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The Jeffersonian cyclopedia;

a comprehensive collection of the views of Thomas Jefferson classified and arranged in alphabetical order under nine thousand titles relating to government, politics, law, education, political economy, finance, science, art, literature, religious freedom, morals, etc.;

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590. ASSUMPTION OF STATE DEBTS, Jefferson's agency in.—
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590. ASSUMPTION OF STATE DEBTS, Jefferson's agency in.—

The Assumption
of the State debts in 1790, was a supplementary measure in Hamilton's fiscal system.
When attempted in the House of Representatives
it failed. This threw Hamilton himself,
and a number of members into deep
dismay. Going to the President's one day I
met Hamilton, as I approached the door. His
look was sombre, haggard, and dejected beyond
description; even his dress uncouth and neglected.
He asked to speak with me. He stood
in the street near the door; he opened the
subject of the Assumption of the State debts,
the necessity of it in the general fiscal arrangement,
and its indispensable necessity towards
a preservation of the Union; and particularly
of the New England States, who had made
great expenditures during the war on expeditions
which, though of their own undertaking,
were for the common cause: that they considered
the Assumption of these by the Union so
just, and its denial so probably injurious that
they would make it a sine qua non of a continuance
of the Union. That as to his own part,
if he had not credit enough to carry such a
measure as that, he could be of no use and was
determined to resign. He observed at the same
time, that though our particular business lay
in separate departments, yet the administration
and its success was a common concern, and that
we should make common cause in supporting
one another. He added his wish that I would
interest my friends from the South, who were
those most opposed to it. I answered that I
had been so long absent from my country [in
France] that I had lost a familiarity with its
affairs, and being but lately returned had not
yet got into the train of them; that the fiscal
system being out of my department I had not
yet undertaken to consider and understand it;
that the Assumption had struck me in an unfavorable
light, but still, not having considered
it sufficiently, I had not concerned [myself] in
it, but that I would revolve what he had urged
in my mind. It was a real fact that the Eastern
and Southern members (South Carolina however
was with the former) had got into the most
extreme ill humor with one another. This
broke out on every question with the most


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alarming heat; the bitterest animosity seemed
to be engendered, and though they met every
day, little or nothing could be done from mutual
distrust and antipathy. On considering the
situation of things, I thought the first step towards
some conciliation of views would be to
bring Mr. Madison and Colonel Hamilton to
a friendly discussion of the subject. I immediately
wrote to each to come and dine with
me the next day, mentioning that we should
be alone, that the object was to find some
temperament for the present fever, and that
I was persuaded that men of sound heads and
honest views needed nothing more than explanation
and mutual understanding to enable
them to unite in some measures which might
enable us to get along. They came; I opened
the subject to them, acknowledged that my
situation had not permitted me to understand it
sufficiently but encouraged them to consider
the thing together. They did so. It ended in
Mr. Madison's acquiescence in a proposition
that the question should be again brought before
the House by way of amendment from the
Senate: that though he would not vote for it,
nor entirely withdraw his opposition, yet he
should not be strenuous but leave it to its fate.
It was observed, I forget by which of them,
that as the pill would be a bitter one to the
Southern States, something should be done to
soothe them; that the removal of the seat of
government to the Potomac was a just measure,
and would probably be a popular one with
them, and would be a proper one to follow
the Assumption. It was agreed to speak to
Mr. [Hugh] White and Mr. [Richard Bland] Lee whose districts lay on the Potomac, and to
refer to them to consider how far the interests
of their particular districts might be a sufficient
inducement in them to yield to the Assumption.
This was done. Lee came into it without
hesitation: Mr. White had some qualms but
finally agreed. The measure came down by
way of amendment from the Senate and was
finally carried by the change of White and
Lee's votes. But the removal to the Potomac
could not be carried unless Pennsylvania could
be engaged in it. This Hamilton took on himself,
and chiefly, as I understood, through the
agency of Robert Morris, obtained a vote of
that State, on agreeing to an intermediate residence
at Philadelphia. This is the real history
of the Assumption, about which many erroneous
conjectures have been published. It was
unjust in itself, oppressive to the States, and
was acquiesced in merely from a fear of discussion.
While our government was still in its
most infant state, it enabled Hamilton so to
strengthen himself by corrupt services to many
that he could afterwards carry his bank scheme
and every measure he proposed in defiance of
all opposition. In fact, it was a principal
ground whereon was reared up that speculating
phalanx, in and out of Congress, which has since been able to give laws to change the political
complexion of the government of the United
To——. Ford ed., vi, 172.