Message from Abner Nash to the North Carolina General Assembly
Nash, Abner, ca. 1740-1786
Volume 15, Pages 225-229
GOV. ABNER NASH TO THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY.
To the Honorable the General Assembly.
I am very glad an opportunity is at last afforded me of addressing you in Gen. Assembly, and I believe I may truly say there never has been a time before in which the united wisdom of the state was more perfectly called aloud for than the present. You have seen the neighboring states of Georgia and S. Carolina fall, one after the other, into the hands of the Enemy, & you see the people of those states, lately so free and happy, now groaning under every degree of wretchedness that Lawless power can inflict.
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All these evils, Gentlemen, and more than I can describe, await us, and will sooner or later be our inevitable fate, unless proper measures are speedily taken to avert them. No one can, I presume, have a doubt respecting the immediate designs of the Enemy agst. this state; their plan of policy pursued of late plainly points them out. In point of conquest we stand next in rotation, and indeed had it not been for the bravery and public spirit that of late has so immenently distinguished the good people of this State, there is no saying how far the Enemy's views might not have been effected before this Hour. These people, not waiting for the calls of government, nobly stept forth in defence of their common rights, and under every disadvantage they attacked, defeated, and finally expelled the Enemy from the state. These great and memorable actions, together with the successes of the militia agst. the Enemy in the District of Edenton and other parts of the State, have had the most extensive and important good consequences. At the same time that they struck the Enemy with consternation, they animated the rest of our citizens and taught them to know their own strength, & perhaps it affords you, Gentlemen, this happy opportunity of further providing for the general safety by adopting such wise measures as will in future bring forth the strength and resources of the whole country. By wise Laws this may be effected, but so long as you trust to the uncertain and unequal, and I may say oppressive, method of seizing and impressing for the support of the army, the public burthens will be so unequal, and the supplies so difficult of collection, that I fear nothing but distress and disappointment will be the fruit of your endeavors. Could this plan of impressment be made to fall on the monopolist only, he who takes his measures with a view to his own interest, regardless of the public calamities, the measures would consist with good policy; but to make it fall on the industrious citizen, he who by his Labour has acquired something over and above the wants of his family and his proportion of the public wants, to subject his house to a search, & his produce on the road for market to seizure, is impolitic, because, by its direct tendency to discourage industry, a fatal scarcity of the necessaries of Life in a short time must be the inevitable consequence. I admit that in cases of extreme necessity every sovereign state has a right to impress for the public security, but it is the necessity
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of the case only that will justify the measure; &, Gentlemen, I beg you will consider how different that is from a Law authorizing general impressment as an ordinary means of providing for the army. The Acts of Congress, Original Letters, and other state papers which I have the honor to lay before you are so full & pathetic on this subject that, added to what I have said & your own reflection, I am persuaded you will, on this important occasion, take such measures as will answer the reasonable expectations of Congress, & thereby secure effectually the freedom and independence of the state.
I wish it were in my power, Gentlemen, to give you a satisfactory account of the operations of our principal army to the westward, and of the progress made by your officers & commissioners in providing magazines of provisions & other military stores. In the common course of things, no doubt it might be expected of me to be able to give some of these public transactions; But, Gentlemen, at your last session at Hillsborough, for reasons unknown to me, it was thought expedient (as I conceive it) to change our form of Government; for By your Acts you have effect ually transferred the powers vested by the constitution in the Governor into the hands of commissioners. As I said, I am entirely ignorant of the causes which lead to this strange resolution. In the preceding April I had been elected into office by a very large majority of the General Assembly. This mark of confidence, added to the affectionate manner in which the honours of my appointment were conferred upon me, impressed me with the deepest sense of gratitude; &, anxious for an opportunity to render some service to my country, suitable to the rank I held in it, I applied to the assembly for their approbation to proceed myself into South Carolina with the aid intended for the relief of that state; but, as I was informed, the measure was at this time thought inadvisable on account of the dangers apprehended from the disaffected within the state, & I was better satisfied with the will of the assembly, as the command was, on that important occasion, given to one of your worthiest citizens, one who with reputation had filled the highest offices in the state, & who had been experienced in military affairs, an advantage I could not boast of. Since then, Gentlemen, I have constantly exerted my best abilities, such as they are, for the public good, and upon the strictest self-examination I am not conscious
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of having done any thing, or omitted to do any thing, in my public character but with a direct view to the Honor and interest of my country. When you elected me governor of the State you presented me the Bill of rights and the constitution. At the same time you presented me with the Sword of the state as an emblem of the power I was invested with for the protection of the constitution and the rights of the people, and in a solemn manner you bound me by an oath to preserve the constitution inviolate; and yet four months after my Election the very same assembly deprived me of almost every power, privilege and authority belonging to my office. My authority as commander in chief of the militia is abolished, & every officer and commissioner of the state, your chief magistrate not excepted, is made amenable & subject to a controul of a board of war. They are impowered to direct me when and in what numbers to call out the militia, & when called out they are to direct what post they are to occupy and what expeditions they are to undertake; in short, from having a right to the chief direction, I have now no right even to a share in the councils of administration. In consequence of these measures I have been excluded from all intelligence or correspondence with the army; the commanding officer of your militia has honoured me, it is true, with one Letter since his appointment to the supreme command, as it is termed, but this was only to acknowledge the recpt. of mine, sent express to advise him of Gen. Leslie's having left Virginia. I have no doubt that the secret Enemies of our Free constitution exult at the introduction of such an innovation, & rejoice at seeing the first officer in the state rendered useless and contemptible; but I question if you, Gentlemen, upon experience, will find any good consequences to result from such experiments. On the contrary, the worst of consequences are, in my opinion, justly to be apprehended from them, & particularly from weakening instead of strengthening the hands of government in time of imminent danger.
I readily acknowledge the merit of the Gentlemen who compose the board of War, & that I thought the establishment of such a board necessary. I also thought it necessary that extraordinary powers should be lodged somewhere, equal to the exigency of the times &, agreeably to the recommendation of Congress, to be exercised on extraordinary occasions; and being not ambitious of
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power myself, I recommended that the extraordinary power should be in the Board of war, so as to make them a legal Basis for the support of the Executive; & this, as expressed by Congress, might have been in lieu of the assembly sitting constantly. But instead of giving them powers which lie dormant except when the assembly are in session, you give them powers comprehending, and of course superceeding, those of the Executive, which are never Dormant. In short, Gentlemen, I hold at present but an empty title, neither serviceable to the people nor honorable to myself. It will therefore become an act of necessity, however disagreeable at a time like this, that I resign my office, unless you restore it to a condition as respectable as it was when you did me the honour to confer it upon me.