“A Citizen,” Cursory Remarks on Men and Measures in Georgia. N.p., 1784. Microprint: American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Mass. 30 pp.
[NOTE: If you have read the previous posts in this series, you know that you have embarked on an “historical problem,” the goal of which is to identify the pseudonymous author of Cursory Remarks on Men and Measures in Georgia (1784). This thirty-page pamphlet, which was published in Savannah late in 1784, actually had its genesis almost a year earlier. Moreover, the pamphlet was intended to answer criticisms leveled against “A Citizen’s” first newspaper essays by a writer signing himself “Brutus.” What follows is a synopsis of Cursory Remarks, along with excerpts from a couple of interesting responses.]
* * * * *
“A Citizen” decried the “baneful influence of an interested and designing faction” in Georgia’s affairs. Factionalism had been present in the state for several years; now there were two parties:
On the one hand we behold a most powerful combination of individuals zealously embarked in the scheme of advancing their private fortunes on the ruins of every thing [sic] that is dear and valuable to the community. On the other we observe a more virtuous, though a less active set of citizens, opposing such views, and counteracting knavery and vociferation with reason and argument. . . . [W]hatever seems best calculated to create distrust and jealousy against those whose fortunes offer a security for confidence, and whose private characters command respect and esteem, is most industriously propagated. . . . (2)
Members of this nefarious “confederacy of citizens” were governed “by no considerations but those of lucre,” and they have been deserted by “every man of honor, virtue, or property,” until “they stand the sole champions of their own disgraceful undertaking.” (2) The dispute is between those who have purchased confiscated property “without any intention or means of paying and others of the same complexion, and those who may or may not have purchased, but who nevertheless mean the thing that is just and right towards the publick.” (3) “[T]he men who make the most noise and pother against the law [making distinction between certificates and specie in paying for their purchases], because it does not allow them to pay the whole of their bonds in [worthless] certificates, are those who have not paid the half they might have in that way, although the time allowed for such purpose has run out.” (4)
One of the “principal heroes of this confederacy [probably Richard Howly]” is “in the full and indisputed [sic] possession of that kind of subtle midnight cunning which formed a Mississippi scheme, or a South Sea bubble, more the result of a bad heart, and a plodding temper than the characteristick [sic] of genius. . . . [T]he other, versed in all the little tricks of life, having passed through the different gradations from the lowest mechanick [sic—George Walton began his career in Virginia as a carpenter] to the highest law officer, finds it as easy to explain away a forgery [Speaker William Glasscock’s signature on the anti-McIntosh petition during the Revolution] as to assassinate a character.” (4-5)
“A Citizen” charged that Chief Justice Walton used the power of his judicial office to secure fifty-three slaves from a relative who had been banished for Loyalism during the Revolution.
“This redoubtable duumvirate lately, under the signature of Brutus, (two in one, like man and wife) made a most angry attack upon the conduct of the present Administration [of Governor John Houstoun in 1784]—but failed.” (5) On the eve of the election, the author wrote that voters must become acquainted with “characters,” and tried to remove the stain of the charge of “Toryism” evidently being leveled against their political opponents by Walton and Howly, in an attempt to deter worthy men from offering their services to the state.
Although conceding that government originated with the people, “A Citizen” maintained that “the people” must not attempt to administer the government themselves, for that would lead to the tyranny of the mob and, eventually, to the tyranny of the individual. He contended instead
“that . . . the only use a wise people will make of such power is, at certain stated periods, to elect or appoint fit persons for their rulers; after such appointments, to invest them with a confidence equal to the trust they are charged with; to protect them against the tongue of slander, and the arts of designing men, when they do right; and to punish them, in a regular and constitutional way, if they do wrong. . . .” (7)
Next, “A Citizen” turned to a discussion of Georgia’s current financial situation. To meet obligations to Congress, the House of Assembly had passed a law on July 29, 1783, declaring that funds were to be raised, and obligations met, out of the sale of confiscated property. But, the author asks, how can that work
“whilst, on the one hand, it is part of a system with some not to pay without being sued, and, on the other, we have for our C[hief] J[ustice] a man who is himself among the deepest in the publick [sic] books [i.e., George Walton]?” (8)
This explained two presentments published in the Georgia Gazette’s account of the Chatham grand jury’s October session (Oct. 14, 1784), according to “A Citizen”:
“[T]he great delay which too frequently happens in the business of the Court, whereby persons attending as Jurors are detained from their homes for a much longer time than would otherwise be the case, were a closer attention on the part of the Court paid to the business;” and “[T]he increase of trifling causes, to the disgrace of the county where such causes are litigated, and to the injury of those who are obliged to attend them.”
“A Citizen” complained, in other words, that, under Chief Justice Walton, justice in Georgia was neither cheap nor speedy. Yet, according to the author, the Chief Justice received more than his due, the other court officers less, and Walton’s justification for his higher fee was singularly unconvincing (8-12)
The writer believed that there was considerable inconsistency between charges presented by the Chief Justice to the Richmond County grand jury (where Walton lived) in March 1784, and those presented to the Wilkes County grand jury in November.
March 1784 [Richmond]: “Many cogent reasons concurred to induce me to suggest to the Grand Juries in the counties through which I have already rode the expediency of revising our Constitutions: as I speak to men of intelligence it is sufficient only to mention it—if with harmony and temper you can go into the consideration of the subject so truly important to us all, I hesitate not to recommend it to you.” (15)
November 1784 [Wilkes]: “The Constitution of our country [i.e., Georgia] contains the principles of liberty, which by attention may be improved into a basis on which the happiness of the community may rest with security—the time however for any kind of alteration is not yet arrived.” (15)
“A Citizen” labeled as “highly censurable” a recent decision by Chief Justice Walton that freed a defendant named Fox, “a native and citizen of Georgia, who stood charged with murder,” on the grounds that “he was not bound by any law of this state previous to the Definitive Treaty of Peace.” (16-17)
The author attributed the action of the Court not to “a spirit of forbearance and mercy,” but to favoritism: “[W]hen it is beyond contradiction, that the gentle usage this prisoner met with sprung entirely from the part his connexions, and their connnexions again, have acted, and continue to act, on the little scale of politicks, it is too much for any man of spirit, sense, or justice, to tolerate it in a free country.” (18)
“A Citizen” next turned to a case in which Walton’s court supported, two to one, a Jewish defendant who was being sued by a Native American. The author examined the rights due an Indian and those of a Jewish defendant in Georgia and claimed to find that the Native American probably had more of a right to sue in the Court than did the Jewish citizen.
According to “A Citizen,” the Jews were “a people whose increase in any country is at once a compliment and a reflection upon it; a compliment upon its natural advantages, but an implied censure upon its moral system or administration of government.” (21) Moreover, he claimed,
“the Jews now-a-days enter very little into politicks [sic] further than to favour [sic] that system which is most promotive of their pecuniary interest, the principle of lucre being the life and soul of all their actions.” (22) The Georgia constitution, he averred, promised Jews nothing more than “a mere religious privilege; not a word in the whole clause, by the most forced construction, can be made to signify a grant of any civil rights whatever.” (24)
Yet, “A Citizen” also denied that his diatribe was designed “to stir up a spirit of intolerance against that dispersed and unhappy people.” (24-25) Rather, their own acts had elicited his response:
“[W]hen we see these people eternally obtruding themselves as volunteers upon every publick [sic] occasion, one day assuming the lead at an election, the next taking upon themselves to direct the police of the town, and the third daring to pass as jurors upon the life and death of a free man, what are we to expect but to have Christianity enacted into a capital heresy, the synagogue become the established church, and the mildness of the New Testament compelled to give place to the rigour [sic] and severity of the Old?” (26)
What of the argument that the blame rested upon “our Christian officers” for allowing Jews to push their pretensions so far?
“All this I will in some measure grant, but, at the same time, desire leave to remind these people they stand exceedingly in their own light, when they venture so far under the auspices of any one man, especially an officer [i.e., Chief Justice Walton] whose office, and in all probability whose consequence, will expire with the year,” when his term ended. (26) “Had [Walton] any feeling, he must be convinced his conduct is not approved of by the country: the very common compliment of thanks [from the grand juries] for his charge is withheld in all the last presentments that I have seen; and no wonder, when the main scope of such charges was to stir up parties and dissensions throughout the land. . . .” (27)
Finally, “A Citizen” discussed the anticipated income from sales of confiscated estates, as against probable state expenditures:
“There are, I believe, many and great demands still remaining against these estates; what channel they will next be thrown into for liquidation and settlement I am unapprised of; in my judgment there can be none so proper, or conducive to the pubick [sic] good, as that of the Auditor [John Wereat]. Could the gentleman who has nearly gone through the Herculean task of auditing and arranging the other accounts of the state be prevailed upon to undertake this, I am persuaded it would diffuse general pleasure. To the honour of this Officer let me bear testimony, as far as I have had an opportunity of observing, that, even under the disadvantage of an infirm state of health, the effects of his zeal, fidelity, and abilities, have been conspicuous: Whilst, on the one hand, he had done ample justice, under the article of savings, to his country, on the other, he has had the singular fortune to render satisfaction to the individuals concerned. For him it was reserved to bring forth order from confusion, and to reduce the chaos of claims into a system of accounts.” (29-30)
* * * * *
GG, 30 Dec. 1784—obituary of Richard Howly, AND what appeared to be an oblique reference to “Cursory Remarks”: “A correspondent observes, that a pamphlet scattered about the streets, reminds him of the confused and ineffectual attacks made by a snake, after his teeth have been pulled out.”
GG, 6 Jan. 1785—“A Constant Reader” demanded, according to the editor, that the “Correspondent” in the previous issue explain the wit concealed in the parable of the toothless snake.
* * * * *
The time has come to begin trying to place “A Citizen’s” views into the context of the post-Revolutionary years in Georgia. Which side in the argument does he seem to favor? Do you have any idea, at this point, of who “A Citizen” might be?
The pieces in the Georgia Gazette in late December 1784 and early January 1785 were just the beginning of the controversy stirred up by the author of Cursory Remarks, as we’ll see next time.
[End of Part 4]
* * * * * *
For those interested in reading more about Georgia History, here are links to my books on the subject:
Rancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities: Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)
In Pursuit of Dead Georgians: One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)
Politics on the Periphery: Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)