Deficiencies of the Confederation

CHAPTER 5 | Document 28

David Humphreys to Thomas Jefferson

29 Nov. 1788Jefferson Papers 14:300--301

There has been an extraordinary revolution in the sentiments of men, respecting political affairs, since I came to America; and much more favorable in the result than could then have been reasonably expected. At the close of the war, after the little season of unlimited credit was passed, the people in moderate circumstances found themselves very much embarrassed by the scarcity of money, by debts and taxes. They affected to think that the part of Society composed of men in the liberal professions and those who had considerable property were in combination to distress them, and to establish an Aristocracy. Demagogues made use of these impressions to procure their own elections and to carry their own schemes into execution. Lawyers, in some States, by these artifices, became indiscriminately odious. In others men of the strongest local prejudices and narrowest principles had the whole direction of the affairs of their States. You will feel the force of this assertion the more readily, when you shall have been informed that the same Genl. Wadsworth, who was in Congress with you at Annapolis became, in conjunction with two or three of his Subalterns the director of every political measure in Connecticut; and prevented, in almost every instance, a compliance with the Requisitions of Congress. On the other part, great numbers of those who wished to see an efficient foederal government prevail, began to fear that the bulk of the people would never submit to it. In short some of them, who had been utterly averse to Royalty, began to imagine that hardly anything but a king could cure the evil. It was truly astonishing to have been witness to some conversations, which I have heard. Still all the more reasonable men saw that the remedy would be infinitely worse than the disease. In this fluctuating and irritable situation the public mind continued, for some time. The insurrection in Massachusetts was not without its benefits. From a view of the impotence of the general government, of the contempt in which we were held abroad and of the want of happiness at home, the Public was thus gradually wrought to a disposition for receiving a government possessed of sufficient energy to prevent the calamities of Anarchy and civil war; and yet guarded, as well as the nature of circumstances will admit, so as to prevent it from degenerating into Aristocracy, Oligarchy or Monarchy. True it is, that honest and wise men have differed in sentiment about the kind of checks and balances which are necessary for this purpose: but equally true it is that there is not an honest and wise man who does not see and feel the indispensable necessity of preserving the Union.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 1, Chapter 5, Document 28
The University of Chicago Press

The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Edited by Julian P. Boyd et al. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950--.

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