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Letter from Hugh Williamson and William Blount to Alexander Martin
Williamson, Hugh, 1735-1819; Blount, William, 1749-1800
October 22, 1782
Volume 16, Pages 434-441

[From Executive Letter Book.]

Philadelphia, 22nd October, 1782.

Dear Sir:

We have not failed to write you in the course of every week or ten days since we arrived here by such opportunities as presented themselves, whether any new subject of intelligence occurred or not.1

Probably some of our Letters have been miscarried and some of

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them contain little else than conjectures respecting the designs or operations of the enemy. Of the different subjects on which we have taken the liberty to write, there are two or three to which we are desirous to draw your attention, these we shall endeavour to explain so fully that the present may serve instead of any or all the former Letters.

The great subject that has for some months drawn the attention of Congress is the means of supporting Public Credit & raising a supply for the expences of the next year and paying the deficiencies of the present year.

We have called the subject of supply a great one, because it is emphatically such with us, since we have little to fear from the Military force of the enemy who are decidedly inferior in the field and must continue so while we can pay, feed and cloath our Army, and never was an army worse paid than they have been and are, to say nothing of the cloaths and rations.

No Citizen of North America will be surprised at this assertion when he looks over the estimate for the expences of the year and considers how small a portion of that sum we have actually paid or borrowed.

Congress have agreed for the next year to attempt to borrow on France or Holland Five Millions of Dollars. We expect to borrow at five per cent. per annum. The Brokerage and other expences will raise the Interest per year to 6 per cent. Some Gentlemen think that we should attempt to raise larger Taxes at home in order to be relieved from the expence of Foreign Interest. We admit that, for our parts, we have been decidedly in favour of borrowing. The peculiar quality of our staple and the scarcity of money in North Carolina, we think, will justify our conduct. We contend that we are sufficiently rich to deserve Credit, tho’ we are at present unable to pay Taxes because Tar, Pitch, Turpentine, Lumber, Indian Corn and the other general staples of North Carolina are too bulky to bear transportation in the time of War. In time of Peace all those articles may be very acceptable to either of the Nations that may lend us money. We apprehend that in time of Peace it would be more convenient for the Citizens of North Carolina in general to pay one Guinea than at present to pay one Dollar. We hope that our Constituents will at least approve the loan, knowing how difficult

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it would be for them to pay a Specie Tax of the twentieth part of their Quota for the annual expences of the War.

It is a fact, not to be dissembled, that the different States are not fully agreed as to the best & most eligible means of funding and paying off the annual supply. The smaller States and some of the larger ones are extremely desirous to do something with the back-lands. Their eyes are so eagerly fixed on those forests that they seem to stumble over the more obvious and productive subjects of Revenue which are nearer at hand. To this hour the State of Rhode Island have not adopted the 5 per cent. duty. They object that such a Tax is not according to the Confederation, while they contend for a participation of the Western lands which is contrary to the express terms of Confederation.

In our public Letter No. 6, August 18th, we mentioned the Western Lands and expressed our opinion that these lands might enable us to pay off a great part of the State debt or such debts as have been contracted for Militia service in the State. As no mention is made of the Western Lands in any of the requisitions that are now forwarded to the General Assembly, it becomes necessary that we should explain why we turned your attention to those Lands.

The subject of Revenue was at first submitted to a Committee of thirteen, being a member from each State, and after much deliberation and debate they reported:

1st. That the Western Lands, if ceded to the United States, might contribute towards a fund for paying the debts of those States.

2nd. That it be recommended to the several States to impose a Land Tax of one Dollar on every one hundred Acres of Land.

3rd. That they also impose a Poll Tax of half a Dollar on all male slaves from 16 to 60 & all free men from 16 to 21 & a Dollar on all free men from 21 to 60 except those in the Federal Army, &c.

4th. That an excise be laid on all distilled Spiritous Liquors of one-eighth of a Dollor for every gallon.

We had no such high expectations as some of the Committee concerning the productive value of the Western Lands, nor did we think that the States at large had any claims on them. The Land Tax of one Dollar per hundred Acres was, in our view, insufferably unequal. The vast tracts of sandy barren land in North Carolina can never be measured with the same scale as the uniformly fertile

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Lands in some of the Northern States. We shall make no remark on the other articles. There was a clear majority of the Committee in favor of the report, on which occasion we wrote the Letter referred to.

However, when the report was taken up by Congress, every part of it which respected the subjects of Taxation was rejected. The Southern States on this occasion were more fortunate than in Committee, for three of the minor States having but one Delegate in Congress were entitled to no vote when the report was brought forward; hence the question was lost by these who had been a majority, for they could produce but 5 or 6 votes at most. In the meanwhile it is our duty to tell you that the debate concerning Back-Lands is only dismissed for the present; it will certainly be revived whenever the Northern and Minor States are better represented. And as those lands are likely to prove the subject of warm and obstinate contention, it may be proper to consider whether there is any middle path by which the State may equally consult its honor, its interest and the public Peace.

It is expressly provided by the 8th Article of Confederation which is our Magna Charter, that in paying the expences of the present War the Quota of each State shall be fixed according to the Value of all lands in the several States “granted to, or surveyed for any person together with the buildings or improvements thereon” to be estimated from time to time as Congress shall direct. The enemy being in the Country is the reason given why this mode of fixing the quota has hitherto been neglected. For our parts we are determined to endeavour, by every possible means, to put this mode of fixing the Quota in a Train of Execution. Our State cannot, in prudence, desert that measure. It is more favorable for us than for most other States in the Union. Other States must pay for their large Towns and land highly cultivated, while we have few Towns and much wood land. But this mode, when the Western lands are included, appears to be less favorable. It is very certain that should we keep those lands, should we open the land office and sell them out, the clear revenue arising from the sale would be very small; they would bring little money into the Treasury, but they would render our Quota of the National Debt near double of what it is at present. For in fixing the Quota every State must be charged with

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its located lands, and as Land Jobbers are not a very popular set of men in any Country, and as the Lands are probably to be valued by indifferent people we may be assured that the Western Lands, which are located, but not improved, will be rated at their full value, and we suspect that our Western Lands on this side of Ohio are nearly double of those Lands already located in the State.

Connecticut, which has a very extraordinary claim to some Western Lands, also New York and Virginia, have made cessions of part of their claims to the United States, but they have not yet ceded all that is required, nor are the terms, especially those of Virginia, acceptable to Congress.

If North Carolina should be induced to give up any part of her Western Territory, we presume she will at least require the following preliminaries:

1st. That the whole expence of our Indian expeditions shall pass to acct. in our quota of the Continental expences.

2nd. That an actual valuation shall be made of all lands and their improvements claimed by any State before the Cessions shall be confirmed.

3rd. That the Sundry Accounts of every State shall be liquidated and its claims established that so their several Quotas may be fixed of the debt already contracted or to be contracted.

4th. That the Lands thus ceded shall be disposed of to the best advantage by the consent of at least nine States for the payment of public Debts.

5th. That if any separate State should ever be erected on any of those lands, part of the public debt shall be transferred to such State according to the value of the land it contains.

It may be inferred from these hints that we suspect that some of the States may prove an over-match for some of ours in the art of rendering accounts. Craft is on some occasions an over-match for honesty, and we confess that when we observe the studied caution with which some of the States seem to elude any attemps to fix a Federal Quota; when we observe the manner in which some of them have laid Continental money and are now claiming to pay it in at 40 for one, as part of their Quota, and when we attend to the steps that have been attempted of less consequence, but in the same spirit we are induced to think that caution is necessary; and our

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State will certainly require that our people should be honest if they are generous. In a word as it is certain that the subject of vacant Lands will be resumed by Congress, and it is more than probable that our State, with some others, will be required to make cessions of part of its vacant Territory, we have thought it our duty to mention the progress of the Debate and to propose such considerations as seem to merit any attention on the adverse side of the question. We shall ever maintain the indisputable claim of our State to those Lands against any pretentions or claims whatever; but if the State, from motives of Peace or profit should be disposed to relinquish any part of her claims, it will not be inferred that our opposition had been groundless.

On the general subject of supplies we need hardly inform you that our Army is extremely clamorous, we cannot pay them—we can hardly feed them. There is no money in the Treasury and we are obliged to draw upon the Foreign Loans before they are perfected.

We know that our State will not be able to raise the Quota that is assigned to her for the year 1783, but we are confident that she will do all in her power. We have attempted to fix her Quota as low as possible, and from a Paper we have sent you will perceive that we have deducted something from the Quota of last year, though our circumstances are now more favorable.

You will observe that a monthly account is published of the Taxes collected and paid in by the different States. Lest from the silence of the newspapers on that subject it should be conjectured that North Carolina had done nothing towards the public Service, we caused a short account to be published of what was done by our Assembly for the current year; the number of Troops raised and cloathed, the public waggons, the provision Tax and the Tax for public Revenue, all of which we attempted to place in the most favorable point of light. As it is obvious that his most Christian Majesty, our steady Ally, was desirous to know in what manner the United States were impressed by the Birth of a Dauphin, we conceived it our duty to address the Minister of France of that occasion. We had the satisfaction to find that the public seemed to approve and the Minister to be much pleased with our apology in behalf of

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the State. We hope that our conduct will meet with the approbation of our Constituents.

We shall not trouble you with a general detail of Foreign events—some of them, however, deserve your notice. Ever since the Seven United Provinces of the Netherlands acknowledged our Independence, a Treaty of amity and commerce has been in a train of negotiation; we presume that it is signed before this time.

The King of Sweden has proposed to one of our Foreign Ministers to enter into a Treaty of amity and Commerce with the United States, and we have given the necessary Instructions & powers on that subject.

The enemy are extremely desirous to get their Soldiers, who are prisoners, out of our hands, but they do not offer a quid pro quo. Congress have determined not to make any exchange ’til the Commissioner, who shall be sent to negotiate a general Cartel, shall produce Powers expressly derived from the King of Great Britain, and shall have paid or secured payment for a large balance due the United States for the sustenance of Prisoners. Attempts have been made in the meanwhile to secure a partial exchange. Congress have been zealously pressed to confirm the exchange of Lord Cornwallis for Mr. Laurens. This proposition is the more extraordinary as the enemy at first pretended to liberate Mr. Lawrens unconditionally. The finesse was certainly curious and original. However, Congress have not adopted the example in giving up Lord Cornwallis unconditionally. Such an Officer is rated at 1,200 men, which is too large a gift to be made to a Nation that never wishes to give us anything except hard measures. The Southern States who are best acquainted with his Lordship’s good qualifications are determined, if possible, that he shall be indulged a few months longer in the repose of his native Country unless he should choose to be paroled in South Carolina.

We confess that in this debate we have thought it our particular duty to give Lord Cornwallis credit for the numberless murders he has committed in the Carolinas and Georgia.

Negotiations in Paris for Peace move on with such a steady pace that they are hardly progressive. Mr. Allen Fitzherbert, the British Minister at Brussels, is appointed to negotiate at Paris in the room of Mr. Grenville, who we apprehend was only removed that

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he might be Secretary to his Brother, Earl Temple, who succeeds the Duke of Portland in the Lieutenancy of Ireland. Mr. Fitzherbert’s Commission impowers him to treat of joint or separate Peace with any of the Nations who are at War, but though France, &c., are named, America is not mentioned in the Commission.

The Dutch have also sent two Commissioners to Paris who might arrive there on the 6th or 8th of September. We have good reason to say they are instructed not to treat of a separate Peace. The pending fate of Gilbralter must have a serious effect on the Treaty of Peace to forward or retard it.

We have many reasons to be assured that the present British Ministry have imbibed the Spirit of their King. They have a vindictive hostile disposition towards America and would gladly embrance any encouragement to repeat their attempts at Conquest.

We have the honor to be,
Yours, &c.,


1 Letters of intermediate dates containing matters of Intelligence only are omitted in the Registration of the Delegates’ Correspondence. [Note by Ed.—This is very much to be regretted.]