John Jay to J. C. Dongan
Accept my thanks for your obliging letter of this morning, which I this moment received.
My answer to the gentleman who applied to me was, that if my fellow-citizens did me the honor to elect me, I would with pleasure serve them; but that I conceived it would be improper for me to make any efforts to obtain suffrages. They approved of this line of conduct, and in conformity to it I made it a rule neither to begin correspondence nor conversations on the subject. I did presume that the committee here had conveyed this information to some of the most respectable characters in the different counties; perhaps they considered the publications in the newspapers as sufficient to answer that purpose.
That many election tales will be invented and propagated, and that credulous individuals will be imposed upon by them is not to be doubted.
As to my sentiments and conduct relative to the abolition of slavery, the fact is this:—In my opinion, every man of every color and description has a natural right to freedom, and I shall ever acknowledge myself to be an advocate for the manumission of slaves in such way as may be consistent with the justice due to them, with the justice due to their master, and with the regard due to the actual state of society. These considerations unite in convincing me that the abolition of slavery must necessarily be gradual.
On being honored with the commission I now hold, I retired from the Society to which you allude, and of which I was President, it appearing to me improper for a judge to be a member of such associations. That Society I fear has been misrepresented, for instead of censure they merit applause. To promote by virtuous means the extension of the blessings of liberty, to protect a poor and friendless race of men, their wives and children from the snares and violence of men-stealers, to provide instruction for children who were destitute of the means of education, and who, instead of pernicious, will now become useful members of society—are certainly objects and cares of which no man has reason to be ashamed, and for which no man ought to be censured; and these are the objects and the cares of that benevolent society.
It will always give me pleasure to manifest the sense I entertain of this mark of your attention, and to assure you of the sentiments of esteem and regard with which I am, sir,
Your most obedient and humble servant,
Footnote: (1)Jay had been nominated, February 16, 1792, for the State Governorship, and the above is in reply to a letter from Mr. Dongan respecting his views on slaveholding in New York. See Jay's “Life of Jay,” vol. i., pp. 284-86. Dongan wrote: "As your opponents cannot or dare not impeach your integrity and ability, necessity obliges them to descend to the lowest subterfuges of craft and chicane, to mislead the ignorant and unwary. The part you have taken in the society for emancipating slaves is exaggerated, and painted in lively colors to your disadvantage. It is said that it is your desire to rob every Dutchman of the property he possesses most dear to his heart, his slaves; that you are not satisfied with doing that, but wish further to oblige their masters to educate the children of those slaves in the best manner, even if unable to educate their own children; and also that you have procured a bill to be brought into the Legislature this session for the above purpose."
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