[Rushtalk] George Washington On Free Enterprise

John A. Quayle blueoval57 at verizon.net
Sat Jan 26 19:51:52 MST 2013

The Federalist Papers

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Franklin, Articles of Beliefs and Acts of 
Adams, Notes for an oration at Braintree, Full Text, (Spring 1772)

George Washington, Letter to Benjamin Harrison, October 1784

Straub On November 29, 2012 · 
Comments · In 

George Washington Portrait
Upon my return from the western Country a few 
days ago, I had the pleasure to receive your 
favor of the 17th. ulto. It has always been my 
intention to pay my respects to you before the 
chance of another early and hard winter should 
make a warm fireside too comfortable to be 
relinquished. And I shall feel an additional 
pleasure in offering this tribute of friendship 
and respect to you, by having the company of the 
Marqs. de la Fayette, when he shall have 
revisited this place from his Eastern tour; now every day to be expected.

I shall take the liberty now, my dear sir, to 
suggest a matter, which would (if I am not too 
shortsighted a politician) mark your 
administration as an important era in the Annals 
of this Country, if it should be recommended by 
you, and adopted by the Assembly.It has been long 
my decided opinion that the shortest, easiest, 
and least expensive communication with the 
invaluable and extensive Country back of us, 
would be by one, or both of the rivers of this 
State which have their sources in the Apalachian 
mountains. Nor am I singular in this opinion. 
Evans, in his Map and Analysis of the middle 
Colonies which (considering the early period at 
which they were given to the public) are done 
with amazing exactness. And Hutchins since, in 
his topographical description of the Western 
Country, (a good part of which is from actual 
surveys), are decidedly of the same sentiments; 
as indeed are all others who have had 
opportunities, and have been at the pains to 
investigate and consider the subject.

But that this may not now stand as mere matter of 
opinion or assertion, unsupported by facts (such 
at least as the best maps now extant, compared 
with the oral testimony, which my opportunities 
in the course of the war have enabled me to 
obtain); I shall give you the different routs and 
distances from Detroit, by which all the trade of 
the North Western parts of the United territory, 
must pass; unless the Spaniards, contrary to 
their present policy, should engage part of it; 
or the British should attempt to force nature by 
carrying the trade of the upper Lakes by the 
river Outawaies into Canada, which I scarcely 
think they will or could effect. Taking Detroit 
then (which is putting ourselves in as 
unfavourable a point of view as we can be well 
placed, because it is upon the line of the 
British territory) as a point by which, as I have 
already observed, all that part of the trade must 
come, it appears from the statement enclosed, 
that the tide waters of this State are nearer to 
it by 168 miles than that of the river St. 
Lawrence; or than that of the Hudson at Albany by 176 miles.

General George Washington portrait
Maryland stands upon similar ground with 
Virginia. Pennsylvania altho’ the Susquehanna is 
an unfriendly water, much impeded it is said with 
rocks and rapids, and nowhere communicating with 
those which lead to her capital; has it in 
contemplation to open a communication between 
Toby’s Creek (which empties into the Alleghany 
river, 95 miles above Fort Pitt) and the west 
branch of Susquehanna; and to cut a canal between 
the waters of the latter, and the Schuylkill; the 
expence of which is easier to be conceived than 
estimated or described by me. A people however, 
who are possessed of the spirit of commerce, who 
see, and who will pursue their advantages, may 
achieve almost anything. In the mean time, under 
the uncertainty of these undertakings, they are 
smoothing the roads and paving the ways for the 
trade of that western World. That New York will 
do the same so soon as the British Garrisons are 
removed, which are at present, insurmountable 
obstacles in their way, no person who knows the 
temper, genius, and policy of those people as 
well as I do, can harbour the smallest doubt.

Thus much with respect to rival States; let me 
now take a short view of our own; and being aware 
of the objections which are in the way, I will 
enumerate, in order to contrast them with the advantages.

The first and principal one is, the unfortunate 
Jealousy, which ever has and it is to be feared 
ever will prevail, lest one part of the State 
should obtain an advantage over the other part 
(as if the benefits of trade were not diffusive 
and beneficial to all); then follow a train of 
difficulties viz: that our people are already 
heavily taxed; that we have no money; that the 
advantages of this trade are remote that the 
mostdirect rout for it is thro’ other States, 
over whom we have no controul; that the routs 
over which we have controul, are as distant as 
either of those which lead to Philadelphia, 
Albany or Montreal; That a sufficient spirit of 
commerce does not pervade the citizens of this 
commonwealth; that we are in fact doing for 
others, what they ought to do for themselves.

Without going into the investigation of a 
question, which has employed the pens of able 
politicians, namely, whether trade with 
Foreigners is an advantage or disadvantage to a 
country. This State as a part of the confederated 
States (all of whom have the spirit of it very 
strongly working within them) must adopt it, or 
submit to the evils arising therefrom without 
receiving its benefits; common policy therefore 
points clearly and strongly, to the propriety of 
our enjoying all the advantages which nature and 
our local situation afford us; and evinces 
clearly that unless this spirit could be totally 
eradicated in other States, as well as in this, 
and every man made to become either a cultivator 
of the Land, or a manufacturer of such articles 
as are prompted by necessity, such stimulas 
should be employed as will force this spirit; by 
shewing to our Countrymen the superior advantages 
we possess beyond others; and the importance of 
being upon a footing with our Neighbours.

If this is fair reasoning, it ought to follow as 
a consequence, that we should do our part towards 
opening the communication with the fur and peltry 
trade of the Lakes; and for the produce of the 
Country which lies within; and which will, so 
soon as matters are settled with the Indians, and 
the terms on which Congress means to dispose of 
the Land, and found to be favourable, are 
announced, settle faster than any other ever did, 
or any one would imagine. This then when 
considered in an interested point of view, is 
alone sufficient to excite our endeavours; but in 
my opinion, there is a political consideration 
for so doing, which is of still greater importance.

I need not remark to you Sir, that the flanks and 
rear of the United States are possessed by other 
powers, and formidable ones too; nor how 
necessary it is to apply the cement of interest, 
to bind all parts of the Union together by 
indissoluble bonds, especially that part of it, 
which lies immediately west of us, with the 
middle States. For, what ties, let me ask, shou’d 
we have upon those people? How entirely 
unconnected with them shall we be, and what 
troubles may we not apprehend, if the Spaniards 
on their right, and Gt. Britain on their left, 
instead of throwing stumbling blocks in their way 
as they now do, should hold out lures for their 
trade and alliance. What, when they get strength, 
which will be sooner than most people conceive 
(from the emigration of foreigners who will have 
no particular predilection towards us, as well as 
from the removal of our own citizens) will be the 
consequence of their having formed close 
connexions with both, or either of those powers 
in a commercial way? It needs not, in my opinion, 
the gift of prophecy to foretell.

President George Washington Sitting
The Western settlers, (I speak now from my own 
observation) stand as it were upon a pivot; the 
touch of a feather, would turn them any way. They 
have look’d down the Mississippi, until the 
Spaniards (very impoliticly I think, for 
themselves) threw difficulties in their way; and 
they looked that way for no other reason, than 
because they could glide gently down the stream; 
without considering perhaps, the fatigues of the 
voyage back again, and the time necessary to 
perform it in; and because they have no other 
means of coming to us but by a long Land 
transportation and unimproved roads. These causes 
have hitherto checked the industry of the present 
settlers; for except the demand for provisions, 
occasioned by the increase of population, and a 
little flour which the necessities of Spaniards 
compel them to buy, they have no incitements to 
labour. But smooth the road once, and make easy 
the way for them, and then see what an influx of 
articles will be poured upon us; how amazingly 
our exports will be encreased by them, and how 
amply we shall be compensated for any trouble and 
expence we may encounter to effect it.

A combination of circumstances makes the present 
conjuncture more favourable for Virginia, than 
for any other State in the Union, to fix these 
matters. The jealous and untoward disposition of 
the Spaniards on one hand, and the private views 
of some individuals, coinciding with the general 
policy of the Court of Great Britain, on the 
other, to retain as long as possible the Posts of 
Detroit, Niagara, and Oswega &c. (which, tho’ 
done under the letter of the Treaty, is certainly 
an infraction of the spirit of it, and injurious 
to the Union) may be improved to the greatest 
advantage by this State; if she would open the 
avenues to the trade of that Country, and embrace 
the present moment to establish it. It only wants 
a beginning; the Western Inhabitants wou’d do 
their part towards its execution. Weak as they 
are, they would meet us at least half way, rather 
than be driven into the arms of, or be made 
dependant upon foreigners; which would, 
eventually, either bring on a separation of them 
from us, or a war between the United States and 
one or the other of those powers, most probably with the Spaniards.

The preliminary steps to the attainment of this 
great object, would be attended with very little 
expence, and might, at the same time that it 
served to attract the attention of the Western 
Country, and to convince the wavering Inhabitants 
thereof of our disposition to connect ourselves 
with them, and to facilitate their commerce with 
us, would be a mean of removing those jealousies 
which otherwise might take place among ourselves.

These, in my opinion are; to appoint 
Commissioners, who from their situation, 
integrity and abilities, can be under no 
suspicion of prejudice or predilection to one 
part more than to another. Let these 
Commissioners make an actual survey of James 
river and Potomack from tide-water to their 
respective sources. Note with great accuracy the 
kind of navigation, and the obstructions in it; 
the difficulty and expence attending the removal 
of these obstructions; the distances from place 
to place thro’ the whole extent; and the nearest 
and best Portages between these waters and the 
Streams capable of improvement which run into the 
Ohio; traverse these in like manner to their 
junction with the Ohio, and with equal accuracy. 
The navigation of this river (i.e., the Ohio) 
being well known, they will have less to do in 
the examination of it; but nevertheless, let the 
courses and distances of it be taken to the mouth 
of the Muskingum, and up that river 
(notwithstanding it is in the ceded lands) to the 
carrying place with Cayahoga; down the Cayahoga 
to Lake Erie, and thence to Detroit. Let them do 
the same with big Bever creek, although part of 
it is in the State of Pennsylvania; and with the 
Scioto also. In a word, let the Waters East and 
West of the Ohio, which invite our notice by 
their proximity, and the ease with which Land 
transportation may be had between them and the 
Lakes on one side, and the rivers Potomac and 
James on the other, be explored, accurately 
delineated, and a correct and connected Map of 
the whole be presented to the public. These 
things being done, I shall be mistaken if 
prejudice does not yield to facts; jealousy to 
candour, and finally, that reason and nature thus 
aided, will dictate what is right and proper to be done.

In the mean while, if it should be thought that 
the lapse of time which is necessary to effect 
this work, may be attended with injurious 
consequences, could not there be a sum of money 
granted towards opening the best, or if it should 
be deemed more eligible, two of the nearest 
communications, one to the Northward and another 
to the Southward, with the settlements to the 
westward? And an act be passed (if there should 
not appear a manifest disposition in the Assembly 
to make it a public undertaking) to incorporate, 
and encourage private Adventurers if any should 
associate and sollicit the same, for the purpose 
of extending the navigation of Potomac or James 
river? And, in the former case, to request the 
concurrence of Maryland in the measure. It will 
appear from my statement of the different routs 
(and as far as my means of information have 
extended, I have done it with the utmost 
candour), that all the produce of the settlements 
about Fort Pitt can be brought to Alexandria by 
the Yohoghancy in 304 Miles; whereof only 31 is 
land transportation: And by the Monongahela and 
Cheat river in 300 miles; 20 only of which are 
land carriage. Whereas the common road from Fort 
Pitt to Philadelphia is 320 miles, all Land 
transportation; or 476 miles, if the Ohio, Toby’s 
Creek, Susquehanna and Schuylkill are made use of 
for this purpose: how much of this is by land, I 
know not; but from the nature of the Country it 
must be very considerable. How much the interests 
and feelings of people thus circumstanced would 
be engaged to promote it, requires no illustration.

General George Washington
For my own part, I think it highly probable, that 
upon the strictest scrutiny (if the Falls of the 
Great Kanhawa can be made navigable, or a short 
portage be had there), it will be found of equal 
importance and convenience to improve the 
navigation of both the James and Potomac. The 
latter I am fully persuaded, affords the nearest 
communication with the Lakes; but James river may 
be more convenient for all the settlers below the 
mouth of the Gt. Kanhawa, and for some distance 
perhaps above, and west of it: for I have no 
expectation that any part of the trade above the 
falls of the Ohio will go down that river and the 
Mississippi, much less that the returns will ever 
come up them; unless our want of foresight and 
good management is the occasion of it. Or upon 
trial, if it should be found that these rivers, 
from the beforementioned Falls, will admit the 
descent of Sea vessels; in which case, and the 
navigation of the former’s becoming free, it is 
probable that both vessels and the cargoes will 
be carried to foreign markets and sold; but the 
returns for them will never in the natural course 
of things, ascend the long and rapid current of 
that river; which with the Ohio to the Falls, in 
their meanderings, is little if any short of 2000 
miles. Upon the whole, the object, in my 
estimation is of vast commercial and political 
importance: in these lights I think posterity 
will consider it, and regret (if our conduct 
should give them cause) that the present 
favourable moment to secure so great a blessing for them, was neglected.

One thing more remains, which I had like to have 
forgot, and that is the supposed difficulty of 
obtaining a passage tho’ the State of 
Pennsylvania. How an application to its 
Legislature would be relished, in the first 
instance, I will not undertake to decide; but of 
one thing I am almost certain, such an 
application would place that body in a very 
delicate situation. There is in the State of 
Pennsylvania at least 100,000 souls west of the 
Laurel hill, who are groaning under the 
inconveniences of a long land transportation; 
they are wishing, indeed they are looking for the 
improvement and extension of inland navigation; 
and if this cannot be made easy for them, to 
Philada (at any rate it must be lengthy), they 
will seek a mart elsewhere; the consequence of 
which would be, that the State, tho’ contrary to 
the policy and interests of its Sea-ports, must 
submit to the loss of so much of its trade, or 
hazard not only the trade but the loss of the 
Settlement also; for an opposition on the part of 
Government to the extension of water 
transportation, so consonant with the essential 
interests of a large body of people, or any 
extraordinary impositions upon the exports or 
imports to, or from another State, would 
ultimately bring on a separation between its 
Eastern and Western Settlements; towards which, 
there is not wanting a disposition at this moment 
in that part of it, which is beyond the 
mountains. I consider Rumsey’s discovery for 
working Boats against stream, by mechanical 
powers (principally) as not only a very fortunate 
invention for these States in general, but as one 
of those circumstances which have combined to 
render the present epocha favourable above all 
others for fixing, if we are disposed to avail 
ourselves of them, a large portion of the trade 
of the Western Country in the bosom of this State irrevocably.

Lengthy as this letter is, I intended to have 
written a fuller and more digested one, upon this 
important subject, but have met with so many 
interruptions since my return home, as almost to 
have precluded my writing at all. What I now give 
is crude; but if you are in sentiment with me, I 
have said enough; if there is not an accordance 
of opinion I have said too much and all I pray in 
the latter case is, that you will do me the 
justice to believe my motives are pure, however 
erroneous my judgment may be on this matter, and 
that I am with the most perfect esteem etc.

George Washington Quote, A people however, who are possessed of

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