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most difficult to execute, where you have not the transgressor himself in your possession.
Humanity will ever interfere, and plead strongly against the sacrifice of an innocent person for the guilt of another.
THE CASE OF CAPTAIN ASGILL.
The enemy, persisting in that barbarous line of conduct which they have pursued during the course of this war, have lately most inhumanly executed Captain Joshua Huddy, of the Jersey State troops, taken prisoner by them at a post on Tom's river. In consequence, I have written to the British Commander-inchief, that, unless the perpetrators of that horrid deed were delivered up, I should be under the disagreeable necessity of retaliating, as the only means left to put a stop to such inhuman proceedings.
You will, therefore, immediately, on receipt of this, designate by lot, for the purpose, a British captain, who is an unconditional prisoner, if such a one is in your possession.
I need not mention to you, that every possible tenderness that is consistent with the security of him, should be shown to the person whose unfortunate lot it may be to suffer.
* Brigadier-General Hazen.
NECESSITY OF THE CASE.
Sincerely lamenting the cruel necessity, which alone can induce so distressing a measure in the present instance, I do assure your Excellency, that I am as earnestly desirous as you can be, that the war may be carried on agreeably to the rules which Humanity formed, and the example of the politest nations recommends.
Keenly wounded as my feelings will be, at the deplorable destiny of the unhappy victim, no gleam of hope can arise to him, but from the conduct of the enemy themselves. This he may be permitted to communicate to the British Commander-in-chief, in whose power alone it rests to avert the impending vengeance from the innocent, by executing it on the guilty.
THE CASE COMPASSIONATED.
While my duty calls me to make this decisive determination, humanity prompts a tear for the unfortunate offering, and inclines me to say, that I most devoutly wish his life may be spared. In the mean time, I must beg that you† will be pleased to treat Captain Asgill with every tender attention and politeness, (con
*General Robertson, the British Commander-in-chief. + Colonel Elias Dayton.
sistent with his present situation,) which his rank, fortune, and connections, together with his unfortunate state demand.
APPROVAL OF THE PROCEDURE.
I feel myself exceedingly distressed on this occasion ; but my resolutions having been taken on the most mature deliberation, supported by the approbation of Congress, and grounded on the general concurrence of all the principal officers of the army, who were particularly consulted, they cannot be receded from.
Justice to the army and the public, my own honor, and, I think I may venture to say, UNIVERSAL BENEVOLENCE, require them to be carried into full execution. It rests, therefore, with the British Commander-inchief, to prevent this unhappy measure from taking effect.
CAPTAIN ASGILL RELEASED BY CONGRESS.
The letter of Asgill, and the situation of his father, which I am made acquainted with by the British prints, work too powerfully upon my humanity, not to wish that Congress would chalk a line for me to walk by, in this business.
It affords me singular pleasure, to have it in my power to transmit to you* the inclosed copy of an Act * Captain Asgill.
of Congress, of the 7th instant, by which you are released from the disagreeable circumstances in which you have so long been.† Supposing, that you would wish to go into New York as soon as possible, I also inclose a passport for that purpose.
I cannot take leave of you, sir, without assuring you, that, in whatever light my agency in this unpleasant affair may be viewed, I was never influenced, through the whole of it, by sanguinary motives, but by what I conceived to be a sense of duty, which loudly called upon me to take measures, however disagreeable, to prevent a repetition of those enormities which have been the subject of discussion. And that this important end is likely to be answered, without the effusion of the blood of an innocent person, is not a greater relief to you, than to me.
PARDON OF CRIMINALS.
As you were pleased to leave it to my discretion, to punish or pardon the criminals, I have resolved on
* November, 1782.
Captain Lippincot, charged with the murder of Captain Huddy, was, by a wicked connivance, acquitted by a British court-martial. But such representations were made, and such satisfactory assurances were given, to Congress, that it was deemed proper to release Captain Asgill.
the latter, since I find example of so little weight, and since those poor unhappy criminals have undergone no small pain of body and mind, in a dark prison, closely ironed.
EMANCIPATION OF SLAVES.
The scheme which you
propose, as a precedent to encourage the emancipation of the black people in this country, from the state of bondage in which they are held, is a striking evidence of the benevolence of your heart.
I shall be happy to join you, in so laudable a work.
ABOLITION OF SLAVERY.
There is not a man living, who wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a plan adopted, for the abolition of it. But there is only one proper and effectual mode by which it can be accomplished, and that is, by legislative authority.
This, as far as my suffrage will go, shall never be wanting. But when slaves, who are happy and contented with their present masters, are tampered with and seduced to leave them; when masters are taken unawares by these practices; when a conduct of this kind begets discontent on one side, and resentment on the