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Letter from S. McClintock to William Whipple



Greenland, New Hampshire, August 2, 1776.

SIR: The only consideration which has restrained me from writing you before now, is the weighty and important business in which you are engaged. Perhaps no body of men, in any period of time, ever had objects of greater magnitude, or more various and complicated, to engage their attention than the grand American Congress have at the present day; and I believe I speak the sentiments of people in general, when I add, never did men act with more wisdom, prudence, and fidelity, than they have hitherto done in the discharge of the great trust committed to them by their country. I rejoice that we have such able politicians and true patriots at the helm in this convulsed, critical, alarming state of our publick affairs. The wisdom, the justice, and publick spirit discovered in all their resolves and proceedings, have acquired them the entire confidence of the people, excepting a few restless, disappointed, malignant Tories, or venal wretches, bought with British gold, or the hope of making themselves great on the ruin of their country, who are not inactive in propagating falsehoods and slanders to discourage people and prejudice the common cause. But I believe they are so few that their influence is like the drop of the bucket to the ocean. I will not say what a gentleman in conversation with me the other day said, with some warmth, that people have a greater veneration for the resolves of the Congress than for the laws of the Almighty; but I will say, from my observation, that their resolves are observed by people in general with as much reverence as ever were the laws of Solon and Lycurgus by the Athenians and Spartans, and much better than laws enforced by Royal authority. People in general will be quiet and obedient so long as they see that their Rulers are pursuing the true end of Government, the good of the governed.

While some few among us are showing their enmity to the country in every way they dare, it is merry to observe the conduct of some others who seem to be in a state of suspense, waiting to see which side is like to prevail — are half Whigs one day and half Tories the next, according as the events that turn up are for or against us. They are not governed by a regard to the justice of the cause, but by a regard to consequences — in other words, by selfishness. Their conduct puts me in mind of the old Scotchwoman in the time of a competition between a Popish and Protestant Prince for the Throne, who used to say her prayers both in Latin and Scotch; being asked the reason, she answered, "I dinna ken which side I shall gang to at last, and let the Lord tak which he wull." Sorry I am that there are any among us, who drew their vital breath in America, and have all their connexions here, so totally void of that noble and divine virtue, the love of their country, as to be unfriendly to the common cause. But I promise myself that the wisdom, justice, moderation, and firmness of the honourable Congress in their proceedings, will finally silence all opposition. The eyes of all America are looking up to them, under God, as the guardians of the Commonwealth, and reposing the greatest confidence in them that they will frame such regulations as effectually to secure her liberties against the future encroachment of tyrants, and place them on a permanent basis.

It is said virtue is the basis of a Republick, and some express their fears that there is not publick virtue enough in the country for such a form of Government; or if there is at present, it will not long be the case — that we shall soon become so corrupt that anarchy and confusion will take place, and we shall be in a worse state than if we had remained as we were, or submitted to absolute power. I hope not; as the abilities, virtue, and publick spirit of the gentlemen who compose our Congress are unquestionable, so they


have the advantage in framing a Constitution for America of the experience of past ages. They know the rocks on which other States have been shipwrecked, and I trust, like good pilots, will steer clear of them. Can no regulation be made to guard more effectually against that corruption which has proved the ruin of all States that ever have existed, and to counteract the tendency of vice, and in some measure to supply the want of publick virtue? To oblige people to preserve and retain their liberties?

What do you think of the Agrarian law to prevent subjects from engrossing too much property, and of consequence acquiring too much power and influence, dangerous to the liberties of the people? What of a Rotation act, to oblige those who make laws, in their turn to experience the operation of them? Would it be a wise measure to oblige the elected to clear themselves by a solemn oath when chosen, from having, directly or indirectly, used any influence to obtain their election, and to make outlawry and an incapacity ever to serve their country afterwards in any publick post, the punishment of perjury in such cases? Would it prevent the abuse of that power by which the British Parliament made themselves Septennial to make it an express rule of the Constitutions, that Representatives shall be considered as reduced to private station at the expiration of the term for which they shall be chosen; and that if they should presume to make any laws after the constitutional term of their existence, such laws shall have no binding force on the people in any case whatsoever, and that such an attempt shall disqualify them for being reflected? Can no method be found out to restrain and counteract that spirit of domination, which in all ages has spread desolation and misery in the East, and drenched it in human blood? Above all, I trust that Spiritual tyranny, the worst sort of tyranny, will be guarded against. Civil power in the hands of domineering Priests, of every denomination, ever hath been, and while human nature remains what it is, ever will be a source of infinite mischief. In my apprehension, it is clearly inconsistent with the nature of Christ' s Kingdom for his Ministers to have any share in the civil power, and with the idea of religious liberty, the natural rights of mankind, and the design of Government, for the civil power to be employed to propagate or establish any particular persuasion in opposition to others. As all men have an equal right to think and judge for themselves in matters of religion, and to worship God in that way that is agreeable to their own consciences, and cannot be amenable for their religious opinions to any earthly tribunal, I could heartily wish, that in framing a Constitution for America, care might be taken to secure these rights inviolate to all, without exception, and to lay an effectual bar against persecution for conscience sake; that there might be no civil establishment of any particular persuasion, but that all denominations might enjoy equal liberty and protection so long as they behave in a manner becoming good and loyal subjects, and that the line between civil and religious power drawn by that wise, judicious, and upright Magistrate, Galio, might be carefully observed. But perhaps I have need to ask pardon for offering these hints on a subject which I confess does not belong to my province. However, I persuade myself your candour and friendship will not impute it to a conceit of my ability to afford you any assistance, but rather to a warm and honest zeal for the common cause.

That you and the respectable gentlemen, whom I regard with veneration and gratitude, as, under God, the guardians of our inestimable privileges and the saviours of their country, may have a double portion of the Spirit of Wisdom to guide you in your deliberations, and may enjoy the reward of your fidelity and patriotism in the applause of your grateful country, the approbation of your own conscience, and of your Supreme Judge, is the ardent wish of, sir, your most obedient servant,