The Crisis X
On the Expenses, Arrangements and Disbursements for Carrying on
the War, and Finishing it With Honor and Advantage
[5 March, 1782]
To the People of America Common Sense
WHEN any necessity or occasion has pointed out the convenience of
addressing the public, I have never made it a consideration whether
the subject was popular or unpopular, but whether it was right or
wrong; for that which is right will become popular, and that which
is wrong, though by mistake it may obtain the cry or fashion of the
day, will soon lose the power of delusion, and sink into disesteem.
A remarkable instance of this happened in the case of Silas Deane;
and I mention this circumstance with the greater ease, because the
poison of his hypocrisy spread over the whole country, and every
man, almost without exception, thought me wrong in opposing him. The
best friends I then had, except Mr. [Henry] Laurens, stood at a
distance, and this tribute, which is due to his constancy, I pay to
him with respect, and that the readier, because he is not here to
hear it. If it reaches him in his imprisonment, it will afford him
an agreeable reflection.
"As he rose like a rocket, he would fall like a stick,"
is a metaphor which I applied to Mr. Deane, in the first piece which
I published respecting him, and he has exactly fulfilled the
description. The credit he so unjustly obtained from the public, he
lost in almost as short a time. The delusion perished as it fell,
and he soon saw himself stripped of popular support. His more
intimate acquaintances began to doubt, and to desert him long before
he left America, and at his departure, he saw himself the object of
general suspicion. When he arrived in France, he endeavored to
effect by treason what he had failed to accomplish by fraud. His
plans, schemes and projects, together with his expectation of being
sent to Holland to negotiate a loan of money, had all miscarried. He
then began traducing and accusing America of every crime, which
could injure her reputation. "That she was a ruined country;
that she only meant to make a tool of France, to get what money she
could out of her, and then to leave her and accommodate with
Britain." Of all which and much more, Colonel Laurens and
myself, when in France, informed Dr. Franklin, who had not before
heard of it. And to complete the character of traitor, he has, by
letters to his country since, some of which, in his own handwriting,
are now in the possession of Congress, used every expression and
argument in his power, to injure the reputation of France, and to
advise America to renounce her alliance, and surrender up her
independence.* Thus in France he abuses America, and in his letters
to America he abuses France; and is endeavoring to create disunion
between two countries, by the same arts of double-dealing by which
he caused dissensions among the commissioners in Paris, and
distractions in America. But his life has been fraud, and his
character has been that of a plodding, plotting, cringing mercenary,
capable of any disguise that suited his purpose. His final detection
has very happily cleared up those mistakes, and removed that
uneasiness, which his unprincipled conduct occasioned. Every one now
sees him in the same light; for towards friends or enemies he acted
with the same deception and injustice, and his name, like that of
Arnold, ought now to be forgotten among us. As this is the first
time that I have mentioned him since my return from France, it is my
intention that it shall be the last. From this digression, which for
several reasons I thought necessary to give, I now proceed to the
purport of my address.
* Mr. William Marshall, of this city [Philadelphia], formerly a
pilot, who had been taken at sea and carried to England, and got
from thence to France, brought over letters from Mr. Deane to
America, one of which was directed to "Robert Morris, Esq."
Mr. Morris sent it unopened to Congress, and advised Mr. Marshall to
deliver the others there, which he did. The letters were of the same
purport with those which have been already published under the
signature of S. Deane, to which they had frequent reference.
I consider the war of America against Britain as the country's war,
the public's war, or the war of the people in their own behalf, for
the security of their natural rights, and the protection of their
own property. It is not the war of Congress, the war of the
assemblies, or the war of government in any line whatever. The
country first, by mutual compact, resolved to defend their rights
and maintain their independence, at the hazard of their lives and
fortunes; they elected their representatives, by whom they appointed
their members of Congress, and said, act you for us, and we will
support you. This is the true ground and principle of the war on the
part of America, and, consequently, there remains nothing to do, but
for every one to fulfil his obligation.
It was next to impossible that a new country, engaged in a new
undertaking, could set off systematically right at first. She saw
not the extent of the struggle that she was involved in, neither
could she avoid the beginning. She supposed every step that she
took, and every resolution which she formed, would bring her enemy
to reason and close the contest. Those failing, she was forced into
new measures; and these, like the former, being fitted to her
expectations, and failing in their turn, left her continually
unprovided, and without system. The enemy, likewise, was induced to
prosecute the war, from the temporary expedients we adopted for
carrying it on. We were continually expecting to see their credit
exhausted, and they were looking to see our currency fail; and thus,
between their watching us, and we them, the hopes of both have been
deceived, and the childishness of the expectation has served to
increase the expense.
Yet who, through this wilderness of error, has been to blame? Where
is the man who can say the fault, in part, has not been his? They
were the natural, unavoidable errors of the day. They were the
errors of a whole country, which nothing but experience could detect
and time remove. Neither could the circumstances of America admit of
system, till either the paper currency was fixed or laid aside. No
calculation of a finance could be made on a medium failing without
reason, and fluctuating without rule.
But there is one error which might have been prevented and was not;
and as it is not my custom to flatter, but to serve mankind, I will
speak it freely. It certainly was the duty of every assembly on the
continent to have known, at all times, what was the condition of its
treasury, and to have ascertained at every period of depreciation,
how much the real worth of the taxes fell short of their nominal
value. This knowledge, which might have been easily gained, in the
time of it, would have enabled them to have kept their constituents
well informed, and this is one of the greatest duties of
representation. They ought to have studied and calculated the
expenses of the war, the quota of each state, and the consequent
proportion that would fall on each man's property for his defence;
and this must have easily shown to them, that a tax of one hundred
pounds could not be paid by a bushel of apples or an hundred of
flour, which was often the case two or three years ago. But instead
of this, which would have been plain and upright dealing, the little
line of temporary popularity, the feather of an hour's duration, was
too much pursued; and in this involved condition of things, every
state, for the want of a little thinking, or a little information,
supposed that it supported the whole expenses of the war, when in
fact it fell, by the time the tax was levied and collected, above
three-fourths short of its own quota.
Impressed with a sense of the danger to which the country was
exposed by this lax method of doing business, and the prevailing
errors of the day, I published, last October was a twelvemonth, the
Crisis Extraordinary, on the revenues of America, and the yearly
expense of carrying on the war. My estimation of the latter,
together with the civil list of Congress, and the civil list of the
several states, was two million pounds sterling, which is very
nearly nine millions of dollars.
Since that time, Congress have gone into a calculation, and have
estimated the expenses of the War Department and the civil list of
Congress (exclusive of the civil list of the several governments) at
eight millions of dollars; and as the remaining million will be
fully sufficient for the civil list of the several states, the two
calculations are exceedingly near each other.
The sum of eight millions of dollars have called upon the states to
furnish, and their quotas are as follows, which I shall preface with
the resolution itself.
"By the United States in Congress assembled.
"October 30, 1781.
"Resolved, That the respective states be called upon to
furnish the treasury of the United States with their quotas of eight
millions of dollars, for the War Department and civil list for the
ensuing year, to be paid quarterly, in equal proportions, the first
payment to be made on the first day of April next.
"Resolved, That a committee, consisting of a member from each
state, be appointed to apportion to the several states the quota of
the above sum.
"November 2d. The committee appointed to ascertain the
proportions of the several states of the monies to be raised for the
expenses of the ensuing year, report the following resolutions:
"That the sum of eight millions of dollars, as required to be
raised by the resolutions of the 30th of October last, be paid by
the states in the following proportion:
- New Hampshire ..........$...
- Massachusetts ...............
- Rhode Island.....................
- Connecticut ......................
- New York........................
- New Jersey......................
- Pennsylvania .................
- Delaware ........................
- Virginia ........................
- North Carolina ................
- South Carolina ................
- Georgia .............................24,905
"Resolved, That it be recommended to the several states, to
lay taxes for raising their quotas of money for the United States,
separate from those laid for their own particular use."
On these resolutions I shall offer several remarks.
1st, On the sum itself, and the ability of the country.
2d, On the several quotas, and the nature of a union. And,
3d, On the manner of collection and expenditure.
1st, On the sum itself, and the ability of the country. As I know
my own calculation is as low as possible, and as the sum called for
by congress, according to their calculation, agrees very nearly
therewith, I am sensible it cannot possibly be lower. Neither can it
be done for that, unless there is ready money to go to market with;
and even in that case, it is only by the utmost management and
economy that it can be made to do.
By the accounts which were laid before the British Parliament last
spring, it appeared that the charge of only subsisting, that is,
feeding their army in America, cost annually four million pounds
sterling, which is very nearly eighteen millions of dollars. Now if,
for eight millions, we can feed, clothe, arm, provide for, and pay
an army sufficient for our defence, the very comparison shows that
the money must be well laid out.
It may be of some use, either in debate or conversation, to attend
to the progress of the expenses of an army, because it will enable
us to see on what part any deficiency will fall.
The first thing is, to feed them and prepare for the sick.
Second, to clothe them.
Third, to arm and furnish them.
Fourth, to provide means for removing them from place to place.
Fifth, to pay them.
The first and second are absolutely necessary to them as men. The
third and fourth are equally as necessary to them as an army. And
the fifth is their just due. Now if the sum which shall be raised
should fall short, either by the several acts of the states for
raising it, or by the manner of collecting it, the deficiency will
fall on the fifth head, the soldiers' pay, which would be defrauding
them, and eternally disgracing ourselves. It would be a blot on the
councils, the country, and the revolution of America, and a man
would hereafter be ashamed to own that he had any hand in it.
But if the deficiency should be still shorter, it would next fall
on the fourth head, the means of removing the army from place to
place; and, in this case, the army must either stand still where it
can be of no use, or seize on horses, carts, wagons, or any means of
transportation which it can lay hold of; and in this instance the
country suffers. In short, every attempt to do a thing for less than
it can he done for, is sure to become at last both a loss and a
But the country cannot bear it, say some. This has been the most
expensive doctrine that ever was held out, and cost America millions
of money for nothing. Can the country bear to be overrun, ravaged,
and ruined by an enemy? This will immediately follow where defence
is wanting, and defence will ever be wanting, where sufficient
revenues are not provided. But this is only one part of the folly.
The second is, that when the danger comes, invited in part by our
not preparing against it, we have been obliged, in a number of
instances, to expend double the sums to do that which at first might
have been done for half the money. But this is not all. A third
mischief has been, that grain of all sorts, flour, beef fodder,
horses, carts, wagons, or whatever was absolutely or immediately
wanted, have been taken without pay. Now, I ask, why was all this
done, but from that extremely weak and expensive doctrine, that the
country could not bear it? That is, that she could not bear, in the
first instance, that which would have saved her twice as much at
last; or, in proverbial language, that she could not bear to pay a
penny to save a pound; the consequence of which has been, that she
has paid a pound for a penny. Why are there so many unpaid
certificates in almost every man's hands, but from the parsimony of
not providing sufficient revenues? Besides, the doctrine contradicts
itself; because, if the whole country cannot bear it, how is it
possible that a part should? And yet this has been the case: for
those things have been had; and they must be had; but the misfortune
is, that they have been obtained in a very unequal manner, and upon
expensive credit, whereas, with ready money, they might have been
purchased for half the price, and nobody distressed.
But there is another thought which ought to strike us, which is,
how is the army to bear the want of food, clothing and other
necessaries? The man who is at home, can turn himself a thousand
ways, and find as many means of ease, convenience or relief: but a
soldier's life admits of none of those: their wants cannot be
supplied from themselves: for an army, though it is the defence of a
state, is at the same time the child of a country, or must be
provided for in every thing.
And lastly, the doctrine is false. There are not three millions of
people in any part of the universe, who live so well, or have such a
fund of ability, as in America. The income of a common laborer, who
is industrious, is equal to that of the generality of tradesmen in
England. In the mercantile line, I have not heard of one who could
be said to be a bankrupt since the war began, and in England they
have been without number. In America almost every farmer lives on
his own lands, and in England not one in a hundred does. In short,
it seems as if the poverty of that country had made them furious,
and they were determined to risk all to recover all.
Yet, notwithstanding those advantages on the part of America, true
it is, that had it not been for the operation of taxes for our
necessary defence, we had sunk into a state of sloth and poverty:
for there was more wealth lost by neglecting to till the earth in
the years 1776, '77, and '78, than the quota of taxes amounts to.
That which is lost by neglect of this kind, is lost for ever:
whereas that which is paid, and continues in the country, returns to
us again; and at the same time that it provides us with defence, it
operates not only as a spur, but as a premium to our industry.
I shall now proceed to the second head, viz., on the several
quotas, and the nature of a union.
There was a time when America had no other bond of union, than that
of common interest and affection. The whole country flew to the
relief of Boston, and, making her cause, their own, participated in
her cares and administered to her wants. The fate of war, since that
day, has carried the calamity in a ten-fold proportion to the
southward; but in the mean time the union has been strengthened by a
legal compact of the states, jointly and severally ratified, and
that which before was choice, or the duty of affection, is now
likewise the duty of legal obligation.
The union of America is the foundation-stone of her independence;
the rock on which it is built; and is something so sacred in her
constitution, that we ought to watch every word we speak, and every
thought we think, that we injure it not, even by mistake. When a
multitude, extended, or rather scattered, over a continent in the
manner we were, mutually agree to form one common centre whereon the
whole shall move to accomplish a particular purpose, all parts must
act together and alike, or act not at all, and a stoppage in any one
is a stoppage of the whole, at least for a time.
Thus the several states have sent representatives to assemble
together in Congress, and they have empowered that body, which thus
becomes their centre, and are no other than themselves in
representation, to conduct and manage the war, while their
constituents at home attend to the domestic cares of the country,
their internal legislation, their farms, professions or employments,
for it is only by reducing complicated things to method and orderly
connection that they can be understood with advantage, or pursued
with success. Congress, by virtue of this delegation, estimates the
expense, and apportions it out to the several parts of the empire
according to their several abilities; and here the debate must end,
because each state has already had its voice, and the matter has
undergone its whole portion of argument, and can no more be altered
by any particular state, than a law of any state, after it has
passed, can be altered by any individual. For with respect to those
things which immediately concern the union, and for which the union
was purposely established, and is intended to secure, each state is
to the United States what each individual is to the state he lives
in. And it is on this grand point, this movement upon one centre,
that our existence as a nation, our happiness as a people, and our
safety as individuals, depend.
It may happen that some state or other may be somewhat over or
under rated, but this cannot be much. The experience which has been
had upon the matter, has nearly ascertained their several abilities.
But even in this case, it can only admit of an appeal to the United
States, but cannot authorise any state to make the alteration
itself, any more than our internal government can admit an
individual to do so in the case of an act of assembly; for if one
state can do it, then may another do the same, and the instant this
is done the whole is undone.
Neither is it supposable that any single state can be a judge of
all the comparative reasons which may influence the collective body
in arranging the quotas of the continent. The circumstances of the
several states are frequently varying, occasioned by the accidents
of war and commerce, and it will often fall upon some to help
others, rather beyond what their exact proportion at another time
might be; but even this assistance is as naturally and politically
included in the idea of a union as that of any particular assigned
proportion; because we know not whose turn it may be next to want
assistance, for which reason that state is the wisest which sets the
Though in matters of bounden duty and reciprocal affection, it is
rather a degeneracy from the honesty and ardor of the heart to admit
any thing selfish to partake in the government of our conduct, yet
in cases where our duty, our affections, and our interest all
coincide, it may be of some use to observe their union. The United
States will become heir to an extensive quantity of vacant land, and
their several titles to shares and quotas thereof, will naturally be
adjusted according to their relative quotas, during the war,
exclusive of that inability which may unfortunately arise to any
state by the enemy's holding possession of a part; but as this is a
cold matter of interest, I pass it by, and proceed to my third head,
viz., on the manner of collection and expenditure.
It has been our error, as well as our misfortune, to blend the
affairs of each state, especially in money matters, with those of
the United States; whereas it is our case, convenience and interest,
to keep them separate. The expenses of the United States for
carrying on the war, and the expenses of each state for its own
domestic government, are distinct things, and to involve them is a
source of perplexity and a cloak for fraud. I love method, because I
see and am convinced of its beauty and advantage. It is that which
makes all business easy and understood, and without which,
everything becomes embarrassed and difficult.
There are certain powers which the people of each state have
delegated to their legislative and executive bodies, and there are
other powers which the people of every state have delegated to
Congress, among which is that of conducting the war, and,
consequently, of managing the expenses attending it; for how else
can that be managed, which concerns every state, but by a delegation
from each? When a state has furnished its quota, it has an undoubted
right to know how it has been applied, and it is as much the duty of
Congress to inform the state of the one, as it is the duty of the
state to provide the other.
In the resolution of Congress already recited, it is recommended to
the several states to lay taxes for raising their quotas of money
for the United States, separate from those laid for their own
This is a most necessary point to be observed, and the distinction
should follow all the way through. They should be levied, paid and
collected, separately, and kept separate in every instance. Neither
have the civil officers of any state, nor the government of that
state, the least right to touch that money which the people pay for
the support of their army and the war, any more than Congress has to
touch that which each state raises for its own use.
This distinction will naturally be followed by another. It will
occasion every state to examine nicely into the expenses of its
civil list, and to regulate, reduce, and bring it into better order
than it has hitherto been; because the money for that purpose must
be raised apart, and accounted for to the public separately. But
while the, monies of both were blended, the necessary nicety was not
observed, and the poor soldier, who ought to have been the first,
was the last who was thought of.
Another convenience will be, that the people, by paying the taxes
separately, will know what they are for; and will likewise know that
those which are for the defence of the country will cease with the
war, or soon after. For although, as I have before observed, the war
is their own, and for the support of their own rights and the
protection of their own property, yet they have the same right to
know, that they have to pay, and it is the want of not knowing that
is often the cause of dissatisfaction.
This regulation of keeping the taxes separate has given rise to a
regulation in the office of finance, by which it is directed:
"That the receivers shall, at the end of every
month, make out an exact account of the monies received by them
respectively, during such month, specifying therein the names of
the persons from whom the same shall have been received, the dates
and the sums; which account they shall respectively cause to be
published in one of the newspapers of the state; to the end that
every citizen may know how much of the monies collected from him,
in taxes, is transmitted to the treasury of the United States for
the support of the war; and also, that it may be known what monies
have been at the order of the superintendent of finance. It being
proper and necessary, that, in a free country, the people should
be as fully informed of the administration of their affairs as the
nature of things will admit."
It is an agreeable thing to see a spirit of order and economy
taking place, after such a series of errors and difficulties. A
government or an administration, who means and acts honestly, has
nothing to fear, and consequently has nothing to conceal; and it
would be of use if a monthly or quarterly account was to be
published, as well of the expenditures as of the receipts. Eight
millions of dollars must be husbanded with an exceeding deal of care
to make it do, and, therefore, as the management must be reputable,
the publication would be serviceable.
I have heard of petitions which have been presented to the assembly
of this state (and probably the same may have happened in other
states) praying to have the taxes lowered. Now the only way to keep
taxes low is, for the United States to have ready money to go to
market with: and though the taxes to be raised for the present year
will fall heavy, and there will naturally be some difficulty in
paying them, yet the difficulty, in proportion as money spreads
about the country, will every day grow less, and in the end we shall
save some millions of dollars by it. We see what a bitter,
revengeful enemy we have to deal with, and any expense is cheap
compared to their merciless paw. We have seen the unfortunate
Carolineans hunted like partridges on the mountains, and it is only
by providing means for our defence, that we shall be kept from the
same condition. When we think or talk about taxes, we ought to
recollect that we lie down in peace and sleep in safety; that we can
follow our farms or stores or other occupations, in prosperous
tranquillity; and that these inestimable blessings are procured to
us by the taxes that we pay. In this view, our taxes are properly
our insurance money; they are what we pay to be made safe, and, in
strict policy, are the best money we can lay out.
It was my intention to offer some remarks on the impost law of five
per cent. recommended by Congress, and to be established as a fund
for the payment of the loan-office certificates, and other debts of
the United States; but I have already extended my piece beyond my
intention. And as this fund will make our system of finance
complete, and is strictly just, and consequently requires nothing
but honesty to do it, there needs but little to be said upon it.