The following video explains the historical background of Committees of Safety and their potential future use:
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Republished from: Committee.org:
CHAPTER I. – NEW ENGLAND COLONIES.
2. NEW HAMPSHIRE.
New Hampshire was left in a more difficult position than Massachusetts, when it abandoned the royal government, since it had no well-known charter which it could revive and utilize. Instead, it was obliged to feel its way tentatively toward a permanent constitution, and temporary expedients were employed longer. The last assembly of the old regime met in July, 1775. It adjourned to September, but was prorogued by the Governor until the following April. The Revolution had then risen too high to be opposed. Governor Wentworth was a fugitive and a Provincial Congress was assuming the direction of affairs.
On May 20, 1775, this body passed resolutions stating the necessity of raising two thousand militia and appointing five men a Committee of Safety. A Committee of Supplies was chosen at the same time, as in Massachusetts, and the instruction of both deferred until the next week.
On May 26, the following commission was given the Committee of Safety. It was empowered and directed in the recess of the Provincial Congress to take into consideration all matters in which the welfare of the Province in the security of its rights was concerned except the appointment of field officers, and to take the utmost care that the public sustained no harm. It was to carry out in whatever way it saw fit, those plans which the Congress had not intrusted to others; if any exigency required immediate attention, such as marching troops to repel an invasion, or directing the movements of the militia, either within or without the Province, or making use of any special opportunity for securing military stores or important posts, or preventing them from falling into the enemy’s hands, the Committee was to take the most prudent and effectual methods to accomplish these or similar results. It was empowered to apply to the Committee of Supplies for the necessary stores, provisions, etc.It was thus an executive body for the Colony with large discretionary powers. As Belknap says, its charge recalls that given the Roman dictators, “Ne quid detrementi republica capiat.”It lacks definiteness as compared with the instructions of the Massachusetts Committee which was formed for the specific purpose of raising and equipping the militia and giving the signal for attack.
The general powers of the New Hampshire Committee were supplemented by special duties delegated to it from time to time, by the Provincial Congress. The Committee interpreted its authority broadly, and did not hesitate to take the initiative in measures which the welfare of the Province seemed to demand. It was appointed anew by each Congress or by the Council and House of Representatives after the constitution of 1776 went into effect, and existed until May 29, 1784. Then the war being over and an executive provided by the new constitution of that year, the needs which had called the Committee into existence disappeared. The powers conferred on each Committee were practically the same, so that it came to assume the character of an institution.
The Provincial Congress consisted of a single chamber, with no separate executive, and during the year .1775 the Committee of Safety supplied the deficiency, serving also as a representative of the Congress in its recess. In January, 1776, the Provincial Congress resolved itself into a House of Representatives, and a Council of twelve was appointed, which in turn chose a president to act as its presiding officer. The Council, however, adjourned and dissolved at the same time as the lower house, and Committees of Safety were appointed to carry on the government in these interims during the years from 1776 to 1778. From 1779 on, while the Committees continued to perform this function, the press of executive duties compelled them to hold sessions coincident with those of the Assembly so that they were practically a permanent body during this time. The Committee was most active from 1775-1783. After that date it was chiefly engaged in settling claims against the State, and had sunk in importance.
The commissions granted the different Committees of Safety at the time of their appointment were brief and indefinite. It was stated that they were to transact the business of the legislature in its recess and to have such powers as previous Committees had exercised. Sometimes no empowering clause appears, the duties of such a Committee being taken for granted. The commissions were enlarged, however, by resolutions of the legislature, made from time to time, outlining particular work.
In the hands of the Committee was placed the raising and maintaining of the troops. It gave out orders to enlist soldiers and to make returns, following the same methods as Massachusetts, and not hesitating to employ the draft.It appointed places of rendezvous and directed the movements of the militia and sent troops at the request of continental officers, to act outside, the State. It recommended field officers and appointed and commissioned other officers. It also appointed surgeons and chaplains. The troops were discharged on its order. This power extended to officers as well as men, and on September 4, 1779, we find it resolving that all officers, civil or military, who refused the oath of fidelity to the State ought not only to be dismissed from office but to be incapable of reappointment.
When the forces joined the Continental Army without the State, they passed from the control of the Committee. The officers, however, sent reports of the movements of the army and applied to it to supply whatever was needed, whether officers, men, or war stores. A close connection was thus maintained between the army and the Committee. Besides enlisting the troops and directing their movements, the Committee had charge of the department of supplies. A Committee of Supplies was chosen in 1775 and later a Board of War to provide ammunition, food and clothing, but they were both under the direction of the Committee of Safety, who issued orders to them and often obtained the necessary supplies by negotiating directly with the local committees or with individuals.
The power lodged in the hands of the Committee of Safety was thus extensive, as it held the office of commander-in-chief of the forces within the State and controlled the raising, equipping, supporting and discharging of the troops.
Owing to its distance from the center of conflict the Committee labored tinder a disadvantage in appointing officers to fill vacancies in the troops outside the State, not knowing what men would be worthy of promotion or acceptable to the soldiers. The following cases illustrate the difficulty and show the independent attitude of the officers toward the civil authority. In the summer of 1775 Colonel Reed, who commanded the New Hampshire troops at Winter Hill, being in want of an adjutant, the Committee of Safety appointed a Mr. McGregor for the service. The choice was unpopular with the men, who refused to obey McGregor’s orders, and Reed was obliged to give the place to a Captain Peabody. The Committee of Safety protested to Reed, saying that while it would take pleasure in gratifying him or any individual, it must insist that its appointments stand to avoid endless difficulties. Colonel Reed replied, showing the difficulties in the way of carrying out its appointment, and insisted on continuing Peabody as adjutant for the sake of harmony in the regiment.
In September of the same year the field officers of the troops at Winter Hill wrote the Committee of Safety that vacancies among the officers were of frequent occurrence and the method of applying to the provincial government for filling them caused not only great trouble and expense, but also left the companies in some measure unofficered. They therefore requested that the Brigadier-General might be supplied with blank commissions for all officers under the rank of field officers, that he might fill the vacancies as they occurred. The Committee replied that if such a measure were authorized by the Provincial Congress it would comply without delay, but this not being the case it would continue to make the appointments itself. In March of the following year General Sullivan assumed the power of selecting officers for a new regiment without consulting the Committee, which was naturally displeased at this usurpation, but Sullivan wrote in excuse: ‘‘Surely by my haying the choice of Thirty-one set of officers who had been under my Immediate inspection I could have a much better opportunity of selecting eight good men, than you who were not here, and could not know how they behaved. I made the choice and the officers have done honor to themselves and the province and differ exceedingly from some of the Captains sent here before who could neither sign a Return or give a Receipt …… but by making their Mark. Nothing further was done in the matter and Sullivan’s appointments stood.
Desertion from New Hampshire regiments was not uncommon when to the uncertainty of the issue was added an unsettled pay roll, and the first eagerness of enthusiasm had passed. The generals wrote the Committee asking it to take some measure of prevention and the Provincial Congress recommended to the local committees to take up and secure deserters from the American army and return them to their officers.The Committee of Safety ordered lists of deserters to be published and sent orders to all civil and military officers to arrest them.They were sometimes brought for trial before the Committee, who examined the evidence and punished or liberated them as it saw fit. Occasionally the Committee interfered to call the officers to account. In 1776 it summoned Lieutenant Gilman before them on a charge of cheating the soldiers out of their coat money. He was found guilty, but the Committee does not seem to have felt the time warranted the infliction of any penalty or hesitated to assume power to inflict it. Again in 1779 Colonel Hobart was brought before it on the ground of revealing important secrets of the Committee. What further steps were taken does not appear.
The consent of the Committee of Safety was necessary before any one could leave the State and special permits were issued by it granting this privilege. This restriction applied not only to individuals, but to ships and their cargoes as well, the enforcement of the Non-Exportation Act resting in the Committee’s hands and all applications for clearances being granted by it. It assumed the right to lay an embargo on the State on its own responsibility. On June 27, 1779, at the request of Massachusetts, such an embargo was ordered, to last until the fleet should sail against the British on the Penobscot. July 8 it was continued forty days longer.
In the recesses of the Congress the Committee opened and answered all public letters, corresponded with committees of other States and with the Continental Congress. It wrote often to the New Hampshire delegates in the latter body, stating what had been done by the Province, asking their approbation or advice and telling its needs. The Committee could call the legislature to special session if it saw fit and this was done twice, once in 1776 when the Continental Congress had made requisitions on the State for three battalions to serve during the war, and again in July, 1777, when the shadow of Burgoyne’s invasion hung over the Northern States.After the constitution of 1776 went into operation it was the duty of the Committee to order the choice of new members to the General Court. The delegates to the conferences and conventions that were held by the New England States during the war were often appointed for New Hampshire by the Committee. The establishment of a post for the Province,the hindering of engrossing, the payment of bounties to manufacturers, and similar acts arising from a general responsibility for the welfare of the State were characteristic of its work.
Its financial powers were important. By a vote of the Provincial Congress June 30, 1775, the Committee of Safety alone was authorized to draw orders on the Treasurer or Receiver General for all sums of money that had been or should be voted for the supply of the forces. The Committee was to be accountable to Congress for all money so drawn.The power thus granted came to be interpreted broadly, so that any one having a claim against the State in any way must receive an order on the Treasurer through the Committee, before he could obtain satisfaction. The money for arms and food supplies, the expenses for enlisting soldiers, the pay of officers and troops, the salaries of members of the legislature, the charges for the care of prisoners, for posts, etc., all went through its hands. No money for any public purpose was drawn without its consent, The Committee also undertook the supervision of some of the State’s accounts, examining at times the payrolls of the troops, and deciding whether they should be allowed. On June 30, 1775, it granted permission to the Committee of Supplies to purchase such articles as would not admit of delay, without a previous application to the Committee of Safety, but at the same time the Committee of Supplies was required to render its accounts once in ten days. The Committee of Safety also settled the ac-counts of the Board of War.
The Committee was ordered by the Provincial Congress to assist the Receiver General in framing warrants for assessing and collecting the taxes.The Committee also directed the Receiver General to warn the constables and selectmen who were delinquent in paying that further delay would result in the issue of extents against them,while the pressing need of money for the war led it to issue appeals to the selectmen of the towns, explaining the situation, describing the difficulties under which the Committee labored in dealing with constant demands on an empty treasury, and beseeching them to exert themselves to render it possible for the State to proceed in its affairs.
The continental tax collected through the State was sent to Philadelphia and the continental accounts were furnished and forwarded by it.The necessity of procuring war supplies and the difficulty of getting money to pay for them led the Committee to direct that the value of articles so supplied by a town should be allowed on its taxes for that year.Those articles that were not used in the war were later sold at auction. In 1783 the Committee was authorized to make arrangements for framing the excise on spirituous liquors, and appointed committees to take the sale in charge in different counties.
The punishment of crime was left largely to the local committees and selectmen and to the new law courts after they were opened, but to two classes of offenders the Committee of Safety gave special attention, to those suspected of hostility to the American cause, and to counterfeiters. No regular course of procedure was employed in dealing with the Tories ; sometimes they were apprehended and tried by the towns, sometimes by the counties, sometimes sent by the local bodies to the Assembly or to the Committee of Safety for trial, after a preliminary examination, or again they might be summoned directly before the central authority, by warrants issued from it against them.Witnesses were summoned and the Committee rendered its decision on the evidence presented, being at once prosecutor, judge, and executor of the sentence.
The uncertainty and conflict of jurisdiction before the opening of the courts is well illustrated by a letter which the Committee of Safety of Holles wrote to the County Committee of Hillsborough, July 17, 1775. It states that the town had appointed a Committee of Safety to deal with the disaffected. “Notwithstanding which, we understand,’’ it writes, ‘‘you have assumed, on authority of your own, to Summon some of the inhabitants of this town before you for Tryal. We should have Really thought …… that you could not have been so mistaken as not to have known that it was your duty to have come and complained to us, and if you were not satisfied with our Decision …… you might appeal for a Further Tryal to our Provincial Congress or Committee of Safety or to the Continental Congress …… As to your citing any persons before you who have been examined by us, and dealt with, we look upon it to be of Dangerous Consequence.”Yet in spite of this emphatic protest there was no legal basis for denying the County Committee jurisdiction. It was theirs if they’ chose to assume it.
The case of John Quigly is also in point. Quigly was a moderate Tory of Francestown. May 24, 1775, the County Congress appointed a committee to try him, but Quigly failed to appear. This Committee, therefore, recorded his contempt, found him guilty on the evidence presented, and warned all persons against him. Meanwhile Quigly had gone to the state Committee of Safety, had made a good impression, and had succeeded in obtaining from it a recommendation to Captain Bedel to be taken into his military company. Quigly appealed from the County Committee to the Francestown Committee and obtained a reversal of the judgment.
The confiscation of the estates of refugees, to turn them to the profit of the new administration, was a measure adopted in New Hampshire as fully as elsewhere. There were special committees appointed for the counties to take charge of such hands, but the general direction of the matter lay with the Committee of Safety. We find it appointing and authorizing men to rent the improved hand of absentees in the different counties, requesting a local committee to inquire into the ownership of a Valuable piece of property or giving instructions to the trustees of an estate.
When New York sent to New Hampshire some of the Tory prisoners that she did not feel it safe to keep within her borders, it fell to the Committee of Safety to receive them. The New York Convention had directed that the prisoners were to live at their own expense, and to be subject to such restrictions as the legislatures put upon them. The New Hampshire Committee of Safety imprisoned sixty-seven, but liberated the majority on parole, to provide their own lodging and support. They were, however, to use no words or arguments prejudicial to the American cause on pain of immediate reimprisonment. Each was to make return of his own and his landlord’s name and the town where he took up his abode.A special committee took immediate care of the prisoners, but the Committee of Safety retained supervision of them.The Tories did not find their confinement arduous. Many were released from jail by- the Committee of Safety, on parole, and they were frequently permitted to return to New York for visits on promise to return.
The government had too many interests of more importance to find it possible to look closely to these suspects. It was simpler to allow them to care for themselves. In connection with the lenient treatment they received, a letter from one of their number, Joshua Gidney, to his father is of interest. He says: “On my arrival …… we were led before the Committee of Safety then setting in a Town called Exeter, the present seat of Government. The Committee gave the major part of our number, of whom I am one, liberty of seeking Lodging within six miles of the State House, a Liberty we did not expect …… On our march through Connecticut, etc., we were told that the people of Exeter would deal with tins according to our deserts, by close confinement if not hanging, as every Tory deserved; but on our arrival and ever since we have been treated with civility’ and by- some with Respect …… Some of my Brethren I hear have safely returned to their Family and friends by’ permission from the New Hampshire committee some have gone without liberty, among whom were 4 …… who were all apprehended, brought back to Exeter, and confined for a while in Gaol, but since have been Liberated by given Bonds with surety.”
The issue of paper money during the war at once brought counterfeiters into existence, and those suspected of the crime were brought before the local committees, the legislature or the Committee of Safety in the same way as the Tories. That it was a common evil the number tried by the Committee of Safety proves. In 1777 the Committee desired that the local magistrates should take the apprehension and examination of such persons in charge, and that those suspected should be tested before a Justice of the Peace by an oath. In spite of this recommendation cases of this kind were frequently brought before it during the entire war.
Such was in general the activity of the Committee of Safety in New Hampshire. Its position gave to the few men composing it, the executive headship of the State, and enabled the assembly through it to perform its executive duties. It interpreted such authority as it received, with great freedom, but it never claimed sovereignty itself. In fact it distinctly repudiated the idea in a letter to a local committee that had asked it to suspend the regulating act. It replied that it was appointed for special purposes, and was not authorized to make, suspend, or repeal laws of the State. It was rarely asked to report its proceedings to the legislature and its acts did not require its sanction for validity. Its accounts were occasionally laid before the assembly, but even this check on its acts was not often employed. Once appointed it was largely free from the legislature, though a body of its creation and always dependent for existence upon its will.
Agreeable to a resolution of the Assembly a majority of the towns had appointed Committees of Safety to carry on their affairs during the war, and these local committees were the machinery, through which the central government touched the people, and their cooperation and submission were necessary precedents to any effective administration. This acknowledgment of the authority of the State Assembly and its committees was cordially granted by some sections and withheld by others, and the legislature or Committee of Safety as revolutionary bodies with no authority derived from the people to sanction their existence stood helpless before those towns that refused obedience. Such were the towns in the northwestern part of the State, that, seeing themselves in a hopeless minority in the Exeter government, owing to the new basis of representation, desired either to unite with Vermont, or to form a new State by combining with the towns in Vermont east of the Green Mountains.
They therefore refused to accept the authority of the government at Exeter, declined to send representatives, or to pay taxes. During the war conciliatory measures were tried by the General Assembly without effect. When, however, the war drew to a close and set free the bands of the State, the sections that still refused allegiance were severely handled. There was no longer an attempt at persuasion, but threats of force were made against them and the Committee of Safety which had for a time been quietly engaged in settling the accounts of the war came forward to head the undertaking. The recalcitrant sections comprised those towns on the Connecticut river that desired to come under the jurisdiction of Vermont. The Continental Congress upheld the claim of New Hampshire to them and declared that Vermont must relinquish all jurisdiction east of the Connecticut river before she could be received into the Union. This Vermont refused to do. At this time the feeling between the States was further embittered by occurrences in Chesterfield, one of the border towns in the county of Cheshire. A constable of Vermont attempted to arrest for debt a man who favored New Hampshire, but was prevented by the man’s friends, two of whom were in consequence committed to jail.
They at once appealed to the New Hampshire legislature, which passed an act, November, 1781, empowering the Committee of Safety to issue an order to the sheriff of Cheshire to release all persons confined there under authority of Vermont and to arrest all such persons as pretended to exercise such authority, and imprison them. Hale, the sheriff, was thereupon directed to attempt the release of the prisoners, but was himself taken and thrown into prison. The Committee of Safety then issued an order to the sheriff of Hillsborough to raise the body of his county in order to liberate Hale and to carry out Hale’s instructions himself. It also directed Brigadier-General Nichols to raise and equip such a force from the county of Hillsborough as the sheriff should ask, while a commissary was appointed to supply the troops with food.Vermont, alarmed, issued orders for her militia to oppose force with force. Early in January, 1782, matters being no nearer settlement, the New Hampshire General Assembly determined to raise a force of a thousand men and send it to hold the frontier, voting that the whole matter of sending this armed force should be referred to the Committee of Safety, and empowering it to raise and march the troops at such time as it saw fit.
These extreme measures were, however, rendered unnecessary by the action of Vermont. Influenced by a personal letter from Washington, the Assembly took advantage of an absence of the members on the east side of the Connecticut to declare the west bank of that river their boundary, and the revolted towns came again under New Hampshire’s authority.
The Committee of Safety was a small body, varying in size from six to twelve members. One reason for its efficiency is to be found in the fact that the foremost men in the colony were employed and that nearly the same members were chosen at each appointment.
Unlike the Massachusetts Committee, the members of the New Hampshire Committee were paid for their services. This question of pay was first broached in November, 1775, when the Provincial Congress voted that the Committee of Safety receive nine shillings a day and expenses, in the recess. This vote was reconsidered anti rescinded the next day. The matter came forward again the following January and nine shillings and expenses were again given them. Throughout the remainder of their service while the Congress was not in session, some remuneration was voted them varying from seven to fourteen shillings a day.
On June, 1784, the new constitution with its complete organization of departments took effect and the Committee of Safety went out of existence. The comment of a Tory who resided in the State during the revolution upon the Committee testifies to its character and ability. “New Hampshire,” he said, “had never a more energetic government, nor a more honest executive.”
Reposted from Committee.org
LINKS TO MORE INFORMATION:
Committee of Safety (American Revolution), established throughout the Thirteen Colonies at the start of the American Revolution
Committee of Safety:
Provincial and State Papers – Miscellaneous Documents and Records Relating to New Hampshire At Different Periods:
IV. Letters, &c., of Committee of Safety, 1779 to 1784