From Henry Laurens
York Town [Pa.] 18th June 1778.
It has not been in my power with any convenience to make an earlier acknowledgement of Your Excellency’s favour of the 11th.
There were Letters in the Commissioners Packet only for Congress & particular Members then present in the House, one for Mister E. Rutledge unsealed & several also unsealed were brought as being taken from the Express—the utmost caution is necessary in the present conjuncture of our affairs & therefore had any suspicious directions turned up, such should have passed under the Eye of Congress. The Idea of opening other people’s Letters is exceedingly abhorrent to me, but I think Congress have a power over Letters equal at least to that which necessity obliges them sometimes to exercise over persons; but Governor Johnson is too well hackney’d in the ways of Men to trust his deep schemes within our reach.
His private Letter to me, by the bye, is notwithstanding all his good sense, no proof of an infallible judgement, I am sure it is one, of his having mistaken his Man, I take the liberty of transmitting it, together with my intended answer & the Letters from Mister Oswald & Mister Manning under this Cover for Your Excellency’s perusal,1 there are some traits in Mister Oswald’s which strongly imply a determination on the part of Great Britain but reserved as the ultimatum, to submit to our Independence, I am much inclined to beleive these Commissioners now are or soon will be vested with powers for that purpose. Mister Oswald is a Gentleman of solid understanding & quick perception, of a very large Independent fortune much exceeding a quarter of a Million Sterling, often consulted by Administration; for the goodness of his heart I refer you to this particular part of his Character, he is no place Man, but much Esteem’d by the first Men of each of the political parties—great reliance may be placed on what he writes or even hints.
Yesterday there was an extraordinary Motion on our floor for calling upon Members to lay before Congress such Letters as they had received from the Commissioners or other persons, meaning persons in Great Britain on political subjects I could not forbear offering some objections;2 it appeared to be a dangerous attempt to stretch the power of Congress, my Letters had been read by many Members & were at the se[r]vice of every Gentleman who should request a perusal, but I could never consent to have my property taken from me by an Order from my fellow Citizens destitute of authority for the purpose—this circumstance & some remarks which followed have induced me to put Govr Johnstone’s Letter & my intended answer into Mister Draytons hands who is collecting materials for displaying the Governor’s good designs & no doubt he will according to his usual tone add pretty severe strictures3—among other papers I transmit to Your Excellency Copies of the Commissioners Address to Congress & of their Commission these are to be published by order4—If no mistake was made a Copy of the Answer of Congress was sent to Your Excellency yesterday in my public Letter.
I pray God to support & direct Your Excellency in this moment of extraordinary tryal & am with the most sincere Esteem & Regard Dear sir Your much obliged & Obedient humble servt
ALS, DLC:GW; LB, ScHi: Henry Laurens Papers.
1. For George Johnstone’s letter to Laurens of 10 June, see Laurens Papers description begins Philip M. Hamer et al., eds. The Papers of Henry Laurens. 16 vols. Columbia, S.C., 1968–2003. description ends , 13: 435. Johnstone had enclosed a letter of 11 April to Laurens from William Manning (1729–1791), a merchant and longtime associate of Laurens’s from the island of St. Christopher in the West Indies, and a letter of 12 April to Laurens from Richard Oswald (1705–1784), a pro-American Scottish merchant with estates in the West Indies who would post bail for Laurens when he was imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1781 (see ibid., 13:103–5, 107–13). The enclosed copy of Laurens’s reply to Johnstone of 14 June, which ran into some opposition in Congress, reads: “Yesterday I was honored with your favor of the 10th and thank you for the transmission of those from my Dear and worthy friends Mr Oswald and Mr Manning—had Doctor Ferguson been the bearer of these papers, I should have shewn that Gentleman every degree of respect and attention, that times and circumstances admit of.
“It is Sir, for Great Britain to determine whether her Commissioners shall return unheard by the Representatives of these United States, or revive a friendship with the Citizens at large, and remain among us as long as they please.
“You are undoubtedly acquainted with the only terms upon which Congress can treat for accomplishing this good end; terms from which, although writing in a private character, I may venture to assert with great assurance, they never will recede, even admitting the continuance of hostile attempts and that from the rage of War the good people of these States shall be driven to commence a Treaty westward of yonder Mountains; And permit me to add Sir, as my humble opinion, the true Interest of Great Britain in the present advance of the Contest will be found in confirming our Independence.
“Congress in no hour have been haughty, but to suppose that their minds are less firm in the present than they were, when, destitute of all foreign aid, even without expectation of an Alliance, when, upon a day of general public fasting and humiliation, in their House of Worship and in the presence of God, they Resolved, “to hold no conference or Treaty with any Commissioners on the part of Great Britain, unless they shall as a preliminary thereto, either withdraw their Fleets and Armies or in positive and express terms acknowledge the Independence of these States” would be irrational.
“At a proper time Sir, I shall think myself highly honored, by a personal attention and by contributing to render every part of these States agreeable to you, but until the Basis of mutual confidence shall be established, I believe Sir, neither former private friendships nor any other consideration, can influence Congress to consent, that even Governor Johnston, a Gentleman who has been so deservedly esteemed in America shall see the Country. I have but one voice and that shall be against it. But let me intreat you my Dear Sir do not hence conclude that I am deficient in affection to my old friends, through whose kindness I have obtained the honor of the present correspondence, or that I am not with very great personal Respect and Esteem, Sir Your most Obeident & Most Humble servant” (DLC:GW).
2. For Congress’s attempts to prevent correspondence with the British, see Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 10:114–16, and JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 11:616, 678.
3. See William Henry Drayton’s letter to the Carlisle commissioners of 17 June in Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 10:116–21.
4. See Henry Clinton to GW, 9 June. Congress read the letter from the peace commissioners and their royal authorization on 16 June. Although a motion of 18 June to have the address published was rejected, it appeared in newspapers on 20 June (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 11:610, 617; Laurens to GW, 20 June). A copy by Adam Ferguson of the authorization, dated 13 April 1778 and signed at York, England, “By the King himself,” reads: “George the Third By the Grace of God of Great Britain France and Ireland King Defender of the Faith &c.
“To our Right Trusty and Right well beloved Cousin and Councellor Frederick Earl of Carlisle Knight of the most Antient Order of the Thistle; Our Right Trusty and well beloved Cousin and Councellor Richard Lord Viscount Howe of our Kingdom of Ireland Our Trusty and well beloved Sir Wm Howe Knight of the Most Honorable Order of the Bath Lieutenant General of our Forces General and Commander in Chief of all and singular our Forces employed or to be Employed within our Colonies in North America lying upon the Atlantic Ocean from Nova Scotia on the North to West Florida on the South both Inclusive Willm Eden Esquire one of our Commissioners for Trade and Plantations and George Johnstone Esquire Captain in Our Royal Navy Greeting.
“Whereas in and by our Commission and Letters Patent under our Great Seal of Great Britain bearing Date on or about the 6th day of May in the 16th Year of our Reign We did out of our earnest desire to deliver all our Subjects & every part of the Dominions belonging to our Crown from the Calamities of War and to restore them to our Protection and Peace Nominate and Appoint our Right Trusty and well beloved Cousin and Councellor Richard Lord Viscount Howe of our Kingdom of Ireland and our Trusty and well beloved Wm Howe Esquire now Sir Wm Howe Knight of the Bath Major General of our Forces and General of our Forces in North America only and each of them jointly and severally to be our Commissioner and Commissioners in that behalf to so perform and Execute all the powers and Authorities in and by the said Commission and Letters patent entrusted and Committed to them and each of them according to the Tenor of such Letters Patent and of such further Instructions as they should from time to time receive under our Signet or Sign Manual to have hold Execute and enjoy the said Office and Place, Offices and Places of our Commissioner and Commissioners as therein mentioned with all Rights Members and Appurtenances thereunto belonging together with all and Singular the Powers and Authorities thereby Granted unto them the said Lord Viscount Howe and General Wm Howe and each of them for and during our Will and Pleasure and no longer in such manner and form as in and by our said recited Commission and Letters Patent Relation being thereunto had may among divers other things therein contained more fully and at large appear And Whereas for the quieting and Extinguishing divers Jealousies and apprehensions of danger to their liberties and rights wh. have alarmed many of our Subjects in the Colonies Provinces and Plantations of New Hampshire, Massachusets’ Bay, Rhode Island, Connecticut New york New Jersey Pennsylvania, with the three lower Counties on Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia and for a fuller manifestation of our just and Gracious Purposes and those of our Parliament to maintain and secure all our subjects in the clear and perfect Enjoyment of their Liberties and Rights It is in and by a certain Act made and passed in this present Session of Parliament entitled an Act to enable his Majesty to appoint Commissioners with sufficient Powers to treat consult and agree upon the Means of quieting the disorders now subsisting in certain of the Colonies Provinces and Plantations of North America among other things Enacted that it shall and may be lawful for his Majesty from time to time by Letters Patent under the Great Seal of Great Britain to authorize and empower five able and sufficient Persons or any three of them to do and perform such Acts and things and to use and execute such Authorities and Powers as in the said Act are for that purpose mentioned provided and created And Whereas we are earnestly desirous to carry into full & perfect Execution the several just and Gracious Purposes abovementioned Now Know Ye that we have Revoked and determined, and by these Presents do Revoke and determine our said recited Commission and Letters Patent and all and every Power Authority Clause Article and thing therein contained And further Know Ye That we reposing especial Trust and Confidence in Your Wisdom Loyalty, Diligence and Circumspection in the management of the Affairs to be hereby committed to yr charge Have Nominated and appointed, Constituted and assigned And by these Presents we do Nominate and Appoint Consititute and Assign you the said Frederick Earl of Carlisle Richard Viscount Howe Sir William Howe Willm Eden and Geo. Johnstone or any three of you to be our Commissioners in that behalf to use and exercise all and every the powers and Authorities hereby entrusted and committed to you the said Frederick Earl of Carlisle, Richard Viscount Howe Sir Wm Howe Wm Eden Geo. Johnstone or any three of you and to so perform and execute all other matters and things hereby enjoined & Committed to your care during our Will and pleasure and no longer according to the Tenor of these our Letters Patent and of such further Instructions as you shall from time to time receive under our Signet or Sign Manual And it is our Royal Will and Pleasure And we do hereby authorize empower and Require You the said Frederick Earl of Carlisle Richard Viscount Howe Sir Wm Howe Wm Eden Geo. Johnstone or any three of you to treat consult and agree with such Body or Bodies Politic and Corporate or with such Assembly or Assemblies of Men or with such person or persons as you the said Frederick Earl of Carlisle Richard Viscount Howe Sir Wm Howe Wm Eden Geo. Johnstone or any three of you shall think meet and sufficient for that purpose of and concerning any grievances or complaints of grievances existing or supposed to exist in the Government of any of the Colonies Provinces or Plantations abovementioned respectively or in the laws and Statutes of this Realm respecting them or any of them or of and concerning any aids or contributions to be furnished by any of the said Colonies Provinces or Plantations respectively for the common defence of this Realm and the Dominions thereunto belonging and of and concerning any other Regulations, Provisions, Matters and Things necessary or convenient for the Honor of us and our Parliament and for the common good of all our Subjects And it is our further Will and Pleasure that every Regulation, Provision, matter or thing which shall have been agreed upon between you the said Frederick Earl of Carlisle Richard Viscount Howe Sir Wm Howe William Eden Geo. Johnstone or any three of you & such Persons or Bodies Politic as aforesaid whom you or any three of you shall have judged meet and sufficient to enter into such agreement shall be fully and distinctly set forth in writing & Authenticated by the Hands & Seals of you or any three of you on one side and by such Seals and other Signature on the other as the Occasion may require and as may be suitable to the Character and Authority of the Body Politic or other Person so agreeing And such Instruments so Authenticated shall be by you or any three of you transmitted to one of our principal Secretaries of State in order to be laid before our Parliament for the further and more perfect Ratification thereof, and until such Ratification no such regulation Provision matter or thing shall have any other force or effect or be carried further into Execution than is here after mentioned And We do hereby further Authorize and Empower you the said Frederick Earl of Carlisle Richard Viscount Howe, Sir Wm Howe Wm Eden and Geo. Johnstone or any three of you from time to time as you or any three of you shall judge convenient to order and proclaim a Cessation of Hostilities on the part of our Forces by Sea or Land for such time and under such Conditions Restrictions or other Qualifications as in your Discretions shall be thought requisite and such Order & Proclamation to revoke and Annul in the same manner and form And it is our further Will and Pleasure and we do hereby require & Command all our Officers and Ministers Civil and Military and all other our Loving Subjects whatsoever to observe and obey all such Proclamations respectively And We do hereby in further Pursuance of the said Act of Parliament and of the Provisions therein contained Authorize and Empower you the said Frederick Earl of Carlisle Richard Viscount Howe Sir Wm Howe Wm Eden and Geo. Johnstone or any three of you by Proclamation under your respective hands and seals from time to time as you shall see convenient to suspend the operation and effect of a certain Act of Parliament made and Passed in the sixteenth Year of our Reign for prohibiting all Trade and Intercourse with certain Colonies and Plantations therein named and for the other purposes therein also mentioned or any of the Provisions or Restrictions therein contained and therein to specify at what time and Places respectively and with what exceptions and Restrictions and under what Passes and Clearances in lieu of those heretofore directed by any Act or Acts of Parliament for regulating the Trade of the Colonies and Plantations the said Suspension shall take Effect and the said suspension & Proclamation in the same manner and form to Annul and Revoke And We do hereby farther Authorize and empower you the said Frederick Earl of Carlisle Richard Viscount Howe Sir Wm Howe Wm Eden and Geo. Johnstone or any three of you from time to time as you shall judge convenient to Suspend in any Places and for any time during the continuance of the said first recited Act the operation and Effect of any Act or Acts of Parliament which have passed since the tenth day of February One thousand seven hundred and sixty three & wh. relate to any of our Colonies Provinces or Plantations abovementioned in North America so far as the same relate to them or any of them or the operation and effect of any Clause or any provision or other Matter in such Acts contained so far as such Clauses Provisions or Matters relate to any of the said Colonies Provinces or Plantations And We do hereby further authorize & empower you the said Frederick Earl of Carlisle Richard Viscount Howe Sir Wm Howe Wm Eden & Geo. Johnstone or any three of you to grant a Pardon or Pardons to any number or Description of Persons within the said Colonies Provinces or Plantations And We do hereby further authorize and empower you the said Frederick Earl of Carlisle Richard Viscount Howe Sir Wm Howe William Eden and Geo. Johnstone or any three of you in any of our Colonies Provinces or Plantations aforesaid respectively wherein we have usually heretofore Nominated and appointed a Governor to Nominate and appoint from time to time by any Instrument under your Hands and Seals or the hands and seals of any three of you a proper Person to be the Governor and Commander in Chief in and for such Colony Province or Plantation respectively to have hold and exercise the said Office of Governor & Commander in Chief in & for such Colony Province or Plantation respectively with all such powers and authorities as any Governor of such Province heretofore appointed by us might or could have excercised in as full & ample manner and form as if such Governor & Commander in Chief had been Nominated and Appointed by our Letters Patent or Commission and for that purpose if need be to Revoke Annul & make void any Commission or Letters Patent heretofore granted for appointing any such Governor & Commander in Chief Whereas by certain Letters Patent under our Great Seal bearing Date on the twenty ninth day of April in the sixteenth Year of our Reign We have constituted and appointed you the said Sir Wm Howe to be General and Commander in Chief of all and Singular our Forces employed or to be employed within our Colonies in North America lying upon the Atlantic Ocean from Nova Scotia on the North to West Florida on the South both Inclusive to have hold exercise and enjoy the said Office during our Will and Pleasure And in case you the said Sir Wm Howe should by Death or any other manner be disabled from exercising the said Command it was our Will and Pleasure therein expressed that the same with all Authorities, Rights & Privilidges contained in that our said Commission should devolve on such Officer bearing our Commission as should be next in Rank to you the said Sir William Howe And Whereas our Trusty and well beloved Sir Henry Clinton Knight of the Most Honorable Order of the Bath Lieutenant General of our Forces and General of our Forces in our Army in America only now actually bears our Commission and is next in Rank to you the said Sir Wm Howe Know it is our further Will and Pleasure and we do hereby ordain and appoint that whenever the said Command in the said Letters Patent mentioned shall in pursuance thereof devolve upon the said Sir Henry Clinton all and every the powers and Authorities hereby entrusted and Committed to you the said Sir William Howe shall forthwith cease and determine and the said powers and authorities and every of them shall from thenceforth be entrusted and Committed to the said Sir Henry Clinton to use and exercise the same powers and Authorities and to perform and execute all other the matters and things as aforesaid in as full and ample extent and form and no other as you the said Sir Wm Howe are hereby Authorized to use and exercise do perform and execute the same.
“And We do hereby require and command all the Officers Civil and Military and all other our loving Subjects whatsover to be aiding and assisting unto you the said Frederick Earl of Carlisle Richard Viscount Howe Sir Wm Howe Wm Eden and Geo. Johnstone in the execution of this our Commission and of the powers and Authorities herein contained Provided always and we do hereby declare and ordain that the several Offices Powers and Authorities hereby granted shall cease determine and become utterly Null and void on the first day of June which shall be in the Year of our Lord One thousand seven hundred and seventy nine although we shall not otherwise in the mean time have revoked and determined the same In Witness whereof we have caused these of our Letters to be made Patent Witness Ourself at Westminster the thirteenth day of April in the eighteenth Year of our Reign” (DLC:GW).