George Washington Papers

From George Washington to William Livingston, 24 January 1777

To William Livingston

Head Quarters Morris town 24th Jany 1777


The irregular and disjointed State of the Militia of this province, makes it necessary for me to inform you, that unless a Law is passed by your Legislature to reduce them to some order, and oblige them to turn out in a different Manner from what they have hitherto done, we shall bring very few into the Feild, and even those few, will render little or no Service.

Their Officers are generally of the lowest Class of people, and instead of setting a good Example to their Men, are leading them into every kind of Mischeif, one Species of which is, plundering the Inhabitants under pretence of their being Tories. A Law should in my Opinion be passed, to put a stop to this kind of lawless Rapine, for unless there is something done to prevent it, the people will throw themselves of choice into the hands of the British Troops.

But your first object should be a well regulated Militia Law. The people, put under good Officers, would behave in quite another manner, and not only render real Service as Soldiers, but would protect, instead of distressing the Inhabitants.

What I would wish to have particularly insisted upon, in the new Law, should be, that every Man capable of bearing Arms, should be obliged to turn out, and not buy off their Service by a trifling Sum. We want Men and not Money.1 I have the Honor to be with the greatest Respect Sir Your most obt Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, MHi: Livingston Papers; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

William Livingston (1723–1790), who was born in Albany, N.Y., and graduated from Yale College in 1741, studied law in New York City and was admitted to the bar in 1748. He moved to Elizabeth, N.J., in 1772 and served as a New Jersey delegate to the Continental Congress from September 1774 to June 1776. Livingston became a brigadier general in the New Jersey militia in June 1776, and he served as governor of New Jersey from 31 Aug. 1776 until his death.

1Although Livingston did not receive this letter until several days later, on this date he wrote the New Jersey general assembly calling attention to the “well-known Defects of our Militia Law” and to “most earnestly recommend it to you not to suffer any Business of inferior moment to postpone your Deliberations on that important Subject” (Prince, Livingston Papers description begins Carl E. Prince et al., eds. The Papers of William Livingston. 5 vols. Trenton and New Brunswick, N.J., 1979–88. description ends , 1:202–3). Livingston previously had urged the general assembly to rewrite the militia law in September 1776, but a bill sanctioned by the legislative council failed to pass the lower house (see Livingston to the New Jersey General Assembly, 11, 24 Sept. 1776, ibid., 143–46, 150–51, and Livingston to GW, 9 Nov. 1776). Livingston received GW’s letter of this date by 1 Feb., and on 3 Feb. he again urged the legislature to act on the militia law, although by that time the general assembly already had begun reconsidering the subject (see Livingston to the New Jersey General Assembly, 3 Feb., in Prince, Livingston Papers description begins Carl E. Prince et al., eds. The Papers of William Livingston. 5 vols. Trenton and New Brunswick, N.J., 1979–88. description ends , 209–10). When the general assembly finally passed a militia bill on 13 Mar. 1777, both GW and Livingston thought it inadequate (see Livingston to GW, 3 Mar., GW to Livingston, 1 April, and Livingston to GW, 4 April).

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