George Washington Papers

Instructions from the Continental Congress, 22 June 1775

Instructions from the Continental Congress

Philadelphia June 22d 1775

In Congress

This Congress having appointed you to be General & Commander in chief of the army of the United Colonies and of all the forces raised or to be raised by them and of all others who shall voluntarily offer their service and join the said army for the defence of American liberty and for repelling every hostile invasion thereof,1 you are to repair with all expedition to the colony of Massachusetts-bay and take charge of the army of the United Colonies.

For your better direction

First, You are to make a return to us, as soon as possible of all forces, which you shall have under your command, together with their military stores and provisions; and also as exact an account as you can obtain of the forces, which compose the British army in America.

Secondly, You are not to disband any of the men you find raised until further direction from this Congress; and if you shall think their numbers not adequate to the purpose of security, you may recruit them to a number you shall think sufficient not exceeding double that of the enemy.

Thirdly, In all cases of vacancy occasioned by death or a removal of a Colonel or other inferior officer, you are by Brevet or Warrant under your seal to appoint another person to fill up such vacancy, until it shall be otherwise ordered by the provincial Convention or Assembly of the colony, from whence the troops, in which such vacancy happen, shall direct otherwise.2

Fourthly, You are to victual at the continental expence all such volunteers as have joined, or shall join the united army.

Fifthly, You shall take every method in your power, consistent with prudence, to destroy or make prisoners of all persons, who now are, or who hereafter shall appear in arms against the good people of the United Colonies.

Sixthly, And whereas all particulars cannot be foreseen, nor positive instructions for such emergencies so beforehand given, but that many things must be left to your prudent and discreet management, as occurrences may arise upon the place or from time to time fall out; You are, therefore, upon all such accidents or any occasion, that may happen, to use your best circumspection and (advising with your council of war) to order and dispose of the said army under your command, as may be most advantageous for the obtaining the end, for which these forces have been raised, making it your special care, in discharge of the great trust committed unto you that the liberties of America receive no detriment.

By Order of Congress,

John Hancock President

In addition to yr Instructions it is Resolved by Congress, That the troops including the volunteers be furnished with camp Equipage & blankets if necessary at the continental expence.

That the Officers now in the army receive their commissions from the Genl & commander in chief.

That a Sum not exceeding two Millions of Spanish milled dollars be emitted by the Congress in bills of Credit for the defence of America.3

Chas Thomson Secy
By Order of Congress
John Hancock President

DS, CSmH; copy, DNA:PCC, item 1; copy, DNA:PCC, item 3; LB, NN:Schuyler Papers; LB, NHi: George and Martha Washington Papers. The document in the Huntington Library is apparently the one that GW received, because it is endorsed in his writing. The text is in Charles Thomson’s writing, except for the words “Philadelphia June 22d 1775” and “By Order of Congress” (appearing twice), which are in John Hancock’s writing. Each man signed his own name.

The instructions were drafted by the committee appointed on 16 June to draw up GW’s commission: Richard Henry Lee, Edward Rutledge, and John Adams. On 20 June the committee reported the instructions to Congress, which promptly approved them. The next day “Mr. [Patrick] Henry informed the Congress, that the general had put into his hand sundry queries, to which he desired the Congress would give an answer.” GW’s queries were referred to a committee composed of Silas Deane, Patrick Henry, John Rutledge, Samuel Adams, and Richard Henry Lee, who reported to Congress on 22 June. In apparent response to their report, Congress that same day passed six resolutions concerning the army. Among them were the three resolutions which appear at the bottom of GW’s instructions (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 , 2:101–4).

1This wording was taken from GW’s commission of 19 June 1775.

2Although Congress appointed all general officers for the Continental army, the field and company grade officers for the regiments and other units were usually appointed by the legislative body of the colony in which they were raised. For an example of GW’s use of his brevetting power, see the draft of Christopher Greene’s brevet commission as a lieutenant colonel dated 12 Sept. 1775 in DLC:GW.

3For a discussion of this resolution, see GW to Burwell Bassett, 19 June 1775, n.1.

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