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Clymer Attacks a Bill to Sell Western Territory,
“giving emigration ‘lighter wings to fly,’” at the Expense of More Economical Atlantic Settlements (SOLD)
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“...Were I in the habit of addressing the public a pamphlet should come out entitled ‘the folly of emigrating to the western lands demonstrated...’”

GEORGE CLYMER. Autograph Letter Signed to Dr. [Benjamin] Rush. New York, N.Y., August 7, 1789. 4 pp.

Inventory #21939       SOLD — please inquire about other items

Complete Transcript

Dear Sir,
A bill now before our house to regulate the role of the back territory, like all others of the kind, giving emigration “lighter wings to fly,” brings this evil more home to my feelings- This fatal propensity might at all times be opposed with effect by truth and reason, but truth and reason are not always obvious to common apprehensions, and on this subject above all others, there are some who pretend even to think that stand in need of being enlightened. Were I in the habit of addressing the public a pamphlet should come out entitled “the folly of emigrating to the western lands demonstrated”– I would endeavour in familiar language to show to the meanest capacities that this desire proceeds within from the neglect of calculations or bad calculations. I would go deeply into the comparison of advantages between making a settlement on the western waters and those on the Atlantic- A particularity of facts on this point would seize the senses more strongly than any general ¬warning however good.– I would prove lands producing in the Atlantic
[2] market cheaper at 10/ or 15/ per acre than any others obtained by free grant. For example, the settler on the Muskingum or Scoto tho he is to provide for no other expense than what will purchase his implements of husbandry and transport him and them to his plantation, yet he can never propose to himself any thing beyond turning a few hogs loose and scratching his ground for as much Indian corn and wheat as will feed his ragged family. That to attempt a surplus would, even if he could get labourers for it which would be next to impossible, be useless for he could have no steady market for it. Now it must be considered that what little be sold in to the newest corners who being always at the edge of an extending circle will be supplied by those only who are but just within it. If the Spanish * demand is talked of as a permanency– of what importance will it be but to those immediately on their limits. Of what benefit would be the driving of cattle through such great space where, as has been found, they set out flesh and come in bone. So circumstanced a poor man is to remain stationary in all his prospects– having [3] nothing wherewith to purchase labour he can never have the comfortable expectation of getting others to work for him– his lands will gain little additional value, his family may never change their rags, nor his children, running wild, be able to pay the church or the school– And this must be the case until a great internal society in the course of time, as in Germany, shall be gradually formed. We see in all this no advantage but in the exemption from the purchase money, overbalanced greatly by the advantages attending the other situation,- where a purchaser of 300 acres must indeed engage to pay £150 by 10 yearly installments. This would require only £15 per annum and the proportion of interest; but to be raised with certainty by the cultivation of four or five acres in which, beyond the family consumptions, or the fattening of a few cattle; and in extinguishing the debt, the term of which would be hastened in proportion to the exertions of industry, he would find himself with a valuable estate– in the bosom of society and with the means of receiving their children both morals and education. This statement applies even better to the absolute poor than to others. For the expense of going to a settlement [4] is in proportion to distances. If either you or [Tench] Coxe will take up the subject numberless thought would occur to either of you that might escape me- I have said pamphlet, because a news paper dies with the day, and the other has a more imposing influence– A thousand two penny books given away might make a thousand men useful to their country that would otherwise lost to it.
It being a common cause I would bear my share of the cost-

I am
Your most obednt St
Geo Clymer
New York
Augt 7. 1789–

Dr Rush
– G. Clymer
Augt 7. 1789

Published in the Documentary History of the First Federal Congress, Correspondence: First Session, pages 1246-7, with the following footnotes:

* In the spring of 1789 Spanish Colonial authorities reversed their policy of closing the Mississippi River and opened New Orleans to American trade, upon payment of a fifteen percent duty.

** Rush has already treated the subject in a way sympathetic to Clymer’s thinking in two American Museum articles (Jan. and Mar. 1789.)

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Historical Background

As a member of the First Congress, George Clymer and his colleagues were setting precedents for the new nation.  The Congress established the federal judiciary; district and circuit courts; the First National Bank and a sound monetary policy; the executive departments of Treasury, State, and War; and went on to pass laws pertaining to immigration and naturalization, Indian policy, and copyright and patent laws.  The First Congress also had to decide how to regulate western lands both east and west of the Mississippi.  On July 21, 1789, Congress passed the Northwest Territory Bill, which reaffirmed the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and established that new states entering the Union would be placed on equal footing with the original thirteen states.  The House of Representatives then took up the Land Office Bill, which would provide free or nearly free land to soldiers and officers, traders, or others wishing to migrate west. It would be administered under the superintendence of the governor of the Western Territories.  Clymer’s colleague, Representative Thomas Scott of Pennsylvania, was a major proponent of western expansion and he delivered an impassioned speech on July 13, 1789.  It was published in the Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer on July 18, 1789.  In this letter, Clymer argues against internal migration, claiming it would ultimately cost more in start-up and transportation costs, as well as offering little in terms of educational opportunities for future generations.  Rather than a simple newspaper piece, which “dies within the day,” he instead suggests publishing an entire pamphlet on the “folly of emigrating to the western lands.”

George Clymer (1739-1813) was born in Philadelphia and as a prosperous merchant, he was an early supporter of independence. He helped underwrite the war effort by exchanging his hard currency for the much less stable continental paper money. He was a volunteer captain and served on the Committee of Public Safety. While in the Continental Congress, he sat on the Board of War and Treasury Board, and signed the Declaration of Independence. After the war, he served in the Pennsylvania legislature and argued for a bicameral legislature. He was delegate to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and later served in the House of Representative of the First Congress. In 1791, Washington named him Supervisor of Internal Revenue for Pennsylvania, but he resigned as collector of excise duties in 1794 at the start of the Whiskey Rebellion. In 1796, he helped negotiate a treaty with the Cherokees and the Creeks. Upon retirement, he was president of the Philadelphia Bank. Clymer was known for brevity and spoke little, but was nonetheless a major influence on important committees of state and finance.


Biographical Directory of the United States Congress

“Birth of the Nation: The First Federal Congress”

From Revolution to Reconstruction, “A Biography of George Clymer.”

National Constitution Center “Delegates to the Constitutional Convention: George Clymer.”

U.S. Congress,  Abridgement of the Debates of Congress From 1789 to 1856 (New York: D. Appleton, 1857) 127.