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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

To a Recreant American

By Francis Hopkinson (1737–1791)

[“A Letter to Joseph Galloway, Esq.” From “Translation of a Letter, written by a Foreigner on his Travels.” The Miscellaneous Essays and Occasional Writings of Francis Hopkinson, Esq. 1792.]

NOW that you have gained the summit of your ambitious hopes, the reward of your forfeited honor, that dear-bought gratification, to obtain which you have given your name to infamy, and your soul to perdition—now that you sit in Philadelphia, the nominal governor of Pennsylvania, give me leave to address a few words of truth to your corrupted heart. Retire for a moment from the avocations and honors of your new superintendency, and review the steps by which you have mounted the stage of power—steps reeking with the blood of your innocent country.

When the storm was gathering dark and dreary over this devoted country, when America stood in need of all the exertions which her best patriots and most confidential citizens could make, you stepped forward—you offered yourself a candidate, and, with unwearied diligence, solicited a seat in the American congress. Your seeming sincerity and your loud complaints against the unjust usurpations of the British legislature gained the confidence of your country. You were elected; you took your seat in Congress—and let posterity remember that while you were vehemently declaiming in that venerable senate against British tyranny, and with hypocritical zeal urging a noble stand in behalf of the liberties of your country, you were at the same time betraying their secrets, ridiculing their economy, and making sport of their conduct, in private letters to your friend Governor ——.

But your abilities were not equal to your treachery. Your character became suspected. You were left out of the delegation, and fearing the just resentment of your injured country, you took refuge under the banners of General Howe. You well knew that professions alone would not recommend you to his notice; actual services must be rendered to raise you above the neglect, and even contempt of your new patron. The general, knowing your conduct to have been such as to render all reconciliation with your country impossible, and thinking that, from your knowledge of the people he meant to ruin, you might be a useful tool in his hands, took you into his service. You found it no hard task to come into his views; to banish every virtuous sensibility, and even steel your heart against the cries of suffering humanity, and wade through the blood of your fellow-citizens to your promised reward. Is there a curse denounced against villany that hangs not over your head? It was owing to your poisonous influence that —— took part against his country’s cause, and involved his family in misery and distress. Let their misfortunes sit heavy on your soul! It was owing to your seductions that a hopeful young man was cut off with infamy in the prime and vigor of life. Let the blood of Molesworth sit heavy on your soul! You attended the British army from the Head of Elk to the city of Philadelphia—you rode in the rear of that army in your triumphant carriage—you feasted your eyes with scenes of desolation—the cries of ruined families, and the curses of the distressed, composed the music of your march, and your horses’ hoofs were wet with the blood of your slaughtered countrymen and former friends. Is there a curse denounced against villany that hangs not over your head? Let these things sit heavy on your soul!

But you are now in the seat of power in the city of Philadelphia. The glow of gratified ambition burns on your cheek, whilst, like a bashaw of the East, you order this or that fellow-citizen to prison and punishment. You sit down daily to a board spread with more than plenty, and know, with unconcern, that numbers of your countrymen, even some of your former acquaintance, are suffering all the lingering anguish of absolute famine in the jails of the city, within your reach—within your power to relieve. You well know that under the discipline of that arch-fiend, Cunningham, they have plucked the weeds of the earth for food, and expired with the unchewed grass in their mouths—yet you pity not the misery to which you have yourself been instrumental, nor will you suffer their torture to touch your heart. Oh! let this, too, sit heavy on your soul!

The time is at hand when the army on which you build your support must withdraw, and abandon their vain attempt. When this shall happen, then fly—fly to England, for you will not be safe here. Your life and estate are both forfeited—and both will be but a poor atonement for the wrongs you have done. Fly to England, and if you should find yourself despised and neglected there, as will most probably be the case,—for the English hate a traitor even though they benefit by the treason—then fly thence with the monster Cunningham, to the barren desert, and herd with hungry beasts of prey.

The temporary reward of iniquity you now hold will soon shrink from your grasp; and the favor of him on whom you now depend will cease when your capacity to render the necessary services shall cease. This you know, and the reflection must even now throw a gloom of horror over your enjoyments, which the glittering tinsel of your new superintendency cannot illumine. Look back, and all is guilt—look forward, and all is dread! When the history of the present times shall be recorded, the names of Galloway and Cunningham will not be omitted; and posterity will wonder at the extreme obduracy of which the human heart is capable, and at the unmeasurable difference between a traitor and a Washington.