George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Reed, 30 October 1775

To Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Reed

Cambridge 30th Octr 1775.

Dear Sir,

After you left this yesterday1 Mr Tudor presented me with the Inclosed—as there may be some observations worthy of notice I forward it to you, that it may be presented to the Congress; but I would have his remarks upon the frequency of General Courts Martial consider’d with some degree of caution, for although the nature of his Office affords him the best oppertunity of discovering the Imperfection of the present Rules & Regulations for the Army, yet, a desire of lessening his own trouble may induce him to transfer many matters from a Genl Court Martial where he is the principal Actor, to Regimental Courts where he has nothing to do—I do not know that this is the case, but as it may be, I think it ought not to be lost sight of.2

In your conference with Mr Bache be so good as to ask him whether the two Posts which leave Philadelphia for the Southward both go through Alexandria, & if only one, which of them it is, the Tuesday’s or Saturday’s that I may know how to order my Letters from this place.3

My Letter to Colo. Harrison on the subject we were speaking of, is inclosed, and open for your perusal—put a Wafer under it, & make what use you please of it.4 Let me know by the Post or &ca what the World says of Men & things: My Compliments to Mrs Reed5 & with sincere regard I remain Dr Sir Yr Affecte Humble Ser.

Go: Washington


1GW may have been mistaken about the time of Joseph Reed’s departure from Cambridge. “I am just setting out for Phila.,” Reed wrote to John Glover and Stephen Moylan in a letter that he dated 30 Oct., “so that in future you will direct to Mr Randolph” (DLC:GW). Reed went to Philadelphia to tend to various legal cases before the Pennsylvania supreme court in which he was involved as an attorney. See GW to Richard Henry Lee, 29 Oct. 1775. Stephen Moylan, who returned to Cambridge on the evening of 1 Nov., almost immediately became secretary pro tem. See Moylan to Joshua Wentworth, 1 Nov., and Moylan to William Watson, 2 Nov. 1775, both in DLC:GW. GW did not seek any permanent replacement for Reed for some time because he hoped that Reed would soon return to the army and resume his duties as secretary. Despite many pleas from GW over the next several months, Reed refused to do so. When Reed rejoined the army the following June, he became adjutant general. Robert Hanson Harrison was named GW’s permanent secretary on 16 May 1776.

2William Tudor’s undated “Remarks on the Rules & Articles for the Government of the Continental Troops” are in DNA:PCC, item 41. “It has been objected to this military Code,” Tudor writes, “that most of the Offences describ’d in it are punishable by a General Court Martial only. Experience has shewn the Inconveniency of this & given Weight to the Objection. The Time it takes to assemble a General Court Martial, which by the 33d Artic. must consist of 13 Members at least, joined to the Injury of taking Officers from other Duty, are sufficient Reasons, without adducing others, to inlarge the Jurisdiction of the Regimental Courts Martial, by lessening the Number of Crimes triable by General Ones. It has been said that the Men who compose our Army are American Citizens & have been always possessed of the Privileges of the Common Law, one grand Right of which is Trial by Jury; & to reconcile them to the summary Mode of Proceedings in Courts Martial they are try’d by 13, which is one more than a Petty Jury consists of. And thus while the Idea of a Jury is kept up, the Delinquent will more patiently submit to the Adjudications of the Court. To this it is answered, When a Man assumes the Soldier, he lays aside the Citizen, & must be content to submit to a temporary Relinquishment of some of his civil Rights. The Brave & virtuous admit the Reasonableness of this, & Men of opposite Characters are not to be talk’d with. The Service is greatly hurt by a General Court Martial sitting constantly, but it must be so till fewer offences are made cognizable by such a Court alone, or untill the Army is reduc’d.” Tudor then proceeds to propose specific changes in the articles of war.

3On 2 Oct. Benjamin Franklin appointed his son-in-law Richard Bache (1737–1811) as postmaster of Philadelphia and secretary and controller of the Continental post office. Bache succeeded Franklin as postmaster general on 7 Nov. 1776.

4Letter not found.

5Esther De Berdt Reed (1747–1780), the daughter of a wealthy English merchant, proved to be a warm supporter of the American cause. In 1780, while recovering from smallpox, she organized a committee of Philadelphia women to raise money for the relief of GW’s soldiers, and the committee subsequently supplied the army with more than two thousand linen shirts.

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