George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Richard Peters, 11 February 1779

From Richard Peters

War Office [Philadelphia] Feby 11⟨th⟩ 1779


I have the Honour of transmitting you a Copy of a Regulation the Board intend to report to Congress on a Subject which the Letter preceding it will explain.1 It is sent for your Excellency’s Perusal & Remarks that if you should think proper either to amend it or propose a better Plan the Board being furnished with your Answer may lay it before Congress. It is with Reluctance that the Board knowing your Engagements give you Trouble but as the Regulation concerns the Army there is a Necessity of your Advice being taken & I am to request your Excellency will honour us with your Answer as soon as your Convenience will admitt.2 I have the Honour to be with the greatest Respect your very obedient Servt

Richard Peters
By Order of the Board


1Peters enclosed a copy of a yet unsent letter dated 9 Feb. that he had written on behalf of the Board of War to the president of Congress, John Jay, covering a proposed resolution for regulating the payment of certificates issued for supplies furnished to the Continental army. The letter and resolution read: “This Board having been appointed by Congress to superintend the Civil Departments of the Army are frequently applied to for Directions & Advice by the several Officers in these Departments, which they find themselves much at a Loss to give. Among the great Variety of Complaints which the Subjects of these States are constantly repeating, none seems to have given more general Dissatisfaction than the difficulties People labour under in obtaining payment of Monies justly due them, yet, their Demands being founded upon the Delivery of Articles to Officers and Persons not connected, with or acting under, the Orders of the heads of the several Departments, they of Course refuse Payment, as they say the Constitutions of their Departments do not warrant their discharging the Debts.

“In the Clothier General’s Department cases frequently occur which he is not authorized to settle. Officers on Detachment being distressed for Shoes, or other articles, have procured them from the Inhabitants, & given them Orders on the Clothier General, or Certificates intitling them to payment, these they have in vain presented for Payment. The Board have now an Appli[c]ation from a Merchant from whom General Smallwood, the last Winter, Recieved several thousand Pounds Worth of Cloathing. The Clothier General cannot pay it because the Regulations of his Department do not authorize him so to do. We advised an Appli[c]ation to the Auditors of Accounts, they will take no Notice of it because it does not appear how the Cloathing was distributed, which the Party has not, nor can he have, a Power to shew. The Articles most undoubtedly came to the Use of the Maryland Troops, as appears from authentic Certificates from General Smallwood, altho’ the particular Distribution does not appear.

“In the Qua[r]ter Master General’s Department there are large, & we believe, just Demands for Forage & other Articles which being of an irregular Nature, & not purchased or taken by Order of the officers in the Department, cannot be satisfied.

“During our Distresses last Winter for Provisions great Quantities were taken, & in a Multitude of Instances freely given to relieve the Necessities of our Army. The People recieved Certificates which after a long Circuity of Application are still unsatisfied. Many of the best Whigs inhabiting the Vicinity of the Lines are in this Situation, and of Course much chagrined & dissatisfied.

“In all these Cases the Public Faith has been looked upon as pledged to the People for Payment, & of Course public Credit has suffered. Nothing proves this more than the little Value set upon the Certificates which have been sold for trifling Considerations, where persons could be found who had Confidence enough in them to purchase. This temper of the People under these Circumstances has Induced extensively disagreeable Effects, & among others that of a general Aversion to give any Credit to the Officers in the Departments, or if at any time they are induced or obliged to do it, a sufficient Advance is put on the price of the Article to indemnify the Sellers for their Delay & Trouble in procuring Payment.

“On Enquiry we find that it is not uncommon in European Services for Officers at a Distance from Magazines or supplies to get the necessary Articles from the Inhabitants and give Certificates thereof, the payment whereof is never disputed as to the Person parting with his property. But the Commissary returns the Transactions together with the Name of the Officer, either to the Commandant of the Regiment, or to the Commander in Chief, & if the Officer has behaved improperly, he is either obliged to refund the Money, or is Cashi[e]red as the Case may be. The States are presumed to appoint no Officers but such as are Men of Character, and therefore the people place Confidence in them, or rather the authority which appointed them. If the Officers misbehave their Superiours call them to account, but to save the public Faith the Individuals are always satisfied their Demands.

“We hope to be excused for our enlarging on this Subject which the Necessity of the Case has obliged us to do. And we beg the speedy Decision of Congress as we are not only embarrassed with repeated Applications, but Actions are about being commenced against the Officers who have Signed many of the Certificates above mentioned.

“We will take the Liberty of Recommending the following Resolve; but if it be thought improper, Congress will be pleased to make some other Resolution, as the matter really merits immediate Attention.

“That the Qua[r]ter Master General, Commissary General of Purchases, & Clothier General & their Deputies be, and they are hereby authorised & directed to pay all Certificates (of the Authenticity whereof they are or shall be satisfied) for Provisions, Forage, Cloathing or other articles within the Line of their respective departments furnished by the Inhabitants to the Troops on Detachment, or in Cases of Necessity where supplies could not be obtained in a regular Course. The Evidence of such supplies being furnished, shall, so far as regards the Party of whom recieved, be the Certificates of the Officers recieving them. But the Officers in the said Departments (the Clothier’s excepted) paying the same, shall transmit Copies of such Certificates to the Auditors of Accounts with the Army, who shall thereupon notify the Officers who gave such Certificates to render an Account of the Application of the Articles so recieved, and the said Officers are hereby directed to render such Account accordingly. Or if such Officers be detached from the Main Army the Auditors shall give Notice thereof to the Commander in Chief, who shall thereupon Cause the Certificates given by such detached Officers to be transmitted to the General, or other Officer commanding the Army, or at the post where such Officers shall serve who shall direct the said Officers to render an Account as aforesaid to the Auditors attending the Army wherein the said Officers are serving or, in case there shall be no such Auditors, to such person or persons as shall be appointed for that purpose by the said General or Commanding Officer. And whensoever any Misconduct shall appear in an Officer signing a Certificate, the same shall be reported to the Commander in Chief, Commanding General or Officer, that a Trial and examination be had by a Court Martial. And if there shall be any Injustice done to the public, or the Articles recieved were unnecessary, or did not come to the Use of the Troops, the Officer found delinquent shall be obliged to refund to the United States the whole of the Monies paid on the Certificate in pursuance hereof, or such part thereof as shall be adjudged reasonable, and be Cashiered, or otherwise dealt with as a Court Martial shall determine.

“The Clothier General shall transmit to the Commissioner appointed for settling the Accounts of the Arrearages of Cloathing, Copies of such Certificates as shall be paid by him that the Officers signing the Certificates may be called on by the said Commissioner to render an Account of the Distribution of the Articles which shall be duely charged to the Men who have recieved them. In Case of the Absence or Misconduct of any Officer signing a Certificate the like proceedings to be had on the Application & Report of the Commissioner of Cloathing as are herein before directed.

“No Certificate given before this Date shall be paid unless the same shall be presented for payment within [ ] Months after Public Notice hereof shall be given, and no Certificate hereafter given, shall be paid unless presented to the proper Officer within [ ] Months after the Date hereof” (DLC:GW). On 5 March Congress read this letter and approved a revised version of the proposed resolution (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 , 12:275–79; see also John Jay to GW, 12 March).

2GW referred the proposed resolution to Q.M. Gen. Nathanael Greene, who recommended some additions to it in his letter to GW of 15 February. GW’s reply to Peters of 17 Feb. incorporates Greene’s suggestions.

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