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The Jay Papers Ii: The Forging Of The Nation
States they were, united they were not; while their Secretary for Foreign Affairs sought to pull them together, Europe waited for them to fall apart
December 1968 | Volume 20, Issue 1
… I coincide perfectly in sentiment with you, my dear Sir, that there are errors in our National Government which call for correction,—loudly I will add; but I shall find myself happily mistaken if the remedies are at hand. We are certainly in a delicate situation, but my fear is that the people are not yet sufficiently misled to retract from error! To be plainer, I think there is more wickedness than ignorance, mixed with our councils. Under this impression, I scarcely know what opinion to entertain of a general Convention. That it is necessary to revise and amend the articles of Confederation, I entertain no doubt; but what may be the consequences of such an attempt is doubtful. Yet, something must be done, or the fabrick must fall. It certainly is tottering! Ignorance and design are difficult to combat. Out of these proceed illiberallity, improper jealousies, and a train of evils which oftentimes, in republican governments, must be sorely felt before they can be removed. … I think often of our situation, and view it with concern. From the high ground on which we stood, from the plain path which invited our footsteps, to be so fallen! so lost! is really mortifying. But virtue, I fear, has, in a great degree, taken its departure from our Land, and the want of disposition to do justice is the source of the national embarrassments. …
From Philadelphia, where he had gone to attend a church convention, Jay replied on June 27.
… Our affairs seem to lead to some Crisis, some Revolution, something that I cannot foresee or Conjecture. I am uneasy and apprehensive—more so than during the War. Then we had a fixed Object, and tho the Means and Time of attaining it were often problematical, yet I did firmly believe we should ultimately succeed because I was convinced that Justice was with us. The case is now altered, we are going and doing wrong and therefore I look forward to Evils and Calamities, but without being able to guess at the Instrument Nature or Measure of them. …
That we shall again recover, and things again go well, I have no Doubt. Such a Variety of Circumstances would not almost miraculously have combined to liberate and make us a Nation, for transient and unimportant Purposes. I therefore believe we are yet to become a great and respectable People, but when or how, the Spirit of Prophecy only can discern.
There doubtless is much Reason to think and to say that we are woefully and in many Instances wickedly misled. Private Rage for Property suppresses public Considerations, and personal rather than national Interests have become the great objects of Attention. Representative Bodies will ever be faithful Copies of their originals, and generally exhibit a chequered assemblage of virtue and vice, of abilities and weakness. The Mass of Men are neither wise nor good (and the same may be said of their representative Bodies) and the Virtue like the other Resources of a Country, can only be drawn to a point and exerted by Strong circumstances ably managed or strong Government ably administered. …
What I most fear is that the better kind of People—by which I mean the People who are orderly, and industrious, who are content with their Situations and not uneasy in their Circumstances, will be led by the Insecurity of Property, … the Loss of Confidence in their Rulers, and the want of public Faith and Rectitude, to consider the Charms of Liberty as imaginary and delusive. A State of Fluctuation and Incertainty must disgust and alarm such Men, and prepare their minds for almost any Change that may promise them quiet and Security (Some already whisper that it was not so before the War, and that it is a pity Britain forced us to set up Independence. But my dear Sir, we may Reason and toil as we please, he who made the World governs it.) …
Mount Vernon, 15th Aug., 1786