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Your Excellency's letter of the 20th instant has been laid before the Board, informing us that a Court-Martial will be held at camp on the 1st of May instant, "for the trial of General Arnold on the first, second, third, and fifth charges exhibited against him by this Board."
We apprehend there must have been some mistake in the mode of transmitting this business to your Excellency, as we never exhibited any other charge against General Arnold to Congress, than that of appropriating the public wagons of the State to private uses, and that only that he might remain to answer. Nor do we think it by any means consistent with the duty we owe the State to be considered in the light of parties, as thereby we may establish a principle, under which we may either submit silently to injuries and insults, or follow military Courts into any part of the country, wherever the service may require the army to be.
The light in which we have ever considered ourselves, and which we would wish to be considered by your Excellency, is as a public body, the representatives of the freemen of Pennsylvania, expressing our opinion of General Arnold's conduct, founded upon facts disclosed to us, and answering to our own knowledge, asking nothing of Congress but that he should not continue to command in this State. The history of this country affords many instances of this proceeding in the cases of oppressive Governors, and it is a right which we hold independent, and unaccountable to any other power. No one doubts the right of a public body to praise, and this shows very strongly they have a power to censure, it only operating as an opinion, unaccompanied with any punishment.
In the present instance, General Arnold refused to give any explanation of his conduct, though civilly requested, or ever offered to disprove the facts alleged ; of course we were obliged to exercise our judgments upon the evidence and proofs we had. At the same time we perfectly approve the trial, being of opinion, that General Arnold's conduct deserves some military reprehension; and we doubt not the officers of the army will impartially weigh the duty they owe to the country, as well as the person charged ; and if the facts are proved, let the palliating circumstances, if there are any, operate on the sentence, not on the nature of the transaction. Such is the dependence of the army upon the transportation of this State, and such the feelings of the people upon this sort of duty, that, should the Court treat it as a light and trivial matter, and found an opinion upon any other grounds than the innocence of the charge, we fear it will not be practicable to draw forth wagons in future, be the emergency what it may, and it will have very bad consequences.
We could have wished your Excellency had appointed a later day, or we could have had earlier notice. Your letter is dated the 20th instant, and was not received till the 22d; and, considering the distance of some of the witnesses, we fear it will not be possible to give them notice, much less to procure their attendance, and we presume no ex paric testimony ought to be received by the Court, Our view of the matter was, and it was so considered by the Joint Committees, that we should transmit the papers to your Excellency, and inform you of the names of the witnesses to prove the several points ; that then your Excellency, by your own authority, or that of Congress, would have procured the attendance of the witnesses. Two officers of Congress, not in any respect under our control, are material witnesses, of which we informed Congress, requesting they might not proceed to Carolina till their testimony could be had. No notice was taken of it, and they set off about a week ago, and, as we have reason to think, with a view to be absent till the trial is over. Colonel Fitzgerald, who is also a material witness, we suppose is in Virginia.
As substantial justice, not a mere formality, is undoubtedly your Excellency's object on this occasion, we submit to your judgment whether a competent time for the attendance of those witnesses, at least, who are within reach, and the adjustment of some previous points, will not make a further delay necessary. These points are, at whose expense and by whose procurement are the witnesses to be had ; and whether the service will not admit of the sitting of the Court at some nearer point than camp. If that cannot be, we must rely upon your Excellency to give further directions for the accommodation of the persons who may attend in behalf of the prosecution. As the idea expressed in your Excellency's letter does not correspond with the resolve of Congress transmitted to us, and differs from that entertained by the Joint Committee of Congress, Council, and Assembly, in which it was expressly declared that this Board was not to be considered as a party, we trust the proceedings in this business will conform to this idea ; otherwise, besides the inconvenience above mentioned, we shall be liable to a charge of inconsistency not well founded. We are, Sir, with every sentiment of respect and regard,
Your most obedient, humble servants,
P. S. By the time this will reach your Excellency, there will remain but three days, so that we shall be glad to have as early an answer as possible ; for we beg leave to assure you, that no other delay is sought but what is necessary to proceed to business with effect.
- Joseph Reed
- 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 II., Jared Sparks, 1853