George Washington Papers

From George Washington to William Livingston, 4 May 1779

To William Livingston

Head Quarters Middle Brook May 4th 1779

Dear Sir

I have received the honor of your two letters, both of the 1st instant.1

I have generally been so happy as to agree with your Excellency in sentiment on public measures; but an instance now occurs, in which there happens to be a difference of opinion. I am extremely apprehensive that very disagreeable consequences may result from an increase of the standing pay of the militia. It would create an additional cause of discontent to the Soldiery, who would naturally draw a comparison between their situation and that of the militia and would think it very hard and unjust that these should receive for temporary services a greater reward than they for permanent ones. This would occasion disgust and desertion, if not mutiny, among those already in the army; and would be a new discouragement to others from entering into it. The only remedy would be to augment the pay of the Soldiery to an equal sum, and the like must be done in the other States to their militia. The addition of Public expence would then be excessive and the decay of our credit and currency proportional.

Your Excellency will agree with me, that every step should be carefully avoided, which has a tendency to dissatisfy the army, already too little pleased with its condition, and to weaken our military establishment already too feeble, and requiring every prop our circumstances will afford—to keep it from falling into ruin!

I should imagine the militia of the Country is to be drawn out by the authority of the Government rather than by the pecuniary reward attached to their service—If the former is not sufficient, the latter I apprehend will be found ineffectual—To make the compensation given to the militia an inducement of material weight it must be raised so high as to bear a proportion to what they might obtain by their labour in their civil occupations; and in our case to do this, it must be raised so high as I fear, to exceed the utmost stretch of our finances.

But if it is thought indispensible to increase the emoluments of service, in order to bring out the militia, it will be best to do it by a bounty rather than a fixed monthly pay—This would not be quite so palpable, nor strike the minds of the army with the same degree of force. But even this is a very delicate point—and I have uniformly thought the large bounties which have been given in state inlistments and to the militia have been a very fertile source of evils and an almost irreparable injury to the service.

I have taken the liberty to communicate my sentiments on this subject with great freedom to your Excellency as it appears to me a matter of extreme importance; and as I have the most intire confidence in your candour and friendship. If my objections do not appear valid, you will at least ascribe them to their proper motives—I shall agreeable to your Excellencys wish continue the troops or the principal part of them at their present stations as long as it can be done without interfering with the main object—I believe it will be a few days beyond the period limited in my former letter.

Though I should have been unwilling to have accepted the surrender of the deserters on conditions; yet as I understand from Captn Benquet they have already delivered themselves up this difficulty is removed: I agree with your Excellency that it would be ineligible to send them to South Carolina, and I have therefore ordered them to Easton—They will be employed on the Western service—A small party of horse will be necessary and these fortunately will answer the purpose—I was before somewhat at a loss.

From the general complexion of the intelligence from England and from that of the Minister’s speech of which I have seen some extracts in a New York paper of the first instant, there is in my opinion the greatest reason to believe that a vigorous prosecution of the war is determined on. Considerable reinforcements have been frequently mentioned as coming over to Sir Henry Clinton.2 This by many is discredited; but to me it appears so probable as to demand our most serious attention. While England can procure money, she will be able to procure men; and while she can maintain a ballance of naval power she may spare a considerable part of those men to carry on the war here. The measures adopted by Parliament some time since for recruiting the army were well calculated to succeed; and the information we have received justifies a belief that it has been attended with no small success.3 Under these circumstances prudence exacts that we should make proportionable exertions on our part; and I assure Your Excellency the situation of our army demands them.

I am sorry to find our prospects of a reinforcement are extremely slender—The Virginia levies intended for this quarter are now of necessity ordered to the Southward4—few of the States have as yet done any thing that has come to my knowlege towards augmenting their batalions—This discouraging aspect of things justifies no small degree of anxiety and alarm—I confess my feelings upon the subject are painful—I am persuaded Sir you will be ready to promote every measure which may be found practicable for completing the batalions of this State and I beg leave to recommend the matter to the most particular attention. With every sentiment of regard & esteem I am Dear Sir Your most Obedt servant

P.S. Since writing the above I am favour[ed]5 with yours of the 4th—Directions shall be given to The Commissary accordingly.6

Df, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1Hamilton wrote and then crossed out the following additional text at this place on the draft: “Though for the considerations Your Excellency suggests I should be very willing to permit the men you mention of Pulaski’s Corps to serve in the manner they desire; yet as they are deserters and make this a condition of their return, it would be a bad example to accept their offered surrender. They may be intitled to the benefit of my late proclamation if they please; but I have informed Major Barguat that they must avail themselves of it unconditionally or abide the consequences. I have at the same time directed him to take the most effectual measures he can, to force them to return, if they do not do it of their own accord. I doubt not your Excellency will see the propriety of this measure.” As GW acknowledges later in the letter, the deserters had already given themselves up.

2The Royal Gazette (New York) of 1 May published an account of Lord North’s speech to the House of Commons on 1 March, in which he proposed measures for raising funds so that the war could be carried on “with vigour.” The same issue published an extract of a letter from London, dated 3 March, reporting that “The first division consisting of 7000 British troops, are preparing, and will embark in a few days, to support Sir HENRY CLINTON.”

Lord George Germain had written to Gen. Henry Clinton on 23 Jan., promising to send 6,600 troops to New York City during the spring, with more to come in the summer (Davies, Documents of the American Revolution description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends , 17:43–45). No reinforcements arrived until 25 Aug., however, when a fleet under the command of Adm. Marriot Arbuthnot entered New York Harbor with transports bearing approximately 3,800 seasick and disease-ridden troops. By that time, Clinton had abandoned the greater part of his plans for the campaign of 1779 (Willcox, American Rebellion description begins William B. Willcox, ed. The American Rebellion: Sir Henry Clinton’s Narrative of His Campaigns, 1775–1782, with an Appendix of Original Documents. New Haven, 1954. description ends , 140–41).

3The British Recruiting Act of 1779, which received royal assent on 9 Feb., increased the enlistment bounty by three shillings and provided other inducements to volunteer, including exemption from highway duty and the right to set up and exercise trade anywhere in Great Britain. The law also eased the physical and age requirements for enlistment, and broadened the range of men eligible for impressment to include “all able-bodied idle and disorderly persons” and “incorrigible rogues” (Edward E. Curtis, The Organization of the British Army in the American Revolution [New Haven, 1926], 58–60).

4For the formation of three regiments of Virginia levies to reinforce South Carolina, see GW to Richard Henry Lee, 30 April, n.1.

5Hamilton wrote “favours.”

6Livingston’s letter to GW of this date from Trenton, N.J., reads: “As the Militia that are to take the Posts in Monmouth Essex & Bergen now occupied by your Troops are called out by classes, it is impossible to determine precisely to what number they will amount; but if the Commissaries are directed to provide for one thousand, I suppose it will answer the purpose” (DLC:GW).

Index Entries