Thursday, May 24, 2012

Aversion to "System of Severity"

Writing from Trenton on May 13, 1782, New Jersey Governor William Livingston sent British commander Sir Guy Carleton acknowledgement of the Carleton's message conveyed by paroled officer Col. Henry Brockholst Livingston.  As a captured officer, Col. Livingston should have been released on parole under Carleton's immediate predecessor, Sir Henry Clinton.  Instead, the commandant of New York City, Lt. Gen. James Robertson, ordered the young officer confined to the Provost Jail on May 2.

Governor Livingston remarked that had it not been for Carleton's "seasonable arrival" as commander of British forces, the colonel "might have long confinement, thro' the operation of that contrary disposition by which some of your Predecessors in command, have been so remarkably distinguished."

William Livingston wrote that Carleton's effort to end "any unnecessary rigour against prisoners," especially when busy with other commitments upon arrival, offered "the strongest proof of your aversion to that System of severity of which the Americans have long had reason to complain...." 

Since the young officer was confined immediately after a long voyage, "exercise and elbow room" were critical upon hsi arrival in New York City and "his liberation into open air and liberty, must be proportionally agreeable to him...."  Governor Livingston added, "In the cahracter of his Father, I am also happy in having him so soon given to my embraces, thro' those tender feelings for which your Excellency was celebrated before you left America." 

Carl E. Prince and Mary Lou Lustig, editors, The Papers of William Livingston: Vol. 4: July 1780-April 1783 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1987), pages 403 and 407.  For examples of the "contrary disposition" of some of Carleton's predecessors, please consult posts about Sir William Howe, here, here and here, among others
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