Letter from Thomas Burke to Richard Caswell
Burke, Thomas, ca. 1747-1783
Volume 22, Pages 519-521
DR. THOMAS BURKE TO GOV. CASWELL.
17 June, 1777.
Sometime ago Congress resolved to appoint Two Brigadiers for our State, and agreeable to Instructions we nominated Cols. Sumner and Clarke. Yesterday Cols. Sumner and Hogun were chosen by Ballots, the choice of the latter gentleman not being pursuant to the Instructions, the Design of this Letter is to account for it; and if you please may lay it before the Assembly. After the nomination of Cols. Sumner and Clarke, Mr. Hill and myself, who lodge together, was informed by a Gentleman who came immediately through the Army, that the Deviation from the Line of Seniority of Rank, in the intended promotion of Col. Clarke, gave great uneasiness that it was considered by officers of every Corps, as a Violence to military Rank and Honor, and by all resisted. Reflecting that this matter of military Rank had given great uneasiness, and occasioned great Embarrassment to Congress, and that it had been for sometime settled, and no deviation made from it, except when some Officer had been fortunately distinguished in some Extraordinary Enterprise (a Case which is always admitted as an exception to the General Rules), and that it would not be prudent or Just to wound a set of men in a point which they hold so tender, who are so useful to their Country, and have ventured and suffered so much for their fellow Citizens, with no prospect of Emolument peculiar to them; and reflecting also that the Officers of our Troops must be reduced to the necessity of resigning or remaining in the Army as Men degraded, and of course despised; a Situation the most intolerable that I can imagine, and in which I am persuaded,
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as they do not deserve to be placed, so their Country do not wish them to be. Reflecting, I say, Sir, on these circumstances, Mr. Hill and myself concluded that it would be for the General Good that the promotion should take place according to the rank of our Line, and that the State, if well informed, would so far countermand their Instructions. Being concluded, however, by our Instructions, we would not presume to nominate or vote for any but such as we had in Command, we deemed it incumbent, however, upon us, in order to preserve that Character for Candor and Integrity which we very highly value, and which we deem necessary, for preserving a due weight to the representation of the State, and particularly in order to prevent on the State the Imputations of partial Injustice, and of involving the Congress in difficulties with respect to the Army, we deemed it incumbent on us to inform Congress, before they proceeded to ballot, how the Rank of our Line stood, and what occasioned the Instructions, we communicated our Ideas to Mr. Penn, and he concurred with us. Accordingly, Sir, I laid the matter fairly before Congress, and immediately thereon Col. Hogun was put in Nomination, but not by any of us. Mr. Penn endeavored to support the Nomination made under our Instructions, which I confess I did not. I told Congress that if I were to make a Choice from my personal Inclination, it should be Col. Clarke, but I thought all such Considerations should give place to public Utility; That I was apprehensive the choice of him would induce a very great Inconvenience in our present Circumstances, and I ventured to give it as my opinion that the State would not decide any Thing which might have such Effect. I lamented the Misfortune of Col. Clarke in having been restrained by superior Command at Germantown, which prevented his having an opportunity of obtaining Distinction; that even this misfortune had given a preference to Col. Hogun, who had on that Action behaved with distinguished intrepidity; that upon the whole, tho’ I must vote for Col. Clarke, because I was so instructed, I could not be so uncandid as to say he had the best pretensions. In all the Sentiments I delivered, I was happy to find Mr. Hill concurred with me; nor indeed do I know that Mr. Penn differed. He chiefly insisted on his Instructions, and the violence done Col. Clarke’s feelings, in refusing him a promotion which he had been so long expected for him. Mr. Hill and I, for whom only I can now speak, not having seen Mr. Penn since the Adjournment,
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are persuaded we have done what our Constituents would have done if present; but should we be so unhappy as to have our conduct disapproved, we must lament the Dilemma in which we were placed, and which made it impossible to us to gratify ourselves by supporting our Instructions, and at the same time preserve a due regard for the public Service and for the character of upright Integrity, which is very dear to every honest man, and especially necessary to every Magistrate among free People.
I have the honor to be, &c.,