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To the EDITORS OF THE PENNSYLVANIA GAZETTE,
[On the Abuse of the Press.] Messrs. Hall and SELLERS,
I lately heard a remark, that on examination of the Pennsylvania Gazette for fifty years, from its commencement, it appeared that during that long period, scarce one libellous piece had ever appeared in it. This generally chaste conduct of your paper is much to its reputation; for it has long been the opinion of sober judicious people, that nothing is more likely to endanger the liberty of the press, than the abuse of that liberty, by employing it in personal accusation, detraction, and calamny. The excesses some of our papers have been guilty of in this particular, have set this State in a bad light abroad, as appears by the following letter, which 'I wish you to publish, not merely to show your own disapprobation of the practice, but as a caution to others of the profession throughout the United States. For I have seen an European newspaper, in which the editor, who had been charged with frequently calumniating the Americans, justifies himself by saying “ that he had published nothing disgraceful to us, which he had not taken from our own printed papers.” I am, &c.
DEAR FRIEND, New York, March 30, 1788. ·
My gout has at length left nie, after five months' painful confinement. It afforded me however the leisure to read, or hear read, all the packets of your newspapers which you so kindly sent for my amusement.
Mrs. W, has partaken of it; she likes to read the adVOL. 1.
vertisements; but she remarks some kind of inconsistency in the announcing so many diversions for almost every evening in the week, and such quantities to be sold of expensive superfluities, fineries, and luxuries just imported, in a country, that at the same time fills its papers with complaints of hard times, and want of money. I tell her that such complaints are common to all times and all countries, and were made even in Solomon's time ; when as we are told, silver was as plenty in Jerusalem as the stones in the street, and yet even then, there were people that grumbled, so as to incur this censure from that knowing prince. Say not thou that the former times were better than these ; for thou dost not enquire rightly concerning that matter.
But the inconsistence that strikes me the most is that between the name of your city, Philadelphiu, (brotherly love,) and the spirit of rancour, malice, and hatred that breathes in its newspapers! For I learn from those papers, that your State is divided into parties, that each party ascribes all the public operations of the other to vicious motives ; that they do not even suspect one another of the smallest degree of honesty; that the antifederalists are such, merely from the fear of losing power, places, or emoluments which they have in possession or in expectation; that the federalists are a set of conspirators, who aim at establishing a tyranny over the persons and property of their countrymen, and to live in splendor on the plunder of the people. I learn too that your justices of the peace, though chosen by their neighbours, make a villainous trade of their office, and promote discord to augment fees, and feece their electors; and that this would not be mended by placing the choice in the executive council, who with
interested or party views are continually making as improper appointments ; witness a “petty fiddler, sycophant and scoundrel" appointed Judge of the Admiralty; “ an old woman and fomenter of sedition" to be another of the Judges, and “a Jeffries” Chief Justice, &c. &c.; with “two harpies” the Comptroller and Naval Officers Lo prey upon the merchants and deprive them of their property by force of arms, &c. I am informed also by these papers, that your General Assembly, though the annual choice of the people, shows no regard to their rights, but from sinister views or ignorance makes laws in direct violation of the constitution, to divest the inhabitants of their property and give it to strangers and intruders ; and that the council either fearing the resentment of their constituents, or plotting to enslave them, had projected to disarm them, and given orders for that purpose ; and finally, that your President, the unanimous joint choice of the Council and Assembly, is “an old rogue,” who gave his assent to the federal constitution merely to avoid refunding money he had purloined from the United States. There is indeed a good deal of nianifest inconsistency in all this, and yet a stranger seeing it in your own prints, though he does not believe it all, may probably believe enough of it to conclude that Pennsylvania is peopled by a set of the most unprincipled, wicked, rascally, and quarrelsome scoundrels upon the face of the globe. I have sometimes indeed suspected, that those papers are the manufacture of foreign enemies among you, who write with the view of disgracing your country, and making you appear contemptible and detestable all the world over : but, then I wonder at the indiscretion of your printers in publishing such writings ! There is however one of your inconsistences that consoles me a little, which is, that though living, you give one another the characters of devils ; dead you are all angels ! It is delightful when any of you die, to read what good husbands, good fathers, good friends, good citizens, and good Christians you were, concluding with a scrap of poetry that places you, with certainty, every one irr heaven. So that I think Pennsylvania a good country to die in, though a very bad one to live in.
To M. LE VEILLARD. Respecting Dr. Franklin's Memoirs of his own Life.
The new Constitution.-Custom House Duties. MY DEAR FRIEND, Philadelphia, April 22, 1788.
I received but a few days since your favour of November 30, 1787, in which you continue to urge me to finish the Memoirs. My three years of service will expire in October, when a new President must be chosen ; and I had the project of retiring then to my grandson's estate in New Jersey, where I might be free from the interruption of visits, in order to complete that work for your satisfaction ; for in this city my time is so cut to pieces by friends and strangers, that I have sometimes envied the prisoners in the Bastille : but considering now the little remnant of life I have left, the accidents that may happen between this and October, and your earnest desire, I have come to a resolution to proceed in that work tomorrow, and continue it daily till finished, which, if my health permits, may be in the course of the ensuing summer. As it goes on I will have a copy made for you, and you may expect to receive a part by the next packet. .
It is very possible, as you suppose, that all the articles of the proposed new government will not remain unchanged after the first meeting of the Congress. I am of opinion with you, that the two chambers were not necessary, and I disliked some other articles that are in, and wished for some that are not in the proposed plan; I nevertheless hope it may be adopted, though I should have nothing to do with the execution of it, being determined to quit all public business with my present employment. At 83 one certainly has a right to ambition repose."
We are not ignorant that the duties paid at the customhouse on the importation of foreigo goods are finally reimbursed by the consumer, but we impose thein as the easiest way of levying a tax from those consumers. If our new country was as closely inhabited as your old one, we might without much difficulty collect a land-tax, that would be sufficient for all purposes : but where farms are at five or six miles distant from each other, as they are in a great part of our country, the going of the collectors from house to house to demand the taxes, and being obliged to call more than once for the same tax, makes the trouble of collecting in many cases exceed the value of the sum collected. Things that are practicable in one country are not always so in another, where circumstances differ. Our duties are however generally so small as to give little temptation to smuggling.
Believe me ever, my dear friend, yours most affectionately,