THE WRITINGS OF JAMES MONROE
INCLUDING A COLLECTION OF HIS PUBLIC AND PRIVATE PAPERS AND CORRESPONDENCE NOW FOR THE FIRST TIME PRINTED
STANISLAUS MURRAY HAMILTON
“Protected by our Union, the bulwark of our safety, let us unite, on
sound principles, in exertions to confirm our republican system : to amend
its defects where it has any, and to increase the spirit of harmony so necessary
to the welfare of societies and the happiness of individuals.”- MONROE.
G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS
117 WEST TWENTY THIRD STREET
24 BEDFORD STREET, STRAND
THE KNICKERBOCKER PRESS
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TO THE SPEAKERS OF THE HOUSE OF DELEGATES, AND OF THE SENATE.
RICHMOND 7th December 1801.
SIR,—The Executive has not been unmindful or inattentive to the duties of the department since your last session. It has endeavored in the discharge of them to satisfy the just claims of an enlightened publick. To the immediate representatives of the people in the General Assembly, a free communication on those and other interesting subjects is due, which I have now the honor to make…On a presumption that it would be satisfactory to the General Assembly to know the progress which had been made in the improvement of the interior navigation of thecountry under the laws that were passed to promote it, I requested the President and Directors of the several companies to report a correct statement of what had been performed in their respective departments, and have the pleasure to communicate to you the information which was received on the subject. It appears that this highly important undertaking has been carried on with an activity and zeal becoming the boldness of the design. The obstructions to the navigation of the great rivers the Potowmack and James are almost entirely removed; and the communication between the waters of Elizabeth river and Pasquotank is likewise almost completed. By these improvements the river Potowmack will be made navigable from the falls to George’s creek, thirty miles west of fort Cumberland, and more than two hundred above the tide; the river James to Crow’s ferry about the same distance westward of its falls, in both instances through a very fertile country. The communication between the waters of Chesapeake and Pasquotank opens a navigation, which is likewise very extensive, and through a country equally fertile. The Legislature will not fail to appreciate fully the importance of these improvements to the general interest of the commonwealth. They will immediately perceive how many thousands of our citizens will be benefitted by them! how great the facility which they give to commerce! how vast the amount of the produce which they invite to Market I how great their ornament to our country! The measures of improvement which I have thought it my duty tobring to your view especially in the interior navigation of our country, and the publick buildings in this city, are proofs of a policy which is equally respectable for its wisdom and liberality. They exhibit an elevation of mind and a foresight which become the representatives of freemen. They are obviously the offspring of the same spirit which inspired the people of America with the bold design to undertake and the courage to achieve their ever memorable revolution. It is a spirit which ought never to become inactive, but should be cherished, excited and directed to its proper object, the publick good. It is the duty of the patriot to inquire- is no part of our police yet imperfect, is there nothing to be done the accomplishment of which may in any degree promote the interest of society? The enquiry passes in review events and incidents which cannot otherwise than yield much consolation to the philanthropist, much cause for grateful acknowledgment to the supreme Author of all things for the manifold blessings which he has been pleased to confer on this highly favored and very happy country. The principles on which our ancestors colonized here, by precluding hereditary distinctions, placed man on the elevated ground he was destined to hold by his Creator; and nothing occurred from that period to the great epoch of our independence, which tended to disqualify him for or make him unworthy to hold it. The vices of the old world had not reached us. The contaminating influence of the executive power was not felt. Our growth in the interval was rapid beyond example, inevery stage of which the simplicity and purity of our early manners and institutions were equally conspicuous; a simplicity and purity which adorned our youth, and invigorated our manhood. When the moment arrived which was to degrade and humiliate the American people to a condition with the slaves of the East, or present to the world the extraordinary spectacle of an independent power in this hemisphere, with the example of a government founded in a great measure on new principles, they proved themselves equal to the crisis. They declared themselves an independent people, and by an heroic exertion made themselves so. Thus our governments were soon formed out of pre-existing materials, in which we were equally aided by the melancholy example of past times and the instructive light of modern sages. A profound system of revision and legislation followed, by means whereof whatever of the unequal feudal usages of Europe had crept into our Code was expunged, so that our political revolution was scarcely completed when our more important institutions in government and laws, which were adapted to it, were completed also, being alike founded on and protecting the equal rights of man.
I have adverted to the struggle for our independence and the happy consequences resulting from it, not for the sake of exultation, for that would be unworthy the character of a generous people. As far as our lot may justly be considered the happiest among nations, so far it becomes us to sympathize in the misfortunes of our fellow men in other countries.Nor have I adverted to it for the sole purpose of paying a just tribute of respect to the courage, virtues, and talents of my country-men which were so eminently displayed on those occasions, many of whom have paid the debt of nature and gone to repose. My chief object has been to bring into view what was already done to promote the happiness of our country, that we might more distinctly perceive what was yet to be done which might in any degree contribute to that important end. The Legislature has already bestowed its attention and passed laws on some subjects which it is presumed have not produced in all respects the good effect that was intended by them. I think it my duty to bring these subjects to your view, that in case the General Assembly should be of opinion that the provisions made were defective, its wisdom might supply the remedy which the publick good required. The subjects to which I refer are the education of our youth, the discipline of our militia, and the regulation of our roads and bridges; subjects which are highly interesting to the community, and intimately connected with those which precede.
In a government founded on the sovereignty of the people the education of youth is an object of the first importance. In such a government knowledge should be diffused throughout the whole society, and for that purpose the means of acquiring it made not only practicable but easy to every citizen. To preserve the sovereignty in the hands of the people it is not necessary, however desirable, that every person should be qualified to fill every office in the State. It issufficient that the mass of the people possess a correct knowledge of the principles of the government, of their duties and those of their representatives, and that they be attentive to the performance of them. While the people are faithful to themselves their servants will be faithful to them also. It is only when the people become ignorant and corrupt that their representatives forget their duty and aspire to the sovereignty. In such a government education should not be left to the care of individuals only. Being a high publick concern, it ought to be provided for by the government itself. It has at all times been deemed the duty of established governments to attend to the means of their preservation, and their practice to adopt such provisions as were thought best adapted to the purpose. In governments whose sovereignty is vested in an individual or a few, in which experience has shewn that the germ of perpetual discord and dissension exists, resort is usually had for their protection, to standing armies, fleets, and other expensive establishments.
It has been the policy of those in power in such governments, to fortify themselves against the people, who are the object of their terror, with the same care as against a foreign enemy. Ought not then the people to be equally attentive to the preservation of the sovereignty in their hands? Or is the charge of education more burdensome than that of fleets and armies, or the effect produced by it, in the improvement of the condition of mankind less grateful to a benevolent mind? It is believed that no measure which can be adopted would contribute more to thesecurity of free government, or to the harmony of its movements, than a well planned system of instruction. A people well informed on the subject of their rights, their interests, and their duties would never fall into the excesses which proved the ruin of the ancient republicks. They would not, like the mob of Athens, dishonor themselves, or their cause, by insurrections, or other acts of violence, which put to hazard or called in question the practicability of their system. If their representatives pursued a policy which they disapproved they would never lose sight of their interest or dignity to gratify unruly passions. A wake to their duty they would evince their attachment to government by an obedience to the law while it existed; but would rally at their posts on the day of election to rid themselves of obnoxious measures by dismissing from their service undeserving men.
In other views much may be urged in favor of the measure which is proposed. It is presumed that the advantage of such a regulation would be felt by almost every citizen in the Commonwealth; that those to whom fortune has been more indulgent of her favor would not profit less by it than the poor. At present a considerable sum is expended annually by the citizens of every county in the education of youth. The poorest citizen contributes something to the instruction of his offspring. There is scarce an inhabitant of our country so lost to the claims of nature and to every just and generous sentiment as to abandon his children to brutal ignorance. The wealthy contribute large sums to that object, since they are compelled generally toentertain tutors at home or send their children to be educated at a distance, in either case at great expense. It cannot be doubted if the sum which is now expended in every county in the education of youth, was collected into one fund and committed to the care of discreet agents, they would be able to procure excellent instructors, and establish seminaries in every neighbourhood. It is possible the expense might be less than it now is. It is certain that by the establishment of such a number of seminaries in the several counties, under the care of skilful preceptors, knowledge would be more generally diffused, and the morality of the children, who would be instructed in the presence of their parents, better preserved. It is equally certain that such a system of instruction would give support to the principle of the government itself. It would draw the youth of the country into society together by means whereof they would become acquainted and form friendships which would remain through life ; friendships which would equally promote the social harmony of the State, and the comfort and happiness of the individuals who compose it. The Legislature has already given its sanction to this doctrine in favor of education by a law which passed in 1796, intituled, “An Act for the establishment of publick schools”; but unhappily that law has remained a dormant institution in our Code. By a clause in it, its operation was suspended in the several counties until it should be put in motion by their respective Courts; and it is understood that not a single county has carried it into effect. If the institutionis of such importance as we are taught by reason and experience to consider it, and as the Legislature seems to have considered it, ought its operation to depend on any contingency? The militia law is likewise a subject which it is thought merits the attention of the Legislature. It is one of great importance as the militia of a free state is justly considered the bulwark of its liberty. No people are secure in the enjoyment of their rights who keep within their limits a strong military force, trained to subordination and accustomed to obey with reverence the orders of its chief. History furnishes many awful lessons on this head of which we ought to take warning. Our situation might possibly exempt us from the mournful catastrophe of other nations; for being separated by the ocean from the great powers of the earth, nature seems to have inhibited by an eternal mandate all colourable pretext for a formidable standing army; and should the publick functionaries at any time raise one in contempt of their duty and her authority it is not presumable that our officers, educated like ourselves in democratic principles, would abandon those principles to turn their arms against their country. But these considerations should not lull us into security. Free men should never rely on others for the protection of an interest for which they are personally responsible, and from which they have no right to shrink. Incidents might occur from foreign or domestic causes which would surprise them and put everything to hazard. They should be able at all times to take such an attitude in arms as would forbidthe idea of invasion or usurpation. The discipline of the militia may be considered at present as very imperfect, the regiments in general as being defective in the knowledge of military evolutions and other duties which they ought to possess. It is understood that the musters of the regiment, battalions and companies, which are prescribed by law, are often thinly attended by the men who compose the several corps, and that those who do attend derive but little advantage from it. A derangement so general ought to be remedied if it admits of a remedy. We are led to enquire, to what cause is it to be attributed? Are the defects complained of incidental to the system; or do they proceed from the improper execution of it? So far as my experience authorizes an opinion, I am inclined to attribute them to the first of these causes, and to believe it will be difficult if not impossible to carry the discipline of the militia to that degree of improvement which is desired, without some change in the system itself. The failure of the men or officers to attend musters admits a prompt and easy remedy by the imposition of fines which would make it their interest as well as their duty to attend; fines which would produce their effect equally with the rich and with the poor. But how improve them in the knowledge of discipline in the various points in which they are defective? Can no plan be devised which would accomplish the object without increasing the frequency and duration of the musters by regiment, battalion or company? A plan which would infuse a military spirit in the whole body and supersede thenecessity of fines, or at least make a resort to them rare and unusual? If the officers were informed on all the points of their duty, is it not presumable that they might instruct their men within the terms that are now prescribed for the purpose? Our own experience has sufficiently shewn how great and sudden the improvement of the men was when they were instructed by those who were masters of the art. It is well known that the service of the late Baron Steuben in the American army formed an important epoch in the history of its discipline. And might not the officers acquire ·the requisite information by some little improvement of the plan which is already devised for their instruction? By being called together in larger bodies, by brigades for example, to be trained in the presence of their Generals and of the Chief Magistrate, when his other publick duties permitted his attendance, yielding them such light accommodations as the change might require. The subject is highly important to the best interests of society. Witnessing some defects in the system, I thought it my duty to bring them to your view and submit them to consideration. To the representatives of the people all the dangers to which our Country may be subject, are well known, and it belongs to their wisdom to anticipate and to provide for them. . . .
The other subject to which I consider it my duty to invite the attention of the General Assembly, is the situation of our publick roads and bridges, a subject distinct in principle from those already mentioned, but like them of great importance to the publick.The disorder which prevails in this branch of our police must be obvious to every one, as must be the in jury it occasions to the whole community. Our publick high-ways are at no time good, they are often bad, and in the winter when the produce of the labour of the year is carried to market, almost impassable; in addition to which it may be observed, that the routes are not always the most direct, or through a country the most favorable. A great proportion of our produce is bulky, and brought to market by land from remote parts; hence it follows that such an obstacle to the transportation must be highly detrimental to the agriculture, industry, and commerce of the country. If we enquire into the cause of this disorder, we trace it to the system established for the government of this concern, not to a delinquency in the agents appointed to execute it. At the first settlement of the country, the care of opening and repairing the publick roads was committed to the county courts, and it has since remained in their hands. It is to that cause that this disorder is to be attributed, a disorder which it is presumed never can be remedied while the cause exists. It might be proper, it was perhaps indispensable, at an early period, when new counties were to be established westward of the existing settlements, to vest such a power in those who embarked in the enterprise. But there is no longer any question about promoting western settlements. The population of the State extends over its whole territory; the society has become more compact in every part; its interests are better understood.and it merits consideration whether a system which was adopted in the infancy, is suited to the present situation of the country. There are many objections to the existing system, considered as a permanent one, which shew that an adherence to it, is equally incompatible with the dictates of sound policy and the principles of justice. It is impossible that the great publick highways of the country, especially those which lead from the several navigable rivers to the Western boundary, and from north to south through the State, should be regulated with advantage by local authorities, or any authority which was not coextensive over the whole. The county courts cannot have sufficient information or the necessary concert, to enable them to adopt and execute a plan for the regulation of an interest so general, which extends so far beyond their respective limits. Nor can that disregard of local considerations be expected from them in all cases which the nature and importance of the subject might require. It is also unjust that the burthen of improvements, by which every citizen is to be benefited, should fall on the inhabitants of a particular county. The publick highways of a State have a strong claim to the attention of its government. Under a judicious regulation they form one of its chief and most useful ornaments. Most well policied States have bestowed much care and labour on them, and with effect. Several of our sister States have gone before us in this respect, and exhibited examples worthy of imitation. Their motive to such exertions was not stronger than ours is,while the obstacles which they encountered, were comparatively much greater. It is not proper that a disorder so complete, in so important a branch of our police should exist forever. The mind naturally looks forward to a state of improvement correspondent with what has been exhibited in the other publick works of the State which are nearly completed. Such improvements when made with judgment on suitable objects, engage the attention, gratify the feelings, and attach us to our country. They are proofs of the flourishing condition of a State, to which they still further contribute. Whether any are necessary in the present instance, are practicable, by what mode and in what degree, are points on which the Legislature will decide.
The subjects which I have thus had the honor to submit to your consideration are of great importance to the Commonwealth. They rest on different principles but unite in a common policy, the support of our republican government, the improvement of our Country and the happiness of our citizens. To the wisdom of the Legislature they are submitted with that respectful regard which is due to the immediate representatives of the people.
Another and more interesting subject claims your attention. Since your last session an important change has taken place in the situation of publick affairs, on which I offer you my most sincere congratulations: a change which I consider highly favorable to the personal liberty of our citizens, to the stability of our Union, to the sovereignty and the happiness of thepeople. Had the contest which achieved our independence, ended in the aggrandizement of individuals, vain and unprofitable would it have been. Had that been the result, our race of glory, our career of happiness would have been soon run. But that was not the object of the controversy, nor will it be its fruit. The people of America, among whom there was no superior, contended in a common struggle for their equal rights. In that great cause, they sustained with unexampled fortitude, through a long and arduous conflict, every calamity to which savage war is subject, in its worst form. They looked forward to peace, and the happy order of things which would grow out of it, for the reward of their toils, their sufferings, and their dangers, and they will not be disappointed. I have no hesitation to declare, that I consider the late election to the Executive of the United States, as having essentially contributed to secure to us the enjoyment of the blessings for which we contended in our revolution. The manner too by which the publick will was declared on that great occasion, was not less honorable to the government of the people, than the act itself was important to their cause. No strife, no unbecoming violence, no popular tumult, were heard of. Tranquillity, order, and a dignified but unimposing solicitude prevailed in every quarter. A great and useful example have we thus exhibited to an interested and beholding world. An example which proves, how competent the people are to self government! How wise and faithful in the exercise of the most important acts ofsovereignty! From this declaration of the publick sentiment, and the administration which was formed by it, I calculate on everything that ought to be expected from the conduct of wise and virtuous men; peace and respect from foreign powers; a republican tone in the government and its measures; economy in the disbursement of publick moneys; the restoration of social harmony, and a thousand other blessings which belong to our situation, and which we ought to en joy. But it merits consideration whether those blessings should depend on the political character, views, or principles of those who may be occasionally called to office? Whether some provisions ought not to be engrafted in the federal constitution, which without diminishing its force, would make the operation of the government less dangerous, the publick functionaries more responsible, and the liberties of the people more secure? An amendment of the Constitution in these respects, appears to be an object of the first importance, and I doubt not, will receive from the General Assembly the consideration to which it is so justly entitled. It is our peculiar good fortune to have among us some very enlightened citizens, of whose great experience, virtue, and talents we might profit, on a subject so highly interesting. These citizens are advanced to a stage of life, which, while it leaves their faculties in full vigor, and exempts them from the influence of those passions which unhappily too often mingle their effect in publick concerns, forbids the hope of our enjoying this blessing any great length of time. On the sub-ject of amendments, I have the pleasure to transmit you a proposition from the State of Maryland, which merits particular attention. The good people of these States (and of this State as a portion of that great society) have many advantages for free government, which no other nation ever enjoyed. Called to act in an enlightened age, having never recognized hereditary orders, all the citizens born with equal rights and expectations, their title to the sovereignty is supported by every consideration that can give stability or permanence to the possession of it. It is equally sanctioned by nature, by early habits, and political institutions. With such advantages we have it in our power, and it is our duty, to transmit this blessing to our latest posterity. Should that be the case America will remain an instructive, an illustrious example to nations. But under circumstances so favorable, let it be recollected, if that system should fail, that liberty so long the idol of mankind, will be lost forever. As a nation, America might survive the wreck, but her people would be most wretched, and her name instead of being the glory and the ornament of history, would deservedly become the reproach and scorn of the world. I have the honor to be, with great respect Sirs &c.
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