Response to an Accusation of Bribery

Response to an Accusation of Bribery May 1, 1782

Tho’ I do not think it worth while altogether on my own account, to take notice of a piece in the last Freeman’s Journal, in which a very unwise and unkind allusion is made to a publication of mine in the later end of the year 1780, entitled PUBLIC GOOD, yet as that allusion is connected with a public measure, I shall for that reason, more than for myself, give it an answer.

The piece I refer to in the Freeman’s Journal is signed "Caractacus" and the writer introduces it with the following paragraphs, viz.

"The public may be imposed on, when the condition and intention of the author is concealed, but when this is discovered, we may easily see the influence of twelve thousand acres of land, in causing a man to use all his talents to defraud the United States of their landed property, and at the same time unjustly incense them against a sister state.

"Few knew that the design of publishing a pamphlet, intitled Public Good, was to wrest out of the hands of the United States, a tract of land called Indiana, and appropriate it to the use of a sett of men, who can scarcely be called friends to the United States, excepting a few characters: but the design was evident to some, before the bribe was uncautiously published. Through a prospect of receiving no opposition, the company committed a little blunder in being rather premature in the publication of their present."

If Caractacus is really an honest man and sincerely means to support the right of the United States, to the vacant western territory, against all encroachments either from Virginia or else where, he will gladly make himself known to me, because I can and will assist him; but if he is privately interested in the encroachments which Virginia has made, and is only making use of the name of the United States as a cover, he will conceal himself from me.

It certainly can be nothing to Caractacus, or even to the public (only a matter of curiosity) how I came by the facts and materials which enabled me to write the pamphlet Public Good. It is sufficient to the public that I obtained them, and made use of them to prove their right to the western lands by, and that without putting them to any expence. But as I never do anything that I wish to conceal, I shall relate the whole transaction, and all the material circumstances belonging to it.

In the pamphlet Common Sense published in January 1776, I mentioned the vacant western lands, as a fund which at the end of the war would redeem the expences of it. And in the arguments used in Congress in favour of independence, those very lands were pointed out for the same purpose. But to the astonishment of every reasonable man the state of Virginia set up a wild unfounded claim to the best part, and opened an office for the sale of them. By which means she has exhausted and weakened herself, and done much injustice to all her sister states, without even performing her quota of duty.

But it was impossible for me to pursue the subject, from the want of materials and information. I was struck with the general magnitude of the wrong done to the states, but could not enter as an advocate on their behalf, because, as I have already stated, the papers and proofs necessary to proceed upon were not in my possession, neither did I know where to obtain them. Another difficulty I found, or rather felt, was, the disagreeableness of taking up a subject of controversy against any state in the union, and particularly against Virginia, whose character I had, on every former occasion accustomed myself to esteem, and with many of whose principal citizens I continued on terms of intimacy, and friendship. And this nicety carried me so far as to decline a proposal, from the executive council of Pennsylvania, or some of them, in the year 1779 to attend on the commission for settling the boundary line between this state and Virginia; because I would not interfere between two states. But the interest of the United States makes another question.

Sometime in the summer 1779, major Trent and other gentlemen of the Indiana Company came to me and stated the exceeding injuries they were likely to sustain, and the distress which several families were exposed to by the unkind conduct of Virginia, in endeavouring to wrest from them a tract of land which had been ceded to them by the Indians as a compensation for injuries which they, or some of their tribe, had committed, and to obtain a ratification of which, the company had been put to very great expences. They asked me for my assistance in behalf of the sufferers, and offered me any compensation I would require. Private justice is undoubtedly due to all men, and where that fails, public justice can have but a slender foundation.

However I might be inclined to wish them redress, my answer was short and decisive, which was, that I never had nor ever would have any thing to do in private affairs. And here the conference ended.

In the latter end of the year 1780, col. George Morgan and other gentlemen came again to me and endeavoured to make me understand, that whatever might be the event of the company’s affairs, they were in possession of certain papers, which might be rendered exceedingly useful to the public, and proposed leaving them in my hands for perusal, which they did.

Here I got the very materials I had long wished for. The industry of the company, in prosecuting their own affairs, had collected together papers and documents in which the public, or in other words the United States, were exceedingly interested. I saw by those papers that the claim of Virginia to the western territory was ill founded either in right or reason, and that I could render a very essential service to the country by disentangling the matter from the obscurity in which it was then involved.

On a second interview I informed the gentlemen of my opinion respecting the papers they had left with me, and that I could make a very good use of them for the public interest; but that I would on no account mix the matter with any thing relative to the private affairs of the company, which as they were then before Congress would likewise be improper. They agreed to my proposition, and left them in my hands to do as I pleased with. From these papers and materials I compiled and finished the pamphlet PUBLIC GOOD, in which there is not a line or syllable respecting the company and every argument in it is in support of the public right of the United States. I was glad to get at the papers, and I made the same use of them as if there was no such body as the Indiana Company. But if the public have derived any service from the publication, and have acquired by it a better knowledge of their rights than they had before, they undoubtedly are under some obligation to the company for lending the materials, as well as to me for making use of them. And altho’ the pamphlet has been published above a year and a half, it has never yet been answered by the advocates for the Virginia claims. I know it cannot be answered with success. I have ever kept a clear head and an upright heart, and am not afraid of being replied to. I never took up a matter without fully believing it to be right, and never yet failed in proving it so. But in this case I am the friend of Virginia as well as of the United States; because it is evident from her present circumstances, that her claims and her conduct have tended to impoverish her.

That the pamphlet was of service to the company is certain; but this is a natural consequence. The encroachment of Virginia extended over the company’s lands as well as over those of the United States; and the company and the public standing thus in the same predicament with respect to Virginia, were reciprocally benefited by the endeavours of either to detect and eject her encroachments; and it was because the interest of the company was thus bound up with that of the United States, that made the acceptance of their present agreeable to me.

Caractacus says that "The design of publishing the pamphlet entitled PUBLIC GOOD was to wrest out of the hands of the United States a tract of land called Indiana."

Let the pamphlet speak for itself. There are yet some remaining copies which may be had at Mr. Claypoole’s Printing office on street. The design of the pamphlet was to wrest, if I may copy the expression, the whole western territory from the unjust and enormous claims of Virginia. But Caractacus has I believe confessed more than he was aware of, for when he says that it was to wrest Indiana out of the hands of the United States, the declaration goes to prove that Indiana is within the dominion of the United States and not within that of Virginia. And consequently all the other western territory must be in the same situation. This is the very fact which the company are laboring to establish, and they certainly must be right, because their opposers cannot avoid occasionally declaring the same thing.

Thus much for the pamphlet. Now for the twelve thousand acres of land.

As soon as the pamphlet was published I returned the materials which the company had put into my hands, and they unanimously ordered a deed to be made out to me for what they call a voters share, which is, I suppose about the quantity mentioned. But so little effect or influence had this upon me, that I let off for France without ever applying for the deed, and returned again, without ever thinking about it, or taking the least notice of it, and it was not until the matter was mentioned to me again about three weeks or a month ago, that I gave myself any concern respecting it. And as to the paragraph in the newspapers which Caractacus refers to, of the company presenting me with a quantity of land, it was my own proposition that it should be made known, and I think it a reputation to the company that they have done that which those who were infinitely more obliged and indebted to me have neglected to do. From me the states have received the unremitted service of seven years, and to them I have not been the expence of a private soldier. I have done every thing of myself and from myself. The interest of the heart alone has carried me through a thousand things which others would have failed in or staggered at; and therefore the less Caractacus says up on this matter the less dishonor he will bring to light.

But as it ever was my disposition to acknowledge any return of kindness or friendship, from whatever quarter it came, I shall, in this place take the opportunity of mentioning a circumstance respecting the disposition of the present house of assembly of this state.

When the office of register of wills (a place worth six or seven hundred pounds a year) was likely to be vacant, and which has since happened, the speaker of the house, the hon F. A. Muhlenberg, informed me that, from the knowledge he had of the house, the members had often expressed a wish of shewing me some instance of their respect and that if I thought the office of register would be convenient to me, he would present me with it, without any application on my part.

I expressed to the speaker my sense of his friendship and of the good intentions of the house, and at the same time signified to him, that the necessary attendance on an office, or being any way charged with the duties of one, would unavoidably ingross my attention and take me out of the only line of service in which I could be generally useful, and therefore declined giving him the trouble of mentioning me on the occasion. I at the same time acquainted him with the present the Indiana Company had made me.

Yet after this and several other instances I could mention, comes some unknown person sheltered under the machinery of a printer, and tells the public, that because the Indiana Company, of their own accord had presented me with a quantity of land, and which I desired might be made known, and which was made known to all the papers of this city, about a week before the deed was made out, that I had accepted a bribe; when if there is any one circumstance in my character which distinguishes itself from the rest, it is personal disinterestedness, and an anxiety to serve a public cause in preference to myself. I never sought place, office, nor reward, since I have been in America; nor ever suffered resentment or disgust, nor the ins and outs of parties to warp me from the line of public good. And I have the pleasure of seeing, by the experience of every day, that the consistency of my character and the disinterestedness of my conduct have made almost every man my friend.

As to Caractacus I ought to be obliged to him for forcing me into the opportunity of saying what otherwise would not have been known, and I am persuaded that a thousand such little and unjustifiable insinuations will answer no other purpose than to procure me as many new friends. I have stood through too many tryals to be affected now either in fame or feeling by anonymous hints and insignificant falshoods; perfectly satisfied that the public are satisfied with me, and that among other things for the pamphlet in question, I shall take my farewel of Caractacus, and leave him to pursue at pleasure or at random whatever he likes best, for I have something of more consequence to attend to than minding either him or his squibs. I would not give a farthing to know who he is, nor care whether he writes or holds his tongue. And I farther assure him, that so far as justice goes, I shall endeavor to assist the company in any thing which I conceive to be right, and no farther. For it would be very extraordinary, that I should serve a whole country seven years for nothing, and refute it to those who have served me.

Common Sense