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tober 1776, congress resolved on the report of the committee for superintending the treasury, that five millions of dollars be borrowed for the use of the United States, at an interest of four per cent. . That the faith of the United States be pledged for principal and interest ; that certificates be issued for the sums loaned. That a loan office be established in each state, and a commissioner appointed by the said states respectively to superintend such office; that said commissioners deliver certificates of all such sums of money as shall be brought into their offices, settling with the continental treasurer once a month ; and that they answer the draughts of the treasurer for any amount in their hands.
A lottery was also recommended and ordered, and foreign loans were negotiated, which though not obtained as early or to the extent desired by congress, were a very agreeable relief to the inconvenience and distress produced by the uncertain condition of its paper currency.
These measures judiciously and seasonably recommended by the committee of the treasury, were not the only efforts made by them to give value to their emissions of paper, without the only sure foundation on which its character could be supported. It had been declared with truth, that 66 the resources of the country were great, and that they had not been developed ;” but these great resources were not within the reach of the arm of congress, whose recommendation to the states, though heard respectfully, was oftentimes slowly obeyed, or postponed and neglected. Measures might therefore be advised or adopted, which a more established and a better organized government would not have countenanced, and which do not conform to the present improved ideas of political economy.
A direct and moderate excise, a tax on real estate, a capitation tax, payable in personal services by commutation, and a duty on imported goods, would have been a far more equal and less distressing mode of meeting the burthens of the war. These burthens must be borne by the people. They are necessarily incident to a state of hostility, and their weight never decreases by delay. A depreciating paper is attended by certain evil, which falls very unequally, and generally most injures those who are least able to sustain the loss. Taxes, however burthensome, may be limited to the exigency of the case, and be always assessed on such equal principles as to make their pressure small on the weak, and proportionally heavier on the strong.
It may therefore strike us with surprise, that when the great sinews of war were relaxed and unstrung, when the source of public credit was drying up, and the life of the national cause was endangered by want of the aliment which alone could preserve it, an effort was not made by the patriots of the day to possess for their country the only efficient remedy, by which its distress might be relieved. No want of intelligence to discern what this remedy was, or how certainly it would produce its effect, can be charged on that illustrious assembly, and their hesitation is the evidence of that prudent and honourable regard to the will of the people, which had retained this power to the states respectively; congress warring against despotism, could not with consistency be itself an example of an usurpation of authority. All the power they had, was unceasingly exercised in recommending, in urging, in supplicating the states “to raise by taxation in the course of the current year, such sums as in their opinion the situation of their inhabitants rendered proper,” and to pass resolutions “ that they would make provision for drawing in and sinking their respective quotas of the bills emitted by congress at the several periods fixed or to be fixed for that pur
Measures of more doubtful utility were adopted. The depreciation of the continental paper was ascribed to the pernicious artifices of the enemies of American liberty. It was resolved that the continental bills ought to pass current at their nominal value, and that whosoever made any discrimination between them and gold and silver in purchase, sale or exchange, should be deemed an enemy of these United States, and forfeit the value of the property thus contracted for; and it was recommended that other penalties be inflicted on offenders, adequate
to the prevention of these pernicious practices. It was recommended also that the states make them a legal tender in the payment of public and private debts :-— They further advised a temporary regulation of prices by the legislatures of the states, of all articles of provision and other commodities for the supply of the army; and they proposed an arrangement by which “the price of labour, manufactures, internal produce and commodities imported from foreign parts, (military stores excepted) and the charges of innholders should be fixed by law.”
These dangerous and empirical experiments were of short duration, and it cannot now be surprising that they increased the inveteracy of the disease they were intended to cure.
A rapid and alarming depreciation of continental paper necessarily followed. It added a serious evil to the dark catalogue of misfortunes which pressed almost to ruin the struggling cause of American liberty, and required, what alone could support the efforts of the community, that patriotism should pay the draughts, which the finances of the country were unable to preserve from dishonour.
The correspondence of the day shows that the leading patriots were beginning to look with firmness on the only light, which could guide them through the perplexities of their path.
MAJOR HAWLEY* TO MR. GERRY.
But if you
WATERTOWN, FEB. 18, 1776. DEAR SIR, I hope you will forgive me if I herein appear indelicate, by attempting to inculcate some things which I hinted to you in the minutes which you was pleased to accept of me as you was setting out on your journey to congress. knew the infinite weight they are on my mind you would not blame me, whether they impressed your mind in like manner or not. One was, that the most seasonable and effectual care should be taken that a sufficient number of the best of troops should be seasonably marched into Canada, and thorough provision made for their subsistence, pay and clothing, full supplies of artillery, arms and ammunition, that they be sure to repel and overcome all the efforts of the enemy in that quarter the approaching season. Depend on it that the efforts of the enemy there and at NewYork the next season will be the greatest and the earliest which they can possibly make.
In the year 1760, I am certain that ships arrived at
Major Joseph Hawley was a member of the provincial congress at Watertown. His character is admirably sketched by Mr. Tudor, in his interesting biography of James Otis. At the date of these letters, he held the first rank in the councils of the province.