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Message from Thomas Burke to the North Carolina General Assembly
Burke, Thomas, ca. 1747-1783
June 29, 1781
Volume 22, Pages 1033-1036

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State of North Carolina, June 29th, 1781.

To the Honourable General Assembly.


I beg leave to lay before you a State of the affairs of the public, as far as the little time and opportunity I have had will allow me, and also such objects as appear to me Necessary for the public safety and utility.

I perceive the Country, everywhere, unprepared for defense, without arms, without discipline, without arrangements, even the habits of civil order, and obedience to Laws, changed into a licentious contempt of authority, and a disorderly indulgence of Violent propensities. Industry is intermitted, agriculture much decayed, and commerce struggling feebly, with almost insuperable difficulties. The public money is unaccounted for, the taxes uncollected or unproductive, the Individuals creditors of the public for the whole produce of their Industry for years past, and the Treasury totally unable to make payment.

The greatest exertions of rigor and wisdom are necessary for remedying those Evils, and effectual measures can only be taken by the General Assembly.

The first object deserving their atention is, the defense of the Country from external Enemies, and experience has taught us, that the Militia, in its present state, is very inadequate to prevent ravages from almost any collected body of troops, that the short periods for which the Militia are called into service, render them inadequate either to defensive or offensive operations and yet, a burthen almost insupportable to the people, this points out as the only effectual remedy the establishment of a force, composed of Officers, non Commissioned Officers and some proportion of privates, to be kept in the service during a period which may enable the community to benefit of that firmness and dexterity which is acquired only by discipline and experience and prevent the frequent draughts and substitutions, which, tho very burthensome, are of little utility. A force competent to every occasion, might require too great a number of the people to be kept constantly in arms, and incur an expense which may, without injury to the public safety, be spared, provided the Standing Troops can be occasionally reinforced, and reduced

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again to their ordinary Establishment. I am therefore persuaded that it would be eligeable that the battalion, and Companies organised so as to be capable of admitting augumentation or diminution of force without change or increase of Officers.

In order to render any Corps efficient for the defense of the country, Cavalry and artillery with their proper appointments will be absolutely necessary, and adequate provisions for supplying Clothing, Subsistence, Arms, Ammunition, intrenching tools, Tents and camp requisites will be found so necessary that without them every other expense will, in a great measure, be thrown away.

A good Corps of Artificers, well regulated and attended to will prove a great advantage in making and repairing several necessaries, and they will prove a great saving to the public. If adequate power be given such a Corp can be formed from the Militia, to the satisfaction of Individuals and without Inconvenience to the people.

Arms, Ammunition and some other Necessaries can only be obtained from abroad, and a Contract with good reputable Merchants for the delivery of them in America, at stated prices, is probably, the most cheap and certain means for procuring them. The State of Maryland contracts with Mr. Holker, the Consul of France, for supplying them with arms and other necessaries to be delivered in America and paid for here in Tobacco or flour, and at, what appeared to me, a reasonable price. I made application to Mr. Holker, who very readily agreed to enter into a similar contract with this State provided good security could be given for payment, and even consented that the payment of the principal might be delayed to a time that might be convenient for the State, provided the payment of interest could be secured annually. I apprehend a State, so abounding in property, and resources as this, can be at no loss to assign adequate funds for the performance of such a contract.

The discipline of the Militia, always of importance in a free country, becomes of the highest consequence in time of war, I doubt not therefore that upon a revision of the Militia laws, if adequate power be not already given for this purpose that the Executive power will be enabled to cause discipline to be instituted and perfected, so as to make the Militia useful soldiers, for it is never to be forgotten that peace can only be procured or maintained by being in prompt readiness to avenge insults and to repel attacks.

The next great object is the revenues or finances of the State, the wise arrangements and prudent management whereof, are of so great

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importance, that on them depend the operations of every department of Government, on them depend the vigor of arms, and prosperity of the people. Military operations will be easy expeditions and effectual if supplies are furnished cheerfully and speedily. Supplies will always be furnished in great abundance and with alacrity if the individual can receive a just and desirable equivalent. Such equivalent will unite industry and thereby create inexhaustible resources, the having of that equivalent in the public treasury depends on the operations of finance. This important object requires a severe exactness in the collection of taxes (which will not be the less productive for being moderate) and in the settlement of public accounts, also prudent, tho not parsiminous economy in expenditures, and above all things it requires an inviolable observance of all engagements entered into by the public with individuals, which ought always to be the more sacred as the individuals can have no compulsory remedy against the public, and, therefore, will not be brought to trust them with his property, but upon that assurance and confidence which always arises from the administration of public affairs upon the principles of candid integrity. Nothing can be more injurious than having recourse to force for obtaining what it ought to be every man’s interest to supply. Such a measure never fails to produce derangements as we now labor under.

Tho much amendment is necessary in this great department, it is probable that all can be done by the present Assembly is, to provide effectually for calling to speedy account and payment all public collectors and other accountants, and laying Taxes for defraying the public expenses and other purposes of Government, providing funds for the discharge of the debts due to individuals, and assigning funds for the performance of public contracts for supplies, here I beg leave to suggest that the laying of particular Taxes for particular objects and assigning them solely to such objects will be one great step towards producing clearness and order in the public accounts, and restoring public credit.

The numberless hands at present employed in the collecting of the public revenues exhaust much of the product, and create perplexities and difficulties without and in the public accounts the collectors have neglected to settle with the County Courts, and thus the first neglect entirely prevents every measure for clearing the public accounts and compelling the due collection of the revenue.

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Commerce, on which so much of the prosperity of agriculture and of all sorts of industry in every modern community depends, would soon regain a flourishing state if the merchants of all denominations were protected in property and assured of punctual payments, as no county can be supplied with foreign commodiites, or find markets for the abundance arising from industry but by the intervention of Commerce, so it is evidently necessary for exciting Industry, and furnishing the necessaries and conveniences of life. That enterprise which is inseparable from it will always make it flourish if it finds protection. This is all it requires. Regular taxes and imposts are not even unfavorable to its growth, if they be not laid very injudiciously, or levied oppressively. I cannot help declaring my wishes that this delicate subject were put on a footing that might secure it from violence, and leave it in everything else to the energy of private enterprise and natural operations of its own principles. The mistakes which I have observed in our own, and in other Governments and their bad effects have induced me to touch on this subject.

I find myself obliged to trespass a little further on the patience of the Assembly, to request their attention to the peculiar distress arising from that Internal War which is raging with intemperate fury, in some parts of the State, between the well affected and illaffected citizens, and which has produced enormities dangerous in their example to all good Government and cruelly fatal to individuals. Perhaps the most humane as well as the most prudent counsel would be to reclaim all that are reclaimable of our ill advised and deluded citizens, and expel the incorrigable by force or arms.

I have the honor to be with the greatest respect,
Your very ob. Sert.