William McIntosh, Jr. v. Seth John Cuthbert (1788): Historical Problem, 6

[NOTE:  The response to “A Citizen’s” 1784 pamphlet, Cursory Remarks on Men and Measures in Georgia, by the Sheftall family in 1785, criticizing the author as an anti-Semite, seemed at first to have ended the controversy.  Yet, the dispute was resurrected three years later, in the spring of 1788, when Seth John Cuthbert found himself in the crosshairs of “A Citizen’s” foes, especially William McIntosh, Jr., son of Revolutionary hero General Lachlan McIntosh.]

1.  Georgia Gazette (GG), 17 Apr. 1788—a number of documents were printed in the course of a long letter from William McIntosh, Jr, to the editor.  McIntosh claimed that while his father, General Lachlan McIntosh, was defending himself in a legal action brought against him by John Cuthbert, Sr., the General had made statements that Cuthbert’s son, Seth John Cuthbert, publicly labeled “infamous falsehoods.” The younger McIntosh challenged the younger Cuthbert to a duel, but Seth John Cuthbert refused the challenge, arguing that remaining differences should be settled between himself and General McIntosh.  Eventually, the question was submitted to three umpires, but no decision was made, so William McIntosh branded Seth John Cuthbert a coward “by posting him under the Venduehouse” and by publishing their correspondence.  The younger McIntosh opened his letter with a description of Seth John Cuthbert that seemed to move the latter into the realm of the potential author of Cursory Remarks.

According to William McIntosh, Seth John Cuthbert was:

a man habituated to this innocent mode of [newspaper] warfare, who oft has stained his venal pen to gratify the meaner passions, and under fictitious signatures assassinated respectable characters, regardless of either age, sex, or condition, and yet dare not appear to satisfy [by agreeing to a duel] those whom his rancorous heart is base enough to despoil.  Reared up in these habits, it is admitted he excels.  However successful he has been behind the curtain, one ray of light only is necessary to make him shrink from such attempts, and faultering [sic] he retires.

2.   “Correspondent,” GG, 24 Apr. 1788Georgia Gazette editor James Johnston summarized a letter [i.e., he chose not to print it verbatim, probably deeming its content potentially libelous], praising the importance of freedom of the press to the maintenance of free government, but the letter’s author also asserted that the press should not descend from its lofty responsibilities to “the impertinent frivolity of private quarrels and the indecent language of Billingsgate abuse.” [Probably an oblique reference to McIntosh’s letter against Seth John Cuthbert in the previous issue.]  The author claimed that aspersions cast upon a character through the press often failed of their purpose,

by the insignificance of the detractorfor who will regard the clamours [sic] and abuse of one who is himself a reproach to society—whose daily practices are daily violations of government, law, decency, and decorum, and whose situation in society is perhaps so contemptible and desperate as to make life itself burthensome [sic] to him. . .

3.  GG, 1 May 1788—William McIntosh returned, attacking “Correspondent” in the Georgia Gazette’s previous issue.  McIntosh asserted that “Correspondent” soon lost his high moral tone and “slid like the eel into the mire, and in his natural element bespatters all around him with the most scurrilous abuse, far beyond the powers of all the old women of Billingsgate. . . .”  Although such “palpable falsehoods” did not affect him personally, McIntosh claimed that he had learned “that was intended,” so he took the opportunity to reply.  The tenor of his remarks seem to indicate that he believed “Correspondent” was none other than Seth John Cuthbert, although he did not name him—McIntosh repeated the charges in his original letter that Cuthbert was a prolific, if scurrilous, pamphleteer (e.g., Cuthbert would “parry the stabs [of slander] more openly which he attempts giving in the dark, according to his custom”).  William McIntosh asserted that he would not let others fight his quarrels, “covering my own head under a shroud, by every evasion and protection of the laws, or shrink from it like your correspondent, if the object should prove to be as contemptible and insignificant as he is.”  McIntosh admitted that he might have made errors, but, if so, he claimed they were no worse than those “which thousands of the most respectable characters are guilty of. . . .”  For instance, his errors were,

of no injury to any individual of the community, and therefore impertinent even to hint at them; but I never was so despicable a creature as to sacrifice my reputation and honour [sic] to prostitute the most solemn and sacred of vows, or to betray the trust and confidence solicited for, and placed in me by my country, like your correspondent, for the little property he possesses, and afterwards securing that property, and his own dear person, by a criminal neutrality, if not worse, and a connivance with the bitterest and cruelest enemy this country ever had during its greatest distress.  Thus the backbiting treacherous cur, who disturbs the repose of the neighbourhood [sic] by his yelping, is bribed with a crumb, and deserts his duty, ever flying from every appearance of danger himself, and ever prompting others to engage in his quarrels, while the trusty mastiff can be confided in.

4.  GG, 13 November 1788—editor James Johnston published an anonymously-written obituary of Seth John Cuthbert, who had died in Savannah on November 10. The author speaks in verse of

   [Cuthbert’s]pen severe, where glaring vice appear’d,

   Gall’d the struck culprit when her head she rear’d.

   With him the innocent could fondly stray,

   And mark the faults and follies of the day.

   But ah!  too true!  no more shall Cuthbert write,

   No more bring vices of the age to light. . . .

The author of the obituary also mentioned that Cuthbert had been appointed Major in the 2nd Continental Battalion of Georgia in in 1776, and Treasurer of the state in 1784, in which post “he acted with reputation to himself and advantage to the publick [sic].”

* * * * *

We are still not at the end of the trail in identifying the author (“A Citizen”) of the pamphlet Cursory Remarks on Men and Measures in Georgia.  Perhaps we’re close, but  the fat historian has not yet sung.  In the next installment, “Portrait of ‘A Citizen,” I’ll summarize what I believe I’ve learned about “A Citizen.”  Then, in the final part, I’ll tentatively answer the question, “Who Was ‘A Citizen?'”

To prepare for the next post, I suggest that you also review the five previous posts (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5) of this series, taking notes on what you learn about the ideas, history, and character of “A Citizen.”

* * * * * *

For those interested in reading more about Georgia History, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

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)

About georgelamplugh

I retired in 2010 after nearly four decades of teaching History at the "prep school" level with a PhD. My new "job" was to finish the book manuscript I'd been working on, in summers only, since 1996. As things turned out, not only did I complete that book, but I also put together a collection of my essays--published and unpublished--on Georgia history. Both volumes were published in the summer of 2015. I continue to work on other writing projects, including a collection of essays on the Blues and, of course, my blog.
This entry was posted in American History, American Revolution, Historical Reflection, History, History Curriculum, Research, Retirement, Southern (Georgia) History, Southern History, Teaching, Uncategorized, WP Long Form, WP Long Read and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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