George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Nathanael Greene, 27 July 1780

From Major General Nathanael Greene

Camp Precaness July 27th 1780.


I do myself the honor to enclose your Excellency a copy of a letter of resignation as Quarter Master General to Congress, and another upon the same subject to the Committee of Congress in Camp.1

I have only to lament that the measures of Administration have laid me under the necessity, at this critical moment. It is true, it has been my wish for a long time to get out of the Department; but as our political affairs were in so disagreeable a train, I was willing to submit to many inconveniences, in order to promote the public welfare, while I had a prospect of conducting the business to answer the expectations of the public, and to the satisfaction of the Army. But the new system of Congress has cut off all prospect, and left me without the shadow of hope.2 The principal characters on whom I depended are left out, and many parts of the plan it is impossible to reduce to practice. Under this view of things, I found myself constrained to quit the department, and leave those to answer for the consequences who have reduced matters to this extremity.3

When I take a view of the religious and political prejudices that have frequently influenced public bodies, at different periods to adopt the most ruinous measures, I am not surprised, to see an attempt to change a system of one of the most important departments of the Army, in the most critical, and interesting season of the Campaign, and when every exertion under the best direction, is incompetent to the demands of the service.

Was measures of this kind new in the history of mankind, I should be led to apprehend, that more was intended, than a change of modes, for conducting the business.

I am persuaded that your Excellency, will approve my conduct, however inconvenient it may be to the service, as I am confident you would not wish me to attempt, what there is a physical impossibility of accomplishing; and more especially when the attempt will only tend to decieve you, and the public, in your expectations from me.4

Since the commencement of this war I have ever made the good of the service the rule of my conduct, and in no instance have I deviated from this line; and where there has been a seeming variation, it has been only in such cases where I could not render my services, without forfeiting my reputation. I have the honor to be With great respect Your Excellency’s Most Obedient Humble Servant

Nath. Greene Q.M.G.


After receiving this letter from Greene, GW conferred with the Committee at Headquarters. Apparently quoting GW, the committee wrote Greene on 28 July regarding the conference: “we are perfectly in sentiment with him, ‘that your declining to act at present, will be productive of such a scene of confusion and distresses, that it will be impossible to remedy the evil, or to reduce the business to a proper channel during the remainder of the campaign’” (Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 15:516–17; see n.3 below).

1The enclosed copy of Greene’s letter to Samuel Huntington, president of Congress, dated 26 July, reads: “His Excellency General Washington has just transmitted me a plan for conducting the Qr Master’s Department agreed to in Congress the 15th Inst. wherein I am continued as Quarter Master General, and directed to make the necessary appointments and arrangements in the department agreably thereto, as soon as possible.

“It was my intention, from the peculiar circumstances of our affairs, and I have long since communicated it to the Commander in Chief and the Committee of Congress, to have continued to exercise the Office of Qr Mr Genl during the active part of this Campaign, provided matters were left upon such a footing, as to enable me to conduct the business to satisfaction: and in order to remove every shadow of suspicion, that might induce a belief, that I was influenced by interested motives to make more extensive arrangements than were necessary, I voluntarily relinquished every kind of emolument for conducting the business, save my family-expences.

“But however willing I might have been heretofore to subject myself to the fatigue and difficulties attending the duties of this Office, justice to myself, as well as to the public, constrains me positively to decline it under the present arrangement, as I do not choose to attempt an experiment of so dangerous a nature, where I see a physical impossibility of performing the duties that will be required of me. Wherefore I am to request Congress will appoint another Quarter Master General without loss of time, as I shall give no order in the business further than to acquaint the Deputies with the new system, and direct them to close their accounts up to the first of August coming.

“It is unnecessary for me to go into the general objections I have to the plan. It is sufficient to say, that my feelings are injured, and that the Officers necessary to conduct the business are not allowed; nor is proper provision made for some of those that are. There is but one Asst Qr Master General, who is to reside near Congress, and one Deputy for the Main-army allowed in the system. Whoever has the least knowledge of the business in this Office, and the field-duty which is to be done, must be fully convinced, that it is impossible to perform it without much more assistance than is allowed in the present arrangement. Whether the army is large or small, there is no difference in the plan, tho’ the business may be occasionally multiplied three-fold.

“The two principal characters on whom I depended for support, and whose appointment under the former arrangement, I made an express condition to my accepting the Office, are now left out, and both have advertised me, that they will take no further charge of the business; and I am apprehensive that many others who have been held by necessity, and not of choice, will avail themselves of this opportunity, to leave an employment, which is not only unprofitable, but rendered dishonorable. Systems without Agents are useless things, and the probability of getting one, should be taken into consideration in framing the other. Administration seem to think it far less important to the public interest to have this department well filled and properly arranged than it really is, and as they will find it by future experience.

“My best endeavors have not been wanting to give success to the business committed to my care, and I leave the merit of my services to be determined hereafter by the future management of it under the direction of another hand.

“My rank is high in the line of the army; and the sacrifices I have made on this account—together with the fatigue and anxiety I have undergone, far overballance all the emoluments I have derived from the appointment nor would double the consideration induce me to tread the same path over again, unless I saw it necessary to preserve my Country from utter ruin, and a disgraceful servitude” (DLC:GW).

The enclosed copy of Greene’s letter of this date to the Committee at Headquarters reads: “I do myself the honor to inclose You a copy of the letter of resignation I am sending to Congress. I think it my duty to give you the earliest information of every thing that concerns the interest and well being of the Army, and therefore take the liberty to trouble You on this Occasion.

“I shall make no comments on the Measures of administration, further than to remark, that to introduce a new systim in the middle of a Campaign, is a bold and dangerous experiment; and such a one, I believe, as never was attempted by any Nation on earth. I wish it may succeed agreeable to their expectations; but I cannot think of making myself responsible by attempting the execution when I see so little probability of suceeding.

“My inclinations, and intentions, have been so fully explained to the Committee, that it is unnecessary to be more particular on this Occasion. whatever may be the consequences of the present Plan of Administration, I flatter myself I shall stand fairly acquitted, having given seasonably, the Necessary information to Congress, and the Committee to put this business upon a proper footing, and offer’d my services from a desire to promote the public interest, under our present embarrassments without fee or reward, save my family-expences” (DLC:GW).

2For the new plan for the conduct of the quartermaster general’s department, see GW to Greene, 26 July, n.1.

3For more on the reasons behind Greene’s resignation, Greene’s view of the new plan for the quartermaster general’s department, and Congress’s reaction to his resignation, see 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 , 6:150–55. On 5 Aug., Congress appointed Timothy Pickering quartermaster general (see Huntington to GW, that date, n.1). Greene continued to serve as quartermaster general until “a day or two” after 19 Aug. (Greene to Benedict Arnold, that date, in 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 , 6:219; see also Circular to the Deputy Quartermasters, 11 Aug., in 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 , 6:195–96). But Pickering did not arrive in camp to take up his duties until 22 September. See Greene to GW, 23 Sept. (DLC:GW). See also Greene to GW, 12 Aug.; Pickering to GW, 11 Aug.; and GW to Pickering, 15 Sept. (DNA: RG 93, manuscript file no. 25424).

4For GW’s opinion of Greene’s service, see his letter to Greene, 15 Aug.; see also Greene to GW, 5 August.

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