Documenting the American South Logo
Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Letter from Hugh Williamson and Benjamin Hawkins to Alexander Martin
Williamson, Hugh, 1735-1819; Hawkins, Benjamin, 1754-1816
March 24, 1783
Volume 16, Pages 753-759

[From Executive Letter Book.]

Philadelphia, 24th March, 1783.


Your Excellency will doubtless lay before the General Assembly a Letter from their Delegates of 22d October, 1782, with some papers to which it refers, also a Communication that was made us on the 10th of January by the minister of France, by order of the King, his master, a Copy of which we forwarded some time ago.

We expected that before this time we should have been able to have furnished you with the particulars of a plan of funding the public debts or at least a considerable part of them, but this business meets with such delays from incidental occurrences and the great diversity of Opinions that prevails among the States, we fear it will not arrive during the first Session of the General Assembly; in the mean while we count it our duty to furnish the State with some account of the chief objects that have lately drawn the attention of Congress, for if we are not mistaken concerning their importance they must on some occasion demand its most serious Deliberations.

On the 6th of January a Committee from the Army presented a Memorial to Congress, explaining many substantial Grievances. A Copy is enclosed. We have promised but have not yet been able to pay them one month’s pay. After much time employed in discussing the subject of commutation for half pay, two days ago the

-------------------- page 754 --------------------
question was fully agreed to by nine States. Promises, even those which are spacious, are found to be very light food. Our Army and all other public Creditors wish for something more substantial, for whatever has been fabled concerning the Chamelion, it is generally believed that no animal can live on the air. Money, or good securities are desired, we have neither. But Securities may be given, that is to say the Debts may be funded. By good and permanent funds the Credit of the United States would be restored. Perhaps there are no possible funds that would be pleasing to all.

We have been attempting with much pains to fix on some mode by which the quota of the several States might be determined according to the Eighth article of the confederation, i. e. according to the value of located Lands and their improvements. The rule is good and plain but the question is extremely difficult. How shall the value be fixed? Let the appropriated Lands and their improvements be valued by the Inhabitants of the respective States and we have great reason to believe, from proofs before us, that the valuation would be unequal and unjust, for instance, the average value of lands as they are now rated for the purpose of taxation in the State of Virginia is one-third higher than the value of lands as they are rated in Pennsylvania though it is certain that the Lands in Pennsylvania are at an average worth one third more than the Lands in Virginia. If such valuation should be made in fixing the Continental Quota, Pennsylvania when compared with Virginia would not pay quite half the sum she ought to pay. We have many other arguments which either prove the different frauds or the diversity of Opinions, respecting the value of Lands which prevail in different States. It is presumed that the valuation would be more uniform and just if it was made by a set of Commissioners who should view all the lands and buildings in the United States. But there is reason to believe that such process, like estates entailed, would be perpetual and it would be an even chance which would come first, the fixing the Quotas or the Day of Judgment. The eastern States, who consider the valuation scheme as impracticable, talk much of fixing the Quotas according to the number of Inhabitants, making considerable allowance for slaves. Some of them propose to exclude all slaves under 16 years, which would be rating two slaves for one free man. We presume that the Southern States

-------------------- page 755 --------------------
would meet them upon this ground or even upon ground somewhat lower for the sake of preventing Jealousies, contention and delay, but we fear that if an attempt should be made to alter or amend the mode of fixing the quota, those very men would again talk of a slave being equal to a white man. The plan which is now recommended to the States; the only one on which we could agree having regard to the Spirit of the confederation may probably lead us to value the Lands according to the number of Inhabitants, that is to suppose that a thousand Acres of Land which maintain ten families is worth ten times as much as a thousand Acres which maintain only one family. As the valuation is to be made by a grand Committee consisting of a member from each State, we presume that the Several States will take care to be represented at that time. Congress has been attempting to modify the impost of 5 per cent. so as to make it acceptable to the States who have complained. In the mean while attempts have been made to lay a general Tax on Lands, houses, &c., as you will see by the Journal No. ——. We presume that no such Tax will be recommended to the States because we think that the States should be left to tax lands & other permanent property in such manner and at such rates as they think best.

On the 24th of January Mr. Morris, who is Financier, from a view of the bad State of our Finances informed Congress that he proposed to resign. Congress however did not take any public notice of that communication, because they expected in a few weeks to be able to adopt a system of Finance which might revive public credit. Some weeks passed and nothing material could be done when a second Letter was received from the Financier both of which he published without the previous knowledge of Congress. A Copy is inclosed. The Letters certainly refer to a want of disposition in the States to provide funds, evidenced in the recent case of Rhode Island and Virginia, but they are incautiously worded and might involve a suspicion that Congress or the States at large did not mean honestly. If public credit had been alive the publishing of those Letters would have proved a sickening dose, but there are times when nothing can hurt. It has been hinted from different quarters that there is danger of our borrowing too much money. The whole sum that has been borrowed from the beginning of the

-------------------- page 756 --------------------
War in France, Spain or Holland does not amount to eight millions of Dollars, and by accounts received by the last packet we have great reason to believe that we shall not be able to borrow a single farthing more. Whether we shall submit to beg is another question.

The Public Creditors, that is to say the Loan Officers Certificates in the State of Pennsylvania, have been extremely importunate for Payment. The clamor originated last Summer in the stoppage of interest, which for some years had been paid in France on Certificates of a certain mission. When the fund was expended the interest ceased to be paid. On this occasion those creditors who had hitherto fared best became most troublesome. They attempted to acquire weight by associating with other creditors and by effecting Combinations in the different States. Some Memorials in consequence have been received from different quarters, but they are not numerous. The complaints however of those people continue, they affect to be considered as a species of Creditors who have distinguished and exclusive claims. Their plea is that the Citizens of Pennsylvania have lent more money to the Union than any other State and nearly as much as all the other States together. It was the fortune of those people to have the mint of the United States near them. As soon as a Dollar was cast they received it warm out of the press in payment for provisions, or whatever they furnished for the Army. This Money was immediately converted into Certificates of which they have received a considerable sum. But they do not willingly admit that our Citizens are quite as heavily loaded with Receipts, Notes, or Certificates of a different kind, all of which they have received for services done, or for property impressed or freely sold for the use of the army, and that the claim of one man for a thousand Dollars is exactly equal to the claim of another man for the same amount, without regard to the particular form or words on the paper by which that claim is certified. With this belief however Congress sometime ago recommended to the States to raise particular Sums for paying the interest of liquidated Debts. Having mentioned the subject of liquidated Debts we cannot help recommending a steady attention on the part of our State to the settlement of all public Accounts in order that we may be able to state an acct. against the United States. While the Auditors

-------------------- page 757 --------------------
are settling Public Accounts in the different States, we observe that frequent applications are made to Congress in behalf of individuals for power or permission to settle their accounts in a particular manner. The States offer to charge themselves with some of those accounts getting Credit for the amount in their Acct. with the United States. In all these cases we observe that the States show a disposition to make a full allowance to their respective Citizens. We do not insinuate that any want of Justice has appeared in any of those applications, we only observe that some of the States seem very solicituous that their Citizens should have full credit for the value of their Services and Expenditures, not only that they may be on a footing with other States, who may be expected to do the same thing, but because every State must in one place or another pay its quota of the Public Debt and such quota or any other large debt may be more easily and more profitably paid to the people within the State than to foreigners or people without the State. Suppose that in settling our Public Accounts we should cut off three fourths of the claims of our own Citizens and that instead of allowing them four millions for services and expenditures we should give them credit for one million; it would follow that instead of retaining the remaining three millions in the State we should be obliged to pay it or at least 13 fourteenths of it to people out of the State. And that in order to lessen the national debt three millions we should wrong our fellow Citizens out of that sum; one fourteenth part of which or very little more would fall to our debit as part of the National Debt. That is to say, with the desire of saving one shilling we should throw away thirteen. We are confident that we shall not either on this subject of accounts nor on any other occasion be understood to recommend dishonesty; that baneful vice which Tarnishes every virtue that should adorn the mind or promote Society. We only wish to recommend a diligent attention to the Settlement of Public Accounts and the interest of our own Citizens so far as it may consist, with strict Justice and good faith.

On the 23d of January Congress ratified a Treaty of Amity and Commerce that had been agreed to by our Minister at the Hague with their high Mightinesses of the States General of the United Netherlands. A Copy is inclosed. When our last accounts came

-------------------- page 758 --------------------
away the States had in Contemplation the sending a minister to this Court.

On the 30th of November our Minister for negotiating Peace with England concluded and signed Preliminary articles. A Copy of which is inclosed. They are more favorable than we had reason to expect, but we have some reason to fear that they are not so favorable as some of the States have expected. But we are convinced from the Journal of our Ministers, who have given us a detail of different events, during the negotiation that it was not practicable to have obtained better Terms. The payment of British Debts was long and obstinately refused, but the Merchants in general in England seemed to interest themselves on this Subject; they wish that all Mercantile contracts should be considered sacred; and the British Merchants are such a Body as their Ministry are not willing to oppose. It appeared that without this Article the Treaty could not go on. Our Ministers could easily calculate that the amount was much less than the expense of another Campaign, to say nothing of the additional loss we might suffer. During the last Summer Congress had reiterated their Instructions to the Ministers for negotiating Peace, to contend to the last extremity for the Western Territory, for the New Foundland Fishery and its appendages, for the retention of Tory property and British Debts—however the power or right of making Peace implies the means, and when a Concession became absolutely necessary, it was made in course. The British Minister contended long for the return of all Tories or Refugees, a full act of oblivion and restitution of their property; he alleged that the King’s honor made this Article necessary. Our Ministers had a natural reply, the King’s passions, cherished by the falsehoods and frauds of Tories had continued the War and might prevent a Peace, but we should not accept Peace on the humiliating Terms of cherishing the Plunderers of our Property and murderers of our friends. It was fortunate that those Renegadoes had not so many substantial friends in England as the Merchants had, else it is questioned what the consequence might have been. At present nothing is given them but the promise of a recommendation. Light food; however, the reward is quite equal to the Service.

Yesterday morning the Triumph, a French Corvet, arrived here in a short passage from Cadiz. By this Vessel we have the assurance

-------------------- page 759 --------------------
that the preliminaries for a general Peace were signed by all the belligerent Powers on 20th of January. On this fortunate and happy event we sincerely congratulate our fellow Citizens of North Carolina, that secures a perfect Peace on the most liberal Terms with the full enjoyment of Liberty. May they contiuue to deserve and enjoy the blessing. It is the greatest that Heaven in its Bounty has ever bestowed on so large a Nation.

We presume that Sir Guy Carlton has not yet received the preliminaries of the General Peace, for he sent us yesterday and not sooner the Copy he had received from England of the Preliminaries signed on the 30th November. Inclosed are the outlines of the General Terms of Pacification by which you will observe that we got a degree less on the Bank of the Mississippi than had been first marked off. The Marquis de la Fayette had prevailed on the Count d’Estaing to send the Vessel mentioned, from the mere hope that she might chance to bring the first news of Peace. But you will observe by her passport, a Copy of which is enclosed, that hostilities are to cease at whatever place she may touch immediately on her giving the notice. As we presume that we shall gain as much as the enemy by this measure, we did not lose a minute in giving Sir Guy Carlton and Admiral Digby the proper Information; by this we hope that some Vessels and what we value more, some lives, may be saved.

Attempts have lately been made to excite sedition in our main army; anonymous inflammatory Papers were circulated by Persons unknown. The Commander in Chief hearing of this measure called a meeting of the officers some days ago. The whole proceedings on this occasion will be laid before you in time, from which you will certainly infer that our Army consists of the best Citizens as well as the bravest Soldiers that ever drew a Sword.

Before we disband our Army and make some other necessary arrangements for Peace some very interesting matters must be submitted to the States; for this reason we presume that another meeting of the General Assembly of North Carolina will be necessary at an early Day.

We have the honor to be, &c.,

Additional Notes for Electronic Version: In the Executive Letter Book, this letter is signed by Hugh Williamson and Benjamin Hawkins.