To Major-General Nathanael Greene September 9, 1780
From the original letter at the New-York Historical Society.
Sept. 9th 1780 —
Last spring I mentioned to you a wish I had to take a passage for Europe and endeavor to get privately to England, you pointed out several difficulties in the way respecting my own safety which occasioned me to defer the matter at that time in order not only to weigh it more seriously but to submit it to the government of subsequent circumstances.
I have frequently and carefully thought of it since; and were I now to give an opinion on that a measure to which I was not a party it would be like this: That as the Press in that country is free and open, could a person possessed of a knowledge of America and capable of fixing it in the minds of the people of England go suddenly from this country to that, and keep himself concealed, he might, were he to manage his knowledge rightly, produce a more general disposition for peace than by any method I can suppose.
I see my way so clearly before me in this opinion that I must be more mistaken than I ever yet was on any political measure if it fails of its end. I take it for granted that the whole Country, Ministry, Minority and all, are tired of the war, but the difficulty is how to get rid of it or how they are to come down from the high ground they have taken and accommodate their feelings to a treaty for peace. Such a change must be the affect either of necessity or choice. I think it will, at least, Take three or four more campaigns to produce the former and they are too wrong in their opinions of America to act from the latter.
I imagine that next spring will begin with a new Parliament which is so material a Crisis in the Politics of that Country that it ought to be attended to by this, for should it start wrong we may look forward to six or seven years more of war.
The Influence of the press rightly managed is important, but we can derive no service in this line because there is no person in England who knows enough of America to treat the subject properly. It was in a great measure owing to my bringing a knowledge of England with me to America, that I was enabled to enter deeper into politics and with more success than other people and whoever takes the matter up in England must in like manner be possessed of a knowledge of America. I do not suppose that the acknowledgment of Independance is at this time a more unpopular Doctrine in England than the declaration of it was in America immediately before the publication of the pamphlet ‘Common Sense’ and the ground appears as open for the one now as it did for the other then.
The manner in which I would bring such a publication out would be under the Cover of an Englishman who had made the Tour of America incog — This will afford me all the foundation I wish for and enable me to place matters before them in a light in which they have never yet viewed them. I observe that Mr. Rose in his speech on Governor Pownals Bill printed in Bradfords last paper says that “to form an opinion on the propriety of yielding independance to America requires an accurate knowledge of the State of that Country, the temper of the People, the resources of their government” &c.
Now there is no other method to give this information a national Currency but through the channel of the Press which I have ever considered the Tongue of the World and that which governs the sentiments of mankind more than anything else that ever did or can exist.
The simple point I mean to aim at is to make the acknowledgment of Independence a popular subject and that not by exposing and attacking their errors but by stating its advantages and apologizing for their errors by way of accommodating the measure of their Pride — The present parties in that Country will never bring one another to reason, they are heated with all the passion of opposition, and to rout the ministry or to support them makes their capital point.
Was the same channel open to the ministry in this Country which is open to us in that they would stick at no expense to improve the opportunity. Men who are used to government know the weight and worth of the Press when in hands which can use it to advantage —
Perhaps with me a little degree of literary pride is connected with principle — for as I had a considerable share in promoting the Declaration of Independence in this Country I likewise wish to be a means of promoting the acknowledgment of it in that; and were I not persuaded that the measure I have proposed would be productive of much essential service I would not hazard my own safety, as I have every thing to apprehend should I fall into their hands — but could I escape in Safety till I could get out a publication in England my apprehensions would be over because the manner in which I mean to treat the subject would procure me protection.
Having said thus much on the matter I take the liberty of hinting to you a mode by which the expence may be defrayed without any new charge — Drop a delegate in Congress at the next election and apply the pay to defray what I have proposed — and the point then will be, whether you can possibly put any man into Congress who could render as much service in that station as in the one I have pointed out. When you have perused this I should be glad of some conversation upon it and will wait on you for that purpose at any hour you may appoint. I have changed my Lodgings, and am now in Front Street opposite the Coffee, next door to Aitkins Book Store.
I am Sir your obt hble Servt