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Letter from Peter S. Van Allstyne to New-York Committee of Safety



Kinderhook, Albany County, March 22, 1776.

GENTLEMEN: A difficulty has arisen in the execution of my office of Justice of the Peace, under the Five Pound Act, which induces me to apply to your Board. I have hitherto issued precepts as usual, when applied to for the recovery of debts within my limited jurisdiction, though I have always, since the commencement of our publick distresses, endeavoured to dissuade parties from a prosecution where the debtor' s default arose from inability; but where I have been assured that the demand of process by the plaintiff has not proceeded from litigiousness, but as a means of obtaining a just debt, which was not detained from inability, I have readily exercised the powers of my office. Notwithstanding these my principles, I have given offence, and on Saturday last, I was visited by sundry persons, who said they were a Committee from a larger number in the northeastern part of this District, who had come to a resolution that the law for recovery of debts before Magistrates should cease in this District; and yesterday, when I happened to be from home, about thirty or forty men came with a design to compel me to a promise of desisting from the further exercise of my office in civil suits. The objections they make are of a general nature, and by no means confined to me; for no peculiar hardship or any oppression is complained of, nor has any resentment been shown against the plaintiffs; but they say that, in the present situation of the country, they ought not to be compelled by law to pay debts; and that while we are fighting against the King,


(I state their objection,) it is absurd to use his name or authority to enforce the payment of debts. Your Board will at once perceive the dilemma to which myself, and, indeed, all who are concerned in the administration of justice, are reduced by these principles, and the compulsory methods threatened of carrying them into execution. For my part, I have remonstrated that no order of the Continental Congress, the Provincial Congress, or the General County Committee, has passed for a cessation of law, and that when either interferes, I shall doubtless be freed from further application. They, on the other hand, argue that the silence of the Congresses must be taken to be in their favour, from the evident reasonableness of their objection, (which I have already stated,) and, therefore, that it is incumbent on those. who are advocates for the law' s going on, to get an express declaration to destroy what they suppose to be the implied sense of the Congresses. At present, while the one party complains of the hardship of paying debts, the other thinks it equally hard to be restrained from the only effectual means of enforcing their just demands.

Upon the whole, it would be of publick benefit that your Board (which, except the Grand Continental Congress, is the only competent power to decide these differences) should express its sentiments on this important subject, for it is that by which all sides profess themselves ready to govern themselves.

I am, gentlemen, your most obedient servant,


To the President of the Provincial Congress, New-York.

Although we have not experienced the inconveniences above set forth, yet, being exposed thereto from the nature of our offices as Magistrates, we beg leave to join in the above representation.