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Letter from William Hooper to Samuel Johnston
Hooper, William, 1742-1790
September 26, 1776
Volume 10, Pages 815-820

[From MS. Records in Office of Secretary of State.]
Letter from William Hooper to Samuel Johnston.

This, my Dear Sir, is truly confidential. Were it not that my friend Hewes is to be the bearer, I should not trust out of my own hands a letter which may be attended with unhappy consequences

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should it fall into the power of any one disposed to make an unfriendly use of it. I have waited impatiently for our publick affairs to take a favourable turn to the Eastward before I set down to delineate to you the state of them. I have waited to little purpose; every day gives a blacker tinge to the picture, and I assume my pen at this stage of them, least I should be induced hereafter to turn from the prospect with abhorrence and be averse to trouble you upon so unpleasing a contemplation. You will feel yourself little obliged to me even now that I draw off your attention from the endearing concerns of private and domestick life, from the recesses of rural and philosophic retirement, to fix it upon scenes that characterise human nature in its most depraved state, and almost tempt a man to arraign providence that he has been cast into being at a time when private & political Vice is at a Crisis & the measure of Iniquity full and overflowing. But, Dear Sir, It becomes our duty to see things as they are, divested of all disguise, and when the happiness of the present age and of Millions yet unborn depends upon a reformation of them, we ought to spare no pains to effect so desirable a purpose. I know it to be very unpolite to dwell upon his losses to a man who is unlucky, but when you play so deep a hazard as at present, you ought not to be kept in Ignorance how the Game runs.

After the constant employment of the American Army during a whole summer in fortifying Long Island and New York, General Howe landed with his Army on the former, and being opposed with a handful of our troops, whose bravery did honour to the glorious cause they fought for, with greatly superior numbers Howe bore down all resistance, and after having killed and wounded many and taken near 1000 prisoners, retired to his Encampment now enlarged by that part of the Island of which he had dispossessed our friends. Our men now confined to their lines were thought unequal to the defence of them, the Enemy possessed of Heights which our Troops with all their opportunities had neglected to fortify, had the entire Command. Our General wisely ordered a retreat, which was conducted without any loss but that of our honor. New York received us in our retreat, but from what you know of its situation, not to hold us long. We retired with the loss of great part of our Stores in sight of a victorious Enemy, abandoning their works which had been reared at an immense expense without any use but to stand as monuments of the absurdities which must ever attend a War conducted

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with raw, undisciplined Troops in the field and want of political experience in the Cabinet. Would I could draw a veil of oblivion over what ensued. The Enemy attempted to land a body of Troops near Haerlem where we had two Brigades of Eastern forces stationed. Our men made way for them as soon as their arrival was announced. They saw, they fled, not a single man faced his Enemy or fired his Gun. Our brave General flew to the scene of Action, but not a man would follow him. With prayers, entreaties, nay tears, he endeavoured to cause them to rally. At one time sixty of the Enemy, separated from the main body, had the pleasure of pursuing two compleat Brigades of New England Heroes. Where then had fled “That spirit of freedom which animated them? Where were then the Yeomanry of a Country, Men of property, not mere mercenaries, who fight the cause of freedom, and will succeed or perish with it.” Mere words of puff vox et praeterea nil.

Washington is now at Col. Roger Morris's advantageously posted, His army however in a condition far from pleasing. The scarcity of clothes of all kinds prevents their being cloathed and covered as the season requires. Near 4000 of them are now sick, which is but small compared with them who have been returned formerly in that state. He has had an immense deal of trouble with the Militia, who from real or feigned sickness have been a constant burden to the army without any use whatsoever. Of 13 battalions of Connecticut Militia all but 700 deserted, and these he dismissed to save such a burdensome Expence, without any benefit resulting from it.

I am sorry to find that my Countrymen are become a byword among the nations—Eastern Prowess—Nation poorly—Camp Difficulty are standing terms of reproach and dishonour—they suffer in the comparison with the troops to the Southward of Hudson's River who have to a man behaved well and born the whole brunt on Long Island—and that for which the Eastern troops must be damned to eternal fame—they have plundered friends and foes without discrimination. When I commend the Southern Troops I except the Philadelphia City Militia who Poltroon like deserted their station, not being able to bear the absence of the Muskets.

All this is in a great measure to be ascribed to the present footing upon which our army has been enlisted. The Enlistments have been so short that they were scarce on the field before it was time to disband them. They acquired no military knowledge from Experience.

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Their service was too short to establish subordination and discipline amongst them.

Another great grievance has been the want of proper officers to command. The scantiness of pay or some other cause has drawn few Gentlemen into commands; Offices have been chiefly distributed amongst men to the Eastward who aimed at nothing but popularity in the army and knew that nothing would so effectually secure it as condescension and equality. Judge what would be the privates when such were the officers. I am told that they have even stimulated their men to desertion to find an excuse to follow them, and the Regimental Surgeons have taken bribes to certify sickness in order to exempt soldiers from Duty. It is a fact that a Connecticut Militia Brigadier induced his whole Brigade to run away and then most bravely run away himself.

In a word I begin to believe that patriotism among the common soldiery is a bubble and that pay well and hang well are the grand secrets to make an army—that this is a mere machine, that ought never to think, or act but when acted upon; that it requires skilfull artificers or officers, to wind up and conduct its movements, for when left to itself it will soon run down or go into irregularities which must produce confusion and ruin to itself. If once a soldier is suffered to think for himself or reason upon the propriety of the commands of his Officers—farewell to suddenness and decision in execution. These are the imperfections of our present army. The inclosed will shew you the method which we have adopted to remedy them.

Thus we stand alike and contrasted—Washington brave, Howe brave. Howe Experienced, Washington not. Howe's army disciplined, orderly, satisfied, well found with everything. Washington's, raw troops, disorderly, discontented and wanting almost everything necessary for cloathing, and very many for defence & the term of Enlistment nearly expired. Don't start from the picture. It is taken strictly from the original, and far from exciting despair it ought rather to rouse us from our Lethargy and induce us to remedy the Evils while in our power for yet they are so. By way of back shade to the painting I would inform you that a few days ago a detachment from the Enemy took possession of our works at Paulus Hook, the guard we had there retired and left them a bloodless conquest. Hewes will inform you that we lately had some advantage

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in a skirmish with the Enemy. That perhaps has proved to keep together our present Army.

Our privateers have been successful. I will not say anything of our Continental Ships lest I should infringe upon Hewes' department. I fear that the want of Men & Cannon will prove an insuperable obstacle to their Movements.

To what accident it is to be ascribed I know not but since Howe got possession of York above one-third of the City has been consumed by fire. It is reported, I know not with what truth, that Howe who is obliged now and then to condescend to humour the Hessians gave them one day to rejoice & riot & that in the heat of their festivity they made a Bonfire of the City. So says Rumour. Others with less probability ascribe it to our forces who were 9 Miles distant from it at the time.

The Successes of Howe have given a strange Spring to Toryism; men who have hitherto lurked in silence and neutrality, seem willing to take a side in opposition to the liberties of their Country. Toryism is a Strange Weed, the growth of a barren soil whose vegetation is not progressive, but is indebted for a sudden Existence to the Sunshine of prosperity and perishes as soon as that leaves it, having nothing radical in itself or the soil from which it springs to continue its existence longer.

You have seen the constitution of Pennsylvania—Humano capite cervix equinna juncte—the motley mixture of limited monarchy, and an execrable democracy—a Beast without a head. The Mob made a second branch of Legislation—Laws subjected to their revisal in order to refine them, a Washing in ordure by way of purification. Taverns and dram shops are the councils to which the laws of this State are to be referred for approbation before they possess a binding Influence. No man to be an Assemblyman unless he believes in God. Is Irreligion then the flourishing growth of Pennsylvania and is Atheism a weed that thrives there? Sure this insinuates as much. It is a melancholy consideration, that publick proceedings now are in a great measure the histories of those concerned in them—and popularity—Interest—Office, are the strong outlines which mark the production—in this Instance they all work powerfully. I shall lament that any prepossession should have taken place in Carolina in favor of the wisdom in politicks of this State; or that the name which authenticates the public Acts of Convention should have any weight to give such a plan a currency. It is truly

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the Excrement of expiring Genius & political Phrenzy. It has made more Tories than Lord North; deserves more Imprecations than the Devil and all his Angels. It will shake the very being of this once flourishing Country.

But I am at the Bottom of my page, I have performed all I promised & have given you a Tale—piteous truly piteous, and will now leave you to indulge all the luxury of melancholy & distress for our bleeding Country—Do not however imagine that I rather delineate the history of my own mind than a state of facts as they are unwarped by Gloomy fancy—Do not mistake me, my spirits have not failed me—I do not look upon present ills as incurable, I never considered the path to liberty as strewed with roses. She keeps her Temple upon the highest Pinnacles on Earth; they who would enter with sincerity and pure devotion, must climb over Rocks & frightful precipices covered with thorns & weeds; these miscarriages will be frequent & how many thousand must perish in the pursuit, but the prize is worthy all the fatigue and hazard, and the adventurer when at his Journey's end will look down with pleasure on the difficulties he has surmounted, & with triumph count the glorious wounds that have purchased to him and posterity the invaluable blessing. Thus I sport in the field of Metaphor, more at ease than I till now thought myself capable of. It is the standard which every man at the present day should bring himself to, and were I to choose a motto for a Modern Whig—It should be—“Whatever is, is right”—& on the reverse “Nil desperandum.” May you and yours ever feel those blessings which are the result of genuine goodness of heart, and may the misfortunes of the public never intrude themselves upon your domestick peace.

When I began this scrawl I intended it only for you. I have been led into a train of scribbling which has not left me a moment to write to the man whom I love and esteem, Mr Iredell. In supreme confidence give him a sight of this and beg his rememberance of Me. To Your & his family pray offer my most respectful Compliments & believe me to be with Unaltered Esteem & Affection

Your Friend
WILLIAM HOOPER.

Philadelphia, Sept 26th, 1776.