George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Alexander McDougall, 30 October 1780

From Major General Alexander McDougall

Fish-Kill [N.Y.] 30th Octor 1780


Your Excellency would long ere now have heard from me, but I delayed writing till I could give You Some information of importance.1 Before Genl St Clair releived me, I had intimations from Some members of the Legislature that they wished to See me before they broke up, which was agreeable to my intention. when he arrived I immediatly went there, and Spent a week with them till they adjourned, which I am perswaded was not ill spent.2 I gave them a particular detail of our Public affairs, So far as I was capable, and alarmd them with our Condition; it had its proper effect. They have passed very desisive laws for filling up their regts for the war, but express their desire to Congress, that one of the five may be incorporated into four.3 They have also passed Tax Laws to the utmost ability of the State.4 The Commissioners appointed to meet the Convention at Hartford, are men of enlarged minds, fully informed of our civil defects and inertions as well as the feble State of the Army. They are instructed and empowered to agree on the Necessity of a Continental Executive with Powers Similar to those mentioned in the inclosure No. 1.5

In short Sir, a great majority of the Legislature have a Proper Spirit for the times, and So far as our Safety depends on their exertions we have nothing to fear. To remove all doubts of the intention of the Legislature in Electing me a member of Congress, they were pleased to Express it in a Letter copy of which I take the Liberty to inclose You. It appears by it, that they consider my civil Capacity but a secondary one to my Military;6 and in this relation to the army I wish to be considered by the Commander in chief, and I beg that no unmilitary delicacy may be observed to me while in the Field from my Connection with the Civil. whether I am acting in the Civil or Military line, I have but one object and that is, to promote the best interest of this distressed Country. I was honored with your favor of the 24th instant, which anticipates the application I purposed to make, when I Should be ready to go to Congress, and the Campaign Judged at an end.7 I now wait only for means to bring me out of Philadelphia when it shall be thought proper for me to take the Field. I own I fear, and have much reason to fear, I Shall not be able, in Congress, to answer the Virtuous expectations of the Army and my Fellow Citizens, but Shall endeavor to do my duty.8 I have the Honor to be with great truth, Your Excellencys most obedient and most Humble Servant

Alexr McDougall


2The New York legislature adjourned at Poughkeepsie on 10 Oct. (see N.Y. Senate Proc., 7 Sept.–10 Oct. 1780 description begins Votes and Proceedings of the Senate [of the State of New-York], &c. At the first Meeting of the Fourth Session. [Poughkeepsie, N.Y., 1783]. description ends , pp. 31, 34). Maj. Gen. Arthur St. Clair apparently had arrived to replace McDougall as commander at West Point on 3 Oct. (see GW to St. Clair, 1 Oct., found at GW to McDougall, 27 Sept., n.1).

3Pierre Van Cortlandt, president of the New York Senate, and Evert Bancker, speaker of the New York House of Assembly, had written the state’s congressional delegates on 7 Oct. from Poughkeepsie: “The Legislature at their present Meeting have passed a Law to compleat the Quota of Troops allotted to this State, to serve in the Continental Army during the War—The embarrassments in which we are involved by the War, the temporary loss of Territory which we have sustained by the Operations of the Enemy, and the Disunion of the Inhabitants of the North Eastern parts of the State, induce us to request you to obtain an Act of Congress approving the Incorporation of our five Regiments into four, after the present Campaign.” The letter then elaborated on the state’s sufferings and losses before closing: “In this Situation we can scarcely harbour a Doubt that Congress will approve of the Measure we recommend, especially when they shall be advised that we intend to make provision for such Officers who cannot be annexed to other Corps without disparaging them in their rank. There are several vacancies in our State Line and should the proposed reduction take place, the Number of reduced Officers will be small” (DNA:PCC, item 67). Congress had reduced the number of New York’s Continental regiments to three by the time it referred this letter to a committee on 8 Nov. (see General Orders, 1 Nov., and 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 , 18:1032; see also Samuel Huntington to GW, 26 Oct., and n.1 to that document).

The New York legislature’s final adoption of “An Act to complete the Quota of the Troops of this State, to serve in the Army of the United States, during the War,” occurred on 9 Oct. (N.Y. Laws description begins Laws of the State of New-York, Commencing with the first Session of the Senate and Assembly, after the Declaration of Independency, and the Organization of the New Government of the State, Anno 1777. Poughkeepsie, N.Y., 1782. description ends , 160–62; see also GW’s circular to the states, 2 June, n.1).

4See “An Act to expedite the Payment of Taxes,” adopted on 7 Oct., and “An Act for raising, by Tax, a Sum equal to 150,000 Dollars, in Specie,” adopted on 10 Oct. (N.Y. Laws description begins Laws of the State of New-York, Commencing with the first Session of the Senate and Assembly, after the Declaration of Independency, and the Organization of the New Government of the State, Anno 1777. Poughkeepsie, N.Y., 1782. description ends , 156, 163–64).

5The enclosure, marked “No. 1,” was a resolution that received concurrence in the New York Senate on 10 October. It instructed the state’s congressional delegates to call for the decisive exercise of that body’s powers to prosecute the war and compel deliquent states to provide their quotas of troops and supplies (DLC:GW). For actual language from this resolution, and the convention proposed for Hartford on 8 Nov., see Henry Babcock to GW, 24 Oct., and n.3 to that document. For GW’s reading of the proceedings and resolutions that emerged from this convention, see his first letter to George Clinton, 10 Dec., and n.1 to that document.

6The enclosure, marked “No. 2,” was a letter from Van Cortlandt and Bancker to McDougall written at Poughkeepsie in October to inform him of his selection as “a Delegate from this State in Congress.

“The Legislature were induced to Elect You not only from a Confidence in Your ability and integrity, but they conceived, that at this juncture, You would be peculiarly Serviceable in our Public Councils.” The letter concluded: “It is their wish, that You should Still retain Your Command in the Army, and it is left in Your discretion to attend in Congress only when You Conceive it can be done consistent with the duties required of You in Your Military Capacity” (DLC:GW). The New York legislature had appointed McDougall on 12 Sept. to serve as a congressional delegate (see N.Y. Assembly Proc., 7 Sept.–10 Oct. 1780, p. 12).

7GW had encouraged McDougall’s attendance at Congress as a New York delegate when he wrote him on 24 Oct. (see GW’s second letter to Nathanael Greene, 6 Oct., n.5).

8Massachusetts delegate James Lovell wrote Major General Steuben on 22 Jan. 1781 that “Genl. McDugal took a Seat in Congress last Week” (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 , 16:619–20).

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