Letter from Thomas Burke to John Sullivan
Burke, Thomas, ca. 1747-1783
Volume 15, Pages 86-89
HON. DR. THOMAS BURKE TO GENERAL SULLIVAN.
Tyaquin, near Hillsborough, No. Carolina,
September 28th, 1780.
I have Just received yours dated 18th of April last. I perceive it was written immediately after my last reached you, and while your mind was under the Influence of resentment; to this I attribute its being in a stile which I did not expect from a Man of your rank. I sit down to write to you immediately on the receipt of yours, and I hope you will perceive that, if I exceed you in nothing else, I do in temper and the manners of a Gentleman. You say the general assertions contained in mine respecting the Opinions which Congress and the Country in general entertain of your Military abilities you know are as far from truth as the asserter is from being a Gentleman of Candor, honor or veracity. Tho' this language be hypothetical, 'tis easy to perceive you mean it to be affrontive, and there is no great degree of heroism in using it to a man who is at the distance of many hundred Miles. If the asserter be as near to candor, honor and veracity as the assertions are to truth, his relation is as Intimate as possible. You cannot know the things you say; you know not the asserter, you have not heard the Debates in Congress, and you have not heard the public Voice; you can have heard only the voice of the Camp, and that only by
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report of such as are not very willing to Convey disagreeable Truths to you. You are therefore, I presume, but imperfectly qualified to pronounce whether the assertions are true or false, or what is the personal character of the asserter. You are, not I, am persuaded, very fond of hearing such assertions, and few will be at the trouble of making them to you. I should not have troubled you with them, were it not for your Insinuation that I Injured your reputation through Malice. As this is a motive I am altogether unconscious of, I did not choose even you should deem me capable of being influenced by it, and I doubted not that good sense and Candor would convince you it could not be the motive of a man who was so far removed from all Connection with you, and who scarcely knows you by Sight; who, being in a public character, was bound to form some Opinion of you as a public Officer, and could form that opinion only with those Senses and powers of understanding which God gave him, and whom Integrity compelled to speak that Opinion in that public council of which his Country appointed him a member. That I was not Singular in that opinion, that I am but one of a Multitude who have formed the same, many, very many, Sir, can inform you, if they will be at the trouble. Whether you think it true or not shall give me no further Concern, you yourself do not more Sincerely wish it to be erroneous than I do.
You Conceived, when you refused the explanation I asked, I should find myself under the Necessity of Seeking you out. You seem to have overlooked some Intimations in my Letters. When yours to Congress, which gave occasion for our correspondence, reached that Assembly I was absent; on my arrival at York I learned of it, and being then, as I believe I informed you, on my Journey home, I stopped only to write to you. I did not intend that the affair should interrupt either yours or my more important Concerns. You were busy in the Campaign; I was on a visit to my Family, from which I had been absent many Months, and on my arrival at home I was called to attend to my duty in the Legislative Assembly of my Country, where my efforts, however feeble, were necessary for forwarding the great business in which we are both engaged. These I deemed of far greater Importance than adjusting a private affair, and doubted not we should find sufficient Leisure in the recess of the Campaign and after my return to Congress. My
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return was delayed much longer than I expected by an unforseen accident and the almost impassable condition of the roads, and your being ordered to Rhode Island was an event as unexpected as unwelcome to me. To have followed you would have been Idle and romantic, and if otherwise it was out of my power. My presence in Congress was absolutely necessary to enable them to proceed to business, at least so generally so that I could not have obtained permission to have gone any distance. You, I presume, know enough of the Constitution of Congress to know that this is possible. All these circumstances, except the last, I think were Suggested in my former Letters, but you seem to have overlooked them. I am not, Sir, Spur'd on by resentment, nor, I hope, quite so intemperate as to be indiscreet. Tho' I earnestly wish for a proper occasion, I can wait for it without foregoing my purpose. When I requested you to appoint some place, beyond the Immediate Neighborhood of the Camp, I imagined it would be equally agreeable to you as to me, and could not suspect you of so great an Indelicacy and impropriety as to wish our Interview to be at Camp. I am still persuaded that had you remained with the Grand army you would have found means to facilitate our meeting in some not improper manner. When I was informed of your orders to proceed to Rhode Island I gave up all hopes of seeing you until after the present Campaign. Some event, I doubt not, will yet bring us together. I expect a fortunate one from the aspect of affairs in your department. My last letters from Philadelphia of 27th of August assure me you promise Congress very Important Successes. I hope they will be verified, and that next winter will see you in Philadelphia to receive the thanks of Congress for your eminent Services. Then may come that auspicious hour when you may take the measures which appear to you proper, when you may meet the man whom you suppose to have injured you, and whom you nevertheless may deem unworthy to meet in arms. Your Insinuations, Sir, I shall not give myself the trouble to explain. If you deem your endowments of body or mind superior to mine, or that Mr. Sullivan as a private Citizen or private Gentlemen is superior to Mr. Burke, or that a Major General in the Army of the United States is superior to a representaative of one of those States, it shall give me no concern. These are the only particulars in which a comparison can be made between
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us; and (if I mistake you not) the Idea of your own Eminence is very pleasing to you; I wish not to deprive you of it. Enjoy it, Sir with my hearty good will. The measures which appear to you proper I am sure are not assassination. You are incapable of that; in whatever other mode you may make your meditated attack, I trust it will not so far disconcert me as to prevent my giving you an honorable reception. In this I will venture to have a little confidence in myself.
I am Sir, &c.,