MIDDLETON, Arthur (1742-1787), Signer (South Carolina). Autograph letter (unsigned), TO [WILLIAM HENRY DRAYTON, 1742-79], Phildelphia, 10 July 1776. 1¼ pages, 4to, integral blank with recipient's docket. In flawless original condition.
THE ONLY MIDDLETON LETTER ON THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE; ONE OF ONLY EIGHT MIDDLETON LETTERS OR DOCUMENTS DATED 1776
EIGHT DAYS AFTER THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE IS APPROVED, MIDDLETON EXULTS THAT THE NEW "PLANT" OF INDEPENDENCE HAS "THRIVEN AMAZINGLY," AND SENDS DRAYTON "THE FRUIT PLUCKED FROM 12 OF THE BRANCHES"
A SIGNER'S STARK RESOLVE: "IT IS CAESAR OR NOTHING!". A remarkable letter, metaphorically exulting in the Continental Congress's adoption of the Declaration of Independence and resolutely declaring that now, as a result, "it is Caesar [tyranny] or nothing." To Drayton, a fellow South Carolinian and active supporter of the independence movement, Middleton writes "I have written you a sheet full of stuff, but as I never like to do things by halves, must keep it, endeavour to add to it, & send it by some future opportunity. This is barely to acknowledge your favour of the 3rd May with the charge under a prosperous Seal...."
Middleton, his excitement palpable, metaphorically celebrates the momentous vote for the Declaration of Independence. That resolution passed on 2 July by 12 states (with the exception of New York). Here, Middleton announces to Drayton that "the plant which you have been nursing has thriven amazingly, its roots have reach'd this place & sprung up in full vigour; I send you the Fruit plucked from 12 of the Branches, & have the pleasure to tell you that the 13th is in full Blossom." (It is intriguing to speculate as to the form of the Declaration which Middleton enclosed with this letter: he would have had available several Philadelphia newspaper printings and, of course, the John Dunlap broadside itself).
He continues: "My sentiments on this subject you shall have soon, in the meantime enjoy the delicacies of this forbidden fruit, if it has any." Dropping metaphor, Middleton turns to ominous military news, especially Washington's efforts to concentrate the Continental Army for the defense of New York. "30,000 men soon to be before N York - 10,000 with Burgoyne in Canada, & Clinton's armament to the Southward. These are alarming Considerations, but 'fortes Fortuna' my friend & this Campaign will bring us near the goal."
"My anxiety for my dear Country whose fate may by this time be determined, has almost deprived me of my senses, therefore excuse this Scrawl....I take the liberty of enclosing [not present] Two Letters for Mr. Gadsden. The gentleman to whom they are directed has gone hence & as I know not how to get them to him...please to deliver them G. with my comps. Remember the word is 'aut Caesar, aut nulli' [Literally "It is Caesar: the tyranny of George III] or nothing."
In Middleton's poetic metaphor, the "plant," "fruit," and "13th branch" clearly refer respectively to the issue of independence, the Declaration of Independence, and the delegation from the state of New York, which deferred to vote for independence as they had not yet been authorized to do so by their constituents. "Probably Middleton's inclination not to sign his letters in any way, or to merely initial them," one authority has written, "may be explained by the fact that to have signed them may have jeopardized his personal safety as well as that of the radical revolutionary cause in South Carolina." And, of course, when writing to close friends, like Drayton, "no signature was necessary. At most, initials were sufficient. To these men the identity of the writer would be evident from both the handwriting and the content of the letters" (Joseph E. Fields). Published (from a photocopy) with commentary in Letters of Delegates to Congress, vol.4.
Middleton's letters and documents are among the rarest of the Signers, even though a 1952 census enumerated a total of 54 examples, many of which were even then in permanent collections (Joseph E. Fields, "The Autographs of Arthur Middleton," in Manuscripts: The First Twenty Years, pp.85-104). Only 8 Middleton documents bearing the date 1776 are extant (see below). It is worth noting that the present letter, deliberately left unsigned by Middleton, is of all known Middleton documents THE CLOSEST IN DATE TO THE ADOPTION OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE.
Census of Arthur Middleton Documents dated 1776
1) Document signed, the engrossed Declaration of Independence. National Archives. Fields 1.
2) Autograph letter signed (initials) to William Henry Drayton, 18 September 1776. Fields 18. In private hands
3) Letter signed (by Middleton and others) to John Langdon, 13 October 1776. Fields 15. Garrett Library, Johns Hopkins University.
4) Letter signed (by Middleton, Gwinnett, Robert Morris, John Hancock, Francis Lewis and George Read, 12 July 1776. Fields 19. Doheny Library (sale, Christie's, 22 February 1989, $190,000) -- In private hands.
5) The present Autograph letter signed, 10 July 1776. Fields 24.
6) Autograph letter signed (initials) to William Henry Drayton, 14 September 1776. Fields 27. Part of Signer set (sale, Christie's, 18 May 1984) -- The Albert and Shirley Small Collection, University of Virginia.
7) Document signed (by Middleton and others) a commission, 1 March 1776. Fields 47. In private hands.
8) Document signed (by Middleton and others), a commission, 25 March 1776. Not in Fields. Doheny Library (sale, Christie's 22 February 1989, $1600) --In private hands.