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Letter from Thomas Burke to Henry Laurens
Burke, Thomas, ca. 1747-1783
April 28, 1778
Volume 13, Pages 105-107

[From Executive Letter Book.]

York, April 28th 1778.

Dear Sir,

The instrument authenticating my last Election, as a Delegate from the State of North Carolina, is dated May the fourth, 1777. Both my Colleagues have informed me that they believed that the Election was made on April 28th preceding. The Constitution of the State requires the election of delegates to be annual, and it is a fundamental principle, that there is a fixed rule of Conduct for all the powers of the State, which can not be dispensed with or

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deviated from, unless the Collective Body of the people give special authority for that purpose. All these circumstances induce me to believe, that my power of representing the State is at an end. The Instrument referred to is on the journals of Congress, and they can determine whether my attendance can be longer commanded.

I request you, Sir, to lay the matter before them, for their opinion, that my absenting myself may not be deemed a contempt or breach of orders. I should have submitted my difficulty at a more early day, in my place, but that I was unwilling to interrupt the attention of Congress, which was employed on objects far more important.

The same cause kept me silent on another matter, which I shall now beg leave to mention in this, which is I suppose is the only way remaining, for I hope my County has yielded to my earnest request and excused me from the Delegation.

I feel myself under a sense of very respectful obligation to you and most of the gentlemen of Congress, for the solicitude which appeared for me on a late occasion, and am persuaded that nothing but my being so unhappy in my expressions, as not clearly to convey my ideas could have occasioned a mistake which is on your journals. I am there represented as attempting to justify withdrawing from Congress, without permission in an iustance, which interrupted very important business. Such justification, Sir, is what I never did attempt, nor do I think that or any other breach of order justifiable.

My attempt was only extended to excuse my departure under particular circumstances by alleging that the same thing had been usually done by other members without reprehension and that the time and occasion were not improper for using a liberty which had been denied to no other member. I am also charged with sending an indecent message to the House which I protest was never my intention.

The matter respecting the member from New York I never conceived myself called upon to answer. But it is not of consequence enough to trouble you with. I do not mean now, Sir, to withdraw the matter from the jurisdiction of my constituents. It is in the train I wish it to be. To them I hope I can show that the House entirely mistook my meaning and when it can be done without

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injury to the common cause, I shall solicit their attention to the subject, but not before, if I can avoid it. My sole purpose at present is to prevent gentlemen whom I greatly esteem and respect from retaining impressions of me which I am unconscious of deserving. This I hope to effect by declaring that I hold no citizen in any rank or station, justifiable in doing any act, on any pretence which may tend to the public prejudice, or in forbearing to do any act which is requisite for public service. That I hold no man justifiable for using language or manner not sufficiently respectful to the Assembly or Society of which he is a member. That attendance in Congress at all times, when required by the president either in or out of the House, is in my opinion what every member is absolutely bound to, and the House itself is judge of the respect with which the whole or any of its members is to be treated in debate, and I only meant to insist on the right which every freeman must necessarily have of judging for himself on the reasonableness or unreasonableness of every exercise of power and on the peculiar right of the States to apply any punishments which should go beyond measure. These I avowed occasionally in debate as general political opinions, not in justification of anything that had happened, but in answer to some things thrown out by other gentlemen which seemed to me to hold up opinions very different from them for the adoption of the House. I hope they are not dangerous and that persisting in them is not disrespectful to the honorable members.

If the language and manner in which I delivered my sentiments was not sufficiently respectful in the opinion of the House, I beg they will attribute it to inadvertence or imperfection of temper not to design. I beg they will believe that no man is more unwilling to give offence, no man more sincerely laments it when it happens through the warmth or earnestness of natural disposition.

I have the honor to be, with great respect and esteem, your very Obed't Serv't.