John Jay letter to Gouverneur Morris, 29 April 1778


Albany, April 29th, 1778.

Dear Morris,

My last to you was written about a week ago. I am now engaged in the most disagreeable part of my duty, trying criminals. They multiply exceedingly. Robberies become frequent : the woods afford them shelter, and the tories food. Punishments must of course become certain, and mercy dormant - a harsh system, repugnant to my feelings, but nevertheless necessary. In such circumstances lenity would be cruelty, and severity is found on the side of humanity.

The influence of Lord North's conciliatory plan is happily counterbalanced by the intelligence from France. There was danger of its creating divisions. A desire of peace is natural to a harassed people ; and the mass of mankind prefer present ease to the arduous exertions often necessary to ensure permanent tranquillity.

What the French treaty may be, I know not. If Britain would acknowledge our independence, and enter into a liberal alliance with us, I should prefer a connexion with her to a league with any power on earth. Whether those objects be attainable, experience only can determine. I suspect the commissioners will have instructions to exceed their powers, if necessary. Peace, at all events, is, in my opinion, the wish of the minister. I hope the present favourable aspect of our affairs will neither make us arrogant or careless. Moderation in prosperity marks great minds, and denotes a generous people. Your game is now in a delicate situation, and the least bad play may ruin it. I view a return to the domination of Britain with horror, and would risk all for independence ; but that point ceded, I would give them advantageous commercial terms. The destruction of Old England would hurt me ; I wish it well : it afforded my ancestors an asylum from persecution.

Parties here are still in a ferment. I hope it will be the means of purging off much scum and dross. I can't be particular. This letter may never reach you.

I expect in a few days to see General Schuyler ; and my importunities shall not be wanting to urge him to join you without delay. The people grow more reconciled to him.

The military departments here, I believe, are well managed. The commissary deserves credit. Handsome things are said of the quarter-master ; and there is one at the head of the artillery, who appears to me to have much merit. The park elaboratory and stores are in high order. There is the appearance of regularity, care, and attention in all the public works. As \<> the hospital I can say little, not being as yet well-informed. Conway is pleased with Schuyler, and manages the Vermont troops properly ; but of this say nothing. I fancy he does not well understand the views of his patron. Neither of them ought to know this.

The clothier-general, once the Duke of Bolton's butler, is an anti-Washington. An ignorant butcher is issuing commissary. Let me again hint to you the propriety of restraining the staff from trade : besides general reasons, there are particular ones. Many good cannon remain yet at Ticonderoga — strange neglect. Remember Vermont. Why do the marine committee keep Tudor in pay? I can't hear that he does any thing for it.

I am, and will be your friend,

John Jay.


The Life John Jay With Selections from His Correspondence and Miscellaneous Papers. by His Son, William Jay in Two Volumes. Vol. II., 1833.