To James Warren
Septr. 25. 1776
This Express carries a new Plan of an Army.1 I hope the General Court without one Moments delay will Send Commissions to whole Corps of their Officers, either by Expresses or Committees to New York and Ticonderoga, that as many Men may be inlisted without delay as possible. It may be best to send a Committee with full Powers to each Place. There is no Time to be lost. I inclose you a sett of Articles as lately amended.2 Discipline I hope will be introduced at last. I am
RC (MHi:Warren-Adams Coll.); docketed: “Mr J. Adams. Lettr Sep. 25. 1776.”
1. Well briefed by military correspondents on the inadequacy of congressional bounties and the instability resulting from short enlistments, JA, according to his later account, had taken the responsibility for a new plan, which the congress debated at length and adopted with amendments on 16 Sept. (Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 3:434; JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 5:762–763). The monetary bounty was raised from $10 to $20 and land grants ranging from 100 acres for soldiers to 500 acres for colonels were offered for the first time by the congress. To obtain these benefits, men had to enlist for the duration of the war. The new plan also provided for quotas of battalions for each state, ranging from 1 or 2 from the smallest states to 12 and 15 from the largest.
2. On 14 June the congress assigned the task of revising the Articles of War to the Committee on Spies, of which JA was a member. The original report to the congress is not in the hand of any member of the committee, nor in the hand of Timothy Pickering, as Worthington Ford believed, but the hand makes little difference (PCC, No. 27, f. 5–44; JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 5:807; for the progress of the committee’s report through the congress, see vol. 4:19–20). The report was largely copied from the British Articles of War, with such modifications as circumstances required. JA claimed in one instance that he and Jefferson bore the brunt of the work of revision; in another, that the work was all his (Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 3:409–410, 434). In any case, he knew where to look for guidance. He declared that the committee could do no better than to follow the British example, which was based on Roman rules: “I was therefore for reporting the British Articles of War, totidem verbis” (same, 3:409–410). References to the king were replaced by mention of the congress; references to places in the British empire where the rules would differ were omitted; and provisions on billeting, commandeering of wagons, and behavior in foreign parts (with one exception, noted below) were dropped (Rules and Articles for the Better Government of His Majesty’s Horse and Foot Guards and All Other His Majesty’s Forces . . ., London, 1771, in Anno Regni Georgii II [III] Regis . . . Undecimo at the Parliament Begun . . . in . . . 1768, London, 1771, p. 139–206).
The revision of the American articles was stimulated by a letter from Joseph Reed of 25 July delivered to the congress by JA’s friend William Tudor (Force, Archives description begins [Peter Force, ed.,] American Archives: Consisting of a Collection of Authentick Records, State Papers, Debates, and Letters and Other Notices of Publick Affairs, Washington, 1837–1853; 9 vols. description ends , 5th ser., 1:576). Reed noted that punishments were too mild, that crimes such as drunkenness or sleeping on guard and desertion were capital offenses in all but the American army. For such crimes, 39 lashes were contemptible as a deterrent. For the crime of deserting one unit and joining another to obtain an additional bounty, Reed recommended not less than one hundred lashes. Tudor brought proposals as well, but what they were is unknown; perhaps he reiterated the suggestions he had made nearly a year earlier that were not adopted in the revision of November of 1775, such as the death penalty for several crimes and one hundred lashes for others. He complained in letters to JA of desertion, plundering, seditious speech, and mutiny. Tudor was well aware of the greater severity of British regulations (to JA, 6 and 23 Sept., above).
The revision of the Articles of War adopted by the congress on 20 September 1776 (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 5:788–807) repeated, usually verbatim, the 69 articles adopted in June 1775 (same, 2:111–122) and added 33 more, some of them from the revisions of November 1775 (same, 3:331–334). But with few exceptions the articles in all versions drew upon the British. The difference in the 1776 revision was wholesale verbatim borrowing not only of the language of the articles, but also of the entire scheme of arrangement. Americans took over the grouping of the articles under numbered sections, failing only to use the section titles of the British. The copying was so slavish that the committee report neglected to specify in several instances whether a court martial was regimental or not. For example, under Sect. XIII, Arts. 1, 2, 4, and 5 required simply “a court martial,” although the equivalent articles in 1775 (Arts. XVI, XVII, XIX, XX) specified a regimental one; and Art. 6, which now permitted the death penalty, again required “a court martial” instead of the general court martial specified in 1775 (Art. XXI). The omissions were of some consequence because Tudor had earlier sought to have the distinction carefully maintained. Another instance of unreflective copying occurred in Sect. XIII, Art. 17, which referred to American forces “employed in foreign parts,” a scarcely appropriate qualification.
The only significant provisions that the committee did not take from the British were in Arts. 6 and 22 under Sect. XIV. The first called for punishment of those refusing to give evidence in a court martial, and the other, for the publication of the names of officers cashiered for cowardice or fraud and the ostracizing by fellow officers of such miscreants.
The more thorough adoption of the British code brought changes and additions in 1776 that fall into three categories: those providing for increased severity of punishment, greater protection for civilians from plunder and wanton destruction of property, and more careful administrative procedures. Death as a possible penalty was listed in nine additional instances. The limit on lashes was raised from 39 to 100, as critics had suggested. A new punishment, meted out to officers and commissaries for fraud in mustering, was denial of any future office or employment under the United States. The conditions under which the dates of officers’ commissions affected their rank and under which militia officers were subordinate to regular officers were clarified, as were those for enlistment and discharge. The holding of courts martial was more carefully regulated, and for the first time mention was made of the duties of the judge advocate.