Nuts for Future Historians to Crack - Part 8

Part 8

Monday, October 24th, 1842._

In relation to this matter, we received through the Post-Office this morning, the following explanation from Valley Forge.

"Mr. WHITNEY:--I am unable to express my mortification at the unhappy and unexpected accident which has prevented my meeting the Messrs. Reed and Mr. John Spear Smith this evening, at the time and place appointed by them, for the purpose of having tested the authenticity of General Samuel Smith's letters to Colonel ----, Col. ---- is my near relative, and though in his ninety-third year, has till last Thursday, enjoyed the most excellent health for one of so advanced an age. As he will not permit the originals to be taken out his sight, I intended of course that he should accompany me as one of my three friends.

His sudden and severe illness has rendered this impossible; he refuses to part with the doc.u.ments even for a temporary purpose, and I have thus been compelled to submit for the present to this most mortifying piece of ill-fortune.

No doubt the exultation of the Messrs. Reed will be violent, but let me say to them, it will be but short-lived. But a brief time will pa.s.s, and all the papers which I have published, and many more which are yet to come, will be fully proved and laid before the public. When Colonel ----'s health is restored, I do not doubt that I shall prevail upon him to place them in my hands, when I shall see Mr. John Spear Smith with them at Baltimore and have the Messrs. Reed see them here.


_October 24th, 1842."_

We do not approve of this course of procedure on the part of Valley Forge, nor do we think it a proper one. We think he ought to have met Mr. Smith and the Messrs. Reed at the place and time appointed, and made the explanation in person. Under any circ.u.mstances, we think it was due to them as well as to ourselves. The proposition which was made by Valley Forge having been accepted by the above-named gentlemen, what reason can there be for longer preserving his incognito? Indeed he expressed his willingness, in one of his notes, which we publish below, to unveil himself as soon as the proposition he made was accepted.

We had, from the first, as we have now, the fullest confidence that the letters purporting to be from the late General S. Smith were genuine, as well as that the intentions of Valley Forge, so far as concerned ourselves, were fair, and that he would establish the authenticity of those letters, and the other doc.u.ments contained in his communications.

Our belief in the genuineness of the letters of General Smith, was strengthened by the perusal of a letter which we now have before us, addressed to General Joseph Reed, by General John Cadwalader, in 1783, which corroborates what those letters contain. In that letter the latter gentleman says, "Having fully stated the temper of men's minds at this alarming period, and the situation of public affairs, I shall now recite the conversation and circ.u.mstances relating thereto, which I have avowed in my letter to you of the 10th September, as having pa.s.sed between us at Bristol.

"I had occasion to speak with you, a few days before the intended attack on the 20th December, 1776, and requested you to retire with me to a private room at my quarters; the business related to intelligence--a general conversation, however, soon took place concerning the state of public affairs, and after running over a number of topics, in an agony of mind, and despair strongly expressed on your countenance, and tone of voice, you spoke your apprehensions concerning the event of the contest; that our affairs looked very desperate, and we were only making a sacrifice of ourselves; that the time Gen. Howe's offering pardon and protection to persons who should come in before the 1st January, 1777, was nearly expired; and that Galloway, the Allens, and others, had gone over and availed themselves of that pardon and protection offered by said proclamation; that you had a family, and ought to take care of them, and that you did not understand following the wretched remains (or remnants) of a broken army; that your brother (then Colonel or Lieutenant Colonel of the militia--but you say of the five month's men, which is not material) was then at Burlington with his family, and that you had ordered him to remain there, and if the enemy took possession of the town, to take a protection and swear allegiance--and in so doing he would be perfectly justifiable.

"This was the substance, and I think nearly the very words; but that, "_you did not understand following the wretched remains (or remnants) of a broken army_! I perfectly remember to be the _very words_!"

The letter of General Cadwalader contains the letters of P. d.i.c.kinson, John Nixon, Benjamin Rush, David Lenox[TN], A. Hamilton, and a numbers of other persons, confirming what we have quoted.

The subjoined notes from Valley Forge gave us confidence in the fairness of his intentions.

R. M. WHITNEY, Esq: Dear Sir--I observe an invitation in yesterday's Journal, for me to call at, or send to, your office, for some information which you have to impart. For reasons which I shall have the pleasure of expressing to you hereafter in person, I am anxious to preserve my _incognito_, for the present, even with my nearest friends; and this consideration will prevent my _calling_. I am also at a loss to know how to _send_; but if you will drop me a few lines in the letter box of the Post-office, I shall not fail to receive them.

Very truly, &c., VALLEY FORGE.

_September 23d, 1842._

Please direct to "Ambrose Anderson, Philadelphia."

R. M. WHITNEY, Esq., Dear Sir,--I am favored with your note, refering me to General Cadwalader's pamphlet, which you inform me has been abstracted from the Philadelphia Library. I have access to _material_, far beyond any thing in importance and value which could possibly be obtained by General Cadwalader; nevertheless the _abstraction_ of his pamphlet is a circ.u.mstance which I will not fail to turn to good account.

The gentleman to which I so often refer, in my communications as the revolutionary soldier who has furnished me with information, is a near relative of mine, who knew Gen. Joseph Reed thoroughly. I shall continue my communications from time to time; and you may rely upon my giving you nothing, which does not admit of literal substantiation. Among other letters which I have, are several from "George Clymer," (whom you mention in your note,) which hit the nail on the head.

Will you permit me the liberty of suggesting a continuance of your vigorous editorials upon Stephen Girard? The word "finessed" in my last, your compositor has transformed into _finified_.

Respectfully &c., VALLEY FORGE.

Sept. 25, 1842.

REUBEN M. WHITNEY, Esq., Dear Sir,--I am afraid that, in copying Sergt. Kemp's first letter, I have made an error of date, on which account I am glad my communication has not appeared to-day, as it gives me an opportunity of correction.

I am anxious to avoid even the slightest mistake in my communications. The letter is dated "June 23rd, 1778." I am not certain that I did not so transcribe it; but if I did not, be good enough to make the correction. I particularly wish you would _italicise_ my interrogatory to Reed relative to his grandfather's correspondence with General Wayne. There is a _point_ in it which _he_ will fully understand, and which will give him more uneasiness than all else. I intend reserving my extracts from that correspondence for the very last.

Respectfully, &c.


Sept. 27, 1842.

R. M. WHITNEY, Esq.,--Dear Sir--I am provoked to find that, upon comparing my copy of Col. Smith's letter to Col. ----, with the original, that I have made another error! I hope this will reach you in time for its correction. Speaking of his visit to Gen. Washington at Mount Vernon and _Washington_, it should be, and _Philadelphia_.

Respectfully, &c., VALLEY FORGE.

Sept. 28, 1842.

R. M. WHITNEY,--Dear Sir--I have been absent for a day or two from the city, and did not receive your note until to-day. I enclose a note for publication--oblige me by letting it appear to-morrow. I cannot imagine how so stupid an error could have occured as the erroneous date of Kemp's discharge by Gen.

Washington. But the error almost corrects itself--as Kemp's letter of July 2d, speaks of the battle of Monmouth on the 28th. I do not know whether the blunder is that of your workman, or mine in the haste of transcribing. One or two other errors, which are mine, I made the subject of two notes, which I addressed you through the Post-office. My absence from town, and my intended absence to-morrow, prevent my preparing another article for Possibly, I will have it ready for Monday, and certainly for Tuesday. Acknowledge its receipt, and that it will appear on Monday or Tuesday. I have not yet come to the _real gems_ of my budget. Reed shall have a surfeit.

Respectfully, &c., VALLEY FORGE Sept. 30, 1842.

R. M. WHITNEY, Esq: Dear Sir--Nothing could have afforded me more pleasure than the publication which has been made by the Reeds. It has given me the opportunity, which I have from the first been seeking, of bringing the question of General Reed's revolutionary exploits to a _crisis_. I pledge myself to you, that I will overwhelm them with confusion and shame.

I have not called for your letter at the Post-office, because _I know that I am watched_; and I do not desire to be known till the adoption of my proposition to the Reeds, of which I speak in the accompanying communication, and which I will furnish for publication in Monday's Journal. They have fallen completely into the snare.

Yours, &c., very truly, VALLEY FORGE.

October 14, 1842.

In his explanatory communication of yesterday's date, Valley Forge speaks of many more papers "which are yet to come:" we suppose he means yet to be published. If so, we feel constrained to say now, that we cannot publish any thing more relating to the matter until he announces to us, at least, his real name.

From the Evening Journal.

R. M. WHITNEY, Esq: Dear Sir,--I am pained beyond measure, at the situation in which I have been so unfortunately instrumental in placing you. But for circ.u.mstances _which I cannot possibly control_, I would promptly communicate to you my name and residence. A pledge, rigidly exacted by my venerable relative, Col. ----, and solemnly given by me at the time he consented that I should communicate to you the letters of the late General Smith, and the other papers with which he furnished me, that I should not make either him or myself known without his consent, binds me as with links of iron. Col. ---- is slowly recovering from the paralytic affection with which he was seized on the 20th of this month; and let me a.s.sure you, most sacredly and solemnly, that as soon as his health is sufficiently restored to allow a conversation of any length to be had with him, I will not fail to convince him of the propriety--of the _necessity_--of permitting me to call upon you, or invite you to his residence, where, preliminary to my taking the proper steps to convince the public of their authenticity, I may exhibit to you all the writings which have been so exultingly prounounced[TN] to be "audacious forgeries."

You do me but justice, when you say, that "a careful perusal of the letters of Valley Forge, confirms the belief, that he is neither an impostor nor a forger of letters." Why should I be? What motive could induce any rational being to originate a _fabrication_ so sure to be detected? You will find, ere very long, that I have given you nothing but the truth. Only _one_ liberty did I venture to take with any of the correspondence--that was from considerations of delicacy, which I now believe to have been _fastidious_, and to which, at the time, I reluctantly yielded. In Gen. Smith's letter to Col. ----, dated Oct. 2d, 1832, I subst.i.tuted a _blank_ for the name of _Mrs. Ferguson_," which Gen. Smith gives as that of the lady from whom was taken the letter of Governor Jonstone to Gen. Reed. This, the _only_ alteration I ever made, you must allow, was a pardonable error.

"Truth is mighty and must prevail;" and in this case, to the joy of your friends, and the consternation of your enemies, it shall be signally exemplified. _For the present_, let me entreat you to rest satisfied with my a.s.surances; a.s.surances which will soon be most thoroughly redeemed; and that you will desist from your endeavor to discover who I am--efforts which can give you but vain trouble, which _must_ prove fruitless; for the precautions which I have adopted for the preservation of my _incognito_, it is impossible to overcome.

Very truly, &c., VALLEY FORGE.

October 29th, 1842.

From the Evening Journal, October 31st.

_"Valley Forge" and General Joseph Reed--Is there a Sepulchral Sanctuary for Public Men?--The success of the American Revolution--Justice and Truth essential Elements of History--"Forgery"--The Editor, &c._

Whatever motives may have actuated "Valley Forge" to the publication of doc.u.ments affecting the revolutionary services and fame of General Joseph Reed, and we pretend not either to scan them, or doubt their honorable complexion--for truth, when on the side of country and patriotism, admits not of suspicion or mistrust--whatever motive, we say, may have impelled him to the revelation of these important historical doc.u.ments, there can exist no doubt as it respects the principle which sustains the ransacking of the grave, for the sake of _truth_. Begin at any period of history, however early, and it will be found that _public men_ have always been considered as public property--their characters, their conduct and their opinions, belonging to the world, with no privilege of sanctuary, either in life or in the _tomb_. It was so with the Hebrews, it was so with Persians, the Babylonians, the Grecians, the Romans, the French, the English, and even the Chinese. Indeed, so obvious is the principle, as almost to dispense with argument. It bears on its very face, the irresistible force of a first principle; for if the grave cannot cover up the _good_ deeds of men, it never can be made to conceal their evil ones. The lessons of history, like the lessons of life, are derived more from the wicked than the good. The striking contrast of example, comes from the man who has perpetuated deeds that curdle the blood with fear, or crimson the cheeks with shame. Virtue is negative, quiet, undismayed--but vice rides aloft on the back of desecrated principles and violated laws, accompanied by the tumultuous rush of a moral whirlwind, overturning the fruits, blossoms and harvest of life; bearing blasts upon its brow, and leaving havoc in its train. And so do the laws of all well governed countries dispose of the remains of notorious felons, who, instead of being suffered to repose in the grave, are denied all interment; their bodies being delivered over to the surgeons for the benefit of science, or exposed on a gibbet, till the crows, eagles and vultures, devour their flesh, and then, even their bones are left to blacken in the winter's blast, as a warning to man, to shun the deeds that led them to their doom.

Where is the sepulchral sanctuary for Buonaparte? or for Nero? or for Marius, Sylla, Otho, Galba, Charles of Burgundy, or Ferdinand of Spain? How many patriots are commemorated in the Lives of Plutarch? Expunge from the History of England the great scoundrels who disgraced their diadems, on the plea of sepulchral sanctuary, and how many kings will remain to grace their pages with the splendor of their virtues? The same question may be asked in reference to all histories, and the same answers given; there would be no history, if the grave silenced the tongue to speak of the vices and crimes of the dead who disgraced their nature.

To return to the principle of success, as a standard of virtue, in great revolutionary movements. The intrinsic merit of a civil movement, or commotion, to produce a change of government by force of arms, or social intimidation without bloodshed, is not sufficient to glorify its actors.

Success is essential to give renown which confers fame and glory on its authors. This was fully understood during the American Revolution. A host of calculating spirits stood mute, inactive, or luke-warm, watching the changes of the contest, and fearful of embarking in a cause that might miscarry. In such a crisis, the wavering, the doubtful and the timid, were more dangerous to their country's cause than the open traitor in arms against freedom. The generous, the brave, the frank, the self-devoted patriot, rushed headlong into the contest, putting in peril, life, honor, property, fame, family, friends, children--all that is dear to life, and all that life endears. The calculating and timid palsied their daring counsels by weak irresolution of wicked duplicity. Among these time-servers, it seems General Joseph Reed stood prominent. Careful of his person, he shunned danger. Calculating the probable miscarriage of the Revolution, he occupied the prudent ground of a tory royalist, seeming to battle for liberty, but ready, at any moment; to a.s.sume the scarlet uniform, and shout "G.o.d save King George!" A traitor in his heart to the cause of Independence, lest that cause, by failing, should make him a traitor to his king, for whom he felt a warmer affection than for the rebels--he stood always on the alert, to join the British, or to appear their greatest foe; practising the meanest arts to seem brave, yet always held in open contempt for his timidity and cowardice. If the Revolution succeeded, he calculated to pa.s.s for a patriot. If the royal arms triumphed, he stood prepared to claim the rewards of his fidelity to the KING, more valuable than an open adherent because a secret spy, who betrayed the cause of the rebels, while pretending to fight under its colors, in the uniform of an American Officer of the army of George Washington!

Such appears to have been the character of General Joseph Reed, from doc.u.ments decidedly authentic--so authentic as to have led to their partial destruction, by his vain and silly descendants, who imagined that _truth_ could be extinguished, while vanity was kindling a spurious flame to consummate an imaginery[TN] _apotheosis_, for one whose actual deeds consigned him to the keeping of the furies and his country's execration.

If such men are to be allowed an enrolment on the page of fame, as revolutionary patriots, who achieved our independence, there is no merits in those who stood side by side with Washington, in the darkest hour of the Revolution, when dismay sat on the bravest brow--spurning the temptation of British bribes--bidding defiance to British battalions, and enduring the pangs of hunger, thirst, and howling blasts--naked amidst winter's snow, with earth for a pillow, and the canopy of heaven for a covering--treason thundering in their ears--rewards offered for their heads, and nothing but liberty and independence, with the secret a.s.surance of heaven's succour from a just G.o.d, to cheer and console them--bleeding, dying, desolate.

Shall the _time-serving_ traitor take his position by the side of such men?