Samuel Adams Heritage Society

Letter to Noah Webster (1784)

Sam Adams argues that the congress should support the military and compensate them accordingly, as they have a duty to defend the country against the British invaders. Congress should vote to extend full pay for five years to all military officers.


…Some time in the Month of September last, a Gentleman in Connecticutt requested me to give him my Opinion of a Subject, perhaps too much altercated in that State as well as this, The Commutation of half Pay granted by Congress to the Officers of the late Army for Life for full Pay during the Term of five years. I did not hesitate to say in Return, that in my Opinion Congress was, in the Nature of their Appointment, the sole Judge of the necessary Means of supporting the late Army raised for the Defence of our Common Rights against the Invasions of Great Britain; and if, upon their own deliberate Councils & the repeated Representations of the Commander in Chiefe of the Army, they judgd that the Grant of half Pay for Life was a Measure absolutely necessary for the Support of a disciplined Army for the Purpose before mentiond, they had an undoubted Right to make it; and as it was made in behalf of the United States by their Representative authorizd to do it, each State was bound in Justice & Honor to comply with it, even tho it should seem to any to have been an ill judgd Measure; because States & Individual Persons are equally bound to fulfill their Obligations, and it is given as Characteristick of an honest Man, that “though he sweareth (or promiseth) to his own hurt he changeth not.” I moreover acquainted him, that although I was never pleasd with the Idea of half Pay for Life, for Reasons which appeard satisfactory to myself, some of which I freely explaind to him, yet I had always thought, that as the Opportunities of the Officers of the Army of acquiring moderate Fortunes or making such Provision for their Families as Men generally wish to make, were not equal to those of their Fellow Citizens at home, it would be but just & reasonable, that an adequate Compensation should be made to them at, or as soon as conveniently might be after, the End of the War; and that he might therefore conclude, that the Commutation, if it be an adequate Compensation had fully coincided with my Ideas of Justice & Policy.

Nothing was mentiond in his Letter to me, of the Nature or the Proceedings of County Conventions, & therefore I made no Observation upon them. I hope it will not be in the Power of any designing Men, by imposing upon credulous tho’ well meaning Persons long to keep this Country, who may be happy if they will, long in a State of Discord & Animosity. We may see, from the present State of Great Britain, how rapidly such a Spirit will drive a Nation to destruction. It is prudent for the People to keep a watchful Eye over the Conduct of all those who are entrusted with Publick Affairs. Such Attention is the Peoples great Security. But there is Decency & Respect due to Constitutional Authority, and those Men, who under any Pretence or by any Means whatever, would lessen the Weight of Government lawfully exercised, must be Enemies to our happy Revolution & the Common Liberty. County Conventions & popular Committees servd an excellent Purpose when they were first in Practice. No one therefore needs to regret the Share he may then have had in them. But I candidly own it is my Opinion, with Deferrence to the Opinions of other Men, that as we now have constitutional & regular Governments and all our Men in Authority depend upon the annual & free Elections of the People, we are safe without them. To say the least, they are become useless. Bodies of Men, under any Denomination whatever, who convene themselves for the Purpose of deliberating upon & adopting Measures which are cognizable by Legislatures only will, if continued, bring Legislatures to Contempt & Dissolution. If the publick Affairs are illy conducted, if dishonest or incapable Men have crept unawares into Government, it is happy for us, that under our American Constitutions the Remedy is at hand, & in the Power of the great Body of the People. Due Circumspection & Wisdom at the next Elections will set all right, without the Aid of any self Created Conventions or Societies of Men whatever. While we retain those simple Democracies in all our Towns which are the Basis of our State Constitutions, and make a good Use of them, it appears to me we cannot be enslaved or materially injured. It must however be confessd, that Imperfection attends all human affairs.

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