George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Laurens, 27 April 1778

From Henry Laurens

York Town [Pa.] 27th April 1778


I had the honour of writing to Your Excellency the 24th Inst. by Mcklosky.

Yesterday about ½ p. 5 oClock P.M. Your Excellency’s favor of the 25th was brought to me in Congress & was immediately presented, the person who had been the bearer of it was anxious to obtain a receipt for the Letter to express the time of delivery & he complained of unnecessary detention half the day at Susquehanna [ ] Ferry—this intimation will answer his purpose.1

I am directed by Congress to request Your Excellency will immediately require all Officers Civil as well as Military in the Army, who are at present delinquent, to comply with the terms of an Act of Congress of the 3d ffebruary last by taking the Oath of Allegiance & Abjuration & that Your Excellency will be pleased to cause the necessary Certificates as speedily as possible to be returned & if occasion shall be given which is supposed to be scarcely possible the Name or Names of such persons as shall refuse.2

The Bearer hereof will deliver three Packets containing about 600. Blanks which will hasten the business of Admistring Oaths. more shall be sent by the next Messenger.

In considering the article of provision to be made for Officers who shall continue in the Army to the end of the War Congress had proceeded so far last Night as Resolving that one half the present pay be continued during Life without exceptions of Country, to all such Officers as shall also take the Oath of Allegiance & actually reside within the United States.3 this Resolution & the whole plan for Military Establishment is subject to further discussion respecting the propriety of transmitting it to the several States for concurrence.4 I have the honour to be With the highest Respect & Esteem Sir Your Excellency’s Most obedient & Most humble servant.

Henry Laurens, President of Congress.

ALS, DLC:GW; LB, DNA:PCC, item 13. The ALS is docketed in part, “ansd 31st”; the draft for GW’s letter to Laurens of 1 May was dated 31 April and then corrected. A notation on the letter-book copy indicates that the letter was carried by Samuel Wilkinson, who began serving as a messenger for Laurens around this time and continued at least until October 1778.

1The unidentified bearer of GW’s letter probably had crossed the Susquehanna at Wright’s ferry.

2The required oath, which army officers were to take “before the commander in chief, or any major general or brigadier general,” demanded that the officers “acknowledge the United States of America to be free, independent and sovereign states” and “renounce, refuse and abjure any allegiance or obedience to” the king of Great Britain” (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 , 10:114–15).

3In four votes on 26 April, the supporters of a lifetime half-pay for officers turned back amendments that would have substituted a lump-sum payment to the officers “according to their rank” after the end of the war or limited the half-pay to a specified term of years and had passed the two main questions on that issue (ibid., 393–96).

4When the committee report “respecting an establishment or allowance to officers after the war” was first considered on 1 April, “it was agreed, that amendments be moved and made in the report, but that, after the amendments are made and the report gone through, the whole report, as amended, shall be open to debate, whether it shall be adopted by Congress or be sent to the states, and their opinion taken, previous to the final determination of Congress” (ibid., 300).

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