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Letter from Landon Carter to General Washinton



Sabine-Hall, May 9, 1776.

MY GOOD GENERAL: If ever friendship gave vigor to the nerves of declining age, it will do it now, to enable me to acknowledge the receipt of your favour of March 27. I assure you I endorsed it, "The History of the Evacuation of Boston," a mere magnum in parvo, and I read it with great pleasure to all our friends around. Permit me to say that you have made good the prediction of my first acquaintance with you — a gentleman as free from reprehension deserved as I was acquainted with; and when you stepped into publick, I left the euges of your conduct to the margin of my own books, to be read by those who study good characters; and every Coriolanus of Rome in the days of the Volsci had a G W against it; whilst every rash Braddock marked an unfortunate Sempronius to preserve his remembrance. Go on, my dear sir, and impress on every memory "the man who resolved never to forget the citizen in the General." Would to God that such virtue existed in the councils of the present day! that the quiet and happiness of our community may never be impeded by the forgetfulness of the citizen in the rulers, which may turn up! I pray to


God for it, because I think the language of the times seems to have forgotten on what principles this otherwise unaccountable unanimity at first originated. I say unaccountable, for who could have dreamed that when Province was in full rage against Province, not only for territory but even for trade, and that not through the ambition of excelling each other; when even Colonies were eternally venting their internal reprobation against each other, rivers against rivers, and creeks and runs divided in their social happiness; I say, who could have ever expected to see such a continent so cordially united as to resist possibly the greatest power on earth! Certainly nothing but the fear of being enslaved from one end to the other of their extensive boundary ever could have produced so mere a prodigy! And must not Heaven have hitherto indicated their several modes of preservation? Yes, my friend; and without flattery I say it, time will discover that your social virtue has, like the one Pompey of old, in the style of Cicero, been the favoured means of so much good to your country; for I cannot help foretelling that where you cannot be present with your humanity, discipline, forecast and prudence, we shall still be at a loss; for, believe me, I think that in general we are too much tinctured with either the interest or the vanity which most of us acquire from our cradles. I speak as from myself; it has cost me more labour to conquer such habits than ever Hercules had. Such an Augean stable is the whole world almost! May, then, this truly sublime compliment be paid to every man on publick duty, "That he was a master of himself." I am satisfied you must conclude what I allude to, therefore I will not trouble you with any stricture on the jargon of the times. I only wish that every one was, as you have shown yourself to be, not so much in quest of praise and emolument to yourself as of real good to your fellow-creatures.

As to news, you must be nearer to its fountain-head than I am, if America can be said to have such a place at this time. I can only say, a few gentlemen from Richmond and Essex have retaken a prize that a Dunmore tender impudently came and took at Hobbs' s Hole, (a mere nest of Tories.) As soon as it was known, they pursued her in open boats, amidst showers of swivel-balls and bullets, and had well nigh taken the tender as well as the prize; but she was so well provided against boarding that it was impossible for low-sided boats to get on board. An attempt was made to grapple at her stern, in which the only man, a poor slave, was wounded and lost. We have heard since that we killed seven of her men. Some attempted to peep at our boats through her netting, and they, it is imagined, were instantly shot. A brisk gale carried her away; but it is said an armed vessel from Maryland took her in the bay, after killing seventeen men more, and from that report we have heard of the seven we killed; but I know not the truth of it. General Lee has gone on some secret expedition, nobody knows where, and with a tolerable force of men fit for such business; this also but report. Our papers must certainly tell you more than I can do. I could have wished that ambition had not so visibly seized so much ignorance all over the Colony as it seems to have done; for this present Convention abounds with too many of the inexperienced creatures to navigate our bark on this dangerous coast; so that I fear the few skilful pilots who have hitherto done tolerably well to keep her clear from destruction, will not be able to conduct her with common safety any longer; and as this injury has extended even to some members of the Congress, who certainly must issue from the vote of the people to Convention in August next, who shall we have there? I need only tell you of one definition that I heard of Independency: It was expected to be a form of Government that, by being independent of the rich men, every man would then be able to do as he pleased. And it was with this expectation they sent the men they did, in hopes they would plan such a form. One of the Delegates I heard exclaim against the Patrolling law, because a poor man was made to pay for keeping a rich man' s slaves in order. I shamed the fool so much for it that he slunk away; but he got elected by it. Another actually, in a most seditious manner, resisted the drafting the Militia by lot, to be ready for any immediate local emergency, and he got first returned that way. When we used legislation such rascals would have been turned out; but now it is not to be supposed that a dog will eat a dog.


I know who I am writing to, and therefore I am not quite so confined in my expressions, for a more decent language would not explain my meaning so well. And from hence it is that our independency is to arise! Papers, it seems, are everywhere circulating about for poor ignorant creatures to sign, as directions to their Delegates to endeavour at an independency. In vain do we ask to let it be explained what is designed by it! If the form of Government is to preserve justice, order, peace and freedom, I believe there are few who would refuse; but when these only modes of social happiness are left so much concealed, or not touched upon in the least, what sensible creature ought to trust an ignorant representative to do what he pleases under a notion of leaving his constituents independent? It is often asked whether the present measures in Great Britain speak any freedom in the reconciliation proposed. And I answer always, No; but far from it. But may we not ask among ourselves, Whether the modes we are in can speak the least happiness, peace or freedom? Thus has a word unluckily thrown out possessed the minds of rather too many, when if it had been properly explained from those in whose wisdom we have confided, things might have been seriously and soberly considered; and then some good form of Government might possibly have been the result. I have read with much attention a pamphlet styled "Thoughts on Government." The author sees with myself many evils that may possibly attend his proposal; but perhaps from too great a confidence in the presumed parallel between corporeal and political bodies, he is for leaving the remedies against them to times of more tranquillity; no doubt concluding that nature will be as active in the operations of the latter as she generally is in the former. But here, from really a long experience in both, and, without vanity, I say a successful one, I beg leave to mould in my modest negative. If the evil or morbidity of the corporeal has not detoned or mortally affected the organick or mechanick parts of the structure, then, by a removal of the cause the effect must cease, because nature has so constituted the several powers. But the evils or corruptions attendant on the body politick must first have greatly depraved the mental powers before they can have produced that willingness or disposition to social disorders. In one word, I mean that the common temptations or the natural passions may induce a disorder that a tranquil waiting the effects of nature from its causa causarum, eternally active, unless prevented as before, will most probably remove a disease; but in the other, instead of a nature, destined to assist you by the Author of being, or causa causarum, you must have a second nature, vicious in all its distinctions, to contend against. Therefore I say principiis obsta, prevent such evils in the very beginning, or never expect to do it at all. O for a small respite from the cholick, that I might hint a mode (radically as it were) to prevent the principal evil! But convulsed as I am I will endeavour to scratch it out.

Without desiring the gallows for murdering Warburton, as Common Sense has done, as well as the Scriptures, about society, Government, and what not, I will only premise that no Government can be really permanent in happiness where it does not originate from among the people to be governed. To prevent the corruption of these, then, is the point. Let who will compare it to Virgil' s hic labor hoc opus, I think it may be done by stifling the fascination in the person using it, rather than in the person receiving it. Every candidate, therefore, for an election from among the people should undergo some kind of formal or temporary lustrum or lustration, neither directly nor indirectly, by himself or others, to attempt, by lies or other species of bribery, to deceive or allure the people to his interest, and this by some expressive oath or publick solemnity as soon as he sets up to be elected. I well remember an oath which, besides the oaths to Government, existed in Sir W˙ Gooche' s day, before a seat (though elected) could be filled, and I remember that fox tampered with many to get it abolished; and at last, in the year 1734, it was effected on this simple plea, That it was a reflection on men of virtue to be bound by oaths to duty. I impudently set forth in Parke' s Paper that the same plea would be equally as good against all oaths and every restrictive law whatever. However, Gooche knew it would open a wicket to corruption, and it was abolished; and from that time let the journals be searched. I am certain more rascally things have been attempted and carried than ever were


before in the country. I hint this on the side of candidates. And on the side of electors, if they were sworn against corruption I do not see it can be amiss. Some fancy it a hurt to religion, but I really differ: make a man honest without doors, and the fear of detection, with a heavy punishment annexed, will make him incline to be so within. If some such thing is not done, in vain shall we hope either for liberty, peace, or safety long, because it is too evident that the present idea of gain is the very parent of ambition, and no fool can blush whilst he is in a way of filling his own pockets; let his ignorance be what it will, that is his main chance, and he has no other in view.

I suppose I have written enough, and so permit me to conclude.

Dear sir, your very respectful well-wisher and real friend,


Lee is returned without doing anything. It seems he prudently went to reconnoitre Dunmore' s intrenchrnenls, and found them not only strongly fortified by land in all the accessible places, but merely barricaded on the water. However, a few Tories that were furnishing him assistance have paid for it in their goods and chattels. I am obliged to you for your kindness. I am not able to afford him the cash necessary to attend a General; so my grandson, his father, and myself, can only thank you for hinting the opportunity we might have.

L˙ C.