Head Quarters 12th Mar. 1783
It is with inexpressible concern, I make the followg Report to your Excellency.
Two Days ago, anonymous papers were circulated in the Army, requesting a general Meeting of the Officers on the next Day—A Copy of one of these papers is inclosed—No. 1. About the same Time, another anonymous paper purporting to be an Address to the Officers of the Army, was handed about in a clandestine manner: a Copy of this is marked No. 2.
To prevent any precipitate and dangerous Resolutions from being taken at this perilous moment, while the passions were all inflamed; as soon as these things came to my knowlege, the next morng, I issued the inclosed Order No. 3—And in this situation the Matter now rests.
As all opinion must be suspended until after the meeting on Saturday, I have nothing further to add, except a Wish, that the measures I have taken to dissipate a Storm, which had gathered so suddenly & unexpectedly, may be acceptable to Congress: and to assure them, that in every vicissitude of Circumstances, still activated with the greatest Zeal in their Service, I shall continue my utmost Exertions to promote the welfare of my Country under the most lively Expectation, that Congress have the best Intentions of doing ample Justice to the Army, as soon as Circumstances will possibly admit. With the highest Respect I have the Honor to be Your Excellency’s Most Obedient & most hume Servt
P.S. Since writing the foregoing another anonymous paper has been put in Circulation—a Copy of which is inclosed—No. 4.
DNA: Item 152, Letters from George Washington, PCC—Papers of the Continental Congress.
c.10 March 1783
A Meeting of the Genl & Field Officers is requested, at the public Building, on Tuesday next, at 11 oClock—A Commissd Officer from each Company is expected, and a Delegate from the Medical Staff—The Object of this Convention, is to consider the late Letter from our Representatives in Philadelphia; and what measures (if any) should be adopted, to obtain that redress of Grievances, which they seem to have solicited in vain.
c.10 March 1783
A fellow soldier whose interests and affections bind him strongly to you, whose past sufferings, have been as great & whose future fortune may be as desperate as yours, would beg leave to address you.
Age has its claims, and rank is not without its pretensions to advise—but tho unsupported by both, he flatters himself that the plain language of sincerity & Experience will neither be unheard nor unregarded.
Like many of you he loved private life, and left it with regret—he left it determined to retire from the field with the necessity that called him to it, and not till then, Not, ’till the enemies of his Country, the slaves of pow’r and the hirelings of injustice were compelled to abandon their schemes, and acknowledge America as terrible in Arms, as she had been humble in Remonstrance—with this object in view, he has long shared in your Toils and mingled in your dangers.he has felt the cold hand of poverty without a murmur, & has seen the insolence of wealth without a sigh. But, too much under the direction of his wishes, and sometimes weak enough to mistake desire for opinion, he has till lately, very lately believed in the Justice of his Country. He hop’d, that, as the Clouds of adversity scattered, and as the sunshine of peace & better fortune broke in upon us, the coldness and severity of government would relax, and that more than Justice, that gratitude, would blaze forth upon those hands, which had upheld her in the darkest stages of her passage from impending servitude to Acknowledged Independence, But faith has its limits as well as Temper—and there are points beyond which neither can be streched, without sinking into Cowardice or plunging into credulity. This, my friends, I conceive to be your situation—hurried to the very verge of both—another step would ruin you forever—To be tame and unprovoked when injuries press hard upon you, is more than weakness, but to look up for Kinder usage, without one manly Effort of your own, would fix your Character & shew the world how richly you deserve those Chains you broke—To guard against this evil, let us take a review of the ground upon which we now stand, and from thence carry our thoughts forward for a moment, into the unexplored field of expedient.
After a pursuit of seven long Years, the object for which we set out, is at length brot within our reach—Yes, my friends, that suffering Courage of yours, was active once, it has conducted the United States of America, thro’ a doubtfull and a bloody War—it has placed her in the Chair of Independancy—and peace returns again to bless—Whom?—a Country willing to redress your wrongs? cherrish your worth—and reward your Services—a Country courting your return to private life, with Tears of gratitude & smiles of Admiration—longing to divide with you, that Independancy, which your Gallantry has given, and those riches which your wounds have preserved. Is this the case? or is it rather a Country that tramples upon your rights, disdains your Cries—& insults your distresses? have you not more than once suggested your wishes—and made known your wants to Congress (wants and wishes, which gratitude and policy should have anticipated, rather than evaded)—and have you not lately, in the meek language of intreating Memorials, begged from their Justice, what you would no longer expect from their favor. How have you been answered? let the letter which you are called to consider tomorrow, make reply, If this then be your treatment while the swords you wear are necessary for the Defence of America, what have you to expect from peace; when your voice shall sink, and your strength dissipate by division—when those very swords, the Instruments and Companions of your Glory, shall be taken from your sides, and no remaining mark of Military distinction left, but your wants, infirmities & Tears—can you then consent to be the only sufferers by this revolution—and retiring from the field, grow old in poverty, wretchedness, and Contempt; can you consent, to wade thro’ the vile mire of dependency, and owe the miserable remnant of that life to Charity, which has hitherto been spent in honor? If you can—Go—and carry with you the jest of Tories, & the Scorn of Whigs—the ridicule—and what is worse—the pity of the world—go—Starve and be forgotten. But if your spirits should revolt at this—if you have sense enough to discover, and spirit enough to oppose tyranny, under whatever Garb it may assume—whether it be the plain Coat of Republicanism—or the splendid Robe of Royalty—if you have yet learned to discriminate between a people and a Cause—between men & principles—Awake—attend to your Situation & redress yourselves; If the present moment be lost, every future Effort, is in vain—and your threats then, will be as empty, as your entreaties now—I would advise you therefore, to come to some final opinion, upon what you can bear—and what you will suffer—If your determination be in any proportion to your wrongs—carry your appeal from the Justice to the fears of government—Change the Milk & Water stile of your last Memorial—assume a bolder Tone, decent, but lively, spirited and determined—And suspect the man, who would advise to more moderation, and longer forbearance. Let two or three Men, who can feel as well as write, be appointed to draw up your last Remonstrance (for I would no longer give it the sueing, soft, unsuccessfull Epithet of Memorial) Let it be represented in language that will neither dishonor you by its Rudeness, nor betray you by its fears—what has been promised by Congress and what has been performed—how long and how patiently you have suffered—how little you have asked, and how much of that little, have been denied—Tell them, that tho’ you were the first, and would wish to be the last to encounter Danger—tho’ dispair itself can never drive you into dishonor, it may drive you from the field—That the wound often irritated and never healed, may at length become incurable—and that the slightest mark of indignity from Congress now, must operate like the Grave, and part you forever—That in any political Event, the Army has its alternative—If peace, that nothing shall seperate them from your Arms but Death—If War—that courting the Auspicies, and inviting the direction of your Illustrous Leader, you will retire to some unsettled Country, Smile in your Turn, and "mock when their fear cometh on"—But let it represent also, that should they comply with the request of your late Memorial, it would make you more happy; and them more respectable—That while War should continue, you would follow their standard into the field, and When it came to an End, you would withdraw into the shade of private Life—and give the World another subject of Wonder & applause—An Army victorious over its Enemies, Victorious over itself.
12 March 1783
The Author of a late Address, anxious to deserve, ’tho he should fail to Engage your Esteem, and determined, at every risque, to unfold your duty, & discharge his own—would beg leave to solicit this further Indulgence of a few moments attention.
Aware of the Coyness with which his last letter would be received; he feels himself neither disappointed; nor displeased with the caution it has met—Ye well knew that it spoke a Language, which ‘till now had been heard only in whispers, and that it contained some sentiments, which confidence itself would have breathed with distrust. But, their Lives have been short indeed, and their Observations imperfect indeed, who have yet to learn, that alarms may be false—that the best designs are sometimes obliged to assume the worst Aspects, and that however synonimous Surprize & disaster may be in military phrase—in moral & political meaning, they convey Ideas, as different as they are distinct.
Suspicion, detestable as it is in private Life, is the loveliest trait of political Characters—It prompts you to enquiry—bars the Door against Designs, and opens every Avenue to truth—It was the first to oppose a Tyrant here, and still stands centinel over the Liberties of America—With this Belief, it would illy become me, to stifle the Voice of this honest Guardian—a guardian, who, (authorized by circumstances, digested into proof) has herself given Birth to the Address you have read, and now goes forth among you, with a request to all, that it may be treated fairly—that it may be considered before it be abused—and condemned, before it be tortured, convinced that in a search after Error, Truth will appear—that apathy itself will grow warm in the pursuit, and tho’ it will be the last to adopt her advice, it will be the first to act upon it.
The General Orders of Yesterday which the weak may mistake for disapprobation, and the designing dare to represent as such, wears, in my opinion, a very different complexion, and carries with it a very opposite tendency—Till now, the Commandr in Chief has regarded the Steps you have taken for redress, with good wishes alone. Tho’ ostensible Silence has authorised your meetings and his private Opinion has sanctified your Claims—Had he disliked the Object in view would not the same sense of Duty which forbad you from meeting on the third Day of this Week, have forbidden you from meeting on the seventh? Is not the same subject held up for your discussion, and has it not passed the seal of office, and taken all the solemnity of an Order—this will give system to your proceedings, and stability to your resolves, will ripen speculation into fact, and while it adds to the unanimity, it cannot possibly lessen the Independency of your sentiments—It may be necessary to add upon this subject, that from the Injunction with which the general Orders close, every man is at Liberty to conclude that the Report, to be made to Head Quarters, is intended for Congress—Hence will arise another motive for that Energy, which has been recommended—for can you give the lie to the pathetic discriptions of your representations & the more alarming predictions of our friends?
To such as make a Want of signature an objection to opinion, I reply—that it matters very little who is the Author of Sentiments which grow out of your feelings, and apply to your Wants—That in this Instance Diffidence suggested what Experience enjoins, and that while I continue to move on the high road of Argument and Advice, (which is open to all) I shall continue to be the sole Confident of my own secret—But should the Time come, when it shall be necessary to depart from this general line, and hold up any Individual among you, as an Object of the resentment or contempt of the rest, I thus publicly pledge my Honor as a soldier, and veracity as a Man, that I will then assume a visible existence, and give my name to the Army, with as little reserve as I now give my Opinions.I am &c.
Copy, DNA:PCC, item 152. Enclosed in GW to Boudinot, 12 March 1783.