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Letter from Thomas Macknight to Joseph Jones [as printed in the Virginia Gazette]
Macknight, Thomas, fl. 1757-1787
June 21, 1775
Volume 10, Pages 31-37

[B. P. R. O. Am. & W. Ind.: Vol. 222.]
Letter from Thomas Macknight Esq., to Mr Joseph Jones.1

Sir,

I embrace the only opportunity you ever gave me of thanking you for pulling off the masque in your repeated attempts to injure me and for submitting your accusation fairly to the tribunal of the impartial public. Had your conduct been equally open on a late occasion I have reason to believe the Convention of North Carolina, would not have been led by the warmth of their zeal for the glorious cause of liberty to have imputed to me, Intentions foreign to my heart and destructive to my interest and much less to have censured me for these with a severity due only to actual guilt But as this letter is intended for the public suffer me here to do justice to many respectable members of the Convention who were willing to accept

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of my conformity to the association; who disapproved the severity of the censure: and who Knowing my sentiments, continue to think favourably of my Affection to the cause of American Liberty. Let me also express my obligation to the people of Currituck and Committee of Pasquotank for the Testimony they have borne of my conduct which must have weight with the public in my favour, and let them be assured that it shall be my continued endeavour to justify to the world the opinion they entertain of me: and I shall ever think myself under great obligations to certain Members of the Committee who, forgetting private differences and disregarding your malicious endeavours to prejudice them against my conduct at the Convention, enquired into the circumstances of the affair with a judicious and manly freedom and concurred in determining to bear public testimony in my behalf notwithstanding the arts that were used to dissuade them from this by some Members, who at the same time acknowledged that disregarding the sentence of the Convention they approved of my conduct, should have acted as I did and were ready to subscribe a declaration equally favourable to me in their private capacities and as about two to one of the Members present concurred in publishing their sentiments of my conduct as a Committee it is but reasonable to infer that had they all attended there would have been a proportionable majority in favour of the measure instead of 22 to 14 against it as you insinuate in your nota bene.

I am now to answer your strictures bearing date the 15th of May and published in the Norfolk Gazette of the 15th of June; where it is evident that either your confession of your last words cannot be truth: nor do I believe it possible for you to reconcile them in your dying speech. In the first you say, “that you heard me offer to subscribe the association;” in the last “that some of the members proposed that I might sign,” and that I only “seemed to agree to it.” Here is an evident contradiction: evasions will not do before the bar of the public; and your acknowledgement “that you did tell the Committee something to that effect” hath drawn the rope harder round your own neck; you have kicked the stool from under you, and rendered it impossible for your friends to cut you down from the ignominous situation, in which you are exposed; for were your veracity unimpeached amongst your neighbours yet the weight of evidence which is against you must lead the public what to think of your regard to truth and to recollect the proverb that a certain kind of men “had need of good memories.”

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You insinuate that I withdrew immediately after having refused to sign “the journal of the Continental Congress” which you say some of the Members proposed. Here you contradict yourself again as a Member of the Convention, for in the state previous to the resolve wherein you censure me you have declared that it was the association approved of by the Continental Congress which I refused to sign and thereupon withdrew. But in justice to the Convention I must declare that I did not believe a Member thereof, yourself excepted, was capable of proposing that I, who was not a delegate to the Continental Congress should sign the “journal” of that respectable body. The circumstances and motives of my withdrawing are published and supported by testimony which hath not been contradicted as to your objections the Press is open—try whether they will be treated with less contempt by the imperial world than they met with from the Committee of Pasquotank when stated by you to them on the 19th of April. You say that from the “common stream of my behaviour you believe I never intended to sign at any event and that you are of the same opinion still.” Your opinion can make but little weight with the public. The impartial will expects facts whereon to found their judgment of me and those who are acquainted with you will not be very ready to adopt your opinion of the man to whom your hatred is so notorious. But surely it ill becomes you who have been accused before the Committee of observation for an actual violation of the 9th article of the association in selling gunpowder at a most extravagant price which accusation is supported by undoubted testimony—it ill becomes you I say who have violated the association notwithstanding you highly approve of it, to find fault with me that have strictly conformed to it though I did not highly approve of it. Read the resolution of the present Congress bearing date the 27th of May, observe that no more is required than conformity to the association, compare the prudence of the Congress in this and the humanity of the other parts of that resolve with your own temper which has in the cool hours of reflection endeavored to execute a punishment the condemnation to which was scarce excusable on the score of sudden passion reverberated from bosom to bosom in a popular Assembly.

You seem to exult at having discovered my behaviour to be equivocal and disingenuous about the 28th of April as if that would vindicate you for concurring to censure me on account of a similar

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charge about the beginning of the month, whether that charge was well founded or not. Are you ignorant that a crime committed subsequent to an unjust judgment will by no means extenuate that injustice. If you wish to vindicate yourself to the world for concurring in the censure follow the rules prescribed by the Congress—publish the truth of the case, the particulars of that disingenuous and equivocal behaviour which manifested my intentions to be inimical to the cause of American Liberty and which warrants you to declare me “a pest of society, a tool of ministerial vengeance and an usurper of all good,” and which I presume you think will vindicate the fruitless attempts to stimulate the people in these counties to tar, feather and burn me, together with my property as a sacrifice to your implacable resentment. To what purpose but to irritate people at a distance to commit some act of violence on me when opportunity should serve have malicious reports been spread “that I had induced the people in this country to acknowledge in a petition to the King that we were willing to pay whatever taxes the Parliament should impose on us, Declaring the acts of the Continental Congress unjust and tyranical, and that I had actually raised and embodied a great number of men ready to act as Government should direct.” You have denied being the author of these “attempts and reports” and they are ascribed to you notwithstanding, and I think I am furnished with such evidence as will vindicate a legal prosecution as soon as our Superiour Courts of justice are opened. Other satisfaction you have refused on account of your wife and children.

Let me now examine my behaviour about the 28th of April which you alledge was equivocal and disingenuous, you have descended to particulars and thereby put it in my power to expose the falsehood of your charge. It is true that five Members of the Convention have declared to the world “that they heard me offer to subscribe a promise that I would conform to the Continental association, but many Members insisting that I should subscribe a declaration that I highly approved of it and threatening to withdraw if I was indulged with leave to sign any other declaration than this, occasioned my withdrawing from the Convention on which the vote of censure passed against me.” The Freeholders of Currituck in their publication of the 28th of April are evidently speaking of this declaration of highly approving &c: when they declare it consistent with their ideas of freedom for representative bodies to endeavour

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to force an individual to “subscribe a declaration” contrary to his conscience and avowed sentiments, nor is there any insinuation in that piece that an attempt was made to force me to sign the association or journal of the Continental Congress which you say I must have informed them of, nor do the Committee of Pasquotank insist that I “offered to subscribe the journal of the Continental Congress” as you have falsely declared in the 4th paragraph of your strictures. They have said that you confessed to them on the 19th of April that you heard me in the convention offer “to sign the association” and you have given it under your hand to the public on the 15th of May that you “did tell them something to that effect.” If your confession then is the truth how much more are you to blame than such Members of the Convention as were unacquainted with this offer but if it is a lie you are the author of it to the Committee. As it was a circumstance in my favour not mentioned by the five Members as it came from you a declared enemy of mine the Committee believed that the force of truth only extorted it from your lips and published it to the world as a corroboration of their opinion that the Convention was too severe upon me. You feel the effects of your confession, you would gladly retract it, you have endeavoured to swallow it up and to give us something else in its room. Your attempts however are in vain but the tortures you now feel are on account of your detection, contrition for the offence is a sentiment your breast admits not of. Were your genius and abilities equal to the enmity of your disposition you would avoid such palpable contradictions but how came they to escape the correction and prefacer of your last words? Let him be more attentive to your dying speech else your character will be branded past a possibility of redemption if that is not already the case.

Have you read the declarations of the Freeholders of Currituck? In what part of it do they say that the whole proceedings of the Convention are tyrannical and ought to be rejected on account of that body's attempting to force me to sign the journal of the Continental Congress? These assertions of yours must be owing to ignorance, procure some friend if such you have to read and explain the matters contained in that publication that you may get some idea of them before you make any more strictures for the public perusal.

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On the whole then this equivocal and disingenuous behaviour which you exult in having detected appears to be your own now exposed to public view, for after having concurred in declaring on the 6th of April that I refused to sign the association with the other Members of the Convention and thereupon withdrew, you next confessed before the Committee of Pasquotank on the 19th of April that you heard me offer to subscribe the association in the Convention. On the 15th of May you unsay all this and tell quite a different story by saying that some of the Members proposed I might sign the journal of the Continental Congress, but that I only seemed to agree to it: went with a seeming intention to sign but all on a sudden declined and withdrew, and to complete the matter you very modestly request the public to think with you that this proves me equivocal and disingenuous. Should “ministerial vengeance” stand in need of “a tool” to say and unsay whatever suits its purposes you have shewed by this specimen where it may be supplied, but you have discovered the weakness of your head so exceedingly plainly that you can never expect to be employed except in the lowest department and on the dirtiest occasions; you have a talent for abuse but it is vulgar abuse and some of your expressions are difficult to be understood, “but I will not usurp all good” from you.

If I dared however to soar after you in the regions of simile I would remark that yours of the fly and the web might be rendered more just by comparing yourself to the spider, and the fate of your web (in which you have endeavoured to entangle me) of strictures resembles the fate of those webs which are sometimes spun by that malevolent and venomous reptile and to his great mortification are torn to pieces by the innocent fly which he had destined for his prey. On such an occasion the good natured spectator is pleased with the little flys escape from the lurking villainous spider who then retires from public view into his dark and dirty receptacle to brood over his base designs, and the humane public will not be sorry that your san benito of tar and feathers, your intended Auto Da Fe and your strictures designed to injure me have failed of this intended effect.

Notwithstanding your unremitting endeavours to hurt me I would not willingly injure you in the smallest degree. Nothing but the grossest misrepresentations of my conduct in a matter of general concern could have forced me to this method of self defence which in proportion as I am exculpated from the odium you have endeavoured

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to affix on my public character must be injurious to yourself. Remember that I am not accused of violating the association, that for my actions I acknowledge myself accountable to the community but my opinions are my own; I intruded them not on the public till properly called upon as the deputy of freemen to deliberate with others on the measures proper to be used for establishing and procuring our rights and liberties on a lasting and solid foundation; on such an occasion I spoke my sentiments of a particular measure; they were offensive. I was called upon to subscribe a declaration contrary to these sentiments; I refused; I withdrew from a body where freedom of sentiment was disagreeable to great numbers: on my withdrawing I was censured as an enemy to American Liberty. It produced no bad consequences; those who were warmest through an honest zeal for liberty on cool reflection perhaps thought they had been too severe but you, animated by personal pique and resentment, have embraced the long wished for moment to gratify your revenge; at least you have endeavoured to do it; you have failed and exposed yourself to contempt and detestation. Such men as you are improper guardians of liberty, such principles as yours used in its defence destroy its very essence. I take my leave of you here and beg pardon of the public for this intrusion on its patience.

THOMAS MACKNIGHT.

North-Carolina, Belville, June 21st 1775.
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1 The Virginia Gazette of July 5th, 1775.