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Letter from Thomas Burke to Richard Caswell
Burke, Thomas, ca. 1747-1783
April 29, 1777
Volume 11, Pages 460-463

[From Executive Letter Book.]

Philadelphia, April 29th 1777.


An express going hence to Charlestown gives me an opportunity of writing you a few lines, but without being able to communicate any thing interesting.

We have at present in Congress a representation of all the Colonies, altho' the number of Delegates is not very considerable. New York entertains the most virulent jealousy against her Eastern Neighbours, and it is now heightened by an affair which is something embarrassing. The inhabitants of what is usually called the New Hampshire Grants,1 have attempted to set up a distinct State, & sent Delegates to Congress to claim a seat. New York remonstrated: the new State (called New Connecticut) seemed to be patronised by the Eastern Delegates; but the Congress laid the papers on the table, and I hope will be wise enough to decline any interposition. I am for my own part clearly against assuming a judiciary power, such certainly never was the purpose of our Delegation. As I consider all jealousies as injurious to our common cause, and as laying the foundation of future evils, I use my best endeavours to discourage them; and I endeavour as much as possible to keep our attention to the main business, that of subduing our common enemy.

The Confederation comes under consideration two days in every

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week. On this arduous subject you will easily imagine I want the assistance of my Colleagues, and indeed wish it reserved for men more able and experienced than I am. I shall give it however the most attentive consideration, and certainly shall agree to nothing, but on the clearest conviction and most uncontroverted principles. I shall very carefully abstract all the debates of any moment upon it, and every other subject, but particularly upon that, and when I transmit it to you, I will transmit the debates also. At present, nothing but executive business is done, except the Confederation, and on mere executive business there are seldom any debates; (and still more seldom any worth remembering. We have agreed to three articles): one containing the name: the second a declaration of the sovreigntry of the States, and an express provision that they be considered as retaining every power not expressly delegated; and the third an agreement mutually to assist each other against every enemy. The first and latter passed without opposition or dissent, the second occasioned two days debate. It stood originally the third article; and expressed only a reservation of the power of regulating the internal police, and consequently resigned every other power. It appeared to me that this was not what the States expected, and, I thought, it left it in the power of the future Congress or General Council to explain away every right belonging to the States and to make their own power as unlimited as they please. I proposed, therefore an amendment, which held up the principle, that all sovereign power was in the States separately, and that particular acts of it, which should be expressly enumerated, would be exercised in conjunction, and not otherwise; but that in all things else each State would exercise all the rights and power of sovereignty, uncontrolled. This was at first so little understood that it was some time before it was seconded, and South Carolina first took it up. The opposition was made by Mr. Wilson of Pennsylvania, and Mr. R. H. Lee of Virginia: in the end however the question was carried for my proposition, eleven ayes, one no, and one divided. The no was Virginia; the divided, New Hampshire. I was much pleased to find the opinion of accumulating powers to Congress so little supported, and I promise myself, in the whole business I shall find my ideas relative thereto nearly similar to those of most of the States. In a word, Sir, I am of opinion, the Congress should have power enough
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to call out and apply the common strength for the common defence: but not for the partial purposes of ambition. We shall next proceed to the structure of the common Councils; and here, I think, we shall meet with difficulties of the most arduous nature. The inequality of the States, and yet the neccessity of maintaining their separate independence, will occasion dilemmas almost inextricable. You shall, Sir, know the whole progress of the matter if I can conceive and convey it with sufficient clearness.

Maryland has set an exceeding good example to the other States in laying a tax. I hope it will be followed in ours. I mean not in the mode, but the thing. It is the only adequate remedy for the abundance of circulating money, and its consequent depreciation. I have obtained from Congress, leave to purchase two hundred gunlocks out of the public stores. I have sent them to Hillsborough, and hope they will very soon be applied to the arms which are there preparing, and that the arms themselves will be put into the hands of the soldiers, and sent to their proper places?

Opinions here are various with respect to the intended movements of the enemy: 'tis certain however they have yet made none of any consequence. The officers in general are of opinion, they will attempt this city and it seems determined so dispute it with them. This too is the prevailing opinion in Congress, and I am much pleased with the severity and vigor with which we, at present, seem to regard objects of danger. Some of us, who are of a more martial cast, have gained the ascendancy so far that the timid are too fearful even to disclose their fears. I am pretty certain our next campaign will be active and interesting, if we are not disappointed in getting our army. The Northern, or what are usually called the New England States, are at present very languid: the troops do not at all come forward. Ticonderoga is in a very defenceless situation; and there appears very little reason to expect force there so soon as it will be wanting. We have no fresh intelligence from France, nor indeed have any vessels lately arrived from any part of Europe.

I am, Sir, exceedingly anxious to hear of our affairs in our own State: so informed as I am, I may perhaps consent to something that might do her injury. I write very frequently to every part of the country, but never receive a line in answer. Except the letters from your Excellency dated in February, I have not received one from North Carolina since my arrival at Congress.

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I wish I could be informed of the success of my request to be permitted to return in the summer, if the Assembly think proper to command my further attendance in the service: or whether they may not make choice of some more able man to fill the Department. I will detain you, Sir, no longer, only to declare that

I am, with the greatest respect & esteem,
Your Excellency's most obedient servant
His Excellency Governor Caswell.


1 Since become the State of Vermont.—W. C.