Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Nathanael Greene, 31 March 1781

From Nathanael Greene

Head Quarters Col Ramseys Deep River March 31st 1781


The time of service of the Militia under General Lawson and General Stevens is expird and they are dischargd, having honorably performed their duty agreeable to contract. It was unfortunate that their term of service expird at the time it did; but we could ask no more of the men than they were bound to perform nor would it answer any purpose as they cannot be prevaild on to continue in a disagreeable service longer than they are bound by agreement.

General Lawson will do himself the honor to present your Excellency this letter; and to him I beg leave to refer you for the state of all matters in this quarter.

If More Militia are orderd out, which will be indispensably necessary if the regular force is not ready to take the field, there is no man has a better claim to the command than General Lawson or Stevens. They are both valuable Officers.

I beg your Excellency to pay the greatest attention to the manufacturing shoes. More depends upon this than you readily imagine. I am much afraid our supply will be very unequal to our demands. My greatest dependance is on Virginia for support, and without he[r] exertions I cannot keep the field. The busine[ss] of transportation is an important object and [one] on which the whole operations depend. Unless your State accomodate their Laws to the demands of the service the Army must inevitably fall a sacrafice, as this State is too much exhausted to give any considerable aid to the Army upon the most pressing emergency. I have long endeavored to impress upon the different Legislatures the impossibility of accomodating the operations of the Army to civil convenience; and the more serious they grow the less practicable the measure. Indeed civil polity must accomodate itself to the emergencys of war, or the people submit to the power of the enemy. There is no other alternative.

We have had a great struggle and our prospects are mended if seasonably supported, without which we shall soon have the same path to tread over again; and I cannot flatter myself with an equal degree of success; nor will the temper of the Army under its present difficulties enable me to make equal exertions. Send us Men and support the different branches of the Staff; and I am not without hopes of keeping the war at a distance from you in this quarter. At least my endeavors shall not be wanting.

I have the honor to be with the greatest respect Your Excellencys Most Obedt humble Sv

Nath Greene

Dft (MiU-C); endorsed. RC (Vi); in a clerk’s hand, signed by Greene; endorsed, in part: “recd Apl 25 1781.” Tr (CSmH).

Greene gave a very different picture of the temper of the army: only a week earlier; see his letter to TJ of 23 Mch. in which he declared that the “Troops are in high spirits, and the Army in the most perfect readiness for another action.” The present letter, its tone no doubt determined by the return of the Virginia militia, epitomizes the differences between Greene and TJ. One believed the entire civil polity should subordinate and adjust itself to the needs of the military—needs that of necessity should be decided upon by the military on the basis of changing exigencies—otherwise the civil power would lose all that it hoped to achieve through war. The other, while conceding the fact that a free government did not need to organize its military arm on democratic principles, insisted upon the right of the civil power to decide how far its republican principles should be compromised in order to meet military demands; to determine at times even what military strategy ought to be pursued; and to reject or accept military requirements for “accommodation” on the ground that a war to establish a republican society might easily lose its object by conducting that war in such a way as to vitiate republican principles. This, of course, presented a perennial problem faced at all times by republics, but what made it especially crucial in the spring of 1781 was Greene’s tactlessness, his failure to keep TJ fully informed, his occasional lectures on the respective spheres of the military and the civil powers, and his fundamental failure to understand TJ. On his hopes of keeping the war at a distance, see note to TJ to the county lieutenants, 29 Mch. 1781.

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