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honors ever bestowed by a confiding sovereign upon a colonial subject. Many are the vague surmises in respect to the cause of his death, which took place but a short time before the colonists assumed their defiant attitude to the crown. He was beloved and respected by his neighbors and dependants, and he perhaps foresaw all the miseries in store for a country he could not look upon in any other light than his own. He might have died by his own hand, but facts do not authorize this conclusion. There were, it must be admitted, many powerful considerations which should have induced his family to adhere to the royal cause. They had been bountiful recipients of their sovereign's favor. Honors and wealth had been literally showered upon them, and they felt it would be forfeiting all claim to honorable distinction, should they abandon the mother country in the eventful emergency which had overtaken it. They mistook the temper and feeling of their fellow subjects in the colonies, and did not, probably, comprehend the final result of a separation between the two countries. This family did not embrace the cautious policy of having some one or more of their number nominal adherents to the patriotic cause to protect their possessions, which was adopted by others, and some too of much less distinction and note.
The startling events of the revolution are yet remembered by a few now living witnesses, and a more just estimate of the rights and duties of nations, belligerent and neutral, seem to be more generally entertained at this day than during the last century. This no doubt has occasioned the remark that the provincial governments had been too stringent in enforcing a forfeiture against the adherents of the crown, and that when the independence of the states was acknowledged, restitution ought to have been made. It should be remembered that the colonies never encouraged but at all times deprecated the employment of the Indians in the revolutionary war, or in any way making them parties in that contest. They knew their situation; that their own country must be the battle field; and that their own frontier inhabitants would be subjected to a warfare and desolation of the most unmitigated severity, not practiced by civilized nations, and like that with which they too recently had been afflicted, to be then disremembered. When these visitations were renewed with a ten-fold severity by those who had previously deprecated this mode of warfare, and when too, the object seemed to be to kill, burn and plunder, and not to subjugate and hold the conquered territory; it was not the surviving sufferer who could forgive or forget the authors of his calamities or the instruments used in the infliction of them.
To one member of this family, as soon as he was able to reach Canada, a regiment was given, called the Johnson Greens, principally composed of refugees, who made continual marauding expeditions into the Mohawk valley, during the war, and the memory of whose deeds were not forgotten at the close of the last century. The other, at the head of the Indian agency at Montreal, retaining a great influence over the western tribes, including most of the New York Indians, was zealously andefficiently employed in retaining them in the service of the crown, and encouraging and promoting expeditions against the frontier colonists, in which they were to be joined. This service was not performed by a slack hand or an unwilling mind. In this work of mischief and revenge he was but too well supported by that shrewd, active, but stern and resolute Mohawk chief, Joseph Brant, who displayed no more of the savage, in his hostile incursions, than should have been expected, perhaps, when the motives of his prompters were carefully scanned.
There may have been instances in which restitution might have found a willing response in the heart of the country; but that was not the case in respect to this family; where was the point of discrimination? That was the great difficulty. Expatriation and adherence to the common enemy were open acts of avowed hostility, so marked as not to be mistaken. If the party left the country and remained out of it until the close of the war, unless on business of an open, pacific nature, and if he failed to return to it, after being required to do so, these were taken as overt acts of hostility, sufficient to authorize sequestration and forfeiture. There could be but one rule prescribed, which must be broad enough to embrace the whole class of offenders, and while hostilities were being carried on, exceptions could not be applied, and when a state of war no longer existed and the country assumed regular and settled forms of government, it so happened that the individual states retained the whole power of remission, and these were not recognized in diplomatic relations, nor could they separately form treaties with foreign governments, or even enter into negotiations. There was no mode of remission or restitution except by individual application to the states; and here the fundamental rules of government had been settled with so much precision and exactness, as to prohibit the legislative department of the governments from granting restitution of the forfeited estates. The poverty of the states and the excited feelings of the people on the subject of the war, rendered any application for recompense entirely hopeless; and it would have been found very difficult to settle upon any rule for granting relief except that of mere grace and favor, and no refugee of that day could be found bold or craven enough to put his loyalty to that severe test. There were cases in which restitution, remission or recompense could not be asked for with even a remote prospect of success, and which, certainly, could not be granted without violating the plainest principles of justice.
The judicial tribunals of the country have always been open to appeals for legal redress, and the legislative department of the state governments has never interfered, and indeed it could not have done so with any effect, being prohibited by the fundamental law. The title to the lands in one county and part of another, in this state, held under the commissioners of forfeitures, has within twenty years been declared invalid by the courts, on the ground of some informality or irregularity, and not because the law itself was unconstitutional. The constitutions of this state have uniformly recognized the grants made by the king of Great Britain, or persons acting under his authority before the 14th day of October, 1775; the constitution of the United States prohibits the state legislatures from passing laws impairing the obligation of contracts.
By the 5th article of the treaty of 1783, the United States did not agree to recommend to the legislatures of the several states to provide for restitution of confiscated estates to those who had borne arms against them, but that treaty did provide that there should be no further confiscations or prosecutions against any one, and that instrument being the supreme law of the land, was of course binding on all subordinate authorities. No claim was set up in behalf of those who had borne arms, and this is enough to show that no violations of public faith had been committed in respect to that class of adherents to the interests of the British crown.
The treaty designated a class who should be recommended to the favorable consideration of the states, but as before remarked, the difficulty was this; the legislatures could not, or would not, discriminate between those who actually bore arms, and others who counseled, promoted, set on foot and directed a marauding expedition against their country, and humanity will justify the deed. That treaty, it is true, did secure to "persons of any other description," the right to go into any part of the United States and remain unmolested twelve months, to obtain restitution of their confiscated estates. The congress were bound by that treaty to recommend to the states a revision of all laws regarding the estates of British subjects, to render them consistent with justice and equity, and with that spirit of conciliation which ought to prevail on the return of peace, and also to urge upon the states to restore to those who had borne arms against the colonies their properties and estates, on their refunding to the persons in possession the bona fide price paid on the purchase of the confiscated estates and lands. And it was further agreed that all persons having any interest in confiscated lands by debts, marriage settlements or otherwise, should meet with no lawful impediment in the prosecution of their just rights.
By the 9th article of the treaty of November 19th, 1794, commonly called Jay's treaty, American citizens and British subjects, holding lands in the territory of either party, were secured in the exercise of the rights appertaining to them in the same manner as if they were natives.
What just grounds can there be in view of all the facts involved in the case of these forfeited estates, to charge the state governments, and especially our own, with illiberality and a desire to profit by a contingency brought about by no act of its own seeking. The parties who abandoned their homes and properties, acted from choice and not compulsion, except that of duty and allegiance, which they may have thought was due to the king of Great Britain. They cast their bread upon the waters of strife; it returned not to them again. If the colonists had been crushed in the contest, these people would have returned to a wasted and depopulated country, enriched by the spoils of attainted rebels, and ennobled by a sovereign grateful for the service of preserving the brightest jewel in his crown. This was the fortune that awaited them in case of success, and they knew it. They thought this a prize worth contending for, but they misjudged in respect to the chances of success. They had not yet fully experienced the energies of the men whose motto was " one for all, and all for one," when banded together in the great struggle for life, for home, and for liberty. They did encounter those energies, and were overthrown; they grasped for the prize and lost it, and thereby forfeited all claims for restitution to abandoned houses and estates.