Samuel Ashe Receives a Letter From the President
Samuel Ashe was an American Revolutionary and three term Governor of North Carolina.
Ashe also spent two decades as his State’s Chief Justice and is the namesake for Asheville, NC.
During the writing of yesterdays article on Continental Soldier John Ashe I came across his brother Samuel.
Like his older brother, Samuel Ashe became an early advocated for independence. As such, he participated in several important measures during North Carolina’s move toward statehood.
When the Colonial Assembly was dismissed by the Royal Governor, Samuel became part of Provincial Assembly. Additionally, he is said to have signed on with a local militia, though I was unable to locate any record of his service.
During the months leading up to independence, Samuel Ashe spent time as Chairman of the North Carolina Committee of Safety. This shadow government essentially ran the colony, and, as Chairman, Samuel was effectively the Governor.
When North Carolina became a State, Ashe was a member of the team which wrote the new Constitution. He was immediately elected to the Senate and chosen as Speaker.
Furthermore, Samuel was chosen as the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court. He would hold this position for twenty years.
During the ratification debates regarding the United States Constitution, North Carolina held out for much longer than most States. In fact, North Carolina would not join the union until six months after George Washington already took office as President!
Samuel Ashe was one of the Anti-Federalists leading the fight. According to Constitution Signer Hugh Williamson, Samuel and the other two Supreme Court Justices were afraid the new National Judiciary would take power away from them.
While this may sound selfish and power-hungry, their feeling was most likely more about concern for their State’s ability to take care of itself than their desire for control.
Samuel Ashe left the Supreme Court when he was elected as Governor of North Carolina.
Although his term was relatively quiet, I came upon an interesting correspondence he had with President Washington. Upon receiving the announcement that Washington would be retiring, the North Carolina Government (like most States) sent a letter of thanks and congratulations to the President.
As Governor, Ashe was charged with forwarding the letter to Washington. He also included one of his own.
Washington’s answer to Samuel seems extremely relevant today. In speaking about the blessings of liberty in America the President said:
“The continuance of these blessings will depend on the virtue, fortitude and union of its citizens: and as the exercise of these qualities are essential to our safety and happiness, so I trust they will be displayed.”
With these words, the Father of His Country gave Samuel Ashe (and us in posterity) the method by which the people of the United States might keep their Republic.
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