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LETTER From GENERAL Rufus Putsam to Mr. Fisier AMES,* 1790.
Sir :-In conversation with you at New York in July last (if I recollect right), you made this a question : “ Can we retain the western country within the government of the United States? And if we can, of what use will it be to them ?”
I confess, this subject is far beyond my abilities to do justice to, yet I feel myself so interested in the question that I can not forbear making a few observations thereon. For that those countries may always be retained within the government of the United States, and that it will be our interest they should, is at present my decided opinion. .
That they may be retained appears to me evident from the following consideration, viz., that it will always be their interest that they should remain connected. Now, Sir, if I can prove this, I conceive that the proposition that they may be retained, etc., will be fully established; for it is unreasonable
* This is the letter referred to in General Putnam's letter to Dr. Cutler, volume 1, page 450.
Fisher Ames, one of the most eloquent of American writers and statesman, was born at Dedham, Mass., in 1758. He was educated at Harvard College, where he received his degree in 1774. About seven years afterward he began the practice of the law; and an opportunity soon occurred for the display of his superior qualifications, both as a speaker and essay writer. He distinguished himself as a member of the Massachusetts Convention for ratifying the Constitution in 1788, and from this body passed to the House of Representatives in the State legislature. Soon after he was elected the first representative of the Suffolk district in the Congress of the United States, where he remained with the highest honor during the eight years of Washington's administration. On the retirement of the first President, Mr. Ames returned to the practice of his profession in his native town. During the remaining years of his life his health was very much impaired, but his mind still continued deeply interested in politics, and he published a number of essays on the most stirring topics of the day. He died in 1808.—Biog. of Eminent Men, R. A. Davenport.
to suppose that a people will pursue measures inconsistent with their interest, although it is possible they may. It is true that flour, hemp, tobacco, iron, potash, and such bulky articles will go down the Mississippi to New Orleans for market, and there be sold, or shipped to the Atlantic States, Europe, and West Indies; and it is also admitted that the countries west of the mountains and below or to the southward of the junction of the Ohio with the Mississippi may import goods from New Orleans; and then it is absolutely necessary that the people of the western country, in some way or other, at a proper period, should be possessed of the free navigation of the Mississippi River. It does not, however, follow from hence that it will be for their interest to lose their connection with the Atlantic states; but the contrary will appear if we consider that all the beef, pork, and mutton (from a very great part of the western country) will come to the seaports of Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania to Market. Also, most of the furs and skins, etc., obtained by the Indian trade can be sent to those places and New York much more to the advantage of the West country people than they can be sent to New Orleans and Quebec. Besides, all the goods for carrying on the Indian trade, as well as supplying the inhabitants even to the Kentucky and Wabash countries, are at present imported into that country from Philadelphia, Baltimore, Alexandria, etc., much cheaper than they can be obtained from New Orleans or Quebec.
There is also not the least doubt but when the navigation of the Potomac is completed, with the carrying-place to the Monongahela, according to the plan of the undertakers, the transport of goods into the western country will be lowered fifty per cent; and should other communication be opened, which no doubt will be, between the Susquehanna and Alleghany rivers, James river and the Great Kanawha, the expense of transportation will be reduced still lower. In short, from the seaports of the United States to Niagara, Detroit, and even of the Lake of the Woods, goods can be supplied much cheaper than from any other quarter.
From this statement of facts, which I presume can not be disproved, I conceive it fully appears to be the interest of
the people of the Western country to remain a part of the United States. If it be said that they may be separated and yet retain all the advantages of traile here mentioned, I answer that it is possible, but by no means probable ; for (admitting the separation was not hostile) it is by no means reasonable to suppose that the legislature of the United States would pay the same attention to the subjects of a foreign power as to their own. Nor is it to be presumed that those people will ever forget that while they remain a part of the union, they will have their voice in the councils of the nation, and that no law can pass but what must affect their brethren on this side the mountains, as well as themselves. To be deprived of a commerce with the United States would be greatly to the injury, if not the ruin, of that country; and to voluntarily deny themselves a voice in the regulation of that commerce, and trust themselves (without any cheek or control) in the hand of those whose interest would be distinct from their own, is a folly I trust they never will be guilty of.
But it may be said there are advantages to be gained which will overbalance all this loss. Pray let us attend a little to this matter. Will they put themselves under the Vice-Roy of Canada? What will be their gain here? A legislative council of the King's own appointment gives law to the province, except that the whole is under the control of a military governor. A few, by permission from Lord Dorchester, or somebody else, may carry goods into the Indian country, but returns must be made to Quebec. Surely, this government can never suit their genius, nor be for their interest. Nor is the advantage to be derived from the Spanish government much better. It is true that New Orleans will be a great mart for their produce, but it is very doubtful if they were Spanish subjects whether they would enjoy greater privileges than they might without. The inhabitants would certainly have no voice in the matter, but must be subject to the will of a despot. They could expect no indulgence but what should comport with the interest of the governor and Spanish Court; and this they may reasonably expect, even should they remain part of the United States, so that if the object be to
unite them with Great Britain or Spain, I see nothing that is in the least degree worth their attention.
Perhaps the idea is that they should set up for a separate independent government. This maggot, I know, is in the heads of some people ; therefore we will consider it a little and see if we can find it to be for their interest. For argument's sake, we will suppose the United States to consent to all this, we will suppose, moreover, that they grant a free trade to the subjects of this new government, and then pray tell me what they will be the better for it? Nay, will they not be in a much worse situation ? Will they not incur a great expense to support their new government beyond what their proportion to the old can possibly be? And can it then be for their interest to be separated ?
It may be said that they want a free trade to New Orleans, and thence to the Sea ; that while they remain a part of the United States, this is not likely to be obtained ; that the interest of the old states and theirs in this respect is inconsistent with each other; that the object is, first to separate themselves from the Union, and then to clear the river of the Spaniards. This, I have heard, is the language of some people in Kentucky; but is it rational? Will the measure be for their interest, and, if not for their interest, are we to suppose the measure will be pursued ? Have these people considered that the United States are deeply interested in opposing such separation ? Have they considered that driving the Spaniards out of the river will not give them a free trade to the sca? Do they know that the harbors of Pensacola and Havana are 80 situated that, a few cruisers from them sent into the Bay, not one vessel in a thousand going from or returning to the Mississippi would escape falling into their hands ? No, Sir; so far would such a measure be from giving them a free trade to the sea, that it would put an end to their present market, and all reasonable prospects of a compensation for the loss. Nor do I conceive that the interests of the Atlantic states and the Western country, as it respects the navigation of the Mississippi, by any means clash. For it is for the interest of the United States that flour, tobacco, potash, iron, and lumber of all kinds, with ships ready built, should be sent to Europe and the West Indies by way of remittance for goods obtained from those countries. If hemp, flax, iron, and many other raw materials be of any use to be brought into the Atlantic States for the purpose of manufacturing, then it is the interest of those states that the navigation of the Mississippi should be free.
Thus, Sir, I have endeavored to prove that it is and always will be the interest of the Western country to remain a part of the United States. I do not deny but what-such circumstances may exist as shall not only make it the wish of some, but of all, the inhabitants of that country to be separated from the old States, but what I contend for is, that these circumstances do not, nor ever can (if I may be allowed the expression) exist naturally. I allow that, should Congress give up her claim to the navigation of the Mississippi or cede it to the Spaniards, I believe the people in the Western quarter would separate themselves from the United States very soon. Such a measure, I have no doubt, would excite so much rage and dissatisfaction that the people would sooner put themselves under the despotic government of Spain than remain the indented servants of Congress; or should Congress by any means fail to give the inhabitants of that country such protection as their present infant state requires, connected with the interest and dignity of the United States; in that case such events may take place as will oblige the inhabitants of that country to put themselves under the protection of Great Britain or Spain.' I know, also, that in every country there are ambitious minds who, paying more attention to the emoluments of office than the public good, may influence people to pursue, as the object of their happiness, measures which will end in their ruin. But these things make nothing against my proposition, for we are not to suppose that Congress will do wrong when it is their interest to do right; and this brings me to inquire of what use those countries may be to the United States. First, the lands of the Western Territory, which are the property of the United States, except what claim the natives have to them, amount, at least, to 169,600,000 acres, out of which must be reserved for future sale 14,133,333 acres, agreeably to the ordinance of the late Con