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“Shew Yourselves to be Freemen”: Herman Husband and the North Carolina Regulators, 1769

In the decade preceding the American Revolution, settlers spilling into new inland settlements created increased social conflict along with economic opportunity. Those living in the backcountry demanded better political representation in the colonial government, as well as government action to remove Indians from those inland areas. The North Carolina Regulator movement of farmers, tenants, and laborers challenged the government in the 1760s; they accused the coastal elite of corruption and monopolization of government offices. Often settlers found land speculators had already claimed the best lands. Herman Husband, the author of this tract, was the most prominent agitator in the regulator movement. A man of great contradictions, he held land grants of over 8000 acres yet also advanced new democratic ideas in his writings. In this pamphlet he challenged the undemocratic basis of Carolina’s government and urged his fellow backcountry residents to vote out their corrupt representatives.

To the INHABITANTS of the Province of North-Carolina.

Dear Brethren,

Nothing is more common than for Persons who look upon themselves to be injured than to resent and complain. These are sounded aloud, and plain in Proportion to the Apprehension of it. Our Fearfulness too, frequently augment our real as well as apparent Dangers. Let us adjust our Complaints or Resentments to the Reality as well as the Nature of the Injury received.

Excess in any Matter breeds Contempt; whereas strict Propriety obtains the Suffrage of every Class. The Oppression of inferior Individuals must only demand Tutelage of Superiors; and in civil Matters our Cries should reach the authorative Ear, when the Weight that crusheth from the higher Powers. ————But when imposed by the Populace, to the Populace our Complaints must extend.———— When therefore the Cry of any City, Province or Nation is general, it must be generally directed to the Source from whence the Cry is caused.

The late Commotions and crying Dissatisfactions among the common People of this Province, is not unknown nor unfelt by any thinking Person.————No Person among you could be at a Loss to find out the true Cause.————I dare venture to assert you all advised to the Application of the Public Money;————these you saw misapplied to the enriching of Individuals, or at least embezzled in some way without defraying the publick Expenses. Have not your Purses been pillaged by the exorbitant and unlawful Fees taken by Officers, Clerks, &c.————I need not mention the intolerable expensive Method of Recovery by Law, occasioned by the narrow Limits of the inferior Court’s Jurisdiction.———Have you not been grieved to find the Power of our County Courts so curtailed, that scarce the Shadow u/ Power is left./ This Body, however respectable, is intrusted with little more than might pertain to the Jurisdiction of a single Magistrate, or at least two or three Justices of the Peace in Conjunction.——In Consequence of this, very small Sums drags us to Superior Courts.———These must be attended with all our Evidences, altho many- at the Distance of 150 Miles. Add to this a double Fee to all Officers; hence we are made feelingly sensible, that our necessary Expenses, with the additional Costs, are equal, if not surpass the original Sum.

For what End was the. Jurisdiction of the Courts reduced to such narrow Limits'? Is it not to fill the Superior Houses with Business? Why has the Authority fallen upon this wonderful Expedient? Is it not evident, that this was calculated for the Emolument of Lawyers, Clerks, &c. What other Reason can be assigned for this amazing Scheme?————none Brethren, none!

Has not the Charges of Government been unnecessarily raised, to the great Encrease of the Publick Tax? Has not the Publick Money been intrusted in Hands of insufficient Persons, without sufficient Securities, or due Care taken in accounting for, and recovering the same? Has not this often reduced us to the disagreeable Necessity of contributing or paying by Tax the Sum once raised— but through Carelessness or Neglect, or something worse, uselessly consumed? To what doth this tend? is not the Issue manifestly the Impoverishment of the Country?—fatal Consequences.

The Exorbitant, not to say unlawful Fees, required and assumed by Officers,————the unnecessary, not to say destructive Abridgement of a Court’s Jurisdiction,—the enormous Encrease of the provincial Tax unnecessary; these are Evils of which no Person can be insensible, and which T doubt not has been lamented by each of you. It must have obliged you to examine from what Quarter Relief might be found against these sad Calamities————In vain will you search for a Remedy until you find out the Disease.

Many are accusing the Legislative Body as the Source of all those woeful Calamities.——— These, it must be confessed, are the instrumental Cause; they can, yea do impose some of these heavy Burdens. ————But whence received they- this Power? Is not their Power delegated from the Populace? The original principal Cause is our own blind stupid Conduct.

If it be queried, How doth our Conduct contribute to this? Answer presents itself——'We have chosen Persons to represent us to make Laws, &c. whose former Conduct and Circumstance might have given us the highest Reason to expect they would sacrifice the true Interest of their Country to Avarice, or Ambition, or both.

I need not inform you, that a Majority of our Assembly is composed of Lawyers, Clerks, and others in Connection with them, while by our own Voice we have excluded the Planter.————Is it not evident their own private Interest is, designed in the whole Train of our Laws?————We have not the least Reason to expect the Good of the Farmer, and consequently of the Community, will be consulted, by those who hang on Favour, or depend on the Intricacies of the Laws. —What can be expected from those who have ever discovered a Want of good Principles, and whose highest Study is the Promotion of their Wealth; and with whom the Interest of the Publick, when it comes in Competition with their private Advantages, is suffered to sink?—nothing less than the Ruin of the Publick.————Have we not hitherto, in a great Degree, chosen such Men as have been described? Nay, have they not been such as are dependant in their Fortunes, with great Expectations from others, or enjoy Places of Benefit and Trust in the Government? Doth not Reason declare we might expect such cringing Vassals would readily sacrifice the Interest of the Community to the Idol Self? ————Are not such Persons utterly disqualified for supporting our Rights and Properties?——— Is it not high Time to seek an Antidote against such deadly Poison, before it utterly destroys us?

But you will say, what is the Remedy against this malignant Disease?

I will venture to prescribe a sovereign one if duly applied; that is, as you have now a fit Opportunity, choose for your Representatives or Burgesses such Men as have given you the strongest Reason to believe they are truly honest: Such as are disinterested, publick spirited, who will not allow their private Advantage once to stand in Competition with the public Good.

You grant the Prescription is sovereign: But how shall you obtain such? I answer: Let your Judgment be formed on their past Conduct; let them be such as have been unblamable in Life, independent in their Fortunes, without Expectations from others; let them be such as enjoy no Places of Benefit under the Government; such as do not depend upon Favour for their Living, nor do derive Profit or Advantage from the intricate Perplexity of the Law. In short, let them be Men whose private Interest neither doth nor can clash with the Interest or special Good of their Country.

Are you not sensible, Brethren that we have too long groaned in Secret under the Weight of these crushing Mischiefs? How long will ye in this servile Manner subject yourselves to Slavery? Now shew yourselves to be Freemen, and for once assert your Liberty and maintain your Rights————This, this Election let us exert our-selves, and show, that we will not through Fear, Favour or Affection, bow and subject ourselves to those who, under the Mask of Friendship, have long drawn Calamities upon us.

Should we now through Fear or Favour act as we have done, contrary to Duty and Interest; so far as we do this, we contribute to all the Mischief consequent upon it.———Where then is that moving Principle Self-preservation? Will you, can you, voluntarily submit yourselves to Ignominy and Want? These will agrandize themselves and swim in Opulence.

Have they not monopolized your Properties; and what is wanting but Time to draw from you the last Farthing? Who that has the Spirit of a Man could endure this"? Who that has the least Spark of Love to his Country or to himself would bear the Delusion?

In a special Manner then, let us, at this Election, rouse all our Powers to act like free publick spirited Men, knowing that he that betrays the Cause now betrays his Country, and must sink in the general Ruin.

And as the Inhabitants of Rowan could get no Indictments preferred against their Officers in Salisbury District, they had sent to us, and J— H—r went to their assistance; and by the Letter following you my form some Idea how Matters were carried on, viz.

Salisbury, September, 14, 1769.

Source: Herman Husband, An Impartial Relation of the First and Causes of the Recent Differences in Public Affairs Etc ([Newbern? N.C., 1770), 64–68.