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In a public letter, which I had the honor of writing to your Excellency the 3d instant, by Major Price, I sent a number of handbills calculated for giving satisfactory information to the public, who were anxious to learn the recent intelligence from France. One article of this has been questioned, respecting the King of Prussia's promise, the only part of the performance that can be called mine. I believe my authority is good. Ird, under the 16th February, informs me, " the King of Prussia has given the most explicit and unequivocal assurance, that he will be the second power in Europe to acknowledge the in dependence of America." It is true our Commissioners, in their public advices, are not so express, nor are they, in my opinion, so full and clear in some other respects, as they might have been.
Human nature pervades every human breast. A residence at Paris will not exempt men from infirmities of the mind ; nor is even the momentous concern of guardianship to thirteen United States, an infant world in danger of being crushed by the hand of violence, paramount to those curses upon mankind, pride and covetousness, sours from whence all the evils of this life spring. Our Ambassadorial Commissioners, of which your Excellency cannot be ignorant, are unhappily divided in sentiments. Jarrings and appeals have followed. Intelligence, intended for the public, loses part of that fulness and perspicuity, which would have appeared in candid and united counsels. I have seen so much of the world as to be guarded against surprise at any thing. No inconsiderable benefit results from attempts to reconcile, and even sweeten, the most untoward circumstances which happen in one's journey through it. I apprehend it would break in on your Excellency's time,, otherwise I would have troubled you with Mr. Ird's letter, not merely for information, but for a hope that something might be devised for promoting concord between our friends onder, or the public good, by a wise cooperation. But I will not dwell upon this subject.
Last night I had the honor of receiving your Excellency's favor of the last of April, and am happy in finding a confirmation of my sentiments respecting persons proper for treating with the expected deputation from our adversary. I fear the determination, where only this point can be determined, will be contrary. Be it so ; thank God we have here some men of abilities and integrity. I hope we shall make a judicious choice. The act of Congress of the 22d April will blot out pages of the British instructions. The Commissioners from that side will perceive a necessity for taking a new departure from the Tower of Independence ; and what happened in France, on the 6th of February, will oblige them to shape a new course. From the absence of the Commissioners, I presume they had not sailed from England on the 10th of March. It may have been found expedient, at St. James's, to vest them with more ample powers, it they meant to come, than were originally intended, and under new sanctions of Parliament ; a work of slow progress. The people would have much to say. That the nation were more than a little agitated, appears from a letter, which I take the liberty of in closing for your Excellency's perusal. I have like wise a letter from the mercantile line in London, which proves to me the people in general had very sensibly felt the weight of the war, were ardently desirous of peace, and anxious lest Congress should reject the intended propositions.
The long, arid, as I humbly think, unnecessary delay of the army arrangement, is very afflicting. I know it must give extreme pain to your Excellency. It is improper for me to touch upon the cause, especially when it is so well known that Congress have been engaged in very important business. The plan introduced for that part of it which is intended to establish a half-pay for officers during life, I have been uniformly averse from, and in a committee of Congress delivered my objections. These appear to me, at this moment, of more weight, because they have not been removed by the reasonings which have been offered against them, and I may, without vanity, think myself not obstinate. I am open to conviction, and always, without murmuring, submit to a majority. I view the scheme as altogether unjust and unconstitutional in its nature, and full of dangerous consequences. It is an unhappy dilemma to which we seem to be reduced. Provide for your officers in terms dictated to you, or lose all the valuable soldiers among them ; establish a pension for officers, make them a separate body, to be provided for by the honest yeomanry, and others of their fellow-citizens, many thousands of whom have equal claims upon every ground of loss of estate, health, &c,, or lose your army and your cause. That such provision will be against the grain of the people, has been unwarily testified by its advocates, whom I have heard con verse upon the subject. Indeed, they have furnished strong ground for opposition against an immediate compliance with the demand. If we cannot make justice one of the pillars, necessity may be submitted to at present; but republicans will, at a pro per time, withdraw a grant which will appear to have been extorted.
Were I in private conversation with an officer on this point, I should not despair of fairly balancing every grievance he might suppose to be peculiar to the army, by instances of losses and inconveniences in my own property and person ; and I count myself very happy, compared with thousands who have as faithfully adhered to our original compact. It is said, gentlemen did not think the war would have continued so long. Forgive me, Sir, a ludicrous remark which I made early in our contest, indeed in Eng land, before the commencement of the contest. " I know my countrymen are good for the quarter, but I have doubts of their going the course." There is a certain versatility, habitual if not almost constitutional, in men born south of thirty-eight degrees of latitude, in these States. circumstances, which have occurred in the progress of this war, have given strength to my observation.
There are, within that division of America, not only objects inviting, but temptations almost irresistible, to change, to say nothing of the general train of education. Hence, it is easy to account for a resignation of a commission, which had been anxiously solicited by scores. The want of something is made an excuse, and even sometimes by worthy characters, who do not suspect themselves. Would to God, gentlemen had followed the noble, patriotic example of their Commander-in-chief, a plan which, reflection will show them in a shade of disgrace, would never have found place in their minds. How superior are many of the gentlemen, now in my contemplation (for I know many with whom I do not converse), to the acceptance of a half-pay, contributed to by widows and orphans of soldiers who had bled and died by their sides ! shackled with a condition of being excluded from the privilege of serving in officers, in common with their fellow-citizens voted in every House of Assembly as the drones and incumbrances of society, pointed at by boys and girls, there goes a man, who every year robs me of part of my pittance. I think, Sir, I do not overstrain. This will be the language of republicans ; how pungent, when applied to gentlemen who shall have stepped from the army into a good remaining estate ; how much deeper to some, who, in idleness and by speculation, have amassed estates in the war !
This, Sir, is a large field. Virtue and honor might be summoned to answer, but it is time for me to for bear. I am obliged to write in haste, called upon by particular public duties. Besides, I feel a full assurance, notwithstanding the present seeming contrariety, that my sentiments, when fully explained, will not differ essentially from your Excellency s. I must not, however, conclude without these declarations, that I am not among those to whom may be applied, " Our God and soldier we adore, in time of danger, &c." I am most heartily disposed to distinguish the gallant officers and soldiers, by the most liberal marks of esteem, desirous of making proper provision for all who shall stand in need. I would not except even some of the brave, whose expenses have been princely in extravagance, while they complained of insufficiency of pay.
I have ever detested, and never practised, Parliamentary jockeyings for procrastinating an unpalatable business, which, as a silent auditor and spectator, I have, within some time past, known to be alternately adopted. I most sincerely wish the army had been wisely attended to. The high esteem I from gratitude bear for your Excellency, whose sufferings from a contrary conduct I know must have been great, as well as my love of despatch, makes me wish it ; and I lament that, in some degree, we are likely to be indebted more to the policy and deep projects of other men for our deliverance, than to our own wisdom and fortitude. I am, with the most sincere respect, and the most respectful affection and esteem, dear Sir,
Your most obliged servant.
- Henry Laurens
- Correspondence of the American Revolution; Being Letters of Eminent Men to George Washington, from the Time of His Taking Command of the Army to the End of His Presidency, Volume I., Jared Sparks, 1853