The First Federal Congress Project
Documentary History of the First Federal Congress
ALS, Sam Adams Originals, New York Public Library, New York

Elbridge Gerry to Samuel Adams

New York  7th August 1789 

My dear sir

I am favoured with your letters of the 28th & 29th of July: the former I shall communicate to the President previously to the election of Judges, for I sincerely hope Judge [James?] Sullivan will obtain the office of district Judge for Massachusetts. political opinions however good, are generally heretical, if not sanctioned by the voice of a majority: & if bad, thus sanctioned are considered as divine. Mr. Sullivan's politics at this time, accord with the sentiments, as I conceive of the people, & his conduct as a Judge has has, as I have always understood been unexceptionable.
With respect to the establishment of theatres, various opinions are entertained of their good and bad effects, even by vertuous republicans: if they can be so regulated as to instruct us in the knowledge of man, & to discriminate his vertues from his vices & whilst they afford amusement will not excite a spirit of dissipation, it is undoubtedly both wise & politic to admit them: but on the other hand, if they have a tendency to gild vice & promote extravagance, to undermine & eradicate vertue which is the only solid foundation of a free government, & to destroy the habits of oeconomy & industry the true sources of the wealth of a nation, they ought not only to be discountenanc'd but forbidden under the severest penalites. my opinion at present is rather in favour of them, as I concieve they may be properly regulated, but it is an object I have very little at heart & I shall chearfully acquiesce in the decisions of the legislature should the subject be by them considered. in any event your observations on the matter will I am sure be both instructive & entertaining.
I can give you very little information more than you will have obtained from the Gazettes, except that the house yesterday fixed the Salaries of themselves & officers, & that there are some appearances which I confess to you are to me alarming.
We have formed a treasury system, which I did not hesitate to declare in the House appeared to me the most perfect plan I had seen for promoting peculation & speculation in the public funds. at the head of it is to be a secretary with power to superintend all the revenue officers, & a person is proposed to fill this office who has heretofore given it as his opinion, that the affairs of America will never be well conducted without an external influence. this secretary has power to propare money bills before they are orginated by the house, in direct violation as I conceive of the constitution & in debating the Subject, when it was objected that he would have an undue influence in the House Mr. M-d-n who is an Intimate of the candidate for this office de[c]lared he had no fear from that influence but was apprehensive of an influence arising from the ignorance indolence & party veiws of the house, which he was as he was afterwards told told was advocating external influence; for us the decisions of the house must arise from some species of influence & he was averse to the influence of its members he was clearly for an influence arising from some other quarter. consistently with this plan Mr. M-d-n is for keeping the Salaries or allowances of the House Congress low & has urged 5 instead of 6 dollars, altho it is well known Virginia allowed more than 6 dollars when the Congress sat the whole year. a few members are influenced by other considerations, namely the opinions of their constituents, to advocate 5 dollrs., but the house have decided it for 6. the consequence of a low establishmt. for Congress will be this a majority of the members will be either nabobs or indigent men, who will unite in plans to oppress & plunder the people. the constitution requires that the members of Congress should have a compensation for their services; the terms used on this occasion are the same as those used for the executive & judiciary: but whilst these are to have high, for Congress low stipends are nevertheless urged & will probably [blotted out] catch the popular ear. my opinion is that the establishment ought not to be on either extreme but such as to make it reputable for any men in America to accept the offices, if elected thereto, & as will indemnify them from losses by leaving their homes. to defeat this wicked system, & at the same time clear the members opposed to it from contemptible & illiberal suspicions of avarice I brot forward a motion & was seconded & supported by some independent members to strike out all provision for members of the House & let them sustain their own expences, by which means they would be able to act independently for the publick interest & avoid the danger of making our house of representatives a mere executive machine to vote away the property of their constitents without any reason or necessity. those however who had advocated 5 dollars & called the yeas & nays thereon, in which we joined them thot it more prudent to take 6 dollars than give such a small testimony of their patriotism as to accede to my motion, which I should have been sincerely happy to have carryed. what renders this matter more extraordinary is that the members who supported 5 dollars supposed Congress after this Session would not sit longer than 4 months in a year which at 6 dollars a day will amount to 720 dollars for each Senator & member of the house, & on the same day the house granted to their door keeper 750 Dollars a year & to their Secretary of the Senate & clerk of the House 1500 dollars each a year & two dollars a day besides for every day of the Session of Congress which if four months would make the salary of each 1740 dollars a year, who ever supposed that a senator or representative would be so debased as to receive as a compensation for his services less than a doorkeeper & not more than 2/5th of the allowance to a Secretary & clerk? these to me are serious considerations & shew that it is in [lined out] contemplation to govern America as Britain is now governed, by corruption. Mrs. Gerry joins me in sincere respects to Mrs. Mrs. Adams & be assured my dear sir I am ever yours
E. Gerry
[P.S.]
Please to communicate what respects the Salaries to Judge Sullivan 8th. I had forgot to mention that I was of the committee & was for 5 dollars (as the Sense of our state) for members of the house, wch. was agreed to with a further allowance for Senators; but the making a different establishment for the Senate gave offence to the house & the commee. then fixed 6 dollars for both.

Recommended citation: Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, ed. Charlene Bickford, et al. (Columbia, S.C.: Model Editions Partnership, 2002). XML version based on unpublished letters. http://adh.sc.edu [Accessed (supply date here)]

Copyright 1999. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress Project. All rights reserved.