84. Brutus
Hampshire Gazette, 12 December 1787

BRUTUS, No. III.

In my former publication, I observed, that it was a notorious fact, that multitudes of these unhappy sufferers, (viz. debtors) were involved in their present difficulties, by public or private fraud or violence, or by providential and unavoidable misfortunes. Upon which Numa remarks, that “the manner in which men have come into debt, is but of little importance to the question, what is just in making payment; and is no reason in favour of any mode of relief, that is not perfectly just. And I think, adds he, I may say, the reason if it were good, would not apply in favour of the tender act, as Brutus would have it, &c.” But how does it appear that Brutus designed the above observation, as a reason in favour of the tender act? or of any other mode of relief for debtors, just or unjust? I should have supposed it sufficiently obvious to every candid and intelligent reader, that the special reason of this observation, was to show the impropriety and injustice of representing debtors in the gross, and without discrimination, as men void of honesty, enemies to good government, and stigmatizing them as persons of the most infamous characters; and deserving of nothing but to be loaded with infamy and reproach. These being the words immediately preceding the above observation, and with which it is particularly connected. And thus I apprehend, I have occasion in my turn, to complain of being misunderstood, or at least misrepresented, by Numa; tho’ I am far from admitting the truth of his observation, “that the manner in which men came into debt, is but of little importance to the question, what is just in making payment?” I suppose, that if persons are involved in debt, and rendered unable to pay, particularly in money, through the deficiency of public credit, or the violation of public faith, it is a matter of great importance in the question, and well worthy of legislative interposition, what is just in making payment; especially if the case supposed, be in any measure general and extensive as in the present instance. But he further observes, “that what I call a notorious fact, he shall take the liberty to call a high coloured misrepresentation, in abuse of the character of government.” I shall not take upon me to prove, that multitudes have been involved in debt and difficulties by the depreciation of paper currency; or to enumerate all the widows and orphans, ministers and soldiers, as well as others of various descriptions, who either in whole or in part, have been deprived of their fortunes, and reduced to distress and wretchedness, by the fraudulent use of this engine of iniquity. It being a fact of such public notoriety, and for a number of years so much the burden of complaint in almost every ones mouth, except such as were reaping the lucrative fruits of such iniquitous traffic, that to attempt to prove it, would be to hold up my candle to the sun! And I am not a little surprized that any gentleman of intelligence, and who hath a regard for his reputation, though under the mask of a fictitious character, should pretend to deny it, or call it a high coloured misrepresentation!

The rebuke which he kindly administers to me, for abusing the character of government, comes with a peculiar grace from a man, who hath spent so much time and paper, in publicly callumniating and vilifying the measures and administrations of government, and who hath been so liberal in his invectives and reproaches upon the first Magistrate of the Commonwealth—by propagating from the press the most broad and illiberal insinuations, that he was guilty of bribery, in doing an act of generosity; which instead of censure, might justly entitle him to the grateful elogium of his country. Perhaps Numa had forgot that it is written, “Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor speak evil of the ruler of thy people!” But it seems a Governor must suppress every generous feeling, and lay an embargo upon all his benevolent affections, and never do an act of liberality, lest he should incur the charge of bribery! Nay, if Numa’s censure be just, he must upon the same principle, avoid every thing in his conduct which should have a tendency to endear and recommend him to the affections of the people, and render him beloved and respected by them; lest he should be suspected of an insidious design to corrupt their minds and purchase their votes against the next election. He may indeed, eventually, relinquish a part of the salary of the ensuing year, on condition the people will be kind enough to afford him their votes, but by no means abate a fraction of what he hath in actual possession, lest he should infrienge upon the constitution. For who does not know, that a bird in the hand, is worth two in the bush? How different was the conduct of the pious and benevolent governor of Judah, in compassion to the burdens and distresses of his people, in a case very similar to ours, at the present day? “Moreover, says he, from the time that I was appointed to be their governor, in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year even unto the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes the king, I and my brethren have not eaten of the bread of the governor. But the former governors that were before me, had taken of the people, bread and wine, besides forty sheckles of silver. But so did not I, because of the fear of God.” Perhaps it may be alledged that Nehemiah was not chosen by the people. But is that a circumstance of such essential importance, as that the same conduct, which is justly to be celebrated for its piety and generosity in a royal governor, must be necessarily imputed to vile and mercinary motives in a governor chosen by the people; and subject him to a charge of bribery and corruption? If so, may we be delivered from elective governments, and be blessed with those who may be at liberty to do all the good they please; and give full scope to the benevolence of their hearts, and not be necessitated to conduct in such a manner, as would justly expose them to a charge of avarice, and a sordid covetous disposition, which hath ever been stigmatized as a vice of the first magnitude in a ruler; and as stamping an indelible mark of infamy upon his character. How widely different were the sentiments of the country concerning the conduct of the noble and magnanimous Washington, in rejecting the tender of a reward, for his important services, in the late war; from what this gentleman is pleased to insinuate, with regard to a similar instance of conduct in our present worthy commander in chief? And with what encomiums, and panegyrics, was that example of heroic generosity celebrated by his grateful country? But how grossly were they mistaken if these insinuations are just? To hate covetousness is insisted upon in sacred writ, as a qualification of the first importance in a ruler. But yet according to this writer, a ruler cannot exhibit a specimen of this qualification, and perform an act of generosity, but at the risk of bringing upon himself the odious imputation of bribery, and consequently proving himself disqualified for his office!

Before I conclude, it seems necessary to observe, that the opposition which Numa exhibits to the tender act, in his 11th number, in which he displays so much zeal and ardour, and so much force of argumentation, appears to be, at least in a great measure, impertinent to the subject in debate. He considers the tendry act, as an act of grace, or as designed to oblige creditors to relinquish a part of their dues, in favour to their debtors; or to confer gratuities to alms, acts of charity, &c. But who would have thought that Numa needed to be informed, that those who are friendly to this act, consider it in an entirely different light? viz. as an act of justice; making provision that the creditor may receive the full value of his debt, though in a way not so injurious to the debtor: or whereby his property should not be liable to be taken by the creditor, vastly below the value of it, or his person arrested and confined in gaol, while he is willing to pay his debts to the best of his ability. Thus a great part of his labour in this number might have been spared; as he has been contending without an antagonist, except one of his own creation. For I presume there are none who have pretended to plead for the tender act, considered in the light in which he hath been pleased to represent it.

The representation which Numa hath been pleased to give of my sentiments, in his 12th number, is manifestly groundless and injurious, that the candid and intelligent reader need but turn to my publication, in number 56 of this paper, for full satisfaction in this matter. And I am not afraid to challenge the fictius Numa to produce a passage from what I have there written, whereby it will appear to be my opinion, that capital punishments (indefinitely) are not to be admitted into the system of republican administration: Or that it is a maxim of mine, that punishments are not suited to a young community. Can Numa, or any other person of common understanding, pretend that there is no difference between saying “that the same severity and rigour, which might be necessary and efficacious, for the suppression of civil insurrections and convulsions in an absolute and monarchial government, which by age and long establishment, had acquired a sufficient degree of firmness and energy, would (that is probably, or according to the natural tendency of things) have a very different effect in an infant republic, attended with the peculiar circumstances of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts:” I say is there no difference between the above declaration, and declaring that capital punishments are suitable for those who rebel against kingly and despotic governments, but are not to be admitted into the system of republican administration? and that punishments are not suited to a young community? To me it appears, that Numa could not have given a clearer proof, that he was conscious of the justness and propriety of my observation, than by thus having recourse to the arts of collusion and misrepresentation, to make them appear rediculous and absurb.

With regard to his ungenerous insinuation, that I have sinister purposes to answer; I conceive it merits no other reply, than that of retaliation; or to observe that the charge is convertible, and may with, at least, equal force and propriety be retorted back on him from whom it came.