George Washington Papers

From George Washington to General Henry Clinton, 14 March 1779

To General Henry Clinton

Head Quarters Middlebrook March 14th 1779.


It is much1 to be regretted that all the attempts which have been made to establish some general and adequate2 rule for the exchange of prisoners,3 have hitherto been ineffectual. In a matter of so great importance,4 too much pains cannot be taken to surmount the obstacles5 that lie in it’s way, and to bring it to a satisfactory issue. With an earnest desire to effect this—The Honorable The Congress have again authorized me to propose the settlement of a general Cartel, and to appoint Commissioners with full powers for that purpose.6 This proposal, in obedience to their order, I now make; and if it should meet with your7 concurrence—I shall be ready to send Commissioners to meet others on your part, at such time and place as shall be judged convenient.8

That the present attempt may not prove as unsuccessful as former ones—it is to be hoped, if there is a meeting of Commissioners, that the Gentlemen on both sides, apprized of the difficulties which have occurred, and with a liberal attention to the circumstances of the parties, will come disposed to accommodate their negotiations to them, and to level all unnecessary obstructions to the completion of the treaty.9 I have the Honor to be with due respect, Sir, Your Excellency’s Most Obedt Servant

Go: Washington

LS, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, P.R.O., 30/55, Carleton Papers; Df, DLC:GW; copy, enclosed in Clinton to George Germain, 2 April 1779, MIU-C: Clinton Papers; copy, P.R.O., 30/55, Carleton Papers; two copies, P.R.O., C.O. 5/97; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1Hamilton wrote and then struck out “very” before “much” on the draft.

2At this place on the draft, Hamilton first wrote “satisfactory.” He then struck out that word and wrote “adequate” above the line.

3At this place on the draft, Hamilton wrote and then struck out “and for alleviating the distresses of captivity.”

4At this place on the draft, Hamilton first wrote “so mutually interesting.” He then struck out the last two words, inserted “of” before “so,” and wrote “great importance” above the line.

5At this place on the draft, Hamilton first wrote “difficulties.” He then struck out that word and wrote “obstacles” above the line.

6GW is referring to Congress’s resolution of 5 March that authorized him, “at his discretion, to negotiate and establish with the commander in chief of his Britannic majesty’s forces, a cartel or agreement for a general exchange of prisoners, comprehending the convention troops, or a more partial agreement for any particular or definite number of prisoners; and to fix and conclude upon the terms and conditions of the said exchange, ascertaining and allowing an equivalent of inferior for superior officers, and an equivalent of privates for officers, according to such proportion as has been customary or shall appear to him to be just and equitable; and to appoint commissioners and the time and place of their meeting, to treat and confer with the commissioners to be authorized by the commander in chief of the British forces, on the form and manner of such exchange; and it is hereby declared, that the acts and stipulations of the said commissioners, being notified and confirmed by the respective commanders in chief aforesaid, shall be final and conclusive” (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 , 13:279–80; see also John Jay to GW, 5 March).

7Hamilton wrote and then struck out “Excellency’s” following “your” on the draft.

9Instead of “the treaty,” Hamilton initially wrote a longer ending for this sentence on the draft, which reads “a treaty in which the interests of both armies as well as of humanity are essentially concerned.”

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