I had adopted the resolution, a message was brought me from Governor Langdon to go with him to meeting. This I could not refuse. Before I was half dressed I received a polite note from Mr. Morris to be one of his friends at a family dinner, and this I could not refuse; and, before I had quite dressed, Langdon called on me. We attended at Arch Street meeting.
Dined with Mr. Morris. The company: Judge Wilson, Governor St. Clair, General Butler. General Irwin was expected, but did not come. We were sociable, and I sat later than I usually do.
Mr. Wallis came into town this evening, but brought no letters, and now I hear that Charles Smith set off this day for Sunbury without giving me an opportunity of writing, or at least without my knowing of his departure. It is not handsomely done of either of them. But somebody else will do them a dirty trick; God forbid it should be my luck to do it!
I had told the Treasurer [Hamilton] some tine ago that I wanted to sell him some stock. When I came home from meeting I found a note from him importing that he would buy to-morrow. This, in a great measure, confirms my former suspicions with respect to the Treasury.
- The motion to limit the term of the bank to the year 1801 instead of 1811.
- The Senator's pay being six dollars per day.