To Nathaniel Barrell

    Philadelphia        23, 26 March 1796

    My dear Sir—

    I really can hardly determin whether I ought to apologize for not having wrote you since the begining of the Session,1 or to call upon you to make me a satisfactory excuse for not having sent me so much as one line for more than four months—If you say that your retired Life has not afforded you any materials out of which you could have manufactured a Letter, it will give me at once as good an excuse against your charge—For I possitively declare that since I first came into public life I have never known a winter to pass away in such a state of uniform tranquility, & subject to fewer incidents than the last—Our latest European news does not come down to the middle of December, while the latest accounts even from Canton in China is to the latter part of November—The reason that has prevented European, & particular English Information has begun to be a subject of great enquiry & speculation—Some say an Embargo is laid on all American Vessells in English Ports—Others suggest, as more probable, that so many of the American Seamen are impressed by the imperious Britons that our Vessells cannot navigate themselves across the Atlantic—For myself I cannot assign any specific cause for this non arrival, tho I confess myself not satisfied with those assigned by others. We must wait a little while & we shall know more about these things—

    As to domestic news—I am almost as much at a loss what to write as I am upon foreign—Congress have been in Session three months & more—but have done little—No great animating questions have come before us till about three weeks ago—to that time the blood hardly flowed quick enough to produce wit, humour or good sense—The [Jay] Treaty which made such a mad noise thro’ the United States, last summer, was looked forward to as a subject of great contest when ever it should be laid before Congress—And members, those who usually take active parts in debate, seemed cautious how they spoke on any subject that might be considered as relating to it, least they should be considered as having committed their opinion thereon, & might not afterwards be at liberty to express a different one—This caution tended to produce silence & inactivity—However this is about the sixteenth day since that embargo has been taken off & members have certainly improved their Tongues to good purposes—At that time a motion was made for calling upon the President to lay before the House the Instructions given to Mr. [John] Jay—and all the correspondance between him & the President, & Mr. [William Wyndham, Lord] Grenville during the time of his Negotiation—This had the effect of a signal for parties to enter into combat—And the papers will tell you how ardently they have fought—No man has yet spoke twice, & not more than thirty, once—The discussion of this question draws the line pretty accurately between those who like, & those who dislike the Treaty—But tho the latter will probably be a majority for calling on the President for papers, yet I think some of them will not dare to oppose the execution of the Treaty, & thereby take the responsibility of the consequences upon themselves—No, they will content themselves with spouting against the Treaty generally, the Administration that originated & negotiated that Instrument, and then, with much grumbling & ill nature, let it pass into operation—

    The most agreeable circumstance, relative to myself, that has taken place here since I came to the City is the residence of Doctor [Joseph] Priestley here, which he has done for about six weeks—He preaches every sunday morning in a meeting House belonging to a Congregation of Universalists—What are called the regular Clergy will have no communion with him, nor permit him to preach in their pulpits—But he will soon have one of his own—& no thanks to any of them—He is attended every sunday by as many as can croud into the meeting-house—Most of his hearers are respectable for character & Science—

    fig. 9. Philip Van Cortlandt’s Seating Plan of Congress (ca. 1796). Courtesy of the Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations. Van Cortlandt (1749-1831), a Democratic-Republican Representative from New York in the Third to Tenth Congresses, sketched this seating chart of the House chamber in Congress Hall sometime in early 1796—probably as a mnemonic tool to help track the names of speakers during the contentious debate over the Jay Treaty. Consulted too late for the 1961 restoration, the sketch was closely scrutinized in a 1992 Park Service study and became the basis for a major reinterpretation of the space in 1998. Thatcher’s seat appears in the front row directly on the left side of the central aisle, next to Henry Dearborn and across from Theodore Sedgwick.

    I have dined two or three times with him, & shall have that pleasure this day—He is perfectly mild & placed [placid] in conversation as well as instructing. His discourses in the pulpit are plain, simple & familiar, yet profound & learned2—His subjects have been the nature & utility of Religion—the great advantage of Revealed over natural—And of the Institutions of Moses over those of the heathens cotemporary with the Jews. You know I have long looked up to him as one of the very few who have given a just account of the object, & end of Religion; and reconciled Scripture with Reason & Common-sense—I have no books that afford me so much pleasure & instruction as his discourses, hence I hurry away early on sundays to his meeting house, and am among the first who get there—I have attended five sundays in succession—what I have never done before, since I resided in Old York! What do you think of that? People here, who think they know me, but who are really extremely ignorant of every thing belonging to me except bodily form, say I am begining to be religious—Alas—how little they know either of my mind, or of what religion consists in—A man goes to meeting—therefore, say they, he is religious! Strange Logic—& worse divinity! Cats & Dogs, upon their system, may be as religious as men or Angles!

    Saturday morning 26th. March. Since writing the above two ships have got in from Liverpool in England, which bring English papers down to the eighteenth of February. The accounts are so detached, & information so contradictory, that tis not in my power to give you a very accurate summary of it—This arises chiefly from the forgery of a french News paper in England about the tenth of last month, which purported to contain the Basis of future negotiations for peace between the Powers at war—This was done to promote the views of Speculators—I believe, however, there is an Armistice between the Austrians & French, Upon the Rhine, where there does not seem to have been any very decisive Battle as late as the begining of February.

    The French have gained an important victory over the Austrians & Sardinians in Italy—They killed & took prisoners six or seven thousand, with their Bagage & one hundred & ten pieces of Artilery.3

    The King of England has informed Parliament that since the French has established a permanent Government he is ready to treat for peace provided he can have it on terms honourable to him & his Allies4—But altho war is a dreadfull scourge, yet if France can maintain the war another year or two, I verily believe she had better do it than take a peace on the Terms offered by England—If France recieves terms of peace from the Combined powers I shall consider her Republic of short duration—She must continue the war till she gives terms to her own liking—This will fix the root of Liberty so deep that it will be able to resist all future attacks from within or without.

    I do not consider the Troubles & commotions near an end in Europe—There is yet too much stubble & weeds for the grass of Liberty to grow freely—And too many seeds of Liberty to suffer the weeds of despotism to occupy the whole soil—The World has never yet been free; and the few Germs of Liberty in some parts of it, have grown out of wars & opposition to Tyranny—This war between the efforts for freedom & the Iron hand of Tyranny will continue till the latter is broken down like the Image,5 & ground to powder like the Idol calf6—And dreadfull will be the contest. I believe this from two sources—The reason & nature of things resulting from the examination of History for the last three or four hundred years makes it probable—And the Prophecies declare it as certain.

    It is not improbable, that in case of a continuance of the war, a new combination may take place. The great object which first brought so many nations against France is undoubtedly lost forever—& each one of them is now looking out for something very different from what they engaged in the war for—To restore the old monarchy to France, & suppress the very seeds of Freedom in that nation, if possible, were their first object. Now none of the combination seems to entertain an idea beyond the status quo, that is to have restored to them what France has taken from them; unless England may be an exception. She is immensly powerfull by Sea, & it certainly must be for the Interest of all the Maritime powers to reduce her navy to [a] situation nearer their own—Hence if the war continue, I expect Spain will join France & Holland for this object—And Sweeden & Denmark if they are not too much under the fear of England & Russia, will do the same—

    One word more touching the motion, mentioned in the former part of this Letter, for “calling upon the President for Mr. Jays Instructions & other papers that passed between him & Lord Grenville during the negotiation[”]—The question was taken on Thursday, and carried in the affirmative7—A committee delivered the Resolution to the President—to whom he said—he would take the Resolution into consideration He has yet made no answer to the House8

    There is now before the house a motion to this effect—“That provision ought to be made by Law to carry into full effect the Treaties lately entered into with certain Indian Tribes, the Dey of Algiers & the King of Great Britain.” I think there will be a majority in favour of the motion; but much oposition will be made to it—And if possible a party will defeat, or so clog the Treaty as to induce England not to execute it on her part—And then they will send forth the cry of breach of Faith against her—

    I fear I have already become tedious—I will therefore close this long Letter, after presenting my Respects to Elder [Jonathan] Sayward, Mrs. [Sarah Sayward] Barrell, & Mrs. [Sarah Barrell] Keating—& subscribing myself your friend & obedient Servant

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    ALS, Barrell Correspondence. Addressed to York; franked; postmarked; received 7 April.