Ohio History Journal

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Manasseh Cutler, Lobbyist

On August 3, 1787, the parson of the Congregational Church in

Ipswich (now Hamilton) Massachusetts returned to his hamlet. He

calculated he had traversed 885 miles in his one-horse sulky in the

past two months and considered it "one of the most interesting and

agreeable journies I ever made in my life. It had in every view been

prosperous but in many respects infinitely exceeded my expecta-

tions."1 Somewhat the polymath, he could cite among his feats the

reestablishment of acquaintances with President Ezra Stiles and oth-

er divines at Yale, the addition of many new plants for his preeminent

botanical collection, and a visit to the wondrous zoological exhibits

of Charles Willson Peale. The crowning deed was not that he had

gained proselytes for his faith, but rather that he was on the verge of

sealing the largest public contract yet negotiated in the United States.

He had successfully bid for more than four million acres of the pub-

lic domain. Further, according to some later historians (if not contem-

poraries), he had made significant contributions to two major docu-

ments being drafted in the early summer of 1787: the Northwest

Ordinance molded by the Congress under the faltering Articles of

Confederation and the Constitution evolving in the Grand Conven-

tion. How much credit should this extraordinary clergyman be giv-

en? What were his tactics and strategies as an agent? Edward Chan-

ning offered this appraisal of Manasseh Cutler: "He took not

unkindly to the devious methods that were necessary in those days




Louis W. Potts is Associate Professor of History at University of Missouri-Kansas



1. August 3, 1787, Journey Book II-B, Manasseh Cutler Collection, Northwestern

University. Hereafter citations to these manuscripts will be listed MCC. For a critique

of the published version of Cutler's papers see Lee Nathaniel Newcomer, "Manasseh

Cutler's Writings: A note on Editorial Practice," Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 47

(June, 1960), 88-101. Newcomer noted: "At the hands of his editors Manasseh Cutler

has been under-humanized as well as over-politicized. Because of the liberties which

they took with his writings, a more nearly complete and better balanced portrait of

Cutler must depend upon the manuscripts rather than upon the edited version pro-

duced by his grandchildren."