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Letter from Thomas Burke to John Williams et al.
Burke, Thomas, ca. 1747-1783
May 20, 1782
Volume 16, Pages 616-618

GOV. THOS. BURKE TO JOHN WILLIAMS AND OTHERS.

Tyaquin, May 20th, 1782.

Gentlemen:

I received your letter in closing Extracts of Some acts passed at the last Session of Assembly declaring your resolutions taken thereon and requesting my answer by the earliest Opportunity.

The Law for Suspending Executions no further relates to our profession than as it eventually Suspends Employment but cannot be considered as an Injury, because, not peculiarly directed against us, that therefore in my humble Opinion ought to have no part in the foundation on which you build your resolution. But the other Extract is an unjust and injurious attempt to deprive free Citizens of the rights asserted by the Constitution and ought to be Suspected as

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an attempt to Establish a precedent for Subjecting all men to Arbitrary power in the County Courts, of whose Judges the General Assembly are for the Most part composed.

It is the Misfortune of our profession that some very unworthy men have got footing within it, men whose practices very justly provoke the resentments of the people, and it is not uncommon for men of little knowledge and perhaps less liberality, to transfer that Contempt and Indignation to the whole profession which may be Justly due to some Individuals.

The Superior Knowledge and abilities of men of Eminence in our profession always have been and always will be an object both of Envy and Apprehension to low minds and to persons disposed to be arbitrary or oppressive either in private or public Stations, but that very knowledge and those abilities form the most sure resource for the people against Tyranny and oppression. We are therefore to Expect that when low or arbitrary characters get into the Legislature, which will too often happen during the Infancy of a Government, they will attempt to remove those objects of their envy and apprehensions from that respectable Station in the public Eye which enables them to form so powerful a barrier to measures in which Such low arbitrary Characters may be deeply interested and the defective mode in which business is done in our Assemblies will often admit of sections like the present being tacked to the Tail of a Bill which was originally on a very different Subject. But on the other hand the people will soon find themselves exposed to great oppression if they cannot procure men of learning and abilities to defend them, and if a mode could be fallen upon to let the people feel without Essential prejudice the Injury done them by depriving them of men qualified to protect them, without subjecting the profession to the charge of resentments against the public, and Combinations to Support Extortion, I should approve of it and willingly Concur but I fear the resolution you refer to in your letter will be subject to such Construction and I think at all Events it ought not to extend to business in which you may be already engaged, because your Clients who have confided in you and who have not Injured you, ought by no means to be deserted. In fine, Gentlemen, might I offer advice, it would be to Suspend the taking the resolution you mention until the Sense of the whole profession could be taken upon

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it, and until a Line can be drawn which can be pursued without Involving the profession in the Suspicion of abeting any unworthy practices or unworthy Members while a measure which attempts a Violation of the Constitution by introducing arbitrary punishments and adjudications and which points at particular orders of Citizens to whom the Country at large owes some regard for their exertions in defence of the Common liberty, may be justly Censured and Resented.

My practice being Chiefly in the Superior Courts, and as much in other districts as that of Hillsborough, it is not material for me to join in your resolutions nor would it be proper for me to form any for myself without a previous Conference with those Gentlemen who attend the same Circuit with me. I will assure you, however, I shall take no advantage of the absence of any Gentlemen of the bar who stays away in Consequence of the resolution you mention from the next Term, but I expect that at the Succeeding Term Gentlemen will attend to the business in which you have already engaged. I do not know that I shall take any new business.

I am, Gentlemen,
Respectfully,
Your obed. Servt.,
THOS. BURKE.