The Petition of the Freeholders and other Inhabitants of the Countys of Prince William in Behalf of themselves, and their Fellow-Citizens.
To the honourable the Speakers, and Members of both Houses of Assembly.
Humbly remonstrating, sheweth.
That the good People of Virginia took up Arms, in the present Contest with Great Britain, in Defence of their Liberty and Property, invaded by an arbitrary & tyrannical Government; that as it is not merely for Names, but our essential Rights we are contending, the same Principles which first induced us to draw the Sword will again dictate Resistance to Injustice & Oppression, in whatever Shape, or under whatever Pretence, it may be offered. And altho' your Petitioners will always be ready most chearfully to contribute to the utmost of their Abilitys, everything proper & necessary in Support of the just War in which the United American States are engaged; Yet we shou'd hold ourselves unworthy the Name of Freemen, if we tamely submitted to such Injustice & oppression as hath lately been exercised over us, longer than a Meeting of the General Assembly gives us an Opportunity of laying them before our Representatives; trusting that we shall find it their Inclination, as it is most certainly their Duty, to redress our wrongs; even if they had not originated from themselves. To defend their Property by Arms, and to repel Force by Force, is inconsistent with the Character of good Citizens, until they have first tryed the legal &constitutional Modes of Redress. Impressed with these Sentiments, and to prevent the Mischiefs & Violence which might otherwise follow, we assert our Right of freely remonstrating to, and petitioning the General Assembly.
That the Convention which formed our Constitution of Government, wisely ordained that the Governor "shall with the Advice of a Council of State exercise the executive Powers of Government, according to the Laws of the Commonwealth, and shall not, under any Pretence, exercise any Power or Prerogative, by Virtue of any Law, Statute, or Custom of England; and that the Advice and Proceedings of the Council shall be entered of Record, and signed by the Members present (to any Part whereof any Member may enter his Dissent) to be laid before the General Assembly, when called for by them" that so they might be answerable to their Country for the Consequences.
That the Constitution knows no such Power as a Governor acting without the Advice of the Council; save in the single Instance of his having the Direction of the Militia, under the Laws of the Country, when embodied. That the Act of the last session of Assembly expressly grants the very extraordinary Powers therein contained to the Governor, with the Advice of Council; Yet, notwithstanding these necessary & positive Restraints of Law; that Warrants have been issued by the present Governor, without the advice of Council, for seizing the Horses, Cattle, Provisions, & other Effects of the free Citizens of this Commonwealth, without any Limitation of Quantity or Proportion, other than the arbitrary Will & Pleasure of the Persons to whom they were directed.
That such Precedents are of the most dangerous & fatal Tendency; sapping the Foundations of the Commonwealth, and the Rights & Libertys of the People.
That Absence at the Seige at York can be no just Excuse for assuming a dispensing Power over the Laws; especially when it is considered that there were not less than fifteen or sixteen General Officers there; who by a Course of actual Service, had acquired Military Knowledge & Experience.
That the above mentioned orders for Seizures, instead of being confided to men of approved Probity & Discretion in the different Countys, have in some Instances, been executed by military Sergeants, &common Soldiers; who have insulted & abused the Inhabitants; in others by the most licentious & infamous of the People: every Principal conceiving himself authorised to depute whom, and as many as he pleased; and these again appointing their Deputies; to the Subversion of all Order & Regularity, and opening a Door to Fraud, Partiality, private Prejudice, Injustice, & Oppression. In other Instances they have been executed by Commissarys, and their Deputy's Deputies; who have plundered & empoverished the People to enrich themselves. That Provisions & Forage have been seized from the Inhabitants, and sold to the french Troops, for ready Money with Impunity; whereby the Owners have not only been deprived of a good Market for their Commodities; but under Colour of Public-Service, the Proceeds have been applyed to the private Use & Emolument of the Commissarys; nor do your Petitioners conceive that such Robberys can be detected, & punished; unless some Tribunal for that Purpose is constituted in the different Countys; that the Facts may be investigated, where they were committed, and of Course, the Evidence arises. Individuals are too much in the Power of these Harpies, to bring Suits for Reparation; and if they did, it wou'd rather encourage than suppress such Practices; because the Offender, under the present tender-Laws, might pay off the Judgement in Paper Currency of no Value.
That altho' it is notorious the french Troops brought Money with them, to purchase Provisions here, as they have done in the other Parts of America; it is confidently reported, and generally believed, that they have been restrained from purchasing by the Governor, who offered to supply them by Seizures; thus preventing the Circulation of large Sums of Specie among us, to the great Injury of the Public, as well as of Individuals, depriving the good People of Virginia of a Benefit enjoyed by the Inhabitants of the other States, and encreasing the Measure of our Oppression.
That warrants have been issued for seizing Horses to mount different Corps of Cavalry not belonging to the Virginia Line; and consequently the People unnecessarily oppressed, and this Commonwealth, after having first paid it's full Quota, wantonly subjected over again, to more than it's Proportion of the Burdens & Charges of the War; altho' every Man acquainted with public Affairs knows, that Congress will, if possible, avoid allowing us for the large Sums we have already expended more than our Quota, and that our Accounts with the United-States are now complicated, almost beyond the Power of Settlement.
That some of the other States, depending upon the extravagant & romantic Character of this Government, have neglected or refused to provide Horses for their own Cavalry, and sent them here to be mounted, at our Expence, by Seizures: in this Manner a Number of dismounted Dragoons of Colo. Moylin's Regiment, were sent hither from Pensylvania, and this Reason publickly avowed for not furnishing them in their own State; so that by the Temerity and Folly of our public Councils, Virginia has not only lost it's due Weight in the Scale of the United-States, but we are become an object of Contempt and Ridicule to our Neighbours, for officiously taking upon ourselves more than we are able to bear.
That altho' the thirteenth Article of the Bill of Rights expressly declares "that in all Cases, the Military shou'd be under strict Subordination to, and governed by the Civil Power" Yet Horses & other Effects have been frequently taken from the Inhabitants by Military-Officers, and Soldiers, without authority from, or application to the Civil Magistrate, and without Appraisement; by which many poor Familys have been ruined.
That before the Act of the last session of Assembly, giving such enormous Powers to the Executive, altho' the Law for seizing live-Cattle expressly directed that the Cattle seized shou'd be appraised by two Persons upon Oath, one to be appointed by the Owner, and the other by the Commissioner, and "provided that not more than one half of the Bullocks & barren-Cows, belonging to any Person, fit for slaughter, shou'd be subject to such Seizure." Yet a certain Mr. Brown, who was appointed Commissioner for seizing cattle, presumed to give Directions in Writing to his Deputies in the different Countys, without any regard to the aforesaid Limitation, to seize, in Beef-Cattle, one tenth part of the Number of every person's Stock; which of Course, must deprive the People of the whole, instead of one half, of their cattle fit for Slaughter, and leave their Familys without any Supply of Beef, Tallow, or Hides; which the said Limitation was intended to guard against: and instead of having the Cattle appraised, as the Law directed, ordered his said Deputies only to have the Weight judged, and leave the Value unsetled: that by this illegal Management much Injustice was done to Individuals, by having the weight of their Cattle judged when very poor; and the said Commissioner, and his Deputies, had it in their Power to commit great Frauds, and make exorbitant Profits, by the encrease of weight between the times of Seizure, and the Delivery to the Army; many of the said Cattle being seized in April, and delivered thro' the Course of the Summer & Fall following, and in the meantime fed with Corn from the public Stores.
That few, if any, of the said Commissioners took any Oath of Office, altho expressly required by Law; and upon Objections being made to the Illegality of their Proceedings, and the Act of Assembly appealed to; some of them declared they thought themselves bound to obey the Orders of their Principal, legal or illegal. Thus every Petty-Officer of Government, to indulge his own Caprice, or serve his private Interest, assumes a dispensing-Power over the Laws; a Crime for which, even in a monarchical Government, King Charles the first forfeited his Life, and James the second his Crown.
Your Petitioners conceive that the Enormity & Tyranny of these Proceedings can hardly be parralled in the most despotic Governments; and that, without exemplary Punishment upon the Guilty, a Man can have no Security in his Property; or must be reduced to the fatal Necessity of punishing the Aggressor with his own Hand; as in a State without Laws, every Man has a Right to do.
That any Man who has his Property seized (besides many other injurious Circumstances attending Seizures) is actually taxed the Amount of such Property more than his Neighbour, who has not Articles for Seizure, or conceals them; public Cerificates being now regarded as of little more Value than blank-Paper; as no Man in his sober Senses expects they can ever be discharged in any other Manner, than by exchanging them into Paper Money of as little Value as themselves, or discounting them perhaps some time or other, in Taxes; in which Case, the Man who pays his Taxes in Certificates for Property estimated at it's real Value in Specie, will pay at least ten times higher than his Neighbour, who pays in the new Congress-Money; which has already depreciated at the Rate of ten for one; and this Inequality will increase in the same Proportion that the said Money continues to depreciate.
That this Method therefore of supplying the Public-Wants by Seizures, is of all others, the most disgusting, unequal, oppressive, & unjust; being in Fact, only another Name for public-Robbery. That when it was first introduced in the May Session of 1780, the Seizures were limited to certain Proportions; and in most Cases no more required than the Inhabitants cou'd conveniently spare; that it was then with great Reluctance adopted by the Assembly, as a Measure of inevitable Necessity, and short Duration; at a time when a french Fleet & Army was suddenly expected here, and no previous Provision had been made for their Support; under these circumstances, the People chearfully acquiesed in it, not suspecting that it wou'd be renewed from time to time; merely to save their Representatives the Trouble of considering & digesting just & reasonable Systems.
That very considerable Loans in Gold & Silver, & Bills of Exchange, have been lately obtained, in different Parts of Europe, by the United American States; for a due Proportion of which this Commonwealth is answerable, and therefore ought to partake of the Benefits; Yet while in the other States, the Continental Troops are supplyed by purchases in Specie, and large Sums of Money thrown into Circulation, whereby the People are enabled to pay their Taxes; our Citizens are oppressed & empoverished by Seizures; and instead of receiving, by Means of Purchases, our Proportion of the Money borrowed, in common with our Sister-States, this Commonwealth is daily burdened with new and unequal Public-Debts, under the delusive Idea of charging them to the Account of the United States.
That the Embargo has been, for a considerable Time, taken off by the Legislatures of the other States, and their People enriched by high Prices in Gold & Silver, for their Flour, and other Commoditys exported, while it is still continued here, to the Discouragement of Industry, and Empoverishment of the People; the usual & almost inevitable Consequences of narrow, & short-sighted Policy.
That without speedy and proper Alterations, and due Encouragements to Industry, Tillage is in great Danger of being totally neglected; and real Scarcity introduced to prevent an imaginary one; as it is not to be expected that Men will labour to have the Produce perish upon their Hands, or seized from them by Violence.
Your Petitioners think it wou'd be greatly to the Advantage of this, and the other States, if the Enemy's Troops, made Prisoners at York & Gloucester, were permitted to purchase Provisions by their own Agents, with their own, or the King of Great Britain's Money, or allowed to be supplyed by Flag-Vessels, at their Option; and wish this Measure to be recommended to Congress; but if this can not be done, they earnestly hope that the said Troops, being Prisoners to the United States, and not to this Commonwealth, may be furnished with Rations by Congress, at the general, and not at the particular Expence of Virginia; in the vain Expectation of being reimbursed hereafter. Certain we are, that the People will never submit to have their Property seized, for the Maintenance of a Set of Men, sent hither for the avowed Purpose of plundering, murdering, or enslaving us.
That the Laws making Paper-Currency a legal Tender have produced great & numerous Evils, without one single Benefit to the Community: that under the plausible Pretence of supporting the Credit of the Currency, they have been one of the principal Causes of it's rapid Depreciation, by making it the private Interest of great Numbers to depreciate; this has not only been the Case with Contractors upon Credit, and other Debtors, men in desperate Circumstances, and Speculators of all Denominations; but even with the Planters & Farmers; that so they might pay their taxes at much less than the original Value: that they have tempted Sherifs, Collectors, Commissarys, and other public-Officers, to detain the public Money in their Hands; whereby the Tax-Laws have been defeated, the public Revenue reduced to Nothing, and the Legislature forced into repeated & Dangerous Emissions of more Paper, to the utter Ruin of public-Credit: that they have taken away all Security for private- Property, and ruined many Familys, particularly Younger Children & Orphans: that they have enfeebled or frustrated our whole System of Penal-Laws, prevented the Performance of many necessary public Dutys, and the Punishment of public Delinquents & Offenders: that they have stained the national character, destroyed all Confidence between Man & Man; and by encouraging Knavery, & legalizing Fraud, have corrupted & depraved the Morals of the People. These are some of the fatal consequences of the tender Laws; which loudly call for their Repeal, or Regulation, upon the Principles of Equity & Justice.
That altho' the Virginia regular Troops at the Seige of York amounted to no mo[re] than four or five hundred, they have been obliged to march to the Southward almost naked, notwithstanding about three thousand Suits (consisting of two Shirts; two pair of Stockings, a pair of Overalls, a pair of Shoes, and a Hat or Cap) were furnished, last Spring & Summer by the Inhabitants of the different Countys (with very great Inconvenience to their own Familys) to cloath the Soldiers of the Virginia Line. That part of these cloaths have been delivered by the County-Lieutenants, without any Manner of Authority, to the Troops of other States, whereby our own Soldiers have lost the Benefit of them, and the Commonwealth the Value; or which is nearly the same thing, it will be thrown into that common Sewer, our Account with the United States. That Part has been embezzled, and applyed to private Purposes; and great Part, thro' the carelessness & Inattention of Government, still remains useless in the Countys; to the great Discouragement of the Service, and Disgust of the People compelled to furnish them. Your Petitioners hope that the Legislature will cause strict Enquiry into these Abuses in the Countys, where only they can be traced; and enforce speedy Justice upon the Delinquents.
That as the new Congress-Money has depreciated so greatly, your Petitioners think it a fortunate Circumstance that so little of this Commonwealth's Quota hath been emitted, and that it will be prudent to forbear, for the present at least, issueing any more. They are convinced from Experience, that it is now become impracticable to support the Credit of any kind of Paper Currency; and that there is Danger of the large Sums already emitted from our Treasury operating to the Ruin of the Planters and Farmers; as the common Paper Currency has for some Months past, circulated at a Depreciation of from eight hundred to twelve hundred for one, and the Traders and Speculators who have possessed themselves of it at this low Value, are now locking it up, until the Wants of People, for the Payment of Taxes, shall compel them to purchase it, at a much higher Value. We conceive that this Evil, as well as the Necessity of Seizures, wou'd be prevented, and the public Burdens made more equal, if the Taxes were imposed in Specie, with the Power of discharging a certain proportion (sufficient to sink the Paper-Money in a Emitted time) in the said Paper Currency at it's present Value, vizt. at the Rate of about one thousand for one; and the Remainder of the Taxes (except such as shall be discharged in Certificates granted under the Laws of Virginia) to be paid in Specie only, or in certain enumerated Articles, delivered [hi]ther on navigable Water, or at other Places, where they will be wanted for public Use, at such reasonable & liberal Prices, as they might be purchased in Specie. And [other] efore we beg Leave to recommend some such plan as this to the Attention and Consideration of the General Assembly, for the next Year's Taxes; and that, in the [m]ean time, some just Allowance, according to the true Rate of the present Depreciation, be fixed in the Payment of the Taxes already due, to put those who pay Certificates for Prope[rt]y seized, & valued in Specie, upon an Equality with those paying the old Continental, or the common State Paper Currency.
Your petitioners, having thus laid before their Representatives some of their Prin[cip]al Grievances, and just Causes of Complaint, humbly propose.
That speedy and effectual Methods be prescribed for detecting and punishing Peculation, Fraud, and Oppression, in Commissarys, Commissioners, and other public-Officers. That the Power of Seizures be taken away; and the Civil-Magistrates and Militia Officers encouraged & required, by more vigorous Laws, to protect the People, in the Enjoyment of their Rights, and the Possession of their Property.
That the Embargo be taken off, and the free Exportation of Grain and Flour allowed, under proper Regulations for the Delivery at some amicable, or neutral Port.
That the present iniquitous System of tender-Laws be repealed, the Principles of Justice & Equity restored, Industry encouraged by the Security of private-Property; and a total Depravity of Manners prevented in the Community.
That Economy and Frugality be strictly adhered to in all public Measures; and that Congress be properly informed that this Commonwealth will not submit to any Encroachment upon it's just Rights, or be burdened with more than it's proper Quota of the Expence of maintaining Prisoners; or other Charges of the War; and insists upon participating in it's due Proportion, of the Benefits arising from Loans of Money and all other Public Advantages.
That the general Elections be so regulated as to procure a proper Representation, by the general Suffrage of the Freeholders; and that, for this purpose, their Attendance at Elections be enforced by moderate Penalties, to be speedily & easily recovered; as the most likely means of excluding Men of desperate Circumstances & Principles, and obtaining a wise and virtuous Legislature; which alone can recover the Confidence of the People, continue their Attachment to the Government, and give Stability, Reputation and Safety to the Commonwealth.
And finally, That such other Measures be adopted, as the General Assembly shall judge most conducive to the permanent Wellfare and Happiness of the People
And Your Petitioners will Pray. [Here followed fifty-eight signatures. ]