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PRECEDING THE DEBATES OF 1783.
TO THOMAS JEFFERSON.*
Philadelphia, March 27, 1780. Dear Sir,
Nothing under the title of news has occurred since I wrote last week by express, except that the enemy on the first of March remained in the neighbourhood of Charleston, in the same posture as when the preceding account came away. From the best intelligence from that quarter, there seems to be great encouragement to hope that Clinton's operations will be again frustrated. Our great apprehensions at present flow from a very different quarter. Among the various conjunctures of alarm and distress which have arisen in the course of the Revolution, it is with pain I affirm to you, sir, that no one can be singled out more truly critical than the present. Our army threatened with an immediate alternative of disbanding or living on free quarter; the public treasury empty; public credit exhausted, nay the private credit of purchasing agents employed, I am told, as far as it will bear; Congress complaining of the extortion of the people; the people of the improvidence of Congress; and the army of both; our affairs requiring the most mature and systematic measures,
* Then Governor of Virginia.
and the urgency of occasions admitting only of temporizing expedients, and these expedients generating new difficulties; Congress recommending plans to the several States for execution, and the States separately rejudging the expediency of such plans, whereby the same distrust of concurrent exertions that has damped the ardor of patriotic individuals must produce the same effect among the States themselves; an old system of finance discarded as incompetent to our necessities, an untried and precarious one substituted, and a total stagnation in prospect between the end of the former and the operation of the latter. These are the outlines of the picture of our public situation. I leave it to your own imagination to fill them up. Believe me, sir, as things now stand, if the States do not vigorously proceed in collecting the old money, and establishing funds for the credit of the new, that we are undone; and let them be ever so expeditious in doing this, still the intermediate distress to our army, and hindrance to public affairs, are a subject of melancholy reflection. General Washington writes that a failure of bread has already commenced in the army; and that, for any thing he sees, it inust unavoidably increase. Meat they have only for a short season; and as the whole dependence is on provisions now to be procured, without a shilling for the purpose, and without credit for a shilling, I look forward with the most pungent apprehensions. It will be attempted, I believe, to purchase a few supplies with loan-office certificates; but whether they will be received is perhaps far from being certain; and if received will certainly be a most expensive and
ruinous expedient. It is not without some reluctance I trust this information to a conveyance by post, but I know of no better at present, and I conceive it to be absolutely necessary to be known to those who are most able and zealous to contribute to the public relief.
TO THOMAS JEFFERSON.
Philadelphia, May 6, 1780. Dear Sir,
I am sorry that I can give you no other account of our public situation, than that it continues equally perplexed and alarming as when I lately gave you a sketch of it. Our army has as yet been kept from starving, and public measures from total stagnation, by draughts on the States for the unpaid requisitions. The great amount of these you may judge of from the share that has fallen to Virginia. The discharge of debts due from the purchasing departments has absorbed a great proportion of them, and very large demands still remain. As soon as the draughts amount to the whole of the monthly requisitions up to the end of March, they must cease, according to the new scheme of finance. We must then depend wholly on the emissions to be made in pursuance of that scheme, which can only be applied as the old emissions are collected and destroyed. Should this not be done as fast as the current expenditures require, or should the new emissions fall into a course of depreciation, both of which may but too justly be feared, a most melancholy crisis must take place. A punctual com
pliance on the part of the States with the specific supplies will indeed render much less money necessary than would otherwise be wanted; but experience by no means affords satisfactory encouragement that due and unanimous exertions will be made for that purpose,—not to mention that our distress is so pressing that it is uncertain whether any exertions of that kind can give relief in time. It occurs besides, that as, the ability of the people to comply with the pecuniary requisitions is derived from the sale of their commodities, a requisition of the latter must make the former proportionably more difficult and defective. Congress have the satisfaction, however, to be informed that the legislature of Connecticut have taken the most vigorous steps for supplying their quota both of money and commodities; and that a body of their principal merchants have associated for supporting the credit of the new paper, for which purpose they have, in a public address, pledged their faith to the assembly to sell their merchandize on the same terms as if they were to be paid in specie. A similar vigor throughout the Union may perhaps produce effects as far exceeding our present hopes, as they have heretofore fallen short of our wishes.
It is to be observed that the situation of Congress has undergone a total change from what it originally was. Whilst they exercised the indefinite power of emitting money on the credit of their constituents, they had the whole wealth and resources of the continent within their command, and could go on with their affairs independently and as they pleased. Since the resolution passed for shutting the pross,