Documenting the American South Logo
Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Letter from William Hooper to the Provincial Congress of North Carolina
Hooper, William, 1742-1790
October 26, 1776
Volume 10, Pages 862-870

[From MS. Records in Office of Secretary of State.]
Letter from William Hooper, Delegate from North Carolina to the Continental Congress, to the Congress at Halifax.

Honoured Sir:

I beg leave through you to address the honourable the Congress of the State of North Carolina, and to explain to them the motives which induce my stay here at a time when the return of their delegates may be considered as an act of duty which they owe to those who constituted them. A desire to be present at that interesting period which is in a great measure to decide upon the portion of happiness which Carolina is to enjoy in its state of independency, weighs powerfully with me. And tho' my country may not have thought proper to have called me as a colonial delegate to assist in her councils in framing a system of Government for her future regulation, yet I most earnestly wish to be with you, altho' I should be only an inactive spectator of the Game in which every member of the State risques so great a Stake. That man must possess a more than stoical Apathy who can be indifferent to the event of deliberations which is to involve the rule of conduct which is to be prescribed to him, and under the influence of which he is destined to spend the remainder of his days, & be happy or miserable in proportion as the spirit of the government shall be adapted to those whom it is intended to control. Another motive which has a powerful influence with me is the insight which in the course of the business of the Continental Congress one necessarily obtains of the condition of the Continent at large, and the possibility of applying this experimental knowledge to the benefit of our own State. Were I upon the spot, in this respect I might be made perhaps convenient, tho' only as the vehicle of useful Intelligence.

I might explain to you the measures of the Continental Congress so far as they concern our State, and contribute my mite to aid the purposes for which they are intended. My private connections have a large share in my inclinations. A family seated in that part of

-------------------- page 863 --------------------
the State whither Lord Howe will no doubt direct the first efforts of his winter campaign, excites an anxiety that I am too much of the man not to feel in the most sensible manner, and earnestly wish to snatch them from impending danger.

These are considerations which one would imagine could scarce be over ballanced by any private or publick duty. The case is otherways—and from an obligation superiour to them all, I am induced for the present not to accede to them.

The necessary absence of my two very worthy Colleagues from the Continental Congress leaves the representation of the State of Carolina with me singly. At this critical period when the fate of American liberty may depend upon the full and perfect exertions of America on a sudden, when the energy of this Congress must be felt thro' all the parts of this extended Continent, Representation should be as large as possible, least the united Councils of America should lose their weight, from the fewness of those who are concerned in them. Thus circumstanced to leave the seat of our State vacant would be a gross violation of the sacred trust which you have reposed in me, and might be considered by America as a dishonourable desertion of her in the day of danger. The honour of North Carolina is concerned and with me that supersedes every other consideration.

We have a large army in the neigbourhood of New York and Gen. Howe with a formidable one to oppose it. The maneuvers of our Enemies indicate a design to bring on an action. The armies have continued for 6 days within a mile of each other, skirmishing at the extremities; this must soon communicate to the center and the action become general. What will be the event Heaven alone knows. Success is so of en the result of unforeseen accidents that the most experienced never count with confidence. Our hopes are indeed sanguine. Our general stands high in the opinion of those who know him—as the soldier, the citizen, the man, his character is great. Lee is with him and is an able assistant, and we have very many other officers who would do honour to any Corps in Europe. Our men are in high spirits zealous for action, leaving the event to Him who has most miraculously fought for us on former occasions—We trust we shall succeed, but the contrary is possible, as such this congress means to provide for such an event, if it does not happen our precautions will have been useless & this is the worst epithet that they will merit. Should we be defeated at

-------------------- page 864 --------------------
New York it is absolutely necessary that a full congress should be upon the spot to counteract the uses the Tories may make of it to dispirit our friends, to encourage the disaffected and bring our glorious cause into disrepute. Men who have made observations of the History of past ages, or studied the nature of things, are convinced that uninterrupted success is not the portion of man however meritorious his cause, but others who think superficially or are too lazy to think at all, men who have weak nerves, or like the Cappadocians chose rather to be slaves than freemen—despising the habit of thinking for themselves—these and such as these are governed by the event of the day, and if they do not run on in a continued tide of success, they lift up their hands in despair and give over all for lost; These unhappily are the bulk of mankind; it is the history of Human nature not of any particular place. Such exist here. To prevent the consequences of such ill grounded terrors, which when once set afloat spread like a contagion, it becomes the duty of the continental delegates by no conduct of theirs to give occasion to the weak or wicked, to draw insinuations from their conduct that may encourage such a spirit. This furnishes another reason, if another was necessary, to explain the motives of my continuance here.

With respect to the state of public affairs in this part of the Continent I beg leave to refer you to Mr Hewes & Mr Penn; satisfying myself with making some observations which necessarily arise out of the facts, and which may not occur to you at your distance from the Scene of Action. The successes which General Howe has obtained on Long Island and New York have been magnified into such importance that one would imagine that they proved a total incapacity on our part to resist him & must necessarily involve the ruin of our cause, Strange infatuation. What are the mighty feats that the utmost exertions of Great Britain by sea and land, aided with all the auxiliaries that Germany would credit them with, collected into a focus in the centre of America, performed? They have taken possession of Long Island and York Island, the first they purchased at the expence of 1000 men after a well fought battle which with 3000 men we maintained against twice that number, & where success was even then determined in their favor by a superior stroke of experimental Generalship. Were we disgraced here? No! we retired in a manner that would have honoured a Roman General, and they took possession of their dear bought purchase, with nothing

-------------------- page 865 --------------------
to boast but that from their shipping they might have cut off our communication with our main army and prevented us a supply of provisions. Have they any extraordinary merit in the acquisition of New York? Believe me they have none. This place was long ago thought incapable of defence against shipping, and an experienced Engineer who some time ago was sent out for the express purpose of fortifying it declared that it was impossible to make it formidable. It required more men than we could spare to make it tenable, and as we had many other ports to which as well as to this the Enemy had access with their shipping, It was tho't prudent to abandon it and concenter our force where the Enemies Ships could not annoy them. Have the Enemy notwithstanding this advanced into the Country? No! they keep close to their shipping and with all their advances have not yet marched a mile into our Country. The trouble (for that was all, the work being done by the soldiers when otherwise they would have been idle, saving the greatest part of the expence) of erecting Batteries was well bestowed. It has retarded the Enemies operations, advanced a Summer Campaign into the month of November, distressed them for food, and gives us opportunities to arm and accouter & cloath our own army and furnish them with the means of defence. Staten Island has seen British Troops fly before us. The 16th on Haerlem plains, it is believed they lost near 1000 in killed & wounded, & we held possession of the field—last Week they left 150 dead near Frog point to grace the success of Genl Glover—Deserters say they lost above 500 in killed & wounded. A skirmish at Rochelle last Week thinned them of 30 or 40 more. How stands the ballance? Britain surely has not much to boast. The Officers of the British Troops called Long Island a second Bunker Hill Affair—and I believe it proved so to them.

Altho' this skirmishing immediately decides nothing of importance yet as it accustoms our troops to the sound of musquetry, it is of essential service to them. Many men have courage by mechanism, & fighting may by frequent practice become so habitual as to constitute part of a man's pleasures.

The affair on the lakes is a matter of real importance, and the success which the British troops have obtained must for some time give them the command of the entrance into Canada, but it is a victory which they have obtained not at the expence of American honour. The Contest was maintained on our side with a bravery that would have graced the page of Roman history.

-------------------- page 866 --------------------

Success decided in favour of vastly superiour numbers and strength. Britain fought on the Water, her national Element, against the infant efforts of America, in the formation of naval strength. It is a fact which they confess that we did all that men could do. When in a future period justice shall be done to Arnold who commanded, Posterity will lament that such amazing fortitude should have been attended with such undeserved ill fortune. I flatter myself that should they make an attack upon Ticonderoga Genl Gates will give a good account of them. He has 9000 effective men in good spirits, reinforced by a large body of Militia who consider this pass as the key to the Eastern Colonies and are determined not to cede it but with their lives. Mr Penn will inform the Convention of any other matters of publick import as well as of a report which prevails and is believed of Genl Howe being wounded by a cannon Shot in the Leg.

Before I close this letter I beg leave to hint a few things for the consideration of your honourable body; you will give them attention in proportion to their merit, and pardon my presumption in offering them from the motive which influences me; which is a sincere wish to promote the publick good and even at this distance contribute my mite to aid the useful purposes for which you are assembled.

The first and most important object which will engage your deliberations will be the formation of a constitution of Government, under which yourselves and posterity are to be happy or miserable. As the happiness of society ought to be the end and aim of all Government (& that is most promoted by assimilating it to the tempers, pursuits, customs & Inclinations of those who are to be ruled), in the plan proposed for the future regulation of their conduct I doubt not much regard will be paid to the prevalence of habit, & that system adopted which will remedy the defects of the policy under which we have lately lived, without such a violent deviation as may tend to produce a convulsion from unnecessary alterations. I am well assured that the British Constitution in its purity (for what is at present stiled the British Constitution is an apostate), was a system that approached as near to perfection as any could within the compass of human abilities. The powers of the Crown are perhaps too independent of the people, and tho' upon fundamental principles, derived from and subject to Revocation, yet from being long exercised, to an inattentive people they assume the appearance of being

-------------------- page 867 --------------------
the inherent right of sovereignty, and subjects are so dazzled or dismayed with the Blaze of Majesty as not to dare to question the source from which power is derived. Hence it is necessary that recurrence should often be had to original principles to prevent those evils which in a course of years must creep in and vitiate every human institution and by insensible gradations at length steal upon the Understanding as part of the original system. To these pure, genuine, unadulterated principles I sincerely wish we may, in our present state, untrammelled by any rule but that of right, have recourse. Let us consider the people at large as the source from which all power is to be derived, & that whatever restraints may be imposed upon them, if they have not their happiness as their only aim, are the fetters of tyranny and the badges of slavery. Rulers must be conceived as the Creatures of the people, made for their use, accountable to them, and subject to removal as soon as they act inconsistent with the purposes for which they were formed. With this for a Basis, if we will divest ourselves of theoretical or practical prejudices, except as they arise from knowlege founded on experience, we shall find little difficulty in adopting a form of Government which will be stable and lasting. The Constitution of Britain had for its object the union of the three grand qualities of virtue, wisdom and power as the characteristicks of perfect Government. From the people at large the first of these was most to be expected; the second from a selected few whom superiour Talents or better opportunities for Improvement had raised into a second Class, and the latter from some one whom variety of Circumstances may have placed in a singular and conspicuous point of view, and to whom Heaven had given talents to make him the choice of the people to entrust with powers for sudden and decisive execution. The middle class, like the hand which holds a pair of scales balancing between the one & the many, and impartially casting weight against the scale that preponderates in order to preserve that equality which is the essence of a mixed Monarchy, & is called the ballance of power. Might not this or something like this serve as a Model for us. A single branch of Legislation is a many headed Monster which without any check must soon defeat the very purposes for which it was created, and its members become a Tyranny dreadful in proportion to the numbers which compose it. And possessed of power uncontrolled, would soon exercise it to put themselves free from the restraint of those who made them, and to make their own political
-------------------- page 868 --------------------
existence perpetual. The consultations of large bodies are likewise less correct and perfect than those where a few only are concerned. The people at large have generally just objects in their pursuit but often fall short in the means made use of to obtain them. A Warmth of Zeal may lead them into errors which a more cool, dispassionate enquiry may discover and rectify. This points out the necessity of another branch of legislation at least, which may be a refinement of the first choice of the people at large, selected for their Wisdom, remarkable Integrity, or that weight which arises from property and gives Independence and Impartiality to the human mind. For my own part I once thought it would be wise to adopt a double check as in the British Constitution, but from the Abuses which power in the hand of an Individual is liable to, & the unreasonableness that an individual should abrogate at pleasure the acts of the Representatives of the people, refined by a second body whom we may call for fashion's sake, Counsellors, & as they are a kind of barrier for the people's rights against the encroachments of their delegates, I am now convinced that a third branch of Legislation is at least unnecessary. But for the sake of Execution we must have a Magistrate solely executive, and with the aid of his Council (I mean a Privy Council) let him have such executive powers as may give energy to Government.

Pennsylvania adopted the visionary system of a single branch. The people soon saw the Monster the Convention had framed for them with horror, & with one accord stifled it in its cradle before it had begun its outrages.

The Constitution of Delaware has in my opinion great merit. From this with the Plans of South Carolina and New Jersey may be framed a System that may make North Carolina happy to endless ages. I admire no part of the Delaware plan more than the appointing Judges during good behaviour. Limit their political existence and make them dependent upon the suffrages of the people, that instant you corrupt the Channels of publick Justice. Rhode Island furnishes an example too dreadful to imitate. Pardon me if I have trespassed too far; my Zeal for the happiness of my Country at a period when it is in a manner to be decided upon has hurried me beyond the bounds of propriety. Happy should I be could I consistent with duty to you contribute my mite to raising the glorious structure, but if that cannot be, God grant that I may with transport hail your handywork when compleated, built upon the foundation

-------------------- page 869 --------------------
of pure genuine liberty and upon those principles upon which the happiness of human Society depends.

I cannot but most earnestly press upon you the necessity of fortifying the harbours of Carolina into which the Enemy have access, their Absence gives you ample opportunity at present for that purpose, the only objection must arise from a scarcity of battering cannon; Some you have which might be made useful and it is impossible to apply them more beneficially than as I proposed. If the Enemy could be kept out of Cape Fear River, where else could they land? What a Security for our own & the shipping of those who may wish to carry on trade with us. It might be accomplished by drawing the regular troops together at the Entrance of Cape Fear and having a great number of hands to perfect the Work immediately. Could not cannon be borrowed from South Carolina? You will soon be in a Condition to repay them from your Iron Works; the vast advantages which would result from this measure to the Continent at large would no doubt induce South Carolina to aid you in the Attempt. At any rate is it not a Subject worthy the appointment of a Committee instantly? If you resolve upon it send an express to me & I will endeavour to procure an Engineer to superintend the Works.

Your Iron Works deserve your most strenuous exertions. Mr Milles who has been sent hither by the Council of Safety will inform you of what he has with the Assistance of your delegates accomplished. I think him sensible. I wish you may have the benefit of his abilities in carrying this most excellent plan into execution. It will be expensive, but when we consider the work as a Cannon foundry and manfacture of Shot and other implements of War and that upon a proper supply of these our salvation as a free people must in a great measure depend—when we reflect that Husbandry, manufactures, the very means of our subsistence must depend upon internal supplies of iron tools implements and Utensils, our trade with Britain being altogether interrupted and elsewhere in a great measure—the expence, I say under such Circumstances ought not to weigh even as a feather. Since Milles left this an ingenious Man in the process of Cannon casting has applied to me. Should you think prudent to employ him I must have very early notice of your Intentions.

The delegates from North Carolina have exerted their utmost endeavours to procure Salt pans in obedience to the Council of Safety.

-------------------- page 870 --------------------
They have been deluded with false promises from time to time and at length have been told that the demand at home for Plate Iron is such that they cannot spare any to go abroad. We must rely at present upon Frederick & soon I hope upon our own Works at Deep River.

Can anything be more necessary than filling up our own Regiments immediately? The plans which the delegates from your State have sent to you shew the advantageous terms which are offered, and the additional resolve inclosed relative to Cloathing makes proposals which I think must be irresistible and tend immediately to compleat your Military allotment.

By waggons which left this last Sunday we have sent you what Cloathing can from this at present be procured, some copies of the proceedings of Congress to May, some medicines & Articles of War. The Horses & waggons are purchased for our State. The Invoice of the whole together with the Expences of the Books & Teams are with the waggoners. If I have time before Mr Penn leaves this I will send copies of the whole, rectifying an Error in the Commissary of Waggons Account, he having charged some trifle less than what he was entitled to.

I am Gentlemen, With the Greatest Respect,
Your most Obedt most Obliged Humble Servt

I send the plans of Govt of several States.
Philadelphia, Oct. 26th, 1776.