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Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Circular letter from Robert R. Livingston to the state governors
Livingston, Robert R., 1746-1813
May 02, 1782
Volume 16, Pages 307-310

[From Executive Letter Book.]

Office for Foreign Affairs, May 2nd, 1782.



The enclosed Resolution of Congress will explain the cause of this letter. The information it refers to is an assurance that Great Britain had absolutely declined any interference of the mediating powers between them and what they called their rebel subjects.

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They persist on every occasion on representing us a divided people, who anxiously wish to return to our connection with Great Britain. In this they have two objects equally important to them:

1st. They encourage England to continue a War which they expect to see terminated by our own weariness and languor, and secondly, they put such a face upon their affairs as will entitle them on a negotiation to make demands at our expence, which they would not presume to think of if the mediators were acquainted with our firm Resolution never to return to our obedience to their Government. Besides which they cast a degree of Odium upon the conduct of France, representing it as the Supporter of a discontented faction rather than as the generous Ally of an oppressed Nation. There is reason to apprehend, that in order the better to secure the advantages of this deceitful policy to themselves, they will make proffers to each of the United States. If any of them should listen to them, (which cannot, however, be presumed) they will urge that as a proof of their assertions. If they should even decline receiving their proposals and refer them to Congress, as from the nature of our Union they undoubtedly must, still as the result of the experiment cannot be known for some time in Europe, they will avail themselves in some measure if negotiations should open. This artifice of the Enemy may be counteracted in two ways, and both deserve the serious attention of your Legislature. The first and most important is by making such exertions to procure a respectable Army early in the season that the Mediators casting their eyes upon the muster rolls may there read a full refutation of all that British Artifices can suggest.

I need not observe that this measure must go hand in hand with Taxation since the Army, without the means of supporting them, would only increase our evils; the second is to anticipate the attempts of Great Britain by such Resolutions as the information contained in this Letter suggests.

Resolutions, which strongly mark a spirited determination in the Legislature of each State to listen to no negotiations except through the intervention of Congress which manifest their attachment to the Independence of their Country and their inviolable regard to the faith they have pledged to each other and to their Allies. These may either prevent the attempt I apprehend or arrive in time to

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counteract the effect which the false expectations built thereon might otherwise have in Europe.

I mention this to your Excellency without any express direction from Congress; it is more than probable that your Judgment and the Zeal and Wisdom of the Legislature may improve these loose hints to the General advantage of the United States.

I have the pleasure of assuring your Excellency and the Legislature that the fairest prospects are now before us of terminating the War by a single exertion, tho’ I am not at liberty to say that the plan of the ensuing campaign is absolutely determined on, yet I have great reason to believe that we shall receive such powerful Military aid, as with becoming vigor on our part will free every State in the Union from the grasp of the Enemy.

Here, Sir, I might pause, and suffer my imagination to dwell upon the animating prospect before us, but reasoning from the past to the future, I dare not indulge the pleasing idea. We have at no period been in a condition to second fully the endeavours of our Ally to serve us; we either neglected to assemble our Army in time or to provide the means for supporting or moving them. A feather would have turned the balance last year, notwithstanding the powerful aid we received from abroad. Providence blinded our adversary—to their temerity we owe our success. But, Sir, let me ask whether any State did then or has even now done all in its power to enable our Generals to prosecute the victory? Or rather let me return to what is more in my line by observing that the inferiority of our army in point of numbers to that of our Ally while they acted at York Town has been considered in Europe as a proof of the assertions of Britain, and has been urged as an argument of our weakness, our weariness of the War or our Internal Divisions. A moment’s reflection will show the advantages that this must afford our antagonist in a negotiation. How much it weakens the claims we make and how many important benefits may be lost forever by our appearing in Europe to receive our Independence rather as a gift than to have established it by our exertions.

But, Sir, it is still in our power to repair these errors—let us avail ourselves of this favorable moment for expelling the Enemy and recovering our diminished credit among the Nations of the Earth. I make no apology for the liberty I take. Your Excellency, I am

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persuaded, is too sensible of the truth of these observations to think they could be delivered with less earnestness by one who feels their importance, and I am confident you will bring them before the Legislature of your State in such manner as will best serve to ensure them their attention.

I have the Honor to be, &c.,