George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Clement Biddle, 16 May 1780

From Clement Biddle

Morris Town May. 16. 1780.


From my constant Attendance on the Duties of my Offices in Camp, I have been prevented from bringing the extensive accounts of the business which I have transacted to a settlement, altho’ I have sent them to be lodged at Philadelphia to be ready for the purpose when I should be called on by the Treasury board—They could not be completed til I could pay some further Attention to them, than was possible in Camp and from my anxiety to accomplish so important a business, early last fall I informed Genl Greene of my desire to leave the Army on the close of the Campaign; but finding the difficulties we were like to encounter on our arrival at this ground, I continued to serve, that I might contribute to remedy them, as far as was in my power.1

Congress having recommended that the supplies of Forage for the Army should be provided by the different States, most of their Legislatures have undertaken to furnish the Quotas required of them and of course the remaining duties of the Office I fill, are chiefly the calling forth from the magazines and directing the issues of Forage for the Army and the Alotment of Pasturage. The Change in the System of Supplies makes my presence with the Army much less necessary and the Office may be equaly well filled by another person.2

But I have received from the Treasury board the most peremptory Orders to deliver the whole of my Accounts & vouchers at their Office in Philadelphia for final settlement, on or before the first day of June next, and by a resolve, they declare, that such as neglect to comply with the said Order, shall be prosecuted as delinquents and advertised as public defaulters.3

I have ever been anxious to bring my Accounts to a close and wish to pay an immediate Obedience to the call of the Treasury board, which I am the more urgently induced to, as the deputi⟨es⟩ who have lately acted under me, have many of them resign’d and are waiting for the settlement of their Accounts, which cannot be done unless I attend to them in person for a Considerable time as my Assistant in Philadelphia who superintended the Accounts there, has inform’d me it is out of his power longer to serve me,4 and if I should not attend to them and any accident should prevent my doing it in future my family would be involved in ruin.

As the Duties I am called to will require my being so long Absent from the Army and a new arrangement is now taking place, I have represented my situation to General Greene and obtaind his permission to resign, but I have offerd my Services at Philadelphia for the remainder of the year to superintend the Calling forth and forwarding the supplies of Forage for the Army, in which (if it should be thought necessary) I think I can serve to more advantage than in Camp and I wish for no reward except the six Rations which are now allow’d & Forage for two horses while I am so employed.5

As it has ever been my utmost wish and Endeavours to serve the Army and to obtain your Approbation, I shall be happy in exerting my Abilities in future to the same ends, but I hope your Excellency will see and approve the necessity of my leaving the Army to attend at Philadelphia before the first of June next.6 With the most sincere Prayers for success to our Arms, a happy Conclusion of the war and for your preservation, I remain with the greatest respect Your Excellencys Most Obedient & very humble Servant

Clement Biddle

ALS, DLC:GW. A document purported to be an unsigned autograph draft of this letter was owned by Joseph Rubinfine in 1978.

GW wrote Biddle on a Tuesday at 4:20 P.M.: “General Washington’s compliments to Colo. Biddle. He would have done himself the pleasure to have dined with the Colo. to day without the Ceremony of an Invitation in form, would his engagements have permitted” (PHi: Washington-Biddle Correspondence). Biddle docketed the letter “Abt—20 may 1780,” suggesting it was written on this date or Tuesday, 23 May.

1Biddle had written Q.M. Gen. Nathanael Greene on 14 Aug. 1779 about resigning, which he postponed “from a desire to serve my Country & Congress & from a zealous attachment to the Commander in Chief & the Army and warm Friendship” for Greene (Greene Papers description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends , 4:318; see also Greene Papers description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends , 4:273–74, 283–85).

2For congressional reforms of December 1779 that required the states to furnish specified quotas of supplies for the army, and for the resolution of 25 Feb. 1780 that amended the state supply system to include forage, see Samuel Huntington to GW, 25 Jan., and n.1 to that document; see also Huntington to GW, 29 Feb., and n.2, and GW to Huntington, 26 March.

3An extract from the minutes of the Board of Treasury, dated 3 May, presented the need “to effect an immediate settlement of all public Accounts” under their authority and ordered commissaries and quartermasters to “render into the Treasury Office of the United States on or before the first day of June next, their accounts of receipts & expenditures with the requisite vouchers in order that the same may be finally adjusted” (DNA:PCC, item 136). For a similar reaction to this board demand, see James Wilkinson to GW, 3 July.

4Owen Biddle, assistant commissary general of forage at Philadelphia, wrote his brother Clement on 3 May and expressed a desire to resign because of money shortages and public suspicion of supply department officials. Owen nevertheless remained in his post until near the end of the war (see DNA:PCC, item 155).

5Biddle’s employment terms stipulated that he would receive six rations per day “for his own Trouble and private Expences” (Greene Papers description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends , 3:155).

6GW replied to Biddle from headquarters at Morristown on 18 May: “I have received your favor of the 16th acquainting me with your having resigned the Office of Commissary General of Forage, and of the necessity which you are under of repairing to Philadelphia before the 1st of June to settle the accounts of the department—Justice to you induces me to express my intire approbation of your conduct, so far as it has come under my notice, in the particular line of your duty, and to acknowledge that the army has at several times, in very critical circumstances, derived great advantages from your activity and address in giving assistance to the Commissary’s and Quarter Masters departments—Should you again incline to engage in the service under any new regulations which may take place, I can assure you that your re-appointment will be a measure highly agreeable to me—I feel myself obliged by your expressions of personal regard which is reciprocal” (LS, in Richard Kidder Meade’s writing, ViMtvL: Willard Collection; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW). For Biddle’s change of mind regarding his resignation (see GW to Biddle, 27 May, and Biddle’s second letter to GW, 28 May).

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