Category Archives: American Revolution

Item of the Day: Sir Henry Clinton’s Observations on the Answer of Cornwallis (1783)

Full Title: Observations on Some Parts of the Answer of Earl Cornwallis to Sir Henry Clinton’s Narrative. By Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Clinton, K.B. To which is added An Appendix; Containing Extracts of Letters and Other Papers, to which reference is necessary. London: Printed for J. Debrett, (Successor to Mr. Almon,) opposite Burlington-House, Piccadilly, M.DCC.LXXXIII. [1783]

 

WHEN I published a Narrative of my conduct during the period of my command in North America, which comprehends the campaign of 1781, I was in hopes I had said every thing that was requisite to explain the motives of my own actions, and to convince every unprejudiced person, that certain positions respecting them, advanced in Lord Cornwallis’s letter to me of the 20th of October, had no foundation. But it gives me extreme concern to observe, that his Lordship’s seeming to avow nearly the same sentiments in his Introduction to a late publication, styled, an Answer to that Narrative, lays me under the necessity of troubling the public again upon a subject, which they are probably tired of; and I sincerely wished to have done with. I hope, therefore, it may not be judged improper to request their attention to the following Observations on some of the opinions and assertions therein stated. Which (to be as concise as possible) I shall take according to the order in which they occur; — adding only, in an Appendix, the copies of such extracts from my correspondence, and other papers, as appear necessary.

I find upon enquiry that the four letters were omitted to be sent to the Secretary of State, which Lord Cornwallis mentions to have been wanting when the papers relating to this business were laid before the House of Lords. But the reasons for his Lordship’s march from Cross-creek to Wilmington, and from thence into Virginia (stated in the first of them) had been before given in his letters of the 23d and 24th of April, to the Secretary of State, General Phillips, and myself; and these stand the first of those letters from his Lordship’s correspondence, read before the House of Lords; the other three letters had been inserted in a pamphlet containing extracts from our correspondence, handed about at the time of the enquiry; and one of those pamphlets had been presented, by my order, to Lord Townshend, as a man of honour, and a friend to both parties, previous (I believe) to his noticing this omission to the House; and all the four missing letters were soon after published in the Parliamentary Register, along with those which had been read to the Lords. So that Lord Cornwallis could not well have sustained any injury by that omission. This, however, cannot be said to have been the case with mine of the 30th of November, and 2d of December to his Lordship, and of the 6th of December to his Lordship, and of the 6th of December to the American Minister; which were with-held, whilst Lord Cornwallis’s letters of the 20th of October and 2d of December (to which they were answers) were suffered to operate, for a long time, upon the minds of the public, to my prejudice. . . .

Every man of sensibility must lament that Lord Cornwallis has so indiscreetly availed himself of the liberty, he supposed was given him by the late change in American measures. For as my secret and most private letter to General Phillips, dated April 30, contained nothing necessary for this Lordship’s justification; the publishing it was highly impolite at least, not to say more—for reasons to obvious to need explanation. . . .

There remains little more necessary in reply to Lord Cornwallis’s introduction, but to observe, that the army and its followers in Virginia had been so increased in consequence of his Lordship’s move into that province; that it would have been impracticable to withdraw them by water (as his Lordship is pleased to suggest) for want of transports, even if the American minister had not directed me to support his Lordship there, and a pressing contingency had required it. And I must take the liberty to say, that the sending his Lordship’s corps back to South Carolina by land, would have been a most absurd idea for me to adopt after the opinions I had given of the risks it run in its former march by that route.

I shall now beg leave to conclude with an opinion, which I presume is deducible from the foregoing (I trust candid) review of circumstances. Which is, that Lord Cornwallis’s conduct and opinions, if they were not the immediate causes, may be adjudged to have at least contributed to bring on the fatal catastrophe which terminated the unfortunate campaign of 1781.

H. CLINTON

Harley -Street

April 3, 1783.

 [SEE ALSO: SIR HENRY CLINTON’S NARRATIVE and AN ANSWER TO SIR CLINTON’S NARRATIVE]

 

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Item of the Day: An Answer to the Narrative of Sir Henry Clinton (1783)

Full Title: An Answer to That Part of the Narrative of Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Clinton, K.B. Which relates to the conduct of Lieutenant-General Earl Cornwallis, during the Campaign in North-America, in the Year 1781. By Earl Cornwallis. London: Printed for J. Debrett, (Successor to Mr. Almon,) opposite Burlington-House, Piccadilly, M.DCC.LXXXIII. [1783]

 

THE

INTRODUCTION.

THE feelings, which dictate this publication, have originated from the contents of a Narrative, signed by Sir Henry Clinton, late Commander in Chief in America. In which Narrative events are attributed to my conduct during the campaign of 1781, which, I trust, it will appear, were by no means the unavoidable consequences of any part of it.

The materials, hitherto produced, cannot be deemed complete, either in form or substance. There were many deficiencies in the papers laid before the House of Lords; in particular, four letters, dated July 24th, August the 16th, 20th, and 22d, from me to Sir Henry Clinton, were wanting; one of which contained my reasons at large for undertaking the march into Virginia: This omission, as the Secretary of State informed the House, was owing to their not having been transmitted by the Commander in Chief. Four other letters (three of them dated the 2d, 27th, and 30th of August, and one the 14th, 15th, and 18th of October) from Sir Henry Clinton to me, were read to the Lords, according to the order of their dates; although they were only delivered to me, by the Secretary to the Commander in Chief, in the latter end of November, at New-York, above a month after my surrender; and consequently, their contents could not influence my conduct in any manner.

I own I am pefectly aware of the impropriety of publishing official letters for private reasons; but, since the measures with respect to America have now undergone a total change, I hope, I shall in some degree stand excused for producing the whole correspondence, in my possession, relative to the principal transactions of that campaign; as it is the most candid and complete mode, in my power, of submitting them to the public consideration.

The perusal of this Correspondence will, I think, render not only the military, but every other reader a competent judge of the propriety of my conduct, either when I acted under positive orders, pressing contingencies, or discretionary powers.

It is foreign to the present purpose, and I shall therefore not endeavour to enumerate the many difficulites, which I had to struggle with, in my command of the Southern district, previous to the march into North Carolina, in the beginning of the year 1781. This measure was thought expedient not only by me, but by the Commander in Chief: I was principally induced to decide in favour of its expediency from a clear conviction, that the men and treasures of Britain would be lavished in vain upon the American war, without the most active exertions of the troops allotted for service; and, that, while the enemy could draw their supplies from North Carolina and Virginia, the defence of the frontier of South Carolina, even against an inferior army, would be from its extent, the nature of the climate, and the dispostion of the inhabitants, utterly impracticable. The many untoward circumstances, which occurred during the four months succeeding the complete victory of Camden, had entirely confirmed me in this opinion. Our hopes of success, in offensive operations, were not founded only upon the efforts of the corps under my immediate command, which did not much exceed three thousand men; but principally, upon the most positive assurances, given by apparently credible deputies and emissaries, that, upon the appearance of a British army in North Carolina, a great body of the inhabitants were ready to join and co-operate with it, in endeavouring to restore his Majesty’s Government.

The disaster fo the 17th of January cannot be imputed to any defect in my conduct, as the detachment was certainly superior to the force against which it was sent, and put under the command of an officer of experience and tried abilities. This misfortune, however, did not appear irretrievable; and to have abandoned, without absolute necessity, the plan of the campaign, would have been ruinous and disgraceful: ruinous, by engaging us in a defensive system, the impracticability of which I have already stated; and disgraceful, because the reasons for the undertaking still existed in their full strength, the public faith was pledged to our friends in North Caroline, and I believed my remaing force to be superior to that under the command of General Greene. That this opinion was well founded, the precipitate retreat of that General from North Carolina, and our victory at Guildford, after his return with Virginian reinforcements, are sufficient proofs.

The unexpected failure of our friends rendered the victory of Guildford of little value. I know that it has been asserted or insinuated that they were not sufficiently tried upon this occasion: But can any dispassionate person believe, that I did not give every encouragement to people of all descriptions to join and assist us, when my own reputation, the safety of the army, and the interests of my country, were so deeply concerned in that junction and assistance? All inducements in my power were made use of without material effect; and every man in the army must have been convinced, that the accounts of our emissaries had greatly exaggerated the number of those who professed friendship for us, as they must have observed, that a very inconsiderable part of them could be prevailed upon to remain with us, or to exert themselves in any form whatever. . . .

 [SEE ALSO: SIR HENRY CLINTON’S NARRATIVE and SIR HENRY CLINTON’S RESPONSE TO CORNWALLIS’ ANSWER]

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Item of the Day: Narrative of Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Clinton (1783)

Full Title: Narrative of Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Clinton, K.B. Relative to his Conduct during Part of his Command of the King’s Troops in North America; Particularly to that which respects the unfortunate Issue of the Campaign in 1781. With an Appendix, Containing Copies and Extracts of those Parts of his Correspondence with Lord George Germain, Earl Cornwallis, Rear Admiral Graves, &c. Which are referred to therein. London: Printed for J. Debrett (successor to Mr. Almon) opposite Burlington-house, Piccadilly, 1783.

 

Being conscious, that during my command in North America, my whole conduct was actuated by the most ardent zeal for the King’s service, and the interests of the public, I was exceedingly mortified, when I returned to England, after a service of seven years in that country, to find that erroneous opinions had gone forth respecting it; and that many persons had, in consequence, admitted impressions to my prejudice. Anxious, therefore, to explain what had been misinterpreted or misrepresented, (as indeed might well be expected, from the publication of Lord C.’s letter of the 20th of Ocotber, without being accompanied by my answer to it) I had proposed taking an opportunity, in the House of Commons, of saying a few words on such parts of my conduct as seemed not to be sufficiently understood: and I flatter myself I should have been able to make it appear, that I acted up to the utmost of my powers, from the beginning to the end of my command; and that none of the misfortunes of the very unfortunate campaign of 1781 can, with the smallest degree of justice, be imputed to me.

But I arrived here so late in the session, that I was advised to defer it; and it was judged that the gracious reception I had just met with from my Sovereign rendered an immediate explanation unnecessary. I was not, however, apprised to what degree the public prejudice had been excited against me else, I should probably have been induced to have taken an earlier opportunity of offering to Parliament what I have to say on the subject. But the late change in public affairs, furnishing so much more important matter for their deliberation, deprived me of the opportunity I thought I should have had: and, as by the present recess it is probable that I may not be able to execute my intentions before a late period, when perhaps peculiar circumstances might force me through delicacy to decline it, I beg leave to lay before the public the following plain Narrative, which will, I trust, remove prejudice and error.

I have much to regret that, when this business was discussed in the House of Lords last session of Parliament, the whole of my correspondence with the late American Minister, Lieutenant General Earl Cornwallis, and the Admirals commanding on the West-India and American stations, was not produced, or at least such parts thereof as, being necessary to explain my conduct, might have appeared consistently with state policy. Because the letters which compose that correspondence, being written to the moment as events happened, are certainly the most faithful records of my actions and intentions; and are consequently the clearest, fairest, and most unexceptionable testimonies I can adduce in their support. I hope, therefore, I shall stand exculpated from the necessity of the case, for any impropriety there may be in my annexing to this letter such of them as I may judge most requisite for that purpose. Three of them indeed, will, I presume, be found very material, (Appendix No. IX.) as they contain my answers and observations upon Lord Cornwallis’s letters of the 20th of October and 2d of December on the subject of the unfortunate conclusion of the last campaign in the Chesapeak; —which latter I am sorry to observe, were given to the public, while mine in answer were witheld from it; —I hope without design.

Although I never dared promise myself that any exertions of mine, with my very reduced force (nearly one-third less than that of my predecessor) could bring the war to a happy conclusion; yet I confess that the campaign of 1781 terminated very differently from what I once flattered myself it would; as may appear, by the subjoined extracts of lettes, written in the beginning of that year, and which were transmitted to the Minister. I was led, however, into these hopes, more by the apparent distresses of the enemy than any material success we had met with. . . .

 

NUMBER IX.

Copy of a Letter from Sir Henry Clinto to Earl Cornwallis, dated New York, 2d and 10th December, 1781

[This letter was not read in the House of Lords.]

My Lord,

As your Lordship is please, in your letter of this day, to revert to the circumstance of your quitting Williamsburg Neck and repassing the James River, so contrary to the intentions I wished to express in my letters of the 11th and 15th of June, and those referred to by them, and which I thought they would have clearly explained. Your Lordship will, I hope, forgive me, if I once more repeat that I am of opinion, if those letters had been properly understood by your Lordship, you would at least have hesitated before you adopted that measure. For I humbly presume it will appear, upon a reperusal of them, that it was my desire to recommend to your Lordship the taking a healthy defensive station, either at Williamsburg or York; and, after keeping what troops you might want for the ample defence of such a post, and sesultory movements by water, so send me such a proportion of the corps (mentioned in a list) as you could spare, taking them in the succession they are there placed. YOur Lordship, on the contrary understood these as conveying a positive order to send me three thousand men, (by which you say your force would have been reduced to about two thousand four hundred rank and file fit for duty; —having, it is presumed, above 1500 sick) and was pleased to tell me, in your anser, that you could not, consisten with my plans, make safe defensive posts at York and Gloucester, (both of which would be necessary for the protection of shipping): and that you should immediately repass James River, and take measures for complying with my requisition.

I own, my Lord, that my opinion of the obvious meaning of the letters referred to, continues still the same; and I am exceedingly sorry to find, by the letter you have now honoured me with, that it differs so widely from your Lordship’s. It is plain, however, we cannot both be in the right. . . .

[SEE ALSO: AN ANSWER TO THE NARRATIVE OF SIR HENRY CLINTON and SIR HENRY CLINTON’S RESPONSE TO CORNWALLIS’ ANSWER]

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Item of the Day: Ramsay’s History of the American Revolution (1791)

Full Title: The History of the American Revolution. By David Ramsay, M.D. of South Carolina. Vol. II. London: Soldy by J. Johnson and J. Stockdale, M.DCC.XCI. [1791]

 

APPENDIX, NO. III.

Of the treatment of prisoners, and of the distresses of the Inhabitants.

 MANY circumstances concurred to make the American war particurlary calamitous. It was originally a civil war in the estimation of both parties, and a rebellion to its termination, in the opinion of one of them. Unfortunately for mankind doubts have been entertained of the obligatory force of the law of nations in such cases. The refinement of modern ages has stripped war of half of its horrors, but the systems of some illiberal men have tended to re-produce the barbarism of Gothic times, by withholding the benefits of that refinement from those who are effecting revolutions. An enlightened philanthropist embraces the whole human race and enquires, not whether an object of distress is or is not an unit of an acknowledged nation. It is sufficient that he is a child of the same common parent, and capable of happiness or misery. The prevalence of such a temper would have greatly lessened the calamities of the American war, but while from contracted policy, unfortunate captives were considered as not entitled to the treatment of prisoners, they were often doomed without being guilty, to suffer the punishment due to criminals.

The first American prisoners were taken on the 17th of June 1775. These were thrown indiscriminately into the jail at Boston, without any consideration of their rank. Gen. Washington wrote to Gen. Gage on this subject, to which the latter answered by asserting that the prisoners had been treated with care and kindess, though indiscriminately “as he acknowledged no rank that was not derived from the King.” To which Gen. Washington replied “You affect, Sir, to despise all rank not derived from the same source with your own; I cannot conceive one mroe honorable, than that which flows from the uncorrupted choice of a brave and free people, the purest sourse and original fountal of all power.”

Gen. Carlton during his command conducted towards the American prisoners with a degree of humanity, that reflected the greatest honor on his character. Before he commenced his operations on the lakes in 1776, he shipped off those of them who were officers for New-Enlgand, but previously supplied them with every thing requisite to make their voyage comfortable. The other prisoners, amounting to 800, were sent home by a flag after exacting an oath from them, not to serve during the war unless exchanged. Many of these being almost naked were comfortably cloathed by his orders, previously to their being sent off.

The capture of Gen. Lee proved calamitous to several individuals. Six Hessian field officers were offered in exchange for him but this was refused. It was said by the British, that Lee was a deserter from their service, and as such could not expect the indulgences usually given to prisoners of war. The Americans replied, that as he resigned his British commission previously to his acepting one from the Americans, he could not be considered as a deserter. He was nevetheless confined, watched, and guarded. Congress thereupon resolved, that Gen. Washington be directed to inform Gen. Howe, that should the proffered exchange of Gen. Lee for six field officers not be accepted, and the treatment of him as above mentioned be continued, the principles of retaliation should occasion five of the said Hessian field officers, together with Lt. Col. Archibald Campbell to be detained, in order that the said treatment which Gen. Lee received, should be exactly inflicted on their persons. The Campbell thus designated as the subject of retaliation, was a human man, and a meritorious officer, who had been captured by some of the Massachusett’s privateers near Boston, which, from the want of information, he was proceeding soon after the British had evacuated it. The above act of Congress was forwarded to Massachusetts with a request that they would detain Lt. Col. Compbell and keep him in safe custody till the further order of Congress. The council of Massachusett’s exceeded this request, and sent him to Concord jail, where he was lodged in a gloomy dungeon of twelve or thirteen feet square. The attendance of a single servant on his person was denied him, and every visit from a friend refused.

The prisoners captured by Sir William Howe in 1776, amounted to many hundreds. The officers were admitted to parole, and has some waste houses assigned to them as quarters; but the privates were shut up in the coldest season of the year in churches, sugar houses, and such like the open buildings. The severity of the weather, and the rigor of their treatment, occasioned the death of many hundreds of these unfortunate men. The filth of the places of their confinement, in consequence of fluxes which prevailed among them, was both offensive and dangerous. Seven dead bodies have been seen in one building, at one time, and all lying in a situation shocking to humanity. The provisions served out to them were deficient in quantity, and of an unwholsome quality. These suffering prisoners were generally pressed to enter into the British service, but hundreds submitted to death, rather than procure a melioration of their circumstances by enlisting with the enemies of their country. After Gen. Washington’s successes at Trenton and Princeton, the American prisoners fared somewhat better. Those who survived were offered to be sent out for exchange, but some of them fell down dead in the streets, while attempting to walk to the vessels. Others were so emaciated that their appearance was horrible. A speedy death closed the scene with many.

The American board of war, after conferring with Mr. Boudinot the commissary-general of prisoners, and examining evidences produced by him, reported among other things, “That there were 900 privates and 300 officers of the American army, prisoners in the city of New-York, and about 500 privates and 50 officers prisoners in Philadelphia. That since the beginning of October all these prisoners, both officers and privates, had been confined in prison ships or the Provost: That from the best evidence the subject could admit of, the general allowance of prisoners, at most did not exceed four ounces of meat per day, and often so damaged as not to be eatable: That it had been a common practice with the British, on a prisoner’s being first captured, to keep him three, four or five days without a morsel of meat, and then to tempt him to enlist to save his life: That there were numerous instances of prisoners of war, perishing in all the agonies of hunger.”  . . .

 

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Item of the Day: The History of the American Revolution (1791)

Full Title: The History of the American Revolution. By David Ramsay, M.D., of South Carolina. Vol. I. London: sold by J. Johnson and J. Stockdale, M.DCC.XCI. [1791]

 

ADVERTISMEMENT,

BY AN

ENGLISH FRIEND.

THE particulars of the American Revolution may by many be thought to be sufficiently known; but, if we deduct from our first accounts all that was false or that is by this time forgotten, and add all that is true which has since been discovered, the history, now presented to the English reader, may be esteemed in a great measure new. It is new even among the Americans; and in any event it must produce a new effect upon the judgment and feelings of every one, as being digested out of scattered materials. There are few indeed to whom the work will be more interesting than to those who have borne a share in the events which it records; and there is no portion of modern, or perhaps antient, history, more worthy as respecting politics, war, or the human character.

Should the perusal of it revive some of the regrets of Englishmen, the contemplation of our past misfortunes may at least prove a lesson for avoiding the like in future; especially in the present eventful age, when no political course can long be safe which is not framed upon principles, and suited both the the temper and interests of mankind.

The discovery of the distress which the Americans suffered at the close of the war, must not lead us to lament the peace which followed; for the distress experienced was certainly mutual. But had it even been in our power for the moment to subjugate America, either terms must have been granted to her equivalent to independence, or else a perpetual cause of war would have remained; which in the case of a spirited and increasing people, must always have proved burthensome on our side, and sooner or later have terminated in their favor. At present, none can doubt, that a more beneficial connection with America is open to us, than any which could have procured by force.

The particular history before us, is at once short and full, as well as judicious, authentic, and impartial, and is clearly the best extant on the subject.

Some allowances nevertheless are requisite in favor of the present work, which from several passages in it, appears not to have received the author’s last corrections. Various inaccuracies also, especially in the first volume, have crept into it, from errors either of the transcriber or of the press. A table of these is formed wherever they are of moment. —Some peculiarities of style will still be found remaining, a part of which belong to the author, and the rest to the country to which he belongs.

It is a curious fact, that there is perhaps no one portion of the British empire, in which two or three millions of persons are to be found, who speak their mother-tongue with greater purity, or a truer pronuciation, than the white inhabitants of the United States. This was attributed, by a pentrating observer, to the number of British subjects assembled in America from various quarters, who, in consequence of their intercourse and intermarriages, soon dropped the peculiarities of their several provincial idioms, retaining only what was fundamental and common to them all; a process, which the requency or rather the universality of school-learning in North America; must naturally have assisted. —At the same time there are few natives of the United States, who are altogether free from what may be called Americanisms, both in their speech and their writing. In the case of words of rarer use, they have framed their own models of pronunciation, as having little access to those established among the people from whom they have derived their language; and hence they are sometimes at variance with us in their speech, (to say nothing of the peculiar tones of voice which prevail in some parts of the United States.) But their familiarity with our best writers has in general left them ingnorant of nothing which regards our phraseology; and hence their chief difference in writing consists in their having added a few words to our language, in consequence of the influence of some local authority or of their peculiar situation. Some of these additions we have ourselves received, as in the case of the words “organize and organization,” when applied to political bodies; others we have listened to without as yet adopting, as in the case of the words “the legislative and the executive,” when used as subtantives; but others again we have altogether declined to countenance, as the words, “to advocate and to loan,” which appear to be verbs invented without any apparent reason. The author before us will furnish several examples of what is here alluded to, where the solitary authority of a few Englsih writers, if such are to be found in his favor, cannot be considered as of force enough to be opposed to the general habit of our nation. —Happily, however, these criticisms are of little practical use; for, no terms can become current in either of the two countries, which will not easily be understood in both of them. —It is thus that the new circumstances of the French have brought various words into use with that nation, which were before unkown to it; but they are all of them immediately intelligible, whether they are borrowed from us, or from America, or, like the words “civisme and incivisme,” have originated among themselves. . . .

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Item of the Day: Madison’s Papers (1842)

Full Title: The Papers of James Madison, Purchased by Order of Congress; Being His Correspondence and Reports of Debates During the Congress of the Confederation and his Reports of Debates in The Federal Convention; Now published from the original manuscripts, deposited in the Department of State, By Direction of the Joint Library Committee of Congress, Under the Superintendence of Henry D. Gilpin.  Volume I.  Mobile:  Allston Mygatt.  1842.

Letters Preceding the Debates of 1783.

To Thomas Jefferson.  Philadelphia, March 27, 1780.

Dear Sir,

Nothing under the title of news has occurred since I wrote last week by express, except that the enemy on the first of March remained in the neighbourhood of Charleston, in the same posture as when the preceding account came away.  From the best intelligence from that quarter, there seems to be great encouragement to hope that Clinton’s operations will be again frustrated.  Our great apprehensions at present flow from a very different quarter.  Among the various conjunctures of alarm and distress which have arisen in the course of the Revolution, it is with pain I affirm to you, Sir, that no one can be singled out more truly critical than the present.  Our army threatened with an immediate alternative of disbanding or living on free quarter; the public treasury empty; public credit exhausted, nay, the private credit of purchasing agents employed, I am told, as far as it will bear; Congress complaining of the extortion of the people; the people of the improvidence of Congress; and the army of both; our affairs requiring the most mature and systematic measures, and the urgency of occasions admitting only of temporizing expedients generating new difficulties; Congress recommending plans to the several states for execution, and the States separately rejudging the expediency of such plans, whereby the same distrust of concurrent exertions that has damped the ardor of patriotic individuals must produce the same effect among the States themselves; an old system of finance discarded as incompetent to our necessities, an untried and precarious one substituted, and a total stagnation in prospect between the end of the former and the operation of the latter.  These are the outlines of the picture of our public situation.  I leave it to your own imagination to fill them up.  Believe me, Sir, as things now stand, if the States do not vigorously proceed in collecting the old money, and establishing funds for the credit of the new, that we are undone; and let them be ever so expeditious in doing this, sill the intermediate distress of our army, and hinderance to public affairs, are a subject of melancholy reflection.  General Washington writes that a failure of bread has already commenced in the army; and that, for any thing he sees, it must unavoidably increase.  Meat they have only for a short season, and as the whole dependence is on provisions now to be procured, without a shilling for the purpose, and without credit for a shilling, I look forward with the most pungent apprehensions.  It will be attempted, I believe, to purchase a few supplies with loan-office certificates; but whether they will be received is perhaps far from being certain; and if received will certainly be a more expensive and ruinous expedient.  It is not without some reluctance I trust this information to a conveyance by post, but I know of no better at present, and I ceonceive it to be absolutely necessary to be known to those who are most able and zealous to contribute to the public relief.     

 

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Item of the Day: Congress Canvassed (1774)

Full Title:

The Congress Canvassed: Or, An Examination into the Conduct of the Delegates, at their Grand Convention, Held in Philadelphia, Sept 1, 1774.  Addressed, to the Merchants of New-York.  By A. W. Farmer.  Author of Free Thoughts, &c.  Printed in the Year M,DCC,LXXIV.

Gentlemen,

I shall make no apology for addressing myself to you, the Merchants of the city of New-York, upon the present unhappy and distressed state of our country.  My subject will necessarily lead me to make some remarks on your past and present conduct, in this unnatural contention between our parent country and us.  I am duly sensible of what importance you are to the community, and of the weight and influence you must have in the conduct of all our public affairs: I know that the characters of many of you are truly respectable, and I shall endeavour to express what I have to say to you, consistently with that decency and good manners which are due, not only to you, but to all mankind.

But you must not expect any undue complaisance from me.–You must be content with plain English, from a plain countryman; I must have the privilege of calling a fig–a Fig; an egg, –an Egg.  If, upon examination, your conduct shall, in any instances, appear to be weak, you must bear to be told of it:—if wrong, to be censured:—if selfish, to be exposed:—if ridiculous, to be laughed at :— Do not be offended if I omit to say, that if your conduct shall appear to be honourable, that it shall be commended.  Honourable and virtuous actions want no commendation,—they speak for themselves:  They affect not praise, but are rather disgusted with it,—instead of heightening, it tarnishes their lustre.  If you have acted from honourable motives, from disinterested principles, from true patriotism,—if justice and prudence, and a love of your country have been the guides of your conduct, you need fear no attack, nor the strictest scrutiny of your actions. 

Nor, upon the other hand, ought you to be displeased with the man, who shall point out your errors, supposing you have acted wrong.  To err is common,— I wish it was uncommon to persist in error.  But such is the pride of the human heart, that when we have once taken a wrong step, we think it an impeachment of our wisdom and prudence to retreat.  A kind of sullen, sulky obstinacy takes possession of us; and though, in the hour of calm reflection, our hearts should condemn us, we had rather run the risk of being condemned by the world too, than own the possibility of our having been mistaken.  Preposterous pride!  It defeats the end it aims at:  It degrades instead of exalting our characters, and destroys that reputation which it seems so solicitous to establish.  To become sensible of our errors, and to mend them,—to grow wiser by our own mistakes,—to learn prudence from our misconduct,—to make every fall a means of rising higher in virtue,—are circumstances which raise the dignity of human nature the nearest to that perfection of conduct which has never erred.   

Possibly, in many instances, I shall need your candour:  In one particular I must bespeak it.  I live at a distance from the city, and visit it but seldom.  The opinion I have formed of your conduct, depends, a good deal, upon report, and the common newspapers.—I have, however, endeavoured to get the best information I could; and I have not the least inclination to put unfair constructions upon your actions; and should I, in any instance, misrepresent you, I will, upon good information, make all proper acknowledgements.  Under these circumstances, and with this disposition, I think I have a right to expect, that you will read this Address without prejudice, and judge of it with impartiality, and such a regard to truth and right, as every reasonable man ought to make the basis of his opinion in all the discussions, and the rule of his conduct in all his actions.

 

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Filed under 1770's, American Revolution, Congress, Eighteenth century, Political Pamphlets, Posted by Matthew Williams