Adams Papers

The President of Congress to the American Peace Commissioners, 15 July 1783

The President of Congress to the American Peace Commissioners

Princeton 15. July 17831


As Congress have not yet elected any Minister for Foreign Affairs, and knowing the importance of your Being fully informed of every public transaction relative to these States, I have concluded that you would not think it amiss to hear from me on the subject of the removal of Congress to this place, tho’ I cannot consider this communication as official but merely for your information in my Individual capacity.

The State of our Finances making it indispensably necessary to abridge the public expences in every instance that would not endanger the union, we concluded to reduce the army by discharging all the Soldiers enlisted for the War, with a proportionate number of Officers, on condition that the discharge should operate no otherwise than as a furlough, until the ratification of the Definitive Treaty. This not only eased us of a heavy disbursement of ready Cash for subsistence money and Rations, but gratified many of the army who wished to be at home in the early part of the Summer, to provide for the following Winter. Three months pay was ordered, which could no otherwise be complied with, but by a paper anticipation of the Taxes, payable in six months.2

By an inevitable accident, the Notes did not arrive at the army till six days after the Soldiers were discharged and had left the camp. This, together with some difficulty in settling their accounts, created an uneasiness among the Troops; but by the General’s Address and the good conduct of the Officers, they all retired peaceably to their different States, tho’ without a single farthing of cash to buy themselves a meal of Victuals.

In the Barracks in Philadelphia and at Lancaster, in the State of Pennsylvania, there were a number of new Recruits, who had been enlisted since the months of December and January last, and who had not yet taken the field; these Soldiers having not been brought under any regular discipline, made many objections against accepting their discharges and gave their Officers reason to fear some difficulty in getting rid of them; but the Secretary at War thought he had satisfied them by assuring them of the like pay with the rest of the army. On the 15th. of June a petition was received from the Serjeants, requiring a Redress of their grievances, in a very turbulent and indecent Style, of which no notice was taken;3 but on the 18th. we received the letters No. 1 and 2.4 A Committee was immediately appointed to confer with the Executive Council of Pennsylvania, and to endeavour to get them to call out the Militia to stop the Mutineers; but to no purpose; the Council thinking that the Citizens would not choose to risque themselves when fair means might do. The first Report of the Committee, contained in No. 3 will shew their proceedings.5 On the 19th. the troops arrived and joined those at the Barracks in the City, who had been encreased in number by a few companies of old Soldiers arrived the day before from Charles Town. The whole being very orderly and quiet, Congress adjourned on Friday the 20th., as usual, till Monday morning. On the 21st. one of the Committee called on me and informed, that the Soldiers at the Barracks were very disorderly and had cast off the authority of their Officers—that it was suspected they had a design, the following night, against the Bank; and advised me to call Congress without delay. This I did, to meet in half an hour. The Soldiers by accident hearing of it, very fortunately hastened their designs a day or two sooner than was intended. The Members of Congress had just got together, except one, when the State House (in which also The President and Supreme Executive Council were then sitting) was surrounded by about three hundred armed Men with fixed Bayonets under the command of seven Serjeants. Congress immediately sent for Genl. St. Clair and demanded the reason of this hostile appearance, who informed of his having just arrived in Town from his seat in the Country in obedience to the orders of Congress of the day preceding; that he had received information from the Commanding Officer of the mutinous disposition of the Troops, who had marched from the Barracks contrary to the orders of their Officers; and that the Veteran Troops from Charles Town had been unwillingly forced into the measure. The President of the State then appeared, and produced the insolent paper of which No. 4 is a copy, which had been sent into him by the Serjeants.6

Congress determined they would enter on no deliberations while thus surrounded; but ordered Genl. St. Clair immediately to endeavour to march the Mutineers back to the Barracks by such means as were in his power.

After several prudent and wise measures the General prevailed on the Serjeants to return to their Barracks, convincing them that if they were aggrieved they had a right to make it known in a decent manner, thro’ any persons they might think proper to appoint. But previous to this, after waiting surrounded by this armed force for near three hours, Congress broke up and we passed thro’ the files of the Mutineers without the least opposition, tho’ at times before our adjournment, the Soldiers, many of whom were very drunk, threatened Congress by name.

The Mutineers had taken possession of the powder House and several public Arsenals in this City, with some Field pieces from the public Yard.

In the evening Congress met and made a House and came to the resolutions contained in No. 5.7 and broke up without adjournment. The Committee not being able to meet the Council till Sunday morning were then prevailed on to wait for an answer till monday morning and then received the answer contained in the 2d. Report No. 6.8 However hoping that the Council would change their sentiments, the Committee did not think proper to give me their advice till Tuesday at two O’Clock in the Afternoon. In the mean time the Mutineers kept in arms, refusing all obedience to their Officers, and in possession of the powder House and Magazines of Military Stores. On Tuesday morning the Officers reported to me that the preceding evening the Serjeants, notwithstanding some talk of a submission and return to their duty, had presented six Officers with a commission each as in No. 7.;9 and on one refusing to accept it they threatened him with immediate death—and that, at the time of the Report, they were getting very drunk and in a very riotous state. By the second Report of the Committee you will be acquainted with the particulars of the transaction, with the addition that the behaviour of the six Officers was very mysterious and unaccountable. At two O’Clock agreeably to the advice of the Committee, I summoned Congress to meet at this place on Thursday the 26th. of June, issued the Proclamation No. 8 and left the City.10

As soon as it was known that Congress was going, the Council were informed, that there was great reason to expect a serious attack on the Bank the night following, on which the President of the State collected about One hundred Soldiers and kept Guard all night. On Wednesday it was reported that Congress had sent for the Commander in Chief with the whole Northern Army, and the Militia of New-Jersey, who were to be joined by the Pennsylvania Militia, in order to quell the mutiny; which was no otherwise true than ordering a detachment of a few hundred men from the North River. The Serjeants being alarmed, soon proposed a submission, and the whole came in a Body to the President of the State, making a most submissive acknowledgment of their misconduct, and charging the whole on two of the Officers, whom they had commissioned to represent their grievances, a Capt. Carbery and Lieutenant Sullivan, who were to have headed them, as soon as they should have proceeded to violences. These Officers immediately escaped to Chester and there got on board of a Vessel bound to London. The Serjeants describe the plan laid by these Officers as of the most irrational and diabolical nature, not only against Congress and the Council, but also against the City and Bank. They were to be joined by straggling parties from different parts of the Country, and after executing their horrid purposes were to have gone off with their plunder to the East Indies. However incredible this may appear the letters No. 9 & 10 from Sullivan to Colo. Moyland, his Commanding Officer, from Chester and the Capes clearly shew that it was a deep laid scheme.11 It appears clearly to me that next to the continued care of divine Providence, the miscarriage of this plan is owing to the unexpected meeting of Congress on Saturday, and their decided conduct in leaving the City, until they could support the fœderal Government with Dignity.

It is also said that two of the Citizens have been concerned in this wicked plot, but they are not yet ascertained. They were certainly encouraged by some of the lower class as well as by the general supineness in not quelling the first movement. Some very suspicious circumstances attending the conduct of the other four Officers, who were commissioned by the Serjeants have caused them to be arrested. The whole matter has so far subsided. The detachment under Genl. Howe from the Northern Army has arrived in the vicinity of the City and a Court of enquiry is endeavouring to develope the whole affair.12

The Citizens are greatly chagrined at the predicament in which they stand and endeavour to lay the blame on the Council for not calling on them and proving them, while the Council justify themselves by the advice of the Militia Officers, whom they called together for that purpose. The Citizens are universally petitioning Congress to return to the City, assuring us of their constant protection.

You will excuse me for tiring you with so circumstantial an account, which nothing but the necessity of preventing the many falsehoods that are generally propagated on these occasions and the propriety of your being well informed, would ever have justified me in.

I do myself the honor to send herewith the News-papers, and particularly a Circular Letter of Genl. Washington to the different States, which in my opinion gives the finishing stroke to his inimitable Character.

I have committed this letter to the care of my younger Brother, who is bound for London, having been in the Merchant service at that port for several years, but who, I have the best evidence is well attached to the interests of this Country, and who can inform you of many particulars relating to the State of things here.13

I have the honor to be &c.

E. B

FC (PCC, No. 16, f. 211–218); internal address: “The Honorable / The Ministers Plenipotentiary / of the United States &c. at / Paris.”

1The recipient’s copy of this letter and its enclosures have not been found. Benjamin Franklin replied to it on 1 Nov., noting that he had just received a duplicate, the original not having arrived (Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. description begins The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, ed. Francis Wharton, Washington, 1889; 6 vols. description ends , 6:721). No specific reference by JA to this letter has been found other than in his letter to the president of Congress of 14 Dec., below, in which he wrote that “Mr Boudinot” (for whom see note 13, below) had arrived with dispatches for the commissioners that “contained nothing but duplicates of Information recd long ago respecting the Mutiny at Philadelphia.” The lack of any substantive reply to this letter by either JA or Franklin is likely owing to their having seen accounts of the “Mutiny” and copies of at least some of the enclosures in European or American newspapers.

2In this paragraph Boudinot paraphrases Congress’ resolution of 26 May (JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, ed. Worthington Chauncey Ford, Gaillard Hunt, John C. Fitzpatrick, Roscoe R. Hill, and others, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 24:364). For the decision to provide the furloughed officers and men with three months’ pay and the circumstances that led to the notes’ arriving after most of the soldiers had departed for home, mentioned in the following paragraph, see Morris, Papers description begins The Papers of Robert Morris, 1781–1784, ed. E. James Ferguson, John Catanzariti, Elizabeth M. Nuxoll, Mary A. Gallagher, and others, Pittsburgh, 1973–1999; 9 vols. description ends , 8:45–49.

3The petition actually was received on 13 June, but it is not mentioned at that date in the JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, ed. Worthington Chauncey Ford, Gaillard Hunt, John C. Fitzpatrick, Roscoe R. Hill, and others, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends . However, James Madison’s account of debates for that date indicates that “the mutinous memorial from the Sergeants was recd. & read. It excited much indignation & was sent to the Secretary at war.” For the content of the petition, which is apparently not extant, see Madison, Papers: Congressional Series, 7:141, note 1.

4In the left margin is the notation “letters from Colo. Butler & Colo. Henry, on the files of Congress.” In the letters, both dated 17 June, Cols. William Henry and Richard Butler reported the departure of “armed soldiers” from the camp at Lancaster for Philadelphia, Butler also enclosing the orders by which he had unsuccessfully sought to prevent the troops’ leaving (PCC, No. 38, f. 37, 45, 123). Note that these and the other enclosures are printed with this letter in Dipl. Corr., 1783–1789 description begins The Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States of America, from . . . 1783, to . . . 1789, [ed. William A. Weaver], repr., Washington, 1837 [actually 1855]; 3 vols. description ends , 1:6–29.

5In the left margin is the notation “See Journals of Congress July 1. 1783.” The enclosure was the first report entered into the JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, ed. Worthington Chauncey Ford, Gaillard Hunt, John C. Fitzpatrick, Roscoe R. Hill, and others, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends on 1 July. It contained an account of the 19 June meeting between a congressional committee headed by Alexander Hamilton and the supreme executive council of Pennsylvania at which the council refused to call out the militia to prevent the troops on the road from Lancaster from joining the already mutinous Philadelphia garrison. With the report are the committee’s orders to Maj. William Jackson, assistant secretary at war, directing him to persuade the troops to return to their camp, while “avoiding whatever may tend to irritate” (JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, ed. Worthington Chauncey Ford, Gaillard Hunt, John C. Fitzpatrick, Roscoe R. Hill, and others, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 24:413–416).

6In the left margin is the notation “Message to Council dated by the Sergeants.” The undated letter signed by James Bennett on behalf of the noncommissioned officers and soldiers of the Philadelphia garrison contained seven demands, five of them seeking the compensation due them for their service and the other two extending the settlement to all members of the Pennsylvania line wherever they might be and providing for a settlement for the troops that had arrived from Lancaster (PCC, No. 38, f. 27–36).

7In the left margin is the notation “Resolutions of Sat. 21. June.” Congress resolved that Pennsylvania should take action to support the public authority; that should no effectual action be taken, then Congress should move to Trenton or Princeton, N.J.; and that George Washington should be informed of the situation so that he could take what action he thought expedient “for suppressing any disturbances” (JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, ed. Worthington Chauncey Ford, Gaillard Hunt, John C. Fitzpatrick, Roscoe R. Hill, and others, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 24:410).

8In the left margin is the notation “See Journals July 1.” This is the second report entered into the JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, ed. Worthington Chauncey Ford, Gaillard Hunt, John C. Fitzpatrick, Roscoe R. Hill, and others, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends of 1 July (see note 5). Dated 24 June, it is an account of the meeting between the congressional committee headed by Alexander Hamilton and the supreme executive council of Pennsylvania in the wake of Congress’ resolutions of 21 June (see note 7). When requested to act in accord with the first resolution of 21 June, the council refused and was then advised by the committee that Congress’ only recourse would be to abandon the city and call upon the forces under Washington’s command to restore order (same, 24:416–421).

9In the left margin is the notation “See files of Congress.” The document, dated 23 June and signed by James Bennett, commissioned six officers to represent the noncommissioned officers and soldiers in Philadelphia and admonished them “to remember that every effort in your power must be exerted to bring about the speedy & most ample justice; And even to use compulsive measures should they be found necessary” (PCC, No. 38, f. 24).

10In the left margin is the notation “See page 47. this Book.” The proclamation, after recounting the threat to Congress posed by the mutinous soldiers and the inability of Pennsylvania to provide adequate security for its deliberations, summoned the members of Congress to meet at Princeton on 26 June (PCC, No. 16, f. 202–204). The reference to “page 47” in the marginal note is owing to the fact that the proclamation and Boudinot’s letter are in the president’s letterbook for the period 1781 to 1787. When Boudinot assumed the presidency on 5 Nov. 1782 he numbered the page containing his first letter p. 1 rather than p. 156, as it would otherwise have been.

11In the left margin is the notation “See files of Congress.” Although Boudinot seems to indicate that he is sending two letters from Lt. John Sullivan to his commanding officer, Col. Stephen Moylan, only one has been identified, that of 30 June (PCC, No. 38, f. 41–44). Proclaiming his continued attachment to the United States, Sullivan ascribed the actions of himself and his associate, Capt. Henry Carberry, to the injustices experienced from the political leadership during their service. He closed by declaring, “let what bad men there are at the helm of government observe from this instance, how dangerous it is to drive men of honor to desperation.”

Lt. John Sullivan of Pennsylvania and Capt. Henry Carberry of Maryland were officers in the 4th Continental Dragoons and the 11th Pennsylvania Regiment, respectively. At the end of June the two men took passage for England on a British ship lying off Chester, Penn., and reached London in early August. Neither man remained long abroad, Carberry returning to America in 1784 and Sullivan in 1785. Although neither Carberry nor Sullivan was ever convicted of any offense connected with the June mutiny, Carberry’s later career proved happier than Sullivan’s. Carberry managed to rehabilitate himself and resume his career, serving as a captain in the U.S. Army from 1791 until his resignation in 1794 and, during the War of 1812, as a lieutenant colonel in the 36th U.S. Infantry. Sullivan, on the other hand, had his claim to pay and commutation denied by Congress in 1786 owing to his “having withdrawn himself from the United States without leave,” and that body ordered his arrest in 1787 for incendiary activities on the Spanish-American frontier (Washington, Papers, Presidential Series description begins The Papers of George Washington: Presidential Series, ed. Dorothy Twohig, Mark A. Mastromarino, Jack D. Warren, Robert F. Haggard, Christine S. Patrick, John C. Pinheiro, and others, Charlottesville, 1987– . description ends , 3:310–312; Heitman, Register Continental Army description begins Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army during the War of the Revolution, rev. edn., Washington, 1914. description ends , p. 143, 527; JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, ed. Worthington Chauncey Ford, Gaillard Hunt, John C. Fitzpatrick, Roscoe R. Hill, and others, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 30:355; 33:675–676). For the arrival of Sullivan and Carberry in London, see letters from Edmund Jenings to JA of 7 [Aug.] 1783, and from Henry Laurens to the commissioners of the 9th, both below.

12In consequence of a letter from Boudinot dated 21 June, Washington on 25 June ordered a force commanded by Maj. Gen. Robert Howe to proceed to Philadelphia and suppress the mutiny then in progress. Howe reached Princeton on the evening of 30 June and shortly thereafter moved on to Philadelphia (Washington, Writings, ed. Fitzpatrick description begins The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745–1799, ed. John C. Fitzpatrick, Washington, 1931–1944; 39 vols. description ends , 27:35–36; Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789, ed. Paul H. Smith and others, Washington, 1976–2000; 26 vols. description ends , 20:349–350, 388–389).

13This is Lewis Boudinot, a merchant seaman. Apparently about to embark on his return voyage to America, he wrote to Benjamin Franklin on 29 Sept. from Falmouth, England, indicating that he was forwarding through the French ambassador the dispatches entrusted to him by his brother (Cal. Franklin Papers, A.P.S. description begins I. Minis Hays, ed., Calendar of the Papers of Benjamin Franklin in the Library of the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 1908; 5 vols. description ends , 3:111). These are presumably the dispatches Franklin refers to in his letter to the president of Congress of 1 Nov. (Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. description begins The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, ed. Francis Wharton, Washington, 1889; 6 vols. description ends , 6:721–722). The younger Boudinot evidently had returned to England by 14 Dec., when JA wrote to the president of Congress and reported Boudinot’s arrival at London on 11 Dec. with additional dispatches, below.

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