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Letter from Thomas Burke to Richard Caswell
Burke, Thomas, ca. 1747-1783
January 10, 1779
Volume 15, Pages 746-748


Dear Sir:

Some time ago Congress resolved to appoint two Brig's. for our State, and agreeable to instructions we recommend Cols. Sumner and Clark. Yesterday Cols. Sumner and Hogun were chosen by Ballot—the choice of the Latter Gent. Not being pursuant to the instructions, the Design of this Letter is to account for this; and if you please, may lay it before the Assembly.

After the nomination of Cols. Sumner and Clark, Mr. Hill and myself, who lodge together, were 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. Clark, gave great uneasiness, that it was considered by officers of every Corps, as a Violence of 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 some time 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 Rule) and that it would not be prudent

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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 pursuaded, 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, but such as we had in command. We deemed it however, incumbent on us, in order to preserve that Character for Candor and Integrity, which we very highly value, and which we deem necessary ever for preserving a due weight to the representations of the State; and particularly in order to prevent on the State the Imputation 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 were I to make a choice from my personal Inclination, it should be Col. Clarke, but I thought all such Consideration 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 desire 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 in trepidity; that upon the whole, tho' I must vote for Col. Clarke, because I was so
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instructed, I could not be so uncandid as to say he had the best pretentions. 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 to Col. Clarke's feelings in refusing him promotion which had been so long expected for him.

Mr. Hill & I, for whom only I can now speak, not having seen Mr. Penn since the adjournment, 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 to the public Service and for the character of upright Integrity, which is very dear to every honest man, and essentially necessary to every magistrate among free people.

T. B.