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CHAP. I. in addition to the general advantages to be drawn
1783 from the measure, he laboured, in his letters to the 1787. members of that body, to establish the opinion,
that the surveys he recommended would add to the revenue, by enhancing the value of the lands offered for sale. “Nature,” he said, “ had made such an ample display of her bounties in those regions, that the more the country was explored, the more it would rise in estimation.”
The assent and co-operation of Maryland being indispensable to the improvement of the Poto. mac, he was equally earnest in his endeavours to impress a conviction of its superior advantages on influential individuals in that state. In doing so, he detailed the measures which would unquestionably be adopted by New York and Pennsylvania, for acquiring the monoply of the western commerce, and the difficulty which would be found in diverting it from the channel it had once taken. “I am not,” he added, “ for discouraging the exertions of any state to draw the commerce of the western country to its sea ports. The more communications we open to it, the closer we bind that rising world, (for indeed it may be so called) to our interests, and the greater strength shall we acquire by it. Those to whom nature affords the best communication, will, if they are wise, enjoy the greatest share of the trade. All I would be understood to mean, therefore, is, that the gifts of Providence may not be neglected.”
But the light in which this subject would be viewed with most interest, and which gave to it
most importance, was its political influence on CHAP. I. the union. “I need not remark to you sir,” said 1783 he in his letter to the governor of Virginia, “that ar the flanks and rear of the United States are pos. sessed by other powers,... and formidable ones too: nor need I press the necessity of applying the cement of interest to bind all parts of the union together by indissoluble bonds,...especially of binding that part of it which lies immediately west of us, to the middle states. For what ties, let me ask, should 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 Great Britain on their left, instead of throwing impediments in their way as they now do, should hold out lures for their trade and alliance? when they get strength, which will be sooner than most people conceive, what will be the consequence of their having formed close commercial connexions with both, or either of those powers ? it needs not in my opinion, the gift of prophecy to foretell.
“The western settlers (I speak now from my own observations) stand as it were, upon a pivot. The touch of a feather would turn them any way. Until the Spaniards (very unwisely as I think) threw difficulties in their way, they looked down the Mississippi,... 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 for its performance; and because they haye no other means of coming to us but
CHAP. I. by a long land transportation through unimproved 1783 roads." Letters of the same import were also 1787. addressed to the governor of Maryland, and to
other gentlemen in that state. To a member of the national legislature, he observed, “there is a matter which, though it does not come before congress wholly, is in my opinion of great political importance, and ought to be attended to in time. It is to prevent the trade of the western territory from settling in the hands either of the Spaniards or British. If either of these happen, there is a line of separation drawn between the eastern and western country at once, the consequences of which may be fatal. To tell any man of i nformation how fast the latter is settling, how much more rapidly it will settle by means of foreign emigrants who can have no particular predilection for us, of the vast fertility of the soil, of the population to which the country is competent, would be unnecessary; and equally unnecessary would it be to observe, that it is by the cement of interest alone we can be held together. If then the trade of that country should flow through the Mississippi or the St. Lawrence; if the inhabitants thereof should form commercial connexions, which we know lead to intercourses of other kinds, they would in a few years be as unconnected with us, as are those of South America.
“It may be asked how are we to prevent this ? Happily for us the way is plain. Our immediate interests, as well as remote political advantages, point to it; whilst a combination of circum. stances render the present time more favourable CHAP. I. than any other to accomplish it. Extend the 1783 inland navigation of the eastern waters ;...com. 1787. municate them as near as possible with those which run westward;... Open these to the Ohio;... open also such as extend from the Ohio towards lake Erie ;...and we shall not only draw the produce of the western settlers, but the peltry and furr trade of the lakes also, to our ports; thus adding an immense increase to our exports, and binding those people to us by a chain which never can be broken.”
The letter to the governor was communicated to the assembly of Virginia, and the internal improvements it recommended were zealously advocated by the wisest and most influential mem. bers of that body. While the subject remained undecided, general Washington, accompanied by the marquis de La Fayette, who had crossed the Atlantic, and had devoted a part of his time to the delights of an enthusiastic friendship, paid a. visit to the capital of the state. Never was reception more cordial, or more demonstrative of res. pect and affection, than was given to these beloved personages. But amidst the display of addresses and of entertainments which were produced by the occasion, the great business of promoting the internal improvements then in contemplation, was not forgotten; and the ardor of the moment was seized to conquer those objections to the plan, which yet lingered in the bosoms of those who could perceive in it no future advantages to compensate for the present expense.
CHAP. I. An exact conformity between the acts of Vir. 1783 ginia and of Maryland, being indispensable to the 1787. improvement of the Potomac, the friends of the
measure deemed it advisable to avail themselves of the same influence with the latter state, which had been successfully employed with the former; and a resolution was passed, soon after the return of general Washington to Mount Vernon, requesting him* to attend the legislature of Maryland, in order to agree on a bill which might receive the sanction of both states. This agreement being happily completed, the bills were enacted under which, works, capable of being rendered the most extensively beneficial of any thing yet attempted in the United States, have been nearly accomplished.
These acts were succeeded by one, which conveys the liberal wishes of the legislature, with a delicacy scarcely less honourable to its framers, than to him who was its object. The treasurer had been instructed to subscribe, in behalf of the state, for a specified number of shares in each company. Just at the close of the session, when no refusal of their offer could be communicated to them, a bill was suddenly brought in, which received the unanimous assent of both houses, authorizing the treasurer to subscribe for the benefit of general Washington, the same number of shares in each company as were to be taken for the state. To the enacting clause of this bill
* General Gates was associated with him in the mission.