Letter from Samuel Spencer to Allen Jones
Spencer, Samuel, 1734-1793
Volume 22, Pages 770-773
FROM JUDGE SAMUEL SPENCER TO GEN. ALLEN JONES.
Anson County, 22d December, 1778.
I cannot but express the most grateful acknowledgment of the honor the Legislature has done me in more than once appointing me to the important office of a judge of this State. It fell to my lot to be the first in that office, on whose exertion, in a great measure, depended the effect and sanction of our present constitution and government. With what degree of firmness and integrity I have discharged the duties of that office, my public conduct must be left to shew. If I have failed to answer the expectations of the public, it has not been for want of the most indefatigable pains, and the sincerest endeavors. When I first undertook the discharge of that office, no person can reasonably imagine that the allowance I then had from the public could have been any real inducement. For, as the courts of oyer and terminer were not held in circuit or rotation, I found, upon a calculation, that in attending only six of them I rode about 2,000 miles. What degree of steadiness, therefore, has marked my conduct in a judicial capacity (exclusive of the principles of patriotism, the professions of which are apt to become stale), is in a great measure owing to a resolution that I first set
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out with, not to betray any symptoms of doubt or distrust in the strength and resources of our defense and independence. Therefore, during the time while the means of supporting our independence remained in any manner precarious, let the event of things have been what it would, and whether the allowance I received from the public was adequate or inadequate, I could not retreat nor relinquish the office the public had thus conferred upon me with any consistency between my professed sentiments and my conduct, nor with any honor or justice to my character. But the circumstances respecting our defense are now rendered indubitable, and there is at present, in my opinion, as clear a prospect of the continuance of our independence as if it had commenced five hundred years ago. If, therefore, after two years’ arduous and fatiguing service in the office of a judge, whereby I am, at a moderate compensation, two thousand pounds poorer than I should have been if (without any regard to my profession of the law) I had stayed at home and only attended to the business of my own plantation; I am at length, in justice to myself, and in regard to the interest and support of my family, necessitated to give up that office, I trust my resignation will not be attributed to any dishonorable motives. I have no doubt but that the General Assembly, at the time of their instituting the present Superior Courts, generously meant to come up to the sense of the Constitution in providing adequate salaries for the support of the judges. They even proceeded unsolicited to make a further allowance to the judges of the Courts of Oyer and Terminer for their past services. But, unfortunately, through some mistake of the clerk, as I have been informed, the concurrence of the House of Commons with the resolve of the Senate for that purpose, was not entered on the journals of that House, and consequently I failed, among others, of enjoying the fruits of that gratuity. But however ample the allowance of £100 a court to a judge was thought to be at that time, the depreciation of the currency ever since has been so amazingly rapid that the £1,200 a year to each of the judges (which depends upon a firm State of health, punctuality in attendance and almost unremitting application and fatigue) will not at present, I believe, purchase more of the necessaries of life than £100 would have done five years ago. And no one, I think, can conceive that less than twice that sum is sufficient to support a judge—abroad seven months of the year—in his necessary expenses (clothes, servants, horse-flesh, saddle, furniture, wear and tear, repairs, etc.) in
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any character or decency with respect to his office; besides the sacrifice he must make of domestic enjoyments and of interest and happiness, and even the support of his family; the hardships and arduousness of the employment and the impairing if not destroying of his health and constitution; the losses and disappointments which commonly happen in his private affairs at home in consequence of his absence, and the total sacrifice of that time of life which is necessary for acquiring an estate, or laying up something to support his family or himself, if under those circumstances he should arrive at old age. I am sorry, sir, to trespass on your patience. I will honestly and plainly come to the point. Should the Legislature think it inadvisable to raise the salaries of the judges to an adequate sum in the present currency—if they will instead of that, realize their allowance in tobacco or any other article of permanent value, to such an amount as is reasonable and adequate to the trouble that any one must be at and the sacrifice he must make who discharges the duties of that important, arduous, expensive, self-denying and fatiguing office—I am willing to continue in it, as I have acted in the execution of it from the first institution of our present government. But if this
, or something equivalent be not done at the ensuing session, I cannot but take it for granted that the General Assembly conceive they have no further occasion for my service in that office; or otherwise that they would not fail to make the necessary provision to support me in it. Nothing but a consciousness of the rectitude of my intentions and the sincerity of my endeavors to serve the public, joined to the circumstances of my not having observed any marks of the people’s disapprobation of my conduct in that office, have induced me to hold it till this time. For, I assure you, sir, that the discovery of any dissatisfaction of that kind would have influenced me to resign it before this time, without the necessity of being starved out. The late Chief Justice had a salary of £1,200 a year, and the Associate Judges that of £500 a year each, and the fees and perquisites of their office, which to each of them amounted by their own account to £100 more; whereas, the present judges have neither fees nor perquisites. The Associate Judges found their salaries, fees and perquisites inadequate to support the expenses of their office. They complained, and the late Governor thereupon mentioned in one of his speeches to the Assembly of that time, the necessity of making more ample provision for the support of the judges. And the Assembly made answer in their consequent address “That when
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his majesty should be pleased to appoint independent judges to preside in our courts they would with alacrity provide for them ample salaries,” or to that purpose, if I rightly recollect. If, then, the late Associate Judges had cause to complain of the scantiness of their salary, when it amounted to £600 proclamation money, what ample occasion of dissatisfaction must the present judges have with their annual allowance, when it does not really amount to above one-sixth part of the value of that sum, and when their service is at least as arduous and fatiguing as that of those Associate Judges ever was?
I am, sir, with the greatest respect,
Your most obedient humble servant,