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Knox, Henry (1750-1806) to Samuel Holden Parsons

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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC02437.03120 Author/Creator: Knox, Henry (1750-1806) Place Written: Boston, Massachusetts Type: Autograph letter signed Date: 29 March 1785 Pagination: 6 p. : docket ; 32 x 19.7 cm.

Summary of Content: Offers an extensive apology for not writing sooner. Discussions public objection to the Society of the Cincinnati. Writes, "A democracy what is greatly commercial is a solecism in politics... Our feoderal [sic] Government must be settled upon more rational principles, or some events which we do not at present foresee, will compel us to adopt systems which we may at times have contemplated with horror- I believe a republican Government, formed upon national principles and those principles propagated and perpetuated by habits, may exist a great length of time..." Discusses his views of democracy, republicanism, monarchism, and aristocracy at great length. GLC02437.03121 is a later copy of this letter.

Background Information: Parsons was a general in the Revolutionary War.

Full Transcript: [draft]
Boston 29 March 1785.
My dear Sir - I have very ill [struck: obeyed] [inserted: followed] my inclinations, in not answering sooner your kind favor of the 7th of February - ...protraction that theif [sic] of time, has cheated me in this instance so confoundedly and [struck: so much against my fixed determination], that [struck: I shall never], I heartily wish I may never trust it again - [struck: The intent the] It was my [struck: purpose of writing] [inserted: intention to write] to you every post [struck: day] from the time of receiving [struck: it] [inserted: your letter] until now, when being unwilling to confide [inserted: any longer] in the post day which has [struck: too] so often given me the slip, I anticipate [inserted: it] by two days - a scurvy excuse this But really I have fancied myself so hurried, sometimes by [inserted: important] circumstances [struck: [services] and important] (for I have been on attendance upon the General Court relative to a serious matter of property for two months,) and sometimes by trifles lighter than air, that until this moment I have not found [struck: time] [inserted: leisure] to gratify, the feelings of my heart -
The institution of the Cincinnati as at first [struck: stood] [inserted: framed], excited such [strikeout] [inserted: gloomy apprehensions] that it appeared necessary to reconcile it to the feelings of the people or [inserted: that we should] quit the country - The objections against [inserted: it] did not appear to be local, [strikeout] nor confined to the carping demagogues, but [struck: in short], those men who appeared the most impress'd with respect for the services of the Army, and anxious, for the honor of the country were most alarmed at the probable [2] consequences [inserted: of the institution] - This information [struck: was general] from Georgia to New Hampshire, as given by the delegates at the general meeting last May - After the fairest discussion that we were able to give the subject, it appeared, that if we persisted in the first institution we should, hazard the peace of the Country, and probably involve ourselves in the most solid distress - [struck: the] A [struck: consideration] [inserted: question] then arose what is the object for which [struck: this risque shall] we are to [struck: hazard] [inserted: risque] so much, [struck: and be the cause of so much] misery - In considering this point, although we could not see that the apprehensions of the people were entirely reasonable yet, that [inserted: we might in] new modelling the society, [struck: it might be so formed] [inserted arrange it in such a manner] as to preserve all [inserted: its] friendships and at the same time [struck: calm the fears induce all opposition to subj] annihilate all [struck: oppressors] [inserted: its] terrors [strikeout] - No undue fears influenced our Conduct - We thought that we acted the part of good citizens to give peace to our Country - and that ultimately we should not lose any of our consequence.
"[struck: in France] In France I know our warmest friends think we have acted with political wisdom "By annihilating suspicion you have established the Society [struck: forever]" is the opinion of no less a man than Count D'Estaing - I wish you were better reconciled to the alterations, because it appears to me, that the moment we split and embrace [3] different systems we are ruined, and can have no hope, of ever bringing the Society to any degree of [struck: eminence] perfection
The seeds of disorders and convulsions are [struck: thickly] sown thickly in our political constitution - [struck: A greatly commercial democracy is a solecism never perhaps to be realized in politics] [inserted: A democracy which is greatly commercial is a solecism in politics.] [struck: A government] [inserted: A social compact] so constituted, that a very small minority shall operate to check the great majority cannot be upon durable principles - These things must work a charge - [struck: We must either renounce a [illegible] to an equal government]
[struck: A] Our federal government must be settled upon more rational principles, or some events which we do not at present forsee, will compel us to adopt [struck: forms of government] [inserted: systems] which we may at times have contemplated with horror - I believe a republican government formed upon national principles and those principles propagated and perpetuated by habits, may exist a great length of time - I believe this because the Roman [4] Republick did actually exhibit it to the world, [struck: by] [inserted: an] astonishing instance of greatness arising from sentiment and [inserted: supported by] manners - If you should ask me whether I see that unity of manners & sentiments which are to consolidate American in one people I should tell you I do not exactly see how it is to be done [struck: but by a liberal allowance for the foibles worst faults of each other - An energetic administration of those powers suppose by Congress] Time and a dispassionate consideration of our situation, and [struck: [illegible] attention &] comparison [inserted: of ourselves] with people who may have been in some instances similarly circumstanced, may do much towards establishing us a permanent republick - your [inserted: statement] & reasoning upon the three modes of government Democracy Aristocracy and Monarchy are just - [struck: But] I confess I hate the office of Kings - [struck: you cannot] [inserted: It is difficult if not impossible] to restrain their power - they are upon natural principles eternally working to render themselves Supreme to free themselves from every controul of the Laws which they generally consider as only made for the lower orders of mankind - [struck: Speaking of Monarchy] Perhaps [inserted: of all kinds of monarchs] [struck: if you] an absolute one is best, where his [5] his power is conceded, and he feels no rising of the black passions produced by opposition to his Will - a limited Monarch is [struck: apt to feel himself] [inserted: often] inflamed against every person who has the hardihood to think differently from himself - He compares [struck: hims] his own [struck: situation] [inserted: state] with an absolute Monarch, and longs to be in his situation and the first opportunity he has, he adds another [conviction] to the world [struck: how feeble the] [inserted: of the extreme imbecillity of] Laws [struck: are] to restrain the powerful - But [struck: how] an absolute Monarch [inserted: how he] stalks a God compared with [inserted: strikeout] his subjects - and not to have the liberty the glorious liberty [struck: of protecting him, how humiliating] [inserted: of disenting from him upon rational principles, [how humiliating].
[struck: Upon my honor] when [one] considers the inestimable value of Liberty, he cannot hesitate to prefer a democracy to every other form of Government. [Even if it] should not have the same [struck: principles] of permanancy & Security to property - The [struck: Our] aspirations [inserted: of the people of America] after money are so strong, that I tremble to think of the consequences - one thing is certain it will immediately introduce a species of aristocracy, which if it was made up of as the means of creating and preserving those sentiments and [strikeout] manners essential to our existence perhaps it would not be so bad an ingredient in the composition - Let us [struck: however] reason as [We] may, events will happen, that will require [strikeout] [inserted: our] utmost fortitude and wisdom, to render as beneficial, or as little injurious to us as possible.
I shall go to New [6] York in a few days where I shall be happy to hear from you and to see you -
I am my dear Sir
Your [struck: affectionate]
very humble servant
The honorable Genl Parsons -

To Genl Parsons 29 March
See More

People: Knox, Henry, 1750-1806
Parsons, Samuel Holden, 1737-1789

Historical Era: The New Nation, 1783-1815

Subjects: Society of the CincinnatiFraternal OrganizationPoliticsUS ConstitutionGovernment and CivicsCommerceRevolutionary War General

Sub Era: Creating a New Government

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