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Pickering, Timothy (1745-1829) to Samuel Holton

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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC01579.01 Author/Creator: Pickering, Timothy (1745-1829) Place Written: Salem, Massachusetts Type: Autograph letter signed Date: 16 October 1775 Pagination: 2 p. ; 32 x 20 cm.

Summary of Content: Written to fellow jurist Samuel Holton discussing the qualifications of a justice, the readiness of the American forces, and George Washington's opinion of his own army. Satirizes another judge who thinks all judges should have "the prime qualities of an executioner." He believes "the proper qualifications of a judge" are "integrity, ability, & knowledge of the law...a discerner between truth & falsehood, right and wrong." Believes that the colonies were not ready for war, and are still unprepared now, but insists in his full patriotism despite these doubts. Says Washington "declared to me last week" that "he is obliged to remain most mortifyingly inactive" because his troops are unprepared.

Background Information: Timothy Pickering was a judge who entered the war as a militia colonel. His distinguished service drew George Washington's attention and brought him onto Washington's staff. Later served as adjutant ...general under Washington, quartermaster general of the Continental Army, and Congressman from Massachusetts.
Samuel Holton held a number of local offices, serving as a judge, delegate to the Essex county convention in 1774, served in the Provincial congresses of 1774-'5, was a member of the committee of safety of July, 1776, and of the superior executive council. He was a delegate to frame the confederation of 1777, a delegate to congress in 1778-'83, and again in 1793-'5, and a member of the State constitutional convention of 1789.
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Full Transcript: Salem Octr. 16. 1775.
Dear Sir,
I cannot forbear expressing my surprize at the principle advanced by a certain gentleman, with respect to the appointment of civil officers: To be consistent, he ...should go one step farther; or rather be more explicit, & say - that unless a man has a brawny arm, & the heart of a lion - or, in other words, if he possess not the prime qualities of an executioner, he is unfit for a judge! -But, for my own part, I would chuse to bear the reproach of humanity, & a tender feeling for my brethren of mankind, especially my fellow-citizens, on the point of being exposed to all the calamities; the numberless calamities, of civil war, rather than, upon opposite principles, to be advanced to the highest posts, & so possess with infamy the reward of savage ferocity and barbarism. - What does common sense pronounce to be the proper qualifications of a judge? Are they other than these - integrity, ability, & knowledge of the law? - Who in searching for a judge, a discerner between truth & falsehood, right & wrong, would, before all things, inquire for a man of conquering attributes, for a hero? - With regard to the instance in question, 'tis true, I differed in opinion from some others: I said we were not prepared for war; and that war to me appeared not unavoidable: hence arose my wishes still longer to forbear avowed hostilities. Dr. Warren, a man deservedly esteemed & honored, urged strenuously the pushing into Boston, & cutting off the troops before a reinforcement should arrive: I declared instantly my opinion that it was then impracticable: I know my opinion did not prevent it; but it was not done. And were I to say, even now, that the colonies are unprepared for war, - the declaration would not be wholly destitute of truth. Ask General Washington - he'll tell you he is obliged to remain most mortifyingly inactive, & receive, without reply, the enemy's unceasing insults. This he declared to me last week. - But admitting my opinion to be unfounded: must I from thence be concluded my country's enemy, or timid friend? - Suffer me to mention a fact. In 1745, in our house of representatives, the question was agitated - Is it practicable to take Louisbourg? - It was long & calmly debated; & at length determined in the affirmative by a majority of one voice only. What now was to be done with the minority? Should they be expelled the house, & excluded from offices, because they were less sanguine than their brethren? - The cases, I think are not wholly unlike. The question being once determined, the minority were as active as their opponents, in setting forward the expedition; and by a remarkable series of fortunate events, it happily succeeded. God grant our present enterprize may be alike successful! - My efforts have not been wanting, to the utmost of my ability: and had I been actually a member of the army, I could scarcely have spent more time in its service. Since the 19th of April, one month would much more than comprize all my labour & attention to my own affairs. And a hundred pounds lawful money would not tempt me again to go through the application & fatigue of writing my military treatise.
You will, Sir; excuse this tedious epistle: I am bound in justice to myself, to show how extremely unreasonable it would be to refuse me, for the trifling cause referred to (or rather for no cause at all) such offices as I am qualified to discharge. I do not say this because I regret my missing a certain appointment: I repeat what I told you - that, whatever I may be hereafter, when study & experience have matured my judgment, I am, at present, unfit for that important trust. Had the appointment taken place, I think I must have declined it, lest I should, by accepting it, disgrace myself, & injure & dishonour my country. For the present is the most important period since the colony was founded; and never was there a greater necessity of filling the offices of government with men of integrity, ability & knowledge; both on account of the difficulty of the times, and that our adversaries & prosperity may have no ground for villifying, stinging reflections: for sorry should I be to see the colony again reproached, and its Senators & leaders stiled ignonimously, "Dü minorum gentisum."*
I do not repeat my petition: you know me: so do others: and your discernment, & sense of the dignity becoming freemen, will leave you to expect no servile intreaties from me: a slave may present them at the Shrine of power; but a liberal mind will reject the offering with disdain.

I am, dear Sir,
with great regard,
your obliged friend & servant

Tim. Pickering junr
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People: Pickering, Timothy, 1745-1829
Holten, Samuel, 1738-1816

Historical Era: American Revolution, 1763-1783

Subjects: LawJudiciaryRevolutionary WarPresidentContinental ArmyMorality and EthicsDeath PenaltyPatriotismMilitary History

Sub Era: The War for Independence

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