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Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Letter from Thomas Burke to Richard Caswell
Burke, Thomas, ca. 1747-1783
April 25, 1778
Volume 13, Pages 102-104

[From Executive Letter Book.]

York April 25th 1778.

Dear Sir:

Mr. Harnett will inform you of every thing which I can write about at present, I shall therefore refer you to him, and spare you the trouble of reading.

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The enclosed paper will show you the present temper of our enemies and the disposition of Congress. I will make on it no other comment than to observe that nothing is necessary to insure our success but vigorous efforts. This opinion which I have so often declared, is every day more and more justified, and I hope will be finally sanctioned by the happy event of our struggles.

I hope before this the Assembly have made a new choice of Delegates, and supplied my place with a more able citizen. I shall set off on the fourth of May, and leave what public papers are in my hands directed for the succeeding delegates. Altho' I shall remain here until that day yet I do not find myself entirely clear on the propriety of voting in Congress after the 28th inst. I am told by Mr. Harnett on that day in last year, the election of delegates was made, and on the preceding day in this year, trust in that case the term of my service ends. The Commission under your hand being dated the 4th May, and having in some former letters promised to remain here until then to execute any command of the State, I will keep my promise tho' I assure you Sir, every hour is, and will be a very heavy one to me, until I can return to the station of a private citizen, secure under the protection of the Laws and Constitution of my Country. Every day Sir, convinces me more and more, that such a station is the only happy one, and nothing but my deference to the opinion of my Country, and my wishes to serve the cause of freedom should ever have drawn me from it. Happy is it for those Countries who are at a distance from the war, they are secured from the depredations of the enemy, and their civil rights from the most violent infractions. The rights of private citizens, and even of our sovereign communities are at present so little regarded in Congress that any rumor will determine a majority to violate both and it is hardly safe to oppose it, every argument against the unlimited power of Congress to judge of necessity, and under that idea to interpose with Military force is heard with great reluctance, hardly with patience, and the internal police and sovereignty of States, are treated as chimerical phantoms. One instance I will give you. Genl Smallwood was ordered by Congress to apprehend two men, in the Delaware State, under a suggestion that they were inimical, and that the State was nnable to exercise any act of Government, tho' the Assembly was then sitting, he did

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apprehend them. They applied for a habeas corpus. The Chief Justice granted it, the officer refused to obey and applied to Congress for advice. The Congress approved the officer's conduct, and was with difficulty prevented from ordering him to proceed in direct opposition to the habeas corpus, and they forbore this only under an idea that, approbation of his former conduct would determine him to proceed. I need not tell you I opposed these things. You know my pertinacious attachment to civil rights, and my immovable determination to oppose every thing that may give color to an arbitrary exercise of power under an idea of right. I shall probably give you another instance before long in which our State and I myself am concerned. I have upon a late occasion insisted so far on the sovereignty of the State, and my being amenable to no other jurisdiction, that I have given very great offence to Congress, an accident involved me in the dispute, and so far as it regarded me personally I should have waived all opposition, but I delivered occasionally in debate my political opinions of the power of Congress and the sovereign and exclusive authority of the States, over these Delegates. These opinions were not relished and I was required to make some apology. I very frequently apologized for the terms and manner in which they were conveyed, tho' I could not perceive any thing offensive in them, but I persisted in the opinions, and declared I could not give them up without an outrage to my honor in telling a falsehood, and what I deemed a treason to the State, I represented in giving up her sovereignty, nothing however would do but retracting the opinions, and it was in vain to require this of a man who would die in support of them. I shall trouble you no more at present on this subject, at some future time will give it to you, with all its circumstances. My Country will I suppose one day judge of it, but I shall not desire it during the present struggle, I shall be very sorry that any thing would interrupt the public harmony which is so necessary to our success, a time of peace and tranquility will better suit the investigation of Civil Rights and relations. I wish you Sir, all imaginable happiness, and, with the greatest sincerity your mo. ob. servt,