93. Massachusetts Centinel, 22 December 17871

Mr. RUSSELL, Something may be learned from almost every thing—We are about forming a new government, and the mite of every man ought to be thrown into the general treasury, from which those who may be appointed to make laws under that government, may draw instruction. Taxation is, perhaps, the most delicate point in legislation—therefore the hint which I am now about to communicate, as it relates to that, is the more important.—It is an historical scrap;—and is as follows—which I call

The PHILOSOPHER’s STONE.

Asad, the Pacha of Demascus, in the dominions of the Grand Signior, held this Pachalic 15 years—during which time he did an infinite deal of good—his passion was to amass money—but he did not let [it] remain idle in his coffers—but let it out to the necessitous at very low interest: Being one day in want of money, the informers, by whom the Pachas are constantly surrounded, advised him to levy a contribution on the Christians, and on the manufacturers of stuffs. “How much do you think that may produce?” said Asad. “Fifty or sixty purses,” replied they. “But,” answered he, “these people are by no means rich, how will they raise that sum?” “My Lord, they will sell their wives jewels; and besides, they are Christian dogs.” “I’ll shew you,” replied the Pacha, “that I am an abler extortioner than you.” The same day he sent an order to the Mufti to wait upon him secretly, and at night. As soon as the Mufti arrived, Asad told him, “He was informed he had long lead a very irregular life in private; that he though the head of the law, had indulged himself in drinking wine and eating pork, contrary to the precepts of the most pure book; assuring him, at the same time, he was determined to inform against him to the Mufti, of Stamboul (Constantinople) but that he wished to give him timely notice, that he might not reproach him with perfidiousness.” The Mufti, terrified at this menace, conjured him to desist; and as such offers are an open and allowed traffick among the Turks, promised him a present of a thousand piastres. The Pacha rejected the offer; the Mufti doubled and trebled the sum, until at length they strike a bargain for six thousand piastres, with the reciprocal engagement to observe a profound silence. The next day, Asad sends for the Cadi, addresses him in the same manner; tells him he is informed of several flagrant abuses in his administration, and that he is no stranger to a certain affair, which may perhaps cost him his head. The Cadi, confounded, implores his clemency, negociates like the Mufti, accommodates the matter for a like sum, and retires, congratulating himself that he has escaped even at that price. He proceeded in like manner with the Wali, the Nakib, the Aga of the Janis[s]aries, the Mohteseb, and, after them, with the wealthiest Turkish and Christian merchants. Each of these charged with offences peculiar to their situations, and, above all, accused of intrigues, were anxious to purchase pardon by contributions. When the sum total was collected, the Pacha, being again with his intimates, thus addressed them, “Have you heard it reported, in Damascus, that Asad has been guilty of extortion?” “No, Signiour.” By what means, then, have I found the two hundred purses I now shew you? The informers began to exclaim in great admiration, and enquire what method he had employed. “I have fleeced the rams,” replied he “and not skinned the lambs and the kids.”

1. Reprinted: Middletown, Conn., Middlesex Gazette, 31 December; Charleston Columbian Herald, 7 February 1788