George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Joseph Reed, 17 May 1781

In Council Philadelphia May 17th 1781


We have to acknowledge your Excellencys favour of the fifth Instant—the observations on the address of the Artillery Officers of Colonel Proctors Regiment contain so perfect and satisfactory an answer that we hope we shall have no occasion to trouble your Excellency on that subject again much less shall we by any act of ours contravene a system which is established not only by Resolutions of Congress and constant usage but sanctified with your approbation Should the Officers persevere in the Resolution of resigning we are perswaded no inconvenences will result to the publick service equal to that of yielding on every occasion to demands accompanied with this Threat. For we can look upon it in no other light. We cannot consider Colonel Proctors resignation in the light of a publick misfortune as he has for a long time traversed every measure proposed by this Board and affected an independency not only of the authority of the state but his superior Officers in the Line and amidst profession of respect and obedience violated every arrangement we made for the subsistence and recruiting of his Corps. The very day that his resignation was publickly known Major Eustice came down with a well authenticated Complaint against him of dismissing a few days before, and after he had declined all other duty, a great number of the best soldiers some of whom had reinlisted with new bounties and others had received the gratuity allowed by the State and their Cloathing. At the same time he gave certificates to all the Musick of the Regiment that they were intitled to discharges in September next. We do not know how far the authority of a Colonel thus circumstanced extends but the loss to the Publick and injury to the service is very great. Colonel Proctor had eight days to get his inlistments to Trenton at the time of the discharge under the Commissioners, had he improved this time the greatest part of his Regiment would have been retained; but this he did not, under Pretences too frivolous to deserve Notice. We are now at a loss to know in what light to consider Colonel Forest as at one time it is said he is out of service and going to superintend the works at Carlisle at other times he appears as having Command and again declines the ordinary duty—and except in the case of this Remonstrance seems cautiously to decline signing any paper to us as Commanding Officer of the Regiment.

Having a long time sought for a return of the Officers of this Regiment thro’ Colonel Proctor and other wise—we must now trouble your Excellency to use your authority that we may know who the Officers are, and their Rank. Every other Regiment has most chearfully complied with our request by which we were enabled to make out an arrangement which we have found exceedingly useful on many occasions.

We now proceed to the other part of your Excellencys letter and most fervently do we wish we could say what would give you that content and satisfaction which we would ever wish to do. We should be extremely unhappy if by contradicting Reports which may be made to your Excellency by inferior Officers where we can do it with Truth and Justice we could be supposed to animadvert on the Representations your Excellency may think proper to make to Congress; deriving your information immediately from those Communications and referring immediately to them we cannot but consider it a duty we owe to Truth and Justice, to your Excellency and ourselves to remove any impressions which may arise from a misapprehension of facts. The late instances of Colonel Blaine and Colonel Broadhead appeared to us to fall within this description, from your Excellencys letter to Congress confirmed by your favour of the fifth Instant. In the first, if this was not a false suggestion there was such a concealment either accidental or designed (Mr Hazelwoods local duty and other circumstances considered) as gave your Excellency a wrong Idea of the Orders of the Board. Amidst your other embarrassments we do not chuse to trouble your Excellency with Colonel Blaines letter wrote to us on the occasion, we are sufficiently humiliated by such Treatment, but we must take the freedom to pronounce it equally unjust indecent and impolitick; It may drive Men of Virtue and Spirit from the publick service it will never provoke their exertions in it.

In the latter case we have the accounts of the Commissioners and the Concurrent testimony of Mr Duncan the Quarter Master at Fort Pitt that except when the Mills could not grind last fall and that for a very little time there never had been a want of flour at Fort Pitt or any other articles we were bound to furnish.

Surrounded as your Excellency is with military cases it is not presumable you can have time to inquire into the Concerns of particular states, but we are perswaded you will pardon our engrossing as small part of it, while we offer a few observations palliative at least if not justifying the seeming delinquencies of this state whose Government not standing in the same harmonious and respectable point of view as most of its neighbours is under the necessity of appealing to private as well as publick Candour. This State has not only been the residence of Congress with all their train of attendants and Officers but also of all the military mechanism, If we may so express ourselves of the Continent. From hence the Quarter Master principally drew his Waggons, his Horses his Camp equipage of all kinds besides a great number of Waggoners and artificers never carried into any publick account tho supported with the real substance of the state for depreciated paper. Prisoners of War and prisoners of state have never been in a very great proportion the inheritance of Pennsylvania. Our Line untill the Mutiny, was deemed the flower of the army not from its numbers so much as the appointments of the state which exceeded any other. But your Excellency cannot suppose all this was done without great expence and accumulating a heavy load of debt. We have indeed a painful preeminence on this particular as your Excellency will see by the inclosed estimate taken from that in which Congress framed a late circular address to the states. Under these circumstances our People surcharged with the Continental certificates, a proportion of Twenty [          ] Millions [out] Fifty [          ] lent to the Continent for which the Lender can get neither principal nor interest, publick Credit exhausted and private patriotism sinking under its partial and oppressive burthens, Congress adopted the system of state supplies. The first demands did not much exceed those bounds which the states might approach tho with difficulty attain. It was impossible for any state to be more anxious to compass them than this was. We framed a system upon principles which experience has approved: a sum of money was emitted upon funds which disaffection could not depreciate nor avarice speculate upon—but what neither disaffection nor Avarice could do Party did. Least the Government should gain credit and stability every art was used to lessen the Credit of the Money and prevent its circulation, an agreement to pass the Money at par was violated almost as soon as made. But to avoid the odium so obvious upon a failure of supplies the scheme of the Bank was adopted by which the World was to see that individuals could do more than the Government; every decent overture was made by Government to effect a Union of strength but in vain, elated by the Countenance it received, and disdaining all aid underived from party views it proceeded for a little time. But its notes would not circulate, it soon declined in credit, but it gave the paper money of the state an irreparable wound and widened all the breaches which publick virtue could wish to have closed.

In the mean time the Committee at Camp prepared those extraordinary requesitions which surprized every considerate Man—the demands by far exceeding all the current cash within this state of every species and kind. Other Nations have expended their whole Income they have broke in upon the Capital, have anticipated future Taxes, but to take double the money of a Country at an instant for publick use was reserved to this occasion. However that we might not be wanting to reasonable exertions especially with a prospect of the French Fleet arriving and the hope of terminating the War we strained every nerve. at your Excellencys Call we turned out the Militia at a very great state expence we purchased great numbers of Horses we procured Waggons. and in the articles of provision; perseverance and influence supported by force supplied the languid credit of the Money. But we found ourselves so much exhausted, and the exertions however insufficient (they might be represented) proved so burthensome to the People that they fought relief in a change of Rulers; the Assembly which had passed Laws for curbing the disaffected, for drawing forth the Resources of the state became odious and even the calling forth the Militia agreeable to your Excellencys Requesition proved no small source of obloquy and discontent being represented by some as rather an idle parade to gratify particular vanity, than resulting from real necessity. When the new Assembly met being resolved to do every thing in our power for the support and supply of the army we laid before them all the Requesitions your Excellencys letters &ca and added every inducement as you will see by the inclosed Messages—besides which in letters which prudence would not allow to be put on their minutes we urged them by every motive to make an early provision for the army and frontiers to avail themselves of the time which the Winter would afford for these important preparations, but without effect, and after sitting several weeks they broke up without entering into the subject farther than to require every shipper of flour to deliver one third of his purchases for the use of the Army and classing the Inhabitants for Men, in a mode which has proved very insufficient At the succeeding sessions we again pressed them as far as decency would admit, we represented that the exhausted tate of the Treasury the decline of publick credit and other circumstances required the most vigorous and decisive measures. We began plainly to perceive that by the importation of specie in return for the flour shipped to the Havanna, and declining confidence in paper we should soon find difficulties in purchasing with it. We promised ourselves that some system would have been framed for supplies an estimate of which we laid before them, they were afterwards informed the laws which enabled the Commissioners to seize in case of emergence had expired. In the Month of April the business of supplies was taken up and so far effected as to direct an emission of five hundred thousand pounds in bills of credit for these and other purposes. We were from the first obliged to purchase at a great depreciation which increased to three and four for one—but on the last arrivals from the Havanna and before any declaration of exchange by publick authority the purchases immediately stopped no flour could be had but for hard money and so it has continued ever since the late supplies having been procured chiefly on an exchange for salt. He then had recourse to the law directing one third to be delivered to the state but here again we were disappointed the Merchants would not deliver the one third for paper money but at a depreciation destructive of the money and many wholly declining it. When the penalty was to be enforced we were informed they would unlade it send it over to New Jersey or the Delaware state in small craft and reship it from thence. Your Excellency advises to compulsory means all others failing; every other state has Laws enabling its Executive on emergencys to use such measures, these Laws heretofore subsisted in this state but being temporary, and now expired, the present Assembly have not thought it advisable to renew them or repose any such confidence in their Executive It may seem strange to your Excellency but it is not less true that we have not legal power to empress a single Horse or Waggon let the emergency be what it will, nor have we any legal power whatever over property in any instance of publick distress, or to apprehend the most notorious emissary from the enemy on any other than strict legal proof. The persons described in your Excellencys letter last fall, as inlisting Men for the enemy, which was laid before the Assembly are now at large intitled to all the benefit of a Habeas Corpus. In the state of imbecility with no other Money but what is universally refused even by those who had the principal share in emitting it: without powers to seize under any circumstance we feel, we regret our inability to answer the publick expectations with the keenest sensibility. We have Communicated our situation to Congress we have requested them to co operate with us and give private Interest some check in the publick favour untill the Magazines could get a supply; We requested them to recommend an embargo for unless that measure comprehended New Jersey and Delaware it would not avail here, we even requested them to seize the outward bound vessels laden with flour assuring them of our concurrence in such a case of necessity. For we must frankly acknowledge there is no scarcity in the Country. This city has now an abundance for exportation tho we cannot obtain a Barrell with our Money, this Commodity being only attainable for specie. We have again called the Assembly with the last hope of receiving some relief under our complicated burthens and distresses, which are almost insupportable to minds anxious to discharge their duty to the publick and support the Contest to an honorable issue. The sufferings of the army receive at least the sympathy and praise of their Country—we have not even this Consolation. We would ever avoid comparisons as envideous but we believe when our supplies are compared with those of other states we shall in all respects have been found equal to our neighbours no other state making regular returns, their deficiencies cannot be easily ascertained as ours, but we have good authority to say that for two years past Pennsylvania has borne one fourth of the whole expence of the War. It is true our exertions have not been of that brilliant nature as to draw publick acknowledgments, tho we are not intirely without them. Your Excellency observes we are short of our quota: We frankly acknowledge that in our opinion the abilities of the state are not equal to the quota assigned but we have done all in our power to attain it. We do not find that any state has ever supplied its quota? and we submit to your Excellency whether such constant deficiencies do not prove that the estimates are on too large a scale or that there is a general reluctance on the part of the People. The quota’s are the only rule by which your Excellency can go—but when Members of Congress are addressed on this point they answer that the estimates are prepared in the Army, and they can only adopt them as framed by the heads of the several Departments. The supplies demanded this year at the rates Congress have reckoned which are much below Market prices are equal to eleven years Taxes, and all other Income of this state in its most prosperous days besides which, all the expences of the Frontiers, satisfaction to the Army, support of Government, and the vast variety of other Charges, are to be provided for. All these to be defrayed by Money, not half equal to the service nominally, and which even the best whigs will not take, but five or six times below its legal value, and many refusing it altogether. In this view of our situation we must submit to your Excellencys candour, and to that of the World, being well assured, that all circumstances known and considered, be the consequences what they may, we shall stand justly acquitted of them before God and Man. That your Excellency should make the most particular Representations of the state of supplies to Congress and urge the states to proper exertions, perfectly accords with our Idea of that propriety which has ever distinguished your publick Conduct—but if unfavourable inferences are thence drawn and delinquencies imputed to a particular body of Men, which are justly chargeable to another, or to the Community at large we submit to your Excellencys good judgement whether it is not as natural and just to state freely and justly the true and real causes of our misfortunes and whether it is not the justice, which innosence and a faithful discharge of publick duty reasonably demands. We acknowledge and lament the decline of publick spirit, the rapacity of private gain, the prevalence of disaffection, the malevolence of faction, and many other causes which seem to have corrupted all the springs of Government. But we disdain every practice of this kind ourselves, and having endeavoured by precept, by example, and exertion of publick authority, to check these evils so pregnant with ruin, we cannot but claim an exemption also from having any share of censure for the consequences they may produce. And tho the army may justly boast many splendid instances of publick virtue & disinterested regard to the publick Interests, we cannot admit their claim to be an exclusive one, at least we think civil characters may with propriety ask candid construction of their conduct, and kind forbearance with each other under mutual difficulties. If the service of the publick was not a sufficient inducement, the grateful respect we bear to your Excellency for your great and signal services, would operate powerfully on us, as we are not ignorant nor inattentive to the laborious, tho glorious task which Providence has assigned to you, the burthens of which, we rejoice to alleviate, when ever it is in our power.

But we shall trespass too much on your Excellencys patience, and therefore hasten to conclude a letter, which has already exceeded all reasonable bounds. In doing this we apprehend it our duty, to mention some other particulars of a publick nature. In the last page of the inclosed paper your Excellency will find a report of the Assembly on the causes of the Mutiny. It might have been expected, that Gentlemen possessed of Facts as they must have been, in order to make such a report would have pointed out the persons and transactions to which they allude, when they say "certain offences inquirable by Court Martial, and military proceedings were among the Causes." One Instance occurring to us we thought proper to lay it before a Court Martial. We last summer sent forty six thousand dollars to camp to pay an arrearage of bounty due to certain Recruits. When General Potter went to Camp in the winter he was waited on by these Recruits, complaining of being defrauded by the State of their bounty. Upon inquiry the receipts were found and among others a Lieutenant Bigham appeared to have been intrusted as the Bearer of a considerable part of it, on being called to answer, he acknowledged his having spent it, and among the frivolous excuses alledged his necessities on the road, tho’ upon examining our minutes, we found he had been furnished with money for his expences. We desired General St Clair to inquire into it by a Court Martial, which was readily granted, but reluctantly attended, and as abruptly dissolved, before they made any report. They were called together again, reproved for this unmilitary procedure, and the Fact proved as above, but we do not know what is become of it, the Officers being dispersed without any satisfaction given to us. We cannot but expect Mutinies, if injustice is thus done the soldiery with impunity. The greatest part of these Men tho’ inlisted for the War, are now gone in consequence of the disappointment of their bounty. The March of the Pennsylvania Line to the southward has been an object of great anxiety to us, but really the demands increased upon us in such a manner that we began to doubt whether they would ever march. A settlement was first necessary—then an advance of Money, both these being reasonable, were complied with—then a new Law was requested to pay down one third of the depreciation, and a new settlement to be made—then Interest to be included, all which took up much time, the articles of cloathing &ca having been provided long ago. These demands were all satisfied as soon as money could be emitted. The Auditors were sent back to go round the state the second time. We made an arrangement by which every Officer was to be settled with at his proper post, and suitable portions of Money sent to each place, but as soon as it was known that a payment was begun at Newtown, the Officers came together in all directions, Money designed for one place, was broke into another, our plan subverted, and much time was lost. To apologize for the delay the Auditor was accused by some of the Officers of drunkeness, and incapacity, tho he has long served the Continent with reputation in matters of account. Expresses came to us for more certificates, for more Money, and in short confusion and delay took place. General Wayne having intimated to us his intention of writing to your Excellency on this subject, we hope he has fully explained it. We can assure your Excellency the above state is strictly just. We complied with his requisitions in every particular except the reappointment of two Auditors who on the first settlement had made the most inexcusable mistakes. If any other delay has happened than we have stated above, it arose from unavoidable necessity and was the immediate consequence of the Requisitions of the Officers themselves, and the Laws passed thereupon.

Conscious of having faithfully, and diligently applied to the publick service, denying ourselves, not only a common attention to our private affairs, but even the smallest amusements, and having to the best of our understandings transacted the publick business intrusted to our charge, next to the approbation of our own minds, we would wish to give satisfaction to the Country, and in a particular manner to your Excellency. But as in the Beginning of this Contest when want of discipline, of courage, and other military virtues brought on losses and defeats, too many sought to ascribe them to their Generals so now finding the publick credit fund, Taxes demanded, and the spirit which animated them in the Beginning of the Contest, absorbed by private Considerations there are too many who seek to exonerate themselves by the most unfair, and even cruel imputations on their Rulers. For our parts in particular, we find our burthens so great, and our Offices so unthankful that we shall most chearfully give place to Men of better abilities, and to whom more confidence may be given—in fidelity and diligence we cannot yield to any. And Whenever our Country shall think proper to dismiss us either with praise or censure, we shall retire with the consciousness of having with sincerity and diligence, endeavoured to do our duty. While we remain in Office, we shall as we may be supported and enabled, exert ourselves for the publick welfare and ever pay a scrupulous regard to the Requisitions of Congress and the Representations your Excellency may think proper to make.

With these sentiments, and intreating your Excellency to excuse the length of this state, we hasten to add our sincerest wishes for the continuance of your health, & honour, and that the future happiness of your life may compensate the cares and anxieties which now attend it. And to subscribe ourselves with great respect and esteem. Your Excellencys Most obedient and very humble Servant

Jos. Reed


DLC: Papers of George Washington.

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