The Papers of Henry Laurens

[Page 368]

William Wragg to Henry Laurens


I return you thanks for the Letter I received from you, & for those expressions of Civility you was pleased to make use of. Old as I am, I yet hope to see a return of those Halcyon Days, which you so truly & so emphatically stile happier times.[1]
As to the possibility of your defining a Contingency, or that a declaration from you as a man of sence, to whom reasons had been offered, & upon whom they were capable of operating, should conclude any opinion of the Committee, were too absurd to present themselves to my Imagination. I considered it only as your sentiment; in which I was confirmed by what you said to Mr Justice Savage,[2] who peremptorily asserting he would suffer any thing rather than subscribe, you observed to him, that you believed there was no intention that he should suffer. I claim no further benefit from it, than the happiness of thinking that you attended to the reasons given, & that they made a impression upon your Judgment. For I am perswaded you was fully convinced that it was not in the power of any body of men to force my signing; & that tho' you could not be certain of the event of an absolute Contingency, you might notwithstanding from your own feelings hazard a probable conjecture upon what you had heard._ But no more of that.
In relation to my desire of personally addressing the Committee they have themselves taken care to make it altogether unnecessary & ineffectual: For to render it of any use, the leave should have been given, before the passing their Sentence._ The Chairman of their Sub-Committee did not perform his Duty to them,[Page 369] nor keep his word with me, when he promised to make a faithful report. For tho' what he reported was true, that the Gentlemen had refused to take the Oath, yet it was not the whole truth; because I told him I was prepared to give my reasons against it, & made no doubt, as he said acted ministerially only, that I should be heard upon his Report. The Emperor Nerva was deified Sir, for uniting the two words Imperium et Libertas.[3] Can the Committee then lay claim to Immortality by a separation of them? Can Liberty be worth contending for or ever preserved, when the first principles, & the essential foundations of it are violated? Was it the practice in the happier times you speak of to condemn first, & afterwards to have the formality of a Hearing? Is it consistant with Justice, with Humanity? Does it not carry with it the strongest marks of Despotism to determine, in a case too little short I find of Capital, without the fullest Evidence? Is this "the noble plan of Power & Liberty delivered down from our renowned Forefathers."? The reasons I could have urged about the Arms stand upon the same foundation. Your Determination has here also taken the Lead: And it is too late for a man that is hanged to assign reasons against the injustice of his Doom. Therefore to avoid being troublesome to you, I pass them by in Silence.
I have not signed the Association; I have not taken the Oath; I have seen Sentence; & am still at a Loss to know my Offence. You will permit me to say your Proscription & Interdiction suppress the very cause of my Objection. You would have the World believe, by representing me "as refusing to give such Assurances as appeared expedient to require of me," that I had hostile intentions against the Associators: Now if you would ingenuously have published what the Assurance was that you thought expedient, & have given the words of the Oath tendered to me, they would have seen, & those who had any reading would have known the true Reason of it. It was not that I declined being neutral, since I could not act with you against my Honour & my Conscience, but it proceeded from a firm perswasion that it was criminal to administer or take an Oath not enjoined by Law; & that I should, as many Patriots &[Page 370] Friends to the Constitution have before said, betray the Common Liberty by submitting to it. Besides it degrades, & too lessens the Valour of the Associators by insinuating fears from the formidable power of twenty Gentlemen, whose Age, Disposition, & the Education of most of them have not formed them for enterprizes of this kind. Those who smile at this pretended cause of apprehension, may perhaps dive into the real, & not very deep motives of it. The Gist of any Crime in me must be by pursuing a Conduct to oppose your measures by force: Now, pray Sir, what steps can you trace that indicate any such design in me?
I shall comply with your order in going to my plantation before the expiration of the week; Whither I shall carry with me the most hearty, nay self-interested wishes for the Welfare of the Province, & the sense I have of your Politeness.

I am &ca.

Copy, AO 13/136, PRO; addressed "to Henry Laurens Esquire / in answer to one from him Septr 1st."; dated "1775 Septr 5th"; certified "No_ 2_ / True Copy from the Original / Examined by _ B. Villepontoux JP & NP_".
[1.] The "halcyon days" never returned for Wragg. He retired to his plantation "River Settlement" on the Ashley River until 1777 when he was threatened with banishment in sixty days if he did not sign an oath supporting independence. He sailed from Charleston in July and perished at sea during a storm off the coast of Holland, Sept. 2, 1777. Loyalist Transcripts, LV, 72-86.
[2.] Justice Edward Savage (d. 1786) had come to South Carolina in 1771 as Assistant Judge of the Court of Common Pleas and soon after his arrival was appointed a Judge of the Vice Admiralty Court. He claimed that he was imprisoned and subjected to other hardships between Aug. 31, 1775, and 1777 for refusing to sign the Association. In June 1777 he too was banished. He was ordered to return to Charleston in 1781 and remained there until the evacuation. Loyalist Transcripts, LVII, 124-133.
[3.] Marcus Cocceius Nerva, Emperor 96-98 A.D., saved Rome from civil war and returned it to liberal government after a series of tyrants. Under his reign "Empire and Liberty were reconciled." The Cambridge Ancient History (12 vols.: Cambridge, 1965-1975), XI, 199.