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Washington, George (1732-1799) Address to officers with General orders 3/11/1783 & Newburgh address

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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC02624 Author/Creator: Washington, George (1732-1799) Place Written: [Newburgh] Type: Manuscript Date: March 1783 ca. Pagination: 47 p.

Summary of Content: A contemporary transcript written by an unknown soldier on the leaves of a stitched pamphlet. Contains the anonymous "Address to the Officers of the Army" calling the army's general officers to a meeting (a mutinous situation) (pp. 1-12), Washington's orders of 11 March 1783 calling officers to a meeting of his own (15-24; including Washington's letter to the president of Congress after the meeting), the officer's meeting on 15 March, with Washington's address (25-41), and concluding with the officers' resolves (41-47). Another manuscript relating to the incidents at Newburgh is in the Henry Knox papers, GLC 2437.09443. The origin of this particular manuscript is clearly indicated in Washington's General Orders of 18 March 1783: "The Original papers[,] being too prolix to be inserted into the Records of the Army, will be lodged at the orderly office, to be perused or copied by any Gentleman of the Army who may think proper." Fitzpatrick, Ed., Writings of Washington, 26: 235. Apparently, this manuscript was copied by an interested officer shortly thereafter.

Background Information: Signer of the U.S. Constitution.

Full Transcript: [Anonymous circular letter of March 12]
An address to the officers [textloss: of] the army. - - - - -
Gentlemen,
A fellow soldier, whose interest and affection bind him strongly ...to you, whose past suffering have been as great, and whose future fortune may be as desperate as yours, - would beg leave to address you. - Age has its claims, and rank is not with its pretensions to advise: but though unsupported by both, he flatters himself, that the plain language of sincerity and experience will [textloss] neither be unheard not unregarded. - Like many of you, he loved private life and left it with regret. - [2] [textloss] left it, determined to retire from the field, with the necessity which called him to it, and not till then. - Not till the enimies of his country, the slaves of power, and the hirelings of injustice, were compelled to abandon their schemes, and acknowledge America as terrible in arms as she had been humble in remonstrance. With this object in view, he has long shared in your toils, and mingled in your dangers. He has felt the cold hand of poverty without a murmur, and has seen the insolence of wealth without a high. - But, too much under the divertion of his wishes, and sometimes weak enough to mistake desire for opinion, he has till lately - very lately believed [3] in the justice of his country. He hoped, that as the clouds of adversity scattered, and as the sunshine of peace and better fortune broke in upon us, the coldness and severity of government would relax, and that [inserted: more] justice, that gratitude would blaze forth upon those hands, which had upheld her, in the darkest stages of her passage, from impending servitude to acknowledged independence. But faith has its limits, as well as temper, and there are points beyond which, neither can be stretched, without sinking into cowardice or plunging into credulity. This, my friends, I conceive to be your situation. - I hurried to the ver[struck: ge][inserted: y] [4] verge of both, another stop would ruin you forever. - To be tame and unprovoked when injuries press hard upon you, is more than weakness; but to look up for kinder usage, without one manly effort of your own, would fix your character, and shew the world how richly you deserve those chains you broke. To guard against this evil, let in take a review of the ground upon which we now stand, and from thence carry our thoughts forward for a moment, into the unexplained field of expedient. - After a pursuit of seven long years, the object for which we set out is brought within our [5] reach. - Yes, my friends, that suffering courage of yours, was active once - it has conducted the United States of America through a doubtful and a bloody war. It has placed her in the chair of independency, and peace returns again to bless - whom? A country willing to redress your wrongs, cherish your worth, and reward your services; a country courting your return to private life, with tears of gratitude, and smiles of admiration, longing to divide with you that independency which your gallantry has given, and those riches which your wounds have preserved? - [6] Is this the case? Or is it rather, a country that tramples upon your rights, disdains your [cause], and insults your distresses? Have you not more than once, suggested your wishes, and made known your wants to congress? Wants and wishes which gratitude and policy should have anticipated, rather than evaded. And have you not lately, in the meek language of entreating memorial, begged from their justice,what you would no longer expect from their favour? How have you been answered? Let the letter which you are called to consider to morrow reply. - - - - - - -
[7] If this, then, be your treatment, while the swords you wear are necessary for the defence of America, what have you to expect from peace, when you voice shall sink, and your strength dissipate by division? When those very sworlds, the instruments and companions of your glory, shall be taken from your sides, and no remaining mark of military distinction left, but your wants, infirmities, and fears? - Can you then consent to be the only sufferers by the revolution, and retiring from the field, grow old in poverty, wretchedness, and contempt? Can you consent to wade through the vile mire of dependency, and owe the miserable remnant [8] of that life to charity, which has hitherto been spent in honour? - If you can - Go - and carry with you the jest of tories and the scorn of whigs, - the ridicule, and what is worse, the pity of the world. Go, starve, and be forgotten! But if your spirit should revolt at this; you have sense enough to discover, and spirit enough to oppose tyranny under what-ever garb it may assume; whether it be the plain coat of republicanism, or the splendid robe of royalty, if you have yet learned to discriminate between a people and a cause, between men and principles - awake - attend to your situation and redress yourselves. If the present moment be lost, even future effort is in [9] vain; and your threats then, will be as empty as your intreaties now. - - -
I would advise you, therefore, to come to some final opinion, upon what you can bear, and what you will suffer. If your determination be in any proportion to your wrongs, carry your appeal from the justice to the fears of government. Change the milk and water style of your last memorial; assume a bolder tone - decent, but lively, spirited and determined, and suspect the man who would advise to more moderation, and longer forbearance. Let two or three men who can feel as well as write, be appointed to draw your last [10] remonstrance; for I would no longer give it the sueing, soft, unsuccessful epithel of memorial. Let it be represented in language that will neither dishonour you by its rudeness, nor betray you by its fears; what has been promised by Congress, and what has been performed, - how long and [inserted: how] patiently you have suffered, how little you have asked, and how much of that little has been denied. Tell them that, though you were the first, and would be the last to encounter danger: Though despair itself can never drive you into dishonour, it may drive you from the field. That the would often irritated, [11] and never healed, may at length become incurable; and that the slightest mark of indinity from Congress now, must operate like the grave, and part you forever: That in any political event, the army has its alternative. If peace, that nothing shall seperate them from your arms but death: If war, that counting auspices, and inviting the direction of your illustrious leader, you will retire to some unsettled country, smile in your turn, and "mock when their fear cometh on. But let it be represented also that should they comply with the request of your late memorial, it would make you [12] more happy, and them more respectable. That while the war should continue, you would follow their standard into the field - and when it came to an end, you would withdraw into the shade, and give the world another subject of wonder and applause! an army victorious over its enimies - victorious over itself. - - - -
[Washington's orders]
General Orders.
Head-Quarters, March 11, 1783.
The Commander in chief, having heard that a general meeting of the officers of the army, was, propos[13]ed to be held this day at the new building, in an anonymous paper, which was circulated yesterday by some unknown person, conceives, although he is fully persuaded that the good sense of the officers would induce them to pay very little attention to such an irregular invitation, his duty, as well as the reputation and [inserted: true] interest of the army, requires his disapprobation of such disorderly proceeding. At the same time, he requests the general and field officers, with one officer from each [14] company and a proper representation from the staff of the army, will assemble at 12 O'clock on Saturday next, at the new building, to hear the report of the committee of the army to congress. After mature deliberation, they will devise what farther measures ought to be adopted as most rational and best calculated to attain the important object in view. The senior [officer] in rank present will be pleased to preside, and report the result of their deliberations to the Commander in Chief.
______________________________________________________________________________
A copy of a letter from General Washington to the Presiden[t] of Congress.
[15] Head-Quarters, Newburgh, March 18, 1783. - -
Sir,
The result of the proceedings of the grand convention of the officers, which I have the honour of enclosing to your excellency for the inspection of Congress, will, I flatter myself, be considered as the last glorious proof of patriotism which could have been given by men who aspired to the distinction of a patriot army; and will not only confirm their claim to the justice, but will entitle them to the gratitude of their country. - - - - -
Having seen the proceedings on the part of the army terminate with perfect unanimity, and [16] in a manner entirely consonant to my wishes; being impressed with the liveliest sentiments of affection for those who have so long, so patiently, and so cheerfully suffered and fought under my immediate direction; having from motives of justice, duty, and gratitude, spontaneously offered myself as an advocate for their rights; and having been requested to write to your excellency, earnestly entreating the most speedy decision of Congress upon the subjects of the late address from the army to that honourable body; it now only remains for me to perform the task I have assumed, [17] and to intercede in their behalf, as I now do, that the sovereign power will be pleased to verify the predictions I have pronounced of, and the confidence the army have reposed in the justice of their country. - - -
And here I humbly conceive it is altogether unnecessary, (while I am pleading the cause of an army which have done and suffered more than any other army ever did in the defence of the rights and liberties of human nature,) to expatiate on the claims to the most ample compensation for their meritorious services, because they are perfectly known to the whole world, and because, (although the topics [18] are inexhaustable,) enough has already said on the subject. To prove the assertions, to evince that my sentiments have ever been uniform, and to shew what my ideas of the rewards in question have always been, I appeal to the archives of Congress, and call on those sacred deposits to witness for me. And in order that my observations and arguments in favour of a future adequate provision for the officers of the army may be brought to remembrance again, and be considered in one single point of view without giving Congress [19] the trouble of having recourse to their files, I will beg leave to transmit herewith an [textloss] extract from a representation made by me to a committee of Congress, so long ago as the 29th of January, 1778, and also a transcript of a letter to the president of Congress, dated near [Pasair] Talls, October 11, 1780. - That in the critical and perilous moment when the last mentioned communication was made, there was the utmost danger [textloss] a disolution of the army would have taken place unless measures similar to those recommended had been adopted, will not admit a doubt. [20] That the adoption of the resolution granting half pay for life has been attended with all the happy consequences I had foretold so far as respected the good of the service, let the astonishing contrast between the state of the army at this instant, and at the former period, determine. And that the establishment of funds, and security of payment of all the just demands of the army, will be the most certain means of preserving the national faith and future tranquility of this extensive continent, is my decided opinion. - - - -
[21] By the pre[c]eding remarks, it will readily be imagined, that instead of retracting or reprehending, (from farther experience and reflection) the mode of compensation so strenuously urged in the enclosures, I am more and more confirmed in the sentiment, and if in the wrong, suffer me to please myself with the grateful delusion. - - - - - - - -
For if, besides the simple payment of their wages, a farther compensation is not due to sufferings and sacrifices of the officers, then have I been mistaken indeed. If the whole army have not merited whatev[22]er an grateful people can bestow, then have I been beguiled by prejudice, and built opinion on the basis of errour. If this country should not in the event perform every thing which has been requested in the last memorial to Congress, then will my belief become vain, and the hope which has been excited, void of foundation. And 'if,' (as has been suggested [in the anonymous address] for the purpose of inflaming their passions) the officers of the army are to be the only sufferers by this revolution; if retiring from the field, they are to grow old in poverty, wretchedness, and [23] contempt - if they are to wade through the vile mire of dependency, and owe the miserable remnant of that life to charity, which has hitherto been spent in honour", then shall I have learnt what in gratitude is, then shall I have realized a tale which will imbitter every moment of my future life. - - - -
But I am under no such apprehensions: a country rescued by their arms from impending ruin, will never leave unpaid the debt of gratitude. - - -
Should any intemperate or improper warmth have mingled itself amongst the foregoing observations I must [24] entreat your excellency and Congress, it may be attributed to effusion of an honest zeal in the best of causes, and that my particular situation may be my apology, and I hope I need not on this momentous occasion make any new protestations of personal disinterestedness, having ever renounced for myself the idea of pecuniary reward. - -
The consciousness of having attempted faithfully to discharge my duty, and the approbation of my country will be a sufficient recompence for my services. -
I have the honour to be &C &C.
His excellency the ) George Washington.
President of Congress.)
[Washington's Newburgh Address]
[25] Cantonment, 15th March 1783.
The officers of the army being convened agreeably to a general order of the 11th instant, the honourable major general Gates, president, his excellency the commander in chief was pleased to address the meeting as follows:
Gentlemen,
By an anonymous summons, an attempt has been made to convene you together. How inconsistent with the rules of propriety, how unmilitary, and how subversive of all good order and discipline, let the good sense of the army decide. - - -
In the moment of this summons, another anonymous [26] production was sent into circulation, addressed more to the feelings and passions, than to the reason and judgment of the army. The author of the piece is entitled to much credit for the goodness of his pen; and I could wish he had as much credit for the rectitude of his heart; for, as men see through different optics, and are induced by the reflecting faculties of the mind, to use different means to attain the same end, the author of the address should have had more charity than to mark for suspicion, the man who should recommend moderation and longer forbearance, or in other words, who should not think as he thinks [27] and act as he advises. But he had another plan in view, in which candour and liberality of sentiment, regard to justice, and love of country, have no part; and he was right to insinuate the darkness suspicion to effect the blackest designs. That the address is drawn with great art, and is designed to answer the most insidious purposes; that it is calculated impress the mind with an idea of premeditated injustice in the sovereign power of the United States, and rouse all those resentment which must unavoidably flow from such a belief; that the secret mover of this scheme, whoever he may be, intended to take advantage of the passions, while they were [28] warmed by [inserted: the] recollection of past distresses, without giving that time for cool, deliberative thinking, and that composure of mind which is so necessary to give dignity and stability to measures, is rendered too obvious by the mode of conducting the business, to need other proof than a [strikeout] reference to the proceeding. -
Thus much, gentlemen, I have thought it incumbent on me to observe to you, to shew you upon what principles I opposed the irregular and hasty meeting which was proposed to have been held on Tuesday last, and not because I wanted a dispo[29]sition to give you every opportunity, consistent with your own honour, and the dignity of the army to make known your grievances. If my conduct heretofore has not evinced to you, that I have been a faithful friend to the army, my declaration of it at this time would be equally unavailing and improper. But as I was among the first who embarked in the cause of our common country; as I have never left your side one moment, but when called from you on public duty; as I have been the constant companion and witness of your distresses, and not among the last to feel and acknowledge your merits; as I have ever considered my own military reputation as inseparably connected with [30] that of the army; as my heart has ever been expanded with joy, when I have heard its praises, and my indignation has arisen when the mouth of detraction has been opened against it, it can scarcely be supposed, at this late stage of the war, that I am indifferent to its interests. But how are the[y] to be promoted? The way is plain, says the anonymous addresser. "If war continues, remove into the unsettled country; then establish yourselves, and leave an ungrateful country to defend itself." But who are they to defend? Our wives, our children, our farms and other property which we leave behind us? Or in this state of hostile seperation, are [31] we to take the two first (the latter cannot be removed) to perish in a wilderness with hunger cold, and nakedness? "If peace takes place, never sheath your swords," says he, "until you have obtained full and ample justice." This dreadful alternative of either deserting our country in the extremest hour of distress, or turning our arms against it, which is the apparent object, unless Congress can be compelled into instant compliance, has something so shocking in it, that humanity revolts at the idea. My God! What can this writer have in view, by recommending such measures? Can he be a friend [32] to the army? Can he be a friend to his country? Rather is he not an insidious foe? Some emissary, perhaps, from New-York, plotting the ruin of both, by sowing the seeds of discord and seperation between the civil and military powers of the continent? And what a compliment does he pay to our understandings, when he recommends measures, in either alternative, impracticable in their nature? But, here, gentlemen, I will drop the curtain, because it would be as imprudent in me to assign my reasons for this opinion, as it would be insulting to your conception, to suppose you stood in need of the[textloss: m] [33] A moment's reflection will convince every dispassionate mind of the physical impossibility of carrying either proposal into execution. There might, gentlemen, be an impropriety in my taking notice, in this address to you, of an anonymous production; but the manner in which that performance has been introduced to the army, the effect it was intended to have, together with some other circumstances, will amply justify my observations on the tendency of that writing [34] with respect to the [struck: tendency of that writer] [inserted: advice] given by the author, to suspect the man, who would recommend moderate measures and longer forbearance, I spurn it, as every man who regards that liberty and reveres that justice for which we contend, undoubtedly must; for, if men are to be precluded from offering their sentiments on a matter which may invol[v]e the most serious and alarming consequences, that can invite the consideration of mankind, reason is of no use to us. The freedom of speech may be taken away, and dumb [35] and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter. (I cannot, in justice to my own belief, and what I have great reason to conceive is the intention of Congress, conclude this address, without giving it as my decided opinion, that, that honourable body entertain exalted sentiments of the services of the army, and from a full conviction of its merits and sufferings, will do it complete justice;) that their endeavours to discovers and establish funds for this purpose have been unwearied, and will not cease till they have succeeded, I have not a doubt. - - - - -
But like all other large bodies, [36] where there is a variety of different interests to reconcile, their determinations are slow. Why then should [we] distrust them? And in consequence of that distrust, adopt measures, which will cast a shade over that glory which has been so justly acquired, and tarnish the reputation of an army which is celebrated through all Europe for its fortitude and patriotism. And for what is this done? To bring the object we seek, nearer? No, most certainly, in my opinion it will cast it at a greater distance. (For myself, and I take no merit in giving the assurance, being induced to it from principles of gratitude, veracity [37] and justice, a grateful sense of the confidence you have ever placed in me, a recollection of the cheerful assistance and prompt obedience I have experienced from you, under every vissitude of fortune, and the sincere affection I feel for the army I have so long had the honour to command, will oblige me to declare in this public and solemn manner, that in the attainment of complete justice for all your toils and dangers, and in the gratification of every wish, so far as may be done consistently with the great duty I owe to my country, and those powers we are bound to [38] respect, you may freely command my services to the utmost extent of my abilities.) - - - -.
While I give you these assurances and pledge myself in the most unequivocal manner to exert whatever ability I am possessed of in your favour, let me entreat you, gentlemen, on your part, not to take any measures, which viewed in the calm light of reason, will lessen your dignity and sully the glory you have hitherto maintained. (Let me request you to rely on the plighted faith of your country, and place full confidence in the purity of the [39] intensions of Congress, that previous to your dissolution, as an army, they will cause all your accounts to be fairly liquidated, as directed in the resolutions which were published to you two days ago, and that they will adopt the most effectual measures in their power to render ample justice to you, for your faithful and meritorious services.) And let me conjure you in the name of our common country, as you value your own sacred honour, as you respect the rights of humanity, and as you regard the military and national character of America [40] to express your utmost horrour and detestation of the man, who wishes, under any specious pretences, to overturn the liberties of our country, and who wickedly attempts to open the flood gates of civil discord, and deluge our rising empire in blood. - By thus determining and thus acting, you will pursue the plain and direct road to the attainment of your wishes; you will defeat the insidious designs of our enemies, who are compelled to resort from open force to secret artifice. You will give one more distinguished proof of unexampled [41] patriotism and patient virtue, rising superiour to the pressure of the most complicated sufferings; and you will, by the dignity of your conduct, afford occasion for posterity to say, when speaking of the glorious you have exhibited to mankind, - Had this day been wanting, the world had never seen the last stage of perfection to which human nature is capable of attaining. - -
His excellency having withdrawn, on motion by general Knox, seconded by general Putnam; -Resolved, That [42] the unanimous thanks of the officers of the army be presented to his excellency the commander in chief, for his excellent address, and the communication he has been pleased to make to them; and that he be assured that the officers reciprocate his affectionate expressions, with the greatest sincerity of which the human heart is capable. - -
Resolved unanimously, That at the commencement of the present war, the officers of the American army engaged in the service of their country from the purest love and attachment to the rights and liberties of human nature, which mo[43]tives still exist in the highest degree; and that no circumstances of distress or danger shall induce a conduct that may tend to sully the reputation and glory which they have acquired, at the price of their blood, and eight years faithful services. - -
Resolved unanimously, That the officers of the American army view with abhorrence, and reject with disdain, the infamous propositions contained in a late anonymous address to the officers of the army, and resent with indignation the secret attempts of some unknown persons to collect the officers together, in a [44] manner totally subversive of all discipline and good - order. - - - -
Resolved unanimously, That the army continue to have an unshaken confidence in the justice of Congress and their country, and are fully convinced that the representatives of America will not disband or disperse the army until their accounts are liquidated, the balances accurately apertained, and adequate funds established for payment, and in this arrangement the officers expect, that the half pay, or commutation for it, should be efficaciously comprehended. - - - - [45] Resolved unanimously, That his excellency the commander in chief be requested to write to his excellency the president of Congress, earnestly entreating the most speedy decision of that honourable body, upon the subjects of our late address, which was forwarded by a committee of the army, some of whom are waiting upon Congress for the result. In the alternative of peace or war, this event would be highly satisfactory, and would produce immediate tranquility in the minds of the army, and prevent any further machinations of designing men, to sow discord between [46] the civil and military powers of the United States. Resolved unanimously, That the thanks of the officers of the army be given to the committee who presented to Congress the late address of the army, for the wisdom and prudence with which they have conducted that business, and that a copy of the proceedings of this day be transmitted by the president to major general M'Dougall; and that he be requested to continue his solicitations at Congress, until the objects of his missions are accomplished. [47] The meeting was then dissolved.
Horatio Gates Major General, President. -
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People: Washington, George, 1732-1799

Historical Era: American Revolution, 1763-1783

Subjects: PresidentNewburgh ConspiracyMutinyRevolutionary WarRevolutionary War GeneralSoldier's PayRebellionContinental CongressCongressMilitary HistoryContinental Army

Sub Era: The War for Independence

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