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From George Washington to Joseph Reed, 22 October 1779

To Joseph Reed

West-point Octr 22d 1779.

Dear Sir,

Three days ago I received your obliging favor of the 14th and was sorry to find you had been so much indisposed.1 Before this I hope you have perfectly recovered. Your early attention & that of the Assembly to my requisitions, have my warmest thanks—and the more so, from the situation in which they found you.2 I could wish however—that the three months service of the Militia had been made to commence, only from the time of their joining the Army. I need not enter into a detail of reasons for this with you, as your own judgment & experience will, I am perswaded, have already anticipated them. Your intention of leading your Militia, in case they are brought to the field, is a circumstance honorable to yourself & flattering to me. The example alone would have its weight, but seconded by your knowledge of discipline—abilities activity & bravery, it could not fail of happy effects. Men are influenced greatly by the conduct of their superiors—and particularly so, where they have both their confidence & affection.3

With respect to the point to which you call my recollection—I confess—when you intimated your desire of Continental Rank to me, as it passed cursorily through my Mind—it struck me as a matter of indifference; or at least as one against wch no important objection’s then occurred inasmuch as it was to have no operation in the line; however I must now candidly acknowledge and shall do it without hesitation, from motives of general duty—from a confidence in your friendship as well as in your zeal for the public Service—and from the express authority of your letter—that having maturely weighed the subject—& examined the consequences to which it might lead—I think it cannot be obtained—either with a view to the purpose you mentioned, when you first broached the point to me—or with respect to the present occasion for which the Militia are called out.

The discontents—the Jealousies—the uneasinesses that have prevailed in the Army; the complaints which have been added on acct of Rank being conferred out of the common course, are all opposed to the measure. These uneasinesses my dear Sir, thô not quite so prevalent among the different ranks of Officers as they were are far, very far, from being done away—and would, I fear, proceed to more than their former height upon any supposed injury whether real or imaginary—to what they esteemed their rights. among the General Officers and those next in rank, there would be much reason to apprehend this—as they (particularly the former) have loudly complained on the subject of rank being given, even when motives of national policy—and indeed necessity—were urged to justify it, and reluctantly yielded to it, merely from that consideration—From hence & as in your case this consideration could not be urged—I should fear, that it would be attended with greater disgust—not from any personal-individual objection—but from an idea that the appointment itself materially affected their rights and those of the Officers in general—Hence it is that I have uniformly with-held my aid to all applications for brevet Commissions to foreigners & others who had, or were about to quit the Service—professedly—never to interfere with the line of our Army.

The situation of our Officers is delicate—and perhaps requires a greater degree of attention, than that of any others. deriving no emoluments from the Service, but rather losing at the best—Patriotism & a love of honor are the motives to their continuing in it. These must be the considerations which influence the conduct of by far the greatest part—and thô by these motives the Officers are placed in a much more respectable point of view than if they were governed by interest, yet the ties are not sufficiently strong to induce their submission, or at least without great difficulty, to any measures they esteem injurious.

For these several reasons I cannot in policy advise to any measures that might have a tendency to obtain it for you. Nor do I think, after mature reflection, that the rank being given by brevet which is contrary to the present views of Congress & their own resolves (24th Novr 1778 & 20th Feb. 1779.)4 founded on the discontents which a contrary practice had created—or circumscribed in its extent by any qualifications which could be thought of—would alter the matter, or produce the least change in the sentiments of the Officers—In any case the ideas of rank & precedence would occur—& I have too much reason to believe would give great uneasiness. The temper of the General Officers is at this moment a good deal soured—Their distresses proceeding from the amazing depreciation of money on one hand5—and a discremination of Congress in the allowance of subsistance on the other6 needs no fresh leven to set their discontents a working—Rank then being the greatest, if not the only benefit they are likely to derive for their perseverence in Service & injured fortunes, they become more & more tenacious of its value—& attend the distribution of it with a watchful eye. I have been rather prolix on this subject but thought it incumbent on me to assign the reasons which govern my opinion, because I wish you to be convinced, that I do not want inclination to comply where I can do it consistently with any of your wishes.7 With very great esteem & regard I am Dr Sir Yr Most Obedt & Affecte Hble Servt

Go: Washington

ALS, RPJCB; ADfS, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1Reed’s letter to GW of 14 Oct. has not been found.

2GW is referring to a letter of 4 Oct. that requested militia to aid a potential attack on the British in and around New York City after rendezvousing with a French fleet under Vice Admiral d’Estaing (see GW to George Clinton, 4 Oct., and the source note and n.7 to that document; and Planning for an Allied Attack on New York, c.3–7 Oct., editorial note).

3The Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council issued a circular letter to militia lieutenants, dated 13 Oct. from Philadelphia, in response to GW’s calls for assistance. That letter reads: “The approach of the Fleet of His most Christian Majesty, under the command of the Count D’Estaing, intended to co-operate with the American army, under the command of His Excellency General Washington, affording the faintest prospect of success in a vigorous effort to expel, or make captive of the British invaders, who have so long ravaged our country and who have lately attempted to spread fire and desolation thro it. The State of Pennsylvania is called upon to furnish a body of Militia to the aid of the Continental army.

“You are therefore hereby ordered to call forth [ ] classes of the Militia of your county, according to law, with all possible expedition to rendezvous at Trenton in the state of New Jersey. …

“In order to encourage the freemen of the state to a ready compliance with their duty this Council have thought proper to pay to each man (both officers & privates) who shall now serve his tour, for two months, according to law, the sum of eighty dollars in addition to the sum of twenty pounds allowed by law. Twenty pounds thereof to be paid immediately in hand twenty pounds more to be by the almoner distributed to the family of such Militia man in his absence if necessary, and the remainder with the monthly pay, to be paid at the expiration of the term of his service.

“But as His Excellency General Washington has it much at heart now to close the war in America by a vigorous and glorious effort, nothing would be more mortifying and distressing than to fail in this great attempt by the shortness of the time which the militia of the state are by law to serve in the field. And it would be disgraceful in the highest degree for the freemen of Pennsylvania should they fail in their duty to their country at a time when our illustrious ally has generously afforded us such a powerful assistance both in ships and men, as undoubtedly will enable us to strike a decisive blow against the enemy, now in the bowels of our country.

“In order—as much as in us lies to remove this danger from before us, and to secure the success which every friend of his country must ardently wish for, you are hereby authorized to pay to every able man who shall engage to serve one month longer than he is by law obliged to serve, the sum of fifty pounds in addition to the sum above mentioned, making in the whole the sum of one hundred pounds—forty pounds thereof to be paid in hand—forty pounds to be distributed in his absence to his family, and the remaining twenty pounds to be paid him on the expiration of the said term of three months.

“It is the earnest desire of the Council that you exert your utmost influence with the people of your County to induce such of them as turn out on this call to engage to serve for three months. You may assure those who engage to serve for that time, that if the service does not absolutely require their continuance in the field they will be sooner discharged, and the full bounty notwithstanding be paid to them” (Pa. Archives, description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends 1st ser., 7:747–49. See also Timothy Matlack to A. James Morris, 20 Oct.; William Coats to the Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council, 21 Oct.; Reed to Coats, 22 Oct.; and Andrew Kackline to Reed, 1 Nov., in Pa. Archives, description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends 1st ser., 7:760–61, 763–64, 775). For the dismissal of Pennsylvania militia organized in response to this call, after GW abandoned the operation, see GW to Reed, 22 Nov., at Gw to William Livingston, same date, n.3; and Reed to GW, 22 December.

4See 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 12:1154–60 and 13:216.

5For recent complaints of general officers over their pay, see GW to Robert Howe, 27 Sept., and n.2 to that document.

6GW possibly is alluding to confusion that arose from an increase in subsistence payments for Continental army officers and soldiers. See GW to Samuel Huntington, 2 Oct., and n.3 to that document; see also General Orders, 29 Aug., and 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 14:978.

7Reed replied to GW in a letter of 15 November.

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