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Address to the Inhabitants of the United Colonies



The observation is doubtless just, "that we should think twice before we speak once." A second thought and close examination of things and characters prevent many rash conclusions, remove groundless prejudices, and cure a multitude of mistakes. Some, by constitution, believe upon the slightest evidence. They will upon no account inquire into the probability of a fact. They are so unwilling to enter critically into a subject, that it little matters what is reported. Indeed, whether any believes it or not, they will, and spread it everywhere. Others resign themselves absolutely and forever to the judgment of some reputable person or other. Whether they can form an opinion, under the most advantageous circumstances, without assistance; whether, out of modesty, they rely more upon the wisdom of such a one — one, it may be, who never misjudged; or whether complaisance gets the ascendant of every consideration, I shall not inquire. Others, from a sceptical frame, question, dispute, and contradict everything. Let a particular fact be attended with all the marks of probability, they can, without any difficulty, find sufficient reason to disbelieve it. Let the evidence appear to the best advantage, and carry conviction to thousands upon every side, and produce correspondent exercises, they do not in the least perceive its force; or if they do, their stubbornness and obstinacy hinder a publick acknowledgment. Some are of a different cast in many respects. Prejudice operates so strongly, that all which comes from certain quarters they believe without any hesitation, but slow indeed of belief as to anything to the disadvantage of the cause they have espoused. They stand (to use a Latin expression) erectis auribus, to what turns in their favour. They can credit upon the least appearance of truth, without much more than the shadow of proof. They can discover five hundred reasons where no other can discover one; and where multitudes yield a ready assent, they see nothing at all. These observations apply to purpose in our present situation. Sorry I am to say that our union is not perfect. Dissenting voices are heard; secret enemies, in the garb of hearty friends, we meet with, but from time to time are happily discovering themselves. Thanks, in particular, to that Providence which watches over this land, for opening a most unfriendly plot, and preventing its execution. Such events not only awaken our attention, but unavoidably create jealousies and fears in every patriotick breast. When here and there, and all around us, this and that man, of whom we never before entertained the least suspicion, unexpectedly appears promoting the vilest cause; when our enemies prove to be of our own household; when we find them among our Committees of Inspection and Safety, in our Assemblies, in our Congresses, in our Councils and Armies, we are too easily led to question the veracity and integrity of every man. When we have been disappointed in our prospects, hopes, and alliances, in some instances, it is human nature to reprobate all, and withdraw our confidence from every one. Especially is this the case when our prospects are very fine, and our expectations highly promising. Does a General prove himself a villain at a time when the fate of an army was at stake, and the welfare of thousands depended upon a victory, we suspect all the officers at once. Does a member of the Congress become an advocate for oppression, or embarrass publick measures to the utmost of his power, it tends to bring all the Delegates of that particular Province, of which he is an unworthy member, into disrepute. Nor, indeed, does that Province escape the censure of hundreds, so extensive is the influence of a suspicion of publick characters. How necessary, then, that the deportment of our rulers should be unexceptionable. How should they exert themselves to remove prejudices from their constituents, and forever divest their conduct of any ambiguous and deceitful appearances. Not to add thoughts like these, for they are beside our purpose: There are two extremes into which we are always inclined to run in such a situation, to say nothing of other things connected in some measure with them, One is, to be deaf and callous to the best authenticated facts. The other is, to be ready to hear and credit every report to the disadvantage of persons of importance and reputation. Would any one inquire, "Where is the mischief of such behaviour? What undesirable consequence can it involve?" The answer is as obvious, much more so, than the question. We


all wish for the approbation and assistance of our fellow creatures. A prospect of it animates and encourages the most vigorous exertions of our powers. Applause, we expect, should be bestowed upon a series of benevolent, useful, and noble actions. We, in short, demand it. If withheld by reason of some root of malice, envy, or falsehood springing up, we consider ourselves deprived of our undoubted right. We consider the unjust deprivation of a good name as a species of publick robbery. Were the publick treasures of a province robbed or embezzled, the Government would not suffer a greater evil than to have her good rulers held up as objects of general detestation and contempt. A further evil is, that it effectually cuts the sinews of diligence and faithfulness, and sometimes determines a person to be guilty of perfidy which before he would have blushed to think of. Another inconvenience is, that it checks many a rising genius, and proves an insuperable objection in the mind of those who are well qualified for some post. These are difficulties which attend one extreme; nor has the other a smaller retinue. When persons are under no restrictions — when they are not answerable for any part of their conduct — when no instances of misbehaviour, however frequent or notorious, are looked into and frowned upon, can we wonder that every species of vice should creep into a Senate and an Army? What can open a more effectual door for all the corrupt principles of the human heart to exert themselves without control? What can sooner put a period to the laudable exertions of the deserving than the undisturbed triumph of wickedness? What can sooner throw upon a bed of ease and of negligence than such inattention and criminal stupidity? These hints clearly show the importance and justify the propriety of avoiding both these extremes. It will be inquired, "Why all this at the present day? Was ever a people more happy, and better satisfied with their civil and military leaders? Was there ever less occasion to blame? Can the instance be produced when so few complaints filled our mouths and ears? Why so many cautions and directions? Wherefore should we erect a beacon for no valuable end?" Can we name the man or woman who is so little acquainted with what passes every day as not to notice and feel this suitableness and necessity? Is not this Magistrate and that General suspected and vilified? Is not more than one in the Congress generally mentioned with dislike? Are not our enemies taking unwearied pains to discredit our best officers and Senators? And is this nothing? How long is it, pray, since a Washington and Lee were branded by the soldiery with many marks of disgrace? Happy for them, and not less so for us, their bitterest accusers are put to silence, and sunk into their former baseness. Not long since several Delegates of the Provinces were charged with cowardice, unfaithfulness, and apostacy. If this be true, why has not every one, from publick authority, a catalogue of their names, that he may never intrust sacred privileges in the hands of those who continually bow in the temple of mammon, and offer sacrifices upon the altar of ambition and pride? Until their constituents or the Congress discover and expose their baseness, forbear, my countrymen, to stab the vitals of the wonderful Constitution which the wisdom and piety of this Continent are forming. Forbear, for want of sufficient information, to destroy the influence and character of our ablest statesmen and bravest commanders. When evidence which will warrant a procedure and solid conclusion, appears against any one, let that man possess a station in which we all may be secure. Put it out of his reach to molest or injure us in the future execution of any beneficial plan.

It must be fresh in all our memories to what an unwarrantable height our suspicions and jealousies of the brave Spencer have arisen. Everybody has assumed a right, in every part of his military life, to arraign, judge, and condemn him. Without a hearing, without a summons, and legal proof, he is tried and found guilty. The man that cannot, for a kingdom, spell his own name and write an intelligible word, sustains the no small characters of an evidence, judge, and jury. Not a person we come across but gives his opinion with the same freedom and assurance that he would tell the plainest story in the world. "Had he been at the source of power, or had such a one, we should have seen a great alteration; this expedition would not


have miscarried; that loss would never have been gained; supplies of ammunition and provisions would never have been thus neglected; the operations of war would have been carried on with much more despatch; the enemies in that department would have been wholly crushed; in one word, all Canada would have been in our possession, the natives conciliated, and the other inhabitants awed into absolute submission." Thus talk the illiterate crowd at the distance of two or three hundred miles from the seat of the war. And thus they blast the purposes and views of a man who at present bears an unblemished character; who has never failed in any the least article of duty; who won the affection of every worthy officer and uncorrupted friend to his country; and who, in all his letters to our ever-to-be-remembered Governour, breathes in the greatest variety of undisguised expressions a soul as sincere as it is flaming in the cause of America. This is the man we kill by our groundless fears and surmises; one who has sat up late, rose early, eat the bread of carefulness, and almost exhausted his life for our good. Is this a reward for his labours? Will this attach him the more firmly to our system of politicks, and encourage his heart to persevere, and close his days in the field of battle? Will this nerve his arm with strength, inspire his soul with courage, and enliven his addresses with an irresistible pathos? Will he speak and act with that dignity and firmness which an assurance that he lives in the love and esteem of thousands enables one ever to do? These things will never be imagined. In addition to the falsehoods which have been mentioned, our enemies have ranked him among a number of men that are an eternal disgrace to the land that gave them birth; and, as if they could not render him vile enough, he is charged with being the author of a plan to desolate his own country with fire and sword. We rejoice that his conduct is uniform and unexceptionable — that no instance of it affords any evidence of his villany. The heart lies open to omniscience. We must be let into the depth of it by his actions. His connexions, indisposition, and our fruitless attempts to subdue the northern part, opened a door for the remote suspicion, or at least there was room for a corrupt heart to improve them to his disadvantage. The motive in the last instance was obvious. Aware of how much importance it was to plead the authority and assistance of so respectable a person, how beneficial to their design and fatal to his reputation, they had the impudence to enroll him among them. And some, weak as they are bad, have drunk in the report, and talked of it with a pretty deal of freedom. If futurity convicts him, the past time has not, I am certain. I might add to these he who fell upon the Heights of Abraham, and sacrificed numberless blessings for our deliverance. The dead, we should have expected, might sleep undisturbed in their tombs. When "they hear not the voice of their oppressor," forbid it that the tongue of the slanderer should not cease.

I shall close this paper with two observations, which may no trials we may yet pass through obliterate. The first is, never believe and spread reports to the prejudice and ruin of men in any publick office before we have sufficient proof of their unworthy behaviour. It is even dangerous to talk much upon such a subject in private, or to bring it often into the view of the mind. By thinking and speaking frequently upon defamatory stories, we begin, by degrees, to slide into the belief of them. More dangerous is it fully to give in to them and spread them wherever we go. I look upon the man that acts such a part as a worse enemy to society than he that communicates the most infectious disease. A character is good until it legally and rationally appears otherwise. When such evidence is afforded as the nature of the case demands, as our own judgment assures us is convincing, and all nations have deemed satisfactory, then we may with safety prosecute and punish the offenders. The other observation I would make is, that it becomes us to treat the characters of distinguished persons with candour; throw a mantle over trifling foibles; bury in the grave a little mistake; put the most favourable construction upon those instances of conduct which are not in themselves highly barefaced; drop all prejudice while we attend to such delicate points; silence the invidious and malicious; reward liberally the meritorious; and let us act throughout so that we may gain the approbation of conscience, the present age, and posterity.

Connecticut, June 24, 1776.