Deficiencies of the Confederation

[Volume 1, Page 166]

CHAPTER 5 | Document 15

John Jay to George Washington

7 Jan. 1787MS Columbia Univ.

They who regard the public good with more attention and attachment than they do mere personal Concerns must feel and confess the Force of such Sentiments as are expressed in your Letter to me by Col. Humphreys last Fall. The Situation of our affairs calls not only for Reflection and Prudence but for Exertion. What is to be done? is a common Question, but it is a Question not easy to answer.

Would the giving any further degree of power to congress, do the Business? I am much inclined to think it would not for among other Reasons it is natural to suppose there will always be members who will find it convenient to make their Seats subservient to partial and personal purposes--and they who may be able and willing to concert and promote useful and national measures, will seldom be unembarrassed by the Ignorance, Prejudices, Fears or interested views of others.

In so large a Body secrecy and Dispatch will be too uncommon and foreign as well as local Influence will frequently oppose and sometimes frustrate the wisest measures. Large Assemblies often misunderstand or neglect the Obligations of Character, Honor and Dignity, and will collectively do or omit things which individual Gentlemen in private Capacities would not approve as the many divide blame and also divide Credit, too little a portion of either falls to each Mans Share to affect him strongly, even in Cases where the whole blame or the whole Credit must be national. It is not easy for those to think and feel as Sovereigns who have been always accustomed to think and feel as Subjects.

The executive Business of Sovereignty depending on so many Wills, and those wills moved by such a Variety of Contradictory motives and Enducements, will in general be but feebly done.

Such a Sovereign however theoretically responsible, cannot be effectually so [in] its Departments and Officers, without adequate judicatories.

I therefore promise myself nothing very desireable from any change which does not divide the Sovereignty into its proper Departments. Let Congress legislate--let others execute--let others judge.

Shall we have a King? Not in my opinion while other Expedients remain untried. Might we not have a Governor General limited in his Prerogatives and Duration? Might not Congress be divided into an upper and lower House--the former appointed for Life, the latter annually, and let the Governor general (to preserve the Ballance) with the Advice of a Council formed for that only purpose of the great judicial officers, have a Negative on their Acts? Our Government should in some Degree be suited to our Manners and Circumstances, and They you know are not strictly democratical.

What Powers should be granted to the Gov[ernmen]t so constituted is a Question which deserves much Thought. I think the more, the better--the States retaining only so much as may be necessary for domestic purposes and all their principal officers civil and military being commissioned and removable by the national Gov[ernmen]t.

These are short Hints. Details would exceed the Limits of a Letter and to you be superfluous.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 1, Chapter 5, Document 15
The University of Chicago Press