George Washington Papers

Remarks on Proposed Reform of the Continental Army, November 1777

Remarks on Proposed Reform of the Continental Army

[November 1777]


To abolish Coloniel distinctions, however desirable it may be, is next to impossible—Great pains in the early part of this war was used, in vain, to do this; but even in the New England States, where the Sentiments—& customs of the People have an exact semilarity, it was found impracticable.

The new modeling of the Army, and reducing supernumerary Officers is a very desirable matter, and ought, if possible, to take place; but quære, would not such a total change in our military system, as is proposed, occasion too great a convulsion? would not the number of rejected Officers promote discontent & disorder among the common Soldiery? nay even Mutiny and desertion.

The allowance of Land to the disbanded Officers may be proper enough—but will not half pay be attended with enormous expence? and would not this, and allowing half pay to the Officers of reduced regiment⟨s⟩ at the end of the War, add such weight to a debt already, & probably will be, of such magnitude, as to send the Colonies under the load of it; & give great disgust to the peopl⟨e⟩ at large?

AD, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The text in angle brackets is missing where the edge of the page is worn.

This document constitutes GW’s response to the undated letter and proposals submitted to him by eight Continental army field officers earlier in the month. After receiving GW’s questions and comments, the officers sent him the following undated letter, which GW docketed in part “Novr 1777”: “On considering your Excellencies Queries, we have ventured to Suggest the following Observations, in Support of our former Opinion, which with due defference we submit to your Excellencies perusal. Signed (By desire of the Gentn whose names were before Annexd by) Theok Bland.

“We apprehend that greater difficulties did arise with respect to State distinctions in the early part of the War than wou’d perhaps occur at present, but should any difficulties arise in an attempt to abolish them, might not they be in part got over? might not General, and field officers be appointed without respect to States? and as Divisions and Brigades are formed of Regiments from different States, might not Regiments be formed of Companies &c.? especially where, in the new arrangements they coud not be compleated without, might not they be made full by Joining Troops of a State the most alike in manners &c.? It is to be observed that America tho’ united, is not like those confederate States in Europe, as yet, who have seperate Interests, can exist either connected, or independant of each other; and Occasionally form new Alliances. Our Army is United under one head or Executive, seeking one uniform and common Interest. An Union therefore so early woud tend greatly to Strengthen and perpetuate the American Republick: and the present time woud be perhaps the best of all others to attempt it. our weakness wou’d prevent our disunion, as inevitable destruction must follow. The prospect of repelling the Foe, woud not be desirable, if it were not followed by Internal peace and security. a Confederation of the States can only secure this; Debate may not produce Confederation; but the abolition of Colonial lines will be a measure that will so interweave the States together, as to Obviate any future disunion. Cou’d the reduction of Officers take place on the plan proposed ’tis conceived, that the good consequences arising therefrom wou’d counterbalance every evil that cou’d possibly arise; that the vigor and energy of Command wou’d be so immediately felt that the Soldiery woud be better affected to the Service than they are at present; and that of the rejected Officers there wou’d be so great a proportion of such, whose choice wou’d not be a Military life as to render that matter easy, especially where they received an Immediate compensation in the allowance of land &c. Tis true that the allowance of half pay to Officers wou’d be attended with great expence. but what expence is too great for the Man, who having bravely risqued his life in his Countrys cause, having supported its Liberties and given it an existence, woud, without the aid of such support, retire from the Army ruined in his circumstances, distressed in his Family, and with a shattered constitution. We apprehend that the load of Debt contracted by America is more owing to the neglect in limiting the prices of her own produce, Levying Taxes and preventing her avowed and inveterate Foes from depreciating the Value of her Currency; than to any allowance that she has, or can make to her faithful Servants: shou’d the people at large be disgusted with such a procedure they deserve not the Liberty for which the Army contends, and every expence however small must be accounted too great for them. The Debt of the Colonies is not so great as it may seem; it has been chiefly contracted for Military Stores and the apparatus of a Fleet and Army. These are to be looked on as the Stock in Trade of a young beginner. They are the means by which our commerce will be soon extended so as to enrich and enliven the Colonies, and put them on a footing with other Nations. What Nation on Earth wd have carried on War at so little expence, had the Colonies been wise enough to have prevented the depreciation of their Currency. nay where is the Nation On Earth so little in Debt, and that Debt among themselves. Is it Just that the fighting part of the Nation shoud bear the hardships as well as expence. It is not meant that any Officer in the Arrangement proposed shoud draw half-pay until his Services Shall entitle him thereto; but unless the Officer on being disbanded at the end of the War receives half pay, no value can be annexed to Commissions, and consequently no Sales can take place.

“It is a principle of the reformation which we have propos’d, that Commissions shou’d be render’d valuable and altho the mode of doing it, will be productive of expence, yet no expence is too great for the purchase of the good consequences which woud ensue” (DLC:GW).

Index Entries