Front Page Titles (by Subject) STRICTURES ON Two Publications in the Freeman's Journal of May 30, 1781, signed PHOCION, AND IMPARTIAL. * [ First published in Philadelphia, May 23, 1781.] - Political Essays on the Nature and Operation of Money, Public Finances and Other Subjects
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STRICTURES ON Two Publications in the Freeman’s Journal of May 30, 1781, signed PHOCION, AND IMPARTIAL. * [ First published in Philadelphia, May 23, 1781.] - Pelatiah Webster, Political Essays on the Nature and Operation of Money, Public Finances and Other Subjects 
Political Essays on the Nature and Operation of Money, Public Finances and Other Subjects, published during the American War, and continued up to the present Year, 1791 (Philadelphia: Joseph Crukshank, 1791).
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STRICTURES ON Two Publications in theFreeman’s Journalof May 30, 1781, signed PHOCION, AND IMPARTIAL.*
THESE authors, together with Timoleon, are the sons of darkness. The printers are not at liberty to give up their names. I take Phocion and Timoleon to be the same person. But as I suppose they are ashamed to be seen, I do not mean to disoblige them by hauling them into light, but hope, whilst it is impossible for me to know who they are, it will be deemed very absurd to suppose any thing I write, designed for a personal application to either of them. Phocion says, that “the Citizen has insinuated that no merchant could have advised the continuance of the exchange at 75 in April last.” This is not true,Phocion; you do depart from the fact; and you know youdo. Had you kept to the fact, your sentence would have stood thus, viz. The Citizen denies that any respectable merchants ever infarmed the Council that the true or current exchange of specie was 75 in April last.
On this I have challenged Timoleon, and now challenge Phocion. It is mean for you, Phocion, to sneak out from the point in question, by such an artful but pitiful evasion. A man of character would be ashamed of it; but it is easier to blush in the dark than before company.
You go on to mention mr. Robert Morris, as having given his opinion and advice to publish “the exchange in April at 75.” I have reason to believe that this is not true; that mr. Robert Morris never was consulted in April last, nor did give any opinion or advice about publishing the exchange so late as April last; and that his opinion at that time was decidedly for publishing the exchange as high as the truth, if it was determined to publish it at all.
Mr. Phocion has called up mr. Morris’s name, which obliges me to do the same. Mr. Morris is easily consulted, and will doubtless inform, if desired, what he did say on the subject to which I refer.
At an earlier period, say the beginning of February or March, when the exchange stood with little variation, and the subsequent rise of it was not foreseen; when the effects of the tender law could not be known; many merchants, and mr. Morris among them, might think it dangerous to shock the then state of our trade and currency by any unnatural and sudden start of the exchange, and might give it as their opinion and advice to publish it at 75. But if this is admitted ever so true, it does not follow that any of them ever meant to intimate thereby, that the true exchange even in February or March, much less in April last, was 75.
Therefore, the whole matter does not contain any the least contradiction to any thing which I have asserted, is therefore a manifest departure from the fact in question, and of course is just so much foreign matter lugged in for the mere purpose of artful shuffle and deception.
Mr. Phocion, you must stick better to the point; it is shameful to start, shuffle, and evade the true matter which labours at bar; you must keep to the fact; if you do not do this for yourself, I will do it for you; for I can and will hold you so close, that it shall not be in your power to squirm out of the grasp which pinches you. Farewell.
Now mr. Impartial calls for my attention a moment. It would be hard to take no notice of this man, who seems to be boiling over with gallish matter, and to have taken great pains to scrape together a considerable number of very hard, black words, suitable to express it. It is easy to see what sort of a blowing genius this is, by only casting an eye over his “crude revilements, villanies, hollow principles, pestilent spirit, jaundiced eyes, feculencies of wealth, execrable characters, stream of discord, Sodom, false patriot,because jealous,sneer of the States, disappointment and malice, which areimmortalwith the wickedafter their death,” to which may be added his poor old hackneyed word, “junto,” which he has honored with large employment in this service.
But I must beg to be excused from following him thro’ such a foul thicket of hard names, coarse scurrility, and low dirt. I can easily believe he is not acquainted with President Reed, tho’ I cannot so easily admit that he is acquainted with his government, yet it is very clear he means to defend it; but as he seems to be very scant of matter, and barren of argument, it may be deemed a good-natured action to help him out a little. We generally judge of our governors as we do of our carpenters, by the goodness of their work when it is done.
I will therefore attempt to lay down some general rules, marks, or signs, by which a good or bad government may be distinguished; by the help of which mr. Impartial may, if he pleases, elucidate and embellish the government of his hero, and support it with some kind of argument, which will probably have more weight with the public, than any loud-sounding, hollow encomiums whatever.
1. When the laws protect the persons and property of the subject, the government is good: but it must be weak or wicked, when the laws are so framed, as in their operation to injure and oppress the subject in his person or estate.
2. When the laws are held in general reverence by the people, the government is good: but it must be bad, when the laws are generally considered as iniquitous, and execrated as such.
3. When the laws restrain wicked men, and support, protect, and encourage honesty, upright dealings, and industry, the government is good: but when the laws let all the rogues in the community loose on the honest and industrious citizen, the government must be very weak or wicked.
4. When men of grave wisdom, proper abilities, and known integrity, are put into office, the government is good: but when we see men of wild projection, doubtful morals, and inadequate abilities, crowding themselves by address and corruption into office, the confidence of the people in the government must be lost, and the administration itself must be very weak.
5. When the laws are made a rule of duty, and bulwark of safety and protection to the subject, the government is good: but when we see people imprisoned, persecuted, and ruined, without trial, conviction, or a day in court, the administration will be deemed bad. The worst man that ever lived has a right to a day in court, to a cool hearing, and an opportunity to say, by himself or counsel, all which he fairly can for himself.
6. When the laws are gravely administered by the proper officers, the government is good: but when mobs, riots, and insurrections infest the community, and disturb the public peace; when the force of the community is put under any other direction than that of the law; the government becomes dangerous, and all security is lost.
7. When the forces and resources of a State are so modelled, put into order, and under such control, that both may be called into action and use, when, and to such degree as the public safety requires, the government is good: but when the public debts are unliquidated or unpaid, the army ill-supplied or ill-paid, the force of the State dwindling away, and the means of preservation lost, the administration must be amazingly bad, and the State in a condition of most alarming danger.
8. When the trade, agriculture, and mechanic arts, those great sources of, not the wealth only, but even morality, of a country, are properly encouraged, the government is good: but when we see our merchants drove, by the oppression of the laws, or absurdity of administration, out of the State, and the farmers and tradesmen following them with their produce and fabrics, the government must be bad indeed.
9. When the dignity of public boards, and the personal respectability of public men, are well kept up in the minds of the people, the government is good: but when the public boards are execrated as wanting common honesty or prudence, and public men cursed, hated, and despised, as void of honor, truth, skill, and uprightness, the government must be bad.
10. When we see the officers of government carefully attending to the forms, decisions, and spirit of the laws, which secure the liberty of the subject, the government is good: but when we see officers in the great departments eagerly and impatiently grasping at enormous, dangerous, and arbitrary powers, attempting to deprive the subject of the rights of a jury, the habeas corpus, and other essential legal forms of process and trial, we have reason to apprehend the government is bad. These are the very tyrannies of the British court, and are ranked among the capital articles of complaint, on which we ground our war against them, and separation from them.
11. A good government is willing to come to the light, and to explain the public movements to the understandings of the subject: bad governments are more impatient of examination, are apt to complain of the liberty of the press, and when remarks are made on their measures with ever so much propriety, truth, and modesty, they rarely attend with candor, but endeavour to divert the attention of the public by artful evasions of the matter in question, and instead of answers, entertain their fellow-citizens either with fulsome rapture of panegyric, or declamations of personal abuse, or foul scurrility, neither of which has the most distant relation to the grievances complained of, and which require their explanation.
It may be objected that the above rules, as far as they relate to the laws, will not apply, because it luckily happens that our constitution does not vest the President with the power of legislation; it is equally true, that our constitution does not empower the President to raise mobs, and appoint committees, and therefore the objection may go to that part too. Upon this I have only to observe, that the whole management of the public affairs, which is supposed to be under the great influence of any prime mover, is commonly called the administration or government of such a minister.
But as I am not going to make use of any of these rules for myself, but wrote them solely for the benefit of mr. Impartial, he or any body else that reads them, may leave out all which he thinks not for his purpose, and make use of, and apply, such of them only as he thinks apropos.
On the whole I have to observe to Timoleon, Phocion, Impartial, and every other writer, that if any of them are disposed to object to the truth of any fact or principle which I have advanced or may advance, and will state their objections fairly and candidly, I shall have pleasure in giving them all the information in my power; but if they are disposed to run off in a tangent, thro’ the endless wilds of abuse, personal reflection, and scurrility, in which the public can have no concern, I must beg leave to inform them once for all, that I think it inconsistent with the respect I owe the public, and the dignity of character I mean to assume to myself, to follow them in such a dirty career. I have neither talents nor taste for that kind of writing.
I mean to address the understanding of my readers, not their passions, their biasses, much less their corrupt taste. I mean to write on very serious, important subjects, and wish to convince and inform serious minds. I have no more ambition to be thought a witling, a punster, or sharp dealer in squibs or innuendoes, than I have to be reputed an able bruiser, a sly stabber, or an accomplished assassin.
Facts and principles are my only objects, and the public good the great end I have in view, and it is painful to me to be diverted from my course by objects of low wit, seurrility, or scandal, which can only raise a laugh, or a grin, without the least advantage to the public.
Since writing the above, I find mr. Phocion begins to acknowledge and mend his errors. I doubt not he was compelled to this by force of very strong conviction. It is human to err, it is honorable to own and correct an error, it is diabolical to persist in an error after conviction. I am rejoiced to see so honorable a motion in mr. Phocion, and I hope he will go on in the good way, till all his errors and mistakes are corrected.*
[* ]Phocion appeared in the Freeman’s Journal of May 30, 1781, when, in answer to my challenge, he, with great triumph, produced Robert Morris, esq. who, he says, advised publishing the exchange at 75 for 1, in April last; which, if true, would have been nothing to the purpose.
But he appeared again in the Journal of June 6, with a recantation of what he had published about mr. Morris.—Impartial appeared in the same paper of May 30, and is, I suppose, the same person with Timoleon and Phocion, or, which comes to about the same thing, some heated partisan of the same cast.
He set out with blackening the Citizen and all the Republican party with rancor enough, and concludes with a labored panegyric of mr. Reed’s government. Any body who wishes to see any of these pieces, may find them in the Freeman’s Journal, as above quoted.
[* ] It may be worth notice here, that the tender-act which was to be supported by the precious plan of regulating the exchange month by month by the definitions and publications of the Council, and the vain and ridiculous attempts of the Council to put the same into execution (all which make the subject of these remarks and publications) I say, the said tender-act and subsequent resolutions produced such unexpected, wild, and pernicious effects, as not only gave a mortal wound to the Continental money, but proved also to be the last efforts, the dying struggles of the whole system of tenderacts, of limitations of prices of goods, of regulating the market, and defining the value of money by laws and acts of force.
For we find that the Assembly of Pennsylvania, with the recommendation of Congress, on June 2, 1781, repealed all the tender-acts then existing in that State, and discharged all penalties and forfeitures annexed to them, and the like was done about the same time in all the other States.
And so strongly is the injustice of that wild system impressed on the general mind, that it is an article in most of the constitutions since published, that all contracts shall be fulfilled according to the true and honest intention of them.