To Blair McClenaghan May, 1780

From the original letter at the New-York Historical Society.


As few are more interested and none better affected than yourself I write you a few thoughts on the state of our Public Affairs. Charles town is without doubt totally gone, and tho’ the fate of America does not depend upon it yet the loss of the garrison is such a formidable blow that unless some very sudden and spirited exertions be made the distress that will follow will be long and heavy.

I wish you to take a view of the general condition of the Continent. Her finances so exhausted, and impoverished by the depreciation that the whole Currency in circulation is scarcely equal to a years expences of the war, and could all the Taxes be instantly collected they would not at the present prices purchase the supplies. How then is the Army to be recruited cloathed fed and paid. The depreciation has weakened the hands not only of congress, but of every government in America and it is impossible to go on to make the Country secure unless a spirit of ardour and a better disposition take place. I feel the utmost concern that the fairest cause that men ever engaged in, and with the fairest prospect of success should now be sunk so low, and that not from any new ability in the Enemy but from a wilful neglect and decay of every species of public spirit in ourselves. We are now conquering for her, and daily doing that which she could not affect without our assistance.

It is exceedingly easy to say why do not Congress do this or why do not the state do the other. The ability of any government is nothing more than the abilities of Individuals collected, and if there is a defect in the latter there must be a languor in the former. Britain never could have done one quarter what she has done had not the government of that country been strongly aided by the extra exertions of individuals and unless we adopt the same measure we shall either fall a sacrifice or have to drag on a long and expensive war. Scarce a Town of Note in England but has made voluntary subscriptions to give as additional Bounties to recruits and some have raised whole regiments at their own charge. A measure of this kind is far more necessary here than there because the depreciation has effectually disabled every government in giving sufficient bounties.

The army must be recruited at least ten thousand men in a few weeks, or we shall not be safe in this City or elsewhere. The dependance that was put on Charles town threw such a sluggishness over America that it was impossible to make the Country see the necessity till it arrived. It is now arrived and there is not time to be lost.

I wish the Merchants and Traders of Philadelphia to set an honorable example, and enter into a subscription to raise three four or five hundred men. I enclose 500 dollars as my mite thereto, and if that is not sufficient I will add 500 more, tho’ the little gratitude I have received does not lay it upon me as a duty, neither do my circumstances well admit of it; but I have an affection for her cause that will carry me as far as the last ability will enable me to go.

You are sensible that it is now hard times with many poor people. Several of the back Counties are totally disabled to pay Taxes; and as it is the rich that will suffer most by the ravages of an Enemy it is not only duty but true policy to do something spirited, and a way may be found to make the backward and the disaffected do their part. The power which the Council are invested with can make that matter short.

Many a good cause has been lost or disgraced and many a man of extensive property ruined by not supporting necessary measures in time. Scarce a million of good money would repay the mischief done by the enemy in their incursion into this State, and there are thousand who had better be at any reasonable expence now than have the same scene to undergo with perhaps worse consequences.

It is needless I should describe to you the condition of our army as to supplies. You can not overdo it by Imagination; and what adds to the distress is the great effect it has on its Commander in chief. He feels himself like a man forsaken by the Country whose interest he has so much exposed himself to preserve. I have seen a private letter of his which is truly distressing. Were there no probable remedy the Case would be desperate, but as there is it becomes the more aggravating.

I wish you would discourse with your friends on these matters and endeavor to get something into motion that shall renew life and honor among us. If a few would begin the business would go on; for the aids wanted are beyond the Compass of the Taxes to reach.

Should you form a society for any public purpose I will readily be your Secretary and render every service in my power without regard to who may compose it.

I am your obt hble servt