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Letter from Josiah Martin to Wills Hill, Marquis of Downshire
Martin, Josiah, 1737-1786
January 30, 1772
Volume 09, Pages 230-235

[B. P. R. O. Am. & W. Ind.: No. Carolina. Vol. 219.]
Letter from Governor Martin to Secretary Hillsborough.


North Carolina New Bern 30th January 1772.

Since I had the honor of writing to your Lordship my letter of the 26th of last month signifying the dissolution of the Assembly of this Province three days before that date I am become acquainted with a most unwarrantable proceeding of that house concerning which I was held in doubt by a contrariety of Reports made to me at that time and I think it my duty to give your Lordship the earliest Information of it as a circumstance of dangerous tendency to this Epitome of the British Constitution and to submit to your consideration the measures I have taken thereupon.

It appears by the Journals of that House of which I now transmit a Copy to your Lordship that upon a state of the Public Funds being laid before it on Friday December the 6th the House was of opinion that because £53104 2d. had been burnt and destroyed and that there was in the hands of the Treasurers and Sheriffs and

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Receivers of duties two sums making together £12536 5s. arising from the Tax of one shilling per poll and duty of four pence per Gallon on Rum, Wines and other Spiritous liquors for which security had been given and which being paid will give a balance or surplusage of £4340 7s. 6d. the said Taxes ought to cease and be discontinued; than which state of the matter and conclusion nothing was ever more false and sophistical; or more artfully and wickedly contrived to beget in the people suspicions that they are unduly loaded with Taxes.

Your Lordship will readily perceive that the amount of the paper burnt is here made a relative to the sums which these Taxes were designed to raise being £61,350 and that the arrearages of the Poll Tax of one shilling and duty of fourpence amounting to £12586 5s. 6d. yet outstanding added to the former sum and subtracted from the latter will exceed it £340 7s. 6d. by which state of the account appears that there is now in existence of the paper to the sinking of which this Tax and duty were appropriated only the difference between £53104 2d. and £61350—that is £8245 18s.—this has so much the air of fairness and Truth that considering it the representation of a branch of the Legislature it can hardly be supposed otherwise; but it is only a species of fallacy for the fact is My Lord that there is at this present time in circulation £42800 in legal tender paper; of which here is no notice taken, and which this Tax, and duty and another poll tax of three shillings that was prematurely and illegally suspended in the year 1768 by a resolve of the two Houses of Assembly were laid to sink; and expressly directly by the law that imposed them, to continue until the same should be actually sunk and destroyed. The paper burnt is not specifically of the emissions to which this Tax and duty were applicable as is implied in the Assembly's representation, but the general gross amount of the paper of sundry emissions that has been confusedly and promiscuously destroyed; the taxes have never been specially applied to sinking the particular paper money for which they were imposed which has caused confusion in the sinking funds; money shall also be drawn from them for other services, and never replaced; and taxes appropriated to them prematurely discontinued hence the deficiency of the sinking funds and hence, and from the insolvency and fraud of Sheriffs and Collectors of Taxes so large a sum of paper money continues in circulation after the Taxes paid by the people or some emissions have sufficed for their extinction.

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Upon this fraudulent state of the matter a Bill was brought into the House to discontinue the Tax of one shilling per poll and duty of four pence per gallon on Rum Wines &c: while it was depending I was consulted about it and declared against it absolutely as a measure teeming with fraud and inconsistant with the public faith to the violation of which I never would be accessory. I remonstrated that this Tax and duty were all the fund that remained to sink £42800 in paper money that had been already unduly continued in circulation by maladministration and could not be withdrawn without stabbing the public credit which was pledged for its redemption, that can only be effected when by the continuance of these Taxes the sinking fund should become sufficient or its deficiency made up by a new Tax or by the revival of the Poll Tax of three shillings suspended in the year 1768, or by the surplusages of other funds as they should arise, that the funds had been so involved and confounded I conceived the several emissions of paper must now be resolved into one general stock and stand charged upon the remaining Taxes as a common sinking fund for all the old paper until there should be money in the Treasury to redeem it, that the having collected from the people more than the tax and the duty in question had been originally designed to raise signified nothing, if through misapplication or otherwise they have not effected the purposes for which they were laid and that the public faith could not be disengaged until the outstanding paper should be actually and bona fide sunk and destroyed. The persons who came to me upon this business would have engaged that application should be made of so much of the arrears due to the public when they should be collected as should be adequate to that purpose, a proposition of such uncertain issue that I could not accept as they could not insure the sufficiency of the outstanding debts or be responsible for such application by a future Assembly, and that in default of either of these premises the money now in circulation would be continued contrary to the express letter of the Act of Parliament of the 4th year of his present Majesty's Reign, or for want of its legally established credit and support, thus subducted be reduced to worthless paper to the fraud or ruin of the people holding it under the sanction of public faith and positive laws; that as soon as the conditions on which the paper was emitted were fulfilled, that could not be until it was redeemed and in the Treasury, I should gladly concur in any proper measure for exonerating the people, till when I should bear my testimony against

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taking off the duty and tax above mentioned. In order to engage me to change this resolution it was insinuated that if a Bill for such purposes should pass the two Houses of Assembly and be rejected by me it would bring odium upon the dawn of my administration to which I replied, that in that case, which I could not conceive should happen, the consciousness of doing right would support me under all consequences that I was not to be practiced upon by any such intimidations, nor would I ever become a pandar to the public dishonor.

The Bill however brought into the House to discontinue the Tax of one shilling and duty of four pence passed the Assembly and was artfully carried through the Council when some Members who would have made a Majority against it were absent. At the conclusion of the Session in the moment that I was expecting the House to present their Bills for my assent I had intimation that the Assembly had agreed upon Resolves to discontinue the collection of the one shilling poll Tax and to indemnify the Sheriffs in so doing to be entered upon their Journals in case I should reject the Bill then to be offered me and that the Treasurers in consequence thereof had omitted that Tax in their list of Taxes in the ensuing year delivered to the Sheriffs which last part of my intelligence, was with much assurance, contradicted, this only served to confirm my resolution to dissolve the Assembly and to determine me to pronounce its dissolution immediately after giving my assent to such bills as I should think fit to pass and thus prevent the execution of the design of entering upon their Journals the premeditated Resolves. I pursued this conduct at the same time giving the House a gentle reprehension for agitating a measure so unprecedented unparliamentary and unconstitutional, so inconsistant with the public faith and contrary to their own laws, and I hoped I had frustrated their illegal intentions. I continued in this belief until lately that talking over the public affairs with the Treasurer of the Northern District he informed me that in conformity to the measures taken by his Colleague in the Southern District pursuant to an order of the House of Assembly delivered by their Speaker he had omitted the poll Tax of one Shilling in the Sheriffs lists and that it had been debated in the House, whether they should order the Collectors of his Majesty's Customs not to collect the duty of four pence per gallon on Rum, Wines &c: but that a Majority was of opinion such Order to Officers

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of the Crown would be unavailing and futile. Of all this extraordinary proceeding not one word appears upon the Journals.

Thus My Lord you will observe the Assembly by an order clandestinely suggested through its Speaker to the Treasures, whom they consider and who consider themselves as the Officers of that House exercise a sovereign power; virtually abrogating by its breath, a positive Act of the whole Legislature ratified by his Majesty a monstrous usurpation of authority that I think proves irrefragably the propensity of this people to democracy. I have written to the Treasurers insisting that they direct the Sheriffs to collect the one shilling Tax as usual and according to Law. The Treasurer of the Northern District complied but the Southern Treasurer urging that it was not his duty to give lists of Taxes to the Sheriffs and discovering plainly unwillingness or fear to counteract this mandate of the Assembly I have thought fit to issue a Proclamation of which I have the honor herewith to transmit to your Lordship a Copy strictly enjoining the Sheriffs to collect the Taxes according to Law on pain of being prosecuted for default upon the Bonds, which they enter into with the Governor on their qualification for the faithful discharge of their duty in execution of the Laws which I have no doubt will produce the desired effect.

The success of a Resolve of the two Houses of Assembly in the year 1768 for discontinuing a Poll Tax of three shillings appropriated as this Tax of one shilling to the sinking of legal tender paper money has again my Lord induced this flagrant and unconstitutional violence, the Governor counter worked it by directing the Sheriffs to collect the Tax. Its operation was partial therefore but it raised great clamour and discontent and two years after Governor Tryon was engaged, I must believe deceived or surprised, into sanctifying this political enormity by assenting to a law for indemnifying the Sheriffs who conformed to that illegal Resolve, a measure that I presume they will again resort to but I trust my regard to the duty I owe my Royal Master and to the British Constitution which he so sacredly cherishes will defend me from participation in any violence to this miniature of that most beautiful and wisely proportioned Fabrick.

That your Lordship may be fully master of the macination of this people to nourish the flame of discontent which I hoped was expiring I send herewith a Copy of an advertisement of the Sheriff of Craven County where in a note at the bottom he falsely asserts

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that the Assembly had resolved that the one shilling sinking Tax should not be collected as the Law imposing that Tax appeared to have had its effect of which not a syllable is to be seen on the Assembly's Journal. He has however by my direction contradicted this misrepresentation, thus my Lord these people are studiously fermenting dispositions of which they cannot foresee or determine, but will certainly rue the consequences.

I am ashamed my Lord to see the length to which I have spun out this detail but I considered that I could not minutely relate to your Lordship this transaction upon the great moment and importance of which I must now rely for excuse of my prolixity.

I have the honor to be &c
JO. MARTIN.

N. B. Such large sums of the Public money are lost by the insolvency of Sheriffs and other Receivers of Taxes, that I am assured of £66000 arrearages not near one third will be paid into the Treasury, a circumstance which I hope will justify my refusal of this fund offered for the preservation of the public credit.

Sir Nathaniel Dukenfield who will have the honor to hand this letter to your Lordship is a young gentleman of great worth and a Member of his Majesty's Council in this Province; he goes to England on his private business to make a short stay.