Gazette of the United-States. (New-York [N.Y.]) 1789-1793, May 30, 1789, Image 1

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    No. XIV.
« iVhatiiii ures the community,withoutdireClly appear
" ; t u,ohurt any individual, is very little thought
\ s the bulk of mankind do not feern to have a
A dii'pofition to rive their ready and effectual
operation in rendering the public revenue pro
ductive and adequate to the objeift for win h it is
instituted, it would lead one to conclude, that 110
1 sblic utility was derived from the revenue ; and
consequently, that men are under no obligations
of juitice for the payment of it. Those, who
draw this inference, will go on to observe, that
the common fenle and apprelienfion of the great
mass of the people can never be opposed to any
measure, that is just and ufeful; and that general
consent is the nioft infallible test, by which to
form our notions of right and wrong. Whatever
is built on the foundation of justice, mull coincide
with the common interests of men, and therefore
will meet with general approbation and fuppoit.
On the other hand, whatever is generally disliked
and opposed, cannot have i:s origin in public
utility, and has 110 just claim upon the property
or Services of men, to promote its operation and
Those, who reason in this manner, have taken
onlyaloofe, fuperficial view of the subject. In
many cases, the common opinions and feelings
of mankind, furnifh a good standard of eflimation,
for the moral merit of iwftions. But we must not
mistake in our application of this principle ; nor
must we fupp' -e, the public opinion iin
variably, and in all inllances, what it appears to b;.
The affairs of government are complicated, and
he conduct of men, with refpeift to it, has a con
tradiiflory appearance. In the capacity ol indi
viduals, wefeel an aversion to restraint, and a 1 e
l't(ftancein making facrifices. When we aJI, not
merely as individuals, but as members of a com
munity, ii'v' feel a responsibility, in this
character, which accommodates itfelf to the ge
neral welfare. The common reason of the law
makers, while employed in the aci of legiilation,
becomes the tell: of propriety; rather than the ge
neral temper of those, over jvhom the law is to
operate. If the good effecft of the law
isfo obvious, that men in their private intercourse
with each other unavoidably difcem it, they will
acknowledge and applaud the justice of it. But
the benefits of revenue laws are not immediately
perceived by every individual; while the burdens
ate never concealed fromthe view of any one.
Nothing lias been more common, than for al
molt every member of the community to complain
ofcertain grievances, and to eleift representatives,
who participate of that spirit of complaint, for
the express purpose of obtaining relief; and yet
these fame representatives, upon a fair conlider
ation of the subject, have dropped their clamor,
and even laid further impositions upon their con
stituents. This illustrates the idea, that people
in their private capacity do not always perceive
the utility, or allow the justice of a measure ;
merely becaufethey have not been in a situation
to comprehend the reafons,upon which it is found
When there is a general prevalence of a prac
tice, that will be called unjust or vicious, by those
who view it upon the broad principles of justice
and virtue, it argues that the inutility of such
injustice, or vice, is not obvious and immediate ;
but so remote an;l indirect, as to escape common
observation. This is, mentioned to prove, that
public perception is not neceflarily a 'eft of the
rules of justice. The partial honesty of mankind
is well represented, in a late number of the Ame
rican Mufer.m. 1 will pursue some of the ideas,
that arefuggefted in that publication.
It is diverting to observe the diftindUons, that
some people practically make, with regard to their
moral estimation of actions. Some menarcfcru
poloully honeftin certain points,-while in others,
where there is 110 just ground of difference, they
throw of allreftaints of truth and honesty. They
are countenanced in their narrow fyfteni of mo
rality,by the common consent of their neighbors.
In the course of a journey, some time lince, I
pafied a few hours at the store of a country trader.
While I was there, several of his cuflomers came
N >ith waggon loads of grain. The trader direift
the bags to be emptied into a granary, in a
jart of the store occupied for that purpose. I ob
erved him enquire of each man, the quantity he
fought, and was so well fatisfied with their iti
ortnaiion, as to take the grain off their hands,
Without the trouble of meafuving it. This de
gree of confidence alirtle furpi i fed me,and led me
to aflt whether it was usual to purchase aiticles,
■e y:ng upon the word of the feller with refpetft
othe quantity. The trader afl'm ed me, that he
ft'ldom measured the grain,as it wis brought
From WEDNESDAY, May 2f, to SATURDAY, May 30, 1789.
to his llore ; that in some few instances he had
done it, but that he had not found any attempt
to deceive him. Many of his cuftoiners, he ob
served to me, would highly relent his Icrupling
their word in this matter ; and that it was gener
ally believed,no man in thatneighbourhood would
defraud another in the measure of grain. Soon
after this conversation ended, a man, whose ap
pearance was better than the other farmers, offer
ed to fell the trader an horse. The latter had as
great an inclination to buy, as the other had to
leJl ; but there seemed to be some difficulty infix
ing the value of the horse, and ascertaining his
age and qualities. The feller declared upon his
honor that what he afierted was true ; but the buy
er doubted all his declarations. I took an oppor
tunity of speaking to the trader on the fubjecft,
and told him, that I imagined the person, who was
about felling the horse, did not live in the fame
part of the country with the honelt grain-fellers.
The trader afi'ured me that he lived in the midst
ofthem ; that there was not a better man among
them all ; nor one, whose word he would sooner
take, in any matter that related to weight and
measure. But, replied I, you do not seem to be
lieve any thing he afierts refpedting his horse.—
" True," said he, " it is customary for people to
take all the advantage they can in the sale of an
horse, and to deceive the purchaser as to his age
and properties. The molt honest men in the
world do notfcruple to impose on one another in
this refpedt." From this anecdote I would infer,
that the common feelings andpradiice of men arc
not always a certain criterion oftliejuftice or util
ity of actions. As there are few men, who buy
horses, compared with rhofe who buy grain, the
general convenience and /afety of people do not
require them to make a common caufc of the de
ception, in both instances alike.
Another anecdote, hot lels applicable to the
lubjeel, may be introduced. I was once invited
to pais an evening, at the lioufe of a gentleman,
where there was to be a party at cards. Before
the play commenced, my friend allured me, that
I could depend 011 the utmost fairnefs in the game,
and that cach person woidd pundluaQy pay his
lolles, 011 the spot. 1 found it exadtly as was re
presented. 111 every inftance,where I won money,
it was readily paid ; and I could observe no attempt
or difpofitiontoplay unfairly. At the close ofthe
evening, a gentleman, who had been more unfor
tunate than usual, happened not to be in cash to
square the board. He exprefled great folicittide
to pay his arrears ; and addrefling himfelf to the
company, requested some one would be so oblig
ing as to lend him a few guineas, declaring in the
1110 ft solemn manner, it should be reimbursed early
the next morning. I did not hesitate to advance
the sum requested, being fully persuaded that a
person, who was so anxious to pay a demand, that
accidentally lay against liim by a run of ill luck,
andfo unwilling his honor fliould fuffer by a de
linquency, would be 110 less exadt in difcliarginga
debt; which he had voluntarily contracted t
the confidence and politeness of a stranger. Ihe
event, however, proved otherwise. 111 the morn
ing, as I was getting ready to pursue my journey,
I recollected the money I had lent; and desired
the landlord to inform me, where the borrower
could be found. The landlord, with a pertnefs
he had not before discovered, replied, " Air.
will not be out of his bed tliefe two hours ; have
you any business with him ?"—Nothing more, said
1, than to receive a little cash of him. " If you
wait till you get that," answered the landlord,
•' 1 would advise yon to become an inhabitant of
this place, and fend for your family at once. It
is a chance if you ever get a farthing of the money,
as Mr. never pays any debts, he can avoid."
But, continued I, you niuft be mistaken in this
man, he was very honorable in paying his lofles
at cards. " True," replied the landlord, " for
the rules of the club forbid any man to go away
in debt to the table. If he left any thing unpaid,
lie could no longer be a member ofthe club. Be
lides, he is often fortunate and carries away mo
ney, and when he loses, he can bofrow of some
person who is not acquainted with his character.
Thofc, who attend that gaming club, are honest
with each other, but they pay no regard to justice,
or veracity with any body else, only when they
are in the club room." I was not however dis
couraged by this information from an attempt to
get my money, and after importuning the land
lord tor some time, he permitted a negro boy to
take a note from me to Mr. . The boy liim
fclf so well convinced that his errand was in
vain, that he could not refrain from waggish ca
pers. He soon returned, and informed that Mr.
had told his servants, that he was not to be
seen till twelve o'clock.
I do not mention thel'e anecdotes as lingular 111-
ftanrcs ofthe partial view and practise of men,
in accommodating their ideas of right and wrong
to their particular iituation and convenience.—
Wherever we look, we find repeated and melan
choly confirmations of the • perfection of pre
vailing principles, and the perverfenefs of autho
rized habits. All clubs, or societies, how unim
portant or immoral soever they may be, have cer.
tain rules of honor and equity among themselves.
These are few or many, limited or extensive, in
proportion as the objects are so, which are to be
acconipliflicd by the ailociation. It is to be re
gretted that men, who are greatly attached to any
particular fed; or party, are apt to forget the du
ties they owe the community at large, and confine
their acts of ufefulnefs and their display of vir
tues within narrow limits. " Robbers and Pirates,
it has often been remarked, could not maintain
their pernicious confederacy, did they not eftab
lilh a new distributive justice among themselves,
and recall those laws of equity, which they have
violated with the reft of mankind."
I have been thus diffufive, and thrown the sub
ject into such different ligh.s, that I might make it
fully evident there are various instances in which,
our sentiments of duty are not co-extensive with
the objects of it. There is no cafe, that I have
fpecified, in which our ideas of obligation are more
erroneous and deficient, than those, which relate
to a discharge of the demands, that are laid upon
us by the revenue laws. Our inventive faculty
is artfully displayed in finding excuses to juftify
actions, that are committed through the impulses
of interest or palfion.
If the principles of this discussion are just, they
will impress on the minds of virtuous citizens,
the importance of setting such examples and dif
fufing such maxims, as will convince the bulk of
the people, that their duty and their honor are
concerned in a punctual payment of the public
taxes, in whatever form they are imposed. They
will likewise contribute to convince men at the
helm of affairs, that in to obtain the con
currence of their conllituents, in supporting the
execution of the laws, the public adininiftration
lhould be marked with no a (ft, that is capricious,
oppreflive, or unnecefiary. In addition to causes
of a permanent nature, that induce men to doubs
the utility or the justice of revenue law#, there
are often adventitious circumstances that alienate
the affections of people from the measures of go
vernment. Of this description, are extravagant
or useless appropriations ; injudicious or super
numerary appointments of officers ; neglectful,
dishonest or overbearing conduct in those, who
are scattered through the different branches of the
executive department.
[Continued from No. X.]
It is with nations as with individuals, that the
firftfootfteps generally mark their future progress.
This reflection, strongly evinces the neceflny of
commencing our political course, on proper and
wsll etiabliihed principles, and of moulding our
selves into that form, which promises the great
elt future strength and vigour.—There are cer
tain general principles of a moral kind, immuta
ble in their nature, and invariable in their ef
fects : the practice of which will ever tend to the
happiness of a nation wherever and however situ
ated; but in recurring (as is frequently the cafe)
to the practices of other nations, for light and*
information upon the various fubjecfts of go
vernment, and the grounds on which to form
our plans of adininiftration, without adverting to
a proper diftincftion of those circumstances which
form the political character, as local fituation,edu
cation, manners and customs, religious tenets,
ideas of government and national genius, we
maybe often led to a falfe deduction of principles
as applied to our own country.—Roman virtue,
and Athenian republicanifin,have been repeatedly
urged as models highly worthy our imitation ;
wliile,hadwe implicitly adhered to the maxiinsof
the former, a W ashingtoh mull have the
fate of Camillus, because he had saved his country;
and in compliance with the principles of the lat
ter, anADAMS, like Ariftides, mufthave beenba
nifhed for having defervedtoowell of his fellow
citizens: what less than a radical defect in theprin
ciples of those antient governments, could have
led to such great errors in their practices but as
far as these or like errors in antient or ljiodern
governments, can be avoided by a judicious com
parjfon, an illusion to them will be attended with
material benefit; while their virtues may also be fe •
lected with care. America is yet unskilled in those
intrigues of policy, which so warmly engage all
Europe, and many other parts of the world, and
being by nature happily lituated at a distance
from them, itmuft be officioufnefa alone, which
can lead* her into any material concern with