In May 1779, the Continental Congress again throught it necessary to address directly the people of the United States. One of its concerns involved war-time profiteering; that is, merchants, farmers, and others who traded in goods needed by the Continental Army and the public at-large were charging much higher than normal prices for their goods. In the following excerpts, what issues and concerns are addressed? What solutions does the Congress propose?
Friends and Countrymen
The present situation of public affairs demands your most serious attention, and particularly the great and increasing depreciation of your currency requires the immediate, strenuous and united efforts of all true friends to their country, for preventing an extension of the mischiefs that have already flowed from that source. . . .
For defraying the expences of this uncommon war, your representatives in Congress were obliged to emit paper money; an expedient that you knew to have been before generally and successfully practised on this continent.
They were very sensible of the inconveniences with which too frequent emissions would be attended, and endeavoured to avoid them. For this purpose, they established loan offices so early as in October, 1776, and have from that time to this, repeatedly and earnestly solicited you to lend them money on the faith of the United States. So little have their applications availed that all The sums received on loan have nevertheless proved quite inadequate to the public exigencies. Our enemies prosecuting the war by sea and land with implacable fury and with some success, taxation at home and borrowing abroad, in the midst of difficulties and dangers, were alike impracticable. Hence the continued necessity of new emissions.
But to this cause alone we do not impute the evil complained of before mentioned. We have too much reason to believe it has been in part owing to the artifices of men who have hastened to enrich themselves by monopolizing the necessaries of life, and to the misconduct of inferior officers employed in the public service.This Opinion is confirmed by our Observation, that the Rise if Articles in price, [extravagant for some months past] extravagantly exceeds a proportion to the Emissions within that Period, or for a considerable time immediately preceding it. . . .
With regard to monopolizers, of the Produce of these States, you will observe there is some distinction between them, and Dealers in foreign Commodities. These are bought to America at a great risque. The Importers, by selling their Cargoes quickly by wholesale, may be enabled expeditiously, and therefore certainly with less Expence, and perhaps with less Hazard to prosecute their outward bound voyage. However, against the unreasonable Profits of Dealers in these Articles may be applied Frugality in using them and Industry in manufacturing them. It is our opinion, that taxes judiciously laid on such Merchandizes articles as become the objects of engrossers, and those frequently collected, would operate against the pernicious tendency of such practices without discouraging Importation.
On the other Hand, Monopolizers of produce buy Commodities on the Spot where they are raised, with the known and often avowed Design of selling them at an advanced price to their distrest Countrymen. Against this Mischief, as the Articles are absolutely necessary, no Remedy can be applied but wise Laws strictly executed. . . .
We are sorry to hear that some persons are so slightly informed of their own interests as to suppose that it is advantageous to them to sell the produce of their farms at enormous prices, when a little reflection might convince them that it is injurious to those interests and to the general welfare. If they expect thereby to purchase imported goods cheaper, they will be egregiously disappointed; for the merchants, who know they cannot obtain returns in gold, silver, or bills of exchange, but that their vessels, if loaded here at all, must be loaded with produce, will raise the prices of what they have to sell, in proportion to the prices of what they have to buy; and, consequently, the land holder can purchase no more foreign goods for the same quantity of his produce than he could before.
The evil, however, does not stop at this point. The land holder, by acting on this mistaken calculation, is only labouring to accumulate an immense debt by increasing the public expences, for the payment of which his estate is engaged, and to embarrass every measure adopted for vindicating his liberty and securing his prosperity.
. . . [This year] we entertain hopes that your affairs will acquire a much greater degree of regularity and energy than they have hitherto had.
But we should be highly criminal if we did not plainly tell you that those hopes are not founded wholly upon our own proceedings. These must be supported by your virtue, your wisdom and your diligence. From the advantage of those seats in the national council with which you have honoured us, we have a pleasing prospect of many blessings approaching this our native land. It is your patriotism must introduce and fix them here. . . .
When unprepared, undisciplined, and unsupported, you opposed their fleets and armies in full conjoined force, then, if at any time, was conquest to be apprehended. Yet what progress towards it have their violent and incessant efforts made? Judge from their own conduct. Having devoted you to bondage, and after vainly wasting their blood and treasure in the dishonorable enterprise, they deigned at length to offer terms of accommodation, with respectful addresses, to that once despised body, the Congress, whose humble supplications only for peace, liberty and safety, they had contemptuously rejected, under pretence of its being an unconstitutional assembly. Nay, more; desirous of seducing you into a deviation from the paths of rectitude, from which they had so far and so rashly wandered, they made most specious offers to tempt you into a violation of your faith given to your illustrious ally. Their arts were as unavailing as their arms. Foiled again, and stung with rage, embittered by envy, they had no alternative, but to renounce the inglorious and ruinous controversy, or to resume their former modes of prosecuting it. They chose the latter. Again the savages are stimulated to horrid massacres of women and children, and domestics to the murder of their masters. Again our brave and unfortunate unhappy brethren are doomed to miserable deaths in gaols and prison ships and again are venal princes sollicited to hire out their wretched subjects to commit Butcheries in these distant Regions. To complete the sanguinary system, all the "extremities of war" are by authority denounced against you. . . .
Rouse yourselves, therefore, that this campaign may finish the great and good work you have so nobly carried on for several years past. What nation ever engaged in such a contest under such a complication of disadvantages, so soon surmounted many of them, and in so short a period of time had so certain a prospect of a speedy and happy conclusion of their labours. We will venture to pronounce that so remarkable an instance exists not in the annals of mankind. We well remember what you thought said at the commencement of this war. You saw the immense difference between your circumstances and those of your enemies, and you knew the quarrel must decide on no less than your lives, liberties, and estates. All these you greatly put to every hazard, generously resolving to die freemen rather than to live slaves; and justice will oblige the impartial world to confess you have uniformly acted on the same generous principle. Consider how much you have done, and how comparatively little remains to be done to crown you with success. Persevere, and you ensure peace, freedom, safety, glory, sovereignty, and felicity, to yourselves, your children, and your children's children.