Birth of the Nation: The First Federal Congress, 1789-1791 Back to the Exhibit

Rep. George Clymer of Pennsylvania to Benjamin Rush

Dear Sir/

      A bill flow before our house to regulate the sale of the back territory, like all others of the kind, giving emiqration "lighter wings to fly," brings this evil more home to my feelings– This fatal propensity might at all times be opposed with effect by truth and reason, but truth and reason are not always obvious to common apprehensions, and on this subject above all others, there are some who pretend even to think others stand in need of being enlightened. Were I in the habit of addressing the public a pamphlet should come out entitled "The folly of emigrating to the western lands demonstrated" – I would endeavour in familiar language to shew to the meanest capacities that this desire proceeds either from the neglect of calculations or bad calculations. I would go deeply into the comparison of advantages between making a settlement on the western waters and those on the Atlantic – A particularity of facts on this point would seize the senses more strongly than any general reasoning however good. I would have lands producing for the Atlantic market cheaper at 10/ or 15/ per acre than any others obtained by free grant. For example, the settler on the Muskingum or Scioto 'tho he is to provide for no other expence than what will purchase his implements of husbandry and transport him and them to his plantation, yet he can never propose to himself any thing beyond runing a a few hogs loose and scratching his ground for as much Indian corn and wheat as will feed his ragged family. That Co attempt a surplus, will would, even if he could get labourers for it which would be next to impossible, be useless, for he could have no steady market for it. For it must be considered that what little is can be sold is to the nearest comers who being always at the edge of extending circle will be supplied by those only who are but just within it – If the Spanish demand is talked of as a permanency – of what importance will it be but to those immediately bordering on their limits. So circumstances Of what benefit would be the driving of cattle [lined out] through such great space where, as has been found, they set out flesh and come in bone. So circumstanced a poor man is to remain stationary in all his prospects – having nothing wherewith to purchase labour he can never have the comfortable expectation of getting others to work for him – his lands will gain little additional value, his family may never change their rags, nor his children, running wild, be able to pay the church or school – And this must be the case until a great internal society in the course of time, as in Germany, shall be gradually formed. We see in all this no advantage but in the exemption from the purchase money, overballanced greatly by the advantages attending the other situation – when A purchaser of 300 acres must indeed engage to pay 150 by 10 yearly instalments. in ten years This would require only 15 per annum and the proportion of interest; but to be raised with certainty by the cultivation of four or five acres in which, beyond the family consumption, or the fattening of a few cattle; and on extinguishing the debt, the term of which would be hastened in proportion to the exertions of industry, he would find himself with a valuable estate – in the bosom of society and with the means of securing to his childrens both morals and education. This statement applies even better to the absolute poor than to others, for the expense of going to a settlement is in proportion to distance. If either you or Mr. Coxe will take up the subject numberless thought would occur to either of you that might escape me – I have said pamphlet, because a news paper dies with the day, and the other has a more imposing influence – A thousand two penny books given away might make a thousand men useful to their country that would be otherwise lost to it – It being a common cause I would bear my share of the cost.

I am Dr.

Your most obedt. st.

Geo. Clymer

New York

Augt. 7. 1789


(Letter courtesy of Richard H. Kohn, George Curtis, and Kenneth R. Bowling)

digitized from DHFFC transcription   
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