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Washington's entry into New York...

[Detail] Washington's entry into New York...

For Lesson Three:
Letter from George Washington to Alexander Hamilton, September 7, 1792

NOTE: This is an excerpt. The full text version of Letter from George Washington to Alexander Hamilton, Septemeber 7, 1792 is in George Washington Papers, 1741-1799.

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The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799. John C. Fitzpatrick, Editor.--vol. 32


Mount Vernon, September 7, 1792.

Sir: The last post brought me your letter of the 1st instant, with the enclosures respecting the disorderly conduct of the Inhabitants of the Western Survey of the District of Pennsylvania, in opposing the execution of what is called the Excise Law; and of the insults which have been offered by some of them to the Officers who have been appointed to collect the duties on distilled spirits agreeably thereto.

Such conduct in any of the Citizens of the United States, under any circumstances that can well be conceived, would be exceedingly reprehensible; but when it comes from a part of the Community for whose protection the money arising from the Tax was principally designed, it is truly unaccountable, and the spirit of it much to be regretted.

The preliminary steps taken by you in ordering the Supervisor of the District to repair to the Survey where these disorders prevail, with a view to ascertain in person "the true state of the Survey; to collect evidences respecting the violences that have been committed, in order to a prosecution of the offenders; to ascertain the particulars as to the Meeting which appears to have been held at Pittsburg; to encourage the perseverance of the officers in their duty, and the well disposed inhabitants in discountenancing such violent proceedings &c. &c."46 are prudent and proper, and I earnestly wish they may have the desired effect. But if, notwithstanding, opposition is still given to the due execution of the Law, I have no hesitation in declaring, if the evidence of it is clear and unequivocal, that I shall, however reluctantly I exercise them, exert all the legal powers with which the Executive is invested, to check so daring and unwarrantable a spirit. It is my duty to see the Laws executed: to permit them to be trampled upon with impunity would be repugnant to it; nor can the Government longer remain a passive spectator of the contempt with which they are treated. Forbearance, under a hope that the Inhabitants of that Survey would recover from the delirium and folly into which they were plunged, seems to have had no other effect than to encrease the disorder.

[Note 46: As shown by Hamilton's letter of September 1, as printed in Hamilton's Works (J. C. Hamilton edition, New York: 1851), vol. 4, P. 285, the quotation properly ends with the word "officers," a line above. The original letter is not now found either in the Washington Papers or the Hamilton Papers in the Library of Congress.]

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  • Why does Washington believe it is important for the government to act?
  • According to Washington, what are the consequences of taking no action?
  • What is Washington referring to when he says "we may bid adieu to all government in this Country, except Mob and Club Govt."?
  • In Washington's view, once a law is passed by the Congress what is the responsibility of citizens?
  • According to Washington, to what extent was Citizen Edmund Genet, the French ambassador, responsible for the discontent in western Pennsylvania?

Go to the complete interview from which this excerpt was taken.