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Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Report by a committee of the North Carolina House of Commons concerning the Continental Congress' censure of Thomas Burke
North Carolina. General Assembly
August 14, 1778
Volume 13, Pages 208-210

[From Executive Letter Book.]

State of North Carolina,
In the House of Commons, 14th Aug. 1778.

The Committee appointed to take into their consideration divers Letters and papers containing a charge in behalf of the Continental Congress against Thomas Burke one of the Delegates of this State, together with Mr. Burke's state of facts and observations offered to the Assembly in justification of himself, beg leave to Report.

That upon an attentive and dispassionate revisal of the subject matter proposed to them, they observe with extreme concern that it originated from a circumstance so trivial in itself that nothing but the consideration which Congress during a debate of near fifteen days bestowed upon it, could have swelled it into the importance, which at present it assumes.

That the indignity which Mr. Burke is accused of having offered to Congress, if any indignity had been intended by him, must have been to the individuals and not to the Congress as such, as the

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Criminality alleged is said to consist principally in Mr. Burke's having withdrawn himself and thereby broke up the Congress and thereby prevented their proceeding in the public business.

That the expression charged by Congress to have been made use of by Mr. Burke to their Messenger cannot be vindicated upon the strict rules of Courtly Manners and refined politeness, but considered as the sudden, unpremeditated effusion of fatigue and indisposition, made after a debate which had continued the greatest part of a day, until 10 o'clock in the evening in which the passions has been much interested and agitated and both the mind and the body almost exhausted, it will not justify any asperity of animadversion. Intended as Mr. Burke alleges it was for a private gentleman from whom he supposed the message had been addressed to him, it was not a matter in which the Honor of the Public Council was concerned, but supposing the possibility of a contempt to Congress, when Congress did not exist, Mr. Burke's repeated declarations that he had no such design have removed every cause of contempt on that score.

But as the consequences which this incident led to, are of a nature much more interesting than the occasion of them, and require that the Assembly should be immediately explicit upon a question of such capital magnitude, your Committee further report that the powers assumed in the case of Mr. Burke and maintained by Congress as their right are such as this State can never concede to them, without relaxing their own independence and giving up the exclusive control which they have over their Representatives in Congress. That this State has a right and will ever be ready when occasion requires it to control, censure, punish and remove their members, and should Congress arrogate to itself these, or any part of these powers, there is no line described when and to what extent this authority might be exercised.

It may be stretched to defeat the independence of this State, to an invasion of its internal policy and to the total destruction of its due weight in the Council of the United States.

That although evils like these are not to be apprehended from the Gentlemen who at present compose that respectable body, although their wisdom and Integrity guard them from every suspicion of extending their doctrines to baneful practices, yet these Gentlemen share in the common frailties of nature and must quit

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the stage of Life and their places in Congress to men who may be disposed to improve dangerous precedents to tyrannical purposes and wield a weapon which has been innocent in the hands of their predecessors to the destruction of the good people of the United States.

If at any future distant period, a majority of Congress should be found bold and wicked enough to attempt to suppress the freedom of debate in any Representative of the State, who should heartily stand forth in support of the Rights of his constituents, and proceed even to Censure and punish at their sovereign will and pleasure, the member thus in the way of the views of a combined majority may be struck from a share in the public Councils, and his judges who in this case would be judges, party, and executioners, would be at large to do an irreparable injury to his Constituents, who no longer would have any share in controlling their operations.

The Assembly of this State will be ever ready to open their ears to the complaints of Congress against their members and punish their guilt when established with impartial severity. They are very sensible that Rules of Decorum may be necessary in the best regulated Assemblies. That these must be relaxed or strengthened as the members who are subjected to them observe with respect to each other an habitual practice of good manners and reciprocal civility. That they have the fullest confidence that the members of this State will not be deficient in this respect, but will unite with their brother Delegates to strengthen that happy bond of harmony in private intercourse and in the public Councils, which has advanced the affairs of America to their present prosperous situation and holds forth such a promising prospect of a happy conclusion.


The House taking the said Report into Consideration, Resolves,

That they do concur therewith.

Extract from the Journal of the House of Commons only.

C. H. C.