George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Sullivan, 20 November 1780

To John Sullivan

Hd Qrs Passaic Falls 20th Novr 1780.

Dr Sir,

You have obliged me very much by your friendly letter of the 12th—and I can assure you that I shall be very happy in a continuation of them1—You are too well acquainted with my course of business to expect frequent, or long letters from me, but I can truely say that I shall write to none with more pleasure, when it is in my power to write at all, than I shall do to you.

The determination of Congress to raise an Army for the War, & the honorable establishment on which the Officers are placed will, I am perswaded, be productive of much good—Had the first measure been adopted four—or even three years ago—I have not the smallest doubt in my mind but that we should at this day have been sitting under our vines and fig trees in the full enjoyment of Peace & Independence—and I have as little doubt that the value which I trust Officers will now set upon their Commissions will prove the surest basis of public Œconomy—’Twas idle to expect that Men who were suffering every species of present distress with the prospect of inevitable ruin before them could bear to have the cord of discipline strained to its proper tune—and where that is not the case it is no difficult matter to form an idea of the want of Order—or to convince Military Men of its consequent evils.

It is to be lamented that the call upon the States for specific Supplies should come at this late hour, because it is mu⟨ch⟩ to be feared that before those at a distance can be furnished with the resolves & make their arrangements, the Season for Salting Provision will be irretrievably lost; and this leads me to a remark which I could wish never to make—It is, that the multiplicity of business in which Congress are engaged will not let them extend that Seasonable & provident care to many matters which private convenience & public œconomy indispensably call for—and proves, in my opinion, the evident necessity of committing more of the executive business to small boards, or responsable characters than is practised at present for I am very well convinced that for want of system in the execution of business and a proper timing of things, that our public expenditures are inconceivably greater than they ought to be—Many instances might be given in proof, but I will confine myself to the article of Cloathing as we are feelingly reminded of it.

This, instead of being ready in the Fall for delivery, is then to be provided—or to be drawn from—the Lord knows whither—and after forcing many Soldiers from the field for want of it, is eked out at different periods as it can be had through the Winter—till Spring—& in such a piece-meal way, that the Soldr deriv’g little comfort from it is hurt both in appearance and pride while the recruiting Service is greatly injured by it. Was this the result of necessity, not a word would be said; but it is the effect of a divid’d attentn or over much business for at the periods of the extreme suffering of the Army, we can hear of Cloathing in different places falling a prey to moth, and cankerworms of a worse kind—and I am much mistaken too, if the Cloathing System (if ours can be called a System) does not afford a fruitful field for Stock jobbing, &ca.

It may be asked what remedy I would apply to these evils? In my opinion there is a plain and easy one—It will not I acknowledge give relief to our immediate & pressing wants no more than order can succeed confusion in a moment, but as both must have a beginning: Let Congress without delay (for this is the season to be lookg forwd to the Supplies for another year) employ some eminent Merchant of approved integrety & abilities to import (in his own way) Materials for the annual cloathing of Officers & Men agreably to estimates to be furnished by the Cloathier General—Or if they prefer it, let these imports be made by a Committee of their own body. When a stock is once obtained, discontinue all Continental Agents & State Agents for Continental purposes and confine the business of Cloathing the Army Wholly to the Importer, Clothier Genl, and regimental Cloathiers—This would be easy and simple, and would soon extricate that department from those embarrassments, and impositions which have a tendency to distress individuals and load the public with an enormous expence.

At present we do not know where or to whom to apply—I have made the distresses of the Army known to Congress, the Board of War & the States Individually2 without learning from whence the supplies are to come & can without the aid of a perspective see a very gloomy prospect before us this Winter on the Score of Cloathing.

I have two reasons for prefering the Materials for Cloathing to ready made Cloathes—first because I think we can have them made by the regimental Taylors to fit each Man—& to suit the fashion of each Regiment—And secondly because the Materials will always be a more ready Sale if Peace takes place & the Troops are disbanded than ready made Cloathes, they wd attract less notice too at the places of Export. Another question may arise here—where are the means? Means must be found or the Soldiers go naked: but I will take the liberty in this place to give it as my opinion that a foreign loan is indispensably necessary to the continuance of the War—Congress will deceive themselves if they imagine that the Army—or a State that is the theatre of War can rub through a second Campaign as the last.

It would be as unreasonable as to suppose that, because a man had rolled a Snow-ball till it had acquired the size of a horse that he might do so till it was as large as a House. Matters may be pushed to a certain point, beyond which we cannot move them. Ten months pay is now due to the Army. Every departmt of it is so much indebted that we have not credit for a single Express—& some of the States are harrassed & oppressed to a degree beyond bearing—To depend, under these Circumstances, upon the resources of the Country, unassisted by foreign loans will I am confident be to lean on a broken Reed.3

The situation of the Southern States is very embarrassing & I wish it was in my power to afford them relief in the way you have mention’d—but it is not—The very measure you suggest I urged as far as decency & policy would permit me to go at the Interview at Hartford, but to no effect.4 I cannot be more particular on this subject—& what I now say, is in confidence.

The report of Sir Henry Clinton’s going to the Southward was groundless and I believe few Troops have left New York since those under Leslie5—I set out with telling you, I could not write long letters, but have ended with a flat contradiction of it.6 I am with much esteem & regd Dr Sir Yr Obt Sert

G. W——n

ADfS, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW; ALS, offered for sale in John S. H. Fogg, comp., Catalogue of Autograph Letters and Historical Documents, Collected by the Late Prof. E. H. Leffingwell … [auctioned] January 6th, 1891. Part First [Boston, 1890], no. 2206.

3Congress acted to procure a loan from France (see John Laurens to GW, 6 Nov., and n.2 to that document; see also GW to Arthur Lee, this date).

4GW had urged the commanders of the French expeditionary force to separate, with the fleet taking refuge in Boston while the troops joined GW’s army (see Documents I and IV with The Hartford Conference, 20–22 Sept., editorial note).

5For Maj. Gen. Alexander Leslie’s British expedition to Virginia, see GW to Samuel Huntington, 17 Oct., n.2, and Nathanael Greene to GW, 31 Oct., n.4.

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