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Letter from Colonel Joseph Reed to Robert Morris



Head Quarters, New York, July 18, 1776.

DEAR SIR: I received this letter by Lord Howe, from a gentleman of character in England. You will observe it has the appearance of a mere private letter; but from the contents, and some corresponding circumstances, I have reason to believe it was not intended merely as such. In this view, I communicated it to the General, and now forward it, to be made use of as your good judgment may direct. If it can be improved, in any respect, for the publick advantage, either to give time to discover the true powers these Commissioners have, or in any other way, I shall most cheerfully take such a post as my situation and abilities will admit, and as may be directed. Or if you think no advantage or benefit can arise from taking notice of it, you will please to suppress it.

I fear the die is irrevocably cast, and that we must play out the game, however doubtful or desperate. My principles have been much misunderstood, if they were supposed to militate against reconciliation. I had one dogma of political faith, to which I constantly adhered, that as united councils and united strength alone could enable us to support this contest, private opinions and those of mere local authority should be subservient to the supreme decision of Congress. From the purity and extent of its intelligence, and the abilities of its members, I derived my hopes of political safety, and therefore beheld with concern every attempt to control the judgment and bind down the opinions of any of its members by instructions or other devices, formed, as they must be, on the partial intelligence of some, and the interested or timid views of others. My private judgment led me to think, that if the two great cardinal points, of exemption from British taxation, and charge of internal Government, could have been secured, our happiness and prosperity would have been best promoted by preserving the dependence. The Declaration of Independence is a new and very strong objection to entering into any negotiation inconsistent with that idea. But I fancy there are numbers, and some of them firm in the interests of America, who would think an overture ought not to be rejected; and if it could be improved into a negotiation which could secure the two points have mentioned above, would think the blood and treasure expended well spent. I have no idea, from anything I have seen or can learn, that if we should give the General and Admiral a full and fair hearing, the proposition would amount to anything short of unconditional submission; but it may be worth considering whether, that once known, and all prospect of securing American liberty in that way being closed, it would not have a happy effect to unite us into one chosen band, resolved to be free, or perish in the attempt. There was a time when one sentiment pervaded the whole country. Whig and Tory, however differing in other things, agreed that the claims of taxation by a British Parliament could never be admitted. If these Commissioners have no concessions to make on this point, it must be evident to the whole world that resistance cannot be called our choice. It is the only alternation left to slavery and wretchedness.

What will become of our affairs in Canada, or rather in this Province, in the Northern Department? Our General has more trouble and concern with that department than his own; and yet, after every step taken, and supply sent,


we are told of great necessities and wants, arising from incredible waste. If Mr˙ Schuyler is so good a Quartermaster and Commissary, why is there such incredible waste? In short, my dear sir, if some speedy measure is not taken in this matter, in my opinion that Army will waste and disperse, leaving the enemy an easy passage into the heart of these Colonies. I trust and hope, amidst the changes which have been made in our Province, and in most of which I could not agree, the publick will not lose your services in Congress. I know many things must be very repugnant to your temper and judgment; but so it has proved in the struggles of all free States and countries. The time and place will come when publick virtue will meet its reward —

"The firm patriot there,
Who made the welfare of mankind his care,
Though vex' d with envy, and by faction cross' d,
Shall find his gen' rous labour was not lost."

Be pleased to present my respects to Mr˙ Willing; and believe me, with much truth and esteem, &c˙, &c.

To Robert Morris, Esq˙, one of the Delegates of the Province of Pennsylvania in the honourable Continental Congress.