George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Hancock, 27 December 1776

From John Hancock

Baltimore Decr 27th 1776


The enclosed Resolves being of the utmost Importance, will naturally claim your Attention, without any particular Recommendation or Comment. They are ardently calculated to retrieve the Situation of our Affairs, and I trust will have the desired Effect.1

I have wrote to the Councils of Safety of Massachussetts Bay and Pennsylvania on the Subject of creating Magazines in their respective States for both Arms and Ammunition.2 The Commissions necessary in Pursuance of the enclosed Resolves, shall be forwarded as soon as possible. I have only Time to add, that I am with the most perfect Esteem & Respect, Sir, your most obed. And very hble Sert

John Hancock Prest

LS, DLC:GW; LB, DNA:PCC, item 12A.

1The enclosed resolutions of this date, which were passed principally in response to GW’s letters to Hancock of 16 and 20 Dec., greatly increase GW’s powers to preserve and support the Continental army. Congress specifically empowers GW “to use every Endeavour, by giving Bounties and otherwise, to prevail upon the Troops, whose Time of Enlistment shall expire at the End of the Month, to stay with the Army so long after that Period as its Situation shall render their Stay necessary.” GW also is authorized to appoint a commissary of prisoners and a clothier general and establish their salaries, and Congress requests him “to fix upon that System of Promotion in the Continental Army which in his Opinion, and that of the general Officers with him, will produce most general Satisfaction” and suggests to him “whether a Promotion of Field Officers in the Colonial Line, and of Captains and Subalterns in the regimental Line would not be the most proper” (DLC:GW; see also JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 6:1043).

Congress’s most sweeping delegation of power to GW is contained in a long resolution that reads: “The unjust but determined Purpose of the British Court to enslave these free States, obvious through every delusive Insinuation to the contrary, having placed Things in such a Situation that the very Existence of civil Liberty now depends on the right Execution of military Powers, and the vigorous decisive Conduct of these, being impossible to distant numerous & deliberative Bodies, This Congress having maturely considered the present Crisis, and having perfect Reliance on the Wisdom, Vigour, and Uprightness of General Washington do hereby—

“Resolve That Genl Washington shall be and he is hereby vested with full ample and complete Powers to raise and collect together in the most speedy & effectual Manner from any or all these United States sixteen Battalions of Infantry in Addition to those already voted by Congress; to appoint Officers for the said Battalions; to raise, officer and equip three Thousand Light-Horse; three Regiments of Artillery, and a Corps of Engineers and establish their Pay; to apply to any of the States for such Aid of the Militia as he shall judge necessary; to form such Magazines of Provisions and in such Places as he shall think proper; to displace and appoint all Officers under the Rank of Brigadier General, and to fill up all Vacancies in every other Department in the American Armies, to take where-ever he may be, whatever he may want for the Use of the Army, if the Inhabitants will not sell it, allowing a reasonable Price for the same; to arrest and confine Persons who refuse to take the Continental Currency, or are otherwise disaffected to the American Cause, and return to the States of which they are Citizens their Names and the Nature of their Offences, together with the Witnesses to prove them.

“That the foregoing Powers be vested in Genl Washington for and during the Term of six Months from the Date hereof, unless sooner determined by Congress” (DLC:GW; see also ibid., 1045–46).

The other enclosed resolutions of this date concern the appointment of Henry Knox as brigadier general of artillery; the establishment of ordnance magazines at Carlisle, Pa., and Brookfield, Mass.; approval of GW’s “directing the Quarter [master] Genl to provide Teams for each Regiment, and for other necessary Purposes”; an effort to obtain from the Court of France “an Hundred Thousand Stand of small Arms”; a request to the Pennsylvania council of safety “to take the most vigorous and speedy Measures for punishing all such as shall refuse Continental Currency” and a direction to GW to assist in executing those measures; and the forwarding to GW’s army of all available Continental troops from North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey (DLC:GW; see also ibid., 1043–46).

2See Hancock to the Massachusetts Council, 28 Dec., in Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 5:687.

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