James Madison Papers

Motion on Enlistment of Militia, [12 June] 1781

Motion on Enlistment of Militia

MS (NA: PCC, No. 36, I, 189). Written by JM. Docketed, “Motion Delegates of Virginia June 12. 1781 Referred to the board of war.”

[12 June 1781]

That it be earnestly recommended to the State of Pennsylvania immediately to raise accoutre and equip a Corps of Cavalry consisting of 192 Troopers with their proper officers including those called for in the Resolution of  1 and to the State of Maryland to raise accoutre & equip a like Corps consisting of 128 Troopers with their proper officers including those called for in the said Resolution,2 and to march the same by Detachments as they may be in readiness with all possible expedition to join the Army under the Command of Majr. Genl. The Marquis de la Fayette, without waiting for the March of the Militia Infantry required from the said States respectively in the Resolution aforesaid.3

1The blank should have been filled with “31 May.” See Virginia Delegates to Jefferson, 3 June 1781, and n. 3.

2This resolution sought from Pennsylvania triple, and from Maryland double, the number of cavalry asked of them in the motion of 31 May.

3The resolution of 31 May gave Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland, respectively, the option of sending their recruits “by detachments” or of waiting until their full complement was raised. In either case they were to be marched “to such place or places as the Commander in Chief shall direct.” Thus the present motion, insofar as the troopers of Pennsylvania and Maryland were concerned, aimed to eliminate this option, to accelerate the recruitment, and to assure that the troopers be sent only to Lafayette’s army in Virginia. The Board of War, to which Congress immediately referred this motion, reported back the same day and Congress adopted its recommendations without a recorded vote. These recommendations must have disappointed the Virginia delegation by substituting “the southern army” for “the army under the Command of … la Fayette” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 634–35). In other words, the cavalry would be sent to General Greene’s force in South Carolina rather than to Virginia. The result was that Lafayette’s horse, outnumbered ten to one by the British cavalry in June (William and Mary Quarterly, 1st ser., XXVII [1918–19], 169), still totaled no more than 120 continental dragoons late in August (Louis Gottschalk, ed., Letters of Lafayette to Washington, p. 221). As for the “Militia Infantry,” the doubt expressed by Joseph Jones to Washington on 3 July that any would be raised or forwarded proved only too well founded (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 135). Embarrassed by lack of money, by troubles on her frontiers, by the reluctance of militiamen to abandon their harvests, by the necessity of providing for the British and German convention prisoners who had arrived in the state, and by Washington’s call for three hundred expert riflemen to join in his projected operations against New York City, Pennsylvania protested inability to spare any manpower for Lafayette (Pennsylvania Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds., Pennsylvania Archives (9 ser., 138 vols.; Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949). description ends , 1st ser., IX, 253, 255, 275, 293). Lafayette wrote to Washington on 24 August that Maryland delayed sending new levies on the excuse that they might be needed to defend Baltimore (Louis Gottschalk, ed., Letters of Lafayette to Washington, p. 221). In Delaware the Assembly on 16 June requested the president in council to place the troops “in readiness to march,” but two days later it qualified its directive by resolving that the president “obtain exact lists” of the numbers of militiamen each county “ought to have furnished” and submit the lists to the Assembly “by the tenth day of September next” (Minutes of the Council of the Delaware State from 1776 to 1792 [Papers of the Historical Society of Delaware, Vol. VI, Wilmington, 1887], pp. 640, 646).

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