I esteem them as Patriots as well as Soldiers. But if this War continues, as it may for years yet to come, we know not who may succeed them. Men who have been long subject to military Laws and inured to military Customs and Habits, may lose the Spirit and Feeling of Citizens. And even Citizens, having been used to admire the Heroism which the Commanders of their own Army have displayd, and to look up to them as their Saviors may be prevaild upon to surrender to them those Rights for the protection of which against Invaders they had employd and paid them.
To James Warren.
Militia establishment.—Dangers of a standing army.—Should teach art of war and principles of government.—Powder and saltpetre.—A confederation and the obstacles.—Disposition of Captain Horn on burning of Norfolk.
PHILADELPHIA, Jany. 7, 1776.
MY DEAR SIR—
I VERILY believe the Letters I write to you are three, to one I receive from you—however I consider the Multiplicity of Affairs you must attend to in your various Departments, and am willing to make due Allowance.
Your last is dated the 19th of December. It contains a List of very important Matters lying before the General Assembly. I am much pleased to find that there is an End to the Contest between the two Houses concerning the Establishment of the Militia—and that you are in hopes of making an effectual Law for that Purpose. It is certainly of the last Consequence to a free Country that the Militia, which is its natural Strength, should be kept upon the most advantageous Footing. A standing Army, however necessary it may be at some times, is always dangerous to the Liberties of the People. Soldiers are apt to consider themselves as a Body distinct from the rest of the Citizens. They have their Arms always in their hands. Their Rules and their Discipline is severe. They soon become attachd to their officers and disposd to yield implicit Obedience to their Commands. Such a Power should be watchd with a jealous Eye. I have a good Opinion of the principal officers of our Army. I esteem them as Patriots as well as Soldiers. But if this War continues, as it may for years yet to come, we know not who may succeed them. Men who have been long subject to military Laws and inured to military Customs and Habits, may lose the Spirit and Feeling of Citizens. And even Citizens, having been used to admire the Heroism which the Commanders of their own Army have displayd, and to look up to them as their Saviors may be prevaild upon to surrender to them those Rights for the protection of which against Invaders they had employd and paid them. We have seen too much of this Disposition among some of our Countrymen. The Militia is composd of free Citizens. There is therefore no Danger of their making use of their Power to the destruction of their own Rights, or suffering others to invade them. I earnestly wish that young Gentlemen of a military Genius (& many such I am satisfied there are in our Colony) might be instructed in the Art of War, and at the same time taught the Principles of a free Government, and deeply impressd with a Sense of the indispensible Obligation which every member is under to the whole Society. These might be in time fit for officers in the Militia, and being thorowly acquainted with the Duties of Citizens as well as Soldiers, might be entrusted with a Share in the Command of our Army at such times as Necessity might require so dangerous a Body to exist.
I am glad that your Attention is turnd so much to the Importation of Powder & that the manufacture of Salt-petre is in so flourishing a way. I cannot think you are restraind from exporting fish to Spain, by the resolve of Congress. I will make myself more certain by recurring to our Records when the Secretary returns tomorrow, he being at this time (6 o’clock P. M.) at his House three miles from Town; and I will inform you by a Postscript to this Letter, or by another Letter p Post. I have the Pleasure to acquaint you that five Tons of Powder certainly arrivd at Egg harbour the Night before last besides two Tons in this River—a part of it is consignd to the Congress—the rest is private property, partly belonging to Mr Thos Boylston and partly to a Gentleman in this City. Congress has orderd the whole to be purchasd for publick Use. We are also informd that 6 Tons more arrivd a few days ago in New York which I believe to be true. But better still—a Vessel is certainly arrivd in this River with between 50 & 60 Tons of Salt petre. This I suppose will give you more Satisfaction for the present than telling you Congress News as you request.
You ask me “When you are to hear of our Confederation?” I answer, when some Gentlemen (to use an Expression of a Tory) shall “feel more bold.” You know it was formerly a Complaint in our Colony, that there was a timid kind of Men who perpetually hinderd the progress of those who would fain run in the path of Virtue and Glory. I find wherever I am that Mankind are alike variously classd. I can discern the Magnanimity of the Lyon the Generosity of the Horse the Fearfulness of the Deer and the Cunning of the Fox—I had almost overlookd the Fidelity of the Dog. But I forbear to indulge my rambling Pen in this Way lest I should be thought chargeable with a Design to degrade the Dignity of our nature by comparing Men with Beasts. Let me just observe that I have mentiond only the more excellent Properties that are to [be] found among Quadrupeds. Had I suggested an Idea of the Vanity of the Ape the Tameness of the Ox or the stupid Servility of the Ass I might have been lyable to Censure.
Are you sollicitous to hear of our Confederation? I will tell you. It is not dead but sleepeth. A Gentleman of this City told me the other day, that he could not believe the People without doors would follow the Congress passibus æquis if such Measures as some called spirited were pursued. It put me in mind of a Fable of the high mettled horse and the dull horse. My excellent Colleague Mr J. A. can repeat this fable to you; and if the Improvement had been made of it which our very valueable Friend Coll M——— proposd, you would have seen that Confederation compleated long before this time. I do not despair of it—since our Enemies themselves are hastening it. While I am writing an Express has, come in from Baltimore in Maryland with the Deposition of Cap Horn of the Snow bird belonging to Providence. The Deponent says that on Monday the first Instant, he being at Hampton in Virginia heard a constant firing of Cannon—that he was informd a Messenger had been sent to enquire where the firing was who reported that the ships of War were cannonading the Town of Norfolk—that about the Middle of the Afternoon they saw the smoke ascending from Norfolk as they supposd—that he saild [from] Hampton the Evening of the same day and the firing continued till the following afternoon. This will prevail more than a long train of Reasoning to accomplish a Confederation and other Matters which I know your heart as well as mine is much set upon.
I forgot to tell you that a Vessel is arrivd in Maryland having four thousand yards of Sail Cloth —an Article which I hope will be much in Demand in America.
Adieu my Friend,